Settling in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo

Settling in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo

I am sitting in the living room, computer on my lap and lights dimmed. The warm breeze blows through the curtains and the sound of the sensual Latin rumba band playing live in a restaurant downstairs wafts up to my balcony. The taste of red wine lingers in my mouth, reminding me to take another sip of my cabernet sauvignon from Baja California.
This is Playa Del Carmen.
I could say that I have never felt so relaxed outside of my own country before, but the truth is, quite surprisingly to myself, I haven’t felt too uncomfortable in all my time away. However what I can say is that I never thought I would feel like I could stay in a place and disregard my plans to continue further.

I arrived in Playa del Carmen three weeks ago, after a long bus ride from Chichen Itza. To my horror, I had lost my travel card loaded with half my travel funds and 2000 pesos of cash, leaving me with with less than I needed to pay the cabbie and a limited list of restaurants to eat that would accept credit card. (I later found both items stashed in a hurry in a side pocket of my backpack, an action I had warned myself not to do, for this very reason!)

I had been hooked up with a studio apartment through a contact of the dive centre before arriving in PDC. It was located in the neighbourhood of Colosio, about 2km from the busy touristic centre and far more local, with only a 300m walk to a secluded beach and only a 15 minute bike ride to the action if necessary. Unfortunately I learned that as a person fairly new to bike-riding and VERY new to the heat of Yucatan, it required a pretty good reason to get the motivation to ride a bike to town (those reasons being usually food or alcohol). I realised that if I’m removed from the general populace, I can stay that way for days, needing only wine, weed, whatsapp and Netflix to keep me company. I visited my scuba dive centre with whom I was going to do my rescue diver course, and got the paperwork and theory started, only to be disappointed when a 5 day stint of hurricane-style weather closed the ports and rendered me home-bound for the rest of the week, trying to accustom myself to the lack of air conditioning in my otherwise paradise-like studio apartment.

Since then, I have moved to an air-conditioned airbnb apartment around the corner from my dive shop, and two doors down from the famous touristic 5th Avenue. I couldn’t focus on my diving theory books in the oven heat that was my bedroom and I was falling into an unsociable hole caused by being too far from the centre. It is from here that I write. Ironically, I don’t need the air-conditioning anymore and I avoid going to the 5th as much as humanly possible.

Why? Let me tell you.

La Quinta Avenida

5th Avenue is the glitzy shopping, restaurant and bars district. Pharmacies, USA dollar ATMS, tour agencies and tequila shops line the streets for 3km. You can’t walk half a block without being called out to by street vendors trying to pull you into their shop, sell you a tour or, if you’re lucky, try to offer their services as a “temporary Mexican boyfriend”. We have come to call this street ‘the gauntlet’, defined as ‘an intimidating or frightening thing that must be endured.’ The fifth avenue is not frightening, but a blonde female foreigner needs to keep her head down and ignore the calls of street vendors. TIP: Use headphones. Even when I have no music playing, it works a treat.

I did open my mind one night and got into a conversation with two street vendors dressed as Spiderman and Venom, sitting on the curbside having a smoke with their masks off. That night turned into 8 hours of drinking at their hostel until 5am, surrounded by Mexicans from all states, an interesting lesson of Mexican slang indeed.

The sad reality is that whilst PDC was once a beautiful paradise for beach-goers and divers, commercialisation and American-owned housing developments have stripped Playa Del Carmen of everything authentically Mexican, leaving a fairly soul-less town centre and smaller shops with numbered days before they can no longer afford the astronomical rents of the glitter strip.

Taxis in PDC

I know that taxi drivers don’t have the best of reputations in any place, but here they take it to the next level. Taxis are a formidable force here, taking over the fifth avenue like mafia and blocking the arrival of Uber (sorry, Uber fans). If you take a taxi anywhere near the fifth avenue, you’ll be charged double or even triple in some places. If you are a tourist, taxis driver will charge you extra and make no secret of it (when challenging this rule, I was told that if I didn’t like  Mexico, I should go back to me own country Now I know how immigrants feel when they are told similar atrocities in Australia). Do not take taxis from the main areas like the bus station either – walk a block or two for a cheaper price and always ask them the price before getting into the car. At the end of the day, however, taxis are cheaper in Mexico than probably anywhere in the world, so if you’re like me, yo’ll find yourself walking home in the rain with bags of groceries after refusing the extra 20 pesos, which after converting you realise foolishly that you’d argued over $2.00.

Other living hints I’ve discovered about Playa

  • Mamita’s beach, the most renowned beach club here in Playa is full of beach beds, tourists and pumping music, and it’s not even high season yet. The best beaches are far away from the centre, less touched by tourism.
  • There aren’t big supermarkets in each neighbourhood. There’s a 1 block area close to the centre with 3 major supermarkets and the rest of the time you head to a local mini mart or the ever-present Oxxo convenience store on every corner.
  • Good luck finding a place with an oven.
  • You may, like me, not be able to handle the heat, but when you discover the price of electricity in Mexico an the fact that most apartments will charge up to $5 USD per day, you become accustomed quicker than you’d ever expected.
  • To buy anything, stay away from the 5th Avenue. In fact, if you are not here for nightlife, souvenirs or to take a picture with Spiderman or Beetlejuice, there’s no need to touch 5th Avenue after your first stroll. You’d be best spending your time finding street food stands and local taco restaurants in other neighbourhoods.

Tulum Ruins and Traveller Reunions

Playa is not only known for its beach and party scene, but also for its incredible proximity to other incredible places in the state of Quintana Roo. I met up with fellow traveller Cesar, a Texan with Mexican origins and definitely Mexican drinking habits, whom I had met at my hostel in Puerto Vallarta. We had plans to wake up early, catch the sunrise on the beach before renting a car and heading to the architectural ruins of Coba and Tulum, followed by an afternoon fishing trip.

I should have known that with Cesar, there’s no such thing as an éarly night’or ‘just one drink’. We sat at the bar on our swing seats and mixed with hostel folk, Cesar successfully managing to convince the beautiful Argentinian bartender to join us on the next day’s fishing boat. I ended up stumbling home after 4 mojitos, a tequila and who-knows how many mezcals. We both woke up way too late for the sunrise or Coba, but we headed straight to Tulum.
WARNING: If you ever go to the Tulum ruins, ignore the vendors at the entrance selling you tours for $79USD because the “line is a 45 minute wait”. The line took less than 2 minutes and it cost 70 Mexican pesos ($3USD).

It’s an amazing site with so many still intact structures, and the fact that it’s by the Caribbean sea is a plus. The Mayans really knew how to snap up the best real estate with an ocean view. The afternoon was spent on a fishing boat, getting to know our new Argentinian friends, experiencing the sport of fishing in Playa and learning to accept that not all fishing is greedy evil corporations looking to trawl everything from the ocean.

Things not to miss in Quintana Roo

  • Climb the great pyramid of Coba – the largest Mayan structure that you can still climb.
  • If you can handle an early morning, head to Tulum’s Paradise Beach (Playa Paraiso) to watch a spectacular sunrise.
  • Come between June and September to snorkel with the gentle giant whale sharks.
  • If you’re into theme parks, Xcaret is a massive attraction park with underground rivers and a spectacular evening performance of Mexican culture.
  • If you’re into the local scene, head to the neighbourhood of Colosio on a Sunday to find their weekly market, selling clothes, delicious-looking food and other goods that will be far cheaper (and more negotiable) than in the 5th.
  • I’m not much into the party scene, but if nightlife and surfing is for you, take a bus an hour north to the larger beachside city of Cancun.
  • Head to a beach a bit further away from the centre, like Xul-Ha for some peace and tranquillity.
  • Dive or snorkel in the beautiful underground freshwater cenotes.
  • Take a ferry over to Cozumel Island, where there is some of the best diving in Mexico.
  • If you’re up for a longer road trip, head down to the beautiful paradise of Bacalar, close to the Belize border, or Holbox island up north in Yucatan.
  • Come diving with me on the reefs in Playa! That story up next.

