2020 – Not actually that bad for me

A surprise birthday present: Jumping out of a plane in Tequesquitengo – Mexico.
The White Palace with my girlfriend Karen
Chiang Rai – Thailand
Lempuyang Temple
‘The gateway to heaven’

The strangest year of our lifetime has certainly been a trying time for many. CoVid19 has caused financial instability, distrust and uncertainty to name just a few negative things.

Amid all of the negative, I have managed to find opportunities for some incredible experiences. Whilst remaining safe and healthy 2020 has seen me visit Mexico twice, Thailand, Bali and Switzerland as well as a few Caribbean Islands.

I recently found myself looking through some of the photos from my past travels, pictures that I haven’t put on social media, some incredible photos that haven’t made it off of my hard drive. I realised that I am incredibly fortunate to have seen so much of the world and I don’t find enough time to share my experiences.

In this post I hope to touch on some of my experiences from 2020 (hopefully I will go into more detail in future posts) and include a few of my favourite photos. Over the next few days I would also like to edit some of my previous posts to include some of the amazing things that I have seen over the years.

I began the year on board Harmony of the Seas with my girlfriend Karen, blissfully unaware of the crazy year to come. On Harmony we sailed out of Port Canaveral around the Caribbean to similar ports that I’ve visited on previous ships.

Coco Cay, (in the picture) Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas was one of our frequent ports of call and we also visited Cozumel and Costa Maya – Mexico, San Juan – Puerto Rico, Roatan Island – Honduras and St Martin.

In terms of work, Harmony is a very difficult ship for a Youth Staff. As it is one of the biggest and most famous ships in the world it is constantly full of children. With a capacity of more than 6,000 guests we were constantly working hard and helping out in different departments.

After We signed off Harmony at the end of January I spent a couple of weeks at home before travelling to Mexico to attend the wedding of Karen’s sister.

Karen’s sister’s wedding was an intimate service with just the immediate family and the following day we went to spend a week away on the Pacific coast in a place called Ixtapa. We had a five bedroom villa with a swimming pool and over the week we visited a different beach every day, all within an hours drive, and there were still more that we didn’t visit.

It is a beautiful area of the country, scorching hot with beautiful beaches. On one of the days we took a boat tour where we saw Humpback whales and turtles. With the beauty came danger. On separate evenings I saw 2 tarantulas, and a scorpion. On another night, Karen’s sister’s husband and I had to be creative enough to remove a small snake from the garden with a bucket, a broom and a newspaper.

After an amazing time in Mexico, Karen and I planned a week or so in the UK before flying out to Thailand, Bali and Philippines. The whole trip was planned around more weddings: a friend of Karen’s, in the Philippines and two of my Uni friends back in the UK. The plan was two weeks in Thailand, three in Bali and then I would stay in Philippines for a week and a half before returning to the UK for the two weddings whilst Karen remained in The Philippines for hers. Unfortunately, CoVid19 changed our plans and none of the weddings happened.

We arrived to Thailand and spent a few nights in Bangkok before heading south to Phi Phi Island, Railey Beach and Koh Phangan for the full moon party. At this point the fear around CoVid19 was at the early stages and there were lots of contradictory reports going around. We read news stories that said that the full moon party had been cancelled but when we arrived at our hostel we found out that it was going ahead. There certainly wasn’t the 30,000 tourists that are reported to flock to Haad Rin Beach in peak season but there was definitely thousands.

After the lush dreamy beaches in the south we spent the second week in the north of the country in Chiang Mai. We explored the old town, we went up the mountain, and we visited a number of different temples including the very impressive ‘White Temple’ and ‘Blue Temple’ in Chiang Rai, before flying back to Bangkok and then on to Bali.

Bali is where we really began feeling the effects that CoVid19 was having on tourism. We spent two weeks travelling freely, with the opportunity to take photos that weren’t ruined by hundreds of other people but then businesses began closing and we spent a further two weeks in lockdown.

During our first two weeks in Bali we rented a moped to see as much of the Island as we could. We visited temples, waterfalls, beaches as well as climbing a volcano to view a stunning sunrise. The rice fields all over the island provided incredible views and as well as the variety of birds on view, we saw a forest full of monkeys, that would steal anything that they could get there hands on, from the dwindling number of tourists. We also went on a boat tour to see dolphins.

It really was a strange feeling. We were in areas that we knew should be full of hundreds if not thousands of people but instead there were tens of people around. It was sad to see the desperation of local businesses who could sense the chance to make money and feed their families disappearing. On the 25th March we were in a town, on the opposite side of the Island from Kuta where the airport is, called Lovina. It was the ‘silent day’ a religious day in Bali where nobody is permitted to be outside of their house. The following day we tried to travel back towards Kuta, in the uncertain times we decided we would be better off closer to the airport as flights were being cancelled and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. But, in an attempt to reduce the spread of CoVid19, the local government decided to stop all travel around the Island. We were stuck across the Island, my passport was at the hotel that we rented the bike from and we had no information as to how long the roadblocks would be in place.

