Medellin

The murder and cocaine capital of the 1980s, has turned itself inside out and transformed into a modern, functional, sexy city. Once again I overstayed my original plans because there’s too much fun to be had here, if I keep going on at this rate I’ll miss uni next year (almost a joke…)

The journey out of zona cafetera deserves a mention. We had a spare six hours between buses in the nothingtown of Pereira and so helped ourselves through The Worst Movie I’ve ever seen, Dumb and Dumber To, with a bottle of vino tinto and some mystery fruit. After a long night bus to Medellin, we arrived at our hostel dishevelled and musky and were greeted with beers and ‘yews’ by a gang of seriously rowdy Aussie boys. 26 (yes twenty six!) moustached and/or long-haired skaters from Geelong had been wreaking havoc on the town for the next preceding 48 hours and we arrived at the butt end of their bender at 5:30am, hugely impressed that they were still kicking on. I believed the stories about octopus shaped pills and having done laundry once in two months because of the state of the dorm we moved into, but quickly forgave them after falling prey to the charms of Medellin’s nuts nightlife myself. This city is fkn fun.

Various daytime adventures were slotted in between tequilas, including scenic cable car rides up mountains and admiring Botero sculptures and light installations. We took a sick day trip with New York Dreamboys Brian and Paul to Guatapé where we climbed a massive monolithic rock and took jumping photos because tourism and freedom and America. A highlight afternoon was a public holiday when everything was closed, our posse of ten hungover gringos stumbled into a casino at three in the afternoon and lost money over pink daiquiris in our thongs and smelly T shirts.

Above and beyond the best day in Medellin was Wednesday. We kicked off with Pablo’s kickass walking tour of the city and actually learnt something other than how difficult it is to cure hangovers with agua con gas. After too much fried food we bulged our muscles in a veeeery tense queue for tickets to the football game on that night… With success! It was Medellin’s Nacionale vs Sao Paolo from Brazil and it was INSANE. We got tickets right in the nosebleed section, surrounded by crying fathers, so many Nacionale tattoos and exclusively green and white. Fact: Colombians can sing/shout for two hours straight. Nacionale won 1-0 and the atmosphere in the stadium was out of the world. It’s higher than religion. 40,000 people simultaneously at that level of happiness is ridiculous. I’ve never experienced that much love in one room, and I’ve been to a Beyoncé concert. After the game we hung out with aguardiente and so many happy fans, people kept coming up to us and pouring shots and singing and kissing and making marriage proposals, it was incredible. Absolutely a highlight of South America so far.

Finally escaping the hungry tentacles of Medellin for Santa Marta tonight. Vamos!

Paisas and oversized passionfruit,

PT

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Villas and Valles

After being this close to staying a couple of extra nights in Bogotá several times, a group of four intercontinental gringos flagged down a minivan and headed out of the city to Villa de Leyva, a cute and sleepy little town a few hours north.

To be honest there’s not a whole heap going on in Villa de Leyva. We had one lazy afternoon feasting on Chilean goon and guac made from the overabundant, enormous, delicious and CHEAP avocados here (I’m in heaven). Still not sure if my arse has recovered from the jarring bike ride we took on day 2, many hills + cobblestones + crap bike seats = sore vagina. But it was probably worth it for the sick views, El Fossil (it’s all in the name), a surrealist terracotta house built by some local hipster architect, and finally the gorgeous pozos azules, which were actually green but 100% stunning all the same.

We struggled with our sunburn on a 13 hour bus journey to Salento, another teeny town in the zona cafetera just southwest of Bogotá. Here I rediscovered that I’m really into adventure (thinking of you Senior Adventurer Liv), when we decided to climb a mountain in nearby Valle de Cocora in a literal monsoon. Not sure if I should be blaming Thor or Poseidon for the ridiculous downpour that raped us this afternoon. I want to say that it was lucky we had gumboots, but the fact that they were literally overflowing with rainwater meant we were just dragging an extra few kilos of weight up a MOUNTAIN. We reached the top, yodelled, and swam back down to safety. The views were phenomenal – 60 metre high palm trees swaying over rolling green hills and mountains lining a valley out to blue skies on the horizon – but unfortunately it was too wet to take photos, so you’ll have to imagine a Dr. Seuss novel to get the whole picture.

Our new Canadian/Aussie mates kindly treated us to a fab dinner at their dairy farm hostel which was a nice break from the triple-carb, deep-fried piles of semi-edible calories that seems to be the norm here. I’m hoping that gaining weight here entailss a special kind of South American Obesity™ that will give me double D’s and a Minaj booty… We’ll see.

