Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Something new is starting… and it comes in the form of underground crush and coffee-to-go

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Photographs I Never Got

In the past few months since returning home, I have:
  • Had a summer job in Oxford and somewhat repaid my travel expenditure
  • Returned home to Suffolk and wandered around in a state of barefoot denial
  • Bought a flat in Stratford
  • Lost a flat in Stratford
  • Started an MA in Journalism and consequentially had to squat at a friend's for a month
  • Moved to North-West London until further notice.
Whilst I'm enjoying London life, my course, having a routine and all that comes with it, I do miss travelling- a LOT. These days I often find myself in bed going through photos when I should be sleeping.

I have some photos I'm pretty proud of. They're sporadically posted on , but here are a couple of my favourites:

Isla Los Brasiles, Nicaragua- May
Some boys digging in the sand for crabs. This was taken as I was leaving the Surfing Turtle Lodge with a group of friends. A special place, but one where I got pretty badly sunburnt. 

Caye Caulker, Belize- March
The first stop outside of Mexico. This was the typical evening view from the roof of the boat I would sit on (at the cat sanctuary…). I found peace here.

Santa Maria, near Antigua, Guatemala- April(?)
There was really too much to see in Guatemala. Enough volcanoes and jungles and scenic views to spoil you. Maybe that's why this photo makes me so happy- it was just a day trip with a friend to a tiny little town with nothing too special about it, but we met these gentlemen sitting watching the world go by. This sums up the culture for me.

But then of course, there were the photos that I didn't get.

  • Waterfall jumping in Costa Rica - after hiking to some natural pools in Uvita, I spent a long time with a group of friends contemplating the jump. Of course after watching some local boys do it, I trusted that I was unlikely to die and went for it. One girl took a great photo of me doing this as well as some video, but sadly her phone was stolen the next day.
  • Zip Lining in Costa Rica- similar story. It's pretty hard to take photos of yourself doing such things. Those Canadians never sent me the photos they said they would. Bitches. The lesson here is that I really should have taken more of my own photos in Costa Rica…
  • Portraits- I should have taken more portraits. I have a lot of great ones, like Doniel from El Ostional and the Cuban cigar lady. But I wish I'd taken more of friends I met. I should have taken one of Ariel playing his guitar in Guadalajara. The man from Walmart in Playa del Carmen and the guy who'd just made his millions in Liberia.

But these things are all etched in my mind and my journals. Maybe one day I'll find these people again and collect their faces complete with the lines of new experiences.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cuba Part Seven: Finale

Airport day. Final day. Home day. Heady day.

Having crammed my stuff into my bag for the final time (yes, souvenirs have filled the space created by previous cleansing of possessions), I shower and quite possibly take a naked photo of myself- for myself- to remind only me of just how tanned I am and how tanned I probably never again will be.

A mix-up in translation (or was it?..) means that the house is empty at the time that I need to leave and so I am not able to say goodbye to Roberto. Rather guilitily and very trustingly, I leave cash on the dining room table for the amount I estimate my bill to be, along with a hasty note and a mug with the queen's face on to sweeten the deal.

Sidenote: upon leaving the UK in January, I somehow thought it was a very good idea to take all sorts of typically English souveniers with me on my travels to give as gifts to anyone who might be kind to me along the way. Perhaps I carried too many, or perhaps I didn't meet enough kind people, but either way- 6 months later, after countless bumpy bus rides and treks (I really should count how many) there still remained one, sad looking yet pristine and UNBROKEN china mug. With Queen Lizzy on. And so for all his nervous titters it could only be destined for Roberto. Job done.

Keys... on the table. Door closed; good job there are no burglars in Cuba. And just like in the picture films, as I stepped out of the house a crash of lighting and thunder erupted, drenching me for the first time since Costa Rica.

