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Thoughts on writing romance novels about real 'live' people...

As a writer I’d like to be able to subscribe to certain people’s WhatsApp conversations, you know? I think they’d be great character studies… like imagine ...

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Why a staycation is better than going abroad (sometimes)

Deep in one of the world's most dangerous rainforests, I cast my eyes to the Colombian skies as my ass sagged into a river from ...

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A single girl's guide to Amsterdam's NEMO Science Museum

Check it out - a building that looks just like my love life. A giant, sinking ship. (Sigh). Yes, yes, the dating game's a drag ...

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View from Dubrovnik city wall

Croatia: Getting around in Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar

So, if you're here, you're probably looking for information on travelling to and around Croatia? You're in luck' because I just got back. I can only ...

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Remembering Yemen...

I never did make it to Syria unfortunately, but I did visit Yemen in 2008, which I'm thinking about now in the midst of this ...

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Christmas in Prague...

I just got back from Prague - another new city for me. I love nothing more than heading off to a new place and just ...

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Tinder Diaries: Getting my Groupon...

Shamus's profile shots scrolled like some kind of Action Man calendar. In one photo the 39-year-old Irish-Canadian was hugging a goat on what looked like ...

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Tinder Diaries: Tempur-Pedic promises...

And another Tinder Diary for you, this one's also from last year in Vancouver.  Tempur-Pedic promises... 'I got you a drink!!!' the text message yelled at me. ...

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Tinder Diaries: The Burner In The Park

In trawling through folders on my laptop for some old work I've just come across some diaries I wrote about Tinder dating last year in ...

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I go to the gym a lot. And other things I never thought I'd say...

Once in Sydney I joined a yoga studio for $350 a year and went once. In New York I spent close to $600 and went to ...

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Things you should probably know before going to Burning Man

So, Burning Man. Hmm. How was it, you ask? Honestly. I can't even really tell you yet, and it's been three weeks. But I'll try. As a ...

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11 things you only ever say on WhatsApp when you're going to Burning Man...

I LEAVE TOMORROW!! Am I ready? Probably not.  I'm what's known as a Virgin, (this will be my first time at Burning Man) and in ...

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Thoughts about rainbows...

I cycled home tonight right under a rainbow - the kind of rainbow that smiles across the sky in every colour, and then more colours ...

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How to tell when you travel too much (and when you should stop)

Yup. That's how. That's a screenshot my friend just sent me, when I told her to add my new phone number in Amsterdam. "Another one?!" "Yeah, but I'm ...

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…Best Of...

It started with a boy called Matt: why I'm going to Burning Man (in 2 weeks!!!)

Going to Burning Man has been pretty high on the bucket list for years... ever since I started chatting to an American guy online back in 2003, who ...

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The Royal's idea of 'Indian street kids' is not quite right

I know I shouldn't read the Daily Mail because it always annoys me... but today THIS was ridiculous. Honestly. Been to India? Yeah, so have I. Met ...

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How to write a novel: 25 rules

This post is so inspiring, just had to share! Thanks to Matt Haig, who posted it originally. Sometimes us writers really need to read cool stuff ...

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Amsterdam, I love you! See you again soon.

I've decided to move to Amsterdam. Maybe not forever but definitely for a little bit, because, well.... this. And this: And this:  OK maybe not the last one... ...

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Free tsunami romance for Valentine's Day...

Winner of the TBC (The Book Club) award for best non-fiction, 2016.  Hey guys, I'm giving away The Day Of The Wave over Valentine's weekend in ...

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How to Create Titles to Hook Your Readers

This post is written BY JUDITH BRILES posted on February 10, 2016 on The Book Designer Are you sometimes stuck when it comes to adding a title to ...

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Yay, I won an award!

It's a super duper awesome start to the new year, because after a long hiatus during which I've been working reeeeeeally hard and not blogging ...

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Who's the Mills and Boon Man Of The Year 2016? Get your face on a book cover!

Here ye, all you amazing men - and women who know amazing men! Thought I'd spread the word about this. Mills & Boon are launching ...

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Pills that make you poop glitter...

