I’m back after Wales – Spain – Mallorca

It’s been a while since I posted to my blog, due in part to the website code being broken after moving my hosting to a US server. It caused some issues with the date formats between UK and US, and because we were leaving to go on holiday, I didn’t have a chance to fix it. We have also just returned from a long and overdue holiday.

The first part of our holiday was spent bacj in Wales from the wedding of my brother to Catherine. It was an amazing day, and I managed to deliver my speech without any problems. My brother gave a speech that simply choked everyone, and put the majority of the audience in tears. The setting was amazing, next to St. Donats castle overlooking the sea, within the same grounds as Atlantic College. The weather stayed warm and bright and everything went without a hitch. I have some great photos of the day up on Flickr. They’re for friends and family though, so if you want to have a look, you’ll need to email me and I can invite you.

The second part of our holiday was spent in Spain, backpacking on the mainland. We flew into Madrid with EasyJet from Bristol, and spent two days in Madrid seeing the main sights. We found it to be a really nice city, and the late lifestyle really suited me. Seeing people start to eat at 10pm is quite strange though! We travelled by bus to Salamanca, which is a popular town for language students and a couple of hours north west of Madrid. Again we really liked the town, which has the best Plaza Mayor in Spain (apparently).

Our next stop was for one day only in Avila. Our main reason for stopping there was to make sure we saw the Germany v Italy game, but the town also boasts a quite outstanding medival defensive town wall. The town also stank, and seemed to have some major problems with waste water. The game itself was horrendously disappointing, and we amused by the lack of interest in the World Cup by the Spanish once Spain had been knocked out. We were almost the only people watching the match in the bar, and considering the Spanish reputation for loving football it seemed strange. This disinterest continued throughout the remainder of the World Cup, with the minor exception of minor support for Portugal against Germany for the 3rd place finisher.

We moved from Avila to Segovia by bus. Segovia is again a very old historic town with two major historical attractions. the first is the mortarless aqueduct, built by the Romans, and the second is the Disney-like Alcazar castle. We spent two days there, before heading north to Santander, via Valladolid.

Santander was a breath of fresh air, both mentally and physically. We had grown quite tired of the big cities, stale air and humidity. Everywhere we had been was settled around 35 degrees celcius and moving around with a 15 kilo rucksack was taking its toll. I expected little of Santander. I knew it as the only ferry port that British ferries sail to in Spain, and little else. My experiences with ports (the same goes for border towns) is that they suck. They often seem to have the weirdest and most dodgy people hanging around looking like they are waiting for the right opportunity to mug you. However, Santander was not that at all. The nightlife was busy and fun. The shopping centre was good. the se front was pleasant and it was nice to walk up and down the promenade. Then we found Santander’s beaches, and they rocked. This city really is a well kept secret. I will definitely go back there again.

From Santander we went by bus again to Bilbao. There guide book gave a less than mediocre report about the city and we expected very little. Our sole reason really for stopping there was to spend a day in the Guggenheim. We were pleasantly surprised by the city. The Guggenheim was the highlight, but the city itself was a joy. It has the most amazing underground system, recently installed and designed by Sir Norman Foster. It is immaculately clean and wonderously air conditioned, even in the stations. The old part of the city is completely quaint, with a maze of small narrow streets and great little tapas bars. We watched the World Cup final in Bilbao. The Spanish ignored the game, and we watched it with the sound off, and music blaring, accompanied by two French girls and an Italian couple. The rest of the bar were oblivious.

