Pumas in the night…

Hello dear readers!

How are you all? I hope you are enjoying the changing seasons, tucked up in the cosy warmth with fluffy socks and Chia spiced tea…

There’s a fair amount to catch you all up on about life in the wild. Last week was a fun one – with both the boys gone on a visa run, it was an all-girl camp. It was a nice change, and just nice to have Charlotte and Emily back (they also were on a Visa run). The rainy season announced itself on the 2nd October and not a day later. For almost 3 days straight it rained pretty much all day, and we found ourselves unable to go on a few surveys as Birds and Primates are impossible to do in the rain. It was actually quite fun to curl up with a book for the afternoon, and I even found myself needing to put on a jumper on a few occasions as apparently 24 degrees is now too chilly for me…The rain began to ease off again at the weekend, and it has barely rained since. I’m not sure whether to be happy about having sunshine, or concerned about the clear negative impact of global warming in such a place as this where the rainy season is an absolute essential.

At the weekend, Nadia and I went into town to do a Chocolate Tour, which was really interesting and made even better by the glorious selection of fruit, chocolate, and pampering we were treated to. We were picked up from town and driven the short way to the Chocolate farm just outside Puerto Jimenez. It was a small family farm of about 20 hectares, but with over 200 cocoa trees, and many other plants and animals besides. We were first introduced to the numerous geese, ducks, chickens and even a turkey, while enjoying an orange picked straight from the tree above us. From there, we walked around the farm with our guide explaining to us the process of producing chocolate from bean to bar, and we also enjoyed coconut water from a fresh coconut and drunk with a bamboo straw sculpted from the plant next to the coconut tree.

Once ripe, the cocoa pods are split open and the beans are dried in the sun for upwards of 3 months. They are then ground down multiple times to make a fine paste – cocoa butter. We were able to try the cocoa at each stage, and I have to say it was most delicious was the cocoa butter. From this, our guide made us a face mask, mixing the paste with coconut oil before smearing it on our faces. After 5 weeks of camp’s somewhat sparse washing facilities, we felt like we were in the best spa in all of Costa Rica!

After washing off our face masks we were treated some fruit – banana, fresh orange and papaya – along with the chocolate we had just made. After many, many long days without tasting the smooth decadence of dark chocolate (my absolute weakness), I was not about to pass up the opportunity to stock up on a few sweet supplies, and so bought a little bar of handmade chocolate which they made on the farm themselves. It was truly a delightful morning, and I even managed to get that compulsory ‘Gap Yah’ shot of me drinking coconut water straight from the shell with a bamboo straw! Year Abroad completed.

I took the opportunity to have ALL my clothes washed in town in an effort to stave off the ever encroaching mould for the next few weeks. I have to admit, I found myself actually missing camp a bit over the weekend, and so was quite happy to jump back on the Colectivo and enjoy the bumpy ride to camp, especially when smelling like I had just walked out of a laundromatte.

Since Monday, we have been busy on surveys again as usual. With the addition of 3 more camp members – 2 volunteers and 1 new ARO (Assistant Research Officer) – we have been able to do more surveys again. On Thursday we made the long trek up to Leona trail for a bird survey, which is an hour and a half walk either way, and that’s before the trail even starts! We combined it with a Primate survey for a double hit (and to save having to walk the trek again next week!). In order to make it there for sunrise we had to leave at 3:30, and so walked the whole way in the dark. Luckily, we saw no snakes this time. In fact, we saw a Paca, which is apparently very rare to see, and also pretty cute! By the end of the day, having been up before the sun, I was knackered and was ready to get into bed at 7:30, but I held off to the more reasonable hour of…8 pm.

Other camp excitements include: The Night the Chickens Almost Died and Cooking with Coco. One night, we were all awoken by the raucous shrieks of the chickens. Having lived with chickens for 7 year or so, I unfortunately know what a dying chicken sounds like. Something about distressed animals really gets my heart rate going, and I couldn’t just stay in bed listening to them. Cautiously I poked my head out of the cabin and shone my beam of a headtorch towards the coop, very aware that you don’t really get foxes in Costa Rica and that there had been a few sightings of a Puma around Carate lately. Something definitely disappeared into the bushes when I shone my torch over, and our camp dog was soon barking too, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. With all the noise they made, I’m quite surprised we still had 4 chickens the following morning!

