Al Ain – UAE

It seems strange to be sitting and writing a blog post about Al Ain, the Emirati desert city that I lived and worked in for 10 odd years. How do you jam it all into one blog post ? I now struggle to write about it as a travel destination, as it seems more like a home to me these days. Al Ain is located in the eastern region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is jammed up against the border of Oman, with the Hajjar Mountain range in the distance on one side, the endlessness and foreboding dunes of the Empty Quarter heading off for hundreds of kilometres to Saudi Arabia on another side and the modern 3 – 4 lane motorways heading off to the big cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai completing the trifecta. These features make it an exotic destination for any expat, especially at first. With time however, it slowly absorbs itself into your being until one day, the heat, logic defying craziness, chaos and frontier like vibe almost become normal, to the point that I am now finding it difficult to adjust to the orderly and structured daily routines of a modern western democracy as I sit in my comfy guesthouse in Victoria, British Colombia.

The dunes around Al Ain take on a deep ochre colour at sunset, unlike the dunes closer to Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Red Dunes ... Al Ain ... UAE.

Jahli Fort … Al Ain


Dragon boating in front of the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Mosque … Abu Dhabi


Obviously it is difficult to describe 10 years of life in the UAE in a single blog post, and I have since come to realise that it is simply impossible to describe the small intricacies of life there to anyone that has not experienced it and I guess that is understandable. I always get a laugh when the standard ¨can you buy a drink there ¨ question pops up and the memories of hard partying in Dubai flood back.

Silhouette of the Emirates Palace Hotel … Abu Dhabi

Emirates Palace Hotel ... Abu Dhabi ... UAE

Camels form a huge part of the culture and history throughout the Gulf States. 



My mate Alex is a world authority on camel racing and reproduction. I learned a lot about the social structures of the UAE that stem from camel racing, both by the Bedouin and the Sheikhs. The purchase of the better camels from the Bedu by the various Sheikhs forms a type of social welfare system and the Bedu leaders are expected to share the largesse throughout the system.


This shot is the cover photo of Alexs biography,  The Desert Vet by David Hardaker. A good read about a part of UAE life that most tourists or expats never get to experience. You can buy it at Amazon.




As always, this is more of a photographic than story telling blog and would not be complete without a selection of shots from my time in the UAE. Unfortunately, working traditional Arabic split work days, 6 days a week did not lend itself to taking a lot of photos. However, one of the great advantages of life in the Emirates is the opportunity to travel cheaply to a whole lot of the big wide world and most of my photo efforts went into those trips, rather than the plethora of opportunities on my doorstep.

White water kayaking, rafting and surfing at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, where the waves seem to be coming right out the base of Jebel Hafeet !!!!!

Wadi Adventure-124

Wadi Adventure-85

Wadi Adventure-5

Of course, all that work means down time is a must and the Halloween and 4th of July parties at the Muirheads place in Al Ain are the stuff of legend.

0708_Halloween 2012022

Poor little Eve didn’t know what to make of me … then again, neither did Anne-Lise or anyone else !!

Halloween 2011-9

While the Emirates is located in one of the worlds harshest climates and temperatures in Al Ain go beyond 50 degrees Celcius in summer, it boasts an extraordinary amount of things to do in the cooler months. Camping in the desert and wadis, beach resorts, scuba diving, skydiving, rock climbing, 4 wheel driving in the dunes, quad biking, some of the worlds best golf courses, all manner of sports, even surfing in man made resorts if that’s what takes your fancy, you name it and you can most likely find it somewhere.

Dates are ubiquitous and are traditionally used to break the fast during Ramadan. These ones are in the famous Al Ain Oasis, a place where camel journeys from Abu Dhabi to Muscat travelling the Frankincense trail would stop in the old days.


Falcons and falconry form another major part of Emirati history and culture.


The Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club played a major part in my social life. So many great stories emanated from extended periods on the deck of the 19th. 


I often get asked what was the best part of living in the Emirates and my answer is always an easy one. It´s simply the people you meet. Expat gatherings in Al Ain invariably consisted of an exotic mix of nationalities and professions while a typical work day brings you into contact with another complete range of cultures. A normal work day for me was a mix of mingling and working with people from every corner of the globe. You do get to meet people with incredible stories to tell on a daily basis.

I do not think I have even touched on all the stories that fill my head about the years I spent in Al Ain, all the crazy camel vets, wildlife vets, scientists, special forces soldiers, spies, movie makers, trade commissioners, teachers, divers, journos, missile scientists, fighter pilots, helicopter pilots and engineers, professors, doctors, nurses and a myriad of others have woven a lifetime of stories into my head. Too many to be told in fact, especially in a short blog post. I even met an ex Al Ainite recently here in Canada who spent 10 years in the Emirates maintaining fighter jet ejector seats. When asked how many seats were ever ejected, the answer was zero. A typical Al Ain story for me !!

Spotlight on the clouds above Jebel Hafeet, the Emirates highest mountain and a feature of Al Ain life, especially the spectacular drive to the top.


Hanging out at the camel race track at Mezyad.


The Al Ain Air Show is a winner. This old plane was shot when I first arrived, back in 2007. The dunes in the background are dotted with 4WDs watching on for free.

1908 plane 2

The dunes around Al Ain make for creative photo opportunities. With my long work days I did not really have time to explore it as much as I would have liked but my friend Clare was happy to model her violin for me one afternoon recently.



You cannot really have a post about the Emirates without mentioning supercars, there are probably more per square foot there than anywhere. I scammed a ticket into the pits during the Ferrari Mondiale races a few years back


Ferraris racing at Yas Island, home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix


I wouldn’t say Al Ain is a tourist destination, and maybe for me that was the attraction. It certainly is not for everyone and probably best suits people with an adventurous side, who are looking for an out of the box experience that does not fit with the western ideal of normality. It certainly suited me just fine. Being able to travel to Africa, Europe or Asia with a 6 hour flight was my kind of nirvana, especially when it takes that long just to get out of Australia !! Short trips to Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran, the Balkans, Lebanon and Jordan are all close by and easily accessible for short breaks. I guess thats why the expats I knew were the most widely travelled people I have ever met.

