My mum bought me a parachute jump for my 18th birthday, on condition I check with the doctor that it would be safe.
You see, I have a broken vertebrae, which my GP said means I have a 9/10 chance of being paralysed on landing should I take my present.
Having tested the strength of my back multiple times since then, I decided the doctor was wrong and booked myself in for a 15,000ft jump with Vegas Extreme Skydiving for the morning of my 40th birthday.
I loved every minute of it – the perfect way to end my 6 month trip and round off my midlife crisis!
Few countries draw me to them because of one person, but Frida Kahlo was the initial reason I went to Mexico.
Even 60 years after her death I wanted to stand in the same place she had and get to know the painter better.
Stepping into the studio of La Casa Azul, the home where Frida was born and died, and standing in front of the mirror through which she painted many of her self portraits, slowed time for me. The intimacy of this room gives the impression she’ll walk in at any moment, yet I was surrounded by tourists and guards.
Getting to understand Frida’s affiliation with her Mexican lineage also added an extra dimension to the lessons I would go on to learn about this land’s Indian ancestors and the Spanish invaders. I left feeling like I was taking a piece of her with me.
Mexico City is rich with culture, and being there presents a far different picture than film makers portray.
In the Plaza de la Constitución I met a long-haired guitarist who recited a love poem he had composed, then asked to be my Facebook friend. This old-fashioned-elegance-meets-modern-day is reflective of the capital itself. It honours its history and is stocked full of museums, art, architecture, ancient history and religious legend which would keep visitors entertained for weeks. And I lapped it up, squeezing in as much as I could, until I left for Tequila.
This journey was more of a pilgrimage to the birthplace of one of my favourite drinks and I was pleased to find that it wasn’t stag-party central, but a delightful countryside town with a serious dedication to the art of brewing its namesake. I lucked upon a private tour at the Jose Cuervo distillation plant which gave me a much stronger appreciation of tequila – you cannot underestimate how seriously Mexico takes this drink. Songs have been written about it, and deservedly so*.
I left Mexico charmed, despite my tour of the agave fields being cut short by the military police executing a crack down on the drug traffickers that same afternoon.
Turn up early to the Frida Kahlo Museum, to avoid long queues. And expect to spend here – the museum charges for entry, then extra to take photographs, for example.
Museums in Mexico City are closed on Mondays. They are free to Mexicans on Sundays, so likely to be crowded.
Consider overland travel instead of flying – I travelled from Mexico City to Guadalajara with ETN which outdid any economy flight I’ve been on in terms of comfort. You can buy tickets from the many Oxxo shops.
Take the sightseeing Turibus – a great introduction to the vast capital.
Eat: huevos rancheros – a traditional Mexican breakfast
Loved the strength of pride Mexico has in its cultural history.
Hated Tequila tourism being shut down for the afternoon because of the ongoing battle against the drug traffickers.
Where I drank
What I saw
People flying kites in the Plaza de la Constitución as the sun set.
Lucha Libre at the Arena Mexico!
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City
Teotihuacan Pyramids, close to Mexico City
My taxi drive cross himself as we arrived at the bus station in Guadalajara.
Being introduced to mariachi music by the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport.
I travelled to Havana’s centre in a 1950s Pontiac taxi, on a road littered with broken down cars, choking on exhaust fumes, but the sun was out and I was in the country which wrote the book on retro chic.
Even as a solo traveller, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the romance of this capital city. I spent my evening strolling along the seafront, the Malecón’s walls lined with fishermen and couples taking in the warm breeze and orange sunset. Wandering alone attracts a little of that famous Latin American love which every girl should experience – men are extremely complimentary here and it’s good for the soul. I ignored them all though, of course.
The decrepit buildings lining the opposite side of the road are an invitation to the charming historic streets. If you enjoy a stereotype, Old Havana is where you’ll find it. Cigar smoking, dapper dressed men and bars offering the best rum in the world.
My journey took me from the town to the Canarreos Archipelago, starting in Cienfuegos, where I joined a G Adventures catamaran cruise around the islands. Cue five days of fishing, snorkelling, sunbathing and BEER BALL!* But best of all were the sunsets and stars.
When night time came, it felt like being in a planetarium, seeing the sun and the stars meet the horizon, spending hours watching the constellations move.
Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has another draw. This small, time warp town, with its well preserved Spanish colonial homes and restaurants, is charming and holds on to an era in which it thrived.
There’s never been a better time to go to Cuba than right now. It has an air of excitement about the renewed friendship being formed with the United States, but as yet this Caribbean island holds on to its own identity. Go! Before McDonald’s invades!
*Please drink responsibly.
Prepare to pay for everything in cash.
Check your change – you only want convertible pesos, don’t let people give you Cuban pesos, hardly anywhere takes them
Wifi is limited – don’t expect to be able to update your Facebook status whilst you’re there.
Don’t underestimate the size of the island – it’s big and would take at least a month to explore properly. I spent two weeks there.
Eat: fresh fish
Loved Cuba’s very own blend of Caribbean style.
Hated the hugely overpriced hotels, but the casa particulars make up for it.
Where I drank
What I saw
Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, with memorials to Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfeugos and José Martí.
El Caballero de París – a bronze statue of a Cuban legend, just off Plaza de San Francisco. If you touch his beard and finger it brings good luck. Naturally.
The canon ceremony, at Cuba’s Fortresa de San Carlos de la Cabana
Vivir Mi Vida, Marc Anthony
Casa de Música, Trinidad