Bacardi Island Breezer

It’s been a long time coming (ok…since January), but boy was I ready for this holiday. After weeks of searching, we stumbled upon the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado (I literally still can’t remember the full name without googling it) in the Dominican Republic.  It seemed to have everything we wanted for a do-nothing holiday, plus as we booked through Thomson, I could finally take a flight on the Dreamliner for the first time.

We arrived by plane, car and boat to Cayo Levantado in the dark, where we were greeted with a thunder storm, but low and behold woke up to this…

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Our villa was so close to the beach we could fall asleep listening to the waves crashing to the shore. Roooooomantic or what? We had a little hot tub on our terrace, perfect in the evenings, which the butler (oh, yeh we had a butler) scattered with rose petals! He also left a different scent in our room each night (the cinnamon was dreamy).

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Our villa by the sea

This adults-only hotel is the only thing on Cayo Levantado, which is also known as the Bacardi Island as Bacardi have filmed their adverts there. It’s also famous for whale-watching at certain times of the year. There is a public beach too, which other holiday-makers can take a little boat ride from the main land to. It was a selfie-stick heaven and a little too crowded for me, so I stuck to the private beaches, where I drank Pina Coladas until my little heart was content.

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It was an all-inclusive affair, which included dining at the the four a-la carte restaurants and well as the main one. When I wasn’t eating and drinking, I’d wile the afternoon away reading, playing scrabble (I’m that cool) or having a dip in one of the pools, followed by sundowners (oh sorry back to drink), and a massage in the spa.

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As absolutely jaw-droppingly wonderful as it was, I can never go somewhere without seeing at least some of the country. So back on the boat to the mainland, we went on two excursions, one was horse-riding through a forest and arriving at the highest waterfall in the Dominican Republic where you could go and jump in to cool down. The second was a trip to an Iguana farm, a swim in a mangrove and a visit to Playa Rincon, dubbed one of the best beaches in the world!

Of course, after any holiday like this it’s pretty hard to leave – cue me holding on to the four-poster bed whilst Mr Five O’Clock has to drag me away. But I’ve left feeling oh-so relaxed and ready to take on the world!

Photos by moi and by Stuart Jackson

Postcards from the Dolomites

There are few things in this world that encapsulates the beauty of nature quite like the Dolomites. Breathtaking vistas dominate the horizon, whilst all around you are lush green fields which scream at you to run through them singing ‘the hills are alive…’. Which I did. And lost my balance and decked it. Ok, so I may not have the style and grace of Julie Andrews (and technically this is a different country), but the call was still there, and I answered.

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Doing my best Julie.

Set in northern Italy but with a distinct Austrian feel – being so close to the border, and indeed I did do the little trek up to the top of Mount Elmo, which sits in between the two countries. To which I could feel the exhaustion from my phone as it sent me text messages saying ‘Welcome to Italy’, then ‘Welcome to Austria’, then ‘Welcome to Italy’, then ‘oh you’re back in Austria’, etc etc in the space of a minute.

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The summit of Mt. Elmo, between Italy and Austria. That’s me demonstrating that.

So, of course this region is famous for the spectacular Tre Cima di Lavaredo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are trekkers, climbers, general ramblers galore and it’s not hard to see why. Different trails routes can take you through the most surprising and pleasant places, through beautiful Tyrolean hamlets, to emerald green lakes and past WWII bunkers. You can feel the history with every step you take, and every view your eyes take in is a postcard.

I booked my self-guided Dolomites experience with Exodus Travels.

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Emerald green lakes
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WWII bunker
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Tre Cime

 

Non-Trekkers Guide to Trekking to Everest Base Camp

Welcome to Lukla

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as the Twin Otter revved into action. My hand griped tighter to the armrest as I heard my fellow passengers jittery voices murmuring to each other over the roar of the engines. I felt the lift-off and congratulated myself as if it was my own sheer will-power that soared it off the ground. What I was nervous of was not exactly the fight itself, but the landing – Lukla, branded the World’s Most Dangerous Airport, a 25 minute flight from Kathmandu.

