Week 4 in Florianopolis

Week 4 in Florianopolis

We have been in Brazil 4 weeks already!

Truth be told, I feel like we have been here for much longer then a month, infact I’ve almost completely forgotten about the UK and my old life. Seems a little funny to say “old life” but from now on that is what it will be! The only thing about the UK that I remember and miss is of course my family (and good restaurants!) but I have been in contact with them via Facetime and Whatsapp which is almost as good as being there in person.

A Tale of 2 Halves

The beginning of the week we were trapped. Trapped in our apartment, trapped in cafe’s, trapped in restaurants, trapped in shops. Trapped because the weather that we had been promised on all of the weather charts we had perused before coming here failed to mention the most important fact: that this part of Brazil still had the occasional storm which sometimes lasted the entire day. There was absolutely we could do about it apart from making sure that we had enough food provisions at home in cases of emergency, in this instance and emergency was: downpours of rain that came suddenly but lasted a long time, and despite the air still being warm the rain was not: it was ice cold.

Having an apartment on the beach was obviously a bonus when the weather was good but when it was wet and stormy like this it was not. Ominous, heavy black skies spread overhead with thunder and lightening that shook the skies and churned the seas knocking the sails off of the millionaires boats docked in the bay.

During the day when the rain did calm down it was a ghost town. We struggled to find places that had frequent opening times or better ye, that served good food and coffee. We were reduced to spending most of our time in the Supermarket Cafe, and when the weather was better, Cafe Cultura which was located in Jurere’s Open Shopping Centre. Thankfully we had work to do so the time passed quickly, I fear if we had nothing to do or worse yet was on holiday and therefore had limited time, then we would have been much more affected by the weather. But as it was, we had another 3 weeks of Florionopolis to enjoy and explore, and we were determined to enjoy all that it had to offer us.

My Mum had an operation on her knee. This was something that she had been dreading, and thus had me a little concerned as I knew that she was worried about it and neither myself or my sister would be there to be with her. Obviously my brothers were still around but with one of them otherwise occupied with the birth of his first son and my older brother awaiting the birth of his first daughter, I knew that it would be up to my youngest brother to make sure that she was okay. Thankfully the operation seems to have been a success. She had an injection in her knee, a new type of procedure using plasma which was supposed to be a more effective way of easing the pain. If the injection didn’t work then the hospital had spoken of doing knee operation which I know she wasn’t keen on doing and I didn’t blame her!

My Dad had a knee op a couple of years ago and his knee has never been the same again. Infact I know that he wishes he didn’t bother and my Mum’s knee was/is much worse then his. Alas it seems that since having it the pain in her knee that was causing her to be in continual pain and limp, has largely gone. I really hope that this continues!

What I have realised during all of my jaunts around the world is that loss of mobility is a terrible thing. In old age this is almost a guarantee so I’m hoping that I can delay it or minimise it as much as possible. The world is a big place awaiting discovery. I would hate to have my movement restricted because of poor health.

By now we had ventured to every recommended coffee shop and most of the restaurants in the area and we still had nowhere that we could reliably recommend to friends and family so we had resigned ourselves to the fact that buffets and bbq’s were part of the culture in Brazil, we couldn’t escape them, but where ever possible we would try to avoid them. Knowing this and because we were running out of available options we tried 2 other restaurants in the area which we had previously walked past, as we didn’t find them particularly appealing. Both restaurants were 2 person meal restaurants, which was basically just another buffet alternative. We had encountered this before in Campeche, Centro and in Canasveiras but after asking whether they had any other menu’s and being told no, we realised that like it or not we’d have to order the same dish because that was the only way they did it! Goodness only knows what would happen if one of us was a vegetarian, or if Josh (who was celiac) actually stuck to his gluten free diet, we would both be done for! Thankfully we pretty much like eating the same thing anyway so we chose our dish and crossed our fingers that it was cooked properly. Thankfully both the chicken we ordered there and the Carbonara that we ordered in the other 2 person meal restaurant was quite good so we have put them both on our “Okay” list. Bare in mind the food only qualify’s as okay, not good. We only have 1 restaurant on the “Good” list, meaning we would return and would recommend to friends and family if they visited Florianopolis and thankfully we planned to go back to our Good restaurant the following night.

Jay’s Bistro

Impressed with the quality of the food, the presentation, the variety and the service, we booked a table at Jay’s. The last time we had been there I ordered their Patagonian Lamb dish that came with a truffle risotto, and then mistakenly ordered truffle again for dessert, which was an inventive truffle creme brulee with raspberry sorbet (thinking it would be chocolate truffle not truffle truffle), and I did not want to make that mistake again as I was all truffled out!

This time I had the quite plain sounding “whitefish” main course. Remembering our horrific experience eating fish at the islands supposedly top johnny seafood restaurant I almost didn’t order it but then I contrasted the meal at Marisqueira Sintra to the meal that I had previously had at Jay’s and there was no contest. Jay’s was head and shoulders above anything those people had conjured up in there diabolical establishment and they should be bloody ashamed of themselves running a food business when their fish wasn’t fresh and most certainly wasn’t tasty.

I had scallops for my first course, which was perfectly cooked in a tomato and bacon flavoured sauce, and unlike when you order scallops at fine dining restaurants in London and you only get around 3 of them, they very generously gave me 9! So by the time my main course arrived I was already feeling a little full but of course the food was so delicious that I couldn’t let it go to waste.

Wine isn’t really a thing here. They are much more into beer, infact they REALLY like beer. There’s lot’s of different varieties and they drink it throughout the day not just in the evening. Josh and I are partial to their Brazilian beer too, our favourite one is called Bohemia. We pick it up by the case load at the Supermarket so that we can easily take a few cans down to the beach to drink. I get the sense that the conditions aren’t quite right for wine making here so they make beer instead and import wine from Chile and Argentina usually. We tried some Chilean wine with dinner (white), but it was quite sweet. Almost like a dessert wine actually. I’m sure that they have some nice wines in Chile but I doubt very much they will beat French wine in my estimations.

My whitefish came with a banana puree which perfectly contrasted with it’s full flavour and meaty texture. It was drizzled with another creamy sauce also which took away some of the intense sweetness of the banana. The presentation was very beautiful and if I could have been bothered to I would have taken a picture but unfortunately I could not. I’m not doing very well with this picture taking business on this trip I have to admit, lol.

Josh’s dish of steak and frites tasted and looked much sexier then it sounds. The steak had been cut up into small strips, was cooked perfectly medium as he had asked and came with a delicious sauce that had alot of flavour and a little bit of heat (looks like they DO use chilli’s here afterall!)

Cinnamin seems to be the only spice they use here. They definitely do not use spice in the same way that we do, infact they seem to prefer a sweet taste rather then spicy heat. There is an abundance of inventive cakes here, and though I am a cake lover, having a proper meal is more enjoyable to me overall. Cake is to be had with a cup of tea or is the accompaniment to ones meal (if your belly isn’t full and sometimes even when it is!). It is not the meal itself.

I ordered the same truffle dessert as I wasn’t too keen on the sound of the lemon dessert they were offering. It wasn’t a cake and it wasn’t a tart but something in between.

Whilst we were at dinner I had a missed video call from my sister, including 2 of my brothers in a four way call. I didn’t even know that you could do a four way video call but apparently you could. I hadn’t spoken to my sister via Facetime for a couple of weeks, assuming that she, like myself, had been off doing her thing, enjoying her time in Bolivia and making the most of the time that she got back from pressing pause on her 9-5 life and as I wasn’t connected to wifi I couldn’t call her back until I got home but when I did call her back I got the shock of my life!

My sister was hooked up to an oxygen machine with a drip attached to her arm lying in a hospital bed!

I knew that she had arrived safely in Peru a few days ago – her second destination after being in Bolivia for a month as she had told the family via Whatsapp, but apparently she had become ill with some kind of stomach bug and couldn’t keep any food down so she called a Doctor to come and have a look at her but when the Doctor checked her oxygen levels she said that it was too low for the current altitude and then proceeded to call her an ambulance to take her to the hospital!

The Doctor said that she was probably suffering from altitude sickness in addition to having a food bug and they would need to monitor her and get her oxygen levels back up. Seeing her laying in that hospital bed on her own (her travelling partner was back at the hostel), was utterly awful. I felt completely powerless as I imagined how strange it must have felt for her to be alone in this strange country which she had only just arrived in, to now be in a hospital bed, being told by these foreign doctors and nurses that she would have to stay overnight whilst they tried to ascertain what bug she had that would cause her to not be able to keep down any food.

And the worst thing was that she didn’t want me to say a word to my Mum as she didn’t want her to be alarmed. Of course I understood from her point of view why she didn’t want Mum to know (she would freak out!) but that didn’t make it any easier for me. Her plan had been to climb Machiu Picchu in a couple of days, which would require her being in peak physical condition but I wasn’t sure that she should be planning anymore treks that would put her body under anymore undue pressure as she had already been sick and had to call a doctor when she was in Bolivia and I told her as much but at the end of the day it is up to her. It is her travels and she has to be the one to make the decisions as to what she wants to do and most importantly, what her body is capable of coping with.

But having a back to back itinerary without factoring much rest in for what already is a physically exhausting activity, baring in mind the altitude effects on the body, isn’t a smart idea. And there is certainly a way that she could still see/do many of the things she wants to without breaking her body in order to do so.

Thankfully they discharged her the following afternoon with a whole host of meds and she has since told Mum of her ordeal so hopefully that will be the end of it. From now on rather then assume that she’s okay I’m going to check in on her every couple of days to make certain she is.

Brazilians are really into their dogs. Perhaps even more so then children, lol. They certainly treat them like their children and most of them have one around here, usually the small fluffy kinds, otherwise known as handbag dogs, like chihuahua’s, shih tzu’s, pomeranians and french bulldogs and I have seen lots of breeds that I’ve never seen before too, and interesting colours of popular toy breeds.

I saw a lady with a black and white Pomeranian the other day, it had white fluffy hair with 2 black spots on it’s face – super cute. Alas Josh has convinced me that getting a dog would absolutely not be a good idea as it would require us to hold back on our travelling (which naturally isn’t an option). As it is our cats Frankie and Sansa are cared for by our lodger whilst we’re away and to be honest with you on a day to day basis we forget about them and back home completely, as this is our life now. Cats are very different from dogs as they are quite self sufficient and so long as they are being fed they largely do not care whose around or not, which suits us just fine. We go away so often that they are used to not seeing us but that would be cruel if we had dogs. Still, it doesn’t stop me daydreaming about having one (though not about picking up their doo doo or having to take them on walks in the rain!).

People here are very laid back and family orientated, they are a very communicative people, open and at ease. They are also very tactile with one another which is lovely to see. Even the older generation hold hands as they walk down the street.

Joaquina Beach

After a week or so of rain, heavy skies and storms the weather forecast changed it’s gloomy forecast to something more to our liking: Wall to wall sunshine for the last 2 weeks of our stay in Floripa.

We had been largely planning our days based on the forecast – and today was the day to start doing the things that we’d had to shelve due to bad weather. Joaquina Beach was one of the beaches (out of the incredible 42+) that were on the island, that we wanted to visit. It actually was pretty near to Campeche but had been too far for us to walk to at the time, and it took around an hour to get there door to door from our apartment.

The contrast between the past couple of days in the streets was stark. Where before there was hardly anyone walking the streets now there was people everywhere. In the shops, standing in groups talking on the street, crossing the road, people all over the place. Even the cafe that we went to where we were usually one of their only customers was packed to the brim with people. And what was the difference between yesterday and today? – the sun was the difference. The sun drew all of these people from wherever they had been hiding and now they were out in full affect. It was nice driving through the colourful streets of Florianopolis, watching all of the people going about their daily business. After all of that rain it seemed as though the whole island was determined to make the very most of this beautiful day.

The one thing we did notice was how undeveloped many parts of town were, and in ignorance I guess, I also wasn’t aware that favela’s existed in Brazil outside of Rio, but they do. A favela is basically just a shanty town, where low income people live, that has largely been neglected by the government as if it doesn’t exist but of course it, and the people who live in them do exist. The traffic was heavy, but as promised the sun was relentless, I guessed many of these people were heading to the exact same place as us: The beach, though which one of the 42 they would go to was yet to be revealed!

Joaquina Beach was packed. I mean packed like there were so many bodies on the beach that we could hardly even see the sand beneath them packed. All of the people had umbrella’s up and when we first arrived it was very difficult to even see a path where we would be able to walk through. It was INSANE. The beach wasn’t as wide and long as Campeche (which was an utter dream of a beach), but what I simply could not understand is why people insisted on being bunched up next to each other like sardines in a can. Not to mention the fact that they wouldn’t be able to see anything: there was no privacy whatsoever, and you could hear the conversation of the body laying next to you (who you did not even know), not to mention feel their body heat on what already was a spectacularly hot day. NO thank you!

My immediate reaction was that I wanted to turn back and go home. I’m not into crowded beaches and this one was overcrowded to the max. However Josh could see that there was an area where we would be able to go where there was much much less people. First we climbed up the huge rock formations that overlooked the beach and the wild waves below, where lots of surfers liked to go.

Alas today, probably due to the prominent red flags all over the beach, there were no surfers out. The sea was unruly, spitting up lots of heaving white foam that didn’t look friendly at all. Swimming? Forget about it. Surfing? No chance.

And to think I had been considering having beginner surfing lessons here! I had read that this beach was one of the best places in Floripa to do that but judging by the fact that I could see no surf boards out I doubted that today was the best day to do so. If even the pro’s weren’t out then what chance did I have?

There is some kind of herd mentality here. They all seem to do alot of the same things: Big into beauty, love dogs, bbq’s, buffets, steaks and sunbathing. They don’t swim much. They prefer to sunbathe or go on long beach walks. To be fair to them actually they are much more active then me as all I do on a beach is sunbathe, read, snooze, go for a walk, people watch and swim, whereas they are big into playing games, whether that be bat and ball (very popular in Brazil), volleyball or even football (girls play too and from what I can see they are just as good as the boys, they even do headers and football tricks). Very impressive ladies!

The view from the rocks was an absolute sight to behold, but the problem was that there was just far too many people up there. Too many people on the rocks, definitely too many people posing on the rocks for their Instagram accounts no doubt and far too many people on the beach itself. In contrast, our more family orientated beach was much more to our liking. Though there was the occasional annoying overexcited child running about the place and screeching as they plunged head first into the sea, it was still much less populated here, which was just aswell because our beach was much more narrow then here.

Joaquina was a very wide beach but that didn’t make much difference to us as it was still it was wall to wall with Brazilian bodies who were seemingly unaware that there were other places they could sunbathe which didn’t mean that someones Brazilian bum would be in their faces! We walked further down the beach and settled ourselves near to the sand dunes which the beach backed onto. It was quite similar to Campeche, in that it was a very wide beach, the sand, a soft, thick and unbelievably silky texture, with natural sand dunes with grassy banks and a wild and powerful tide, though the water wasn’t as icy cold as Campeche had been.

Joaquina beach had those distinctive rock formations in the sea and was supposedly more beginner friendly for surfers (though today I couldn’t possibly see how), plus there were more sand dunes here, you could even do “sand dune surfing”, which intrigued me. But in Campeche, even though the sea’s had been wilder, I spotted far more dead big black “desert beetles”, the water was indescribably cold and too rough to venture into, it was much less populated and had an alluring and magical beauty that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

After a deliciously wonderful time sunbathing on Joaquina beach in relative peace and quiet, we ventured into the tumultus seas to feel it’s power. The best you could do in a powerful tide such as this was to attempt to jump the waves (which were pretty high). I wasn’t very good at the game because my timing was off, coupled with my bikini becoming dislodged in the wave surge causing my boobs to pop out. I really need to invest in one of these bloody Brazilian bikini’s!

I stood out as a foreigner as we were the only non Brazilians on the beach and I was wearing the tell tale signs of a European bikini. Everyone else was wearing the Brazilian style and since I was yet to find one I was stuck wearing my granny style bikini pants which I was increasingly coming to hate.

Joaquina was a much more developed beach then Jurere and especially Campeche, with a few restaurants to choose from. We ended up having lunch at a (you guessed it) “buffet establishment”, which was very dirty, with tissues all over the floor which were never picked up by the very busy staff (some of whom weren’t wearing any shoes), crumbs on mats (which again was never picked up by the staff), it was a generally disorganised and very noisy restaurant. But the food that I could see coming out looked decent, the place seemed very popular, and I really couldn’t be assed to go trawling through the beach bodies in order to find another restaurant which wasn’t likely to be any better!

We didn’t trust them enough to order anything elaborate anyway so we just ordered an omelette and chips. Not fancy but hey, I have avoided being ill thus far. I would very much like that to continue. My omelette was pretty good but Josh’s was undercooked. The chips were decent. Alas because of the state of the place and the fact that nobody in there seemed to care, I will not be returning. After another decent amount of sunbathing and jumping the waves it was time to go. Almost. There was just one more thing that we wanted to see, and do.

We found an Acai place first. We were never too far away from an Acai restaurant. The Brazilians had capitalised on this tasty fruit and now there were places all over the island serving it. We even had a tub at home which we had bought from the Supermarket and which we ate everyday without fail. It really is quite moorish and because it’s good for you, and we generally eat it with other guilt-free fruits such as mango, strawberry and banana, our thought is that we can never have too much. So we ordered some Acai bowls, and took our time and consumed them whilst we people watched. And there is always people watching to do in Brazil as the people can be very vain, lol.

Our plan was to connect to Wi-Fi whilst we were at the Acai restaurant so that we could call an Uber from there. Neither of us had our data turned on and were relying completely on Wi-Fi connection but the restaurant owner told us that she didn’t have Wi-Fi there so Josh had to turn on his data in order to call us an Uber. After trying to get one for about 20 minutes or so we finally decided to give up – there were apparently no Uber drivers available and people were now leaving the beach en masse, so we figured that they were probably trying to call Uber’s too and judging by the sheer amount of people that were there (it felt more like a festival then a casual day at the beach tbh), we decided to leave and start walking up the hill and sure enough, there was wall to wall traffic all the way up the hill leaving Joaquina.

The sand dunes that we had tried to find earlier where people could sand surf, finally came into view and it was the perfect time to watch as the sun was going down. Again I had to marvel as the exquisite texture of the sand here. I hadn’t felt sand this soft anywhere else in the world, not even in the Caribbean, and it was so clean. We walked to the top of a huge sand dune where we could see people lining up to have a go at this fun sport and watched them as the sun set. It did look fun, but I couldn’t see anyone “surfing” tbh, most people just sat on it rather then stand up and when I did see people try to stand on it and slide down they face planted in a most spectacular way, lol. Nonetheless it was hugely enjoyable to watch, and I would perhaps have had a go if there weren’t so many people watching me in earnest make a bloody fool of myself.

Once we had walked sufficiently far away from the beach we tried to call Uber again and got one straightaway. The Uber driver that arrived had a nice car which was very clean (I felt bad for putting my sandy body in it) and it smelt nice. But not even that could prevent us from sitting in the same traffic as everyone else as the whole beach decided to leave at exactly the same time. The journey back was horrendous. The roads are pretty bad as it is and these drivers don’t seem to know the meaning of driving slowly, and because of the heavy traffic it took even longer then it did to get there, and Josh had a really bad headache (brought on by the sun which was deceivingly hot I was guessing) so all the bumpy roads at high speed wasn’t great for his head.

Joaquina Beach

Jurere Beach Day

The perfect day was had a couple of steps away from our apartment.

Even though the numbers on the island have suddenly and dramatically increased, including where we are staying in Jurere, brought on by the appearance of the sun which is clearly here to stay, it is still much more chilled here then it was at Joaquina beach. There are alot more families here, and thus children, due to the sea, which is very safe for children to swim in, being both calm, and shallow not to mention clean and clear. But we still managed to find (after a very impressive scouting trip by Josh), somewhere private to set up our portable sunchairs. It was such a genius location that I had to give him his ratings – unfortunately for us once we had set ourselves down we started to see people eagle eyeing us as they walked by as if they were thinking about joining us: Go Away!

The reason why it was such a good spot was because it had the breeze from the sea, but was a little set back which afforded us privacy, aswell as being besides a trickling stream with the lake behind us which was very picturesque not to mention practical. Not many people wanted to be that far back from the sea but for us it was perfect.

Because we were a little further back we didn’t have people walking past us constantly on the search for somewhere to sunbathe and we weren’t constantly bothered by beach sellers. The sand was wide, soft and generously dispersed. From there we watched the sky turn shades of blue, pink, lilac, amber and gold.

Before we’d arrived in Floripa I had wondered whether we would tire of #beachlife but now I know that we will not as even though it stays the same it’s forever changing.

Brasil Sunsets are a beautiful thing

 

Week 3 in Florianopolis

Week 3 in Florianopolis

We still don’t know many Portuguese words but we do know Fechado. Oh yes…we have come to know Fechado very well indeed.

We have come to know Fechado intimately because we have seen it so many times as signs on the front windows and doors of restaurants, bars and shops that we go to. The opening times here are a mystery that I’m sure only the locals know as no matter how much we have tried to sync the time of our venture for food or coffee we have been at a loss as to why the sign Fechado remains.

There is one particular establishment that Josh has been eyeing since we arrived: a Creperie. The Creperie even has a menu outside the restaurant displaying their opening times for everyone to see alas every single time we have passed by there to get a crepe whether keeping within the opening times advertised or not it has been completely, and utterly FECHADO’D.

We have tried this with other restaurants in the area too, but it seems like they only open when they feel like it. The Italian restaurant was the same: Fechado, Fechado all day, everyday but then there was a Brazilian bank holiday (on a Saturday no less, I know I don’t really understand it either), and then suddenly they were open and it was packed! But since then, nada. Fechado. I’m sure they must have some kind of Brazilian communication software that Josh and I are not privvy to!

Santo Antonio De Lisboa 

Lily, the lovely Brazilian lady who works in the Supermarket told us about a place nearby that she was sure that we’d like: Santo Antonia De Lisboa. A small, colourful, quirky village with incredible sunsets from it’s marina location, she told us that there were some lovely restaurants and coffee shops there that overlooked the small beach and it sounded just up our street to we stopped off at a local cupcake cafe first before going there for the day.

Small, cobbled streets with lovely colourful little independent restaurants and and coffee shops, it immediately impressed. We decided that we would go back on a day when it was sunnier to spend some more time trawling the streets browsing the local street markets and perhaps go for dinner at the sweet looking fish restaurant overlooking the marina?

Unfortunately, I have to take back what I said about their being no creatures in Brazil.

There are.

For the past couple of days we have seen not just more of those beastly looking iguana’s, waltzing around our garden with nonchalance but last night despite our best efforts to keep our apartment scrupulously clean and tidy at all times, making sure that we leave no dirty dishes in the sink and taking any smelly food straight out to the communal bins, we encountered my worst enemy: a cockroach (or barratas as it’s called here in Brazil) reared it’s hideous head.

Now I cannot make it any clearer: I CANNOT DEAL WITH CREATURES. Call it what you will but it is simply not in me. And yes, I was gearing myself up to encounter them in abundance as soon as I arrived in Brazil and in turn I warned Josh that he would have to prepare himself for bug extermination duties, so I was more then a little surprised and relieved to find that apart from the occasional ant or fly in our apartment we never really saw any bugs at all, and certainly no cockroaches anywhere apart from the one we saw in the street when we were out and about. I mean that’s huge. No fly’s and no mosquitoes in Brazil?! – one of the most natural environments in the world and the home to the Amazon which has some of the numerous species of animals on earth? Insane.

But each time we went out we felt comfortable enough to eat outside because there were no flies about and I wasn’t wearing any insect repellent at all because there were no mosquitoes either.

