Sunday

Minca, Colombia: An Unlikely Favourite

things to do in minca colombia

Of our entire South American adventure, choosing to visit Colombia last is probably my biggest regret. Logistically and financially it was the best option for us and at first we were glad we saved it until the end after almost everyone we met on the road said it was the best country they've ever visited. We went in full of expectation but heavy with fatigue and absolutely sick of buses. Then on one particularly awful bus between Ipiales and Popayan Tom's bag was stolen and I think that was the moment we both decided we were ready to go home.

Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed Colombia but it I think we both wish we'd had the chance to see it before the thrill of seeing new places was dulled a little, before we'd experienced our favourite country - Ecuador - and when we could dedicate the time it deserves.

The tiny little village of Minca was one of our trip highlights though - something I definitely wasn't expecting as we squashed into a tiny little jeep that was definitely carrying more passengers than it should have been and spent an hour and a half driving from Santa Marta, trying to hold back the vomit as we bumped and swerved along the mountain roads. We arrived in Minca (in our flip flops) to find that it was essentially just a very muddy building site but since it was a few degrees cooler than sweltering Santa Marta we were willing to overlook almost any flaw.

things to do in minca colombia
One thing I noticed about South America is that you never really get just a little bit of rain - you get torrential downpours that shit all over your plans. So although we planned a lot of hikes, the weather (and sometimes our own laziness) had other ideas. We spent most of our time reading books and enjoying the rhythms of the raindrops, befriending a very large ginger cat, bird watching and admiring the toucans, and picking fresh, juicy mangoes from the jungle for our breakfast. 

But of course, a visit to a pretty and unassuming village in South America wouldn't be complete without another near-death experience.

things to do in minca colombia
Since we didn't get time to explore Colombia's coffee region I decided that if we only did one thing in Minca it would be visiting the coffee plantation.We'd read that we could hike for an hour up a steep hill to get there or take a mototaxi and be there in a few minutes. In every other place we visited, a mototaxi was just a tuk-tuk but in Minca it has a much more literal meaning. All too late we realised that in Minca, a mototaxi means that you just jump on the back of a rando's motorbike and cling for dear life as you bounce over potholes and swerve dangerously close to the edge of the road to avoid huge oncoming trucks. I'm sure my driver must have had welts in his back from how deep my nails were digging in, but he was very good at reassuring me when I saw Tom whizz past us not wearing a helmet. I managed to hold a surprisingly decent conversation in Spanish throughout which I suppose is an achievement.

Despite the torrential downpour that kept us at the plantation for much longer than we'd planned, we predictably relied on nothing but our own two feet to get back down the hill again.

things to do in minca colombia

The excitement and surprise didn't end there though. Thankfully though, it was good surprise and excitement this time, albeit really weird. Way back when we were doing our Uyuni salt flats tour we met a German couple who were en-route to Machu Picchu while we were staying in Bolivia carrying on to Sucre. It was a bit strange bumping into them again in a hostel in Arequipa, but as it's a pretty popular spot on the Gringo trail we didn't think a great deal of it. What we didn't expect was to then accidentally meet one of them again in Minca of all places. It made us realise that the planet can be so small at times.

Our time in Minca might have been brief and (mostly) uneventful, but it was just what we needed to relax and recover from our time in Tayrona National Park. Between being robbed, Tom losing his phone and me getting a severely sunburnt arse two days before a ten hour flight back to the UK, Minca restored our faith in Colombia and - unlike the rest of the country - we visited at the perfect time.

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Monday

Practical (And Achievable) New Year’s Resolutions

Forget dieting, drinking more water and trying to visit x amount of new countries this year. Instead I've decided to set some New Years Resolutions I can stick to. Find out more on www.moonandforest.co.uk

I know that New Year's Resolutions are a controversial and decisive topic, and personally I care a lot about them. I'm a firm believer that if January 1st feels like a fresh new page to you then you should absolutely use it to take the first step to achieving your goals. I make resolutions at the beginning of every January and honestly, most of the time they've fallen by the wayside once we hit mid-February.

I've realised over the last few years that setting vague and subjective goals like 'drink more water' or 'travel lots' don't work for me and I have to set specific, measurable targets to keep me motivated. So this year I've decided to make resolutions that aren't about reading the most books or visiting the most amount of new countries, they're practical and very easy goals that I'll be able to really reap the benefits of achieving. Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally make it to Asia or publish the book I've been threatening for the last three years, but if not then I will absolutely not be beating myself up over it. 

