Egypt, Africa

Part three – Aswan

After a colourful four-hour train ride from Luxor spent hanging our heads out of the cabin, sharing a cigarette or three with some gracious locals, our journey to the picturesque town of Aswan was complete. 

Stepping off the bustling platform the change in scenery is immediate. With a much busier, lively feel to the mainland, Aswan radiates African culture. Close to the border of Sudan and one of the Southern-most cities in Egypt, Aswan is truly a one-of-a-kind gem.

We eventually opted to stay in a seriously affordable homestay on Elephantine Island we stumbled across on Booking.com. A ferry ride over the Nile from the big smoke, Elephantine offers rustic beauty and kind-hearted locals at every turn. 

A word of advice that you’d be utterly braindead not to listen to – plonk your weary toosh down in a comfortable, wicker seat at the island’s true attraction, the Nubian Dreams Restaurant. I kid not and lie never, so listen up and let me tell you why. 

The Nubian Dream is Egyptian oasis on every level of the word. With a beautiful, bohemian backdrop of hand-crafted cushioned seats, cane chairs and cold beers, the friendly faces of the staff, their buddies and every other happy chap visiting the mecca of good ass North African cuisine will have you sold. 

One of our only photos taken at the Dream with Mufasa (criminal of us!)

A strenuous six feet and six stairs from the ferry port, the Dream offers up the most incredible tagines one would possibly lust over. Any mention of the eggplant, zucchini or spicy fish tagine send bolts of electricity to my tastebuds and dare I admit it, other less kosher parts of my body. 

If you have the pleasure of stumbling across a delightful local man by the name of Mufasa at the Dream, buy him a tagine. He’ll sit with you, chat, dance, sing, bring you traditional desserts, take you on a three-hour felucca ride with his family, wake up at 4am to personally escort you to a taxi and leave the best, lasting impression on your Aswan experience and all just for shits and giggles. A true gent and truly fond of French women!

The man himself and our captain for the day!

Lavished with cool beverages and plates of hot food cooked on the premises by owner Ali’s talented mama, the soulful tunes of Bob Marley sank into our weary, travel-ravished bones, giving us the perfect backdrop to end our day in Aswan.

To start your day, I suggest strolling over to The Ibiza Hostel. A colourfully painted hostel offering up some delicious local fares. We stumbled across it by chance and were hospitably sat on the balcony overlooking the shimmering Nile and within a stone’s throw of Kitchener’s Island – Aswan’s answer to a Botanical Garden. 

Our hosts plonked down some piping hot, minty tea, some freshly squeezed juice and let us have our pick of some falafel, soft pita, thick syrupy honey and deliciously greasy eggplant – again with the electricity bolts. 

With the Movenpick hotel at one end of the island, offering their pool side beers and top-notch bartender banter to visitors of the island (at a fee, of course) and hotel goer’s, I recommend securing yourself a primo spot pool-side and setting up camp for a relaxing mental health day if that floats your traditional Egyptian sail boat. 

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Dipping my Rue Roosevelt adored hands into the cool banks of the Nile.

It’s not a day in Aswan without a boat ride so taking a felucca (traditional Egyptian sail boat, duh) ride from the Movenpick’s dock will show you some of the hottest spots the idyllic cluster of islands has to offer, the Old Cataract Hotel to name just one – Agatha Christie fans delight . If the wind, natural not man-made, falafel induced, is hiding away for the day, a motor boat (good lord, the satirical avenues are endless) will suffice.

One of the best experiences up for offer in Aswan is enjoying the mind-blowing sites by river. Dipping your stinky toes into the Nile as a felucca leads you to some serene, secluded spots along the river – some of which, you can even have a swim in. 

While I was encouraged by all to swim, my skimpy bikini might have caused more of a splash than my meanest cannonball, so I opted to wade (pee) in the shallows while my adventurous travel companions embarrassed Australian’s everywhere with a poorly executed race to a large rock mid-river. 

The singing, dancing Mufasa who just so happened to speak seven different languages. All self-taught from making friends with inferior tourists over the years – all hail the real pharaoh! 

For those of you worried about the conservative nature of Egypt and how that translates to swimwear and sartorial choices, I would not sweat it.  While you might get a few looks, Elephantine and its surrounding islands are tourist friendly and it’s not necessary to be covered head-to-toe at all times. I would however, recommend travelling with men (or in my case, two very hairy man-boys) if you can and keeping legs and shoulders covered on the mainland. 

A more than frequently asked question we encountered in Aswan was “Abu Simbel?”. For those amongst us not familiar with the temples, Abu Simbel are two massive rock temples originally carved out of a mountainside in 13thcentury BC but were relocated in 1968 (moving mountains, huh?) and now they sit a 4 hours’ drive of Aswan on the border of Sudan. 

A total sight for sore eyes, sore thanks to the 4am wake up time and subsequent four-hour van ride, we were slightly disillusioned by the 45-minute time limit we were given to look around once we were there. Don’t let my sour puss explanation dim your enthusiasm though, Abu Simbel is really, truly mind-boggling. My advice – make sure you are given enough time to look at everything you want to and take the second van ride of the day, the early start doesn’t help avoid the tourist explosion. 

The final verdict on Aswan? Just really, bloody good for the soul. The perfect place to end an Egyptian adventure with its rich cultural tapestry, unbelievable food and even better company, Aswan has my stone cold heart. Talk to as many locals as you can and achieve the eggplant tagine trifecta – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Egypt, Africa

Part two – Luxor

My dearly beloved Luxor is out of this world beautiful. A merry nine-hour train ride from Cairo, Luxor will knock your stinky, mismatched socks off. Just don’t forget to splash your cash and snag yourself a sleeper cabin. With a nifty bunk bed set up, power outlets and comfortable pillows, you’ll rest easy.

