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When recalling a night spent in Cusco, Peru while I was travelling recently, I couldn’t help but think “wow I did some risky stuff when I travelled”. That time in particular, I was probably quite lucky that nothing went wrong. After reading this article on SMH, it reminded me again of some of those situations.
I can’t relate to the parts about drugs, but this part of the article did hit home – “People ride on the roofs of buses because it’s fun, and nothing will go wrong. Probably. They take rides in dodgy boats, because what choice do you have? They hang out of train doorways, they cling to the back of taxis. They do all these things that they wouldn’t do at home because overseas you can, and you want to, so you do.”
The night in Cusco aside, I can think of two times where I took risks because I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have much other choice.
The first was in Venezuela, towards the end of 2011. I had been travelling with a friend, but was on my own again after we wanted to see different things, and was heading for Choroni on the Caribbean coast. I had booked a bus ticket from Merida to Maracay, where I planned to change to another bus to Choroni. When I arrived at the bus terminal in Merida, the ATMs weren’t working. I was running low on cash, and had been told that there weren’t ATMs in Chorini, but wasn’t too worried as Maracay was a much bigger city. I figured there would an ATM at the terminal there.
The long distance bus trip went smoothly, despite the freezing aircon on Venezuelan buses, and I arrived in Maracay early in the morning. The first thing on my “to do” list was an ATM search, but after a decent time spent wandering around, I couldn’t find one in the terminal. Eventually, I approached a woman who worked at one of the bus company ticket offices. When telling this story, I often credit the Spanish skills I built up for saving me in this situation, as she couldn’t speak any English.
I explained that I needed to get a bus to Chorini, but needed to go to an ATM first to pay for my hotel. Her fist suggestion was taking a taxi to Chorini, which was much faster than the bus, and they could drive me to an ATM first. I didn’t want to pay for a taxi, as the bus was about one tenth of the cost. Her next idea was storing my bag in her office, while she took a taxi with me to the city centre to go to an ATM. After locking my bag in her office, my thoughts went to if I would ever see it again, while she was questioning me on whether I had enough money to pay for the cab. I assured her that I did, and she flagged one down.
Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, we made small talk during the short trip to the centre. When we got there, she made the taxi wait, and stood guard while I withdrew money. Despite having no idea where I was, the trip back to the bus terminal seemed slightly more relaxing. Her questions revolved around whether I was planning to come back to Venezuela, while I took comfort in the fact that it seemed like we were heading in the direction we came from.
When we arrived back at the terminal, she got my bag and walked me over to the bus I needed to take to Chorini. With nothing more expected than an appreciative thank you on my part, she was gone and I was on my way. In hindsight, I could have planned a lot better, but was lucky to find someone so helpful. And to top it off, when I arrived in Chorini, it turned out the info I was given was old, and an ATM had recently been installed!
The second time I relied on slightly questionable transport to get me out of a sticky situation was in Costa Rica in late 2012. I had planned to stay a few days in Jaco on the Pacific coast, but decided to go somewhere new and headed to nearby Playa Hermosa.
The day I was leaving, I had an afternoon flight to Miami, and had planned to take a bus from Jaco to San Jose, and get off at the airport. My side trip to Playa Hermosa didn’t change much, I would get a taxi back to Jaco in time to make the bus to San Jose. The problem occurred when the owners of the place I was staying were nowhere to be found when I needed to leave, hence no one was around to call me a taxi. After ringing the bell multiple times to get their attention and walking to the main road to try to flag one down both failed, I headed to the nearest hotel I could find to see if someone there could call one.
The girl at the desk was very helpful, and promised me a taxi straight away. About 5 minutes later, a blue, unmarked car showed up. Taxis in Costa Rica are red, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that this was a friend of hers, not an authorised taxi. I weighed up my options for a few moments – I had no idea how else to find a taxi other than walking back to my hotel, and I was running out of time to make the bus to make my flight. Despite knowing it went against everything we were advised, I agreed to go with him after confirming the price several times.
As we headed toward Jaco, I once again found myself hoping for the best. Given there was only one road, I at least knew I would be able to tell if we went the wrong way, and was prepared to jump out of the car if I had to. It turned out that I didn’t have to worry too much as I arrived safely at the bus terminal a short time later. When we got there, he offered me a lift to San Jose for a much faster trip, which was above my budget even if I didn’t want to go any further than I had to in a dodgy (but utlimately successful) taxi.
