Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Wrinkles of the City - La Havana

I'm on a quest at the moment, looking for new things to read, watch and do; to inspire and inject creativity in my right brain (which hasn't been nourished as much as I'd like recently).

Tonight I came across a short film/documentary that did just that: The Wrinkles of the City - La Havana. The documentary is about two artists (JR and José Parlá) who collaborate on a photography and street art project for the Havana Biennale.

The Havana Biennale is an Art Exhibition that takes place in Havana every two years, with the aim of promoting the Third World contemporary art. The Biennale is considered a really important forum for underrepresented voices, and artists from all over the world submit their works, although Latin American and Caribbean artists have priority.

In the film JR and José conduct a series of interviews and portrait photographs, 25 in total, with randomly selected senior citizens who lived through the Cuban revolution. The subjects' portraits are then blown-up, pasted on the deteriorated walls of Cuban buildings and interlaced with palimpsestic calligraphic writing, offering commentary on the live's of their subjects.

These huge mural installations are right up my street, as I've always been a fan of taking art away from paper and I worked in a similar way during my Fine Art A Level. The portraits are stunning and it's refreshing to see everyday people celebrated this way and in such a large scale. I defy you to say these people aren't beautiful.

The film is 30 minutes long, but don't let that deter you from watching it. Grab yourself a cuppa, turn off the mind-numbing TV programmes you usually watch, and let yourself be transported overseas to another world. A world where there's no advertising on the streets and mesmerising Cuban music echos everywhere...

And if you like what you've seen, there are more 'Wrinkles of the City' projects in LA, Shaghai, Berlin and Cartagena to be seen, as well as other projects such as 'Face to Face, Israel & Palestine' over on JR's website:

Buenas noches!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Thailand Travels: 1 month (31 days) in Thailand... in 6 minutes

Over four months ago I set off on a solo travelling adventure around Thailand. It was the most exciting and scary thing I've ever done in my life but it was certainly the making of me!

Before I travelled I had been battling with depression for a year and I had a really low sense of self-esteem. However, travelling solo built me back up to the happy, confident can-do person I used to be before the depression and for that I will forever be grateful.

 I spent 31 days travelling Thailand covering, Bangkok, Chiang Mia, Khao Sok National Park, Koh Samui, Ko Tao, Koh Phangan, Ko Phi Phi and Railay Beach!

Each day I tried to record a few seconds of video and now (FINALLY) I've collated all my recordings to make this mash-up video of my adventure. The video is just over 6 minutes long and mostly contains 3-5 second clips (unless the footage was too good to be cut and then it's more like 10-15 seconds!)

I meet some incredible people along the way and made memories I'll treasure forever. It really was the BEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE (so far) and I want to thank all those that star in the video, for bringing a massive smile back to my face!

Every time I watch it I remember how lucky I am to have the chance to do this and how much you can do in 31 days if you put your mind to it!

Thailand I ♥ You!


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Thailand Travels: Day 26, Pee Pee Viewpoint & Bob's Booze Cruise

Waking up in my treehouse was as exciting as the day I arrived. This time the sun was beaming through the french doors and I could see the whole of the bay in all it's glory. The tide was now in, and the sea resembled a spilled paint pot, with turquoise blue shades running into a vibrant sky blue ones. It was serious postcard material and felt like the perfect time to write the stack of postcards I'd bought last night.

After that it was time for breakfast and there were 3 options: full American/English, scrambled eggs on toast or beans on toast. I went for full English, but unfortunately it was cold. Also like everywhere I've eaten in Thailand, the bread and butter tasted sweet and like it had sugar in it. Weirdly they also brought jam to have with the full English! The breakfast area was stunning though, looking out over the bay with parasols to shade you from the intense morning heat.

Yesterday I signed up for Bob's Booze Cruise, a recommendation from a guy from my full moon hostel. The cruise due to start at 1pm which meant I had the morning to myself. I decided that I wanted to try find Pee Pee viewpoint, which I didn't know at the time... was a very long uphill trek with lots of steps. Using the map, I found Phi Phi viewpoint 1 which is the first viewpoint. It was pretty blinding, but I knew that the next level would be even more spectacular.

On my way up I started chatting to three very hungover English guys, it was funny because they were obviously struggling a lot more as a result of the hangover and one guy even gave up just 10 minutes before the second summit point!

Despite dripping with sweat and struggling to gasp air in, I didn't give up and I made it to the top! Unfortunately I only had about 10 minutes to appreciate the view before I realised I had to make my decent back to the pier to meet for the booze cruise. Coming down was obviously a lot easier and 20 minutes later (half the time it took to climb up!!) I was at the pier.