Cooking with Coco was a degree less stressful. Coco is a good friend of all of us at camp, and he frequently comes over to see us, sometimes cooking for us too as he works in the kitchen at one of the lodges. With a lot of people in town for the weekend, I took the opportunity to invite myself for a cooking session on Saturday. We were treated to a delicious Thai-style salad, a delicate Okra dish with onion and lots of spices, and even handmade spring rolls. I was over the moon at seeing actual salad leaves if I’m honest – for a girl who truly embraces the rabbit diet, I really miss lettuce here! Coco himself is one of the most fun-loving, relaxed, and truly good people I have ever met, and so it was a lovely evening, and a great way to spend my second last weekend in Costa Rica.

Today marks only 2 more weeks left on camp for me, and I know I will be sorry to leave such a beautiful and remarkable place. I’m really looking forward to my next adventures in Chile, and especially the little holiday with my Dad in the Chilean lake district (not least because he is bringing a suitcase full of clean and mould-free clothes). However, not waking up to the sound of the monkeys, or spending the whole morning on a sunny beach with Macaws flying overhead, will certainly be downside. I’m planning on throwing myself into every survey possible over these next two weeks, and I am also determined to go on all the trails we do at camp – I only have 2 more to do!

Hasta pronto amigos,
Katie xx

Tan lines and Baby Turtles

This past week has gone by in such a blur – I’ve now been here for a whole month, can you believe it?

Last weekend a group of us were in town to do a whale watching tour. We almost didn’t make it as there was an almighty rain storm on Friday night and both the morning and afternoon buses were cancelled. We managed to commandeer a 4×4 driver, and made it into town at about 7pm. The tour started at 7:30 on Sunday morning, and so we all walked down to the harbour to get on the little boat. We went out into the Gulfe Dulce, so called because of it’s fresh water, which attracts many marine species for feeding and raising their young.

September is prime season for Humpback whales, and we were lucky enough to see two mothers with their young, as well as hearing the males under the water singing their ‘mating songs’. Humpback whales from different regions each have their own song to attract a mate, and the longer and more complicated the song, the more impressive it is. The songs that the males sing in the Gulf is especially long, which they think is because the acoustics of the Gulf as so perfect and the song bounces of the coastline. After we had chased the whales around a bit, we went closer to the shore line to see if we could find the dolphins that live in the Gulf. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find them in their usual feeding spot, but we went snorkelling over the reef and saw some amazing fish and even a Hawksbill turtle too! Our tour guide then produced some delicious pineapple and watermelon, much to my delight, and we began to make our way back to Puerto Jimenez on the other side of the gulf.

Charlotte and I returned to a quiet camp on Monday on the morning collectivo, and jumped straight in to doing surveys again, as this week there were only 3 volunteers (a new one who arrived on Tuesday) and 3 leaders. I had a great time on a Primates trail on Wednesday as we saw loads of Toucans and a troop of Spider monkeys too, with 3 juveniles being carried by their mothers. I managed to get some decent pictures, which I was really happy about. It’s been lovely the past few days after a wet start to the week, with the sun has been shining all morning and well into the afternoon. It’s almost been too good – I’m still anxiously awaiting the start of the wet season….

A Toucan in the jungle canopy

That said, we did a huge beach clean with a lot of people from the local community on Friday morning, and it was so hot on the sand that we couldn’t take our shoes off. I also achieved some serious tan lines – the watch tan situation is becoming ever more pronounced. People from 3 different conservation groups, including ourselves, were on the beach, along with people from Carate and even some student from the University in San Jose. The beach clean started at around 7am, and we weren’t finished until 11. The local Firemen went along the beach with us, keeping us well stocked with water and emptying our bags of the plastic we were picking up. When we reached the end of the beach we were all ferried back to the local school, which is just along from our camp, where we were fed tomales and fruit. The tomales were interesting – they are made with maiz flour and potato, and filled with rice and veg or meat. They have quite a strange texture from the maiz flour, and I’m not sure I’d rush to eat another! But I did eat my bodyweight in Watermelon, so it was just fine. After that, we then all had to pose for some photos with everyone who had been involved in the clean, many of whom had also made some posters about ocean plastic and keeping the beaches clean. Apparently, there was about 70 of us on the beaches helping to clean them up, and between us we covered almost 9k of beach! It was a long and hot morning, but also a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the beach will definitely be covered in plastic again within a few days. The amount of water bottles, plastic cutlery, toothbrushes, and random bits and pieces is just shocking – and that’s only one stretch of beach in one corner of the world. I fear to think how much plastic is actually in the ocean.

