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.

 

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