I was a little early so I took the chance to snap some photos of the beautiful white sandy bay and all the long hosts that were lined up along it.

At 12:50 it was time to meet. The cruise was very full so we had to have two boats to carry everyone. Luckily I got to go on the yacht which was very cool and felt more like proper sailing as we had a sail and a boom.

The cruise begun with cliff-jumping which I'd done before, but was a lot tricker! You had to don wet suit shoes before jumping off the boat because the cliff was so spikey, and to make things harder there were huge waves chucking you back and forth against the rocks as you tried to get close enough to climb up.

I tried my best to climb up onto the rocks, but my shoes were too big and kept slipping off so I had to hold onto them whilst trying to climb. To add further to the challenge my bikini didn't want to stay up! I'm not a strong swimmer, so after 15 minutes of trying to tread water in the queue to get up the cliff, whilst the waves chucked me against the spikey rocks, I had to give up and swim back to the boat for fear of drowning!

Next stop was Viking Bay where Bob, our captain, explained how there was a drink made from bird snot which was worth lots of money. The bird snot was found in the nests at the top of the rocks in this area which were patrolled by the hunters.

After that it was on to Maya Bay, which is famous because 'The Beach', staring Leonado DiCaprio, was filmed there. To get from our boat you either had to swim or kayak over, since I wanted to take my camera, kayaking was my only option. Bob very kindly triple-dry-bagged my camera and paddled me across to the rope ladder where you had to climb over to get to Maya Bay. I'd heard Maya Bay was a tourist hotspot but nothing prepared me for the volume of tourists and boats on the beach. There were at least 10 speed boats full of tourists and around 10 long-tail boats as well. It was near impossible to get a photo without another tourist getting in the way! But I waited patiently determined to get a least one!

The last stop was an amazing cove between two huge cliffs, which just one other boat had found. There we found a rope swing, caves and a sound system playing party music. Excited to go explore we filled up our cups and grabbed new beers and kayaked across to the cove from the boat. Some oven group jumped off their boat wearing life jackets like nappies which was very funny to watch. The water was early warm and shallow so we were able to have a drunken game of frisbee in the water (we weren't very good but it was lots of fun all the same!)

Here the second boat joined us and we cranked up the music and partied until the sun started to go down.

As we sailed back to the pier the grand finale of the day was the sun setting gorgeous yolk and tangerine hues, against the silhouette of Phi Phi's cliffs.

Thailand Travels, Day 25, Hello Phi Phi and Treehouse Living

It's taken a taxi, a ferry, a coach, a bus and another ferry, but 12 hours travelling has been worth it for this... the stunning view from my treehouse on Phi Phi Don!

I'm checked into a dulex seaview cabin at the Phi Phi Sea Sky Resort, which is 7,200 baht for 4 nights including breakfast. Yeah yeah, flashpacker not backpacker... I know! The only bad thing is it's a real trek over from Phi Phi pier, over jungly hilly land and with my increasingly heavy backpack! Luckily, staff from the hotel were there to meet me and carry my backpack to my cabin, otherwise there's no way I would have found it or managed to carry my backpack.

The resort is based at the far end of Loh Dalum Bay (which is the same beach where all the partying goes on). The walk is demanding, up and down hills with broken pathways, but this is tempered by very pretty views all along the way.

Tonight the tide was way out and you could almost walk from one end of the beach to another.

When I saw the resort I knew I had found somewhere special. My cabin was at the top of the resort so I had uninterupted sea views. The room was also clean, with aircorn, my own locker in reception and a large double bed and very good wifi. And the cherry on top... My own private balcony with a spectacular view looking directly over the sea. I just can't believe that it's £32 per night for such a stunning place!

After freshening up I decided to go back to the centre of Phi Phi village to eat and explore. It was dark by now and it was then that I realised that the path was very poorly lit. Being a solo traveller it wasn't ideal to be walking back in the dark this far away from the centre of Phi Phi.

Phi Phi Village was like being in a maze! Made worse by the fact that I'd arrived late in the day and hadn't had chance to find my bearings in the daylight... and I didn't have a map!

After sniffing out all the restaurants trying to decided where to eat I settled for Pirates, which had an extensive Thai menu and looked full of people (always a good sign!). When I was at Full Moon a Canadian guy called Jon had warned me not to eat western food or brush your teeth with the tap water. Apparently nearly everyone gets sick on Phi Phi because it's so dirty. Jon's theory was that after the Tsunami, the locals had tried to rebuild the village quickly and in doing so hadn't put the water system back together all that well.