Coffee tours with Don and Carlos, trawling artisan shops for gringo gear, hanging out the back of questionable but does-the-job jeeps, sampling organic chocolate at Sergio’s and eating frozen ceviche with supermarket wine in the street are other highlights.

Plantain chips and peanut butter,

PT

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Bogotà

Colombia’s colourful capital is gorgeous, dirty, alive, shrouded in wet clouds and dry dust, sprawling, dangerous, and it has sucked me in like quicksand.

Attempts at a quiet ‘easing-in’ to South America and recovery after a 42 hour journey were thwarted by Trilby’s recommendation to stay at Musicology, where fun is compulsory and breakfast, dinner and mates are included in the dorm price. I had forgotten how easy it is to bond with someone over the fact that you both like burritos/Caribou/Singapore Airlines – one item in common and suddenly you’re bosom buddies.
Bogota has heaps to do, and even though I’ve been here nearly a week I didn’t tick it all off. Equipped with my gringo shoes and all my layers (it’s cold here), we trawled museos, markets and mountains. The killer hill to Montserrate was worth it for the views at the top, and we collected quality mates along the way – shoutout to Dutch boys Tjebbe and Jelle who are the first travellers I’ve met with a darker sense of humour than Aussies.
Tjebbe: I have heard in Australia you don’t have many black persons - 
Jelle: It’s black ¨people¨, idiot.
Tjebbe: Yes, they’re people too.
 
Probably the biggest day involved a day trip to a nearby Cathedral hollowed out from a salt mine… it was architecturally incredible and beautiful and holy and all that but whoever had restored the place stupidly installed a lot of multicoloured LED lighting and the whole thing felt like a really underground (literally) club in Berlin – actually quite similar to the one we left at 6am the next morning. On the way home from Catedral de Sal, inevitable disaster struck and I had my iPhone pickpocketed on a busy tram. Classic gringo error, I was resigned to dealing with a nokia, no music and no 2048 for the next four months. After a dismal night of realising that no phone = no way of drowning out dorm-snorers (no, no wrathful letters were written this time), the next day I proved to be The Luckiest Girl Alive because the scabby little thief called the hostel to negotiate the sale of my phone back to me! Armed with cash and three buffer boys, we drove through a dingy ghetto and ended up meeting a very clean, upper-class, polite Colombian dad who gave my phone back without its Australian simcard or hot pink case (?). Obviously the day was saved and we celebrated accordingly with ice cream and aguadiente and rum rum rumrumrumrumrum. The only catch is that before this miraculous rescue I had remotely wiped everything on my phone, so as soon as I connect it to wifi everything will be deleted. I can´t face four months sans music so PT is off the mobile grid until homecoming next March.
Other Bogotà highlights? Eating horse twice in one day, trawling flea markets for dodgy film cameras, escaping the rain for sugar-rimmed vino caliente, rumrumrum.
Just arrived in Villa de Leyva for some smaller-town mischief.
Mojios and miracles,
PT

A very brief party in the USA

A six hour stopover and really friendly airport staff meant I could escape the sterile terminal for some sexy Californian sunshine midway through my stupidly long journey to Colombia. The important question is, of course, if I spent four hours wandering Los Angeles in between boring flights, am I technically allowed to scratch the whole of the U.S. off my ‘been there’ map? Authoritative responses would be v appreciated thx.

I’ve never been to the States before, but it was exactly as I expected it: heaps American. Everything from interrogations and fingerprinting in customs to supersized coffees and oversugared doughnuts fit the bill. I rode (not took) the bus from LAX to Santa Monica, and en route spied about six Taco Bells, Starbucks’ and KFCs.

Weirdly, the beach at 8am was totally empty. LA doesn’t seem to have Bronte’s cafe culture and there was no surf to speak of so I had a huge beach complete with amusement park, palm trees and boardwalk all for me. With the Sculpture by the Sea on at home, it’s been a while since I’ve had sand to myself, it was cute. I spotted a huge playground so naturally had a childish romp on the swing and the roundabout. No mates for the seesaw unfortunately :(.

