1.  Lace hankies and floodwater – finding myself in India

1. Lace hankies and floodwater – finding myself in India

I wrote this article just one year after I the breakup of my marriage back in 2010.  I booked my trip to India with Explore and I travelled with a wonderful group of people, and whilst it’s a cliché, India truly was a life-changing experience for me. My children had chosen to cut me out of their lives, I was being bullied in work and I was floating around in a (prescription) drug induced haze following an emotional breakdown.  I needed a change and I needed it quickly if I were to begin to rebuild my life and my self-esteem.

Things are very different now but I like to revisit this theme periodically to remind myself that despite how people might appear on the outside we never know the whole story about what’s going on in someone’s mind.

It’s also good to be reminded that happiness (and loneliness) doesn’t only depend on external factors or material things and that no matter how bleak things sometimes seem to be, they usually improve.  My tattoo on my thigh of a peacock (India’s national bird) reminds me daily of lessons learnt when I got soaking wet in the monsoon rains in India.

My life completely changed when somebody asked me the question. ‘Are you happy?’

If I had been asked just five hours earlier I would have replied yes and I would not have questioned my status quo, but coming at the exact point in time that it did, triggered a landslide of emotions.  It were as if a veil was lifted and I could see life as it really was, as my close friends saw it and it debunked all of the excuses that I had been making to myself.

I still receive incredulous looks when I tell my story which is why I am going to bring it back out there and I hope that it will help others, maybe even you, to understand, to question and to bring about changes for the better.

Peacock decoration on a door in Agra, India

Peacock decoration on a door in Agra, India

Lace hankies and floodwater 

I have been at my loneliest whilst sat on an exquisite beach in Mexico and I have been at my happiest soaked to the skin in the monsoon rains in India.  Let me explain.

A luxury holiday in the Caribbean.

 The turquoise Caribbean sea lapped against the hot white sand whilst emerald green hummingbirds darted around the manicured grounds of the five-star gated holiday complex.  I lay on a sunbed gently toasting in the sun whilst a waiter brought me iced cocktails and my biggest decision of the day was whether to wander down to the beach or stay next to the pool.

I knew that I was privileged to be able to holiday at such an amazing place, but I was hungry to see what lay beyond the gates and to meet the real people of Mexico.  This was back in the day when I was still married and we both worked hard so that we could afford to pay for nice holidays in nice places – and many of those holidays were to all-inclusive resorts in the Carribean.

luxury and hot white sands in Mexico - but I felt lonely

luxury and hot white sands in Mexico – but I felt lonely

 

One day on that holiday, my husband and I joined an organised coach trip which took us from our resort to the iconic Chichen Itza site.  We drove through towns and villages and we were offered tantalising glimpses of people going about their day to day business.  After exploring the ruins I strolled ahead of my husband among the small stalls set up under the trees by local people.  This was more like it; I spoke no Spanish yet I felt comfortable here among the people who were doing their best to attract tourists to their handicraft stalls.

I wandered around and I paused, intending to buy a couple of small hand-embroidered items which cost just pennies from a group of ladies who proudly showed off a small baby to me.  They were full of smiles as they gestured towards me.  Their poverty was obvious and by spending at their stall I might make a small difference, but I was hurried away by my husband who grumbled that we didn’t need to buy the cute little lace handkerchiefs that they had made.

Later that evening, as we sat in our hotel restaurant eating food that the stall holders could only dream of, I was angry for allowing myself to be dissuaded from buying a couple of  lace hankies and years of unhappy experiences crowded into my mind.  Sat on the beach the next day, I couldn’t stop the tears as I realised that despite being on holiday in such a beautiful place, I was deeply unhappy and I felt lonely in our relationship.  I felt unheard and as if my own views of people and of life were unimportant.

It was on that holiday in Mexico that I began to seriously question the path that my life was taking.  By the following June I had decided that things couldn’t continue as they were and when I really began to question the status quo, my life as I knew it imploded!

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Finding myself in India 

One year later, in August 2010, I was holidaying at the other end of the scale.  I had travelled to India during the monsoon season with the travel company ExploreI had been in a pretty bad way emotionally and a friend had suggested that I could do with a break.  She recommended Explore and as I was not in any position emotionally to travel solo I took her up on her suggestion and I found myself in India with a small group of 16 travellers.

local travel in India - trains in the rain

local travel in India – trains in the rain

 

Advertised as touring India on a shoestring we were travelling on local buses and trains and mostly staying in small low-budget hotels.  Whilst we had the security of a travel guide we also had a lot of free time.  (Continue reading to the end of the article and discover how I ended up in India when I had intended to book a cycling trip in Italy!)

