A Rough Ride to Pakistan; My first few days exploring Lahore.

The journey to Pakistan was as rough as they come. It was hell but I suppose that comes with the territory when you book a a cheap flight to Pakistan. Every 3 of the connecting flights were ideally delayed one a mere 8 hours so this gave me a lot of thinking/ reflection time as to why the feck I was coming to Pakistan on my own….??

20190702171014_IMG_3803
Saying goodybe to Nils in Amsterdam, I made a little detour tour to go visit him in between Iran and Pakistan 

I think after about 30 hours I arrived into Lahore’s airport and got totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop crying while waiting for my bag in the tiny airport.  I was a basket case  to put it mildly. All of the armed guards looked utterly confused. I’m blaming watching a star is born on the plane for the flood works. I was bundled into a taxi from what I recall with a nice chubby man. He wanted money for his ‘assistance’ it was probably his lucky day as I have no idea what I gave him but he seemed exstatic. The taxi  journey was almost as turbulent as the flight over. Supposedly there is a road tourists aren’t allowed to pass through, taxis must take a different route which is significantly longer. Obviously my chap did not do this. I got held up at a police check point as a result where every second person had a massive rifle. Passport went MIA for 30 minutes but we eventually got the all clear and were back on the road. I was dropped off at Lahore’s one and only hostel (which honestly is fairly grim at best).

LRM_EXPORT_19777861173195_20190711_182327604.jpeg
And chill…….

I slept for a record 12 hours and decided to check out the Pakistani couchsurfing scene not loving the ‘hostel vibes’. I know I complained about the Iranian heat but Jaysus Pakistan is giving it a run for its money.

LRM_EXPORT_19018746934622_20190711_181048490.jpeg
Getting lost in Lahore; this red head look is v popular in Lahore

Uber is big over here and you can choose from car, moto or tuk tuk which is great and your not dealing with cash which is always a bonus unless your me and you forget the fare comes straight from your account and you pay them all cash anyway!!!

IMG_3921-2
Tuk Tuk

So when I arrived to Mr Jami’s house I thought I was lost as I rocked into a Tax Consultancy Building.  Anyway his staff soon welcomed me and escorted me into the fabulous building. Mr Jami was actually travelling in New Zealand at the time but is well known in Lahore for his generosity towards tourists and has an array of staff to look after the guests. I was extremely lucky as I was welcomed into my own room with AC. I was given a fabulous lunch spread and some chai before hitting the leaba.  I couldn’t believe my luck.

20190706071200_IMG_3818
Making friends

Later in the night a German traveler ; Ivi arrived. A 20 year old Berliner who is travelling the world for one year and is finishing her trip in Pakistan.  We talked all night and it brought me back to my sleep over days.

Ivi was so interesting and ridiculously well traveled for her age. Meeting her was a god saint and brought me back to earth. She explained her challenges as a solo female travelling in these strict Islamic countries and how the discrimination has been so hard (mostly psychological in her case). She also traveled solo in Iran and said it was a walk in the park compared to Pakistan. But she was completely on the same page as me and a sucker for a challenge so I got some life saving tips off Berlin.

20190707073844_IMG_3903
Lahore is HOT it completely drains you hence why every second person on the street was asleep
LRM_EXPORT_19637270129988_20190711_182107013-1.jpeg
This lad had a v good sleep set up
20190706103350_IMG_3890
Happy Out

Ivi, being from Berlin was ridiculously cool so the following morning we got our uber tuk tuk to go check out a second hand market. Ivi, doesn’t buy anything new and had a v good eye for thrift shopping. I felt like a helpless hippo following this cool 20-year-old around the place. First purchase of the day was an ex-army backpack with urdu written on it. Ivi got extremely excited when she spotted this. I thought it was so ugly (and dirty) but Ivi convinced me it was ‘cool’ and way ahead of Berlin’s time and that I would be a fool not to buy it. So now I am also the the proud owner of the next best thing!!!! (who know’s maybe this is a stepping stone to me becoming an influencer). It cost €1 so I shan’t complain. * As I write this in hindsight I can confirm army bag was NOT worth it. It destroyed a brand new shirt I bought as I got caught in the rain. All of the dye started leaking. It has since been handed down to Dom who is chuffed.*

