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Barcelona Blog: Bad hair in Barcelona

 My hair doesn’t like Barcelona. It never has. I spend a fortune getting it cut. In England it looks like a million dollars. After 5 minutes of being outside in Barcelona I look like I’ve just been locked in a cupboard for the night with a victorious rugby squad. In less humid, sweaty climes with better water, I straighten my hair and it stays straight all day. Here, the humidity turns it into a wavy mop that birds could live in. Even as I write, I’m sporting a flick with undulating side bits worthy of a photo in a hairdressing salon window cerca 1977. It gets even worse at the beach.

Oh darn it, it’s easier with pictures. So here’s how it should look on the left:

Barcelona blog: good hair day

And this is it in the middle in Barcelona. Check out my waves:

Barcelona blog: bad hair

I once yearbooked myself  for a laugh and several Catalan friends believed I really looked like this back in the day. I hung my head and semi-curly locks in shame (the perm is not real folks):

I quite clearly have English hair. It’s not suited to hot humid weather. It wants to feel the wind in it. It has the texture of baby bird feathers. I don’t think it wants to behave badly; it was just given too easy a start in life in cloudy England and is having trouble adapting.

Still. It’s not all bad. My feet are very happy to be back in flip-flops and a diet consisting entirely of bread and olives rather than Dairy Milk and Chicken Tikka Massala is doing wonders for my figure. Until the winter I shall just have to wear hats, look on enviously at others’ thick glossy locks and pray for rain.


For more thoughts on Barcelona hair (mullets to be precise), go here, although you’ll need to be patient, it’s an old-fashioned cut out and keep scan.

If you’re a hairdresser who can help with free product samples, sponsorship or tea and sympathy, feel free to get in touch.

If you have a body part that doesn’t suit where you live, leave your ‘clean enough for my mum to read’ comments below.


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Filed under barcelona, blog, Travel blog, Uncategorized

10 things that make Britain weird

Photo by Spratmackrel Flickr

Britain is a strange place. Especially when you’ve been out of the country for 5 years..

 1. Ice-Cream Vans

When you think about it, ice-cream vans are pretty strange. For those in the dark, ice-cream vans are trucks that drive round the neighbourhood selling Mr Whippy to young kids and they play a song from loud-speakers as they go. It’s always a really rubbish song like ‘Greensleeves’ or ‘The Entertainer’ and it usually sounds like it’s been recorded at the bottom of a well by narcoleptic rabbits. The ice-cream van round my way came by on Tuesdays and Thursdays, much to the excitement of Sandy the Labrador who lived two doors down. No matter how fast I ran, I never managed to beat Sandy to the queue. After bouncing up and down excitedly for a while, he would stand patiently in the queue with his bowl between his teeth, waiting for his two free scoops of vanilla. I loved that dog.

2. There are no bins in London

 In Central London a few years ago, a South American friend was looking for a bin. “They took them all out” I said, “…they were worried the IRA would blow them up.” He thought I was winding him up, but no, it’s true. Since the IRA ceasefire, we’ve made new enemies and we’re still bin-less.

3. This Coffee is Hot

Britain is obsessed with health and safety. It’s impossible to have fun in this country now without some jobsworth filling out a risk assessment and deeming it dangerous. Hot water is labelled ‘HOTTTT!, wet floors are ‘WETTTT! and concerts are LOUDDDDDDDDD! How we ever managed to hold our forks or leave our houses of a morning before all this nonsense is anyone’s guess.

Photo by Frankly Richmond

 4. Sunshine makes the front pages

 “OMG! SCORCHIO!” The sight of a thermometer hitting 30 degrees in this country is enough to have journalists and photographers scurrying to the beach to snap happy looking Brits getting their kit off. Good weather is so shocking in this country, it’s news. Go figure.

