Tag Archives: journey

Panglao Paradise

Panglao was the best island I visited in the Philippines.

Why?

Fewer tourists and the local lifestyle did not appear to have changed as a result of them. A lot of rainforest was intact, though it was rapidly being sold off and cut down and stone houses were springing up. There were still some traditional ones made of bamboo, flax and rattan.

The hotel I stayed in there was the best – Mithi Resort and Spa, a peaceful secluded spot right next to the sea, with a small private beach, incredible snorkelling and luxury accommodation. It was so popular that the standard room had sold out when I paid for it, but the upgrade was worth it. Although I had not paid for a sea view I could see it from my balcony. The staff were so attentive and friendly.

I got there from Cebu by taking an Ocean Jet ferry to Tagbilaran and then the hotel picked me up and drove me over the bridge. It took a few hours.

I made the most of my time there. I found a great private driver hire company, Valleroso and Ralle. You gave them your itinerary and the driver would take you wherever you wanted for a reasonable price, just £30 a day. I asked different companies on Facebook (their companies are all run from social media) until I got the best price, as I was on a budget and kept going over it.

At 10am (I am not a fan of early starts) I went first to the Hinagdanan cave. It was not worth the visit, being small and already busy with tourists.You literally just stand on a ledge once you descended, there is nowhere to go.

The water looked a bit dirty too, I could see grease on it. The tide was out, so we could not enjoy the water. I saw a much better cave in Bohol where you can swim. I will write a post on that soon.

We went to the Blood Compact monument near the port. This commemorated the moment when the local tribe signed a peace deal with the Spanish, drinking drops of each other’s blood in wine in the traditional Cebuano style.

Next up was the pentagonal Spanish watch tower, built so the new settlers could be alert to local attack on all sides, and a church with a pretty painted ceiling.

I was able to get cash out at an ATM without being charged. They had a guard for safety, although the driver told me that they rarely had crime. Everyone knew each other.

I had read about a restaurant with panoramic views on social media, appropriately called Le Panorama, over on Bohol. I went there for lunch and had the best fresh prawns I had ever tasted, in a very tasty tomato sauce, with rice. It was midday but being on holiday, I had to wash it down with a pina colada!

After lunch I had asked the company where a good beach was that locals used, I avoided Alona beach as I had heard that it was packed with tourists and had litter. I won’t name the beach as it is secret, so it doesn’t deteriorate too.

There were palm trees all the way along the shore, only two other tourists and lots of locals fishing in one corner, swimming and snorkelling. One of them came up to me and said I should stay at his brother’s apartments and like everyone around there, said I should live on the island.

On the way back I wanted to try some traditional food so I stopped at a street stall selling fried chicken. I hadn’t seen any cafes or restaurants. The islanders seemed to eat at home. I asked for two pieces. The man went to the back of the stall and started hacking up chicken. People around gawped, even looking back from their scooters. I asked my guide what he was doing and he said “you wanted two chickens didn’t you?”.

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May 19, 2020 · 9:54 pm

The Philippines – Cebu City

En route – Singapore Airport’s Butterfly House

It was my first holiday alone and I was nervous. Would I be safe?

I’d survived the 20 hour flight, thanks to a Singapore Airlines voucher giving me a free shower, like the relief of a wash after a festival.

Cebu City is a bustling, chaotic, hot, noisy, dusty city of around 100,000 people packed into a small space.

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My Grab app would not give me an option to hail a taxi so I got a metered one. “Make sure the meter is running when you get in” Lonely Planet advised, so I checked.

The driver, Marlin, had a side business as a tour guide. He put the price up by 200 pesos (about £3). When I asked why he said “I haven’t changed the sign yet.” He had two children, a girl of 4 and a boy age 14. The girl had been a surprise and he was still paying off the emergency caesarian.

Rows of cars trailed as far as the eye could see until the early hours. My tour guide dropped me off at 5pm and didn’t get home at midnight, on Valentines Day.

