An Epic Train Journey in Iran

The train from Andimesk to Dorud is rated by different travel bloggers as one of the most scenic journeys in the world.  Lots of Iranians don’t even know it exists (or tourists) for that reason it still costs 50c and is not easy to get to. I grabbed a bus from Kermanshah and in the middle of the night was dropped off in random Andimesk.

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Apparently one of these lads was the train driver! Doesn’t instil much confidence…

This place would rarely see a tourist pass through so when I arrived at the train station I stood out like a sore thumb. The reason this train is so fascinating is that it passes through valleys, peaks and dozens of tunnels while winding through the Zagros mountains. When the train staff saw me they immediately invited me for breakfast of flat breads, chai and rice pudding. It prepped me nicely for the stunning journey ahead. I was absolutely beefed following the sleepless night bus but after a while the tiredness faded as I was glued to the window completely in awe of the scenery.

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Sunrise as the train sets to leave Andimesk station

Most people take this 6-7 hour journey at night and I had read it gets pretty chaotic with locals having to stand for the entire journey. It was reported to be like an endurance test I was obviously oblivious to this in my carriage. Naturally I was intrigued by this ‘endurance test’ so I went to exploring and saw people sleeping in storage containers  and on the floor etc. Before I knew it I was whisked away by an Iranian bearded man with no English. All I gathered was he was pleading with me to go visit his mother. So naturally I obliged. I met his mother and the whole family who looked stunned to be witnessing such a sight (me in a hijab!!!!). Anyway seconds later the train conductor was down and escorted me back telling me it was too dangerous to be down there. Back to the throne for some more chai and biscuits feeling somewhat guilty and sad for the division and the reasons why I wasn’t allowed mingle with the locals.

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Typical scenes on the train journey
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There was killings with me and an Iranian Man as I had the windows open for the whole journey. The locals didn’t seem bothered by the view and he grumpily kept repeating he was cold! (it was over 40 degrees…….)

I cannot recommend the train experience enough. It is a pain in the arse to get to it but well worth the effort and so far a definite Iranian highlight. You will have all to your self and be fully immersed in the genuine amazing Iranian hospitality.

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A football pitch with a view!

Once I got off the train I was treated to some blistering heat so I decided to camp out for a while to try and figure out my options. Dorud’s main appeal is the train and the surrounding mountains and not wanting to waste time I opted to make my way towards Esfahan that night (or try!). Within 5 minutes the obsessed Iranian family were back over pleading with me to go to their house (well that’s what I think, it was in Farsi). I tried to explain I wanted to go to Esfahan, 7 hours away. I grasped that they wanted the honor to feed me and then they would bring me to the bus station afterwards.  I figured the old man and women made the creepy man seem a little bit more legit. I was aware that the train staff told me they were dangerous so I insisted on saying no at the beginning. With very little will power, little other options and no energy to brave the heat I took them up on their tempting offer. I know most people would cleverly run a mile but on this occasion my gut feeling was telling me they were decent people and to give them a chance. Before I knew it I was bundled into a taxi and away we went for a mysterious lunch. They were a family of 8 all of the men were called Mohammad except one who was called Homid v easy to remember. In Iran, if they are not called Mohammaed a safe bet is always Ali.

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No time wasting and all the stops were brought out including their pride and joy; Shisa

The language barrier is killing me and reminds  me of my early South American days except it’s worse here because there is absolutely no one else to help you even google is pretty useless as they don’t use our alphabet.

Their home was one big room where they all ate and slept. The old woman got straight to work wishing for me to experience a traditional kebab. She started violently tearing up a chicken carcass so I knew it was the real deal.  This particular family said they only have kebabs for special occasions so I was extremely privileged.  I was in two minds about Hamid the main organizer of the kidnapping.  He started to pray while we were all eating which made me a little un easy.  His family on the other-hand had completely  won me over and were fab.  They also wanted me to take a traditional Turkish bath ( a step too far even for me).

The lunch was an experience in itself and typical to most Iranian houses was eaten off the floor with. I love the whole culture of eating off the floor it is extremely sociable and most families I’ve stayed with don’t even own a table. I have realised I have an extremely sharp and protruding bum bone which is actually causing serious issues when trying to eat. It’s a pain in the arse (if you will pardon the pun!). Tables are a thing of the past so I better get used to it.

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The hair dryer working it’s magic!

The mother made her own yogurt and flat breads. The chicken kebab with rice was a sensation. They also have a thing about feeding you up and are so enthusiastic they don’t want you to stop eating.  I was constantly getting mounds of food thrown onto my plate with beaming smiles staring at me as I inhaled the feast. At one point they started taking food from their own plates to add to my pile. So excessive but they genuinely get offended if you don’t finish your plate.

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The crew from the train

After the grub I was keen to make my getaway eager to make it to Esfahan that night but Homid and his brother  had other plans. They were adement in taking me to a random location ‘to take photos of nature’. One thing about Iranians they don’t involve you in the decision making and bundle you into car and away you go (their intentions are usually good). 40 degree heat meant photos of nature were v low on my list of priorities. Dorud is a bit of a ghost town so with no taxis I relayed on the lift. Before I knew it I was in ‘nature’ and not a bus station in sight. It is cute how proud they are of their country and how they all want you to have the best memory of it but I was still a little wary of the brothers. Mohammad starting speaking about blood thirsty Arabs, ISIS and religion in the car and I absolutely knew this was my que to leave.

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‘Loving’ my nature photo shoot!

Luckily after our nature photos we made it to the bus station but not so lucky was the lack of transport. There were no more buses or taxis to Esfahan that night….. Mohammad and co immediately offered to drive me to Esfahan a mere 7 hours in one direction. With the ridiculous offer I naturally declined but again he just starting driving towards Esfahan!!! I insisted on getting out of the car  and mid driving I just opened the door (generally speaking I’m delighted with the easy option of a lift but on this occasion I definitely didn’t want to spend another 7 hours with the pair).

I made the executive decision that hitch hiking would be far more desirable and safer option. They reluctantly pulled over and the three of us hitch hiked. In fairness to the pair they explained to drivers that I needed to go to Esfahan. Having their Farsi was useful as Iranian’s wouldn’t be that accustomed to hitchhikers but because they are such kind people most of them stopped to make sure I was okay anyway.

I was lucky enough after only 5 minutes a gorgeous family who were headed in the direction of Esfahan kindly stopped. Needless to say not a word of English was spoken but I immediately hit it off with them as the Dad danced some Persian while simultaneously speeding down the motorway. Not dangerous at all. Things escalated quickly and before I knew it I was being bundled into their house and was being pampered by a about 20 giddy Iranians. I agreed to stay the night as I hadn’t a clue where I was but knew I was in good hands. The children insisted on fanning me, it was way too much but deep down I was loving it.  They genuinely treated me like royalty.  Iranian’s are feeders to put it mildy and I was presented with dish after dish as they kept taking photos of me while I was eating. An extremely uncomfortable yet amusing situation.

The night consisted of photo shoots with each individual family member. About 10 of them crushed into one room so that I would have my own private room. Kindness beyond words. I wasn’t even allowed to carry my backpack, they got offended if I did. I even got a tutorial on how to correctly wear the hijab there is an art to this that I have yet to master.

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These moments where you wonder how the hell did I end up here?

The next morning after a delish breakfast of flatbreads, cream, sour grape jam, eggs and cheese I was once again bundled into a car en route to an unknown destination. If you go to Iran you need to be completely happy with going with the flow. It’s the only way you will survive.

The destination is probably the randomist to date….Before I knew it I was in an Iranian hospital visiting one of the family members who was just out of surgery. This was a ludicrous situation where I was in a room full of women getting nose jobs done They all wanted their photo taken with me. I eventually managed to escape the ridiculous hospital situation and managed to go explore beautiful Esfahan with the Dad and their gorgeous 14 year old daughter. Like I said before nose jobs are ridiculously common over here I have never seen anything like it.

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Shah Mosque’s entrance, Esfahan
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The most stunning archway in Esfahan; Shah Mosque

In the afternoon we said our goodbyes and I made my way to my couch surfing family. That night after a traditional Iranian feast of ghorme Sabzi we drove into the city to visit Som e Pol which is really popular with the locals at night to have chai and chill.

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Som-e-Pol; One of Esfahan’s famous bridges where the locals gather in their droves the enjoy the sunset
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Really nice memories of this gorgeous couple who welcomed me into their home in Esfahan
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Camping near the Iraqi Boarder

The tomato farm where I was camping was at the height of activity during the night. Sleep was difficult with the sound of hundreds of frogs serenading me. I got the fright of my life when I saw the inside of my tent move and to my delight I was joined by three frogs. One inside the tent and two underneath! SICK but a preferable alternative to a stifling hot room of smelly snoring men. I’ll take the frogs any day of the week. Afraid of crushing the frogs I bundled myself into a corner for a rough nights sleep. It also wouldn’t be camping unless you were joined by  a creature of some description.

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View from the tomato farm in Kermanshah

During our time on  the farm we were invited to an authentic Persian birthday party. A bizarre first experience of the division between men and women. Before the party all the women gathered together in a room to dance Persian. The men were not allowed in and had their own separate room. We re-grouped later and mingled over a fire with once again more chai. In more religious  towns it wouldn’t be allowed to have a social gathering with men and women late at night. The rules were a little more lax here because we were on the farm. Things quickly escalated after the first cup of chai and everyone was up on the floor dancing to traditional Persian music. It was an incredible scene and not too dissimilar to a early morning sing song after a heavy night in Dublin. Difference here? Not a dribble of alcohol but lots of happy heads nevertheless. It was amazing. There has to be something magial in chai?

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Golden hour couldn’t have been more golden
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The glam Iranians
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Suns sets in Kermanshah

Breakfast was the real deal of flat breads eaten off the floor with yogurt, cheese (similar to feta), cucumber and of course tomatoes served with chai. Myself, Sarah and Ali went to visit Bisotun which is a famous area for its inscriptions on these caves. Just my luck they were covered in scaffolding but the entire place is pretty incredible all the same. Because it was a public holiday the place was mobbed with Iranians. An experience in itself. With heat over 40 degrees my self and Hijab were having some vocal disagreements. For me it’s been the hardest part about travelling here. June and July are painfully hot months to visit Iran, that’s why no one comes here then except for me of course. You can’t even benefit from the sun because your covered within an inch of your life (not that I’m partial to tanning but you never know). 

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Raging!! The women weren’t allowed swim here.
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Absolutely baked at Bisotun

We made some pit stops to a nearby hotel for some much needed non-alcoholic Islamic beer it’s yum.  This hotel was a joke it had the most insane views of the towering mountains and most importantly aircon!!!! It costs 30 dollars a night to stay here.We had a traditional lunch in the hotel of khal a delicious dish of lamb, in a fragrant tomato sauce with almonds served with saffron rice. For me, I miss the heat of Mexican food and feel a little picante would take it to the next level and not forgetting the magic of salsas. Not that I needed anymore  picante in my life as I ended up getting sunstroke that evening. Overall though, the food is excellent here. Back at the farm I spent the afternoon eating ice cubes and watermelon in an attempt to cool down.

