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.
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:
It was time to go to the monkey island!! I was so excited to see monkeys up close and as our canoe approached the island Lena told me they will jump on us as soon as we arrive… my heart started beating really fast. “But I don’t want them to touch me, I just wanna take pictures of them playing in trees.” Famous last words!
We arrived and the lady took us to our rooms in the hut on stilts, it was very basic and to be expected, I didn’t like the holes between the planks of wood and I spotted some creepy crawlies trying to invade so I covered my bed with the mosquito net but it was only big enough to cover half. We dropped off our bags and went outside, I saw these cuuuute little monkeys that looked a little like squirrels and I wanted to play with them. I went near them and started making kissy noises, one ran up to me, jumped all over me, bit me everywhere and ran away. He was like the Tasmanian devil, I didn’t really know what was happening and then he was gone. They weren’t as cute as they looked! One of the keeper’s came up to me and told me those ones were small but evil, he was violent and vicious and I had learnt to stay away. I was a little bit shocked by what just happened so I walked back to the hut and thought I should go in and just watch them from where I was safe but then some bigger monkeys ran to the door and were hanging over it, I felt like they were waiting for me. “Just pretend they aren’t there, ignore them and just walk in they wont come near you”, that’s what I told myself but this is what happened:
That monkey was naughty, his name was Panchito and he was the most mischievous of them all but could also be very cute. At one point he pulled Lena’s top down and flashed me, it was hilarious! All of that specie behaved like that, very naughty little monkeys but then they can also be calm and cuddle you and come and sit on your lap quietly. I realised there was no getting away and if I was going to enjoy the two days on monkey island, I had to embrace monkeying around. One Monkey, Karina, came up to me and held out her hand, she was the most human of all of them, a spider monkey. I took her hand and she pulled me into the forest, eventually she decided to jump into my arms and wanted me to carry her around…so I did. I think because she was so friendly I lost my fear and she was not aggresive or naughty like the others. We played, she would hang onto me with her tail and I would swing her around in circles, she loved it. When we got back the other little monkeys like Panchito jumped on me again, they cover your eyes and swing on your hair and bite you but then you realise they are playing and the less you struggle the more they just relax and chill with you.
There was a young boy working at the sanctuary, Juan, he was about 17 and he asked if we wanted to go to a nearby village, we just said yes and didn’t ask any questions. We thought you walk there but you get the boat, it was just across the river, a small village called Santa Victoria. Karina really wanted to come and wouldn’t let me put her down, eventually a keeper had to come and hold her while we left, I felt really sad like I had just left a child behind lol. On the way Juan told us he goes there to play football, while he played we explored. It was really hot and we didn’t take any water, I asked the villagers if they had any but they didn’t. All these kids were playing with us and we went and sat in the shade watching football and playing with the children. Me and Lena had explored enough and were ready to leave, we didn’t realise we would be there that long so we told him that we would wait on the riverbank for the boat and sat there. The children followed and sat with us, they had never been to the monkey island although it was so close you could see it.
As the sun set, our boat came into view and we went back. Karina was waiting for us on the riverbank and jumped into my arms, she was so cute and I loved playing with her. She would take me for walks all the time, I would just hold her hand and follow her until she found a tree to climb, she would hang on it and then jump on me. The island wasn’t very known to tourists, I think they had tours every few days where they spend 30 minutes there but we were the only crazy ones who wanted to stay there for 2 days!! It was basically a monkey sanctuary that was not enclosed so the monkeys were free to roam the Amazon. None of them ever left that area though because they loved it and got fed and even made money…I saw one steal the wallet of an American tourist – it was hilarious (he got it back eventually).They had two bedrooms in the house where the keepers lived and me and Lena took one. The house had no electricity and as night fell the keepers gave us candles. We had dinner in candle light and then sat at the table talking and playing cards. The forest sounded sooo loud around us, I could hear all kinds of animals and insects and HUGE bugs kept flying into our candle. I couldn’t relax and decided to go to bed. I took all my sheets off, shook them all and then got into bed because I was sure there were creepy crawlies waiting for me and my mosquito net was useless. I couldn’t sleep.
