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Trinidad, Cuba

The cutest town in Cuba

sunny 35 °C

While we were still in Havana, we heard there was a huge celebration for 2 things in Cuba on the 2nd of May. First up was the celebration for the international day of the worker, and second was the arrival of the first cruise ship from the United States since the revolution. We couldn't decide whether to stay and be apart of all the celebrations or to run far far away... It turned out that the best thing to do was run far away, even though Billy was gutted to have lost out on the opportunity to see Raul Castro from a distance at the workers celebrations!

We travelled in a shared taxi with a French couple all the way to the UNESCO protected, picturesque town of Trinidad.
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The ride took about 5 hours and again we were constantly amazed by how few people were driving on the roads. We stayed our first night at a casa particular that had been recommended to us, but we were really unhappy with the location and the constant hard sell being pushed on us by the owners in regards to buying only THEIR food, THEIR water, and organizing tours with THEIR people from the second we walked in the door. Billy was determined we wouldn't stay longer than the first night we agreed on, and he marched us off down the road in search of a better home for us.

We made our way to the beautiful cobbled streets and parks that lay in the center of the town, and Billy was immediately attracted to a beautiful casa particular right next to the central park, cathedral, and the casa de musica where we planned to begin our salsa classes the following day. He said he could feel the most positive energy coming from the home - and was quickly greeted warmly by the father of the household who shared the name Guido with Billy's own father in the Dominican Republic. We entered the home and quickly fell in love with Gisela who became our Cuban mother, Yalena our new sister, and Teetoo the cutest Pekingese puppy we have ever met. They allowed us to use their kitchen to cook so we could save money, and they gave us a very special rate to stay for a week. We moved the very next morning from our first casa to what would be our wonderful home in Trinidad.
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On one of our days in Trinidad, we walked around the town desperately trying to find fresh fruit, vegetables, and cooking items so we could cook for ourselves and save money on food. This was our first realization with just how little exists in Cuba and how expensive everything is that does exist. It took us about 5 hours walking around all of the streets to find:
8 eggs, 2 packets of pasta, tomato paste, onions (8 euros for 20 onions too by the way!), bread rolls, tomatos, plantains, bananas, cookies, and tuna.
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The supermarkets had nothing more than empty shelves with two or three items on them, and the easiest way to find ingredients was to ask around and find the houses with a door open, with people selling a few items on tiny tables. Each house would sell something different - eggs and beans in one, tomatoes and onions in another. Finding lettuce was impossible - until the next day when Billy went out for a run and returned carrying lettuce for me as if it was a bouquet of flowers - the most delicious bouquet I ever received!

We quickly realized with the price of ingredients versus the price of food in the shops, that we weren't about to save our money by cooking, and we were quite sad about it. We made a few sandwhiches and on one night we cooked for the whole family and ate together at their beautifully laid out table. Their plates were all antique and of the finest china, and their silverware was beautiful. It had been a long time since I had eaten off such beautiful finery and I was convinced that the food tasted better because of it. We were so touched and felt incredibly lucky when we were then woke up everyday to find breakfast was made for us and we were eating lobster in the evenings as well as enjoying family dinners together.

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It seemed that Guido and Gisela were the only people in Cuba who understood we were not rich tourists, rather 2 young people traveling from a neighboring Caribbean island that was even more impoverished than Cuba. We watched movies with them in their rooms, sat up at night drinking mojitos at night, watched football matches together, and talked for hours about the differing politics between Cuba and the Dominican Republic. We learned that to kill a cow in Cuba will serve you 25 years in prison, but to kill a human only serves 15. This is because the milk of the cow belongs to you, but the cow belongs to the government.
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On one of the days we took a shared taxi down to the local beach in Trinidad (randomly with the same people we arrived to Trinidad with!). We were not overly impressed with the beach itself as the water wasn't very blue, and it was very commercial - with a huge resort and lots of people selling overpriced snorkeling trips out to the reef. We had our own snorkels with us so we were able to snorkel around the shore line - and we were so pleased we did because saw hundreds of tiny fish swimming as a giant school, and we even saw a baby stingray!
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On another day (with a huge hangover) we went on a 6 hour horse riding trek through the valle de los ingenios and to visit a waterfall in the mountains. We got to stop off for a much needed coffee at what is now my all time favourite cafe in the world. The cafe itself has no walls and is just a wood fired stove top underneath a rickety roof surrounded by log seats and coffee cups. The coffee is made fresh to the strength you desire, and each cup is served with a piece of sugar cane and a free cigar. The owner/ barista also sings as he grinds the coffee beans before he brews them for you. It was fantastic!

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The waterfall and the view through the valley was beautiful too and it was quickly deemed as the best day of our time in Cuba.
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Most of the days we had salsa classes, and the price was adding up very quickly. We met a couple of guys while out dancing one night who seemed very interested in my cellphone. They were willing to pay exactly what our salsa classes were worth - and far more than what I would get if I tried to sell the phone back in the Dominican Republic. So I did it, I did a factory reset and sold my phone to pay for our dance classes!
Our salsa classes were held in the different courtyards of the casa de la musica and were an hour long each class. We paid for group classes but were lucky to have no one else in our group so we essentially had private classes for the cheaper price - stoked! Billy and I took a long time to pick up the basic steps and to be able to hear the music, which was so strange considering that we are both always dancing bachata and merengue at home.

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By night we would go out and practice dancing at the casa de la musica, and one night we met up with some new found friends of ours Jo and Christoph who we had first encountered at the beach. They had been on a crazy journey to retrieve their missing cellphone and we were out to celebrate the phones return - and did we celebrate or what!?! We instantly began throwing back the most disgustingly strong mojitos and daiquiris that we were stumbling as we tried our best to follow the steps to the salsa.
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The casa de la musica closed around 1am and we were left with no idea of what to do or where to go next - until we overheard people mentioning a party cave somewhere in the mountains above the town. We asked which direction to go, and began to stumble towards what we hoped would be an underground party. Just when we felt as if we were giving up hope and would never find it - we saw fairy lights and heard the cries of "$1 mojitos!" ... Party cave or no party cave, no one ever says no to a $1 mojito! Loaded up at the tiny little stall on the side of the cobbled street, we found ourselves on the path lit with more $1 mojito stalls heading right the way up in the direction of the party cave. We decided it would only be fair if we stopped and drank one mojito in each stall so as to not let any stall miss out on a little business...
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The cobbled street soon gave way to a jungle path, where again we felt as if we were going the wrong way... until at last we saw it... the entrance to the underground party cave where we would dance until our feet could dance no more!

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I have been in a lot of bars, clubs, and party places around the world - that is no secret. But, none have ever been as awesome as the party cave in trinidad. There were so many chambers, real dance floors underneath the stalactites, and multiple levels with fully functioning bars on each. There were VIP areas, a full chamber with male and female bathrooms, and large screens with music videos playing on them as laser lighting and disco balls glittered around the cave.

