Texas to Louisiana to Mississippi to Tennesee (feat. Abby!)

Hello!

I’ve skipped a couple weeks to last week – Abby has arrived and we’re in Texas. She flew into San Antonio (so did I- I flew with Southwest and there was a cracking crew they were a laugh and I actually enjoyed (!) a flight). We stayed in a really cute Airbnb and then headed out for some food – I had a burger and Abby a salad (!!!!). Guess who’s was nicer… I have got to say though I honestly have never eaten as many burgers in my LIFE as I have had in the US. I’m not even really a fan of them at home, it’s the brainwashing happening again! San Antonio has a really really cute riverwalk that tracks miles and miles of the river that runs right the way through the city. We started walking by the river for a while and then after 5 minutes realised we were MUCH too hot but had to keep going… FINALLY reached the point we were aiming for – lots of cute bridges and bars and LOADS of tourists and drank about 4 pints of water at a cute table by the river.

So next day we got a bus down to the missions a little further down the river (not due to the heat – this was actually very far!!!). San Antonio has a bunch of these missions which were set up by the Spanish to convert Native Americans into Catholics and change their name, practices, customs… It’s a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. The churches are still in great condition and a couple are even still used. We walked down the river to the second (literally learning nothing apparently…) and arrived a couple of sweaty messes. It’s very beautiful and reminded me a lot of European old churches. We bussed it back up to downtown and had a look around some more, grabbed some pizza and checked out the market. It was basically a Latino market with a singer, loads of stalls, lots of South American food and the kind of stuff for sale I’ve seen in Mexico etc.

 

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Making it to civilisation along the river

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Mission #1


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Misson #2 (hiding her exhaustion)


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Market

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We ended our last day in San Antonio at this very very cool bar/restaurant on the river that was basically made up of two storage containers where you order food or beer and then a couple of sheets of corrugated iron that sort of gave it a bit of a roof and some framing. There were big swings overlooking the river and picnic benches and fairy lights everywhere. It was extremely popular and the food was incredibly good. A strong end.

The next stop: Austin! I’ve been excited about going to Austin for months and months- literally everyone I’ve spoken to about has said that it’s one of their favourite cities in the world. We stayed at a hostel that was right in the centre of downtown (the main bit!). Half a block away was 6th street – totally full of bars and restaurants that at night literally all have live music in. Also a weird thing about Austin is that there are food trucks absolutely everywhere selling all types of food. We got a burger and walked over the river and then through a lovely lovely park in the sun. It was a Sunday so everyone in Austin was walking their dog and goodness me Austin has some cute dogs. Abby seems to have realised she’s big into dogs so what with the sweatiness of us both and the need to point out every single dog in the park it took a large chunk of the day to eventually arrive at Barton Springs. It’s an area where everyone can swim/hire kayaks/paddle boards so it was very busy this hot Sunday afternoon. Abby and I found refuge in a nearby restaurant that sells purple ‘Ritas’ that contain Everclear – a spirit so strong it’s banned in a bunch of states — the place has a warning saying you’re only allowed 2..! We didn’t actually have one – I think we were worried we’ll fall asleep and not make it back to actually check into our hostel.

Anyway – we actually managed it and had a rest up before checking out some of the bars nearby. There really was live music in every single one- and it was a Sunday night..! Pretty cool.

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Your favourite travellers ever so slightly glammed up


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View from the park looking across to Downtown Austin


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The heat was getting to us (ps go heels!)


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What a poser


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A place to swim!! But nothing to swim in…

Next day we had a tour of the Capitol – Austin is the capital of Texas so we had a tour around the building – it’s red! – and could see where the senators get together. After we walked (!) up to the campus for the University of Texas. It’s so beautiful. We snuck into the stadium too to have a look and wow it was large. Obviously UT orange has got nothing on Carolina blue but it was impressive all the same. We also had a look around the Lyndon Johnson library/museum which was genuinely super interesting. I didn’t know anything about LBJ really – except from what Dad has told me from his RIDICULOUSLY long books on the man – so it was a great exhibit to actually know what he did. He did seem like a particularly scary kind of man though. There was literally a place where you could take a photo with a cardboard cut out of LBJ being all intimidating. Although we LOVED Ladybird Johnson’s office and basically everything she wore.

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The Capitol

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Abby + LBJ (I)

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The LBJ library – all the documents – they go on forever


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Abby + LBJ (II)


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Katie + LBJ


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Texas Longhorns (go heels!)

That evening we went to the coolest cinema I have literally ever been to. You get a seat in these really comfy chairs and there’s a menu and you can order basically anything you want and they bring it out to you. I had a very strong g&t and Abby a milkshake – but we could have had cocktails, wine, WINGS, mac & cheese, salads, a whole variety of popcorn flavours – so much stuff! Even whilst the movie is on you can write down what you want and pop it up in front of you and someone comes along and takes it. We saw Wonder Woman which I really enjoyed (maybe it was the gin) but they do other theme nights – like the night before had been a Dirty Dancing SING-A-LONG NIGHT like literally they were doing themed drinks (watermelon obv) and encouraged everyone to sing along or speak along with it… Literally amazing.

We spent the next couple of days looking around Austin – walking about in ridiculously hot sun – seeing some really cool neighbourhoods- there was one street that was just a bunch of amazing bars that all looked like someone’s house and you sit in their garden! We also went with the hostel one night to Blues on the Green. It’s a free music festival held once a month during the summer in the evening. You can bring beer and sit on the grass. There were literally thousands and thousands of people there, it was amazing.

