Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copacabana: Police Party and Procession

We were relieved and happy to be in Copacabana after the border crossing episode. It’s quite an interesting town with a hippy traveller vibe. Loads of travelling artesian Argentineans work in the restaurants sell their jewellery or just play bongos on the street.
After a nice meal and wine we headed back to the hostel exhausted but along the way we came across a concert which turned out to be for the police. It was the day of the virgin of Copacabana who is also the patron of the police. We stood watching the music and dangerous display of fireworks spaying the crowd but were soon in a circle dancing with Bolivian men. A hot alcohol called Te con Te was being passed around as well as bottles of a mystery liquor similar to aguadiente. Every 2 minutes we were yelling salud! Then Baile! Baile! Sante! Sante! These guys were completely insane and I couldn’t stop laughing. More alcohol was being passed as well as bags of coca leaves. In between the bands the heads of police did little skits which were hilarious. Later on men came with trays of chicken sandwiches and all of these treats were free. We danced until 1:00am then the grand finale of fireworks was set off. It was a completely random first night in Bolivia.
Our first morning didn’t let down either. We went to find the procession and discovered all the drunken men we were partying with last night were police officers. As they marched past us they yelled out, “Sasha! Sasha!” For some reason they only remembered her name. We followed the procession to the lake where the virgin was being put on a boat and people were getting on other boats to follow her around Lake Titicaca. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I told our new police friends I wanted to get on a boat as well so we boarded one yelling, “Follow that virgin!” We were the only tourists in the boat procession and some of the only few who weren’t police aboard. I just kept thinking back to the guy who told me that Copacabana wasn’t that great. It just goes to show everyone can have a completely different experience in the same place. So if you are sent on going somewhere listen to yourself not other people’s opinions and you may have an amazing crazy time.

Border Crossings: Peru - Bolivia

A friend and avid traveller once told me one of his favourite things about travelling is walking across borders. With just a few steps you enter a whole different world. At the time though I didn’t quite understand him, I had worked for an airline and flew everywhere.

Since my first border walk across at the Taba Ilat border to enter Israel I have collected many stamps and fought my way through the hectic furry that comes with crossing a border, the guys on bikes trying to rip you off, people trying to sell you a tourist form that is actually free, money exchangers following you. Although it can be frustrating and sometimes stressful I have come to appreciate what my friend was talking about. Past all the nonsense and with a few steps is a different country, an unknown place yet to be discovered, sometimes a different language, different landscape or the differences could be subtle, the vendors on the buses are yelling out gaseosas instead of refrescos.

Then there was the Peru – Bolivia border crossing. I decided to leave with the English girls for Bolivia. Another traveller in the hostel asked when our bus was leaving and what company we were going with, a traveller with a plan. Our idea was just to show up and hop on the next bus. Everything seemed to go smoothly in the beginning; we got onto a bus to Puno right away. Once in Puno everyone told us we didn’t have enough time to get to the border. It was 3:00pm and the border closed at 6:00pm. I figured they were lying; we could easily get the local transport and get there. The girls were too worried because they figured I was older and more travelled therefore knew what I was doing, little did they know even though I have been doing this for years I still fumbled my way through. We found a collective bus that was supposed to take us to the border. I was starting to worry when I looked down at my IPod and saw that it was 5:20pm. We got dropped at road crossing and as soon as we got off we were being harassed by a taxi driver. He was trying to promise to take us to the border direct on his bus for 5 soles each, which is ridiculous. I was trying to talk to another bus driver and the girls with him yelling in my ear. I turned around and Shushed him while Sasha yelled, “No es un bus es un taxi!!” I made an executive decision to take the collective bus for 1 sole. As soon as I got on the bus I felt 4 more soles might have been worth it to guarantee our arrival at the border on time. We were in a panic realizing the bus drivers here are not at all like the crazy ones in Lima. A bus with the name Kevin over took us. Why weren’t we on Kevin?! Time was running out and we made it to the dodgy border town by 6:00pm but the actual border was still a taxi ride away. I was determined to make it across no matter what. I mean there isn’t a wall separating the two countries, we could just made a run for it and be illegal in Bolivia. We had to run from one plaza to another to actually get a taxi. Katie suggested just staying in the border town but I was determined to get across. We got mixed messages about when the border closes and our new taxi driver told us it was still open. A little light of hope but Sasha wasn’t convinced. I think our hearts stopped pounding when we saw it open and a tourist bus pulling through. We just slipped by as we got our exit stamps leaving a giant statue of Cusquena beer and Peru behind. As we entered Bolivia the gates closed behind us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Active in Arequipa: Cocla Canyon Trek