We were instantly greeted with the dance floor clearing as a group of sexy young Cuban men took over the dance floor with a dance presentation that turned out to be one of the strangest things I have ever seen. The men were playing drums with an almost voodoo-african beat, as they circled a table in the centre of the dance floor. They placed a young tourist on the table and gave her two glasses of water to hold high above her head. They continued to dance and chant as they edged their way closer and closer to the table... where 4 of the men on each corner then bent down and picked the table and the girl up - WITH ONLY THEIR TEETH! They spun her around the room for about 30 seconds and lifted the table higher without ever touching the table back to the ground or placing their hands on the table - it was SO strange! They also placed knives onto each other and walked over the knives, reminding Billy of the voodoo ceremonies performed by Haitian devotees in the community he grew up in.
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The days in Trinidad passed lazily as the afternoons were hot and the nights of dancing were long. We absolutely loved our family and left them with promises to help with their visa to visit us one day here in the Dominican Republic. Leaving was hard, but we knew our next destination of Vinales would be worth it :)

Posted by chasingsummer 07:31 Archived in Cuba Tagged beach cuba dance cave waterfall party unesco trinidad salsa mojito classes pueblo daiquiri casa_particular Comments (0)

The land of bachata

madder than I ever believed it would be

sunny 29 °C

Dad told me last night that I must write my next blog cos he can’t wait to read the stories of what has been happening. I told him that I am finding it really hard to know where to start because it feels like my already crazy life has recently exploded into some bizarre MTV series. When he responded it, what he said wasn’t even an exaggeration, yet I knew he was right;

“Perhaps you could start with how you drove across most of the Dominican Republic on a bus with no doors, carrying your new pet chicken that you planned to use in a cock-fight to make you and your two policemen friends rich (despite my protests that chickens also have rights), with a goat strapped under a motorbike to the back of the bus along dusty roads for 5 hours.”

I said “Dad, but the problem is that it doesn’t make a great story. Only because I didn’t take a photo. I already told you when you asked for the photo that I couldn’t take one as I didn’t want to humiliate and disrespect the goat who was already miserable, strapped upside down for the long uncomfortable journey. He said it is ok without a picture and that the story of my time so far here in the Dominican Republic really needs to be written anyway…

I feel as if this is the most barbaric yet beautiful country I have ever been to. From the second I touched down on the tarmac and went through immigration, I have stumbled my way through laughter, shock, tears, and craziness. My first introduction to this bizarre island was the customs lady standing up and screaming around her friends while waving my passport high in the air;
“I win, I win! I got a chick from New Zealand!” Her loud, island accented, voice filled the overcrowded processing room. I asked her what on earth she had won, fearing she was going to strip me of my passport - I mean, the USA already locks me up into armed guarded rooms every time I try to enter their borders; once even with Temuera Morrison and me fearing he was gonna go all Jake-the-Muss on me. He didn’t thank god, and just leaned right over and said,
“They always do this to us Maori’s”
Anyway … She didn't put her photo on my passport and move to New Zealand, instead very enthusiastically thanking me as she now gets free drink at the bar due to, “getting the strangest country of the day through her immigration line.”

I walked away laughing, feeling happy that the bachata was already playing from every duty free shop and over the main customs hall stereo - as I hoped it would. I was instantly pleased I could understand the Spanish of the country – it is always a worry because every country has such a different accent and their own words; much like English and the different colloquialisms and accents between Ireland, USA, and home.

I got in an overpriced taxi ($35 USD!) and was driven 10 km to my hostel. The first thing I noticed was that the drive from Punta Cana was full of bare streets. There were no people whatsoever, and there was nothing on the streets at all. Both sides of the street were covered with walls, at least 4 meters high, that stretched for miles and miles and miles. I had no idea what was going on, why there were so many walls along such beautifully tar sealed roads – the best I have seen since arriving to Latin America all those many months ago. The driver informed me that the walls keep the people out of the resorts – and the people in. I have since found out that the all-inclusive resorts actually tell the people who are staying there that it is too unsafe to leave the resorts and that they should stay within the walls at all times. I guess that’s one way to stop people dancing bachata all night, meeting people, and learning that it is possible to eat the best lobster of your life for $12NZD! Instead, these people are locked away in a rich man’s prison, paying thousands and thousands of dollars to enjoy a beach that is walled off for the people who call this country home. The best stretch of (calm) beaches on the island are walled off from the local people, many with barbed wire, electric fences or broken glass at the top, for as far as you can see. I wanted to throw up.
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I arrived at the hostel and immediately made friends, drank far too much rum, and danced bachata until 6am – before I had even seen the island by daylight! I knew that I was going to love this country from that very first night, especially because I was immediately slammed in the face with the realisation that 8/10 men on this island are model material. I have never been surrounded by such good looking men, and so many of them, in all of my life. And they all dance my favourite style of dance/ music. Can you say dream life?
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The following day I stumbled my hung over self through streets and walls to find an entrance to the beach – meaning, a restaurant that granted me permission to walk through their property to reach the beach since my skin is white (albeit tanned white). I was instantly disappointed. For as far as you could see in both directions along the perfect white sand beach – tourist traps, overpriced seats to rent outside billion dollar resorts, local people desperately pleading people to have their hair braided or to buy woven bracelets or take oil massages, fat old Russian men with young Dominican girls sitting on their legs laughing at jokes that aren’t even funny.
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The water was as blue as the sky and I didn’t even swim, again I wanted to vomit. I spoke to my friend, a well-travelled German guy in his 40’s. He said he walked for 7 hours in one direction just to see when it ended. He ended up taking a moto-concho (motorbike taxi) back to the hostel as it never did. I left the beach, laughing when I saw a bunch of tourists screaming and drinking aboard a pirate ship, thinking I was better off back at the hostel with the other travellers and my Chileno and Dominican friends who also felt the same way as I about the terribly exploited island.
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I was supposed to stay 4 or 5 nights – I left after 3, and the only thing that kept me there was dancing bachata until 6am every night. I caught the bus to Santo Domingo without stopping to sight see, then another to the colourful town of Samana.
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There a local man spotted me and took me out to lunch on fresh fish, coconut rice, and fried banana. I fought with some old man about the meaning of love, and watched as funeral procession went by. The friends and family walk through the town, singing and chanting as the body is driven through. My friend then helped me to find the guagua (vans that are used as local buses) to get to my next destination: Las Galeras.
As we drove through the wild peninsula, spotted with colourful houses, palm trees, and blue waters peering around every single corner, I began to get really excited – this was what I had come to experience. I finally got to my restaurant where I planned to work for a month, and was not disappointed when the beautiful location was even better than the pictures. The Spanish owners and Dominican workers did not speak a word of English so I tried not to be too down hearted when I was quickly told; No treehouse bedroom like promised, and the 5 hours x 5 days per week was now 8 hours x 6 days per week in exchange for a crappy bedroom covered in dead bugs and with blood on the sheets. At least I was going to improve my Spanish right…hmmm.
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And I worked hard for a week, meeting local people after work. One day I even went for a sunset horse ride along the beach with a guy who owned the local ranch.
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I felt like I was being accepted into a new community, I began teaching an elderly gentleman English in exchange for bachata classes in his funny little garage shed house. He took me under his wing, even offering me a place in his house to sleep if I wanted it, and taking me for lunch at his favourite local restaurant.
I loved working with the Dominican staff at the restaurant, they filled my day with laughter and sunshine. But I quickly realised the Spanish owners were exploiting everyone – including me. They were paying the staff no more than $10NZD per day for 13 hour shifts. They would take commission from the local guides who took the guests out on tours (it was a hotel and a restaurant where I worked), but would never give commission to the same local guides who brought staff to dine at the highly overpriced restaurant. The owner who did not speak English would fight with me about the language itself, telling me that I was grammatically incorrect - I am a native speaker AND an editor. When I proved him wrong, he then told me that it was just because he enjoyed arguing with people. Then came the nail in the coffin; he began calling a Haitian visitor a drug addict/ alcoholic who was going to rob the restaurant. He told me I needed to learn how it was in this country, that I was new here and would find out the hard way if I wasn’t careful. I asked him how he knew such things, because I genuinely wanted/needed to learn who I could and couldn’t trust for that exact reason. He told me, “Go and ask the bloody Dominicans in the kitchen, they will tell you.”
I then realised that the guy who he wanted to throw off the property was not a known thief/ drug addict, and that he was being racially stereotyped for reasons way out of his control. I ran to my friends in the kitchen with tears pouring down my face at the shock of such blatant racism as I told them exactly what had happened… and that day 3 of us quit. The following day another, and a week later 2 more. They all thanked me for helping them to get the courage to leave, that they were sick of being treated so badly in front of guests. They explained to me how at a recent wedding, the owners had gotten drunk and talked badly about Dominicans right in front of the entire staff working there. It wasn’t long after packing my stuff, getting on the back of a motorbike in the pouring rain, driving through the mud into the main town, that I realised how much the Spanish owners are hated throughout the main town. I do love that I quit in such a dramatic way as I have always wanted to do that. I literally walked out, packed my stuff, and told the fake woman who speaks with the dreaded European Spanish lisp,
“I am not happy here, you treat people badly and I will not work for racists.”
And then took the entire staff with me. Assholes. Viva la revolución
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In the midst of the drama, I burnt my leg badly when we hit a rock on the motorbike. A 3rd degree burn that has now taken far too long to heal, but seems to be finally ok. It is actually called the Dominican tattoo, and I have been told by many that I am now an official Latina because of the nasty scar I will have for the rest of life, mid-calf on the right leg.
While working at the restaurant, I met two local police men who quickly became my friends – Mainardi and Jeisson. We danced bachata until daylight, went to the beach, ate beautiful fish at all times of the day.
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They boys told me these beaches aren't even pretty ones, that the Dominican Republic has much better beaches in other parts. But I still insisted on going, even though I couldn't go in the sun or the sea due to my leg.
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They helped me get cheap accommodation, brought me fresh fruit and water, and sat with me when I felt sad, lost, and alone with a badly burnt leg and receiving psychotic emails, ranging from I need your help to get out of my life and then back again, from someone I once called a very good friend and was now someone who had absolutely no care or consideration for the position I was in – alone in a new country, with an infected leg, and not quite knowing who to trust or where to go for help, and quickly running out of money. The reason I couldn’t trust anyone came down to the fact that the town itself, as beautiful as the area is, was a very strange place. The expats were trying to get me to help them because of my 2 languages, yet were also trying to pay to get their choice of mayor elected, others promised empty offers, and many were simply after money/ and or sex. I guess in a country that has been so hugely exploited, it is impossible for the local people to not want to exploit us travellers in return. It wasn’t a very good time, and I truly began to feel that going home was the best answer. Thank you Erie is all I can say – and that I love you my darling esposa for always answering the tearful phone calls despite the time of the day, for never failing to be an amazing friend, for somehow making me roar with laughter - even when I am so sad I can’t eat/ sleep/ or feel my hands.

