Camping near the Iraqi Boarder

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

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View from the tomato farm in Kermanshah

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

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

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

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

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

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Hotel with a view!

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

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

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

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One shrine better than the next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Local Iranian breads

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

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

 

 

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

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

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That facial expression when you have made a sale. This woman made beautiful carpets.
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Getting lost in Mexican Markets
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Getting dolled up for market day
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Bargaining for onions
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Shop till you drop

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

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The pine forests of the Sierra Norte

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

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Day 1 featured a lot of trekking through fields of maize
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Maize for miles
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There was the most stunning flowers in the Sierra Norte
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Stunning red tipped cactus

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

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Picture perfect mushroom

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The most insane  mushrooms

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

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This little man was playing very hard to get during my trek in the Sierra Norte
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Feeling fresh day 1

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

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No body gets left behind on the mountains

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

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Foggy wake up calls from my Cabana
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Imagine living here!

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

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The most beautiful trees
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Magical Pine forests; the smell was amazing
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Very easy to get lost here

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

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Dreamy wake up calls in the Sierra Norte
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I love these weird-looking trees
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Breakfast was an apple tree beside my tent

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

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10/10 for effort
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It would be rude not to have an elote on national maize day
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Oaxaca City campaigning to legalese abortion

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

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Feels after a night bus

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

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Playa Carrizalillo
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Morning swims on an empty beach; Playa Carrizalillo
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Playa Baranco
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Seculded Sunsets on Playa Angelito