What is the sound of one boob clapping?

Very distracting…that’s what.

When you’re on a horse down on the beach, jungle on one side, and the sea on the other, you expect to hear lots of nature.  What you don’t expect to hear is the (disconcerting) sound of one boob clapping as you trot / canter back on the last ride of your trip.  Honestly, things that go through your head – ‘Why is it just the one?’, ‘How come it’s just the one?’, ‘If this keeps on it’ll have stretched and be down by my ankles’, ‘Can anyone else hear that?’, ‘Thank god, it’s just me, Shawna and two horses, so no-one else can get scared away’, ‘Please make it stop’, ‘Next time I’m wearing a better bikini top…actually, no, I’ll wear a sports bra and swim in that, no, I’ll just duct tape everything down’….

Still, it had been worth it, and took my mind off my ankle being rubbed raw by the stirrup – my own fault for being in cropped jeans. We had headed over to Esterillos Oeste, further south down the coast, for lunch and then the final ride of the trip.  Esterillos Oeste is home to a lot of ex-pats with a love of the golf cart, in order to get around.  Costa Rica does attract a lot of the retirees from North America who aren’t always the steadiest on their lower limbs, either that, or they are attempting to recreate life on a golf course, without golf clubs, a green or holes.

The beach was pretty empty, being a week day, and the tide was heading out toward the random giant mermaid statue away from the shore.  No-one seems to know when, how or why she’s there, and I seem to have forgotten what a camera is as I didn’t take any photos.

The horses turned up and today I was on the lovely Banjo.  Lovely most of the time, till it came to trotting, at which point he was very intent on ensuring that Shawna’s horse, the beautiful boy ‘Saffy’ wasn’t getting ahead of himself and taking the lead, so he’d cut him up or try and steer him toward the sea.  Banjo also seems to love seawater, particularly drinking it, and was all up for heading into the surf for a paddle and a slurp.

Whilst the horses waited to be saddled up they grazed on the spikiest tree I’ve ever seen.  You could see where it had been nibbled at before.  As long as there was an element of green attached to it, the horses would give it a fair old go.

Looking like butter wouldn’t melt….
Ouchy-ouch nibble-age
Even Banjo is going for it, thorny bark stripped bare

Apart from a lady laid out under a tree having a rummage (in a plastic bag on her stomach), the beach was deserted. Or so we thought.  Turns out all the hermit crabs were out for a get together.  Watching them, they were all headed in the same direction for a crab pow-wow, who knows what was going down.

Heading out for that crab pow-wow

We drew up for a halt, in order to have a dip in the sea, my first one since the morning we had gone to Manuel Antonio with the Epic Self gang.  It was beautifully calm and the sea was warm and still.  Shawna and me just floated about, getting shrivelled, chit chatting, watching the horses eating palm leaves in the shade of the trees.  What a way to end the week.

We’d spent a lot of time in the water, so had to hurry up to get back, so the horses could be loaded up and get back to the farm before dark, hence the speeding up and the resulting being let down by the swimwear.  However we made it back in time and after a quick photo op to prove I had actually ridden an equine they were safely back in their transport and us humans headed out for a final dinner at Los Almendros in the village.  Yummy food to top off a great day.

The last ride of the week – thank you Banjo and all at Discovery.

The whole week has been a real experience of spending time, not just with horses, but with two amazing big hearted people in Rod and Shawna.  They had taken on the task of hanging out and entertaining a random.  They have no idea who they’re going to get, and they couldn’t have been any more friendly and generous with their time, knowledge and friendliness.  Horses are amizzin’ and ‘umans are fab!

 

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I’m singing in the rain…

Maker Nature Reserve….or rather pottering about, without making anyone’s ears bleed.

Wednesday, half way through already? Lawks a mercy….Lunch had been so mahoosive the day before – a burrito that I’d excavated like a Neolithic barrow, taking the refried beans and rice innards out of, leaving the sagging tortilla heap on the side of my plate – that I skipped dinner, and had skipped out to the turtle tour instead. Even after all that walking I wasn’t hungry, and come Wednesday morning and a late start I wasn’t exactly starving but figured I’d need something for my constitution as today involved walking uphill….urgh…I get so rubbish at inclines when I’m away, no idea why, heat, low blood pressure, wrong food, being naturally inclined to being prone, and disinclined to slopes going uphill….I just don’t know.

Rod and Shawna met me and we went to Los Olas, my new favourite restaurant out of the 3 I sampled. In a One Road Town you had 5 one way, most of which were shut (or were pizza places and it’s a no go on the wheat right now) when I went exploring on my first day, and 5 t’other, and I just kept going back to t’other, as was t’closest. Breakfast was Huevos Rancheros, ooooo tasty. Went back there for them eggy puppies 3 times. After stuffing our faces we hopped in the car to head to the Rainmaker Nature Reserve practically in Quepos, and, like everywhere else, off the main road and down a dirt camina…which so far, has turned out to be pretty good, as there’s always a nice surprise at the end of them! The story of this place is unreal. A rice farmer needed to sell the mountain and a local guy, Mauricio Gutierrez, interested in conservation stepped in in order to preserve its natural beauty and continue to care for it as the farmer had done. Two days before the purchase was to be completed Mauricio drowned in one of the waterfalls on the site saving a child he had gone in the water to rescue. Mauricio’s widow and children arrived into Costa Rica for his funeral and seeing the reserve realised how important it had been to Mauricio. Two weeks later they had raised funding to purchase the mountain, and in August 1993 a new eco-tourism site was born, a haven for wildlife, fauna and flora with trails, and walkways across the site for visitors to explore.

Mahooosively long bridge
Mahooosively long bridge
Mahooooosive tree
Mahooooosive tree

The day itself was slightly overcast which was perfect for heading into the forest, and it was pretty quiet, we chanced on one couple as we meandered up the trail to take in the view. It was also pretty quiet on the wildlife front, I spotted a teeny tiny poison dart frog moving through the undergrowth and there were a number of tiny lizards out and about, but that was about it.

