Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Yet another memory

Well, another South America memory has popped up...having a lovely sing-a-long-a-ling into the wee hours of the morning with the ballsome boys from the country - Cormac, James and Liam. The guitar was in full flow, the rum was in even fuller flow, and our singing was going above the beyond beyond. Fun times!

So, general songs were being pulled out of the hat, and we were all having a great time, lying in our hammocks and lapping up the happiness of a sweet Colombian sun rising above the Caribbean sea, when the guitar was passed to Kee. He plucked away for a while, as we all chatted and lazed, foggy with the edges of drunkeness bordering on hangover, then began breaking into Nirvana's 'My Girl'...so we all sang along to the first half of the song with enthusiasm, when suddenly we all simultaneously broke into the unplugged version. So, with the first twinges of a red dawn lighting up the sky, most of the hostel asleep apart from our handful of Irish lying about in the hammocks, we belted out the WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT at the top of our lungs, screaming it into the sky with passion, laughter, and not a little rum! One of the best nights out of the entire trip, and a memory that will stay with me for such a long time...

God, those nights can never be again, but as Ed always tells me, don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Keano, Keano, Keano!

Our newest Irish player gives his first interview to the Liverpool FC website....and I'm very excited! I really think he's gonna work well with Torres, and I look forward to seeing him play....WELL DONE, ROBBIE!!!!

And, another quote from the website shows Robbie's what we can expect in terms of commitment to the team - The lifelong Red was just nine years old last time the club won the league back at a time when he slept under Liverpool bedsheets and walked around in his club tracksuit. Keane added: "I was a little bit too young to fully remember the last title. Hopefully I can contribute to changing that as part of this team. Obviously that would be great for the people of Liverpool. "My whole family are Liverpool fans. I remember every Christmas asking for jerseys and tracksuits – it's great now that I get the tracksuits for free!"

___________________________________________

Robbie, you're a Liverpool fan – this must be a dream come true?

It is a dream come true. I have been a massive fan all my life and to be sat here today is overwhelming.

Why is now the right time to come to Liverpool?

Because the opportunity came along. You know, Liverpool came in for me and it was something I always dreamed about as a kid. I am at the stage now where I want to kick on a bit and win a lot of trophies. I believe that Liverpool can do that with the squad of players we have.

Is it right you had the opportunity to come here when you were a teenager?

I had the opportunity when I was 14. I could have signed but I just thought that, at the age I was, I might have a better chance of playing first-team football at Wolves – and that's how it worked out. I don't regret it, because I got into the Wolves team when I was just 17. I never regret things in life. By being at Wolves and going to the clubs I've been to – these things have led me to where I am today. There has been talk and speculation about a transfer since then but until now it has always been speculation.

What has Rafa Benitez told you about your role here?

I have spoken to him about the situation. He knows how I play and hopefully I can do a job for him. It is up to me to prove that I can stay in the team every week. You don't just come into a club and expect to walk straight into the team; you have to earn your place and I am looking forward to doing that.

You'll be working day in, day out with Rafa – was he a big factor in you signing?

Yes, he was. He is a fantastic manager and has done a lot for Liverpool Football Club. He has won the Champions League. That is a massive factor. But no one has to sell Liverpool Football Club to me. It sold itself a long, long time ago. When an opportunity like this comes along, you have to grab it with both hands.

You've played with some of the best strikers around in the last few years and I guess you are chomping at the bit to get out there and play with perhaps the best forward in the world, Fernando Torres…

He has been a revelation since he came to the Premier League. He was absolutely outstanding last year and also in the Euros with Spain. It is hard to leave Tottenham with some of the players they had – like Dimitar Berbatov, who I had a great relationship with – but Torres is probably the best striker in the world right now. Hopefully we can play a lot of games together and do well.

Do you see yourself as a second striker, someone who can play a bit deeper behind, say, Torres, or as a striker in your own right?

I see myself as a second striker. I can play off the shoulder, link things up and play in the hole. You are always judged on scoring goals as a striker and I have always scored a lot of goals. Hopefully I can continue that here at Liverpool.

How keen are you to pull on that number seven shirt here at Liverpool?

Yes, as a Liverpool fan the number seven jersey is massive. It is a fantastic opportunity for me that obviously I'm relishing. The people who have worn the number seven here, like Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish – if I do half the job they did at Liverpool I will be happy.

Was the lure of the Champions League a big factor?

I have only played in Champions League qualifiers before but, you know, it's the whole package. I have always wanted to come here but, yes, the Champions League and being able to win things is a major factor.

At 28, would you say you are in your prime?

Yes, I think so. The last four years have been great for me and I believe I am at my peak. I am at a good age and if I didn't come to Liverpool now, maybe the opportunity wouldn't come again. It has worked out perfectly for me and, hopefully, for Liverpool Football Club as well.

You scored two against us last year – was that strange, as a Liverpool fan?

It is difficult. I support Liverpool but you have to blank that out of your mind. It was nice to score at the Kop end but now I am looking forward to scoring at the Kop end in a red shirt.

It's Villarreal on Wednesday, then Rangers at the weekend. Either of these would be great to make your debut, wouldn't they?


Regardless of who it's against it will be fantastic. It's something I am really looking to. I'm not too bothered who it is against, I'm just looking forward to pulling on that red shirt and playing for Liverpool. It's something I've always dreamed about and sometimes dreams do come true.

You are famous for your cartwheel celebration – might we see that at Anfield any time soon?

I will probably bring it out once for the Liverpool fans as I've done it down the years, but after that it will probably go back in the box.

And this must be a nice way to end a brilliant summer for you, what with you getting married as well?

Yes, it's been a fantastic year for me all in all, with Tottenham doing well and winning the League Cup, then getting married and now coming to the club I love. I will never, ever forget this year.

Was it a difficult decision to leave Tottenham?

It was, because of the relationship I had with everyone there, and being vice-captain. Ledley King has been injured quite a lot, so I've had to take on the role of captain quite a bit. The relationship I had with the fans and the chairman meant it was difficult to leave. I am leaving good friends behind, but if there is one club that could take me away from Tottenham it is Liverpool.

Do you have a message for the Tottenham supporters?

Sometimes in life you don't get many opportunities to go somewhere you have dreamed of going. The Tottenham fans have been absolutely brilliant with me and I want to thank them for their support over the years. I look forward to seeing them again and I will never forget the way they treated me.

And what would you say to Liverpool fans who are obviously very excited about seeing you here?

I can't wait to put the jersey on and hopefully they are looking forward to it too. I will always give 100 per cent for this club and hopefully score and create goals.

http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N160687080729-0826.htm

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dark Knight



The law of diminishing returns does not apply when it comes to comic adaptations – in fact, the opposite is usually true. A first movie in a series is, by necessity, the story of the beginning – how our hero came to be, and what demons he faces. This frees up the second movie to be purely action-driven, with little focus on story.

‘The Dark Knight’ not only satisfies these assumptions, but goes beyond the requisite staple for comic sequels. Bale’s Batman is dark, complex, and totally at odds with what Bruce Wayne would wish him to be – he is not the hero of Gotham, he is simply a man forced to do what is right in difficult circumstances. Even if what is right results in the vilification and hatred of what should be a symbol of good…

Gotham is less dark than in ‘Batman Begins’, with criminals actually fearing the Batman and his brand of justice. But it is still a city of rules – held in place by the tenuous line Batman walks between vigilantism and integrity. Enter, stage right, The Joker. Pre-release hype had placed Heath Ledger in the ranks of acting gods before anybody had seen a smirk or snicker – talk was, could he return on this build-up? Ledger’s Joker can, and does. Jack Nicholson has long been the epitome of the criminal – dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight all over Keaton’s Batman, but Ledger’s Joker goes one step further. He combines the manic craziness of previous Jokers’ with the smooth, terrifying anarchy of a man possessed by no other driving force than cold, murderous energy. Though it is not important to the story, it is relevant to know that Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month preparing for the role, devising the character’s bearing, voice and psychology. His work and dedication paid off, and he has given us a Joker to remember – a sad loss, indeed, to the acting world.

Over-complicating things slightly, as far as story goes, is the romance element – Rachel is still working in the DA’s office, but has rather shockingly morphed from Katie Holmes into Maggie Gyllenhaal. Something audiences are bound to notice, despite best attempts to the contrary! Rachel Dawes is, however, a fairly minor character – working chiefly as a foil to Bruce’s playboy pretensions, her sanctimonious lecturing can wear a little thin. It is with great gusto, therefore, that Aaron Eckhart takes the mantle of social conscience as Harvey Dent – shooting his lines like bullets, and injecting Two-Face with a back story worthy of the character.

The film is carried, all in all, between Bale, Ledger and Eckhart, but supporting characters give their tuppance. Gary Oldman’s Gordan is upright and forceful, Michael Caine is British and brash, and Morgan Freeman is wise and forgiving – everything in its place!

All in all, ‘The Dark Knight’ capitalises on an adult demographic drawn to the tale of a hero torn between what is good, what is right and what will make him hunted. Despite the Joker’s constant questioning, ‘Why so serious’, this is not a movie to be taken lightly. A darker vein in the comic adaptation, ‘The Dark Knight’ carries a sinister Batman further from the light-hearted goon, and more into the shadows he deserves.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A couple of repressed memories from S. America!

Some random memories keep popping into my head from my time away in South America, and I guess I'd better write them down, because I might never remember them again! So here's today's batch of shockers.....


1. The roof incident in Medallin. I won't mention names, but I will just mention some of my flashbacks on the subject....like sleeping through the whole noisy debauchal; the apparent 'Mrs. Doyle-ness' of the whole fall; the urge to laugh, but also scream about the whole thing; the worry all the next day that it might rain through the hole in the roof!!