Cast of characters:
- An old whiskery moustached dude who hopped on the bus in his fatigues and a baseball cap adorned with the star-spangled banner and an eagle; imagine aggressively loving your country so much that you had to wear it on your head?
- troubled teen with two tattoo sleeves, no hair and a bullring reading ‘You Can Do It: Jesus and the Power of Affirmations’ at the beach
- a gangsta with pants round his knees, chains, bling and everything texting next to me: “Yeah dat young harlot.. Hazardous sanchos? A blind heart for your wayward a$$”. (direct quote)
- the border security guy who, while questioning me about how long I was “remaining in US territory”, remarked, “Colombia? That’s a country too, right?”
- two Shooter Williamson-esque Aussie blokes who happened to be behind me in every queue at LAX on their way to fuck shit up in Cancun, and the faces they pulled when I had a coughing fit and then turned around and whispered “ebooooola”. They were actually top dudes who gave me a butter menthol so shoutout to them
- me, for being a right eastern suburbs princess and asking if the cafe I found breakfast in did gluten free toast. To be fair it was called ‘love yourself green’ and was made of the wanky wood that glutard cafes in Sydney usually exhibit, but the looks I got from the chicks behind the counter were not worth that mistake.

Anyway, forty hours later I’m here in Bogotá! So far so cold. You get off the plane and it smells like a place, not just like an air conditioning unit. Given the MH-events of this year, taking three planes in two days is probably statistically the most dangerous thing I’ll do on this trip so mum don’t stress yourself, the worst is over!

Supersize meals and Stars and Stripes,

PT

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customs

Making a customary post from Kingsford-Smith customs because, as has become a summer custom, I’m off. At the moment I have zero plans except to make it to Colombia and then spend four months finding myself and taking gimicky photos with culturally insensitive captions to rack instagram likes.

Mum: I promise I will never die.

 

xo PT

feed the birds

I refuse to believe I leave Beijing in five days. Completely unprepared for the freezing monotone of Sydney and not at all ready to say goodbye to this megatron city. Jumbled wordvomit of an update en route to your baby bird mouths:

Ventured to 798 Art District and Caochangdi Village in the northeastern suburbs of the Jing, and imbibed contemporary Chinese art laced with political shouting and beauty. My favourite was a Chinese artist called Yang Jiechang whose exhibition was a “realization of the inhuman that is both monstrous and transcendent”.

Learnt heaps of Chinese. I had a successful conversation with a Beijinger cab driver which is especially awesome because of their notoriously thick accent. He played me some Chinese metal music which sounded a bit like a choir of Mandrakes.

Climbed the Great Wall of China. They got the name right.

Ate heaps for no money. Most interesting culinary encounters include chicken hearts, little strips of congealed duck blood, possible jellyfish (we’re not really sure), lamb kidneys, scorpions. Rediscovered my love for weird Chinese snacks, the current fave is dried strips of haw rolled up into little scrolls.

Partied for no money. It says something about the cost of alcohol and the culture of showing off your wealth that I asked a Chinese man in a bar as a joke if he would buy us 20 tequila shots and he straight up did.

Saw Peking Opera (not my style) and Chaoyang Acrobatics – no OH&S rules and really bendy children made for a seriously entertaining and sometimes scary performance… thinking they could fit eight motorbikes in a cage really not big enough for two was an interesting decision!

Only have a few more days of cramming for the end of course exams and spending my kuai before hopping on a flying car back home. Send me your requests for fake anything-and-everything?

Tea and too many characters to learn,

PT

 

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the Chinese sky

The Chinese sky is porcelain white and a fifth of the world mills about underneath it in a flurry of quotidian extraordinary. Traffic jams are small cities, study sessions are houses of parliament, supermarkets are concentration camps of plenty, rubbish tips are beached leviathans.

White, constant, flat, low-hanging, imperishable Chinese sky. Jokes about the Truman Show aside, you could reach out of a top floor window and rap on it. It’s the backdrop of every photograph, it’s smugly settled in your conscious, it doesn’t lurk, it plonks, thunkily endures, it has done this before, it’s a staring competition with a wax figure.

…that can see you? It’s a babysitter who knows when you’re reading with a torch. It’s an omnivorous, erudite shade of grey with no blind spot. Historically unprecedented production has leaked the materials for 1.3 billion gossamer veils into the atmosphere and the Chinese sky has draped itself in them, one by one, until climate has become opaque and begun to pressure downwards on the perspiring proles below.

And then one day the insomniac smog lifts and newborn baby-blue sky peeks out from underneath, and suddenly the masks become faces and shadows exist again, proving the existence of the sun and the roundnesss of the earth. Colour occurs. Nature is almost natural again. We can see why calligraphy is so involved with landscapes, why oriental architecture mimics flora, how creativity previously existed in this concrete grid. Weiming Lake reflects cumulonimbus and I swear I heard a bird.

The Chinese sky is predictably polluted, but surprises us with out-of-the-white blues. China is predictably censored, but every day holds astonishment and revelation and Confucian confusion and things to learn. The Chinese persistent in their steps forward, perennially curious, they keep on looking.

