Sri Lanka – Maldives – Thailand

Tribute – First of all, I would like to pay tribute to Leandroo Narciso, a deaf guy and a friend from Brazil. He was very kind in taking time out as a volunteer guide and he took me to the Christ the Redeemer statue, Favelas, and many other places in Rio. It was such a short time to know this young man but it felt like we had known each other for years. I never forgot how he made sure my friend and I were always safe on our trips and ensuring we arrived at the hotel safely because he always told me how dangerous it could be outside.

With great sadness I learned the news of Leandro’s passing while I was on holiday in the south of Thailand. Apparently he was killed by mobs for his mobile phone, he fought for it when he should not have. It’s hard for me to believe he died so young at 23 years old, just like that. My sincere thoughts & prayers are with his family and friends.

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Credits – It didn’t really hit me that I visited these exotic destinations over 6 weeks. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my amazing family, friends and understanding bosses.

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2 weeks volunteering, 17th December 2016 – I thought about volunteering abroad after my travels. Not many organisations provide a BSL interpreter on-board, but then i saw a VoluntEars advert which was the perfect opportunity. Last year, I experienced South America on a tour with hearing people, but I felt there was a bit of a communication barrier.

VoluntEars create worthwhile, exciting and safe experiences. That helped me to develop my skills while abroad to give something back to the deaf community. Their projects combine practical hands-on renovation work at deaf schools, activities with local students and local sights with an experienced BSL Communicator and Trip Leader

Renovation We were the third volunteer group designated in Colombo. Our renovation project was for the girls’ dormitory in a local school called The Ceylon School for the Deaf & Blind.  I didn’t realised there were sections to work on before we could paint as I had no previous experience.

Day 1 – brush off cobwebs, wash with water.

Day 2 – scrape off old paint with a scraper.

Day 3 – fill holes with filler and cement.

Day 4 – sand walls and paint the edges of the room.

Day 5 – more cutting in of walls then paint the rest of the wall.

Day 6 – painted three doors green. Painting 6 windows with a glossy yellow.

Day 7 – masking floor to paint the bottom of walls black.

Day 8 – paint to cover up any splashes.

Last Day – design and paint butterflies onto central walls.

We were happy with results; it was a shame we won’t be around to see the students’ reactions when they started in January.

Voluntears also have other projects on-going in Ghana, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Ghana to work with local deaf students there. If this project inspires you, have a look at their website link here: www.voluntears.info.  There are video interviews from ex-volunteers and a gallery of volunteers’ work. Previous group worked across other deaf schools in Sri Lanka as in the picture below.

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Sri Lanka cruise Our lovely chef set us up for a cookery lesson, using various spices to put in cooking, literally like 2 teaspoons of chilli, dried chilli, turmeric etc. Now I know why I struggled to eat. Thankfully chef put less spices after my fifth day here.

Sri Lanka curries are known for their fiery hot dishes. There was lots of rice and curry 24/7 but they were bursting with good flavours. Can you imagine having spicy gravy for breakfast? They eat most of their food with their hands, they don’t need knife, fork or spoon. (well I do! 😊)

Traditional Carroms Game was like a pool game (using your fingers!) of eastern origin, interesting to learn about. I found it was not for me but I was surprised that the team couldn’t stop playing the game for hours.

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Several markets next to the ocean – there are also food markets in Galle Face. I loved the view of the Indian Ocean and the chance to try more Sri Lankan food, as well as going for a relaxing stroll!

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Supermarket – how awesome, these vegetables and fruit that were quite big in size. I imagine the amount of sunshine allows people to grow them easier and harvest them straight to supermarkets.

Sri Lanka sign language class – it was very interesting, completely different from international sign language and British Sign Language. These are regional variations originating from the 25 Deaf schools in Sri Lanka.

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The Kandyan dances – sri lanka’s classical dance style – Kandy in Sri Lanka is famous for  the Kandyan Dance. These shows entertain at hotels, churches and street parties. At the end of the show, they round off with fire swallowers and people walking on hot coals! For info: http://www.themindfulword.org/2013/kandyan-dance-sri-lanka/

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Christmas – Great way to spend Christmas Eve at Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation project! Their program aims to protect sea turtles and increase hatching rates. They also treat disabled turtles.

My group and I washed the sea turtles’ tanks; the regular staff does that fortnightly in order to prevent infection from fungi and bacteria. These turtles weigh between 20 to 90kg which was very heavy to carry over to fresh clean tanks. I tried to lift that big turtle but he flapped his arms so much it felt like a hard slapping (Ouch! That hurts).

There were several tanks, one of which had baby sea turtles, only 3 weeks old! They were smart when I was picking them up by playing dead, but once I put them back in they would swim happily everywhere. It was such a hands on experience and a great chance to work with all different types of turtles native to Sri Lanka.

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This is from a Google review, a message from the ownerWelcome to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation project! Back in 1988 we started our project. We’re very proud to be able to say that we are one of the first conservation projects in Sri Lanka.

Since that time we have become famous nationally and internationally for the real conservation work this project performs. At our centre it is possible to learn how we conserve these animals that are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Conserving the turtle population helps to maintain the health of the coral reefs and sea grass beds which benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp lobster and tuna.

Turtles also provide tourism value and have major cultural significance. Our main conservation effort involves purchasing eggs from illegal egg collectors, who take the eggs from nests created by the female turtles. We rebury the eggs and protect them until they hatch, before releasing them into their natural habitat – the Ocean. The work we do here is a continuous and ongoing job ensuring the future prosperity of the turtle population for our children, and our children’s children to enjoy.

Whilst at our centre please enjoy the turtles, but please be mindful of the wellbeing of the turtles. 1. Please avoid touching or holding the turtles as they have very delicate skin which can be easily irritated by any naturally occurring oils or chemicals we have on our hands, such as perfumes, creams, sun tan lotions, etc. The turtles also have a very strong and sharp bite; don’t let one of your fingers be an easy snack! 2. Please do not feed the turtles, they have a carefully controlled diet and are fed regularly. 3. Flash photography is very disturbing for the turtles; please check the flash is turned off as you enter the centre and before taking any pictures.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants. It was absolutely fascinating to see the elephants; one of them stared right at me! I think this is the only kind in Sri Lanka, government owned, and all proceeds go to supporting the orphanage.

This location had lots of space for the animals to roam around but I had to remind myself that these animals are rescued from the wild either from being sick or left alone and outcast by their parents/herd. Not much to write about but all I can say is that if you get close up and see this large host of elephants frolicking in the river, it makes them quite happy! They trumpet loudly and clearly and when one stops the other starts.

Kandy is a large city in central Sri Lanka. It’s set on a plateau surrounded by mountains, which are home to tea plantations and biodiverse rainforest.  

Famed for being one of most sacred Buddhist temples in the world, where the “Buddha tooth” is kept. I was confused about why a tiny tooth was kept in a box since 543 BC, that seems very important to the people and that was hidden and moved around a few times.

I copied some information from wikipedia which made some sense of it – it says ‘According to Sri Lankan legends, when the Buddha died in 543 BC, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre at Kushinagar and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by his disciple, Khema. Khema then gave it to King Brahmadatte for worship.  It became a royal possession in Brahmadatte’s country and was kept in the city of Dantapuri. 

A belief grew that whoever possessed the tooth relic had a divine right to rule that land. The Dāthāvamsa recounts the tale of a war fought over the relic 800 years later between Guhasiva of the republic of Kalinga and a king named Pandu.’

Also you can see this huge mummified sacred elephant, because it has special characteristics that no other elephant has. I would recommend seeing the outside of this monument and not paying the money to go inside. It is incredibly busy with locals who pay homage to Buddha.

Geragama Tea factory dating from 1903 in a lovely location not far from Kandy. It was 20161230_151307an interesting visit, and the factory had some popular Gold tea which is expensive and quite hard to come by. I was surprised that the price was still quite expensive (Rs.1,400 – £16.8 for 50g so roughly two-thirds what we would pay in UK!)

We had a lovely lady to show us round the factory with its hundred year old machinery. Then we came back to the beautiful tea room (cool, airy and nicely furnished with labelled tea samples inset into the tables) and tried a pot of B.O.P. (Broken Orange Pekoe), nicely served without milk.

I was sad when the volunteering project was over and I had to say farewell to the group after we spent much time together in shared accommodation, during work and trips. It was a great bonding experience and I have fond memories with Stephanie, Andy, Kimberley, David, Omar and Richard.


Negombo Introductions – My friend and I travelled to Negombo, West Sri Lanka to meet a deaf crew who were happy to guide us around for a few days in their local area and meet more people in the deaf community there. We were thankful for our guides Kelum, Wasim, Ishanka and their friend, and also thankful to Sanoj who lives in the UK and organised us meeting up with his brother.

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Airbnb  I used Airbnb for 9 nights, these owners had a beautiful and BIG garden and lots of fruit/vegetable trees. Kelum showed me around pointing out each tree such as cashew, banana that I have not seen before. I drank fresh real coconut which was bliss!