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Exploring


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Continued


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Realising we’d taken a long sunny route


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Oh dear


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Found the ice tea and cupcakes though


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Sunset rooftop pool


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Austin at night

Next stop was a fleeting visit through Houston. Not a whole lot to report- we went to a lovely cocktail bar, stayed in a lovely hostel in a great area (literally a beautiful residential neighbourhood) and found my FAVOURITE supermarket in the US. I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting but honestly, supermarkets out here are literally appalling. They either have zero fresh anything and just sell cans or snacks or they are a fancy pancy vegan paleo gluten free extreme ridiculousness market that sells ONLY organic stuff at extortionate prices – so I was fairly excited by a regular supermarket where we could buy NORMAL THINGS! – including Marmite and Ribena, that I sadly resisted. Also our trip was my first Megabus experience in a while – I had taken a Megabus from DC back to Chapel Hill a while back and it was FULLY HORRIBLE but they made it up this time, just. Although I genuinely think Greyhound is way better… they get such a bad rep!

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Obama wall


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Sun setting in Houston

We flew out of Houston very early (VERY EARLY) the next morning to New Orleans. Another Southwest flight, which I love. We got to New Orleans at maybe 8:30am and took a couple of long buses into the centre – we were staying in a hostel in the French Quarter. The outskirts of New Orleans looked like literally every other town in the US – lots and lots of chains and big roads and not much else. But the French Quarter is beautiful – narrow streets and lots of lovely balconies and steel railings and music literally everywhere. We got breakfast in the Music Legends Park – there was a small square with a cafe and a live band – at 10am on a Saturday morning! We spent the day looking around the French Quarter- went to the French Market which sold things like alligator on a stick and catfish to voodoo dolls, jalapeno pineapple jam, gumbo and pecan praline – a New Orleans special which tastes like really sugary fudge with a bunch of pecans in.

That evening we headed out to Bourbon St, which is this fairly gross street with lots of bars on that always smells totally rank (all day every day apparently). We tried the New Orleans special – the hurricane which is made up of rum and its totally and utterly disgusting, it’s so sweet and tastes like maraschino cherries pureed and poured over half a bottle of rum before heading across the street to the DUELING PIANO BAR which I thoroughly enjoyed – 80’s hits and classics all requested songs that the pianists JUST KNEW how to play. It was pretty cool.

At this point Abby is going to write about what she thought of New Orleans which is super exciting (not just because it means I can write less teehee). I’m going to figure out how to make her bit look different HOLD ON HERE…….


So we arrived in New Orleans at about 8am after getting up to catch the flight from Houston at 4am, it was pretty early for us. After dropping off our bags we decided to wander a little, look about, and we stumbled across this really sweet little courtyard with a cafe, bar and outdoor tables. Despite being only about 10am at this point, there was a little jazz band playing – it felt very ‘New Orleans’.

After that our day generally consisted of the same, pottering about French quarter. New Orleans is so incredibly cool. We spend hours, tiredly walking about and still managed to love it. The little streets were full of art galleries, antique shops and bits and bobs and one street was even closed off so that artists could come set up shop and play in the afternoon. 

The building and the streets are gorgeous, they all looked just as they did in the films and television, just how New Orleans should – we couldn’t take enough photos of balconies and hanging ferns. In Jackson Square we stumbled upon a great Jazz band bustling, complete with Tuba – the atmosphere was incredible!

The next day we got up for our walking tour. It was very hot, very humid, vaguely unmanageable but manage we did and we even got there early. This walking tour was great, our guide told us so much fascinating history like, for example, that due to the education provided to women by nuns in the city, in the 1830s, free women of colour made up the largest class which owned their own business! Our guide called the city one of the few matriarchal places in the country at that time as this education wasn’t provided for men so only the rich few could afford that, whereas the women thrived – it all sounds very exciting. Anyway, so we pottered about some more, learning about the different developments of architecture from the French and Spanish colonisers, it was a very interesting tour.

Later on, we had a look at the Hurricane exhibit in one of the main museums. It had a big section on Katrina of course, which was incredibly interesting but also obviously very sobering, I couldn’t get over the fact that it was so recent and had such an impact. There was a large section on how the communities came together to rebuild their homes and retain their culture, very moving.

Sticking to the tourist activities we headed to Cafe du Monde later on and got some beignets – tasty but far too much icing sugar! (Katie told me off for trying to brush some off). Also pottered along the river and saw the holocaust memorial which is basically a bunch of panels with some patterns on that all look different from different angles, representing different aspects of the Holocaust I believe.

Later still we headed to Frenchmen’s Street which is famous for live bands. We settled into one place after struggling to choose for a while (too much choice New Orleans!) and watched this great band do sort of synthy funk (I’m 100% guessing here), complete with keyboard and trumpet solos. It was very enjoyable, the band leader kept finished each song saying ‘yes indeed, yes indeed’ in a proper Louisiana accent which was great – I even had a little dance and we bought their CD. Everyone who we saw performing seemed to be from New Orleans which was very cool also, supporting local artists and such.

The next day we set off to the WWII Museum which is boasted best in New Orleans and 4th best in the country! It was a very impressive museum to be fair to them, the time flew by. Alongside all the in-depth exhibits which were particularly interesting as from a US perspective so not one we were so used to, they gave us each an interactive card which was our ‘dogtag’. With that we were linked up the story of one particular person and through the exhibits we could check in on machines to see where they were and what they were up to at the time – we could even keep the cards and look back on the website when we got home! Whole new level of museum if you ask me.

After that we pottered on to the Garden District which was basically founded I think by rich Europeans coming over after French Quarter was taken over by Americans after the independence. The Garden District has some of the most incredible houses I’ve ever seen, all verandas and balconies and such – entirely gorgeous.

