Category Archives: Travel

Nicaragua: Volcanoes, Lakes and Drunken Sundays

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Nicaragua was my favourite place, and I can’t really put my finger on why. There was something about the feel of the country, the culture and the colours and the friendliness. Bus boys who didn’t speak a word of English but would try so hard to communicate, laughing and lifting us with our luggage onto old school American ‘chicken buses’. And of course the beautiful landscapes.

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We didn’t visit many cities in Central America, but I’m so glad we chose Granada. It’s a small colonial city, very pretty and colourful with lots of impressive buildings and hidden gems. I could have stayed there longer than two nights, especially because we spent most of our one day taking a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo! This had been highly recommended and for good reason, it’s a beautiful lake with lots of surrounding resorts where you can spend a day relaxing. We paid $5 at San Simian Eco Resort for access to their lounge chairs and facilities, including kayaks and tubes. We took some tubes out to a little platform in the lake and had a great sunbathing sesh. Shortly after our return to mainland, a model and her crew turned up and started shooting yoga photos in the lake which was mildly amusing people watching as she struggled to balance on the floor of rocks. Don’t blame her. The rest of the afternoon was so chilled out, what we needed after lots of travelling, pure bliss!

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Granada had a very zen vibe, so no surprise that lots of yoga was offered there. I squeezed in an 8am slot at Pure Gym which was a tropical paradise and one of the best yoga sessions I’ve done – the teacher even came around during our shavasana and gave us lavender head massages! Jack wasn’t so into the yoga but he met me for breakfast at The Garden Cafe, another beautifully zen location with yummy smoothies. The other foods we sampled weren’t quite so successful as we stuck to the touristy and overpriced La Calzada, but we did have another great breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House. And although nothing will ever beat the coffee in Monteverde, the Nicaraguan coffee I sampled was close!

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From Granada we took a boat to the volcanic island of Ometepe. The island looks amazing as you approach it across the lake, with the twin volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas looming ahead. We got a taxi to our hotel in Merida with an Irish couple; he dropped us off and told us to walk the rest of the way up the path. 20 minutes later and many near-misses on stumbly rocks we had found our hotel slash farm, Finca Montania Sagrada. The owner was a slightly strange Italian man who had 7 million cats and the cutest newborn puppies, ideal. It was only once we had settled in our hut, the whole island had a power cut and we were about to embark down the treacherous path to seek out dinner in the pitch black, that we realised we might be slightly out of our comfort zone. We found one hotel that seemed vaguely open so we pointed at things on a menu and hoped the extremely unimpressed woman understood. Pasta pesto you rule in all countries.

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We didn’t fancy the volcano hike on our first day so instead we chose to visit the natural springs, Ojo de Agua. We had vague bus instructions and managed to get to the other side of the island, which we thought was a short walk to the springs. One thing about me: maps don’t like me. Definitely not my fault that many times on our travels we ended up walking 20 minutes in the wrong direction. This time my route took us over a stile and through an overgrown plantation, down a muddy path until we emerged at a fence at the back of the springs. As long as we made it to the destination…! The sun hadn’t quite hit the springs yet so they were mightily cool but as soon as it shone through the enclosure of palm trees the pool was a delight. We spent all day just floating in the beautiful water, lazing about and chilling by the edge. After sandwiches at the restaurant we decided to go crazy and purchased rum cocktails in coconuts, a scrummy delight. When in Nicaragua… Apparently we hadn’t learnt our lesson that this island doesn’t do evenings and stayed out far too late eating lasagne by the beach. Almost didn’t make it home but some stilted Spanish got us a man with a car to transport us back, after stopping off to meet all his family members.

The day of Volcan Maderas had arrived, and the look of our fellow guests after their hike did not encourage us. However we ploughed bravely on and followed our guide up the road towards the base of the volcano. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot and we were mainly in shade, but even so, every time our guide said ‘do you need break?’ I was like THANK GOD YES and inhaled a litre of water. This was before we even reached the steep bit. Breathing became something that you had to think about constantly, so much so that I forgot to think about controlling my farts and one slipped out just as Jacks face was in line with my bottom. Soz. It’s one of those situations where life is such a struggle that farting in someones face isn’t a big deal right? No? Okay…

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The path got steeper and steeper so we found walking sticks to assist us, and then it got to the point where we literally had to climb up and over rocks and trees and hold onto branches and pray we didn’t slip. Four hours after we set off, we finally emerged into the crater and oh my was I ready to collapse. Clouds were everywhere and we were all thinking ‘if I don’t get a view and there’s no reward for this torture, then seriously what is life…’ but thankfully they started to thin and we saw the beginnings of a view!

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We stayed up there for a while hoping to see more and luckily everything cleared and we saw some amazing views across the island to Volcan Concepcion, as well as into the crater itself. I would have happily stayed up there all day seeing as my legs were absolutely gone but our guide was all ‘yeah we gotta go back’. Meh. Downhill is always bad on the knees but nothing was going to be as bad as the climb up so I enjoyed it comparatively. Finally we made it back to our hut, having completed probably the hardest thing of my life. Proud. Never again.

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That was enough Ometepe for us so we took the boat the next day to the mainland and got a short taxi ride over to San Juan del Sur, ready for a bit of beach time and the infamous Sunday Funday. HC Liri was one of the nicest hotels we stayed in, big clean rooms, a fantastic pool and a cheeky hammock. We spent our Saturday walking up the beach and through the town markets, and settled at a beach restaurant with fabulous shrimp and happy hour cocktails. The sunset over the beach looked glorious from our little wooden balcony!

