A Room With A Review

Do You remember italy? E.M. Forster
Let me in

Let me in

Istanbul, Turkey

The tram ride from the airport gave a good perspective of how the city’s warping with wealth, not just this century but hundreds rolling backwards. Down at heel kebab bars and cheap fabric shops, soon change into marble malls and long shopping boulevards before the sites of former riches start to emerge. First a lone, carved octagonal monument and then they come whirling dervish fast. Towering minarets on hundreds of mosques, carved lace work, trellising, arched courtyards, golden stars, green marble and Arabic calligraphy, painted hexagons. The architecture feels so foreign it is incongruously exotic in what is the last stop in Europe. 
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Perhaps overcome by her nation’s beauty an old Muslim woman in black with a patterned silk headscarf falls onto my lap with a well fed bummed thump and rolls about to get off apologising endlessly and smiling constantly there after. 

Our first night is wonderfully alcohol soaked beginning in a bar named Ugly, which is fitting as that’s how I feel all the next day. 

Aside from that, drinking isn’t the thing here and so there are many ways to better spend your time. 

The first is eating and there are many places to buy ice creams, or cakes. The local treats are baklava, sticky nests of pastry filled with pistachio that’s laced with honey syrup and topped by a crown of hazelnut crumbs. Or my favourite, Turkish Delight. Pillows of rose, lemon and pomegranate jelly rolled around in icing sugar, or, at a little shop on the Asian side, given a roly poly through a bowl of saffron and studded with green pistachio. I eat it on a park bench surrounded by ladies in black burkas. 

Ice cream at Mado’s is thick, almost chewy. Names that I don’t understand but you guess by the colour. I picked well, but it’s likely you can’t go wrong. More pistachio scooped on top of orange and another with almond and then a melting sweet caramel piled high. image

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Praying is the other past time. Muslims pray five times a day and from the minarets each mosque heralds it’s call to prayer. Across the city the sad cry is passed from minaret spire to spire. A human Midnight Howl. It’s a sorrowful lament, it sounds primal. While it may be praising Allah and blessings to me it sounds lovelorn and desperate. A man whose entire world has disappeared. Not thanks for the bounty of faith. 

We visited the blue mosque and arrived at prayer time. After watching the faithful file in and out in unorganized bundles and devote to their ablutions with as much zeal as they pray we went inside to see the magnificence of soft furnishing. 

The carpet was Ox red and a dense, expensive pile patterned with blue flower heads. It’s changed every ten months or so because it soon wears thin from the faithful or the tourism. The walls forsake wallpaper or tableau (because no human or animal can be depicted in the mosque) for acres of miss matched tile. A magnificence of handicraft devotion, coils and curls of floral patterns reaching high up to the mammoth domed ceilings with rows of windows cut out in arcs like teeth. In the center of this great metal ropes suspend a giant wheel of chandelier that loiters above the heads of prayerful like a Katherine Wheel of light. 

At night, spied across the Golden Horn, the Blue Mosque’s six great minarets look like lighthouses on fire and the fresh breeze that rises after dark makes a vivid imagination dream of sultan’s turbans, gold cuffs, the scent of rose, lazing on divans sipping Ayran and listening to the hypnotic Turkish pipes and drums. Only for that all to become a visual reality next morning at The Topaki Palace. 

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Smoking is also a much performed distraction. We smoke on the street. Watermelon one night, grape the other, long inhales that make me dozy and tired and soft limbed. We watch people walk up and down the cobbled streets of Galata. Groups of guys talking on the way somewhere, couples in arms, tourists glancing this way and that. Round and round they go and the cats lay out sleeping a whisker from the heels of tourists. 

The final booze free entertainment is washing. Going to the Hamami is like being washed by a big mother cat. First you take off all your clothes like a new born and lie down on your back on a grey marble slab looking up at the stars. When they ask ‘what do I see?’ I say ‘A bright white beautiful heaven hanging over me.’

After lounging naked in the hot the mother cat comes with her giant swaying chest and big embracing forearms. You sit on a stone throne as the two gold taps pump hot and cold and the mother cat fills silver bowls with them to splash on your head. She pulls on her kitten mittens which lick you up and down and ribbons of skin skim off and the water rolls them away. Then she fills a muslin pillow case with bubbly water and wafts it like a sail till it fills up into an airy sack and she rings it over you hair, shoulders, chest, back, tummy, thighs, calves and feet. It’s silky and she lathers your body as you sit in a dry bubble bath. She crouches between my feet smiling and I can feel the bristles on her legs when she rubs my tummy round and round or polishes behind my ears and I roll my head round as she a scratches my neck like a purring baby cat. 

Istanbul is where West meets East. But they never really do. They don’t touch each other. They lie apart and they watch, both with great pride. They’re really both exactly the same. Same food, same people, same customs and language. All that’s different is the division, they’re forced to part by the water despite themselves. And they look at each other, reflected forever on the turquoise Bosphorus. 

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Costa del Sol, Spain

'Those hills? No they don't have any particular name.' A geographic land mass with no name? The Spanish may be famed for their manha attitude but they do have enough energy to name great expanses of green mountains. Their real name is in fact the Sierra Crestellina, for its spikey tooth-like peaks which are home to magnificent floating birds of prey and vultures. They glow purple in the sunset and are black Moors at night hiding a hundred runaway bandits (once upon a time).

This was one of Ron’s parting gifts of ignorance. Other gems from the North London Jewish implant included advising us that we could never make a 20 minute walk alone, that UHT milk is superior to cows, that he owns apartments in every place your gaze should fall and that people with dementia are ‘old bats’. Thanks Ron for the most agonising hour long car journey in history.

The holiday apartment complex outside of Cesares in the Costa Del Sol is an eerily quiet executive estate of peach coloured apartments which look like the set if The Flintstones movie cloistered around a circular pool and verdant with well feed grasses and bright hibiscus shrubs.

The pool is guarded by one of those señoritas you envy for their waist length black hair, aviators, walnut skin and can’t be arsed attitude. She kicks back on a white plastic chair to squeals of ‘Brooklyn, cum ‘ere an putcha arm bands on’ yelled to a thin child decked out in a Woody from Toy Story swimsuit, or a constant supply of ball throwing dads and the crash and plop of belly flops all day long.

This portion of the Spanish coast has been besieged by British who either love their emigre lives or else want out but can’t sell the homes they’ve bought so wander about moaning about Spanish people and drinking whilst wearing baseball caps and sportswear.

