Portugal: reunited over liqueur, cameras, and sight-seeing

After two months of not having seen each other, my boyfriend and I were reunited once again, this time in Lisbon, Portugal, after flight delays which were even more frustrating due to the nature of our holiday being a reunion. (Okay, maybe two months isn’t that long, but long distance relationships, let alone relationships, are tricky enough for me as it is.)

Our first two nights were spent up on the hillier side of Lisbon in a lovely little AirBnB just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of the winding streets, the wide plazas and atmospheric bars tucked away on cobbled paths.

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Food and drink are always a great way into the soul of a new destination, and with my extremely limited knowledge of the Portuguese world (apart from the fact that pastéis de nata are fucking delicious), having local input was greatly appreciated. Due to Fran’s career he knows a few guys in Portugal which led to our second night – my favourite – full of Portuguese liqueur and traditional music.

One of Fran’s workmates introduced us to a tiny bar which sold ginjinha only. It’s made of ginja berries (sour cherries) and is usually drunk as a shot. We opted for the chocolate shot glasses which made for a nice pre-dinner dessert. From there we walked to the starting place for nights out. On one of the main roads lies a fairly large plaza with a kiosk to one side of it. This place, with just one guy in it, strictly serves no beer but instead offers a number of Portuguese liqueurs including amarguinha made from almonds.

Take one of the little roads going up from the kiosk and you’ll find yourself amongst a number of little restaurants and bars. The great thing about this place is that when you’re too hammered to figure out where you are, just keep walking downhill and you’ll get to the main road, from there it should be a piece of cake. In theory.

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From Portugal’s capital we took a three-hour train ride up north to Porto. Quickly dropping out stuff off at our second AirBnB, we headed into the centre to meet some other guys from work for lunch. All over Porto you’ll find signs for little restaurants serving francesinhas. They’re laden with meat and cheese so definitely neither vegetarian nor vegan friendly. However, we were introduced to one restaurant which was absolutely heaving at 2PM where I could try a veggie francesinha made with tofu and vegetarian sausages to substitute the meat, layered with bread and drenched in a mild cheese and veg gravy. Add some chips and you’ve got yourself your whole day’s worth of calories. Well, that’s what it felt like I’d eaten anyway. Walking around Porto to catch the sunset over the bridge and stopping off at Livraria Lello (Harry Potter fans should recognise this), burnt off some calories, I hope.

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During the four days in Portugal I felt like a bit of a camera wanker. My Canon DSLR, Polaroid Cube (a present from my brother) and my new baby the Polaroid Snap Instant Digital (a present from Fran) were always at hand. I could’ve made it even worse by throwing my phone into the mix… But with the great zoom and quality of my Canon, the lovely wide angle on the Cube and the novelty of the Polaroid, I think I had a good mix of photographic products to capture some of the beauty of Lisbon and Porto.

Lessons learnt: travelling with a partner is a definite must, I will always appreciate a local’s knowledge, cameras are great.

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Back to reality

It has now been over a month since being back at university. Still, to this day, I’m going through a whole heap of mixed emotions. Initially, I was faced with reverse culture shock, a concept thrown at us by our tutors but one I disregarded. I can assure you that it is definitely a valid, but hugely unappreciated notion.

I’m back in a society completely different to that of Mexico and Guatemala, one in which I slotted right back into as though I had never left, but one that I no longer feel 100% comfortable in. I went back to my old casual part-time job that brought on a horrible bout of back problems – something I’ve suffered with for quite a few years now – and with it a feeling of exhaustion and lowness.

Heading back to university was an exciting moment for me, one that I’d been looking forward to as it’d allow me to be back with friends and back in a bubble I’d settled well into in second year. But this bubble is exactly that. It seems so distant from what we all experienced on our Year Abroad. With essay deadlines, exams, and even just being back to lectures and seminars, I feel like I’ve gone a step back. From living, working and being immersed in the Spanish language, I’ve now gone back to academia which seems like I’m no longer moving forward with my desire of travelling and learning about new cultures. This is something I just have to get through because ultimately my degree will enrich my knowledge and allow me to progress in life in the way I want it to. Once I figure out exactly what that means for me.

I recently had a strange “episode” the other night which is affecting me and in no way helping my mental health. Headaches, lack of concentration and lethargy. Horribly bad timing, with an essay due next Monday and work seeming to pile up uncontrollably.

