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I have some exciting news for you

13 Jul

Following comments and feedback from my readers I have decided to revamp my blog.

I have purchased a new domain name and I am currently in the process of re-designing my web site (with substantial expert technical help!) I hope to have the new site up and running within three weeks, assuming I have access to the internet during this period.

Last week I instigated a little survey via Facebook (my technical skills most certainly did not extend to incorporating it into this blog) and I was delighted with the feedback. It mostly reflected my plans for the new site, and it confirmed that I am hopefully on the right track.

So please bear with me whilst I feverishly bang away at my computer and I create some new material. My blog posts here will have to take a back seat for the very short term, as will my plans to hit the Caribbean beach, but assuming my technical wizard is correct, I should be able to seamlessly switch you all over to the new, all-singing, all-dancing site very shortly.

In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy the following pictures of some of the more exotic birds that I have been lucky enough to see here in Colombia and in Ecuador – and do keep an eye on this space for the re-launch date.

P1030952 P1050787 P1060048 P1030761 P1030925 P1050296 P1030941


Reasons to Travel

11 Jun

early morning mist rises over the mountains

There are many different types of traveller and out here on the backpacker circuit in Latin America I have met a fair selection.  They have various reasons for travelling and they are following different routes and experiencing life in a variety of ways.  Many have taken time out from college, university or work and these people are galloping around as much of the continent as they can, before heading back to where ever they call home before knuckling down to study or work again.

There are the potential ex-pats roaming around and hunting down potential places where they can put down roots.   There are sub-groups within this pack which include those who simply want somewhere cheaper/hotter/cooler to retire to, and those who are beginning to resent the rat race or the economic or political situation in their home countries and want to escape with their money and their sanity. whilst they are still able to.

a wibbly wobbly ancient railway bridge in Colombia

The adventurers are covering the continent on motorbikes, bicycles or hitchhiking and pushing themselves to cover as much ground as they can whilst earning money by busking, working on farms or blowing a lottery win. There is a hard core element here who are bungy-jumping, parascending off the side of volcanoes or mountain biking down Death Road.

I mustn’t forget the people who have come to Latin America to learn, whether it is how to salsa, how to cook or to learn Spanish or Portuguese.  Lessons are far cheaper here than at home and hey, if you want to learn to salsa then where better than somewhere where even the three year old children appear to know the moves

concentrating hard on English lessons

And some of us are actually working whilst moving around.  I have met people of all ages who are working whilst living a semi-nomadic lifestyle.  Some have put down tentative roots whilst they volunteer for an NGO, teach a foreign language or work in hostels.  Others are completing their books or are travel bloggers.  There is a whole realm of work that can be done digitally and supporting websites are popping up all over the place.  Writers, programmers and even virtual admin assistants are out here, pitching for projects and working.  Good old Paypal comes into its own as earnings are paid into bank accounts where it can then be accessed via the ATMs

But what am I doing?

700 plus steps but the view was worth every one

I write a travel blog but it is not all wall-to-wall pleasure and fun.  Well, it is for me but it may not be the sort of pleasure and fun that you might welcome or enjoy.  In exchange for free or discounted accommodation and other benefits I write reports or include links on my blog.  I take these seriously and they can be very time consuming, so rather than doing touristy, interesting things, I can be found chained to a desk or a table somewhere.  Granted, I usually try to find a table with a view or preferably a hammock, but I still need to knuckle down and produce some quality (I hope) articles.

I am also doing various kinds of volunteering work which tie me into a place and, shock horror, a timetable.  To date, I have volunteered and worked for three months at SKIP where I was mostly teaching English.  I have worked in a hostel on the beach in Ecuador, I have lived with a family in Cali where we are all learned about our different cultures and I hope that I went some way to helping the daughter of the family who is at university to improve her English and  I have spent five weeks working on a perma-culture farm and teaching English to children in the local school in the countryside close to Medellin

…and this was the view!

I am supplementing my feeble attempts at learning Spanish with formal lessons when I can find them cheaply enough and I have also done some salsa and yoga lessons, but apart from one dance lesson from an amazing professional dancer in Cali, these have all been free – via friends or in hostels.

