Dancing on Salt Flats in Bolivia & More! Hear Will’s 2 cents here.

So we did the 4×4 trip from San Pedro to Uyuni.

The first day we stopped at some thermal baths (though I question the actual origin of the heat source), saw some geysers and some lagoons. One of the Chilean girls on our trip suffered from altitude sickness pretty badly on the first day but she and her friend took endless shit selfies everywhere we went so she deserved it.

Karma and all that.

The second day started with some dodgy rock formations, a couple of small towns selling quinoa beer and some more lagoons. Saw some rhea, some vizcacha and many more llamas. We spent the night in a hotel made of salt. The beds and walls were made of bricks of salt and there were signs up saying ´don’t lick the walls´ which we obviously did.

Day three is the grand finale, Salar de Uyuni. You head out really early in the morning to see the reflection of the evening rain (thought the reflection was pretty poor for us) and then head up cactus island which is actually a fossilized coral reef to the interest of any geologists and then go out onto the salt flats to take loads of those perspective photos. Here’s the video which The Social Mercenary shared on Facebook. Otherwise google it. The salt flats are a highlight, they´re pretty amazing.

Strangely enough though, the tour actually ends at the ´train cemetery´ which is a couple rusty and scavenged trains just outside of Uyuni. Uyuni is a shit hole of a town so we took the first bus on to Potosi.

Potosi is a good introduction to Bolivia;

it´s fairly high altitude, it´s got a massive market, it’s cheap as f**k and the food is terrible. All Bolivian food is meat and two types of carbs, usually rice and potatoes. Vegetables are scarce and vegetarian meals are usually just more carb heavy or something like two carbs with an egg on top.

By chance while we were in Potosi they were having their miner’s carnival. There was music, dancing and kids shooting a kind of silly string foam stuff at gringos so we bought some and fought back. Several children were hospitalized.

Potosi exists, and has done for centuries, because of the silver mine which overlooks the town. Mine tours are popular but it is an active mine so we expected it to be sad and didn’t go down. We asked people about it though and we were right. The miners work 14 hours a day as self-employed workers I archaic conditions. The tour is gritty, to say the least. On the positive side, you can buy yourself a stick of real, live dynamite as a souvenir or you can give it to a miner when you’re down there.

A combination of altitude and food poisoning forced Andy, and therefore myself, onto lower Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia.

Note: the bus ride from Uyuni to Potosi gave me a constant four hour orgasm. Anyone with a vague interest in rocks or volcanoes should go to Bolivia just for that bus journey.

Moving on: Sucre.

Sucre is a great place to spend a little while. It’s clean, it’s cheap and it’s got a strong gringo scene which normally means the food is a bit better. There are lots of things to do from Sucre, some of which we took advantage of. So we did a horse riding trip on one day but, as I should’ve expected really, the horses I don’t think were kept in the best of conditions and half of the tour was walking through downtown Sucre. While I did feel very Hot Fuzz riding into town on a white horse, I can’t really recommend it.

What I can recommend is the DINOSAUR PARK! Which was pretty cool…

It has the largest, most abundant horizon of fossilized dinosaur footprints from sauropods, theropods and ankylosaurus. And you can just go up and poke it. When we said we were geologists the guy even encouraged us to break open some rocks because he said he found a fish scale once. The cliff face was exposed due to cement mining on the hill and the fossils were only saved because they moved out of the good limestone area for cement. Although the mining has stopped there, the site is still used by the company to store and move cement around. The site is applying for world heritage status and we really hope it gets it because it needs better protection.

We also hit up the liberty museum in Sucre because we heard the Bolivian Declaration of Independence was in there so we went along.

Here´s how the tour went down:

[Enter the old parliament building, quite small with blue walls and a gold area above which used to have a choir or something? Anyway, the declaration is in a glass cabinet between the stands]
Tour guide: And here it is, our declaration of independence.
Guest: Is it actually the real thing?
Tour guide: Well, this wouldn’t be a very good Liberty museum if it weren’t, would it?
Guests: Woah, wow, amazing!
Tour Guide: So it´s a really good copy.

We did some Spanish lessons in Bolivia because they’re like £2 per hour but we only did an hour a day and you really need to be doing about 4 hours a day if you want to actually learn anything. In any case, Sucre´s a pretty cool city to be in.

From Sucre we thought we’d try and see a bit of East Bolivia so we went over to Samaipata.

The main attraction here is the El Fuerte ruins. It´s a fairly large site, the central focus of which is a sandstone outcrop which has been carved into and the ruins of some buildings. The site is advertised as Pre-Incan but the Incas actually went over and carved their own religious symbols into the rock and built all the buildings so there’s not much there that’s actually Pre-Inca.

From Samaipata one can either head back up into the Andes to Cochabamba or head further East to Santa Cruz. We went to Santa Cruz. We regret going to Santa Cruz.

The city has recently exploded in population but the city hasn’t changed with it so the town centre is ridiculously under proportion. It´s like a city of all suburb and no centre. Just don´t bother, basically.

We took the 21 hour bus ride up to La Paz and passed through Cochabamba on the way (although I was asleep). Basically the city has a Cristo Redentor statue the same as Rio but 33cm bigger. Now, I don’t care if it’s slightly bigger, it´s not Rio, is it?

La Paz. It´s big and it´s hard to breathe.

The altitude plus the car fumes make it a choking city and I just couldn’t get to like it. It´s definitely an up and coming city though. They’re currently building a cable car system which will act like an over ground underground and there are definitely nice parts to the city although El Alto is a bit of a shit hole. We did the death road mountain biking which was a pretty cool day out but for those who are interested, I wouldn’t bother with the expensive companies, the cheaper ones are just as good. After that, I headed to Oruro for the biggest carnival outside of Rio and Andy, who didn’t fancy a big party, stayed in La Paz to drink and party.