I have grown up in a beach-side touristic city, in Australia called the Gold Coast, and I moved away with such enthusiasm that I never thought I would return to a place like that. The differences between then and now are many. I’m now at an age where I feel more self confident to ignore the falsity of this type of town. Here I’m alone and discovering a new culture and practising Spanish, a language I adore. I enjoy heading out every day and chatting with the locals who know me now not as a temporary one-week tourist, but as an expat who works in the area. I feel proud to be recognised by the manager of the cafe downstairs, the instructors in the dive shop a block from my house, and even the local taxi drivers who park on the street waiting to charge tourists through the nose to go 2 blocks.

However above all, what draws me to this place is that I have found my place in the world as a scuba diver, and I’m in the perfect place in the Mexican Caribbean to pursue that dream.

That chapter coming soon.

Merida, Yucatan: Hammocks, Cenotes & Mayans

Merida, Yucatan: Hammocks, Cenotes & Mayans

Three weeks ago, I arrived in Merida at the north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. After a week of partying, sunburn and utter heat exhaustion, I was ready to take some of my own advice that I gave in my previous article about taking it easy.

I spent the entire next day after checking in watching Friends in my hammock over the pool, without saying a single word to anyone.


**Merida travel tip**

Book a hotel or hostel with a pool – it was literally the best decision I have made so far on this trip. In Yucatan, the heat in May can rise up to 40 degrees so keeping cool in a shady pool during the middle of the day or cooling off after an exhausting hot day trip is something that your aching, sweaty body will thank you for.


For hostels, I recommend Nomadas Hostel – not only do they have hammocks literally OVER the pool, but they have nightly salsa and Mexican cooking classes, plus great day trip and bus information, making it very easy for solo travellers to explore Yucatan on their own.

Also, don’t leave Merida without eating at restaurant Chaya Maya – there are two within the historic centre, and they serve amazing traditional dishes from the Yucatan region. You have to try the Queso Relleno, a ricotta cheese block hollowed out, stuffed with meat and served with the most amazing creamy white sauce…mouth watering!

As the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, the centre of Merida is a beautiful town on its own, but its real appeal is the fact that it’s a springboard to loads of historical and archaeological Mayan and Toltec heritage sites, plus the incredible cenotes,


Cenotes de Santa Barbara

Cenotes are limestone sinkholes of freshwater so blue and clear that with light, you can see straight to the bottom for tens of metres. At these hidden locations, you can swim in crisp mineral-rich waters in magical caves and feel lost in another time. We visited the cenotes of Santa Barbara: Poolcocom, Cascabel, Chacksikin, and the mayan town of Acanceh, where a Mayan pyramid stood proudly right in the middle of the town. Welcome to Merida!

Jumping into those never ending cool-crisp waters and awing at the limestone structures was the perfect way to spend a warm Yucatan day. On the tour I met a German girl who had lived in Mexico for eight years and was back to visit and show her Mum the country that she had fallen in love with. I will never forget the bird that shat on her shoulder as she lay back in her lifejacket in the middle of the cenote. From that moment on we kept our eyes pointed downwards and our mouths firmly closed!

We spent the afternoon lazing in the hostel pool until I was cool enough to brave the heat in the evening’s salsa class. We even had time for a touch of bachata (my favourite) at the end and it felt great to dance again, reminding me of my desire to go to Colombia and take some lessons. Despite being absolutely dripping with sweat, all of us had so much fun that we all went for drinks at a local cuba bar after the class, drinking buckets of beers, shots and platters of nachos and paying about $12 each.


Progreso Beach

I rose late the next morning, too late for any day trips. I took a bus up to the coastal beachside town of Progreso, the closest beach to Merida. I ran the usul gauntlet of roadside vendors selling me their wares, and sat myself down at a beachside restaurant with tables right on the sand. Progeso is known for their amazing seafood restaurants and after years of not eating fish for ecologically-sustainable reasons, I had a hankering to try some of the locally-caught fish. As I sat alone, I opened myself up to the possibilities that solo travel brings you. I allowed myself to be serenaded by a guitarist walking along the beach, and when a fellow traveller struck up conversation with me, I invited him to my table. This American traveller was in fact a businessman, originally from Guatemala, and the beers we ordered turned into pina coladas and ceviche. We puffed away on his vape pen and fell into hours of THC-induced conversation about philosophy, people and travel as a storm rolled by. In my hazy, half-high state, I smiled on the bus all the way back to Merida at the cool-ass people you can randomly meet on a beach if you open your eyes and your mind.



The following day, I headed to the archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun, my first view of Mayan ruins. The most famous structure is called the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named after the clay figurines that were found at the site in the 50s.

At the equinox in Spring and Autumn, a few minutes after sunrise, the orientation of the building means that the sun can be seen through the east and west doors, passing through and crossing the construction. The temple is connected to the rest of the site, by a long pathway. Dzibilchaltún also contains the ruins of an open, Spanish, 16th century chapel, built on the site after the conquest and a museum, which contains many Mayan artifacts found on the site and its adjacent regions of Chiapas, Yucatan and Guatemala. After a hot day exploring, cool down in the open air cenote, but be careful of the fish, they love to nibble on feet!


Chichen Itza

The following day I farewelled Merida and headed to Chichen Itza, the crown jewel of the Maya archaeological zone.

Chichen Itza city was the most important capital city of the Maya area in the Classic period and the beginning of Post Classic. When Spaniards arrived, it was the most visited center of cult and pilgrimage of Yucatan Peninsula.

Chichen Itza holds uttermost valuable information of Pre Hispanic past. Due to its beauty and singularity, it is a cultural referent for Mexicans and a symbol of national and indigenous identity.

The most prominent structure in the centre of the site, Kukulcan Pyramid, known as El Castillo (The Castle), has become an emblem of the Maya culture all over the world.

Click on each of the images below to view full size.

Tips to visit Chichen Itza:

  • Get there early, really early. It gets crowded and you never get a decent picture without hundreds of tour groups in the background.
  • Or do what I did – get there late, say 3pm, and by 4pm people start to clear out as the park closes at 5pm.
  • Allow yourself at least 2 hours. You don’t want to run around madly trying to take it all on before your bus leaves (as I did).
  • If you are staying the night in the area, take a 2 hour break when they close the gates and come back at 7pm for a spectacular light and sound show (if that is your thing I’m a bit more traditional and plus I had a bus to catch).
  • If you have the money, this is one of the places I would recommend a guided tour. THere is too much history in this magical place for you to wander around oblivious to the cultural significance of these structures (again, like I did).
  • Take plenty of water. It’s hot, humid and you’ll be doing a bit of walking.
  • Take some cash with you to buy some souvenirs. There are some amazing artesanal crafts for sale along the pathways of the site.  The vendors are lovely and not as aggressive in the towns. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit on prices – a bit of Spanish wouldn’t hurt.
  • You can pass through Chichen-Itza on your way between Merida and other towns such as Playa del Carmen, Cancun or Tulum. You can leave your bags at the front but beware, there is a 100 peso charge ($5USD).


