The Final Chapter of Ben's Gap year

So that's it, all over, done, finished. One whole year, hasn't seemed all that long has it? Well for me it's seeming like I’ve just had a really wicked dream, nothing here has changed! But it is good to back, even though i'm missing Annai, it's nice to see everyone again.

Anyway, so you haven't heard from me in a while, well that’s because I have been travelling around South America. After term finished and I said goodbye to all my students it was time to have a holiday! So the holiday was planned, 6 countries, 5 weeks, 4 guys and lots of fun!

Before I went travelling though, I visited Kaiteur Falls, the worlds largest single drop waterfall. It was absolutely fantastic. I had seen all the pictures of it, but nothing compares to actually standing there and watching the water crash over the edge, not 20m in front of you. Words can’t really do it justice; it's such a wicked place. Well worth going to see if you are ever in Guyana. Hell, I would almost recommend going to Guyana, just to see the falls!

So after Kaiteur, we set off from Georgetown to Lethem on Monday night. The big bus was full for the next week and we couldn't delay the start of our trip that long, so we had to get a mini-bus. Now this was actually a bit risky, as a couple of mini-busses have been robbed in the last few months. We got one of our friends to sort it out for us, so we trusted the driver. Thy picked us up at 8:30pm but come 1:00am we still hadn't left Georgetown. This was because the driver didn't want to risk the journey with only one spare tire. Anyway we eventually found one and set off. Now mini-busses are just 15 seater vans, which are impossible to sleep on, so we were all very knackered throughout the journey. Everything ran smoothly up until Annai, except for the window shattering all over me randomly. We reached the 12-mile stretch at about 3pm, 14hours after we left GT and 18 hours since we first got on the bus. Now as the name suggests the 12-mile stretch is long straight road, about 12 miles in length. When we cycled I may have mentioned it as the long straight road. Anyway at the start we develop a puncture, which was no problem except the jack was rubbish, and we had to lift the bus to get it under the proper bit. Anyway this was a minor hiccup compared to what was about to happen. Around 1 mile down the road we see something blocking the road, it was the big bus at a very precarious angle, up to its wheels in mud! So our mini bus decides to go round, thru the savannah. Just as we are about to go, a next mini bus coming the other way goes thru and gets stuck. So we have to push that mini bus out and then push our mini bus through. This is lots of fun, as the wheels spin, spraying Rupununi mud all over us. Eventually we get our bus through and we get back on. We are rewarded for our troubles with a really sweet view of a Giant Anteater striding across the savannah; maybe it was Dead, the pet Anteater of Annai Secondary School? Anyway except for the total lack of petrol, we just about make it into Lethem and to the border just as it close at 6pm, only 21 and a half hours after we first got on the bus! We boost across the border and on to a Taxi bound for Boa Vista. We reach Boa Vista much too late to make the bus to Manaus, so we book on for tomorrow mornings bus and have to spend the night in Boa Vista. All of us crash, as we are still knackered from the mini-bus journey.