You can opt to stay on the East Bank of Luxor for a central, bustling feel, but in my not-so-humble opinion, West Bank is where it’s bloody at. With quaint, Nile-side café’s serving up hot Turkish coffee, cushy pita and drool-worthy falafel, West Bank gives you that relaxed, holiday vibe we all so regularly dream about.

Al Salam Camp, our choice of sleeping hole, is the most heavenly mud hut set up I’ve ever stumbled across. With all of the creature comforts you could need, hot showers, fans, beers and beds, Al Salam’s nightly campfires are so dang good for the soul.

Al Salam is run by the ultimate gentleman, Mr Ahmed. With a beautiful wife behind the killer cooking, a herd of gorgeous kittens, well-behaved children roaming about and an honest, easy-going nature, Ahmed is your go-to hombre of the West Bank.

We ambitiously opted to rent bikes, as organised by Ahmed, and ride over to Valley of the Kings. Usually a cruisy ride for those of us with some sense of directional intellect, we spent a few hours working on the glutes and crack sweat as we got pitifully lost – well, if you have to do it somewhere…

Paired with the joy of seeing my adult male travel companions riding children’s sized bikes with baskets and jazzy bells to boot, laying eyes on King Tut’s freshly refurbished tomb was a time to be had. Spooky, a little surreal and real damn pretty, Tut’s mask has the ultimate resting bitch face.

A handy tip – take your student ID to all of the attractions about Egypt and get half off your ticket price. As one of my counterparts shamefully found out, Aussie drivers licences don’t fool no man and will only get you a barrage of laughs and (king) tuts.

Temple Hatshepsut is an amazing assault on the eyes, worth a gander and a photo or four. The temple’s bazaar is full to the brim with tacky souvenirs (sign me up) and pushy salesmen – just beware of entering into a trance like state spurred on by some merchant’s powerful ability to sell tourists utter crap – they missed that one on Smart Traveller.

Karnak Temple should be on the top of your sites to see, with a full day’s exploration ahead of you. Get in early, avoid the crowds and make sure you take up some of those shifty tours guides up on their offers to show you some hidden spots – again, for a price, but so stinkin’ worth it.

We ended up sharing a mind-blowing spinach curry, pita and some billy-boiled tea under the gates of Karnak with its resident security guard sweetheart. Number one rule of Egyptian travel, always say yes to tea, you never know where you might end up.

If you’re staying on the West Bank make sure to take a felucca (traditional Egyptian sail boat) or motor boat back home. Your overworked cankles will thank you, or you know, motorboat you. If lunch on a yacht sailing the Nile floats your boat, Ahmed or any of the local boat babes will happily organise a luxurious, relaxin’ day on the river for you.

Our two-day stint in Luxor was nowhere near enough to scratch the surface on this divine corner of the world. I’d recommend living there forever, or a more reasonable four or so days.

Just remember my three cardinal Luxor rules, never stray too far from the closest falafel cart, pack for the cold nights and never trust boys with directions, ever.

An idiot’s guide to Egypt

Part one – Giza & Cairo

Since the tender age of eight, I have longed with all of my wistful might to visit the land of the pharaohs. Transfixed by the mysteries of the great, honking pyramids, the promise of exotic landscapes and uncovering the secret to Cleopatra’s winged eyeliner, I recently took the plunge and booked my sorry ass on the first flight to Cairo.

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Our first, mind blowing stop was the ever-glorious Giza.

I can’t recommend the soulful experience of waking up to a view of the pyramids highly enough. Chugging down sugary mint tea to a symphony of calls to prayer, the dusky beauty of a morning gaze at the pyramids gave me more of an am kick than caffeine ever could.

Street puppies of Giza

The no-nosed lady, Mrs Sphinx – a heck of a load smaller than I had imagined!

You’ll find a load of affordable spots to stay in Giza, all sporting wonderful staff who are more than eager to organise your entire trip for you, but we chose the Best View Pyramids Hotel. 

With comfortable rooms, a tasty price tag and even tastier stuffed pigeon (more appealing to some of us than others), this ripper hotel had the rooftop terrace of a lifetime.

One hell of a terrace view ✨

Treat yourself to a cold, local lager, have a puff at a shisha pipe and put your lazy feet up on the glorious rooftop. With a view you’ll never get sick of and a lentil soup to write home about, you’ll find all you ever needed right in front of you.

Ask for Saber, the hotels resident tour guide and bad ass, who’ll take you on an astounding camel ride through the Sahara Desert to explore the pyramids. Yep, pretty flipping amazing. The man even knows his way around your good side, working the angles for any and all photo shoots you may require – bona fide legend.

Zinger happy snap courtesy of Saber himself 👏🏻

You’ll need a few days to fully absorb the wonderment of the pyramids. Explore, climb and try not to get swindled into a $40 photo on a camel in front of the tombs – it’s a heap harder than you might think.

Take your walking shoes, some snacks and your own stash of that h2o goodness. Giza is where it’s at, so much so that I’d almost endorse you put at the end of your trip, nothing will ever quite live up to the splendour of le pyramids.

