Camping with Passu’s famous apricot man.

I hitched hiked to Passu and it was a piece of cáca. I didn’t even have to put my hand out when a kind chubby man offered me a lift. He was en route home for a wedding (which I also got a nod to). Mid way we stopped off for some chai and bonded over our love of apricots. My mind was blown when I saw him pour salt into his tea (apparently this is a v popular custom in Northern Pakistan). He then proceeded by adding instant coffee into his salted tea. I did the same minus the salt adding. It was naturally minging but I was literally dying for a coffee that it more than did the job.

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The KKH and also sometimes known as killer road

The chap was a hotel manager so conveniently had some contacts and sorted me out with a safe camping spot in a nice hotel with a jackpot view of the Passu cones.

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I took this photo from the window of the car
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My first glimpses of the Passu Cones

So Passu is a tiny village known for its striking scenery of these cones shaped rocks which reach over 6000 m high and are just spectacular. It is probably the most photographed road in Pakistan.

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Views from the road

I set up camp amongst a load of Pakistani families (terrible idea). They all thought I was a freak and people over here just cannot comprehend a woman travelling alone. When they see the tent they further freak out. I was serenaded with screaming children for the night but all was compensated for the ridiculously good and free view.

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View from my tent

I was feeling  pretty bad in Passu and was not sure was it caused by altitude, loneliness or just general exhaustion (in hindsight it was likely a combo). I was also trying to recover from dirty water incident. What travelers sometimes underestimate is the energy it takes to plan a solo trip and sometimes it is exhausting waking up every day with absolutely no idea how to get anywhere. The added bonus in Pakistan you have no idea of what obstacles await you. The next am I made my way to Passu’s most famous café called Glacier Breeze which probably has the best view in the world. My travel book author proclaims that Passu is his favourite places in the world. I can totally see why.

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The view from the cafe… There are no words to describe this place
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The Passu Cathedral range  has to be seen in real life to appreciate its magnitude

The café is famous for its view but mostly known for its moist apricot cake which is an attraction in itself. I dumped my backpack and took front row seat. I was drenched in sweat from the walk but couldn’t believe my luck when I saw a foreign couple!!! I  am not going to lie Pakistan has delivered on so many levels but it has not been easy and one of the hardest things has been the loneliness. Day to day you will rarely meet a female and foreign travelers have become a thing of the past. At least when things are shit and you are with someone you can just laugh it out, but alone it it just misery. I was desperate to find people to trek with or chat with. Anyone looking to open a hostel? Go to Pakistan they need one!!

This couple were inspiring. They were travelling as a family with their 2 and 3 year old boys in a converted van. They were on the road over a year and Pakistan has been one of their favourite countries to date. Not an easy gig but seriously inspiring stuff. I quickly coped out of my feel sorry for myself mood took in the marvelous views and ate 2 slices of badly needed cake. I was even treated to a decent cup of coffee. Just what the doctor ordered.

Two Pakistani lads rocked up and hilariously knew my name (I hadn’t  a breeze who they were if you will pardon the pun). They said they recognised my shirt!! Who hasn’t? I wear it every day. They remembered me from Hopper Glacier. I briefly met as they were en route back from a 4 day trek to Rush Lake. I offered to carry their bags up the last hill as I totally related and felt sorry for them (having been in that situation way too many times). They said that would be unheard off for a girl to offer like that and that’s how they remembered me!

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Motorbiking through Passu with this legend Shaheryar

We all bonded over more apricot cake, hunza water and apricot juice.  I eventually realised hotel man had abandoned me  (he promised to collect me from the cafe and drive me to a campsite). It was just as well he stood me up he felt like a funny fish from the get go.  I asked apricot man could I pitch my tent in the café grounds. He didn’t hesitate and I even organised to go trekking with him the following am to the surrounding glaciers. Myself, Cherry and Zohaib my new MATES piled onto Cherry’s Honda and made our way to Husseini’s famous suspension bridge.

