Category: Uncategorized

Huacachina, Peru: The Oasis in the Desert

I arrived in Huacachina early in the afternoon and immediately fell in love with it. In fact, it might be safe to say it’s my new favourite place. Certainly, it will be hard to beat on the rest of the trip. 

Huacachina is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert, beset on three sides by tall sand dunes. It’s a tiny town and takes all of ten minutes to walk around. But it’s enchanting in its beauty, Once you get past the stray dogs and the people constantly trying to sell you dune buggy tours. Of course, I fully recommend you do that, but it does get tiresome once you have agreed to one to keep getting asked. 

Dune buggies: 

As I mentioned one of the main activities in Huacachina is going out in a dune buggy and trying sandboarding. Peru Hop are nice enough to sort this all out for you for 50 sol which is about £10 or $15. 

So we met at our designated meeting point and began the arduous process of being put into our assigned buggy. I was in the front with another guy and the driver. It was a bit of a squeeze with my shoulders and I almost couldn’t get the harness to attach as there appeared to be no way to change the length of the straps. But I managed and we were on our way. 

Unfortunately, our buggy, or our driver, was struggling and we stalled a couple of times and never really got to any speed at the beginning. Our first stop was on top of a dune just overlooking the oasis. A perfect photo opportunity. So we all got out to take our photos, selfies and to bother others to take pictures of us. Despite my tone, I did obviously take some photos, I even took a cheeky selfie but it was awful. It was a breathtaking view though and cemented my affection for this place. 

We carried on to our next stop, and again suffered difficulty which left us stuck on a dune until another driver came to our rescue. After that we were fine but it was a disappointing start to the trip. Our next stop was another good photo opportunity with the sun hanging low in the sky. My buggy buddy offered to take a photo of me, which to be honest I am pretty happy with. 

Sandboarding: 

So our third stop signalled the beginning of our sand boarding adventure. Now I must admit I had my reservations about this part, and I wasn’t the only one and nerves were certainly showing amongst some of us. Not being foolish enough to try going down standing up we started on our stomachs. Which was an interesting experience. The dune was incredibly steep and we picked up some speed going down. Everyone was hesitant to go first, but one of the girls volunteered. I tried to go third or fourth after that. Having no desire to stand on the top of the dune letting my nerves build out of control. 

What followed was several goes on different dunes, walking back up was the hardest part and left you particularly exhausted. I never tried standing up. I strapped myself in several times to try but could never quite find the courage to give it a go. 

Sandboarding was exhilarating and kinda fun. I’m in no real hurry to go back and do it again, but I’m glad I did it. Now I just have to get the sand out of my shoes. 

Desert Sunset: 

Our guide called us back to the buggy as the sun was setting soon and we had to get to the best spot to view it. So we pilled into the buggy and sped off. Fortunately, our previous problems seemed to have left us and we all held on over the rises and falls, being thoroughly shaken around. 

The sunset was beautiful and well worth the hurried drive. The world appeared to be divided into three with the dark blue of the sky, the yellow of the sand and the deep band of orange that stretched out between them. Once it started the sunset rapidly before leaving us for another day.  But as the sun fell the temperature fell with it and we hastily put on the extra layers we had brought along for this reason.

During the ride back the driver really opened the buggy up and took us for an adrenaline-fuelled ride. As I was the front I had a great view as we plunged down dunes and worrying speeds. There were a few screams and yells from the buggy, I contributed my fair share and added some profanity at a few of the more excessive drops. Several times I had to put one hand on the roof of the buggy whilst I continued to hold onto the frame. It’s safe to say we were thoroughly shaken around on the trip back. Which was a lot of fun.  

Back at the oasis: 

After our exciting trip out in the dune buggy and a much needed shower to remove most of the sand from my hair and body we headed to one of the local hotels that doubles as a bar and restaurant for a barbecue that included a quarter of a chicken, a burger, unlimited drinks and a healthy amount of sides. Not a bad deal for 40 sol. It was a great evening and presented a great chance to socialise with some of the other people who had been on the tour. One thing is for sure, I’m certainly starting to develop a taste for Pisco, the national drink of Peru. 

