Things its taken me time to learn (by twenty-one)

Whilst reflecting on some of the questionable life decisions I have made over the past 21 years, I realised at this supposed point of adulthood I have learned a number of things that have taken a while to sink in. So here are a couple of them, for those of you who read any posts on a mediocre blog on yet another social media platform-

Things its taken me time to learn (by twenty-one)

  1. Its okay not to be a morning person, and your house mates will forgive you (as long as some coffee is in your system before a conversation is required).
  2. It’s going to hurt and that’s okay, and you’ll be okay.
  3. You can’t please everyone, and not everyone is going to like you, but do you- someone will get your vibe (eventually).
  4. Travel is the best thing you can do for yourself, so book that plane/bus/train/boat ticket and just go. I promise you, just go.
  5. Vote and stand up for what you believe in. Just understand what it is you’re voting for and believing in.
  6. Tip your waiters and bar staff. Like, seriously.
  7. Everyone adds up to 100.
  8. Listen to your mum on the value of money matters.
  9. But also understand that money doesn’t always matter.
  10. That time you had your clothes stolen in Newlands pool and didn’t get replacements until 5 am will be funny- one day.
  11. Don’t go skinny dipping in the Newlands pool.
  12. Be on time- the world doesn’t revolve around your idea of what 7:30pm is.
  13. Its okay not to go to the gym.
  14. You probably should go to the gym.
  15. Find home within yourself first- people are not made of soil in which to plant roots.
  16. The value of yourself is not reflected by how many likes on social media you get (or how many people read your blog, I guess).
  17. Talk to the kid that sits by themselves at lunch.
  18. Let people in. Let people out.
  19. If you need a soul cleanse, go to the ocean.
  20. Prioritise yourself.
  21. But make time for the people who’ll return the favour.
  22. Learn how to sew up holes in your leggings.
  23. Really  learn how to sew up the holes in your leggings.
  24. Make the effort to actually phone people more often.
  25. Learn a foreign language.
  26. Work hard, but work smart.
  27. Read a book every once in a while.
  28. Its okay to get so drunk you don’t remember, just make sure someone has a video of it to laugh at later.
  29. Being alone does not mean you are lonely, the universe is not only outside of you.
  30. Self love starts with exactly that, yourself.
  31. Dying your hair cherry red is never a good idea, it stays way longer than you anticipate.
  32. Everything is temporary.
  33. Red hair dye is just not as temporary.
  34. Honesty, though sometimes hard to swallow, is always the best policy.
  35. Quality over quantity. Every time, for everything.
  36. Sometimes Most times you don’t get closure on events of life, that’s just the way it is.
  37. The wider your tastes, the bigger your world.
  38. Be the lobster (this is a youtube video link)
  39. Try and save the planet a little in your lifetime.
  40. Wear your seatbelt. Always.

Sending good vibes for all those absolutely-lost, lifes-a-mess, unemployable, broke, potentially naked from a drunk night out swimming, people out there, happy twenties! Don’t worry- We’re all on the same banana boat.

 

 

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The Amazon: postal code unknown.

The Amazon. What trip to South America would be complete without a little trip into the most famous rain forest on the planet? Although this did form part of my Bolivian adventure, I felt it deserved a post of its own because of how damn incredible it was.

The trip started at any local tourist office in La Paz, you’ll find lots around offering either a Pampas tour or another one based in the middle of the jungle and camping, or both. We chose the Pampas tour which consists of exploration on a little canoe and living in a house by the river edge when not searching for flora and fauna. The plane that takes you was so tiny and cute, and it really felt like you were on a little adventure back in time arriving in the tiny airport of Rurrenabaque. Within Rurrenabaque you need to book your own hostel as most tours only provide for accommodation in the forest itself but there are plenty around and are very nice. The town itself is small but there are a number of restaurants which serve up decent pizza and drinks, which is all you need!

The tour begins with a drive to the river, which takes quite a while I won’t lie- but if you’re lucky, you might see a few sloths and other animals along the way. Then you’re loaded into a little boat, and sent off down the river for 3-4 days.

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A gorgeous morning for a boat ride, don’t you think?

