Personal style and fashion blog

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Honduras

The city of Tegucigalpa was even worse than Managua (even though we didn't think this was possible). It was grim, there were newspaper reports slapped on to walls about corrupt policemen, and even the hotel owner told us not to venture outside as it was too dangerous. Having only eaten 3 cereal bars all day, this was not music to our ears, but we decided that our safety was probably more important than our stomachs.

We awoke early the next day, wanting to leave as soon as possible and get to La Ceiba, the small port town from where we would catch our boat to Utila. Of course, Adam's ex was also on that bus (I wouldn't have expected anything less), but we finally got to our desired destination of Utila, after an agonising few days.

Utila was beautiful: a little Caribbean island edged with white sand and clear, warm water. We stayed in a great little place called Jade Seahorse that was the reality of an American artist's imagination. It was made up of themed cabins, and grounds that consisted of mosaics, tunnels, and colourful glass to make it look like an underwater wonderland. The owner himself was as crazy as his design, and had clearly taken far too many illegal substances in his lifetime.


Jade Seahorse. Dress: Topshop



Jade Seahorse


We didn't think it was possible, but the pace of life was even slower on the island, with the most strenuous thing that people seemed to do was play dominoes on the side of the street. I like to think that I'm a pretty chilled out person, but it was even testing my patience. Nonetheless, we had a great few days on the island, and managed to rid ourselves of the stress that we had been harbouring for the past few days, by lying on the quiet beaches in the blistering sun, and listening to the Caribbean English that I found harder to understand than the Spanish that makes up the rest of Latin America.
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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Nicaragua

Leaving Costa Rica, our next stop was the adjacent country: Nicaragua. We originally intended on going to Ometepe Island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, but having had enough of walking and volcanoes, changed course to a small beach town called San Juan del Sur. Four buses and one walk across the border later, we arrived in the coastal town where surfing rules and the pace of life is slow and carefree.

Our few days there were spent soaking up the sun, relaxing, and drinking margaritas as the sun set over the ocean. After this time of basically doing nothing, we headed to Granada to spend the night. The city was of two complete opposites: beautiful, colourful colonial buildings and churches were the backdrop of what seemed like a lot of great poverty. We spent our day wandering around the plaza, and eating fantastic food in old buildings with beautiful, unsuspecting courtyards.











The following day we took a bus to Managua, Nicaragua`s capital, in order to get another bus to our next destination: Honduras. The city was pretty grim, and we were glad that it was merely a stopover...or so we thought. Having bought our tickets, we were about to embark on the bus when the woman checking our passports informed us that we didn`t have an entry stamp for Nicaragua. This meant that basically we were illegal immigrants - we weren`t getting on the bus, and we weren`t leaving the country. Turns out that when we crossed the border, we completely missed the Nicaraguan office (easily done, as it was down a whole other road), therefore not getting the required stamp. We were completely outraged, as the border was totally slack (you could easily walk through with no stamp or papers - as we obviously did), and the guards on the Nicaraguan side checked our passports before we got on the bus to San Juan.
So we were told to go to the Immigration office, and that we couldn`t get a refund on our tickets. $80 down the drain, we jumped in the nearest taxi to the office, wanting to get it sorted as quickly as possible so we could leave the country and get to Honduras. We arrived to see the gates shut and locked, and the guide informed us that it was a public holiday - you`ll have to come back tomorrow. This meant spending the night in the one place we didn`t want to.

The office opened at 7.30am, so to get it over and done with, we got there for 7, hoping we`d be seen straight away. Only, we arrived, and the queue was already snaking around the block. Luckily, I did manage to speak to one of the officers and we got fast-tracked - giving us a small ray of hope that soon our nightmare would be over. But it was just beginning. Apparently the `slow and carefree` pace of life also applies to anything official. We were left waiting, shuttled between various offices, and probed for any information that might make us suspicious, until an outcome was finally reached...at 12.30. Finally, after 5 hours, all we had to do was pay a fine, photocopy our passports and fill in some forms. But you`re going to have to come back tomorrow, the guy said, because we`re closing. Seriously frustrated by this point, we flat-out refused, so the officer gave us half an hour to sort it all out. That office has probably never seen such quick action - Adam jumped in a car with some Nicaraguan family, taking him to the nearest cashpoint so we could pay the fine. Meanwhile, I was running around trying to photocopy our passports and sort out various forms. We did it in the nick of time, and were able to get the 2pm bus to Honduras`s capital, Tegucigalpa.

