Archive for the ‘Travel and Adventure writing’ Category

1.  Don’t be a voyeur. The Punta is a sexy sweaty Garifuna dance style practiced in Belize. It sort of involves you and your partner shaking your hips and thighs at each other at a relentless pace. Visit a bar, have a typical Belizean Rum cocktail, get off your butt, and ask the barman/lady to teach you the Punta. They are generally happy to oblige. It’s a lot of fun, a great work out, and it can be your new party trick back home.   Image


2.  Don’t dive the Blue Hole. Ok if you’re a commercial junkie, love crowds, and you just want to tick it off your braglist. Go for it.  Sure you can see it from outer space with the naked eye, and it looks pretty gorgeous from the outside. But the water circulation is poor, therefore not much sea life about, and at $250 for 3 dives it will take a neat chunk out of your budget.

Rather opt for Shark-Ray Alley & Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Northern Cayes and Atolls). Also great for snorkeling: guaranteed to see schools of large stingrays and nurse sharks.

Or Caye Caulker (Northern Cayes and Atolls): Easy accessible snorkeling, very laid back and much less crowded than its popular neighbor, Ambergris Caye.

After a hectic cycle on the Doomsday Ride,, I needed to get away from the crowds. I found great snorkeling all along the islands next to the village of Hopkins, deep in the south of Belize. Affordable and few crowds. Book your SCUBA or snorkeling trip with Hamanasi Adventures for the best support and great crew.

3.  Don’t go abseiling down waterfalls – IF you have just cycled over 2700km. Rather opt for cave tubing. “Butts up!” is a national slogan in Belize. It comes from the screech of your tour guide as you are gliding along, butt hanging down in icy water, through a dark cave on an inflated tyre, and there’s a shallow rocky area approaching. After all the cycling your butt needs a rest, this is a non-strenuous way to learn about the Mayan culture.

4.  Don’t stay in Belize City for long. A day should be enough. It’s busy, a bit pricey, dirty, and I did not feel all too safe roaming through the streets. Generally the city is used as the centre from where all adventures depart.  Rather head out and visit the temples, or a jaguar retreat. There are luxury spas aplenty if that’s your scene. Generally the further you go away from the city, the more authentic your experience.

5. Don’t think you will have lunch in a tropical forest, next to an ancient Mayan temple, surrounded by the sounds of howler monkeys and parrots. Unless you are on the of course. They know people who know people. On the last day of the tour cyclists ambled through the ruins, blessed the site with rum and enjoyed an impromptu meal next to the Lamanai temple.

You better Belize it!

More info on this incredible adventure here:


This was a good day. All we had to conquer was 20km of ass pounding gravel road followed by gorgeous downhills which made our bikes fly. In retrospect the 20km of gravel ‘road’ is an insult to upstanding roads across the globe: loose rocks, potholes, sand, and all of it climbing up and up – and up.  Image

It took our slowest Doomsday riders almost three hours to complete 10km of this. But we did it. This is where you need your sense of humour the most.

The lunch stop was, for once, out of the wind and rain, in the heart of a dodgy roadside bar. We had music, a dancefloor – though we felt a bit too pooped to do a jig – toilets and running water: sheer luxury. Some of us ran out of drinking water after a while and stopped at a dairy to get some ‘agua’.   Image

Yesterday was a very tough ride and some of the riders are struggling with muscle fatigue. A big challenge for us is the short daylight hours. We can only have breakfast at 6am which means most of the riders can leave at about 7am, depending on how quick we can get it all down.  The rule is that as soon as it is dark, about 5pm, nobody is allowed on the road. A sensible approach since the roads are narrow and steep and dark. Then there are issues: Bill had 3 punctures which needed to be fixed before we left the hotel and the first of the saddlesores have arrived.

We ended up at a gorgeous hotel with en-suite bathrooms – yes really. Much appreciated after the bunk beds and cold water at the last stop. It is our last day in Costa Rica.