Fortunately the following day we were able to travel back to Ubud where we had rented the bike and just an hour or so from the airport. Lots of flights were being cancelled and the ones that were available were extortionately expensive so we ended up staying in Bali for another two weeks. After the inexplicable closing of all of the roads for just one day, with groups of up to 20 locals being deputised to block roads whilst not maintaining social distance, life was fairly relaxed for us. Hotels were even cheaper than the usually cheap prices and restaurants, that couldn’t afford to be closed remained open for us to be able to eat. We didn’t do a whole lot over the two weeks but it was certainly a nice place to spend the beginning of lockdown.

We finally found reasonably priced flights back to the UK. When we set off to the airport we found out that our flight had been cancelled. The agent that we booked with sent us a pretty useless e-mail informing us that we’d get a refund but they didn’t know when that would be. Because of a lack of any other better ideas we decided to go to the airport and see what they would say. It turned out to be a good idea as one of the staff told us to just return in 24 hours and they would check us onto the same flight the following day.

Karen spent a month in the UK with me before heading back to be with her family in Mexico. Like many others, we had no idea back in May what would come next. I was extremely lucky at the end of the first lockdown. I was working for a friend, saving some money to buy a ticket to Mexico when I received an e-mail from EF (Education First) a company that I’d worked for on multiple occasions before. The e-mail was an offer to work at one of the local camps that they were running in either Spain, France, Sweden or, where I decided to go for a month, Switzerland.

In Switzerland I was teaching English to students from around Europe and also accompanying them on their activities. The location that we were using as the temporary summer school was absolutely incredible. We were located in the Swiss Alps in a ski lodge, we slept in the hotel at the bottom of the mountain and would take a cable-car to the school every day.

The activities that we provided were a lot of fun also. There were two lakes that we visited where we could take advantage of the warm Swiss summer by swimming or playing sports. We went white water rafting, we did a high rope course, we visited an indoor skatepark with trampolines and other exciting things.

CoVid19 luckily didn’t affect us over the month. Apart from daily temperature checks, constant reminders about hygiene and wearing masks on our journey to school in the cable car, we were able to forget the virus that had brought the world to a standstill.

After Switzerland I returned to the UK for a couple of months of lockdown before flying out to Mexico where I find myself now. In comparison to the UK, Mexico is very relaxed. There are rules in place but there is not the same addiction to the statistics that there is in the UK. Big public events have been cancelled the same as everywhere else in the world but it almost felt like being treated like a child back in the UK.

For the first couple of weeks I got into a similar routine that I was following back in the UK, trying to keep up with exercise, trying to improve my Spanish and generally just keeping busy. Then we went to visit some of Karen’s family in a place called Tepic, after which Karen and I did a bit of travelling for a little over a week. We visited San Blas, Penita de Jaltemba and Puerto Vallarta on the pacific coast before heading inland to Guadalajara. In San Blas we stopped at a viewing platform by the Mangroves where we saw lots of semi-wild crocodiles (it was a natural spot where the crocodiles are fed so that tourists can see them up close). In Penita de Jaltemba I was close to accidently stepping on a baby turtle before we watched it make it’s agonisingly slow journey to the sea. Other than that we took long walks and appreciated the beauty on offer in Mexico.

A few weeks later we found a town that was still having some form of ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations. Most were either cancelled due to CoVid19 or unsure if they were going to go ahead or not. We stayed in a beautiful town called Zacatlan which was close to the other town of Chignahuapan where Karen and I watched a show celebrating Day of the Dead. As well as exploring both towns, (With the Christmas decorations that Chignahuapan is famous for) we also visited some beautiful waterfalls in the area.

A week later, Karen and I went to visit some friends that we had worked with onboard Harmony of the Seas (Karen had also worked with a couple of them on previous ships). We got to know Cuernavaca and a small town called Tepoztlan, where we climbed a steep hill where usually you can access an Aztec pyramid and views over the town, but due to CoVid19 it wasn’t possible. The steep climb was good exercise and I was surprised by how many other people made the hike through the forest to a point with no view. On our final day, we visited a lake in a town called Tequesquitengo. As we sat having breakfast, Karen revealed that she had made a booking for me to do a skydive from 17,000 feet which was absolutely incredible. It was actually less scary than the bungee jump that I did, years ago, in Costa Rica.

I am so grateful to have remained healthy throughout 2020. During my travels, I have kept my distance from groups as much as possible and implemented the rigorous health and safety precautions that we are taught to use whilst on cruise ships. Overall, though, I feel extremely lucky that 2020 hasn’t been the complete write off that it has been for most. If you have read this far then I would like to thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my work and apologise if it makes you feel the slightest bit jealous!