The other highlight of this week was stumbling across a Turtle nest just as the baby turtles were coming out! It can take up to 3 days once the turtles have hatched for them to make their way to the surface of the sand as the nests are usually about 30-40cm deep, sometimes more. To see hatchlings coming out of the nest is very rare, so we were lucky to arrive at that moment. We sat and watched all the turtles emerge, making sure they all made it safely to the ocean by chasing a few birds and crabs away. I counted 115 baby Olive Ridley turtles in total – a big nest. If you haven’t seen the time lapse on Instagram, it’s on either @tinytinch98 or also the Frontier page @frontiercostarica.

This next week is going to be EVEN QUIETER on camp, as Charlotte, the other volunteer who arrived with me, has left this weekend. Our turtle man has also left this week for a visa run/holiday, so there will be a lot of turtle work to fill in for! Let’s hope for good weather and sunny mornings on the beach, as spending 3 hours or more excavating nests in the rain is not really all that joyous…

My family tells me it’s getting colder in England, so her are some of my 34 degree besos,

Katie xx

Jungle Banana Bread

This is a recipe I adapted from a friend of mine in Exeter. It works so well and is very easy to make. It is also completely gluten free and can be vegan if omitting the egg – perfect for me and my dietary requirements!

Last weekend it was the birthday of one of the volunteers, so we wanted to make her a cake. Baking ingredients and also oven facilities are pretty limited here in the Costa Rican jungle, so we needed something simple that we could make from what we had. With an abundance of oats and some over ripe bananas, this recipe popped into my head. Using a very large pan with some pots in to create a shelf, we were able to fashion a jungle oven, which I have to say was pretty impressive and effective.

This recipe worked a treat because it is so simple and easy. It’s really just a matter of throwing everything in a bowl and mixing. It is also so versatile as you can change it up by adding in extra nuts, dark chocolate, or anything you fancy! At home, I would have banana bread with yoghurt, berries, and some nut butter if there was any going. Obviously that wasn’t quite the case in the Jungle, but it was delicious by itself or with a little extra drizzle of honey. I hope you love this recipe as much as I do, it’s a sure crowd-pleaser, and everyone will be back asking for more.

Ingredients:

  • 4 bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3 cups oats
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • [Optional] 100g chopped walnuts and/or dark chocolate


Method:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
2) Peel the bananas and place them in a blender with the egg, oil and honey. (If not using an egg, add 100ml of almond milk.) Blend until a smooth consistency.
3) Put the oats, baking powder, cinnamon and pinch of salt into a large bowl. Add in the banana mixture and stir well.
4) Roughly chop the nuts and dark chocolate, and add this to the bowl as well. Once mixed, pour into a greased tin.
5) Bake for about 30-45 minutes

Save the Turtles!

Hello all,
I think it’s time I filled you all in on exactly what I’m doing out here in the Jungle!
Frontier is a government conservation group that operates in various places of the world, such as Madagascar and Costa Rica, working with the local community to do important research into the environment and the animals that live there. In Costa Rica, our work focuses on 5 main animal groups; Turtles, Primates, Birds, Macaws and Amphibians + Reptiles. The Turtle conservation work is a huge part of what we do out here, and there are 2 other Turtle groups that operate on Carate alongside us. We also have the largest population of Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica, so this is an important part of the research too.