Tomorrow we cross the border into Nicaragua. We can report back that the roads in Costa Rica might be narrow and at times potholed but the sedan drivers where pretty considerate. There are a lot of transportation trucks that are not as kind and a few times we had to fling ourselves off the road just to be sure to be safe. But overall it is a good country for cycling. Adios Costa Rica. Hello Nicaragua! 23 November 2013

More fun on this Doomsday Ride here:


ImageCosta Rica has two seasons: Rainy and dry. Our group of Doomsday Riders are clearly still at the drippy end of the rainy season. We had to cross a river to get across the great lake Arenal and we really had to do this, otherwise we’d be thrown off our schedule by a day which is a logistical nightmare on a tour like this.  Imagee

Tour leader, Cristiano, hardly slept a wink as he listened to the rain pounding down on the roof the night before the river crossing. No fear. Despite setting up supporting gear for the riders, they pretty much just got into the river with their bikes and winged it.

The water was warm and the adrenalin pumping. We all made it safe and sound but thoroughly soaked and ready for one of the most grueling days of the tour.

More info here


Day 2 & 3, 73km

Our reward!

That was a lot easier.  After a rather dramatic first day, the second was a piece of cake – sort of. The first 60km came with a lot of lever roads and temperate conditions.  Then, just a few very steep and very long climbs were followed by fantastic downhills. Ok sure, some of us had to push our bikes a bit to get over the hill, and the granny gears were working overtime. The cyclists loved the second stretch – a bumpy gravel road. The first rider in was our French representative, Eric, who glided into the ranch at 10h30. The rain stayed away. Lunch consisted of Peanut butter, Nutella, tuna, and cheese sandwiches – not all together, mostly. For hours we cycled next to Volcano Arenal, one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. The last time she blew her top was only two years ago. There are still hotels that are built along the slopes of Arenal.

Fauna and Flora check:

Sloth x 1 = Riders who sighted this elusive creature reported that it slipped away remarkably fast so they could not document it for us.

Toucan x 3 = These gorgeous birds hung out in a tree next to our lunch truck for a while.

Stray dogs = Many. One lucky boy licked his chops as he finished our lunch leftovers.

Bat x 1 = Came flying down the passage at me early this morning.

Mice x 3 = Discovered at 1 am in Linda and Lisa’s room. The screams were remarkably contained. It was a mum and her 2 babies that decided to nest in Linda’s comforter. Cristiano’s, our tour guide,  voice was heard in the room but he says that he was only enquiring after the ladies’ health.

Leafcutter ants x gazillion = Documented by Lisa, National Geographic style. The spotting of the tiny colony removing large parts of the rainforest on their backs had her remark that if ants with their small brains can be so organised, we should be grateful they are not our size, as they would wipe out the human race in a heartbeat.  Some people get very philosophical when they get on their bikes.   The leafcutter ant travels for over 2km to get food to and from their feeding place. They feed from a particular mushroom. So the leaves they are transporting are to fertilise the soil for their little mushroom plantation. One leader ant carries the leaf, and atop two tiny inspector ants taxi to make sure there are no poisons such as pesticides on the leaf which might contaminate their mushroom. So Lisa’s is a good philosophy. Tonight we are staying in the most gorgeous ranch right in the middle of a rain forest: a paradise retreat.

What we do when we don’t cycle

Today is also our day of. We are at the self-sustainable Rancho Margot: home-made yoghurts and cheese, organic fruit and veg, pancakes, free-range eggs and fresh milk.  For relaxation? You’d think the lot would be exhausted. Nope, they go horse-back riding, kayaking next to the volcano, ziplining,  yoga classes, and yes, the milking of cows. Our doctor, Sarah, and I decided to give it a bash. It is a little harder than it looks but I recon we got at least a glass out between the two of us.( See pic Shanny)  Suzette and Esti chose to go ziplining through the tropical forest. (See attached photo pls Shanny).

ImageThe aroma of our fully organic home-grown supper is drifting across the breeze. Tomorrow is our first river crossing. This should be interesting.