Of course it’s usual to bring your culture with you but here it’s been packed up and shipped out wholesale. No better example than Tuesday night’s Lola Boys show at a beach bar named Floria.

Upon the approach to Floria you see a multitude of bobbing blonde heads, it’s gringo town. Table after table of Brits at an all you can eat BBQ, sloshing sangria and waiting for the camp act to start. The table next to us is accommodated by a mix of maybe three well to do English families. They love to holiday en mass. Presumably to swap wives, have golfing partners and someone to constantly impress. The women of the table are mostly bleached blonde with tired, tanned faces and too many gin and tonics, while the men wear Joules polo shirts and luxuriate over golf course discussions and smoke. Names like George, David and Bert. Chinos for boys, maybe one of those gap year beaded necklaces. Tiny shorts and giggles for the sporty girls. One dad in a long sleeved blue stripped shirt.

Then out comes the act. Paul and Andrew who announce that they were once the belles of London’s West End and continue to reiterate that frequently during the show. ‘Do we have any Lola virgins here tonight? Don’t worry, we are not Rolf Harris!’

Paul has fantastic curly hair and an aged face that has a ghost of the beauty that surely would have captivated on a Shaftesbury Avenue stage 20 years ago. He is the camp showman with a silver trilby and multicolored feather boa and shiny black satin pants. Andrew is more serious, more slick with plenty of jabbing arm actions in time to the drums on the big numbers and a sweeter, more principal actor voice. He is the fallen star who laments the stage lights, to him they are forever just out of reach.

They struggle through an Evita medley ‘oh well I won’t be doing that one again’ and bastardized ‘Besame Mucho’ to ridicule the Spanish by changing the verse to ‘batatas bravas, supersol, San Miguel’ and other Spanish words or brands read out in a Brits Abroad accent. Their ‘satirical act’ includes changing the words to ‘if they could see me now’ to reflect their suplantation to Spain through the eyes of their former West End colleagues (one of whom, Wikipedia tells me, is that great star of stage and screen Leticia Dean from Eastenders) and a criticism of President Putin of Russia to the tune of You Made Me Love You. It is actually wryly written in places. Nice one Paul.

The hillside town of Cesares is one out of the picture books. It’s a crescent of white fronts and red roofs in a valley. Houses have plastic fringes over the threshold to stop flies, they look like twists of liquorice and inside they’re dark and cool, in one I see a poster of McCauley Culkin in Home Alone and a cartoon about friendship on the wall. Old men in grandpa caps and slacks sitting outside talking, women only spotted in shops or cleaning outside or in the tiny chapel which has alcoves for icons painted yellow and terracotta, the colours of some Mediterranean Baden Powell Brownie troop. Winding paths all head northward to the big town hall which is now a museum of ancient agricultural instruments and old stones and a tumbling ruin of a tower. You pass fragrant flowers in pinks, blue and fuchsia on the way, more of which cling to the stacks of tombs in the cemeterio. Names like Ocana, de la Carmen, Lopez Lopez, Piña lie one on top of the other like a celestially still game of Sardines with a backdrop of dry sloping hills and Cypresses. An eccentrically hirsute artist named David sells naïf paintings of couples with angels on their heads, or cartoon featured portraits and wants us to buy them ‘Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought from me. They’re not much, your friends can help you take it home and fit it in their suitcase.’
We eat lunch overlooking the cerveca drinking men and buy sweets and ice creams.

At the pool it’s the late afternoon shift which means kid time. There’s two Irish families and the dad’s swap tips of local places to visit while the kids make big splashes in their tyre shaped inflatables. Gorgeous Laura, a Portuguese tot, is constantly beckoned into the grown up pool by two grown men of her family desperate to play with her ‘Anda Laura! Bomba!!’ She squeaks ‘não’ and wiggles off in her blue bikini with her pretty short curls bouncing to the baby pool. One Spanish boy of about six is incredibly physical. He bounces a football on his heels, the front of his foot, flicks it. ‘Eu gosto’ he says when I ask if he likes to play. He has a cleft palette which has been restored. He has an intensity which is odd for someone so small. I watch him climb into a Spider-man dingey like he has sailed the ocean in one. He speeds over the water stretching his shoulders in preparation. There is a glamourous mother I watch. She is perhaps 40, maybe Bulgarian or some place Adriatic. He hair looks heavy, thick and back combed with an Alice band pushing it back. She reads in the afternoon shade with glasses on and watches her children play quietly, but with great adventure, in the pool. As it cools she joins them and they swim around her like ducklings all smiling together and chatting. The dad brings her out a Bloody Mary which fascinates the children and he explains what is in it as she beatifically sips from a green straw. I’d like to be just like them one day.

I like to race myself in the water and set little challenges. I swim a length under water till my lungs might not make it. It brings me great pleasure to stretch backwards and feel the sun come through the water and onto my submerged skin.

At night my sister commandeers the kitchen to make delicious spreads. I’ve not eaten this many cooked meals in the last two months. We light candles and mix lemonade into wine and play a few music tracks or talk or compare tans and thinness and then watch the Kardashians and talk about them and their tans and their thinness. And that’s it. Then it’s home.

Chicago, USA, Waldorf Astoria

The bathroom has a TV in the mirror. I’d never heard of such a thing and my delight from this was endless! I had two baths in three days and watched about four episodes of Friends and one of Modern Family lying in the tub with a giant smile. God Bless America and all her inventions.

The Waldorf Astoria is by far the classiest and smartest of the Waldorf’s around the world that I have visited. It’s a gloriously smart building with Marc Jacobs and YSL as neighbours in the city’s Gold Coast district - the wealthiest and most classical in architectural features of all the local neighbourhoods.

It has a very small and simple atrium featuring abundant grey marble and two neo classical giant head sculptures. I didn’t investigate the communal bar areas (weird for me, blame New York excess) but I did workout in the supremely supplied gym which comprises top spec equipment inc kettlebells and resistance weights, as well as an impressively kitted out pilates suite with many reformer tables.

But the big treat is upstairs. My room was fabulous, just what I needed after a very late and tired arrival on the evening of my birthday. I discovered a huge bathroom, tub you can swim in, the aforementioned TV in the mirror and Salvadore Ferragamo Tuscan products. There was a mini kitchen with well stocked mini bar, a living quarter with velvet chairs, a desk to work at (which I did and much), a fire place to set ablaze for those windy city nights and a sumptuous bed of American proportions perfectly laid with monochrome sheets and endless pillows

An utter joy. I’d return in a moment.

p.s. utterly amazing staff, so helpful and kind in their Mid Western way. Helped me fedex parcels and all sorts. Also explained to the city’s WORST cab drivers (my god they are all horrific) where I needed to go.

