Night of the Desert Dwellers

A night camped out in the wilderness with only a blanket of stars for cover. Sounds romantic doesn’t it? Well, if you call swallowing 2 litres of sand and being constantly covered in a thick layer of grime romantic, then this trip had romance by the bucket load!

I clung on for dear life as Leyla stumbled over her own feet again. Don, riding up high on Michel Jackson in front of us seemed to be doing a slightly better job of navigating the rocky terrain…but not much. It never really occurred to me before now just how odd (and ridiculously clumsy) camels actually are. The camel train of 11, which we were now a part of, were ambling their way through the desert scrubland. The train was lead by Hakarm and his pals, three young Indians who had lived out in the desert their entire lives.


Sat up there on the top of Leyla’s hump was like being perched on some very wobbly scaffolding. The fierce sun beat down on my face, causing my bright purple hippie trousers to sweat a dirty purple ink all over Leyla’s saddle cushion. I really don’t think she was too impressed, which may be why she made the ride extra uncomfortable and left me unable to walk straight.

We stopped at the Khurri Dunes, scrambling to the top with a picnic feast of veggie pakora and delicious chai. Feeling completely at peace, we glimpsed the incredible sun set over the sandy horizon and vanish into nothingness.



In the darkness, we sat around the campfire, ate a deliciously spicy meal and listened to live Indian love songs before settling down in our luxury accommodation for the night…a couple of old, sweaty camel blankets.


I couldn’t sleep. I can’t for the life of me think why. Was it the thought of being stung by a deadly scorpion? Or the sand that kept finding its way into my nose and mouth? The stench of camel? Or maybe it was more the fact we were around 11 miles from the border of the country and I couldn’t help thinking of all those tanks we passed whilst on the train. Whatever it was, I lay awake watching the silver coin of the moon complete its perfect arc across the night sky.

And then I felt it. A deadly presence in the camp. We were being attacked! The sound of pots and pans crashing into each other made me sit bolt upright in alarm. The culprits were boldly staring at me, not even caring that I was awake. And then one of them, no doubt the boldest of the gang had the cheek of walking right up to me and curling up on my pillow. It bared its teeth at the rest of the hounds, who then raced off in defeat. Seeing those not so pearly whites made me think twice about shoving it off my pillow and so I had to accept my fate of a thousand fleas jumping into my hair as desert doggy and I lay still, protecting each other until sunrise.



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The Walking Train

You want us to walk down the train tracks?

 For ten miles?

To the next village?

With our backpacks on?

 I nodded eagerly. He shrugged his shoulders in defeated agreement. Was this really the same person who thought there was a good chance we would be killed if we slept on an overnight bus? Actually agreeing to something that might not be all that sensible?! Not putting up a fight?

To get to the town of Aquas Calientes (which is completely inaccessible by road) we’d taken the easy way in. The way reserved for those with enough money to allow them to view the ancient wonder of Machu Picchu in style and comfort. The tourist train; with a bloody see-through roof and everything! It kind of felt like we were cheating our way through Peru. Having missed out on the Inca Trail Trek due to a lack of planning, it would be nice to do SOME sort of walk on our own. Plus we’d get out of the sacred valley local style!

Only…was today the best day for it? I’d woken up with severe stomach cramps! Armed with one roll of toilet paper, no map and no clue we set off confidently on our march up the train track. The sun was kind and its warm rays shone down into the sacred valley, illuminating the lush tropical jungle; making the river sparkle and glitter. A secret heaven…and it felt like it was all ours! Why the hell weren’t more people on this beautiful walk? These were like the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen in the world! And that was really saying something considering I’d just seen a true world wonder!


The tiny little rail track seemed to sneak through the vibrant jungle, protected and hidden by the mighty tall mountains that stood proud at either side. Flocks of vivid jade parrots swooped down from banana trees, chattering noisily as they flew. Suddenly a strange rumbling sound filled the valley. The rails began to shake as an almost toy-like cobalt-blue PERU RAIL train bumbled around the corner; its little front light flashing in greeting. We squeezed up against the rocky jungle to let it pass.