What it means to me

I am a man of few words, I say little although I hear a lot. Many will take my silence for indifference but most of the time I genuinely believe that there is no point saying something that won’t be heard. For one reason or another people are listening to the topic of racism so I will take this opportunity to talk and in doing so, hopefully educate those willing to listen.

For me, racism isn’t  a black man being killed in police custody, it’s much bigger – whilst at the same time being much smaller. A man getting killed in police custody is a horrific crime that shouldn’t happen to anybody of any colour. But for me, racism is not something that happens halfway across the world to a man that I don’t know, who may or may not have been guilty of a crime, rather it’s a lifetime of subtle experiences that have shaped who I am and I know that I won’t be the only person that has been affected by subtle racism, often without even being aware of it.

I believe that there are fewer people now (especially here in multicultural Oxford) who are truly racist, as that is an evil state of mind where somebody needs to hate. People of colour offer a perfect solution to that need. It is almost easier to deal with an out and out racist because you know that you will never have a chance where they are concerned but there are still so many people that will act on racist (sexist and homophobic) foundations, often without knowing it. For this reason I am going to share some experiences that have stuck with me from my life, experiences that seemed so insignificant at the time but have clearly remained in my memories for a reason.

As a 15 year old, I was denied entrance onto a bus because I couldn’t provide ID to prove my age (and that I was too young to do anything like smoke, drink or gamble) and I refused to pay an adult fair. At the time, I thought little of the incident. I always looked old for my age. Of course the driver didn’t want me to get away with paying 60p rather than £1.20. Maybe I had a bad attitude.  But the reality is that no other driver questioned my age, other than perhaps asking my DOB. He wasn’t going to get employee of the month for denying me entrance to the bus no matter how much I paid and I know that ever since the first time that I took the bus alone and had to revise the line: ‘can I get a half return to town PLEASE’ I had always used manners, that’s just the way my mum raised me. So there must have been an ulterior motive. And the way that I argued back to an injustice would have just reinforced his opinion of black teenagers. It is the same now, when a minority of protestors use their anger as an excuse to vandalise, and the narrow minded see these actions as justification for their prejudice opinions against the majority.

The main type of racism that I have experienced throughout my life is to do with stereotypes. If any of you reading this went to Headington Middle or Cheney you might have been lucky enough (and I’m going to name drop right now) to have been taught by Mrs Bowen. One cold winter afternoon I was in her science lesson and I was coughing. She made a comment that I should stop smoking, when I responded honestly that I didn’t smoke she gave me a patronising look and continued to tell me that smoking was unhealthy. On another occasion, after working for several months in a part time job whilst studying at uni, my manager had a conversation with me. He explained that he was surprised that I was so hard working because when he met me he thought I was a stoner.

On occasions growing up I would smoke a bit of weed at parties and have a drink but I was far from a stoner. My laid back attitude and a tendency to suffer from hayfever could be the reason that many, not just those two examples, believed me to be a pot head but the reality is much more simple. That’s just how people perceived a young ‘black’ teenager.

Another experience that made me feel both hurt and angry at the time was when I was out with a friend and his other friendship group. We were in a pub having a drink and this friend of my friend lost her phone. Understandably she was upset by this and I didn’t mind so much when she first asked if I had taken it. The second time she asked if I had stolen her phone annoyed me a bit, but I emptied my pockets to prove my innocence. Later that night she decided to ask for a third time if I was the one to have taken her phone. I had given the girl no reason to suspect that I was the person, in a busy pub, to have taken it but she was adamant that it must have been me. There have been other occasions of things going missing where I become an instant suspect or times in shops where I could feel following eyes of the shopkeeper and it’s a discomfort that isn’t easy to describe.

The last experience that I will share, which is not to say that I don’t have many more, was abroad in Budapest Hungary. On the way into Sziget festival, amongst thousands of other people I was stopped by two different security guards for ‘random searches’ the second of which stepped out of his way to give me a thorough pat down. At first when I explained that I had already been searched he didn’t speak any English, after the search he managed to question if I had any drugs or weapons on me  and had a smirk on his face when I asked if he also wanted me to drop my trousers for him. After joining my friend, who wasn’t searched by anybody on the way in, I had an amazing time at a show headlined by Wizz Khalifa. Ironic no?

By some strange coincidence, whilst writing this I am also watching ‘Brooklyn 9-9’ (season 4 episode 16) and in this particular episode Terry, the black police man, is out of uniform and gets arrested for being black in a nice neighbourhood. The white officer apologised, because he didn’t know that Terry was a police officer but couldn’t understand that Terry was angry because that was the only thing that the officer found wrong about the situation. It’s a perfect summary of a racism I felt a lot growing up around football: ‘you’re alright because you’re our mate’ but what those same people thought about other black people was completely different.