No turning back

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Travel and Adventure writing

Doomsday Ride – Day 1 San Jose to Aguas Zarcas

No turning back.

Our first day of riding gave us a spectacular taste of what lies ahead.  We started out at 7am from San José under an overcast sky with delicately dripping clouds.  Riding a convoy out of a busy city is always a little nerve-wrecking and San José’s narrow, winding roads are no exception. Toss in the increasing drizzle from the sky, first-day nerves, rush-hour traffic and short and consistent bursts of wickedly steep hills, which made a handful of riders push their bikes – just for a bit.

At the end of the 17km convoy the road straightened out somewhat, which gave the riders a breather, but then the skies opened up and it came down in buckets. They were soaked in seconds. Still they stayed on their bikes. Soon the inner city roads lined with houses stacked upon each other like playing cards made way for lush green foliage creeping all over roofs and into the roads. Within less than an hour from the city we were entangled in a tropical garden where some of the glossy leaves are big enough to wrap our Jos in – and he is a big man.  Our lunch truck canopy and our nurse, Sarah, had to hang onto the ropes not to get blown away by gusts of rain laden wind. She must’ve thought she is back in Wales. An earthquake had left stretches of the road open to erosion and tiny rivulets criss-cross the roads at parts. At times there are potholes that could swallow a scooter and part of the tarmac has simply been washed away. But it is only for a small section of the road. Some of the riders called this stretch a ‘great adventure’.

Brit, Julie Dakin, who is only cycling the first stretch, was a little nervous before the start of the day but she actually came in smiling – first woman – not that it is a race, and said, “it was fun!”.

When our team scouted this road, the La Paz (peace) waterfall was small and pretty. Now it is a thundering giant at the side of the road. The slow mist that crawled up from the valley added a mystical allure to the green tangles of vegetation, muddy roads and fruit sellers on the side of the road. Today we covered 94km’s: 1200m up and a very sweet, 2560m down. The day so far has not been without minor casualties. One of our female riders became sick yesterday and she sat rather sadly in the van with us, until the rain came pouring down and the first of the murderous hills made her remark that she is glad she sat this on out.  We hope she will be able to get in the saddle tomorrow. Another one of our riders battled too hard with the hills on the convoy and chose to sit out on the van – determined to try again manyana.

Tonight we stay in a little village called Aguas Zarcas. At our hotel, Sueno de Luna – which means Moondreams – the rooms are spacious and clean. Our host is friendly and very kind to all of the wet bodies and bikes.  Oh but I forget to mention the breakfast, fit for conquistadores, that we had this morning at the hotel: omelettes made á la minute, lathers of cold meat, platters of fresh tropical fruit, every kind of Costa Rican pastry you can imagine, home-baked bread, a range of juices, percolated coffee, nutmeg and yoghurt parfait and so on. We have been warned that from here on it is more likely to be the standard beans and rice for breakfast. Well we can always dream of San Josés buffet.  So we had a taste of hills, torrents of rain, a bout of cramps, wind gusts, battered roads and we also got a glimpse of what it means to cycle through tropical forests and adventurous surfaces, and to eat like kings, hopefully we will all be a little stronger tomorrow.

Book reviews:

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

South America has such a mystical allure. It seems a little dangerous, somewhat untamed, and rather exotic, especially from a South African’s perspective. We have our own curious creatures and cultures but there is something so enthralling about names like Guatemala, Nicaragua, La Paz, Puerto Torro and Lake Titicaca. And what true adventurer never dreamed about exploring the heart of the Amazon and imagined fighting off piranhas and other blood stealing creatures? I used to suck up those thin Tarzan booklets and fantasize about getting lost in the Amazon on some heroic mission or another to rescue an exotic butterfly or something cute and furry, only to be captured by Indians; hostile and strangely beautiful… And then my hero would come charging through the lush foliage and sweep me into his sweaty muscular arms and together we would journey through the man-eating forest. But I am mostly over that fantasy now. Now I am more interested in riding a bike from San Jose from 18 November to finish with the end of the world in Belize on 21 December. Funny how our goal posts shift.