Motorbike – First time on a motorbike with Kelum, my paranoid mind wandered a bit but then after trying it, I realised it was a lot of fun. We passed lots of beautiful streets with lots of cars and lorries alongside – I felt like I was in a Bollywood movie! However I felt very safe with Kelum, he is an excellent driver.

The best way to explore Sri Lanka is by driving your own motorbike! If you’ve never ridden one before, don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike. Just take a spin around the block a couple of times to get used to it and you’ll be fine!

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Negombo – Fish Market At the crack of dawn, Kelum took me to a local fish market, the biggest one in all of Sri Lanka! I saw a great documentary where a deaf traveller named Joel Barish met two deaf men who work as fishermen!

Those men gave us insight into their jobs with the manta rays and sharks.

Have a look at this (captioned) video https://joelbarish.com/video/sri-lanka-negombo-fish-market/

I found the fish market fascinating. There was a wide variety of fish from mackerels to marlins along with crabs and shellfish next to the beach, mind you it did smell strong! Negombo is known for its huge and old fishing industry with busy fish markets and sandy beaches open from 6am to 9am every day, fresh from the sea.

Fishermen leave freshly caught fish to dry in the sun and the wind removes water from the fish, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and extending the storage life of fish by a couple of years. Dried fish is then salted and sold right there in the market. Some sea turtles are alive when sold there!


Sigiria Lion Rock Fortress – The view is amazing, this is a world heritage site. Basically a fortress and a palace built by King Kashyapa in the 5th century A.D. on top of a 400-metre high rock set in a beautiful grassy location. It is an absolute MUST SEE for anyone who is capable. Kelum explained why the lion’s face is not completed in the video:

The story is about King Kashyapa who murdered his father and escaped punishment. That is why he created a lion rock to live in isolation. The lion rock was built between 477 and 495AD; consisting of lush gardens, palaces and pavilions. As a powerful king, he also had a huge workforce of highly skilled labourers and artisans to do his bidding. There was a sculpted lion’s head above the legs and paws flanking the entrance, unfortunately the head collapsed years ago. Also there are over 1,000 hand written poems on the wall, all written between the 7th and 14th century.

http://seelanka.net/sigiriya/ – about abandonment of Sigiriya and rediscovery of Sigiriya. This confirmed that is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning in the world, also acknowledged as the 8th Wonder of the World.

Hold onto your ticket. You will need to purchase a pass to climb Sigiriya which costs 23.53 British Pound and you will need decent walking shoes! It was definitely quite the challenge to climb up 1,200 steps, roughly equivalent to climbing 60 flights of stairs even in extreme heat!

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Sri Lanka Warnings and Dangers On some roads, particularly near national parks, you will see signs warning you to slow down and watch for wild elephants crossing the road. You don’t want an accident with an elephant!

We saw two completely wild, undisturbed elephants just doing what they do and completely oblivious to us as we slowly drifted past, but we had to keep in mind that at any time they could turn and even tip cars over. If you’re a passenger on a bus, hold on tight and brace yourself for both high speeds and sudden stops. My leg was slightly bruised after one of these sudden halts.

Jaga Food restaurant (Polonnaruwa) really a hidden gem! – I read good reviews but I didn’t expect this place to blow my expectations out the water! I loved it!  We had the most memorable homemade dinner in the middle of paddy (rice) fields in Polonnaruwa. 20170105_211434

Jaga (the owner) and his family run the restaurant and they grow most if not all of the vegetables in their garden right next to the restaurant organically! The food is delicious and very authentic, cooked by his family and presented in traditional clay pots. There is plenty of variety to please all taste buds.

I felt at home with their warm Sri Lankan hospitality. This is a must visit for a true Sri Lankan experience. After the meal we were handed felt tip pens and encouraged to write about our eating experience on the white surface of the dining area columns and ceiling, already full of appreciative messages.

The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was the kingdom from which Sri Lankan kings ruled the island from the 11th century until 1310 CE. You have to go barefoot on the sand/stone paths, which were very hot indeed!  (Bring some socks!) I’d also recommend going with a guide as the information that’s around is limited, though there was not much to see, to be perfectly honest. 

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Dambulla cave temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage Site (1991) situated in the central part of the country. It also houses one of the tallest Buddha temples, with caves located on top of a small rock that you can reach by climbing up around a hundred or so stairs (a 10 minute climb).

Sadly we didn’t get the chance to see that beautiful and cold city called Nuwara Eliya. It’s a resort city in the central mountain range of Sri Lanka, with a pleasant climate and breath-taking views. This is highly recommended by train from Colombo for the best view all the way.

Finally….off to paradise!! 🏝🍸👙💃🏻🐟


South Maldives for 5 days When you arrive at Malé International Airport, the nation’s main gateway, you can take a public ferry, a speedboat, or a seaplane to go to the island you are staying. You can also take a speedboat transfer for resorts closer to the airport.

We arrived late at night and had to stay overnight to get to the south for transfers, since they run only one service a day at 3pm. We went to central Malé by boat then took a taxi to the western island for the Villigill public ferry. For islands far away from the airport this way of transport was much cheaper than the speedboat despite having a few tedious journeys. It cost around £250! We did however use a speedboat at the end of our journey because of our flight being at an earlier time.

Of the 1200 islands, only 200 are inhabited by local Maldivian people, as nearly 100 islands have been developed as tourist resorts and the remaining islands are uninhabited. Most of the resorts are in North Malé, South Malé, Ari, Felidhu, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls. We struggled with which island to choose, but after researching we avoided the more luxury resorts in order to avoid crazy prices like  £869 or more per night!

We picked south Malé Atoll, a beautiful local resort run by Maldivian people. Gulhi island in particular was a traditional fishing village with plenty of locals unlike designated pricey tourist resorts. There was plenty of activity and we went for snorkelling! Please do watch out for the jellyfish, my friend got stung twice! The views were very beautiful though I felt as if I was on a different planet. With no technology to distract me, just a blue ocean and peaceful waves completely.

15994963_10154882174831241_2539648008850072017_oNight fishing activity – Unforgettable! Maldivian fishermen showed me and other people how to use the artful pole and line method of fishing. It was great experience from catching these to seeing them end up in the hotel kitchen where chef grilled them only hours later! 

The sunset faded and it was a beautiful sight of the ocean and moon 😍. The boat crew will show you how to use the lines, hooks and sinkers. You will catch enough to fill your barbecue grill in about an hour’s time. 😎 Yes I was brave to eat that with these eyes stared at me and it is free dinner!

Beauty of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo island – After talking to my local village resort staff I decided I would like to visit one of the popular designated tourist resorts for the day. I went for a package they suggested that took me to Adaaran resort in north Malé Atoll.  It was my first time at a luxury resort! If you can’t afford an overnight stay, you can opt for a day tour just like I did! I think it was around £77 for entrance, buffet lunch & tea break, but it was definitely one of my highlights.

They have a paradise garden with so many beautiful flowers and trees. You can just snorkel around as I have discovered there is many species of fish.

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15940573_10154890523101241_4922825362049460123_nAt my hotel, the staffs were great during my stay. They had lots of respect for our communication methods by writing and giving me their WhatsApp to make it easy to contact them if necessary. They were very kind to gift me and my friend farewell bracelets that made us feel as if we were special guests.  I am grateful to them for everything and especially the amazing food they cooked! I will miss Ahmed, Hasitha, Yan and more.

On a different note you might have heard of these seven  incredible underwater restaurants (££££) that offer the unreal experience of dining and drinking underwater—no scuba gear necessary. Though it looked interesting unfortunately it was far for us and on our budget it was not worth the spend. 

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Here’s an interesting
comment from a google review I found
in 2004, a tsunami swallowed two-thirds of the country. As a result, over 20 islands were permanently erased from the map.  If the trend continues, the Maldives may be completely submerged in few years’ time.  One should start planning soon as the Maldives is disappearing under the ocean. The islands were formed from underwater volcanic eruptions. The year-round warm weather, endless white beaches and inviting water make the Maldives an exotic and scenic paradise on Earth and a perfect getaway for vacationers and honeymooners.  Though it is a desirable place to visit, its resort fees do not come cheap.

I would love to see that glowing blue tide that I heard that is at night in Vaadhoo, Maldives. If you plan to visit, I recommend you to check that out. As well incredible white beaches that are fine like powder.

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Central Thailand, Bangkok for 2 days – Khaosan Road is of the busiest streets of Bangkok even at 4 in the morning. Thailand’s famous for its street foods, bars, street parties. Food is everywhere!! (including stuff like fried bugs!)

I booked my hotel in this part of the town and man, I was so glad I did.  Our taxi driver didn’t know where our hotel was and just dropped us in the area and said it was a two minute walk. (A lot of taxi and tuk tuk drivers do this!)

