A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: LordGibil

Exit Interview

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What was your favourite place?
I think my favourite time was my six week road trip in the US. Oregon is a beautiful state in particular, with waterfalls, gorges and tree-lined roads. The drive from California through to Utah and Arizona contained a lot of breathtaking scenery and natural monuments (Yosemite Park, Death Valley, Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley). A lot of the towns I used as stopovers were interesting in their own right, such as Mammoth Lakes, St George and Mexican Hat. It was both enjoyable and liberating being able to jump in a car and drive wherever and whenever I wanted so it was also a relatively hassle-free period. In my view the US is an underrated holiday destination - there's so much more to it than New York, LA and Vegas. Plus, Americans are generally very nice people.

Anything else?
Other highlights included:

  • The US Open tennis in New York
  • Taking a boat trip to the spectacular glaciers in Alaska
  • Spending a week with my mate Jimbo and family in the fantastic city of Vancouver
  • Dune buggying and staying with my mate Mark and his wife in Tangent, Oregon
  • Snorkelling with sharks and rays off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize
  • Exploring a water-filled cave in San Ignacio, Belize, and seeing 1000-year-old human skeletons
  • Reaching the top of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala after a 5-hour climb and seeing its twin volcano Fuego erupt
  • Ashboarding (badly) down a volcano near León in Nicaragua
  • The hummingbird cafés in Monteverde (Costa Rica) and Cocora Valley (Colombia)
  • Bocas del Toro off the coast of Panama for the nights out in great bars with Irish lads Paul and Adam
  • Relaxing for a week and a half in Panama City with my Mum (and staying in a proper hotel)
  • Walking round the beautiful colonial town of Cartagena, Colombia
  • Hiking to Tayrona Park in Colombia and unexpectedly seeing a wild caiman close up
  • Monkeys jumping into our boat on the Amazon
  • The salt flat near Uyuni, Bolivia

How much did it cost?
About 15 grand all in, including flights, car hire etc.

Hottest/coldest place?
Nowhere was unbearably hot. It was nearing 100 °F in Death Valley, and hot in Tamarindo on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica and Rurrenabaque in the Amazon, but for heat and humidity, Cartagena on the north coast of Colombia was probably the most uncomfortable. Apart from at the glaciers of Alaska, Bolivia was the coldest place in general due to its high altitude, especially the two nights we spent on the Salar de Uyuni tour where several layers were required. But by far the worst was at the top of Acatenango at 5am where it was so cold and windy I could barely hold the camera straight to take photos.

Most dangerous place?
I can't remember feeling under threat anywhere. Clearly I look like someone not to be messed with. Even the drug dealers and prostitutes I encountered were friendly. The only times I was anxious were when I was high off the ground, such as walking across the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge in Vancouver.

Was it OK in the end travelling on your own?
Yes. There were a few occasions when I felt a bit lonely but not as many as I'd feared. At times I would definitely have preferred to have some company but I'm an independent person so spending a few days on my own is not a problem. I liked not having to compromise but, on the other hand, shared experiences are more rewarding so I wouldn't say it was better one way or the other. Usually, whenever I was staying in hostels at least, I ended up talking to someone.

Any regrets?
Not much really. I regret not staying longer with my mate Mark in Oregon, and missing the odd trip like the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo and the silver mines in Potosí, but I think I mostly got things right. I should also have made more of an effort to get to a Test match in the West Indies, although that would have meant missing out on something else in Bolivia or paying a fortune to get there (or taking a totally different route across South America).

What would you have done differently?
If I ever do it again I would be less ambitious. Eight months is a long time to be away as it becomes increasingly draining, especially when you're moving on regularly and staying in less than luxurious accommodation. This had already started to get to me by the time I reached Nicaragua (just over halfway through). Once I felt I'd seen a place I would move on in order to avoid missing out on something, meaning I had little time to relax, which contributed to the travel fatigue.