On my second day in Delhi I was riding in a tuk-tuk with three other people – almost strangers to me at that point – when flash floods engulfed the city streets.  We had decided to use our free time and take a tuk tuk around the city when the rain began to fall.  Drains blocked with rubbish soon began to overflow and the waters began to rise.

tuk tuk in India

tuk tuk in India

 

Our driver ploughed on into the floodwater, oblivious to the fact that it was now well over the sill of his vehicle and it was lapping around our hips on the back seat.  I have to admit to being a little scared at that point and then, with our bags raised above our heads, and with smoke belching out of the submerged exhaust, the machine coughed and then stopped.

Assuring us that he would manage to re-start the machine and refusing all offers of help with a push from us, our driver indicated that we should get to some higher ground.  We gingerly stepped out and waded through thigh-deep water to take some shelter in a shop doorway.  Joining a group of cheerful Indian ladies with their sodden saris trailing in the water I tried to ignore the obvious lumps of sewerage which were floating past (thankfully at that stage I was oblivious to the dysentery that would soon follow).

My group of new friends chatted about the rain and we worried about how we would ever find our way back to our hotel because the unpronounceable street name had been washed clean from the paper on which it had been written.  We glumly looked out over the messy, untidy street where the filthy water was running and at the people who were wading through the floods as we tried to squeeze some of the rain water out of our clothes and our hair.

walking in the monsoon rain in India

walking in the monsoon rain in India

 

On the contrary, the local ladies giggled as they watched some men who had waded out to help push the tuk-tuk up a slope and then like men the world over, gathered around scratching their heads and offered mechanical advice, all of them totally unfazed by their soaked clothes and the water lapping around their knees.

The women explained to us that whilst the floods would cause many deaths (that year was particularly bad), the monsoon rains always brought a welcome relief from the sapping summer heat and it irrigated the parched land.  The monsoon season was to be celebrated because the consequences should it ever fail were unimaginable.

The first stage to my recovery. 

The faces of those Indian ladies were beautiful.  They radiated happiness, and serenity despite the povery all around and something deep inside me moved emotionally.  For the first time in almost a year I felt what I now know to be hope and I stepped out from under the shelter.  I raised my face to the deluge allowing the warm water to wash over me and I laughed, imitating the little children who were playing excitedly around us.  They had long ago discarded their clothes and their little brown bodies shone as they splashed and laughed in the rain.

street life in India - life goes on - despite the rain

street life in India – life goes on – despite the rain

 

Marooned in the shabby backstreets of Delhi, surrounded by water and sewerage, the jewel-bright colours of the women’s silk saris reminded me of the humming-birds in Mexico. These ladies weren’t focusing on the negatives at all.  They would have to wash the mud out of their clothes, their homes would be damp, and travel during the monsoon season would be difficult but they could count their blessings that the rains had come and they laughed and chatted together.

I was in a strange country with nobody who I knew, yet I was not lonely. I was truly happy and like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis I felt reborn.  I was taking back control of my life, and as I began to come out from the shadow of my marriage, my own identity blossomed and I decided that I liked the person that I was becoming.  I couldn’t wait to see what I was capable of achieving next.

Continue reading below the image and discover how I ended up in India when I had planned to spend 5 days cycling around the vineyards of Tuscany.

If you would like to buy me a coffee to support my writing and therefore support others who might benefit, you can click on this link: 

If you want to take a holiday but you would prefer not to travel solo I can totally recommend Explore. They are so good that I have actually taken 4 trips with them and I have made many long term friends via them. This link will take you to their website where you can book your dream trip.

If you would like to read a book which explains how you can become stronger through mindfulness I have just the thing for you.  This introduction to the subject of mindfulness might just set you off on your own personal journey of self discovery (click here to purchase)

book cover - Becoming stronger through mindfulness

Becoming stronger through mindfulness

 

I had planned to go to Italy! 

I have already explained that my friend recommended that it might do me good to take a short break away from my problems and she gave me her Explore brochure.  I wasn’t in a good place emotionally having recently experienced an emotional breakdown and I had been prescribed some time on anti-depressants.  One afternoon, I took my towel and a bottle of cider down to the communal garden of the small apartment block where I was living and I settled down to choose my holiday.