I could have stayed in Lima forever but adventure and the wonders that Peru holds beckoned me. I was no longer going to be lazy in Lima. With a heavy heart I boarded a 15 hour bus for Arequipa in the south.
Arequipa is famous for the mountains, volcanoes and nearby Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world. I guess the Grand Canyon in The United States really isn’t so grand. With all of these topographical features come hostels and agencies trying to sell you treks. Don’t get me wrong I’m quite an active sporty person but in the past I have seemed to turn my nose up to these overpriced, herd you like cattle up a mountain treks. The lure of an oasis with a swimming pool and hot springs was too tempting. I just had to get past the fact that the tour left a 3:00am.
On the bus leaving we past people entering bars, they were starting their night and I was starting a trek. Manicures and pedicures of Lima soon gave way to dirty finger nails and sweaty smelly feet. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. The first day we hiked down in to the canyon after spotting condors. It was hot and dry and my fingers turned into fat sausages from the altitude. A mud hut with dirt for floors awaited us for our first nights rest. I shared my hut with three English girls, Sasha, Allegra and Katie.
The second day was a bit of a tease from where we started trekking you could see down into the canyon at our oasis with swimming pool and waterfall but looking down into a canyon objects seem closer than they appear. We eventually reached our paradise after 5 hours of walking down on a windy trail in the dry sun.
Day number three, the hike up. I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle 3 hours of uphill hiking. I’m not experienced at all. Then visions of Volcan Baru in Panama came flooding back where Peace Core volunteers convinced me to climb a volcano in the middle of the night for the sun rise. Like the savvy traveller I am I brought my carton of wine to enjoy the view. Seven hours later of straight up hill in the dark then pouring rain in minus temperatures at the top, all the time lugging my wine. So this time I was prepared, water and my IPod. Daddy Yankee, Shakira, ABBA and the Bangles joined me on my ascend to the top. I was cruising along, leaving my group behind and passing others. A friendly local man with a Donkey put out his hand which I thought he wanted to encourage me; instead he pulled me down the trail while laughing at me. Despite his attempt I made it to the top with Sasha. We were one of the first up. Now I am addictited. I crave more treks, more moutains and volcanos!!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Peru?

A friend recently asked me, why Peru? To me this is a very odd question, why not Peru? I guess to most people this would make sense, I mean in general people have reasons for going places and doing things. For me I go and find out the “why” along the way.
I have only been in Peru for 2 weeks and have mostly been in the capital Lima checking out the sights and taking in the lovely life of luxury. In this short amount of time I have had many of what I call my “why Peru” moments, where I am experiencing bouts of pure traveller euphoria and thinking to myself, “this is F**king why Peru!!”
Most recently I just got back from a weekend away from the city to the Oasis of Huacachina. I have been to deserts and Oasis’ before in Egypt and Jordan but I am starting to learn from my Peruvian friends, everything is better in Peru. Huacachina is basically a small lagoon surrounded by a ring of palm trees and cascading mountains of sand. This place is a resort getaway for Peruvians, a party town for backpackers and a paradise for extreme sport lovers.
The one thing I have missed about Canada since being gone for 4 years is snowboarding. I am too used to warm weather that staying in Canada in minus 30C temperatures to enjoy my favourite sport isn’t really an option. I have discovered the perfect solution to my dilemma; sandboarding!
I took a tour along with my new couch surfing Lima friends in a dune buggy which felt more like we were in a rollercoaster gunning it down the steep dunes to commence our sandboarding. I discovered it is quite a bit different to snowboarding, you can’t carve so well and its quite easy to get stuck in the sand but overall it’s a very similar sport and I am on my way to becoming a pro! Although after watching the international sandboarding competition that was going on this past weekend I’m not too sure.
My Peruvian friends found an out of the way Pisco and Wine gallery which this region is known for. This place was very local and very rustic with motorbikes parked out front, strange statues and stuffed animals for decorations, free flowing sweet wine and people dancing away in the middle of the afternoon. As this was the make up for my lack of birthday celebration the previous Monday, Disgracie came out in full force. My drunken charm did however work to get us all our drinks paid for and treated to dinner in the city of Ica for Pollo a La Brasa, where jugs of Pisco sour were brought to our table.
Still wondering why Peru? More answers to come....