Poisonous Tree frog
Poisonous Tree frog
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If I stay perfectly still, they may not see me….
Lil' Lizard
Lil’ Lizard

It meant we could take in the sheer amount of greenery and diversity of plant life, and wonder at what was living in the various holes of differing sizes dotted all over the place. We wandered slow and steady over the trails, walking over suspension bridges designed to give you a sense of the scale and height of the forest and ended up at a viewing platform that looked all the way out to the ocean. Tranquilo for sure. More photos to follow as most were taken on my camera.

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The vista from the viewing point at Rainmaker

Descending we walked around till we came to a pool fed by a small but forceful flow of water, a nano waterfall. There were a few more people here but they were drying off and before long three of us remained. The water flow was intense, kind of ‘is my swimsuit tightly tied on’ kind of intense. Certainly was refreshing, and it kept you alert, making sure your pants weren’t going to come off.

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The pool at Rainmaker

As we left there, it started to spit with rain, turning into a more persistent downpour as we reached back to the beginning and a Tica lunch of rice and beans. It was another slightly overcast day in paradise.

The rest of the afternoon was mine, which meant I could laze about, so I did, and pretty successful at it I was too. It was a time to catch up and slow down (more, wasn’t even aware that was possible), have a nap, see another gorgeous sunset after a day one sunset that vanished behind cloud very quickly, skip dinner, as overfull, and also skip that evening’s turtle tour, due to some miscommunication / me not seeing the 6ft Costa Rican at the rendezvous site…. Turned out I also had the next morning free as we were due to ride the beach that day, but random camino closures meant we headed back to the farm for a ride instead, so as to avoid having horses standing in the traffic of a closed road for an indeterminate amount of time in the midday sun.

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The joy of another gratuitous sunset

Surf’s Up, horses are ready and the crocs are not for wearing!

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Sun going down…first night at the beach.

I had been booked into a gorgeous little hotel Tortuga Del Mar which is right on the beach at Playa Hermosa.  It is run by a German lady who came here 10years ago to construct the hotel and ended up staying to run it. It is super cute with a lovely garden, an iguana that comes to visit and a host of bird life passing through as well as a newly resident cat who is both noisy and nosey, coming in to sit in the wardrobe and sniff under the bed.

 

The numbers of Scarlet Macaws flying overhead is pretty impressive, and I saw 7 all together one morning heading out for the day. Meanwhile it is a birdwatchers paradise wherever you are. Monkeys have been a bit absent down here although there are troops up in the farm, where I’d be riding, apparently.

As well as surfers, turtles also come to the beach to lay eggs, 4 species visit throughout the year, with Olive Ridleys visiting at the moment, but also Leatherbacks (hugely in decline because they ingest plastic thinking it is their natural food, the jellyfish), Hawksbills and Pacific Greens.

The new owners of the Discovery Horseback Tours arrived at 7:15am to take me to breakfast at a restaurant just up the road. I ordered what’s turned out to be a disappointing random veggie omelette of cauliflower and carrot and cheese, the coffee just about got me through. I was super polite and very British about the food, didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Thankfully, the next two morning’s feasts have more than made up for day 1 disaster, and Shawna and Rod have been beyond hostess and host with the mostess and most.

The first two mornings we headed out to the farm where the horses are kept. They have all been rescued from one form of work or another. There is a lot of unauthorised tourist riding that goes on and the horses are not well kept, are overworked and treated poorly. Discovery rescues them, doesn’t use any bad practices and keeps the horses even beyond retirement so they can live out their lives without fear of becoming dog food. The mornings consisted of a couple of hours of riding (pootling, really, poifick for a noddy no nothing like me) out into the farm, into the forest and around. The farm is a mixture of virgin forest, forest planted about 20years ago, grassland, and pasture. Cows are kept there, for milking and a small cheese production takes place there too. It’s  been a farm since 1830, initially for the quinine trees that helped to treat malaria. As with a lot of Costa Rica, the owners Jose and Maria are climate conscious, and the couple trained at the Earth University, running the whole place in such a way as to ensure it is carbon neutral.

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The view from Merlin
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Spot the coati tails in the grass
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The farm forest

Missy, my day 1 horse was a bit of a lazy moo, wanting to stop and munch rather than actually do much walking. I was certainly learning patience, and who was actually the boss of me – yep, it was those big-eyed equine folk with hooves.

Missy
Soon disposed of the mouth cover which was to stop her grazing….

Shawna and me took the horses (or rather the horses took us) out into the forest and along the trail, past an old banana plantation, and bamboo and other trees, vines etc till we stopped for a snack and a full body covering of local volcanic clay, so we looked like slightly soggy avatars, before washing it off in a nearby little waterfall. It was really sweet, and the water was refreshing, then we mounted up and headed back for lunch at a little local restaurant for the Tico meal of rice, beans, mixed green veggies, and chicken. That was tasty.

At the jungle spa...
At the jungle spa…

To be honest I’d forgotten the whole set up of what I’d booked, so hadn’t realised there was also after riding events organised too. A handy itinerinarary was presented, so I could keep track (actually, so we could all keep track, Rod and Shawna have just taken on the business and have heaps of stuff to do, learn, keep a track of, as well as entertain this lump, it’s amazing what they are doing, full hats off to them).

So day 1 afternoon was Rod and me out for  Jose’s Crocodile Tour on the Torcales river. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was about spotting the birdlife, the crocodiles, of which there were many, and any other wildlife hanging out and about, such as crabs in the mangrove. Before we even boarded we got to see a little raccoon family that hung out by the reception and a hummingbird doing less humming and more resting up on a bush.

raccooons
This time they’re not stealing anything,

The birdlife was astounding, as was the damage you could see had been done by Storm Nate, mainly ragtag bits of plastic bags caught up in trees, but also some full on wreckage of houses and a restaurant.