I remember deciding upon a 5 day cycling tour of the vineyards of Tuscany in Italy. A bit of exercise, plenty of pasta and wine and some beautiful European countryside would be the perfect start to my recovery. I don’t remember much else because the cider, the pills and the heat all conspired together and I fell asleep in the sun.

The Taj Mahal - that booking error possibly changed my life - Finding myself in India

The Taj Mahal – that booking error possibly changed my life

 

It seemed that I got myself back into my apartment and settled down for the night because the next morning I woke up in my bed with a thumping headache and a nagging suspicion that I had booked my holiday.  This feeling didn’t go away so I contacted the company and trying to ignore the fact that it must sound totally weird, I asked the operator on the end of the phone to confirm my holiday details for me.

She reeled off my travel date which was just 6 weeks later and she confirmed that I would be flying into Delhi for the start of my two week trip around the Golden Triangle of India.

‘You mean Tuscany…for 5 days….cycling?’  I questioned her.

‘Nooooo, we spoke yesterday and you definitely reserved and paid in full for your trip to India.  You will be leaving in 6 weeks time and you will have a lovely time.  It’s one of our best trips!’

Suddenly I had a flash back to the previous afternoon and I remembered waking in the garden and finding that the wind had flipped the page of the magazine over to the India trip. It had obviously attracted me so much that I had gone into my apartment and phoned the company to reserve my spot!

I had several options open to me at that stage.  I could

  1. a) feel sorry for myself and weep loudly down the phone
  2. b) change my holiday to Italy and probably lose a percentage of my booking fee
  3. c) pull up my Big-Girl Pants and embrace the experience.

Thanking the operator for her help I put down the phone and wondered how the hell I could go about applying for an Indian visa.

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Finding myself in India

Finding myself in India

 

The Universe will give you what you need.  I didn’t think so at the time but I was certainly ready for India and I needed it at that exact moment in my life.  Relax and accept what comes along.

You WILL deal with it.

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Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

 

 

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico – Debbie’s story

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico – Debbie’s story

Swimming with whale sharks could be on my bucket list – if I wasn’t so afraid of water – so when my friend Debbie told me that this was one of her biggest dreams I excitedly followed her plans.

I want to share her story with you and hopefully inspire you to chase the one thing that you have always wanted to do.  Put aside the excuses and start the ball rolling today – and please do comment at the bottom of this post and tell us your one big dream. (Click on the links in the text to find out more)

 

Inspirational people – Debbie’s story

 

  1. You have just returned from a solo trip to Mexico. Why did you choose to go there? 

I went to Mexico because I’ve always dreamed of swimming with whale sharks, and at this time of the year (July) there are huge numbers off the coast of the Mayan peninsular.  I went for three weeks and most of my trip was based around the water and snorkelling with the wildlife.  You don’t have to get in the water either.  I took a catamaran trip and I kayaked too. Mexico and Belize have the second largest reef in the world off their coastline, and I also crossed over the border and visited Belize for a couple of days.  However there is more to Mexico than water sports.  There is lots of history, ruins and temples – I only went to a small part – Mexico is vast.

 

 

  1. Why did you go solo? 

Partly because nobody was free to come with me and swimming with the whale sharks was something that I really wanted to do.  In the past I would never have dreamed of travelling solo, not until I went travelling with yourself last year (we backpacked together for 7 weeks in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand), and then I realised that when you stay in hostels you are never really travelling alone.

Travelling with you (and doing your confidence building course before hand) made me more knowledgeable about this type of travel (solo).  With knowledge comes confidence and therefore I was confident enough to book this trip solo to a country that is in fact reasonably dangerous. 

 

  1. Did you ever feel that you were in danger? 

There was one episode – when the police were after someone.  There was a manhunt for somebody from one of the drug cartels who had killed a police officer.  I heard the gunshots whilst I was sitting outside a restaurant drinking the first of my 2-for-1 margaritas.  The staff immediately ushered us all inside the building and quickly fixed bars across all of the windows to prevent us from entering.

Were you scared? 

I watched the police in the street run past armed to the hilt.  Personally I wasn’t frightened although there were people running into the restaurant for sanctuary and many of them were scared and crying.  They were hiding behind the pillars.  In true British style I ordered my second margarita and waited it out.  The only time that I felt nervous was walking back to my hostel through streets that had been locked down and felt like a warzone.  