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The famous Maeklong Railway Market -Within a few minutes of receiving the warning, vendors pull back their stalls before the train comes, sometimes only moments before. This happens seven times a day and it is crazy right down the middle and close enough to touch, about a foot to spare, both beneath and to the sides of the carts.

This is why the market is  called “Market Umbrella Close.” Once the train passes, everyone goes back to normal as if nothing extraordinary happened and it’s hard to believe that tons of metal just rumbled its way through.

Make sure you don’t stand on or lean over the tracks to get “the perfect shot” or you may get  perfectly squashed . It seems that the train has been passing through the market seven times a day for decades!

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Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market in Thailand, great for photo opportunities, food, and for giving you an insight into Thailand’s unique culture. Nowadays the biggest attraction of a floating market in Thailand is the food that is cooked and served directly from a boat floating in the canal.

There are five floating markets that are worth checking out. It’s best to go with a trusted tour guide to help with transportation as this will make the experience a bit more pleasant. All in all, this is a true local experience, to see the houses built on water, business along the river and should not be missed.

Wat Pho – buddi reclining -This temple is famous for the reclining Buddha which is the largest of its kind in Thailand. You can’t tell the size of this Buddha from pictures but when you arrive, you’ll be surprised! 46m long and 15cm high set in the 16th century. The statue itself is absolutely stunning with amazing details and awesome intricate inlays on the feet. However it was a very hot and humid day so just be prepared for the heat (especially in May) and the crowds.

If you want to shop in a massive mall during your trip, there is the multi-storey MBK,  probably Bangkok’s most legendary massive shopping mall. 😍  It has everything with 7 floors of shops!

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Grand Palace

If you want to shop in massive mall, there is the multi-storey MBK, probably Bangkok’s most legendary massive shopping mall, it have everything from 7 floors. 


Chiang Mai, White Template – I found this temple spectacular and different from most I had seen. All the white and silver tiles sparkled in the sun; everything in this temple is white.

When you walk across the bridge, you can see there are loads of small skeletons underneath, which made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie!  The bathroom decoration is really amazing as well.  It is easier if you sign up for a tour, as that will take you to all the popular spots in the area in one day even though it is very touristy. Also make sure you dress respectfully for any temples as the staff don’t allow people who show too much skin out of respect for the Buddhist statues.

National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat began the White Temple in 1997. I liked his surreal visions of Buddhist teachings and he placed superheroes, movie stars and cartoons along the entrance for people to see as they make their way in. It is worth a visit! 

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Blue Template is worth a short visit if you happen to be close and it makes for a convenient stop while travelling from or to the White Temple. It has a unique design and the colours are amazing, lots of detail! It was construction completed recently. 

Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai 3 days in Chiang Mai, I can see why people fell in love with this city.  Shopping is one of the great pleasures as they have a famously huge night bazaar. I wasn’t expecting so many things, great for low budget souvenirs. The live music in the food square was lovely and set a good vibe.  You need more than one night to see everything!

It makes a lot of sense too; in the dry season it’s so hot that it’s much more pleasant to shop at night! One of the interesting things I saw was the Garra fish rufa therapy, also called doctor fish, nibble fish. Please excuse my messy hair and silly expressionbut after being reassured that the fish had no teeth I DID IT yay after putting it off a fair few times! It was fun and my feet were definitely softer afterwards.

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Long neck tribe village – Their culture is famous for having heavy accessories all down their neck, and this fame is their only source of income to attract tourists. It is a good thing, however, that the new generations have a choice whether to put the accessory around their neck or not. It was a long journey for a short trip but was well worth it.

I brought this fridge magnet as it was handmade and I thought it would be nice to donate since they all work hard under the hot sun. They were so patient and convinced us to buy from them. I was surprised after reading the back of the fridge magnet pack which said:

The Hilltribes of Northern Thailand – Karen Padong. The Padong that are in Thailand originally came from Myanmar. They are considered aliens by the Thai Government.

My tour guide explained that in the past, when the first generations of Padong (the name of the long neck village) escaped from Myanmar to Thailand, they didn’t have passports or any identification. That is why they were considered aliens, though these days they’ve given birth to Thai citizens.

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big-buddha-near-golden-triangle-800x600Golden Triangle – The golden triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet on a tiny island in Mae Kong river is where opium traders used to trade their goods and money.

If you take a cruise down the river, it’s really a pretty empty island with overgrown trees.

We opted out on a cruise and instead walked around in awe of all of the statues and monuments. I quite liked that golden background where I climbed to take a picture with the statue of the two elephants. It felt like I was in Aladdin!

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Art in paradise – Chiang Mai – I remember seek the world mentioned this 3D art illustration museum during his travels. This place is so unique! The whole experience of optical illusion and taking pictures with them was a lot of fun.

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Krabi Town, South Thailand for 3 days – My friend and myself landed in Krabi and we took a taxi to Krabi Town for a few days. We used a bus which was 3 hours travelling to Phuket, a very cheap mode of transport. If you are short on time then take the ferry, but you will need to book in an advance. Ao Nang is the main beach resort in Krabi that you might like to see while you are there.

Getting a massage  was cheaper than Bangkok at only 250 baht (£5.73) compared to 900 baht (£9.17). They use milk, tamarind, coffee, salt, yogurt with their massages. I went for a hair spa treatment – http://m.timesofindia.com/…/Why-is…/articleshow/32967014.cms.

I brought OCASE Waterproof Phone Waterproof Dry Bag With Neck Strap from Amazon to protect my mobile from any splashes! It turns out it’s excellent, went swimming with it however don’t go down 30m!  

For us it was perfect to start island hopping by book with Maya Bay Beach, which has become the main tourist attraction of Phi Phi since The Beach was filmed here in 1999.

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Bamboo Island  (known as Ko Mai Phai in Thai). You can  snorkel here and see lots of different types of fish.

Monkey Bay is home to a colony of monkeys, not shy at all, who do not hesitate to climb onto the legs of their visitors in search of a banana. I only saw two monkeys so don’t get your hopes too high. Also don’t bring food or they may attack you! I love the fact the sand on this beach was soft and smooth just like talcum powder!

Viking Cave, here some painting were found that were believed to be made by the ancient Vikings. The cave has lots of bird nests that the locals collect for soup, supposedly of “high nutritional value and exquisite flavour”! I saw this in a jaw-dropping BBC1 documentary where they claimed it had the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. If you want to consume a bowl of woody twigs and bird crap/saliva, I think Hat Yai restaurant has plenty of birds’ nests and shark fins.

We also visited Phi Phi Don, Lohsamah Bay and Pileh Bay on our way.

Phuket – rainforested, mountainous island Huge beach and very popular opposite restaurants, busy markets and resort town with nightclubs, bars, shopping centre as well as many beach spots across Phuket, if you want a private area and fewer crowds. 

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25th January 2017, my last vblogit was the most amazing travel experience I’ve ever had. 6 weeks came to an end, now back to reality! I arrived back on British soil and have been trying to adjust to the relatively freezing temperature Don’tdelay, start planning your holiday today, life is short! X🌡☃

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro – Part 5 of 5

8) Rio de Janeiro  is a huge seaside city and the most visited capital, famous for the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The most famous landmarks are the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World as well as Sugarloaf Mountain with its cable car.  The city is also known for favelas (shanty towns) and the carnival festival held each year with around two million on the streets for six-day party featuring parade floats, flamboyant costumes and samba dancing. This took place on 5th February 2016, apparently next date is 24th February (the forty-day period before Easter).

Guides – With thanks to Leah, Tim, Daniela who lead me to these handsome guys who live in Brazil. Weslei, Marcos and Leandro were happy to show me around. Thank you for making it such a memorable outing!

On my arrival after midnight from Buneo Aires, I was so excited but also a little freaked out at the Christ the Redeemer statue glowing at night. It is a bit spooky there!

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Rio’s best beaches – I must admit usually I’m not a beach bum, as I prefer the adventure of walking around the city and exploring. But the beaches here were beautiful, and my hotel was only 5 minutes walk to Copacabana beach. The reception at the hotel did warn me that I should be careful walking around, especially at night. When you head for the beach, I would advise you to leave your mobiles/cameras etc at home. Nonetheless it is a popular beach, well worth the visit, as is Ipanema beach which is less crowded and more clean if you prefer to relax there. Did you know Rod Stewart played for around 3.5 million people on Copacabana beach in 1994? Amazing.

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Sugarloaf Cable Car, one of Rio’s most famous attractions, opened in 1912, only the third cableway to be built in the world. In 1972 the cars were updated, with the capacity growing from 22 to 75 people. Today it is used by approximately 2,500 visitors every day. The cable cars run every 30 minutes, between 8am and 10pm. I would recommend you to bring some snacks as options are limited up there. It runs over a big mountain with a great view of the city and surrounding sea, situated in a nice shore.