Overall, I absolutely LOVED New Orleans. I think this may be because, in a sort of European way, it’s set up (at least in the Centre) so that everything’s near each other with just small streets between, unlike the usual massively spread out cities I’d seen in Texas. The atmosphere is so great, you can hear different live music about every 10 metres. Despite being a proper party city with people carrying about huge plastic cups and bowls of cocktails from about 11am, and smelling *questionable* to say the least in some areas, it wasn’t rowdy and unpleasant, it was really lovely to walk around. I think I’m a bit obsessed, I won’t lie to you, and this is even without being old enough to do the classic Saturday night drinking on Bourbon Street!


MEMPHIS! After another 4 hour train journey – less relaxing this time BUT we did discover there are FOOT RESTS you can pull up so it was intensely comfortable (I think we were just more bored) – we arrived into our penultimate city. The hostel we’re staying at is a church, sort of. It’s run by the church and we’re in the building next to it. But it seems really great so far – they leave out pancake mix for you to make your own pancakes in the morning and that’s a big win from me.

Today Abby and I explored Memphis. We went on a sweaty bus ride – it’s really not that hot but it’s still so humid, I was wearing jeans and unexpectedly warm… Our first stop was Sun Studio – the studio where Elvis was first recorded by Sam Phillips. It’s only about 3 rooms but they do tours and our tour guide was great- super informative and funny. I didn’t know a whole lot about Sun Studio or Elvis for that matter so it was really interesting. It’s also the place that Johnny Cash recorded for the first time and where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Great Balls of Fire (which then Abby and I had stuck in our head for the rest of the day). They even had one microphone left which Elvis had used – one of the old school silver ones – it doesn’t work anymore though sadly, although the recording studio itself is still in use.

Before a quick Cuban lunch we popped into the Peabody Hotel. So back in March the Final Four for the basketball was held in Memphis and there was a video we all saw of Roy Williams, the head basketball coach at UNC, herding some ducks down a red carpet. It was pretty random at the time but apparently it’s almost a century-long tradition at the Peabody Hotel after a couple of ducks were taken from the hunt and put in the fountain in the middle of the hotel. Nowadays at 11am and 5pm the ducks are still marched down a red carpet… and they live in the water fountain during the day and go home to a nearby farm at night. It’s incredibly random. Anyway…

After lunch we walked down a (very quiet) Main St towards the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is in the actual building that once was the Lorraine motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was killed. There were fascinating photos capturing the civil rights movements in the 60’s and then lots of amazing exhibits documenting African American history – from slavery to the Civil War, to Martin Luther King Jr to the African influences in American culture today. It was very sad but incredibly interesting – especially as they have set up the motel room where MLK stayed so it looks exactly how it looked when he died. It makes you realise just how recent all of this was – segregation was only ruled as unconstitutional in 1953 – but segregation continued across the south for a couple of decades after that.

As we left the museum the tropical storm arrived. I had my trusty UNC raincoat – Abby got wet. Teehee. We headed to the Bass Pro Pyramid, an utterly RIDICULOUS place – it’s basically a shopping centre for outdoors-y stuff, so, guns, fishing stuff, hunting stuff, clothing, BOATS. But the whole place has been turned into this weird themed place – there are stuffed animals everywhere and ponds and weird fake trees just about everywhere you look. Fake trees! You can even get in the weird neon lift and see the view from the top of the pyramid (we didn’t – it was really grim rain at this point!). We headed back to our hostel & went for some incredibly tasty pizza and watched a bit of the NBA draft – which I really didn’t understand at the beginning but now I have some strong thoughts on the Sacramento team.

Anyway! This has been INCREDIBLY long, congratulations for making it until the end. I only have a week left in the US now. It’ll be lovely to get home but I’m going to miss it an awful lot.

Lots of love!

Katie (& Abby!) xxx

 

New York to San Francisco

Hello!

So since I last updated this we’ve whipped through a few cities for sure! After Savannah we flew up to New York (via Newark, New Jersey- so much cheaper!). We were booked in one night in a hostel and then spent the rest of the 5 or so days staying with Marianne’s uncle & aunt in Brooklyn which was lovely. I was blown away by New York from the start. You fly in and see the skyline and it all just looks so proper and exactly how it’s meant to look. I don’t really know how to describe it much better than that other than I spent the whole time picturing myself in any number of tv show/movie/musical that I’ve seen. We went for some extremely delicious ramen the second we arrived – we were in the Broadway neighbourhood so lots of massive buildings and sparking things and zero sightings of Andrew Rannells (very sad). We then wandered around Manhattan a bit in midtown – checking out the sights – the Rockefeller building, Grand Central Station and the like. All just like how it looks in Gossip Girl! Marianne’s twin arrived that night and we went out for dinner in Little Italy. The next few days: we moved to Brooklyn which is just lovely. We were near Prospect Park and the area was so nice – lots of cute restaurants and shops everywhere and it didn’t feel quiet, just relaxed! We also checked out Williamsburg and went to a street food market – got some extremely tasty Vietnamese Bao buns which were very delish. Also swung by the Highline, which is the old railroad that goes along the west side of Manhattan which was a fab little walk.

I mean I could go on about how cool the shops down Bleecker St are and the jazz club Dylan took us to that was underneath this busy restaurant and invisible if you didn’t know it was there. We met up with more UNC students in Greenwich village in the park on NYU graduation day and there was a quartet just doing their thing in a park corner. There was the time Lydia and I got the wrong subway back to Brooklyn and ended up walking through the streets of Brooklyn for 45 minutes past grotty storage unit buildings and deserted warehouses to the fancy gentrified sections which still felt pretty cool with their edgy bars. We visited the 9/11 memorial and I wasn’t prepared for quite how impressive – and I can’t find quite the right word for it – possibly overwhelming they are; two huge sunken fountains with a smaller fountain in the middle that you can’t see the bottom of – somehow making it even more affecting. We walked over the Williamsburg bridge, got the ferry to Staten Island and visited the statue of the girl facing off the bull on Wall St. There was dinner in a Thai place and saying goodbye to a whole load of wonderful amazing UNC international students in Times Square. And on the last night we went up the Empire State building where the view was genuinely phenomenal. It’s hard to not feel like you’re in a movie when all that scenery is just laid out in front of you. It’s also eerily quiet up there in a way that you don’t anticipate which makes it so atmospheric. It’s cliche but it was the perfect end to the New York trip.

