Tag Archives: costa rica

Kayak to Koh Nangyuan

Off the North West of the island of Koh Tao, there lies another much smaller privately owned island of Koh Nangyuan.  Since being on Koh Tao for the past couple of months now, I’ve always thought to go visit Koh Nangyuan as I’d heard spectacular things about it.  Of course it has popular spots for diving and snorkeling, but it also has a bit of hiking and provides beautiful views looking back on Koh Tao.  To get there however one must either go on a snorkel/diving tour or hire a taxi boat.  Since I was on my own I couldn’t justify paying the price for a taxi boat, however I knew that Anna (my neighbor in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and whom I’d visited in Scotland and she’d visited me in Italy) was coming for a 5 week trip to Thailand.  So I waited for her to come to do some of the activities that aren’t near as fun solo as with a traveling buddy.

When Anna first arrived we were absolutely lazy.  I stopped doing Muay Thai, we slept in until 10 every day, had cocktails nightly on Sairee beach and generally lounged about.  When I’m on my own I’m in travel mode which means saving every penny and taking advantage of every day.  But when a friend arrives who is on vacation mode, the spending increases and the relaxing skyrockets!  Isn’t that what people do on vacation??  After the first week however we snapped to and started actually planning activities that extended beyond reading books and napping on the beach.  Afterall, there is literally so much to do and see on this teeny 21 square km island that it’s impressive!

One of the activities I saved for her visit was to visit Koh Nangyuan.  But instead of going there the “conventional” way, we opted to kayak there :).  Deb and Rick (friends I’d made on the island who own my favorite coffee and sandwich shop on the island, Through the Looking Glass) suggested where to go to rent the kayaks.  So semi-early one day after a couple of cups of coffee, Anna and I made our way to Wind Beach for the kayak rental.  For 600 baht we rented a double kayak complete with life jackets and a dry bag for the entire day.  We were supposed to give something as a deposit for the rental (passport- though recently I heard it’s actually illegal for people in Thailand to hold your passport, monetary deposit, room key, something!) but as we didn’t arrive THAT prepared, after a few minutes the guy simply said, “no problem, just write your name, where you stay on the island and where you from”.  Good thing!

We packed the kayak with our stuff and a large plastic bottle of water, snapped on the life vests and headed out to sea!  I’d only done sea kayaking once before in my life and that was years ago in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica in a single kayak to boot.  Riding in a double kayak is a teeny bit different.  First off communication is KEY!!  For if one person is paddling right and the other left, well no one would get anywhere!  Since Anna is similar in nature to myself however, even when we did goof up or get out of sync, we simply laughed it up and got back in communication.  It did take probably the first 10 minutes or so for us to completely organize ourselves with our respective duties on the kayak (Anna in the back would call out commands- left, right, steering!!- and I in the front would look out for obstacles) but once we did we rocked it out!

The morning sea while not insanely choppy did have quite a few waves to overcome.  The channel between Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan is often frequented by passing dive boats, tour boats and taxi boat traffic which added to the waves, but we took it all in stride.  Currents were another thing to contend with as we found ourselves often being spun toward land so we had to paddle to the left much more than to the right, which of course exhausted that side faster.

We crossed the channel safely however and then were faced with a new question… Where are we supposed to park this thing over there??  We weren’t given any instruction when we left so who knew where it was appropriate to land… The first little bay area we reached, just next to the pier where the boats came in, was where we decided to go and we very slowly and carefully navigated our way to shore.  I say “slowly and carefully” because just beneath the surface were tons and tons of coral and sea slugs/cucumbers!  We had to paddle very shallowly as well so we wouldn’t knock any corals and navigating became a bit trickier to avoid the living marine life.  We thankfully made it to shore without incident to marine life however and pulled the kayak to dry land.

It just seems that each beach that I’ve been to in Thailand just gets more and more beautiful than the next.  Koh Nangyuan is no exception!!  The structure of the island is essentially two small island connected by a sandbar which on either side exists beautiful ocean bays full of a ridiculously lush array of sea life!  We immediately had to get in the water to cool off and do a bit of snorkeling.  The snorkel didn’t last terribly long that first time however because the fish in that particular bay kept nibbling at us… Guess they knew we were new to the island, lol!!

