12 Months of Simple Living

Welcome to my Blog!

A massive welcome to you and thank you for taking the time to read my little memos about life and mostly how I fail at it!

In a nutshell: 12 challenges over the course of a year and 13 weeks to see the world!

Look out for my blog posts tracking my progress on each of my challenges and updating you on my “13 Weeks of Wandering“. Hopefully they will be informative and humorous, but inspiring as well as thought-provoking.

Join me as I show you a new way to challenge yourself and live simply. Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page!

If you have done or are thinking of doing a similar challenge, I would love to hear about it so let me know in the comments below or contact me.

Love,

Mary-Daisy x


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Mary-Daisy

Currently residing in Surrey, but have been blessed to have lived in many different places across the UK, and in Ghana before that. I would describe myself as an introvert with extrovert qualities (confusing much?!!).
There are lots of things I love and these include spa days, dancing, writing, organising & finding bargains. Obsessed with avocados and edamame beans, have two odd phobias… if you can guess what they are I will be impressed.


Beaches to Florida

The time had finally come for me to enter my destination state; Florida. Waving goodbye to Georgia as I left St. Marys & the Okefenokee swamp behind me, I set the sat nav on my cheap ZTE to Jacksonville with a *ahem* small detour via the scenic coast road.

Amelia Island

Well, I wasn’t going to step into Florida without first checking out its famous beaches! So Amelia Island seemed a perfect first stop on the way down.

It wasn’t a disappointing view with endless sand stretched out before me and mini rivers forming in the indentations carved into the beach by the waves.
That’s where I met this little man, sunbathing in the perfect spot only just submerged in the water forming part of the mini river. Giving this star a little stroke, I realised he was soft but a little furry and probably didn’t want to be bothered. So I left him to enjoy his little paradise and took some time to enjoy mine.

There were some large hotels side by side on the beach, although not so many people. A few deck chairs and umbrellas set up were the signs of holiday makers while tyre tracks on the ground told me a vehicle had passed through not long before.

A long stroll, brief dip of my toes and relaxing lie down had me ready for the next leg of my journey to Jacksonville Beach.

 

Jacksonville

Highway A1A, Jacksonville, Florida

The coast road, Highway A1A, was beautiful on the way to Jacksonville. So beautiful in fact that I had to make a second stop just off the highway!

I realised I probably wasn’t technically allowed to stop, but I had never seen beaches so pure white and so empty as this!

Two Men Fishing. Highway A1A, Jacksonville, Florida

Only two others had ventured onto this beach, they were a father and son from Jacksonville and they were fishing. They hadn’t been having any luck so far, and hoped I would bring them some luck. Unfortunately, I did not! But it was great chatting to them and learning of their plans of a boat trip the following day.

I wished them luck before continuing my journey.

 

The City

The Jacksonville Landing, Florida

I booked a night in a local Air BnB,  and when I turned up I was met by a cool guy who invited me to do my laundry and pet his snake. As fun as that all sounded, I thought I’d head into Jax to check out the scene there instead.

Parking by the river, the city lights reflected against the water giving a real “big city” vibe and I cautiously walked towards the landing alone. Fairy lights outlining the trees meant that I was definitely getting close to where it would all be happening in the city.

I was surprised at what I did find; most shops, restaurants and bars were shut but there seemed to be a big biker community hanging out on the landing. Live music was playing, drinks being served in a bar-truck and people sitting in the square. Harley-Davidsons lined the streets where bikers had parked and headed to the landing to hang out together.

Making friends with some nomads, I chatted for a little while before heading back to the Air BnB. Though it was a cool place to chill, I didn’t feel particularly safe on my own.

 

The Jax Beach

The next day, I thought I’d try my luck at the Jacksonville Beach to see if I’d enjoy the vibe there a little more than I had the night before.

First up, I came across the Beaches Museum & History Park which is supposed to have informative exhibits on the historic beach community. Although the museum was closed, one exhibit of an old steam train caught my eye through its glass walls.

Sunflowers by the Beaches Museum, JAX

But, actually, I found out that Jacksonville had more than a dozen museums and art galleries for lovers of history & art. I preferred to work on my tan on the beautiful white beaches…

Ocean Bar & Grill, JAX Beach

For lunch, I went to a beachside bar/restaurant, the Ocean Grill & Bar, which served me the most delicious vegan tacos. Then, some more beach time had me ready to carry on to my next destination. But I hadn’t expected to be abruptly stopped en route.

 

Ponte Vedra

Florida is lush with wildlife, only a day into hanging out in Florida and I’d already come across a star fish and a [pet] snake. So I shouldn’t really have been surprised when there were signs on the coastal road that I was driving along warning of turtles crossing. But when I was cruising along and saw a tortoise in the middle of the road, slowly making its way across, I could also see the car speeding towards me directly in the tortoise’s path. Without a second thought, I slammed my breaks and jumped out of the car holding my hand up to the other car in (what I hoped was) an authoritative way bringing it to a complete halt. I then picked up the tortoise and wandered to the nearest house, assuming it was a pet. Because, over in the UK, tortoises are always pets!

