48 hours in Bogota

When I first announced to family & friends that I was excited to spend a couple of days exploring the capital city of Colombia, I gt more than the usual eye-rolls, and muttering. This time, it was full out warfare. From the friends of my parents who went out of their way to email me news items to work colleagues who became a little too obsessed with crime stats, it seemed that no one was delighted with my choice. Especially when they discovered this choice was driven by a need to avoid Miami. Well, the entire US of A as a matter of fact. Ever since Trump became President, I have been quietly acknowledged the fact that I can’t visit, or even transit through that country. I mean, if push came to shove, I might give it a go, but is there is a viable alternative, then that is my choice.

Throw those pre-conceptions out the nearest window!

Much to my horror, I discovered on arrival that I had been harbouring a large number of preconceptions of what Bogota would look like. Mostly based on news reports (i know, I should know better…) covering drug cartels, violence and paramilitaries. And they were pretty much all stuck in the past, ignoring the vibrant city that has kept, phoenix-like from the flames. In fact, everything worked like clock work – on time flights, easy immigration, on-time (to meet my early flight) driver and a chirpy but not annoying hotel receptionist ready to check me in to a room at 4am.
A few hours sleep later, I stepped out to find coffee, and sprung for a delicious one straight away, accompanied by a delicious Muffin de Queso Paipsa. Yum yum yum.

Day One

As soon as I began to wander, the street art was all I could concentrate on. There are some incredibly talented street artists plying their trade on pretty much every surface they can lay their spray cans on. Whether the subtle black & white detailed sketches or the bright, in your face surreal scenes, it is easy to get caught up in. Having come to Bogota with no plans, I ended up just wandering to take the murals in, but if I had my time again, I would certainly book onto the Bogota Graffiti Tour, which runs twice a day from Parque de los Periodistas, and from the snippets I over heard, is full of gems that you will appreciate!
Next up, another shiny distraction from the creeping tiredness, this time in the form of the Museo del Oro, or the Museum of Gold. And it really is, full of gold! Some of the most intricate metalwork I have ever seen! The four floors can easily keep you occupied for an hour or two, a bargain at only 4000 pesos. It was one of those places that you can spend all of your time just staring at a single intricate filigree without noticing the time past. Well, that would be possible if it were not for the other tourists traipsing around not paying attention, just doing the rounds. But hey ho, we can’t have everything!
Back onto the streets for more wandering – past and into churches Iglesia de San Franscisco, Iglesia de la Veracruz, Iglesia Nuestra del Carmen…the list goes on. All of them were in the middle of active services, so I tried to slip into a pew without causing too much disturbance, and just sat, listened and meditated. Religion really isn’t my thing, but I appreciate the meditative nature of churches, in the most secular sense.
Time for a beer – so I stopped at a place that had caught my eye earlier in the day – Cafe Rosas. Handcrafted beers, a chilled out and surprisingly chatty crowd and (at that time of the day) some very chilled out music provided by the resident DJ.
A very low key dinner finished off day one in Bogota at La Castana – just some empanadas and something sweet to finish off. The jazz that started up as I was getting ready to leave glued me into my seat for an additional hour, allowing me to just fall into bed and sleep.

Day Two

Sunday mornings are quite active in Bogota – I headed out to get coffee at local chain Juan Valdez – there were cyclists and joggers with their dogs everywhere! Once I was suitably caffeinated, I wandered along to the Museo Botero to mooch through impressionist, surrealist and sculpture galleries. Then I found myself puzzling over the work of local artists Botero. His signature style depicts people and animals in large exaggerated volume. And the affect is, disturbing.
Finally more wandering, down through Plaza de Bolivar (through a quicksand of pigeons – seriously Trafalgar Square looks spartan in comparison), and through the back streets of La Candelaria for more street art and coffee.
And onwards to the next adventure!