But even with all of this going on I’m grateful for the positive parts of my life.

A couple of weeks ago I embarked on one of the strangest but loveliest life moments. A long distance relationship. Relationships are not exactly my forte, as some of you know, but this is one part of my life that I’m not freaking out about, that I’m not worrying about nor am I strategically hurtling through. A cute weekend spent in Southampton and Winchester with someone I feel wholly connected to is exactly what I’ve wanted for a while now, something I’ve only just come to realise.

Being back with friends and family has also been wonderful. Our little house of three is great. I loved seeing my old schoolmate settling in in Bournemouth and having a little boogie at her housewarming party. Finally going to a gig and seeing one of my favourite bands slay The Roundhouse reminded me of how much I love live music; it completely takes me away. Seeing my brother settle in to his new flat and love his career makes me proud and also inspires me. These are just a few of the things that I’m hugely grateful for.

Although returning to reality has had a few downs, it’s certainly brought some ups with it. That’s what I need to focus on, along with getting back on track health wise, and staying mindful.

 

You don’t speak Gujarati?

This is a question I have had to answer a lot throughout my life, but definitely more so when I was travelling as a young Londoner with Indian and African heritage but who spoke Spanish and hardly any of her mother tongue. The answer both embarrasses and saddens me but it has made me think a lot more about my culture and background and the need to hold on to your heritage regardless of the society you were brought up in. Whilst living in Mexico, I fell in love with the country, its culture and its people; I was in awe of a culture that was once alien to me. But what did I really know about my own culture, the Indian-African-British culture that I was born into?

My parents had very interesting upbringings. Their lives crossed over because of their connections to East Africa. My paternal grandfather was born in Uganda, a fact I only learned a few days ago when having a lovely father-daughter moment one night over a glass of wine and a shot of Chivas and lots of nostalgia on my dad’s part as we spoke about his past. My granddad was educated – only basically – but he was a successful businessman with a high status in the community. This soon fell apart when Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda, ordered an expulsion of the country’s Asian minority giving them just 90 days to leave Uganda. He was a racist and jealous man who believed that Indians were taking over his country. My granddad’s wife, who was born and raised in India, came to Uganda after the marriage was arranged overseas by the two families. She had an Indian passport so had to return to India with her two children, including my dad, but whilst also pregnant with her youngest child. However, my granddad luckily had a British passport, as Uganda was then a British colony, giving him the security to immigrate to the UK with the assurance that he would receive some kind of support. Regardless, he had to leave clothes, jewellery, money and three businesses behind, to move to a country where he would soon begin to work double shifts in factories, not being able to speak the language, knocking his self-esteem and completely changing his status.

My mum’s side of the story is a little different. Her father was a well-respected carpenter in India, but there wasn’t the market nor the need for it where they were living. So when his brothers decided to go to East Africa after hearing news that the construction business was beginning to boom there, he followed. The men went to Kenya and left their wives and children behind in India until they had set up a decent foundation to then bring the families over. So my mum’s three eldest siblings were born in India, then a few years later, her and her six other siblings were born in Kenya. Her two older siblings had heard that there were more job opportunities in Uganda so were there when Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Asians. It was a greatly difficult time for them, as they were faced with racism and even held at gun-point. At the time news was circulating that Indians would receive the support and care they needed if they headed to London. So that’s exactly what they did.

My dad was six when he immigrated to London, my mum was ten. My mum had the huge advantage of being able to speak some English and having much older siblings who had an even better grasp of the language, whereas my dad couldn’t speak a word  having not enrolled in a school in Uganda due to his young age. Both my parents lived in council houses for the majority of their childhoods. At one point my mum was living with 15 others in a house in Brixton; a house that my uncle now owns.

My parents were both brought up in poor environments with neither having a proper childhood as such. They both took on much more responsibility than they should have considering their ages and circumstances as immigrants. For one, my dad, at just 25, lost his father, had to run the family business as well as juggle two other jobs, had just got married, had a mortgage, and a son only 18 months old. Both suffered from racial abuse, a thought and image that break my heart. Their upbringing in a society that did not fully accept them didn’t lead to a loss of identity as Indians nor as Hindus with the majority continuing lives as vegetarians, praying and fasting and speaking Gujarati, but there is no doubt that some has been lost over the years due to the fear of being rejected in a racist society.

