Flores

So it turns out Guatemala is actually quite a large country.

The first stop in from the north for most backpackers is Flores, a pretty island in the middle of a lake.

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Most people spend their time visiting Tikal whilst there – another ancient Mayan site – but after having one too many drinks on the first night I declared that I was flipping done with the Mayans and chose not to go.

After turning up with no hostel reservation I managed to bag a dorm bed in the number one hostel situated on the island, Los Amigos. When I say dorm I was actually staying in an open attic with six mattresses on the floor, very unique (and cheap!)

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Upon entering I bumped into a friend I had previously met in Belize and after introducing myself to a few others a multiple-hour-long-happy-hour proceeded into the night.

When a hostel has a tab system you realise just how dangerous the process can be.


The next day, with my Tikal visit abandoned, I messaged a  nice girl I had met the previous night to ask if she wanted to catch a boat off the island to explore.

After a short (and definitely overpriced) boat road we landed in San Miguel. Once appropriately orientated we began the uphill hike to the mirador.

There had been reports of tourist robberies on the trail so I kept my wits about me the whole time, however, we had absolutely no issues and it was actually a lovely little walk.

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When we finally arrived at the viewpoint I awkwardly interrupted two people on an avocado date to get my photos.

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Flores looked so tiny from so high up!

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It was then an easy downhill walk (although we did get a little lost) until we reached San Miguel beach.

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Im not really sure I would could consider it a beach due to the lack of sand but the water was beautiful and warm and there was a nice pier to relax on.

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Gradually through the day, the skies started to darken and we could see rain approaching from the distance.

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We headed back to Flores, after doing a slightly better job at bargaining for a boat price, but managed to get the local crazy man who seemed to want to stop at every few metres to point out a ‘pato’ or another ‘pueblo’.

Once on shore we grabbed a super cheap lunch of tostadas and Agua Fresca (thank god for street food!) and headed back to the hostel.

The thing with Los Amigos hostel is that you literally have no reason to leave.

There are enough books, games and card sets to keep you entertained for days! The decor is absolutely lovely too and my photos do not do it justice!

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After a shower, dinner and multiple card games I headed to bed.


Keen to see the rest of Guatemala, the next day I hopped on the shuttle to Lanquin, a small town in the highlands. There was a definite drop in temperature but after a supposedly 8 hour journey (it actually turned out to be 12!) I was glad to arrive and rest my head.

Even if I was surrounded by bugs.

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San Ignacio

So I had one reason and one reason only for why I wanted to visit San Ignacio in Belize: the ATM caves.

After four hours on a chicken bus we pulled into San Ignacio and I was pleasantly surprised. The town was very cute and was easy enough to navigate without walking down the wrong street.

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I trekked up a small hill to be greeted by a very pretty building at which I was staying called ‘The Old House Hostel’. I was so happy to finally arrive at a hostel which was both clean and welcoming!

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With zero clean clothes left, I quickly ran my stuff to a nearby laundrette, begged them to wash my clothes before the end of the day, and wandered off for some tacos.

I was so desperate to do the ATM cave trip and was horrified to realise it cost ~$85 US, not $85 Belizean which I had stupidly assumed. Nevertheless, it was on my travel bucket list and so I sadly forked out the money ready for the next day.


After an early start and a small breakfast and I made my way to the meeting point.

With an hour and a half drive, we eventually arrived at the caves. Now unfortunately you are not allowed to take any cameras past the entrance to the jungle due to people previously dropping their cameras and damaging the artefacts within the caves.

Hence, the only photo I have is of the jungle entrance and you will just have to use your imagination for the rest:

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After sizing up our hard hats and ensuring our head torches worked, we walked the 45 minute hike to the cave entrance across land and occasionally, through river.

Once at the cave entrance we used the ‘facilitrees’ and then jumped straight in.

It was my first caving experience and it was the coolest thing ever! Over two hours of hiking, wading and swimming through water, seeing bats, crystals and interesting rock formations we eventually arrived to the Mayan site deep in the middle of the cave.

Once there we had to remove our shoes, but keep our socks on, to protect the rock formations whilst scrambling up into the cave. Apparently the oils from our skin would be extremely damaging to the rock.

From here we could see objects – many untouched and preserved – from Mayan sacrifices and celebrations. There were hundreds of preserved pots and the occasional skull or bone from people who had been bought closer to the ‘underworld’. It was absolutely incredible and crazy to think that the Mayans would have navigated the caves solely with fire torches and little knowledge of where they were actually going.

The final stop was the ‘Crystal maiden’; a small preserved, almost complete skeleton which sparkled in our torchlights due to all the crystals which had formed on it.

It kind of ruined the magic when our guide told us archaeologists had actually discovered a few years ago that it was the skeleton of a teenage boy which, from the state of his bones, had had his innards ripped out.

Weren’t the Mayans a loveable bunch.

For the journey back to the entrance our guide decided to have a bit of fun and sent us through plenty of rapids, and squeezed us through some extremely tiny gaps in the rocks. You had no chance if you were fat.

Once out, we trekked back to the start where we were given a delicious lunch and (dangerously) unlimited rum punch!

It was cool to eat in the middle of a jungle setting and the bus drive back was very cheerful!

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Back at the hostel I took a visit to the arts bar situated under the hostel. After watching an open mic night with a few glasses of homemade wine (it was amazing!), I went to bed absolutely shattered from the day.


The next day I woke fairly early and visited the local market to sample the delights on offer.

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Once full on various local food and drink, myself and a bunch of others crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala.

Although there is little else to do in San Ignacio, and the cave tour is definitely on the pricier side of my budget, it was so worth it! Getting to see some of the best preserved, unseen Mayan artifacts in the world combined with a thrilling extreme sport was the perfect way to end my time in Belize!

