Texas, New Mexico & Mexico

I received the text on 31st July, “What if I told you we’re having a wedding in October…”, it was all I could do to hold in my excitement texting a reply at top speed! My bestest friend in the world, the one person I could rely on to make me laugh, to give me unclouded truth, to party with me until the early hours was getting married!

I already knew everything about his bride-to-be Kelsey, of course I did! When he met her, I heard all about her for hours over the phone, and when I finally got to meet her for the first time in New York, and the second time back home in England, it was impossible not to love her genuine smile that gave away her sparkling personality!

When the time came to propose, he sent me photos of the rose gold ring set with an oval diamond and I knew she’d love it. I received a facetime whilst I was in Bali, he was going to pop the question tomorrow, he said. She said “Yes”, we facetimed some more. And now, finally, a month later, the date was set… for 3 month’s time… in Texas! Ahhhh!

It was so far, and such short notice, so naturally I told him I couldn’t make it…

“Mate, I will be there if I have to freakin’ swim! If I have to kidnap Beyoncé to impersonate her and set  up a concert in Texas just to fraudulently be transported to you, I will do it. If I have to charter a private jet…” You get the picture, this is my best friend, OF COURSE I would be there! This was then followed by an exchange of very animated gifs giving way to at least 10% of my excitement.

The next wave of excitement arrived in the post just in time for my birthday all the way from the USA… the card officially asking me to be a bridesmaid! Yay!

So all I needed to do was figure out how to get there…

 

Getting to Texas

So contrary to popular belief, the more in demand the flights to certain places are, the cheaper the tickets are. So if I was going to New York or Vegas, I could have found pretty reasonable tickets even at the short notice. But nobody says “Hey, I’m going on holiday… to Texas” although, having been and gone, I’d say they should!
Unfortunately, demands at work meant a limited window of time, and I wanted to maximise my time off to mean I could spend lots of time with my BFF and his wifey! So flights were looking pretty steep.

So, in case you are inspired and think, “Yeah I want to go to Texas on holiday”, I’ll save you the hard work and give you your options for low cost flying now.

  1. Try to leave and return on a week-day.
  2. Fly to Mexico, Cuidad Juarez is nearest to El Paso in Texas, and get an uber to the border (or hire a car but make sure it is allowed to cross the border).
  3. Use kiwi.com who I found to have the cheapest tickets, but beware that tickets don’t always include baggage. Also be aware that they sell seperate tickets which means you have to recheck your bags at each stop and if you miss a flight due to delays, you could be swallowing the cost.
  4. Flights to larger, more popular cities within Texas such as Houston or Dallas are cheaper, but be prepared to drive 12 hours or more if you want to visit El Paso.
  5. Flying to nearby states such as California, Arizona or Colorado and driving will save you significant amounts but the drive will be between 6 and 14 hours to El Paso.

In the end I booked tickets to El Paso via Dallas on the way there, and LA on the way back via a travel agent. The agent had managed to get a deal that reduced a £1,068 ticket to £870 by adding a hire car! It was a win-win in my eyes!

 

The Wedding

The Wedding!
Photo Credit: @veronica.cook.photography

I don’t even think words can describe how beautiful this day was.

We were all up from around 9am, the vibe was pretty relaxing as we had plenty of time until the wedding started at 5.30pm. That may seem a little late but this wedding was a little different than any other wedding I had ever attended, firstly it was an Unplugged wedding, which simply meant no phones! At least, not until the reception. Kelsey & Chello wanted everyone to be present with them and in the special moment that they were about to share, and it certainly was a special moment.

We had lots of fun getting ready, helping one another out with hair and makeup, listening to music, drinking bubbly and taking photos. It was certainly a challenge getting our white lace tops on following our hair and makeup but we did it with two or three people holding the neck open!

Kelsey’s father then had a first look, where he waited in the stunning garden and Kelsey tapped him on the shoulder, it was such a beautiful moment; I looked at the other bridesmaids and there were tears in their eyes too.

Marcelo, my best friend and the groom was allowed his first look next, but this time, the bride wanted it to be private, just between her and her husband.

I’d never heard of a first look until this day, but it was such a beautiful idea.

Guests arrived to the perfectly decorated back yard, Kelsey had always wanted to marry in her childhood home, and we all hid waiting for our moment. First Marcelo, then the parents, the grandparents and finally, paired with the groomsmen, were the bridesmaids down the ailse. We parted at the alter and watched the bride arrive in an emotional moment. I felt so proud as we stood alongside the bride and groom for the stunning ceremony to take place.

It seemed to be over in a flash and soon we were eating, drinking, dancing and drinking Tequila! They did it! My best friend became one with his beautiful bride.

 

El Paso

El Paso is 80% Latino, which is unsurprising being so close to the Mexican border. As you drive along the freeway, you can see the Mexican city of Juárez which is the most populated city in the state of Chihuahua, also ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 2017.

