Why Iguazu Falls Should Be High on Your Bucket List!

To paraphrase my previous sentiment, this blog may seem to be something of a rat’s nest. I am therefore writing this thread of posts on my bucket list, the parts I have done and those I am yet to do, to provide consistent content for your perusal. I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 2 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

Next up on my list is Iguazu Falls. For many people’s money, these are the crème de le crème of waterfalls across the world. I’ve seen some beautiful ones. Plitvice in Croatia, Yosemite falls in the USA, and Gullfoss in Iceland, to name just a few. Iguazu is absolutely at the top of my list though. I’m yet to visit South America, and perhaps that partly plays into why I am desperate to see Iguazu; however, the pictures of it, as I look at them now, reaffirm my absolute desire to visit the falls.

Where Iguazu is located, at the convergence of Argentina’s Misiones Province and Brazil’s Parana State, a torrent of water cascades over basalt in an arc down into what is colloquially known as the devil’s throat canyon. White water, beneath blue sky, and surrounded by dense pockets of emerald canopy, sounds like paradise to me.

Your hard-earnt money, spent on all manner of touristy activities at the fall, will also go further to help protect the biodiversity and pristine habitat of the region. Like Bhutan, if you spend your money wisely and try to keep your footprints in the area as harmless as possible, there is no reason your visit can’t benefit Iguazu Falls.

As a perfect stop off when planning to travel between Brazil and Argentina, or vice versa, Iguazu is a must see and, when I eventually get down to South America, somewhere I dare not miss.

Lockdown Reads 2: Mortal Engines

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy during these uncertain times.

The second book on my list is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Admittedly, now that Peter Jackson has released his movie adaptation of the title, this book is not the best-kept secret it once was. The movie, whilst I personally consider it to be better than some others would argue, certainly does not do the novel justice. So, if you didn’t like the film and thus didn’t want to read the book, I would recommend that you change your tune and order a copy.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the long ago fought ‘60-minute war’, settlements have taken to strapping on wheels and chasing one another for the scarce resources they need in a food web called ‘municipal darwinism’. Our protagonist, Tom Natsworthy, a resident and proud apprentice historian of London, falls out of the city and is thrust into the mad and dangerous world where predator cities hunt everything in sight.

With twists and turns abound, the first book of the quartet follows Tom’s quest for truth and his blossoming relationship with the terrifying Hester Shaw. Hester, for reasons that will become clear when you read Mortal Engines, is one of the most interestingly written characters I have come across in my experiments in reading science fiction. She alone deserves your eyes on the page.

For a post-apocalyptic quest like no other, pick up a copy and get reading.

An Intro to West’s Bucket List and Bhutan!

This blog may seem to be something of a rat’s nest. There are a variety of types of post running in every which way and, unfortunately, that may not lend itself to complete clarity.

I therefore believe that a series of posts, linked thematically and regularly written, may help to bring about some semblance of order to my blog for you, the readers. Therefore, to go alongside my Lockdown Reads series, I am writing my West’s Bucket List series. The posts in West’s Bucket List will be grouped into former, things I have done that were on the list, and future, those things that I desperately wish to do and are therefore still on it. Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas as to what I should add to my bucket list and I may well do some reading up and add them!

So, that was a little intro to what I’m doing and now here’s my first entry.

Most of my list is made up of activities I wish to try, foods I wish to taste, or very specific cities, or regions, I wish to visit; however, Bhutan is an entire country that I’m desperate to see every inch of.

I first heard of the country when I watched the BBC documentary Lost Land of the Tiger as a kid. In it, a team of wildlife experts and film makers search the mountainous and heavily forested regions in Bhutan to identify a, then unidentified, tiger population. I was absolutely taken aback by the dramatic panoramic shots of the country and resolved to one day visit. High in the Himalayas, Bhutan boasts a magical combination of monasteries and mountains. The pictures of Taktsang, nestled abreast a sheer cliff face and atop a rocky outcrop in the upper Paro valley, should be iconic. Perhaps the temple would be if more new people knew of Bhutan and I believe that, one day very soon, they may well do.

Whether you visit to learn what you can of Buddhist culture, hike among the national parks, or seek out the elusive tiger, visiting Bhutan will unfortunately set you back a pretty penny. That is perhaps why I fear that visiting it will fall far down my list of priorities. The government has put a minimum of $200 per day, per person, to visit the country even in low season. This is with the noble aim of ensuring the country isn’t ravaged by the negative impacts of tourism, something I genuinely and wholeheartedly commend. Unfortunately though, that alone makes the trip unaffordable for some, myself included at present; however, I one day intend to go. I hope to see you there when I do!

