Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Chatuchak Weekend Markets

So, you think you’re a shopping pro? If bargain hunting is your thing then look no further than Bangkok’s world famous Chatuchak Weekend Markets. Here you will find the term ‘shop ‘til you drop’ to be taken quite literally. The Chatuchak Weekend Markets are an expansive 35-acre area which houses over 8,000 unique shopping stalls and, on a typical weekend, attracts over 200,000 visitors. Any local will tell you that this is the mecca for Thai bargain hunting and that there is only one negative to these brilliant markets-you will most definitely be buying another suitcase.

What’s on offer?

These markets are considered unique not just because of sheer size but because of the variety of products that are on offer. In one section you will find a range of clothing from handmade knitted products, handbags, singlets, shirts, hats, Levi jeans, shoes and shorts. In another you will be greeted by the aromas of home cooked Thai Cuisine and sweets, or perhaps a fresh fruit shake to quench your thirst. You also have the opportunity to delve into the more exotic side of Bangkok, with a large selection of unique animals on display. Ever wanted to own a Monkey or a Python?

Boy busking at markets

How to find what you’re looking for

At first, conquering the Chatuchak Markets will be daunting to even the more savvy shoppers. But thankfully there is a method to the madness. Once you have made your way into the markets you will find yourself on the main walkway which surrounds the entire market. This walkway then branches off into a series of alleyways which are grouped into sections. There are 27 sections in all, and it will require some navigational skills to remember where you have already visited. But fear not, with the help of this brief guide and the friendly market volunteers you will find exactly what you’re looking for.

Market Directory (sections guide originally published by Chatuchak.org. http://www.chatuchak.org/)

  • Clothing & Accessories (sections 2-6, 10-26)
  • Handicrafts (sections 8-11)
  • Ceramics (sections 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 25)
  • Furniture and Home Decoration (sections 1,3,4,7,8)
  • Food and Beverage (sections 2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 26, 27)
  • Plants and Gardening tools (sections 3, 4)
  • Art and Gallery (section 7)
  • Pets and Pet Accessories (sections 8, 9, 11, 13)
  • Books (sections 1, 27)
  • Antiques and Collectibles (sections 1, 26)
  • Miscellaneous and Used Clothing (sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 25, 26)

The weekend markets are open on Saturdays and Sundays, 09:00 – 18:00, and Fridays 18:00 – 24:00.

Tips for the penny pinchers:

Getting to the Chatuchak Weekend Markets can be a stressful exercise, though there are a number of different options available that can make this a relaxing and affordable experience.

SkyTrain

Bangkok’s SkyTrain is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to see Bangkok and has become a great alternative to the congested Bangkok traffic. There are SkyTrain stations spread throughout Bangkok (most likely within a walking distance from your hotel) and once aboard you will be taking a short trip to Mo Chit station. Upon arrival you will join the crowd of eager shoppers for a short 10 minute walk to the markets.

TukTuk

For the more adventurous travellers, it can be quite beneficial to hail a TukTuk (Thailand’s answer to a Western taxi), which will drop you at the front gate of the markets. TukTuk’s can prove quite cheap depending on how skilled you are at bargaining, though be warned that this is not the safest of travelling options. While there are few TukTuk related accidents, the bustling roads of Bangkok can prove quite daunting for some travellers. However, this can be an exciting way to see the streets of Bangkok and for a small tip can prove a convenient ride home. After a day at the markets you and your feet will be searching for all the convenience you can find.

Riding in a Tuk Tuk

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Introducing Bangkok: The ‘City of Angels’

 

bangkok

When first arriving in Thailand’s industrious capital, Bangkok, one cannot help but be confronted by the hustle and bustle of this frantic urban sprawl. Bangkok (known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon), meaning “city of angels”, has grown considerably over the years and is now Thailand’s commercial, creative, economic and consumer centre.