I knew I needed to get out of the town, despite the great friends I had found in the ex-workers of the restaurant. So when Mainardi offered me a week with him (he works alternative weeks) in his local town 10 hours bus ride away, I jumped at the change. We woke at 5am to board the bus with our new pet chicken, a prized fighting rooster named Cluck.
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Turns out chickens quite like busses. Especially in the morning, they just seem to curl up and go to sleep for a long while. Maybe they are used to it, but either way, our $1500 peso ($30NZD) chicken slept alongside us – until we never saw it again. It was a prize rooster, evident in the number of pecks that covered poor Mainardi’s hands. But because it had a rope around it’s leg, the only answer was that it was stolen while we slept. Or maybe someone else who was concerned about animal rights set it free… I promise it wasn’t me… And I mean that promise too, unlike the time Benji and I set the monkey free in Laos. Because I understood that as despicable chicken fighting is, it is a way of life here that brings community spirit and money to the poorest of families; of course a chickens life or suffering is not worth any more or less than a humans.. but that is a conversation for another day. Money is not easily come by, as I was soon to find out when I arrived in my new town – Cristobal, near to Barahona.
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I couldn’t believe people lived like this, and still managed to have such wide smiles on their faces. The water truck pulls into town once a day and everybody sends the kids out with buckets. They get 8 buckets each which are painstakingly brought back to the house and dumped one by one into larger buckets where it is stored and then used to clean, cook, drink, bathe, and flush the toilet. None of the houses had running water, and electricity came in bursts every couple of hours – if at all. It was the kind of place where every single person stared at me, children in the street pointed and called blanca blanca (meaning white girl), and the local kids would come to our house just to sit and stare me with fascination. Imagine their joy when I gave out the lollipops I had bought in Colombia! 20150131_152516.jpg20150131_152513.jpg20150131_152457.jpg20150131_152451.jpg20150131_152424.jpg20150131_152249.jpg20150131_152130.jpg

I woke up at about 10pm one night to Mainardi’s mother (Juana) and two elderly ladies standing over me as I lay in bed. I stifled a scream and said hola in a very timid voice, only for the eldest lady to stroke my skin and tell me I was beautiful – I had never felt less as I had been bathing with a precious half bucket of water every couple of days, eating nothing but white bread, white rice, and white pasta for 5 days, and was suffering from my now excruciatingly painful infected burn. I truly believe that the town has never had a white girl stay longer than 5 minutes when driving through in an air conditioned bus on the way to the nearby national park. The people couldn’t believe I was there, let alone able to speak Spanish, and I could see that the family were proud to have me as their guest. I did my best to use as little water as possible, to eat as little as I could since on some days the mother would feed up to 15 of the local street kids with a bag of white rice and some beans. The kids who had no house at all didn’t get water delivery, so they bathed with their parents in the ditches on either side of the road – especially the days it rained. I knew I was the local gossip, especially when Mainardi’s ex-girlfriend who lived 3 towns over found out I was in town and came storming into the house in a whirlwind of screamingly fast Spanish, attacking me verbally and physically. Thankfully, everyone in the small community came to my rescue – I mean I was already babysitting their 13 day old babies within hours of my arrival – dragging her off me, throwing her while kicking and screaming out onto the street, and calling her parents to take her away. After locking me up in a dark room (of course) until Mainardi returned from coconut hunting only to tell her if she came back he would use his police power to arrest her. Like I said, life has gone nuts. Mainardi and I went to the beach one day, despite his protests that it was too far away and too expensive a journey. I paid the $15NZD – including transport for us both, lunch, and drinks as we climbed aboard a guagua with no doors, traveling until we saw a spot we wanted to get off. The water was the bluest water I have ever seen, there was not a single person on the beach, and the beautiful fresh water river that ran alongside the white pebbles was cool and sweet, leaving us feeling clean and refreshed after a wonderful day by the sea. He told me it was one of the best days of his life as he had not seen the beach (other than in Las Galeras) since he was a little boy. Imagine living on a very small island in the Caribbean and never being able to go to the beach near to your house? I wanted to cry.