Carate has the largest population of ACOSA Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

Each week, a schedule of trails is randomly selected for each animal group. There are 3 or 4 each day, plus Turtles which happens every morning on the beach. The trails involve walking along a particular trail through the jungle, looking out for whichever animal we are recording. For instance, Primates of Shady last week involved trying to spot the 4 types of Monkeys native to Costa Rica while hurtling at high speed down a very steep slope…(if you haven’t read that one, you really should). As I said, Turtles happens every morning, and this involves excavating the nests that should have hatched by now in order to count the number of empty eggs/predated eggs/etc. Together with the other Turtle groups, we work to cover and count the nests laid by mother turtles at night, in the hope that we can reduce the number of nest that are predated by dogs, etc, or perhaps poached – a serious problem in many countries and especially here, where Turtle eggs are sent to the Western world to exotic pet shops, or eaten as a delicacy.

The data we collect on each trail involves things like species type, number, activity (e.g. foraging or travelling), weather, distance from trail, and more. This is all recorded into the data log and sent to London HQ. Last week, the Research Officers were writing their quarterly reports, which is an analysis of the data collected from the past few months , noting trends and general animal activity.
Some of the trails are right next to Camp, and the furthest one away is a solid hour and a half trek. The trails themselves are 1km, and it depends on the animal as to how far you walk. For instance, birds only happens in one place along the trail, where we walk to that point and sit for 20 minutes or so, ready to count the birds that we hear in the dawn chorus.

Capuchin Monkeys are native to Costa Rica

I signed up for the Media and Conservation Internship here, so as well as helping out on the trails and with general camp life, I am getting involved in running the social media pages such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well organising and sometimes writing the 2 weekly blogs that are sent to London HQ to put on their general Frontier Blog. Last week I was also editing and translating the monthly newsletter that circulates in the local community, updating people on the work of Frontier here. As part of all this, I’ve had my camera out a lot to get some pictures for the social media, but unfortunately I’m finding that my lense is not always powerful enough to see into the trees!

A Green Iguana – we get both types, but these guys are much cooler!

In between trails, we have some spare time most days to do as we wish. This mostly involves reading and napping for me, and I’ve already read 5 books in 2 weeks! After introducing Banagrams and Bohnanza to some of the other volunteers, there has been a LOT of game-playing too. Yesterday evening we went and played volleyball on the beach, which was so much fun, made that little bit more special by the stunning setting sun behind us. Although the days seem long, the weeks are passing so quickly. We get up with the sun at about 4 or 5, depending what you’re doing, and by about 8 pm everyone is ready for bed! Normal life may take a little adjusting too when I return to civilisation, but for now, I’m enjoying life and looking forward to the next 5 weeks. One slight unforeseen issue is that I didn’t realise that seem to have come to Costa Rica in the most rainy months – last year September and October were the wettest months. For now, the weather is holding, and we’ve had sun just about every morning this week. It clouds over around midday, but so far the rain is holding.

This weekend I’m heading into Puerto Jimenez will 5 other volunteers for a Whale Watching Tour, which promises to be a great day as it is currently mating season for Humpback Whales, so there are lots about. After 3 weeks in the Jungle, I’m also secretly looking forward to a little luxury in the form of air conditioning and a proper bed – even if it’s just for 2 nights! Next week is going to be a lot quieter on camp, as 4 of the volunteers are leaving on Monday, so it will just be 2 volunteers and 4 leaders – which means a LOT more work for us to make sure all the surveys are covered!

Stay tuned for more adventures!
Hasta pronto,
Katie xx

Perils, Primates, and Purple Caecilians

Dear readers, you’re in for such a treat with this one…

It’s been a two weeks now since I arrived at Camp Osita, and I’m still getting to know the various trails we use for our surveys. Having never before been up ‘Shady’, I was keen to give it a go with the other girls for a Primates trail, especially as they’d already had a slightly dramatic ascent the other day, and everyone knows I love a good challenge. It is a very steep climb up to the ridge that overlooks Carate Beach, but we were confident we could scale it without incident this time.
Within a few minutes of starting the survey we saw a group of Capuchins and Howler monkeys foraging together. We scaled the climb with relative ease and made it to the top of the ridge were we came across a group of Spider monkeys. It was from here that things started to go downhill…literally.