The racism that I have encountered through my life, although very subtle (apart from a couple of direct occasions, which for me, aren’t even worth recollecting), has had a huge baring on who I am today. I’ve always felt the need to be extra polite to be past the stereotype of being a rude black youth, I’ve had to work harder so not to be seen as lazy or a stoner. I’ve felt uncomfortable sat in a lecture theatre of 80+ students with just 3 other ethnic minorities and I’ve had to be considered a black person whilst growing up despite the fact that I was raised by my white mother. Before I matured enough to be proud of who I am, I almost thought that who I was perceived to be is who I should be. Please believe that there are weaker willed people than me who are the way they are because society dictated that they should be that way.

I read a post from a good friend recently. She wrote about how her dad would nod at random black people when she was younger and when she asked who it was he would say ‘I don’t know’. My dad did exactly the same thing and I often find myself doing it. I now interpret that nod as a nod of relief. A feeling of being less isolated. ‘Thank god I’m not the only one being judged around here for the way I look.’ I hope we are on the way to a society where we don’t have to feel relief at seeing another black person because we don’t even notice them. When a job advert says ‘this is an equal opportunity job posting’ it is an admission that once, not so long ago it wasn’t an equal opportunity and it admits that there are still other job postings that are not equal opportunity. Maybe one day there will be equal opportunity without having to highlight the fact.

So if you have taken the time to read this I thank you. I ask if you are a minority reading this to be brave enough to share an experience from your past that made you feel uncomfortable. If you are white, I ask you to speak with your minority friends and ask them about one of there experiences and try to make sure that you never make those judgements in the future. Not every act of racism is as extreme as what you will be researching right now but this is the stuff that happens in everyday life.




Cheeky… but not rude – local markets around the world

There is a real art, that so many school children around the world fail at every day, which is interacting with people in a way that is cheeky, but not rude. For that matter it’s not just school children, but many a drunk person who thinks that they are being charming and funny when in reality, those that can walk in a straight line see as clear as day that they’re are actually acting like dicks!

For those who don’t know the meaning of ‘cheeky’ or those who have never heard my interpretation of the word, I will explain what I mean: to be cheeky is to be rude but get away with it because the person who you are being rude to is amused by you.

You may wonder what I’m getting at with this post and I almost forgot myself for a second but I’ve been inspired to share my experiences at local markets that I have visited around the world where being cheeky can help you get a good price but being rude could possibly end in violence.

If you are from the UK like me then a trip to a local market can be a strange and quite possibly intimidating experience. We come from a world where the price is the price and it’s written clearly on signs and it’s been programmed into a computer that ensures that the correct price is paid and if the halfwit behind the counter failed at maths at school it doesn’t matter because the computer will also calculate the change that should be given.

Local markets are not like this. There is wiggle room where you can haggle what price you would like to pay and come to an agreement with the store owner. To be a successful haggler you have to have a knowledge of the value of the item you are purchasing. If you don’t then you run the risk of A: getting ripped off by the sometimes less than honest store owner or B: offering an absurdly low amount and offending the sometimes less than honest store owner which in some countries can end in a heated exchange.

Not all countries are the same in this matter and I still have so many to experience but here is some of what I know:

My most recent trip to a market, in a small town called Metepec, just South-West of Mexico City, was with my girlfriend and her mum. It was a quick and efficient weekly grocery shop for amazing fresh fruit and veg. The market happens every Monday and there isn’t really much haggling that happens between the honest local people who come across as friendly and hardworking. I wouldn’t even want to haggle when two huge,delicious pineapples cost just £1!

This experience was in stark contrast to the first and worse one I had at a local market in a different culture. This experience took place in Bodrum, Turkey. As soon as 3 friends and myself, in our early 20s stepped into the market we got swamped. I soon learned to rebel against my friendly nature and refuse to shake hands with stall owners as once they grab your hand they won’t let go until you have examined there range of Roy Band glasses and Gushi belts.

Fast-forward eight years or so and I walked through similar styles of market in Morocco, called Medinas, first in Fez and later Marrakech. The biggest difference was rather than a scared young English man – who walked around with one hand in his pocket and the other holding an empty can of coke so that nobody could grab him by the hand – I was a confident man that interacted with store owners with humor. ‘why do I need to buy a carpet if I don’t own a house’ I joked with one guy. He continued to try to sell me one for my mum or for my grandma but I didn’t feel as intimidated as I previously did in Turkey.

I am always intrigued walking around markets but don’t often buy anything, probably because I am useless at the haggling that I explained about or maybe I’m just tight! In Thailand however, I will admit to buying the occasional pair of dodgy glasses. Here I found another problem of the haggle. You must be prepared to pay the price that you get down to. Now I don’t remember the exact price that I paid for a pair of glasses (and also got a belt thrown in for free) but I do remember feeling slightly embarrassed at paying with a note with a larger value than the price that he originally asked for! Very poor etiquette!