Ok so I was massively underprepared for carnival. We had been offered to join a group in Sucre who were spending like £150 on the whole weekend but I thought it would be better to just rock up and see what happens; I´ll point out here that Rio carnival costs like a grand for the weekend. Anyway, I got the bus pretty early in the morning and the parade was already underway when I arrived at about midday. I didn’t have anywhere booked to stay the night but I had a sleeping bag and was willing to just see where the night would take me. I stood and watched the parade for a while before buying a seat for like £25. The parade is pretty great. The costumes are intricate, the dances are interesting and the event is huge. While sat down I talked to some Bolivians behind me and was informed that the parade actually goes on all night and for most of the next day until people get too drunk to stand.

It started raining and got very cold and although we were under a tarpaulin stand, everything got wet and I did not have enough warm clothing with me. A different group of Bolivians took pity on me and bought me a scarf and coffee but I was coming to the end at about 2am. At 3am two Bolivian guys attempted to take me to a strip club and so, in short, I bailed and got a bus back to La Paz at 4am. Carnival was quite an experience but it was also quite an experience, if you know what I mean.

Ok, to backtrack a little bit, the first night in La Paz we were in a party hostel and met a guy there who told us about Huayna Potosi, a 6083m mountain north of the city which he wanted to climb but needed a group to climb with. I was not hot on this idea for a number of reasons but Andy was sold. Despite being one of the easiest 6000m mountains to climb in the world, it still requires crampons and an ice pick and is very weather dependent. After I got back from Oruro we waited around for a few days to see if the weather would be suitable for the climb and once it was, Andy decided he would do the climb and I decided against it.

Ok at this point I have some very important advice for anyone going to Bolivia: don´t go near the dogs.

It´s like Chile in that dogs are everywhere but unlike Chile, they are not friendly, they will bite and they might have rabies. A friend got bitten by a dog and had to stay in La Paz for a week getting daily injections. The bite then got infected and she flew to Santiago for more shots. I can´t imagine anything worse than being stuck in La Paz for a week with an infected leg.

So I left Andy in La Paz and moved on to Copacabana. Bolivian Copacabana, that is, on the edge of Lake Titicaca. I ate some cheap trout (which still came with two carbs and no vegetables) and enjoyed the small, colourful town for a day before taking a boat over to Isla del Sol on the lake. It takes a good day to hike around the island and one can spend the night on the island and if you have time you might as well because it’s pretty cheap, like £3.75 for a private room. The island isn’t massively impressive and while there are a number of ruins to go and see, there is no information there so I have no idea what I saw.

With that, it was on to Peru for me, two months of the trip done.

So I feel I should talk more about Andy and I going our separate ways. It was agreed between us when we first organized this trip that we would go off whenever we wanted to do different activities and it was perfectly amicable. Andy had been worried about budget since Argentina and was getting more and more homesick, I don’t think he´ll mind me saying. Because of this, he had already decided he would rather spend a month working in a hostel in Cusco and then fly to North Colombia to go up and see the Panama Canal before starting his volunteering on Galapagos. It was imperative to him that he retain maximum budget to be spent going around the islands and so we weren’t going to be travelling together much longer anyway. The budget was pretty much equal by the time we hit La Paz and I think I was also becoming harder and harder to travel with. I didn’t enjoy Bolivia nearly as much as Chile and I was getting pretty restless, wanting to move on to Peru. We have met many many lone travellers going round so far and I don’t believe you are any more or less likely to get pick pocketed or even mugged in a group or by yourself. Andy and I will probably still run into each other either in Cusco or Arequipa and I will update you all with his travel experiences as well as my own when I write for Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.

The current plan for me is to hit up Machu Picchu, head north through Peru then backtrack down to Lima, fly to Colombia and then go south into Ecuador to start my volunteering. After that I’ll do Galapagos and the jungle before heading home at the end of June. I have extended the amount of time I will be volunteering for from 4 to 6 weeks because I didn’t spend as long in Chile or in Bolivia as I had planned. I am therefore half way through the number of weeks I will actually be travelling for.

Two months through and 6 months is starting to feel like a long time to be away for. I speak to a lot of people doing less than 6 months and some people doing more but in general, if people do more than 4 months they are doing America or Southeast Asia etc in the same trip so that they are not spending so long on one continent. For the route I am taking from Argentina to Colombia, 4 months seems like an adequate amount of time if you don’t mind skipping a few things. Of course I shall update this kind of thought process along the way.

I actually don’t have any taxidermy for you this time! Really sorry, if Bolivia had a natural history museum I didn’t find it. I think instead I’m going to ask other travellers for their craziest moments in South America stories and do a bonus blog them. I´ve got my story lined up so we can all look forward to that.

In a bit,

Will.

Geologist hits up Chile for his backpacking adventure! Hear Will’s tip here.

So we started in Santiago. Bus stations in South America always seem to be in the worst part of town but f*** me, Santiago, really? We almost ran to our hostel.

Santiago doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of attractions. It’s got some interesting street art among the usual tags and general graffiti but the daily walking tours should point out the best bits. The Pre-Columbian art museum is a bit small and a bit pricey but interesting enough and worth visiting if you’re there. The Natural History museum is less than impressive but the Human Rights museum (which should really be called the Pinochet museum) is definitely worth going to. Although there isn’t much to actually see, there are 73 tracks on the audio guide so if you can’t find them online then it´s pretty interesting. Bring headphones.

