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Hide and Seek

in an abandoned resort

sunny 30 °C

Hide and Seek in the abandoned resort may or may not have been one of my ideas…

But when Mimi, a good friend of mine told me all about an abandoned resort that was her favourite place on earth – I simply had to go there. I asked Timpe and Hod (who had gone with Mimi) if they would like to go again, and if so could they lead the way for me. And soon enough, the idea turned into hide and seek with a great bunch of people from the castle. We had to postpone it once due to good wind (meaning every kite surfer dropped everything and ran to the water), and then when it was looking like postponing was going to happen again we had to make the final decision – wind or no wind, surf or no surf, hide and seek was happening.
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And I am so glad it did. The place itself was ginormous. Over 500 individual house style apartments – each that once had at least a bedroom, a desk, a bathroom, wardrobes, and some with kitchen facilities.
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There were houses that had multiple bedrooms and clearly once housed families on vacation.
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There were giant eating areas and restaurants, one that was out of bounds for hide and seek due to the large population of bees living within its walls - and having 2 severely allergic game players, both without their epi-pens (oops, sorry parents)…
Abandoned swimming pools…
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Abandoned mansions…
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An abandoned swim up bar and pool house that felt as if it once housed some amazing parties…
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Abandoned and ancient generators for power beside an unrestrained well in the ground…
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Even the pool equipment was abandoned and flooded in its underground bunker…
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And everywhere we went, the eeriest feeling filled the air. It was as if a million families and friends had partied. Had posed outside their cabana and peered into the cameras with beaming holiday faces and their arms wrapped tightly around each other’s shoulders. The couples who had shared their honeymoon, the sibling fights, the lovers tiffs, the nights of passion, the races to the swimming pool to do the biggest divebomb. The giant reception hall stood unroofed and desolate after being witness to thousands of people who had checked in and checked out probably to have no idea of the fate of their beloved 5 star holiday destination.
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The looters had come, and everything was gone – from the toilets to the light switches, and even to the tarnished bronze drawer handles now on their way to Holland to be a Christmas present for my friend’s mother.
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And a little piece of all of the energy the resort had ever seen, remained where it was ingrained into every single piece of flaking paint and broken roof tile. Where I looked around in dismay and could see what the not so far future inhabitants/ cultures of earth will see when our current society wipes itself out with its greed and over consumption.
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When the future generations will walk around in disgust as they observe how we could leave everything so broken and empty, how we can close the doors and walk away from something that once was our dream purely because it no longer served us. Because the price for selling it wasn’t enough so it was better off that no one had it, even in a country where there are hundreds and thousands of people living in mud huts surrounded by dust and debris. Somehow to someone, it seemed better to shut the doors and walk away forever rather than donate the structurally sound buildings to families in need around the country.
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However, the remnants of the rubble are now home to one beautiful, smiling, kind Haitian family of squatters who have rigged up the best property in the place with running water from a hose and electricity – luxury to many people in these parts of the world.
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And to us, it was a huge desolate playground for adults, where ever corner held danger and excitement. Where all we could do was explore and search and stare in amazement at something that was once so full of life.
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Posted by chasingsummer 09:57 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged buildings parties caribbean adventures 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)

Finding my way

Exploring, mountains, working, and thinking

sunny 25 °C
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The last couple of months have gone both fast and slow. I have officially hit the 6 month traveling mark, it’s Christmas and New Year season (and you can’t walk a metre without being reminded of this in Colombia!), I have worked and lived in the jungle, I have taken people on tours, cleaned and cooked meals for 30 people, and I have up and quit my job like never before in my life. It has been a complete roller coaster ride, and I can’t say I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute because that would be a lie. But I like to give the percentage of 85% loving this crazy ride, and 15% wanting to get straight off and run back to New Zealand screaming.

