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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Languid in Langkawi

I’ll keep this brief – I spent 6 days in Langkawi, mainly horizontal, except for the bits where I was upright either eating or heading to the beach on my newly acquired moped. Yes folks, you read that right, I was on a moped.  It was either that or spend 6 days moping rather than mopeding, in my AirBnB in Teriang, in a room with just a mattress on pallets. Wasn’t quite in the mood to shout ‘Vive La Difference’ after my loveliness that was my 2 nights in Campbell House, George Town, particular after I saw what I thought was a 3” floater in the toilet but then I realised that it was in fact a dead cockroach.

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Teriang – not sure it’s really a resort kinda place.

So I got off my arse and on my bike and slowly but surely set off, firstly stopping off for petrol as I was on fumes for the first 5km to the petrol station. Heading out at 10am was perfect, no traffic, only monkeys for pedestrians around the forest, they drive on the left (people, not the monkeys) and people don’t drive like loons and they do give you a wide berth when overtaking, unless they’re Chinese in a hire car, in which case they try to trim your leg hairs with their tyres. Having pre-paid 10Malaysian Ringgit (£2) to fill ‘er up, it was full at 8.80MR (but that’s ok, because when I refilled it again another day I spent 7.50MR and got 7.50 in change out of 10…!

Anyhoooo, I went to restart the bike and nowt happened.  Shit…had I put the wrong fuel in (who’d be so daft….not anyone who drove a diesel Skoda for 7yrs and then one day put petrol in it) – nope not this time, had I overfilled it (yes, obviously, but would that really kill it?), am I cursed, because it bloody felt like it? Turns out it was none of the above, just me being a dumb arse who forgot to squeeze the brake when turning the key.  Ker-nobber…panic over and off again back the way I came and on to Cenang Beach, the main resort.  Parked up and success!  Beach was wide, sandy, busy but not rammed with people.  Sun was out and it was perfect.

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Cenang beach

After lunch I decided to head north to Tanjung Rhu, however rather than do the sensible thing and ride back the way I came, against the traffic, I went with it expecting to circle around the back of Cenang.  Suffice to say I didn’t and the bonus was I got to see a lot more of the island than I bargained for, including a very nice and very empty dual carriageway.  Luckily I managed to figure out that I was heading the long way around the island pretty quickly, (I see the sea – it’s on the wrong side of me!). What I couldn’t do though was go right back the way I came, so instead had to opt for heading for the airport as my point of reference.  This took me on a somewhat circuitous route inland before heading back out toward the sea-line again, and later when looking at the map I couldn’t figure out how I got to where I did, but I had and it’s just best not to over-thunk it.  Main thing was I had pretty much a full tank of petrol, a small island to get lost on and I got back on track.

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I think I took a wrong left somewhere, or maybe they did?

After a quick wee stop at home I headed off to Tanjung Rhu without any diversions, where I arrived 50mins later with a numb bum and sore knees (from where they were banging against the basket at the front of the bike.  Worth it though – it was stunning – proper sandy white beach, beautiful blue sea and about 4 people on the beach.  Lovely, lovely, lovely.  I stayed for an hour or so enjoying the scenario, had some dinner and headed home a very happy person, my only problem being I couldn’t go around a roundabout properly and steered off halfway round – a U-ey and a left and I was off again.

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Tanjung Rhu – worth a numb bum.
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Dammit, I knew I needed a man for something. ‘Strike a pose giiiirlfriend’

And thus the routine was set, I got up, I went to eat breakfast, I went to the beach, I ate a late lunch, an early dinner and came home to my mattress on pallets. Across from my gaff was a ‘hotel’ that did breakfast, popping in one morning and there were 2 guys from the mainland visiting the owner Johny Be Good, ex-hotel and bar singer and musician.  They invited me to join them for a beer and a G&T but seeing as it wasn’t even 10am I declined plus didn’t want to drink and drive.  Ahmed, one of the guys had 3 wives, and 5 kids, included a chubby little 7 year old from the latest Mrs A, who loved to give it some full-on Pop Idol action – luckily I only got to see the one video and then managed to make my escape, leaving them to their liver implosions.  I was invited back to the ‘Thursday night is music night’ night which included Johny and some expats putting on a show, with guitars and keyboard but after another riveting meal of Nasi Ayum (basically rice with a bit of a chicken on it, the fun comes trying to identify which bit of the chicken you have got) I settled in for a bit of Netflix binging.

Friday being my last night, I went all out and had a shwarma in Cenang, actually saw my first proper sunset of the trip at the pier in Teriang, along with all the scooter boys and girls (the kids all ranged in age from about 12 and upwards and from 5pm onwards would be zooming all over the place chattering, fighting, and mucking about on their scooters, it was like a cheaperand younger version of Grease and without the leather but was still serious pouting, gelled hair and tight clothes for the boys, giggles and over-exaggerated posing by the girls).

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Sunset over Langkawi
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Full Moon over Langkawi

I then wandered over to the ‘hotel’ for a beer.  The intent was  ‘just the one Mrs Wembley’ as I was getting down to the bare bones of the Ringgit, but Johny insisted on buying me a second, so I had to return the favour and that meant 3 in total.  Johny launched into a little song routine with his guitar, some of it made sense, some it didn’t – mostly due to accent and the fact he’s missing a fair few front teeth, however he definitely could play the guitar and you could tell he was a bar-room crooner back in the day.  9pm and way past my bed time, so I headed back home, onto my pallets and then failed to sleep as I had to be up early doors to get to the airport – always the blooming way.

Taxi rocked up for 7.40am, and 15mins later I was deposited at the airport.  You weren’t allowed through security until at least an hour before your flight, so luckily having breakfast at the airport wasn’t such a mad idea after all.  A hop and a skip and we were back at Penang airport to await the connection to Changi, and then onto Yangon.  Myanmar here we come….!