Did you make any friends?
Despite often being the oldest person in the hostels I met a lot of people that I liked. There were a lot of traveller types with their braids and guitars but I usually found someone less annoying to talk to. I added 31 new friends on Facebook from all over the world and I would be happy to see any of them again. Of these, I moved around with seven or eight over a few locations if they were going the same way, which made a pleasant change from travelling alone.

What did you miss most about England?
Apart from friends and family, mostly living in my own home and the simple everyday things such as having a full wardrobe of clothes to choose from, a proper shower, decent tea and coffee and watching the telly. Also, my weekly 5-a-side football games and playing squash.

That's all very interesting, but how many birds did you get off with?
3.

Is that all? Details please.
No, my Mum will read this. Suffice to say I didn't manage to get my leg over. I don't feel too bad as the opportunity didn't present itself that often.

What are you going to do now?
Well, I've actually been back over a month now and have spent it sorting my house and garden out, socialising and generally taking it easy. I'm also helping out a charity that rehomes cats. I have no car any more but I do now have my bike back so expect I'll go off on a few cycling trips when the sun comes out.

So no work lined up yet then?
Not yet, however now things have calmed down a bit I'm running out of excuses. Over the next few days I will try to remember what I was doing at Deutsche Bank, tart up my CV and get a few applications out. The intention is to get another programming job but in another industry; the idea of getting back into banking does not appeal to me at all at the moment. In the meantime I will need to go over a bit of Visual Basic to brush off the cobwebs.

What state did your tenants leave your house in?
When I briefly met them before going away, they gave me the impression that housework would not be their #1 priority (three Northern Irish builders in their mid-20s). It may not have been, but when I got back from the airport there was a team of six professional cleaners beavering away on the place. What it looked like before they began I'm not sure but once they had finished it looked almost as good as new. There were a few scratches on the kitchen worktop and a couple of the plants were dead but I would have settled for that. The garden obviously hadn't been touched, but a couple of hours with the lawnmower, shears and weedkiller put that right. Most importantly, they also paid their rent on time every month.

Will this definitely be the last entry in your blog?
If I think of something else to put up I will, but frankly that is unlikely. This feels like a good place to stop.

Do you have any artificial plates or limbs?
Not really.

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Posted by LordGibil 05:34 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

The End

Port of Spain, Trinidad; Crystal Palace, England

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The Caribbean country of Trinidad & Tobago is just off the coast of Venezuela in northern South America. Tourists usually head for Tobago, much the smaller of the two islands, but my flight from Barbados was to the capital Port of Spain in northwest Trinidad. Like Barbados, T&T is a rich country (thanks to its oil and gas reserves) and gained independence from the British in 1962.

Also like Barbados (due to the shorts incident), my first experience of the place was not great. Nothing wrong with my guesthouse, but at 10.30pm there was no public transport from the airport to get there, leaving me no choice but to take an exorbitantly-priced taxi - £30 for a 20 minute journey. In comparison, the bus I took back to the airport when leaving cost 4 Trinidadian dollars - about 41p.

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I only had one full day on the island so decided against anything too adventurous and spent it instead looking around Port of Spain. I went to the Queen's Park Oval, one of the grounds on which the West Indies play home cricket matches and also Brian Lara's home ground. No game going on unfortunately but the ground staff let me have a wander round anyway.

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Later I passed the country's striking parliament building, which was red and imaginatively known as The Red House. Sadly it was surrounded by scaffolding and a fence, ruining the chance of getting a decent photo, but I got a half-decent one of the CID building opposite.

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That evening I went to a German restaurant and stayed there chatting to the owner and his wife and a couple of locals for two hours before hitting the sack.

The next day I had a few hours left before going home so walked over to the dry and dusty Queen's Park Savannah, a rather disappointing park in that there was nothing much to see or do and it wasn't particularly attractive. However, it happens to be in the middle of the world's largest traffic roundabout, the surrounding road being 2.2 miles long. Despite this dubious accolade, there weren't hordes of people queuing up to see it, and in fact during my time in the city I hardly saw any tourists at all. Near to the underwhelming park I went for an equally underwhelming pizza.