Other sites in Yucatan worth visiting from Merida:


Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1996, it is only 78 km from Mérida. Its name comes from “Oxmal” which is Maya for “three times built” or “what is yet to come”. Uxmal was the greatest metropolitan and religious center in the Puuc hills in the late classical period. It thrived between the 7th and 10th centuries AD and its numerous architectural styles reflect a number of building phases.


The first thing that any visitor notices is that the town is painted yellow… all the colonial buildings, the market, the huge convent, everything! The next things that stand out are the cobblestone streets and the iron lamp posts that give the town a tranquil ambiance.

To visit Izamal is to visit a city/town that is alive with three cultures – the ancient Maya, the colonial, and the present day bustling Izamal. Izamal is a monument of colour, history and pride that can be felt in its streets and buildings. Art, music, and gastronomy are all around.


Located halfway (two hours from each) between Mérida and Cancún, Valladolid, newly-named “Pueblo Mágico” in 2012, is a bustling Maya city with a special colonial flavor that maintains preserves the Spanish culture. This is where you will see the majority of the townspeople still using the typical dress of the Maya, and the buildings around the Main Plaza painted pastel colors. You will surely get a sense of the laid-back pace of life.


Get up close to thousands of pink flamingos and other incredible wildlife species on a boat ride through the estuary of Celestun Wildlife Refuge


Campeche is a colonial fairyland, its walled city center a tight enclave of restored pastel buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, fortified ramparts and well-preserved mansions. Leave the inner walls and you’ll find a genuine Mexican provincial capital complete with a frenetic market, peaceful malecón (boardwalk) and old fishing docks.

Holbox Island

A paradise beach destination. The streets of Holbox Island are made of white sand, common of Caribbean islands, and there are very few cars. Holbox is considered a virgin tourist destination because very few outsiders visit the island. In spite of Holbox’ natural beauty, inaccessibility has left it unspoiled by mass tourism.


I’m glad I’m settling in Playa del Carmen for a while longer, because with so much to see and do in Yucatan, I’m not done yet!

Jalisco, Mexico: The various moods of travelling

It’s been too long since I last wrote, partly out of laziness, and partly out of not really knowing what to write. Many of the experiences I’ve had in  the state of Jalisco, Mexico have not been stupendously adventurous activities, but rather low-energy activities involving a lot of rest, meeting people and recovering from various ailments from sunburn to hangover to flu. I didn’t feel like I had the right stories to share to make an interesting blog. I was not behaving like a typical adventurous backpacker.

My last article dealt with feelings of loneliness when travelling. I had walked the streets of Guadalajara and had gotten sick of the attention I had received. It strikes me as interesting how I had looked forward to that attention before my trip, and how quickly our moods can change when we travel.

Guadalajara was a great experience – I met good people at my hostel and within my first evening, I was playing King’s Cup (a drinking card game also known as Ring of Fire) and drunkenly bonding with a group of travellers in the way I’d wanted to for months. Those of us in that group will never forget about the little man we had to remove from the top of our drink before every sip and put him back again, screaming at each other to drink more if someone forgot one of the thirteen rules represented by each card. The game ends when the last king is drawn, when the unlucky hard holder must drink everything in a common cup in the centre of the table. The final two cards were BOTH kings, the game had gone until its absolute last moment, and everyone was wasted. I took the opportunity to drink tequila from the shot glass that my best friend had bought me in Mexico. Up until that night I had lugged it around with me in my backpack across Spain and Mexico, and finally the moment had arrived when I could drink Tequila in Jalisco, the birthplace of Tequila, and remember the wonderful friendship with this girl who lit my flame of passion for the Mexican culture.


After a day of rest, I overheard two of my hostel buddies talking about escaping to the closest beach to Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, a former fishing village that has since exploded with American tourism. Considering that perhaps I needed some beach to calm me and reset my attitude, I jumped onto their trip and the next afternoon, we were all drinking coronas on the shore of West Mexico, watching the sunset. It was so nice to travel with companions after a while of being alone, but it was short-lived.

We ventured further north to a smaller, beautiful beach town called Sayulita, which upon arriving I discovered was full of American tourists and therefore more expensive. After only a few hours, it occurred to me that I preferred being alone than following others, so I broke off from my group, stayed in another room and spent the evening smoking a pipe with a Mexican from California who had come to surf. Disappointed in the lack of diving schools in the area, the reason for which I had come to Sayulita, I arose early and without a word, headed back to Puerto Vallarta, this time to a hostel in the heart of the party district. I went diving to discover the cold, coffee coloured ocean of the Western Pacific coast of Mexico and returned so sunburnt on my back that I spent the rest of my days hiding from the sun in the hammocks of the hostel or chatting on the sofa.

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The hostel boasted a beautiful rooftop terrace, where the guests all gathered to watch the sunset and the pirate ship fireworks show at 9,30 every night. I met two American friends taking a weekend mini break and after a few drinks, we were best buds for the next couple of days. We ate ceviche freshly caught by them on a fishing boat, I finished a bottle of rum with a hostel volunteer from Bulgaria and I listened to Phillip Glass with Fernando from Mexico city. Although this town was blazing hot during the day, I took to the beach esplanade (Malecon) as the sun went down and discovered another way of responding to the locals that called out to me on the street:

“Hey, you want a taxi?”
“No thanks, my place is just a block away, but how are you doing? How is you day going?”

The responses I got were always met with respect that I spoke in Spanish, surprise that I spoke to them like a human being and a complete opening of their soul. I chatted with restaurant hosts, taxi drivers and street artists.

I discovered that some days, I’m energetic and impatient to know more of the world, and others, I barely want to do more than laze in a hammock. Some days I want to party, meet people and learn about this melting pot of cultures that exists in our world, other days Netflix is my only companion. Sometimes I have days when I feel serious, contemplative and old, and then the next day I am shotting tequila with strangers I met on the street and stumbling into an Oxxo at 2am looking for more beer. Some days I want to spend extra money on a nice dinner, see the tourist sites or air-conditioned bus and others I prefer to eat tacos on the side of the road, shop at the local market and find locals to chat with. There is no one way of travel, or of being a backpacker. Realise it now, and don’t let any image you saw on Instagram or a blog of a typical backpacker stop you from achieving your dream.

Alicia in Mexican wonderland

The negative side of travelling solo

The negative side of travelling solo

There are some amazing positives about travelling on your own. You can wake up as late as you like, you can decide to have a lazy day on a beach without being pulled to an all day museum excursion. You have no one to fight with and no friendships will be in tatters by the end of the holiday. Your whole trip can be completely flexible and you only need to leave a place when you feel ready. Not to mention, you are more open to new friendships as you meet other travellers in hostels. When you’re in a group or couple, you tend to stick to your comfort zone, speaking your language and not discovering any authentic local culture.

That is why I chose to travel solo. It’s my first time travelling alone, and although I’m an independent person in life, we all need company, especially when you’re on the other side of the world out of your comfort zone.

This hit me when I left the loving embrace of my best friend’s family in Mexico and arrived in Morelia, Michoacan, which was my stopover on the way to Guadalajara. I was recovering from two terrible days of food poisoning (completely brought on by myself eating 4-day-old leftovers of my own tuna pasta bake), and I was feeling weak. Despite wanting to curl up and sleep for days, I still didn’t miss the comforts of home. After all, what was home for me? My temporary share house with the bitchy housemate who never spoke to me?  My grandmother or mother’s house, where I had never lived? No, home was where I could sleep and watch Netflix. Unfortunately, my hostel in Morelia was a place where I could do neither of those, thanks to the bed whose springs I could feel in my back so severely that I laid my clothes out underneath me to soften the pressure, and the wifi that didn’t reach my room, rendering me netflix-less with food poisoning for two days, unable to trust myself to eat anything, perpetuating the feeling of weakness for another day.

