Richard's jaunt

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Went skiing in Italy with friends almost as soon as I got back, which was not really part of my journey, but turned out it had a twist.

In terms of embarrassment try this. Let the plane taxi to the stand, and let everyone pack the aisles ready to leave. Then punch yourself in the face so hard your nose spouts blood. Shove large tissues part way up your nose to try and stem the blood while every one looks on agog. My only thought was how am I going to explain this while trying to get through immigration.

Some advice if you ask for a shot in Tonale be prepared (single malt please no ice, thanks) for a wonderfully full glass.

Now for the random event. Checked email mid week and by chance a diving buddy is going skiing and has a spare place, not only that, its for this Saturday and its just a hop and skip from where I was staying. Bing! a one week skiing holiday turned into two!

The bus journey getting there was a little tougher than expected, requiring changing buses four times, as I hopped from village to village. Oddly (I felt) you buy bus tickets from the local bar. I dont speak any Italian (apart civilities and ordering hot chocolate) so this made things a little more challenging. Especially for one leg, when given some duff info I missed the only bus. Stuck at an empty freezing station, no map, while wondering what the to do next I surprised myself that armed with a phrase book I actually managed to find a call box and phone a cab. Apart from that everything went swimmingly.

So that's it, end of adventures, back to reality, time to grow up, buy slippers, settle down, be sensible, hmmm.

and thanks again for reading and joining me on this trip,

and by the way I have told about this idea I've got....

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Credits, thanks, lists and thoughts

Well its over. One of the most intense, happiest, tiring and eventful periods of my life. No regrets. It cost me approximately £3500 for the trip. Most of the expense was in the US and Canada, but I did everything I wanted to do and a few things I never imagined.

In hindsight I would have made a few changes to my itinerary to ease my passage. There are parts I would skip out and maybe doing the whole of the West coast meant I traveled too quickly at times. In Latin America I would have definitely benefited from going to learn Spanish in a language school.

The highlights for me were San Fran, Guatemala and Panama, mainly due to a mixture of great scenery and good company. I would certainly like to go back to Guatemala and get to know the people more, San Fran I could I live there, as I would Vancouver.

Thanks for reading the blog hope you enjoyed it. I give special thanks to all those at home who mailed me and gave support during my journey. In particular:

Mum and Dad - for sorting out my mail and hassles with credit cards
Jill and Neil - For providing equipment, a home, numerous other stuff
Alan and Judy - For providing equipment, storing my junk
Mark - For setting up the web site

This is the equipment I ended up with, which I would probably take again for a following trip. The only changes would be to use a digital camera and I would possibly consider adding a mosquito net and a sleeping bag.
Generally I tried to travel as light as possible as I often added extra gear (such as a tent) and food and water, which really up the weight.

rucksack - Berghaus Voyager 55 litres
Daysack - drawstring gym bag

Bicycle cable lock (to lock rucksack to immovable objects)
Small padlock (for lockers)

Merrill sandals, (these slowly fell apart and were difficult to clean)
Montrail Goretex walking shoes, (recommended)

Berghaus Extrem Paclite Goretex waterproof shell (expensive, but effective)
Body belt
Wide brimmed hat (avoids red ears)
Long sleeve shirt
2 Dryflo T shirts (1 got lost)
Swimming shorts
Windstopper fleece
2 trousers (no zipp off legs, its not cool)
2 pr walking socks (designed for Goretex shoes)
3 pr Dryflo underpants (so they dry over night)

2004 Footprint guide book (okay, bit out of date)
Spanish phrase book and dictionary
Silk sleeping sheet (keeps bed bugs out)
Inflatable neck cushion (great for long bus journeys)
Two Platypus collapsible water bottles (take up less space)
Camera, Olympus mju zoom and 35mm films (broke)
Duck tape
Sun glasses
Pegless washing line (lost, but useful)
Swiss Army knife
Ear plugs (vital)
whistle (never used)
Petzl head torch (best thing)
Sketch book and pencils (got trashed)
Moleskine journal
Post-it notes, pens
Paperback books (too many at times)
Paperwork: Passport, drivers license (for photo id), 3 credit cards, insurance, cash in $, TC in $, etc