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Husseini up close and personal
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Husseini’s bridge

The Husseini Bridge is known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Mainly because of the massive gaps between the planks , +/- missing planks and the vicious winds causing it to rock. The raging river beneath really settles the nerves. Local authorities have now banned tourists from crossing the bridge. Everyone was being turned away. It also didn’t help that I was a woman. Luck was on my side when Cherry sweet talked the guard into letting me cross. It was an Oscar worthy performance as he stated I came all the way from Ireland just to cross the bridge. After lengthy discussions I was issued a visa for the bridge which meant I had to to myself. I think he thought I was a VIP and part of the embassy. Obviously said nada. An incredible scary but thrilling experience.

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The locals crossing over into the next village

We rewarded ourselves with fresh apricot juice afterwards (famous in the areas) and Cherry dropped me back home (aka apricot café) where I was camping for the night. An amazing experience and I got a short taste on how amazing it is travelling the KKH on motorbike.

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At long last MATES! Pakistani legends;  Shaheryar  and Zohaib

That evening I was camping solo in one of my most randomist locations to date. It was stunning but to be quit honest it was sad. It was just this small tent in the midst of these sky scrapper rocks. A few random men put up my tent for me and treated me to my third slice of apricot cake. The famed apricot cake is being baked all night long so the smell wafts through the area.

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Apricot Man told me never has to buy aprictots they are all picked locally. He picks enough in summer, drys them in the sun and uses them for winter. Hunza is an apricot lovers dream. The place is covered in them

I went inside to avail of the rare wifi signal in North Hunza. Feeling slightly homesick, overwhelmed and quite honestly lonely I started balling  my eyes out. I think nothing screams more loneliness than one pitched tent in the wilderness. Travelling to places un touched by tourism is authentic, exciting but quite honestly can be difficult and really lonely. This type of scenery is so incredible that it is nice to share. Apricot man was a little confused and did the perfect thing by giving me a blankie and an awkward tap on the shoulder. An interesting fact about the apricot making business is that the people of Hunza are so sound that no other restaurant or café attempt to make the same cake. It is there thing and people respect that. I think this is the nicest gesture ever. There is another cafe that is famous for walnut cake and you won’t find it anywhere else except Cafe de Hunza. This is something you don’t see in Europe.

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Accommodation Pakistani style

The next day after a complementary coffee myself and Tenveer set off early to explore the nearby glaciers. This was stunning we were lucky enough to meet a Shepard en route who was on the verge of a mental breakdown as he hadn’t had human contact in days (I feel you mate).

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Shepard loosing his marbles in the mountains; also having a v similar hair day to myself
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This Shepard successfully made signal out of clothes hanger. Impressive stuff
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He invited me to stay with him on the mountain for a full week!!!! Tempting but no
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Chai compliments of the Shepard; it is never too far away

We encountered some difficulties when part of the trek was missing caused by a massive  landslide. After a dangerous scramble over a cliff edge we both made it and continued on the gorgeous trek where we were trekking around two different glaciers.

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The start of the trek
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Tenveer is an amazing mountaineer and literally sprinted up the entire mountain
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Me and the Passu cones
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Passu Galcier
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Batura Glacier is the seventh longest non-polar glacier in the world at 56 kilometres
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I loved this mountain
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Passu Glacier

That evening I decided I wanted to try my luck at going back to Hopper and to attempt the strenuous trek to Rush Lake. I successfully hitch hiked with some army officers. Cherry  convinced me it was worth it and one of the most beautiful treks in Pakistan. He found out there was a group of students from Lahore attempting the trek and that I could tag alone ( he was determined to find me some mates).

Hitchhiking on the KKH is a dream as it is one road and everyone is so friendly the longest I waited was 5 minutes verus 6 hours in Argentina!  There was pure and utter confusion when I rocked up to Hopper. I was told to go find a man called Sherbaz. A few random  men frantically grabbed my bags and escorted me into a hotel. I ended up getting my own guide because he said the group from Lahore were so slow and hated exercise so I would be better off alone.

After setting up camp for the night I was fed an array of foods; Korean noodle soup with potatoes, fresh cherries, some local pastry covered in apricot oil filed with a sweet wheat filling (this was kind of minging but obviously licked the plate). The food kept on coming and I had dahl and chapati to finish off.  I rolled into my tent. I was told for Rush Lake you need a guide as you have to cross multiple glaciers which are filled with crevasses so its no easy gig. I insisted on carrying most of my food and camping equipment (most people hire a cook for the trek but I obviously wanted to make life more difficult).