Demographics collide in this concrete jungle as Bangkok attracts a range of people from rural villagers looking to start a new life, hip teenagers with a pocket full of cash, high society types and tourists taking full advantage of the pulsing night life and cheap lifestyle. “City of angels” is adhered to wholeheartedly by the people of Bangkok, and it is rare not to be greeted with a welcoming smile. For travellers Bangkok provides not only an exciting night life, delicious food, a continuous flow of alcohol and cheap shopping but also a unique cultural experience created by the city’s “angels” themselves.

Streets of Bangkok

For those interested in embracing the history of Bangkok, Old Bangkok, situated alongside Ko Ratanakosin, is the original royal district filled with historic monuments. If you follow the river North you will find the charming Banglamphu, a residential neighbourhood of friendly shophouses offering cheap Thai delicacies and crafts. If your historic taste buds are yet to be satisfied Dusit, straddling the banks of Banglamphu, is home to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion and the spectacular royal residence, Chitlada Palace.

If you follow the river South you can experience an entirely different riverside view of Bangkok, picturesque with crumbling buildings, grand churches and water-side residences. Nestled along the Riverside is the bustling Chinatown, which offers an array of exciting shopping options that will challenge your tastebuds and give a whole new meaning to impulse buying.

China Town view from ferry

Modern Bangkok is based around Silom, Sukhumvit and Siam Square and provides homesick tourists with all the comforts of their respective country. Shop-a-holics will celebrate in Siam Square’s vast shopping centres surrounding The Phra Ram, while foreigners craving their favourite home-cooked dish will find refuge at Th Sukhumvit, offering a range of restaurants specialising in international dishes and cuisine.

Bangkok comes alive at night

New Years Eve With a Bang!

La Paz 2

As a teenager New Year’s Eve was the chocolate bar I would look forward to as a young child. And, like a chocolate bar, I would build it up for weeks only to be left with a sense of un-fulfilment and a need for more. The clock would hit midnight, my inebriated friends and I would slur a cryptic countdown that only we could understand and I would then mentally tick off my yearly accomplishments. Again, these would often fall short of what I had planned exactly 12 months ago. I would list my short-comings off in my head, on by one:

Why hadn’t I kissed that girl?

Why hadn’t I come first in English (or advanced past the bottom ten people in Maths?)

Why had I still not broken the three hundred CD’s mark for my collection?

And why wasn’t I the most popular guy in school, no, the suburb?!

The more I thought of it the more baffled I became. But no matter, a new year has just arrived; a new chance to start a completely new wish list.

Ultimately, after innumerable disappointing New Year reflections these promises to myself came to a grinding halt. The parties and cryptic count downs continued, but no longer would I make promises that I was unable to keep. I would save myself the disappointment. However, 2012 was the year that I broke this cardinal rule and I made a single promise to myself: see the world. And when the clock struck twelve in La Paz, Bolivia, bringing with it the year 2013, it felt like I had finally found that perfect chocolate bar.

La Paz 1La Paz, Bolivia’s infamous governmental capital city is truly a sight to be seen. With the city’s building’s literally clinging to the sides of a spectacular canyon and filling the deep bowl below, La Paz’s reputation as one of the world’s most breathtaking city’s (literally) is well deserved. Sitting at 3660m above sea level La Paz will hit you like a punch in the face.

When first entering the city I couldn’t help but question how this rat race could possibly earn the name La Paz (meaning Peace). From chaotic street scenes and howling street stall owners- playing what I can only assume is a local game of ‘who can shout the loudest’-to a myriad of sharp cracks as small fireworks are let off in the middle of the street. La Paz is bedlam, but is all the more wonderful for it and would be the setting that I would welcome in the year 2013.

As I walk the bustling streets it becomes clear just how important New Year’s Eve is to the city’s people. Perhaps they have wish lists too? Or maybe they’re just excited that they have survived the Inka’s predicted ‘end of the world’? The streets come alive with small stalls selling a collection of yellow merchandise ranging from hats, bow ties, full suits and even lingerie for the more daring Bolivian. I later learn that yellow is the traditional colour for a Bolivian New Year and with such a vibrant backdrop a sour face was near impossible to find.