My brother and I grew up in a much more accepting society, however I can definitely say from my experience that we faced some racial slurs during school. Regardless, our childhood in London was far better than our parents, but it goes without saying that just a little more of our Indian-African-Hindu identity was fading away. Especially our language.

No, I don’t speak Gujarati. It’s shameful. Before Mexico and before having a better grasp of Spanish I could converse fairly well with my Gran. I’d stay over and we would get by just fine. In Mexico, I skyped her and my aunt, and the latter had to act as translator. I can understand everything but whenever I want to reply my brain automatically switches to Spanish which has led to some cute giggles from my gran when I start saying something in a language she has absolutely no connection to.

Mexico first made me question my capacity as a linguist with the challenge to express myself in Spanish, but it very quickly made me question my cultural identity as well. How could I speak Spanish, a language that my family has no connection to, when I can’t even hold a proper conversation with my gran?

As well as that, I questioned my identity as a Hindu and what that term really meant, especially as I would always class myself as “kind of Hindu”. I learnt that Hinduism isn’t actually a religion – in the eyes of Hindus themselves – but rather it is a way of life. So in actual fact, maybe I am a Hindu. I’m vegetarian, a very inexperienced yogi, I believe in reincarnation, chakras, the notion of karma, and I do also believe that there is a higher force that guides us through life, to a certain extent, but that our decisions and mental equilibrium has more power than we think and believe.

My culture and heritage has increasingly become of interest to me, and I have Mexico and my travels to thank for that. How can you learn and appreciate another’s culture if you cannot fully identify with your own?

The stereotypical female traveller

During my travels around Mexico and Guatemala I’ve seen a surprisingly large amount of female travellers either in small groups or alone, which is something I’m proud and grateful to see as a solo female traveller myself.

One thing I’ve come to notice on my travels is that people tend to have a very stereotypical image of the ‘female traveller’. Think young hippy with dreads, tattoos, piercings, and no make-up, probably smoking a joint. Having just written that, I’m clearly guilty of paying too much attention to the stereotypes. However, it’s made me realise that this image of the traveller doesn’t quite exist anymore. (Whether it fully existed in the first place.) Any version of the female traveller stereotype shouldn’t exist any longer, as it only fuels the general stereotype of how a woman should appear to society.

There is this concept that as a traveller, whether male or female, you completely lose all sense of cleanliness and hygiene, not showering for a few days, wearing the same dirty clothes all week, and using the excuse that you’re on your gap year. The idea is stressed more within women who are supposed to look neat and prim and make more of an effort with their appearance, so gender norms tell us.

As I was sat outside my homestay this morning painting my nails with a strengthening polish – my nails are so brittle due to the chlorine in the tap water here – I received some pretty judgemental comments with the energy being that as I’m staying in San José, a small, rural fishing village, and as a traveller wanting to learn more about the community, I’m not supposed to take a little pride in my appearance. (Honestly, you should see my nails, they are nothing to be proud of anyway.)

I’m guilty of looking at some obvious travellers and judging them slightly in that they’re so well dressed, their makeup is perfect, and they generally look like they’ve got their shit together. I just assume that they’re in their first few days of their trip. Maybe they look at me and assume correctly, that I’m near the end of my travels, or judge me as the stereotypical female traveller, or don’t judge at all.

I do live up to some of the female traveller stereotypes in that I have tattoos and piercings, can’t remember the last time I wore makeup (not that I wear much anyway), and only this morning realised that I hadn’t shaved my legs for about four days.

But what does that matter? Whether I’m here travelling or back home at uni, I’m pretty much the same. I decide whether or not I want to go through the slight pain of threading my face, or whether I would rather spend an extra five minutes in bed than put makeup on. I shouldn’t be made to feel bad for doing these things, or not, either when I’m travelling or when I’m back home. It’s my time, my body, and my image. No one else’s.

Life without electricity, a stable job or education

For the past week I’ve been staying with a Mayan family in the small fishing village of San José on El Lago Petén Itzá in El Petén. Doris, Samuel and their two boys, Fredi and Rene, are part of La Danta Project, a very new, still patchy programme run by a gringo who provides travellers like me the chance to learn about the Mayan community whilst giving back to the families who are living in minor poverty. The family have welcomed me with open arms and the experience has been enriching for both parties in numerous ways.

