The Altitude Game

Let me start, for anyone who doesn’t know me, with a bit of history. Four years ago, I attempted to go to Everest Basecamp, but at 4,400m, after a day hike to acclimatise, I awoke in the middle of the night coughing up handfuls of water. I had pulmonary oedema, and I was a very sick girl.

Because of this, I have what I would consider a very healthy respect for altitude, because that kinda tends to happen when something nearly kills you. It was four years before I would go back to a high altitude again, and I won’t lie. It scares the shit out of me.

Many people ask why I still do it. And the fact is, I do it out of love. Some of the most amazing hiking in the world can be found at altitude. I am currently in Peru, and there would be so much that I would miss if I didn’t try. And that is the thing, I try.

Hiking was never something that came easy to me. Even when I was a kid, I was fit enough to dance six days a week and couldn’t run a lap around the oval. Even now, I could go ten three-minute rounds in a boxing ring and struggle to climb a steep hill. Anything that is a repetitive movement and hard work with the lower body, was something I always struggled with. Add to this now that I have scar tissue on my lungs and hiking a hill is an arduous task for me. It is something that I have to undergo in a somewhat meditative state. It is very, very slow. Constantly focused on my breathing and keeping it regulated. Constantly focused on trying to keep my heart rate down and just putting one foot in front of the other. I am like the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. I will get there in the end, but I get there at a crawl.

My frustration in places like Huaraz, where I now currently stay, is other people. People breeze in, behave like they are experts, have no issues at all with altitude, give everyone advice like they know everything and trek their way up the hill so easy it’s like a piece of cake. I sat here the other day and listened to a group of people moan about having to go on a trip with “people that are just so slow. I mean, if you’re going to be slow, don’t come because you are just going to annoy everybody else because you can’t keep up with us.” I sat there and listened to entire group of people essentially bitch and moan about having to be placed on a trip with me, or people like me. And to be honest, it made me a little bit upset. This is not the first time I have heard it. I am sure it won’t be the last. But for all people out there with this attitude, I have something to say.

You don’t think at all about what you’re doing or the fact that you could be at high risk of sickness and possible death all the time. By the grace of genetics, you managed to skip the hell that many of us face with our bodies when confronted with less oxygen. You don’t consider that for some of us, this is one of the hardest things we will ever do. You especially don’t think about the courage it takes to stare death in the face and to then face that fear and to get back on the mountain because you have never, ever had to do it. You don’t think about how hard it is. It is acceptable, being awful to those that struggle. And yet despite all of the challenges that I face that you don’t know about or understand, I am there and I am doing it. It takes more courage than I could ever expect you to know.

You don’t think about what medications to take or how to balance them to make sure that you are ok, constantly fretting about side effects or what you can or cannot take, eat or drink with them. You go out for beers the night before and get drunk. Or how many days you need to stay somewhere to properly acclimatise because last time you got sick you didn’t have altitude sickness symptoms and that scares you even more because there is no warning sign that seriously potential problems are coming. You laugh, because its a silly game. But this isn’t a game to some of us. What you do think about is how much of an inconvenience people like me are to you on the mountain. As you do your best, I do mine with the disabilities I have been given. And yet you judge me for them and that hurts.

We are all so impatient in this world that we lack the patience required to understand and support the struggles of another. And if I am ever confronted with someone who struggles more than me I usually stay with them and coach them. Because the best thing we can offer is support and not judgement. And I know about judgement from the faces of every single person who looks at me with a face that says ‘she’s not going to make it’ that then turns into surprise when I do because they underestimate my will.

