“I am Julián Medina, this is my blog ! I am 33 years old, Colombian, and won the worldwide Havana Club Gap Year competition which has given me the chance to travel abroad to 12 different countries for 12 months, experiencing each country the way it should be done… with the locals.
What has been planned for me is a great trip with many exciting experiences and many great people yet to meet. I am sharing this great chance with you in a few articles, photographs and videos… Enjoy!”
WARNING! You will need 3-D (red and blue glasses) to see these pictures – Month in Rio de Janeiro – HAVANA CLUB GAP YEAR
How many times you get to experience something you never imagined doing?
Well, during my Havana Club Gap Year in Rio de Janeiro I learnt to take 3-D pictures. How cool does that sound? Well, it was amazing, and I took 3-D pictures at the carnival, which made it more fun.
Taking 3-D pictures is not difficult but you’ll need two cameras aligned one next to each other, simulating human eyes; both cameras will have to have exactly the same settings. Then a computer program creates the 3-D effect.
If you have the 3-D glasses, the ones with one red and one blue lens, you will be able to see these pictures in 3-D!
Being in Rio de Janeiro during carnival, made me think about the meaning of a carnival.
A question that was always in my mind, when I was going from party to party, from street to street at the carnival for 7 days, non-stop.
The carnival in Rio is not only the parade at the Sambadrome, it’s a whole city partying for days, sharing and having fun. There is something for everyone during carnival in Rio.
Street parades, concerts, parties and off course the main event at the Sambadrome. All together create one of the biggest parties in the world.
And I happened to be there, thanks to Havana Club, I got one of the best seats at the carnival; I was seating next to the parade, I could almost jump into the floats. Well, I did jump to the track at the end.
My own experience at the carnival:
I went to the carnival with three friends, three friends from Colombia that are as lucky as I am, all of them were winners too, they won a trip to Rio de Janeiro, sponsored by Havana Club; yes there are lucky people in this world.
I had my carnival ticket on my hand, a one thousand dollar ticket. A lot of money for a “party” and I had mixed feelings at the beginning, I thought it was too expensive and not worth it, but off course I wanted to see why would someone pay so much money for it.
We started walking towards the Sambadrome; there was a really loud sound of fireworks that seemed to be going forever, lots of people walking to the entrance, (The Sambadrome is a huge and long street that looks like a soccer stadium; it hosts 90.000 people and has almost 1 kilometer in length)
When the fireworks finished we finally got to our own private booth, a booth for 6 people next to the parade.
White bright lights covered the warm night, the biggest show on earth was about to begin.
My heart was beating faster and faster. My friends were also curious and excited. It started.
The first thing in my mind was: yes it’s beautiful, but it’s ok.
Music was making me dance, floats were making me more and more curious; 30 minutes passed and I already wanted to see more, then after an hour of floats and people dancing it finished;
And it was time for me to make a dumb question. Actually two questions: How many schools were on the parade we just saw, and Is that all?
I know, bad questions to be made at the day of the parade, but a kind Brazilian lady explained everything for me.
This is a competition; each of the samba schools has 50 minutes to perform, 6 floats and 4.000 people. 4.000 people performing for you every hour. From 8pm until 6am.
I was shocked at that moment, my eyes had never seen something like that, 4.000 people synchronized to entertain people, also, costumes are unbelievable, they are perfectly made, I couldn’t believe how was that possible, to make those kind of outfits for 4.000 people every hour.
The size of this event blew my mind; but also I was now dancing and cheering, my smile was getting bigger and bigger.
It was 3 am; I was jumping, dancing and singing, trying to get out of my body and fly, happiness was in the air, I could feel that the people on the parade was doing it with so much pride and joy that they passed all these feelings to me.
I couldn’t believe it, now one thousand dollars were not enough to pay what I was feeling, and the parade continued for three more hours.
Three more hours that I enjoyed non-stop. I felt that my life changed at that very moment, telling me that I could let go the things that worried me and enjoy my life, with my arms wide open, whiling to hug everyone that needed a hug. Also carnival left my face with a bigger smile.
I can’t write about every single detail of the floats and songs, but I can tell you what was my favorite:
One of my favorite floats was one on the last parade, a gigantic rock that transformed into a huge green and blue giant, a giant that represents the rising of Brazil, a country that woke up to be the seventh economy in the world, a country in the “third world” competing with “first world” countries. This float was unbelievably emotional, because I understood what people working together can be capable of.