The activities on the trip are once in a life time vibes, even beginning with the local resident caiman at our little waterside home that would unnervingly disappear when you went for a swim. The houses are basic, with shared showers, little electricity and basic mosquito nets, but you’re not there for 5 star luxury anyway so its perfectly comfortable living for a couple days- and the hammocks are a god send for afternoon naps to late night chills. The night chills by the way, are absolutely stunning. Never have I ever seen the entirety of the galaxy so clearly and felt so small. I’ve heard the Atacama offers even more beautiful sights so a stargazing trip is definitely on the bucket list. The mosquitos however, not so great or beautiful.. I recommend you pack extra spray. We resorted to socks and slops, a new low in life.

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Depak and I trying to escape the mozzies somewhat fashionably

I can’t remember the exact order of activities per day, but I’ll still break them down below. To start with, you spend a whole morning anaconda hunting. Yup, you grab a pair of wellies and wade into chest high grass and hope to find a snake that can potentially grow up to 28 ft long (that’s 8.5 metres). You’d think they wouldn’t be hard to miss, low key terrifying that they really are impossible to spot. We did manage to catch a small one that was only around 1.5 metres at most which to be honest I was more comfortable with than one 8x the size. Snakes really are amazing so although they’re not the most comfortable for me to be around, I have a deep respect for them and it was a gorgeous animal.

We also went piranha fishing, which I was crap at but I’ve never really had luck with catching anything (insert fish, illnesses, feelings, emotions here). But the ones I did catch were far too small and not even slightly intimidating to provide a meal so they went back from whence they came, and we ate their parents instead. Piranha is delicious by the way, and it tasted all the better knowing I (the tour guide) had caught our dinner.

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My really impressive amazonian piranha (I threw the baby back)

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The not so lucky, but super delicious, other ones from the fishing expedition

On the final day, we were taken to the river to find the pink river dolphins and go for a swim with them. Now, apart from the immense excitement building up inside me because 1. dolphins and 2. PINK dolphins, I had two major issues-

  1. I hate, and am kinda scared of, fresh water (as in dams, lakes and rivers)
  2. This was literally around the corner from where we went piranha fishing the day before.

Okay, so those of you reading this laughing because I’m scared of fresh water I know its irrational but you can ask my house mates, I genuinely cannot get into some dams. I genuinely think it stems from this fear of Pikes from when I was about the size of a pike (like a metre) but I thought they would nibble my toes in the lake and whatever… I don’t know why, the ocean is my favourite place so drop me into the middle of false bay any time but please don’t push me off the raft into the river (cough MUM). HAVE YOU SEEN RIVER MONSTERS?! Its literally set in the Amazon. And the piranhas… *Starts hyperventilating*

Eventually, after standing on the edge of the boat for about 20 minutes in the rain with everyone laughing at me I sucked it up and stepped off the edge and, despite me frantically swimming and practically climbing on to the people we were travelling with, I got to swim with Amazon pink river dolphins. And that is a pretty cool story (usually I skip over the being a wuss bit but here’s to honesty *clinks g&t*).

Finally, on the way home, and to end off my amazonian adventure on a high we had wild spider monkeys pay us a visit on the way home. Cuuuuute right!? Except they pee on their hands and on themselves so actually we smelt like absolute shit afterwards and the whole way home to the hostel.. but the babies were adorable and low key wanted to take one home.

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The Amazon trip was incredible, and it isn’t something to be missed or taken for granted if you’re travelling in South America. My only advice would be to check out different companies before you decide, the preservation of the Amazon is imperative to the protection of the planet and anything that oversteps into the habitats and natural life of the flora and fauna isn’t something I’d recommend. Leave only footprints right? But seeing the beauty of the Earth’s lungs before they’re taken away is unmissable. Bolivia is fucking awesome. From the salt flats, to the world’s highest airport, to the rain forest, to the underground’s drug bars to so much more. Do not miss it.

 

 

Bolivia: 3165

As promised in the previous post, Bolivia is where I would say I peaked in my gap year in terms of realising I was 8767 km from home and that no one really knew me and that no one really gave a shit, and let me tell you I have never felt more freedom. For those of you that know me you’ll know that the prospect of being the one dancing on the bar by myself is something that is most definitely at the bottom of my list of inclinations, yet there I was singing some 2000s pop song and conducting an orchestra of hostel goers through a version of Happy birthday- to myself.

