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Far East Asia, Travel

She’s a little bit of magic, is Hoi An

22 June, 2017

It’s an epic tourist trap in so many ways…but Hoi An’s got a bit of magic to her as well. Maybe I just got lucky with the sunset on my first day in town, always so crucial in evoking feelings about a place, but something here just, clicks.

It’s busy, and many visitors, like all the others I’ve seen on this trip so far, are of that gap year variety, backpacking their way through one of the cheapest, but yet somewhat civilised parts of Asia in an attempt to broaden their perspective before the inevitable return to reality. There are a healthy handful of other FE Asian tourists thrown in for good measure too though, witnessed by the unrelenting sea of selfie sticks that render the streets a battlefield in attempt to keep your eyes from poked out.

The locals are nice but, given the environment, are understandably ruthless in getting your attention to make a sale. It does affect the experience somewhat, but they have families to feed too, who are we to begrudge them that?

The photos in the above gallery are somewhat reflective of where I’m at right now – having been effectively homeless for a month, I’m now going back to London for summer. Some of the shots are out of focus, but capture the light, or are busy and scattered, with no focal point. This is how I feel right now – with no place to call home, I haven’t really had the head space to process how I feel about leaving Hong Kong, even if temporarily, though maybe for longer than that, who knows. Being in Vietnam has been less like an escape, and more like something pulling me back to who I am – happily wandering the world by myself. Maybe that’s all I really need more of.

Far East Asia, Travel

Wakeboard fun in Stanley

15 May, 2017

One of my friends was surprised when she found out the other day that I had quit my job. She said based on my relatively well curated social media gallery, my life seemed golden. These accompanying images of wakeboarding in calm, quiet waters, would appear to be testament to that perceived idyllic life.

But how does not having a job, make my life anything less awesome than it is? Isn’t the beauty of life, the sheer unpredictability of it? I moved halfway across the world, to a place where I knew no one and nothing, and get ridiculed on an almost daily basis for having a funny accent when I speak the local language – no mean feat considering this is the first time being fully immersed in the Chinese language. I quit my job and I’m trying to stick to this somewhat ridiculous budget (it’s not going that well by the way), and to me, that’s what adventure is. So maybe it’s time we re-adjusted our definition of what a perfect life is – mine is one where I have no idea what’s around the corner and am perfectly happy and to content to live in a state of not knowing. And that’s what I hope is shown in my social media feed – real moments that were not planned or posed, but simply happened as a result of me living the life I intended.

Consequently, that very way of living is how I ended up shooting my friend wakeboarding this day – he’d rocked up from Mexico for business a few days prior and this is what he wanted to do. I hadn’t had to wake up before 11am for at least the last two years so asking me to be at a boat dock by 8am, at a place that takes an hour to get to, was a challenge to say the last. I got lost because I’m not a real Asian who can properly use the 16-seater mini bus system, and then I almost got squashed by several cars and buses on a stupidly narrow road before finding a shortcut that led me down a path so unused it was covered with cobwebs. Needless to say, by the time I got to the boat, I had been eaten alive, bug spray or not.

I’d also never shot action before, so I had absolutely no idea what settings I needed on my camera, as testified by the countless number of immediately deleted blurry images. But I got there in the end. I think. And it was mostly just fun to hang out on a boat again. Haven’t done that since the good old Whistler days, in that cold, but infinitely cleaner, Green Lake. 

 

Far East Asia, Travel

New buildings, old boats in Aberdeen

11 May, 2017

Day 3 of $50HKD / day budget challenge was a raging success. It was also a wildly productive day. Thanks to my old mate insomnia randomly waking me up at 4:30am, I was charged and ready to go, getting in breakfast of oats and a banana, followed by lunch of watermelon, while getting some long overdue studying in. But because I’m a pretty shit student, I got bored about a page in, and decided to go explore and shoot instead. Hence all the pictures of buildings and boats.

Aberdeen used to be the main fishing area that supplied most of Hong Kong, and is still one of the primary feed ins today. It also has a pretty promenade that was definitely not there fifty years ago. And lots of boats – old and new. Though mostly old and funky looking – sampans. Less rickety looking than I remember when I got on one when I was little to head over to the infamous floating restaurant, Jumbo.