Now, one thing must be noted about a Bolivian New Year. Despite the chaos that ensues and the excitement that electrifies during the day, the evening is largely a family affair which, strangely enough, means that the streets are stunningly quiet. For an Australian this is quite strange as by seven or eight o’clock pm we are well and truly pissed, and it is time to begin terrorizing the town. While relatively tame during the day, the streets of Sydney become a scene of hedonistic excitement by night. Thus, it was a shock to find the daylight bedlam of La Paz replaced with a scene of unprecedented calm, inhabited only by taxi drivers and a few cunning shop owners looking to make a quick buck before the clock struck twelve.

La Paz 3No matter. Despite a distinct lack of local charm on the streets below our rooftop party pounded on through the night. With a Bolivian DJ belting out some funky, albeit unusual tunes us gringos sang and danced our way to midnight with some extra help from a few simple party aids. Plastic maracas, fluro whistles, novelty guitars and an array of sparkling outfits converge in a swell of excited anticipation.

A bonfire is started on the rooftop terrace, bellowing waves of much needed heat and torrents of smoke, rising into the cloudless evening sky. Glowing scarlet red and creating an unusual silhouette in the heart of the flames is a llama fetus, a unique addition to any New Year’s bonfire, though a stark reminder of how rich the Bolivian culture is and how unforgettable this night will be. We excitedly reveal our assortment of fireworks which we bought from a street stall outside our hotel. In Sydney it’s illegal to buy fireworks, so we were overly eager to make our mark on the Bolivian skyline. We shot them off one by one as we counted down to one of the most awe inspiring sights most of us will ever witness.

5…We dance elatedly around the fire, cheering like we are in some sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ re-enactment.

4…The Llama fetus glows menacingly in the centre of the flames.

3…A local man begins to howl at the night sky, chanting a traditional prayer while in some kind of trance.

2…Champagne is sprayed across the crowd of ecstatic locals and foreigners as unique cultures converge and celebrate as one.

1…Then it happens.

La Paz 6

The sky lights up as thousands of fireworks are let loose into the night sky. The ground begins to swell as countless explosions of colour and sound fill the deep bowl, the bangs and cracks echoing through the gullies as if in a war zone. From the centre of the bowl it is as if the Inkan predictions were merely a couple of weeks too late, and that the world really is coming to a climatic end-but what a way to go out, right?

We bask in the truly spectacular sight that we are witnessing, lapping up the acrid smell of burnt sulphur and charcoal and relishing the bitter taste of the explosions which have bought this city to life. I suddenly realise that despite the ‘punch-in-the-face’ altitude, I can finally breathe easy knowing that I have experienced a truly unique cultural experience. It’s going to be hard finding another chocolate bar that tastes this good.

la paz 5

Swimming into darkness

Note: According to our pony-tailed Shaman cameras would have disrupted the ceremony and, thus, detracted from the experience. So hopefully these words are enough to spark your imagination! But if not, check out the outstanding documentary at the end of this article.

For centuries, Amazonian Shamans have used Ayahuasca as a natural medicine; a potent drug with the power to cure any illness and open a window to the soul. I take part in this spiritual ritual in the Amazonian jungle of Peru’s Puerto Maldonaldo, while discovering a terrifying world of enlightenment.

I sit in the jungle of Peru’s renowned Amazonia; famous for its abundance of wildlife, natural beauty and a plethora of adventure offerings. However, slightly less known outside the backpacker circuit is the region’s infamous jungle concoction, Ayahuasca.

Sought after among travellers and spiritualists alike this jungle ‘drug’ is a potent mix of vines and traditional natural remedies, and is utilized by the Peruvian people as both a natural medicine to cleanse the body and as a spiritual guide to enlightenment. Now, whether vivid hallucinations count as a spiritual guide is under hot debate. However, despite much controversy, Ayahuasca has been attracting worldwide attention for years and as many unfortunate hedonists have found, this is not a drug to be taken lightly. Many Western asses have been severely kicked over the years due to approaching a strong traditional medicine as they would a party drug or hallucinogenic at home.