So, a somewhat anti-climactic final day or two, but I was far from disappointed as I was looking forward to getting home, and in all honesty had been for some time. My 41p bus ride, an 8½-hour overnight flight to Gatwick and a couple of trains later I was back at Crystal Palace station, a place where eight months and six days previously I had been sat with my bags stressing about things I may have forgotten to do. On this occasion I was more preoccupied with what my tenants had done to my house in my absence. But not so preoccupied that I couldn't firstly go to the cafe and tuck into a delicious sausage and egg butty, just one of the things I've missed about England, a simple pleasure that for some reason foreigners just can't get quite right.

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The reason I went on this trip is because, having been single and in banking jobs for quite some time and with a social life that dwindled further every time a mate successfully procreated, one week was very similar to the next and I was bored. I needed a bit of excitement in life and in that sense it has been a roaring success - I am certainly in a better frame of mind now than I was before I left.

I realise I have played it safe to a certain extent by rarely putting myself in extreme situations or doing anything particularly awe-inspiring, but that is by choice as my sense of adventure only goes so far. I didn't want to be bungee jumping or living in a mud hut with a tribe or trekking for six days without changing my underpants to get to a ruin. I was quite content just drifting between places, pottering about and moving on.

The enjoyment came more from the exploration rather than ticking off the sights. I liked not having any real idea what experiences awaited me, who I'd be meeting or what I'd be doing from one day to the next. Every day was different and if I didn't like a place for any reason, all I had to do was leave and go somewhere else. Though a lack of planning meant I missed out on certain things (e.g. the Test match in Grenada) it was a small price to pay for the freedom I had to do what I wanted.

The end of my trip also means the end of my blog. I've written 49,330 words in total over 49 entries (including this one) and uploaded 1498 of the 5544 photos that I took. I have in mind an idea to write one final entry answering Frequently Asked Questions about my trip, so maybe not quite the end just yet.

As well as the photos I also took a whole load of video clips (88 in fact) on my phone that mostly didn't make it to the blog. They are almost all of animals and scenery, although there is a short one of my mate Jimbo levitating. If anyone's interested they can be seen on my YouTube channel.

I've been trying to think of a suitable way to wrap things up but my well of inspiration ran dry some time ago. Nothing profound or insightful comes to mind at all, so instead I'll just sign off in the style of Charlie Brooker:

"Thanks for reading. Now go away."

Posted by LordGibil 10:14 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (4)

The Wizard Of St Loz

St Lawrence Gap, Barbados

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Not long to go now - the home straight has been entered and the fat lady is clearing her throat.

Before my flight home, I had a few days in Barbados. Barbados is the easternmost island of the West Indies, situated roughly where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, and is shaped a bit like a pork chop. It is a sovereign country, having gained independence from the British in 1966. Barbadians (or Bajans as they are known) generally have a good standard of living and the country ranks in the top five in the world for literacy rates.

According to the notes I took at the time, I had three hours' sleep the night before my flight from Rio thanks to a late night out in Shenanigans. I had to change flights in São Paulo and it was teatime when I finally arrived. A first for me on this trip was when airport customs asked me to change my shorts before they would let me into the country. Rather than being a harsh critique of my sartorial standards, the lady explained that it was forbidden to wear camouflage patterns on the island unless you were in the military.

Reserve shorts on, I took a passing minibus to the St Lawrence Gap area on the south coast, and it dropped me off near to my guesthouse - or at least near to where it appeared on Google Maps. An hour later I was still wandering around with my rucksacks looking for it, obtaining vague clues off passers-by as I homed in on it like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt.

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After collapsing on my bed for half an hour I had to get going again as I had arranged to meet my mate Sam and his new wife Jennie who were in Barbados on honeymoon. Now I would have assumed they had better things to be doing but it was Sam's idea so I was happy to go along. After walking around the Hastings district looking for a suitable venue, we settled on a place with a great view of a car park and a drunk old man that kept interrupting us - but the food, drink & company made up for it. If you recognise Sam's face, that's probably because he was on Supermarket Sweep 15 years ago.