Maybe my days in the Emirates are finished, maybe not, who ever knows. Given the right circumstances, I will be back there in a heartbeat !!!!


Its difficult to describe the beauty of Patagonia. This sprawling chunk of glaciers, mountains, rivers and coastline straddle one third of the land mass of Chile & Argentina. Dominated by the southern end of the mighty Andes mountain range, its a diverse array of icecaps, fiords, alpine plains, glaciers, glacial lakes and rivers, not to mention the not too insignificant matter of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Surprisingly for me, it was not really a huge part of my initial plans. I thought that perhaps if I had time and money, I might tack it on towards the end of my journey. A chance bus meeting on the way into Bolivia however, introduced me to some people who’s major focus was Patagonia and my opinion soon started to change. The fact that they were looking to rent a car and explore it on a whim also appealed to me.

And so it came to pass, after crossing the border from Bolivia and into the Atacama desert of Chile, I decided to while away a few days in Santiago ( an amazing city and one worthy of its own blog post ), and then board a plane flight to Punta Arenas and away I went.

All up I spent the best part of 3 1/2 weeks in the southern end of Patagonia. The area is so vast that I simply did not have the time to see it all so the northern areas will have to wait for another time.

While there are so many options and things to explore in this wonderland, the main focus of the people I met was hiking. Most of the hikers were well prepared for overnight camping and hiking and many were exploring by a range of methods, cycling, walking and even rafting.

I would not admit to being the most hard core hiker, some strenuous day hikes and strolling around taking photos was more my scene. My travel buddies were right into it however, and left me behind as they undertook some of the famous overnight hikes that make Torres Del Paine in Chile, El Chalten and El Calafate in Argentina world famous.

Torres del Paine – Chile

Arguably, the most famous and desirable hiking destination in Patagonia is the Torres del Paine National Park. The roughly 600,000 acre park has many features but is most easily recognised by the Cordillera del Paine ( Towers of Paine ), 3 massive granite monoliths that dominate the skyline. The Grey Glacier, Los Cuernos and the French Valley are other attractions. Of course the major focus here is hiking and two particular treks are world renowned, the W trek which winds around the Torres and the O trek which basically winds its way the whole way around. I was not really prepared with equipment or accommodation for the big treks, so my buddies and I found a beautiful campsite on Lake Pehoe and I explored the area from there. Morning vistas of the Torres and visits from friendly armadillos, venturing up to the Condor viewpoint and standing directly under soaring condors was more than enough for me.

The Cordillera del Paine



The view across Lake Pehoe




The view from the campsite at Lake Pehoe


On the road in Patagonia


The view from Condor Point


A couple of tips –

If you are planning to visit Torres del Paine by car, you will most likely arrange most things in the nearby town of Puerto Natales. Despite some maps showing fuel stops on the way, there simply are none. We could not find petrol anywhere other than Puerto Natales, be sure to factor this in to your plans for exploring the park.

Also be aware that in recent years the Park has become exponentially popular. If you are planning on hiking the W or O trek in the high season of Jan / Feb independently, then be sure to book well ahead with the Park Authorities. The free camp sites were booked solid for 2 months beforehand when I visited. Another reason I left the hard core hiking to others.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas sits at the southern end of Chilean Patagonia and is generally the first point of entry for many who venture there by air ( though bear in mind that a new airport opened in Puerto Natales in 2016 so that may change the plans of some ).

Punta is a nice enough place although there are not an enormous amount of things to do from there, especially if you are on a budget. I enjoyed wandering the town with a camera as there is some interesting graffiti and an amazingly interesting cemetery, but for me, the highlight of visiting Punta is to visit the island of Magdalena in the Magellan Strait, home to over 60,000 pairs of breeding Magallenic Penguins. Day trips can be arranged in Punta and the sights and smells and these curious little creatures is incredible. I highly recommend it.

Magallenic penguins at Magdalena Island







The interesting cemetery in Punta Arenas




El Calafate

El Calafate is a quaint little town in the heart of Argentinian Patagonia. We arrived here by default. As mentioned earlier, as we could not find fuel at Torres del Paine, we decided to turn right and head to Argentina instead as there was a petrol station just over the border, the only time I have ever left a country to get fuel !!!!!! El Calafate is a hiking mecca and its most notable feature is the massive Perito Moreno Glacier. This extraordinary glacier is located about 1.5 hours by bus from El Calafate. We had by chance found a free campsite only 30 mins drive away and so were able to be at the glacier at 8am as the gates opened and before the bus hoards arrived.
To say that this place took my breathe away is an understatement. It is simply majestic and a definite must see.

A rainbow appears on Perito Moreno Glacier


The high alpine plains of Patagonia near El Calafate





A visitor at Perito Moreno Glacier.


The face here is 60 meters high and ice chunks regularly calve off into the lake in a massive spray. Perito Moreno is one of the few existing glaciers that is not shrinking.



El Chalten

El Chalten is a small town which has become the home of hiking and rock climbing in Southern Argentina. Climbers come here for months at a time during the season to clamber up the many peaks in close vicinity. The town is located by the Los Glaciares National Park and the nearby magnificent Fitzroy Ranges. There are any number of hiking options here from quick 1/2 day walks to multi day overnight hikes. Its an extraordinary place, with many other things to eat up your time. Flyfishing the azure blue glacial rivers is one as is cycling along the valleys.

The hiking, & rock climbing Mecca of Argentina, El Chalten.


The Fitzroy Ranges


You meet some amazing people while travelling. Luke and Jason were carrying inflatable rafts in their packs and had hiked and rafted down from Northern Patagonia.

You can follow their journey at


El Chalten township.



Home sweet home.



A tip – If you are heading to El Chalten, be sure to be cashed up first. There is only one ATM in the town and in the week I was there it was constantly out of action. Take plenty of cash, there are places to change currencies if needed.

I am more of a photographer than a writer and the stories above simply do not do justice to this huge and diverse place. You could easily write a book about each location. I did not manage to get to northern Patagonia and there is an enormous amount to see there as well. From grade 5 rapids and some of the worlds best white water rafting at Futaleufu to kayaking the many fiords. Maybe next time !!!!!