I will put this as simply as possible: This was no party.

In a nutshell, Ayahuasca consists of a combination of vines and leaves named with the usual protracted, tongue twisting scientific mumbo jumbo that the medicine world has grown accustomed to-try the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Diplopterys cabrerana leaves on for size. However, perhaps the most important active component in the drink-as far as its hallucinogenic qualities are concerned-is a substance called DMT (dimethyltryptamine). DMT has a powerful effect on a person’s consciousness, resulting in a plethora of bright and lucid visions which differ from person to person.

The Indigenous believe that when consuming Ayahuasca your soul and your body is in the hands of your spiritual shaman-or in my case a pony tailed man with a guitar and some feather shakers-and the drug itself. You may see visions of your past, present or even future and your soul will be cleansed as you become a new person.

All of this may sound somewhat confronting. It is. However, there is a reason why popularity for Ayahuasca has skyrocketed in recent years and has acquired a cult-like following with numerous ‘Ayahuasca clinics’ in Peru, Colombia and Brazil opening their doors to eager customers; all of whom are searching for their very own spiritual awakening. The medicine itself has been proclaimed as a natural cure for a variety of illnesses such as HIV, depression and even cancer.

Now, like many natural medicines the accuracy of these statements is largely unsubstantiated and it is not advised to seek out Ayahuasca as a cure for a potentially life threatening illness. However, while travelling through infamous Ayahuascan territories such as Peru and Colombia it is not unusual to hear stories of people who have cured their depression with the medicine. Interpret this as you wish, though the swiftly growing popularity of Ayahuasca cannot be denied.

So, as popularity for Ayahuasca reaches an unprecedented high and millions of people worldwide reportedly fly great distances, and often pay exorbitant amounts of money to be treated in specialist clinics, I ask myself, “What attracted me to Ayahuasca?”

I’m fortunate to not have any serious illnesses and I usually fail to see the allure of drugs. In fact, at home I am somewhat of a recluse to the drug scene and, as of late, rarely consume alcohol. While many get a high and lose their inhibitions I ultimately find myself spending my hard earned cash to fall asleep. Thanks for the genetics Dad. However, as a result of my frugality, I have been able to save enough money to see the world on a student’s income (which makes me wonder if my once cursed gene pool can be seen a positive?)

Anyway, my point here is that to take on a drug such as Ayahuasca is not natural for me. I like to be in control, and when consuming Ayahuasca control is something you really must sacrifice.

In fact, before I began my endeavour through South America I told very few people about my plans to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. Why burden my family with worry? Why attempt to explain the difference between Ayahuasca and your stock standard party hallucinogenic to my friends? They wouldn’t understand. Heck, I hardly understand it myself. Ultimately, I would be left in a negative head space while reconsidering my plans to dive head on into a possibly life changing experience. No, I would do my research and I would look forward to the uncertainty of what lay ahead of me.

So why did I choose to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony? I will address this shortly. Though in order to effectively explain my reasoning I must first describe my experience.

This is, from what I can best recall, my virgin Ayahuascan journey.

At 9:00pm my good friend Jamie-a recently graduated physiotherapist and reluctant participant in the ceremony-and I are met at our lodge by the Shaman 90 minutes later than expected. Now, in Australia this would seem highly unprofessional, but in Peru this is actually early. The Shaman, who we came to know as Alfonso, would conduct our Ayahuasca ceremony and lead us through our journey of enlightenment; which we later learned would consist of 5 hours of hallucinating, vomiting and evacuating our bowels into the nearest bush. My Spanish is broken at best, and our Shaman’s English not much better, so with a spiritual guide we could scarcely understand we are led into the middle of the Amazon armed with a flickering torch (I knew I should have bought more batteries), a can of overly potent bug spray (we would need it), and no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

A short walk into the jungle leads us to a clearing where we are told to take a seat. In front of us are three chairs, stark white, spread an even three metres apart in a triangle creating a poignant marker in the jungle’s moonlit interior. Placed neatly next to each chair is a fresh roll of toilet paper-a welcome addition for which we would grow a fond appreciation. It turns out that vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects of the medicine. Lucky us.