The fishing theme continued with a jaunt down to Repulse Bay, with local, actual Chinese reading friend in tow, who was able to point out tons of culture stuff I probably wouldn’t otherwise have picked out while strolling down the beach. The Goddess of Repulse Bay – the deity who overlooks the sea, keeping an eye on the fisherman out picking up goods to feed the fams. There were also a bunch of Thai deities, which neither local mate nor myself could figure out.

Was pretty timely exploratory day too, since the Dragon Boat Festival is hitting town end of the month and I need to get my spot picked out!

Total spend for the day: $0. BOOM.

Far East Asia, Travel

The $50 a day challenge, Hong Kong edition

10 May, 2017

Remember how I said it’s been an eventful time since my last post from Chile, that I moved to Hong Kong? Well, it’s actually slightly more eventful than that, since I also quit my job in the last month. Yup, I am jobless and carefree. It’s great – absolutely no sarcasm.

Turns out being a lady of leisure suits me. However, having indulged in a spur of the moment trip to Thailand, where it’s cheap but I ate (and therefore spent) way too much, and with an eye on rent for next month, means I’m having to do what I’ve never had to do before: live on a budget.

As overprivileged as that sounds, it’s because I’ve always worked – I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have a job since I was 16. So while all this freedom suits me, living without an income is going to be a challenge. Mostly eating – if the last two days have shown anything, it’s that my money is literally only spent on food.

So, I’ve given myself until the end of May to find a job, and until then, I’m giving myself a budget of $50HKD a day. Impossible you say? Yes, probably – I’ve already had to turn down two party invitations because I don’t want to be a charity case Buzz Killington – but I won’t know until I try!

Yesterday was actually a relatively okay day – I dusted off my trusty camera that hasn’t seen the light of day since last summer, and hopped on a bus to Stanley – better a week day than the weekend, when it’s probably teeming. It was actually lovely and quiet yesterday, nobody to bustle shoulder to shoulder with as I meandered through the market. And I only had to wait for one lovestruck selfie taking couple, one time, in order to get one of my shots.

I did get slightly carried away at the sight of a restaurant that has duck in every dish – Pinot Duck, in case you wondered – but total spend yesterday was $193. Oh wait, plus $45 for a salad at lunch. Balls.

 

South East Asia, Travel

Off to school with yellow fish

9 May, 2017

Hels on Vimeo

Time for the annual whinge about how I’m not very good at this blogging business. I’ve actually moved to Hong Kong since my last post, so, it’s not even like I haven’t been up to anything exciting. I’m just shit. 

Anyway, despite being in one of the world’s most exciting cities, and the most excellent of bases to explore a specific region of this wondrous world, last week was my first time indulging in just that. It was a bit of a whimsical, spur of the moment trip, since Thailand has never been particularly high on my list, purely because everyone and their mum loves it, and I’m into slightly more remote locations. But, my best friend, who I haven’t seen in eight years, was there so, as if I needed more persuading than that.

She is an underwater photographer, and likes being in the water. A lot. Whereas I don’t remember the last time I was in the ocean – that isn’t a joke. So this was fun.

But for real, it was, because there is a whole ‘nother world down there – like a total tourist, my glee moment came when I saw the angry yellow/black/white fish from Finding Nemo! But then Sera held her breath and got this awesome footage (not on her usual shooting apparatus – she had appropriated my GoPro) of an enormous school of yellow fish. Off to school I guess.

I was only there four days, and hesitated one day too many over whether I wanted to give the whole total submersion underwater with a massive tank of gas on my back a go, but after this, I would definitely give it a go and I would go with these guys Aquanauts Scuba, in case you wondered.

South America, Travel

El Tatio Geysers

25 August, 2016

There’s a lot to be said for well executed preparation. I had been warned beforehand, both by independent online research, as well as by the tour company (Turismo Kaulles), that the El Tatio Geysers would be a chilly experience, both because of the altitude (it’s at 4320m above sea level), and due to the time of the tour (the crack of dawn, before the warming glow of the desert sun has had a chance to cast its shadow). But when you’re cosy and toasty and quite happily ambling between the 80 or so geysers and “fuma oles” and generally steaming holes in the ground, while everyone else in your group is wishing the tour is over, or running back to the comparative, but not much warmer, comfort of the bus, you can’t help but feel a little smug.