Huacachina balances the peaceful beauty of its oasis with the adrenaline pumping activities of the dunes and well worth a visit. Now you could “do” the town in one day, especially with Peru hop. But I really felt it deserved a couple of nights to take it all in. I certainly enjoyed sitting by the oasis and writing. 

 

Barcelona: An unexpected but welcome stop

So my trip got off to a good start. A couple of friends drove me to the airport which was much easier than the bus, so that was appreciated. Checking in and security was fairly painless and the flight was pretty standard. We landed in Barcelona and I got out through customs and then swung back around to the departure lounge to see my flight had been cancelled. My heart sank a little before I rallied and heading off to find out what happens next. 

Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

So after waiting for my turn at the check-in desk, I was told the next flight was at 11 pm the next day. I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping in the airport, but he quickly told me we were being put up in a hotel with food vouchers, so not bad at all. I appreciated the luxury a four-star hotel provides and a day in Barcelona is nothing to be sad about. So after a decent nights sleep in the extra comfy bed and the free breakfast I headed out to get reacquainted with Barcelona. 

A nice glimpse of the Gothic Quarter

My rough plan was to head down La Rambla and then cross over to the gothic quarter. Which was my favourite part of my last trip. That lead me to the open square outside the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia, which is as breathtaking as I remember. The huge vaulted ceilings are supported by dozens of columns and the stonework is covered in intricate carvings. Some of it is painfully catholic with exclusive gold and icons, but still, it’s a must-see. The free admission doesn’t hurt either. There is a rooftop viewing point but for some reason, it was closed which was a real shame. The view of the Barcelona skyline was pretty amazing last time. 

The Cathedral

As I explored the small, crowded streets of the gothic quarter I stopped to look at anything that looked interesting, always a fan of gothic architecture and aware I had nowhere to be for 6 hours. Sure if I wanted to I probably could have crammed in a whirlwind of sightseeing in those 6 hours, but I preferred my slow paced wander around the city which started in the northern quarter before walking up to see the Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. Both are pretty fascinating buildings that charge far too much to actually enter. So once again I would have to miss them both. But the exteriors of both are pretty spectacular. 

Casa Batlló

La Pedrera

I fell in love I fell in love with Barcelona the last time I was here and this has just reminded me of the feeling. Aside from the heat, which I really need to be better at dealing with, it’s an amazing city. There is so much history and culture here, so much to see and do. But it’s also a very real city, you can imagine living here, not just being a tourist. And as I give more and more thought to living abroad for a while Barcelona is definitely up there on the list of possibilities. 

 

I then walked along the highway to the Sagrada Familia which, and this might not be a popular opinion, I think is Barcelona’s most overrated attraction. I appreciate it isn’t finished but I just don’t think it looks very nice. I much prefer the more traditional looking basilicas. But it remains ever so popular with tourists and it was packed around it, maybe another reason I don’t rate it. 

Sagrada Familia

Next, I stumbled upon the arch de triumph and walked beneath it and followed the long street that runs away from it. This is close to where I stayed last time so all the streets started to look fairly familiar and I could remember certain restaurants and bars.

After a little detour around those familiar streets, I headed to the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar. Another beautiful building with an impressive ceiling height. Its design is similar to the cathedral with some amazing stonework and stunning stained glass paintings. 

My favourite stained glass window celebrating the Olympic Games in Barcelona

My wandering then pretty much came to an end. I stopped for some food and enjoyed some lovely tapas and a couple of cervezas before visiting the remains of the original Roman city walls. I then graded back up past the cathedral and back to the hotel to get the free bus back to the airport. 

It was nice to get to see Barcelona again, even if it was just for an afternoon. On the bus back we passed the old bullfighting ring and the art gallery that sits atop a huge set of stairs, which we had visited last time, and it reminded me how much more there was to see that I hadn’t had time for. If you were visiting properly I would recommend the bus tour, which was really interesting last time and lets you get around the city at the same time. 

A quick photo as we passed.

Barcelona certainly has a lot to offer and should definitely be on your list of places to visit. I’m glad I got this chance to explore it again, but for now, I’m focused on the start of my trip in Lima, just have to get through this 13-hour flight first. 

