Surprising Samoa – An Undiscovered Gem in the South Pacific

I’d always known that time moves differently in the South Pacific, but I wasn’t aware that it was possible to lose a whole day! That’s exactly what happened in the hour between taking off from Pago Pago, American Samoa at 10:30am to landing in Apia, Samoa at 12pm the next day. Time gymnastics aside, Surprising Samoa is an undiscovered gem in the South Pacific, just waiting to be explored.

If you’ve read some of my other South Pacific posts about Tonga and American Samoa, you’d be aware that flights between island states in the region do not come cheap. The 45 minute flight from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Apia, Samoa was no exception, although at US$85, it may have been the cheapest in the area. We landed at the tiny Fagali’i airport, which only had a 600m long runway. As of 1st January 2020, this airport has been closed down and all of it’s flights have been redirected to the bigger Apia Faleolo Airport.

Super Small Airport in Surprising Samoa

The Fagali’i Airport was only a few kilometres from the town of Apia on Samoa’s second largest island, Upolu. All I needed to do was walk the short distance down the airport road to the main road to catch a local minibus for 2 Samoan Tala (WST)/US$0.75. As I was walking, a local guy started talking to me. This local guy, let’s call him Bruce, (not his actual name), was also going into town and said he’d help me find the bus.

It actually wasn’t that hard to find, it just required waiting at the intersection of the airport road with the main road. Bruce was saying that we may have a long wait but the minibus arrived soon after we reached the intersection. On the bus, the driver had a coin tray placed between his seat and the passenger seat, where all passengers were expected to place their fare. The driver would give change if needed but clearly preferred correct change.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside Bus Station

Interestingly, the driver was on the lefthand side of the car, even though we were driving on the lefthand side of the road. Samoa changed from driving on the righthand to the lefthand side of the road back in 2009. The main reason for this was the high price of continually importing American lefthand drive vehicles in a region where righthand drive cars were more readily available. Although the change happened over 10 years ago, it is still possible to see quite a few lefthand drive vehicles, like this old-style American school bus that is now used for public transport.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. American Style Bus

Surprising Samoa Seaside

The bus dropped us off at a seaside bus station right near the local market. Bruce suggested that I might want to walk along the waterfront for a while. It was rather peaceful. He pointed out some points of interest to me while we walked along. Of course, there were palm trees but Bruce couldn’t tell me if they were naturally occurring or introduced.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside View With Palm Trees K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside View

Bruce then said he would help me find the place I was staying at. The problem was that the building at the address I was given was not the place I was staying at. We stopped and asked at places along the way but no one had any idea where my accommodation was. I eventually found the main building for the flats quite accidentally. My host had left a key there for me. I was relieved to finally be on my way to where I was staying!

The Sleepy Capital of Surprising Samoa

With a population of less than 40,000, Apia is one of the smallest capital ‘cities’ around. I had arrived in the early afternoon, but by the time I got to my host’s place, everything was quiet. Super quiet. There were barely any cars on the road. All the shops were closed. By 3pm! Wow. That could’ve presented a problem because I was hungry at that point. Imagine the relief I felt when I spied a small cafe that had people inside. I happily went inside only to find out that the people inside were staff and they were closed. Feeling sad, I started walking back towards the door when a worker asked if I wanted to take any of the food they had left on the counter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Meat Salad

I was able to have quite a hearty meal with the cafe’s leftovers. Including this interesting take on a salad. That was great because I’d planned a hike to a nearby hill, Mount Vaea. I had no idea what would await me on the top of the hill that stood 472m above the town. I just wanted to get a good view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. First Part of the Hike

Hiking To The Highest Point Of The Island

For the first part of the hike, I had to walk along some suburban roads to get to the trail. The initial part of the trail was more of a dirt road running behind some local farms. The road may have still been in use, but not that often. Except maybe by the occasional cow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Baby Cow on the Trail

About halfway up the hill, I met a local named Seb who was on his way down. He stopped to chat with me. He seemed surprised that I was on that trail, because it is the hardest way up to the hill. I thought it was weird that he would say that because I was finding it quite easy. I just shrugged it off thinking that other people’s ideas of difficult are different to mine. He was also worried about me going up by myself, so he decided to accompany me to the top. Even though he was already on his way down. I assured him that I’d be okay but he insisted. So now I had someone to talk to on the way up, which was lovely.

The Fun Way up Mount Vaea

We had actually come up to the hill next to Mount Vaea. I had noticed that on my map, but the second hill looked so close that I was sure I could find a way through the bush. Luckily Seb knew where the trail joining the hills was. That was where things got fun. Despite the trail being dry all the way up, this connecting trail was very slippery and muddy. Almost like there had been a recent downpour.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Muddy Forest Trail

The previously open trail gave way to a well covered forest trail. That could explain why it was so wet even though there had been no rain. My trusty hiking shoes were having problems keeping me upright. But I was determined not to let the mud get the better of me! Although treacherous, the connecting trail was short. We were soon on the top of Mount Vaea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. View From Mount Vaea

Tomb With A View

From the top of the hill there was a view over almost the whole town of Apia, although it was slightly obstructed by trees at few points. The first thing I had noticed when I got to the top was a huge white structure. Seb had informed me on the way up that this was the tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson. He had in fact thought that was the reason I was going up the hill.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Robert Louis Stevensen's Tomb Sign on Mount Vaea K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Robert Louis Stevensen's Tomb on Mount Vaea

If you don’t know of Robert Louis Stevenson, he was the 19th century author of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s his connection to Samoa? He settled in Apia a few years before he died. He was revered by Samoans and Seb told me that when he died, Samoans surrounded him with a watch-guard overnight then carried him to the top of Mount Vaea and buried him. The inscription on the tomb was from Mr Stevenson’s own words –

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Heading Back to Town

Although there was an easier way down, it would take me several kilometers away from where I was staying. That’s one of the reasons I’d picked the trail I did on the way up. The start point was much closer to the area I was in. Seb had also parked his car on the road near the beginning of that trail, so we braved the muddy connecting trail again.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Sunset Over The City

We got to see a lovely sunset over Apia on the way down. Seb then offered to drive me back to where I was staying. When Seb dropped me off, he suggested that after a shower, he could come back and take me for a drive around town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Sunset

Getting To Know Surprising Samoa

When Seb came back, we decided that it would be a good idea to eat something first. I thought all the shops had closed at 3pm, but there were a few restaurants that reopened for a few hours around dinner. I never would’ve known that without some local insight. It took a bit of time but Seb found a place that sold traditional local grub. Right next door to the local beer depository. Score!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Local Food on a Car Boot K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Local Beer on a Car Boot

We took our local food and beer to a nice little spot by the seaside before driving around the ‘city’. I hadn’t realised how small the city was until we drove around it. I had almost walked around all of it while trying to find my accommodation earlier in the day.

Seb decided that he wanted to drive me to the airport the next evening, so I told him the time I needed to leave and he agreed to be there at that time. Knowing that island time is a real thing, which causes people to be late a lot, I also made sure I had a backup plan!

The Sites of Surprising Samoa

The next day, I thought it was about time to see the city close up. It was lovely and quiet. My impression of surprising Samoa by that point was that it was kind of sleepy and slow-paced. That is to be expected on South Pacific islands. It could’ve also been possible that everyone was napping because it was so hot and there was nothing else to do.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Building Art

When walking around, I barely saw any people. But I did come across the striking Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Which was also beautiful on the inside.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Immaculate Conception Cathedral Interior

My favourite sight in Apia was these amusing signs in the window of a pharmacy. Yes, an actual pharmacy in plain sight. Samoans have a great sense of humour!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Pharmacy Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Pharmacy Sign 2

Rush To The Airport

Seb didn’t turn up at the prearranged time, so my host took me to a point about halfway to the Faleolo Airport on his scooter. There he helped me flag down a taxi. The taxi driver then agreed to take me to the airport for the exact amount of Samoan Tala that I had left. That was great, because what I had left was a little less than the 80WST/US$31 it would normally cost.

I was starting to get a little concerned that I might be running late. It was a 30 minute drive to the airport and my flight was scheduled to leave in 1 hour. The taxi driver however thought that was plenty of time. I was on an island, where being late was essentially being on time. There was nothing to worry about. I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It was time to get ready for the next leg of my adventure in another South Pacific paradise; the Cook Islands.

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American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania

Picture this; you exit the airport terminal on a lovely tropical island to get your international flight to another tropical island. Once you step foot on the tarmac, you realise that the only plane that can be seen is not even big enough for ten people. In fact, you can only see 4 windows! This is just the first of many things that make American Samoa an oddity in Oceania.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Smallest International Flight Ever

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – Smallest International Flight Ever

This tiny plane, the inside of which is about the size of a minivan, only runs once a week between Tonga and American Samoa. At US$374 for a flight that takes less than 2 hours, it was the exact opposite of cheap. But that’s not even the strangest part. On the way to the American Samoan capital of Pago Pago the plane made a scheduled stop in Samoa. Although they are in the same island chain, American Samoa and Samoa are separate states.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Inside the Tiny Plane.

Upon landing in Samoa, all seven people in the plane were required to alight and pass through immigration. Just to get back on the plane again straight away. Our plane was so small that our pilot also doubled as the cabin crew. He didn’t even need a microphone to do the safety announcement. As you could guess, there was no cabin service, but everyone got a window seat. As the flight duration was too short to reach cruising altitude, we all had a pretty awesome view for the whole flight.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. View From the Plane

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – Entrance Fee

As I was the first person from our plane to make it across the tarmac to the arrivals area, there was no line at the immigration window. To tell the truth, it didn’t even feel like immigration. The officer welcomed me in a cool and casual way. That’s not normally something you expect when going through immigration! He then looked at my passport and told me that I needed to pay an entry tax to visit American Samoa.

For a moment I thought that he might have been talking about the Electronic System Travel Authorisation (ESTA) used in the US. American Samoa is a US territory, after all. So I said, “Oh, I have ESTA”. He then informed me that even though it’s an US territory, ESTA is not required. American Samoa instead required visitors to obtain an entry permit if they are staying in the territory for more than one day.

Seeing as I had a flight out the next day, I thought I’d check if I would be exempt from the fee. The lovely officer asked what flight I was leaving on, without asking for any proof. He must’ve memorised the flight schedules. That wouldn’t be particularly hard considering that there are only 3 airlines running international flights from that airport. He then handed back my passport and said, “Okay, have a good time in American Samoa”

As of 2019, people from the countries that could previously get the entry permit on arrival must now apply online for the Entry Permit Wavier Program (EPWP). The country list is the same as that for the US Visa Waiver Program. The processing fee for the EPWP just happens to be the exact same price as the old entry tax.

America in the South Pacific

After exiting the small airport, it was immediately obvious that this was a little bit of America in the South Pacific. Everyone was driving ‘trucks’, which don’t exist on other Pacific islands. Anything that wasn’t a truck, was a minivan from one of the many resorts in Pago Pago, or an old-style US school bus. Who knows how they got transported all that way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Welcome to American Samoa K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. US Style Bus

Having visited the US on several occasions, Pago Pago really felt like it could be a small continental US town. The roads and infrastructure were almost identical to those I saw in the US. The island also had its fair share of American chains, like McDonalds as well as American style malls. All the people I spoke to had very strong American accents. Even they said they felt that they are a lot more Americanised that other South Pacific Islands. It’s actually something they are proud of.

The Beauty of American Samoa

Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango in Samoan is located on one of the two main American Samoan Islands, Tutuila. There is one major highway on Tutuila that runs from the airport in the southwest to the east of the island. The highway runs along the coast for almost it’s entire length, which makes for some mesmerising views on the way to your accommodation.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. The Flower Pot Rocks

The Flower Pot rocks are a prominent feature on the righthand side as you drive away from the airport. Just after them, you’ll see the Pago Pago Harbour, which is one of the deepest harbours in the world. The harbour is flanked on the opposite side by Mount Pioa, which is also known as Rainmaker Mountain. It is a big part of local folklore and is said to trap clouds, giving the harbour some of the highest amounts of rainfall in the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Pioa Mountain

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – American Traditions

While American Samoans have passed down a lot of their traditions and folklore through the generations, they have also whole-heartedly embraced American customs. I got to see this first hand because I was there around Christmas time. While Christmas is celebrated around the world, there are certain things that I’ve only seen in the US during the festive season. That includes people going out of their way to decorate their houses with colourful displays of lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Colourful House Lights K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. House With Light Star

One final thing of note about American Samoa is that despite being in the same chain of islands as Samoa, it’s on the opposite side of the International Date Line. That means that it’s 25 hours, or more than a whole day behind it’s nearest neighbour. That definitely causes a few headaches when trying to book flights. In fact, when flying from Tonga or Samoa, you will land in American Samoa the day before you left. Then when it’s time to go, you’ll land two days after you left. That essentially means you’ll be flying back to the future!

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Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

The South Pacific Ocean is known for its crystal blue waters and amazing marine life. It’s also known for pristine beaches on resort islands. But probably one of its best-kept secrets is the tantalisingly tropical Tonga island chain. If you haven’t heard of the Kingdom of Tonga before, it’s about time you did! The archipelago of 169 islands in Polynesia that form the Kingdom of Tonga lie to the northeast of New Zealand.

Logistics of Getting to Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

To be honest, none of the South Pacific island countries are known for being easily accessible by sea. Unless you have your own boat. In fact, the most efficient way to move between them is to fly. Although quick, these flights do not come cheap, no matter when you book them. The flight from Nadi in Fiji, to Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga in the Tongatapu group of islands, took just over one hour but cost US$250.

The Fua’amotu international airport in Tongatapu is rather small. Interestingly, the runway is only graded to handle smaller jet aircraft, so you’ll never see a 747 there! Even though the airport is classed as international, don’t expect to be able to get a flight there from anywhere in the northern hemisphere. In fact, the only connections are to and from Suva and Nadi in Fiji, Pago Pago in American Samoa, Sydney in Australia or Auckland in New Zealand. Perhaps the strangest thing about this airport is that it closes on Sundays. Let’s just say it takes a bit of planning to get there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. International Airport

Arriving in Tongatapu

Once you’re there, you’ll be given a welcome serenade, as seems to be the island way. This had also happened in Fiji but somehow the Tongan welcome wagon was a bit lackluster. Or maybe they were just too cool. As you would expect from a small airport, immigration was quick and the officers were really friendly.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. International Airport Welcome Serenade

The capital Nuku’alofa, is around 20 kilometers away from the airport but there was a slight problem. There was no public transport from the airport to the town. Taxis were, of course, available for 40 Tongan Pa’anga (TOP)/US$17.50. I had decided to do things a little differently. While researching for this trip, I had come across quite a few comments about hitchhiking being a viable way of getting around in Tonga.

A Hitchhiking Adventure in Tatilisingly Tropical Tonga

I’d barely even made it out of the airport grounds before a minivan stopped. This minivan was full of ladies who, almost in unison, motioned for me to get into the car. The ladies were very talkative and very interested in why I’d decided to go to Tonga. They seemed quite surprised that I would choose to go there. I got the impression that they believed Tongatapu was the most boring island in the Tongan chain and that there was nothing to do there.

After a while of chatting, the lady driving pulled over onto the side of the road. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Perhaps we were just waiting for someone? I couldn’t see any buildings around though. Just then, a lady seemed to appear out of nowhere and joined us in the car. It was at that point that the driver turned to me and asked if I had a license. I indicated that I did, then she opened her door and said, “I don’t like driving in town, so you can drive!”.

I was so surprised that I think I agreed before I really knew what was going on. But hey, I do like driving, so why not? The ladies directed me to their village, just outside of the town, where we had to drop someone off.

We stopped at a house where there seemed to be an impossible amount of people residing. At least 4 generations of people. They invited me in for dinner, but I had a host waiting for me in town, so I had to regretfully decline. My host Jasmin, who I’d meet from Couschsurfing, was infinitely amused that my hitchhiking adventure had turned in to a driving adventure. I guess that’s not an everyday occurrence.

Food in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

I was fairly hungry when I arrived and it was around dinner time. Luckily, Jasmin knew where the good local food was made. But what do you do when you’re waiting on a tropical island? Drink from a coconut, of course! A coconut straight from the fridge, no less.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Drinking Coconut

Cliche coconut consumption aside, I was looking forward to trying a local delicacy. A popular dish in the area consists of meat wrapped in taro leaves that have been soaked in coconut milk. There are two variations; Lu Pulu (beef) and Lu Sipi (lamb). I grabbed the Lu Sipi and it was super rich and delicious. Given all the meat and coconut milk it contained, it was also a very heavy meal. I was barely able to finish it!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Lu Sipi

Imported foods

Tongans also love having dessert after their super heavy meals and I was interested to see what Tongan desserts looked like. Unfortunately, pretty much everything was closed because I was on a small island after 7pm. I did manage to find an ice cream shop open though. It seemed to be the only place open besides a couple of bars. I’m not sure if that’s why it was so crowded, or if it was just because locals really love ice cream? Even if the only flavours available were vanilla, strawberry and blitz.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Super Scooper Ice Cream Shop

Another imported food that Tongans love is KFC. Tonga is too small for KFC to open there, but all Tongans know what it is. To the point where anywhere that sells any kind of fried chicken refers to it as Kentucky. Jasmin informed me that when locals fly back from New Zealand, where there are KFCs, they will bring back buckets of the stuff for the family.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Food Stall

Nightlife in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

When Jasmin was ready to retire for the night I decided to have a little walk around the town. Except for a few cars here and there, the town was very quiet. It wasn’t long until I’d found my way to some roadside tombs. They were quite ornate and it looked like people added flowers and tended to the graves every day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tombs

As I wasn’t far from the sea, I decided to take a walk down to the waterfront. That didn’t go as I had planned. I could barely walk a few hundred metres without a car stopping to ask if I needed a lift. Tongans are a very caring bunch and seemed worried that a foreigner was out walking by themselves at night. After the fifth car stopped and I hadn’t even managed to walk 500 metres, I gave up and found some local beer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Local Beer

Animals of Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

Of course, you would expect tropical islands in the South Pacific to be full of tropical animals like birds and colourful fish. I promise I’ll show you some of that later. Tonga also had its fair share of introduced animals wandering around. There were some stray cats and dogs, which you might expect to see almost anywhere in the world. But chickens weren’t really on the list of animals I’d expected to see. Never-the-less, they were everywhere and normally had a couple of chicks in tow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongan Chickens

Other much larger animals that I was not expecting to see were boars. Obviously these had been introduced by European explorers and were eventually left to roam the islands. They generally seem quite docile and are always happy to eat any food you might leave out for them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongan Boar

There are stories of fishing pigs. These are boars that have lost their natural fear of the water and can be seen wading out at low tide to catch themselves some dinner. If you were thinking of going to Tonga for some sun and sea, you could end up staying to watch the fishing pigs!

Wandering Around the Town

As I’d been unsuccessful in reaching the waterfront at night, I decided to try it during the day. This time I was able to do it in a respectable five minutes! That’s how small Nuku’alofa is! On my wander, I was able to see some palm trees as you would expect.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Palm Trees

But one of the more interesting things I saw was the Centennial Church. This church was run by the Free Church of Tonga, an organisation set up by the Tongan King and a missionary in 1885.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Centennial Church

Unfortunately, Cyclone Gita hit Tonga a few months after I left, causing widespread damage. The church was one of the buildings damaged and as a consequence, is no longer in use. The royal tombs across the road fared better though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Royal Tombs

As I got closer to the waterfront, there were a few memorials around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. War Memorial K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Memorial Plaque K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Waterfront Memorial

And of course, as it was coming up to Christmas, some seasons greetings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Seasons Greetings

I’d come for the water though. While there was no beach to be seen, the area was calm and peaceful.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Waterfront

Tourist Attractions in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

As the Tongan island chain is particularly remote and not the most easily accessible, tourism hasn’t had a big impact on the area. That means that literally every tourist attraction on Tongatapu is listed on this roadsign.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Road Sign in Nuku'alofa

That’s not to say that Nuku’alofa has not been set up with tourists in mind. There are actually a few informational signs around to guide you on your way. Like this handy map of the island, near the waterfront.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongatapu Map

Under The Sea

After Jasmin finished work, she asked if I wanted to join her for a swim. She had two bikes so we rode down to the waterfront. Given the absolute flatness of Nuku’alofa, the ride was rather quick and enjoyable.

We left the bikes up near the carpark and walked along some rocks to the local swimming spot.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Rocks on the Waterfront

I spied this little fella in a rock pool on the way.

But the view was definitely better under the water!

The fact that Tonga is a little bit off the tourist radar and a little bit harder to reach makes it all the more enticing. The absence of the big resorts seen on other islands gives it a more genuine and homely feel. It’s definitely a must-see!

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Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji

When most people think of Fiji, they think of islands, beaches and resorts. While these are certainly prevalent, they are not really what Fiji is all about. When I think of Fiji, I think of my childhood Fijian neighbour, who I thought was the funniest and friendliest man alive. Because of that man, I was expecting a lot of friendliness and a whole pile of laughs in Fiji. I was not disappointed! Read on to find out more about the friendliness and festivities in Fiji.

Fiji Time

Being a chain of hundreds of islands in an endless sea means that Fiji has a culture and vibe all of it’s own. Aside from the friendliness that was noticeable instantly, one thing that struck me on arrival was that everyone was happy. This could be because they have their own version of time over in Fiji. This concept may be a bit hard for busy people to get a handle on. I’m sure you’ve heard of island time, but Fiji takes it to a whole new level with ‘Fiji Time’. They even have the t-shirts to prove it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Fiji Time Tshirt

Fiji time is really something else. Things move slower and no one is stressed by deadlines. This means that everyone always has time for others. Fiji has to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming places on earth. In fact, when you visit, you’ll leave with a new word in your vocabulary; Bula, the Fijian word for welcome. You will hear and see it everywhere!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Bula

All travellers arriving in Nadi are even given a welcome to Fiji serenade by locals in their colourful local threads. We may have had no idea what they were singing about, but it sounded cheery and quickly put us at ease.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Airport Serenade in Nadi

One interesting thing about Fiji is that alcohol is super expensive. Like really, stupidly expensive. So much so that when locals have friends flying in, they ask them to grab some duty-free booze for them from the airport. It’s half the price! I had therefore agreed to grab some bourbon for my host, Save, who in turn met me at the airport.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – A Local Experience

Save lived in a very simple house in an area not too far from the airport. It was very green and lovely but I was disappointed to find that I was on the wrong side of the island to climb the mountains. The area only had a few small hills.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Far Away Mountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Little House on a Hill

As soon as we got to Save’s house, I met some of his family and we immediately sat down for dinner. As I mentioned before, Save’s place was rather simple, so they didn’t have a dining table. That meant that a rug spread across the floor became the dining table for a delicious local meal. Mostly eaten by hand. I like this idea actually. Who needs to wash those pesky knives and forks anyway?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Floor Dining Table

Save’s place was about a 10 minute walk down from the main part of town, where the buses to the city left from. On the way I saw some kids swimming in water that I wouldn’t think was good for them, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun! I also saw horses and chickens wandering around. It wasn’t until further into my South Pacific travels that I realised that chickens wandering around was a normal everyday occurrence on many Pacific Islands!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Horse and Water

I also passed a store that claimed to have all my needs. Although I found this claim dubious, especially considering the rather small size of it, I went inside to check it out anyway. It turns out that they didn’t have all my needs, but the lovely shopkeeper was eager to chat to me. With all that Fijian friendliness flying around, I didn’t leave that little store for over an hour.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Grog Shop

More Friendliness and Chats On a Fractured Fiji

On my many walks through the area that I was staying in, I noticed that there were a lot of Indian restaurants around. I’d also noticed Indian places of worship. I didn’t give it a second thought until the local bus into the city broke down. The bus driver invited me to sit in his bus and wait for the replacement bus to come. While waiting, he filled me in on why there was such a huge Indian population in the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Indian Temple

Under British colonisation in the early 1900s, Fiji was a part of the indentured labour scheme. Indentured labour is pretty much just a nice way of saying slavery. While the labourers did get paid, the wages were very low and the conditions could sometimes be atrocious. These indentured labourers had been brought over to Fiji from India at the expense of the colonial government. Yet the government decided that, even though these labourers had contributed greatly to building the colony’s economy, they would not pay for them to go back to India.

That left many displaced workers with little to no money and no way of getting back to their birthplace. With nowhere else to go, they made Fiji their home. While I’d like to say it was all smooth sailing from there, according to Mr Bus Driver, it was not. Even though they outnumbered the indigenous population at one point in history, they remained under-represented with in the country’s parliament for several years. They also endured many years of racism. It seems like things may be getting better if this sign is any indication.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Respect and Love All Fijians Sign

Friendliness in The City

As this impromptu history lesson ended, the replacement bus arrived. Mr Bus Driver made sure I was the first person to step onto the bus. He indicated that I should take the seat behind him. The 30 minute drive into the city cost only FJ$1.5, which is around AU$1. It wasn’t long after getting off the bus that a friendly local had stopped me to say, “Bula!”.

He introduced himself to me as Will and said that if I needed anything while I was in the city, I could go to him. After showing me where the cheap local food was, he insisted that I go to his friend’s shop. He had told me the story of his friend being a struggling artist just trying to sell some traditional handmade crafts. I was expecting a small shop, but it was huge.

While I suspect that story was a bit of a speil, Will didn’t get pushy. With their proximity to Australia and New Zealand, Fijians are no strangers to cashed-up tourists. So I can’t really blame the guy for trying. Even though I didn’t buy anything, he still seemed happy. When I left he asked me to tell all my friends about the store, of course!

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Christmas and New Year

Given their colonial past, you would be correct in assuming that Fijians are big on celebrating Christmas and New Year. But of course, they do it with their own island twist!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Christmas Decorations

I don’t remember seeing many Christmas trees while exploring, but I did see many sets of lights arranged to look like Christmas trees.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. House Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. LightChristmas Tree

When the new year is almost upon them, Fijians like the light up the sky with fireworks. As is done in many places. But what they do after is a little more unique.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fireworks

As I was walking to a house party I’d been invited to by some people I’d just met outside a club, one of my new friends told me to stop. I was a little puzzled and wondered what was going on. My friend advised that there were people behind a gate getting ready to throw buckets of water at us. We quickly crossed to the other side of the road, where he explained that this is somewhat of a local tradition. Throwing buckets of water at unsuspecting people walking past. Considering it was summer, I could think of worse things to endure.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Islands

I guess no trip to Fiji is complete without seeing a few different islands, right? But what’s a budget traveller to do? Would you believe there is actually an island resort in Fiji that caters to budget travellers? It’s still not what I would consider cheap, but the price is considerably lower than other islands.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. One of the Mamanuca Islands

Someone from the family that I stayed with for the second half of my stay, was able to get me an industry discount. That meant that I only paid FJ$190 (AU$125) for a day trip to Beachcomber, one of the Mamanuca Islands. The regular price at the moment is FJ$219 (AU$145).

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Resort, Mamanuca Islands

A free bus transfer to Denaru Marina comes with the purchase of an island package. That was great because I really had no other option to get to the marina, which was several kilometres out of town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Ferry From Danaru Marina

The boat ride out was quite enjoyable. As you could imagine, there was plenty of blue water to keep me mesmerised. Along with some famous islands.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Blue Waters At Resort Island

There were sporadic announcements about upcoming islands where different movies had been filmed. Some islands were even named after the movies that were filmed there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Resort Island, Mamanuca Islands

We even stopped at a few of the bigger resort islands on the way to drop off passengers. They got their own special island welcome.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Beachcomber

Beachcomber itself is clearly set up for a younger, more active crowd.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Entrance to Beachcomber

Even though the whole island is less than one kilometre long, there’s a lot to do, if you’re willing to pay a bit extra of course. You could play mini golf on a fairly well-used course. Or do some kayaking. Although that option wasn’t available on the day I was there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Minigolf

The first thing you might notice is The Sand Bar, where you can get yourself a local beverage for about FJ$8.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. The Sand Bar at Beachcomber K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fiji Beer at Beach Bar at Beachcomber

But if you take 10 minutes to have a walk around the island, you might see some wildlife too.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Duck

Or there’s a small boat tour included in your day trip. They’ll take you out to the middle of the sea to let you do some snorkeling and feed some fish.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fish Near Beachcomber K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fish Feeding Near Beachcomber

Perhaps you’d just prefer to sit on the beach and admire the view?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Beach View

Keep an eye out for the next stop on my South Pacific tour; Tonga!

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7 Myths About Hong Kong

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Sunset on the River

As a major financial hub and transit point in Asia, Hong Kong is often talked about around the world. You’ve probably heard a lot about it, especially in recent months. Unfortunately, some of the things you’ve heard are not entirely correct. Luckily, this list of myths about Hong Kong has been compiled to make sure that you never get caught out with less than reliable information!

Safety and Financial Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 1 – Hong Kong is Unsafe

This is a fairly new line of thought, given the volatile political situation and ongoing protests in Hong Kong. It is true that radical factions among the protester ranks have resorted to violence. It is also true that the police have resorted to violence. Both groups are mainly directing their violence at each other. Or at property.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Bricks on the Road
Protest aftermath

Despite what you may have heard in the media, these protests have not made it unsafe for people in the city to go about their daily life. They certainly haven’t affected the major tourist areas. In fact, protesters want tourists to keep visiting.

If you do happen to stumble onto a protest site, protesters will happily direct you away from the ‘danger’. They want to make sure that you’re going to be safe.

Now may also be one of the best times to visit Hong Kong, as airfares and hotel rates have fallen due to the unrest. Many flights are leaving, or coming in, half-empty. That means that a lot of airlines are pulling out all the stops to get more people on their planes. That ties in with the second in this list of myths about Hong Kong.

Myth 2 – Hong Kong is Prohibitively Expensive

There’s no denying that Hong Kong can be expensive, but you’d also be surprised at how easy it is to travel through or live in Hong Kong on a budget. Basically, it can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it.

If you spend all your time eating at western-style restaurants, things are going to get expensive rather quickly. However, if you opt to eat at local Cha Chaan Tengs, things will be a lot cheaper. You can make things even cheaper by shopping at local markets and cooking for yourself.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Local Market
Local Market

There are also many things to do in the city for free. Take a look at this article to learn more about free and budget-friendly things to do in the city.

Social Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 3 – The Local Language is Mandarin

It is a common misconception that the language spoken in Hong Kong is Mandarin. Mandarin is actually spoken by many in Hong Kong as a third language, after Cantonese and English. This is mostly thanks to a law put in place in by China in 1997, making it a mandatory subject in all schools.

Many people in Hong Kong have ancestors from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, which was previously known as Canton. That means that the majority of the population speaks Cantonese as their mother tongue. Many historians believe that Cantonese is the only Chinese language spoken today that is close to what was spoken during the Dynasties. This is a point of pride for a lot of Hong Kongers, who may get a bit annoyed if you try to speak Mandarin to them.

If you don’t speak Cantonese, your best bet is to use English. English is the second official language in the area and is very widely spoken. It is also used as the medium of instruction alongside Cantonese, in all but a few local schools.

Myth 4 – Hong Kongers Are Unfriendly

I’ve heard this directly from many people that have visited the city. While it is completely untrue, I can see why people may come to that conclusion. One thing that you need to know about Hong Kongers is that they may not place much faith in their ability to speak and understand English. This can make them shy away from interacting with visitors. Or make them seem aloof when you try to engage them in conversation.

On the flip side of that, locals that do speak English well will often swoop in to help travellers that seem lost or need help communicating. The average Hong Konger will always rush to help someone in need, regardless of where you’re from. They’re also the kind of folks that would chase you to give you back your belongings if you accidentally left them behind.

Logistical Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 5 – There are Skyscrapers Everywhere

Everyone has seen the iconic skyline photo of all the skyscrapers in Hong Kong. While it’s true that there are many skyscrapers in the city, they aren’t everywhere. Hong Kong’s land area is a little over 1100km² but more than 70% of that area remains undeveloped. 40% of the land in Hong Kong belongs to the Country Park system of nature reserves. These reserves have hundreds of hills within their boundaries. That means there are more hills than skyscrapers in Hong Kong!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Hills and Skyscrapers

Aside from the hills, Hong Kong also has some distinctly different landscapes within its borders, from forests to innercity parks with waterfalls and gardens.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Bamboo Forest K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Inner City Waterfall

As well as rivers and reservoirs.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. River K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Reservoir

There are even wetland areas and a UNESCO listed Geopark. And don’t forget its world-famous deep water harbour.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Victoria Harbour

Myth 6 – There Is No Public Transport To The Peak

This one originated somewhere in internet land, perhaps perpetrated by people trying to send business the way of the Peak Tram. If you haven’t heard of The Peak, it is the colloquial term for Victoria Peak, one of the city’s hundreds of hills. Many tourists flock to the Peak Galleria to get the iconic skyline view they’ve seen in so many pictures.

As you would imagine, the area is pretty much a tourist trap. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t several transport options besides the overly-priced Peak Tram. As of December 2019, there are in fact 3 bus routes that meander up the hill to the terminus behind the Galleria. Taxis also make the trip up the hill. So I can say with absolute certainty, that this myth is completely false! Why would a city that has excellent transport links everywhere else, not provide transport to their biggest tourist trap? Doesn’t make sense, right?

Myth 7 – Get A Free Ride on the Airport Express With an Octopus Card

This one can also be found on the internet and is also completely false. For those of you that are not aware, the Octopus Card is Hong Kong’s transport card and can be used on buses, ferries and trains. While it does offer a small discount over buying physical tickets, it does not offer any free rides. As much as we all wish it did.

Have you heard any other myths about Hong Kong? Let me know in the comments.

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Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Bird and Supertrees at the Gardens By The Bay.

Singapore is a place that I have visited many times and it always manages to impress me. When one of my friends decided to have her 30th birthday party there, I was of course obliged to make the trip! No matter how many times I visit this city-state, I always seem to be able to find new things to do. On this particular visit, I had the chance to see some superheroes and supertrees in Singapore.

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Superheroes?

Superheroes in Singapore? Yes! Well, a superhero exhibition. My visit had coincided with the Marvel Studios: Ten Years of Superheroes Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Downtown Singapore.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Marvel Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum

The museum itself could be considered an art piece, but the view from outside the museum was something else.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. View From the ArtScience Museum

As a bit of a geek and a huge fan of all superheroes, the exhibition made me happy.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Ironman at the ArtScience Museum K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Hulk Smash at the ArtScience Museum

Because of course, we are Groot!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Groot at the ArtScience Museum

Sculptures in the City

Singapore isn’t exactly a place that springs to mind when you think about art. You may be surprised to know that art is alive and well in the city, despite some legal restrictions. Artists cannot just paint walls or place sculptures anywhere they like, as it is illegal to do so. Unless of course it is done on private property with the permission of the owners.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Sculpture in the Street

Many landowners are more than willing to let local and international artists beautify their properties. That has given rise to a pretty decent street art scene which includes a plethora of murals and sculptures. These can be found in random places all around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Corner Sculpture

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Gardens By The Bay

On my previous trip to the city-state, I had seen the Supertrees under construction in an area near Marina Bay. The 100 plus hectare foreshore area that was reclaimed is now called Gardens By The Bay. These Gardens are nothing short of spectacular! You could easily keep yourself occupied there for many days. And that’s just walking around doing all the free stuff.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Fountains at the Gardens By The Bay

As a budget-conscious traveller, I tend to avoid going to places that have an entrance fee. I did make an exception for one attraction in the Gardens. I decided that I wanted to see the view from the top of one of the Supertrees, at the SuperTree by IndoChine rooftop terrace. The entrance fee was $S20 and included a drink. I’m still not sure if it was completely worth it, but the view was impressive none the less.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Storm Rolling In

Attractions at the Gardens

Some of my friends couldn’t stop raving about the Cloud Forest in the Gardens. The buildings containing the Cloud Forest are on the righthand side of the picture above. My friends assured me that the Cloud Forest was worth the $S28 they paid. I was happy to roam around checking out all the free stuff though. There was definitely enough of that to keep anyone occupied for a long time.

Sculptures
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Strange Sculpture

Tranquil paths
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Walk

Peaceful Lakes
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Peaceful Lakes at the Gardens By The Bay

And of course the Supertrees
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Supertrees at the Gardens By The Bay

Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore – Supertree Grove

There’s no doubt that the Supertrees are the most sought-after attraction at the Gardens. They are massive but also serene. They are quite a sight to behold during the daylight hours. You could gaze at them for hours from the grassed area below them. No matter what time of day you go there, it’s easy to find a nice quiet spot to relax.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Storm Rolling in at the Gardens By The Bay

There’s also a food court near the base of some of the trees that offers some reasonably priced food options. For me, it doubled as shelter when one of Singapore’s infamous 4pm storms started rolling in.

Supertree Grove at Night

As beautiful as the Grove is during the day, things get a lot more colourful at night. Hundreds of lights have been installed on the Supertrees. These lights are programmed to flash, flicker and change colour according to the beat of a musical soundtrack.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Supertree Grove

The show is called Garden Rhapsody and runs twice a night for 15 minutes each time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Gardens By The Bay Supertree Grove Blue and Purple Supertree

As far as light shows go, the Garden Rhapsody is a pretty good one. I’m not sure that I could even explain just how awesome it was, so maybe you can just see for yourself below.

For more information about things to do and see at the Gardens, you can check out their website.

Beer Fest at the Gardens

I was also lucky enough to be in Singapore while a huge beer festival, Beer Fest Asia, was taking place at the Gardens. As we were there for a party, most of the group decided that a festival with free beer was exactly what they needed. Who was I to argue?

We weren’t just there for the beer though. There was some live music happening too.

Strange Clubs in Singapore

I have to admit that in all my visits to Singapore, I’d never really ventured out to any of the nightclubs. That all changed when my slightly drunk friends decided that they weren’t ready for the party to end after the pub closed. We ended up at a club called Bar Rouge on the 70th floor of the Swissotel Stamford Hotel. At $25 per person, it was not cheap to get in there. The fee came with a ‘free drink’ but of course, the choice of drinks was very restricted.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. Singapore-isms at Bar Rouge

Aside from the neon Singapore-isms, perhaps the most interesting thing about this club was the floor plan and colour scheme. Being a clearly classy joint, they had installed glass cages on the second floor. These cages had a never-ending parade of scantily clad women disinterestedly dancing on poles. The fact that they were so disinterested made it kind of interesting to watch. It was certainly a distraction from the crap DJing that was going on. I didn’t hear one complete song all night.

The Kindness and Honesty of Strangers in Singapore

With so much alcohol available, people from our group got drunk. Very drunk. One of them got so drunk in fact that they ended up passed out on a comfy patch of grass somewhere. They were woken up sometime early in the morning by a worried local, checking if they were okay.

What was probably most surprising was that their wallet and phone were on the ground next to them. With absolutely no recollection of what had happened after they left the group, this person presumed that they had put their belongings down on the grass before passing out. That means their belongings had been sitting out in the open for hours and no one had tried to pinch them. That really says something about Singaporeans!

Now that this Singaporean adventure is over, I’ll leave you with a Singapore Sunset.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Superheroes and Supertrees in Singapore. City Sunset

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Hospitality in Bangladesh

Time to Experience Some Hospitality in Bangladesh

I had a quick mid-term holiday so of course I was ready to fly away! This time to I’d snapped up a cheap direct flight to Dhaka in Bangladesh. All I knew before I started the trip was that both the traffic and the hospitality in Bangladesh were legendary. I was definitely looking forward to experiencing the hospitality in Bangladesh; the traffic, not so much.

The fun started before boarding my flight. I was in the front row for some pre-flight drama. The guy in front of me at the security check thought that it was cool to take firecrackers on a plane. Mr Security wasn’t having any of it. Just to level-up on the idiocy, the guy thought it’d also be cool to pretend to not understand Mr Security when he was advised of the rules.

As you could imagine, that did not sit well with Mr Security, who then proceeded to berate the guy and thoroughly search his bag. While watching the drama unfold, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself and think that this was the best pre-flight entertainment I’d seen in a while. I was also glad that because of the commotion, I was pretty much just waved through.

Visa on Arrival in Dhaka

Certain nationalities are able to get a visa on arrival at the Dhaka international airport. It was a surprisingly easy process, despite the fact that it was also a long one. Information online says that you need to show confirmation of a return ticket and proof of $500 in cash to be able to get the visa. I did not have to show either of these.

The visa processing desk is located on the righthand side as you enter the immigration area. I had to line up for a while to get to that desk to present a small white card to the officer. He checked the card was filled-in correctly, then sent me off to another desk to pay the visa fee. The fee was US$50 and could only be paid in cash. After paying, I headed back to the processing desk where the paperwork was completed and slotted into my passport.

I was then ushered to the immigration counter, where there was almost no line. My passport was stamped and dated by a very friendly officer. He asked me how long I was staying and seemed disappointed when I indicated that I’d be there for one week. “Only one week?”, he enquired. He then said, “I’ll give you ten days”, as he manually wrote the visa validity in my passport. His tone indicated that he believed I would want to stay longer.

Leaving the Airport

Despite it being an airport serving a large city, the international airport in Dhaka seemed fairly small. That made it was surprising to see an Armed Police Room upon exiting the arrivals area. I took up temporary residence on a cold metal seat across from that room while I waited for my host to come and pick me up.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Armed Airport Police

My host’s name was Tariq and he had informed me earlier that he lived near the airport. Apparently that doesn’t have too much of an effect on how long it takes to get to the airport when there’s a lot of traffic. Even though he was only a few kilometres away, it took him nearly 30 minutes to reach the airport. I’m pretty sure it would’ve been quicker to walk!

Incredible Hospitality in Bangladesh

Once at Tariq’s place, we sat down to have some tea. He kept apologising for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to spend much time with me, due to work commitments. This was not a problem for me, but Tariq felt that he wasn’t living up to responsibilities as a host because of it. It took at least 5 teas to convince him that all was good.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi House

I can honestly say that I did not want for anything while I stayed with Tariq. I think he spent more time checking if I was comfortable than actually chatting to me. That’s not to say that he wasn’t extremely interested in learning about my previous travels though. When I tried to tell him on several occasions that he didn’t need to fuss over me so much, he informed me that it was the Bangladeshi way. He believed that a guest in his house should never have to ask for anything.

Apparently your stomach should always be bursting from overeating when being hosted by some people in Bangladesh. I must’ve tried a plethora of Bangladeshi snacks upon Tariq’s insistence before heading to bed. In the morning, Tariq got up to make me breakfast before he headed off to work. He told me he could come home at lunchtime to cook me lunch as well, but I told him I’d be out exploring, so there was no need.

Moving Around Dhaka

I had planned on meeting some local Couchsurfers in what I was told was the biggest mall in Dhaka; Jamuna Future Park. As it was only 3km away from where I was staying in Baridhara, I decided to walk. At the start of my walk, things were quiet and peaceful. Buildings were quite spread out and there was even some greenery to be seen. It seemed that Dhaka was still a growing city, as a fair amount of housing construction could also be seen.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi Suburb K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi Suburb Under Construction

Once I hit the main road which marked the border between 2 suburbs, things got a whole lot noisier! It was obvious that I was getting closer to the city centre. Traffic was pretty hectic even though the rush hour had already passed. Luckily I had some earphones to mask the pesky traffic noises. Sort of.

Interesting Locals

Once I made it to the shopping centre, I found Mahi and Abdul, the two men I was there to meet. They were very interesting young men. Mahi had spent quite a few years living abroad in the USA, while Abdul had spent his whole life in Dhaka. Despite their very different backgrounds, these guys had some super interesting views on the world. We all chatted like we were old friends. They even indulged me while I searched for a geocache hidden in the city’s park.

We had all planned to head to a Couchsurfing meet in Gulshan together. Gulshan is apparently the hip, affluent part of the city. It was only 3 kilometres from where we were, so I voted to walk. I was defeated 2-1 and we ended up in a Tuk Tuk. Adbul and Mahi were telling me there would be a little bit of traffic, so it might take 30 minutes. Boy, were they wrong!

I could now see why Dhaka’s traffic is so infamous. It took us an hour and a half to ‘drive’ those 3 kilometres. There’s no way what we were doing could be considered driving. We would barely move centimetres before having to stop again for several minutes. I was still trying to convince the guys that it would be better to walk, but they were feeling lazy. So we sat in a mostly stationary tuk tuk for the best part of 2 hours when we could’ve walked that distance in less than an hour. Fun.

Getting Out of Dhaka

As Mahi had some time off, he had offered to accompany me to a place of my choice outside of Dhaka. After many days of research and deliberations, he had helped me come to a decision on a place to visit. That place was Birishiri, around 170 kilometres north of Dhaka, near the Indian Border. It was chosen because it was the closest place to Dhaka that had some cool natural stuff going on and wasn’t a complete hassle to get to. Many provinces in Bangladesh require foreigners to purchase permits to enter them. None are required for Birishiri.

Mahi had found the bus to Birishiri for us. It cost 250 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) and ran overnight. But wait, it’s only 170 kilometres! How could it take all night, you may ask. Because the roads are absolute crap. They were so bumpy that the bus only averaged 20km/h for most of the trip. What was even more hilarious was that the fitness app on my phone actually registered a lot of the bumps as walking. I did 7000 steps that night!

Early Morning Adventures Getting into Birishiri

We were dropped off a little bit out of Birishiri, after a not-so-comfortable bus ride, at 12am. I was wondering how we were going to get into town at that time, but Mahi advised me not to worry. He had some friends who would help us out. He then added that his friends were like the ‘gangstas’ of the town. Well, this was certainly going to be interesting.

Mahi’s friends turned up a short while later on their motorbikes to take us to our accommodation. As we had bags, we needed to take a bike each. This part of the journey was more of an adventure than I thought it would be. We started on some perfectly nice roads in the middle of nowhere, then ended up on narrow risen concrete paths above small cultivation fields. After about half an hour of that, we made it to a river.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Day Version of Night Ferry
Day version of the night ferry
Night Ferry?

It was 1am by that point and everything was pitch black. No buildings or street lights in sight. I was wondering how on earth we were going to get across the river. The motorbike guys said we had to wait. Wait until when, I wondered. Were we sleeping there? Surely there was no ferry at that time of night? As luck would have it, a rickety old wooden ferry was running that night. I use the term ‘ferry’ in the loosest sense of the word. It was more like some wooden boards hastily thrown together. But it did the job.

After crossing the shallow river, we rode along more deserted roads to finally get to our accommodation around 2am. There was a lot of knocking and shouting before the lady running the guesthouse came out to let us in. Even though we’d just woken her up, she still offered us tea! I was more interested in sleeping after the night’s events.

Purple Rocks and Green Lakes

Mahi’s friend came to get us in the morning and took us to a village with a church on a hill that overlooked the Indian border.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Church on a Hill Near India

After walking around the cute little village for a while, then looking over into India, we were back on the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Looking into India

We made our way to an area where some locals had set up some makeshift shops. Once there, a young boy of no more than 8 years old took it upon himself to be our guide.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Guides

He showed us the best hiking route to see the purple rocks.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Purple Rocks By The Lake

And the best viewpoint for the green lakes.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Green Lake K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Green Lake and Fields

Back to Dhaka For More Hospitality in Bangladesh

Mahi wasn’t unable to host me back in Dhaka, but he had organised for me to stay with one of his friends, Taslima. There were 3 generations of the family living in Taslima’s house, including Taslima’s son, her sister and her mother. They were all absolutely amazing. Whether it was just chatting, or planning how to cater to my dietary needs, they made sure that I was always comfortable. I even had some interesting chats with Taslima’s mum, who didn’t speak any English at all!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. In a Sari
Going out in a Sari

Once I’d had a bit of a rest, Tasmina dressed me in a Sari, that she then gifted to me. We went for a walk to the local river around sunset.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. River Sunset

We then took a ferry across the river to a small sitting out area where we were able to watch a light show. On the river!

Another Kind of Hospitality in Bangladesh

A local by the name of Shahriar, who was very keen to meet people travelling through Dhaka, got in contact with Taslima. He offered to take us both on a tour of the old city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Ruins in the Old City

He was so delighted to meet a traveller that he refused to take any money from either of us for transport costs or entrance fees. The old city was rather interesting, but I prefer to call it the city of colourful forts.

Like this orange fort.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Old City Orange Fort

This apparently purple fort.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Old City Purple Fort

And this pink fort.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Hospitality in Bangladesh. Old City Pink Fort

A Final Word on Hospitality in Bangladesh

The hospitality in Bangladesh was nothing short of amazing. Everyone I met was super kind. Everyone went out of their way to help me, whether it be with transport and planning, catering to my dietary needs, or hosting. While other stuff about Bangladesh can be overwhelming, the fact that people are so welcoming and helpful makes it a place that should be on everyone’s ‘to visit’ list!

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Travelling the Maldives on a Budget

Is Travelling the Maldives on Budget Possible?

To be honest, I’d always been fascinated with the Maldives. What’s not to be fascinated about? Hundreds of tiny islands in the middle of impossibly blue waters sounds incredibly inviting to me! But given the infamous resort-like set up of the place, most would think that travelling the Maldives on a budget could prove quite challenging. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is!

While I appreciate the idea of travelling to relax, that’s just not how I travel. Resorts really do not interest me, but I’m always interested to see how the locals live. So I got in touch with a wonderful local man named Muhamed. He agreed to host me in his family home on the island of Hulhumale. It’s just over the bridge from the Velana International airport.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Volleyball Beach

Getting to the Maldives

As the Maldives normally caters to high-end travellers, the airfares to get there tend to reflect that. But being the cheapskate that I am, I’d managed to find a flight for around US$160 return. With a stopover in Sri Lanka! This was great for me, as I have a friend in Colombo. It also meant that the last leg of the flight from Sri Lanka to the Maldives was only 1 hour.

To say that the Maldives looks amazing from the air would be an understatement. You’re looking over an endless blue ocean for most of the flight. Then outta the blue, pun intended, you start to see random sand bars in the ocean. They look so tiny, yet so intriguing. It’s interesting to think that people live on these tiny, little, unprotected sand strips in the middle of a vast ocean. It’s also absolutely amazing how immaculately blue the waters are between the atolls and sandbar islands. Possibly one of the best views on approach to a country ever.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the International Airport
Boats Near the Airport

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – A Warm Welcome

I was impressed that we actually landed on time and I was off the plane and through immigration within 15 minutes. My host Muhamed had kindly organised for someone to meet me at the airport. It was his brother who works at the airport. He had typed up a very professional-looking sign with my name on it, so that I could find him. I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve had my own sign upon arrival into a country. I felt super special!

He then showed me out to the bus stop, where I could get the bus across the bridge to Hulhumale. The bus only cost 15 Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR), which is under US$1. He let Muhamed know when I had left on the bus, so he could meet me on arrival in Hulhumale. As a bonus, the bus stop in Hulhumale was about a 2 minute walk from Muhamed’s flat. Nevertheless, Muhamed picked me up on his moped because he was worried about me having to carry my bag. How lovely!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the Airport Area
Looking over to Male from near the airport

Hulhumale

Muhamed lived in a 4 bedroom place on Hulhumale where 9 other members of his family also lived. They still ensured that I had a bedroom to myself, even though I told them I was fine with sleeping on the couch. Maldivians believe in treating their guests like royalty. I was so lucky to have a local family allow me to stay with them. The family was of course interested in finding out more about me. Muhamed was the only one in his family that really spoke any English though. That meant he had to do a lot of translating!

Hulhumale is an island in the Maldivian chain that is northwest of Male. It is joined to Male and Hulhule, where the international airport is, by the Sinamale Bridge. Construction on the bridge had just been completed not long before I had arrived. I was one of the first people to cross the bridge. Before the bridge, the only way to travel between those islands was by speedboat or ferry. Unless you or someone you knew had a boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Boat

Reclaimed Land

Interestingly, Hulhumale was completely constructed on land reclaimed in 2004. The government had realised back then that the land available wasn’t going to cater to the needs of the growing Maldivian population in the future. So they made their own land. There were many construction sites around Hulhumale. Muhamed advised me that the government was reclaiming even more land. He also told me that a lot of the land had already been purchased by luxury hotel groups.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Building With Construction Behind
Colourful buildings with construction behind

Hulhumale was colourful and all the roads looked brand new. There also seemed to be a lot of newly constructed buildings housing foreign cafe chains, especially near the beach area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Buildings

And it appears that someone in Hulhumale knew I was going to be there..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Kez Graffiti

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Getting Around

If people want to travel somewhere on the island they are currently on, they mostly use mopeds to get around. You’ll often see people on different mopeds riding side by side just having a chat. While there were always cars on the road, I didn’t get the feeling that traffic was a problem in the Maldives. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any traffic lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Intersection Without Traffic Lights
Intersection without traffic lights

If people want to travel between islands in the Maldives, they take a ferry or speedboat. There are regular ferry services between some of the 1000 plus islands in the Maldivian chain. Muhamed regularly travelled to an island called Villingili, which is south of Male. At a glance, this island has a very similar name to another small island, Viligili, that lies to the west of Male.

The reason for Muhamed’s constant trips to Villingili was that his wife and daughter lived there. While I was there, he needed to pick up his daughter from a class then take her back to Villingili. He asked if I would like to join him for the trip and of course I said yes! I wanted to see as many islands as I could during my short stay.

Villingili

While it was relatively easy to get to Villingili, the route wasn’t as direct as you would expect. We had to get a 50 MVR/US$3.20 ferry to Male first. Muhamed had an extra bike stashed there. He used it to take us from where the Hulhumale to Male ferry had arrived to where the Male to Villingili ferry would depart. That Ferry cost 25 MVR/US$1.60. The two ferries are run by different companies, Atoll Transfer for the Hulhumale to Male route and MTCC for the Male to Villingili route. That meant that the ports were on opposite sides of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male Ferry Port

It was night by the time we made it to Villingili. It was quite a small island and definitely didn’t have a tourist feel to it at all. Housing on the island seemed to consist of small, budget 1 bedroom flats on narrow streets. I wasn’t really looking that hard, but I didn’t see any cars there; only mopeds.

In the few hours since she had met me, Muhamed’s 6 year old daughter had taken a bit of a shine to me. The fact that we couldn’t speak the same language didn’t seem to worry her. She asked if I could stay at her place for that night, but I had to politely decline as I had already organised a trip to another island.

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Day Trip to Himmafushi Island

After some long chats with Muhamed about which island would be the best to go to on a budget with limited time, we came up with Himmafushi Island. It’s about 16km north of Male, which meant it was only a 20 minute boat ride. Muhamed had called ahead and found out that the speedboat from Male to Himmafushi was 100 MVR/US$6.50 per person. Muhamed was good enough to accompany me on the ferry to Male to make sure that I could find the right speed boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male From The Water
Male from the water

When we got there, Mr boat guy advised that it was 150 MVR/US$10. The reason for the difference was that Muhamed had been quoted the local price. The tourist price was of course higher and Mr boat guy was adamant that was what I needed to pay. So I got myself a return ticket and jumped on the boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. On the Way to Himmafushi

Getting There

There weren’t many other people on the boat, so I could pretty much sit anywhere I wanted. I settled into a seat on the lefthand side of the boat, but then realised that all the good views seemed to be on the righthand side.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bluer Water On the Way to Himmafushi

The trip out to the island was quite lovely. I was absolutely mesmerised by the water that just seemed to become bluer the further away we got from Male.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Blue Water and Islands On the Way to Himmafushi

Once Himmafushi came into view, it was obvious that it was a very small island. Only 1km long!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Entering the Himmafushi Port

I had always thought that bad parking was something you only saw on land. But when we were arriving at the Himmafushi port, I found out it happens in the ocean too.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bad Parking at Himmafushi Port

Sand, Souvenir Shops and Street Art

When I finally got my feet back on land, I headed to the beach. As the island was so small, the beach was not hard to find!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Beach on Himmafushi

As I walked on the sand, I was amused as hundreds of little crabs scuttered around me. Some retreating into their shells because they perceived danger, while others made a break for the water. It was quite entertaining to watch.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Overdressed on Himmafushi

Whilst exploring the island, I was invited into a local souvenir shop, The Dolphin Shop. Inside the owner, Hussein gave me not one, but 2 gifts from his store. He also insisted that I stay for tea. Who was I to say no?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop on Himmafushi

After chatting for a while, Hussein decided to utter a few words in Chinese. He wanted to check with me that what he was saying was correct. Then he invited me to visit again and proceeded to give me a Dhivehi lesson, for when I come back next year apparently.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop Souvenir and Dhivehi Lesson on Himmafushi

Time to Go

Hussein had tried to convince me to stay a bit longer, but I eventually bid him farewell and took a short walk around the island before my ride back to Male arrived. I was very interested in the fact that an island with only 4 streets still managed to have some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Street Art on Himmafushi

I’d had a wonderful day on the island and was treated to a lovely sunset on the way out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Himmafushi Sunset

In the 4 days I was in the Maldives, I made it to 5 islands and managed to meet some cool locals along the way. The best part is that I spent under US$20 for all transport and food. This is due in part to the awesome hospitality of my host who always wanted to cook for me or take me places on his bike. All up, that’s less than US$200 for the whole trip, including airfares. So it turns out that travelling the Maldives on a budget is surprisingly easy!

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Contemporary Colombia Street Art

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota. Female Warrior Mural

One thing you might find surprising about contemporary Colombia is that it has a thriving street art scene. You’ll also find that the scene is not just for locals. Many international artists regularly create murals and other art pieces around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota La Candelaria Memorial Mural

As Bogota was where Colombia’s street art scene was born, it will be the main focus of this article. That doesn’t mean that it’s the only Colombian town with a vibrant art scene. The events that lead to the explosion of the scene in Bogota, also ensured that it made it’s way to other cities in Colombia.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Diversity Mural

I was lucky enough to meet a street artist while I was in Bogota. He was more than happy to show me around and overload me with information. He’s an international artist who loved the Bogotan art scene so much that he decided to relocate there many years ago. You could say that he knows the scene pretty well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Old Man and Mural

Insider Art Tour

I felt that I’d hit the jackpot by getting shown the best street art areas by an artist who was clearly passionate. Not just about the art, but also about the place. He was happy to share some interesting insights into the scene and how it became what it is today.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Space Mural

Street art wasn’t always a viable form of expression in Colombia. In fact, it was quite the opposite and one point! Back in the early 21st century, artists would complete their works under the cover of darkness. Until 2011, when two police officers tragically shot down a teenager in the process of painting his trademark Felix the Cat image.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Mural of a Boy

The Tragedy that Turned the Tide

As you could imagine, the shooting sent shockwaves through the community and caused citywide protests. People weren’t happy that a young life was taken over something so innocuous, nor the way the Police tried to cover it up. The ensuing international and public outcry caused the mayor of Bogota to issue a decree decriminalising graffiti and street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Beetle Mural

That decree of course came with a few exceptions. Public buildings and monuments were to be left alone. Artists also had to seek permission from the owner of the building before creating their works. Most building owners were happy to give it, as they got their premises decorated for free.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Woman and Dog Mural

Things got off to a shaky start, but eventually lead to a city that not only encouraged, but whole-heartedly embraced street art. With police that protected the artist’s rights to create. There is now an unwritten code between artists to protect each others work as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Mural

In some cases, police will even accompany artists while they are creating. To ensure that they can finish their work safely. As long as the artist has gotten the proper permissions. It’s amazing how transformative not treating artists like criminals can be for a city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota La Candelaria Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Political Expresison

Much of the wall art in Bogota leans toward fantasy or upbeat topics, with generous usage of colours. However, some in the city prefer to use the medium to share their political views or comment on social issues.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Segregation Mural K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Bicycle Stencil

I was told that artists use political paintings to alert locals to things that may be happening without their knowledge. Or state their disagreement with the way some things are being done. By doing this, they hope to start conversations that will empower others to stand up for what is right.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Political Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Different Mediums of Art Expression

While the majority of the street art in Bogota comes in the form of murals or graffiti, there are also three other widely used street art techniques. One of those is stenciling. This is quite often used for political pieces. The artist will make a stencil and place their work in several different places.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Stenciling

The other one is called stickering. As the name suggests, it involves using custom made stickers to get a message across. Stickering tends to be more overtly political or satirical than the other mediums of expression.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Stickering

The last and least used medium is probably tagging. That’s due partly to the fact that it gained a bad reputation within the scene, when tags were painted over others art. This is of course hugely frowned upon and once word got around that it wouldn’t be tolerated by the community, it stopped. The negative association with tagging however, wasn’t so quick to die off.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Tagging

Cats, Cats and More Cats

I couldn’t help but notice that a great deal of the murals and artworks in town were of cats. This brought me to two conclusions. Either artists in Bogota are obsessed with cats. Or this is a subtle homage to the life of the teenager whose death brought about the change that made all current works possible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Cat Mural 1 K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Cat Mural 2 K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Big Cat

Who needs YouTube cat videos when you can look at beautifully creepy cats like these?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Colourful Cat Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Bringing Colour and Hope to Low Income Neighbourhoods

Some artists are very active within the community and have partnered with local businesses. These businesses are helping to realise the artists’ dreams of touching the lives of the less fortunate through their art. The first step towards that dream involves beautifying those communities with murals that span many buildings. When viewed from a focal point, those paintings come together to create a master mural.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Dragon Mural

After beautifying, the aim is to get youth involved in the street art scene. The idea being that giving people in these low-income areas opportunities will give them the chance at a brighter future. And keep them away from other, possibly destructive pastimes.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Traditional Woman

All in all, the street art scene in Colombia is pretty freaking amazing. It really adds an overall positive vibe to the atmosphere of the place. You could literally spend days walking around admiring the art. It’s also kind of exiting to walk along and wonder what will be painted on the next wall.

If you’re interested in more Colombian adventures, check out my previous post, Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

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Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

After having a pretty amazing time in Panama City, it was time to move on to contemporary Colombia and visit some of its colourful cities. Due to some pretty heavy time constraints, I had to give up the idea of taking a boat from Panama to Colombia and hop on a plane. It was a quick flight, given the short distance between the capitals of the two countries. I left a sunny morning in Panama City to arrive in Bogota for an even sunnier afternoon.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Bogota

The Eldorado International Aiport in Bogota was impressive and I’ve gotta admit that it took me a while to find my way out. I stopped to ask an airport worker how to get to the nearby bus stop and he didn’t know. Luckily, there was a local within hearing range who did know where it was. He gave me directions but then tried to dissuade me from taking the bus. He advised that I may have to wait for some time and that the ride into town is very long. I told him I was okay with that.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area

One thing I noticed almost straight away about Bogota is that it seemed to be a city of art. In the couple of minutes it had taken me to walk to the bus stop, I had already seen 2 art installations!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area Art

Making New Friends

As I was waiting for the bus, a car that was exiting the airport pulled up to the bus stop. The man that had directed me before, Andres, was inside. He asked me if I wanted a lift into the city. I accepted and got in the car, where he then proceeded to semi-lecture me about how I should be careful because not all people were good like him. He then proceeded to tell me how he was a singer and was heading out to Ibague in a few days to visit his brother.

Andres asked where I was going next. I hadn’t actually planned that far ahead, so I advised him that I didn’t know where I would go after Bogota. I just knew that I needed to head towards Cali to get to Ecuador. He said that I could tag along with him to Ibague if I wanted to. From there I could get a bus to Cali and onto Ecuador. That seemed like a great option as Ibague was only about a 4 hour drive away. We exchanged numbers so that we could arrange things a few days later.

La Candelaria Centro

La Candelaria Centro is the Colombian equivalent of an Old Town. It’s a very cute and vibrant area, which is very easy to find your way around. Like all old towns, it is full of narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial buildings. Perhaps one of the more interesting things about this old town is that many of the buildings have also become canvases for graffiti and street art from all over the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and it's Colourful Cities. La Candelaria

To say that street art is alive and well in Colombia would be an absolute understatement! The art scene there is so prolific that I actually had to write a separate article about it! The scene was born out of an unfortunate event and currently attracts not just local, but also famous international street artists. Many eager to leave a piece of themselves in Bogota.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Traditional Mural

Paint is not the only form of artistic expression in the city. Other forms of art, including sculptures and structures made from recycled goods, are highly visible as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Bicycle Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Roof Top Art

Affordability

Aside from its visual awesomeness, Bogota, and the whole of Colombia for that matter, is surprisingly kind on the wallet. You can find shared accommodation for US$6-10/night. Sometimes you can even get a simple hotel room for under US$10/night. Dining out in Colombia is also inexpensive, with a meal and a drink at a small restaurant easily coming in at under US$10. By far the best way to dine in Colombia is on the streets!

If you want to find the real tastes of Colombia, street vendors are where it’s at. All the traditional local foods, like Almojábanas, Arepas and Empanadas, can be purchased from roadside carts for less than $2 a meal. And they are utterly delicious. If you want to know how locals live, visiting a street food cart is an excellent way to find out!

Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill

From anywhere you stand in Bogota, you can see the sister mountains of Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill towering high above the city. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’re probably aware that if there’s a hill around, I’ll find a way to climb it. The powers that be were determined for that not to happen though. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to see that the hiking trail up the mountain was closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. The Base of Monserrate

I asked the staff when it would be open again and they said it was closed permanently. They said it was due to the increasing degradation caused by the constant stream of people making the pilgrimage up the hill. They also alluded to the fact that there had been some serious injuries or possibly even deaths on the trail. So that was disappointing. However, I have heard that it has since been reopened again.

Getting to the Top

The other ways of scaling the hill involved money, of course. If the walking option was out, I thought the funicular, the cheapest of the 2 options at US$3, might be fun. But guess what? It was closed for maintenance! So, with no other choice, I took the most expensive option; the cable car at around US$4 each way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cable Car up to Monserrate

At 3152m, Monserrate, along with its sister mountain, Guadalupe Hill, rises far above the fair city of Bogota. As it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, it makes sense that you can see the whole city from the top of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. View From Monserrate

Aside from the beautiful view, there is actually a surprising amount of things to do at the top. You can meander through the small market where locals try to sell you their authentic local trinkets. Or you can have a meal at one of several restaurants there. Or you can simply just walk around the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Display at Monserrate

There was also a small exhibition up there when I went. I’m not sure if that’s something that happens often, but even without the exhibition, it was still lovely to walk around. The area had been manicured to look pretty and I was lucky to be there when there wasn’t many other people around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. At the Top of Monserrate

Perhaps the most interesting building on Monserrate was the church. This isn’t a normal church mind you. It’s a 17th century church devoted to El Señor Caído, or the Fallen Lord. On Sundays, devotees of the church will follow the pilgrimage path up the hill to show that they are worthy. Some will even offer sacrifices. It’s probably best to avoid going up on a Sunday if you can.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. El Señor Caído At the Top of Monserrate

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Ibague

When it was time to move on, Andres, the man I had met a few days earlier, picked me up. He had some things to attend to in the morning, so we left in the afternoon for the small city of Ibague. The city is 200km west of Bogota in the Andean region of Colombia. It was also a strange combination of people-sized Christmas decorations and dirt.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Train