Friday, November 20, 2009

The World’s Worst Tourist

I suppose I haven’t gotten into the swing of being a tourist again. Although I never really was a good tourist in the first place, I feel now I have declined even more so.

After traveling 8 hours on a bus almost getting denied entry into the USA and then spending 12 hours on two planes I arrived to Lima, Peru. I took a cab straight to my couch surfing house. I was tired, hungry, and thirsty and my armpits were starting to smell like cheese. After a shower though I was fully up for going out. Several Pisco sours later I am drunk and dancing in a classy bar that doesn’t even have a dance floor. The things you can get away with when you are a Gringa. I even had the bartender doing the ol’ air guitar.

My first day in Lima was spent sleeping cuddling my bottle of water and nursing a hangover. I did eventually get out and explore the centre for a while but I didn’t bring my camera. My couch surfing friend thought it would be a great idea to get seafood. Hangover and tentacles don’t mix too well.

My second day I explored the beaches of Miraflores, This time with my camera. I was set! Except for the fact that it was clear sunny and sweltering hot and I was wearing jeans and no sunscreen. My jeans were glued to my butt all day and now half my face is beat red and the shape of my necklace is burned into my chest.

As for my plans, I have none. I do not know how long I will stay in Lima or what I am really doing here. I’m hanging out seeing things, taking in the lifestyle. Who needs plans anyway? I will leave when I figure out where to go next.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's official I am a flashpacker

After being on a travel hiatus for close to 6 months now I have finally booked a flight and will be off once again. I have booked a one way ticket to Lima, Peru. I depart my hometown Friday November 13th on a bus for Detroit, USA, then hop on a plane November 14th for South America!!

This time though I have become something I despise, a “Flashpacker.”

I have given up schlepping CDs and a Discman for an IPod. I am now a proud owner of an HP mini netbook. The fact that I actually know what a netbook is compared to a laptop also astounds me. I replaced my third camera to be stolen, with a brand new green Canon. The worst part....I have a blog!! Every twat in the world has a blog, especially twats who travel (no offense to my fellow blogger twats out there).
In the last few years I prided myself on being an old school budget traveler and was taught most of what I know from a seasoned pro. I hated seeing people wasting their time in internet cafes and sitting on their laptops when the world was waiting for them outside in a new and fantastic country. Why be somewhere else when all you are doing is telling people at home where you are instead of actually experiencing it? What’s with all the new fangled gadgets anyway? Shouldn’t traveling be simple? Plus like Ben Harper says, “When you have everything you have everything to lose.”
Don’t lose faith in me just yet. I will always be a budget thrifty traveller, I blame my Scottish background. I say thrifty not cheap though. I will spend money and sometimes a bit more, I just want value for my money. Having a little computer and an IPod won’t change me, it’s more about practicality than anything. I can’t be carrying around my CD collection everywhere. As for the computer it was bought on sale and for the purposes of writing. Old school does eventually need to move into the modern age. I am proud to say, My North Face rain jacket was bought at a second hand shop for $5, my rip curl bikini was 50% off and my travel hammock was a gift with purchase and I didn’t even make the purchase.
I will still travel for long stints staying in budget accommodations, meeting the real people of the countries. Now I will just be letting the world know a little more about it. There is a world of fantastic writers blogging their way through cyber space and well I hope maybe to join the ranks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Hippie Wonderland on Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe is Central America frozen in time. What you thought you were going to find instead of bustling cities, chicken buses and tourist traps. This is the real thing. An island formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, in lago Nicaragua. Made possible to get to by boats from both Granada and Rivas.
I was given a piece of paper that I held onto by a fellow traveler that showed a map of the island and gave directions to Finca Zopilote. After several buses that endlessly circle the island I got dropped off on the side of the road with two Austrian girls. We hiked through the bushes on an unmarked path. The Italian hippies that created this place apparently wanted their guests to earn their stay by finding the place. You eventually make it up hill past the compost toilets, Japanese shower, and hammock hut to the communal kitchen. More uphill takes you to reception with bananas and plantains for the taking at the door. The idea for Zopilote was, “to make a hostel on a productive and beautiful farm, working with respect for the environment and nature (not against it)”. Here you can stay in a private cabin, dorm, your own tent or sleep in a hammock. You can spend your days volunteering for a discount on your accommodation, making granola, nutela and other items they sell in reception. You can also work in the gardens or help with construction. Off the finca the adventurous can hike the volcano, rent some bikes or check out the nearby beaches and water holes. What most people end up doing however is making macramé jewelry and smoking grass. A very relaxing place with a mellow vibe.