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Then came the big Sunday… 9:30am may seem an early start to an all day drinking sesh, but apparently that’s the way things go over here. We turned up at Hostel Pachamama to buy our wristbands and then headed out for a line-the-stomach brekkie whilst things were being set up. Barrio Cafe ended up being my favourite place for food, admittedly not a particularly Nicaraguan cuisine, but they had amazing Eggs Royale with fantastic sauteed potatoes, and a nutella mocha frappe. Oh wow. I actually made myself so full that the first few beers back at Pachamama were a bloaty struggle. But powering through…

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The hostel filled up gradually as people got the drinks in and gathered around the pool. I was so surprised to see the crazy amount of travellers after bumping into barely any during our trip so far – Sunday Funday must be where they all combine! I bumped into my friend from uni which was utterly random but great! However this was just the warm up, an announcement was made for the start of the pool crawl and we all stumbled down the road to Hotel Anamar.

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This was the real party – pool by the beach, crazy tunes, and a man with spray tattoos including 1D (Jacks first choice of course). A randomer at the bar introduced us to rum and water with lime and we didn’t look back. At $2 a drink they were most certainly flowing. Just before sunset it was time to move on again so we piled into the back of trucks and took the scenic route up the hill to Naked Tiger hostel. The location was amazing – views over the hills down to the coast, with a pool overlooking it all. We took a dancing break and chilled in the pool for a while, then as the evening truly set in the pool patio became a packed dancefloor with the DJ cracking out bangers like Sandstorm. All of the wet wiggling.

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The final destination of the night (after another bumpy truck ride, this time significantly more drunken) was Arribas bar. I have to say my memories are not crystal clear but from the snapchat story it seems like we had a great time and made many many friends. Jack even found someone to get low with him when T-swizzle came on. Being that drinking had now been occurring for somewhere in the region of 12 hours, most people drifted off as the bar started closing. Not us. We got questionable pizza and sat on the floor of the bar as the lovely Nicaraguan man cleaned around us. Finally we started the walk to our hotel but on the way spied the Crazy Crab which appeared to be a very not closed and exciting bar. I’m surprised we had any money left but we somehow paid the $5 entry fee to this locals club and carried on dancing the night away. By this point Jack had lost his flip flops and was very confused about it but they were a lost cause so he went back to the wiggling. Conclusion: Sunday Funday is the best, and we rule at life. Maybe a smidgen past perfect drunk but most certainly hilarious drunk.

Monday was of course a write off, we went in search of food and ended up with broccoli pizza which was so upsetting I can’t even explain. Pool, sleep and more food in preparation for our departure from San Juan the next day. Nicaragua was equal amounts of fun and ridiculous experiences, plus so many beautiful relaxing moments. We were sad to leave, but ready for our next adventure! (With just a 4 day journey in between…)

Costa Rica: Hiking Waterfalls and Ziplining over Cloud Forests

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We were sad to leave New York after it had given us such a glorious 10 days, but excited for what the next stage of our adventures would bring. Making sure to get what would probably be our last fast food luxuries for a while (McDonalds, Starbucks and Sushi), we had a 9 hour journey ahead, via Texas (why oh why do my routes keep bringing me back here!). An hour before we were scheduled to land, we heard a series of Spanish announcements that sounded rather important, but obviously we had no idea what they meant… It surmised that there was a volcanic ash cloud over San Jose (shock) so we would be landing in Liberia instead. The first challenge of our Central American adventures before we had even landed! Luckily the airline put us up in the Hilton and offered to fly us to San Jose the next day, but as we weren’t planning on staying there we decided to make our own way to our next destination: Montezuma.

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Taking our first journey through a Spanish-speaking country was rather daunting. We found a nice travel agency man who, after we rejected his $250 cab offer, gave us instructions on the bus-bus-ferry-cab journey and didn’t make it sound too difficult. However being that he was the only English-speaking person we encountered, and it was the low season, the rest of the day was a bit of a struggle. We communicated with difficulty with various bus drivers and ended up at the port, however didn’t realise we were a longgg walk from the ferry so missed our time slot and ended up in a sweaty café drinking coke for 3 hours. The nice thing about getting a later ferry was watching the sunset across the sea which was beautiful! Too tired to haggle, we probably paid far more than needed for a cab that almost killed us, but hey ho, we got to our apartment and the lovely Carlos in good time.

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Our first day in Montezuma it rained a lot, stormy and grey, which put a slight downer on the start of our Central American trip as we were worried it might rain the whole time! However we didn’t let it stop us enjoying the beach, sunbathing in the rain and even braving the stormy ocean which in hindsight wasn’t such a great idea – the one time I failed to jump a wave the force of the water held me under for a scary amount of time! Exciting though, obvs. We hid from the rain for a while, watching one tree hill in our room (don’t judge, it’s fabulous), and then ventured out in search of food. The little village of Montezuma literally consists of one main junction with about four restaurants, one bar and a few convenience stores. We discovered a really nice outdoor restaurant for dinner with a beach view, colourful lampshades and a lovely ambience. Bonus: they owned the fattest cat of life that waddled around all night for our entertainment.

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Luckily the sun came out the next day which inspired us to hike it up to Montezuma falls. We started attempting to climb the waterfall ourselves but came across a few barriers i.e. big stretches of water with no obvious way across. So when a nice barefoot Costa Rican man offered to show us the way, we took him up on it. He also said we looked like native Costa Rican’s, lol. Don’t think the tan was that good. Careful stepping didn’t prevent us from getting drenched trainers, but we made it and emerged into the enclosure which looked amazing with the sun on it, and the sound from the falls echoing all around. Our waterfall expert man took some photos before departing, and we had a dip in the freezing (and very rocky) water! It was a lovely afternoon in the sun and a worthy respite after our hike up. There were more falls we could have climbed to, but we decided one was enough for the day..!