So, next stop: San Francisco. Our flight was at an appalling 6am from New Jersey which meant an hour of sleep and then a quite bizarrely surreal day (although the plane was fab – we had a plethora of movie and tv choices it was all quite exciting). San Francisco was chilly when we arrived, checked into our hostel (quite a weird one- a recording studio downstairs and pub carpets everywhere else) and were reunited with Zack. We went for a strange little diner for breakfast – everything comes with potatoes! It soon warmed up as we explored a bit – we walked down to the great little waterfront which is very old and beautiful. It has an old boathouse and a cute little wooden piers – I have never seen so many small men all fishing all at once. We stopped off at the very touristy spot where you can watch a (tragic) magic show or buy some (extortionately expensive) fudge. It was weird- they even had a fish and chip shop that did legit fish and chips, it smelt a bit like home!

So we had an early night the first night (after some tasty Indian food – mixing it up from the deep fried anything back in Carolina, how I miss it). Our first day we spent in the Chinatown district – the Asian history in San Francisco and the US in general is so interesting – we went to the Asian Historical Soc museum which told us some more about the ban on Chinese immigrants coming into the US and their detention for months and months at a time at Angel Island just out in the bay.

Afterwards we headed out to look around some more- there is an Italian neighbourhood that felt very classy and fancy and then we walked up the ludicrously steep hill to the Coit Tower. It’s not an impressive tower itself but it’s in such a cute position on the top of a little hill right on the corner of the San Fran bay. Also from there we could walk down the steps that go through this very leafy area with lots of tropical plants and animals with hidden cottages and cute flowers everywhere.

We ended the day walking back along the pier and getting a bus back to the hostel (which felt so hairy when it stopped right at the top if these silly steep hills, it was a relief to know that the buses are all attached to a wire in the air like a tram!).

Next day we headed out to the Mission district which is the cool part of town. It suddenly felt like we were in Mexico or at least a little bit – Zack had found this place which is meant to do the best Mexican food in town so that’s where we beelined and yes, had incredibly tasty burritos in a very very busy place which was quite the hubbub. After that we walked through really cool streets with lots of cute cute houses to the Mission park which is the park on the hill that you often see in the movies – it has an amazing view of the bay and it was very relaxed. We then walked up to see more beautiful houses and then went to the ‘crookedest street in the world’ and yes I can confirm- very crookedy. It’s got 7 hairpin turns and is very very very steep – again back at it with the lovely views!

That was our last full day in San Fran- the next day we rented our car and drove to LA! I’m so behind on my blog so I’m going to jump ahead now and do a separate post in the future about the roadtrip and the Grand Canyon!

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Grand Central station! I loved the green ceiling

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The 9/11 memorial at Staten Island- between the two arches is where the twin towers used to be.

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New York from the Staten Island ferry

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Brooklyn! We stayed on this street, it’s so lovely.

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Marianne and Lydia – reunited and in a fountain (it was so hot)

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View from the highline

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Central Park

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Boating on the water in Central Park

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Love liked his Bao bun

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From the Empire State Building!!

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Times Square

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Entrance to Chinatown in San Fran

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The boathouse on the water

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The cute pier

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Food!!! Not enough food is being featured on here anymore, plus I’m hungry right now

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Chinatown- I was pretty pleased with this photo- managed to get so much going on!

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More Chinatown

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The view from the bottom of Coit Tower – you can sort of see how steep up and down San Fran is

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The beautiful walk down the steps

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Marianne & I getting breakfast and a very Instagram-ready cafe near our hostel

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House!!!!

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Mission Park San Fran

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View from the top of the Crookedest Street in the world (allegedly!)

 

 

Saying goodbye to some of the best months of my life

Turns out I’m appalling at keeping this blog updated!! I’m on the move now and hopefully I’ll be able to set aside some time every few days to let y’all know where I am!

 

Yesterday morning I left Chapel Hill for good. I’d say I was very sad and very emotional about leaving except that it was maybe one of the most chaotic and frantic exits I’ve ever had (dr appointments, bus tickets, uber issues, luggage problems, handbag locked in room troubles etc etc etc).

Over the last week pretty much everyone has been going their separate ways – either home or traveling around the US for a bit. There is a group of us internationals who are planning on crossing paths at various times across the country. It’s been a weird week and it’s been so difficult to say goodbye to everything that I’ve loved so much for the past few months. It’s hard to really explain it; all I can say is that I’m so proud to call myself a Tar Heel and to have met such incredible people and I feel very lucky.

Highlights since I last wrote include spring break to Mexico (tacos tacos tacos!), unbelievable beautiful days, WINNING A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (I watched in a bar on Franklin St- it was so packed, we started queuing up 9 hours before the game started – when we won everyone rushed Franklin. And I mean literally everyone. Just running up Franklin St – I think there was 55,000 people all going crazy. For a town of 59,000 it’s good going!!!), Last Day of Class (LDOC – included lots of parties and getting sunburnt but was a lot of fun), actual exams which I managed to pass (success!) and then earlier this week Marianne and I went to Wilmington for a couple of days. Wilmington is on the beach in North Carolina and it’s also the 3rd most filmed location in the US (after Hollywood and NYC). It’s also known as Tree Hill – for all you OTH fans – I was very excited. The town itself is pretty weird. It’s almost hippy-y with lots of strange shops and bars but it didn’t feel very big. We stopped by the beach for a bit too which was lovely. We also stayed in our first US hostel- a strange experience. We were there for two nights and at no point did we see a single staff member. It was like we just knew the codes for the door of someone’s house and let ourselves in and used the kitchen as we fancied. It was lovely though and I needed a comfy bed after my fairly grim bed in the dorm (less sad saying goodbye to that!).