The most intriguing market that I visited was in China. Now I don’t know what was going on around me and wouldn’t have purchased anything if I’d seen something that I wanted as there was barely any English spoken. But this wasn’t a problem as I don’t remember seeing a single thing that I wanted amongst the buckets filled with live toads, all types of fish, Octupus and eels! Fried insects and other… Shall we say, unique, snacks.

The last thing that sticks with me through these different experiences are the smells. The good, the bad and the strange. Through the hustle and bustle of hundreds of people in such a tight space you can jump from feeling hungry to feeling sick to your stomach in the space of a few yards. If you stop for food in a Moroccan Medina, for example, I’d advise standing still to eat because if you find yourself anywhere near the tanneries, where they treat animal hides in the street, I can assure you that you will quickly lose your appetite because of the stench!

Forests of fireflies – Tlaxcala

In an attempt to explore just a part of the wonders that Mexico has to offer, my girlfriend Karen and I left the busy capital: Mexico City and headed to the forests. First we visited Tlaxcala to see fireflies followed by an adrenaline filled trip to Xalapa where we did a zip-line tour and some white water rating (that I will write about in a later post).

Coming from the UK, such a small country, my definition of a long journey is very different to that of Karen. Buses, usually equipped with TVs showing movies in Spanish, run very frequently everywhere that I’ve visited in Mexico and usually provide a comfortable and affordable way to get around. As I believed that the 4 hour journey to Xalapa was a long way we decided to stop halfway in Tlaxcala. Tlaxcala is only a small colonial town so the buses don’t run so frequently and when we missed our scheduled 6am one, the journey ended up being longer than the original 4 hours as we went there via a nearby town called Puebla (where I visited later in my trip).

The trip, even with the detour, was worth while as after strolling around the churches and museum of the small picturesque town, we went on a tour to see fireflies in the forest. It was the reason that we went to Tlaxcala and it was an amazing experience.

We went on an extremely comfortable minibus with spacious seats and a big TV at the front along with about 10 other people. Our first stop, late afternoon, was to a plantation where they farmed Maguey Plants that are famous for producing tequila. But in this region the process that they use to harvest the plant produces another spirit called Pulque, one of two less famous cousins to tequila that I would taste (one time each as they are both bad) whilst in Mexico.

In the vast fields filled with the Maguey Plants, a local farmer showed us the method of collecting Aquamiel (honey water) from the centre of the big plant, around 3 litres in one go, by sucking through a tiny hole at the end of a big tube and cupping the end before decanting it into a larger container. I was not envious of the long process, carried out in Mexican heat whilst being careful to avoid snakes, spiders and scorpions.


Inside the farmhouse we were given a history of the spirit and then had the opportunity to taste it in different forms. Without alcohol, with alcohol and in various flavours all had one thing in common. They were disgusting. With lingering bad tastes in my mouth, we made our way back to the minibus for an hour or so trip to the forest as the daylight began to fade.

After playing some slightly awkward ice breaker games and stretching, in preparation for an hour walk in the dark, with our young guide, we began walking away from the small restaurant, close to the tiny cabins that some people deicide to stay in. The evening was turning into night as we walked and we began seeing solitary fireflies flittering around us.

I still remember feeling pretty excited when I spotted the first fly, lazily floating around with its butt flashing on and off. For some reason, when it’s night time in a forest, it just feels right to whisper so there was very little noise as more and more flies began zigzagging around our heads. As the forest filled with flashing lights we each found a spot on the floor where we could watch as hundreds of the flies made the forest look magical for about 30 minutes before they slowly began disappearing. Like a nightclub, it started off with a  few that were keen to get out there, followed by a mad rush and as we walked back there were the last few, clinging on searching for a mate late on in the night.

It all seemed to happen all to quickly but I had a smile on my face from the moment that I saw the first fly in the forest. It was a truly magical experience that made me want to go and watch Disney movies for the rest of the night. I’d never heard of Tlaxcala before but I’m glad that I have now!

CDMX – Mexico City

Now I’m here, on my second visit to Mexico I feel especially bad for not finishing the write up from my trip almost a year ago!!

When I was here last I did two separate visits to Mexico City, first for a few days and then again right at the end of my 6 week trip, for a week.


Mexico City, to me, felt a lot like any other big city in the world. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but my perception of what Mexico: a ‘third world country’ should be like was wrong. The technology and shops are just as contemporary as anywhere else in the world but I guess things that separate it from other places are the way the government is run, how the education and health system works and a big gulf in the division of wealth.

I’m often asked if Mexico is a safe place to visit and I guess the reality is no it’s not. But by sticking to main areas and listening to advice of where not to go I never found myself in a situation that made me feel uncomfortable. The closest thing to crime I saw was a run-down-looking local man running (very slowly) away from a police officer, who didn’t look very interested in chasing him. The man fell over, picked himself back up and kept running, was nearly bitten by a stray dog, but kept running, he looked around to see that he wasn’t being followed but still he kept running in – slow motion.