Morelia, as I had been told, was quaint, pretty, and safe, but without a local to show me around, I didn’t know the best places to visit. I was sick of museums ad cathedrals, and I just wanted to sit in a bar and talk with someone. Unfortunately, when I headed to a suggested restaurant, a drunk local leered at me and asked if I was there alone. After telling the guy I understood everything he said to his friend in Spanish and he would be wise to stop looking at me in that manner, I had no choice but to head to the main plaza to eat in a restaurant, therefore paying more than I really wanted to.

After a couple of days resting, I headed to Guadalajara, a place where I had heard was full of culture, nightlife and mariachis. I was very excited to meet a local of the town, who knew a lot of great places to show me. Unfortunately he had to cancel only a few minutes after I booked the trip, and I found myself heading to a hostel again with no idea where to go or what to do.

The following day, I headed into town, walking through the leafy neighbourhood of Chapultepec on the hour-long walk through the city centre to the Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest rooftop market in Latin America. On the way, I was approached by the usual street vendors and beggars, which U had become used to in Mexico City. However when I arrived at the market, I discovered a whole new level. I was accosted by every market seller on the second floor, basically beaten down into a chair at a restaurant where I ate the most unfulfilling tasteless birria and charged 40 pesos for a coke (the same price as in Australia, and should be around 15 pesos), .

I left the market without even looking at the rest of the wares, too annoyed that because I was white, they assumed I would accept that price for a coke, and more annoyed that I hadn’t had the gumption to argue, but just accepted it like the weak tourist that I was.

I decided to walk to the famous Plaza del Mariachi, where I heard mariachis lined the streets to plays for passersby. In the few hundred metres, I noticed all the stares pointed towards me as I walked. Men leered, vendors followed me, beggars held out their hands, taxis shouted at me and women looked at me as though I was an intruder. In Plaza del Mariachi, I saw a lot of people standing around dressed as mariachi, but only one band playing at a restaurant in a corner. I sat on the only bench in the plaza to watch, but couldn’t listen to a thing because a woman was intent on selling me something and wouldn’t leave.

I waited angrily for an uber, having been quoted 3x the price for a taxi, meanwhile being again leered at, this time by the mariachi dressed men. I could feel my angry frown covering my face, which made me incredibly sad. It reminded me of a local in Morelia who chatted to me on my second day and after a while talking, he told me that when he first saw me, he thought I had an angry face. I used to walk down the street with a smile, hoping that it would be contagious to others on the streets of Melbourne – after all, life was good. But walking these streets, I felt that I needed to have some wall up to defend myself, some unapproachable look that says “I’m not someone you want to come close to, I don’t want your jewellery, your taxi or other useless crap you have to sell, leave me in peace for one minute PLEASE!” It was the first moment since I began this journey in March that I missed something from home. The freedom to walk alone.

I returned to the hostel tired, angry, and alone. I tried to explain my thoughts to my hostel companions, but as men, they could only understand the part about being sold to by street vendors. They kept telling me I should take the stares and advances of men as a compliment.

Is it too much to ask to walk the streets without being looked at like somebody’s lunch? That within 30 seconds of men leaving my presence every man who passes me whispers something lewd under their breath? Why should I take this as a compliment? This is how women accept approaches by men?

So, now I’m in Latin America, a realisation that I’ve been warned by friends would happen eventually. I’m white, I’m blonde, I have blue eyes, I’m female and most of all, I’m alone. There may as well be a neon sign on my head flashing the words “HERE I AM!! TARGET ME!!!”

So, I head to Puerto Vallarta with two other backpackers from my hostel in Guadalajara in the hopes that some time with others and the cool feeling of the pacific ocean on my skin will wipe this angry look off my face and restore my joy to keep going.


Busting myths about Mexico City

Busting myths about Mexico City

Back when I was in Australia preparing for my trip to Latin America, when I told people I was going to Mexico City, their first reaction was usually, “Oh, be careful! Are you going alone? It’s dangerous!” Whilst I appreciate all the care that my friends and colleagues have for me, I think that you really have to spend time in a city before judging it based on what you’ve watched on Netflix. One of my closest friends in Australia is from Mexico, and she inspired me to visit the country’s capital and North America’s most populated city. For latino families, a lot of my observations won’t surprise you, but for those with doubts about CDM, read on!

But first, some advice: ALWAYS keep checking the board of boarding times and locations of your flight at an airport – it updates at the last minute!!

Waiting for my connecting flight in Florida, I was too engrossed in La Casa de Papel to notice until five minutes after boarding had begun that they had changed the gate – to ANOTHER TERMINAL. I was running through the airport like a madwoman in a movie -and those who know me know that I HATE running for transport – I prefer to miss a bus than be the humiliated girl on the side of the road as the rest of the people smirk with derision as they pull away.

As I ran through the terminal, counting the gates that never seemed to end (and of course, mine is ALWAYS the last in the terminal), I had all the airport cheering for me as I ran and ran, hearing my name being repeated over the PA system. When I finally arrived, waving my hands madly at the crew and doubling over in coughs and pain, they told me I had another 10 minutes before the flight closed. I spent the rest of the flight coughing and feeling like the whole plane was listening to me dying).

Observation: Mexican people and families are the warmest you’ll ever find

Within ten minutes of arriving in the airport at CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City), I noticed a difference in the people from Spain. People chatted happily to me on the plane, in the line for luggage pickup and even in the bathroom. People are far more open to speak, curious about where you are from and where you will be going in their country. I was met at the airport gates for the first time in years – by the family of my friend, who still lives in Melbourne. They took amazing care of me all week, taking me to a doctor to get rid of the cold that had stuck around in Spain and had morphed to a serious throat infection, helped along by my airport adventure above. The housekeeper cooked for me every day, washed my clothes and I was constantly asked if I was ok, if I needed anything, and offered all sorts of things. I was taken to restaurants, directed to clean places to eat on the side of the road, and was accompanied by my friend’s Mum who helped me pick out some new tops for the warmer weather in Mexico. I felt that I really had a family here, and it was amazing to wake up in the bedroom that my bestie had grown up in, surrounded by photos, clothes and sooooo many shoes….all things that reminded me of her. The open and affectionate nature of these people astounded me, a very big difference to the families in western culture, who barely speak once a week. It’s a big adjustment for the more independent folk like myself who are not used to being in contact each day with my family, but it’s lovely to know that I have a family here thinking of me on my travels.

Myth: Mexico City is dangerous

Every city has dodgy areas, but you wouldn’t categorise the entire city as a ghetto. Mexico City is no different, however although you may want to skew away from the usual throng of tourists on buses and expensive restaurants catering for rich travellers, these are the areas you need to stick to in CDMX to stay safe, especially if you travel alone. There is a a ton of security and police in the streets ensuring the safety of the masses. The turibus is a hop on hop off service that take you on multiple routes throughout the city, explaining each stop in your language. For only $8.50USD you have an all-day ticket to all routes. Check out the historical Zocalo square, featuring the famous enormous Mexican flag towering over the great Cathedral. However do NOT be sucked in by the terrace restaurants to eat there in the square – you’ll spend more than a good lunch in Australia.