IMG-20190708-WA0008
Berlin’s next new thing (Presumably minus the sweat). This gives you a disgusting idea about how hot Lahore is
20190706100342_IMG_3840
Chai and chains at the metal bazaar

The first street we walked down was a metal bazar where locals where making all sorts of contraptions from car parts, to dumb bells. This was incredible and I have never seen anything like it and they had never seen anything like us!

IMG_3853
If you want to get your own dumbbells made this is where you need to go
IMG_3877
I surprisingly loved the metal bazaar
IMG_3854
So far the people in Pakistan love getting their photo taken

The people all seemed really friendly but equally surprised to see two foreign girls in a metal market. Generally speaking women over here don’t walk the streets, especially alone. We took regular pit stops for chai and chats. This hot drink somehow kind of helps with the heat (apparently).

20190706093534_IMG_3837
Stopping for Chai; I loved the cheeky grin on this lads face
IMG_3831
Taking a chai break from all the chapati making
IMG_3904
Starting them young
IMG_4007
The beautiful daily routine of making chapati from scratch
IMG_3918
This market caught my eye; absolutely love all the random details. It’s a work of art.

That night we were both invited to a couchsurfing meet up dinner. This is organised by Pakistanis who are trying to promote tourism in the area and unite foreign travelers in the city (as there are so few of us).  It was so nice and we had a delicious spread of roti, naan, rice, raita, salad, and a massive spread of different barbequed meats. They are constantly trying to make tourists feel welcomed and will absolutely not let you pay. It was great to connect with other travlers. The polish couple were travelling for 4 years in a converted ambulance which they bought in Poland. Inspiring stuff. These were the first and last travelers I was going to meet for the next 5 weeks……

IMG-20190708-WA0018
Mission Positive Pakistan. What an amazing way to meet the very few backpackers who are travelling through Pakistan

The next day, after being pampered by the staff in Mr Jami’s we set off to go explore the walled city and do some more thrift shopping (Ivi’s gig not mine).  The walled city is mental and in ever corner there is something more bizarre than the next. It’s hot, chaotic and dirty but it’s excellent. I love getting lost in these kind of places and the people were constantly greeting us with intrigued smiles and invitations for chai (that being said of course there was the odd creep lurking around). It kind of reminded me of the less touristy streets of Kathmandu except a little bit more mental.

IMG_3846
We could have had our choice of man
20190706071235_IMG_3820
Friendly strangers asking to get their photo taken

We checked out a beautiful hidden Masjid Wazir Khan. The Mosques here are completely different to that of Iran, not as well kept but have their own old world charm and are stunning.

IMG_3962
This place is so stunning

IMG_3955-2 - Copy

IMG_3951

IMG_3963 - Copy

Some more thrift shopping in the afternoon consisted of shirt shopping with Ivi. Each costing 70c and on the right person definitely looked ‘cool’ whatever the feck ‘cool’ means now a days.  I bagged myself a green silk number and at the time I thought I hit the jack pot. It was only when I came back and did the fashion shoot with Ivi that I resembled a hideous, demented clown. The green shirt was gifted to the cleaner who seemed a little confused and amused by the gesture.

IMG_3894
Ivi and her new army bag leading the way for some Pakistani thrift shopping

Meeting Ivi gave me the motivation I badly needed. I was completely overwhelmed and a little bit disillusioned with Pakistan at the beginning but I figured if a 20 year old girl could hack it so could I. This young girl is inspirational and is going to move to the Netherlands to study politics. Good luck my friend you are destined for amazing things.