Bolivia was the first leg of my trip that was truly solo as a friend from Sixth form last minute decided to crash my Brazilian adventure (kidding Adon, thanks for keeping me company in lost Portuguese translations), yet alas I was left in the airport of Rio to travel onwards to Bolivia alone. Now, I am not a scared sort of person but to be honest I did feel a little nervous sitting on the plane on a continent where I knew no one (little did I know this would turn out to be one of the best things about the entire trip- see comment above). For all you backpackers out there potentially  judging me for flying- 1. it was actually hella cheap, and 2. it was my first trip and i didn’t actually realise the bus system even though now I would rather choose it. But anyway…

I landed in La Paz at around 1 am after a quick stop over in Lima (does it count that I visited Peru or…) and this was one of the causes of my nervousness I think- landing in La Paz, the highest airport in the world where people faint and pass out (shout out to my grandmother for telling me she solidly passed out and needed oxygen when they moved to Bolivia) and I’ll be alone and omg- you can see my train of thought.

But I had absolutely nothing to worry about except maybe the temperature drop from a balmy 30 degrees in Rio to about -3 in La Paz. The hostel I had booked was Wild Rover, a chain hostel in South America and one of the bigger, more party orientated ones (being real I went cause I needed friends, sad times). Coming from Books which was like a family to a big hostel was a step up and despite my 2 am sleeping time, I was up at 9 and booking myself out onto a salt flat tour by 12. I was actually really nervous I would be alone forever, and although I grew to be so happy being by myself, the first step was a big one, so long story short I ran away from the hostel and forced myself into a group of people to like me- yay!

The tour I booked was of course, the famous salt flats, me being keen to go to see if there really was something out there supposedly saltier than myself.

They. are. amazing. Though, I still think I could rival them for salty content.

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The trip takes place in a 4×4 that leaves from Uyuni, the closest town and an overnight bus ride from La Paz. The overnight bus had wifi, tv and they fed you two meals. O.R Tambo and Heathrow give you 15 minutes free wifi and there I was in the middle of one of South America’s poorest countries, with unlimited internet access. (Shout out to Western capitalist extortion here). You then drive around for 3 days, overnight-ing in hostels made of salt (I really was in my element), that are included in your trip.

On the first day you reach the salt flats and watch the sunset over these incredible pieces of land that, by the way, stretch for 11,000-sq.-km. I went in the dry season so unfortunately I didn’t get to see the incredible mirror effect that happens in the rain, but they were stunning nonetheless. I did try really hard to get a cool perspective photo which are supposed to be easy, but…

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clearly I am inept.

After the salt flats, you continue on around the national park which has some of the most diverse terrain I have seen in such a small area. We saw llamas, mountains, flamingos, coloured lakes, geysers, spent the night in hot springs and explored abandoned towns- all in 2 days. There are also loads of wild alpacas which I’ll admit I did spend a lot of time chasing after for that selfie, to no avail. They also tried to spit at me so..

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Snowy mountains, lakes and out of view- flamingos!

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The closest I could get trying to make some new local friends

During the trip there’s also the opportunity to get off near the Chilean border and continue into Chile if that’s your vibe! For me, Chile wasn’t in the picture this time around but I’ll definitely be wanting an Atacama visit soon. Luckily though, the aim to make friends on the trip did sorta work out so I had people to talk to back at the hostel in the interim of waiting for a fellow backpacker from Brazil to arrive, and it also broke me back into just sitting down and randomly chatting to a stranger and it not being weird or holding connotations of leading to anything- who knew you could actually buy someone a drink just to have a chat and then not actually expect anything? Amazing.

In between all the little trips I took I returned to La Paz and I loved it. Lots of people I met only stayed in between the Amazon or Uyuni but actually, La Paz is fucking cool. There are great restaurants, interesting things to see and warm alpaca wool jerseys a plenty! Whilst on the trip, I read a book called Marching Powder about the San Pedro prison right in the middle of La Paz. I recommend you read it because it’s actually insane, but if you’re not a fan of literature I shall summarise:
Its a prison in the middle of the city and backpackers used to be able to go in and chill and spend the night and get off their faces on the cocaine that’s made there and then eat and shop at the restaurants that are inside. Inside a prison. With real inmates. Like what.