Gemma, Loren and Brogan chuffed to have made it up the trail


The other leaders had advised that the best way to descend would be at the end of the route, coming out at the football pitch just beyond one of the lodges. It seemed relatively simple when they had described it, yet the Leader with us was unsure exactly where the trail ended (they shall remain nameless as for reasons that will become clear…!). The path we were on seemed to simply disappear into the jungle, so we agreed that this was probably the end of the trail. Having just passed the stairs that led to lodge, we figured this was were we were supposed to descend, and so we began the most perilous (and hilarious) incident of my time here so far.

A serious gradient…


To start with, it wasn’t too bad. There were enough sturdy trees and branches to hold in as we edged our way down the steep ridge – I’m talking more than a 15% gradient, honestly. The Spider monkeys above us were having a great time laughing at our ineptness at jungle travel – who was the more evolved species now?! And then the real fun started…Just as we were being told how last time our leader was on this trail she had ended up sliding down the entire slope, ripping her shorts in the process, she slipped herself, travelling a few yards down the slope at an alarming rate. Charlotte’s water bottle then jumped out of her hands, bouncing several meters into the chasm below, and we knew there was no going back now.
Inch by inch, we made our way down as the trees became looser and the leaves became slippery and lethal. What looked like a fairly secure place to step would suddenly give way, and in a tumble of leaves, branches and loose stones, I suddenly found myself flying down the slope like I was on a waterslide. Having coming to a shaky stop a good way below everyone else, Gemma decided to join in, perhaps out of sympathy for my dying dignity. She slipped, she slid, and she didn’t stop until she collided with a large upturned tree, becoming wedged between ground and tree, with the help of Loren managing to grab her bag as she slid and also Gemma unfortunately jarring her shoulder and arm in the tree. There was a moment of complete silence, anxiously waiting for Gemma to move…Slowly, she came to life, and no-one knew to laugh or cry. Really, you had to laugh, otherwise I think we all would have given up at that point and just have staked it out until rescue came.


Cautiously, we continued our descent. As we went further down the slope, the jungle became denser and darker – the perfect habitat for snakes. There were piles of damp leaves, clusters of mushrooms, and many mouldy tree stumps and branches which cast shadows across the jungle floor, so that we couldn’t know what lurked beneath. Just as this thought crossed my mind, something slithered into the leaves right in front of my path, glistening and fat – a Purple Caecilian. I stopped, not sure where to step next. This was turning out to be just the most delightful morning.
Having manoeuvred around the snake zone, the ground eventually began to flatten out. We thought we might (literally) be out of the woods, but not before Brogan managed to become stuck in a tree root for a good 5 minutes. Stumbling on, the sun suddenly broke through the canopy, and we once again heard the reassuring crash of the waves – civilisation was near! Eyes bleary from the sudden return to daylight, we stumbled out onto the road, ensure whether or not what had just happened was real. Covered in mud from head to toe, we staggered back to camp, dazed, relieved, and ready for a shower and a LOT of coffee.
I’m pleased to say that Gemma’s arm remains attached to her body, and the rest of us are none the worse off after having thoroughly washed all the mud that worked its way into our wellies and shorts during our unexpected mudslide adventures. It was certainly a character-building experience, but not one I think I’ll choose to repeat. The only way I will be venturing up Shady again is if someone comes with us who either has a zip-wire in their bag, a tobogan, or a clear idea of how to get down without breaking a neck, leg, or arm!

In great need of a shower…


Besos,
Katie.

Welcome to Camp Osita!

Where to begin?
I can’t really begin to explain what it’s like, living here in the Costa Rican Jungle. I feel like I’ve stepped into a completely different world, maybe even a different planet. Last night, after arriving on camp at about 6pm, I fell asleep with birds calling all around me and the hum of insects in the night. Today I’ve seen monkeys, birds, some massive spiders, and the most stunning blue butterflies. It just doesn’t feel real.