Caye Caulker

After another bus ride and a border crossing, I made it to Belize City. From here I was taking the San Pedro Express Water Taxi to a small island off the coast of Belize called Caye Caulker.

Considering my background and knowledge you would think I would consult the weather forecast regularly for my travels – but stupidly I didn’t – and I decided to choose the day ahead of an approaching storm (potentially hurricane strength), Storm Franklin, to cross over the sea.

Whilst at the water taxi station I overheard some other travellers claiming they had been evacuated from their hostel and the island.

Nevertheless, they still seemed willing to allow me onto the island and there was no way I was going to let a storm stop me.

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An hour or so of a rocky journey and the boat pulled up to the shore. My hostel, La Cubana Sleepbox, could be seen right from the seafront – a seemingly perfect situation.

However, what I failed to do was read the reviews online (this is not the first time, when will I learn?!) and what a disaster it turned out to be.

I was essentially sleeping in an actual box.

With no common room to socialise in, and with the weather outside so bad that it was preventing me from leaving, I was trapped in my little box for the first day like a baby hamster.

By the evening the weather had cleared a little so I ventured out for some dinner.

I had already been warned that Belize was expensive, however, it was only once I was seated at the Happy Lobster Restaurant with menu in hand that I realised this.

I carefully selected the cheapest meal on the menu, vegetable soup, and a drink of choice, and still forked out $20 belizean, essentially £10.

Time to learn to budget.


The next day the storm seemed to have passed. The clouds were clearing up and the ground was slowly drying.

After a breakfast of scrambled eggs on pancakes at the hostel, I took a wander around the island.

All in all Caye Caulker is only a few kms long with about two main streets – extremely easy to navigate. If you manage to get lost in this place then I guarantee you are an idiot.

My favourite place was a coffee bar called ‘Ice and Beans’ which I visited on the first day and ended up returning to every day after. It served the most delicious flavoured iced coffees, and whilst waiting in the queue you were constantly given tasters of other people’s orders and multiple mini doughnuts.

Delicious! (Sorry but the picture would not load properly so I gave in).

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At the far end of the island is the main area where people gather, The Split.

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After purchasing a book from a second hand bookshop called Cayeboard Connection I settled down on the beach to read and relax for a few hours.

All along the island there are signs for snorkelling tours. Although I knew they were pricey I decided that I had to try it at least once! Belize has the second largest coral reef  in the world!

After questioning literally every person on the island offering snorkelling tours for the price, I settled on a half day tour with Native Tours for $60 belizean (£30). I was informed to arrive at 10:15 the next day, ready to be fitted and collect my gear for a 10:30 start.

For dinner that night I decided to do a bit of research and settled on Bondi Bar which was holding a Taco Tuesday night. Tacos for only $3 Belizean, what a bargain!


The next morning, after a short run, a further eggy breakfast and another iced coffee from ‘Ice and Beans’ I wandered over to the dock.

At this point I realised I was the only person who was waiting for the boat. Did I have the wrong time? Had I accidentally booked an afternoon tour instead? No. The guy told me ‘I’m so sorry, you were my only customer so I’m trying to find a different boat for you’.

Brilliant.

After a bit of a wait, and a loooooong chat with the guy (crook) that sold me the tour a small boat arrived with an America couple on it. We quickly made our acquaintances and set off for the coral reef.

After donning our flippers and snorkelling gear we slid into the water.

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Our guide was very knowledgable and pointed out interestingly fish telling us their names and interesting facts such as ‘this fish is Dory from Finding Nemo’ etc.

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I swear there were more fish than just this lonely one.

We even saw an eel which began to swim towards us to defend its territory before our guide kicked his fins towards it and shooed it away.

There was plenty to see and we spent a good few hours splashing around.

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Our next stop was Shark-Ray reef, which, true to the name, had sharks and rays. It was quite scary when the guide suddenly demanded we get straight into the water surrouded by loads of (potentially dangerous) sharks and sting rays! However they were so gentle, swimming past us hoping we had bought some food (sorry guys).

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I’m not usually one for a selfie but who can resist when there’s a shark behind you?!

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Our last stop was another region of the coral reef with plenty more to see. Can you see the tiny little Christmas tree coral?

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Eventually I began to get cold (typical me) and our time was up so our guide called us all back to the boat.

Waving goodbye to the American couple I headed to the Split to sunbathe (big mistake!). A few hours later I arrived back to the hostel feeling a little sore and it wasn’t till I showered that I realised just how red the back half of my body was.

I was seriously sunburnt.

After some people from the hostel kindly fed me some lobster (no pun intended) they had caught that day, I made a rash decision to leave Caye Caulker the following day and head for the (significantly less sunny) ATM caves of San Ignacio.


Once packed up the next day I made my way back to the mainland via the water taxi.

I then proceeded to get what is known as the Chicken Bus to San Ignacio for about a third of the price of the tourist shuttles.

The chicken bus is Central Americas main form of transport and is essentially an old American school bus which they have painted in bright colours, packing as many locals into them and blasting out remixes of reggae songs for the entire four hour journey.

So with the weirdest journey of my life, I headed to San Ignacio, Belize.

Chetumal and Bacalar

Sitting on the south-eastern border of Mexico is Chetumal. This small city seems to be many travellers stop before crossing the border into either Belize or Guatemala.

I decided to stay two nights in the city as I wanted to visit a nearby municipality, Bacalar, famous for its beautiful lagoon.

After a six hour bus drive (I didn’t drive the bus by the way) where I ate my body weight in yoghurt, I arrived at the bus station in Chetumal. Fifteen more minutes in a taxi and I finally pulled up to my hostel; Downtown Hostel Chetumal.