New York City, United States

Guys in America really do wear Air Jordan’s don’t they. And they talk about God out loud in a non nutcase, deeply sincere way, ‘have you ever seen Lucifer himself’ asks a Hispanic dude in a suit to his mate, an African American in yet another pair of Jordans and a vote the Spanish candidate Charles B Rangel t-shirt. ‘Yeah that’s wat I’m sayin’, he answers, ‘he came to me twice in one night.’ Welcome to the land of the free to say anything.

The subway is full of public health campaigns. One from the mayor, one about condoms, one a peanut butter commercial moonlighting as health advice for your heart, and one for MCDonald. But this is America after all.

Some rangey street kids do a blokes version of a pole dance on the handrails on the E train. One hangs upside down, his Nike t-shirt slipping over a skinny stomach, as his mate beatboxes and someone watches their rucksacks. No one pays up a dime. Later three big black dudes get on. ‘What’s the time?’ Silence. ‘Whats the time?’ ‘Its four twenty’ a woman pipes up. ‘No it’s not. It’s duwop time!’ And out comes the harmonies and we all laugh and cough up some quarters.

Everyone’s husseling something here. Girls in bars fight to get your order, shop assistants follow you about to help, ‘hi I’m Bailey, did you get everything you needed?’, people offering make up, iced coffee, Popsicles in exchange for the chance to sell.

Each street is a mini village. Up early thanks to jet lag, you see morning joggers, juice carriers, dog walkers, nursery kids being taken for a walk like ducklings in a row, mail men, door men, work men. Naked people in apartment windows, air con units dripping and wrought iron staircases making you hear in your head the saxophone swoon of Rhapsody in Blue.

New York women walk to work like an army of Sheryl Sandbergs, these women wear flats and march, the grip frozen coffees or green juices, they all shield their glares with shades, they pout at red lights. They’re well cared for specimens of womaninty. On every street there is a nail emporium, one I saw as big as a church hall and buzzing with gossip, there’s ads for ‘blow outs’ everywhere, drug stores full of things to make you gleam and shine. On the rooftop of The Standard hotel at sunset, even the grungier girls are impeccable. And I think they know I’m watching. In the course of one night one girl buys me a beer and the other gives me her card, ‘call me if you want to come party.’ Ok ladies, thanks.

Men like to look good too. Admittedly this is Chelsea, we are in the capital of gay, in the capital of gay America, so there’s a lot of buff bros. My favourite was a dude on a bike, topless, sweat covered and pulled over at the curb taking selfies. Or the men in the old fashioned barber shops who sit like a row of talking heads in those old wooden swivel chairs, bodies covered up to their chins in barber blankets.

I see some of this upkeep in action when I go to a Soul Cycle class of 19th street. You check in at a hotel -style desk and take your cycle shoes before heading into a super spin studio. The instructor Izabelle was little and lithe bouncing around like a dancer, calling us to follow the ‘choreography’. This is a spin class. It’s not a barre class. But she was right. It’s rhythmic in a serious way - lots of dramatic pauses and changes in tempo, leaning left, right, back and constant bending and switches of arm shapes.
Everyone wippett thin and it’s true, there’s something quite motivating to be doing push ups off a bicycle in perfect unison with a room full of skinny sweating people, cheering and whooping. If we flag, the spiritual Izabelle, who stands on a candlelit stage, is on hand ’ what ever happens, I believe in you all. There comes a point in every class when you don’t think you can make it. That point is now. You can do this. Breathe in inspiration. Breathe out expectation.’ Yeah Izabelle! I got this!

Many street signs and posters are in Spanish as well as English. In the whole of the US 11% of the population are Hispanic. Here it feels more. The whole of the workforce that keep this great city moving are from a Spanish speaking nation - every maid, builder, waitress - seems to be Mexican or Dominican. The New York population pleases me for its diversity. While neighbourhoods themselves may frequently be ghettoised black, white, Hispanic in Central Park on the water walkway (sort of like a liquid version of The High Line for kids) children of every background play together. A gorgeous Japanese tot in edgy urbanwear, a beautiful Honduran girl with big gold hoops, a tiny African American babe with tight curly puffs tied up all over her head, a gangly ghetto boy bombing about splashing everyone, lily white Upper East siders getting their frilly dresses soaked.

But to them. It’s us who are exotic. They love the English voice. It’s like a passport for conversation. Everyone’s got a sister or a cousin in London. A nurse, a doctor, a student. A quick word and they’ve locked you in conversation. My favourite is Gordon, the maître de at a bar on Spring Street who majored in quantum physics some place upstate and explains to me the physical compounds of a biro and how my eye can’t keep up with the movement of electrons. ‘I hope I’m not boring you but it’s so great to speak to people who don’t just ask where their food is or for the cheque. New Yorkers don’t want to chat’.

Like a real New Yorker on a day trip my friend Alex (who is lucky enough to live here) and I head over to Governors Island. It’s a small man-made park built, it seems, for happiness. Everyone here is having a great day. They’re cycling, making being communal picnics or feasting on the good trucks, looking in the old military mansions at art exhibits or playing a strange game of quiddich with a pink inflatable sheep. A lot of the island was damaged during Hurricane Sandy but it’s meant an investment in building a new play area and hammock park in a yellow flower festooned space. The happiness prevails with groups of people swinging in a red hammocks looking at the Statue of Liberty feeling free of cares, free of responsibility, free to play a game of quiddich without judgement.

And then to Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, NY’s nappy valley so it seems, with its silent streets with great big steps up to red stone houses that have shutters in the windows and look as though they’d be cool and quiet inside and those metal ladders you’d pull down and run up of you were in a movie. I loved it. Saving up starts now. I’m buying one.

We are in search of a soda bar. It’s a quaint new take on an old American favourite, the neighbourhood soda fountain. I pick drinks for the names, a Tootsie Pop which is cherry soda with a seltzer fizz and a float of chocolate ice cream and an egg cream which has no egg but with milk and soda and chocolate sauce whipped up into a meringue frenzy. Alex chooses a sundae of extreme proportions and confections. Complete with cherry on top.

We fight the sugar crash and walk the Brooklyn Bridge which is quite simply one if the most stupendous 30 minutes of pleasure I’ve ever had the delight to enjoy. The light is a steely blue as we hit the wooden walk way and the glow of the skyscrapers is turning the sky deep violet as it moves into an almost black. As it gets darker the rope girders of the bridge are silhouetted and the sights of downtown start to sparkle like a thousand postcards or intros to a movie. This is it. The New York you see when you close your eyes. Or hear one of those crooner songs.