As we emerged from the first “dip in the pool” we were approached by a Thai gentlemen who obviously worked on the island.  He asked if we were the ones with the kayak and then said we had to each pay 100 baht to be on the island…  It was then that we were told that this island was privately owned and hence there was a fee to walk about it and play in the waters surrounding it… We did come with plenty of money, but it would have been nice to know in advance of this extra charge.  So I’m sharing it for future travelers!  Also, I don’t know if for the taxi boats, if the charge to get there includes or not the 100 baht fee to be on the island… In any event, just be aware of this additional cost.

Moving on.  The small island bit to the South had a walking trail that led around the edge of the island to a beautiful viewpoint, so we headed off on it to check it out.  Mind you, it is possible to sleep on the island so as we skirted along the very shady (i.e. sketchy) barely still standing wooden plank path, we were passing several pleasant-looking bungalows.  We went to the viewpoint that was on the southernmost tip of the island and then had to turn back as the wooden path was falling apart and almost demolished in bits beyond a point, and headed up the trail that led to the top of the island for another viewpoint.

Though it was very hot and the walk was completely uphill, it really wasn’t a terrible walk by any means and not terribly high either.  The only struggle really was competing for space at the top on the rocks to be able to take pictures without other in them!  There seemed to be quite a few impatient people really who wanted to simply scramble to the top, took ages getting “just the right shot” with them in them and then hauled down.  So needless to say it took us a bit of time to get some shots, and once completed we leisurely made our way down.

At this point it was time for a nibble of food and as we sat down at the only restaurant on the island with our plastic water bottle in tow, it was then we noticed the signs just about everywhere that read “NO PLASTIC BOTTLES”…. Ooooppsss!!!!  Apparently plastic containers are NOT allowed on the island and all beverages from the restaurant are served in glass containers.  Again, just another little tip for future travelers:)  We were never yelled at for having the bottle however and we made a very big point of being sure to carry the bottle home with us, regardless of it being empty.

After the nibble it was time to check out the North end of the sandbar to see what kind of snorkeling action we could get there.  Don’t worry mothers we did wait about a half hour after food to go swimming 😉  The North end of the sandbar was lined on both sides with umbrellas and beach chairs and seeing as the sun was out in full force, we opted to pay the 150 baht for the set-up.  This part of the island was by far my favorite and it as quite evident it was the favorite of just about everyone else there too.  The water was crystal clear and reminded me of the waters I’d seen at some of the beaches on the Island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.  I lovingly started to refer to that bay as the “kiddie pool” as the waters were very calm, quite deep, but so clear you could simply stand on the edge and see all the marine life.  All sorts of fish (including puffers!!), sea urchins, anemones an cucumbers could be found in a relatively small area.  The bay was large enough however to accommodate several dozens of snorkelers and several classes of divers working on their refresher course.  It was absolutely spectacular snorkeling that I spent at least an hour exploring.

The rest of the day was simply spent reading under our shade, dipping in the kiddie pool to cool off, snorkeling and generally relaxing.  Around 4 we decided to head back to Koh Tao to turn in the kayak and though the waters were calmer in the afternoon, we did have some harrowing moments as the boat traffic (we must have hit rush hour) was a bit on the ridiculous side!  But after about 45 minutes and dodging about a dozen boats or taxis, we made it safe to shore and headed straight to the Wind Beach bar for a nice cold beer.  We watched the sunset while sipping on our beers (though it was quite cloudy at that point so not the best sunset sadly) and I even bought a beach dress from a traveling sales lady.  Though we were both exhausted from our day of activities, we had plans for the night as well… It was time to check out the Lady Boy Cabaret!

On to Night with the Ladies

Back to Thailand

Advertisements

Sangkhlaburi

Once again I opted for the ‘bit more expensive but will get you there faster’ mini-bus from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi.  It took about 4 harrowing hours to get there, and boy, I’d never been so happy to finally get anywhere before!!  Reason being was because of our absolutely lunatic mini-bus driver!!  It was one of those times I just had to breathe and trust that he knew what he was doing.  Why you may ask?  Well, basically because every car or truck or motorbike we came behind was swiftly passed at a very rapid speed.  And for a good percentage of these passes, we were doing so while going around blind corners!!  Interestingly I later heard from a fellow traveler that there is an accident involving a mini-bus every day because of how crazy they drive!  And even more scary, one of the volunteers said her driver FELL ASLEEP at the wheel in the mini-bus she took!!  Lovely…

I must admit though that through much of the driving (that is while we weren’t driving like a bat out of hell around blind corners in the WRONG LANE) I was thankfully distracted by the absolutely stunning national parks around us.  I tried so many different times to take some decent pictures, but failed each time.  Again because of the warp speed we were driving, it was just impossible to take a picture that wasn’t blurry!