Hearing the train toot off into the distance, we eagerly resumed our trek. As I jumped from sleeper to sleeper, views of beautiful orchids surrounded by hundreds of clementine-coloured butterflies filled my hungry eyes. A tunnel loomed ominously in the distance. Ah. Hadn’t thought of that. What if a train comes? How can we get past? It would surely squish us! There was only one thing for it. Our eyes met and we nodded in silent agreement. The only sensible option was to…FUCKING LEG IT!! Which is easier said than done when you’re living life as a turtle carrying your frigging home around on your back.

The ninja turtles were now faced with another dilemma. Having to cross a rusty looking old bridge which looked as if it may plummet at any second into the rushing river below. Of course it didn’t. We were fine.

Our achievements of the day were just piling up. We’d survived the tunnel terror, and the bridge of death. And I hadn’t even used the toilet paper. But as we approached the end of the train tracks, I began to worry. How were we going to get into Santa Teresa? How would we find where we were staying? We didn’t have a map! Who the hell doesn’t bring a map?! We were literally in the middle of no-where. Not a soul in sight. This looked like the sort of place some native tribesmen might jump out from the bushes and roast you over a giant cooking pot.

Of course that was just my overactive imagination. In typical travel style we were rescued by a very civilized man waiting in a taxi…right where we needed him. No cooking pots involved.


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Lacy Black Pants

Lacy Black Pants

Being on the road for days at a time does hold its fair share of problems. Staying one night here, one night there, one on a bus, one in a shed, meant I was running pretty low on underwear. It was getting to the point where I would be having to turn them inside out soon. Nobody wants that.

black pants

Finally we stopped two whole nights somewhere. Ollantaytambo; the Sacred Valley. A gorgeous place filled with mystery. Two whole days and two whole nights was pure luxury! Plenty of time to get some washing done…or so I thought. What I didn’t really bank on was constant downpour and cloud. It kind of makes it impossible to get your clothes dried when the sun decides to turn its back on you and your room has no heating. Hmmm…well why not take them to a laundry place you ask? NO CHANCE! Don is like a money-saving madman! Why on earth would we pay 50p to have our clothes washed and dried for us when we are perfectly capable of doing it ourselves? We’ve only got a few things to do anyway! As long as we don’t try anything too crazy like washing the towels!

We headed to a quiet trail by the river. Cotton clouds rolled lazily over mountain tops, while the scent of freshly stripped wood filled the air. But there was no time to enjoy it was there?! Nope. Now I was a walking washerwoman all set to air-dry my undergarments by spinning them around furiously on my arms. Seriously.


I watched a bizarre sight unfold beside me as Don calmly swung a pair of football socks around his head, as if it were the most normal thing to do in the world. I joined him, and shook my bra around in an unceremonious manner, hoping to God this path was as quiet as I thought it was.

Small splatters of rain landed softly on my pink shoulders, arrgghhh those dreaded droplets again! I was getting pretty fed up of alternating between pants in bag and pants on arm at this point, and didn’t know how much more of the horror I could take. But then we saw it…the wandering-washerwoman’s oasis. A bridge…with a shelter!



All was well at the washing-line oasis, until a plump little lady turned up (possibly the owner of this mighty fine bridge,) causing us to hide our belongings behind our backs in shame. Her eyebrows twitched in curiosity as she passed us by. She wasn’t a fool-she knew what we were up to! Slightly worried about the possibility of being arrested for hijacking the bridge, we decided it was time to move on. Plus the sun was shining once more! Yippee!

Hastily I chucked two pairs of pants over one arm, and a vest top over the other so they could get a little sun whilst we walked. Busy taking photographs of the beautiful surroundings, we strolled leisurely along the windy path following the river, almost forgetting we had a task to complete.  But then something made me halt in horror. Looking down at my arm, I saw only one pair of lacy black pants. ONLY ONE PAIR! But that must mean..? Frantically I turned to retrace my steps, and sure enough, right in the middle of the dusty path about 100m back, sat my pants, waiting for me. Laughing at me. Laughing because some poor unsuspecting local man in a dirty white cap was following the path right towards them. SHIT! The way I saw it, I only had two options:

  1. Pretend to have nothing to do with the pants. (Which may have been believable, had I not had another pair draped over my arm right that second.)
  1. Rush back to collect the pants before Cap Man could even blink twice.