Writing a Map: Peru, Bolivia and Colombia

So it’s been pretty quiet on the blog lately, hasn’t it? There is an explanation though, aside from my sheer laziness, the last few months have been pretty tough. My girlfriend broke up with me about 6 months ago and I’ve had a bit of a hard time dealing. To put the icing on the cake I was made redundant at my soul destroying middle management job, which is actually more of a blessing now that I think about it. So yea, it’s not been great. However, I like to think I do my best to try and stay positive so I am seizing my new found complete lack of a life to travel again, which is great news for all those who like to read my humble ramblings about the places I have visited. 

So by this time tomorrow I should be on a plane on my way to Peru where I plan to begin this trip. A rough itinerary, of course this could potentially change, consist of 4 weeks in Peru, 2 weeks in Bolivia and 4 weeks in Colombia. Now unlike my last trip I have pre-booked a return flight rather than leaving it open-ended and that’s for a fairly exciting reason too. In September, if all goes well, I should be starting my Creative Writing Masters degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. Which is why I’m only going away for two months. So yeah, pretty exciting time for me. 

My trusty bag is all packed

Obviously, I intend to document my experiences whilst I travel and will be posting much more casual, dear diary style posts, hopefully on a daily basis (but don’t hold me to that.) I will do my best to format them and include photos but I have decided not to take my laptop so I will be operating from my smartphone, so we shall see how that turns out. 

My passport is starting to look a little worn out

Anyway, that’s it for now, I hope you are all as excited as I am to begin this next adventure. Check in Monday or possibly Tuesday for my first post and we will carry on from there. 

Cheers, 

Dan

Campeche, Mexico: A Colonial Disneyland

Walking the wall and visiting the Bastions…

I visited Campeche about a month into my first trip travelling. Just like in Tulum, I was still travelling solo back then. Although Campeche was where Hannah and I first met, so it will always be remembered as a bit of a special place.

As I said above, Campeche is a bit of a colonial Disneyland. A large part of the original city wall still stands and forms an enclave of perfectly restored pastel buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. There is a lot to see in the walled centre, including the fortified ramparts of the original city as well as well-preserved mansions. The only flaw is that it has been so obviously restored it lacks the lived-in feel that Merida had, making you wonder if it is actually a real city or just a toy town.

The pastel colours and cobblestone streets of Campeche

Campeche’s Plaza Principal…

The first thing I did was walk down to the central square, Plaza Principal, not far from my hostel which was within the old city limits, to check out the cathedral and the other sites. The plaza itself was beautiful, much like the rest of the city. Starting its life as a military camp all those years ago, now the plaza is centred around a bell-époque rotunda with wide footpaths shaded by broad carob trees. I found a bench in the shade and enjoyed the sights.

The Plaza Principal

The most visually intimidating building off the plaza is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, which was a real pain to type correctly. The Cathedral (much easier) dominates the east side of the plaza and was my first sight as I came from the east. Similar to Merida, this cathedral has two towers at the front, and a large, broad entrance. Unfortunately, the doors were shut when I walked by, and I didn’t have the confidence to open them for a look at the interior.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

Cuban furniture from the living room

The other building on the plaza worth a visit is the Centro Cultural Casa Número 6. A pre-revolution mansion, now a museum of sorts that provides an insight into how the members of high society lived. Now if I can make sense of my hastily written notes, the tiles are the original ones, all the way from Marseille. The building itself has those typical high vaulted ceilings, similar to other colonial buildings I’ve seen. Beautiful Cuban furniture is on display in the front room of the house.  

The Master Bedroom

The master bedroom always faced the street with the aristocracy typically making use of hammocks in the summer periods, before packing them away for winter. In fact, you can still see the pegs used to hang them up. Overall, or so it said on the information plaque, the house is a fine example of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, not that I would have a clue, but it was very beautiful and interesting to see.

The Bastions…

After a particular spectacular pirate attack on 1663, the people of Campeche decided it would be a good idea to construct a series of protective walls around their city. Now some of those walls still stand, connecting some of the bastions that would have defended the city. In some places, you can walk along the walls and all of the bastions contain a museum or something of interest.