Overlooking the city is Cerro San Cristobal, a hill that one can walk or cycle up. At the top is the recently erected statue of the Virgin Mary and some good views of the city which we didn’t see because of the fires. You know, those fires which raged through Southern Chile in late January, displacing villages destroying ancient forests and making world headlines. So we didn’t see much but an important point is that Santiago is built in a basin between numerous mountains so smog is pretty bad in Santiago at the best of times and good views can only really be seen just after it rains.

Bella Vista is the party area of Santiago but it pales in comparison to Buenos Aires as far as nightlife goes.

Moving on, we hit Valparaiso, a city only a couple hours North West of Santiago.

Valparaiso is a city of imagination. By that, I mean it would have been incredible in it´s heyday in the late 19th, early 20th Centuries but 100 years of economic downturn has left it looking a little worse for wear. However, with some imagination, one can picture how it would have looked with the UNESCO frontages repaired, repainted and those burnt down properties rebuilt. Chile doesn´t have a publicly funded fire service, by the way.

We spent 5 or 6 nights in Valparaiso. We spent a great day at the beach, even if we did get horrendously lost along the way. I´ll mention here that dogs are everywhere in Chile and they’re really friendly. They are all clean of rabies or any other diseases and are communally fed and watered. A dog we met at the bus stop for the beach followed us on our 2.5 hour trek along wild horse tracks, stayed with us at the beach and then walked the hour back to the bus with us. We called it Nutmeg.

We also saw poet Pablo Neruda’s house but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are already aware of his work.

Viña del Mar is a large coastal city a 10 minute bus ride away and has a great archeological museum with a Moai statue and large Polynesian section. It’s also where this installment´s featured taxidermy comes from.

Our evenings were partially taken up by a culture festival taking place in Valparaiso which featured Mapuche folk museum, Salsa bands and others. Apparently these kinds of festivals are pretty common.

The best thing about the city is the street art and I seriously suggest everyone goes to Valparaiso just to wander round and have a look. It´s a great city and the only one so far in my travels I’d be happy to live in.

Weed is pretty common in Chile, possibly more so than Argentina. We were offered weed in a supermarket in Valparaiso. Coke is also super cheap and more readily available than in Argentina. Just so you know … if that´s what you’re into.

A Kiwi in Santiago told us that we were doing the ´classic gringo trail´. In an effort to at least partially break away from this, we stopped at La Serena which is slightly less gringo.

The place has a huge shopping centre and big supermarkets. We cooked for ourselves a lot in Chile partly because of finances and partly because the supermarkets are so much better stocked than in Argentina. Food in general is much better, though the fish they are all so proud of is rarely actually seen on the menu, to my disappointment. Anyway, from La Serena it´s also possible to take a two hour bus north to Pueblo del Churros and go on a penguin, seal and dolphin filled boat trip. The water is very very cold in Chile because of the Humboldt current which brings cold water up from the south.

Also from La Serena one can take a bus east to Vicuña, a small-ish town famous for it’s wine and pisco. It´s a popular day trip to rent a bike and cycle up to the vineyards up in the valley but the vineyards are really more wineries and just sell expensive bottles of wine rather than give tours. We tasted four of their wines and then left without paying having not really understood the woman there.

Most importantly, you can go on an astronomy tour up to one of the many observatories in Vicuña. Amazing. If anyone reading this hasn’t already done so, go to the southern hemisphere and look up.

Bussing on up north to San Pedro to meet a Chilean friend from university, San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis town in the middle of the Atacama Desert. Go to San Pedro. Tours take you to the Valley of the Moon, Geysers del Tatio, salt water lagoons, Lagunas Altiplanicas. I don’t know, that’s just what we did. You can go up volcanoes, go round on horses; there are flamingos, llamas, vicuñas (look ém up). It´s a great place. Go to San Pedro.

BUT, if someone tries to sell you a ticket to party in San Pedro, don´t go. We spent about a tenner on a ticket and when we turned up it was just our party of four and two others in a dodgy looking shed in the back end of town. The party was a table with some drinks on it, a fire pit, two dogs wandering round and a child brushing her teeth. Surreal.

We did our four day tours in San Pedro and then embarked on the classic three day 4×4 trip up to the Bolivian salt flats, Salar de Uyuni.

For all tours in San Pedro, shop around and study tripadvisor like a holy text.

The language in Chile is heavy in slang and heavy on accents so it’s pretty hard to chat with people and I wouldn’t recommend taking Spanish lessons here.

However I do seriously recommend both Valparaiso and San Pedro. We heard great things about Pucon, in the south and all of Patagonia really. We couldn’t even nearly afford Patagonia but if you’ve got some money and you’re looking for a holiday, travelling up Chile would be a good thing to do.

Now, as promised, some the best taxidermy Viña del Mar has to offer, a two headed lamb:

Will Foreman (A keen geologist!)

Just jot down any comments and questions you have below and I will make sure to respond! 😀

Overall, my thoughts on Argentina (Will Foreman #3)

Argentina in general

It’s a weird place. It attempts to emulate Europe but somethings have got lost in the nostalgia. In BA, the building that looks like a courthouse is actually the cathedral, the building that looks like a cathedral is the national Bank and that Victorian looking office block is actually the ministry of defence.

The food is less than great. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a steak that will come without sauce and only with chips if you’re lucky, you are limited to pizza or pizza. You will get sick of both options. Often hostels will put on barbeques and that’s the best way to eat I reckon. Also, the only cheese you can buy is port salut. Your guess is as good as mine.

Maté. Everyone in South America drinks maté. It’s like green tea but really strong and drunk from a spherical mug which they fill with leaves and water then sip through a metal straw. The people love it. They go out carrying their cups and 2 – 6 litres of water to refill their maté cups with. Note: the straw is important because in Argentina it’s really rude to drink from the bottle so you know, don’t do that.