Oh my! We should give these to ALL the pigeons in London until the whole city is a sparkly rainbow! Granted we'd be covered in shit, ...

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Know your strengths...

I'm sitting in the cafe. It's just me, two loud ladies who sound like they're from Essex, and a blonde with her boyfriend. An Essex ...

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Humans of Iceland...

This is Sverrir and the replica of his great grandfather, who was once the pastor of the pretty and remote herring fishing town, Siglufjörður. He was ...

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Adventures in Iceland (in brief because I'm VERY remote right now and WIFI is scarce)...

It started when we flew Fokker. Yes, Fokker. Oh come on, tell me I'm not the only child who finds this funny? It wasn't long before ...

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NOW FREE ON AMAZON: The Day Of The Wave

A moving, emotional romance based on real-life events. NOW FREE ON AMAZON! The Day Of The Wave follows Isla and Ben in the wake of surviving ...

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***FREELANCE PHOTO - POSTMEDIA NETWORK USE ONLY*** VANCOUVER, BC.:JUNE 24, 2014-- Pedestrian traffic in front of Canna Clinic on Commercial Drive, in Vancouver, BC, June 24, 2014.  Canna Clinic at 2223 Commercial Drive, has a doctor from 5 to 8 p.m. every day. Locals can get certified by an in-house  naturopath, and pick up some pot.  (PHOTOS by Don MacKinnon)

Comedy night at the Canna Clinic...

Today I learnt two things. The first is that penguins have knees inside their bodies. Yes. Knees. Inside. I'm not even kidding. The second is that ...

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Spalding School Reunion is Imminent...

I got a message today about a school reunion for the class of 96. My first thought was JEEEEESUS, did I really leave school 19 ...

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Best things to see on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. OK, maybe not the best...

I was just eating my sushi on a restaurant patio last night when a man seemingly dressed as a Mario Brother climbed a nearby tree ...

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Oh Canada, how I LOVE being in you...

And I think these photos prove why! I'm so inspired the more time I spend here, which is Vancouver right now, in case you were ...

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Fun on the Natchez Trace - recreating scenes from a novel in real life!

Yesterday a friend and I drove from Nashville, out past the famous Loveless Cafe (where we stopped to pick up some Peach Preserve) and onto ...

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Read and review 'Before He Was Gone' and get a FREE copy!

The New Adult Book Club on Goodreads are reading Before He Was Gone to review. Sign up if you want your free copy to review! "Sometimes, ...

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RIP Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran (an excerpt featuring their great work, from Balilicious)

How fuggin AWFUL to hear about the executions of these two men, and the others who were wiped out needlessly today in Indonesia. Don't people ...

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Boxing Day Tsunami book trailer (The Day of the Wave)

I made this today! One day I will give up trying to be a filmmaker (maybe), but it's SO satisfying when it uploads and I'm ...

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The Day of the Wave - Playlist

This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had putting a playlist together for a book. There were just so many great artists who inspired ...

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Aliens in the White House...

Just got a newsflash on my phone: 'Small one-person helicopter lands at White House West Lawn. Pilot in custody.' I know I should click on it ...

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Boxing Day Tsunami romance excerpt: (The Day of The Wave)

This is an excerpt from my latest new adult romance, coming May 2015. In brief... "Isla and Ben were just sixteen when the Boxing Day ...

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Uber in Nashville is interesting...

Me: 'So, what's the craziest thing that's happened to you since you started driving for Uber?' Him: 'Are you a shy girl?' Me: 'Er, I don't think ...

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Have I mentioned the Family Dollar Store yet?

Have I mentioned the Family Dollar store yet? It's my new favorite place here in Nashville. Contrary to the name, not everything inside costs a dollar, ...

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Lavenders, motorcycles and a feeling of deep uncool at Nashville's Barista Parlor...

There are some places in this world that will just serve to make you feel deeply uncool, no matter how young and awesome you previously ...

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Why Craigslist in Nashville is killing me...

Here's what this guy just wrote in reply to my post about looking for a room to rent in Nashville: "We are seeking a FEMALE caring nanny/care giver. ...

