Category Archives: Travel

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.

 

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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.

 

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1

It has been a while since I learned some shit that is entertaining for others to read. Don’t get me wrong, lots of learning has been happening, some of it life changing. But as I moved my way in and out of the glorious streets of Quito with a fabulous guide by the name of Stefani, I was certainly educated on some interesting things in the Ecuadorean cultural sense. Here is what I learned…..

Cuy

The word in this region for guinea pig. Also considered a delicacy that I am yet to try. I just cannot seem to eat the face of my childhood pet, Muffy, that my sister and I used to shampoo and then blowdry in the sink much to the horror of my mother who thought we would kill it. That and a typical garnish is a tomato helmet. I just can’t even….. Anyway, here is what I learned about them.

Tasty snacks and energy healing weapons running around the floor of an indigenous house
  • The name ‘cuy’ comes from the sound that they make “coi, coi, coi, coi’.
  • They are sacred animals and used to live in the houses with the indigenous people.
  • They are not only considered sacred, but are used in ritual cleansing of the body. Not even kidding. Here’s how you do it.
    1. Start feeling unwell and think ‘hmmm…. something is wrong with me. I know, the guinea pig will tell me what is wrong’
    2. Grab the guinea pig like a body wash sponge that you would use in the shower and rub that squirming little animal all over your body. The animal will apparently extract the bad energy and give indications as to what is wrong with you in autopsy. (PS. I am sure from the shock of having to see and touch your naked body, this will cause the guinea pig a horrific and terrible death in which it will die of extreme shock).
    3. Guinea pig autopsy. Cut the thing open and examine all of its organs. Whatever appears to be wrong with the guinea pig is what is said to be wrong with you. Our guide said that she had a parasite and after rubbing the guinea pig on her stomach that when they autopsied the dead pig that shit was wriggling around in its stomach. Ewww…..
    4. Four. Eat the meat of the guinea pig I suppose unless there is some muscular problem and get on with your day, now well and purged of illness and bad energy.

Bones

Bones are considered to be a protective force in the culture of the Ecuadorean indigenous. They would use the vertebra of dead humans and sometimes cows hooves to decorate the entrances of the houses to ward off the evil spirits and for good luck. Oh and to ward off the evilness of people who don’t believe in Jesus….. yeah I know?? Hmmm…..To the point where people started digging up bodies in the cemeteries so that they could keep human bones in their houses. Sometimes they keep a single bone of a loved one that they have buried in the house as that is also thought to be a form of protection for the house and people who live in it.

Human vertebra and stone floor in an entrance way to a house. Didn’t stop my non-Jesus-believing self from entering. Clearly doesn’t work.

Encebollado and bones

So the most famous soup of Ecuador is called Encebollado and it is literally everywhere. They tell me that it is a mix of all of the ingredients that would normally go into a ceviche but with a different type of fish. There was one dude in Quito who had what was considered the best encebollado in the entire country and people would come far and wide to sample it. People were scrambling for the recipe and to figure out what he did that made it so special.

What was the secret ingredient you ask? Well the man, superstitiously for the last seventy years had been stirring his fabulous broth with a femur. Not just any femur though, a human femur. An actual real fucking human femur. I say no more.

Other tidbits

  • All of the roses used in the British Royal wedding were from Ecuador. They also used roses from Ecuador to film The Beauty and the Beast. When the last petal fell, it was from a cursed Ecuadorean rose.
  • Don’t fuck with Ecuadorean artists. One of them was commissioned to do the trimmings on a house in the old town but they refused to pay him the last instalment. As an ode to ‘fuck you’ to both the owners of the house and of course to the Catholic church, he endowed one of the lovely cherubs with the most giant penis you’ve ever seen on a cherub, waving its engorged salute to the church directly over the road.
Check out the schlong on that thing!
  • Ecuador first started to export chocolate in the 1820’s and thank god for that. I am pretty sure that since arriving here I have become about 70% cacao.

Given the sheer amount of shit that I have learned here over quite a large amount of time, stay tuned for Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2, coming to you next week!