Although there is quite a lot of pro feminist graffiti in BA, views towards women are not as they are in Britain. For instance, a lot of my time in the BA club was spent swapping places with the girls we’d gone with because the men don’t know when to stop. Having said that, Argentina is a very safe place for male and female travelers, whether in a group or alone.

The language in Argentina has been heavily influenced by the waves of European immigration, dirtying the Spanish to a point where Spanish speakers we’ve met – even from Peru – have struggled at times. That’s our excuse at least.

Travel

We’re about 50% over budget at the moment, praying that Bolivia will be cheap enough to set us straight. It is possible that Andy and I will want to kill each other by then end of 4 months. We’re minimising this by eating breakfast with different people, sometimes sitting in different places on buses etc but the possibility is there. He doesn’t know I’m writing this but there we go.

Sorry I cut the last post a bit short but I think that’s all there is to say without this getting ridiculously long so now I’ll leave you with some classic Argentinian taxidermy. Enjoy.

Argentina’s Cities and Attractions (Will’s second installment!)

Buenos Aires

Lonely Planet’s top thing to see in Argentina, BA is a European city on the wrong continent. The architecture, people and, to an extent, food are all reminiscent of Europe but somehow slightly off.

Founded by the Spanish as a more accessible port town than upstream Rosario, the city saw huge waves of Spanish, Italian, French, German and Japanese immigration in the early 19th century. The Italians had a large impact, importing pizza, Ice cream and dulce de leche, all of which BA now claims to have perfected in its own way.

While the capital has some nice Burroughs, markets and buildings to see, we spent 4 nights there and that was enough. It isn’t long to spend in a capital city in which we slept through most of the day but this is because the real attraction in BA is it’s night life. Drinking starts at 11, clubs open at 2 and will carry on until about 8am. Our roommate went out every night and got back to the hostel as we were walking up. He left clubs as people in suits were going to work. Many people stayed longer than they had planned in BA simply because they were too hung over to leave.

Top sights: Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo and any club. (I’m writing this on a bus so my spelling is probably wrong).

Puerto Iguazu 

(A 20 hour bus from Buenos Aires costing £90 each)

(The tripoint at Puerto Iguazu with Paraguay on the left and Brazil on the right.)

A small city in rich jungle, international and national tourists come to Iguazu for one reason – las cataratas, Iguazu falls. The falls are accessible from Argentina and Brazil with buses leaving to both sides from PI. Depending on how intent you are with seeing everything, we suggest one day on the Argentinian side and half a day in Brazil. The falls are incredible and well worth the somewhat costly excursion. The Argentine side is particularly beautiful, a kind of theme park with 5 jungle treks to do, each arriving at a different view of the falls. A train takes you from trek to trek. It’s a good place to see wildlife, we saw caiman, giant ants, coatis and many large doses and butterflies. If you can afford the 12 minute boat trip it is good fun and takes you right under the falls. Brazil, on the other hand, is a single track conveyor belt of people taking selfies in which their faces feature more than the falls. Argentinians are an attractive people but also vain. Cosmetic surgery is pretty big here and selfies are everywhere. In any case, while Brazil gives a better panoramic view of the falls, I preferred the Argentinian side by a long way.

One other place of interest in PI is the tri point at which Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil all meet. Go at sunset for a fountain show and on some days of the week, hologram dancers.

Though tantalisingly close to Rio, we instead headed down to Posadas.

Posadas

(A 6 hour bus from Puerto Iguaza , I think it was about £30 for both of us)

Posadas is weird. The city is bigger and more affluent than we were expecting since no one we’d spoken to had even heard of it. Ultimately, the place was empty. No restaurants, no bars, no clubs. Not even a super market. The reason we stayed in Posadas was purely because it’s close to Paraguay. No travellers talk about Paraguay but we wanted to tick it off the list so headed over to neighboring Encarnacion. E serves as a nearby city of poor currency for wealthy Argentinians to buy knock off goods. It is very cheap. We spent the day there but it was 37 – 39°C and we are far too white for that. Plus we char grilled like an Argentine steak in Iguazu. It was a nice city to wander round but is only of real interest during carnival time. Or so we hear.

(The Encarnacion)

At that point we discovered that getting a bus on a Sunday is not easy and we were forced to spend a second night in Posadas. If you decide to spend a night in Posadas, don’t spend two.

Córdoba 

(15 hour bus, about £60 for two.)

We spent one night here so I don’t really know. It was hot. Having done a walking tour through Argentina’s proud second city, we were looking forward to sleeping through the heat and partying in the night. Turns out summer isn’t the best time to see the heavily student populated city as everyone had gone home. There are a lot of good museums in Córdoba but surprising we were most impressed by the large shopping centre in the middle of town.

We could’ve spent more time in Córdoba but we were running low on cash and one of us may have pissed off the other people in our hostel by getting really drunk. Not blaming anyone.

Mendoza

(9 hours, £63? I’m forgetting which trip was which.)

The park is nice, the plaza Independencia is cool but people come here for the wine and that’s the main attraction. The region produces 70% of Argentina’s wine and you can hire a bike and cycle round some vineyards and do a bit of tasting. There are also adventure activities going on the area – the continent’s biggest mountain, Aconcagua, is nearby – but these are pretty hardcore and almost certainly not covered by our insurance. We wanted to do a wine tour but weren’t able to book long enough in our hostel so we’ll do it in Chile instead.

Santiago 

(Santiago is a £25 bus ticket but I don’t know how long it is because I’m still on it. Sorry.)