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Hotel with a view!

That evening, we went into the city of Kermanshah to check out the beautiful Islamic Shrine. Our main reason for hitting the city was to go shopping. Sarah is quite the fashionista and wanted to give my wardrobe a little re vamp. My bum has been making the odd sneaky appearance and it’s strictly forbidden. The cheap shirts I bought in H/M aren’t making the cut. So just want I needed to help with my sun stroke was a long jacket to cover my boobs and bum. We settled on a yellow and blue number and mosied around the bizarre sampling some free deserts. Raging I had to forego the red wine and shisa that night, I retired to my tent to try and nurse my pounding headache.

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Islamic Shrine in Kermanshah
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Glam Sarah in Kermanshah nailing the pose!
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Insider tips from Ali and Sarah: Mosque’s have the best WC’s so we are all big fans

I have been nick named WC by Sarah and Ali because they are amazed at how many times I need the loo. I’m bad on a normal day but this is next level stuff I should be taking out shares in Iranian ‘toilets’ or holes in the ground as I seem to spend most of my time in them. Unfortunately peeing on the side of roads/ in bushes in not the done thing which would usually be my venue of choice. I’m  perfectly ok with the drop toilets the only issue with them is loosing things inside. My hairy eyes sunglasses were the first casualty . Don’t worry they were salvaged and given a deep clean and are as good as new.

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One shrine better than the next

Thankfully the 8 litres of water from the day before sorted out the head and I was like a new woman so myself Sarah, Ali and Ali (farm owner) set off for a road trip to Kuridstan towards the small cliff side town of Palangan. Unfortunately we didn’t make it as far as there as with the Iranian holiday in full swing families were out in their droves with their chai, tents and bbq’s so the traffic was horrendous. It was a stunning drive as we viewed lots of different hill side towns.

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Sarah!
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Beautiful stacked villages in Paveh. Located in a region called Hawraman.
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Paveh, the largest hillside village in Iran

We made a pit stop en route home to taste some homemade kebabs. I was given an introduction on how to make them. They are usually served with the typical flat breads, roasted tomato, barbequed meat, yogurt (if requested) and quarters of raw onion. Drinks generally include either Duk or Islamic beer. Duk is rotten stuff but the Iranian’s go wild for it. It is natural yogurt mixed with water and salt. Not my gig.

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This little cutie teaching me the Iranian art of Kebab making
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Traditional lamb kebab eaten off a Persian rug (on plastic 😦  ) with  flat breads, homemade yogurt , roasted tomato and chunks of onion. To be eaten only with your hands. Divine

That afternoon we went to a cave mobbed with Iranian families so again not my gig but an experience in itself screaming children and families trying to get selfies with me in  a narrow cave wasn’t exactly my ideal but the Iranian’s are so charming you can’t but smile and go along with the charade. They continually thank you for coming to their country. Since day one the photograph requests have been coming in their droves. Even on sunstroke day they insisted I was beautiful!

We had such a laugh and Sarah and Ali introduced to me to the world of Iranian music (love It). My Farsi is also slowly coming along.  Our sing song was rudely interrupted with the random appearances of a police. This resulted  in a frantic dash to throw on the hijab and act ‘normal’.  We had time before my night bus to sample some rose water ice cream (it’s divine) and a shisa accompanied with some chai.

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Local Iranian breads

The night bus was almost missed because of the shisa but dangerous Iranian driving and a delayed bus ensured I made it. My random bus partner  offered to share her blanket with me and insisted on buying me food and drink for the bus. This girl was en route home having just gotten a nose job done. Nose jobs are ridiculously common here in Iran. I have never seen anything like it. Every second person seems to have one done. They will set you back a mere $100 if anyone is interested?

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The view from my tent just after the sun had risen. Idyllic camping location.

 

 

From Tallaght to Tehran

From the minute I got home from South America my feet were itchier than ever (and it wasn’t because of the athletes foot). I knew I needed another trip but Iran had never been on my radar. My mind had been obsessed with all things Pakistan and my original plan was to travel the country for 3 months.  One of my patient’s in T Town was Pakistani and kindly organised a letter of invitation into the country (mates with the chancellor!) a slight diversion from the childhood obesity problem.  This is essential to get the visa. So with visa in check I was good to go all that was missing was the flight. Needless to say I fecked this up big time and booked it for the wrong month!!!  It was going to cost me a mere €900 to change so it looked like I had a month to kill but the question was where to go…? Not a bad complaint to have I know. Trips within Europe were working out crazy expensive so I set my sights on Iran and found ridiculously cheap flights from Amsterdam.

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A farewell before the escapades!

Myself, Una and Dom managed the squeeze in a few days in Amsterdam before the big trip. We had a rocky start with the aggressive Amsterdam biking scene but we all survived and had a ball. We even made an embarrassing/awkward appearance at Nils’s low-key  soccer game. We were the only supporters……

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This pair! High on nothing more than life
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I couldn’t help myself the Diva himself; AmsterDOM

En route to Iran things were off to a flying start when I befriended a chap called Ali on the plane. He was a professional basketball player in the Netherlands for 15 years. He had just retired and was coming home for good to live in Iran. He gave me loads of tips and got me seriously excited for what was ahead. My first stop was Tehran, the capital of Iran and I had organized couch surfing with a couple; Sarah and Ali. The Iranians are known for their hospitality and this couple took it to the next level. I was given keys to the apartment as they were working for the day and Sarah had prepared the most stunning Persian breakfast. Couch surfing is massive over here despite it being illegal everyone manages to bypass this. I was offered accommodation, advice and help by 400 different Iranians when I posted onto the CS site. Absolutely incredible albeit it slightly overwhelming hospitality.

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Sarah and Ali; Tehran’s biggest legends

Day 1, I decided to go explore a little beefed from the flight I kept it local. For some reason I was wearing Ali, the man’s shoes and managed to lock myself out of their apartment. I’ve never had a great track record with keys. I had to wait awkwardly outside their apartment until they got home from work for him to see a stranger wearing his shoes. Anyway  after a couple of glasses of vino that night Ali soon realized what he was dealing with and all was forgiven. Yes I said vino was forbidden, all alcohol is illegal in Iran. It is not sold or served anywhere. I had totally psyched myself up for a month off the booze. Instead Iranian’s drink buckets of chai (tea) which is nice but not exactly the same gig (at least they avoid the vicious hangovers). There was no fear of a detox happening because Ali and Sarah have come up with an easy solution to the problem they make their own wine and its bleeding gorgeous.

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When tea looks this pretty its no wonder that’s all they drink

I was introduced to the wonderful world of Iranian cuisine which completely exceeded my expectations. First up was fesenjan , a delicious sauce made out of only walnuts and pomegranates mixed with lamb. Pomegranate is the most symbolic fruit of Iran. Unfortunately, it is not the season yet. Sarah served this with Iranian flat bread called Barbari, crisp and salted and covered in seasame seeds. Iranians are rice obsessed and mountains are served with basically every meal .The best touch is the golden saffron oil drizzled on top. Saffron is found absolutely everywhere here and like everything else is dirt cheap. Next on the list was ghormeh sabzi; a concoction of lamb, beans in a herby/citrus sauce with buckets of spices that’s cooked for hours. Sarah is a genius in the kitchen and all of the guidebooks tell you to experience the best of Iranian cuisine you need to eat with a family. Restaurant’s foods are not comparable.

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Ghormeh sabzi served with salad shiraz, saffron rice, mixed leaves friend rice.

From the get go I was having awful trouble with the hijab. Before coming I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when Sarah told me they only wear the hijab outside (this completely depends on the house your in). I was freaking out on the plane and had my head covered from the minute I left Amsterdam (I know overkill but I was adement I wasn’t going to have any disasters this time). This is another one of Iran’s strict rules; the hijab must be worn by women at all times outdoors, your bum and chest must be covered and you must dress modestly (even when you’re in the car, the police will check!). In 30 plus degrees this is a toture!

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Day 1 and already having some hijab hiccups

I successfully negotiated an Iranian metro and arrived at stop one the Golestan Palace. This place couldn’t have  been more excessive and was the best introduction into the insane talents of Iranian artwork.

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The front building of the Golestan Palace.
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One of the many intricate walls of the Golestan Palace.
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Wall of mirrors, Golestan Palace.
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Standard sitting room inside the palace

Afterwards I tackled the famous grand bizarre. Bizarre’s are a big affair in Iran and are crammed with tiles, carpets, spices, copper and jewelry. Tourism has definitely not kicked off in Iran yet and I was faced with lots of looks of confusion, intrigue but mainly smiles. A man from a carpet shop escorted me around the market for the day v ideal the as the place runs for km’s and its v easy to get lost. Previously tourism had been a lot better in the country but since conflicts it has significantly declined. Iranians are clearly trying so hard to change the perception of Iran and are constantly thanking you for visiting and and are just so curious as to why Iran?

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Fresh rose petals are found everywhere. Used for tea, drinks and desserts

I spent the afternoon in an artsy park that displayed Iranian arts and crafts. The coffee shop wouldn’t let me pay for my chai and instead stuffed my pockets with some juicy dates. The shopkeeper even gave me a Farsi (Iranian lesson) this is next level difficult but kinda of essential when travelling alone as not many of them speak English. They have their own writing/ numerical system and write in the opposite direction to us.

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Standard street tiles in Tehran

Iran is probably the biggest culture shock I have had to date. Sites like Couch surfing, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all illegal. You need special software on your phone if you want to use them. There are so mainly seemingly ridiculous rules that the Mullahs enforce in this country. Whether or not these rules are enforced in households depends on the families religious faith. It also didn’t help that I was visiting during Ramadan. It is absolutely forbidden to eat/drink during daylight and virtually everywhere was closed. Obviously not everyone complies but if caught in public there is a risk of being arrested.

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Beautiful looking street food; these are filled with honey and nuts and then fired.

Another thing making travelling here even more challenging is you cannot use your debit card. The only way to get Iranian money is by doing cash exchange. The currency here is either rial or tomen (I have no idea of the differences despite numerous explanations) and nothing will prepare you for this. You are dealing with the millions.  I was told not to change my money in the airport because of the low dollar rate that day (it changes daily).  This is a massive issue for Iranians at the moment but as a westerner visiting everything appears to be v cheap. Day 1 I got totally ripped off doing this exchange as per usual I trusted the cute old man. I fall for it every time. It wouldn’t be travelling if you didn’t get ripped off at least once or in my case multiple times. You win some you loose many.

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Imam Khomeini Mosque, Tehran
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Obsessed with the stunning hand painted tiles

I happened to be in Iran for a national holiday where they were celebrating the anniversary of the death of the King. This could only mean one thing an Iranian road trip to the west of Iran, yet to be touched by tourism.  Sarah and Ali kindly invited me to tag along on their trip so I jumped on the bandwagon. We set off for a place called  Kermanshah very close the Iraq border (a 7 hour drive from Tehran).