Next morning we get on a bus more plush and comfortable than a First Class BA flight and we sleep straight through the whole journey, waking only for the free buffet lunch at one of the stops. We decide to get off at Manaus Airport and take the next available flight to Tabatinga. Now originally we weren't going to fly to Tabatinga, we were going to Santa Cruz when we left Georgetown, but we changed our minds and it meant we could do a circle of South America and pop over the border to Colombia! We arrive at Manaus Airport around 9pm, and find out the flight leaves at 8am. A dilemma faces us, go into Manaus and pay for a taxi and a hotel, or just stay in the Airport? So we crack out the travel speakers and set up home at Bob's Burger's and spend the night in Manaus Airport! We had a bit of a hassle with paying for the tickets as the credit card system was down, and none of us had enough cash to pay for the flight! But come 5am when the check in staff woke up, the cards were working again and by midday we are at Tabatinga airport, on the tri-border between Colombia, Peru and Brazil. At the airport we meet a guy called George, who offers to help us sort out hotel's and things. Now we know exactly what we are doing and where we want to go, so we don't really want the help and are a little suspicious of him. But he follows us on his motorbike to the Colombian Consulate (we thought we needed some kind of tourist card to enter) where we meet Joe, one of the workers at the consulate who tells us "No No, it's no problem, only Irish Bombers need tourist cards". We assume he means the IRA and leave the consulate heading for where we book the boat for our next destination, Iquitos. Joe now decides to follow us on George’s motorbike. It's kind of strange, everyone in Tabatinga and Leticia ride motorbikes, the only cars are beat up old wrecks, but all the bikes are immaculate and there are about 20 bikes to one car! We reach the guy who runs the port and he tells us about the plane to Iquitos, now this is no ordinary plane, this is a proper seaplane, like in Indiana Jones! So we forget that it costs more than the speedboat, we don't want to miss out on the chance to fly in a Sea Plane! We haven't got enough cash to pay for the plane straight away, so Joe and George take us to the bank, and then the cambio so we can pay for the flight. They then say "So you go hotel now?" Now we were worried they were going to take us to a really posh hotel, but they take us to this nice little place called Residencial El Divina Nino. We give George a small tip, as although he just followed us, he was really helpful. We organise money and Steve goes off on George's bike to pay for the Sea Plane. We spend the afternoon wandering around, checking out Colombia, before heading back to the room for a Siesta. We wake up about 8pm and prepare for a night out in Colombia, we find this fairly decent club and despite our best Spanish "It's my birthday, can I have this for free" (it was actually Hugh's birthday) we had to pay for all our drinks, although we did get free limes with our rum. The club was o.k, but at about 2am the army came and shut all the parties down, little annoying, but we weren't going to argue, they had big guns! So we see these two girls and two guys, and decide to ask them if they know a good place to go out, they say Brazil is the only place and we hop in a couple of taxi's. Strangely the two guys with them had beat out, but we didn't think anything of it and nip over the border to Brazil and to a club there. This club was pretty rubbish and when the two girls started saying things in Spanish about hotels and money we suddenly realised we didn't have to ask what they did for a living, so we run back to Colombia for safety!

Next day we sleep in late and then just wander around and see that they have a festival celebrating 18 years of peace on the tri-border (only 18 years?!?). Later on we are getting ready to go out and Joe, our friend from the Colombian Consulate turns up. He is blind drunk and mutters something about girl's before disappearing. He returns 15 minutes later with a very scantily clad woman. Now we assume she was probably a lady of the night, so we just kind of ignore her. Steve comes out the shower and is shocked to see her, but then ignores her too. Dod asks the hotel receptionist to throw her out! Good Riddance! We go out and check out the two concerts that were being held. One was a school concert so we gave that a miss and the other was the Police Orchestral concert, only slightly better, but our only option. So we wander round the bars at this concert and choose the one with the nicest looking bar maids and take a seat. Now after we get through the first half bottle, the guy at the next table tells us that the tables with blue tablecloths are for gays. We look around and there are 3 tables with blue, our's, and empty one, and one with two men in drag on. Not sure whether the guy is messing with us, but not wanting to take the chance we beat out. The concert was pretty devoid of any fun, so we decide to give it a miss and head home.