I have one thing to say to Havana Club; thank you for giving me the opportunity to live this experience.
Do the homework when picking the right backpack, ask travelers and people that really know about it, take the time to do some online research and be sure you get the right size, characteristics and capacity for your trip requirements. All backpacks are different, and are made for different type of trips and travelers, so find exactly the right one.
Your back will be very grateful for making the right decision.
2. Buy packing cubes
Packing cubes are the most efficient way of having you backpack organized all the time, with no effort. You only have to have different cubes for different things; for example, one cube for underwear and socks, another for t-shirts, one more for trousers and shorts, another for cables and chargers and an empty one for dirty clothes. Believe me, having an empty one for dirty clothes makes the difference, you’ll go to the coin laundry in a second.
I’m sure you’ll never lose anything if you follow this simple and economic tip.
3. Travel light.
Yes, I know; this is a phrase you often hear, but it is a powerful one, and you really have to pay attention to it. I have traveled with loads of things in the past, and that made me learn the hard way; I wanted to throw everything away. One kilometer with a heavy backpack it’s ok, two, no worries; but it starts becoming heavier and heavier, up to the point that you want to throw it away, and if it happens to be raining, it will be the worst day of your life.
So my recommendation is, pack and put everything in your backpack; then give it to a friend, tell that person to take out 1/3 of the things.
It’s not easy, because you will be thinking, oh, I’m going to need this, I’m going to need that; but while traveling you will only need friends and a smile.
My recommended maximum weight you should be carrying for one year is 10 kilograms. What? 10 kilograms. Believe me, it is possible.
4. Try not to pack white clothes
White stuff is a nightmare while traveling, because you will need to wash them separately from color clothes, and you don’t want to end up paying for washing twice. Everything you put in you backpack, should be washed in one go. Also whites need extra detergent, and stain removers, etc; nightmare.
5. Be fashion smart
Well, I don’t know anything about fashion, but basic colors and clothes are better when you are going to appear in pictures with the same clothes. With basic I mean plain colors, no one will note in the pictures that you were wearing the same t-shirt 6 months ago, but if you have a huge sign on it, people will remember for sure; and that’s ok if you don’t care, but I’m sure you will get tired of wearing the same things after one year.
Also, it’s important to have something a little bit more “elegant”, you never know when you will get refused from entering a place, or a special event, so thinking about every situation is something you should do. Now you know.
6. Don’t forget the adapters
Find out the different voltages and plugs in the countries you will be visiting or you could end up not being able to charge your camera or phone because you forgot to bring the adapter. You could end up with no pictures of that amazing day trip, when a monkey posed on your shoulder and your camera was out.
7. Bring First aid essentials
Painkillers, band aids, cold medicine and if you will be visiting tropical countries, bring hydrating powdered solution; it is very helpful when you got sick because of food or water; just mix the powder with clean water and keep hydrated.
8. Bring a quick dry and light towel
Normal towels get smelly because they don’t dry quick, and it can be annoying to take a shower with a damped and smelly towel, so smart people created this towel that it’s really light, in no time it will be completely dry and it will not stink. Magic!
9. Lock your backpack while traveling.
You never know where your bag goes, so it’s better to have the bag locked, so you know what you put inside. Also, an extra lock would be useful as most of the hostels have lockers to keep your stuff, but they never provide locks. Safety first!
10. Bring a day backpack
You will find it really useful as you will do day-tours that will require to pack water, food or even clothes for a day or two, and you wouldn’t want to bring your big bag. Find a small backpack with many compartments and just follow reviews to see which one offers the best features.
Right, one whole paragraph to talk about shoes. It is really important to be aware that traveling requires a lot of walking, hiking, partying, running, and the list goes on. A bad pair of shoes can ruin the whole experience; they have to be comfortable, really comfortable. Then other features are important such as weather proof, resistant, etc.
But please pay attention and give it some time to pick the right shoes for your trip, you will thank me later. And because shoes are heavy and bulky you can’t have a pair for every occasion; one pair or two max is recommended.
This is just a few recommendations on packing for a Gap Year, I’ve collected during my time as a full time traveler, If you have more tips, please feel free to share! Cheers.
