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We are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between us we are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. In 2011 we left the rat-race in London behind to work in international development and see the world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

DANCING FOR THE THRONES AT KING’S LANDING

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For some unknown reason, Croatia never featured on our list of places to visit. But when we heard Dubrovnik was hosting the Adriatic Pearl ‘Dance for the Thrones’ competition this year, we packed our dance shoes without a second thought. It turns out it was a fantastic decision.

Chris and I arrived in Croatia on a beautiful Tuesday evening, giving us a few days to explore Dubrovnik’s satellite town, Mlini, where we were staying for the week.


A few days later, our respective dance teachers arrived to add the finishing touches to our choreographies, ready for the competition on Friday and Saturday.


The dance crew is assembled!

The competition we entered was an international Pro-Am competition, where professionals (i.e. our teachers) dance with amateurs (very much Chris and I). So much like the Strictly Come Dancing format but without the celebrity component. Chris entered two Argentine tango competitions at two different levels and I entered six competitions dancing Salsa, Bachata, Merengue,Viennese Waltz, Jive and Rumba.


With competitors flying in from countries including Australia, Italy, Russia, Singapore and the US, we weren’t hugely optimistic we’d fare very well as both of us are quite new to Pro-Am dance competitions – especially Chris who was entering for the first time. But thanks to our fantastic teachers Armand from Equal Dance, and Sophia and Julio, we somehow managed to win all of the 8 competitions we entered!


The Tango Sin Fronteras team

To celebrate, we jumped in a taxi and took the beautiful coastal route from Mlini into Dubrovnik where we were transported back in time through the medieval streets of this historic city. It’s no wonder Game of Thrones used Dubrovnik as the setting to film the scenes for King’s Landing.



For a final farewell, we decided to hop on a boat and visit the famous blue cave, where I got to enjoy this spectacular sunset as a final goodbye to an unforgettable trip to the Adriatic Sea.


If you’d like to see more dance-related photos, including a video of Chris and I competing in our first-ever competition together, there’s more at the Tango Sin Fronteras Facebook page.

 

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

An adventurous weekend in San Gil (part 2)

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After our adventure in the claustrophic bat cave, we went on to our second activity in San Gil: white-water rafting. Although Chris and I have been white water rafting in Arequipa a few years ago, we were all too happy to go through a safety drill which included a practice fall into the water. Something that came in very handy later on it turned out…

Still dry

Not so dry anymore

We were fortunate enough to have the raft all to ourselves, along with our fantastic guide, Kevin. Fantastic that is with the exception of the time we ended up smashing head first into a massive rock face. Unfortunately, that epic collision wasn’t caught on camera, but Capitán Kevin did capture another moment which saw most of us thrown into the somewhat chilly Rio Suarez.

Even though Chris, the salty old sea-hat, somehow managed to remain in the raft, we decided it was only fair to make him walk the plank – which he did with the graceful elegance of a drunken whale.

                                       

The rafting trip was brilliant and in between us falling into the ice-cold water, we had plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

                                     

                                      

After an adventurous day in San Gil, we set off to the nearby town of Barichara, a beautiful colonial town half an hour or so from San Gil. More about that in the next blog, but for now a glimpse of the charming architecture that awaited us once we’d showered and dried off…


Practical info:

  • Tour operator: X-Travel
  • Cost of tour: 35,000 Colombian Pesos



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Friday, April 12, 2013

Flashback Friday: The time a shaman spat in my face

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On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog: Follow on #FlashbackFri

A few years ago I visited the mighty Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador where I was trying to fulfill my dream of being an explorer. In true explorer fashion we embarked on a trip to an indigenous village, somewhere in the middle of the jungle. The locals were really friendly, but I couldn't help but see them whispering to each other and our guide as we arrived. They were giggling and when we asked our guide what they said he announced they had just challenged us to a competition but that they didn't think that we would be tough enough to enter.

I read various horror stories about these challenges before our trip, for example a ritual where men wear a glove filled with bullet ants who sting so badly that you are in pain for days. There were lots of these ants crawling around so I thought that might well be the challenge. But it turned out that they had three other challenges for us: a blowpipe competition; a drinking competition; and an eating competition. This could either turn out very nasty or very funny.... but challenge accepted!