Patagonia can be explored in many ways, from organised trekking tour groups, to high end cruise ships from Santiago to Buenos Aries and Antarctic and Easter Island cruises. The world is your oyster here depending on your needs and budget. My method as usual,  was to do it independently and pretty much on a whim. If you are planning on doing extended overnight hikes, my advice is to be prepared and pack lightweight, warm and dry clothes, tent, sleeping mat and cooking equipment. A lot of this equipment can be rented in the supporting towns if you are travelling long term and do not want to carry the kit when you leave. You can also stock up on food here as needed.

So there you have it, my small insight into Patagonia. This isolated wonderland at the southern end of the world will be one of the highlights of your life.

Mexico City

Wow, what a surprise !!!! When I started my journey last year, Mexico in general was not even on my radar. As often happens with long term travel, plans change regularly, often due to circumstances and the people you meet. By the end of my Central and South American sojourn, Mexico would play a large part in an explosion of new friends and amazing places. One of these places was the massive, sprawling metropolis of Mexico City.

My only perception of Mexico City was of one of the worlds largest cities, not something that would usually get me excited. My initial experience in this huge place was a simple overnight hostel stay next to the airport on my way to Oaxaca. The ¡return journey from that amazing place was also to be a simple overnight stay on my way to New York City on my way home. Fate and Mother Nature would combine to make other plans for me however. I was ensconced in my comfy room waiting for an early morning flight when I happened to scan through Facebook and spotted something about a massive storm approaching New York, Storm Cell Stella was on her way apparently. A rushed walk down to the Internet desk confirmed the worst. All flights the next day were cancelled due to the storm. Hmmmm, what to do ?? Make the best of a bad situation of course !!! A another quick airport visit and my flight was rescheduled for a week later. My thoughts were that I am here now, so lets have a look about !!

Jacarandas surround the Angel of Independence in Zona Rosa


Delicious street food is another delight in Mexico City


Funky bars and restaurants abound in Roma Norte and Condesa.


Obviously, the airport is not the ideal place to be discovering a new city so an Airbnb in the central district of Roma Norte was quickly arranged and off I went. To my astonishment, Mexico City offered so much to see that I could not possibly take it all in one week. The central districts of Roma Norte, Zona Rosa, Condesa and Reforma offer a selection of wide, leafy streets, funky bars and restaurants and plazas and gardens galore. The hip district of Coyoacan and the historic districts around the Zocalo, plus the massive gardens and museums of Chapultopec and surrounds mean that there is simply to much to see in week.

Whatever it is that floats your boat, you are bound to find something of interest in Mexico City. The Subway and Metro buses are super easy to use and can get you cheaply around the city in next to no time.

Friendly squirrels in Chapultopec Park


Dangers !!!! 

Of course, Mexico City ( like most cities ), can be a very dangerous place if you do not take the usual precautions. The most obvious of these are taxis, especially at night. My host at the Airbnb briefed me carefully on these. Street cabs during the day are generally ok, however at night, these are often taken over by criminal gangs for a few hours and express kidnappings to raid your ATM account are common to the extent that when asked a percentage number, he said probably up to 30% of taxis at night are affected. Thats a huge number !! The bottom line is to NOT use street cabs at night. Uber is commonly used and is a cheap and safe option if you have an account. If not, get one before you go. Restaurants  and bars can also call you an official radio taxi if you are stuck. Be sure to have a number or two of these from your accommodation to be sure.

Roma Norte is full of cool buildings !!





Streets of Condesa


Hard at it in Chapultopec Park



My friend and renowned Mexican artist, Sara Corenstein photographing an old house in Coyoacan district.


Street markets are everywhere !!!



Boxercise at the Angel of Independence on a Sunday morning.


Drawing up a storm of the Angel of Independence Statue.


Sunday crowds in Coyoacan enjoying some street mime.


Cheap and tasty street food is everywhere !!



The Angel of Independence.


This guy was ¨trying¨ to meditate in Chapultopec Park when he was rudely interrupted.


No shortage of street art either.


I was blessed to have my friend and long term resident, Sara Corenstein to show  me around.


Classic buildings everywhere !!


Wide, leafy boulevardes


So, there you have it. What started as a quick stopover turned into a week long stay in one of the amazing cities I have seen. It is certainly worth a week or two, even if you are itching to get to the other amazing States of Mexico. Flights to Baja California, Oaxaca and the Yucatan often go through the city, so why not stay awhile and experience an historic and incredible place. Give it a go !!!!


Really, I just love graffiti. From the inner city blocks of Melbourne, to the Barrios of Medellin, grafitti art provides a colourful outlet for artistic expression as well as adding vibrancy to sometimes otherwise drab places. What sometimes looks like a colourful conglomeration of images can often contain many hidden stories and a running social commentary, if you manage to find it or have a guide explain it.

Without going into the intricacies of all these stories, I learned a lot of the fight against GM foods and the influence of Monsanto throughout Guatemala, the white flag mothers of Medellin who stopped violence in the streets during the Escobar period, the dictatorship years and disappearances in Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile, all through artistic graffiti expression. So here are some of the shots of graffiti that I enjoyed the most. Its a not a definitive list, I took hundreds of shots, these are just a few that caught my eye.

Valparaiso, Chile







Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile.








San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala


This work depicts the evils of Monsanto and its GM foods. No prizes for guessing who depicts who here.



Medellin, Colombia






Punta Arenas, Chile




Cartagena, Colombia



Colombia !!!

Unfortunately, due to a malfunctioning computer, my blog posts are being written well after the event. Time takes away some of the immediacy and emotions that come quickly to mind when writing in real time. Time has not however dimmed my love for Colombia. It is simply one of my favourite countries.

How to quickly sum up Colombia in a few words ? Probably diverse, passionate, natural and friendly come to mind quickly.

Diverse –

Colombia has it all, golden Carribean beaches, the wild ( politically and natural ) Pacific coast, the Amazon, cloud forests, jungles and lost cities, mountainous coffee country, adventure galore, ziplining, canyoning, kayaking, rafting, biking ( both motorised and pedal power ), diving, incredible cities and history, sport fishing, desert and most likely a lot more.