I eventually mustered up some courage to peel open my eyes. The air hostess shuffled past with a basket of wrapped boiled sweets, her head was tilted to one side as her neck reached the top of the tiny plane. ‘Sweetie?’ she asked smiling. I tilted my own head to match hers and thanked her.

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The jumble of Kathmandu underneath us cleared as we flew through hills and mountains and finally deep into the Himalaya. The shadow of the plane chased us over the valleys down below and I couldn’t help but look out for ‘soft’ places to crash-land if we must do so. The emergency exit door I noticed, conveniently opened out onto the rapidly spinning propellers so if I had to jump out of the plane, I would be sliced up in a million pieces first.

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The trekking leader Lakpa perked up at everyone’s panicked faces as he announced that Lukla is ahead. I didn’t want to look, but I joined the rest of the passengers as we leaned in and gazed through the pilots window to see a small runway poking off the side of a mountain. The hard-boiled sweet was now dry and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I took a breath in and held on as the plane wobbled closer to the mountainside. ‘OK…get ready!’ shrieked Lakpa. BANG! We landed heavily and screeched up the inclined runway to a grinding halt. A sigh of relief went around the cabin. ‘Drive it like you stole it’, someone in the front shouted. With colour resuming back in our faces, along with sheepish smiles we hastily piled off the plane whilst taking photos of the day ‘I Survived Lukla’.

Teeeeea? Coffeeeee?

So here I was, despite near death and without even hiking anywhere yet, we began our new adventure. Of course, no adventure is ever complete without my husband Stuart (who comes up with these ideas). Along with 13 others in our group, we walked through the little cobbled town of Lukla, passing the highest Starbucks in the world no less – but I think I’ll pass on the frappacino thank you very much. Lakpa introduced us to fellow guides who would accompany us – Hunter (or Mr Calf-Muscle), a young man who received this name for making women swoon all over the place and secondly – Chetadie, a super-cute, tiny, dad-like man who once made it to Camp 4 on Everest. The wind must have changed when he was smiling once because I never saw any other facial expression from him apart from a beaming grin. I left feeling confident that if I should I go over the edge (and the probability was high), I would be in safe hands.

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At the end of Lukla, the start of the trail was marked by passing through an arch dedicated to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first ever Nepali woman to summit Everest, who sadly died on her way back down in 1993.

Inhaling deeply I plunged into the Himalayan abyss. Almost instantly we were surrounded by other trekkers, porters and yaks, I felt like I’d been thrown into Wonderland. Giant rocks and cliff walls engraved with writing dominated our surroundings, alongside prayer wheels and flag poles which must always be passed on the left. Baffling to some people (OK.. me) who has to brandish my hands around the air like a loon to see which hand I write with, thus figuring out ‘left’. Not wanting to attract bad karma, I embarked on this hand-waving-turn-left ritual the entire way.

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At dusk o’clock our teahouse in Phakding awaited us with open arms, a refreshing drink, hot food and a poo-burner. That’s right a poo-burner. The main lounge was heated by using yak dung. Once the poo has been pooed, it is then scooped up, made into large round patties and dried outdoors in the sun making a polka-dot pattern on gardens, walls and rooftops before being used as fuel to heat buildings. The amount that was stuck to the bottom of my boots could have heated a few more lodges.

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The teahouses all differ from basic to a-bit-less-basic and where possible, there is also an option to pay for a hot shower. The morning greeted us a gentle knock on the door, ‘Goood morniiiing, teeeeea? coffeeeee?’ Half asleep I opened the door to Chetadie with his sing-song voice and Hunter, strong and silent holding the teeeeea/coffeeeee tray. Throughout the trip I became obsessed with ginger tea, fresh chunks of root ginger floating around my cup, I was convinced this was the way forward for keeping the cold and yeti’s away.