I have finally got my act together and I have enrolled on some of the virtual workers websites and I am confident that I will find some writing projects sooner rather than later.  Along with the book that I am writing these will find me tied to a desk or a hammock again.  And nice though it sounds, I can’t work on my little netbook in the sun because I can’t see the screen so I have to stay in the shade.

And then I have to factor in the travelling.  Getting around in Latin America is relatively easy with its amazing network of buses, BUT for me, at any rate, who is not fluent in the language, travel can be most traumatic.  First you have to find the Terminal Terrestere.  Then you have to winkle out the correct and best bus from a swarm of touts who yell and push you around, whilst trying not to be parted from your rucsack.  Then get on the bus, wait,  work out where you are supposed to exit the bus and then even more trauma while you run the gauntlet of cabbies – real and rogues all look the same, dodge potential hi-jackers and find a hostel.

So why do I do it?

Even after I have factored in the air fare I can live so much more cheaply out here.  Money goes a long way and although it has been getting progressively more expensive as I travel north, it beats living in the UK.  I still have to do the sums but I reckon I am saving more than half of what I was spending to live day to day in the UK.  Which is just as well as because I wasn’t one of the lottery or inheritance winners.

sunset over the Pacific Ocean

I enjoyed my last job in the UK, but hey, who wouldn’t choose to be their own boss and to work for themselves?  You can decide what projects to apply for and, contracts permitting, when to move on.  If you have a day with no deadlines you can weigh up whether to get a bus up into the mountains, swing around in a hammock and chat to other people or take off to a coffee shop and watch the world go by.

I am seeing sights that I only ever dreamed of like Machu Picchu and sights that I never knew existed such as the Quilotoa crater lake.  I am learning a foreign language, I have done yoga at sunrise, slept in mixed dorms and courtesy of some very kind hoteliers I have stayed in some very nice hotels.

even with a storm looming, the world is a beautiful place

The distance between here and my home country is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand I miss my friends and family with a vengeance but on the other, the distance makes my loss slightly less painful.  I am NOT here in Latin America because I don’t care about those that are left behind, but sometimes when you have nowhere else to go you have to move forwards.  Every so often I have a major melt down when I think about my children and I would love to share my life and experiences with them.  The sheer scale of the continent and the totally different way of life, language and cultures, not to mention landscapes that I have never dreamed could be so jaw-droppingly beautiful, enclose me in a bubble that suspends reality and cocoons me, nurturing me and giving me strength and a determination to find peace.

Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

18 Dec
children of El Porvenir

children of El Porvenir

Christmas is approaching fast but it all seems so far removed as the sun here in Peru is getting hotter every day and plans are afoot for a three week break from our work.

By the time you read this I will be on the road, although I am not entirely sure where I will end up.  These plans are fluid and subject to change, but coaches and flights are being booked, hostels researched and ideas swapped.

I will have attended a ‘do’ to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NGO and I will have experienced Chocolatada – the main Christmas event for the children and their families.  Nearly four hundred presents will have been wrapped and distributed – a humbling experience when you consider that the football or that doll may be the only toy that the child receives this Christmas and the gifts of panetone and milk to the parents may be rare luxuries. Many of the volunteers are planning to travel throughout South America over the holiday period, some are returning home to the States and sadly some will be moving on from the NGO or returning home.

I have only been in Peru for five weeks but it seems like a lifetime.  Despite the complete chaos that is Peru, the language barrier and bombardment of different food, culture and customs, I am loving it.  The children at the NGO are all adorable, I love the street food (plastic bags containing hot quails eggs for breakfast are a staple on my walk to work through the parks) and of course, pisco sours.  In the few weeks that I have been in Trujillo I have met some amazing people and I will be very upset to say goodbye to them.  The volunteer house crackles with emotion and drama (think of it as an international Big Brother), and living is conducted at high volume in several languages but I know that I will remain friends for life with some people here.