I took a few seconds to make the decision; then, hoping I had judged the distance correctly (as my spatial awareness is not great at the best of times), I sprinted back faster than an ostrich on cocaine. The poor Peruvian looked pretty alarmed as a crazy gringo girl with pieces of clothing attached at all angles galloped towards him, retrieved something from the ground and then dashed off again like some sort of crazed wilder-beast!

black pantscrazy wilderbeast

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Rocking Peruvian Ponchos

Mama Yolanda gave us a wide toothless grin as her gloved hands handed over two steaming bowls of hearty potato soup. Ahh potatoes. Who would have known there are over 4000 varieties in Peru alone?! That’s right, four THOUSAND!

Sitting on a little sack of rice in the corner of the toasty stone kitchen, I glanced around full of admiration. Everything had a place and a purpose. Pots and pans occupied little stone shelves cut into the walls. Yolanda sat proudly by the little stove, adding more firewood to keep both the soup and us warm. I listened to Hopan (our new Japanese friend!) slurp his soup in satisfaction. We sat in silence a while. Appreciating the cosy atmosphere. Appreciating the soup. Appreciating the moonya. Moonya, we learnt, is this amazing multi-purpose plant that does everything from preventing altitude sickness, acting as a contraceptive, and just making a really good brew! Between us we exchanged words in English, Quechua, Spanish and Japanese to find out this information… so perhaps moonya does neither of the above!



DSCN0376             Mama Yolanda making potato soup                                          Amazing Moonya 

I loved our little homestay on Amanti Island. A tiny island in the middle of one of the highest lakes in the world; Lake Titicaca. No running water didn’t bother me one bit. No electricity didn’t bother me one bit, in fact I kind of liked there being no lights. I was even getting used to the freezing cold by this point, my lips had already adjusted by taking on a new tinted shade of frosty blue! There was one little thing that bothered me slightly though. It’s just kind of awkward when you’re sat down having a wee in darkness, you look up, and you lock eyes with someone on the stairs outside. Ok it’s really awkward. A face was looking at me.  Illuminated by the moon. I was looking at the face! I didn’t know whether to carry on weeing or stop! I didn’t know whether to carry on looking or turn my head. I think the face was thinking the same thing because it just kept looking in my direction, frozen to the spot. If I turned away the face would know I saw it and would be embarrassed. It was watching me have a wee! If the face turned away now, I’d know the face knew that I knew that the face knew! So we just kept staring. Me and the face. Until I finished weeing and then had to hunt for toilet paper in the dark. When I dared a little peek back up, the face was gone. Mildly relieved, I chucked a bucket of water down the toilet and legged it back to our little bedroom.

Later that evening there was a little knock at the door, and the eldest daughter of the family came in with her arms full of masses of colourful woollen fabrics. I was almost certain I recognised that face…

Before I had time to even think about being embarrassed, she whizzed around Don like a whirlwind, adding a pink and grey poncho over his shoulders and completed this very sexy look with a gorgeous woollen hat.  Already in fits of laughter, it was now my turn. I was wrapped in folds and folds of pink, white and blue woolly garments and given a long thick black headscarf to drape over my head. I don’t think either of us has ever looked more attractive. We were most definitely ready for the town disco. So was Hopan. He was totally rocking his brown poncho and little llama hat.

DSCN0379 DSCN0381

         Rocking our Peruvian Ponchos                                           The disco gang 

The young woman (or ‘the face’ as I’d first known her) led us across the darkened fields of the island. Looking up this time rewarded my eyes with the most wonderful sky full of stars. It was incredible! The stars were so big I felt like I could almost reach out and grab them. We eventually came to an empty hall where we sat and waited for the rest of the families and tourists to arrive. No-one appeared to own a watch so I’m not really sure how they all kept track of the time.