The magnificence of Uber means you’re a hop, skip and a sarcophagus away from the big smoke in Cairo. Make sure to grab a sim card at Cairo airport when you land and save a bunch on taxis, that is, unless you’re an adequate barterer and can fend for yourself.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and it’s startling Mummy Room are well worth a gander. None of the artifacts seem to have the usual explanatory plaques, so it’s a spiffy idea to take up one of the eager guides outside the museum on their offer to show you around – at a price, of course.

Tahrir Square lies just next to the Egyptian Museum, and was the base for the people’s revolution in 2011. Again, without the wonderful world wide web, you won’t find much information about the uprisings in the square itself. Do a little research, give yourself some context and soak it on up.

During your wanderings in the bustling streets of Cairo, don’t let the opportunity to sneak into any of the Koshary stores slip you by. Open windows displaying obnoxiously sized bowls of pasta, lentils, chickpeas and fried shallots dot the avenues. Make sure to venture inside and have yourself a carb loaded meal.

A traditional Egyptian meal, Koshary is a bowl of all of the above, paired with a delicious tomato sauce. You can add spice and vinegar to the delicious concoction and eat as the locals do. Vegetarian and the ultimate belly filler, I swear it resurrected me after a long hard slog at Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili is one of Cairo’s largest souk’s and is a tourist hotspot. Potentially the only time I felt a little on edge security wise, in the depths of the market you’ll find an intricate maze of market stall after market stall. It was here I did my best work, dropping some cold hard on a jazzy artesian rug and a hoard of Egyptian gold jewellery. Just remember to put your hard ass hat on and only pay what you want to.

The final verdict on Cairo and Giza? Make Giza home base and enjoy the pyramids in all of their glory. Cairo’s big city vibes make for a brilliant day out, but can feel a little intense for the everyday traveller.

Talk to as many locals as you can and don’t let stern warnings from concerned friends back home, stop you from making a friend or two along the way.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the Pyramids are all Giza and Cairo really have to offer, with a mountain of wonderful day trips and adventures to be had – Memphis, Saqqara and the Sahara to mention a few – this little pocket of the world has your name scribbled all over it.

An Idiot’s guide to Havana, Cuba.

Havana, Republic of Cuba

La Habana, land of salsa dancing, sexy people and the shits. In the planning stages of my trip, I scrolled through glamorous images of pristine beaches, vibrant buildings and of course, gorgeous Cubans – all of which, lived up to my sky-high expectations. A place steeped in rich history and even richer culture, next time you’re in that pocket of the world, make sure you stop by for a mojito or four.24020171_10155483270819130_160655965_n

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School kiddos indulging in a spot of P.E in the local square.

Food, food, food 

Despite their ideal climate for growing fruit, lots of the fresh produce resembled my decolletage after a long, hard day at the beach – overripe and wrinkly. Don’t be expecting exotic, luscious fruits, vegetables or much fresh food.  Occupational, health and safety standards leave a lot to be desired here, so come prepared and bring all of the snacks.

As a communist country, Cuba remains untouched by the wonderful world of Woolies and Foodland. Supermarkets are hard to come by and those that you do stumble across are pretty empty. Bring muesli bars, snacks and any medication you may or may not need – I would not recommend getting ill over there boys, it’s utter tripe.

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One of many local fruit stalls scattered in amongst the ‘burbs.

Money, money, money

There are two types of Cuban currency, CUC for the tourists and Cuban Peso for locals. Sadly, the fresh bakeries and fruit markets you walk by only accept local currency, so unless you can get your grubbers on some Peso’s, there’s little chance of you shopping in these local haunts.

There are two banks in town that you can convert currencies when you get there, but it’s ideal to have some CUC’s in your pocket. I had no trouble converting Mexican Peso’s in town, but if one bank knocks you down, hit the other. Avoid converting USD at all costs, you’ll be taxed till you bleed. 24098676_10155483271739130_347922932_n

Where to stay

I visited twice, experiencing entirely different accommodation options both times. Hotels vs. home stays, you ask? Home stays through and through, my dears. Not due to any wrong-doing on the hotels behalf might I add, but the more personal experience of a home stay was wonderful, comforting and gave you a bigger insight into what it might be to be a local.

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The varied reading material – exclusive to all things Cubano.

I and by that, I mean my long suffering parents, had us bunkered down in the glorious Hotel Santa Isobel. Santa Isobel featured a glittering rooftop terrace, opulent French elevators and an open lobby, providing you with an abundance of architectural porn. The bread at breakfast could’ve been used as a weapon to stone your enemies, but the fresh fruit, juice and kind-hearted waiters who fed our leftovers to stray pups, more than made up for it.

24019776_10155483270874130_1072814166_n24098723_10155483271259130_581513162_nOur home stay, found through Airbnb, was nestled in the ‘burbs’ of Havana, littered with locals, lots of little poopers playing soccer in the street and just three blocks from the water. Our hosts offered a 5 CUC per person breakfast each morning and holy smokes, it was good. Louie, our glorious housekeeper sprinkled some fairy dust into the eggs each morning, which were by far the culinary highlights of our days and even managed to dissipate my Vegemite cravings – quite the feat.

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Narcissistic local resident with her 4 cameras, map and filthy Aussie accent.