2. In Taganga, Colombia, when I bought a snickers, and ate half of it, then didn't want to eat it in front of the others in case they asked me for a bite (selfish cow!!), so I wrapped it in it's wrapper, and left it on the shelf in my (very warm) room while we went out for a few drinks, then returned home later on and thought to myself how lovely a snickers would taste right about now! So, I dashed into the room, and grabbed the snickers, peeling off it's wrapper from sticky chocolate and taking a HUGE bite of it! And just when I started chomping it around my mouth, savouring the delicious taste, I glanced down at the rest of the bar and realised that it was completely crawling with creeping ants. And that my mouth was completely FULL of crawling creeping ants. I think I spat for about an hour after that!! The deserving end to me being a bit of a selfish cow....

3. Hiking up the hills of Medallin in Colombia, to meet a Shaman who was giving us some ayahuasca, and hopefully bringing us a spiritual epiphany, but who only succeeding in making me very ill. I'll write about it in more detail at a later date, but suffice to say that when you drink it, you become immediately and violently ill. For some people it's vomiting, for some people it's the other end. And for some unlucky people it's both. Let's just say I'm not a very lucky person.....

Camping out in nothing but a sleeping bag, with darkness all around, in the lashing rain, dashing into the trees for relief only to fall up to your knees in a sludge hole, while simultaneously experiencing some mild hallucinations might have it's moments, but they escaped me........


So, just three for today......and number three definitely bears some fleshing out, so I might hit that tomorrow!! Toodles.....

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday to my first niece and nephew

A little early, but I was thinking of you both yesterday, and some words just popped into my head for you....missed you so much while I was away, and now I feel like I'm missing you again, because you're getting so grown up - I still get the hugs and kisses, though, so I guess I shouldn't complain......anyway, here it is......

For Sorcha and Cammy

Sometimes I can't breathe for thinking of you both,
young, pudgy - so innocently sweet.
But you grew up - you both grew up -
from curly red hair, and reddy blonde crown,
to both of you ten - big and strong.
And sometimes I think of those little moments
those times we shared when you were too young to know it

...but I knew it....

and I still think of that time, now, while your freckled noses
and your equally brilliant smiles
tell me about school,
about stolen moments with friends, running through fields,
jumping in rivers,
fishing for frogs,
and I feel tears clawing my eyes,
because you'll never be babies again.

You'll never come looking for me
showing me something small,
wishing it big.

(Though, this is you, now - small,
wishing to be big,
and getting there so fast
that sometimes I worry that time has sped up,
and I am being pulled along against my will)

Did I appreciate those times?
Did I gabble back to you in baby talk -
listen to your tales of woe,
when parents thwarted your plans -
an auntly duty, best performed when punishment
is not your game, as it was sometimes mine.
Or did I pass those times as if you would be there
young and fresh
mine and wholesome
for longer than these short years?

I hope not.

I hope that every second of your growing up
has been my growing up too.
And, after all, you're not so old yet,
my first niece and nephew,
and there is still time to listen to more stories,
to tell you things you did not know,
to hear your happy laughs,
and see those too-big teeth fighting for dominance
in your still-a-baby mouth.
Ten years.
Ten years of knowing you.
Ten years of loving you.

17 July 2008

P.S. I'll update on actual life soon.....just a wee thought that kept me going while I was travelling and missing home so much - that my gorgeous, hilarious, and always amazing nieces and nephews were waiting for me here!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cuba and Wembley and Family, Oh My!

Well, as I type this I am looking out on some glorious Irish weather...yes yes, I am home again! And I've been sadly neglecting the blog - apologies!


So, where did I leave you all? At my fantastic resort in Playas del Este, methinks! Well, we travelled back into Havana for the May 1st celebrations, as promised, and met up with our fantastic Good Samaritans for some drinkies, and of course to pay them back for their generosity, and made a 'date' for the next evening, as they would be marching from their part of town to the Plaza de la Revolucion, and we would be coming from the Centro. We read the TINY section on the May 1st celebrations in the Lonely Planet guide, and it said that 1.2 million people convene on the square, and that you should arrive at about 7.00 am. So, being Irish, we of course totally ignored that little snippet of information, and decided that 8.30 would be a fine time to arrive - fashionably late, and allowing for all the shenanigans to get into full flow, we assumed the party would be only starting at this stage, and the 7.00 am comment was for people to get a good 'seat', wheras we wanted to be in the thick of it.


I think 'thick' would certainly be the operative word here....


As we finished up our breakfast at 8, and strolled leisurely towards the Plaza, we noticed quite the amount of people heading the opposite direction. All dressed in red. And carrying flags. Hmmm...we wondered if maybe we had missed the initial celebrations. But no, the crowds increased by the second, and it was with sinking hearts that we realised that this was, in fact, the 1.2 million people, and they were all heading home. At 8 in the morning!


Coming from Ireland, you understand, this was of course unheard of! If they say something is starting at 7.00 am (well, firstly, NOTHING would start that early in Ireland!), then it REALLY means it starts at 10.00! So, you see, after 7 months travelling through other cultures, and absorbing their many varieties and styles, we were still stuck back in good old Ireland...


But so it was! We arrived at the Plaza to discover papers blowing in the early morning breeze, plastic chairs knocked to one side, and the general feeling of having missed something big hanging in the air. But, as I said to Alan, it's a funnier story to have been in Havana for one of the biggest events of the year, and to have missed it, than to have actually experienced it. I keep telling myself that, anyway!


That evening we met up with Oskan and Ismail for some dinner and frozen daquiries in Hemingways bar - Floripa, I think it's called - and listened to some lovely music, and generally had a brilliant night. Next day we set forth for Santa Clara, with the advice of a hostel from our Turkish brethren, Orlando's on the main square - he is a man worth staying with purely for his stories, as we discovered on arrival in the grotty and dingy town of Santa Clara. We got there about 3pm, and headed straight for his hostel. On gaining board for the night, we headed straight out to the Che Guevara monument, for which the town exists (as far as I can see). It is a beautiful statue, visible for miles around, but still more beautiful is the mausaleum below. Where elsewhere the image of Che is abused for government propoganda purposes, and called upon to sell everything from rum to t-shirts to shower-curtains, here it is as I would imagine the man himself would have liked it. Below the statue, a darkened room sits, with all 26 rebels recovered from the mass grave in Bolivia interred on equal footing. A bronze door bearing the face of the departed fighter shows their final resting place, and Che's is distinguished not by size or colour, but by merely a slight seperation from the rest, and a single lily hanging in front. He was a man of the people, and his resting place bears that out - he lies equal and amongst his brother soldiers, all of them immortalised in this small room, and with the eternal flame burning in the corner.


From that sombre and impressive area to another, the Che museum is fantastic! Some amazing photos I have never seen chart the history of a man I have come to admire so much, and for whom I have a strange feeling of kinship - not on any political level, for I am no communist, but purely on the basis of his always doing what was right, and doing what was good. I have so much admiration for him, and see such humanity in his eyes - in fact, travelling through Cuba, I built up quite the collection of Che postcards and photos, purely for the joy it gives me simply to look at his face. Always laughing! Any photo I have of him, has him laughing, because it seems his most nautural and common expression. It was also heartening to see his father written as Ernesto Guevara Lynch - and see the chair where Nana Lynch sat with her grandson, Che, on her knee. A wonderful Irish connection to be proud of!


Besides this, though, Santa Clara holds few pleasures. We ate that night an admittadly gorgeous meal in our hostel, but expensive, and we decided to head to Trinidad the very next day rather than spend another day in the town. Orlando sat with us at dinner, and told us many stories of his youth - being brought across to Hungary as an example of a 'good worker', and speaking in factories over there to the communist people, and flying the whole way in a twin-propeller plane, which hopped up the coast of the Americas, before jumping to Shannon on his way to the Eastern Bloc. Orlanda also met Che Guevara, and was in fact his guide to the area when the rebels took the island - he has a photo of them both together, and has much pride in both his country, and in that great man.


The next day we took an hilarious journey to Trinidad. Frustrating, yes, but also very funny! Instead of taking the main road to Trinidad, the drivers took side roads, adding 2 hours to our journey. And why? To run errands, no less! Every five minutes we were stopping at some house or other dropping off pails of milk, postage, picking up boxes, and generally giving the locals something to gape at as our huge bus pulled into their driveways!


Trinidad was just gorgeous! We were so happy to arrive there anyway, and the heat was unmerciful, but we were lucky enough to procure an excellent hostel called El Chino - named after it's owner, who looked Chinese, hence the nickname. A lovely lovely man! We ended up staying longer than planned, because he was so fantastic, and the town was so beautiful. I confess, we loved it more than Havana, purely for it's lack of pollution, which can make breathing in Havana quite the struggle! Another town with very few restaurants, so we ate every night with the family - well, in their sitting room...they cooked us dinner each night for a small fee, and breakfast every morning at whatever time we liked. With the heat, though, you rarely sleep past 9 in the mornings, so they loved us - everyone in Cuba rises early, and half their day is over by the time you get up at your 'early' hour of 8.30.

Anyway, on arrival in Trinidad, we hired bikes and headed out the sun-drenched road to the beach...11 km away. And what a cycle! Lovely going out, because it ended in white-sandy beaches with aqua-marine sea lapping the shore...the Caribbean again. But the way back? With no shade, and no let-up from the blistering sun, I became badly sun stroked (is it an adjective?), and actually thought I was going to vomit with the pain of it! But we made it home - to the amusement of El Chino, who laughed somewhat hysterically at our red skin...his brown skin like leather from many years of that hot star! What a nice man, though. We had many conversations with him - all in Spanish, as he spoke no English - and I add him to my ever-extending list of examples of Cuban hospitality.

