The Amazon and Back Again

As I sit on this extra-long plane ride home from Dallas, (thanks Air Force One) I have decided to finally finish writing about my trip to Peru. I left off returning home from Machu Picchu tired and excited. I had a free day before I had to go back to school and then that night I would take the bus to Puerto Maldonado (Peruvian Amazon). I did most of my packing before school, but it didn’t even dawn on me that I was supposed to check out of my room and remove my belongings since I wouldn’t be sleeping there. I ended up having to pay for the extra night, but luckily it wasn’t expensive. My silly mistake. I grabbed my bags and took a cab to the bus stop. The bus we were on was pretty fancy in my opinion, and I had a killer seat. I sat on the top level, right up front. It was a single seat with no one behind me. The closest people were across the aisle. They had free movies, and I was getting into my book. It was an overnight bus, meaning I left at 9pm and was arriving at 7am, so I knew sleep was crucial. In between cat naps I would look out the window and watch the rain fall and the scenery change. I was going from 11,000 feet high in the Andes to Sea Level in the jungle. I could see the condensation on the bus windows and feel the humidity. I finally dozed off for quite some time only to be awoken by the bus making a sudden stop and people getting on board. It was the Peruvian Military, and when they came on I could vaguely understand they were asking for passports. I handed the man my passport, he looked at it, looked at me and then returned it. He did the same to my neighbors across the aisle and then asked me for mine again. I assumed he was looking for my visa slip which I kept in a different location so it didn’t slip out of my passport. Everywhere and everyone in Peru wants to see your passport. I handed it to him a second time, he checked everything out and then returned it back to me. He left the bus with some of the local’s id cards and returned later to hand them back. I guess he was cross checking their names on some database. I found out later that he also took some passports from the lower level off the bus and returned them later. I think I would have been nervous had a scary looking foreign military man that I cannot communicate with took my passport out of my sight. Everything ended up okay. I guess they do random stops to make sure no one on the bus had been reported missing or is on a known list. Safety precautions. I arrived in Puerto Maldonado and boy was it humid. I hadn’t felt that type of humidity in a long time. Luckily I showed up during a “storm” (it was overcast), so I wasn’t getting all the heat. I found the man with the sign waiting for my group and he took us to our destination. We were to hang out at the headquarters of our lodge while we waited for everyone else to arrive before we could take the boat to our lodge. I was definitely tired and ready for a shower. We got a home cooked breakfast from the neighbors who were originally from Morro Bay, California. It was delicious. The boat ride down the Made de Dios River and it was was long. It felt like forever before we reached Planet Amazon. I liked the lodge. I got my own private bungalow (because I was travelling solo), and we had all our meals cooked for us. I was there for two nights and everything was led by a guide.  I thought the main lodge area might have wifi but it did not. I was okay with the idea of being separated from the online world for a while, but I had told a few people I would take to them that night, so I was hoping they wouldn’t worry. We went on guided walks looking at the flora and fauna and keeping an eye out for wild life. We visited a wildlife sanctuary, went Cayman spotting and on a night nature walk. We climbed a tree bridge that gave us an incredible view from the tree top. Since it was overcast the whole time I was there the weather was perfect and I didn’t have a problem with bugs. I had some pretty awesome people in my group, and luckily a few of them were taking the same night bus as I back to Cusco. Because of flights, we had to take the boat back to the main town quite early. Puerto Maldonado is not as big of a tourist town as Cusco, so it was nice getting a different view of Peru. I slept like a baby on the bus ride back, and this time no cops came aboard. The only bummer was we got back at 7am and you can’t check in until after 12, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed some breakfast and explored more around Cusco. This was it for me. I was going home the next morning. I bought any last minute trinkets and headed back to my room. I took a much needed shower and nap. Even though I slept on the bus, there is nothing like sleeping on a non-moving bed. I grabbed one last meal and hung out at the bar in my hostel one last time. I had an excellent time in Cusco. I was a little sad I wasn’t getting to explore more of Peru or South America, but I had been travelling for a long time and was ready to go home.

 

Exploring around Cusco

I had a half day Friday. I left about an hour before my tour, so I had time to grab lunch and visit the ATM. It took me an hour to get home, traffic was horrendous, so I quickly changed and skipped the ATM and lunch. The tour guide was a 1/2 late picking me up so I would have had plenty of time to do the things I skipped. I used the last of my cash to get inside a church. I can go into detail about the Church and its history, but you can also google it. We got into the bus and made our way to some ruins just outside the city. Turns out I needed a lot of cash to buy a tourist ticket. There was no ATM nearby and no one took a card. I was going to have to sit on the bus for the entire tour when the bus driver decided to loan me some money. It was really kind of him. The ruins were beautiful and the history was kind of sad. The Spanish sort of annihilated the Incas and their traditions. It was a long tour with lots of sites to see, but I was also starving, and I started to get really cold. The tour ended, and I paid the bus driver back, got food and prepared for my quad tour in the am. The next day I left before breakfast, so I packed a few snacks. I was on a tour with all Remote Year people. They were friendly enough, but I was definitely the oddball. I was familiar with the quad. Peru is the 3rd country I have gone on a quad ride in. We road around some beautiful scenery. Saw some more ruins and a salt mine. I got extremely dusty, and we were gone all day. So now I had no breakfast or lunch, only my snacks. Overall it was a good day. After we returned from our adventure, the group of us went out to linner, and I made my way back to my place for a much needed shower. On Sunday I went river rafting. The guide retrieved me from my hostel and took me to the bus. We sat on the bus and drove around Cusco for an hour and then started our journey. When we arrived at the rafting spot, the guide told us we would zip line first. A few people didn’t go because they said it didn’t look safe. I thought it has to be safe because the company doesn’t want that reputation. A few people were hooked up wrong, and it wasn’t properly explained to me how to break. Everyone made it across. A different guide explained to me how to break, so the second zip line was a bit more enjoyable. Even though it was shorter. We then geared up for river rafting. I was in the boat where half spoke English and half spoke Spanish. The sun was hiding behind the clouds, but I had a great time. I sat up front and got extremely wet, but it was a blast. After river rafting, we had a delicious lunch and started the journey home. The journey home was awful. We got stuck in traffic like I had never seen, and I was exhausted. We were supposed to be gone for 6 hours and ended up being gone for over 10. And I think almost half of that was spent on the bus. I needed to do laundry before my trek, but that didn’t happen because we got home too late. I still enjoyed myself, but it had been a really long weekend. I spent my nights socializing in the bar in my hostel. I met some really cool people from all over the world, and my friends won the beer pong tournament. Meeting people is probably my favorite part about traveling. It makes me forget how terrible traffic is, or how exhausted I am.