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Our next (and last) stop in Costa Rica was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The town of Monteverde felt quite mystical up in the foggy damp forest area, and slightly eerie given that it was a tourist location at a non-touristy time! The one place that was still busy most of the time was the famous ‘Treehouse‘ restaurant. It’s built around a massive tree which has a great effect, and lovely decor! I decided I wanted to open one in the UK then realised it wouldn’t be quite as practical… I actually really enjoyed exploring the little town, I had the best coffee of my travels in ‘Beso Espresso‘, and we found the ‘Monteverde Beer House’ which surprisingly served amazing Mediterranean food! Jack enjoyed a Shakshuka, which was a welcome break from the usual burger, and I had a yummy falafel wrap with the best homemade chips.

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One of my favourite experiences of the whole trip was the canopy tour we did in Monteverde. We did ours with 100% Aventura because it seemed the best value for money; we got 12 zip lines across the cloud forest including the longest zip line in Latin America, a rappel, and a (mightily scary!) tarzan swing to top it all off. Most of the zip lines were quite short, but they got longer in the lead up to the epic one which was actually a superman zip line.

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It was such an amazing experience, felt like flying across endless miles of green forest without any inkling of where you were going to land! I had a minor freak out half way as one of my strings was flapping about and I thought it had come undone so I was all ‘i’m going to die, i’m going to fall, oh my god, at least this is a good way to go’ and trying to keep as still as possible, as if that was going to help. When I hadn’t fallen after 5 seconds I assumed it was safe and went back to enjoying the views.

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That experience would have been an amazing time for a GoPro but sadly we didn’t have one! Oh well, just means we’ll have to go back… I’m ashamed to say that I almost didn’t do the tarzan swing. I was giving all the excuses about back worries but really I was just being a pussy about jumping into nothingness. However I forced myself to do it and it was so great! Scary freefall but after you’ve been caught the swinging is great fun and hilarious! Jack even squealed when he did it, manly…

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The other activity we did in Monteverde was the hanging bridges. This was more of a self-led tour, you were given a map of the route and just followed it round across all the different bridges. It was a very nature-filled experience, although we were sad not to spy many animals or insects! We definitely heard them though… Some bridges were really long which was amazing because you could see so much of the forest beneath, plus the different levels of trees and waterfalls!

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Although we had some really fantastic experiences in Costa Rica, it wasn’t our favourite place. The tourism industry has definitely had an impact on the culture and feel of the country, and because of the low season the areas that catered to tourists weren’t fully functional which didn’t feel very lively! However Costa Rica definitely has some beautiful national parks and beaches, and I’m sad we didn’t get to explore more of them!

New York, New York

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My time in New York was one of my favourite parts of the trip, partly because it was the first time I’d seen Jack in 3 months, but also just because New York is fabulous. Okay, so we stayed in a dodgy area in Harlem where people ate rice out of woks on the pavement and someone found a rats head in their Popeyes chicken, but hey it was a 20 minute subway ride to central NYC and we didn’t have any bad experiences there. Apart from that time we thought a crazy man with a bong was going to kill us on the train. Harlem-based drama aside, I absolutely loved the feel of New York. The impression you get of NYC is busy and fast-paced so I was expecting it to be similar to London, but it differed in a lot of ways. The trains weren’t as overcrowded, the streets were wider which made the city feel less claustrophobic, and the people were friendly. Our first few days were disgustingly humid which meant we had to return to our apartment (with limited air-con) twice a day to shower and change, but after that it cooled down to a lovely September temperature.

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Obviously one of the best things about NYC is the abundance of food and drinks available. We had quite a variety of food, from fast food like the Shake Shack to rustic meals in Little Italy to $1 pizza slices (most days for dinner, gotta save that dolla). We also had great snacks like Emack & Bolio’s ice cream, Dough’s donuts and Levain cookies. Oh wow all of the foods. You’d think with the wealth of food offered we would try new things all the time, which we did, but I still had to take Jack to good old Denny’s. You can’t beat a $4 breakfast and their yummy frappes.

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One of our greatest food discoveries were garlic knots; obviously we knew they existed but they are everywhere in New York and so great! Our first experience was at Stay Classy, a Will Ferrel themed bar, where a customer brought some in and shared them around. They probably tasted better because they were free, but also covered in cheese and omg soooo good. That bar was great in so many ways, Will Ferrel films playing everywhere, Will Ferrel quotes for cocktails, and a peanut butter chocolate flavoured Guinness that I had in a carbomb. Oh wow. Terrible idea when only eaten garlic knots but I could not say no to that one. The waitress became our best friend as we inhaled Whale’s Vaginas and Whore Islands at the bar until closing time.

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We found a lot of good places simply by exploring different areas within Manhattan. We were drawn to the meatpacking district because of the rooftop bar at Le Bain, but we didn’t stay long as it was ridiculously overpriced and pretentious. We were actually made to give up our seats because we had moved them and ‘it didn’t please the aesthetics’. However, leaving Le Bain led us to the discovery of a fantastic little bar called Gaslight. We bagged a sofa, ordered plentiful wines and garlic knots (obviously), and danced all night long to the great tunes provided by the resident DJ.