72 Hours in Tripoli, Libya

A long time ago, in what feels like another galaxy altogether, I had the opportunity to spend 72 hours in Tripoli, Libya. Libya has not been far from front page news for quite some time, for reasons that put it off the tourist trail for years to come – from the Anti-Gaddaffi uprising that started in 2011, to the descent into civil war in 2014 tot he rise of Islamic State later the same year – it isn’t getting any easier for Libyans on the ground.
Having made it through customs late on a Friday night, and  loosing my dry hand wash to an official, who insisted it was because, with such a high alcohol content, it posed a risk that I might drink it, therefore flouting the alcohol ban in place (I can’t even begin to imagine…), our adventure started in earnest.
Day one was reserved for exploring Tripoli. We really only had time for the basics – a wander around the Medina, a visit to the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and a visit to the Jamahiriya Museum (complete with it’s three story high cut-out of Gaddaffi, and his green Beetle surrounded by 2000 year old statues carved from single blocks of marble). It is the people who have left the longest impression of that first day – those who were curious about why I was visiting and the students at the Madrasa that invited me inside and showed me how they write suwar from the Qur’an on paper, and the wash it away, preserving the water that contains the words of Allah. I could have stayed a week, exploring the corners of such a fascinating city.
Day two took us outside the city to Sabratha. Centred on a large theatre that retains it’s three storey backdrop, the site was popular that day with families visiting to picnic amongst the ruins, or next to the sea. We wandered the ruins and the little museum until sundown – and then sat in the theatre enjoying an (alcohol free) beer before heading towards a local hostel to stay the night. In a scene worthy of comedy, the hostel had not only no idea we were booked to stay, but had only one locking room. The one I was eventually allocated required a fair amount of furniture shifting to wedge the door shut for the night, and some nifty arranging of t-shirts to offer a little privacy. Feeling a little sweaty and weary, turning on the shower produced nothing but a cloud of mosquitos! After pretending to sleep for 5 hours, there is nothing more welcome than running into the surf of a pretty cold see to make you appreciate the things you take for granted every day!
As a delicious literary aside, Max Mallowan, the archaeologist husband to Agatha Christie was based here in 1943. During his posting here however, his role was actually to oversee the distribution of grain in the region!
Our final day brought a trip to Leptis Magna. Expanded to be a sprawling city by Septimius Severus, this is one of the most extensive roman cities I have ever visited. It sticks int he mind, despite the passing years, because of the mix of everyday buildings (the grocers shop, with a built in cooling method) with the over-the-top celebratory architecture, such as the Arch of Septimius Severus, smack bang in the middle of a beautiful cross-roads, still paved with huge flags of stone. At it’s peak, it rivalled Alexandria and Carthage. But it expanded at exactly the wrong time, and with trade on the decline, much of the city remained barely used. Discoveries at Leptis Magna happened on and off in the 20th & 21st centuries, but it’s current state is listed as in danger. I can only imagine that the ruins, mosaics and statues have suffered greatly over the years, and without intervention will not be available to future generations. But, with so much human life in the balance, it is hard to argue that it can be any kind of a priority for the country.
Wandering around Leptis Magna, something that had been niggling at me, finally feel into place. At every site we had stopped at, there had been a man wandering around with an empty water bottle looking for somewhere to fill it. Of course, it was the same man, and it was his job to follow us around and make sure we didn’t get into any trouble! Whenever we stopped at a restaurant or at a shop, it was only take about 5 minutes for the owners to suggest another venue for us, more suited to tourists. Looking back, I wish we had persisted – I am sure the experience would have been more interesting! Hey ho! Being young and reasonably green meant we did as we were told! On our last day backing Tripoli, without the excuse of finding water, our secret policeman was easy to spot on every corner, smoking, looking nonchalant and standing out like a sore thumb!
A side note of the archaeology. In 2016, both Sabratha and Leptis Magna were entered onto the list of archaeological sites in danger. They both remain there to this day. They were such places of beauty, already abandoned by archaeologists when I visited – although they were nominally managed as tourist sites. Other Libyan sites on the list include Cyrene, Ghadames and Tadrart Acacus.
Maybe one day, this crazy world of ours will be calm enough for me to visit again. Until then, I’ll have to be content with my photos, my memories and of course, my recipe for Libyan Soup.