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Road tripping with these legends

The Iranians’ are absolute lunatics on the roads so this was an exhilarating  journey. This place suffered brutally during the Iraq-Iran war. We all went couch surfing together to an eco-tomato farm. When we arrived we met another group of Iranians also couch surfing (some were volunteering with the tomatoes). We immediately hit it off despite my lack of Farsi. Back to square one with the hand communication, pain in the arse but it gets the job done. Instead of sleeping in the room with 8 Iranian men I opted to pitch my tent beside the tomatoes with a stunning view of the nearby rocky mountains. Ta Dom for the deadly treat of a brand new tent let’s hope it has more success than the previous one.

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Pretending I can speak Farsi

The farm was stunning and also grew walnuts and rose plants. It had bee hives and also farmed chickens are quail. The rose plant is extremely popular in Iran found mostly in deserts and drinks. Home for the next few days was looking pretty idyllic.

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Locals outside the Tomato Farm in Kermanshah

Hard to believe only a few days ago I was cycling around Amsterdam and now I’m wearing a hijab and speaking Farsi!

A final fact that I still can’t get my head around Iranians’s weekend is thursday and Friday so Saturday marks the start of the working week. Mind blowing stuff!

A Photographic Memory

It has taken me almost six months to be able to write this, partly because I cannot physically put into words what the trip meant to me and in a way writing this officially ends the best year of my life (I am also guilty of being v lazy). But here I want to reflect  on what I learnt from travelling solo for one year and a few of my favourite photographic memories and maybe even inspire one or two of you to book that scary one way flight into the unknown!

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The last day!!!! Starting my journey home to Dublin leaving dreamy Isla Mujeurs in Mexico 😦

Trying to settle back into ‘normal life’ after 12 months on the road has been challenging to say the least. Living in a travel bubble for one year completely separated from reality changes your priorities and your entire perspective on life. This bubble is both uncomfortable, scary, exciting and dangerously addictive. Travelling solo as a female around Latin America is definitely a challenge but is one of the most liberating  and exhilarating things I have ever done. Anyone nervous especially girls just do it. I think everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life.

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Another benefit of solo travel. You can puke all over rainbow mountain and no one needs to know about it. I had violent altitude sickness that day but managed a fake smile.

I have gotten better at embracing the here and now even if it is a two hour commute on a bicycle to Tallaght. I am a sucker for a challenge. This commute often feels like backpacking (or cycling Bolivia’s death road aka the Greenhills road in Walksintown)!

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Bolivia’s death road V my commute to work (similar gig)

Since starting I have had 4 punctures, been hit by a car (luckily I was okay the woman thought I was a wheely bin), ended up hitch hiking to a presentation (that’s a v long story), cried for an entire hour en route home pretty convinced I had frost bite (I did not!!), almost got blown away during multiple storms. Admittedly it is usually quite bleak but there is the rare day where the wind is behind my back, sun is shining and I am listening to the Beach Boys and I feel invincible. The quick morale of the story, cycling in Dublin is a joke but better than public transport!! Our bodies can do so much more than we give them credit for.

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Cycling in Amsterdam on the other hand…….

During my trip someone once told me I was a magnet for problems and disasters. Maybe that is true these disasters have subsequently followed me to Dublin and most likely will follow me wherever I end up next. Only last week I set my hair on fire in a restaurant in Berlin while roller blading a Half Marathon!!!!! Sometimes you might feel like crying  and whenever you do try your best to laugh! No joke, literally everyday of the trip there was some kind of a disaster in store both major and minor. I look back now and can honestly smile about them all.

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This is me on cloud 9 having completed my first half marathon on blades.  This is also before my hair caught on fire (most likely caused by my recent dodgy highlights which were particularly flammable).

I find it difficult to describe how I feel after the year away but it is without a doubt an emotional roller coaster consisting of indescribable joy, loneliness, guilt, sadness, isolation and fear.  A year of camping, hitchhiking, sleeping on mountains, caves and couchsurfing went by in the flash of an eye. I was broke, homeless, lost, robbed, held up at knife point and violently sick (on numerous occasions). You do stupid things and all rationale goes out the window. A perfect example of this is me buying a motorbike in Brazil with the plan of biking through the Amazon into Colombia?! In my defense I had been on a bus for almost 3 days so I was little delirious (as opposed to normal!). It is still there in case anyone reading this in headed to Brazil!?

Just a few of my photographic highlights

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Fresh off the plane. Day 1 of the trip and I am straight to the fish market in Santiago, Chile.
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Valparaiso, Chile stole my heart. I spent my first 3 weeks here (originally supposed to be 3 days).  Week one consisted  of getting  held up at knife point by two Chilains, I was attacked in my sleep by a drug dealer and lost my only debit card. This was not enough to deter me from the most enchanting  place, the people, the music and especially the street art. I rarely cry but I cried leaving Valpo. Maka thanks for the pepper spray it was literally life saving.
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My first day hitchhiking in Patagonia! A scary yet exhilarating experience. Hitch hiking was never something I planned on doing but fellow travelers easily convinced me. Little did I know it was the beginning of  a whole new level of adventure. The simplicity of this photo makes me smile and I remember how proud I was to make it to Cerro Castillo after hitchhiking with four different men. The mountain in the background is where I ended up sleeping that same night (without a tent/sleeping bag). I was luckily oblivious to the disaster that awaited me.
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Me at the top of Cerro Castillo, Patagonia. I had been trekking for 10 hours carrying my entire life (literally); laptop, wine, beer, clothes etc etc. I was covered in blood, melted butter and yogurt and was stung to death by bees. Unforgettable for all the right reasons. Patagonian scenery is so stunning it messes up with logical thinking despite everyone urging me to turn back and give up I persevered. Sleeping alone on a Patagonian glacier was yes, crazy. This was the most physical challenging thing I have ever done (2nd place is the Paris Marathon which was also hellish but at least it was only 4 hours of hell). I learnt that I am pretty hardcore, ridiculously stubborn and arguably stupid.
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Marble Caves, El Rio, Patagonia, Chile. Patagonia These caves are entirely made out of marble.
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I love the simplicity of this picture. I took this on the Carratera Austral a road in Patagonia extending  1,240km long.  This road is famous for it’s lack of transport, shops, petrol stations but more importantly for its stunning scenery of fjords, glaciers, steep mountains and lakes. Hitch hiking is a must here.
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Trekking  through  Patagonia’s Glacier Exploradores. I hadn’t slept in 48 hours  yet I didn’t feel tired at all! This was an amazing day and the scenery was just jaw dropping.
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A shell of myself at the end of the W trek (a solo 4 day mountain trek in Patagonia). I was freezing, starving and exhausted but my main memory still remains the mountains. Such a surreal place.
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Perito Moreno, Argentina. I vomited continuously at this glacier but gathered enough energy to take a few pics of this ridiculously pretty place. This day marked the beginning of my 6 week illness where I contracted a virus from drinking water from a river (in fairness I was asking for it).
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Cordero: Patagonia’s signature dish of barbecued lamb. This was a new’s years day feast where the lamb was covered in beer and barbecued for 6 hours. Without a doubt my foodie highlight of South America. This was like silk in your mouth I became quite barbaric eating this but it was a truly sensational. This was a perfect day eating cordero, drinking buckets of red wine and sunning ourselves in Ushuaia where it was surprisingly warm!
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Worth the continuous vomit inducing up hill climb for this rainbow sunrise.  I do remember thinking will I ever get better or maybe this is the new reality for me. Vomiting while camping in Patagonia is a different level of rough. For 5 minutes I completely forgot about vomit and was blown away by a double rainbow and burnt orange sunrise.
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Motorbiking from Salta to Cafayate (well not quite…sitting on the back taking photos!). This photo reminds me of two amazing things I got to do; experience couchsurfing and secondly get to motorbike around Northern Argentina (gracias Mati). I since became  a little bit obsessed with motorbikes and am now a proud owner of a Honda which is sitting in a random village in Brazil. Just another one of Ró’s genius travel decisions.
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A harrowing experience exploring the mines in Bolivia’s Potosi.
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Waiting for sunrise at Salar de Uyuni. Special special place.
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Úna!! When your Mam travels solo to Bolivia and treats you like a queen. Memories of a lifetime.
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This photo always makes me smile. I motorbiked to a peach festival in Cochabamba, Bolivia with a group of complete strangers.
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Camping in Toro Toro’s National Park in Bolivia; home to thousands of dinosaur footprints. So cool!
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Salkantay Trek; en route to see the main man: Machu Picchu
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Gocta waterfall, the third highest in the world. It has been known to the locals for centuries but it was only in 2002 it was discovered by a German who noticed it on google maps . Crazy how many un discovered beauties are potentially still out there. This was definitely one of my Peruvian highlights and better still no body else was there! 
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Successfully completing the Santa Cruz trek in Huarez in Peru.  Again from a very un-reliable source I was told this was a walk in the park and I would be fine solo. I was not……and spent the 3 day trek stranded on the Cordillera Blanca.  That being said this is home to the Paramount picture mountain so it had to be included as a highlight!
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I will never forget snorkeling in the Galapogos Islands in Ecuador. Just incredible.  Everything about the Galapagos is a highlight.
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Wild Galapagos Tortoise. Obsessed with these guys.
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Seals doing what they do best; chilling. Isabella, the Galapagos.
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Celebrating Colombia’s world cup with the locals. I made it onto Colombian radio for correctly predicting the match result (3-0 to Colombia V Poland). It insured free drink for myself and Nils for the  rest of the day!
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Typical lunch scenes in Cartagena, Colombia
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Picking up a hot German in an airport in Ecuador has definitely got to be a highlight! This is Nils, we met going to the Galapagos Islands and initially I hung out of him for his very efficient and organised travel itinerary. We shared left over lobster on our first date (the couple next to us where sending it back so I  controversially asked the waiter would he mind if we ate their left-overs). An uncomfortable yet perfect experience. I soon found out he was also pretty sound and we spent an amazing 8 weeks travelling around Colombia together.
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Getting to play 5 aside football against the locals in El Rio, Colombia. The pitch was in the middle of the jungle doesn’t get more authentic than that.
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Communa 13, Medellin, Colombia. Previously known as one of the most dangerous districts in the world.  It has since reformed itself  through art and music and stole my heart.
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When you friends travel across the world to see you (and of course Colombia). For the first time in 9 months I was given new clothes, hair and make up and made feel female again!
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The trip around the San Blas was incredible from the people, the culture and the food. I have never seen or experienced beaches like this. I doubt anything will ever compare. LOVED it.
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Guanjuato’s (Mexico) local market. I creeped on this man for ages he seemed so content selling his tomatoes. I was always at my happiest when surrounded by food.
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Cipriano; Serving the people of Real de Catorce (Mexico) with menudo. It is a horrendous concoction of sheep intestine and chilis. A must try while in Mexico. I spent the afternoon chatting to the 83-year-old who had never once left his home town and he couldn’t’ have been happier.
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Camping in Real de Catorce, a small village built-in the middle of a desert. I befriended two dogs here Cookie and Cracker who I will never forget. The only way to access the village is through a 3 km tunnel. Cracker was hit by a motorbike as I was leaving the village trying to follow me. The loyalties of dogs is an amazing thing.
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Cascada Tamul in Huasteca Potasina, Mexico. I hitch hiked to this place with a group of roudy retired Mexicans after a night camping in a random man’s house. My whole week in Huasteca Potasina  was a series of very dodgy (and exciting) adventures ( I won’t elaborate….).
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Barancas de Cobre: Mexico’s hidden gem. I zip lined through the whole canyon. Myself  and Tim a man I picked up on the bus had the place to ourselves. Pictures will never justify this place. Without a doubt scenery wise, my favourite place in Mexico (and 3 times as large as the grand canyon!)
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This picture speaks for itself. I love and relate to it.
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One of the best things I ate in Mexico was this home made tortilla.  The woman grew her own corn, milled it and made fresh tortillas everyday.
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Waking up to sunrise at Hierve del Agua in Mexico. I was told I was crazy to camp here alone…well I wasn’t alone, the restaurant lady lent me her three dogs who minded me for the night. The next morning I got to explore for hours before the tour buses came in their droves.  Skinny dipping beside a petrified waterfall without costing a penny has got to be a Mexican highlight.
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El Chepe: One of the world’s most stunning train journeys located in Northern Mexico. Northern Mexico is known as being really dangerous so very few tourists come here and I was also advised against it. It was here where I left my passport in the fruit/veg aisle in a small supermarket. It was returned 24 hours later. Never judge a place based on other people’s opinions go and see for yourself.
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Northern Mexico getting another shout out.  Myself and an Israeli chap motorbiked to Creel. Trying to to take this photo was extremely dodgy but totally worth it!
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This is Rosa pre booze, a lovely lady from Creel, Northern Mexico.  This woman pestered me for ages begging for money to buy water. Obviously no one is going to deny an elderly woman water so I gave in. Moments later Rosa emerges with a bottle of tequila which she shared with me! (and yes tequila and water are the same price in Mexico).
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Rosa post booze. Rosa is now perched in our bathroom and every time I pee I am reminded of the day I went boozing with one of the Northern Mexico’s biggest legends. Her face tells a thousand stories.

