Friday Photo: El Peñon de Guatape

Looking through my photos, I have so many which haven’t found their way into posts of their own. So every Friday, I’m going to post one here. This one is from El Penon de Guatape, Colombia.

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La Piedra Del Peñol is a huge rock formation that towers above the Colombian countryside in Antioqua, Colombia. The rock stands 2,000meters above sea level, and there are 740 steps built into the side to allow visitors to climb to the top. The views are spectacular, showing the multiple man-made islands in the lake below. The villages of Guatape and El Penol have long argued over exactly who ‘owned’ the monolith. One day, Guatape decided to stake a permanent claim, by painting their name on the side. They managed to get a massive G U painted on, before an angry mob from El Penol came to force them to stop.

Friday Photo: Beach Life at Koh Phangan

Looking through my photos, I have so many which haven’t found their way into posts of their own. So every Friday, I’m going to post one here. This one is from Koh Phangan, Thailand.

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Koh Phangan is famous the world over for its Full Moon Parties. The Parties are a tradition which began in 1985, when a small group of backpackers decided to celebrate the full moon. From an initial attendance of around 30, the Full Moon Party quickly expanded to the gargantuam attendance it attracts today. Some 5-10,000 foreigners crowd the beach at Haad Rin every full moon, creating an insane atmosphere. People down buckets of liquor, cover themselves in neon paint, dance on the beach, and climb the steps to Mushroom Mountain to partake in the famous milkshakes. We arrived on Koh Phangan for the party, but found that the island had so much more to offer. Before the chaos and trash of the party descends, Haad Rin’s beaches are pristine white sand. Perfect for watching the stunning turquoise waves lap against the shore, as longtail boats carrying dozens of tourists head for deeper waters.

Friday Photo: The Colourful Streets of Antigua, Guatemala

Looking through my photos, I have so many which haven’t found their way into posts of their own. So every Friday, I’m going to post one here. This one is from Antigua, Guatemala.

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Antigua is one of the most popular tourists destinations in Gautemala. We spent a week here in March, wandering the colourful streets and soaking up the chilled out atmosphere. The town is particularly popular with backpackers and those who wish to improve their Spanish, offering intensive Spanish courses for unbelievably low prices. The colonial centre itself is pretty and relaxed, with few cars on the roads to bother pedestrians. Souvenir markets are hidden in random houses, offering the usual Guatemalan souvnirs- shawls, table cloths, woodworks. The city is also home to the Choco Museum, where we spent several hours learning about the history of chocolate, and making our own.

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore

My first stop in Singapore was definitely the one I was most excited about- Gardens By The Bay. Having read recent posts by Silvia and Tom, I was absolutely obsessed with visiting this awesome looking place!

On the map, it looks slightly confusing to get to Bayfront station. The metro line loops around in a strange non-circle, and I was worried that changing trains might be slightly confusing. Yet I needn’t have worried. One of my favourite things about Singapore was how helpful and friendly everyone was, and this meant that navigating the metro was no issue at all. The second I stepped off the train and glanced around, a friendly Singaporean was smiling and pointing me in the right direction, even though it was totally unnecessary as there were signs everywhere.

The biggest attraction at Gardens By The Bay is definitely Supertree Grove. These trees are amazing! They stand at between 20 and 50 feet tall, and add an interesting aspect to Singapore’s otherwise rather staid city architecture. I must have spent a good hour or two just wandering under these trees, marvelling at them. They’re really impressive during the day, but really come alive at night.

The walkway between the central trees is definitely worth doing- I walked along it twice. It costs $5 a time, and it’s amazing to see the trees up close. Over 160,000 different plant types cover the trees themselves, drawing nutrients from the complex watering system inside. The trees themselves are eco-friendly, generating electricity from solar power.

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Although I’d say they were the most impressive, the supertrees aren’t the only attraction at Gardens By the Bay. The complex covers over a hundred hectares of reclaimed land, mostly full of relaxing and well maintained parks. The other attractions are the two Domes- the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome.

The Cloud forest dome is a multi-storey metal structure embedded with plant life from all kinds of countries. You can walk along the walk ways from the top to the bottom, inspecting the flowers and leaves all the way. There’s lots of information about the properties and environmental damage being done to Cloud Forest locations. There’s also a terrifying video projection of a short documentary detailing what will happen to the planet if it warms 5 degrees in the next century (spoiler alert: it’s not a happy ending).

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The Cloud Forest Dome has an awesome waterfall just as you walk in. Somehow I managed not to notice the girls squealing and the soaked tarmac on the floor, and walked right up to the fountain. Forget humidity making me sweaty, the waterfall drenched me. For some reason, it seems like thousands of gallons of water pouring hundreds of feet from the sky causes a little splashing.

