Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Intrepid Den: Colombia's finest city – Cartagena

Here's the next dairy entry from Intrepid Den...Columbia's Cartagena.

Old Sir Frances Drake plundered this city so often to pillage the gold already pillaged by the Spanish, that they had to build huge fortifications that took a couple of centuries, but which still remain and which make this city, apparently, so beautiful.

I arrived early afternoon, having flown over mountains from Bogota to what then emptied into a flat plane with brown rivers rich with silt flowing towards the sea. Mexico's terrain was barren, inhospitable and inaccessible, but Columbia is green and florid. At the airport to meet me were my new airbnb hosts Alexander and his dad Isaac – a tour guide for the city. They wheeled my bag to the main road, flagged down a cab and took me to their “Big house in Cartegena” which is on the outskirts of town in a newish hand built neighbourhood and they showed me my room. This is probably the master bedroom vacated for my stay. It was boiling hot even with a ceiling fan so they brought another free standing one in. It's basic, but it has a huge double bed, an open lattice brickwork window, (which looks out onto a wall 30cm away), a big mirror, a rack to hang my clothes and within minutes, a little table and chair for me and my laptop. They showed me, proudly, around the house – no it's not like my house, but this is Colombia and NOTHING is the same. It has a kitchen with a massive rumbling fridge and a little bathroom – what more could I want?. Isaac took me out onto the verandah, sat me in a rocking chair and showed me several “tours” that he could organise for me but all I really wanted to do was relax. They offered lunch which for some reason I declined and instead Alexander nipped me round the corner on his motorbike to, yes, a chicken joint. I finally bought myself a Spanish English dictionary and feeling invincible and no longer having to mime being a chicken – arms flapping and clucking, I somehow ended up with a plate of rice and chips! Oh well, so much for that.

I'm a long way from town, but, apparently, I can raise one finger and flag down a “collectivo” taxi, cram myself in and get in to town for 50p. Even so, I'm staying in the equivalent of Hounslow or some such backwater. Never mind; a nap and coffee (my little stove top is just SO useful), I asked where I could buy a beer. Alexander seemed alarmed that I would walk there on my own – this is a street away, and off I went. There are people everywhere, sitting on their porches and verandas, music playing, men with donkey carts wandering by and boys on bicycles selling that weird rice milk drink of Oaxaca. One man, black as jet, pushing a wheelbarrow saw me coming and I must have looked as weird to him as he did to me and he just said “Wow!” We smiled and I walked on, to the shop. The only thing I know in Spanish, apart form “I love you very much”, (it might come in handy...) is dos cervezas por favor and for the first time since I've been here, I got the chance to say it! Obviously, mistaking me for someone who could actually speak Spanish, he said something back to me and as if my magic (there's that old Marquez seeping into everything), Alexander was by my side, saying that what I wanted, was Colombian beer – of course I did! And all for 75p for two! Things were looking up. So he whisked me back on his motorbike, hair blowing in the wind with no helmets but not before he took me past his grand parents house and then his uncle's, tooting his horn and everyone waving. I, apparently, am like some exotic creature flown south for the winter (which is, of course, exactly what I am) never seen before in this locale...

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

This month's top TEFL blogs

March is almost over, shame, shame. So let's finish it off with some decent TEFL blogs.

Photo by Wajahat Mahmood
Teaching in Saudi
Fancy some big bucks while teaching English, or it is a myth? Have a look at this blog on The Teacher Port Blog with a decent insight into TEFL in Saudi Arabia.

Movies in class 
I watched the Truman show in class a month back, great film for getting your students thinking about life. Wish I'd had these activities as a follow up though, check out this Present perfect with Truman lesson.

TEFL myths
TEFL salaries are notoriously pants, unless you work a load of overtime it's not easy to get by and save cash. Check out this blog by Sharon on TEFL tips about TEFL salary myths.

Listening with Oxford University
Fancy practising some authentic listening in class? Then check out this lesson plan based on a tour of Oxford University on ELT Experiences.

How to keep your money safe while on a GAP year
Wish I'd read this before my travels, but not sure all of it would have counted 10 years ago, god that makes me sound like an old fart. Anyway, check out some decent tips about keeping money safe on GAP Year Escape.

Adios...

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Intrepid Den: Bogota rocks but with an EARTHQUAKE, not music!

Here's the next entry by Intrepid Den where she is now in Bogota. Gotta have balls to go there alone!

