To dream the impossible dream

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The tan has faded into a freckly stain on my skin; the wristbands I treasured have been cut from my wrist; and the welcome home balloons have started to sag. I’ve been back for a month now and it barely seems real that I spent six months in South America. Work has recommenced with a vigour and with an all-consuming, never-ending drain on all my energies, that I’m only just beginning to feel like I’m beginning to keep up. It’s like a 1000v electric shock has just been administered to my body, which has erased all traces of ever having been away. And instead replaced it with Work Lucy. I’m back at the desk doing the same tasks and thinking the same things I was before. Except I don’t have an exciting adventure to plan and focus on.

Such is the devouring nature of work, I can scarcely believe that I was away at all. It feels like I’ve had my head in the clouds in a particularly vivid and lengthy daydream, only to find someone calling my name, bringing me back to reality: lucy….Lucy….LUCY!!
Oh, I was here at work the whole time – you’ll never guess what I just dreamt…I had this extraordinary dream that I went and travelled all around South America. Silly me.

Was I ever really there? Did it really happen? It’s amazing how quickly you slot back into every day life, and your memories become no more than a fantastical dream, because there’s no-one here to help anchor them down. It could all just as well be in your head – a story of make-believe. After all, who would know??

So i’ back at work – at least this is a job that I actually like (didn’t stop me from almost bursting into overwhelmed and frustrated tears the second day back though), imagine what it’d be like going back to a job you hated…??

I’ve also managed to catch up with most of my friends to some extent. But what’s changed, how am I different and what did I learn…

The answers to those soul-searching questions are always a tad tricky. It’s kind of hard to know if you’ve changed because to yourself, you’re just you…

I’d say that I’m generally more chilled out about things; drive a bit slower and rush around slightly less, but perhaps that’s because I’ve purposely not been cramming every waking hour with some activity or another.

The Boy, on the other hand, thinks I’m more erratic and unpredictable. Prone to mood swings. But I think that’s just because he’s forgotten what it’s like to live with a girl…especially when they get hungry!

I’d like to say I’ve become more patient and forbearing – after spending six months at the whim of various bus companies’ schedules; putting up with Colombian taxi drivers, who don’t have a clue about where they’re going; and travelling long distances every two or three days. Also spending five months with someone without any arguments is quite an achievement I’m proud of…

I think my time away has taught me a new level of independence and self-sufficiency. Getting by on my wits and intuition. It’s a great feeling to know that you can go anywhere and make friends with new people and get along fine. In fact, that was one of my favourite things about being away. What you learn about people in such a short space of time. And I’m not talking about what job they did, where they lived, or which uni they attended. On a factual level you barely knew anything – but I wasn’t there to learn their CV by heart. It was amazing how well you could connect with a person within a matter of days. I feel like I don’t know as much about many of my home friends, who I’ve known for years. Amanda, Lars, José, Sarah, Loes, Casey, Ryan, Harry, Kate, Nicky, Jules and so many more (you know who you are) – you were all such legends and had me in stitches so much! It was a real privilege travelling with you and getting to know you!

That’s not to say I didn’t get bored of the age old opener…what’s your name…where are you from…where have you been…where are you going next…??? By halfway through the trip I generally tried to avoid these questions (and the people who asked them) – and would tell a pack of lies if asked. I resorted to a new opening question asking people what their favourite cheese was. The answer was much more indicative of a personality and I got so many different, interesting answers! Surprisingly, only one person ever asked me why I wanted to know what their favourite cheese was – everyone else answered unhesitatingly.

Travelling and spending time with so many different nationalities as well as meeting local people as we went round restores your faith in humanity. I can’t remember a time when anyone was horrible to us – in fact everyone was so exceptionally friendly and helpful. In fact, the only unpleasant person I can think of was our guide up Huayna Potosi – the 6,000m mountain I climbed in Bolivia. He dragged me and my trek-buddy, Jamie, up that mountain at an exponential rate, got me smacked in the face with an ice-pick and almost had me hurtling down a wall of rocks on my backside because he was racing off into the distance whilst still tied to me. Big thanks to Jamie for sticking up for me when I was too exhausted to do it for myself!

More than anything I learned that people on the other side of the world aren’t so different to us as I expected. Some of them may wear different clothes but they’re just trying to make their way in the world like anyone else. They laugh, they dance, they play football, they like to have a few drinks on a Friday and they know how to party!