Our last stop on the Atlantic coast was San Sebastian or Donostia in Basque, because this is the Basque capital. Don’t expect to understand a word of Basque, as it is totally different to Castilliano Spanish, Catalan, French and any other languages within the locality – hence a “language isolate”. Luckily most people also speak Spanish so you can get by. The city itself is a tourist resort, and when we arrived it was at the height of the San Fermin festival. The San fermin festival is held in Pamplona, and is often called “The Running of the Bulls”, where a rather large number of crazy Spanish and foreigners decide to run with a pack of stampeding bulls. this is surrounded by copious amount of partying and drinking, which as you can imagine, makes for a fine cocktail of danger. The hotels in Pamplona get booked a year in advance, sometimes even more, so the only way to do the festival is to sleep out over night. This probably influences the amount of alcohol peopel drink, as it must be much easier to sleep on a park bench drunk than sober. San Sebastian is the nearest city to Pamplona, so many foreigners take the early bus on the day to experience the festical, and then return early the following day, so we found it rather hard to find a room. San Sebastian was also holding a concert called “Concierto Por La Paz”, with Bob Dylan as headlining, so putting even more pressure on us to find a room. We lucked out and Kerstin found a great hotel for us in the newer part of town. We stayed in San Sebastian for over three days. We enjoyed the beach there, we chilled out and saw Bob Dylan for free whilst sitting on the beach and we really liked one of the support acts called Macaco, who are a band from Barcelona. I also tried and failed dismally to remember how to surf for a few hours, quickly gave up and moved to body boarding for the rest of the day. I had a hell of a lot of fun.

Skipping Pamplona we moved directly to Barcelona, and again found that Pamplona was haunting us, because the weekend we arrived in Barcelona was the last weekend of the San Fermin festival. Every foreigner who had been to the festival seemed to be taking a plane out of Barcelona, and every single hostel was fully booked. We ended up after a two hour search in a standard hotel for 70 Euros a night. Our trip on the underground system had been at 50C degrees, and both of us felt like shit and completely dehydrated. My t-shirt and combats were soaked through. I dreamt of the underground in Bilbao to make me feel better!
With no bed in sight for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights we decided to rent a car and drive up the coast of the Costa Brava. Our aim was to get as far north as Cadaqués, but after a minor parking disaster on the first day, we only made it as far north as Palamós. We spent the Friday and Sunday nights in Tossa Del Mar, and then the Saturday night in Platje d’Aro.

We returned to Barcelona on the Monday early. We wondered around seeing the main Gaudi sights and enjoyed the afternoon and early evening in the district of Gràcia. Overall I was disappointed with Barcelona. It seemed like a city with plentygoing on and a really nice vibe, but underlying that seemed to be a city of broken dreams. I saw so many people who looked like they were on the edge of life, broken by the city, or drawn to it in some way. Many beggars and you often felt you needed to watch your back. I’d like to go back to Barcelona again, but next time we go back it will be in the spring or autumn – the summer is just too hot.
The third part of our holiday was in Mallorca. We flew from Barcelona to Palma with Iberia, and as with all buses and planes I slept like a baby. We stayed with my Uncle David and his partner Maria, who very kindly put us up in the appartment in the small but extremely beautiful town of Cala Rajada. Their appartment was amazing and we fell in love with the town. Maria and David are good friends with the owner of the local dive centre and we spent many days swimming and snorkelling there. David organised for Kerstin to have two dives too, as as she already has her PADI Open Water and Advanced scuba qualifications, it was pretty easy for her to get back into it. On her first dive she seemed a litrle nervous, but when she came back out she had a smile as wide as a car!

We also met up with our friends Max and Cécile, as they were over staying in the finca of Cécile’s parents, near Petra. We spent a day at the beginning of the holiday with them as David and Maria had kindly loaned us their car. We also went back for Cécile’s birthday on the last day of our holiday, and then Max and Cécile drove us to the airport for our trip back home to Dortmund.

We absolutely loved Mallorca. I didn’t really know what to expect, especially as you hear so many bad things about places like Magaluf and Arenal. What we did see, we loved and spending time with David and Maria made the holiday brilliant.

Now we are back in Dortmund and we had a cool party for my birthday (31) and on the following day we went to the Juicy Beats festival, which is a yearly electronic music festival held in the Westfalenpark. It was a great venue, and although there weren’t any big names, with the exception of Coldcut, we had a great time.
I’m now back to work and Kerstin has this week off before starting back. Speaking of which, I need to get my head down.