The road to Sangkhlaburi is one to take your time on.  And if you are able to rent a car and don’t mind driving on the “wrong” side of the road (in Thailand they drive on the left like in the UK) then do it!  Between the Erawan National Park, Sai Yok National Park and the Khao Laem National Park, just about the entire trip was breathtaking!  The last half hour or so was a bit rough because the road turned unkempt with lots of sharp uphill turns, but other than that (and the crazy driving) it was beautiful.

I arrived mid-afternoon and started wandering the little town.  It was boiling hot and I had no idea where I was really going.  All I knew was that the gentlemen I’d spoken to in Kanchanaburi who turned my mind around about going to Sangkhlaburi told me of a lovely hostel called J’s Family Homestay that he’d really enjoyed.  So in my mind, I was set on finding that place to stay as well.  There were a couple hostels in town but no one wanted to help me find J’s place, they were only set on getting me to stay there.  So I wandered town aimlessly for a bit and spotted a little place to eat on the corner.  As it was mid-afternoon, I was starving and sweating profusely and my bag was really starting to bother me, so I figured I’d stop for lunch and maybe Google where the J’s place was.

Across the street there was a spa that advertised WiFi, so I thought maybe they had it everywhere.  I asked the woman at the eatery whether they had WiFi (basically I just said WiFi?? as she didn’t speak any English) and she immediately busted out laughing.  She said something to the ladies behind her with the word ‘WiFi’ in there and they too suddenly busted out laughing.  I’m talking full on hearty belly laughs as if I’d told a hilarious joke!  So well, yea, I figured the several minutes of laughter meant that no, they didn’t have any WiFi there, lol!!

After filling up on some fried rice, I headed on down the road leading away from the main town.  I walked for what felt like forever in the heat, just feeling the sweat drip down my back and moisture soak into my backpack.  My instincts were not on my side on that day because every side road I took “feeling” like it may be down that way was in fact not correct.  I backtracked so many times that I almost just gave up and went back to town for a hostel there.  Thankfully I came across a place where the woman knew where the J’s place was!  YAY!!!  Sad news was I was going the wrong way and had to turn back up the street, make a right and walk about a kilometer down the main road… BOO!!!

The heat of the day was really wearing on me and the several glasses of water I had with lunch were just being sweat out faster than I’d absorbed them.  I was once again just about to give up when I spotted a little sign across from the Temple grounds that said “J’s Family Homestay”… HOORAY!!!!

A left turn and a block later I found the place and just as I walked up the drive, a woman stood at the top.  Her face went from a smile to neutral.  She shook her head left to right solemnly and lifted her right hand out to her side pointing to a wee tent on the grass.  “That’s all I have” she said.  Sold!!  At that point I couldn’t have cared less what kind of accommodation I actually had, I only cared that I no longer had to carry my bag around!!  I paid for a few nights and settled into my tent, happy as a clam:)

As the sun set, I went for a stroll to see the famous Mon Bridge.  Sangkhlaburi is a richly diverse area consisting of several ethnic groups to include Mon, Burmese, and of course Thai people.  Several decades ago the valley of Sangkhlaburi was home to the Mon community.  However the village was destroyed after a flood following the construction of the Khao Laem Dam.  Now a lake separates the area with the Mon village on one side and Thai/Burmese people on the other.  The two sides are connected by the famous Mon Bridge which is a very tall wooden bridge that from afar looks to be constructed in a VERY sketchy way, but walking across it feels completely secure!  Believe it or not, children actually jump off this bridge!!  Brave souls!!  There is even a second bridge made of bamboo that parallels the Mon Bridge.  Walking across it however feels completely sketchy as the bamboo is basically floating on the surface of the water and sways left and right like a slithering snake as you walk across.  Definitely NOT recommended to walk after a few drinks, lol!!!

The lake is dotted with several homes constructed out of bamboo that also simply float on the lake.  It was so lovely to see such impressive simplicity.  I must admit I’m curious as to whether the homes have bathrooms… Do they use the lake as their toilet or go elsewhere?  I’ve been harassed by my fellow volunteers as to why I don’t go swimming in the lake like the locals and they do… Let’s just say that just in case those floating house residents DO use the lake as their bathroom, well that’s why I’m choosing not to swim in the lake, lol!