El Paso, on the other hand, remains one of the safest cities in the US voted 4 years consecutively and stands on one side of the Rio Grande river across the Mexico-US border. El Paso, Cuidad Juárez and Las Cruces in state of New Mexico form an area sometimes referred to as the Paso del Norte or El Paso–Juárez–Las Cruces, all of which I had a chance to explore.

As with most places, El Paso has museums to visit, shops to explore, and restaurants to enjoy. Being close the the Mexican border, real Mexican food isn’t hard to come by; Gorditas, Tacos and the tastiest Guacamole you have ever had are among the options available to you. Taco Cabana and Leo’s Mexican Food are a couple of places I enjoyed some tasty Mexican cuisine. But of course there was also plenty of American restaurants to choose from, I may or may not have enjoyed a Chick-fil-A meal to myself. #guiltypleasure

I couldn’t leave El Paso without heading to a saddle shop to buy some souvenirs, Mission del Rey was fantastic and they gave me a little $3 discount on my purchases – yay!

Here are a few more things I think you shouldn’t miss.

 

Scenic Drive View

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Around 15 minutes away from downtown El Paso is a stunning drive that takes you up the southern edge of the Franklin mountains. As you drive up you will be surrounded by very expensive stately homes which are some of El Paso’s oldest homes, then when you turn off to the right you will have breathtaking views of downtown El Paso and Cuidad Juarez across the border!

There is a place to park up and an overlook to walk down where you can see panoramic views which are particularly stunning at sunset and at nighttime.

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On the rails of the staircase leading to the overlook are very familiar padlocks (read about Venice’s padlocks here) which appear to have become a visitor’s way of leaving their mark here before they leave. When you reach the bottom of the stairs, you can make your way to the edge immediately ahead of you to look through the round binocular stands, or you could veer to the right to sit on the benches facing the sunset as you take in the view.

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Look behind you to see the majestic mountain and the American flag flapping gently in the wind. Many people in El Paso also like to hike up the Franklin mountains, for fantastic views and challenging climbs.

 

New Mexico

Bordering Texas as well as Mexico is New Mexico. In Las Cruces you can find many wineries and vineyards, one of which we paid a visit to for the batchelorette party; the Luna Rossa Winery. It was 5 tasters for $5, seriously! And they were flipping good wines, I enjoyed the NINA best.

But I suppose marginally better than the super cheap wine tasting was one of the world’s natural wonders, White Sands.

White Sands is made up of gypsum which flowed from the mountain tops to create crystals that are broken down into fine particles that the wind has blown over time to create these huge sand dunes. The sand is almost as soft and fine as talcum powder making the sand itself cool to walk on even in the severe heat of the sun. The dunes stretch over a 275 square mile range of desert making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field.

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You can walk along the many miles of glistening white dunes, with trails available for hikers, or some like to camp overnight, sandboard, or like my bestie and his wifey, take amazing engagement photo shoots!

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Monsoon in the Desert. Photo Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Whilst I was there, I saw a monsoon coming for us from afar like a dark cloud following us, it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by large raindrops and thunder as well as lightning. At this time, it is unsafe to be on the dunes as the sand conducts the electricity from the lightning and could harm you.

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But seriously though, these dunes are totally worth the visit, at only $5 per person for entry.

 

Mexico

El Paso is right next door to Mexico, so it would be crazy to be here and not pop across the border into Juarez. Yeah, Juarez was the most dangerous city in the world, yes there were horror stories of corruption, murder and greed BUT I had always wanted to visit Mexico! So, when a friend I met at the wedding invited me to join her and her husband for dinner in Mexico, how could I resist?!

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Crossing the border was easy, seriously, scarily easy. In fact, take the wrong road and you might find yourself in Mexico! So be careful; always carry a copy of your passport with you. So to get into Mexico, nobody checks your passport or anything – you can just drive straight through! It’s coming back that you have to worry about.

Juarez is a city in Chihuahua, I was sad that little Chihuahuas were not running around on the streets but it’s probably a good thing.

We headed to an awesome restaurant called Aaajiji! This taqueria was packed with local families and friends happily chatting away in Español, our party of 12 were soon sat and we ordered tasty pork and beef tacos that came served in heated dishes. We all headed to the salsa bar to get our sauces and toppings. On recommendation I ordered Orchata, a Mexican spiced rice milk drink which was absolutely delicious!

Following dinner, we all headed to the bar to celebrate my friend’s birthday, and what is the best way to celebrate a birthday in Mexico?? Tequilaaa!! We got a bottle of Don Julio and finished it quickly chanting the famous Mexican drinking toast, “¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! ¡Al centro! y Pa’dentro!”

The queue getting out of Mexico was long but the time passed quickly with the fun and laughter in our 7 seater car as we jammed to Dembow – Danny Ocean. To keep us going, we picked up some marzipan snacks from a street vendor who knocked on our car window. The clear plastic packet said “de la Rosa” in red writing with a picture of a rose. It tasted gorgeous!

No, they did not stamp my passport on crossing the border – boo!

Thanks for reading, more adventures coming soon – subscribe to be notified first!