After twenty minutes of pleasantries Alfonso begins to pay homage to the Ayahuascan spirits, speaking in a native tongue and entrusting them to guide us through our journey of enlightenment. After a moment of eerie silence he begins to pour our ‘drinks’ into a tiny ceramic cup, which we later learn is a traditional flask utilized for Aayahuasca ceremonies. Without this flask the ceremony would be unsuccessful and we, the participants, may be unable to heal.

So as we sit silently in the ominous, lamp-lit jungle swatting torrents of excited mosquitoes from our hopelessly exposed faces, we grasp our tiny flask, lift it hesitantly to our mouths, and with a hasty gulp consume the foul liquid inside. Perhaps the worst thing about consuming Ayahuasca is the taste. It is, for lack of a better explanation, a brown, gritty sludge with a metallic after taste that would haunt me for days. I could best compare it to a glass of expired milk with a double shot of vodka.

Suddenly, the lamp light begins to fade as Alfonso gives us our first simple instructions.

“We must now be silent”.

Minutes pass as we sit silently, disturbed only by the persistent humming of mosquitoes, the screeching of monkeys and the soft cracking of twigs as unknown jungle inhabitants examine our intentions in their home. We are intruders and we know it. After what feels like an eternity of silence, we are offered our second serving of Ayahuasca. Now, I was told that the more ayahuasca a person needs the more healing that needs to be done. In essence, if you need more than one cup you have some grave internal issues. I must need some serious fixing. However, my spirits are slightly heightened when I realise that Jamie is also offered a second serving. At least I’m not the only one who’s messed up.

So, with mixed feelings of reluctance and excitement, we both accept and wait expectantly for the medicine to take effect.

And it does.

Shortly after our second serving the surrounding jungle begins to spin as every noise, and every damn mosquito, becomes a deafening soundtrack that would last the next five hours. The kerosene lamp which was fired up as we coughed and spluttered through our second serving-as horrible as the first-is put out and darkness engulfs us once again. Suddenly, a rhythmic percussion of chakapas, or leaf shakers, and soft acoustic guitar commences as our Shaman begins leading us through the ceremony. As the rhythm of the guitar gains momentum a soothing voice rises over a myriad of jungle symphonies and the pendulum like pounding of my heart.

“My guitar will lead you. When I play fast you will be at the peak of your journey, and your visions will slow down with the music.”

It is Alfonso sharing with us some valuable words of wisdom before we become a slave to the jungle; a slave to this powerful Peruvian medicine.

Suddenly, I can feel it. I feel it grabbing hold of me, pulling me upwards so forcefully that no matter how hard I try, how hard I struggle, I will leave my body on the ground – limp like a lifeless rag doll. I feel myself rising. I look down momentarily to see the silhouette of a young man; a dark grey hood draped loosely over his closely shaven head, eyes closed and head lolled back as if gazing to the heavens. Looking for help? Or perhaps a way out?

But help from what?

I look closely at the inert figure, draped hopelessly over a tattered white chair below, and a horrifying wave of recognition surges through me. I recognise that pointed nose; I recognise that mouth; I recognise the small blue stud reflecting in the dim torch light from his left ear, and I recognise the nine o’clock shadow framing the man’s slender face.

I ask myself, “Can this be real? Is that me?”

A thick darkness begins to roll over me as I surge upwards, away from my lifeless body and into the seemingly impenetrable canopy of trees above. The stars have disappeared, and the sky is replaced by a narrow dark blue tunnel. I kick my feet and suddenly realise that I am no longer floating but swimming; I gaze to the surface to see a lone figure treading water above me. I cannot see a face, but I can faintly make out a voice.