As I waited by the huge mansion holding this wriggling guy and warning him never to try and cross the road again, a lady answered the door understandably confused. I tried to explain how I’d found him and asked if it belonged to them, she looked at me as if I was mad and said, “No, they live in the hand dunes by the side of the road”. #awk

So I wandered deep into the sand dunes and released my new friend back into his home with multiple warnings about the dangers of crossing roads. I’m sure he understood and went back to his friends to warn them too.

 

St Augustine-Vilano Beach

Vilano Beach, Florida

So, my coast tour continued and I took a well needed break on the Vilano beach. Another nearly deserted beach, with one woman scouring the coast with a metal detector and digging up the sand in random places.

I enjoyed the peaceful sound of the waves as they gently lapped the shore, even the call of the odd gull didn’t annoy me the way they do in Brighton when they are after your food.

Opening my book, I soaked up those moments of pure tranquillity and mentally decided that this was one of the faves.

The journey continued…

 

Daytona 

Pier at Daytona Beach

At this point, I’d decided I would end up in Orlando, after all, it is a popular Florida city. But I had one more little stop to make on the way; Daytona beach!

Daytona was described online as one of the beaches not to miss, and when I approached the buzzing pier with its fair ground and roller coaster rides, I could see why.

The sun was setting by this point, which offered great views of the pier and the ocean. A man with a rake carved a  message into the damp sand for those hanging around on their pier to read; an advertisement of some description.

Daytona Beach

This was far from the quiet, tranquil beaches I had enjoyed on the journey so far but it had an excited buzz that had been missing from the others.

I decided to grab a bite at a nearby restaurant along with a cheeky drink, and watched the sun set as I sat by the river at the Sunsetters Bar & Grill.

Sunsetters Bar & Grill

The city lights started to reflect on the river and I knew I had to make a move if I wanted to check into my next destination on time.

Next stop: Orlando!

Veganuary; Why I Quit & Where I Went Wrong

The fireplace burned with hot embers, my face mask soaked into my skin, my Matcha Chai latte sent steamy wafts of sweet spices to my nose and I put my feet up to watch a movie. 2018 was coming swiftly to a close, and for the first time that I can remember, I had the opportunity to enjoy this New Year’s Eve alone.

As the first of the fireworks started to disperse into the night sky in a colourful display I could both see and hear from my living room, I put out these vibes for 2019:

  1. Love Myself
  2. Care for My Body
  3. Uplift My Spirit

As you know from my 12 Months of Simple Living, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions in the traditional way. I like to go about my resolutions slightly differently, tackling one thing at a time. And I already knew what the first would be.

 

Why Veganuary?

Why I quit veganuary

If you read about my Vegetarian month, you may have picked up on the fact that I live with Vegetarians. One thing I didn’t know at the time was that I am lactose intolerant; yes that’s right, I can’t eat dairy! So when one day in December Val told me she’d signed up to going Vegan for January, I was keen to join her. It made sense for two reasons, first being that we usually share meals and second being that it was my chance to go 100% dairy free.

Prior to this, I’d been avoiding the biggest triggers of my intolerance; Cream, Milk, Butter & most Cheeses. But I hadn’t cut dairy out completely having a cheeky chocolate here and there, biscuits, cake and all sorts of dairy laced delights. It wasn’t doing a world of good for my body with break outs, tummy aches and sometimes more severe symptoms.

I saw Veganuary as an opportunity to look after my body by cutting out dairy, and also to eat even more healthily by having more fruit and veg. I’d have to cook most meals from scratch, meaning more nutritious meals, and I’d have to take food into work with me, saving me money.

But on a non personal note, here are some reasons why swapping vegan meals into your diet could benefit you:

  • Environment; a huge percentage of man-made pollution comes from the meat industry. Cutting it down can literally save our planet.
  • Economy; as referred to in my Vegetarian month, in the UK alone we throw away apx. 34k tonnes of beef each year. In the same space we produce 165lbs of beef, we could grow 20k potatoes. Cutting down beef consumption could help feed more people and reduce waste.
  • Health; vegans have low rates of obesity, lower BMIs, lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So, I sat by the fire with my hot Chai latte watching Bridesmaids, and I finished my absolute last dairy treat of the year; a chocolate brownie. And the clock chimed midnight, the fireworks started going and Veganuary began!

 

It was all going so well…

The first couple weeks of Veganuary, I was fire! I made some banging Vegan dishes, if I say so myself. I got some of my inspiration from the many vegan cafes I visited in Bali. But, in case you haven’t experienced the gorgeous Bali cafes, here are some vegan ideas for you;

Breakfast

-Coconut & Cherry Pancakes

-Strawberry, Banana & Coconut Smoothie Bowl with Granola & Goji Berries

Lunch

-Beetroot & Coconut Curry with Quinoa

-Avocado, Tomato & Fresh Basil with Walnuts & Vegan Parmesan

Dinner

-Chilli con Vegetales with Rice

-Vegetable Lasagne with Vegan Parmesan

As you can see, there are lots of delicious options available for the vegan diet. Some of the products I was really impressed with were;

  • Oatly Crème fraîche
  • Trek Cocoa Coconut Protein Flapjack
  • Blue Skies Mango & Passion Fruit Ice Cream
  • Walls Swedish Glace – Vanilla
  • Vitalite Dairy Free Butter
  • Alpro Yoghurts
  • Koko Yoghurt
  • Waitrose Vegan Spinach Ravioli (but this one was hit or miss depending what you had with it)

And they are not even paying me to endorse them (you are so welcome guys, I’ll accept freebies, thanks).