Saturday we cross back over to Brazil and pre-pare to get the Sea Plane to Iquitos. We almost get stuck when we are told that the engine wasn’t working on the plane, but about 4hours late, we cross over into Santa Rosa in Peru to catch the plane. We check on and get a Peru stamp and sit having a beer until the seaplane lands, and it looks so damn wicked! We get in, for some reason wearing life jackets (like they are going to do anything if your engines fail and you have a close encounter with the rainforest!). The plane journey is really cool, but the scenery is more rainforest, YAWN! (If you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all!). On the flight we speak to two gals who are getting a flight to Lima about 1 hour after we land in Iquitos. We have no desire to stay in Iquitos, so we jump in the 3-wheel-moto-taxis (really cool) and head to the airport. We can’t get on to the 5pm flight, but safely book on to the 9pm flight. Then horror of horrors, the flight is delayed! That means we get free food, free money, free phone card, and arrive in Lima so early that we don’t have to pay for a hotel, so it’s all good (for us anyway, we loved annoying the other tourists by saying really loudly “I’m glad this flight was delayed!”). We went for a posh meal at a really posh hotel and then used the money we were given to get a bottle of rum and some coke. We eventually got on the flight and arrived in Lima at about 4am. This was much too early to go and try and get into a hotel so we hung around in the airport until about 6am. We then go outside and freeze our ass off! This was the first time we had not been in warm climates and we were just in jeans and t-shirts, was like walking into a freezer! We get a taxi to a hostel that was recommended in the guidebook, and the taxi driver tried to rip us off and charge us 30 soles instead of 20 like we agreed. So being very tired and ratty, we acted like total stupid white tourists and pretended we knew no Spanish and just swore at him a few times until he realised he wasn’t getting any money and left us. The hostel was full, but the owner got us a decent taxi and sent us to a next place, the Hostel España. This one was actually a lot better as we were a 1-minute walk from the central plaza. We were tired so decided to sleep for a bit and then were going to go for an explore in the afternoon. At about 10am though we were awoken to the sound of music. Heading outside we see a parade in full swing, and it was actually a really cool parade. It was a parade for the Virgin Mary; complete with gangsters and slightly strange looking dancers in short skirts. After the parade we took a wander into Lima’s shopping district where I replaced my trainers that were falling apart and got a new camera as the one I had previous stopped working towards the end of the Kaiteur trip. We also all buy a lot of warm clothes like jumpers, hats and gloves! We then head to a nice little café next to out hotel and try Matè de Coca (tea, made from the same leaves that they make cocaine from). We then headed back to the hotel for a siesta and then planned to get up and go out for a night in Lima. Despite Matè de Coca being a stimulant, we slept straight through from about 4pm to 7am!

Monday 18th July, we decided to do some “cultural stuff”. So we visited the San Franciscan church and the catacombs below, which was kind of cool, especially all the skulls and bones in the catacombs. We then decided to check out some Internet. Now by this I mean real Internet, because it seemed in Lima that Internet meant Weed. You would be walking down the street and some guy with a sign saying “internet” would just offer you weed. “You want some internet?” “No” “You want some weed?” “Err…. No!”. We decided Lima is a pretty rubbish city and book ourselves onto a bus leaving for Cusco on Tuesday. So we try and have a Monday night out in Lima. We resist the temptation to nap again and go out looking for a party. Now, our Spanish was getting relatively competent and we could ask the locals “Esta noche, dondè esta buneas fiestas con muchas chicas”. (Where is there a good party tonight with many girls)? Unfortunately the people of Lima seemed to keep directing us in different directions! Even the police kept sending us round in circles! We found one bar where they were playing blur and burning a huge pot of incense in the middle of the dance floor which was full of white guys who had given up on western life and were living in Lima, like one bloke who sold his cat to come to Peru. We also find a club, but it’s empty, there are more bar staff than customers! So we go back to the hotel and sleep.

On Tuesday we prepare for a mammoth bus journey, 30 hours! Well we thought 30 hours, actually only turned out to be 20. The scenery on the way was fantastic; some of the sheer drops on one side of the bus were pretty breath taking! We even managed to play Spanish bingo on the bus, we didn’t do too badly and Hugh is still convinced he won. We arrived in Cusco and it was unbelievable how much difference the altitude makes, for the first day you constantly feel like you’ve jus finished doing some light exercise. Not quite out of breath, but still breathing heavily. We check into the Hotel Casa Grandè and first thing we do is check our washing into the Laundry service. We then head out and check out Cusco. A couple of times we have to stop and have a sit as the altitude catches up to us, thankfully that was the worst and only real effect the altitude had on us. We go for a drink in Paddy’s, an Irish bar on the main plaza (and supposedly the highest in the world) and seeing that they have a happy hour at 7-8pm, we decide to head there for some dinner (and drinks!). After some really good pub grub, with some rum and coke’s (or Cuba Libres as they are known) and watching a re-run of the Champions League final, we head out into the bars of Cusco, which were fantastic! Now they all have touts outside, these are guys and girls who try and attract you into their club, firstly by telling you of their fantastic drinks promotions and if that doesn’t work they jus seem to grab you and pull you towards their club! First one we checked out was a place called Mythology, where a nice tout called Roxanne tells us Cuba Libres are 2 for the price of 1. This is a great offer, but they got even cheaper later on! After checking out a next club, called Mama America, we notice that on all the little cards the touts give you, it says free drink, 11pm-12pm. So we decide to hang around in one club until 11pm and then we go on a free drinks crawl. We only manage to get 4 free drinks each as it takes about 15mins per drink, but we are still happy with this. We then head back to Mythology, which was the busiest club, find us some nice girls and get some salsa lessons! We all had a really wicked night and stagger home at around 3am. The great thing was that we were in a safe part of town, and our hotel is a 3minute walk from the clubs, so no wasting money on a taxi!