Bullet ants - luckily not one of our three challenges

The blowpipe challenge

First up was the blow pipe competition. We had to hit our target with a poisonous dart pushed inside a traditional blow pipe. The target was a toy parrot about 15 m away. Our guide showed us how it is done and hit the parrot in one of its wings first time around. It can't be that hard if he can do it so easily. Then it was my turn. I was handed the blow pipe, took aim and missed. The villagers were laughing at me. Damn it! None of the other tourists hit the target either, much to the amusement of the villagers. But then came one-shot-one-kill Chris. He took aim and BANG! Right into the red target. The villagers were very impressed. Challenge passed!

Ready, aim, fire (...and miss)
A vegetarian hunter
The only dart (apart from the guide's) to hit the target. Not sure how much damage it would done though!
Locals girls, not hugely impressed by the hunting skills of the foreigners 

The eating challenge

Our next challenge was to eat a jungle delicacy. A women took a leaf parcel from the fire and opened it. It was full of fat Amazonian grubs. Yikes! I am far too stubborn to decline a challenge though. I took a tiny piece of one of the grubs and ate it. To my surprise it actually wasn't that bad. It tasted like very salty scrambled eggs. Challenge completed!

Lunch
Suddenly wishing I was a vegetarian

The drinking challenge

As if eating a big fat grub wouldn't be enough the villagers then showed us what our third challenge would involve. With cheeky smiles on their faces, they showed us a pot of a yellowy/brown fluid. It looked like murky river water, but when we were told that it is in fact jungle beer (also called chicha) Chris' eyes lit up. We were asked to drink as much of this drink as we can. When Chris was given a small coconut shell containing the chicha he laughed triumphantly. This was going to be easy for someone who is used to knocking back pints of Stella Artois. That was until he was told what the jungle beer was made off.

Chicha is a fermented drink made out of yucca roots and the preparation is fairly easy. Pieces of the washed and peeled root are thoroughly chewed in the mouth, and the resulting juice is spat into a bowl. The saliva rapidly converts the starch to simple sugar, which is converted by wild yeast into alcohol. So Chris was about to drink some random people's spit. Nice! But he did manage a few sips. Challenge mostly completed!

Make mine a double

The shaman cleansing ritual

As we managed to win two (and a half) of the three challenges the villagers asked us if we wanted to stay longer and meet their medicine man. The shaman was an impressive looking man and he offered to do a cleansing ritual as he sensed some bad spirits inside me. Quite the salesman, but I felt in good hands, so gave it a go. He started his ritual by cleansing my aura with some kind of herbal branches, chanting and singing along the way. He then lit a cigarette (as you do), leaned over and started blowing the smoke on the top of my head (what felt like into my head).

My medicine man
Ritually smoking - into my head

It was all good fun up until then, but then he took out a bottle of very strong alcohol and had a sip off it. He was basically having a jolly with his fag and alcohol I thought to myself until this happened: HE SPAT INTO MY FACE. I was so shocked that I didn't know what to say or do. Chris of course found this hilarious (a bit rich coming from somebody who drank a cup of spit earlier). So as if that wasn't enough he then took a large sip from his bottle again and spat at me AGAIN. This time on top of my head. Apparently he saw the evil spirit trying to get back into my body and so he used the alcohol to prevent it.


Ppppuh. Take that, foreign girl
Yeah right, this guy was taking the mickey. Or was he? Only after I had seen the photos of the ceremony did I realize what he was talking about. I promise this is not photo-shopped in any way and I have no idea what this black spot on the photo is. Was this the evil spirit he was talking about?


Very, very, weird

So that was the day a shaman spat in my face. What were your most confusing cultural experiences?

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Everest Base Camp chronicles cont...

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...Part 2 of 2 - the bit where things got nasty
(if you missed part 1 you can read it here)

Day 7 - Dingboche to Lobuche (4910m)
Having had an early night after my first Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms, I felt much better in the morning so we went ahead with our trek to Lobuche. Things started off quite well, with Chris and the Sherpa speeding off ahead with all our kit as usual, while our guide and I followed on an hour or so behind. But as the day progressed the weather became increasingly nasty with heavy snow breaking out just as I started the steep, two hour climb up to Lobuche. And it was then, just after I'd made the climb up to 4,800m (the same height as Mount Blanc, Europe's highest mountain) that disaster struck. My altitude sickness, which had been growing for some time, suddenly exploded into a splitting headache, severe dizziness, and an almost complete loss of vision, meaning I had to descend immediately.