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Don’t Look Down

From Phakding we followed the Dudh Kosi (the milk river) north crossing high suspension bridges. I called upon my old mantra – ‘don’t look down‘. I imagined that as we were half way across, there was some Indiana Jones style baddies at the end of the bridge with pen-knives ready to cut the ropes. I have a wonderful imagination like that, even when it’s really not needed.

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We stopped along the trail for what I thought was a well-earned break, but no, ahead of us was some commotion. People gathered and pointed. Like Chinese Whispers word came back that Lakpa’s trimming a hedge…huh?….no wait….someone’s gone over the edge! Gasps echoed as a young man was hauled up by guides and porters. Luckily he was saved by a tuft of bush that stopped him from plunging to his death, a metre either side and it would have been curtains for him. Bruised, cut and shocked it turned out that he’d broken the first rule of Base Camp Club – don’t stand on the outside edge of the path when yaks are passing.

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After an exhausting few hours of an uphill slog, with fog coming in thick and fast we arrived to a bleak Namache Bazaar, the Sherpa capital. Shops catering for all your tourist tat needs overflowed onto narrow, cobbled streets. Resting that night, I admitted to the guides that a sharp pain ripped through my right knee on every step – but with special ointment and bandaged up by Lakpa it slowly started to feel less like a pin cushion.

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Brutally Beautiful

Leaving Namache the next morning, we hiked up some unnecessarily giant steps and out onto the trail once again. The dramatic path boasted magnificent vista views as snow-capped mountains now rose behind Jurassic green hills and waterfalls. At every turn our ‘wows’ became louder until finally we saw the first glimpse of Mount Everest herself. A small lump formed at the back of my throat, I could not believe I was here. We stopped at the Ama Dablam view café – from where we looked across the valley to Tengboche. Ama Dablam means Mother’s Necklace and considered by many as the most beautiful mountain in the world. From here the terrain got more brutal, starting with going downhill over massive rocks, (lunch…aaaaand relax) and then three hours of painstaking uphill through a dense, coniferous forest.

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Finally we reached our next overnight next stop at Tengboche (3,867m). Never in my whole life had I seen a more breath-taking and wondrous place. A small village surrounded by mountains including Everest, Ama Dablam, Nuptse and Lhotse (if I ever have two bunny rabbits, this is what they’ll be called) and Thamserku.

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What else makes this small corner of the world even more special is Tengboche Monastrey, where we had arrived just in time for a Buddhist ceremony. Entering the ornate and brightly coloured temple along with other westerners, all eager to experience some spiritual enlightenment. Monks dressed in rich, dark red robes chanted and blew through giant horns whilst outside the mountain peaks glowed orange as the sun set behind them.

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Death by Shower

Spirits were high as we set off the next day even though clouds chased us all the way up to to Dingboche. Now above the tree-line and in the open plain the temperature dropped dramatically and migraines kicked in. We spent two nights here and an acclimatisation walk was on the cards. I pondered on this for a whole minute before deciding I’d spare my poor knee more torment and rest it along with the rest of my weary bones.

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Whilst everyone was out, I thought I’d treat myself to a nice, hot shower. I walked into the cold, concrete shower room and nearly passed out from the unmistakable stench of gas fumes. With the naked flame needed to heat the water – surely, SURELY this wasn’t safe. I roamed around the empty lodge looking for someone to help. “You there!” I found a man in the main room and frog-marched him to the shower room. Looking at me with an air of bewilderment he pointed out the on/off switch and left me to it. I stood paralysed looking at the shower for a lifetime, or possibly 10 minutes. OK…well…’Death by Shower’ sounded ridiculous, so ridiculous in fact it gave me a little courage. I switched it on and the flame lit up inside, I screamed, ran to the back of the room, covered my face and cowered naked in the corner. Steaming hot water gushed down and I was still alive! I had the quickest shower known to man before hot-footing it out of there.