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13 Weeks of Wandering: Charleston

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Charleston, South Carolina
How long? 3 days
Mode of Transport? Car


13WoW – Charleston

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“Looking good!” I hear you say. Thanks – I try my best. Oh, you were talking about the car? Okay yeah, fair enough, it is pretty sexy. So I picked this beauty up at the Airport after booking online with a pick up from Atlanta and a drop off in Miami. Unlimited mileage. Full tank. Two weeks. Now the road trip really begins.

A word of warning in case you were thinking of doing the same, if you are given a price online, expect the price to double when you go to pick it up. I had not anticipated this when I stretched my already-thin budget to hire the car, and it wasn’t soon until the additional extras that were adding up had me crying over the counter… quite literally.

Yes, head was on the counter, tear puddles building up and a salesman’s hand reaching over to pat me on the head… “Please don’t cry?” I think he may have been begging rather than asking.

You see, if you get insurance, it covers you for if you hit someone else but not damage to your own car, and so you have to buy another insurance to cover any damages to the hire car (which I’m glad I did because I’d soon have to replace the car). Plus they try to sell you these toll passes, fuel agreements, add VAT and all sorts of other extras that just cost so much more. I left with a heavier heart and a  lighter wallet.

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But all that was soon forgotten, the next challenge was picking my car. They pointed to a row, “choose a car” they told me. They didn’t tell me that once I’d chosen a car, I could pretty much just drive off with it. The keys were already in the ignition, I spent 15 minutes getting used to the steering wheel on the other side, the clutch pedal missing and the gear box condensed into D,R,L. Thankfully my uber driver had given me a crash course on driving automatics before dropping me at the airport; basically D for Drive and R for Reverse, not really sure what L was for….
Eventually I knew I’d just have to go and figure the rest out on the roads. Confidence was key, and I was scared AF!
Spotting another car driving out, I decided to follow it – surely at least they knew what side of the road to be on. At the barriers, I showed my license and paperwork fully expecting them to take one look and refuse to let me drive out with their car but the barrier was lifted and I was let loose on the roads. My first journey? The four hour drive to Charleston!

 

Charleston Grand Hotel

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When I arrived in Charleston, I hadn’t booked a hotel/hostel or anything, still staying true to my free-spirit. So I had to book the cheapest hotel available and that landed me in the Charleston Grand Hotel in North Charleston. My review on North Charleston? Don’t go there. Just stick to Charleston. The staff were friendly and the room was comfortable, in fact the bed was very comfortable. Generally, there appeared to be a good vibe in the hotel and I liked the lobby area, but on the other hand I found a pillow riddled with ants stuffed down the side of the armchair in my room and the chair itself seemed pretty dirty so didn’t want to sit on it.

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So , basically found out pretty quickly that the area is pretty sketchy; thought I was going to get stabbed just going across the road to the petrol station. It was dinnertime, but there were no restaurants open nearby and I couldn’t have afforded it even if there was so when the “Gas Station” across the road came into view, I decided that was my best option for dinner.
The decision was immediately regrettable when stepping foot on the other side of the road, as I suddenly became aware of the kind of people that surrounded the gas station. They were the type of people that nearly definitely had a weapon on their person, drank alcohol out of brown paper bags and hung out territorially by the gas station. I looked left, I looked right, and I looked down… at my ripped jeans… and that’s when the plan came together. Realising that I could probably pass for one of them with my thoroughly shredded jeans, flat cap and trainers, I mustered up as much swagger as I could pull together and strolled confidently into the shop.

The cashier was well protected behind one of those bullet-proof glass screens that you only see in movies, and I hid in the back of the shop to get out the exact change for my pot noodles – taking no risks. At the counter, I slapped down my change, the cashier nodded and I walked back to the hotel as fast as I could!

 

Charleston

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Charleston, situated by a harbour, is the oldest city in South Carolina, founded in 1670 as Charles Town, named after King Charles II. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was the epitome of deep south, bible belting, rich patriots judging by the feel of the area around White Point Garden (the fact that the film “The Patriot” was filmed here had no bearings on my judgement). But not too far beneath the surface of the prosperous, clean cut, not-a-petal-out-of-place exterior, there is a dark history.  Historians estimate that approximately half of all African slaves brought to America arrived in Charleston. At that time, Charleston grew from a small seaport to a very wealthy city, it’s economy prospering due to its well positioned harbour and the growing of cotton, rice, and indigo (most certainly undertaken by the slaves). Charleston was the only major city to have a majority-enslaved population with white planters and merchants in control, mostly English colonists.

Do make sure you visit the Battery Park and White Point Garden if you go, it’s worth seeing the large historic houses, stunning low branched trees and the beautiful ocean harbour. You can still get a feel for the rice fields as you walk by the harbour, and you can visit one of the most well-known plantations; Boone Hall.

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Another place of interest is the Charleston City Market. Full of history, this market is always buzzing with people; an array of tempting stalls to choose from. Many merchants sold hand crafted goods, some sold spices and seasonings claiming to be so good “you’ll want to slap yo mama”. And I’ll let a couple of my favourites speak for themselves.