And on top of that, La Paz is home to Route 36, but I’ll let you guys look that one up.

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Llama foetuses and herbs sold at the witches market

Whilst in Bolivia, I celebrated my 19th birthday. Backpacking in South America, I really didn’t meet many people my age and was one of the youngest around as most gap year based travellers seem to pick SE Asia or Europe for a first time trip. But, this did not deter me!

I started off going to a Bolivian Cholita Wrestling contest which was like nothing I have seen, and probably will ever see again. It’s kind of like Mexican wrestling x WWE where women dressed in traditional puffy dresses throw themselves and each other across the ring. I actually do not have words to describe it other than utterly fantastic and absolutely bonkers, so there’s a youtube video linked above. The night then continued into, and I would like to thank Wild Rover for coincidentally holding this, a very drunk karaoke night on May 7th. Oh, and also a shout out to those that helped me into bed following my performance(?) on the bar. I mean to sum my night up, the next morning when I reappeared from my pit at about 12 pm, approximately 3-4 people whom I had never seen before congratulated me on my birthday and asked if I fell asleep okay, only for me to find out they had been the ones to run and grab a bucket and hold my hair back into the early hours of the morning- friendships blossom from the bottom up people.

On a more put together note, one of the last things I did whilst in Bolivia was mountain bike down Death Road.
Fun fact! My grandfather was actually in the construction industry and helped build this road in the ’60s which was a bit surreal whilst biking down it.
Death Road is a one-car-wide stretch of ‘road’ cut into the side of the mountain and used by trucks going up and down to deliver supplies. Yes, up and down which means sometimes when they meet, one has to reverse around blind corners whilst teetering on the edge of a cliff- why not throw yourself down it on a mountain bike, am I right? Honestly though, would recommend it to any adrenaline junkie out there. You start in the freezing mountains and end in a tropical rain forest after riding down around 80 km of cliff hanging dirt and waterfalls- and then they feed you! It is so great, and there’s only a small change you’ll fall off the edge and plummet to your death- and even if you do, they’d give you a little cross to mark it as well (you do genuinely ride past so many of these)

 

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Lucie and I sitting on one of the very scarce railings down Death Road

Overall, the two weeks I spent in Bolivia could have easily been stretched by at least another week maybe longer. Not once did I feel unwelcome, even when leaving the airport and the friendly security decided I, of all people, was a potential drug mule and proceeded to search my bags whilst I stood their mumbling Spanish about how they weren’t drugs but chewing gum and panadol. He let me go after realising I was definitely far too small and cute to be harbouring illicit substances. I really did love the city and its people, as I found the Bolivians to be some of the most welcoming, friendly and enthusastic- especially when you speak their language.

Days stayed: 15
Hours travelled: many
Injuries incurred: 2 (mountain biking down a steep cliff does end in small disasters)
Nights on the bar: 1, and it was plenty.
Friends made: A solid handful, even post birthday night!
Pairs of Alpaca jerseys bought: only 1 😦
Drugs consumed: well none caught.. kidding guys.

I’ll discuss the amazing amazon in another post because I truly believe I have rambled on and if you’re still here, holding your attention thus long is an achievement, so take a break and read about my big anaconda next time.

 

P.s. Apparently blog posts are picking up their popularity of expressions of (teen) angst, political commentary or travel orientated babble, so thanks for reading mine as well.

 

 

 

Brazil: 29650-000

So I was wondering where to begin my next blog post and I figured the beginning would be a good place to start and so here we are- Brazil, the first place in truly one of the best years of my life before university and law school dragged me into their deep darkness’. So here we go; Brazil, a little review by yours truly.