And then we see her again. The Freedom Tower.

The Freedom Tower lacks the bombast of the twins it replaced, but there’s something magical about it. It stands quite apart in height from those around it, thin and elegantly proportioned - a proper New York lady. In the changing light of day it’s one time silver, one time pink, at sunset peach, one time blue - like scales on a fish leaping out the Hudson. One building that keeps shifting in appearance and outlook like the city itself.

I’m delighted with my ‘live like a New Yorker’ weekend. Workout classes, bouncing down 6th in my gym kit, proper Sunday brunch, metro hopping, drug store buying, sitting at the bar, green juicing, day tripping, cab hollering. When can I move over New York?! Let me stay!

Cannes, France

'Please may I get some milk in that?'
‘No milk’
‘But this is a coffee shop. I can see the milk?’
‘Non’
(Leaning in and frowning heavily) ‘Why?’
‘Puh!’ (Turns. Pours milk into an espresso cup.)
‘Pah!’ (Slides with vigor across counter)
‘Fhdgunnkkxdw…’ (much French expletives and eye rolls to colleague.)

Just one of the fantastic examples of terrible service in France.

Waiters make you work for you meal. Bar tenders would watch you shrivel in thirst. Hotel clerks would happily let you sleep on the lobby floor. They are not a nation of helpers.

Perhaps my experience of France was an anomaly? The International Cannes Film Festival was in full swing. I spent three days in meetings at The Martinez (THE A list hang hotel of note) watching the bloke from Breaking Bad eat a club sandwich, Guy Pearce chill in the bar, Lara Stone in her PJs and Jon Cusack choke everyone with a smouldering cigar. But even there we waited an hour for a caeser salad and forever for a glass of wine. Literally. It never came.

Sure in the list of restaurant goers I’m bottom of the food chain. But an Amex is an Amex! And boy do you need it. The mark up here is revolting. €7 for a coffee. €20 for an orange juice. Even the sun loungers have a hierarchy. €15 for a crappy spot in the shade. €35 for a bit of decking and a towel and the company of the surgically adjusted.

And the beach has little to write on the back of a €3 postcard about either. Narrow. Gritty sand. A murk on the water top caused by speed boats no doubt, some kind of l’eau de yacht fumes in the breeze. A thousand cigarette butts instead of shells. This is no paradise.

Unless you like spending thousands of pounds in Givenchy and Dior in which case you’re made. No buckets and spades here, just Balenciaga and espadrilles.

The nightclubs have no personality. Posers and pouters point their fingers upwards, heavy watches sliding down forearms, to quite dreadful Euro trance. To make matters worse they are all beautiful but in an utterly soulless way. Vacuumed of personality leaving only vanity behind.

Everyone smokes. I could have sworn France had a smoking ban but in Cannes it’s some kind of lawless town for the mega rich so they can fumigate wherever they so wish meaning you’re inclined to wash your hair twice a day.

I swore never to return. But such is life it wasn’t so and I was back in France two weeks later and another trip looms on the horizon.

Merde!

My highlights were exercising in the hotel gym while 20 octogenarians had a water aerobics class and nattered, stealing a Diptique candle from an over priced restaurant as ‘pay back’ and watching YouTube videos of animals being cute in while in bed eating chocolate coated almonds by the fist full.

Viva la France.

I Quit Sugar

Well I haven’t yet but I’m giving it a go next week. Been following the 8 Week Programme from Sarah Wilson.

Last week’s webinar set things off with the discovery of a new word…goob. Seriously. Basically food mush. Which is my preferred state for food.

Chocolate and sweets aren’t my thing but fruit is. Who knew that was a weakness. Fructose is a bad thing. They say. So no more smoothies of the non green kind. What am I going to eat on the go? Fruit is always my fall back.

And as for that other secret sugar…..alcohol. Well that’s a far bigger challenge. Red wine only. Which I banned myself from ages ago. I’ve started drinking it diluted with soda. Fresher.

I’ve got fashion shows, lunches and dinner this week so test in action.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

‘Carnival’s here already.’ Giggles one of the reception girls in my hostel as she leans out the window singing along to a song about the perils of drinking cachaça from the nearby Lapa street party – a mini bloco warming up for next month’s carnaval festas.

The night before we joined hundreds of locals to watch the Sambodrome, an ordinary stretch of concrete road and stepped seating crowned with a McDonalds-esque arch, come into spectacular life during a pre-Carnival dress rehersal. On the route into the Sambodrome men sell garish coloured Lycra t-shirts (which I tried hard to love) depicting each samba school with strange 80s cartoon phantasy heroes, or doves, or fire patterns, or the face of a man who looks like a Middle Eastern dictator, or rainbows. Or all of the above and more at the same time.

Brazilians love a street snack, and dancing along to drum beats is their version of the ball game, so the sellers are out in force touting beer and popcorn. And they keep it coming climbing over people, swerving kids, to pass over cabs of iced beer to dancing dads.

Three samba schools take the stage tonight, each with their distinctive colours and emblems. In between processions, which last about twenty minutes each for this shorter walk through than the big festa itself (where it takes almost two hours for one school to travel the length of the Sambodrome), kids jump into the strip and dance for their parents as thousands watch on. They race from side to side, do a little samba shuffle in the centre, and the officials don’t mind at all.

Then comes the main event. The banging and the bum bum-ing.

The format is similar. Locals from the favelas parading and waving and dancing. Make up encrusted. Golden glitter and stuck on jewels defying sweat. Hundreds of hands clapping. Smiles all over faces. Tasselled chests and bum bums swinging. Everyone sings along to that year’s new Samba number, written especially for that escola. 
Niemeyers arch frames the amber lights of the favela above. 
Feather topped transvestites strut like peacocks. A bare naked woman covered in glitter, with a sizeable pair of thighs, walks in stripper boots to cheers of admiration.  
The favelas are dark but sparkling like the dancers. Rio’s gloomiest addresses create its brightest spectacle.

That night the samba club Lapa 40 was full of a young, whiter Brazilian crowd raking up tequilas and bottles of Bohemia. There were samba bands and Brazilian pop dance tracks and then a great calamity.

A very beautiful aerial dancing, wearing a white woollen body stocking which made some leg splitting scenes quite graphic, took a tumble from her purple fabric coil. The whole upper floor was evacuated and the ambulance arrived and there was geniality but much gossip about whether she was dead or alive.