Some parting advice;

Don’t always take the easy option get on that bike, book that flight, step into the unknown and who knows what might happen you may even be lucky enough to pick up a hot German in the airport.  Life can pass us by in the blink of an eye so speak to that stranger, be open-minded and curious. Everyone has an untold story waiting to be heard.

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Biking/Camping  through Northern Argentina

I completely get that hitchhiking, couch surfing and sleeping in tents isn’t everyone’s gig but it’s always good to put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again (no need to be as extreme as me aka 8 weeks straight in a tent). The experiences you will have will be authentic, exciting and unforgettable. You think you can’t do it but you absolutely can!

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Just maybe invest in a better tent than mine 😉 This was taken in Palenque in Mexico during a thunder storm (the sunglasses are just because of sleep deprivation). My Christmas present to myself was a tent and I it was the best thing I have ever bought even though we both looked constantly disheveled.

Money seriously comes and goes and ultimately can be replaced. Some of my happiest memories are when I didn’t have any. Material things are so un-important but memories will last forever. I know its v cheesy but it’s true. I became so much better at accpeting at dealing with things that got lost, broken and robbed and believe me there were a record amount of things.

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Broke times while living in Cusco. I managed to be-friend a smelly hippy called Ekkie who taught me how to busk using a tambourine. Earned enough to buy an ice cream=success

The best thing I did on the trip? becoming fluent in Spanish. I will never forget Christmas was spent with a group of Chilanos who hadn’t a word of English and after everyone pissing themselves at my Spanish attempts I persevered and months later I landed myself a job in a hostel in Cusco and was able to lap away to every randomer who came through the doors in Spanish. Progress!! It’s hard work at the beginning but just power through it is so so worth it. The whole point about travelling is obviously seeing amazing places but for me it is more about connecting with the people. Doing both is a glorious combo.

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Getting to talk to cute locals like this in spanish is really special

Life is a series of peaks and valleys and just like traveling  it is not always going to be Instagram perfect  but wherever you are living learn to live in the moment is the best thing we can do. No matter how grim, how cold, how tired or how fed up you are there is always a solution, put a smile on your face and power through. Even a 25 hour bus can have its up sides!  Some of my most challenging moments of the trip are now my best stories and fondest memories but at the time I clearly remember thinking I had hit rock bottom (sleeping in a cave alone is perfect example of this).

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Low times in Santa Cruz. Getting stranded in the Andes in Peru is no laughing matter. Sleeping alone in a cave with a bunch of cow’s sounds worse than it actually was. As good as you would get in the Westbury.

A final thank you to all of the amazing people I met on the trip, the strangers who took me in, fed me, the couch surfing community and those who picked me up off the sides of the street. I am also so grateful to everyone who spared the time to read about some of my trip.Your comments and messages meant the world to me.

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A huge apology for the stress I caused. Dom and Una; two saints who put up with my  loose travels.

This quote perfectly summarises  what travelling means to me

”Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain

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‘We all have a little spark of madness we mustn’t loose it ‘ Robin Williams. Me, Magda, Iv and Sheldon Manuel in Merida Mexico. The most legendary couch surfing hosts.

 

Week 50: Merida & Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Isla Mujuers. Mexico

My final week of the trip was ending in Cancun where I was to take a bitter-sweet flight back to Dublin.  The rest of my time was spent  in Merida, known as Latin America’s cultural capital. It has so much to give. My time was mainly spent eating (The Yucatan is one of Mexico’s foodie highlights). One of the days myself and Iv went to a group of cenotes which are natural waterholes. This was an incredible day, to access them we had to go by horse and carriage. We were essentially alone for the most of the time and had the cenotes completely to ourselves. The Mayans consider the water in a cenote to be sacred and are very protective over them. There is something magical about this water for the next few days our skin felt like a baby’s bottoms.

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Our ride to the hidden Cenotes
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Having some shut-eye in the most incredible Cenote
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Iv in one Merida’s secret cenotes
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The amazing roof top of one of the cenotes.

Some of the other foodie highlights of Merida included; tacos borracho aka drunk tacos where they cook chorizo in beer (a ridiculously good combination), salbutes (fried tacos), cochinita pilbil (divine pork), queso relleno to name just a few. The Yucatan hands down has the best food (with the exception of Mole from Oaxaca; a glorious concoction of chocolate and chili’s and lots of other divine ingredients).

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Most of my Mexican Food Photos have one bite out of them I can never resist that first hot bite of food.
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Mole; the stuff of dreams. This is traditionally from Oaxaca but I ate this one in Merida. We had to order two of them they were that good.
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I can’t remember what this is but I ate two of them. Need I say more.

En route home from the cenotes I really wanted to try the Yucatan’s iconic dish of Poc Chuc where pork is marinated in citrus juices and seasoned with achiote paste from the annatto seed. It is cooked in strips on the grill. So we drove the guts of 2 hours to the desolate town of Mani where they are famous for the creation of this dish. We screamed our hearts out to Mexico’s most famous singer Luis Miguel en route. For those of you that know me will know I have become a little bit obsessed with him. There is a netflix series about his life which is a must watch for everyone!  When we arrived in Mani the fecking restaurant was closed. Apparently the town of Mani shuts down after 6pm on a Saturday. Anyway positive as always we bombed it back to Merida and settled for a mountain of Panuchos, fried tortilla topped with all the local favorites of shredded turkey, cabbage, picked red onion. Anything tortilla based in Mexico (which is basically everything) is bound to be gorgeous. Be warned! the food in Mexico will make you fat! It is just sooo good.

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I have arrived at La Chingada!!!! (something only Mexicans will understand)

One of the days we just went exploring the gorgeous town of Merida where I was lucky enough to bump into Mexico’s newest president. We did a spot of shopping and of course plenty more eating with Iv and all of her family. The family were genuinely like saints and treated me like I was more important than the president.

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Peeling the clothes off me in the humidity; picking up some Mayan clothing
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When bartering turns into friendship
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Day out in Merida with my new Mexican family
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A standard roundabout in Merida
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Merida is famous for its restored Hacienda. The most stunning buildings
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Merida is filled with this cute joined chairs, it is known as being one of the most romantic places in Mexico
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I was never that tanned just some v good lighting!

One member of the family that can’t be forgotten is the adorable Sheldon. A legend of a dog that I wanted to take home with me. He joined us on all of our excursions.

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Shelon Manuel Demonte

We finished the day by making our way to the beach the most northerly point of Mexico, Progresso. It was so beautiful watching all of the fishermen do their sunset fishing.

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Sunrise and Sunet are the best times of the day to catch fish
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Sunset fishing in the Caribbean
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Marquesitas with the best

My last night spent with Iv and Magda consisted of a Mayan fashion shoot where I got to try on all of the traditional clothing. All of the clothes are beautifully hand stitched and like nothing I have even seen before. Magda gave me a gift of a gorgeous red dress as a memory of Merida and a tutorial on how to properly sleep in a hammock (this is a skill). The dress has since gotten a lot of airtime I love it. I will never be able to thank this family enough, truly special people who treated a stranger like royalty. I met Iv in the desert in Mexico in a remote place called Real de Catorce. I was camping and she was staying in a hotel. She used to supply me with the free shampoos and breakie bits, like gold at the time. She was travelling solo around her own country and we bonded over some gorditas (Mexican tacos) and our love of Mexico. We have stayed in touch ever since.

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You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it’ Robin Williams.
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One lunatic leading the other. Magda is 83 years old, has slept in a hammock her whole life. Battled cancer for years, survived. Traveled the world on a motorbike. She is the epitome of living and an inspiration to us all. Muchas gracias amiga ‘hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo’
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Sheldon at the fashion shoot. This is the most expensive piece of Mayan clothing that exists in Mexico
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Merida’s famous ice cream (more like sorbet) car where there specialty flavour is mamay a traditional Mexican fruit. I could live off this stuff.

I made my way to Chichen Itza to see the famous archaeological site. This is like the Machu Pichu of Mexico and is known as one of the man-made wonders of the world. I wasn’t going to bother going as I had been to Palenque but you get a sense of FOMO if you don’t go to see a wonder of the word. It was a very pleasant morning I nipped in and out early to avoid the hoards of tourists. What wasn’t so pleasant was my refusal to pay for the cloak room which meant I had to cart my backpack around the sacred site. Served me right. I am not that obsessed with ruins so a quick in and out job is perfect for me.

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The backpack got dumped in a bush for this shot
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The main man: Chichen Itza
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In fairness, v impressive

Afterwards in an attempt to cool down I went to cenote Ik kil for a dip. It was beautiful but way too touristy for my liking. It was completely different to the ones in Merida where we were lucky enough to have them to ourselves. I was too scabby to pay for another locker so myself, backpack and additional bags walked down hundreds of steps to get into the cenote. A gorgeous day all round ended by me hitch hiking  to Valladolid where I was eventually making my way to Playa del Carmen for the home stretch of the trip. I stocked up on some corona and peanuts with a few old mexican men and we all squeezed into a TINY collectivo for the 3 hour journey. (peanuts and corona were a mistake in hindsight, I ended up puking out the window in true Ró style!).