Lockdown Reads 1: Freakonomics

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy almost immediately during these uncertain times.

My first book recommendation would have to be Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt. I hope I don’t lose anybody with this recommendation because Freakonomics is a tad unconventional to say the least. It’s a non-fiction read which has been described as a melding of pop culture with economics.

The book claims, rather grandiosely, that it ‘explores the hidden side of everything’. While it may not quite do that, I’ve never read a book, cover to cover, quite as quickly as Freakonomics. I was first made aware of it back when I watched suits and the fledging lawyer, Mike Ross, referenced the book by saying. “A person is more likely to die while dealing drugs than on death row in Texas”.

It’s off the wall takes like these, explained with analysis of huge tracts of data, that give you sociological insights into a range of topics that you may never been exposed to.

From studies on the economics of drug dealing and the socioeconomic patterns of how parents name their children, to the way in which school teachers and sumo wrestlers have cheated their respective systems, Freakonomics is the perfect tool to help you cultivate your inquisitive nature, or sharpen the minds of your loved ones with intellectual discussion.

It’s not a difficult read but it will require your full attention.  I promise once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down though!

The Fallout of Dirty Monopoly Tactics

The crew; Andy, Caitlin, Rachel, and I, organised a get together back before Christmas. It was to meet Rach’s new boyfriend. Now I’m not a big one for meeting the new boyfriends in the group. Apparently, I come off a tad protective and I’ve made one or two enemies in the past. Fortunately, Rach promised a home cooked dinner and I had a fair amount of fear I’d miss out, so I went along.

Andy and I rode round to the house, in Forest Row in Sussex. Forest Row is quaint and pretty, but I’d only ever go there to see Rach. It’s not exactly Brighton town on a student night. So, I met Nyasha, Rachel’s new guy, and he was a quality bloke. We got chatting about rugby and mutual acquaintances from Southampton. All in all, dinner went past and the whole group got on like a house on fire.

Then Caitlin and Rachel, seemingly in unison, uttered four words that would put group friendships on ice for a few weeks, “shall we play monopoly?”

I was a tad reticent, unwilling to commit to what I knew would be a disaster. I’m incredibly competitive and board games do not show off my good side. Caitlin, however, was totally insistent and we ended up pulling out the board.

Rachel, Caitlin, and Nyasha all decided to stand alone as players. The scotty dog, the iron, and the top hat. Andy and I though; we’re team players. We took the battleship. The game was going pretty well, and team battleship had accrued a fair amount of property, but we weren’t cash rich. On the other hand, Nyasha, Mr Top Hat himself, didn’t have much property but did have a lot of dough.

Somehow, the battleship managed to land on just about his only property and drained our remaining cash reserves. Rach decided to make a deal with us. She’d cover our bill in exchange for a property. Fortunately, Andy was the banker and, whilst Rachel and I deliberated over terms, he sneakily mortgaged the property in question. Rachel bought the property and realised she’d have to bankrupt herself to use it.

Rachel blew a gasket when she realised and went into a huge sulk. It was only made that much worse when Andy and I landed on one of her properties, but she didn’t notice until we moved off it and burst out laughing. Rach, with a face like thunder, decided to buy a property off Caitlin she thought we needed and, paying over the odds to stop us completing a set, made the deal. Upon the realisation she had confused orange with red, and thus brought the wrong property, Rachel went up another notch.

Andy and I finally compounded her rage when we made a deal with Nyasha. We teamed up our capital with his property and cleared up the board after that. Caitlin was obliterated near instantly on Oxford Street and then Rach, a business magnate until fairly recently, was finally toppled. Her last stand on Mayfair was the final nail in the coffin.

Rach didn’t text us back for a few weeks and I think Andy, Nyasha, and I would all tell you that Monopoly is the perfect way to get the cold shoulder if you’re that way inclined.

My Top Seven TV Show Recommendations for Lockdown

First of all, I’m not exactly a tv critic. Or is it tv show critic? To be honest that kind of tells you everything. I don’t know actors’ names. I don’t know good camera work. I don’t even really know if people are acting all that well. What I do know is what I find watchable and if you’re looking for dam watchable TV, I got yall covered folks.

Disclaimer number two; these aren’t my favourite shows. They’re basically shows I’ve watched in the last six months that I’ve enjoyed and that, if you’re inclined to watch something right now, might keep you on the hook. Oh and, disclaimer three, I’m going to try not to spoil anything but if you really want to avoid any details, maybe don’t my choice explanations. Now, in no particular order, the shows…

  1. Peep Show

So, I sort of told I lie before because one of the shows in the lineup is my all time favourite. Peep Show is absolutely hilarious. It’s the story of two thirty something flat mates, the el dude brothers, living their slightly sad lives relentlessly in South London.