                                                    Street kids busking in Medellin


Passionate –

To the outside world and to anyone that travelled in Colombia years ago, the name simply conjures up visions of danger and drug related violence. This is not the case anymore. Colombia is really no more dangerous than any other South American country and only requires the usual precautions and a common sense approach. As elsewhere, guided city walks always provide an in sight into the local culture and history. The city walk in Medellin especially, was done with very passionate young local Paisas ( as the folks are known locally ). They are extremely proud of their transition from the days of violence and nearly all of them have direct experience of those times as children. They are only too willing to openly discuss the Pablo Escobar era and all that went with it, ( our guide was not a huge fan of the Hollywood version of Narcos, it must be said ).

As elsewhere in South America, graffiti is used widely as a form of expression. there will be a seperate blog post on graffiti later.


These are known as the Towers of Light. They are located in an area that was formerly a total no go zone because of violence and now represent the new beginnings in Colombia.


Natural –

Colombia pretty has it all, some of the most diverse bird life on the planet, amazing ocean life, cloud forests, volcanoes, wild rivers etc etc.
For avid bird watchers, it must be among the best on earth. I spent a week in the little town of Taganga on the Caribbean coast doing my Rescue dive certification. For anyone considering doing a diving course, this little place ( along with Honduras ), offers some of the cheapest options on the planet. It does pay to research carefully and select a professional dive centre though ). I cannot recommend Oceano Scuba in Taganga highly enough.

Also, the little mountain town of Minca has incredible bird life if that takes your fancy. This Colibri ( Hummingbird ) drinks from a feeder at the Minca Hotel. Its worth doing breakfast there just to sit with hundreds of these little guys. I love ´em !!!!


                                                  A lovers sunset at Taganga


                                                       Afternoon showing off time 


My time in Colombia was mainly contained to the Northern part of the country. Reports from other travellers confirmed that the southern towns and country further south on the way to Ecuador is just as beautiful and diverse as the north. I arrived in Cartagena by catamaran from Panama ( subject to an earlier post ), and my group of fellow boat mates and I enjoyed a week of post sailing celebrations in this very cool city. The old part of Cartagena is alive with history and pretty, rustic houses draped in vines. It is easy to spend a week just wandering around the old town, taking in the museums and street life. My little Airbnb was located in a quiet side street and my usual afternoon routine simply consisted of buying a few cheap bevies and sitting on the front step and getting to know the locals and watching the world go by. I could have easily stayed longer here.

                                           The beautiful Old Town of Cartagena


Colourful Guatape is a few hours from Medellin and certainly worth a few days. The temptation is to do a day trip from Medellin but it is best discovered with more time,     ( as always ).


                                                           Perros !!!!!! ( dogs )

I admit to being a dog lover and South America in general and Colombia in particular also love them. Dogs are everywhere !!! Here are a couple of my favourites.

Barney the weird Corgi / Lab mix that lives in the bar I frequented in the main square of Guatape.


Lucas, the punk house Schnauzer at the Grand Hostel in Medellin, and by the way, if you are looking for a well run, quiet little hostel in Poblado, go and see Lucy, I loved my time there.


                                      Climb the 780 steps at El Peñon, Guatape


                                                        Its not a bad view up there.


                                                             Street art in Medellin


                                                             Colourful Cartagena


The wild Pacific coast at Bahia Solano and El Valle will get its own blog post later. Its a fascinating place both naturally and politically. The major source of revenue here is picking 20kg blocks of contraband cocaine from the ocean, spilt from high speed motor boats plying the North America trade. Both the FARC rebels and Paramilitaries as well as the locals are all looking to make a quid this way, and its a LOT of quids. Its also a world class sport fishing hub for anyone who makes the effort to get there. This humpback was cavorting about as we dragged out lures past.


                                                        Reflections of Medellin


                                   Fishing boys on the Pacific Coast at Bahia Solano


Locals in Medellin are super proud of their Metro system. They view it as an example of their new beginnings. Its is squeaky clean and good luck to anyone who tried to graffiti it. These cable cars also ride up into the hillside Barrios and are all included as part of the metro system. Works like a dream. You can ride all the cable cars for the price of one ticket !!!! Awesome !!!!!


                          Some imminent rain from the hostel balcony in Guatape


I could write about Colombia forever but will most likely do some more specific blogposts a little later. They are each worth extra time of their own. So for now, just a few photos above, ( after all, this is a mainly photographic blog and I am no Earnest Hemingway ). I will let the photos do the talking.

Mole !!!! Cooking School in Oaxaca

A really great way to immerse yourself in local food culture and taste is to do a simple cooking class. The last time I did one was many years ago in Hoi An, Vietnam and I enjoyed that so much that I need to give myself an uppercut for not doing them more often. I simply have not indulged in these as often as I should have, but at the suggestion of my travel buddy in Oaxaca, Mexico I decided it was time to give it another crack.


The usual routine for a cooking class is to hit the local market early in the morning to buy the ingredients. This also gives a far more detailed idea of how the local markets work and just what is available. Just strolling around taking photos does not provide a true indication of what is really available in these local markets. The Central Market in Oaxaca is absolutely massive and the quality of the produce left me spellbound. Stall after stall of super fresh and ripe seasonal produce is laid out as far as the eye can see. Our chef, teacher and all round good bloke Geraldo was our chef, teacher and mentor. He patiently explained the in & outs of both the produce and the people in the market.

Ingredients procured, it was time to head back to Geraldos home, kitchen and classroom. Without going into intimate detail of the preparation of ingredients, the basic idea was to prepare and cook tamales, a salsa de Gusanito, guacamole, a traditional Oaxaca soup and a mole negro. Now, I have tried a couple of moles before but pretty much had little idea of what actually goes into developing the deep flavours required. To be honest, a mole is not the prettiest dish in the world. It looks a little as though a pile of mud was thoughtfully retrieved from the nearest boggy road. The deep smells of the spices as they are pounded in a mortar and pestle however, suggests something very different indeed.

Firstly, the Tameles were prepared with long banana leaves, trimmed and cut into portions. The freshly ground corn was mixed with a preprepared red Mole sauce, folded up and laid in a steamer to cook. Now the big guns were brought out and heavy mortars and pestles were distributed throughout. Without going into the long list of fresh spices to be pounded into shape, ( a photo of the recipe follows ), our little group was soon head down, pounding, mashing and stirring to our hearts content.