But perhaps it was just the time of year? I had spoken to my sister (currently trawling through high altitude terrain in Bolivia) and she said that she hadn’t seen anything or gotten bitten either.

But this night that all changed. I don’t know where this thing came from as we keep the windows closed in the evenings (or even if it was a cockroach aka barratas), all I know is that Josh and I were sitting down about to watch something on YouTube and then it suddenly appeared in the corner of the room by the skirting board with it’s nasty, crispy looking self, but as soon as we both saw it disappeared again through a hole underneath the fixed kitchen cabinet.

There proceeded the hunt for this despicable creature to try and find it and kill it before we went to bed. Thinking of that thing crawling around our apartment really made my skin crawl and I wasn’t sure that I could sleep knowing that it was at large so Josh set about trying to spray the crack that we saw it disappear underneath with heavy duty barratas killer spray, taking everything out of the kitchen drawers so that he could spray behind it.

Unfortunately we couldn’t actually take off the cover that he’d crawled underneath but we made sure to spray the entire area and the kitchen and then some, bleached the floor and sprayed all the entrances where we thought he might of gotten in from and then Josh proceeded to use plastic bags to block up all of the gaps in the kitchen cabinet so that it couldn’t get out again. I was skeptical of this at first because I thought that if it was small enough to get in there in the firstplace then it was probably small enough to get out again but afterwards I agreed that just minimising the spaces that it could crawl from was a great idea and it meant that if it was still in there then the fumes from the spray would hopefully kill it anyway.

After hours of watching the hole to see if the beast appeared again we eventually went to bed. I was feeling pretty traumatised by the whole thing truth be told as if there is one thing that I hate it is cockroaches. I detest spiders too but something about cockroaches just makes me feel immediately nausea’s. It probably has something to do with the fact that they are usually found in nasty places so it indicates that a place is nasty if it has a cockroach infestation but we had made sure that this place was spotless. We had even paid to have the apartment cleaned the week after we’d arrived, we had no food out on the sides, no crumbs lurking for it to eat and no place for it to go so why on earth did it decide to come in here?! I hoped it was just passing through..

To put my mind at ease Josh kept the lights on in the kitchen to try and trick the buzzard into thinking that we were still there, he also blocked up the entrance to the bedroom and bathroom by using a thin towel so that if it did get out it wouldn’t be able to come into our room (my main concern), and put the plunger over the shower plug hole incase it’s buddy’s got any idea’s but either way I had a restless night. As it was the air conditioning in our apartment wasn’t great – it was old and weak and hardly blew out any cold air at all so were were pretty much sweltering in the apartment and naturally we didn’t want to open the windows for fear that creatures (if there were any) would come in.

So that night I found it hard to sleep: coupled with the shitty air con I also had a genuine fear that this thing was going to find his way into our bedroom and crawl onto our bed!

In the morning all was calm and well. There were no signs of any barratas and it was as if nothing had ever been there at all. But due to the amount of time that Josh and I had spent the night before searching for this abominable creature, coupled with my restless sleep I was now feeling pretty exhausted.

To put my mind at ease Josh called the apartment manager, who had initially laughed and said “no, no barratas!” when I asked him when we’d arrived whether there were any cockroaches in the apartment, to ask him to come and search it to make certain that it wasn’t still there. So he came, somewhat sheepishly it has to be said, before proceeding to take each drawer out of the kitchen cabinet methodically to try and see if he could find it.

When he established that he could not he cleaned the drawer thoroughly and then sprayed the whole area with 2 powerful barratas killers. If it surfaced again he said, he would come and kill it himself.

The problem with cockroaches or barratas is that they are nasty. They thrive in damp, filthy, hot areas, and I don’t want one in my clean, dry, temperature controlled apartment!

Will Cook , Can’t Cook

Unfortunate as it is to admit it, Josh and I have come to the conclusion that these people can’t cook. We have had far too many bad experiences, in too many establishments to put it down to mere coincidence. We planned to go to Lucila’s Bistro, a local restaurant which we had previously been to for coffee and pastries, excited that finally we had perhaps found somewhere decent to eat. We love to eat and were keen to experience authentic Brazilian cuisine which we were convinced would not only be delicious but would be really imaginative, colourful and well presented too with lots of vegetables and fruits that we’d never tasted before. But almost everywhere we’d been (apart from Jay’s Bistro it has to be said), has been a disappointment. Now as I said before, the Brazilians love themselves a buffet and Lucila’s Bistro has done so well in the area that they have 3 establishments: a bakery, a restaurant next door to it and another recently opened larger restaurant which served buffet. We had already been to the bakery and liked it so decided to try out the restaurant.

We arrived at the restaurant around 8:30 pm to find that despite the fact that they have a menu outside indicating that it is a “proper” restaurant, we walked in to find people gorging themselves on a buffet spread. If we’d have wanted buffet we would have gone to the BUFFET RESTAURANT, especially since it was closer to our apartment!

Alas, it turned out that they were still serving from the menu thank goodness so after some deliberation (we were still struggling a little to read the Portuguese menu’s) we both ordered the seabass. We were very much looking forward to our meal, and after our experience at 300 Cosmos who fancied themselves something rotten but clearly couldn’t cook a risotto, we were keen to get some decent grub.

And what else should you order in Brazil other then beef? Well fish and seafood of course!

So, ordered we did, only to find when it turned up that the fish was DRY AS A BONE and not anything like the succulent, FRESH seabass that we were expecting. Now I have had many a seabass in my time but I can quite honestly say that this was perhaps the worst.

I was stunned into silence looking upon these 2 anemic looking slices of fish on my plate (which I couldn’t even identify as being seabass, a first for me), so devoid of moisture or even any accompanying sauce that it wasn’t funny. And as for the salad that came with it, not even a balsamic vinegar did it have. Not to mention the rice, which was basic beyond belief. How ON EARTH can anyone produce such an uninspiring meal? – if I was working in the kitchens just the mere embarrassment of presenting this dish would prevent me. But here they were putting down this dry, pale, basic, bland, tasteless, overcooked meal in front of me with the only decorative part of the meal being the tomato which they had cut up to resemble a flower. I was wondering why if they could spend all this time making a tomato pretty which they didn’t do the same with the main event: the fish, which is afterall what we paid for!

Honestly I am baffled. They don’t seem to use seasoning in their food, okay I’m just about coming to terms with that but these terrible food combinations must come to an immediate end: chips with rice and overcooked fish. The much decorated chef of Jay’s Bistro, which has billboard advertisements all over the island, trained in Europe. Now I know that as a nation, the Brits are not known for their local cuisine, however we have at least had the foresight to get people in from all over the world to provide their tasty foodstuffs and we have such cultural diversity that the sheer abundance and quality of cuisines on offer is impressive.

Restaurateurs hoping to get British business are made fully aware that producing uninspiring, bland food simply will not do and as such we have some of the best restaurants in the world. But here in Brazil, SURELY they have access to the raw ingredients?! They certainly have the diversity of people so why are they not coming up trumps in the food department??

I need to get to the bottom of this baffling issue before I leave here!

On the way home Josh and I rounded the corner to encounter something hideous: a sparse-haired, pig looking creature lurking in the shadows. Before either of us could get a proper look at it it ran away (or should I say trotted off) out of view and went into someone’s garden. The thing was a little bigger then a cat, about the size of a dog with a long tail like a rat and a snout like a pig, but not as hairy. Just as we were discussing what it might have been we saw another, smaller one! The smaller one ran into someone’s garden too but not before we saw that it was definitely VERY pig like! Though not actually a pig..

What the hell is this place about? What, they have feral pigs here now?! Goodness gracious me!

Double Whammy

The following morning the nasty barratas that had crawled underneath our kitchen cabinet emerged out of the hole that he had crawled under (after being sprayed with a potent combination of chemicals), to die on our apartment floor. I felt very relieved to know that with the help of our apartment manager we had finally got him. Now I could relax (kind of).

Alas when we went back to our “safe” restaurant Pizza Express the following night we encountered another HUGE cockroach scurrying across the floor whilst we were eating our pizza!

Needless to say we shan’t be returning.

Beach Lovers 2.0

Florianopolis has over 42 beaches, but we won’t be visiting all of them. We have identified around10 beaches that we’d like to visit whilst we’re here in between waiting for the weather to be good enough to go (nothing worse then being rained on on a beach) and working, but finally today was the day we’d been waiting for: It was time to visit Campeche.

Campeche was about a 40 minute drive away, a beautiful, sprawling beach on the East coast of the island. We jumped in an Uber, took our towels, stereo, water and off we went for the day. We passed through the town of Barra Da Lagoa (another beach we plan to visit), and saw hints of Joaquina beach too (the one I’m supposed to be trying to surf on if I can muster up the courage!) before arriving at Campeche.

The first thing I noticed about this beach was how busy it was in comparison to Jurere, there was much more people on this beach with 2 large restaurants overlooking it, then the next thing I noticed was it’s size: It was much bigger then I was expecting, it was huge!

Wide, with a great expanse of warm, silky soft white sand, it meandered very gradually into wild aqua blue waves with great big white foamy tips. When I went to sample how cold the water was to touch I gasped: It was frightening cold! And the waves frighteningly high. This was no swimmers beach: the temperature of the water, coupled with the wild intensity of the waves dictated that, but oh was it beautiful. This water, and infact this entire beach was heart achingly, heart soaringly beautiful: the verdant green landscape in the distance, the fine white sand, the grassy dunes and the relentless, hypnotic motion of the icy cold water made me feel alive. This beach was simple raw beauty.

The sand at Campeche I can only describe as luxurious. So smooth it almost felt like a piece of fine silk, just slipping off your feet with ease, it was the colour of very light stone and at room temperature, which meant that I didn’t have to burn my feet walking on it (unlike in Bali where the sand is much darker and thus almost burnt the soles of my feet right off!). The huge beach was big enough to host all who would seek to discover her and was backed by incredibly soft sand dunes, which was magic to walk through and get lost in. Some sun lovers were atop of the dunes meditating and I couldn’t think of a better place to do so. Campeche is in a protected nature reserve which gives it it it’s natural and almost private feel.

We spent an easy day lunching, sunbathing, snoozing and gazing at this wonderful beach which I could not believe had not already been discovered many times over by curious tourists. Before going home we had an Acai bowl with strawberries, kiwi, coconut and granola on the beach. I’d like to keep this one a secret but I fear it’s too late now: the secrets already out!

Campeche Beach

Brexmas? What Brexmas?

We saw that horrible coarse haired piglet looking creature again! And this time I can confirm for definite that it was not a pig, nor a big rat, but infact a combination of the 2…a very weird looking creature who had a long tail AND a snout, looking very much little like big weasel with a snout. Bloody horrible! It isn’t scary, it’s just very very odd looking! And being so hideous looking it’s not something that I was particularly keen on encountering on my evening out dressed up in my fineries for dinner. After doing some research I can now confirm what I think it is: A Javelina or a Peccary, a mammal which is a sort of hog and although very pig like, is not actually related to the pig or according to our Brazilian friends it could be an Opussum (also known as a Gamba), which is a marsupial. Tbh I have no idea what the bloody thing is. I just know that i’ve never seen anything quite like it before and there seem to be a few in our area so we are very likely to see it again!

Is it a pig? Is it a rat?..

Marisqueira Sintra

Fast running out of suitable dining options we decided to first do some research to try and identify the top restaurants on the island as we really did not wish to be tricked again.

Marisqueira Sintra was a seafood that not only ranked highly on TripAdvisor at #14 of almost 4 thousand restaurants on the island (with consistently excellent reviews), was located in Santo Antonio De Lisboa, the colourful little village by the sea that we’d been to a few nights ago and really liked and their website looked very professional too (always a bonus). So, we were excited to have found this restaurant, convinced that finally we had found somewhere that served great food, where we could dress up and go for the night.

The restaurant didn’t have any way of us making a reservation online so we realised that we’d have to call. We crossed our fingers and hoped that whoever answered the phone could speak English (as we were certainly not advanced enough to understand beyond them responding Sim or Nao) but when they answered, I asked if they could speak any English but the man said Nao so then I knew that we were in trouble. Convinced that we were out of options if we could not get a reservation at this place we contacted our apartment manager and told him of our dilemma (we could not communicate with the staff who worked at the restaurant and we wanted to make a reservation), and kindly he offered to call them for us and make the booking. He messaged us back confirming that we had a table booked there for 9:00 pm and we thanked him and started getting ready for our big night out!

I was sure that this place with it’s great location overlooking the marina and great restaurant reviews was going to be one of those places with the kind of smart casual diners who chose this restaurant as their regular haunt. We were really looking forward to it and to be on the safe side before we’d left we’d checked out the menu so that we both had a good idea of what we were going to eat as more likely then not the menu was going to be written all in Portuguese (as you’d imagine I guess!)

When we arrived we were swiftly taken through a busy restaurant to the conservatory which looked out over the beach and the surrounding old town which was charming even at this time of the evening. The waiters seemed to know that we were English (that pesky accent had outed us again!), and we were placed on a table with one of the best views in the restaurants and then they proceeded to set about trying their best to impress, producing 2 menus with an expert flourish.

It was warm and cosy in the restaurant, the decoration tasteful with the theme being Sintra, a place in Portugal for which the restaurant was fashioned. Our waiter came over to take our order and after nodding pleasingly and saying that I’d made a fantastic choice with my selection of grilled shrimps with a creamy sauce accompanied by rice and toasted almonds, he then moved onto take Josh’s order, pointing to a dish on the menu (the most expensive on the menu no less), of a seafood platter which included shrimps aswell as other types of “freshly caught” fish, but Josh wasn’t interested.

Unbeknownst to this guy Josh had decided on what he wanted before we’d even left our apartment, but for some reason this guy wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept on pointing at the seafood platter and telling Josh that it was fantastic, great, delicious, and even when Josh told him “Nao Gracias”, repeated the name of the dish that he wanted and pointed to it on the menu again, this guy just wouldn’t let up. I was beginning to think that it was some kind of joke, or that we, the only English in the village, were being set up, perhaps the staff thought that being English meant that we were loaded?

All the same, Josh refused to be bullied into having a dish that he did not want so he declined a third time but then the waiter just suddenly turned on his heels and went over to another table to take their order.

We both looked at each other with confusion as if to ask what went on there? Did he take our order or not? – he had left the menu with us so we really weren’t sure – but neither of us could have been more clear – I wanted the shrimp and Josh wanted the cod! It really wasn’t rocket science.

After around 10 minutes or so, between which time another waiter had brought over our starter of Whitebait Fish Calamari making me think that he had taken our full order afterall, our waiter returned again to start pointing at this seafood platter thing that he seemed so excited to promote. I was shocked that this guy who had disappeared for such a long time had now come back with the same nonsense: trying to promote this bloody dish!

Do these people get paid commission on these things now or what??

Needless to say Josh declined for a FOURTH time and was now starting to become more then a little irritated by this charade (and infact when pushed is even more unlikely to go with someone’s “suggestion”). We found the whole ordeal very odd but we were by this time so hungry that we were happy to let that go by the wayside.

Anyway, at least we had our Calamari to eat. Now this place was a seafood restaurant, located on a marina of an island with over 42 beaches, so we were expecting big things with regards to the seafood here. I was expecting the fish to be one of the freshest and tastiest I’d ever had. Alas, if the Calamari was anything to go by, the rest of the meal was unlikely to be stand out. For starters, it was too salty. Neither of us had had Whitebait fish before but we thought we’d try it as it was a fish that was native to Brazil, but the fish itself tasted far too fishy for my liking, and the batter was too salty and wasn’t crispy enough. Not a great start!

When our mains arrived I initially had higher expectations in comparison to my starter but a few mouthfuls later I was regretting having even bothered. The shrimp, though reasonably big in size was certainly not as juicy and delicious as I’ve had it in other (less seafood-centric) places. It just simply wasn’t tasty enough.

The rice was plain but had been cooked well, and having the toasted almond flakes provided good texture though again the rice had been over salted. But the worst thing was the sauce. It had been described on the website as being a “creamy” sauce which I took as being a flavoursome, creamy sauce (perhaps with a bit of spice), to go with the accompanying shrimp but instead it was more akin to a hollandaise sauce, thin and buttery and certainly not flavoursome or spicy in any way. And worse, it was warm, not hot.

In short: It tasted of butter: greasy, fatty and bloody horrible. And Josh didn’t fare any better. His cod dish which was supposed to come with an almond breadcrumb (they sure do like using the same basic ingredients!), didn’t come with any kind of coating and after his initial impression of it being okay, soon turned into horror as he realised that the fish was UNCOOKED in the middle.

What is this place about??

We looked around and saw a full restaurant with Brazilians: couples, friends, and families alike tucking into their various seafood dishes with gusto and having themselves a good ole time. There was no doubt about it: these people were ENJOYING the food.

That’s when I realised the worst: that these people simply could not cook, end of story. Their cuisine basically consists of seafood (which in our experience has NOT been fresh or tasty), filet mignon (which is the French term for a particular cut of beef (tenderloin) but that they keep bandying about trying to sound accomplished without offering any other cuts so it’s clear that they don’t even know what it is), then they have alot of sushi, probably curtesy of the very large Japanese population in Brazil (the biggest outside of Japan) , and then there’s Italian, which is basically just pizza and pasta. Bread, tomato, cheese, pasta of varying shapes and ham. End of.

This is not a varied and exciting cuisine, and based on our experiences with what they are actually supposed to be good at cooking (FRESH FISH AND SEAFOOD), it has been an absolute disaster. We have had food overcooked as was the case with our seabass in another highly rated restaurant, and now with both our shrimp and most especially the cod which was UNDERCOOKED.

What on earth is going on?!

I’d love to say that they were trying to deliberately poison us because they hate Brits or something but they genuinely seemed eager to please us, were pleased as punch that we had chosen to dine there and had the audacity of being PROUD of their food. W.T.F!

Someone needs to introduce them to some creative food ideas, help them to cultivate their own cuisine (not Italian which is Italian), use FRESH ingredients, and learn how to cook food properly (not undercook or overcook it).

Well, after hearing this you probably will be surprised to learn that after all of that we went ahead and ordered dessert. But we needed something sweet to take the sour taste from our mouths. We ordered their Portuguese Custard Tart (which is harmless by anyone’s standards), and a traditional Portuguese dessert called Baba De Camelo. Sound intriguing? – well it’s not, as when it arrived we could both immediately identify what it was the waiter, standing there with his chest puffed out with pride, was trying to give to us: A bowl of condensed milk.

No joke: the dessert was a bowl of condensed milk (you know the one you buy in Sainsbury’s and put in a pan of boiling water for a couple of hours to turn into caramel), coupled with a few sprinklings of nuts on top. Not only is that not a dessert, my Mum and Aunts use that as a topping for a much more advanced dessert: Caramel Tart, but it is also far too sweet to be one. In addition: the Portuguese Tart wasn’t nice either. We’d had a better one in the Supermarket.

Our waiter even had the audacity to ask us if we had enjoyed our meal..

What is wrong with these people???

We officially give up. If we happen to come across some decent food then we will happily eat it but after that last experience at one of their supposedly top johnny restaurants, we are both resigning ourselves to the fact that these people can’t cook. It pains me to say but it is true.

Beach Body Ready?

So, do the Brazilians live up to the hype? Are they really as #beachbodyready as everyone says? – put shortly yes, they are.

Brazilians, though they certainly can be vain and there is alot more fake boobs and bums here then I was expecting, there’s no contest really in the looks department, they really are a very goodlooking nation of people. For starters, they’re tanned. Even the Brazilians with the more European features have tanned skin so they don’t look anemic or malnourished, they have a nice healthy glow.

Secondly, they have great bodies. Even the granny’s and grandad’s have a good physique, though not necessarily all slim, they are nonetheless curvaceous in all the right places most appropriately in the bum region where they fluent it with an ease that I’m most envious of (we sure are prudish in the UK!), and then lastly but not least, they are confident. They seem to have no body hangups and carry their confidence and sensuality around with them like a familiar coat. Most of the women strut around on the beach wearing a Brazilian bikini: women of all ages not just the younger ones, and they look far better then the women on any English beach I’ve ever seen.

If I can return to blighty looking even a percentage more Brazilian then I did when I arrived then I will be very happy!

Josh and I on Campeche Beach

 

 

 

Week 2 on “The Magic Island” Floripa, Brazil

Week 2 on “The Magic Island” Floripa, Brazil

Doo Doo Beach

Josh thought that it would be a good idea for us to visit a neighboring beach: Canasvieiras.

On the map it looked as though it was a mere 10 -20 minute walk away but it turned out to be much further and complicated to get to then we initially thought due to the fact that there was some building works going on on parts of the beach which prevented us from accessing it. We had to walk all the way around the beach, on the way passing through the local heavily gated neighborhood to get there.

There was definitely something up with Brazilians and dogs, and Brazilians and heavy gates, even electric ones. From what I had seen in the short space of time since we’d arrived, they seemed to be obsessed with security and protecting their homes from invasion. This was a little surprising considering the area we were in. Jurere was supposedly one of the safest neighborhoods in the whole of Brazil to live yet these people had gates up the wazoo! What on earth were they expecting to happen, a zombie invasion? gang warfare? – or perhaps it was just a cultural thing. Many of the people living here were moneyed and came from the surrounding big cities, so perhaps they were so used to protecting their homes from criminal activity that it came as second nature to do for their second (very expensive) homes. Either way, I could definitely see a business opportunity here: Security Gates R US?! Just a thought.

Walking through the local area made me realise how happy I was that we were staying where we were and that we weren’t staying here. This place not only felt like it was vacant with no other soul about giving it a distinctly eerie vibe, but the streets and houses that were on them were definitely not as nice, even a little rundown in places. I wasn’t entirely sure why Josh thought that it would be a good idea to go to this local beach but so far I wasn’t very impressed with what I was seeing. I hoped I was going to be pleasantly surprised when we got there.

After walking a little further up a very steep hill with many gated houses with barking dogs warning us not to come along closer, finally we arrived at Canasvieiras beach. It was much wider then ours and looked like it was more developed with hotels, restaurants and bars lining the beachfront, but it was also much busier, particularly with beach sellers and families, many who it looked like were going to be there for the entire day bringing their own beach chairs, parasols, drinks, food and even games to play. But asides from it being busy, it also just wasn’t as nice as Jurere beach. It was quite scruffy looking truth be told, and definitely didn’t have the same laid back charm.

After fending off a few people trying to sell their wares to us (even their beach sellers were more aggressive here!), we decided that as we were here we should at least get a bit of sunbathing in. Contrary to popular belief we hadn’t been sunbathing everyday since we’d arrived, but most days to be fair, lol. Well, one has to make good use of ones surroundings doesn’t one? 🙂

The manager of our apartment had given us some of these ingenious beach chairs which were small and compact enough to carry but which you could also use to fully lay down and sunbathe on but because of the distance to get this beach we had just brought our beach blankets.

Eventually we found a beach body free area and put our blankets down. We’d carried our Bluetooth stereo with us that we could listen to some tunes whilst we were sunbathing but it was far too noisy so we decided not to bother. Even though once you closed your eyes most beaches were exactly the same, and burying your feet in the sand was lovely on these Brazilian beaches as all seemed to have luxuriously soft, cool to the touch, fine sand, for some reason I just couldn’t get comfortable there.

Since leaving Rio we had still been being vigilant with our personal belongings, making sure that we either left them in our apartment or locked them away out of sight in the pocket of our beach blankets but for some reason it felt much safer in Jurere then here in Canasvieiras. Whether it was because of the number of people on the beach, because there were groups of youths lurking on the sidelines, due to the fact that it seemed much scruffier here or a combination of these factors, I felt as though my personal belongings were more at risk here. And I definitely didn’t want to leave them to go for a swim. Infact, I wasn’t in the least bit inspired to go swimming in the sea here at all. In short: I wasn’t feeling it.