Museum of the Revolution

An interesting spot to hit if you’re after a touch of propaganda and in-depth shrine to USA’s deficiencies. Despite the rather one-sided recounts, there are some snippets of information about everyday Cuban life that might take you by surprise. The building itself is resoundingly beautiful, with cool marble floors and gold detailing so take yo’ camera people.24135337_10155483271404130_1560512040_n24098877_10155483271439130_305159887_nRestaurante La Guarida

This fancy-pants ex-palace is a hot spot for the rich and famous, food lovers or just smelly tourists looking for a night of make pretend – I clearly fall into the first category, duh. Being a more upscale establishment you’ll need to shit, shower and shave (debatable) beforehand and don your finest threads. For me, this included a $15 H&M dress in dire need of a blind date with an iron and a pair of size 11 men’s thongs, held together by bread tags stolen from a Mexican supermarket. Glamour is in fact my middle name.

The food is the best I had in Cuba with leafy greens that won’t give you salmonella, a wide variety of mains (some of which, are vegetarian friendly) and an intriguing array of desserts. Ask to be sat outside, the terrace view will blow your damn mind and make sure to catch the sunset. Reservations are required, so get in early. 24133447_10155483277759130_1302717435_nHotel Ambos Mundos

A popular haunt for tourists thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s love of the rooftop and their tip-top mojitos, Ambos Mundos was my go-to for a sit down, a few cold ones and a ripper view. Strolling into the lobby, head straight to the French-style lift and let the elevator operator take you to the rooftop. Take plenty of photos, tip the waiters and marvel at the spelling mistakes on the menu.

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Hemmingway enjoying the view.

24019819_10155483277224130_970870241_nVintage Cars

One of the highlights of my trip was taking a vintage car tour around the city. The general rule is – furthest from the square, the cheaper the deal, so hunt for the best price people. We paid 45 CUC for a one-hour tour around the city, but most quotes were for 60 CUC. Don’t be scared to put your big girl panties on and haggle a drop.

We drove through to the other side of Havana, the highly populated streets providing an impressive spectacle for our greedy eyes, before heading back past the coast. Recommend, recommend, recommend.24098670_10155483277264130_2022256057_nPlaya Santa Maria
A hop, skip and a half hour taxi ride from central Havana, Santa Maria’s water is as pristine as Mum’s criminal record – clear as the day is long. Make a day of it and grab some water, snacks and a camera. We chose to spend our Saturday there, competing for space with the locals – you’d be far better off on a weekday. Sadly, the beach is pretty well littered with rubbish, cans and plastic so do the good thing, clean up after yourself and pick up any other scraps you find – you’ll be granted immediate entry into enviro-heaven.

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Cheery creature despite newly reddened skin-tone.

Havana, in all of it’s starkly, unique glory has left a lasting impression on me. It’s rich culture and the vibrancy of its inhabitants will have you craving more and more.

Now you have it, a painfully detailed, albeit shortened version of my travels to Havana. Remember, bring snacks and medication. Come off the plane hydrated, don’t vomit in airport sinks, get wheelchaired off planes, eat veggie sandwiches of any kind or get heatstroke – it’s the bin, I would know.

 

An Idiot’s Guide to Tulum

An Idiot’s Guide to Tulum.
Tulum, Quintana Roo. Mexico.

After suffering through a number of days in rural Cuba with a bout of what can only be described as Satan’s work aka food poisoning, arriving on the sunny shores of Tulum was nothing short of euphoric. While a few of my magical days in Tulum were spent sculling Electrolit (what a name, right?) and popping & pooping pills, I was lucky enough to make a speedy recovery and enjoy some of the dreamy Mexican delights on offer. Here goes…22656466_10155386604314130_381103136_n
Pictured: fully healthy cretin.

Cenotes.
One of Mexico’s greatest natural wonders are its abundance of natural springs or cenotes. As an exceptionally mediocre swimmer with a talent for drowning herself and those around her, I found these stunning natural pools easy on the eye and the swimming skills.

Cenote Nicte Ha.
About 10 minutes’ drive from Tulum town centre, Nicte Ha boasts an impressive selection of different springs, caves and cenotes. A quiet spot for a dip and photo opportunity, just make sure you get your ride to drive you down to the cenote. We, like the bunch of  peanuts we absolutely are, sent the taxi away at the gate and enjoyed a brisk kilometre or three jog down a long ass, rocky path. Woe is me.

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Photos courtesy of gal pal, Louise Armstrong 

My advice – bring some damn bug spray, cause boy those mozzies are relentless bastards. Ideally a natural option as not to pollute the beautiful, clean waters of the cenote. Speaking of polluting the waters, no golden showers people. I understand wholeheartedly the level of restraint it requires but ya know, look after that environment and all.

Gran Cenote.
An impressively large and well organised spring, Gran Cenote is one of Tulum’s most popular spots. I’d recommend knocking their doors down at 9am for a smidge of P&Q before the masses invade. There are a heap (score, gaggle, murder perhaps?) of turtles to share the water with so keep an eye out. They’re pretty badass at Marco Polo and will kick yo ass in chasey – watch out punks.

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Beware of six-foot blood-sucking parasites ^

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Face like a slapped toochie, courtesy of squillions of aggressive mozzies – see advice on repellent. 

Casa Cenote.
A little further out than many of the other cenotes but well worth the trek, Casa is noticeably without many of the man-made additions of stairs and decks.

My favourite of all of the cenotes, Casa is home to a friendly and very peaceful crocadilly and a metric tonne of fisheys – scientific names only please. Like any cenote, I recommend an early call time to avoid the masses of screamy, smelly tourists. Bring your own snorkel gear or hire some when you’re there, you’d be more than missing out just paddling in the waters. 20/10 mucho love, mucho reommendo.