On the Thursday we go out to book our trip up to Machu Pichu. We head to the train station to get our tickets; just outside a moustachioed Peruvian called Luis stops us. Luis tells us that the trains are totally full for a week but luckily he happens to be a tour guide who can take us up a back way. Now like idiots we don’t check to see if he is telling the truth, we just agree and book a trip with him. He was offering us the trip at about the same price, as it would have cost us to get the train, so we saw no reason not to go for it. So we go back to the hotel, sort out all the details and give him a deposit. That night we more or less repeat what we did the first night with the whole “get as many free drinks as possible before dancing the night away” thing, only this time being more clued in to the free drinks thing, we only buy one drink and end up having a good night out for 80p each. We are now starting to get friendly with the touts outside the club, we know most of them by name, and they know us too, this gave us an edge and the ability to swindle a good few free drinks outside the 11pm-12pm happy hour. Friday we actually decide to do some cultural stuff again, and we visit a museum, I think it was just called the Inca Museum. It was quite good and we had a laugh at some of the things like rude statues and skulls with big axe wounds in the head! We wander round the market and find ourselves some nice thick woolly gloves and hats as well as some Alpaca wool jumpers. At 8pm Luis meets us at the hotel and we head out to the bus station. Now the first leg of the journey was to a place called Santa Maria, and we got a feeling Luis hadn’t booked us onto a bus because he is running around like a headless chicken. We eventually get on a bus and all is well except for a 14-year-old girl having some kind of temper tantrum. We sleep on the bus and at about 3am the driver blurting something in Spanish awakes us. We listen carefully before turning to Luis and asking what the hell was said! Luis tells us there is a landslide up ahead and the bus cant pass. Luckily there are busses coming the other way so we can just jump on the one that was supposed to be heading to Cusco and proceed in that. So we jump off the bus and make our way quickly over and around the landslide and eventually find our bus. Then a slight problem occurs. The bus going the other way is …….err…. facing the other way! So we watch as a bus turns around on a road that is only just wide enough to fit two busses side by side! And one side of the road is a sheer cliff face and the other is a 400m-drop. Thankfully the bus completes the turn safely and we jump on and head for Santa Maria. We arrive in Santa Maria on Saturday morning and Luis sorts us out a mini-bus to the next place, Santa Theresa. This is an uneventful journey and we enjoy a nice glass of fruit juice in Santa Theresa. Luis then tells us we have a 20-minute walk, then we take the cable car, and then it’s a 2-hour walk to Aguas Calientes. Now when you say cable car you think like a train carriage that climbs up and down a mountain on a cable. Now if you expected it to be one of these then, like us, you are mistaken. The cable car was actually what can only be described as a shopping trolley strapped to a piece of wire across a river! You won’t believe how scary and/or stupid the damn thing looked until you see the pictures. So we go across the river and meet a truck which is transporting everyone some of the way. We then proceed to pile as many people as possible into the back of this truck and motor up to the hydroelectric dam. Here we start walking up the train tracks to Aguas Calientes and a fee times we can actually see Machu Pichu, way up on top of the mountains. We reach Aguas Calientes after 2 and a half hours walking, and 10km of train track. Luis then books us into a hotel and gets our tickets for Machu Pichu. This is when the problems start. None of us have student cards, and you get half price admission with them. Now we told Luis that we didn’t have student cards (well Dod got away with using his out of date NUS card). So he starts saying we owe him more money. We then book the train down which costs us US$50 instead of the $20 that Luis told us. We eventually sort Luis out by giving him a small amount of money extra, and then we find out he ducked out of paying 20 soles on the hotel room, now its only about a quid each, but it’s the principal, so me and Steve go out and try and find him in Aguas Calientes, but he is no where to be seen. Now Aguas Calientes is a really ugly tourist town that was built solely for tourists, so its all hotels, restaurants and shops and all expensive. The statue in the main plaza had a date on it with something like September 2004. Nuff said. We have the cheapest meal we can find and get an early night, setting the alarms for 4am as we plan to see the sunrise over Machu Pichu and it takes about 2 hours to walk up.

