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Preparing for the STA internship

It’s been a funny couple of months lately. At the start of this year I was wondering just what I could do for a living that I’d actually enjoy when one morning, I rolled out of bed with the hangover from hell and went to check my e-mails. It’s always nice to get e-mails from Camilla, but this time I was in for an extra special treat as I learnt that they were offering people internships to travel around the world and record their experiences! I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, made sure I was definately awake and looked again: the message was still there. Since starting at university I’d really been missing the exciting and often terrifying experiences of travelling and publishing records of my journeys, and now I had the oportunity to do it for a job!

Needless to say I made it to the launch night for the World Traveller internship program and brought my housemate Taz along for moral support! Go Holloway Players!

I was slightly nervous but the evening turned out to be a blast! Free food, free cake, terrific banter and stories of travels far and wide! With that, I set out on my task of applying for the internship. The first thing I had to do was set up my application page and upload a video. The filming was incredible fun and again Taz was there to help me along the way! I’ve been really lucky with the charity I received. Jenny and Emma also helped with the camera work. I also had the acting talents of Steve, my other housemate, Zara, who I was in a play with about a disfunctional couple just before and my other housemate Dan, who added the crowing jewel to the end of the filmUnfortunately, due to the time restrictions of the film I wasn’t able to include all my scenes I filmed. It’s been great fun, seriously, just imagine being able to do that as a job! Here is the finished project on my application page:

Last month, we had another meet-up, this time with a Thailand theme. I’ve never been myself but I was surrounded by experts, so I soon found out about the customs, the beach parties the wild-life sanctuaries and  I WANNA GOOOOOO! A number of them were also applying for the internship and they had some wicked blogging skills! Paddy’s ‘that’s a wrap’ still gets me!

After that, I remembered there was that other thing I need to do. The erm, thing, oh yeah my degree! As you can guess it’s been a hectic few weeks! But now the holidays are coming. A merciful break. As luck would have it, a lot of people are having their birthdays on the very week I finish all my essays! Thanks guys! After we break up, I’ve got plans so go paintballing and then go on tour with the frisbee team in Rimini! So watch this space. The Nickmeister is back!

It begins

For a long time now, this Peru trip has seemed like some distant thing that would happen sometime in the future, but now I´m here, writing this blog on the balcony on a hotel in Cusco. 

It hasn´t been an easy transaction from that homely field in Bransford. On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my fellow campers who, over the last few weeks have become like a family to me. The night before, we´d had a literally magical feast in which I played music on my flute and we had singing and dancing and wine.

As I left, I found myself questioning why I was going. The longest I´d been abroad away from my family was a week at the end of last year in Barcelona. But now, I´m going further away from home than I´ve ever been for 6 weeks! But I feel that it´s time I launched myself into the worlde. I´m at the age where I should be making my own way in the world and getting distance from my protective family cocoon. After wanting to escape for a while now, parting with them at Heathrow proved incredibly difficult. I kept turning and waving, but in the end, I had to force myself through that gate. I sympathise with anyone else starting travelling alone for the first time.

When you´re in a strange foreign land, it´s always a comfort to connect yourself with home (although not too much otherwise you´ll never get anything done). Even just noticing the grass and straw from Green And Away mixed in with my luggage was enough to put a smile on my face after my long day of travelling from Heathrow to Miami and then to Lima. A degree of confidence is also good. This doesn´t mean showing off. Silent self-confidence is good for establishing yourself as someone who knows what they´re doing. Think of all the great things you´ve done that have made you feel on top of the world. I think back to the feast at camp, where I was surrounded by great people having the time of our lives and that makes me feel more than just a boy stuck away from home. Also, when it comes to preparation, I don´t think you can prepar yourself enough. I was lucky in that my father kept persistently pushing me to sort myself out. I didn´t really appreciate all that he did until I was actually out here.

But now that I´ve been here in Cusco for three days, the place is starting to grow on me. When I first went walking in the streets at first, everything seemed strange and unnatural. I didn´t much want to be out in this strange place with its narrow streets and irate drivers. When I did go out to get lunch, I went to this Irish bar! But now the place is growing on me. Now when I see the shops, I´m thinking about what to buy and what my friends and family might like. In fact, I´ve just gotten myself one of those classic Peruvian hats! Yesterday, I had a massage to calm myself down. It worked a treat and I got chatting for a while with the girls who work there as they smiled at my attempts to speak Spanish. I´m staying in a hostel called ´Home-Sweet-Home´where I´m really being looked after. Despite the tiring walk up from the city!