I’m glad to be back home seeing the Boy, friends and family. Having a more varied and healthy diet is also a definite plus and I really missed exercise the last few months I was away. But above all, I’m glad to be reunited with my bed!!! If it wasn’t for that keeping me here – and the small matter of money then I would be off again in a flash having the time of my life. Where next, everyone keeps asking me. No plans yet, but I’m sure it won’t be too long before I start hatching my next plan…

Thanks for taking the time to check out the blog. I hope i managed to convey some sense of the wonderful places I went to whilst I was away. I had such a brilliant time, i don’t think i can ever top it.

PS. for those who were wondering which my favourite country was, my official answer is Bolivia and Colombia – for their outstanding natural beauty and because of the wonderful people who live there (although i really did love every country and picking out favourites feels like picking your favourite child!)
South America – I love you – thank you for showing me such a fantastic time.

L xxx

 

 

 

 

 

Rio baby!

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Our time in Rio was pretty much consumed by Carnaval, but we did manage to get around and see some touristy stuff too. We managed to check out Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. There’s a section of the beach for everyone: family, gay, young and trendys, sporty. God knows what awful eventuality befalls you if you go to the wrong area. Luckily we were staying with locals who made sure we kept well within the beach etiquette.

Copacabana…

Also, you can tell it’s a city beach and not a relaxing getaway beach like those in South Brazil.  People don’t appear to have much time for the sunbathing.  They’re too busy, playing volleyball, beach ball, football, swimming, surfing or slack-lining.  All far too exhausting for us…

Ipanema.

We also made it up to the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city. We picked a day brighter than the rainy rest and, in between patches of cloud, managed to get a glimpse of the beautiful views below.

The Big Guy.

Brazil is much more commercially developed than most of the other Samerican countries, so we had to indulge in a last bit of shopping before we came home. Laura went a tad crazy in the Havaiana shop…

I’ve never seen so many Havaianas (or any kind of flip-flops) in my life.  But they looked like such beautiful precious jewels, all lined up in a row, that we simply had to stock up…

Brazil, and Rio in particular, felt much more developed and European than many of the countries we’d been in previously.  That coupled with the rain was probably the best preparation we could have had before we came home to London.  It could have done with being a bit colder to prepare us for the temperatures we would encounter back on the other side of the Atlantic.  A week or so before we came home, Laura and I were strollling around Rio, and both remarked that we felt slightly cold that day.  We walked past a big gantry on the street displaying the temperature to see that it was 23 degrees celsius.  We were both incredulous that we could have become so acclimatised to the warm climate that we could feel chilly at 23°C, when in the UK we would be overjoyed at such heat!  We found that the perfect temperature for us had become between 28 – 29°C.  Quite a shock to come home to 8°C then.  But back to reality…

Carnaval!!

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Sorry about lack of final updates. I did write this when I was in Rio but never got the chance to update it…

So, the Sooshington and I have made it to our final destination on our whirl-wind tour of South America – Rio baby!
And what an amazing place to end our trip!
Looks like the continent is going to be sad to see us go as it threw a huge four-day party as a send-off. Turns out it’s the best party I’ve ever been to as well.

I was a bit apprehensive about Carnaval and its inevitable carnage. I was excited, but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much in case it turned out to be a disappointment. My New Year in Montañita had been fun, but a little too packed for comfort and that was only the Ecuadorians who descend on that town. This is the biggest party in the world and people come from all over the place to be here. Good job Rio is just about big enough to hold everyone!

The other thing I was worried about was what four days’ solid partying would do to me physically. Would I return home a wreck…?

Turns out my body is more robust than I gave it credit for, admittedly I lost my voice – but not bad for five days’ solid partying.

So the Carnaval is made up of two main parts. If you want to see all the parades and people in amazing outfits on decadent floats (that you’ll have seen on tv) then you have to go to the Sambodrome. These guys have spent the best part of the last year practicing and preparing for this day, and you won’t see them parading on the streets like you would in Notting Hill. They’re there to compete against the other schools to be crowned number one samba school for the year. Each school has a theme and then has thousands of outfits and costumes reflecting that subject. One school consists of thousands of performers who stretch the length of the whole Sambodrome. Laura and I sat there, in the pouring rain, through five samba schools worth of entertainment, but didn’t quite manage to last the night to see the last one at 7am!