IMG_4002
The stunning Mosque of Lahore; this place is a work of art but a danger zone for selfie requests. It got so bad at one point I had to be escorted out by one of the body guards
20190707101531_IMG_3984
This was the beginning of the photo request things quickly escalated from here……

At one point I thought I was going to have to be hospitilised because of the heat. I don’t know how the locals keep eating these hot curries and chapatis in the stifling heat. Next on the agenda was Islamabd where I was couchsuring with a funny chap called Faz (an extremely devout Muslim). We got off to a flying start when we presented me with some Nutella and a strong espresso he studies in Italy (hence the coffee). Things soon went down hill from here when he started asking me what the purpose of my existence was, what my mission in life was and you pretty much get the gist of it. I spent the night with an Irish lad called Chris who is working in Islamabad for 6 months (thanks Meave for the connection). Having spent the entire afternoon with this  extremely devote Muslim it was refreshing to hear an Irish accent and a welcomed break from the small talk, broken urdu and the selfie requests. We gorged ourselves on the most divine Pakistani food. I took an uber back to funny Faz’s house where he very conveniently had his phone switched off and I very stupidly forgot the house so I was locked out for over 30 minutes in a fairly sticky looking neighborhood. Anyway the next morning I didn’t dilly dally and said my goodbyes.

LRM_EXPORT_19088410896457_20190711_181158154.jpg
In case anyone is looking for some wooden insoles for their shoes Pakistan has got you covered

My short introduction to Pakistan so far has been a series of random strangers trying to help me. The hospitality in this country is parallel to Iran and really is remarkable. What I would say is sometimes it is a little overwhelming as you don’t have a second to breathe as there are ques of people inviting you for chai, dinner, to stay with him or travel with them. I hate saying no to people but also you have to have you wits about you. If you want to come to Pakistan for some alone time forget about it!

Anyway my good friend Em was renting an apartment with a Pakistani girl called Gulma  in Paris and Gulma put me in contact with her cousin who lives in Islamabad (v distance connection). Since my arrival in Pakistan this man was ringing me multiple times a day and sending me extremely concerned messages. Checking was I hungry, too hot and what he could do to help. I think the people here are genuinely in dis belief when they see a girl travelling alone as it is completely against their culture. All very nice but way OTT.

IMG_3915
A rare sighting of a woman doing the shopping alone in the market

It got to the stage where the Shavaz had invited himself on my trip up north to the mountains for 2 weeks. Put on the spot, I’ll agree to anything and then usually I fecking regret it instantly. I once signed up to a 10 day solo trek in Peru with an aggressive ex army Israeli lad I met in a hostel. I spent days worrying about how I would get out of it so my new rule of thumb is you have to be cruel to be kind. I told Shavaz I would meet for coffee but it was too soon for a 2 week camping expedition with a strange man. It did the trick. Anyway Shavaz turned out to be very kind albeit very conservative and concerned.

IMG_3816-2
Some pretty blue street signs
IMG_3911
The stunning walled city of Lahore

Next stop was Northern Pakistan the main reason for the trip was always the mountains. It is known as the jewel of Pakistan and home to 9 of the tallest mountains in the world and just like everywhere in Pakistan at the moment is untouched by tourism. The journey started off as v pleasant until lunch decided to make an appearance. I was violently sick for the journey and was given complementary puke bags (thank god). I survived the 6 grueling hours and was even gifted with some trendy beat ‘like’ earphones by the kind bus man. I had absolutely no idea about what was awaiting me in Northern Pakistan….A scary adventure of a lifetime

IMG_3908
Supposedly Pakistan produce the best mangos in the world and I can confirm they are ridiculously tasty

 

Yazd; The Most Ancient Settlement on Earth

My experience in Iran to date has been a series of kidnappings from the kindest Iranians. Hospitality like I have never experienced. Randomers are constantly coming up to you on the street simply thanking you for coming to their country, there have been endless invitations for chai and families are constantly asking to host me. Next up was Mostafa, a kind stranger who helped me in a bus station as I was trying (very badly) to try and buy an Iranian sim card. This is some ordeal. Nothing really is straightforward in Iran but that is part of its charm and challenge. I figured it would be a buy over the counter job but no…..  Mostafa took me in a taxi and brought me to an official office. They requested my passport, signatures, finger prints and a witness. After a lot of hula balu I managed to get one, you would swear I was applying for Iranian citizenship! Turns out the sim card didn’t even work so all in all a good days work!