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It was my first time in a helicopter, and I was so nervous especially when the pilot turned helicopter sideways and rolled! I absolutely loved the views.We flew around the statue of Christ, though unfortunately it was cloudy so we focused on the city underneath. You can also hire a helicopter to fly around with choices that they have offered on a list. It cost me £75 for 7 mins, definitely expensive but worth the once in a lifetime experience.

National Institute of Education for the Deaf (INES) – Weslei has a job as a teacher there, he was very kind to fit me into his busy schedule to take me around the school buildings. I met deaf students and teachers who are all profoundly deaf. Our sign language is very different but we managed to pick up things from body language and expression. These days, you can download apps and practice international sign alphabets. It’s interesting that Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in South America.

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Arcos da Lapa – Tramway along landmark white Lapa Arches in Centro of Rio – It’s one of Rio’s attractions, a lost tramway that is a rather isolated part of Rio with the trendy Lapa district. Lapa lies at the heart of Rio´s historic center. It was interesting to see the Lapa arcs whose original architecture design dates back to the mid-1700s and are definitely worth a photograph. Due to an accident that caused a few deaths, the trams are no longer operating so it has become famous for its lively nightlife.

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halleluya-lapa1.jpegWorld-famous steps (Escadaria Selaron) in Santa Teresa – The area of Lapa is not known for being the safest in Rio, with a police presence on most days. I admired the graffiti on the walls of the neighborhoods, and these famous 215 steps with a variety of ceramic tiles on them done by a famous Chilean Brazilian artist. He had decided to decorate the steps he used every day. He first made them in the colours of the Brazilian flag (green, blue and yellow) but then decided to change them. He received tiles from all parts of the world and included them. A must see while in Rio! We were fortunate to get there when it was not crowded (before noon) and were able to get some pictures without tourists.

City-of-God1.pngFavela is the name of slums within urban areas which are quoted as being dangerous due to things like drug dealing, stealing and violence. There are over 1000 Favela in Rio. You might have seen a film called City of God (2002) whose plot is based on real life events about gangs and was shot on location in the poorest neighbourhoods.

I noticed armed soldiers while exploring in the biggest favela called Rocinha, and I think it’s important to go with a guide or just someone who knows the area well.  Fact of the day: Fast Five had scenes in a favela that was actually filmed in Puerto Rico!

Four of us got to Rocinha by a very crowded bus, it was so humid and made us sleepy, but we finally arrived after 2 hours. We had a look around but turned back fairly soon to get back before it got dark. There was a motorbike taxi for getting up the steep hill, but after seeing the way it sped up the hill I chose to walk instead! You can also see this view from the Sugar Loaf cable car if you like.

To learn about safety in Rio, including a map of dangerous neighborhoods and pickpockets zones, see the CitySafe page about Rio de Janeiro.

The lights of Vidigal favela in Rio de Janeiro as seen from Ipanema and Leblon beaches. The cone spire to the far right is part of the famous Dois Irmãos.

Cristo Redentor From wikipedia: “Construction took nine years, from 1922 to 1931 . The statue was struck by lightning during a violent thunderstorm in 2008, and suffered some damage to the fingers, head and eyebrows. A restoration was put in place by replace some of the outer soapstone layers and repair the lightning rods installed on the statue. It was damaged by lightning again in 2014, when a finger on the right hand was dislodged.”

RoAjp05Md-thumbCertain things I found interesting from wikipedia – “In 2010, a massive restoration of the statue was undertaken. The statue was washed, the mortar and soapstone that cover the statue were replaced, the internal structure of iron was restored, and the monument was made waterproof. The statue was vandalized during renovation, when paint was sprayed along the arm. Mayor called the act ‘a crime against the nation’.  The culprits later apologized and presented themselves to the police. The four-month restoration focused on the statue itself.

The statue’s internal structure was renovated and its soapstone mosaic covering was restored by removing a crust of fungi and other microorganisms and repairing small cracks. The lightning rods located in the statue’s head and arms were also repaired, and new lighting fixtures were installed at the foot of the statue. The restoration involved one hundred people and used more than 60,000 pieces of stone taken from the same quarry as the original statue.” 

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Christ the Redeemer sculpture towers over Rio de Janeiro

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zika-fact-cardI was worried when I heard about the Zika virus, which apparently comes from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. The virus has now spread to more than 50 countries, but Brazil remains the country most-affected. I watched a BBC documentary about it that said it was proven to cause a severe birth defect resulting in babies born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. My GP emailed me all the advice I needed, for example to buy Deet bug spray, a mosquito net bed, Plug-In Mosquito Killer and to cover up well. I’m lucky because my hotel was near the sea which meant less mosquitos. Friends who live there have been bitten but these go away after few days after seeing a doctor to make sure everything was okay.

The World Health Organization published advice about how safe it was to go ahead with the Rio Summer Olympics?  They said it was safe to do so as long as pregnant ladies or those planning to have a baby soon did not travel – if they had already booked, say by travel agents, it would be reimbursed, and airlines that offer insurance potentially offer refunds or a change of destination.

Olympic Games was between 5th August – 21st August 2016. Weslei suggested that I check out the Olympic City Museum called Museu Cidade Olímpica . This is a new museum/digital centre which opened to the public on 5th July 2016. Visitors are able to use state-of-the-art virtual reality technologies to ‘visit’ Olympic venues and tourist attractions all over the city. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to explore but from what I did see I would recommend you to check it out if you’d like to learn more about how the venues were built etc.

20160329_155445Food – There is a variety of cuisines for example Italian (pizza, pasta), Spanish (empanadillas – folding a dough or bread patty around stuffing which is a common ready-to-go lunch), Arabs (spiha, lamb, kibbeh), Chinese and Japanese (like wontons). At breakfast, it is common to eat tropical fruits, like papaya, and local cakes, tapioca, couscous, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, bread and butter or jam, coffee, juices or tea. Lunch is normally the biggest meal of the day.

At some of the restaurants, they have a self-service system and the food is charged by the weight! Staff labelled my receipt and tick sheet for me to pay once I leave, and there is all-you-can-eat at a fixed price. I found that is useful because in England, they can charge such small portions for very high prices.

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I am now at the end of my blog on South America! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope that the travel tips I’ve discovered along the way inspire you for your next trip. 😀

 

Salta and Argentina – Part 4 of 5

6) A short stay in Salta, North Argentina – 12 to 16 hours on a public bus (with toilets on board) from Chile to Salta. The border crossing check routine roughly takes from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how many people are there and how fast border officials work.

The border – Be careful what food you buy when you are at a border crossing, where it can be very strict on what kind of things are brought into a country (when I arrived in Chile, all of our bags went through a scanner). No vegetables, fruit or animal products that are not processed – even cheese. Nuts, cookies and crisps are fine. So, eat before the border. We crossed the Andes mountain range, where the scenery is of course, beautiful, winding and high and it was our last day at high altitude.

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Food –  There are not so many restaurants for vegetarians that I could find, but for fish eaters trouts is a worthy option, if a little on the expensive side. Breakfasts are limited, many people choosing toast and marmalade, but far more popular locally are media lunas, a golden, flaky biscuit similar to a croissant but covered with a sweet, sticky glaze. We loved the ice cream shop Dipsydo’s, in the main square. 

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Poor head and tail but it tasted nice.

2016-03-23 16.42.15Activities –I have listed some optional activities. With only a day and a half, we decided to tour the city by foot and take a cable car to check out the city from above.

  1. Full Day Cafayate Gorge – a wine tasting tour, the drive is 4 hours. 
  2. Horseback riding with barbecue included. The horseback ride is about 2.30 hours followed by a real Argentinian BBQ, the price is the same for vegetarians.
  3. Rafting with barbecue included – (more river floating than rafting). 

Buildings – There are churches amidst orange and red buildings. We appreciating the colonial architecture that the town has preserved with buildings dating back to the 16th century. It is bit further right on the main square so don’t miss it!

Iglesia San Francisco’s church and tower stands 177’ high and has history since 1625. It has been rebuilt several times to retain its impressive aesthetic form and bold contrasting colors of Italian-influenced architecture.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria de La Vina church – another colorful church south of the main square.

Inca Mummies small museum – There is a museum with mummies found in the top of a volcano (2 hours more or less away). The story goes that the mummies and children were frozen 500 years ago, 6,739m high up in the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina. I didn’t realise this was in Salta! Plaza 9 de Julio, the main square, is by the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, a museum which exhibits the 3 Inca children found frozen at the peak of Mount Llullaillaco.

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Considering the history of Inca tradition, the display is a bit unsettling when you realise this was a very real child who was murdered. There are some displays of clothing, dolls, and other items used in the daily life of the indigenous people.

The museum said they take visitors feeling towards the exhibition of human bodies into consideration, and the museum offers the option of watching these children.

The Plaza is wonderful for seeing everybody just sit around in the evening and watch or have a bite to eat in, surrounded by bars and historical places.