Half Paddy’s Day fell whilst we were in New York so we decided to do an Irish pub crawl of sorts, starting at your standard sawdust-on-the-floor pub then moving on to a pub with a live band and enjoying their rendition of Wagon Wheel. We then discovered a three-story bar with horrendous Karaoke in the basement, so moved next door to a small pub where the bartender gave us multiple mysterious shots. Unfortunately on this particular occasion our assumption that trains ran all night appeared to be untrue, so we spent about 3 hours in the subway station (most likely sleeping at some point) before giving up and sitting on the pavement. It took us a ridiculously long time to realise we should just order an uber… must have been perfectly happy on that pavement at 7am. Oh yeah.

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Central Park is obviously a must-see, must-do in New York. We went twice – once for a picnic where we observed a first date which was excellent people watching, and once to cycle around. The lanes are so confusing we ended up cycling in the wrong direction for a significant amount of time, but we saw some lovely views of the lake and got our workout in the humidity!

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We explored Greenwich Village, saw the friends building and had scrummy brunch. We did the standard sightseeing activities and went up the Empire State building and Rockafeller Centre, as well as taking the trip to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We walked around Brooklyn, mainly Williamsburg, and decided it was a great place and we should stay there next time. Sadly we were hungover so didn’t experience the many pubs and bars on offer, but we saw some very cool shops and had a great Thai curry.

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As well as general exploring and a LOT of walking, we did a few activities. One was the sunset river cruise, where we stood on a boat with drinks and music whilst it toured around the harbour offering sunset views of the statue of liberty, Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was such a lovely experience and the music was great, especially when they played ‘New York, New York’ as we went under the Brooklyn Bridge – bit of a movie moment!

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I also wanted to get tickets for us to see a sporting event so had booked basketball tickets a month previously. It wasn’t until later that I realised the game was women’s basketball… Typical Joy error! However it actually turned out to be great, it was cheaper and we still got the experience of a game at Madison Square Garden and all the ridiculous American traditions that brings. The build up to the game was hilarious: flames, disco balls, emotional versions of the national anthem, and multiple entertainment performances. At half time they brought out an over-50s hip hop group that performed a routine that was slightly scarring… Of course we had to get a hot dog and beer (at $12 a beer not sure it was worth it but hey novelty) and we wore our NY Liberty T-shirts home, cos y’know, we’re longstanding fans and all that.

Unfortunately we did experience a newsworthy crisis whilst in New York… The one time we went to Chelsea happened to be about 15 minutes after the bomb went off there. We emerged from the subway to see massive amounts of police, helicopters, all the roads cordoned off and of course crowds everywhere. As we had no WiFi it took us a while to figure out what had happened, and we woke up the next morning to lots of worried messages! If we had left a little bit earlier who knows what would have happened, but luckily we were safe!

Ten days seems like a long time to spend in one place, but New York is so full of things to do and places to explore that I could have spent longer! I want my next visit to coincide with Christmas-time excitement and festive cheer, even if it is freezing!

Travelling Alone: the Highs and the Lows

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When I planned my post-camp travels I originally had a travel buddy, however things changed, and I wound up doing the week and a half trip from Texas to Miami on my lonesome. I’ve travelled alone before in Australia, but this was very different in lots of ways. Australia is designed for backpackers, they are everywhere you go, there are organised ways to meet people and travel with people and everything feels very safe. The US doesn’t have so much of a backpacker culture. I found this out pretty early on during camp when my American colleagues said they didn’t know what a hostel was. Hostels do exist in the US, but they are few and far between, only accessible if properly sought out. They’re also used differently, I met Americans who had just moved and were househunting, I met a few Europeans and a few other post-camp travellers but not many. So not exactly the same carefree traveller lifestyle as Oz.

My first stop after leaving LA was Austin, Texas but I had a night stopover in Houston as I booked my flight at a silly time. Not exactly a great first impression of Texas or a good start to being alone… the hostel literally looked like a crackden, it was falling apart and was eerily empty which was so creepy especially because I had to leave the door open for air con. Naaat a good night. Early morning I was up for my megabus and had to wait an hour in a parking lot filled with druggies and homeless people. Safe to say Houston was not on my list of places to return. I finally made it to Austin, in an actual nice hostel called Firehouse, and took a day trip to Barton Springs. Planned myself a nice day of sunbathing, thought I’d get a selfie in the springs and plop I slipped and fell on my ass, bringing my phone down with me. Down down into that water. When will Joy ever learn to keep hold of phones. That is the million dollar question. So that kind of ruined my day a bit, had to find some rice and go phoneless whilst I prayed to the phone gods to save my trusty Samsung.

Being alone with no phone is not a fun time. Whilst my phone was ricing I walked down the famous 6th street where lots of live music was happening which made me happy. This is something London lacks, you would never walk down a street and see loads of bars with free entry and great live music. I watched a bit of blues in Friends with a Guinness but there’s only so long you can make one $8 Guinness last, so I was in bed by 10. The next day I went in search of something to entertain me and fill the phone void, and I found a cat colouring in book. That’s right. I ate tinned lasagne for dinner, but I splashed $20 on colouring in. Priorities. Trust, it came in useful during later mishaps…

That evening was my overnight bus to New Orleans, still with phone in rice so feeling fairly vulnerable. The first leg was fine but then we stopped off at – guess, only my favourite place – Houston. Midnight in a dodgy bus station in Houston, for reals not my idea of a fun time. I was on edge constantly, hyper aware that I stood out like a sore thumb as probably the only white young woman there, obviously foreign. Back on the bus some man decided it was a great idea to talk to me and warn me about New Orleans nightlife. I lied and said I was meeting friends and he was all ‘oh good, just stick with them and you’ll be fine’. Great. As the sun came up I began to feel vaguely sane again (what is it about the dark that makes everything more scary and daunting), and arrived at my New Orleans India House hostel so early that all my roommates were still asleep.