TAXI AMIGA? SI! And how much to the airport? $20. $15. $15 and I bring a friend? Oh why the hell not. Andres the driver, fat Louis and I trundle off out of town through the storm. I notice a rusty hole in the floor through which I can see the road turning into a river, but not before I realise that 1950s cars were not really designed with rain in mind: the windscreen wipers barely make a dent. Andres sticks his head out the side to see the road ahead and fat Louis holds the wheel. I do not assume I won't live to make the airport because somehow missing planes is only a plausible fear through the panic of being late, as I often am. Fat Louis is dropped off somewhere slightly sketchy, we do a U-turn and Andres and I continue the journey in silence. I am glad to have met the only introverted taxi driver in Cuba.

And suddenly it's all over. As soon as I am inside the airport, I hit reality. The queue for Virgin Atlantic check-in is already lined with Brits smelling of expensive after-sun and all-inclusive deals. I am stared at. Possibly because I am soaked through, possibly because I am wearing hiking boots, once- white shorts and an enormous, sandy Panama hat. I have had a VERY different trip to these people.

I am stared at even more once I reach the front of the queue and am told that my bag is 8kg overweight. I consider paying the fee but then realise that I could just take out some of the many bottles of rum I stuffed in there- each only costing a couple of pounds each. As I contemplate this, my passport is taken from one person and given to another, who walks off with it... I am barked at to move to the side.

Just at that moment, I see a couple in the queue behind me who I recognise- an Italian lady and her English boyfriend, who Stefan and I met in the scary cave when on our pony-trek. It is possibly the first time I see them in daylight and so I take a moment to realise, but they wave at me and offer to carry some of my things through to London for me. I laugh in the face of customs regulations and hand them a bottle of rum.

Meanwhile, my body is layered with clothing and my bag is repacked under the watchful eyes of what feels like EVERYBODY in Cuba. I am irritable now, for several reasons and I snap at a snooty Brit couple just back from their all-inclusive 5-star that "I hope you enjoyed the show!" Now I am just another queuer outside of the queue with no passport. I am told by another member of airport staff who seems to be dressed in Basil from Faulty Towers' cast-offs that I need to move out of the way. I ask him where the bloke went with my passport but he is already walking away. I march up to the front of the 1st class queue and tell them that:
          "I want my bloody passport back bloody RAPIDO. Would somebody please tell me where my PASSPORT IS for F-" *ding!*
The little man in the first-class booth rings his little Faulty Towers bell.
          "I WANT TO SPEAK TO-" *ding!* "FIDEL CASTRO-" *ding!*
And suddenly my passport appears. I rejoin the queue, my bag is now 1kg over the limit, which is gratefully ignored and I am free to while away my final free hours in a state of semi-drunken misery.

The departure gates are essentially one room with a bar and smoking area popped in the middle: this is where I park myself in the company of the Italian-British couple and a few beers. Turns out the idiots put my rum-bottle gift in their hand luggage (duh) and consequentially made two security guards' day. Our flight is delayed. We make ourselves comfortable.

Suddenly, a tiny little man is grabbing me by the arm and telling us to "hurry up and get on the plane" because everyone is waiting for us! Oh.

I am THAT person- the very last one on the plane, most probably recognised by everyone for my earlier antics at the check-in desk. And as luck would have it, I am seated next to the couple which I "hoped enjoyed the show". Nevertheless, I have had a solid dinner of beer, and the rush of alcohol, nerves and excitement which runs through me allows far too much chatty conversation to seep out of my mouth. I think I tell them that the reason I am late is because of the beer and the beer is because of the nerves and the nerves are because of the whole going-home-after-6-months-thing. Snooty male sits in silence, fiddling with his earphones and refusing to make eye contact. Snooty female says:
      "Mmm, gap years. You must be ready to go home. Everyone gets home-sick after 6 months."
      I say: "No, actually, I don't tend to get homesick..."
       She says, in a rather nasty tone: "You only say that because you're going home to your mum"
I consider telling her that my mum is DEAD or that I have two dads, but that would be both incorrect and immoral. She proceeds to rant a bit about gap years and how she didn't get to travel on a plane until she was 19. Snooty male speaks up: "No offence or anything, but there are two free seats in front. So you could move. Or something."

I move.

