The following ramble took me a while to write. I’ve been trying to rationalize and organize my confused experience of the last 2 weeks of China. Apologies for the length, as you’ll see if you make it to the end, I’m a self-indulgent brat.

Xinjiang is probably the furthest I’ve felt from home. The language barrier and culture shock are really intense. It’s officially an autonomous region, and we understood when we arrived that it’s almost misleading to describe it as part of China. The architecture sings of desert days and Arabian nights. The majority Muslim population dresses more like the characters from my textbooks on Afghanistan than the accidental hipsters that populate Beijing. Suddenly, we hear the throaty, thuddery thrusts of Arabic and Turkic languages, rather than Mandarin. The streetside strangers inhabiting my dreams are a fantastic blend of ethnicities: blue-eyed ethnic Russians whose first language is Chinese, Uyghurs, Arabs, Han Chinese and so many mixtures in between. Despite the diversity, Thors and my cropped blonde locks draw a stare and a whisper from every person we pass.


We visited the capital city of Urumqi and also Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road trade hub right near the Kazakh/Kyrgyz borders. Comparing the two revealed that not all of China has been included in the 21st century development ‘miracle’. Urumqi is a fledgling megacity, full of towering skyscrapers and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Kashgar is a walkable town built from red earthy rock, and there aren’t yet enough street lights to wash out the stars.

Centralised Chinese economic policies since the reform era in the late 1970s have exacerbated inequality in terms of regional development. A long history pockmarked by invasions and conflict means Xinjiang has been a hotbed for ethnic and political tensions for a while, and this legacy extends today. There have been several terrorist attacks since the 1990s, and the threat of violence remains tangible. I’ve never been somewhere so polluted by security. There are at least two police officers in eyesight at all times. CCTV cameras are on every (literally every) corner. They carry a terrifying variety of weapons: machine gun, rifles with bayonets, freaky hi-tech metal spears, clubs, handguns. Riot police patrol with their human-sized shields and stand to attention in groups of four, backs to each other, creating an impenetrable (and inexplicable) square. To enter any shop, restaurant, hotel, park, underground pedestrian tunnel, public transport station or market, you have to put your bags through a scanner, walk through an x-ray machine and be subject to a pat-down. There are more people in uniform than in plain clothes.


I came to Xinjiang, completely naively, thinking that an area of China so different from the rest must be interesting. I didn’t do my research. I had read vaguely in the Australian newspapers about ‘civil unrest’, but when I arrived in the state I couldn’t even name the language the people spoke here, or what they were fighting about. When we began searching for airbnbs, we were rejected from several places before discovering that it’s illegal for foreigners to stay in private property in Xinjiang. There isn’t much tourist information available. We intended to stay at the famous Lake Karakol but were told that as of June this year foreigners aren’t allowed. My 2011 Lonely Planet is out of date; restrictions are closing in as Xi’s conservatism spreads west. We couldn’t find many blogs or travel accounts online. We really didn’t know what we were getting into.

What we did get into was a lot of ogling. There was a lot of inexplicably weird and therefore hilariously wonderful STUFF to stare at. Malls have oddly featured a few times. A seriously spooky multi-storey Russian mall selling only fur coats (and it’s 30+ degrees every day here). An all-but-abandoned complex featuring freaky semi-deconstructed mannequins, mysterious shadowy corners, and an overstaffed bathroom to service the zero shoppers. Underground malls which double as tunnels for crossing multi-lane roads, full of kitsch sneakers and dumb hats and pantyhose. We ogled at the food, which was essentially variations on a theme: gristly oversalted meat and bread. We ogled at the beautiful Id Kah mosque, supposedly the largest in China. It’s a sight to behold, and also eerie: no worshippers, only Han Chinese tourists snapping and flashing and pointing and selfie-sticking, and enough CCTV cameras to make you feel that even if Allah wasn’t watching, someone definitely was. Of course in return for our ogling we were relentlessly ogled at right back.


Even apart from the security presence, we were more aware of politics here than in cosmopolitan Beijing. Most civilians wear red armbands pledging their allegiance to the People’s Republic, and sport identification tags denoting their ethnicity. In Urumqi, a recording of children singing a propaganda song blasts from public speakers on every single corner from sunrise to sunset; the tune is still stuck in my head. We almost missed our flight out of Kashgar because police had closed all roads in the city for 4 days as there was an ‘official visitor’ arriving. Nobody had any information about who this visitor was, how long the roads would be closed for, or why this was a reasonable measure. This was just one articulation of the immense power the central Beijing government clearly held over the supposedly ‘autonomous’ region.

I really struggled during this section of the trip to feel that my experiences were teaching me something. The language barrier was so intense, and locals didn’t feel comfortable connecting with us, even through mime or just a smile – communicating with foreigners can arouse suspicion with the Chinese police. Us entering a local restaurant could lead to the owners being questioned about their relationship with us by officers afterwards. So caveat: pretty much all of my observations here are assumptions. I didn’t get to have a conversation with any real locals. If any of you have different experiences I would love to speak to you!


Travelling should be mutually beneficial to the traveller and the visited community. The tourist gets new knowledge about a place and a people, and a holiday. The community should get tourist dollars, and ideally, a bit of cross-cultural exchange.

Xinjiang didn’t satisfy any of these objectives. The most meaningful knowledge I gained was that it’s a state besieged by security. Some of my tourist dollars went to local restaurants etc, but the big bucks (airport tariffs, sightseeing entry fees, train tickets) are centralized and therefore my money is going back to Beijing for more uneven distribution around China. I even considered whether it would be interesting or beneficial for the people of Kashgar to see a young woman walking around with a shaved head and I’m unconvinced: my perception of our reception was that we were so alien, so culturally removed, that any hope of an exchange of ideas was nonexistent.

In honesty, Xinjiang raised more questions for me than it did answers. Is it okay to bumble into a new place in relative ignorance, if your intentions are good? Do you need to learn the language to travel somewhere and have a meaningful experience? Is absorbing by observation and osmosis enough, if you walk away with more assumptions rather than facts? Where are the vegetables???

On one hand of course, travelling is about learning by planting yourself in a new situation and absorbing the new world around you. If you’re culturally sensitive, and respect local customs, and you aren’t stompy/racist/wasteful etc, then venturing somewhere in order to learn about it should be fine. And perhaps the questions I’ve been left with after this leg of the trip are an interesting exercise in my ability to empathise, to imagine, to be okay with being confused. All valuable lessons for a Type-A, ‘but why?’ little girl! In this fittingly ironic and twisted way, maybe Xinjiang taught me more about myself as a traveller than about the province itself. I’m the white chick who spent her Australian dollars on a long flight to find herself, with the suffering of a people she knows very little about as the backdrop. So even though Xinjiang was definitely interesting, I’m ashamed of my naïvety and arrogance in deciding to just hop on a plane and land there, like it is any other Destination to be Conquered and then Distilled into a Pithy Blog. How many Facebook likes will this get?

xxx a confused White Chick






Back in Beijing

Sentinel skyscrapers stand to attention. Smoggy sky. Ineffectual trees, leaves caked with musky Beijing dust.