I was greeted by a really happy man who spoke his most simplest Spanish so I could practice with him. The hostel had nice, spacious rooms with a cool common area on the roof.

After settling in I decided to take a wander towards the sea front.

Although it wasn’t quite the Carribean Sea, there was still plenty of pretty things to see.

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They seemed very fond of miniature reconstructions of their city with several dotted around.

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I particularly liked this statue:

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Once thoroughly hot and sweaty from the walk, I made my way to the Mayan Cultural Museum costing just 30 pesos (£1.50) to get in. It was pretty interesting and I was amazed by the Mayans ability to use the constellations as guidance.

However let’s not forget they predicted the end if the world wrong. Idiots.

Afterwards, I ate a small dinner and headed back to the hostel to socialise.


The next day at breakfast I spoke to two Dutch girls who said they were going to a place which had been recommended in Bacalar and asked if I wanted to join.

Half an hour later, towels and swimming costumes packed, we jumped in a taxi to head to ‘Los Rapidos’, a little resort located on a river flowing into the Bacalar Lagoon.

The guy at the hostel had managed to bag us free entry, saving us a grand total of 50 pesos (approximately £2).

When we entered it was like paradise. The most perfect water and my first ever sighting of mangroves!

We grabbed the best position on a swinging bed at the bottom of the resort with an amazing view.

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It was so clear and there were lots of little fish swimming around.

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The water was fresh, but still warm enough to lie in all day.

And lie in it all day is pretty much what I did.

As the river was flowing at quite a steady speed – hence the name – I kept walking upstream and then allowing the river to carry me back to where our bags were.

Walking upstream allowed me to escape the Mexican fiesta which was beginning to develop back at the resort as more and more Mexican tourists began to arrive bringing their entire family including aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, dogs etc…

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After a few hours we had a lunch of Marlin fish tacos and they were absolutely delicious.

Another few hours were spent swimming (and floating) off the tacos.

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When we were eventually exhausted from the heat of the day, we got a taxi to Bacalar and I caught a Collectivo back to Chetumal.

The Collectivo is a government run taxi service where, once the taxi is full, it makes the journey. It saves a lot of money and means you can watch films like ‘Power Rangers’ in Spanish.

Although I didn’t get to properly look around Bacalar, it looked absolutely lovely, and much prettier than Chetumal. If I could do it over I would definitely choose to stay in Bacalar instead.

As it was a Sunday, by the time I got back to Chetumal all the restaurants were closed and so I had to satisfy myself with a Philadelphia and ham bagel from the nearby OXO.

Back at the hostel, I chatted and began to pack my bag for the next stage of my trip. Crossing the border to Belize.

 

Merida

So I spent too much time enjoying myself in Merida to actually keep a track of it. So I’ve tried to remember the best bits!

I was fortunate enough in my Masters degree to meet a lovely girl who came from Merida and she, and her family, kindly let me live with them for almost a month. Essentially I became the (very pale, very ginger, quite clearly adopted) fourth daughter.


On the first weekend of arrival, the Saturday entailed us road tripping to lots of nearby sites. First up, the pink lagoons close to Xcambo. The water here has a huge amount of plankton, algae and brine shrimp due to such a high salt content that the water appears pink.

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I thought considering the salt quantities that there would be no other wildlife living there. However, there were plenty of fish swimming about in the shallows and more importantly there were (rightly-fitting) pink birds.

FLAMINGOS!!!!

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I love flamingos because they always seem like a made up animal. They are pretty much on the same level as unicorns.

Following this, we hopped back in the car for a quick ride to Xcambo. Xcambo is another set of smaller, but less well known Mayan ruins and so it was essentially tourist-free.

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Plenty more Iguanas were seen whilst there and it was nice to explore some ruins without crowds of people swarming around. You were even allowed to climb up them here which is not normally allowed at the more popular sites.

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After sweating immensely in the midday heat, the next plan was to cool off at some cenotes in a nearby nature reserve called El Corchito. We caught a mini boat across a lagoon and upon arrival to the park, were greeted by these cute little things.

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Raccoons!

Just look at this little guy having a siesta in the tree! Pretty much posing for photos.

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Within the nature reserve there were about three different cenotes you could visit and the surroundings were beautiful.

It was easy to spend a few hours cooling down there.

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Following this, we were all very hungry (why are humans always so hungry after swimming?!). So to fill our stomachs we drove to Progresso, a beautiful port city not far from Merida.

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The atmosphere there was great. Everyone seemed so happy, people were playing music and dancing in the streets and I got free tasters of Cuban rum. I was taken to a restaurant at the end of the beach which was absolutely buzzing with people.

The reason for the popularity was explained to me. You only pay for your drinks at the restaurant and all the food bought to you is free. No complaints really?!

After plentyyyy of food we headed back.


The next day we planned to visit Uxmal, another set of Mayan ruins (they are everywhere).

Upon entering you are greeted by a huge temple.

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There was so much to see and every corner you turned there was another temple or ruin.

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The sun was so strong though and was beating down on us making for some very sweaty sight seeing.

When we eventually finished wandering round, my friends family took me to a nearby restaurant which sold solely food from the Yucatan region. I tried Poc-chuc, a really tasty pork marinaded in different spices.

For dessert I tried a variety of local fruits which had been soaked in water and sugar. All I can say is they were not for me.

On the drive back there was a huge thunderstorm with many of the roads flooding.

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When we eventually made it back to the house it was clear that the flooding had caused the electricity to cut out. We then had to experience 24 hours with no electricity and no water in temperatures over 30 degrees. It was an experience to say the least.


My week was then filled with Spanish lessons in the mornings and afternoons visiting shopping centres, the cinema, supermarkets and watching various films with Spanish subtitles.