5. Don’t Walk. Oh Ok.

One of the things I loved about Chile was its people’s utter disregard for the law. Underneath a large sign saying ‘STRICTLY NO CAMPING OR PARKING’ would be 32 cars, a bus and about 50 people having a barbeque. ‘One-way street signs’ were thought to be advisory rather than obligatory and CVs were rampant flights of fancy. Here in Britain, we take the law seriously. We’re a nation of Rainmen stuck on the pedestrian crossing with the sign flashing ‘Don’t Walk’. They banned smoking so we stopped. They put cameras everywhere so we drove nicely. They made so many laws that we have to go on ‘blow-out’ holidays to Spain, Greece or the Czech Republic where we throw-up, black out and offend the locals. They’ve legislated so much; we’ve forgotten who we are.

6. Must-have moisturiser on sale now!

In other countries, people have hobbies. Of a weekend they go skiing, play bowls, visit the country or have long lunches with family or friends. In England, we go shopping. When we’re not actually in shops, we read magazines that tell us what we should be buying if we want to keep our friends and find a mate, we fill out credit card application forms and we show other people what we’ve done with the rent money.

7. How much?

I know tourists have been saying it for years, but sweet Jesus England is expensive. After earning Chilean pesos, the prices here actually make my eyes water. Last week, two newspapers and four stamps cost me £8. I started taking the shirt off my back assuming they wanted that too. In London pubs, I implode into a ball of Northern rage and have to be dragged out screeching ‘How much?!’ at the bar staff.

Photo by DavidHC Flickr

8. Which Northern Line exactly?

Whoever came up with the Tube map in London must have taken a lot of drugs. Poor tourists have it the hardest. On the Tube they have to remember to stand on the left in the corridors but right on the escalators, struggle with anarchically pronounced place names like Leicester Square and then have to figure out the map. Here, it’s not enough to know that you need to go south on the Northern Line, you also need to know which branch. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve confidently hopped on a train only to find myself shamefully having to sneak a peak at the map and ending up in Essex.

9. No alcohol=No fun

It’s a fact, but we British are completely incapable of having a good time without alcohol. We get all geeky and awkward without a pint in front of us. Once started, we also have absolutely no idea how to stop.

10. We worry about stupid stuff

Do my pores look big in this? Does decaf skinny cappuccino give you cancer? Will that reality TV star’s ex-boyfriend’s next-door neighbour win Celebrity Big Brother? Is that I-Phone application any good? Who cares? We do apparently. For want of anything better to worry about (we live in a relatively rich democracy devoid of big weather or regular natural catastrophes after all), we find other insignificant things to fret about. I have absolutely no idea why.

 And 5 things I’ve missed:

1. Everyone’s a comedian.

2. Living in a cultural melting pot of different nationalities, races and religions.

3. People aren’t afraid to look different. Fashion is anarchic here.

4. New music is treasured (even if the BBC has got some balls trying to get rid of alternative radio station 6 Music, the backlash against them makes me proud to be British).

5. Old ladies struggle onto buses and 10 people offer them their seats.


Filed under blog, britain, england, Travel blog

Chile: Puerto Montt – worse than Mansfield

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

The Lonely Planet were being kind when they called Puerto Montt a ‘grimy transport hub’.  It’s a hole of a place and even worse than Mansfield

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

It should be nice. There’s a giant volcano towering over it,  salmon galore and it’s the centre of the lake district but it’s truly horrible. Transient workers look for work in the salmon industry or cement factories and hotels charge by the hour.

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

If you have the misfortune to find yourself there, stay in the bus station with your rucksack to the wall and pray your bus connection arrives on time.

I left the bus station for a few hours to have a look round.  You quite literally have to step over grubby overalled men sleeping in the street with their flies open to cross the street. As you do,  men yell at you out of car windows and rubbish blows into your face.  It’s got a leery, unpleasant vibe to it as if you’d somehow accidently walked into a mining town roadside bar dressed as a stripper.

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

Check out the pigeon on the left, walking all over the produce and nibbling as he goes. Photo Natasha Young

Meanwhile, less than 20 minutes down the road is the divine Puerto Varas with friendly folk, lakeside views and good food. You would have to pay me a million pounds to live in Puerto Montt. Per hour.