The moral of both stories? Better planning would have prevented these situations. But as Ben mentioned in his article, there is a certain feeling of invincibility when you travel. It may not have been something I did on my first or second trip, but after travelling for awhile and gaining confidence and experience, the thought of “it will be fine!” definitely applied.
As for the night in Cusco, that is another story for another blog!
Note: stay safe when you travel! Stick to official taxis and don’t take rides from strangers.
I registered for the Gold Coast half marathon with a bit confidence after running 1.25 at the SMH half marathon. After a slightly sporadic month of training in June, I arrived at the start line happy to just do whatever I could on the day.
I travelled with two friends, Kate and Tony, and we arrived on Friday night with time to get dinner and have drinks, before an early start on Saturday for the 10km event. Even though we were up early, Kate and I relaxed while Tony ran his first 10km in a year, but by 4am on Sunday morning it was our turn. Despite some issues with the transport, we made it to the start line with a bit of time to spare.
My plan was to start at 3.55 pace, and make sure I didn’t get caught up in the fast course and go out too hard. It worked well for the first few kilometres, before I started to notice I was running a little bit faster than I had planned. I was caught in between feeling really good, and wanting to conserve energy, but as the kilometres ticked over and I found myself enjoying the pace I decided to go for it and see what I could do.
My favourite part of out and back courses is that you get to see people during the run. At about 12km, I saw Kate, and while I was feeling good, it was her acrobatic cheering that got a smile out of me. Not long later, I saw another friend, whole told me I was around 20th female.
heading in to the last third of the race, I heard two guys chatting away behind me. They came up next to me at about the 15km mark, and a quick glance at my watch showing 3.56 pace convinced me that I was slowing down. Looking at my splits after the run suggest I may not have been, a good reminder that a single moment on your garmin might not reflect your overall pace! It worked to my advantage though, because I decided I needed to stick with them to avoid slowing down.
Leading up to the 16km mark, one dropped off and the other, realising I was trying to keep up with them, started to chat and offer a bit of encouragement. With about 4km to go, I was working hard to keep up with him, and it made sense why when I went through the 19th km not far off my 5km pace! Being ahead of the 1.24 pacer, I knew if I could hang on I would run a PB.
At 20km, the guy I was running with disappeared off to the side. It turned out he wasn’t even officially in the race! I briefly realised I wouldn’t be able to say thank you since he wouldn’t be at the end, then turned my focus back to the long stretch of road ahead to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 1.22.13 and 19th female, taking almost 3 minutes off my time from SMH.
The funniest part of the day came after Kate had finished (in PB time as well!), and I said how much I wanted to go in the spa back at the hotel. Tony pointed out that cold water was probably better, and to highlight the point we noticed groups of people standing in the water next to the finish area. After laughing over how funny it was, we decided to join them! I think my legs definitely appreciated it.
I enjoyed this event and the fast course is a definite plus. Gold Coast marathon might be on the cards in the future!
The past few weeks of running have highlighted the highs and lows of returning from my injury.
In what was a huge surprise to myself, my third and fourth runs at Parramatta Park Run resulted in two PBs in a row, both under the all important 20 minute mark for 5km. I thought that speed would have been the first thing I lost, so I wasn’t expecting to run anywhere my current best of 19.32.
I think it ended up giving me a false sense of security about how well I was doing, because stepping up to 10km at the Central Coast event on Sunday was another story altogether. I did have some doubts before the run how I would go over the distance, but it was overshadowed by the feeling that my 5km time suggested I could run a PB. That was definitely out of the question.
The first half of the run wasn’t too bad, although I wasn’t feeling my best. By about 6km I could tell I had slowed down a lot and the temptation to quit was almost overwhelming. I nearly did just before the 7km mark, when I stopped to walk.
The night before, I had a seen a post on Facebook that said something along the lines of running not being about beating the other athletes, but beating the voice that tells you to quit. I shared it on my page, along with a comment about how it’s totally about winning. I’m competitive, and I my finishing position is important to me, but on that day it actually was about not giving up.