So, it was all going well, things were going easier than expected, I was resisting the urge to go to KFC with my work colleagues, saying no to all the cakes and treats that usually show up in the same spot at work each week. I was being really smug about it… but that was totes about to change.

 

What went wrong?!

How to not fail at veganuary

Around two weeks into Veganuary, I came home from work one day and Val decided to confess that she’s given up Veganuary! What?! Why? I asked, concerned. It had been her idea after all! She just wasn’t feeling very good on the diet, she’d been lethargic and weak and just didn’t feel like her body was getting enough nutrients.

I thought about it, actually I hadn’t been feeling so great myself. I was even more tired than usual, I was getting unusually hangry between meals and I felt generally weak. But I was stubborn, there was only 2 weeks to go! I decided to soldier on, after all, what difference would 2 weeks even make?

Bad mistake.

So what I hadn’t realised about the vegan diet, is that my calorie intake had to be higher to get the nutrients I needed. My intake was actually lower than before, because I was saving some of my dinner to be able to take into work for lunch. I was also skipping breakfast as usual (I know, bad) and so I was finding myself to be very shaky by the time lunchtime came along.

The other thing I hadn’t realised, was that I needed to be swapping in alternatives, rather than just leaving out the non-vegan part of a meal I would usually have. So, I was just cutting out the quorn or meat option, using random vegetables to replace it and cutting out dairy, usually replacing with soya. That didn’t bode well for my body.

Why I Quit Veganuary

My nutrient and calorie intake was low, I was getting stressed with work, I wasn’t drinking enough water (yeah this is still a problem, remember my Water challenge?), and the first nail in the coffin came when I decided to let my hair down with some colleagues at a leaving do. I drank way more than I should have (but also way less than I have in the past), and my immune system must have crashed at this point. I stayed true to Veganuary even in my drunken state, and I am proud of this! But the next day, I was pretty hung over.

I was still unaware of my immune system crash at this point, I thought I’d got away with it as I powered on through my hangover. But two days later, I had one small glass of wine with my vegan dinner and my body said “no!”. Within a couple of hours, I felt the familiar tingle of an oncoming cold sore and before I could do anything, it was a blister. I thought, okay, I can deal with this. I treated it and went to bed, pleased with myself. The next day, the sun was out and I knew I needed a pick me up, so I took a 5 minute walk in the sun and by the time I got back, one had turned into six! I was devastated! But I realised at this point, I couldn’t go on any longer like this. My body had given up, and I also needed to.

So I gave up Veganuary. And I’ve been trying to recover since, drinking water, taking vitamin supplements and avoiding alcohol.

 

How to not fail at Veganuary

How to not fail at Veganuary

So having been through all of this, I think I’m qualified to advise on what not to do at least! I recently met a lady who has been a vegan 3 years now and started her own vegan meal plans as a business, she had some great nuggets of advice for me.

  1. Don’t try to do it all at once!
    The sudden change, especially from eating meat to not at all can have a shock impact on your body. Some great advice I received for those who want to become vegan, is to ease into it. Try going vegan 4 or 5 days a week first, and eventually you will get there. Even swapping one meal a week to vegan can have huge impacts on the environment, and your health.
  2. Do swap suitable alternatives in.
    So, instead of just leaving out the non-vegan elements, like I did, try to be purposeful about replacing the element with a suitable alternative. For example, in a vegan lasagne, instead of just using veg, try adding in some beans. I’ve been told that blended white beans makes some bangin’ bechamel sauce!
  3. Eat more calories!
    If you are used to meat, you will be used to having something slowly digesting in your stomach over time. A vegan diet can be much quicker to digest leaving you with an empty stomach, this may have been why I was feeling sick a lot of the time and getting much more hangry between meals. Additionally, to get enough nutrients, you will need to eat more.
  4. Listen to your body.
    If you aren’t feeling well, or you are getting lethargic and weak. Do what you need for your body! Whether that means getting additional supplements to aid you, or taking the vegan journey slower. Maybe 3 days a week if you are doing 5 days. It’s not a one size fits all, so put your body first!
  5. Do your research!
    Most people are concerned about protein in the vegan diet, but you actually get enough protein from plants. 5 grams of spinach or 18 grams of lentils will do for your daily intake of protein, so do your research. The only thing that does occur naturally in animal-sourced food is Vitamin B12. This vitamin is important to help with brain and nervous system functions. You will have to source fortified food for this vitamin, such as fortified cereals and tofu. There is a fortified yeast that can be sprinkled onto certain foods to add nutritional value.

So, I hope that if you have been considering a Vegan diet, I haven’t put you off too much. But it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Knowledge is power after all!

Did anyone else do Veganuary? If so, how did it go for you? Leave a comment.

Any of you full time vegans? Leave your tips in the comments below!

Thanks for reading ya’ll, ciao! x

Texas, New Mexico & Mexico

I received the text on 31st July, “What if I told you we’re having a wedding in October…”, it was all I could do to hold in my excitement texting a reply at top speed! My bestest friend in the world, the one person I could rely on to make me laugh, to give me unclouded truth, to party with me until the early hours was getting married!