Filed under chile, Travel blog

Chile: I want to be a penguin in Chiloe

Humboldt penguins hanging out. Photo Natasha Young

I’d quite like to be a Magellanic penguin. The ladies seem to have it pretty easy. The male penguins head here to Chiloe in September to get the nest ready, tidy up and sort stuff out before the girls swim over in October. While the boys have only one life partner until the day they die, the girls get the odd free pass when a handsome stranger waddles into town. Once the little ones are born, it’s the girls that get to go shopping and get the food in while the men stay home, pay the gas bill and take the kids to swimming classes. Plus you get to eat fresh sardines all day. It really can’t be a bad life.

Ancud where the sun finally came out. Photo Natasha Young

I came here to see the penguins. Chilean friends had told me that Chiloe was a special, beautiful, magical place like nowhere else on earth. Meanwhile an English friend described it as ‘exactly like Wales with Welsh weather’, whilst another thought it was ‘a bit boring’. After a couple of days on the island I’ve concluded that they’re all right, although it reminds me more of Scotland or Ireland.

Dressed to impress. Photo Natasha Young

It would be completely unfair for an English girl to complain about the weather, so let’s just say that Chiloe is green and lovely and I won’t mention the squally rain and dark clouds. If you come, just remember to bring waterproofs, a brolley and warm layers.

It starts to feel pretty special even before you arrive. To get here you have to cross the water from mainland Chile. The bus pulls up onto a long cargo boat and the low-flying cormorants and playful sealions help to guide it into the bay across the water. Then it’s mile upon mile of green nothingness before you arrive in Ancud.

It was general election day when I went to see the penquins. That meant that all the local buses were being used to ferry voters in and out of town (if you’re registered to vote in Chile you can be fined for not voting so the buses were popular) and I had to go with a tour. It was more expensive but Manuel the driver was full of useful titbits. Judging by how many times he honked his horn, he seemed to know just about everyone on the island.

Chiloe or Ireland? Photo Natasha Young

After a 40 minute drive from Ancud through rural farm land and protected wildlife areas, we drove onto a rugged windswept beach fiercely guarded by giant seagulls. Local fishermen doled out the lifejackets and giant waterproof ponchos (you clearly have to look your best for the dinner-jacketed residents) and in choppy waters we headed to the Pinguinera Puñihuil.

These three tiny islands of the coast are the penguin equivalent of a small town nightclub on a Saturday night. If you are a penguin and you need some loving, Chiloe is where you come. This is the only place in the world where Magellanic penguins from the south and Humboldt penquins from the north meet. Though you might think this might be a West Side Story of bar brawls and wounded egos, they seem to get along pretty well. However as Pedro the fisherman made startlingly clear with a range of insightful hand gestures, they are only friendly up to a point. There will be no inter-species marriages on this rock anytime soon.

After a short but delightful half an hour of penquin, otter, cormorant, gull and sea crow spotting, our time was up and we headed back to the beach for empanadas de loco (abalone in English, apparently). I left with few decent photos of the penguins. It was one of those moments when I realised that I could try in vain to take photos from afar with no professional lens or I could just enjoy watching these fabulous creatures in their natural habitat. I went for the latter. Look them up on google if you want a proper gander.

Curanto. Photo Natasha Young

In the afternoon I finally got my first taste of Curanto and a personal guided tour of Ancud from Juan, a Santiago Couchsurfer who grew up in Chiloe and was back for the weekend. Ancud is a wonderful wee place, full of rugged empty beaches, wildlife and colourful houses. For me though, Ancud wil always be the place where I got to watch the waddling gait of those tiny penguins.

I’ll leave you in Castro where the sun is doing its level best to shine and I have just had one of the best meals of my life – Cerviche de Erizo (that’s raw sea urchin for you Brits). If you want to know how much I liked it, check out my happy, contented little face.

Loving the Cerviche de Erizo.

Palafitos in Castro, Chiloe. Photo Natasha Young


Filed under blog, chile, Travel blog