I picked South America as the place to go to for my trip because it was the last continent I had to step on (bar Antarctica but I’ll save that for another trip as the clothes I packed for Brazil and Mexico wouldn’t really translate to -30 degrees), and where better to begin than the place famous for its good vibes- Brazil. I flew from Johannesburg to Sao Paolo and had to connect to Rio as unfortunately there were no direct flights at the time which was really not an issue, except maybe trying to get the Brazilians to engage with me in Spanish at 1 am to take us to our hostel… Spanish = no bueno in Brazil. Oh, and try not to ever change your money at the airport, their exchange rates are genuinely the worst.

First of all, Books Hostel. If you haven’t heard of them you definitely should and I spent the remainder of my trip recommending it to anyone who even mentioned potentially visiting Rio. I don’t have to boast too much as you can read its reviews on the hostels page and from other hostel recommending sites yourself but for a little intro:
It’s run by a completely off the wall Brazilian named Felipe (the Captain) and his staff from around the world who bring absolute life to the little place tucked away off a side street of Santa Tereza. It’s a relatively small hostel but I think that’s what makes it all the better. As a starting point for an 18 year old in a whole new continent, Books provided the most amazing banter, parties and introduction into the world of backpacking. It serves breakfast, something I realized after leaving was a relative luxury compared to other hostels and is in a great central location with easy access to the local buses and metro, or even walking to the sights. Oh, and it remains the best caiparinha happy hour I had in South America for sure.

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Books Hostel bar and outside area

To be honest, most of my nightlife consisted of Books parties or going out with people who worked/were staying there to the local bars and clubs which was always fun- though I do remember one in particular had some very bad europop going on so I didn’t last too long at that one…  The hostel also organised a party boat one night which was really good and on another we trekked into the Favelas to a rooftop bar at sunset which I thoroughly recommend to those looking for something a bit different.

Ipanema and Copacabana was of course on my list, unfortunately there was no show girl by the name of Lola at the hostel to complete my trip down to the beach, but it was a nice day out. For those of you looking for the Brazilian babes famed to be found there, I guess I was out of season because all I found were (much) older men in speedos- but to each their own hey! To be honest, there are much better or prettier beaches out there if you’re into your ocean-scapes, but you have to go, don’t you?

Christ the Redeemer is a great view, and worth seeing as the size of the statue really did surprise me, but its a little on the pricier side (as a the budget backpacker that I am) and I never got a photo without at least 1 other tourist spreading their arms in the background. So if you’re not too into crowded spaces, a view that’s just as great can be had following a 2-ish hour walk up a mountain called Dois Irmãos (two brothers). You start the hike at the bottom of a Favela but you can pay someone a couple of Reals to take you to the starting point on the back of their motorbike- I’m lazy and was hiking for two hours after this so I took the motorbike offer up to the mini starting hill, typical. The hike isn’t difficult- like I said I’m not the model of fitness so if I can do it you can too! On the way down we also grabbed lunch at one of the little restaurants where you pay by weight so we definitely made up for the calories burned. Unfortunately I hiked it on a pretty cloudy day so my photos aren’t great- but you can take my word for it! There are also tours offered in Favelas which I heard are interesting but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to go on. I did however, attend a local Brazilian football match which was insane- the spectators are something else! And this is coming from experiencing the mad rugby hype at multiple South African games here, but the Brazilian football fans really do take the cake in terms of passion and noise!

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The view from Christ the Redeemer, with Dos Irmaos in the background right

Most of my time in Rio was spent rambling around which I found the best way to find the cooler, out of the way spots (like the little Acai spots- yum!), that you could get lost in- or ask Felipe for any tips since you’ll now definitely stay at the best hostel out there! Rio was bustling, as any big city, so at first I struggled to find its character but after 10 days walking around it really grew on me, and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of popping over the Atlantic.

Here are a couple of my Brazilian stats:

Days stayed: 10
Hours travelled: 15
Brazilian words learned: Obrigada! (always know your pleases and thank yous)
Beaches visited: 2
Mountains climbed: 2
Times I got lost: quite a few
Hostels stayed in: the only and only
Caiparinhas consumed: umm…
Pairs of Havaianas bought: 2

My Brazilian adventure ended in Rio as I set off for Bolivia next, but I am definitely going back to take a little adventure around the rest of the country, and you should too.

Stay tuned as I discuss dancing on bars, being saltier than the salt flats, and a lack of friendly llamas in Bolivia next!