I already knew everything about his bride-to-be Kelsey, of course I did! When he met her, I heard all about her for hours over the phone, and when I finally got to meet her for the first time in New York, and the second time back home in England, it was impossible not to love her genuine smile that gave away her sparkling personality!

When the time came to propose, he sent me photos of the rose gold ring set with an oval diamond and I knew she’d love it. I received a facetime whilst I was in Bali, he was going to pop the question tomorrow, he said. She said “Yes”, we facetimed some more. And now, finally, a month later, the date was set… for 3 month’s time… in Texas! Ahhhh!

It was so far, and such short notice, so naturally I told him I couldn’t make it…

“Mate, I will be there if I have to freakin’ swim! If I have to kidnap Beyoncé to impersonate her and set  up a concert in Texas just to fraudulently be transported to you, I will do it. If I have to charter a private jet…” You get the picture, this is my best friend, OF COURSE I would be there! This was then followed by an exchange of very animated gifs giving way to at least 10% of my excitement.

The next wave of excitement arrived in the post just in time for my birthday all the way from the USA… the card officially asking me to be a bridesmaid! Yay!

So all I needed to do was figure out how to get there…

 

Getting to Texas

So contrary to popular belief, the more in demand the flights to certain places are, the cheaper the tickets are. So if I was going to New York or Vegas, I could have found pretty reasonable tickets even at the short notice. But nobody says “Hey, I’m going on holiday… to Texas” although, having been and gone, I’d say they should!
Unfortunately, demands at work meant a limited window of time, and I wanted to maximise my time off to mean I could spend lots of time with my BFF and his wifey! So flights were looking pretty steep.

So, in case you are inspired and think, “Yeah I want to go to Texas on holiday”, I’ll save you the hard work and give you your options for low cost flying now.

  1. Try to leave and return on a week-day.
  2. Fly to Mexico, Cuidad Juarez is nearest to El Paso in Texas, and get an uber to the border (or hire a car but make sure it is allowed to cross the border).
  3. Use kiwi.com who I found to have the cheapest tickets, but beware that tickets don’t always include baggage. Also be aware that they sell seperate tickets which means you have to recheck your bags at each stop and if you miss a flight due to delays, you could be swallowing the cost.
  4. Flights to larger, more popular cities within Texas such as Houston or Dallas are cheaper, but be prepared to drive 12 hours or more if you want to visit El Paso.
  5. Flying to nearby states such as California, Arizona or Colorado and driving will save you significant amounts but the drive will be between 6 and 14 hours to El Paso.

In the end I booked tickets to El Paso via Dallas on the way there, and LA on the way back via a travel agent. The agent had managed to get a deal that reduced a £1,068 ticket to £870 by adding a hire car! It was a win-win in my eyes!

 

The Wedding

The Wedding!
Photo Credit: @veronica.cook.photography

I don’t even think words can describe how beautiful this day was.

We were all up from around 9am, the vibe was pretty relaxing as we had plenty of time until the wedding started at 5.30pm. That may seem a little late but this wedding was a little different than any other wedding I had ever attended, firstly it was an Unplugged wedding, which simply meant no phones! At least, not until the reception. Kelsey & Chello wanted everyone to be present with them and in the special moment that they were about to share, and it certainly was a special moment.

We had lots of fun getting ready, helping one another out with hair and makeup, listening to music, drinking bubbly and taking photos. It was certainly a challenge getting our white lace tops on following our hair and makeup but we did it with two or three people holding the neck open!

Kelsey’s father then had a first look, where he waited in the stunning garden and Kelsey tapped him on the shoulder, it was such a beautiful moment; I looked at the other bridesmaids and there were tears in their eyes too.

Marcelo, my best friend and the groom was allowed his first look next, but this time, the bride wanted it to be private, just between her and her husband.

I’d never heard of a first look until this day, but it was such a beautiful idea.

Guests arrived to the perfectly decorated back yard, Kelsey had always wanted to marry in her childhood home, and we all hid waiting for our moment. First Marcelo, then the parents, the grandparents and finally, paired with the groomsmen, were the bridesmaids down the ailse. We parted at the alter and watched the bride arrive in an emotional moment. I felt so proud as we stood alongside the bride and groom for the stunning ceremony to take place.

It seemed to be over in a flash and soon we were eating, drinking, dancing and drinking Tequila! They did it! My best friend became one with his beautiful bride.

 

El Paso

El Paso is 80% Latino, which is unsurprising being so close to the Mexican border. As you drive along the freeway, you can see the Mexican city of Juárez which is the most populated city in the state of Chihuahua, also ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 2017.

El Paso, on the other hand, remains one of the safest cities in the US voted 4 years consecutively and stands on one side of the Rio Grande river across the Mexico-US border. El Paso, Cuidad Juárez and Las Cruces in state of New Mexico form an area sometimes referred to as the Paso del Norte or El Paso–Juárez–Las Cruces, all of which I had a chance to explore.