Josh on the other hand had his own problems..

After less then 10 minutes of laying down on our blankets he started complaining that he could smell something unsavoury. He said it smelt like doo doo. Now true, there were lots of dogs on this beach. The Brazilians love themselves a dog and we often saw 1 or 2 running around on the beach in Jurere, but our beach was much cleaner then this one so it wouldn’t have surprised me if these people allowed their dogs to poo on the beach and they didn’t bother picking it up. Alas I couldn’t smell anything myself apart from the strong musty scent of smoked corn that the beach sellers came by wafting about in the air. As the minutes ticked by Josh began to get more and more unsettled. He was now convinced that he could smell shit and he was determined to find out where it was coming from but after looking around and seeing nothing he finally agreed to surrender and admit that this particular beach trip had been a bit a disaster. It was time to move somewhere else.

He picked up his blanket from the sand and began to shake it off before suddenly noticing that it had a huge pile of DOO DOO on it. Josh had been laying in dog shit!

He was understandably repulsed, visibly on the verge of vomiting and he proceeded to use every explicit word under the sun to express his revulsion. After washing the blanket thoroughly in the salty sea he returned to announce that we were leaving this beach never to return.

I couldn’t agree more!

Acai Wars

Acai (pronounced a-sigh-ee) is a big thing here in Brazil. A fruit cultivated from the acai palm tree that grows in the Amazon, it’s considered to be a superfood here and in the surrounding South American countries where it’s grown due to it’s many health benefits and it’s insta-worthyness, due to it’s distinctive dark purple hue. Usually served as a smoothie or as an acai bowl and topped with nuts, banana, honey and other fruits there are lots of restaurants popping up around here toting their credentials as an Acai seller including our local Brasil Berry who are using that as there USP. However within a week of arriving we have seen other coffee shops in the area start to also advertise their Acai credentials and as a result Brasil Berry has made an even more obvious sign to let people know that infact THEY are the Acai Aficionado’s. Acai drama ensues in this sleepy Brazilian town!

It probably comes as no surprise due to the geography of such a place but there are so many beautiful birds here. Cute songbirds in rainbow colours, wood peckers, seagulls, eagles, and many that I’ve never seen before in my life. Should you be a birdwatcher I would imagine that it doesn’t get much better then birdwatching here in Brazil.

I am not a strong swimmer. I think it has something to do with my genetics (my skinfolk are generally not very strong swimmers probably more due to hair vanity then anything else) but also because I don’t float very well. When I went for a scuba diving lesson (in a swimming pool you understand?!) with my friend Maria, I found it very easy to do (and scary but enjoyable), and I sunk easily wheras she, despite being heavier then me found it almost impossible to sink. Even when they put weights on her waist so that she could sink she still found it difficult, and when I enquired as to why that was they told me that people were different. Some people were more sinkable then others.

Well, I’m definitely one of them! I’m sure my swimming technique isn’t fantastic but I do enjoy swimming and I especially enjoy swimming in the sea (when it’s relatively calm, clear and with minimal seaweed), alas I have noticed that I seem to run out of breath much easier then Josh when swimming (whose a pretty good swimmer) and his posture is such that he seems to float easily. I on the other hand, do not.

But here on the beach in Jurere, I can float for days! Why there you ask? Well it’s because the seawater is extremely salty!! It is perhaps the saltiest sea that I have encountered. Tis very enjoyable swimming here because of this fact, coupled with the fact that it’s not too deep when you first get in, it’s clean (though not entirely clear as it’s been stormy on occasion which has churned up the sea a little), and there’s not many people swimming in the sea. People here prefer sunbathing on the beach and if they do go into the sea then it’s not always for swimming purposes, they just dip in to cool down and they LOVE to pose and will have their friends filming them from the beach whilst they writhe about in the surf to get that insta-good pic.

The Storm

The weather had been changing from being really hot one minute, to being overcrowded to having short bursts of rain but nothing to get too worried about. But tonight was different.

The first thing we noticed was the sky darkening to a deep purpley-blue. Then all hell broke loose. Up until now all we could hear was the gentle sound of the sea lapping against the shore everyday. We heard it when we went to bed at night and then first thing in the morning. It was a gentle, hypnotic, alluring sound. But tonight the winds had picked up and then suddenly I couldn’t hear the waves anymore. All I could hear was wind, a furious wind that howled and screamed, battering against our suddenly very fragile looking window panes.

The palm trees lining the beach I could see were getting a bit of a battering too as the winds forced them to bend over to within an inch of their lives as they struggled to stay upright. I was infinity grateful that I was in the comfort of my apartment whilst this storm raged on around me but as it got more and more intense, and I started to hear our windows getting more and more battered, rattling around angrily in their sockets I started to become more concerned and I asked Josh: will we survive this storm?!

The wind howled, whistled, and shook the very life out of the island. We could hear the bins in the streets falling over and rolling down the road, tree branches whipping about violently, dogs barking repeatedly. Being on the beachfront we were also getting the winds coming directly off the sea, and judging by the state of the wall outside our property it looked as though the winds had already won the battle as the wall was completely destroyed, crumbled to mush.

I was wondering whether these apartments that we were in were built to survive such an onslaught. Certainly from the sound of the wind it was as if the wind man had come a knocking on the door to get in and was getting more and more aggressive and persistent as time went on. I couldn’t relax, imagining the worst: our windows being blasted out of their sockets bringing in the most furious storm either of us had ever experienced tossing us out into the night sky.

And who would we call to be saved? Would we have to beat a hasty retreat to the rooftop for protection? Was the storm intense enough to cause the sea to rise? – because from where I was sitting it certainly sounded like a tsunami out there! Mother Nature was going WILD. If there was anyone still out there I felt sorry for them. The only thing that could protect a person from a storm like this was bricks and mortar.

The rain intensified, lashing down against the window pane and I thought for the first time since arriving that if it was a choice between perishing in a Brazilian storm or being safe in my central heated London home I’d take the latter thanks as I was determined to survive this trip thank you very much.

The noise was becoming more and more unbearable so I retreated to the bedroom and hunkered down on the floor hoping that if the windows did blow in then I would be largely protected by the wardrobe. Such was the strength of the wind I was conjuring up all kinds of escape plans including leaving our apartment to go into the stairwell where the windows were much smaller. The rain gradually lessened over the course of the evening and by bedtime all we could hear was the occasional moany wind gusts. After laying in bed listening to the storm for a couple of hours I was too tired to fight the exhaustion any longer and my eyes eventually closed.

Reluctant Celebs 

We were becoming somewhat of a celebrity couple in our area. Not only had we been befriended by the 2 women in the local coffee shop but we also had a young waiter who was originally from Sao Paulo on our case whenever we went into his restaurant to work for a few hours. The last time we went in there he cornered us with a 20 minute long conversation (whilst we were trying to work) in his extremely limited, broken English, to tell us how much he loved us and how happy he was to have met us (basically). He said that he had been studying English but had never met an actual English person in order to practice what he had learned so he was absolutely elated to be able to have a conversation with us (and let’s face it that was the only language of conversation that we were actually capable of having anyway!), and said how nice we both were and that he really wanted to learn how to speak English fluently so that he could eventually work on a cruise. Needless to say we didn’t have much to say whilst he was giving us his whole life story, we simply listened. He also told us about life in Sao Paulo. He had only been in Floripa for 2 months and really liked it though he admitted to us that the people weren’t as friendly or as chatty as the people in his home town, but he said that it was very safe in Florianopolis compared to Sao Paulo where he said people got robbed allday everyday. According to him, you couldn’t walk around with your purse or phone in plain sight. He mentioned the word “criminals” and “big city” a few times so I got the sense that it wasn’t necessarily somewhere that we would be rushing to go in a hurry!

 Cappacino Brasileiro

The Brazilians have their own take on a Cappacino and it’s not anything like what you are thinking. We had recently learned after being baffled about receiving a “Hot Chocolate” everytime we ordered a Cappacino that in order to get the Cappacino like the version we’re used to having all over Europe (and what I thought was universal), we needed to ask for a Cappacino Italiano as if you just said Cappacino then they would bring you their Cappacino Brasiliero, which is basically a Hot Chocolate made with Cinnamon. It doesn’t have coffee in it at all.

We’re not here to tick things off a bucket list. We’re here (our first time in South America!) to experience what it is to live in Brazil, in this environment that is both natural as it is beautiful, to get to know the people and their way of life as much as we can and see some things along the way. We’re also here to work, not work that is taxing by any means, or that is structured, we’re very much just going with the flow here, working on the days when we feel like it and from wherever we feel like being. We’ve been here for 2 weeks now I’m easing into this new life gradually. I guess I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that I’ve left work permanently and this is my life now, it still feels just like a long holiday. But I don’t believe that you can feel the soul of a place unless you get to know it, and just taking pictures of it doesn’t sum it up for me. So please forgive me if I don’t document everything in visuals, sometimes words are a more powerful tool for the imagination!

Centro

Centro is the Historic Centre of Florianopolis, the busy part of town where people go to shop til they drop, check out all of the lively bars and restaurants and the open market which was historically used to host a market selling everything from fish and seafood, to caipirinha’s #caipirinhaaday clothes and arts and crafts. We jumped in an Uber and after sitting in surprisingly heavy traffic for about 20 minutes we finally arrived at Centro to be greeted by with lots of noise, lots of cars and even more people. It was very different but exciting too!

I had already done a little research on Centro so I wasn’t expecting to be massively impressed with the area but I still felt that it would be a bit of a disappointment if we came to the island of Floripa and didn’t experience the main part of the city and also, I knew that Floripa wasn’t all just stunning beaches, fake boobs (oh yes, there’s a lot of that here), small fluffy dogs and acai bowls!

I was particularly interested in seeing some of the beautiful old Portuguese style architecture, get a real feel for the place and people and perhaps sit under the famous fig tree that has been there for 140 years. The tree is so beloved of the city that it actually has a nickname: “Figueira”

What struck me after noticing that it immediately felt like another busy city was the fact that all of the stunning greenery that had followed us all the way from Jurere to here was suddenly gone, and in it’s place was lots of buildings and people. The Uber driver had dropped us off at the shopping centre, not the market which is where we wanted to go but since we were just being tourists and having a look around the city we figured we’d find our own way there by foot so after a short time spent in the mall which looked and smelt like every other mall in the world and so was not particularly inspiring we set off to find the main part of Centro.

We had chosen this particular day to do the touristy thing because it was overcast and a little cooler. The thought of trundling about in 30 degree heat in the city centre did not appeal in the slightest but even this was hard going as the roads to the centre were surprisingly hilly. I was noticing that people in Brazil loved their fitness. If they weren’t cycling then they were jogging and if they weren’t doing any of those things then they were still wearing fitness clothes as though they had either come from or were going to do some kind of fitness activity. I couldn’t say that the people here looked better then those in Rio, and they certainly didn’t look as good as the people living in Jurere, but I think that was mainly because of the demographic of people that lived there.

There were a few interesting looking independent shops and restaurants, though we didn’t go into any of them but we did stop at Floripa’s famous speciality coffee shop The Lighthouse Cafe, which we’d actually heard about on a German gay couples travel vlog the night before. The barista at The Lighthouse Cafe was really friendly and could speak English very well. Like many other people he was intrigued to find out that we were from England and asked us where we’d heard of the coffee shop so we showed him the video. Not only do they serve a very impressive array of coffee at The Lighthouse Cafe but they also make and package their own coffee on site so it’s a very cool place. I especially liked the decor.

The Lighthouse Cafe

 

The closer we got to the centre the independent shops petered out and a much less modern, dirtier and rundown shopping area came into view. We made a beeline for the Public Market, which was located in a large airy yellow building with huge arches in the hope that we would not only get some reprieve from the many sellers trying to sell us things on the street but perhaps find something interesting to buy as a momento of our trip.

But instead all we found was a labyrinth of cheap tatt. And unfortunately for us these people were a little more astute to whether we were native Brazilians and they seemed to target us even more as they knew that we were not. The Open Market did have a few bars and restaurants but none that looked particularly appealing and the other arts and crafts shops just reminded me of Deptford Market tbh (not a good look). So we went back outside to face the music.

But, it smelt. Of cheese, socks and of decaying food. The smell was vile. My nose was unable to deal with such an intense pong so we were forced to leave the area. But no matter where we went the same street sellers trying in earnest to sell us their dull wares and the same identical looking shops selling cheap tatt persisted. The whole area was full of them! After awhile the streets began to merge into one and I felt as though I was stuck in some kind of a hellish maze of smelly shops that I would never ever leave. I needed to leave!

We made our way to the only bit of nature in the city: the illustrious fig tree. And it was illustrious indeed. This gigantic tree rose up with majesty and grace daring us not to be impressed by his magnificent splendour. Stretching his green leafy branches out far over our heads and everyone else’s he provided an impressive beauty but also some shade and cool from the now intense mid day sun. We stayed there awhile talking and people watching feeling very relaxed. It seemed as though this was the place to be as alot of the locals were drawn to this leafy park too, but it had to be said, the people in this city were looking more then a little bit bedraggled and worse for wear. There was certainly nothing glamorous about the people here.

Afterwards we made our way to the Open Market again via the shops where I was convinced that I must at least be able to find a beach bag as my beach bag that I got from Paris the year before had suddenly broken. I mean that’s what Brazilians are known for isn’t it: Beaches! I was also fed up of looking like the only tourist on the beach since all women, irrespective of their age wore Brazilian bikini’s to the beach, they did not wear the European modesty styles which basically was all I had so I was keen to get myself a Brazilian bikini to fit in with the locals! But all of the shops were horrible, all of the things they were selling looked dated and cheap and nasty and I simply did not believe judging by what I was seeing, that I was suddenly going to come upon some beautiful wares worthy of purchasement. So we made our way back to the Open Market. Our plan was to go there and have some caipirinha’s and then make our way home. This was a failed mission. I was glad that we had gone but it was nothing to write home about!

Reluctantly we had to admit that this place just wasn’t for us. When we arrived at the market people were baying to get us to go into their store but we eventually settled on a bar/restaurant in the main hall. The hall area was huge but it looked like they were having a pretty slow day as there was hardly anyone in there and there was seating in there for hundreds. We didn’t plan to stay long so we walked into the bar to the side of the restaurant with the intention of ordering our drinks from there but we were both hit in the face at the exactly same time with an intense fishy pong so strong that we could almost see the fishy radiation in the air waves. We left the bar as quickly as our legs would carry us. The caipirinha’s for the record, were not very nice. I was trying to be different by ordering a strawberry caipirinha (which I actually thought would be mango as I still hadn’t learnt all of the words for the various fruits), but when it turned up it tasted horrible and was far too bitter so I swapped mine with Josh’s 🙂

We were pretty happy to leave there tbh.

Btw, these people love their beef you know. Even when I ordered a mushroom risotto they brought me a risotto (not mushroom), with beef! (shaking head)

We’ve yet to work out the way of life here. Shops and the beach bars seem to have weird opening times, some not opening on the days that they say they are, some not opening yet at all, some being empty when you think that they are going to be packed. And of course it doesn’t help that our language skills are pretty poor to say the least and they are not used to greeting foreigners here as most people are Brazilian. Most people here do not speak any English at all, and only a few have a very basic command of English. The younger generation here seem to have more language skills but they are not the ones that we are generally having to converse with when we want information on something or are trying to book a table somewhere. And people love to talk! Even when we think we have done good by memorising a phrase (such as asking for WIFI for instance), they reply with some long and complicated answer in Portuguese rather then just giving us what we want: a simple yes or no! And Uber drivers! Don’t get me started with Uber drivers. The benefit of using Uber in foreign countries is that you don’t actually have to converse with them, where you’re being picked up from and where you’re going is put into the system BUT here in Brazil these Uber drivers like to talk! Rather then just coming to the location that you have indicated on the map they will actually try and TEXT OR CALL you asking you things in Portuguese and needless to say we don’t understand a word of what they’re saying!

I can say that for sure that it was much easier to get around when we were in Thailand and Bali as at least they do get alot of international tourism. But on the other hand of course I feel guilty that I don’t know more Portuguese as I really wish that I converse with them in their own language, but from the little I’ve heard of it, it’s not an easy language to learn.

We found a co-working space near our apartment that opened today so the plan is to go there to work for a few hours during the week. It will be better as the other places that we regularly go we end up getting into the long conversations with the people who work there which is nice but it can be a little distracting when you’re trying to work.

We decided that rather then buying a #caipirinhaaday we will just make our own from now on so we bought the stuff and made our very first caipirinha’s yesterday. it was super easy to make and even more delicious to drink since we can control the ingredients ratio’s. And of course much cheaper! 🙂

 

Week 1 in Florianopolis, Brazil

Week 1 in Florianopolis, Brazil

2019 has been a crazy year. It has without a doubt been the most eventful and emotionally taxing year that I can remember, starting off with our CON Air flight to Zanzibar back in January, to both my Dad and my Aunty getting diagnosed with cancer, to me having an operation, to Josh and I deciding to take the plunge and enact Project Escape starting with a 6 month long trip to South America , to both of my brothers announcing that they were going to be having a children, the first of my Mum’s grandchildren and thus my first neice and nephew (both due whilst we would be away), me passing my driving test and leaving my job of 12 years.

So, 2019 for me has been a year of constant change.

My sister was also going to doing a 6 month trip around South America at the same time as us so both her and my youngest brother have plans to meet up with us when we get to Colombia.

The only people we knew who had heard of Florianopolis was our Brazilian friends. It seemed that outside of Rio De Janeiro, the Amazon and perhaps Sao Paulo , the majority of Brazil was still quite rural and undiscovered so despite the scale and abundant natural beauty of the country, the beaches and the warm and friendly people, not many people seemed to know much about anywhere else. Certainly not in England anyway.

But we were looking for somewhere special. We wanted to find the kind of place that we had such a natural affinity to as to make it almost impossible to leave. We had found such a place only a few times before and we were always in search for somewhere a little off the beaten track that had a authenticity and a natural charm.

Josh had heard about Florianopolis from someone he met at a networking event and what he had heard plus the name of the place had intrigued him so we done some research on it and there it was: Floripa or The Magic Island as it’s affectionately named. Located in the south of Brazil the magic island of Floripa was only a 2 hour flight from Rio, and just 1 hour from Sao Paulo but rather then attracting the kind of international tourism that it deserved it attracted many wealthy Brazilians who chose it to build their second homes.

What was special about this place, other then it’s great weather, Latin hospitality and relatively unknown location was the fact that it had 60 beaches! Yes, you heard me, this amazing, small(ish) island boasted a staggering number of beaches, all as interesting and diverse as the people that inhabited the land. There was a beach for everyone: for party animals, fitness lovers, nature lovers, surfers, swimmers, sun bathers, families, friends and couples.

Though we aren’t necessarily beach bums, we found the idea of having a beach to choose from every day of the month and then some very appealing. And who knew? maybe I’ll even learn how to surf whilst we’re here?!

We were going to be staying in the most affluent part of Florianopolis, Jurere.

Jurere Internationale, the playground of the Brazilian rich and famous was a mere walking distance from our apartment which was located right on the beachfront. With crystal clear waters as still as a bath, and beautiful and as yet undeveloped beach, we had unknowingly arrived out of season which meant that we could avoid the hordes of tourists that turned up every November/ December to overwhelm the city. And since we were going to be staying in Jurere for a month and a half that meant that hopefully we would get the best of both worlds: calm and tranquility now whilst it was relatively quiet and then towards the end of our stay more life and atmosphere as the beach bars would be opening up in preparation for the party animals as people arrived to celebrate Christmas and new years here.

For us, this wasn’t just a holiday (though at times it certainly felt like it was!), we were also going to be working here, so having a place with a bit of peace and quiet so that we could work uninterrupted whilst also being able to stroll down to the beach whenever we felt like it without being bombarded with party loving Brazilian tourists was a definite plus.

Our apartment which we found on Airbnb was in the perfect location, walking distance from shops, cafe’s, restaurants and the beach bars in Jurere Internationale, but on a stretch of the beach that was so natural, unspoilt and quiet that it almost felt as though it was private.

We were on the 4th floor which had incredible panoramic views of the whole of the bay where we could see far out into the misty mountainous distance. To think that we had found this magical, laid back place just by clicking through some pictures on Airbnb was quite a wonder. As for the apartment itself, well, it could have been better. It was apparent by the poorly chosen decor and plastic cooking utensils that this was an apartment that was purely used for it’s income. It definitely wasn’t someone’s main residence or home and it had a distinctly musty smell as if it hadn’t been aired in awhile, but what this apartment didn’t have in sophisticated decor in keeping with it’s locale it made up for with it’s incredible views, an (almost) private beach on one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and stunning private tropical gardens with a pool, jacuzzi and barbeque.

The manager of the apartments also seemed very nice with a decent command of English that far surpassed my extremely limited Portuguese and he made it very clear to us that he was happy to help us with anything we needed at any time of day. So after we’d dropped off our things at the apartment we walked the very short distance to the supermarket where we stocked up on some much needed food and condiments. The fact that we would be able to cook our own food from now on if we felt like it was definitely a bonus. We like staying in Airbnb’s when we do long stays in a country as it affords us much more space, privacy, comfort and we can cook there. And apart from the horrible villa we’d had in Bali where we were under siege from every creature going, we hadn’t had any other bad experiences and even in Bali they eventually moved us after a relentless campaign of complaining by Josh and I.

The only thing about staying in an Airbnb versus staying in a hotel for a long stay is their strict policy if you don’t like it/want to leave. Thankfully with the case in Bali, the country had at the time been experiencing a volcanic eruption scare, so it looked like if it wasn’t for that we probably wouldn’t have been able to leave because from what we had seen it needed to be pretty extreme to get out of your booking and get your money back once you were there. Also, if you had any problems with creatures (i.e caterpillar’s like we had in Ubud, tookay’s like in Thailand or bats and snails like in Bali), you had nobody really to complain to or to dispose of them. And I seriously cannot deal with creatures!

Obviously I didn’t particularly relish the thought of any animals gaining entrance to my abode but spiders and cockroaches are an definite no no. I simply cannot deal. And Airbnb pictures can and do lie. You could easily turn up to a property thinking that it is going to be exactly like it is in the pictures but you can be in for a bit of a shock as some of these places don’t have their most recent photo’s up and the people who own them don’t even live in the country. This means that whoever is tasked with looking after them can easily allow the place to get into a state of disrepair as it’s not their property (or their reviews) afterall.

Plastic Not-so Fantastic

Our aparment in Jurere wasn’t rundown or unclean, but the owners seemed intent on kitting it out with any and every low grade plastic home accessory that they could find. What is it with these people and their plastic home accessories? I got it, this wasn’t someone’s home but did they really need to make that so obvious? Even the kettle looked like it came from another era!

I decided that in order to make our stay more comfortable for the time that we were here the place needed some sprucing up and that persistent musty smell needed to be banished once and for all so the following day we took a trip down to a larger supermarket where we picked up more food and things for the apartment including some breakfast bowls, a tea towel plus some air fresheners and scented candles. I was also tempted to buy a little rug for the place but I conceded would have been going too far! Whilst in the supermarket we actually spotted alot of the things that we had in our apartment for sale which confirmed my sneaking suspicion: they had furnished the place with whichever convenient cheapness they could find!

On the Airbnb it had claimed to have a washing machine in the building for free or for a fee and I had been very much looking forward to using it whilst we were in Rio. Sad as it may sound I had been daydreaming about the convenience of being able to wash my clothes in our apartment and hanging them out to dry as there’s nothing worse then carrying around dirty clothes. But I could see no washing machine in this apartment and when I asked the manager where it was he told me that we would need to take our clothes to the local laundromat. Great!

