Wednesday

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)
Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

I'm no storyteller. In fact, creative writing is one of the things I'm worst at and I've been the same since school. Remember that task in English where everyone had to persuade the class not to throw you out of a hot air balloon? Nailed it. But task me with invoking the sights, smells and sounds around me? Ask me to share my most vivid memory? I fall to pieces. That's why I always stick to guides or info posts - factual, persuasive writing and opinion pieces are my forte.

Still, that's not to say I don't enjoy creative writing. It's just that most of it never leaves the dusty depths of a scruffy notebook. But I'm trying to get better and the only way I can do that is by writing and sharing more, no? So here is my first proper 'travel writing' piece. Do be nice. 

***

Colca Canyon does not take kindly to visitors. This was something my boyfriend and I learned quickly as, with jellied legs and sweaty brows, we stared back up through the clouds, our eyes no longer able to make out the craggy peaks of our starting point. The descent had presented a challenge we were not prepared for, and it was far from over. Even the tranquil pools of Oasis lying in the canyon valley were little consolation as inwardly I began to ponder, ‘so how do we get back up again?!’

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

That evening we fell into bed expecting sleep to engulf us, but the echoing of thunder off the canyon walls, the forks of lightning illuminating the sky, and the pounding of raindrops on the roof of our hut had other ideas. The cacophony of nature’s taunts and threats were only interrupted – very rudely – by our 4am alarm, signalling the start of an even greater challenge.

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

With darkness still blanketing the canyon we began the ascent to the top, the light of head torches guiding our way. Our feet blistered and joints groaning from yesterday’s efforts, we powered up steep hills with breathless optimism, eager to watch the sun light up the peaks above us. All hopes of the slow sunrise we craved quickly faded as the light began to chase us up the canyon, racing ahead to the top like an ash cloud.

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

We’d seen South American sunrises before and knew they were something special, but we couldn’t be too disappointed as it became apparent that witnessing the valley below basking in the wispy early morning clouds was the real treat here.

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

Ignoring the roars of disagreement from tired feet and weary legs we pushed through to traverse hill upon never-ending hill, each bend unlocking new secrets of the canyon cruelly concealed by the foggy clouds. Occasionally pausing to gulp down oxygen, we watched in awe as the river began to transform from a gushing force of nature to a spindly trickle slicing through the canyon.

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)

As mules carrying the more sensible travellers passed us and disappeared into the mist above, it was almost too tempting to give in to the urge to give up, but the starched white canyon walls splashed with sun-baked orange spurred us on.

Colca Canyon: A Worthwhile Ordeal (Probably)


With scorched skin, two bodies pushed to their limits, and thousands of years of grime under our ragged fingernails, the final peak was eventually in sight. Tempting as it was to rush up and bask in victory, we took a moment to relish the moment. We’d conquered the canyon. Content that we’d savoured every moment of the beautiful, terrifying landscape, we took our last few steps, grins plastered on our faces at the enormous accomplishment, happy never to hear the words ‘vamos chicos!’ ever again. 

Follow the rest of my South American adventure here.

Monday

Things to Consider Before Travelling in South America

Travel Tips: 5 Things to Know Before Travelling in South America

Before Tom and I set out on our four month trip around South America neither of us had any clue what we were letting ourselves in for. Neither of us had travelled extensively before and we'd barely made it outside Europe so even though touching down in Lima was exciting, it was also just a bit terrifying too. There's a lot I wish I'd known before we left and I'm sure I'll write more soon enough, but for now I thought I'd share the five things I wish I'd thought about more in the planning stages. Hopefully they'll help you too! 



It's bigger than you think - Like, it's really huge. When you think we spent eighteen hours on a bus just to get between two cities in Peru (which is tiny compared to Brazil and Argentina) that might give you a better idea of the scale of it. In Cotopaxi we met a group from Canada who were trying to cover Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia in three weeks! That's just madness! We struggled to cram all of that into four months. As a rule we'd recommend at least three weeks in each of the above as a very minimum, but when you're planning keep in mind that you're going to need days to rest too and (unless your budget allows you to fly everywhere) actually get between each place too. 