And we're taking off. This is it- this one of the moments I had romantically envisaged to be oh-so poignant and emotionally charged. And it is emotional. I wish Snooty couple were not here so that I could have a good old blub, but the blub doesn't come until sometime in the night when I'm alone and uncomfortable and not sleeping. In reality, this moment is not a film-moment. I don't look out of the window and watch the ground fizzle away. I sit there a little numbly- partly from alcohol but mostly because I'm just not sure how to feel or what I should be thinking.

Dinner comes- I order wine and listen to an incredibly camp air-steward stereotype argue with snooty couple that "I'm telling you now, if you'll just sit and LISTennn, that I do NOT have you marked down on my list for a vegan meal. I'm sorrrrrayyy, but that's just how it is". I am on the Snooties' side, actually- the air stewards are incredibly rude on this flight and I fully intend to write a complaint letter to Richard Branson.

I spend a very long time skipping through film lists and eventually settle on 'Argo'- I need something serious and no nonsense. Nothing too sappy that will encourage emotion. No time or space for that now. I drift in and out of half-naps. I dream of Mexico.

And suddenly it's morning. Half morning- Atlantic morning. A confused morning spent chasing the sun after not enough night. There is turbulence. I drop a contact lense. I somehow find it. I listen to more air stewards argue with more passengers and I make my way to the queue for the toilet. I am actually brushing my teeth when turbulence rocks the plane harder and the seat-belt warning comes on. Plane crash or no plane crash- a full bladder would make things even more uncomfortable.

There is a frantic banging on the door.
    "Coming," I call, but head steward is UNimpressed and shouts through the door with tones similar to those I image used by particularly agitated midwives:
      "Is somebody in there??!!! Get out!! Get out NOW!"
I am pulling up my knickers and trying my best not to fall in or smack my head on the rolling ceiling, but it is just not quick enough. She is going to kick the door in, I fear, and fall out of the cubicle with all the mercy of a passenger scorned. She is still shouting about seat-belt regulations, she has referred to me as "young lady", and pardon my expression, but I am about to lose my shit:

"Do you have a PROBLEM, madam?! There is absolutely no reason for the attitude. You've been rude for the duration of the flight, I'm incredibly tired and forgive me but even if the plane was upside-down,  I STILL WOULDN'T COME OUT OF THE BATHROOM WITH MY KNICKERS AROUND MY ANKLES. ALRIGHT?!" - No exaggeration.

She is bleating like a sheep but I've already walked away and sat down. "WHAT?!" I heave at the Snooties.

The plane is landing and London is zooming in towards my window. I am becoming conscious as I imagine a comatose patient would. My thoughts are on getting home, getting some sleep. Will my parents make a scene at the airport? Will my dogs remember me?

I'm walking out of Arrivals. They're both there- the first thing I see: my mom in orange, my dad in lurid blue. Did they do this on purpose? Hellos, "wow, look at your hair!" Yes, I too am colourful. "Cup of tea for the road?"

And everything is exactly as it was. I step out of the airport and into reality. The funny thing is, whilst I write this... 3? months after it happened, I remember these details clearer than yesterday. Yet after the airport- it's all a blur. Normality, which doesn't seek the attention of a blog, but which was no doubt made that bit more colourful to wake up to.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Cuba Part Six: Hosts are Whining, Trend- Assigning and Illegal Dining

From Trinidad, I made my way back up to Havana for the final night before my flight home. My plan was to stay at the same house as I did when I first arrived, and to my amazement I managed to find the road again from the window of a crushed and steaming public taxi. Since I knew that I'd be back in the same place, I'd left my big bag of luggage there and taken what was essentially a small bin-bag of essentials with me for the majority of my trip around Cuba. This had worked out pretty well, although of course by the end of the trip, the plastic bag had seen better days.

Although Roberto the casa owner had been informed by his many spies that I was indeed on the bus and would be back in Havana by around 1pm, he wasn't in when I arrived because he was out celebrating Father's Day with his daughter. I hurled my plastic bag over the enormous gate and went for a wander down the road until he came back.