The crocodiles are, like pretty much all the wildlife, protected. It was uncomfortable being so close to them, and more so when the captain of the boat got out to feed them (which wasn’t really necessary, we got close enough to see them without that spectacle of him being approached by a large snagged toothed reptile). A little Chinese lady on the boat was eyeing up one particularly large fella (crocodile, not a local) and asking if they were eaten in Costa Rica. She seemed disappointed at being told no, as I’m sure she was also figuring out the handbag to reptile ratio too.

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Not sure where she’s headed but looks pretty purposeful
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Apparently this is a bask of crocodiles….maybe a fang of crocs would be better?

Day 2 we went out, me on Merlin, another muncher but happy to keep going as he chewed, and Shawna on Pulvera. Pulvera had been practically falling asleep after being saddled up and had rested on my shoulder following a particularly enjoyable ear scratch (for her, not me). She perked up once out on the trail (perked up even more on the next ride…but that can wait).

 

Merlin loved to trot, he was hanging back, and hanging back from Pulvera, his ears would go back to me and off he’d go, trotting to catch up, then slowing down again to hang back and off again.  We went out across the farm, past the cheese factory, and into a huge field of grass, we were surrounded by forest, and it was so peaceful to be there amongst the scenery, and fauna, as birds flew by or hid in a tree as Shawna pointed ‘Toucan, there, in the tree, see it?’….’er nope, still no, and yes, I need my eyes tested’.

The horses don’t have bits in their mouths and there is no forcing them to do anything in an aggressive way. To get them to walk you kiss kiss and run your hand up their mane (that’s why their manes are cut short). To get them to stop you pull the reins a bit and breathe out. So simple, and Merlin was certainly more responsive, putting up with the numpty novice giving it all a go. I could see him getting confused when I wasn’t doing it right (e.g. most of the time), ‘what….you want me to go backwards, turn and walk on forward all at the same time?!??’. Matching the horses to personality and (lack of) ability really helped!

For my day 2 excursion I could choose what to do and settled on an evening turtle tour, with the Ronseal (does what it says on the tin) of Turtle Tours non-profits, Turtle Tours. It turned out to be less turtle and not really a tour, more a 3km hike down a pitch black grey-black sandy beach on an overcast night, then back again. Still, it was nice to be walking and learning about these amizzin’ creatures even if I was blind as a bat and to be using other leg muscles other than inner thighs. Also, when the cloud lifted you could see the stars so clearly, it was stunning.

Raul, my guide and an extremely converted and long term volunteer who patrols the beach every evening, looking out for poachers was a turtle expert, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He showed me where turtles had previously laid eggs, and how he had disguised one site to make it look as if it had been poached already. We also visited the government house where some eggs were relocated to and which are due to hatch. Each clutch only come out when all the eggs are ready, and temperature in the nest dictates sex of the turtles, the warmer it is then more females.

As I’d been unlucky to not see any turtles (it is coming to the season’s end for the Olive so no surprise really), I was invited back for a second attempt tonight but the communication was Costa Rican awry and last minute so it never happened, maybe tomorrow will be a better opportunity.20171212_171501_1513170874822_resized Gratuitous Sunset…every blog should have one!

A picture or six say a thousand words

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Out of sight, out the back of beyond…Waaaaay behind the camera. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Put your hands up..and hide behind Jonesy. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Wearing white, and feeling right uncomfortable – unaboob alert, unaboob alert. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Tingling to be mingling… still got dressed in the dark though. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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‘We are fahhhhhmileee, I got all my sisters, brothers and me’ Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Make you my family Dave…. Photo Tyler Reintmeister

I think these sum up the experience of the 5 days at the Epic Awakening Retreat really. Going from outsider to part of the group, a truly loving lil’ bunch of people, all there to seek answers to questions, to heal, to grow and to learn more about themselves. There was a lot of laughing, some tears, some vulnerability, and a whole heap of love and gratitude without the fromage. There were sick buckets though. I had not expected any of it (except the buckets) and that made it all so very worthwhile and I could not have asked for a better group to be around, and I thank the whole heartedly for having to put up with my initially grumpy old woman ways. Blame it on the hormones…

 

 

Pity party for one anyone?

The retreat was at Posada Natura, a centre overlooking the river, a seething brown mass of water. A storm came through a few weeks back and washed masses of rocks and stones downriver, ripping out the land as it went. Thus we were treated to the sweet sound of diggers moving stones back along the river to shore up the land as we sat for our first meal of the retreat. It was a reassuring sound for the centre as so much land had been damaged close by.

The river at Posada Natura
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The main entrance

Bedtimes were ridiculously early, by 8.20, not because we had to be but because I was on the struggle bus to keeping my eyes open. It meant waking at silly o’clock but having that quiet and time has been a real luxury on this holiday. My decent mattress obsession continued. After an initial ripple morning of stiff back from the mattress and then yoga at dawn to ease it, it was either keep being miserably stiff and carry on or improvise. So I doubled up on them, stealing the other bed’s mattress, thus becoming a pain-free princess without the pea-like rising loftily above the bed frame.

Day 2 was a full day proper and was about raising energy and getting aht into nature. ..innit. What this meant was me having a right grump on as we hiked for a owa up muddy tracks to waterfalls. It was huffing puffing work, and my default sweaty red-faced look swung back into action. As did my best Lil’ Miss Judgy brain…listening to the kids making friends, finding connections and good heavens, actually laughing (Although it was THE best laugh I’d heard in ages). Who were they kidding….? Grrrrrr….

This was a workout that needed a fry up to kickstart it, not a bloody fruit salad. On the plus side it was perfect weather to dehydrate on a hill, slightly overcast and not too hot.

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Beautiful ladies and beautiful brekkie

To be truthful, the food was pretty impressive. Breakfast was a homemade chia pudding, fresh fruit, usually papaya and pineapple, homemade granola and flavoured fresh coconut milk, as well as occasional warm food. Lunch and dinner would have a large leafy salad, amazing and innovative dressings made of beetroot, avocado, mango and the like, then warm foods, beans, lentils, veggies like the chayote, a light green squash, avocado shaped, broccoli etc.