Would this even be my blog without some minor disasters here and there? Getting to camp on Monday was slightly more eventful than it should have been. I set my alarm nice and early for Monday morning and caught an Uber to the airport. At the check-in desk, the woman told me that I was actually at the wrong airport – it turns out the airline I was flying with to Puerto Jimenez operates out of its own tiny little airport in the center of San Jose, whereas the two other airlines go from the main International airport where I had arrived the day before. In a slight panic, I called another Uber to take me across the city. I still had a full hour and a half before the flight was supposed to leave, and the woman at the desk had assured me it would take only about 30 minutes to get there. She was very wrong. Between 6 and 9 in the morning, the traffic in San Jose is basically gridlock. It took us almost 2 hours to get to the other airport, and I was frantically calling the airline and WhatsApping my parents as I panicked about missing the flight. When we were within 5 minutes of the airport, I watched my flight take off without me…
I had a little cry outside the airport with all the stress of the morning and the day before simply getting the best of me. Then I got back in the Uber and headed back to the main San Jose airport to see if there were any other flights today. Thankfully there was one at 1pm, and despite missing the bus that would take me to camp, I was able to catch a lift with a couple who also live in Carate and happened to be in town that afternoon. After a two hour journey along a very bumpy road, I arrived at camp.

There are 4 Frontier leaders, and the rest of us are volunteers whom change periodically depending on how long each person stays. I seem to be staying the longest of our current set, with one other girl staying for 4 weeks but most staying between 2 and 3 weeks. Everyone is really lovely and welcoming, as are the locals who we interact with in our conservation work.
In a coconut-shell (you’re welcome), each day there are various trails that we go on to collect data about the animals and environment here, from Primates, to Turtles, to Birds, to Reptiles and Amphibians. We walk slowly along the trails and note down any sightings we see, which are then logged. The Turtles conservation is a little different, and is a major part of what we do here. On the morning patrols we excavate nests to see if they are hatched, counting how many empty shells, unhatched or predated shells, etc, there are. Night patrols are about making sure that mother turtles lay their eggs in a suitable place in regards to the tide, and also protecting them from predation by covering them with logs or bamboo cages. If not, we would move these eggs to a better location or to the hatchery.
My role here is going to be helping to run the social media pages – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the blog and the monthly newsletter. I’m still getting to grips with exactly what this means, but I’ll be sure to put some links below so you can all check out what we’re doing a bit more! I’m super excited to get my camera out and show everyone the unbelievably stunning beauty of this place, even in the rain. The baby turtles are like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think of the novelty of seeing a monkey in a tree 5 meters away is ever going to wear off.

Turtle Hatchlings! These are the Olive Ridley hatchings from one of our nests.


This first week has already gone by in a bit of a whirlwind. The best part was when we did Turtles one morning and discovered some baby turtles that hadn’t been able to get out of the nest after hatching. They are so tiny, and yet so strong! I also went for a run along the beach front, which was just stunning. The sun finally came out for the whole day on Friday, which made spotting the Macaws in the trees on our survey even better. The Osa Penninsular houses the largest population of Macaws in Costa Rica, and they are truly beautiful birds (if not a little noisy). On Saturday we all went to an 80th birthday party of one of the locals at a nearby bar, which was so much fun – dancing Salsa from 8pm until 1am! I surprised myself with my own skills, after doing it only once before at Salsa Tuesdays at TP (if you know, you know).
I suppose this blog is just to bring you all up to date and introduce you to Camp Osita a bit! I hope the next blogs are a little more interesting as I start to get the grips of life here in the jungle. It’s only been a week but it certainly feels like an age already. I know how idyllic it sounds, but it is really quite hard work. We get up at 4 or 5am most mornings to start the trails, which are anywhere between a 10 and 60 minutes walk away, before actually walking the trail. There’s a lot of stuff we have to do, both on camp and in the local community. It’s definitely worth it of course, but I do seem to have become a chronic napper – it’s the only way!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for the next update!
Hasta pronto,
Katie xx

Mexico – Pyramids and Volcanoes

The past few days I have truly been channelling my inner mountain goat, taking a tour of the Aztec Pyramids on Friday and then climbing a Volcano on Saturday. The views were stunning on both occasions, and I feel like I have seen some of the best sights of Mexico City.

Continue reading “Mexico – Pyramids and Volcanoes”

There’s no going back now…

There is something deliciously innocent about a city at night seen from the sky. Flickering in the heavy night, Mexico is just a pattern of light, completely unknown to me and unexplored.