That evening I went to town for the Saturday market.  Streets normally open to car traffic were completely blocked off and lined with hundreds of street food and shop vendors selling again every imaginable food or physical item one might need.  I dined on street food and wandered the shops listening to local boys jamming on guitars and drum sets then wandered back to my hostel for rest.

The next day I wandered the neighborhood, back to the bridge for another viewing then over to a little animal sanctuary I had spotted earlier in the day.  I spoke to a guy hanging out there who turned out to be the vet and inquired about volunteering there.  Unlike volunteering in the States and even in Costa Rica, they didn’t require copious amounts of information, insurance, etc, etc to vounteer.  Simply show up and work.  My kinda place!  The next day I arrived there at 9am ready to work.  I planned to only stay a few days and help out where needed.  That was almost a month ago…

I’m still here loving each day with the animals and learning something new.  I stayed in J’s Homestay for about 2 weeks, then moved into the volunteer house with the rest of the gang.  Honestly, how can I possibly leave a face like this???

 

Elvis
Elvis

One for the Dogs

Back to Thailand

What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand

Santorini

I have a song working in my head that once completed will be published about Santorini, but well, for now it’s plain text:)

What a beautifully unique place!  Santorini as we know it today is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea that was formed by a large volcanic eruption that destroyed the previous civilization living there.  Now, it is the largest island of a circular archipelago that has remnants of a volcanic caldera.  The island isn’t your typical flat land island.  It is a mountain jutting from the sea with what looks like snow on top.  Upon closer inspection the “snow” are the little towns sprinkled along the top of the mountain.

Because of it’s volcanic history (pun intended) the land of Santorini is rich and fertile and very diverse!  Black lava rock, red clay and white pumice stone are visible around just about every corner etched into the land.  Homes in fact used to be built out of cooled black lava rock, which made them somewhat invisible to travelers coming by sea.  A clever way to be invisible to your enemy in my opinion.  However, in the 1930’s  the government made it law that each structure had to be painted white because it keeps the homes cooler and saves on energy.

While the Island itself is not all THAT attractive, the towns are absolutely adorable!!!  The rest of the island is rugged, rocky and not terribly interesting.  However due to the fertile nature of the volcanic rock, a large variety of produce are grown there.  The most popular of course, is wine:)  Part of the tour we took included a winery tour where we were able to sample the various wines and even purchased several to take back with us.  Growing grapes on Santorini is a bit trickier than one would think however.  Due to the ferocious winds Santorini is plagued by quite often, vines are not able to grow upright as in a normal vineyard.  Instead, people train the vines to grow in circular nests or baskets on the ground so they aren’t damaged by the winds!

Along with the hard winds, Santorini rarely gets any rain.  Water is a HUGE commodity and isn’t to be wasted at all.  The lack of rain is why their wines also have such a distinctive taste (the grapes are very concentrated due to lack of water).  The lack of rain has even inspired how the buildings are built.  One will notice 2 kinds of ceilings on buildings in Santorini: a flat roof and a circular or arched roof.  The flat ones are designed to collect rainwater that then gets funneled to an underground cistern, while the arched/circular roofs are the best design for buildings to withstand earthquakes… Yes, they have earthquakes too on top of the lack of rain and violent winds and there is still that volcanic caldron to think about… Sounds like a rough life to me, what with having to battle nature in so many different ways!

While wine, capers and olives are among the favorite products of Santorini, their favorite and most revered animal is the donkey.  They love their donkeys!!  Several statues of the honored donkey can be found in every town, and several times over.  They are working donkeys of course but are well taken care of and once they are of retirement age, they even have a proper retirement home for them to live out their lives.  Too cute, I love it!!  One of the ways to get back down from the town to sea was via a donkey ride:) I was absolutely on board to do that, however our tour guide made a mention that the donkey’s aren’t really a fan of it, so I decided to spare the donkey a trip down the rugged terrain (sigh).  Dogs are also very popular on the island and seem to run the place.  It reminded me of dogs in Costa Rica- how they do what they want during the day, but have a place and home to go to at night.

We wandered around Thera after our tour of Oia and the winery and stopped for some lunch at Arcobaleno.  The food was delicious and the view was unbeatable as it was overlooking the center of the archipelago where the volcano remnants remain.  I had a beer filtered with volcanic rock called Volcan while my parents and sister had wine.  And of course, since I was in Greece I had to have a teeny bottle to Ouzo to finish off the meal:)  From there we did some more shopping for gifts and such, had a pedicure at the Dr. Fish Spa where they use cleaner fish to nibble off all the dead skin, then had one more drink and a wee dessert (baklava anyone?) before taking the tram back to the loading area for the small boats to take us back to the ship.