7 am was kick off the following morning and I was in for a rough but beautiful ride……

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Leaving Passu behind me via the KKH

 

Hitchhiking my way through Northern Pakistan. Hunza & Hopper Valley

The Police in Naran kindly hitchhiked on my behalf desperate to help me and within in 2 minutes we hit the jackpot when a family stopped. Their driver initially didn’t want to take me afraid of issues that accompanied a foreigner at boarder controls. The kind family persisted on taking a very dirty Ró in and insisted on helping me. I felt like crying I was so happy.

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My adopted family
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Babusar Pass is the of the highest mountain crossing (by car) in the world at 4,173 m

The parents of my new family were both doctors and their family were all visiting Hunza for the first time. They wisely hired a private driver to take the stress out of Northern Pakistan. They all spoke excellent English (having worked in London for years). We immediately hit it off. Despite all of the Pakistani complications I have experienced  the incredible hospitality of the people. It will always prevail. The family insisted I was their guest and I was not be allowed to pay for anything. During the windy 10 hour drive we made regular pit stops to appreciate the stunning scenery. It really is unparall to anywhere else in the world I have seen.

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Some of the pit stops en route to Hunza
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Me and Natasha on the balcony at Eagles Nest 

Mid way through the journey I was violently unwell and the police station byriani was repeating on me. I successfully managed to hold myself together until we pulled into eagles nest one of the most exclusive hotels in the Hunza Valley. Tourists come here just to see the amazing view point. When we arrived it was late and he had just been informed there had been an avalanche which was causing gael force winds. It was literally impossible to camp. The family didn’t even hesitate and smuggled me into their family room where they had without a doubt the best view of Hunza’s iconic mountain lady finger.

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The view of Lady Finger from the balcony
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The spectacular Karakorom mountain range

The Hunza valley is just heaven.  It is surrounded by some of the tallest mountains on earth. It still feels authentic with locals living in little stone huts selling their craft. It is famous for its cherry orchids, apple trees, walnuts and dried apricots. The air is fresh, clean and everyone is drinking glacial water. A much needed break from the dust, pollution and noise of Lahore. This is why I became obsessed with Pakistan in the first place and it certainly delivered.

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When I was there the Hunza Valley was covered in the most divine fresh cherries
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The Hunza Valley

It is touristy (only with Pakistanis) but is totally worth it and I was excited to chill here for a couple of days. Lahore physically and mentally drained me.  I opted out of dinner that night nursing a v bad tummy. I instantly knew what was making me sick. While I was camping with the nomads one of the children filled up my water bottle for me. It was only afterwards when I had almost polished it off I realised there was gravel, muck and some other green substance in the water. I knew it tasted funky but ignored it. This brought me instantly back to Argentina where  I was violently sick for 6 weeks having stupidly contracted a virus from drinking water from a stream. Anyway, luck was on my side and I only was sick for 1 week.

The following morning  my self and my new adopted family headed off to Lake Attabad. Sadly in 2010 there was a horrific landslide which buried the entire village of Attabad killing 20 people and blocking the valley. This resulted in the lake having a stunning turquoise colour (prior to this it was grey). It is pretty horrific when you consider what is beneath the lake. It is a established tourist attraction in Pakistan where people can hire boats and jet skis. It also claims to be the bluest lake in the world not sure how they decide this accolade. I can confirm it is very blue and beautiful.

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Lake Attabad
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In they Pakistan they absolutely love colour one of the many boats on Lake Attabad
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Depending on the time of the day it changes colour

Next on the agenda of the day was a pit stop to see some of Hunza’s famous forts. After a delicious lunch of the usual Pakistani fare we headed back to the lake for a picnic of mangos.  Pakistani mangos are the best in the world. I has such connection with Natasha and some great conversations. She explained to me a little about Pakistan’s sad and cruel history and how they are still suffering based on the image created by the media. Their  family are from Peshawer which is one of the areas that was badly affected during the war. Natasha said during 2014 they would regularly hear bombs in their village. Their family had to change the entire windows of their house on 6 different occasions! They lived in fear. Behind their house, was a school where 132 children were murdered. This country has experienced unimaginable suffering and tragedy. Natasha explained now  that Peshawer is perfectly safe and that they are trying to re build their lives and their image but the media is destroying any possibility of this. Most people I have met have thanked me for coming to their country and pleading with me to spread the positive word and to come back.