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Tulum Beach.
Playa Tulum is a long stretch of ritzy resorts, shops, spiffy restaurants and nifty beach clubs (participation award for greatest number of Kath & Kim adjectives used in one sentence). Whether you’re staying in town or in Playa, this expanse of shore and shopping is a revellers dream.

World By Hand.
As soon as I walked past this aesthetic, little shop front I was pretty bloody enamoured. Hand-made artesian rugs and pillows generously decorate the walls. WBH has an emphasis on ethical creations and as an added bonus, they ship! Make sure you check out their amazing crowns and jewels and if you look closely, the remnants of my drool can still be seen in-store.

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La Eufemia Beach Club.
For those staying in town, La Eufemia is your best bet for snagging a seat shore side. The entire beach is free game but most resorts and hotels restrict the use of loungers for guests only.

La Eufemia has a gnarly set up with mattresses, hammocks, tables and most importantly, guac on tap. Make sure you try the watermelon juices, veggie tacos and guacamole, they’ll have you singing tunes of elation.

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Restaurare.
Vegans and food lovers, REJOICE. This place is a real knee slapper and this slapper was slapping, i tell ya. The coconut ceviche, local mole, aromatic noodles and lettuce tacos were more than I could’ve wished for. Fresh, skilfully created and original, this spot is worth splashing a bit of cash on. The watermelon, peppermint and ginger mocktail got me happy drunk, I swear.

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Tulum town centre is a cluster of artesian shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. For the entirety of my stay I was settled in Tulum town and absolutely adored it. Don’t feel like you’re missing out if you’re not staying on the beach people, no fomo here.

La Hoja Verde.
Specialising in vegan and vegetarian cuisine, this cute lil’ café is nestled just off the main drag. The gorgeous staff were a highlight with a welcoming smile each time we invaded their special spot with our stinkin’ bodies. The watermelon juice and vegan omelette gave me a total lady boner.

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De Cicelo Tropical Bistro.
Air con, air con, air con. Choccie croissants, fresh bread and avo on toast, what every tourist comes to Mexico for. Authentic millennial heaven. There’s a diverse range of Mexican and Western fares with a delicious range of tostadas with avo, beans, eggs and goats cheese, an option I revisited a number of times. On our multiple excursions to De Cicelo we tried and scoffed everything, e v e r y t h i n g I repeat.

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Hernandez Gallery Tulum.
Crack for souvenir hunters, this place was one of few stores I found Mexico-wide with genuinely usable souvos. I of course, bee lined for the handbags and rugs. Honourable mention to the huge range of aluminium crosses and Frida shrines. The deadset legends at the counter saw the state of my cuticles and chucked a 10% discount my way. What’s not to like?

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Just a leathery bag with her leather bag 

Mercado Candelaria.
A street off the main drag you will find the sweet, peaceful and gloriously aesthetic cafe Mercado Candelaria. With an alfresco eating set up, more intimate dining area and quirky bar set up, this spot caters for all. We headed there for a bite of brekky and an oggle at the beautiful surroundings.

The lunch menu had a few more options my icky, picky palette liked the sound of but the cocktails are spoken about around town as if the stuff of myths. My advice, head for in lunch or dinner and grab a bloody cocktail for me.

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Viola! There it is boys, my shopping & eating guide to the bees knees town of Tulum. Enjoy, drink too much and do us over here at the guacamole fan club proud.

An idiot’s guide to Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo, Limon Providence. Costa Rica.
If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in this glorious pocket of the world, calls the cops stat ‘cause this shit is criminal. GLORIOUS. Ignoring the infestations of shall we say, local wildlife (fucking mosquitos, damn blood suckers) and a sun that could burn Satan himself, this place is everything you need from the tropics.
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A sweet seaside town, just short of the border of Panama and most popular among surfers and ocean lovers, Puerto Viejo remains largely untouched by us dirty, evil tourists. The town is host to a great number of local businesses and restaurants, with sweet street-side stalls selling empanadas, fresh smoothies and cakes for a penny. Bikes are the most popular means of transport here and can be found at most hotels/hostels or in town for rent. Unfortunately my inquiries into air-conditioned bikes have been rather unsuccessful, I give ’em five years to sort their shit. Snorkel, surf and kayak equipment is simple enough to locate and rent for reasonable rates, again most hotels provide information on rentals.

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If you’re hunting for a glorious beach I recommend walking a little further south-east down the coast towards Playa Cocles. With some seriously gnarly waves man, Punta Cocles boasts an ocean as blue as the eyes of your future husband on one side and luscious, dense rainforest on the other. The real surfer’s paradise I say. If you’re like me and have the swimming capabilities of a wet noodle I recommend sitting your ass down on the sand and watch the professionals work. The ocean here doesn’t have a sense of humour so swim only where you are capable and watch for the yellow and red flags. The commute is too far for Briskett, Donkey and Jed (or something like that) from Bondi Rescue sadly. For us less than experienced swimmers, try the much gentler waves of Puerto Viejo beach. No limp noodles have been known to drown there.

