Sometimes I wake up craving to feel sand under my feet, to print my footsteps where they have never appeared before and let my heart wander the unexplored.
I had a 4 day city-break in Madrid, there’s a lot to do and its a really beautiful city. Madrid is known as the political, economic and cultural centre of Spain. It felt like a cross between London and Barcelona, lots of great architecture, museums, theatres, palaces, shopping districts, parks and food.
The Mercado de San Miguel was our favourite spot to eat, it was a beautiful market full of all kinds of fresh food and it had a really lively atmosphere. We also ventured to the Mercado de San Anton which was off the tourist trail and a beautiful renovated market however it was quiet and food didn’t look as fresh because it sat there most of the day. I think its best to go there on the weekends as it was really a beautiful market but lacked atmosphere.
Plaza Mayor has a great selection of Tapas restaurants, its a place full of character with quaint cobbled streets, statues and retro style street-lights with beautiful buildings. Street performers are scattered all over Madrid, drawing crowds and creating a really nice atmosphere in the evenings. We stayed in Puerta Del Sol which is a really great location, everything is within walking distance and at night plenty of shows go on in the square.
We walked to the Prado Museum and Parque del Buen Retiro , the park is definitely worth having a stroll around and maybe a boat ride, was 40 degrees when we went so we skipped that. The Prado houses the greatest collection of Spanish Art dating back to the 12th Century. I loved the works of Hieronymus Bosch, his pieces depict a deep insight into man’s desires and deepest fears and you really need to take a seat and the time to analyse because his paintings unveil so many different topics in one piece, his pictures definitely paint more then a thousand words. I feel he was an artist very much ahead of his time, he used art the way Shakespeare used theatre, to comment on the human psyche, society and behaviour. My favourite piece from him is The Garden of Earthly Delights:
We checked out the night-life in Madrid too, Ten Con Ten is a great bar but don’t eat there, the food was awful however the atmosphere in the bar area is nice. We headed out to Opium from there, it was a little pretentious but a really nice club, felt like we were in Dubai, we made the most of it and danced the night away. It was a really great city, most things were really cheap and shopping is definitely cheaper then London or Dubai. I thought four days was a good amount of time to see all the main hotspots and would highly recommend a city-break in Madrid.
This is my longest blog-post ever but I smiled through the entirety of typing this. Living with an indigenous family in the jungle was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced, I know its detailed but I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it…
We were really fed up of the tour companies fighting over us and confusing us as they all had different opinions, we were so flustered we just decided to leave it and head back to our hostel. Lena saw a guy passing us on a motorbike that she had spoken to previously about tours. He asked if we had booked yet, he was the only one so far who seemed like he was interested in what sort of tour we actually wanted and gave us options and suggestions. He said to follow him in a mototaxi to his office, a little risky at 10pm but he had seemed genuine and we agreed that if it felt in the slightest bit dodgy we would just turn around and go back.
During my time in South America I became very intuitive to my gut feeling, sometimes you just feel something in the air that makes you uneasy and it means just getting out of there at that moment. You can pick up vibes from people, their energy and as soon as you feel uncomfortable you know its probably bad energy, maybe a negative person and probably best not to talk to them. I have to say this intuition got me through my travels, I really met the best people, I met genuinely amazing people who I clicked with and locals who just wanted to help me and asked me for nothing in return. I made friends that will be in my life forever and the people I met are definitely what made that year extra special.
Initially, I had gone to the Amazon with big ideas of going on treks to find animals, multi-coloured frogs, puffins, parrots, colourful tropical animals that weren’t snakes was what I was on a mission to see…although I had hoped for an Anaconda sighting from a distance. We were told by tour companies that to see that wildlife you need to go on the longer tours that go much further and were therefore more costly, I didn’t have time and I was on a budget. We were told the nearby tours with sightings of such animals were either immensely rare or in most cases the animals are collected and placed in areas…for example their are Caiman swamps where you are pretty much guaranteed a sighting as they are bred there. I read up on it and it was actually true. I had come all the way to the Amazon and I wanted an authentic experience. We asked if we could stay with a family who lived in the Amazon and the tour-guide said he knew one and he said they could probably take us to do a lot of what we wanted to so it was settled.
