Friday, August 7, 2015

How to Prepare for an Interview in a Foreign Language

It's nerve-wracking enough having an interview in your native language, but then add into the equation that you're doing an interview in a foreign language and that can send even the steadiest nerves into a jitter.

I know this fine well and when I was in the midst of looking for an internship in France, to start off with, my interview technique was god-awful, big time. And then put doing an interview in a foreign language into the mix, and my first attempts at finding an internship were, surprise surprise, unsuccessful.

Thankfully, I learnt from my mistakes. Through a long and arduous process of trial and error, I finally got an internship at a brilliant company in Paris and it was, hands down, one of the best experiences to date. I got live and work in Paris for one, work with lovely colleagues to boot and I got to improve my French, although my French is still nowhere near the level I want it to be.

Anyhoo, I thought it was high time anyone who has an upcoming interview in a foreign language could learn from my mistakes and I could be the lovely lass I am and pass on my tips and advice.

So, what are my tips for preparing for an interview in a foreign language, you ask? 

#1 Research

Of course, this is advice that anyone should bear in mind for preparing for any interview.  But when it's an interview in a foreign language, this comes in even more important. You can research your company in your target language, so you can get used to the appropriate vocabulary for your industry, as well as doing the standard research about the company you should already be doing. It kills two birds with one stone.

If you're interviewing for a big corporation, you could search online on sites such as Glassdoor to see if previous candidates have uploaded their interview questions. This will give you a better insight into what questions could crop up.

#2 Second guess potential questions

Once again, you should already have thought up potential questions. However, having an idea of the potential questions in a foreign language will allow you to have an idea of how the interviewer could word the question. You will have also have thought up answers to the questions, showing off why you are the perfect candidate for the job. The practise will prepare you to feel ready, confident and determined to get the job offer.

Youtube is a goldmine when it comes to practising interview questions in your target language. Simply type in interview questions on Youtube and you will find loads of videos with advice as to how to answer them in a foreign language.

#3 Grab yourself a language partner

If you know someone who is a native speaker, get a hold of them immediately and role play the interview. Your friend can help you out with any grammatical mistakes or necessary vocabulary and you will have a feel for the actual interview itself. Even if you don't know a native speaker, it's likely you have a friend who studies the same language. If you don't know anyone at all, try finding a language exchange partner on WeSpeke. Practise, practise, practise until your heart's content. The more practise, the better.

#4 Revise your weak spots

As much as we would all like it to be true, you are not going to learn the entire language in a day. But what you can to boost your confidence is revise your weak spots. Does the subjunctive leave your tongue in a twist? Do you hate pronouncing the guttural "r" or the nasal sounds in French? Do you forget those pesky false friends? Feeling confident about your weak spots will make you feel confident as a whole to do an interview in a foreign language.

#5 Get used to the language

Familiarise yourself with how native speakers talk by listening to the radio or music, watching clips on Youtube (finally an excuse to watch cat videos, as long as it's in the target language) or even feature-length films. Listening is a hard skill to improve and learn, but you can easily practise it by having it on in the background whilst you work, exercise, even relax or of course, prepare for your interview.

Do you have any tips for interviewing in a foreign language? Have you ever had an interview in a foreign language? How did it go?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sea of Seven Colours: San Andrés

Ahh San Andrés. I was expecting sea, sand, coconuts, reggae and the like, and San Andrés lived up to that and then some.

La playa en la isla de San Andres, Colombia
Pantalla en la isla de San Andres, Colombia

I'm still marvelling at how blue the sea is, even right next to the town centre. I'm still admiring the cute Caribbean style signs and how colourful my photos are. And I'm still yearning to go back for more.

Sadly, the spanner in the works aka a big work assignment that I stupidly didn't finish before coming, got in the way of my rest and relaxation plan. But, even a big work assignment couldn't get completely in the way, and I definitely had a great taster of what the island had to offer. I came back less tense, with a massive grin on my face and I had let go of any pent-up stress.

Dia de la Independencia en San Andres, Colombia
Desfile del dia de independenca en San Andres, Colombia
Desfile del dia de la independencia, Colombia

I managed to arrive just as the island's independence day parade was in full swing. Crowds of San Andrés locals and Colombians had gathered to celebrate, Vendors were selling ice-cold beers, freshly cooked empanadas and the streets were buzzing with energy. The procession was filled with drums banging, percussion rattling and school children doing a 1-2 step to the beat. Apparently, mainland Colombians come to San Andrés for the Independence Day Parade, as well as the sun, sea and white sand beaches. Apparently that's a selling point too.

Ruta en San Andres, Colombia

You may have heard there's a lot of duty-free shopping, golf carts and all-inclusive holidays, and that is true. But San Andrés is so much more than that, and I loved my time there. Although, anything to do with the Colombian Caribbean and I will fall hopelessly in love with it (pretty much).

Bote en la isla de san andres, colombia

My plan was to while my days away on the beach, so that's pretty much all I did. And being a creature of habit I am, I would hop on the bus to San Luis, and get off at Rocky Cay. It's a white sand beach, which even has a island you can wade out to. The only other beach I went to was the one by the town centre, and whilst it does the job, it's packed full of holidaymakers seeing as it's right next to all of the hotels. Still, if you just want to lie on a beach, it will do the job.

El suelo colorido en San Andrés, Colombia

I didn't even make it over to Johnny Cay, Cayo Bolivar nor Cayo Cangrejo, all of which are beautiful beaches there. But I've decided, as with just about everything, it's an excuse to return to San Andrés. Along with the snorkelling and scuba diving options, as well as trying my hand at kite surfing of course.

Although even higher on my to-do list is visit the island of Providencia, which is a two hour seasick-inducing ride away on catamaran. The journey is worth it and I met so many who had just come back from Providencia and they were raving about it. Providencia is as nature intended, with pristine beaches and sea, without the big hotel complexes and duty-free outlets. Providencia is the perfect place to switch off and abandon the never-ending quest to look for wi-fi. 

Graffiti a Blue Almond Hostal, San Andres, Colombia
Artwork at my hostel, Blue Almond Hostel, check it out!

What San Andrés was perfect for, was a change of scenery, just as I was reaching boiling point with Medellín. As much as I love living in Medellín, there had been an unfortunate sequence of events that had me chomping at the bit to go elsewhere. San Andrés offered me an escape, conveniently coming with the typically laid-back Caribbean way of life, which allowed me to recharge my batteries and properly relax, even with a big work assignment to hand in.

That's the San Andrés effect.

Have you been to San Andrés? Where is your favourite place to go to relax?

Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Survive Full Language Immersion

If you have the chance to go abroad, and want to learn a language, the best and quickest way to learn a foreign language is full language immersion.

It's a no-brainer why - you're constantly surrounded by the language everywhere you go, and with that comes being able to practise it all the time, soaking up everything like a sponge.

When you're living, eating and breathing another language, however, it is not easy (stating the obvious).

It is, in fact, challenging, tiring, excruciatingly embarrassing and isolating at times, and it is hardcore (big respect to everyone who does it).

Whilst, language immersion is all of the above, it is also an amazing and fascinating experience. I am so, so, so glad I pushed myself to do it, despite all of the above challenges.

You get an insight into the language and culture you otherwise wouldn't have, getting to learn everyday language and slang. You practise every aspect of language, you're reading, writing, listening and speaking - it's particularly great for perfecting your accent. Full language immersion is a one big language learning lesson.

How do I know? Well, I've done three full-on language immersions now, one in Brittany, France for 6 weeks and one in Valentano, Italy for 6 weeks (I have sadly replaced Italian with Spanish, for now) during my gap year, and then two years ago, during my year abroad, I lived in a student residence for 3 and months, in Medellín, where I was the only foreigner.

With my language immersion experiences under my belt, I decided it was high time to give my top tips for surviving full language immersion:

#1. Prepare yourself

If you can familiarise yourself with the language pre-immersion, it will help you feel more prepared before doing it. Obviously, it is impossible to learn the entire language, but learning basic phrases and grammar, listening to the radio or music will help give you a head start to learning the language.

#2.  Ask lots of questions

It's likely you will find yourself at loss for words, or struggling to keep up with the conversation, especially in big group situations. Ask lots of questions, especially when you meet people so you can 1. dictate the conversation and have a better chance of following it and 2. it lessens the burden of you having to talk!

If you're lost in a conversation, don't be shy to interrupt it every now and then to ask what is the conversation topic. It can be difficult at times to keep up, and it will feel like you're watching a game of tennis, as you have to look at the person who is talking to focus on what they're saying. Even if you feel completely lost, rest assured that all of this practise is going somewhere, so don't feel downhearted.

#3. Rest

Constantly speaking and having to consciously think in another language is tiring work. This will seriously sap your energy levels, and you will want to go to bed a lot earlier than usual. This is completely natural, so embrace it, rest up and over time, you will stop needing to have your nanna nap and get your energy back. This may be subject to friendly ridicule by friends or your host family, but let them know that learning a language is a knackering business, because the struggle is real.

#4. Find a native language escape

Sometimes the frustrations of learning a language will get too much, so being able to express yourself in your own language is a great escape. When I was living in the student residence in Medellín, I would go to the Wandering Paisa language exchange every Thursday and just speak English the whole time. It was great to vent and not feel conscious of speaking and relax with a beer. Make sure you give yourself a language learning break too, whether it's having a Skype with a friend back home, catching up with someone for coffee or watching your favourite TV show.

#5. Revise what you've learnt at the end of the day

This is something that I'm admittedly not brilliant at, but revision is key to language learning. If revising at the end of the day is too much, make sure to regularly revise the new vocabulary and grammar you have learnt, or remember the corrections from any mistakes you have made. Revision is also a great way to reinforce the fact that you have learnt something new. There are times when you can feel like you've learnt nothing, or even somehow got worse, so it's a positive reminder you're improving.

Which brings me nicely onto the last point...

#6. Stay positive

As I've mentioned above, learning a language can sometimes feel isolating and frustrating. But, always remind yourself why you want to learn a language, how great it is, and that the end result will be worth it. You are doing an amazing thing, and it is an incredibly brave thing to live in another language. Keep up the hard work and, trust me, you will see unbelievable results, especially when you can impress people with your sh*t-hot language skills.

Have you done full language immersion? What are your language immersion tips?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Less than One Month to Go: The Colombia To-Do List

Here's what I want to do before I leave Colombia

I still can't believe in 3 weeks time, yes 3 weeks to the day, I will be jetting back to good ol' Blighty after six months in Colombia.

For want of a better reflective, looking back on time cliché, these 6 months have flew by. To say the least, I don't regret coming back to Colombia, despite my reservations that the second time round would maybe ruin my love for Colombia.

My mam and dad are not going to like seeing this, but my love for Colombia has only grew and I can see myself coming back to Colombia again, and again, and again.

As is the tradition, I set myself an overambitious list to do before I leave and so in the next three weeks I hope to:

1. Finally go to Eslabón Prendido on a Tuesday. This place is the place to go for salsa in Medellín and I've heard so much about it, I really want to go and shake what my mamma gave me and have a proper Colombian send-off, dancing the night away.

2. Make it to Chocó to see the humpback whales. I really, really, really hope to fit this in before leaving. Chocó has been top of my to-go list since my friend told me all about, and ever since I've been rewatching ChocQuibTown videos to make do.

3. Go see a football game. This is probably one of the least likely ones, as I always seem to find out about the game, when it's just about to start, but we'll see.

4. Finally, go to Santa Fé de Antioquia. It's only an hour and a half away and once again, I been told how beautiful the old colonial town is. But somehow, I still haven't made it there.

5. Finally eat a bandeja paisa. This is practically sacrilege considering how long I've been in Medellín, but hear me out, I've had all of the different components of bandeja paisa just not all together. For those who have yet to experience a bandeja paisa, it's a traditional dish from Medellín and I'm surprised it hasn't featured on Man Vs Food, considering it consists of chorizo, chicharrón (fried pork rind), morcilla (black pudding), mince, avocado, fried egg, plantain and rice. It is huge, and it requires a big appetite.

6. Go back to Comuna 13. I think it's just such a fascinating place, and I would love to do the graffiti tour to find out the stories behind the murals.

7. Paraglide over Medellín. I had the best intentions of doing so after my birthday two years back, but you know how things go. A few too many shots of aguardiente may or may not been involved in the process of losing all motivation to paraglide over Medellín. I think it would be a great way to say goodbye to Medellín.

And finally...8. Learn as much Spanish as possible. My Paisa friends are doing everything in their power to ensure I learn as many paisa phrases as possible, which is great as I want to improve my Spanish as much as possible before going. I still have a way to go, but I have improved greatly since being here.

It's very likely I won't do everything, but I intend to make the very most of my final three weeks here in Medellín *sob*. Feria de las Flores starts in just over a week, so I'm sure I will have a corker.

Any suggestions to add to my Colombia to-do list?