There are quite a few sellers on the street but I´ve got some experiance with dealing with them from the Gambia. I´m just getting used to saying ´No Gracias´. Apparently you have that printed on a t-shirt for you. I´m still adapting to the time difference, since Peru is 6 hours behind the UK. Also, the fact that it´s so much colder when the sun goes down in the evening doesn´t help. So far, I haven´t been able to stay up past 8 in the evening, which has been annoying since the message grils said I should go with them to see the night-clubs.

This has been a rambling blog partly because it was written over a few days and partly because I keep having mood changes. So, if you feel confused imagine how I feel! The main thing about starting travelling is to persist and have faith. It´s completely natural to feel lost and confused for a fair while and it can seem like you´ve made a big mistake, but the bad times will pass. I´m beggining to see that the exciting thing is that so many different and unexpected things could happen from here on now that I´m finding my feet. In my next blog, I´ll tell you about Madventurer as I´ll be meeting them soon.


Meeting the Mad crew

After a couple of days of acclimatizing to Cusco, it was time to get started on my project organised by the gap year group, Madventurer. On 2nd August, the group leader, Dick Turnbill came and took me to a local hostel to meet the rest of the team I´d be working with. He was only 23 been travelling so much his accent was hard to trace. At the hostel, I met Caroline and Jill who were both also suffering from Jet lag. Still, unlike most nights, I was able to stay up for dinner and a drink afterwards!

Being part of a group out here felt much better than wondering around on my own. The next day, we decided to go and see the Cristo Blanco, which we saw the night before, glowing earily, seeming to float in the darkness. After a conversation with the taxi driver on the way over there, I became the group´s translator. At the end of the day, Dick invited us round to his place for a BBQ! There, we met some more of the Madventure crew. There was Anna who was working in a local orphanage, Roy the Regional Officer, and Matt the rock – Roy´s bodyguard and Spike, Dick´s dog. The crowd was nothing like I had suspected it to be.  Within no time, there was some absolutely crazy banter flying! By about 9, I was ready to go to bed, but I ended up going out to the Indigo Bar with Roy, Anna and Matt. The chance of a good night out in Cusco was too tempting to miss. Indigo turned out to be a great lounge bar.

The next day, our group was joined by Alexis, a French student studying English and Spanish. As soon as I was up sometime in the afternoon (finally getting the hang of Peruvian times), we had some lunch and headed out to the Village of Uycho to start our project. It was a spectacular drive through the Andies. As we sped along the mountain roads and the crowded streets, I kept unconsciously putting town by break foot, but surely enough, the driver judged it right every time. Cusco quickly disappeared and rocky and snow-capped mountains unfolded around us. When we arrived the villagers gave us a local delicacy; Cuy meaning ´Guinea Pig´. It tasted a bit like salty mackerel, but I couldn´t stand the feeling of cutting into it, since it was still shaped like Guinea Pig! Kudos to Jill though. She got stuck in despite having two Guinea Pigs; Chaz and Dave back home!

At first, work was a bit dull. We were aimlessly moving rocks into piles in the field. But, on Thursday 7th, we got out the diggers and awakened the boys within us. We loaded the rocks into the lorries and had them taken away to the resevoir where we´d be building a wall to protect the town´s water. Riding in the lorry meant we had to launch ourselves up the sides and grab hold of things. It was pretty rough terrain meaning that we were occasionally flung into the air. When a wall stood in the way, we simply got out the digger to take it out. I wish I´d have brought my camera! The next day, we were clearing room for construction using pick axes and machetes. It was fun but prickly!

The days went suprisingly quickly. By no time it was our last day of the working week. We spent evenings simply playing cards and chatting. Our last working day was also Alexis´ last day in Peru! We headed back to Cusco for a night out at Indigo´s. I´m feeling a lot more at home now. The great thing about travelling alone is that I´ve been free to meet so many great people over here. It´s the same story for the other volunteers as well. I´ve gone from wondering how I´m going to survive 6 weeks out here to wondering where the time´s been going.

