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.
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
- 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
Sao Paulo and a strange coincidence.
Sao Paulo, or Sao Pao as it is affectionately called, scared me just a little bit.
The skyline of Sao Paulo, Brazil
It is the third largest mega-city on the planet depending on which criteria you grade it by. I was told that it would be brash, business-orientated and dangerous, full of skyscrapers and hard-nosed professionals. I was told that nobody visits it and I should get in and out as fast as possible. But I also knew somebody who used to live there and he told me that it has a knack of getting under your skin in a good way too.
I planned to stay just two nights and that was two nights more than I wanted, but in the end I stayed six!
I liked it. Yes, it was enormous and it had very little culture visible on the surface, but dig deep and it is there.
So, what did I get up to?
Well first up, while my hostel wasn’t anything special; from the outside it just looked like any old house in a suburban street but it was perfect for me. It was a short walk from a metro station and it had a large courtyard at the front where we all gathered and chatted and drank most evenings and it had large squoosy mats inside for lolling around on. And there were parrots in the trees in the street. The Grand Prix was taking place in Sao Paulo the weekend that I arrived and some of the hostel guests were staying in the city for that. Others were using the hostel as a base for work or interviews and others, like me, were simply travelling. There were a lot of things that could have been improved about the hostel but, as usual, it was the group dynamics of the guests which made it special.
One afternoon I went along on one of the free walking tours along the Avenida Paulista wondering how on earth anyone could get a walking tour out of a main shopping thoroughfare. But I learnt all about the history of the city and I was told that when each huge skyscraper was built the developers were obliged to include a ‘cultural centre’ within the building.
Sao Paulo makes skyscrapers an art form
As a result, there are little museums and art galleries dotted about everywhere and a deeply ingrained appreciation for the arts. The street art, is as is usual in South America, everywhere, of high quality and it’s largely encouraged. I discovered bang in the centre of the main business district a lovely park – an true oasis of calm from the hubub outside, and I discovered that Sao Pao really does love a good, tall radio mast! Check out any building here and it will have the most massive, oversized mast that you have ever seen. I met Nick and Lucy who are travelling together on their motorbike and they have a perfect write-up and photgraph of the ridiculous masts in their report here: Elgrandetour
There is an excellent shiny underground system and I had heard of its reputation in the rush hour. So when I found myself down in the main station as the peak rush hour descended upon me I have to admit to a bubbling up of a latent agoraphobia. I held my nerve and my breath and I went with the flow. The squeeze on the London Tube is NOTHING compared to this and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I would get onto one of the packed trains from five people deep. The next train arrived and the lady behind me began to push. And push and push. And when I was somehow on she yelled at the man behind her to push her harder!
The metro system at rush hour in Sao Paulo
I survived my metro experience and I went on to visit the bright pink skyscraper near to my hostel which was hosting a very large Salvador Dali exhibition in its groundfloor culture centre. I also visited the cathedral in the old town centre (as far as Sao Pao has an old centre) and I went along to the MASP museum which is 4 floors of art housed in a large concrete block on stilts on Avenida Paulista. I also went along to the Museo MAM which is set in a large green park with skyscrapers clamouring around the edge and reminded me of postcard scenes from Central Park in New York.
And along with Giovani from Italy and Ian from the UK I went up to the top of one of the huge buildings which has opened up its upper deck to visitors – although that was a bit of a mission. We set off on foot, and after an hour and a half of very fast walking we finally found the building in the city centre – just as it was closing.
Faced with three hot and sweaty travellers the lady on the desk luckily took pity on us and she allowed us to join the queue. So we queued and we queued. For another hour and a half until it was finally our turn to go up in the elevators. And then we were only allowed a strict five minutes on the balcony – and hilariously this was actually timed by a lady with a stop-watch who got quite stroppy with us when we wanted to wait just a few seconds more!
I was in my last couple of weeks in South America and I wanted to cram as much in as possible yet I wanted time to slow right down so that I could savour the last few days.
The pretty cathedral in Sao Paulo
So I chilled and I chatted and I went out walking. I planned to go straight to Rio but at the last minute I jumped on a bus on my own to Paraty. I jumped on the wrong bus and I eventually arrived quite late at night. It was 11pm and I didn’t especially like the hostel that I had checked into so I decided that, despite the next day being my birthday, I would move straight on to Rio.