I have tentative plans for a VERY long road trip with a couple of friends, first to Lima and then onwards to Arequipa from where we hope to trek into the Colca Canyon.  Christmas day may be spent in Cusco – from here it is a train ride up to Machu Pichu, then from there possibly more buses to Puna, Lake Titicaca, over the border into Bolivia and La Paz, but all of this is subject to change.

I will travel as light as possible so I will be leaving my net-book behind.  I will bring you up to date in the new year with my adventures and experiences, so please excuse my absence for a while.

Thank you everybody for taking the time to read my blog and I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very happy, peaceful New Year from South America.  To my family who have mastered Skype, thank you for your love and continued support, to BF, what adventures we are having in our respective countries and to my VERY best friend and your family whom I love as my own, a million million hugs and kisses – and yes Father Christmas DOES manage to squeeze down there!

For my children, where ever you are, I send you heaps of love and I hope that next Christmas I can send you more than a card.  Stay safe, be happy and live your lives to the full.  It is too short and too fragile to waste on hate or bitterness. My greatest wish is that you will forgive me and allow me a second chance during 2014

Stepping it Up

12 Nov

Whoop whoop!  I am about to begin the next stage of my adventure.

In less that a week I shall be jetting off to Peru.  The plan (Plan A of probably several) is to spend three nights exploring the capital Lima before heading up the coast to the second/third largest city that is Trujillo.

I have been warned to watch out for and avoid the hoards of pickpockets and bag snatchers who will be waiting for me in the arrivals hall, I have totally confused myself about which cab, bus or colectivo is the safest way to travel to my hostel and, oh dear, that reminds me, I don’t have a hostel booked yet either.



When I wake up in a cold sweat at three am I have to remember that I negotiated Havana by myself, and I call up images on Google to remind myself that Lima is quite the cosmopolitan city, not some Dickensian slum, albeit with a tendency for gatherings of riot police.  I have decided to stop reading the guide books for now and just see for myself.

I have spent the last five weeks catching up with friends and family, sorting out mundane yet vital things such as backpackers insurance and I have had a lost filling replaced at the dentist.  There are still a myriad of jobs to complete before I depart but I am not quite so stressed about them now.

I shall be spending my first three months in Peru working as a volunteer for an NGO (non-governmental organisation/charity), and then after that: who knows!  Plan A (still) is to visit Machu Picchu, go see Lake Titicaca (that one is for my mum) and then explore South America whilst blogging and hopefully picking up travel writing commissions.

I need to write.  I can’t think of any worst punishment that not being allowed to write, other than not being permitted to read. In my old life I had written sixty thousand words towards my novel and countless short stories and articles, most of which were shoved in the back of a drawer but since I have started out on my journey with Scarlet, I have become more focused.

Last weekend I accompanied my friend – herself a published author – to the Festival of Romance Book Festival.  We stayed at a great Bed & Breakfast with a lovely host who cooked possibly the best full English that I have ever had in the Bedford Park Hotel, and I had some time to explore the market town of Bedford.  I have never written romance in my life, but I was totally blown away by the people that I met and the camaraderie and support amongst the group of writers and readers.  There was nobody at the event who underestimated the dedication and hard slog that it takes to get your words out there.  After the awards ceremony I met some of the winners of the new talent awards who are about to realise their dreams and who have been awarded publishing deals.  I saw agents and publishers supporting their prodigies and engaged with the whole host of writers who were networking and supporting each other.  People described themselves in various ways; authors, writers, hybrid authors, self-published, bloggers or readers, to name just a few titles which were bandied around.  When I talked to people I struggled to describe myself as I am just setting out on this journey, but then somebody else summed it up perfectly.

She described herself as a ‘new writer – not yet published’ – a description which I am more than happy to adopt.  And I blog – therefore I am a blogger.

My small following at the moment is a side-effect of police advice which was to keep a low profile on social media sites (if some of the police have their way, I would not use ANY form of social media), but after meeting so many fabulous writers who are following their dreams, and more importantly, actually seemed interested in mine, I have decided to ignore the police advice and go for it.