The next day, thanks to sunstroke and fear of DYING from the heat, we spent the day wandering the cobbled streets of Trinidad, winding our way through the beautiful markets, where locals display their ware - homespun clothes, crocheted everything, and beautiful linen embroidery, all hanging next to wood work and the usual jewellery collections. But it was a lovely day! And that night we attended the Casa de Musica - a central area of the town where large and wide stone steps lead you up to two patio areas (seperated by more of the stone steps, which double for seats as the area fills up), where tables and chairs are scattered about, and waitresses and waiters dance between the tables refilling your drinks, as bands preform at the edge. We were treated first to traditional Cuban music, followed by more a more trova style, and then a percussion group, and finally the bands took a break, and the speaker system pumped out some samba/Cuban music, as couples everywhere began to emerge from the crowds now gathered. The couples were mesmerising - but most especially the men! Coming from a country where swaying from side to side while balancing your pint is considered dancing, it is always surprising to me how much genuine joy men in other countries seem to take from the passtime. And these guys were amazing! The twirled and twisted the girls all around them and, in one particularily awe-inspiring moment, three men joined together, with their partners, and began an impromptu dance performance (not for the crowd, but only for themselves), where partners were swapped and twisted in elaborate moves- all in perfect time with the music. And the guys asked girls all over to dance - and nothing sexual about it....they just wanted to dance!

So we spent a happy night watching and listening to Cuban life, and next day decided against bikes again, instead hiring our first ever scooter! We headed out to yet another fantastic beach, and swam in the bath-like water, lay on the white sand, and generally enjoyed every second of our last day in Trinidad. The scooter was great fun....Alan driving, and me on the back singing 'Baby We Were Born To Run' out of tune, and at the top of my voice! We took the opportunity to visit a slave tower out the other side of Trinidad, and drove through the Valley de Los Indes on the power-scooter....great fun! And a chance to see the lush, beautiful countryside of this amazing country.

Next day El Chino had organised a taxi to take us to Havana for the same price as the bus - if you can get four people in a taxi, it will always cost you the same as the bus. We joined a couple and their small child for the journey, and the man turned out to be an avid learner of the English language, so I had a nice chat with him along the way, and we got to Havana fairly early. On leaving El Chino, he presented me with a necklace - to remember him! Lovely man!

We went back to Marias, of course, since she has the best hostel in Havana! And we just spent our last couple of days shopping for gifts for those back home - as we had taken the perhaps foolish step of booking a flight home for the same day as we left Cuba. Our flight was due to leave Havana at 7.00 am, and land in Caracas at 10.00, so as our flight to Frankfurt/Dublin left at 5.00 pm, we thought we could chance it, rather than spend ANY more time than necessary in Caracas (or 'El Shithole', as I will forever refer to it as). So, we arrived at the airport at 4.30 in the morning, ready to leave Cuba, and discovered the board announcing our flight delated until 4.00 pm...which would mean we would miss our flight home..... We went over to the Cubana helpdesk, and were told to go to the supervisor check-in area, which we did, and she sent us back to the helpdesk. At this point, I said to Alan that I was going to start crying, so that they would pay attention to us, and take us seriously. So, I diligently began to cry - forcing more and more tears out to make them see our plight, as Alan began gesticulating and explaining next to me. But then, horror of horrors, it actually began to seem like there was no way they were going to get us out of Havana in time, and my crocodile tears quickly became real tears...and within seconds, I had gone from gentle weeping to full-on, nose-streaming, mouth-drooling WAILING! And I couldn't stop! We saw that there was a charter flight leaving at 6.30 to Caracas, but supervisor bitch continued to be completely unhelpful, as we begged to be allowed onboard in any capacity - she kept staring at us with a smirk, and repeated the Spanish equivalent of "computer says no - *cough, cough*"!!

FINALLY, and by the grace of God, we were directed to a lovely man, who began moving heaven and earth to try get us to Caracas, offering us seats on flights to Panama that would get us to Caracas by 3.00pm and everything. But, in the end, he managed to discover 6 free seats on the charter flight to Caracas, and nip us in at the very last second. Snotty and teary, I hugged and kissed him, as we raced through security and joined a group of injured and maimed heading onto our plane - which we discovered was a charter flight of people from Venezuela that have been brought to Cuba for free healthcare and operations. We had time, while running onto the plane, to buy the limited edition Che Guevara Swatch watches only available in Havana airport...sure you'd have to!

When we arrived in Caracas, Lufthansa treated us like kings, and we happily got onto our plane with time to spare, enjoying a fabulous flight back to Frankfurt! I had neglected to tell my family of my change in flights - arriving home a week earlier than expected - and had enlisted Grainne to collect me in the airport, and complete operation 'Freak Out Griffin Family'! As it turned out, our quick turnaround in Frankfurt meant that we arrived, but our bags didn't. Ah well! The airline would ship them down later, so it saved me carrying it!

When we came through arrivals, Grainne had done the impossible, and found my sister and husband and kids upstairs on their way for a holiday to Lanzarote, and they were all waiting for me out front - so one of the first things I did on Irish soil was to kiss my beautiful nieces and nephews!! How good it felt to be home! I said goodbye to Alan in the airport, and Grainne drove me down to my house, where I knocked on the door and jumped out at my Mam -producing a reaction from her more akin to tragedy than joy, as she stood shaking in front of me, white-faced and distraught. Finally, she hugged the life out of me, and brought me into my Dad whose reaction of 'Oh Jesus Sal, it's you' - quitely and calmly - truely showed me I was home! Next my sister arrived in, and echoed my Dad's calm reaction, though betraying more of the emotion by a couple of tears and bringing me out for dinner. And lastly, but not leastly (not a word!), I hid in my sisters car as she drove me up to my brother's house, and I jumped in on him and his fiance, and my gorgeous nephews and niece! Oh, it's good to be home!

That weekend, myself and Alan joined his family in London. We had dinner on the Friday night with Oskan and Louis in their lovely Stoke Newington apartment, heading out to Anna's afterwards for her usual hospitality - she looks after us of the best any time we're in London, and I love coming to see her! Saturday we headed to Wembley, and the stadium looked amazing! We had a few drinks with the family, then headed in with the Bluebird fansto cheer on their fantastic team as they played the FA Cup Final. Unfortunately, the team did not triumph, but the fans were so proud of their team, and the atmosphere in Wembley was fantastic, so it was a great event to be a part of! We had family dinner in a lovely Thai restaurant in Wembley, before heading back to Anna's again, and the next day we had lovely Sunday lunch with her, before she brought us out to Stanstead, and I was home again!

So, I've been relaxing quite a bit at home - got my photos all in order, printed out, and entered in albums, so I've been spending time with my family, and enjoying having all the kids around me again. I have no regrets, and spent as much time as I wanted away. I loved every second of South America, and feel that I saw that continent well and fully - but still leave lots to do on another return trip. Argentina would be my favourite overall country - for the mental array of geographical craziness from tip to toe, and for the wondeful welcomeness of the people. Colombia would be a close second, the coastal beauty, and the fabulous people. Cuba was fantastic, but I think I might need to be a bit further from all the pain and terror of getting to and from the place to consider it more fairly. Give it another month or so!

Next week I'm off to France for a few days to visit my very good friend Sarah, and Alan is helping me get my car back on the road, so everything is going well. My family are in good health, Ireland looks fantastic, and I'm filling up on Tayto, Cadbury's and home-cooked dinners.

It's great to be home, and it's great to look back on these experiences I have had with happiness and joy. Life is good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cuba Libre!!

Well, we're here....finally, finally, finally! And it was an adventure from start to finish...


So, we left our beautiful Colombian town sadly, but with great excitement, for here was to begin our great Cuban adventure! We took the 12 noon bus from Santa Marta and, as usual in Colombia, it was way overpriced! Especially since the seats were uncomfortable, you don't get fed, and the toilet worked for about half an hour, before giving up the ghost with a splurge of inorganic chemicals and organic mess, making the freezing cold journey even harder to bear because of the all-pervading smell emenating from behind us! That coupled with the fact the driver seemed intent on proving his capabilites as a world rally driver meant that between myself and Alan we got about 10 minutes sleep... So, we arrived at the Venezuelan border none too fresh and none to happy. We had heard all the traveller advice on money - Venezuela's currency system is stuck on a 1997 exchange rate in the banks, meaning that when you withdraw Bolivars directly from the machines, it charges you a rate of 1 Bolivar for 1 Dollar. This is clearly crazy, so you are forced to hit the black markets for your money exchanges, and it's been known to receive 4 Bolivars for 1 Dollar in these circles! We were happy, however, with our exchange of 2.5 for 1, which we got at a Casio de Cambio next to the exit area of Colombia...it meant that our chosen hotel room would cost us about 15 euro instead of 32. Anyway, we then walked across the border no-man's-land to Venezuela, where we got our entry stamp. As we commenced boarding the bus, we were told the guards were going to search every bag on the bus, and that it would take about 2 hours. Five minutes later, a fellow passenger took up a 'collection' of 5 Bolivars per person, to give the guard as a bribe so that they would let us pass unmolested. Standard practice, apparently! So, bribe paid, we got back on our stinky bus, and wove our way through the bleak Venezuelan countryside to Caracas, city of crap....seriously! I have never seen a so called socialist state so plastered with advertising, and so overrun with shanty towns. Unbelievable! Maybe Chavez is working hard in the rest of the country, but Caracas is going to the dogs. Anyway, we got to the bus station by 6am, thanks to our drivers rally experience, and had to wait for the sun to rise in order to head out to get a taxi out to Catia del Mar, the seaside town ten minutes from the airport. We happened to ask a lady in a shop how to get an official taxi, and she very nicely phoned one for us. He arrived and took us to his tinted windowed car, and wove out of the horrible city into an even more horrible 'seaside town' for an extorcionate price...such is the way of the Venezuelan people, we were soon to discover! Our hotel was dingy and horrible, with insects everywhere, and sticky floors. However, it had a tv in the room, and that's all we wanted to while away the evening before heading for the airport in the morning.