And then I woke up and went for breakfast which was served at the beach bar. Sitting with my toes in the sand I changed my mind and I had just decided that I would spend my birthday lying on a towel in this most idylic of places, when the Brazilian lady at the next table struck up a conversation with me.
Breakfast on the beach at Paraty, Brazil
She was on holiday and she told me that she planned to take off in her car and visit an indigenous community, find a deserted beach and trek to a secret waterfall – she may or may not return to Paraty that night – she may camp out in her tent or she may find a hostel – and then she asked if I would I like to join her.
I thought for all of fifteen seconds and then I discounted all the rules about strangers and I dashed inside the hostel, stuffed my things back in my rucksack and jumped into her car. Twenty minutes up the road I asked her – we were both communicating in Spanish which was our second language – I asked her name!!
Follow me on Facebook or Twitter and find out next time what Tathy and I discovered on our road trip
And the coincidence that I mentioned at the top of this post?
I was searching the internet for a photo that depicts the craziness of the Sao Paulo metro system. My chosen photo turned out to be posted on a Brazilian website and I had actually worked alongside the author when we were both volunteering in Peru!
If you want any information about Brazil and especially Sao Paulo, do check out The Books are on the Table by Andy Martin
Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo
I was dithering around and thinking about what to do when I left Cuenca because I had a few days before I was due to go into the jungle. Should I continue south to Vilcabamba or go up to Riobamba and ride the Devil’s Nose Railway? My mind was made up when Daniel told me that he was off to Baños to cycle the Rutas de las Cascadas and he invited me to join him. You can remind yourself of my previous visit to Baños by clicking here and find out how I did NOT enjoy that little outing along the cliff top the last time and how I had regretted not cycling it, so that decided things – I would go east with Daniel and give it a go.
Banos looking peaceful. Who would guess that one of those mountains is a very active volcano
Together we caught the night bus which deposited us in Baños at 3am. Waking the night receptionist at our hostel we were very generously allowed to sleep on the floor with him – or at least on the giant bean bags in a corner of the bar until the morning rather than paying for a bed for what was left of the night. The three of us and a cute little American Pit Bull puppy soon dozed off – waking just a few hours later to the wonderful sight of the mountains which encircle Baños and the waterfall thundering down the cliff outside.
peeping out from behind the waterfall
Despite very little sleep we were very soon up and out and off to hire a couple of bikes. And then it began to drizzle. But undaunted, we swooped off down the main road which I have to admit was a bit scary with some monster trucks whirling past rather too close for comfort. We went past the hydro-electric dam which disappointingly wasn’t operating this time around and then we were peddalling like mad through the first tunnel. On our bikes we then swung off the main road and onto the tiny track which clung to the side of the mountain and which had so terrified me the last time.
It was worst in the chiva bus
It was a thousand times better travelling under my own steam. I could relax and appreciate the view. We stopped at the rickety bridge to watch some crazy soul leap over the edge with what looked like just a velcro strap tied to his ankles and we oohed and aahed at the waterfalls which splashed down the cliff opposite.
down at the bottom of the ravine
There is something about the majesty and the only-just-contained power about a waterfall. There is no mystery about them – lots of water makes a river, river meets a cliff, water tumbles over the edge – but people flock from all over the world to wonder at them and stand, faces upturned into the light spray.
it stopped drizziling and made rainbows in the spray
Parking our bikes at the top, Daniel and I trekked down to the bottom of a couple of the falls. The sun had now come out and miniature rainbows were sparkling and dancing in the droplets of water which were suspended in the air. Everything was accompanied by the thunderous roar as the cascades crashed onto the rocks in the river beds below. I don’t know if it was because the morning had started off damp but we also met very few people along the route.
another fear conquered
The spectacular finale to the morning was the trek down to the Pailon del Diablo. Translated as something to do with the devil we clambered down steep steps and at one point reached out and we could touch the water as it roared past. We crossed a couple of rolling rickety rope and wood bridges to get deeper into the chasm as the noise richocheted around inside our chests and we could physically feel the beating of nature’s drum in our bodies.