Meanwhile, others were busy deseeding and roasting the fresh chillies to be blended and added to the spice mixture.


Yep, cactus worms are are a key ingredient of the tasty salsa. These are also often mixed with salt and used to coat the glass rim of the various local margaritas. The delicious Mexican margaritas are worthy of a blog post of their own !!!! My favourite is made with Mezcal, passionfruit juice, red apple and the above salt coating on the glass rim.


After much ado and not a little elbow grease, the mixtures were toasted, pounded, strained and blended and ready to be cooked and consolidated in a clay pot before the grand finale lunch. The highlight of the lunch was undoubtably the Mole which was poured over some fresh pork also procured at the morning market. The deep smokey flavours lingered on the palette, and certainly overwhelmed its basic appearance.



As an added bonus, a bottle of Vino Tinto miraculously appeared, along with the obligatory shot or two of Mezcal.

All in all, an entirely enjoyable day and highly recommended. Wherever you happen to be in the world, a local cooking class will introduce you to a range of flavours, local culture and some seriously delicious food.

And then, Viola !!!! the final climax.


There was actually quite a bit more involved than mentioned above. Fresh Tortillas were also pressed and roasted.


The fresh fried pig skin, cheese, raisin and herb soup was delicious !!!!


A spicy guacamole was prepared.


So, if you happen to be in Oaxaca, The La Cocina Oaxaqueña Cooking School is highly recommended. You can book through your hotel or hostel or contact them directly at

So there you go, local cooking classes can add an extra dimension to your travels. Just get out and do it !!!!!!!


I admit to having had some reservations before I ventured to Ecuador. Reports from travellers on the road were somewhat mixed and I was leaving behind one of my favourite all time cities of Medellin in Colombia. By pure luck though, I found myself in a hostel in Quito called the Secret Garden and settled in for 3 days. I soon discovered that the Secret Garden has a sister hostel, located about an hour and a half drive away and located in a rural setting adjacent to Cotopaxi National Park and with views across to Cotopaxi, an active volcano that last erupted enormously in the late 1800’s.




 What awaited me totally blew my mind. The Secret Garden at Cotopaxi is located on a hillside with direct views to several volcanos, snow capped Cotopaxi as well as Pasachoa and Runinahui, both extinct but stunning volcanos.

                                                       View from the Jacuzzi !!!!


                                                                 Shower view


 The hostel arranges hikes of varying difficulty to the various volcanos plus treks to the high level refuge of Cotopaxi at 4,850 metres. The super adventurous will be disappointed to hear that the hikes to Cotopaxis summit have been cancelled due to the recent volcanic activity. As with other high altitude summits around the world, climate change is also reaping its now familiar havoc with the glaciers on the mountain that have decreased by 40% since 1976. Yet another obvious scientific fact to keep the climate change deniers busy.

 Another fabulous trip is a visually stupendous horse riding trek through the surrounding National Park. True to form though, on the morning of the horse trek, the grey clouds rolled in and the 4 hour trek was interrupted by rain storms and a particularly unwelcome hail storm at one point. The rain meant that the camera had to stay hidden away in my dry bag and the stunning vistas could not be photographed. For anyone planning a visit though, the horse trek is definitely not to be missed. Some of the photos below will give an inkling of the scenery.

                                                               Lunch views


Afternoons and nights at the Secret Garden are spent lazing away the hours in the welcoming warm Jacuzzi with views across to the volcanos or by playing several versions of cards while enjoying the cheap beers and wine. Food is tasty and abundant and included in the cost of the basic packages that are best booked from the Quito operation.



All in all, the secret Garden at Cotopaxi is one of the best kept secrets in Ecuador and should be a must see for anyone planning a trip to this part of the big wide world.

Galapagos !!!!!!

What to say about the Galapagos !!!! Mesmerising, majestic, wild, raw, windswept and totally unique. The volcanic archipelago off the Eucadorean coast is easily reached by plane from either Quito or Guayaquil. I had done very little research as to the actual logistics of visiting the islands beforehand but it was a bucket list item for me and only the details needed to sorted out. That I would visit was a given.

I had arrived at the exceptionally well run Secret garden Hostel in Quito and quickly noticed that an independent travel agency called Carpdm was located just downstairs. My initial enquiry very quickly developed into a solid booking, along with flights for an 8 day cruise, departuring in only 3 days. I was astounded that it could be arranged so quickly but it seems that the vast majority of bookings are done at the last minute. In fact on the boat trip I arranged, only 2 others had booked in advance ( and paid a premium for the privilege ). The other 10 people had all booked with the previous 2 weeks.

 The informative and genial guy behind the Carpdm desk explained in detail the range of options. They are basically divided into 3 types ( excluding all inclusive liveaboard dive trips which are much more expensive but I am sure incredible ), firstly the cheapest option is a basic backpacker type boats that are in the $ 1,200 USD range for a 6 day cruise. The next level ( which suited me best ), was a mid range boat that was in the vicinity of $ 1,800 USD. The last options are the high end boats that resemble a Pacific cruise liner, not really my cup of tea.

 The boat I selected was the Nemo 2, a large catamaran that certainly looked quite nice in the marketing blurb. The plane ride from Quito took around 4 hours and landed on Santa Cruz early on Day 1. My first glimpse of the Nemo 2 confirmed that I had made the right decision. It made the Santana ( the Cat I rode from Panama to Colombia ) look like a dinghy. !! Day 1 consisted of getting stowed on board, running through the details of the trip and heading off for an afternoon snorkel and walk on the southern side of Santa Cruz.

 Without boring you all to death with the intimate details of every island, the route selected took in the north western islands, these are much newer and diverse than the older islands of the Southern route ( I was reliably told by our guide ). The Galapagos were formed by underwater volcanic eruptions, emanating from a tectonic hotspot in the Pacific Ocean. Over the millennia the islands move slowly east at a rate of about 3 inches per year. They then gradually erode and become lower and lower.

 The days on board basically consisted of snorkeling and walking trips, usually two per day. In between the daily adventures, the crew on board delivered an amazing and huge assortment of delicious meals. The following days plan was explained in detail before dinner each night and the whole operation worked like clockwork.