2306-2019-053175128960365846631.jpeg
The media has portrayed Iran as being extremely dangerous. Yet day after day I am welcomed by the the kindest people you could possibly imagine
1006-2019-105219157708982819300.jpeg
This family were really dangerous!!!

That night, I was booked onto the night bus to Yazd so I had one more day to explore the famous Mosque’s in Esfahan. They are completely out of this world and difficult to comprehend how they were built  over 400 hundred years ago. Myself and Mostafa decided to hit the sites together. First up was the empty Majed Jameh Mosque which I fell in love with.

1806-2019-07478701396422375001.jpeg
Majed Jameh Mosque, Esfahan
1806-2019-08259771494529780008.jpeg
Majed Jameh Mosque, Esfahan

We then sampled the signature dish of Esfahan; byriani which is flat bread stuffed with minced mutton and offal served with the typical chunks of onion, fresh herbs and of course  duk (this salty milk drink in definitely growing on me and Motsafa proclaimed it was the best he has ever tasted!).

1706-2019-082338542971051884148.jpeg
Byriani; the most iconic dish of Esfahan

The bazaar surrounds Naqsh-e Jahan Square and was named a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. I could easily spend days browsing in bazaars. You are constantly getting invited into bakeries, carpet and craft shops. The people aren’t pushy at all and are genuinely intrigued by you and so excited to see tourists in Iran. Shopping is therefore so pleasant. One act of genuine trust that amazed me was when Mostafa handed the taxi driver his credit card and gave him his pin number and asked him to go to the atm and with draw the taxi fare! Just crazy how trust worthy everyone is here.

2406-2019-0100750915321963153.jpeg
It’s no Phibsborough shopping centre but I suppose it will do the job. Esfahan’s Unesco Heritage Bazaar
1806-2019-08080571536609293362.jpeg
Strolling through Esfshan’s stunning Bazaar
1806-2019-08547671583319250175.jpeg
Artists at work in Esfahan
2406-2019-0132706827278585562.jpeg
The bazaar has an entire section dedicated to copper
2406-2019-0101205795777467084.jpeg
The home of stunning Persian rugs

The bazaar was empty as it was siesta time. We almost had the place to ourselves. Esfahan is famous for its copper, artwork, carpets and delicious gaz; a nougat stuffed with pistachio nuts and flavored with honey and rose water. The Iranians are sugar obsessed and it wouldn’t be untypical for them to consume 4 to 5 sugar cubes per cup of tea. Tea consumption here is on a next level with some of them having up to 20 cups per day. Luckily in Esfahan I managed to track down a much needed cup of coffee which is no easy task in tea obsessed Iran.

LRM_EXPORT_1907296284943_20190610_020223745-1.jpeg
Esfahan’s Mosque
IMG_20190610_134813_036-1.jpg
Still utterly blown away by this archway I had to include it again!

I camped out at the bus station waiting  from my night bus to Yazd. It is impossible to be alone in Iran there is constantly  droves of people wanting to speak, stare or photograph you.  Once again the kindness of Iranian strangers featured where a young boy in the hotel treated me to 5 cups of tea (in the loo all night!!), cucumbers, apricots and an empanada!!!(in Iran!!) an unusual but very welcomed combination. For a split second it brought me back to Argentina.

I didn’t sleep a wink on the night bus despite the buses being quite comfy there is the compulsory blaring of Iranian music at 4 am and the odd fuzzy film playing in the background. I arrived at 5 am, and as per usual felt rough.  A random skinny man with no teeth appeared out of the blue and grabbed my backpack and started to run away with it so naturally I followed him. He threw it into the boot of his car and said he was a taxi man, with no energy to argue we agreed 150,000 rial to take me to my couchsurfing host. Seconds later skinny man starts screaming at me in Farsi or Arabic (or both) because we were  lost, neither of us had an iota where we were except that we were on a long and tedious motor way. I eventually managed to get google maps up and we obtained relative peace until 5 seconds later he was screaming again. I was then thrown a phone and someone with some broken English was also screaming down the phone at me. The journey was subsequently upped to 600,000 rial.  The flood-works were inevitable  and at this stage out he freaked out and through me out of the car (without my backpack!). Seconds later skinny crazy man was back and ushering me into the car once again. After pure and utter chaos we eventually made it to the house….. We left on okay terms (relatively speaking). An aggressive start to the morning but I was glad to have made it to Yazd.