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It’s all about the people
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And Pakistan has some of the best

Travelling is not always comfortable, fun or safe but there is always something amazing around the corner whether it be a nice meal, an encounter with a stranger, a laugh with someone new or a stunning view. Travelling is all about embracing the good, the bad and the ugly. The police incident in the mountains was definitely a low point but you just need to cop your self on and keep going towards that peak and Pakistan certainly has several hundreds (or thousands of them!).

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Beauty in every corner

 

My adopted family only had a short holiday so had to go home. I couldn’t afford the fancy hotel so instead went searching for a campsite. There are buckets of them in Hunza. I found a lovely one with panoramic views of the snow capped mountains. I wanted to go trekking around the valley so I inquired about routes and tried to figure out could I manage it alone. Before I knew it I was being accompanied by these two  Pakistani teenagers. This was a toughie  due to the altitude in Hunza. It was surprisingly roasting during my time in the North (I packed the woolies afraid of freezing my arse off).

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The start of the trek
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My new teenage lovers
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The valley is covered in these gorgeous flowers
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I have never been so happy to find a stream. I was so close to dehydration
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Ró and the boys
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My favourite mountain in Pakistan was Lady Finger

The hike was absolutely stunning and we had it all to ourselves. I thought I was going to die at one point as the boys were sprinting up the mountain. I ran out of water. They didn’t seem to think water was that important.  I pleaded with them that I needed to find a stream asap. They were way too chilled for my liking. After about an hour we found the most glorious stream and peace was restored. Without the boys there was no way I would have been able to do the trek. Afterwards we all watched the sunset together it was very romantic. One of the teenagers proclaimed he loved me.  I still to this day receive regular calls off him.  He invited me to stay with him in Pakistan!!! I politely declined the offer. He was so cute in the camp site he kept gifting me with sweets, biscuits and mangos. My parting gift was a hideous black beaded Chinese necklace. I gave him an equally shit present of a blanket I robbed from Oman Air!!

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A view of the Karakoram Highway from the top of the mountain also known as the KKH
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The famous Karakorum Highway. It is a 1,300 km road that connects China to Pakistan and is the highest in the world. It is stunning and passes through glaciers, lakes and mountains. Naturally it is very dangerous

The campsite was a great spot for befriending randomers. One day I was just chilling and this young guy came over saying he heard I was a doctor and would I help me. I  tell people over here I am a food doctor it’s the easiest explanation. Anyway I really wasn’t in the mood for chats and wanted to be alone but politely told him I couldn’t help. Anyway he persevered and was itching for a convo. He invited me for dinner with his family so I agreed. I couldn’t have been more wrong it turns out he was an absolute legend with a very special family. Sometimes there are occasions when we want to keep to ourselves but you have to commend people who just strike up conversations with strangers. We don’t do it enough and it could be the start of some thing beautiful.

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My new crew

There group consisted of 22 year old Usman, his father, his cousin, his uncle and the uncles mate. I liked them a lot from the get go. They said that now I was their sister and they would do everything they could to help me because they were so grateful for me for coming to their country.  While bonding over chapati they ended up extending their stay and said they wanted to bring me to a place called Hopper glacier. Usman proclaimed it was the nicest place he had seen in his life. Quite the statement. The Dad had just bought a plot of land there and planned on building a hotel/camping site.  He wanted me to go to give my opinion. I happily obliged always delighted to get off the beaten track with some randomers. The quaint little village of Hopper immediately stole my heart. Simply stunning and not half as built up as Hunza. The site for the hotel is ridiculous, like out of this world and if done rights could make a spectacular hotel.

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On top of that hill is the new hotel site!
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Yes I approve
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Hoper Glacier
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This glacier was absolutely massive and had so many crevasses.
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Glacier for miles and miles
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My favourite place in Pakistan to date

In the afternoon we trekked to a new spot which according to Usman’s Dad has possibly the best view in all of Hunza and he was also considering investing in some land there. We befriended more Pakistani men and at one point there was just me surrounded by 30 men (the women once again were in hibernation). A shame for them as this place was heavenly. Lush, green, snow capped mountains and colourful flowers were everywhere. The crew got tired so a jeep came to take us up the rest of the way. It was a bumpy, hilarious and an extremely dangerous drive.

