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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The Adoption

The Adoption

Usually I’m all about a bit of banter with the locals. But not when I’ve been sat in my own sweat for the previous 12 hours. Not when I have spent the day being crushed up next to other people; baking on the hottest and busiest day of the year; suffering from the effects of a bad hangover; and dealing with a possible overdose of Malaria tablets. In this situation, the last thing I want to do is make conversation with people I don’t know. Especially in a language I don’t understand!

Becky, Francis and I were seated with a Vietnamese Family…and considering the sorry state we were all in, the arrangements were a little too close for comfort. I watched closely as the serious but smiley gentleman across from me stabbed at an unidentifiable sea creature on the dull silver platter. The creature hovered mid air, expertly positioned between wooden chopsticks. Its spindly legs given a new lease of life as it surged forward in a movement dangerously close to my bowl. PLOP. No!! NOOOO! The bloody thing was swimming around in my soup! I know the table was only small but surely this Chopstick Olympian could reach his own bowl considering his years of practice? He had to have at least 50 years up his sleeve!

Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Maybe I could somehow flick it out when nobody was looking. But then there was no saying where it might land. What if I flicked it out at such an angle that it hit the little man pouring out beers square on the nose?! It would just have to stay there. I tried not to look into its eyes as I hastily went in for a spoonful.  

Mr Serious but Smiley was at it again; stabbing away at more unidentifiable creatures. Again, he expertly lifted a slightly squished cockroach type thing this time, and then…sure enough… flung the bloody thing straight into my bowl! He threw me a large toothy grin after catching my no doubt icy expression. Poor Becky received the same treatment. Although being vegetarian made it all the more awkward.


Is that a bowl of soup? Not exactly...

Is that a bowl of soup? Not exactly…


The guy with the beers was clearly feeling flash as he happily shared them out with us foreigners. It’s practically a sin to drink beer from a bottle in many Asian countries, and Beer Man went around filling our glasses to the brim. However, he soon came across a problem. Becky and Francis were glass-less. Beer Man paused. Stroked his chin several times. And then proceeded to pour Becky and Francis’s share of beer into their empty soup bowls! My friends looked on in disbelief. They would have just asked for another glass if it were up to them. Slightly baffled, the two of them picked up their beer bowls, shrugged their shoulders…and downed them in one! This was met with cheers of applause from the Vietnamese side of the table. They looked to me expectantly. I realised they were waiting. Despite really not wanting to sink a pint of beer, I kind of felt obliged to. The pressure of all those eyes and smiles of encouragement had got to me! I lifted my glass to them and drank the lot. Probably not the best decision, but at least it would help me deal with the octopus and cockroach that were now swimming together in my soup. The Vietnamese Family clapped and cheered. They spoke in chattered tones of which we understood not a word. We exchanged smiles and gestures, and accepted the crazy looking food they kept flinging onto our plates. It was official. We had been adopted.

The problem with being adopted is that this essentially binds you into an unspoken contract. You take on certain responsibilities and obligations. You stick by your family through thick and thin. Whether that be eating a specific kind of food, or having a fist fight in the middle of the street as we were soon to discover…

Beer man with his new adopted son

Beer man with his new adopted son

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Seafood Lunch

Seafood Lunch

seafood lunch

I had chosen a less than favourable spot on the bus to Halong Bay. Directly behind a snobby looking American man who had interestingly favoured a long-sleeved shirt and trousers in the 100 degree heat. A loud and arrogant attitude with the voice to match, I could hear him moaning about the ‘incredibly busy’ vehicle to a man on the neighbouring seats. This immediately confused me. There was only one person to every available seat. How was that ‘incredibly busy?’ Had this guy not seen three or four people squeezed onto one seat on the local buses? Not to mention the planks of wood that would randomly pop up and fit into the aisle to create extra seating?!

“Excuse me! Excuse Me!” he bellowed harshly, clicking his fingers in the air.

The tiny Vietnamese tour guide scurried down aisle with a concerned look on his face:

 “Yes Sir…what seems to be the matter Sir?”

WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE MATTER?! This is hardly the luxury trip I paid for! I was promised a private transfer” he huffed indignantly, wrinkling his nose as he studied the rest of us inferior lot he’d been forced to breathe the same air as.