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Salad, broccoli, cheyote, beans, and mixed veggies for lunch. Courtesy of Posada Natura

All were flavoured with spices and herbs so subtle, never overpowering just bringing out tastes in a fabulous way. Everything was used up, the leftovers appearing in soup, or made into fritters, empanadas or a new dish entirely. If you could eat like that every day you could easily be vegan. All that was missing was the coffee and I was missing the coffee too, well my head was, I had a stinker withdrawal headache which merely served to heighten my glorious mood I’d chosen to be in.

Somebody decided to brave the face that said ‘fuck off I’m trying to breathe’ and we started talking, or rather I panted out questions as we went. The South African had lived in London and we talked about home, her film making and her future project with the Dogon tribe in Mali. We spoke about her reasons for being at the retreat and Lil’ Miss Judgy brain also took a hike as I realised what an amazing woman she was with her film making and desire to share great stories of her home continent. Her film Soccer Grannies of South Africa is a wonderful story of strong African women, guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes!

Reaching the waterfall everyone pretty much got undressed and into the water. It looked so clear and pure, defiling it with my lardy pastiness would have been the wrong answer so I stayed put watching them dive in and a few of them braving the waterfall itself to climb higher up, to dive off. It really was a picturesque spot. But not picturesque enough to make me want to walk further up to the second waterfall, no thank you. I stayed put, stuffed with nori rolls and crudités.

Water, water everywhere. Every drop drinkable.

Walking back I managed to stay more toward the front of the group, I think being front loaded with the weight distribution helped as it acted like a wee be weight pulled me downhill. Leading the charge there and back had been the lithe golden skinned American who lives in Peru running her own medicine centre. Quiet and reserved but in a ‘with it ‘ contained and gentle way, and not my bristly (literally -lack of bathroom lighting meant my inner werewolf was channeling through my chin), feral ‘leave me alone or I’ll bite’ way.

Heading back we were lucky to see monkeys peering out of the forest, nibbling on bamboo shoots, and a solitary red macaw. They’re pretty rare now, having been poached to sell as pets, but this one seemed at home up in the tree.  The variety of wildlife is staggering, the birds, butterflies – we saw blue morphs butterflies with iridescent blue wings – difficult to photograph as when there wings are closed you only see a dull brown.

Macaw, he’s there honestly

I was also graced with the luck of seeing two more wild scarlet macaws fly into the trees outside the cafe in Manuel Antonio on my return, as well, as see and hear two noisy toucans who hang out near the fell-a-flat place.

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It’s a minki…

That afternoon we had myofascial release – basically, using tennis balls in ways you never thought possible. Apart from being whacked in the face by one you don’t really think of tennis balls causing pain but holy moly, rolling on those when they’re between your shoulders….but afterwards. …my shoulders dropped so they were less above my ears and closer to my h’actual earlobes.

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Sunset over the centre

I was in silent retreat mode for dinner, thankfully without the accompanying farts, being as the food was light on carbs. Actually I was pretty damned knackered from the hiking and headache, my little pity party for one rolled into an early night on my double mattresses bed and I conked out pretty quickly to the sound of the river making its way down stream through the mesh covered windows. Whilst I was glad to be here I was also feeling weirdly hormonal and vulnerable, and I needed to get myself a Hornby railway bridge and get over it.

Sweaty Betty Arriveth

The airport was some way out of town so the pick up was most welcome, as was the supermarket stock up for provisions. As I had to give up anything enjoyable food wise ahead of the retreat, meat, spice, salt, cheese, most carbs it made sense to cook at home anyway. Home for three days was a high ceilinged somewhat dark house (due to vegetation and the green netting at the fence to stop people noseying in). Everything worked, even if it had a bit of the bodger and badgers about it – e.g. best not lean on the sink, as not secured, never quite got the hang of that, 3 gas rings but only one worked, the tiling was done by a blind man with a spoon, but mere details and although set by the road it felt safe and calm.

The garden
Garden lushness

There’s one road in and out of Manuel Antonio, with restaurants and accommodation branching off of it. Like any other place serving tourists it feels a bit soulless, transient, although people feel genuinely friendly. The Costa Rican saying of Pura Vida, ‘pure life’ is a way of being and it shows up through the lack of overt pushy hustle, the relaxed yet getting things done way of working.

Inigo had pointed out the bus stop where the bus to the national park and beach went from for about 50p. Lots of windy roads, no footpaths, and a lot of hills so best to take the bus. Having showered and changed I decided to be a twat and walk it. Then stopped for lunch after a few mins at a falafel place which turned out to be the no.1 restaurant here. It was more fell-a-flat than falafel, 3 chickpea balls floating in a sea of bland ooo-moose and oil. The pita was so spongy I should have been using it to wash dishes. Second sad meal of the day. I cried silently, inside. On the plus side my guts were no longer trumpeting their woes to the world.

I meandered my way down, and down, and down toward the beach, all the time thinking…I’ve go walk back up later, naaah, I’ll get the bus, naaah, I’ll walk, I’ll die, bus…bus.’ Seeing no end in sight, I finally cut through a hostel grounds, and I reached a fairly deserted and overcast beach. As to where the bus stop might be, I’d seen a random couple waiting on the road at a random spot, but with no bus stop sign(par for the course, everyone just ‘knows’ where the bus will stop) timetable or bus clues I wasn’t 100% sure.

Watch out for small children pursuing wildlife.

After an hour of contorting myself into various uncomfortable positions to read, I thought I may as well head back to the ranch and read in comfort.

Bit overcast today…

No signs of life at the place where randoms had been, so I decided to walk. Five minutes in and I’m panting like a paedo in a playground, but too late, I’m on my way heading up, and up, and up. I’m red faced and sweating as any pudgy unfit Northern European unused to exercise or heat would be. I staggered on, watching buses going down, and buses going up. The only safe side to walk on was the side where the buses were going down so no chance of even accidentally finding a bus stop en route. What doesn’t kill you just fucks up your calves, and the main thing was that I’d achieved – I achieved sweaty redness, out of breathedness, pain and a much needed shower. Not doing that again.