This city is on the move!

Traffic: pedestrian, vehicular, bicycled.


Pollution: air, noise, water, visual. Billboards beam from every corner and even the subway features concurrently travelling screens outside its windows to remind commuters that they are consumers. China is a success story for communism, but also for capitalism. Just one Party but over a thousand varieties of wristwatch.


So, the tourist ticks: yes the Wall is Great, the City is Forbidden, Tiananmen is more rectangular than square. Refer to for more info.


The real deal: some restaurants give you little plastic zip lock bags so you can WeChat without getting sauce on your phone. You can pay for everything by QR code – whether it’s a bag of pineapple from a streetside vendor or a Prada bag. The dogs smile. I haven’t seen a leafy green in a week, and my poos reflect that greasy truth. I squeak a few times each day at the pudge of the babies. Nobody has been rude or scammy or racist or nasty. The heat bullies us. Sticky skin collects crusty grime, I’m stalked by my own sweaty smell. But the greasy underarm summer slime beats the chapped lips and chilblains of Sydney’s poorly insulated inner west. My Chinese is rusty but essential – we have met just one English speaker. We did a blind order and received a nauseating plate of cold sea urchin. All other meals have been write-home-about delicious. A duck a day. Lung. Tripe. Kidney. My environmental vegetarianism was detained at customs. What’s the point of buying expensive eco-detergent in Sydney if I go through 6 plastic water bottles every day in China? My holiday is officially bad for the planet. Have you ever heard anything so white chick?



sea urchin

What’s different? There has been some head-wrapping happening since my first visit to China 5 years ago. Either I’ve wrapped my head around being here, or China has wrapped its head around me (I think the latter is more likely). Two gangly white skinheads barely merit a second glance on the subway. Everybody has an iPhone now so there’s no need to stare at mine. In fact, the stare-making experience of my previous trips is mostly erased. In 2012, I was a zoo animal. Maybe the gawkability index will change today, as we fly from bustling 21st century Beijing to China’s Western frontier: Xinjiang.


So: you’re wandering through the hutong alleyways behind the apartment block where you’re staying, sweat gathering in little pools under your boobs in the humid twilight. You pass the usual circle of shirtless old men sitting outside their laundries, where they’ve been the entire day. The packet of cigarettes in front of them has been emptied over the past 8 hours. Being retired in Beijing in summer involves a lot of sitting and smoking. Men spit with gusto and galumph. You wonder: where does the spit of the Chinese female end up?

Your feet have sandal tan – or is it just a dirt tan? Past your jammy toes scurry varieties of household poodle, sporting stupid grins and diamonted collars. Cars shoulder their way through these ancient alleys, designed for the foot traffic and bicycles also jostling for a path. Every so often you’ll navigate an unexpected obstacle: bulldozer. Man transporting a fridge. A gaggle of schoolkids in matching hats on scooters. Mangy stray cat. Pile of discarded rubbish. Mountain of discarded rubbish. Wall of discarded rubbish. You buy a beer for 20 cents from the supermarket. You drink beer now because you’re 22 years old and it’s about time. You arrive at an unsigned restaurant, its windows fogged with heat and smells from dinnermakers within. Bravely push open the door and cluelessly smile, hoping a friendly fuwuyuan will take pity on your whiteness and mime an instruction. There are clearly no tables. But here is where it’s happening on a Friday night so here it must be! You’re handed a slip of paper with a number on it and you’re permitted to wait outside until there’s space for you. Peering through the condensation on the windows, people are getting drunk over their meals. Longnecks litter the linoleum tables. Men and women (mostly men) are drinking baijiu – an infamously strong white liquor – by the glass. The air conditioner seems not to be helping the red flush creeping up the patrons’ cheeks. When it’s your turn, you perch on a plastic stool and blindly gesture at food around you in lieu of trying to decipher the menu. The BBQ’d, spice-encrusted meats and drunk, drunk diners are an experience, but you spy something in the corner even more foreign and bizarre. People are smoking inside the restaurant. At the table where their food is.

Toto, we’re not in Sydney anymore!


I want to add a note on the dancefloors of Beijing. Our final night in the city we hit Dada, a club supposedly playing decent music. I set my expectations low. They were blown skyhigh. It was one of the best club experiences of my life. We danced until 5am, sober, because the music was that good. Yves Tumor did something which I’m not sure whether to describe as DJing, music-making or performance art. I realize this is a blog post but I can’t actually put it into words. People around us described it as satanic, I would call it transcendent. And I’ve never been in such a friendly, respectful dancefloor! It’s sad that I noticed that there were no disgusting boys touching my arse – something that shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in party spaces, but unfortunately often is. The lack of drugs in China also means everybody was there just for the music. People just danced until they were tired, then popped out for some dumplings (not even making this up), hung out in the courtyard, and headed back in when they were ready for some more.


Beijing is difficult to put on a page. We’ve learned that you can’t make the city happen for you, you have to let it happen to you. The days we wrote to-dos and made plans always collapsed around our ears. When crossing a road is a trigonometry puzzle, the only way to stay sane is surrender to the madmen and join them yourself. The chaos is organised, but a week isn’t enough to comprehend it. As I said last time, and the time before, I’ll be back.

Brexit and other 21st century problems

Obviously the word on everybody’s lips is BREXIT. I touched down in Heathrow as they closed the polling booths, and awoke at 5:00 the next morning in a jetlagged haze to a Guardian notification about Britain’s surprising decision to leave the EU. I nibbled on toast with marmalade in front of David Cameron’s tremulous speech to step down outside 10 Downing St, and lament with my fellow UK nationals this historically disappointing decision.


The political phenomena of Brexit, Donald Trump, Tony Abbott etc are continually shocking, and shockingly continuous. We are repeatedly astonished by the popular confirmation of ‘surely not’ ideas, despite the fact that they seem to occur at an alarmingly increasing rate. Are voters getting stupider, or are more stupid people voting? I think that Trump and Brexit are proof that democracy is flawed. Because of the wide-reaching web of the internet and different ways of consuming media, everybody and their dog can involve themselves with politics. Social scientists, politicians, economists and the majority of elected MPs largely opposed the Brexit campaign, but the vote was offered to the general British population – most of whom are not qualified to make decisions with massive ramifications regarding international politics. In a democratic one-person, one-vote system, the racists who don’t like funny foreign food have the same voice as the international businessperson with an understanding of financial markets.


The availability of political ear-candy nowadays means that anybody who has ever had a thought about society can latch onto somebody else who has decided to run for parliament with that view.