Check out what I thought about Argentina as a whole, how my budget is handling and see some photos of the famous taxidermy here:- www.thesocialmercenary.com/argentina-will-foreman-3

Simona’s Solo Spanish Adventure & Some Words of Wisdom!

Simona, a recent exchange student from Perth makes the most of her time in Europe and hits a solo trip to Spain!

“So after I very exciting 4 months spent studying in England, I decided to reward myself with a solo trip to Spain.”

Like many students doing a semester abroad, I decided that I would dedicate this year to myself and to trying new things. I would try to avoid saying no wherever possible and put myself in scenarios that I normally wouldn’t . I thought, what better way to test myself then by going on a 2 week trip to a country I’ve never been to before, whom speak a language of which I only know “Ola” and “ Gracias”.

Planning Stages

At first it was a little bit daunting (OK…it was actually extremely daunting). I didn’t know where to start. Where to go, how to get there, what to visit, where to stay… there were so many things that I needed to do. I needed advice!

I hopped onto Travel Buddies and asked around for ideas and for help, it was great, lots of people reached out and helped me figure out what I wanted to see and do . One of the guys I met on there was staying in Malaga ( a city in the south of Spain), coincidentally, at the same time that I intended on staying there so we ended up meeting up and travelling around the south of Spain together.

Of course with these things, you have to be extremely careful with who you find and who you chose to meet with. I did my research before I gave any information to him. Like any street smart girl I stalked him furiously on facebook, every picture, every comment, every tag, until I knew the guy was legit and I wouldn’t put myself in danger.

Turns out he spoke perfect Spanish as well so it made this great adventure even better! 😀

After a stressful few days, I decided not to really plan much at all. All I knew was that I was landing in Malaga, and needed to go Granada and Barcelona. How I got there and where I went in-between I left to the unknown.

Accommodation and Travel expenses

I was fortunate enough to go to Spain before peak season. Buses were never full, accommodation was cheap, and the weather was amazing! I booked my accommodation a day or two in advance, after I chatted with other travellers and heard about where they had been or where they were going. Having done some travel in peak season as well, I wouldn’t recommend this strategy ,especially if you are on a budget, as either the prices go up, or rooms are scarce.

In regards to getting from one place to another, it was buses or trains. I later found out about BlaBla cars, which are pretty much like an uber but for people traveling from one city to another. Female travellers can request female drivers. It works out relatively cheap, and some of the people you get to meet are pretty cool!

SPAIN!

Malaga

After all my travels, I would suggest spending a minimum of two days in each city. 2 days allows you to see things you wouldn’t normally see. To get past all the touristy stuff and actually get to know the city, the culture, the people. I stayed in Malaga for a day and a half, and spent half of that time on the beach as I hadn’t seen proper sun for 4 months in England.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t really get to see much of the town, and although it isn’t that big, I didn’t get to know its personality. I did get a great tan though!

Seville

From there I headed to Seville- (in Spanish double “l’s” are pronounced as a “y”).  Such a beautiful place! I met some amazing people in the hostel, and we did a free walking tour, went and got tapas, drank lots of beer and then went to watch the sunset from the Golden Tower along the lake.

It’s true what they say about Spain, they sleep all day, and party all night. The streets were pretty quiet throughout the day and I assumed that there wasn’t much people around. I was wrong. From sunset to dawn, the roads were full of people. Eating, drinking, dancing, rollerblading. Seville had it all!

Being the big Game of Thrones fan that I am, I went and visited the Alcázar of Seville which I would highly recommend to anyone going there.

Granda

Then from there came time for Granda. By far, one of my favourite cities that I have been to.
Waterfalls!

We ended up walking for 2 hours to a little area just out of the city called Monachil, where they have waterfalls and thermal spas. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to try to spas as we got lost looking for the waterfalls. We walked and walked for what seems like forever, but the end result was worth ever blister and every drop of sweat. Me and my new friend which I met on travel buddies and two rock climbers and their two dogs were the only people in this particular area of the waterfall. We swam, played around, relaxed and listened to nothing for a while until we decided it was time to go get some beers and food. ( the food is really cheap throughout Spain and so are the beers!)

The classic travel photo, come-on, I was enjoying the waterfalls!!!

We met a few guys from America on the bus that were doing a year abroad in Granda and  we started chatting with them. They ended up telling us the best places to eat and we met up with them later on to explore a bit more. It’s so nice having “locals” show you around, and chatting with you, so I would recommend to put yourself out there and chat to whoever possible  (given they’re willing) because you don’t know what you’re going to see and who you’re going to talk to.

Gypsy Caves

In Granada, we also wandered around and ended up visiting to gypsy caves ( probably my favourite part of the whole trip).  (see above)

There are caves that you can visit with a tour, where no one lives and you can walk inside. We set off to find these caves, but someone through lots of incorrect directions and misinterpretations from the locals ( they probably thought I was a gypsy from the way I was dressed) we ended up at the caves where they actually live! We started talking to one of the gypsies and he was ever so kind as to let us in his cave, showed us around and told us all about their way of life. His welcome and kindness  really allowed me to see how easy and satisfying it is to be friendly and generous with your time.

Madrid

After Granada I set off to Madrid where once again, I befriended some travellers in the hostels, whom I explored Madrid with. The hostel we stayed at was probably one of the worst ones and im telling you this so that you don’t always have high expectations of places. The people spoke no English, and their hospitality was awful, but that didn’t matter.

Don’t worry though! We still managed to find our way around and see as much as we could of Madrid.