I am about to trial my prophylactic medication for the first time tomorrow. I am nervous. But if it works out for me, it opens more doors for things that I can potentially do. Some people call me crazy. I just feel determined. And yes, I am a little scared. But to be honest, I would be stupid not to be. If I wasn’t scared, I wouldn’t have a respect for the mountain. And that respect for the mountain makes me appreciate it and want it more than anyone. It makes my sense of achievement greater. Because with each small and slow step that I take, I am overcoming something that everyone tells me that I can’t or shouldn’t do. This is my journey. And I am doing it my way. Don’t even try to tell me I can’t or that I shouldn’t. Because if you do, like everyone else before you that has told me this, I will prove you wrong. That much I know. So you can moan and complain about having me on your trip all you like, but I am sticking my fingers in my ears and I am not listening. La, la, la. Because like it or not, I am doing it. And I’m doing it slow.

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What I Reckon: Bus Bitches’ Bad Behaviour

Don’t ask me why. I am not entirely sure. But there generally is a sense of self-entitlement and lack of respect from Latina women on buses, that I have experienced across three countries now, that is driving me absolutely fucking insane.

When I am sitting next to you on a night bus, or any bus for that matter, I should not have to feel like I am fighting for my territory every step of the way. Such invasion of territory because you do not know how to sit in your fucking chair is ridiculous. Manners 1-0-fucking-1 people. It is like Patrick Swayze says in Dirty Dancing “This is my bus space, this is your bus space. You do not come into mine, I do not come into yours.” (Actually to be fair I think he was talking about ‘dance space’, but the same principle applies).

How a normal amd respectful person sits in a chair.

The following is a list of ways that you should not invade my bus space.

  1. With your arse

I like to call this “bum wars”. This is where said woman turns herself on her side, usually facing the window, pulls her feet up onto the chair or somewhere on the side wall and attempts to curl up and sleep. While doing this, she usually sticks her arse out so far that she, if you let her, winds up occupying at least half of your seat space. And don’t be fooled. This is her plan. She doesn’t give a fuck about you or your arse space. You are going to have to fight for every single inch of that arse space including, getting under it when she shifts weight and applying appropriate force in the opposite direction to reclaim your space. Be wary. She has the upper hand because she can leverage herself with her feet from the side wall. Hold strong. Flex that core. Endure those hip bruises (that I have actually gotten from engaging in bum wars) to show that bitch who is boss. This is my seat bitch. You will not take it from me!

Bum wars position. Notice how I’ve only left half a chair for my neighbour. This is not a respectful way to sit in your seat.

I remember a small victory that I had with one of the four women I have had to so far endure bum wars with. I held so fast onto my space that in the end she gave up and sat upright in her chair like you are supposed to sit in a fucking chair. And then she proceeded to put her feet all over the backs of chairs and all over the place. Win some, you lose some, but this was definitely an improvement.

2. With your elbows

Some bitch I wound up sitting next to last night on the night bus was establishing her territory right from the get go. Even by refusing to stand up and let me get into my seat. She made me crawl over the top of her while she loudly gossiped on the phone as if I were an inconvenience. This one also decided that she was entitled to my space with her elbow. Not only did she put her elbow on the armrest, this bitch had to hang her elbow several inches over the armrest into my ribs, which thus began ‘elbow wars’. And she knew what she was doing. Because when I pushed my arm down next to my ribs, still in my space, she continued to push back. And then I continued to push back, still within the confines of my seat. So then she decided to get with foot real estate by spreading her legs like a bro and having a war with my foot. The positive thing about being a young, fit, and strong individual with will power of the Gods is that I will out-fucking-hustle you with patience every fucking time. After about two hours, she gave up and retreated into her space for a while. But not before deciding that she wanted to again launch another assault in the form of raising her arms behind her head so that I now not only have to endure her fucking elbow in my face, but also the stench of her smelly armpit.

Also not a respectful way to sit in one’s chair. My elbow is occupying precious rib space of neighbours.

3. With your feet or legs

I get that sitting on a bus is not always comfortable. But just deal with it. This does not mean that you should stick your feet on the back of my chair space over my knees. Stick your feet on the person-in-front-of-you’s chair, and annoy them (unless I am the person sitting in front of you), but there is no need to cross your legs over into my fucking bus territory and invade my already small area with your stinky, infested feet.

