Feeling Ill and Travelling: Never the Two Should Mix

I was going to write ‘Feeling Ill and Travelling: Never the Twain Shall Meet’ in that headline. Then I realised I didn’t think I’d ever said that out loud before, and I didn’t actually know what it meant, precisely. Good old Urban Dictionary cleared that one up for me, and made me laugh. It’s been too long.

There’s no better way to ruin an amazing few weeks on travelling than to feel ill. You’re away from home, probably in another language zone, and if you’re a solo traveller, no one even cares.

I’ve been feeling rough for six days now. My eyes feel strained and if I look to the left or the right it hurts, my brain hurts, my scalp is sensitive to the touch, my teeth hurt, my hands and feet are bloated and most worryingly, I can’t eat. I’ve gone through pretty much every illness that I know as a possibility, granted I only know about 10 but I’ve convinced myself at various points that it could be anything from malaria, to brain cancer to Dengue Fever and I’m feeling a bit over it to be honest.

I want to get back to those carefree Mexico days of sun and fun.

It was when we were traversing the treacherous roads into the Semuc Champey area – one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala – that I decided this just wasn’t fun anymore. ­One wrong move and we’d be flipped over the edge like a dive master from a boat. The supposed beautiful scenery was marred by the torrential rainstorm and the realisation that my life was in our driver’s hands (who’d been going for ten hours, though with two breaks). As he swerved round the puddles and jerked inwards to let the traffic pass I leaned into the woman next to me. For some reason this made me feel safer, pushing my weight to the side of safety. Obviously didn’t help the woman at all though, she’d hated me since my first wriggle nine hours and 55 minutes ago.

[This is what I was going to see. I’m pretty sure with all the rain it wouldn’t have looked like this anyway…]

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Travel is a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t, and I’ve come to the conclusion that long distances and cliff drops are not for me. Especially in a rainstorm. Especially when I’m ill. Especially when whatever illness I had, had also caused my humour and patience to disappear too.

Finally we stopped. I thought I was there. I thought I’d made it to Semuc Champey. Then they told me I needed to wait an hour for my ride as ‘he’s just left’, and then it would be another 30-minute journey on top. I cried. I was ill, on top of everything else, my back was twisted after contorting into my dirty seat for ten hours and I hadn’t showered since yesterday. All seemingly first world problems, ones I felt ashamed of as we passed the locals trudging through the sheets of rain on the mountain, but at that moment in time all I wanted was a hot shower, comfy bed and to catch up on my work on Wi-Fi.

I finally arrived at my hostel to find my bunkbed ‘room’ had no walls, just a roof.

‘The view in the morning is incredible’.

– So super enthusiastic Gap-Yah-Henry told me.

Heard of windows? 

The only Wi-Fi is up a hill (in the pissing rain) and barely works.

‘We can try and reset it for you, but you really don’t need Wi-Fi here’.

– More words of wisdom for our Henry.

Yeah I do, dickhead. 

And, my favourite,

“There’s no hot water here”.

Of course, what did I expect. It’s the jungle. 

I won’t go into it but Gap-Yah-Henry’s over excited check in methods pretty much made me want to jump head first in the river and not stop swimming till I could get back to Mexico, taco in hand.

Instead, I went for the safe alternative…

At 8pm, 15 minutes after I arrived, I got in my bed wearing as many clothes as possible listening to the thundering rain on the metal roof and the sound of my fellow hostel dwellers having their ‘family style’ dinner downstairs. I wasn’t even hungry.

Sleep welcomed me in. Despite the cigarette smoke and excited chatter coming up from the bar downstairs, I slept soundly till 4am. Seems walls and warmth are overrated. It was then I had to find the toilet – an approximate three-minute walk away, outside in the jungle, in the rain ­– and get back again. To celebrate my achievement I stole the blanket off the vacant next bed to get me back to sleepy warmth.

I checked to see if my brain still hurt, if my eyes felt stretched and if my gums were still inflamed. Hat trick.

Thankfully I fell under again, quickly, although continued to wake every hour, kind of excited to see this famous view Gap-Yah-Henry had warned me about.

At 7am I saw it. My strained eyes laboured all the more to take it in.

(photo from searchingtheabyss.com, honestly don’t know what happened to mine!)