I started running again simply because I didn’t want a DNF just because I was a bit tired. The last 3km felt like they took longer than the first 7km, and I was ecstatic to cross the finish line and stop running.
My dad summed it up best when he said that it probably just meant I was fit enough for 5km, but not 10km. It makes sense and is a natural part of recovering from an injury – rebuilding conditioning. And on that day, it was a good reminder that these things to take time and patience. One step at a time!
Even though it wasn’t close to PB pace, I still achieved the target for November in my comeback timeline – 10km. Next race distance, half marathon in January!
Not long ago, I read an article from SMH’s Backpacker blogger Ben Groundwater titled “You Will Never See These People Again” about friends you make when you are travelling and promises to meet up that often fall through.
Ben’s article considered an interesting point; that perhaps these encounters when you travel are supposed to be just that – encounters that affect, influence or even change your life in that moment, but forever remain in that situation and not be brought back to your real life at home.
I had mixed feelings when I read it. I have made travel plans with people I met on the road that we actually saw through, and had a great time. I have met people during one part of a trip, and caught up with them again later in the same trip, and had a great time. I have also hung out with people I met travelling when they have visited Sydney and enjoyed it. But after spending a few days in Colombia with someone who had a big impact on my life at the time, and never seeing or hearing from them again, I can understand the value of a meeting that was only ever supposed to last a short time.
It got me thinking about the experiences you have when you travel, and if these are something that are supposed to become part of your “real life” or stay on the road.
Before my first trip to Mexico and Central America in 2009, I was curious about the Mayan history in the area, and only knew a few words of Spanish despite having a close friend with South American background. But when I was over there, I became captivated. I wanted to come back and study Spanish, I wanted to learn how to dance salsa and, of course, I “fell in love” with a Latino.
When I arrived back in Australia, I split the time I used to spend running or watching sport with salsa and Spanish classes. My schedule was so busy trying to fit everything in that I didn’t have a single night of the week where I just went home and relaxed. It got a point where something had to give, and after a second trip in late 2010, it did.
In preparation for another 8 months travelling, the only thing I cared about was Latin America. Group Spanish classes had become one-on-one lessons, and salsa classes had eventuated into social dancing a few times a week, sometimes late enough that I’m not sure how I made it to work on time the next day. The third trip took the situation to the extreme – months of being immersed in the culture meant I had reached a point where I wanted to live there. When I got home, I was happiest when I was around my South American friends, they knew my music, and the places I had been and understood why I loved it so much.
It didn’t seem like a big deal when friends I met over there who had started going home seemed to go back to their normal lives, without the desire to sign up for salsa classes, go to reggaeton clubs or join Spanish conversation groups. It just meant I loved it as more than just a place to travel. It had been a joke with a friend I met in Brazil that I had been born on the wrong continent. The truth was that I was completely obsessed.
Leaving for the fourth trip was supposed to be the one where I stayed over there. I had my TESOL qualification on hand, had narrowed my choice down to three countries and had started to look at schools where I could get a teaching job. But when it came time to put research into action, it turned out that I didn’t want to stay.
The disconnect didn’t happen as soon as I returned to Australia. I went on a few dates with an Argentinean guy, and I was still going to salsa once a week. I even finally managed to convince my South American BFF the significance of Ai Se Eu Te Pego.
The first hint that something had changed was buying a ticket to Pitbull after a few drinks, and when I remembered the next day I really didn’t want to go (so glad it was cancelled).
But it was when I walked into Margaritaville for salsa last night that it became really obvious. I hadn’t been dancing for about 6 months, at first because of City2Surf training, then because of my broken foot and lastly because of lack of motivation. When I arrived last night I realised the underlying reason behind all three – lack of interest. I had a few dances and while it was fun enough, my heart wasn’t in it. It was a strange feeling, how something that not long ago was a huge part of my life, now felt so foreign. The description of bachata as “the most beautiful dance” and merengue as “sexier than salsa” might have resonated with me in the past, but last night felt impossible to relate to.
I have amazing memories of dancing merengue in Panama, but I’m happy to let them stay as memories. It will never be the same trying to recreate them here, because they represented a moment of significant change in my life. It was as much about the feelings associated with it as it was about the dancing.