So, bright and early the next day, we headed to Caracas airport, and cling-wrapped our bags for safety at the entrance, before attempting to sign in. Nothing so simple! We had to buy our tourist visa for Cuba, which was fine, we knew we had to do it! But then there was the state tax to pay. Fine. OK, so we hadn't enough money for all of this new costings, so I said to the lovely (sarcasm doesn't come across so well in text!) 'lady' we had to go to the banklink, and I'd come back. So we traipsed across the airport to find a banklink, found one, took out the exact amount...meaning, of course, we were getting the 1997 exchange rate on the withdrawal. Then headed back to the stupid cow with cash in hand, to find an equally tourist-friendly man in her place who informed us that we had also to pay airport tax. Oh, sure why would you tell us our total costs all at one time? That would make life EASIER for us! So, with many a scowl and clenching of teeth, I headed BACK to the stupid banklink for more stupid overpriced money for their stupid taxes and charges. After all of this costly endevour, we had enough left for a wee something to eat out the other side, and nothing else. So, we headed through their stupid security (everything in Venezuela was stupid by this stage) airside, and discovered within a couple of hours that our flight was delayed...for 9 hours! Armed with enough cash for a paltry Burger King, we thus reconcoiled ourselves with the airport seats. As an aside, we also thought we might need further cash, but discovered there were no banklinks airside. Sure why would you need THOSE in an area filled with shops, restaurants and other establishments requiring money????

Anyway, I'm not gonna hash over everything yet again, but suffice to say the nine hours dragged by! Luckily, Cubana provided lunch and dinner for us all...at the cheapest restaurant in the airport, but food is food, and who am I to complain? At 10.00 pm, we were all herded upstairs...to an airplane, I presumed, but on reaching the top of the stairs discovered it was to climb onto buses. Our flight had been cancelled, and they were taking us to a hotel. So, on route to said hotel we met with two Turkish men...brothers Oskan and Asmail. Oskan has been living in London some 20 years, and has British citizenship, as well as perfect English. Despite Asmial's little English, he was engaging and friendly, and we had a good chat on our way to the hotel. It turned out to be a lovely hotel in Catia del Mar with a pool and everything...but then again, considering you couldn't leave the hotel environs at any stage, it would want to be! Plus, we only had the clothes we were wearing, so we couldn't exactly dive into the pool! Anyway, it was late, so we all parted ways for some sleep. Next day we arose hoping for news on the flight...nothing. We had breakfast, and watched television all day, before discovering at 4.30pm that they would be collecting everyone from the hotel at 5 bound for the airport. Nice of them to let us know! What would have happened if we hadn't chanced to call reception? Anyway! Headed out for the airport, found a GIGANTIC queue of people awaiting us, and some big frenzy about how half of the flight had been heading to a conference, so they got priority, and a second plane would carry the rest of us. At this stage I didn't even care! We eventually got through the queue in about an hour and a half, to be told that the airport might have to be paid again! Well, this was not happening! Alan had lost the sticker on his ticket so we couldn't prove that we had paid yesterday, and when I explained this to the Cubana man, he shrugged his shoulders. I was forced, then, I admit, to throw away my diplomacy and gritted smile long learned from past struggles with service providers, and curse a little! Sorry Mam....but basically, he then promised we wouldn't have to pay it again! As it turns out, though, nobody had to pay it again, because Cubana had to foot the bill....although this only resulted after all the passangers encamped at the airport tax desk and refused to pay! THEN we finally got through, for a further three hours waiting airside, where we got to know our Turkish friends a little better. When the plane finally arrived to much jubulation at 9.30, we leapt aboard! And it was the smallest plane imaginable...dry ice sufficed for air conditioning, and my knees were practically to my chin onboard. So, in this tiny junk box, freezing cold from the dry ice smoking up around me at all times, we shuddered our way across to Cuba, to land at 3.00 in the morning. When we got there, we decided to sleep in the airport until 7, then head into town together - the two of us, and the Turkish brothers.

On waking cramped and uncomfortable at 7.00, we discovered that my card wouldn't work in any of the machines...credit card, that is, because no debit cards work here anyway. We thought we should try some banks in the city, so Oskan and Asmail offered to pay for the taxi in and then we could pay them back when we got to a bank. So, we headed into the fabulous city of Havana, but I was a bit worried about the money, so didn't take things in as much as I could have. When we arrived, they spotted us breakfast, while we waited for the banks to open at 9. They then minded our bags as we headed off to various banks. Three establishments later, we were told that my credit card, though European, had done business with America, and was therefore useless in Cuba. Brilliant! We thought that maybe we'd be able to withdraw money using my passport and account details, so we stored our bags at Oskan and Asmail's lodgings, and headed out walking. A chance encounter with a creepy old gringo obviously living in Havana a long time sent us to Assistur, the only money-transfer option available between Cuba and other countries. Creepy? Because Alan says he got the distinct impression he was asking if we needed money badly enough to sell me to him for a while.....eeewww!

So, we went to Assistur, and discovered that our nearest transfer option was England, and then only from HSBC bank...they also took a humungous cut of the transfer, as payment. But it was our only hope! We went back to Oskan, and they loaned us enough money for lodgings, and we also bought a bag of bread and some water...feasted for days on that paltry bundle, let me tell you! Anyway, we moved to a Casa Particular in the city, then got on the internet and emailed home, and my cousin Anna in London, asking them to send the full cash that we would need for the whole holiday. This panicked everyone exceedingly...in fact, my mother thought that we'd been taken hostage and I was forced to write the email to get money! Such thoughts averted, they fell to helping us, but we had to wait until the banks opened on the morrow. We met the boys again that night, because they refused to let us wallow in our miserable situation, and kind souls that they are, they wanted us to come out with them! So, we went to Monseratte, a lovely bar next to Hemingway's favourite haunt, but better for the lack of brash tourists pointing cameras up your nostrils, where they shouted us a couple of beers, and we were entertained by a fabulous Cuban band who funked the room up something rotten! Fantastic! Next day, sick to our stomachs with both fear, trepidation and hunger, we went to Assistur to see had any money come through. Nothing! Turns out HSBC wouldn't let Anna send money with them as she is not a member of their bank, so she tried it through her bank, and they said the confirmation would take longer. So, we had another day of this to contend with! Despite everything, we spent our days pacing around Havana, gazing at it's fabulously faded grandeur, and drinking in it's liveliness and musical flavour for free!

Again that night, Oskan and Asmail would not let us wallow, and we went into Viajo, the lively pedestrianised zone above the port, and took in another free show...this time flamenco (though the band also played a weirdly wonderful version of 'Zombie' by the Cranberries!). Next morning, we awoke with the by now familiar trepidation. We awoke in better surroundings, though, because we had moved casa's to Dulce Maria's - a famous casa the same price as our last, but which included breakfast! So we dined heartily on food besides bread - the first to touch our lips in two days - and headed out to the internet to see what news awaited us. On switching on my phone, though, I discovered that my Mam had been in touch with Anna, discovered that the money transfer was NOT going to go through, and had taken it upon herself to drive to Dublin and plead with the British Embassy to help. I might add, at this stage, that the nearest Irish Embassy to Cuba is Mexico...some help to us! Not an hour later, I received another text, confirming that the money would hopefully be awaiting us in the British Embassy. We had to walk, having no money for taxis, and took the 5.5 km in the blistering midday heat out to Verdado, where the Embassies reign. It was a long walk, and I got a little crazed from the sun, but it was all forever worth it when we walked in the door and a lovely lady behind the counter said 'are you Sarah'? Oh what joy!!! She even mentioned that my mother had been very worried about me.....!!! So, we collected our money, joyously and with great relief, and took a taxi back to our Casa. I cannot TELL you how worrying those days were! We couldn't change our flights, so would have been stuck in Cuba with nothing. And if we hadn't met those fantastic brothers, we would have never even have been able to leave the airport! So, you sometimes have to think things happen for a reason...if the flight had not been cancelled, we would not have had the opportunity to make friends with people from the flight, and would have landed in Cuba friendless, moneyless, and alone!

Sadly, our two friends had gone to Trinidad that morning, and we now await their return for the May 1st celebrations in Havana, where we will repay their money and kindness, and take them out for dinner and drinks as a thank you!!

So, to update on life since then, we are LOVING Cuba! It is the most amazing wonderful fantastic country on earth, and we love every second! After Havana, we headed to Vinales, where the tobacco fields cluster amid wonderful limestone cliff faces, and the countryside is so lush and green that it takes your breath away! Staying all the while in Casas - family homes with spare rooms they make available to tourists - we eat hearty breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit in the mornings, and in Vinales, even took dinner made by the family. It certainly improves your Spanish, as nobody speaks English here! Our first day we cycled the countrside, and marvelled at the red earth, tall palm trees, and high cliffs...Alan took a solitary cycle later, and saw a massive snake basking on the road! Already afraid of snakes, this scared the hell out of him! Our second day we took the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus around the area, and met two Irish on holidays here (he from Clare, she from Cork), and had a good laugh spending the day with them! We also visited a smallholding, where we were shown a drying room....a heavily slanted straw hut containing countless tobacco leaves hanging from poles strung lengthways. The owner rolled a cigar for is in front of our very eyes...it was amazing! And he presented it to us free of charge, though we did leave a tip for his kindness! Next day we headed back to Havana, and from there on to our two days of luxury already counted for within our budget....Playas del Este! We headed to an all-inclusive holiday resort on the edge of the ocean, with a HUGE transluscent pool, and a palm-treed, white-sanded, aquamarine sea reached by means of a wooden footbridge over a sandy lagoon. So, we are lapping up the luxury here...eating what we please, and certainly DRINKING what we please, all for the low-low price of 50 euro per day (that's our accommodation, food, drink, EVERYTHING included). So we're happy!