In Playa I was meeting my friend Brenda who I used to work with in Cusco in Peru. She is working as a doctor in Play del Carmen but is originally from Monterrey. I ended up leaving all my bits in a Mexican dentists office and went exploring as Brenda had to work. I have to say Playa lived up to its awful expectations. I felt like I was in Magaluf. It was a real slap in the face that my trip had come to an end (and apparently Cancun is much worse). This place is filled with western restaurants and bars, hoards of Americans, all english speaking, high-rise hotels, tacky shops and you pay for things in dollars. It was horrific and I immediately to decided to escape to a nearby Island for my last 2 days.

Iv, my friend from Merida put me in touch with her friend who lives in Cozumel, an island near Cancun. The gent sorted me out with free ferry tickets and offered to drive me around the island. An offer I couldn’t refuse and I was delira to leave grotty Playa del Carmen. I just went for the day. It was absolutely idyllic. I splashed out on a private bed on the beach and amazingly it was deserted so I had the place to myself. The snorkeling was really impressive. Crazily I only had my first margarita on my second last day (I had been sticking to straight mescal and tequila). It was dolla bill but worth every penny. Long gone are the days of eating stale bread in Patagonia and cold pasta out of cereal boxes.

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My own private section of beach in Cozumel
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Stormy sunsets in Cozumel
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Stocking up on the last of Mexico’s delicious seafood

I wanted to spend my last night on an Island avoiding Cancun like the plague. The plan originally was to go to Holbox which is supposed to be more authentic than Isla Mujuers. Anyway time was not on my side and I only had one night left so myself and Brenda opted for Isla Mujuers and it was perfect. There is no doubt that it is very touristy but if you search enough you will find quiet pockets of absolute bliss.

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Isla Mujeurs
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Palm tree bliss
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The last swim of the year
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Spending my last night of the trip with one of Mexico’s legends; Brenda!!

 

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Marshmallow sunsets

Our last night was perfect. We dined in one of the Island’s best restaurants; Limon. Ta Jo for the serious recommendation. They are famous for their caramelized pineapple desert. The owner/head chef Sergio is bbq-ing the finest seafood and meat in his garden. I am allergic to taxis, no matter where I go so I convinced Brenda the walk wasn’t that long. We walked the entire length of the Island (about one hour) until we arrived drenched in sweat to the finest restaurant going. Nothing a few margaritas didn’t fix. The pina is a sensation. You get served half a pineapple where they caramelise the inside and flambe it with rum and serve it with ice cream. Definitely a contender for the best dessert I have ever eaten.

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Muchas gracias amiga! nos vemos in Irlanda!
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The journey home begins……My last photo of the entire trip. The smile is fake my bag is 30kg

The airport was a disaster with the bag 10 kg over weight it was going to come with a hefty price tag. I was a bit of an emotional wreck anyway that when the flood works came on your woman left me off scott free when I explained to her that I wante to keep my tent. There was issues going through security when they found 6 pork and mole tacos in my bag. I explained to the police man that it was my last Mexican taco  and he let me away with it. I gifted him with a taco to thank him. There is no end to the disasters but I wouldn’t have it anyother way make life more interesting.

Mexico you have stolen my heart. I will be back

Week 50: San Cristobal de las Casas ,Palenque & Merida. Mexico

Myself, Lorcan and Emma decided to do a cookery class to learn how to make tortillas from scratch; Mexico’s most iconic food.  We firstly went on a tour of the market which was great where the woman explained all of the weird and wonderful things you typically see in Mexican cuisine. The markets here are incredible and you could easily spend hours floating about.

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Fijoles aka beans!
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Stocking up on meat
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Browsing for Chicharron (aka crackling); the stuff of dreams

After purchasing all of our ingredients we went back to her house where we started making the dough and our fillings for our tacos and quesadillas. I was in my element. We also learnt how to make traditional Mexican salsas and guacamole. One of the most interesting things we tasted was a type of corn that had mushrooms growing from the side of it. Apparently these guys are really rare in  Mexico but were so so good. The tortillas we made were black because of the variety of maize we used. Nothing will ever compare to the taste of a homemade tortilla ridiculously good.

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Emma finding it hilarious making tortillas
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What a quesadilla should actually look like
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Spot the graceful Irish eating

My last day in San Cristobal was spent recording videos on the exotic fruits and vegetables found in Chiapus. Emma kindly co produced these. We rewarded ourselves afterwards with a trip to the famous wine bar where the hours seem to disappear too quickly. We had spent that day mooching around the shops and cafes. San Cristobal is famous for the amber stone. I tried to buy some as it is dirt cheap but failed miserably and settled instead for some pox tasting (a delicious liquor made from corn).

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Myself and Emma trying out the local pastries (these are minging by the way) Stick to the tacos and you can’t go wrong)
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A typical Mexican scene; Emma, myself and Rob dripping in sweat while eating spicy tacos

Based on the success of tortilla making class stemmed the idea of an Irish taco bar named; Bag of Limes so watch this space……

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Shooting some lowpro videos
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Emma such a pleasure meeting you. Buen viaje
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Myself and Emma doing a spot of Pox tasting
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Good bye to beautiful San Cristobal I cannot wait to come back

The next day both myself and Rob planned on making our way to Palenque. Usually the bus to is 3 hours but naturally enough in our case it was 10. Surprisingly it went pretty smoothly as we were warned about road blocks which are v common in this area. Some of the locals lay out a load of nails on the road and demand 50 pesos off each passenger to let the bus pass by. I was lucky enough on this occasion to be travelling with Rob because as per usual there were a few funny fish on the bus. We arrived v late and felt fairly delirious after the long journey.

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Arriving to horribly humid Palenque in my PJ’s looking like a hobo

Palenque is famous for its Mayan ruins but what makes this place distinct is that the ruins are located in the middle of the jungle. They are supposedly more beautiful and less crowded that some of the other more well-known ones. Rob who was travelling for 5 weeks was also an avid camper. He was keen to camp in the jungle so delira with a camping buddy I decided to join him. We rocked up to these cabanas who were charging a whopping 3,000 pesos for a cabana compared to a refreshing 100 pesos to pitch the tents.  Obviously there was no one staying there for that price so we had the place to ourselves including the most stunning private pool. Palenque is insanely hot so I was pretty worried about sleep that night. I was almost 10 weeks in Mexico and my first and only bad meal was in Palenque which in fairness isn’t bad going. The uninspiring chicken fajita were served with a side of salsa aka ketchup in this case. Really really bad. Unfortunately we were in the middle of no where so had no other choice. During the minging dinner there was a torrential rain storm where my tent conveniently leaked. Rob’s gear was a little bit more upscale so he was home and dry. Despite the wet I managed a couple of hours sleep. The beer always helps with this and after almost 1 year on the road my sleep standards are extremely low.

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The only 2 clever clogs camping
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The damp broken tent. She is growing on me
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Star fruit trees located outside our tents. Absolutely love this fruit and its my first time seeing/eating it in the wild

We were woken to the sound of howler monkeys which was pretty cool. We made an early start to try to see the ruins before the heat and the crowds. We had a delicious breakfast of tamales and tacos. Dirt cheap and ridiculously tasty. I am not the biggest ruin fan but figured while in Mexico I had to see at least one. I was pleasantly surprised and actually really enjoyed them. They were absolutely stunning and the backdrop of the jungle made it a truly enchanting place.

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Me at Palenque’s vast jungle
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Catching the early sun
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Rob exploring Palenque from below
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Gorgeous little houses in Palenque

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That afternoon we were wiped from walking around the ruins it is pretty exhausting. We chilled in our private pool while nursing a couple of beers. Where we had pitched our tents we were surrounded by lime, banana, mango and star fruit trees. We used to pick fresh limes to put into our ice-cold coronas which we drank in the pool. Not a whole lot to complain about that setup. We then ventured into town for a delicious lunch and went browsing for a Piñatas for Rob’s nieces.

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Glamping in Mexico
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How the other half live

Back at the pool I spent a while chatting to a creepy Dentist offering me free accommodation at his ranch. Maybe next time…… I was planning on catching the night bus to Merida to meet my friend Iv. This particular night bus was notoriously dangerous but I decided to take my chances with no alternative option. Before catching the bus myself, Gustavo and Rob met up for some wine and seafood. With my trip sadly coming to an end I am allowing myself a few more treats wine being one of them!

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Sweaty Seafood dinners with Rob and Gustavo

The night bus was rough and absolutely freezing. I was completely wiped out of it with the air con. I arrived at the crack of dawn and there was another backpacker outside crying because she had been robbed on the bus. I felt awful for her as I have been in that situation and it is the worst especially when alone. Rob caught the same bus the following night where two other people were robbed and they attempted to rob Rob but he managed to kick them off. So unfortunately the bus lived up to its awful reputation. God only knows how I got off scot-free.

Iv, the most gorgeous Mexican who I met in Real de Catorce while I was camping invited me to her home in Merida. She came to pick me and insisted I stay with her. At this stage of the trip I was looking very disheveled and to be honest I was hanging on by a thread. The visit to Iv’s house couldn’t have come at a better time. It was only when I arrived that I realised I had left my camera, bag of electronics and some clothes in Palenque which was 12 hours away! A desastre.

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The moment you realise you have left half your stuff in a Mexican jungle 12 hours away!!! You either laugh or cry so I choose to laugh!

 

Like most places in Mexico I ended up staying longer than expected. Merida is beautiful and parts look really similar to Cuba. The heat is the only issue but is a pretty big one. It can sometimes reach up to 50 degrees. Needless to say I was dying. Iv knew I had no clothes to my name so including the huge private room she gave me she  also included loads of clothes. Iv you are one of the kindest people I have ever met thank you for taking me in and showing me the most amazing Mexican hospitality.

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Iv, her mother Magda and her niece Vale eating Marquesitas. These are a typical sweet pancake from Yucatan and are traditionally served with cheese and sometimes nutella. They are ridiculously good

My first day with Iv who is also a foodie involved going on a road trip with her and her legendary mother; Magda. Magda is 83 years old and when she was younger traveled the world on her motorbike.  She is a hero and we immediately hit it off. We went to the town of Motul to sample their famous breakfast of Huevos Motulenos. This is a popular  dish with the locals consisting of fried eggs served on tortillas with refried black beans and a tomato-based sauce, which is often studded with ham, peas, and plantains and then sprinkled with cheese.The Yucatan has some of the best Mexican food and the most variety.  The place we went to is the most famous place to get this dish and on a busy day they might go through over 1000 eggs.

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Iv and her family having Merida’s most famous ice cream shop Helados Colon. They specialise in sorbets. The best flavour is Mamey, a local Mexican fruit.

Next stop of the day was a quick dip in a nearby cenote (a natural underwater pit). We then drove to the town of Izamal. It is known as the Yucatan’s yellow city where all of the buildings are painted yellow this is compulsory and the result is nothing short of magical. It is also known as one of Mexico’s Pueblo’s Magicos.