This also stands from the view point of those that are so lazy that they can’t even sit in their seat and feel the need to lay down across three, the two in their space, then occupy the aisle, and then even better, but their stinky fucking toes in my bus space. “Hello! Sitting here, get your filthy fucking feet off me!”

Better yet, there are the bros who seem to think that their testicles resemble those of Randy’s on South Park when he microwaved them to give himself ball cancer and they got so big he couldn’t get through the front door. Just do a bit of a rearrange. You don’t see me sitting there with my arms spread out like I’m Jesus because I have giant boobs. Get over yourselves!

Sitting like a bro cause I have a misguided belief that I have bull-sized testicles.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is passive aggression. If you politely point out to someone that they are invading your space, they look at you like you are then the bitch and they then find other ways to invade your space or annoy you for a six-hour journey. And then if you choose aggression, aggression, be prepared for a fight because the Latina’s know how to get their bitch on. So instead, I choose to fight with patience and passive aggression, by holding fast to my areas in a way that will often wind up with them tiring out because they don’t have the strength of body and mind to keep the strong-hold. And if they even look like taking another part of my area, I launch another assault front with another part of my body to prevent them entering my territory. Eventually they will relent to the impenetrable walls of the Dano defence and maybe just for once, I can get some fucking sleep on a bus.

PS. To the one man who invaded my bus space because he was overweight. Yes, at first I was annoyed. But I realised later that there was nothing you could do about it and you tried your best. You even kept me warm in the frigid air conditioning by being a human radiator and offering to share your blankey with me. I’m ok with you. You’re a lovely and considerate human. If only now we can smack down on and teach the rest of the Bus Bitches some manners and the bus can be a wonderful place for all.

 

Stop being lazy and ignorant! Learn the Language!

It is a really sad thing when you come across people who have been travelling in a country for a substantial amount of time or have moved there to study and after three months of being in that country, they have made no effort whatsoever to learn any of the language. For me it is something that just happens. I am interested in it. I want to learn. While I don’t profess to be able to speak any languages fluently, I am quite proficient in Spanish after spending 8 months in Central America and then another 8 months in South America, where I returned to Spanish school to get my head around more of the culture and to be able to connect with more of the people here. I do not, like so many other, just expect that because I am a tourist, that you should have to learn English to speak to me. That to me is ultimate disrespect towards the people you have traveled to meet. Not even trying to meet them halfway in their own country, where I’m concerned, is downright rude.

Of recent times, I have travelled through several Arabic speaking countries and have had the locals teaching me how to say things in Arabic. Despite my limited amounts of things that I could say, most locals were amazed at how ‘excellent’ my Arabic was. And by amazing I mean ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’, ‘do you have change?’, ‘is it free?’, ‘don’t touch me’ and ‘pigs might fly’ among a few other silly phrases I would use to joke around with the locals. They would literally tell me ‘wow, you Arabic very excellent’. I guess this is quite a rarity for them. But these things enabled me to walk down the street and manage to order myself a kofte on my own and pay for it, and afforded me a form of independence from the group trip that I was on. Most of the others on the group trip looked at me like I was insane for even wanting to try. Too much effort.

Another language that I found super useful was learning some Indonesian. When heading into the wonderful world of Java, or anywhere outside of Bali to be honest, the English becomes limited. I have quite fond memories of really disjointed conversations I have had in Indonesian/English with local people. Especially the three women I met on the bus coming back from the Dieng Plateau who were also teachers and were quite sassy ladies. They told me I was beautiful on a bus full of strangers and they all started hollering and hooting at me. I got quite embarrassed but it was also quite amusing.

At a minimum, when arriving in a new country, you should learn to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘how much?’ I know that sometimes in European countries you are changing country and language every week and this makes it difficult to retain or learn very much at all. But if you are going to a country and planning on spending a couple of weeks to a month there, do yourself a favour and start to learn some language skills. You will find that the locals will be more receptive and helpful to you, and that you will learn so much more than you bargained for about the people and the culture because you have bothered to make the effort. It shows you have a respect for and an interest in the people where you are visiting. And that in itself, will act to enrich your travels and your life for the better.