“Help me. Help me or you will never make it out of here.”

I hesitate momentarily before shouting in reply, “I’m coming”.

I begin to swim to the surface-a seemingly impossible distance-however, in what seems like the blink of an eye I have penetrated the water’s crisp exterior, disorientated by the all encompassing blackness that surrounds me. I look around in search of somebody, anybody.

I struggle momentarily with the hard truth that I am trapped. I am a prisoner of my own doing and no matter how vigorously I fight this remorseless situation, there exists only one truth: I will never leave this miserable world.

Suddenly a light begins to flicker and the scene in front of me is illuminated by a blinding white light. The faint silhouette of a face can be faintly seen moving closer, ever so slowly, before coming to a stop in front of me. I look closer, closer, and am greeted with the smiling face of my girlfriend, Caitlin.

She tilts her mouth next to my ear and softly whispers, “You made it. I knew you would.”

I reach out to embrace her, to be comforted by a familiar face in this outlandish world I have been thrust into. I reach, determined to feel her warm breath against my face, and suddenly the scene around me begins to flicker; a sporadic transition of suffocating blackness and blinding light. I close my eyes. I breathe deeply, in and out, in an attempt to regain my composure.

Suddenly, I feel my calmness return. I open my eyes to the flickering light of a lamp as a familiar man softly sings a gentle, comforting tune.

“Welcome back to earth my friend,” he says with a mischievous little grin on his face.
“You are now ready to live.”

As my eyes sheepishly open and the guitar fades away, I find myself back in the dim campsite. The lamp has been re-lit as I re-acquaint myself with my surroundings, though in my mind I am still swimming. I needlessly worry that Caitlin is okay. Jamie remains lifeless on the seat next to me, gazing at the ground: It seems that he too has struggled with the darkness of his imagination. I wonder what he has seen, what inner conflicts he has conquered.

It takes all the energy I can muster, but I stand, as if waking from an eternity of sleep. Perhaps I am still asleep? What if this is the finale? A splendid hallucination designed to throw me into a deeper, darker hell? In the real world I could determine what was right and wrong, what was dream and reality. But now, I’m not so sure.

If nothing else, Ayahuasca exposes the philosopher in us all.

However, despite my reluctance to accept my world for what it is I am certain of one thing: I am ready for bed. I help Jamie from his seat and we slowly follow Alfonso back to our lodge. I am still unable to determine with certainty what my visions meant. Why did I have to save my girlfriend from drowning, and why was I ripped from my body? Granted, the soothing sounds of singing monkeys, chirping birds and soft footsteps may have never existed, and I will also never know what point of my journey was reality, and what point was part of my overly energised imagination.

So, why did I take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony? To experience? To learn? To catch a moment? Well, perhaps all three. However, the confronting truth that I present to myself is that perhaps I participated in order to suffer. One cannot learn, cannot experience the reality of life and cannot truly embrace the spirit of travelling without first suffering (at least a little bit). I feel like I have entered a never ending tunnel and somehow made it out the other side. The only challenge that remains now is getting Jamie back to our lodge.

Anyone for thirds?

Due to the complete lack of imagery in this post, have a look at this great documentary on Ayahuasca (if you have a spare 83 minutes).

Chasing the Caribbean

Wind howls through the sails as the Ragga King glides seamlessly through the undisturbed Caribbean ocean-a smooth, vast expanse of glittering turquoise. An upbeat collection of funky reggae penetrates the gentle sound of lapping water as this 40 foot yacht passes over some of the world’s most sought after reef and marine life.

A diver’s eden.

A flock of of birds soar high above as if to welcome us to their home, swooping past our sails and guiding us to land. Dolphins emerge from the crystal water, leaping in and out of our wake while orchestrating a spectacular show that no one on board will soon forget.

belize 1

The eleven sun kissed passengers on board this cosy ocean explorer have found their ecstasy; an experience like no other. The ultimate Carribbean adventure.