He was back to pick me up at 9am “no problem with traffic this morning, I come straight here!”.

It was cheaper than official tours and more flexible. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could have lunch with him at McDonalds or nothing, as we didn’t have enough time, so I passed. After the 20 hour plane journey I still couldn’t stomach a burger.

Grey oblong concrete blocks rose into the sky, but they weren’t very high. It was an urban jungle.

There were only some skyscrapers in the Central Business District, and a mall which only took cash. Fortunately the restaurants outside it took card payments, as you got charged for withdrawals unless you used the HSBC ATM kiosk at the back round the corner.

There were no lanes on the roads and scooters, bikes and rickshaws were weaving around and jeepneys which are open air vans, their buses.

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We drove first to the Taoist temple, built in 1967 in one of the wealthiest areas, the gated hilltop community of Beverly Hills. Surrounded by the first bit of greenery I saw, skyscraper fingers framed the horizon. There were pagodas, dragons on the roofs and fountains. I admired the painted ceilings in the tranquillity.

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We then went to the city’s museum, a former American jail. It explained the history of Cebu and the islands, from the original bamboo and flax huts and reliance on fishing, to a failed invasion of Cebu by the Portuguese who were beaten by machetes, and then the Spanish in 1521, who decided to have an artillery attack from the boat before coming ashore and taking over with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese national, as their captain.

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They brought Catholicism and they are said to have found a figure of the baby Jesus, the “Santo Nino” and that this kept them safe. The five walled watch tower on Panglao and the fort of San Pedro did as well. Eventually the Philippines wanted independence from Spain and there were frequent uprisings. In this climate the Americans came and conquered the islands with the help of the rebels, in 1901 after a two year war. But hopes of independence were dashed as the Americans took over. 

The island nation then fell to the Japanese in December 1941, who established strict military rule in which anyone carrying local banned currency was killed. But the money continued to be used in the black market. Notices were put up everywhere warning of heavy physical punishment for any disobedience. Some locals were put in Prisoner Of War camps and there was a shirt there from someone that had worked in it for five months without being given another. They were beaten regularly by the fearsome Kempe-tei, the prison guards. The Americans helped the guerilla Filipinos once more, and this time The Philippines were granted independence, in 1946.

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There was a chronological trail of artefacts, from Japanese guns to a ceremonial Afghan sword bought from merchants.

I realised I’d been about two hours and felt guilty, it must be hot waiting in that car. The driver was cross, “you take too much time, we late now, you must go faster”.

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We stopped at the Basilica, a church with a piece of cross in it apparently from Magellan’s voyage, but I couldn’t find it! I saw the replica, which was enclosed in a stone dome with a nice painted ceiling. Then I queued up to see the holy relic, the Santo Nino, said to be found by the Spanish when they first landed and which brought good luck to the locals, as they all kissed and touched the glass, muttering and crossing themselves. There was a prayer area outside with stone carvings of what I had just seen and the arrival of the Spanish.

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I then visited a recent towering monument built in the 1990s, showing the settlement story, mostly with figures and with some boats and buildings. The Santo Nino was there as it is in every historical depiction.

Down the road on the right was the oldest house. We had been by the oldest street, a wide road with grey concrete blocks on either side. It was one of the ugliest cities I had seen, but the pleasant kind people I met made up for it. I got approached repeatedly by the same man to buy plastic pearls. Once in the house I was given a tour in English. It had been bought from the Filipinos by Chinese merchants in the 1600s. They had decorated the house with jade ornaments and intricately patterned blue and white vases. It had then stayed in the family for generations. The house was made of thick wooden beams and it was cooler than outside but still warm and airless.

Outside a father and son were playing a duet on a small harp and ukelele. The boy was about four and had obviously had a lot of practice.