I had never visited a geothermal field before this trip (I don’t think…now that I type that, I feel a strange sense of deja vu…) and while reviews online had been mixed, I have a feeling those who weren’t so impressed by them, were the ones who came underprepared. Maybe I’m just easily pleased, but I thought the El Tatio Geysers, located about 90km from San Pedro de Atacama, were something of a visual spectacle – the way the clouds of steam flirted with the morning sun, the occasional eruptions of boiling water from the numerous openings to the earth’s depths, and the crisp chill of the Chilean air adding to the immersive sensual experience.

The 10,000 Chilean peso entrance fee may have been a little steep, since there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of maintenance required, but I reckon the El Tatio Geysers are well worth a visit, even if it means a 4am wake up call.

For the record, clothing wise, I probably had a slight advantage in that I had my snowboarding base, mid and outer layers with me, and also a spare jacket, since I’d just come from a week in the mountains. To break it down, I wore a tank top, a Merino wool crew sweater, a puffy mid-layer, a regular hoody and a Goretex shell designed from spring skiing. For bottoms, I had a base layer, with sports leggings, thick woollen socks, and Dubarrys (up to the knees). I also had spring riding gloves, and my riding scarf, but wore a cap instead of a hat, since I had two hoods. Toasty AF.

South America, Travel

San Pedro de Atacama

21 August, 2016

These summer trips are always a bit baffling for my brain. One minute I’m braving blizzards and zero visibility conditions on the mountainous peaks of the Andes, and the next, I can’t lather on the sunscreen fast enough as the desert sun beats down on my untrained, arguably English, skin.

But I’m here, in the Chilean desert of San Pedro de Atacama. I’m reliably informed that there was a tourist boom over the course of the last few years, which, as always, is great for accessibility to typical city needs (there’s a pharmacy…in the desert…) but not so great for authentic, local culture. However, I argue that having your transfer break down not five minutes after leaving the safety of the airport, is as authentic as you might get for South America.

The streets here are dusty (duh), and randomly littered with dog poo as dogs do love a good roam in Chile, and the vibe is distinctly gypsy travelling adventure types. Lots of couples, but also a fair few intrepid girlfriend groups. All seem to speak Spanish, which makes me the odd one out – but it’s part of the adventure, right??

North America, Peak Season, Travel

South Lake Tahoe

26 June, 2016

Once upon a time, I quit my job and chased a dream. Chased it all the way to Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe. I’d been to California before, a couple times actually, but 2013 was the year it would mesmerise me. It was also the worst snow year of the six seasons I would do – though was topped by the abysmal Alaska trip of 2014.

I don’t know what has spurred me on my recent drive to wade through the endless (mostly terrible) photos that captured moments of a life that now seems lifetimes ago, but, here are a few. I’m a different person now than I was then…thank God for that!

Europe, Travel

Barcelona, always

20 June, 2016

When I’m taking a picture, all I think about is composition – is the framing right, how’s the colour – I don’t pretend to be a remotely good photographer, but I enjoy the process. It’s funny how in post-processing though, a photo can take you all the way back to how you felt in that moment, even when you thought you had disregarded the moment, for all the components of a shot. So here’s Barcelona, in all its beaming sunshine glory. And boy do these pictures take me back.

May 2015 was the first time I ever wilfully explored any part of the European continent. For all my travels, stops in Europe never amounted to more than a layover at the airport, or a just-passing-through fleeting visit. I always put it down to the fact that it’s right there, on my doorstep and thus never had quite the same appeal as destinations further afield. Despite the richness of culture and history, Europe just didn’t seem exotic enough – whatever that means. But if Barcelona was any indication of exactly what I’d been missing my whole travelling life, then I have a lot of catching up to do.

I had no expectations when I arrived. I had done minimal research into the usual tourist hot spots – with the greatest of travel companions in tow, best friend forever Dale – our only requirements were a fine balance of culture, exploring and relaxing. Barcelona does not make it difficult to achieve all three with little preparation – the subway is super easy to use, though there are differences between overground trams and underground metro, everyone speaks enough English to be helpful, the sun is an unwavering constant so you can enjoy your leisurely strolls around Barrio Gotico without fear of being caught in a downpour, unlike London, and there are man made beaches within ten minutes of almost anywhere you might be in downtown Barcelona. We loved it so much, we actually came back three months later, for my birthday. But that’s a whole other story…