Arriving in the dark means that instead of being hit by the impressive city buildings, you are accosted by the smells and the sounds; the quiet hum of Spanish from one Mexican to another, the musty lingering of twice-breathed air, the soft crinkle of paper-dry skin and the bleary blinking of lashes cloaked in sleep; a world awakening and brimming with the unknown.

Loaded like a Mexican mule, I eventually found my way to my hostel after waiting a few hours in an airport café until it was a more reasonable hour. A cheery Mexican man helped me to buy a ticket for the bus, and then proceeded to make excited conversation and high-five me constantly the whole journey, introducing me as his ‘amiga inglesa’ to another passenger (who I don’t think he knew either), as if we were best mates. They certainly weren’t wrong when they said that South Americans are friendly! Finally outside the airport, I was met with chaos – there were people and vehicles everywhere, which I guess is to be expected in a big city. Once we got to the Historical part of town it began to feel a little more relaxed and quaint, with stunning architecture and huge churches rising up out of nowhere on every corner.

The hostel I’m staying in is a really adorable little place off a pedestrian street, very clean and well kept, with a lovely friendly feel to it. It reminds a bit of the place in the movie ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, and I’m expecting Judie Dench to turn up at any moment. Having finally arrived, I left my bags in my room and headed for a refreshing shower, which turned out to be much more ‘refreshing’ than anticipated, because it was cold…that said, it did wake me up a bit. I donned my #travel outfit of bumbag, cap, and rucksack, and headed out to see what joys awaited me in the great City of Mexico.

Some of the Revolution art was very powerful.

Although there were a lot of people about, it didn’t feel overwhelmingly full of tourists. The majority of people were definitely Mexicans, which unfortunately meant that I stuck out like a sore thumb. I need to be maybe 3 shades darker before I can pass as a Mexican – nothing 9 months can’t sort out! After wandering around for a while just soaking up the atmosphere, I headed to the Museo de Bellas Artes for a bit of culture. I was quite excited to get to see some of the murals by Jose Riviera which were painted after the Mexican Revolution, as we’d studied these in a first year module.

Insect skewer anyone?

Having enjoyed Mexico’s finest art, I found myself outside the Town Hall where there was a large marquee with loads of little stalls. People were selling everything from clothing to soap to local Mexican cuisine. There was every type of enchilada under the sun available, and, I kid you not, even insect enchiladas. I think I must have walked past a dozen stalls with massive bowl of insects of all sizes… Going for a much safer (and more appetising) option, I went for a sort of sautéed corn dish – basically corn taken off the cob once cooked and mixed with some herbs and spices – which was just fine for me. I finished that off with some mango that I had been eyeing up. I paid $25 Mexican pesos for what appeared to be an entire mango, which is the equivalent of 2p! It is possibly the best mango I have ever eaten in my life.

It was about then that the fatigue of a 12 hour flight and 6 hour time difference hit me and so I retreated back to the idyllic Casa San Ildefonso for a little rest. Alas, the Dame herself had still not appeared, so instead I made conversation with another lost traveller, who had somehow ended up staying in Mexico City for almost 3 weeks after only planning on being there a few days…

So, day 1 in Mexico completed! Between straddling a 6-hour time difference, having been awake since 3am (Mexico time) and also having minimal snooze on the plane anyway, I really don’t know what time it is…so I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep, hopefully without being eaten alive by mosquitoes, before tomorrow’s adventures to the Pyramids!

Hasta pronto,

Katie xx

Tofu Scramble

This is definitely my go-to brunch option after an early gym session. It’s a plate full of goodness to get you ready for the rest of the day and refuelled from a tough workout. Of course, you can just enjoy it regardless of whether you’ve been to the gym, but it’s high protein content makes it a perfect post-workout meal.