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Places to Stay.
Ayiana Lodge‘. A sweet little haunt off the beaten track but only a 5 minute walk to the action of Puerto Viejo. Humbly priced, this lodging comes equipped with a pool (and a nifty waterslide for you daredevils), wifi in the common areas, private huts with fans, the luxury of a full kitchen (minus the oven), spacious bathrooms and a friendly, roaming kitten. The huts are even colourfully painted for those aesthetically vein individuals, guilty. Recommend for those looking for a quiet stay and for groups looking to cook for themselves. Roughly $60 USD a night.
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Rocking J’s‘. An eccentrically decorated hostel with varying accommodation options. For you barrel scrappers, J’s has hammocks available for $7 USD a night, piece of piss but don’t forget to bring your mozzie repellent. Dorms and private rooms are also available for a higher price. They offer surfing lessons and are a 5 minute walk to the town drag for those of you looking to do mainey’s on a Saturday night. Recommended for solo travelers looking to meet fellow, smelly travelers. Ranging from $7 USD and up.
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A decent sized salad and fruit salad at a restaurant (I was feelin’ particularly vulnerable after my bikini debut and opted for a light lunch) will set you back around $10 USD, not including the 10% tip suggested. If you are on a limited budget I recommend heading to the supermarket in town or you know, not eating. Food nor groceries are cheap here sadly. Poor little first worlders, my heart just bleeds.
Due to the popularity of Costa Rica as a retirement destination for adventurous, baby-boomer ‘Muricans, the folks in the Rica of Costa will gladly accept both USD and their local currency of Colones. It’s roughly 500 Colones to $1 USD.

Where to Eat.
Tiare Cafeteria. Run by a sweet Italian couple this place specialises in a mixture of Italian and local delights. Plenty of Italian pastries, sweets and pastas with plenty more local tastes. Costa Rican food revolves around staples of the land, rice, beans, fruit and fresh veggies, so vegans and vego’s delight in the large number of options for you on the menu. Again, nowhere is dirt cheap so expect to pay around the $10 USD mark for most meals. This place is worth every cent though.

Soda Caribe. My post swim ladies lunch of a salad and fruit was produced from this gorgeous, beach hut eatery. With a great deal of range on the menu, guacamole, salads, fruits and Caribbean smoothies.
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Remember boys, take your sunscreen, pee in the pool and stuff your face with some roadside empanadas.

An Idiots guide to Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California. The United States of America.
Palm Springs, an untouched seventies paradise like no other. Oozing retro cool like a freshly squeezed pimple, this glorious old movie set of a town sits just East of the City of Angels. Vintage car dealerships and antique malls litter the streets offering up the best of vine-ripened vehicles, threads, jewels and most importantly old marching band paraphernalia. With row after row of immaculately kept houses, you can’t help but wonder whether every tree, paint colour and gust of wind (wasn’t me) has been handpicked to perfectly orchestrate a glamorous, old school effect.
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Nestled in between a mountain range as spectacular as the deep, cavernous pores on my face and miles of wind turbines, this glorious city smacks you between the eyes with it’s instant aesthetic appeal. Palmy is a mecca for art and design, with the retro architecture reaching every corner of the town, Mickey D’s and Kentucky Fried included. This beautiful place managed to wash the gross, millennial rat out of me and unearth the glam, silk scarf wearing, convertible driving ($200 a day Kia Soul rental actually) side of me.
For my list of highlights read on daredevils!

Salvation Mountain‘ – Three hours out of the Springs of Palm, Salvation Mountain is the story of a heat-resistant man with the vision and hydration to build a mountain in the middle of the Californian desert. Inspired by his unwavering faith and belief in the man above, this installation is a source of amazement and inspiration for everyone, regardless of religion, belief or creed. Completely surreal and entirely overwhelming, Salvation Mountain lies in stark contrast to its dry, isolated surroundings. Take lots of water, car snacks and your damn passport people. I heard a story of two thick Aussie girls who got pulled over in their Kia Soul at an immigration stop in the middle of the scorching Californian desert without ’em. Idiots. Only consolation was that one less human was exposed to the nauseating nature of those passport photos.

Time: The drive from Palm Springs took close to three hours but to cover the entire installation, give yourself dirty thirty with a ten minute interlude for passing out/melting/ etc. If 50 degree (mm pleasant) heat reminiscent of the pits of hell doesn’t bother you I’d strongly recommend sticking around and delving deeper into the area than my weak, weak soul was able to. Absolutely worth it fellas and gives you a better insight into the more ‘rural’ areas of California.
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Moorten Botanic Gardens‘- Right smack bang in the middle of the city lies a cactus lovers paradise and the Gardens are just that, paradise. Hundreds of varying species of cacti consume the garden wholeheartedly, offering up countless beautiful photo opportunities as well as some much needed relief from the merciless sun. I suggest stopping by the giant Tortoise enclosure to see some of our reptilian friends sun baking as well as the photogenic cactus greenhouse.

Time: A fabulous spot to hit before the afternoon sun sets in, we spent the best part of an hour leisurely wandering through the rows of abundant plant life. Be sure to check the opening hours and keep in mind they’re closed on Wednesdays. If you’re not an international alien like moi, the Gardens have a huge range of affordable succulents and cacti for sale so grab some while they’re hot. As with any activity in Palm Springs, take h20 and plenty of it.
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Sunny Dunes Antique Mall‘ – Y’all know I can drop a dime like the best of ’em, so i sieved through the the abundance of Palm Springs retail therapy opportunities and came up with Sunny Dunes. Crammed room upon room of vintage finds, you’d be hard pressed to leave without a bag or two full of goodies you can’t fit in your suitcase, but simply “must” have. I exercised a great deal of personal restraint only leaving with an old, gold jewel box from 1978. Proud or what? Make sure you chat to the various vendors and ask about any specials or discounts and push through the weak air conditioning to explore every nook and cranny.