My School

I was up and ready for the taxi at 9am, but this is South America. He arrived at about 9:20, and told me the following days he would probably be there around 9:15. I was told to not bring a lot, so I had change for my bus ride home, my cell phone, and a water bottle. I arrived at the school and was greeted by a male teacher. He did not speak English, and I don’t really speak Spanish. I asked for the name of the principal, but she was not there. He showed me to another administrative type of lady who speaks a tad bit more English. She gave me a tour and then showed me to the Art room where the first male teacher I had met was sitting. He motioned me to sit down, and we had a bit of awkward silence since there is a language barrier. There were a few kids there. Most had some type of a disability,  and none spoke English. He showed me a drawing, and motioned that I copy it. I am a terrible artist, but I did my best. I drew and colored, and then the teacher perfected it. In the end it didn’t look half bad. Eventually the cook showed up, and she started preparing lunch. She didn’t speak any English as well. I believe at this point the main principal had showed up, and she told the cook I was there to help. My first day in the kitchen mostly consisted of peeling and chopping which I am terrible at. I’m used to all my first world kitchen tools, so to take those away from me I am almost useless in the kitchen. I would peel one potato by the time she would peel 5. But I was helping, kind of. As lunch time grew closer, another volunteer showed up. She was fluent in both English and Spanish. I was relieved to have a conversation with someone that didn’t require sign language. We had some downtime before lunch, so I sat in the sun. Mary Ann, the other volunteer, said sometimes she brings a book, because there is often downtime around lunch. I don’t remember exactly what we had for lunch my first day, but I have yet to have a bad meal. After lunch, the 3rd volunteer, Lauri, showed up. I was going to help her teach English in the afternoons. Mary Ann is there a few days a week and she helps with homework. The first day of class was quite interesting. We have two groups. Basically the young kids and the older kids. They knew a little bit of English, but not as much and I thought they would. They were also quite wild. Everyone would talk at once. They were easily distracted. They constantly kept coming and going out of the room. It made for an exhausting first day. Luckily Larui was taking to same bus as me home. Only difference is she got off earlier than I. The bus turned out to be the easiest part of my day. No issues getting on, with the ride, or getting off. The second day of school was very similar. I did some painting in the art room in the morning, helped out in the kitchen before lunch. I brought a book, so I sat in the sun and read a bit until it was time to teach the kids after lunch. The kids were still rambunctious. They would slide on the floor, the older ones would play on their phones, and they loved to write on the dry erase board. Some kids were better at English than others, they all seemed interested in learning, but some were more easily distracted than others. I would essentially be at school from 9-6 everyday. So when I got home from school, I would eat, relax for a bit, and then go to bed. Outside of school I would either hang out at an Irish Pub or my hostel. On Cinco de Mayo, I went to the only Mexican restaurant in central Cusco, along with every other American. I kept wishing everyone a Happy Cinco De Mayo, and expressing my excitement for tacos and margaritas, and everyone thought I was a weirdo. Except all the Americans at the restaurant. They knew what it was about. Turns out they was a group of about 75 all travelling together on a Remote Year. I don’t feel like explaining what that means. You can ask me privately if you are interested in learning about it. Thursday was probably the best day for the kids. They were calm, and active, and you could tell they were really learning. It was a beautiful moment as a teacher. That Thursday morning when I showed up, I didn’t see anyone. No teachers, just two kids. I think an administrator was upstairs. I sat in the sun and read. I was reading a really good book so I didn’t mind. Friday was a half day for me. I was only at the school for a few hours. I didn’t even finish helping with lunch. I was going on a city tour which is why I left early. I’ll explain my weekend in a different post. Monday I returned to school, as I did on Tuesday. I was only working two days that week because I was leaving for Machu Picchu on Wednesday. I had a lot to do before my trek. It was kind of a sad moment because that Tuesday was my last day volunteering with both Mary Ann and Lauri. We had a mini picture day before class. The younger kids were all about taking pictures, but only one girl from the older group would take a picture, and she was all about the selfie. I have one more day of volunteering, and that is Monday, or tomorrow. I will have one familiar volunteer, John, and one new one. The new one is replacing Larui, and John rotates days with Mary Ann. I have enjoyed my volunteering experience. Everyone was really friendly. The kids might be wild, but they have a good heart. I will miss everyone.