I guess these are pretty boring as far as resolutions go, but hopefully they'll be useful to you too if you're looking to make some small but significant improvements to your life.

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Adopt a one-in-one-out policy 

I'm far from being a minimalist, but after I threw away, donated or sold almost everything I owned this time last year I have realised that I just cannot deal with clutter. Even though I've obviously bought some new things to furnish the apartment I'm in now I still don't own very much, but this year I'm determined to make sure that I don't become overwhelmed by possessions again. So far what's been working for me has been discarding something I own for every new item I buy, whether that's finally parting ways with a beloved but bobbled cardigan, donating an unloved book to a charity shop or just throwing away a tube of crusty mascara. I find this is the easiest way to stay on top of keeping everything neat and tidy and I'm determined to stick with it throughout the year.

Go for a smear test 

So important and yet something I've so far neglected to do.  You should book yours too if you haven't already - we can do this!

Take part in the 52 week saving challenge

I'm usually pretty good at saving money and usually transfer anything left over at the end of the month straight into my savings account before I can be tempted by the Topshop sale or ordering a Deliveroo.  That's been trickier over the last few months though as I've been living alone and usually there's very little if anything left just before pay day. I really like the idea of the 52 week saving challenge though, where you'll save £1 in week one, £2 in week two and so on. At the end of the year that should leave you with £1378 by the end of the year, so let's see how that one works out.

Read more: 8 Ways to Save Money for Travel 

Learn to understand bank statements and utility bills

When it comes to adulting I think I'm doing an okay job, but one thing I'm ashamed to admit that I do is open letters from the bank, water bills and energy statements, pay whatever it is they're asking of me without question and just file them away in my 'worry about later' drawer. If it's not something I need to action, nine times out of ten I won't even read them and that is so, so careless. So next time I receive a letter to tell me that my interest rate, terms and conditions or tariff is changing, I will make sure I conduct a proper audit to make sure that I couldn't be getting a better deal elsewhere. 

Print out photos
I can't even remember the last time I printed out photos that I've shared on Instagram or Facebook - they just gather virtual dust in the murky depths of my hard drive. This year I'll be setting aside a few weeks to go through my photos, delete any that aren't worthy of being held on to and print off all of my favourites to frame, put in an album or stick in my travel journal. Well, I had to include at least one fun goal on this list!


 What do you think about New Year's Resolutions? Let me know what yours are in the comments!

Saturday

5 Reasons to Try Veganism this Veganuary


Reasons to Go Vegan
A few days ago in my Best Things I Did in  2016 post I mentioned that over the summer I decided to eliminate animal products from my life. I'd been vegetarian and cruelty-free in terms of cosmetics for a while and it was the next logical step. Veganism however, wasn't something that had crossed my mind until I attempted Veganuary last year. 

I went in not really knowing anything about veganism other than I could no longer eat cheese, yoghurt or basically any of my favourite foods. I'd built up the image of a life of restriction and misery so it's really no wonder I failed after around three weeks and vowed never to do it again. 

Fast forward to December and after almost six months as a mostly* vegan and I can confidently say that it's the best thing I've ever done for myself and I'd never want to go back to eating animal products. I know a lot of people are looking to switch up their eating habits after the festive binge, so I thought I'd offer a few reasons why veganism might be a great thing for you to try throughout January.

*More on this another time, but Lex made a video and Nadia wrote a blog post that can explain that way better than me

Reasons to Go Vegan
 What is veganism? 

From The Vegan Society, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is practicable and possible, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. So basically no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, suede, wool, circuses, zoos...you get the idea.

Veganuary is an incentive taking place throughout January (obv) which encourages people to adopt a vegan diet for a full month. Obviously veganism goes beyond diet, but nailing the food aspect is a great place to start and it's the thing that will have the most impact on your health, animals and the planet.

So let's just get down to the real question everyone is asking - why on earth would you want to give up cheese?!

Reasons to Go Vegan
For the animals

The main factor in my decision to go vegan was that ethically I couldn't justify animals suffering and being slaughtered so that I can enjoy a plate of food. In my opinion there's no ethical way to kill a sentient being that doesn't want to have its life taken and it doesn't make sense that we can be outraged at events like Yulin festival but continue our own tradition of slaughtering and eating millions of turkeys for Christmas Day. I wouldn't pay someone to kill a puppy or kitten to put on my table and I won't pay someone to kill a lamb on my behalf either.