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I left the following day, he began to protest his deep love for me, wanted me to have his baby, and become a part of the family. He wanted me to return to Las Galeras and live with him there as he was about to return the next day for another week of work. His mother wanted the same, introducing me as her new daughter in law to everyone we encountered. As much as I will be eternally grateful for his friendship in a time I really needed some comfort, friendship was all it would ever be and I could see that staying would hurt them all far more. Tears, hugs, and promises to all meet again, and then I was gone on the very same chicken bus I had arrived on – but this time alone and with a feeling as empty as the promises I had just made. I boarded the bus with no idea of where I was going to go. I had written to 3 different hostels and a couple of volunteer work positions and decided I would go to whichever responded first. No matter where I went, I at least had to return to Santo Domingo first and then go from there – so each location had 5 hours to be the first to reply. I sat next to a girl with no teeth and watched her eat a thigh/leg piece of chicken. She even ate the bone itself, somehow sucking at the bone and crunching it between her gums. I swear every chicken on that bus screamed in horror with me. Everyone on the bus wanted to talk to me, they already knew who I was, and the offers came in thick and fast to stay with them in their cousins-sisters-best friends- ex-boyfriends-homes with them in Santo Domingo. I was tempted, but at the same time, as a newbie in this land, I still do not have the same sense of comfort and safety that I had in Colombia. I travelled for nearly 10 hours by bus that day, as we inched towards Cabarete I felt minute by minute that I had made the right decision, no matter how hard it was to leave Mainardi and his family in Cristobal. If I was not romantically involved I could not consume their energy, their hearts, their precious water, or the limited space in their house. They had even offered me the master bedroom, the parents planning to sleep on the floor while the children of the street slept 5 in a bed right in the 3 other single beds next to mine (because of course I refused their bed) in the cramped house. Just before it was time to get off the bus in Santo Domingo and I was about to use the old fashioned way of booking a hostel (phone call) to stay a night in the capital itself and give everywhere I wanted a further 24 hours to respond - I got a reply. I was going to Cabarete, a surfing and kite surfing town at the north of the island. So I got off the bus, boarded another after a quick snack, and watched out the windows as we drove through new parts of the island. And as we finally approached the town I began to get excited, the shops were actual shops and the houses began to look like they had running water and 24 hour power.
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When I arrived at the hostel, I was immediately offered work by the manager and my now good friend Mati from Argentina. I wearily climbed the stairs and turned on the faucet – and would you believe it, after 4 very long months, I had my very first hot water shower. Despite feeling guilty to the core of my being, knowing I was wasting more water than my family in Cristobal would see in a month, I stayed in that shower for half an hour, I washed my matted and oil incrusted hair multiple times, I shaved my legs, I just stood there and let it pour over my body and wash away the black film from my skin that I had thought once was a tan until I could stand the guilt no longer. It was one of the best and worst feelings of my life, all at once.

Since that day, I have now been in this mad hostel for 2 weeks. The hostel itself looks like a castle, and we call it that too.
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I learned how to make Cuban cigars with new friends I met on the main street who own a cigar shop. My cigar ended up looking more like a dying rat than anything else, but of course that was all part of moulding me into my new career!
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It is probably the most insane hostel I have ever stayed in – not because it is a party place, because it isn’t really. Although, it isn’t a quiet hostel either. I have given it a little thought, and I think because most of the guests are here long term it has become more like flat-living. Craziness happens every minute, you never know what will happen, and we all gossip about it every day like it’s the daily news report. We have the German girl with what we assume is tourettes, she clucks like a chicken in her sleep, twitches her face into spasms as she speaks, and then screams obscenities in German in a deep manly voice constantly throughout the day and night. But she never screams in public, always removing herself to the bathroom or the kitchen or an empty room. So we just hear these deathly screams coming from wherever she has hidden herself. We have the lovely Dutch guy who got penis fondled on a 3 way motorbike ride (with one half of the wonderful Finnish couple) to the chicken place (restaurant) by a drunk 2 month pregnant 19 year old girl – and then came home to sleep with her because he knew it wasn’t going to be a good story if he didn’t close the deal – but he stopped midway when she told him the condom was burning her and it didn’t matter as she was pregnant anyway – thankfully he realised he was being visa scammed and kicked her out. We have the Polish girls who I love to bits who are now stuck in the Dominican Republic forever as they were robbed of their cash and passports on the beach so now share the bed above mine to keep costs down, we have the drunk kisses, the 36 year old Italian creepy guy who lives down the road but comes over to hit on everyone with a vagina and then claims to be a respectfully nice guy - but is now fearing for his life after I told him if he doesn’t stop hurting people I will remove his balls from his penis and tell every girl who checks into the hostel that he has a terrible std. We have the Spanish guy who took me to learn surfing from him but then abandoned me on the beach for 4 hours. We have the crazy pro-surfer who will never give you a straight answer to any question whatsoever who point blank refuses to disclose his nationality - but is one of the kindest most caring people you will ever meet and who leaves me laughing hysterically after every conversation. We have the lovely Finnish couple who convinced us to go out for sushi cos it was cheap sushi night – but the restaurant completely scammed us and had me spending so much money on food that I still haven’t bought any food from the supermarket since because I am too scared to spend any money. We have the security guard who carried me to bed on the night I learned that Dominican rum is not the same strength as my beloved Colombian rum, lifted me into my then top bunk (I have since upgraded to the bottom bunk – or is that downgraded?) and patted my head until I fell asleep as I mumbled sentences of mixed languages into my pillow. We have the American guy who keeps 45 guns hidden in an underground bunker alongside 3 years’ worth of stored food for the day the European Union comes to the United States and strips every one of their weapons. We have the obnoxious Chinese looking American who asks everyone if they have Facebook in their countries, where our countries actually are “in relation to America in the middle of the map of course”, and talks a thousand miles a minute and switches conversations quicker than anyone can keep up, before explaining that he hasn’t “taken his medicine in a while and sorry he is a bit manic right – have you seen my ex-wife’s photo with the new baby born with – wow the Dominican Republic has changed so much since – I need to go for swim cos today is so – Oh wow I mean I haven’t taken my medicine.” We have the old gringa who offered me work translating for poor/ indigenous communities over a 5 day health centre where she is bringing in USA dentists and Doctors, only to turn around, fall down and literally break her face but then laugh it off hysterically. We have the sweet yet completely naïve Australian girl who has traveled for 8 years but now believes that medical insurance is a complete scam – even after not being able to afford proper medical treatment when seriously sick despite the doctor telling me he thought she was crazy not to have it, combined with her uninsured Spanish teachers brother in law suffering serious head injuries from a motorbike accident that has now bankrupted the family. But she still point blank refuses to get travel insurance and tries to tell everyone who will listen that it’s a scam – yet naturally she hasn’t managed to convince anyone to join her revolution, but hey maybe in time right? All revolutions need a leader! We have the old gringo man who snores like a freight train during the night after attending meetings at the drug and alcohol recovery clinic in the next town every day at 5pm. We have the wonderfully crazy 19 year old Quebec girl who is far too much like me, people actually tell her she will be me at 27 (god help her) and last night after dancing bachata until 3am we climbed into a wooden dinghy on the beach after failing to pull it into the ocean (with the help of the owner of course) in our desire to row our way to Puerto Rico, instead rocking it back and forth on the sand and fighting over who got to be Captain Jack Sparrow. We have all the Dominican friends in the bars who yell bachata and happy hour every time I/we walk past, knowing that they might score a few bucks or at least a few laughs from us. I truly feel like I have walked into one of the maddest places in my life, one of the very few places on earth where everyone around me is just as mad as me – if not madder. And for the first time in quite a while, I really don’t have any intention of leaving anytime soon. But I promise I will try to start taking more pictures, or at least keep writing stories because this part of my life cannot be forgotten.

Every single day I still miss home. I miss my baby Grace more than I ever imagined I would. Especially when she sends me tear stained snap chat pictures and crying videos. I cry too, after every single skype with her, when I see her hair has grown and her mouth is no longer full of gaps, and the teeth that I soothed her for when they grew in the first place all those years ago, are now replaced by pearly whites that make her smile even more beautiful. I miss seeing my parents for dinner or coffee, mum making her candles and soaps like a crazed woman and showing them all to me with pride, I miss laughing with my Dad and cuddling up with him on the couch, I miss belonging to a country and not having misunderstandings; cultural or lingual, I miss my crazy friends who love me unconditionally, and I miss good Asian food – I would literally kill for a plate of dumplings. Sometimes I even google pictures just to stare and drool and pretend I am eating those little doughy balls of deliciousness. But I know that right now, I am exactly where I need to be. Of course I am, I trusted that the first 5 hour bus journey would give the universe time to lead me in the right direction and that is exactly what it did. I know that I am getting closer to achieving my dreams, I am learning once and for all who I am and how to be independent, how to respect and love myself in a way I never have but always so desperately needed to. I am learning to live in the moment, so much that I have no idea which way I am about to go and I am 100% fine with it. And I know that as soon as I do feel that burning desire to move on again, I can and I will. That it doesn’t matter I have no money, because my craziness for the first time in my life is working with me rather than against. Because I know I am not bound to anyone or anything here on my travels, and I won’t be until that person or place is as deserving and as respectful of me as I aim to be of myself. That I won’t settle for the first piece of comfort that comes my way, that to battle through the sheer homesickness, loneliness, and desperation can be so rewarding when I finally find a place where I feel like I belong – even if of course, it is only temporary.