My wander found me knocking on the door of the other people I had stayed with in Havana: Ariel and Anita, a youngish couple who were a lot more relaxed than Roberto and whose company I enjoyed very much. Anita seemed far too young to be married and have two teenage children. She spoke no English and despite knowing that my spanish was limited, spoke incredibly fast at me- constantly, which I think she knew would be good practise. Ariel was learning English after several years of nothing but Spanish and Russian in school. I had a lot of respect for him for this. Once when I was staying, Ariel's English teacher was sitting on the front porch with him and invited me to make conversation with them both. He himself spoke appalling English, which made the situation both funny and a bit sad, but I know he really enjoyed the chance to practise with me- whilst passing it off as good practise for his pupil, of course. The conversation topics this man chose sounded as if they were straight out of a high school text book ("What you like to in your spare time?", "Where you go for your holiday?") and I'm not sure he understood all of my answers, but he did a very good job of nodding along in a confident, self-important teacher way. From that first day, we agreed that I would speak English to Ariel and Spanish to Anita.

Anita and Ariel had another guest staying in their house: a girl (or woman, I should say) named Jess. She was South-African, but had an English father and was undertaking a PHD in the US. We were both leaving Cuba the following morning but I think we were equally glad for each other's company and easy english conversation. Jess had met some locals from down the street who were throwing a party, and I went along. Despite never having met or heard of me before, the hosts invited me in warmly and immediately brought over beer and lunch. It was a slightly bizarre party: held for a visiting university lecturer from Uganda (I think!) and his family, all guests huddled in the very small kitchen-living room area for the cooling fans. I chatted to university lecturers and posed for photos with a girl I did not know.

Later, I returned to Roberto's house where I was finally let in by another guest: an academic from the US. I grabbed my bikini and Jess and I headed to the beach. It was blisteringly hot and I was desperate for a swim, but was not keen to go to a local beach alone.

The final swim of my trip. Perfect water. Sun beginning to disappear and the smallest hint of an oncoming cloud. Metaphoric.

We caught a taxi back into the centre of Havana, and for the first time in Cuba I was able to sit down in a real restaurant-bar and have dinner out. I drank mojitos whilst watching a couple dance along to the in-house salsa band. Scanning the menu for anything with vegetables, my eyes stopped curiously at the words "beef steak". How exciting to eat something other than fish or chicken! I grabbed my chance and enjoyed something which was most definitely not steak, but which did also not taste of chicken. It would not be until exactly 24 hours later, 35,000 feet up in the air that I would wake up with a start as I realised that I HAD EATEN FIDEL'S COW!*

[*Just as in England, all swans belong to the Queen, in Cuba all cows belong to Fidel Castro. They are incredibly valuable, being few in number and much needed for their milk. Supposedly, Cubans can go to prison longer for the killing and eating of a cow or bull than for murder!]

Back at my accommodation, Roberto was tearing his hair out. "Where have you BEEEN?" he expired with all the confusingly camp convulsion of a house-wife scorned.
       -The beach, with that lovely and sensible girl, Jess from down the road.
       "But how did you find your way?! It's not safe! And your THINGS! In a plastic bag! I had travelling bags you should have said-I-thought-someone-had-taken-your-THINGS-And what do you want for your breakfast?!"
I assured the poor man that everything was under control, especially breakfast which was still around 10 hours away.  It's a wonder his daughter was ever deemed physically and mentally able to fly the nest... although perhaps he worried less about her abilities to catch buses and converse with strangers seeing as he was less likely to go to prison in the unlikely event of her disappearance than mine.

It was the very final night of my 6 month trip. I took great satisfaction in throwing much of the contents of my luggage in the bin, after taking most of my clothes to Anita down the road. Despite much of the bundle looking rather sad and worn after a grubby few months, Anita was delighted and said that anything she didn't keep would be passed along to someone in need. I'm sure much of Havana's fashion trends are based upon what tourists leave behind: I've seen some rather amusing sights around the city, including an enormous woman with triplets wearing an 'Athletic '91' hoodie, and a man on the beach selling cashews whose t-shirt declared that he would "SO much rather be playing a video game".