Friday, July 17, 2015

#InspireAClass to Learn Languages

Third Year Abroad and British Council have launched a new project #InspireAClass to inspire high school students to learn languages

I bang on a lot about how amazing learning languages is. But surprisingly, I feel languages has been a subject that I've neglected on the ol' blog.

I recently decided to resolve this, and have started including more language-related material. *Time for some cheeky self-promotion* Exhibit A - 5 ways languages have enhanced my travels. Exhibit B 5 top tips for newbie language learners and Exhibit C - Basic Paisa Spanish Expressions and Phrases.

Honestly, I could talk until the cows come home about how amazing languages are.

Which brings me nicely onto the reason why I love learning languages.

There are many, many advantages to learning languages such as improving your professional prospects (Exhibit A, B and C will reiterate my point), making you smarter (Ta Da, more articles to prove my point - A, B and C) and of course, being sexier doesn't hurt either (no exhibits needed, I'm right here*). If you need any more proof, why not have a deek at this bilingual infographic, this is the infographic to end all arguments with people who say learning languages are pointless:

*said with a cheeky bit of irony

inspire language learningLearn English with Kaplan

Of course, the above benefits are lovely, but for me, learning languages is all about being able to talk to even more people.

Time for a back story  - *clears throat* When I was a young bairn, I had a speech problem and I couldn't really talk until I was 5. I had extensive speech therapy and even now, I have issues with enunciation - although that may be more to the fact that I speak quite fast and with a bizarre half North-Eastern, half every other accent under the sun hybrid accent.

Back when I was cute. And look at that amazing 90s fashion.

Since then, I like to think I've been making up for lost time, it can be hard to shut me up at times. And at school, you could have even have gone as far as saying I was a bit of gobshite, as I was a cheeky so-and-so and my big fat mouth often got me into trouble.

Anyhoo, at middle school, whilst I wasn't completely struggling at school, I wasn't setting the academic world on fire. Middle school really wasn't my thing either, as certain teachers were negative Debbie Downers (teachers make a huge impact, for better or worse).

Until I started languages in year 7, I realised I had a knack for learning languages and there was a lovely, enthusiastic French teacher. I loved French, but then I sadly went through a stage of being too 'cool' to be clever - lol jk, I was and still am uncool. Kids, if you're reading this, pretending to be thick is not cool, USE YOUR INTELLIGENCE AND READ FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Luckily, I realised when I went to high school that having GCSEs and the like were, and still are, useful/necessary, and what's more, I could actually get some good GCSEs too if I stuck at it with languages. I had great teachers at high school, and this is where you realise how important teachers are.

Whoever said "Those who can't do teach" obviously never had any good teachers, because teachers are so crucial and vital to kids' development, intellectual growth and of course, EDUCATION.

Why I learn languages

Just me, my friends and Putin's interpretor. Standard school trip.

There were two trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which really reinforced how amazing, cool and fascinating learning a language is. One, we got to go to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which in itself was amazing (although it was intimidating for us young'uns). But two, we actually got to use the little Russian we had learnt and put it into practise. It made revising the locative case for the millionth time worth it.

For anyone wondering, I went to your bog-standard state comprehensive. But it was such a great school, and the teachers were great at organising trips. It's particularly testament, considering how much paperwork and red tape there is to organise a school trip.

Learning a language is so, so, so, so much more than your GCSE or A Level grade and this is one thing that the English education system gets so wrong. Whilst grammar and knowing vocabulary about global warming, immigration, and youth unemployment is important, languages are all about communication.

The fact that you get to break down the language barrier and talk to someone that you otherwise wouldn't have is incredible. Even though, at times, speaking a foreign language is one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing experiences, it is also an exhilarating one, when you master it, or even make that one small step, such as ordering a drink at a café, or asking someone for directions.

Learning languages is great. It enhances your travels and you get to meet people worldwide.
Learning languages has given me the opportunity to travel and meet friends from all over the world (cheesy and cringey but true)

I really wish the advantages, benefits and the beauty (cringe) of learning languages were emphasised more. I can't even begin to tell you how much it has enhanced my life. It's given me more opportunity to travel, I've met new friends, and the best thing about languages is that you are constantly learning something every day, even if you're completely fluent (still got a way to go yet). It gives you that needed drive to carry on learning, improving and developing your knowledge of language(s).

Third Year Abroad are currently running an initiative along with the British Council called "Inspire a Class". The "Inspire a Class" is all about showing secondary school pupils (ages 14-18) how you can use your languages and more importantly, it's to inspire them to learn languages themselves. If you want to get involved, check out the Third Year Abroad article for more details. Whilst you're at it, use the #inspireaclass on social media to spread the word.

Why do you learn languages? Which is your favourite?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Spending the Puente in Jardín, Antioquia

The beautiful pueblo of Jardin in Antioquia is the perfect weekend trip from Medellin.

Way back in January, just before returning to Colombia, I made a non-exhaustive list of the many different places in Colombia I wanted to visit. I also made myself a, for once, reasonable new year's resolution of visiting three new places in Colombia this year.

I'm pleased to say that this is one new year's resolution I've kept (and a few others).

I've been to Capurganá and Sapzurro, Bogotá and Parque Tayrona. I've also got a cheeky trip to San Andrés lined up next week. And hopefully, fingers crossed, hopefully, I'll make it to Chocó to see the migrating humpback whales too.

I have in fact SMASHED that new year's resolution. Although the motivation of more travel was never going to be a hard resolution to keep.

A few weekends back, for one of June's THREE bank holidays (it makes your eyes water to think that the UK has the same amount in a whole year) me and my friend Cata headed to Jardín, a pueblo in Antioquia three and a half hours away from the hustle and bustle of Medellín. It's perfect fodder for a weekend trip.

The little town lives for the weekend, when everyone migrates from the cities for a change of scenery (which is just so GREEN). The life and soul of the town is in the main square, or the parque principal, and daytime or night time, there's always something going on. If hunger strikes, you can grab some typical Colombian fare, such as butifarra (little pork sausages), chorizo, arepas de choclo (sweetcorn patties) or obleas with arequipe (wafers with milk caramel) from the many little carts on the square.

The best thing to do in the daytime is to grab a cup of amazing, and cheap coffee ($800 COP for a cup of black coffee) at the De Los Andes café which has a balcony overlooking the square. You can people watch to your heart's content there.

La catedral de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

At night time, you can grab a bottle of beer, aguardiente or rum and hang out in the park, or you can listen to old-school Colombian classics and reggaeton (so I was in my element) in the cantinas, accompanied with drinks, popcorn and mango biche. You can even gaupe at the fact that people park their horses outside the bars and try your best to avoid getting in their path, when crossing the street.

