If I get asked one more time….

… “have you seen Narcos”?  This is the most frequent question when I mentioned visiting Colombia.  Though this is a country working hard to dispel the violent and drug-riddled IMG_9046image left by one Mr Pablo Escobar*, and it is slowly succeeding.

I have to say outright I absolutely loved Colombia.  The sheer variety of things to do and see, as well as unbelievably friendly people made this country a joy to visit.  Yes getting a bus ticket was a challenge, yes Bogota felt ropey, and yes there was an exponential increase in the number mangy stray dogs after crossing the border from Ecuador.  But wow was it worth it!

The scenery is breath taking, each bus journey opens up new vistas across the mountain ranges including the Andes, and wide sweeping rivers.  The Amazon rainforest encroaches into Colombian territory, and there are beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coast.

The pinnacle of my trip was doing a four day, intense 44km trek to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) high in the Sierra Nevada.  This stunning walk through land previous claimed by IMG_9324the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), entails steep ascents and descents.  It also throws in several cold water crossings, no bridges here and note that river depth is seasonal!  This of course is all traversed in the sweltering jungle heat.

On arrival at Ciudad Perdida there is very little left of the city which was formed around 800AD.  Only a series of terraced platforms, several of them hidden in the dense wilderness, remain.  It’s eerily silent sitting on the platform looking out across the jungle stretching far below.  So beautiful.

I have much more to write about Colombia, a place I really want to share with you.  So stay tuned for the next blog instalment.

*for those not familiar with Pablo Escobar he was an infamous drug lord.  In true high profile fugitive style Pablo was shot dead whilst fleeing across the rooftops of his home city, following an intensive manhunt.  And no, I have not seen Narcos!

Categories: adventure, people, South America | 2 Comments

The World’s Happiest Countries

Yes it’s yet another interesting survey relating to travel that I believe is worth a mention. It’s the United Nation’s World Happiness Report.  And the winner for 2016 is…………. happinessDenmark, with four of the top five countries being Scandinavian.  Looks like it’s the part of the World to be!

Bhutan are famed for their Gross National Happiness Index.  They have built their economy based on Buddhist spiritual values as opposed to material development, gauged by Gross Domestic Product.  Despite this principle governing the country of Bhutan they were only listed at number 84 out of the 156 countries in the survey.

Burundi, a country suffering severe on-going political unrest, took the lowest position in the Happiness table where Africa dominated.  Unsurprisingly war-torn Syria was close to the bottom of the rankings, and measured just above Burundi.

So drum roll please……  The top happiest five countries were – Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland.  And the unhappiest five countries currently are – Burundi, Syria, Togo, Afghanistan and Benin.

Several factors were used to evaluate happiness including health, family lives and their jobs. 

Categories: Information | Leave a comment

The World’s Best Airports

Results are in for a global survey on the World’s Best Airports 2016, and four of the top five are in Asia.

The bane of long distance holiday destinations is the travelling to get there, and the painfully airporttedious airport transfers.  There is only so much duty free browsing in recycled fetid air a human being can take.  However outside the airport lounges for the rich and famous, some cities have invested in comfort, luxury and even free activities for the masses.

The winner will be no surprise as it’s held the title for a few years – Singapore’s Changi airport.  Offering free city tours, a butterfly garden and swimming pool it leads the way in airport sophistication.

The top five look like this:

  1. Singapore Changi Airport
  2. Incheon International Airport, South Korea
  3. Munich Airport, Germany
  4. Toyko International Airport, Japan
  5. Hong Kong International Airport

Unsure this survey will change my choice of flight.  As like most people my decision is based on price and time to reach the destination, rather than the airport experience. However based on several poor airport experiences maybe I need to put more thought into the flight connections themselves….

Categories: Information | 2 Comments

Ecuador – The Mainland

So whilst you may think the Galapagos has it all, the Ecuadorian mainland has some impressive feats too.  The Andes swathe through the middle of a beautiful country which also boasts coastline, active volcanoes and Amazonian rain forest.IMG_8554

The farthest point from the Earth’s centre is Volcano Chimborazo, which sits squarely in the middle of Ecuador.  Hmmm sounds controversial, what about Mount Everest?  Well Mount Everest is the highest point above sea level, but Volcano Chimborazo is the furthest from the centre of the Earth.  This is because the World is not round but a bit squashed, and Ecuador being on the equatorial bulge means their highest volcano is the furthest point from the centre of the Earth.