I said my goodbyes and went to bed feeling something a little less strong than excited, ever so slightly
uneasy and strangely nervous at the thought of flying home.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Cuba part five: rum on the bus, a beach with less fuss, and a taxi goes bust.

16/06/13, 07.38, Bus back to Havana, Cuba

"It's father's day- I have just realised this because all the men on my bus are drinking rum [before 8am...] and shouting "Felicidades Papá!". Oh and now some music is playing. This will be a long five hours.

"Pablo walked me to the bus station- all five doors down, and started chatting to taxi drivers about taking me to Havana for the same price. I finally got sick of being puppeteered and told him and the taxi driver thanks, but I'd get the bus. Hell, the taxi may be quicker but at least on the bus I don't have to talk to anyone or deal with the driver chatting me up. Or so I thought.

"Trinidad is pretty and there is a great salsa atmosphere at night, but I think it's a place for couples, really. I got a bit fed up walking around and being thrown comments left right and centre. Even a security guard who sits (day and night, it seems) by a gate near my casa particular beckoned me over the other day. Seeing as he wears a uniform and was at work and all, I thought maybe he had something valid to tell me- but no. He asked me if I wanted a boyfriend. [May have been repeating myself here!]

"Last night I was walking up to the plaza and a woman peering out of the shadows asked me if I wanted a job in Trinidad. I can only think of so many jobs she might have meant, and I don't think I look much like a salsa dancer. This bus smells awful. Karma for leaving the taxi driver hanging.

"Wolfgang: I'm going to have to just start calling him Stefan now- his plan was to stay in Viñales until the diving opened up in Maria la Gorda on the 15th, but I had a phone-call on Friday to say he was on his way down to Trinidad. To cut a long story short, he missed his bus, got a taxi to Havana, then another one down to Cienfuegos anyway, but the Watchers (ie. my hosts) had already booked me for the set three days which Roberto from casa number 1 booked for me. [Afternote: Quite a sentence!] Since Pablo from this casa didn't seem to handle it very well when I just arrived home when I felt like it in the day and he wasn't expecting me, I just couldn't be bothered to argue and so on Sat. morning when he said to me: "so today you'll go to the beach and then have chicken for dinner at 7pm?" I just wearily agreed."

And that's the end of most of my notes! I have a feeling I got distracted at this point by the many drunk and leery men on the bus, one of whom insisted I have a swig of him rum.

Receiving the phone-call from Stefan was really quite nice. Although I had decided to go to the beach regardless on this day, I knew that going alone would result in another day of agitation due to the unwanted attention I would inevitably receive. I also found it hilarious and uplifting the way in which this hyper-active and oblivious Austrian man managed to find his way down to the south through such a ridiculous means, find the phone number of where I was staying and communicate his wishes to call me despite knowing absolutely no Spanish, and at times insisting on trying his luck with french words. I'd found the man fun yet insufferable over the past few days by the ways in which he managed to (and enjoyed) childishly winding me up so that we would bicker and I would snap in what I imagine to be a sibling-like fashion. Despite this, I'd missed him- and it was lovely to be met by a familiar face once I hopped off the bus to Cienfuegos.

We spent the day at the local beach. The day trip we'd taken together before was to a private island off the north coast, which locals were not allowed to visit. Here at Playa Ancon, the atmosphere was certainly different- busy and cluttered, but better for it. Huge cuban families (both in number and physicality) gathered along the beach, eating barbecue food and ice-cream. Hundreds of them stood in the sea together- under parasols, beer in hand. Quite a funny sight.

To get in the sea was a delight and cooled me down both physically and mentally after my building irritation towards people over the week. When I got out, I shared a parasol with a friendly family on the beach- everyone is so trusting of valuables etc. Stealing from each other is just something that would never cross Cuban minds, and so there is no rota of paranoid bag-watching as one might find in other places. Of course this attitude may indeed be different towards tourists, as with most things in the country. Most enjoyably, I didn't receive any comments, propositions or gormless staring eyes- most probably because Stefan was there, but also because by being on this beach we were seemingly accepted as locals. "Comrades".