Three in 30 years, and I get to feel it – welcome to Bogota! I arrived at night on a totally civilised flight from Mexico City. On arrival, all I wanted to do was have a cigarette but as soon as I walked towards the door, a big moustachioed man took me by the arm, took my huge bag by the handle and started leading me off. I've been told, I've read – never get in anything other than an official taxi. We were half way to his car, him flashing his “tourist” badge at me when I just said NO! I'm not sure if it was because I was desperate to smoke and wasn't interested in going ANYWHERE right that minute, but he took my massive declaration of non-participation seriously and just turned around, with massive bag, and walked me back and put me in a taxi. “I want to smoke first”, I almost screamed (OK, I'm addicted, but this was getting on for 8 hours!), the taxi driver just said, “it's OK to smoke in the taxi.”! Welcome to Columbia. It didn't even matter that he had no idea where he was going, and obviously, neither did I, I was happy. The address seemed to be missing a number, but when we pulled up outside the address which looked exactly like the photo on Airbnb, there was Marcela to greet me!

She helped me in with my bag to a wonderful big airy, tiled floor lounge, scattered with cushions rugs and hammocks, she helped me up the varnished wooden stairs onto the varnished wooden landing and she helped me into my room which is lovely but has bars on the windows – but that doesn't mean it's dangerous (does it?). She made me some coffee and took me out into the garden so that I could smoke (again) and I was aware that all around the roof was barbed wire – but that doesn't mean it's dangerous either (does it?).
Marcela, my host for 3 days, is a university lecturer, she's lived in Germany and speaks English and she is really sweet. She just wants her guests to enjoy themselves. I thought I was the only one staying here, but there is a German girl and a Dutch man – I got talking to him and his ENGLISH friend, who is a journalist and who just up and left to live in another country and report on crime, health and music(!). The Dutch man, Bram, said he'd walk me into town in the morning. And so after talking with Marcela and turning down her offer to go to the market at 6am, I retired to my room, put a super huge furry blanket on my bed – it's COLD and then I broke open the duty free brandy...

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Novel Spain: All you need is love, try being an expat, and Spanish dog poo

Here's the latest on what's going down on my other blog, A Novel Spain.

Miss Bangkok, but not as much as I used to...
Photo by Mike Behnken
Book Excerpt: Meet the Sister
If you hadn't noticed by now I have written a travel literature book based on a TEFL adventure around the world. For a peek at an excerpt when I arrived in Thailand then have a look at the latest book excerpt: Meet the Sister.

Why you should try being an expat
I reckon that everyone should at least try living abroad, feeling the pressure of the unknown, and learning how to order beer in a foreign language. If you're thinking of becoming an expat and need some persuading then have a look at this blog titled: Why you should try being an expat.

Dog crap in Sevilla
If you've lived in Spain, or even just visited, then it's more than likely than you've trod in Spanish dog turds. Why though? What is the problem with this country and people leaving their dog waste for other people to take home with them, or leave traces of it on their doormats? To find out more about what I think have a look at who, who, who, who, who, won't clean their dog crap?

All you need is love...and a dictionary
I guess I'm an old romantic at heart really. For a run down on why I became an expat for love, then have a look at this post titled: All you need is love, and a dictionary.

That's all for this month.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Intrepid Den: Mexico City!

Here's the latest guest post by Intrepid Den in Mexico City.

The Massiosare El Hostel, for all it's shabbiness and four flights of stairs, serves breakfast! And I was there, at 9am for really good coffee, pastries, which I shouldn't eat (all those food allergies), and fruit. I got talking to an American man who used to work in “finance” but who has since probably opted out. He told me just how great he thought Mexico was and I agree. Yes, it has it's poverty, but the streets are clean, it feels safe albeit, there are policemen and security guards everywhere – even in the 7/11 stores, the fridge doors holding the beer are kept locked(!) and there are no beggars.

So I started walking and I walked and I walked and I walked, heading into town to the Zocola which is the biggest city square apart from Tianamen in China and Red Square in Moscow. The streets are old ones, lined with colonial buildings, some in need of repair and some not. There are tiny shops selling all sorts and street stalls selling everything from nuts and sweets to watches and shirts for that very special occasion. And there are huge great trucks delivering Coca Cola as if it is the greatest thing on earth and here in Mexico, you would think it was. Everyone drinks it.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Intrepid Den: The Circus Comes to Mazunte!