The scene of the accident cleared and partygoers returned where one of Rio’s best known samba schools played the most electrifying set I’ve ever witnessed. Drums banging heart thrilling thumbs, three near naked dancers in golden sequined thongs, a crown of red feathers arched back down their backs, oily bodies moving in a blur of bronze flesh, beaming smiles. “She is the perfect Brazilian woman,” Says one guy pointing out a total knock out. “Big body, tanned, smile.”

The next day brought a completely different girl group, but just as rhythmic.

Izabela, Maria Luiza, Victoria and her sister Larissa are four girls from the favelas surrounding Santa Teresa, a once dangerous bairro, now peaceful and a destination for tourists. But it’s watched on both sides by tumbles of shanty housing. Casa Jimmy was set up by Jimmy Page 15 years ago after he visited Rio and was moved to support favela children. He’s handed over control totally to Ligia and her board of trustees, who I’ve met in London.

I’m met by Daniela, the youth psychologists and introduced to the girls who are watching the end of an American kids movie in a dark room while drawing and playing chess.

Each are curious and questioning, and play a game to guess my name Donella, Erika, Miraela?

They then take turns to proudly show me each room of the education centre, which was formerly a residential home for similar children but now provides education, a safe place to play and home support for parents.

First tall elegant Victoria shows me the art room painted blue with roaring tiger and trumping elephant. She’s proud of jars of beads for making bracelets, a row of pinguins made of plastic bottles and foaming glitter encrusted handbags. ‘Obrigada secretaria Victoria’ we sing as we leave.

Then Marie Luiza bounces up the stairs, demanding the key to the school room, switches on the fan and pouts around the room opening cupboards and talking a million miles an hour. ‘Obrigada secretaria Marie Luiza’.

Next the Bambi beauty that is Larissa takes me to the more formal classroom with old fashioned pew seating, like an English village school. She’s shy with two enormous eyebrows shading eyes like a foal’s, black and beautiful.
‘Obrigada secretaria Larissa.’

Finally it’s Izabela, the little Pocahontus’s turn to show off the computer room and library. She rummaged for her favourite book, Peter Pan and says she prefers reading to computers as you can create pictures in your head. 
‘Obrigada secretaria Izabela’.

It’s roasting and I leave the girls in their shady school house and take a long walk through the cobbles of homely Santa, through the friendly neighbourhood of Gloria and all along Flamengo, Botafogo and onto Copacabana in search of my afternoon snack of choice – tapioca com quiejo e goiaba. I’d walk a hundred miles for that.

Geladao matte, agua, coca, açai açai açai, cerveja, lata, lata, lata. On the beach it feels like there are a million people. But in the sea. None at all. A few strokes out from the shore, and it’s a quiet bliss looked over by the soulful mountains of the dois irmao.

The beach is a walking restaurant. Air planes advertising mobile phone and beer to a nation who appear to need no encouragement to purchase either as they constantly drinking beer and upload photos from their mobiles.

So I join in. Snaps in a beach bought bikini. Lashings of oil. Big body. Tanned. Smile!

Portugal, Lisbon, Tivoli Jardim Hotel

You don’t come to Lisbon for black out curtains and air conditioned foyers.

This is a swell enough hotel in the heart of all the touristy things you could wish to see in Lisbon. Very hotelly neighbourhood - not exactly in the centre of anything authentic (there’s a wash of designer joints in the area - not exactly all tiles and coxinhas and little bottles of madeira your Portuguese dreams are made of).

But this hotel is pretty well decked out and upmarket so ideal for a business stay or some kind of more formal stop off. Lots of lunch places near abouts and a short walk to the more charming Bairro Alto.

I arrived really late at night and the bar staff were great fun keeping me topped up with wine and free plates of hot potato chips from the kitchen and having a smoke and a gossip about Ronaldo. I mean what’s not to like when the alternative is some dreary Canal+ on the cable TV and a mini bar of olives?

The dining room is lovely. It’s like Neptune was coming to stay and said, make me a home from home please lads. It’s got chandeliers of shells, and mermaid silver trims and shiny oyster tablewares, table whites like the crest of a wave, all serene.

The wifi is dreadful. I racked up a killer data bill standing outside on the street trying to catch a break on 3G to send work emails. I total pain as I paid 15 Euro to get connected. Some American college students suffered the same fate, but I think they were downloading old episodes of Gossip Girl and baseball highlights so my pity only goes so far.

Breakfast was good. The usual cold cuts, coffee and cereal but well presented and super friendly staff.

Rooms clean and appointed with all the usuals. Some kind of japanese vibe going on which was slightly out of kilter but nice enough nevertheless. No complaints.

But get out. Stand on street corners and look at the sun and wander about in reflection and a memory haze and have a cafezinho and a chat and a sit in the botanical gardens and just be there and not in a hotel or a meeting room, or an airport lounge, or your own home. Just somewhere different and on your own for an hour and a half with no suncream on and be quiet for a bit.

Spain, Barcelona, Hotel Silken Las Ramblas

Barcelona has so much spirit and charm and personality and this hotel doesn’t really feel as though it matches up to  any of that.


I was here fleetingly for work, barely hitting the pillow before waking up and leaving again so this assessment is not founded on an observation made over time. 


Staff were very helpful. But fixtures and fittings were very dated. The toilets in the public spaces, for instance, were old.


That said, the bed was excellent. Huge. Comfortable. Great blackouts. Mini bar with loads of treats in it.


Didn’t make it up to the pool.


Make sure you wander properly in Barcelona. Dodge Las Ramblas, it’s like any ritzy tourist street….go to Gotic, El Borne, Raval…much more exciting and varied.

Morro do São Paulo, Bahia, Brazil

Even in the heat the Italians have greased back hair. There were four on the boat here, half of them with Roma waves licked like Danny in Grease, despite the sweltering temperature. An impenetrable hirsute structure, like the coliseum of hair.

Together we enter the island of Morro do São Paulo through a tall archway and immediately queue to pay a tourist tax of R$12. It adds to the sense of entering a tropical amusement park when I walk up and see the pretty square of pousadas with taxi men pushing colourful wheelbarrows of suitcases or crates of coca cola, filtered water bottles or strawberries.

"Ciao Lucia, la sirena!" chorus the Italians. "We see you tonight at the party." I soon come to realise that the tourist tax is more like a beach nightclub entrance price for some.