The bohemian, leafy and tranquil neighbourhood of Condesa is a great place for lunch or dinner, with a wide variety of cool bars and restaurants. If you’re like me and you need a taste of nature, you can’t go past the Central Park of Mexico – la Bosque de Chapultepec. This enormous forest is divided by roads into three parts and in addition to being an incredible place to relax by the lake or go for a run, iot features a museum of Anthropology, Butterfly Sanctuary, Zoo, Kids Museum and hundreds of market stalls selling food and souvenirs. I spent an entire day here, making my way up the hill in the centre of the park to the Castillo de Chapultepec, once a castle and now a museum that features loads of emotive art and artefacts about Spanish colonisation of Mexico.

El Castillo de Chapultepec, high above the trees of the Bosque, in the heart of Mexico City.


For a taste of mariachi culture, head to Garibaldi Square, not far from Zocalo, which is particularly alive on Friday nights with traditional Mexican musicians serenading the passersby. However go with a few people as the surrounding neighbourhoods are a little ‘ugly’ (unsafe in local speak).

CDMX is a humongous city, so you have plenty of freedom to explore the best parts of the city in complete safety.

Myth: You’ll get robbed in public transport

I have heard a mountain of bad stories about public transport in CDMX. The metro is slow and constantly crushed full of people, making it very easy for pickpockets, and those more bold to cut open your bag. Hold your bag in front of you, lock it up if possible, stow away your phone, and you’ll be fine. One thing is for sure: the metro so busy you’ll never be alone, so your only real worry is pickpockets but if you’re alert, it’s not a worry at all.

Other ways to get around the city are kombis (vans) that have set routes around towns and are only a few pesos, very economical. THere are also the larger camiones (trucks), which due to the larger amount of people and greater probably that one is a thief, are not recommended for blonde female solo travellers like myself. Advice from locals is not to take a taxi. They are always priced based on your nationality and you never know how much they will really charge until the end of the trip. The tracking and rating tools of Uber make it the safest option, and they are still very well priced. Going 20km to the city each day was never more that $10USD.

Advice: You CANNOT miss Xochimilco

My favourite day in CDMX was when I met up with one of my language partners from the city, Antonio, and he took me to one of the towns that was developed outside the centre of CDMX, Xochimilco. The town is flanked by a river full of party boats. For 500 pesos ($25USD) you can hire the boat for a 2 hour boat ride up and down the river. Don’t hire one of these for a romantic boat ride for two – join up with another group at the docks and make it a party! Buy alcohol from the bottle shop close by and you can even hire a speaker (highly recommended, in fact I wouldn’t go without one). The river is full of boats partying, rinking, dancing and singing. Boats selling food, drink and souvenirs flot past to sell their wears and you can even hire a mariachi boat to serenade you along your journey. This is the activity the many young people do on a weekend and it’s a great way to meet new friends in CDMX.

Of course, CDMX isn’t as safe as Melbourne, Sydney or any city in Australia (except maybe Dubbo ;-)). Over the recent decade, unemployment, corruption and young armed gangs have made some neighbourhoods less than favourable. But if you use your logic, stay alert and listen to the advice of locals and other travellers, you will have an amazing time in Mexico City. The people are open and welcoming to tourists and you will find those myths are only that – myths, and the only reason you will want to leave is to move to the the next intoxicating town in Mexico.

Until next time,


Read my previous post on my travel tips for Spain.

Spain: Travel Tips from a Solo Backpacker

Spain: Travel Tips from a Solo Backpacker

I have just completed four weeks of travel in Spain. I began my journey in Madrid and Toledo, visited Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Malaga, Girona and finished in Barcelona. Despite my original impressions that I could easily travel around the country within a month, I was very very wrong. Spain is in fact enormous. I had no time to visit the beautiful north in Galicia, walk the Camino to Santiago, taste the wine and visit friends in Basque country or dive in the southern Canary Islands. I would need another 2 months at least!

Each town has its own unique identify that is completely different from the rest as it has developed over hundreds of years with different people, food, accents and traditions. However what I am writing in this article is a general summary of Spain to help those who are interested in travelling to Spain.

Disclaimer: these are my personal experiences only. Taking into account my personality, my cultural background, timing, and all those other individual factors, my opinions may and probably will vary greatly from yours. There’s no right or wrong opinion here.

Tip #1: Be prepared for a history lesson

The thing that really hit me within only days of arriving in Spain was how little history my country has in comparison to Europe. With only 230 years of written history since the British arrived in Australia, I had no concept of how deeply history can be entrenched in a society. Spain has experienced invasions, gone through an inquisition, fought countless wars, destroyed and rebuilt entire towns. Towns exist where multiple religions from Catholic to Muslim to Judaism coexisted, explaining why churches, cathedrals, mosques, monasteries, basilicas and synagogues now dominate the landscape. With so many hundreds of years of traditions, it started to become more clear to me why removing such longstanding traditions such as bullfighting is not as black and white as it seems. Whilst I am 100% against animal cruelty such as this, as is the state of Catalonia who has outlawed it, I have come to understand that asking the locals of these towns to cut a 1300 year old tradition is essentially the equivalent of saying that we should stop celebrating Christmas. I have emerged from this month a little bit more knowledgeable of events outside of my own isolated island and generation.

Tip #2: You have to work to make Spanish friends

As a solo traveller, one thing that is high on my priority list when I travel is to meet people, learn about their culture and understand the city from a local’s eyes, not a tourist. I have realised on this trip that as much as I enjoy my privacy at home, when I go out I like to socialise and share my experiences with others. I was expecting to arrive in Spain and strike up a conversation with everyone I met on the street, simply because I could survive with conversational Spanish. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be true. In Madrid, the bustling city flew past before my eyes, with locals not having time to make eye contact and hospitality workers take your order in rapid fire Spanish before fleeing to their next customer. In Sevilla, locals seemed to ignore the throng of tourists and in Barcelona, the locals spoke Catalan, making conversations even more difficult, even if you can speak Spanish, it’s not preferred and you’re still an outsider. Friends I met in hostels told me that despite even living in Barcelona, the friends they made were from outside of Catalonia, and most outside of Spain.

Many have told me that people from the south are warmer, having a lot to do with the weather (this also is the theory in France and Italy, so I’m told). However if you are a social person like me who likes company on your travels, I recommend you bring a friend with you to Spain, know people there already, or stay in hostels as I did.

I realised that I had become accustomed to the warmth and openness of Latin Americans in my Spanish learning journey, and I had forgotten that Spain is still in Europe, where people are a little more reserved. They take a little longer to get to know but once you’re there, you have some incredibly kind, funny, intelligent and long term friends.

Tip #3: Public transport in Spain is amazing

Welcome to Europe, where they really know how to transport their population and tourists. There were always multiple options to get to places, easy airport connections and clear instructions to just about anywhere, even in the narrow cobblestone roads of smaller villages in Granada. Tickets were easy to buy and understand, and cost only a dollar or so. The metro arrived every 3 to 6 minutes so you never had to run. Buses arrived on time, displaying screens of each stop inside the vehicle, and timings of arrival at bus stops. Disabled access is clearly important, with ramps extending from buses and most importantly, people MOVE for those less mobile. I wish we saw more of that in Australia. If you’re not limited by time, try to avoid the high speed train, as it’s often double the price of a bus or medium distance train. Book your tickets the night before if possible to avoid arriving at the dtsation to find out the train or bus as been booked out and you have a two hour wait until the following departure. Malaga in the south has an airport from where you can get extremely cheap flights to the north, from around 30EUR. I never once needed a taxi or uber.