What happened next was almost so strange I’m not sure if it was partly a dream. Two little Peruvian men carrying all sorts of wooden instruments over their shoulders hopped onto the stage and began to play unforgettable Andean tunes! Meanwhile, we were all ushered to our feet, in our new Peruvian outfits, and ordered to form a large circle holding hands. Then began the hilarious Amantian dancing. We were flung high and low, under people’s arms, round in circles, we jigged; we jived; we rocked; we rolled. I have never seen anything like it and don’t think I ever will again! As I struggled to breathe in the high altitude, I forced myself to stay upright and keep dancing. Holding onto a young Peruvian girl and an elderly man with a leathery face, I shuffled the conga in a huge pink puffy skirt and trainers to the sound of a wooden flute. How the hell did I end up here?!


                                       Dancing the night away on top of the world.



                                         Goodbye to a beautiful place in the world.



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Race Against Darkness

Race Against Darkness

Five mopeds tore through the dusty dirt tracks of Puerto in a race against darkness. Nine riders, faces caked with a thick orange dust. Leisurely I licked a layer of grime from my teeth. The sun was setting. Our time was running out.


As we sped hastily along the twisted, cobbled excuse for a path; blurry images flashed hurriedly before me against the dim haze of twilight.  Strange stares…Confused faces…Man with a machete…Villagers with guns…Broken  down truck…Children with guns…Confused faces…Capuchin monkey flying on a spaniel…Strange Stares…Children with machetes… WE STOP!

One of the bikes was broken. SHIT! How far back were those machete-bearing infants?  It was getting darker with not a mechanic in sight. But hold on…multi-functioning Boris the fisher-man/jungle-man/karaoke legend hid a dark secret. Unscrewing the petrol cap of the pathetic bike, he placed his mouth over the fuel tank and proceeded to exhale an almighty breath straight into the tank. So he was a mechanic now too?!

“Good as new,” he assured us all.

Sure enough, the feeble bike spluttered back to life. All our problems were solved!

Except…they weren’t.  The sun had now completely set, and our cheap as chips bike didn’t come equipped with a functioning light. That would just be silly! Desperately, we novice bikers tried our best to keep up with the rest of the professional riders. We bumbled along as best we could, probably looking remarkably like two old age pensioners on a mobility scooter.

The lack of a light made navigating the dusty village tracks pretty impossible. I swear Don had his eyes closed as well though to be honest. I mean, who the hell drives into a ravine? I mean, straight into the middle of it. A huge crater in the road and he aims right for it! I could see it coming a mile off! Even in the dark! It was really that big!

“Where the hell are you going you idiot!!?”

I swear my life flashed before me as I hurtled through the air and landed straight into the middle of a spiky cactus-like bush with the bike pinning me to the floor.

Don immediately jumped up, brushed himself off and diminished all responsibility for the act which had just occurred.

“That definitely wasn’t my fault,” he confidently assured me.

Spitting out a mouthful of dirt, I gave him a furious look. As if things couldn’t get any worse, we were now surrounded by a sea of concerned faces. Concerned they were riding with complete liabilities no doubt.

Time to inspect the damage…bruised knees, scratched up arms and legs, hair full of prickles…and the bike didn’t look too healthy either. The kickstand lay 200 yards up the road and the wire basket resembled a crushed up tin can. Boris quickly set to work with some left over fishing wire and fixed the kickstand back where it should be.

“Good as new”, he assured us.

Hmmm. If the guys who loaned us the bikes were blind, we may have a fighting chance of escaping without argument or having our passports held at ransom or something!

Twenty minutes later, we were about to find out. We headed into the office to return the bike keys, with all the tell-tale signs of a crash hovering around us. I was still picking clumps of dirt from my matted, smelly river hair and a trail of blood trickled faintly down my leg.

Don, with his bright orange mud face, handed back the keys with a self-conscious smile.


