Travel Momentos: The Woman With The Inquisitive Eyes

I still remember the feeling as we stepped onto the train that night. We’d arrived to a train station just outside of Varanasi, in the North of India earlier that evening. It was dark already, the air sticky with humidity, the station lit with faint orange lights.

We shuffled through the throngs of people to the platform we thought might be ours. Stretched out in front of us was a patchwork quilt of families strewn across the platform. Each group huddled together on their own blanket with flasks of hot water for tea, various deep fried delicacies and carefully crafted boxes of rice and curry.

They were here for the long haul.

To one side, we spotted a solitary bench with one available seat, perched between two families. Laura sat down, squeezing between the two families and their haul of bags and boxes. I stood in front of her, and smiled at each of the families either side. They stared back relentlessly, a classic Indian mix of inquisition and intrigue. We’d grown accustomed to the staring by now, and I revelled in competing to see who could hold eye contact the longest between myself and a random family member.

I lost every time

I glanced up to the board to my left, the information board showing a train due to leave at 2pm. It was 10pm now and there was still no sign of it.

8 hours late I thought, this could be a very long night.

After a while of staring, I took a wander around the station. By now whatever food stands had been there were long closed, the remnants of food being hungrily eating by the biggest rats I’ve ever seen.

Suddenly there was a commotion, as a heave of people swarmed towards another platform. I watched as whole families hurriedly gathered up their belongings and headed to the platform. There had been no announcement as far as I could tell, and the information board was blank. Yet in the darkness, along the tracks, were two bright lights getting closer.

Someone’s train was arriving, but where was it going?

I moved closer to glean any info I could on what was happening. Suddenly through the noise and smells of the station, I heard two words above it all:

New Jalpaiguri

This was our destination! I bolted back around the corner where Laura was sitting patiently. I didn’t say anything, one look at my face and she was up and grabbing the bags. We bolted back around to the other platform.

Was this our train? There were no announcements, no signs, no one on the station platform.

We peered inside the carriages in front of us, a brightly lit space with wooden seats and a hundred Indian faces stared back.

This might be our train, but this was not our carriage. We moved down the platform at some pace, looking for the sleeper carriages. A conductor in a hat appeared from one of the carriages, took one look at us and motioned us forward a few more carriages and onto the train.

“New Jalpaiguri?”, I blurted. “Yes my friend!” He replied.

Incredibly, our train was on time.

We scrambled through the dark sleeper carriages until we found our bunks, a middle and upper bunk in a grouping of 6. I took the top and Laura the middle, as others slept soundly on the opposite bunks.

The relief was incredible. Our train was on time, we had our bunks, and we were on our way!

I slept soundly that night, waking around 7am with a jolt. I peered out of my top bunk to the bunk below, where Laura was still cocooned in her sheet and blanket, arms linked through her small backpack with valuables.

It was at this moment that I became aware of 6 pairs of eyes gazing intently from across the compartment.

A family of 6 were already awake, had folded away the middle bunk, and were now all sitting in a row on the bottom bunk, all eyes fixed intently on me in the top bunk.Good train etiquette means folding up the middle bunk so that people on the top and bottom bunk can sit up on the bottom bunk. Wary of this, I clambered down and woke Laura. She was not for getting up, so she clambered up to the top bunk for more sleep while I folded up the middle bunk and sat down on the bottom bunk, its inhabitant had seemingly already left.

I took a breath and looked up. I was now sitting at the same level as the family, on the seat facing opposite, about a metre across from me. All 6 of them squeezed on the bottom bunk, all in a row, gazing intently at me, analysing my features, my hair, my clothes.

Five members of the family, the husband, kids and one grandparent gazed and grinned from ear to ear at me. But there was one woman, I assumed the mother, who gazed intently at me, her face completely expressionless.

After much travelling across the world, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s that even the smallest attempt at interacting in the local language, or adopting a local expression can go a long way.

After a few weeks in India, we’d learnt how to say hello, please, thank you, goodbye. But one expression that unlocked doors and resolved so many situations was the head wobble.

If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, just google it and more knowledgeable people can tell you all about it. What we learnt, from our experience, was that it can mean yes, no, maybe. It can mean almost anything, and that’s kind of the point.

So as I sat, gazing back at the family of six, I focused my attention on the woman with the inquisitive eyes, and ever so slightly, wobbled my head left and right, whilst staring at her.

Her reaction was one of the most incredible bursts of expression I’ve witnessed.

Her face suddenly burst into life. Her eyes widened so that the whites of her eyes were clear, a beaming smile burst onto her face, her hands came out towards me, palms to the ceiling, and then she began talking, the words and questions tumbling from her mouth as fast as she possibly could:

What is your name?
Where are you from?
Why are you in India?
What do you think of India?
Are you married?
Where is your wife?
Is that your wife?
Where are your children?
Why do you not have children?

All of these questions came from her mouth in the space of 30 seconds, after which she stopped and waited for my responses. For the next 2 hours, we talked, shared food between ourselves, showed the family pictures of our life in Scotland, some of our wedding photos. I even think I let them take a photo of our wedding photo on my phone so that they could show their friends.

Although only a tiny moment in our travels, I still remember it with fond memories. It’s these micro moments that can stay with you longer than even the grandest of adventures.

The ‘Travel Moments’ Series

‘Travel Moments’ is a brand new feature here at WorldlyNomads.Com! As much as we LOVE sharing our favourite photos and most exciting travel adventures, sometimes it’s the little unique moments that affect us the most.

Whether it was a fleeting but special interaction with a local, getting lost and discovering something we didn’t plan to, or a random experience we never imagined, these are the moments that will linger in our memories long after returning home and unpacking the bag packs.

So watch this space for many more ‘travel moments’ to come and feel free to share your own in the comment box below!


where to go in the philippines

Top Things To Do In Bohol, The Philippines

With over 7,000 islands, choosing your own adventure in the Philippines can be a tricky decision! Which are the best islands to visit? How long should you go for? We chose to visit the island of Bohol, and boy was that a good decision! There are so many things to do in Bohol, from stand up paddle boarding, to the epic chocolate hills, and of course the cutest animal of them all (the tarsier!), here’s our 7 top things to do in Bohol!

Top Things To Do In Bohol

1. Stand Up Paddle Boarding On The Loboc River

This is something we’ve always wanted to try, and with the promise of a calm river and beautiful scenery, we signed up for a half day paddle boarding adventure on the Loboc river! 

things to do in bohol
The stunning and serene Loboc River, Bohol

Early in the morning, we made our way down to the river’s edge, where our guide was waiting with our paddle boards. We clambered down the bank, and shuffled tentatively onto a floating bamboo raft attached to the river bank.

As I (Barry) moved towards my paddle board, the sides of the raft rose and fell as I adjusted my balance. This was meant to be the easy part – I hadn’t even got on the paddle board yet! As I steadied myself on the bamboo raft, our paddle board guide got onto his board, and motioned for me to step forward. It was my turn. Rather ungainly, I crawled onto the paddle board floating just off the jetty, and straight away I was pushed out into the river, with our guide shouting:

“Get up whilst you’re still moving!”

I was now floating away from the bamboo jetty and right into the middle of the river! How was I supposed to get up again? Where do I put my feet? It was now or never…

If I was going to fall in, it would be in front of our entire group, and the dozen men working on a building across the river. They all downed tools as they saw me float out onto the river…my masculinity was at stake, this was serious!

I checked my feet were in the correct position, either side of the small hole in the middle of the board, and hunkered up from my knees, and onto my feet. Now just to stand up. I raised my back and straightened my legs, wobbling ever so slightly as I adjusted to the uncertain footing underneath. I was up, and it felt awesome!

After a few seconds, I steadied my feet and legs, and began slowly paddling, bending my knees ever so slightly to give myself more control. The first few minutes were great, and it was far easier than I thought it would be. I watched as Laura got onto her board and stood up with minimum of fuss as well. Maybe we had found our calling in life! It turned out that everyone in our group of 6 got up first time, and for the entire duration of the tour, no-one fell in once, an impressive feat! We turned our boards around, left the jetty behind, and set a course for some waterfalls an hour or so upstream. We were off! 

things to do in bohol

things to do in bohol

Stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic experience, a serene way to see local life in action along the river bank. As we glided along the deep aqua green waters of the river, we saw locals planting mangroves along the rivers edge, mothers hunkered over the river bank, washing their clothes, and various boatmen tending to their small vessels. It felt far less intrusive than being on a motor powered boat, making the whole experience nice for us, and more importantly, nicer for the locals.

After 45 minutes, we reached a small inlet where a natural spring poured from the bedrock below our feet, and we slipped off our boards to enjoy a relaxing dip as local boys swung and somersaulted from a nearby tree. The whole experience was just so invigorating. As we paddled further upstream, we admired more local life until we reached our destination, a group of small waterfalls.

Here, the serene and calm green waters gave way to faster moving white water, as it gushed over the small waterfall ahead. We sat on a nearby rock and relaxed, taking in the peace and quiet and switching our minds off.

things to do in bohol

things to do in bohol

After a while, we climbed back onto our paddle boards, and made our way back to the jetty where we began our paddle boarding adventure. Our reward after a hard morning’s paddle boarding? A cold fresh coconut to quench our thirst, and a bowl of noodle soup! 

Paddle boarding on the Loboc river was an invigorating and enjoyable experience. It gives you time to be alone in your thoughts as you glide along the beautiful green waterways and we highly recommend it!

Tips:

– If you get tired standing, you can always kneel or sit down, and paddle from there. Or in Laura’s case, lie down and make me paddle for the both of us!

– Cover up your skin as much as possible – the sun is hot and relentless, even in the morning. I wore long shorts and a long sleeved diving top, and also wore a hat which protected me well (along with sunscreen).

– Take sunglasses!

2. The Chocolate Hills

Reaching the final step, we turned to look at the epic view stretching out in front of us. We’d made it to the viewing platform at the top of a hill, and stretched out in front of us were the magnificent chocolate hills, as far as the eye could see. It was a unique sight, each hill a uniform dome like the others around it, almost like they had been copied and pasted across the landscape to make up a surreal scene.

things to do in bohol

In truth you probably won’t spend much time at the chocolate hills, unless you take a 4×4 off-road experience as well. We opted to view them from the viewing platform, and spent around 30 minutes there before moving on. Don’t confuse this short time with disappointment, we were very impressed with them, we just felt after half an hour we were ready to move on.

Tips:

– Arrive in the morning for the best conditions. We were there at 9am and it was already hot and bright, so anytime towards lunchtime would be extremely bright and potentially very hot! 

– The viewing platform was being rebuilt at the time we visited (December 2015) making the best view slightly obstructed with a metal pole and fence, so if you have a zoom on your camera, use it!

3. The Tarsiers Of Bohol

As we moved further into the jungle, the signs around us were very clear.

“Be quiet, shhhh…”

It was late morning, and the Tarsiers we had come to visit were resting. Tarsiers are mostly nocturnal, therefore asleep during the day, but they wake up every now and again, as we luckily witnessed whilst we visited the sanctuary. As we walked through the jungle sanctuary, local guides were on hand to point out the tarsiers in the trees. If it wasn’t for these guides, we would never have spotted them ourselves, they are tiny and hide well!

Our first sighting was an amazing moment of revelation and intrigue. In a tree a few feet from us, the guide pointed through the leaves in front of us, to a branch further back. As we focused our eyes from the foreground to the background, suddenly this tiny, minuscule tarsier came into view. It really was an incredible moment, as our minds tried to process just how small it was. Tarsiers are one of the smallest primates in the world, and this little guy you’re looking at here was no bigger than my clenched fist.

things to do in bohol
The extraordinary Tarsiers of Bohol

They are intriguing little things, their large eyes burrowing into your own as you stare at them. As we gazed into the tarsiers eyes, we still couldn’t quite process this unique little creature. Everything about tarsiers was interesting to us, from the large eyes, to the long fingers wrapped around a branch as they sleep, and the long tail hanging down below the branch. They are one of the most alien animals we’ve ever come to face to face, and also the cutest as well.

As we travel, we’re always wary of visiting places where animals are an attraction. Some places are blatantly not good for the animals, others are better. This sanctuary was one of the better ones, we’re glad to say (as backed up by various guidebooks).

things to do in bohol
The Tarsier Sanctuary, Bohol
things to do in bohol
Tiny hiding Tarsiers in the forest branches!

We wandered further into the jungle, and saw 2 more tarsiers in the 45 minutes we were there. Each time we were blown away by their size and features! They are truly remarkable little things and well worth a visit! 

things to do in bohol
The sleepy nocturnal Tarsier
things to do in bohol
An extraordinary tree mammal and unique primate

Tips:

– Be quiet and respectful whilst touring the sanctuary as they get easily disturbed. 