The view

And that, my friends, was the highlight of the day. All downhill from there. I wanted to phone my parents, my friend, generally just to moan, but of course I couldn’t because the Wi-Fi was shit. The man on the front desk was mean to me about not speaking Spanish and in my pathetic state of mind he made me cry. It was chucking it down with rain and I was convinced I had dengue fever, brain cancer, bone cancer or a mix of the three. Would I have to go home?

After climbing the hill for the second time feeling weak I finally got the Wi-Fi to work. A five-minute Google and I decided I had a mix of a wisdom tooth coming through that was causing my whole head to hurt and some sort of a viral infection that was sapping my energy. Then the screen went blank and my phone ran out of battery. I sat and cried again, and got drenched. There was one thing for it – no, not a deliciously hot shower and some nice food – back to bed.

Utopia Hostel

My life ­– in this supposedly stunning Semuc Champey surrounds (imagine a lot more rain than you see on these borrowed pics) – continued the same way for the next 24 hours. I’d missed the only bus out of there at 7am so it was sleep, read, drink, toilet, force some food, feel dreadful, sleep, repeat cycle until I could escape at the first opportunity.

There was another boy in the wall-less dorm who spent the whole day in bed too. Seeing the top of his head, scruffy blonde hair and occasional American chat to his friend, made me feel better. He’s wasting the day ill too.

Whenever I went downstairs I felt them eye balling me, distrustful as to why I’d made this 12-hour trek from Antigua to lie in bed all day. As much as I tried to break said cycle I just felt too weak and too ill and the only time I didn’t feel terrible was lying down in bed.

I read two whole books. Crying at any marginally sad bits. This was not like me.

Utopia

(Photo from guatabelizeit.com, Imagine a few more clouds.)

Ill and pissed off I didn’t even try to get to know anyone. I’d already decided I hated everyone there anyway and couldn’t get away from the sound of them all having fun downstairs. Despite falling asleep three times during the day I still managed a midnight proper sleep, as soon as they’d stopped singing Bohemian Rhapsody and drumming out the beat on empty water canisters that is. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of here.

I’m skipping Tikal. Climbing up ancient ruins is right up there with gauging my eyes out on the things I want to do list right now.

I figured if I go to Rio Dulce I’ll be close to Belize and I can just get a boat and see a doctor there. They speak English you see, just like me.

In Rio Dulce

So here I am in a little bungalow on the river. It took 8 hours to get here and I just got the first accommodation that came to me. The water is too high and so no boats are travelling right now. You’ll be pleased to know that after my mammoth sleeping session in Semuc Champey I awoke feeling 50% better. Now I’m left with toothache – not severe, but not fun to eat, drink or talk either – and my feet and hands are painfully bloated. I can deal with this. I’ve located a dentist in Belize City and have an appointment for Monday. The next available. It’s been almost a week of feeling crap now and having some pretty dark thoughts and feelings but I hope that by Tuesday I’ll be ready to enjoy myself again.

Thanks for reading my moan. Even just writing it has made me feel about 10% better. Just 40% to go. 

Canary Islands Music Festivals: A Guide for 2015

In the UK, the words ‘music’ and ‘festival’ tend to conjure very specific notions of skidding around in the mud, sagging tents and overpriced bacon rolls. If you have had the unfortunate privilege of seeing the inside of one too many Portaloos, it might be time to consider a music festival relocation, and in the idyllic Canaries, there are options year round for the itinerant music lover.

Canary Islands

Festival de Musica de Canarias

Tuning up on January 11 and playing on until the 13 of February, this festival is fresh from celebrating its 30th successful year in 2014, and with venues scattered across the archipelago, the momentum of the Festival de Musica de Canarias shows no signs of depleting. Take advantage of some cheap off-season flights to Lanzarote, Las Palmas or Fuerteventura to enjoy one of 41 concerts from such celebrated classical artists as conductor Krzysztof Penderecki and pianist Javier Perianes, and be part of the opening event of the European musical calendar.

Canarian International Jazz Festival

With a provenance of 23 years, this festival may have its origins in Gran Canaria, but today it has spread to venues across the islands, including Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Vecindario. Last year’s international acts included saxophonist Joshua Redman and the Freddy Cole Quartet, augmented by plenty of home-grown talent like the Gran Canaria Big Band and Cavendish. Although the dates for 2015 are still to be confirmed, jazz lovers should provisionally pencil in a couple of weeks in mid-July for this celebration of all things swing.