This is why Donald Trump can make up facts and it doesn’t matter if they’re true: people believe him because they’re ignorant or uninformed, which isn’t necessarily their fault, but because politics is available at our fingertips today we can cling onto any viewpoint suggested from a candidate, whether it is founded in truth or not, and fabricate our own beliefs. If you live in a fairly isolated or homogeneous society and don’t interact outside your usual circles, and you’ve been fed propaganda by your church or popular culture, your natural human inclination to be afraid of that which is foreign can easily escalate into racism or xenophobia. Therefore, when Donald Trump makes a racist remark with which you resonate, it’s easy to believe that you now have legitimate political views, and that you should exercise your democratic rights vote for Donald Trump as an informed citizen.


Having your own fears or theories confirmed by people in suits on television is not having an informed opinion.


Without being an expert on the conflicting issues, I suspect this is what has occurred with the UK referendum on June 23. I arrogantly believe that the uninformed masses have made a hefty decision without comprehending the consequences.


At the polls, the main reason cited for voting ‘leave’ was immigration. As we have seen in Australia, sadly, people’s fear of the ‘other’ has overcome compassionate understanding and a respect for humanity.


How did this happen?

The 21st century has introduced greater global interconnectedness and awareness of foreign affairs than ever before: we have video footage of the carnage in Syria projected at us daily, the 24 hour news cycle endows each of us with greater knowledge (and therefore greater power, and therefore greater responsibility)[1] than any previous era. We therefore should be committed to a far greater humanitarian imperative than previous centuries, when we could claim ignorance and sweep far-away problems out of the spotlight. However, as far as I can tell this generation of leaders has simply invented more obscene excuses for shirking their responsibilities to the global community (e.g. ‘stop the boats’).


As an inhabitant of planet Earth I feel all other Earthlings are accountable for evils of which we know. Knowledge equals power, which equals responsibility. Therefore, those of us with greater knowledge and greater power have a greater responsibility. At the moment, that’s those of us born into developed countries with access to education and security, and therefore have the means to consider issues external to our personal lives.


That’s why it is so disappointing that some Western powers appear to be taking the moral backstreets lately. Brexit, Trump and Abbott are sad examples of this. Canada seems to be the only place with its head screwed on and its heart still beating. Mike Baird hasn’t got many strikes left before I up and move to Montreal.


If you’re hoping that at the end of this rant I have a clean and clever solution, I don’t. Holla at me with suggestions. My other half, who is in the EU proper at the moment, suggests that rather than shunning democracy we should concentrate on helping it run more smoothly. Perhaps mandatory vote compasses at polling booths would help the uninformed inform themselves. Or tools more intelligent than Facebook trending headlines to keep people up to date on world news. I realise that this problem is more nuanced than ‘stupid people make a dumb choice’, but that doesn’t make for yummy blog consumption… Am I a part of this problem?!


Rain, of course, and raspberries



dom sebastian 3

artwork by Dom Sebastian

[1] Knowledge = power (Francis Bacon); power = responsibility (Spiderman)

Tourism: Lose Yourself to Find Your Selfie Stick

‘Tourist’. That dirty blasphemous word! Surely not us? Ogling, colonial cameras on legs that doof on ancient Mayan land with half a bag of ketamine up each nostril, leaving a crumby trail of Pringles as they stagger from van to Destination to hostel bunk. Wait, what’s this I hold? A selfie stick? The externalisation of my ego, a phallic bayonet that asserts my overpriveleged claim to this alien terrain? I’m on a colonial quest to find myself, I paid $2000 for a return ticket so I’ve got more right to this bus seat than you. Feed me a taco and pop me a pinger, senorita, because I’m here to party and learn some shit.


We came to Central America for an authentic experience. This isn’t Disneyland, we’re not Eurotrash gap-year twelvies on a Contiki tour, we’ve been to India, we came for the real deal. Central America. From Australia, this mythic middle earth was shrouded in mysterious mists that don’t often appear on our Facebook feed. “The southeast Asia of our parents’ generation.” We were buying into a warmer #americabutsouth – smoking volcanoes, chickeny villages and smiley locals ready to feed us corny corn for less than the price of a shittyrail train ride. Not as touristy as Bangkok or Paris, far away enough to feel like an odyssey, we boarded our flight keen and clean and ready to drown in the dirt of a third world entirely different to our own. Two months later, we are reflecting on the journey and realise we haven’t been able to totally refrain from buying into the tourist package that Central America sells on every corner with a side of taco and a sprinkling of fake cocaine.


So, what is an authentic experience?


How have we come to value couchsurfing as more ‘authentic’ than a Contiki tour? How do you dodge ‘tourist traps’? What makes a trip ‘worthwhile’?

An ‘authentic experience’ is a truth – it does not pretend to be something that it is not. As per manifesto item #6, the truth is cool but it is unattainable (keep on looking).

The first thing that comes to mind when we say ‘authenticity’ is an off the beaten trail struggle through mountains with nothing but a rucksack, and shacking up in a shanty town where you need to bribe vigilante policeman to enter an occult treehouse you heard about from a gypsy who sold you a beaded necklace made from the ashes of her Mayan ancestors. And sure, that’s a unique and authentic experience – if that’s what you signed up for. However, experiences can be authentic in their inauthenticity. Can we really argue that a Contiki tour is inauthentic if it fulfils all the promises it makes on the brochure you were given at your uni open day? Tulum, a town constructed entirely for the purposes of tourist activities (diving, ruins, margaritas) does not advertise itself as an ‘undiscovered gem’. Signs are in English, activities are accessible, the tourist gets what it came for and is satisfied with minimum fuss. Tulum’s gringo culture is honest and observable. You will not find Mexican culture therein, but it makes no attempt at hiding that. It’s just as truthful as the roadside puebla that wasn’t listed in Lonely Planet.

Couchsurfing, one surefire way of getting down and dirty with the locals, is inauthentic if your friendly 25 year old host Josephine turns our to be José, 40 year old Redditer with one bed ‘to share, no?’. Elitist travel snobs like us can’t make snide comments on the genuineness of different trips – hitchhiking vs shuttlehopping – if the traveller is satisfying their own expectations. Travelling is selfish, after all. We’re all here to enjoy our time off, and our time off includes techno and street food. If your time off includes five star hotels and prepacked lunches, good for you. We all seek authenticity, and it delivers in different forms.


One question we’ve struggled with on this trip is whether it’s fair to pigeonhole more arduous travel experiences as ‘better’ than accessible tourist hotspots? Why does ease and accessibility relate to ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Machu Picchu in Peru is a must-see for all South American adventurers. However, the ultimate question about the M.P. experience is how you got there: did you purchase the one-stop train ride up the mountain and then wander around with an audiotour, or did you fork out for trekking boots and hike the four day Inca Trail to arrive at the Sun Gate in true intrepid style? Which journey is more valuable? Do we have to endure a ‘rite of passage’ to legitimise our awesome experiences? Is it really important to trudge through mud and wreck your knees in order to experience the same overrun ancient city as the traingoers? Is a third world trip a trip if you don’t get Bali belly? Travel is a leisure activity, the point is to enjoy yourself, so… why not order another piña colada and pay for a donkey to shepherd your bags up a volcano so you can enjoy the view at the top without the arthritis?