On that occasion my girlfriend Karen and I were visiting an area called Garibaldi. Admittedly, the 5 minute walk from the metro station is not the safest neighbourhood (which is where we saw the rogue runner) but the square itself is a tourist attraction and so quite safe.

It is a square where the famous mariachi bands play. In the Square itself there are lots of different bands, with their big instruments and extravagant clothing, roaming around looking for people to pay for a single song or two. Inside the bars and restaurants bands will entertain people that sit down to eat and drink and come and ask for tips and attempt to sell CDs containing their music. We listened to 4 or 5 different bands play on a square stage in the centre of the room as we sat and ate our meal. A very authentic and enjoyable experience.

Like any other big city there are plenty of activities to do. Whilst there, I visited museums, walked through a park that surrounded a castle that boasted great views of the city, I took an open top bus tour – that took most of the day to complete the three different lines – and went up a cell tower that took you above the sky line. Unfortunately, Mexico City is one of the more polluted cities in the world and the views were spoilt slightly by a layer of smog that makes seeing far into the distance difficult.

All over Mexico, even a year on, I find myself comparing prices to those in the UK with great surprise. To go to the cinema and get a large drink and popcorn I paid in the region of £5. And that’s for seats that are classed as ‘VIP’ in the UK. It is very rare to find a meal for much more than £10 including a drink and usually I’d be paying around £4 or £5. To get the metro anywhere in the city costs about 40 pence. But my favourite bargains whilst visiting Mexico City were my two trips to the 90,000 capacity Azteca Stadium.

In the UK, if I want to watch my brother play football, in the 7th tier of English football, alongside 100 or so other people, I pay £8. To watch, first Cruz Azul and then Club America – in a party like atmosphere with tireless staff walking up and down stairs with snacks, beers and even hot food on trays carried on their head – I paid around £5. The standard of play in the Mexican top division was not that great but the players are constantly running and you can see the passion amongst them. The atmosphere from the moment I got on the metro to the stadium until way after the final whistle was awesome.


From Mexico City Karen and I went on two cultural trips an hour or so outside of the city. One was to a place called Xochimilco (pronounced Hochimilco), a place where you can pay to be ferried along a busy river way. The traffic included 100s of brightly coloured boats, with long tables under the shelter of a roof, captained by a local man at the back using a pole to propel the boat. Boats containing Mariachi bands offering their services also navigate the river and people selling snacks. On the banks you could find snacks, restaurants and souvenirs.


Our other trip was to the extremely impressive ruins of Teotihuacan (tetiwacan). The ruins of Chichen Itza, near Cancun are the most famous due to a phenomenon which happens once a year that creates a shadow in the shape of a snake, but in my opinion the ruins of Teotihuacan are much more impressive. At the North End you can climb the pyramid of the moon (not quite all the way to the top) and have an amazing view along ‘The Avenue of the Dead’ that stretches for 2 kilometres and is 40 meters wide. All along the avenue are pyramids and temples including the biggest halfway along, the Pyramid of the Sun that you can climb all the way to the top.


After a long day in the sun we were able to buy a nice meal for about £2 which, for me, is unthinkable at such a tourist destination! But that’s only because I’m constantly comparing to UK standards. As I touched on at the beginning of this, the wealth in Mexico is far from equally distributed. It can help give perspective and make me thankful for everything that I have.

‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish’ – A phrase that only applies on Mastermind.

Unfortunately, if you are anything like me, there is often an excuse as to why you don’t do things. It’s been half a year now since my last blog post and for the life of me I can’t justify why that is.

It has taken two weeks in beautiful Mexico with my beautiful girlfriend Karen to finally be inspired to get some more of my memories down so that my future self can reflect on a life well lived. Just last night I was flicking through some of my oldest Facebook photos, going back so far that it took a long time to load poor quality pictures of a very drunk young man with an afro.

I take inspiration from my grandma, who now, in her 80s, having lived through over 60 years of marriage, is struggling with the early stages of dementia. But she is clinging to her memories by reading the notes she has kept of a full life over the years and pulling out bundles of photos every time that I visit.


So here is to her. Why I will keep writing despite all of the excuses. Working hard to earn the money to visit Karen in Mexico shouldn’t have stopped my writing because on ships I work hard for 7 days a week sometimes up to 12 hours. The slight struggle that I face with Seasonal Affective Disorder shouldn’t stop my writing as there are people all over the world struggling with severe forms of depression every day. And lastly and most importantly I shouldn’t stop writing just because I haven’t done it in a long time. That has probably been my biggest and most counter productive excuse so far.

If you are also a person that has been putting something off, I hope that just one of you can read this and get it done.

‘Don’t do tomorrow what you can do today, don’t do later what you can do now.’