Time: Allow yourself the best part of an hour or three depending on how seriously you take your shopping. I was out in one with shopping induced sweats, stressed at the thought of cramming my new purchase into my long-suffering suitcase. Have at it boys and do me proud.
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Food to Wrap your Laughing Gear Around
King’s Highway’- Attached to the Ace hotel, this eclectic little café boasts an old school diner vibe without any cheesy jukeboxes or roller blades. Like the rest of this charmer of a town, King’s Highway got the classic, retro memo and is an over-enthusiastic Instagrammers (me) ecstasy. The menu boasts the American brunch regulars like hotcakes, breakfast burritos and bagels as well as some Mexican fares like Chilaquiles (beans and corn tortillas) and fish tacos. Sold? I’ve scoffed pancakes while hungover, while drunk, while sleepy and while hangry but dang the King’s Highway babies were the fluffiest I’ve ever crammed into my gob. I’d also try your hand at the muesli. Whipped Greek yogurt, no gimmicks.
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Fuzion Five Vietnamese & Lao Cuisine‘ – For a super tasty Vietnamese bite, Fusion Five is a shoo-in. They’ve adopted American serving sizes, no complaints here, with the very best of traditional Vietnamese tastes. The bun and veggie pho are bloody delicious and are enough to feed your greedy bellies for days to come. Make sure you don’t get carried away on a cola filled cloud with softy refills like we did. Serious repercussions when you fail to polish off your five litre pho. Tears.

The ONLY Place to Say
Ace Hotel Resort & Spa‘ – Words fail to adequately express my adoration (playing it cool, my wholehearted L O V E more accurately) for this literal desert oasis. After seven hours navigating the best of Los Angeles’ traffic on the wrong side of the road, it was quite simply heaven rolling up to the Ace. Aesthetically speaking, the joint will have you frothing from orifices you didn’t know could, seventies, retro heaven. The rooms are spacious, thoughtfully designed and comfortable as hell (free fancy shamps & conditioner, holla). Not to mention the pool, spa and restaurant a hop, skip and a roll away from your door. Attention to detail is the name of this game and made my stay at the Ace the highlight of my pit stop in Palm Springs.
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Congrats you’ve made it to the end of another of my verbal assaults, 10 points to Gryffindor. My last note to any lucky bugger contemplating a visit to my freshly crowned ‘favourite city in the world’, the Northern hemisphere summer months tend to scare the crowds away. The upside, fewer pests to nudge out of the way by the pool. The downside, a number of the local restaurants and cafes close down for the hottest part of summer. Something to be aware of but certainly not a reason to stay away.

Palm Springs, go on, you know you want to.

An Idiots Guide to the Big Easy


New Orleans, Louisiana. United States of America.

Nola, New Orleans, the Big Easy, the place goes by a number of different aliases but one thing is for sure; they aren’t shy about who they are. Loud, proud and welcoming, the whole ‘Southern Hospitality’ conversation isn’t just whispers.

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For any lucky sod considering a trip down to the land of po boys and poor decisions, I would recommend with every ounce of my wicked soul you tick off the following. If you don’t, I will know. I will be vaguely disappointed and you won’t be allowed back on here. But truthfully, for once, you’d be a fool not to listen to me.
The Nola bucket list as follows;

Frenchmen Street.
For those of you who care for the soulful tones of the blues and jazz, this is what your wet dreams are made of. Day or night, you’ll find live music belting out from any number of colourful cafes, dingy bars or animated street performers. It’s a must do and see for music lovers or you know, those of you just there to say you’ve seen it (just remember, a photo or it didn’t happen people). Check out the ‘Spotted Cat‘ for some real deal live music and ‘Dat Dog‘ across the road for some filthy North American culinary delights.

Time: A few hours during the day and you’ll get your French-men fix. Once the sun goes down the place really lights up with every café and bar bursting at the seams with rowdy revellers and upbeat jazz. You could easily spend an entire night here if you’re looking for an classier (only just) experience than that you’d discover on Bourbon. It’s about a half hour walk from Canal Street and I advise you take the scenic route down Royal St.

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Garden District.
Living in a pastel coloured mansion equipped with 30 ft. palm trees and an obnoxiously sized fence to keep the peasants at bay, is a childhood dream I am yet to grow out of. So, finding my sweaty ass in the Garden District of Nola was truly a highlight. Very few places with 85% humidity and activities that involve a lot of walking can keep me interested for hours, but somehow, someway, exploring the Garden District managed the impossible. Streets upon streets of ornate mansions and sweet wooden houses in a litany of offensive and glorious colours, not to mention cobblestones. I recommend taking the $1.25c (or buy a $3 day pass on-board and make sure to bring the right change!) street cart ride down Saint Charles and hopping off when you are overpowered by the smell of disposable income and trust funds (around Washington Ave). Take a camera will ya.

Making your way to Magazine Street for a bite to eat, some air conditioning and a bit of free wifi is well worth the effort. If you find yourself sick of the rich Cajun food i’d highly recommend ‘Pho Cam Ly‘ for a killer veggie Pho and a nice sit down. The ‘Saint Claude Social Club‘ is a must see for a spot of vintage shopping and some beautifully curated jewels. On the tiring meander back to the trolley cart I’d swing by ‘Hivolt‘. A trendy spot for great coffee, baked goods and a mean green smoothie.