Oh, one last interesting story about Santorini: the poor houses.  Wealth was signified not by the kind of house you had (large or small) but rather by how much land you owned.  So those who weren’t wealthy, instead of having homes on land lived in homes carved out of the rock along the top edge of Santorini.  Looking at the pictures of Oia and Thera, you can see how many of the homes are practically on top of each other and built right on the edge of the land.  These were the homes for poor people.  Today of course, these homes are worth millions of dollars… Go figure!

Oh, Greeks also love their churches.  If memory serves, people in the town were allowed to build their own churches and name them in honor of a Saint (each church was in honor of a different Saint).  While the churches weren’t used every day or week, when the day came around to honor whatever Saint was associated with their church, the church owner would give it a face life, clean it up and invite the town to the church to celebrate the Saint.  Lovely:)

Last, last thing… There are actually ruins that were discovered on Santorini from the previous civilization (the one wiped out by the volcano eruption) and it has been compared to Pompeii… We didn’t have time to look into that further but it’s certainly a reason to go back:)

On to Katakolon

Back to Europe

Scots in Italy??

The reason I had been traveling through Europe so fast was so I could make it back to Italy by mid-October… I got news while in Berlin that Anna (my neighbor in Costa Rica who I visited in Glasgow) and her friend, and now my new friend Morna were coming to town for the week!!  Yay!! But, that meant to push the gas on the pedal for my other travels.  Hence, after visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle I booked it via train through the Alps back to Florence to prepare for their visit:)

Preparing for their visit is really just code for stocking up with lots of wine, lol!!  I believe during their visit, my dad got 20 liters of wine and between the two of them, they probably went through 12-13 liters… LOL!  But hey, I can’t blame them, they were in Italy for crying out loud!  If you aren’t going to enjoy yourself while here, why bother at all?

I met them in Pisa and we stayed the first night and the next day doing all the tourist stuff, i.e. getting a picture taken holding up the tower.  Morna didn’t want to get in on that action, but we got her later when we were in the top  cupola of the Duomo in Florence cupping another dome of Florence… I Should now mention that all the pictures in this post were taken by Anna and her camera.  Gotta give credit where credit is due:)

In any event, our time after Pisa was spent hanging out at my dad’s place eating delicious home cooked Italian food; getting tipsy on wine and beer and chatting about good times both past and present; taking hikes in the National Forrest to Vallombrosa and Secchieta; going into Florence about 3 separate times trying each time to get into the Duomo but failing until our last try (which we then ended up walking to the very top for a panoramic view);

Going to see Michelangelo’s David, of course!  (the picture below is of my favorite part of David… (no, not THAT part;)))

My favorite part of David
My favorite part of David

Making a wish at the porcellino;

Wishing on the Porcellino
Wishing on the Porcellino

And staying after dark in Florence to watch night life a bit.

Night Artists
Night Artists

Probably the most humorous time for me was the hikes… The first day we went, not more than 3 minutes after we left the house it started to pour down rain.  Did we turn back?  Naw, it was just a bit of rain and we were SURE it would stop soon.  Thankfully I had brought an umbrella and poncho “just in case” since it was a bit cloudy, and while I caved and took out the umbrella for shelter after about 10 minutes of walking in the rain, Morna and Anna were still braving it with the light jacket/sweater they brought for the walk.  About 20 minutes later they were drenched!!  They took the poncho, which was large enough to share and onward we went.  Along the way we spotted several deer!!  And that was probably only because the deer figured “no human in their right mind would hike in this downpour!”  They were wrong, lol!!

We eventually made it to Vallombrosa all cold and quite wet.  Thankfully there was a teeny bar on the side of the road:)  We had cappuccino’s, a sandwich, some wine, beer, some more wine and beer… Then shots to warm up a bit more (we were still chilly) then another shot or two until it was starting to get too late and dark to walk back down, so we called my dad to pick us up, lol!!