Our apartment literally being right on the beachfront was a luxury that I wasn’t about to start taking for granted. Just looking out at the serenity of this beautiful stretch of beach was wonderful, but hearing the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore was so relaxing it was almost hypnotic. Our apartment was small but a perfect size for the 2 of us, with a modern design featuring large windows overlooking the gardens and beach, an open kitchen with marble counter tops, a big desk where we could work from and a double bedroom with an ensuite.

I often daydream about living beside the sea but buying a seafront property in France would not only be small in size but extortionately expensive too so we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably won’t be able to live on a beach but being a short driving distance from one would be amazing. What I loved about this beach especially was the fact that it felt as though it hadn’t been discovered yet. Apart from the beach clubs at Jurere Internationale which only opened in the high season there didn’t appear to be alot of development around here but the sea and beach was very clean and it felt safe that I felt that it was only a matter of time before that happened.

Our beachfront apartment in Jurere

We went out and walked the length of the beach which took us about an hour stopping off to snoop at the beach clubs dotted along the beach. It was already starting to feel as though we’d been here a long time but infact we had only been there a day!

The large supermarket had a coffee shop on the top floor so we went there to work and get some coffee. In there we got talking to the waitress, a Brazilian woman whose name was Lily who told us (in perfect English with almost no distinguishable accent) that she used to live in the UK and offered to help us if we needed any. She was very friendly and even introduced us to another English lady who had moved there with her Brazilian husband to start a new life with their young daughter. We swapped numbers with her. We were already finding that the people here were very friendly!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no creatures here. Like, literally none! I had yet to be bitten by any mosquitoes and apart from the 1 small cockroach that I saw on the first night we arrived in Florianopolis, who looked just as shocked as we were to see us, I hadn’t seen any others. This I simply could not believe. A place like Brazil with no crawling or flying creatures? no mosquitoes or cockroaches?! – it seemed too good to be true, but after coming up to a week since arriving here with no mosquito bites whatsoever (and mosquito’s LOVE me!), I stopped wearing any insect repellent: I simply didn’t need it.

Also it wasn’t sticky and humid like I was imagining. It was hot yes, but not ridiculously so, and it wasn’t sunny all the time, it has rained here too, plus being on the beachfront meant that we were getting a constant breeze so we never felt overheated. Truth be told: the weather was pretty perfect.

Jurassic Garden

The private tropical gardens of our apartment leading out to the beach was a real sanctuary. Green with lots of different varieties of trees, plants and foliage it afforded us almost complete privacy whilst at the same time allowing us to see the people strolling passed on the beach. Great people watching could be done here as the gardens were so perfectly hidden that they couldn’t see us at all. The next morning we were planning on spending some time in the gardens, perhaps having a swim, a sunbathe, or go into the jacuzzi for a bit but when we looked out our window to check that nobody had got there before us we spotted what looked like a gigantic lizard on the grass!

The SIZE of the thing! I knew that this was a wild and natural place but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a pre historic dinosaur on my doorstep. Alas when we left our apartment and went into the gardens it had disappeared so after our daily stroll on the beach we returned to go and have a lay down on one of the sunbeds but then we saw it: A beast! The thing was bloody huge! Looking very much like an iguana, a big lizard or small alligator this big scaly creature had huge pronounced gills on it’s wide and solid looking head, it’s tongue was long and much like a snake came in and out of it’s mouth rapidly looking very questionable indeed plus even though it was moving slowly on the grass it looked as though it could shift at any given moment. I had never encountered such a beast of this size and to think that here it was in the garden casual as you like just as Josh and I were about to settle down to sunbathe was quite surreal.

The manager of our apartment saw it too and was standing there casually watching it as it ate an egg (which I presumed that either him or someone else had given to it). I wasn’t sure whether seeing it eating an egg was more or less disconcerting but it meant that it was otherwise occupied so wouldn’t attack me but perhaps more importantly it meant that (probably) it was a herbivore which also gave me some comfort because that meant that it wouldn’t be interested in devouring me but then I saw it scooping up insects with it’s long pink tongue which made me reconsider.

Surprisingly though despite the slight horror of seeing this beast less then a metre from my scantily clad skin I was able to remain in the garden whilst he continued eating his egg (though I wasn’t that brave as to take my eyes of him just incase), but then soon after the manager had left us to our dinosaur watch a second one turned up in the garden! So now there were 2 gigantic beasts roaming about the place a mere metre or so away from us and the other one looked like he’d had his tail chewed off!

I was not keen on watching these two beasts fight but thankfully it seemed that they knew each other (perhaps the smaller one with the bitten tail was a friend or family member or something?), and he followed the other one about until eventually they both disappeared into our foliage: Thank goodness!

Alas I still maintain that I’d rather have an iguana in my garden (if that was what it was), then a cockroach or a gigantic spider in my house. I simply could not deal with any of those things.

Jurassic Garden

We were struggling with the language. It seemed as though apart from the woman we met in the coffee shop we were the only Brits on the island. Of course I’m sure that was not the case but we certainly hadn’t encountered any other native English speakers since we’d arrived. One good thing though was that now that Josh’s tan had began to take effect (which generally happens pretty quickly), people now assumed that he was Brazilian so began talking to the both of us in Portuguese. Unfortunately for us though we couldn’t respond back to them as apart from saying Hi – Ola (the same as Spanish), we only knew one other word: Obrigado (Thanks). I kept on saying to Josh that we really need to up our language game and get a few more words and phrases in our arsenal but for some reason despite all of our raving about the fact that we were going to use our language translator (which was not cheap) everyday to converse with the locals we had yet to use it. Nonetheless, we managed to get about with our few words, and we seemed to understand people (kinda!). Still, we’ve only been here a week so we’ve got much more time to get used to the language and thankfully Portuguese is very similar to Spanish which we have more knowledge of.

After a nice long stroll around the neighbourhood whereby we saw where the rich and famous hung out, and all of the multi-million dollar homes that were in our neighbourhood, we went out that night to a local restaurant that had been recommended by Tripadvisor. Called simply Jay’s Bistro the casualness of the name belayed it’s high level fine dining experience. Fed up to the back teeth of eating beef I was determined to find something on the menu that didn’t come from a cow.

After looking at the very accomplished menu (which they also had in English), I chose to have the Patagonian Lamb with Truffle Risotto and Josh had Carbonara, which came with a breaded egg and sausage (interesting I know). Alas I can confirm that the food (and the Caipirinha that accompanied it) #caiprinhaaday was delicious. Like, really good! The imaginative presentation, flavours and textures wouldn’t have been out of place in a high end European restaurant. And of course the chef had trained in Europe and come back to his native Brazil to treat the fancy people of Jurere to his talents. The portion size had been a bit of a concern for Josh and I as we knew that this was a fine fining restaurant and you usually get small portions there. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but tonight we were starving so when the dishes arrived and we saw that the portion sizes were generous we felt very relieved. The risotto was perfectly cooked (no mean feit) and the lamb too, done as I asked it to be done: medium, no less and no more.

#capirinhaaday

Again, as with most other places the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, but it had a very laid back atmosphere. And even though I could tell the people had a bit of money to splash about they weren’t flashy at all, they were just chill. The service was excellent too. For dessert I had creme brulee (one of my favourite desserts), but this one was truffle flavour not vanilla as is the norm. I have had a passion fruit creme brulee and a pistachio one before (delightful), but I’d never had truffle and I was a little concerned that they meant truffle like the thing that I’d just had for dinner (you know the really expensive ingredient that they get special dogs to forage for) but when I asked Josh he said he thought they meant truffle as in the chocolate kind. So I ordered it only to find that they infact did mean truffle the fungus kind so I was truffled, twice over.

Now obviously I do like truffle hence why I ordered it as my main but had I of known the chef was going to also put it on my dessert I would have declined as I do not like it that much! However to be fair to him, he clearly knew what he was doing as it was delicious. It came with an intensely raspberry sorbet with a soft biscuit crumb and together with the truffle creme brulee was surprisingly tasty. Would I order it again? Sure, but this time I would miss out the truffle main!

We had found a few local places now that we could rotate. They included the coffee shop on the top floor of the supermarket where we could also see our nice new Brazilian friend who worked there, the Jurere Open Shopping Centre, which was an open air shopping area which was very classy indeed and where there was a really cool coffee shop where we could work during the day. A juice bar called Brasil Berry where they had healthy snacks and drinks made from a local berry grown in Brazil: Acai. Then there was a coffee shop across the road from there which looked pretty new. In there we met a waiter called Gino who we found out was elated to meet us as he had been studying English but had never had an opportunity to use his learned words (until now), as he hadn’t met any other English speakers. He was really sweet and put us to shame with the amount of words he knew in English. But to be fair to us neither of us had learned how to speak Portuguese, we were simply using a language translator to get a few words under our belts.

In this coffee shop we ordered a Cappuccino (you know what that is right?), well here in Brazil a Cappuccino is not what you think it is. They have there own version which is more like a Hot Chocolate, infact it IS a Hot Chocolate with cinnamon in it. Don’t get me wrong it IS delicious (especially how they made it, it reminded me a lot of a Jamaican hot chocolate, but a Jamaican hot chocolate also has vanilla pod and nutmeg so tastes even better), but I was confused. How do I order a Cappuccino if all I want is a Cappuccino and not a Hot Chocolate? Even the bill said Cappuccino! I was truly baffled.

Confusion aside, it was delicious. Definitely the best Hot Chocolate I’ve had apart from my Mum’s Jamaican Hot Chocolate. And we also had a cheese and ham croissant. Sounds basic I know. But this croissant was no basic croissant. It was tasty beyond belief. It had salad in it and mayonnaise and was slightly blackened and crispy on the top but was full of flavour. I wondered what cheese they used? as I know that they didn’t have cheddar here. Delish!

We got to try one of the famous Empanada’s too. Very much like a Jamaican Pattie (hey, I’m noticing a pattern here!), it had the same thick and flaky pastry but with different fillings. Remembering that they don’t really do spice in Brazil (still something I’m slowly getting used to), I chose their “Caprese” filling (which I assumed would be cheese), but was actually ham or bacon. Josh had chicken. My ham one was lovely but the filings in the Jamaican Pattie’s have more flavour (and spice), so they are better.

Empanada’s – very similar to a Jamaican Pattie!

The following day I heard the news that I was expecting (and very looking forward to hearing): my very first nephew, my little brothers son was born that morning. I had been devastated to learn that he was expecting this (very unplanned) baby whilst I was planning on being away but I was very much looking to holding (and kissing!) him upon my return when he would be around 6 months old. But he was born on this day and my brother and Mum sent me picture of his beautiful little face which looked so much like my brothers. Beautiful and innocent, both my brother and Mum are naturally head over heels in love with him! And apparently he smells like what heaven would smell like if it existed. I have something wonderful to return to 🙂

The following day however I received some bad news from my Mum: My Aunt had died. She had been unwell for awhile as she was recently diagnosed with cancer but I had seen her a few days before we left London and she looked well. It didn’t occur to me for one moment that she would pass away whilst both my sister and I were travelling. And unlike when my other Aunty died (my Mum’s sister), I couldn’t just up and leave and go back to the UK to attend her funeral. But I was devastated. She was such a warm and happy person, made whole by her wonderful and adoring family who just seemed to grow and grow every year (she surely must have around 6 grandchildren and counting!). And her husband seemed to love and adore her very much, they made a lovely couple.

I could only imagine how he and her 3 daughters must be feeling, particularly her youngest who only had twins a year ago. When I went to see her with my sister and my Mum she was happy at home playing with her beautiful grandchildren and though I could see that she had lost alot of weight and her hair (through the chemo treatment she had had), had fallen out it didn’t occur to me that she would be gone this soon. Her cancer was terminal but it seemed as though she had more time. She deserved to have more time. But life is unfair, cruel and unforgiving, and even though I could celebrate the birth of this beautiful baby, my nephew who is going to be loved within an inch of his little life, now here I was mourning the loss of my beautiful, warm and sweet Aunty who had the most infectious laugh and was a happy and hugely funny and charismatic human being. I am going to miss her so much, and undoubtedly the world is much worse off without her being here.

RIP Aunty.

Me and my sis with my Aunty at my Mum’s 60th birthday celebrations

Redeemed in Rio

Redeemed in Rio

In Brazil. Rio to be precise.

After returning from Zanzibar in January we had decided a matter of days after that we couldn’t possibly hack another year of employer sanctioned holidays and instead we were going to put into motion the plans that we’d had for awhile: Project Escape.

But enacting Project Escape in all of it’s wonderous and freeing glory would mean lining up a number of things: Firstly, we would need to choose where we wanted to go for the 6 months away (not too difficult considering we both have a list of places that we want to travel to as long as our arm!), then, we would need to figure out who was going to look after the cats (again, not too much of a challenge provided our lodger didn’t have any overly ambitious plans about travelling anywhere whilst we were away). Of course we would need to also rent out our house (to a couple preferably, and ones who were happy to mind our cats whilst we were gone).

Then there was the more long-term and serious considerations, such as us being able to financially support ourselves whilst we were travelling, aswell as when we returned because yes, I was going to be leaving work, permanently, to join Josh building the business. So we needed to be sure sure that this was going to work! And I had also decided to learn to drive, giving myself a couple of months to do so before we left in preperation for our long-term plans of relocating to the South of France. Leaving work for me was a pretty big deal, not only because I had been there for 12 years and though it was quite a mundane role with no chance of career progression nonetheless I was happy and content there. Alas, contentment wasn’t going to give me the lifestyle that I had always dreamed of, Josh was getting itchy feet since he had already relieved himself from the pressures of full-time employment and quite frankly, I was ready for the next chapter in my life.

So we put the house up for rent, I left work, passed my driving test (2 days before we flew out no less!) and now here we were in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the start of our 6 month extravaganza.

Rio, A Riot Of Colour

Of course like many people I already had my expectations about Rio before I’d even gone there. My friend Marisa had gone there a few years back and sung the praises of the beauty of the people there (the men especially!). She told me how warm the people living in the favela’s had been but though I could tell she had been enamored by the place, to be honest Rio had never been on my bucket list but the attractiveness of a country’s population was never going to be a serious consideration for my travels and I had no intention of venturing into the favela’s.

What I understood from what I’d seen on TV and read about Rio, it was a very colourful city, with a passionate people who loved football, samba and there was a very sharp divide between the rich and the very poor (who mostly tended to be black and lived in the favela’s), but could it live up to my expectations?

Josh and I had only stopped by Rio because we had found some amazing flights from Norwegian Air and we were planning on being in Brazil for 3 months before going onto Colombia for a further 3 months then around the Caribbean on a cruise from Miami. We figured (much like going to Japan and not passing through Tokyo), that forgoing Rio completely would be a bit of a shame. Sure, we didn’t have much interest in city breaks but since we had 3 months to play with we thought that we might aswell take advantage of this opportunity. We had booked a hotel right on Copacabana beach, the iconic 4 km beach linking the busy city of Rio to the other famous beach, Ipanema. If we were only going to be here for 4 days then we decided that we were going to do all of the typically touristy things that you’d expect in a location such as this!

Our hotel in Rio wasn’t great. It was dated and was in need of a good repaint (and preferably a renovation since it looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 80’s), but it was no cheap digs – it commanded a reasonably high price due to it’s location in the centre, overlooking Copacabana beach.

And we didn’t have time to waste. We really wanted to make the most of our time as it seemed unlikely that we would be returning. On the night we arrived, after dropping our bags in our hotel room we went out to a local pizzeria. We had arrived late and didn’t have time to be walking around looking for food places so we asked for a recommendation from one of the hotels receptionists and walked the few blocks there. Even though it was around 8:30 pm it was still very warm outside, around 26 degrees which we both enjoyed immensely after having a long and particularly depressing stint in the UK battling intermittent rain, grey skies and the relentlessness of an unpredictable and contentious Brexit.

Just to feel the warm air on my skin (and so far no scurrying cockroaches were to be seen), was a pleasure indeed. The Pizzeria was full and though we had brought our language translator with us we had left it back at the hotel so we figured we would have to try and communicate in broken Spanish or Spanglish as it might be called. It turned out that the Portuguese language was actually very similar to Spanish and most people were able to speak and understand both, but despite it’s reputation as a tourist mecca, in comparison to many other places I had frequented, most of the people we had encountered were Brazilian or from neighboring Spanish speaking countries. Oh and of course there were Americans, but nobody from further afield really. Since Josh’s skin hadn’t yet had the opportunity to acclimatize to the country we were in, he was still very much a “gringo” in their eyes, and thus people immediately either tried to speak to us in Spanish or English as they knew that we weren’t from there.

The pizzeria wasn’t like your normal pizzeria, instead of ordering what you wanted from a menu like you do in most restaurants, the waiters brought a a variety of different slices of pizza around and you simply took what you wanted. Of course you could also order from the menu but it seemed like most of the people just chose from whatever was brought around. I found it slightly odd but it seemed that was the norm here. The pizza’s were huge and neither myself nor Josh could finish ours as unlike pizza’s back in the UK they were very generous with their pepperoni slices. The pizza was nothing to get excited about but it hit the spot and it allowed us to go back and get an early night after the 11 hour flight from the UK: We were bushed!

There were lots of things to do in Rio but rather then get overwhelmed we had made a list of our must-see’s whilst we were in the city and we planned to tick them off one by one. We’re not really big on “tourist traps” which is probably the reason why we avoid places that have lots of them but we also knew that some places really did live up to the hype and Copacabana beach was one of them.

Rio was a lot like the US in a lot of ways: it had the same grid system, people obsessed with fitness and looking good, a lively nightlife and it took it’s inspiration from American culture. But Copacabana beach had something that Miami did not: it had vibrancy.

From the sellers pushing their carts full of fresh fruit, ice cubes, coconut water and pashmina’s and shouting out to people as they went by, to the children building sandcastles and doing cartwheels in the surf, to the tanned and bronzed Brazilians letting you know that they are always very much #beachbodyready, to the group of laughing friends lounging underneath their colourful umbrella’s drinking an ice cold beer or a Caipirinha, to the fancy footwork from the Ronaldo and Pele footballer wannabe’s, to the beat of the samba drum from the musicians on the beach, this wasn’t a place for quiet contemplation or boredom: it was place of colour, passion, creativity and sound.

Always #beachbodyready

And the people were just as colourful as their state of dress. People of all skin tones, shapes, hair textures and ethnicities, all were represented here and thus I felt immediately at ease. Nobody was looking at me. Why would they? – I was just like everyone else, and since the Brazilians are descendants of the Portuguese Josh was too (or would be once his tan started to take effect!). Of course the people were as beautiful as everyone said that they were, but I also found them to be very natural, I loved seeing my skinfolk looking so at ease with their skin with their natural hair, and their curves wearing it as they could with pride. They looked resplendent in the sunshine.

And of course you cannot come to Brazil without having a Caipirinha, so I had decided that for the rest of my time in Brazil I was going to try and have at least one Caipirinha a day #acaipirinhaaday. My first Caipirinha I had whilst I was sitting outside a beach bar overlooking Copacabana beach people watching and it was particularly delicious because unlike in England where they are made using vodka, it came with a very generous amount of Cachaca, the traditional Brazilian distilled spirit. Tres bon!

A #caipririnhaaday

The beach was packed but thankfully it was a very long stretch of beach so you could always find somewhere to sunbathe in relative peace. I say relative because it was immensely noisy, there was always some commotion on the beach whether that be people blasting out music, parents shouting to their children, a gym session, lifeguards blowing their whistles to remind people that it was still very much a red flag beach and they shouldn’t go so far out, beach sellers selling everything from handmade trinkets, to ice cold drinks, hot food and of course drugs (on the low low), but even though the people here seemed happy and laid back there was still the very real danger of our belongings being nicked from right in front of us and with this many people occupying the beach it was easy to see how. Thankfully we hadn’t travelled far to get to the beach (our hotel was literally across the road), so we didn’t have too much with us, and we had intentionally bought our beach towels which had a secret compartment where you could store your phones and wallets etc. Judging by the information we had been given by our Brazilian friends and from the staff at our hotel, we should be vigilant at all times and not flash our valuables around. I wasn’t one for wearing lots of jewellery anyway but this did mean that we needed to be much more purposeful about what we walked around with and in particular where we went especially late at night.

The beach was wide and the sand was soft and powdery but the waves here were no joke. I soon realised that there was to be no striding sexily into the sea like a Brazilian supermodel, infact the current was so powerful that when I eventually did make it into the sea the force of the waves knocked me over straightaway which embarrassed me no end. It was hard to stand up, let alone play around in the sea like everyone else seemed to be able to do with ease as I felt the pull of the current dragging me down into it’s watery depths.

Fresh Coconut Anyone?

Despite the dire warnings about crime in the city, I felt pretty safe. When the locals did try to engage us in conversation (usually because they were selling something), a quick No Gracias usually sent them on their way. This would be unheard of on some Caribbean, African and European beaches. So I didn’t feel concerned at all, but then I guess we were still in a relatively “sanitized” part of Rio. What I did notice though was the presence of the law enforcement, aka Po Po. They were stationed on almost every corner everywhere from the airport to Copacabana beach, they would just be standing or sitting there inside their cars with their police lights flashing as if to warn any would be criminals of their presence. For a tourist to Brazil, who had probably heard every scare story going about the favela drug wars fuelled by poverty in the city, to see a hench looking Brazilian cop with his romper stompers looking like he had just returned from Afghanistan was a somewhat disconcerting sight, alas if that it was kept the crime to a minimum then that was all right by me. I had every intention of surviving this trip until the very end. And infact I’d love to return and say to all of those naysayers (including those who had expressed concern when we told them that we were planning on going to South America), that I travelled there for 6 months and didn’t have one bad experience. We’ll see!

The promenade that ran down the side of the beach and alongside the hotels was decorated with a distinctive black and white wavy pattern that I found out is called the Portugese wave. Despite it’s distinctive design however there was also a powerfully distinct smell of urine that accompanied it. It would seem as though the rough sleepers in the city (of which there looked like quite a few but less then there is in London these days in my opinion), used this area to err…relieve themselves, and the smell was very distasteful, particularly when you got a blast of wind come off the sea to carry it along and shoot up your nose. Nawsty.

After Bali I never thought that I would experience having to put my toilet (spoils) into the accompanying bin. And after doing that a couple of times and wondering why the toilet wasn’t flushing I had to acknowledge the inevitable: That shit won’t flush. Afterall Brazil was still a second world country, they didn’t have advanced plumbing like we have in the West.

That evening we went to Churrascaria Palace, a steakhouse with a Brazilian twist. There we dined on meats of all types brought to our table by friendly waiters. It was tasty but the waiters only brought round the meats, all the rest we had to get from the buffet table and as you know I am not a buffet fan.

The following day we had booked an excursion around Rio. For travellers like us, who thought it was nearly always best to discover a place on your own, get lost, and find your way again, this was definitely a departure from the norm, but we only had 3 full days to explore Rio and we wanted to see as much of it as we could. So, starting at 08:50 am we had booked a 8 hour long excursion which would take in the sights of the city and see some of the most important and iconic Rio landmarks, including the famous statue of Christ for the Redeemer, which for a proud atheist such as me is quite an irony but one doesn’t have to respect the doctrine to respect the craftsmanship. Infact it seemed to be incumbent upon me to acknowledge the fact that human beings are capable of the greatest (and the worst) things, and with inspiration are capable of doing anything they put their minds, hearts and hands to. This includes creating a 98 ft high concrete and soapstone sculpture weighing 325 metric tonnes up the 2,300 ft mountain in Tijuca Forest.