Tip #4: The provinces seem to be in competition with each other

Due to their long history, their great world discoveries, the conquests to the Americas and their wide variety of traditions all around the country, the Spanish are a very proud people. Each province holds its own unique personality; climate, speciality dishes, accents, legends and immigrant history, therefore physical characteristics of the people too. Each civilian of these towns therefore boast about their town proudly; that they have the best tapas, the best beaches, the best wine, the best nightlife or the best people. Unfortunately this also leads to competition between each part, which I encountered on a daily basis when speaking with locals. I was constantly directed to various places, being told it’s unmissable, only to be told by someone from another region that that place was a waste of time, and I should go somewhere else in their region instead. Madrid and Barcelona fight for the best parties, Seville and Cordoba compete on the history front for who has the most authentic alcazar and the best cathedral. the Southerners say those in the North are cold and serious, whilst in their defence the Northerners say the Southerners are fake and lazy. It’s a tough country at times. Don’t even get me started on the political issues amongst Catalonia, Basque Country and the rest of Spain. That is a subject not to be touched by foreigners without upsetting someone.

Tip #5: Eat, drink and be merry (but get ready to do it later in the day)

My favourite part of Spain, apart from the friends I made in hostels and those I had come to visit from HelloTalk, was the food. We have all heard of the paella, the sangria and the tapas, however what really impressed me where the things I hadn’t heard of. Wonderfully flavoured slow-cooked rabo de toro (Oxtail) accompanied by a beautiful white wine from the warmer region of Cordoba in Andalusia. Patatas bravas (cubed fried potatoes with a delicious spicy sauce) Solomillo de cerdo (pork sirloin) with a lovely full red wine from Basque Country and the scrumptious creamy croquettes.

Breakfast is a simple tostada and cafe con leche (coffee with milk) for as low as 2.50EUR. The daily menus are excellent, offering an entree, main, drink, bread and dessert for about 13EUR. This is a heavy dish and usually eaten at lunch over the siesta break between 2-4pm, so you’ll have to wait longer than usual. If you;re anything like me, you’ll be starving by lunchtime! Dinner is then therefore also pushed back late due to later business closing hours, with people heading out for dinner at 10pm. This lighter meal is usually the perfect time for tapas and smaller dishes. Usually the menus will give you a choice between small (tapa) medium/entree (media) or large/main (racion). In tapas bars you will also see the smaller ‘pincho’ (appetiser).

I could go on forever about Spain – it’s beautiful landscape, profound and vibrant history, astounding architecture, fashionable women and so much more, but I will leave you with this summary of my main thoughts to sum up as best I can a country with such varied areas. If you want to know more, feel free to ask in the comments below and I will answer with as much knowledge as I can.

As I said before, these were mine and depended very heavily on my moods, the season and much more, however I’d like to know what you think about my observations above. Have you visited Spain or are you from Spain? Have you had similar or different experiences?  Comment below!

Up next – I’m off to Latin America, first stop – Mexico city!


To read my other articles about Spain click on the titles below:

Madrid, Toledo and 3 things you might not know about Spain

The Caliphate of Cordoba

Making friends in Sevilla

Being sick whilst travelling: Granada and Malaga

The beauty of Catalonia in Girona

Artistic Wonder in Barcelona.

Discovering Artistic Wonders in Barcelona

Discovering Artistic Wonders in Barcelona

Barcelona is vastly different to any other city I visited in Spain. It’s full of international visitors from all walks of life. It’s busy, vibrant, artistic, cultural and full of tourists. Perhaps that’s why it reminded me more of my city, Melbourne, than any other city I’d visited so far.

My hostel was located in the Poblenou district, which is an upmarket neighbourhood close to the beach. For those who love to exercise, play beach volleyball and laze in the sun, dipping their toes into the cool Mediterranean, this is the place for you. Each day I woke up and walked along to beach AT night the calmness reminded me of the beach walk I did each morning or evening at home. For this first time in a month, I felt a tinge of nostalgia for my home.

If you want to be closer to the centre of town near the tourist spots, I’d recommend the historic Gothic Quarter (Barrio Gothico), home to the great Cathedral and lots of great restaurants, or the beautiful Gracia, a hit with lots of tourists for its charm and local vibe.

La Sagrada Familia and Antoni Gaudi

You cannot, however, come to Barcelona without seeing its main attraction, La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family). This basicila began as a project of the architect Antoni Gaudi, a project which the visionary artist began at 30 years old and he worked on until his death in 1926. It is the most visited attraction in Spain, and although I’d seen quite enough cathedrals and basilicas to last a lifetime, especially for an atheist, I’d been advised that it was a work of art not to be missed.

And man, they were not wrong. Gaudi’s vision for this building was to tell the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Rather than leave the detail for the internals of the building as is often the case in cathedrals, with small chapels lining the sides  dedicated to various saints and stories, the story of Christ is told on each side, or facade, of the basilica. The entrance tells the story of his birth, and the exit, of his death. A golden figure atop the exit reminds us of his later resurrection.

Upon entering the inside of the building, the light shining through the stained glass windows illuminate the space, blue and green shades on the eastern side for the early morning sun, and warm orange and red tones for the afternoon sunset. Gaudi had a purpose for every detail. The hude columns inside the space supported what is going to be an enormous tower, dedicated to Jesus Christ. The architect died with only two parts of the project completed, and others have continued on with his vision. Gaudi spent his life on this project and was asked to be buried in its crypt when he died. He had such respect from the people that the town converged to carry him to the site upon his death for his burial. It was upon hearing this that I felt the sting of tears behind my eyes. To imagine being so dedicated to a project that you wish to spend your eternity there, and to leave a legacy so great that people from all over the world will come to see it for decades, perhaps centuries to come, is something so great I could not put into words, I could only weep.

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Gaudi’s influence is seen all around Barcelona city, including in the Casa Batllo, which was beautiful decorated in roses for Dia de San Jordi, who is the patron saint of Catalonia. On this day, women receive a rose and men receive a book, stores and corners around the province are alive and bursting with both.

Gaudi’s former house is located in Park Guell, located north of the neighbourhood of Gracia. The park is beautiful and is free to enter, however for the famous photo often seen from the park, you must pay an 8EUR entry to an extra section, and as a tourist sick of paying for entry to take photos of things just to say I’d been there, I decided it wasn’t worth it.


Friends in Barcelona

As always, my favourite part of a trip is always when I meet new people and visit those I’ve been chatting with for months.

First, I met up with Vittoria, a girl from Italy who now lives in Barcelona and whom I met in my hostel in Cordoba. She introduced me to another friend from Argentina whom she had met in her travels to Sevilla and with a glint in her eye, Vittoria told us she had a special place in mind to show us. She led us up a hill to the Bunker de Carmel, where we could see the entire panorama of Barcelona city, away from the throng of tourists. She then produced beers and snacks! What a great new friend I had made. There we sat, three girls, talking about life, Barcelona, our countries, Spanish and more as we sipped our cool beers, watching the afternoon sun hit the city, with La Sagrada Familia dominating the skyline.

Secondly, I met with Ramon, who lives just outside of Barcelona and with whom I’ve been chatting for over a year on HelloTalk. It was great to wander around with a local. I’d been commented to by many visitors and outsiders to Barcelona that Catalan people are a little hard to get to know, simply because their friendship groups are already formulated, and also because visitors who do come to BCN may speak Spanish, but not Catalan, their preferred language.

Barcelona has a lot to offer to people from all walks of life, from beach to sports to shopping, history, art, architecture to hiking in the mountains to the north. It’s a wonderful melting pot of cultures, languages, music and parties (unfortunately of which I couldn’t attend as I was still unbelievably unwell). With the right company, you’ll have a blast in BCN!