 Our guide Osvaldo accompanied us on all trips and passionately explained the finer details of the amazing wildlife and geology of the islands.

 Those who read my occasional blog posts will know that wildlife really floats my boat and the unique and unbelievably close access to the various creatures just blew my mind. Snorkeling trips varied from place to place but a quick summary of what I encountered underwater would read something like this : Galapagos sea lions, Fur sea lions, Green & Olive Ridley turtles, plummeting Boobies fishing, White tip, Black tip and Galapagos sharks, a Penguin hoovering up a shoal of striped Salemis literally within touching distance, then surfacing and looking at me with a fish it its mouth, all of 2 feet away, all manor of Stingrays, Spotted Eagle Rays, a vibrant array of reef fish, moray eels, Wahoo, Barracouta and last but not least, a migrating Humpback Whale that gave us a nice display from the boat as the sun went down one afternoon. While I would loved to have been able to dive in this underwater paradise, snorkeling had to suffice this time.

 Land based walking trips to the various islands took in vast lava fields, intimate bays that have harboured boats from pirate days right through to present day yachts. In days gone by, boats would spray paint their names on the rocks around the bays, the oldest I saw was from the late 1800s. As far as wildlife is concerned, the close proximity to the birds and lizards is just amazing, a summary would be : Blue footed boobies, Red footed boobies, Masked boobies ( and no, I didn’t buy the “ I love Boobies “ t-shirt ), displaying Frigate birds with their nests and chicks, Galapagos short eared owls, Swallowtails, Tropical birds, all manor of Finches, Hawks, Mockingbirds, Giant tortoises, Land iguanas, Marine iguanas and the usual plethora of totally unconcerned Sea lions. I am sure I have missed a few but the above gives you an idea of what is there to be appreciated in the islands.

                                  Giant Domebacked Tortoises blocking the road


Marine iguanas, the catalyst for Darwins Theory of Evolution


                                     Young Galapagos sea Lion resting on a red sand beach



 I really loved the story of Diego as explained by Oswaldo. Diego is arguably the most famous Giant tortoise still living. Of course the most famous was Lonesome George, the last surviving member of the Pinta island subspecies. George passed away in 2012 and with him the last of his species. Lonesome George was a Saddleback Tortoise ( the other being the more plentiful Dome backed ) and after the massacre of his species by raiding pirates, they were especially affected by the introduction of goats. Being low browsers, the Tortoises food supply was decimated by the introduced goats. I was happy to hear that the $ 100 USD entry fee helped fund an eradication program that has now removed the goats and tortoises are being slowly reintroduced.

                              A poor long distance shot but this is the legendary Diego


                                        One of Diegos ladies is pleased with his efforts


                                                                         Happy ladies


 The remaining 11 subspecies from the different islands still exist in differing numbers. The story of Diego starts with a conservation effort to save the subspecies of a neighbouring island to Pinta. Scientists conducting a survey discovered only 15 remaining tortoises, 12 females and 3 males. Of the 3 males, only two were of breeding age, the other was too old. The 15 tortoises were relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz in an attempt to repopulate the island. Unfortunately the two males of breeding age were just not up to the job, being totally disinterested in the ladies. To the frustration of the scientists, it looked as though this subspecies would soon follow the way of Lonesome Georges lot. An enterprising person decided to go online and ask around the world zoo populations to see if by chance any Tortoise from the island had somehow made it into captivity. An e-mail from a US zoo arrived in due course and after a DNA comparison, it was discovered that this Tortoise, to be named Diego was indeed from the actual island. Diego was soon relocated to the Research Centre and to the delight of the scientists, soon proved himself to be a raging shagaholic !!!! Not only did he begin siring progeny from the ladies, his magnificent prowess on the job also provoked the other two males into action. The result is that now 200 Giant Tortoises have been relocated to their original island. Diego singlehandedly saved his species, Go Diego !!!!! An inspiration to blokes everywhere !!!

                                                                       Red footed Boobies



                                                                       Masked Boobies


                                                                              Land Iguana



Flightless Cormorant drying its evolved wings, they are now land based and have no need for wings.


                                                              Sally Lightfoot Crab


                       Darwin Lake where the Beagle moored and Darwin came ashore


             This guy suffered the effects of the current El Nino inspired drought conditions


                               Iguanas are forced to seek food anywhere they can find it


                                                     Young Frigate bird testing its wings


                                                                        Marine Iguana


                                                              Lazing Galapagos sea Lions



                                                            Swimming Marine Iguana


                               The Nemo 2 at rest, a floating home away from home

                                                                      galapagos-263Happy to see me !!


                                                       Tropic bird ( I think )


                      My Icelandic mate Siggy showing the scale of a Giant Tortoise

                                         galapagos-50Frigate birds riding the draft from the sails 


                                       What is the collective noun for Marine Iguanas ?????


                                                                   Sunset on the Nemo 2.


                                                                 Young Blue Footed Boobies


                                                     Galapagos Sea Lion showing off


A rare Olive Ridley Turtle, you can see some Green Turtles also. There must have been 30 turtles in this inlet.


                                               Its the end of the road for this lava flow


To give an idea of the proximity to the animals, consider that I only have a 24 -70 lens with me. To get any kind of decent shot I have to be within a meter or so. The animals are basically within touching distance.

I could seriously write forever about these amazing islands but at the risk of producing a novel, it is suffice to say that the Galapagos won my heart and was right up there with the best trips I have done. I would certainly recommend anyone considering a trip there to look at the mid range boat trips, they combine just enough intimacy and comfort. The 8 day trip was also the perfect length.

My only remaining advice is …. JUST GO !!!!!!!

San Blas Islands to Cartagena by sailboat

The million dollar question for travellers toying with a method to get from Panama to Colombia comes down to two options. You can either sail, or you can fly. There is a land border, however this involves trekking your way through the notorious Darien Gap. The danger and hardship in this option makes it unviable for all but the most hardcore of travellers.