Manuel Antonio here we come…

I slept nearly 11hours waking to practically silence interspersed by the occasional birdsong. It seems that it’s only quiet from about 5am till 9, then the human cacophony kicks off.

The day was fresh and windy, beautiful clear blue skies. Up on the roof you could see various mountain ranges but it wasn’t clear what was volcanic and what wasn’t. Took a few photos anyway. I’ll add them later, wifi here is spotty and not working today.

Thought I’d get ahead of the pack and get to breakfast early, rocking up at 7am. This is practically unheard of for me anywhere else – this going to bed early is transforming my days…Turned out that the Costa Ricans ate early risers too as I was presently joined by another 7 people, 3 of whom where policemen built like ‘brick shithouses’, who squeezed around my table. Breakfast was a disappointment, a small sadness of refried beans, egg and rice, some plantain and that was it. Least there was coffee.

The service and staff at the place were brilliant and the fact that the bed was hugely sleepable in made up for the plate of food I received.

A super quick run to the airport meant that I was, yet again, mega early. No departure boards in the domestic part of the airport, coupled with the fact that NatureAir have one desk tucked away hidden behind AirMexico right at the end meant asking someone where the desk was. Even then I didn’t really believe them, the desk had no signage. TripAdvisor confirmed that it was them….and that it didn’t open for flights until an hour before departure, then closed 45mins before, so was open for 15minutes???

Seeing Mr & Mrs Rohan with large waterproof bags turn up there about 90mins before the flight and start waving passports I tagged on the end. No bother, till….The scales read 34, and thinking there was an error – no way my bag weighs 34kgs, even with some hand luggage now in it. Check-in man points it out, and that I’m over the allowed weight. ‘Can’t be, the bag doesn’t weigh that much’, ‘well it is’, ‘what, 34kilos?’, ‘Pounds, it’s pounds’, ‘Pounds!?’ (What airline weighs in pounds?…) ‘That’ll be $20’, ‘Per pound?’, ‘Total, credit or debit card only’, ‘Phew’ followed by panic as failed to locate wallet with cards in. My debris was strewn around the desk, probably left half of it there, however the relief of finding the wallet outweighs any loss tbh.

There were a few people at the gate, where they’d come from I’d no idea as I’d been eagle eyeing the check-in desk for a while before I went up. Then, about 30minutes before take off a family appears and the clerk ushers the through, so we all get a bit excited…ok, I do, so go up and show him my boarding pass, aka a slip of paper handwritten with my flight time, gate and name, and he says, ‘not your flight, sit down’. But there’s no other flights on the board?!? He vanishes with the family, then comes back for an American couple and then vanishes again. Our flight was due to go at 10:45, it ticks by, there’s no change to the board, 10:50, no one, 10:55…a bus pulls up and then a few minutes later our clerk reappears to put us on the bus. And there’s loads of us, far more than were in the gate. He’s like the Paul Daniels of airport trickery. Who are these people? Where did they come from? And more importantly it turns out, is where are they going? When we drove round the back of the airport to the lil’ plane area only 4 of us hopped off for Quepos, which was the only flight on the board?!

Our plane was a single propellor seating about 18, so us 4 were huddled at the front, whilst the co pilot did a briefing on the four exits and the seat belts. Reality was, if this went down we were dodos. It was a surreal 20 minutes initially bumping along the runaway behind a jet then bumping along to take off. I think sheer belief that it could fly is what got us up in the air.

It was beautiful once we were up, minimal evidence of dwellings, except around the city area, and then greenery everywhere, forests and canyons, mountains and, well, scenery.

 

The occasional beeping from the pilot’s dashboard and the whirr of the propellor was all we could hear. After coming through cloud we could see the sea and then we banked a sharp left over closely packed palm, and there opening up for us in amongst them was the runaway.

We parked next to the round by the wire fence and clambered out. Departure tax was $3 (?), and there was Inigo one half of my Airbnb hosts waiting for me – result.

Cortisol’n’Costa Rica

Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham, also the M25 in the early morning pitch dark as I careened across a lane nearly wiping out a lorry which swerved sharp left to avoid me. I had been scrabbling around for my bag with had my wallet, passport, money phone – my life basically – and as the adrenaline kicked in, negating any need for coffee for the next 48hrs, I decided to a) head for the hard shoulder, b) dig about the passenger seat a bit more, c) indicate left and d) not notice the large vehicle actually in the space I was thought I’d be headed to. Cortisol off the chart…Having survived that and his righteous anger, evidenced by full beam and horn I then found said bag, just as I was nearly at the point of turning around (by actually departing at a slip road and not just doing a full 180 in my lane of choice). However my brain appears to have departed from reality and these full on panics have become a thing very early on in this trip with 3 more happening in 24hrs, it’s no wonder I’m knackered by 6:30 every night at the moment.

The second melty panic happened on arrival my accommodation in San Jose. Couldn’t find my cash cash dollar dollar, which was in a separate (bum)bag to my small wallet containing a few dollars and some colones. My own colones nearly melted as I figured I’d left all my travel money at home and I’d have to explain to the non-English speaking Costa Rican that goodwill of $50 and a trip to a cashpoint would be in order. Cortisol going up….Then I remembered the secret hiding place where I’d stashed it….phew….cortisol rollercoaster as….the panic re-emerged about 10mins later when in my room getting ready for a shower I couldn’t find the (bum)bag. Fuuuuuuck, must have left it on the dining room table. Blind panic is not conducive to trying to get dressed, or to anything really that involves thinking or doing. You have to manually override it, kind of ctrl, alt, delete and then log off and restart. Hence then finding the money back in its original place, even though I’d rummaged in there a number of times previously.

Fourth melty was at the check-in desk for my flight to Manuel Antonio. Couldn’t find my wallet that time. Cortisol going up….Not the (bum)bag, and not the small one with a few bits of cash in it, but the fuck off travel sized one with the cards and other cash in. Convinced I had left it in the hotel room, and trying to do the arithmetic of ‘time there, time back minus flight departure equals not a scoob, I then found it in my rucksack. Cortisol going down….Meanwhile the contents of every other bag except my wheelie was strewn around the desk. I am on course for a heart attack.