– Take your time and let your eyes adjust. Some of the tarsiers were deep in the trees, and we had to squint and wait as our eyes adjusted to the darkness to see them.

4. Fireflies By The Loboc River

From one amazing little creature, to thousands of much smaller creatures!

Fireflies are beautiful to witness, tiny balls of light zooming around in the night sky. They normally congregate around a bush or tree, hundreds moving about in random directions. If you’re lucky, and the weather conditions are just right, you might see a swarm of fireflies lighting up a tree or bush nearby.

As a result of the darkness and their movement, they are nigh on impossible to take a photo of, but I did go one better and captured their movement over a few seconds, the yellow squiggly lines are the firefly trails as they move about in the sky.

things to do in bohol
Fireflies by the Loboc River

Tip:

– If you can’t find the fireflies by your Loboc river accommodation (we stayed at the Loboc River Resort where you can see them in the resort), you can take an evening boat tour where you’re more likely to find them in trees along the riverside. Apparently 8pm is the best time to see them, so long as it isn’t windy.

5. The Butterfly Sanctuary Of Bohol

As part of our day tour around the famous Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers of Bohol, we made an extra stop along the way at a charming and well kept butterfly sanctuary (the only one on the island we believe!). It was an unexpected highlight and made for an interesting and enjoyable short visit.

On arrival we were allocated a guide to take us around, who was very knowledgable of the butterflies, talking us through the various lifecycle exhibits before taking us into the enclosure.

things to do in bohol
The ‘pupa’ or ‘chrysalis’ stage of a butterfly’s development cycle
things to do in bohol
Learning about butterflies!

We were given time to wander around, as our guide excitedly pointed out various butterflies as they appeared all around us. They were many, of all different types and colours.

things to do in bohol

It’s a small place but worth a visit if you’re passing by from the Chocolate Hills as one of the more relaxing things to do in Bohol.

Tip:

There are many beautiful lush green rice fields on Bohol island and we came across these on our tour around the Chocolate hills and butterfly sanctuary, so be sure to look out for them along the way!

things to do in bohol
Bohol rice fields
things to do in bohol
Lush green rice fields
things to do in bohol
A beautiful stilted bridge over the lush green rice paddies of Bohol

6. Buffet Lunch Loboc River Cruise

Now this is not something us Worldly Nomads don’t normally sign up for, but as a listed highlight of things to do in Bohol we thought we’d give it a try, and to be honest we quite enjoyed it!

things to do in bohol

The premise is pretty simple, you get on a boat, where a buffet lunch is served, and you take a cruise up the river. As you cruise, there is live ‘soft rock’ music from a trio at the back of the boat, you’ll stop at a local village where a group of locals will play ukuleles and sing songs, inviting you to join in if you so wish.

It is incredibly touristy and cheesy, but you know what? We enjoyed it! Sometimes it’s nice to just relax, and let an experience take over. It certainly won’t make it onto our highlights reel, but it was a pleasant cheery way to spend a couple of hours on the beautiful Loboc river!

7. Admiring Sunset By The Loboc River

Last but not least on our list of top things to do in Bohol is simply spending time admiring the incredible sunsets over the Loboc River. Since it’s not really an activity mentioned in any guidebook, this was probably our most unexpected highlight of our time on Bohol, but gave us some of our favourite moments!

We experienced many amazing sunsets in various parts of the Philippines (especially during our El Nido Tours on Palawan island), but the beautiful effect on the river and surrounding landscape in Bohol was something very special. Here’s a couple of our favourite views.

things to do in bohol
Watching locals on the river as the sky turned pink!
things to do in bohol
Amazing reflections on the Loboc river

The beauty didn’t end after sunset however. Bohol, and particularly by the Loboc river, is a great place to enjoy the night sky and stars. Again, here’s a couple of our favourite views!

things to do in bohol

things to do in bohol

So that’s it, a whirlwind tour of our top things to do in Bohol! We hope you have enjoyed them and feel free to share your experiences or questions in the comments box below!

Get Your Trip Organised!

Book Your Flight/Train/Bus/Ferry Tickets Online!

We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer flight, train, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Tip:

If you’re looking for a recommendation on where to stay in Bohol, then we particularly enjoyed our 4 nights stay at the Loboc River Resort…

things to do in bohol
The view from the Loboc River Resort, Bohol

Looking for more Philippines inspiration? Click here.

What do you think? Have you been to Bohol? We’d love to hear your comments and experiences in the comments below!


where to go in the philippines

A Spectacular Mt Pinatubo Tour, Philippines

Rattling along the dusty, stone laced riverbed, our jeep suddenly skidded to a halt. After an hour of being bumped about in the back of the 4×4, our driver surveyed his options.

Directly in front of us, a flowing river cut across our route to the start of our Mt Pinatubo tour. The loose rocks and stones we’d been travelling over for the last hour slipped down into the flowing water below us. Revving his engine, our driver suddenly edged the jeep forwards, and splashed down into the river – there was no turning back now! 

The Beginning Of Our Mt Pinatubo Tour

We’d arrived a day earlier, heading North from Manila to the small village of Santa Juliana, a small town located near the base of Mt Pinatubo. It’s possible to take a day tour from Manila, but we would recommend getting out of the city for a couple of days, and taking the time to relax near Mt Pinatubo. We used Santa Juliana as our base for the next few days, as a starting point for our Mt Pinatubo tour. 

After a good night’s sleep, it was time for our Mt Pinatubo adventure!

We began our bumpy, bruise inducing Mt Pinatubo tour early, rising for breakfast at 6 before leaving our homestay at 7. After breakfast, we clambered onto the back of our open top jeep, and headed out along the village road towards the vast, dry bedrock of the nearby river. 

Mt Pinatubo tour

After a few minutes, we swung off the road and down the embankment to the riverbed, where we would spend the next 1.5 hours being jolted about, splattered with mud and covered in dust as we made our way to the start of our Mt Pinatubo tour. It was an exhilarating journey! 

Mt Pinatubo tour

Despite the uncomfortable ride, the landscape on our jeep ride was breathtaking. Magnificent rock formations jolted out of the ground around us, the dark grey stone brought to life by the lush green vegetation and trees that has somehow found a foothold in the crevices. We admired the scenery as we perched ourselves on the bench on the back of our jeep, hanging on by the metal frame around us. Luxury this was not!

After half an hour, we reached the first of what would be many river crossings. We clung on as the jeep jolted forward, and dipped down into the river. We were flung forward, and then back as the jeep levelled out in the river. 

mt pinatubo tour

Instead of going straight across and up the other side of the river, our driver swung the jeep to the right and started driving straight upstream! Surges of water splashed across the windscreen, and our backs splattered with mud as we made our way upstream. This was to become the norm as we made our way on our Mt Pinatubo tour. 

As we made our way closer to the base of the volcano, the landscape became more and more incredible. We had begun our journey surrounded by white and grey rocks, but as we got closer to the base of Mt Pinatubo, the grey gave way to lush green hills.  The green landscape rolled around us, punctured every now and then by sharp grey jagged peaks as the surrounding hills slowly eroded away. From the wide expanse of the river at the beginning of our journey, the valley narrowed as our driver navigated through the ancient lava flow/river bed.

mt pinatubo tour

Every now and then, we’d stop to let the engine cool down, and in the distance locals would appear from nowhere, eager to say hello and share a high five with us. As they approached us, the scale of our surroundings became apparent, our new friends a mere spec on the magnificent canvas laid out in front of us. This place was epic.  

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

After an hour, we rounded a bend and got our first glimpse of Mt Pinatubo, and what a sight it was! Layer upon layer of rock and stone gave way to rolling green hills and then, in the distance, Mt Pinatubo.

mt pinatubo tour

Finally, after an hour and half, our jeep pulled to a stop and we jumped out. After a few minutes of twisting our necks back into place and getting our bags organised, we began our trek. Ahead was a fairly leisurely 2 hour climb to the crater.

The trek itself was beautiful, again the landscape changing from grey valleys, to lush jungle as we closed in on the summit. We clambered over small rocks, and jumped across streams on our way. In our opinion you would only need a basic level of fitness to complete this trek.

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

After a couple of hours, we finally reached the crater, and what a view it was! We were blown away. The caldera of the volcano is huge, spanning 2.5km from one side to the other. The rugged, steep and unstable crater wall surrounds a deep blue lake. As we got closer, the lake stretched out into the distance in front of us. We sat down on the waters edge, and admired the view and tranquility. It was breathtaking.

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

As we ate our lunch, suddenly a huge explosion was heard to our right! If there’s one thing you don’t want to hear when you’re sitting in a volcanic crater, it’s the sound of an explosion! Thankfully, this noise was from a rock fall on the ridge and not the volcano ‘waking up’. Phew! Incidentally, the last eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991 resulted in it losing 260 metres from its summit!

mt pinatubo tour

After an hour relaxing and taking in the view, we began the leisurely descent back down the volcano. The scenery again was incredible!

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo crater

mt pinatubo tour

We made it back to our jeep, and began the bumpy journey back to our homestay. Hanging out the back of our jeep, the views looking back towards Mt Pinatubo were just as incredible!

mt pinatubo tour

Later that evening, still tired from our trek, we took a short walk up the hill near our homestay to watch sunset. Again, the scenery was spectacular and we got a sunset to match! It was a spectacular end to our time at Mt Pinatubo.

mt pinatubo tour

mt pinatubo tour

Our Mt Pinatubo tour was one of our highlights from the Philippines, and easily one of the most epic things we saw there. Despite the bumpy jeep ride (which adds to the excitement), the scenery and landscapes on offer are incredible. The trek to the summit was easy for us, and well worth it for the views of Mt Pinatubo crater. If you’re visiting the Philippines, we’d highly recommend a visit if you have time!

Top Tips

  • A Mt Pinatubo tour from Santa Juliana begins at around 7am and depending on how long it takes you to trek and have lunch, you can expect to be back in Santa Juliana by around 2pm.
  • The sunset view above is from the top of the hill overlooking the same route you take to get to Mt Pinatubo by jeep. You can walk along the village road (passed the Air Force base checkpoint) and up the small hill for these views.
  • Stay for a night or two in Santa Juliana if you have time, it’s better than driving all the way from Manila early in the morning and trying to get back that same day. We stayed at Alvin’s homestay/Bognot Lodge.

Looking for more Philippines inspiration? Click here.


ba be national park

Ba Be National Park - Homestays & Trekking

Our boat chugged along the crystal calm waters of Ba Be national park, following the bends and turns in the river as we made our way back to our homestay for the evening.

As the sun began dropping behind the clouds, we rounded a bend to be met with layer upon layer of incredible towering limestone cliffs, stretching out into the distance. The view was epic and awe inspiring, as the day drew to a close, we sat back on our boat and reflected on the last 2 days in Ba Be national park.

ba be national park

Two days earlier, we’d arrived to Ba Be national park after an 8 hour journey from Hanoi, taking a detour to visit an ethnic museum en route. We’d booked a 4 day, 3 night private tour with Mr Linh’s Adventures, including trekking, homestays and a boat tour of the Ba Be lakes. We’d already completed our Sapa trekking experience, and taken on an epic volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, so we ready for what Ba Be national park had in store for us!

We arrived in Ba Be national park just before sunset, and settled into our basic but clean wooden room on stilts. As the sun set, we took a walk along the track near our homestay, small fires lighting up around us in the small wooden structures along the path, as families began preparing dinner.

As darkness fell, we made our way back to our homestay, and watched as the sun set over the nearby lake, the sky turning dark as the lights flickered on in the village around us. As darkness fell across the lake and surrounding hills, and conscious we had a busy few days ahead, we ate a quick dinner, and hit the sack, ready for the day of trekking the following day. This was to be a very quiet night compared to the following night at our homestay, where a deluge of local rice wine with our host would form the basis of new friendship. And a sore head the following day!

But before that, we had some trekking to do.

As with most of our experiences of homestay and trekking, we awoke early and prepared for our trek. We left our main bags at the homestay and took a small backpack with a spare set of clothes, camera and waterproof jacket, and headed out on our first day of trekking.