Ingredients:

(Serves 1)

  • 1 slice rye or sourdough bread (I use biona rye bread as it is wheat-free)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 spring onions
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp miso paste
  • A large handful of kale or spinach
  • 100g firm tofu
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp coconut aminos or tamari/soy sauce
  • 1/2 a ripe avocado
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Chop the spring onion and garlic and gently fry in a frying pan with some oil.
  2. Slice the onions and add these to the frying pan. Once soft, add the miso past with 3 tbsp of water and mix so that all the mushrooms are coated in the miso. Finally add the kale or spinach and cook briefly until wilted a little.
  3. Put this to once side while you prepare the tofu. Using the same frying pan (keeps the flavour), take the tofu in your hands and crumble it into the pan.
  4. Add the ginger, turmeric and tamari/soy sauce, mixing well so that all the tofu is well coated with the spices. You may need to add a little water to prevent the tofu from sticking to the pan.
  5. Meanwhile, toast your bread and mash the avocado in a bowl along with a little lemon juice, salt and pepper, to make a creamy smash.
  6. Once the tofu begins to brown slightly, add the mushroom mixture back to the pan and mix well.
  7. Finally, spread the avocado over the toast and pile on the tofu scramble. Enjoy with a large tea or coffee!

Semana Santa and La Feria

Hola mis queridas!
Since we last spoke I have been enjoying a month of Spanish celebrations – Semana Santa with my parents, and the two weeks later La Feria de Abril. We have also been enjoying some amazing weather, with it reaching 35 degrees one day in Semana Santa and not really dropping below 20 degrees since (except one when it rained – the first time in about 7 weeks). This is the reason I came to Seville! (Well, one of them…..but one of the most important 😝) Needless to say, the tan is coming on VERY well.


So, Semana Santa. Never having witnessed a Catholic Easter celebration, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that there were processions across the city in which the members of the Church whose ‘icon’ was processing walked through the streets with candles, clad in robes (which look a lot like the Clu Clux Clan). And that was about it. I was therefore amazed when my parents and I found ourselves hemmed in on all sides by huge crowds of people in the streets. We had gone out to find some food, and I think we encountered just about every procession going on. I have never seen so many people in Seville streets at once, and they are narrow streets! The processions were huge – the largest had up to 2,400 ‘Nazarenes’ (the people who were walking), and most had at least two icons, with a few which had three. The icons were these huge floats with images of Christ at various different stages of the cross; the crucifixion, carrying the cross, being mocked by the Romans. The second icon was always of Mary, and normally she was accompanied by some fantastically triumphant music from a marching brass band (there a LOT of brass players in Seville!). On Thursday night/Friday morning, the time when Jesus was condemned, there were also a lot of processions. We stayed up until 1:30am to watch a procession that came right past the flat where my parents were staying – Jésus el Gran Poder. It was one of the longest processions and took almost two hours to go past. We eventually fell into out beds at 3:30am, only to be woken up again at 6:30am by another procession going past with a loud and triumphant brass band playing ‘It’s blowing in the wind’…..Needless to say we spent most of Friday like zombies. We also did a lot of touristy things and some sunbathing. It was great to see my parents again after three and a half months – the longest I have ever gone without seeing them! They left on the Saturday and I spent Easter day enjoying a picnic in the park with my friends from Church, which was really lovely.


In between Semana Santa and La Feria life continued as normal and the two weeks flew by. La Feria de Abril is a celebration unique to Seville. It is a week of socialising, drinking, eating, and dancing Flamenco – Sevillanas. It takes place in a part of the city which is completely empty for most of the year. Most people have casetas which is a large tent with chairs and tables and a kitchen too. People spend most of their time in the casetas, which are private, and on the first night they have a big meal before they turn all the lights on. For many people, La Feria is actually a time of work as they have to socialise and network with customers, etc. My host parents went every day except one, leaving at about 3pm and returning between 2 and 4am in the morning! They then slept until midday. I was therefore working some strange hours, and Agu didn’t have school on the Thursday or Friday either, which meant we did all the typical child-friendly activities – making cupcakes, drawing, going to the park, etc.

Agu approved of my costume!


I went to the Feria myself twice, once with the au pairs on the opening night which is a big party, and once with a few friends from Church. It was good fun to dress up in the Feria outfit. I felt very extra walking in the street, but once you are at Feria with everyone else in similar costume it’s really quite a laugh. I even managed to dance some very successful Flamenco dances too!
That said, I am quite looking forward to normal life returning and having a little break from child care. Hopefully my host parents will recover from their hangovers soon!
Not long until my time here comes to an end now. I’m truly enjoying the Spanish summer, and there is talk of a trip to the beach soon at the weekend!
Hasta pronto,
Katie xx