Heading back to Havana tomorrow for the May 1st celebrations. The Plaza de la Revolucion reportadly fills with 1.2 million people, and Fidel addresses the crowd. I think it will be Raul this year, but sure either way, it's an experience I am unwilling to miss! And, yes, I am aware of my hypocrisy in coming from this luxurious havan into a march celebrating workers rights...but I really don't mind! Everything in Cuba is so gloriously distributed, that any money I spent here, in this wonderfully delapidated hotel (which, despite it's appearances, is as plastered with photos of Fidel and Che as anywhere else), will be evenly spread out. Not one shanty town have we seen since our arrival here, and everyone is happy and healthy, and the kids are at school every day. Communism seems to be succeeding far better here than Chavez's socialism in Venezuela, and he would do well to take serious note.....

Internet is very expensive here, so my next blog could be from home, but suffice to say I absolutely adore this country, it's people, and every second I spend in it. Don't worry, I will be back to it before long! It has a very strong pull....

Hasta la victoire siempre!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ode to the Departed

Yes, we haven`t moved an inch! Largely due to the arrival in our hostel of some extremely sound, and bloody good fun, lads from back home! We had met them in Lima - well, I can`t really boast that, because I wasn`t talking to them in Lima, but the other lads knew them well - and by pure chance they landed up in our hostel here. And I soon got to know them! Liam had his guitar, and knew amazingly varied and wonderful songs, and James and Cormac sang along with gusto....they brightened up our little trip something rotten!!

And, in a little "small world, isn`t it" twist, Cormac is the nephew of someone I work with back in Dublin! Crazy!

Anyway, we decided not to move on to Cartagena, as Bones was leaving on Tuesday, and Mac came back from there to celebrate (or mourn) Bones`s last weekend with us! So Saturday night, we sent him off in STYLE! With four litres of rum, and copious amounts of beer, we headed to An Garaiste, the best nightclub in town. Well...everyone else headed off, I had to be put to bed at that stage (about 2am) on account of drinking a tad too much, but when they returned from the club, I gamely hopped out of bed and joined the singalong until the wee hours - about 9 am the next day! AND I had my first public preformance - I played and sang along to Willie McBride on the guitar, and got a good reception! Maybe they were all drunk, but they lavished praise on me, so I`m suitable big headed now, even though I still play like Father Ted.....ha ha!

But it was a great sending off for del Bone, who has been the most amazing travelling companion these past months, and I miss him already! I know I`ll see him in a month back home, but it`s never the same, is it? Over here, I saw him for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and slept in the same room as him for 90% of the time, and we`ll never have that closeness again....so I miss that, but as Tedly has said, don`t be sad that it`s over, be glad that it happened! So we said a tearful (well, I cried anyway!) goodbye to him Tuesday morning. He`s back home now, and says he`s already overdosed on tea.......

And of course, Maca himself, who ALSO left on the day Bones left! I hadn`t thought about it, because I`ve said goodbye to Mac before - back in La Paz when he was on his way to meet his destiny in Buenos Aires - but now he`ll either be back in Ireland before us, or just after us, and either way, I also won`t see him for a month. I`m glad to know such a man, I really am, because he is one of the steadiest and genuinely nicest guys I`ve ever met. I`ve never known someone to have such regard for others in everything he does, and he has the best and biggest heart I`ve ever seen. So hopefully the friendship will continue as strong back in Ireland, because I feel like I`ve strengthened a friendship over here!

And then Wednesday.....what a day.....we said goodbye to Ed and Emer and Kee, who are gone on to Cartagena! It was great getting to know Emer and Kee, who I didn`t really know before, and I had great craic with them - especially Emer, who is a bloody lovely girl!! And as for Ed....what can I say? I never knew him before we came away, and now I don`t know how I went so long in my life without knowing this amazing guy! So I cried on his departure too, probably most of all, because he is just one of the best people I know, and I am so happy that we came along on this trip together! I would never have known his happy outlook on life, his coolness under pressure, his ability to smooth over tensions, and his sensitivity to everyone`s feelings. The man is a saint, but not in a cheesy overly-nice way, he just genuinely wants for people to be happy, and I can`t find fault with a second of our time over here together.

And on Thursday, we said goodbye to our newfound friends from back home, and since they are heading to Australia after South America, they`re not likely to hit Ireland again until 2009, so renewing the friendship could be tougher in this case, but we`re hopeful it`ll be done. Really, we`ve met such amazing people on this trip - we`ve been so lucky!

So, today, it was just myself and Alan, sweating and trying to organise accomodation for Caracas, the most dangerous city in South America! We`re hoping to just stay in a village ten minutes from the airport, rather than Caracas itself, but everytime we call it, we get hung up on by the impatient and rude receptionist....what a hijo de puta! So we might have to stay in the city. We`ve heard such stories of the place from fellow travellers! One girl from Cork was on a tour around the country - bear in mind, this meant they were ferried EVERYWHERE in a private buses, and all sleeping arrangements organised by guides - and from the 20 people on board, 8 were stabbed in Caracas. One woman, a 55 year old lady, was stabbed in her HAND as she tried to protect herself....

Another story? Irish guys there took the official black taxis to the airport, and they are four by fours so that if traffic stops up ahead, the drive onto the dirt roads beside it and bypass the stoppage, as it is popular to hold up taxis full of gringos....the cars have blacked-out windows, and you can`t roll down the window for fear of being seen.

Another? Carl Cox (idiot DJ) played a set in a Caracas nightclub in November, and a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing 4 people. Security failed to evacuate, despite the bodies lying bleeding on the ground, and the gunman opened fire again five minutes later, killing a further 6.

Another? All hostels and hotels (even the Hilton and other branded ones) are enclosed in barred gates, and signs advise revellers to stay in after dark (6 o clock), and police impose a curfew after 10pm. Even eating in a restaurant 500 meters down the road, you are advised to take a taxi.

Another? Police in Venezuela get onto buses randomly to view the passangers. You are told to face forward, and keep your eyes straight ahead (take off sunglasses). Making eye contact will be seen as being "cheeky" and may result in some random police brutality.

And the last one! Coming across the border, the border guards board the bus and say "we will search this whole bus, and hold you up for 2 hours, or else you can all pay 10 Bolivars, and we will let you through without a search". Coupled with this little nugget is that 3 out of 4 people carry guns in Caracas. Not `have` guns....CARRY guns. Factor out old people and kids, and you are probably looking at the entire male population "packing"!

So, I look forward to Sunday, when we fly to Cuba. Much safer destination! Whatever Chavez is doing, it`s not reaching Caracas......

Roll on Cuba!!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Still in Taganga....


Yes, we`re still here! And loving every minute of it...I guess we should be trying to squash as much fun into our last few weeks away as possible, but considering I`ll be back to work within two weeks of my return, I`m enjoying the relaxation of it all! Lying in hammocks reading my books, practising my guitar, swimming in the sea...it`s not a bad life, right now!

We`ve changed our flights for returning home, as Al`s cousin Stephen has led his team into the FA Cup Final on May 17th in Wembly, so we`re landing home and heading to London for the match. My official return date is now 18 May, and I`ll be back to work on the 9th of June. So I`ll be home for my birthday!! Woo hoo!! I just cannot WAIT to see everyone again!

But, between now and then, we have CUBA to look forward to! We`re so excited! We`re gonna do a few more Spanish lessons here, maybe, as we`ll really need our Spanish in Cuba...but we`ll see how it goes! A friend of Bones and Ed`s from back home - David Kee - arrived here last week with his girlfriend Emer, so we`ve been having a great time hanging out with them, and we all headed into Park Tayrona at the weekend - after the Cardiff game, and returned in time for the Liverpool game with Arsenal. Got our priorities sorted!

The Park was fantastic! We slept at Arrecifes Beach, where you can`t swim because of currents, but it is just beautiful! You pay the equivalant of 3.50 a night for your hammock, which is strung up under a woven roof in the area where the jungle meets the sea. So, unfortunately, this means a healthy supply of insects! We brought our mossie nets, but they`re very hard to string up over hammocks! I had a termite in mine who gave me an awful bite, but Alan got the worst when a mossie got stuck INSIDE his net with him, and chomped on his face, eyelid and ear!! Next morning we hiked across to La Piscina, where it`s safe to swim, and in doing so crossed some amazing beaches, replete with palm trees and turqoise water...this is definitely the Caribbean we dreamed of! And there were WAVES!! Much as I love Taganga, the beach is stoney, and because we`re in a bay, it`s like swimming in a lake, there are no waves. So, we spent the day swimming, jumping off of rocks, and getting frazzled in the sunshine! That night we got some bottles of rum, and enjoyed the solitude of the Park! Beautiful! And the stars at night - because there are no lights for miles - were just unbelievable!

We might head on to Cartagena after the weekend with the lads, or else on to Palimino - an area along the coast an Irish girl who lives in Taganga told us about. It depends on Bones, really! He`s leaving the soonest from here, so whatever he wants to do, we`ll follow!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Scuba Diving AGAIN!

Well, we went again, but I`ll blog about it in detail in my next entry...I just wanted to add a note about the so called "spiderfish". The reason I couldn`t find a photo of it is that it`s actually called an arrow crab, and I`ve found a picture below!

