Mountains: A Photo Essay

Mountains have the power to awe and inspire like no other landscape on earth. They remind us of our own insignificance in the world, they are a challenge to take on and they have an aesthetic, timeless pefection which leaves us weak at the knees. I spent much of last year living at high-altitude, waking up to views of the mountains, climbing them and even skiing down them. Now, living in a part of England which is as flat as a pancake, I miss the challenge and the beauty of mountains; I miss the way they make my soul sing.   First there was France – a brief sojourn in the glorious Alps…   After living for a while at the foot of the Pyrenees.   My more recent ‘home abroad’ was Ancash in Peru, where the Cordilleras Blancas kept me in their thrall day after day. You can’t go far in Peru before you reach one mountain range or another – Mountains define the country’s history and its present culture – and provide some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet.   From the sparkling villages on the mountains around Cuzco…   …and the soaring peaks of the Sacred Valley…   …to the volcanoes of Arequipa.   Some mountains quite literally overshadow the lives and cultures of entire communities, like Cerro de Potosi in the Bolivian highlands. It is the kind of thing Spanish conquistadores dreamed of: a mountain full of silver. In those bygone colonial years, Potosi became synonymous with wealth, but today miners still work there, extracting silver for very little in return. Potosi, one...

The Story of Starry-Eyed Travels

It’s just a few days to Christmas; the presents are wrapped, the preparations are almost done. It’s time to take a breath, calm the already fraying nerves and reflect on the year gone by. So I thought I’d take a moment to write a Christmas message to you. Considering where I was this time last year, it’s hard to believe everything that’s happened in the intervening months. Starry-Eyed Travels didn’t exist – it was not even a twinkle. But last Christmas, I was, in a roundabout way, given the gift of a year. One year, to do absolutely anything I wanted with my life. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to travel. The logical step seemed to be travel-writing, so in January, I ventured a couple of articles to Kash at Europe Budget Guide and Margo at the Travel Belles. I fired off those emails in a tentative, nervous tone and waited for a response. I was hoping that my pieces might be published; what I got was far more than that. Both Kash and Margo turned out to be incredible mentors and dear friends – two entirely different people, but with equal measures of boundless energy, unsurpassed knowledge and a desire to help others succeed. I don’t know if it was luck or fate that practically the first pieces of travel-writing I ever did landed in their inboxes, but I can’t express how glad I am that they did. So I refined my craft, developed my knowledge around my new field of work and found my voice. Starry-Eyed Travels launched in April...

David Mather Foundation

Salta, Argentina. The locals call it la linda – the beautiful. At first glance, it’s easy to see why. Arriving fresh from a month spent in a poor town in the Peruvian Andes, Salta’s refined streets practically glittered. Designer clothes boutiques stand beside upmarket souvenir shops, leading to the central Plaza, where well-heeled locals sit at pavement cafes, sipping espressos. The cathedral – pale pink with ornate white adornments – certainly takes the prize for one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. But this is only one side of Salta, the tourist-friendly face. I was soon to discover another side to the city, which is a different picture entirely. I had come to spend a few weeks volunteering at the David Mather Foundation. It is a charity which helps to improve the prospects of disadvantaged young people in Salta, founded and run by Ian and Ceri Mather, British semi-expats. They set up the charity in memory of their son David, who sadly died in a paragliding accident in Salta three years ago. David had seen the huge divisions in Salta’s society and the abject conditions in which the indigenous communities live, compared with the luxurious lifestyles of those of European descent. He was keen to do something to help, so his parents are fulfilling his wish. Working with teenagers is not an area I’ve had much experience in – I’m more used to dealing with children who can’t yet tie their own shoelaces – but I was interested in the project and figured that students who turn up to attend early-morning classes of their own free will are probably...

From the Surreal to the Sublime: Salar de Uyuni

The van bumped its way along the road, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. The early-morning sun painted the mountaintops in colour. Then it appeared. A vast, empty plain of dazzling white. We had arrived at the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia: the world’s largest Salt Flat. The van continued onto the salt and suddenly we were skimming across this surreal terrain. Recently melted snow had left a sheen of water which reflected the sky. It was like a dreamscape. We stopped by a section of grids, marked out in squares. each square held a perfect prism of salt, which was reflected, iceberg-like, on the watery surface. Our guide explained that this was a salt processing plant – the prism shape was to dry the salt, which the workers would then transport and prepare for sale. We piled back into the van and drove for over an hour across the endless white until we arrived at the edge of Incahuasi Island, alongside numerous other vans. We’d barely blinked awake when the guide conjured up a table and a delicious spread for lunch. We ate and chatted, wondering if the salt in the cellar had come straight from the patch of ground we were standing on. Once fed and watered, we were free to hike to the top of the island and enjoy the views. it didn’t take long to get to the first viewpoint. The island was covered in cacti, which were silhouetted by the strong sunlight, their spikes appearing as fluffy halos. The pure, boundless white of the salt met the brillant blue of the sky....

Hearts, Handbags and Works of Art

Until I started thinking about how to answer this months’ Across the Cafe Table question posed by the Travel Belles: ‘What’s Your Favourite Travel Shopping Find?’ I had never considered myself a particularly materialistic traveller. Then I looked around my new bedroom in the house I’ve just moved into and realised that a lot of the things making it feel homely and ‘mine’ were related to my travels. I wondered how I would ever pick a favourite. There’s the string of wooden hearts I bought at a market in France hanging on the door, adding a vintage chic touch. I’m rather fond of those. But then there’s the two one-off art pieces I brought back from South America, a sweet Peruvian painting and a Northern-Argentinean grain mosaic. They make me smile when I open my curtains in the morning, remembering the intense sunshine of my high-altitude life as I look out at the grey English drizzle. Then, inside my wardrobe, there’s the purple woollen dress I bought for ridiculously few dollars in Urban Outfitters in Chicago, an item which I wear relentlessly through the Autumn and Winter and which began my love affair with Urban Outfitters (and in particular, their sales). Or what about the red alpaca wool dress (I have a thing about woollen dresses) bought for a pittance at a Bolivian market? It has a cute little hood and looks great teamed with a black polo neck top. But if I open the African-made (although British-bought) jewellery box on my dresser, I’ll find a chunky bangle bought on my coming-of-age trip to Morroco. I really love that...
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