I loved travelling in Latin America. I love the culture, the music, the food, the language. I loved watching the top 20 countdown on HTV while eating breakfast, shopping at Exito, buying Choco Bigger ice cream to survive the heat, running on the beach in Rio, drinking Aguila, Pilsen and Club Colombia, and of course, dancing.
But after a few years of trying to incorporate some of those things into my life here in Australia, I realised that I like it just fine the way it was. Because sometimes the experiences you have when you travel are about the impact they have on your life in a particular moment, not something you need to bring home with you.
*Disclaimer, I’m not suggesting all dancers, Spanish students or Pitbull fans are obsessed with Latin America, just was the case for me.
In the last few weeks, the feeling associated with running has gone from pure happiness just to be out there, to fear of reinjuring my foot, to excitement over being able to race and finally landed at that feeling where I’m itching to do more, like yesterday.
My first race was almost three weeks ago, when I lined up for Parramatta parkrun. I promised myself I would take it easy, and just focus on getting through the 5km run pain free. I managed to stick to it, and after being conservative for the first half I picked it up for the run home and finished in 22.25 – not a bad effort for 8 weeks off running. The following weekend was the Bay Run, and after a 6km training run during the week I felt confident that I could manage 7. Not sure of how long it would take, I estimated 32 minutes, starting slowly once again to feel out how my foot was going. When I wasn’t in any pain, I increased the pace and finished in 29.50, two seconds slower than my Bay Run PB. That wasn’t part of the plan!
Last weekend started with parkrun again, and I wanted to try run it closer to PB pace. Sticking to my strategy of not going out too hard, I tried to push the pace in the second half, finishing in 20.49. That afternoon I went to Carcoar in country NSW for the annual Carcoar Cup, running the approx 6km Carcoar to Creek Dash. There was a bit of explaining about my formerly broken foot each time I mentioned what distance I was doing. I definitely would have loved to have been out there with the half marathon runners, but following on from Park Run, my hilly 6.39km event was tough enough.
Mostly a mental battle with myself, I had convinced myself I couldn’t catch the girl in front of me because I thought I was too tired for a race to the finish line. I decided to go for it with about 500m to go, willing the finish line to come closer because I was almost out of energy. The fast pace on the steep downhill at the end meant my ITB was complaining the next day, but it was great to win back to back runs! Getting my first prize money was nice as well.
That little taste of competition has made me want to do more, and I’m feeling pretty excited for events I have coming up. First goal is 10km at the end of this month, but my thoughts are already drifting towards Canberra Marathon in April.
One step at a time, bring it on!
Earlier this week I read an article on SMH that listed the ultimate A-Z travel bucket list, so I decided to compile my own. Fitting everything in the alphabetical format did make things challenging, and I had to bend the rules in a few places to fit everything in and will admit that some of my reasons are a little weird. But I’m a little weird, and I think it’s a great list!
Here is my A-Z travel bucket list:
A – Atlantic Coast of Portugal – walking trails along a beautiful coastline, sim por favor.
B – Brazil 3.0 – I always say that Brazil could be a trip of its own given the size and things to do. Next time I go back, Salvador, Florianopolis, Buzios, Lopes Mendes beach (Ilha Grande) are all on the list. And Rio, again.
C – Colombia 5.0 – I don’t know how it’s possible, but there are STILL things I haven’t seen in Colombia. I’m not sure I will ever get enough of this country. Caño Cristales, Rio Claro, San Andres Island are top of the list.
D – Dominican Republic – I love the Caribbean, and it’s hard to go wrong when choosing an island destination to visit. Personally, I’m a little biased towards the Spanish speaking countries which means the Dominican Republic won over Jamaica.
E – España – What to do when there are too many places starting with “S”?! (Yep, I think I’m pretty clever). Spain is on the top of my list for Europe. I’m curious to explore the cultural similarities and differences with the Latin American countries I’ve visited.
F – Fraser Island – I will admit that I didn’t know much about Fraser Island until a backpacker friend stayed with me earlier this year. The largest sand island in the world, 100 freshwater lakes and it’s right here on the Queensland coast. What’s not to like?!