During my time in Bogota I went to some amazing places with Kat’s parents. We went to Paipa for a long weekend (Colombia has 26 long weekends a year by the way!). Paipa is a thermal city/ town, kind of like Rotorua in New Zealand. It has a large lake and the houses and hotels are all built around them. Our hotel was so beautiful, I had the most amazing views out across the lake from my room!
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We did lots of touring around, we went to neighbouring towns and drove right up into the mountains that eventually lead to the border to Venezuela. We went to a town that sells only feijoas, and of course with my allergy I couldn’t taste a thing!
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We went and saw museums, and the Puente de Boyaca up close – the place where Colombia won back its independence.
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We saw the vargas swamp lancers statues where artist Rodrigo Arenas has created Colombia’s largest monument in bronze to remember the large battle that happened there when the 14 soldiers of Simon Bolivar’s army, armed only with lances, won a battle against the Spanish.
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Mama Kat and I went out in one of those little paddle boats where you ride it like a bicycle to move. We had the aim of a puntico rojo but we just kept going in circles, crashing into other boats, and laughing like maniacs because we got absolutely nowhere! It was one of the funniest things ever!
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We went to a beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, that is actually part of a lake. We ate the best trout I have ever eaten in my entire life on that beach. We were going to go for a boat ride but it was so cold. Because the lake was high up in the mountains, it was about 9 degrees and we weren’t equipped for that cold temperature.
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We drove through towns famous for potatoes, others famous for sausages, and areas where they grow nothing but onions – it was so bizarre putting my head out the window to smell that! We stopped and had photos on top of a mountain that looked right over Tota lake to where playa blanca was on the other side.
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We went to a little village called Pueblo Boyaca that had different areas of housing styles to represent all of the different towns within the municipality of Boyaca. This was my favourite part because there were rainbow houses and white houses and beautiful gardens. There was even a shop that sold only things painted with cats on them, so of course Papá Kat bought me something from there because I was so excited.
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We went to a Catholic church, one of only 2 in the world, that has a sculpture of the devil inside. Everything in the church is covered with gold leaf, and it’s really sad because in the lower parts you can see where people have come in and tried to scratch it off. The town itself is a coal town, and that too is sad because it has a high rate of child exploitation where they force the kids into the mines and then to make the statues later on. Not everything is rainbow and butterflies, sunshine and beaches, on this trip and I hate reminders of this even though they are necessary.
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We also went to a town that is famous for knitwear. A very famous thing from Boyaca district is a ruana, so we went searching to find me one that I liked and that papa Kat would agree to aswell - funny, he didn't like the same rainbow ones I did!
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We had such a lovely weekend together and it was so sad when it was time to go home to the city. But home we went, and that was ok too because I had made some new friends on couch surfing. We got together one night, a huge group of us, and we made pasta from scratch! Another night we went out to dance bachata – which of course made me very happy!
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I found a job at the hostel in the mountains, where I had stayed earlier in the year. They were looking for volunteers so I bought a plane ticket to Santa Marta and then made the trip by dirtbike (in the pouring rain) with all of my things, up to the top of the mountain.
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It was great to be back in paradise, even if I was immediately put straight to work. I literally didn’t stop working for even 5 minutes, for my first 2.5 weeks. I was the first of the new volunteers to arrive and I worked my ass off – changing 20 beds worth of sheets every day, cleaning up, cooking lunch, taking tours, translating Spanish and English, and doing reception check ins/ check outs. It was hectic, but I still had an amazing time. I loved meeting the travellers who came through, learning about their stories and their travels, and just being on top of the world with that view.
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Finally some new volunteers came through, and things became a little less hectic which meant my work load got lighter and I had more time to enjoy the surroundings of where I was. One of the days I took a 3.5 hour hiking tour through the jungle with a group of travellers. The view from the top was even more spectacular than from the hostel. It looked right over the entire city, and to another city called Baranquilla which is hours away by car!
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We had headed off to visit a coffee farm called La Victoria. It is the oldest coffee farm in the region, 122 years old and every piece of machinery is both original and hydro-powered. 90_DSC00461.jpgDSC00460.jpg90_DSC00453.jpg90_DSC00450.jpg90_DSC00448.jpg
The hydro power machinery brings the beans in from all over the 160 hectares around the property so that the pickers only need to walk to drop off points rather than all the way to the main building. We also got to taste fresh coffee beans and their surrounding fruit - kinda gross! DSC00447.jpg
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I found it fascinating to learn about coffee production, to know how little the local people get paid – just 200 pesos (10 cents NZ) per box that they collect, and that it takes 7 kilos of the fruit to make just 1 kilo of coffee. 90_DSC00444.jpg
I also found it fascinating that the fruit didn’t taste or smell like coffee until it had gone through the washing/ selecting phase and was in the drying phase, ready to be toasted. Only then could you taste it ever so slightly.
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I had no idea there were so many different types of quality, nor did I really understand how large coffee trees could grow!