We are the lone Europeans. This island has been colonised by Argentines. From shop workers, to pousada clerks, bar girls, holiday makers, handicraft sellers. They’ve made this their place in Brazil.

They’ve chosen well. Morro do São Paulo is a small island, two hours by catamaran from Salvador. A half day to walk its circumference of yellow sands and clean, clear, waveless waters with mangroves at the edges and an interior of palms.

People are friendly. As once again the whitest person for miles around they all want to know what I’m doing, pass the time and swap stories. Pulpo, an over excited Argentine, a brilliant afro-ed Colombian and his German girlfriend, he googling places in the world he wants to see with an accent like a baddie out of a Western movie, a very serious Chilean lawyer who knows all about his country’s international trade and copper mining, Marcio the Rolling Stones loving university lecturer from La Plata and proud of it.

The island is separated by numbered beaches and Segundo Praia is where the party’s at. At night exotic fruit stalls collect in a square around a Brasilian pop blaring sound system. The array is tremendous of varieties which would give Carmen Miranda fits. Tiny red acerola, aubergine coloured shells on a giant cashew fruit, long root looking melons, limes the size of oranges, cocoa pods. They’re all made into delicious cocktails. I order one from Eduardo who let’s me sit behind his stall, like an apprentice, when it suddenly starts to pour with rain and we sing Parabens do voce, to one of the stall sellers whose birthday it is.

Then the local kids come out. They’re a joy to watch. Amazing dance moves grinding their bodies down low in the sand with sunglasses on in the dark and arms swinging at their sides, shirts off and huge smiles. Big show offs. The perfect white lighthouse winks it’s light across the praia to the merry makers.

Its an Argentinian beauty parade. Tall girls with long flat stomachs and hair down their backs and chiseled ken doll hunks in board shorts. You’d think all Argentines can trace lineage back to Native Americans for the number of Red Indian tribute tattoos of dream catchers, Indian chiefs and feathered arrays covering backs, chests and legs. Yet their body beautiful they lack the lusty swagger of Brazilians, their joy of flesh and the attitude that goes with it.

The morning is hazy in Morro. Mist clouds and hazy minds from the night before.

The moon has pulled the tide in close and all that’s left is soft sand and shallow clear paddling water and a rocky plunge pool to watch shoals of silver and yellow fish. Far away are the big waves, a white foam only dentists dream of. The tide has left patterns on the sand which look like mountain ranges seen from the sky or the pattern of flesh on an orange.

You can catch a horse drawn cart up to the north western side of the island for plains of bleach white sand. Or take a jungle stroll on the port side of Morro for palm fringed coves and a natural clay spa from pink rocks that are rich with minerals that look like streaky bacon and turn to skin smoothing mud when mixed with sea water.

I meet Mercedes, a statuesque woman from Uruguay with dark skin and big soulful eyes, at my pousada. She tells me Morro do São Paulo is tough on the body. Long hot days and long late nights ‘when am I supposed to sleep?!’ She jokes.

She’s come to Morro for sanctuary. Mercedes’ life started to roll out of control a year ago. A holiday to Rio showed her a love for Brasil but her lack of love for her abusive husband. They divorced angrily and messily eight months ago, soon after she was made redundant from an important engineering job and she felt like fate had served her up a passport to the country she’d soothed herself with the music and images of in her gloomiest days. She is two months into a stay she thinks may last a year and she’s just started a romance with a local who lavishes her with loving words. ‘I dreamt of an island and trees and the sea and it’s as though the world listened and brought me here to recover.’ On New Years Eve, it’s island custom to throw a flower in the ocean and make a wish for the year to come. Mercedes threw in a yellow rose and thanked whoever is listening for serving her bad fortune so she could find a new happiness.

I joined Mercedes and her friends at a party in an open air ampitheatre at a clearing up high in the forest, to listen to bands playing live samba and forro music. And then, somewhere close to dawn the island’s capoeira dancers came out, their bodies like licked caramels. And as they high kicked and spun turns both the moon and the sun shared the sky, like Morro do São Paulo, a constant and beautiful battle between day and night.

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

The best of Brazilian blood has combined over generations on dark, sweaty nights in Salvador to create a beautiful blend of peoples with long limbs and red brown skin, squeezed into skin tight denim over perfect arses and hair long, wet and black from the sea.

Big bodied girls bounce round the city splayed like brown frogs on the back of motorbikes and men slouch on row after row of plastic yellow and red chairs outside bars playing Bahian drum music.

On the beach it’s a typical Brazilian mix from hoop wearing, stomach pierced Grandma’s to toned tattooed boys chatting in the sea like its a bar or a barber’s shop on a bobbing island of heads stripping off their shorts and swinging them round their heads, kids yelping, jumping, slashing amphibeans, only coming to land for slurps of juices and slaps of suncream from their mães.

Once upon a time this was Portugal HQ, the epicenter of their empire. The port is called Marinha do Brasil for every metal, wood, spice and fabric plundered from the new world passed through this port. The riches of Brasil are looked over by dirty tennents dangling with delapidation on the hillside and above that a yellow church in Pelourinho, lemon fresh paint on a grey sky yesterday. A blot-less blue one today.

The city had been left to ruin and has a reputation across Brazil as it’s most lawless city, bandeiros running rife, holding up buses daily, shoot outs on the family section of the busiest beach, near garrotting locals as they rip off the necklaces from behind, highest murder rate in a homicide happy country. Girls carry two bags. One a bolsa on their shoulder with fake wallet and cheap phone, the other a carrier bag with valuables.

I meet a European looking Salvadorian at a drumming night and he warns, ‘we are the ethnic minority here, be careful’. The city suffers deep racism with total segregation on beaches, in restaurants and civic life. This echoed by my friend Joe, who has lived in Brazil for three years, deposited from rain sodden Manchester, he speaks with a sort of Portlish or Enguese. English sentences with a Brazilian intonation and mixing sentences in both languages.

But Bahia has a new administration. Posters proclaim ‘O mayor da Bahia é trabalhando’ and work he is. In six weeks time the Barra beach area will have a pedestrianised zone, hurried for completion by carnival. A big success for the bureaucracy mad city which commissioned an 11km track of metro lines at the cost of R$1 billion and it’s never run a day in its life.