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Too wired to sleep, I jumped on a streetcar and explored the French Quarter. I got a nice coffee, found an amazing jazz band playing on the street (living up to expectations) and lay in the park doing some colouring in. I then decided the time had come to buy a phone. Jack was bringing me one to New York but I could not wait that long. For safety reasons, obvs. Being reunited with communication was a beautiful moment ❤ I may have spent $50 on a phone but I was still such a cheapskate that I hung around outside Starbucks to steal their wifi rather than buy something. Wifi life, serious.

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New Orleans ended up being one of my favourite places in the US. At night I went in search of Jazz and I found many many jazz bars playing beautiful music. I watched a nice lady sing smooth songs at The Spotted Cat and I drank a smooth budweiser. Get me all American and shiz. New Orleans is also famous for seafood so I sampled a shrimp gumbo and it was fantabulous. One of my best moments was at the famous Cafe du Monde where I was served a mountain of beignets (French doughnuts) with a mountain of icing sugar on top, and I ate them all in my tummy. That plus superb coffee = best breakfast. In general New Orleans just had a really good vibe, cool but not hipster, southern but welcoming, creative and colourful with character. But still I didn’t feel that I could experience it properly on my own. I saw great restaurants and fun bars and pretty lookouts but I just wished someone was there to see it with me!

I had a similar feeling in Miami, once I got there. The night of my flight was also the aftermath of the hurricane so I got cancelled on, and not wanting to part with more money, I decided to wait out the 14 hours in the airport. This was where the cat colouring in book came in really useful… I sat outside Dunkin Donuts and coloured my life away until some woman was like ‘wow, you’re really working hard on that, keep up the good work’. I was like do you think colouring in is my job..? I spent a hilarious hour on the phone to Jack and Ryan drunk in Ireland trying to translate their mess into actual language which passed the time. Finally I got my butt on a plane and made it to Miami, the last stop before the big NYC.

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I stayed in South Beach at a fairly nice hostel called Beds ‘n’ Drinks. I guess pretty much everyone goes to Miami for the nightlife but with me being friendless and penniless (okay not penniless but saving for adventures to come), I decided to stay in my little area rather than brave the big bad city alone. The heat in Miami was unreal, two hours on the beach and I felt like the sun had lobstered me already. I alternated between sunbathing, exploring botanical gardens, writing in cafes (yeah I’m one of those), and window shopping. And when I ran out of things to do I went back to my hostel and ate some super noodles in bed. Oh that high life.

I did come across one of my favourite quotes of all time on the side of a Miami hotel: “Everything in the universe has rhythm, everything dances.” I settled into a bit of a groove being alone in Miami, it wasn’t exactly fun but I made the best of it and went for long walks on the beach and dinners in the square (with my trusty colouring in book, of course). Miami was cool, but I still had the feeling that I wasn’t doing it properly. It was like I was looking at all these places through a looking glass, thinking, this would be a really cool place to come. And then thinking BUT I’M HERE. I just couldn’t really experience or enjoy the places in the way I wanted to. It just goes to show (cheesy line coming up) that a place is just a place, and it’s the people you’re with that make it a destination. Good job next up on my list was NEW YORK BABY and being reunited with Jack..!

Californ-I-A Road Trippin’

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Camp was over and done with, and the moment we had been waiting for had finally come. Our all-american road trip to some of the greatest cities and natural wonders the US has to offer. As there were 5 of us, a Mustang was off the cards, but a 4×4 was next preference and did the job nicely.

First stop was San Francisco, with a 7 hour drive up the coast from LA. We had been told that the California coastal road was so slow it would take us 6 extra hours so we sacked that off, but still got some lovely coastal views! We made one stop at the lovely little town of Danish-inspired Solvang. It looked just like you would expect an American interpretation of a European town to look. Pancakes and omelettes on the patio of an Olde-styley restaurant, a few snaps of some pretty buildings, and we were off.

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San Francisco reminded me of Bristol on our drive into the city, colourful wonky houses and lovely views. We had found some cheap central accommodation which obviously turned out to be dodgy as hell, but it did the job. Starving, we explored Chinatown and found a nice restaurant with extra large portions of sweet and sour. My friends from home were in San Fran for a one night crossover so we headed out to a local sports bar for a few bevvies of very strong measure. We were tempted to go out but they had a 5am flight and the drive had tired us out so we decided to save it for the next day!

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The most important activity on our agenda was planned for the following day: cycling the Golden Gate Bridge. After coffee and a pastry we wandered the harbour taking in the views of Alcatraz and the seals, and then made our way to a bike rental shop. I was the only loser who wanted a helmet. Soz guys for not wanting to die, I look cool alright. Now I hadn’t cycled in a while but I thought I would be alright… turns out San Francisco has many many hills of deathly nature. By the time we made it to the bridge my legs were already dead! However the views from the bridge made everything worth it, the breeze as we cycled across felt amazing, it was beautiful! I obviously almost crashed many times because I was too focused on staring at the views instead of at the people in front of me. I never realised how long the bridge is, we needed a long break at the other end before we made our way back!

With jelly legs we dropped the bikes off and stopped at the famous Boudin Bakery for a sourdough bread bowl. Omgz so much breads and yummy soups. None of us wanted to move for a while after that day, but we got our predrink on because we had to experience the San Fran nightlife! Turns out that was one we maybe could have passed on… Don’t get me wrong we had a hilarious night, but Mondays in San Francisco are like Christmas holidays in student towns. Even our taxi driver couldn’t recommend anywhere that might be busy. We tried a few bars, attempted to request songs that made DJs hate us, and actually got very drunk ending with me trying to feed Dan dollar dollar bills and eating tin foil. “Don’t listen to the plate, listen to the burrito” – Joy’s drunk mantra to live by.