Memorial stones to fallen climbers on the way to Lobuche. For a while I thought they might need to add a new stone for me!
Luckily our guide was a complete hero and helped carry me down the mountain to safety, while sending up a message via other climbers (the heavy snow blocked all phone services) to Chris explaining what had happened. The descent is all a bit of a blur, but I remember being so cold that the icy wind felt like a hundred daggers piercing through me. By the time we reached the hut my body was shivering so uncontrollably that I needed 3 duvets and 2 hot water bottles, whilst being fed hot tea and soup by my guide, to warm me up again. Finally, by about 1pm, Chris and our Sherpa got word at the top of the mountain that I needed my sleeping bag and warm clothes urgently meaning the two of them raced back down the hill, in freezing conditions and almost zero-visibility, to reunite me with my warm kit.

Me on my sickbed. Chris never takes photos, except when I don't want him to.
At this stage I was still determined not to give up and hoped after a night's rest I could try and get up the mountain to Lobuche again the next day - but luckily Chris, who had seen how dangerous things were higher up, talked me out of this and made me realise that the best thing for me to do was rest for the night and then head down to lower altitude when the weather improved. So after a long conversation where I insisted he should carry on, Chris and our guide headed back up the hill, for the second time that day in ever worsening conditions, for what Chris described as the toughest few hours he has ever spent in the mountains. Not least because by now he had been trekking from 7.30am until late-afternoon on just 2 litres of water and a bowl of porridge for breakfast!

My mountain heroes. Chris, in a fetching Buddhist scarf, our guide (centre right) and our Sherpa (right). Nepalese guys are tough, I can tell you!
Highlight of the day - being saved by our guide, my mountain hero.
Lowlight - realising that due to a combination of hypothermia and AMS my only option was to retreat to a lower elevation, just a day away from base camp, and leave Chris to press on alone.
Oxygen rate - 54%

Day 8 - Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5140m) and then on to Base Camp (5364m)
Chris, now trekking with just our guide, was able to press on at his military marching pace meaning after a 5.30am breakfast he was at Gorak Shep by 9am in time to wolf down a crazily early lunch. Our trekking schedule allowed time for a day's acclimatisation at Gorak Shep, but by this stage Chris just wanted to get to base camp and back as quickly as possible so he and our guide cracked on to base camp straight after 'lunch'. Apparently the trek was pretty rough going - particularly without the planned day's acclimatisation and the freezing weather - but by early afternoon Chris and his guide had made it, a day early even with the drama of my AMS.

Things get a bit barren (but very beautiful) above 5,000m

Even the yaks looked cold and tired beyond Gorak Shep

Made it!

Highlight of the day - Reaching base camp (Chris) 
Lowlight - (Chris) watching the lodge dining hall increasingly resemble an Accident and Emergency ward as victims of broken bones, AMS, and hypothermia got carried down the mountain in various states of consciousness. One guy who broke his leg was literally piggy-backed down the mountain by a heroic Nepalese porter about half his size. And a Singaporean group had a very close shave as three of their group went down with severe hypothermia and AMS, meaning they too had to be carried down the mountain and eventually had to be fully evacuated by a combination of horse-back and helicopters which literally saved their lives.    
Oxygen rate - 52% 

Day 9 - Gorak Shep to Kalar Patar (5550m) and then back to Periche (4240m)
Chris rose just before first light again on day 9 to give himself time to climb to a viewing point up on Kalar Patar - a mountain which overlooks Everest base camp - and then leg it back down to Periche to be reunited with poor me. After taking some nice shots of Everest he somehow caught me up by lunchtime, meaning that from day 7-9 he and his guide covered over 50km crossing glaciers, icy ridges, and steep climbs at altitudes of between 4,250-5,500m, all the time carrying full kit. Not bad for an old man!

The mighty Everest (centre). Base camp is bottom left somewhere on the glacier
Highlight of the day - being reunited with my tired, but happy-looking husband
Lowlight - hating the fact the a combination of AMS and a nasty snow-storm meant I never quite made it to base camp. Guess I'm going to have to book a trip to Machu Picchu to cheer me up......
Oxygen rate (at Kalar Patar) - 50%

Day 10-12
The way back to Lukla airport was pretty much just the reverse of the way up, but done at a much faster pace as it was mostly downhill and the ever-thickening air meant with each passing step you felt stronger and stronger. Which meant we made it to Lukla a day early and were able to squeeze onto an early flight - which was delayed due to high winds but eventually took off, even though the winds were still high enough to make the flight back one of the longest 45 minutes of my life! But eventually we got back to Kathmandu, just in time for the Holy colour festival which was the perfect way to cheer myself up - but more about that next week...

Sunrise at Periche, on the way back to Lukla airport. It was far easier to appreciate the beauty of the Himalayas on the way down!



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