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I think this would make a fairy decent camp site
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I think of worse places to camp
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Laying a few rocks where there were holes in the road. Pakistani efficiency at its best
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We witnessed this crazy avalanche while having breakfast

En route home we stocked up on local cherries which Zubair, the dad kindly gifted me with. They dropped me off at my campsite that evening and gave yet again another present but this time it was for Dom! I was given a gorgeous cream shawl and was strictly told this was for my Father. Don’t know what Dom has done to win over the Pakistanis but you are in the good books. I was also gifted with a gorgeous grey shawl. Generosity and kindness beyond belief and this is something sadly the media does NOT portray.

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The media doesn’t portray this
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or this…
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or this 
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In fairness not too bad view from my tent

I spent a fab morning napping, listening to music and doing some writing. My new lover boy was regularly supplying me with mangos, biscuits and chai. He told me loved me and was planning to move to Ireland. Let’s just hope that will never happen otherwise Nils has some stiff competition.

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The moon being stubborn during the most glorious sunrise

Hotel owner was also a legend and insisted on driving me and big backpack down the mountain on his motorbike. It was a painful but beautiful ride. Half way down we took a pit stop in his family house for some tea and hunza bread. So nice and authentic seeing how the locals live. Their family home was covered in apricot and cherry trees. Next on the agenda was to try and make my way to Passu. This was ridiculously easy I briefly researched and tried to figure out how to get public transport but realised there was none…Hitch hiking the KKH was my only option!

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Standard views in Hunza

Heading North and my first encounter with the Pakistani Police Force; Naran

Next stop was Northern Pakistan, this is the place that captured my eye and convinced me to tackle this country alone. It is known as the jewel of the country and is 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.

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A welcomed relief from the fumes of Lahore, Naran.

Whilst in Islamabad I I freaked out about being hungry in the North and did a massive food shop.  Everyone had me warned I was entering the wilderness where there would be absolutely no signal, facilities or shops (a slight exaggeration). My once light back was back to its former South American weight of 20 plus kg. I was gifted a massive rubber mattress from Shavaz which weighed a ton so added nicely to my load.

Once I crawled off the bus I tried to gather myself and figure out where the hell I was going. The town of Naran is brilliant, it is high up in the mountains and was buzzing at 7 am. There were loads of random men on the streets ironing clothes, selling (fake) honey and walnuts. A chaotic que of jeep cars were waiting to take people to the nearby lakes.

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A ridiculous amount of jeeps means this stunning lake is overly touristy (domestic) and sadly filled with rubbish

I had a successful morning where I managed to buy a new pot for my cooking sessions. I stocked up on some fruit and veg and persuaded the restaurant owner to fill up an old coke bottle with some salt. Delira with my negotiation skills I set off on an adventure.

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Walking means you capture views like this and have them completely to yourself
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View from the local huts
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Scenes on the way up I would have missed if I had of taken the jeep

So the main attraction in Naran is to go visit Lake Salif Moluk. You have the option to take a jeep for €2 up the steep incline or you can obviously hike the 10 km. I choose the later. I knew I was being stupid but I was really in the mood to exercise and needed a challenge and this certainly ticked all of the boxes. After about 5 minutes I started questioning my sanity as the jeeps frantically honked begging me to hop on board. Whenever I told people I was contemplating walking they would just look at me in dis belief and say it was not possible. This obviously made me even more stubborn and I persevered. The hike turned out to be stunning and I took regular pit stops. One of which where I met some local children who lived in the mountain and they invited me in for chai. It was incredible seeing the hut the massive family lived in. They just said stared at me in constant fits of giggles. I must have looked rough.

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The happiest little children delighted to spot a rare tourist

The most amazing thing happened as I said my good byes. One of the 10-year olds grabbed by 20 kg backpack and wouldn’t give it back to me her younger sibling then grabbed my camera bag and started to walk. I was a little confused but soon figured out they were helping me and refused to hand them over. We walk over glaciers, fields and river crossings. The two girls were as strong as oxes and put me to shame. Such incredible people looking for nothing in return.