The egg and dairy industry are also incredibly cruel too. For their milk dairy cows are (often forcibly) artificially inseminated and have their babies taken from them almost straight away, causing as much suffering and distress as it would if we had our own children taken from us. Once the dairy cows are spent they are then slaughtered for their meat and any female offspring they bear will continue this cycle. Male calves are slaughtered at a young age for veal or raised to be slaughtered for beef. As for eggs, chickens are often kept in awful cramped conditions (yep, even the 'free range' ones) for around a year before they are slaughtered for meat. Female chicks will often have their beaks cut before they continue a life the same as their mother's while the useless male chicks are often gassed to death or thrown into a grinder almost as soon as they're hatched.

I'd suggest watching Earthlings to get more of an idea about how the food we eat ends up on our plates, but I still can't bring myself to watch it because it upsets me too much. Vegucated is also a good resource.

It's really cheap

There's a misconception that veganism is expensive and I can definitely see why when the top vegan food bloggers promote cooking with ingredients like chia seeds and vegan eggs which are often outrageously expensive. You don't need these though! I rarely use meat substitutes and instead load up on pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, noodles and root vegetables- some of the cheapest foods you can buy! I typically spend around £15 on my weekly shop and I can pick up almost everything I need from Aldi. Veganism can be as cheap or as expensive as your budget allows but it doesn't come much more purse-friendly than a jacket potato with baked beans or a big plate of pasta.

It's the only way to save our planet

If you're outraged by deforestation, pollution, species extinction and global warming then veganism is a huge step towards making the planet a better place. Recycling and limiting our energy and water consumption is obviously hugely important, but when you consider that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the exhaust from all transporation in the world combined*, it's terrifying. Animal agriculture is having a devastating impact on our planet and I'd really suggest watching Cowspiracy - produced by Leonardo DiCaprio - for a much more comprehensive (and frightening) explanation of this.

*source: Cowspiracy

It's one of the healthiest lifestyle choices you can make

When I asked on Twitter a lot of people replied to say that their health prevents them from trying a vegan diet so I just quickly wanted to add a disclaimer that I recognise I'm coming from a place of privilige here being able-bodied, a healthy weight, having no severe chronic illnesses and having never suffered from an eating disorder. However for a lot of people a balanced plant-based diet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and is one of the healthiest and easiest ways to maintain your weight. Personally the thing I've noticed most is that I'm much leaner and have noticed a huge improvement in my IBS since making the switch.

Contrary to popular belief you can get plenty of protein from plant foods, but it is easy to undereat on a vegan diet so make sure that you're packing in enough calories and are finding other sources for calcium, zinc and B12.

There are loads of accidentally vegan options


I think the key thing that's made me stick at veganism is knowing that I'm not restricting my food choices but rather opening up a whole new world of foods I'd never tried before. I'm so much more creative in the kitchen now and trying out new recipes really excites me in a way that it didn't before. Saying that though, there are so many snack foods that are accidentally vegan so I never feel stuck for choice when I want to watch Netflix and pig out in bed. Some of my favourites are Party Rings, Jelly Tots, Fox's Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Oreos (not the peanut butter ones though), Starburst, Frazzles and Jus Rol Cinnamon Swirls but a quick google search of accidentally vegan foods will bring up so many other options too. 


Eating out is admittedly a little harder, but you can find vegan options in Pizza Express, Zizzi, Bella Italia, Nandos, Las Iguanas, Handmade Burger Co and even McDonalds to name but a few!

Reasons to Go Vegan



Resources 

I thought I'd include a few of my favourite resources for vegan recipes and tips below. Every person below is just hugely passionate about living as ethically as they can so you won't find any negativity, namecalling or slaughterhouse footage in any of these places. Just positivity, genuinely useful advice and delicious recipes! 

Blogs: The V Nice Life, Ginger Kitchen, not so QUIET grrl, The Tofu Diaries
Youtube: Liv's Heathy Life, Cheap Lazy Vegan, Unnatural Vegan, The Vegan Kitchen , Kiera Rose, The V Nice Life, Vegan Voyager, Brianna Jackfruitson
Instagram: Accidentally Vegan, From My Bowl, Becomingvegaan

Other: The Vegan Society 30 Day Pledge - it's a great idea to sign up to this newsletter as it's free and you'll get a recipe emailed to you every day!

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I hope this has been at least a little bit helpful and has inspired you to make the leap if you've been toying with the idea. Remember that you don't have to be perfect, that everyone slips up and makes mistakes and that you're making such a huge difference to our planet. Feel free to suggest your own reasons to go vegan and any other useful resources in the comments below!