At the end of the road…

The fat lady sang and the journey drew to finality. Buenos Aires was that fat lady and boy did she sing her heart out.
On the last day waiting for my flight back to the UK, I sat with Tim, Karen (who had met us in Bolivia on Isla Del Sol), Lisa from Ireland (who we had met in Ushuaia) and another Lisa who just came for a pint, and shared a beer in the little restaurant across the street from our hostel.
They asked me what were the best and worst parts of the trip, the highs and the lows, favourite countries and the people that I had met who I had liked (and disliked). Several things stood out and in no particular order, (well, marginally chronologically) they are as follows:

  • Watching comedy masked wrestling, Mexican style in Mexico City.
  • The amazing ruins of Mexico, including Teotichuan, Uxmal, Chichen Itza and my favourite – Palenque.
  • Travelling around the Yucatan Peninsula with Franco, Elisa and Sophie in the Argentinian mean machine with Che Gueverra stamped on the back and Manu Chau playing over the stereo!
  • The idyllic island of Isla Mujeres, where I spent two of the best weeks of my trip, and met some of the best people travelling, including Kerstin! The snorkelling on the reefs stands out as a great experience there. Poc Na Hostel gets a huge thumbs up. Joav and Gill stand out as two Israellis who are totally off their heads, but great fun. Joav drank mescal during the breaks between snorkelling, drinking through the snorkel, and Gill confessed that the state of Israel is essentially the same as Star Wars and he and all the other young people who had been in the army were actually Storm Troopers on call at short notice to fight against those pesky Jedis. No, believe me, I’m serious!!!
  • Languishing in Antigua, Guatemala where I got real sick (bad), met some great people (good) and learnt a bit of Spanish, which then helped me to talk to other people aside from other travellers! Climbing the volcano of Pacaya stands out as a cool experience, especially peering down into the active crater of the volcano, and then the subsequent running down the scree on the side of the volcano. Being the only foreigner out of 600 people at Ingrid’s university graduation in Guatemala City. The experience of the chicken bus afterwards plus meeting her really cool boyfriend Jack was a great day out and a really interesting adventure.
  • Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and the village of San Pedro, with its funny hippies left over from the sixties. Phrases such as “no man, you mean the Beatles have split up??”, and “fancy some space cakes today guys, there reeeeeal good”, spring to mind. Great breakfasts and one of the best fillet steaks outside Argentina in a fab restaurant run by a Dutch family are fondly remembered.
  • Costa Rica’s brilliant sunsets every night from the hostel, and great hospitality from Conrad who sat with us and smoked Cubans all evening.
  • The horrendous Panama airport, with the five christmas carols in Spanish, loud and on repeat for ten hours, which in conjunctiom with the luminescent overhead lights left us unable to sleep and ready for the looney bin. Chatting to an old Argentinian guy, who was living in Bolivia and in Panama for “business”, then caused us to have the most thorough check of our luggage that we had during our whole trip. Then being asked by the Head of Airport Security if “we know this man”, and then watching him getting searched. The sight of how he had three empty suitcases inside each other, no clothes and was blantantly a drugs mule was quite scary. We scarpered as soon as we landed in Bolivia and avoided him after that!
  • Arriving in Bolivia to see Kerstin again and having a wonderful time travelling together. Poor Tim played gooseberry quite noblely!
  • Experiencing the inside of the working Potosi silver mine with Tim saving my bacon (we don’t like to talk about it, but yes he did save my life!), plus blowing up plastic explosive and our amusing guides with the car that wouldn’t go uphill. Okay if you live in Holland, but not so good where the entire city is set against a moutainside at a 25 degree angle.
  • Travelling in the 4×4 with Kerstin, Tim, Wouter and Linda plus our coca-leaf-chewing guide Louis around the Salar De Uynui. Possibly the most amazingly bold and expansive, beautiful and barren landscape I think I have ever seen. Shit hostels and no showers. Bathing in hot springs at 4,500 metres. Lakes of deep green and pink flamingoes. Tim banging his head on the door frames, made for the short Bolivians, 5 times before 8am, and the subsequent barrage if swearing that followed. Unmissable!
  • First views of La Paz cupped in the hands of the surrounding mountains. The interesting coca museum, and our great hotel where we bargained a 90 dollar room down the 45 and a 80 dollar room down to 30. Culminating in a truely 5 dollar shower that was so desperately desired after the showers in most Bolivian hostels (the kind that heat the water electrically as the water passes through the shower head and electricutes you every time you try to adjust the temperature! Putting Kerstin on a plane to Argentina was a sad moment.
  • Isla Del Sol in Lake Titicaca. One great walk that took a day to see the fabled birthplace of some of the most famous Inca royalty.
  • Cuzco in Peru for Christmas. Great restaurants, food and some lovely people. Will be remembered for the company over Christams of Helen and Joanne as surrogate family, plus our infamous hours of shithead that coined the “Cuszo Classic Rules” of Shithead.