 

  1. Why did you choose to stay in a hostel rather than a hotel or an apartment? 

Well as I mentioned above, when you stay in a hostel you are never actually travelling alone.  It’s altogether a more friendly experience.  You can cook and eat with other guests, travel together and share experiences.  I would never want to stay in a hotel from choice.  I don’t want the restrictions of a hotel (unless it’s for a romantic break!). For more tips on staying in hostels click here

 

  1. Did you ever feel lonely? 

One day I received bad news from home.  I had just arrived at a deserted hostel – not even the owners were there – so I jumped straight on a bus to where the life was and got chatting to the waiter in the coffee shop, but otherwise, no. 

If you are not ready to take a trip like this solo, why not take a look at what Explore have to offer?  I have travelled 4 times with them and I would highly rate them – Scarlet Jones

  1. How do you think you would have coped if you had got sick? 

I can speak the (Spanish) language which is one major hurdle overcome and I had good travel insurance.  I felt quite confident that I would be fine if I were to get sick.

I use Alpha Travel Insurance.  Get your competitive travel insurance quote here – Scarlet Jones

  1. What were the top highlights of your trip? 

Swimming with whale sharks!  I wasn’t disappointed at all, however, all of the excursions that I did were all great and also the best bit was making new friends.  I have been invited to visit a family in Colombia that I met on my catamaran trip and also to Mexico City by a flight attendant!

swimming with whale sharks

swimming with whale sharks – courtesey of www.whalesharkencounter.com

  1. And the worst? 

After a six hour hot and dusty bus journey I arrived at my next hostel to check in.  There was nobody around, just a faded handwritten notice on the door directing visitors to the run-down little house next door.  There I found a friendly family who had a key and got me into the hostel.  They were very helpful but it turned out that the owners were away and I was the only person (guest or staff) rattling around in the place.  This coincided with me receiving my bad news from home.  However, despite this, my spirits were lifted when the grandfather of the family next door invited me to sleep in one of their hammocks with his family if I didn’t want to be alone in the hostel.  I declined but the thought was there.

 

Swimming with whale sharks

 

  1. Tell me about your experience of swimming with whale sharks 

I had been very thorough with my research before I booked my day out and I wasn’t disappointed.  I chose to go swimming with whale sharks with the Whale Shark Encounter from Cancun who do a lot of conservation work.  We were one of the first boats to arrive at the expected whale shark site and because of that I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the water with these magnificent fish.

The experience was wonderful – to swim next to a 30 metre long creature, looking into its enormous mouth, seeing its gills and its eyes.  You know they are watching you but they are beautiful gentle creatures.  I would do it all again

 

  1. What next? 

I am thinking about going to see blue whales, swimming with dolphins in the wild and I would love to do a 3 day trek and boat trip to see orang utangs in the wild in Borneo.  By visiting these animals in their natural habitat in an unobtrusive way with responsible companies and guides can help to provide an income for local people who find it in their interest to protect the environment and the species.  For instance, in the case of Whale Shark Encounter that I used in Mexico, all employees are from the local community and the company has the National Geographic Snorkel’s Certificate.

  1. What advice would you give to anybody who wants to travel but who has friends that either don’t want to go where you want to go and or can’t get the time off work 

I would say, just do it. Research it, stay in hostels but don’t be too regimented with your plans.  I literally only had the first few days booked and planned and I made arrangements as I went.  As long as you have internet access and a smart phone it’s all so simple.

I would also recommend that anybody who is nervous about travelling solo for the first time that they take a course.  I initially followed the Smash the Pumpkin Project and then later, I joined you (Jane at Scarlet Jones Travels) on a trip through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, both of which taught me a lot.

These things gave me the confidence to travel solo and made me realise that I didn’t need to wait around for friends to be free to travel with me.

 

  1. What saying or mantra resonates the most with you? 

As I was racing across JFK Airport in New York to make my onward connection to Mexico I saw this sign.  I stopped briefly to take a picture but it really struck a chord.

‘Live the international life.  We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.’

inspirational quote

Inspirational quote from JFK

 

  1. I know that you had problems as a result of flight delays. How did you cope with that?  What were your initial feelings and was it as bad as you had feared? 