Basic first aid kit
Vitamins (vit B1 to annoy mosi's), 100% DEET, F35 sunscreen,
Toiletries: solid anti-p, lip balm, tooth brush & paste, razors & shaving oil, shower gel
Travel towel
Toilet roll

Oh and a half a hollowed out gourd like thing, used as a drinking/eating vessel, which I am very proud of.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Back to Canada

The border crossing to Costa Rica is to be believed. Just a mess of random buildings, not unlike a rough industrial park. Go into a unsigned waiting room the size and feel of a small garage where after 20 minutes some guy prods my bag and tells me to move on. Outside my bus has vanished and an eight year old kid points across the block. There are no signs, eventually find an old lady sitting in the street at a little wooden desk selling stamps to stick in my passport. I buy one on the assumption I might need one, who knows. Nearby there is a small rough hole in an anonymous wall. I peer in and get brusquely asked for my passport. It is stamped and returned I get the impression I have just officially left Panama. The kid pops up again like the white rabbit and points north and says Costa Rica. I amble through no mans land not quite sure where I am going or what I am looking for. I go past various random shops and utility buildings and find my bus again, but its empty and locked. After a few dead ends the white rabbit returns, I pay him a well earned dollar and I hand over my passport to the big greasy guy with his shirt half undone revealing a sweaty hairy torso. We are ushered in to what looks like a wire fenced tennis court, which is a little perturbing. But after an hour the greasy guy shouts my name and lets me out to rejoin the bus. Why this is all necessary is beyond me.

The flight north again is without a hitch. Miami airport was cool as I could talk to the ground staff in Spanish which surprised them no end.

Bit of a shock landing in Canada I am being frozen to death. Yesterday it was 30C and now its -5C at lunch time dropping to -14 at night.
Im not impressed with Toronto, apart from the snow its all a little dull. Very orderly and polite. Even the bums apologies when they ask for change.

I take a day trip to Niagara falls. No that place is truly weird.
The day before everywhere was green, leaves on trees, butterflies fluttered by and now I'm in a monochrome world of ice and snow.

The falls are surrounded by fractured towers of ice and snow. The falls force a plume of mist rising like if it were a forest fire. The water droplets fall and freeze all around creating wild frostings on every surface.

The main street is like a brasher version of Blackpool. Rails of yellowing T shirts 3 for $10, Movieland, House of Terror, Dairy Queen, Jacuzzi, low rates, Casino, wax work murderers.

Monday, January 31, 2005

The jungle

The countryside is beautiful, endless double rainbows, butterflies, lush jungle, tropical birds, fresh fruit straight from the trees. Then for some unexplained reason, while reading a map I walk straight into a traffic sign. I have a bump the size of an egg. Plenty of ice cools it but leaves me with a fuzzy head for the next day.

Which is my excuse for a day that went badly wrong. To cut a long story short we spend hours getting into the jungle. We are massively out of time, we have no map, the sun has dropped behind the mountain and it is a absolute minimum of 4 hours travel to get back out again. Oh, the rain has caused multiple land slides and washed the bridge away, so we have to back track. Except my two walking friends are totally oblivious to the impending doom. For every 100m we track back they are stopping with suggestions to go and look for the Quetzale bird or some such. I point out to them the path we were on is now a river, we have no food or shelter and the last bus is uncatchable, unless we stumble upon a lift. We make good progress for about 30 seconds, until they stop again to take photographs of a piece of moss or the like, arghhh! In the end we do get a lift, in a pick up truck, we do catch the last bus and get home at 10, Im somewhat frazzled and tired.

The following day the calvary arrive in the shape of the Dutch girls from Pan city and they have a cunning plan!