We got a taxi boat to a town about an hour away and were met by our friendly host father Manuel. He took us on his boat about an hour away and we finally reached a fork in the river where he turned off and there we saw his hut. That was to be our home for the next few days. We were greeted by his wife Maria and pet parrot,their kids were at school except their older son who was in the jungle behind their house making coal. He took us to see, he was burning a tree and then chopping the parts that had become coal into pieces with an axe and putting them in sacks. He explained they don’t generally need money to survive but sometimes when they travel they do and these sacks of coal which were as big as me sold for a measly $7! It takes about a day to fill one sack, I couldn’t believe all that hard work in the heat would give them that and I wondered how they supported their family of 7 with such small amounts of money.
We had lunch and asked if they could take us into the forest to try and sight animals, I was so excited as I still expected a sky ablaze with colourful birds and the prettiest of creepy crawlies. Well…we left and it began to rain, we wanted to continue so off we went armed with our machetes. Manuel taught us how to use them to cut the tall grass and branches so that we could walk through the dense jungle. I felt like Lara croft but I was aware that I looked like a hot mess, it was so much fun! We were walking through a marshland and were told we would see Caiman’s in the swamps…we searched and searched but we didn’t see anything, the rain was getting heavy and we decided to head back. On the way Lena saw a snake, I was too busy pretending I was in Mortal Kombat to notice and it was long gone before I even looked up so my animal hunt ended with nil points. We learned a lot about various trees and vegetation though, he was talking us through the trees and plants so it was pretty interesting. He owned a cassava plantation nearby and this was one of the ways he made an additional income but it was seasonal and quite small. The reason they didn’t need money was because they caught and grew all of their own food and exchanged things they had for what we needed.
We got back and all the children were home from school, we went fishing to catch our dinner, his 11 year old son did the fishing while Manuel steered the boat. He dropped a long net into the river and it had little floats on one side so it made a barrier and then we just steered the boat upstream for a couple of minutes and when he pulled it in it had about 20 fish inside!! We had a feast and it was enough for the next day too. The kids were so cute and we taught them card games and played with them. The 10 year old daughter sat with the mum and gutted and filleted the fish, they were like machines, in about 10 minutes they were prepared. As it got dark the jungle became louder and with no electricity our lamps were targets for all the bugs so I decided to call it a night. I woke up at 4am because I needed to pee…the long-drop was about 500 metres away from the house in the jungle and I was scared. I couldn’t find my torch so I took a lamp and began walking through, it was too dark to see if I was anywhere near snakes. I really regretted not waking up Lena to hold my hand haha and I literally prayed for the whole walk there and back, their were chickens and things running around so I just told myself that everything moving was a chicken and finally got back in my bed which was a mattress on the floor covered by a mosquito net and inside our room (Mine, Lenas and the 3 youngest children) there was a basket very close to my head where a massive hen was chilling in a basket, I ignored that too, pretended I was in a bubble that no insects or animals could enter and fell asleep to the sound of the jungle.
We woke up a couple of hours later to the Roosters, I was pretty used to them since they seemed to be everywhere in Peru, some of them had really messed up body-clocks, they would crow every hour through the night but these ones let us sleep till sunrise. Manuel asked us if we wanted to eat Pineapple or Papaya, we chose Pineapple. He said we would go to the next village with our Papaya and exchange it for Pineapple, we didn’t want it that bad but we were both intrigued to see this other village. We got there and it was much bigger then ours, it had bridges and actual pathways. Ours was a jungle and it had a bridge and a freshwater stream where we collected drinking water and also showered (the shower was a like a waterfall part don’t worry you don’t drink shower water.) It was more civilised and had more money and more crops, Manuel said the government invests in bigger communities and if theres grew they too would get proper pathways and more structure. I actually loved the wilderness of ours, not even a shop, you had to get a boat to get a pineapple lol. Me and Lena explored our village earlier, we hadn’t seen anyone since we got there because they all lived further in the jungle so we crossed the bridge and walked the muddy track till we found a cluster of huts, some villagers came to ask us what we were doing and who we were, they were friendly enough, beyond the huts was a swamp so we headed back. had fish for breakfast with some kind of tea….I sneakily shared mine with the chickens under the table not wanting to offend the family. I had asked Manuel to take us Piranha fishing so he made us some fishing rods and we headed out, this was my favourite day in the jungle.