(Trying to) Stay Healthy While on Holiday

I have read plenty of articles on how to stay in shape while travelling. They are great articles, and I tend to follow their advice. But staying in shape while on holiday is not as easy as you think. Sacrifices must be made. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen into sacrificing my precious sleep or my time at the pub. Some healthy habits are easier to maintain depending on where you have chosen to holiday, or the time of year. Others healthy habits seem downright impossible. I would like to share some ways to keep fit when you are away from home, while being realistic. Because I feel your pain. Or I may be trying to come up with excuses for why I returned with a few extra pounds.

YouTube

YouTube videos are great! There is a workout for everything. They are fast, heart pumping, and don’t require any equipment or much room. All you need is an internet connection. Some problems I faced was space. Either my hotel room was too small, or I didn’t feel like working out in the middle of my dorm room. Downward Dog when your new, opposite sex, attractive dorm mate walks in could be awkward. Or it could work in your favor. Wink Wink. Then there is that pesky internet connection. In some countries wi-fi isn’t as readily available as you might think, and the speed isn’t up to par with streaming. All in all, when I had my own room, plenty of space and valid internet I usually did a workout video. Unless I was hung over.

Some of my favorite leading ladies on YouTube include: Rebecca Louise, Jessica Smith and Zuzka Light.

Running

For a high intensity workout, running suited me best. The weather had to be quite poor for me to vacate a run. My main problem was daylight. Especially when traveling during the winter, when daylight is limited. After filling my day up with various sights, museums and churches that all close at 5. It left little time for a run, especially when it became dark at 5. I’m not a fan of night running in a foreign country for safety reasons. So I tried to incorporate running into my sightseeing schedule. Whether it was going for a run through Central Park on my way to the Natural History Museum, or running through Hyde Park to see Buckingham Palace. I’m all sweaty in my selfies, but sacrifices must be made.

If you are into tracking your runs, my favorite methods are the Nike Running App, Runkeeper, or my Garmin Forerunner watch.

 

My “sweaty” seflies

 

Walking

This has to be my number one form of exercise while travelling, and my predominant mode of transportation. I would walk instead of taking public transportation. I figured if I walked so much during the day, then I deserved that extra pint with dinner, or butter croissant for breakfast. My only complaint about walking is the weather. While out and about I have been caught in the snow and in numerous rain storms.  I also want to lump hiking into this category. This is probably my favorite form of exercise while traveling. You are among nature and experiencing raw beauty at its finest. If you are at a destination where hiking is a part of your daily routine, will I fit in your suitcase on your next trip?

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Walking with Sandy in South Africa

 

Eat your fruit and vegetables

Pretty sure all the nutrition experts say eating right prevails over exercise in terms of which is more effective.  It’s probably one of the hardest habits to maintain while travelling because you are always on the go, and possibly always eating out. I want you to enjoy your holiday. So please don’t count calories. Instead enjoy everything in moderation, and eat some fruit and vegetables. You can grab an apple at the local supermarket, or maybe even farmers market. And get the side salad with dinner. If you have a kitchen available, cook when you can.

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One of numerous consumed gelatos in Italy

 

Health apps

I decided to separate this from YouTube, because a lot of the workout videos you can download prior and don’t need internet for. I am not a big fan of their instruction, if there is any, but it’s still a workout. You can still run into the same issue of space, but since you are no longer bound to the internet, you can take your workout to a nearby park. Only downside would be weather. It the park is muddy, or it’s raining, your best bet is to head to the nearest pub.

I love the Nike Training club app and Pinterest.

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Canyoning in Wanaka

 

Drop in Classes

If you are on a tight budget, you may not want to fork out the money for that hot yoga class. But studio classes are a great option of meeting new people while getting your workout on. Check your local Groupon; there might be a discount available.

 

Cheers to looking fit and fabulous in all your Instagram photos on your next holiday. 

 

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Trying to look cool in New Zealand

 

 

 

My Hitchhiking Tips

I had been in New Zealand for over a month and had not tried to hitchhike yet. I only had a few weeks left in the country, so I thought if this is something I want to try I better get to it. I was heading to Hokitika, and had read all about the Hokitika Gorge in my Lonely Planet book. It was definitely a place I wanted to visit. My only problem was I had no car, and the gorge was about 35km (22 miles) one way from my hostel. It was my chance to shine and hitchhike for the first time. I succeeded. I even hitchhiked again in Wanaka when I wanted to hike Roy’s Peak. My personal experiences are documented in my blog which you are welcome to read. But now as an expert hitchhiker, I would like to share my tips to make your hitchhiking experience a smooth one.

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The Hokitika sign at sunset 

 

  1. Have a plan. Whether it’s a backup plan, like if no one picks you up how will you get to your destination? How long are you willing to wait for someone to pick you up? And if you are walking with your thumb out, remember in the event you don’t get picked up you will have to walk back. So don’t walk to far away from home. I never knew of someone who didn’t get a ride in New Zealand. The kiwis and their tourists are some of the friendliest people I know. But I would like this guide to be a universal one you can use all over the world.

 

  1. Pick a bad ass place to go. It just makes everything that much more exciting. You are headed to some awesome, one of a kind location, and getting a ride from a total stranger. It’s exhilarating, and makes for a hell of a story. As someone who travelled exclusively by bus, hitchhiking got me to places I would have never been able to see otherwise.
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Swing bridge across the Hokitika Gorge 

 

  1. The thumb or the sign? I would use the sign in the event that from your current location you can get to multiple destinations. This prevents people from pulling over just to find out you aren’t going in the same direction. If you are on the main road, and it only goes to your desired destination then I believe your thumb will work just fine.