As with most places, El Paso has museums to visit, shops to explore, and restaurants to enjoy. Being close the the Mexican border, real Mexican food isn’t hard to come by; Gorditas, Tacos and the tastiest Guacamole you have ever had are among the options available to you. Taco Cabana and Leo’s Mexican Food are a couple of places I enjoyed some tasty Mexican cuisine. But of course there was also plenty of American restaurants to choose from, I may or may not have enjoyed a Chick-fil-A meal to myself. #guiltypleasure

I couldn’t leave El Paso without heading to a saddle shop to buy some souvenirs, Mission del Rey was fantastic and they gave me a little $3 discount on my purchases – yay!

Here are a few more things I think you shouldn’t miss.

 

Scenic Drive View

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Around 15 minutes away from downtown El Paso is a stunning drive that takes you up the southern edge of the Franklin mountains. As you drive up you will be surrounded by very expensive stately homes which are some of El Paso’s oldest homes, then when you turn off to the right you will have breathtaking views of downtown El Paso and Cuidad Juarez across the border!

There is a place to park up and an overlook to walk down where you can see panoramic views which are particularly stunning at sunset and at nighttime.

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On the rails of the staircase leading to the overlook are very familiar padlocks (read about Venice’s padlocks here) which appear to have become a visitor’s way of leaving their mark here before they leave. When you reach the bottom of the stairs, you can make your way to the edge immediately ahead of you to look through the round binocular stands, or you could veer to the right to sit on the benches facing the sunset as you take in the view.

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Look behind you to see the majestic mountain and the American flag flapping gently in the wind. Many people in El Paso also like to hike up the Franklin mountains, for fantastic views and challenging climbs.

 

New Mexico

Bordering Texas as well as Mexico is New Mexico. In Las Cruces you can find many wineries and vineyards, one of which we paid a visit to for the batchelorette party; the Luna Rossa Winery. It was 5 tasters for $5, seriously! And they were flipping good wines, I enjoyed the NINA best.

But I suppose marginally better than the super cheap wine tasting was one of the world’s natural wonders, White Sands.

White Sands is made up of gypsum which flowed from the mountain tops to create crystals that are broken down into fine particles that the wind has blown over time to create these huge sand dunes. The sand is almost as soft and fine as talcum powder making the sand itself cool to walk on even in the severe heat of the sun. The dunes stretch over a 275 square mile range of desert making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field.

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You can walk along the many miles of glistening white dunes, with trails available for hikers, or some like to camp overnight, sandboard, or like my bestie and his wifey, take amazing engagement photo shoots!

Monsoon
Monsoon in the Desert. Photo Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Whilst I was there, I saw a monsoon coming for us from afar like a dark cloud following us, it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by large raindrops and thunder as well as lightning. At this time, it is unsafe to be on the dunes as the sand conducts the electricity from the lightning and could harm you.

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But seriously though, these dunes are totally worth the visit, at only $5 per person for entry.

 

Mexico

El Paso is right next door to Mexico, so it would be crazy to be here and not pop across the border into Juarez. Yeah, Juarez was the most dangerous city in the world, yes there were horror stories of corruption, murder and greed BUT I had always wanted to visit Mexico! So, when a friend I met at the wedding invited me to join her and her husband for dinner in Mexico, how could I resist?!

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Crossing the border was easy, seriously, scarily easy. In fact, take the wrong road and you might find yourself in Mexico! So be careful; always carry a copy of your passport with you. So to get into Mexico, nobody checks your passport or anything – you can just drive straight through! It’s coming back that you have to worry about.

Juarez is a city in Chihuahua, I was sad that little Chihuahuas were not running around on the streets but it’s probably a good thing.

We headed to an awesome restaurant called Aaajiji! This taqueria was packed with local families and friends happily chatting away in Español, our party of 12 were soon sat and we ordered tasty pork and beef tacos that came served in heated dishes. We all headed to the salsa bar to get our sauces and toppings. On recommendation I ordered Orchata, a Mexican spiced rice milk drink which was absolutely delicious!

Following dinner, we all headed to the bar to celebrate my friend’s birthday, and what is the best way to celebrate a birthday in Mexico?? Tequilaaa!! We got a bottle of Don Julio and finished it quickly chanting the famous Mexican drinking toast, “¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! ¡Al centro! y Pa’dentro!”

The queue getting out of Mexico was long but the time passed quickly with the fun and laughter in our 7 seater car as we jammed to Dembow – Danny Ocean. To keep us going, we picked up some marzipan snacks from a street vendor who knocked on our car window. The clear plastic packet said “de la Rosa” in red writing with a picture of a rose. It tasted gorgeous!

No, they did not stamp my passport on crossing the border – boo!

Thanks for reading, more adventures coming soon – subscribe to be notified first!

Touring Bali

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I hope you enjoyed my last blog post where I showed you the work I was doing as a volunteer, but perhaps meeting with prisoners and playing football with street children isn’t on your travel agenda (though it really should be). So I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite spots in Bali that I got to visit on my days off.

I was really lucky to meet some amazing friends who were either volunteers like myself or full-time staff. Many were from Indonesia or had learned Bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia) and had been in Bali a lot longer than I, so they knew all the local spots where the “cool kids” hang out… so to speak.

 

Transport

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Getting around was never going to be easy, or so I thought! Here’s the thing, getting around in a car tends to cut a chunk out of most of your day as you sit in traffic and bake (or freeze if your driver has the aircon on like mine did at times). So how else are you supposed to get around? Yeah, you guessed, scooter!