After those panics at the hotel you’d have thought I’d have been awake till midnight but I was so knackered I was asleep by 7:30pm. Vista Los Volcanes was a stopover en route to Manuel Antonio where I’m staying for my whole trip here. It was a 30min or so bumper to bumper drive from the airport in rush hour, a complete contrast to the trafficless drop off the next day at 8:15am. Weirdly despite chaotic volume of cars it was a horn-free and mainly courteous driving experience. People waiting patiently to be let into the traffic would flash hazards in thanks, or face a full beam onslaught. I had wondered if I should have hazard lighted an apology to whoever I nearly killed on the motorway in the morning but thought he’d have probably interpreted that as a ‘Fuck you’.

The weather was warm but not swelteringly so. That was in contrast to the frickin’ freezing cold at home. At the car drop off it snowed, and the transit bus was nips too. Jeans and layers of warm clothes wasn’t cutting it in my world, but in others flip flops and shorts were….Even accounting for airports being so bloody warm you’re convinced you’re having a hormonal flush whatever your sex, it wasn’t Thai beach time at Gatwick South terminal. Certainly wasn’t on the flight – was excessively glad for the fleecy lined hoodie and my pashmina, darling.

I’d decided to go hardcore on the deodorant front due to my usual overheating at the airport and had Mitchum’d my pits. Normally this results in the backs of your ears sweating or between your fingers, but seemingly I’d gauged the layering levels about right, even with a carry on that felt way heavier than my 14kgs of checked in luggage to haul about for the whole 3hrs I had to kill at the airport.

My innate ‘don’t be late’ gauge means I’m always destined to be early, I’m compelled to it like a Pavlov dog with a bell. I arrived at the BA end of the terminal 20mins before the gate even opened, however as they’ve gone all AirAsia and as well as self check-in you also self luggage load it didn’t matter, and with no queue I was done and through security with my 3hrs intact. Joyous.

Travelling is therefore, for me in particular, a lot about sitting and waiting. And eating. Or wondering when to eat next and where. So after a brekkie at Jamie’s there followed pootling, sampling perfume till I smelt like a tart’s boudoir and then sitting waiting for the gate, sitting at the gate, sitting whilst they told us about the delay, some standing in mild expectation of boarding, then sitting for 11 &1/2 hours waiting to be fed and watered. I suddenly figured this is probably how the cat sees the cattery – in confined quarter between strangers, waiting for food and water, with your only freedom being when you decide to go to the loo.

It really was a rather dull flight, although we did make up time, in no small part to my arse and the constant farts I appeared to be unable to contain. I swear they served to propel us along somewhat. This is what comes of not asking for gluten free, however sausage and mash never killed anyone (although the lady next to me may have been ready to batter me as the windiness deteriorated into a somewhat stinkier phase later on in the flight). I also went on to scoffing the snack box presented 4hrs before the plane landed. I was thinking it was the last meal of the flight and BA were being tight. Tut tut….dinner was then served a couple of hours after that. The chicken makhani may have been a step too far, and it’s fair to say those around me (and me) were relieved to off that plane and away from the toxic fog hanging around seat 17D.

The joy off being upright and walking soon wore off in the immigration queue, although it was moving pretty quickly, the cross examination of where I was staying was slightly nerve wracking. No signs for where our luggage would be but following the masses seemed to lead me to the carousel. Twenty minutes in and I was starting to think that maybe the luggage tag I attached a Gatwick hadn’t been as well secured as I hoped. Cortisol going up…I was starting to wonder if I could describe the bag – was it black or grey brown….when it appeared. Cortisol going down….

Outside was a melee of men waving names, none with mine on. Bugger…cortisol going up….I’d emailed the hotel whilst at the departure gate requesting a pick up, and on landing had an email to say that they’d have a driver there (oh blessed wifi, what would we do without you?!) ‘You want taxi?’, ‘no, I have one’ (inner eye rollin for rip off a-coming), ‘where are you going?’, ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘where, I want to help’. I told him and he bellowed the hotel name aand a man spring out from behind a pillar clutching a board with my name on…cortisol going down…how did I not see that? Doh.

In the room, calm and clean and thinking I’d hang it out till at least 9pm I decided to explore. This involved pulling the durtain pole down, then playing fan switcheroo, pull this string…nothing….pull again….nothing…pull the other string….nothing…pull again….oh, it’s actually stopping, and no idea which string gets it going again and then 9 switches in one room, guess which does what, I was in bed and ready to conk out. I was convinced the bed was going to be of epic Thai levels of discomfort but was proved soothingly wrong and slept for nearly 11hours, lulled asleep by the hum of the fridge, the thwack of fan bits hitting things it shouldn’t, dance music vibrating the walls, and cars turning up,at all hours. My first full day of living in the land of Pura Vida was about to start and I was hoping my heart wasn’t going to give out with anymore twattage from me.

 

 

 

A week on the White Isle

I recently returned from my annual trip to the north of Ibiza, a week of things that I love – yoga, good food, great coffee, meandering around markets and what I don’t enjoy….despite the above giving lie to it…frickin’ lashings of rain.

The time of year – end of April, is a good indication that all may not be bright and sunny on the white isle but the Instagrammers of Ibeefa had posted photos of the unseasonably warm weather so I went with a positive outlook but travelled with 5 layers of clothes on (just in case Ryanair did weigh my bag), which turned out to be good practise for the days of rain ahead.

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Bye bye England

Not sure what was going on with the Ryanair staff, but their previous rigorous response to clearly oversized baggage (and I don’t mean the fat birds on hen weekends) was as relaxed as everyone boarding and my concerns were waylaid, although the profuse sweating from layering wasn’t.   Travelling out in the day was a positive experience, less pissed party goers for starters and therefore a quieter flight, and less fighting and thieving going on – that might explain the staff’s laidback approach – they knew it was going to be less ructions in the air at this time of year.