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As I was getting up to leave the place I accidentally headbutted a light fitting, dislodging another customer's mobile phone that he'd balanced there as it charged up. The phone tumbled to the floor causing the screen to smash and the battery to fall out. As I apologised the owner's mate kept telling me it wasn't a problem, although the owner himself looked disgruntled to say the least.

St Lawrence Gap contains two adjoining beaches - Dover & Worthing - and a series of bars, restaurants and hotels. The beaches were just as you'd expect of the Caribbean - white sand, green trees and clear blue sea. A ring of washed-up seaweed lined the water's edge as the tide went out and lots of small crabs scurried around on a seawall.

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Throughout the Gap there were lots of enterprising locals wondering if anyone wanted any drugs. I've been offered drugs a lot since I've been away but I think only Medellín in Colombia surpasses St Lawrence in terms of frequency. Every few minutes down the main street, someone would clock you then come over and introduce themselves. Most of them were either drunk or high or both, and some would not even bother trying to flog their wares and just ask for money. Duane wanted me to buy him a birthday beer. Dennis wanted me to give a donation to his school's trip to the UK (although this one may have been genuine). Rico took it to the next level, explaining that he was a warlock and would turn into a wizard on his 50th birthday, and by the way could I give him money for some food.

Meals out there were pretty expensive - about the same as London prices in most places. I found a grill on the side of the road that sold a hearty meal of chicken breast and leg with Bajan barbecue sauce, a couple of jacket spuds, pasta and salad for £8 so had that three nights running.

In keeping with my post-Uyuni apathy, appetite for further adventure was at a low so I didn't do much over the three days I was here. Although I'd visited a fair few beaches on my travels, I had yet to sunbathe on any of them so, as it was nearly time to go home, I reluctantly rectified that to try to get some colour on my still-pasty chest. I managed an hour on my back and 45 minutes on my front over two days, and I achieved my objective - that colour being red.

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As it turned out, the 3rd cricket Test between the West Indies and England was coming up on the island so the place was starting to fill up with fat bald middle-aged English men, much to the delight of the local walking apothecaries. Sadly, three days before the game started, I had to leave for Trinidad - my final destination...

Posted by LordGibil 03:32 Archived in Barbados Comments (0)

You've Got A Woman's Hands!

Rio de Janeiro

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Only three days to go now before I fly home. And I can't think of anything I'd rather spend it doing than writing blogs.

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Bolivia in the early evening. My hostel in the Copacabana district seemed a lively place at first; on arrival I was given a free caipirinha and there were a lot of people milling about the reception/bar area. I got lucky with my dorm - a bottom bunk and a room full of girls, most of whom were already in bed for some reason. I strolled down to the beach and had a couple of bottles of Skol at one of the bars with a couple of Swedish lads whose combined age was less than my own.

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The next few days followed a similar pattern - having a lie in, going for a walk, sheltering from the rain, eating and drinking. It goes without saying that the beaches in Rio are a bit special. I walked along the Copacabana and Ipanema/Leblon beaches a few times, both of which were around the 4km mark. All the expected sights were on show - women in skimpy thongs showing off their bum cheeks, hairy blokes in budgie smugglers, people drinking milk out of coconuts, beach football/volleyball etc. and also some intricate sand sculptures.

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In 2003 I spent two weeks in Ipanema with my mate Steve, and I searched out the place in which we stayed - the Ocean Hostel. As my hostel had gone from lively to deserted in a day (I had a 9-bed dorm all to myself) I checked into Ocean for old times' sake after three days in Copacabana. An unapologetic launderette that had not managed to get my washing done on time and then been shut the next day caused me for two of those days to be not wearing any underpants, a detail that may well have gone unmentioned had I not needed to pad this entry out a bit.

Knowing a bit of Spanish was of surprisingly little use in Brazil, Portuguese being the local language. As I discovered on my last visit, there is less similarity between the two languages than expected, and Portuguese sounds more like Russian to me. My tactic was to speak Spanish anyway and say 'obrigado' ('thank you') every now and then and hope for the best, but this approach was mostly met with blank expressions.