After a night out, dancing in the cantinas, we got up bright and early to tackle the trek to the Cueva del Esplendor. With neither of us being huge horse fans, we did the trek on foot, which involved us having to climb up at one point. We even dared to dip in the ice-cold water, which after a while, after you felt like your body would go into cardiac arrest, turned out to quite refreshing.

La vista del carro en Jardín, Antioquia
Otra vista de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
Las flores coloridas y bonitas en Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
La vista del paisaje cerca de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
El rio que va para la cueva del esplendor, Jardín, antioquia, Colombia
La Cueva del Esplendor, Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

Whilst the Cueva del Esplendor is an impressive sight, with a waterfall flowing into a cave, the best time to admire it in all its glory, probably wasn't one of the busiest public holidays of the year. Still, the walk was worth it, and it worked out all the sins from the night before and then some.

We were in fact so knackered after the walk, that all we managed to do was to walk into town, get some tasty pizza at Café Europa (just a few blocks away from the parque principal) and hop in a tuk-tuk back to our hostel.

We stayed at the Hostal Selva y Café, which was quite a trek out of town. We would have probably gone for somewhere closer to town, had it not been the bank holiday weekend. To get there, it was either a 45 minute walk, or a 10-15 minute tuk-tuk ride which would usually cost around $6000 per trip.

El motoratón en jardín, antioquia, ColombiaEn la quebrada al lado del hostal selva y café, Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

However, the far-location did have a few compensations, being right slap bang in the middle of nature, so you could really take advantage of the city escape. And it was right next to a stream, which we decided to dip in, before heading back to Medellín.  The far-out location however, did mean I fell victim to being eaten alive by bugs. Bring all the repellent you can find, if you come to Jardín, make sure you learn from my mistakes.

Aside from my unwanted mosquito souvenirs, I can't believe it has taken me this long to explore more of Antioquia's countryside. I forgot how much I missed seeing greenery and having a whole weekend away from the city did wonders. If you're around in Medellin and want a countryside escape, Jardín has a lot to offer.The best thing is you don't even have to do a lot, you can sit in the main square, have a cup of coffee, maybe even treat yourself to a slice of cake, sit back and enjoy.

Or you can take advantage of the lovely countryside too, but whatever floats your boat.

How to get to Jardín: Get the bus (about $18,000COP) from the terminal del sur. It's around three and a half hours' journey.

Where to Stay in Jardín: We stayed at the Hostal Selva y Café. Dorm beds are $35,000 COP per person, with breakfast included. There's also Hotel La Casona, which is a block away from the main square. It's a red and white building and has twin/double private rooms for $55,000 COP per person, with breakfast included.

Where are your favourite countryside escapes? Have you been to Jardín?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Basic Paisa Spanish Phrases and Expressions

Hello, it's been a while, hasn't it?

Life here in Medellin has been crazy-busy - I've had more work than I've ever had before (not complaining), I've been trying to see and do as much as possible (again not complaining) and I've been trying to learn as much Spanish as possible. 

The thing I find absolutely fascinating about Colombia is, like the UK, each region and city has its own accent and slang. I've always loved accents and regional slang - it's a very rich and revealing way to express yourself and show your identity. 

That being said, I have struggled with some regional accents (sorry costeños) and the slang is not the most logical to say the least. Although, which slang is east to pick up?

I may have already said it, but here in Medellín, paisas (Medellín locals) have a very distinct accent and vocabulary.

Luckily, for Spanish learners, paisas generally speak slowly and enunciate, which is great because it's already hard enough without having to guess what the word is with only 2 of the 4 syllables pronounced.

There are, however, two particularities about the paisa accent:

The ll and y sound are pronounced like a soft j/g (according to Wikipedia, the sound is called a yeísmo). It's similar to the Argentinian pronunciation for the same sound, although that's more like a sh sound. So in place of the usual Meh-dey-yin, for Medellín, here it's pronounced Meh-dey-jin. Likewise, ayer in Medellín is pronounced ah-jer instead of ah-yer.

Like in Argentina (is there a link?), a lot of paisas will use vos instead of tú. The conjugations are different so that's something to look out for. Because I'm a bad student I haven't particularly learnt the vos conjugations, but it might be something to look up, if you fancy it.

So, now I've gone over the basics of the Medellín accent, here are some basic paisa expressions:

¿Qué más pues?

¿Qué más? is a phrase used throughout Colombia. But, the use of the pues at the end of the phrase is distinctly paisa. Pues is the verbal tick equivalent of North-Easterners (England) using like. If you want to try your hand at blending in as a local, using pues every now and then is a good start.

¡Qué chimba/cuca!

If you're familiar with the Spanish language, you may know that the above also mean vagina. But here in Medellín, to say something is una chimba/cuca also means something is cool. For example, if someone were to ask you how your weekend was:

"¿Cómo te fue el finde?" You could reply, "Fue una chimba" if it was a great weekend.

To describe something is cool, you can something is una chimba de... . So for example, if you're in a cool house, it's una chimba de casa, a great party could be una chimba de rumba and so forth.

¡Qué gonorrea!

In similar guise, to say something is negative/bad/shit, you say "¡Qué gonorrea!" Yes, I know what you're thinking - this has to be a joke, right? When my friends first told me this, I did too, soon after they told me, I've heard it frequently ever since.

My second thought is that why gonorrhoea, when there is a wide selection of STIs, but I think it's a good word to vent your anger out. There's a lot of hard, harsh sounds (for Spanish) as well as a cheeky rolled r, so it makes it very anger-friendly venting material. A lot like when you drop the c bomb. Love it or hate it, it's a good word to release anger.


If someone refers to you as a parce in Medellín, it is the equivalent of calling someone a mate or dude in English. If you're a girl, you may be referred to as a parcera and if there's a group of you, you'll be parceros.

I've been told two stories as to why parce came to be.

1. That it has its origins from Brazilian soldiers who were based in the Amazon rainforest. They would call each other parceiro and it's somehow arrived in Medellín.

2. That it has its origins from the gringo drug mules in the seventies and eighties who misheard the word, I think, parné (cash), for parce, and so it came to be.

My inkling is that it's more likely to have originated from the first theory, but it's interesting to find out the theories of how words and slang came to be.


Similar to parce, and the two are probably linked, a parche is used to describe a casual hanging out with friends. You can also use the verb parchar to "hang out" too.

For example, "Vamos a parchar esta tarde" would mean we're going to hang out this afternoon.

If your social life is somewhat lacking, working 24/7 or you've been cooped up in the house watching Netflix all day, you could say, estoy desparchado/a.