There is gathering to celebrate the full moon out in the middle of nowhere. On my journey I have met various interesting people and some have mentioned this before. Its not invite only but very word of mouth. I agree but for one night only.

The three of us borrow a two man tent (!) some supplies and joined the community. It's a bus journey, then a pick up truck and then a two hour hike past woodland scenery. The clearing is ideally located, no one can bother us here. Alcohol is banned, as is anything electric, no power. The only facility is a water pipe from the spring. It varies but between 100 and 150 of us a living in the woods. Food is prepared and cooked communally twice a day. There are educational workshops, but we choose to hang out on the banks of the river and by the hot springs. The first spring has all the charm of a burst water main, but you get used to wallowing around in the mud. Nudity is common, everyone is really chilled, we help out carrying supplies back from the village. Manage to spear my foot on a twig and limp pathetically into camp with bundles of veg. Well it got me out of doing anything else.

The evenings were fantastic spectacle. They start with a cry which is repeated through the forest, Circola, and people start slowly coming in from all directions. They form a circle hold hands and start humming, culminating in clapping your partners hands. The foods simple but delicious. The music weaves and bobs from drums to local Panamanian to violin to clarinet, endlessly changing. Jugglers throw flaming baton's, occasionally from each others shoulders. There are flaming hola hoops, girls spin long chains attached to balls of fire. These are thrown and twisted with amazing speed and dexterity. Everyone seems to have a skill and when it goes quite someone else joins the fray. There are Panamanian indian people in loin clothes who whoop, shout animal noises and pound the floor in mad tribal dances.

Walking back to the tent a hundred electric blue eyes stare back. Closer inspection reveals spiders. Thinking of them as fairy lights is lot more pleasant.

I could go on and on with more details, but it was the highlight of my trip. Well five days later I emerge from the jungle. i catch sight of my self in a mirror, well I think its me. I stare for a good five minutes. I thought everyone else looked wild, but I look no better. It leaves me with less than 24 hours to get to the right country and make the airport!

Panama City

Started off in the Caribbean town of Bocas del Toro. Once was a top backpacker hideaway, now US property developers are pouring in turning it into a tourist destination. The heavy rain had made the waters turbid rather than turquoise. Did not hang around and caught the bus South, through jungle and cloud forest. Would make a great road for motorcycling, smooth curving bends, dramatic scenery with hardly another vehicle.

Got to the hostel in David and got immediately invited to join a group going to a festival in Boquete, an hours journey into the hills. It's a small village surrounded by volcanoes, jungle and coffee plantations. Thousands of local people from all over the mountains are partying, fairground rides, street food, stalls, open air discos and bars. Went into the first bar 12p a beer! party on, needless to say i got home at about 4am. Considering we were the only white faces in town everybody was really cool and we had no hassle.

Panama was the first really modern city I have come across since leaving the states some three months ago. High rises, supermarkets (which was a real novelty) and 24 hour facilities, though parts of it are pretty shady in general it felt safe to have some fun. I hooked up with some mad Swedish guys from Boquete and things got very very.

Its 4am, watching a bored naked girl shuffle across the stage, vacant brown eyes scan the crowd. The television at the bar is unintentionally reflecting in the stage mirrors, its English football, Chelsea are winning, wisps of smoke soften the edges, as does the warm imported beer. There is a Swedish girl from the hostel on my shoulder trying to make conversation. My mind is elsewhere. I have been in town 9 hours and I am already this deep in it. Sigh. End the night at an even sleazier joint, off duty taxi drivers and night people.
Just before day break we head home and enjoy the cool air and the quite morning sounds of the city as we chill together on the top floor balcony. Interrupted by a spitting competition to see who could reach the parked cars below.

The days are warm and balmy, clear skies and pretty easy going. The following evening another party starts and goes something like this.
>R lets go dancing
Its 2am!
>Non-plussed, big eyes
Okay, where?, nowhere is open, Im not going to last nights dives.
>Lonely Planet?
Five clubs and several taxis later 12 of us rejoin having split up during the evening, but all end up independently at the last club still open, to much surprise and big hugs. The only european faces in the place and it is pumping, 2 for 1 drinks, salsa, sweaty, jammed dance floor, swaying hips and good rhythm's. No idea where we are but its the best antidote for the traveler blues.