Karina came to our net windows and it felt like she was asking me to go and play with her, she just hung there watching us, and then suddenly a huge roar of thunder came out of nowhere and lightning followed with a torrential downpour of rain. The storm continued for hours, it was so windy and sometimes I could feel the spray of rain blowing on me. The lightning lit up the whole hut and I could see the creepy crawlies in all the corners, I got up, shook all my sheets again and got back into bed and as the storm stopped I finally fell asleep at around 4am. We got woken for breakfast at 7.30, we ate and then I smuggled some food outside for the monkeys. It was like a marshland, soaked with rain and muddy. Karina spotted me from a mile away and I could see her running towards me, she jumped into my arms and grabbed the banana. She was soaking wet and full of mud and dirt and now…so was I. All the monkeys started running towards us, I felt under attack and then the keeper came out with a stick and they all saw it and behaved. He fed them and I helped him, it was great and some of them were eating on my head lol.
I walked around taking pictures of them, fighting with them not to take my camera as they kept trying to pull it from my hands, I pulled it back from one and he lay on the floor covering his eyes and peeking at me through a little gap in them, he was upset. Another monkey saw him and came and hugged him, they hugged for ages rocking from side to side and then they both decided to attack me together so I stopped feeling sorry for them. They were so human it was crazy, I would even speak to them like they were babies except I felt like Karina was older then me haha. She was so sad when we were leaving, she tried to jump into our boat and then she just stood on the riverbank waving until we had gone.
I had such a good time, I would encourage anyone going to Iquitos to book a stay at the Isla de Los Monos, they told us people only stay once a month or so but it was really cheap and worth it if you can handle the bugs, personally one night was enough for me!
Ciao for now x
I can’t believe January is already over! My memories of travelling are slipping further and further away and I am getting back into the swing of life in Dubai. I still have many travel stories to write and hope I will find the time this month. Although I am embracing being back in Dubai I am missing South America a lot. I am grateful for January’s array of events and being able to catch up with old friends as well as meeting many new people. I also had my grandma in town so it was nice to spend time with her, she loves flowers so I took her to Dubai’s miracle gardens which was lovely! There are lots of new venues opening up and it was a great but busy month here are my highlights:
New Years fireworks in Dubai are always fantastic but this year they outdid themselves by placing the worlds largest LED screen on the Burj Khalifa, they had a wonderful light show combined with the fireworks, the lightshow remained on until January the 8th. I booked a table on the balcony at the Rivington Grill in Souk al Bahar so that I could have a delicious dinner accompanied by a fantastic show:
I was happy to be back in the sunshine so enjoyed Market OTB which was a daytime event in Southridge park. Another nice family day out was Dubai’s Miracle Gardens, It takes about an hour and a half to see it all with stopping for pictures and they have little restaurants and cafés. The flowers are all the same but beautiful nonetheless and its incredible how they have made monuments out of them such as the Burj Khalifa, beautiful peacocks, houses and cars.
Theres a fantastic new restaurant in town called Tribeca Kitchen & Grill in JA Oceanview hotel in JBR. It was a really cool venue, huge and artsy and had a real cool loungy feel. They provide a platform for local entertainment – I loved the band they had for the launch. They have healthy and organic food, I tried a couple of the salads…they were ok, the cheesecake was pretty good. Will have to go back and sample some of the food, it serves Mediterranean and American contemporary cuisine. I think its definitely got a great vibe and is a nice place to hang out, it fills a gap in the market with it being a lounge that is also a creative space, it felt unpretentious despite the launch crowd which was full of Dubai’s socialites.
Another great restaurant that has opened up is the Delphine Restaurant at the H hotel. It has a chic art deco inspired venue with marble floors and crystals fringing the bar. The original restaurant is a popular celebrity haunt in West Hollywood, California. It certainly was a fine dining experience, the service was perfect and the food was delicious, I enjoyed everything…even a raw meat “kibbeh” dish which I was apprehensive to try. Afterwards we headed up to the 40th floor to check out 40 Kong, it is a beautiful venue but was very crowded as anticipated. I think its somewhere you can fully enjoy with a table reservation.
It was V-Cloud’s one year anniversary party, V-Cloud offers a world of unique opportunities, refined tastes and unparalleled exclusivity. It is a one of its kind rewards and privileges program designed to enhance your experience in the lap of luxury. We had a wonderful night at their lavish birthday party.
My most anticipated event was the Latin American festival, it was the first of its kind in Dubai and I was really excited to see what it would be like. I think they underestimated the turnout as it was jam packed but it was a really fun event. It was in an alley in Al Quoz, the street was lined with stalls selling Art, South American food and there were crowds around the salsa dancers who were performing. I picked up a few trinkets and was happy to practice my Spanish. I hope they have more events like that, it was a great night!