¡No me chimbies!

It has a few different contexts. The most-used context is an equivalent to the standard Spanish no me molesta or the colloquial English, stop pissing me off.

It could also be the equivalent of you're kidding or you're joking. But it's quite a hard expression to find a fitting translation of.

I'll leave it there for now as I've waffled on for long enough. Paisa Spanish is a rich and fascinating slang, like all colloquial language, so I'm sure I'll write up another post with more Paisa expressions in the near future.

Which Paisa Spanish expressions would you add to the list? Which Spanish slang is your favourite?

Friday, June 19, 2015

5 top tips for newbie language learners

Learning a new language is no easy feat.

And as much as an obvious statement it sounds, I absolutely hate it when people underestimate the difficulties of learning a foreign language.

Because learning Spanish is "so easy" or everyone speaks English anyway, blah blah blah. 

Sure, there are technically 'easier' and 'harder' languages to learn as a native English speaker, but regardless of whatever language you decide to pick up, it will be a challenge.

A very fun, fascinating challenge at that, but it's not always rainbows and unicorns.

Learning a foreign language is hard, you will more than likely have a massive slight language-related breakdown and there will be times when you want to throw in the towel.

Especially for the first-time language learner, learning a foreign language can feel like a daunting challenge. It's, for want of a better cliché, pushing you out of your comfort zone and you, in certain respects, can feel vulnerable when you can't quite communicate what you're trying to say.

But as they say, the expert in anything was once the beginner. 

I cringe at this awful, cheesy quote, but it's true.

And whilst I don't profess to be an expert in any way, shape or form, I've been there, done that, got
the newbie linguist t-shirt.

Right here in Medellín in fact.

And I feel your pain.

So in line with my new weekly linguistic feature, I thought I would give some helpful tips for those who are starting out learning a new language.

So without further ado, here are my 5 tips for new language learners:

Find your learning style

This is something that I think a lot of learning resources fail at.

There is no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to learning a language. Most languages focus on a grammar and vocabulary led approach, which whilst it has its reasons, does not cater to everyone.

After a lot of trial and error, I know my learning style is speaking (SHOCK), I learn from repetition, interacting with others and hearing how native speakers communicate.

To further enhance my learning, I have the radio on when I'm working. I listen to Spanish music - I am very well-versed in South American artists now - and this fine tunes my listening passively whilst I am busy at work, a lot of the time I'm unaware I'm taking it in, until I realise I understand the lyrics or what the presenter is talking about.

Your learning style may be flash cards, or writing stuff down, or creating actions or gestures to remember the word. Experiment with different learning styles and techniques and find the one you're comfortable with.

That being said...

Be disciplined learning grammar

Whilst learning grammar is probably not the most exciting prospect for most language learners, it's an unavoidable reality.

Be disciplined, do not slack off learning grammar and you'll avoid getting into any bad habits.

Grammar is the foundation of any language and if you don't build yourself a strong foundation - you'll find it soon goes to sh*t and you'll have to go back to the beginning and revise something you've already learnt.

Use every opportunity to practise

Feel cultured and watch a film in your target language with subtitles, find yourself your new favourite band or singer (hello, J Balvin) and go get yourself a language partner.

I've talked until the cows come home about how great language exchanges are - you get in contact with native speakers, who are learning other languages, so they know the challenges and difficulties of learning a language. You'll normally meet some cool people as well, and there are all sorts of great and interesting language exchange concepts - my fave was a language exchange pub quiz in Paris. You can find all sorts of language exchanges at MeetUp.

If you can't get to a language exchange, fear not - you could even find yourself a language exchange partner online, all thanks to WeSpeke. It's essentially a language exchange on Skype and you fill in a questionnaire, talking about your interests and hobbies. The programme then suggest potential language partners with mutual interests. It's a great concept.

It's all about putting into practise what you've learnt and doing some simple revision. Learning a language is very much a process of learn, repetition, revision and repeat.

Give yourself a motivation

We hear it all throughout school (how much talk did we hear of SMART goals?), university, in our professional life, in our personal life - every goal needs a target.

To keep yourself motivated, you need something to aim for. Maybe book yourself a cheeky holiday so you can put your newly acquired language skills into practise, learn the lyrics of 5 songs, go to a language exchange event and only speak in your target language. Heck, maybe pluck up the courage and ask that sexy señor(ita) out on a date - after all, they say you learn a language in two ways - in the crib or in the bed (Mam, please forget you've every read this).

Give yourself a goal you want to achieve and you'll find yourself picking up the grammar books and giving verb conjugations hell, even when motivation is running low.

And finally...

Make mistakes again and again and again

Obviously don't make them on purpose, but do not be afraid to make mistakes.

This is probably the biggest fear which cripples language learners. To be honest, it still gets me at times now. But you have got to be prepared to make a t*t out of yourself. Confidence is a huge part of language learning and the old adage rings true in this case - you've got to fake it until you make it.

Consider every single, excruciating mistake to be a lesson. Say you're horny instead of hot, stutter and stumble your way through a conversation and say yes to everything, even when it's not a open question.

The emotional memory of embarrassing yourself will be a good deterrent to ensure you never make that mistake again.

Be unashamedly keen to learn a language and your progress will rocket in no time.

Oh and if someone is critical about your language skills?

If it's a constructive criticism, take it on board, learn from the point and make a note to focus on it.

If it's a straight out, your *insert language or accent here* is *insert negative adjective here* then here's my mature advice - haterz gon' hate.

The ones who tend to be overly critical are the ones who:

A. can't speak another foreign language
B. have an overinflated opinion of their own language skills
C. don't know what it's like to be in another country, dealing with another language and culture

Make a mental note to keep at it, improve your language skills and go back to them when your language skills are unreal and throw them a few V signs in their direction. People who try to bring your confidence down aren't worth your time.

Learning a language is quite possibly one of the most amazing things you can do, in my opinion, and it's one of those incredible things when you learn something new each day.

It is, however, no walk in the park and there will inevitably be obstacles and challenges getting in the way. But with every challenge accomplished and every obstacle overcome, you will realise how great learning a foreign language is - and it will make you want to learn more and more each time.

What are your top tips for new language learners? Which language(s) are you learning at the minute?

Friday, June 12, 2015

5 ways learning a language has enhanced my travels

As much as I may have already banged on numerous times about HOW BLOODY FANTASTIC LEARNING A LANGUAGE, I feel I have not covered it enough on the blog.

And whilst I was mid-way through doing my usual procrastination, thinking about blogging, I had that light bulb moment everyone has and realised I should change that.