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Doris (27) has always lived without electricity, so not financially having the option to pay a monthly cost for electricity hasn’t been a problem. She was brought up to use the sun as a natural clock, meaning days here for the family are pushed forward in comparison to what we as Westeners are used to. The cockerels in their garden start screaming at around 4AM, about the time that Doris wakes up to start making tortillas (using a comal and a proper wood fire) for her husband to take to work. Samuel’s job at a finca isn’t stable. His job depends on the season and his boss who doesn’t always require his skills. Therefore, financial security within the family is virtually unheard of.

To stay with the family, La Danta requires that we pay our host families 20 quetzales (Q) for the night and 15Q per meal, so in a day that adds up to 65Q (around £6). While they receive this money – extremely humbly I might add – I’m lucky enough to see how this family lives on a daily basis. Helping Doris in the kitchen making tortillas, playing with the tiny kittens and the two boys, and learning about the array of fresh produce they proudly grow in their garden from chaya to papayas. Doris and I have exchanged a lot of stories, her curiosity leading me to reminisce about life in Mexico and back home. I’ve heard about her childhood, her lack of education due to a drunk, abusive teacher which led her to quit at a very young age, her falling off the wagon slightly but then finding God again, the struggles of not knowing if you’ll have enough money to buy the week’s groceries, and her determination to progress and succeed in a free adult education course run by the Guatemalan government. (Whenever she speaks about her studies or tells me something new she has learnt and put into practice, her face lights up. It’s wonderful.)

Doris kindly invited me to church one evening and the morning after I was sat with the sisters helping them make tamales which they then sold to people around the town. Unfortunately they’d used chicken so I didn’t get a taste, but dios mio they smelt great. The money they’ve raised selling these fluffy parcels of corn dough will go towards reconstructing the church which is currently a set of benches outside under a corrugated roof. Her belief in God is strong and enlightening. Even though I don’t consider myself religious, nor believe in the Christian concept of God, the thought of having a symbol there to guide you, to make a path for you and help you in your struggles seems kinda nice. When she fell ill a few times she restrained against medicine and let God do the work, so to speak. She strongly believes that God decides your fate, and you have to let Him do so, and not curb the path.

My time with Doris and her family has given me a lot of food for thought. Sustainability, family, education, religion and spirituality have been on my mind and they’re aspects of my life that I’m going to pay more attention to, respect more, and educate myself about.

 

 

Travelling troubles

Travelling is taking its toll on my health. I knew this would happen now just like it did over my Christmas but I’m feeling it a lot more this time with regard to eating habits, achy body, fatigue and a feeling of not being very rooted. That last point is a given with regard to travelling and I’ve always liked that initial feeling of being a stranger exploring a new city, but when you’re coming up to your 13th place in the space of six weeks it becomes a little tiring.

I’m currently in Flores in Guatemala and now on my own as my brother has to go back to London for work. This stop-over wasn’t planned. A night before my trip here of two shuttle buses (five hours in total) and a coach (eight hours) I violently threw up what was actually a really lovely last dinner with my brother. It wasn’t pleasant. Lucky for the other nine people in our hostel room, I spared them the horror of waking up to my barfing by walking down to another bathroom. As you can imagine, with a sensitive stomach like that I was dreading the bus journeys I’d booked for the following day. The initial plan was to arrive here at 6AM and get a chicken bus straight away to San José on the other side of the island to begin my one-month stay with La Danta Project. So instead I checked into a hostel and splashed out a little bit to have my own room and bathroom. Definitely a good idea.

I know exactly why I threw up that night. I ate far too much and the pizza had a couple of really rich cheeses on it that my body completely rejected. As I’m transitioning to veganism, I’m not drinking cow’s milk and have really cut down on all other dairy products, especially cheese. For these reasons, I have a strong feeling that my body just isn’t used to digesting these foods anymore. Again, overeating and hating seeing food go to waste has been my enemy. I’m working on it.

Secondly, my body feels knackered. Bus journeys up winding roads with awful bumps really puts a strain on your body, messing with your posture, giving you awful neck and back pain, and generally not letting your body rest. Back in Colima in my last couple of months there I started a pretty decent routine of yoga, stretches and skipping every morning, and I honestly felt so good when I’d finished. Beginning the day in a productive way like that really helped me during the end of my stay there. But staying in hostels and not getting up at the same time every day has messed up my exercise and chill-out routine meaning I’ve only done a couple of yoga poses while I’ve been sharing rooms in hostels.

When I get to San José tomorrow I’ll be there for just under a month, hopefully being able to stay in the one accommodation set-up rather than move around. It’ll be nice to stay in the same place for a longer period of time, getting to know one area really well, and integrating with the community (mainly Mayan and Spanish-speaking).