x

Posted by chasingsummer 11:15 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged beach party caribbean paradise dancing boys adventures tanning bachata Comments (0)

The Princess of Mexican TV

sunny 38 °C
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Again, a million things have happened that it is, as always, almost impossible to begin. The easiest thing for me to do is to start where I left off and work my way up to today, by including as many as the cool stories I can – or at least the ones that are able to be shared. In the last 2 weeks I have been on a Caribbean island, my skin has turned black once again, I have had fish eat at my feet while swimming in a cenote, and I have been the Princess of New Zealand for 3 days. I have also flown from Mexico to El Salvador where I met a lovely man who took me for a drink and dinner, before flying to Cali, Colombia where I have a 5 hour wait before I board my plane to Bogota. Hence, I have the time to write this while sitting on a dusty floor in a dirty corner of the smelliest airport I have ever been to. It is 1.30am and I am writing rather than shopping or drinking with new friends as the airport is closed so I am actually not within the departure gates so I am slightly terrified of being jacked. And I am sitting in the corner because this is the only part of the entire airport with free wifi signal. Even my fancy new wifi hacking app (wifi password is the highly original name in case you care) hasn’t found anything available that is near a chair. Actually, I had a chair but then the security came and took it away despite my protests. I guess I lost my royal rights as soon as I left Mexico…

But, it is now time to talk about the past few weeks before I can talk about today. I know in my last entry, I was in Tulum with two good friends Memo and Juan. Memo is from Mexico City and Juan from Colombia. We travelled together from Tulum to a town called Bacalar. The reason we went to this town is because it sits on the bank of the most beautiful lake I have ever seen, La Laguna de Bacalar.
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We stayed in a horrific hostel, shared a bed in a sweaty and crowded dorm room because they mucked up our last minute reservation. I was full of a nasty flu (which at one point I was convinced was Dengue) so I went outside at about 11pm, covered myself in repellent and slept in a hammock under the stars and with the breeze. Everyone thought I was nuts because of the mosquitos, I just laughed and added a couple of extra layers of coconut oil before sleeping until the came up. I was still feeling sick but we had already booked out sailing trip out on the lake. I figured that what I truly needed was a cleanse – and what better place to do it than in one of the best lakes in the world? So off we went.
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The lake was stunning, and the day was super hot and sunny. We stopped at all sorts of interesting places along the way to swim and explore the different areas.
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At one point we all jumped off and followed our sailing captain to a specific area. He started covering himself with sand from the bottom of the lake, instructing us to do the same. We covered ourselves in calcium and sulphur rich minerals that made our skin feel as soft as silk. Some people kept theirs on until it dried, but as always I needed to be clean so mine didn’t last much longer than a few photos and many more laughs.
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The sailing trip was a full day out, at least 7 hours. At one point everyone jumped off with their legs through the arms of life jackets and then floated down a beautiful canal way. DSC00351.jpgDSC00350.jpgDSC00348.jpg
Ichose not to because I was cold, despite the 35 degree weather. I knew my fever had really kicked in, so I tanned on the boat in peace and quiet instead which was heavenly. I kept looking up to see that I was all alone in the most beautiful turquoise water. It was the same colour, if not more vibrant, as San Andres. But the water was fresh water rather than salt, or agua dulce (sweet water) as it is called in Spanish.
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We decided not to spend another night in that hostel. It was just super weird, the girls were super hairy, the men had long nails, and everyone seemed to be pregnant to each other. I don’t know about that last part for sure, but we certainly didn’t dig the vibe. So we headed back to Tulum to camp in a remote part of the beach for a few days. The bus ride back was a joke, we were all crammed in like sardines and had to wait for people to get off in order to get a seat. I didn't like it one bit because it wasn't safe, but there was nothing I could do as getting off the bus in the middle of the night to stand on the side of the road in Mexico is probably even less safe.
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We met up with Ilse, a friend of Memo’s from Mexico City, and we rented a little beach cabin. By night we partied on the beach and by day we swam. Ilse and I made a fantastic sandcastle one day which we were so proud of, I think the photos are on Memo’s camera and I hope I can get a hold of them. It really was a spectacular castle which everyone on the beach came along to admire!
After my time in Tulum and Bacalar I needed to say adios to my 3 traveling buddies and head for Holbox. Now, I ask that as you read this you please say the name properly. The word Holbox is not Spanish, and is actually a Mayan word and it is pronounced like this: OLL-BOSH.
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Holbox is a beautiful island three hours bus ride north of Cancun. You then need to take a short 30 minute ferry to the island itself. On Holbox there are no cars at all and the streets are made of sand. All of the buildings are painted different colours or have murals on them, it is so pretty. If you need a faster way to get around you can rent a bicycle or a golf buggy. Everything is in walking distance so I chose to walk, which is always a great thing to do as a traveller because I find that I meet so many more people - especially if I walk without a phone in my hand or headphones in my ears. I stayed in a Hostel called Tribu. The hostel itself is gorgeous, it has the most beautiful buildings and artworks everywhere you look.
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Sadly, the atmosphere was horrendous and I didn’t particularly enjoy the company of anybody there. Actually, that’s not entirely true, the first night I met some lovely girls who were leaving the very next day. But the reason for the lack of atmosphere was because the owners had called in some friends from Argentina to help with renovations. And these friends were very closed off to anyone else which is a shame because as workers they should have been actively trying to make the hostel a fun and friendly place. Also, the only area with wifi was the common area so everyone would go there and just sit on their phones! It was such a shame. However, I was very grateful to my amazing friend Gabi from Guadalajara who had given me the phone number of her friend Adriana, who lives and works on the island. The first night I was there, I met up with Adriana for a quick drink and a dance – one that ended up with us returning home to bed at sunrise!
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The following day, Adriana's cousin Alan had arrived for the weekend to celebrate his birthday. We hired a golf buggy and went off with another friend Cristian to explore the different points of the island.
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At the different points there were some beautiful and remote areas for swimming and exploring
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We tried to see the flamingos but we couldn’t cross the river because there were crocodiles swimming in it (thankfully they knew what to look for, if I had gone by myself the thought of a crocodile would never have even crossed my mind!). We saw sunset from the beach which was stunning, then went home to get ready to go out for dinner and some drinks that night.
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There were many days of tanning on Holbox, and I loved spending the day with Ariana at her hotel. Her hotel was right on the beach and had all sorts of amazing tanning chairs that non-guests paid a fortune to lounge on - but not us! DSC00398.jpgDSC00399.jpg