I attended a Spanish school named ‘Calle 55‘ located very close to centre of Merida. I highly recommend it, the teachers are lovely, in three weeks I’ve gone from saying ‘hola!’ to being able to almost maintain a simple conversation (a vast improvement) and every Friday they buy croissants!

This was my brightly coloured classroom where I studied hard!

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On the second Saturday of my visit to Merida, we all crammed in the car for my chance to see one of the seven wonders of the world.

We were going to Chichen Itza!

After a long two hour drive where I could barely keep my eyes open (an overworked brain from learning Spanish), we arrived.

Chichen Itza is a little bit pricey for Mexico (248 pesos, approximately £11) but what did I expect?! It was huge!

A wide path with plenty of local Mayan and Mexican people selling souvenirs and gifts leads you straight to the main attraction.

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But there was plenty more to see.

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We wandered around for nearly two hours.

One of the final things we saw was the cenote into which the Mayan people of Chichen Itza used to sacrifice people. Here I am waiting to be sacrificed.

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It was very deep and had a very morbid feel to it.

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With Chichen Itza located close to Valladolid we took a visit to the nearby town.

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It was extremely pretty with lots of bright colours catching your eye at every corner.

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I can’t promise the cute dog will be there if you visit.

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We ate a delicious lunch where I had Panuchos, a traditional Yucatan dish, and of course, Agua Fresca. Afterwards we decided to visit a cenote located just a few streets from the city centre.

Its hard to believe that so many of these limestone caverns sit just below the surface of Mexicos Yucatan region.

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They are the perfect way to cool down in the intense heat of the day.

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After a long day exploring I inevitably fell asleep in the car on the drive home.


The next day we travelled to a nearby municipality called Homun to visit the quieter, less well known cenotes.

Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures as I was too busy splashing about but it was a very quaint place with lots of cenotes managed by the people of the town.

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Very reasonably priced, around 20 pesos each (just under £1), there were plenty of options as long as you searched for them.

Possibly my favourite cenote I visited was Santa Rosa which was lit by lots of coloured lights as the only sunlight present was through a very small hole in the roof. It had a diving board of about 5m high which you could jump from into the deep blue depths below.

The facilities were also very clean with a restaurant in which we ate afterwards.

After plenty of swimming and food we ventured home.


Although these were the main activities of my trip in Merida there were plenty more activities which I did/ you could do whilst there.

I attended a (very glamorous!) wedding where I tried Chapulines (Crickets) covered in chilli and a traditional Mexican drink called Mezcal.

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There were several visits to malls, often more expensive than the shops in the centre but with plenty of interesting things such as chilli covered pic n mix (what else did you expect?!).

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On Friday nights in the centre of Merida they hold a show of Pok-ta-tok, a traditional Mayan game which involves getting a heavy ball through a tall hoop using only your hips. Not sure where the logic is in this game but it was interesting to watch and I highly recommend it.

Fortunately nobody was sacrificed either.

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The centre of Merida is also well-worth a wander with the Cathedral being the main highlight

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Eating a variety of weird and wonderful foods, including this interesting ice cream which I’m pretty sure isn’t Mexican but still made my tummy very happy. Mexicos Yucatan region has so much to try!

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And putting my new Spanish skills to the ultimate test by playing Spanish scrabble. I definitely didn’t win.

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I absolutely loved my time in Merida! It is the ideal location for experiencing the real South of Mexico, trying plenty of amazing food (my favourite is Relleno Negro), hearing lots of upbeat reggaeton music and being central to many incredible tourist sites!

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I am very grateful to my wonderful friend and her family for allowing me to intrude on their life and I hope one day to return to Merida as there are so many more opportunities in the Yucatan peninsula.

 

Cancun

Okay so I completely ran out of time to write anything about my trip to Lanzarote (which was amazing!!!!!!) but my priorities were elsewhere. I had a lot to sort out.

Anyway, it is no secret anymore that I had a bit of a quarter life crisis, quit my (very secure, very well paid) job and booked a one way ticket to Mexico.

My current life advice is: if you are stuck in the place you grew up in, living only for your days off, remember – YOLO.


After a lot of planning and research, with my bags finally packed full of malaria tablets, minimal clothing and further strange things like water purification tablets, my mom drove me up to Stockport, a town close to Manchester airport. My first impressions of Stockport were ‘if I can survive here, I will definitely be okay in Mexico’.

A meal in the Beefeater (sausage, peas, chips and gravy) and a stay in a hotel later, I said a tearful goodbye to my mom at the airport.

I was so nervous, it didn’t help that my hand luggage got seriously scrutinised for drugs (this always happens to me in airports, I must look like a convincing drug mule) and an American man said to me ‘omg you are crazy!!’ when I explained to him that I was traveling central and South America alone (knob).

However, the flight settled me with multiple films and a whole lot of food!

Once landed, I successfully navigated Cancun to find my hostel. I then took a few hours to relax, sort my things out and change, and then off I went to explore.

First up; the supermarket. Because who doesn’t like checking out foreign food?!

It did not disappoint, the pastries were AMAZING!!!

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After purchasing a few, and my first Mexican meal of tostadas in Los Bisquets Bisquets, I made my way back to the hostel to catch up on a lack of sleep.


The previous day I had met a French girl who had invited me to go to Isla Mujeres with her before she had to catch her late afternoon flight home. With an early wake up call we caught the ferry over to the small island off the coast of Cancun.

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The sea was the most beautiful colour I have ever seen. It was like we had entered paradise.

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We had made it there so early that even the coconut men were working, removing the coconuts from the trees.

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After a little cool down in the sea we walked around the shops and markets and it was then that I discovered Agua Fresca.