Lanzarote Summer Music Festival

Summer Festivals in Lanzarote

A bright, weekend-long outdoor concert in July, the Lanzarote Summer Music Festival is a perfect diversion for a younger crowd looking for some laid-back fun beyond the beach at Puerto del Carmen. Previous acts have included Irish indie performers Mojo Gogo and joyful ska from Munchie Boys, making for an eclectic playlist. With a kids’ area to keep little ones occupied, sizzling BBQ food and beer bars, this is one for all the family to enjoy.

If you’re planning a trip to the Canaries in 2015, make sure to do some research into the excellent, year-round programme of festivals and activities kindling across the archipelago before you go. You may just encounter a world class act, dance your socks off and have the experience of a lifetime, all without a pair of mud-slicked wellies in sight…

Image by El Coleccionista de Instant, used under the Creative Commons license. 

14 Things I Saw in Mexico I’ve Never Seen Anywhere Else

I’ve just spent the last six weeks in Mexico. From Mexico City to San Pancho to Guadalajara, Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, I’ve been around. During my time in this brilliant and colourful country there are a few things I noticed that I’ve never seen before, anywhere. To give you an insight into the beauty that is Mexico I thought I’d reveal the secret lives of Mexicans as never documented before.

So here goes, 10 things I saw in Mexico I’ve never seen anywhere else…

1. Public breastfeeding

Spotted: Woman in Walmart, casually browsing the fruit and vegetables with her top up, boob out, baby latched on. How liberated, I thought. And why not? We’ve all come to Walmart to get fed after all.

I thought it was a one off, but over the next few weeks I saw more baby meal times than in the rest of my 30 years. In the street, at a festival, by the taco stalls. Turns out this is the norm in Mexico, as far as I could tell. I’ve never seen any woman and baby breastfeed so blatantly in England – makes me wonder where they go?

2. So many taco stalls

different things in mexico

Didn’t even know I liked tacos before I went to Mexico. I’d always been more of a fajita kinda girl. They’re just so delicious and easy to find in Mexico, and eat. For 10 pesos (40p) you can get three tacos from a street vendor and fill them with what you like. Too good.

3. Traffic light entertainers

When the traffic lights turn red in Guadalajara the entertainers came out to play. They’d stand in the middle of the road doing their thing and trying to earn a few pesos to keep them going. I saw unimpressed drivers sitting through Batman, SpiderMan, gorillas and even a fire thrower, some complete with backdrop and music.

4. Locos crisps

Different things in Mexico

Buy a bag of crisps in Mexico and they’re as far from your average ready salted Walkers as you can get. Known as locos tostadas (crazy crisps) they’re served with the bag split down the side and with a whole range of sauces, chillis and toppings to pimp them up. Drenching them in chilli sauce and lime is the norm, but the possibilities beyond that are endless.

5. Fat children

The amount of fat children in Mexico is shocking, particularly in Guadalajara. This is probably thanks, in part, to points 2 and 4. Apparently Mexico is now the fattest nation in the world. I went to a family festival in Guadalajara and saw massively overweight kids waddling along shovelling all sorts of fatty treats down, I even saw one kid crying for more ice cream when he had a huge sundae right in front of him. I wouldn’t normally comment on something like this but it was really sad.

6. Awesome buses

Different things in Mexico

Wi-Fi, TV screens with films, games, Facebook, every episode of Downton Abbey ever, a packed lunch, air con, mega comfy seats: I was SO impressed with the Vallarta Plus bus from Puerta Vallarta to Guadalajara. It was only a few pesos for the 6-hour journey too. Much better than the Megabus in England!

7. Inability to not give directions

Mexicans are unable to admit it if they don’t know the way. They’re much more likely to make something up rather than confess they don’t know where something is, which can get you in all kinds of directional troubles. Trust me. Just take a good map.

8. PDA

different things in mexico

Dry humping and eating each other’s faces is just another fun thing to do on a park bench for Mexicans, or in a park bush if you’re a teenager. Hungover at breakfast and overlooking a plaza filled with benches, I was almost put off my chilaquiles (above) by the Public Displays of Affection. They’re a passionate race those Mexicans.