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Our trip took a turn for nature next; we had booked a yurt on the outskirts of Yosemite (which actually turned out to be far less rustic than we thought, plugs and wifi and everything) for one night only to explore the beautiful national park. It was a disgustingly hot day, even hotter in the yurt, so we drove straight out to Yosemite and found a short hike to the falls. In case you hadn’t heard, California is in a long drought, so the falls actually turned out to be a formation of rocks. However the plus side of this meant we could climb up the non-water-falls to the top and get amazing views! (Plus some very instagrammable shots, obvy).

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The best part of this day was when we found a little pool at the top of the rocks, and decided to strip to our underwear and have a swim. It was such fresh cool water, a welcome respite! Of course I then had the whole dungarees with no knickers fiasco to deal with (how does this always happen to me?) but definitely worth it. One mightily annoying thing about Yosemite is the sincere lack of directions on how to get out of the place. Everything is one way so unfortunately we ended up on the complete opposite side of the park to our yurt. This might not seem like such a big deal except that the park is 4 hours across, so we had a veryyyy long drive back. We made the best of it and bought ciders and four locos for the road, blasting out our fantastic road trip playlists and looking forward to leftover sandwiches at the yurt. Oh the luxury traveller life…

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With an 11 hour drive on the cards for the next day, we decided an early morning start would be best. The route to Grand Canyon took us through Yosemite again, and once we had gone past the falls, we came into some of the most amazing surroundings I’ve ever driven through in my life. It was actually surreal, so peaceful driving at 6am with vast mountain faces on either side and openings into beautiful lakes, trees all around, emotional tunes in the background. I felt like I was in one of those car adverts. For reals. The beauty was short lived as we emerged into the neverending desert. This drive was actually fun because it felt like literally driving into nothingness, no cars, no buildings for miles. Some roads were so bumpy it felt like a rollercoaster and we almost did a little poo but then we were back to straight desert plains. Finally we saw the lights of vegas, but sadly this was not our final point, just a Denny’s pitstop and 4 more hours driving to Arizona in stormy rains!

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The only thing that could have made that day more tiring was our hotel having no record of our booking. Oh wait, that happened. We actually found it hilarious because we were so delirious, oh life. Finally they sorted us out and we had the best sleeps. Sadly the weather wasn’t in our favour for the big Grand Canyon trip, which we should have expected after the thunderstorms. No rain thank goodness, but no sun either which meant that the famous red glow the rocks have was not so glowy. However this in no way made the Grand Canyon less epic, it is literally the most vast hole you can ever imagine. Much scary teetering over edges and pretending to fall down. Didn’t die, yay us. With a tight schedule we only had a morning to take in the Canyon but that satisfied us, and then we were off to Vegas!

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Vegas was the pinnacle of our trip as we were reuniting with all our camp buddies. We arrived at the Golden Nugget hotel and prepared for ‘shit shirt’ night. Actually GREAT shirt night. We explored the old strip, where we were staying, before dinner at a fabulous Irish bar (standard). Irish nachos, you da best. We had many car bombs, cocktails by the hotel pool, and then moved on to a club with dutty tunes where we danced out the remainder of our night. The next morning we returned to the scene of the Irish crimes and actually went for more booze and a shepherds pie at 11am. It’s vegas baby. One thing about vegas: it is HOT. Pool all day all day was all our hangovers could deal with, and it was a great day.

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That evening some of us had tickets to see Zedd which was muchly exciting. We took our bottles of vodka to the main strip (travellers on tour in Vegas, what you saying) where we got to see the Bellagio fountain show and I decided my calling in life was to be a fountain show coordinator. Seriously, so cool. Aoife was almost kidnapped by Superman but we rescued her and found some street music that required much booty dancing and creating hilarious videos. On to Zedd which was in a fancy hotel open air pool and bar, so we switched between dancing like maniacs at the front of the crowd and sitting by the pool with our feet dipped. Still raving, of course. We are feet in the water.

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Our final day in Vegas was a lot more chilled as we realised how poor we were (except for one of us who decided to blow $300 in the casinos). Destiny and I had our final Denny’s lava cake date, a very sad time. We went souvenir shopping and observed many crazy naked performers on the strip. One thing we didn’t do was get a Fat Tuesday.. next time! I actually enjoyed Vegas far more than I thought I would, I mean sure it was tacky and crazy but I kind of loved that. We made it an absolutely great time.

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All of that in one week – mental, and probably far more road tripping than normally recommended, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Driving across the vastness of the USA was intense but so much fun, with great company and fantastic tunes. Dan may not have agreed during the times we decided Britney Spears was the way to go, but I’m pretty sure he secretly loved it. We saw some amazing national parks and had crazy fun times and I would do it all again!