2306-2019-051142830680042628593.jpeg
Yazd, the most ancient settlement on earth

Aryan my new couchsurfer gave me a room in his Mam’s house  as he was working. So after some  quick shut eye I ventured into the amazing city of Yazd. I  have never seen anything like this place. The old city is one of the most ancient settlements on earth.  It features windy lanes and all of the buildings in the historic town are made entirely from mud and straw. The city is wedged between two deserts and like everywhere else in Iran at the moment it is piping hot. So regular pit stops were required for saffron ice cream and rose water tea (an Iranian delicacy that is out of this world).

2406-2019-0100251734823300051.jpeg
My pit stop for breakfast was at the glorious Art’s centre
2406-2019-0130191764762704337.jpeg
Breakfast with a view in Yazd
2306-2019-053974731008361903628.jpeg
Art works in Yazd

I think Yazd was definitely the hottest of the cities to date. The hijab was literally glued to my head as I pottered around drenched in sweat for the day. The only benefit to the heat was no one else was brave enough to venture out so I practically had the city to myself.  Yazd is the perfect place to get lost in. The mud brick alleys are stunning and so enchanting. It is also famous for Baklava and other sweet confectionery. I got a few free samples which I obviously inhaled but they are sickly sweet and not my gig. The city consists of mostly rooftop cafes and restaurants with some serious views of the ancient city.

2406-2019-0108750503322481486.jpeg
Some sturdy mud infrastructure
2406-2019-0126291400863010867.jpeg
Getting lost
2806-2019-0427464103834295624809.jpeg
Standards doors in Yazd

Mid way through the day I was about to collapse from the heat so I opted to give the museums a miss and head back to the apartment to take a siesta pre dinner. What I failed to remember was the address of the house. After another confused taxi ride I rocked up to what I thought was the house and after banging the door down I got the fright of my life when a Muleh answered the door. These are the scary priests who are ruling Iran at the moment. I immediately knew this wasn’t the right gaf. I tried to asked the Muleh did he know Aryan  but then realised this was risky business as couch surfing is illegal in Iran (along with an extremely long list of other things). Anyway the Muleh just looked pissed off and shut the door in my face. I knocked on a few other random houses and no one knew who Aryon was (of course they didn’t…. I was on the wrong street!!). Anyway after lot of hula balu some random man on the street lead me down a lane and ushered me into a house which happened to be Aryan’s. I almost kissed the man as I was v close to fainting from the heat (It was almost 50 degrees). Luckily I didn’t as I had a sneaky feeling Muleh was on the lookout. Anyway a minor blip in the day that ended well. I took 3 cold showers, ate some ice and felt some what human again.

2806-2019-0423746103770577527893.jpeg
I fell in love with the ancient alleys in Yazd
2806-2019-0459819103628101200456.jpeg
Every corner of the city features intrinsic pieces of art
2806-2019-0409974103698256657252.jpeg
These walls are entirely made out of mud

The next day I was booked into Ecolodge Nartitee in a random little village located outside Yazd called Taft. The lodge was paradise personified. It is a historic building made out of mud just like everything else in the area. The place was filled with cool people, mulberry, almond, walnut, apricot, apple and loads of pomegranate trees. I was fed and watered with the freshest organic and homemade food for  2 days.