Shit I’ve Said Wrong Learning Another Language

Currently I am studying the grand language of Spanish in Colombia, and on many occasions, I have been known to say funny incorrect things or things that are just downright offensive because the translation in English has a totally other sensation. The other day in class I spilled my tea all over the floor and ruined my notebook and responded with “soy inutil” (I’m useless), which in Australia is not such an abnormal thing to say but I was informed that if you say that to someone here, be prepared to get yourself into a punch on.

And then of course you have the standard mistake of ‘estoy caliente’ which means “I’m hot”, but not hot as in, “geez the temperature is high” but hot as in “baby I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’, Marvin Gaye style lovin'”. Water can be ‘caliente’. Food can be caliente. If I am feeling a bit warm, I am ‘calor’….. and perhaps maybe a bit caliente (horny) as well.

One also needs to be very careful with which version of ‘I am’ they use. Because ‘Soy buena’  apparently means “I am a good human being and do nice things for others”, whereas ‘Estoy buena’ means ‘I am a very “good” curvy person and will do ‘nice things’ for others….

Then of course there is chimba and chimbo. Both can be hugely offensive and of course, because of this, they are words I have become attracted to. “Que chimba” is often used to say “how cool”, however if you call someone “a” chimba, then you will be calling them a cunt…… again, not so offensive to a lot of people in Australia, but the rest of the world takes severe offense to such language. And then chimbo can also be a penis, or something of low grade value. What I take from this of course, is that vaginas are well fucking cool and penis’ are low value commodities…….. hmmm….. and of course if you say an arsehole joke it is called ‘chimbiando’. But in the grand scheme of things….. I should probably avoid all of these words, especially in front of police officers, church officials, and respectable people.

I remember a time in Guatemala when the police officer asked me whether ‘those men are “molestando” me….. ‘. Well didn’t I freak out and take off down the street running as fast as I could for fear of being molested, which of course would have looked a sight to the police officer. And didn’t I feel like a moron when later I discovered that the word ‘molestar’ in Spanish, does not mean ‘to molest’ as I thought it did, but it means ‘to bother or annoy’.

I never want to be “embarazada”…. and by that I mean pregnant, not embarrassed. A common misconception and also often is screwed up. Though my friend was encouraging me the other day to have an affair with a Colombian and get knocked up with triplets that I could then go home with and sit on my mothers couch on welfare. I said no because I don’t want to have to carry any extra weight with my bag for the next 7 or 8 months, but I said I would consider it when I arrive in Chile…..

And of course there is ‘travieso’. This word means naughty. And apparently children can be naughty and that is fine. But any ‘naughty’ adult is a sexually naughty adult. There isn’t really any other kind of adult naughty. I have also learned that beverages also cannot be ‘travieso’. The standard Australia ‘cheeky pint’ or ‘cheeky rum’, no existe. A ‘ron travieso’ basically implies that ‘you’ are going to wind up travieso much later on after said ron……

Maybe I should:

  1. Avoid adjectives.
  2. Just avoid saying any words that can be construed as sexual or offensive….. ie a whole lot of them.
  3. Avoid speaking all together…….
  4. Ignore my own advice and continue to laugh at the fact that I have clearly no idea what I am doing.

I think I will choose option 4 and go say some more travieso and inappropriate shit. Que chimba!

 

Actual Danger vs Perceived Danger: Tips For Travel Safety

A common conversation I have with people about travel usually winds up going something like this:

Person: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Person: “Like, I just don’t understand why you would want to go there, it is like sooooo dangerous and people get shot at and stabbed by cartels and there is just such a huge drug problem that you will never survive there. It is just too dangerous. You’re crazy!!”

This ‘perceived’ idea of danger in other countries is in many cases ridiculous. Yes it is dangerous in some areas of the world. There are many places that I would not consider going as they are warzones or in severe civil conflict. But for the most part, provided that you are street smart and don’t make stupid decisions like walking down the street in the middle of the night instead of catching a cab, there is quite a low chance of these things happening. People see the one off cases on the news, the media makes a huge deal out of it and people think, well that place is clearly too dangerous to go to. Oddly enough, I have travelled to over sixty countries over nine years and the only place I have been attacked in the street and hospitalized for it was in my very hometown where I grew up in Australia.

I remember my very first trip to South East Asia. It was my first time out of western society and I was terrified. My mother had pleaded with me not to go for fear of my being raped/mugged/murdered/stabbed/shot at/put in jail for having drugs planted in my bags like Schappelle Corby/dead. To the point where I was terrified to be going. I got on the plane after ziplocking, padlocking and then cling filming all of my bags before I left in an excessive frenzy. I got off the plane in Bangkok and went over my bag with a fine tooth comb to ensure nothing had been tampered with or touched. I picked up my bag nervously, told them I had nothing to declare and I was out the door within 5 minutes flat thinking to myself…. ummmm…. is that is? Post this the worst thing I encountered in South East Asia was petty theft. People would have their bags and pockets picked. Again. Be aware this happens. Don’t carry things in your pocket, get a bag with a zip. The other trick is, don’t get so drunk that you aren’t aware of your belongings. Most people who get things stolen off of them are drunk. Me included. One morning I was drunk and sleeping on a beach in Nicaragua with my iPod in my hand and I awoke to find it gone. I was angry for all of a minute and then I started laughing because if an old iPod was all I lost in 4 years of travel, I am doing pretty well.

Some people I met through Central America had experienced muggings. Again, majority of the time, if you just give over all of what you have and let them go, you will not have any problems with your physical safety. It might shake you up a bit, but this for the most part is the worst of what will happen provided that you follow the major safety rules. Which are as follows:

1. Don’t walk around at night EVER, especially alone. Take a cab, or organize yourself so that you have everything that you need. Night, just like at home, is the biggest time of day for predators.

2. Keep money and credit cards in different places, including sewn into the insides of your pants. So they took the 20 bucks in your wallet and one of your ATM cards? You have another ATM card somewhere else and $20 in your bra.

3. On the topic of ATM cards, if you do by chance get held up and they want you to go to an ATM, don’t keep a large amount of money in your transaction account. Transfer the amount you need to take out online right before you take it out and leave the rest in an untouchable savings account.

4. Take photocopies of all of your important documents and cards including your passport and send them to yourself in an email. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are robbed of everything, at least you will have everything you need when you get to your consulate on file online. Also send copies of this email to your Mum or someone you trust that can help you.

5. If you can avoid it, don’t travel at night and don’t travel when you get dropped off in the middle of nowhere at night or very early in the morning. These are the times of day where less people are around and you are less visible in the public eye.

6. Listen to advice about do’s and don’t’s from smart locals and from your hostel/hotel workers. Most of the time the locals will tell you what the dangers are in the prominent are, where to go and where not to go.

While this is not a comprehensive list, this is certainly helpful in avoiding any potential dangers and getting caught out with things. For the most part, following these rules, the amount of trouble you will find will be minimized. It is very much a shame that some people do not have common sense enough to look out for their own safety. It is also a shame that places that have incredibly friendly locals get a reputation through the media for a few events that occur with horrific outcome. For the hundreds of thousands of people everyday who travel, have a great time and come home safely, you will get a handful of stories that end in tragedy. But this also fares for the people who get in a car and drive everyday. There is always that risk. In life, everything that you do has risk. But you don’t constantly get lectures from people who don’t drive telling you about every car accident that happens and why you shouldn’t get into a car to go to work. It is always those that haven’t travelled and don’t understand that are dishing out these lectures based on what they see on television. But really, it is not as bad and horrific as it is made out to be. Travel broadens the eyes and the mind. I honestly believe if you haven’t travelled then you haven’t lived. You haven’t understood the amazing diversity of the human race and the things that make us different and yet the same. So take the leap. Take the risk. And you might just find that maybe it isn’t actually that ‘dangerous’ after all.