The second day of hiking was much less wet, but still cold and windy!  We did make it all the way to the top to Secchieta (where we had planned to go the first day) and once again at the end of the trail, what was there to meet us??  You guessed it, a bar!  We brought our own lunch that day so we just purchased some cappuccino’s, two wines and a beer:)  We behaved that day knowing we had to walk down but not entirely… You see, along with sandwiches for lunch, we also packed about a liter and a half of wine to sip along the way:)  We did behave on drinking it however because we barely cracked into it until we were heading down:)  Ah, good times!

More Florence pictures- notice the very artistic pictures on the Ponte Vecchio done by Anna:)

The three of us posing as stereotypical Italians (Mamma Mia!)

Acting Italian
Acting Italian

On to Venice

Back to Europe

Glasgow

 

Goodness, there are lots of things to say here… !!  First I will start with what I have been told about Glasgow long before I ever got there from several people in the States: Beware Glasgow!!  Seriously I had one friend tell me that Scotland in general was quite dangerous and that I should keep my head down, don’t speak to anyone and I should be fine.  Statistically there is some validity in that because apparently Scotland is the #1 producer of heroine.  And where there are the super hard drugs, there is a higher volume of potential for danger and violence.  But as we all know, danger and violence exist everywhere.  So I wasn’t going to let anyone try to scare me out of visiting Scotland!!  And honestly I never ran into any violence or danger in Scotland at all!  There were a few bar fights and a fight with a convenience store clerk, but I promise I didn’t use any violence in any of those situations!!

When it comes to Glasgow specifically, yes, even the Glaswegians (Weegie’s for short) have fear of certain areas and of certain people… Beware the Bams and Neds!!  There was actually a third category of people, but I can’t recall what they were called…  If memory serves correctly Bams are more dangerous than Neds.  Bams are easily recognizable… They are usually always spotted in two or more, they always have shaved or near shaved heads, and they have at least one if not several scars on their faces from knife fights.  These people are best avoided altogether because even my friend from Glasgow says that if you get in a tangle with one of them, there is no way to escape not being stabbed.  And it doesn’t take any provocation from the individual either!  As I’ve been told by locals (and my friend) you could simply be standing around minding your business.  If a Bam spots you though and for whatever reason doesn’t like the look of you, they come over to pick fights with you.  Joy!!  Again though, while I saw several Bams about, I never saw any violence or was never harassed myself.  Bams are also generally younger guys.  I guess you could compare them to street thugs with nothing better to do than start trouble… Neds on the other hand are “grown-up” Bams… They are just an older generation who are calmer and less likely to start violence, but are still thugs in their own way.  I guess you could say Neds and Bams are like pit vipers… Pit viper babies immediately bite and inject overdoses of venom in any little thing that strikes them as being a threat whereas adult pit vipers pick and choose what is really a threat and only deals out enough venom to subdue the threat… Hmmm…

Moving along…  the East End is also known to be dodgy by locals… When I was working in Key West, I had a couple of younger kids visit from Scotland (aside from my friends from Edinburgh whom I met there) who knew Glasgow very well and I asked them to write down places to go or avoid in Glasgow… the East End made that list!  Along with other areas including Drumchapel, Priesthill, Nitshill and England, LOL!!  Places to go in Glasgow included Byres road for pubs (did that for sure!) and Lochlomond (to be talked about later).

Now that you have a little bit of an interesting introduction to Glasgow, I’m going to back up a tiny bit to getting there… I arrived via train at the rear-crack of the morning (aka 9am) from Oban to Queen’s Station.  And I was met just outside the station from my very good friend Anna!  Anna is a local born and bred Glaswegian who one day will have a book and or movie made about her life, because seriously she’s traveled over 80 countries and had some of the most amazing/crazy stuff happen to her!!  I met Anna while living in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.  We were neighbors, became good friends, kept in touch and when I was going to Scotland, since she just happened to be there as well, of course I had to go to see her!

Now you know why I went to Glasgow:)  Because honestly, if it wasn’t for her being there, I don’t know that I would have had any other reason to go on my own.  Glasgow is an industry town.  It’s not necessarily very pretty nor is there really a whole lot to do there from the tourist perspective.  But since I was lucky enough to have a local perspective (via Anna) I had an absolute grand time there!  Of course most the time we were intoxicated, but only had one day of a real hangover!!  So all in all, I think we did pretty well;)

In the interest of not rambling on for decades, I’m going to break down the activities once again to links so I don’t drone on too long in a single post:)  Oh, and if you are looking for Glasgow pictures… I didn’t really take any:(  I’m terrible at taking pictures in places where I’m living more than visiting… And with having a friend there, it felt like the former… But, I did take pictures at Loch Lomond and Lochgoilhead:)  So skip to those sections if you are looking for pictures of surrounding areas.