Back on the balcony. Coming down as the sun comes up. Rum with my coffee, jam on my toast. Best go to bed its 8:30.

There is no respite, the Swedes segway into the Dutch without missing a beat. My Aussie room mate just smiles and shakes his head every time he sees me.

Much I cant remember, but this goes on for four nights. I did get to see some of the city in daylight. The old town was worth the trip, narrow streets, wrought iron balconies, big old wooden doors, intricate plaster moldings, its dirty, crumbling, trees and vines grow down the walls. Music drifts out of the windows, people are hanging out of the balconies and sleeping it off in the street.

This is the Latin quarter. It is slightly dangerous but really cool. The other side of the bay are the skyscrapers, but this place has style. My enthusiasm gets the better of me and the police usher me away from the darker side of town. With good reason, the dock side is seriously sketchy. Guys are not make any effort to hide that they checking if Im worth robbing. I end up walking fast my nostrils filled with the stench of the fish market, past stalls of herbal medicines, piles of rope, people playing dominos on the street, rotten vegetables and the deafening noise of endless car horns.

Saw the Panama canal. Having traveled the length of a continent and this is the logical end point I stare at something which is no different to the ship canal back at home in Manchester, whoopie.

I split with the Dutch girls and go back north for some rest. I head back up into the hills to Boquete, so I can do some hiking and put behind me the madness of the city.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Entering Panama

Its amazing what 24 hours does. Im running around town making arrangements, getting things done. The pace of the city spurs me on. Gone are the slow paced shuffling towns, here people stride. Its great to be running through busy traffic again. Scruffy and ugly it maybe, but the city has vibrancy. It has gun shops (hmmm not so good). Check the map, get cash, food, plane ticket home, more junk food, pick up my clothes from the laundry, where to go, what to do. Wing it to the bus station, get conflicting information, but end up walking almost straight into the side of the anonymous bus, parked no where in particular. By chance I overhear the place name I want and jump on the big pink bus and it leaves.

Its a joy, jungle green scenery unfolds, banana and pineapple plantation, waterfalls and bright blue streams. Its sunny I leave the grey clouds behind, the wind comes pouring through the bus window. Im on the road again.

Bang! I run into a apocalyptic scene. It is not obvious at first, I am not familiar with this landscape, but something does not seem right. The blue bags placed over the banana crops are missing, they´re strewn all over the bushes and trees. As we make progress it´s quite apparent I am traveling into a full scale disaster zone. I pull back the window to its full extent to view the scene unfolding. There are cars at odd angles, wooden houses out of kilter, trees uprooted. The usual disaster movie stuff. It was the next thing that took me back. Some things you expect as permanent, immovable, what ever happens they are a constant. Except miles of modern highway had just been blasted over the countryside. This was no third world road. Broad, white lined, kerb stones, no different than at home.

A massive flood had hit this Caribbean coast. The locals were shovelling red mud from their houses, hanging their now orange tinted clothes out to dry. On higher ground their furniture was lined up in sun to dry out. Sections of asphalt, as if like giant discarded bathroom towels were scattered along the way side. One significant section of highway had rotated a full 45 degrees.

The bus driver was amazing. This was almost certainly the first bus here. The roads were chocked with emergency vehicles, Red Cross and aid trucks. Where the crumbling highway existed, even though it was heavily under cut from flood water, it was barely wide enough for the bus. Many times it had gone completely. Forcing the driver to drive down embankments and weave round piles of wreckage. A bull dozed tortuous path enabled us to just make passage. At one stage the road was a shale beach and I expected the journey to end, stuck out there.

But all the time, as we passed through, i saw smiling and waving kids and people confidently getting on with clearing up. Some bright sparks were even selling Wellington boots by the way side.