Cuba – Trinidad

Throughout Cuba, I was mistaken for a local and I began telling people that my grandfather was Cuban. Trinidad was the place that I chose to tell people that my fictitious grandfather was from as it was easy to remember due to the Caribbean Island that it shares a name with.


The 2 hour bus journey, from Santa Clara to Trinidad cost us 8 CUC each (less than when we got ripped off a few days previously) and took us on a winding journey through lush greenery. Trinidad itself was a fairly touristy area with Belgium style cobbled streets, spectacular views of rolling hills in the distance and lots of bars and restaurants. One of those restaurants provided us with by far the best food that we had whilst in Cuba.


At ‘La Botija’ Karen and I shared an amazing Spag Bol, a kebab with beef, onions, prawns and pineapple after fish cakes and loaded potatoes for starters. The food was really well presented and just 22 CUC (£15) each for two courses and a drink.

There were plenty of excursions being offered around the town at a variety of prices and we opted for a horse ride to the waterfalls. Now, I’ve never ridden a horse before and enjoyed the first 20 minutes but after that I was kind of bored and extremely sore!!

Any apprehension of riding disappeared after we met our guide Jorge. His son, no more than 5/6 years old came trotting along on one of the horses, feet not even reaching the stirrup and a mischievous grin on his face. He got told off for trying to ride too fast. The apprehension quickly returned as we had to walk the horses down a steep cobbled path and my horse kept stumbling and losing its footing.


The guide explained to us how to control the horse (simply pull the reigns to the side that you want the horse to go) but might as well not have because my horse just did what it wanted. On many occasions my horse cut across Karen’s, sometimes pushing them into the bushes, to ensure that we remained in front. We stopped for fresh coffee and a cigar on the way to the waterfall and food on the way back. I was glad to make it back in one piece on my horse that was anything but sure footed. My everything hurt and a relaxing beach day was perfect for the following day.


The beach in Trinidad wasn’t even close to as nice as in Valadero, despite recommendations by Jorge the horse guide. I did go swimming in the merky water but quickly got out having been scared by a stingray that decided to jump out of the water just a few meters behind me.

The evenings had a nice vibe in Trinidad. Live music, bars and restaurants were all around and on one night down in one of the main squares there was a live DJ and a sort of street party. We also went to a really cool nightclub that is built within some caves.

On our last day we arranged a taxi to take us the 4 hours back to Havana. The taxi we shared with another couple and cost us 20 CUC each, which was the same as the 7 hour journey on the bus. We watched England reach the semi final of the World Cup and then drove back in the afternoon. We went to our original hostess Ani who organised for us to stay with a friend as she was full that night.

We spent our last night in Cuba in a huge nightclub. It was a long wait to get into the big building with about 6 different rooms that included music rooms, an Art gallery and a cinema room. The barman gave me the bottle to pour my own drink and looked at me disapprovingly when I politely only filled the massive glass half way (so I finished the bottle off instead).

The next day we got a taxi to the airport and flew back to the future, where there was nice food, modern cars and WiFi in Cancun.


Travelling from Matanzas to Santa Clara (The home of Che Guevera), Karen and I had another taste of how difficult it was to find transport around Cuba. After watching Mexico lose against Brazil in the morning we made our way to the bus station. It took a while, speaking with people that didn’t have a clue, but we eventually learnt that the next bus to Santa Clara wasn’t until 7 in the evening. This would have meant arriving very late in an area that we didn’t know looking for accommodation that we didn’t have.

We decided to take the adventurous route and basically take buses in the correct direction using Google maps. The first bus, a collectivo, took us to Colon for 2 CUC (£1.50). In life you get what you pay for and we paid very little for a two hour trip and ended up on a rickety old bus that looked like a War transport. I was not surprised when a girl had to lean out of the window to throw up because I wasn’t feeling so bright myself.

We gratefully got off the bus in Colon a small town that could have been used as the set for a Western. Cart horses were the main mode of transport and the town was essentially one long road with smaller ones running off. We’d been told before that local transport is just for locals and we had a dodgy experience getting on a coach (which was very normal in comparison to the previous ones).

The coach we were getting was parked outside of a lunch hall and when the driver finished his break lots of people just appeared out of nowhere. A guy who looked to be in charge negotiated a price (30 CUC which seemed excessive) with us, he then proceeded to try and skip past all of the people in the line and wouldn’t allow us to speak with the driver. He personally took the money from us and on reflection of the event we are sure that we got hustled. But we were on our way, and for half the original price of 30CUC each that he asked for.

The rest of the journey and stay in Santa Clara was pretty uneventful. We found a modest Casa Particular, 15 CUC per night and got upgraded to the owner’s second, more spacious property, after our first night due to a problem with his water tank.

We visited the Che Guevara memorial museum, where one of the army guards, as the theme of the week, mistook me for a Cuban. The museum was loaded with a bunch of junk that Che had once touched or in some cases belonged to someone who had been under Che’s command, things that had no way of proving the authenticity.