It might just be a bit too much dread locks and granola for some though. Not too worry, up the road a bit is a whole other universe Little Morgan’s. The boys club. It’s like an Irish pub was transplanted on this volcanic island. It has a pool table, Bocce ball, darts, internet access and a bar where the pints are always flowing.

Whether you are pounding the pints back at Morgan’s or enjoying the homemade organic eco-friendly liqueurs at Zopilote both other an ideal place for exploring this enchanted island.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Part of me wants to tell the whole world about this place but part of me wants to keep it a secret just like Bugs and Sal tried to do in the cult classic The Beach. I heard about Little Corn Island from my Dutch roommate in Mexico. She described an ultimate paradise with secluded white sand beaches, bamboo huts and coconut palms. After leaving Mexico to travel Central America, I had no travel route and no plans but I knew there was one place I needed to go; Little Corn Island.
Not a lot of backpackers make the trek to the Corns. You have two options: a flight from Managua which is quite pricey, the second is lengthy with unreliable boat and bus schedules and a possible stay in the coke capital of the Caribbean, Bluefields but the cheapest option. I made the journey starting in Matalgalpa with a 2 hours bus ride to Managua, 5 hours on a bus to El Rama where you catch a river boat to Bluefields, hoping it doesn’t break down along the way (which mine did). In Bluefields you take a 6 hour boat to Big Corn. These aren’t your Greek style island hoping ferry boats. Nope those were sold to Panama years ago. This is a small cargo boat with a few hammocks strung up in the back by locals and crates of vegetable and household products. The sea can be rough as well even for the best traveler. I lucked out with calm weather and the use of a hammock, swinging the 6 hour with nothing but blue water surrounding me. I arrived at Big Corn but knew where I was going, straight on a boat to Little Corn, which takes another hour.
The endless tiring travel is well worth it when you arrive on the paradise island that is Little Corn. It did not disappoint. I made a deal and got myself a cabana for a month. I shed my clothes, dumped my backpack and had my feet in the pure white sand. I was home.
There are no roads, no cars, a very small village which consists of a few tiendas, three churches, 2 dive shops, a few restaurants and a hotel or two. Throw in fishermen, hammock swingers and a reggae bar. It takes 10mins to walk from one side of the island to the other on a path through the forest. To walk the circumferences it takes about 2 hours.
Other travelers would ask me what you are going to do here for one month. They figured I needed to be taking a dive course or working to stay in one place for an entire month. I would spend my days lying on the beach, collecting mangos, cooking, talking to other travelers, taking walks, going to the village for food, swimming, laying in my hammock and reading books. Would you really want to do more?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Oaxaca city in the state of the same name is set in the valley of the Sierra Madre del sur mountain range. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO world heritage site due to its vibrant colonial buildings. Oaxaca is very rich in culture and tradition, very typical Mexican. It is also artistic, revolutionary and poor.
Oaxaca is known all over Mexico and the world for its Cuisine; mole, quesillo, tlyuadas, not to forget the chocolate and mezcal. Chef come here to study the art of Mexican cooking.
Year round you can be walking down the pedestrian streets and be overtaken by a parade with 10 foot high puppets. Oaxaca is known for the Dia del Muertos (days of the dead), Noche de rabanos (night of the radishes), Christmas is a month long ordeal with fiestas and fireworks everyday. There is also Semana Santa and the Guelegetza in July, but these are just the big ones!
There are many budget accommodations in the city. I find the best ones are north of the Zocalo near the Santo Domingo Church. Its not so busy and your close to a lot of funky pubs and bars. The pedestrian street Acala is close by and the Santo Domingo church where the youth hangs before a night in the town.