Sat in the pouring rain watching the Carnaval…

The rest of Carnaval is made up of various street parties called Blocos. There are hundreds of these taking place across the city with huge trucks blasting out music. Others have stages and bands and others are full on concerts. It’s like a huge festival taking place across a whole city.

Some Blocos were more popular than others. This was the metro on the way to a party in Ipanema…

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And since everyone else makes such an effort with their outfits, it would have been rude not to have dressed up for the occasion…

Even the babies get dressed up…!

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Going as Brazil went down pretty well with the locals, who were more than happy to share the party with us gringas! The best send-off from the continent that either Laura or I could have hoped for. Thanks Brazil x

Memo to Brazil:

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What is going on? You may think this stint of crappy weather you’ve lavished on the Soosh and I is simply a way of reacclimatising us to the British climate, but in all honesty, your efforts are not appreciated.
It’s been raining solidly for the last three days now and, speaking on behalf of both CEOs of Funemployed Abroad Inc, we’d prefer some sunshine to see us off the continent.
The main problems are as follows:
– we’ve been at some of the most beautiful beaches on the southern Brazil coastline and not got to enjoy them to their full extent. It would have been absolute paradise, had the sun put in an appearance.
– we are no longer well equipped for such weather having shed most cold weather stuff in Colombia. Vest tops and bikinis are not much use against the rain.
– We want to go home, where we won’t see the sun for months, with a tan
– The town of Paraty is apparently one of the prettiest in Brazil but the streets all looked as if they were rivers…

– And the picture postcard photos we were after are just slightly marred by the existence of heavy grey clouds and anoraks.

On the plus side, finally got to see that Black Swan film everyone’s been banging on about, with the rest of the people in our hostel, who’d taken refuge from the downpour. Weird but powerful stuff. Natalie Portman was fantastic as ever.

Nevertheless, Brazil we expect you to rectify this matter by Carnaval, or face disciplinary measures, which could result in the termination of our contract with you.

Thank you.

Lucy & Laura
Chief Executive Officers-in-joint
Funemployed Abroad Inc
South American arm

Beach Bore

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Sorry to be a bore but Soosh and I are back at the beach. Just thought we’d bring some Brazilian warmth into everyone’s lives.

Don’t worry: we’ll be back in England and as cold as the rest of you before you know it!!

Sin City…?

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São Paulo really needs to work on its marketing. All my life, I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that Brazil’s largest city is some kind of uber-sized ghetto, where a gun will be thrust into your face at any given moment. A place without any redeeming features. I’m not sure how many people back home also have this pre-conceived notion, but it’s also readily available on the traveller circuit. While we’ve been away, plenty of people have told us to give Sampa a wide berth – that it was just a sprawling mess not worth bothering with.

With this in mind, Su-Che and I were planning on flying here (for logistical reasons) staying that night and then getting the hell out. But something changed this plan.

As we made our way to our hostel from the airport using public transport, we were at once impressed at how efficient – and safe – the bus and subway system felt. In fact London’s tube could learn plenty from the system in SP. When we got to Vila Madalena – the neighbourhood where we were staying – we were both overwhelmed by the number of cool looking bars, restaurants, boutique shops and art galleries. Where was the grimy and slummy city I’d always heard about?? Instead it was like some kind of Notting Hill mixed with Greenwich village in New York. At the hostel, the staff told us that it was a safe neighbourhood to walk around – even if we were coming back from somewhere at 3am. Even more impressive. Where in London can say that??

We visited the city centre and went to the 41st floor of one of the city’s hundreds of skyscrapers. The view was absolutely immense: New York’s skyline has nothing on São Paulo. Helicopters are constantly whizzing overhead and the built-up tower blocks go on so far that it’s impossible to see beyond them. I’m sure the favelas here really are a juxtaposition against some of the imposing mansions in the wealthy areas we saw, but I didn’t get a chance to see them as they are so far away in this place, where almost 20million people call home.

As for the food, we were super impressed. Laurita and I went for a set-meal sushi dinner and were given more California rolls, sashimi and the like than we could manage. Well, almost. But getting full on sushi is pretty much unheard of – unless you spend a fortune. And it cost us less than £10 each. Result.

On the way home that evening we went past a street where there was a lot of noise, music and general commotion. We went to check it out and turns out it was the local neighbourhood’s Carnaval practice session, before the main event next week. I’ve never seen anything like it: those girls really know how to shake it! Good to get us in the spirit for the world’s biggest party in a few days time!!