The Bonnet

The first one I visited is known as the bonnet. Built in 1690, It was the third bastion built and also the largest, armed with 13 cannons it served to support the gate to the sea.Now it holds an interesting museum that provides an overview of the Mayan sites in Campeche state and goes into some detail on the different architectural styles that were used. The museum is made up of 5 halls that are filled with stelae from various different sites, well worth the visit. As is the bastion itself, which you can climb to the top, giving you a great view of the sea and the cathedral looming over the other buildings.

The Colonial city of Campeche

The next bastion, de San Carlos, was also a museum dedicated to the history of the city and it’s dealing with pirates. They had some nice displays and like the previous one you could climb to the top and see all the cannons displayed. Unfortunately, this museum didn’t have the same love of English translations for the information cards that the previous one did, so It did limit how much I could take away from it.

It was after my visit to the bastions that I met Hannah. That night as we were walking through the city we came across some kind of outdoor movie going on at the main plaza. They had covered the arches in the library, the big yellow building, and were projecting an animated history of Campeche on the walls. We sat down and watched it as it went from jungle animals and natives to Spanish fighting pirates and celebrating Mexican culture with things like the day of the dead. It was a nice treat to stumble upon by accident.

Campeche is a wonderful Colonial city, with some stunning architecture and is well worth a visit on your backpacking trail.

 

The Ruins of Palenque: Archaeology in the Jungle

Thick Jungle and Ancient Ruins…

Palenque is a small town in Mexico that boasts, in many’s opinions, the finest of Mexico’s Maya sites. Set amongst the jungle, The Ruins of Palenque has one of the most spectacular settings and the small site will awake the archaeologist in everyone.

Where To Stay…

It may be unfair to say, but there is very little to do in Palenque except visit the ruins. There has, however, been a recent increase in the number of hostels in the town. You have two options on where to stay, you can choose one of the many places on the rather noisy streets leading from the bus station to the plaza. Or, for a more peaceful option, there is an area called La Canada, which is set on the other side of a ravine and amongst the trees, (so be ready for the audible wildlife in the morning.

I stayed at the Yaxkin Hostel, which wasn’t the best I had stayed in, but not the worse. It had hot water and a bed in one of the dorm rooms was comfy enough. The main drawback was the lack of an included breakfast, plus the wifi left a lot to be desired, so It’s not a place to try and contact home. There was a restaurant attached so you could eat easily enough. To be honest, the food in Palenque is pretty basic, but then you are only there for the ruins anyway. A bed in the dorm room set me back $10 a night.

The Ruins of Palenque…

It’s easy enough to catch a Colectivo to and from the ruins, Unfortunately, I can’t recall how much it cost, but it wasn’t much. You have to pay twice to get into the ruins, once to enter the national park, which was 22 pesos, and then 65 pesos to enter the ruins, however, that does also include entrance to the museum. Last entry is around 4: 30 pm and the ruins open at 8 am. Best to get there early to avoid the heat of midday, plus it is a fair sized site so it will take some time to get the most out of it. Now that the more practical information is out of the way, let’s talk about the ruins themselves.

Now if you are coming from the Yucatan peninsula and have visited other sites such as Chichen Itza and Tulum you will notice how the ruins here don’t seem to match the style of those sites. Superficially, Palenque resembles the Maya ruins of Guatemala more than those of the Yucatan, however, the style of this impressive ruins are unique. Which is expected of such a significant city.

The yet to be excavated Temple 11

From the entrance to the ruins I passed temple 11, which hasn’t been excavated and restored yet, so is basically just a mound of earth with the occasionally noticeable bit of ruin breaking it up, but it’s interesting to see them in that state. Unlike Chichen Itza, it only takes a few short steps from the entrance to reach the main centre of the ruins. As I rounded temple 11 the main palace, El Palacio, came into view. It’s impressive watchtower standing over the open area under it. However, the path leads you to the right, towards a row of smaller but equally impressive temples. I visited the three temples first, after stopping for a brief moment to take in the view of so many gigantic structures in view.