Dolphins, Humpbacks &Turtles on the west side of Oahu

Without a doubt, my favourite morning spent on Oahu – I mean what’s not to like? Dolphins, swimming, in the wild? Humpbacks appearing out of nowhere? Beautiful, wild scenery? By far the most amazing part of the experience were the pods of dolphins – when one pod got too far away to ogle, another would appear from the blue. The playful ones who swam around me at the surface made my decade – they really are magical creatures! The west side of the island is really different to the area I was staying in – in a great way! Fewer tourists, more unpaved paths to meander, more relaxed and definitely more picturesque. If I had been a bit more savvy when booking places to stay, I would have explored very different areas – but we live and learn! The day I spent in Waianae was an eye-opener – quiet, sweeping coastal views, and I met only a few people as I wandered. Next time…next time…

Tropical getaway in Antigua

I always try and spend my birthday abroad – ever since a mass misunderstanding on my thirtieth it just seemed easier… This year, checking out the cheap flights available, I landed on Antigua as my destination. The Caribbean has never made it high on my list before, but the diving is of course meant to be superb, and that seemed like a good enough excuse for a week away from the office.

I hired a villa from TT Villa Rentals – nice place, but a long way out on the north finger of Jolly Harbour – luckily I don’t mind a walk as it was over a mile to the local shop. Having nothing planned by 8 dives and a lot of reading, the view from the balcony had seemed on paramount importance when booking, and I was not disappointed! However, in typical fashion, I spent only a few hours sitting around, and instead was exploring local beaches, St John’s (the capital city, although Wickford High Street is about three times as big, and busier even on quiet days). July is distinctly off-season for Antigua, but that suits me down to the ground – the beaches were quiet, the restaurants didn’t need booking and planning, and there was no competition for tickets to, well anything.

Apart from the diving (I’ll write about that separately), I did a pretty limited amount of sight-seeing:

Nelson’s Dockyard – pretty place, lovely waterfront cafes to sit in, and really amazing pineapple turnovers made this place a fun stop.

Betty Hopes Plantation – the ruins are almost hidden by the encroaching forest nowadays, but the restored sugar mill stands tall and dominates the surrounding area. The tiny museum is full of old photos that are worth more than a cursory glance to someone wanting to understand something of the Islands recent history.

Kayaking – around the mangroves. This was a lot of fun (although I seem to remember saying to the individual who helped me plan this day “something away from the water would be good…”. The mangrove trees are smaller than I had imagined, and the water is incredibly shallow. Peering into the mangroves, you could quite easily get a bit of a shock – tiny black crabs running up and down the roots, fish hiding from predators – a proper little ecosystem.

Jolly Harbour – more of a giant villa complex than a sight per say, but the harbour is great for walking and full of interesting boats and people coming and going. I learnt to gut and prepare a lionfish standing at the waters edge on my first day…pretty tasty when fried!

North Finger Beach – my favourite local beach – I never had to share it with anyone! The water was a wonderful bathtub temperature, and being only a five-minute walk from the villa, I could swim morning, noon and night (which I did).


Diving at Turtle Canyon

First dives of the holiday are always the most exciting 🙂 Diving with 2 instructors from Living Ocean Scuba, it was the perfect easy introduction to Oahu. Turtles gatore, moray eels, yellow tangs everywhere and a baby octopus floating around made the first tank fly by. Second tank highlight was without doubt the White-tipped Reef Shark, fast asleep tucked under a rock. As the only shark who does sleep, they are pretty easy to find and view during the day. During night dives, they are more active, out and about hunting.

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