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Once again, as with Mount Kilimanjaro, the night sky here was jaw dropping (and neck aching). The clearness of the night and the closeness of the stars was overwhelming, but far too arctic to enjoy for too long!

The Final Push

From Dingboche to Lobuche at 4,910m, I really felt like we were in the Himalaya. The lush green valleys had all gone and was replaced by rocks and glaciers and now bitterly cold wind encircled us. At night-time in the lodges we found the condensation on the window had frozen…on the inside. After a relentlessly steep climb we reached a memorial laced with prayer flags, dedicated to all those to died on Everest. A moving place where all aches, pains and general whinges were momentarily forgotten.

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Finally we arrived at the strangely-out-of-place sand-pit that is Gorak Shep, the launch pad for Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, a small mountain (in Himalyan sizes) at 5,545m. For those who still felt worthy there was an option to summit Kala Pattar (Black Rock) the following day and for those who were feeling more like not, there was the option to stay in bed.

Even though we had been up before the sun and already hiked for several hours to reach Gorak Shep, after a quick bite to eat and a ginger tea to settle the nerves (it works for everything) – we were off again. Walking across the sandy plateau gave a false sense of security and ease until we reached the famous Way to Everest sign post.

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We turned onto the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier and began to treverse the narrow ridges with drops on either side, as we worked our way towards the rocky moraine. Across the blinding white landscape the rumbles of avalanches were heard, stopping and looking around like meerkats for any danger, we trooped on. The altitude and brightness made me feel light-headed as we battled giant boulders and potential rock falls, until we finally reached the promise land! In my head fanfares, cheers and party poppers were going off, in reality I just sat down and shed a few tears of happiness and exhaustion.

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Amazingly Stu managed to get reception on his phone (he struggles in our sitting room in Peterborough) and called his Dad. I also got through to my Mum, whose primary concern was that we were eating properly. In the near distance, framed by the spectacular Khumbu Icefall, we looked out on a few tents housing a handful of genuine heroes – who spend weeks on end waiting for the perfect opportunity to make their attempt on the summit of Everest itself.

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Compared to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, this had been a more emotional journey overall from walking through villages, staying at teahouses, meeting the wonderful Nepalese people and visiting some of the most awe-inspiring places on earth. It was a little tougher than I’d expected due to the long days, low temperatures and need to aclimatise – but these memories will certainly stay with me for the rest of my life.

And I actually didn’t fall over once.

A Non-Climbers Guide to Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Hmm…yes, that’s a good idea?!…

When thinking of honeymoon ideas, Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t really up there in terms of a romantic getaway. But this is exactly what my significant half Stuart and I decided to do.

Stuart grew up on the rugged plains near the Welsh border and spent his childhood on his bike having adventures with his friends and climbing up things. To sum him up he’s outdoorsy. I, on the other hand grew up in the flattest part of England and as soon as I could walk, spent my weekends in my dads shop (we’re Indian you see) stacking sweet shelves.

That in mind it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out whose idea Kilimanjaro was. But, having been promised a safari and a trip to Zanzibar too I signed on the dotted line.

Researching Mount Kilimanjaro I learned that it is the largest free-standing mountain in the world, the highest mountain in Africa and temperatures can plummet to minus 20. For a girl who walks around the office with a hot water bottle this was a disaster. However I was duly reminded that we had already started raising money for Save The Children and that there was no backing down now.

Let the training commence!

With nine months to go, we went on longs walks when we could and climbed up Mount Snowden a few times. This was my first experience of a mountain and that’s when I first came to the conclusion that….yeh, ok maybe I’m not soooo good with heights. Realising that there was not much I could do about it now, I presumed that if I just don’t look down I’ll be fine.

Another form of training was to run up and down the stairs 30 times in one go. My poor stairs really got a battering and will from now on always squeak like they will give in and collapse at any moment.

11 days before we were due in Tanzania to start our climb, Stuart came home with a broken toe from playing football.