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We spotted lots of glaciers which are sadly melting (very fast)
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Breath taking  views en route to the Lake

After about an hour the girls returned home and I wasn’t alone for long until these three random Pakistani lads offered to carry my bags (I did not refuse as I was dying at this stage).

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Good job kids literally taking all of my bags. God sents
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Legend

The only drawback  to the lake was it was flooded with Pakistani families and tourists and was way over developed for my liking with loads of food stalls, horse riding and even the chance to get your photo with an eagle. As a whole I’ve noticed Pakistanis don’t like walking so mostly everyone had reached via jeep.

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This 16 year old girl and her family rescued me from the droves

I was hounded by tourists looking for selfies. I generally don’t mind these but this was a joke. At one point I counted and there was a que of 20 people looking for their photo.  I was luckily whisked away by a 15-year-old girl who took me to meet her family and we went boating around the lake. Having dragged up my new pot, mattress and camping gear I was adamant to camp. Security informed me it was illegal.  Instead I inquired with the one and only hotel on the lake  and they greedily said it would be 5000 rupees to pitch my tent so I obviously said no to the absurd offer. A kind stranger suggested I check with the local nomads living on the side of the mountain and assured me it couldn’t be safer.

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Blessed amongst men!!! and you will find plenty of them in Pakistan

I attempted to explain to the nomads my situation by showing them a photo of a tent. They must of thought I had come straight from mars but agreed to have me nonetheless. Anyway the afternoon passed nicely with the whole family putting up my tent for me. The children were amazed and spent their time just staring. That evening I was given a cookery lesson on how to make chipati. It was authentic, humbling and a memorable experience seeing how these people survive in these isolated mountains with smiles on their faces.

From this moment on things really went downhill. I heard a scream outside and was greeted by a group of police men on horses pointing their rifles at the house. I knew instantly they were there because of me. They started screaming at me saying I was in danger and that I must leave immediately. I got the fright of my life but then was just generally confused as I couldn’t have felt safer. Completely overwhelmed I started to cry. This made the police men even angrier and they instructed me to stop. Not to be dramatic or anything but I was sobbing hysterically and there was no possibility of me stopping. I was forced to take the tent down with a police squad and about 20 nomad people staring at me in utter confusion. It was actually so difficult trying to fit my monstrosity into the bag under this type of pressure. Can’t say I’ve done it before.

I thanked the family and said sorry for all the drama in my urdu attempts. I whole heartedly knew they were good people and that police were on a power trip or they were extremely bored. Why does one peaceful lake need 7 armed police? Any way before I knew it I was mounted onto a horse while bawling my eyes  out and carried through the mountains.  At this stage I didn’t even know were they really the police. It is all a total blur right now.

I was brought to a field where the police said I could pitch my tent. Despite the trauma of it all the view was incredible. After about an hour police numero uno was back saying I was still in danger and it would be better if I slept in a room with the 7 police men!!!! (that sounded ‘really safe’). I refused instantly we all came to a compromise and agreed I would pitch my tent outside their room.

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This is why I love camping you  have this completely to yourself until the madness arrives. It perfectly describes the calm before the storm. This shot was taken from the police head quarters.

In the middle of the night a bird crashed into my tent and I thought it was one of the men. Not one wink of sleep was had following bird incident. Any way the next morning I was determined to carry on and go explore. There was a lake a couple of km’s away up a mountain which sounded amazing. When I told the police I was going he said it wasn’t safe as a girl because it was 6 hours of walking and that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the low oxygen levels. He then went on to say how un safe all of Pakistan was for a girl and that really I should just go to Kashmir (at that time there were horrendous and dangers floods in Kashmir so once again a great suggestion from police man). From a security point of view Pakistan feels really safe and I’ve only seen peace in the country so far. The discrimination against women is a different level and has been the most challenging aspect of travelling here.

They just cannot comprehend why any woman would travel alone, walk alone or even eat alone. They are ridiculously protective over you but not in a good or helpful way. I know there are cultural differences that I must respect but the daily struggle of phones being put in your face requesting selfies (without even talking to you), the staring, the following. It gets tiresome. As a couple or group I don’t think you would not have half of these issues (or they would be less).