After polishing off a litre of chocolate ice-cream each, it was time to make our way back to the city. Locals had made their way to and from the beach by sharing cars, as always, and I was determined to do the same. Not only did I not want to be overcharged in dollars, but with only a couple of days left in Cuba I still had a purse full of local money which I wanted to use up. We stood around for a long time, laughing at the most pointless roundabout in the world before analysing each car and its owner, wondering if there were in "collectivo" mode. Nobody seemed to be leaving at this point, until one guy in a more modern looking golf turned up. I tried to bargain with him to take my local pesos, but he refused. This made me very angry, because I knew that he would have taken anybody else there for 10 pesos- the equivalent of about 30 US cents. Stefan is too laid-back and European to argue over such matters, and we finally agreed to let him take us for $7 US, since we had no idea when the next car would be available.

For the whole duration of the journey, the driver whinged on to me about why it was necessary for him to charge us so much money, and I practised my Spanish debating skills in return. I was just in the middle of telling him how much it costs to run a car in England and that no, my Papá did NOT buy it for me, when the engine made a chugging noise and we ground to a holt. In the middle of a long, deserted motorway, we all hopped out of the sweat-box and our driver assessed the engine. I found the whole thing very funny, which yes, I know is cruel. Once I had managed to stop cackling like a witch who had placed a curse, I did my bit of standing in front of the bonnet, peering in and scratching my head like the men. I gave some suggestions as to how we might push-start it (I have experience of this from my own beaten-up little car...) but hark lest we forget I am a WOMAN and was therefore completely ignored. I don't think I was this man's favourite person during this moment.

Eventually another car passed, stopped to talk to the driver and made a phone-call. Stefan and I hopped into this car, which took us to our requested destination. I handed him $5 and jumped out. Poor Mr. Sweat Box was not destined to receive any of our dollars. And the moral of the story is...?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Cuba part four: Trekking through tobacco, ATM-based agro, and independence is a no-no.

14/06/13, 10am, Central Plaza, Trinidad- Cuba

"Just tried to get cash out with both cards upon seeing my first Cuban ATM, but neither worked. I changed the last of my dollars but now am slightly worried I won't have enough to last. If there's one thing only that Cuba needs to pull together already, it's the banking. A handful of ATMs in the whole country which don't even work, banks with really odd opening times, two currencies which street vendors and shop assistants completely screw tourists over with, 30% commission sometimes on USD!.. It's a F-ing mess. And another good reason to travel to Cuba with someone else- double the chance of being able to get money. I already owe Wolfgang.

"Honestly, right now I feel ready to go home. I don't think I would if I was still in Central [America], but maybe I don't have quite enough energy left to fully embrace Cuba. I'm fed up of spending so much and I don't like the feeling that the huge amounts I am spending is going straight into Fidel's pockets (or his associates, because I am convinced he is actually dead. But that's another topic for another day.) I still haven't worked out if I am really enjoying myself here or not. It's a beautiful country, with so much going on- pretty much every activity one could want asides from skiing, but at the same time I feel so restrained.

"Maybe I wouldn't notice it so much if I hadn't just come from Central, where I made all my own decisions and was able to just jump on a local bus to wherever... here I feel constrained to the strict tourist routes, watched and noted everywhere I go and unable to make split decisions. My route was pretty much decided for me by my first casa host- and while I'm sure I could say to this guy: "actually, I don't want the three nights here, I want to go to Cienfuegos tomorrow", it feels like it would be a hassle, possibly offend him and easier to stick with the plan. I find myself just agreeing to everything. Dinner in the house? Sure. Add it all onto my never-ending bill. I hate having to tell someone every movement of my day. By 9am, I must have told my host what time I want dinner and what do I want and how do I want it... By dinner time, we've planned breakfast. My whole week has just been chugging along, going through the motions of a plan. And I'm tired. I am so F-ing tired. I can't do all that I would do usually, I can't really enjoy drinking late into the night, because the energy is gone. And I don't think it's so much the fact that I'm coming to the end of the 5 or 6 months or whatever, it's that I can't relax here and do things exactly as I want to. There's not time to myself. I am always watched. Even sitting on the roof terrace in the house, Pablo knows I am there, keeps an eye on me as I climb up and down.