There is lots to see in and around Oaxaca. Famous Zapotec ruins on Monte Alban can be reach by bus, taxi or tour. There is also the ruin of Mitla, the petrified waterfall Hierve el Agua and Sierra Norte mountains to hike in. Oaxaca is also famous for handicrafts and art work. The city is dotted with small villages that specialize in a particular craft such as black pottery, woven rugs, alebrijes (mythical wooden painted creatures) and mezcal. All are a short collectivo ride away.

A seven hour bus ride through the windy mountain roads from Oaxaca is tropical paradise. The Oaxacan coast, much less developed than most other Mexican beaches. Here you will find Surfers nirvana Puerto Escondido where surfers test their skills on the famous pipeline. There is a hostel in town and plenty of cabanas near the beach. I enjoyed Cabanas Edda. The night life is on the beach. Want to learn how to surf everyone from your hostel to your waiter offers lessons. It is not the best place for swimming though with the strong undertow and smashing waves. Instead head further along to Mazunte or Zipolite. Both have very quiet beaches offering cabanas and hippy vibes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The good girl: doing it legally

If you live in one of the common wealth countries you can get a working holiday maker visa for the UK. This enables you to live in the UK for two years, either working part time for the whole 2 years or full time for 1 and traveling for 1.
Have a grandparent who was born in the UK? You are eligible for an ancestry visa. This enables you to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years. After which you may even be able to apply for dual citizenship.

Australia offers a holiday maker visa as well. For 2 years but you need to change jobs every 3 months. This is so you are not taking jobs away from locals.

Shake the world up side down and the loose bits fall from Australia to Whistler Canada. This place is a popular ski resort where Aussies flock to work the winter ski season. Canada offers a visa as well and lots of opportunity to work the winter season for shitty pay, worker accommodations and freezing weather. On the other hand there are plenty of parties, free skiing, snowboarding and no where to spend your money.

Check with the embassy or consulate to see if you’re eligible for a working holiday maker visa in any of these countries.

If you have a degree and a TEFL certificate you can teach English just about anywhere. Korea and China are very popular to do so and pay very well.Check Spelling

Now there is this volunteering thing. All over the world people need your help and you might be in need of a few gold stars. There are lots of opportunities and great organizations to volunteer for. My word of advice, never ever pay to volunteer! Are you completely nuts? Working for free is one thing but to give someone money and then work for them as well? You think that money is helping out the people? Do you really know where that money is going? Is your service of helping out enough? This is just my opinion but I think it’s quite valid. If you are signing up with a volunteer organization research it well. Hostels usually have info on volunteer opportunities in the community which really give to where it is needed.

Just a Bit Naughty: Finding work without a visa

The Spanish and Greek islands have lots of opportunities for backpackers to find a bit of summer work. Usually you will start off flyering for a club, bar or restaurant. In Greece they also have what they call a Kamaki. This is a charismatic person who stands at the entrance and chats up passers enticing them to come in for a meal or a cocktail. It never ceased to amaze me that this actually works. There is also waitressing jobs and then the more experienced nab the bartending gigs. I found even hotels and small tour companies in Greece will hire you without papers.

Jobs like these aren’t just in the Med. You can get a job almost anywhere in the world where there is tourism. Why? you speak English. English is the common language. It’s even easier to find work if your female. Machismoism can be very fustrating at times but it can work to your advantage. Girls bring in male customers and who is actually spending the money? A lot of times employers are more likely to hire a girl than a guy.

Why wouldn’t they just hire a local? Well the pay is low, long hours and you can be working a touristic season which is 7 days a week for 6 months if you can last it. In a lot of places the locals would rather keep their pride and stay unemployed.

How can business owners get away with this? You are working illegally so you can’t complain. There is no contract and you are easily replaceable.
Why you put up with it? The chance to live in paradise and an incredible experience. You are able to prolong your trip and perhaps save a bit of money.