Lost On The Road: How To Find Direction When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing Anymore

I won’t lie. In the last couple of weeks I have started to feel a little lost. It is something that happens to all of us when we spend such a long time travelling. For me, I will have been on the move for fourteen months now and I still have three more to go.

The idea of getting up in the morning and having to pack my bag is exhausting. Having to go through the same monotonous “get to know you” conversation with everyone you meet is boring. Doing the same activities day in day out and spending half of your waking hours on the bus is tiring just thinking about it. So what do you do? Pack up? Go home? Forget the dream and pack it in? Or keep going in the hope that something will ignite in your soul and give you the fire back.

For me it took having a rest. I went to a small little community in the hills of Ecuador, checked in for five days, did yoga every morning, sat in a hammock and read, had an afternoon nap, and had a massage every other day. And I didn’t much speak to people. I read about mindfulness and neuroplasticity and tried to apply some of these principles to my everyday life. One of the quotes I read greatly resonated with me:

“Being lost is greatly underrated. It can mean you are in a place of unknowing where the rational mind cannot go. In the way that we need darkness to see the stars, we need unknowing to become a beginner again and engage with the mystery and wonder of it all.”

And so I took from this that it was ok to feel lost. It was ok to feel like I was floundering. Because somewhere underneath the struggle, there was something to learn that I do not yet know about.

But as always and in the meantime, as I figure out what these things I am supposed to learn are, there are things that I can do to make life a little more interesting. And as they say, change is as good as a holiday from your holiday.

1. Take a detour

If all you are seeing right now are cities, go to the mountains or the beach. If you spend all your time looking at churches, go to a museum. Templed out? Go see something different. Doing the same thing repetitively isn’t exactly inspiring after a while. So change it up.

2. Treat yourself

We forget as backpackers on the road to do things for ourselves because we are so hellbent on saving cash every single place we turn. Take some time for you. Go out for a really good meal for one at a restaurant and savour every bite. Have a massage. Go to a yoga class and stretch your body. Have a manicure. Do something that makes you feel like you’re investing in yourself.

3. Ask different questions

One of the most mundane parts of meeting people is the same bloody questions and answers over and over again. So develop an arsenal of different questions that enable you to crack through the surface of people quickly to see what they really are about. It will be more interesting than the “where are you going?/where are you from?” bullshit that you encounter everywhere you go and will allow you to make better connections.

4. Pay attention

People miss the small things in life. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and really take in what is happening around us. Attune your ears to all of the sounds about you. Observe the different colours and activities of people around you. Observe your own body moving through these environments and how you react with them. It will create a peace and a feeling of being one with where you are and will help with feeling lost and detached by rooting you in your environment.

5. Slow down

Sometimes the pure pace of travel will wear you out and drain you of your enthusiasm for things. If it is a luxury you can afford, slow down. Stay in one place a little longer and get to know the place and the people a little better than normal. Remember that it is ok to take a day to do nothing and just sleep, read or rest. We all need to be grounded and centred in one place at times to get the rest and recuperation that we need to move on.

6. Reflect

Especially on long bus rides with nothing to do, it is nice to just stare out the window and reflect. What is it that you are feeling and where you think those feelings are coming from. Having an inner awareness of self allows us to process and find the solutions that we are looking for. It allows us to think, feel and then grow. And as mentioned in the quote above, you cannot see the bright and beautiful stars in the sky if not for the darkness. Sometimes it is good to not know everything. Sometimes it is good to not even know where we are going. It is even better if you can learn to let go of needing to control these things and go with it. The world will often take you to where it is that you need to be to learn the lessons that you need to learn.

So have faith and trust. Feeling lost is yet another type of speed bump in the emotional roller coaster of life. But if you are good and kind to yourself, try new things to stimulate your brain and remember to rest, everything else will eventually become clear. You will find your purpose and direction again, and when you do, you’ll never have to question it, because you’ll have worked hard on the process towards knowing.