São Paulo has been awesome and I could definitely spend more time getting to know the place. And it’s always a bonus when a place proves its critics wrong.

Sorry, no pictures for this blog, as I didn’t take my iPhone out. After all, it IS São Paulo….!!!

Stop! Hammock time…

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Lady Soosh and I have made it to Brazil! It’s our last country and it’s with mixed feelings we arrived here: sad because it’s the final country on our long journey, yet excited for the adventures this huge country has to offer.

From Santa Marta, we flew (decadent, I know) to Leticia – still in Colombia, but right on the border with Peru and Brazil. In fact, you can simply walk or drive down the street and you’re in Brazil – no border controls or anything. But since we planned to continue our travels through Brazil, the onus was on us to go and get our exit and entry stamps (otherwise getting out of Brazil might have been interesting).

Not many roads in the Amazon, so the main method of transport is the river. Sushi and I were trying to make our way to Manaus, which is in the middle of the jungle to go and check out the rainforest, and the only way to get there is a 4-day boat. And we’re not talking cruise liners. It’s basically a three-storey human cargo boat which has open sides and a handful of cramped cabins for exorbitant prices. For the rest of us, it was stringing up a hammock and making the best of it. Now, we’d heard plenty of horror stories about these boats: cramped conditions, with people stringing up their hammocks, both above and below your’s; theft being rife; terrible food; hippy travellers playing their bongos and guitars at all hours of the day, practicing being shit together etc… Turns out that none of these myths were true and we were pleasantly surprised. Actually chilling in a hammock and floating down the Amazon for a few days was pretty awesome. Lots of reading, sleeping, chatting and gazing at the water and forest we were passing. Perfick.

Four days passed quickly and I found myself disappointed to be disembarking from this boat where we’d also made some good friends. But we’d arrived in Manaus, the place where the Amazon tributaries the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões meet to finally create the Amazon proper. Both rivers are different temperatures, colours (guess what colour the Rio Negro is), and travel at different speeds. The result is that they run side by side without mixing for 18km and it looks pretty spectacular…

As for Manaus itself, I’d been imagining a small settlement on the river with mainly wooden, single storey buildings. All in all pretty basic. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a big city on the banks of the Amazon, with all the trappings of a modern city – apart from WiFi it would seem. It had a very beautiful opera house though!!

As I mentioned, Manaus was a jumping off point for visiting the rainforest and seeing some of the quieter waterways, which make up the Amazon. So off we went for two nights and camped out in the deep jungle overnight. We got involved with piranha fishing – and Laurita and I caught three between us…

We saw squirrel monkeys jumping about the trees, plenty of river dolphins, ospreys, macaws flying overhead and tons of other animals, along with some of the most picturesque mangroves imaginable…

The water looked so enticing that it wasn’t long before I dived in…

At night, we went caiman spotting. We went searching for them with our torches and could see their eyes glowing bright orange, like golden orbs, back at us. They preferred to stay near the bank, so after coming ashore and running around the forest in the dark, as if we were trying to recreate the Blair Witch Project, our guide managed to find a baby one. I felt bad about touching it since it’s a wild animal, but my curiosity overcame my principles (tut).

At camp that night, our dinner was pretty impressive and involved skewering a whole chicken on a wooden stake and cooking it over the fire! Very Bear Grylls.

Bed time was hammock o’clock again. I’d imagined I’d fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle that night, but unfortunately an Aussie guy on the trip with us had other ideas. Turns out he’s quite the snorer. I put my ear plugs in to try to drown out the racket and get some sleep, but only succeeded in blocking out all the nice rainforest noises so that it channelled the snore sounds even louder, grr…!

The next day we went for a walk in the forest and learnt all about the different plants and trees in the jungle. The diversity is so spectacular and it seems that every plant and animal species has a purpose of its own to fulfil. Our guide cut a vine for us, which was full of drinking water – a bush trick for getting fresh water in the jungle…

Two days is enough time to have a taster of what life is like in the rainforest. It’s one of those things, that the longer you stay there, the more things you’ll see. Another group were hiking and camping out for eight days in an attempt to try and spot a jaguar. We didn’t have enough time for this but I’m so glad I finally had the opportunity to have my own mini Amazon adventure.

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