Here's dairy entry number 3 from Intrepid Den's travels in South America.

San Augustinillo
After three days in my paradise room, I had to move out for two nights as it was booked to someone else. The unfeasibly good looking Fabian (who is married to the really sweet girl in reception who wasn't that impressed when I commented on his good looks), told me I could leave some things with him so that I didn't have to lug everything with me – good idea. But even so, when I left, it still weighed a ton. He'd booked another room for me and told me to just climb the steps. Steps. I was reminded of arriving in Vaschist high in the Himalayas and having to climb “steps” which turned out to be huge great boulders and, had Sherpa Tensing been there, even he would have baulked. These steps weren't quite as bad, but when I arrived at the Posada Recinto del Viento, looking wild eyed and exhausted, no one told me I looked cute. They just sat me down, gave me cold lemonade and once I'd recovered, the lovely Aline showed me around.

If only I could attach photos to this because my room looks remarkably like the photo of my shed. This house is hand built, it's made from brick and bamboo and has a palm leaf roof and no windows. It is wide open to the elements – the breeze zephyrs through, the ocean crashes below and its so at one with the surrounding nature, it might as well have grown there. It is beautiful! The couple – Aline and Miguel have been building it for 17 years and they also belong to nature. The house is full of colour and has a little shower room hewn from rock and a little kitchen that I can use – the lunacy of bringing my own stove top coffee pot doesn't seem quite so ridiculous now! And still in awe of everything, a woman appeared with a hawser of grey hair plaited to her waist, gloving brown skin, an aura of tranquility AND she speaks English! She's Canadian (aren't they all) but this one is different. She's French speaking, travelled all over the world taking photos and now she's here, having driven down the thousands of miles for some karmic sun.

We instantly liked one another. She had that easy feel about her and reminded me of the German Baroness, Carla, I'd become friends with in India – they even wore the same moccasins! She said she was going to walk into Mazunte and did I want to go – of course I did! I hadn't had a good conversation in days and so we set off in the blazing heat (sun-creamed up of course – me not her – she's the colour of good coffee) for the next town along. Ten years ago, Mazunte, my nephew Barry told me, was a small town with a couple of cabanas on the beach. Not now it's not. It's like a proper little town and it's full of young people who've opted for a different life style. Who knows how the word spreads? But they're here from all over Mexico and Europe. One girl who sells the equivalent of cheese straws on the beach, comes from Benecasim which is like the Glastonbury of Spain i.e. it has a music festival rather than a Tor, and she said that she didn't want to raise her kids wanting all the rubbish things that comes with living in the West – computer games etc etc etc. And her look was one of sheer calm and reverence for the life she now found herself living and they all seem to be like that. My new friend Adree says that if everyone who felt disenfranchised united and said we are not going to vote for any party, then things would have to change. These people have voted with their feet and just simply walked away. They are lithe, lean, taut and tanned. They have bright white eyes and they have bright white smiles. They are uncontaminated by the consumer disease of the West. They don't really drink or smoke cigarettes – they just seem to have a real empathy with the Earth and nature and they exude happiness, tranquility and confidence. Wonderful!

So we wandered to the little beach, which isn't as good as “our” beach in San Agustinillo – the waves are smaller and it's cramped. As if by magic, she just happened to have a little something with her which we smoked and the whole day took on a totally new direction. We talked about everything, shifting on tangents as diverse as snowflakes. I just couldn't believe my luck – only yesterday, I was wondering how much time I could spend on my own listening to other people and here I was with an exceptional, fascinating person who was as interested in talking as I was. She comes from a place
called Nelson in British Columbia which sounds like possibly the best place to live in Canada – I presume my Canadian friends have heard of it?

So there we were, sitting in the shade working up a thirst when she suggested we get a Mojito from the best rum stall in town. Was I hearing right? Was my new friend seriously suggesting we go and get a drink in the middle of the afternoon – I was there like a shot (of rum) and by god was it good. It must have been getting on for a litre, cold as Christmas and as strong as Samson – eureka!