So to now! Currently I’m in Savannah, Georgia (the southern pronunciation of Geeeorrgia is my favourite thing). Lonely Planet describes it as a ‘Southern Belle’ which feels accurate. It’s so stunningly pretty. Lots of big big trees with Spanish moss and massive houses with amazing porches and shutters. There are lots of squares too, so it feels very green. Some parts of it are weirdly reminding us of London – I think there actually was a fair bit of English influence to the architecture – one of the most famous houses is a museum now and was built by a man from Bath in 1819. He wanted it to look like it could fit into Bath too so it even has Bath stone in it. There’s a pretty riverwalk and lots to see. It’s also really heating up, I’m sure I won’t be able to cope soon! We’re taking a bit of a breather today to recuperate – the bus journey yesterday wasn’t half as bad as I was dreading it would be – and then we’ll head out later and explore.

It’s hard to string everything that’s happened and all the particular great bits all into a few paragraphs so here are some photos that I’ve captioned which help me a bit!!! (side note- I’ve just added these and they’re now in a very random order but hopefully you can get the gist!!)

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Thanksgiv(spr)ing – an event on campus to raise awareness about homelessness and create a sense of community with free food. Lots of restaurants across Chapel Hill chipped in.


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The NC science fair! There were lots of little stalls and there was a little science demo going on on this stage.


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Same day as the fair we were walking back and then just in front of my halls there was this going on. It was the opening of a community garden where students can plant food and plants. The chancellor was there making a speech and there was even a jazz quartet in the corner!


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Nothing important to say here just isn’t the Old Well so beautiful?!


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The Aberdeen contingency representing


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A slightly ridiculous pool party on LDOC that was slightly bizarre


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The international lot- ❤


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A beautiful sunny afternoon at He’s Not


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Hayley was all excitement at the Welsh cheddar cheese


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This worries me – GARLIC FLAVOUR??


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A few of the best girls ever


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Marianne and I did a sad farewell tour of campus last week – this is her last look at the stadium. This photo really doesn’t capture the vastness of it


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A beautiful sunset in Wilmington over the USS North Carolina


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A car I could see myself driving as a character in One Tree Hill


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One of the cutest bookshops ever


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A classic southern house in Wilmington


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So very very very sad to leave


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Savannah – Marianne


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Riverwalk at sunset – and the bridge we got the bus over that I couldn’t see mum enjoying. When you are on it it seems to go weirdly upwards like you’re climbing a hill.


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Forsyth Park in Savannah – right next to our Airbnb


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Savannah


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Getting up early to post our suitcases had its advantages


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Hayley & Marianne, my spring break travellers on the little terrace of one of the cutest bars/delis in Chapel Hill


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The double pint cups from He’s Not Here (so called from when people used to call up and ask if Michael Jordan was there!)


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When there was an adorable little market in the pit on campus


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There was an arts week when UNC put up pianos all around campus. They decided they liked them and so they’ve kind of stuck now. Few nicer things though when it’s a quiet evening and someone’s killing it on the piano on the quad.


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Raghav is making a little video of all of us and interviewed us all for it – insane backdrop


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Marianne on one of the last days of class. This was a day I had a seminar for Women’s Studies which my TA decided we should have sat outside on the grass. There was an event going on nearby – with acapella and this insane dancing with skipping ropes that was distracting in the best way. It was also very warm – maybe 27 degrees – at 6pm which was heavenly.

We’re in Savannah until Wednesday and then off to New York! Looking forward to it.

 

Lots of love

Katie xxxx

 

 

 

 

How is it March already?

Hello all!
I’m writing this in my dorm room as the sun is streaming through the window and a package of summer dresses has just arrived from home (thanks Mum and Dad!). It’s probably around 24 degrees and one of those gorgeous sunny days that maybe come once or twice a year in the UK and everyone just has to leave work or school early to head to the beach. The trees are finally beginning to get some leaves here and there are pink blossoms popping up everywhere. Spring is arriving and it feels like summer!

It’s been a while since the first blog – so what have I been up to? Well there was the trip to Asheville (very not Nashville), a weekend in Washington DC, course deadlines, baseball games and of course most importantly BASKETBALL. It’s official, I’ve become one of those people that shouts at the tv whilst ‘the game’ is on and wears only Carolina Blue (it’s an official colour I swear). I’ve been to a total 3 games here which is fairly impressive, what with the lottery system of winning tickets, and one of them was the DUKE GAME. (I’ve forgotten how to not type that in capital letters.) Watching basketball here is literally madness the stadium is so enormous and ridiculous. Carolina haven’t lost a home game this year (impressive!!!). Everyone knows all the team and you see them around campus and try to act REALLY COOL like its no big deal even though you’re absolutely freaking out. Ted asked me the other day whether the games were broadcast on like, UNC TV or something. OH NO, this is ESPN, this is an ENORMOUS DEAL. We beat Duke (woooooooo!!!! dook suck) – MICHAEL ACTUAL JORDAN TURNED UP, everyone lost it. Now we’re trying to win the overall conference & then the national conference. It’s all very exciting. We watched a few games one of the bars (hot dog bar!!!) on Franklin St and everyone goes mad!

