Team Purple: My top 3 travel memories

Despite the Paralympics drawing to a close tonight, we’re continuing the Olympic spirit by getting involved in a travel blog relay competition hosted by Lowcostholidays. The competition sees a string of travel bloggers sharing their top three travel memories before handing the baton over to a fellow team mate. In true Olympic spirit, I agreed to take part after Team Purple’s captain, Neil at Backpacks and Bunkbeds, invited me to join the race! After a smooth changeover from Steve at iBackerTravel, here are my top 3 travel memories.

Bronze: Exploring the Amazon Basin in Bolivia
After surviving a 24 hour suicidal bus journey, I arrived in Rurrenabaque where a 3 day/2 night Pampas tour into the Amazon Basin would begin. This trip took me face to face with caimans, piranhas and generally all the animals which you should never be within a 100 metre vicinity of. It was amazing! We got within metres of 6ft caimans and alligators, we went piranha fishing and found an anaconda in the wild! Though I must admit, I did bail from the opportunity to swim with pink river dolphins.

Reasons being:
1. I can’t tread water/I’m a weak swimmer.
2. To my right was the area where we had earlier gone piranha fishing.
3. To my left, there were earlier sightings of caimans and alligators.
4. It was really cold.
5. The pink river dolphins didn’t look as friendly as the Flipper style dolphins.

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If I close my eyes, I can’t see him which means that he can’t see me!

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Eating pirahna with my evening meal

We stayed in a small wooden hut on the edge of the river and were woken up by a Howler monkey both mornings, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the real wild and I loved it! The suicidal bus journey to get there was well worth it!

Silver: Climbing Volcan Villarrica in Pucón, Chile
Pucón has become one of my favourite places in Chile and I had arrived determined to climb one ofChile’s most active volcanoes Volcan Villarrica. Being a weather dependent activity, after waiting 5 days, on the morning of the climb, it was still drizzly and we were the only group willing to take the risk and just go for it. And luck was on our side as the drizzle subsided and the sun came out. We walked through the ski resort before ascending the volcano. It was pretty tough as we zig zagged up the volcano. I was near the front of the group and with several metres in between each person, we looked like ants in a procession. At times, we battled against strong winds blowing icicles into our faces as we got higher and higher. However, this did not blind us from taking in the most spectacular scenery. I really felt like I was on top of the world.

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Walking up Volcan Villarrica like ants in procession

When we were about three quarters of the way up, the wind changed direction which meant that the sulphuric gases that the volcano was emitting was blowing directly over our route up to the summit. As advised by our guides, we had to head down. Now for the really fun part! After a 5 hour uphill climb, we had a 1 and a half hour toboggan slide downhill! We strapped a plastic disc on our bum and slid all the way down to the bottom using our ice pick as a brake! Weeeeeeeeee!!!!

The breathtaking views along with the satisfaction of having climbed over a 1,000 metres in a day, made up, to an extent, for not reaching the summit. It was one of the best activities I’ve ever done.

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Feeling on top of the world

Gold: Who am I? – Tracing my roots in Vietnam
Have you ever seen the film Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? When he forgets his memory and screams “WHO AM I?”. Well, to an extent, that’s how I felt when I took a trip to Vietnam and visited Song Mao, the small village where my mum grew up. My mum is Chinese but spent most of her life in Vietnam after fleeing China’s communism as a baby. In 1979, at the age of 28, my mum along with her family fled from the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the communist threats in search of a better life. They became one of hundreds and thousands of “Vietnamese boat people”. To cut a long story short, after drifting for several days, they were found by a British merchant vessel and sought refuge in the UK– hence my British passport.

My mum has never been back and me and my boyfriend decided to go to the village as part of a 3 day Easy Rider motorbike tour from Nha Trang to Mui Ne. On the morning of my trip to Song Mao, I received an email from my sister informing me that my great uncle and his family were still in Song Mao (they failed to escape Vietnam) and that I should try and find him. She had scanned a handwritten letter in Chinese from my mum to my uncle explaining who I was. Apparently, the village is so small that everyone knows everyone. All I have to do is ask where Tham Number 6 lived. In these small villages everyone is numbered instead of calling them by their name. My mum was known as Tham daughter number 9.

The village is very small about 10 blocks long and 4 blocks wide. When we arrived, we found the temple which my mum had described and opposite was a lady. The village is predominantly Chinese. In my limited Cantonese (I speak a different dialect) I explained that my mum use to live here, and that I was trying to find my great uncle. She said she didn’t know anyone by the surname Tham. She then led us to a group of guys fixing a motorbike and explained who I was looking for. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by the local women all staring at probably the first white boy to ever step foot into the village. They got two plastic chairs for us to sit in the shade. I got my letter out from my mum and showed it to a man who read it out to identify who I was looking for.

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Me surrounded by the local women with my mum’s letter in one hand and my iPod touch in the other showing photos of my mum when she was younger. We appeared to be the entertainment of the day for all the local women.

After a few phone calls, a guy turned up on a motorbike. It was my great uncle’s son, so my uncle I guess. He took us back to his house (just up the road) and I met my great uncle for the first time. He is deaf and I showed him the letter so he knew who I was. My uncle then took me round the village to show me where my mum’s old house was and where my grandparents use to sell noodles and coffee from their front room. It was a fascinating experience and one which I will never forget. Ever since I arrived in Vietnam, I felt a very strong connection to it. In a weird way, it felt like my home. I’m now hoping I’ll take another trip back but this time with my mum as a personal guide.

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Me and John with my great uncle and his second son at their home in Song Mao

Thanks for reading my leg of the race. I’m now handing the baton over to Roy at The Riding Dutchman. COME ON TEAM PURPLE!!!

About Julia Chan

I’m Julia and I've just returned from the adventure of my life. I went travelling around South America, the South Pacific and South East Asia for 12 months, and I'd do it all over again if I could! Julia on Google+
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