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Finally, I also enjoyed a visit to the Waterfront Park. A famous pineapple water fountain signifies that you are welcome as you approach the park. Heading to the edge of the bay at sunset, I took in stunning views and listened as one of my favourite songs from “A Cinderella Story” was played- “Angels”. A shower broke out and I ran for shelter nearby. A young man decided to chat me up whilst we waited, except he assumed that I was 14 years old and when asking how old he was, he replied “legal”. I told him my age, he told me his; he was 21. “Stop approaching 14 year old girls,” I warned him.

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Later on, after a few cheeky drinks with some new friends, I was taken to a late night pizza place, Pizzeria Di Giovanni ,where the staff had just as much fun as the customers… at least whilst I was there! We ordered the largest slice of pizza I’ve ever seen, and then this…

I returned to the Waterfront and found a pair of glasses by the pineapple fountain. A group of friends were sitting by the fountain giggling, so I approached them with the glasses. No-one else was in sight. What was funny was that one of the women had lost her glasses over a year ago that looked identical to these, and when she tried them on, they were the exact specifications as those she wears. Even stranger, she had lost another pair of glasses a few days ago and needed a new pair. So it seemed like it was meant to be!

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As we parted ways, her partner urged me to visit Edisto before heading to Savannah, and so, that’s where I was headed next.

 

 

 

13 Weeks of Wandering: Atlanta

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Atlanta, Georgia
How long? 4 days
Mode of Transport? Bus


13WoW – Atlanta

I stared at my screen for a while unsure how to begin writing about this adventure, because this adventure began with an ending. You may already have read August’s challenge; Saying “Yes” to new opportunities, but for those who haven’t I will start from the beginning… of the end…

The bus took me from Charlotte on a scenic route crossing enormous lakes on route, the view a blur of birch then pine trees, until we eventually arrived in the city of Atlanta.

A gut feeling told me before finding out, but as I settled in to my spacious hotel suite, I was soon to face one of the most difficult challenges I’d faced since beginning my travels. In all challenges, there is often an opportunity hidden within. So as July came to an end, so did my 9 month relationship, which kind of messed with the travel plans, but lead to my first adventure in Georgia. Again, if you read August’s challenge, you’ll have already heard me say it; It’s never easy dealing with breakups because your heart just wants to say “no” to everything. To waking up, to getting dressed, to stepping out of the door! Eek, humans!

Thankfully, immediately across the road was a Chinese takeaway, and a corner shop where I looked into grabbing some Ben and Jerry’s but ended up with a mango sorbet somehow. I binged watched American TV and ate until I couldn’t eat anymore. Yeah so the food may have had some added saltiness, but suddenly all these movies were just so meaningful!

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Enjoying the Accountant Movie for the second time
It took a lot of getting my shit together, but I had to convince myself to go out and explore (like, I didn’t pay all this money to sit in a hotel room watching chick flicks and shovelling mango sorbet down my throat).

Surprisingly, this bump in the road lead me to my first Adventure. Processing my sudden life change by crying into sorbet and binging on movies all night, I woke up the next morning seeking the comfort of the place I have always received peace from; Church. And it just so happened that around 15 minutes away was a church I had been familiar with as a youth – The Vineyard.

So after crying some more at the front desk staff and a police officer who listened intently (come to think of it, why were the police there?!), I jumped in an uber to go to church!

A kind woman  offered greetings and handed me a welcome pack, it had snacks, books and music (which I later gave to a begging child). They invited me to lunch with them after the service, and that’s where I met a bright, smart 9 year old with the most beautiful smile, Eden.

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She was over the moon to hear that I was from England and even more excited when she found out about my travelling adventures. “I wish I had your life” she said, longingly. I swallowed back tears, she had no idea how much that meant!

Her lovely parents, Phil & Daesy had been in the worship band. Daesy was from the Philippines and so we had a lot to talk about with my recent travels to Asia. It wasn’t long until Phil turned to me and said “Mary, Daesy and I have been talking and we would love to offer you a place to stay.” I was so overwhelmed by their kindness!

breakfast by Phil & Daesy

Before I knew it, I was part of their family as we shared meals, watched Dr. Who and they even gave me lifts to places. It was exactly what I needed when feeling so low and I am ever thankful that we met. We stay in touch even now!
This also lead to a new connection as it turned out Paul & Daesy had family in Portland which happened to be on my travel route. But you can read about that later!

 

Atlanta

So here’s a few of the places I visited in this stunning city.

Olympic Park

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This thriving park is the heart of the city with a vibrant and fun air, you would never have known it used to be a run-down multi-block district. Fountains spraying up from the floor, the laughs of little children echoed as they played in the water. A little further on, a group of young people were making their  own music video – I smiled to myself. On the green, many college football players were sporting their gear and chatting happily with family and friends. One sculpture was a large fan with Olympians running through, another was the famous Olympic circles over a platform that one girl was trying to get the perfect insta-selfie from. The Park hosts music festivals, concerts, fundraisers, free community events and private events. But surrounding the park are popular attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame, World of Coca-Cola, as well as hotels, nightlife and restaurants.