London for a month will see me being quite busy catching up with friends and family, hopefully getting some shifts at my old waitressing job, and getting things ready for final year. So although I’m looking forward to that, I’m probably more looking forward to settling in to final year in Southampton where I’ll be rooted for longer and in a proper routine, and will hopefully be able to work hard and well enough to graduate with good marks.

Solidarity and political energy in Chiapas

During a 14-hour coach journey from Mérida (Yucatán) to San Cristóbal de Las Casas (Chiapas), our driver failed to warn us that we would not be entering the city but would instead be left at Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. It was only when I inquired as to why it was taking so long that he told us we would have to follow further instructions in Tuxtla to get to our final destination. The reason for all the faff and confusion was the number of blockades on major motorways used as a sign of protest by teachers in the southern states of Mexico.

On 19th June six people were killed during violent clashes between the police and protesters rallying against education reform and colleagues’ arrests. Two of these people had ties to the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE). Since then, unionised teachers have blockaded streets, a shopping centre and even train tracks in the western state of Michoacán. They have also forced some bus lines to cancel trips to Oaxaca and blocked a highway. In Oaxaca City, protesting teachers have set up an encampment in the city’s main square. (More info here.)

This whole uprising began in Oaxaca to bring light to the injustice and violence brought about by a corrupt government and the police service. But solidarity has spread all over Mexico, including Chiapas, its neighbouring state. So as we were making our way into the state of Chiapas, we had to walk through some of these new blockades, organised by other teachers and unions.

With our backpacks we walked through people camping with their families, men and women selling food to the protesters making sure they knew they were being supported, and taxi and combi drivers helping people like us get to our destinations. I only had a chance to speak to one teacher to see if she could help us, thanked her for her instructions and wished her good luck. I should have stopped to talk to some of the other teachers in more depth to get a real opinion about what’s going on. It’s hard to find proper facts and opinions about political occurrences in Mexico due to the country’s corruption.

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After 20 hours of travelling we eventually made it into San Cristóbal with very little problem. As we were walking around the city centre, one I had fallen in love with during my Christmas travels,  it was obvious that the population were yet again displeased, angered and losing faith in its country’s institutions. Political graffiti is sprawled across parts of the centre, declaring “todo el mundo odia la policía”.  I also came across a market vendor selling products like bags and t-shirts spreading revolutionary political messages, and projected onto the exterior wall of the city’s main cathedral were videos showing footage of the protests and blockades with information about the educational reforms.

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With all that has happened in Oaxaca, it’s definitely not the best time to be going into the state. One fellow traveller we met was trying to get into Oaxaca on his motorbike but has been spending the last couple of days trying to find an open gas station as the majority are out of use due to lack of fuel deliveries as a result of the blockades.

Everything seems okay in Chiapas; just a lot of political energy. We may have a little trouble getting into Guatemala on Saturday if we come across any blockades, but we should arrive safe and sound.

Mild anxiety and homesickness kicks in again

I’m in the third city out of 13 and I’m already feeling homesick for Colima. Not a great feeling when mixed with a fresh batch of mild anxiety.

The beginning of my trip could not have gone better. My host in Quéretaro, Amira, is an absolute joy to be around. She’s bubbly, friendly, thoughtful, great fun, and generally a really lovely gal. My last night with her and her friends felt so comfortable and relaxed that I really was not looking forward to leaving them the next morning. We were sat around the table that night, eating curry (which I made from scratch of course), drinking chelas, and narrating all kinds of stories. A really great bunch.

After a couple of days in Zacatecas where I stayed with a really sweet couple, I’m now in Aguascalientes. It’s a bit strange to be shifting from people’s homes every couple of days, but all my hosts so far have been really thoughtful and caring, and they really understand the concept and ideology of Couchsurfing.

Aguascalientes is a very large city, but its city centre is quite small but pretty with lots of character. The problem I faced today as I ventured out on my own was a mix of the hordes of people surrounding me and giving me strange looks, the confusing bus routes, and the extremely strong sun. I know this a problem that always hits me really hard; here in Mexico especially, something I came to realise on my first short solo trip to Guadalajara. I know ways to deal with it like deep breathing and reassuring yourself that there is zero rush and no need to get all panicky. But for some reason I sometimes struggle to put these practices into place. Today wasn’t too bad, but it shocked me because it hadn’t happened for a while.