2806-2019-0732732110267752960246.jpeg
Breakfast for one…
2306-2019-072076935711150514726
Baby pomegranate and its flower
2806-2019-0409785104103773299501.jpeg
The house is decorated with dried pomegranates. They are really famous in this area
2806-2019-0428429104003748732572.jpeg
Afternoon activities in the Ecolodge
2306-2019-074811134973102520638
Traditional way of drinking water

On my second day, I got up at the craic of dawn to go explore the area on bicycle trying to escape the vicious heat.

2806-2019-0445099104364479260891.jpeg
8am in Taft

Later in the day I chilled with the Grannies of the house where we spent the afternoon picking apricots and singing in Farsi.  Anyone visiting Yazd you need to check out this place. It is good for the soul and gave the batteries a much needed re-charge.

2806-2019-0429001104062989601376.jpeg
Sleeping outside on the roof in Nartitee Ecolodge, Taft
IMG_20190612_175915_731.jpg
Delbar picking her apricots in Taft
2806-2019-0428906103895736938649.jpeg
This was the owners mother who spent the whole day singing and smiling. A beautiful Woman
2806-2019-0447016104201004222046.jpeg
The amazing memory wall in Naritee Ecolodge (you can spot the Irish flag hiding!)

 

 

 

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.

1806-2019-10059488269363813354.jpeg
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.

IMG_20190609_232216_219.jpg
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.

IMG_20190607_225701_140.jpg
Typical scenes on the train journey
LRM_EXPORT_2921740062179_20190610_021918189-1.jpeg
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.

1806-2019-07289731017525122003.jpeg1806-2019-07518021100354810020.jpeg

1806-2019-0730240898792453357.jpeg

LRM_EXPORT_2717026918979_20190610_021553476-1.jpeg
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.

LRM_EXPORT_10103795113196_20190610_003951703-1.jpeg
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.

1806-2019-07451581213710805362.jpeg
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.

1806-2019-0757397745949586812.jpeg
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.

1906-2019-014407042091505986278.jpeg
‘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.

1006-2019-105219157708982819300.jpeg
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.

LRM_EXPORT_1907296284943_20190610_020223745-1.jpeg
Shah Mosque’s entrance, Esfahan
IMG_20190610_134813_036-2.jpg
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.

1006-2019-110622358368509001328.jpeg
Som-e-Pol; One of Esfahan’s famous bridges where the locals gather in their droves the enjoy the sunset
1006-2019-115037958412664624027.jpeg
Really nice memories of this gorgeous couple who welcomed me into their home in Esfahan

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.

1006-2019-075035546775717894197.jpeg
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?

1206-2019-02318447820625757713.jpeg
Golden hour couldn’t have been more golden
1006-2019-103278857329580657186.jpeg
The glam Iranians
1006-2019-074471646710079602628.jpeg
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). 

1206-2019-02348527125496474710.jpeg
Raging!! The women weren’t allowed swim here.
1206-2019-02430757253719503118.jpeg
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.

1206-2019-02596396970283249552.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-103883156615623302505.jpeg
Islamic Shrine in Kermanshah
1206-2019-02588636129506661384.jpeg
Glam Sarah in Kermanshah nailing the pose!
1206-2019-02446036655247491970.jpeg
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.

1206-2019-02101296860772905976.jpeg
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.

1206-2019-02182316508874765536.jpeg
Sarah!
1206-2019-02498696540513400936.jpeg
Beautiful stacked villages in Paveh. Located in a region called Hawraman.
1206-2019-02104486441091827161.jpeg
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.

1206-2019-02172157985997041479.jpeg
This little cutie teaching me the Iranian art of Kebab making
IMG_20190610_134015_230.jpg
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.

1206-2019-02122746382917635011.jpeg
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?

1206-2019-02419817312625532576.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-105683556693627119334.jpeg
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……

1006-2019-1.jpeg
This pair! High on nothing more than life
1006-2019-070282147028184761555.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-104427257581063852199.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-070650146971864153133.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-071087946796241820874.jpeg
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!

1006-2019-100221557239007047520.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-111953558261821260520.jpeg
The front building of the Golestan Palace.
1006-2019-101479658031588035954.jpeg
One of the many intricate walls of the Golestan Palace.
1006-2019-105905958121345143812.jpeg
Wall of mirrors, Golestan Palace.
1006-2019-105264258174928103043.jpeg
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?