After raining all night, the downpour finally relented just as we began trekking, the cool air leaving an early morning mist over the lakes and rivers around us. It was an atmospheric and moody start to our trek.

ba be national park
ba be national park

The first couple of hours of trekking were simple and easy. We left behind the small village where we had spent the previous night, and walked through lush green and yellow rice fields, across various rivers, and headed further into Ba Be national park. As with many treks in Vietnam, we met curious locals and many water buffalo along our way, a friendly “Xin Chao” (hello) as we passed by.

ba be national park
ba be national park tour

After a couple of hours, we snaked off the gentle, flat route we’d become accustomed to, and began trekking up a steep hill, covered in wet moss and vegetation. Whilst this wasn’t difficult, it did provide a bit more of a challenge, and you would require a basic level of fitness to scale it. An hour later we reached the top, rested and began our trek up and down the various hills towards our break for lunch, a small school house alone in the national park, where we stopped for lunch.

ba be national park

From our school house base to our stop for the evening was a further 2-3 hours of trekking, and this part would provide some of the most breathtaking views of the trek. Our advice? We were given a choice from our guide of whether to take the long or short route, we took the long route which involved trekking higher and longer, but it was worth it to see views like this:

ba be national park

As with most of our treks around the world, we were given a chance to interact with people whom we would never meet otherwise. Ba Be national park is still developing as a destination for travellers, and therefore you are still looked at with curious eyes as you walk passed. For the most part, local children may shout “Xin Chao” or hello at you, and carry on their merry way. Sometimes the interaction can be longer, like the family we met as we neared our homestay.

ba be tour

As we walked along a narrow dirt path, to the left just below us was an older lady beckoning us to come down the small hill and say hello. Our guide asked us if we wanted to, which of course we did, and we made our way down the hill.

As we neared, the whole family began filing out of the small wooden hut where the lady was standing, eager to welcome us to their home.

ba be tour

As with many places in Asia, the primary family unit is far more extended than what we are accustomed to. So behind our mother, came 8 younger siblings, all eager to catch a glimpse of us.

This is one of our favourite parts of travelling. We stood outside their home, said “Xin Chao” or hello (the only Vietnamese we knew) and then we sort of just stood there for a while. We’ve grown used to people just staring at us, we don’t find it intrusive. It’s more a case of people studying our facial features, how our noses are different, our skin colour and the colour of our eyes. We smiled at them, and they looked back at us with inquisitive, sheepish eyes.

After a couple of minutes, we remembered we had some gifts for any locals we might meet along the way. As a side note this is always a good idea. For the most part, these people will grow their own food and therefore they don’t operate on much cash to buy other things. As a result, any food you can bring that is different to normal will be welcomed. Just be careful what you bring, and avoid buying sweets and high sugar content foods. We brought some savoury crackers and our guide brought some bread, which we handed to the family. They devoured it in front of us.

After 15 minutes, we decided to leave and bid farewell to our family. Although we didn’t speak with them directly, there is a certain connection you gain between people just by looking clearly into their eyes. It’s something we very rarely do in our home countries, especially with strangers. Yet as we travel it becomes the norm, a cross cultural quirk that allows both parties to intently analyse the facial features of each other without fear of reproach or misunderstanding.

As we left, the mother of the family ran into her home and brought out a huge bunch of bananas for us to take. We initially refused, not wanting to take her food, but she was insistent that we have them, and that she did not receive anything in return. We accepted graciously and waved farewell to this wonderfully kind family.

Onwards we went, wandering along narrow dirt paths that wound around the hills of Ba Be national park, passing more homes and rice fields as we made our way to our homestay.

ba be national park

ba be national park tour

A leisurely hour or so later, we arrived at our homestay for the evening. We would be sharing a large room with 4 other trekkers for the evening, a group we bonded with as the evening progressed and the rice wine flowed.

ba be tour
ba be tour

That’s right, the infamous, ever present rice wine of Vietnam.

If you’ve not tried rice wine, it’s a spirit made by farmers which varies in strength from 20% to 60%. To be honest I don’t think even the farmers know how strong it is. Typically a family will make a large batch, and then decant it into small used water bottles.

If you spend anytime in the countryside of Vietnam, or stay with a family, it will be brought out, and you’ll feel the energy and excitement levels rise in the group.

In terms of etiquette, we’ve found locals to be keen and enthusiastic for you to share a rice wine with you, but they are never pushy. If you don’t drink alcohol, or you just don’t want one, we’ve never had a problem in saying no. Although to be honest we very rarely say no!

For us, sharing some rice wine with a local is a cultural highlight. It solidifies a burgeoning, if temporary friendship, and crosses the language barrier in a way smiles and hand gestures can’t. It’s a way for a local to demonstrate their happiness of you staying in their home.

ba be national park
ba be national park

As we sat down to dinner, the rice wine appeared, our host eager to share his concoction with us. What followed was an evening of food and rice wine, as we gradually finished the bottle between us. Slowly the other guests stopped taking the rice wine, but, excitable as I get, powered on with our host and another trekker until all the wine was gone. At this point I probably had had enough, and I thought this might spell an end to the fantastic evening. How wrong I was.

“I have a special drink for you! A private, special toast between the two of us!”

I had made it to the inner circle.

As I sat in the dimly-lit room, perched on my small plastic stool as the other guests talked around me, I saw our host returning through the darkness with a large plastic jar, filled with some liquid.

“More rice wine?” I asked, wondering what I was letting myself in for.

“No, better my friend! This will make you stronger!” Our enthused host returned.

I was passed the point of no return now, after the amount of rice wine I’d had, one more wouldn’t matter right?

On closer inspection of the jar, it was a light brown/orange colour, filled with various pieces of what I assumed to be bark or root from plants. I wasn’t sure, and despite by questions, our host was being very coy on the contents.

Either way, I wanted to try this new concoction, after all, when else would I get a chance? It was these moments that you travel half way round the world for. To sit on a small plastic stool in the middle of the Vietnamese countryside, sweating through my t shirt, with a local farmer drinking his home made alcohol.

A small shot glass was handed to me, and we knocked back our private friendship drink.

It was…alright.

Gone was the clear flavour and clarity of the rice wine. Instead this was a cacophony of alcohol, plant and roots, and who knows what else. There might have even been a dead snake or scorpion in there.

After this shot I called it a night, our host happy to stop there as well. I went to bed happy I’d experienced an authentic evening of rice wine drinking with a local farmer, and stood up to the test. Yes I could have been sensible, but after traveling halfway across the world, driving 8 hours and trekking for a day, it seems silly to give up on an experience like this. I will never forget my night or rice wine with new friends in Ba Be national park.

The next morning I awoke, groggy but no sore head. Perhaps our host was telling the truth when he promised no hangover!

We ate a basic breakfast of fried bananas and coffee, and bid farewell to our new traveller friends who were heading in the opposite direction.

Side story: Sometimes travelling provides strange coincidences. A few days later, as we walked down an alleyway in Ho Chi Minh City in the very south of Vietnam (hundreds of miles away) we bumped right into this very same group. The chances are mind boggling.

Our first stop this day was a visit to the local school where the wife of our host taught, followed by a 2 hour trek down the hill to the river where we would take a private boat for the remainder of the trek.

ba be national park
ba be national park school

This part of the trek was easy, and we casually walked along winding hill passes, squeezing passed groups of children heading home and water buffalos lumbering passed us. It was a pleasant and relaxing experience, but the best was yet to come.

ba be national park

We stopped for lunch on the river, and we were treated to an incredible feast of Vietnamese food! Roast pork, fresh fish, omelette, spring rolls, green beans and of course some chips! This was welcomed after our long day of trekking, and finally cured my rice wine inspired groggy head!

ba be national park

 ba be tour

 ba be national park

 ba be national park

 ba be tour

 ba be national park

After an incredible lunch, we clambered aboard our boat and sunk into our bench. Our trekking for the day was done, and we could sit back and enjoy the journey. The engine roared into action, and we headed off along the river, gliding passed locals washing their clothes in the river, water buffalos being bathed and cooled down, and all the interesting things that happen on the rivers of Vietnam.

After an hour, we arrived at Dong Puong cave, a magnificent, cavernous opening in one of the limestone cliffs. We wandered around, and listened as the thousands of bats above us squeaked and wined in the darkness. The cave was magnificent, towering above us as we wandered through it towards the opening in the other side. Aside from a group of young local boys hanging out in the cave, we had the place to ourselves.

ba be national park

ba be tour

Leaving here, we took the relaxing 2 hour boat journey back to Mr Linhs homestay, the place we stayed on the first night. It was during this journey that we witnessed some of the most incredible scenery of our time in Ba Be national park.

ba be national park

ba be national park

As the river flowed left and right, winding its way through the park, we glided passed the towering limestone cliffs, rich in vegetation. We were one of the only boats there, the water calm and still as a result. It’s safe to say this was our favourite part of our 3 day experience in Ba Be national park.

ba be national park

We arrived back at our homestay, tired but content with all that we had experienced in Ba Be national park. On our final morning before heading back to Hanoi, we visited the Hua Ma cave, and again we were the only people there. Hua Ma cave is a vast and cavernous caving system, and it was magnificent.

ba be tour

From the locals we met and the rice wine we drank, to the stunning vistas afforded to us, our trek around Ba Be national park had been a success. It’s far from a difficult trek, we found it easy but very enjoyable, and it allowed us to appreciate the views and scenery around us.

For a national park to still be as undeveloped as Ba Be is a unique situation, and this will inevitably change in the future. But for now, if you want an authentic experience of local life and trekking in Vietnam, Ba Be national park could be your place.

Top Tips:

– If you have the choice, choose to do the boat journey at the end of your trek. You’ll appreciate it more after a few days of trekking! 

– If you don’t want to drink rice wine, just say! The locals are keen for you to try it but not pushy in our experience.

– We took a tour with Mr Linh’s Adventures, and we highly recommend the service and trek with them!

– Take some good walking shoes as the trek does get steep and slippy in places.

– Leave bags at your first homestay if you can, as you don’t want to be carrying everything with you for 3 days!

Disclaimer: We received a discount from Mr Linh’s Adventures, however as usual all opinions are our own!

Looking for more Vietnam inspiration? Click here.


Mrs Vu Thi Thai & The Vietnam War

Meet Mrs Vu Thi Thai, an extraordinary woman we met in Northern Vietnam.

Like many others in Vietnam, Mrs Thai was heavily affected by the American (Vietnam) War. She lost her husband to the conflict when her son was only 4 years old, and she has remained without a partner since. As we discovered from our time with her, she is fiercely loyal to the husband she lost such a long time ago.

It was during our homestay experience in Yen Duc village when we asked if there was someone in the village whom we could talk with more about village life in Vietnam. What we thought would be an interesting insight into life in Vietnam, became a captivating, emotional rollercoaster, as she talked frankly about her life, the husband she lost to the Vietnam War, and her life since then. 

As with most of our interactions with locals in Vietnam, our talk with Mrs Thai revolved around food, as she prepared a traditional dish of Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) for us. 

This is her story. 

 

Mrs Thai’s story touched us in a deeply emotional way. Just like our experience at the War Remnants museum, where the atrocities of the American War were laid out in brutal, frank detail, the story of her short marriage and subsequent life filled us with sadness.

From her perspective, she tells the story in a perfunctory manner, without a hint of emotion. Perhaps the years have dulled the pain, or perhaps, as she said herself, she still feels her husband’s presence often, taking comfort from this.

Our first interaction with Mrs Thai was typical of her strength of character and independence. We turned the corner of the narrow alleyway in Yen Duc village, and pulled up alongside a metal gate on our bicycles. To our right, down the alleyway was a dead-end, nothing but a gate…and a rogue hen that had escaped Mrs Thai’s yard.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our first interaction with Mrs Thai. She came out of her home, a wide smile on her face coupled with a steely determination. She poked her head into the alleyway to see what all the commotion was about. Spotting one of her hens there, she didn’t hesitate, and went after the hen with vigour. We looked on in intrigue, after all, we wouldn’t know where to start when it came to catching a rogue hen!

 travel blog

 travel blog

Her first attempt at capturing the hen ended in failure, flapping its wings vigorously, it flew above her and back down the alleyway. But she wasn’t done with it yet. She hobbled back down the alleyway to corner the hen again. Again it launched itself into the air, and as soon as it hit the ground, Mrs Thai was down low, scooping it up by its legs and carried it back into her yard, a wide smile across her face. She seemed to revel in the challenge. 

We were to learn this was typical of her attitude and resourcefulness, even at 70 years of age.

As she wandered back into her home, Huong, our guide motioned for us to enter the yard and home.

“This is Mrs Vu Thi Thai, my neighbour.” She said.

As we entered her home, we felt much warmth from Mrs Thai, a common theme with our interactions with the Vietnamese people we had met. She spoke no English, but her voice was so distinct we would recognise it anywhere. As we entered the home, our guide translated for us.

“She is very proud to welcome you into her home. You are the first foreigners to visit her home!”

A day earlier, we had asked our guide if there was anyone in the village who would like to be featured in a very short film about their lives, and Huong had asked her neighbour if she would be interested. She jumped at the opportunity, and apparently she had been telling everyone in the village she was going to be famous!