I may be opening myself up to future problems because despite my blocking ArseWipe (my ex) from Twitter he can still read my posts; but I need to balance that against my ambitions.  How can it be right for the police to suggest that I should not follow my preferred career path, rather than preventing  somebody who has a police record and a criminal conviction for harassment from bothering me?

I shall go to Peru and I shall raise the profile of my alter-ego Scarlet Jones by reinstating my Twitter and Facebook sites.  I will  prioritise my ideas for my fledgling online business and I will challenge the police and the law to protect me rather than ducking out of their responsibilities.  Attending the Festival has given me a timely nudge and it has reminded me why I resigned from my job, gave up my flat and left my life as I knew it

South American posts will take priority and I will update them frequently, sliding my European Adventure posts in amongst them.  I had been posting retrospectively (in an attempt to create a smoke screen around my whereabouts), but that needs to change and posts need to be more immediate.  Just in the last twenty four hours a senior police officer has contacted me and has advised me that he is going to investigate the incorrect information that I had previously been given.  I appreciate that the law relating to cyber crime can barely keep up with the advances in the new technologies, but that is not my problem.

So bear with me whilst I rebuild and launch Scarlet’s public face.

I am a new writer, not yet published and a travel blogger just setting out on the journey of a lifetime

For my Friend

30 Oct

So, after twenty five years of marriage why did I finally decide to leave?  I had thought long and hard about it, weighted up the pros and cons but I kept coming back to the same conundrum.

The question was – how bad is bad?

Having been brought up to believe that I should work at relationships and that it was right to do everything in my power to maintain a happy home life for our children, over time I became  conditioned to the jibes, insults and abuse which I received over the years.  I wouldn’t say that they no longer had the power to hurt me, but they became the norm.  In an effort to try to place my sense of normal on a scale comparative to that of other people, I finally plucked up the courage to phone a colleague and a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while.  I asked my friend if I could pick her brains about a personal matter over a coffee one Sunday morning.

I drove over to her house and after catching up on each others’ news, I announced that I was thinking of leaving AW.  I added that I wondered if, as a neutral person with no axe to grind she could help me to make sense of my predicament.  An hour or so later I left her house feeling a huge sense of relief that I had made that call. I was gratified that she hadn’t laughed at me but had taken my questions seriously.   She had also given me some sound solid advice and plenty of food for thought.

Ultimately, I did finally find the courage to tell AW that I needed some space in which to think about the way that our marriage was going, but from the minute that I left him, I was not allowed any space at all.  AW bombarded me with texts, phone calls and emails, visited my office and he constantly bothered my friends and family in an effort to persuade me to return.  That first week was very hard and many times I found myself questioning what on earth I was thinking.  The easiest road to take would be to return home, put up with the abuse and just pick my way through the rest of my life – after all, who can hold their hands up and claim to have a perfect life?

On day ten, on the Sunday morning, I received a text from my friend.  Basically she asked how I was doing and advised me to hang on in – or rather out there. She advised me that one week of ‘space’ was probably not enough for most people to work out what they truly wanted but even less so for me as I was not being allowed to get any space at all.  AW did not respect me enough to allow me my own thoughts or opinions, although I see now that he was running scared.  He was scared that away from his influence I might actually realise that I didn’t want to be with him.  He was angry that I had dared to question how he treated me and gob-smacked that I had taken matters into my own hands.  Instead of making an effort to listen to me and crediting me with the ability to make up my own mind, he blustered and shouted, was angry and threatened me and my friends.

Just as I was on the point of caving in and returning to what had been the norm, the text landed in my inbox with a ping and I read what my friend had written.  She was not advising me to leave or to stay, she was not telling me that my marriage was not worth fighting for, but she was saying that I owed it to myself to come to my final decision with a clear mind.  Such a monumental decision as I was about to undertake surely deserved full consideration in a peaceful environment.  I took on board what she had written to me.  I recognised that AW was attempting to bully me into a quick decision, no doubt hoping that I would get flustered or frightened into believing that I would be unable to cope as a single person.

That Sunday I made the decision to remain away from our shared home for at least a second and possibly a third week.  No matter what the outcome, I wanted to contemplate all my available options in full, in peace and by myself.