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There were days spent lazing on the beach with the local fishermen. Sometimes they would cook up fresh ceviche on a beach stove they had made.
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Sometimes I would go for a drink with new friends, there were plenty of cool bars to try. My favourite ones had swings at the bar where you could catch a breeze.
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Other times we would just share a rum or a beer. I met lots of lovely people in Holbox and I loved how everywhere I would walk I would meet someone I knew, and then they would offer me a seat and a beer. It was the atmosphere where to say no would be rude, so I found myself casually drinking beer with new friends all day long. I met one friend who became my Mexican father. He was a fisherman with a lovely heart, reminding me of my own dad. He would always bring me a beer or a michelada and make sure that I had the comfiest seat or that I was warm or dry or whatever.
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Sadly, I got sick during my time in Holbox. The Not-Dengue-Flu had not quite left me (the cough still lingers now of course, in true Katy style). It wasn’t a normal sickness that struck me down, rather a terrible allergic reaction to the mosquitos. Holbox has a terrible mosquito problem, in fact it is the reason most tourists don’t stay longer than 48 hours. They are vicious and relentless, and there are billions and trillions of them per square centimetre. And it wasn’t long (despite the 3 types of repellent I wore) until my skin had broken out with massive hives and rashes. Some of the hives were 20cm long and at least 2cm high. I was in pain and I could hardly walk, so I hobbled my way up to the hospital/ emergency clinic for a couple of injections. One which is full of vitamins and it actually changed the scent of my blood so that the mosquitoes no longer wanted me! However, after a whole lot of gel, antihistamine injections, blood scent changers, and some time spent in the sea and sun, it wasn’t long before I was ready to party again. So I met Adriana and we headed off to a Bachata dance class for the evening. Luckily the injections healed me, because my trip to Holbox coincided with their 3rd annual Gastronomical celebration.
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The party went for 5 nights, of which I was there for 3 of them. All I can say is wow – the food, the music, the location, the decorations, the mezcal and tequila! They had booklets for sale, and you needed to buy one every night. Each one cost about $50NZD and it was full of coupons to eat at all of the different stalls and to get drinks and alcohol. But because I had spent over a week on the island, I was able to eat at most of the stalls for free because I knew all of the owners and workers of the restaurants! And the people that I didn’t know, Adriana or other friends knew – it was perfect! At one point, I even got given a book half full of tickets which meant I could then hand out some to other friends - so much for tickets and them making money from an event huh? They were great nights, and it always ended up in dancing until my feet ached. Everyone was drunk due to the huge amounts of free liquour. One guy was so out of it, he was dancing romantically with a chair! I was in stitches, trying to take sneaky photos of him.
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I also knew the members of Holbox's local salsa band (and they knew me too, cos I was always requesting Bachata!). My friend Raphael let me try his saxophone and I was so excited, I knew one would present itself into my life at some stage!
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There was quite a bit of media covering the event, and for some reason I boldy approached a TV crew and asked them if they would like the privilege of interviewing the Princess of New Zealand. They were thrilled to do so, and of course I was super excited to be interviewed – and to be called princess while doing so!
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Each night we partied the whole time, and on my last night we found a whole lot of left over rum, vodka, cocacola, ice cubes, and a bag of fresh limes… Talk about an omen! So off we went, laden with goodies. I was scheduled to take the 7am ferry back to the mainland so I could meet my friend Brissa in Cancun at 10.30. However, I knew that if I did not get on the 5am ferry straight after the party, I would never ever wake up for 7am!
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By this stage I had long left Tribu and was staying with Adriana in her adorable little house. It was really sad saying goodbye as she had become such a good friend in such a short time. With promises of trips to Cuba and visits to dance bachata in the Domican Repulic together, it was time to leave behind the great life and the amazing people I had found in Holbox. I arrived in Cancun to meet Brissa in the lobby of her hotel. I was beyond exhausted and fell straight asleep for a few hours.
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When we both woke up, we headed off with a couple of her friends to Cenote Azul, about an hours drive from Cancun. This was exactly what I needed, a dive in fresh, cool, crystalline water.
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The water itself was bizarre, it was full of lots of fish that would come and nibble on my feet and legs – causing me to laugh and freak out every time! They were like the fish in the fish foot spa’s in Asia, only bigger and scarier!
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We then went to the beach in Playa Del Carmen for a few hours, had some dinner, and I then passed out for 12 hours!
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I had been in contact with Benjamin, the owner of the TV station, in the hopes of receiving a copy of my interview. When he realised I was in Cancun, he asked if the Princess of New Zealand would have time to accompany him to events over the weekend. I was super excited, and of course I said yes – as both meant free backstage passes to events and places I would never have had the money to go to otherwise! The experience was amazing, I went to a musical called Que rico mambo and got to meet all of the actors before watching the show from right up the front.
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I got to go to Xplore in Cancun and see everything behind the scenes of the race, including all of the sexy men!
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And at the race, I got to interview people for the TV channel! It was all super exciting, and everybody called me Princess. Someone even wiped down a chair for me before I could sit on it. I guess I will never truly know if people truly thought I was the princess, or if they were just playing along. But either way, I was treated like royalty and it was so much fun. I really enjoyed seeing all the behind the scenes stuff for the press – for the most part it seems to be quite a lot of running, very little sleep, and a lot of waiting around! The funniest part for me was interviewing people who were clearly Mexican celebrities, them thinking I was the Princess of New Zealand, yet I had absolutely zero idea of who they were!
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When they realised I had no accommodation booked, I was put up for the night. Which was so lovely as money is certainly running low these days.
I was taken to a secret spot in Cancun where it is only for the locals. The water is a mix of fresh and salt and it so clean and pretty with tropical fish swimming all through it and around you.
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Benjamin dropped me at the airport where I made my first flight of 3 to Bogota. And now, here I am sitting here in this dusty and cold airport with now just 2.5 hours left to go. I was sad to wave goodbye to Mexico, especially to all of my amazing friends who live there. But a huge part of me is already so happy to be back in Colombia. On the plane I met a lady who has invited me to stay with her when I come to Cali to explore properly, and I already have the magical feeling of being wanted and loved by even strangers, the feeling that only exists here in Colombia . I know it sounds stupid, sitting here on a smelly piece of concrete, but the truth is that Colombia well and truly stole my heart.