I went to another old house, Casa Gorado. I am not sure how old as I was concentrating on the animation on the board in front, which showed how the Spanish had moved the Cebuanos up the hill away from the fishing by the coast, to land that they could not farm because the soil was unsuitable. They could grow corn though. The Spanish arrived in 1565, setting fire to a village and blasting another with cannons. Then Chinese merchants began to settle in the 1600s and they were allocated a part of town near the Cebuanos, but they were only allowed to trade if the changed their surname to a Spanish one and converted to Catholicism.

We finished the tour with the San Pedro fort. It looked grand from the outside but once in it was just the wall and nothing much was left. It isn’t worth visiting, but it is a good stop if you want to be near the port, as you go up the drive and right and it is down the road a short distance on foot.

My taxi driver decided to be honest and stick to his original price, so I paid him the inflated amount he first quoted in appreciation. I navigated the poorly signed full port and off I went over a smooth sea to Tagbilaran…

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Wheely Loving Life

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At the moment it feels like I am zooming downhill on the road of life, enjoying the wind in my hair with only a few bumps ahead.

Everything is going well and I have finally lost the weight I accumulated six months ago.

I realised I had to do something when I went up a dress size and was forced to bulk-buy so I had enough work clothes, sending me into my overdraft this month.

So how did I lose weight?

I love food but I tried to cut down on sugar, especially after my dentist said I had acid erosion.

I also increased my exercise intensity and frequency. Instead of going to the gym once a week, I went two or three times a week.

I started cycling to work more often. Then I bought a cheap fold-up bike from my local Halfords in the sales. I had not realised how heavy it was and lugging the 14kg box the half an hour to the bus stop was an ordeal.

This lovely little fake Brompton means I can commute to work when half the day is dry and then carry it on public transport when it rains. The bus driver was not impressed but I just smiled sweetly and thanked him profusely. I ensured I kept it secured and out of the way of passengers.

I try to do some exercise every day.

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I have increased the number of netball matches I help out with. I used to play in one every few weeks. Now I play up to three matches a week, actively volunteering rather than waiting for an invite. The practice means I can now run faster and defend better.

I love the game because of its fast pace, the intensity, the fine footwork, the challenge and the thinking involved. Helping to get the ball in the net is such a boost. I don’t even realise I’m doing exercise when all my attention is fixed on the blurry ball as it arcs from player to player.

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On the weekend I go for at least one long bike ride. I am lucky that I live near the Peak District, so I pedal out to local beauty spots or to villages and back.

I love the sense of freedom and admiring nature’s beauty, enjoying the breeze cool your face. When you whizz downhill and lean over the handlebars it feels like you’re flying.

I like to stop at little cafes at the furthest point of my journey as that helps me stay motivated on the hills. Then I take in the scenery whilst sipping lemonade and enjoying a slice of cake. I don’t have to feel guilty about it either because I burn around 880 calories and zero fossil fuels on a 25 mile round trip.

Remember, cars run on money and make you fat, but bikes run on fat and save you money!

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Think about your week. How could you increase the amount of exercise you do?

 

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Liverpool

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Friendly locals, a busy nightlife and intimidating seagulls sum up my two night stay in Liverpool.

One beady-eyed bird even stole a sandwich from a sleeping homeless person and stabbed it eagerly with its long yellow beak.

I did not have chance to visit one of the many museums, such as the International Slavery Museum, but I had chance to sample the nightlife and it was much better than my home town.

Even though it was a week-day, there were plenty of people of all ages in the bar, listening to a guitar player sing. The Cavern Club was small, built with bricks and underground. Opening in 1957, The Beatles played there 274 times. Queen and The Beach Boys also played here, amongst many other famous bands. However, the acoustics were bad and amplified too much.

The nicest part of the city centre was Albert Docks, a regenerated collection of former warehouses, with Holiday Inn Express being the best place we stayed there. I had a view out on to the dock in my room and at breakfast, which made up for the stale pastries.