Having removed 4 layers, and after a short loo break, it was a quick 40mins from the airport on the new road surface and around the newly installed roundabouts which were the cause of a lot of trauma last year (randomly shutting roads out of caminas for hours on end, getting shouted at for driving over newly laid tarmac, having to dump vehicles in fields in order to get home being a few examples) and we were sailing by the unlit side road to the yoga place in the pitch black as all previous sign posts had been removed.  U-turn implemented, we were soon arriving down the dirt track to the finca, set in amongst the fields of the local farmer.  Getting out the car you could look up to the clear starlit sky and remind yourself what the night sky looks like without light pollution.  It felt good to be back.  Then I went and laid down on my bed…dammit, the foam mattresses were as bad as ever.  Thankfully, I was boy scout prepared and had stuffed an inflatable air mattress in my bag to provide an extra layer of support to my already wrecked back.

Each day yoga was outside but under cover, and in the cool of the early morning we worked through our 90mins safe in the knowledge that a fabulous veggie brunch with Ibizan coffee awaited.  On day 2 we had torrential rain and howling gales, which resulted in avoiding the drips onto mats and a savasana inside on the various furnishings of the front room.  Eating breakfast under cover but outside, wrapped in blankets and all our clothes was an experience made smugger by having warm hands and fingers that worked thanks to my seemingly mad idea of bringing fingerless mittens.

As well as the discomfort of the beds, the other issue was the plumbing – the hot water took 15-20mins to arrive into the shower head and when it did finally emerge it was like being pissed on by fairies.  Cold, smelly and gloomy, we decided it was a good idea to get warm, get clean and hang out, and whilst there wasn’t a YMCA to head to there was a hotel / spa called Can Carreu which let you have spa access for €30.  Oh heaven is warmth, a hamman and a pool.

Can Curreu car park
The gloom of Ibiza… even the tree looks fed up.  The view from Can Curreu car park

Having scrubbed, soaked and relaxed to a wrinkled inch of my life, it was then a hot shower, soft fluffy towels, and a pootle back down the road for a snackage and coffee at Las Dalias Bar and Restaurant . Nothing like being clean to make everything in the world feel right and on track again.  In the meantime, the plumbing back at the ranch had also had a seeing too and we were rewarded with hot water and proper pressure for the remainder of the trip.

Grafitti outside Las Dalias
A portion of the Las Dalias grafitti

Las Dalias is famous for its hippy market as well, and by the time Saturday rocked around the sun was shining and the weather was good once more, the site totally transformed from the muddy gloom of a few days before.  Tourists were everywhere in overpriced flim flam, crotchet or thin cotton, the sort of stuff that look amazing on lithe, modellesque ‘young slip of a things’ but which look 1664 on those that can actually afford it (16yrs old from behind, 64 in front), and who struggle to squeeze into it.  Whilst it’s nice to wander around in the sun, soaking up Vit D to stave off rickets, it’s also alarming to see the amount of overpriced tat, or overpriced skimpyness on offer and how much of it is being bought.  My friend’s approach to purchasing any item of clothing is to ask, ‘Would you wear it on the Tube?’, the answer by most would be ‘Not on your nelly’, but I’m sure a number of people have persuaded themselves that they would, as long as they were wearing a large mac over the top of their Ibeefa outfit.

We ate out every night, and for someone who had been told to eat dead animal on a plate with veg at the moment I was in the right place.  Ibiza seems to be the central place for the Neanderthal diet, if Neanderthals ate chips with everything.  Ordering ‘drumstick of chicken’ actually means getting half a bird with chips and some salad. Leg of lamb is precisely that – €12 and you get a whole leg all to yourself.  No wonder the waiter chuckled at the little person who ordered it – it was larger than her whole upper body.  You are spoilt for good restaurants in the north of the island, and we made the most of it, with Italian eaten at Macao Cafe, Santa Gertrudis, and where the waiting staff were super attentive and helpful, La Paloma, San Lorenc, booking essential for an uber cool setting and a menu providing something for everyone, no matter your latest intolerance and Ecocentro, Santa Gertrudis for all things veggie, organic or raw.  Thank heavens for the yoga to help burn off the excess calories!

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Squid, with onions and lemon – La Paloma

We even made it to a couple of beaches and pretend we were beside the seaside, beside the sea.  First up after an obligatory trip to San Juan Sunday Market, we headed off to Portineaux, which quickly disappointed, not just because it was windy by the shoreline but because it’s a tad naff, and then we got lucky on the by driving round to Cala Llenya, practically deserted apart from some Dutch families and a guy who seemed to be auditioning for ‘Rocky, the Musical’ in sweats and a hoodie.  Sun shining, the sand soft, clean and warm, the waves far enough away that you weren’t going to get accidentally wet and freeze.  The law of sod would state that the warm weather would hit just before you’re heading home.

Monday and it was a day at Benirras beach, surrounded by more Dutch (seems the kids don’t need to be in school) and the chance to soak up the rays for a full day.  We headed back there for dinner, dead thing on a plate and chips por favor.  Protein overloaded it was home for a final sleep.

Benirras
Benirras, obligatory sunset shot.

Returning to the airport was straightforward enough, despite the petrol filling fun – you have to pay before you fill up which means either making  a stab at what you think you might need to pay or you hand over your payment cards to be held hostage whilst you fill up.  All a bit random but we achieved and after an unrushed breakfast at the airport we were soon shuffling along in the queue to go through security to join a queue to board a bus to board the plane to sit for a few hours to then join a queue to be allowed back into the UK.  Gotta love a queue.

Roll on next year, but somewhere with better beds!

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Yum mung pancake, cheesecake heaven, cats and kakao crayyyy-zeeness

The last few days in Seoul and sleeping on an air mattress was pure bliss – as was the massage at nearby spa.  CC and I were next to each other and the man attempting to unlock the rictus mess that was my back said to her aghast, ‘why are her muscles so tight, what has she been doing?’.  Well, carrying frickin’ ridiculously heavy rucksacks and sleeping on beds of rock it would appear.  Also turns out my sacro-illiac joint decided to join the party and the left side migrated north somewhat, thereby throwing everythin0g else out of whack – so at least we know now (I say, aching like a beee-atch after being manipulated – read ‘stretched’ by the physio).