We could see the circus beginning to set up so got ourselves prime positions at the front of the stage. This is a Circe de Loleil type circus rather than one with animals, and the performers, like the dreadlocked, tattooed people of the town, came from all over Europe and Mexico. There were clowns although without a word of Spanish to my credit, the words which accompanied their performance was lost but the trapeze and the juggling wasn't (damn – I should have brought my clubs...). The school brass band kicked off first and it was so traditional. A bloody big tuba umpa umpaing, trumpets, trombones and saxophones and they were so proud and happy to be playing there for all the strangers (in both senses of the word) and then the mayor did a little speech. I almost wanted him to be in full military regalia replete with epaulets but maybe those days are gone.

And then the sun set and the lights went up, the insects came out and with no super duper chemical deet to rub on, I was eaten alive and in the end we had to walk back (in the pitch black) with only a low crescent moon, once again, hung like a hammock and a million stars to light our way. When we finally reached “home” we bought a couple of beers, had more smoke, gassed for an hour or so and then we retired – her to her ground floor room and me up the twisting wooden stairs, again in the dark, wondering how I'd ever find my way and not break my neck. I finally found the light switch (not on the wall where you might expect it...) found my way in through my mosquito net, lay down on my bed and contemplated the stars through the opening in the wall (no glass), listened to the cicadas croaking to one side and the slam of the pacific to the other and realised that what I'd thought was paradise (a beautiful room in a beautiful land) wasn't – this was – having someone to communicate with on every level in perfect surroundings. The other thought I had was that as we wondered the streets, lots of people were smiling at us in a sort of admiring and reverential way and it suddenly occurred to me that what we are, to them, are a couple of attractive women who have also been sleeping on beaches and embracing this life, long before they were born and here we are, in the same place at the same time, leading an alternative life too. All that, and it was still only 9.30 and as I listened to the waves, it sounded like a piano player running his/her fingers over the keys to disappear into the distance and then begin all over again. The ocean is such a scintillating sound to fall asleep to!

Monday in Pochutla is market day. Normally it's a dusty little town that you only go to if you need a bank but today, farmers from all over, crowd into town, set up their stalls and offer their goodness from beetroots the size of your head, spring onions the size of light bulbs, pineapples as bounteous and ornate as a Mayan palace, radishes the size of a heart, those big yellow chickens as in Oaxaca city and a coffee stall which grinds brown and black beans to a powder of fine aromatic intoxication. I bought some of each. The people are small and compact although mixed in, are a small number of taller ones and even blondes. Apparently, in Mexico city, the population is so diverse in its ethnicity, that blondes are not uncommon now. So we loaded up bags and then I loaded up my belly with yet more rotisserie chicken and then disaster! Adree miss stepped and twisted her foot. As if by luck, a fellow Quebecois had come with us and he now took over, fetching the car etc., and I know it's not very considerate, but all I could think was “Oh no, don't tell me we won't get to the booze shop!” Are all Canadians calm in a crisis? We got to the shop, and I loaded up there too …

Immobile, there's not been a lot of movement here in paradise for the last few days. Personally, being bone idle, that doesn't bother me a bit. So instead of going for long walks and to the circus every night as we'd planned, what we do instead, is head down the steps to the beach, she sits with her foot in the surf whilst I dash off and crash through the waves and in between, we talk. She told me that Mexicans don't really swim in the sea – they prefer pools or lagoons. I couldn't imagine why, with a huge great ocean, this would be true. And then I looked – the waves are so big, as a child you could never withstand it – you'd be mown down like skittles and simply dragged out to sea. She also told me that when she was living in a little village in Africa, the town hall – basically a mud hut with a palm leaf roof, was deliberately made low so that no one could stand up straight and dominate the meeting – could you imagine, say, the House of Commons if they all had to sit and crouch and discuss rather than swaggering and thumping lecturns?

When the sun gets too hot, we head for the shade, smoke a little something pure and strong and then we head for one of the bars along the beach just out of the sun's rays and we'll either have a coconut water which is literally, the top sliced off of a coconut with a little straw pushed through which, when we've finished, they chop in half and give back to us to eat, or we have a cold beer or we have a mojito. It is so nice not to have to make too many decisions and simply what to drink, being the main one of the day.

So, then in the shade, we swap stories of our lives – she was Miss Automobile of Canada which is like being Miss Earls Court Car Show – she'd be the good looking model draped over the bonnet of the most expensive car. She's also had exhibitions of her photographs and art work all over Canada – I've seen them and they are spectacular. She read my tarot cards for me and it all makes sense – she's like one of those earth mothers who has seen the light.