The little man wiped away a bead of sweat that was forming on his forehead.


The tour guide gulped loudly.

“Nnn nn no sir…….you will be having prawns and urrm… fish for your lunch…. on the boat”

But I was promised a Seafood Lunch!”

No Sir…..you….you….you will be having a fish….and a prawns…on the boat….for the lunch”

“I have PAID for a SEAFOOD LUNCH!!”

“Fish, prawns, and the salad…..on the boat”

“But I was TOLD it would be a SEAFOOD LUNCH!! I want to speak to your manager immediately”

At this point, the following thoughts swam lazily through my mind.

  1. Fish sounds suspiciously like seafood to me.
  2. Prawns sound suspiciously like seafood to me.
  3. How many more times can this guy possibly say the words ‘seafood lunch’ without me cracking up laughing or punching him in the back of the head?

To those ‘elite’ few who believe they are rightly entitled to special treatment just because they flash around a bit of cash…. GET A GRIP! Yea you are likely to be ripped off. You are likely to be expected to pay double the amount anyone else does. But you know what? You can probably afford to. Be a little more streetwise if it bothers you that much. Do your research! Listen carefully when people read out the lunch menu! And for God’s sake, stop complaining when directly outside your window is one of the most beautiful places on Earth!


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Unite and Bike Against Cancer


Please help me to raise money for the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)

Although childhood cancer treatment is rightly regarded as a great success, it should not be forgotten that, still today, three out of ten children diagnosed with cancer will not survive their disease. The ultimate aim of CCLG is to maximise cure while minimising the early and late side effects of treatment. Research is essential in order to advance understanding and knowledge, and for improving diagnosis, outcome and treatment of all children with cancer.

In October, I will cycle 400km across Tanzania in an attempt to raise over £3000 for this well worthy cause. This is a challenge that is very close to my heart. I am doing this for some very special children whom I have been lucky enough to spend a significant amount of time with during the past year. A courageous and smart little soldier who never once lost his wicked sense of humour despite all that he had to endure. A beautiful but fragile little angel whose smile could light up an entire room. A cheeky and cheerful five year old girl who refuses to give up the fight and just wants to be mummy’s little helper again. A football maniac, who still manages to have more energy than me despite all his operations; and a brave young girl with the biggest imagination I have ever known!

These children go through unimaginable distress on a daily basis, and I cannot bear the thought of any more of them losing the battle. Please help me to raise as much sponsorship as I can for my mad and perhaps slightly ridiculous decision to cycle 400km (250 miles!) across Tanzania in just 5 days. Did I mention I have not set my bum on a bike since I was about 7 years old?! I am yet to set foot in a gym. And I am slightly fearful of being chased by a pack of lions whilst over there! Yes, I know it’s going to be a tough week. And I know it’s going to be tough to raise this money. But the bravery of these young children has inspired me to stay positive, to stay hopeful, and to never give up. This is for them. Over the next few months I will organise some fundraising events and set up a Just Giving page for online donations. If anyone has any great fundraising ideas, I would love to hear them. Any support/ideas would be much appreciated!


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The Kindness of Strangers

The sky was a miserable grey. Raindrops pounded the pavement, splashing furiously at my badly made shoes. A large red bus screeched to a halt beside a puddle. The three of us hopped through the doors quickly in an attempt to avoid a bucketful of rain to the face. I had to smile at Kristin hauling that huge pink bag of hers up the steps. How that tiny girl is able to handle luggage five times her own size will forever remain a mystery.

Shuffling our way through the aisle, we studied the interior of the vehicle. This was just a normal bus…yet something was not quite right. A string of flashing fairy lights twinkled through the dusty windows. The sweet smell of banana lingered in the air, and a giant glittering mirror ball hung from the ceiling.  (Just like the ones from school disco days!) What was going on? Was it the bus driver’s birthday? Slightly puzzled, we hauled our bags onto the back seat. A red leather sofa with jazzy cushions! Who needs seatbelts?! “How ace is this?” giggled Antonia.