If you are signing up for the  South American tour ( or want to see if the world will truly end on 21 December on the Doomsday Tour, you will especially enjoy mark Adams’ insights.

Adams is a prolific writer and editor who follows the footsteps of the peculiar Hiram Bingham III who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu.  Bingham III was later accused as a villain who stole both priceless artifacts and credit for finding the great archaeological site. Adams sets out to discover the truth armed with a pack of donkeys and a very odd and thick-skinned Australian guide.

This book is part travelogue, a history lesson presented humorously and accurately, and part philosophical journey. It is a lot more cerebral than your average travel literature but Adams skillfully makes his writing accessible and enjoyable whilst still being very informative. I am sure it will be a keeper to read over and over again.  O

Doomsday Ride Costa Rica to Belize.

Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne.

If inner city madness is more your thing you will love Bangkok Days.  I found myself trapped in Bangkok at the height of last year’s floods.

The train tracks were under water and I could not get to Chiang Mai. At my backpackers I had to leap over sandbags to get into the foyer. The Chow Praya river had bursts its banks and the locals were escaping en-masse by bus and car. I decided to sit it out, found a dry and safe haven at the Buddhist temple, and got myself a copy of this gem.

Osborne loves to visit Bangkok because of its cheap dentistry and, well, its general cheapness. His account of this mad city is spot on as I slowly discovered during my forced stay. He so perfectly captures the sounds and tastes of the city. If you have been to Bangkok’s Khao San Road you will have wondered about the miraculous way that people are not electrocuted on a daily basis. The electricity wires are like massive tangled birds’ nests drooping dangerously low down to the flooded streets. They never seem to take away the dead wires and simply keep adding on layer upon layer. Just get the book to read his explanation of this phenomenon.

Osborne befriends ex-pats and describes them accurately as I discovered later on after meeting some of them. The ex-pats in Bangkok, and the rest of Thailand, are a curious bunch. They are also there for the cheapness, the gorgeous weather and beaches, the ladies of course, and some of them for doing some dodgy business that seems to easily slip under the radar.  A really beautiful and evocative read.

By Astrid Stark

Hello Ellie,

It is not every day that you fall flat on your face five meters from an elephant bull flapping his huge ears at you.

We were cycling the first 75km of our day’s 110km route close to Maun, in Botswana, when we spotted an elephant in the road. The group decided to stop to take pics and ooh and aah… And in my excitement I forgot to unclip my shoes from the pedal clip thingies and I went crashing down sideways in a very ungraceful sideways clang.  Ever happen to you? It is so avoidable and hugely embarrassing. You just go slomo and you are entirely helpless as your brain is not connected to your feet at this point. Fortunately the elephant was the main attraction. Aris, a kind Dutchman, unclipped my feet as I lay flaying about in the dirt, like a mosquito that had swallowed a paperclip, with this steel contraption firmly attached to my oddly bent feet.  My cheek popped up like a tent, I had a impressive gash on my arm and monster bruises on my shoulder and legs but all I remember is the roadmaps on his giant face.

Elephants in the Zambezi river – photo by Theresa Brown

Hannie and Marius chose to crash into the bush next to the road rather than colliding with a truck coming straight at them. They are shaken but unscathed. After lunch the straight, flat road became a nasty ordeal due to a strong headwind. Dutch rider, Andre had to take two naps during this time to deal with it. In his words, “If what you are doing is no longer fun, stop and do something else for a while”. Eating copious amounts of ice- cream, drinking beer, and sleeping, rate as good alternatives to cycling for most of the guys. Staying at the Nata Lodge is a surreal fantasy. It has cozy, thatched-roof lodges, hot showers, a pool with a large fountain and an uninterrupted stream of Abba’s best hits playing from the open-air bar. After a wholesome dinner of sausages with samp and beans some of the more affluent cyclists took dessert on the terrace of the restaurant overlooking the pool. At $100 a night for the cottages most of us will be pitching our tents…. Excerpt from my bicycle adventure