Barcelona was my final city in Spain. It is with huge regret that I couldn’t get to Zaragoza, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Bilbao in Basque Country, but alas this will have to ve another journey in another time. It’s time to move on!

Stay tuned for my summary of Spain, and my next adventures in Mexico!

Girona: Travelling To Catalonia

Girona in the northern province of Catalonia is often overlooked by tourists, but its beauty is undeniable. After two weeks in Andalusia in the south, I was excited to arrive in a new area of Spain and discover the differences between architecture, food and people.

I was met at the train station by Sarah, a young woman who I have been chatting with for close to two years on my language exchange app HelloTalk. Sarah is among a group of people who have collectively convinced me to add Spain to my itinerary, which originally only consisted of Latin America. Therefore after months of planning and preparation, the meeting with her at the station was surreal, exciting and full of hugs and laughter.

Sarah is a born and bred Gironian and is extremely proud of her region of Catalonia, so she was armed with a fully planned itinerary and boundless enthusiasm to show me her hometown.



Game of Thrones scenes filmed in Girona

Who needs a paid walking tour when you have a local friend who knows all the stories of the region? Sarah and her friend Paula took me around the old historic sector of Girona, where in fact many scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed, including a chase scene with Arya, the theatre play she attends and, most notably, the cathedral steps where Queen Cersei is humiliated and forced to complete a naked walk of shame through the town. There are lines of people to pay for entry into Sevilla’s Real Alcazar to see the fictional land of Dorne from the series, however on this dreary rainy day, it was wonderful to be in a less-known and touristy place. There were still tourist trains driving around and tourists doing their snaps on the cathedral steps – these days tourists have infiltrated everywhere, myself included! I must admit, I was tempted to stand on the top of those steps and yell “SHAME, SHAME!”

Legends of Girona

More than revelling in the beauty of the architecture, if you really want to get to know a city, learn its legends and stories. Sarah was full of them. The first legend was about the Witch of the Cathedral, who they say used to trouble parishioners with her insults about religion and threw stones at the cathedral until she was turned to a stone gargoyle attached to the church facing the ground, damned to hell for eternity. She is the only human gargoyle on the cathedral and looks very sad as water pours from her face in the rain.

Characters of a better standing are immortalised by facing the heavens, for example the butler, who, to play a trick on her guests, mixed sugar into her sausage mix. However the guests unexpectedly loved the dish, and sweet sausages are now a famous dish in the region.

Close to Sarah’s apartment is another unmissable icon with a legend – the Lioness’s bottom. It is said that soldiers leaving Girona who wanted to return alive would kiss the bottom of the statue before leaving. So the saying goes that any visitor to Girona who likes the city enough to return, can’t leave without partaking in the tradition. Needless to say, my lips got busy that day!

Finally was the legend of the crocodile woman, who was a nun who was locked in a dundgeon on the river. She was a beautiful woman but very holy and the other nuns in the convent locked her up due to jealousy. She remained in the dungeon for weeks as it began to fill with water after heavy rain. Eventually her body morphed into that of a crocodile, but since she was a saint, she also grew butterfly wings. It is said that those with a good heart see her swimming in the river on a full moon night.

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The following day, I was taken to the charming surrounding small towns around Girona, including Peratallada and Pals. We finished the day overlooking the Mediterranean’s Costa Brava, where the rich of Catalonia spend their summer vacations.


If you come to Spain and decide to drop into Barcelona and the province of Catalonia, don’t miss out on visiting Girona. There are three speed options of trains ranging from 36 minutes to 2 hours depending on your budget and timetable. Girona has all the beauty, food, history and nature of anything in the south. You won’t regret coming here.

Special HelloTalk offer

Thanks to my language exchange application HelloTalk, I have made wonderful friendships online, like this with my friend Sarah.



If you are interested in learning a language and want to meet people online to practise with, HelloTalk premium is a great way to do it. You can make video calls, have unlimited translations per day and you can access your entire chat history, which is priceless for language learning to see how far you’ve come!

HelloTalk are offering free VIP membership for a year to the first 5 people who respond in the comments below. If you don’t have HelloTalk yet, simply register for free then comment below with your username for the chance to win!

Granada, Malaga and travelling when sick

Granada, Malaga and travelling when sick

Three weeks into my trip, I got sick. It started off with a husky voice on my last morning in Sevilla, which I tackled with a lemon tea and carried on ignoring until I arrived in Granada at my hostel. I had booked the hostel because it was a partner of the awesome hostel I’d stayed in Sevilla, and also for the hammocks I saw in a photo. I’m a sucker for hammocks.

I arrived after a lovely scenic drive through the andalusian valleys (coughing all the way and probably scaring all the passengers around me that I had smallpox). It was a cool 12 degrees and grey. After a confusing walk through the labyrinth of cobbled laneways uneven enough to make any weighed-down backpacker with fragile bones nervous, I arrived at my hostel. Reggae music was playing, the staff had dreadlocks and piercings, people were rolling who-knows-what in papers, a man was passed out in the ‘chill-out’ room and the hammocks were damp. I was shown to my room and, to my delight, I had received the first lower bunk of my trip so far. I was excited to chill out in bed chatting to friends and watching netflix to regenerate.


The wi-fi worked only outside. I headed outside to be sociable and enjoy the vibe of this alternative hostel. After 10 minutes of shivering, I wrapped myself in a blanket I found on the back of the chair, not wanting to know the last time it had been washed. One of the staff was making a menu for the hostel family dinner. I had heard that the best tapas were in Granada, but considering the weather I was more than happy to stay in.

“Hope you are ok with vegan food!” announced the guy proudly. In that moment I had my first temptation to book a flight immediately to Mexico where I know the tacos had plenty of cheese ad wouldn’t disappoint.

But I’d come all this way for the beautiful Alhambra, which some people wait weeks to get tickets for, so I was going to push through.


La Alhambra

The Alhambra is an Andalusian palatine city that consists of a set of palaces, gardens and a fortress that housed a real citadel within the city of Granada, which served as accommodation to the monarch and the court of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. It is the second most visited attraction in Spain after the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and you normally books weeks in advance for entry, unless you can squeeze in a group tour ticket a week beforehand, as I did.

At approximately 10 degrees and rain, the tour was not enjoyable at all. At started tensely when the tour group leader arrived just on time for the commencement of the tour and without apology, pissing off the very punctual Australian and Italian people in the group. We then dawdled as we waited for another two families who arrived late, one with five young children and other family without any English and needed to wait in line for an audio guide in their language.

Throughout the rest of the tour, I shivered in the rain as we waited at every stop for the family with the children to catch up to us, dragging their stroller with them. I felt so bad for not enjoying this place, but I was honestly so cold and miserable all I could think about was bed and the warm beaches of Mexico. Hopefully the pictures do it better justice. 

People tell me that Granada is beautiful, but by the time the tour was done and I made my way back to the hostel, I was so unwell I did nothing but stay in my room coughing and watching Friends on my laptop, with the odd emergence from my room to hang my phone out the door in the cold to get the slightest wifi connection.

I was pleasantly awoken at 4am the next morning by someone vomiting in the trash bin next to my bed.

Ah, hostel life.

People tell me that Granada is beautiful, and that it rains only a couple of days a year. People tell me I was very unlucky.

People say a lot of things, but all I learnt on this trip was how sickness affects your positivity about everything, no matter how unique the experience is that you’re having and no matter how many years of history you’re standing in.