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Izamal’s most iconic building
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A lovely little dog having an explore of the Monostroy
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Brewing storms

More food was on the menu in the afternoon where  I tasted more local dishes in the most stunning restaurant. I tasted  papadazules (tortillas stuffed with hard-boiled eggs and topped with a sauce made of pumpkin seeds and tomato), Queso Relleno (Edam cheese, stuffed with a mixture of pork, peppers, onions, tomatoes, raisins, capers, olives and herbs and spices) and sopa de Lima  (soup made from chicken stock and lime and filled with chunks of chicken and pieces of fried tortilla).  All of this was polished off with  Agua de Chaya.  A traditional drink from the Yucatan made from a local spinach. This is really good for you and so refreshing.

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Hand made tortillas

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Iv and the sublime queso relleno

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Legendary mother and daughter outside Izamal’s best restaurant Kinich

Luckily Rob was also planning a trip to Merida which coincided nicely with him being able to return all of my stuff from Palenque’s jungle. We met for Moijitos in La Negrita (Merida’s coolest bar) and exchanged the goods. Once again someone was looking over me. Rob such a pleasure travelling with you for the short time good luck with your vegetable allotment and more importantly your beer making business.

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La Negrita
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Sweating with the excitement of tasting our first Mexican tequila; Don Julio
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Merida’s best bar; La Negrita. Only buying mojitos only for the free sunglasses!

Week 49: San Cristobal de las Casas. Mexico

Myself, Gustavo (a lad I met while eating seafood in Puerto) and Rob (another lad I met while eating goat in Oaxaca) all caught the same night bus from Mazunte to San Cristobal de las Casas.  Everything generally evolves around the food here in Mexico. As always it was a turbulent puke inducing journey. I was luckily positioned beside an aggressive snorer that serenaded me for the 12 hours. We all booked into the gorgeous hostel;Puerta Vieja. Gustavo was a lovely man from Bariloche in Argentina and was a bit of a yogi. He was mad for the meditation and a big believer in the hollistic way of life. He refused to use creams, mosquito repellent or any unnatural substances. Not exactly my gig but a nice chap all the same.

The worst thing about night buses is arriving at the crack of dawn with hours to kill before you can hit the leaba. On this occasion we were lucky and the hostel let us have their delicious breakie. This consisted of empanadas with guava juice and buckets of coffee. Poor aul Gustavo lost his shoes on the bus (he had been hanging out with me for far too long) so he went back to try and hunt them down. Myself and Rob decided to power through the tiredness and did the free walking tour. San Cristobal de las Casas is on everyone’s hit list while in Mexico and rightly so it a gem of a place. It  is a highland town in Southern Mexican in the state of Chiapas.

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San Cristobal de las Casas

It has a similar buzz to Oaxaca except is smaller, more quaint and prettier as far as I am concerned. It is well known for its wine and coffee scene.Need I say more? I had planned on camping out here for a good few days to soak it all in. The walking tour was amazing and probably one of the better ones I have done on the trip (best one still remains La Paz in Bolivia).

The guide brought to all the different markets and explained about the indigenous people in Chiapus. He brought us to loads of different coffee shops, cool bars and galleries. This is the type of town you could mooch around in for hours and get stuck in for days or even weeks! After the tour and some shots of pox (a liquor  made out of corn) a few of us joined the guide for lunch in his favourite restaurant; famous for its soups (more like stews). I went for the really healthy version of beef, chorizo and chicharron (pork cracking). This was sensational!

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I could love off this stuff
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Dossing from work; behind a bunch of lettuce
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Chillis!
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San Cristobal is famous for its candle making

I was having a chill in the hostel when I heard the refreshing sound of a north Dublin accent. It had been a while. Lorcan from Clonliffe road also travelling solo indefinitely around Mexico. He provided me with some much needed Irish sense of humour that I had so badly missed. A legend! Lorcan was the definition of cool. He wore shoes and tracksuit bottoms and a fanny pack around his chest and got away with it. Need I say more? I was so lucky with the people I met in the hostel and we quickly formed a great gang.

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Spot the Dub

That night, we all took advantage of the unlimited free cocktails in the hostel. Generally there is a catch but on this occasion there was no none and they were actually v decent so this escalated into a Mexican/ Irish dancing session. The beauty of travelling as an Irish girl solo is that anytime you break into Irish dancing people think you are Micheal Flatley. Any aul muck will satisfy a casual onlooker. The next morning a bunch of very hungover backpakers pilled into the bus to take us to the Sumidero Canyon. This is a massive canyon set within a National Park. The canyon is instantly impressive and home to so much wildlife such as; crocodiles, monkeys and thousands of birds. One of the most shocking things about it was the rubbish. It was horrible seeing animals chilling on plastic bottles. Apparently during rainy season all the rubbish from the nearby villages floats down into the canyon. They make attempts to clean it up but are failing miserably.

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Rubbish in the Sumidero Canyon
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Stunning waterfall in the Sumidero Canyon
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Crocodile having a chill
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Boating through the canyon
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Obsessed with Sumidero’s waterfall

En route home we stopped off at a random town where all we were fit to do was to stock up on goat tacos. Back home, I crawled back into the leaba for a quick power nap before hitting San Cristobal’s famous wine bar. 1 euro glasses of wine served out of an actual wine glass which also included free tapas. A dangerous place.

Myself and Lorcan escaped to watch the Conor Mc Gregor fight where we were conveniently sat beside a group of rowdy Mexicans. The excitement got too much for them and they needed to escort their very drunk Mexican friend home. So happy days we were left to the honors of  finishing off their bucket of beers. A tough job that someone had to do. Afterwards we made it back to the wine bar for a few more late night tipples. Things escalated quite quickly when a funny German starting setting off fire works. That was our que to leave.

The next days plan was to visit to the famous village of Chamula.  We picked up a few randomers from the hostel who joined us for the day. I have never experienced anything like this place before it is on a complete other level. Firstly the village is made up entirely of indigenous people who speak their own language. This community is mostly known for its church. They have a very distinct culture that they are very private and protective about. Tourists are allowed to pay to visit the church but are forbidden to take photos. One guy from the hostel got his phone smashed out of his hand for trying to take a photo. Another guy I met got his hand whipped by a man on a horse for attempting to take a photo.

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Chamula’s famous church
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The locals in San Yuan

Inside, the church is a different kettle of fish. The floor is entirely covered in pine needles and there are hundreds of candles. To add nicely to this fire hazard everyone is drinking Pox a lethal spirit made out of corn.  Another common practice in the church is for them to kill chickens as a sacrifice if a loved one in sick or they are praying for someone. The people of San Yuan believe that if they drink until they pass out it will cleanse them so their goal is to drink until they collapse. While we were walking around at about 2 pm in the day we saw countless amounts of people just collapsed on the streets.

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Typical scenes in San Yuan
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And another one bites the dust

We were lucky enough to arrive during one of their many festivals
(which happens about every month). The party had been in full swing since 5 am! There were fire works being randomly set off. I almost ended up in one of them fairly lethal but an unforgettable experience nonetheless. Everyone was dressed up in their indigenous clothes which were made out of fur just what you need in 30 degrees heat.

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Having a gossip
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Parades in and out of the church
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Chilling outside church

En route out of the village one of my friends from the hostel Emma got groped by a drunken man. This is just one of the many examples of this crazy little village. Anyone visiting San Cristobal you need to visit this town which is only 10km away. It is amazingly bonckers. Go on a Sunday for market day that’s when all the madness happens.

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Back streets of San Cristobal

One lazy afternoon back at the hostel a German lad asked me to go for coffee and watch sunset with him. We went back to a gorgeous art gallery we had visited during the tour. This had the most stunning view of the city at sunset. Wined out of it we decided to stick with a coffee on this occasion. Germany opted for a brownie but little did he know it was a happy brownie. En route home we stopped to listen to some street artists drumming. Afterwards, Germany looked very emotional and he said he had never experienced anything more beautiful in his life.  I honestly thought that they were only alright and wanted to leave half way. He then went on to give a 500 peso donation this is mad money for Mexico. To put it in perspective I was routing around for 5 pesos to give and eventually abandoned ship when I couldn’t find it. I tried to warn Germany not to give all of his money away saying the drummers were good but I could have done a better job myself. A good lesson to Germany is to steer clear of the space cakes in the future It was the drummers who were the happy ones earning a small fortune that night.

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Sunsets in San Cristobal
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No wonder Germany was happy looking at this

San Cristobal and its numerous wine bars and not to mention Puerta Vieja’s insanely comfy beds made it impossible to leave and we all extended our stay.

Week 48: Puerto Escondido & Mazunte. Mexico

The week started off at Puerto Escondido’s typical slow pace. My days here are a bit of a blur so apologies for the lack of detail. There were a few things I really wanted from Puerto; relaxation, swimming in the sea and the most important was to taste Pepe’s famous fish tacos. From travelers I had met along the way I had heard rave reviews. I took one of the hostel’s bike and went on a journey to try to  find the man himself. I heard Pepe did excellent cookery classes which I really wanted to try.  I arrived to Pepe’s shack on the outskirts of Zicatela’s main beach.

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Cycle 10 minutes in Puerto and you will have the beach to yourself

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Morning swims my favourite time of the day

First reactions of Pepe weren’t great. Firstly he was half-naked chopping down wood and presumably drunk or high or most likely both. When I inquired about the taco making class Pepe started shouting and cursing saying he was pissed off with the world and that the owner didn’t pay rent etc etc etc. I thought I had the wrong Pepe. He was bulling because his waitress never turned up for work and he would have to make the Tacos himself. Not exactly a big deal as I was the only customer. Luckily she rocked up, drunk aswell. The taco eventually was thrown together. At this stage expectations were v low but what was produced was nothing short of a master piece. Sword fish coated in a coconut batter served with guacamole, pineapple salsa, smoky picante and the most glorious yogurt dip.  I was raging Pepe wasn’t able for the classes because I want the recipe badly.

Pepe has a lot of problems but the fish tacos ain’t one of them. Por favor give this man a Michelin star and maybe some counselling.

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A work of art

En route home I had a taste for fish tacos and I wanted more so I stopped by a place recommended to me by the hostel, El viaje.

I got chatting to a random man called Yuan who was sitting next to me. He subsequently told me his best mate also called Yuan owned the restaurant. A general rule of thumb if you don’t know a Mexicans name a safe bet is Yuan (or Jose). Anyway long story short I got lapping to the owner and we had a bitch about Pepe and he offered me a job for the following morning

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Yuan’s prawn and fish tacos

So delighted with the opportunity to learn how to make Mexican Tacos I arrived the next morning with bells on. Yuan’s tacos were excellent too with a touch of Italy. He spent a few years in Italy and you can tell from his food. I think Italian food is the best in the world so this was always going to be a sensational combo.