So, not fancying getting sick on my first day I decided to stick with Thai cuisine. I went for sweet and sour chicken and a side of rice. It was a good choice, the portion was huge with lots of veg and flavour. After dinner I continued to wander around and try work out my bearings. It was nearly impossible and after a couple of hours I had to go into a shop and ask for a map.

The walk home felt like I was doing cross-country and because it was all jungly, there was all manner of movements in the bushes and across the pathways making me jump every 5 seconds. I hate geckos and at least 2 jumped out across the path on my way home! After about 20 minutes I was relieved to be home to my treehouse and air condititoning!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Thailand Travels: Day 20 - 24, Life on Haad Rin after Full Moon

I haven't posted for a while as there's not been much to share whilst I've been chilling and treating these last few days as downtime. Just to recap, after the Full Moon Party I had a terrible hangover and all day I felt like I was going to vom. Luckily our hostel had a great arrangement with the restaurant across the road, whereby you could tell the hostel bar what food you wanted, they ordered it for you and then they come of deliver it to you ASAP. What a service and just what you need after a marathon drinking session like full moon! You pay the delivery person when they come with the food (on china plates with proper knives and forks I might add!) and if you don't have the correct change they come and bring it back to you you. So you don't have to move a muscle! I ordered fried rice and a can of coke around lunchtime which did wonders for my hangover.

After feasting we set up the big screen to watch a great film called The Wolf of Wall Street. This is what I really loved about hostel life. There was about 15 of us chilling out on sofas, all feeling rough but in good company, with food and drink being brought to us, plus the distraction of a good movie.

The movie was really long and after it had finished we all had itchy feet. Someone suggested a stroll down to the beach as it was a bit cooler now and we all decided that was a good idea. Seeing the beach post Full Moon Party was so weird. I'd arrived late that evening and hadn't any idea what the beach was like, less all the lights, booze and food stalls. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was rather pretty. White sands, clear waters and hardly any people now the full moon was over.

The boys had a kick about and a swim and the girls dipped their toes in the cooling sea waves and basked in the last of the sun's rays. After the beach we all went to dinner together and it was farewell to some of my new friends who were moving on to Malaysia early the next day. It was a lovely chilled end to full moon and I felt pretty proud of myself for rockin up by myself and finding lovely people to party with.

The days that followed involved a bit of pampering, with an amazing six step facial and an oil massage, both an hour long, and some beach lounging and time to read my book, the final instalment of the Hunger Games.

One evening I also went up to mushroom mountain which has a spectacular viewing point of Sunrise Beach and a club and bar. At the far end there's also another separate bar which sells 'special shakes' and 'wacky backy', it's all pretty chilled up there after full moon and it was a good place to hangout and chat.

I also had to do lots of organising and researching for my next stops, Koh Phi Phi and Railay. Through the hostel it was really easy to book onward travel, although everyone had the same plan, so the boats and buses became full very quickly. I booked to go to Phi Phi through the hostel for the morning of the 25th, which came to about 1700 baht. The trip would take about 10 hours in total and involved taking a taxi, ferry, bus and then finally another ferry, starting at 6am!!

I then needed to book my accommodation which took a bit of work as everywhere kept getting booked up so fast. In the end I found a place to stay for Phi Phi and Railay via hostel bookers and bookers. If you're travelling independently and not through a tour/holiday package I highly recommend using these sites, as you can read recent reviews from other travellers to get an up to date picture of the accommodation standard. Remember though, other people's standards might not be the same as you so don't just go by the score or one bad review, have a good dig around and see what the common points are that come ups and decide for yourself If this is a deal breaker.

I did enjoy the quieter atmosphere on Haad Rin for the first 2 days; there were still a few people I'd made friends around with doing the same as me, but for the last 2 days I was alone in my 12 bed dorm and feeling the need to move on!

One night after coming back from dinner I got chased by a mangy looking dog, I was so scared because I haven't had my rabies jab, which I'm sure the dog could sense, and probably caused him to go for me more. Next time I think I will just pay the £100 for the jab to avoid the stress and dog-dodging.

I probably wouldn't go to Haad Rin for a holiday as there's very little culturally to see, but I would definitely come back for full moon and the pre-parties. I would also book my onward travel arrangements and accommodation beforehand so I don't have to wait too long to get off the island.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thailand Travels: Day 19, Full Moon PAR-TAY!!!

Today was my last day in Ko Tao and I really really didn't want to leave, despite my excitement for the full moon party. Ko Tao has been my favourite place of all and I feel like could spend a whole week here.

