Month #4 – the good, the bad, and the unexpected

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Location: Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

The good

Getting featured on Lonely Planet

When I first started toying with the idea of writing a travel blog, I was nervous about sharing my writing with anyone. Even the thought of a friend or colleague scrutinising my thoughts and expressions would send me into paroxysms of embarrassment. But, after months of scribbling away at all hours of the night and hiding my words in a secret corner of the internet, I bit the bullet: I made live. Weeks after, I plucked up the courage to attend a travel writing retreat where, along with a group of like-minded women, I dared to voice a dream of mine – to travel the world and write about it, full-time. During the retreat, we each tentatively put together a list of dream publications that we’d like to see our writing published in and, for me, Lonely Planet sat right up at the top.

So it was a pretty momentous achievement for me to see that goal reached this month when my article about Ubud, Bali was featured as one of their top reads for October. Whilst a small feature on a website might be a drop in the ocean for more seasoned pros, it was a thrill to see my name in print alongside such a well-respected logo, and to receive a modicum of validation that this ‘whole writing thing’ is proving to be worthwhile.

Ellie Anywhere. In Bali.

Getting inspired in Bali

The Great English vs. American Cook Off

The more I meet people from different countries, the more I realise that us Brits have a pretty bad reputation when it comes to food. The ghosts of our historic classics still haunt us today, and most foreigners find it hard to believe that we chow down on anything other than suet, animal intestines and lard.

The latest round of lambasting came from an American couple who we befriended through the dive shop here in Playas del Coco. After a series of insults about our ‘weird food’ and ‘unrefined palettes’, I decided that enough was enough. It was time for them to put their meals where their mouths were. And so we devised a simple but delicious challenge – each couple would make a meal that best summed up their home-country on a plate.IMG_6203
Leaping at the chance to get back into a proper kitchen, I took on Round One. There’s a lot of misconceptions about British gastronomy out there, but one thing that we are rightly famed for is our epic Sunday Roasts; the French even call us ‘rosbeefs’. The roast is comprised of a joint of meat which is accompanied by roast potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and, best of all gravy. (That’s proper English gravy by the way – the delicious, meaty brown variety – not the American kind which seems to me to be nothing more than a catch-all word that covers all generic sauces…)

USA vs UK cook offThe hearty roast was devoured in mere minutes, and followed by a gooey and decadent Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding – my signature dessert. If the clean plates and full bellies were anything to go by, my dishes of choice did a good job of converting two staunch Southern Americans to the delights of British fare.

A week rolled by and it was time for Round Two, good old Southern ‘Murican food. I don’t think I’m alone in jumping straight to images of burgers, hotdogs and fries when I think of the gastronomical offerings that the US has bought to the global table, but I can understand why this is a frustrating stereotype to any American who has a passion for food. And fortunately, our chef for the night was one such person. He would be treating us to a traditional family meal of BBQ chicken and pork with homemade baked beans, potato wedges, coleslaw and greens.

US vs UK cook off

De-ja vu…

My first mistake to imagine that this would be an outdoor event. Barbecues in England consist of a few sad looking sausages charring slowly over luke-warm coals, while a group of equally sorry looking people huddle under a flimsy gazebo, desperately trying to pretend it’s warm and staunchly declaring that the steady downpour of rain is nothing but a passing shower. But in America, barbecuing meat doesn’t involve al-fresco cooking at all – that would be a grill. Instead, barbecue is a style of slow-cooking and a certain flavour combination.

Once we’d got past the language barriers and cleared up any cross-cultural miscommunications we tucked in. And, damn it, it was divine. I left feeling more full than I have in months, reluctantly conceding that perhaps I’d judged American food a little too quickly. We have since decided to call this competition a draw. Although whether this is an exercise in international relations, or more simply an excuse to host an equally delicious rematch is debatable.

The bad

Feeling homesick for the first time

This was always going to happen. You simply can’t leave an amazing group of people behind and expect not to notice. But the first three months I’ve managed to fill the hole that my best friends and closest family members have created by their absence with new experiences, new friendships and regular calls home. And it’s worked well enough, until now.

Moving to a new unknown city and starting the socialising process all over again made me crave the easy pleasure of being around people who know you, the real you. As always, settling into a new place takes time and, at the end of the month, I’m happy to say that I’m starting to feel at home, but there have been moments throughout the bedding in process where I’ve felt desperately homesick for my friends.

Fortunately, with the combined efforts of Skype, Whatsapp and Facetime, my blues didn’t last too long and a couple of calls home were enough to get me back on track. I’m also grateful to have found a group of people who here who I can now happily call firends.

Much as no one likes to admit to being sad, I’m pleased that I felt this pang of melancholy for those back at home as it reminds me just how lucky I am to have them, and how important it is to have friends in my life – both old and new.

The unexpected

Cutting my own hair (again)

When I was 20, I got home after a big night out and, after an in-depth discussion with my friend, the kind that’s fuelled by one too many vodka red-bulls, I decided that my life would be infinitely better if I had a fringe.

In fact, I was so keen to start sporting my life-changing new look that I didn’t want to waste a minute. I grabbed the kitchen scissors, ran to the bathroom, and hacked off a whole chunk of hair. I then spent 10 minutes flicking my hair around like I was in a Pantene advert before going to bed and promptly passing out, happy that I would awake and reveal my new goddess like look to my astounded and envious friends.

I woke up the next morning to a splitting hangover and a hair-do disaster. My chic new fringe was, in fact, a butchered zigzag of hair that sat a good 10cm above my eyebrows. Not a good look. But, after weeks of shamefully plaiting it out the way, I felt it was sufficiently lengthy to air it on a night out: a bold but terrible decision. After seeing photographic evidence of the horrors that home-cut-hair can lead to, I vowed I would never ever cut my own hair again.

Cutting my own hair

(I think the look on my face says it all…)

Years later, and I find myself living life in a completely new way. I am travelling the world, prioritising adventure, sensation and new experiences over day-to-day luxuries. I’ve been forced to reassess my attitude towards money – my pot of savings is not bottomless and the fear of running out and returning home keeps me counting the pennies.

When faced with the choice of spending money on a haircut, I’ve decided that I just don’t want to justify that expense. And so, after 9 months of uncut hair, I broke the promise I made to myself after Fringe Gate and reached for the kitchen scissors once again.

Cutting my own hair

The result was unexpectedly good. Whether the years have matured me and my coiffeuring skills, or whether it was simply the lack of multiple ‘quad-vods’ in my bloodstream, I actually managed to do a half decent job and save myself the equivalent of a nice dinner out in the process. Now that’s an example of prioritising at it’s best!

It’s been 4 months since I got on a plane and left my normal life behind, and it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. My monthly round-ups are my way of bringing some structure to my new adventurous life, and are the best way to get a sneak peek into what I’ve been up to. You can read them all here.

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