Posted by chasingsummer 13:12 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach caribbean tv colombia holbox media princess tanning cenotes Comments (0)

From Tequila to the Caribbean

sunny 38 °C
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Again, it feels like I just can't keep up with my own adventures. I try so hard not to be a tourist, uploading a million photos onto facebook that just annoy everyone because they aren't on holiday too - and because I know how know one really cares about another persons travel stories. It's why I like this blog, because it is partly for the amazing people in my life who do care and want to know where I am and what trouble I am causing (love you guys so much), and also because essentially, it is purely for myself and for the day when I compile the entire thing into a printed book. But to keep both the people I love, and my future self, up to date with this whirlwind adventure is dam near impossible.
Right now however, I am slightly sunburned so I can not face yet another day in the unrelenting heat. I am in Tulum, sitting in my dark dorm room, all alone, with the fan blasting on me while I take the opportunity to write my stories and share some photos.

I guess I need to start with Tequila, the region I went to explore with Advier, Alain, and Dirce on the day after Dirce's birthday. We all had a slight hangover from drinking too much red wine and tequila the night before when we went out for dinner.
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I was so pleased to see Dirce enjoying her day, especially when she got given her prized gift of a ukelele!
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After dinner, we had cake and tequila back at Dirce's house. I didn't know about a particular Mexican tradition where everyone chanted 'mordida' after singing happy birthday, and then Dirce was face planted straight into the cake!
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Next thing I knew, there was a full on cake fight! Luckily there were 8 dogs and of course, me and my Taquito, so we could be licked clean!
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So the following day, with head aches and the odd piece of sugar or cream still in our hair, we left to see the round pyramids. On the way, we stopped in the Tequila region to drink cantaritos, which are the most delicious drink ever! They are made from various types of freshly squeezed juice, salt, and tequila. The entire process is done right before your eyes, straight into a clay drinking cup that you get to keep!
First you have to pick the size that you want, I chose medium. The grande has an entire bottle and a half of tequila poured into it!
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Then they chop and squeeze all of the fruit into the cups
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And then they use a hollowed out cows horn to add 5 horns of tequila into each mug! The traditional way to pour and measure tequila is through a horn, and it is only recently that many places have changed to using shot glasses or more western types of measures. So I was very happy I could drink the real deal.
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Then it is time to sit back, relax, and drink a whole lot of tequila!
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Where we were was certainly not for tourists, I was the only person there who was not Mexican, and the outdoor bar was full of live music and chatter. The bar looked out onto the beautiful, UNESCO protected Blue Agave landscape and mountains.
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Blue Agave is the blue plant from which Tequila is made. And Tequila can ONLY be called Tequila if it is made in this particular part of the world. And I went there!
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I saw some cactus's and realised I had promised Erie I would take a picture behind one pretending to be the shape of a cactus.
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I didn't see the wasp nest while doing it though, and one of the little buggers got me on my arm. I wasn't sure if I was allergic but I had my bee injection on me so I knew I would be ok if so. Thankfully I am not allergic so it was definitely worth the sting for the picture for my darling esposa Erie!
After finally finishing our huge drinks we drove to the pyramids. But we were devastated to find that our time in Tequila land had meant we missed our opportunity to enter to see the pyramids. And no matter how hard we tried to convince security that I am the Princess of Nueva Sandalia (translates as New Sandal, where my friend Ariel had mistakenly thought I was from, starting a great joke and of course, an entire new country of which I am the Princess), there was no way we were going to be let in. We were very disappointed as we headed back to Guadalajara, but the sunset over the mountains was beautiful and I was very grateful to Alain, Advier, and Dirce that we had tried, and that I had made it to see the Tequila territory.
That night we all went out for my goodbye party, we went to Paul-O, Gabi, and Ariel's house before going to a karaoke bar until the early hours of the morning. We had street quesadillas, of which I will always remember as the best drunken 4am food of my life, before heading back to sing and dance around the apartment once more. At 6am, we decided it may be time to get some sleep, so Advier, Alain and I headed off for home. However, we were locked in by the giant fence around the apartment building. Every house or apartment building in Guadalajara has a fence around it, many are also protected with very high voltage electricity at the top. Thankfully this one was not, as we had to jump it in order to get out! The fence was at least 12 feet tall but after I saw Advier jump, I knew that Alain would make it too, and I was NOT going to be the girl who couldn't jump a fence! So before Alain had the chance to go ahead of me, I began to climb up. By this stage, the rest of our friends were watching, cheering, and laughing from upstairs. I got up with the help of a car, a few broken bricks, and some dodgy electrical poles only slightly freaked about going down, and then swung my way down a very scary looking spikey part and a wobbly telephone pole. It was great, Advier was so proud of me and everyone cheered "we love the princess of Nueva Sandalia!" to which, I explained that everyone at home can do these things, and now everyone thinks New Zealand breeds tough women... And I guess in many ways we do, because I have been laughed at many times for wearing barefeet, running over rocks, choosing to take the beaten path instead of the paved one, and now climbing massive security fences like a monkey!
The next day though, I realised my jeans didn't quite like the fence jumping...
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A couple of days later I met up with Franco's cousin Carlos. We went to see the pyramids together, and this time I managed to make it inside. The hike up the hill in the heat was pretty intense, and I was regretting not wearing my jandals so I stripped into barefeet again much to Carlos's disgust. I didn't care because I was boosting it up the hill and he was straggling behind, constantly asking for me to help haul him up and stopping for rests. I had to laugh, and I was grateful too because that has been my position many times with ex-boyfriends, and of course my amazing brother Dom. I laughed, partly at his unfitness, and mostly with pride at my new found independence and ability to do anything I put my mind to.
The view on our way up was spectacular, so Carlos got to rest while I stopped to take some pictures.
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I saw a short cut, that looked beautiful. Carlos was too scared to take it, but I explained to him that shortcuts are only created out of humanity's laziness and desire for an easy route - that appealed to him. I kept secret that shortcuts can also mean harder terrain leading to somewhere remote and idyllic, but thought I would keep that one to myself. I had to wonder though, how could anyone desire a paved road of concrete over one so beautiful
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Once we got to the top, there they were - beautiful round pyramids of grass and rock. We walked around, exploring them all. Sadly, no one is allowed to climb up onto them but you can see how they need to be preserved instead.
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Carlos dropped me home, and then I took Dirce and her family out for dinner to say thank you for letting me stay there for 2 weeks. The next morning as excited as I was to head back to the Caribbean, I was very sad to say goodbye to Dirce and to Taquito. I was especially sad when Dirce told me that Taquito came straight back inside, failed to climb up onto my bed without my help, and instead curled up right against it and waited there for me. I wish I could have taken Taquito. but I know the best thing for her is to find a forever family now while she is still a puppy.

I flew to Cancun (far longer than I had realised so I did some work on the plane). I got to my hostel, which was full of Aussie's and Kiwi's so we had a great evening. I met a guy from Venezuela and he gave me lots of advice about my upcoming trip there. We danced salsa and bachata too which was lots of fun. Again, I was the only non Latina who could speak Spanish, so I got extra tequila in my cocktail, free sunglasses given to me when I lost mine, and free beers all night. Sometimes, even still, I just high five myself!
The next day I took the bus down to Tulum where I have been for the past few days. I met a couple of friends in the hostel, one from Mexico City, one from Bogota, Colombia, and one from USA. We hired a car on one of the days and went to see Chichen Itza which was beautiful.
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The only thing that faulted it, was the large numbers of vendors everywhere. They lined the sides of the grounds, and called out to you every single step of the way. It was very hard to enjoy the ruins, and appreciate the tranquility when there were so many people calling out for your attention. I said to my friend how I didn't like it and one of the vendors overheard only part of the conversation. He asked me, "don't you like it, don't you like the Mayan culture?" I turned to him and said, "I love the culture, but this is not culture this is cheap souvenirs sold by pushy vendors." He realised I was right, and let me go without any more hassle. I felt very sad though, to be on the grounds of such a significant place for Mayan people, to be hassled for a few pesos. I can't even imagine what the ancient Mayans would have done, considering the vendors lined the paths to their sacrificial steps where they would make the steps rain in human blood until the real rain would come.
One part that was very cool was how you could clap, and then hear the sound of the quetzal bird echoing through the pyramid. I was bouncing up and down with excitement, it took a while for me to learn how to make such a loud clap (the louder the better) but once I got it, I was away!
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After walking around twice, clapping our hands a million times, being hassled for cash, and sweating more than I ever have at the gym, we left the pyramids and headed for a cenote. A cenote is an underground pool of water and there are said to be over 4000 of them in the Yucatan peninsula. We headed for one called Ik Kil and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever swam. You could look down on the cenote from above, and of course in the nearly 40 degree head, that was super exciting!
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You make your way through tunnels underground, carved into the limestone to get to the water DSC00188.jpg
and then all you have to do, is jump!
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We stayed there for a couple of hours, enough for the water to cool us down so much that we stayed cool for the rest of the evening. It was so beautiful, floating on our backs and looking up at the opening with the vines making their way down. Their were also all sorts of rocks, cavern, and mini waterfalls around the edges. It was paradise!
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As we had entered the carpark, someone had taken a group photo of us. When we left, we were handed a bottle of indigenous Mayan liquor with our photo on it! We didn't buy it, but I was allowed to take a picture! I never had my face on an alcohol bottle before so I needed a pic!
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We spent the following day riding our bikes to the beach, at a place called Papaya Playa Project. It was such a neat place, all sorts of alcoves to enjoy a drink with a great view! There were also beds on the beach inside little cabañas so we took over one of them for the day. The waiter brought us beer and nachos with salsas and fresh guacamole - bliss!
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That was where I picked up the sunburn, forgetting it had been 6 weeks since I was in the Caribbean sun I over did it. Not too much, but I am feeling a little bit sore. Today I rode my bike to the Mayan ruins that are in Tulum. They were once a port city for their trading, and it was much bigger and much more impressive than Chichen Itza. Also, no vendors were allowed inside so it made for a much more pleasant day. And because of its location on the coast, I was able to stop for a swim half way through!
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Tomorrow I am heading off to la laguna de bacalar which is a lake of 7 colours. I am going to go sailing and kayaking for a few days, perhaps before heading into Belize. Then I will head to the island of Holbox for 10 days before meeting Brissa for one last weekend of partying in Cancun before I leave Mexico and head to Venezuela!
x

Posted by chasingsummer 13:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach caribbean pyramids tulum mayan tequila cenotes Comments (2)

On top of the world

Minca, Sierra Nevada, La Guajira, and a few flamingos too

sunny 35 °C

Phew, I have to write this because if not, I will never catch up. Every single day has just been one adventure after the next. From beautiful location to beautiful location, I seem to just wander in a daze, completely lost in the moment and just wanting to absorb every single second.