I was happy to move on to Malaga, and immediately felt the air warmer as I stepped off the bus and headed towards the beach.

Walking through Malaga’s commercial streets and past its port with tall skyscrapers by the beach, I felt immediately comfortable and safe. It felt just like my home on the Gold Coast. Tall buildings, beach, and loads of rich white tourists.

But being at home wasn’t what I was here for, and I was still quite unwell. I went to the pharmacy to ask where the nearest doctor was, only to be told that doctors won’t see me under the Spanish free healthcare system as I’m not a part of the European Union or Spanish-colonised Latin America. If I wanted medical treatment, I would need to go to emergency at the hospital under my insurance cover. I was absolutely NOT going to use my health insurance for a cold so early into my trip, so I spent a day almost entirely in my room, plowing myself full of lemon lozenges, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and cough medicine. One guy checked into our hostel room, took one look at me and an hour later returned to move to another room, telling me rudely “I’m travelling by bike, I can’t be sick right now.”

Having other roommates going out partying whilst I was sputtering and dying in bed was torture, knowing I could have been out enjoying Spain with them and meeting new people, dancing all night like in Sevilla, however a long term trip needs a healthy body, and the last thing I wanted was to be sick that weekend in Girona for a weekend with my friend Sarah.

The next day I had the strength to rise up and explore the port and beach of Malaga, working my way up a hill to the Castillo de Gibralforo, once a castle and fortress with an incredible view of the Mediterranean sea. I would have forgotten I was in Spain were it not for the stark reminder in the form of a massive bullfighting arena that dominates the view.

I booked another night to completely recover and spent the next day chatting with various people in the hostel, losing my voice yet again from how much I laughed at the dark jokes of an English guy I met. I had forgotten how much I missed that humour, which has a lot of similarity with the offensive sarcasm of Australians. We both got talking to a young English traveller leaving near Ronda in Andalusia, an aspiring DJ intent to introduce funk and soul to Andalusia and get her own show in Malaga. Talking in English, telling jokes and discussing music with these people re-energised me, and by the next day I was ready to move on to Catalonia.

Sevilla: how to make friends whilst travelling

Sevilla: how to make friends whilst travelling


One day I promise I will arrive at a hostel without getting lost! I made the mistake of not downloading the local map before arriving into Sevilla, so I relied 100% on the directions from strangers.

I have at least learnt how to scan a place for someone who looks relatively friendly that I can ask for directions – and they always tend to be women – I can understand them more when they speak. I asked a friend if my language comprehension was sexist, and she told me there is a scientific reason why women understand other women more easily – something to do with the decibels and vocal chords. I am more in tune with the way a woman’s voice sounds.

Lesson: don’t waste time choosing who to ask for directions. Just ask someone and don’t be afraid to ask them to tell you slowly or to repeat as necessary. No one gets offended if you tell them you didn’t understand. Avoid asking people with backpacks or maps. A dog is generally a good sign of a local walking around their neighbourhood.

My hostel, La Banda, gets its social reputation from their rooftop patio, 7-8pm happy hour with €3 cocktails and 9pm ‘family dinners’. Almost everyone involved then hits the town at midnight and is out until at least 4am, in my case that night, 6am!

View of the great Cathedral of Sevilla from our hostel rooftop terrace bar.

Another lesson: unpack your clothes and toiletries soon after checking in. You won’t want to do it late at night and it will be impossible to get ready in the morning in the dark trying not to rustle through your bags and wake up the hungover bunkmates.

There are lots of touristic reasons why people visit Sevilla – The Real Alcazar was featured as the city of Dorne in Game of Thrones, the Plaza de Espana was featured int he filming of Star Wars and the Cathedral is the biggest is Spain, the third biggest church in Europe and the largest gothic building in the world. The architecture is stupendous and the gardens of Plaza de Espana, which also include a beautiful moat where you can hire and row a little boat, are beautiful.

However, I discovered on this trip that already only a week into my trip, I didn’t want to spend all day in lines to the attractions. It did mean that I missed out on the Alcazar, which as a GoT fan I was annoyed at missing as the guided tour I’d booked made an error. As an atheist, visiting the cathedral didn’t thrill me. What I wanted to do was discover the local food, walk to the non-touristy neighbourhoods and hang out with people I’d met from my hostel.

On my third day at La Banda, I came downstairs to see Anthelme, a friendly French guy, planning a walk through the city, he asked if I would join him ad before I knew it, we found ourselves getting lost in the winding streets of Sevilla. We found a local restaurant and sat lazily in the sun for two hours speaking in waves of English and Spanish about life, jobs, and sustainable development. You know, light-hearted stuff. Anthelme has an Argentinian flair when he speaks thanks to the friends he has spent time with, which was confirmed by the waiter at the restaurant when he asked if he was Argentinian. What a compliment! All I received was “You’re obviously Australian”. Well, just stab a dagger through my heart!

However the highlight of that day was when a bird in the tree above decided to let go of his load, all over Anthelme’s head and t-shirt. The restaurant owner told us it was good luck, and she was right – I found a euro in the street, which I can promise you was put towards a good cause – a beer at the rooftop bar later that night.

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One thing I want to take away from Anthelme is his ability to initiate a conversation with anyone. He randomly asked me if I wanted to explore the city with him, he chatted calmly with the waiter at the restaurant, discovering he was a lawyer from Venezuela who had moved to Spain and needed to re-learn the laws of Spain. Then later he struck up a conversation about Spanish history with an attendant at a rather empty tourist attraction. On the way back to the hostel in the afternoon, I mentioned that he should ask a local Sevillano about Sevilla’s ‘feria’, their Spring fair and party time, and Anthelme wasted no time. He stopped the first person who walked past us, asked him if he were a local of Sevilla and proceeded to question him about the feria. It always takes me a few minutes of psychological warm up and practise sentences before I can stop a stranger and ask them something, and even then I’ll think of a thousand other things I wanted to ask after walking away, but didn’t have the self confidence to do so. However this is the way to improve my Spanish! So the next evening on a hostel night out, I got bored of speaking English with the other travellers so I channelled what I’d learnt from Anthelme in just a day and noticed a bearded man (obviously Spanish, they all have beards here!) on his phone alone at a table. I walked right up to him, fuelled by the courage brought to me by the wine I’d already consumed, and just started talking. Soon, his friend who had been at the bar ordering drinks, returned and before I knew it, I was having a slightly drunken, and rather intellectual conversation in Spanish about immigration and refugees in Australia.

Now, THIS is travel. I won’t forget the girl talk with Melissa from Costa Rica, talking about Aboriginal history with Alberto from Mexico, or complaining about having to get used to the Spanish restaurant times with Ali, my compatriot from Australia.

One thing I would love to forget is waking up at 4am one morning to my bunk bed shaking and the Brazilian girl underneath my bed getting royally screwed by someone I can only assume was a guy at the hostel (which I later confirmed by surveying the arms of all guys the next day, identifying the match with the hairy arm I saw hanging out of the bunk through the curtain the next morning).

I remembered a friend asking me if I could ever do it, and I thought maybe I could, but after that experience, definitely NOT. I’m too old for that. I popped in my ear plus and after five minutes it was over anyway. The worst part was that I could smell the alcohol. Gross. But that’s hostel life!


My experience in Sevilla has been wonderful – it is lively but beautiful. The people are relaxed, and there is always someone ready to go out for a bite to eat or crack open a beer. I only wish I had time to be there during Feria, when the city awakens for a two week party. But, on we go to discover the next place in my journey – Granada!

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