Take me home to paradise city

Panama City is fantastic. It seems to be the perfect mix of Latin American playfulness and more modern development. Good public transport, trees and parks everywhere, and an abundance of choice when it comes to food, shopping and bars – I can’t think of much I would change about this place.

I’ve been staying in the old town – Casco Antigua – which is so beautiful I just want to wander around staring all day. It’s a world heritage site, with clean pavings, cool artwork and stunning white churches in amongst the older rubble.

You can walk or cycle along the waterfront (I did both), taking in the view of the city on your left, with skyscrapers in the most interesting formations and colours. They have strange public art everywhere (example: a statue of frogs, with smoke coming out of the bottom) and fashionable locals.

There’s a fish market not far from here, where you can try the traditional cerviche, or some fresh fried fish. Some streets bustle with noise and crazily-painted chicken buses, a row of barber shops under a bridge – and then others showcase major brands from around the world and trendy rooftop bars. It’s international and you see and hear people from all over Latin America here, with many signs in English.

The city is gearing up for elections at the moment, so there is a lot of hubbub in town, and scaffolding being elected for some kind of public gathering. People wear T-shirts and hats featuring their preferred candidate, and there are posters all over the city.

More than anywhere else I’ve been, this feels like home. It is exciting and comfortable at the same time, always with something interesting going on. While the Americanised bits might put other travellers off, as a States lover these only serve to enhance the city.

Sailing the high seas

The Independence sailed from Cartagena on the 19th – we started with a full day crossing the open sea, before travelling between the San Blas islands. The islands are almost too beautiful, with white sand and clear blue water, complete with coconuts and palm trees.

Our captain was fairly crazy, but the other travellers were a really nice group of people, who I‘ve still been hanging around with now we are in Panama.

We ate fresh lobster and drank rum, jumped off masts and went snorkelling. Stepping onto some of the smaller islands felt really deserted; it‘s something I’ve been fascinated with for so long, actually being there was quite surreal.

I‘m really glad I got a taste of life at sea – although it has made me reconsider my future calling as a sailor. 

Meanwhile, I am busy falling in love with Panama City. More soon!

Adios to South America

I‘m currently spending a few more lazy days in Cartagena before sailing across to Panama via the beautiful San Blas islands; after a little over six weeks, it‘s almost time to say goodbye.

My trip didn‘t originally include time in South America, but I‘m really glad I came. It is more different than I could have expected, leaving me continually surprised and inspired.

(Inside a mud volcano, just outside Cartagena)

The countries I visited remind me a lot of Zimbabwe, from the brands sold to the places they sell them, the colour of the grass, and the absurd weights people manage to carry.

My impressions of Brazil are obviously coloured by Carnaval – it would be nice to see what Rio is like during a more normal time of year – but it remains one of my favourite cities I‘ve visited. The Pantanal was definitely furthest outside of my comfort zone, and while the scenary and wildlife were simply amazing, I don‘t think I‘ll be heading back there.

(The geographic centre of the South American Continent in Cuiaba, Matto Grosso)

Into Bolivia and my first taste of Latin America; I saw such a range of urban and rural landscapes here. I saw, and then ate, my first llama (not the same animal!), witnessed the indigenous culture that is still alive and kicking, and started to see the same travellers in different places – I officially joined the Gringo Trail.

Peru saw me become more confident, in both getting around on my own, and in speaking Spanish. I took lessons in Cusco and have been chatting to locals as much as I can. The country is full of adventure, as well as jaw-dropping natural beauty, and I would definitely come back here.

And now Colombia! The heat is very welcome, and the pace of life slows way down. People here seem more relaxed – there‘s no shocked stares if you wear shorts – and there‘s also a larger mix of different ethnicities. After Bolivia and Peru, the variety takes a little getting used to.

I‘m very excited to see what Central America has to hold!

Fear and trust

In South America, when someone asks you if you want to jump off a cliff, you say yes. Even if you’re shaking. Because how many times will you hear that question?

When people hear about my trip, they tend to think I must be terrified all the time – because travelling alone is gambling with your personal safety – or that I am never afraid.

Of course I get scared.

But I don’t accept my fear as an excuse not to do something. In fact, I’m more likely to use it as a reason to do something scary.  Because that same something is usually really exciting.

I also tend to trust people. Maybe a little too much, but I’m glad of that. I would not want to go through this wonderful world afraid of everyone I meet. Travelling alone makes trust a requirement; trust not to hurt you, trust to welcome you. It opens up so many possibilities that have already made this trip an incredible experience.

Here’s to the next adventure!

The Inca Trail

I just carried 10kg for four days, hiking 42km to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. It was difficult, it was fantastic, and I cant believe I made it.

I didnt know that much about the trek before I started and had never done anything on that scale before. Our group was a mix of hardcore hikers – including a bison farmer, multiple marathon runners and gym enthusiasts – and the slightly less able. I was definitely in the latter group, but as a whole we were a quick bunch, making it to the campsite each night before the estimated arrival time.

Instead of bringing hiking boots all the way to South America for four days of use, I decided to hire a pair in Cusco. The first day they really hurt and I was longing for my sandals, but overall I paid 30 soles (the equivalent of about six pounds) and two blisters for my choice.

The walk was so beautiful it was breathtaking, especially on the third day. Winding paths with vertical edges dropping away into endless jungle, strange tunnels and rock formations, orchids and vines.

When we arrived at the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu was covered in mist. But after waiting for four days and countless steps, waiting a little longer was nothing. The city itself is incredible – perhaps whats most interesting is what we dont know about it. Theories abound, but new evidence and trails are being found all the time, and our ideas about what things meant are based on little.

What I will remember most of all, and probably the most unexpected thing, was how much we laughed. A mix of different nationalities and personalities led to a great number of jokes, and when youre at that high an altitude, exhausted and dazzled by everything, things just seem that much funnier.

Ill miss the people I walked with; the competitive Aussies and the chatty Americans, the pure comfort of talking to other Brits.