So I've only gone and decided to do a weekly linguistic feature because as much as I could talk until the cows come home about how great languages are, I have barely scratched the surface with it right here on the blog.

So this week I thought I would start off easy and talk about my experience of learning a language abroad and how I've used languages to get even more out of my travels.

Travelling in its own right is of course an incredible experience. But combine it with learning a language, getting a deeper insight into a country's culture, bonding with the locals etc. etc. and you've hit the jackpot.

I cannot stress enough how useful learning a foreign language is, especially if you're planning to travel in the near (or even faraway) future.

So here it is, here's the many ways how learning a language has enhanced my travels.

1. It's made travelling so, so, so much easier

OK, sure you may find yourself making a fool of yourself on many the odd occasion but knowing you can ask for directions, order food, get advice or simply read signs will make your life on the road a walk in the park in comparison to having to lug the phrase book out or find someone who can speak English.

2. I've saved money thanks to my language skills

Numbers will be easier to understand, you'll have an idea as to whether that's expensive or not (or you can ask around and find out) and the best bit of all - you can haggle, barter and negotiate to your heart's content. Surely you want to have as much money as possible to enjoy all the finer things in life on the road rather than waste them on taxi rides which cost double the amount they should?

3. I've bonded with the locals

I don't know why but I hate saying 'locals', it's one of those of travel clichés which drive me mad. But it's that the best way to describe my point. Anyhoo, my languages have helped me have chats with people I otherwise wouldn't have. And as we all know grannies and grandads are the best fountains of knowledge (and banter) I have ever come across and you get to learn so much about where you're going.

Plus if you've got a granny on your side, hell hath no fury like an abuelita scorned so she's got your back.

4. I'm more aware of my surroundings and 'street-smart'

Another travel cliché I hate but having knowledge of the local language has helped me be more aware of what's going on around me and in some cases prevented me from getting into some sketchy situations. What's even better is thanks to my decidedly gringa looks, people assume I can't speak Spanish and I can act blissfully ignorant whilst know exactly what's going on.

Having language skills can be your secret and a very powerful one at that.

5. I've learned more about the country's culture and it's added to my travel experience

That's not saying that without learning the language, you have no comprehension of the culture whatsoever.

But what I am saying, from my personal experience, is that once you try to get into their language's mindset, you start to understand a little bit why certain things are the way they are. Especially once you start learning the slang and idioms, you have a little window in their culture which you wouldn't have otherwise. Plus, you understand music lyrics, can read their newspapers and watch their TV (hello telenovelas, if you're a big fan of trash TV like) and it just adds to your travel experience.

Obviously there are many, many more than 5 ways that learning a language has enhanced how I travel, however I didn't want to waffle on too long and I think these are enough to convince you to dust off the ol' Rosetta Stone (other language learning resources are available) and brush up your French, Spanish, Mandarin or whatever language it may be.

Plus, your travelling buddies will absolutely love having a translator in the group so it's one way to make new friends on the road too (obviously your dazzling personality and charisma will shine through too).

How has learning a language enhanced your travels? Which language would you like to learn?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Solo travel advice for those fresh out of high school

Travel advice for 18 year olds who want to travel solo
Image via Luis Barreto (check his stuff out, it's amazing!)

Recently, I got an email from a lovely reader asking me about solo travel at the young age of 18.

It really got me thinking about the advice I would give as advice is usually not my strong point. I sadly lack the sensitivity usually required to be great agony aunt material and because I'm possibly one of the most stubborn mules around, I was always going to have a gap year before I toddled off to uni, it was never an option to even doubt it for one second.

But obviously convincing mam and dad that I was mature enough, wise enough and responsible enough to have a cheeky wander around the world on my bill was not an easy task.

But like I said, I'm stubborn and I eventually talked them around to the idea.

And I did it, albeit I made a more than my fair share of mistakes along the way, but I did it. And what's more is that most 18 year olds can do it too.

Because if I can do it (anyone who knows me will know I'm quite possibly the biggest calamity around), you almost certainly can travel around by yourself too.

So when someone asks me, "Can I travel by myself at 18?" the short answer is usually, "Yes, you can."

Whilst the short answer may answer the question, it's not going to answer any of your worries, concerns nor questions. So this gave me a light bulb moment to compile an advice article for you young'uns who are considering venturing off into the big, bad world.

Because as great and amazing an adventure it is, it is possibly one of the most sh*t scary experiences in your life and you probably need some assurance that this is a good idea (short answer - it is).

And you can learn from my foolish mistakes, so you don't make them either.

1. Plan

Being 18 is a young time to travel solo but you can do it.

As unexciting as it is, you are going to have to plan. 

First of, think about where you want to go, the timeframe and the itinerary. Once you have a rough idea of what you want to do, you need to work out how much money you're going to need to do so. Don't despair if it's a lot more money than you currently have, there are ways around (more of which will be covered later) but having an idea of how much money you're going to need will help you plan your travels.

When you're thinking of budget, you need to factor in every single cost - you might be booking a single flight but you will need to remember that you'll need to buy a return flight and that will need to be considered. 

Insurance is often forgotten about but it is essential you buy it, do not forget to buy it. And check on the NHS's Fit for Travel website to see if you need any immunisations or antimalarials to make sure you are in good health for the duration of your stay.

Then once you've worked out where you're going and how you're going to do it, it's time to have the chat with the parents. They will be understandably worried, concerned and potentially against your travel plans so you need to get them on your side. Show them you've extensively considered what you want to do and how you're going to do it and this could get them on your side.

2. Save

Now you've done the maths, you know your budget and you need to save up.

Take a look at your spending habits - is there anywhere where you could cut down or completely cut out? Expenditures such as buying lunch, going out or clothes tot up so by making small changes, you can make big savings.

If you've got a part time job, you can put a bit aside every pay packet to go towards your travels. Put it in a savings account so you don't have easy access and watch your travel budget grow. 

If you're having trouble finding a part time job, have a look online. More and more remote jobs are being offered on online marketplace websites such as Elance, UpWork and PeoplePerHour and the great bit about them is that you can fit them in your studies. Make sure it doesn't take over however and ensure your studies come first.

Once you've finished your studies, you're free to find a full time job to do some serious earning for your travels. Most jobs on offer are in restaurants or bars and although the hours are anti-social, this means you can double the saving as you won't be going out as often as usual.

If you really can't wait to go travelling, have a look at working holiday visas or workstays. It's a good work/travel compromise and if you budget wisely, you could save a good amount of money to do some travelling during or at the end of your trip.