Suddenly, the sky turns dark and the bright turquoise water transforms into a menacing grey. Birds disappear and the dolphins, once playful and fearless, submerge into the white capped water. However, for the passengers on board this is merely a new adventure.

belize 2

We will wait it out.

Torrential rain whips through the sails as the once island speckled horizon becomes an indistinguishable mess of grey.  Music can be heard blaring as our first mate, ‘Killer’, sings his way through the storm. A chorus of “Don’t worry be happy” penetrates the crashing water and It seems that nothing can stop the reggae.

Claps of thunder are heard rumbling through the sky and still we resist the urge to retreat into the warm cabin. We stand on the hull of the yacht, dripping wet, teeth chattering and shaking but still smiling from ear to ear. This is what we travel for, these are the experiences that we remember.

This is our ultimate Caribbean adventure.

For decades the Caribbean has claimed somewhat of a mythical name for itself; sought after by travellers from around the world for its crystal clear waters, exciting marine life and, of course, an infamous reputation which was perpetuated by Hollywood and a certain pirate. And while it is true that there are many other beautiful oceans boasting similar experiences, few people can deny that a Caribbean adventure is not a worthy bucket list inclusion.

These days there are countless options for Caribbean exploring, catering for high budget and shoestring backpackers alike. From a range of cruises offering some spectacular photo opportunities with all the comforts of home, to countless fishing, snorkelling and diving trips. There is an experience to suit all tastes and styles. The only difficult choice one is likely to face is choosing which country they will base themselves in.

For me, the adventure began on the Belizian backpacker favourite, Caye Caulker.

IMG_2231

Upon arriving in Caye Caulker it was immediately apparent that I would have to undertake some serious research before committing to a trip. My mission was to find the ultimate Caribbean experience, but where to start? A quick search of the island produced a myriad of options that I would need to sift through. Options included the following:

1. A one day snorkelling and diving trip to belize’s famous blue hole (over rated).

2. Diving with sharks and manta rays (fantastic idea. But I can do this at home.)

3. A variety of fishing trips (what, am I 40 years old now?)

4. A three day snorkelling and fishing Yacht adventure with Raggamuffin Tours. Accommodation will include camping on remote islands and meals will be freshly caught and prepared by all on board ( my Caribbean senses were tingling).

Ultimately, it seemed like a no-brainier and this three day yacht trip proved to be one of the most rewarding travel experiences of my life. From the stunning scenery, pristine water and amazing people (Belizian and gringo’s alike) Raggamuffin’s yacht tour gave me the chance to experience Caribbean life while exploring traditional Belizian culture.

And like many valuable experiences it prompted me to look at my own life in a first world country. In Australia most of us are able to eat (quite a lot) everyday, we are often given cars, electronics and it is relatively easy to find a job to support our family, while also indulging in the perks of a developed world. Yet, we still complain about trivial matters and find reasons to be unhappy. I am as guilty of this as anyone. This is our culture, and it is a hard attitude to change.

belize 3 However, many of the people I met on this trip while staying in traditional communities are unable to feed their children three times a day; they cannot afford luxuries such as air conditioning (despite an intensely hot and humid environment); and many are unable to educate their children. Yet, a welcoming smile can be seen on every person and it is unusually common to be invited to a family dinner, despite the hardships of affording food.

After seventeen and a half years of education, I believe that these are the most valuable lessons I have learnt. And, believe it or not, many of my teachers have never seen the inside of a classroom.

To book a trip with Raggamuffin Tours visit them online at http://raggamuffintours.com/

The Lemons of Travelling

When life gives you lemons.  Make lemonade.

I believe this is a mantra that every traveller should abide by and, fortunately, many do. Without following this neat little phrase a traveller will find no joy in their trip. No adventure no memory, so let the hard times roll! For example, when travelling to a third world country the comforts and security of your home can be extremely hard to find; especially when travelling on a budget. Those little luxuries that we often take for granted-a hot shower, clean (or free) drinking water, a bed without bed bugs, buses that show up within an hour of their scheduled arrival or, in my case, somewhere to fix a lap top-are few and far between.