I got chatted up one night in one of the beach bars - by a Brazilian gentleman with a goatee who sat at my table. After a brief and very limited conversation due to the language barrier, he asked me to go with him to a nightclub that had a 50 real entry fee (about £11) and which he began his description of with "it's not a gay club but...". I rebuffed his advances.

Evenings out in my six days in Rio were alternately busy and quiet due to there being public holidays on the Tuesday and Thursday. I located a pub that Steve and I had spent almost every night in, an Irish bar called Shenanigans, and it had not changed a bit in the twelve years since. This time I played a lot of games of pool there with a very tall ginger lad from Belfast called Conor who was staying in my hostel.

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One evening I returned to my room only to find Conor on the job with a woman twice his age who was also staying in our hostel. He was clearly a fast worker as I had only popped out to the cashpoint before we were meant to be heading on out again.

The next day, Conor and I took part in a game of beach football that was going on in Leblon. As with the performance of their national team in last year's World Cup, the standard was poor. The main tactic appeared to be shoot on sight and hope the ball bounced awkwardly in front of the keeper and went in, and defending and passing seemed to be alien concepts to them.

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I had decided that on my last day I should really go and see something, so had booked myself on a tour that took in various sights in and around the city. The day got off to a bad start when a couple in our dorm woke everyone up at the crack of dawn by incessantly shuffling around, rustling bags, zipping and unzipping things and whispering to each other. After half an hour of unnecessary noise a Dutchman lost his temper and got out of bed to remonstrate with them, not that they understood English - all this before 7.30am.

The tour took in a few places I'd been to previously and a few I hadn't. The first port of call was Tijuca Park, the world's biggest urban forest where in 2003 Steve and I had come face to face with a deadly fer-de-lance snake. On this occasion there was no such danger as the trip was 'to' the forest, not 'into' it. There was a waterfall and a marble bath that everyone took photos of, and then we were on our way.

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Next up was Corcovado, the local name for the mountain (translation: Hunchback) on which is situated the Christ the Redeemer statue, voted one of the 'New 7 Wonders Of The World' in 2007. It was a working day so the queues were mercifully short (reports suggested we may have to wait an hour but it was ten minutes at most in our case). There were still scores of people up there, all taking photos of their mates with their arms outstretched in mimicry of the statue. Its enormous hands were modelled on those of a woman according to our guide, but the chin appeared to be based on mine.

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More spectacular than the statue in my opinion was the view of the city. This photo shows the Botafogo district, with Sugarloaf Mountain jutting out into the bay.

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From there we drove to the district of Lapa. One of the attractions there is the Selarón Steps that are located between two streets on the border of the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. Affixed onto these steps are a number of themed tiles, placed there by an artist called Jorge Selarón. At first Selarón decorated just the steps outside his house, but he eventually covered all 250. Initially the tiles were scavenged from piles of rubble but as his work became more renowned, donations arrived from all over the world. I saw several from England, depicting such things as London buses, Princess Diana and the Beatles. Selarón was found dead in mysterious circumstances lying on the steps outside his house two years ago, the official explanation being that he'd set himself on fire.

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The tour finally dropped us off at Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). It was quite expensive and took a couple of cable cars to get up there but it was well worth it thanks to the views it gave over Guanabara Bay in particular.

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In the trees up the mountain we saw small monkeys known as Common Marmosets, but sadly I was too slow to take a photograph.

So, after six days, my time in Rio was at an end. Only two more places to visit, and therefore only two more blogs to go before I can finally give it up (although I have an idea for a third). For now though, it's goodbye from me, and goodbye to Keith Harris.

Posted by LordGibil 21:06 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Filthy Sucre

Potosí; Sucre; Santa Cruz

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Well, it is now less than a week until I fly back to Blighty and I must say I'm looking forward to getting back. Since Uyuni my appetite for organising anything and sightseeing has diminished considerably and I've really taken it easy since then. An added bonus of this approach is that there is not much to write about, so my last few blogs should be mercifully short.