The tour would also take us to the Rio’s largest football stadium, to the place where the samba parade started, to the “colourful steps” and Sugar Loaf mountain, aswell as lunch at a local restaurant. Had I of designed the tour myself there were probably only 2 things I would have included that were missed out and that would be watching some Capoeira and a tour to see some of the cities graffiti. Infact I would have missed off visiting the Cathedral (it was soon becoming depressingly clear that these Brazilians took their “faith” very seriously), and chosen to go and watch some Capoeira and see some graffiti art instead, afterall that is far more creative and distinctive to Brazil then another obscenely priced building built with the sweat of others to further tiresome religious ends.

We started off with a coach that took us through some of the most vibrant and creative city sights I had ever seen. Forget Rome, this was the real deal: a culmination of the efforts of the residents, who with their powerful art told the story of their pleasures and pain. It was colourful, it was beautiful, it was raw. And the faces staring back at me painted on the walls looked a lot like mine but they started back at me with expressions of the struggle and the fight to be seen. I never realised such emotion could come through via pictures painted onto a decaying walls but it was. And this art was everywhere. I honestly could have spent the entire day just travelling through the city looking at the various graffiti alas we had places to go and things to see.

I didn’t realise that so much time would be spent travelling between the tour stops but as I came to find out Rio was a huge city, it would be impossible to see all of it in such a short period of time. Our first stop was at Maracana football stadium, the largest football stadium in Rio. We didn’t actually go inside (for that you needed a ticket and since Brazilians were football mad that meant the queue to get in was very long). For me personally, going to a football stadium didn’t hold much appeal and I didn’t feel particularly inspired by what I saw but my little brother is football mad so I knew that he would be impressed just knowing that I had had the opportunity to be in such a place so I took this picture for him:

Maracana Football Stadium

Afterwards we drove onto Sambodromo, another stadium but this time something more to my tastes: The Samba Stadium! Yes, this was the place where the world famous Rio Carnival started and in true Rio style, they made a big deal of their carnival, dedicating a whole stadium to the event. From here you could watch the carnival dancers in their colourful regalia as they done everything in their talented power to impress the judges. Because Rio Carnival unlike carnivals elsewhere in the world, was a competition. It was a competition of dance, music, song and most importantly, dress. I have always been impressed by the sensuality, grace and strength of samba dance and of course the women when wearing their get up were so beautiful nobody could match them. It’s why the Brazilian woman is revered worldwide as being the most desirable. As mixed as you could get, they were an effortless combination of Portuguese, African, Native Indian and in many cases Japanese as Brazil I found out actually had the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan. Intriguing!

Outside of Carnival time, the date of which changed every year, at the Sambodromo you could learn more about this fascinating Brazilian tradition, aswell as buy some memorabilia including discounted carnival outfits, music, speak and take pictures with an actual Samba dancer (who had legs like a stallion), and of course get yourself a Caiprinha for the road 😉

Carnival time at the Sambodromo 

Next we stopped by a Cathedral which for the most part was interesting with beautiful stained glass windows but of course the fact that it was a Catholic Church to me was only indication of religions insidious pyramid scheme in this region, brought over by the colonising Portuguese who had been heavily influenced by Rome. It was that way all over the world, how telling that the religion of the day was spread by conquest only for people to adopt it truly convinced that they had found the true path to heaven.

Escadaria Selaron

I’d actually never heard of this place before but I did remember seeing it in many music videos not realising that it was filmed here in Brazil. Escadaria Selaron was the colourful tiled steps of the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa Teresa, considered one of the arty neighborhood’s in Rio, not only had the beautiful multi-coloured tiled steps but also lots of amazing graffiti art. The stairs were absolutely crammed full of people, mostly tourists, baying to take pictures for their Instagram, and as I was being a shameful tourist myself, I took one for mine too 🙂

The beautiful tiles in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood

Amazing graffiti art near the Sscadaria Selaron

Rio I was finding, was a place of contradictions.  Obsessed with social standing, beauty and health, they had also refused to sanitise their more edgy side, their struggles, the crime and their past which was still visible in living painted glory of the city walls. It was also very green here. Much more so then I’d expected. Part of the reason why I forgo large cities is because they often ignores the nuance in favour of a dramatised version of what the country and people are about. Here I felt that it was very authentic, and rather then just a concrete jungle it still had a lot of the kind of nature that in my eyes is what Brazil is really all about. The hills, the trees, the lakes, the plants, the mountains..somehow nature managed to co-exist amongst what was still quite Americanised in it’s approach to city building. It reminded me a lot of both New York and Miami, but was far more interesting and authentic to me then both of them: Take heed Americano’s.

Sitting on the steps

After the colourful steps we went onto see Christ the Reedemer at Corcovado, the sight that everyone immediately thinks of when you talk of Rio. After a long coach ride and a lengthy climb to the top of the mountain in the intense heat we finally reached the statue of Jesus. Of course the surrounding area was packed full of tourists there to take pictures and some where even there to pray (but not many). This was definitely a tourist attraction and one worth ticking off our Rio bucket list. We gazed upon Christ in all of his stony glory in front of us with his arms outstretched over Rio as if blessing it with his presence, but I knew the reality was that he was designed, engineered, sculpted and transported for the purpose of impressing the world with his significance, so all I could do was marvel at the determination and skill of the human beings who created him.

Redeemed

These Brazilians do love a buffet. That much was becoming clear after our buffet like pizzeria experience the night we arrived, the Churrascia last night and the local restaurants most of whom did one buffet offering or another. So naturally it was to another buffet that our very nice and extremely fluent tour guide took us to. I was reluctantly coming to the realisation that not only did they love a buffet, not only did they love beef in all of it’s many forms, but they also didn’t really eat all that much. Their portions were pretty small by England standards which was surprising since I thought they liked to be like Americans and we all know that Americans have huge portions!

The food at this buffet was okay, but nothing special. They had things like salads, french fries (which they seemed to love), vegetables, rice, pasta (another favourite) and beef which you could have cut especially for you at the grill. My friend Sasha who herself was Brazilian had actually warned me of their aversion to spices and I had found that hard to believe because of the diversity of the people who lived here, but it was true: Brazilians didn’t do spice, not even pepper! I had imagined that their food would be extremely flavoursome with lots of fruits, vegetables and spices but it was not to be. They were perfectly content with rice, beans, french fries and beef seasoned simply with just salt. And preferably buffet style. In short: Their food was bland.

The realisation that Brazil with all of it’s creativity and diversity, a region that surely must grow it’s own amazing fruits and veg and is surrounded by all of the other Spanish speaking countries including Peru which is supposed to have some of the best cuisine in the world (yet to be confirmed by me), then how on earth could it not have delicious food in abundance?

I simply could not go on eating beef everyday. I would find it far too boring and I like to enjoy my food thank you very much.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

Sugar Loaf Mountain was the world heritage site in Brazil shaped like a loaf – a peak jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean. To get to the top of it we had to take 2 cable cars which was pretty scary for alot of people in this region but not for Josh and I who were used to taking cable cars to get to the top of the ski runs.

The panoramic sights of the city, ocean, mountains and beaches below was a sight to below. Seeing the sprawling city from here, with the setting sun casting glimmering down on the white boats in the harbour below, an atmospheric mist floating magically by, houses perched on the top of clifftops, soaring birds spreading their wings, the sound of silence, was truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where it felt like but it certainly didn’t feel like Rio, it was far too beautiful for that. Or was it? Perhaps this was the contrast that made Rio such a unique and positively alluring place.

The loaf made of sugar 

Josh and I on top of the world!

The Girl From Ipanema

Well of course I went to Ipanema Beach, how could I not?

Just the thought of being able to take a picture on this iconic beach was enough to make a special trip to visit. We spent the whole day there drinking Caipririnha’s and people watching. People watching on Ipanema beach was even better then in Copacabana beach which seemed alot more casual. Here people were here to impress, and being beach body ready as they were, impressing wasn’t too hard to do. We had a great day.

Another #caipirinhaaday 🙂

On our last evening in Rio we went to a local underground Bossa Nova club called Beco Das Garrafas for an event in their Little Club. Being a Bossa Nova fan as I am I was delighted to find out that here in Rio we could listen to live Bossa Nova and Jazz for the price of a glass of Prosecco. Now that’s my idea of a night out! In this small, dark club we would find a Bossa Nova band (with an amazing blind piano player) playing nearly all of the songs that I had recently discovered on a Youtube Bossa Nova playlist. They played really well and the singing was great too. I was in seventh heaven.

Rio, I underestimated you. I thought you were just about glamorous people with plastic surgery walking about trying to pretend to be American. I didn’t realise that you were this vibrant, colourful, characterful, friendly, warm, laid back. I didn’t know you had one of the most beautiful birds eye views of a city I’d ever seen, nor that your Capririnha’s tasted like THAT. I didn’t know that you were so artistic, your music so catchy. I didn’t know too, that you rained (sometimes), that your city was so huge, that you had such a problem with petty crime so as to make it the norm, and I really didn’t know that your food was so bland. But that’s okay, 4 out of 5 is okay. Especially for a city. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?

Next stop: Florianopolis, Brazil!

CON Air (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

CON Air (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

We boarded the plane at Paris, Charles De Gaulle, ready for our 8 hour flight to Zanzibar via Nairobi, Kenya. It was to be my first time in East Africa, and Josh’s first time in Africa so naturally we were both excited and a little apprehensive too as we didn’t know quite what to expect.

Getting to this exotic destination off the beaten tourist track was a bit of an ordeal: our commute was over 15 hours in total, and required changing planes 3 times, then it would be another hour and a half journey by road once we arrived in Zanzibar.

Once we had settled into our seats, we immediately commenced our usual routine of choosing the film/s we wanted to watch for the duration of the flight. We settled on Logan as my brothers had assured me it was a really good film and then I decided that should I feel awake enough afterwards then I would watch Wonder Woman. Again. 🙂

Despite the dauntingly long journey ahead now we were ready, or as ready as we were gonna be!

No sooner had I put my travel socks on, spritzed my face with Liz Earle facial toner and applied my moisturiser in preparation of the journey ahead, did we suddenly hear the back door of the plane fly open and then a woman towards the back of the plane, about 4 rows behind us, began screeching at the top of her lungs:

“Nooooooo, Noooooo!”

“Leave me alone, I do not want to go, I don’t want to goooo!”

“Je ne veux pas y retourner! Je ne veux pas y retourner!”

“No, I will not go, leave me alone, LEAVE. ME. ALONE!!”

I whipped my head around to see what on earth the commotion was all about and with growing horror I saw this large African woman being physically restrained by two men at the back of the plane. At first Josh and I just assumed that they were perhaps friends of hers and an argument had broken out between them, but as it became more physical and she became more vocal, it soon became clear that she was infact fighting them!

The 2 slight Kenyan men who were accompanying her were trying to force her into a seat at the back of the plane. She was resisting them with all her might and her protestations were getting increasingly louder. I could only look on in shock. By now the entire back of the plane had turned around in their seats to see what was going on.

Why was this woman being restrained? What had she done? Why were the staff just standing there doing and saying nothing? Why is the woman being so hysterical? I wondered to myself.

And most importantly, What ON EARTH is she doing on my flight?!

All of these questions were whirring round and round in my head as I tried to process what it was I was seeing.

The woman’s cries became increasingly more urgent and she began to beg for help from passengers nearby who looked confused and uncomfortable: Nobody knew what to do.

She begged passengers to help her in French and English:

“Please help me” she screamed.

“Help me please. PLEASE” she pleaded.

I really wanted to help her but I didn’t know how I could. Or even if I should. The men started to get rougher with her as she fought them with an intensity and ferocity that left me speechless: This woman was FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE.

I didn’t know whether she was being illegally deported (meaning, these men were not police officers and were infact taking her against her will), if she was a criminal or whether she was being deported from Paris back to her country of origin. I had absolutely no idea what was going on because whilst this commotion was in full sway and the plane remained grounded delaying our take-off as a result, the staff made NO ATTEMPT WHATSOEVER to explain what was going on to anyone. They never tried to intervene nor to acknowledge the commotion in any way.

Josh and I looked at each other with growing disbelief as we saw these men trying to handcuff this woman to the middle aisle seat at the back of the plane and she wasn’t having a bar of it! Her screams went up an octave.

The sound of this woman’s wails, screams and laments reverberated in my heart as I recognised the unmistakable sounds of genuine human anguish, pain and acute terror.

As I looked around me I could see some people staring blankly forward as if if they merely glimpsed this woman being manhandled they wouldn’t be able to remain calm. They simply REFUSED to look at her. Tears prickled at the corner of my eyes as I saw that this woman was fighting with everything that she had. Whatever the reason that she was being detained was, it was humiliating and painful to see another human being being treated in this way. And I did not see why I should have to be subjected to it!

Multiple times passengers, angry because no information had been given as to what was going on or how long it would be before we took off, demanded that the woman be removed from the aircraft. But this fell on deaf ears: The air crew simply ignored them.

“They will kill me!” she screeched out to anyone who would listen to her plight.

“No, I don’t want to die. PLEASE, I don’t want to die! Je ne veux pas y retourner! Je ne veux pas y retourner!”

My eyes widened in horror upon hearing these words. Die? I thought. Did I just hear DIE?? Just what the bloody hell is going on here? Who IS this woman? I wanted to know. I didn’t sign up to be party to these kinds of shenanigans!

The plane had now been grounded for well over 30 minutes with no announcement from the pilot as to why we were being delayed and no apology from the staff about the noise. I was horrified. I really couldn’t believe what it was I was seeing and hearing. I had NEVER been on a delayed flight where the pilot didn’t give frequent information as to the reason for the delay and an approximate estimation as to how long the delay would be for. This, in my experience, was unheard of.

“Noooooo” she wailed. “Nooooooo!”

I looked over at the staff in disbelief that they could continue pretending as if they couldn’t see or hear the commotion that was happening in front of their very eyes.

My sense of unease increased rapidly as I saw this woman struggling with all her might to resist the chains that they were trying to bind her hands with. My anxiety and sense of helplessness was becoming more and more acute as the time went on. It had become clear by now that these were plain clothed policemen so it seemed this woman was going to be handcuffed to her seat and brought along for the ride whether I liked it or not. Well I DID NOT LIKE.  I was utterly furious and felt powerless to do anything to stop it.

When the woman began to flail her arms around wildly, making it dangerous not just to her immediate passengers, but also to herself, things really began to take a serious turn. All the while she was screaming at them to leave her alone and that she was going to be killed in her country. Babies on the plane started crying in unison.

An hour later and we were STILL stationery, waiting for this woman to be removed from the aircraft. As far as I was concerned, she was a liability. And quite frankly, I was starting to feel traumatised watching this woman being manhandled by these men. I didn’t want her on my flight, end of story. I didn’t pay for this shit. Neither did I agree to share my flight to Zanzibar with a deportee.

The airlines arrangements with the authority’s to deport someone on their commercial flight had nothing to do with me as a paying customer as far as I was concerned and I would never willingly agree to be a participant in the removal of someone, particularly when said person was unwilling to be removed and was being extremely vocal about it!

It’s not as if she was like a normal paying customer, she was essentially being REMOVED from the country, and that is something very different.

After an hour or so of this things really began to escalate when I heard the back door open and saw 2 French policemen enter. I knew that they were police immediately because they were hench, wearing police uniform and had a ruggedness about them that looked as if they were used to dealing with VERY SERIOUS situations (such as terrorists and the like)

I looked on in shock and horror as these militant looking policemen along with the by contrast very gentle looking Kenyan policemen proceeded to try to get this woman under control but she was stronger than any of them could ever have anticipated and she wasn’t going down without a FIGHT!

After another 10 minutes of struggle, which not only had them heavily perspiring but the woman too, FINALLY they got her strapped to her chair. Soon thereafter we heard her panting heavily and we could SMELL her body odour from where we were sitting: She smelt of defeat, pain and broken dreams.

The woman now brought her screaming up to blood curdling loud levels and I was really struggling to hold in my tears. The sound of her deep sorrowful sobs were hurting my heart. I found the whole thing utterly inhumane and deeply disturbing. I couldn’t believe that THIS was the start of my holidays. Was this to be the sign of things to come??

Now handcuffed to the seat, she promptly began smashing her head with full force against the seat in front of her. The woman in front of her whose seat she was banging her head against and who was visibly getting more distressed, immediately burst into tears, as did children halfway down the plane. It was absolute mayhem.

How they could allow this delay to occur when it was completely within their control was beyond my comprehension. How they could sit there pretending that nothing was going on when a woman was literally begging for her life really was beyond my understanding. Why they felt it was acceptable to allow this woman to continue this level of disruption that was causing passengers including children to cry and people to demand that they remove her immediately when we know that they divert planes for MUCH less was beyond belief. And why they never went around apologising profusely to every passenger who was being affected by this horrendous episode and tried to put them at ease for what already is for some people quite a disturbing thing (flying) whilst this unacceptable drama played out was to my mind, UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE.

Eventually, after they had moved the crying passenger sitting in front of her, I summoned one of the air hostesses who had been trying in earnest to pretend that she didn’t see what going on wasn’t going on, and I asked her directly “What IS going on?!”

And she told me (though I noted that she never bothered to apologise), that the woman was being deported. Simple as that. No further details. No apologies. And STILL no announcement by the pilot!

My nerves were frayed and I didn’t know whether this woman would start an even bigger commotion whilst we were in the air so I couldn’t relax. And fundamentally, I did not agree with them bringing their “prisoner” onto MY flight that I paid my hard-earned money to be on!

Now they brought out the big guns and the woman’s wails became repeated daggers to my heart. I turned around to see them produce a head strap – yes, you heard me correctly a HEAD STRAP, which they then proceeded to attempt to put onto her head to stop her from harming herself!

WFT is going on here??

These delusional people were so insistent that she was going to travel with us that they were actually prepared to put a head strap on the poor woman!

Well, she really began screaming now and it was unbearable. Again, people asked repeatedly for her to be removed from the plane, but they were patently ignored. I decided that I just couldn’t look anymore. Realising that they were determined to keep her on the plane Josh and I asked to be moved to another seat but were ignored. It was agonising to hear her let alone see her.

Concerned passengers began filming it on their phones but the French policemen (who for the first time seemed to suddenly realise that passengers were indeed present and watching everything that was going on!) went around DELETING footage from people’s phones telling them that they couldn’t film it.

Deleting footage you know! BUT WHY? You ask.

Why couldn’t they film it if what they was doing was perfectly okay and above-board? Who knows?

After almost an hour and a half of this I decided to be smart and at least try and get some audio of the commotion for future evidence. Because if this airline thought that I was just going to let them get away with this with no recompense then they were SADLY mistaken. As far as I was concerned allowing this woman to remain on the plane was putting EVERYONE on the flight at risk.

Eventually I managed to record audio of when she was much calmer then the hour or so before, but it is still damning evidence that proves how much disruption this woman was causing to passengers and I knew without a doubt that grounded or not, anyone else causing a disruption like this would have been removed without a moment’s hesitation.

Suddenly I felt the engine starting up (I couldn’t hear it of course because the woman was still screaming at the top of her lungs), but I could feel it beneath me. But to my absolute horror the safety announcement started playing DESPITE the fact that this woman was still wildin’ out.

I couldn’t hear a bloody thing! She was so loud that I couldn’t hear it and neither would I have been able to concentrate on it even if miraculously she had stopped screaming because I was still traumatised by the whole experience.

Once the engine had started up and the French policemen had helped to strap her head and hands to the seat they promptly left via the back of the aircraft. I recorded the audio of our ascent and the safety announcement whilst the woman was making her presence felt. It all felt quite surreal, like a nightmare. And STILL I was yet to hear the pilot make any kind of announcement regarding the commotion.

Whilst we were still in the air I could hear the woman crying, though it was gradually getting lesser and lesser, but then all of a sudden I heard nothing and I looked behind me to see the woman with a blanket thrown over her head, and I suddenly knew that she had been sedated.

It didn’t make me feel any less uneasy or anxious to know that she had been sedated for I knew that she could wake up any moment during the 8 hour flight and kick off again. But more importantly, everything in my body told me that this was wrong. This woman was being treated like an animal – she had essentially been tranquilized like one!

Perhaps they thought that she was? After all, they used to display African bodies as animals in their Parisian zoos in the not so distant past. That would have explained the lack of a need for them to apologise to people as to why they thought it was appropriate to bring her along. VILE. In the woman’s exertions she was sweating profusely, the stale, pungent, sweaty smell of her body odour wafted down to us every so often to remind us that here was a body being disguised as if it wasn’t even there. My heart hurt with the inhumanity and injustice of it all. And still I could do nothing.

Despite my concerns, the woman never woke up for the remainder of the flight: She remained heavily sedated and hidden from view.

During the flight my fury reached PEAK LEVEL when after had experienced a little bit of turbulence (a natural phenomenon that is to be expected), the pilot had the audacity to suddenly CROP UP on the microphone to APOLOGISE for the 20 minute turbulence that we would have to endure. Yet he made absolutely no mention whatsoever of the utter chaos caused by the passenger/prisoner that had delayed our flight for over an hour.

He didn’t attempt to explain or better yet to apologise about putting a plane load of passengers through something that was 100% percent within their control to diffuse! Unbelievable.

I was even more knackered than I would have usually have been after such a long flight. I was now MENTALLY exhausted too. I couldn’t erase the visions playing over in my mind of a woman being wrestled into submission.

We arrived in Nairobi to be greeted with intense humidity and extreme disorganisation. Though our bags went directly on to Zanzibar (and I was praying that they would arrive in one piece), we still had to check in at Nairobi Airport for the onward flight to our final destination and the staff at Air Kenya were pretty shambolic I have to say. Such a basic thing such as checking in 2 passengers really should not have caused such confusion.

I mean, it wasn’t like I was asking for them to provide something that hadn’t already been booked and paid for, or asked them for a product that they didn’t sell: They sold flights and I had paid for one. Surely not rocket science.

So, not a great start. What also wasn’t a great start was the level of professionalism which was severely lacking. BUT, they got us there in one piece, so I was thankful of that at least.

Zanzibar Airport

If I thought that Kenya Airways staff was bad, then I was soon to be left in utter awe of the Zanzibar Airports systems, which were utterly non-existent.

Travel from the UK to Zanzibar required a visa. This hadn’t even occurred to us when we decided we were going to travel there so to find that we needed a visa to enter the country last minute came as a bit of a shock. Luckily, there were 2 ways to obtain one: Either apply for one in advance by getting it from the embassy or get one upon arrival (for a fee of course). When we were travelling to Indonesia and Thailand we had to get visa’s for both countries and it was a reasonably complicated (or at the very least time-consuming) enterprise. But that was kind of understandable since we were intending on being in both places for longer than a month, but in Zanzibar we were only going to be there for 10 days, alas it didn’t matter to them how long we intended on staying in their country for they wanted their visa money ($50 to be precise), and they wanted it now!

Zanzibar airport was small and in disrepair. The staff weren’t very impressed to see all of these (mostly European) tourists trundling through their airport and they didn’t pretend to be. In short: They weren’t very friendly. But such is the case working in an airport where you see thousands of faces on their way to begin their holidays and you are stuck stamping passports in the heat with no chance of escape. I get it. But at the same time, if you are a third world country, and people are making the effort to come to visit it, experience your culture and as a result prop up your tourist economy, it would be nice to at least acknowledge that with a smile. Or maybe just not a scowl. Alas maybe that’s not very realistic *sigh*.

We’d read online that we would be required to queue up once we got to the airport in order to get our visa forms processed but there was no signage to make it clear where we should go to get one. Thankfully it seemed that we were travelling with people who had been there before and knew where they were going so we followed them to a hall with tables that looked like they had lots of white forms on them. But upon closer inspection we could see that this table with its abundance of papers which were literally spilling over everywhere had lots of different forms.