BUT. Those of us who come home harangued, intestinally damaged and culturally brainfucked assure those clean-fingernailed pussies that ‘it was worth it, man.’ After all if you’re going to seek out homely comforts abroad, why leave home in the first place? Yet we’ll be the first to admit that we happily welcome an hour-long instagram sesh in the comfort of a hostel bar after an eight hour chicken bus ride.


‘Comfort zones’ are another buzzword for the First Worlder abroad. A bit like ‘tourist’, it’s a pejorative term we love to sling at other gringos, particularly Americans. We saved up in Sydney so we could enjoy our time overseas, and part of that includes wifi (dnms with mum, sharin pics with homies, consulting Resident Advisor) and clean bedsheets (we have asthma and Ella grew up in Bronte). An authentic experience doesn’t have to mean living like a refugee, so if we’re going to Lesbos, we’ll be taking the yacht option over the Syrian raft. Therefore, accessibility and comfort (much like authenticity) are standards to set for yourself. Ella once met a dude walking from England to South Africa. We’d label him a sadistic traveller: he finds pleasure in the painful journey, rather than the comfortable destination. We merely dabble in the BDSM travel lifestyle. Bad Decisions & Silly Memories. We’ll climb the volcano but whinge for a hot bath at the end. We’ll eat pig’s tail in a roadside tent, but Ella has a first world pussy and it demands a toilet seat to perch on.


If authenticity and accessibility are variable and subjective, what defines a good trip? Can we imagine a universal barometer for measuring the worth of different journeys? Travel is inherently selfish, but it shouldn’t be thoughtless. Every tourist, regardless of mode of travel, needs to consider what they want to get out of a trip and their footprint on the culture they are guests in. Are we remembering our manners? As we interact with foreign cultures we simultaneously imbibe and vomit out our own preconceptions and new perspectives. What are the effects of this double-ended digestion? How can we qualify it?


What makes a good tourist, if there is one?


If we can agree that travelling is a fundamentally selfish hobby (you have saved up the money to pick a trip of your choosing where you will be master of how you spend your time and your money) then we can establish that the ultimate goal of a trip is self-enrichment. Rephrase this however you like: ‘education’, ‘finding yourself’, or ‘gaining experience’, or ‘being inspired’; we all hope to come back home with our brains and backpacks a little more full. Knowledge is the noblest pursuit: learning should colour every moment of a trip. “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” (Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe). intelligent traveller (read: wanky first world student) makes interesting guesses and interesting conclusions, absorbing their experiences passively and then thinking about them actively to determine some greater meaning and discover the poetry in motion. (Did you know we write a blog?)


One doesn’t learn the definition of difference until you live it. You can watch films about Nigeria, read articles on Iraq, but you don’t become aware of your first world privilege until you’ve seen a line of limping lepers in the flesh…or lack thereof.

Something as menial as ordering a taco from a street stall can quickly become a crash course in cultural difference. One begins the lesson by navigating a menu aplomb with foreign ingredients, equally difficult to pronounce as they are terrifying to taste. Said traveller then proceeds to order randomly chosen dish in the foreign tongue they should’ve spent more time studying on Duolingo. This is lost in translation but thankfully an eavesdropping expat intervenes. Señora Masterchef is in no rush to cook; conversing with the regulars comes first because ‘to lunch’, almorzar, is a verb, not a one-stop fuel-up. You’re pissy but you have no reason to be because the office isn’t waiting and as you sink your teeth into señora’s mystery dish your palate is schooled in the wonders of spice, grease and colourful condiments. Later, as you shit lava into the seatless toilet and dispose your toiler paper into a nearby bucket because in 2016 this country hasn’t yet worked out its plumbing you grimace and reflect: Lunch has not only given me diarrhoea but a little more faith in strangers, a big lesson in patience and a lotta love for the luxuries of my life back home, which is something you don’t get at Guzman’s.


This passive absorption of knowledge and accompanying (albeit accidental) self-enrichment is the best thing about travel. And the growth is two-way: as you sponge up cultural capital you become aware of your own footprint and consider ways to reciprocate this education. An informed traveller doesn’t blunder by giving to Indian begging rings or American-run travel tours; they source locally and therefore link globally. Tourism can leave a positive footprint on a country if the traveller is sufficiently self-conscious. By buying a streetside taco I’m supporting an industry that wasn’t constructed to cycle into itself (unlike chain hostels) – I’m helping Señora Masterchef put her little señoritas through school and participating in the local economy.

But even the best-intentioned traveller’s footprints tread dogshit over foreign carpet. Particularly at natural wonders, the environmental damage of tourism is ugly. It’s amazing that one can admire the pristine beauty of a crystal clear cenoté, or marvel at hundreds of manta rays gliding through lilac Belizean ocean, and still butt ciggies in the sand presuming that WALL-E will rock up and clean up after you. Don’t be a tosser, it’s a dirty look.


Litter thoughtfully to the side, our very presence inevitably dilutes the ‘local culture’ of a place. There’s nothing worse than walking into a town where all you can hear is English, and as you think ‘fucking tourists’ you realise you’re part of that very problem. But fellow tourists are inescapable because at the end of the day, hotspots are hot for a reason. You can spend your whole trip trailing from blip-on-map to unknown village, but you aren’t going to get any good selfie stick footage out of that. If you didn’t get it on film, it didn’t happen… Was your whole trip a dream? Refer to your snapstory to verify.

We personally experimented with ‘veering from the path’ by throwing warnings to the wind and stopping at a middle-of-nowhere town in rural Belize, Orange Walk. There was nothing there (not even tourists). We left photoless. Was Orange Walk a worthwhile stop? We have nothing to frame this measurement of worth with; it’s not in the guidebook and we have no proof we even went there. But it was part of the story, with no TripAdvisor recommendations to fill up our day with five star activities we resigned to mandatory meditation (aka doing nothing) and this lead to some deep epiphanies about shit. Worthwhile! Like the above arguments regarding authenticity and accessibility, ‘worthiness’ cannot be charted on an Excel graph. Memories of a trip are more akin to a Pollock painting; a mesmerising mess of colours and shapes. You don’t know why, but it’s pretty to look at. ‘Art’ or ‘accident’? You decide.


People don’t recommend that you visit towns such as Orange Walk because they have all they need, and without superfluous additions (ancient sites, galleries, museums, jewellery shops) there’s nothing for a tourist to ‘do’. Tourism is an active verb, so it implies doing and not just allowing things to happen around you. “Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to the experience: stop, take a photograph and move on.” (Susan Sontag, On Photography).