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The excitement over cutting a Mexican avocado. This superstar will beat Pepe in the kitchen any day of the week

I was a bit nervy starting work based on my previous experience in a Mexican kitchen getting screamed at by chef Regina (the witch). Anyway this was Puerto Escondido and things here are v chilled so I was in for a treat. We had some craic and Yuan and all the staff were so nice to me. I learnt heaps, ate loads and sweated buckets. It was really busy so I was kept going frying prawns, toasting tortillas and making guac. I sampled the most insane ceviche, carpachio of fish and of course countless amounts of tacos. They had to roll me out of the place. The owner Yuan used to be a professional surfer and a couple of years ago he randomly moved to Russia to open a Taco bar serving authentic Mexican food. He is a legend and overall great guy. On this occasion it seriously paid off chatting to strangers.

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They even made me some lowpro tacos

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The most delicious ceviche

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This is a traditional Mexican breakfast called Chilaquiles: a yummy unhealthy combo of fried tortillas, tomato picante topped with cream, cheese, onion and avocado

I was beefed when I got back to the hostel having been on my feet all day in the humid heat. I’m also not exactly accustomed to doing any work. Any one going to Puerto you need to check out Yuan’s restaurant (El Viaje). His most famous taco is the smoked fish. He smokes the fish himself out the back and it is divine.

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EL Viaje’s legendary staff and a very sweaty Ró

That evening, a group from the hostel were all heading off to the main beach of Zicatela to have beers and watch the sunset. Beer is just what the doctor ordered so I tagged along. We spent the night bar hoping and finished off into the early hours drinking mescal while watching an electrical storm on the beach.

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One of the many sunsets in Puerto

Fabien one of the gals staying the hostel was a funny fish (in the best possible way). She was 50 odd and was Italian/Argentinian but lived in Brasil. Anyway she asked me to go to the beach with her and after a few beers (at 10am!!!) she had me up doing salsa dancing on front of e body . She used to be a professional dancer for carnival in Brasil so knew her shit. I’m not easily embarrassed but on this occasion MORTIFIED!

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Crazy Fabian and randomer in the beautiful hostel’s pool

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Saying goodbye while travelling is always the hardest part. This is Samuel and Fabien, absolute legends

Anyway as much as I wanted to stay longer in Puerto lots of people had told me there were more beautiful quieter beaches further down the coast that were worth seeing.

Leaving the hostel was a bit of a disaster. Anytime I have to move the backpack things get chaotic and things go missing. On this occasion it was the passport. I was half way down the street en route to the bus stop when one of the staff from the hostel came sprinting after me with my passport saying I had forgotten it at reception. These kind of situations are becoming more and more frequent. I have just been extremely lucky with the sound people I have met that have prevented lots of potential disasters.

I ended up hitch hiking to Mazunte because I missed the last bus.  Mazunte is a very sleepy beach town very popular with the hippy community. I arrived and checked into a hostel on the beach and was sharing with two lovely girls. I only planned on staying 2 nights here as for the first time in my whole trip I was short on time and I had to rush. There is not doubt that Mazunte is stunning but it is also insanely hot even more so than Puerto Escondido.

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Magical Mazunte

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The most stunning coffee shop views

I got wind that there was free yoga happening the following am at 7 am on top of the hill. I’m a sucker for anything free so decided to give it a whirl.

I arrived and immediately felt like I was in a cult. The first thing I saw was there was a ban on talking!! I thought a little ott but just went with the flow. I got my mat and for some reason felt like a criminal. I couldn’t even ask for the yoga class because of talking ban. I made the most of this and just had a nap. An hour later the teacher comes in and I figured this must have been the free yoga class. Obviously I was wrong and it transpired that it was a two-hour work shop on becoming a yoga instructor. The people in the class were on a months retreat and considering I wasn’t allowed talk  I felt like I couldn’t leave in case I disturbing the zen mode. As everyone was scribbling down notes frantically I tried not to expose myself too much in fear of having to pay a hefty amount at the end.

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Mazunte

After a painful 2 hours we eventually started the free yoga class. This was rough because I was amongst professionals so it was clear as day I was an outsider. Anyway I got through the experience and after 4 hours I had my fix of hippies and sprinted out of the place. I was invited to participate in devotional singing that night which I politely declined.

Back on the beach I spent most of the time swimming and escaping the heat in the most beautiful cafe overlooking the ocean. Mazunte has it all; gorgeous cafes, bakeries and the freshest seafood. There is a lovely little coastal trek you can do to watch sunset it was beautiful albeit a little overcast. I went back the following morning for the most amazing sunrise.

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Sunrise in Mazunte

The next day was much of the same. I wisely replaced yoga with coronas and seafood on the beach with my new Argentinian mate Gustavo. Puerto Escondido is a fantastic  place and I was so glad to spend time in Mazunte also. The Pacific is the place to be so everyone should add it to their list. Myself and Gustavo were both catching the same night bus that eve to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapus.

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The scene of the crime  where I lost my 23rd pair of sunglasses of the trip. Hairy Eyes are with the Pacific now

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Mazunte had the most stunning coastal walks

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Surfers paradise

Week 47: Oaxaca, Sierra Norte & Puerto Escondido. Mexico

The start of the week was pretty chilled and just spent eating, drinking and exploring lots of Oaxaca’s markets.

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That facial expression when you have made a sale. This woman made beautiful carpets.

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Getting lost in Mexican Markets

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Getting dolled up for market day

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Bargaining for onions

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Shop till you drop

Oaxaca is a large city surrounded by the Sierra Norte mountains. I had read that something really unique and worthwhile doing was trekking between the indigenous villages in the mountains. I inquired about how to go about this and everywhere was saying you needed to take a tour. Generally speaking I hate doing tours not only from the money side of things but often I find them really contrived and you have no freedom to go at your own pace. Also, I am a sucker for a challenge.  I had read that you could actually go solo and just pay the entrance fee to each pueblo but info on this was lacking. Having not trekked in weeks I was dying for the adventure. I decided to resurrect the tent and after a lot of effort I eventually found a collectivo to take me to one of the indigenous villages. Needless to say I fell asleep on the bus, missed the stop and added an extra 8 km onto an already long trek. Anyway it was still gorgeous and it was so nice to be back in the crisp fresh air. I love cities and beaches but I would pick a mountain any day of the week.

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The pine forests of the Sierra Norte

This area is covered in pine forests and is absolutely stunning and best of all un discovered. I started trekking and at the beginning it was fairly straightforward but a bit tough going with the heavy backpack. I got to the village where one of the guides told me there was an American couple trekking solo too and they were headed in the same direction as me and it would be safer to go together. The guide told me to wait 10 minutes for them but what he actually meant was they left 10 minutes ago so after waiting a half an hour I realised they were well and truly gone. So true to nature I headed off alone. It was a stunning route but there was no doubt it was a challenge.

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Day 1 featured a lot of trekking through fields of maize

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Maize for miles

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There was the most stunning flowers in the Sierra Norte

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Stunning red tipped cactus

There were multiple forks and several paths making it super easy to get lost (which I did on several occasions). At one point I walked for an hour in the wrong direction and ended up in a Man’s farmhouse (unfortunately Man was mia). I decided to turn around and luckily a gardener came running towards me, eccentrically happy to see me (the feeling was mutual). The indigenous people here speak a native language so their spanish is rusty at best.  It was really difficult to understand him. He told me the Americans were lost too and that to follow him and he would take me to them. Indigenous Man was super fit and I am not so he was literally sprinting and I was trying to keep up with him which proved v tough. He eventually put me on the right path and told me I had about 2 hours to reach the next village (so at my pace I was predicting 4 hours). After about 10 minutes I was lost again but luckily stumbled across the most amazing selection of wild mushrooms.

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Picture perfect mushroom

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The most insane  mushrooms

They have these little yellow signs indicating the route and naturally enough they have loads at the beginning and then they basically they become non-existent. Typically parts of the trek where you really need to see the yellow man he is nowhere to be found.

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This little man was playing very hard to get during my trek in the Sierra Norte

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Feeling fresh day 1

After about an hour I got back on the route pretty exhausted I dragged myself into the village just as the sun was setting. The climate here was completely different to the city of Oaxaca and pretty icy at night. I had planned on camping considering I had lugged tent and stove with me. The village I arrived at was called La Nevaria home to only 75 people so as you can imagine there is not much going on here.

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No body gets left behind on the mountains

I was shattered and the cabana owner was really kind and told me it was too cold to camp and just let me stay in the most beautiful cabana for free (It had 3 double beds it and a wood fire). I inhaled dinner which was delicious.  To start we had  hot chocolate and sweet breads to follow homemade tortilla, steak, eggs, rice and heaps of picante to help us worm up. Glorious. I eventually tracked down the mysterious Americans and we had dinner together. I slept a glorious 10 hours that night. The next morning I was up and after a delicious breakie I was set for another days hiking. This was going to be a toughie as I needed to walk 30 km to make it to the next village. I had hoped I could tag along with the Americans but god love them they were puking their rings up (post frijoles) so I once again set off alone.

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Foggy wake up calls from my Cabana

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Imagine living here!

Day 2’s scenery was beautiful I was mainly in the secluded forest. I had it completely to myself and didn’t see a sinner. I got lost (obviously) but not as bad as the day before. I was  in bits  considering how out of shape I am. I was walking so slow the Americans caught up with me and even over took me they were flying it. As soon as the sun was setting I decided it was best pitch the tent in the forest as I couldn’t feel my legs. This was at about km 27. The scenery was so spectacular I wanted to enjoy it. So I camped in a beautiful area and had some dinner of stale bread and a rotten tomato not exactly gourmet but it did the job. One of the down sides of wild camping once it gets dark you have nothing to do and nowhere to go especially when flying solo. I happened to have the series Stranger Things downloaded on my phone and had heard it was v good. Probably the worst possible series I could have chosen while sleeping in a forest. It is a about a child who goes missing in the forest during a rainstorm. And true to nature a huge storm broke out and tent started to leak. The cherry on the cake was there was a local festival happening in one of the nearby towns where loads of bangers were going off ( sounds v similar to gun shots!). So I was v shook to say the least.  I got through the night and the next morning I set off for the village of Amatalan.

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The most beautiful trees

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Magical Pine forests; the smell was amazing

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Very easy to get lost here

Amatalan is a really cool village with panoramic views of the mountains. About 200 hundred people live here. I had some breakie with a few other travelers who were also trekking solo. The Sierra Norte is so so big that none of us saw each other during the trek. So day 3 I decided to trek to another village and from their catch a collectivo back to Oaxaca. A local lad told me 1 hour max so this resulted in a 3 hour trek. At this stage my body was just about cooperating.  Predictably Mexican time estimations are a little bit ridiculous. I couldn’t find a bus so luckily enough I was able to hitchhike to a nearby village where I was brought back to Oaxaca. I was absolutely nackered but equally delighted with myself for exploring a very untouched part of Mexico. A beautiful challenging experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to Oaxaca.