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Observation of the day...

Ubud cafes were full of middle aged women writing books on macs. Nashville cafes are full of cute young guys making music on macs. I know where ...

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Before He Was A Secret (Starstruck #3) Playlist...

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmhXXflqDQPAxUHvBiWosmLHWTd6sBM4Z I can't write a word without being inspired by every sound in the air around me, and I turned to music more than ever with ...

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Musings on a Nashville snow day...

No one told me flying south for the winter would take me somewhere colder than England. Then again, there's something so peaceful about walking alone down ...

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Fight your way through! A message to writers like me…

Fight your way through! A message to writers like me...

...and other creative souls no doubt! Someone sent me this video today by the amazingly inspiring Ira Glass, which I found very interesting. I can relate ...

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The difference a motorised bike makes...

I miss my bike in Bali so much that today I actually hovered outside someone's house in South Harrow contemplating whether I could justify spending ...

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Proving my roots: The nonsense that is taking the IELTS test in London...

"PUT YOUR PENCILS DOWN! PENCILS DOWN, NOW!!!" Dumbledore boomed. I almost jumped out of my plastic chair, nerves shot to sh*t. I have a problem ...

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There's nothing more sexist than The Sun pulling Page 3 Girls...

Yes... SEXIST. If only for what's being said around the decision to drop this whole thing! "Instead of bare breasts, the pictures will now show scantily-clad ...

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I SURVIVED: The Freak British Tornado (and the suspect still running loose)

A mini-tornado hit north west London this afternoon - causing damage to homes and cars. I think I summoned it. I was thinking very dark ...

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It's cover reveal day for Before He Was A Secret. Exclusive excerpt here...

Today's the day, whoo hoooooo! I can finally reveal another amazing cover by designer Jeanine Henning, for the third standalone romance in my Starstruck Series, ...

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The night Emma Watson stole my toothbrush...

WARNING!!! I feel like I should say something. I've been quiet for way too long... almost an hour actually, but about an hour ago I ...

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Vaginal smoking and the benefits of yoni egg insertions (note: there are many)...

I have recently become quite fascinated with vaginal treatments. The fascination began when I saw this tempting advertisement on a board outside a spa in ...

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The truth about 'Ecstatic Dancing' at The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali... (warning, this post may smell)

Everyone in Ubud knows the Yoga Barn. It's a sort of second home for eager expats, all of whom are quite happy to spend an ...

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Boobies and other star attractions – a quick squint at the Galapagos…

2.Galapagos seals.smallCarrots. It’s always the carrots. Even if you haven’t eaten any carrots, they always seem to show up first when you’re retching over the toilet bowl, wondering when the hell your stomach will settle and leave you free to roll into a self-pitying fetal ball on the floor. This is at least what Farzana told me after a night chucking her guts up out on the deck, and in the metre-wide closet that constitutes the bathroom in our five-star yacht.

Of course, it could have been papaya, I reasoned, the fruity orange Ecuadorean cousin that also chooses to surface first during terrible bouts of seasickness. But anyway, beginning our highly anticipated Galápagos cruise the other day, we sailed overnight from Cerro Dragon on Isla Santa Cruz, to Post Office Bay on Isla Floreana and realised that poor Farzana had left her sea legs somewhere on a pristine beach surrounded by sea lions. After a while I had no choice but to leave her lying in a crumpled heap on the five-star navy pinstriped sun lounge, while I prayed to the dimpled face of a seriously oversized moon for her recovery.

Ah, the moon! What a sight to behold here on the equator: the way it hangs in its Milky Way hammock between a squillion stars. You won’t see as many stars as you will here anywhere else on this planet, trust me, not even if you go to every Oscars after- party ever thrown by Elton John.

The Tip Top II cruise ship (one of the Galápagos’s original fleet vessels) swayed like Beyonce’s hips in a concert arena as I studied the black pin-pricked blanket of the Galápagos sky, and I was left in no doubt whatsoever that we, as humans sailing though this life, are not alone. We simply can’t be. Leaning over the railings that first night, I got lost in the majesty, the romantic possibility of galaxies stretching light years into infinity, until Farzana brought me back to earth by releasing another batch of vegetables.