Everywhere else just has nothing on here. Australia is a speck on the back of an ant in the middle of the ocean compared to this goliath. You can’t compete with 1800 years of development, innovation, revolution, exploration, creation, revolution, discovery, change, revolution, reform, experience, endurance. 1.3 billion people means a one-in-a-million chance happens 1,300 times a day. And counting. Here I can sit on any street corner and people-watch for ten minutes and ask why five hundred times.

I have heard that in New York, people climb towers to escape the jungle and stare at empty sky. Behold the Chinese sky and feel discomfort. Machined miniturisation, surgical metamorphosis, danger, insignificance.

The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is 危机.‘危’means danger, and ‘机’can mean opportunity. A Chinese proverb we learnt in class reads, “when the winds of change blow, some people build walls and other build windmills”.

Windmills and other children’s toys made in China,

PT

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Beijing: Week One

Completely cannot believe I’ve already been in 北京 for a whole week. Stepping out of the plane into the smoggy, shouty air was a bit of a homecoming, and I’m already not looking forward to leaving the Jing in less than a month.

You just can’t make comparisons between China and Australia. They’re different universes. They have different air and different skies with different stars and different sounds and smells and peoples and practices. Chinese civilisation is over 2,200 years old, Australia a tenth of that. On every square kilometer of Chinese soil there are about 144 people, in Australia there are less than 3. Chinese history is rife with innovation, revolution, war, development. The fact that “Australian history is made” by Abbott’s 2014 budget says something about the diversity of our past. Everybody knows that this is the most populated country there is, and you can totally tell. During our first class we learnt the words for ‘traffic jam’, ‘noisy’ and ‘crowded’… and I’ve used them every day since.

Tian'anmen

Tian’anmen

To me, China is the most mysterious and confusing and fascinating place there is. I know I always say this but truly, every daily task – getting lunch, crossing the street, catching a train – is a dramatic episode and ‘certainty’ isn’t a factor in any equation while you’re here.

Most of my time since I arrived a week ago has been spent studying; the language course I’m enrolled in is intense and I’m learning ten times faster than we do in Sydney. I also get the feeling the Peking University tutors are giving us waiguoren the special-kid treatment. According to the Chinese friends we’ve met, classes are supposed to be difficult, and several hours of independent study every day is totally normal. My ‘meh, might not go to class today’ USYD almost-arts-degree attitude doesn’t fly in Beida (北大 – the name of the university).

跟我的同学们 at HOTPOT

跟我的同学们 at HOTPOT

Just going across the street from my dormitory to the university every day is a pleasure, though. 北大 is IMMENSE, you could fit three or four USYDs in here easily! It’s special to Beijingers because it’s got an enormous lake and park in the middle of it, which is super rare in the dense labyrinth that this city is. Also, education has always been a Chinese ideal, and this is the most prestigious institute for it in the country. It’s heavily subsidized by the government so with your nifty student card you can get a huge meal of basically anything you can imagine for less than $2 at the on-campus canteens.

Other highlights from the past week include a mammoth hotpot meal where a dude made noodles in front of us like a gymnast with a ribbon; reconnecting with the Chinese liquor of choice, baijiu; celebrating the 4th of July in a club of similar musical and class caliber to Soho; visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in 40 degree heat on 3 hours of sleep; getting lost on campus/the subway/in our homogenous building complex/everywhere; not getting run over (yet).

The complex where I'm living - nice picturesque smoggy sky

The complex where I’m living – nice picturesque smoggy sky

 

Chicken feet and a lack of chocolate,

PT

england prevails

Dearest darlingest friends and relations,

Awfully sorry for the recent lack of blog activity, only just figured out how to bypass China’s Great (fire)Wall and get myself back online. Here is a long overdue entry in the captain’s log:

I’ve spent the past two weeks or so in our wondrous mother country, reuniting with relatives, collecting tidbits of family history, and eating. Even though this is the loveliest summer I’ve ever seen in England, and I’m about to spend a month in sweltering Beijing, I still seem to be actively creating winter fat stores with an endless supply of chocolate, teacake, strawberries, strawberries with cream, teacake with cream, creamy chocolate, and cream (with cream).

Although coming to England has been a regular thing for me since I was tiny, I have to say I discover new things about it each time I come. Highpoints from this round of pom-attacks would have to include discovering that my dad (like me) was a fat kid, sampling Bristol’s indie pub scene (very Melbourne) and soaking up temperatures that for once are higher than Sydney’s. I have not enjoyed feeling as equally inadequate as Britain at international sport: this World Cup has seen Australia fall from its post-Ashes pedestal onto an embarrassing backseat. At least England is back here too…

Aside from reunions and sleeping in the splendid spare rooms of various friends and family, I spent a few days in the nation’s capital being a proper tourist. I moseyed about on the tube ticking off Monopoly properties and spending my sterling (I got the greens, blues and yellows done on day one, would definitely be the moneybags if life was a board game).