We also took a camera with us this time, so I have uploaded all our photos onto my bebo, and we have a few videos - which are also on bebo too! I`ve stuck the video of the spiderfish (as I will forever call him!!) up here too, to show how brilliant it was!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scuba Sarah!


Just a quick blog to say that today I scuba dived for the first time! And it was WOW amazing! Myself and Alan signed up with Tayrona Diving here in Taganga yesterday, and this morning we presented ourselves nervously at 8.00am for the course! When we arrived we were sized for wet suits, flippers, goggles and other sundries, then we - along with the other divers, two Americans and a Dane - went into a wee room and watched the PADI video...which was extremely cheezy, but very informative. There is so much to know about the scuba equipment!! It`s all so technical, and you really have to pay strict attention to the breathing techniques and the equalisation stuff (basically holding your nose and blowing out your ears to equalise pressure, but you have to do it every meter of descent, so it`s important stuff!). Also, clearing your mask by holding it tight above your eyes and blowing through your nose may seem like an obvious one, but when you`re 18 meters down, it`s a different story! The light seems very far away above you, and a mouth full of sea water is always freaky....



Anyway, after all of this instruction, we set off on the boat for Park Tayrona`s calm waters...as it is a National Park, the coral and fish life is pretty well preserved and untouched by fishermen and tourists. We thought perhaps we`d be in our depth for the first dive of the day but no, we had to jump fully kitted out from the boat into deep-ish water! Eeeek! So, we had our weights put on over our wetsuit, and the backpack attached with our buoyancy device, as well as the tank of air on our backs. The breathing piece was already in our mouths, and you had to just hold your mask with one hand, and the weights with the other, and take a big leap of faith into the water! Very strange feeling, for the first time, when you`re breathing through the mask underwater! Myself and Alan were taken out by Chopper, one of the instructers, and the others went ahead with another guy - the two Americans were qualified diver, and the Danish girl, unfortunately for her, had trouble with her ears, and couldn`t actually dive at all today. Anyway, Chopper let out enough air to bring us just underwater, and then we practised techniques like what happens if your airpiece falls out, and how to clear the water from your goggles. We also went through all the hand signals that we needed to know for safe diving. Then we were off!

On the first dive, we went to a depth of 10 meters, and Chopper held on to both our hands, and guided us through the rocks and coral below. We saw amazing things, the best of which was when he guided us down to the bottom, and we knelt on the sand as he showed us a spider fish below the rock, then took it out and held it on his hand, then passed it onto my hand, then on to Alan`s.....bright yellow, with long spindly legs and a triangular face. Singularily the weirdest thing I`ve ever seen! It looked like it was from a different planet! I couldn`t find a picture of it, because I don`t think I have the right name! We also saw a huge yellow eel - called a Moray eel, which was pretty freaky looking! I wish I had a photo of the spider fish thing though, because it was definitely the weirdest thing I`ve ever seen!


We came up after a while, and got back on the boat, and had lunch in a lovely secluded cove in Tayrona, then back out for dive two! This time, Chopper was much more adventurous with us, and he only held my hand for the first ten minutes! Ha ha.... But he let us just follow him as we swam to depths of 18 meters - a lot of pressure is felt at this depth, believe me, so I have no idea how anyone goes deeper! It was freaky looking upwards and not really seeing the surface clearly, because it was so far above you! This time we got to see amazingly coloured fish, and they weren`t afraid of you, and almost brushed up against you sometimes. Really strange! We saw some amazing coral, too - and little plants that snapped shut when you came near, but if you were a bit away, you could see their little wavey tentacle-like leaves swaying in the current as though by a breeze. It really is a garden down there! We saw huge seaweed structures and coral that looked like trees! Chopper spotted some yellow tentacle things sticking out from under rocks - the looked like octopus legs - and got me to grab one, and it immediately started pulling away from me....it felt like a furry water balloon filled with guts!! Alan touched it, and thought it was pretty disgusting too! Yeuch!! Ha ha....


Then we went across some rocks, and Chopper pointed below us, and we saw huge tentacles/pincers/antannae sticking out from under the rock! Kinda freaked me a little! But as we got closer we saw the big and curious face of a lobster! And as we went over the rock, we discovered at least six more, and some of them were in extremely clear view, so we could see their full bodies. Absolutely amazing!! I know I keep saying that, but there`s no other way to describe it, there really isn`t..... I also saw a guy with a weird split in his tail, a photo of which is below - Alan didn`t get to see him, as I spotted him before he went behind a rock, but he was bloody brilliant!


So, I`ve attached a few photos to show SOME of the fish we saw today - because believe me, if you can dream a colour, we saw it swimming in the Caribbean today! It`s a pity we couldn`t take underwater shots, because it would be great to have visual aids when explaining it, but the memories I will take from today are vivid and colourful, and won`t fade in a hurry!!! That will have to be some consolation.......



Definitely one of the most amazing things I`ve ever done, and we`re thinking of doing another dive here, and definitely of doing another dive in Cuba!! How lucky am I? Believe me, I know it.
This trip just gets better and better!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Music and Cartagena

God, I am so thankfull for my music!! And my audio books on the MP3 player - without them I`d never get to sleep! So, in honour of my Sony MP3 player, I have created a new playlist - it`s quite long, to cover the overnight bus journeys and whatnot. I have christened it `Sing-Along-Aling`, and I can`t wait to get into my car with it and belt out the songs out loud! So, here it is....in order.

Just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in) - Kenny Rogers
Here Comes Your Man - Pixies
Common People - Pulp
Take on Me - a-Ha
SOS - Abba
Jackson - Johnny Cash
Starman - David Bowie
Red Right Hand - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Goin` Out West - Tom Waits
Your Touch - The Black Keys
Love Burns - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Joga - Bjork
Southern Man - Neil Young
Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana
Gallows Pole - Led Zeppelin
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Let Down - Radiohead
(Song for my) Sugerspun Sister - The Stone Roses
NYC - Interpol
Space Oddity - David Bowie
Paranoid Android - Radiohead
We are Nowhere, and it`s now - Bright Eyes feat. Emmelou Harris
Lola - The Kinks
The Battle of Evermore - Led Zeppelin
Out of Time - Blur
The Weight - The Band
The Times They are a Changin`- Bob Dylan
Something - The Beatles
Sloop John B - The Beach Boys
Get Back - The Beatles
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Dreaming of You - The Coral
Hotel Yorba - The White Stripes
Touch Me - The Doors
Black Betty - Ram Jam
Standing in the way of control - The Gossip
Someday - The Strokes
Trampled Under Foot - Led Zeppelin
Tightrope - The Stone Roses
Karma Police - Radiohead
I am the Resurrection - The Stone Roses
Offend in Every Way - The White Stripes
Fake Tales of San Fransisco - The Artic Monkeys
The Bucket - Kings of Leon
Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy
Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz
On the Other Side - The Strokes
Love will tear us apart - Joy Division
Don`t Let Me Be Misunderstood - Nina Simone
Where the Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds feat. Kylie
Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
Ain`t Got No/I Got Life - Nina Simone
Goddess on the Highway - Mercury Rev
Both Sides, Now - Joni Mitchell
Me and Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkle
So Long, Marianne - Leanard Cohen
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley

So, that`s my favourite songs to sing along to, all in the one playlist - 60 songs in all!! I`m very proud of it, and love listening to it, and wreck Alan`s head all the time by lying in bed singing along (badly!!). My guitar playing is coming along - Alan says I`m getting really good, but my chord changes are still really slow, a là Father Ted....i.e. "hang on I can get this one....FIELD!". But I love playing it, and love learning new songs, so hopefully that stands to me. Also, I have huge newfound respect for people who play guitar and sing along - it`s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head! Very tough!! So I`m sure I`m not quite a `pleasure` to listen to just yet...

We`re just back from Cartagena, where we spent three nights. Myself and Alan didn`t go on the Lost City trek with the other lads, and decided instead to head off to the most romantic city on the Caribbean, or so it`s called - `The Paris of the North`, I think is the phrase most often used. And it was GORGEOUS!! Imagine a smaller version of Barcelona - the old city - with a Caribbean backdrop! It was beautiful! And we ate in gorgeous restaurants, and strolled through the cobbled streets gazing at wonderful flowers draping from wooden balconies overhead, or strolled through ancient churches and old city wall ruins. We even visited a dungeon in the outer city walls, at the water - brilliant! All the buildings were painted wonderfully bright colours - reds, blues and yellows - so every photo looks fantastic! We didn`t do much there but wander about, but we had a lovely time, and it was very nice to be away with just Alan, so I`m really looking forward to Cuba now, when we`ll have more time to ourselves. Not that I don`t love and adore the other guys, you understand, but sometimes a couple DOES need time to themselves!! Ha ha....

So, we`re back in Taganga now, in the Hotel Delphin, and we`ve just booked ourselves into a day`s scuba diving tomorrow, where we`ll head out to Park Tayrona, and hopefully get to see some coral reefs! Very nervous about it - but also extremely excited! The lads come back tomorrow evening, so we`ll see them then, after our days adventure.....fingers crossed it all goes well, now!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ah, the Caribbean...

Well, we`re finally here....the Caribbean! We couldn`t make it to Cartagena, as it is the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) over here, so everyone´s on holiers. So, instead, we headed to Santa Marta, across the bay. We took a 10.00pm bus from Medallin, which was comfortable enough - mainly due to my finally having learned the lesson to take my sleeping bag onboard! At about 10.00am we changed buses to a very much more bedraggled version of our bus, stuffy and hot and very very dirty! My seat was broken, so I spent the entire journey on the knees of the woman behind me.......