We successfully arise at 4:30 and make our way up to Machu Pichu. Now forgetting about the whole altitude thing, we race up the hill, and after 10 minutes we are shattered and all these old folk we nipped pass, over take us and make it up to the top ages before we do. We reach the top absolutely knackered at 6am. We head to the eye-sore that is the Machu Pichu Hotel and buy 4 bottles of water which ends up costing us like £2.50 per bottle! SO we realise the Machu Pichu hotel is for people who use £20 notes to cleanse themselves after using a toilet.

We head into the site and climb up the ruins and look over, the view that you get on the traditional postcards. We then prepare ourselves for sunrise. Then it hit’s us, which way is east? ARRGGH! SO we just sit around until 8am until we realise whichever direction the sun is coming from, it’s behind the clouds. SO we head off down into the ruins for an explore and then decide to climb Wayna Pichu, the mountain behind the site. This was well worth it, and probably better than the site itself. It also gave you a totally different view of the site. Our train down to Cusco was at 3pm, so we decide to leave at around midday. As amazing as the site is, once you have seen one really old rock, you have seen them all. We have a giant pizza in Aguas Calientes before getting on the train. On the train the steward and stewardess treat us to a fashion show and some bloke does a little dance in a stupid outfit. We then get treated to a really wicked view of the Cusco city lights at night. We head back to the same hotel and go out for some dinner, we knew that some of the other PT guys were in town, and we decided just to go to one bar at random, for one drink and then go home. If we meet them, we meet them, if we don’t, then we don’t. Turns out we met them and then decide to show them a good night out in Cusco. We did stick to only one drink. That’s one paid for drink. Last thing I remember was toasting free drink number 11 and then dancing on the bar of club Mythology.

Next day we did very little except go and see a few movies, all the clubs show free movies during the day, which is cool. We then spend the night doing more or less exactly the same thing as we did each and every other night in Cusco.

Wednesday 27th July we leave Cusco, and we were all sad to leave, as it was such fun. We headed to the town of Puno on Lake Titicaca. When we arrive, we think the place is so ugly we book ourselves onto the next bus to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake. We reach Copacabana on Thursday and head to the beach! Unfortunately it is only about 20 degrees, and the water feels about 3 degrees below freezing, so we don’t do any swimming. But we do rent a pedal-o and muck about on the lake a bit. On Friday we decide to go in search of a motorboat, as we couldn’t be bothered to do any Island tours. We were unsuccessful in this, but we do get our hands on a sailboat. We are about half a mile out into the lake before we realise none of us can sail. We make an effort to sail and realise even if we could there is no wind. SO we just crack out the speakers, play some Bob Marley and relax on the lake for a bit before rowing it back in. Watching the sunset over the lake was really awesome, but as soon as the sun dropped, so did the temperature by about 10 degrees. We left Copacabana on Saturday and head to the world’s highest capital city, La Paz.

We arrive in La Paz late Saturday afternoon and check into the Hostal J’acha Inti. We were recommended a place called Oliver’s Travels which advertises itself as a “100% Fake, English Pub” and “The fifth best bar in La Paz (except on Sundays, when Sol y Luna closes and we are the 4th best)”. Anyway we go here and have a really nice meal and finally, after 11 months, we actually find somewhere in South America that sells pints of beer on tap. Oh we found beer on tap, but not actual pints. Unfortunately it was a very average Bolivian beer, but you can’t be picky. We then get a recommendation on some good places to go out in La Paz, but ignore them because they are all rubbish and just go to some discotheque.

Sunday morning we discover the La Paz market, which is brilliant. You can eat and drink like an absolute king for absolutely nothing. The best was the fruit stalls; you paid 2 Bolivanos (around 14p) and chose 3 fruits, e.g. (my favourite) Orange, Pineapple and Passion Fruit. They then take the fruits and blend them, mix them with either milk or water and give you about a pint and a half of amazing fruit juice. I think I may have O.D on Vitamin C on Sunday.

