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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Which means what precisely? Well…apparently Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, truth and travel, so when the planet goes retrograde — all those things go backwards. Or, in my case, be very unclear, miscommunication and misdirection everywhere.
So….arriving back into Manuel Antonio after 5 days at the retreat in Londres (Costa Rica’s London, not even close to same same but very different ) we sailed by my hotel and pulled up opposite another – ‘Casa Linda’, the driver proclaimed. ‘No, that’s Loma Linda’….but no matter we’ll go drop everyone else off and get back to the right place eventually. ..which we did. And blessings, whilst the room wasn’t ready (I was early) they did have proper working wifi so I could communicate with the horse people who a) told me they’d collect me Monday at 7.15 am. ..erm think you’re coming for me tomorrow (Sunday), b) asked where I’d be staying for the week…erm, no idea, thought I was with you guys. I’ll start looking for accommodation. …c) finally they got the remainder of the payment, as the week before I’d sent it to a random in Canada via Paypal who immediately accepted said free cash with no qualms that he was actually STEALING MY MONEY.
I had had to wake up (I say ‘wake up, what I meant was open my eyes and turn on the lights’) at 3am to ring Paypal in the U.K. to raise a dispute. They’d said it could be up to 30 days before I got the money back. I’d had so much adrenaline pumping through my body since I’d realised the cock up that I could have powered most of Manuel Antonio’s electrical supply.
Limited to no wifi in Londres meant I couldn’t check my email till Wednesday for any update. I’d sent Mr Rod Kurtz an email on the Sunday indicating my displeasure (sans swearing too!) at his thieving behaviour and reminding him that it was not a victimless crime, and to my surprise and joy the money had been refunded on Monday. Amazing what not calling someone a cunt can do for you.
Anyway, now I had the money back and access to wifi, there was much to-ing and fro-ing and then it was confirmed that I had my accommodation and I was being collected on Sunday but that the riding doesn’t start time Monday. ..means I get a day back to relax and hopefully have some sun time. It’s been overcast here with a lot of rain so some brightness is welcome. However it does turn out they’re not as close to Manuel Antonio as I thought but further up the coast toward Jaco near Playa Hermanos. Oooo new place to visit. Ooooo expensive taxi ride because I can’t organise for shit. Check the details next time cos winging it ain’t working for me!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
More fermented loveliness
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!
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…
Plus you can have your pbotos taken with large models of the characters too.
Ryan the Maneless Lion
Muzi & Con – Muzi is a radish in disguise.
Jay-G the Mole (!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
A bus ride from Busan, on a dull overcast day and we were in Gyeong-ju, known as the ‘museum without walls’ due to the number of tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and palace ruins that exist there. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Apparently you need a few days to explore Gyeong-ju, we were there on a whistlestop 22hrs and our first stop was not to whistle but to get clean as the proverbial at a spa in town.
For a tenner we got spa towels, top and bottoms in baby pink, with XXL for the lardy and access to 4 floors of the 5 floor spa (one floor is for the men, and we wouldn’t be wanting to go there). After a shower we then had access to the 3 pools at various temperatures – frickin’ hot to the point of wooziness, frickin’ cold to the point of shivering and goosebumps, and ambient perfectness. I plumped for ambience complete with jets aiming to remove the knots in my upper back. There was a sauna but lounging in a pool seemed perfect, and required minimal movement. From there I could observe other ladies being brought refreshments. Others were scrubbing areas of their bodies that should never be aired, let alone given a vigorous going over with the equivalent of a brillo pad, it was DIY hammam-ing at its finest.
I could have stayed in the pool for the remainder of the day but didn’t have a book to read and my look for the day wasn’t going to be wrinkled prune, so after 45mins of wallowing I forced myself out of the pool. Deciding against the human Dyson dryer that you could stand on and get blasted dry, I opted for the traditional towel, and once clothed and feeling about 10lbs lighter having removed a few layers of dirt, we headed upstairs to the resting space. Here you can lie down on mattresses, or head into the cinema room where you get to sit in a comfy chair and watch a film of your choice, or else you can pay a couple of quid and get yourself practically strapped into a ‘massage’ chair and have pieces of metal that are barely covered in material try and force their way into your soft body tissues. CC fell asleep during the torture, I aimed to put into practice some mindfuless and acceptance that pieces of metal inserting themselves into fleshy parts was ok, whilst simultaneously screaming silently and counting down the minutes till the chair released its steely grip.
Suitably knackered and time against us we binned off the trip to a UNESCO protected temple (always next time, right?) and headed out for a late lunch at a nearby restaurant Sukyoung Sikdang, which turned out to be the second favouritist restaurant in Gyeong Ju, according to TripAdvisor.
A tiny little lady served up the food to us, as we sat (or rather I lolled) on tatami mats. The set up was traditional with the low tables, and underfloor heating, and small cushions to sit on.