So why write this post now?

Well, my friend is currently not very well and whilst she is fighting her illness, it has brought home to me how fragile we all are.   My friends and family all know – or I hope they all know – how much I value them and their support, not just through my divorce but in all aspects of my life.  But just in case they don’t realise it, I want to say a huge thank you to them all, beginning with my friend.   You know who you are and you persuaded me that I could trust my own opinion and that I should allow myself the time to discover myself.  I do believe that even if I had caved in and returned to AW during that second week, the relationship was already doomed.   I believe that the seeds were sown and the scales had fallen from my eyes (where on earth does that expression come from?).  I had finally recognised that it was not normal to be insulted and belittled either at home, or worst, in front of people at social events, and I was not going to put up with it any longer.  I know that had I returned at that time I would eventually have left for good as AW’s behaviour would never change.

Without identifying my friends (because we all know that can lead to unwanted attention from AW) I will post the occasional shout outs and thank yous.

And so this post goes out to my friend who is in hospital.  You are showing incredible resilience and bravery.  I hope that your spirits and those of your family are being boosted by the sheer numbers of positive messages from your well-wishers which I know have been pouring in for you.  You are loved by many.  Draw strength from this and may every day find you getting stronger and stronger xx


Thinking of Home

14 Oct

What constitutes home?

Is it where you were born or raised?  Is it where your family or friends live?  Is it bounded by bricks and mortar or is it simply where you are at now?

Over the last four years I have lived in a variety of houses and flats, depending in many cases on the generosity of friends and family who have provided me with safe havens.  Yet once I have gone out of my front door in the town which I had called home for nearly thirty years I have not felt safe and I was constantly looking over my shoulder. I realised quite how edgy I had been feeling when I was walking through the streets of Havana on my own in the dark.  I felt a lot safer walking down the middle of the road where nobody knew me (or to be precise, where I was confident that AW would not be around) than walking around my home city in the UK in the daytime.

A Cuban woman watching the world go by

A Cuban woman watching the world go by

Pedestrians keep to the centre of the road because there are no streetlights in the suburbs of Havana and dangerous potholes lie in wait on the pavements – the roads too but they are more visible – all due to the economic situation there.

But people live their lives outdoors.  Partly due to the heat as very few people can afford air con, often due to overcrowding in the homes – a side effect of the government policy of ensuring that nobody goes without a roof over their heads and also because for the Cubans people-watching and communicating with friends and neighbours is a free activity and there is a massive sense of community.  Cubans sit on their front porches and watch the world go by so in the main, you are very visible and crime is low.

Since giving up the tenancy on my flat and setting out on my adventure I have no physical home of my own.  I have a few small items which travel with me and constitute my ‘home’.

Rather like the lyrics in that song which compares a pack of playing cards to a Bible, my little treasures link me to friends and family.

I have my owl key ring which is attached to my smaller rucksack, my lucky Buddha whose size does not correlate to its leaden weight, a couple of pairs of earrings, a red bangle and a friendship bracelet, my silver thumb ring and my worry ring, a couple of cards and letters which I carry, a 5 rupee Indian coin, a green mosaic tile from a swimming pool and my St Christopher necklace.  I also have my phone with music and photos of friends on, my netbook with the same and memory sticks loaded up with pictures too.  It’s actually no wonder that my rucksack is so bloody heavy!  These items were all given to me or bought by me for different reasons.  I have other items stored away which I would love to have with me, but short of upgrading to pushing a supermarket trolley around with me (and THAT would be the slippery slope to shuffling around and have kids yell ‘mad bag lady’ at me) those things will have to remain safe in the UK for now.

My treasures

My treasures

I have endowed some of my treasures with multiple meanings.  I am not superstitious and having previously lost many valuable and sentimental possessions I try not to get too emotionally attached to items, but perhaps a little bit of me wants to remain rooted to what, or more specifically who I have left behind.


8 Oct

I am STILL getting contradictory, ambiguous messages from AW and NOW it seems that even TFO has logged onto my Twitter account and is checking out what I am doing.