There are no words I can put here to describe the feeling. Not happy, would be putting it mildly. We ummed and ahhed over what to do, we considered cancelling, but Stuart being incredibly manly about it decided that he would do it as his toe was feeling better daily (or so he insisted to me anyway).

Welcome to Kilimanjaro

We landed at Kilimanjaro airport, I stood on the tarmac looking for Mount Kilimanjaro, was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t parked right next to it (or ideally, on the summit to save me a lot of bother).

We checked into our lodge, it had no lifts so our suitcases had to be carried up, a girl not much bigger than me (I’m 5ft), with one swift movement and one hand, placed the suitcase on her head and walked upstairs. Stuart and I stood at the bottom with our mouths open in awe. Someone’s had her Weetabix today.

We met our fellow climbers, a mixed crowd but a friendly bunch. Stuart has a way with people, he can talk to anyone about anything and probably the most friendliest person in the world. I was his cool, quiet, maybe mistaken for slightly aloof sidekick. I don’t mind this. I like the word aloof. Though during this time it was probably just nerves that was radiating out.

This is easy!

We drove to the base of the mountain, I don’t know what I was expecting but I thought that if you just look up you would be able to see the top. You can’t see the top. My first view was that of a forest, with a well-worn path and a mild incline I thought ‘hell yeah, I can do this’. Unfortunately, and what I already knew, somewhere in the depths of the pit of my stomach….this was going to get harder, a lot harder.

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We had our first break at lunch time, a welcome break to cool down and go for a wee. Now, I have never gone for a tinkle anywhere but in a normal toilet. Here I was presented with a wooden hut with a hole in the ground. I don’t mind the old challenge, but this was something else. I squatted down and forgive me dear reader, I know this must not be easy reading, but I had to balance myself up (ideally without touching the sides of the hut or the floor) and aim for the hole whilst not breathing in the stench that would have surely knocked a small person out. I had more toilet and bowel related issues throughout my trip, but I have a sense that I should leave this information out.

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Moving on then. We reached our first camp late in the afternoon and were welcomed with hot tea and salty popcorn. I love popcorn. I slumped down, crunched through about a ton of the stuff and reflected on the day. It had been a good day and secretly I was really pleased I had made it through Day 1 and my initial goal was achieved and Stuart’s toe was still attached to his foot. I went to sleep feeling good and dare I say it optimistic.

Oh wait, no it’s not…

The couple of days that followed was a blur, involving interesting bowel movements (which I have promised not to divulge in further), legs getting tired, hardcore headaches and I started feeling mild affects of altitude sickness. Dizzy spells and fatigue well and truly kicked in.

One morning, feeling like the walking dead and probably not looking so hot either, I walked out of the tent when legs just gave way and suddenly was just sitting on the floor. I was so dazed, I bruised my bottom, grazed my hands but most importantly – no one saw.

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Through these mangled days of walking, one saving grace was night-time. Not just so you could stop and recharge dwindling batteries, but to stand outside and look up at the night sky. I had never seen anything quite as beautiful as seeing a gazillion bright stars all shining down on you. A blanket of twinkling lights, wrapping you up in the unfamiliar land and comforting you like an LED snuggie.

So came the penultimate ascent day, the Saddle Day. I was initially looking forward to this day as the name may suggest, is pretty flat. It started off well enough, then in came the battering, relentless winds. Zipped up and hoods up, communication between fellow friends was now scarce. We trudged along in silence. In the yonder we saw Kibo huts where we would be spending the night. We walked and walked but seemed to come no closer. In the middle of the saddle was a wreckage of a plane that had crashed there two years previously, this added to the depressing ambience.

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Finally we reached Kibo huts. We had an early night as we were to be leaving for the summit at midnight. I could feel the tension, hardly anyone spoke and we were all nervous.

Summit day – yay I might die!

We left at midnight, after eating whatever we could manage (not much). All wrapped up and with our head torches on, we began our final ascent.

I’m not joking when I say, we hadn’t even made it out of the camp (it’s a big camp to be fair) but I was already thinking about turning back. I was so cold and so tired, my body felt like mush and I was on my period– too much dear reader?