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Still able to appreciate this beauty

The first thing Berlin told me when we met was the psychological damage she experienced in Pakistan. The constant disbelief from people when you tell them you are alone, the constant messages of it’s so dangerous and you can’t do that. If you were to listen to half the people you would just sit in a hotel room for the 5 weeks. As appealing as that sounds, I am taking my chances on the real world.

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Scenery surrounding Lake Safil Maluk

I told the police I would just explore a ‘little’. 6 hours later I was knee deep in insane scenery of glaciers, snow-capped mountains and lush green fields. On the way I picked up a heart broken Pakistani lad (now living in Malaysia) who just broke up with his gf. I was delira with the company as living in Malaysia for a couple of years meant that Malaysia didn’t look at me like I had three heads. Unfortunately we didn’t make the lake as I was conscious of pissing off the police and figured I should defo be back before dark.

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Malaysia contemplating life
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Just amazing

Myself and Malaysia opted to take the jeep down the mountain as it was getting dark. After about 10 minutes of stuffy hell we got stuck in a traffic jam there was a landslide on the mountain causing pure and utter chaos. I think this is a regular occurrence. The drive from Naran up to the Lake is nothing short of treacherous it can only be done on jeep and is certainly rough to put it mildly. I couldn’t hack sitting in a jeep so left ALL of my stuff with Malaysia. Whilst walking down the mountain I prayed he was trust  worthy as he now was a proud owner of my laptop, camera and passport. Turns out he was one of the good ones and I met him in the town of Naran.

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Traffic jams
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Landslides are a daily occurrence here and cause mayhem
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Waiting out the landslide in style

My plans for the north were completely up in the air. I tried to research but unsuccessfully. It was next to impossible to find any sort of transport the infrastructure just isn’t there especially for a solo traveller. The roads are in obscene condition. That is why most people wisely take a tour. I allowed myself about 3 weeks to discover this region so figured I had plenty of time to tackle it independently. This is no Patagonia and a different gig altogether. I had no idea what awaited me.

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That feeling when you eventually got off the mountain intact

Travelling solo around the North of Pakistan is a marathon challenge. Malaysia’s mates had left with his car and drove the 8 hours home (in fairness he has been MIA for about 8 hours but still very un sound from the mates.) So Malaysia was trying to convince me to take the 8 hour bus back to Islamabad and he said from there I would find some more transport links (whilst doubling the journey time). I was exhausted, overwhelmed and confused (and slightly traumatised). I will be perfectly honest on this day I hated Pakistan and wanted to be home straight away (and genuinely considered it). I felt stupid and a little bit ashamed of myself to think I could just tackle this country solo with little to no research. This works in Vietnam but Pakistan is in a league of its own. After 3 cups of sugary chai and a pack of biscuits I decided to sleep in Naran and hoped the next day I would be able to tackle Pakistan once more.

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Myself and Malaysia both defeated by Lake Salif Maluk

The next challenge was to find accommodation for that night. Guess where I ended up? At another Pakistani Police station. In fact this time they were so kind and helpful and I voluntary went to them desperately asking for help. I asked them could I camp in the station. They agreed but after lots of heated discussions they offered me my own private room (I think the room was used as storage for handcuffs, really relaxing). I was so exhausted I didn’t care. I have no idea what they do all day but at least this provided them with some drama. Throughout the evening random police officers came into the room to have a goo at the foreigner. They even made me a big bowl of byriani. The best thing they did was assure they would get me to Hunza (10 hours north).

Getting drunk on Halong bay is fun, sleeping in a Pakistani police station is not fun. Authentic yes, but not fun. I swore to myself I will eventually laugh about all of this. That night in the police I did something I would usually never do. I admitted to myself I was way too ambitious and that actually I couldn’t physically or mentally cope with 2 months in this country. I changed my flight to come home 2 weeks early. It probably helped that I was a little delirious and sleep derived at the time. Money comes and goes and in this case it was the best money I ever spent. I had a new leash of energy and finally got excited about Pakistan and braced myself for the journey of a life time.

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Despite it all, I manage to appreciate the stunning views
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Not a sinner in sight

 

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.

 

 

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