7) We left Salta after 4am for a 2 hour flight to Buenos Aires. The capital in the south of Argentina is known for its European atmosphere, passionate tango tradition and vibrant nightlife. Its centre is the 16th-century Plaza de Mayo, lined with stately buildings including the Casa Rosada, the iconic presidential palace. Its meaning is the ‘pink house’, whereas the US has the ‘white house’.

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Florida Street is the main shopping thoroughfare, leading to Plaza San Martín, a busy park that was once the site of a bullfighting arena. It is an interesting shopping area, they have a modern mall with lots of shops.

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Galerías Pacífico is a pretty shopping mall which has murals around, and its decoration blew me away. It has 12 frescos (mural painting on wet lime plaster) by artists decorated in 1946. The huge foundations in the middle are my favourite views when I come into the entrance.

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The shops are expensive, and I noticed some international chains. Most of the stores are independent but you can also find some stores of Argentinian arts and craft. There is a food court hall and a vegan cafe called Green &Company. I highly recommend Cocina Patagonica shop for its chocolate gifts, and Patagonian ice cream – I kept came back for more. I recommend the pear flavor.

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Hop on hop off bus – Like most cities there is a hop on hop off bus, a dandy option to explore historical and cultural landmarks for a day around in the city in 24 stops.

La Boca is not to be missed, colourful houses and all – there are lots of tourists and people everywhere trying to make you pay for a picture, etc. There are plenty of outdoor cafes to eat at & watch tango. Most tango dancers offer quick dance lessons and pose for pictures for a charge (like £3).  

20160324_121119.jpgEva Peron – You can’t miss the line drawing of Eva Peron on the side of one of the buildings, a giant tribute to Argentina’s most famous first lady. She is still adored by millions of people and fresh flowers are placed at her tomb everyday. She was from a poor town and became first lady. On the side of the building facing south, the picture on the building is talking to the people, she was loved by the poor, on the other side is just her face, the rich hated her. Her story is interesting, you might have seen this film, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.

The style of the neighbourhood is rather like in Paris, home to the Recoleta cemetery where Evita was buried. Her body was stolen and then restored as a display next to her husband who died later. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18616380

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Teatro Colón (Colón Theater) This is one of the world’s top five opera theatres – breathtaking in size, with a grand central chandelier with 700 lights! I was not prepared to see an opera or ballet like this one, which seats 3,000. Highly recommended.

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International sign language – I love to meet other Deaf people during my travels, their different sign language inspires me to learn. Most countries have their own language just like a spoken language, and some use international sign languages which is useful: here is the International Sign Definition.I met these lovely people and they signed Argentine Sign Language, at first we struggled to understand each other so we gestured and used google translation from Spanish language. Saira

Random facts: The standard greeting in Argentina is a kiss on one cheek.

Celebrate Day – Most countries celebrate Mother’s or Father’s Day, and was surprised that they introduced Friend’s Day, a day dedicated entirely to friendships. In the early 1970s, an Argentinian scholar founded Dia del Amigo – he  said that he felt connected to everyone on Earth when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Friend’s Day is an official holiday in Buenos Aires, although it is not a national public holiday. Friends gather, parties are held, and everyone gets together late at night to celebrate friendship on July 20th of every year.

Black heart (cards)This is the penultimate post – the last one will be on Brazil Black heart (cards)  

 

23cfca1dccdba76e72000b46b83b37f8 - Copy (8)Travel to Salta, North Argentia – It was a long travel day which is 12 to 16 hours on a public bus with toilets on board from Chile to Salta. The border crossing check routine roughly take from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how many people are there and how fast border officials want to work!

The border – We have to be careful what food we buy as border crossing are very strict on what kind of things we can bring into a country (just like i remember when arriving in Chile, all of our bags will go through a scanner). Things we can’t bring such as vegetable, fruit or animal products that are not processed even cheese, sometimes they have taken it away. Nuts, cookies, chips are fine.  If you buy fruit, you need to eat before the border! We crossed the Andes mountain range, the scenery are so beautiful to view while on road. It was winding and high, i glad to say it is our last day of high altitude! 

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Food –  It is bit hard to find restaurants as we are vegetation, these trouts can be expensive but worth it. Breakfasts are limited there, many people choose toast and marmalade as an accompaniment but far more popular are media lunas, a golden, flaky biscuit similar to a croissant but covered with a sweet, sticky glaze. Also this city have best ice cream cream shop called Dipsydo’s, right in main square. 

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Waiter said head and tail can’t be remove i asked. *gulp* but it tasted nice.

2016-03-23 16.42.15Activities – These are the optional activities that you might like to try these activities. As myself and my friend only have a day and half, we decided to tour the city by foot and there is also a cable car to check out the city from above and museums.

  1. Full Day Cafayate Gorge – this is a wine tasting tour, the drive is 4 hours. 
  2. Horseback riding with barbecue included. The horseback ride is about 2.30 hours followed by a real Argentinian BBQ, the price is the same for vegetarians.
  3. Rafting with barbecue included – it is more river floating than rafting. 

Buildings – among churches, orangey /red shade buildings and cool architecture. We spent a day and half there, when we walked we appreciated the colonial architecture that the town has preserved with buildings dating back to the 16th century. It is bit further right on the main square so don’t miss it!20160323_15405713062258_10153537053346288_2187588125948950510_nsalta_034

Inca Mummies small museum – There is a museum with mummies found in the top of a volcano (2 hour more or less, some explanation in English, not all on the walls to read). i heard about mummies and children were frozen 500 years ago and they were 6,739m high Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina announced on BBC news. I don’t realize it is in Salta, gosh how i remember that was in 1993 beside me! You can find it from Plaza 9 de Julio, it is the main square. It own in particular to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña which exhibit the 3 Inca children found frozen at the peak of Mount Llullaillaco.                                                 el_museo01_org.jpg                                      History about inca tradition, the display is a bit unsettling when you realize this was a very real child who was murdered. There are some displays of clothing, dolls, and other items used in the day life of the indigenous people.

The museum said they taking consideration the visitor’s feeling towards the exhibition of human bodies, the museum offers the option of watching these children, who represent the Inca World or finishing the circuit beforehand.

The crowds in this plaza seemed quite festive on the day we were there and it is a nice place to sit and people-watch or have a bite to eat. You must go to the Plaza and just sit there in the evening, everybody does, it is the center of the city. It is a lovely place. There are bars and historical places surrounding it.

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We left Salta after 4am for a 2 hour flight to Buenos Aires. Arrival in Buenos Aires, it is our last day with tour group before departure next day, we chose to add another day there on our own (3 nights). 

Buenos Aires, South Argentina is big capital, known for its European atmosphere, passionate tango and vibrant nightlife. Its center is the 16th-century Plaza de Mayo, lined with stately buildings including Casa Rosada, the iconic balconied presidential palace.

20160326_134449.jpgIn Microcentro, Florida Street is the main shopping thoroughfare, leading to Plaza San Martín, a busy park that was once the site of a bullfighting arena. Interesting shopping area, they have a modern mall with lots of shops.Calle_Florida,_Buenos_AiresGalerías Pacífico, Mural-filled shopping mall grand building blow me away, though expensive shops but lovely food court hall there, so many food you can chose! There is one vegan cafe and ice cream are heaven! The surround, decoration are so beautiful and huge foundation in middle are my fave view when i came into entrance!

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Hop on hop off bus – It is easy to get here on the hop on hop off bus, which is perfect option to explore all icon historical and cultural landmarks for a day around in Buneos Aires by 24 stops.

La Boca’ is not to be missed, if you like colorful houses, this is definitely worth the stop. However, it is definitely catered to tourists and there are people everywhere trying to make you pay for a picture, etc. Don’t need much time though and plenty of outdoor cafes to eat at & watch tango. Most tango dancers persuaded for a dance lesson and posed for picture at charge fee (like £3). I thought to do tango dance lesson for fun but be wise, they do demand some more money. 

20160324_121119.jpgEva Peron – You can’t miss the line drawing of Eva Peron on the side of one of the buildings, a giant tribute to Argentina’s most famous first lady. She is still adored by millions people and fresh flowers appear at her tomb everyday. She was from a poor town and she became first lady. On the side of the building facing south the picture on the building is talking to the people, she was loved by the poor people, on the other side is just her face, the rich people hated her. Her story is interesting, you might seen this film, picture at left?

Parisian style architecture lines this pristine neighborhood, most visitors to the city will pass through here at some point as it is home to the Recoleta cemetery where Evita Peron’s body was buried. It is strange her body was stolen then restored as display next to her husband who died later. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18616380

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Teatro Colón (Colón Theater) a place among the world’s top five opera theaters.breathtaking in size, and has a grand central chandelier with 700 lights to illuminate the 3,000 mere mortals in its red-velvet seats!I was not prepare seeing an opera or ballet like that. Highly recommend.