Salvador’s first son, Jorge Amando, made his name with a book called, capitains do areia- captains of the sand. And gangs of them jump dancing into the bus singing songs with abundant bravado, pesky trouble makers who ignore the bus driver’s nagging. Catching a bus is a challenge. Here they have a saying, ‘voce nao pegar o onibus voce vence o onibus’. You don’t catch a bus, you win it. They fly past, break hard, have no official stops, no maps, no announcements. This is the least touristy city I’ve visited so far. Not one English tourist voice, only four French and the omnipresent Spanish or their Southern Hemisphere cousins, the Argentines. All meander the paralelepipidos of Pelhorinho, the beleza colonial part of town of ice cream coloured houses. Blackcurrant sorbet, peach Melba, bubblegum blue, lemon and lime, strawberries and cream, passion fruit yellow, tangerine. This is where Michael Jackson shot ‘they don’t care about us’ and there’s a cut out of him a top a balcony in the swarming square.

Pelhorinho is land of bandeiros, the bandits. It’s Brixton-on-sea. Rows of clothes shops selling garish leggings, Lycra thongs, sports bras and kids cartoon t-shirt. Touristy shops, bars, great views, fat black women in hooped skirts, frilly white dresses and Quality Street sweet wrapper head dresses selling spicey Abarje snacks, fried in dende oil - too heavy from European stomachs.

Men out number women in the city They’re ceaseless in their cat calls, phtssss noises, comments, whistles. O Gringa! chega amiga! Onde voce vai borbaleta! Galinha linda! Belezzzza! It’s annoying, especially at night. So I sit with a circle of local women in a quiet square and eat cheese crepes on a stick and they talk tele novella storylines in deep detail and tell me I need a stronger suncream.

This city takes religion seriously. On sunday morning at Nossa Senhor do Bom Fim, a speaker systems outside projects the mass to a mass of people crowded inside and out. Parishioners stand hands aloft and swaying in prayer. Vivo Bom Fim! Viva Salvador! Vivo o gentes Bahianeiro! Vivo Brasil! Balconies filled with purple clergy. Regulars in white. Breeze rustling the prayer ribbons tied in hopeful devotion on every railing, every door handle. This is what the Catholics excel at - a sacred spectacle. Even an alter boy takes a photo during the procession of the much touched cross on exit through the enthusiastic crowd.

Joe says Salvador typifies the duality of Brazil. Extreme poverty, extreme wealth, it’s carefree yet bureaucratic, colourful yet dark. Still, despite its downsides which push him to the edge of returning home on occasion, he remains unfathomably captivated. And I can see why.

Manaus, Amazonia, Brazil

In the malestrom of downtown Manaus of petrol fumes and garish red lanchonettes touting pastries and men selling buckets full of water bottles to bus passengers through the window, it’s hard to remember the blissful view of the city from the sky.

After endless green came a brown expanse as wide from the sky as the sea, impossible to see a bank from the approach into Manaus. The city is an island, engulfed all around by the Rio Negro. It made a fortune so gigantic from the rubber trade that rich families sent their clothes to be dry cleaned in Europe and ostentatiously lit cigarettes with dollar bills.

The opposite is true now - thanks to the robbing English. The rubber trade vanished and what’s left are delapidated palaces, concrete and a chaotic port ferrying locals, as well as tourists (which incidentally are rare) across the rivers Amazon and Negro.

But true gems remain. Buildings like iced fondant fancies in candy colours stand next to concrete lumps. The city’s main square is cobbled in black and white to symbolise the merging of the waters. The crowning glory is the Teatro Amazonia, a confection of a building, a full Nutcracker suite of design. Raspberry pink, decorated with white stucco and a top a globe glorious in blue, green and gold mosaics bright in the sun.

But it’s not always sunny. It’s rainy season and once or twice a day humidity hits wheezing point and the sky breaks open tropical rain. Street vendors sell colourful umbrellas and everyone hides out till it passes.

Manaus is a city to eat in. The abundant forest offering an endless menu of treats and meats. Down town clears out at night and you meander. I ate scoop after scoop of jungle ice cream. Flavors I’d never heard of like pupunha, tucumu, soho de valsa, flocos, tapereba and passas all varying degrees of yellow before ladling on more cupuaçu and the omnipresent condensed milk. Everyone has a late afternoon snack of Tacaca soup. A broth with glue like manioc starch, mouth numbing jambú herbs and prawns picked and and stirred with a wooden stick. And the next day cups of a sort of rice pudding made of sweetcorn topped with cinamon.

This last treat was introduced to me by Hiroshi, a tour guide at one if the many city museums. He offered to drive me around for the afternoon to show me sights in the city sprawl and we set off, after a feijoada lunch in the university canteen, to see the natural sciences museum which had dated exhibits of stuffed fish and pickled reptiles, a lush tropical garden, turtles darting into water, giant otters playing in the rain and handicrafts made by natives in exceptional quality. From there it was to the home if Eduardo Ribeiro, a former Manaus governor and Brazil’s first black politician. The man made Manaus magnificent, commisioning it’s best palaces and bringing electricity to the city. But he suffered schizophrenia and was found strangled on a rocking chair, aged 38, by his mosquito net, a replica of which is laid out as a macabre shroud on his bed.

Where there was grandeur there is gruffness today and the city feels rough and ready. The port, where great Mississippi river style tug boats line up for Amazonian adventures, is gritty. The fishing harbor is salty to say the least. Side streets are deserted and dirty.

But there is a charm to the place. A wounded hero of a town. Full of happy people, relaxed lolling into lazy, out on the streets laughing and eating together. This could be a small town on the coast. But it’s a city of two million who’ve landed, somewhat incongruously, in the middle of the greatest rainforest on earth, and they’re loving it.

The Amazon Rainforest, Amazonia, Brazil

The Amazon feels primal. There is a sense that this is true Earth. Colours pure and basic. Dried blood red earth and a thousand shades of green. Blue sky. White clouds. Black water. Bright moon. And the energy of constant growth underfoot, all around. I wish I could describe the smell, vegetation and the garden in summer just after it’s rained maybe, but much more than that.

I left from hectic Manaus port with fishermen selling the fish I would later catch for myself, and bigger ones including the Jacuari which, once eaten means in local folklore that you will return again to the Amazon. This told to me by my guide for the river crossing, Elmo. An old man, gnarled looking like twists and bumps on a tree wearing a Bob Esponga cap. We crossed from the Rio Negro, which Manaus city sits on, and paused to view the meeting of this river, the longest tributary on the Amazon, and the great Solimões, or The Amazon River as it’s otherwise known. Here the two rivers mingle and their merging clearly defined due to their separate alkaline levels, sediment and temperature. One like warm coca cola, the other stewed tea.