Monday we paid for what was going to be the best day of the holiday, Mountain biking the world’s most dangerous road! We also book our plane tickets from La Paz to Manaus and our bus tickets from La Paz to Chile.

On Tuesday we have what was to be the most fun in the whole holiday. Mountain biking the world’s most dangerous road! It was absolutely fantastic; we go with a company called Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. They take you up to about 4700m near a place called La Cumbre and stick you on a mountain bike. You then race down about 26km in less than half an hour on tarmac road, hardly any need to pedal. I had been cycling for about 20mins before I realised that by bike was still in the lowest gear! You then reach the WMDR, looking down on it was incredible, the drops off the left hand side were literally 1000m in places. But we thought we were safe, Bolivian traffic drives on the right, so we have to hug the mountainside of the road, not the edge side. So our guide tells us “Now this is the only road in Bolivia where the traffic drives on the left, so we have to cycle on the left” So we have to ride with the 1000m drops, less than half a metre to our left. Now this may be the world’s most dangerous road, but that doesn’t stop a whole lot of traffic using it. Mostly big trucks taking things too and from La Paz. So we have 1000m-drop offs to the left, huge trucks thundering past on the right and being downhill, you are constantly on the brakes to keep yourself at speeds less than 20mph. Despite all this, at no point did we feel in danger, Gravity were very professional and safe and we had a wicked time. Except that they didn’t have enough dust masks, and when they did get some for us, mine broke up. Towards the bottom it got very dusty and I was coughing like a 50-a-day smoker at the end. I also had a couple of scary moments, like on one corner I pulled the back brakes too hard and skidded round the corner with the bike going sideways and going under a waterfall I didn’t want to touch the brake in case the bike slid, and so I almost had a close encounter with the big mountain on the right of the road. All four of us reach the bottom safely, and only one of the people in our group came off their bike and all he got was a slightly mashed up arm. We then get free beer, and taken to a nice hotel for a free buffet lunch and free hot showers. Unfortunately the road was very dusty and we already had cold’s so we were coughing like a 100-a-day smoker on the way home.

Next day we jump on a bus and head to the beach! Now Bolivia is land locked so we had to go to Chile for a beach. On the way to Chile we are treated to some spectacular snow capped mountains and our ears are all messed up as we go from 3500m to sea level in about 3 hours. We decide to stay in a slightly posh hotel, but only because there were two clubs opposite it but the only highlight of our first night out in Chile was finding a restraunt that puts a 3-litre glass tube of beer on your table with a tap, so you have beer on tap, on your table. Wicked idea! Next day we head to a next hotel, slightly less posh but owned by this really cool guy who spoke good English. We then went to the beach, which was fine, except it was as sunny as Southend-on-sea on November weekend! Little warmer than Southend though, and Southend has less army dudes wandering around with assault rifles (at least it did last time I was there). We then had another bad night out in Chile trying to find a party. After deciding Chile sucks we head back to La Paz. In La Paz we meet up with about 8 of the other volunteers travelling around south America and go out for a meal, before we fly back to brazil. The flight was from La Paz to Santa Cruz and then onto Manaus. At Santa Cruz they started checking bags, except when they opened our bags with all the dirty clothes in and they didn’t bother checking. International smugglers take note; just wrap your contraband in a pair of smelly socks and your sorted. We also were being heavily security checked as the plane headed on to Miami. You’d be getting patted down and the guy asks you “Manaus or Miami” when you reply Manaus he gives up patting you down, and doesn’t bother searching my hand luggage. The flight was delayed so we ended up playing a game of Monopolio, like normal monopoly only in Spanish (we bought it in La Paz for occasions just as getting stuck in airports). We then fly to Manaus and it felt so good to walk off the plane into a nice hot and humid Brazilian afternoon. On the plane we met a traveller called Joe. Joe had been travelling around Peru with his girlfriend, and she went back to the U.K. So he stuck with us for a few days.

We arrived in Manaus on Sunday and immediately set off for the old haunts we discovered during the Easter holidays. Unfortunately being Sunday and being Brazil the only people around were street cleaners, cleaning up what looks like a big party on Saturday night, which was annoying to miss.