Here is the difference between tourism and travelling: you do tourism, while travel happens in and around you. Sitting in a bus watching at least 100 messy-haired, brown footed kids waving at the passing traffic from the roadside is travelling, enjoying a fresco within visiting hours is tourism – we need both. We struggled with travel in Central America because it doesn’t integrate the two things together very well. Actual physical travel is hard (shit roads, mountains, bad public services) and therefore Destinations have been created and shaped and shined and curated into easy spots (and therefore good spots) to go to. Compare this with India, where an excellent train system connects the tourist-traveller from Delhi to Bikaner, if they so choose, and most locals understand at least some English, and every second, even the shit ones, are so foreign and delightfully disgusting that you are accidentally learning while touristing and travelling (and eating, sleeping, shitting, etc).


We caught glimpses of the ‘real Guatemala’ from behind the tinted windows of transport shuttles, TURISTICO blazoned across their bonnets, which safely deposit blinkered herds of gringos from Destination to Destination. The biggest culture shock we’ve had is from other First Worlders and how they interact with and occupy a foreign space. Hostels! The closest relative to this strange modern invention is a boarding school – irresponsible, smelly kids sleep in bunk beds and think about fucking each other. You play getting-to-know-you games and have the same conversation with every headliced, beaded runaway you come across. Hostels are a melting pot of distinctly identifiable cliques. It’s as awkward as a high school formal until everyone gets enough happy hour drinks into them to loosen up, at which point you find yourself speed dating between dnms and saying “Sydney or Melbourne?” a lot. These gringos are a race of their own, as observable as Mayan indigenous groups. They – we – are a nomadic tribe crawling across the planet from beer pong tournament to book exchange, losing ourselves to find ourselves and all determinedly pretending real life isn’t waiting for us back home.

Organising gringos into their separate subgroups is a form of bitching we’ve very much enjoyed on this trip. Five minutes of observing your clothes, tattoos, language, food choice and smell can categorise you into Boys on Tour (matching hats, rarely sober), Basic Bitches (friendship bracelets, move in impenetrable groups), neo-hippies (psytrance, delusionary definitions of drugs as ‘medicine’, uniform of hemp), old-timer runaways (divorced, likely reading Eat Pray Love), and general sickcunts (us, and more often than not, fellow Aussies and Dutchmen). The different forms of tourism can also box you into a clique: voluntourists, drug tourists, sport tourists, photography tourists, gap yearers,

Another lesson from Central America we’ve come home with is that at the ripe age of 21, we’re too old for hostels. At times we’ve felt like grandparents interacting with tweenieboppers, and now that we’re in a relationship we’re kind of uninterested in the ‘never have I evers’… two months of 24 hour contact have dissolved all remaining notions of privacy. Ella shat the bed, Thors copped two needles up the arse, and we give each other fart ratings out of 10.


On that adorable note, this long-winded whinge should probably wind itself up. Conclusion: Tourism is weird, but as the greatest artist of them all said, ‘Turn, and face the strange (ch-ch-changes)’. Travel changes you in obvious and subliminal ways, and you won’t be able to recognise them until you’re back home searching for the non-existent bucket to deposit your toilet paper in. Turn, and face the strange. If you don’t let life affect you, you’re not evolving.


xx Ella & Thorsten, wanky bloggers/tourist extraordinaires


“who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind    

nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of    

poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago…”

– ‘Howl’, Allan Ginsberg




We promised we wouldn’t be sucked in to the overtravelled black hole of the Yucatan peninsula. We promised we wouldn’t pull shakkas and deal speed at BPM. We promised we were above matching outfits, raucous cab rides, group photos and saying “I cannot even deal right now”. We lied. 
Four days in Tulum was enough to turn us into something pretty close to the typical gross gang of travelling Australians we have judged harshly throughout this trip. The highwayside town is on all the top ten Mexico lists because it combines all the things visitors love best: Mayan ruins, natural wonders called cenotes, tropical beaches and cocktails. It’s another spot that is casual and honest in its inauthenticity; the town was constructed because of the nearby tourist attractions and it doesn’t pretend otherwise. Unfortunately during our stay the Mayan weather gods were grumpy and we never got to experience azul skies over lime foliage and crystal waters – the whole effect is slightly diminished by a drizzly grey ceiling – however, I can see what people mean by the magic of Tulum. It’s another one of those places where time doesn’t exist and whatever you wake up wanting, you know you can find some able-bodied Carlos or Adolfo who can get it for you. 

The Tulum story has to be characterised by a few select events. I’ll save the best for last.
Night one: after a joyful reunion with the gang and a chattery catch up over horchata, chocobananas and (dun dun dun) some questionable tacos, I found myself woken up by the sleeping demon that has settled itself in my tummy throughout this trip. After forcing my bodyguard Thors on a 1am quest for Coca Cola I found myself bent over the toilet bowl reacquainting myself with dinner, only to be distracted by a buzz of news notifications on my phone: to make matters even worse, Bowie had just gone and died. From here the dramatic evenings escalate…
‘Why not?’, we ask – ‘we’re pretty much in Cancun, we are Australians, we all own bucket hats, why not go to BPM?” For the uninitiated, BPM is a massive electronic music festival held for ten days in Playa del Carmen every year. The crowds are 99% BROS – think stereosonic, think steroids, think singlets and limos and $15 beers – but gross crowds aside, the best DJs in the world show up and spin phat beats to their undeserving audiences in an unreal location. 10 days of BPM is straight up impossible, but we thought we could handle a day party for one afternoon to catch lord selector Mano le Tough play in a beach club. The Playa del Crack crew (Harmony, Millie, Romi, Thors & I) accepted the challenge of dancing through the bros and embarked on a 6 hour dance marathon through club Canibal Royale. It’s safe to say we were the hottest attendees and the numerous paparazzi knew it so for the first few hours before Mano showed up we pretended to be VIPs with personal photographers on lounges and in the rooftop hot tub. A post-party prance through Playa saw us ravaging a souvenir warehouse and of course emerging with matching hats (“don’t you know we’re boys on tour?”)