With other priorities the border crossing was mercifully brief.

To enable the bus to cross to Panama it drove onto the railway line. Over the swollen river via a narrow rickety wooden rail bridge by lining itself up a few planks lain end to end to aid its crossing.

The fun did not end there. We were well behind time. A simple journey had taken all day and the sun was low and I was aiming for the ferry before dark. There was little chance of finding somewhere to stay here. The bus stopped in the first town across the border and no ferry was going anywhere. I hook up with another guy in the same predicament and split a taxi to the next town to catch the last boat.

Never do this in central america, unless you are mad. Our driver takes this as a personal challenge, we hurtle along, wheels screeching in the corners, wrong side on the racing line, blind bends, the jungle blurring. We have obstacles as well. The rain on the steep hillsides have resulted in many landslips pouring tons of debris onto road. In a detached "what the hell" way Im enjoying this, random wind in your hair adventure.

In to town, to the jetty, we bounce over the railway line, two minutes to spare. We pay him over the odds and run to the boat.

Our ´ferry´is a souped up speed boat. The big black guy falls onto me, as literally we jump on to the boat. Straight on full power, blatting out 40 knots, our wake washing over palm covered islands and swamping local dug out canoes. Environmental impact maybe, but big grins definitely and as we dock the lilac sun just fizzes out into the Caribbean sea.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Journey from hell

I was not asked, but I knew I would feel bad if I went my separate way, so I joined the three girls, M, O and A on the journey south.

M´s ankle was pretty bad. They had managed to buy some crutches, but they were designed for a person 6´4" to 7´6". Guatemalan´s are a short people and M is not much bigger, so some serious bodging was necessary.

Up early and caught an unusually empty chicken bus to Guate City. Normally they are hanging out the door. All went smoothly, jumping straight into a taxi to the bus station, though a fight between the taxi drivers was broken up by a shot gun wielding security guard.

M hopped up the steps on to the Tica bus to El Salvador and off we went. The air con was not and we were stuck by the most fowl smelling toilets ever. It was hot and unpleasant.

Got dropped off and found some nearby accommodation in San Salvador. No water, dirty, rough, cockroaches, odd noises in the night. Sorta funny for one night. The getting on and off buses is starting to tell on M. Just walking the few yards from the bus is obviously painful and slow. This is not the place to be vulnerable. Had to stand on the street corner at 4am in downtown San Salvador to catch the next bus, dodgy as hell. This is not a nice city.

Another long hot bus journey. The Tica people messed up our tickets and we ended up back next to the toilet again! The scenery was dry and dusty, gone was the lush jungle of Guatemala. To pass the time pleasantly we describe in minutiae our favourite meals.

Crossed through more borders, did not stop for meals, ate what ever was offered by the local women. O found some delicious oranges, thanks, the days highlight. O is great, sparkly eyes and dont give a damn attitude, though one of the untidiest people I have ever met. Previously three of us shared a room.I constantly tripped over clothing and founding discarded knickers stuck to my foot on the way to the bathroom.

The bus finally dropped us in Managua, Nicaragua. Strange, flat dispersed city, covered in trees and American style intersections. Jumped in another taxi to go across town. They were all over us at the bus station, dived into a comida for escape. Ate weird deep fried stuff, not exactly pleasant, but least it was something.

Got ripped off on the bus, but we were passed caring. M is now really suffering.

Arrived in Granada, Nicaragua after sun down, not ideal. Taxi´s dont want to pick us up. Strange town, get one eventually but the hostel is full. Temporarily leave M and run across town to find somewhere, twisting my ankle in the process. Leaves it tender for a few days. Check in to a nice funky hostel and proceed to do the bar some damage. After a few random drinks we discover Mojitos, rum and fresh mint and set to in earnest.

There is another English guy here in crutches, slipped on a curb. After all the stupid adventures it is the innocent of things that have all caught us out.