The amount of selfie sticks I saw here was off the scale. Although I’ve laughed at them in the past, I kind of want one myself now! I’m not sure which is more embarrassing- selfie stick photos or hanging around looking pitiful until a stranger offers to take a photo? Oh, the perils of the solo traveller!

The Flower Dome is the other component of Gardens By The Bay. While it was nice to be out of the humidity and see some pretty flowers, I wasn’t that taken with it. Everything is very well organised and labeled, I think it’s just me who doesn’t “get” plants. There were lots of trees and bushes. perhaps they were more interesting to the locals, as they were mostly non-native to Singapore and Asia. They had some arrangements making peacocks and tigers which were pretty cool.

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The temperatures in the domes were so much more pleasant than outside, with a cool breeze and tiny bit of moisture in the air to keep you cool. Maybe it was worth $28 alone just to escape Singapore’s brutal heat and humidity!

Yes, you read that right: $28 for the domes. It’s a very steep price, and I’m not sure they were worth it. The Cloud Forest Dome was amazing, but the Flower Dome not so much. For some reason, locals can either buy tickets for one dome or for both, whereas foreigners have to buy entry to both. It’s a shame, as I’d revisit the Cloud Forest Dome for a lower fee (say $15, it is awesome), but don’t really feel the need to go back to the Flower Dome.

After wandering around the Domes, I headed back to Supertree Grove. As soon as the sun began to set, the trees lit up. They started off a dusky pinkish purple in the twilight, before becoming neon purple banners against the dark sky. I went up on the skywalk again, and it was even better than before!

The nightly lightshow absolutely blew me away. For fifteen minutes, the trees flashed and rotated through a range of different colours, in time to a musical soundtrack. There’s something seriously magical about this show. One of my favourite memories of Singapore is sitting on the grass, enjoying the evening breeze and looking up at the ever changing cycle of colours and effects. I usually edit my photos slightly, since I never feel the camera quite captures colour as well as the eye. However, I didn’t edit any of the pictures in this post- the supertrees are actually just that stunning.

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Epiphanies and (a lack of) Emus

Some observations from wandering about Sydney making a fool of myself…

  • Australian place names are awesome, but not necessarily descriptive. Case in point: the awesomely named Emu Plains in Sydney, which captured my imagination for obvious reasons. Turns out, it’s a very average city suburb, no emus wandering around. I guess I should have expected this, considering I spoke to a man yesterday from Mermaid Bay…
  • Even if you think you speak English, you don’t speak Australian. Case in point: pronouncing place names that seem obvious. ‘Queensland’ is not pronounced ‘Queenslund’, like an English person would pronounce anything ending in ‘land’ (England, Scotlund, Irelund etc). You have to pronounce each syllable separately. But you can call hundreds of Queenslanders in a call centre where dozens of Sydneysiders can hear you, and not one of those people will correct you until your manager hesitantly asks what you’re talking about. Thanks, guys.
  •  Apparently shorts are a divisive type of clothing here. I can’t wear them to work in a call centre where no one sees me but my colleagues, but a policeman can wear them to wander the streets intimidating the criminal community. He can be wearing full on collared shirt, police waistcoat and have a gun on his hip, and no one thinks it’s weird that he’s forgotten half his trousers. I know England has a different climate, but I can’t not laugh every time I walk past NSW’s finest boys in blue shorts.
  • Linked to the above: Sydney is a city of manchildren. Again, I understand the climate, but I will never get used to full grown men wandering around a city in board shorts, singlet and a backwards baseball cap. Or worse, skateboarding around the city in said clothes.
  • The birds here are terrifying. I saw a seagull cut a woman’s hand up at Circular Quay as it swooped in on her sandwich. They and their pigeon brethren have no fear when it comes to pecking at your feet in a park. And don’t even get me started on kookaburras- awesome when you know what they are, but the first time I heard one? Terrifying. I thought a Batman villain was approaching to murder me. That isn’t laughing- or at least, not the good kind.

Friday Photo: The Witches’ Market, La Paz

Looking through my photos, I have so many which haven’t found their way into posts of their own. So every Friday, I’m going to post one here. This one is from La Paz, Bolivia. I thought it appropriate for Hallowe’en!

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El Mercado de las Brujas and La Hechiceria (The Market of witches and witchcraft) is a small part of the tourist markets which make up La Paz’s side streets. The stores usually sell all manner of items, but the most famous of these are definitely the dried llama foetuses. As creepy as they might seem, the foetuses are not part of some black magic ritual: in fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to Bolivian tradition, when a person builds a house they must also buy a foetus, as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The foetus is buried under the foundations of the home, to bring good luck to the inhabitants. Aside from foetuses, the shops sell amulets, ‘magic’ powders, and various concoctions which will bring you luck, money, sexual virility and more besides. The stores are actually surprisingly normal, feeling like a standard tourist shop rather than containing the cauldrons and pointy hatted women you might expect.