The culmination of the Tulum roller coaster was the festival we’d commuted for: Comunitē, a one-dayer supported by Boiler Room on the beach right next to the Tulum ruins. The festival was in its first year and it kind of showed; for a party to go all night is one thing but in a tropical climate where violent storms are possible, some sort of indoor area should be available. You can guess what happened: hurricane Katrina’s little sister came to play and challenged us boogiemen and women to party on through the monsoon. It kind of sounds like an ordeal but actually being forced to dance for 12 hours straight to keep warm made the whole festival stupidly fun. It was some of the best music I’ve ever heard, NO psytrance, incredible sets from Moodymann, Andrés, Barac, Nicola Cruz, Tin MAAAN and more unnameable lords. At one point we got five people in the shelter of a portaloo. We adopted some hot Dutch boys (my favourite kind) and met an absolute lunatic of a woman from Brooklyn who lived on the beach in a tent with her vibrator and gave us strawberry burritos and free freaky candy. Shoutout to a fellow blogger, Travel Deviant, who responded to our 7am pleas for “who has free drugs?!” with a story about a £4000 handjob and an aderal. Cheers mate xo

We left Tulum in a haze of guacamole and cheap tequila for our final stop back in D.F. where we plan to do nothing but eat before flying back to cafe culture and the real world of Sydney. Part of me wants the adventure to never end, and there are a lot of places I wish I could have made it to – northern Mexico, Nicaragua, CUBA! But at the same time my bank account and bowels are basically empty and I could murder a good Asian feed. Mia’s Vietnamese updates have me craving some pho and if I’m honest my tummy has had enough tacos to carry me to the next day of the dead. 
Speed dealers and sandy sound systems,


With a few days to spare before the next festival back up in Mexico, we decided to break up the long road journey, ignore warnings of a country of overpriced ‘meh’ and check out Belize. If you’ve done any of the reading we have you won’t have found much to say about Belize; few people seem to stop there mainly due to the higher prices and the only ‘attraction’ I’d heard of before arriving was the great blue hole (irrelevant if you can’t scuba dive). 

These lame reviews end here! Belize has got to be one of my favourite countries I have ever visited. Step over the border from Guatemala and suddenly people smile and throw jokes around and they’re black and sassy and they speak English and want to help you with things instead of sell you tours. The people are honestly the nicest I’ve ever come across, but also sort of cool and groovy and witty – think the friendliness of Cambodians married with New Orleans swag. 

The entire country is quaint and adorable, like 1950s America has been transplanted to a tropical landscape. Billboards and brand names don’t seem to be much of a thing (as opposed to Guatemala and Mexico where it’s very normal to paint your home with the Coca Cola logo). All the signage and shopfronts are candy colours and hand painted in the national language of English with incorrect grammar (legit! I saw an ad for Shell saying “the engine starts even when the harvest does’nt”). 


Apart from awesome people Belize also has an AMAZING cuisine which I cannot believe hasn’t been disseminated throughout the rest of the world. After Guatemalan food which was mainly Mexican but bad, Belizean dishes have been a breath of fresh air. We were sceptical at first having heard that the national dishes are rice with beans or beans with rice, but oh mama let me tell you I could munch on Belizean rice with beans for a loooong time. Maybe due to the environment, the ingredients used are so unique! Coconut shavings through the rice, and sauces simmered with mango and rum and chilli and unnameable spices… Pig tail and split peas, fry jacks and deep fried corn empanadas, every meal was a ‘mmmmmm my god’ moment. Our encounter with Jenny, a bombastic melon-boobed mama with a streetside kitchen in Belize City, sums up the Belize experience well. After dolloping mammoth piles of black eyed peas with red rice, pig feet, deer, butter fried fish, okra, spinach, fried plantain and lentils over our disposable plates – “and lemme tell ya somethin darlin, now you’re Belizean! You’re gonna leave two pounds heavier in four days!” – she advised us on the spicy sauce – “hot, just like first love, honey” – and sent us off on our ferry to Caye Caulker full of gooey goodness. 
It’s true that Belize is expensive but I would 100% recommend it to anybody passing through the area. 
We stopped in San Ignacio (lime and salt chocolate, shrimp burritos, Rastas), Orange Walk (not much to be honest but a really lovely local granddaddy called Cliff who took us around his town and showed us scars on his neck where he’d fought a crocodile “like Steve Irwin”, and also a community of Minnonites, Amish Europeans who migrated here during WWII and speak an archaic form of German -?!) and Caye Caulker, an island off the capital which is the main draw for backpackers in Belize. The whole island is a postcard, complete with palm trees and white sand and Ye Olde Ice Creame Shoppes and little golf buggies that traverse the two streets. The only problem with Caye Caulker is that, as is the nature of islands, it’s a trap and you can’t escape the crazy prices. We did manage to successfully score a priceless (but not actually that pricey) lunch from a local lady’s kitchen: hudut is a local dish of a whole fish in a coconut milk soup all spiced up with jalapeños and okra and peppercorns, with little patties made of mashed up plantain to dip in it like gooey cookies. Diviiiiine darling diviiiine. Oh and I nearly forgot – we also swam with manta rays and nurse sharks and technicolor fish and snorkelled over labyrinths of alien coral underwater landscapes in crystal clear warm water in the second largest reef in the world. 


I know it sounds like all we did in Belize was eat, and this is quite true, but honestly there was something special in the humid air above this pretty country. There’s definitely a flavour distinct from the Latin American neighbours I have visited. Caribbean island life comes with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ attitude to time and shoes and haircuts. Sunblushed bellied Buddhas loll around and twiddle guitars and Bob Marley can always be heard somewhere in the distance. Also the slightly metallic/powdery taste of mega hostels and the hordes of drughungry dogs that inhabit them seemed absent from what we could observe of the tourist landscape which was a lovely change. It says something about Belize that we found ourselves observing locals rather than commenting on gringo culture. I’m struggling to say this in politically correct terms, but Belize had enough third world confrontation to entrance us, but not so much as to scare us off. What’s more, the culture was a unique smorgasbord for the senses that I’d never come close to experiencing. Here I am at 21 thinking ‘I’ve done it all’, and suddenly there’s a whole new shape to the world that I couldn’t have conceived of! 

We are very out of money and in savings mode, which means battling with public transport and involved an interesting border crossing. However, all limbs attached and butts plugged with anti-diarrhoea medicine, we are back in the promised land of Mexico, heading for Tulum to reunite with swagsisters Mildog and Harms for another festival in a few days time. 
Coconut rum and conch curry,


Antigua & Acatenango

Although we treated it as a stopoff town between Lake Atitlan and our alternate Guatemalan adventures, the cute colonial city of Antigua is deserving of a visit on its own terms. It’s saying something that despite the fact that the first night we spent here was one of the worst in my 21 years of having a butthole (sorry to the toilet on level 2 of terrace hostel, you may never be the same again), I actually loved Antigua. It’s got more cobbles and Oaxaca/San Cristobal vibes, except smaller, with a better market and less tourist traps. Of course, as a colonial town in Central America it has the obligatory churches on every corner, but interestingly in Antigua most of them are in ruins which haven’t been restored. It toes the line between creepy and beautiful and usually ends on the right side, and after seeing 10 million catedral de santo domingos etc it actually makes a nice change to see one not intact.