I would go back to Langkawi again, it’s easy to get about, the beaches are beautiful.  It wasn’t heaving with people, was really laid back and easy-going but next time I’ll stay somewhere a bit closer to ‘civilisation’ and maybe ensure I have a proper bedstead too.

Bangkok

Having dragged myself up and out after breakfast it was only then that the heat and smells really hit home, as did the sights and not so delights of the Khaosan Road.  Arse grazing shorts for the girls and undone shirts for the guys – clearly no-one read the memo about suitable wear in them thair foreign parts, or did, and decided it didn’t apply to them.

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Even Auung San Suu Kyi is unimpressed with the dress code on the Khao San Road.

I meandered out and around, getting my bearings very slowly – down to the river, away from the river, ooo am I near the river – does that hotel name Riverside give me a clue???? There I was thinking I knew where I was and popping up somewhere unexpected but vaguely close by-ish.  Was never going to get a medal for orienteering, that’s for sure, however I was relieved that that small patch of Bangkok finally made sense that evening when I headed off to a restaurant called Peeps for dinner.  It was a 20min walk of ‘Aha’ and not because Morten Harket showed up, and also a good opportunity for the late lunch to digest and make space for the dumplings and Tom Yum I had.

Anyhoo, earlier in the day I somehow I ended up heading toward The Grand Palace, passing hundreds of Thais in mourning black who were coming and going to the Royal Urn to pay respects.  There were temporary shrines, stalls giving away free drinks and medical checks to those visiting, and shuttle buses to bring the mourners to and from the area.  It was heaving with people and despite being suitable attired I was told I couldn’t walk straight up the road to the palace so had to go a back route, which was fine as it meant more wandering around vaguely looking for a restaurant I had eaten in a few years earlier with Ar Lel (not really expecting much success as couldn’t recall what it was called or where it was), suffice to say – not a success and as I was soon turning into a human Mr Stay-Puft I set off in search of air-con and a large bottle of water back toward the hotel followed by lunch close by and then a nap.  20mins of shut eye turned into 2hrs and I awoke from my slumber less Sleeping Beauty and more Drooling Beast and headed out for dinner.

Awoke at 5.30, pretty perky with it so got up which was weird as didn’t really need to get going till 9am, or so I thought.  Just after 7 and deciding to go to breakfast I decided to check my ticket one last time and that’s when I saw that the flight was at 9.20 and that’s when I went into panic as I had just over an hour to get to the airport in the rush hour to check in. Having run down to reception to ask for a taxi, I had to head back up to the 4th floor and stylishly fling everything remaining into my bags before returning back down again.  No taxi was ordered – as it consists of a man going into the road to wave at taxis to stop..and said man had to go to the room to check I hadn’t decided to get a tattoo done whilst smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes in my room.

Finally out on the road, and into a taxi and I re-read my booking and check-in was by 9.20, flight at 10.20 – phew…breathing space.  However what I had in my hand was not my check-in document but my booking document.  Check-in document was in the bottom of my rucksack….or was it?  Turns out it wasn’t but I wasn’t going to find that out for another hour.  In the meantime I sat back and watched the rain start to pour down, not realising it was also going to be the same in Samui.

As it turned out I got to airport, managed to rummage through the bag, not find the ticket, not get charged for a reprint and make it to the bag drop still 2 minutes early than check-in was officially open.  I’ve never been more relieved.  After that as I tried to get to security, however there was an additional ‘surprise security’ just by the desk.  Who’d have thunk it? I was stopped by a man and directed to look at a screen.  On said screen was live action viewing of our bags going along the belt and everyone checking in a bag had to wait and then point out their bag before being released from the pen.  That was it – point at a bag, declare it yours and be released.  Not a problem for me, as my bag is fairly distinctive but more of problem for the little old ladies in front of me who had a) bad eyesight and b) plain black wheelies.  They hadn’t a clue, and were intently peering at the screen as a whole raft of black wheelies went by.  As they were before me at check-in logic would dictate that my shouting ‘mine’ would suggest their bags had been and gone but no-one cottoned onto that fact so I left them to their early morning viewing and scuttled off to security and some breakfast.

The flight only took us as far as Nakhon Si Thammaret, and we came out onto the runway to dry skies but AirAsia had put a rack of umbrellas out for people, just in case, how cool is that?  From here it was a bus ride to the ferry, ferry to the wrong side of Samui, then an hour and a half minibus ride in the pouring rain.

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What’s that coming over the hills, is it a monster? No, just a chuffing big cloud of rain.

It was only as we drove along through massive puddles that I realised there is no drainage system here at all, so it all collects on the surface.   I was sharing  a minibus with some Chinese people going to a hotel in Chaweng – they got dropped off at the door of their hotel, I think the driver and his companion were a bit bore, by the time we had circled Bo Phut once, having missed the turning to the hotel, so I got dropped at the corner of the road the hotel was on and told ‘it’s down there’ with vague pointing.  Clearly, even I could tell you that from the tone of triumphant arrival coming from the Thai satnav.  Luckily the hotel is signposted as it’s tucked away or else there’s a good chance with my directionally challenged nature I’d still be out there now wandering or else staying somewhere completely different. I arrived, happy to a) learn I did not have to move rooms after one night now, and b) find out they have real beds with proper mattresses like proper folks have.  So happy!

Showered and sorted I headed out into the street (yes, not a typo, it is practically one road) of Bo Phut to reacquaint myself with it, try not to ‘do the math’ at the cost of the food, avoid the puddles and the torrential downpours and basically settle in for my 12days of yoga in Samui.

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Ahhh..did you pack an umbrella?

Can’t wait to start.