 

  1. Walk on the same side of the road as the cars going in your desired direction. I think this is common sense. Also, if you happen to be on a narrow road with little to no pull outs, I think you should stay still at a good pull over point. Maybe stand just before the pull over point (in a safe location obviously), so the driver has time to see you and pull over.

 

  1. Make eye contact. I think this is important because it creates a relationship with the driver before they pull over. They could have thought, “Don’t really want to pick up that hitchhiker.” But then they see you making eye contact with them, and they see your smile, and it could just change their mind. I would walk facing the direction I was headed, and when I would hear a car, I would turn to make eye contact. Sometimes, my one arm got tired, so I would walk backwards.

 

  1. Smile, think positive and have fun. Think about when you are driving down the road and you see someone with their thumb sticking out. Who are you more likely to pick up, someone smiling and happy? Or someone who looks miserable and frowning? You will be surprised how far a simple smile can get you. Also, if you think you are going to fail, you are more likely to fail. So keep sticking your thumb out and know that someone is going to pull over for you. But most importantly have fun. Hopefully no one is in a dire situation, and you are just looking for a new experience to write home about.
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The summit at Roy’s Peak (Wanaka)

 

So get out there. Be safe. And experience something new!

Change for a 20?

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It was March 1st; my last day in Rome, and the weather was beautiful. The sun was out. There was no wind. I wish it had been weather like this my entire trip. Baking in the sun I felt happy. I decided to sleep in as late as possible, and not leave my room until checkout. My flight to London wasn’t until 8:30pm, so I had some time to kill. I had basically seen what I wanted to see. I could have visited a museum, but with the weather so nice I felt guilty about spending it inside. I decided to revisit the places I liked most, and pick a few spots to enjoy the sunshine and read a good book. I decided to get breakfast. Italy was the first place I saw signs that read, “No sitting fee.” You would charge me more to sit in your café? Why would I ever sit there? It might be the cynical American in me speaking, but if you charge me to sit in your café, you can better believe I won’t be tipping, but more likely I won’t be eating there. So in places like that, everyone crowds around the counter and drinks their coffee or eats their biscuit. I was tricked when I ate breakfast. I don’t remember seeing a sign about a sitting fee. The guy asked if I wanted to sit and I said sure. Sure enough when I got up to pay a $2 fee was added to my bill. And I only had a coffee and a croissant. I thought that was a cheeky move. My first stop in the great sunshine was to the colosseum again. I really liked that place. I saw the queue to get in, and was glad I didn’t have to wait in it. Rome did seem a bit more crowded, and I’m sure it was because of the abundance of sunshine. I walked around and took more pictures. You know, typical tourist things. Then I made my way up the main road, past the Roman Forum, and to Palazzo Valentini (which was that large museum I was describing in my previous blog). I then went to the Campidoglio, and just chilled for a bit. I could sit on the wall and gaze at the ruins below. People watch. I could have read my book, but decided not to. It had actually been a few hours since I left my room and decided it was time to figure out lunch. There was an outdoor market plaza place I had gone to everyday and I really wanted to get some food there. I hate it though, when I am looking at a menu and some guy comes up to me and says “come to my restaurant”. “Come follow me”. I really don’t like being told what to do. And I like to make my own decisions. So I went into the restaurant next to his. I went with the homemade pasta fettuccine alfredo. And it was good. Not quite like the raviolis I had in Florence, but still good. Better than the tortellinis I had which I’m pretty sure came from the same package that I buy at the grocery store. After my pasta, it was time for one last gelato. There was a plaza of ruins I liked, and decided to sit and eat it there. But before gelato, I went to the ruins and saw more cats. Tons of cats this time. And they were lying out in the sun all over the ruins. I was really confused why there were so many cats. I pet about 3 cats before I saw the sign that said “Cat Sanctuary.” It all made sense. I went in and checked it out. There were cats everywhere. But at the sanctuary they feed them, and take care of them. Make sure they aren’t