The scooter! Also known as a motorbike, bike, moped, or whatever. It has two wheels and it weaves in and out of traffic like magic. Everyone has one and everyone uses this method of transport unless you are like foreign and don’t know about Go-Jek.

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I’m going to tell you about Go-Jek, and Grab. These are apps you must download before you go to Bali. Must. This is your Asian version of Uber and it is suuuper cheap. Seriously. An hour’s journey cost me £0.45p. Although you can select the car option, I’m going to tell you to choose the motorbike option because your journey time will cut at least in half. You have to be prepared to wear their helmets which have been worn by who-knows-how-many but it’s a small price to pay for a cheap, fast ride.

 

Temples

Temple

Bali has many notable temples, and being a majority Hindu country, you will see many people bringing their offerings and incense thrice daily and laying them all around their houses, businesses and the temples. These colourful offerings are supposed to give back to the gods and bring health and prosperity to their families.

There are many beautiful temples in Bali, but I only had time to visit one. Maybe I’m biased but I would definitely put the Uluwatu temple on your list of places to visit.

You are given a purple and orange sarong to wear around your waist before you enter and then you are nearly immediately faced with breath-taking cliff-top views. It doesn’t take long before you spot a monkey or two in the trees, and next thing you know you are surrounded by these cheeky creatures as you clutch tightly to your bags. And you should, these monkeys are well known for stealing sunglasses off your face and purses out of your hands so be careful!

 

Street Food

Having local Indonesian friends meant never being far from tasty treats from the streets (see what I did there?). I’ll try my best to describe some of these Balinese treats but you have to promise not to knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Fried Banana

So this is literally bananas that are dipped in some kind of batter, deep fried and topped with chocolate and cheese. And… it just works… somehow!

Martabak Manis

I also heard this referred to as a different name, but whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious. It’s a mix between an English crumpet and a pancake (so maybe call it a crumpcake?!) and this thick pancake is doubled up with a layer of chocolate and crushed peanuts sandwiched in between.

Deep Fried Pancakes with Egg & Leek

I don’t actually know the official name for this but it is a savoury snack you will definitely get an appetite for. Pastry is thinned out to a large circle and then placed in hot oil to start frying, then the egg/leek mix is added to the middle and encased within the pastry. This parcel is deep fried on both sides until it is ready, then sliced into squares for your consumption.

Satay

It’s just basically chicken (or other) kebab sticks marinated in a peanut sauce and cooked over a fire/grill.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia.It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form (source: wikipedia, cheers bro!). They love this stuff here, and it is often marinated in a sweet sauce and served with rice.

Nasi Goreng

Don’t get me started on how much Indonesians love their rice! They just love it! So it should come as no surprise to find the most famous Balinese meal is Nasi Goreng, or basically, fried rice. Now, it is good, and you can get it everywhere and it is cheap, so you can’t really not love it! #nasigorengforever

 

Cafés

Okay, so Bali is basically café heaven! Everywhere you go, you will find a gorgeous café selling really flipping tasty food and equally stunning smoothie bowls! For the vegan, the Canggu area is bliss! Here is a list of my top 12 cafés.

  1. NOOK, Denpasar |Rice Fields|Smoothie Bowls|Avocado Toast on point|Fresh
  2. Smoothie Shop, Uluwatu |Vegetarian|Organic|Takeaway smoothies in glass bottles
  3. Café Organic, Canggu |Organic|Fresh|Locally Sourced|Vegetarian
  4. Crumb & Coaster, Kuta |Fresh|Locally Sourced|Smoothie Bowls|Paper Straws|Coffee on point
  5. Revolver Espresso, Seminyak |Quirky|Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Locally Sourced
    Revolver Espresso
  6. Zeus Café & Secret Garden, Jimbaran |Bean Bags|Fresh Juices|Smoothies|Glass Straws|Relaxing Vibe
    Zeus Cafe & Secret Garden
  7. Mac Eleven Café & Roastery, Jimbaran |Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Relaxing Vibe
  8. Peekaboo, Canggu |Quirky|Good Vibes|Good Food|Totes Instagrammable
  9. Betelnut Cafe, Canggu |Airy Upstairs Seating|Healthy|Amazing Food
  10. Locas Waroeng, Keramas Beach |Beanbags|Smoothies|Great Ocean Views
    Locas Waroeng
  11. Kitchenette, Beachwalk, Kuta |Best Avocado Toast Ever|Beach|Shops
  12. J.Co, Bali |Best Doughnuts Ever|Free Doughnut with every Drink|Chill Vibe

 

Shopping

The Balinese Rupiah is not a strong currency which makes for dirt-cheap shopping and with the haggling culture, prices are rarely set. That in mind, please remember that what you earn in a year is probably more than some earn in a lifetime, so be generous- you can afford to be!

canggu love anchor

One of my favourite shopping spots was Kuta, I didn’t really bother with the Beachwalk mall but in the streets surrounding the mall there are several unique shops and stalls all selling anything you could imagine from very large paintings (guilty) to super cute clothes. The other favourite spot was in Ubud, there is a huge outdoor market in Ubud with each stall packed closely to the next making a sea of merchandise before your eyes. It’s hard to know where to look, but the stunning silver jewellery may just catch your eye. Indonesia is famous for it’s silver so be sure you will find some great quality pieces, and with a set of earrings and two rings for 100 rupiah, it’s a steal.