She led us into her tiny kitchen area, the walls blackened by decades of a wood burning fire in the corner of the room. Along one side of the kitchen were wooden logs and sticks, stacked high in preparation for winter. In the corner lay a small area of concrete, where Mrs Thai was gathering various small twigs and sticks into a pile. She lit the fire, and hobbled off to get the food we had brought for her to cook.

 travel blog

 

We sat there, crouched on the floor of the kitchen and waited. She returned with an array of vegetables, spices and herbs for our lunch, and without fanfare began cooking.

As she cooked, Huong, our guide (and her neighbour), asked Mrs Thai about her life, and she reeled off the story you heard in the short film above. This wonderful woman, crouched over her wooden fire, reliving the saddest moments of her life as she made our lunch. It was a truly humbling experience, one that really really touched us.

After she finished cooking, we sat and ate our soup in the living area. Above us on the wall, hung proudly just below a photo of Ho Chi Minh, was her husband, forever young in his military clothing. She was keen to point him out, and commented on how handsome he was! We agreed.

 travel blog

 travel blog

Although we felt sadness for her, she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She had made a good life for herself, she had her son (now 47) and his wife and children, and a brother in the village, as well as neighbours looking out for her.

travel blog

After a little while chatting, and many smiles between ourselves and Mrs Thai, it was time to bid her farewell. We felt sad to leave, but her neighbour told us we had made her year just spending time with her, and she’ll be telling everyone in the village about it for months to come! As much as she may have enjoyed her time with us, she probably had no idea how much of an effect she had on us. 

As we left, Laura burst into tears as we cycled back to our homestay for the evening. It had been an emotional afternoon.

We decided we would buy her a gift and return tomorrow to surprise her with it. The next morning, we headed to the local market in search of a scarf for her for the impending winter. We couldn’t find one, but settled on buying her a brand new pillow to sleep on as the ones she had looked very old.

We returned the following morning, taking her by surprise as we entered the yard. She smiled and said something as she hobbled quickly into the house.

“Have we upset her?” We asked her neighbour nervously.

“No! She has gone into the house to put her good clothes on!” 

We laughed, and waited for her to emerge. When she returned, we gave her the new pillow, and she offered us to stay for lunch, such was her generosity. 

Our time with Mrs Thai had been very special for us, and we hope for her as well. We had heard first hand the terrible impact the American War had on the local population, and how she had coped afterwards. But more importantly, it reminded us how lucky we are to live the lives we do. 

travel blog

As we waved goodbye to Mrs Thai, she shouted to our guide:

“Tell them they must come back when they have children!”

We laughed, and promised to do so. We rounded the corner of the alleyway, and headed back into the lanes of Yen Duc village, our heads full of emotion and thoughts as we cycled back to our homestay.

For all the epic adventures we have when we travel, there is nothing better than the impact of spending time with a local, listening and learning about their lives, hoping to understand even a little insight into the countries and cultures we visit. We might talk mostly about the epic treks we take on, or the famous monuments we visit, but it’s the people we meet who remain in our thoughts, and in our hearts. We will never forget our time with Mrs Thai. 

Looking for more Vietnam inspiration? Click here.


The 7 Emotions Of Planning An Adventure

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

– Pat Conroy

Sometimes, as we sit on a train, or take a road trip, our minds wander back to some of the things we have been privileged to witness on our travels. We know we are fortunate to have been able to see the world, and we love to write about, and share, our adventures with you on this very blog.

But something we very rarely share is the emotional rollercoaster we go on as we prepare for an extended journey away from the people we love and the places we call home.

travel planning
The rugged west coast of Scotland

As we sit here, in Scotland, and complete our final preparations for our next adventure, we are reminded of all the upheaval and planning that goes into an extended journey.

Many people are put off from travelling for an extended period of time due to the difficulty in being able to achieve it. From getting time off, saving money, sorting out your home rental or apartment, to packing up your things, planning your trip and saying your goodbyes. The simplicity of your life when you’re travelling is preceded by a bout of complicated weeks and months as you frantically try to get your life in order before you go.

So as we prepare for another adventure, we wanted to share what we experience before a journey, but more importantly, how we (and you) can cope with the emotional rollercoaster of planning the adventure of a lifetime.

Stage 1: Unbridled Excitement & Energy

There is no better feeling when the spark of a travel idea bursts into your consciousness. Perhaps you’re watching a documentary on the Amazon, perhaps a film about Everest, or perhaps you’ve just walked by a world map, or glanced at a globe, and something has sparked inside you. A deluge of thoughts run through your head:

Wouldn’t it be amazing to go there and see that? I wonder if I could do that?

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu was one of our very first adventures – it ignited our wanderlust!
Mount Fuji, Japan
Japan had always been a dream of ours to visit, in particular Mount Fuji which was incredible!
salt flats
When we first heard about the salt flats of Bolivia, we knew we had to go. It was one of the highlights of our time in South America!
Sahara Desert, Morocco
Another big thing we wanted to do was camel trek in the Sahara, and we achieved this in 2014 under a hot, beating sun in Morocco!

You begin daydreaming about all that your adventure could be, and there is nothing else you can think of. It is an incredibly exciting time, and can occur years before you actually get the chance to experience it.

Our Tips

Never rule anything or anywhere out. Seriously, if you’ve decided to go on an adventure, and you think you can afford it, the world is quite literally your oyster.

Start by thinking long and hard about what it is you want to get out of your adventure. Are you looking for an active adventure? Or a cultural one? Or both? Are you looking to relax? To unwind? To trek? To see wildlife? To help people? To climb? To dive? Be really strong in what you want to do, and think about this before you begin choosing where you want to go.

travel planning tips
One of our hardest climbs, conquering the active Villarrica Volcano in Chile! Yes that is lava down there!
travel planning bagan
An unbelievable sunset over the temples of Bagan was a highlight of our time in Myanmar!
travel planning emotions
The Galapagos islands and the locals were stunning!
travel planning tips
Blissful beach time on Koh Tao Island, Thailand

Once you have an idea, start searching for places that would deliver on those experiences. Also remember to check the seasons and when it is best to visit these places. There is no point choosing a destination because of a 2 week trek you really want to do, only to find that you’ve chosen the exact time of year when it is impossible. So choose what it is you want to experience, and find somewhere that will deliver that experience.

At some point, you’ll move from the dream to thinking: how could I achieve that?

Stage 2: Nervous Optimism

Anticipation builds as you research your adventure more and realise it could be possible. You realise you could afford those flights if you saved for the next few months, and the accommodation looks cheap and lovely. You read about other people who have done it, and begin following blogs and travel websites. You realise that other people JUST LIKE YOU have done it, and you begin to think about WHEN you could do it, rather than IF. Suddenly your dream is a serious possibility.

Nerves may start to kick in at this point. You’ve gone from dreaming about these adventures, to actually picturing yourself on that 12 hour bus, or that tuk tuk that is speeding through exotic city streets. You picture yourself looking out over Machu Picchu, or stepping foot on Antarctica. Your dream is right there, and it makes you nervous and excited at the same time!

antarctica travel planning
Stepping foot on Antarctica for the first time!

Our Tips

It is never too early to delve into the detail of researching. Once you’ve figured out what it is you want to experience, and you’ve found somewhere you think would be perfect, check those flight/train/bus options. These are sometimes available a year in advance, as is accommodation. Buy yourself a guidebook and begin reading.

Start following travel blogs and engage with them, throw yourself into the travel community and you’ll be amazed at what other people just like you are up to.

Stage 3: Denial

This happens to the best of us. For some reason, once you’ve done your initial research and realise it is possible, a strange feeling of denial may flow over you. Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of what you’re thinking of doing, maybe all those years of dreaming have made the final decision all too much for you. Maybe it’s all just a little too much to comprehend. This can be quite an emotional time, and we certainly experienced it before we left for our first major trip, a year around the world. 

You begin to question it all. Thoughts like: “I’m pretty comfortable here at home, why would I subject myself to so much upheaval?” and “I love my friends and family and I would miss them dearly”. Then the worst thought of them all enters your mind: “Travelling is something other people do.”

Our Tips

Give yourself time. If you’ve dreamed about this for a long time, it’s only fair that you’ll feel apprehension about actually booking. Remind yourself why you wanted to travel in the first place, remember all of those experiences you wanted to have. And if that doesn’t work, wait until you have a bad day at work and your dreams will all come flooding back! 

travel planning emotions
Soaking in the Midnight sun reflections in Finland!
Torres Del Paine
The famous granite peaks of Torres Del Paine, Chile are spectacular to see!
Taj Mahal
The great Taj Mahal, India
Antarctica
Curious penguins in Antarctica

Stage 4: Nervousness & Snap Decisions

Stage 3 can last anywhere from a few days to years, but at some point, for many people, it suddenly passes, and your denial suddenly turns to nervousness. Are those cheap flights still available? What about the accommodation options? Everything suddenly becomes clear. You’ve saved the money, you know where you’re going and what you want to experience. Before you know it, you’re sitting in front of a computer screen at 2am blinking at the email confirmation that has arrived in your inbox. 

Your one way flight is booked – this just got real! 

Our Tips

We’ve done this many times, we’ve put off booking something for a while, and then something happens, or something clicks inside your head. You’ve spent enough time researching your adventure, you know you can do it, you know you want to do it, so you book it.

It may feel like a snap decision, but in reality it’s a build up of the dreams and research you’ve done. Your adventure is now very real.

Stage 5: Overwhelmed

You’ve now booked and you’re researching your adventure in more detail, and you suddenly become overwhelmed and frazzled. How long do we want to spend in each place in these countries? How do we travel between different places? What will we eat? What will I wear?! And that’s just the start. 

Can we fit everything in our bags? What about visas? And currency? And medication? And injections? Suddenly this dreamy adventure gets bogged down in details. But don’t lose heart!

Our Tips

Make a list. Create a spreadsheet (if they’re your thing). Get yourself organised and plan in advance. Here’s some quick tips from us on this stage:

  • You can book accommodation and cancel for free in advance with websites like Agoda.com. Check each individual accommodation for its cancellation policy, but we like to plan our itinerary and book in advance. If plans change, we can normally cancel for free. Some travellers like to turn up and try and find somewhere, we prefer to have researched and booked in advance.
  • Check what the visa requirements are for each country a few months in advance. You might need to get a visa in advance, on arrival, or even in another country for your next country. Your government should have a website with details of visa requirements. 
  • Check whether you need specific medication e.g. malaria tablets and get them ordered. Speak to your doctor about this. If you think you might need injections, get started on that immediately. For some courses, you need multiple injections spread out over a number of weeks. Don’t leave it too late!
  • Get travel insurance way before you leave. Some travel insurance policies cover you for cancellation or change of plans in advance of leaving, so they are worth buying in advance of leaving, rather than on your phone at the airport as you’re about to board. 
  • Check our packing lists to make sure you don’t forget anything! Click here for my packing list and here for Laura’s backpacking list.

Stage 6: Apprehension

It’s a couple of months before you leave, and the anticipation builds as the trip becomes tantalisingly close. You are now desperate to get going, but there is so much to do before you can finally relax and enjoy the adventure.

Pressure mounts as you frantically try and get all your work done and handed over so that you don’t have to worry about it whilst you’re away. You dream of white sandy beaches as you email another spreadsheet/pdf off to your colleague. The reality of your adventure is sinking in, and you still have so much to buy and do. You begin questioning if this was such a good idea, that you’ll miss the simple things like being able to have a nice cup of tea or home-cooked meal. 

This apprehension leads to sadness as you begin to organise goodbye drinks and meals with close friends and family. You also stop thinking about things you could buy or do now, and a common phrase becomes ‘I could do that/buy that after the trip’. Your life is now split into pre-adventure and post-adventure.

This is an emotional time, and in the last week you hit peak exhaustion as the stress of planning a trip, finishing your work, buying everything you need, and countless goodbyes take their toll. You spend the week cleaning your place and buying last minute toiletries and medication. You know at this point you will only relax once you get on that plane.

travel planning tips

Stage 7: Joy!

We’ll never forget the moment we finally boarded our plane at London Heathrow at the beginning of our first ever round the world trip in 2012. The previous few months had been a whirlwind of work, planning our wedding, finishing work, getting married, packing up our flat, moving out and saying our tearful goodbyes to friends and family. We were emotional wrecks.

We placed our bags in the overhead lockers on the plane and buckled up. I remember closing my eyes and feeling a wave of relief and emotion flow over me. We had made it! Our adventure was about to begin, something we had dreamed about for years was finally here. The joy and excitement was incredible!

As I sat there on the plane, my mind drifted back to how it all began. And for us it began with the tiniest of sparks.