The bibimbap was amazing, as evidenced by the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. After stuffing ourselves senseless I utilised what was quickly becoming my standard escape approach of roll, release legs, revert to vertical and we headed off to our guest house via a local bakery. Not just any local bakery though. This was the first red bean paste bread (hwangnam-ppang) bakery to be set up in Gyeong-ju. The bread was invented in 1939 and is a famous speciality of the town. The bakery is family run by the Choi son of the founder.
CC stocked up for friends and family. Each day fresh batches are made on tables by hand behind the serving counter, using the original recipe. Often the queues are out the door but as we were there at the end of the day we got lucky and were in and out pretty quickly.
Our next stop was the guesthouse, which we got to just as the heavens opened and it started to chuck it down. Our beds were set up the traditional Korean way, with a blanket on the mattress and a thicker blanket (no sheet) to sleep under. We got a bonus with electric blankets too and a heater in the room. Woo hoo – happy days!
Our day was not yet done, on a promise of chicken and beer with other guests for when we returned, we headed out into the rain to go to Donggung Palace. Thepalace is supposed to be a great example of Silla architecture. Gyeong-ju was the capital of Silla, the ancient empire that lasted from 57 BC to 935 AD. The palace was a secondary palace used by the Crown Prince, with the main palace of Wolseong located nearby. In the centuries after both palaces were destroyed and it was only in the early 20th Century when archaeological excavations were carried out were the ruins of these palaces discovered.
It was beautifully lit up, and even the rain couldn’t dampen the view, as we wandered around the artificially created pond that sits in front of the remains of the palace.
Unfortunately we weren’t going to get the opportunity to revisit it the next day as we were leaving before midday, however just being able to see it at night made up for that. As did the little shop that was open on our street that was selling the tastiest rice flour and almond powder biscuits. The various flavoured biscuits were each cut into the shape of a particular historical artefact from Gyeong-ju, whether it was the astronomy tower, or images from famous tiles or artefacts found during the archaeological digs.
Managed to inhale a couple of these puppies before dinner….they were definitely a winner for me.
The next morning we left fairly early to get back to the bus station, and to have some breakfast beforehand, as the guesthouse offering was somewhat sparse. None of the shops appeared to be open until after 10am, but we got to see the town and the architecture as we wandered our way back to the centre.
All around the town are various mounds, which turned out to be tombs of all the various leaders of the Silla empire.
With coffee inside me and finely waking up we were homeward bound to Seoul and for the last couple of days of my visit. Shopping and eating awaited.
We took the train to Busan, Korea’s second city and to the east of Seoul, on the coast. This trip was going to be about the fish.
Our AirBnB was a guesthouse not far from the Jung-Gu metro stop, albeit after the climb out of the metro, we then had a climb up a serious series of steps to get to the guesthouse and then climb some more steps to the room. Luckily their second floor was the UK’s first floor, so that meant two sets of stairs less to climb – woo hoo – you take what you can get when you’re as knackered as me! And I was taking in as much oxygen as I possibly could to help me up all those bloody stairs.
We dumped our bags and headed out for dinner at the nearby Jagalchi Market, Korea’s largest fish market. Even though it was early evening it was still pretty busy, with the mainly female market stallholders displaying their remaining fishy wares (oo-er) – octopus, tuna, dried fish, even whale meat (!), as well as lots of molluscs, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, crabs all in bowls, or tanks waiting to be picked out for dinner. I was too busy looking to take too many photos.
This was where I decided what else I wouldn’t eat whilst in Korea (the whale meat wasn’t even close to being on the agenda so doesn’t count, no, the first thing being the snails that were served up at the sashimi restaurant we’d been to the previous night in Seoul), it being octopus, as I saw somewhat too graphically parts of writhing and turning in a bowl after being sliced up for someone’s dinner. It wasn’t even a whole tentacle, but parts of one. To watch it furling and curling was too much.
I was obviously getting to be a bit of a fanny, says the girl who had eaten hongeo-hoe the day before (fermented skate, and as skate excrete urea through their skins it reeks of ammonia). Hongeo-hoe (more like honk-ing) was a shocker – it looks fairly innocuous then you put it in your mouth and realise that it’s practically solid due to the cartilage that it is mostly composed of so that makes it impossible to chew, or swallow, or bite down on. Then you start to get the stink of ammonia in your mouth, burning down to your stomach and the only way is either back out onto the table or (gag) down,where it burns it way through your now wrecked stomach lining. Urgh…thank heavens for soju….
Meanwhile, further into the market the restaurants were in full swing, with some of the owners calling to those passing by attempting to lure them in to eat.
Each stall had its speciality on show at the front, with prices up on the walls. The stalls were very basic looking but were doing brisk trade. We settled on eel for our tea and sat down to wait for our eel served 2 ways – plain and with chilli. No cartilage here.