The heat was oppressive and it was literally impossible to know which one of these forms we needed to fill out as there were about 7 different ones there and they all said “visa” on them. And to make matters worse there were no pens and no staff to help with any questions. We were hot and bothered and absolutely knackered after travelling for 15 hours plus the hour and a half of drama we had to endure at the start and I simply did not have the brain matter nor the energy to work out which badly written form I needed to fill out.

After eventually choosing 2 forms and starting to fill both of them out with pens that Josh had in his bag, a French lady suddenly took pity on us and shoved 2 completely different forms in our hands for us to fill out instead!

The forms were a joke, wanting to know everything there was possible to know about us and our stay. I couldn’t remember the Indonesian and Thai visa’s being this complicated and some parts of the form was written in Swahili and there was nobody there to translate. Ridiculous.

Finally, after wasting unnecessary time filling out the wrong forms we went to go and queue at security as we assumed we’d need to hand our completed forms in to them but no, we were told by a security guard (only after we asked, because of course there was no signage or offer of assistance), that we needed to go into another queue first and hand them in there.

Once we got to the front of that queue all the sour looking woman did was put her hand out for the forms (which she didn’t bother to check), and put her hand out again for the collateral.  We then took ourselves back into the security queue where we waited for an outrageous amount of time (as these security guards didn’t seem as though they knew what they were doing), before we FINALLY got through. By this time we were the VERY LAST people on our flight to go through.

We had arranged our transfers through our hotel and as a result of the CON Air situation plus the farcical of Zanzibar airport we were delayed coming out but thankfully our driver was there waiting. We tried to explain to him the diabolical visa form situation but his English wasn’t very good so he didn’t really understand us. I decided that I would shut up for now as my body was rapidly starting to shut down.

It was now around 3:00 am in the morning and almost pitch black outside.

Instinctively I worried about the cockroaches and mosquitoes that would undoubtedly be lurking with dastardly intentions to crawl, flutter, creep, slither, sting and bite me. It was NOT a very nice prospect. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t spray any insect repellent to deter them because it was locked away in my suitcase and it was far too late to be fiddling about with locks. So I just hoped that these creatures of the night would leave me be, at least for a couple of hours.

The air was heavy with humidity giving me a sense of how warm it would be the following day and I began to get excited with the prospect of waking up the next day in Zanzibar, ready to explore.

The journey started off well enough with a relatively smooth ride and from what I could see, quite an uneventful landscape, but I knew that we were at least an hour and a half away from the coast so I wasn’t really expecting to see anything spectacular until we got closer to our hotel. A couple of times on the journey due to my extreme mental and physical exhaustion I began to nod off but I soon woke up with a start gasping in shock when the car careened straight into a ditch!

My intention wasn’t to have survived the last 15 plus hours of travelling from London to Paris to Kenya to Zanzibar only to die in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, alas almost as soon as we went down on the ditch we jolted back up again only to go back down again in a spectacularly violent fashion. The roads were full of HUGE ditches, potholes and mounds of rubble, so many infact that it was impossible for the driver to avoid them so he didn’t bother trying.

The roads were in a state of disrepair that would have been laughable if they weren’t so awful. I almost went flying forward, cracked my head against the side of the car and lurched onto Josh’s lap such was the force of the jolts. And this guy had a 4 wheel drive! The roads were shockingly bad.

Alas, we survived the journey, but by now I was so exhausted that I could barely walk. All I wanted to do was sleep. Like forever. I couldn’t care less what the hotel looked like at this point. I just wanted it to have a big, clean, mosquito free bed. That was at my top priority. Thankfully, the hotel (from what I could see at this late hour), looked pretty nice.

Though our commute had been indescribably bad, and I was still traumatised from the episode on the plane, I started to feel my body slowing down and switching to a lower gear and by the time we walked through the beautiful tended gardens, felt the heat caressing our skin, listening to the bewitching sounds of the crashing waves just steps away I sensed that perhaps we were going to be okay here afterall.

From the little that I could see of the place it was tropical with lots of green foliage, huge coconut and palm trees and beautifully designed with authentic African interiors and also, scrupulously clean. And for a woman like me who isn’t afraid to say that I simply CANNOT DEAL with creatures that was a huge relief.

We chose to come to Zanzibar because it was a little off the beaten track, wasn’t an obvious holiday destination therefore was unlikely to be overrun with children or beer louts, it had the weather, it had the culture, and being situated in East Africa on the Indian Ocean, had some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

I was intrigued with this place they called the “spice island”, and after researching its history I learned more about its unfortunate participation in the slave trade by Arabs of Africans, about its world renowned spices which it used to trade with the rest of the world, the abundant nature and endangered species like green turtles and red colobus monkeys, not to mention its spectacular sunsets, beautiful unspoilt beaches, it’s unique Arabic, Indian, European and African influences and being the place where Freddie Mercury was born.

I also learnt that Zanzibar was 98% Muslim (which probably meant that the other 2% was Christian, since it was highly unlikely that any atheist would dare to attempt to survive here), and as an atheist myself, and a reasonably outspoken one at that, I was a little worried that my views on religion and god would be exposed thus putting my very life at risk!

I suddenly had visions of me languishing in misery in a cramped Zanzibari jail, a tiny window providing a small slither of light, measly food rations and scrawny rodents scurrying across my bony mosquito bitten feet. No, I did not wish to be arrested in Zanzibar thank you very much. I realised that I’d just have to keep my views on the mental slavery of the masses to myself!

It being a Muslim country also meant another important thing: I would have to dress conservatively. That meant that in 30 degree heat I would need to walk around in full length clothing in public spaces – making sure my shoulders and knees were covered. This was a little bit of a problem for me as this was supposed to be a beach holiday, I didn’t actually HAVE any clothing that was suitable to such a climate that was that modest (as I rather liked getting a tan!).

Which basically meant that I now had to go out and buy some new clothes, and I did not relish the thought of purchasing clothing that I wasn’t likely to wear again. Thankfully after some research I managed to find a few suitable and reasonably priced things on EBay and Amazon.

The Z Hotel

The Z Hotel, where we would be staying for the next 10 days, was an award-winning boutique hotel located on Nungwi beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Zanzibar. With only around 50 rooms, the hotel was English owned and English run, and had been designed by world-renowned French interior designer Philippe Starke, who incidentally also designed the eye droppingly beautiful Delano Hotel in Miami that Josh and I love so much. He is a most accomplished and brilliant designer.

I was initially a little surprised to discover that he had designed the Z as I didn’t think that it would be his style afterall it was in Africa not Europe, but the flow, attention to detail, feel and cultural sensitivity of place was distinctive.

It was colourful, with lots of wood, traditional African prints and playful references to the safari throughout, such as quirky monkey light features and animal sculptures hidden throughout the grounds. The infinity pool was in the perfect location for people watching and watching the sunset was the amazing from the rooftop cocktail bar. The hotel was situated in a prime location on the beach as it was a little set back and received much less of the “attention” from the locals trying to sell their wares then many of the other hotels in the area.

Our room when we got to it, was small but beautifully designed with African print wallpaper, decorative wooden furniture and a luxurious wooden four poster bed with an ingenious mosquito net that covered the top and pooled onto the floor to provide extra protection. I’d never seen one like it before and I could easily see how it could work to provide protection from mosquitos and other crawling and flying insects. Since I have recently found out that I have skeeter syndrome (an allergy to mosquito saliva), I REALLY didn’t want to take any risks!

Thankfully, the room was spotlessly clean and I could see no indication whatsoever of any creatures lurking about with intentions of crawling on, flying to, or sucking me which was a relief.

And then there was the view…

Room with a view

Our balcony which was very spacious with 2 beautiful (and super comfortable) wicker chairs perfectly placed to gaze out to sea, had a prime position overlooking the beach where we could people watch, listen to the sound of the waves and see whether our favourite beach beds were free. I could only imagine how wonderful it would be the following day when the sun was out.

Naturally, I do like a well-designed and well-appointed room but the most important thing overall for me will always be cleanliness and a lack of creepy crawlies and this room had top marks for both. It was a little on the small side but it was perfectly positioned to hear, smell and see the sea and watch the beautiful sunsets so I was very happy!

The bed however, left alot to be desired. That very first night we slept on it we realised that after the bed in our apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this was the second hardest bed that Josh and I had ever slept in. It was ROCK SOLID. I woke up the next day aching from head to toe.

The Z Hotel Library

Tropical Gardens at the Z

Breakfast at the Z was a slightly disappointing affair. Not being a fan of buffet (for breakfast or otherwise) I just hoped that the quality of the food would make up for it, but the selection of food available to eat didn’t leave me with any enthusiasm as it was pretty unimaginative: fresh omelettes (which was generally pretty good though it would have been nice having a little more of a variety with the fillings), cereals, croissants, toast, waffles, pancakes, and fruit. There was also a traditional Swahili option which required eating with your hands, and I really wanted to try it as everything else was western, as were the guests that were frequenting the hotel, but the eating with my hands business I decided would have to wait until I had the courage to embark on such an adventure. Perhaps at the end of my stay!

The staff were all locals and they seemed very friendly and well trained. I liked the baby faced boy who made the omelettes in particular because he reminded me a little of my brother. However his omelettes weren’t as good as the older woman who done them on Thursdays and Fridays and she seasoned them properly and added a generous amount of cheese!

Nungwi Belly

After a day or two of languishing on this paradise of an island, we both started to feel a little bit out of sorts. For me, it wasn’t an intense need to go to the toilet or anything but occasionally when I did have the urge to go I had diarrhoea. For Josh, it was a little more sudden and he not only had the diarrhoea but a sensitive stomach too and as a result felt pretty drained. As a result of it not being that serious (I had really bad food poisoning in Ghana and Ian had it in Egypt so we both knew how bad it could be), we weren’t holed up in our room or anything but it did mean that we needed to make sometimes frequent and sudden trips to the toilet!

The Z Hotel had a beautiful layout with the garden rooms situated around the pool which was hidden by trees and foliage that felt very private, with 2 restaurants, a rooftop bar, a library and a computer room (which it seemed nobody really knew was there apart from us), a spa, an excursion booking office and a boutique shop. We even saw a few cheeky monkeys roaming about! So cool.

There was a variety of beds around the pool from which you could lounge, sleep, relax, read, laze, people watch, you name it, there was a bed for it, and of course, should you want to people watch in complete privacy, then there was always our lovely sea view balcony from which to do it from.

We met the manager Julie who was an English woman originally from Swansea (such a peculiar contrast!), and she recommended a few restaurants to us to visit whilst we were there, aswell as told us about how it was she came to be in Zanzibar. She was very friendly and told us that she had been there for 8 years. Put it this way: she didn’t look like she was in any rush to go home!

When we looked at the programme in our room we found out about all of the activities we could do in Zanzibar aswell as about the ridiculous pot holed road situation that was so bad that it probably meant that drivers were having to change their tires every 2 months!

Never a dull day

Beach Bliss

Let’s be perfectly honest: we came to Zanzibar for the beach.

The last time I had been to a really great beach was a year ago when we were in Koh Phangan, Thailand. We don’t do many beach holidays as on their own they can be a little boring and European beaches don’t count because though they can be quite nice, they are usually rocky, the water is cold and they do not have soft white sands and turquoise blue water. However they also don’t have deadly box jelly fish like south-east Asia does so perhaps there is a trade-off there, lol.

Alas, there were no box jelly fish here, no fish at all really from what I could see but I knew that Zanzibar had a lot of coral reefs. The beach was picture postcard perfect and unbelievably clean, the sand was soft and white with a powdery texture, with no seaweed or nastiness in general, shallow until very far out (so perfect for children though thankfully there weren’t any there!), and the water was as warm as a bath with an aqua blue hue that simply didn’t look real. Coupled with the fact that the beach was devoid of “Brits Abroad” it was almost perfect.

There wasn’t many Brits but there sure was a large influx of German nationals, aswell as Italians and Russians. Infact everywhere I went apart from the locals who spoke Swahili, all I could hear was Italian, German and Russian (which seemed to be a VERY peculiar combination). But Italians were by far in the majority, and apparently they even had their own hotel! I didn’t know what the obsession with Zanzibar was for Italians but aside from Italy, I’d never seen as many of them anywhere else in the world until I arrived there.

African Paradise

Nungwi Beach

After breakfast our daily routine was pretty much to go back to our room to get changed into our beachwear, then traipse down to the beach at a leisurely pace where we would look for some nice sun beds (ideally 2 in the sun and 1 4 poster bed in the shade), we would then spend the rest of the afternoon alternating between the pool, the bed, the shade and the sea. It was a glorious routine that never got boring, and for a bonus we would go back to our room for an afternoon nap, before waking up and going in search of food: Simple pleasures.

We went to dinner at a local Indian restaurant which was accessible via the back of our hotel via some walkways. You could also get there via the beach but the tide was forever changing and sometimes it would be all the way in so you couldn’t walk on the beach at all. The restaurant was big and overlooked the beach, and along with serving food also had entertainment: African singers with a band and dancers. Initially we didn’t want to sit too close to the band because we didn’t know whether they would be any good and we were starving hungry, but when they performed their traditional African music, with the drums, beautiful harmonies and catchy beat, we really enjoyed it. Occasionally (and I assume for the benefit of the mostly European tourists), they attempted to perform popular western songs too like R Kelly and Beyoncé which I did not like at all.

Listen: if people are going to travel all the way to Africa and expect not to experience Africa then that’s up to them, don’t cater is what I say.

I don’t mean don’t cater at all, as it’s nice to have a bit of variety (particularly when it comes to cuisine), but most people can’t sing like Beyoncé so what makes them think that someone from the bush in Africa will be able to complete the task satisfactorily? I don’t think so somehow.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with African music and culture and I for one went there to experience it. Eating Indian food in Africa you may think is weird, but this island shares a history with Indians as it does Europeans and Arabs too, but it is also important to showcase the uniquely African food and music too.

Despite this, both the food and the entertainment was really good, both Josh and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A particular song came on and I couldn’t help but to get up and film. I felt the urge to dance too but it wasn’t that kind of place. The tune was so catchy and they had Zanzibari dancers showcasing their unique wining skills. Such fun!

Thus far I hadn’t been bitten once by a mosquito. This I really couldn’t believe. Of all the things that had concerned me about travelling to Africa, the presence of creepy crawlies and ones of giganticus maximus proportions no less, was freaking me out and in my mind was just a guarantee. It did not occur to me that I wouldn’t have to overcome my fears on a regular basis to deal with the abundance of spiders, giant ants, cockroaches, gecko’s and other unidentified crawling beasts for the duration of my stay here. But as the time went on, I was AMAZED to find that not only didn’t I not even see one cockroach, spider or mosquito, I never got bitten either. Not even once!

Considering I have been eaten alive in almost every hot country I’ve been to (Thailand and Croatia being the worst), I was very surprised that here in Mother Africa, the Mother Ship, the Motherland and beginning of life of our species I didn’t encounter the very biggest, the very ugliest and the very deadliest that Mother Nature had to offer.

Rather than staying in our hotel which we don’t really like to do and have really only ever done that once at Swept Away in Jamaica (which we loved far too much to leave), we decided to go to a different place every day for lunch.

Our “Nungwi bellies” were still in full sway causing us not to stray too far from base control, but it wasn’t enough to stop us from enjoying swimming in the glorious sea which was doing wonders for my skin with it’s high salt content. Along with the warmth of the sun which was consistently in the early to mid-30’s and an ice cold cocktail, I really couldn’t complain.

Josh and I walked down the beach to find a restaurant serving better (and cheaper) food then our own. It was needless to say packed to the rafters with Russians and Italians which was starting to become a bit predictable, but we had a lovely Greek Salad and Spaghetti Bolognese there.

Beach Boys

The “beach boys” as we liked to call them, were a little bit annoying. They would make a beeline for anyone who was clearly not from Zanzibar or who was coming out of one of the hotels, and they would keep on trying to persuade you to purchase one of their water sports packages or cheaply made wares.

What made it feel quite intense at times was the fact that there was so many of them, and once they had learned which hotel you were staying in they would have you marked and would basically hound you until you relented. But to be fair to them, at least they weren’t just guys begging people on the beach, they genuinely had something to sell. Problem was: the things they had to sell I didn’t wish to buy!

Josh, getting tired of being harassed to purchase their brick-a-brac, had resorted to just telling them straight up that he didn’t like what they were selling, lol.

We did want to do some excursions, such as maybe going on a traditional Dhow boat sunset cruise, to Stone Island or snorkelling, but we weren’t all that keen on purchasing these excursions from random boys on the beach. Each time we left the comfort of our hotel to venture down to the sea for an afternoon of sea frolicking, we could see these beach boys out of the corner of our eyes making a beeline for us. Unfortunately for us, we were at probably the most noticeable guests due to our respective hues and insistence on venturing beyond the confines of our hotel, so we were definitely a target. They also seemed to think that we had been there for ages, they kept saying to us:

“Wow, you’re still here!”

Well yes, we are. We’re on our holidays!

By this time we had learnt to say a few greetings in Swahili. Karibu meant “Welcome” and Hakuna Matata (which before arriving here I honestly assumed was just a part of The Lion King and not an actual phrase, lol), meant “No worries”. And we could also say “Thank you very much”: Asante Sana and slowly: Pole Pole (though we didn’t have much need of that word as we were already moving as slowly as we physically could!)

All of these phrases helped us a little to get to know the locals (who could speak very good English aswell as some German, Italian and Russian too for obvious reasons), and it meant that we would accidentally find ourselves getting into long, detailed conversations with the beach boys about a boat cruise that we never had any intention of booking whilst we were trying to make our way to the sea. Nevertheless, the Zanzibari beach boys were never aggressive (unlike in Turkey, and from what I’ve heard, Morocco, India and Egypt too).

The beach was long and wide, with huge rock formations framing the beach, with tall coconut and palm trees swaying gently in the breeze.  What I loved about the beach aside from seeing flawless black skinned Maasai warriors strolling on it casually with their long sticks by their sides in their beaded handmade body adornments and distinctive red clothing, was the fact that it was forever changing. The tide was forever changing. Sometimes it was all the way in, and you could just about walk through without getting completely drenched, and other days it was all the way out and you could seemingly walk right out to sea but the water would only be knee-deep. I loved the unpredictability. And I don’t know what it was about the sound of the sea, but it was so hypnotic and calming, that despite the excruciatingly hard bed we were sleeping on, I felt more relaxed then I remembered being in a long time. I was really starting to understand why this place was known as mysterious. It definitely had a magical allure.

 The Maasai Market

We walked down to the furthest ends of the beach and along the way a tall Maasai warrior with short twisted hair and beaded jewellery approached us. He had the slim, elegant looking physique that all of the Maasai had, with skin as dark and silky as the darkest cocoa. He made casual conversation with us asking us how we were finding Zanzibar, where we were from, whether we had done any excursions yet (we hadn’t), and whether we supported any football teams (they are football MAD in Zanzibar, and English football in particular). He was unlike the beach boys in that his approach was more conversational than anything else. He wasn’t simply trying to sell his wares, but of course he did have to make a living. Baring in mind the Maasai are from a long and proud tradition of being African nomads and fearless hunters it was a real privilege to get the opportunity to speak to him and even more so to see them in this very unique and beautiful environment.

Alot of the Maasai now work as security guards for the hotels around the island, which in some respects was a far cry from their ancient history and customs but it provided them with a way to make a living and also retain their culture. The Maasai told me about the beautiful beaded jewellery he was wearing, a bracelet of which said the name “Alex” (which I doubted very much was his actual name), and he said that he was a seller in the Maasai Market, a few minutes’ walk away a turning off of the beach.

Josh and I told him that we weren’t really in the market for shopping that day mostly due to the intense heat which was beating down on us relentlessly, but then I figured that this opportunity, offered to us by this very friendly Maasai warrior, was perhaps the only chance that we might have to do something like this and we had planned on getting a few gifts towards the end of our holiday anyway. So we followed him down a rocky dirt track road. I didn’t see many other tourists there. By this time my skin was so hot you could fry an egg on it and both Josh and I were sweating profusely. This man on the other hand didn’t seem to sweat at all!

The heat was extremely oppressive, turning what was supposed to be a nice trip to meet the local Maasai people into quite a bit of an ordeal. It was obvious that he was keen on us coming to his stall so that we could buy from it, but in a way I couldn’t blame him. Around us were lots of stall sellers, both men and women in traditional dress selling everything from handmade bracelets and earrings to bowls, ornaments and bags and in order to get people to visit it they had to bring them to it.

When we got to his stall I asked him if he had made the things that were on display and he pointed to the colourful beaded jewellery, such as the ones he was wearing, saying that he had made it all himself. The women at the stalls, who were busy sitting cross legged on the dusty floor making a variety of different things, also had children with them, and I couldn’t help but to wonder whether they were making enough money to sustain their families, but despite the fact that alot of the stall sellers were pretty much selling the same things I knew that if I had the money I would have given it to them gladly, because even though these people were clearly making a modest living, relying mainly on tourism to pay their bills, and feed and clothe their families, they retained a distinctive pride and sense of self that I really admired.

These weren’t people with their hands out waiting on charity or begging on the street, these were a people trying to adjust to their new modern reality, trying to make an honest living, yet holding fast to their customs and traditions. I bought a few things from “Adam’s” stall, namely some beaded bracelets for my Mum, sister and I and I told him that we may come back again another time, but it was becoming far too hot to concentrate so after 15 minutes or so we said our goodbyes and left the Maasai market.

A Touch of Magic

Sleeping on the bed of rock was not a very pleasant experience. Everyday I woke up with aching bones and a bad back. I didn’t suffer from back problems so it was acutely obvious to me that this definitely wasn’t something that my body could get used to long term but despite this, I still felt amazingly relaxed and chilled since arriving here. It might perhaps have been the appearance of the sun, perhaps it was the comforting, lulling, hypnotic sound of the sea, the birds, the musical and gentle sounding Swahili language, perhaps it was the feeling of safety and extreme comfort that this place evoked, who knew, all I knew was that my body had moved into a very low gear of almost sloth like proportions, and I wasn’t sure that it had ever reached this level of deep relaxation before.

On the horizon we could see Mnemba Island, a small and incredibly beautiful island accessible by boat from Zanzibar, with deep, soft white sands and shallow crystal clear waters with coral reefs that was perfect for snorkelling which we planned to do at some point during our stay. The beach was big enough to never feel overcrowded or busy, and people tended to keep themselves to themselves, so we were able to easily find places to sunbathe where we felt as though we had the beach all to ourselves.

I had personally never experienced sand this warm, white, soft and luscious before and Josh agreed that the beach here was very similar to the more popular Seychelles (another of the Indian Ocean islands) that he had been to, but since this one was a part of Tanzania, and therefore Africa it had a little more authenticity, was bigger and offered a little more then just sunbathing to it’s visiting tourists. Though I must admit we did do ALOT of sunbathing, lol.

Blue & White

Me strolling along the idyllic and picturesque Nungwi Beach

The sun was having it’s effect on my skin and I was loving it, as was Josh who had been complaining about the level of pastiness he was exuding back in the UK (it had been back in September when we last saw the sun in Provence afterall).

The sea was absolutely glorious. There was hardly any seaweed at all, the sand underneath my feet was silky soft, I couldn’t see any questionable things in the water, it was clean, clear and very salty (the perfect remedy for bad skin). Josh and I were blissfully happy when we were frolicking about in the sea, and from where I was laying, I couldn’t see how it could possibly get much better then this.

One day I saw 2 sharks swimming near the shoreline, just as a girl was doing a hand stand in the sea. I wondered briefly whether they would bite her to smithereens but they didn’t seem particularly bothered about her at all. They were quite small and I doubted very much that they were dangerous so after seeing them that day I forgot about them.

Profiling and extreme vanity was taking place at an ever-increasing level by the Italian and Russian tourists, in particular the women, who were prancing about trying to get the perfect Kodak moment of them in the surf to show to their social media contacts. It looked pretty pathetic to me.