Barcelona

The best thing about being an Australian tourist ( and i’m sure it’s the same with Americans and Brits) is that they all  love you and they are so generous and patient with you.  When you are travelling around, make sure you are prepared to get lost a lot ( and see some pretty cool things while you are lost) and to walk a lot- so pack comfortable shoes!

Then off to one of my other favourite cities… Barcelona.

In amongst my 2 weeks of travel, I met some amazing people. I spent every day with someone different, doing different things, having different conversations as well as finding out different things about myself! However, I didn’t get much time to myself. Yeah I was travelling alone,  but I realised I was never actual alone, exploring. So in Barcelona that’s exactly what I did. ( after I spent a whole day with another traveller once again).

Check out Tibidabo!

I laid by the beach for a bit, I watched the sunset at Tibidabo ( recommend this to anyone!)  I explored through small alley ways, I got lost, I sat at a restaurant and ate – all by myself. I think it’s crucial to have some you time  as it lets you gather your thoughts.

TOP TRAVEL TIP!

Another thing that I would highly recommend is keeping a journal. You don’t have to write in it daily, although getting into that habit would be great so you can remember everything. But I find it really relaxing. It helps me drift away into my thoughts and just write down whatever I want- judgement free. I’ve tried video journals as well, but they are less private.

Simona’s words of wisdom.

Travelling alone can get a little bit lonely sometimes, sometimes it can be quite daunting if there is a big group of people and you’re by yourself. sometimes it gets a bit scary too, but trust me when I say this was probably the best thing I have done in my life so far.

Although it was be good to experience things with your friends and loved ones, having the time, flexibility and freedom to do things by yourself, to get away from your busy life, and to  just enjoy the peace and independence, is something that no one can ever take away from you.

Thanks for reading! 😀

Questions? Just leave a comment below.

Recent graduate is about to hit South America for a once in a lifetime travel experience

South America – It’s a continent full of diverse landscapes and cultures and let’s be honest it’s on every travelers bucket list. Will Foreman a recent graduate from the University of Leicester is about to give us the low-down before he embarks on this epic journey!

 

Tomorrow I am embarking on a 24 hour journey. It’s not a journey that constitutes its own travel blog but it is a journey which will take me from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. I first take a ten hour flight to Atlanta, hang around for 4 hours and then take another 10 hour flight south to Buenos Aires.

(I’m the one on the right, btw)

I’m Will and after doing a degree in Geology from the University of Leicester, travelling across South America for 6 months seemed preferable to do something productive. To warrant such a waste of time, I will be spending a month doing some forestry work in a dry forest reserve in Ecuador. I’m strongly considering going into forestry when I get back so it’s something to put on the cv/talk about at interview.

I’m not travelling alone, a friend of mine from uni also had nothing going on after third year so he’s coming along with me. His name is Andy and he’ll hopefully be doing the same route as me apart from his volunteering which will be in the Galapagos. Probably a more fun place to work but it cost him £700 more for the accommodation and isn’t so directly related to his future plans.

Our route is very loosely planned: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, though it might change considerably while we’re there.

So why am I writing this blog?  

I went to school with Jack, who runs this website and he asked me to write a travel blog for his site so that it would be less of just him on the site. I said I’d give it ago but to be honest, in my ridiculous under preparation (which includes learning very, very little Spanish) I’ve never actually read any travel blogs so I don’t really know what they’re about. But, nevertheless I hope those thinking about heading over to this part of the world find this information useful.

(Arty is my usual travel companion- If only I could take him with me!) 

Two things I want to talk about then I’ll leave you until I get there: money and worries.

Money

I’ve got a budget of about £5.5k for the 6 months

South America generally costs a bit more than South-East Asia for travel, with the cost of living in Argentina and Chile near enough the same as Britain. I had some savings before planning anything so I had £3k to make in order to hit budget.

To do that, I got a job 

Initially, It took me a long time to find work but then I went to a recruitment agency and they found things for me almost immediately. I worked in a furniture rental warehouse where I cleaned furniture for ~60 hours a week on minimum wage. After a couple months of that I did a week of packing in a warehouse that distributed whey protein.

[WARNING RANT IN PROGRESS]

A word of advice, if you are one of these people who like to down protein shakes to bulk up, what are you, a fucking moron? They do bugger all and are nothing but an impressively successful marketing scam.

Wholly unethical but I wanted the money.

This is hinting towards the fact that I don’t like crowdfunding. Yes, of course around Christmas and birthday times my parents helped me out and did things like pay for my months volunteering, which cost about £380, but I wouldn’t have been able to get even close to the continent without working for that £3k.

Worries

Main concerns on my day before I go are twofold. Firstly, I am worried about money. I got a travel card from a start-up bank called Monzo. They don’t yet have the licensing to do current accounts but are doing travel cards to test their systems. There is no fee for foreign use and they use the base exchange rate so it’s the cheapest way to do it but also the least reliable. It’s also controlled by an app so I am slightly worried that if I lose/break my phone then I’m fucked.

My other worry is that I might get there and after 2 weeks find that I’m not enjoying it but have to spend another 5.5 months there. This is the least likely of all scenarios but is still a worry for me.

So there we go, that’s the first instalment. A bit of background knowledge but I promise to keep any future updates purely about the travel, food, culture and geology of the areas I visit.

Oh no, will I learn some geology? Yes kids, yes you will.

(Just a sedimentary rock for your delectation the Ripple marks show how the waves organise the sediment on the sea floor. Usually from shallower water but sometimes formed in rivers as well.)

Why you shouldn’t swim with Whale Sharks in Oslob, Philippines – a matter of Conservation.

Oslob, Cebu – A small coastal region on the south west tip of Cebu Island, world renowned for the encounter with one of the world’s most majestic and tranquil of creatures, the Whale Shark.