The other big problem affecting me at the moment is homesickness. Not for London, but for Colima. I’d set up a really good lifestyle back there and really was not ready to leave. I keep thinking that after these two months I’ll be back in my cute flat, back to going on day trips with friends, and back to normality. But after two months I’ll be returning to my London home which seems very distant and a tad alien. After a little while being there living with my parents again, I’ll be moving into my new uni home in Southampton. A lot of moving around.

Back to Colima. I’m missing one person in particular, and it’s hurting me a tad as I’m in two minds as to whether I should be missing them or not. I feel like I don’t have the right to miss them. I dunno. Anyway. Equis. As they’d say about a lot of things.

Update: Alice is now here, and will be with me for about a week, which is gonna be fab. We can recreate the pretty wild night we had back in Mexico City five months ago.

Colima, te voy a extrañar

Today marks my last day in Colima. If you’d told me eight months ago when I arrived that I’d actually be sad to leave, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. Those first couple of weeks were stressful, unsettling and quite lonely. But I was proactive. The message thread on Couchsurfing where I put myself out there saying I was new to the city and wanted to meet people has been a godsend. Honestly, some of the loveliest people I have met here were as a result of the few words I posted on the site. I’ve met so many people during my time here and I’m hugely grateful to each and every one of you for being patient with my Spanish, welcoming me with open arms, and teaching me about Mexican life. But there are a bunch who definitely need a proper mention. No names and not too many details to avoid tears on my keyboard…

  • One of my first ever ‘students’ who introduced me to great bands like Bloc Party and Phoenix in our first ever convo, rung me up out of the blue to tell me he’s outside my flat to take me for some chelas, and has been begging me to take him in my suitcase for months
  • My first travel buddy in Mexico, who took me to my first salsa bar, invaded my kitchen to make a mean load of vegan tacos, and made work at the university bearable
  • Couchsurfer girl who’s completely on the same wavelength as me. She introduced me to one of my favourite places in Colima for some artisan beer and many chats about music, travelling and being an open and free spirit living in quite a close-minded city
  • Couchsurfer swinger couple who have just moved to one of my favourite cities, Granada. We definitely didn’t meet up enough
  • Another couchsurfer who has the loveliest, warmest smile, works with organisations to help underprivileged communities, and will hopefully be in London next year for a few months. I have high hopes that she’ll get into the LSE Women, Peace and Security programme which sounds perfect for her
  • ColimaFest, our small side group from the large exchange bunch. Outings to rivers, spontaneous nights out, cultural stuff around the city, and a five-hour group outing to get inked
  • One guy from the exchange programme in particular who’s so easy-going and fun that I feel great around him. His laugh is wonderfully contagious
  • One Columbian gal in particular who, despite working way too hard and always being late, is great company and will always chuck advice at me even when I don’t want it
  • My French cinema buddy, who I will 100% be visiting in Paris next year. I finally got to see her drunk (from the very pricey tequila she bought for me) on her short visit back to Colima. That definitely has to happen again
  • Tinder Lawyer Guy  who, despite our confusing and annoying couple of months talking, then not talking, then talking again, somehow managed to get too emotionally attached to me. (Long story. I’ve actually written a whole thing about it but decided against posting.) His attitude to life has definitely made me question mine for the better
  • And last but not least, a few of my students who never fail to make it to La Boquita on a Thursday night

Despite a couple of things I’m not going to miss about Colima, like waking up in the middle of the night to scratch the shit out of my mosquito bites or arriving to every class/event a hot sweaty mess, the city will remain close to my heart. I know it’s a major cliché but I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the last eight months living on Mexican soil.

Although I’m hugely looking forward to seeing friends and family again, returning home is going to be hard. I need to prepare myself for some serious reverse culture shock; moody commuters, everything in fast motion, overpriced avocados, beer, transport, EVERYTHING. Not to mention, reintegrating into the uni life.

But for now, I’ve got two and half months of travelling to look forward to. A couple of cities on my own doing some couchsurfing to begin with, then reunited with my Southampton travel buddy for a few more, reunited with my brother to visit Mexico’s beautiful coasts and Mayan ruins, and a few days in Guatemala together before I escape to a sustainable eco-project for a month. Keep an eye out for photos and more posts.

So in a few hours I’ll be on a coach to Querétaro, my first stop out of 13, leaving this small, hot, but lovely city, what has been my home for the last few months.