Do you have good insurance? Here's something I'm a little ashamed to admit to. Over four months of travelling Tom and I managed to lose a laptop, a Kindle, a 3DS with loads of games, a phone and a pair of New Balance trainers. Luckily we had insurance to cover most of our belongings, but Tom's phone was uninsured and it's pretty damn expensive to replace. We learned a valuable lesson there so make sure you get a policy that covers you. I'm sure I don't need to mention how important medical insurance is...

Be really careful of your belongings - I know, I know, who would take our advice? But actually when I say we 'lost' all the things listed above, most of them were actually in Tom's bag when it was stolen on a bus in Colombia. It was a shame to lose all the expensive items, but what upset us most was that Tom's journal containing three months of memories also went with them. We were so careful with everything for the entire trip and it was just one moment of laxness that caused it, but we both really urge you to watch everything at all times, always keep the straps of your backpack wrapped around your legs when you're on a bus or in a waiting room and don't store your bag under your seat or in the overheads. Most people aren't out to rob you blind and it is hard to be too angry at things like that when you see so much poverty, but having to visit a South American police station to report a theft is never going to be a positive experience. 

Have you had all of your vaccinations? Many South American countries will deny you entry without proof of your yellow fever vaccination, but it's also recommended that you get a rabies shot and boosters for things like tetanus and hepatitis. Also please please please make sure you take some malaria tablets if you're going to be travelling to affected areas. They're expensive and they take up room in your case, but they're so important. We went for a consultation in Boots and went with the cheapest option and they were fine. Along Dusty Roads has a great guide if you're struggling. 

What about Zika? 
In the excitement of planning our travel Tom and I dismissed the idea of the Zika virus as something that didn’t really concern us. We just packed a lot of DEET and went on our way. But we did get bitten by mosquitoes, of course we did, and currently there’s no way of knowing if one or both of us have contracted the virus. With new reports suggesting that women living in the affected areas should delay pregnancy and due to the general lack of knowledge surrounding the virus we’re both a little concerned about what impact it could have on our future should we ever decide to have a family. Luckily that time is still (hopefully) a lot further down the line so I can push it to the back of my mind for now, but I do worry. Obviously I'm not saying don't go, but if you’re planning on starting a family soon then it’s really important to consider the risks.

What are your top tips for travelling in South America

Saturday

Why I Won't Shut Up About Brexit



When I went to bed in the early hours of Thursday morning I left one world behind and woke up in another one. We all did, whichever way we voted and however we feel about the result. I voted Remain and have always been passionately vocal about that. For me that feeling is raw. It stings and I'm grieving so when people tell me 'just get over it' like I've lost a football match or been sent a pizza with the wrong topping it feels like a punch in the stomach.

You see, this isn't about winning and losing. Because this is about people's lives, about the future of more than 64 million people in the UK alone and countless others outside of it. I hate the division that this absolute farce of a referendum that should never have been has caused, but when people ask 'can't we all just get along' my only response to that right now is 'of course we can't'. We're a country split down the middle with fundamentally different views, divided by fear and hatred. None of us can offer anything that will unite us again so no, of course we can't just all carry on like nothing has happened. Everything has changed.

Despite me being very clear about my views this isn't about why I think Leave was the wrong decision or about pointing the finger at the older generation and demonising a socioeconomic class lower than my own (the nation's young non-voters can shoulder equal responsibility). It's not about me being angry that my side lost. The last twenty six years of supporting Liverpool has taught me a lot about being able to accept a defeat gracefully. It's not even about demanding a second referendum. I signed the petition, but in all honesty I don't know if it's something we should be granted. It's true that it might help and it provides the tiniest glimmer of hope it won't fix this irreversible mess we've created. I don't know how you'd even begin to pick up the pieces from such a grand-scale mess. 

What this is about is a hateful campaign that was won through deception on the most despicable level. A hateful campaign that took our fears about globalisation and our crumbling NHS and made us point fingers of blame at the wrong villain. A hateful campaign that demonised the diversity that made me so proud to be a part of British society. A hateful campaign that was built on nothing but lies. A hateful campaign ending in a result that was anything but democratic. 