The Lares Trek

Hi there! It´s been a while since my last blog. I´ve been moving around so much it´s been difficult to get much free time. I´m now travelling with an Intrepid group from Lima to La Paz. Once again, I´m the youngest person in the group, with all the others at least in their thirties, and I´m also the only one who´s not Australian! As soon as our group leader, Ada, discovered I was only 18, I got the nick-name of baby-boy! During the first week, we quickly travelled down the south coast from Lima to Pisco, then to Nazca and Arequipa before returning to the great city of Cusco. By this time, I had gotten used to the group and just as well since we were about to go trekking.

My origional plan was to do the 4-day Inca trek from Ollyantaytambo up to Macchu Picchu, but I had to have booked 6 months in advance to do that. Instead, I teamed up with Ada and 4 of my Australian Companions: Sean, Jackie, Amber and Josh to do a trek from the hot springs in Lares, along the Sacred Valley to Ollyantaytambo, where we could get public transport up to Macchu Picchu. We met our tour guide, Ernesto, along with the 2 cooks, the 2 porters and their horses at Lares. They had a small tent set up which, during the course of the tour, would reveal meal after meal. When we were off, Jackie powered ahead with her rowing legs leaving us behind. We had been told to bring books,pencils and marbles for the children we meet along the way. Ada persuaded me to only give one marble to each child. It turned out to be wise advice when we were completely surrounded at the village in which we spent our first night. Amazingly, despite being put to shame by Jackie, we managed to beat the porters to the campsite! I mean they did have to take down the lunch tent and load up the horses with  all the stuff, but we still felt proud! The sun disappeared behind the mountains and things quickly turned cold, but we had a nice warm soup followed by stir-fry. Sean had also brought a bottle of Pisco to help us keep warm.

The next day was the toughest. We were going over the highest point on the mountain and it was all up-hill right from the start. Our optomism from beating the porters yesterday was short-lived, but we powered on up none-the-less. On the up-hill bits I really didn´t want to stop and loose my momentum, but that often meant I missed the best paths and ended up on the rocky, gravelly bits. This time, the porters easily over-took us. But within 2 hours (2 long hours) we made it to the pass and it was worth it for the view of the lake.

In the picture, you can see (from left to right) Josh, Amber, Jackie, Sean, Ada and me. We were told the campsite for lunch wasn´t far away but we kept on going and going without seeing it. We were spent when we arrived for lunch, but then Ernesto revealed the truth and his grand plan. Therewas talk of there being a strike in the valley meaning that we might not be able to get a taxi to Ollyantaytambo as we had planned. So, Ernesto thought that if we really paced it, we could reach tomorrow´s campsite today. As it turned out, the campsite we were eating lunch in was originally going to be the campsite we would sleep in. But now we had to keep powering along to get to the next campsite to spend the night.

It really was a struggle. The Ozzies (apart from Jackie) weren´t used to hiking and I was pretty out of practice myself. It wasn´t long before I was limping along with a blister. But we made it. We were too tired to stay up any later than 8. As luck would have it, in the morning we managed to get a taxi which had navigated the road blocks to get to us and we got a smooth ride to the railway station at Ollyantaytambo. Me, Jackie and Ada felt a bit let down that we´d only trekked for 2 days whilst those on the Inca trail were trekking for 4, so when we got to our hotel at Aguas Calientes, we went for another walk up a mountain on the edge of the Amazon.

At first, it seemed only slightly strenous, but then we came to the ladders, and the rock faces, some of them too tall to see the top of. My fear of heights was really challenged here. I recoiled when we emerged from the jungle canopy and I realized just how high we were. But the struggle didn´t stop there, we kept zig-zagging for what seemed like an eternity. As we took yet another break, some super-fit porter jogged past us ´You bastard´ was all I could think. But, eventually, many breaks later we reached the top and we rewarded by a view of Macchu Picchu from hundreds of metres above. The feeling I felt was like the feeling I would have expected from completing the Inca trail, although I doubt as many people walked this route as the Inca trail. But after getting over our high of reaching the top, we had to go right down to the bottom again. The ladders proved particularly tricky and disorientating. When we got back, we had earned our bragging rights!

The next day came the bus to Macchu Picchu. As luck would have it, it was pissing it down!

We might not have got the postcard view of the place, but we did get some spectacular sights when the mists cleared.

The whole place was so full of mystery, some of which the guides could only speculate over. After a while, me and Jackie seperated from the group to look around ourselves and have our own ideas of the place. As we climbed the steep stairs, my fear of heights really seemed a thing of the past.