So long, Colima. Te voy a extrañar.

Lessons learnt: living in another country is hugely rewarding, I need a job to fund future travels, and paths will always cross.

Puebla: adoptive family, murals and Lucy Rose

A couple of months ago one of my favourite artists Lucy Rose announced a string of free shows in Latin America, with a few in Mexico City and Puebla. As I’d been to Mexico’s capital a few times I thought I’d take this opportunity to explore new soil and finally visit a fellow Southampton student (Bex) in her new Mexican hometown of Puebla.

Over the weekend I stayed with her and her adoptive Mexican family which was quite different for me, as during my time in Colima I’ve experienced a host family/lodger situation, a Mexican student house share and living alone. Seeing how comfortable and confident Bex was with her Mexican parents and brother filled me happiness and only a tiny bit of envy.

Throughout the trip I kept thinking to myself how lucky Bex was for finding (or being found by) this lovely bunch. What would my year abroad have been like if I’d really got on with the host family I’d originally stayed with? Would I have met all the people I’ve become so close to? Would we be like a little family unit? These questions rushed through my mind but I knew deep down that everything that has happened so far has been because I’ve had the guts to tell people when things just don’t work for me. So I knew, as I stayed and admired this family that a setup like that wouldn’t function quite so well for me. I value and cherish my independence and freedom far too much to live with a Mexican family; they tend to be very full on, almost too loving and protective, especially if you’re a foreigner.

It worked out amazingly for Bex, and I’m so happy and pleased for her, but coming back to my flat on Tuesday morning reaffirmed how essential it has been to me to have my own space with the independence and freedom I’ve needed to appreciate these last few months in Colima.

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On my final day in Puebla, Bex took me to Xanenetla, a barrio known for its poverty, lack of resources, and dangerous streets. As part of a rejuvenation program, Colectivo Tomate began a transformation of the neighbourhood through a host of bright and meaningful murals. The artists speak to the families who live there, hear their stories, and work with them to design a mural that reflects them, which will cover the fronts of their homes.

Bex formed a great relationship with this neighbourhood and the artists as part of her YARP (year abroaders’ dissertation) and was lucky enough to be asked to paint a mural for one of the families. All of the house murals have a huge significance to the families, illustrating the heartache of losing a loved one, of the struggles of Mexican poverty, or the beauty of a close-knit family working through familial problems.

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As many of my friends know, I’m a huge fan of the Bombay Bicycle Club gang. Rae Morris, Liz Lawrence and Lucy Rose, all of whom have performed with the boys either touring with them, on their records or both. So when I heard Lucy Rose was coming to Mexico, I was over the moon. It was another chance to see her (for free, yet again) and meet her (for the third time). She is one of the most humble and genuine artists I’ve ever seen live, with faultless vocals, so I knew I had to make it to Puebla.

For the past seven weeks, Lucy Rose has been travelling all over Latin America visiting fans who have invited her to come to their hometowns. Completely out of her own pocket, with only her husband Will Morris (the brother of fellow artist Rae Morris) to help guide her through her shows, she has put complete faith into her Spanish-speaking fans to find her a venue and provide her with accommodation.

Puebla’s venue was Profética Casa de la Cultura, a library, café, bar and restaurant with a lovely sepia-toned courtyard in the middle. Rose jumped straight into her first track in the courtyard, and I think it’s fair to say that all of us fans sat cross-legged around her where in complete awe from the first second. Lucy Rose’s vocals are perfect and, in my opinion, better live than recorded, especially when it’s just her and her guitar.

During her set she thanked her Mexico City hosts and fans who had travelled with her to Puebla to see her perform again, her Pueblan hosts, and the whole venue. For an artist like Rose who isn’t “mainstream or commercial”, a fan-organised tour like this just goes to show how important music is to people and how it can travel. “Thank you for looking for me, for finding me. I don’t know how you did it, but thanks.” Through the wonders of Spotify and Facebook, fans all over the world have found Rose’s talent and she thanked her Mexican fans for caring so much about music that they discovered her albums and invited her to their hometowns to do what she is so clearly passionate about: playing music for true fans.

It was a gorgeous and powerful little gig. It was intimate and laid back, but with a strong message. It reiterated the power and influence of music, and the reality that the industry doesn’t have to be completely commercial and consumerist.

Have a read of my review of the gig here if you fancy.

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