After two nights up at the “Special House of the Wind”, I was back down the steps to the Paloma once more. It is just as beautiful as I remembered and it was like going home. I like being sociable but like everyone else, I presume, we all need our own space and at the other place, it is the home of a family and it FEELS like the home of a family. I was welcomed back by everyone, which was sweet and then a really weird thing happened. We (me and the Canadians of before) all started to talk, about books and god knows what, and I had a really great time! Funny how first impressions can be (and often are) entirely wrong. Don't judge a book by it's cover, we are told, but if we didn't, why do publishers spend so much money getting the cover right? God knows what they thought of me at first – god knows what anyone makes of me at first, but we all changed our minds that night and when I finally left, we hugged! Also, when I finally left, I had been wondering what my bill would be??? I was supposed to leave an online review for them but thought I'd wait to see if I'd been charged for breaking the window (and a glass). Nothing! I was so happy that hadn't blamed the damage on me even though it was entirely my fault... I used their wi fi one last time, had more hugs (!) and headed up the steps one last time. My room now is at the front of the house. It's still totally open to the elements but only has the breeze from the ocean rather than the dust from the hills.

So what's San Agustinillo like? Seventeen years ago, it was just a fishing village with a road running behind the beach and a small crop of houses climbing up the hill behind. That is essentially what it still is but with more houses/guest houses rambling further up the hill, and cafes and restaurants along the beach with the odd cabanas, some luxurious, some not, dotted all over the place. Mostly, it's either fish or chicken, Italian, French or Mexican with even a vegetarian place. Basically, it's a wholesome town, with wholesome people (apart from me...) and lights are quite literally, out by 10pm. The villagers seem to all have a market garden with ducks, chickens and all sorts of fruits and vegetables growing and there's one little school that the lovely Aline began when her daughter needed one. People say they hope it won't get too big and thus ruined but there is one crucial issue – fresh water. There isn't enough. So like all those ancient abandoned cities strewn across the earth for lack of water, this is one town that can't get any bigger. It's only when I think about the limitations of the simple need for drinking water, that I realise that Canada, with all of it's fresh water, will be the last inhabitable place on earth and they'll be mounting the stockades in the not too distant future. When I told Adree this, she laughed. But I'm not joking...

Anyway, after spending yesterday morning back in the dusty old town of Pochutla, getting her foot x-rayed in a hospital with toilets as filthy as the restaurants (in Mexico, NEVER presume anyone has washed their hands...), we know it's not broken so there is a chance that we may drive together back to Oaxaca in her car; me to catch my plane to Mexico City, and her to sight see. As if by magic, we both suggested it at the same time. If it happens, it might be like a Thelma and Louise type of adventure except without the dead bodies and the cliff hanger of an ending...

Other than that, it's the little girl's birthday here at the house in the wind and her entire family seems to have arrived, so rather than being like a hotel/guest house, it is more like a crowded airport lounge in a 3rd world country, with people everywhere, one bathroom for all 12 of us, scorpions and boa constrictors in the garden and bugs the size of bats. Which just goes to prove, you can't have everything!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Intrepid Den: Oaxaca to the Puerto Escondido

Here's the 2nd diary entry of Intrepid Den as she travels on from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. 