Kirsty was starting her Padi diving course today at the Big Blue dive school so I helped her find her accommodation and check into the school. There was a little bit of a panic moment when we realised Kirsty had dropped her elephant shoulder bag with her cards and money in, but luckily, a kind and honest couple had noticed and came after us to give it back! So you see, there are some honest people left in the world :)

After that I fancied a manicure and pedicure so we went a found a parlour that offered Shellac. For 1,325 baht (about £24) they removed my old Shellac from my toes and redid my toes and fingernails! Such a bargain, as it'll last for 3 weeks and back home that would cost about £80-£90! Last stop was to get my full moon party outfit, which had to be an alluminous colour to ensure I glowed brightly at the party. I went for a highlighter yellow top with pink writing that said full moon party! Before I knew it, it was almost 2pm and time to meet our transfer to pier and say goodbye to the lovely Kirsty who I'd now grown close to having spent more than 2 weeks straight sharing hotel rooms, cabins and sleeper bunk beds with!

As a group we'd decided we wanted to tip Sek because he'd been such an awesome G Adventures tour guide. I gave 500 baht and I think most of us did the same or more. Sek had been unwell for the second part of our tour yet he'd still arranged activities, group dinners and even my ferry to Koh Phangan which wasn't part of the tour, so in my eyes he'd been a little star!
We said our goodbyes at the pier and funnily bumped into Emily and Helena who were just arriving in Ko Tao. Then it was just the 4 of us: Carlos, Sarah and Reiss and me off to Ko Phangan.

The ferry was pretty awful, as the waves were really against us and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. It was basically like being on a rollercoaster ride, but without the option of being able to get off! It was also delayed over an hour because of the conditions. There were lots of people chucking up which wasn't pleasant to hear or see either.

When we finally arrived none of us had booked transfers so then it was time to find the public buses to Haad Rin, the song-taew was only 100 baht so Reiss and I went for that option. Our hostels were in different areas though so we had to take separate buses, it was then I was of completely alone! The bus was just heading to Haad Rin and I didn't know if my hostel would be easy to find so all the way I was a little on edge. However, I kept looking out the window to ensure we were heading to Haad Rin after 5 minutes I begun to see signs and relax a little. Luckily after about 20 minutes I spotted my hostel (Our House on Tommy Road) and called to the driver to stop. He stopped a minute later and everyone got off the bus, so I guessed the buses usually stop in the centre and you have to find your way from there. Bloody lucky, I'd been looking out for the hostel otherwise I would have been plonked somewhere in Haad Rin with no idea!!

As soon as I arrived I realised I'd chosen a great hostel! It wasn't fancy or anything but the bar was full of young people and it was really central. Right outside the hotel there was also a line of Thai women doing glow in the dark body painting which I knew I was going to take full advantage of later on.

I checked in, and straight away two Canadian girls started talking to me and inviting me to come out for food and the party tonight. Result, how easy was that! They had already started drinking though and I was stone cold sober so it was a bit overwhelming. I now think it would have been better to arrive the day before to get to know everyone had I not been on my island hopping tour with G Adventures. My dorm was a full 12 bed and it wasn't long before I made friends with 4 other blokes and 2 girls who seemed to be a bit of a unit. I liked these guys straight away because they were chilled out but super friendly.

I took stroll down the beach with Kelsey and Steph for food from the stalls, but before we could get down to the beach we had to pay the 100 baht entrance fee, which goes towards the cleanup after the party (nothing really!). Down on the beach there were rows upon rows of booze shacks selling buckets of booze and mixers. Scaffolding towers were erected with lighting and signage on the beach... just incase it wasn't obvious that you were at the Full Moon Party! ;-)

After a tasty slice of pizza and a chicken kebab, Kelsey and I got painted up on the street outside our hostel. Kelsey went for a flower patterns and I went for stars on my right leg and a butterfly on my left arm, the price was 300 baht for a large design and 200 for a small design.

When I went back to our hostel I discovered there were all colours of glow-paint to help yourself to, so then we decorated our faces and I moved onto my left leg.

I was still hungry (having skipped lunch) so I joined the rest of the group from my dorm to eat just across the road from the hostel. There I discovered Jacob and Hayley were a couple and were travelling together since graduating from uni, Rich and Marcus were from South-End and were on a round the world trip which they were 6 months into and Julia (a Maria Carey look-a-like!) was from Germany but had excellent English skills.

After the food we started on drinks. Basically no one even thinks about buying drinks by the glass on full moon! It's all about the buckets which start around 250 baht up to 500 in busy areas like the beach. They are properly strong and the spirits and mixers come in proper sealed bottles so you know it's not dodgey.