Atlanta City Pass
If you are planning to take advantage of the city attractions, it’s worth it to take advantage of the city pass. You get admission to five of the most popular attractions for $62.75. Discounts are sometimes available on their website.

The City Pass Includes the following.

 
1. Georgia Aquarium
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This aquarium used to be the largest in the world until 2012, incredibly, it holds more than a hundred thousand animals within over 10 million gallons of water. I was able to view an incredible dolphin show, watch the most incredible beluga whales peacefully swim with smaller fish taking shelter beneath it’s large body, and walk beneath a glass arch surrounded by colourful fishes.
If it happens to be your birthday when you visit the Aquarium, then you will qualify for FREE admission! Just make sure you have valid ID or a copy of your birth certificate for proof and you will have free all access admission!

2. World of Coca-Cola
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“I paid Coca-Cola world to brainwash me with advertisements and feed me diabetes…” were my regretful thoughts summarising my tour of the attraction. On entry I was handed a mini vanilla coke as I queued to get in. We were then all lead into a room as we waited for the previous group to finish a screening, this room was probably the most interesting of all as it had all of the original Coca-Cola memorabilia. It reminded me of Christmas.
We were then ushered into a room to watch a 3-D “film” a.k.a advert about Coca-Cola with plenty of not-so-subtle messages about how Coca-Cola is the best thing since sliced bread – and why wouldn’t that be the case? It’s Coca-Cola world!
After being thoroughly brainwashed, we were all lead into the “world” where you could enter the “secret vault” where the secret recipe of Coca-Cola is supposedly held or you can go to the next floor and try unlimited sugary drinks until your tastebuds can’t take it anymore. A child’s heaven.
To exit, you go through the Coca-Cola shop for your greatly desired souvenirs.  Still, it was something to do, your kids will certainly love it!

3. CNN Studio Tours


The world headquarters of CNN, this commercial office offers an inside peek into the behind-the-scenes of CNN’s newsrooms. For many of the people within the building, this was their everyday place of work but for a few of us, this was a chance to understand the world of news anchors!
Something you couldn’t miss as you entered the ground floor is the 196 foot long escalator leading into a large globe of the world that takes visitors to the CNN tour. It is listed as the longest freestanding escalator in the world in the Guiness Book of World Records.
Equally as noteworthy are the restaurants and cafes available to business employees and visitors alike. Most importantly (especially to the people of Georgia) is the popular fast food chain, Chick-fil-A. If you know, you know.

 
4. Zoo Atlanta (Or Center for Civil and Human Rights)
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So I opted for the Zoo, but in hindsight that probably wasn’t a place for a single person. Families and couples everywhere, I contemplated borrowing a child to not look weird by myself. But that’s also weird.
Home to the rare Giant Panda, there are many beautiful animals to see. Elephants are my favourite animal and I was happy to get up close to some of these beautiful creatures.
You will also be pleased to know that the zoo is directly involved in field conservation programs for wildlife around the world.

 
5. Fernbank Museum of Natural History Or College Football Hall of Fame
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Sadly, I didn’t make it to either of these but the website assures me that Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a world of adventure filled with dinosaurs, live animals, cultural artefacts and hands-on science explorations.
I also have it on good authority that College Football Hall of Fame (supported by Chick-fil-A) is a hall of fame and museum devoted to college football.
But maybe you can let me know if you go?
That’s all I managed to see before I head to Georgia Airport… to pick up a car! Keep reading to hear about out all the drama when I got there. Next stop; Charleston!

 

Touring Bali

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I hope you enjoyed my last blog post where I showed you the work I was doing as a volunteer, but perhaps meeting with prisoners and playing football with street children isn’t on your travel agenda (though it really should be). So I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite spots in Bali that I got to visit on my days off.

I was really lucky to meet some amazing friends who were either volunteers like myself or full-time staff. Many were from Indonesia or had learned Bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia) and had been in Bali a lot longer than I, so they knew all the local spots where the “cool kids” hang out… so to speak.

 

Transport

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Getting around was never going to be easy, or so I thought! Here’s the thing, getting around in a car tends to cut a chunk out of most of your day as you sit in traffic and bake (or freeze if your driver has the aircon on like mine did at times). So how else are you supposed to get around? Yeah, you guessed, scooter!

The scooter! Also known as a motorbike, bike, moped, or whatever. It has two wheels and it weaves in and out of traffic like magic. Everyone has one and everyone uses this method of transport unless you are like foreign and don’t know about Go-Jek.

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I’m going to tell you about Go-Jek, and Grab. These are apps you must download before you go to Bali. Must. This is your Asian version of Uber and it is suuuper cheap. Seriously. An hour’s journey cost me £0.45p. Although you can select the car option, I’m going to tell you to choose the motorbike option because your journey time will cut at least in half. You have to be prepared to wear their helmets which have been worn by who-knows-how-many but it’s a small price to pay for a cheap, fast ride.