Monday we went straight back to the old’ Hotel Bellevue, hoping to find some of our old friends like Sylvia the waitress as well as finding a recommendation on a place to go out. Later at the bank some guy starts asking me where I’m from. Now I have taken to saying Guyana, so anytime in Peru, Bolivia e.t.c I was asked where I’m from, I said Guyana. This guy says back to me “Yeah me too!” turns out he was one of Hugh’s student’s brothers! He was a tour guide so we spent the evening hanging out with him and some of his tourists before he let them go home and he took us to a fantastic club. The dance floor was huge and packed, and the girls were out in force and ready to teach we white guys how to dance! Slight downer on the night, I got my wallet stolen, but I had the last laugh, I haven’t kept any money in my wallet since about January! The thief probably thought he was going to steal the wallet of a rich white tourist and he got a wallet with a slightly beat up Project Trust I.D card. I keep it all in me pocket! Not only did we show Joe a really wicked night, and had a wicked night ourselves, but because we used the Manaus Bus system, we ended up paying something like 40p for our travel for the whole night, and we went a long way across town, which would have cost like £10 in a taxi. Unfortunately (or not) the buses in the morning don’t start again until 5am, so we had to stay pretty late in the club. This meant by the time we got back to the hotel, we were only 15mins from breakfast! We didn’t wait though and slept in late. Tuesday night we are recommended a concert but when we turn up it’s rubbish. Apart from a couple that were setting the floor on fire with some damn good dance moves, there was no one there! So we jump in a taxi and head to his recommendation of a next club. It’s packed and seems ok, so we get a drink and do some laps of the club on the look out. After 30mins I make a bet with Hugh. I bet him one drink that he cannot find someone UNDER the age of 25, with I.D to prove it. Half an hour later he concedes victory, says he found a 24 year old who says she doesn’t have any I.D because she too old to need it! So we head home, slightly disappointed, but still having had a good time.

Wednesday was time to say goodbye to Joe as he departed up the Amazon on a boat, bound for Bèlem. In the afternoon we attempted to get a bus to the Rodoviaria (which is the long-distance bus station), sounds easy, it’s not. We get on this bus, and it’s heading the right way, we can almost see the Rodoviaria, we are sure it’s just over the hill. Then the bus we are on turns left and we get a city tour of Manaus! We end up at the depot at the end on the lie deep in the heart of the residential part of Manaus and have to explain to the guy where we are going. He understands we are stupid white tourists and sticks us on a bus heading the right way. Despite this little hiccup we still take the bus back to the hotel, and we actually make it this time. Wednesday afternoon Dod departs us as well, he wanted to visit his project back in Guyana, so he headed back with a few of the guys as they passed through. Leaving the three of us, we head out for the night. We were expecting a repeat of the night before when we reach another dead concert hall. So we use our favourite phrase and ask a group of girls where we should go out, there are about 8 of them. They say they know a cool bar and we could go with them to it. Result! So we head to this bar and we don’t take any bus, we don’t end up out of pocket paying for a taxi. These gals’s drive! And Listen to some wicked rock and roll! So they give us a lift to this bar, and we almost hit a problem, we need I.D (usually white skin is enough of an I.D.) So I do an elaborate mime in which I have my passport stolen from my back pocket, complete with stupid fake shocked look. Much to my actual real shock, the bouncer let’s us in! We find out while we are there that they are actually law students, fantastic, we’ve met a group of girl’s with more brain cells each than the rest of the local gals we have met so far the holiday put together! So rather than engaging in intellectual conversation (their English was very good) we left them. Not sure of where to go, a spark of inspiration hits me and I remember the last time we were in Manaus, on a Wednesday we went to club Bora Bora. So I suggest we do this. And I’m glad we did too, although the free beer on tap had finished, and the football wasn’t on, we still had one of the most fun nights of the holiday.