I looked at hop-along-Stu, I don’t know how he managed it, but he gave me the inspiration and hope to keep going and at least make it out of the camp. Powered on by lots of chocolate, then subsequently throwing up chocolate all the way up, I put one foot in front of the other and climbed on and up.

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Like the Saddle Day, communication was non-existent. Everyone was going through their own battles in their heads. I wondered at what point did I actually think this was ever a good idea? I prayed to my grandmother who was born in Tanzania to come and help her home-girl out. I thought of all those children who I was fundraising for. ‘Damn it Cheryl Cole did it’ ran repeatedly through my head too.

On the way up, people had started to come down. Unfortunately these people were in a bad way, sometimes on a stretcher and always with oxygen. I looked up and saw a trail of headlights miles up directly above me and hours later I looked up and saw exactly the same thing. It was all very soul-destroying.

I don’t know how, but somehow we made it to Gilmans Point. This is the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but still not the highest peak which is Uhuru. I fell into a heap on the floor and cried my heart out. The sun was now rising and all around and exactly just what I had achieved sunk in. The pink sky with filled with hope and I ploughed on to Uhuru.
Walking along the crater rim (did I mention it is the highest mountain in all of Africa), I chanted my mantra ‘don’t look down, don’t look down’. We passed people who had already summated, one guy encouragingly said ‘keep going, you’re about 10 minutes away’. So 10 minutes later, we passed some more people ‘keep going you’re about 25 minutes away’. My face dropped and my heart sank, my energy was zero, I barely knew what my own name was but at that point I think I could have conjured up enough strength to run back down the mountain to find Mr 10 Minutes and give him a punch.

So about an hour later, we were there. The whole group made it to the top! This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole life, Stuart and I held each other (or he was possibly holding me up) and hugged. We were so proud of each other. Looking down at the African plains and then up at everyone’s elated faces, we knew it had been worth it.

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The end

Coming down, much to my dismay wasn’t exactly a breeze either, what was frozen on the way up was now deep scree, I had to be careful not to face-plant it all the way back down to Kibo. The descent was quick, it took about 2 days to rock up at the entrance gate. Frozen sick in my hair, eyes barely open, staggering around and generally looking like I had had one too many Baracrdi Breezers I graciously accepted my certificate with around of applause.

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We reached the lodge and thought about looking for the girl who’d carried my suitcase up the stairs to see if she would carry me up the stairs. I’m pretty sure I weighed less.
I went straight to the shower and Stuart went straight to the bar. The dirt that drained off me was shocking. But oh, to sit on a toilet was something I never thought I’d be so happy about.

I vowed to Stuart that I would never, under any circumstances do anything like this again. A year later and we did Everest Base Camp.

Why I Decided to Travel Solo

As I grip onto the armrest of the BA plane as we take off, my heart rate quickens and I’m forced to make breathing noises like I’m training to give birth. It’s not the flight that’s freaking me out – it’s the fact I’m going travelling around Thailand on my own. Why would this ever seem like a good idea?

For me, it was one defining moment a long time ago in a land down-under…

I’ve always travelled with friends all over the world and had the best time. One of these trips was to Australia with my school friend Bryony and my uni friend Lucy. We hadn’t booked anywhere to stay (that’s how we rolled in those days), but armed with a rough plan and lots of enthusiasm, we set off. Luckily we hadn’t booked hotels, because when we landed in Melbourne and nearly froze, we decided to fly straight onto Cairns to warm up then work our way down. That was the only straight-forward decision we made.

The three of us, all being super-lovely and possibly a bit wishy-washy, and on my part massively immature (at the time, obvs not now. Ahem) took forever to come to any sort of decision. Two hours and countless ‘ooooh, I don’t mind, what do you think?’ statements later, and we were ready to order food, or choose which street to go down, or whether to get a taxi or not, etc. You get the idea, but it was in Byron Bay where everything changed.