I was wanting to get myself some lunch up there but the food was so expensive. I noticed that everything about Macchu Picchu was expensive and yet the roads up there were in great disrepair. The bus journey back had me really worried as we skidded all over the place. Also, I was told that the porters were so poor that when they were given trainers and boots to help them with their jobs, they simply sold them to buy food. As we watched the Beijing Olympics, Ada stated that there were no decent Peruvian athelites. But there could be. These porters carry the legendary strength of the Incas which allow them to jog routes with the greatest of ease, like the one me, Ada and Jackie struggled so much with. The porters on the Inca trail powered ahead of everyone else despite carrying so much more stuff than them. One of the group members who did the Inca trail was actually carried by one of their porters! This money should be going to these amazing people but instead, most of the money is going to Lima which I noticed was much more urban than the rest of the country. If some more of the money went to these super-human porters, Peru´s chances might really change at London 2012.

Professor Nick

In the village of Uycho, there´s an orphanage for kids from about 6 to 16. This week, our team leader Dick arranged for us to start teaching there. None of us had had proper experiance of teaching before so it was a challange.  Being kids, are very excitable. In the first lesson, we gave them writing books to write down a few english phrases, but they ended up scribbling their own stuff in the books. Also, they all had different abilities meaning whilst some were still struggling to write down the english words, some had already finished and got pretty restless. The second day was particularly bad seen as they´d just had lunch, making them extra hyperactive. There were even a few fights we had to break up.

By the 3rd lesson, we´d gotten used to the kids and we had a better lesson plan. Letting them write in their books from the start meant that they spent the whole lesson just doodling, so we started off with just writing phrases and numbes on the board and getting them to say them. We also did a bit of role play. Caroline and Gill spoke in English and I translated. When it came to writing, we set extra tasks for those who´d finished early such as learning to say how old they are. We felt the kids had done so well in the lesson that we finished with a game of football.

That´s what we wer doing in the afternoons. In the mornings, we´ve been building a wall to defend the town´s resevoir. However, we were midway through the second week and we still hadn´t had any support from the locals. We were getting a bit tired of the whole ´si mañana´attitude. But eventually they came and the real work began. We first had to dig trenches which the walls would be built in. Next, we had to put rocks in the bottom of the trenches to act as the foundation of the wall. To keep the rocks held together, we mixed up mud, water, and a type of straw called ´wank´(no joke)! We had a couple of ways to keep our energy up. First, the was the Chinchua corn beer. It is traditional to pour a bit into the soil as thanks to mother earth before downing the rest and getting a buzz off it. Then, there was the Coca leaves which you can chew. At first, you feel like a bit of a chipmunk, but after a bit of chewing, you can leave it in the top of your gums and let it slowly release revitalizing juices.

Back to Cusco for the weekend. It´s rarely a quiet night out here, and this weekend was no acception. As we had a new group member, Alexandra, we decided to show her the eary white statue of Jesus which looms over the city. We were on our way back to the hotel, when a man from a nearby ranch came by and offered us a horse-ride. We decided to be spontaneous and go for it. Me and Alex were constantly trying to get past eachother whilst Caroline went along at a leisurely pace. They took us to the Moon Temple, where we had fun scrambling about on the rocks. On the way back, it was a spectacular feeling coming across the mountains and seeing Cusco spread out below us.

The last week out in Uycho has gone past scarily fast. Now it´s time for me to start a new adventure in Lima which will eventually take me to the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Already I´m missing the old group` with their teasing, their humour and their toilet talk. The last full day I was with them, we went up to the Hot Springs at Laris and had a pizza for our last dinner. It was hard saying goodbye to everyone. The last few weeks have been such an experiance for me. Unfortunately, one of the things that comes with travelling is lots of goodbyes. Still, now a new adventure´s about to start. Let´s see what happens!

Adios Sud América

I’ve been back in England about 5 weeks now. It’s been a really busy time, but now that things have settled down at uni, I’m going to tell you about the turbulant final week I had and why I didn’t want to blog about it right away. I believe I left you having reached Macchu Picchu on that rainy day in early september. Shortly after we were told by Ada that the Intrepid Central Office had arranged for Beth and Janet to stay the night in Aguas Calientes when what they really wanted was to get some clean clothes, comfy beds and hot chocolate with the rest of us in Cusco after their 4 days on the Inca Trail. Ada then went about pulling strings as we were getting the train out. We waited on the train wondering where she’d gotten to. Then, as departure time came, we saw her and the now exhausted Beth and Janet, running up the train towards us!