sick or and that they can’t make more cats. Some cats were disabled and had to be kept in a special room. All the cats were friendly. So after the cat sanctuary, I went and got my gelato, and came back to the ruins to eat it. I had invented a cool game of I spy a Kitty. And you could really find kitties hidden all over the ruins. My first night in Rome, I stayed in a different place than where I had been staying recently. I also left my book there. They had it. I just needed to go get it. My time in Rome was coming to an end, so I decided to go and retrieve my book. It ended up being quite a walk. And I was sweating by the time I got there. And when I looked at the time, I felt like I was running out of time. I needed to collect my book, walk back to my new place, collect my bag, walk to the train station, take the train to the airport, check in, and then relax. And that is what I did. All that walking in the Italian sun made me sweat a little. Opps. But everything worked out. I was on an empty airplane headed back to London for the last time. It was after 10pm when we landed. So it was after 11pm in Italy. I took the train, and decided I could walk from the station to my hotel. It was maybe a 15 minute walk. The Paddington Station was confusing to get out of for someone looking to walk. I ended in a plaza type thing, and decided to follow this large group of people. Well they were headed to their hotel which lead to nowhere. So I had to pull out a map and figure out where I was. The hotel clerk gave me some direction which was nice. I finally found the main road after wondering around aimlessly for 15-20 minutes. So my 15 minute walk turned into a 40 minute walk. All while lugging my suitcase in the dark through London. The area I was in seemed pretty empty to, so I kept looking over my shoulder just in case. Really I had been walking since 11am in Rome, and it was now almost midnight in London and I was still walking. Once I got on the main road I could sort of tell where I was. And I was headed in a direction I was familiar with, so I wasn’t worried. I finally made it to the hotel at midnight. Checked in and went to sleep. I was going to see the Lion King play the following day, and my friend from America was coming to meet me. It was going to be another long day. The play was at 2, and I didn’t get out of bed until almost 11. It poured rain all morning, and I had experienced enough of that in Italy. The play was amazing. I loved the songs and the visuals. I could totally be a play goer if they didn’t cost an arm and a leg. After the play, I decided to hang out in the Covent Garden area and wait for my friend. She was scheduled to land around 7:30. I found a neat bar that sold 3 pound Stellas. I hung there until about 8, and decided to head to the hotel and wait for Wilma. I arrived at 8:30 and no sign of her. 8:30 turned into 9 and still no sign. We had dinner plans. I only ate a small salad after the play to hold me over til dinner. At 9:30 I was getting ready to eat my arm. I finally had to leave a note and go to Tesco’s for something to snack on. At almost 10pm, I was getting ready for bed. I suppose I could have turned the TV on, but didn’t think of that. Instead I sat there in silence, and every time I heard footsteps outside I ran and opened the door to find my neighbors coming and going. And after the third time of that happening, I’m sure my neighbors think I’m a freak. At 10pm I heard a knock. It was Wilma. She was finally here! Turns out the subway I told her to take was on a delay. So she went to a different stop and decided to walk. I think she didn’t realize how massive Hyde Park is, and so she walked for over an hour. She was about to eat her arm off as well so we went down the road for some Indian. The curry was good. Spicy but good. I asked the worker if he could break my 20. He said he didn’t have enough bills to do so. Basically the story is the bill was 22 pounds. Wilma and I each owed 11. We both has 20s, and I had a 10. The worker refused to break a 20. He saw my 20 and 10, and basically said you have enough money to pay for it. Use this. Well that would consist of me paying for the whole meal. Then Wilma asked if he could split the check, and he almost got angry. So I ended up paying for it, and Wilma and I worked it out later. But now looking back, we should have each thrown in a 20. Since the bill was 22 he would basically have to break a 20 anyway. And what type of restaurant doesn’t have change for a 20! My second thought was I should have put it on my card. Something to say forget you for being difficult. I left no tip. Though I think the worker being difficult about the bill was different from our waiter. I was upset and couldn’t really tell. Thus concluded my second night and Wilma’s first in London. What respectable establishment doesn’t have change for a 20?!