"Changing these dollars in the bank, I had to give all the details of my passport but also where I'm staying, how long I'm staying there... so they can match it up to the information I gave before and make sure I'm where I should be? Yes that sounds crazy paranoid and nobody should really care about a harmless 23 year old girl, but how else should I think when I was greeted at immigration with a full-on interrogation?

"But maybe I need to relax and chill out. Maybe it's just that places like El Ostional in Central [America] were really special. It's nice to sit here in the square- a group of girls in school uniform are singing around a guitar, a man sits in the shade with a cigar and a bucket of some kind of fruit to sell. Two women sit next to me, chatting: one holds a newspaper in her hand. Maybe I'll buy a newspaper- practise my spanish reading skills and get angry at the biased stories."

"What kind of country doesn't sell diet coke of any kind?

"Could today be the longest day ever? I've done a lot of wandering around, but the heat is getting to me. Making me even sleepier. Had a local ham sandwich, had a little nap. Sat in the park but got fed up of the male attention. Even the gate-guard/ [security] person thing was at it. Came over all serious to ask me a question, so I paid attention, thinking it might be important- then he asked with a still, straight face "tiene un novio?" ["Do you have a boyfriend?"] !! I don't know, I could handle it ok in Central, but here it really is something else.

"Back to the story of my life. We were horse-riding. I wore my big, new blue hat and I was loving life. We trekked for almost seven hours, stopping first to climb up and see a cave (NOT my favourite thing to do, but it was very open), later to see another cave through which we were promised a natural pool to swim in. I assumed the pool was on the other side of the cave- ie, open air and not underground. I would never have gone through otherwise. As this cave went on longer and deeper, I was really starting to panic and thought I might have to be carried out. But I was pushed along and concentrated on not stepping in water. Actually, I was mostly ok until I looked up and saw my close proximity to the ceiling. It was hot outside and my stress was making me sweat even more, so when we finally reached the pool- lit by candles, I just jumped straight in. Wolfgang threw me a beer, which we cooled in the water and which made me feel a whole lot better. Not for the first time on this trip, I was pretty proud of myself.

"Towards the end of the trail, we stopped at a tabacco farm, where we were shown how to roll cigars. The farmer told me that they were a family business, run for generations, but recently had become a government official stop for tourism. They were allowed 10% of their farm produce or income- the other 90% goes to Fidel. After a couple of mojitos- todo organic, it was time to go, but the heavens had suddenly opened and we all sat in the barn a while longer. The farm brothers gave us a cigar to share and played some Reggaeton on their phones. Then I was watching them and Wolfgang trade songs through bluetooth an discuss the iphone 5. Que Bizarro.

"We arrived home covered in mud- my shoes completely destroyed- and starving hungry. After showers and peso pizza, we saw our local friends in the square once again, and the night ended in drinks and me watching while all the amazing salsa dancers sauntered round the dance-floor to a live band.

"Wednesday was a beach day. Took a boat across to Cayo Levisa, where I swam, slept and read on the beach: a perfect beach, but I think I've been spoilt by white sand and blue seas recently, so it felt normal. As with everything in Cuba, the trip was methodically programmed. We were confined pretty much to a hotel area, where a sound system shouted about just how much fun we were going to have, and all the creepy-smiled waiters called me "laydeeee" and bugged me for drinks. Good day, though.

"And then Thursday bright and early, I said goodbye to the Austrian and set off on my eight hour bus ride to Trinidad."

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cuba part three: My last roof terrace.

13/06/13, 12:30pm, Bus to Trinidad, Cuba

"Just squashed a huge mosquito against the window next to me and now I have to watch my own blood drip out of it. Little bastard.