We had been sailing for about 15 minutes when we passed a small brook, I asked him if we could go in one and we did, if the Amazon was a main road, the river he lived on would be a side street and this brook would be off-roading on a muddy track. I knew we weren’t but it felt like we were the first people to ever go there, it was so untouched and SO beautiful and calm and green and we finally saw lots of birds. I sat at the front with my machete cutting low branches so we could pass, actually there was a lot of pressure on me because if I missed I would be the first one to be thrown into the Caimen and Anaconda infested waters and Manuel thought he had just seen a Caimans eyes poke out of the water. Suddenly we got stuck, a tree had fallen across and we could see it a couple of feet below the surface. Me and Lena climbed out onto it and helped pull the boat over, actually I mostly just tried to balance and not fall in. We managed and climbed back in and it started raining, I can’t describe how beautiful it was, the drops falling in the stillness of the water, I really felt like I was on the Discovery Channel. We explored a little more and then got to a place with too many fallen trees to pass so we turned back. We got back onto the main river (side-street) and kept going until we found another brook, we got in and parked, Manuel said this was where we would find Piranhas.
He didn’t mean that brook we had to climb up the muddy river bank, which was high and broke as we climbed because it was wet so we had to move fast. He was great, he went before us and laid a track with cut branches so that the floor was stronger. We had been walking through this marshland for about 10 minutes in really tall grass and suddenly the ground swallowed me. Lena turned around and I was gone, waist deep in the mud, it was like quicksand and I realised the more I moved the deeper I went. It was so horrible I can’t tell you that sensation of being sucked in by this mud and it was really difficult to climb out, I had to kind of dig forwards and climb out. I was laughing my head off when I fell initially but after the mud was past my knees I was like “NOT funny”…I was actually scared of it happening again cause it took like 5 minutes to get out, we had to keep moving and squash the long grass as we walked so it reinforced the path. There were moments were you step on a part that sinks and you have to just quickly move and the closer we got to the swamp the worse it got. We had to cut branches and stand on them but eventually they would sink too, it was like the fire levels in Mario. We got to the swamp and cut a few branches to stand on, they were by no means stable and they rolled if you lost balance and we were on the waters edge. We put a piece of fish on our rods and cast it, the water suddenly began moving, their wasn’t a few Piranha, there were thousands so I tried my hardest not to fall. I CAUGHT ONE!!! I was so excited I started shouting to Lena and while she was looking it jumped back into the water and my branch began rolling so I quickly got my balance back and tried again. It was definitely dangerous, not ideal but actually SO MUCH FUN. I ended up catching 3 of the 5 and we headed back holding our catch. I put a leaf in ones mouth and it literally shredded it in a second.
On the way back the mud had dried and had become cement like, it was so horrible trying to move fast over that mud while I felt like that but I kept seeing our Piranhas which we had skewered on a branch and it made it all worth it. We got back on the boat and after a couple of minutes I asked if we could jump off and get clean, we asked about Anacondas and he said they do live in the rivers but they won’t eat us so we took his word for it, we saw Pink dolphins and tried to swim with them, but they swam away. It was so amazing, the sun began to set and it looked so beautiful, I was sad that the sun was setting on our final day with the family. I would love to go back and stay longer but next time with more mosquito spray, I can’t tell you how ridiculously covered in bites we were but it was so worth it.
I learnt so much from that trip, I had seen and stayed with communities before who had nothing and were so happy but I had never lived that myself. Every day was an adventure and I would love to go back and stay a little longer, to know the jungle a little bit more and have Manuel take me on a trip deeper into the Amazon Basin where we can spot more animals and find new places. I think a tour would be fun too but I loved seeing the jungle through their eyes, understanding it as a home and exploring more of those untouched pockets would be incredible. I loved chit-chatting with them, they were such nice people who shared their lives and home with us and it was one of the most amazing journeys I have and will ever have because it really changed my perspective. I saw the Amazon as this wild jungle, I had books of these Amazonian animals in my house since I was a kid and have seen countless documentaries on the Amazons tropical inhabitants, but now I see the Amazon as the most beautiful home to over 150 million of some of the planets most resourceful people.
I spent an amazing day at The Cove Rotana in Ras Al Khaimah, it was blissful! Each villa has its own pool and the resort has bigger shared pools as well, the infinity pool was stunning and the backdrop of the Arabian Gulf was just divine. Walking around the resort, you feel as though you are in a Spanish or Italian Town on the seaside. You walk through the cobbled streets lined with villas to get to the restaurants, swimming pools or to make your way to the beach. A lot cheaper then 5 star beach resorts in Dubai and I also thought it was nicer than most of them! I would highly recommend a stay there if you are in RAK! Here are some snaps: