Visiting Home from Home

My tangled mind woke up at 3am this morning. PANTS. I forgot the pants.

I’m flying to California in a matter of hours and my dearest friend and occasional worst enemy, ‘Life’ has certainly been at a record breaking ‘MANIC’ these last few weeks. My head has been mangled and then buried into thousands of brain compartments – moving house, increasing workload incl evenings and weekends, triathlon training, trying to visit friends but probably failing because everyone else’s heads seem to be playing this juggling (more like ‘struggling’) game of life too…

I digress. My point was I remembered to pack the Tiger Balm (used to soothe sore muscles) yet I forget the very essential – pants.

Now I’ve arrived at the airport, this is the first time I’ve managed to have the time and space to feel excited. Mammoth Lakes (a small mountain town near Yosemite) is my Home from Home. Probably my favourite place in the world. The mountains and the wilderness allow for excitement, danger and physical adventure. Yet it is also the mountains and the wilderness that allow for stillness, peace and adventurous thoughts…

When I’m not hiking or sat outside admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear, I’m lucky enough to be staying with one of my best friends who lives in Mammoth – Joe. (Even with a lovely roof over my head, will still probably be found gazing out the window admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear).

It’s my dream to one day hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada). The PCT would take about 5 months to complete. Mammoth is in fact part of the PCT! I’m only here for two weeks, but hope to have a few days taster of the PCT experience. Maybe in the future I’ll be a super fit Granny and complete my PCT dream during retirement.

Damn it. Forgot the mosquito spray.

But passport, purse, visa is in check. Let’s go!

 

Top tip for cheap travel: check flight compare sites regularly and be beady eyed for deals. My RETURN flight to California was purchased about 3 weeks before. I’m flying direct from Manchester with Thomas Cook and direct flight back too. The grand total was £369 incl 23kg bag allowance and 2 in flight meals. That’s cheaper than a lot of return flights in Europe and it’s over 20hours of flying!

Top tip: try find a hobby you enjoy that’s free. I’ll be spending most of my time out there hiking. Happy days.

The Snowdonia Adventure with Me Old Man

It’s been over a month since I returned from India. In order to soothe my travel addiction, something new had to be put in the diary. Of course, money doesn’t grow on trees and annual leave isn’t an eternal force, BUT, there are ways around this my friend; there is always a way.

Long Easter weekend: ideal.

Go somewhere new in the UK: easy on the ol’bank account

Go camping: even easier on the ol’bank account (plus, more fun).

I suggested going with ‘me old man.’ He has been guilt-tripping me for weeks about not getting an India-adventure invite. Of course, I’m not going with him out of sympathy. I want to go to Snowdonia with my Dad, because, if you’ve ever met my Dad, you’ll know that he’s a bit of a legend.

A blooming irritating legend, but a legend nevertheless.

Turning 68 this year (although he thought he was in his 70’s because, you know, memory issues)… he may not be able to run a sub 2.40 marathon anymore, or survive for weeks on end in a tent with temperatures dropping to -40, but in my Pappy’s little mind (and mine too) – once a Paratrooper, always a Paratrooper. But actually, if we’re being accurate, after eight years, he transferred to the Army Physical Training Corps.

I sent him a text earlier in the week, telling him about the really bad weather (rain and storms) that was approaching the Easter weekend in Snowdonia. To which he replied:

“Skin is waterproof. We’ll be fine.”

Looks like we’re going then.

He was a bit grumpy on the drive there, but certainly perked up when we started to hike up Mount. Tryfan. That guy can shift! I’m pretty confident in my fitness levels but even I was huffing and puffing a bit trying to keep up with his military pacing. To say we went off-piste is an understatement. Paths are dull and boring apparently and so our search for Heather Terrace had me scrambling through what felt like miles and miles of shrubs and ugly rocks. I think I annoyed him by being constantly indecisive as to whether I was taking my jacket off or leaving it on. It was extremely cold and I was wearing thermals, long sleeve, jumper, thin jacket, thick jacket, hat and gloves, two trousers, two socks.

Dad never has much sympathy and so there’s no point complaining, as you’ll probably get one of three responses:

“Oh shut your face.”

“Stop being a wimp.”

“Pain is just a weakness leaving the body.”

As you can imagine, my childhood was really quite something.

As you can also imagine, the thought of bringing a guy home to meet my Dad – well, you just wouldn’t, would you?

Anyway, we reached the summit in good spirits. We sheltered behind a rock for a bit and had some snacks and coffee from the flask to re-fuel for the way down. A couple of other guys were on the summit too. One of them took out a bottle of water and a sausage roll from his back-pack, then, before our eyes, a seagull swooped down and snatched the packaged savoury pastry from him. Gone.

“F***’in seagull has taken me sausage roll! Still had the wrapper on! What an f***’in’ joke! Did you see that!?”

We all burst out laughing.

The summit of Tryfan is famous for the twin monoliths of Adam and Eve, a pair of rocks some three metres high and separated by 1.2 metres. Dad, wanting to prove that age is just a number, jumped from one to the other with great ease.

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We took our time on our way down and enjoyed the views. They were cloudy views, but views nevertheless. There’s something about hiking – even though it can be exhausting at the time, there’s something so therapeutic about it and I never really want it to end. It’s blissful not to have to think about day-to-day life, no diary, no problems, no anxiety, just climb, and keep climbing, and see beautiful things.

It’s not all glamorous though. You become dirty and stinky and this time, the cold, damp conditions had made my chilblains flare up. Ouch!!!

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Dad told me about a guy he once knew who described hiking like so:

“It’s like banging your head against a brick wall… It’s lovely when you stop.”

***

After filling our stomachs with tinned food, we continued to wear all our clothing (including jackets and hats), got into our sleeping bags and tried to go to sleep.

Didn’t sleep. Swear I was lying on a rock. And Dad’s snoring, don’t even get me started…

But when you get back to the comforts of the everyday – the heating, the clean fluffy socks, the bubble bath, when you get back to all of that, no matter how gross the situations were when you were ‘roughing it’ whilst travelling… I sure do miss it.

When back at home and flicking through some of the photos that were taken, this one of me (below) makes Dad laugh.

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“You look like a page out of that book, ‘Where’s Frank?’

“You mean, Where’s Wally?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

When 4 months becomes 7

For some reason, over the last few years, saying ‘yes’ became increasingly difficult. ‘Buy the expensive dress’ – no. ‘Have a one-night-stand’ – no. ‘Go on a walk instead of a run’ – no. For many things, it’s always easier to come up with a thousand reasons not to do things.

Before I set off from home, back in January, one of my goals when travelling was to say ‘yes’ to more things. Being a stubborn little sod, it was difficult at first, but as you can imagine, the power of saying yes became addictive. Each time, endorphins exploded, new adventures were had and new stories were to be told. By saying ‘yes’ you begin to see more, feel more – live more. You realise how narrow-minded and silly you were before.

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity to do something and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”Richard Branson

Saying yes can open doors. Not only does it allow for a fantastic experience, there and then, but it can allow for a snowball effect of positive outcomes. You will probably have hundreds of examples when saying yes to a certain thing, meant that you had a string of good things happen after that. Maybe it was that by saying yes to go ice-skating with your cousin, meant that you met Derek who became your friend and helped you get a job, and at that job, you ended up meeting the love of your life at the company’s Christmas party? My most recent example, started with a certain ‘yes’ last year, but I am still reaping the benefits. Last year I had planned to spend some time in LA. Unfortunately, I felt that I didn’t fit in there very much. A friend, Joe (who, at the time I barely knew) kindly offered that I stay with him, up in the mountains in Mammoth Lakes (near Yosemite). As amazing as that offer was… I couldn’t leave L.A. I had planned to spend 2 weeks there. That was my plan. I couldn’t stray away from the plan. But the reality was, my plan wasn’t right for me. After lots of mmms, errrs and maybes, I eventually said yes to going to the mountains. Guess what? I fell in love with Mammoth and Joe is now one of my best friends. So, fast-forward a year and I am staying with him in Mammoth Lakes for 3 months – writing and altitude training. I am, quite literally, living my dream.

But like all dreams, there comes a point when you have to wake up. And guess what? I am almost at that point. I have been away from home this year for almost 7 months, and in less than a week, I will be flying away from the mountains, towards Leeds Bradford Airport. I’m feeling a mix of emotions and struggling to articulate my current thought process regarding the situation. I think because I feel so at home out here, the concept of leaving for home feels a little unsettling. And it’s a blooming long journey: I will leave Monday evening and not reach Leeds until midday on Wednesday. I repeat, Wednesday.

However, I am comforted by something that Joe said to me: “You’ve got to go in order to come back.”

In addition, never will I forget what my Canadian soul-mate (Anne) who I met in Thailand said to me: “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.”

 Happy is an understatement. Amongst writing, altitude training, endless hiking in the mountains and stage management, I have also been privileged to try the ‘grapple’ (a grape flavoured apple). Thank you California, you’ve been “totally awesome, dude.”

 

 

He has herpes!?

Visiting the states, or even watching American TV shows back at home, you come to realise that we often have different ways of saying things – whether that be the accent, or because we use completely different words. Of course, we all know the obvious ones – trousers are pants (hilarious), petrol is gas, queue is a line and route is pronounced ‘rowt.’

However since my time here (2 months so far, only 1 month to go!) there have been a few little awkward mishaps, ones that nobody prepared me for, regarding the British / American differences…

Take a dinner party the other week… Now I know that a ‘Pot Luck’ party is where you each bring a dish without conferring, so it will be ‘pot luck’ what you end up eating for dinner. My British ears, however, instead of hearing ‘Pot Luck Party’ heard, ‘Padlock Party.’ My mind was going mad, confused by the concept, worried about being locked up.

Things got worse the other day… I’ve been helping out at Kids’ Summer Adventure Camp for the last month, and the other day, little Landon and I share a special moment. Landon is five years old.

Landon sits next to Kelsie and he shouts, “I’m going to give her herpes!!!”

My eyes widen.

“Excuse me, Landon! What did you say!?” I yell back, horrified.

“I’m going to give her herpes!” he repeats.

Oh. Her piece. 

 He was referring to the biscuit. Or should I say, ‘cookie.’

How amusing. I have enjoyed spending lots of my time with the little ones, more than I thought I would. Before, (in all honesty) I didn’t hate little kids, but I didn’t really like them much either. How things have changed. Now, I’m fascinated.

The conversations you have with them can be comedy gold. Take Sylvie (5): little Sylvie who resembles a miniature Lindsay Lohan (Parent Trap Movie) intelligently picks up that I speak with a different accent. “So where are you from?” she asks.

“I’m from England.”

To which she goes, “Oh! My Aunty Sue is from England. We’ve been to visit her before. Her name is Aunty Sue but, but, but, her friends just call her Sue. Do you know her?”

“Well where in England is she from?”

“She’s from England.”

“Ok…”

“Did you know that we went to England and Bristol and then back to England again.”

“Sylvie, Bristol is in England.”

“We went to both.”

“Just like California is in America, Bristol is in England.”

“No, you weren’t there. We went to both.”

“Ok.”

 

Or I love how they speak about the past sometimes. Here, Landon features again.

“A long time ago, when I was really little. I was really small. I tripped over a soccer ball and I hurted my knee. I was only 4 years old.”

“Really little, huh? How old are old are you now, Landon?”

“Oh, now I’m 5. In three months I’ll be 5 and a half.”

 

Why I don’t have a gym membership

Sometimes I wish that I was a man. Aside from the obvious reasons (faster, stronger, EARNS MORE MONEY) today I am mainly envious of the fact that they can go for a wee standing up.

Today I did 16-mile hike. It’s a tough one – lots of climbs beyond 11,000ft and the high-altitude-sun viciously saps all of the energy that you have. Now usually I don’t put up too much of a fuss about having a piddle / pee / wee wee in the great outdoors – when you gotta go, you gotta go. But my God, today the experience was hellish. Firstly, it was like some kind of fountain or excitable garden hose. I literally have no idea how I had drunk so much liquid? I must have been squatting for a good three minutes. SQUATTING. On already aching quads, this was not a fun time. I’ll put my hand up to this one, on this occasion, Liv the avid hiker, had a sense of humour failure.

SQUATTING.

And that, my friend, is why one does not have a gym membership.

What with all the hikes – today alone must equate to at least 600 lunges, goodness knows how many calf raises and I can only liken the aerobic workout to about 9 back-to-back Zumba classes.

Not only is hiking free, you can get some stunning photographs (beats getting a ‘flexing’ selfie in the gym) you’ll get a nice glow to your skin (once you scrub off the dirt), and you will probably see some cool wildlife (I saw a bear today). You can also make a day of it – stop off at pretty places for lunch, snacks etc.

If you’re in a hot place, remember to be prepared with plenty of drinking water, sunscreen and bug spray! If you’re over-heating, it’s a good idea to dip your hat / bandana in some cold water, then putting it back on your head will help to cool your body temperature down. Or take a moment to dip your wrists in some cold water – this will also quickly bring your core temperature down.

My favourite hiking snacks to take are: Granola bars (lots of them), bagel with peanut butter and jam, an apple, some sliced watermelon (even better than the apple because of the extra water content), dried fruit and nuts, and last but not least – electrolyte jelly beans for when you’re flagging (or something similar). If you can jog the last downhill section, that’s always a good idea as it helps to prevent the lactic acid build up, so you won’t be so sore the next day. Even better – if you have the chance, jump in an ice-cold lake!

Happy hiking kids.

 

Going to the mountains is going home

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” – John Muir.

Be curious. Be bold.

I am a big believer that if you want to travel the world, you can. We are born to do so much more than just a 9-5, pay bills and then die. (Even though that’s really the only certain thing in life: death). We should live for the week, not just the weekend. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work. We need to work. Work is good. Work helps us be determined, focused, set goals (it also = money). And boy, oh boy, I am very aware that money plays a big part in how much of the world we can see. A huge part, in fact. But don’t use that as an excuse. If you want something enough, you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes.

Please trust me when I say that saving money for travel can be easier than you think – if you’re smart and strict about it. The main thing, whilst saving, is being able to distinguish between want and need. Living a simpler life is key. Ah, I’m desperate to preach about my money-saving tips BUT, sorry folks, that is quite a big chapter in the travel book that I am writing (for first time, solo travellers) and I don’t want to give too much away…

So for now, back to John Muir – I also disagree with him. He describes the world as ‘big’, but to me, since travelling, it now seems so much smaller. In my daydreams the world was ginormous, never ending… but now things just seem… accessible. For instance, a couple of years ago, never in a million years would I consider moving to another country. Italy – language barrier. China – bigger language barrier. New Zealand – too far away. Canada – too cold. California – too hot. (I lie in the last one. I blooming love the heat). For me, it was England. Just England. Had to be England. For I am English and England is what I know. Even Scotland… well, it’s not England, is it?

Fast-forward a year and I would happily look for and apply for jobs in New Zealand, Australia… especially Mammoth Lakes, California. If you have read my previous posts, this is where I am spending the summer (3 months) and my goodness, I feel at home here.

The scenery is phenomenal and the people are so kind, genuine and welcoming. Not to mention, the running community is what my little running geek dreams are made of. In addition, the people find my British accent ‘intriguing’ which makes me feel like Colin from ‘Love Actually.’ Don’t take that the wrong way – I’m certainly not out here to ‘date,’ but to embrace every moment of the lifestyle that feels perfect to me.

Today I ventured out with Joe and Ryan and we did a 12 mile hike in Yosemite. Casually we had our lunch on the top of North Dome, graciously looking onto Half Dome. Yesterday was a track session on the Asics track – being amongst and certainly being inspired by the incredible athletes (Olympians). THEY SPEEDY. And the other night: bathing in the natural hot springs with new friends, as we watched the sunset behind the mountain range, now a silhouette.

Even if you can’t travel right now in your life, why not explore what your hometown has to offer. Be adventurous, be open to trying new things and do your very best to make everyday an absolute corker.

(Now for those who don’t know me too well, I’m a poetry geek. That sunset was too good I couldn’t resist scribbling something down…)

A sunset in Mammoth Lakes

 

Ribbons of indigo wisps

are the remains of the worn out rain;

 

Again the tangerine peels

behind heart-monitor silhouettes,

 

Minarets mimic His crown

not quite jeweled, or gold, but black –

 

Almost

 

Coasting in yesterday’s sins

below disjointed fingers of rock;

 

Locking up the love songs &

salty eyes; in the name of John Muir,

 

You’re realising

Something –

 

Some things are

Bigger than                you and i.

Maybe Canada next year?

I have a tendency to be as awkward as a cow on roller skates. I’m too quiet. I laugh at things that aren’t funny. I have a resting bitch face. I always look lost. I say, ‘pardon?’ too many times and if I were given a pound for every time I waved at somebody when they were waving at the person behind me – well, I’d be a millionaire.

The other day in fact, I joined a new running club. A woman just behind me said, “wow, sweetie! You did so well!” I quickly turned round, smiling like a Cheshire cat, and said, “Aww thank you! My quads was hurting a bit, but I really enjoyed it.”

Guess what? She was not talking to me. She was talking to her dog.

Sometimes you can run away from feeling so awkward by thinking, ‘ah well. I’ll never see them again.’ But that option doesn’t look so likely for me right now, as I am living here, in Mammoth Lakes, for 3 months. It’s quite a small town and you bump into the same people quite a lot.

NOTE: Mammoth Lakes is in California, not Canada. I’ve had quite a few messages lately asking me how Canada is. Or telling me that it looks like I’m having an incredible time in Canada.. AM I!?!?!

I am so grateful to be living in Mammoth (California) for the summer. It’s my favourite place in the world. I quite often have to pinch myself. Last week for my birthday, I climbed my favourite mountain to 11,000 ft and enjoyed some squashed birthday cake at the top.

This week I kept up with my altitude training, helped out with the Summer Mini Adventure Camp and did some babysitting. I spent 5 hours yesterday with a 6 year old boy who repeatedly told me that I had small boobies.

I’m tired from the altitude and feeling a little deflated at my slower running times up here. But I’m determined to keep working hard and hopefully see the benefits when I’m back in the UK. At sea level. With all that beautiful oxygen.

So, folks. I’ve been here one month now. Two more to go! Maybe Canada will be next on my list?

Does altitude make you crazy?

I was thinking about this question as I watched back the video that I took of myself in Yosemite National Park yesterday. As I perched on a rock at 9,000ft, in my Paula-Radcliffe-style sunglasses, I sang snippets of The Lion King, whilst holding an imaginary Simba, looking onto the ponderosa pine trees and waterfalls.

I then dramatically rummaged through my CamelBak for a honey and lemon throat sweet. I was ill. I couldn’t breathe.

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When you’re really run down with a cold – painful chest, agonising sand-paper-like throat, nose like a snotty tap… you ought to keep warm, drink lots of hot lemon and honey and put your feet up. Why on earth did I think it would be a good idea to hike through Yosemite National Park? As beautiful as it is, pretty much every step I was taking I was thinking ‘why, why, why, why.’

Does altitude make you crazy? Does it make you make stupid decisions?

I googled.

Classic Google.

Does altitude make you fart?
Does altitude make you tired?
Does altitude make you pee more?
Does altitude make you swell?

(If any of these really interest you, please research them in your own time).

Turns out there is nothing on, ‘does altitude make you crazy?’ So, I’m going to go with ‘no’. Apparently, I just don’t know when to stop.

Some of the pictures I took were awesome. But the pictures don’t show the sheer discomfort I was in. HOWEVER, even though it made me feel a bit worse, if I could go back in time to yesterday, would I do it again?

Erm. Yes.

Consumed by wanderlust, Yosemite may have hindered my body slightly in the recovery process – but the breath-taking beauty of the place, wins hands down for me.

Yosemite. “Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.”

 So, as beautiful as it is, pretty much every step I was taking I was thinking ‘why, why, why, why.’

But then I looked up.

Closer to the clouds

The mountains were calling and I have now arrived in Mammoth Lakes, California (8,000ft above sea level).

If you have ever experienced high altitude before, you’ll know that all physical activity is more demanding when you’re closer to the clouds. Even walking up the stairs, I’m wheezing, feeling like an asthmatic 90-year-old.

In terms of running: I have been advised to cut back my mileage by at least 25% for the first week and should expect to be at least 15% slower. One of my goals is to join the Mammoth Track Club. The Mission of the Mammoth Track Club is to support athletic and academic achievement, develop professional athleticism and promote lifelong health and fitness through running in a high altitude environment.

http://www.mammothtrackclub.com

Sounds fun.

Even though I have been taking my running steady these last few days, the dramatic elevations have shocked my body – especially my little size 3 feet. A steep, fairly long downhill run has caused trauma to my big toe, resulting in painful swelling and severe bruising. Pass me the ice pack!

I’ve done a couple of mini hikes, but nothing too severe as of yet. But I have 3 months and those mountains aren’t going anywhere. It is a tad frustrating though – I have also come down with stinker of a cold.

Currently sniffing Olbas oil and bathing my foot with Epsom salts.

When messaging Anne, my soul-mate who I met in Bangkok, she said: “You manage to survive Thailand, yet Cali tries to destroy you!?”

I actually think that because the last 5 months have been so full on (sometimes dangerous, often dirty) my body has become exhausted trying to protect itself.

Now that I’m in my true paradise and doing what I love, my body has relaxed and, OH HEY VIRUS. But if I’m going to be anywhere, California is the place. Priding itself on health, vitamins and minerals galore (minus the outrageous cost of healthcare), I think Mammoth has got my back.

The landscape is spectacular. The people are ever so friendly. The buses are free. What’s not to love?

In the winter months, Mammoth is a popular ski resort. So even now, in the hot summer, it’s got that chilled, ‘Apres Ski’ kind of feel. I had a peek on Tinder out of sheer curiosity (purely for research purposes, of course). It amused me that all the men pretty much look the same. Oh, and apparently life is ‘totally rad’ and ‘gnarly, man.’

 

What is my life right now

Seeing a friend from university, waiting in Hong Kong’s arrival lounge made my tummy bubble with excitement. Our WhatsApp conversation when I was going through immigration resembled two giddy 14 year old girls about to see One Direction in concert. Seeing Tania’s gorgeous smiling face, instantly made me feel at home. I can’t wait to have such a dear friend be my local guide!

I stayed the first couple of nights in a hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is a very central area and you can easily throw yourself into the hustle and bustle of it all. The Chinese people I’ve come across so far are lovely. But, points to note: they are very loud and they sneeze a lot. Personal space is also viewed differently here. If you’re in a queue, you’ll have someone’s warm Dim Sum breath on the back of your neck. In the airport, I was giving the person in front of me ‘English queue space’ – maybe stood about 50cm behind the man. The Chinese woman behind me actually nudged me forward saying “you go, you go.” THERE IS NO NEED TO BE ANY CLOSER!

***

Points to note: do not buy drinking yogurt from 7/11 in Hong Kong. It tasted like feet.

***

21/05

I’m in an area called Kowloon Tong. It is where Tania lives. Today we are volunteering at an old people’s home to help out with her Mum’s charity – SENsational. The charity helps to educate corporate companies about employing individuals with disabilities.
http://senconsultancyltd.com

Today at the home, we chatted to the elderly, handed out goody bags and made sure everyone had plenty of lemon and honey tea (apart from the diabetics!) It really was quite an experience. I realised I didn’t have much experience with people that were very elderly and sometimes I struggled with what to say. Tania was incredible. When we visited those in the their rooms (because they could not leave their beds) I was completely speechless. One woman was frothing at the mouth, living through a drip and could not move or speak. One woman was so angry and confused and I have never been stared at with such hatred (although I’m sure it was not intentional). I have never witnessed people so old and ill before and it was quite upsetting to see. (Please be assured they were very well looked after in the lovely home!)

Back to the common room: I’ll never forget my conversation with the lady who has forgotten most of her life. Barbara has dementia. She thinks she was born in the south of England but doesn’t know where exactly. She also is convinced she is 67. Bless her, she is much older! What she does remember though, very vividly, is travelling the world at 21. Her grey eyes lit up when I told her I was doing the same. I told her I was looking forward to doing some hiking in Hong Kong. My heart clenched and tore apart when she said, “oh take me with you. I love walking.” She then held my hands and sounded desperate, “please. Take me with you.”

***

After an emotional rollercoaster at the home, it’s time to check-in at tonight’s accommodation. The buying multi-packs of croissants from 7/11 to last you through the day lifestyle is about to come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I still have 6 days left of backpacking. But Tania and I have just hit the jackpot… Tania works for Sassy online magazine and this weekend she has been asked to review The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. She gets a luxury stay there for free and I am her plus one. We. Cannot. Contain. Our. Excitement. The editor was supposed to do it, but she’s busy. “I’ve never had a work perk like this before” said Tania. “I got a free cupcake once.”

***

Jesus Christ.

(Hyperventilating).

Just had some time in the Chinese herbal steam room. I’ve calmed down a bit so now I can talk you through it.

It is 25 floors of complete luxury. Hands down the best service I’ve ever had in my life. Do they realise I’m not important? Our room has a sensational view of the harbour. I almost passed out when I googled that it’s about 480 quid a night and a few years ago it was rated top 10 hotels in the world. I can see why…

We were served afternoon tea in our room. The jam had rose petals in. There was a white chocolate cream-cake that tasted like a white Ferrero Rocher and it may be the best sweet treat to ever sit in my tongue.

They gave us juice detox shots in test tubes because, well why not.

We had a pillow menu and sampled 9 pillows before choosing ‘NASA’ – designed to give astronauts supreme comfort.

Pinch me.

***

We had a very relaxing gym and spa session. But whilst using the Chinese herbal steam room, there was a lady doing exercises. She was naked. Boobs and bush on full display. She was waving her arms around and doing lunges. ‘Feeling uncomfortable’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Back to the room and trying to wipe that sight from my mind. Physically, I’m totally relaxed. For the first time in a very long time, nothing hurts.

22/05

Safe to say I slept well last night. The breakfast was phenomenal and the service continues to blow my mind. A man scraped honey from a sheet of honeycomb for me. I went to the loo (washroom because I’m posh now) and the attendant (Wendy) washed my hands with jasmine lotion. This is not real life. It’s ok Wendy, I got this.

Tania has also been asked to review the 5* Dim Sum lunch on the 25th floor. Oh it’s a hard life. My favourite was the pumpkin and crab dumpling with chilli. Tania loved their famous beef dish – made with 96 layers of fine pastry. Dim sum after dim sum arrived and our bottomless Chinese tea meant I had to pay Wendy another visit. Then came my favourite part: the dessert. After my cashew nut cream pudding I was in a blissful food coma…. Time to hike Victoria Peak! Speaking of peaks, I think my life has now peaked, aged 21. And you know what, if this is the peak, I am more than ok with that.

After the hike, Tania says, “Liv, do you like lobster?” (She has already seen me eat lobster dumplings at lunch). That’s not the point. Tania has just been invited to a lobster tasting session TONIGHT and I’m going with her. Apparently I’m not allowed to leave Hong Kong. I’m clearly her good luck charm. My Dad messaged me saying “Gah, you could fall in a pile of shit and come up smelling of roses.” Thanks Dad. Love you too.

We quickly showered and popped on a dress and spent the evening inhaling lobster. #BackpackingLife

23/05

I’m now staying at Tania’s house for which I am very grateful. Her family are beautiful people. Today I went solo and hiked Dragon’s Back. Lots of thinking time trying to digest what the hell just happened. I have experienced true true true luxury. As amazing as it was, I also felt very undeserving of it. It was strange to feel uncomfortable about being SO comfortable. Does that make sense?

After my hiking adventure, I sat with Tania’s Mum (Faride) in what she calls her ‘Secret Garden.’ We sipped on green tea and I learnt more about her incredible charity. Faride really is such an inspirational woman. She is so encouraging and her attitude to life feels like the sun beaming through on a cloudy day.

***

After weaving through the famous ‘Ladies Market’ in Mongkok, Tania and I had dinner in a little local restaurant. Ah, I feel more like my backpacking self now. The unknown ‘fish balls’ are on my list of foods never to try again. I also asked the waiter for a tissue / napkin (my rookie chopstick skills meant fishy noodle juices were splashing). The language barrier meant he bought me back a pack of Kleenex and charged me an extra $3 on my bill.

I’ve smiled a hell of a lot these last few days. The last 4 and a bit months I have leaped from never wanting to go home to being desperate to be back in the UK.

Right now I only have 2 days left. I do not want to leave.