The England cricket team are out in the West Indies at the moment, and as I had intended to round off my time away by seeing one of the test matches, I had booked my flight home from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Now I just had to work out how on earth I was going to get there. It turned out to be cheaper to fly via Rio de Janeiro and Barbados than to take a more direct route - not a bad way to end the eight months.

Anyway, there were a couple more stops to make in Bolivia before my flight to Rio. The first was Potosí, a reasonably pretty city by Bolivian standards but with not a great deal to see aside from the usual tree-lined square. As with a lot of places in Bolivia, the infrastructure was not the greatest and I walked round for an hour trying to find somewhere that had wifi, so atrocious was it in the hostel. Had I wanted some photocopying done I would have been fine - I must have passed 20 shops that had a 'fotocopia' sign outside.

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At 9.30pm on my second night there was a power cut and the whole city was plunged into darkness. People were navigating their way around by the lights on their mobile phones. So, not having eaten a load of carrots recently, I went to bed.

Potosí is one of the highest cities in the world at just over 4000m above sea level. It was once also one of the richest due to its proximity to an enormous amount of silver deposits in the Cerro Rico mountain adjacent to the city. An estimated 60,000 tonnes of silver have been extracted and whilst these days it is a lot scarcer, around 10,000 people still work in the mines. Working conditions to this day are so appalling that a miner's life expectancy is mid-forties, due in part to exposure to silicon and asbestos, and five million people are thought to have died in the mines since silver was first discovered there in the mid-16th century. Tours were available to go down a working mine but it sounded claustrophobic, filthy and depressing and I didn't fancy it.

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I took a bus to Sucre, the Bolivian capital. Sucre is quite possibly the nicest city in Bolivia (admittedly not saying much given the competition), mainly due to the amount of white colonial buildings, relaxed vibe and general cleanliness. There were however a lot of old lady beggars hanging around the main square with their gnarled hands outstretched. So, Sucre wasn't filthy at all, but there isn't a Sex Pistols album that sounds a bit like Filthy La Paz.

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Various activities were on offer such as mountain biking and paragliding which, had it been earlier in my trip, I would have been more inclined to do, but I had no desire to do anything other than lounging around for the time being. I went to Abi's Patio, Sucre's #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor, a couple of times - delicious. My hostel, The Beehive, was full of young good-looking English people. Not much more to say about my three days there.

To get to Rio I had to fly via Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia and São Paulo in Brazil, so three flights in a day was the plan. It did not go to plan. Sucre airport is situated at the foot of several hills and whenever it's cloudy there are big problems - aeroplanes' navigation systems seemingly aren't clever enough to negotiate hills meaning until the clouds clear nothing happens. On this occasion, nothing happened for seven hours. I got to Santa Cruz but I'd missed my connections and, due to them being with another airline and non-refundable, I fully expected to have to fork out for new flights (£400 according to Skyscanner). But the helpful chap at airline #1 pulled a blinder by phoning up airline #2 for me and rebooking me on the next day's flights free of charge - a great relief.

So, I had a night in Santa Cruz to look forward to. My hostel was full of arrogant Israelis who thought it acceptable to have conversations at 4am in a 16-bed dormitory, leave their stuff all over the floor and generally have no consideration for others.

I wandered into town and found an Irish bar. There I got chatting to a 47-year-old Australian bloke called Mick who was supposedly travelling round South America spending money he'd saved up for his wedding only for his missus to call it off. He was full of beans to say the least - and also, by his own admission, full of cocaine. I spent an entertaining hour or so in his company listening to his tall stories (such as how he scored 23 goals in half a season for Atletico Madrid's youth team before getting badly injured) before making my excuses, leaving him to go off in search of some late night entertainment of one sort or another. Before he went he told me the girl that ended up with me would be the luckiest girl in the world. But he had had an awful lot of cocaine.

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There were no excuses from the airline the next day so I arrived in Rio, on schedule, in the early evening. I didn't do much in Rio but I'm sure I can string it out a bit.

Posted by LordGibil 08:18 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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