 

Temples

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Bali has many notable temples, and being a majority Hindu country, you will see many people bringing their offerings and incense thrice daily and laying them all around their houses, businesses and the temples. These colourful offerings are supposed to give back to the gods and bring health and prosperity to their families.

There are many beautiful temples in Bali, but I only had time to visit one. Maybe I’m biased but I would definitely put the Uluwatu temple on your list of places to visit.

You are given a purple and orange sarong to wear around your waist before you enter and then you are nearly immediately faced with breath-taking cliff-top views. It doesn’t take long before you spot a monkey or two in the trees, and next thing you know you are surrounded by these cheeky creatures as you clutch tightly to your bags. And you should, these monkeys are well known for stealing sunglasses off your face and purses out of your hands so be careful!

 

Street Food

Having local Indonesian friends meant never being far from tasty treats from the streets (see what I did there?). I’ll try my best to describe some of these Balinese treats but you have to promise not to knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Fried Banana

So this is literally bananas that are dipped in some kind of batter, deep fried and topped with chocolate and cheese. And… it just works… somehow!

Martabak Manis

I also heard this referred to as a different name, but whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious. It’s a mix between an English crumpet and a pancake (so maybe call it a crumpcake?!) and this thick pancake is doubled up with a layer of chocolate and crushed peanuts sandwiched in between.

Deep Fried Pancakes with Egg & Leek

I don’t actually know the official name for this but it is a savoury snack you will definitely get an appetite for. Pastry is thinned out to a large circle and then placed in hot oil to start frying, then the egg/leek mix is added to the middle and encased within the pastry. This parcel is deep fried on both sides until it is ready, then sliced into squares for your consumption.

Satay

It’s just basically chicken (or other) kebab sticks marinated in a peanut sauce and cooked over a fire/grill.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia.It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form (source: wikipedia, cheers bro!). They love this stuff here, and it is often marinated in a sweet sauce and served with rice.

Nasi Goreng

Don’t get me started on how much Indonesians love their rice! They just love it! So it should come as no surprise to find the most famous Balinese meal is Nasi Goreng, or basically, fried rice. Now, it is good, and you can get it everywhere and it is cheap, so you can’t really not love it! #nasigorengforever

 

Cafés

Okay, so Bali is basically café heaven! Everywhere you go, you will find a gorgeous café selling really flipping tasty food and equally stunning smoothie bowls! For the vegan, the Canggu area is bliss! Here is a list of my top 12 cafés.

  1. NOOK, Denpasar |Rice Fields|Smoothie Bowls|Avocado Toast on point|Fresh
  2. Smoothie Shop, Uluwatu |Vegetarian|Organic|Takeaway smoothies in glass bottles
  3. Café Organic, Canggu |Organic|Fresh|Locally Sourced|Vegetarian
  4. Crumb & Coaster, Kuta |Fresh|Locally Sourced|Smoothie Bowls|Paper Straws|Coffee on point
  5. Revolver Espresso, Seminyak |Quirky|Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Locally Sourced
    Revolver Espresso
  6. Zeus Café & Secret Garden, Jimbaran |Bean Bags|Fresh Juices|Smoothies|Glass Straws|Relaxing Vibe
    Zeus Cafe & Secret Garden
  7. Mac Eleven Café & Roastery, Jimbaran |Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Relaxing Vibe
  8. Peekaboo, Canggu |Quirky|Good Vibes|Good Food|Totes Instagrammable
  9. Betelnut Cafe, Canggu |Airy Upstairs Seating|Healthy|Amazing Food
  10. Locas Waroeng, Keramas Beach |Beanbags|Smoothies|Great Ocean Views
    Locas Waroeng
  11. Kitchenette, Beachwalk, Kuta |Best Avocado Toast Ever|Beach|Shops
  12. J.Co, Bali |Best Doughnuts Ever|Free Doughnut with every Drink|Chill Vibe

 

Shopping

The Balinese Rupiah is not a strong currency which makes for dirt-cheap shopping and with the haggling culture, prices are rarely set. That in mind, please remember that what you earn in a year is probably more than some earn in a lifetime, so be generous- you can afford to be!

canggu love anchor

One of my favourite shopping spots was Kuta, I didn’t really bother with the Beachwalk mall but in the streets surrounding the mall there are several unique shops and stalls all selling anything you could imagine from very large paintings (guilty) to super cute clothes. The other favourite spot was in Ubud, there is a huge outdoor market in Ubud with each stall packed closely to the next making a sea of merchandise before your eyes. It’s hard to know where to look, but the stunning silver jewellery may just catch your eye. Indonesia is famous for it’s silver so be sure you will find some great quality pieces, and with a set of earrings and two rings for 100 rupiah, it’s a steal.

A little more pricey but worth a visit was the Mal Bali Galleria in Kuta where you can find your typical high street shops but also some quirky and cute stalls. Lastly, and most expensively, is the Love Anchor in Canggu which has some of the most beautiful and unique jewellery I have seen but also gorgeous bags, clothes, shoes or souvenirs. Make sure you pay a visit to the shops upstairs too!