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August 10, 2019 · 7:31 pm

London Laughing with Katherine Ryan

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Katherine Ryan is a Canadian single mum to a 9 year-old girl. They live in a flat in London with a “glitter room” and a “floral” room. She’s also one of the best comedians in the UK.

After a four and half hour coach journey I couldn’t wait to get off the smelly thing to see my friend. Sarah works in a pharmaceutical sales company. She is so organized that when we went to Vietnam she had a spreadsheet for the hotels and one for the flights.

The journey to her new place was supposed to take half an hour. Unfortunately at least three tube lines were having improvement works, so the Circle line was out. I needed to take the District Line (the green one) to Parsons Green, but it didn’t go that far. So I tried to take a taxi, but I was near the Chelsea football ground. It just happened to be Chelsea vs Liverpool, so all the taxis were cancelling on me because roads were blocked off.

Finally I stopped one the traditional way. The charming cabbie said he wasn’t going to work that day because of the match. I was so relieved to be rescued after hours of trudging around with all my bags.

The space and light in Sarah’s flat was lovely after the dark cramped coach. We compared rents and she couldn’t believe how little I pay in comparison. She had a lovely terrace with a city view. I enjoyed sipping tea there in the morning.

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We got to the venue at Leicester Square through the excited evening crowds. I treated myself a Kir Royale cocktail and we settled down for the concert. There was a lovely vocal performance from the London Gay Mens Chorus with intricate acapella arrangements.

Katherine Ryan was hilarious. She was a natural, sourcing material from people in the crowd. It was very engaging. She somehow found someone from her home town in Canada and a single mum of three boys. She is 35 and probably earns a pretty packet.

The Garrick Theatre was a cosy venue, you felt like you were in her sitting room. It was at least half an hour before Katherine started recycling her gags but she created new material on the spot too. Have a look at her on YouTube. Sarah and I appreciate her fearless feminist ethos and gutsy life perspective. She makes us feel empowered and inspired. Catch her on her Glitter Room tour.

I also went to a dress agency near my friend’s flat. It was run by a charming Iranian woman and savvy saleswoman, who talked me into buying two designer dresses and a jacket which I thought was nice for social occasions but which my Chelsea-based sister has said is only suitable for interviews. I grimaced at the handbags made out of every kind of animal and the furs, from mink to fox. I got an embroidered blue wool dress which was so vintage it was actually made in the 1950s and an Italian leather and suede red and black dress, which I wore for the concert. Sadly, the wool dress shrunk as soon as I hand-washed it, and the other items are dry clean only.

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The vintage wool dress

On Sunday morning I went out for brunch with Sarah and my sister and then visited my sister’s new flat.

I was hoping to do something touristy for the rest of the day, but Sarah wanted to go to the gym. She was tired from moving flats and needed a boost. For her, this involves slogging it out at the gym. For me it is going to a coffee shop and having a brew. Each to their own.

I felt better for her boot camp gym workout. She is a natural personal trainer, shouting “no pain no gain!” and “come on, you’re not done yet!” as I groaned under the strain. I wrestled with a 10 kg weight while she did a 20 kg weight for the same time. She looks petite and dainty but this is just an illusion. She could snap your wrist with one hand.

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For 2019, I am planning a holiday to Chile next summer for the solar eclipse. Watch this space…

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My friend and my sister

 

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The journey to Istanbul and our First Night

I hadn’t even thought about the train journey. But it was just my luck that there were gale-force winds. When I got to the station many trains were cancelled or delayed.

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There were crowds of people staring at the boards in desperation, or anxiously chatting into their mobile phones. I assumed the worst, but scanning down I saw my train was at least running and only delayed by five minutes. I had set off at a perfectly respectable hour, 2pm. I even had time for a haircut and colour and had made the split decision to go brunette. I wasn’t sure of it, but the styling was good. By the time I got to London my train had been delayed by half an hour and my boyfriend had already had dinner.

When we got to the airport hotel I was suitably impressed; it was the sort that had Kettle Chips in the vending machine.