I didn’t spend long in Ecuador but the main things to be noted were:

  • Women have retained their traditional dress, which consists of long plaited hair under a Panama hat.  Bright beautifully coloured shawls, pleated skirts, thick tights and the most sensible shoes.  In rural areas these clothes are worn for farm work including milking cows and digging in the fields.  I love seeing the traditional clothing, IMG_8645but do question the practicality.
  • On Monday it’s changing of the guard time, and if the President is home he appears on the balcony and gives the crowd a wave.  It was the longest changing of the guard I have ever seen – 25 minutes.  That’s a lot of President waving!
  • The armed police dress in futuristic outfits reminiscent of RoboCop.  Scary and funny at the same time.
  • Bus drivers in Quito are nuts.  There are special lanes for the buses and apparently no speed limits,  It felt like a theme park ride especially n rush hour.  Try it!

However my most interesting and adventurous experience was getting a yellow fever vaccination which I had neglected to do prior to my trip, and required for my next stop – Colombia.  A big shout out has to go the recent changes in Ecuadorian health care where immunisations are now free, a splendid idea allowing everyone to protect themselves and their families.yellow fever

I managed to get the vaccination in a hospital in Southern Ecuador, which was a real test of my Spanish skills and the doctors patience.  However there were no international certificates for proof of vaccination left, I would have to go to the Ministry of Health in the capital, Quito, brandishing a note from the doctor.

On arrival at the Ministry of Health it didn’t take long to realise that my request was most unusual.  I was ushered through the metal detectors without being screened.  Then chaperoned by a lovely non-English speaking receptionist through most departments within the Ministry (bizarrely including Human Resources) trying to find someone who could help with this request.

Eventually after several trips up and down in the busy lift the receptionist located someone who had the international certificates and more importantly the stamps!  So I was given a little yellow fever booklet complete with lots of stamps.  However I was not finished yet, I had to go back to the desk where I first started for yet more stamps.  The Ecuadorian governments thoroughness and love for stamps was evident.

Interestingly I was then told I would have to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  More stamps?  More visits to Human Resources?  I was, and still am, unclear as to why they were insistent on me going there.  I decided to take my chances, not visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head to the border…..

Categories: adventure, South America | 1 Comment

The Uniqueness Of The Galapagos….

This volcanic archipelago lies 973km from the South American mainland.  With it being so isolated and having no significant human history, the evolution of their animal IMG_7832species is unique.  Here Charles Darwin studied the wildlife and based on his learnings, developed his theory on humankind writing the legendary Origin of The Species.

Nowadays the Galapagos Islands remain unspoilt, but are very much a tourist mecca with several flights arriving daily.  The tourist industry is extremely well managed and coordinated, to minimise any impact on the wildlife and the environment.  In fact you often feel like you are on the only boat on the whole of the Pacific Ocean.

I shall now impart words of wisdom and advice.  Before you go on this budget busting trip research it thoroughly.  Whilst wildlife is unpredictable, certain aspects can be planned.  I hate to say it, but I was underwhelmed by the Galapagos Islands.  My experience included poor visibility for snorkelling, rather choppy sailing conditions and no famous bird mating rituals.  However there was stunning scenery, colourful land iguanas and lots of baby sea lions.  If timed to perfection I think this could be an amazing experience……

So now for some interesting snippets of information:

  • The scolopendra centipede inhabits these islands, and can be 30cm long.  Its diet includes baby rats and lizards.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see one.
  • Due to it’s perfect symmetry across the equator this is one of only two countries* which can boast exactly twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night.IMG_7900
  • When the Galapagos Island’s most famous inhabitant Lonesome George died in 2012 at an unknown age (thought to be 102 years old) this signalled the end of his species.  George, a Pinta Island giant tortoise, was discovered alone and despite extensive searches across the islands no others of his genus were found.  US$10,000 was offered to anyone who could find him a mate, but sadly despite this appeal none was found.

* For those quiz goers, the other country is Kenya.

Categories: adventure, South America, wildlife | Leave a comment

Panama and the 8th Wonder of the World….

This country is synonymous with two words – “canal” and “hat”.  I went to Panama to get to the root of both. IMG_7648

The Canal is often labelled as the 8th Wonder of the World and is a true feat of engineering – I was most impressed.  Completed in 1914 it revolutionised shipping by splitting the American continent in two, enabling boats to sail from the Atlantic Ocean through to the Pacific Ocean with ease.