Day 3

Oaxaca to the Puerto Escondido

            At 10am, I boarded the bus with my super new huge bag and began the 250 mile journey south to the Pacific Ocean.  I was just thinking how much Mexico reminded me of India, when we pulled into a town which had the same 3 wheeled tuk tuk taxis.  If it wasn't for the music, Mexico and India would be very similar – the same poverty, the same desperate street sellers along the road, the same skinny forlorn cows, donkey and goats grazing on the side of the road and the same absolutely appalling roads!  There are pot holes everywhere which slows the traffic to a crawl and then, for some ludicrous reason, there are speed humps – can you imagine speed humps on the M1???
            So I settled down for what was supposedly a 7 hour journey (how was that possible to cover 250 miles?) and suddenly I wished I'd had a pee before we left.  No matter, I was sure we'd stop for lunch but no – it was as if our macho driver was on a mission to prove that he could drive for 7 hours without a pee!  Thankfully, the weaker of us demanded a stop or two and he looked at us as if we were failures – never mind that he got out and peed too...
            And so the Sierra Madre.  It just goes on and on and on and on.  Just when you think that you must be descending, up you go again, hour after hour and this is just a two lane road where overtaking should be banned but isn't.  Luckily our driver wasn't a complete maniac and finally, we arrived at the little seaside town of Puerto Escondido.  We were unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road and once again, I got out my mighty Rough Guide to Mexico and approached a burly policeman with a very curiously shaped and very long thumb nail(?) and pointed at the map thinking he'd understand that I wanted to know where I was and he'd just point it out.  No.  So I looked at my language section in the back of the guide and said
“donde este?”  Why I said that I don't know because he began to tell me in such earnest I didn't have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he was saying and just nodded and motioned “right at the next corner”, said “muchos gracias” and smiled.  He smiled back with the obligatory gold tooth and off I went with my unfeasibly heavy bag. 
            I don't know how hot it was but after a few yards, I was pouring sweat like a cartoon character.  I was hot.  I was real hot.  The pavement was full of high kerbs and steps and no place for a three stone bag on wheels.  Why I didn't get a cab, I don't know – well I do, it would be the old budget thing again, never mind if I lost another wheel or 2...  I came across 2 completely stoned dudes and asked if they spoke English and to my utter relief they did and gave me directions.
            When finally I arrived at my hostel, I may have been delirious with heat and moisture loss but managed to garble that I had a reservation.  The young man who looked remarkably like Antonio Banderas (good) asked why I hadn't called ahead and he'd have picked me up.  Words literally failed me.  He told me how pretty I was (it must have been my wild expression) and offered to carry my bag and physically buckled under the weight of it.  He lent it against the wall, it fell over and almost broke the gate.  We both looked at this gargantuan bag and probably thought the same thing – what the hell has she got in there?  Anyway, there was no way either of us was going to lug it up a flight of stairs and so he put me in the only ground floor room he had – never mind that it had 2 double beds and is clearly designed for 4.  We simply didn't care!  He dumped the bag in the room, gave me the key and I headed straight for a cold shower.  They never have hot water ever, ever, ever.  But this time they did – unbelievable but who cared.  I washed 3 days of grime off and prepared for the next leg of my adventure.
           
I was only supposed to stay for 2 nights but I just knew I needed longer.  The Italian owner, Mario, said that I could stay as long as I liked and we got talking.  What a legend!  He's 75 but looks way younger, was sent to military school in England when he was 9, studied architecture and a the age of 23 went to Benin as an engineer and built a water purification plant with absolutely no experience and it just went from there, working all over Africa, getting caught in wars and god knows what and surviving.  He is one of those people who are totally full of outrageous but true stories and we talked the night away – he didn't even mind me slipping out to buy a bottle of very warm wine – he did however think I was insane to drink it – serve at “room temperature” has a totally different meaning in the 40 degree heat of Mexico...
            In the morning I went in search, as always, of coffee – and found it at, of all things, an Italian coffee shop!  The town, like all towns in boiling hot places, is all painted white and rises up into the surrounding hills.  It's full of little shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, all wonderfully painted but which will not fit in my bag.  It's fairly empty at this time of year except for lots of Canadians,  They come down from the freezing cold and stay for the winter.  One such creature, replete with straw hat, gnarled countenance and very blue eyes happened to be sitting next to me and so we got talking.  Maybe I'm lucky in encountering such interesting people or maybe I just choose the people who look the most interesting because he was also incredible – a sailor who was caught in a hurricane – 40 foot waves crashing through the windows and nearly capsizing the boat, a worker in a chicken factory – he said KFC modify their chicken so much it doesn't have feathers anymore and they can't even call it “chicken”.  That's right folks, coming to a table near you...
            I meant to go to one of the many beaches, but got talking to Mario again and once the beer started flowing, I wasn't going anywhere!  We talked all afternoon until it was dark but I got the feeling that he was like a seaside town at the end of the season when everyone has gone and suddenly, there is no purpose.  His wife died 6 years ago and without her, he feels pointless but I maybe managed to cheer him up and promised to write a new blurb for his hostel listing..  There isn't really much to do at night other than eat – fried everything with rice salad and of course tacos and no matter that I now know how to say “no tacos”, they still turn up wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm.  But no matter, with my warm wine, my super laptop and cable TV, I remembered that there is nothing that I like to do more than write – hence this blog!
            Day 3 and I was determined to get to the beach so slathered tinted body lotion over my very white body thinking it would give it a helping hand also confident that the sun factor of 15 would be enough... 