We walked in the Beach Hotel bar (luckily it was pretty quiet), and the bar guy asks us what we want to drink. Obviously unbeknownst to him, he could of gone for a surf, had lunch and read a book by the time we ordered. Instead, he watched us umming and erring, his eyes darted from one of us to another and finally he asked, ‘how did you even get here?’ There, that was it. How did you even get here? From that one question I wondered… yeh, how the f*** did we even get here? Everything seemed to slow down and the universe finally succeeded in getting through to me. If I was here on my own, I would have just ordered without hesitation. Wouldn’t I? What would that feel like? Why would I ever be on my own though? A million questions came pouring into my head, the floodgate had been opened and I drowned myself in the possibilities. I came out of my daze to the rhythmic tapping of the bartender’s fingers on the bar.. I’ll have a G&T please Mr Bar-Man. And after that revelation, make it a double.

Back home I needed to plan this solo trip, but I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t know if it was a bit weird. Throughout my travels I met a number of women who were travelling on their own, and I always thought ooophf, I couldn’t do that. The mere thought of it was pretty daunting, but I decided to go to Thailand (land of smiles, don’t you know). My friends and family all reacted pretty much like ‘Oh. Erm. Ok. Really?’ But I had full support, love and hugs from everyone.

So, back to my flight to Bangkok. Yep I was pretty scared, but this time I had planned a bit better, booked places to stay and even sorted out internal flights. Firstly I did some volunteering in a school out in the sticks, where I met some of the most loveliest, polite children I’ve ever met in my life. From there, I flew to Koh Sumui, Krabi, Phuket to name but a few places. There were times, where I did feel like I didn’t want to eat on my own or wander around a temple without someone to share it with, and there a were couple of times when I felt downright sacred to be on my own. But I met so many more people than I ever did when I was with my friends, maybe because there was a few of us or a group, people didn’t approach, but here on my own, making new friends was easy. One of them was a girl who was volunteering with me, as there was only the two of us foreigners in the village and we had to share a bed, yeh we got to know each other quickly and became good friends! She joined me in a few places as I was travelling around, so it was always great to catch up with her.

I had the most amazing time in Thailand, but did it change me? Not that I was looking to be changed as such, but yes I did come back a new me. It was nothing massive or like I had a personality transplant, but more subtle differences in the way I behaved or made decisions. I was more clear about what I wanted and I even went on to live and work in Australia.

Looking back now, I think it was a wonderful thing to do and would have no qualms about doing it again. I still look back on that trip and think ‘go on girl’!

 

 

An A-Z of London Facts

I absolutely love London to pieces. I visit as often as I can and I’m fortunate to have a ton of friends and family that live there too. After university, I did live there myself in Ealing Broadway and worked in St. James’s Park, but how much of the touristy stuff did I do? Bugger all. So recently, hubby and I went back not to see friends (though we did squeeze a few in), but to solely focus on London. We stayed at the City Grange Hotel, a great base right next to Tower Hill tube station and managed to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, HMS Belfast, Tower of London, see Les Mis, dinner at Marco Pierre White, the Shard, a power-rib down the Thames, and meander through Borough Market to name a few. Phew, I’m exhausted just remembering it. Anyway, I wanted to share a few facts A-Z stylee, some that I picked up from my recent visit. I hope you enjoy!

A
Much of James Cameron’s Aliens was filmed in a disused power station in Acton.

B
HMS Belfast is one of only three surviving bombardment vessels from D-Day.

C
Canary Wharf is named so after it was used to handle cargoes of fruit from the Canary Islands.

D
Charles Dickens was very into the paranormal and was linked to the famous Ghost Club of London.

E
Brixton Market was the first market to have electricity, and stands as a result on Electric Avenue. You can’t say Electric Avenue without going a bit Eddy Grant. That’s another fact.

F
St. Bride’s Church in Fleet Street is constructed in tiers and is said to be the inspiration of the classic wedding cake.