The greatest discovery of my life.

Agua Fresca is simply fruit and water blended together over ice and it is INCREDIBLE. The perfect refreshment in a hot country. I will miss it so much when I leave!

On our return to the sea front we saw a strange dark blob in the water. We quickly realised that it was a manta ray!

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My apologies for the topless lady.

It was so shocking to see one so close up in the shallows! Who needs Sea World?!

A little later my French friend had to leave to catch her flight home so I ate a quick late lunch and then relaxed on the beach, enjoying paradise.

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After a long day in the sun, I caught the ferry back, dined in Los Bisquets Bisquets (it was too dark to explore), showered and continued to try to get over the jet lag.

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The following morning I had decided to get the bus to Tulum, a municipal in Mexico with ancient Mayan ruins located right next to the Caribbean Sea.

After a long bus journey I walked the street down to the entrance. After entering, you walk straight out to an amazing view of both ocean and ruins.

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There were also a lot of these little (or sometimes big) guys there. Chilling in the sun like kings.

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The ruins were incredible and there was plenty to walk around.

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It needs a lot of restoration in my opinion. Someone ring DIY SOS.

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After sweating my face off I ventured down to the Caribbean Sea to cool off.

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With my exploration finished I wandered to the beach, ate a small lunch of tacos, and began to read my book. However, not long after I had settled the sky gradually began to grey over.

Seeing everyone else start to pack up, I collected my things and quickly made my way back to the main entrance.

Unfortunately my version of quickly was not quick enough and myself and many other tourists got drenched in the torrential rain. I have never experienced anything like it. I was soaked to the bone.

To try to warm myself up I grabbed a hot cafe con leche from a nearby restaurant and then made my way back to the bus station.

Arriving back late at night, I once again ate at Los Bisquets Bisquets. I’m pretty sure by the third time they were starting to think I was a bit odd.


The next day I stuffed all my belongings into my backpack and gladly waved goodbye to my hostel.

Arriving back where I started my trip to Cancun – the ADO bus station – I bought a one way ticket to Merida for the next part of my trip!

 

Appledore

So back at the end of my third year of University some of my friends and I had what I have always referred to as ‘one of the best days of my life’. We drove down to Newquay, Cornwall, hired some boards, spend a day surfing (attempting to) in the sunshine and then finished it off with pizza and ice cream on the beach.

It was perfect.

In a bid to recreate an extended version of that day, my friend had decided to organise a trip for us all to go down south and spend a weekend surfing, splashing about in the ocean, and enjoying each others company.

So on what was to be the hottest day of the year so far, we set off to Devon with a packed car and high hopes.


After a big Tesco shop we arrived to our apartment for the weekend. It was located in a shipyard however, if you turned the opposite direction and pretended it wasn’t there, we had a lovely view of the estuary.

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The tide there came in and went out so quickly! It was actually fascinating to watch!

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To make the most of the sunshine we took a stroll to the beach, I was most excited because I finally got to wear my summer dungarees which I had bought back in the deep depths of Winter. I highly advise that when wearing dungarees, if your bladder calls, find a toilet – don’t wild wee.

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We also stopped off for some lunch at this cute little cafe which had a beautiful flower garden you could sit in and lots of quaint little bits and pieces for decoration.

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After finishing the day off with a pitcher of Pimms from a nearby seafront pub, we headed back to the apartment to wait for a few of the others to arrive and get the BBQ started.

Possibly the most civilised evening of my life, we set up the most perfect BBQ with another bottle of Pimms to top it off.

Whoever said females can’t do BBQ’s got it incredibly wrong in our case!

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That night there was a serious storm forecasted for the South West. I made a comment to my friend about how I might set an alarm for the early hours to get up and watch it but I am often absolutely hopeless at staying awake and dozed off before I even had the chance.

So 3am comes around and I am stirred by my friend calling my name as she had woken to the storm and didn’t want me to miss out. The thunder and lightning was like nothing I have ever seen or heard before. All of us woke up because of it (also probably partly to do with my squealing) and sat for a good twenty minutes just watching the continuous illuminations of the clouds above us. It was the coolest storm I have ever witnessed.


The next day the weather was still warm but significantly less sunny and more windy. We decided to make the most of the seaside and visit Westwood Ho! (only place in the UK to have and exclamation mark in it’s name – geography fact) to try body boarding.

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It was my first time using body boards and although it was fun to try out, I definitely prefer surfing!

It was a bit chilly too!

After two hours freezing our butts off, we caved and went back to the apartment to shower the salt off our skin. Once feeing human again we decided to visit Bideford to get some lunch.

Bideford was a pretty little town on the estuary and appeared to have some motorbike show on so there was a lot of leather about.

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After a warming lunch and an unsuccessful attempt to find homemade fudge, but successful attempt at saving an abandoned dog, we popped to Asda to top up on our Pimms supply.

Another trip to the pub playing the oldest game of Trivial Pursuit I’ve ever seen and the boys finally rocked up. Eventually, we finished off our drinks, made our way back and took control of the BBQ before they had a chance to.


The next day the weather picked up, there were sunny spells, the wind had died down and the beach was busy.

So after a group breakfast we all squeezed into our wetsuits once again and made a sweet little set up on the beach.

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We were all well and truly ready for the waves.

With 5 shared boards and a couple of body boards we entered the water and began surfing! There were many successful stands and seven times as many wipe outs! But it was super fun!

Here is visual evidence I actually managed to (briefly) stand up!

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After a couple of hours our tummies were rumbling so we exited the water and purchased several loads of chips, chicken nuggets and scampi (yeesss!!) for a group lunch.

And here we all are stuffing our faces!

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Satisfied with the food, we donned the soggy wet suits once again and went back in the ocean for another few hours.