G – Germany, Switzerland and the UK to visit my friends in Europe – is it cheating to list three places under “G”? I have friends in these three countries I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time (and I guess I could do some travelling while I’m there too).
H – Hong Kong – I didn’t have time to stop here when I went to China in May, but it’s a priority for when I go back. I want to take the tram to Victoria Peak for views of the city, eat as much street food as possible and see the city skyline from the harbour. Macau is a must visit too.
I – Israel – This is on the list mostly due to constantly hearing how amazing it is on my 2011 trip. First it was a guy I met at the Grand Canyon, then it was the abundance of Israeli travellers I met in South America telling me how amazing their country is. One in particular I remember told me about its diversity, and said that you can drive from the beach to the desert to the snow in one day. Combine that with a big coastal city that has captured my interest (Tel Aviv) after being named in the top 3 most innovative cities in the world in 2012 along with two of my favourites (Medellin and NYC), and Israel definitely makes the list.
J – Jurassic Coast, UK – I love any kind of coastal walk or drive that offers beaches, cliffs and views out to the ocean. Highway 1 in California is my current favourite, but this is one of two on this list that might compete with it.
K – Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
L – Lisbon – I’m cheating a bit her again by separating Portugal into two letters, because I wanted “P” for something else! Lisbon fascinates me, mostly because of its coastal location, food and nightlife. I often get surprised reactions when I tell people that I haven’t been to Europe, and my love for Latin America does make me biased towards wanting to explore Spain and Portugal first. I’m expecting them to have their differences, so I’m interested to see if these countries end up being my favourites in Europe or I prefer somewhere else.
M – Marathon overseas – I have been considering running the Rio marathon for awhile now (any excuse to go back to Brazil), but New York, Boston, maybe London if I could get an entry would be awesome too.
N – North Western coast of Australia – Cheating again here, because I couldn’t use “B” for Broome. This has been on my list for awhile, I just wish it wasn’t so hard (expensive) to get to. The isolated west coast beaches, with their beautiful sun sets and the striking red colour of their rocky surroundings are calling me!
O – Other Spanish speaking countries – Aside from the ones I already have on this list, Paraguay and Puerto Rico are my next choices. I have been to 15 of the 21 countries that have Spanish as an official language and I think it would be cool to make it to as many as possible.
P – Pearl Harbour, Hawaii – I want to go to Hawaii in general (and am in January), but this was the easiest way to fit it on this list. But I will also admit that I do want to go to Pearl Harbour and visit the USS Arizona memorial. Why? I’m not really sure. Morbid fascination about being able to see the sunken boat maybe. Like I said, I’m weird.
Q – Queenstown – I’ve been told by the same friend who went to Fraser Island that Queenstown in the highlight of New Zealand. I’m going to the north island this weekend, so next time I go back I will visit the south island and see if I agree!
R – Road trip the Great Ocean Road, Victoria – This is part two of the coast lines that could beat highway 1 in California. The Twelve Apostles look amazing in pictures, I imagine they would be even more impressive in real life. This is one of the places in Australia I am yet to visit and have wanted to see for a long time.
S – Sailing Croatian Coast – When thinking about Europe, this was actually on my list before Spain and Portugal after a friend told me about it when she went in 2008. I’ve wanted to go ever since. My list for Europe is a little abnormal, I don’t even have France or Italy on there yet! Though anywhere on the Mediterranean Sea would be awesome, and so would the French Open. And Wimbledon. I’m going off topic! Croatian Coast is on the list.
T – Turquoise Pool, Chile – Maybe Chile is my France and Italy of South America because in the two times I went I didn’t have a huge interest in going to Chile. I’ve heard mixed reports, some people loved it and some say I didn’t miss much. But when I saw this photo of the Turquoise Pool earlier this year, this is definitely something I’d want to see!
U – US cities I haven’t seen yet, mostly Chicago. I’m pretty lucky with the US cities I have managed to get to, but Chicago is a notable exception. Memphis would be cool too.
V – Vietnam – This originates from watching a Top Gear special about a motorbike road trip around the country. Random, but it looked amazing. And I’ve only heard good things about it since then. I was donated a copy of the Vietnam Lonely Planet guide earlier this year, next destination maybe?
W – Watch planes land on the beach in St Maarten – Planes fascinate me. Yes I’m weird!