Strange place Granada, feels like a mid west ghost town, old colonial houses. The fronts are brightly painted in pastel shades, but look round the side and they slope down into a dilapidated, scruffy mess. The locals seem sullen, not rude, but lack that certain spark. There are few smiles. The parks at the lake front in empty, no kids in the playground, swarms of flies over brown dirty water, swimming is not advised.

Saw two funerals processions. Tall big black wooden carriages drawn by two white horses. The negro coachman is dressed in brilliant white tails with a white top hat followed by a somber funeral procession. The brightly colored garlands hanging from the coach in marked contrast to the monochrome procession.

In a strange twist i walk straight into a Latino wedding ceremony. Sharp suited men, girls in spray on dresses, the band plays up beat music, choir is gospel and its pretty jolly and cheerful all round.

Back to the hostel, we are pretty tired and have some way to travel still. We stick together as a team, but other travelers spoil the vibe. There are too many weirdo´s here, never feel relaxed, always looking over your shoulder. We drink through the night well into tomorrow. You can order bottles of rum over the bar. Three hours sleep, stumble around bleary eyed, giggle and sing random songs and we decide to move to the beach. Brain dead on endless chicken buses, too many to count, get on and off in strange places. Its a bit of mystery but we end where we intended with luggage intact.

M has lost it at this point, her leg is worse than it started, but in the twilight the seaside is pretty.

Rose just after sun up and jogged the length of the beach and back. San Juan del Sur is a massive disappointment. So much traveling and effort and its a wind swept empty sea side town. Hard grey sand, wind never gives in, driving dust into your clothes and eyes. Too many empty bars, far from quaint and very little to do. To get to the next beach is $10 taxi journey, a kings ransom in these parts. No one sleeps well as the wind whistles round.

Spend hours debating with myself what to do, tired, dont want to be here. I dont like feeling like this it dominates everything. We travel the hour to the nearest town to buy our tickets out of here. It is our last night together, we play Monoploy and dont even have a drink.

I leave before dawn, more running away than leaving, a brief wave goodbye. Another bus, the air con long gone, the curtains drawn to stiffle the suns rays beating down on our little tin can of a bus. I am being slow baked. With no view time travels slowly.

The Costa Rican border was a test of human endurance. Three hours spent joining queues, lined up in the sun. Why? who knows, a stamp in the passport, a quick glance at my bag and thats it. Back on the tin can bus.

Arrive in Costa Rica, San Jose. The sun is fading behind grey rain clouds. Dont how know iffy this city is after dark, so I need to find somewhere to stay fast, but I am short of Cordoba´s as the money changers at the border were ruthless. I have learnt not to trust taxi´s, so its a hike with pack a few miles across town. Hostels are full. My legs are arching, its hot and humid, motivate myself with the need to shower and need to eat. Find a good place, the only hostel left? cheap, safe and full of travelers. I could now relax and start making new plans.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Leaving San Pedro

There was a long standing in joke that no can leave San Pedro. People turned around, left jobs in Antigua to return. Four of us eventually decided to make a break for it. All was fine until we stepped off the bus and M painfully twisted her ankle.

She rested and I took the opportunity to walk up the active volcano of Payaca. The scenery was stunning, barren twisted rock, clouds racing straight into the mountain. Spiraling up into contorted patterns, mixing in with the steam rising from the ground. Digging my feet into the cinder cone to make progress up to the mouth of the volcano was hard work, bit like walking up the down escalator. The wind was howling at the top, makeing it icy cold. Great plums of hot sulpherous gases would make us gag as we waited for the cloud to pass.

As it dissipated it revealed a cauldron of red, black and green rocks, from its centre rose a black tower spurted out great orange gobs of molten lava. I clawed out a chunk from the rim to take back. It was so cold I picked up handfuls of hot dirt to keep my hands warm.

Coming back down was hilarious. Just bounded down the side of the mountain, feet blasting huge plumes of ash into the wind. Skidding down in big arcs as if snowboarding, doing turns and setting off mini avalanches. Was nt so funny when I emptied my walking shoes. I had slashed straight through the sole of the shoe on one of the larger pieces of lava, bit of a close call. Carefully walked the rest of the way down in the twilight with the sun sinking behind the mountain.