Leaving the UK – My 2016 Travel Plans

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So I’m currently on a flight to LA for the beginning of my lil 5-month break from the UK. I started off my trip in typical me fashion, planned the journey to Heathrow then checked the terminal and realised it was actually Gatwick. Good one, Joy. Ever since uni I wanted to do more travelling, and although I’ve had some great holidays and mini travel experiences (looking at you interrail) I haven’t found the time or money for a big trip yet. Then this year I thought, oh wait, I’m 25. I should probably do this thang before I get old and stuff. So here I am, slightly nervous but mostly excited for work and travel and new places and people.
My first stop will be 2 and a half months working at YMCA Camp Oakes, a summer camp for underprivileged kids from different YMCA organisations around California. Presently I don’t know a massive amount about my role at camp, I know that all staff will facilitate 3-6 different activities but I’m yet to hear what mine are. We get a week of training before the kids arrive where I’ll most likely be learning about rock climbing, high ropes, zip line and all those great camp activities. Basically i get to be a big kid for the summer! The camp is up in the mountains near ‘Big Bear City’ – hoping that doesn’t actually mean there will be lots of big bears? No matter I can just do that stick trick from parent trap. Oh wait…

After camp I go straight into an all American road trip. We initially had the grand idea of driving from LA to miami in 2 weeks but then realised that was far too much driving for our liking. So we’ve settled on a western USA road trip up the Californian coast, then to Vegas and the grand canyon. In a convertible Mustang no less. I mean what else?! The plan is to then do a few flights and a few Greyhound buses to see the other American cities of dreams. And then I get 12 days in New York with this one. 12 days!!

It’s long enough that we won’t have to cram all the sights and experiences into a short time, we can spread them out and just chill and live the New York life. New York has been on my list ever since I watched my first episode of friends. Of course I do expect life to be exactly like friends whilst I’m there. And all the cocktails like sex and the city 🍸 I cannot wait to go to proper American diners and eat an unhealthy amount of pancakes and burgers and ice cream and pizza and hello permanent state of food coma. Serious I’m gna come back twice my size cos FOODS.

I’m then getting a cheeky flight to Costa Rica and working my way up to Mexico over a period of 5 weeks.  I haven’t planned this section of my travels in much detail because I want to just go with the flow and get recommendations from people and take it as it comes. I don’t expect to do all the countries in Central America in that time because they  would be very fleeting visits! I’m prioritising Nicaragua because I’ve been intrigued by the culture ever since working at Raleigh, and Belize because it just looks lush. Very excited to be ending in Mexico, again because food is very high on my list and YUM all of the burritos and quesadillas and wrap based foods. Also pinterest was showing me some amazing places in Mexico so that please thanks.

As exciting as all these plans are, I am sad to miss the UK summer. Which sounds ridiculous because I’m going to have summer everywhere, but summer and Christmas are the times where I feel the UK is at its best so it’s a shame to miss it! Obviously I also have a massive case of the fomo for Glastonbury. However I’m sure I will forget all that once I’m out there having the time of my life! See ya on the other side ✌

A Fortnight in Paradise

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People say that Bali is Paradise, and to be honest, it kind of is. Endless beautiful beaches and sunsets, amazing scenery and views, and all the palm trees you could ever hope for. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the holiday (aside from paradise, obvs); I kind of thought we would do some sunbathing and some partying but hadn’t thought beyond that. We actually did next to zero sunbathing (but still managed to get an acceptable tan!). In fact we didn’t do much of the ‘relaxing’ sort of activities you normally associate with holiday. We were too busy doing ALL of the mega fun activities, of which Bali has lots of offer. We started off the trip in a group of 20 people which sounds absolutely massive, but surprisingly we managed to organise ourselves to travel around together and do activities without it being too stressful! A few people left and joined at different points but overall we stayed as a big group, which made nights out extra fun Ok hand sign

I’ll start off with the one place I wouldn’t recommend, Kuta. I had been warned that Kuta was the Australian version of Magaluf and I can definitely see why! Don’t get me wrong we had great fun, but after two nights there I was definitely ready to leave. Apparently in Kuta normal music doesn’t exist, instead the DJs have decided they must remix all songs with dutty beats and the keyboard pew pew pew noises that you use in Year 8 music lessons. It’s quite impossible to have a conversation in any bar because the music is so intense, you just end up blowing your free whistles along with the music because it can’t get much worse. We found one bar that played a few great 90s hip hop tunes, but after searching high and low for anywhere else we could dance not surrounded by skanks, we were defeated. That plus a near-miss mugging situation and we resigned to McDonald’s and takeaway Smirnoff Ice by the pool.

Although the nights in Kuta reminded me of 16 year old party holidays, we had some lovely days out there (or in the surrounding areas). We took a private boat trip around the islands which was lush aside from the fact that I got seasick and ended up puking in the boat sink whilst an Indonesian man massaged my back and head. Slightly surreal experience. Does massage make sick come out? Who knows. We then got to jump out of the boat and do some snorkelling which cured the sickness somewhat. Our first Indonesian meal was the traditional Nasi Goreng, and whilst we waited we had a swim in the restaurant pool – beats card games!

On our second day we walked down the beach to Seminyak which was a really nice area. We spent a glorious afternoon drinking cocktails in an infinity pool at a beach bar called Potato Head, watching the sunset. It was probably one of the most beaut days of the holiday! I hadn’t fully prepared for the day and so was forced to go to dinner knickerless with dungarees which wasn’t the most comfortable situation of life, but we ended up having a great meal with buckets of bintang and fabulous music.

We then moved onto Gili Trawangan, which I think was my favourite place in Bali. After my terrible seasickness I was wary of the boat trip to the island, but it was actually a lovely journey with some beautiful surroundings (which I slept through most of – oops). Some of our friends actually saw dolphins! Not jealous at all… Gili T is tiny and yet never fails to entertain. It’s uber chilled and fabulously fun at the same time, full of beautiful beach views and yummy restaurants. We stayed in a hotel called Tir na Nog which had a great bar and is located just at the end of the main strip of bars and shops before the road gets more beachy.