            I walked to Zicatelle beach where the waves are so powerful, it sounds like a jet fighter flying overhead.  This is home to the famous Mexican Pipeline – waves so big that you can surf through the tubes, and wondered if it was safe to swim.  I was reminded of my favourite film when Robert Duvall says “If I say it's safe to surf this beach, it's safe to surf this beach”  (name that film).  I asked a surfer if it was safe to swim and he looked at me as if I was mad.  He went into great detail about the undertow, how a wave could come from nowhere and knock me over and I'd be disorientated and would have to hold my breath until I figured out which way was up, and how people drown all the time and how he wouldn't take his daughter there and that really, I'd be much better off going around the headland to the safer beaches.  I went in anyway and it was GREAT!  The waves were huge knocking me over, dragging me under and spitting me out, time after rollicking time.  I hadn't seen waves that big since a couple of days prior to a hurricaine hitting palm beach when the lifeguards were practically begging me not to go in. 
            Ragged and happy, I lay down to sunbathe with 2 things I hadn't noticed – 1, I had two indiscriminate logs of sand in my bikini bottoms which probably looked more like something else and 2, the surf had washed off all my rubbishy sun tan lotion.  So there I lay, baking in the baking heat, and along came a young man who waded into the surf, pulled his T shirt up a la James Dean and started to pull on his todger!!!  I wasn't sure I was seeing it right but there he was, wagging it at me and grinning!  It seemed like time to go and it was just as well, because by the time I'd walked back to the hostel, my legs were as red as my very red bag – oh how I laughed.. I was reminded of the Russians in Goa who would lie on the beach the colour of the whitest dinner plate and leave the colour of raw beef.  My skin was so hot, you could fried eggs on them.
            Weirdly, that didn't put the Antonio Banderas look alike receptionist off – he thought it was “cute” and asked if he could take me to the beach on his day off – the following day.  Why not, I thought, I didn't have anything else to do.  So moving swiftly on, he took me to the beach practically opposite for a swim.  He's quite a sweet bloke but clearly wanted more from me than I wanted to give and really all I wanted to do, was body surf.  So there he was, treading water and serenading me(?), when a huge wave would crash over him and I'd turn and be hurled off into shore on the wave, leaving him bobbing about with a surprised look on his face.  He kept asking me for a “hoog”, yep, you've guessed it – a hug, telling me that he had a son but was divorced and trying to do the right thing and how happy he'd be if I let him take me out to dinner.  Hoog or not, I thought, why not – I really haven't got anything else to do.
            Turns out that he is divorced but has since remarried – to the cook at the hostel who had seem him fawning over me!  Unbelievable!  So, my last night in Puerta Escondido was again spent in the excellent company of super Mario and some rather good Mexican Brandy which travels a lot better than the wine does!

            And so after 4 days in Puerto Escondido, I once again loaded up my enormous bag, gave Mario a huge hoog and set off up along the road to wave down a bus, pay the equivalent of £1.70 and headed off the 50 miles to San Agustinillo. 

SAN AGUSTINILLO

            Three of us got off at the abandoned, dusty crossroads and shared a taxi along the dirt track into the tiny town.  They were German girls from Hamburg who, of course, spoke perfect English.  I had already booked at the Posada Paloma and they too came into see if there was a room – there wasn't – the circus is coming to the next town, Mazunte, and everything is booked – thank god I'd planned ahead!  And so I was taken to my room and what a beautiful room!  Mosquito nets draped around the bed, tiled floors, ceiling fan, little desk and chair and even somewhere to hang all of my clothes and by god have I got a lot...  I don't think I've been as happy with a room since my one in the fort in Jaisalmeer in Rhajasthan.

            The weirdest thing is though, everyone here seems to be retired Canadians.  Apparently, the next towns either side are the party towns – Dixie, the lady in the next room said they're all right if you like dread locks and tattoos and I thought, yep, they're my type of towns.  I think they will be more like Goa and Dixie even said that they are full of hippies who came in the 60's – exactly like Goa...  I am only booked here for 3 days and just know, once again, that this is a room I want to spend more time in, so I spoke to the ladies in reception and they said they'd see what they could do.  Later, an unfeasibly good looking young man told me that I go and stay in his house for an unfeasibly enormous price but when I said it was too much, he said he'd find me something else for 2 days and then I could come back here.  Dixie said “didn't you tell him you're really good company?” - I didn't realise I was up for sale...  So out for a walk along the beach and I am astonished at just how beautiful it is.  Palm trees swaying, a steep beach with the obligatory waves pounding around the bay and little cafes and restaurants hiding in the shade .  And everyone is so friendly! I've been holaing all evening.  I even found a vegetarian restaurant – not that I'm a vegetarian but by god could I do with a salad and that's exactly what I had – a veritable mountain of goodness with quinoa all washed down with (back in my room) lashings of brandy.  Oh, how I like it here!