The quirk is that you can hear their inner monologues at all times. Moreover, almost every single shot from every series is filmed from the perspective of one of the characters. It takes a few minutes to get used to but when you do, it’s brilliant, if slightly cringey and uncomfortable, television. Mitchell and Webb nailed this one.

  1. Ozark

The word Ozark seems to be in just about everyone’s mouths who I’ve been talking to recently. The series is undoubtedly brilliant. Jason Bateman is the financial advisor who drags his family from Chicago and into rural Missouri at the behest of a cartel. There he is to launder money and try to stay out of trouble, but everyone knows that in the back creeks of middle America, even the hills have eyes.

For a tv series that is supposed to focus on the task of banking money, it is never slow. Things just get worse and worse, and its awesome to watch. If you were hoping for one of those twenty-episode American crime series with each episode seemingly distinctly separate though, this isn’t for you. The plot is intricate, and the characters flawed. The line between good and bad is so blurred that no two of my friends have rooted for the same character as their favourite. That’s the beauty of the show though, it reminds you that you never really know what people are capable of until they’re pushed.

  1. Billions

Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. District Attorney and billionaire hedge fund manager. Ever heard the story of Laelaps, the hunting dog that never failed to catch its prey, and the Teumessian Fox, the canine that could never be caught? This feels a lot like that.

The series is all about a district attorney seeking to bring down a kingpin and that’s enthralling to watch. Chuck is absolutely relentless and ruthless. His character is complex and perhaps a fair bit twisted. He’s coming to hunt a whale and is willing to do just about anything to get him. Bobby is well liked and, at times, seems almost more moral than his counterpart, but there are skeletons in his closet too and he knows it. For a crime drama that takes things to the next level, put Billions atop the list.

  1. Taboo

I almost put Peaky Blinders on here, and maybe I should’ve done, but I actually prefer this gem because its Tom Hardy’s show through and through.

Taboo is the story of a returning James Delaney who has come to London in the wake of his father’s death. London itself is dark and foreboding; with all of its tenants themselves embodying varying degrees of malice and menace. Set in 1814, the series centers upon the shadowy past James Delaney, a man who is not to be trifled with, and his dealings with the Crown of Britain and the behemoth that was the East India Trading Company.

The series is full of mystery, pithy quotes, and bloodshed. Probably the least well-known show on the least, and perhaps the one with the dreariest sounding premise, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show gained a lot of traction with people sat at home. If you give it a go you won’t be able to stop watching. It’s just too good!

  1. Afterlife

If Taboo had a dreary premise, this show’s is downright depressing. Ricky Gervais is Tony, the widower in mourning after the untimely death of his wife at the hands of cancer.

If you want a lighthearted comedy then this might not take your fancy but, in all honesty, this is the singular most heartwarming comedy I have ever watched. Of course, there are many lows, every episode really, and even times when your heart sinks to your stomach as our protagonist contemplates suicide, but that only serves to fuel your joy when good comes about in the story.

There are a plethora of zany, and sometimes slightly too real, characters who all care about Tony and they are all wonderfully complementary to his, at times, slightly tiresome persona. You may have never thought that some of the topics in Afterlife could get you laughing, but I promise you, Ricky Gervais is the king of black comedy. Season 2 also just came out!

  1. Gangs of London

If you have a weak stomach, and I cannot stress this enough, do not watch Gangs of London. The violence and gore are absolutely gratuitous. Yes, the fight scenes are coordinated better than any I’ve ever seen, and as a fighter I sort of know what I’m looking at, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to watch.

The show starts out with Finn Wallace’s death. That’s no spoiler, it’s all over the trailer. The rest of it details the brutal hunt for Finn’s killers by his son, Sean Wallace, a young man full of pent up rage and with a need to prove himself. As he gets further down the rabbit hole of London’s criminal underworld, there are twists and turns abound which keep you on your toes. If you can watch through the violence, then you will be glued to the screen. Season 1 only just came out so get on the hype train now guys!

  1. Ballers

I can’t say I’m usually a fan of Dwayne Johnson’s acting but, as Spencer Strasmore, financial manager to the young stars of the NFL, he lights up the screen. There is something authentic about the former wrestler jumping in to play a former NFL veteran.