That evening, after several fights and arguments over whose turn it was to use the shower next, we put on our nicest clothes and went for a meal at a nearby restaurant. I went the full hog and had a starter, main and dessert which were all delicious. Eventually, exhausted from the day and fresh air, we went back for our last nights sleep at the apartment.


On the last morning, we packed up our stuff and bunged it all in the cars. After a breakfast at a nearby cafe and an ice cream on the sea front, we made our long journey back.

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And our journey back was long, five hours were spent sat in traffic along the M5. This is where the song of the trip comes in, for some reason we came on to the topic of how great the song Sandstorm is. One of our friends did not know what song we were on about and so to show her, we put it on. Sat in stand-still traffic there was a car full of us alongside multiple sandy bodyboards dancing like lunatics to that legendary dance song.

Darude – Sandstorm 

So there it was (one of) the best weekend(s) of my life.

Snowdonia

For Mothers Day my sister and I decided to take my mom (and my dad of course) to North Wales as she had always wanted to try the zip wire located there. So once booked, we set off on the Thursday morning on our trip to the Welsh highlands.

When we finally arrived we decided to stop for lunch and of all the lovely places we could have eaten, my dad chose Burger King at the services. Typical. Following this we had a very brief (and I mean brief) look round Bangor, which, from what I saw, was very pretty.

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We then went on to Zip World, home to Europe’s longest, and the worlds fastest zip wire named Velocity. After dressed up in our rather interesting overalls and harnesses, we made our way up to little Zipper, a smaller zip wire to test out and practice.

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To go down the zip wire you have to hold this really awkward press up position and then pull your hands back to allow the harness to take your weight. It was definitely a bit of a workout and a struggle to start. Here are my parents demonstrating the correct positioning, not bad for oldies? Haha

Once we had tried the smaller of the two, we were lumbered into a truck and were taken up to the top of the quarry. The rickety journey uphill was scarier than the actual zip wire!

At the top, we could really get a feel for how high we were and the mile long wire seemed endless!

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My sister and I volunteered to go first, essentially to get it over and done with, and it was only once we were strapped in that the instructors informed us that the instructors at the bottom were still in training. Only slightly unnerving.

Anyway, eventually we whizzed down and it was incredible! The wind was so strong and the speed was phenomenal, I would definitely do it again (maybe not for the price though!).

Here are my parents hanging about after their go. They came down all the way from that big hill in the background!

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After our adrenaline rush we made our way to Caernarfon where we were staying in a good old Airbnb! Once unpacked and settled in, we took a walk around the town and had dinner in the self-proclaimed ‘Welshest pub in Wales’; The Black Boy Inn.

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It was absolutely crammed inside and we could see why, it was lovely! I had boar pie for my dinner, finished with plenty of veg and those classic sweet potato fries (better than normal fries).

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To walk off our dinner we took a stroll along the beach which was covered in an amazing amount of shells. I don’t know what it is but there is something very appealing about shells.

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After watching the sunset over the castle, we went back to our home for the weekend and headed to bed.

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The following day was the big day. We were going to hike Mt Snowdon. I’d done a little bit of research to figure out the best route to take and although the Llanberis route was apparently the easiest, others had suggested that the Pyg Track was also not too bad.

Oh how they were wrong.

When you have two parents over the age of 50 (one almost 60) and a sister that doesn’t enjoy walking on flat ground, let alone hills, the Pyg Track is not the one to try.

However we soldiered on with lots of rest breaks. A family rift was definitely growing with everyone getting short tempered and just desperate to make it up the hill. The only thing making it worthwhile were the views and a pack of wine gums we shared.

Here’s my dad looking tiny compared to the huge summit of Mt Snowdon.

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After a long, and I mean long – we were overtaken by the world and his dog – hike we eventually made it to the top.

And it was cloudy.

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However, as we sat in the café at the top (I know, a café!) regaining energy in the form of sausage rolls and pasties, the fog slowly cleared and we finally got a good view from the peak.

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After realising the train back down was £22 (!!!) my dad and sister decided to join my mom and I on the walk back down. However, this time around we took the significantly easier and less stressful Llanberis route.

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It was basically a track with a long and windy slope to the bottom. After finally reaching another café at the bottom (I swear there are more cafés around Snowdon than in my local town) my dad decided to pack it in and we got a taxi back to the car park and made our way back to our holiday home.

That night, with sore feet and tired legs, we had traditional fish and chips from the seaside (scampi for me mmmm) and caught an early night.


The Saturday was an activity my sister chose called Bounce Below which is a giant network of trampolines located in the underground caverns of a former mine. After donning hair nets and a helmet (never a good look), we entered the caves.

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The pictures really don’t do it justice for how big it was. There were different levels and rooms with slides and slopes to get between them. The bouncing was also a struggle after trying to recover from climbing a mountain the previous day and we were all shattered after our time was over.

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As the sun was out (although you can’t tell from the caves!) we decided to visit Harlech, a place my mom had visited when she was little. It had lovely views of the ocean from above and a castle overlooking the village. Whilst there we grabbed an ice cream where I tried their award-winning Elderflower ice cream. Needed some gin with it really.

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After another busy day we headed back to Caernarfon where we visited a seafront pub and had a delicious dinner of locally caught mussels.


For our last day I had decided to give myself a real challenge and signed up for the self-proclaimed toughest half marathon in the UK – The Snowdonia Half – and trust me it was tough!

After arriving virtually on the start line I set off for the 13.1 mile,  577m elevation run and I have to say it is my favourite half marathon I have done so far!

The views were beautiful, the ups and downs made the run more interesting and the high ratio of males to females meant I pushed myself harder.