Hostels are very transient places for backpackers to find work all over the world. There are even several sites where you can find one in advance.

Enjoy life under the water? Become a dive master and you can work all over the globe, with or without proper papers.

Stones, Strawberries, eggplant, apples, bananas, grapes, olives, all things that need to be picked. Its back breaking hard work but in Europe, Australia, Canada, United States just to name a few you can find work picking fruit or working on a farm.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Santorini, Greece

The island of romance and sunsets. As a young female traveler I was advised by the locals in Athens to skip Santorini and head to the party islands of Ios or Mykonos. I ignored them, as I do and went straight to Santorini on the 12 hour ferry. Once there I didn’t leave for 6 months.
This volcanic island has it all. For backpackers the beach village of Perissa is the best budget choice. It has two roads, the main road and the beach road. For accommodations check out either Anny’s studio or the youth hostel Ana. There is even a campsite for the extreme budget travelers. Be aware of August high season. The beaches are packed, the hotels are full and every moped on the island is rented out by the hordes of Italians that descend on the island.
Renting a moped or a quad is actually the best way of seeing the island. You are able to check out the beautiful Vlichada beach (dare to bare), the dramatic red beach, the light house, then check out the traditionally Greek villages in the interior such as Pyrgos. You can motor up to the Capital Fira and catch the sunset in Oia. Fira can be reached easily by bus from Perissa as well. It is a beautiful village with white washed buildings transcending the cliff. Supplies are still brought in by donkey. Check prices before ordering anything a Cactus juice will run you more than 10euros.
Travel agencies and hotels sell options to take a sunset cruise in the caldera and see the volcano, which is just a pile of rocks, no lava here. Not highly recommended. You can also take a wine tour but I advise going to a family run smaller vineyard rather than the giant. The Gavalas winery is a very good one and has been in the same family for over 400 years!!

Between Perissa and Kamari you have a massive hill in the way. If you look at it from a certain angle it looks like an Indian head laying down. On the top of his face is the ancient city if Thira. Built over 3000 years ago. A path leads up where you can check out the old ruins. It offers a nice hike with scenic views of the villages and Aegean, with free entrance to the site. (this could have changed).

As for the night scene on the island. You have big night clubs in Fira, night spots on the beach where the beautiful, the rich and the posers hang out Perivolous and the backpackers party place Perissa.

The Full Moon Bar and the Beach Bar have been rivals for years. Both are great just depends where you want to drink, on the beach or in a bar with a dance floor and a pub style porch.
Sex on the beach, Pina Coloda, Tequila Sunrise, Mythos, Amstel, can have it all but watch out for the Rahki its a killer!!

A single female traveler

Some people call me a free spirit, a gypsy, or just plain crazy. Travel has been my life for quite some time now; I studied travel and tourism in college, worked in a travel agency and for an airline. After years of working in offices and sending other people away, I felt like I was only working for my next trip and not really living my life so I packed up and took off for the world. Since then I have been traveling and working random jobs in the most amazing places.

My roots are in Canada but I don’t tend to call it home and you’ll never catch me with a maple leaf sewn to my backpack. It’s not that I have anything against the place; however I do find my part of the Great White North quite boring. There are so many other countries in the world to learn about and experience. Why limit yourself to the one you were born in?

The road less travelled is my home and the people I meet along the way are my country folk. I am not on a break, doing an internship or volunteering. I am not getting this out of my system before the doom of serious adult life falls upon me. This is my life.

When am I going to return to reality? Oh right you mean other people’s perception of reality. Am I ever going to, dare I say settle down? Settle, no, but have a base somewhere, sure. However that place is yet to be found and I will keep moving until I find that place.

As for being “a single female traveller,” I will refer to a quote an English friend whom I met in Mexico left in a book for me; “If we are lost, may we never be found. Let’s hope we are found by someone who also wants to remain lost.” James

People tell me they wish they could do what I do, or that I am very lucky. It’s not about luck or wishing; it’s about growing some huevos and doing it. If you really want to, you will do it. Perhaps with my blog I can help and inspire you with real honest experiences from the life of a traveling single girl.

Adventure, Happiness, Lust, friendships, beauty
Blog directory