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International Sign Language – I love to meet 20160325_204336.jpgDeaf people during my travels, their different sign language inspired me to learn. i met these lovely people and they signed Argentine Sign Language, at first we were bit struggle to understand each other so we gestured and used google translation from Spanish language. Most counties have their own language just like a spoken language. . Most counties used international sign languages useful when travelling and socializing. International Sign Definition.

Deaf people are used to trying to communicate with people who do not speak their signed language,  there is other ways of communicating non-verbally.  When two such deaf persons get together, then, yes, they can find common ground far more quickly than two hearing people speaking different languages.

Random facts: The standard greeting in Argentina is a kiss on one cheek; men kiss women and vice versa, women kiss women, and men kiss men, whether meeting for the very first time or having already seen one another several times in the same day. Note that failing to greet each person in a group with a kiss is considered rude.

Celebrate Day – Most countries celebrate the Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc, i was surprised they introduced Friend’s Day, a day dedicated entirely to friendships. In the early 1970s, an Argentinian scholar founded Dia del Amigo after he felt connected to everyone on Earth when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Friend’s Day is an official holiday in Buenos Aires, although it is not a national public holiday. Friends gather, parties are held, and everyone gets together late at night to celebrate friendship on July 20th of every year.

Buenos Aires is one of the most exciting places to be on the planet right now, so pack your dancing shoes and get ready for an adventure!

Black heart (cards)Next will be last post on Brazil Black heart (cards)  

Surreal Salt Flats – Bolivia Part 3 of 5

20160319_0958204) Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat located in southwest Bolivia. These are others salt flats that you should check out. It was an incredible experience, will return in wet season for sure! There is so much to see that it’s hard to share it all in one post, so i hope i have covered everything below. 😀

Salt flats contain approximately 10 billion tons of salt. The environment, which has been described as ‘haunting’, is covered with more than 4,000 square miles of glimmering salt, different from the traditional sand you see in deserts.

Mirror – l highly recommend you to see the reflection, which is like a mirror, it stretches the sky and clouds into the ground you are standing on. The best time to visit is during the wet season. I would love to go there again, since there are so many different angles and picturesque landscapes that it is hard to get bored.

Book the right tour – I have read that there have been many bad experiences when it comes to booking cheap tours online, which can be down to a lack of research, cheap packages and no insurance. Gain better knowledge on these countries, talk to people with experience, visit travel agencies in person so that you can negotiate prices. This helped me to find out that we had a very safe driver booked, which was vital as we did spend a lot of time on the road. It makes your trip easier and the journey more pleasant

Day 1  – We overnighted in Uyuni, the drive taking approximately 4-5 hours from Potosi. It is a small town situated in the middle of nowhere. There is an amazing pizzeria in the little town. I loved that the small town was paved with hard salt, although it was a long walk to the shops, restaurants, and some hotels did offer taxis.

Day 2 –  It takes roughly 4 hours to get to Salar de Uyuni.  You can see the start of the journey, and how the salt flats pattern start off rough before becoming harder.

Antique train cemetery – a stunning part of the world I’ve never seen anything like a train graveyard before, much less in the middle of a dry desert. This visit does not cost, and takes less than half an hour before we move on. You can climb up and pretend you are Harrison Ford, although maybe don’t jump on top of the trains!

The engineers were invited by British sponsored Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Companies. These trains were broken, rusted, ruined and abandoned in 1892. My thought was rest in peace! There are other train graveyards in other countries too.

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2012-06-04-159-Uyuni-salt-flatsSalt flats! Finally we carried on to the salt flats where we spent a couple of hours taking perspective pictures and admiring the sunset. Some drivers kindly stepped in and got involved with this part of the trip, suggesting ideas and playing the photographer. It’s so bright that you can struggle with a smartphone camera, so I was left wishing I had brought a professional camera. The sun seemed to go down very fast and with tight schedule, we couldn’t spend as much time here as I would have liked.

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Eco-lodge and a green hotel – We spend the first night in an eco-lodge hotel entirely built from salt! (no steaming hot showers and with eco-toilets), and with sweeping landscapes around. I wish to stay a bit longer and wake up to that amazing view. The rooms themselves are unique, full of little luxuries and stone details. The night can get chilly, but the hotel supplies many blankets. The restaurant was a simple seating area made out of salt, with salt stool and, yes you’ve guessed it, a carpet of salt!

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I loved this gorgeous view all around us like a huge park; you can see animals everywhere and a huge lagoon. Look at the llama showing off, he sure reminds me of someone.

Day 3 – Cactus Island, Lagoons, Flamingos, Mountains, Dali desert and Geysar! – We woke up before dawn, and it was so cold that I almost wished I had a hat and gloves. The drivers did an amazing job with the unmarked roads.

Isla Incahusai / Cactus Island –  You can buy tickets to hike between the cacti up and over the top of the hill, to see the scale of the salt flats. The climb is a bit rocky, so wear good footwear, and if you suffer from altitude sickness like I do, you should be OK. It took us half an hour to get to the top, where the air is thinner. Watch out for what you grab on the way up – there are lots of cacti around!

Google told me this was “Fish Island” but unfortunately this is a dried out sea bed. Each of the cacti grow 1cm per year, meaning some are hundreds of years old. I sat next to a very soft llama, my first encounter up close!

Laguna Verde – unlike the name would suggest in Spanish, is not really green. It is a very toxic lake which no animals go near. It is very windy and cold in this area, so dress appropriately. NASA used this lake as part of their experiment for missions to Mars, as this is the only lake in the world with the highest content of lead, sulphur, arsenic and calcium carbonates.

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Laguan Verde – green-ish colour, it is worth seeing.

Laguna Colorada –There are lots of beautiful lagoons and this is one of the gems. I spent most of my time in Bolivia with my mouth wide open. A remarkable, unforgettable view thanks to the sun.

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Laguna Colorada – This is my favorite picture,it makes me appreciate nature how amazing it is. (No filters). That caused by red sediments and pigmentation of the algae, which turned almost blood-like in appearance.
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Chilean young flamingos are born a greyish colour but range from light pink to bright red as they grow, thanks to the seafood they munch. They ran away at speed when you venture close! They feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae lagoon.
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One of my favorite spots, which was so beautiful with brown and orange rocks to climb up and watch the view.

5) Two nights in Chile It is a long, narrow country that extends from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean on the south-west of South America. I love the small laid-back tourist town with its unique character, and Moon Valley (which you can catch a glimpse of) and Death Valley are not that far.

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Chilean dogs – When I first came here I was surprised by the number of stray dogs, some of them who circled us strangers, it feel like it’s a dog’s world! After I talked to the shopkeeper (via translation on mobile phone), she explained they were abandoned by their owners and advised not stroking them as they were hungry and would come back for more once they knew your scent. They generally don’t bother anyone, and cats and dogs often wander in and out of restaurants, very casually.

One pack of around 7 or 8 feral dogs were hanging around and playing, I could see some of them were very hungry, baking in the sunshine. If not for locals who are looked after them in passing. Some dogs seemed to remember people well when they returned a few months later, which was amazing.

All the pictures were shot on my samsung edge mobile.

Next post: Black heart (cards)Salta and Buenos Aires (Argentina)Black heart (cards)  

 

 

Latin America – March 2016 Part 1 of 5

6936-Bolivia_travel_guideIt’s been a year since I published about Iceland. My friend suggested South America, but I hesitated, wondering how safe it was. A good friend of mine, Bimali, mentioned that the salt flats were not to be missed – and ever since, I have REALLY wanted to check it out.

I am glad that I challenged myself. It was the most AMAZING experience I have ever had. The awe-inspiring landscapes, scenery, amazingly affordable food, fascinating culture and potential for adventure!

If you are worried about any risks, do your homework, talk to lots of fellow travellers, book a good tour (check good reviews), or find someone who lives locally who can be a guide – I found some lovely people through friends’s friends’s via facebook and facetime. They were also profoundly deaf like me, and there will always be a communication barrier, but it’s like any language where people struggle as well.

This mainly Spanish-speaking continent is unlike others (in the hugely diverse Brazil, which has half the continent’s population, Brazilian Portuguese is spoken). My 24-day trip to South America was an exhilarating, safe experience. We visited the following cities in four different countries (South America has 12 countries in total):

La Paz •Sucre • Potosí • Uyuni • Salt Flats (Bolivia) • San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) • Salta • Buenos Aires (Argentina) • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

From London, we flew for 17 hours across the Pacific via Miami. We had many long commutes to explore eight cities which took entire days, but this is not a continent of very cheap internal air travel or high speed trains; if losing days travelling bums you out, or don’t appreciate vast landscapes, I would advise taking three to five months to really explore the continent at least.

1) La Paz (Bolivia) is the highest capital city in the world, touching the clouds at 12,00 above feet above sea level. It is surrounded by mountains, steep streets and unbelievable views. As wikitravel says: ‘La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, while Sucre is the constitutional capital and the seat of the Supreme Court. La Paz was established in 1548, and is in the Andes. Altitude of the city ranges from about 4,058 m (13,313 ft) above sea level in El Alto (where the airport is located) to 3,100 m (10,170 ft) in the lower residential area.’