We abused Antigua’s delectable mercado and the best hostel kitchen I’ve come across yet (A Place to Stay Antigua, I recommend if you can manage to find it up the sneaky side street it hides on) and enjoyed cooking ourselves meals that are actually far better than what you can get in local comedores. Maybe I haven’t been to the right places yet, but Guatemalan food has not blown my mind… It’s Mexican with less imagination. Food filled in the time leading up to the main event of Antigua: summiting Acatenango volcano, the highest peak in Guatemala.

The two day trek came very close to referral descriptions of ‘hardest thing ever’ but totally delivered the goods and satisfied our desires for constructive tourist activity, nature and physical challenge – some things that have been lacking from the past 2 weeks of the trip.

The entire volcano experience reflects my experience of Guatemala in general quite well: the easy bits were unnecessarily hard, but the hard bits were awesome. (Guatemala: it’s good if you can get past the bullshit). We began by waiting nervously outside the agency who had organised our trek – nervous because we had bargained it down to a dangerously cheap price and paid a 15 year old with a calculator for our ticket, and the agency was now closed. This left us scratching the door outside 10 minutes after we were supposed to be picked up, with no gear to prepare for the 4000m ascent and no guarantees the guide would even show up. After a stressful exchange in rapid Spanish we established with a random lady who arrived at the door that appropriate gear would be waiting for us at the volcano, and all we needed to take was water. Trundled onto a chicken bus with a bunch of game gringos who turned out to be legends, we were off!

Guatemala is good if you can get past the bullshit (one broken backpack between the two of us, glutenful meals, overpriced but unavoidable beanie/glove options, 7 people in a 6 man tent, smelly sleeping bags) – take a second to get past this, and the Acatenango experience was actually really awesome. We strained our calves ascending up to 3600m on the first day and then camped overlooking a neighbouring (active!) volcano, Fuego. As the sun set you could see glowing embers and little spurts of lava shooting out of the top of it which is DOPE, something I never expected to see and can’t quite believe I sat watching while munching on roasted marshmallows.

After a frigid night of not a wink of sleep – between the altitude thumping your heart too fast, the other 6 people in your tent squiggling around, the below freezing temperature and the volcano you’re sleeping on ominously grumbling from time to time, shut-eye was a challenge – we arose at 4am to finish the final ascent in time for sunrise. This section of the adventure was the best and the worst. For one thing, it was total madness that 25 stiff-limbed gringos scramble (I was mainly on all fours) up the side of a gravelly volcano in pitch darkness and minus zero temperatures, some of us (hem hem) clad only in cotton leggings and a made in China fake puffer jacket. After about an hour of messy climbing, we made it to the peak where a panoramic vision of lit up cities and two massive smoking volcanos arose in front of our tired eyes. Epic is one word to describe the view as the sun slowly turned the sky behind the peaks pink, casting shadows on clouds tentatively gathered around their fiery mouths. It has to be one of the most incredible sunrises I’ve ever seen, but was kind of ruined by my least favourite thing: cold. Not only was it so freezing up there that none of our technology (not even the snow sport ready GoPro) would turn on, but I lost feeling in all extremities and was so distracted by the physically painful ice seeping into me that I could barely concentrate on the awesome power of nature in front of me. Despite being penguin huddled behind a rock and attempting warming star jumps (not easy at altitude) when my tantrum reached hyperventilating levels Thorsten had to talk me through the scramble back down to camp and fire. It’s not news but I’m not into cool weather.

The descent was very nice on the eyes and very hard on the knees. We return to Antigua phenomenally philthy (bum-shuffling through dirt turned out to be a good technique for getting down on the scruffy bits) and sleepless, far from ready for our nightmarish upcoming overnight bus trip to Belize. Nothing a snickers and some gummy watermelons can’t fix!

Mud and muscles that don’t exist yet,




Lago de Atitlan

Before I begin I’d just like to say that my previous post on Semuc Champey was very cleverly written in haikus, and wordpress messed up the formatting and obscured my genius. Go back and reread for maximum poetic pleasure.

Happy Christmas, merry new year, feliz año, arriba! My apologies for lack of grid activity for the past weeks, I’ve been too busy experiencing moments to distance myself from them by trying to record them (thanks Sontag). Live in the present etc but also celebrate the past by recounting awesome shit you do to make yourself feel more awesome in the present – i.e. write a blog that makes you sound like a sicko. Thus:

Christmas and New Years has been spent on the cinematically beautiful, ludicrously unreal pocket of paradise Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a scrumptiously gorgeous high altitude lake surrounded by volcanoes. Sounds like the setting of a Pixar movie, plays more like a cross between Spring Breakers and Nim’s Island. We’ve swung between equally fun extremes of partying at Ke$ha level and relaxing at Chicken Joe level. For the first time we’ve hooked up with other Aussies – some mates from home and some new collector’s edition buddies. It’s been a while and there’s a lot of messy ground to cover so I won’t delve into details, but here are some important moments that stick out in the colourful kaleidoscope of Lake Atitlan.

The morning of Christmas Eve til the early hours of Boxing Day were a blizzard of barefoot bendering through the alleys of San Pedro – we crashed a house full of Aussie med students and abused their drug knowledge, marvelled at the worst DJ in history at the only club in town (lion king remix into major lazer), exchanged secret Santa gifts within our new family (Ilias, Harmony and Millie), and did not even contemplate sleep. Ho ho ho, we were certainly very far from ham and crackers at home.

One sunny afternoon after lakeside picnicking, including glutenless empanadas (!!) we temporarily left our bodies with the help of DMT, the naturally occurring substance produced by your brain at night when you dream. Smoking DMT takes you on a 10 minute journey into a surreal alternate universe projected onto the backs of your eyelids, almost like a waking dream that you’re aware of. Fun and fascinating (and, mum, one of the safest drugs to consume). I’m including this anecdote because it was special, and misrepresenting my experience in the name of PG friendly writing was relevant to the 16 year old Ella who was first in need of directions in Africa, but as a newly crowned 21 year old I’d rather have honest and informed conversations with my fellow adults than pussyfoot around topics that worry people.

On that note, Central America has opened my eyes more and more to the massive impact of drug tourism. People literally will fly around the world chasing a cheaper high – and the effects of this demand for gringo-friendly narcotics are simultaneously crippling and necessary for the Guatemalan economy. On one hand, tourism is the major source of revenue in Guatemala, and you can be sure that if drugs weren’t available here, the tourists wouldn’t come. However forcing a population to cater to a druggy economy comes with all the scary side effects of illegal trade: gang violence, corruption, militant police, and addiction. Not to mention that if Guatemalans are making money off drugs they’re unlikely to attempt to make money off positive, sustainable pursuits instead – the economy can’t grow without stimulus for growth, and we’re back to dealing dope to dopey travellers.