The next morning we were up at 7am which was easy enough. From there we drove to the cheap car park my boyfriend had booked online and then took a transfer bus the short distance to the airport. I hadn’t been to Gatwick before and was pleased with the variety of shops on offer. It wasn’t hard to choose where to have breakfast – Jamie Oliver had a restaurant there, which was a pleasant surprise. I expected only low-calorie options after his drive for healthy meals and so was astounded that a “full English” was on the menu. 019

After that I felt as heavy as my cabin bag, which luckily made it on to the plane with 0.2kg to spare for souvenirs on the way back.

We flew by Turkish Airlines and they were excellent, with complimentary Turkish Delight of course. I read my pocket guide book and phrase book and attempted to test my boyfriend, but he had no interest in it and said they’d speak English anyway. He was probably right but I wanted to make an effort. I then leafed through the book that had almost taken me over the 8kg limit: “Strolling Through Istanbul”, a fascinating guide book of the history and attractions of Istanbul. Unfortunately sometimes there was so much detail that I found myself reading the same paragraph multiple times. It all blurred into one literally as I found myself getting tired. 023 As we arrived four hours later, we flew low across the entire city. On emerging from the clouds we first passed long lines of hills illuminated purple in the sunset. Then as we got closer I caught glimpses of domes and minarets, even getting a picture of the Haggia Sophia (pronounced “Aya Sofya” in Turkish) and the suspension bridges criss-crossing the Bosphorous. It was magical.

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View of Haggia Sophia from the plane. Originally a church and built around 500AD, it rises majestically into the air. From the ground its minarets appear to touch the clouds.

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The Bosphorous

However we were brought sharply down to earth (and not just on the runway) when we tried to get out of the airport. It took us a while to find  the subway as there were not many signs until you had actually reached it. Then we assumed they would have ticket offices. No, there were only machines, and they didn’t take anything less than 10 Lira. This was a bit of a problem, we only had 100 Lira notes.

I sleepily suggested going back into the airport and buying something, at which my boyfriend pointed to the queue of disgruntled travellers waiting to get their bags through security. Oh of course. Well why didn’t we see if there were any shops in this large hall area then. We couldn’t see any nearby but I thought surely there would be some further along. Exasperated, we followed the sign for “buses”. This led to a car park with a couple of minivans parked up and guys sitting around smoking (almost everyone smokes in Istanbul).

So we headed back inside, with my boyfriend now thoroughly agitated and fed up. By this time we’d probably spent half an hour finding the place and wondering what to do, so my boyfriend finally decided to give my idea a chance and we went off in search of a shop. Sure enough, we found a “market shop” further down. We breathed a sigh of relief and bought refreshments. I got some sickly sweet cherry juice (I found most of their drinks are either too sweet or too bitter) and some watermelon chewing gum, what a novelty. We then spent some time trying to distinguish our route from the blurred map available and worked out that we’d need to buy a 3 Lira token for any number of stops in one direction. What a bargain compared to the tube in London!

My first impressions of Istanbul (formerly termed “Constantinople”) were that there were lots of mosques… 042

and stray cats… 039 It was heartbreaking seeing the poor mangy fluffy things scavenging in bins, some of them mere kittens. My boyfriend loved watching though them as he has a pet cat.

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I was expecting a standard modern posh hotel. However when we got there it was more vintage posh, or at least had been once. There were signs that the place was a shadow of its former self and the decor was quite overpowering. Everything was gold or crimson, even the walls. My favourite part of it was the winding staircase all the way up, which made me feel like a princess. The roof terrace was also fantastic, offering views across the city. We just walked up there and it was deserted.

Our bed was a modest double but all in gold velvet, with “Palace” written slightly off to one side in the middle. When we went into the bathroom there was a hanging basket overflowing with freebies, from dental kits to fluorescent blue shampoos.