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Dreamy wake up calls in the Sierra Norte

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I love these weird-looking trees

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Breakfast was an apple tree beside my tent

I had the afternoon in Oaxaca before catching a night bus. Wandering around Oaxaca is the best you stumble across all sorts of random affairs. On this particular afternoon it was national maize day.  This consisted of hoards of Mexicans parading around dressed up as sweetcorn. Mexico are trying to protect their native maize.  It is extremely important as all of their foods are based on corn. Apparently there is a growing problem of GMO American maize coming into the country which is grown faster and therefore cheaper (and tastes awful!!!).  After this there was a huge protest for abortion rights in Oaxaca. Interestingly  in Mexico abortion is only legal in Mexico city in all other states it is still illegal.

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10/10 for effort

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It would be rude not to have an elote on national maize day

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Oaxaca City campaigning to legalese abortion

That night I was booked onto the notoriously rough bus to Puerto Escondido. This ride was turbulent and extremely puke inducing. I miraculously held it in and arrived into the sleepy beach town of Puerto Escondido at 6 am. I went for breakie and then explored the nearby beaches and first impressions were excellent.

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Feels after a night bus

The hostel was outside the main strip so was more chilled and close to the more secluded beaches. It was called Lomodeli and was excellent, amazing beds and the most gorgeous pool. It really was paradise. I made a great group of mates while I was there. That night it was one of the lads birthdays so cake and cornona were on the house. The next day I took a bike to one of the nearby beaches which was completely deserted. Back in the hostel while having a dip in the pool I made mates with a group of random Mexican men who were in Puerto for work. They invited for a seafood dinner saying it was on their work tab. So sound of them so we all had delicious prawns by the sea such a treat.  I ended up staying in Puerto way longer than expected as I think most people do. It is an addictive place that is very hard to leave. It is famous for its surfing waves but also its laid back chilled vibes and stunning beaches.

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Playa Carrizalillo

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Morning swims on an empty beach; Playa Carrizalillo

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Playa Baranco

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Seculded Sunsets on Playa Angelito

 

 

 

 

Week 46: Puebla, Cholula, Oaxaca, Tule, Tiotitlan,Tlacolula and Hierve del Agua. Mexico

*-In Cholula I ended up doing couch surfing with a lad called Artur. He was busy with Uni that week  so he handed me over to his parents. They insisted on picking me up from my hostel to bring me to their home town. Paty the Mam told me she was going to exercise class for retired women and I should come along. The class consisted of dancing with sombreros and sticks!  All the oldies were gas and we had a ball. Embarrassingly the next day I was actually stiff! Exercise has been put on the back burner for the past year. There are moments like this where you do start to question what are you doing with your life!

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View from Artur’s roof top; a regularly active volcano

When Artur returned from Uni  he seemed a little odd and not at all like his parents. The first thing we did was meet this random lad he was selling Pokemon cards to (one of his jobs on the side!). He was big into cartoons and videos games, not exactly my gig but each to their own as they say. Luckily I mainly hung out with his deadly parents who like me weren’t into the Pokemon scene.  They were huge fans of Luis Miguel (famous Mexican singer) so we used to have sing songs in the kitchen while making mole. The dream!

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Magical Mole

I had originally planned on only staying one night but Paty, the Mam convinced me to stay longer so she could bring me to the theatre. She was v glam and was v concerned about my appearance (or lack of in this case). She kitted me out (in some questionable gear) to make me theatre appropriate. She gave me a huge bag of clothes that no longer fit her to take with me. I even inherited a pair of fancy wedges (Paty wouldn’t let me wear my runners because of the smell!!!). In fairness to her she did an excellent job at gluing my Asics back together. She also gave all my other shoes/clothes a deep clean. A saint!

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Puebla has enough churches for every day of the year each more spectacular than the next

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You haven’t been to Mexico until you have picked up a Sombrero

The theatre was amazing and had dances and photography from the different regions in Mexico. The costumes were spectacular and I really loved it. It was such a treat and unique experience. Afterwards we had delicious elote (sweetcorn with cheese, chili and lemon is my favourite combo). Back at the house we had cheese and wine (they surprised me with this after I told them that’s what I really miss from home).  It was heavenly and a lovely finish to a memorable few days. So nice feeling part of a family.

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Getting dressed up in a 60 year olds clothes to go to the theatre in Mexico

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We went on Cholula’s version of London eye

My last day in Puebla I treated myself to wine and Chili en Negado  This dish represents the Mexican flag and originates from Puebla. It is a chili poblano which is fried and stuffed with dried fruit, spices, nuts and roasted meat. The star of the show is the cold sweet walnut sauce that covers the chili. It is finished off with pomegranate seeds and parsley. DIVINE. This dish is worth coming to Mexico for.

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I had to order two of these it’s that good

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Chili en Negado is the stuff of dreams

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Jameson whiskey spotted in the most random Mexican village. When I told the owner I was Irish I was treated to a free shot.

Next stop was Oaxaca where I had organised a bla bla car to take me 6 hours there. Manuel the driver was lovely but had some serious mechanical problems. The car reeked of petrol and fumes but worse Manuel was a lunatic on the roads. So pretty shaken and high I arrived to hostel chocolate in Oaxaca where I had a sleepless night due to an abundance of snorers in the room!!! Nothing unusual about that.

From the minute I arrived I loved Oaxaca. It is a place I could easily live it. There is an amazing buzz and most importantly it is a foodie heaven. The climate is also perfect.  Day 1 was just spent pottering around sampling the delicious food and coffee scene. The next day I organised to do couch surfing with a couple Jessy and Carlos. After walking for an 1 hour with the bulging bag I arrived to their home which was also an English school. Dinner that night was in  a Women’s garage where we  sampled the local delicacy of tlycudas. They are basically like giant quesadillas filled with delicious fillings. These guys are tasty but for me they are a little ott.  The next day I took a collectivo to the nearby village of Tule. There is basically nothing happening here except for the world’s largest tree which is in fairness a fairly big accolade. I got out of the taxi and couldn’t find the tree. I embarrassingly had to ask for it it’s easy enough to miss because of the all the leaves (in my defense!!!!)

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Extremely difficult to fit the world’s largest tree into a picture

Afterwards after a bit of a hula balu I made my way to the most stunning village of Tiotitlan, famous for carpet making. I had a demo on how to make carpets using rotting cactus plants and how they die to wools using dead insects. It was fascinating seeing them work.

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Getting a carpet making demo from a local lad in Tiotitlan

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Tiotitlan is the most famous place for carpet making in Mexico

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Local Woman carpet making in Tiotitlan

Such a pretty little village also known as one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos.

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Tiotitlan’s beautiful plaza

I came back to Jessy’s that evening where I was the guest speaker at one of her English classes. This was great fun and the kids she was teaching were adorable. I left the following morning as the room I was staying in was Jessy’s classroom so I headed back to hostel chocolate. You get a free choccie when you check out, choccie is minging but the nice gesture compensates for this. I also had the added bonus of giving  lots of my clothes away to a local orphanage in Oaxaca which Jessy kindly organised. Thank you guys for yet again another great couch surfing experience.

The following day was spent exploring  Oaxaca’s famous markets. It is known as the food capital of Mexico. Just walking down the streets there are wafts of coffee, chocolate and the rich aroma of mole.  To try Oaxaca’s best host chocolate you need to go to Mayodomo. For the best street food Mercado 20 Noviembre and this where I tasted the ultimate dish from Oaxaca; Mole. This is a love or hate and I am its biggest advocate. It takes hours to make and contains up to 30 ingredients 7 of  are different types of chilies. It also contains a load of spices, plantain, peanuts and chocolate!!! I sampled some more stomach and tripe soup (owner insisted it was maize soup!!). I will never learn.  I was also given some free samples of heart! Freaked me out but didn’t taste too bad. Another delicacy in Oaxaca are grass hoppers and worms. They fry them in lemon and chili and they are actually delicious. The Mexicans love them in their tacos as they add a nice crunch.

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Imagine getting this dressed up to buy your meat

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Mexico’s colourful markets

Saturday in the main plaza was excellent I happened to stumble across a jazz concert in a craft shop. They were incredible and played for 2 hours. I went back to the main square where dancers, magicians and amazing live music. Oaxaca is buzzing with street art, food, cool bars and restaurants. I’d recommend spending plenty of time here. It’s touristy but has still retained its charm.

The next day I decided to visit Oaxaca’s most famous market;  Tlacolula. This was spectacular and my favourite market of my trip so far. On Sundays all the indigenous people come down from the mountains where they sell their artesanias. The array of food was out of this world and I had the most delicious taco of goat, famous in this area. While having a Mescal in the market I bumped into a Robert from England  where we bonded over the delicious goat. The outfits were so stunning. It was hilarious seeing them all bargaining for chickens, turkeys and geese on the streets while dressed to the ninty nines.

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Roasting goats for some tacos

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Best business man in Oaxaca

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Market day is the worst day of the week for these poor divils

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Myself and Maria had breakie together; hot choccie and cinnamon buns

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This photo cost me a coca cola

Afterwords I managed to find a collectivo to take me up to the mountains to Hierve el Agua. This place is really special. It is a set of calcified rocks that resemble a waterfall. It is set in the middle of the mountains and contains a number of different natural water pools and rock formations.

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The petrified waterfall at Hierve del Agua

I decided to camp here wanting to see the sunrise the following morning and having the place to myself for a while. Camping here was incredible. It was completely worth for what the following morning had in stall.  I went to get some hot chocolate before bed and stumbled across a Woman’s house. I got chatting to the family who were a little bit concerned I was camping at the waterfall. They were in the middle of peeling maize to make dough for their tortillas for the following morning. The maize was from their garden. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. Alicia the owner insisted I take her 3 dogs with me and that they would look after me for the night.

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Sunrise with  just my furry friends: The best start to do the day

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The best time of the day: golden hour

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Calcified Waterfall

I was in good hands and we all woke up at 6 am for sunrise. I went skinny dipping in the thermal pools overlooking the mountains at sunrise. It was fairly magical. Afterwards myself and  my 3 furry friends went trekking for an hour to view the waterfall up close you can even climb up it.  When we got back the tourists started flocking in. Anyone going here come early it is so peaceful as you just chill in the natural water pools while looking at the gorgeous backdrop of lush green mountains.Also having the tent means you don’t pay the entrance fee so always an added bonus. For once the bandy tent came in handy.

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Calcified Pools

 

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One of the many amazing places Oaxaca has to offer

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Seeing the calcified waterfall up close

I went back to Alicia’s for a tasty simple lunch of fresh tortillas, beans, cheese, egg and of course picante.  The picante was made fresh in front of me and contained bbq’d tomato, garlic and chili. So simple but was so so good. This for me was one of my Mexican eating highlights. All of the ingredients were sourced from Alicia’s back garden. En route home I made a pit stop to a Mescal Distillery where you see how Mescal is made. I’m not the biggest Mescal fan but happy to drink it as its way more popular  in this region than Tequila. There are constant freebies being handed out so it would be rude not to.

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A thing of a beauty; homemade tortilla

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Alicia makes homemade Tortillas from scratch ever morning

 

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The agave plant how Mescal and Tequila are made

I had planned on only staying a few days in Oaxaca but it is a trapping kind of place so I have extended my stay accordingly.