One big piece of advice when it comes to saving - don't save the bare minimum. A back up is a good cushion to have just in case and if you don't spend it on your travels, you can spend it to your heart's content when you're safe and sound back home.

3. Safety Precautions

18 may be a young age to travel by yourself but it's possible.

So you've convinced mam and dad, booked the tickets and saved up enough money - now is time to have a look at how you're going to keep safe whilst on the road.

Most of the safety precautions you will take will be the same as usual - don't walk alone at night or in areas where you are advised not to, take licensed taxis from taxi ranks, let people know where you are going and DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS.

OK, maybe not quite don't talk to strangers ever but exercise a bit of caution and if your gut tells you it's not a comfortable situation, it's fine to be rude. In fact, more than fine, be blunt, rude, do anything to get yourself out of the situation.

Use your finely acquired planning skills and make sure you know where you're going every time you go to a new destination. Reserve a hostel in advance, have an idea of how you'll get from A to B and if you can, try to arrive in the daytime. Once you've got there, you can change hostel but knowing you have a bed reserved will ease any initial anxiety and save you from flapping when you're on the lookout for a bed for the night.

When out and about or travelling, keep several stashes of money. Have some in your bag, your purse or wallet and ladies, your bra is your best friend in this case.

The same goes for cards - get yourself a Caxton FX card if you can, they give you good exchange rates and low charges (they say there's no transaction charge but there is a little one) - and have a back up card elsewhere, just in case.

As old school and outdated this is going to sound, have some traveller's cheques as a back up back up so say you lose all of your cards and money, you still have some. Even if they're stolen, if you have the cheque numbers, you can get them back.

Obviously keep a low profile with your valuables and yourself - don't be the obnoxious, loud tourist because that generally lands you in trouble you don't want to be in. Dress appropriately too, I know it may be blisteringly hot outside but if you're in shorts and flip flops whilst everyone else is wearing long dresses or trousers, you are going to get yourself some serious hacky stares (definition of hacky for non North-Eastern speakers) or unwanted attention.

As briefly touched upon, listen to your gut. If you feel like a situation is not one you want to be in, GET OUT. Your gut usually serves you well and it's worth using your instincts to keep your fine self safe.

I'm sure most of you know all of this already, especially as it's logical instinct that we want to keep ourselves safe, but I thought it was worth going over, just in case. The usual cause of people getting themselves in danger is the fact that staying safe usually costs a little bit more financially or is more hassle than going for the easier or cheaper option but seriously lads and lasses, just cough it up, your safety and well-being is worth way, way more.

4. Making travel friends and socialising

When it's your first time travelling, you're anxious about making friends - don't worry, you'll make friends on the road in no time.

I know this was a big social anxiety for me.

When I was 18, whilst I was a gobby little so-and-so amongst my friends, once I met new people, I was rendered mute. I didn't want to reveal my weird quirks and I was worried they would judge me. Once I started travelling, however, I realised I was going to have to put myself out there and say hi every so often.

You just have to put yourself out there. Start the conversation, say a few awkward questions and more usually than not, the conversation will be flowing in no time. If you have nothing else to say, just fall back on the usual "Where are you from? How long you've been travelling? Where have you been? Where are you going?" As clichéd as it is, you'll usually find some common ground.

Choosing hostels wise, go for hostels which have dedicated social spaces - you're in luck if it has a swimming pool, a bar or a chilling area. These are prime meeting places and you'll find yourself included in the conversation in no time. Even better, if they offer tours or events there, social hostels are where you want to be to make friends.

If you're going to be somewhere for an extended amount of time. try attending meet ups, language exchanges, playing for a sports team or keeping up or taking up a hobby. You can find loads of groups or events on MeetUp, Couchsurfing, at hostels or on Facebook.

Push yourself to say yes if you get invited to anything. 9 times out of 10, you'll kick yourself for saying no and you'll have a serious case of FOMO. If you get bored or it's not your thing, you can always go home.

5. What if I don't like travelling?

This could be what's in store if you go travelling by yourself at the age of 18

Maybe it's not right for you now, maybe it's not your thing ever, maybe where you've gone is not where you want to be. Sometimes travelling isn't exactly what you envisioned it would be and expectations may be disappointed.

If it's during the initial stages of travelling, give it time. Busy yourself doing excursions, working and making new friends - it may be that you're missing home and you've got a case of culture shock.

If after giving it a real go and you still aren't enjoying yourself, ask yourself why and once again, go with your gut. If you want to go home, go home. You may be able to change your ticket with a relatively small fee. If you need a change of scenery, go elsewhere. And if you don't like where you are staying, change accommodation. There is no one size fits all when it comes to travelling and you just need to be honest with yourself.

For the vast majority, however, travelling is one of the most enhancing experiences you can, especially at the young age of 18. Now is the time to take advantage of your responsibility-free youth and fulfil your wishes. I know I'm probably sounding like the biggest walking cliché around but if you don't do it now, you will kick yourself when you're older and have a job, bills to pay and kids in tow - although travelling is still possible, even with all of these responsibilities - it just requires even more organisation, planning and budgeting than now.

But the biggest risk of all is that you may even find you like travelling by yourself so much, you will find you'll want to do it again and again and again (guilty).

Are you 18 and planning to travel? What advice would you give to young travellers?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Panamá City, what to make of you?

I warmed to Panamá City but I still didn't completely love it.

In addition to the beautiful landscapes, crazy partying and unfortunate bouts of food poisoning, one thing that I particularly remember about my gap year travelling in Central America is the fact that cities generally range from a rather mediocre meh to a full on fastest escape route needed.

The only exceptions to the rule were Leon and Granada in Nicaragua, which I absolutely loved, adored and cherished.

I had already been to Panamá City before, albeit for one disastrous day just before getting my flight back to Blighty when I was young(er) and (more) naive and stupid(er) and I had discovered I had no money in my bank.

I was very lucky to have a lovely, although very evangelical Christian lady called Damaris take pity on me and let me sleep on her floor.

It didn't leave the best first impression, although it just goes to show the good in people, especially when the idiot backpacker probably deserved sleep on the streets that night.

One of Panamá's main beers is Balboa

So when I finally touched ground in Panamá City this time round after an amazing, incredible and unforgettable 4 days in the so-gorgeous-you-forever-be-spoilt-afterwards San Blas Islands, other than getting back in touch with civilisation, having running water and showers and wi-fi (sad but true) along with other mod cons and meeting up with my Korean friend Lucas, I wasn't particularly bothered, nor had any intentions of properly exploring the city.