In days gone by, the option to sail from the north of Panama around to Cartagena in Colombia was somewhat of a lottery. The independent boats and Captains contained some notoriously unstable characters. Unsafe boats with drunk and stoned captains were all too common. These days however, the decision is a much easier one. Several years ago, a company based in Cartagena called Bluesailing created a website and collected a fleet of 25 or so reliable and safe boats, crewed by reputable Captains and started a service to simply book a suitable boat on the date required online. You can find them at

The idea of 5 days sailing through the idyllic San Blas Islands with a 2 day hop across the open ocean seemed irresistible to me, so a quick perusal on the Bluesea website and before I knew it, I was booked on a large catamaran called the Santana.

The whole process is very straightforward, a $ 25 dollar shuttle collected me and my other fellow intrepid wannabe sailors and delivered us to a small fishing village called Puerto Lindo, where the Santana lay at anchor in the calm waters of the bay.

It was very apparent from the get go, that I had been very lucky and scored a happy and outgoing bunch of boat mates. The stocking up of booze for the first 3 days ( no drinking is allowed on the open water crossing ) provided an inkling of my crew mates nature as Puerto Lindo was pretty much emptied of beer and rum.

The first 3 days of the trip were spent just cruising between the islands with stops for swimming, snorkelling and chilling on the pristine beaches. The San Blas are populated by the indigenous Kuna people and a $ 25 per head tax / toll is paid at the first island. This goes to the locals and enables the boats to stop as and when they like and play, frolic and party on the islands. It seemed a nice balance which preserves the islands from rampant commercial tourism.

The surprising aspect of the trip was soon apparent on the first morning as a small canoe pulled alongside. I peeked over the railing to find the bottom of the canoe was crawling with fresh lobsters. A quick negotiation between Captain Jose and cook Luis and a 5 kg sack of lobsters disappeared into the galley for dinner that night. How on earth Luis managed to turn out scrumptious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the tiny below deck  galley remains a mystery but he managed to keep everyone extremely happy even with the fact that we had a vegan and a couple of vegetarians on board. The food was a constant delight.



I t was becoming apparent quickly that all on board were happy outgoing types and everyone was hitting off. An eclectic mix of Germans, Austrians, Canadians, Chinese, American, Aussies and English folks all formed quick and lasting friendships.

Captain Jose was a professional and easygoing guy, and even though we became aware that the boat owner frowned upon people jumping from the boat, backflips from the railings soon became the order of the day and 3 days and nights soon whirled by in a flash.



Sunrises and sunsets in particular were truly spectacular and the sinless will be etched in my memory for a long time.


Of course, so much sun, drinks and sea takes it toll and the front deck of the Santana made a perfect relaxing place to chill and enjoy the sea breeze as the boat meandered between the islands.


Of course, there was also some trepidation of the last two days which were to be spent on the open sea. The crossing itself for me was more a a grind than anything for me and I managed to plough through my collection of Wil Andersons ( an Aus comic ) collection of podcasts. I have only recently discovered the value of podcasts. Travelling will never be the same again !!  Combined with a collection of audiobooks and keeping the horizon in sight and a breeze on my face, I had no trouble with seasickness. That can’t be said for everyone though and a 1/2 dozen or so of the previously bubbly types spent the majority of the crossing in a horizontal position 🙂

At sunrise on the 5th day, Captain Jose pointed out land in the distance and the final trip through the inlet to Cartagena as the sun rose was an absolute and welcome delight.


So I guess the big question is, would I recommend sailing between Panama and Colombia ? The answer for me is an emphatic yes, however there may be those who are turned off by the crossing. For those people, there are other options. One is to take another option of a speedboat that stops overnight on the islands ( no sleeping on the boat ), and does a much shorter crossing, hugging the coast and ending in the small village of Sapzurro, just over the Colombian border. You can then find you way to Cartagena ( another blog post on this amazing place will be forthcoming ). The website is

The third option is also a good one. The San Blas Islands boat trips are available for a 2 or 3 day trip from Panama City. You can simply enjoy the beauty of the islands without the sea crossing and then fly direct to Cartagena from Panama City.

The were few disappointments for me on the trip. Though the boat is a sail boat and the trip is advertised as a sailing trip, very little sailing is actually done. The boat simply motors most of the way. if the winds are strong enough and in the right direction the Captain will supplement with wind power. In their defence, I guess that are on a schedule to deliver us to Cartagena at a certain time and wind speed and direction vagaries would make that difficult. A few hours of sail power only in the islands would have been nice however.

All in all, I have no regrets and have made some long term friends on this trip who I have subsequently spent quality time with in other parts of Colombia.

So there you have it, get your swimmers on and get to it !!!!!!

Colombia is a wonderful country to visit. Its diversity is breathtaking. Caribbean and Pacific coastline, jungles, mountains, lost cities and ruins along with its wonderful cities and people, not to mention the Amazon.

This is my kinda place !!!!!!!!



As I now sit in a hot & humid, fly infested room in Cuba, wondering why I decided to travel during the hottest month of the year and the month when Cubans decide to have their holidays, my mind has been wandering back to the cooler climes of the Guatemalan Western Highlands and wishing I had written a blog post when it was fresher in my mind. Maybe I was too busy enjoying myself.


Guatemala was the first step in my Central American adventure and I really did not know what to expect. First stop was the colonial town of Antigua. I had been warned that Antigua was not really the “ real “ Guatemala but my experience was different. Perhaps the fact that I visited in the low season was the reason. There were travellers about but they were certainly not in the numbers I had been warned about. Antigua reminds me a lot of Trinidad in Cuba, complete with colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, a nice mix of locals and travellers and plenty to see if you want to get out and about. I was also lucky enough to bump into the colorful folks at Café No Se on my first day in town and subsequently had some great nights there, chatting with the staff and travellers and listening to some great live music.

                                                               Typical street scenes



The main attraction in Antigua though, is the opportunity to climb the extinct volcano Acatenango, camp the night there and head for the summit in the morning complete with ( hopefully ) views down upon the erupting and very active volcano, Fuego.

The trek up the mountain was not really my cup of tea but I did manage to view the Fuegos fireworks display from the terrace of a nearby hostel, maybe not quite the same view, but certainly a lot less effort !!! J

Antigua is also well known for its Spanish Schools and I decided to give that a go for a week or so. Lets just say though that after 16 hours of card games guessing different types of fruit, my Spanish was totally still useless but at least I am now ok at the food markets !!

Despite what I had been told about Antigua and its touristic nature, I really loved it and would go back in a heartbeat.