Once the main meal was done as much as possible, the leftovers were taken away and mixed with rice and returned to us to be warmed up over the gas burner. Once it was sufficiently cooked we were let loose on it to scrape off the stuck bits. The owner and their friends were suitably impressed with my impression of a starving person using a spoon to scrape at the rice burnt onto the foil, and thought I was practically a native, and kept giving us extra bits of freshly cooked eel. We obviously looked a bit underfed…. Yet again, we were stuffed.
The next morning after skipping the lukewarm shower and trying to unkink my locked up back muscles that come from sleeping on a solid rock hard bed we were on the bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple, which is right on the coast. It was originally built in the 1300s but seemed to have been fully refurb’d with concrete fairly recently.
Vendor at the temple
Vendor at the temple
It was heaving, as it was the weekend, there were coachloads of lil’ ol’ folks all turned up wearing duck-down jackets, massive visors, and trainers or full on hiking gear all milling about and trying not to hit anyone with their visors. There were also families, a few motorbikers on Harleys and the occasional tourist. We had to queue next to the twelve statues representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac to get in, and watch as people posed next to their representative statue. Mine is rat and he looked too much like Splinter from Ninja Turtles. Could have been worse, could have been the snake that looked like a sheep in armour….
Then we had to go past a nine storey pagoda that was for prayers for Traffic Safety. It could probably have done with being a bit bigger and more prominent, maybe on a roundabout on the road in front of the traffic-ly traumatised. We were then heading down a steep set of 108 steps, which apparently represent the 108 agonies of earthly desire of Buddhism. There should have been an extra step to represent my agony of a bad back and my earthly desire for a decent mattress.
Once over the bridge to the main temple complex there were numerous more tourists and numerous statues, including 2 golden peee-igs who were regularly being patted on the arse. For luck, apparently.
Down by the water there were terrapins being harassed by small children, and randoms were trying to clamber over rocks and avoid major waves to get the ultimate selfie moment – a snap of them being washed out to sea.. All truly spiritual and calm-inducing, if you’re on 5mg of Valium.
After the fun of being among the screaming hordes, we treated ourselves to a fish sausage on a stick (as bad as it sounds) and after waiting in another queue for a lunch of THE coldest noodle soup in the world (it turned up in a metal bowl that was fresh out the fridge, I had to warm the noodles up in a cup of broth served separately, till that became tepid from overuse). Apparently cold noodle soup was quite the thing back in the day, and judging by the queue still was a thing, if you liked freezing your mouth off. The Korean dim sum helped to warm us up a bit before we headed out to go to Haeundae beach to meet a couchsurfer for the afternoon.
The sun was shining and the beautiful white sandy beach was a perfect place to soak up some vitamin D and watch a bunch of foreigner freaks (mainly US grads teaching English) celebrate the Indian festival of Holi by dancing like loons to some tooooons.
Basically it seemed to be any excuse to get pissed and plant hand prints on girls’ tits, judging by the behaviour of everyone coming off the beach covered in paint and the fact that every girl’s t-shirts had handprints in the breasticle area. Strange how none of the boys had handprints around their testicle area.
Our lil’ couchsurfer was going to show us the sights and delights of Busan, until he ‘fessed up to not being a Busan native and was there studying for government exams. He was locked away for 6days a week and was venturing out on a Sunday in an effort to interact with other humans before he forgot what it was like to do so. Tourist responsibilities fell back onto Corean Cimchi and therefore we set off to see a bit of nature at Taejongdae Park, which had a little pullalong train that we could hop onto and thus avoid a long slog uphill.
We hopped off at the viewing platform, where you could look out to see to tankers parked out to sea and the cliffs, then the kids wanted to head off down toward the lighthouse whilst this ol’ dear had a breather on some nearby seats.
I was about ready to keel over but our day wasn’t done and after a strong brew and the opportunity to warm up – it was blowing a bit this side of town, we headed off for our dinner back toward town. Yet another astounding eating experience – what this country can do with a dead animal is nobody’s business!
This time around it was Suyuk Baekba, which is boiled meat, in this case thin slices of pork, like bacon, which came with tofu, kimchi, white rice and a soup. Any British person served bacon is guaranteed to die from a pig overdose, and happily so.
Unfortunately sitting at a low table means getting up from very close to the floor, never a good look but even more difficult with a stomach full of pork. We set off to burn off some of the calories at the nearby beach of Gwangalli where the Gwangandaegyo Bridge lights up as part of sound and music show on the hour. A gentle stroll to the sounds of dance music which finished with a suitably rousing can-can drew our evening to an end and we said our goodbyes and went our separate way to our host, and all of us headed off to own solid beds.
We walked past here, best sign ever…
The next day we were off again, by bus this time, to Gyeongju for a night.