A little more pricey but worth a visit was the Mal Bali Galleria in Kuta where you can find your typical high street shops but also some quirky and cute stalls. Lastly, and most expensively, is the Love Anchor in Canggu which has some of the most beautiful and unique jewellery I have seen but also gorgeous bags, clothes, shoes or souvenirs. Make sure you pay a visit to the shops upstairs too!

 

Beaches

The volunteer base just happened to be opposite the beach most famous for it’s sunsets and seafood restaurants. Jimbaran Beach has one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen and if you head there after hours, you can enjoy a seafood BBQ on the beachfront with the waves lapping at your toes (or in my case swallowing my ankles).

If you enjoy surfing then you will love Keramas Beach in Kuta, this black sand beach hosted a surf competition which I enjoyed under the shade of an umbrella (you definitely need one in the Bali heat). You get to see the surfers right up close and many photographers gather to get “the shot”, which my lovely friend Guia was lucky enough to get with the winning surfer!

Also great for beginner surfers is Echo Beach in Canggu, a great time to go is just before sunset as you can watch the surfers surfing and the sun setting at the same time, then head into Canggu for drinks in one of the quirky bars, or dinner at one of the vegetarian cafés.

A more touristic area is Nusa Dua with some stunning views and the famous Water Blow where the waves smash against the jagged rocks with their alien-like appearance. But a local gem was known as the “Secret Point” only ten minutes from Jimbaran where you have insane sunset views and you can cliff jump (permitting the tide is high enough)! To make it extra special, bring marshmallows and make a small fire to roast them whilst you watch the sun go down.

 

Waterfalls

Waterfall

You can’t visit Bali without visiting a waterfall, there are so many beautiful falls hidden away in the center of Bali. I can recommend a visit to Kantolampo Waterfall but I can’t recommend the route that I took to get there.

You see, a friend who I trusted, took me to visit this waterfall. Except, when we arrived, it wasn’t immediately obvious exactly where this waterfall was. But my friend insisted that he knew where it was and it wasn’t far, so I followed him into the jungle (never follow anyone into the jungle).

Several traumatic slips and slides later (including one where we both slipped and landed in decomposing fruit turning into mud – eeeek!) we found the water fall. But needless to say, on the other side of the river, there was a clean cut staircase that lead from the road directly to the waterfall.

So don’t go through the jungle kids, just don’t.

 

Night Life

There’s plenty to do in Bali during the day, but it’s worth staying up because you don’t want to miss some of these magical places.

Sunset Seafood BBQ @ Jimbaran Beach

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If you are looking for the perfect romantic setting, you will be hard pressed to find one that competes with this beautiful beach. This is the perfect spot for dinner before you head to the next destination.

Nav Karaoke

karaoke nav

So you’ve had a few drinks and you’re feeling like you’re meant to be famous, don’t just keep that thought to yourself; get your own private Karaoke booth! This colourful Karaoke “bar” allows you to rent a booth for a period of time with your friends so you can explore your inner Beyonce. You can order drinks, choose from a very large library of songs and artists and of course, sing your heart out!

Old Man’s Beachfront Bar

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Maybe you are feeling super chill and you want to sit with some friends simply chatting and sipping on some Bintang (local beer), take a seat in the open outside area. If you can tolerate bumping into the occasional celeb, and you can shake a leg with some stag and hen parties, you might also find yourself enjoying the more enclosed area near the bar.

La Laguna

La Laguna

You haven’t seen magic until you’ve seen this place. Seriously. La Laguna had me at “wow” from the start. I stared at the magical lighting and medieval style wagons that lead down to the main restaurant. I crossed the stunning bridge, dimly lit, with vines drooping from above, wondering where it would end. I delightfully ran through the sand as I realised the bridge lead me to the sea, and played with photos around the teepee.
But, I couldn’t stay on the beach long because I had a date with my friends at the outdoor cinema where beanbags were lined up and blankets laid on the ground beneath us.

This. Was. Magic.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed following me on a short trip through Bali, keep following (and subscribe) for my future adventures.

Sunset Heart
“Thank You Bali!” – Secret Point. Photo Credit: @totosamurai

Volunteering in Bali

Wow, 3 weeks have flown by and already I am sat in the Ngurah Rai airport eating a grilled falafel panini and waiting for my plane to Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a crazy, unique and unexpected few weeks and while I wait, I’ll take this opportunity to share with you some of the experiences I had as a volunteer here in Bali.

So after I arrived and settled in, I was given an orientation to let me know how things worked and where I could help. I also found out that there were several significant holidays happening for the people of Bali, which is fantastic for the Balinese, but for me it meant that several of the volunteering opportunities were not on for the weeks that I would be staying. That left me with limited options, but I was keen to be involved in any way that I could. I ended up getting involved with the following activities.

 

Cleaning and Meal Preparations

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For any voluntary organisation to operate, you need hands on deck to run it in every way. There are people who staff “full time” but they do not get paid to be there, actually they need to pay staff fees (and I volunteer fees) to be able to stay and these cover the cost of keeping the Bali base going.