The Final Go

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It was Thursday, and on Saturday I was scheduled to participate in the Nuts Challenge. It is 14k (two laps) in the cold, sloppy mud, and about 50 obstacles or something. Bottom line, I really needed to go on one final run to prepare my body for torture on Saturday. I told Wilma my plan, and gave her some suggestions to do while I was out. She was sleeping when I left, and 10k later she was still sleeping. In all fairness, she had been consistently traveling for the last few days, and probably hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep to adjust to the time difference yet. Plus she was getting sick. Anyway, it worked out. Because I did my run, and still had time to shower and get ready, and then we could hit the town of London together. I had already done most of London tourist things before, so I let Wilma pick what she wanted to see and guided her there. We got lunch, checked out Parliament, Buckingham Palace and then went to Harrods. Harrods was a recommendation of my Nana’s. It’s her favorite store even though she can’t really afford to shop there. I think most people can’t afford to shop there. We both needed to use the restroom and searched for it in Harrods. I don’t know why the bathroom was so difficult to find there, but it took about 4 floors, two workers and almost 20 minutes to find it. Harrods reminded me of a casino. The décor was Egyptian Jungle themed. Wilma described it as the Disneyland of department stores. We went to a café on the 6 floor or something and had some overpriced coffee and hot chocolate. Earlier in the day we had tried to buy our train ticket from London to Worthing. This would have been my third ticket I bought with them. For some reason we could not purchase the tickets online. I thought it was their website, but it was now 5pm and I still couldn’t purchase train tickets, so I decided to call them. The lady on the phone said she could see where I had tried to buy my train tickets 3 different times. She said their restricted my account for fraud. I explained it was not fraud. I had bought tickets online with them before using the exact same credit card. She said there was nothing she could do and the restriction would be removed tomorrow. I became angry because tomorrow I would have to pay full price for a train ticket which was over 4 times the price I had been quoted online. I argued with them about restricting my account when I had used them before no problem, and the customer service rep started giving me attitude and asking me if I would prefer they did nothing to monitor my account and let random people buy train tickets under my name and card. And I said it’s not FRAUD! You are preventing ME from buying a ticket. It was not a pleasant phone call, as we both started getting rather sassy. I basically told her thanks for nothing, she said you’re welcome and we hung up. I then had a brilliant idea to go to the train station and buy the tickets there. There was no way they could say anything about fraud because I would physically be there with my card and ID. In the kiosk I could only see full price tickets so I waited in line to talk to someone. He searched his computer and could only find full price tickets. I started to argue again. I was looking at my phone maybe ½ hour ago and saw the discounted tickets. He said there was nothing he could do. We saw another customer service place for Southern and Wilma asked if I wanted to go in there and talk to someone. We were headed to a Jack the Ripper tour that night and had originally planned on stopping by the hotel before going to the tour. We were running out of time now and would probably have to head straight to the tour. I went inside the office and complained again. The lady said she understood my frustration, was confused why Southern put a fraud warning on my account and told me there was nothing she could do. The only good thing the lady said was at 6pm the systems reset and advance tickets were no longer available. Why couldn’t anyway tell me that earlier! I hung up the phone at 5:25 and was talking to this lady at 6:30. I was beyond frustrated with Southern Train and I wish there was another way to get from London to Worthing because I would do it just so I didn’t have to take their service. Unfortunately there wasn’t and I was forced to pay full price for a train ticket. I tried to buy my first train ticket from them at 11am online. It still gets me boiled up thinking about it. I filed a complaint. I’m sure nothing will come from it, but I hope anyone reading this can learn the cheeky ways of the train companies so they don’t get scammed like me.  So after paying a ridiculous amount of money for a train ticket, we went to East London for our Jack the Ripper tour. The tour was pretty cool. It was a history lesson about the era, the area and the famed killer all in one. After the tour we finally made it back to our hotel to drop off some shopping and I needed to brush my hair. It was now after 10pm and definitely dinner time. I thought we might go for a few beers afterwards and decided to head to Camden Town. The only place still serving food was the kebab joint but oh well. We made our way into a local pub and quickly made friends with a group of boys there. We were chatting and having a good time when one of the boys got creepy. Think Italian Creepy but even more abrasive and up front about his intentions. He even pulled some of the same lines as the Italian like, “what kind of adventures are you looking for.” And I rolled my eyes and thought to myself not again. So again I said no, no, no and no. But he wouldn’t drop it. I had no idea how to get Wilma involved in the conversation. It wasn’t like I could text her an SOS. The creepo finally asked a question about her and I said, “How about you ask her yourself.” Wilma heard her name called and turned to us. The Turkish boy now living in London asked Wilma his questions and she was quite taken aback. WTF is what she was thinking. And thank goodness I’m not in this alone anymore is what I was thinking. I would have left a long time ago, but I really wanted to finish my drink. And for a second there I thought the guy was kidding with his advances. But after he received more nos from both Wilma and I he said, “Well why you don’t guys leave then.” At this point the rest of his friend had gone out for a cigarette, and Wilma said, “Don’t you smoke?”  The boy left for a minute, I started chugging my beer, and when he returned he said, “Why are you two still here?” It wasn’t funny anymore. I finished my beer, went to the bathroom and we left. We said goodbye to the normal boys we met and they were confused as to why we were leaving so soon. I thought in my head. Your friend is a freak. That’s why. Chilling at the second bar we saw two of the normal boys show up and I shook my head. Please don’t let the creep be here. He wasn’t thank goodness. They even admitted to him getting perverted when he is drinking. Thanks for warning us aholes. We basically shut everything is Camden Town down and then took a cab home. I called the front desk to ask what time check out was and he said whenever, just not before 7am. Since it was 3:30am I don’t think checking out after 7am would be an issue. But for me to check out whenever. That clerk might regret telling us that.