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Food – We enjoyed two days in Bolivia and the food is affordable and tasty! The staple foods in Bolivia is very much centered around vegetables. There is a well-known joke that it’s cheaper to eat out in than to cook at home. You definitely won’t have to worry about breaking the bank. Via good reviews on TripAdvisor we discovered a brilliant vegan restaurant called Tierra Sana.

Bolivian’s love soup – I was amazed at the endless varieties on soup, such as the yellow peanut soup, which includes ground peanuts. I expected smooth vegetables in it but it was made of vegetable chunks – very nutritious. You may also have heard of this infamous Munchies soup.

Altitude sickness for some people – Many South American countries are above sea level – like Colombia, where my sister suffered from temporary loss of hearing in one ear thanks to the high altitudes for a couple of days, as was my experience in Bolivia for two days – I also had a strange time due to a faster heart rate. Some of the symptoms can include fatigue, anxiety, fast heart beating, headaches, problems breathing, nausea, vomiting, sleeping problems, vertigo or dizziness among others.

Gabi, my team leader for G-Adventure tour, explained: ‘These are symptoms of altitude, you can buy tablets (basically just aspirin and caffeine) to help with that, but really what happens is your body is lacking oxygen, you have to give it a couple of days for your body to adjust. I strongly recommend you take coca leaf tea, it’s what the locals take and have been taking for over 5000 years, you find it everywhere and it helps with the symptoms’.

But altitude sickness doesn’t affect everyone. If you suffer for more than three days then you should enquire about seeing a doctor; I pulled through by chewing on cocoa leaves and taking regular rest. Acclimatising, basically.

Two weeks after my holiday, I watched a great documentary called The Fearless Chef on channel 4 on UK television, about how much processed food there is around the world. He started his trip in Bolivia, where the coca leaf is harvested and used as a herb in tea and cooking. I was amazed how they use zip lines (like cable or rope) despite the risk of death. The team came across a two-mile wide valley which was more than 4,000 metres high. Instead of hiking from anywhere between one and three hours to get to the cocoa leaf farm, the zip lines took 30 seconds. These zip lines were invented in 1955 by Don Ignacio.

bolivia_coca_leaves_2011_06_30_2Economy – Some people know of cocoa leaves for another reason – yes, ‘coca’ sounds like cocaine…the drug is produced here illegally because of the leaves becoming a paste, but that’s not why Bolivia has so much production; there is a lot of mining here (I will talk more about my visit to the mines in next post), but the country never profited from producing pure minerals alone. Setting the law aside, from the seventies on Bolivia became known for cocaine production, and in the next decades business grew. The government tried to ban all illegal coca by 2002, and put restrictions into place as to who could buy the leaves.

The leaves themselves are legal. Coca is so good for your body for other things; chew on a leaf or brew some tea if you’re hungry, if you are cold or like I was, suffering from a high altitude.

Food Market – It is mind blowing to see so much fresh vegetables and fruit in such big sizes! I have never seen hundreds of different potatoes before, such as ocha sweet potato! I saw the biggest pumpkin ever, weighing something like 58 pounds. They grow underground during winter.

 

Women – The Aymara women really made Bolivia memorable for me – dressed up in bowler hats, layers of big colourful skirts (large hips are favoured culturally) and embroidered shawls. They often sat in this traditional dress on the roadside, working in the hot sun, selling things in rows with each other. They also wore colourful hand woven blankets on their backs to either carry a baby or items such as food. 

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Witch Market – I came across lots of these different markets which sold items as strange as dried llama fetuses (!), frogs, turtles, and snakes. Apparently, these things bring good luck, and are used in rituals, and for home remedies. The goddess Pachamama is one main focus in the sacrifice of these animals. 

An Aymara could for example bury a dead llama under the foundations of a newly built house for good luck, or use it before getting a new car, or for fertility.Death-Road-Bolivia

Infamous Death Road My group cycled that terrifying route, thankly before i joined them!

History The first call for independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, he was one of the first fighters for independence in latin america. His name inspired Bolivia’s name. Bolivar = Bolivia.


2) Overnight bus to Sucre for 12 hours, yes i don’t know how we got through it?!  The coach was comfortable, it have toilet and they have small TVs in the hall which was great. The overnight buses are generally cheap than flight. 

I now know why it called colonial white city, everywhere i turned these are all white buildings. There is beautiful park where people hang around called Plaza 25 de Mayo, Surce’s main square. It is like when we wandered off four to five blocks in any direction and we came across that look the same.

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I loved the way they dressed like Zebras and danced in middle of busy road, very entertaining! They guided people crossing the street, perhaps i never have to worry when i across!

Famous Para Ti Chocolate – This chocolate must to be experienced! Across the main street, there is a cafe for hot drinks. The tables were decorated with cocoa beans, showing another great reason for cocoa beans to exist: they are used to make chocolate. We enjoyed some handmade little chocolates which were of such good quality. You can see the other meals we had in the picture sideshow above.

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Climbing I didn’t get involved with this activity, but here is a beautiful view of Sucre after the rest of the folks in my group treked 20 minutes to get up this rock, before arriving at their rock-climbing destination. The group were climbed over for roughly one or two hours before it get dark. 

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♥ Next – Potosi, Uyuni and Salt Flats ♥

 

 

 

 

Potosi, Bolivia Part 2 of 5

3) The travel time is 4 – 5 hours to Potosi from Sucre, it goes back up to high altitude and is 4060 meters above sea level and there is a winding road to get there. 

Potosi is famed for its mountain Cerro Rico. It is known as the ‘mountain that eats men’ because a lot of workers died in the mines. Because of the mountain the Spanish became rich when they invaded South America in the 16th century, it gave them more than enough silver to build the bridge from Potosí to Madrid. More than 10,000 people worked in the mines and mined 60,000 tons of silver. Silver is now long gone, but the mining still goes on for the economy, and helps with tourism – former miners now run tours! Potosí, was one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the world, but now it is the poorest city in Bolivia.

The Devil’s Mine – Before the group decided to join a scheduled mine tour, we watched a documentary to learn about about mines. I recommend you wThe_Devils_Miner_Posteratch this winning festival documentary in 5 countries, a very touching film.  It is about a fourteen year-old boy’s story as a Potosi miner. We were awe-struck throughout the entire movie; anyone outside there who complains about their first world problems should watch it. Mining has gone on for over 500 years, and most people that have worked there have lost their freedom.

The film was made in 2005, after that a lot of NGOs (A non-governmental organisation) came to help children to keep them in school. Work conditions have improved a bit but are still dangerous and miners are still underpaid. Tourism increases help and other organisations contribute and offer support. 

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Picture enclosed left: That boy is 10 years old – he sells these rock boards he made himself. My friend and myself came across him and we decided to give him money to get by. He chased us and tried to get us to take the stone board. So sweet, you can see all types of rocks that come from the mountains.

That comment caught my eyes. “Simply filming it looked harrowing. I asked Kief Davidson (one of the directors) if he had been scared at all or found filming in such dangerous conditions challenging. He mentioned that in one scene, where they are examining the Devil in a particular mine, one of the boys looks round suddenly a moment or two before the scene cuts.

The reason (not shown in the film) was that there had been an explosion (unexploded dynamite is a constant hazard) and the miners wanted to get out before the tunnel collapsed and killed them all. But what worried them more was the fact that the film crew attempted to take some of the trappings from the Devil’s altar.  

As a footnote, Kief Davidson (at the Edinburgh International Film Festival) told me how the film company, together with a local sponsor from the first screening, had managed to ensure that for those two boys at least, the dream become reality.” 

Tour – When I wanted to sign up for a tour to see how they work,  I was worried about being exposed to noxious chemicals, gases etc and thought what if it can collapse anytime? but when I asked Gabi ‘where are these boys from the documentary now?’ imagine my excitement when she said Bernardino (Basilio’s little brother) is going to be my guide! They were 14 and 12 years old in the film, sadly we didn’t see Basilio as he was busy with his tourism studies.  Other tourists might not have had the opportunity to see the documentary but I was happy to get this by signing up with G-Adventure! My friend and myself were amazed by how Bernardino walked into a cave like the dangers didn’t faze him. He is around 20 years old now and he has been working as a guide along with his older brother.

We were given overalls to put on, wellington boots, equipment such as a helmet with a lamp and mask even though you still are exposed. The tour began with a visit to the miner’s market where they stocked up on dynamite, cigarettes and other essentials. Gabi explained “In the past, gifts weren’t expected, but with the growing number of tourists, you’d be very unpopular if you didn’t supply a handful of coca leaves and a few cigarettes – luxuries for which the miners’ meager earnings are scarcely sufficient”. After the miners market we went to a processing plant to see how they process the materials they extract from the mines. 