Everyone had warned me that everyone looses something at the full moon party and not to take any valuables to the party so unfortunately I have limited photos of the night. I found a couple of our hostel pre-party on the Facebook page and via Instagram, but if you want to see what the full moon is like I recommend you book a flight and come for yourself. Words really can't explain how sick the beach party is. 30,000 people, pumping choones, cheap booze and U.V lights all over the beach makes one heavy PARTAY!!!

If you're a party person it'll be one of the best parties you'll go to and you won't regret it! And... What happens at fullmoon, stays at fullmoon ;-)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Thailand Travels: Day 18, Snorkelling with Nemo

Today 7 of us in the group had signed up for a snorkelling expidition to some nearby islands. It was an early start which none of us were keen on after our partying the night before, but in the end, as always, the effort to get up and out was so worth it!

The first challenge was getting onto the boat. Unlike back home where health and safety rules pound any adventure or fun out of most activities, Thailand is very different. At the pier there were rows and rows of boats taking tourists out snorkelling for the day, and the only way to reach your boat was to jump between boats until you reached the one you'd be sailing on. This wasn't the easiest task as sometimes there were pretty big gaps between the boats, or low ceilings to duck, whilst climbing across with you belongings. Anyway we all made it and the boat set sail.

The first snorkelling stop was to see the baby sharks. I'd never snorkelled before so I was actually a little bit nervous at first. But one thing I've learnt on this trip is if you overthink something you're worried about, you either chicken out, or make yourself too nervous to properly enjoy it. So without hesitatation I jumped off the back of the boat and into the sea to explore the underwater world.

It took a little while to get used to breathing underwater, and because I was wearing a buoyancy aid I couldn't swim right down to the sea bed. Although I didn't see any baby sharks, the snorkelling was successful as I spotted a beautiful yellow and blue tropical fish, like Dori from Finding Nemo!! It was even more exciting because this fish was all alone amongst a swarm of other smaller black fish so it stood out like a diamond amongst gravel.

The next stop was to a much more impressive coral reef, where the water was filled with tropical fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. One moment I was swimming around wondering where the hell all the fish were and the next minute I was jumping out of the water in shock because my whole body was surrounded by beautiful electric blue and yellow fish.

It was good to hear our tour guide reiterate that we should be careful not to touch the coral reef, as like the stalagmites in the cave, they take years to form and once touched they stop growing. Unfortunately I noticed a big group of Asian tourists not abiding by this and actually standing on the coral, which made me fume!!! I tried to explain that you shouldn't stand on the coral but it was hopeless as we didn't understand each other. I just hope their tour guide had a word with them when they returned to their boat! Aside from that I had such an amazing day and it was one the big highlights of the whole trip. I only wish I had flippers on and that I was confident enough swimmer to give up the buoyancy aid. Next time I need a waterproof camera too so I can get underwater snaps or the coral and fishies.

There was chance to do one more snorkle after that and the Aussies, Aldo and Sam, climbed to the top of the boat and did a big jump into the sea, which was pretty impressive! I was happy sunbathing on the top of the boat and eating the fried rice and chicken for lunch which came as part of the expedition package, so that's where I stayed.

The last stop was Naguyan Resort, which is a very small strip of private resort beach, with stunning white sand and turquoise waters. This place costs 100 baht to visit but we didn't need to pay this fee as it was included in the price of the day (850 baht).

As we were docking I thought this is the sort of place you see on postcards and adverts for sandals resorts! We had two hours to explore or sunbath Nangyuan Resort and I started with a very tasty, but expensive (by Thailand prices), fruit shake. I then snapped a few photos and chilled out with Jen and Lydia on the beach. As a comparison somewhere like Bangkok or Chiang Mai will charge you 40 baht for a mixed shake but here it was 120! So you see how see how the luxury resorts cream you a bit more.

It was all over far to quickly and at 4pm it was time to sail back to Ko Tao. The boat ride only took half an hour and from there Diamond Tours picked us up from the pier and took us back to our hotel.

The girls in the group had planned to meet on the beach and 6:15pm to watch sunset, before meeting for dinner. I was a little late as I was making sure I had my tripod and camera kit, but luckily I arrived just at the right time to snap some beautiful sunset shots! I also tried out some of the manual settings on my new Nikon DSRL for the first time and was impressed to see how they improved the shots I took when I followed the guide mode. I still need a bit of practice but it was great not to rely on auto mode!

All in all, a perfect day in paradise!