Time: Allocate 1-2 hours to walk around the area and 3-4 for a Magazine Street combo deal, all depending on your limited attention span. The scenic trolley ride from Canal St takes about 20-30 minutes one way. Don’t hesitate to cut a bitch to get your ass on a seat, let us eradicate that man-spreading bollocks once and for all.
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Bourbon St.
Bourbon, as if the name doesn’t explain the whole premise of the street. Booze, babes and bad hygiene, in case you didn’t get it the first time. No trip to the Big Easy is complete without a short pit stop at a bar in Bourbon. Just make sure you get shitfaced and do us all proud will you? You’ll find bar upon bar here, with drinks generally cheapest in the smaller places or the charming dive bars just off Bourbon. If you’re a restless drunk, feel free to grab a bevvy to go while you ogle at the sights and urine smells of the street. The ‘Hurricane’ is a Nola specialty and potent as hell. The ‘Cat’s Meow‘ is a time to be had if your utterly gassed and in the mood to belt out a few tone deaf tunes. Just keep that shit off Snapchat, nobody wants to see that.

Time: Lucky for you booze rats out there, it’s never too early for total and utter inebriation in Nola. Set aside a night or at the bare minimum, a few hours to really get the most of Bourbon, or Bourbon to get the most of you.

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Voodoo.
Rev. Zombies Voodoo store, Madame Laverne’s or Marie Laveau’s Voodoo stores are essential stop offs for a peek inside the mysterious world of Voodoo magic. For those frightened of the practice of ‘dark’ magic, neither store sells anything that promotes harm or injury (no chance of voodoo dolling your shitty boss, sorry fellas). They also offer readings for those interested, usually starting at around $60 USD. I recommend walking around Jackson Square on a hot day and finding a reader there for around $20 USD, try hunting down a beautiful blonde lady by the name of Velvet; she was bloody brilliant. Ask your crystal ball mystic whether you can record your session, well worth a giggle afterwards in your hotel room.

Time: Unless you’re grabbing yourself a reading, neither shop would take more than 10 minutes to look through. If you’re like me, a total cheapskate, head to Jackson Square for a $20 job and allocate no more than 20 minutes. The walk to Jackson Square from Canal takes about 20 minutes.

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Café Du Monde.
Beignets, fried French donuts. Fat asses rejoice! This French delicacy is not a hard find in Nola. The OG of beignets is the famous (might’ve heard of it or you know, watched that episode of KUWTK where Kim scoffs a few) Café Du Monde. Located opposite Jackson Square, I would recommend avoiding the atrociously long line ups and rocking up right at opening time; no shame at 9am fried goods. If you had a bit to drink the night before or simply cannot be arsed getting up early on holiday, do not fret. You will find alternative beignet cafes (Café Beignet one of the best) everywhere. There are also smaller and quieter branches of Café Du Monde; try the outlet shopping mall near the Casino. If you’re filthy and only deal in cards of calories and cholesterol like me, head to the French Market and try the praline beignets. I had an aneurism, there are TRULY no words.

Time: If you’re a sprightly bird after the worm and show your face at opening time, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to grab your cholesterol and caffine intake for the day. Due to the huge popularity and line ups, it tends not to be a place to hang about and chat so you’re better off wandering across the road to Jackson Square and having a far more relaxed yarn there. It’s a 20 minute stroll from Canal to Du Monde.

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Oak Alley.
Outside of the city lies ‘Oak Alley‘, an old plantation. As you may know, plantations were grand mansions, typically outside the city, owned by rich bastards and run by slaves. The slave market was huge in Nola so for a sad snippet of history I highly recommend booking a tour to a plantation. You can find booking agents scattered anywhere and everywhere in the French Quarter and on Canal St. The tours cost roughly $50-$80 USD and include a hotel pick up and drop off. You have a number of hours to get into a house tour, look at the old slave’s quarters and of course grab a photo or five of the spectacular alley of oaks.

Time: As the easiest and most common means of getting to the plantation is on a tour, expect the best part of your day to be spent on board. Most tours start at 9am and finish at 2pm but you can, while already outside the city, add a swamp or Katrina tour. Both i recommend. A double-header tour will have you back at your hotel around 5pm or 6pm.

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You’d be a real dickhead not to head to New Orleans on your next stop to the States, I really mean it. Summer (June, July and August) are the months to steer clear of if you aren’t so fond of the heat, humidity and back, crack and sack sweat. February the city transforms for Mardi Gras; a total spectacle and overwhelming experience. Bloody Awesome.

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Stay anywhere in the French Quarter, Business District, on Canal or in Marginy to be closest to the action. The ‘Dauphine‘ in the French Quarter is a gem thanks to its wicked air-con, pool and free breakfast.

Places to Eat.
Willa Jeans‘ – a mean breakfast spread. Make sure to try the grits (kind of like savoury porridge) and the biscuits. The avo toast (such a Millennial, I know) will blow your brains out. Impressed at own willpower withholding copious smashed avo/generation Y/home ownership jokes. Holy hell.

Galatoires‘ – Fancy, slightly upper class restaurant serving Cajun (a mix of French, Spanish and Soul-food) delicacies. Great food but even better interior, an old school fantasy. Vegetarians and vegans beware, Cajun food is the real enemy.

French Market‘ – As mentioned before those dreamy beignets are found here, but dropping a line for the vegetarians and vegans among us, there is an amazing organic health food café here called ‘Meals From The Heart Cafe‘. Try the black bean tacos for good karma and incredible bowel movements. There are also the usual Louisiana fares, freshly shucked Oysters, Craw fish pies and Alligator sausages (I warned you vegans). There also happen to a huge number of stalls selling China’s finest and most authentic Nola themed souvenirs, so tea towel and magnet shoppers eat your damn hearts out.

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I’ll stop now, promise. Go book a flight and have a few beers & beignets for me.