 

Beaches

The volunteer base just happened to be opposite the beach most famous for it’s sunsets and seafood restaurants. Jimbaran Beach has one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen and if you head there after hours, you can enjoy a seafood BBQ on the beachfront with the waves lapping at your toes (or in my case swallowing my ankles).

If you enjoy surfing then you will love Keramas Beach in Kuta, this black sand beach hosted a surf competition which I enjoyed under the shade of an umbrella (you definitely need one in the Bali heat). You get to see the surfers right up close and many photographers gather to get “the shot”, which my lovely friend Guia was lucky enough to get with the winning surfer!

Also great for beginner surfers is Echo Beach in Canggu, a great time to go is just before sunset as you can watch the surfers surfing and the sun setting at the same time, then head into Canggu for drinks in one of the quirky bars, or dinner at one of the vegetarian cafés.

A more touristic area is Nusa Dua with some stunning views and the famous Water Blow where the waves smash against the jagged rocks with their alien-like appearance. But a local gem was known as the “Secret Point” only ten minutes from Jimbaran where you have insane sunset views and you can cliff jump (permitting the tide is high enough)! To make it extra special, bring marshmallows and make a small fire to roast them whilst you watch the sun go down.

 

Waterfalls

Waterfall

You can’t visit Bali without visiting a waterfall, there are so many beautiful falls hidden away in the center of Bali. I can recommend a visit to Kantolampo Waterfall but I can’t recommend the route that I took to get there.

You see, a friend who I trusted, took me to visit this waterfall. Except, when we arrived, it wasn’t immediately obvious exactly where this waterfall was. But my friend insisted that he knew where it was and it wasn’t far, so I followed him into the jungle (never follow anyone into the jungle).

Several traumatic slips and slides later (including one where we both slipped and landed in decomposing fruit turning into mud – eeeek!) we found the water fall. But needless to say, on the other side of the river, there was a clean cut staircase that lead from the road directly to the waterfall.

So don’t go through the jungle kids, just don’t.

 

Night Life

There’s plenty to do in Bali during the day, but it’s worth staying up because you don’t want to miss some of these magical places.

Sunset Seafood BBQ @ Jimbaran Beach

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If you are looking for the perfect romantic setting, you will be hard pressed to find one that competes with this beautiful beach. This is the perfect spot for dinner before you head to the next destination.

Nav Karaoke

karaoke nav

So you’ve had a few drinks and you’re feeling like you’re meant to be famous, don’t just keep that thought to yourself; get your own private Karaoke booth! This colourful Karaoke “bar” allows you to rent a booth for a period of time with your friends so you can explore your inner Beyonce. You can order drinks, choose from a very large library of songs and artists and of course, sing your heart out!

Old Man’s Beachfront Bar

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Maybe you are feeling super chill and you want to sit with some friends simply chatting and sipping on some Bintang (local beer), take a seat in the open outside area. If you can tolerate bumping into the occasional celeb, and you can shake a leg with some stag and hen parties, you might also find yourself enjoying the more enclosed area near the bar.

La Laguna

La Laguna

You haven’t seen magic until you’ve seen this place. Seriously. La Laguna had me at “wow” from the start. I stared at the magical lighting and medieval style wagons that lead down to the main restaurant. I crossed the stunning bridge, dimly lit, with vines drooping from above, wondering where it would end. I delightfully ran through the sand as I realised the bridge lead me to the sea, and played with photos around the teepee.
But, I couldn’t stay on the beach long because I had a date with my friends at the outdoor cinema where beanbags were lined up and blankets laid on the ground beneath us.

This. Was. Magic.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed following me on a short trip through Bali, keep following (and subscribe) for my future adventures.

Sunset Heart
“Thank You Bali!” – Secret Point. Photo Credit: @totosamurai

Volunteering in Bali

Wow, 3 weeks have flown by and already I am sat in the Ngurah Rai airport eating a grilled falafel panini and waiting for my plane to Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a crazy, unique and unexpected few weeks and while I wait, I’ll take this opportunity to share with you some of the experiences I had as a volunteer here in Bali.

So after I arrived and settled in, I was given an orientation to let me know how things worked and where I could help. I also found out that there were several significant holidays happening for the people of Bali, which is fantastic for the Balinese, but for me it meant that several of the volunteering opportunities were not on for the weeks that I would be staying. That left me with limited options, but I was keen to be involved in any way that I could. I ended up getting involved with the following activities.

 

Cleaning and Meal Preparations

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For any voluntary organisation to operate, you need hands on deck to run it in every way. There are people who staff “full time” but they do not get paid to be there, actually they need to pay staff fees (and I volunteer fees) to be able to stay and these cover the cost of keeping the Bali base going.

We are provided with accommodation and three meals a day, so as you can imagine, somebody needs to maintain it and prepare it. So every volunteer is rota’d into cleaning and food preparations which would normally be around 3 times a week. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other volunteers/staff here at the base but also felt good to be able to contribute to keeping this amazing organisation running.