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We missed out on the explanations from the guide because we are profoundly deaf but one girl called Jasmin from the group was very kind to text what was said on her mobile and Gabi, the team leader emailed before the next day so we got the idea. That tour company my agency organised was run by ex-miners and all the profits we paid for the tour went directly to guides themselves. I was told that the dangers of going into mines and seeing people’s suffering  might make me feel stunned or ill afterward.

My friend hesitated but joined at the last minute! I was all up for it but i sat it out at the last minute when i approached that hole pitch entrance -its not good idea if you are claustrophobic, my friend was so brave to go ahead and spent a couple of hours crawling through narrow muddy passageways.

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The guide said miners usually die of silicosis after ten to twenty years of working in the mines. There are no other job possibilities in Potosi, they know the dangers that exist in order to provide for their families. He also told us about El Tiodevil-like spirit in the shape of a statue, there are other god statues my friend have seen.

History – They forced the local people to work 24hr shifts in the mines and they only had four hours of sleep, they kept awake with coca leaves. When the native Bolivians tried to rebel they introduced fear of the devil god statues to keep them in line. Lots of children were made orphans and had to work at a really young from 12 to 14 and they became the heads of their households. The laws against child labour are ignored. It is interesting to see that they chewed coca leaves to prevent tiredness and hunger and because it increases their strength. Do you know that the children are earning only $2 a day.(£1.37)?


20160316_123700Basilio’s little brother, Bernardino It was an honor to meet him after watching him as a child in the film. He spoke a bit of English and he found it easy to gesture to us as he saw that we were using British Sign Language (BSL). He understood that we felt left out a bit as he kindly took us to the processing plant and explained while the other guide talked to the group.   
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Right picture: that was him in the film when he was 11 years old. His father who was not a miner died relatively young. His brother Basilio become the breadwinner of the family. 
Below: The other guide showed us how they rig up the dynamite with the cord that you light and then blew up a big mound of dirt in a hole, just to show us an explosion.

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I would recommend you to visit just to experience what the miners are having to live with. That deaf man i met in the supermarket had said he worked in the mountain for few years but eventually he managed to get out and is now working in supermarket. He also said it is not easy for deaf people here with no deaf awareness, about 23 deaf people are working in mountains he heard. Traveller’s describes a great story about a mine tour.

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IMG-20160316-WA0012Casa Nacional de la Moneda (National House of the Mint) is a huge building, and now its a museum, dating back to 1572 and is where the silver from Cerro Ricco was minted into coins. A strange statue of a grinning face hangs over the courtyard in the museum, which is kind of suitable to show the greed of the Spanish. 

 

The security guard was kind and gave us a grand tour, just us around a huge museum while it was closed which was cool. She passionately described through gestures each machinery, but an hour and half hour later we realized we missed our meeting! 

This is a definite must do in Potosi. The English tour was excellent and there are baby mummies there too.

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You can see from the slideshow that shows the display that there are tools, machines coins of different eras and jewelry work of precious metals amazing all from mountain. I can’t imagine doing a very physically big job but its much easier in modern times. 

Next post: Black heart (cards) Uyuni to Salt Flats Black heart (cards)   I hope you enjoy the journey with me 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iceland – spectacular beauty country

Of all the capital cities I’ve visited, Reykjavík is my favorite. Not only is it highly walkable and visually stunning, I’m 99% sure that it’s impossible to get a bad meal or sub-par cup of coffee in that little city! I spent 3 days there but now I wish I planned for more time! The country was so breathtaking and I am itching to go back and explore in future. It’s true that Iceland is very expensive but definitely worth every penny.

Random pictures of Reykjavík city

Grand Golden Circle tour

I wish I had thought about Iceland’s South Coast & Volcanoes Tour to see famous volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers and black sand beaches. Unfortunately we had a budget for 3 tours and only 3 days to explore the city, so it was a bit tricky. I will bear it in mind for my next visit!

The Grand Golden Circle tour was fantastic despite facing snow, hail, rain and wind all in one day!  The stops were well scheduled and we always had enough time. The tour was on a small bus (15 people) which was ideal as it had a more personal touch instead of a ‘coach trip’ feel.

Faxi waterfall
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Gullfoss waterfall

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Geyser: cold water wants to go down while hot water wants to come up – tension – it blows up.
National Park Thingvellir, including the Rift valley and the Rock of law witch was the site of the first Viking parliament.
National Park Thingvellir, including the Rift valley and the Rock of law witch was the site of the first Viking parliament.

Chasing the northern lights – Stokkyaoke east south 

I was told the best season to see the northern lights in Iceland is from September to mid-April. I would recommend checking the aurora and weather forecast online yourself and then booking if it looks promising.

We booked this tour in advance for the first night of our trip; we knew that seeing the lights is a matter of luck and we would have time to rebook for the next few nights in case we missed it the first time. The tour company emailed us at around 6pm to let us know the tour was cancelled due to bad weather conditions (luckily we had WiFi access) and we booked onto the tour for the next day.

It was such a relief to get the go ahead for the second night. Right after our return from the Golden Circle tour, we geared up and made sure we wore thick layers.

From 10pm to 1am, we were so exhausted and at 1 degrees celsius it was bloody freezing! We saw a green haze and not the dancing dazzling display we were hoping for. After an hour and 15 minutes of watching the sky we returned to the coach to have free hot chocolate and donuts- a really nice touch! After 2 stops, the tour guide stopped the bus so we could all get out, we saw an incredible green sky which is impossible to describe but was as good as many of the postcard images you often see.

The Northern Lights near a place called Stokkseyri which is in the southern part of Iceland (South East from Reykjavík) with a lovely lady Boglárka who kindly gave me copies of her pictures. What a time for my camera to stop working!

The Blue Lagoon Experience 

After 5 hours there including the journey, I felt so relaxed and fell asleep in my bedroom as soon as I arrived back at the hotel! (or perhaps i had been too excited!)

Read the guide! – I researched a little before going but after the experience, I wish I had looked at the information thoroughly as I had major issues with my hair feeling extremely rough and strawlike. This was because I hadn’t tied my hair up before going into the lagoon. You’ll receive good-to-know tips plus a short guide video before you visit Blue Lagoon. 

Use hair conditioner – The Blue Lagoon water has high levels of silica. Silica is not harmful to hair. However, if you get your hair wet from the water, it can become stiff and difficult to manage. I highly recommend you apply conditioner to your hair and leave it in while you bathe or even if you condition your hair, don’t let it touch the water. Complimentary conditioner is provided in the shower area.  Use a lot of conditioner, your hair will deffo be a bit dry, you will survive, your hair will survive, just have a good time, that’s what it’s all about!

This reminded me of a spa i went to Bath Spa,London though that wasn’t especially good. The land in the Blue Lagoon is natural, as you can feel the lava that shapes the pool under; I was surprised the water is actually the result of run off from the geothermal plant next door that you can see in the distance.

Being the kind of girl who loves extreme heat, I thought the water wouldn’t be hot enough for me, but it turns out it was super-hot! When I was on bus, I can see the steam is coming out and I knew it was the Blue Lagoon!

Spoilt for choice – There is a sauna and steam room, as well as an exclusive section. Spa treatments, including a massage on a float right in the lagoon! Ooh and there are 3 stations stocked with a silica mask you can put on your face for 10 minutes and then wash away.  There are cocktails / smoothie at the swim-up bar. (The wristbands are brilliant — you put all your purchases on them.  This also prevents people from buying more than three alcoholic drinks.) I also notice people wearing their wool hat! 

Blue Lagoon

Sadly it was too late when i reached the church as it closes at 5pm so I could not go to the top, but the view outside of its structure is amazing. I could have just stayed standing there to stare at the building’s exterior.

Iceland’s largest church – a landmark in Reykjavik

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I saw a lot of animal skin being used as part of jewelry, clothing and even aspects of home decoration – if you can see here seal, rabbit, fox, wolf, lamb, annao, reindeer. I suppose it’s due to the weather and keeping warm.

Svarta Kaffi Cafe

Thanks to friend’s recommend, just what i needed on a chilly day. This is a cozy bar upstairs that serves soup in a bread bowl. Amazing! The soup was hot, thick and filling and the bread was fresh and accompanied the soup perfectly. There were two soups to choose from, one meaty and one veggie. This makes for a very tasty and filling meal that doesn’t hurt your budget in a city where eating out can be quite expensive. Definitely recommended!

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Svarta Kaffi – best soup in Reykjavík!
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I was surprised to see this notice, from bathroom in the hotel!
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Seafood heaven food , so fresh – restaurant called Brasserie Askur, with fish dish on menu – you can access aisle to chose soup, bread and salad after only two serves before the fish main arrive – wow.  Crepes at different ice cream cafe called Elder and Is. Yummy!
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I am not surprised plenty of fish in finger than UK. One fish finger had me feel full!
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Colourful random pictures of Reykjavík
First class on my flight – Apology from icelandair airline for mention deaf and dumb on my boarding ticket!

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