Peruvian words were harshly exchanged among our new friends as the broken basket and many scratches were discovered. We were told we had to pay the mighty hefty fee of……30 sols! (Around £5). Thank god for that! We handed over the cash and scampered off with our jungle-found friends to the nicest restaurant in town. Exactly the place to go when you’ve literally been dragged through a hedge backwards and smell like sewage!

Sitting in that restaurant, I glanced at the people I’d spent so much time with over the last few days.  It’s funny how fond you can become of people after such a short amount of time. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the good food. Maybe the adventure. The fun. The laughter. The strange experiences. Whatever it was, I knew I’d miss them!


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Fish Murderer

Fish Murderer…

A fishing trip with new friends? Sounds like a plan. Sure, I hate the thought of fishing, but who doesn’t fancy another swim in piranha and penis-fish infested waters? Plus…who the hell is going to catch anything when fashioning their own gear from a discarded stick, a hook, and a shit load of nylon wire?

I’m not meant to be a fisher-woman. That much was obvious when I managed to get fishing wire tangled with more fishing wire in addition to my elbows, t-shirt, and even my hair at one point. As I sat miserably in the tangled up chaos I’d created, I wondered how everybody else had managed to keep their equipment so neat and tidy. Were they all professionals or something? Looking around I saw in fact there was one other person who had completely bodged their whole fishing line. Ahh yes. Typical. It was Don. Both of us, utterly useless. I wouldn’t be asking him for help then. Luckily one of the locals decided to take pity on me. He cut me free and then expertly set to work fixing up a makeshift rod. He had to start from scratch of course as I’d already ruined the first lot of stuff!

Armed with a tub of freshly dug, juicy worms, I headed for the muddy river. I felt slightly guilty as I speared the poor unsuspecting worm onto a hook, but quickly threw it as far away from me as possible so I could forget the horror that had just occurred. Time passed, and I was getting agitated. Standing in the shallow water, with a piece of wood in one hand and a confused look on my face, I was beginning to wonder how long it would be before a curious piranha would come and mistake my toes for fat, swollen maggots.

Finally my friend Boris realised that I was fishing all wrong and came to actually throw my hook into the water. It was unlikely that a fish was going to reach it whilst it was tangled up in some tree roots on the river bank. I felt thankful when he relieved me from my fishing duties for a while, as he attempted to demonstrate how to hold the line properly and how I’d know If I caught a fish ect, ect. Pretending to listen, I was actually much more interested in watching a cheeky little squirrel monkey clinging affectionately onto the back of a spaniel. It was the most unlikely friendship I’ve ever witnessed!

After a while, Boris left to collect more bait. And then the worst thing happened. My wire moved. Without thinking I instinctively tugged at it. Then I realised…Id only gone and caught a bloody fish! Shit! Now what??! I didn’t actually want to catch a fish! This was awful! Where the hell was Boris?!

“What do I do?” I wailed.

“Just leave it on that rock” laughed Boris, reappearing from the riverbank.

“But it’s dying!”


He wrapped it carefully in a leaf for some strange reason, and then passed it back to me.

“It’s in pain!”

“We need to put it out of its pain” Shouted another voice

“Kill it then!”

“I can’t!” I shrieked.

Flapping around like a maniac with a half dead fish in my hand, I passed it gladly to my cannibal of a boyfriend. Have you ever seen the Inbetweener’s episode where Neil punches the fish? What followed was pretty much a re-enactment. Don lifted the poor thing high into the air, and then smashed its head into a rock with an almighty blow. Then he did it again! And I’m pretty sure he did it a third time, just in case. It was pure carnage.

If that’s not enough to turn a person vegetarian…I’m not sure what is!

dog monkey    I’d rather have just watched this all day!

DSCN1719  Bye Bye Brave Fish.