X – Xela and Semuc Champey, Guatemala – Yes, it’s a real place! Years ago I read about a 3 day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan, which I haven’t had the chance to do yet. There are also hot springs scattered around Xela which I never say no to. As for Semuc Champey, I’ll let the picture talk again.
Y – Yacht the Whitsundays – I’m bending the rules again to include the Whitsundays, another place at home that has been on the list for ages. I’ve never been further north than Brisbane in Queensland, but have had a few failed attempts at going to Hamilton Island. The Whitsundays is a must, I will make it there sooner or later. And I’m sure I will go on a yacht at some point.
Z – Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah – I love the Grand Canyon, one of my favourite places ever. Sedona, Arizona is amazing too. For completely different scenery, Yosemite is stunning. There are reasons to visit so many of the national parks in the US, and you can guarantee that different parts of the country have different landscapes to offer. But my first choices would be Utah, Zion and Bryce Canyon. The emerald pools of Zion National Park and the vivid colours of the unique rocks pinnacles in Bryce Canyon are two things I would definitely return to the US for.
During my last trip, a friend introduced me to Airbnb. An alternative accommodation option somewhere between a hotel and couchsurfing, the basic premise is that people with a spare room in their house rent it out to people looking for accommodation in their city.
With unique options to choose from, a room, an apartment, my friend rented a treehouse in Costa Rica, Airbnb offers a different accommodation experience, sometimes with the help of a local to share their inside knowledge.
As a solo backpacker on a limited budget, hostels were still a far more economical option. But towards the end of my trip travelling in Texas, they were harder to come by than in other places. When I needed somewhere to stay in Houston for a night, I decided it might be finally time to give Airbnb a go. My friend recommended the person she stayed with there, but they had no availability, so I picked another user with a lot of positive reviews that seemed to be in a convenient area. It was a quick stopover, so I needed somewhere close to the Megabus station. After a bit of correspondence about how to get to the house and an easy online payment it was all sorted.
My stay in Houston was one night between an impulsive trip to San Francisco and going back to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I took an early morning flight from San Francisco to Dallas, then a bus from Dallas to Houston. By the time I arrived there, it was after 7pm and I had spent the whole day travelling. I had a 7am bus the next morning, and feeling pretty exhausted I was planning to have an early night.
My Airbnb host, William, wasn’t home when I arrived but his roommate let me in. I had showered and was starting to think about sleep when he arrived, and threw a curveball to my plans of an early night by asking if I wanted to join them for drinks with some of his family members who were in town for a wedding. It was a nice offer, and I only had one night to see some of Houston, so I pushed my tiredness aside and said yes.
A little while later, we were driving somewhere I couldn’t find on a map if my life depended on it. I’ve always been a fan of the notion that hanging out with locals gives you insight to a city that you can’t get otherwise, and that night was one of the best examples I’ve experienced. I don’t know much about Houston, other than downtown is the business district and not really the place to go at night. We went to a street in a completely different location with a few bars and restaurants.
The place we went was fairly small and not crowded, and had a chilled vibe. William’s family were incredibly welcoming, and not at all phased by having a random Australian traveller along for the ride. We talked about a lot of things, but the one thing that sticks out was Colombia and travel which morphed into a discussion about Pablo Escobar. They were fascinated to hear I had travelled there alone, and that it wasn’t as dangerous as the general perception people have.
It’s common to meet people from different worlds and backgrounds and share stories when travelling, but more often than not they are other travellers in hostels. Meeting locals can be harder, and it occurred to me at some point when we were chatting in that bar that I never would have meet any those people if it wasn’t for Airbnb. I didn’t see much at all of Houston, but it was a better night than I could have ever imagined.
After the bar we got tacos from the restaurant next door, then headed back. I still got a relatively early night, and was up in time for bus the next morning. William drove me to the bus stop and took me for coffee and doughnuts on the the way. I have to admit, I was pretty spoiled!
My friend who recommended that I try Airbnb told me she has had some great experiences and some that were just good. I have only used it that one time, and William set the bar very high. It might not always be at that level, but Airbnb is a good alternative to a hotel if you are looking to meet new people and get some local tips about a city.
Visit www.airbnb.com for more information.