Koh Tao, Thailand
Finally time to relax, this time from Koh Tao island, Thailand

The very first moment of our adventures was a simple idea that perhaps we could go to Thailand on our honeymoon. But then we read more and heard about a place called Angkor Wat in Cambodia that we thought we would like to see. Then we looked at a map and thought Vietnam might be a good idea. Then Bali. Then Australia and New Zealand. Then South America, Antarctica, Central America and well, the list just got longer and longer!

And so from the tiniest of sparks came the greatest of all adventures, and all the emotional moments and stress beforehand were all worth it.

Do You Want To Go On Your Own Adventure?

The sad thing is that all of this can put people off from taking on an adventure, no matter how long or short. It can be seen as a major upheaval to ask your work colleagues for time off (or even to quit your job), pack up your home, say goodbye to friends and family and at the same time finish all your work and plan an adventure.

But the real truth of it is, it’s all worth it, every single bit.

travel planning tips
Castaway on Gili Meno, Indonesia

It’s all about experiencing the emotional highs and lows, often at times extenuated by being on the road. There are good times and bad times. For example, the experience of watching sunrise over Machu Picchu is contrasted against pooping my pants in Myanmar. Setting foot on Antarctica is compared to trying to eat a boiled sheep head for dinner in Morocco. Travel adds a rich layer to the tapestry of our lives, it changes us in oh so subtle increments.

Travel is a chance to de-clutter our lives, even if it is only temporarily. Decisions on what to wear come down to the 5 tops you have in your bag. Our health improves as we eat healthy local food and drink less alcohol as we don’t want to spoil any day with a hangover!

We also spend a lot less time with technology, preferring to play cards late into the evening. Without wifi life is much simpler! We’re sometimes offline for a week or so when we’re trekking, and that time away, unplugged from the world, does wonders for our ability to think more clearly about what we want from life.

Jebel Toubkal
Conquering the summit of Jebel Toubkal, Morocco (4,167m) in freezing conditions!

Whether you’re planning an adventure or just thinking about it, your decision to do so shouldn’t be based on how difficult it is to achieve. It should be based on what you COULD achieve by going on an adventure. The unforgettable sights you’ll see, the unique things you’ll experience and the amazing people you’ll meet. After all, this is why we love to travel.

How do you plan for your travels? Let us know in the comments below!


From Tokyo To Mt Fuji, A Perfect Escape From The City

Travelling through Japan taught us much about patience and respect. From the smart neat queues that organised themselves at regular intervals along train platforms, to their great patience as we grappled to articulate ourselves (sometimes resorting to complicated and creative hand gestures), we took guidance from locals and their behaviour in every day life in Japan.

We found that english is not commonly spoken, or more likely not confidently spoken, meaning asking for directions can be difficult. Even if you figure out where a place might be, most of the street names are incomprehensible symbols to us. So finding a restaurant with photos of food became our guiding light at times. What we lack in Japanese language skills however, was compensated by the helpful, friendly and patient people who were always offering to assist in any way they could, especially on our journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji. That’s what we loved about Japan.

On announcing we would be going from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, the key word apparently would be patience. You see, a cloudless Mount Fuji can be elusive, and we weren’t to get our hopes up. There were, however, methods to improve our chances of seeing her.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
A bath with a view!

Firstly, January is one of the best times to make a journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, especially to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, which also coincides with low (cold) season. We didn’t, however, bank on practically having the entire place to ourselves.

Secondly, if you’re making the effort to visit, spend a couple of nights there at least, ideally in a Ryokan to get the traditional Japanese experience.

Thirdly, be prepared to stand on a freezing cold rooftop for an hour and a half from 05:30 in the morning to get a 3 minute glimpse of Mount Fuji. I did this on our first full day there, and was so glad as the top of Mount Fuji was revealed around whips of cloud as the sun rose.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji nestles itself in the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’ region, so if you’re making the journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji and staying overnight, you’ll need to pick a lake to catch your glimpse of the mountain. Our decision was based on our usual criteria: find the least developed and quiet area. And so it was clear, we would be staying on Lake Shoji.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Relaxing in our traditional Ryokan
Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Day time set up in our Ryokan

Sitting in our Ryokan, a fresh steaming pot of green tea brewing on the table after our early start, we admired our vista. In front of us, the mostly frozen Lake Shoji glistened in the early morning light, as Mount Fuji remained completely covered by clouds. Perhaps today wasn’t to be our day.

After spending most of the morning under cloud cover, around lunchtime to the West, there was a break in the cloud and it was heading our way! The result was two hours of almost perfectly clear conditions. There she was in all her beautiful glory.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
A crystal clear view of magnificent Mt Fuji

Sitting on the freezing cold sand and stones in front of the frozen lake, we admired the view as small wisps of cloud moved around the mountain. It was at this point that we noticed the peace and quiet bring interrupted by what I can only describe as some sort of sonic whoosh across the lake! It took us a few seconds to realise it, but these noises were coming from the lake as it thawed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

A few minutes later and the sonic whoosh returned, this time forming huge cracks in the ice! Our attention was now focused on where the next crack would appear rather than Mt Fuji. Yes we are easily entertained, but we couldn’t help but be fascinated and excited by it! And so we sat for hours and enjoyed the magnificent show of nature. 

From Tokyo to Mt Fuji, a different taste of Japan

That evening brought another experience we’ll never forget, but for a different reason. Sitting in our Ryokan on the shore of Lake Shoji, we had our first truly authentic Japanese banquet. A table brimming with ‘unique’ locally sourced ingredients…the kind you never imagine eating or even consider to be edible!

To set the scene, we like to think we are pretty open-minded eaters, and are generally willing (and excited) to try almost anything, especially on our travels. In fact it’s one of the aspects of travelling that we love most and is usually a big factor in our decision-making on where to visit next. We especially love sushi and couldn’t wait to eat as much as possible on this trip. However from Tokyo to Mt Fuji and its lakes, we had no idea it would be such a different experience.

Starting with the positive, we couldn’t believe the attention to detail and incredible number of plates we were presented with for just the two of us! Another example of the patience and care inherent in the Japanese people that we’d already fallen in love with. Every single dish was beautifully presented in its own unique plate or bowl. In fact this table of dishes made it into our ‘The 20 Best Japanese Food Experiences’ article.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Our traditional Japanese meal

Without hesitation, we tucked into the delicious tempura and sushi that was beautifully presented in front of us. For the tempura, lots of colourful and varied vegetables and fish. Everything from courgettes, mushrooms and jalapeño pepper to fresh tiger prawns, each lightly battered and accompanied with a sweet dipping sauce.

Alongside the tempura were 3 deep pink slices of fresh tuna sashimi, sitting in their own delicate bowl accompanied by a generous helping of soy sauce, wasabi and fresh ginger. It was absolutely mouthwatering and by far the freshest and tastiest we’d had so far in Japan!

These two dishes were the highlights. Where we became a little unstuck was in the presentation of some of the other dishes on our table. There was one dish in particular that caught our eye (for all the wrong reasons). A large curled-shaped shell with a small piece of meat sticking out the top of it skewered by a toothpick. What the heck is that, I thought to myself as I gingerly picked up the shell and took a closer look. Without any instructions as to how to eat it, Laura grabbed the two ends of the toothpick and delicately began to pull the piece of meat out of the shell. And this is what happened next….

Oh. My. Goodness.

The more polite version of our reaction to its scarily long length and unappealing colour! I’ll never forget the look on Laura’s face. Ever the optimist, it was a hilarious mix of shock, confusion, anticipation and a little fear…

Unsurprisingly, “I think you should try it first” were her next words.

Well I wasn’t one to turn down a challenge. So after studying the creature for a little while, which I can only describe as some sort of unusual dark brown sea shell animal, I decided to try it. Eyes now closed, I took a small bite from the end and was instantly overcome the saltiest flavoured thing I had ever encountered in my life. It’s not often I say this about food from around the world, but it was disgusting. After an awfully loooong chew later, it was over.

(Later, one of our readers explained to us that our little brown urchin shell friend was in fact a species of sea snail known as a horned turban, or a ‘Sazae’ in Japanese. Apparently they are best in Winter and Spring (mm this was it at its best?), and apparently I wasn’t meant to eat the very bit I chose to eat as that is actually the snail’s intestine. Trust me to pick the worst part of the snail to try! Well at least that explains why I didn’t appreciate the ‘authentic’ taste!)

I was feeling a little less open-minded by now, and so was Laura.

“I’ll try ANYTHING else but that” she said.

I didn’t blame her!

It was at this point our waitress brought over the last dish for our table. A lovely big bowl of hot steaming fluffy rice. We’ve never felt so relieved and happy to see plain old rice!

From Tokyo to Mt Fuji, we’d now officially tried at least 4 or 5 new species including eel tail, squid arm, octopus and turbo cornutus. Wow! We were most definitely on a culinary adventure as well as a cultural one. We couldn’t wait for the rest, despite not particularly enjoying Mr ‘Sazae’!

Full and satisfied by what had been an extremely memorable day, we decided to retire and set our alarms for (hopefully) another exciting Mt Fuji sunrise. After all, she was worth waking up early for.

How To Get From Tokyo To Mt Fuji

We caught a morning train from Shinjuku station. To get to Kawagichiko station (the main station for the five lakes area), take the Azusa, Super Azusa or Kaiji trains on the Chuo line, and change in Otsuki for the Fuji Kyuko line to Kawagichiko station. From there, we caught a local bus to the Fuji Five Lakes area and our chosen quiet spot, Lake Shoji. The buses are less frequent in the low season (winter) so be sure to plan your timings ahead if you’re visiting at this time! Enjoy! (For up-to-date information, we recommend checking this website.)

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


The Day I Pooped My Pants In Myanmar

It’s not always rainbows and unicorns when it comes to travelling, especially adventure travel. This is a story about an awful journey in the North of Myanmar, where trains, soaring temperatures and a dodgy soup led to a now infamous incident at the side of a road in Myanmar. 

The day is to be forever known for the moment I turned to Laura, at the side of a dusty road, and blurted out the immortal words:

I think I’ve just s#*$ myself.

Perhaps we should rewind a little.

We’d just spent a few days in the Northern town of Hsipaw, a small town used as a base by travellers to explore the highlands and treks in the area. After a very memorable few days meeting locals, monks and nuns on our stay, it was time to bid farewell and make the journey back to Mandalay to catch our flight the following day. That morning we had our breakfast, pulled our backpacks onto our backs and trekked the short 15 minute walk to the train station.

Myanmar Story

As basic as you can imagine, we sat on the platform and waited for the train to roll in with a handful of other people. The train was basic but the seats seemed comfortable, and we settled in for the 6.5 hour journey south to Pyin Oo Lwin where we would search out a bus or taxi to take us the rest of the way to Mandalay.

What we didn’t realise as we waited for the train to pull away, was that these moments would be our last experience of comfort for another 24 hours.

myanmar travel
myanmar travel

Riding The No Suspension Express

With a jerk and crunch, our train pulled out of the station, and we slowly crawled out of Hsipaw and into the countryside. The views were incredible, as we passed through never ending rice fields occasionally punctuated by small villages and wooden buildings. After half an hour or so, the track began to twist and turn, and our carriage would heave to the left and then the right. It was at this point I began to feel a little queasy. Then the track became bumpy, with a lack of suspension not helping our cause.

I must have looked white, but Laura reassured me:

“It’ll pass, it can’t all be like this.”

It could, and it was. For the next 6 hours, we were constantly launched up off our seats and back down again. We were nudged left and right with each turn in the tracks. I tried all my tricks in my travel book: head out the window for fresh air (only worked for a bit as I had to keep sucking back inside to avoid various branches and trees), stare at the horizon (tough to do given the windows weren’t at eye level and much of the time the growth around the tracks blacked out the horizon). No, the only hope was to sit it out.

 

As we meandered through the Myanmar countryside, occasionally we would pull into a small town or village, or pull up alongside another train where various things were loaded and unloaded. Despite my sickness it was fascinating to watch, traders and sellers sometimes appearing literally out of the bushes, resplendent in their thanaka face paint and a head tray full of exotic goods for purchase. Everything from packaged fried snacks, to chicken kebabs, tea and fruits. It was truly a melting pot, makeshift markets created and dismantled in minutes.

myanmar story

 myanmar story

 myanmar story

myanmar story

After around 4 hours of being jolted about, the train slowed its speed and we came through a tunnel in the hill to a vast gorge. We’d arrived at the main event of the train journey, the Gokteik Viaduct with its spectacular railway bridge over 100 metres above the ground and nearly 700 metres long. We’d heard it was quite a sight and experience to travel across the bridge, and it was one of the main reasons we’d chosen to take the train.

myanmar story

myanmar train

I mustered up some energy and dragged myself to the gap between the carriages where we could get a better view. As was often the case on trains in Asia, the carriage door to the outside was nowhere to be seen, so we were extremely careful with our footing.

 myanmar story

 myanmar story

The view was spectacular and exhilarating, and for a brief few minutes as we crossed the bridge my nausea and headache dimmed as the suspension and turns were put on hold for this straight, slow stretch of the track. Eventually, our train reached the other side and we breathed a sigh of relief as the train began to pick up speed again and raced towards its next stop. Again the nausea hit, and I huddled down for the final hour of the journey.