When I have a technical dilemma at home the solution is a quick trip to the computer man, who will have my precious lap top back to me within a few hours. However, when faced with a similar dilemma in a rather remote Guatemalan town I ran into one rather large problem-there was no computer man. I decided to wait until my travels led me to a larger city, though I eventually came to the realization that the average Guatemalan person doesn’t really care about computers, and are more interested in feeding their family on a daily basis.

After several failed attempts at explaining my dilemma to a number of equally bewildered internet café owners (for some reason Guatemalans don’t seem to understand dumb-man Spanish too well) I found my saving grace in the captivating island town of Flores. $80.00 and a new hard drive later and I am set to go! I have dusted off my writing cap and will attempt to recapture all that I have missed in the past three weeks. However, I may be short of time, which will mean that Guatemala will remain undocumented. At least in this little blog!

Guatemala has been truly breathtaking and whatever words I may type will do it little justice. I am now heading to the picturesque Belize for a slice of the Caribbean, though as I leave Guatemala I can’t help but feel like I am leaving behind my new country of choice (until my next destination which I will undoubtedly fall in love with).

You Better Belize It!

As our shuttle approaches Belize City nothing can be heard but the soft breathing of a dozen sleeping gringos. A 4:30am start can take its toll on even the hardest of travellers. But as the bus comes to a halt all eyes are open as the confronting urban sprawl of Belize City presents itself: the smell of fresh burritos and tacos being prepared in time for the morning rush, the sound of car horns honking and bicycles rattling along cracked stone walkways and an all new demographic of six foot tall black men with baseball caps on. Coming from a homogenous country such as Australia, it amazes me that after only a two hour drive we are met with an entirely new culture. It seems that the familiar short and stocky Guatemalan is but a memory,

Suddenly the large sliding doors of the bus open, allowing a steady stream of sunlight to replace the darkness and blind the comatose passengers inside. As the shock of the sudden sunlight fades a large man with slicked corn rolls appears at the entrance, clip board in one hand and banana in the other.

“Wake up, wake up. I want to see smiles ‘cause you in Belize man.”

A short pause follows as we attempt to comprehend the situation. Why was this rather large man so cheerful at such a ridiculous hour of the morning? And more importantly, why did he have a mouth full of banana as he greeted us?

And then the man leaves us with a phrase that we will hear countless times in the coming weeks.

“And you better Belize it!”

And shortly after this initial greeting, we did Belize it. From the smiling faces, corn rolls and dreadlocks, outrageous Caribbean English (complete with the obligator y ‘Yah mahhn’ after every sentence’), the pristine blue waters and the vast coral reefs ready to be explored Belize is a country where smiles are merely a part of the culture.

The first stop in our Belizian adventure was the tourist magnet, Caye Caulker, a small island built around snorkeling and diving some of the best reefs in the world. However, despite the onslaught of tourists on this once purely traditional island, the culture has remained very much intact. Food lovers revel in an abundance of freshly caught seafood, stewed meat (take your pick), a variety of traditional rice dishes and some very strong cocktails which usually revolve around rum-what else do you drink on the Caribbean?

However, what makes this island such a gem is not just the food and the abundance of natural beauty but the people that inhabit it. From ‘The Budget Man’, who can be found by his beach side barbeque cooking up fresh lobster and stewed chicken (Note: The Budget Man’s food has often disappeared by sunset), Chef Andrew who strolls the island all day with his chef hat and cart selling spectacular baked goods, and the fine people at Wish Willy’s restaurant-who believe that a menu only restricts the creativity of cooking.

We are soon leaving Caye Caulker and setting sail for three days to the coastal town of Placencia. On the way we will be camping on islands, eating what we catch during the day and visiting some of the best reefs in Belize-a true Robinson Crusoe experience, but with tents.

Note: Unfortunately  it is proving too difficult to upload photos onto these posts due to lack of internet access. So these will be included with the text ASAP!