We are provided with accommodation and three meals a day, so as you can imagine, somebody needs to maintain it and prepare it. So every volunteer is rota’d into cleaning and food preparations which would normally be around 3 times a week. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other volunteers/staff here at the base but also felt good to be able to contribute to keeping this amazing organisation running.

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In addition to this we would help with any other tasks needed for the voluntary work such as wrapping the gifts to be given out to the girls stuck in prostitution.

 

“Soccer” with Street Children

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Okay, yeah so maybe I was ill-equipped to facilitate the actual training in “soccer” (which is actually football, guys), but I really wanted a chance to meet and interact with these local children.

There were many children of various ages and they were split into groups according to age. Some children wore kit so big for them that they were pretty much being held up by the string that runs through the waistline. I helped one child tie the laces of his shoes that were falling apart, at the same time I peeled of part of his rubber sole that was flapping off to avoid him tripping and falling.

One girl in particular took my interest, she was the only girl who came to soccer but she didn’t let that fact put her off. She smiled and took my hand, then lifted it to her forehead as is the Balinese custom for showing respect to your elders and I was charmed! Though a very little girl, no more than 7 years old, she easily competed with the boys around her.

As we asked a very lighthearted question about a time when these little 7 year olds had made their parents annoyed, some of the children opened up to us about the abuse they suffer at home where some are beaten so badly that they have scars. They laughed about it, because for them it’s just normal life. But it really touched our hearts as we realised for these children, soccer may be the only escape from their tough situations at home and the only place they can really let loose and express themselves.

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At the end of soccer, they all sit down and we tell them a story which always has a life lesson for them to learn about how to behave or to deal with difficult situations. I watched as they got so involved in the story, laughing and shouting and my heart went out.

 

Prison

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Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

Unsure what to expect but eager to get stuck in, I desperately convinced one of the base staff to swap my cleaning day so I could visit the prisons of Bali.

I visited 3 prisons on different days and each had their own impact on my heart.

The first time I went, we visited two women and a man in one of the Bangli prisons. Not long before one of the inmates had committed suicide there. The two women particularly were so happy to see us and speak with us. We were able to share words of encouragement with these women, and one of them couldn’t stop crying- the other on the verge of tears also. One due to be free in 1 month and the other with a life sentence, the girls shared their struggles but also the times they were thankful for. The man, however, didn’t stay long to chat. We gave them gifts of food and toiletries and left feeling so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these women.

The second time I visited was a male-only drug prison also in Bangli. A very different prison with much tighter security, a larger group of us went to visit the prisoners. The organisation I went with had actually been invited to come to this prison because one of the inmates had transferred from another prison that they visited and told the officers of the work we do.

There was around 15 of us who went, including a 3 year old boy (who they absolutely love seeing), and we each brought the skills that we had to invest in the people here. The main purpose is to build relationships and support the inmates here in the hopes that they will turn their lives around and when released, leave the life of drugs behind. We also teach English, and train in football (or “soccer’). I initially planned to help with teaching English, but when one of the inmates stepped out of the team I was invited to fill in for football. You have no idea how excited the inmates were to see me playing soccer, I soon had a fan base who cheered loudly if I so much as tapped the ball.

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One thing that really stuck out to me here was how polite these men were, treating the women visiting with respect and generally behaving well. I can only imagine the type of behaviour that would take place in a British prison (having a friend who is a Prison officer in the UK, I have heard enough awful stories). The other thing was how accepting they were of the mistakes they had made and how keen they were to change when they eventually got out. I spoke to one man who desperately wanted to ensure he never went back to drugs, even asking me for advice on how to stay off when he’s free.

The prison sentences in Bali can be quite harsh; particularly for drugs. This may be because it’s one of the biggest drug trafficking routes. One man I spoke to had 6 years for possession of marijuana. The other sad thing to note is that due to corruption, those with money can often pay their way out of harsh sentences.

Kerobokan

The last prison I visited was the most secure and this was the Kerobokan prison in Denpasar. This time I visited a specific woman who told me she had a 16 year sentence and had had to leave a son behind. This woman amazed me with the positivity and hope that she had despite losing all that she had, believing even that maybe she was there for a reason; to help others in this place. I could barely keep my jaw from dropping as she passionately talked with me about the hope that she had and the faith she had in God to look after her little boy, and her.

Her face lit up when I showed her a selection of nail polishes that I had nearly not been allowed to take in, she looked at her battered nails and smiled at me saying “God knows what your heart desires”. Again, jaw dropped as I saw the pure gratitude of such a simple thing.

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Not the same woman who I met in Kerobokan but another very thankful woman after I did her nails. Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

In the end, I thought I was coming here to give to the people of Bali, but I didn’t realise how much they would give to me instead. My heart goes out to the amazing people that I’ve met, normal human beings who have just fallen on hard times. People who deserve to be loved and not forgotten. People who despite the odds still hold so much hope in their hearts.

I reflected on this one night with my sandals half on, vision blurred, riding in the dark on the back of a motorbike with no idea where I was going. My heart was full, and I only wanted to give more.

Maybe it’s not about the four walls that surround us, it’s about the souls within.

 

In my next post, I would love to also show you the sights of beautiful Bali that you shouldn’t miss!