            The following day, I set out for a swim.  Taking no chances, I dressed in factor 30 sun cream and headed across the road to the beach.  Weirdly, the waves are bigger here than they were on the “surfer” beach I'd left behind, but maybe it's just the time of year.  The beach is made up of little bays, broken by rocky outcrops,  little fishing boats lined up on the beach and condors circling silently above on the warm airy thermals..  It is lined with little restaurants crouched in the shade, none of which has any menus, and at night, little light.  Never mind.    I found a bay with pounding waves and other swimmers (you can't be sure there aren't rip tides...), dumped my stuff and waded in.  The waves were huge!  It reminded me of when me and my brother Sean were little kids and we'd swim like dolphins in waves too big and seas too rough for our own good, but survived.  This was similar!  I felt like a piece of tumbleweed, being hurled, rolled, dragged under and finally spat out on the shore.  When the waves break, it is like a liquid avalanche; deafening, fierce, unstoppable and totally wild.  I loved it and must have been in for an hour until the skin on my fingers looked like prunes.  And It's a good job I like swimming so much, because there isn't much else to do...

            I wonder what I expected?  Somewhere like Goa I suppose where I could live happily on £10 a day for everything including an awful lot of drink...  (There's that old budget again.)  But it's not like that.  People, mostly Canadians, come here to get out of the cold and do here pretty much what they would do at home – nothing.  I have Canadian friends who are an exception to this (Tannis, Keith and Shelagh) but the one's here are the type who iron their shorts, polish their leather belts, eat and sleep – very early.  Weird.  And to prove this point, I got talking to a Canadian in a restaurant who came from Quebec and it was like wading through custard.  I was sure I was asking interesting questions about architecture, culture, language, heritage etc and he just didn't animate.  In the end, I gave up, ate so much chilli sauce I swear it's coming out of my eyes, left and just went back to my room where at least I didn't have to try to talk to anyone.  Instead, I did some reading, writing and of course, some drinking.  When all the lights were out, I headed to the bathroom and closed my door to stop  bugs getting in.  As soon as I heard the final click of the door, I knew I'd made a mistake – yes, I'd locked myself out!!!
            What was I to do?  I tried to jimmy the window frame off  with a tiny coin I'd found on the floor so that I could reach around the mosquito gauze but all I managed to do was break a piece of the wood off.  Luckily, I could still hear movement in the next room so tentatively knocked the door.  “Dixie” came out and on hearing my plight, was keen to help – this was EXCITEMENT!  So armed with her knife, which also didn't work, and then her torch, we wandered around the deserted, dark, reception looking for help and finding none.  She asked if I had a phone and she could ring the unfeasibly good looking man (Fabian) – yes, I do have a phone – in my room...  In the end, she lent me a sheet and pillow from their spare bed – she even offered to let me sleep in it but it all seemed too much like a sit- com – the three of us saying good night like in The Waltons with a little harmonica beep at the end, and so I went and slept outside in a hammock, cocooned in the sheet to stop me getting eaten alive by bugs and that's where I laid until Ramos, the so called night receptionist, burst through the door like a rampant bear, filled his rucksack with cold beer from the fridge (!???) and seing me as some sort of apparition, let me back into my room.
            This morning I appealed for clemency, forgiveness, understanding and sympathy and got all 4 – apparently, Ramos should have been there and it was all HIS fault.  Obviously I was happy to go along with that one... Who knows what tonight will bring but tomorrow, the circus is coming to town at the next beach along.  I almost wonder if I should have brought my juggling clubs with me but realise that would have been even more insane that bringing the 6 pairs of shoes in varying degrees of sophistication; from my old worn out mocassins, to the fancy gold ones, to the stilettos which I only envisage wearing in New York and maybe Bogota, Cartagena and Mexico City and ONLY to get in and out of taxis or in my even wilder fantasy, limos – oh how I live in dreams!
            I will of course, let you know.  So for now, it's over and out from a place in Paradise.