The impressive Pailon del Diablo
I had not visited this cascada previously when travelling with M and I had sat at the top eating my cheesy puffs but I am so glad that I finally got down there. By now, after nearly a year of travelling in Latin America I was no longer quite so terrified of trip trapping across ricketty wooden bridges or charging down the long track which precariously clung to the side of the ravine on my bike. I had been striding outside of my comfort zone and pushing those boundaries way back into touch.
don’t be fooled by the force of that water
Our initial plan had been to cycle the sixty one kilometres all the way to the jungle town of Puyo but the road had begun to creep uphill and we were told by a local that it was uphill for the rest of the way. Lack of sleep and the exhertion of the climbs up and down to the river had taken their toll so we flopped at a bus stop and we waited for a ride to take us and our bikes back up to the town again.
Later that evening, a crowd of us decided that we should visit the thermal baths. I had been to these on my previous visit but I do enjoy a hot bath. I was missing my luxury of a bubble bath and while these didn’t do candles and music and a glass of red wine, they did do floodlights, a waterfall splashing down alongside and some very funny local people. Our little band of happy travellers was expanding and Daniel and I were joined by Laura from the UK, Ashley from the US and Inigo from Spain among others.
the picture doesn’t do this place justice with the waterfall crashing down in the background
The next day was another repeat adventure for me when we hired a cab to take us to the Casa del Arbol and the Swing at the End of the World. This time the cloud was a little higher and the sun was out although disappointingly we were still unable to see the smoking glowing crater of the active Tungurahua volcano. But swing we did and I went ever higher this time over the edge of the mountain. In a fit of fitness and much to Laura;s disgust we decided to let the cab go and walk back down to the town. It was a long way but at least it was all downhill and we took a short cut which accidentally but luckily brought us out at the mirador and the cross high above the town where we paused to catch our breath and wonder at the view below.
The swing over the End of the World
We hung about in the large bar of our hostel that night which did free dinners a few times a week and was an excellent marketing ploy as it ensured that the bar was busy. Early the next day I said goodbye to Daniel and Laura and I yomped with my rucksack through the town to the bus station for my bus to Quito and my usual hostel when in that city. Here, without checking in, I swapped my stuff around between my bags so that I could leave the big one behind because I had a night bus back out late that night to the jungle town of Lago Agrio and a really exciting four days ahead.
children of El Porvenir
Christmas is approaching fast but it all seems so far removed as the sun here in Peru is getting hotter every day and plans are afoot for a three week break from our work.
By the time you read this I will be on the road, although I am not entirely sure where I will end up. These plans are fluid and subject to change, but coaches and flights are being booked, hostels researched and ideas swapped.
I will have attended a ‘do’ to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NGO and I will have experienced Chocolatada – the main Christmas event for the children and their families. Nearly four hundred presents will have been wrapped and distributed – a humbling experience when you consider that the football or that doll may be the only toy that the child receives this Christmas and the gifts of panetone and milk to the parents may be rare luxuries. Many of the volunteers are planning to travel throughout South America over the holiday period, some are returning home to the States and sadly some will be moving on from the NGO or returning home.
I have only been in Peru for five weeks but it seems like a lifetime. Despite the complete chaos that is Peru, the language barrier and bombardment of different food, culture and customs, I am loving it. The children at the NGO are all adorable, I love the street food (plastic bags containing hot quails eggs for breakfast are a staple on my walk to work through the parks) and of course, pisco sours. In the few weeks that I have been in Trujillo I have met some amazing people and I will be very upset to say goodbye to them. The volunteer house crackles with emotion and drama (think of it as an international Big Brother), and living is conducted at high volume in several languages but I know that I will remain friends for life with some people here.
I have tentative plans for a VERY long road trip with a couple of friends, first to Lima and then onwards to Arequipa from where we hope to trek into the Colca Canyon. Christmas day may be spent in Cusco – from here it is a train ride up to Machu Pichu, then from there possibly more buses to Puna, Lake Titicaca, over the border into Bolivia and La Paz, but all of this is subject to change.
I will travel as light as possible so I will be leaving my net-book behind. I will bring you up to date in the new year with my adventures and experiences, so please excuse my absence for a while.
Thank you everybody for taking the time to read my blog and I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very happy, peaceful New Year from South America. To my family who have mastered Skype, thank you for your love and continued support, to BF, what adventures we are having in our respective countries and to my VERY best friend and your family whom I love as my own, a million million hugs and kisses – and yes Father Christmas DOES manage to squeeze down there!
For my children, where ever you are, I send you heaps of love and I hope that next Christmas I can send you more than a card. Stay safe, be happy and live your lives to the full. It is too short and too fragile to waste on hate or bitterness. My greatest wish is that you will forgive me and allow me a second chance during 2014