Now I happen to know that she and AW are still together despite him grovelling on the phone just a few months ago and telling me that he was unable to live without me.  My goodness, he certainly groveled and begged when I suggested that I might tell TFO, however he is obviously unhinged as he is once again back to writing some classic comments about and to me.

What is quite odd is that TFO actually favourited something on Twitter that I had been mentioned in.  I can only imagine that she favourited this by accident as the notification was removed quite swiftly after it had been posted.  Does the silly woman not realise that she triggered an email to me?  But why on earth would she still be with this man who is so obviously obsessed with me?  Does she have so little pride in herself?  I know that they have recently holidayed  abroad – do they log on to Twitter together and settle down to see what I have posted?

AW continues to comment about my Twitter feed – and has responded to some which my friends have written – but these also trigger an email.  I suspect that he has no idea about this little feature as he has ZERO followers and so nobody will post anything about or to him.    He and his fat bird must both be totally oblivious of the magic of screen shots, lol!

What do you reckon?  Should I take out another injunction against him?  But however much I want AW to stop pestering me, I fear that any action I take can only be detrimental – as it will help him to reinforce his victim status with the children and risk alienating them further from me – if that is indeed possible.

You may ask, why don’t I block him from my Twitter account?  Well I have done that, but blocking a person perversely does not stop them reading your posts or commenting – it just means that the blocker cannot read them.  Friends and family and the wider world can still see his comments.

I now divert all messages from AW which he sends via WhatsApp,  text and email into a folder  without reading them.  I have discovered that they have less effect on me if I choose when and if to open and read them.  When I get messages from AW, I do wonder if I perhaps over react to the content but now with time, he has less and less power to hurt me.  I keep telling myself that nobody could be so callous to intentionally post some of the things that he does, nor be so calculating and manipulative with words.  I convince myself that he is too dense to layer multiple meanings within his messages and in the main they roll off me without any effect.  The only ones that still have the potential to hurt are his comments about the children.

Things took a turn for the worst again recently when AW took another pot-shot direct to members of my family.  He sent a spiteful message about me to a seventy five year old relative.  I cannot comprehend what is going on in AW’s mind.  He claims to miss me and to want me back yet he hate me for leaving him.  That I can deal with but how low can he stoop when he continues to send upsetting messages to my dad?

a large bug in the ointment

a large bug in the ointment

Judge for yourself!  Below is a small sample of what goes on in his head and what he has recently posted about or to me.  My thoughts on his comments are in italics, although I have no intention of replying to him – as that is exactly what he wants.  He must be driving himself mad wondering how I react to his ramblings – you may formulate your own opinion about him

Our 30th anniversary today.  Sad for me even if you don’t care.

No, I don’t frigging care!  We are divorced.  You put me through hell.  And it WOULD have been our 30th anniversary if we were still married.  But we are not!

Me and the kids are waiting for you…….. we come as a family.  How badly do you want them?

What can I possibly say about this one!!

Just seen a documentary about Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.  It could be us

What – dead?  Or do you mean that we could remarry each other?

I am trying my best to get you and the children in contact with each other.  You might not like it but the way to get through to me is initially via me

Still acting as gatekeeper then? They are grown up with their own email addresses and phone numbers. Have you ‘ordered’ them not to respond to my messages unless you have been able to vet them first?

The above are just a small selection from his latest bombardment.  I don’t believe that he will ever stop as he thrives on bitterness and nastiness but I have an invisible shield around me now.  He no longer has the power to hurt me and can only destroy himself trying.  Yet he continues to try.

Just yesterday he directly responded to a post that BF had put on his twitter feed.  Just who the hell does he think he is that he can write insulting things about me on a public forum?  I repeat again, we are divorced

I recently hinted on Twitter that I may need to consider another injunction – but I also hinted that perhaps TFO should be included too if she is going to begin to stalk me.  Her comments suddenly mysteriously disappeared.  i doubt she has a conscience but perhaps she has some common sense.  In this technical age, comments don’t simply disappear – they can always be retrieved.

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