IMG_20190605_233758_334.jpg
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.

1006-2019-102024057857032460309.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-101128457788075832628.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-071298946918352223479.jpeg

1006-2019-074894346834305914001.jpeg
Imam Khomeini Mosque, Tehran
1006-2019-102141957978211561030.jpeg
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).

1006-2019-112083361342329821162.jpeg
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.

1006-2019-104385957640650867695.jpeg
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.

IMG_20190609_233502_787.jpg
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!

2910-2018-1237227249726210725536.jpeg
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.

IMG_4384.JPG
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)!

IMG_3245.JPG
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.

IMG-20181104-WA0002.jpg
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.

LRM_EXPORT_38259596264288_20190409_112039101.jpeg
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

IMG_2409.jpg
Fresh off the plane. Day 1 of the trip and I am straight to the fish market in Santiago, Chile.
IMG_3293.jpg
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.
IMG_0851
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.
IMG_0959
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.
IMG_1363
Marble Caves, El Rio, Patagonia, Chile. Patagonia These caves are entirely made out of marble.
IMG_1318.jpg
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.
IMG_1160
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.
IMG_2586
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.
11 (2 of 8).jpg
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).
9 (17 of 19)
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!
untitled-9946.jpg
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.
IMG_0862
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.
IMG_2108
A harrowing experience exploring the mines in Bolivia’s Potosi.
IMG_1830
Waiting for sunrise at Salar de Uyuni. Special special place.
IMG_3365[1]
Úna!! When your Mam travels solo to Bolivia and treats you like a queen. Memories of a lifetime.
IMG_9739.jpg
This photo always makes me smile. I motorbiked to a peach festival in Cochabamba, Bolivia with a group of complete strangers.
IMG_0103
Camping in Toro Toro’s National Park in Bolivia; home to thousands of dinosaur footprints. So cool!
IMG_4614
Salkantay Trek; en route to see the main man: Machu Picchu
2004-2019-095142927937359439325
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! 
2004-2019-105517830221849370961.jpeg
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!
DCIM104GOPROGOPR1119.JPG
I will never forget snorkeling in the Galapogos Islands in Ecuador. Just incredible.  Everything about the Galapagos is a highlight.
2004-2019-113658433088630745141
Wild Galapagos Tortoise. Obsessed with these guys.
2004-2019-102797330846102624322
Seals doing what they do best; chilling. Isabella, the Galapagos.
LRM_EXPORT_20180625_114605.jpg
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!
2811-2018-10017775771916755179.jpeg
Typical lunch scenes in Cartagena, Colombia
2004-2019-093670428520638929062.jpeg
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.
2811-2018-10302675858920825309
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.
IMG_8333.JPG
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.
LRM_EXPORT_20180728_234842.jpg
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!
LRM_EXPORT_20180804_144203.jpg
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.
LRM_EXPORT_20180817_004910.jpg
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.
2808-2018-1149188921405203103.jpeg
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.
2808-2018-1100188152253153999.jpeg
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.
1409-2018-0546826107046950697741.jpeg
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….).
2509-2018-02026317394547644595.jpeg
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!)
20180920230754_IMG_9436.JPG
This picture speaks for itself. I love and relate to it.
2410-2018-092249263841440477491.jpeg
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.
2410-2018-093896863677915870185.jpeg
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.
2809-2018-08584035897941425281.jpeg
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.
2004-2019-104249928969883268125.jpeg
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!
2509-2018-02097628845137821558.jpeg
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).
2509-2018-02207898796164697593.jpeg
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.

IMG-20180213-WA0016.jpg
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!

0105-2019-1004127193975004597951.jpeg
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.

IMG_4188.JPG
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.

20180825194624_IMG_1387.JPG
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).

IMG_5640.JPG
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.

f-9055.jpg
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

3011-2018-105093566271637014483.jpeg
‘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.