I was a little bit disappointed as I had my tour to go swimming with whale sharks booked for the following day and I wanted to be organised and relaxed for that.  I did everything in my power to catch the connecting flight but I missed it by minutes (due to delays with the first flight).  As I arrived at the gate, staff came out to tell me that they were sorry but the gate had been closed and I had missed the plane, however they immediately directed me to a help desk who organised a hotel and a flight the following morning.

I was nervous but I decided that it was just another experience and part of my travels.  I got to spend a night in New York where I met some very friendly people including a man who bought me a cheesecake!  I was apprehensive but I knew that the airport staff would fix things so I relaxed and told myself to chill.  I also got chatting to an air steward who sat with me on my first flight and explained the layout of JFK and my options should I fail to make the connection – we are still in contact via email, and he invited me to stay with his family in Mexico City.  None of this would have happened if I hadn’t missed my plane.

I use Skyscanner to search for and book all of my flights – Scarlet Jones

 

  1. Would you return to Mexico

Yes I would and I would recommend Mexico even if you are not into water sports.  I would love to visit Mexico City, the north and the Pacific coast and I would certainly love to go swimming with whale sharks again. 

 

  1. And to sum up – do you have any tips for would-be solo travellers? 

If you are in Mexico and you plan to hop over to another country and back, be careful with the taxes that you might be asked to pay when you leave and enter across the border.  For instance, if you are due to leave by air at a later date you should not have to pay taxes to Mexico if you pop over to Belize by boat (you will still have to pay Belize customs).  I researched this topic from other travel blogs whilst on the way to the border and I subsequently held my ground and (correctly) declined to pay the requested taxes when leaving Mexico. I also managed to get a refund for an Irish couple at the border who had been unaware of this rule and had initially paid up without questioning. 

If you are inspired by Debbie’s story and you would like to travel alone but you are still a bit nervous why not travel with me later this year  – I am going to Myanmar Singapore and Malaysia

Would you travel solo and take a trip like this?  If not, drop me a line below in the comments and let me know what is stopping you – or alternatively tell us about your own experiences when you chased your dream

 

 Useful Links and information:

Travel Insurance from Alpha Travel Insurance

The Smash the Pumpkin Project – build your confidence and self belief 

Are you too old to stay in hostels?

Hotel tips: and how NOT to behave in a hostel

Getting sick while travelling in S E Asia

Travel with me in Malaysia later this year

Small group adventure holidays with Explore

Guide books to anywhere from Lonely Planet

Find a place to stay with Agoda

Search and book your flights with Skyscanner

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun – www.whalesharkencounter.com

Scarlet Jones Travels contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions are akin to you buying me a cup of coffee and keeping me on the road so that I can continue to bring you articles and information. Thanks for reading!

 

6 countries where recent events shouldn’t put you off

6 countries where recent events shouldn’t put you off

Around the world, tragic events occur. As a result, international visitors are often put off visiting those countries – but, a lot of the time, this hesitation is unfounded and it is in fact safe to travel.

So, rather than shy away from such places, I want to set the record straight for six countries where recent events shouldn’t put you off visiting.

I haven’t been to Iran yet but it is high up near the top of my list.

  • Colombia

Any uncertainty about visiting Colombia is due to its past. Back in the 80s and 90s, Colombia was Pablo Escobar’s territory and crime rates were high. Things are different now. The country is no longer ruled by the gun and all the big cities, including Medellin and Cartagena, have cleaned up their act.

6 countries where recent events shouldn't put you off

Welcoming smiles in Colombia

Nowadays, travellers can visit and experience great food, friendly locals, adventure in the sports capital, San Gil, and spectacular natural beauty. Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City, is a highlight. Only accessible by a five-day trek through the jungle, the breathtaking ruins date back to the 9th century. It’s often heralded as the next Machu Picchu – so head there before the crowds.

  • France

The terror attacks of 2015 incited fear in almost everyone – and put a lot of people off visiting Paris. In the week following, almost half of Telegraph Travel readers, for instance, said they’d be less likely to visit the city. But since the attack, security has been heightened, including extra border control checks at all entry points.

Vigilance, as always, is needed in public places and you’ve got to follow the advice of local authorities – but it shouldn’t stop you visiting the world’s most romantic city of Paris. So plan a trip to see world-famous museums and monuments and taste fantastic food.