Anyway, as the bus wound away from Baranquilla - where we had swapped vehicles - the Caribbean came into sight for the first time in the sunlight! Impossibly blue, and very inviting looking, it was everything I hoped for! We arrived in blistering sunshine to Santa Marta - so far so good! - and found a hostel quickly enough...Hotel Mirimar, near the shore. A converted old building, it was pretty horrible and dirty, but clean enough and cheap enough to tempt us! At 10000 pesos (about 3.50 euro), it fit the bill, despite a cockroach running straight over my foot as I used the loo.....

Rather than stay in the sweltering heat in a town, we took a taxi out to the nearby Taganga village, where the beaches were supposed to be better, and took a long swim in the cool blue/green waters. How good it felt after such a long journey! The bay around Taganga was gorgeous, and keeps a nice breeze flowing through the area. We ate in the hostel that night, as the trip the night before had tired us out. Next day we upped sticks to Tagana, the lads to Casa Blanca at one end of the bay, and myself and Alan to the cheaper Hotel Delphin at the other end....cheaper because if we want to have a shower, brush our teet, or even flush a toilet, we have to go downstairs and ask at the desk for the water to be turned on in our room........

As soon as we were settled in our respective residences, we went to a scuba school and rented snorkelling gear for the rest of the day - 15000 for flippers, mask and snorkle (about 5.25 euro - the same price as our room per night). We then walked down to the shore, where any of the fishermen will take you around the headland to the Playa Grande over the other side, which is supposed to be better for snorkelling. We nabbed a boat for 5000 pesos return (about 1.90 euro), and headed off to our destination. Around the headland it`s slightly wider, and the bay stretches along fishing areas as well as swimming beaches. We snorkelled for a few hours, but boats passed very close and scared of a few of the bigger fish - in fact, I surfaced at one stage to see Alan ahead of me snorkelling away in the water, as a boat drew nearer his head. I started shouting at him but, of course, he couldn`t hear me. The boat-driver did, however, and spotted Alan, and cut his engines. The boat drifted towards him, though, and Alan surfaced just in time to push himself away from the prow of the boat and avoid getting clunked!! After all that watching fish, we decided to chow down on a beautiful fish dinner in a beach-side restaurant - which was absolutely delicious! The nicest fish - and so fresh - that I have tasted in a long time. The fishermen all traipse along the shores carrying fish and selling them to restaurants, so the meals are extremely cheap, and extremely fresh! Lovely! As it was Paddy`s Day, we took a couple of drinks down to the beach to watch the waves and listen to the sounds of relaxation - though I wasn`t drinking. First Paddy`s Day for a long time that I didn`t drink, but believe me when I say that snorkelling in the Caribbean all day more than makes up for it......

Today we got up early and had breakfast in the sunshine, then hired the snorkles again and headed off around the headland to the left of Taganga, and it was immensely better! We were far from boats and people, and the waters were filled with canyons of rock and gardens of sea urchins and seaweeds....colours I had never seen before in plants, and urchins the size of footballs calmly waving in the current! And the fish were unbelievable - from yellow and black striped ones, to pink with black eyes, to bright blue, to green with silver heads, to neon yellow, to pure black.....every colour you could think of swam by us as we gazed enraptured at the underwater world we are so often exempt from. Wow! We spent literally hours in the water, and are only taking a break now in the hottest part of the day before heading back in later. It is seriously addictive stuff!

The rest of the lads are doing the Lost City trek tomorrow, but myself and Alan are going to head to Cartagena instead, and up to Playa Blanca on the islands. We have booked our tickets to Cuba - flying from Caracas to Havana, 20 April to 9 May - so we`re both very excited, and a little strapped for cash!! We`ve decided that we might do the PADI course in scuba diving, as there is an island off Cuba with some of the best drop-offs in the Caribbean, beauitful coral reefs, and about 60 shipwrecks off the coast, so we`d love to scuba dive through all of that! Taganga is one of the cheapest places in the world to do the PADI course, and Ed has been talking of doing it the entire time we`ve been travelling - myself and Alan are going to do a `fun dive` before committing to the course, to make sure we like it, but judging by how much fun we have had with the snorkles, it`s definitely on the cards!

After that, the plan is to hit Parque Tayrona, which has beautiful white-sand beaches, and we can rent hammocks in little beach-side huts along the coast. After that, the west coast of Venezuela before flying over to gorgeous Cuba! Money bedamned.......I`ll be coming home up to my neck in debt, but every second of work back home will be worth it, because this is the trip of a lifetime!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Shadowlands

Ah, travel update. Well, I left you last in Lima, where we were passing the hot, lazy days in the cinema in Miraflores, or whiling away our time eating cheap delicious food (though, also eating a lot of fast food, as our hostel was barricaded on all sides by McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC). We finished our cinema madness with the incredibly moronic, yet strangely entertaining, Rambo 4...if only the real Burmese junta were as easy to oust, eh? Myself, Alan and Welly also took a stroll to the beach, and spent a frustrating hour climbing down a shingle slope to pounding Pacific waves, which threw me on my ass more times than I care to mention and, on one memorable washing-machine experience, almost tore my bikini off....exposing some unwilling surfers to probable blindness!! But, it was refreshing to swim again, and as it was only my second dip in the Pacific, I savoured the swim/battle with the waves. The situation in Ecuador was fast deteriorating, so bus travel was definitely out. We searched and searched for cheap flights to Bogota, but all the airlines were coming in at about the same (high) price, so we settled on all-inclusive flights with LAN for 300 dollars...pricey, but our only option at that stage. I had some fond memories (mainly of Dunkin Dohnuts) of the airport in Lima, and spent the check-in stages wandering around the Duty Free shop, finally finding a solitary bar of Cadbury`s, and thinking myself blessed! We also found a multi-country adaptor, which is something we`ve been searching for all trip, but as we went to pay for it, with the dollars Alan had just purchased from the bank downstairs in the airport, we discovered that one of our $20 bills was a fake!! Damn it! It was too late to go back from airside, and then come through security again, so we had to pass the situation off to experience, and I whipped out old flexible friend to salvage things. The flight was very comfortable, and we were given free drinks and a little snack on the way. Myself and Alan made a deal that I would be at the window for this flight over the Andes, and then he could have the window for flying to Cuba. Unfortunately, I came off rather rawly on that plan, as the weather was low and cloudy for the entire flight, so I saw narry a mountain!!

Bogota airport, when we landed, was TINY! Mostly prefabricated, and fairly lacking in anything in the way of facilities, it was a bit of a shock after the modern hub of Lima. Immigration was fine - despite my worry! I swear, I cannot step near one of those immigration men without somehow feeling criminal, and I begin to sweat and turn red at the thoughts that I must look suspicious to them, and the more I try to look LESS suspicious, the more I feel like I look suspicious. Vicious circle! I also always worry that somehow, between my getting on the plane and walking through, someone has managed to stow four kilos of coke in my bag. It`s a constant worry! Anyway, in the event, the guys were quite friendly. They spoke only Spanish, which didn`t really settle my nerves, because I worried that any hesitation in answering their questions would lead to my being brought into the eponomous "back" for questioning! One question he asked me, "De dondè pais?", was said so softly that I was forced to say "Què?"....he leaned forward and repeated his question.....I said "Irlanda", and his head shot up quickly..."Norte o Sud?", he snapped...."Sud!", I replied. He smiled, relaxed, and said "Bienvinidos a Colombia".....phew!! Damn those `Colombian Three`....they`ve shot my nerves to shit!

Outside we procured a van very similar to the A-Team, to my travelling companions delight, and proceeded into the city to find our hostel, Chopi-Norte, and settle into the city. The omens were not good - low cloud hung across the grey skyline, and a decided chill hit us as we exited the airport. The taxi driver could not find the exact address of the hostel, so we hopped out of our taxi on the street where it was supposed to be situated, confident that it must be close by. As an intersection was listed, we took off in four seperate directions on the streets attempting to find the elusive place, but to no avail. To top it all off, it began to rain, so we took shelter beneath a building. A student passed by, and I showed him the address. He couldn`t help, but a nearby lollipop lady heard our query, and came over to try give aide. And the funny thing is, they both looked so startled to find tourists in their city that they couldn`t stop staring at us! She asked me where we were from, and when I said Ireland, there was such a look of wonder in her face, you´d swear she`d never met an Irish person before. Come to think of it, she probably hadn`t! For those of you who are unaware, due to the activies of the Colombian Three, Irish people were banned from entering Colombia until January of last year, and since then we haven`t exactly been flooding in droves to the country ever since, perhaps the lollipop lady´s shock was not so shocking. Anyway, she had never heard of our hostel either, but ran off into the rain - which was now falling in earnest! A few minutes later, she came running back and beckoned me to follow her, so we all picked up our bags and jogged after her to a little restaurant close-by. The men in the restaurant were apparently expecting us, because they took the address from my hands as soon as I got through the door. They bade us sit down, and put our bags in the corner, as they discussed the address amongst themselves for a while, before dashing out again into the heavy rain. We sat open-mouthed as the man from the restaurant next door came in to add his sixpence to the proceedings, and they all ran about in the rain trying to find our hostel for us. Eventually, the owner let me use his internet, and we found a better address. He looked thrilled on seeing it, and asking me to go with him, we ran out into the rain and across the road, where we found a pathetic A-4 sheet of paper hidden in a dark corner proclaiming the Chopi-Norte hostel - and he looked as thrilled as I was to find it! We arrived back in the restaurant like conquering heroes, his waiters and the man from next door shaking our hands and laughing delightedly at our success. We felt it was only fair to have a drink in their restuarant, as they had been so helpful, and as we sat sipping, the waiter dropped over two big complimentary bowls of a local piping-hot dish - baby potatoes smothered in butter and salt, and fried pig intestine. Hmmm....we ate quite a few (Alan mainly - after watching him eat raw reindeer in Barcelona, I knew that pig intestine would be no bother to him), but only out of courtesy - I can`t say that I´ll be chasing down that particular culinary experience with too much urgency!! So, leaving our new friends we headed across the street to our hostel, full of the joys of Colombia, and happy with our welcome to this most dangerous of cities! And then the bubble deflated slightly....