The reason for such a spectacular display of stars above the Galápagos, according to our knowledgeable guide Andreas, is that on the equator you’re looking at twice the number of constellations. The stars you can see from both the Southern and the Northern Hemisphere are all spread out before you in the centre of the world, crisscrossing in the night like lonesome gypsy travellers wandering at last into each other’s paths. Some little stars are so bright and alive, they actually do twinkle.

Our guide Andreas loves nature like you wouldn’t believe. He told me on our second night, as a group of us lay out on the sun lounges counting constellations, that when he drank ayahuasca in the Amazon rainforest he communicated with ‘the spirit of the vine’ herself. Ever since then, he’s been able to communicate almost psychically with the animals.
You might laugh, but I swear, as we continue to walk together through some of the most insanely beautiful landscapes on our various island excursions, the animals we encounter don’t bat an eyelid. Not just that, but Andreas can point out every single animal and bird he promises we’ll see, usually within moments of promising it. It’s almost like he calls them and they appear.

Fascinated, we wandered around huddled groups of charcoal- coloured marine iguanas on our first day, their red underbellies glowing like embers. We saw albatrosses with humongous yellow beaks eyeing us idly from their grassy nests as we passed, just inches away. Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled in their scarlet droves over the rocks. Sea lions were everywhere. In fact, while most people who visit the Galápagos might ask ‘will I definitely get to see the sea lions?’ before they book their tickets (like we did), the truth is that you’ll be hard-pressed not to see one here. You’ll see thousands of sea lions and, yes, you can swim with them and, yes, they actually want you to swim with them, too!

They’ll chase your boat through the blue. They’ll waddle up to you on the beach and waddle back into the surf, and then turn around to see if you’re following, like puppy dogs. If you’re not, they’ll do the same again until you step into the water. This experience alone made the cruise worthwhile, I think. You don’t have to do a cruise in order to see the sea lions, though. You can go out to the islands on day tours from Santa Cruz if you buy a $400 (average) return flight from Quito.

It’s worth remembering, however, that most of these day tours are overpriced and the guides — many of them locals with no qualifications — are known to be considerably less enthusiastic than actual naturalists, like Andreas, who are paid really well to work on the higher-end cruises and will tell you so many interesting facts as you go that your head will spin.

One field trip the other day saw us beaching our Zodiac (an inflatable dinghy for the uninformed) on sands so white I thought I’d be blinded. The whiteness sloped down into some of the clearest seawater on earth. It was as translucent as tap water. This was Gardner Bay, Isla Española — in the far southeast of the Galápagos archipelago and almost four million years old. Make sure your cruise includes a stop here and don’t book it if it doesn’t. This is without a doubt one of the most unspoiled … no, make that the most unspoiled part of the planet I have ever laid eyes on. It was actually surreal.

Lazing on this beach we were able to stand, sit or even lie within one metre of the sea lions, ‘but no closer than one metre — that’s the rule,’ Andreas told us sternly. We all spent hours posing for the obligatory photos as these creatures, some of them huge and menacing-looking, some just curious babies, eyed us in equal wonder. There is seriously nothing cuter than a baby sea lion. And there’s nothing more impressive than spotting a cluster of a thousand or so marine iguanas, just lounging in the sun like dinosaurs who forgot to become extinct.

Andreas told us one story of a man who was caught at the airport with a marine iguana in his backpack. God knows how he thought he would get it to wherever he was going, but these creatures are so placid it’s not hard to believe that you could scoop a few up and whisk away with them. They smell pretty bad, though. I’m not sure you’d want one, really.

None of the animals seem to have any fear of humans in the Galápagos, and Andreas explained that it’s because none of them – maybe with the exception of that poor iguana — have ever been harmed by humans. Every few months, they shut certain islands to cruise ship passengers and open different ones to encourage the continuation of each natural habitat without disturbance. The US$100 entrance fee, which everyone must pay in cash upon arrival at the Galápagos airport, is spent purely on maintaining this unique part of the world and its precious, rare ecosystems.