YES! Campaign

Bar Fights and Store Fights

Necropolis & Heelers

Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Lochgoilhead

Most Random Street Signs!!!

Back to United Kingdom

Hostel Culture Shock…

Quickly here I wanted to share a few culture shocks I experienced (aside from the prices, lol!!).  Really the only time I had ever before done the whole backpacking hostel thing was when I traveled through Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  So really my only basis of comparison was with hostels there…

What I had gotten used to from hostels in Latin America was places where basically younger people (early 20’s to 40’s) would go to sleep cheap.  It was a place for singles or couples of friends, but not large groups per se.  Everyone was also very inviting and curious of the newcomer.  You would tend to meet several people and hang out with them from the hostel.  It was like meeting a new member of a family at each place.  You always had someone to do something with if you wanted and everyone seemed very chill as we were all in the same traveling boat so to speak.  You exchanged information and traveling tips with fellow hostel goers.  It felt like an underground society in a way…  Places where the backpackers would convene nightly to exchange stories and dos and don’ts…

Hostels in London have a completely different feel!!!  First the age range literally included children all the way to senior citizens.  Entire families stayed at the hostel!  And groups of people booked into the hostel.  I’m talking for Stag parties (aka bachelor parties) or gangs of girls wanting to party it up in London.  I was shocked at the dress that people were coming out of the hostel with!  No more sensible travel clothes anywhere to be seen on people, except for a few random ones, but rather short skirts and tall heels!!  These girls are traveling???  No, hostels in London were definitely not for the traveler.  They were simply (at least I believe) the only cheap way to go since I don’t think many people can actually afford hotels in London!!  Or if they were travelers, they weren’t long term, they were just away for the week or weekend on a holiday.  Because of this there was no real camaraderie among the people.  Everyone was out for their own business and no one would really acknowledge others since they had basically all come in their own group anyway.  Personally I didn’t really care if I met people to talk to or not because I’m perfectly comfortable doing what I want on my own anyway, but it just gave such a “cold” feel to the place.  So uninviting.

So, needless to say this aspect was quite a shock to me.  I was very curious at this point how hostels all across Europe would be in general… If they would be what I was used to from my previous travels, or if they would be like the London hostel…

 

On to London Walking Tour

Back to United Kingdom

Colombia Myths and Truths

I thought I should put in an area for Colombia where I only talked about the myths and truths since one of the more frequent questions I get when telling people I’ve traveled there alone is “Isn’t it dangerous???”.

No, Colombia is just like every other country in the world I’ve been to so far as far as danger is concerned.  If you don’t go looking for danger, and you are at least semi-smart about your actions, there is no danger.  I know that in the past Colombia has had a pretty rough time with drug dealers and cartels, etc that made much of the country unsafe to travel through apparently, however that was quite a long time ago.  And as I’ve heard many others say, basically the drug dealers are now in the business of protecting tourists instead of making the country unsafe to travel through as they’ve apparently learned that tourists can be their clients too!  And it would certainly be bad business to scare them away!  Now, whether this is the actual case or not, who really knows.  I’m just sharing what I’ve heard others say as their opinion on why it’s now so safe to travel around Colombia.

Because of the rocky drug past Colombia has had, people I’ve talked to also seem to have a preconceived idea that everyone there too is somehow involved in drugs or are dealers or are dangerous.  This again is quite false.  Honestly I ran into more people on drugs throughout Costa Rica and Panama than I ever did in the more populated Colombia.  People there are quite nice, respectful and are just living normal life like others do.  I’m not saying no one there does drugs, just that it wasn’t in your face the way I too thought it would be before getting there and hearing the testimonies of others who had already been there.

What is becoming more popular in Colombia are the higher class scams.  All over the walls of each hostel I went to in Bogota at least, there were stories of scenarios to avoid.  What criminals were now into doing was watching for people in vulnerable positions and taking advantage.  It’s best I just describe a scenario:

Say you had to go into a bank for business.  When coming out of the bank, you could be approached by a professional looking person (dressed well, etc) claiming to work for the bank telling you that you forgot to fill out “X” form or sign “Y” form.  However, instead of taking you back into the bank (as it would make sense to do) they would say that it was only possible to finish the business at their other location… then they would basically take you around the corner, down an alley and rob you of all your possessions.  Why anyone would allow a “bank” employee to escort them anywhere other than back into the bank, I’m not sure…

Another scenario involved people claiming to be police officers.  They would be dressed in street clothes claiming to be undercover police and they would claim that you needed to come with them because you were found doing something wrong or there was a problem with “XYZ” somewhere.  Then they would walk you around the corner, down an alley and rob you.