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THE DUKE GAME – we only went and won 83-90 and it was oh so amazing

On a calmer note, we’ve been making it a habit on gorgeous days to head out to the baseball stadium (noticeably fewer in the stands!) and bathe in sunshine whilst the most clichéd baseball tunes play out – I mean literally at around half way through they play ‘Take me out to the ballgame’ and everyone stands up and tries to catch bags of peanuts. Not to say this isn’t swish and fancy and with more hype than any Aberdeen game times about 4000. There are people who clearly go to every game and have print outs of our team, the opposing team and write down how well they’re doing and all this. Quite the commitment- baseball is played in 3 day series and there feels like theres AT LEAST one a week. Still, its a beaut way to pass the afternoon doing nothing whilst feeling like you’re experiencing something INCREDIBLY American.

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An afternoon at the ballgame

All through this actual university work is ticking along in the background (how the sports players cope I have no idea). I heard the workload was going to be more than I was used to in Aberdeen and to some degree I’d say that’s true. I’ve had plenty of tests and exams but there are never long essays or lab papers I need to write which is lovely! However to pass my courses out here I need to get 70% – compared to FOURTY in the UK! So they set the bar a lot higher which I guess is no bad thing..!

Anyway I’m about half way through the college semester (cry cry cry cry cry) and that means.. SPRING BREAK! Hahah no really. A few people I know are actually going to Cancún. I’m going to Mexico too, but I’m going to the places surrounding Cancún that are going to be much more exciting. A couple of girls and I are travelling from Mérida to Tulum and exploring the Mayan ruins and beaches along the way. It’s going to be 34 degrees and I AM EXCITED!!!! How is it possibly already spring break?!?!?!?! I’ll obviously write a lengthy blog about Mexican food (I cannot wait).

Speaking of food… I’ve had Bojangle’s ‘famous’ chicken & biscuits. Oh dear. Oh dear dear dear. Biscuits to me are basically scones with no sugar and just an incredibly amount of fat instead – they’re much closer to a suet pudding. So obviously a great idea is to USE TWO OF THEM TO SANDWICH A PIECE OF FRIED CHICKEN? No? Nobody? Well it makes just no sense to me. I felt like I needed a lettuce leaf ON AN IV DRIP afterwards and I haven’t gone back in a hurry! Having said that, good lord have I had some tasty burgers here (even if I only see a vegetable every few days or so ahha!). ANYWAY food interlude over.

So, Washington DC was my favourite trip so far. It was ridiculous. I watch an impressive amount of tv (generally lol) that’s set in DC and the whole weekend I kept going on and on about The West Wing. I went in a group of nine and CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE that not one of them is a real watcher of the West Wing????? IT’S AN INSTITUTION. So anyway, DC was lovely, we visited the Capitol, had a GREAT tour, cycled down to the White House and Washington Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. We even got to see a little bit of Georgetown (hey Alicia Florrick!) which was stunnnninnggggg. Again, ridiculously sunny – as Mum would say we have been ‘very lucky with the weather!’.

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THE WHITE HOUSE (Trump wasn’t in, thank god)

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The Capitol on the Hill – remember that amazing episode of The West Wing when President Bartlett WALKS UP TO THE CAPITOL?!? Well it’s a hefty old way so no wonder he actually drove most of it. But still, EXCITING!! I WALKED ON THAT ROAD!

I’m still amazed every day that I’m so lucky to be studying here. The campus is just getting more unreal each day – it’s beautiful and I’m often like woah – I’m actually living here. It’s so cool. (I really have no other way to describe it!) – anyway here’s a cute tree.

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Lots of love (& go heels!)

Katie xxx

 

 

Welcome to North Carolina!

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these and I am DEFINITELY rusty so bear with me!

I’m currently living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a student at the University of North Carolina. I’ve been here for 2 weeks today – it’s FLYING by. We arrived on a very delayed flight into a VERY cold North Carolina. There was probably a few inches of snow on the ground and everywhere else was a pure ICE RINK. Hairy to say the least. The journey in the car to the university was only marginally terrifying – at least it was dark! I think it was around -9 degrees. COLD. I met a bunch of other English students on the plane and we met up the following day to have a wander about and figure out where we are. This was the Monday before classes start and the whole campus was DESERTED. It was so so quiet, it felt like a ghost town. Apparently nobody really arrives until the DAY before class and especially with the snow & ice (melting pretty quick at this point) everyone had stayed at home to wait it out. We went to a cafe (cafe? restaurant? place???) and had PANCAKES. First American diner/cafe/eatery experience and it was great. It’s a long thin cafe (I’m going with cafe, it’s quickest to type) and along one wall is the kitchen (ish) and the tables are lined up in booths in the middle of the room. It’s pretty cool. Which takes me to my favourite thing ever: FREE COFFEE REFILLS!! I thought this was just something they did in Gilmore Girls but it’s real and magical (even if the coffee isn’t…). So a bunch of us did brunch (ha!) and had a look around.

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Wilson library

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First impressions of the campus: it’s ENORMOUS. It’s not just big in the way that it’s massively spread out (which is true) but it’s big as in every building is RIDICULOUS, they’re all at least 4 stories tall. And GOD FORBID any of them SHARE A WALL with another. They’re all freestanding, the same as the houses. I’m not sure why this baffled me as much as it did, I think because it’s a built up town but set out with houses built all individually and isolated like they’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s bizarre. Also it’s true- you can’t walk to basically anywhere useful. You need a car for pretty much everything. There are a couple of places that are walkable which I think are TECHNICALLY pharmacies but they sell snacks and some odd bits and bobs (and beer!! Pharmacies with beer…).