When in Rome

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It is my last day in The United Kingdom. Today I will head back to NYC, and then make the journey to my beloved West Coast. I remember when it was my final day in New Zealand. That seems like ages ago now. New Zealand flew by so fast. When I was leaving, I felt as if I had just arrived. Now as I am getting ready to leave the UK, I feel like I have been here forever. Before I recall my final week in England, let me finish up with Italy. I woke up early and made my way to the Colosseum. Because I was so early I didn’t have to queue for long. I got my audio guide and started exploring inside. The first view was spectacular. I could imagine myself being thrown back in time and gathered in the colosseum for a fight. You can now see the stage floor and what lies beneath. I envisioned the ferocious beasts roaring below, and the gladiators preparing for their next fight. I could picture where the nobility would sit and the peasants. You get a sense of how loud the colosseum would get, and the cheers and boos echoing off the walls. Anytime I would throw myself back into Roman times, I would be thrusted back into the present as I ducked to avoid a selfie stick being handled by a giggling girl. This was the colosseum now. Home to thousands of visitors and selfie sticks daily. Although it was crowded, it was manageable. I couldn’t imagine this place in the summer. Hot, and about 5 times as crowded. For how massive the colosseum is, you can only view a small portion of it. I’m sure it’s for safety reasons, and to help preserve the ancient ruins. After the colosseum, I wondered around the surrounding area and ticked sights off of my checklist. I made my way up the main road and gazed at the ruins on each side. I visited a few more piazzas, and saw statues similar to those in Florence. There is a giant museum, dawned with flags, heroic statues, and I was memorized. I walked to the Pantheon and had a cappuccino at Saint-Eustache. The birthplace of the espresso. At this point it starting pouring. I didn’t bring my umbrella. It was too heavy to carry both my umbrella and water bottle, so each morning I made a decision which to bring. Yet each time I didn’t bring my umbrella it poured, and when I did bring it, it never rained. I stopped by the Trevi Fountain one more time. This time there was only about 50 people around since it was pouring. I didn’t stay long. I was getting soaked. After my “linner”. Late lunch, early dinner. I dried off, changed and went back out to wonder the streets of Rome. I went back to stroll through the ruins on the main road again. I explored on the other side of the river, and stepped inside of a church when Mass was in session. This church must be used to visitors because people were coming and going from the back seats frequently. I hung out for a bit and then decided to make my way back to my side of town. It had been a long day walking around Rome, and tomorrow was going to be another long day. I was going to Vatican City. I didn’t wake up as early the following morning as I had hoped. Instead of arriving at the Vatican at 7am like it had been suggested to me, I finally arrived around 8:45am. I took the subway. I was very cautious of my surroundings. Everyone’s warnings came rushing to me about pick-pocketers, or people who would hold a knife to you for 20 Euros. I really didn’t want any of that to happen. The subway was packed. We were honestly packed in like sardines. I didn’t have a thick coat on thank goodness because I was sweating. The lady standing next to me was getting overheated as well. Each time we stopped I prayed no one else tried to get on the subway. I don’t know how we would fit in another soul. Luckily it thinned out. I got off at my stop, and when I emerged from the subway there was a man waiting there. Are you going to the Vatican? And he rambled off directions and told me about the different queues. I made my way closer and could see the queue. I tried to pull out my map to make sure this is where I wanted to be. My goal was to see St Peter’s Cathedral first. A groups of guys at the corner started shouting more directions at me, and asking if I wanted to pay for a tour to skip the queue. I tried to ignore then and they started asking, “Do you speak English?!” I really wish I knew a line in some uncommon language like Klingon and could pretend I didn’t speak English so people would leave me alone. I got in the queue which turned out to be the line for the Vatican Museum. I had no idea if this was the line I needed to be in to see St. Peter’s or whether I would have to queue again. And thus my issue with Vatican City. I was ill prepared. I didn’t have a map. My only tips were about visiting St Peter’s, and now I was heading into a museum. The best thing about Vatican City was the abundant supply of bathrooms. Rome lacks public bathrooms, so it was nice being in a place where I could drink as much water as I wanted and know a toilet would be nearby. It also may have been beneficial taking a tour through the Vatican because I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw so many tapestries and religious paintings while in Italy. I made my way into the Sistine Chapel which was crowded, an Italian theme. I didn’t know anything about the Sistine Chapel expect it was famous, but I didn’t know what for. The museum didn’t offer any reading material, so I couldn’t tell what I was looking for. I stared at the walls and the roof which I found very busy. I was looking for a way into St Peter’s Basilica, and was hoping I wouldn’t have to wait in another queue. One guard told me I could get there through the Sistine Chapel. Instead of going left like I did, I needed to go right. I couldn’t backtrack to the Sistine Chapel; I had to go through the museum again. So I walked swiftly through the museum again, passed all the same artifacts, and was back in the Sistine Chapel. I looked at the walls again and headed for the door on the right. The sign said guided tours only. I asked another guard how to get to St Peter’s and the guard said through the door on the right. So I walked through the door for guided tours only. I was promptly presented with a fork in the road. One was the cupola, the top of the Basilica, and the other was for the Tombs. My friend recommended the tombs, so that is where I went. I thought I might have a chance to visit the cupola later, but I never saw another entrance to it that didn’t include queuing up again outside. The tombs of the past Popes was a sight to see. I wasn’t disappointed, and when I finally made it inside St Peter’s it was magical. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the decor, everything about it was stunning. It was huge, and looked like it could host multiple Masses at once. I walked around every nook and cranny that I could and tried to absorb all the good juju around me. Being inside such a magical place took its emotional toll on me, and I was ready to go. I spent some time in the square outside which was just as spectacular as the inside. The sun started to come out as well. It was still early in the day. I had a lot of time to see what was left of Rome, so I decided to walk back to the other side of the river. I saw Rome’s castle. I went to another square that had Egyptian looking cats all around it. Then I decided to check out Leonardo da Vinci’s museum. For a few reasons. One was, I really needed to use the restroom, and I figured a museum would have a bathroom. I never saw any public bathrooms in Rome, and most of the time I either went where I had lunch, a museum, or I walked back to my place. And two, I thought a Leonardo da Vinci museum would be cool. The museum was in a church and had no bathroom. The workers pointed me in a direction of a public bathroom which I never found and a Burger King which had closed their bathroom for cleaning. I did eventually find a bar that let me use their restroom without having to buy anything. I then decided Rome smells like poo because there are no public toilets. I went back to the museum which ended up being quite cool. As I emerged from the museum, I saw the rain. It was raining cats and dogs. I did have better rain pants on, and a rain coat, but I knew I would still get drenched. At this point I was just ready to go home. It was probably a 45-minute walk in the rain, but I eventually made it back. My under layers were dry, but my pants, jacket and shoes were soaked. I changed into something dry and relaxed for the rest of the night. I sat in my room and watched the rain pour down from the window. Not the most exciting way to spend my last night in Italy, but it’s what I did.

 