Basically the best defense of any of these scenarios is #1 don’t follow strangers anywhere and #2 there were cops on the streets of Bogota literally everywhere.  They were always in pairs and in full police gear so if there was any doubt whatsoever in a conversation that a stranger had with you, simply walk toward the police to ask for whatever help and chances are if the person who approached you (false banker or false cop) isn’t legit, they would literally run away.

Enough said!

 

On to Back in the States

Back to Colombia Quicklinks

Back to Homepage

Back in the States

I flew back into the States from Bogota, Colombia after almost a full year of traveling between Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  I had spent most of my time in Costa Rica in the sleepy small Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo on the Southern Caribbean coast.  Coming back to the States was a bit of a shell shocker from a few perspectives.  First the amount of technology blaring in your face in the form of TVs was one thing I definitely noticed that took some getting used to again.  The second thing was the blinders were put back on.  You know, those blinders we tend to put on walking down the street, not saying hi to a soul unless you know them.  Not being present to the outside world while moving through it yet just keeping to your own world.  Those blinders… When first going to Costa Rica it literally shocked me that people would say good morning to me and acknowledge me as I walked down the streets.  Then I got used to doing the same to others as I went from place to place.  Then back in the States at first I kept my newly adopted persona of acknowledging people but was met with strange looks and no responses or people literally making a wider gap around me as they walked past.  So eventually the blinders went back on… Oh well…

Coming back to the States was a choice I made primarily because the bank account was starting to get a little low and because where I had been traveling in Colombia was getting too cold for my taste and the travel enthusiasm was just dwindling.  I went back to Houston to help house-sit my sisters place (and her two adorable dogs) as she was away quite often.  I got a job there as a bartender and server (a trade I picked up for the first time ever in Costa Rica) and stayed about 6 months or so.  Once my sister was back from her work obligations and I was no longer needed as a dog/house sitter, I moved to Key West, Florida.

I lived and worked in Key West for 10 months, saving all my pennies as much as possible (though of course I did have a little bit of a life too!) and then packed it all up and headed out traveling again.  This time the destination was Europe.  My time in Key West I’ll never forget.  And who knows, one day I may still return.  Though it isn’t the kind of place I could see myself living at permanently (there are no beaches on the island itself and it’s a little too much of a party town for my taste… If you don’t like to drink to oblivion on an almost daily basis there’s not much of a life to be had there really) I had so many amazing opportunities and met many people I consider life-long friends. It took a while to find some of these people, but I’m blessed that I did.

Key West really is a drinking town with a fishing problem.  It’s no wonder people get way too carried away there.  Tourists come for the party and as a person in the service industry we were there to provide it.  Mind you, we only dealt in the LEGAL party!  Though many tourists did come to Key West literally thinking they could do anything (it’s amazing, I seriously think people thought Key West was no longer part of the States and they could do whatever they wanted!!) and we were sometimes asked for drugs at my work from tourists, but they were always turned away.  Yes, Key West also has lots of drugs.  Go figure.  Until having lived in Costa Rica I never really realized how prevalent drugs really are.  Then from there on they literally seemed to be everywhere.  Sometimes I miss my rose colored glasses, but just like everything else in life, you can choose to be involved or you can choose not to be involved.  Everyone has a choice.

You know, as I type this up I can’t help but think that even though I really couldn’t wait to get out of Key West at the time (since there were a number of things I didn’t really like about it) it somehow grew on me and now I can say I have a little strange spot in my heart for the place.  Perhaps its also because I really enjoyed my job.  I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I really enjoyed bartending and serving; creating a positive vacation experience for tourists and such.  Anyway… that’s enough nostalgia for now!

So after leaving Key West, surprising my mom in Houston for her birthday, taking a trip out West to see family and friends in Arizona and New Mexico, then a trip to Mexico (Puerto Penasco aka Rocky Point) with my mom and finally seeing my Tennessee family back in Houston, it was time to hit the road again.  July 30th, 2014 I landed in Heathrow airport in London…

 

On to London

Back to Homepage