"The last couple of days have been fun. On Tuesday morning, my Austrian friend and I went on a trek through the valleys on horses. My horse was a babe, called "Moreno"(I think), which basically means "brown". Pretty unoriginal, but there we go. Our guide picked us us from the house dressed as if he was ready to kill some indians. His name was Andrés, he was very serious, but clearly loved his home: pointing out every fruit and tree we passed. He also liked me best, because Wolfgang can't speak any spanish.

"This bus journey is totally bizarre. They're playing 80's music videos like 'Take on Me' on a little TV screen. I don't want to concentrate on it, but it's hypnotic. Maybe they're sending out subliminal messages to tourists through the white noise."

Later: on the roof, sometime in the evening, Trinidad.

"Over the past few months I have:

  • Sat on Rossy's roof in Guadalajara learning spanish, chatting to Flacco, watching the cathedral bells and remarked and how the colour of the clock fact exactly matched that of the sky. It's also where I had my very first beer of my trip.
  • Sat on the boat roof in Belize, drinking rum with a great group of people, watching some of the best sunsets over the Caribbean. 
  • Sat on the unfinished roof at Lilia's house in Antigua, with John, discussing love, life and death even through a thunderstorm.
  • Sat on a sort of roof terrace in Tegucigalpa by myself, watching a thunderstorm at a safe distance from the dodgy city below.
  • Oh- and sat on a bar's roof when the electricity went out and the music system broke, with a lovely Australian in Cancun.
  • Sat on the roof in Viñales, breaking mojito glasses and counting the stars with Wolfgang.
  • And sat on the roof here in Trinidad, by myself watching the first stars pop out and remembering all the incredible things I've seen.
This could be my last roof terrace.

"I have been called names by men in the street, such as:
  • Werita/ Wera (white girl)
  • Guapa
  • Mango
  • Mamey
  • Mamasita
  • Caliente
  • Bonita
  • Linda
  • Chica me gusta
  • Novia
  • Gringa
  • Britney (?!)
  • Suave
  • Puta (whore)
  • Perra (dog)
  • and now "white trash".
"I have travelled by:
  • Plane
  • car
  • taxi
  • 4x4
  • chicken bus
  • local mexican bus
  • first class mexican bus
  • subway train
  • shuttle bus
  • boat- ferry, fishing boat, canoe, kayak, dive-boat, largo...
  • truck- vegetable, construction, pick-up
  • foot!
  • van
  • tuk-tuk
  • motorbike
  • police van
  • horse
  • collectivo
  • volcano board
"The crazy nights in I have if ever I'm somewhere without dorms/hostels and therefore have my own private room I:
  • epilate
  • cut my toenails
  • usually eat some chocolate in bed
  • wander around naked. Bit of stretching.
  • binge on lists/ reviewing past lists (* didn't even occur to me that's what I'm doing right now!)
  • maybe wash some underwear in the sink
  • pee with the door open [*share too much]

"Books read this trip:
  • The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene [Left in my room in Mexico]
  • Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene [Brought from home]
  • Better than Fiction, various authors: Lonely Planet [Brought from home and still have it]
  • Life of Pi, by Yann Martel [Found in hostel in Antigua]
  • Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan [Swapped in shop in Utila]
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [Found with some pages torn out at the Surfing Turtle island hostel, Nicaragua]
  • My Horizontal Life, by Chelsea Handler [not proud of this one! Inherited from my Canadian friend]
  • The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink [From book swap in Panama City]
  • Queer, by William S. Burroughs [Also from Panama City]
  • On the Road, by Jack Kerouc [Which I brought home and was an excellent novel to end the trip on].
"Useful Things I have discovered:
  • shampoo= body wash= hair wash= clothes wash= bag wash
  • The best way to keep the sand flies and even mosquitos at bay is to smother my legs in baby oil or similar (at night)- the little eejits get stuck in it and can't get through to bite me.
  • Mexican, Guatemalan and Honduran shoes will not survive hiking or rivers and are generally not built to last."