So fast forward a couple of days, classes have started and there are finally people in my residence halls. I’m in Ruffin halls – there’s about 12 rooms on each floor (each with two people living in them, of course) and a shared bathroom and kitchen space. I say kitchen when what I really mean is:

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It makes no sense to me!!! They put the prices of everything on the walls and I still cannot comprehend the logic in spending $6000 ON A MASSIVE ICE MACHINE?!! Surely cupboards or a FRIDGE would have been much handier??

Anyway! I met my roommate, she’s lovely & started classes. I’m taking two biology courses, a public speaking course and a women’s studies class (!) – also a tiny one hour a week class on foreign policy- spotted by mum (!!!). The classes are rarely in traditional big lecture form – one of my biology & women’s studies are because they’re so busy – but the others are probably 15-20 of us sat around a table and it feels much more informal. I was terrified of class participation but actually it feels much less intense when you’re actually in it.

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So the campus is pretty much based around a central quad – called The Pit (it’s literally a pit, a couple steps lower than everywhere else). It’s the main meeting area on campus and where every club/society/fraternity seems to hang around and try to entice people into joining them. On my first or second day of classes I watched a couple of the acapella groups and they were SO GOOD! It all felt very American. Also a couple of times I’ve gone through quite late in the evening and there’s a bunch of guys rapping & they sound so good – it’s incredible- it would feel so weird in the UK but here it totally works. It feels so Pitch Perfect at times.

Last week was the first game for the men’s basketball team this year. The UNC team are called the Tar Heels and they’re like genuinely good, like come first in the college basketball conference a few times good. So the town gets FULLY behind them. And to be honest, behind literally every UNC team – as long as they’re in the Carolina blue then so’s the rest of Chapel Hill. It’s actually pretty amazing – EVERYONE wears Carolina tops and hats and are watching the game in bars or the union or the actual stadium itself (which seats over 20,000 people WHICH IS THE CAPACITY OF THE O2 ARENA CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE – I just Googled this it’s ridiculous). ANYWAY everyone’s super into the game and there’s only a few games left this season – the last one is in a couple of weeks against Duke (the RIVAL university!!) and at the moment Carolina are on a 6 win streak its not bad at all! AND AND I was VERY excited today because I GOT TICKETS for a game next Tuesday against Pittsburgh!!!! – it’s a lottery system for students and they’re allocated randomly in pairs- I didn’t manage it for the Thursday game so I’m mega excited about next week!

We actually went to a women’s basketball game on Sunday that was a lot more low key – it’s in a smaller stadium (and to be honest a much lower ranking team) but there were still thousands of people who came out to watch and it was such an AMERICAN experience!! All those episodes of One Tree Hill literally came flooding back – all the cheerleaders and the mascots and the noise and we even had hot dogs, such cliches I love it!!! Also there was half time entertainment that was an acrobat man who piled up lots of chairs on top of a stand and did a handstand on it, I had such sweaty palms he made me very nervous. But no  fall to his death so that was a bonus!

I’m just going to post this long rambling entry now – I’ll try and update it a little more often so they don’t all drag on forever!!!

Anyway, lots of love

Katie xxx

ps here’s the campus later on in the week I arrived – TWENTY THREE DEGREES

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The Bolivian Salt Flats

Last week there was a public holiday in La Paz so we had a four day weekend and the opportunity to travel to the south of Bolivia for a tour of the salt flats. There was a lot of faffing about regarding planning and organisation but eventually we decided to just book our bus to Uyuni and sort it out there.

Our bus left after work on the Wednesday. It took a hefty 11 hours to get to Uyuni during which time the windows on the coach gathered a layer of ice on the inside. Unpleasant to say the least. Probably at this point I should point out that since the Tuesday I had had a seriously awful cold which resulted in me having no voice and not much sleep so the bus journey just felt worse on top of that!

Once we arrived we were greeted (accosted!) by a few tour companies. There was one man who stank of booze and followed us around for far too long so we gave him a wide birth (Thiago tours by the way!). We were very lucky in that our Bolivian team leader used to live in Uyuni so his auntie who lives there (Kory Wasy Hostal) still gave us a great deal on a three day tour (and breakfast ready on arrival!!).

We finally set off at about 10:30 with all our stuff for 3 days. Our first stop was the train cemetery which is where the old trains used to transport minerals to the Pacific Ocean. Nowadays it’s literally full of these massive old deserted locomotives. It’s eery in a beautiful way.

Next stop was the salt flats themselves. The salt flats are the world’s largest at over 4000 square miles. It also sits on top of over 50% of the world’s lithium. Once we were driving over them in our jeep it felt like we were at the end of the world. It’s just salt for miles and miles and miles in every direction. We had a few stops for photos as well as visiting the ‘Fish Island’, so called because of it’s shape. It was covered completely in cacti and such a weird site in the middle of such white-ness. A bit later we saw the sunset too which was magical.

Overnight we stayed in a hostel which was basically built from blocks of salt on the edge of the salt flats. It was cold but not horrendous which I was thankful as it was about -12 degrees outside which I am unable to cope with.

The next couple of days we spent roaming around the mountains near the salt flats. There was a point when we hadn’t seen another jeep in over 4 hours and it looked like we might be on Mars. There were massive lagoons and ridiculous mountain ranges and at one point we could see an active volcano which was half in Chile. It was just stunning scenery and faintly unreal. We saw the red lagoon too which had so many flamingoes all in it.

We got back to Uyuni on the Saturday night, managed to find a bus to Oruro to take us back to La Paz which worked out cheaper, warmer and basically the same amount of time as on the way! Safe to say the Sunday I spent washing, sleeping and reading. It was a lovely weekend and I’m so thrilled I saw the salt flats. They are genuinely stunning.