6 countries where recent events shouldn't put you off

The Louvre

  • Iran

Not long ago, Iran was officially part of the former US President’s (George Bush) ‘Axis of Evil’. In reality, the country is one of the world’s most welcoming – and, most importantly, it’s safe. Chasing the Unexpected says this safety doesn’t change whether you’re travelling alone or in a group. In fact, on her visit, she saw a large number of women travelling alone.

The Secret Traveller says Iran is one of those countries you probably wouldn’t think about visiting, but really should – citing it a friendly place. The real attraction of the country is all of the great people you meet when you’re there. Looks like it’s time to go and meet them.

  • India

The earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 caused huge devastation. Now, the perceived risk continues to worry travellers. But natural disasters cannot be prevented and the negative impact on tourism continues to hurt places long after devastation hits.

So put Nepal back on your must-visit list. If you’re in any doubt, read this post to convince you. They do warn you’ll need a bit of patience as taxi prices might be higher and menus limited, however.

  • UK

When the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), following the ‘Brexit poll’, a lot of people were surprised. Loads of questions – including whether visas will be needed for EU visitors – continue to flood in. But until Article 50 is triggered, nothing will really change. Even after that, it could be over two years before the UK really ‘leaves’.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

The devaluation of the pound also makes it very cheap for international visitors – so come and enjoy the country now for a great price.

  • Croatia

In 1991, the outbreak of the Yugoslav Civil War, including Dubrovnik being the target of a seven-month siege, obviously put visitors off. By 1996, Croatia had restored diplomatic relations

Nowadays, the country is a safe and welcoming place for travellers. It’s also a beautiful country with great beaches, architecture and food. It’s no surprise tourism is booming. Fortunately, prices are still reasonable. Go – and don’t miss two of Croatia’s eight national parks, the Unesco-listed Plitvice Lakes and Krka, both famous for their stunning lakes and waterfalls.

Have you visited any of these places? Share your experiences with me.

When is the best time to visit Cuba?

When is the best time to visit Cuba?

Without getting into the politics of Cuba or the rights and wrongs of the Castro regime, there are some very good reasons why NOW is the best time to visit Cuba. 

Following the recent relaxation of the US embargo on Cuba, things are likely to change swiftly and part of its charm is its shabby decaying chaotic vibrant structure that is visible now.

The architecture

There is a big Unesco-led programme which is renovating the crumbling buildings of Cuba, and especially those in Havana.  These old apartment blocks, grand mansions and the cobbled back streets are very carefully and painstakingly slowly being returned to their former glory.  In its heyday Cuba must have been a cacophony of Colonial splendour.  The old city of Cartagena in Colombia gives a glimpse of how Havana must have once looked before the Cuban capital began to crumble to dust. (click here for pictures of the splendid Cartagena)

architecture: best time to visit Cuba

Vintage cars

Along with the falling down buildings, the vintage cars on the streets of Havana attract photographers in their thousands.  Beautiful to look at and a memory of times long gone, old Chevrolets, Buicks and Plymouths cruise around, offering rides as unofficial taxis or, more often than not, are propped up on bricks as spare parts are currently impossible to come by.

vintage cars; best time to visit Cuba

A peek into a pre-globalisation world

What is quite striking are the lack of signs attracting you to eat at the local Western style restaurants or hoardings advertising fast food or fizzy drinks.  Unlike other countries which have a homogomous mix of everything and many high streets all look alike, in Cuba you really feel that you are somewhere very different without the all-consuming consumerism and greed for materialism which is everywhere.

As the political situation changes then Cuba is almost bound to become like any other place in the world so the best time to visit Cuba has to be sooner rather than later.

best time to visit Cuba

Low crime levels

Crime levels are much lower than in other cities around the world, although this is not to say that crime is non-existent.  Heavy penalties and policing deter many, and there are eyes everywhere in the form of informers.  Another factor is that much of life is lived outside.  Because of the heat and humidity, overcrowded living conditions and simply a love to sit outside and natter to the neighbours, there are very few places that are unobserved and therefore people think twice before committing a crime

best time to visit Cuba

Higher happiness levels

People express their happiness through music, dance and socialising.  They promenade along the malecon, sit and chat in bars and parks and work together as  a community.  There is a Caribbean vibrancy to life – but let us not beat about the bush, it can be a tough life for many people.

best time to visit Cuba

I toured around Cuba in the spring of 2013.  I flew out to Havana and I joined a small adventure tour group, visiting a lot of the island.