I arrived in Minca to work in the restaurant for 3 weeks. The town itself is TINY and set in the mountains about 15km above the city of Santa Marta. The town has lots of waterfalls, rivers, secret spots, coffee farms, and a few tourists that wander through to explore and enjoy it all. My restaurant ‘lazy cat’ or ‘gato perezoso’ was known as the place for tourists and locals alike, as there was a mix of Spanish and English speaking staff, as well as being famous for cooking the best food in town! I was so excited after my first day, when I had spent 80% of the day as a waitress speaking only Spanish! I had made absolutely NO mistakes, kept up with everything, and even made myself a tip! At the end of the week, when the tips were added up, I had actually made 30,000 pesos which is about $20 NZD and a fair amount of money here!
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During the week, I would begin work at 3pm. This meant I had most of the day to explore as the sun changes around 3pm and gets ready to set at 6. Every day meant a new adventure (two meant a vomiting virus that affected the entire town) and every day meant new people, and making friends with the people of Minca. It was really great, being one of the only tourists who spoke (reasonable) Spanish because I made a name for myself in the town very quickly as the happy Kiwi girl who was friendly with anyone. I think they really enjoyed being able to talk to and joke with a foreigner, I get the impression that opportunity didn’t present itself very often in Minca! I ended up watching a local football game one evening, it was very intense! The ref even had yellow and red cards! It blew bubble soccer matches completely out of the water! This was a very good place for me to be... not only did I spent hours watching games and laughing and talking with locals in Spanish, one team wore teeshirts and the other didn't so they could identify each other. I got to watch sweaty, tanned, sexy, delicious men run around and play soccer without teeshirts on!!
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I spent one lovely day at this river filled pool, high in the mountains. It was so lovely to just jump in and then tan dry in the sunshine.
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One of the days I went to a place called “las piedras’ which means ‘the rocks’ in English. It was a really cool place where two rivers met and created water tunnels and a massive waterhole with high rocks to walk through and jump off into the cool water.
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When I was tanning here, I met a group of young local boys. Two who worked as tourist guides in Minca. They were showing me how to jump and do different types of bombs, one could even dive off like a champ! They were really impressed that I would jump straight off, apparently most girls here don’t do these things – especially without being scared! They were horrified that I hadn’t been to Pozo Azul yet, which has an even better place for jumping. So they told me we were going to hike there right away. The hike was very long, and very hot. We bought cubes of ice (long thin plastic bags of frozen water) and they were luke warm water within 15 minutes. We must have hiked for over an hour, but when we got there it was totally worth it!
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The boys knew of other secret spots, from growing up in Minca and now being tourist guides. So they took me to a couple of other spots further up the river. I had such a magical day with them and I felt as if I had met the first people like my Kiwi friends, since leaving New Zealand. They were so funny, friendly, adventurous, and super patient with my Spanish. I did give them a few laughs though when I messed up a couple of words REALLY badly… I said “are you going to Julian’s” but apparently what I said was “are you going to anal sex” … Oh Spanish, how you can be so cruel to me sometimes!
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Unfortunately things weren’t quite so perfect in paradise. Some of the other volunteers from other restaurants and hostels in Minca were having a tough time in their placements. One day we all went down to Santa Marta to have a break from the town. It was a bit of a crazy day, lots of emotions, but nice to be together and really nice to have no language barrier.
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I decided that one week was enough in Minca and I wasn’t going to stay for the full 3 weeks. I began to feel unsafe, and this meant I needed to follow my heart and leave. I was very sad to leave, but thankfully the owner of the restaurant was super kind and understanding which meant that I was able to leave with my head held high. From Minca, I headed further into the mountains to a place called Casa Elemento. I honestly believe this place is about as close to heaven as I have ever been.
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I feel that my whole entire life, all of my travelling days, I have been looking for what I found here. Every single person who made it up, became a friend, because all that arrived were true travellers. They were people who were there for the experience, in South America because their hearts had called them there. The staff are amazing, the view spectacular, and they cook the best vegetarian food I have ever eaten. Heaven.
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I stayed for 5 nights and loved every single minute. I worked on the giant hammock, I went for hikes to find fresh avocados – and eat them straight off the floor of the jungle, I ate bananas fresh from the bunch hanging on a tree, I tried cacao fruit, I saw a coffee farm and drank freshly roasted coffee. I hiked to secret waterfalls with my mountain man (named Jesus!), and slept on the giant hammock with friends, under a sky full of shooting stars.
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The saddest part of Casa Elemento was leaving, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Thankfully the giant thunderstorm that had hit 2 days prior (resulting in us all needing to wear our shoes due to the lightning hitting the house in the past, and coming about 5 meters away during my stay) had destroyed the power supply. So on the day I left, the pool was being drained and there was no ice for the rum. It certainly made it easier to depart!
I left for the coast with my friend Jaime, a lovely girl from Canada who shared my passion for flamingos. We headed to a place called Rancho Relaxo, a sister hostel of Casa Elemento. We slept at the mirador, a 20 minute hike up to a gorgeous spot that overlooked the Caribbean sea. Sleeping in a hammock with a nice sea breeze is definitely now one of my favourite things!
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Rancho Relaxo was pretty cool, it had painted goats that cuddled up like lap dogs!
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We spent 2 nights there, and left for La Guajira to see the flamingos. We got on a bus, and then another, then a moto (motorbike taxi), to finally be thrown off in the middle of the desert! Poor Jaime, as she struggled with Spanish, I think she was quite shocked and only half believing me when I said we were finally nearly there.
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The moto men took us down a dusty path, to where we saw native people - Wayuu tribe wearing their traditional white robes - and then arrived at the flamingo lagoon.
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Sadly, the coast of Colombia is currently in drought status. Water is very low in supply, and this had affected the flamingos. Where there are usually 5 – 7 million in August, there were just 30 flamingos! But they were 30 more wild, Caribbean flamingos than I have ever seen, and I was the happiest girl on the planet as we were pushed around in a boat (the man was literally walking pushing the boat because the water was so low).
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The following day, Jaime and I headed to a beach called Playa Los Angeles. It was a lovely beach, but the water was a bit too rough and I could see the rip so I didn’t get in past my knees. The colours of the water and the sky, the most beautiful contrasts of blue and aqua and green, are just amazing. My camera does not do it justice. I think I need a new camera, one that captures the world the way my eyes and mind do.
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Last night I arrived back into Santa Marta. I am staying with Cindy and Didi’s family here for a couple of days before I head to the Caribbean island of San Andres. This island is Colombian territory, but it is closer to Nicaragua. I believe it is a paradise for swimming, tanning, snorkelling, diving (but I can’t due to asthma), rum, and adventures. Also shopping as they don’t pay tax – how convenient! I am going to the beach this afternoon and tomorrow with Didi’s brothers Jamir and Ariel. I need to keep working on my tan, I am still too brown. I need to be black.

x

Posted by chasingsummer 08:59 Archived in Colombia Tagged waterfalls beach caribbean hot flamingos minca santa_marta giant_hammock Comments (0)

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