One woman in particular was on the beach whilst we were having dinner at a restaurant having picture after picture after picture after picture of herself taken by her boyfriend and she didn’t seem to care in the slightest that the entire restaurant was looking down at her on the beach flicking and tossing her hair about in the wind, rolling about in the surf and raising up on her tip toes desperately to try to make her legs look longer and more shapely.

But it was when I saw grannies posing for pictures with their visible cellulite, protruding belly’s and varicose veins when I was REALLY shocked. What on earth is this profiling nonsense all about??

Sunset Rooftop

Everyday our hotel had half priced cocktails on their rooftop bar, and everyday I would get my favourite drink, a rum based cocktail with lemon and pineapple aptly named “Reef”

The rooftop was mine and Josh’s favourite part of the hotel. It was so relaxing sitting there after a hard day of sunbathing. The only thing that I could fault them with was the music they played. Sometimes there would be chilled house beats but other times they would play pop music (no thanks) and one evening we went there and there was an acoustic musician, a young local boy who was performing popular music.

Listen, I didn’t travel all the way to Zanzibar to listen to pop music, and cheesy pop music nonetheless, sung by a boy with a voice as soft as snow (NOT a good thing). It was dull beyond belief. What they should have had in keeping with the style of the hotel was to have a local performer performing local music, which to me surely was superior to hearing all of this cheesetastic nonsense.

“Ashante Shana”

One of the pool boy waiters at our hotel insisted on trying to confuse us.

One of the very first words we learnt when arriving in Zanzibar was how to say thank you: Asante and thank you very much: Asante Sana, and we had been saying them both religiously for a good couple of days now.

However this pool boy in particular INSISTED on trying to correct us everytime that we said thank you by highlighting the word ASHANTE (as in Ashanti the singer? Josh cheekily asked me) SHANA. So basically he was putting 2 h’s in there that did not exist. Even if you were to write the word down his pronunciation of thank you very much in Swahili doesn’t exist so I had no idea what this guy was playing at and I wasn’t going to allow him to trick me by saying the wrong words when I knew that we had it right the first time!

In the end I asked one of his colleagues and they confirmed that I was indeed saying it correctly. However when he came over later to serve drinks the couple lying on the bed next to us I overheard him correct them again telling them that thank you very much was pronounced ASHANTE SHANA. All I could do was shake my head in dismay. How can it be that the man can’t even speak his own language?? Goodness gracious!

Sunset was the most popular time of day because it was the time when the locals came down to the beach: children came straight after finishing school and adults after work, to socialise, play sports and relax. The beach boys were much more relaxed too, preferring to mingle with the locals instead of hustling them to purchase their wares. Sundown was the perfect time to go to the beach because it was much less hot, the sea was still calm, the sky was lit up in beautiful shades of red, pink and amber, people were in a good mood, after having a thoroughly relaxing day lounging on the beach, drinks in hand, experiencing life in all of it’s beauty and simplicity on Zanzibar island. What’s not to like?

From our perfect viewing post on the rooftop, Josh and I were able to see the beach gradually coming to life – local children playing football on the beach, adults building bonfires and talking with the tourists, banging on bongo drums, swimming in the sea, people exercising on the beach, walking, running and children practising their somersaults, their laughter ringing out with purity and joy.

The Maasai, with their elegant red robes fluttering in the breeze, strode forward with purpose, looking magnificent against the stunning natural backdrop: the kings of this land.

I wished I had taken a picture of them but my picture taking skills are limited (I have to make a concerted effort to remember to take them when I’m travelling), and I knew that it was considered rude to take pictures of the locals without asking first.

Still, these beautiful sights wasn’t something that I was likely to be forgetting anytime soon.

Sunset on the beach

CON Air

I knew that this airline had probably hoped that they wouldn’t be hearing from anyone on that fateful flight, but they were sadly mistaken. There was no way in hell that I was going to allow them to get away with treating us in the way that they did, especially considering the extreme unprofessionalism of the staff on that flight. The day after we arrived in Zanzibar we went to the computer room to write a lengthy complaint first to Expedia, who we had booked it with (who promptly offered us a £50 voucher), and then a 5,000 letter of complaint to the airline directly. I tried to upload my audio too, but we could only upload video files (which smartly, the police officers on board had made sure that nobody could do by deleting their files!)

I was relieved that since arriving, apart from having occasional spouts of Nungwi belly, we hadn’t had any other dramas in Zanzibar, and after that despicable experience on the plane I really don’t think that I could have taken much more. I was super relaxed, but I still hadn’t forgotten what had happened, and I was determined that it would get dealt with, or else I had said to myself that I would be prepared to release the audio, on social media, to the media, to the ombudsman, whatever was necessary to call out such an atrocity. I had also done some research on other deportations on a commercial line, which wasn’t very common but apparently did happen and I found something quite horrific.

Due to the level of stress that was involved with detaining a passenger in this very public and humiliating way, there were reports that deportees had actually DIED on these flights. I felt awful knowing that there was a possibility that this woman could have possibly be one of them. Afterall, I never saw her again.

I never intended on being one of those tourists who “stayed on the complex” but after our transfer from the airport, Josh wasn’t keen on the idea of doing any journey on those roads again apart from when it was time to go home. Stone Town was Zanzibar’s UNESCO heritage site, a place of historical and artistic importance due to it being the centre of Zanzibar’s spice (and slave) trade and as such I felt it was important to visit there.

With Arabic and European influences from their history of colonisation by the Portuguese, Omani’s and British, the architecture reflected this unique melting pot of cultural influences. But Stone Town was back near the airport, at least an hour and a half’s drive away, so I did understand the reasons why Josh wasn’t keen to go back there again. The whole journey from England to Zanzibar had been traumatic for us, and neither of us were keen to experience those horrendous roads again anytime soon.

Considering this part of Zanzibar was a popular tourist location, it did seem very hard to believe that the authority’s would have been happy to leave it in such a terrible state, alas, perhaps it was just one of those places where people would be prepared to travel to because of it’s difficulties rather then in spite of them.

Tasty Tasty!

The manager had recommended a French restaurant to us that was nearby. She said that it done incredible food and on her days off she would always dine there. So far we had found no reason not to trust her word so we booked a table at Le Macis for later on that evening. I had checked the reviews on TripAdvisor for this restaurant and had been reliably informed that this was the best restaurant on the island.

When we arrived we were eventually shown to a secluded table beside a tree in a garden. The restaurant had a very rustic feel to it but I was left comforted with the knowledge that everyone that was dining there seemed to look very happy with themselves.

The menu, despite us assuming that it would be French, was infact not French at all but a mixed menu, with some local sounding dishes and some European, but it was definitely not French, the restaurant merely had a French chef. But I was still encouraged with the knowledge that it had received many glowing reviews. Josh and I soon realised however, that we were more then a little overdressed.

I was finding it a little difficult balancing this modesty wear lark, along with beachwear and appropriate going out clothes, and even though this was considered to be a fancy restaurant, it was fancy Zanzibar style not fine dining restaurant style.

Alas, I thoroughly enjoyed the food – I had a fish main course with potato dauphinoise and for dessert I had a cinnamon crème brulee which was delicious (if a little on the small side).

We infact very much enjoyed the food and wine so much that we booked to go back again!

The Spa

The spa in our hotel was very small being just a room that offered beauty treatments, so we decided to go to the spa at the hotel we’d had lunch at a few times instead. When we walked in there the women at the reception desk greeted us as if they were surprised to have guests: not a good start.

Alas, they were offering a couples spa experience for $100 which seemed pretty reasonable to us. The spa could have been better, for instance they had someone still cleaning out the pool when we arrived there for our private pampering session, the steam room had seen better days, it hadn’t been heated up in anticipation of our arrival and the spa therapist didn’t come to collect us from the steam room when our time was up (we were only supposed to be in there for 20 minutes), but we thought we’d give them a bly.

The important thing for me was the deep tissue massage, which hasn’t really been up to par for me anywhere else other then Thailand and Jamaica, but thankfully, the masseuse really put some welly into it and I felt suitably floaty and sleepy once she had finished.

The place was certainly in desperate need of a renovation but it did still have African charm, and the oil that they used on my skin was DIVINE. I was kicking myself afterwards that I didn’t purchase one to take home with me.

The aptly named Kilimanjaro Water

Nungwi Town

I was determined to experience as much of the Zanzibari people and their culture that I could. Due to mine and Josh’s Nungwi belly, which was mostly okay but was definitely still lurking in my system, we were being very careful with what we ate and the thought of trying the traditional Swahili breakfast didn’t fill me with much excitement but I did want to go and see the local area so the following day we took a stroll down to the village to see who we could meet and what we could perhaps buy as presents.

The first thing that struck me was the ditches in the road which I knew would be there (as we had travelled through), but even seeing the cars on the road going down into a ditch was scary business, as the car would jolt and wobble about precariously looking like it might completely topple over! They were dirt roads, and plumes of dust would swirl about and whoosh into our faces as we walked making it hard to see where we were going.  Instantly, my carefully cultivated tan was being threatened with fumes and dust.

Knowing that we were going to be venturing into the local area where the locals would undoubtedly not take kindly to seeing westerners traipsing about in inappropriate wares (which for them meant someone having their shoulders and knees out on display), both Josh and I made sure to dress accordingly as we did not wish to offend. However even though we saw signs requesting that people respect the local customs and dress modestly, we still saw that the few westerners that had made it away from the alluring beach, were brazenly wearing immodest clothing with seemingly no awareness.

We were not very impressed. I mean how difficult is it for people to respect the laws of the land? They really are not asking for much.

I looked around to see a very stark contrast from the white sands and blue seas of the beach. Here was a very real poverty, a dusty land with hardly any greenery, with ditches in the roads, dilapidated buildings and lots of hump back cows roaming freely. Also there were children following each other obediently in groups, with their entire heads and bodies covered. I was dismayed to see that religion had yet again had taken a strangle hold of young children.  Child indoctrination was alive and well here. How many more must be brainwashed into submission? I wondered.

We heard the unmistakable sounds of a school as we passed by. I wondered what these children were being taught. And if they had any potential at all here? Were the little girls being taught to be submissive and go home to their husbands and be a good wife? Was that the supposed pinnacle of their self-worth? – The thought that these beautiful little girls, with a world full of possibilities was being denied to them socially and financially was upsetting.

I daydreamed about setting up my own school here, in this beautiful, mysterious part of the world, where I would teach children critical thinking skills, understanding and appreciating nature and science and the values of empathy, justice, equality and kindness: Humanism, in a nut shell. No need for magical masters. Surely THAT is what those children should be learning, but somehow I didn’t think that’s what they were.

There were shack like stalls with metal roofs on either side of the dusty road and inside them were people selling almost identical things to what we saw in the Maasai market but out of politeness we went into their shops to look at what they had for sale. The people seemed very happy when we went into their shop, even if we didn’t buy anything, and were it not so dusty and hot we would have went into every shop there, but we did get to go in the majority of them, talked to the people, greeting them in their own language and we even bought a few things so it was definitely a trip worth making.

Beautiful African Artwork

Raw Fish

Now I do like raw fish (well, sushi), but I do NOT like being tricked into eating raw fish, particularly when my belly is feeling a little sensitive, and when I ordered the cooked variety.

We decided to go to one of the seafood restaurants that the hotel manager had recommended. Since she’d done such a stellar job of recommending the (French) restaurant to us, we thought that it was a good idea. Zanzibar had lots of fisherman so I was really looking forward to sampling some fresh seafood.

The restaurant was located on the beach and had a very romantic setting with small tables with white tablecloths spaced wide enough a part so that you could have a private conversation. I was feeling really hungry but not as hungry as Josh who had had Nungwi belly pretty badly early on in the day so had opted to not eat any lunch in order to prepare his belly for dinner.

There was a couple sitting next to us. Clearly a young looking local girl with a much older foreigner who was trying in earnest to impress her. I shouldn’t have been able to hear their conversation but due to his high level of desire to get his leg over that night I could hear every bloody word. By the end of it I knew where he lived, that he had a daughter, how old she was, where she lived, what happened to his relationship with her mother, that he wanted (more children), what he did for work, what he did last week, and so on and so fourth. And despite my very best efforts in drowning him out (even though Josh and I were having our own private conversation), I could not. He just would not stop yapping on!

There were lanterns on each table which looked really pretty but in practice they weren’t giving out much light at all.  When our food arrived (we had both chosen bbq’d fish dishes), we were a dismayed to find that the bbq part (which we had assumed would be the marinade for the fish), came in a separate container which we were then expected to pour onto our fish to give it flavour. What on earth is that all about?

And to make matters even worse, the sauce just tasted of tomato ketchup and chilli, there was no indication that it was bbq flavour. Rubbish.

Neither of us could actually see what it was we were eating but I could taste it, and from what I could taste it so I knew that the fish wasn’t fresh. Ironically enough our waiter had said to us once he seated us that this was the best restaurant, which we thought was an odd thing to say at the time, but we figured that perhaps we were going to experience something so amazing that it was worth mentioning.

And afterall, it was supposed to be a seafood restaurant, which is their speciality.

But no, my fish was most certainly one that had been languishing in the depths of the freezer only to be bunged on the grill for 2 seconds before being served and Josh, as it soon turned out, had been eating raw fish. Yes, his fish had not been cooked properly and after commenting on the texture to me which he said was “weird” he then used his phone to look at it in more detail (because we couldn’t see a thing) only to find that the fish was completely raw in places. We were horrified and sent dishes promptly back to the kitchen. Talk about “best restaurant” how about “food poisoning?!

Josh was rightly worried that his Nungwi belly as a result of eating fish that hadn’t been cooked properly would get worse, so we both ordered a simple pasta dish of spaghetti with pesto, garlic, and sundried tomatoes as a replacement.

Our favourite lunch spot

Salty Seadog

The second dish was even worse then the first. I didn’t think that was even possible but it was. The pasta was bloody AWFUL. Salty, with a very strong, almost briny flavour that really turned my stomach. It tasted like they had put about 10 tablespoons of salt in it, plus the juice of a ton of mussels, garlic and garlic butter. After just 1 mouthful I couldn’t continue.

Josh didn’t like his either but he hadn’t eaten since breakfast and so was starving.

When the waiter came back to ask us if we were enjoying the food I told him flatly no, I was not. Josh managed to take a few more mouthfuls and again we sent the food back to the kitchen. We left soon after.

Josh was still hungry so we stopped by at a local Italian restaurant to get some pizza. My appetite was gone but I decided that I did have space for Tiramisu. The pizza was decidedly average.

I still had not been bitten by a mosquito. As we were dining out every night, and spending the majority of our time outside during the day even when the mozzies were due to be out in full force I assumed that we would but neither Josh nor I got bitten. Neither did I even see any creatures. Sure, we had the occasional wandering ant in our bathroom, but they were normal sized ones not the super-sized jungle ones that I had envisaged.

But other than this, no creatures, no crickets, no spiders (aside from the gigantic ones we saw who had made a web home in a tree), no cockroaches, no spiders, no bats and certainly no tokays. All of which we had seen IN ABUNDANCE when we were travelling in Asia. This came as a big surprise to me because I was expecting to see all sorts of creatures, alas I saw none and our hotel was always scrupulously clean.

It felt safe.

We met no person during the 10 days who we felt threatened by in any way and even the beach boys, who were trying their best to get us to purchase one of their water activities were increasingly annoying, but completely harmless. You could walk the entire length of the beach at night and not be worried about anybody threatening you. Nobody was rude, sure some people were a little on the miserable side (though not as miserable as the staff in the airport), and people seemed to really appreciate the fact that we tried to speak the language. Also, we still hadn’t encountered many Brits there, it didn’t seem as though Zanzibar was a popular destination for them and that was pretty cool though it was a little hard going having to listen to stern sounding German conversations so frequently.

The food needed improvement. The hotel had a lovely feel and design, was well run, clean and in a good location but they need to sort out their food offerings. I do not know where I got my Nungwi belly from but clearly it wasn’t from eating fruit. It could possibly have been something as simple as food preparation since you can’t drink water from the tap there and they may have been preparing the food in unfiltered water.

Also, pizza is not African cuisine, and though it’s good to still offer it in a tourist destination such as this, I do not think that it should be the only type of food on offer. They need to serve the local cuisine or better yet serve fresh (with an emphasis on fresh and cooked) seafood. They have tons of it right on their doorstep afterall!

Beautiful sunsets, stunning wide beaches, calm, blue seas perfect for swimming (and taking pictures in judging by the Russians), lots of activities, and of course the opportunity to do safari in the mainland Tanzania.

We booked a snorkelling trip for the day before we left but that morning there was a horrendous storm and it remained windy and stormy allday so we cancelled it.  Later on that morning I actually had a bout of Nungwi belly and I decided that tumultuous seas would have done me in so we were quite relieved that we couldn’t go in the end.

The airline did try to call us whilst we were still in Zanzibar and we told them to call us back when we had returned to the UK. We compiled a list of things that we wanted to highlight to try to prevent them from attempting to scam us by trying to assuage us with a measly apology and now we await their call.

After the atrocity of CON Air, an apology wasn’t going to wash with us, sorry.

Josh and I before we were poisoned with raw fish!

 

 

Weeks 3 & 4 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weeks 3 & 4 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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We came, we saw, and for 4 wonderful months, we lived.

To say that the 4 months we have spent travelling through Southeast Asia has gone fast would be a lie. To say that we have spent it in the way that most travellers do would also be a lie. We haven’t. We have spent our time travelling in exactly the way that we like to travel, at the pace we like to travel at, no more and no less. So ultimately for us it hasn’t gone quickly – it’s gone just as quick as we expected in the time that we have had, but we have had lots of amazing experiences (and challenges) along the way and many a fond memory of specific places and situations both good and bad that will keep us smiling for a long time to come!

It was never our intention to be backpackers. The backpacker lifestyle (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with it) is not the lifestyle for us, but it seems that from some  people’s perspectives, if your not “roughing it” then you haven’t had the full travel experience. Well I disagree.

Travel doesn’t have to be done on the cheap or spent at the lowliest of places. Travel can and should be luxurious! Afterall, travelling isn’t about how many places you can cram into your time, or about collating meaningless bucketlist locations to brag about on Instagram, it’s about experiencing different places, fully immersing yourself in the country, culture and customs you visit and seeing the world anew. And what better way to do that then by spending an extended amount of time in each destination?

In our 4 chosen locations (Ubud in Bali, Canggu in Bali, Koh Samui in Thailand and Chiang Mai in Thailand), we got to live alongside the locals whilst not foregoing the luxury’s that are important to us such as staying in a decent standard of accomodation, and going to nice restaurants and spa’s. We also did not want to have to keep packing and repacking all the time and as I do not travel light it was out of the question to move anymore frequently then we did.

All in all, when you factor in the 2 shambolic places we stayed at in Bali (Uncle Tom’s Rotten Cabin and the Akmani) where we left both promptly, we stayed in 6 different locations overall in our travels. Travelling to 6 places in 4 months meant packing and unpacking 12 times! 12 times! There is no way that I would want to pack and unpack anymore times then that.

 I think that what was most refreshing about our time spent away was that we were operating from our own clock. There was no alarms to be set or anywhere in particular to be. We arose each day to decide what we wanted to do and where we wanted to be  and found that mostly, even though we had the luxury of spending every waking hour on the beach topping up our tans, we didn’t necessarily want to. We found that even though we could have spent our time experiencing every possible thing that Indonesia and Thailand had to offer, we did not want to. The touristy things that we did do we considered carefully before doing them, weighing up whether these experiences were unique to that country or not.

So overall we have had a pretty varied experience in each place – we spent some days lazing about on the beach, some days at home, some days travelling, some days in cafe’s, some days shopping, some days getting pampered. Spending so much time in each location afforded us the luxury of doing things at our own pace and it was a very delicious indulgence indeed.

Songthaew Life

Getting a Songthaew here is easy. And since we live very centrally it’s even easier – you just wave them down as you would a black taxi on the street. Granted, you do sometimes have to negotiate the price with the driver as occasionally (especially late at night), they try to charge you more then 80 p a ride, and even though you know that what they’re charging is bloody cheap you still don’t want to pay more when you know that 80 p is the standard rate. But these Songthaews are surprisingly endearing as each one is unique. The drivers “pimp them up” to reflect their individual style so sometimes you will get ones that are decorated with Thai ribbons hanging from the roof, sometimes you will get decorative patterned seats to sit on, some have an interesting interior colour scheme and some even have flashing disco lights installed in them to get the party started!

But the Songthaews have competition on the road, as there are also Tuk Tuks, which are basically converted scooters that have the added capacity to take passengers in the back. I call the Tuk Tuks the “Pimp Mobiles”. They each only take two passengers so you never have to share your ride. All of them are decorated so that they are noticed wherever they go, whether that’s with a kick ass sound system, flashing lights, bells and whistles, blankets and furr interiors – you name it, they have it. And with their flamboyance they have the driver to match.

Unlike the Songthaews, which are mostly driven by the older generation, the Tuk Tuks are mostly driven by younger guys, who have better English, know more of the up and coming hangouts and are far more cheeky. The Tuk Tuks also go faster then the Songthaews so if you’re going somewhere in a hurry then they are perfect, but both of the sides are open and the temperature in Chiang Mai drops at night so it can get quite chilly when you’re driving through the city at pimp mobile speed. Also, they are more expensive then the Songthaews so most people try to avoid using them. This makes the drivers of the Tuk Tuks naturally a little more aggressive as they have to fight to get people to pay the measly 40 p more to ride with them!

There are hardly any pavements here and no traffic signals for pedestrians whatsoever. It is becoming a bit of a challenge trying to cross a 6 way junction with no green man for pedestrians and tbh I’m very surprised that I haven’t witnessed a fatal accident in the time that we have been here. It is bloody dangerous and also extremely polluted in Chiang Mai. Never mind Indonesia and volcanic ash, these people are suffering from petrol fumes! I’m sure that my lungs have noticed the difference since arriving here.

Home Alone 

Josh’s friend is also in Chiang Mai at a Kung Fu Training Retreat in the mountains. If it sounds ideal then perhaps you need know that as part of his training which incorporates not just the practical side of Kung Fu but also the philosophical side too, he wakes up at 4:00 am each day to begin his training. There is of course no drinking or smoking allowed (and he does both with regularity when he’s back home), instead, he is required to meditate daily. The Kung Fu Master is originally from England but has been living in Thailand for over 30 years and has won various Kung Fu Awards and was chosen by the previous master for his skills so clearly this is no joke business. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that Josh’s friend had planned to attend the retreat for a month as I knew that he partied pretty hard. He contacted Josh and said that he was going to be staying in Nimman for a night before he went onto Phuket to meet his girlfriend who was flying out from the Isle of Man (where they both live) to join him, and then he was going onwards alone to Japan and China (now THAT I was envious of!).

Josh organised to meet him one night for dinner and I didn’t particularly fancy being a third wheel so the plan was for me to eat early and then stay at home for the rest of the evening whilst he met up with his mate. Staying home was my preference as we usually went out for dinner each night so I figured it would be a welcome change, but it was also a necessity as we only had one key fob to get into our apartment and indeed our whole building as for some strange reason, the woman who rented us the apartment didn’t think it necessary to give us 2 key fobs despite her knowing that there was two of us staying there. And she didn’t even live in the country! Ridiculous.

The security in our apartment block was intense as it was one of the nicest developments in one of the nicest areas: Nimmanhaemin. This meant that we needed the one key fob we had between us to access the lifts, to get up to the floors and to get into our apartment. In reverse, this meant that you couldn’t enter or even leave the apartment without it, therefore I was essentially “banged up abroad” whilst Josh was out socialising.