  I trekked up into the mountain jungle region where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara holed up during the revolution and I slept outside on the verandas of haciendas.  I adored the picturesque towns of Trinidad, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba  and I drank my body weight in mojitos. 

After the tour ended, I stayed behind and I lived in a casa particular with a Cuban family in the suburbs for four more days.

mojitos: best time to visit Cuba

The best time to visit Cuba – before it changes

Cuba is a fascinating island with fascinating people BUT a lot of them live in substandard homes which are leaking or falling down around them.  Cars break down regularily and the roads are atrocious with massive potholes and a very poor public transport system.

  As tourists we want to see the vintage cars but be honest, if you had the choice between a rusty, unreliable heap of metal or a gleaming Chinese model (because of the US embargo the Chinese are in) – which would you choose to run your family around in?

best time to visit Cuba

Would you opt to take a donkey cart to the shops or jump on a bus or a tram?  Would you want to struggle with the ration system in very poorly stocked shops or take your children out to a burger bar for a hamburger, fries and a shake?

best time to visit Cuba
My next big adventure

My next big adventure

Two and a half years ago I quit my job and I went exploring.

I thought that I may be gone for no more than a year before I satisfied my wanderlust and I settled back down again.

Europe 2013

How wrong was I!  I really threw myself in at the deep end that first summer in Europe.

  • I went to to my first ever proper festival (in Lisbon),
  • I worked on a farm in the Algarve,
  • I was house sitting in Italy
  • I looked after (sort of) 7 golfers in a gite in France
  • I went to a wedding in Gibraltar

A year in South America

Scarlet Jones Travels – Brazil

And then I fulfilled my childhood dream (thanks Paddington Bear) of going to deepest darkest Peru.  I was in South America for 364 days but I hardly scratched the surface.  I usually travel slowly and I try to integrate with communities so I didn’t cover half of the ground that I had planned to, but I did manage to get to

  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Ecuador
  • Colombiaaaaa
  • and Brazil

After a month or so in the UK over Christmas and the New Year I spent nearly a week in Tampere in dark snowy Finland before heading back to Spain for a break and I prepared for my next adventure – which was…..

Blasting through the Baltics.

The initial plan was to travel from Finland to Morocco in a camper van with a friend who I had met in Colombia but stuff got in the way and I had to fly back to the UK from Warsaw.  However I did manage to see Helsinki, and then the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the top right-hand corner of Poland.  Those few weeks were crazy and emotional for many reasons (you will have to wait for the book) and the weather threw everything at us from the most idyllic winter weather ever in Helsinki and Estonia to blizzards, icestorms and biting winds at other times.

Scarlet Jones Travels – Estonia

I spent my third summer away from my 9 to 5 job…

Cavorting in Catalunya

I worked hard and I played hard.  I spent HOURS tapping away at my keyboard, designing an on-line course (watch this space as it will be launched very soon now).  I would often put in more than 10 hours a day writing content but luckily I found plenty of time to explore the region led by my willing accomplice Debs.

And that brings me to now. Two and a half years on I am just beginning a new chapter – this time in South East Asia.  I have a very loose, tentative plan, an idea of a route around the region, but if travel has taught me anything it’s to not over plan so I’m not going to set it out in print at this stage.

What I do know is that I will spend some time in Bangkok where I am very excited to be attending my second TBEX (Travel Bloggers Conference), and then…..well, you will have to wait and see.

I will also be launching my on-line course very soon and as a result of that I may have to rent a room somewhere and base myself in a place with decent wifi in case there are any last minute glitches with the launch.

And I don’t know why, but dramas always seem to follow me around and this trip so far has been no exception.  Getting to Thailand was always going to be a bit of a slog but I had managed to buy an excellent value ticket with a decent travel time and just a 2 hour transfer in Mumbai.  And then, just 17 minutes in to my overnight coach journey to the airport I received an email which told me that due to ‘an incident’ over Turkish airspace my flight had been seriously delayed and I would miss my connection.

Yes – things are back to normal!

If you would like to receive my blog articles directly by email and read what other dramas are going to befall me – you can guarantee that there will be many – make sure that you go to my site and sign up.  You will also get a free copy of the ‘Top 10 things that you should know before travelling’ and you will be one of the first to learn about my course when it launches.

Are you ready?  Watch this space for…

Scarlet Travels Solo in South East Asia

Scarlet Jones Travels – Bangkok

 

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