Don’t forget to smile - I repeat, do not forget to smile.
A simple smile will open doors for you everywhere, smiles are international, it doesn’t matter where you are, a simple and real smile can change it all.
It’s on the first place on this list because it’s the only thing I can’t forget at home, you won’t need money if you have the biggest and most contagious smile, you will meet people really easily and most important, you will bring happiness to others.
2. Try to stay at hostels.
When you share a room or a house with someone else, it becomes easier to enjoy a place, as you will be surrounded by other travelers in the same situation as you are.
I’ve met awesome people along the way, people that I’m still in touch with, people that I would love to host in my country, and I’m sure they will find me a place in case I visited them.
So make yourself things easier and be closer to where the people are.
3. Go out!
There is something that gap year travelers have to face, time, there is plenty of time available sometimes and some people tend to stay at the hostel all the time, well, that’s not good. Even if you have nothing planned, try to find something, anything. Go out, explore, walk, even go to the movies. You have to remember that you are going to be there for a period of time and sometimes you might never come back again to that place, so experience as much as you can so in the future you feel great that you saw as much as you could.
4. Respect culture.
We are all different, and by different means that you will be visiting a place with different behavior and ways of doing things. Things that might have been there forever, you don’t have the right to criticize or make people feel bad, just because you thing you are right and they aren’t.
Observe and keep it for yourself, try to understand why that thing, that seems annoying or horrible for you is happening there.
For me traveling is all about respect, and just try to figure out what things about your country could be different for others, I’m sure you’ll be amazed how things that you would think are normal, maybe for others wouldn’t.
5. Try everything.
When you don’t like something, it’s a great opportunity to finding something you like.
For example, if you don’t like seafood, and you wouldn’t eat it ever; but you happen to be in Barcelona, try to give it a chance, eat, think about it and try it again, and if after the third time you didn’t like it you can try it again in a different country. Never stop trying, or you will miss amazing things cultures have to offer.
6. Open your eyes.
Not all destinations are safe, and not all safe destinations are completely safe, so be cautious, think before doing something wrong. It is amazing how many people loose their valuables in the most simple and innocent way. So you better use your eyes to analyze and be safe.
7. Observe and imitate.
Sometimes you find yourself in situations where you have no idea how to act, such as meals at a local’s place or anything cultural like a greeting. Just observe what others do and try to do it the same way, I can assure you that people will value that you make an effort to learn, rather than not caring and doing it your way.
8. Don’t count.
Money, it is something that we really work hard for, and it also is sometimes the reason that gives us the possibility to travel; but sometimes people care too much, up to tue point that you end up not enjoying or experiencing things just because you have to spend money. So, go with the budget but don’t count. You will never regret a great experience, but you will always regret going back home with your pockets full but with no stories to tell.
9. Take your time at airports or bus stations.
No matter where you are for the first time, you need to figure out how to get to your destination. The cheapest and best way possible. My recommendation here is to take your time and go to the information point, ask people that work at the airport, ask other travelers and when you are completely familiarized with the process, go.
I’m giving you this advise because in some countries, airports or bus stations are filled with people trying to take advantage of tourist that have no idea how the whole system works.
10. Don’t read travel guides.
This is a difficult one for some people that plan everything ahead, and want to be in control of every situation.
Read the travel guide only for safety concerns or regular traveling tips, but never about a specific place, with pictures and every single detail.
For me it is like reading all about a movie and then watching it, it loses all surprise and excitement; you will find seeing something that you read all about.
The most amazing things that have happened to me while traveling were by coincidence. Ask people, ask other travelers, but please don’t spoil the magic of traveling by seeing every picture and reading all about the places you are going to visit.
11. Take it easy.
You’ll have great days, when you feel that you have conquered the world, that you don’t need anyone or anything to survive on your own. But you’ll also have terrible days, when your taxi was late and you missed your flight, or you couldn’t find an address, or just something made you sad. Well, be prepared and take it easy, it is never the end of the world, try to find different options, take your time to figure out things. Do not panic and think that you are preparing yourself not only for this trip, but for the rest of your life.
12. Open a blog.
Open a blog for you, as a diary, as a notebook where you write the thing you want, not talking to anyone in particular but yourself. You could be successful or you just have the memories of all the experiences lived.
Some of the most successful bloggers have their own style, and you can tell they don’t want to impress anyone when they write, you read honest and real experiences.
And the best thing about opening a blog is that it is completely free!
The face of the football world cup - Brazil 2014 - Havana Club Gap Year
Brazil is hosting the 2014 worldcup, one of the most important events in the sports world.
For many countries, hosting the worldcup is a dream, and in a country like this, where soccer players and teams are often on the top; one could think that everyone felt proud and happy about it.
But that is not the case in Brazil, I often heard people complaining about, but I also heard people happy.
One of my experiences while in Rio de Janeiro, thanks to Havana Club is learning how to make 3D photography, soon I will be taking 3D pictures at the Rio Carnival.
Daniel @ is the photographer from Rio de Janeiro I will be taking the lessons from, he does 3D photography as well as 360 photography, he is also an online teacher, he does online lessons; where he shares all his knowledge with people whiling to improve their photography skills. Here his link: danielfarjoun.com
Talking about the world cup and photography Daniel came up with the idea of going out in the streets and asking people their thoughts on the world cup.
People had to give a thumbs up if they were happy about it, or thumbs down if they weren’t.
I agreed immediately, I was helping Daniel carrying the lights, interesting job, I had never done it in my life, but I enjoyed every second of the photo-shoot, it’s interesting to see how divided people are with the world cup subject. And here is the result of a full day under the sun and a few more in front of the computer for Daniel.
“A cara da copa”
Salvador, Brazil; An original jewel to be discovered - HAVANA CLUB GAP YEAR
You might have heard a lot about Brazil, and how Rio de Janeiro’s beauty has captivated people from around the world, but Salvador is another jewel to be explored.
Salvador, once capital of Brazil has the history, has the beauty of precious old buildings and all the evidence of catholic power that once ruled Latin America.
Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil, so it’s better to plan in advance the things you will be doing there. It is not a city for getting lost and discovering, as many people will tell you to be careful and stay on touristic areas.
While in Salvador apart from the touristic spots I did this tour, and it was awesome: http://the-havana-club-gap-year.tumblr.com/post/77504719226/one-tour-you-must-do-in-salvador-brazil-havana
Once in Salvador you should visit Chapada Diamantina national park, only 6 hours by bus and you will be staying there for a week. Find out why, here:
How close to mother nature can you get? - Chapada Diamantina - HAVANA CLUB GAP YEAR
I have to start doing a comparison so you understand the magnitude of this place. This park is as big as Holland, yes, it has the size of a whole country, just for you to hike, have fun, and enjoy all the tropical beauty of Brazil.
From Salvador, take a bus to Lençois which is the little town where all the activities are organized from. It is a 6-7 hour ride in comfortable buses. There are three buses going to Salvador daily, and tickets can be purchased in advance at a travel agency in Salvador’s Pelourinho, called; Maristur.
I would recommend at least 5 days in Lençois, because there is a great variety of activities to be done there. Also the little town has great restaurants and accommodation for everyone, from very cheap hostels to the more expensive hotels.
I had planned to stay only two days, but I ended up staying five; I could have stayed longer and I’m sure I would have found something interesting to do.
In Salvador, I met an awesome family from France, they happened to be going to Lençois the same day I was going there. They had planned some hikes and tours, they offered me to join them and I was happy to do so.
From that moment we were 5 French and 1 Colombian visiting Chapada Diamantina.
The first day at Lençois we saw waterfalls, caves, clear blue water lakes, and beautiful nature around, we also had an amazing Brazilian lunch at one of the places.
The second and third day my friends had planned a two day hike, staying overnight at a local’s house, in the middle of a beautiful tropical forrest.
A two hour ride from Lençois, took us to a mountain where we began our hiking adventure, a 7 hour walk, up and down mountains, crossing small rivers, feeling earth closer and closer, leaving all attachments to modern world behind, 7 hours to see what you are capable of.
All these has to be done with a local guide, hired in Lençois, because it’s not an easy trail, as there is no signs or any other way of knowing where you are heading to.
For me, Chapada Diamantina was the perfect place for admiring all the beauty this country has, and this is just a very small part of this enormous country; Chapada Diamantina is beyond beautiful.
And I have new friends in France, thank you guys!