G
Only six people died in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

H
Harrods sold cocaine until 1916. (Insert shock emoji here)

I
It’s illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. So just don’t ok.

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The Jubilee Line is the only one to connect with all other underground lines.

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Knightsbridge is the only tube station to have six consecutive consonants in its name. Remember that for your next pub quiz.

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There are 32 capsules in the London Eye, but numbered 1-33. Number 13 is left out…

M
The British Museum collection contains about 8 million objects, but only 800,000 are on display at any one time.

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Before the statue on Nelson was placed on top of the 170ft column in Trafalgar Square in 1842, 14 stone masons had a little dinner party on top. As you do.

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London is the only city to have hosted the Olympic Games on three occasions.

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Sir Christopher Wren’s first design proposal for St Paul’s Cathedral featured a 60ft high stone pineapple on top on the dome. Back to the drawing board for you Chris.

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Richmond Palace was thought to be a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who died there in 1603.

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‘…if the ravens leave the tower, the kingdom will fall’ – ravens are kept at the Tower of London at all times. You know, just in case.

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The Shard is Europe’s tallest building and whilst still in build, construction workers found a fox on the 72nd floor. They called him Romeo.

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The last person to be executed at the Tower of London was German intelligence agent, Josef Jakobs in 1941.

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In 1998, scientists found that London Underground was home to a previously undiscovered species of mosquito.

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The V&A has the earliest photograph of London, a view down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square (before Nelson’s Column was built), a daguerreotype taken by M. de Croix in 1839.

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Waterloo Bridge was mostly built by women.

X
Xhit. I can’t think of anything. And Goggle isn’t even helping.

Y
Moira Cameron became the first woman to be a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, in 2007.

Z
During the 1200’s a royal zoo was founded at the Tower of London and remained for 600 years. Exotic animals included polar bears, lions, elephants and kangaroos.

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6 SouthWest USA Road-Trip Musts

ONE: HIRE A KICK-ASS CAR. 

We hired a black, convertible (we didn’t realise how cold it would be) Mustang or similar, with Alamo. After phone calls, emails, tweets to make sure we didn’t end up with ‘or similar’, it worked! Do not underestimate the power of a good badgering to get what you want. Top down, heaters on, AC/DC on full volume and off you go….

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TWO: STAY AT A RANCH.

Not only do you get to go horse-riding through the cactus-lined desert and pretend you’re an extra in a Western, you also get called ‘ma’am’ by cowboys and wranglers. Not that I really noticed or anything.

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THREE: HELICOPTER RIDE OVER THE GRAND CANYON

As much as you’ve seen the movies and pictures to death, nothing compares with standing on the edge and seeing it for yourself. It’s big. The best way to see the bigness in all its glory is on a helicopter. It’s not the cheapest thing to do, but there are a few different companies offering it, so don’t just go for the first one.

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FOUR: PHOTOS IN ANTELOPE CANYON

Antelope Canyon is seriously cool. The winding path through the bottom of the canyon at certain times of the day is breathtaking. Filled with colour and light (but no actual antelopes, sorry) is breathtaking. Though it can be busy at times, the guides are pretty good at keeping the small groups apart. Click away!

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FIVE: DRIVE THROUGH ZION NATIONAL PARK

If you like driving, you’re going to LOVE Zion Nation Park in Utah. Once through a mile long tunnel, you’ll emerge into a Jurassic/Never-Never Land landscape full of hairpin bends and jaw-dropping scenery. I literally think our photos do not do it justice. It’s incredible. Go. Go now. Also it’s a hikers paradise with lots of walks/hikes/climbs available.

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SIX: VIVA LAS VEGAS

Of course, no trip to the Southwest is complete without going to Vegas.  Love it or loathe the idea, it is a must-do at least once in your lifetime. It’s a feast for the senses shall we say. Don’t forget to pop along to Old Vegas in the evening if you can, and experience the Freemont Street Experience!

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