 

The Backpacker’s “Fuck no!!”

As a follow up to the Backpacker’s “Fuck yes!!” I decided we would then explore the other side of the fence with those moments of travel where you are thinking to yourself ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ also known as “Fuck no!”

  • Waking up in the morning with explosive diarrhoea when you have a flight to take or a full day on a bus. Yeah, this is going to be fun, time to go get myself an adult diaper and hope that I don’t manage to shit myself in front of a whole bunch of people in the process….. “Fuck no!”
  • When you don’t make a reservation for a hostel and roll into town to discover that everywhere is booked out and you wind up sleeping at the bus station or on the floor of a random hostel that is kind enough to let you have floor space. “Fuck no!”
  • When you get your money and credit cards stolen. “Fuck fuck fuck! NO!”
  • Better yet, when you get your passport stolen. “Seriously? Fuck no!”
  • When you smash your camera or your phone. Guess that means no more pictures. “For fucks sake! No fucking way!”
  • When you get to the bus station to take the last bus for the day and they tell you that it is full and there is no more space…. “Fuck…. no……”
  • When some arsehole decides to turn the light on and noisily pack their bag at four am to leave without consideration for those who are sleeping. “Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously, fuck no!”
  • When you get stuck sleeping in a room with someone who either smells. Can you please not invade my sense of smell and leech your horrendous body odour into all of mine and everyone else’s stuff. Go have a shower filthmonger! “Fucking hell no!”
  • When you meet some arrogant fucker who wants to tell you how good they are and they keep following you around when you’re trying to escape. “Fuck no!”
  • When someone you don’t like tells you they are coming to spend the day with you….. Can’t I just run away? “Fuck no!”
  • When the bus leaves you on the side of the road in the middle of the night because this is the final destination. Where the fuck am I and how am I supposed to get anywhere from here? “Fuck no!”
  • When the travel agents try and extort more money out of you for shit that you have already paid for. “No fucking way! Fuck no!”
  • When your legs get mauled by insects and they wind up getting infected so you walk around for a month looking like you’ve got measles from the waist down. “Fuck no!”
  • When a rat chews a hole through one of your bras…. not your average thing that happens to normal people but it happened to me and what did I yell? “Fuck no! Are you fucking kidding me!?”
  • When you accidentally leave half a pizza or other really good food in the hostel fridge and are half way down the highway before you remember. “Fuck no!”

For anyone who has travelled, I am sure you can relate. Chuck us a line if you think of anything else x

The Backpacker’s “Fuck Yes!!”

As a long term backpacker, life is very different from the ordinary life. There are different things that we learn to appreciate that people in ordinary, everyday life wouldn’t generally get excited over. So here is a non-conclusive list of “Fuck Yes!” moments in the life of a backpacker. Feel free to add your own “Fuck Yes!” moments in the comments below if I have missed any.