Gili is so small that there are no cars, so on a few occasions we hired bikes and cycled up to a couple of different beach bars to watch the sunset. One day we actually cycled the whole way round the island which was a great experience, even if a few sections of the coastline were rather precarious! The whole thing didn’t take long at all, plus we stopped along the way for many a photo opportunity, stall shopping and a cheeky dip in the sea. Our final destination before we made the full circle was the famous ‘sea swing’ where we waited for sunset and only got the best photo of the holiday. Not bragging, but seriously. There’s a sunset, there’s us in bikinis sitting on swings, there’s the beach, and there’s horses.  Yep, just some casual horses strolling through the sea behind us. I know, we win at life.

Every night on Gili T a different bar hosts “the party” to make it fair, which is great because you get to try different bars and they are always packed! We started most nights at our hotel beach bar, where they often had games out like beer pong, table tennis and battle shots – lethal! Many a drinking game was played and many a drink was downed. Lots of bars do deals on “local” cocktails which always seemed like a great idea at the time, but often ended in questionable drunk choices and disastrous hangovers. Especially when combined with “local” wines. Let’s just say “local” alcohol turns me into a crazy person…

We did many other activities on Gili T including snorkelling (where I got so close to a turtle!), banana boating (where my friend fell on my head and we almost lost my sister), yoga (which was hotter than bikram yoga, so much sweats), and lots of the group went diving (I took a break instead and went strolling along the beach). The sea was the kind of sea where it doesn’t actually get deep for about 800 years which is great because you can just chill in the shallow waters. I obviously spent a lot of the holiday being sunburnt (who would have thought you need to suncream your back when you go snorkeling…) so tried to find shade wherever possible, including a random tree in the middle of the sea. Needs must!

The last place on our trip was Ubud, which I was really looking forward to because everyone had told me it was basically a hippy place and was very ‘me’. Our hotel was in the middle of nowhere but was the epitome of what I imagined from Ubud, lots of green, wooden huts, and a beaut swimming pool. There was so much to do in Ubud that we struggled to fit everything into our time there. We organised rafting for one of our first days which ended up being one of my favourite days – we paid about £12 each and got a taxi ride to the river, 3 hours of rafting and lunch afterwards! Our guides were hilarious, constantly making jokes and teasing us whilst having competitions with the other rafting companies we went past on our way down. The best part of rafting was the absolutely phenomenal scenery surrounding the river – on all sides there was just endless greenery going up to the sky. We even went past some rock murals that told a ‘romeo and juliet’ type story. Luckily I didn’t end up falling out of the raft but there were some close calls!

The other main activity we did was the trek up Mount Batur. We left our hotel at 2am (wait whaaaat) and drove to the starting point where we were given fried bananas, bread and hard boiled eggs.. great combination. We then started the climb up, with the aim of reaching the top in time for sunrise. Stupidly I only had converse with me which made the climb considerably less enjoyable than it might have been otherwise, but I still managed with the help of some motivational motown. The last stretch was the hardest but so worth it once we got there! The views of the mountains were incredible and it was so surreal to see the bed of clouds below us. Unfortunately the weather was against us so by the time the sun was actually rising it was mostly hidden behind a cloud, but we still managed to get some amazing pics (ignoring the fact that we all looked sweaty and knackered!).

If only we could have teleported down at that point, but alas no. The ‘walk’ down the first part was more of a slip-slide action. Seriously, I felt like I was skiing in my converse. Our sweet 16 year old guide must have sensed I was failing at life because she ended up holding my hand down most of the troublesome bits. Converse = no. Numb toes forever. Halfway down we came across a group of baby monkeys that were playfighting with each other which was the absolute cutest! Finally at the bottom we thought our adventure was over, but no. Our taxi driver decided that instead of sleep we needed coffee. He took us to a coffee plantation and we ended up on a tour. It was actually great, we learnt about the luwak coffee that’s made from cats pooping put coffee beans and tasted many many yummy coffee flavours. However this meant that we got back in the taxi high on coffee and delirious from lack of sleep which resulted in a rather drunk type feeling. All the funs.

Ubud centre itself was great once you knew your way around, the majority of streets were all markets so we spent a lot of time and moneys buying souvenirs and bartering (which I was poor at, obviously. Too awks). I was in my element as there were so many options to feed my elephant obsession, I ended up purchasing an elephant dress, top, trousers and keyrings. Other patterns exist? Wait what? We also had some lovely meals in Ubud, some of which were vegan and yum. Sadly I didn’t have time to do yoga but we still went to the famous yoga barn which was beaut and served up a great vegan lasagne Face savouring delicious foodWe also found a yum restaurant where I had seafood and avocado curry – so didn’t know this was a thing, but I will now definitely be making it at home.

Our last day was spent not in Ubud but actually back near to Kuta at a water park, supposedly the third best in the world! Water parks are always great fun and this one didn’t disappoint, we spent the day flitting between the float rides and the lazy river and then finally plucking up the courage to go on the drop chute – it doesn’t help when all of the boys stand outside your glass box jeering you on whilst you wait for the floor to fall away. Not fun. But also so much fun. Take me back please. That night we had our one and only ‘night out’ in Ubud – there’s not much in the way of bars but we found a saloon themed place with pool tables and table tennis that kept us entertained for the evening. They even let us climb up ladders and sign our country flags Thumbs up signI would like to say that our night ended there and we went home to bed, but instead we decided to go back to a friends hotel for pizza.. great idea at the time, not so great when you realise Ubud has ZERO taxis at 5am. We wandered the streets for a while hoping one would miraculously turn up but to no avail, so we finally admitted defeat and walked uphill to our hotel. Not ideal when the legs are still aching from doing a trek in converse. Bed was the best thing ever that night…

All in all Bali was the most beautiful holiday spent with some amazing people and I would go back in a heartbeat.