Relieved, we arrived at the bus station, only to get quite the surprise: Adam`s ex-girlfriend was there, and yes, she was getting the same bus, and yes their final destination was also Utila, a small island off the north coast. Seriously, you couldn`t make this stuff up. By this time we were truly convinced that we were starring in our very own Truman Show, but the most important thing was that we arrived in Tegucigalpa without any further mishaps.
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Friday, 11 May 2012

Costa Rica

We flew from Lima and arrived at our first destination in Central America: San Jose, Costa Rica. The fact that we seemed to be the only ones on our flight actually getting off here and not getting a connection says it all: San Jose is pretty grim. Our Rough Guide gives it the apt description of `car dealership architecture`- all there seem to be are car garages, if not it`s just low concrete buidings. Luckily, we only had an overnight stop in the capital before heading off to greener pastures.

So, the following day we went to La Fortuna, a small town right at the foot of Arenal Volcano.Our hostel was made up of little cabins set in the jungle (well, it seemed like the jungle) with fantastic views of the volcano. Miguel, our host, was pretty nuts, but he seemed to take a shining to us and upgraded our room for free.
The weather for the few days that we were there was one of two things: either blistering hot or pouring with rain (it was the rainforest after all), so wandering around the town wasn`t ideal in either conditions (although there`s little to do but eat or buy souvenirs).

Our first day in La Fortuna didn`t consist of much. We settled in, took in our surroundings, and learnt our first two lessons about costa rica: it`s expensive and everything happens really early (most restaurants seem to shut down by 10pm - bit of a shock coming from South America where everything starts at that time!).
Our first night in the little cabin was interesting to say the least. After attacking numerous cockroaches, we managed to lay our heads down, only to hear bugs constantly smashing into the windows, and monkeys crawling about on the roof. After about an hour of undisturbed sleep, I was awoken by a (manly) scream. A bat had landed on Adam`s leg, and he had consequently kicked it off on to the floor. Needless to say, we were pretty freaked out, and seeing as though we`re short on bat-handling training, had no idea what to do. So we ran out and looked for Miguel. Only it was too late and we seemed to be the only humans in the vicinity. Back to the cabin for a bit of improvisation.
Adam headed in and started chasing the bat with a flip flop (I`m sure there are more sophisticated techniques), all the while trying not to catch rabies. Meanwhile I hung about outside generally being unhelpful, watching as the bat ran Adam ragged, crawling into dark corners and dragging its creepy little body across the floor and walls. Success was ours, eventually, although we slept the rest of the night with one eye open.

The second day we did a hike up to the volcano, paying the extortionate price of $50 each for the tour. It was interesting, the guide was very knowledgeable, and it was a great setting, but it was more of a stroll than a hike (at least it was for a seasoned hiker like me, ha!), and to be honest, we didn`t get a much better view of the volcano than we did from the hostel. I was expecting an arduous hike up the rock face, dodging lava rocks and monkeys, but no such luck - you can`t actualy go up the volcano becuase it`s still active and therefore too dangerous. So we dragged our feet back to town, reeling that we just spent $100 on basically nothing. Of course, the Americans in our tour group thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. To add insult to injury, we lost our camera (fortunately we have a spare) and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to rescue it but to no avail. An expensive day indeed.

The third day we went to Baldi hot springs, a hotel that is also home to natural hot springs - boasting no less than 25 pools. So we spent the day relaxing in and out of the pools, and mourning our lost pictures that we had yet to upload to Facebook.
The following day we managed to skip the standard breakfast of rice, beans and fried plaintain, and made our way to Santa Elena in the Monteverde region, a town a few hours from La Fortuna. Although geographically quite similar to La Fortuna, and not that far, the weather was drastically different. The sun was always shining but there was an ever-present cold wind, and we experienced no rain at all.

Like La Fortuna, the only thing you can really do there is go on various tours in the surrounding region - and again, it`s pretty expensive so we were somewhat limited to what we could do. We decided on a coffee tour, and ziplining through the canopy.
The coffee tour was at a local working coffee farm, and although I`m a typical Brit and prefer my tea to my coffee, I found it really interesting to see how the whole process works and sample all the different types of coffee.
Coffee farm. Top: Topshop, trousers: vintage, basket: prop (not a cool new accessory!)





After that pretty Grandma-ish day of going to a farm, we felt like we needed to do something cool, young and adventurous, so the next day we went ziplining through the cloudforest. It definitely got the adrenalin pumping as we zipped throught the canopy, especially the `superman` line where you`re attached, hands-free, and fly like, well, superman, looking down at the mass of forest beneath.
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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Inca trail to Machu Picchu

We flew from Rio to Lima to spend a couple of days there before heading to Cusco, and embarking on the most adventurous part of our trip thus far. As our flight yo Cusco was early in the morning, we decided not to book that night in the hostel. So, we spent hours lying on the airport floor, waiting for our flight to come up...except that it didn´t. Turns out that we´d gotten the time wrong and our actual flight was leaving in, oh...half an hour. I don´t think I´ve ever run so fast at 4.30am. But, of course, this being South America, nobody else seemd to think it was a big deal, and it all worked out with even a bit of time to spare.