  • Inca Trail and Machu Pichu over New Year, possibly the most memorable New Year ever. the second day of hell on Inca Trail and the rewards of the first views of Machu Pichu from the Sun Gate stand out. Staying in the porter’s village was an excellent experience that you can only get with Wayki Trek in Gringo Alley.
  • Arequipa was only memorable for both Tim and I being sick, and watching TV and reading books in the hostel whilst we recovered. I had problems breathing, literally pain when taking anything but a shallow breath and Tim had a “brown laser” problem.
  • Peru is not going to be that fondly remembered with the exception of Inca Trail and Cuzco. Lima will be remembered for the hassle from taxi drivers at the airport, notably the one who tried to teach us how to use a payphone. (hhhmm, money in, dial number, talk into handset bit…). After the crap journey via Colombia from Ecuador in one day I seriously thought Tim was going to hit the guy.
  • Having fun in Bogota with Andrea, Matt and Andrea’s family, combined with their amazing hospitality. We got to go to the best clubs and bars, none of which are in any guide book, and saved us from the shithole that is Downtown Bogota. The amazing Musee D’Ore with the Colombian gold artefacts.
  • The beautiful city of Cartegena with an unrivalled early colonial architecture, beautiful people and great night life. Notable events include our meeting with a American Embassy “offical”, who advise us not to talk to women from Cali, as “it’s like the wild west out there, and the boyfriends and husbands are likely to shoot you”. This was followed the next night by being invited to join a group of friends for a drink by a Venezuelan guy, who then insisted that Tim dance with some of his female friends. “Where are they from?”, I asked. “Oh, from Cali”, was his reply. I looked at Tim’s face which seemed to be paling to the dilemma that he either dance salsa with one of them and risk the fabled “getting shot”, or not dance and risk offending them and “getting shot”. Turned out to be fine and everyone including the boyfriends were extremely friendly.
  • Actually that summed up Colombia in a nutshell. Everyone we met was extremely friendly, and compared the Peru, where the locals treated you like a walking ATM, the Colombian friendliness was confusing at the beginning, however with all genuity was purely that fact that they were happy to see tourists in their country. We met a great deal of pilots, including the only female helicopter pilot and one unnamed and undescribed who flew paramilitaries in and out of the battle zones. Again which group remains a mystery. For Colombians everything they have is the best. This “we have the best…” statement we found highly amusing. The statement usually along the lines of, “well, we have the best tasting coffee, the best looking women, the best football and well, quite frankly the best drugs in the world. I know these guerrillas are a pain and cause alot of problems, but they are technically the best rebels in the world”.
  • Ecuador stood out for further hospitality given by the cousins of my friend Marissa’s, who now lives in Reading . It was mainly Ana who took care of us and showed us around the city. Ana’s joke about the statue of the Virgin high above Quito and it being “the only virgin in Quito”, was quite funny too. Great standing on the equator too.
  • We loved the white water rafting in Baños and watching Tim fall out of the raft and start floating off towards Brasil was amusing. It was a pity I didn’t get any pictures, but then I couldn’t have taken the camera along without getting it soaked.
  • Chile, well, was just a downer. Couldn’t get to grips with it, and the people had the “best attitude” similar to Colombians but it wasn’t deserved. Expensive and the only thing I liked was the Santiago architecture. Couldn’t wait to leave and get to Argentina.
  • Arriving in Mendoza felt like a breath of fresh air. Was excited to see Franco and Elisa again. Got a brilliant welcome from them and their families, who were so sweet to us, plus Lucy who was tagging along with us too. Loved Mendoza and it’s airy streets even though the weather was oppresively humid. It was notably the most southerly point of the Inca dynasty’s reach. Had our first Argentinian “parrilla” or BBQ, in San Rafael and had a great time. It was sad to leave Franco and Elisa and wished I could have stayed longer.
  • Barriloche will be remembered for the kayaking trip that I totally enjoyed to the full. Our guide and his wife made the experience completely brilliant for us. Food was pretty good there too and the scenery amazing. Felt just like being in Switzerland or Bavaria.
  • The Perito Moreno Glacier was the second natural wonder that took my breath away. The blue ice, the massive walls of ice that slowly creep and groan before spectacularly crashing into the lake.
  • Seeing penguins lived and in the flesh near Ushuaia and reaching the “end of the world”. No comedy glasses or funny hats as desired, but a great experience.
  • The Iguazu Falls or “Cataratas Iguazu” was the final natural wonder. I so nearly missed it and so glad I didn’t. An amazing day, with an amazing boat ride under the falls.
  • The beautiful city of Buenos Aires. I have fallen in love with it and have vowed to return. Argentina in general is stunning. I love the people, the cities and the vastly different types of landscape you can see there.