The Moment We Both Shall Never Forget

Finally we arrived in Pyin Oo Lwin, and we grabbed our backpacks and got off the train. We had made it! Relief washed over me as we slowly walked the couple of kilometres from the train station to the town centre where we would arrange our next transport to Mandalay. We could have got a taxi or tuk tuk, but I couldn’t stomach another thing on wheels just yet. We walked for around 15 minutes until I became dizzy.

“I need to stop.”

I crumpled down onto the street, between two parked cars, and took a sip of water. I was dizzy, I was nauseous and I felt awful. Laura went off to get a bottle of coke for me, and I lay back on my backpack in the middle of the pavement as curious Burmese shop owners and locals looked on. I must have been the palest person they’d ever seen, given my pasty white skin at the best of times.

Laura returned a few minutes later with a plan of action. Apparently there was a makeshift taxi rank (read: some people who had cars who were willing to drive us somewhere) 10 minutes along the road. The problem was they only hung around there until 5pm, and it was 4.30pm now. We had to get moving.

I heaved myself back up and we began walking, but within a couple of minutes, the unspeakable, and quite unexpected occurred.

I pooped my pants.

Without giving you all the details, it’s safe to say I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. There was no prior warning, it just happened. Which probably explains why I just blurted out “I’ve just s#*! myself” to Laura without any prior warning.

The look on Laura’s face was priceless. A cross between surprise at my bluntness, confusion as to how I wasn’t better prepared, and worry as to how the heck we were meant to get back to Mandalay this evening. I suppose in retrospect I could have phrased it differently:

  • “I’ve had an accident and I need to find a toilet”
  • “You go on ahead, I’ll just pop in here and buy some coca cola”
  • “I’ve got a sore stomach and need to use a bathroom”

All of these may have lessened the impact somewhat, but given how shocked I was, I wasn’t even aware I was saying it until the phrase was out!

We quickly bundled into a nearby building, where a kind soul beckoned me through to the back garden where there was a squat toilet. It was there Laura gave me some new clothes and then had to leave to find the taxi rank to get a car to take us to Mandalay. I sorted myself out as best as I could, but as went to leave the toilet, one final kick in the teeth became apparent to me. My beloved headphones had found there way into the squat toilet, and there was no saving them.

In my dizzy state, and headache frazzled mind, all I wanted to do was leave them there. But I couldn’t. Knowing what the sanitation systems are like, those headphones could cause the owner of the building some problems down the line. It wasn’t fair on him. So in one final humiliating act, I bent down and retrieved the headphones from the mess, put them in a bag with my pants, tied it up and gingerly went back into the cafe.

Local Heroes Looking Out For Us

It was here we were reminded of the great hospitality and generosity of the Burmese people. This cafe owner, whom I barely acknowledged as I waddled to use his toilet, motioned for me to give him my plastic bag to put in his bin.

No, really no. I can’t have you deal with this.

In my best charade possible, I tried to explain to this kind Burmese man everything that had happened, using only hand signals and pointing. He smiled and insisted I give him the bag. I tried to leave some money behind, he refused. So in the end I bought some bottles of coke and left the change for him. What a hero.

At this point Laura had returned, and had found a kind man with his wife who was willing to take us to Mandalay that evening, around 1.5 hours away. But we had to get a move on, he was leaving in 15 minutes and we were still around 10 minutes away from the taxi rank.

I hoisted the bag on my back, and we headed along the street, passed the point where it had happened, a nod to the shop owners who had seen the whole thing. I didn’t care now, we had to get to the taxi.

We turned a corner and there it was. A solitary car in a gravel area around the back of some building. Standing there with his boot open was our driver, a beaming smile and a kindness that ran deep. We had hit the jackpot. I put my bag in the boot and motioned to him that I was unwell. He put his arm around me and sat me in the front seat. His wife sat in the back with Laura, and we were off on our final leg to Mandalay. 

Travelling Isn’t Always Rainbows & Unicorns

I never thought I would write a story like this on our blog, for the whole world to see. But, the truth of it is, travel blogs and adventures can be made to look glamorous and exciting. And for much of the time, life on the road is perfect, the adventures are amazing and it’s easy to just share those parts of the journey. But there are also down times, and it’s only fair that we share with you the positives and negatives of travel.

Did it put us off from travelling? Of course not! These things happen, and even at home we all get sick sometimes. The key to travelling is to not take yourself seriously. Things will go wrong, plans will change, you’ll get sick sometimes. You also need to learn to trust people, but that doesn’t mean you should lazily and naively trust everyone you meet. Rather, like we have on much of our travels, start your interaction with someone with a position of neutrality, not scepticism. For the vast majority of times, like our friend with the toilet, and like our driver, they are good people just like us.

And so now you (and the whole world knows): I pooped my pants on a street in Myanmar.

Looking for more Myanmar inspiration? Click here.


The Captivating Bagan Temples Of Myanmar

To feel truly captivated is a rare moment. To stand somewhere, look across the horizon, and be genuinely stunned by what you see makes travelling the world all the more rewarding.

One such moment occurred just before sunset as we clambered up to the top of a temple on the plains of Bagan, Myanmar. There in front of us, around 3,000 temples were dotted across the vast plain, each its own unique shape. Many were leaning in one direction or the other, as the ravages of hundreds of years of rains and storms weighed heavy on their oft-times unstable foundations.

temples of bagan

We’d arrived a day earlier, sailing into Bagan in darkness after our 13 hour journey down the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay, and this was our first full view of the temples in all their sunsetting glory.

bagan temples sunset
Sunset view from Shwesandaw Paya

As the day drew to a close, the orange and red bricked temples began to grow into their colours, the low sun deepening and intensifying the already rich palate of bricks. Weaving their way around the temples were golden narrow strips of yellow dirt and lush green vegetation, incredible contrasts across the landscape.

Adding to the sense of mystery and intrigue were the horse and buffalo drawn carts which kicked up the dirt from the paths, hanging in the air and enveloping the temples. And as the evening drew in, and the fires from the locals lit up the plains, the smoke added a final layer of suspense to an already incredible vista.

bagan temples

We stood atop our chosen sunset temple (Shwesandaw Paya), and waited. As the sun finally dropped out of the sky, the light and colours changed minute by minute, providing a rich and varied set of colours throughout the sunset.  temples of bagan

Bagan, with its 3,000+ temples, is stunning, and in our opinion, even more impressive than the much more famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Yes, a bold statement we know and potentially a little controversial but why is this? Well it’s hard to quantity. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can so easily escape the crowds and find many of your own little private temple moments, like we did at this one when there was no-one else around…. bagan temples

Or perhaps it’s the way the sunsets so beautifully, providing the most incredible view over the vast complex. Or maybe it’s simply that there are many more exciting ways for getting around this amazing complex! Whether its bicycle, car, bus, horse and cart, all options are open to you. But there was only ever one option for us, once we decided to create some of our own ‘motorcycle diaries’ on the back of two electronic bikes! Forget your Harley Davidson’s, this is the real deal…

bagan temples

No-one can argue we don’t look cool on these bad boys. Um okay maybe not. But seeing Laura zooming around on her little e-scooter was, well, an absolute joy. I honestly don’t think she’s ever looked so happy, not even on our wedding day! So it wasn’t a surprise that for our 2 full days exploring the various Bagan temples, these became our preferred method of transport (after first struggling in the heat with a pedal bike!) so we highly recommend these!

In terms of planning your time in Bagan, it’s physically impossible to cover all the temples in a few days (let alone a few weeks or months probably), so our advice would be: other than planning a couple of good sunset viewing spots for each day, and ensuring you make it to a few of the most impressive temples, just GO WITH THE FLOW.

The best part of visiting this incredible historic site is discovering your own ‘off-the-beaten’ track paths and pagodas where you can simply park up your bike and sit for a moment enjoying your beautiful surroundings in peace and quiet.

bagan temple

temple of bagan

Just make sure that you have enough power (in your e-bike or legs) AND some daylight left after sunset to find your way back to your accommodation, as navigating the main roads in the dark along with lots of cars can be a little daunting! Trust us we tried it!

bagan temples

In stark contrast to the more weather-beaten temples you’ll find around Bagan, we were surprised to come across this rather shiny gold leaf-gilded stupa on our travels to the nearby town, Nyaung-U. Despite its immaculate condition, this extremely grand stupa, otherwise known as Shwezigon Pagoda, actually dates back to 1102 AD, during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty, and was one of the first temples to be built.

temples of bagan

We found it incredible to learn that it was just less than a thousand years ago (in 1044) that Bagan’s wealthy rulers began building up this ancient city and spent 250 years in doing so. And at the height of it’s place in history as a seat of power in Southeast Asia, the city had more than 10,000 temples and 1,000 stupas! Today there are of course plenty of crumbling, pumpkin-coloured temples, but there are also a great many undergoing careful reconstruction (such as the one below) or have already been restored into modern places of worship with re-gilded exteriors, Buddha statues, and Nats.

bagan temple

It’s not often that the history of a place has such a huge impact on us, as our highlights are often about the people we meet or the new skills or ways of life that we learn about. But witnessing the living legacy of the Bagan Archaeological site was a totally unique experience and will forever stand out as a fascinating memory from our time in Myanmar.

Get Your Trip Organised!

Book Your Train/Bus/Ferry Tickets Online!

We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Myanmar inspiration? Click here.


What Makes Fishing In Finland So Special? (NEW Finland Video!)

“There’s something special about being out in the middle of a pristine Finnish lake at midnight with a sky projecting a bright symphony of reds and oranges.”

Words taken from the full story of our amazing experience fishing in Finland under the midnight sun.

Sometimes it’s hard to put this kind of experience into words so we’re excited to also share this short film of our adventure.

It’s no wonder that the locals flock to the Lakeland of Finland as soon as the ‘midsummer’ holiday arrives. At the peak of the long bright days, after a long dark winter, it’s an exciting and really important time in the Finnish calendar. A close 2nd to the Christmas holidays we were told, and we could see why….

finnish lakeland
Beautiful Lake Soukkio around midnight in June

When we think of the Finnish Lakeland, we think of a little piece of tranquility and stunning natural beauty. From the mirror-like lakes creating the most beautiful forest reflections to the atmospheric and colourful midnight sun inspired skies, it literally took our breath away.

finnish lakeland

midnight sun

Experiencing the midnight sun in Finland for the first time is really special. It gives you an incredible amount of energy to stay up late and enjoy every last drop of it. In fact we didn’t want to put our cameras down!

fishing in finland

midnight sun

Here you have the choice to simply relax and enjoy admiring the long midnight sun from a lakeside cottage (which we highly recommend!) or get out and explore a little more of the area. We ended up doing a bit of both which was great, so here’s a summary of our adventures from our one week in this beautiful, friendly and unassuming country.

fishing in finland

fishing in finland

fishing in finland

Our time there was short but left a lasting impression and a desire to return. We’d love to try ice fishing in winter with a view of the Aurora Borealis next time…that’s not too much to ask is it?!

Have you been to Finland? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Looking for more Finland inspiration? Click here.


Behind The Scenes Of Bloghouse Milwaukee 2015

There are few things that excite me more in the world than researching a destination for the first time.

What unknown delights will my destination be famous for? What are the must eat things? What should I do when I’m there?

I’ve googled some obscure destinations in my time, most recently Mount Rinjani in Indonesia as we plan our adventure there in October. So imagine my delight when I began researching Milwaukee in Wisconsin, USA.

My jaw nearly hit the floor as I realised the place was famous for two very, very delicious things: craft beer and deep fried cheese.

As a duo, it doesn’t come much better than that. Like Sonny and Cher, Simon & Garfunkel and Mickey and Minnie, I found myself drooling all the way across the Atlantic in anticipation of what was to come.

You’re probably wondering why I was heading to Milwaukee in the first place? What adventures was I going for? Well, I was actually headed to a small conference called Bloghouse, where a select few chosen bloggers spend 4 days learning more about blogging and how to improve their own. I was delighted to be accepted in, and before I knew it I was landing in General Mitchell airport for a whirlwind few days in Milwaukee.

I was staying at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, and realised I was in for a treat after receiving this tweet from the hotel:

 

Looks like I could be in for a busy few days.