We arrived in Cusco a couple of hours later, the city that is the former capital of the Inca empire...and is 3500m above sea level. The altitude hit me straight away, and I almost passed out twice - once in the hotel room, and again at the briefing meeting for our trip (branding myself as the sick kid of the group before even leaving - shame). But after that eventful day, I seemed to acclimatise, and thankfully wasn´t affected by the altitude for the rest of the week.

On the first day of the trip, we drove to Ollantaytambo, whilst stopping off at a few Inca sites, the Sacred Valley, and a small village that has a women´s textiles project that Gap Adventures (our tour group) supports. So we stocked up on hats, gloves (the higher you go, the colder it gets) and photos of llamas before hitting the road once more.
That night, our tour guide Fernando collected our passports for photocopying - as we were told was essential for getting onto the Inca trail. Of course, Adam forgot his, claiming he hadn´t heard him saying it in the meeting, so it was back at the hotel in Cusco. I was semi-conscious and I heard him say it. But, as is always the case in South America, there was a way around it, and the assistant guide Jose was able to bring it the next day. So we were officially the most retarded couple on the trip. Great start.

The second day was the real start of the trek. We headed to the beginning of the trail early in the morning, all fresh-faced, eager, and full of energy. The first day of walking was easy, and we did it in ´record timing´(although I bet Fernando says that to all his groups...). We met the porters at the campsite, and sat down to our first dinner as a group.
The porters on the trek were fantastic. They each carried 22kgs on their backs and ran up and down the mountains in order to set up camp - putting us to shame with our small day packs and huffing and puffing as we slowly made our ascent. The chefs were equally as good, and the food completely exceeded my expectations, although I was beginning to get sick of the sight of quinoa soup by the end of it! We had everything from pancakes to stir fry, and the chef even made a birthday cake for one of the girls in the group (how he did that in a tent on top of a mountain, I have no idea).
The second day of the hike was definitely the toughest. After waking up at 5am, we started the 5-hour walk to Dead Woman´s Pass (the name alone was enough to put me off), the highest point on the trail at 4200m above sea level. It was gruelling. It was a steep up-hill walk the whole way, made up completely of uneven steps (good for my thighs, not for my mental state). Mix that with the high altitude and ever-changing weather, and you´ve got a challenge on your hands. Reaching the top we felt triumphant, only to then start an almost-as-difficult 3-hour descent to camp, down steps (again!) that were slippy from rain and mist (causing me to have a couple of tumbles).

Day 3 was the longest we walked (16km), but it was also the nicest walk. It wasn´t too difficult, and the views of the surrounding cloudforest were exceptional. That, and I think that we were all just glad to have put the worst behind us.
On the fourth and final day we awoke at 3.30am in order to get to the Sun Gate and see the sun rising over Machu Picchu. Little did I know I would be going to bed 24 hours later (more on that to come). The hike only lasted about 2 hours and wasn´t too difficult (discounting going over fresh landslides and clambering up dangerously steep stairs...ok, maybe it was quite difficult). As we finally reached the Sun Gate and saw Machu Picchu slowly lit up by the sun, the past few days of hard work, early starts and quinoa soup were all completely worth it.

The Inca site of Machu Picchu was incredible - the fact that it was still almost intact after all these years shows the quality of work and the intelligence that these people had. The sun was shining and it was blissfully hot (even at 7am), and the only thing to ruin the site was the hoardes of cheating tourists who´d gotten the train up.
After exploring the site, we boarded the bus to the local town, Aguas Calientes, with a fellow couple from our group who´s just gotten engaged on that sacred site. We made our way back to Cusco after lunch and a celebratory drink - delirious, and proud that we´d actually made it. I think I had one of the best showers my life that night. With no showers on the trail, I don´t even want to know what we smelt like!

That night we had dinner with the group, and headed out to a local club that seemed to have just been carved out of a rock. It was full of backpackers - some who seemd to have just stepped off the mountain, due to their walking boots, backpacks and...interesting aroma. We seemed to get our second wind and spent the night doing the ´shrimp dance´(don´t ask...crazy Norwegians) and dancing atop the bar to eurotrash and samba. Hence the reason why our heads only hit the pillow after 24 hours of being up.
Needless to say, the next day was a complete write-off. Apparently drinking at altitude after a 4-day hike and hardly any sleep isn´t the best idea.

The following day we headed back to Lima (without managing to almost miss our flight) for a few days or R and R. We stayed in Miraflores, a great little neighbourhood full of restaurants and Inca markets. A few days is probably enough to spend in Lima as there isn´t masses to do, but it is a lovely place nevertheless - and the food is reason enough to visit Peru´s capital. The day we arrived we treated ourselves to a great little wine bar near our hostel (which we soon realised was a gay hostel - the fact that it was full of single, camp men and that I was the only woman there kind of gave the game away), where the food was fantastic and - huzzah! - that had good white wine.

Unfortunately all our pictures of our time in Peru are lost, so I don´t have any to share!
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