Politicians lie, we all know that. But to have the audacity to drive round in a bus promising your supporters that money saved from exiting Europe would help to fund their NHS, to reassure them that their jobs were safe from foreign workforces and to promise a better life to the ones who will suffer most from the repercussions this unprecedented move and then retract it mere hours after celebrating your win? It's despicable and it isn't the definition of democracy I grew up understanding. To then go on and call this a victory for the United Kingdom when this is nothing but a win for the super-rich and power-hungry right-wing politicians like Johnson, Farage and Gove is something I can't find words for and words, are something I'm rarely short of. 

It worries me that UKIP is a redundant party now that the very essence of their political ideals has been achieved. Nigel Farage (who is arguably the biggest snake of them all anyway) stands to gain nothing from continuing with UKIP and the idea of a Tory-Farage partnership fills me with dread. British politics has no place for those who demonise diversity, refute workers' rights such as maternity pay and consistently defend the absurd racist, sexist and homophobic remarks of their party members. No society should have any place for that. 

I don't know what this means for our economy, and I don't think anybody does. It's hard not to let the panic take hold when one of the strongest currencies in the world takes the biggest nosedive in history, when the Prime Minister resigning is the third biggest news story, when it looks like your nation is falling apart. I hope the Leavers prove me wrong. I hope people will look back at this post and laugh at how stupid and unfounded my fears are. But with each passing hour that looks increasingly unlikely to me. 

Maybe you are tired of experts as Gove suggests, but it hardly takes one to look around and see the devastating effects that Brexit has already had on people's lives, their careers, their relationships and their futures. It's hard to hold back the anger seeing European friends who contribute more than I ever could to our society distraught that they don't feel welcome anymore. It's hard to offer any words of comfort to these people or reassure them that they are very much welcome here when as a nation we've made it quite clear that they're not. 

I have a lot to thank the EU for. I grew up in North Wales, in one of the most deprived areas in the UK and have seen the effects that EU funding has had on our facilities and in preserving our language. It hurts that so many Welsh people don't feel as passionately as I do about these things. I also received EU funding to study in Germany for a year and it changed my whole life. It was the single greatest thing I've ever done, broadening my horizons, teaching me a language and developing so many skills that I'm so proud to have. It's heartbreaking that others will lose out on the chance to experience living and working abroad, forming friendships and relationships and seeing the world in a completely different way. 

I'm angry that this was, for many, a vote against the establishment that backfired in the most terrifying way. In trying to remove ourselves from the so-called unelected bureaucracy of Brussels, what we are now left with is a right-wing government led by an unelected Prime Minister with nobody to stand up for our rights as workers, our poor and vulnerable or our NHS, which was at no point falling victim to the EU in the first place. I'm angry that I've seen so many complaining about not being represented in Europe when turnouts for our European Parliamentary election was just 35% in 2014. I'm angry that this awful situation could have been avoided by people using their damn vote in the first place. 

To call this our Independence Day is gross and insulting to people all over the world who still suffer from the brutality of European colonisation decades and even centuries after their liberation. This wasn't a victory for the oppressed, it was a victory for the oppressors. To say that no bullets were fired to get to this point is just about the basest remark of this entire campaign. Three bullets were fired and they robbed two young children of their mother. 

For whatever reason 28% of people in the UK decided that this referendum was nothing to do with them and didn't bother turning up at all. Another 35% of people voted Leave. That leaves just under a third of the population who I can relate to. I didn't 'get my country back'. It was snatched away from me and regardless of what happens next I worry that I'll never be able to identify as British again. Still, if nothing else I've learned a very costly, but valuable lesson about complacency, 

The Leave campaign did everything they could to play us off against each other and God did it work. It was a campaign driven by racism, by instilling fear into the most vulnerable members of our society, by the most disgusting lies and by a complete disregard for democracy. So no, I won't shut up about Brexit. I won't simply 'get over' Brexit. This was a referendum that should never have happened. We should never have been burdened by this decision. We will be the ones who are left to pick up the pieces. This vote was not in my name.