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In addition to this we would help with any other tasks needed for the voluntary work such as wrapping the gifts to be given out to the girls stuck in prostitution.

 

“Soccer” with Street Children

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Okay, yeah so maybe I was ill-equipped to facilitate the actual training in “soccer” (which is actually football, guys), but I really wanted a chance to meet and interact with these local children.

There were many children of various ages and they were split into groups according to age. Some children wore kit so big for them that they were pretty much being held up by the string that runs through the waistline. I helped one child tie the laces of his shoes that were falling apart, at the same time I peeled of part of his rubber sole that was flapping off to avoid him tripping and falling.

One girl in particular took my interest, she was the only girl who came to soccer but she didn’t let that fact put her off. She smiled and took my hand, then lifted it to her forehead as is the Balinese custom for showing respect to your elders and I was charmed! Though a very little girl, no more than 7 years old, she easily competed with the boys around her.

As we asked a very lighthearted question about a time when these little 7 year olds had made their parents annoyed, some of the children opened up to us about the abuse they suffer at home where some are beaten so badly that they have scars. They laughed about it, because for them it’s just normal life. But it really touched our hearts as we realised for these children, soccer may be the only escape from their tough situations at home and the only place they can really let loose and express themselves.

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At the end of soccer, they all sit down and we tell them a story which always has a life lesson for them to learn about how to behave or to deal with difficult situations. I watched as they got so involved in the story, laughing and shouting and my heart went out.

 

Prison

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Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

Unsure what to expect but eager to get stuck in, I desperately convinced one of the base staff to swap my cleaning day so I could visit the prisons of Bali.

I visited 3 prisons on different days and each had their own impact on my heart.

The first time I went, we visited two women and a man in one of the Bangli prisons. Not long before one of the inmates had committed suicide there. The two women particularly were so happy to see us and speak with us. We were able to share words of encouragement with these women, and one of them couldn’t stop crying- the other on the verge of tears also. One due to be free in 1 month and the other with a life sentence, the girls shared their struggles but also the times they were thankful for. The man, however, didn’t stay long to chat. We gave them gifts of food and toiletries and left feeling so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these women.

The second time I visited was a male-only drug prison also in Bangli. A very different prison with much tighter security, a larger group of us went to visit the prisoners. The organisation I went with had actually been invited to come to this prison because one of the inmates had transferred from another prison that they visited and told the officers of the work we do.

There was around 15 of us who went, including a 3 year old boy (who they absolutely love seeing), and we each brought the skills that we had to invest in the people here. The main purpose is to build relationships and support the inmates here in the hopes that they will turn their lives around and when released, leave the life of drugs behind. We also teach English, and train in football (or “soccer’). I initially planned to help with teaching English, but when one of the inmates stepped out of the team I was invited to fill in for football. You have no idea how excited the inmates were to see me playing soccer, I soon had a fan base who cheered loudly if I so much as tapped the ball.

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One thing that really stuck out to me here was how polite these men were, treating the women visiting with respect and generally behaving well. I can only imagine the type of behaviour that would take place in a British prison (having a friend who is a Prison officer in the UK, I have heard enough awful stories). The other thing was how accepting they were of the mistakes they had made and how keen they were to change when they eventually got out. I spoke to one man who desperately wanted to ensure he never went back to drugs, even asking me for advice on how to stay off when he’s free.

The prison sentences in Bali can be quite harsh; particularly for drugs. This may be because it’s one of the biggest drug trafficking routes. One man I spoke to had 6 years for possession of marijuana. The other sad thing to note is that due to corruption, those with money can often pay their way out of harsh sentences.

Kerobokan

The last prison I visited was the most secure and this was the Kerobokan prison in Denpasar. This time I visited a specific woman who told me she had a 16 year sentence and had had to leave a son behind. This woman amazed me with the positivity and hope that she had despite losing all that she had, believing even that maybe she was there for a reason; to help others in this place. I could barely keep my jaw from dropping as she passionately talked with me about the hope that she had and the faith she had in God to look after her little boy, and her.

Her face lit up when I showed her a selection of nail polishes that I had nearly not been allowed to take in, she looked at her battered nails and smiled at me saying “God knows what your heart desires”. Again, jaw dropped as I saw the pure gratitude of such a simple thing.

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Not the same woman who I met in Kerobokan but another very thankful woman after I did her nails. Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

In the end, I thought I was coming here to give to the people of Bali, but I didn’t realise how much they would give to me instead. My heart goes out to the amazing people that I’ve met, normal human beings who have just fallen on hard times. People who deserve to be loved and not forgotten. People who despite the odds still hold so much hope in their hearts.

I reflected on this one night with my sandals half on, vision blurred, riding in the dark on the back of a motorbike with no idea where I was going. My heart was full, and I only wanted to give more.

Maybe it’s not about the four walls that surround us, it’s about the souls within.

 

In my next post, I would love to also show you the sights of beautiful Bali that you shouldn’t miss!