When approaching Oslob, the white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and the background of dense rainforest adds to this land of perfection sold in travel agencies. This sleepy town is woken daily by the cavalry of tourists that flood in from Cebu, Bohol and Dumagette to get an interaction with these magnificent Sharks.

From 6am the crowds of day trippers gear up on the shore and set out in Bangkas (a small traditional boat that if seems likely to capsize with any wrong move- see featured image). All swimmers (should) get a briefing explaining a list of do’s and don’ts when in the water to ‘protect the sharks’. This list states the no contact policy with the sharks, the safe distance to swim near them and other acts to help the wellbeing of the sharks including swimmers to avoid wearing sun cream.

So if there are rules in place, what’s the issue?

When people are told to take a swim with these elegant creatures, they immediately disregard how to approach them and start treating the encounter as a hands on experience. In the water, the shear number of people means that the sharks are continuously being kicked by people trying to get photos with them. The sharks rarely notice these encounters as the boat driver is feeding them (with poorly nutritious feed!). At the same time, these boats are positioned in a circle surrounding the sharks trapping them from moving away.

The controversial practice took a turn some years back when media and conservation groups saw a young girl ride a whale shark as if it were a surfboard, whilst the surrounding people trapped the poor shark from swimming away when frightened. Although conservation efforts are in place, the whole scheme is another case of disregarding animal well-being for money and tourism.

The experience has left many tourists and travel bloggers expressing their thoughts on how the sharks are mistreated (similar to the reaction of Thailand’s Elephants), pinning the term ‘the whale shark circus’ in Oslob.

Whilst the interaction of people and sharks are severely affecting their health through contact and dieting, the greater picture of the unsustainable practices at Oslob are the effects feeding the whale sharks has on migration, and the possible impacts on breeding. Whale sharks are a highly migratory species that naturally follow the path of nutrient rich plankton on a seasonal path.

The normal time for the sharks to remain in Oslob is for no more than 60 days, however one whale shark ‘Mr. Bean’ was known for staying for 392 days due to the consistent feeding, ultimately associating humans with food providers, taking the wild out of the animal. With these practices carrying on, it is unclear the potential effects it will have on whale shark abundance.

Is there anywhere I can swim with Whale sharks naturally?

There are areas in the Philippines that provide an organic experience that has a primary focus on the welfare and conservation. The two main spots are at Donsol, Southern Luzon or Pintuyan in Southern Leyte. Although the two locations are remote and can take some travelling from Cebu, the rewards for a natural experience is unforgettable and makes a step change to the conservation efforts that go on in Oslob. Over the recent years Donsol has become a bit more of a hub for sight seers, whereas Pintuyan remains extremely exclusive.

How do you get to Donsol?

The whale sharks gather in Donsol for six to nine months a year (November – June), with the numbers peaking from February to early May. From Cebu, Donsol can be accessed by a short flight from Cebu-Mactan to Legazpi. For this flight the cheapest airline is usually ‘Cebgo’ which fly direct once a day, every day of the week. From the airport you can get a public van for approximately (1500 Peso). Be sure to time your trip with the whale sharks migration pathway.

How do you get to Pintuyan?

The season for whale shark sightings in Pintuyan is between November – May. From Cebu, Pintuyan is much easier to access, by a fast craft from Cebu port (pier 3) to Hilongos which will take 3 hours and set off daily at 2.30pm (280 Peso). From the port you can arrange a 1.5 hour minivan drive to Pintuyan. Alternatively, a 1 hour flight from Cebu to Surigao City (cheapest via small plane with Philippine Airlines (PAL)) can be taken. From here get a taxi to the Lipata ferry port heading for San Ricardo, then take a short tricycle to Pintuyan. When getting a taxi for the port, make sure you ask for Lipata port, as they will assume Surigoa’s port to Cloud 9 (surf destination).

The Pintuyan Dive Resort is a very well run business owned by a very keen German diver that I can highly recommend.

Special thanks to our contributor:

James Winsor

BSc Geography

(Loughborough University)

 

 

Backpacking Fran – Valencia a place with everything for everyone

For me, living in Valencia has been an unexpected surprise.

I immediately assumed it would be another touristic Mediterranean city, but believe me when I say it’s actually far from. However, visit Benidorm and you could easily be confused for being in any Northern English city.

I’ve found that tourists come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities and ages. But common denominators are likely to be a flashy camera, a cap from another destination they’ve visited and the ability to stand out wherever they go. They’ll probably have a dodgy bum bag too (but part this I am not so opposed to). But when you move to a foreign country, you try to blend in as much as possible to truly experience the culture at face value.

man-1598050_1280

Back to the point, Valencia.  It really does have everything for everyone. Whether you want to spend the day getting lost in the historical and charming city centre, sunning yourself on the beach, running in the park that stretches over 9km or shopping until your feet ache and you’re forced to stop tapas and sangria.

I’ve been lucky enough to live here because I am studying for a semester at the Universitat de Valencia. I’ve been here for 3 months now and I am still every day finding new places I love. So I’ll condense it down; the top places you should go, see or visit.

Cuitat Vella (Old City)

One of my favourite things to do is just ‘spent the day in the city’. You could spend hours exploring the maze of alleyways and plazas, have no clue where you are, yet you won’t even notice because you’ll be entranced by the magic of Valencia. It’s buzzing with life no matter what time of day, especially Plaza de la Virgen.