An Awkward Rome

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When I awoke in Florence it was pouring rain. I thought I would go to a museum I had a ticket for, but the queue looked a little long for me, so I grabbed some chocolate, my bags and headed for the train station. I was going to spend three nights in Rome. Not the same place as last time, but the same area. I was hoping the weather in Rome would be better than in Florence. It had been raining a lot. And when it rains in Italy you need an umbrella. It floods and absolutely pours, and I’m always drenched by the time I get back to my room. I lugged my suitcase to the train station in the rain and waited. I would get to Rome about 1/2 hour before the start of the Scotland vs Italy rugby match. I had thought I may buy a ticket to the match, but when figuring out logistics there just wasn’t enough time. Had I known before I booked my train, I would have scheduled a much earlier train. After making my way once more through the streets of Rome with my suitcase, it was finally time to explore. I did watch the match until about 1/2 time and then ventured on. Besides, I think the All Blacks might be more exciting to watch. I had a list of things to do in Rome suggested to me by a blogger I follow. I could post their name, but that would make them more popular. They are popular enough, and don’t need me to heighten that. I was told to eat ice cream on the Spanish Steps. After walking around a bit, dodging selfie sticks, and reading maps I finally found the Spanish Steps. Only a small portion of them were available because 90% of the area was blocked off for construction. And way to many people around to sit on them and have some gelato. I probably would have been trampled. I walked around a bit more, and saw a cafe that Mary Shelley used to sit at. It was similar to the Elephant House, and way too crowded to go inside. So I observed from a far. I looked at the map and decided to check out the Trevi Fountain. I wanted to avoid always pulling out my cell phone. Practice for South America. So I pulled out the map and tried to locate where I was at. I’m not sure which is worse. Pulling my cell phone out to see where I am at and risk it getting swipped, or pulling out a map and looking like a tourist. No way around looking like a tourist when I have a giant map and looked lost. A man came over and asked if he could help. I said no thank you, I got it. So he stood there in my peripheral vision.  Then after a few minutes he came up to me and started pointing in the direction of popular tourist attractions in Rome. I said thank you, but I’m looking for the Trevi Fountain. His eyes lit up, and pointed in the direction of the fountain. I said thank you and began to move that direction when he followed me. “I’ll take you there.” After a small eye roll, I shrugged sure. He did lead me right to the fountain which was nice. But then didn’t want to leave. It was kind of difficult to sit and admire the fountain when I had this strange Italian man hoovering over me. I was trying to be polite about the situation, by slightly ignoring him. The fountain was unbelievably crowded. There had to be 300 people crowded around it. It was beautiful though. I made my way through the crowd, my new “friend” following me, and better yet, telling me where to sit and which to direction to go. I don’t really like being told what to do. I decided to throw my coin into the fountain and make a wish. He poked fun at me saying I threw a penny in the fountain. This guy. I threw in like 50 cents. I didn’t realize the more money you threw in the more likely your wish was to come true. Geez. I finally decided it was time to ditch my new attachment. I told him I needed to go home, and thank you for taking me to the fountain. He started to follow me again. Wanted to know why I was going home so early. I have been traveling for a while now, and I had started to notice a pattern in guys and when they are trying to pick you up. Number one they always ask if you are married and look for a ring. After talking for a bit more, and usually at a random time, they ask you where your boyfriend is. I like how they say where and not do you have one. The conversation can go a few ways from here. More times then none you are talking to a creep who doesn’t care if you have someone back home and still tries to pursue you. In their mind, if the boy isn’t here then you must not really care too much and are off traveling alone looking for adventures. So my new follower asked me what sort of adventures I was interested in, and what I usually did with people I met on my travels. Let’s just say he was confused when I said I like to eat ice cream and go hiking with my new friends. He told me most tourists he meets are into other other types of adventures. The conversation was a little more awkward because of some comments he had made earlier, but you get the jist of it. He then tried to make a time we could meet up tomorrow. There was no way I ever wanted to see this fool again. I made up some bogus itinerary. He said he was going back to the fountain and I was finally free. I walked back to my room checking over my shoulder a few times. I did not see that man again thank goodness. And for the rest of my time in Rome I was a bit more rude to people, and tried to hide my map a bit more. Unfortunately my awkward first night in Rome was not over. Reception recommended me a nearby place to get good food. I looked at the menu and wanted everything. If there was ever time my eyes were bigger than my stomach this was it. People in the restaurant kept looking at me for a few reasons I think. I was a single female, I think the blonde hair is off putting, and I didn’t speak any Italian. One couple asked me how I could order from the menu. I can get by, and I understand enough Spanish that I can get by. By the time my third course came around I couldn’t eat one more bit. The other patrons thought the meat was bad, and I said no, but I am absolutely stuffed. I would like it take away. After a while, a waiter finally came over and asked if I was done. I asked for a box, or take away. And so the waiter took my meat away and never returned. I finally got the bill, and took out my card when the manager in a stern voice said no card! Cash only! This man is lucky I brought cash. Because I don’t remember seeing a cash only sign. It wasn’t like I went to eat at the Nugget, this was a nice establishment in Rome. And lucky for me I had enough cash that I didn’t need to ask for change. I paid my bill and got the heck out of there. I was over Rome for the day. Ready for sleep and to start over tomorrow morning.

The Coolest Little Town

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After my hitchhiking adventure, I decided to explore around town a bit more. I checked out the beach and their driftwood sign. I went into the jade shop and saw all the money I would spend. It started to sprinkle so I made my way back to room. My dormmate was pretty cool and her and I would chat a lot. She was staying at the hostel long term. I made my way into the lounge area and they had a massive movie collection. I had been reading a book about Imoteph, so when I saw they had the Mummy I knew I had to watch it. A Canadian girl joined me. She had never seen it. She was pretty young though. I think 18. After the movie finished, I had plans to go see the glow worms near by. Basically they are fungi that live in caves and glow at night. I had not seen any yet. About 4 of us from the hostel went to the glow worms. It was really cool. They looked liked stars. We made our way back, and one of the boys wanted to watch the movie hostel. Of the group still in the lounge, I was the only one who had seen it. Some of the boys were kind of scared. It was silly. So I watched Hostel in a Hostel with some Europeans. The movie is so silly, and I would tease them asking if Europe was really like that. It was fun. The next morning it just rained. It poured. I caught a break and ventured out to buy some jade and check out the perimeter walk. At sunset point, they have an old shipwrecked pirate ship which I thought was cool. The Jolly Roger! And then the rain came again. My rain coat did a decent job, but it didn’t help my pants or shoes. When I got back to the hostel, I was drenched. I put some dry clothes on and made some hot chocolate. It was a perfect time to read and skype. We got a break in the rain long enough I could run to the beach and watch the sunset. Then back at the hostel I had met a boy from New Orleans and we decided it was time for another movie. This time Jurassic Park. My final day in Hokitika was a little less rainy, but still not ideal. I was running out of dry clothes so after exploring around the beach a little bit I retreated back to the hostel for some more book reading. I was heading back to Franz Josef where I would do my glacier heli hike. Also, two girls from Hokitia were headed to Franz Josef as well, so it was going to be a mini reunion.