Arriving in craft beer central, I was keen to add my list of Worldly Beers (a chronicle of all the beers I’ve tried on my travels), so I headed into the centre of Milwaukee to Rock Bottom Brewery, an awesome brewery and sipped a few cold ones. Turns out they had a free keg on that afternoon, so I helped myself to the stout on offer and put the world to rights with a 75 year old new pal at the bar.

rock bottom brewery milwaukee
rock bottom brewery milwaukee

The next day it was time for some Bloghouse action. But beforehand, how about a massive bloody mary and burger to fuel the day? Thankfully, Sobelmans was nearby – how you can you say no to this for lunch?!

We don’t write much about the blogging side of Worldly Nomads on these hallowed pages, but Bloghouse Milwaukee is certainly something to write home about.

Organised by the Navigate Media Group, Cailin from Travel Yourself, Michael from Art of Adventuring, Stephanie from Twenty Something Travel, Kate from Adventurous Kate and Lisa from LL World Tour ran various sessions on blogging, social media, partnerships and everything else about creating and running a successful blog. Such a small group means good discussions and one to one time.

Bloghouse Milwaukee was sponsored by Visit Milwaukee, Travel Wisconsin, Flipkey, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino & Bartolotta restaurants. Meeting and talking with the industry members was one of my highlights, getting an insight from the source on what the industry is looking for from bloggers in the form of partnerships. It left me with a renewed sense of vigour on partnering with tourism boards who share our approach to travel and adventure.

Contrary to what the other pictures portray, this is evidence of us actually busy at work!

Each day at the conference was intense, with sessions starting at 830am and finishing around 5pm, after which we would rush to get changed for the evening activities. The first night we were hosted by Potawatomi in the presidential suite, where we got to sample different dishes from the various restaurants in the hotel.

I may have over indulged on the fresh spring rolls, I really have no concept of how much I eat when in a buffet type situation. I also took a step away from my beer tasting to try the Wisconsin old fashioned, made from brandy, soda water, cinnamon, sugar and bitter. Deelish!

The second evening we were treated to a private tour after closing at the Harley Davidson museum. Despite not being much of a motorbike fan, it was genuinely interesting to hear about the story of Harley Davidson, its role in the wars and the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of this Harley which ended up in British Columbia after a Tsunami hit Japan.

Definitely worth a tour if you’re in Milwaukee.

After the brief interlude away from cheese and beer, it was back to the serious business of ticking off a few more beers (and cheese) from my list. So we hit up the cheese factory, and then took a brewery tour at Lakeside brewery. The tour here is brilliant, funny and full of energy (plus you get to drink beer as you go around!).

I also ended up hugging the tour guide (not my idea) but I did get an extra free beer out of it so all’s well that ends well. I think he was demonstrating something to do with the chemical bonds in beer, I don’t know if I was too busy hanging onto his back. It was never like that in my science classes at school.

The frivolity of Bloghouse would usually end around 9pm, but always the sucker for another beer, most of the Bloghouse crew would hit up a bar or the casino to make our millions (no-one managed it but a few made some cash).

The best part of the Bloghouse for me was having experts on tap to ask and probe about our blog and indeed the blogging business in general. I figured out some of our best blog changes and strategies in the bar late into the evening when most good ideas are formed. Whenever an idea or question popped into my head, I had no hesitation in asking one of the expert bloggers their opinion which was really useful. 

Should You Apply For Bloghouse?

If you’re a travel blogger, and you want to get serious about blogging, I would highly reccomend you consider Bloghouse.

The panel is usually from a diverse range of backgrounds. Cailin and Lisa focused on video, which for the Worldly Nomads is going to be our main focus in the future, so I exhausted our list of questions on that topic. Michael from Art of Adventuring focused on the tech side, and secured our site from nasty intruders including finding 16,000 users we had to delete from our account which was helpful. And then there was Kate and Steph whom I mostly interacted with on the business side of blogging (e.g. affiliates, partnerships) so there was something for everyone there.

In addition to the ‘experts’, I also enjoyed meeting the 11 fellow bloggers who had successfully applied for the conference:

Bloghouse is a great way to begin building a small network of bloggers to grow with, especially in what can sometimes be a lonely blogging world. 

What started as excitement over never ending supplies of craft beer and deep fried cheese in Milwaukee turned into 4 days of intense learning, network building, and dare I say it, fun times with a group of like-minded travel bloggers all eager to grow and develop their sites into something stronger.

With thanks to Visit Milwaukee, Travel Wisconsin, Flipkey, Potowatomini Hotel & Casino & Bartolotta restaurants for sponsoring our stay and activities whilst in Milwaukee! 


Midnight Sun

Why Midnight Sun Fishing In Finland Is So Amazing

The sun had just set on our midnight sun fishing trip, and the sky was a brilliant hue of reds and oranges. Suddenly there was a tug on one of our fishing lines!

midnight sun fishing

Janne (our guide), swung into action. He grabbed the rod, handed it to Laura and she began reeling it in – this was exciting! Suddenly, to my right, another line tugged, we had another fish! Janne grabbed the rod and handed it to Jenni to reel in. It was all kicking off on our midnight sun fishing trip!

As Laura and Jenni were grappling with their catches, pulling them in carefully, another line tugged – we had another bite! This time it was my turn to reel it in.

This was the most exciting part of our evening of midnight sun fishing in the Finnish lakelands. We’d left around 8pm to begin our fishing trip on Lake Kyyvasi, leaving behind our beautiful Finnish lakeside cottage and heading out onto the nearby lake.

midnight sun fishing finland

Janne took us through the safety procedures and we were off, zooming across the glass-like surface of the lake, in search of our catch.

midnight sun fishing

The Beginning Of Our Midnight Sun Fishing Adventure

The lakes promote sustainable fishing, which in reality means ensuring that only a small number of fish are kept per trip for consumption and all fish either less than 45cm or larger than 90cm are automatically returned to the lake. This ensures the fish population remains healthy and avoids decline in the future. 

The first couple of hours were exciting, and we watched with mild confusion as Janne expertly set up the 7 lines in a ‘trolling’ fashion. Fishing is one of those activities I hadn’t really thought too much about, and assumed it was a relatively simple task: cast off a line with bait, wait for a bite, reel it in. Seems simple right? Wrong.

The reality of the troll fishing technique is very different, and incredibly complex!

midnight sun fishing finland midnight sun fishing

To begin with, two guide buoys were sent out either side of the boat, floating alongside the boat around 15 metres from the boat. Attached to these two main lines were various lines from our 7 fishing rods. How they didn’t get tangled up escapes me, if we had attempted it ourselves it would have looked more like a spiders web than the organised fishing lines we had either side of us!

midnight sun fishing

As the evening proceeded, we caught and released around 18 fish as they were too small to be kept. We were waiting for the big one…

Midnight sun fishing

Midnight sun fishing

And then it arrived, just as the sun had set at around midnight.

Janne was grappling with his net to bring in the 2 fish on the ends of Jenni and Laura’s lines, and I was trying to bring mine in.

But this one felt different.

I’d reeled in a couple of other fish that evening, and those experiences had proven to be very relaxed and fun, given the small size of those fish and ease of bringing them on board. But this one was not easy.

This one was either a fighter, or a biggy.

The scene around me was one of excitement, Janne was hanging over the edge of the back of the boat trying to net Jenni’s fish, and as he finally netted it, just beyond the end of the boat, around 5 metres away, I caught a glimpse of the monster I was reeling in, and it looked big!

Fishing in Finland

Cracking the surface of the lake, all I saw was its huge mouth open as it surfaced and dived back under, this one was definitely a biggy AND a fighter!

Janne, having finally gotten the other fish on board and released them, turned his attention to my fish, it growing ever closer to the back of our boat. After a few more minutes, it was around a metre back from our boat.

I was getting excited now, and tired! I was not used to this type of activity, especially given that the boat was still chugging through the water, which meant I was having to reel the fish in with the drag of the boat as well, never mind the highly annoyed fish on the end of my line!

A minute later, the catch was close enough to the boat, and Janne expertly netted it and brought it onboard.

Fishing in Finland

Fishing in Finland

This was what all the fuss was about, a 4.5kg, 90cm pike! Our biggest catch of our midnight sun fishing trip!

midnight sun fishing

We were all delighted, me especially as it had been a bit of challenge to get this bad boy on board.  After a couple of photos, we decided to put him back as he was far too big for us to eat. So back in he went, off to live another day.

It was the highlight of our fishing trip.

As the excitement of our midnight sun fishing trip unfolded, an epic sunset was taking place all around us. With the midnight sun, it felt as though the sunset lasted FOREVER compared to the sunsets we’re normally used to. The sky changed colour so many times over the course of the evening.

midnight sun fishing

midnight sun fishing finland

After all this excitement, it was time to call it a night, and we headed back to shore, Janne opening the throttle one more time as we sped back towards the jetty, arriving back around 0030 tired but delighted with our midnight sun fishing experience. 

For Laura and I, it marked the end of our first ever fishing trip, and it had been spectacular. There’s something special about being out in the middle of a pristine Finnish lake at midnight with a sky projecting a bright symphony of reds and oranges. As we were in the midst of catching those 3 fish at the same time, I grinned a little at where we were and what we were doing.

Fishing in the Finnish Lakeland was a brilliant experience, and one we would love to experience again, not only in the summer, but also in the winter when the lakes freeze over and you can go ice fishing. 

It’s also not something just for the experts. As complete amateurs, we feel we learned a lot and it awakened an interest in fishing we didn’t know was there. I’m sure we’ll be searching out other fishing trips on our adventures now.

We arrived back to our cosy cottage around 1am, and sat up for a bit as the sun and sky continued to change colour around us.

Midnight Sun Finland

Planning Your Trip to the Finnish Lakeland:

Accommodation

We stayed in a cottage owned by local company Rock and lake and would highly recommend them. They offer a large selection of cottages (over 20) of varying sizes for rental in the Finnish Lakeland area, which are easy to get to.

Arranging Your Fishing Trip

Our midnight sun fishing trip was arranged by Rock and Lake (in conjunction with Kalaxi Fishing Oy) and as you can probably tell from this article, we loved it! Visit their website for more information and contact details.

General Information

The Finnish Tourism Board, Visit Finland are a wonderful source of knowledge on all types of travel to Finland and a friendly bunch to get in contact with too!

Looking For Accommodation In The Finnish Lakeland?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in the Finnish lakeland, or elsewhere in Finland, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. You can also book the Rock and Lake accommodation in Kangasnemi that we enjoyed during our visit, just search for ‘Rock and Lake – Villas & Cottages’ through Agoda.

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Note: We were guests of ‘Rock and Lake‘ in conjunction with ‘Visit Finland‘, however all views expressed in this article are our own and this is an honest account of our experience.

Looking for more Finland inspiration? Click here.


Morocco Video: Why You Should Visit Morocco Once In Your Life!

To travel around Morocco is to take an adventure into the unknown.

Morocco Video

From the jaw dropping highs of the Atlas mountains, to the barren landscapes of the Sahara desert, Morocco and its diverse landscapes offer some of the most incredible adventures we’ve ever experienced.

For many visitors however, a visit to Morocco consists of staying in a riad in Marrakech or a nice hotel on the outskirts. As you can see from our Morocco video, Morocco is so much more than this, and the biggest mistake a visitor to Morocco can make is to limit themselves to within the walls of the medina of Marrakech.

If you were to sit on the rooftop of a riad in Marrakech, it would be impossible to ignore the epic and magnificent Atlas mountains, sitting on the horizon, foreboding and enticing. They dominate the horizon, seemingly so close that you could reach out and touch them. This magnificent range, and in particular Mount Toubkal, are worth putting down your mint tea and getting out and seeing an alternative side to Morocco!

morocco video

morocco video

Morocco surprised us in many ways, but in particular the unexpected adventures we encountered at almost every turn. From scaling Mount Toubkal in the Atlas mountains in winter, getting caught in a Saharan sandstorm, to eating sheep head in a homestay, Morocco has an incredible diversity of landscapes on offer. The real adventures are outside of Marrakech, where you can experience dramatic mountain ranges, colourful and dynamic gorges and of course the epic Sahara desert.

Morocco was a country that grew on us. Our time there began in Marrakech, a place we freely admit to not enjoying, and we were glad to escape and head South to the Atlas mountains. The moment we stepped out of the minivan, we felt a sense of calm and excitement as we inhaled our first breath of fresh mountain air. It was quite the contrast from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and something we would recommend all visitors to Morocco to experience. But there is even more to see in Morocco.

morocco video

morocco video

Head south east, and you come across the town of Ouarzazate and a beautiful oasis in the mountains. Further east, the epic Dades gorge awaits, its swirling and jaw dropping rock formations creating an other worldly trekking experience. And then, on the horizon in the south east, the inescapable allure of the mighty Sahara desert. Here you can take a camel trek out into the desert, stay in a desert camp or, as we did, live with a berber family and experience a side of Morocco few will ever experience. Oh and you might even witness a wedding proposal and/or eat sheep head, both of which happened to us whilst we were there!