We had a whole day to recover back in Cusco and the next day we headed down south to Puno on the coast of Lake Titicaca. In true Peruvain style, we all got in a convoy of took-tooks!

With our local guide, Manuel, we boarded our boat and headed through the waterway through the reeds. Our first stop was an island made entirely of Water Reeds! On this small island, there were 8 different families! It was an incredible experience feeling how firm the island felt under our feet! Here, the people are free from the conventional laws which govern Peru. We were told that if you don’t like your neighbours here, you can just cut the island down the middle and let them float away! They were all even smaller than the other people in Peru. One of the women nearly had a heart-attack when she found out I was 18!

When we reached the peninsula on the far side of the bay, we met the families we would be staying with that night. After having a delicious fish lunch, we went out with our families in their boats to help them put their fishing nets out. After that, we played beach volley ball. It was Locals vs. Gringos (the spanish word for foreigners). That evening, we went to the village president’s house for a poncho party! All of the clothes meant something here: single man, married woman, man in love, woman seeking man. Jackie and Ada came dressed in the clothes of virgins (snigger).

The next morning, we went out with our families in the fishing boats to collect the fish caught in our nets over night. It was mine and Sean’s family that won (with about 34 fish). We had a talk with everyone before we left. The locals (with their large families) were asking Josh and Amber what contraception they used. After that, we sailed on to Amantani Island. After being humiliated in a game of football, we wanted to siesta but Manuel made us go up to the temple at the top of the island. Slave-driver! That evening was another Poncho party, but this time with more singing and dancing! Every dance meant something. Some were about sowing seeds and others were about helping your drunken partners back home!

The next day, we got the boat back to Puno ready for going over the border into Bolivia to stay in La Paz. Now Jackie said that a lot of the holidays she’d been on, there’d been some sort of disaster. She was around during the bombing in Gibralta for one. Now, as we switched the news on, we found out that there were fierce riots happening in La Paz! Our jaws dropped. Ada tried to convince us that we would be fine as the police would quickly sort it out. That didn’t stop us from worrying all the way there. But sure enough, whilst the traffic was absolutely manic, there were no riots and we got to our hotel safely. This was Ada’s last night with us, since she’s heading back to study at the University of Lima. We made sure to have a good night (even though she wasn’t drinking because of her studies) going to fake english bars and posh restaurants.

The rest of us then had a day of just hanging around in La Paz. Me, Sean, Beth and Janet went to the Luna Valley. An mountainous area with rock formations which make it look like the surface of the moon. Almost everywhere we went there, we could see the lone piper on his rock. He was even good enough to pose for us!

We then went to the market to enjoy the incredibly cheap prices. I got a decent pair of jeans with a belt for under 7 pounds! That evening, we went out to a local bar and I said goodbye to everyone else. At least, I thought it was goodbye.

As I waited in the airport lobby the next morning, I saw the dreaded word, ‘CANCELLED’ appear next to my flight. After a lot of panicking and running around, I found out that there had been a strike in Santa Cruz meaning that my American Airlines plane could not refuel. I grimly exited the airport to get a taxi all the way back to the hotel where I met my suprised Australian friends. With the help of Sean, I set about finding out how I would get home, with the start of Uni only being a week away. I found out that the plane might not be flying for at least 5 days. We found out that my best option was to get a 26 hour bus all the way back to Lima where I could get a plane to Miami and then to Heathrow. It was very strange going back on the 3 week journey in a day. The sights of Lake Titicaca, the mountains around Arequipa and the deserts of Nazca really brought back memories. But a 26 hour bus ride is not an experiance I want to repeat! On the plus side, going back to Lima meant I got to see Ada again! I’d actually missed hearing her call me names like Nicsito and Baby Boy.

It was a real relief to get back to my family (even if I only did get half a week before Uni). Despite this three-day trauma, I really do miss Peru. The colourful people and the wild experiences. Meeting new people at University only seemed like a minor challenge compared with traveling a world away on your own.Whilst I am enjoying finally being able to settle down in one place, but it wasn’t long after I got back that I started thinking about where I should go next. Perhaps Fiji or Russia?  I’ve had real ups and downs whilst I’ve been out there (probably more noticable in my first blog when I was still trying to work out what I was doing) but the ups really outweighed the downs. I’m really pleased that I’ve kept a record of what’s happened since it just shows how much things can turn around and I hope this is useful to other rookie travelers!

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