Getting back to back to Antigua I learnt the news that my friend had gone to hospital and was told she had seriously hurt her ankle. No walking for two weeks, except she was due to be in Costa Rica next week.

Feliz navidad y un prospero ano nuevo

Had the most fantastic Christmas and New Year. Was not planning to stay as long in one spot, but everyone fell for this place. Numerous people changed travel plans, flights and had difficulty in leaving.

Lake Aitilan is this beautiful deep blue lake resulting from the explosion of a huge volcano, around it range jagged peaks and ring of smaller volcanoes. All around the lake are little villages, which are connected by little boat taxi's. The weather is shorts and sun bathing with occasional dips in the lake to cool off. The hippest of the little villages is San Pedro. It has few streets, most people go on foot. The dusty paths wind through cobbled streets, fruit trees and coffee groves.

The coffee is superb. They pick it, dry it in their courtyards, roast it and sell it all in the same village. I never realised how much back breaking work goes into making coffee beans. Kinda feel guilty as they get paid almost nothing.

The locals are happy and friendly, always smiling saying hello. The kids wave in the street and sell some of the best cakes ever. Loads of excellent cheap and varied restaurants, loads with lakeside views. Fabulous fresh produce market, fresh herbs, strawberries, advocados, all taste delicious. Three full shopping bags cost me less than two quid. Everything a person could want is available cheaply here; 1.75 litre bottle of rum for 4 quid, bed 1 quid, etc, etc.

I spent Christmas at a hostel called Trippy's, adjacent to Bohemia and next to that is Munchies (go figure).

Christmas started on Christmas eve, which was the start of the endless party. We created a massive Christmas meal, which in the end served 27 people. Everyone did something, some created decorations, others sought cooking instruments, built a BBQ, downloaded Christmas songs, a boat trip for cheeses and other specialties. Considering there is only four rings and none of the pots had handles it was an incredible success. At midnight the whole village shakes to a barrage of Chinese fireworks. What they like here is volume not pretty colours. The Chinese explosives (you cannot call them fireworks) are more than up to the job, so we let plenty off to join in. Some are so loud that I felt nauseous as the shock waves pound my insides.

This kind of behavior, fuelled by a night watchman who could provide endless supply of rum continued for several days. This culminated in an all nighter down by the shore. Masses of speakers, fires, hard house and trance music. Masses of partiers from all over. Huge cheer as the sun rose.

Apart from behaving badly we did some cliff diving. Ouch water is hard. Well i had to do it, male pride and all that. The big cliff is about 15m above the water. Enough time to realise you are falling a very long way and an excellent way to clear a hang over.

To burn off some of this indulgence three friends and I climb a local peak, Indians Nose and camp out. Not a long hike, but steep in the thin air at 2100m. According to the local shamen, staying here has restorative properties (we can but hope). We watch the sun set and the moon rise, lighting up the distant clouds that fold over mountains tops. Some inventive cookery round the campfire. Advocado shells make good cooking pots! We can look down on the whole caldera and fired rockets to signal to our friends in the village a mile or two away.

Did a 36 hour fast to cleanse myself before New Year (some serious partying). It was better than I expected, though I consumed my own body weight in pancakes the following day.

New Year was pretty much a re-run of Christmas, bumping into old friends and dodging fireworks. The street looks as if it is covered in confetti resulting from so many exploded fire crackers.

Two friends organised a treasurer hunt around the town, which was fantastic fun. Made all the more random by the intervention by some of the local kids. Such as retrieving torn up clues from between the cobbles amongst the usual bedlam of the main market street.

Its been great, no plans, no deadlines, nothing you have to do, time slips by dreamily, hang in a hammock, chat endlessly, take all day to do nothing, go to bed or maybe not, it does not matter. Total and utter relaxation.