                                        Lake Atitlan 

I had been forewarned of the deceptive beauty of Lake Atitlan and the small towns that line its shores and after 2 weeks in the little village of San Pedro, I was fully aware that it would be a very easy place to just stay and stay.

The waters of the Lake have no inlet or outlet and rise and fall due to rainfall and evaporation and human uses. This disused building used to be well above the Lake levels and is now flooded and derelict. makes for some nice reflections though 🙂


After a few days getting in the groove of San Pedro village, I thought I might try my luck with another Spanish School ( after the waste of time in Antigua ) and see if I could learn more than the names of fruit. I stumbled upon the San Pedro Spanish Speaking School that nestles beside the lake and arranged a week of tuition with a Mr Francisco. Through no fault of his own, Francisco had his work cut out as the distractions of Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers, Monarch Butterflies and other sundry birds and animals kept me distracted, not to mention the simple beauty of the garden and the Lake itself. Francisco seemed happy that I had actually moved beyond fruit. It’s all about little steps.


                      Old guys sit and chat under the local school verandah in San Pedro


A view down a typical San Pedro street with the famous Indians Nose mountain in the background


                 The ubiquitous ” Chicken Bus ” legendary throughout Latin America


But as always, all good things must come to an end and so it was with San Pedro. After 2 fabulous weeks and a round of long winded goodbyes to the local travellers making it their home, I had to drag myself away and on to the wonderful, isolated pools at Semuc Champey.

                                   Semuc Champey 

 I was in two minds about heading to Semuc. It seemed to be a difficult place to reach in a small uncomfortable shuttle but the word on the trail was it was really a sweet spot and worth the trouble. I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

My fellow travellers were right on both counts, it’s a long uncomfortable trip over some seriously rocky roads, it’s also particularly beautiful.

Semuc is reached via the small village of Lanquin and is a further 40 minutes very uncomfortable minutes or so along a rocky and windy track ( as you hang on for dear life in the back of a pickup ).

                                          Limestone pools at Semuc Champey


Semuc Champey is a series of limestone pools that have formed naturally as a 300m bridge over the Cahabon River. The river basically filters into the pools and then gushes from under the pools downstream. I really is an unusual natural feature and well worth the trouble getting there.

Adding to my already happy decision to visit was arriving at the totally unexpected and very groovy hostel known as Utopia. This chilled out place was down by the river, walking ( a long one ) to the pools and also had tire tubes to float away a relaxing day on the river. Maybe it was the remoteness or the chilled vibe of the place but I was happy to meet some interesting travellers here who were beating to their own drum and away from the well worn backpacker trail.

                                                                Hannah & Danielle

 Hannah and Danielle arrived at Utopia about the same time as me. I expected them to have the same sort of story as most the other travellers as to where they had been and were going. I was however, very wrong.

Hannah is a small 25ish year old Englishwoman who was hitchhiking her way through the Americas. She seemed fearless and had found her way alone through some very dangerous and potentially hostile places. Her method was very simple, pick a destination, hang out her “ Norte “ ( north ) sign, wait for a ride and see where you end up. This, apparently ranged from orchards and parks, to ambulance stations, fire stations, schools and homes. She carried a tiny backpack and small hammock. She was regularly taken in by strangers who were fearful for her safety. When I met her, she had the princely sum of $ 35 USD to her name and had not eaten for 2 days. She was getting by making small beads and bracelets etc etc. I admit to being both impressed and scared for Hannah. If she gets to the end ok, I am sure a book and a movie should await.

Danielle was on a similar tack to Hannah, but instead of hitching, she was riding her bike. She had a small tent to pitch where she landed and made use of her trusty ukulele to barter for a meal and a beer or two from the hostel owners.

I mention these two ( and I have met many others ) simply because I have always admired folks who beat to their own drum and are doing things in their own way. I really liked them both.

                                            Hannah & Danielle, the offbeat travellers


                             Hannah the hobo heads off to who knows where !!!!!!


                                           Rio Dulce

The riverside wonderland of Rio Dulce butts up against the border of southern Belize. The series of waterways here actually reminded me a little of the Kerala Backwaters in southern India. Just some nice quiet backwater canals adjoining the Rio Dulce river as winds its way through a steep canyon and on into the Bay of Honduras at Livingston.

Rio Dulce has a lot of wildlife in the area and trips to see Howler and Spider Monkeys, Manatees and a plethora of bird speices are easily arranged. It was also here that I first experienced the great Central American collectivo, basically a shared old banger of a car or van which operates as a hop on / hop off system. You just hail it down. It’s a fun and cheap way to get around the smaller places. My record was 19 people in a small minivan !!!!

             Kids inventing the latest in floatation devices in a  canyon at Rio Dulce.


                                     Flores and Tikal

I was initially uncertain of whether to make the trek over to Flores from Rio Dulce or just head straight up into Belize. The famous Mayan ruins at Tikal are however a big ticket item and I thought I should at least try and get there to see them. Thankfully I convinced myself to go. Flores was a totally unexpected delight as were the ruins and National Park at Tikal.

The little town of Flores is basically a small island surrounded by Lake Peten Itza. It makes a nice relaxing base from which to explore Tikal. It also has some really delicious and super cheap street food and is a super chilled out little place.

I had fully expected to find Tikal a tourist laden spot with little to see other than the famous ruins. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of people in the early morning there ( it was low season ), as well as the large amount of nature in the surrounding park.

I had not expected to be able to sit and listen to the roar of two male Howler monkeys as they fought over a female and I was certainly not expecting a Tarantula to emerge from a hole as the guide explained the wonders of Mayan astrology !!!

All in all, Tikal was a very pleasant surprise.

                                                   The very surprised Tarantula


                                                                 The Castillo at Tikal


                                                                   The Tree of Life


Flores unfortunately signalled the end of my time in Guatemala and further adventures in Belize awaited. I would soon come to find that the surrounding countries just didn’t capture my heart as Guatemala had. Its raw beauty and history, Mayan people determinedly clinging to their traditional lifestyle, and oddbod fellow travellers and locals captured my heart in a way that the more developed neighbours did not.

I don’t think Guatemala has seen the last of me just yet !!!!