Apart from that, there wasn’t so much to do in Santa Clara. The main square was a place to hang out, there was a short shopping street and a couple of bars open at night. The food, like the rest of Cuba was average with little variety. We took a walk up a hill that provided a very nice view over the city but the three days that we spent there was more than enough.

Cuba – Santa Clara

After our stay in Havana, Karen and I had a taster of how difficult it is to travel in a country with limited organisation or WiFi. We chose to make our way to Matanzas using the Hershies train that was once used to transport Coco beans by the American chocolate company.

Having asked advice from a few different people we made it onto a small boat that took us across the Dock. The water was filled with rubbish and had a slick film of oil on the top. Unfortunately all around Cuba you see people carelessly discard their rubbish and it spoils some of the beauty of the island.

The boat took us to Casablanca, where we found out that the train line had been damaged during the Hurricanes 9 months earlier. Apparently none of the 3/4 people that we’d spoken to before knew about it. We walked around the small town of Casablanca, from where you could see nice views of Havana and stopped for a fresh coconut at a bar at the road side. A young guy and girl gave us a few different options of getting to Matanzas and in the end we took a local bus, a taxi that looked like it could break down at any moment (because the second bus we were going to get was crazy busy) and another bus that looked as though it could have transported a battalion of soldiers rather than paying public.


We stayed in Matanzas for 3 nights, at a nice Casa Particular that had a couple of rooms separate from the main house and a small swimming pool in the garden. We took a bus (again one that looked like a military transport) to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island in Varadero, and did a tour of some local caves.


Getting to the caves we took a bus that did a lap of the town that took about 20 minutes. We were pretty confused when we returned to the same stop having not reached our destination and even more confused after we got off, found a taxi, only to see the same bus arrive at the caves 10 minutes after us!!

Karen was my translator during the tour of the caves and right at the end our tour guide noticed and apologised saying that he, like so many others on the island, presumed that I was Cuban.

With not much else to do in Matanzas we planned our next stop to Santa Clara.

Cuba – Matanzas

Cuba – Havana oh na na

If you don’t believe in time machines then you clearly haven’t been on an aeroplane to Cuba!! Everything from the old American cars, seen all over the island, to the lack of Internet access gives off a real sense that you are in a different decade when you visit Cuba.

Myself and my girlfriend Karen spent two weeks in Cuba, visiting 4 different places in that time. It was an awesome and eye opening experience, visiting a beautiful country making a slow recovery from a war they couldn’t afford. On the whole there was a feeling that they are still only just getting used to welcoming tourists to the country. Once the people figure out that there is no way to rip you off or part you with some of your money then they can be very friendly.

Accommodation, outside of the chains of hotels that don’t allow you to explore the country, consist of what are called ‘Casa Particulars’. These are essentially airbnb properties (a lot of them advertised on airbnb) where you rent a room in the houses of local people.

Our first stop, in Havana, we stayed with an extremely friendly and helpful Cuban called Ani. The breakfast was really good, on the whole it was about the only meal of the day that was good in Cuba as the food throughout the country is extremely basic. The scrambled egg, toast and fresh fruit with a smoothie in the morning was also pretty basic but I always looked forward to it.

Walking out of the airport immediately you notice all of the old American cars that look like they come out of an old gangster movie. Although you expect to see them in Cuba I wasn’t prepared for them to be the only type of car around. Some of them were in really good condition, others looked like they have been running since 1950. Havana itself has a rugged beauty with its imposing buildings giving off a sense of danger but just a day or two makes you feel comfortable in the ghetto like surroundings.


You walk down the street, it’s safe to do so at any time of the day or night, and you can’t help but look into people’s living rooms that are right there beside the path. You get communities of people just sat at the side of the street, outside of their doors, either socialising or watching life pass them by.

We visited Cuba during the rainy season and generally the weather would be hot throughout the day before torrential rain hit in the afternoon/evening. On our first evening we ended up stranded in an athletics stadium where lots of locals continued playing football despite the mesmerising thunder storm going on above them.

We took an open top bus tour around the city, taking in the monuments and buildings, visited the main museum and watched a very loud cannon being fired, with an amazing view across the city with the sun setting, at the Fort.

There is a real sense of national pride and the man portrayed as an evil dictator by the Americans, Fidel Castor, is celebrated as a national hero. You’d have to put more study than two weeks on holiday to really find out the true nature of the former Cuban leader. I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps Che Guevara was loved the most because he died a freedom fighter and didn’t have to go through the struggles of leading a country that was in deep debt due to their war of independence. In the wise words of batman: ‘you either die a hero or live to become the villain’.


All in all I enjoyed my trip to Havana and would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind going to specific Internet hotpots in the city to use (very slow) WiFi or eat basic rice and meat meals with not much variety. At least whilst eating the meal you can often listen to amazing live, high tempo, music that you can’t help but tap your foot to.