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It was cool seeing the entire process, complete to getting put into the bags for export!
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It was really funny though (or maybe not and I am a terrible guide) because one girl was a mess. Crying, falling down, saying 'this is the worst day of my life.' Especially after we got chased out of some land by wild dogs and one dog nipped one of the others on the butt. Everyone else saw the funny side... but she did not. I suppose there is always one huh!? So I arranged Motor tours for the way back, and we lost her. And her friends were worried that she would be even more of a mess, crying and scared as she had never been on a motorbike and she was wondering where the helmets and safety gear were when we set off - um honey, we are in the Caribbean jungle of Colombia! Anyway, she finally did catch up to us and she had the biggest grin ever and told me after 'thanks Katy, that was actually the best day of my life ever and I can't believe I did it!"
I loved working in the mountains, the toucans and the hummingbirds, and the endless change in the landscape due to the clouds and storms, time of day, sunshine and rain that would roll through.
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One day it rained so hard I put some glasses out to catch the water. I then created a drink called rum and rain; it was so good I think I can never look at rain the same way again. I will always see it as God’s mixer for rum!
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On one of the days, I took the hostel cat (Pancake) down to the nearest town (10km down a very very rough dirt road) to the vet to be castrated. I had to take him down in a backpack, the poor cat was totally traumatised – as was I. When we got there, it was none of this hand your cat to the receptionist deal like I do in New Zealand with Bob. I waited on the street with 50 other locals and their pets, for 3 hours, while we waited our turn. The poor cat was very distressed, and I even more so when I had to hold him down for his injections and then hold him up while he vomited a rat before they would anaesthetise him!
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We had thanksgiving dinner in the mountains, complete with turkey (for meat eaters) that was cooked underground in the earth oven. This was a fun night and everyone got together to eat and drink and be merry.
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Sadly however, my time was cut short because one of the owners and I had a huge personality clash. He was always using a lot of heavy drugs and so was either high on life or down in the dumps with the after effects. He had half learned Spanish (badly) purely as a means to get what he wanted and had no desire to actually speak with and get to know the local people. He asked me to help him with his Spanish and then got angry when I did. He treated the local people badly, underpaid them, and said horrible things about them behind their backs. This was something I could not stand for seeing as I love this country almost as much as I love my own. I know I am loud, and can be highly annoying at times, but I worked my ass off and felt that I genuinely did a good job. However, I made the decision to leave because of the abusive manner in which he treated me and others. Most of the staff found him to be highly irritable, had a bad energy, and made other people feel down about themselves – and as I travel around the world that is definitely not how I choose to spend my time feeling! However, I am still grateful for the time I had there, the experience, the beauty of the place, and the good people I did meet there.
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I will miss nights sleeping out under the shooting stars on the big hammock with friends, I will miss living in the mountains and dancing in the rain. But I choose to see it as lesson learned rather than something to hold a grudge over or be sad about. I have learned I will never again work for an expat organisation while in Latin America, instead working for the local people. This is purely because I want to be working in a purely Spanish speaking environment. And 2, I will never work for people who are high on drugs all of the time. And by learning 2 more things that I don't want, I am getting closer to finding what it is that I do want. And so now, I write this from the family house of my good friend Didier. I am staying here for the moment thanks to their wonderful kindness and understanding of my situation. It is also a very strange feeling as I waved his parents and son off at the airport yesterday as they made their way to New Zealand to be with Didi and Cindy for Christmas. I have never truly understood the desire to get into someone’s suitcase quite so much…
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And again, I am unsure of which way I am going to go now. I know I have 1 month until my flight to the Dominican Republic on January 16th. I have Christmas, New Years, and my birthday to get through here without any friends and not even a single plan other than to spend a lot of time editing and working on the book to get some money back into my account. I have also decided to spend my birthday at the hairdressers, as my hair has become almost out of control due to the sea, the pool, the humidity, the jungle, and the endless wandering.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who told me that he is worried about me and wanted to know if I am happy. The truth is, yes I am fine and I am enjoying my travels and my adventures. My Spanish is growing from strength to strength and I love that I can speak two languages and that I can truly immerse myself in the life here in a way not many other travellers can. But I have not found anything on my travels yet, that is equal to or better than the life I had at home. And I wonder if that is why I keep searching, am still unable to stop and stay put in one place, and why I still struggle to find my place in the world. However, I remind myself that I am only 6 months in, that I have seen more of the world than many people ever will, and that I have some very big plans for the next year of wandering ahead. Including a much needed beach day tomorrow with Didi’s brother Ariel. Bring on the sea, it has been 2 months since I have even smelt it x
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Posted by chasingsummer 11:01 Archived in Colombia Tagged mountains trees hiking jungle caribbean adventures giant_hammock 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)

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