We sprawled across the sofa, taking full advantage of the rather odd seating arrangement. All was well until a formal looking gentleman with a briefcase was forced to squeeze in between us. Followed shortly by an elderly lady with a terrible cough. It just doesn’t seem natural to share a sofa with strangers. Especially when those strangers are staring at you!

red sofa bus

And we were off. The engine started with a splutter, followed swiftly by….the ‘music’. It was the frightfully feared….the deeply detested…the horrifically horrible….Thai Karaoke!  The only equivalent sound I can imagine would be an old cat drowning in a deep well. Whilst being electrocuted!

“What sick person would think to do this?!” groaned Kristin.

There was a reason we avoided the Karaoke bars here. And now we were stuck on a bloody moving one with a grooving, coughing granny and Mr Briefcase. Oh life. After spending about an hour trying to block out our surroundings it suddenly occurred to me that we had no idea where we were. We were supposed to be going to see Becky in her Thai Town. But we had never bothered to ask when to get off the bus!

“Shit!” I cried jumping up from my spot on the sofa. “Shouldn’t we have got off by now?!”

“Crap!” swore Kristin, rubbing her eyes. She’d been asleep. God knows how in that racket.

Antonia looked up briefly from her phone. “Don’t worry guys; I’m sure it will be fine”.

“Ban Son?” we hopefully asked the grooving granny. She simply shook her head.

“Ban Son” we tried again to a group of middle aged men. Our pleas were met with peals of laughter.

We’d missed our stop.

“What are we going to do?!” I wailed.

The news of the Farang’s ridiculous mistake appeared to have spread quickly down the bus, for a group of school children keen to practice their English raced down the aisle to our sofa.

“Come on…come with us! We help you!”

There didn’t seem to be many other options. So we followed them off the bus…into the middle of the night…into the torrential rain. We expected to see perhaps a town…some shops…at least SOMETHING. But there was nothingness.

 “Where we go?” asked Antonia slowly.

 “Follow” said a short girl with a long plait in her dark hair. She was beckoning us past a puddle.

 We reluctantly followed the children down the roadside, hauling our huge bags of luggage over our shoulders. They were taking us to a building in the distance, but as none of us possessed the ability to read Thai, we had no idea who this building might house.  

The local police it turned out. Why had these kids brought us to a police station?! How awkward was this! We couldn’t communicate with them, they couldn’t communicate with us. We stood back slightly as words were exchanged. All we could do was smile and nod, and hope that the children weren’t telling them we’d committed a murder or something!

 A stern looking policeman nodded solemnly in our direction. The children skipped off merrily into the distance waving their goodbyes. Shit. We’d now lost our translators! He indicated for us to move to the doorway of the station. My heart was racing as images of ‘Banged Up Abroad’ came flooding into my conscious. As we stood hesitantly in the doorway, the stern man reached slowly into his pocket. Oh god did he have a gun?! Was he going to shoot us? What the hell had those kids told him? I closed my eyes. Waiting.

 “Yim Yim!” cried the policeman. A flash of light filled the sky. I opened my eyes slightly, peeking through my lashes; to see that pointing directly at us…was…a camera. I then noticed that two more policemen were stood beside us, grinning wildly for the shot! Slightly unexpected. My nerves were in pieces. We sat down at the table in the station and shared a much needed cigarette with the officers.

 “We go Ban Son” Antonia tried to explain.


 It was then that we were bundled into the back of a patrol car. I heard the doors click firmly shut. We were locked in and being driven down the road at a ridiculous speed, with no idea if we were being rescued or arrested.

“What the frig is going on?” Kristin clutched at her pink bag for comfort.

The crackle and beep of the radio echoed around the car. Muffled attempts at English blared out through the sound system. “Your friend BanSon where??”

“KFC!” we shouted back immediately. We knew her house was somewhere near KFC. We knew all Thai people knew their local KFC!


Thirty minutes later, those kind policemen (who I had initially suspected of attempting to shoot us) delivered us safely to the doors of Ban Son’s local KFC. They waited patiently for us to be reunited with our friend. They refused our money and brushed off our gratitude. Leaving simply with a smile and a wave, it occured to me then, and not for the first time, that Thailand really is the friendliest place on Earth.

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