Thursday we just limed in Manaus before heading back to Boa Vista. Ran into a group of the girls who were travelling back to Guyana, they happened to be on the same bus as us. Bus journey, was as usual, was very nice, except when some idiot opens the air vent in the roof and it begins to rain on me! We then said goodbye to Hugh who was heading back to Guyana and me and Steve went up to Santa Elena, Venezuela. The bus was excruciatingly long as we stopped every other mile to pick up a passenger and it took the driver 20 minutes to stop, put the luggage under the bus and write them a ticket! Now this border crossing into Venezuela could have been a hassle, they can make you pay up to £15 a day for a visa, demand you apply for a tourist card or give you short length visas. We ask for a 4-day visa (even though we knew we were leaving next day) and get given a full 90-day visa totally free! Fantastic. We take full advantage of the beer, Polar Ice, only costing 20p a bottle (naturally) and the best thing was the bar’s where you didn’t specify what drink you wanted, because it was sheer Polar, you just specified a quantity! So all was going good until the army come and shut down the one good party!

Going home to Guyana the next day (via brazil) we decide to take a taxi from Santa Elena to Boa Vista, otherwise we would miss our connecting bus. SO we take a taxi that is only a little more expensive than a bus, but we had already pre-booked our tickets. We arrived at Boa Vista bus station with some time to kill so I formulate a plan. We go into the bus company that has the English-speaking woman and ask her the Portuguese for “refund”. We then go into the bus company that we were supposed to be coming back from Venezuela with and say “refund refund refund”. We thought we had no hope but we actually got through! We make it back to Guyana about 6 hours after leaving Venezuela having got 4 passport stamps in one day.

We spend Sunday night in Lethem at Hugh’s house and on Monday we give his next-door neighbour literally all of our clothes to wash! She did earn about 3 times a much in one day, as I would teaching though. We then spend two days doing nothing much in particular in Lethem except eating potato curry, drinking rum and playing risk. We book ourselves onto a mini-bus going up to town on Wednesday morning. Tuesday night one of the nightclubs in Lethem agrees to open so we can have a going away party. It’s all well and good and we are at a friend’s house having the nicest pizza when the driver tells us that they are closing the road tomorrow morning so no traffic can get past, and that the mini bus we should have been on to go to town left without us about 12hours early! So we are stuck in Lethem, I mean properly stuck. We got so desperate that we phoned our Rep in town and Desk Officer back in Britain to ask them what we can do. They tell us they will sort something and for us to keep checking the mini-bus place. So we do what any 19-year-old male would do in such a tight situation, and totally forget about it until the next morning and have a wicked party!

Next morning we go along to the mini-bus place to see about busses, but mainly to get a refund on our tickets, when the guy turns round to us and says “We are going this morning, get your bags.” So we are off. About two hours in we come to the hole in the road. Now this is the same spot we had to push our mini-bus through on the way down from town about 5 weeks ago! This time the savannah either side is a river and the road has literally washed away. There is a Bedford truck up to its cab in mud and we have to walk across the hole and jump on a mini-bus the other side of the hole. Now this mini-bus had the craziest driver and about 7 holes in the exhaust so you couldn’t sleep or even hear yourself think. We reached town in about 14 hours. From Annai to town he went about as fast as the big bus does it in the dry season! Speaking to most other people they took as long as 27 hours! We got lucky. After speaking to our Rep we found out that they had chartered a plane to come to Lethem and pick us up, thankfully we didn’t need it.

We spend our last few days in town spending the last few thousand dollars of our money on souvenirs and living it up for our last week.

Our last day in Guyana is spent in a bar near the girl’s flat in Georgetown (they had kicked us out so they could clean the flat) drinking Banks, the beer of Guyana and then spelling out words with the empties!

At Barbados airport I actually meet the two volunteers who are going to Annai next year (I say next year, they are already a month into their year!). That was cool and was strange seeing them coz they looked just and excitedly nervous (if that makes sense) as i'm sure I did when I was in their shoes. I resisted the temptation to beat them up and try and take their place so I have another year in Annai.

I land at Gatwick and was worried about customs (I had a large quantity of rum with me) but they only seemed to be searching black people (there were at least 10 people being searched, not a single one white) which I found pretty bad, but it means I could go through “nothing to declare” with confidence.

It feels good to be home, although nothing has changed (Safeway now being called Morison’s is about the extent of it!). It was great to see everyone again and I realised how much I did miss my family and friends for the year. Unfortunately as soon as I got home I started missing my friends back in Annai. Oh well, all good things come to an end.

Well that’s it for my year, thank you for reading these long emails, and if you have read this entire one, well done, it’s a biggie! I’m off to University on Saturday to start the next chapter of my life as the page closes on the last chapter.


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