Our ´hostel´, which had looked so clean and modern on hostelworld.com, was - to use a lovely term from back home - a kip! The three bed dorm advertised for the lads was a double bed with a single bed above it in a bunkbed. The double bed was tiny, and the top bunk was dangerously close to the exposed lightbulb hanging low overhead. The double room that myself and Alan were to sleep in was bare and cold, with a low dirty bed close to the floor - within nibbling distance of rats, as I liked to look at it! Not what we were expecting! There was no facilities, bars on all the doors, and the toilet was horrible, so we went straight to the internet cafe downstairs and booked something else in Bogota for the next night, and left that hole the very next day! Our next hostel was down in the Candeleria section of Bogota - the south of the city, and supposedly the more dangerous part. However, The Bogota B&B was absolutely gorgeous - perhaps even more so due to the horror we just left! - with hammocks hanging indoors, a lovely kitchen, clean spacious rooms, sparkling bathroom and friendly and fun staff. Perfect! We settled in completely, and I had a novel experience! As the hostel was full, I spent my first time of the trip on the top bunk.....usually Alan takes the top, as I am not the most graceful of people, and it has also been pointed out that I am quite clumsy, so rather than suffer my grunts and squeaks as I attempt to haul myself upwards at night, he has taken every top bunk so far. However, due to an Iron Maiden gig in the city, the place was full of people, and I was in one section of the 10-bed dorm, sleeping over a porty Venezuelan man, and Alan on the opposite wall. The portly gentlemen had two friends also sleeping in the dorm, one of whom was on a top bunk end-to-end with mine. That first night was somewhat hellish for me! I have been used to the lads snoring on the trip - I have beaten Bones with an empty water bottle in Buenos Aires, thrown packets of Oreos at Ed in La Paz, and now chucked towels at Welly`s head in Bogota - but I had never had to sleep simultaneously above a strange snorer, and feet-to-feet with another. So, I employed my time-honoured technique of sneak attacks.....first, I held either side of my bunk, and shook myself violently from side to side in quick succession. This woke up the guy below, stopping his snoring momentarily. I knew I had a small window in which to work - snorers return to sleep very quickly! The guy at my feet on the other upper-tier was also nasally challenged, so I leaned forward and grabbed the end of his bed, then gave it two quick, but strong, jerks. He snorted awake, but not before I had returned my head innocently to the pillow, giving a very convincing impression of sleep....I could hear him muttering and looking about him for the disturbance for a while. And in this small break of confusion and startled snorers...and blessed silence...I went to sleep. This was quite a regular occurance, and I`m sure by the third night they knew it was me, but what could they say about it?

Anyway, we stayed in Bogota for a few days, as we were waiting for Mac to arrive up from Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, as he had changed flights recently, and then had to change them back again, he had to stick with a very awkward plan of Buenos Aires to New York, and New York to Bogota....God bless the intellect of airline companies! Anyway, he arrived with us on his birthday, and while Bones and Ed went to the airport to meet him, myself, Alan and Welly cooked up a birthday barbeque and popped some nice wine - and when Ed came back, he broke into a bottle he`d been carrying since Mendoza. Special occassion, and all that! It`s lovely to have Mac back with us - he`s a great travelling companion, interested in everything about him, and always able to meet new people with a smile. So, once we were all sufficiently lazed up in this hostel, we moved on to Medallin. It is called `The City of Eternal Spring`, and we were very much hoping that this would be the case, as Bogota was one long dreary rainy visit. Coupled with the fact that you can`t really go out after dark in Bogota, and the fact that you have to carry a photocopy of your passport and a leaflet with your residence listed for police checkpoints, we were looking forward to a city with less restrictions on our travel. The other strange thing about Bogota was the lack of other tourists! We were in the main sections of the town, strolling about, and could see neither hide nor hair of anyone remotely foreign looking. If there were any other gringos in town, then they were winning a monster game of hide-and-seek!!

We took an overnight bus from Bogota, and it was bloody freezing, and the driver drove like a frickin lunatic, so every corner he hit I was practically thrown off the seat. Needless to say, I didn`t sleep much! We met a student on board who invited us to a college party in Medallin, where there would be many international students - but no Irish. Anyway, we arrived in Medallin and headed out to Casa del Sol, a hostel recommended to us by our previous hosts, which turned out to be fabulous. Samuel, his pregnant girlfriend Paula, and their friend Diana welcomed us like friends, and we relaxed into their lovely clean hostel at once. Medellin has equally turned out to be a beautiful and open-armed town. Obviously the wealth has all come from non-savoury means - this is, after all, Pablo Escobar`s town - but you cannot help but be impressed by the winding streets, teracotta tiling, and surrounding hills. It really is a beautiful town! The metro is, as usual in every city we`ve come across with a metro, indispensible! For about 45 cents you can go anywhere in the city! And the ticket even includes a long cable car ride up into the hills, which we took last Sunday in the blistering sunshine. The suburban area it lets down in - after all, it is not a tourist attraction, but merely a convenient means by which to traverse a very steep incline to a section of the city - was teeming with people, kids playing in the parks, music coming from every home, families strolling in the streets...a real party atmosphere. It was lovely! And, yet again, we seem to be the only tourists in the place! Strange feeling....

We have ended up spending a week here, despite our intentions to only stay a few days. This happens a lot when you are travelling - you find a homely hostel, and get used to the area, and you settle in. It`s no bad thing, but we need to head for the coast soon, as everyone is on something of a time limit. Myself and Alan are trying to buy tickets for Cuba at the minute, but the Cubana website isn`t working. We`re gonna fly from Caracas, so that means we head to the coast and then overland into Venezuela by mid-April. Alan`s cousin, Stephen, who plays for Cardiff City is in the semi-final of the FA Cup in April, and we`re raging we`re not gonna be there for it! We think, if they get into the final, we might fly home early to try see the game, as it is only a week and a half before we are due home anyway. After all, it`s not every day something like this happens!!

While we have been in Colombia, the government stormed into Ecuador and bombed a FARC training camp, killing a leading official. The Ecuadorians were obviously not impressed, and sent troops to the border and ambassadors were pulled home. In the raid, Colombia discovered evidence that Chavez had funded the FARC`s, and threw the gauntlet down at Venezuela, who responded similarily to Ecuador. So, both borders were lined with troops, and some action seemed iminent. However, it was all resolved in a handshake, so we should be safe to continue with our travels!! Fingers crossed, eh??

So, that`s things pretty much up to date. Cartagena is our next port of call, by overnight bus tonight, so here`s hoping for sunshine, sand, and blue, blue ocean.......

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thoughts from the dark country...

I´ll update things soon enough on the travel end of things - I´m writing this from Medallin in central Colombia - but for the moment, I´m gonna have a little brainstorm.

I´ve been feeling sorry for myself these past couple of days - feeling very homesick, missing the kids, wanting time to myself (very hard being in a dorm so constantly), worrying about people - but it has all been thrown into perspective by recent events. A friend´s sister´s boyfriend just died while on holidays in Buenos Aires - in fact, we met both of them merely two months ago in La Paz - and he was just so young, and it´s made me think about things a little harder. Since we left Ireland in October my cousin has died from lung cancer, my Mam has gone through more chemotherapy for her own cancer, an old school friend died from kidney failure, a seemingly solid relationship has collapsed around us all, a friend has had a baby, another friend has also had a baby, yet another friend is fulfilling his dream of returning to Africa, and so many other things of varying degrees of importance. It feels like life has not only carried on without us, but has accelerated to an alarming rate. To have a son, boyfriend, friend not return from a holiday you blithly waved them off on? To have a baby appear in your life with little notice? To see someone your own age waste away from illness? To know your cousin is dying in hospital, but be 3000 miles away? To worry constantly about your family? To have someone you trust break your heart? All these things are playing on my mind today, and all these things are forcing me to accept that changes need to be made in my life.

So, here`s the first thing. I am going to try to be a better person. And I don`t mean in the miniscule sense of the world - I give to charity, I fundraise, I am nice to kids, etc. etc. - but in the broader sense. As Alan always tells me, sometimes I´m nicer to people I don´t know - I care more about children in Africa or Thailand than I do about my friends or the people I know. So, for once, I´ll admit that Alan is right - but don`t tell him that. I´m gonna try to accentuate the positive in my personality, and subdue the negative. To this end, I´m making a bit of a list of things that I know I do wrong, and I´m sure I´ll get agreement on each and every one.... For example: I judge people too quickly, and build dislike for someone quicker than I build like; I am very unforgiving of weaknesses and faults - I will decide somebody is not a good person based on single actions; I over-analyze everything about a situation; I have a very quick temper.

There are certain things that I won`t be able to change so drastically, so I won`t pretend that I can. I have a low opinion of liars, and I always will - somebody who is two-faced and hypocritical has never been worthy of my respect, and never will be. But I´m definitly gonna work on the rest of it!

These past few months have galvanized in me a sense that I should be back in college, should be studying, should be a teacher, and should help change the world, if I can at all. But they´ve also taught me that I had tolerance even more than I had expected, and it´s time to put that tolerance to good use. So, in light of the terrible tragedies that have effected so many people close to me these past few months, I hereby make a vow to change for the better, and try lead a better life.