Obviously it wasn’t my fastest time for a half (think I’d have had a heart attack out of shock if it was) but I still ranked well and impressed myself with my persistence.

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No goodie bag (booo!) but I did get a t-shirt, a medal and some serious thigh chaffing to remember it by.

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Following the run, after a hopeless attempt to re-energise myself with half a bag of Haribo Tangfastics, I fell fast asleep in the car for the long journey back home.


On the drive to and from Mount Snowdon my dad ended up putting the same song on from one of his albums and I think Stevie and Lindsey’s tumultuous relationship perfectly sums up the rifts developing within my family as we ascended the mountain. We’re okay now we’re on flat ground though.

Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac

Sofia

So if you don’t know me, one of my favourite past times involves going online and finding various ways of getting cheap flights. Fortunately for me RyanAir do a good job of helping me out with this and were offering flights to the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia (absolutely top notch name eh?) for about £30 return. After convincing my friends that we were desperately in need of another holiday, everything was booked.

Arriving late at night meant we had a limited vision of what the city actually looked like. Luckily, we did have the chance to look round our (insanely cheap) 5 star hotel which was enough to get us overexcited for the first night of sleep.

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A jacuzzi bath! What more do you need in life?!?!

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We pretty much had a double bed to ourselves each which I was clearly thrilled about!


On our first day day we got up, stuffed ourselves on a buffet breakfast and started exploring.

Our first stop took us down the main tourist high street where you could see the snow-topped Vitosha mountain at the end.

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We walked along to Lovers bridge which I was expecting to be one of those cute padlock bridges imitating the one in Paris, but it was literally just a bridge over a main road with a view of a nearby McDonalds. Although the bridge was a big disappointment it did have a series of photographs on showing interesting moments and events around the world. My favourite one was about how IKEA in China actively encourages its customers to ‘try out’ the beds. I hope by this they only mean having a doze…

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Following this we continued to nosey around the city. Although it wasn’t a particularly pretty city – lots of concrete structures and run down areas – they clearly took pride in their prestigious and religious buildings

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The Presidency building. Some nice brick work there.

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My friends and I outside the National Theatre where we saw a bunch of random people doing a native dance outside of one night.

After a delicious lunch we found Sofia’s most popular tourist attraction, St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral. It was definitely the most beautiful building they had with golden domes, however as soon as we exited the heavens opened and we were pelted with torrential rain.

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As we had already had lunch we decided, what better excuse do go and have dessert?! And so we did.

Following the monsoon, sans waterproof jacket I was convinced to go on a two-hour cycling tour of Sofia. Arriving at the meeting place we realised we were the only ones attending, with just our tour guide Petur. With nobody else turning up we pushed on the pedals and set off, viewing all the sights of Sofia.

Half way through, my friend and I revealed our environmental backgrounds which Petur took a deep interest in as he was attending forestry classes. This led Petur to show us every tree within a 10 mile radius around the Bulgarian capital (slight exaggeration but that is what it felt like).

After cycling for our allocated two hour session Petur wasn’t finished with us and proceeded to take us deep into a nearby forest (which was slightly disconcerting) and on to a cafe which had a photographic exhibition of his inside.

Turns out Petur likes squirrels. A LOT.

His photography exhibition was full of squirrels. Him holding squirrels. Other people holding squirrels. Squirrels eating nuts. Squirrels with hats on. Squirrels with scarves on.

You get the picture. He gave each of us a notepad with his beloved squirrels on too. Mine had ‘Alex’ the squirrel on.

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Eventually the tour finally ended, but our time with Petur didn’t stop there. I made the mistake of asking him where he would recommend if we wanted to try traditional Bulgarian food and before we knew it, we were squirrelled off (haha) and eating our dinner with Petur.

He was sweet though and the tour was very informative!

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The dish Petur ordered for us. A stew of sausage, tomato and onion topped with eggs and parsley with a side of salted bread pancakes.

After eventually making it back to the swanky hotel we nodded off ready for the next day.


For the second day we decided we were going to go on a hiking tour up the nearby Vitosha mountain. The sun was out and we were ready to start the ramble after a buffet breakfast.

On the way there it began to grey over and drizzle a little but no worries, it would surely pass.

WRONG.

For pretty much the whole four hour hike we were being pelted with torrential rain. The only positive to this was that Salamanders love the moisture and so we got to see plenty of them!

The peak of our hike also took us to the beautiful Boyana waterfall which was in full flow after all the rain.

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My jumper obviously didn’t bring us much luck!

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Once we had made our way back to our hotel, sodden and freezing our toes off, we decided to make the most of the spa facilities and went for a swim and sauna visit.

After a few hours, suitably warmed and freshened up, we went off to another traditional Bulgarian restaurant which had been recommended to us. The English translations on the menu provided very little detail of what we would actually be eating so we just pointed to our choices, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

I got very lucky and was given an absolutely huge platter of sausages, potato wedges and salad! I justified my meal choice by convincing myself that I had burnt thousands of calories climbing a big hill in the freezing cold.

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That meant I didn’t just stop at the main and of course, had dessert too. I can’t exactly describe it so we’ll just call it a Bulgarian cheesecake. I can confirm it tasted good though.

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Following the meal we trekked off to find some bars. The first one which had been recommended to us was called ‘The Apartment’. When we arrived it was all very eerie – literally like stepping into someones apartment – and everyone seemed very vacant.

It wasn’t until after choosing from a very poor alcoholic drinks selection (I ended up having to have Malibu with blueberry smoothie as my mixer?!) that we realised why:

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Everyone else there was high as a kite.

With my friends freaking out that their drinks may be laced with weed we decided it was time to move on to somewhere else.