The first of the three is the aptly named Temple of the skull, due to a stucco relief that depicts a skull. Unfortunately, you couldn’t climb this ruin so I could only get a long distance shot. Like most Mayan ruins, it would have been painted red and blue and was built over two structures that previously occupied the site.

The Temple of the Skull

The middle structure, which you could actually enter into, was the tomb of the red queen. Guarded by an armed man, you could climb the front stairs and enter under the canopy and walk around the crypts. The interior was parallel with two chambers on each side, one with a tomb. The walls of the sarcophagus were covered with cinnabar, a red mineral, that inspired the name. The one thing I will say is those Mayans didn’t build these things with anyone of my height in mind, and I had to duck for most of my time inside.

The Tomb of the Red Queen

The last structure in the line and the biggest was the Temple of Inscriptions. Named after three large limestone tablets that decorate the central room, this temple contains the tomb of Pakal II, one of the more well-known rulers of Palenque. The three tablets described the life and rule of Pakal II and the Tomb sounded incredible. Unfortunately, you couldn’t enter his structure either, but it was incredibly impressive from outside, especially with the jungle surrounding it.

The Temple of Inscriptions

Despite the awe-inspiring nature of those temples, the centrepiece of the site was still the Palace in the centre. Built in a series of phases, this was the residence of the ruling family and its court. Built during the reign of Pakal, but with many additions made after his death, this building was the seat of political power in Palenque. You could climb the palace steps and walk around some of the courtyards and get a closer look at the square tower that I mentioned earlier. I called it a watchtower, but its actual purpose is unknown. Throughout the palace, you will find beautiful relief carvings, the most interesting of which show the rulers of defeated cities in various poses of humiliation.

The Palace

Just passed the Temple of Inscriptions, there is a nice treat for anyone willing to get their hands dirty. There is a small temple, Templo del Jaguar, and beyond that, you can see more temples that are being uncovered. You won’t be able to pass much beyond the temple without a guide but it is easy to imagine you are climbing over unexcavated buildings, I had a feeling that some of those stones didn’t look naturally formed.

The Count

The sun was out in full force by this point so I took a slight rest in the shaded area in front of the palace before walking down a slight hill, trying to stick to the shade wherever possible, to a group of lesser temples and the ball court, known and Grupo del Norte. Most weren’t as well restored, or anywhere near as impressive, as the previous structures. One of the buildings was known as the count because it was used by Count Jean Frederick Waldeck during his stay during the first half of the nineteenth century.

One of the Temples from Grupo de la Cruz

I then followed the path around and crossed the Rio Otulum, one of the streams that flow through the site, I was seriously suffering from the sun by this point and charmingly sweating through my shirt. The path leads to another group of buildings, the Grupo de la Cruz. A central square which was dominated by three temples on three sides. All as large and impressive as I had come to expect. Each was tall and narrow and contained carved panels representing rituals.

 

I then headed back to the Palace, to take one last look at it and to rest in one of the few shaded areas again. The howler monkeys didn’t seem to mind the heat though, as they continued to howl throughout my visit to the ruins. The whole site is amazing, and certainly, a must see if you visit Mexico. Unlike Chichen Itza it’s much more natural looking, you can actually imagine the place having been lived in. The surrounding jungle really helps with that.

The interior of the Palace

One of the ruins of Grupo I and II

To get back to the road I walked down passed Grupo I and Grupo II, intricate ruins of interconnected rooms. The path then leads you through the jungle, past a huge waterfall that cascaded into the river, which would have been used for fresh water by the Mayans. Unfortunately, swimming isn’t allowed, which is a shame because I needed it by that point.

At the entrance there is an excellent museum, which was included with the ticket, and provides a good idea of what life was like at Palenque and proudly displays some of the beautiful things found there. It is well worth a look and helps to bring some of what you have seen at the ruins into context.

 

 

Tulum, Mexico: A Vision Of Paradise

Tulum is one of my favourite travel spots in Mexico. I wanted to share my adventures with you and invite you to discover the breathtaking Mayan ruins and beautiful beaches that Tulum has to offer.  

Luckily my article has been published by travelicious.world; where you will be able to find out about this amazing place and all it has to offer! Feel free to check it out:

Click here for more!