  • Finding free food in the free food bin at the hostel! Now I have free pasta for dinner and I don’t even have to go outside or contemplate what the cheapest thing for me to eat today without dying of a heart attack is. A huge thank you to whoever left it there! “Fuck yes!”
  • Finding a half bottle of awesome shampoo that has been left in the shower when you’ve just run out of shampoo. Nuff said! “Fuck yes!”
  • Getting to the bus station five minutes before the next bus leaves when there is a four hour wait until the next one. And getting a good seat. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you have been hunting that animal you really want to see in the wild across an entire continent and it has evaded you for months and then suddenly…. Whoop! There it is! “Fuck yes!”
  • When you are in a bar dancing about sober as a judge because there isn’t enough money for drinking in the budget this week and a local person you’ve never met hands you a shot of rum or whatever other hard liquor they are passing around and then adopt you as their friend. “Fuck yes!”
  • When the taxi driver gives you a fair price straight off the bat and you don’t have to argue with them for half an hour about what is a fair price. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you find money in the street. In anyone’s world, this is a “Fuck yes!”
  • Meeting really awesome people that you hit it off with immediately. Friends for life biatches! “Fuck yes!”
  • Checking into a hostel to find that the bed is the most comfortable, fluffy and awesome cocoon that you’ve ever slept in. “Fuck yeah!”
  • Hot water when there usually isn’t any to be found anywhere. “Fucking awesome! Yeah…..”
  • Sleeping in a room on your own. Nobody else has checked in…. looks like I’m sleeping naked tonight! “Fuck yes!”
  • Going to the public toilet to find that there is actually toilet paper in the cubicle. Even better, finding it clean! “Fuck yeah!”
  • When everyone else eats in the restaurant and you eat dirty street food and everyone else gets sick but you. Arsehole, I know, but “Fuck yes!”
  • When people give you directions and they are actually the right directions. Sometimes, especially in the Americas and Asia, if they don’t know they make it up so as to not look ignorant. You can literally wind up anywhere. So if the directions are good…. “Fuck yes!”
  • When free breakfast is included in your stay and it’s full on massive buffet! “Fuck yes!”
  • When the museum or attraction entrance is free… “Fuck yeah!”
  • When you go home looking so dishevelled that your mum shout’s you a free haircut! “Fuck yes! Look at me I’m a human again!”

Such an easily excitable breed us travellers….. until the next!

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2

In a follow up to Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1, most of which was fairly ridiculous, I would like to touch on some other interesting shit that is not so ridiculous in the funny sense (and then maybe round it out with some more ridiculous in the funny sense).

Politics

  • According to the last census the country had in 2010, Ecuador consists of 70% mixed race populations (Spanish and indigenous mixes), 7% indigenous, 4% Chinese and 2% white people.
  • Ecuador prospered under their president, Rafael Correa, who put a lot of money into the development of roads, hospitals and other social programs in Ecuador. But then, like all good politicians, he realised, “Oops, I fucked up and spent too much money… what am I going to do to get it back?”
  • The method for making back the money was to then kick all of the indigenous people off their land so that the government could then go in and mine it for oil and minerals…….
  • The country had a referendum and decided that as a country they did not want this because Ecuador is known for its biodiversity and they don’t want the government going about fucking shit up for everyone and kicking people off their land because they are greedy bastards looking for the easy option.
Some jungle that will fail to exist if the powers that be start digging

Indigenous Tidbits

  • The indigenous community of the Otavalos in the north believe that hair contains their energy. Cutting the end of your hair off is bad news, whether you’re a man or a woman. Looks like when I go home I will just tell my mum I’ve become Otavalan to avoid a haircut. Though it does tend to break a lot…. I wonder if that means bad energy for me.
  • The reason that many of the indigenous communities here have such fabulous fabrics is because the Spanish used them as slaves to weave fabrics.
The Nizag people of Alausi doing traditional dance
  • They teach the Quechuan language in schools to help maintain the native language here. It is the native language of the Incans though there are different dialects throughout. Some Quechuan words that I learned are:
    • Mama – mum
    • Wawa – baby
    • Achachai – how cold
    • Ararai – how hot
    • Chichaqui – hungover

Random rituals

  • So it comes to be in a random shaman’s office in Quito that I am introduced to what my guide calls “the shrunky head” or more officially known as a tzantza. So, in the Amazon, it was a rite of passage to sever off your enemy’s head, peel all of the skin off, chuck it in a pot with some herbs and other shit to shrink the skin, then carefully remould the facial features so you can put your new little totem on a stick and carry him around with you everywhere. Not joking. Apparently carrying such heads of enemies with you is good luck and shrinking them means the soul can’t escape and wrought revenge upon you……
A fake ‘shrunky head’
  • On New Years Eve there are loads of different rituals that people partake in for different reasons. If they want more money, they wear yellow underpants. If they want to find true love, of course, red underpants. If you want to travel then you pack your suitcase and cut laps around the block with it to bring in the new year. Oh and you make twelve wishes by stuffing twelve grapes in your mouth, making each wish as you jam it in there.

 

A woman's lifelong aversion to the word 'No'….