I only have one more week of living in La Paz now. We are about to go into our final week which is going to consist of a lot of debriefing and explaining what we have achieved/learnt/discovered (?!). In the last week we’ve been really busy as we’ve finally been carrying out our workshops on human rights (to 4 classes of 40 eleven year olds) and discrimination and the LGBT community in Bolivia. The second one I had worked a lot on and we delivered it to a couple of groups of teens who come from difficult backgrounds. For one of our activities each person had to draw onto a mask a time when they have felt discriminated. This was actually really thought provoking as some of the masks were very beautiful and sad. I’m really proud of our workshop and I’m so glad that we were able to carry it out before we left.

We’ve had so many obstacles over the last 9 weeks but it’s been a great experience to have had and the high moments have made it all so worthwhile. Onwards into the last week!

Lots of love,

Katie xxx

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Life in La Paz

Hi everyone!

I have completely not updated this blog in quite a while! So here we go.

I’ve been living in La Paz now for over six weeks. To be honest, writing that makes it feel like it’s flown by but really it does feel like a lifetime ago that I was meeting everyone at the airport.

I’m living in a neighbourhood in La Paz called Bolognia which is very quiet and peaceful. We are about a half hour’s minibus drive away from the main centre and about a 10 minute trufi ride (shared taxi) from the posher, pricier end of town but we don’t get stuck in the middle as we’re over a slight hill (someone accurately said we are literally over the hills and far away). I live with Cecilia, who is our extremely lovely host mum, Daniella, our host sister, and Saara who is another British volunteer. It’s a great little house and a fab place to live.

Each day I go to work at about 9:30am to the office which is in an area of La Paz called Sopocachi which is fairly touristy and there are plenty of great places to get snacks or lunch. Our days vary so much. We have had basically no communication from our partner organisation, the Department of Citizenship Culture (??!), since I last updated this blog so we have gone off piste and done our own thing. We have two team leaders, one Brit and one Bolivian and they have been really great with what has essentially been a crappy situation for them to be stuck in. They have been contacting all sorts of organisations across the city. Yesterday we had a really interesting meeting with a human rights organisation who had gathered a few of the main LGBT rights organisations in La Paz who then appealed for us to help them and asked us to think of ideas of how we can raise awareness and gain support for their mission to pass a law which allows same sex couples to raise a child. We brainstormed ideas today which we will present to them tomorrow.

We are continuing to work at Fundación Alternativa which is the allotments where families can grow fruit and veg to sell. It’s actually a really awarding project because each week you can really see how we’re making a positive change; there are already so many more raised flowerbeds now than when we started work there.
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We have also been trying to work with an African-Bolivian organisation to help them but they have managed to cancel many meetings with us so far! Although there is one tonight to perhaps see if we can support them out in Las Yungas which is a jungle-y area near La Paz in the next few weeks.

What else? We have designed and painted a mural opposite a hospital and ran a few events in a popular square; on noise pollution and more recently for World Population day on refugees where people wrote down what they wanted for La Paz, had their photo taken with their answers and were given sunflowers to grow.

As per with this blog I should probably talk about the food we’ve been having here. Similar to Ecuador the staple meal seems to be meat and two carbs (rice and potatoes). On any street there will be about one hundred little chicken shops (broasterías) which sell delicious roast chicken with rice, fideo (a tasty sort of spaghetti), baked potato and plantains (savoury bananas) which costs less than £2 for a huge meal. Cecilia is a great cook so we get a bit more variety at home like curry, lentils, meatballs, chicken-y rice risottos etc.

After the first few weeks when we were advised against eating street food due to our delicate British stomachs we have now completely embraced it. Very popular here are salteñas which are sort of like pasties with a sweeter pastry filled with chicken or beef or vegetables. They’re tasty but I prefer the empanadas with puff pastry which are great. Also very popular are choripans which are just chorizo in a bread roll with some salsa and salad. Recently we’ve tried a new street food which are like deep fried salteñas but with a more curried filling and lovely. My personal favourite though is how on every corner there is a lady with a cart of oranges and a juicer who will sell you a pint of freshly squeezed orange juice for 7 Bolivianos which is about 70p. Fairly spoilt for choice really!

I’ve managed to get out of La Paz a couple of times now at the weekend. A few weeks ago we went to Coroico which is about 3 hours away and in a jungle-y area in the mountains. It was fairly warm, about 25 degrees and just lovely and relaxing. We stayed in a hotel for £5 each a night which had a lovely pool and we found a wonderful restaurant which had delicious food, cocktails and hammocks so I managed to while away three days there essentially. The views were stunning and it was a perfect way to relax.

Myself and a couple of others have also walked up to the Muela Del Diablo which is a rocky formation on the mountain horizon at the rim of the bowl of La Paz. It took us about 3 hours to walk up to the top and we had incredible views of La Paz and the surrounding areas. We had got almost all the way down when one of the girls went over on her ankle. We had to hail a taxi and then a very friendly local wheeled her down the last 10 metres to the road in a wheelbarrow! She didn’t break it but she’s had it wrapped up and been walking with a cast since then.

Last weekend I managed to get to Lake Titicaca. We had to take a minibus from La Paz to Copacabana which took 3 hours, followed by an hour and a half trip on a boat to Isla del Sol where we walked up an extremely steep hill at very high altitude to the village at the top. It was completely worth it. I had the most magical weekend sipping pineapple juice and looking across the lake which is absolutely vast at the snow-topped Andean mountains in the distance. It’s so understandable why it’s thought to be the birthplace of the Incas; I’ve never seen such a massive lake be so still.

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It’s been a great six weeks and although I can’t wait to get home and eat some decent cheese and have Marmite on toast, I will really miss this whole experience.

Lots of love,

Katie xx