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Post Weed Paranoia

The jungle was alive with noises as we paced along the overgrown path, filled with anticipation. There they were! The first set of slightly slippery, almost vertical wooden ladders. We eagerly rushed up, excited and ready for the next challenge. I felt my heart race wildly as I spotted the old wooded ladders scaling high above. They clung to the sheer cliff face of the mountain. Despite the danger, I couldn’t wait for the climb. However, as we got closer, excitement turned to disappointment. The 100ft high challenge was just not meant to be. The bottom 12 rungs of the ladder were completely missing and a wire fence had been pulled across the entrance, preventing us from skipping over. Feeling gutted, we turned back down the crumbling slippery trail.

“Fancy a smoke?” drawled a gruff voice.

“Sure, why not”

I hadn’t had a cigarette in my whole time in Peru. Plus it was about time we started making some friends. There’s nothing like bonding over a shared love of tobacco.

I soon realised we were not just going to be smoking a cigarette. As random guy expertly rolled up his spliff, I began to wonder if smoking drugs with a complete stranger up the side of Peruvian Jungle Mountain was really such a good idea. But I did it anyway. The crazy mind-fuck had began…

Those clouds kind of look like little sharks, that’s pretty cool. Oh my god. Im tingling. Why are my legs tingly? Have I got cramp? Oh shit Im up the side of a mountain and now I cant walk. How the fuck will I get back? I can’t stand up. I’m sure we’ve been here about an hour now. And nobody is talking. WOW this is awkward. Surely we should go now? Shall I try and stand up? Jesus I only had like 2 drags how has this happened?? Does anyone know? God how embarrassing. Ok I seem to be stood up. How did that happen? Well this is good. Other than there is no feeling in my legs. Woo I’m literally floating down the mountain. This is no effort at all! Ha! Brilliant! I’m like a big floating cloud!

“So…Bruno from Brazil….what do you do when you’re at home?”

“I’m a psychologist”

I’m skipping in front and I feel kind of OK now. Am I snapping out of it? Flash-forward- a visual of me in a hospital bed. Back to the jungle. I can hear Don and Bruno whispering about me.

“What the fuck did you give her?”

“OK this is very typical. This is the normal stage where she thinks everything is back to being ok”

Shit! How long will this last? It better wear off before Machu Picchu! We’re walking through the village. They’re trying to hide me? Or trying to keep me safe? I can see the reflection in people’s eyes. Oh shit I know now! I know what this is! It’s all a psychology experiment! Am I in a hospital bed somewhere? Is any of this real? I’m walking through the village streets. The street names feel vaguely familiar, yet they’re not supposed to be here. I’m sure I recognise these people. Why don’t they recognise me? Didn’t we already pass the corner? This shop? This person? Oh my god, its a trap! A trap down memory lane! If I go deeper into the memories I’ll get stuck and I won’t get out again! Don and Bruno are in on it. They are trying to make me go the wrong way. I have to turn around!

“It’s this way!!!” I insist, dragging Don away from the darkened depths of my memory.

I walk blindly into nowhere but I can’t escape the memory lane. It’s everywhere! I’m trapped!!  Bruno goes to the hot springs.

Don finds us the hostel.

“I need to go to bed”
“But you’ve been fine! What’s up?”

I don’t believe him. How is that possible? It seems that hours have passed. If the clock moves to 38 I’ll know it’s real and not a dream. The screen goes blank before I can see. It’s a test. It’s not ready for me to know yet. I can’t move again. Don leaves to shower, but something creeps into the room. I can hear it snuffling in every corner, trying to find me. It’s a huge grey wolf about to pounce. NO it can’t be. It’s just a dog. A rabid dog. I can hear it panting, snuffling, barking. Pools of saliva drip from its menacing jaws. If I close my eyes, I’ll never see it. It won’t exist. I close my eyes. The ceiling is going to collapse. It doesn’t.

I’m up at 4.30am. Ready for Machu Picchu. We see Bruno again at breakfast. Is it real? We step into the cold damp darkness, feeling the pouring rain on our shoulders. We wait in a colossal que. It must be real now! On the bus, another que, we pace through the foggy ruins towards the mystical Huayana Pichu. I thought this was real but…now he’s there again! How can Bruno be here again? Isn’t that too much of a coincidence? Am I about to wake up for real?



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