Charles Darwin first noted that the finches on each Galápagos island varied in the shape and size of their beaks, and thus, his theory of natural selection was born in 1839. It appeared that these finches had originally come from mainland South America, that they had colonised the islands at some point and had then over time evolved their distinct beaks according to their needs in each different island environment.

To this day, the Galápagos National Park Service and conservation teams are so concerned with keeping every island immaculate and individual that the cruise ship staff have been told to make all passengers wash their feet and shoes after each island visit to avoid cross-contamination. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been hosed down on this cruise. I’m actually surprised Farzana and I weren’t put in quarantine before we were allowed to visit … but then, the authorities aren’t aware of my filthy thoughts about Salvador (sigh).

Today we got to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, but unfortunately we’re just a few weeks too late to see its star, Lonesome George, the sole remaining Pinta Island tortoise. He refused to mate, apparently. He just wasn’t a horny tortoise, so his entire subspecies fizzled out when he did, in June. Poor guy, though — all that pressure. Imagine if you and only you were responsible for the continuation of your entire race. It was all too much for George. He preferred eating cucumbers.

Before humans sailed up, the Galápagos Islands were home to literally tens of thousands of giant tortoises. The numbers fell to near extinction but there’s now a recovery program run by the Charles Darwin Foundation, and it has been successful in bringing the numbers back up to over 20,000. You can walk around the research station and learn all about them, which, to be honest, isn’t really the most exciting thing in the world. They don’t do much, tortoises.

The blue-footed booby is perhaps the creature that most people look forward to encountering in the Galápagos. I won’t bother with any puns now and, trust me, neither will you once you’re here, because everyone does it for you, all over the place. You can’t walk down the street in Santa Cruz without being accosted by a man displaying his rail of ‘I heart Boobies’ T-shirts.

These weird, long-winged seabirds look a bit like penguins crossed with seagulls and they really do have bright blue feet, as though they’ve waddled across a wet painting of the ocean. Our group was lucky enough to witness the mating ritual, which is a strange dance-off between the male boobies, a bit like men vying for a girl’s attention at a party. The female looks on from the perimeter, trying to decide which one she prefers as they flap and strut and lift each leg up in an effort to look masculine. The winner gets the girl and the privilege of building her a nest, and the loser goes off to try his luck with someone else.

It was during the enjoyment of this ritual that we also witnessed our first group of ‘serious birdwatchers’. You won’t see as many birdwatchers anywhere as you will in the Galápagos. As you can imagine, it is literally the holy grail for fans of things- with-wings and you can spot these people a mile off, usually because their telescopic lenses protrude into the corners of your humble iPhone snap shots, appearing way before you see the ‘serious birdwatcher’ in person.

What really sets a ‘serious birdwatcher’ apart from a regular birdwatcher, however, is the note-taking. Not content with photographing every single feather on the head of an Española mockingbird, or the butt-crack of a swallow-tailed gull, the ‘serious’ of the species must then whip out a clipboard and pen and busy themselves with noting why these feathers are so very different from the ones they shot yesterday, plus the date, time and exact location of each shot.

I know this because I stopped one man, part of a bird-watching tour group, and asked what they were all writing down. He was drooping under the weight of his equipment and his Canon lens was so long and so unconscionably wide, I’m pretty sure the Hubble Space Telescope would’ve had a tough job competing for close-ups.

‘We have a competition, with prizes when we get home,’ he said proudly. ‘We have to make sure we all get shots of different birds.’
‘But how do you tell the difference?’ I queried. ‘They all look the same to me!’

He frowned then, as though I was the most despicable racist ever to walk the face of the earth. ‘Every single one is unique,’ he said curtly, and lumbered on in his quest.

It seems I have a lot more to learn when it comes to discerning my feathers from my … feathers … and my carrots from my papayas, perhaps. But suffice to say that apart from the little problem of seasickness (which, by the way, was cured once Farzana took some special pills courtesy of a fellow shipmate) the Galápagos is turning out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I should have booked more time here, really.

This is a chapter from my book Latinalicious – The South America Diaries 

See here for KINDLE

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