There was a spa in the basement and I proposed we relax from our airport ordeal with a massage. We went down to the reception, which consisted of a small bar. When we turned around there was a small swimming pool and some rooms behind it, presumably the steam room and sauna.

After five minutes or so a young blonde and a Chinese girl turned up and booked us in. I went for a Swedish and my boyfriend went for a “Medical” as he had a sore back. We were sent to two rooms with glass doors. Thankfully part of them were opaque. There we were covered with so much oil that after having every limb attended to we slid off the table and into our clothes a little too easily.

I discovered that the girl I thought was Chinese was actually from Uzbekistan and had emigrated to Turkey for a better life. She had come from a large family and had considered going to university in Uzbekistan but it had been too expensive, so she was now excitedly saving for hairdresser college. She said she preferred Turkey as it was cheaper and there was more to do. None of her family had joined her and had no plans to, and I thought she was rather brave, being just 21 years old.

Following that my boyfriend and I could hardly keep our eyes open and we stumbled upstairs in a happy sleepy daze.

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December 15, 2013 · 10:03 pm

Overheard on the Bus

It’s going to take a few days for me to charge my holiday camera and write about my incredible Istanbul adventure. I aim to do it for Sunday but I’m making no promises.

One of my favourite blogs “Stuff Heard On The Bus” frequently documents the random conversations you catch bits of during the daily commute. It’s always entertaining and off the wall so I thought I’d give it a go with the odd chat I overheard today…

There is a larger lady in front wearing a turquoise fleece. Thin glasses frame small eyes almost in the middle of her face. Her hair is glistening with a layer of sebum, it hasn’t seen shampoo or even dry shampoo for quite some time. Next to her sits a slim, slight young man with dark features, hollowed cheeks, a short beard and an impish grin. He’s wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket with a hoodie underneath.

He sings: “Ringing da bell, ringiiiing da beeeelll”

“Shussshhhhhh” she says, looking round at me. I look away.

“Look, aa can’t ‘elp it, you know what a’m like, a don’t av an off-switch. Anywe, a thought a was funny!” he sounds hurt.

She smiles and leans towards him, pinching his cheek: “You wahhhr” she says softly.[Yorkshire language. Translation =were, should be “was” but the grammar is incorrect]

We’re at a busy stop and students are piling onto the bus.

“ON CUM DE ANIMALS TWO BA TWO!!”

The passengers stare.

“Sssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh”

“Ssh yourself, ya can be really annoying you”

“Ye but no one wants to hear ya do they”

“How do YOU know?”

Silence.

She leans towards him again and says in a conspiratorial tone: “Soon we’ll be peelin. You’re peelin tonaht'”

[What were they peeling? vegetables? were they cooking dinner together? How romantic.]

“Peeling it, a peelin it” he sings triumphantly, moving a pack of multicoloured lighters into another bag and sticking a rolled up cigarette into his mouth.

“You’re not allowed to smoke it ya know”

“A know, I just like ta chew it, a like de taste”

Peelin it, a peelin it!”

His eyes widen and he bounces on the seat “Soon we’ll be peelin da foil off tha drugs!”

“SSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH don’t say thaaat” she looks round yet again.

They get off at the council flats and as they do I’m hit by a strong smell. I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to think about it as I put my head down into my scarf.

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They were clearly so wrapped up in addiction they weren’t concerned with personal hygeine. It was sad and I felt sorry for them. Thank goodness I have never been caught up in a cycle of drug-taking, debt and despair. I can’t think of anything worse. For example, I’ve heard of heroin addicts who give up their own children to the drug and seen how painful that is.

It’s crazy how intensely these peoples’ lives revolve around their next fix. Drugs become their only subject of conversation, when they are going to take it, who will have it first and then who had the most, who used it all up, when and how they are going to get some more. Once they’ve tried a bit it becomes just a bit more and it’s a slippery slope.

Don’t bother with drugs folks, nothing beats a natural high (e.g endorphins, love) and being addicted to it won’t kill you.

Love

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