The show is a little less pedal to the metal than the other dramas I’ve thrown your way. It’s not about shootouts or mob-level crime, but I found it enthralling. I am a big NFL fan (go Broncos!), but there isn’t much actual sporting action depicted. Its more about the trials and tribulations of the big guy, Spencer, and those around him. It touches on major health scandals that have afflicted the sport, the lavish lifestyle that goes along with being a premier athlete, and the struggle it takes to get to the top of the business world. There are definite undertones of Jerry Maguire, but across several seasons of action rather than one film, and if that takes

4 Things Helping Me Live Life in Lockdown

I understand that lockdown is the bane of just about everyone’s lives at the moment. I have to say though, perhaps counter intuitively, that for me it has been something of a blessing.

Of course, lockdown has not been without its negatives. I am worried about my at risk loved ones. I also worry about my friends who are key workers, particularly one of my closest friends who fears she has contracted the virus as a doctor. All of that is a given; however, I can’t help but find some positives in the situation. There are some distinct glimmers of hope in amongst the madness for me right now.

I read an article by Joe Lycett about a week ago in which he stated that the symptoms of his anxiety have somewhat lessened during lockdown. I feel the same way. Doing my graduate diploma in law this year has been particularly stressful and, coupled with a number of other, slightly graver issues I have been worried about, my mental health has been shaky at best throughout this academic year.

Right now, though, my mental health is the best it’s been since my first year at Durham. I’m finding being at home has taken a weight of my chest. Removing three hours of commuting out of my day has freed up time for me to do some of the activities which help me to pacify a lot of the anxieties I suffer from. Here are the four things that have made lockdown not only bearable, but actually genuinely enjoyable for me.

  1. Spending time with family.

I’ll be the first person to say that this isn’t necessarily a positive for everyone. For me right now though, the past few weeks have been a great opportunity to reconnect with my grandparents.

I now pick up food for my grandparents regularly because they just can’t risk it themselves. This gets me out of the house and gives me the pleasure of spending time chatting to them when I drop off the food, from a fair distance away of course. I have to say, to my shame, that I neglected to visit my grandparents as much as I should have before lockdown and, right now, I’m relishing the chance to spend a little time doing something for them. Helping out my grandparents also intersects with another slither of advice which everyone is embracing at the moment; help out those in your community who are most in need. I’m not a Christian personally but, at the moment, I truly believe ‘love thy neighbour’ has never been more important than it is right now.

If you have an opportunity to reconnect or spend a little more time with the people you care about, without breaking the rules that protect everyone, I can’t recommend it enough!

  1. Getting in the exercise.

I came out of Christmas carrying a little bit of weight and, with exams and work giving me little time to myself, I found that there was no easy way to get my body and fitness levels to where I wanted to be.

Lockdown has given me just that opportunity. I bought a cheap exercise bike, pull up bar, and weights online, and have now gone absolutely fitness crazy. As Joe Rogan has said in his podcasts with Jocko Willink, nothing puts your mind at ease like getting over some struggle. Challenging myself physically again gives me my daily dopamine hit and makes home feel less like a prison, and more like my personal gym. Its a bear pit where I come out of every day that little bit tougher than the last.

My target of 1000 pushups every other day might seem a little absurd to some people, but now that I can do it, I really feel like the time at home has made me that much fitter and healthier. That’s something that, going forward, I want to keep improving upon because keeping fit always gives my mental health a little shot of positivity that I can do what I put my mind to!

  1. Doing something creative.

In my free time I had been pondering writing a novel for a while. Of course, with my still having to do university work, I don’t have all day to exercise and do the creative stuff, but sometimes I do manage both.

So, I’ve started writing a fictional novel; experimenting with it in just about every way I can twist my frankly limited literary skills. Simultaneously, my sister has continued to produce her fantastic drawings. We both believe strongly that there is something inherently therapeutic about letting your mind run wild with creativity. I suppose there’s nothing revolutionary about that sentiment at all but, right now, I truly understand why.

Getting lost in my thoughts and creating chapter after chapter I am genuinely proud of, is a great way to spend an hour here and there. I can’t recommend doing something creative enough, whether its writing, painting, sewing, or something else entirely. 

  1. Planning something for the future.

Get you some hope! I have to say, when I don’t have something to look forward to, I often get bogged down in an underwhelming routine I inevitably create for myself.

Think of something fun to do tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year, to give you a little bit of excitement today. Right now, I am very strapped for cash; a situation which furlough hasn’t helped at all. That’s why I’ve been applying for jobs abroad and also planning some road trips for that second Boris Johnson tells us lockdown and social distancing are over. Applying for jobs abroad will give me the opportunity to travel whilst hopefully replenishing the overdraft a tad. Moreover, road trips are just about the cheapest way I know how to travel. The thought of getting back on the road with a few mates, come the end of Summer, is just about the best way I know to get myself hyped for next month I’ll likely spend looking sullenly out of my bedroom window.