Passing floating petrol stations we arrived at the other bank of the river into a tiny port and waited for the arrival of Anderson, the driver who would carry us an hour into the jungle. Our arrival was entertainment to the port people, work men in yellow municipal overalls stopping work to watch, lots of comments from the lanchonettes, offers of butter cheese from store holders and caju juice from the suco stand.

On route we stopped to see water lilies and passed parrot colored wooden houses, a tree graveyard with stump headstones and stopped for teeth rotting sweet coffee and to pick up and drop off locals. The tracks were wet in places and the van slipped and slided, red mud splattered in graffiti paint drips all over the back. Anderson spoke little English so I warmed up my Portuguese and he taught me new words and reminded me of old ones.

We stopped to make another crossing in a small yellow and green wooden motor boat. Taking with us bags of cement and floor tiles to be dropped off in a jungle house which was having its bathroom upgraded. Running water from the river and electricity are new arrivals to the area.

This was the Amazon proper. The river curved small and then opens up into huge passages flanked by trees and grasses. The boat making tight ripples on the black surface, like ridges on a vinyl record.

Houses are sparse but located on every bend. Steps lead down from the wooden houses on stilts, perhaps a floating home moored outside which float off when the water rises, taking its inhabitants many miles down stream. I imagine jungle teenagers rowing to moon at their prepubescent lovers like a tropical Dawson’s Creek. Inside they are spic and span and proud of it. Gorgeous hard wood floors you’d pay a fortune for at home felled from the forest, chainsaw scrape marks still visible.

The lodge was a cluster of palm thatched huts and one big two storey hut, dining room below, dorm room, above where I stayed in a hammock, lying diagonally which is the comfiest way.

And then came the real experience. The jungle a gigantic garden, amusement park, natural supermarket, enemy and pharmacy.

We set sail across the river to explore, taking turns and crossing other tributaries. I took the helm one afternoon! The sights are endless. Butterflies as big as two palms, pink dolphins the colour of the inside of your foot, monkeys make a motorbike reving mechanical sound to mark out territory, dragonflies passing like lawnmowers, kingfishers sweeping pasts, bats flying as fast as you can blink, tarantulas frozen still - a bite will blind you, medicine plants, free growing sandalwood, red macaws, black vultures, ospreys and eagles, globe eyed alligators slinking into the water and everywhere a vapor trail of Mosquitos.

I liked the story of one breed of birds, yellow and black in colour. The couples mate for life and the male will build his woman five nests for her to test out to find the one she prefers. If one dies the other will hole up in the best and starve itself to death. Exotic avarian Romeo & Juliet.

It rains once a day in a fury. I was caught in it twice, pelted by huge drops, shivering but the vista is tremendous. The rain clouds make a mist rise ghostly on the water. It looks like an instant dawn, obscured light, a hazy horizon and lightening flashes in a milky blue behind.

There are places to hide. Walking in the Forest during rain is a natural umbrella, once the odd drop making the bouncy downward from the water greedy leaves, you can shield yourselves in the arm pits of the colossal trees.

Now the water is rising and already some are so swollen we sail past the tops of trees up to their necks and chins in water. But a few years ago they had a terrible drought and the entire river in this area ran dry. Then 2012 saw the great flood. Trees still bear a black tide mark high up round their waists.

The forest is a living Whole Foods. As we walk, on a chestnut rug of sodden leaves, we spot Brazil nut trees and crack the cranium of the shell to reveal a spiral of the nuts in shells. Peeled open with a machete the nuts inside are so fresh their oil covers my lips.

And there’s more to eat. Medicinal plants that taste like crunched aspirin and make me spin for a minute with their strength, fruit like a giant pea pod where you suck sweet fluff off a seed, small orange fruits that are dense tasting a little like bread, green mangos small and hard.

The other guests were good people. Two American boys on a scholarship from Hobart studying Portuguese on the American education system’s money for six months jock-like and jovial, the Amazon’s ‘awesome’-ness a ceaseless thrill. A Scouse couple scorched pink with sunburn, he head to toe in camouflage patterned clothes and asking questions about the Brazilian drug quality. A stern Lithuanian woman and her Turkish husband who builds bridges and marveled at every road, bridges and large construction we passed, including the slow moving vessels carting sand and gravel for weeks up the river. A Dutch couple which typified liberalism. Her a gay asylum rights campaigner, him a deep sea rig engineer both avid Euro pop fans. A German from near Munster on the final leg of a life time’s round the world adventure. He’s taken one year off from his job as an economist in Zurich to comple South America, having in previous years done the same to see all of Africa, Asia and North America. And the guides, a mix of local river dwellers and Guyanan tribe natives who go by nicknames like Jaguar, Toucan and Jungle Boy. They laugh and tease constantly and sit back triumphant when the jungle reveals it’s bounty to expectant, camera poised tourists.

At night we fished on the boat catching piranha, cat fish and another breed with a wide mouth filled with teeth. The catfish thrashed on my rod splashing water and looking terrified till be stabbed a knife through its head and dropped it in the water at the bottom of the boat, the German shouting ‘stab it in the head’ the Scousers saying the hungry fish would be ‘wanting for their tea’ and me the clichéd girl squealing as the catfish made a guttural moan and a strange purr when grabbed round the neck. The boat was like a floating Vietnam with bloody water and half dead zombie fish in the bottom.

On the final night we made for the jungle to sleep in a camp on the edge of a silent pool populated by bull frogs. Here I turned chef and homemaker tidying a kitchen area, sliding a cut wild duck and chicken onto wooden spikes and turning them over a blazing fire. The flesh was so hot, after two hours of roasting. I sliced limes on a metal tray and under instruction from ship captain Marco made lethal caipirinha’s which the Scousers loved but thought was made of vodka and could not understand what cachaça was. A boa constrictor was spotted in the trees and the guide poked it down and we took turns to squeeze tight it’s tiny neck and stare at its angry face which resembled exactly a field mouse. It released a rank smell like death and vomit all across our skin and clothes before rearing up, just like a Lawrence of Arabia movie trained animal, to threaten us away, which we duly did.

We all talked late into the night about our lives at home and eventually slept under a candy floss colour red canopy of mosquito nets.

My highlight were my swims in the great river. The water a glorious warm, like the bath when it’s time to get out. It runs orange and looking back on your body limbs look carrot colored. I washed my hair with a blue cake of soap and dolphins swam nearby wondering what the commotion was. Total silence. The view above great sky and tops of trees and birds calling a soundtrack. The shadow of the boat cold and 8ft below fish, me diving in with total jubilation and wonderment at the marvel of this heavenly earth.

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