Over New Years we sparkled ourselves up and boarded a boat to Cosmic Convergence, a psytrance/lifestyle festival on the other side of the lake. Through the glittering gates we Entered the Void – have you ever seen yoga masters lose their minds to 200bmp screamo-psytrance? When bendy people dance sometimes you’re not sure if seizure or sun salutation. We witnessed a set of unidentifiable genres of music mashing together to somehow work (psy + flume + Afro rock + meditation dub + iPhone sound effects + hip hop MC = ?!), the best beatboxing I’ve ever seen, whole new instruments and acts who were more performance artists than DJs. If the music was unique, so was the crowd. Think Mayan warriors with the whites of their eyes tattooed black crying as the sun rises, fat Germans muzzing out in yellow track pants, one guy sitting right in front of the speaker so deep in meditation he didn’t even realise his whole body was being moved by the vibrating bass, leg-rubbing marriage ceremonies by lake locals, drunk Mexicans and sober Mexicans, fairies and puppies and children, soup genies, glitter goddesses, bad singers, renegade stages, magic tricks, useless skills, lots of leg hair. I felt quite ostentatious in my fur coat and new balance sneakers amongst a very vegan hippie community and one of the many lessons I came away from the festival with was that I’m not a doofer. The wonderful, welcoming, loving, peaceful population of dreadlocked, kombucha-drinking, friendly freaks who frequent festivals like cosmic convergence are too inefficient and nice for me. As we learned at El Jardin, I revel in the rat race and phat beats made by computers are more my jam than drum circles. At the same time I’m so glad I have swum in the puddle of that lifestyle properly and I wouldn’t say no to dipping in again – but I’m a tourist, not a full time treehugger.

I’ve also been showered with perfect presents by Thorsten for my birthday and eaten a snickers every day, so all in all Lake Atitlan has delivered. Us two partners in crime have said goodbye to the fam and are off to Antigua to climb Acatenango volcano (has been described as ‘hardest thing ever’, hopefully this is not true).

Cacao ceremonies and Caucasian Rastafarians,




Semuc Champey

Waterfalls and caves 

Drew us to Semuc Champey

We left with neither
Day one: rain and cloud

Day two: Ella gets the shits

Day three: time to go 
I guess it’s a shame

But Christmas is calling us

So we’re off again
Pork ribs and poo,



After crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala we have discerned a decidedly southern shift. Suddenly we’re in Central America, not the distinct ‘second world’ classification Mexico earns itself. 
The sky is cyclone grey, tropical trees hang with mangos and spider monkeys, tuktuks and empty water bottles pollute the streets. Actually, the drive on bumpy gravel path from the river border crossing to our final destination of Flores was a highlight of this chapter of the trip. I was slapped off my mesmerising phone screen to appreciate the cinematic landscape passing for free from our bus window. “Are we tripping?!” Soft swerves of hills peppered with improbably precarious palm trees and swathes of lush leafy clusters of well watered and – surely you can eat that – nutritious looking flora. 
After many bus changes, ATM arguments and some unsuccessful swindle-dodging we were settled in the island village of Flores. A collection of cobbled streets and candy wrapper facades is circled by a serene lake and linked to the mainland by an arterial bridge. Most tourists use the pretty town as a springboard for accessing Tikal, another impressive Mayan site, but we rethought our intentions and consulted the manifesto and made a tactical decision to skip it. Our lack of intelligent conclusions at previous ruins have left us, frankly, a bit ruined out, and spending our entire daily budget on the hour long transport to and from, so that we could duel competing selfie-stickers for The Perfect Shot, doesn’t really appeal. Maybe it’s my lack of ancient history knowledge but I find it much more stimulating to try to understand the contemporary place I’m in than to speculate about a dead culture I can’t relate to at all. 
‘But Ella!’ I hear you protest, ‘surely understanding alien cultures is the whole point of travel!’ True! I’m enjoying the anthropological exploration of contemporary cultures a lot more. Particularly, the culture of international tourists is freaky and fascinating. People-watching at monuments or in hostels can teach you so much about the 2015 breed of traveller! I’m observing the tribe from within and compiling notes for a thesis at the end of this trip (along with dissertations on the colonial nature of the selfie stick and the ethics of drop-in-pop-out travelling). The 2015 traveller community includes the distinct categories of vacationers, backpackers, refugees, voyeurs and nomads. What does the 2015 traveller eat? How do they consume news, how do they social media? Why do they travel? Why do they go home? What’s the connection between dreadlocks and woven string necklaces? Why do they value ‘local’ experiences but will pay three times the going rate for a pizza cooked in the safety of their hostel? What’s more stimulating about these questions is that they’re not just about ‘them’, they’re about ME – I’m looking for myself and losing it as I find it (manifesto #1 – lose yourself to find yourself). We flee our nests to sniff out new experiences and yet crave hostel beds that feel like home, praise systems that are familiar to us, congratulate societies that have managed to replicate western ‘superior’ institutions (democracy, supercentres, fast food, credit cards). A lot of this trip has been spent in vans and buses traversing geographical distance and every time I notice that the thing travellers hate most is actual travelling. Like junkies off the back of a hit, we’re always seeking out the next cultural high – it’s about the journey, not the destination, but what’s the next journey, man, where you heading where you been let’s go go go but wait hold up I’ve just gotta pack my bag (again). 
One of the things about travelling with a partner – and also about writing a blog to keep you fans happy – is that it forces me to think about my experiences rather than just having them. I will never be a Guatemalan local and therefore must always view my experience of their experience through my own personal (and now a bit battered after leaving them in a hostel shower) glasses. And you, through these ramblings, can only experience my experience of the experiences – through omission and selection I can manipulate your experience of a time and place, ha! 
Okay rumble ramble over, here are the gory Flores details:

– Megapaca adventure! A warehouse of second hand clothes sourced from American op shops, we overstuffed our backpacks with thrifty gold (thanks Red Cross or whoever donates this stuff, it’s going to a good cause)

– Hospital adventure! Thorsten was struck by a paralytic migraine which sent sleepy nurse Ella with her feverish patient to the emergency department to have a linguistically interesting consultation in the middle of a hot hot night with a doctor who told us it was some sort of infection. Now that it’s over we can see the funny side: picture Thorsten yelling obscenities as two fat Guatemalans hold him down and jab needles in his arse while I, overwhelmed and certainly not destined for nursing, loudly spewed up my dinner in distress or disgust in the corner. I only wish someone had taken a photo. (Parents: everything is fine, the shots worked and Thorsten is healed)

– Kayaking adventure! We paddled across the flat freshwater lake to a hidden rope swing, following directions of a guy appropriately called Geronimo. Realised I’m a total chicken and more and more of my mother is coming out in me (‘it looks like it’s going to rain, we should probably turn back. ‘Why, because our swimmers might get wet in our kayak on this lake?’)
For not the first time I’ve written too much about a pretty small place. We’re (once again) crammed with an astonishing number of people into a tiny van on a subpar road on the way to Semuc Champey. Christmas feels far away and the date keeps surprising me. 
Flooded streets and floral feasts,