I had a wonderful trip and amazingly for me, stayed out of trouble on the whole, didn’t get robbed, assaulted, arrested or set up on drugs scams. I went out not knowing what to expect and got everything I could have wished for and more. I loved that I could speak Spanish and interact with the locals by the end, although often parrying the question, “how much do people earn in the UK”, with the answer, “a pack of cigarettes costs $8.70 USD, a litre of petrol costs $7 USD and the average house price in London is $1.8 million USD”!
I am so glad I made the decision to go, and consider the money well spent. If you have the opportunity to go to South America then do. There is so much to see and to do. It is truely beautiful and so are its varied peoples. I will treasure those people I have met, the things I have seen and hope to always stay close friends with Tim who was the best travelling companion for 4 months (snoring excluded). I have been lucky enough to have found the most amazing woman, which has now inspired me to go and learn German and to be with her!

Arriving back in the UK via Madrid

Got back late Friday night to the UK. Had a bumpy old landing into Madrid first and a long flight that was quite draining, then jumped onto the late flight to London. I got the RailAir bus to Reading where my sister picked me up and we were back in Wales late that night. Was great to see the folks!

Listening to people talking is weird, as I now understand everything that I hear as it is in English rather than Spanish. Travelling my brain had learn to switch off when more than one conversation was going on as it was too hard to listen, but back here I can understand all the different conversation and it is weird as I can’t shut it out. It nearly drove me mad on the plane to Heathrow! It seems like the weather is pretty good in the UK too – a nice 19 degrees when I landed. Don’t know what you have all been fussing about with this “bad winter”!

I’m going to potter around down here in Wales for a week or so and then head out to Germany. Hoping to get back in the swing of work on my return from Germany.

Loved Buenos Aires

Well, first a quick update on Buenos Aires. It is a great vibrant city, with a variety to see and do, with great shopping and is a city I will have to revisit as soon as is possible.

The main centre for shopping is Av. Florida or Av. Santa Fe. All the shops you could possibly want, all at great prices because of the currency exchnage rates to the pound. I enjoyed a few days wondering around buying things to bring home!

Also spent some time in Palermo, the Covent Garden of BA, plus stayed in San Telmo, a bit more Bohemian and more like Camden in London.

Watched spontaneous tango demonstrations in the street and enjoyed some great food. Missed out on many of the museums and sights due to lack of time, plus didn’t get to go and see a football match, but I guess it just gives me more excuses to return!

View the photos of street tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina.