All posts tagged: Travel

Valparaíso: the city of street art

It’s the 16th of December. I’ve just spent two straight days on a bus, listening to almost all of Dracula, unabridged. If I leave now and catch a flight from Santiago to Brazil I could be on my original flight and back in London tomorrow. We’ve just arrived at our hostel in Valparaíso, the city by the sea. The flight’s still cheap on Skyscanner. I can actually do this. I get as far as the checkout screen for the airline but something stops me. I close my browser. I’m not ready to go home. I smile for the conviction and go to tell Caroline. Valparaíso has long been reported to me as a favourite place by many travellers going in the opposite direction – not only in Chile, but in some people’s whole itineraries. I’ve already been shown pictures of it, accompanied by awed and enthusiastic commentary. And as we walk into town that first day, I’m not surprised. It’s immediately my favourite too. The city is made up of 42 cerros (hills) giving necessity …

Iquique: a Chilean writing retreat

It is a sad and bewildering bus journey that takes me away from Bolivia and on to the Chilean coast. I say an early morning goodbye to Adam who flies home that day and board my 5.30am bus bound for Arica – a surfing town in the north of Chile. Exhausted and rather deflated by Adam’s departure I sleep my way through most of the early part of the journey, waking to find stunning volcanoes stark on the landscape as we reach the border. My Spanish receives a severe knock here as I hear the Chilean accent for the first time and regress back to my Mexico self, shaking my head and saying no intiendo after most exchanges. This makes the border crossing – stressful as they can be anyway – all the more bemusing, especially as Chile is extremely strict with what goes into the country. All our bags have to be scanned. The guy on the seat next to me is far too chatty for my contemplative mood and his accent especially indecipherable. I …

It’s my birthday and I can cry if I want to – or, in fact, do whatever I feel like

This time last year I decided to celebrate my 25th birthday with a job interview. It was for a promotion within my team, which I felt obliged rather than inclined to apply for and, rather unexpectedly, I got the job. A year later I’m sitting in the persistent heat of Port-Au-Prince in the relatively temperate shade of a hammock-slung tree, discussing social media strategy with the director of a local orphanage. Although it took a number of punishing life events for this change to come about, I feel the benefits of that change pertinently, not only in place, but in entire philosophy. There’s something so powerfully brainwashing about the English school system, mirrored I’m sure by many education systems around the world. There was such a strong focus in my school on securing a prodigious place at university. This ladder was presented to us from a young age, each wrung a new set of qualifications, from GCSEs onwards, all with the ultimate goal of a rewarding life-long career. But it’s only as I reach my …

Port-Au-Prince five years on: the road to recovery

I have a strange and accidental habit of visiting the sites of major disasters. In 2005 I went to Sri Lanka, just six months after its coasts were desecrated by the tsunami. In 2011, I spent a week in Christchurch, New Zealand not long after the town was completely destroyed by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. And this year, Haiti was chosen as part of my Global Giving field evaluation itinerary, five years after it lost nearly 100,000 lives to an earthquake of its own. I also had the great opportunity earlier this year to be able to work at the offices of the Disasters Emergency Committee in London, supporting them with social media as they launched the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Although I may have been close to disaster sites in the past, this was the first time I was able to see the relief effort first hand, from the incredible outpouring of generosity from those across the world to the amazing life-saving work taking place out in the field. But what was so interesting about the …

This is Haiti: culture shock part two

After a week of elevated alcohol levels and little sleep to be found between late nights and the noisy fellow occupants of our 12-bed dorm room, I’m not in the best state of mind as we leave Miami. After being let down by extremely unreliable friends and Wi-Fi networks, I spent the final evening drinking alone in a bar, indulging a hormone-induced self-pity. Luckily I made friends with the barman who delighted in calling me Emily Rose in a carrying voice and topping up my glass. He was appalled at the very idea of a hostel and offered for me to stay with him when I next come to the city. Our flight is early the next morning, which gives me just three hours to struggle with sleep beneath our ferocious air conditioning before I’m released by my alarm and we head to the airport. I spend the journey semi-conscious, waking only to perform the tedious procedures demanded of me by airport staff, largely oblivious to my surroundings. I didn’t really know what to expect …

Welcome to Miami: stop-over culture shock

What little time we have left in Guatemala we spend in Antigua, a town further south and convenient for the airport, mainly working in the numerous quaint cafés of its touristy square. The city, reminiscent in many ways of San Cristobal in Mexico, sits in the shadow of a volcano which rises symmetrically and dizzyingly above us. Even after two days it’s still captivating as I sit on the roof of our hostel, staring at the mists that lap around it’s far summit, my laptop sleeping beneath my slack fingers. A little later that evening, a neighbouring volcano erupts, spilling lava into the night to dribble down its banks and paint red streaks in our horizon – the country’s parting gift. The journey to Guatemala City airport is relatively painless and hassle free considering the notoriety of the capital, its reputation for danger the very reason we stayed in Antigua to begin with. Through security now and closeted in the safe vacuum of air transit, my focus turns to our next and in many ways …

Driving through Guatemala: border crossings and a market

Our first few days in Guatemala are taken up almost entirely by two complicated and seemingly endless journeys, their length altogether inexplicable for the distances covered. But the densely jungled round-topped mountains and the occasional volcanoes of the new country are all the entertainment we could ask for as we speed along the meandering roads and away from the security of Junax, San Cristóbal and Mexico. I’ve reached that blissful level of tolerance known only to long-term travellers, where sleep is easily accessible and impenetrable when found, despite noise or motion. Any surface suffices a pillow and the observation of passing scenery is all that’s needed for occupation. On this first day, driving across the border to Quetzaltenango where we’ll find our next project, I spend those first two hours in a watchful meditation, resurfacing only to adjust the soundtrack humming companionably from my headphones. Our party, which we collected from different corners of San Cristóbal at our early departure time, is international, and my interest drifts occasionally into the strange collection of different languages …