Down the road was another place which has a name I couldn’t pronounce, let alone remember.  It was very quirky though and basically was a converted wooden barn, lit only by candlelight. Definitely not something health and safety would allow in the UK.

Excuse the bad lighting for the pictures hahahahaha.

Anyway after a few hours in this place and a few gin and tonics later (cannabis free), we headed back to the hotel to sleep.


On our last day we had very limited time and so wandered around seeing a few of the nearby sights we had so far missed.

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I drank supposedly ‘healing’ water at Sofia Central Mineral Baths which literally just tasted of eggy warm water and has healed me of nothing.

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We went to Lions bridge which I actually thought was a very pretty part of the city although my friends disagreed with me.

After a quick lunch, we waved goodbye to Sofia and made our way to the airport (which by the way is a dreadful airport – very limited shopping choices).


Although I had fun in Sofia and it was a very cheap getaway, it was definitely not my favourite place I have visited and probably won’t be returning anytime soon; at least not until the weather improves! I do hope to return to Bulgaria one day though, more in the hopes for some cheap skiing!

Here’s a song where the chorus kind of sums up our second day:

TLC – Waterfalls

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

Although it has been on my bucket list for a while now, I was still yet to complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks. After arranging a visit to see my friend in Leeds, a short hike seemed to somehow spiral into this challenge.  Still to this moment i’m not quite sure how it happened.

Before I knew it, accommodation had been booked and I had signed my left big toe toenail away for life.


To save on costs we decided to book The Station Inn Bunk House in Ribbleshead to stay at on the Friday night to ensure an early start on the Saturday. After a pre-dinner of 5 chicken selects, and an actual dinner of sausage and mash, we settled into our bunk room. We got pretty lucky as we were the only people staying, so we got the whole room to ourselves!

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The bunk house in the early morning sunrise!

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Our very basic, but thankfully empty bunk room! The wide choice of bed options excited me a lot. I opted for a top bunk whilst my friend went for a bottom bunk.


The next morning we woke to a beautiful sunrise and realised that lots of crazy people had decided to camp outside.

Once appropriately caffeinated and filled with a fruity flapjack breakfast we set off for the first hill, Whernside!

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It was a nice gentle climb with plenty of snow and ice for entertainment. Once the sun was up it got very warm and we gradually removed our many layers.

It was a very quiet walk with the only company coming from some sheep and their baby lambs, which is fine with me because i’d rather see them over humans anyway.

Once completed, the next peak was Ingleborough, the most difficult and steepest of all the climbs.

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I managed to work up quite a sweat when lunging up which made me feel very unfit when a couple of fell runners speeded fast, sounding less out of breath than myself.

Once at the top we polished off our lunch at around 10:30am, which was a massive mistake, but well-needed for both morale and energy.

The walk between Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent was pretty enjoyable with lots of nice views, differing terrains and plenty of company throughout.

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By the time we finally arrived at Pen-y-Ghent, in our minds we could begin to see the finishing line. With tired feet and legs we did the steep clamber to the top and treated ourselves to a ten minute rest break to reinvigorate ourselves with more flapjack and a handful of jelly babies each.

After that we made the slow descent. By this time my left big toe was absolutely killing me and was constantly throbbing with every step. I switched out my hiking shoes for my running trainers which felt glorious and cheered me up a little.

Although we had finished all three peaks I was disappointed to find out we still had 6 miles to go. Now at first this didn’t sound like too far – I run that distance on a regular basis – but when you’re knackered from the day, sweating like a pig and running low on both flapjack and water it becomes the longest walk of your life.

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It went on

and on

and on.

My mind was just whirring with ‘why did I agree to do this?!’. We barely saw anyone for the last part, it was very solitary and although we could see our finishing point in the distance it just didn’t appear to get any closer.

I was also suffering from sausage fingers which pretty much describes what happened. My fingers swelled up like sausages.

The only thing which was keeping me positive was the lovely weather we were having.

After a long few hours we could eventually see we were near the end; back at the bunk house which we started from. I was so desperate to finish that I jogged the last 400m just so I could get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

The view at the end as the sun was starting to set was beautiful, but I don’t think I appreciated it at the time as all I wanted to do was down several pints of water.

11 hours and 26 miles of walking complete!

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Following the walk, we hobbled to the car, went to a nearby village and ate as many carbs as we could at a nearby pub.

Our evening plan was originally to go out for cocktails, which quickly de-escalated to watching a movie, which even further de-escalated to showering and just nodding off in bed. We were losing an hour of sleep after all weren’t we?!


The next day, with suffering bodies, we dragged ourselves out of bed and decided to visit the nearby Meanwood Valley Urban Farm.

It was the perfect time to go as it was a beautiful day and it really felt like spring had sprung!

We saw all the cute animals like lambs

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And their less-so-cute moms

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And lots of baby chicks!

There was an Alpaca that didn’t give a shit about anything. Here he is not giving a shit:

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And two donkeys who were probably starving because they were getting very aggressive about the food.

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Enough with the animals otherwise i’ll bang on about them forever. After viewing the pigs I was too tempted so I went and had a bacon sandwich from the cafe.

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A few bites in.


To finish off the day we visited a place I used to climb at regularly called The Depot. We did a couple of hours of bouldering and then I unwillingly made my journey home.

A week on and my feet are still suffering. My left big toe toenail is clinging on for it’s life and i’ve had to walk with a limb all week which everyone has unfortunately noticed. I’m glad I did the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge but I think this will be the first, and last time. My toes won’t let me attempt it again.


The song to finish off the post is a song  I didn’t even like beforehand and hate even more now. It just got stuck on repeat in my head and tormented me for the last 6 miles after one of us commented on ‘the weather is lovely and it’s just the right temperature’.

Torture.

Sean Paul – Temperature