Before Josh went out to meet his friend I went to a local pizzeria which I had never tried before to pick up a pizza to take home with me. The pizzeria we had been to before in Chiang Mai, which had come so highly rated, turned out to be average and after having such exceptional pizza in both Bali (Spaccanopoli) and Koh Samui (Coco Tam’s) respectively, I did not wish to eat an average pizza. So I thought I’d try this other place out. The pizza, as with everything else in Chiang Mai, was cheap beyond belief. £3 for a pizza! Just unbelievable. And even though it wasn’t as good as the others I’d had – it was at least better then the other pizza I had had in Chiang Mai and for £3 I really could not complain. I didn’t really understand how these people (the owner was Italian) could be operating a business – a bricks and mortar retail store selling their pizza’s at just £3 a piece but this was the reality living in a place such as this!  

After Josh left to go and meet his friend (and I told him to film his friend doing his newly learned Kung Fu moves!), I chilled at home watching Netflix. Yes, Netflix and Chilling, lol, but alone. About an hour later my phone started ringing – it was Josh saying that he had just got to the hotel where his friend was staying but that when he text his friend to tell him that he was waiting downstairs in reception he text him back saying that he had the wrong day. They were supposed to be meeting up tomorrow! Well he couldn’t believe it and neither could I. How could he have got the day wrong for goodness sake?

Anyway there was nothing that could be done about it now. But it dawned on me that him getting the wrong day also meant that I would have to do the home alone thing again the following night because I didn’t have a key fob to get in or out!

What kind of foolishness is this??

The next day came and I went back to the same pizzeria (because I really couldn’t be arsed to find anywhere else) and the Italian man there was very happy to see me (likely because he assumed that I must like the pizza so much to be back the following day!) so I had to lie to him and tell him that the pizza was really good. He had no idea that I went there out of necessity because I knew that I was soon going to be “banged up abroad!”

When Josh left I done the same thing that I done the night before – Netflix and Chilled and thankfully he didn’t call me an hour later telling me that he had the wrong day. But it did occur to me as I was sitting there in the comfort of my cosy little home that due to this ridiculous policy of needing a key fob to get in and out of the building and not seeing any fire escape on our floor (though I’m sure there must have been one), had there been an actual fire in the block, I would have been burnt to a frazzle because I couldn’t actually get out!!

Not a Chiang Mai Grenfell

I didn’t want to perish in our glamorous but bijou apartment in Chiang Mai. And I most certainly could not read any of the fire documents which were all written in Chinese. I hadn’t seen any fire escape notifications and was completely unaware of what to do in the event of a fire or indeed how to exit the building at all. I was essentially a sitting duck.

When I had heard about the Grenfell fire in London a few months before I had been utterly horrified and angry. I seriously could not believe that something as horrendous as this could have happened and I was furious to think of it possibly being premeditated by anyone, let alone a government conspiracy. Do I think anyone would do such a thing? you ask. The answer is yes, though please do not ask me who done it or why because I’m not a detective but where there is motive, there is a criminal and what better one then one who can make money out of tragedy? Afterall, most of the poor people who lost their lives in that fire were not valued members of society. They were just poor people. Tis sad but true. 

Anyway, I do not wish to dwell on such painful things, it’s just that it did occur to me, whilst I was “banged up abroad” looking out to the mountains ahead and the mist filled sky, that if the building were to go up in flames then perhaps I would too, because there was nothing in this small apartment to throw out of it in order to break my fall if I jumped from the balcony, nothing apart from our mattress that was, and we all know about my mattress don’t we..

Hard as a Rock

I have never in all my days slept on a mattress so hard. It takes my breath away, both literally and figuratively to believe that such a hard mattress exists. Because this thing is so hard that we wake up every morning winded from almost having our ribcages crushed under the magnetic weight of it. Aching from the pain of how hard it is and with a backache because it is so very uncomfortable. So when I think about throwing out the mattress in the event of a Grenfell fire in Chiang Mai not only am I sceptical that I will even have the strength to lift this 50 tonne mattress out of the apartment onto the ground but I also very much doubt that I would survive the jump as mattresses are supposed to be firm but soft but this one was firm and hard. VERY HARD. I think that if I jumped onto this mattress it would literally break my legs. A terrible thought indeed.

Birkenstock Awe

I’m so glad that Josh managed to convince me to buy a pair of Birkenstocks. They have been absolute lifesavers during my travels. I never thought that I would wear a pair of shoes so frequently but he was right when he said that once I got into them, I would never want to come out of them! They are unbelievably comfortable and have got even more comfortable as time has gone on. German Engineering has allowed me to walk the streets of Bali and Thailand without my feet aching at any point in time which I think is incredible. Unfortunately for me, the luxury of wearing such comfortable shoes does not extend to England as it’s far too cold to wear them there but if it wasn’t, or they had a closed toe version that actually looked good (they don’t), then believe me I would be wearing them there too. Highly recommended if you go travelling and want your feet intact!

The Miserable Pork Balls seller

They are crazy for Pork Balls over here. Pork Balls are round bits of Pork (like sausage meat), on a stick that they fry for you on the roadside by the boat load. I don’t know what it is about Asians and pork but they absolutely love it. I guess the same could be said for Caribbeans and chicken and Africans and fish but Pork is the number 1 seller here and Pork Balls are King. You can get them for 30 baht (around 70 p) from the street sellers and they seem to do very good business (especially with the Chinese). We saw this Pork Balls seller outside Dom’s, getting prepared for his Pork Balls debut that evening, and he looked bloody miserable. I couldn’t work out what had happened to this guy for him to be so miserable looking but as people walked by glancing occasionally over at his balls he seemed to get angrier and angrier and by the time I dared to look over at him he was positively furious. I was unsure as to who would DARE to buy a Pork Ball from him when he was glaring at everyone in his line of vision. The man looked so vex it was as if he wanted to chop everyone in their neck back. He was bloody terrifying.

Thankfully for us, we weren’t in the market for Pork Balls, whether they were being sold on the roadside or elsewhere, so we didn’t have to go anywhere near him.

Favola

We went to Favola for dinner which is an Italian restaurant inside the Le Meridian hotel in the centre of the Old Town. I was desperate to find somewhere, an actual restaurant, where we could have a nice meal. I was fed up of this casual eating thing. I was seeking some glamour!

Unlike Bali and Koh Samui, which had glamour in abundance, Chiang Mai seems decidedly lacking where fine dining restaurants were concerned. People seem to like crowding the streets, sitting outside decidedly average looking restaurants or eating from sellers dishing out sticks of meat from food vans on the extremely polluted roadside. But that was not my thing at all. All I wanted was to find a restaurant, with nice decor, good service and tasty food in Chiang Mai. Favola looked to me to fit the bill, though from the pictures I’d seen of it online, it still didn’t look as nice as some of the other places we’d been to. But the food was rated highly which was promising.

When we arrived at Le Meredian I immediately saw a cockroach scurrying past the entrance and I hoped and prayed that this wasn’t a sign of things to come.  

The cockroach turned out to be just an unfortunate reality of living in a hot country. It thankfully wasn’t a reflection of the shoddiness that lied within because Le Meredian was actually rather glamorous inside. A typical large chain hotel, but a nice one nonetheless, the smell that was wafting out of the vents and into my nose was a delight. The staff, who were very friendly, escorted us personally up to the restaurant, which we had made a reservation for, but when we arrived we could clearly see that we needn’t have bothered, for it was almost completely empty, aside from a couple sitting in the corner and a big table of Chinese people who as time went on, and they got drunker,  became increasingly louder.

Clearly, street food is all the rage here and all the fancy restaurants stay empty! But the restaurant itself was lovely. The decor was suitably glam, with neutral tones, an open kitchen where you could watch the chefs preparing your food, beautiful lighting, tasteful furniture and a huge wine cabinet behind the Chinese contingency who were getting so loud I could scarcely hear our waiter repeat back our orders.

The food however turned out to be a success. We both ordered a risotto to share as our starter which was delicious, and then I had an artichoke ravioli dish in a tomato sauce and Josh had seabass, both of which were richly flavoured and well cooked.  

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“Marble” chocolates at Favola 

I was determined to get gifts for people to commemorate this once in a lifetime experience travelling around southeast Asia and we were best placed to get some after dinner as the Old Town Night Market was on every evening from around 16:00 until 23:00 and they sold everything under the sun. After traipsing around for a couple of hours we returned home knackered but had managed to buy a gift for almost everyone in our families plus a few extra treats for ourselves. Josh really liked the look of the “Karen Hilltribe” trousers, and judging by the amount of sellers who were selling them it look like it was a very popular choice. Even more popular then those though, were the baggy elephant pants and almost every tourist in Northern Thailand had picked up a pair of those alas even though we liked elephants we did not like the trousers with them on them. They looked like pajama’s. 

But I got myself a few pairs of these roomy, culotte looking trousers and Josh got about 3 pairs of the Hilltribe versions which really suited him. They are too odd looking and too summery to wear in England but if we have a good summer then perhaps they will make an apperance afterall!

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Josh and I wearing our Hilltribe trousers

We went back to Fern Forest for one last time before we left Chiang Mai to attend their Sunday Jazz event. Every Sunday, they have a live jazz band playing in the gardens and since Fern Forest had become our favourite place in Chiang Mai we decided that we just had to check it out. When we got there we were immediately greeted by our favourite waitress, who always remembered us and made sure she reserved us the best seats and was always very sweet and kind to us. Since alot of the time we went there to work she always asked us if the wifi was okay and if it was a little iffy then she would disappear to go and fix it for us. She was very attentive to us. When we arrived as we suspected it was packed but we managed to find some good seats, close to the area where the band would be playing. The only problem was that it was very very hot that day and eventually, once I could feel the energy draining from my body, and recalling the time when I fainted in a restaurant in Kingston from heat stroke, we decided to ask our waitress if we could move upstairs instead.

By then the band had already started playing, and they were pretty good but not even they could keep me there any longer. We went upstairs to a large, bright and airy dining room with french doors that overlooked the garden and the jazz band below. Utterly stunning in typical colonial style, the dining room was decorated in white and had marble tables, huge windows letting the light stream through from all angles, a big flower centrepiece, huge chandelier and floor length curtains. It was both glamorous and tranquil, and the beauty was that similarly to Clear Cafe in Bali, they didn’t allow anyone to wear shoes in that part of the restaurant so it felt very much like you were in someone’s elegant home. From there we could both see and hear the band very well but we had protection from the intense sun. It was a glorious day.

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Fern Forest Cafe 

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A day with the Monks

We visited some buddhist temples and it was great. Temples can be found all around the city so even if you haven’t been into one it’s quite easy to appreciate their glamour and opulence without having to actually venture into one. But when we came across this collection of temples in the middle of Chiang Mai city we couldn’t resist. Turns out that like in Bali, they do not take kindly to women being in their temples whilst menstruating (like as if that’s a carnal sin!), but rather then them asking women to refrain from entering the temple whilst their in their time of the month they don’t allow women to enter at all! Like, ever.

I must say, I would have expected better from the Buddhists. Alas, it would seem that sexism is alive and well even in the humblest of places. The temples and statues were amazing to see up close and we even got to watch a ceremony performed by the monks in the temple, which was impressive in both size and sight.

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Me outside a buddhist temple in Chiang Mai

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One Nimman

The new boutique shopping centre complex near our apartment, One Nimman, is still not fully open but as the Chinese New Year is approaching it is looking more and more ready to receive visitors and it really is an impressive sight. Comparible to the most elegant of shopping centres in London, Paris or New York, One Nimman is punching well above it’s weight. With it’s huge courtyard with twinkling fairy lights suspended between the buildings, beautiful stone used to build the clocktower centrepiece and all of the shops surrounding it, lots of stunning boutique shops, none of which I’d ever heard of before (and a Pan Puri fragrance shop opening up soon), it is enviably gorgeous. We walked through there and found a brand new coffee shop called Graph, selling really fancy coffee’s, a perfume shop which I was too afraid to go into as it looked so lovely and I knew if I ventured in there I would have had no choice but to buy some, a huge canteen area selling lots of different types of food, a creperie, and a brand new restaurant called Ginger Farm Kitchen.

This Ginger Farm Kitchen must have only been open a couple of days as we had never noticed it before. Decorated with a theme of an abundant summer garden (a theme I like very much), the place definitely had the wow factor. Plants and flowers were everywhere. Sitting on shelves, hanging from the ceiling, on the walls, tables and even in our food! Colourful and thoughtfully done, the Ginger Kitchen had clearly been put together from someone with a very good eye and an attention to detail.

Painted a pea green with enormous windows looking out onto the courtyard and the busy Nimmanaheim Road, the restaurant was light filled and sunny, with colourful cushions on the chairs and a colourful menu featuring mainly vegetables and flowers. They had some meat dishes too, but this was not the main feature here – beauty and colour was.

Both the drinks and the food was a winner. They are going to do really well I think and should we return we will definitely go back.

As we were leaving to go home and pack (boo hoo), we past another new business at One Nimman, it had no name and looked as if it wasn’t even properly open yet but the place looked amazing. It was perhaps a cafe of some kind as we could see a coffee machine on the counter as we walked by, but it also featured a huge variety of stone busts on tables, shelves and on the floor, along with comfy sofas and chairs amongst lively green plants. The place was like a living, breathing art studio/cafe. I was dying to go in there, I KNOW that it would have been right up my street alas it is not open yet and we are leaving Chiang Mai tomorrow. 

It is Valentines Day today and as I write this we are on our way to Singapore where we will be spending the day before going onwards home.

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The stunning garden like interiors at Ginger Farm Kitchen

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Deeelicious!

Singapore, the city of modern architecture

 When we arrived at Singapore Airport we found out that we could do a free tour around the city. We were on our way home but we had an 8 hour stopover in Singapore so we thought that it would be fun to do the tour in a city whose airport had been voted the best in the world for 5 years in a row and was STILL expanding. This airport was a monster! – with a cinema, swimming pool, spa, free massage chairs, sleeping cabins, shops and restaurants galore, flower gardens and even a butterfly museum.

We joined the tour group and after taking an age to get through customs we finally arrived on the streets of Singapore where we were bustled onto an awaiting bus. My first impression of Singapore was that it was clean. Like, spotlessly clean. When we started driving through the city, and listening to the guide tell us the history of the city, I was reminded again of how empty the place was – there were quite a few cars on the road but hardly anyone was on foot. It was another sprawling city, but unlike cities like New York and Bangkok, it was green, clean and almost devoid of people. And the architecture was impressive.

Undoubtedly, when it comes to modern architecture, Singapore is king. Almost all buildings there have been designed to reflect the forward thinking, ambitious modernity of the city. And rather then it just be all concrete tower blocks, they have invested heavily in landscaping so that all around the city there are an abundance of trees, plants and flowers. They even have parks dedicated to flowers that are free for tourists and residents to visit, such as the famous Flower Dome and Gardens by the Bay.

When we got closer to the Flower Dome where in a few days time they were going to be holding a celebration for Chinese New Year, the city suddenly got busier. I was surprised when the bus stopped and we were allowed to walk around the marina as technically we were just on a tour and didn’t have a permit to enter the country, but I was eager to see what it was all about. We strolled around the marina, which showcased the legendary “boat hotel” which was a hotel that looked like a skyscraper with a boat shaped top and was absolutely packed with tourists and residents alike, and then we were taken to the gardens, a stunning feat of architecture, botany and artistry with some truly amazing sculptures made from flowers.

We were in awe of the originality of some of these centrepieces, which were clearly designed to wow, but what we were not in awe of in Singapore was the distinct lack of vibe. It appeared to us that this city was a manufactured one, lacking in soul or energy which comes from the people who live within in. It was clear to me judging by the fancy hotels and restaurants I could see, that money had clearly been spent here and people were living well here (materially anyway), but that even that wasn’t enough to provide the sense of life and vibrancy that a good world city needs. In the end, I was happy to have seen it, to see what money buys you, how good it can make your city look. But ultimately, a place without vibe is no place at all.

So we have come to the end of our travels, and naturally the feeling is bitter sweet. We did not wish to leave, well not to go home anyway as we could have easily have gone on for another 2 months, alas it is what it is. We take home our memories, our stories and our pictures of which we took a few, but of course not nearly enough.

But what it has done for us, is to cement what we’ve always known: That we love to travel and we will making plans to do it again!

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Josh in Singapore

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The famous “Boat Hotel” in Singapore 

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The Good, the Bad, The Ugly, and the Busted

The Good

Particularly in Chiang Mai, things are so cheap that it is hard to believe that people are actually making a living out of selling things at this price. When you pay your 80 p to be taken to the other side of town, it makes you think of London and what an absolute scam it is to live here. And when you think about what is going on with the rise of Uber, and the determination of the black taxi drivers to drive them out of town because they are more competitively priced then them it makes you even more angry. Because Uber drivers aren’t even cheap, they are just cheaper then the alternative. But I can tell you this: I have never, ever paid a mere 80 p to be taken on any journey in London. Whether that’s by cab, train or bus. I think it costs something like £2 at the moment to go just one stop. AND you are sharing that journey with hundreds of other people with their germs and questionable habits. So the affordability of living in Chiang Mai is definitely a plus.

That goes for transportation, food, clothing, accommodation and entertainment, alot of which is free. The food in Thailand is unbeatable, and though it did get occasionally boring, as anything does if you have it too often, it was still fresh and tasty with bags of flavour though it was far more challenging finding vegetarian or vegan meals here and they haven’t even heard of gluten free!

The Night Markets in Thailand are great. Nightmarkets are such a distinctively Thai tradition and are so much fun to see even if you’re not buying anything (which I don’t think anyone could possibly do as they have a little something for everyone).

The weather, particularly in Chiang Mai was incredible. The best weather we have ever had anywhere. It never went much below 25 degrees but it was slightly chilly night which gave us a respite from the heat. There were no mosquitoes in Chiang Mai but plenty in Koh Samui so it’s pretty much even where that’s concerned, and again with the gecko’s and the tookay’s, which were terrorising us whilst we were in Koh Samui, but who we hardly ever saw in Chiang Mai.

The beaches in Koh Samui are some of the best of the world, and I found my favourite beach of all in Haad Thong Reng on the island of Koh Phangan, which was just magical.

Our day spent with elephants was something that I doubt either of us will ever forget in a hurry. Thailand remains a number 1 travel destination because it really does offer something for everyone and the Thai culture is so rich and colourful.

The Bad

The gecko situation in Koh Samui was unbearable and unacceptable. In the month that we were living there I was literally EXHAUSTED from trying to think up ways to get rid of these beasts and I couldn’t sleep at night for the noise of them. Bloody awful.

The perves – unfortunately I have come to realise that these Western perves are probably all over Thailand. After visiting Koh Samui again I found that they had increased in number but they are also in Chiang Mai too so I think it’s safe to say that these reject Westerners are all over Asia and in Thailand in particular.

The Chinese – I’m sorry but I have to say the presence of them in Thailand, and in Chiang Mai in particular was overwhelming. Partly it’s because of the sheer number of them as they seem to travel in groups of 10 or more. Partly it’s because their vanity and obsession with technology knows no bounds (the women take pictures of themselves incessantly and the boys do the same but also play computer games incessantly too). Partly it’s because they don’t seem to have any spacial awareness (they take up half the road when you are trying to walk down it as they seem to like congregating in one big cluster with no acknowledgement of others trying to go about their business). Partly, I don’t like this umbrella business because I know that if they were carrying them because they didn’t like the heat then they could just choose to go to a colder country and not come to one of the hottest, and I do not believe it’s simply because of the strength of the sun. I believe that they are desperately trying in earnest not to get darker. I know this because of the products they buy to lighten their skin that are sold on the open market and which they feel no shame about buying. 

And partly, it’s because they are far too loud. I don’t know whether it’s because they are deaf or whether their volume increases when they have had a drink but they are bloody loud and if you are in a restaurant trust me you are going to know about it!

The Ugly and the Busted

I don’t think there is a busted part of Thailand (apart from Bangkok perhaps, lol). Overall Thailand is a place with a rich culture, beautiful landscapes, good food, friendly people, amazing beaches and an abundance of things to do. The only part I really don’t like is the sex tourism which is tacky beyond belief and not particularly pleasant to encounter and the stray dog situation but other then that I think that Thailand is a wonderful destination for anyone to visit.

But I guess the ultimate decider is whether I could live here? Whether WE could live here?

Well we’ve been to Thailand twice now and I know that there are still many other islands to discover but from what I’ve seen so far, no, I wouldn’t want to live here. Koh Samui is too touristy, and Chiang Mai is even more so and I wouldn’t live there because it’s too busy, too noisy and too polluted. It’s a city, a unique city undoubtedly but I’m just not interested in living in a city longterm.

But Bali however, and Canggu in particular..Yes. We could live there happily (if our families weren’t so far away).

We have had many amazing experiences in our travels, and these are just a few!

#walkedwithelephants #playedwithmonkeys #swaminthesea #dancedlikeabalinesedancer #sunbathedonthebeach #hikedupawaterfall #modelledinbali #dinedinatreehouse #massagedonthebeach #dancedinthesea #visitedamidnightspa #fireworksonthebeach #sailedwithdolphins #bathedinaflowerbath #survivedanearthquake #dodgedavolcano #dinedinthesky #spentchristmasonthebeach #shoppedatthenightmarket #dinedlikeaqueen #spaintherainforest #visitedabuddhisttemple #watchedamuaythaifight #dancedatabeachclub #watchedmonkspraying #sawfiredancersonthebeach #drunkkombucha #visitedmyauntinbali #ateveganinbali #partiedonthebeach #visitedsometemples #livedamongstricepaddies #sunsetonthebeach #massageinthejungle #daytriptokohphangan #dinneronthebeach #sawmysisterinthailand #scammedabillionaire #rodeinasongthaew #spentvalentinesdayinsingapore

Places of Note:

Zazen – a magical place. Hidden away from prying eyes, once you meander through the maze like Japanese gardens your heart stops a beat you and find that you have fallen head over heels in love. Like I did. Twice.

Saffron – What better way is there to experience Thailand then from the stunning views overlooking a private beach cove? And transportation by golf buggy will be an experience I will always remember.

Service 1921 – Despite the owner being a questionable individual who seems to take pleasure from siphoning off as much as possible from the local communities his opulent hotels are located within, his restaurant Service 1921, fashioned from a colonial style secret service was top knotch.

The Jungle Club – Incredible views from one of the highest points in Samui which overlooks the whole island and offers one of the most zen like atmospheres to be discovered there.

Coco Tam’s aka Coco Piss – For the nightly fire shows that can be seen from your seat at their restaurant which offers the tastiest pizza in town!

Beach Republic – A firm favourite. Beautiful beach, great food, chilled out vibes and serious tunes. A winner.

Haad Thong Reng Beach, Koh Phangan – The sheer beauty and tranquility of this beach was astounding. It moves into first place as being my favourite beach in the world so far.

Dom Cafe – Everything in Dom’s is tasty and uniquely presented. We went to Dom’s almost everyday for a whole month and I never tired of their Steamed Chicken Bun or Coconut Rolls!

Fern Forest – We were surprised at how busy and touristy Chiang Mai was when we first arrived but what better place to escape the craziness then Fern Forest, a tranquil cafe that looks like it’s within an actual rainforest.

The Ethical Elephant Sanctuary – The best place to see elephants who have been saved from a life of servitude. Elephants who are well looked after, not ridden by humans and who live simple but happy lives in the northern Thai mountains.

Peace Tropical Spa – I had the best Thai massage ever here. Despite the paradise like beauty of Karsa Spa in Ubud, or the tropical abundance of the Anantara Spa in Bophut both which I loved, when I arrived at the Peace Tropical Spa in torrential rain I wasn’t convinced that I was even in the mood for a spa treatment but the massage I had ended up being so wonderful that I was almost floating when I emerged from my thoroughly relaxed, zombie-like state.