But onto some more fun facts:

  • The lowest toll paid was 36 US cents in 1928 by an American who swam the Panama Canal.
  • Each lock raises, or lowers boats, at the rate of 9 meters in 9 minutes.  It’s actually quick enough for you to feel the boat moving.  Again, I was impressed.

So what about the hat?  Well the Panama hat is actually an Ecuadorian creation, but was shipped to Europe from Panama hence the name.  Either way the country does a roaring trade with tourists snapping up traditional sombreros.  Interestingly in 2012 as a dying trade the Panama hat was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List – a list of traditions and skills that communities pass down through generations as part of their cultural heritage.

Unfortunately mine was a whistle stop tour of Panama so I didn’t get to venture too far afield.  Maybe next time?

Categories: adventure, Central America | 2 Comments

Next trip locked and loaded….

…… A few days in Panama to visit the engineering feat of the canal.  Then Ecuador for the wildlife sensation of the Galapagos Islands.  Followed by Colombia, which holds the title of the third ranked country on the Happy Planet Index and has the World’s largest number of endemic species.

Happy Planet!

Happy Planet!


* The Happy Planet Index is an index of human well-being and environmental impact.






Categories: adventure, Central America, South America | 2 Comments

All that glistens….The Solomon Islands

When Spanish explorers came across this group of Pacific Islands, they discovered alluvial gold and thought they had found the source of the biblical King Solomon’s wealth.  Hence the name the Solomon Islands was coined.Solomon

I am unsure where to start when writing about my time in the Solomon Islands, as I like to keep my blog positive.  But I was disappointed.  The local people are great, and very down to earth.  But I feel the ideology and greed of the more influential people is exploiting this country instead of building a long-term vision.

*Intensive logging is destroying the countryside, great scathes of woodland is being felled daily.  Dirty brown tracks run through the countryside, and large tankers float off-shore awaiting the next tug boat full of timber.  This industry has undoubtedly driven a significant economic boost for the country but at a cost.

In a similar vein, only a minimal number of shops and companies appear to be owned by locals.  Instead a large flux of predominantly Asian investors are running Honiara’s economy, with locals continuing their less profitable traditional practices of fishing and selling local produce in the cities markets.

Now for some more encouraging and interesting pieces of information about this Pacific country – Hooray!

  • The Solomon Islands has some fantastic snorkelling.  The waters are crystal clear, and there is a multitude of colourful fish.  Shark gracefully glide through the waters close by, the blue starfish are huge and there are even occasional crocodile – not convinced this is a good thing!  Several divers regularly return to this destination.
  • 10% of the population is blonde, this is the highest proportion of any non-European influenced country.  The high incidence of blonde hair is due to a specific protein.
  • One of the local dialects uses the same word for blue and green, the two most prominent colours, but has five different words for “fart”!
  • Shell money is still used on certain islands, although it’s typically more of an offering during wedding ceremonies, rather than your weekly groceries.


* On a more positive note the logging practice is under review and has actually slowed recently.

Categories: adventure, Australia / Pacific, beach | 1 Comment

Beware hypermobility…

Recently published European research has shown that hypermobility, or to use layman’s terms “frequent travel”, may have adverse psychological, emotional and physical effects.

Some of the facts from the study are of no great surprise such as an increase in the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis and sleep deprivation.  Apparently there are also higher levels of stress due to worrying about the number of emails to action on your return – does this really happen?!  Interesting point to note though that apparently in extreme cases, and I could be borderline, those prone to hypermobility can exceed the safe limit for human radiation!

Based on this research if I were a pilot or air stewardess I think I’d be tempted to ask for a pay rise.  However I am not, and shall keep merrily travelling where possible…..


Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Destination Melanesia….

It seems the 136th largest country in the World, the Solomon Islands, is barely on the global radar (unless you are a diver).  I will definitely need to do some full on research whilst travelling to find out more about this nation.



I will also need to be on my best behaviour as swearing is illegal.  Interestingly you can be sued by those within earshot and can even be jailed.  Let’s just hope I don’t come across any of their venomous sea snakes or salt water crocodiles whilst snorkelling then!






Categories: adventure, Australia / Pacific, beach | 1 Comment

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