You can also visit El Carmen, a neighbouring quarter where the younger generation live. Here you’ll find the remains of the city wall and gateway that was years ago used by traders to enter the city.

valencia-old-city

 

Lonja de la Senda (The Silk Exchange)

Having been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it really is worth a visit. I visited with my sister after a jug of Sangria shared over lunch, which made the €2 entry even more amazing (only €1 for students or pensioners!). It’s one of the most famous gothic monuments in Europe and is truly beautiful, especially if you love architecture as much as my sister and I do (even though we know nothing about it).

Whilst you’re there, be sure to visit Bar Cordellats, which is still my favourite place here in Valencia. You’ll soon wish the Dutch owner Arthur was your uncle/ father/ granddad, he’s an amazing host and will tell you some great stories. You’ll also fall in love with his adorable chocolate Labrador Nina. Did I mention the tapas was great too?

Mercat Central

FOOD HEAVEN. Literally. For both your eyes and your taste buds. Being one of the largest food markets in Europe, just the building is a great example of a modernist design with colourful glass framework and stone covered partition. With hundreds of different food and souvenir stalls, be sure to try fresh orange juice and paella, there’s a reason they are so famous here in Valencia! I didn’t even know where to look because it all looked so tasty. You will find yourself wanting to try absolutely everything!

 

Jardin de Turia and Cuidad de Artes y Ciencias

Turia Gardens is one of the largest urban parks in Spain, a rarity for a major city to boast such green space. For me, it’s amazing because different landscapers designed different sections of the park. It was previously a river that constantly flooded the city so it was then rerouted to the south of the city. Crossed by 18 very differently designed bridges, I guarantee you, you won’t get bored whether you are walking, cycling or just relaxing in this beautiful green space.

Now, the City of Arts and Sciences is not something you’ll find anywhere else, it really is one of a kind. It’s a must. Whether you want to visit the Oceanografic (Europe’s largest aquarium), Principe Felip’s Science Museum or Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia Opera House. These buildings have themselves grown to become icons of the city. My favourite being L’Umbracle, an open access garden which spans more than 17,000m2; beautiful Mediterranean plants and contemporary sculptures that also make for an exquisite setting for a sophisticated open-air nightclub in the summer months.

jardin-de-turia

Playa de la Malvarrosa

The beach is great too. For me, it’s the only touristic part of the city, so be prepared to put up with women offering ‘Hola! Masaje? Massage?’ and constant ‘coco, agua, cerveza’. Despite this, it’s a fun beach with lots of activities and sports going on. You’ll always be able to catch a great sunset too!

the-real-beach

Valencia has so much more to offer; these are just a few of my favourites. I could tell you about it all day, but it simply is a city you have to visit and experience for yourself.

 

fran

 

Fran Martin-Turner

www.backpackingfran.com

Flynn flies to Beijing -Top tips for the cash strapped adventurer

Flynn Lachendro (the flying scotsman) is exploring the world and is going to share with you some hints and tips he picked up from his adventures in Beijing.

Places of Interest

Without doubt my favourite experience was the Great Wall. I highly recommend taking a little extra effort to avoid the popular tourist locations along the wall. I took a bus to Jinshanling. It took around 2 hours, as it’s away up in the mountains, but it was completely worth it. You could see along the wall for miles with not a human in sight!

great-wall

The Great Wall at Jinshanling

The Forbidden City and its museum were so interesting. The experience alone of travelling there and queuing up beside Tiananmen Square was really something. I never knew the scale of Beijing until I went to its centre. The size of the buildings and the detail in the construction is astounding.

forbidden-city

The gardens in the Forbidden City

The Summer Palace is a great day out for a bit of a walk. They actually built the hill that the palace sits on from all of the earth they shifted when digging out the lake! If you fancy you can clamber all the way up to the top where you can catch a great view of the temple in the centre of the lake.

 

summer-palace

The Summer Palace and the surrounding Man-Made Lake

Food

The Chinese love noodles and rice. This is great news if you are a fan of either. Any one of the countless restaurants along the streets will sell delicious, freshly made food for very cheap. It costs around £2 for such a meal.

food

A table full of Chinese food. The red thing at the bottom is an entire battered catfish!

If Chinese food isn’t your thing, there are plenty of American fast food places like KFC and McDonalds scattered around the city; there will always be one close to you. There is a great Mexican place called La Bamba in Wudakou that sells £1.50 burritos (proper big ones) on Fridays.

I would suggest avoiding the street food, as it is prone to giving you food poisoning. I was advised to do this my many Chinese people!

Going Out

There are a number of tourist style districts in Beijing that have standard clubs like you would find in the UK / USA etc. Wudakou and Gulou are some examples.

“Sanlitun has the best mix of clubs and bars.”

I would suggest Mojito Man in Sanlitun (a guy who sells mojitos on the street) for cheap booze if you don’t want to drink shop-bought stuff. Westerners get in free with free drinks to some clubs, it is worth asking the PRs at the door!

“If you are a fan of more house and techno type stuff, Lantern club in Sanlitun or Dada bar in Gulou are the places to go.”

The drinks are expensive in these clubs so prepare beforehand! The cheapest way to drink is to buy in shops before heading out. Beers are around 30-40p for 600ml bottles, and you can buy Chinese stuff called Baijo at 80p for a half litre. The drink itself is 46% strong and tastes horrendous, however as budget drinking goes there is no beating it.

The People

Most people in China will revere you simply because you aren’t Chinese (if you aren’t). Expect lots of sideways glances and flat out staring from the locals.

Don’t worry though!!

Almost everyone in the city is so kind and really willing to help. If they cannot speak English, just type out a translation on your phone and their face will light up when they realise they can help! It is custom in China to treat guests with extra special care. The treatment I have received from the people at my university and the public in general has been absolutely brilliant. On a shallower note, it is really easy to pull on nights out, as you can imagine!