I was so unbothered, it was bordering on ignorant and as per, I had got myself a typical case of post-trip blues, which was thanks to me being knackered, stressed out due to the impending mountain of work and feeling very sorry for myself because I was hungover.

I was moping around, being a little pathetic and I just needed to pull myself together.

So after encountering some less than warm and welcoming Panamanian taxi drivers, who guilt-tripped me into paying more, despite friends and the lovely staff at Kame House Hostel telling me otherwise, I was 'done' with Panamá City.

I mean, if you don't gamble, aren't really bothered about the canal, what is there to do?

I'm glad after venturing off to Bocas del Toro, I gave it another chance, because I found myself warming to the city.

Clearly, all I needed was some beach relaxation (because that was clearly in short supply in the San Blas Islands) a bit of rest and a disastrous but fun surf lesson and I was ready to give Panamá City a second crack of the whip.

First off, there were of course, the people. Being able to crash at Lucas' house and meet all of his lovely and interesting friends made me pining for a friendship circle like that in Medellín. Don't get me wrong, I have friends here but they're scattered about, all belonging to different friendship groups so I've not managed to have my own, yet,

With my second Panamá City round kicking off with a night out in Casco Viejo, hanging outside called Mojitos sin Mojitos I started questioning my initial indifference to the city.

Casco Viejo has some gorgeous architecture in la ciudad de Panamá
The beauty was in the detail in Casco Viejo
Panama's flag flying proudly in Casco Viejo, Panamá City.
Just one example of the beautiful colonial architecture in Casco Viejo in Panamá

It still wasn't love, especially as I constantly compared it to Medellín, which we all know is a bad move as COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY PEOPLE, but I found myself being more than a little bit nostalgic when I had to leave and go back to Colombia.

Particularly as I rounded off the trip fully exploring Casco Viejo in the daytime, which is just gorgeous and rightly, the number one tourist destination in Panamá City.

I was also surprised to find a little bit of  street art going, which is always a sure-fire way to get my good books.

Panamá city street art
"I'm a panther not a princess." Gan on lass.

Panamá City street art
"What's sweeter than honey? Dreaming."

Panamá City Street Art
Panamá City street art

I simply got lost, had a little bit of a mish and stopped every now and then and looked up, because the beauty really is in the detail in Casco Viejo. 

My change in tune even had me considering if I could live in Panamá City. But I think it is a little bit too Americanised for me. If I'm in Latin America, I want to feel like I'm there and as stupid and no doubt pretentious as it sounds, there were too many gringo comforts there for my liking.

But, Panamá City, we've got unfinished business and I'm pretty sure I'll be making a return sometime soon.

Have you been to Panamá City? Where in the world have you had mixed feelings about?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Welcome to Paradise - Guna Yala (San Blas) Islands

Welcome to Paradise - Guna Yala (San Blas) Islands.

I may be partial to exaggerating every now and then some, but in all seriousness, I have found paradise.

And it can be found in the form of the Guna Yala, or the San Blas, Islands on the South Caribbean coast of Panamá.

I'm a big advocate of superlatives anyway, but all throughout the four days we had the luxury, pleasure and fortune of spending there, I could not stop using them.

The beautiful Kuna Yala Islands in Panama.
The beautiful San Bals Islands in Panamá | Todd's Travels Travel Blog - Amateur Traveller, Professional at Getting Lost.

Your eyes aren't deceiving you, the sea really is that blue, you think someone has quickly added an extra pot of paint to the batch, or someone has photoshopped the colour and is messing around, maybe had a cheeky fiddle with their Instagram filter, but oh no, every single shade of blue you can think of - aquamarine, turquoise, royal blue, baby blue, somehow manages to naturally feature in the sea all around the San Blas islands.

Beautiful beaches and clear blue sea can be found at the Kuna Yala Islands in Panama.
The Kuna Yala Islands in Panama have you feeling like you're a pirate especially when X marks the spot.
Look at these beautiful, unspoilt coves at the San Blas Islands in Panama.

Then there's the beaches and islands - you're practically an extra on Lost, without any of the freaky goings-on.

Or if you prefer, you can act like Captain Jack Sparrow - especially when you take into consideration the amount of rum you may or may not be consuming - on a sidenote, I was 100% responsible mam, just may have slightly overindulged in campfire marshmallows instead (fo' realz).

You're free to fully explore the island, leave no nook or cranny unturned, heck, if there's one nearby, you can even swim to another.

I have been well and truly spoilt.

But the biggest joy of island life is being able to fully take advantage of slowing down, going back to basics, maybe read a book, play a game of cards and cut off all ties with the internet. It's sad, it's a sign of our times and I know it's ironic and hypocritical considering my line of work and the fact that I'm writing this blog right now, but being away from social media and the like for a good 5 days, left me feeling refreshed.

Kuna kids in the Kuna Yala Islands in Panama.
Indigenous hut in the Kuna Yala Islands, Panamá
A Kuna hut in the Kuna Yala Islands, Panamá | Todd's Travels Travel Blog - Amateur traveller, Professional at Getting lost.
Arte Kuna, Islas Guna Yala, Panamá

Let's not forget the fact we were in someone else's stomping ground. The Guna Yala Islands is a semi-autonomous and home to the Kuna, an indigenous tribe. Whilst we very much had an outsider's and slightly superficial perspective, it was fascinating to have an insight into the culture. It did sometimes have me wondering if we were intruding, although many told us they supported the tourism.

We were particularly surprised to find out that it's the la-la-ladies who have the say on who they marry and they were accepting of transgender members of the community - to say the least, it appears the Kuna are more progressive on certain issues than supposed, dare I say it and sound super-duper patronising, 'developed' countries.

Coconuts are also a huge part of their income, so much so that when trade ships come into the region, they can pay with coconut credit, using them as a currency in their own right. So if you innocently chance upon a coconut on one of the islands and want to take a sip out of it - you're going to have to pay for it.

I have a penchant for a good ol' cliché so I'm going to say it, I still pinch myself now when I look over the photos of the San Blas islands. They really don't do the place, the region, the sea, the beaches nor the Kuna culture any justice and you just have to see if with your very own eyes.

I don't like dictating where people should go, but if you really are on the lookout for paradise - the Kuna Yala Islands in Panamá may be exactly what you're looking for.

It definitely was for me.

I went on a 4 day tour with San Blas Adventures. I highly, highly recommend it as it's A: less journey time (read: little to no sea-sick time) B. more island time C. it's a great itinerary. You either leave from Panamá City or Capurganá (Colombia) and it is worth every single dollar (saved up all my hard-earned cash for this trip and I'm so glad I did), check it ouuuut.