There was eating to be done during our time left together and eating we did, from Bindaetteok – Mung bean pancakes, which we ate at a market stall, squeezed onto benches designed for little people with short arms, they have a different radius for the sweep from plate to mouth it appears, luckily I managed not to miss my gob too many times as these were delicious.

Bindaetteok
Bindaetteok market stall

In the same place we found a kimchi lady (a lady making and selling it, not made of fermented cabbage).  She had freshly made mustard leaf kimchi for sale and assuring us that it would be safely transported back home (it nearly was, there was a slight oozing) I bought an old fashioned paaahnds worth to sit in the fridge.

We also spent time over in Hongdae, allegedly shopping for beauty products – Korea is facemask central, and you can’t move for the various stores selling product.  However we went to eat at an amazing cheesecake cafe, Mobssie, where the menu is only in French, so it must be good, right?  Oh yes!

Cheesecake and cwaafee
Cheesecakes and cwaafeee

The cheesecake on the left was fresh from the oven and hot, hot, hot.  Patience is a virtue, allegedly, but we were decidedly lacking so we tucked in at the point it was still at molten lava temperature, and it was worth it.  Having o’d on all things fromage-y and sweet, coupled with the caffeine, we set off to enjoy the buzz at the nearby Kakao store.

Yes, I definitely spelt that right – Kakao Talk is the Korean equivalent of Whatsapp, and they have a series of Kakao Friends who are a big hit with everyone and the whole concept store sells everything branded with the friends.  Your whole life can be Kakao’d, day to night…

Tonight Matthew
Tonight Matthew, I’m Ryan, I think…I can see fuck all in this sleep mask

Plus you can have your pbotos taken with large models of the characters too.

Not all of them are what you think they are – Ryan, in the sweater, is actually a lion with no mane, the rabbit is a radish in disguise (!), Jay-G, with the big yellow hair, is a hip-hop loving mole.

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Hoodie Ryan overdose.  Is it me or do some of them look a bit like angry teenagers?

The sugar and caffeine did the trick and we went a bit wild in-store.  I ended up with a rather large stationery haul, because you can never contribute enough to cutting down the trees of the world.  Thank you tax-free shopping!

CC’s mum treated us to dinner at the restaurant where she works.  I can see where CC gets her cooking skills from. Looking at the other tables I thought they were merely ordering a whole heap of food, but turns out people mostly order the set of multiple dishes. Turns out this was for us too, along with the inclusion of some bibimbap.  There was so much food for us that it’s brought on a giant wooden tray that slides over the whole of the table.

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Panaramic shot of the table – all (!) that’s missing is the bibimbap.
Total food overdose.
Now complete with bibimbap but we had already started on the noodles and veggies.

Fishes x 3, crab, rice, kimchi, salads, shrimps, veggies, more kimchi, seaweed, steamed spinach, noodles and the bibimbap, plus to top it off we were indulged in some cheongju.  Cheongju is a rice wine, and  was a lot easier on the stomach than soju, and went down a lot quicker too, despite having to ladle it into our pottery cups using a wide mouthed spoon.  I guess it would have gone even quicker if it was in a decanter.

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Chin chin with Cheongju

We did our best to clear the table but there was some left over.  It was either that or be hospitalised and have our stomachs pumped.  I tried to practise my Korean to say ‘thank you’ (kamsahamnida 감사합니다 )and also ‘I ate well’ (jalmuggutssahamnida 잘 먹었습니다), however the cheongju had done its work and despite me parroting the phrases repeatedly, by the time we got to leave I turned into a nodding echo of CC, mumbling through to the hamnida point both times. My ear for languages is seemingly shared with Van Gogh – the one that he cut off and threw away.

Our other great meal was at the 24hr joint around the corner from the flat.  It sold a broth made with pork ribs, gamjatang, but without the potatoes (which is what it’s named after). The meat had been cooking for so long it just fell off the bones.  The broth was full of the flavour of the meat and the spices it had been cooked in, and you served it up with rice, and an amazing wasabi sauce.  I was so happy, I’d definitely died and gone to food heaven.  There is no photo of this, only a video of the hot bubbling mess that was the food, (and not me, gurning at the dinner), you can look at it here.

The trip was coming to an end and I was heading back a few pounds heavier, both myself and my luggage. The stash of purchases meant that my bargain bag was turning into a liability sooner than you could say ‘uneven pavement’, and whilst I’d managed to squeeze everything into it that needed squeezing it ended up a bit like me after too many sojus – unsteady on its feet and needing to be leant against something so it wouldn’t fall ouver.  It also proved incredibly fragile as evidenced by it readily falling apart en route to the train station.  Now too heavy to carry, after the wheel brackets detached and the screws fell out, I was still able to ‘wheel’ it by treating it like an invalid, holding it upright at all times, moving it along with no sudden movements and ensuring the ground was smooth / bump-free. My mantra was ‘just get me to the airport’, where I was able to pay to have the wheels secured with packing tape, although I couldn’t do anything about the random screw that was suddenly sticking out of the side of the bag.

CC and I said our goodbyes, I’d already said good bye to her family, and the pets.  I really would miss being with this super friendly people who took me into their home for the duration.  I couldn’t not have asked for more, except for maybe a little less food, but that was down to me and my greed!

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Mr & Mrs (RIP) – Feling went a big shy…

I had visions of watching the conveyor belt at Don Mueang slowly churning out the contents of my bag – face masks, face scrub, Ryan and the gang, a pound of kimchi, my pants all piece by piece followed by the remnants of my cheap-o bag.  I had no choice but to bite the proverbial shopping bullet and get myself a replacement, and duty free was the only option, so lighter of pocket and relieved of my small rucksack now relegated into said new purchase I wheeled myself down to the gate and boarded my flight back to Thailand to collect my other bags, repack, and hopefully repair my broken back before jumping on the plane to London and home.

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