A London highlight would have to be the adventure I fell into on my first night here; having arrived sweaty and sleepy in the early evening, I checked into my hostel and was accosted by two Perth boys in my dorm who were determined to tell me all about how many beers they’d drunk on their Topdeck tour. Convinced that Athens was in Italy and reeking of hair gel and Lynx, I googled ‘what to do tonight in London’ and escaped their slimy stories with the first excuse I could find: a sketch comedy show in Islington. Yes I’m a grown-up and yes I go to university, but 24-hour time is still a bit of a bother to me so I may have arrived an hour early… but that was fine because the theatre had a bar and I made friends with a groupie chick whose best friend is living with ACDC in Sydney (cool? nt sr). The show was hilarious and we ended up swapping ‘straya jokes with the foursome of twee comedians afterwards, who are heading to Edinburgh for their SEVENTH fringe in a couple of weeks. I was smug because one of their sketches was in the USYD Arts Revue two years ago… Aussies can be funny (on purpose) sometimes too.

I had a gander round Saint Paul’s, ticked off a couple more art galleries, nervously crossed the Harry Potter bridge without being attacked by Death Eaters, was confused/inspired by the huge collection of ‘art’ in the Tate Modern and had a very lacy panic attack in Victoria’s Secret and had to make a run for it before I was drowned in thongs (in this country, they’re not for your feet) and fluff.

Advice for solo backpackers in London: do not enter MnM world without a responsible adult. With no one there to judge me I think I ate a kilo of dark chocolate peanut MnMs. #noregrets

Another fun thing about being by myself in a city I’m about to leave is that I can just lie to people and they’ll never know. If Simon from Bangladesh is reading this, real sorry for telling you I’m fluent in five languages, 24 and working on my sculpture. The Great Dane waiting for me at home is only half a lie. Single-serve friends, meet the many faces of not-Ella.

So I’ve stocked up on opshop purchases, muesli and Marmite. I’m fat and frisky. I’m one and a half books down, three to go, I’m ready for another looooong flight (bring on the vino) on my way to BEIJING.

Piccadilly and Pimms,

PT

On top of Bristol with lovely Lucy

On top of Bristol with lovely Lucy

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London from the Tate Modern

tiggers in paris

Three days in Paris was completely insufficient and has just served to whet my appetite for another European adventure as soon as possible – really it was a bad idea to come here because I know I’m not going to be able to get back to Europe for a couple of years at least, so I’m totally just blueballing myself into wishing I lived in gay Paris (pronouned par-ee). Stupid Ella.

I was reunited with some Sydney friends who I haven’t seen in SIX MONTHS, Jo and Nay, over here and we have spent a glorious three days being total tourists. The phrase “omg that’s so french” is dropped twice an hour, we have had red wine and cheese and snails and orangina and cute little espressos in adorable pave-side cafes, and plats du jour and french onion soup and creme brulée and haribo and crepes and are you getting the idea that the past few days has been a little food-centred? Because you would completely be right I think I’ve eaten my weight in butter purely from how much food is drowned in it. Lactose intolerance, no thank you.

We’ve gotten quite into the world cup while we’ve been here, and all our evenings have been centred around making sure we have somewhere to watch the game. I’m learning when the right time to groan/cheer is, and I’ve mastered the technique of knowingly saying “corner” at the right time. Football people like it when you state the obvious.

I’ve seriously enjoyed how accurate Paris’ stereotypes are. There are cuties playing double basses/guitars/accordions on the metro, and everyone smokes and sneers, and it’s quite dirty and there’s always a strike on and people do street art and are far more funky than anything you’d find in Sydney. It helped that it has been sunny and fabulous every day and you can walk down any street, get hopelessly lost and just enjoy how PRETTY everything is.

Highlights are an overlong Franglaise conversation with a cab driver who was so lovely that he took pity on my traveller’s pennilessness and gave me the cab half-price, spooning nutella (and French nutella too, which is so much better) into our fat faces in front of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, French goon (also so much better) and picnics in front of the Tour Eiffel in the gorgeously sunny evenings, and counting all the stairs on the way up the Arc de Triomphe before embarking on an odyssey to find flower-shaped gelato: worth it.

Shout-out to our brilliant Parisian host Sylvain, merci beaucoup pour les crêpes, lits et traductions.

Pain au chocolat and picnics,

PT

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