9. Lack of change

You can get 500 peso notes in Mexico. Seeing as I was taking money out in batches to avoid too many charges, I got quite a few of them during my six weeks. Most of the things you buy are less than 30 (water is 10 / a beer is the same) so hand over your crisp five hunner as payment and they’ll look at you like you just hock a loogied on their tacos. In fact, most shop owners will refuse to change it. Top tip for you: go to the OXXO stores, and stand your ground. Try to keep as much low denomination noteage as possible.

10. Such a good range of condiments

different things in mexico

Before you even start your meal in Mexico you’re given a whole range of condiments and snacksies to get your appetite going. As a self confessed sauce-oress this made me very happy, and I liked to try them all. Like a good girl I ate everything I was given, complimentary nachos and all.

Mexico hair net11. Hair nets

Have you ever seen this oh so pretty little hair nets? No, nor me. Go to Mexico and you’ll see them everywhere. The police women wore them under their hats, older ladies had them on the bus, younger girls as they walked down the street. If you want to be in style in Mexico, this is the look you need to go for.

12. Day of the Dead Festival

different things in mexico

Day of the Dead festival was awesome. It was a crazy few days and a lot of fun. I’ve never seen anything like it. If ever you get the chance to visit Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, do it!

13. So many weird drinks

I tried so many new drinks in Mexico. They have these things called Micheladas that you see advertised everywhere. I thought I’d give them ago and the first few sips were ok. Trying to get through the vat of beer mixed with tomato juice defeated me though. In some places you can get all kinds of things thrown in; prawns, meat, vegetables, you name it. Bleugh.

Horchata: a kind of rice water that I’d definitely recommend.

Mezcal: comes from the agave plant, a bit like Tequila. To try it is definitely not to love it.

14. Beautiful empty beaches

different things in mexico

The beaches in Mexico were incredible. Long sands, blue waters and barely anyone on them, in San Pancho and Puerto Escondido anyway. I’ll really miss the surfing, sunbathing and cocktail sipping possibilities I made the most of while I was in Mexico.

Have you ever been to Mexico? Did I miss anything?

Keep Exploring, With North Face

North Face clothing company want to inspire you to explore the world. With the help of astronaut Buzz Aldrin they’ve put together this film, The Explorer, to motivate you to get the most from life, and to explore a world beyond what you know.

ExplorationHiking

Aldrin draws on his own experience of overcoming fear to narrate the short film. He believes that humanity’s natural curiosity is one of its greatest assets and that we should explore our curiosity at every opportunity. Take a look at the film below and then try to tell me you don’t feel inspired.

Does exploration still exist?

The last few months have been absolutely incredible for me. I cast off the world of desk jobs and decided to get out there and explore the world I was reading and writing about so much. Of course many people have done my route before:

  • Summer: Slovakia – Hungary – Romania – Bulgaria
  • Autumn: Mexico – Guatemala – Belize

And they’ll continue to do it in the future too. So some people might say there is nowhere not yet explored, but personally I find that attitude silly. I hadn’t explored them before, so yes, exploration does still exist. Within your world that you live in there is always so much more to see, and that’s what inspires me to keep travelling and to keep exploring.

The North Face - La Reunion

The North Face is based in San Francisco and since they were established back in 1968 they’ve been inspiring people to get out there and see the world.

#NeverStopExploring

Win a Luxury Winter Holiday

Who wants to win a luxury winter holiday?

Me?

HolidayCheck competition

If you do too you should enter this competition over on the HolidayCheck blog. All you have to do is find the Santa hat icon, enter the details, and it could be you jetting off to the snow for five nights. The prize includes a 4.5 star hotel, flights and transport.

If you don’t believe you could win the big prize, have faith, because there are also 2 x GoPro cameras and 10 x Wellness Sets for 12 lucky runners up too.

How to enter

  1. Start with the Hotel Finder on holidaycheck.com
  2. Search for a hotel located in the town where the Alpine World Ski Championships 2013 were held (cheat: Schladming, Styria, Austria).
  3. Then look for one with a rating of 4.5 stars.
  4. And with a 90%+ recommendation rate on HolidayCheck.
  5. The name of the hotel begins with the letter “F“. You see the Santa hat?
  6. Enter the name in the form on the HolidayCheck Facebook page, and your details.
  7. Keep your fingers crossed!

Make sure to enter between the 13th of November and the 27th of November to be in with a chance. The winners will be announced on 1st of December. Find out more on the HolidayCheck blog.

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