For us, Morocco is adventure. It has some of the best one day and multi day treks we have ever attempted. It has the Sahara, it has the Atlas mountains, it has the coastal towns and it has, for all its flaws, Marrakech and the intensity that comes with the city.

As our first taste of Africa, Morocco provided a gateway to a new continent for us. One which we hope to return to again.

Our Moroccan Adventures

morocco video

morocco video

morocco video

Have you been to Morocco? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments in the box below!


Hiking The Beautiful Dades Gorge, Morocco

“We have to go down there?”

Laura and I looked at each other, then at our guide, and then back to the 12 foot drop below us. He confirmed this (vertical) plan of action with his usual grin and glint in his eye. By this point, we were already halfway through the Dades Gorge, and there was no turning back from this one. As with most of our adventures in Morocco, from trekking Mount Toubkal in winter, to getting caught in a Saharan sandstorm, once we were presented with the situation, our only option was to embrace it and deal with it. Morocco once again delivered on a great adventure!

The Dades Gorge is spectacular. As you move through it, the gorge narrows and widens, as if it were inhaling and exhaling around you. The colours you will see are out of this world, deep oranges and yellows flowing into purples, reds and blues, all set below deep blue skies. We were blown away by what we saw, it is easily one of the best one day hikes we’ve done in all our travels.

dades gorge

As with most of our travels in Morocco, our timing with regards to the weather provided some unique challenges, especially given the torrential rainfall that fell the day before. Much of the very narrow gorge was still flooded, sometimes waist deep, which meant the only way to successfully navigate the gorge was to scale the walls and clamber over it, something we didn’t realise until it was too late to back out.

We’d arrived a day earlier into Boulemane Dades to torrential rain and flash floods down the sides of the valley. A combination of intense rainfall and snow melt meant most of the roads to our guest house were now criss-crossed by gushing torrents of water. And here we were navigating them in a 30 year old minivan with an engine way passed its retirement age. Laura got the short straw, and was perched in the back of the van on a makeshift seat, the angle such that she was practically lying down as we navigated the treacherous conditions. If that wasn’t bad enough, the minivan was far from waterproof, Laura also taking an impromptu shower in the back of the Morocco mobile. The journey however, was spectacular, and we went back to see it again a few days later when the weather had improved. 

dades gorge

Up ahead, the road had been washed over with thousands of small stones from the valley above, and a group of local boys were clearing the stones for passing cars. As we reached the clear part of the road, we realised this was entrepreneurship at its finest. They were charging cars to pass through their cleared part of road! We laughed, and happily slipped them a few Dirham as thanks for clearing the road.

The next morning couldn’t have been more different, once again our timing was impeccable (read: pure luck). Our guesthouse owner made a couple of calls, and we were clear to enter the Dades Gorge to trek it that day. What followed was one of the most interesting and beautiful day hikes we’ve ever been on, some of the colours in the sky and the rocks blew us away, even if we did have to navigate some treacherous parts of the flooded valley. 

Hiking The Dades Gorge

The trek begins in a tranquil and relaxed manner, walking through lush green forests alongside flowing streams and rivers, as locals went about their daily activities. It reminded us again of the diversity of landscapes in Morocco.

dades gorge

dades valley

dades gorge trek

dades valley

After an hour or so, we reached the entrance to Dades Gorge. Things were about to get interesting! The sweeping wide and lush green landscapes we’d grown accustomed to gave way to barren red and orange rocks and narrow gaps which we would traverse for the next couple of hours.

dades gorge valley trek

dades gorge trekking

Clambering through the gorge was so exciting, we were like two kids in an enormous playground. The path narrowed and widened, sometimes we would walk along the sides of the gorge as it gently sloped upwards. As we ventured further in, the remnants of the flash floods from the day remained, and some of the gorge was inaccessible utilising the usual routes. Not that this bothered our trusty guide, he had an answer for everything, which mostly involved scaling up the sides of the gorge and back down again. 

And so here we were, peering down this gap in front of us. Our guide was adamant that the only option was to somehow get down through this narrow pass and back to the valley floor. It was clear to our amateur gorge scaling minds that there were no footholds that we would be able to use to get down. How wrong we were.

All of a sudden, our guide began to clamber into the gap below us, we guessed to show us how to scale the wall, but he stopped about halfway down and motioned for Laura to step forward. Considering he didn’t speak any English and us no Moroccan, he gestured that the method here would be for Laura to stand ON HIS FOOT which was lodged against the side of the gorge wall. Imagine that? A 10 foot almost vertical side, and a guide standing across the divide halfway down, holding himself there, and expecting to hold the weight of Laura, and myself, on his foot as we made our way down.

dades gorge valley

We were not convinced, but at this point we didn’t really have a choice. Laura was first to go, carefully slipping herself halfway down the gap until her foot came to rest on his. He stood firm, and she was now halfway down the gap. All it took was a simple (!) five foot jump onto the valley floor and she was down! My turn. Again I carefully slipped myself down the side of the rock face, until I tentatively rested my foot on his. Worried about my weight on his foot, I quickly launched myself off of him and down onto the valley floor. We were down!
dades gorge valley trek

From then on in, it was easy. We took our time, and we genuinely marvelled at some of the places we came across. The rock formations and colours were truly mesmerising and beautiful, and we could easily saunter through the gorge at our own pace, soaking it all up.

dades valley

dades valley

A couple of hours later, we finally clambered out of the other side of the gorge, invigorated by our experience. From then on in, we trekked through dried out river beds and sweeping landscapes, a majestic part of Morocco and a place we would love to return to explore further!
gorge dades

dades valley

dades gorge

dades valley february

The trek through the Dades Gorge is spectacular, and for a day we could escape everything and appreciate some of the most incredible and beautiful scenery in all of our travels. The Dades Gorge isn’t a famous landmark, which was clear to us given we only met two other people all day. It was truly a chance to clear our minds and appreciate how happy we were to have experienced such incredible sights in Morocco.

We arrived back to our guest house with smiles on our faces and memories of a beautiful part of the world, untouched and undeveloped, as it had been for hundreds of years. The Dades Gorge is not to be missed on a Moroccan adventure.

Looking for more Morocco inspiration? Click here.


Conquering The Mighty Jebel Toubkal In Winter

Laura and I huddled ourselves in front of the only fire in the refuge, leaving behind the 100 km/h winds and freezing temperatures outside. It was a moment of tranquility after our epic and eventful Jebel Toubkal winter ascent.

Moments later, the peace and tranquility of the refuge was shattered. From nowhere, the doors to our right crashed open as a poor soul on a stretcher was brought hurriedly into the refuge room. We recognised him immediately.

A couple of hours earlier, we had met him on our own journey down the mountain. There he was, perched in the middle of the valley, a small black dot on a crisp white canvas. He was an anomaly in the epic scene in front of us. As we got closer, our guide approached him to query why he was sitting in the valley all alone. A minute later we had our answer:

 “Broken leg – wait there.”

Laura and I let out another sigh after a long two days. The fact that someone had broken their leg on this mountain did not surprise us, given the dangerous conditions we’d faced over the last few hours. With winds of 100 km/h and temperatures plunging to -28°C with wind chill, it was inevitable that there would be casualties that day. In fact, the weather became so treacherous that the mountain was eventually closed for a few days after our climb to let the bad weather pass. As we reached the summit, it became clear that there was no way we should have been on Jebel Toubkal that day.

It had all started innocently enough.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal winter

jebel toubkal winter ascent

Conquering Jebel Toubkal

We’d arrived in Imlil two days previously, a small village nestled at the base of the Atlas Mountains, and a popular starting point for our epic Jebel Toubkal climb. The next morning, we began our trek to the base camp of Mount Toubkal, a 4 – 5 hour journey that took us from the dusty orange hills surrounding Imlil, through the snow line and onwards to base camp, at 3,207m (10,521 ft). It was a far cry from our sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, or our volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, as we swapped lush, warm climates for a cold and unforgiving landscape.

jebel toubkal winter climb

The first day was simple enough and very enjoyable, and there isn’t much to say except that the views, especially in winter are outstanding. It was almost as though this day felt like a nice stroll through some beautiful scenery. We even had time to stop at a makeshift ‘cafe’ and sip a cold Fanta and take in the views. It was an absolute delight, and a world away from what was to hit us the following day.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal

mt toubkal

mt toubkal climb

The refuge, however, was humble and cold. With only one room with a fire, we huddled together with the handful of other hardy souls who’d decided to take on Mount Toubkal in winter. Even an EPIC sunset couldn’t lighten the mood, and that night we slept fitfully in our cold dormitory, anxious about the climb ahead.

jebel toubkal sunset

Morning came, and it was time to make our final ascent to the peak of Mount Toubkal. Toubkal is the tallest peak in North Africa, and the third highest in Africa, towering over the continent at 4,167m (13,671ft). It is now the highest peak we have conquered in our travels, and it’s fair to say it was also the toughest and most dangerous, especially given the amount of injuries and, sadly, deaths on the mountain.

Only a few months prior, a girl had fallen from the summit and lost her life, information we found out AFTER our climb. We were under no illusions as to the challenge that lay ahead of us, especially given this was a winter ascent, through the snow and ice. The route ahead reminded us of our snow and ice covered ascent of Volcan Villarrica in Chile, another incredibly tough climb that we’ve taken on. 

mt toubkal

On went every layer of clothing we had, we slipped into our walking boots and trudged out to the entrance where we clamped on our crampons, grabbed our walking sticks and ice axes, and trudged outside into the burgeoning morning mountain light. To our left, the scale of our challenge was clear to us, and we could make out a group which had set off 45 minutes earlier, mere black specks on the white canvas of Toubkal. Can you spot them?

trekking mt toubkal

It was awe inspiring. And daunting.

Quite obviously, climbing Mount Toubkal in February is far harder than when it is warmer.  The ascent, coupled with snow, ice, winds and freezing temperatures makes it all the more difficult. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. 

We began by climbing up the valley above our refuge, zigzagging left and right which made progress slow and demoralising. After an hour into our climb, a howling gale would sweep down the valley every couple of minutes, whipping up snow and ice and pummelling us with glee. On many occasions our only option was to crumple down onto our knees, turn our backs to the wind and snow, and wait it out.

What had we let ourselves in for? As it turns out, this was nothing compared to what lay ahead.

The next couple of hours were monotonous and arduous, as we slowly made our way up through the valley. The routine was always the same, trudge upwards and left a few steps, turn and climb upwards and right for a few more steps, huddle down as the wind whipped up. Repeat again and again. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Our guide suggested it was some of the worst he had seen when the mountain hadn’t been closed to climb. Again, we should not have been on that mountain on that day. But look how calm it appeared!

trekking mount toubkal

After a couple of hours, we reached the top of the valley, stopping for a couple of minutes to eat a banana and some chocolate. Ahead of us, however, lay the real challenge, a steep 30 minute climb up to the ridge above us, and then an hour long trek along the ridge to the summit. If we were to turn back, it would be now. Sensible Laura and Barry would have turned back, but whilst it had been tough going, we were unaware of the hazardous conditions at the top of the ridge. We would find out soon enough, and by that point it would be too late to turn back.

And so onwards we went, climbing the steep side of the ridge. As we reached the top, we got our first glimpse of the summit, and our first hit of winds upwards of 100 km/h. It was at this point that I (Barry) began to really struggle with the altitude, constantly unable to catch my breath. I struggled on for 20 minutes before collapsing down behind a boulder on the ridge, desperate just to catch my breath and take a break from the incessant winds.

It’s in these moments that your mind finds absolute clarity. Up on that ridge, as the 100 km/h winds howled around us and the temperature plummeted to -28°C with wind chill, a million things ran through my head. I was dizzy, cold and there was no real options for me to back out now. We were now on the ridge, ahead of us were both the summit and our route back down the mountain.

There was literally no turning back, we had committed to the summit. Despite the conditions and the fear, in our minds it was clear that these were the adventures we lived for, these were the great challenges and moments that make us travel to far flung places. These were the experiences that shaped us. On that ridge, with Laura huddled with me, we were together. We were experiencing a real adventure, something we would never forget. Something we could tell people about and be proud to say we achieved. In spite of everything, these moments were why we travel the world.

mt toubkal

Looking back at it, and reading people’s experiences of the summit climb, it seems like we had some of the very worst conditions imaginable. Even our guide (the coolest, laid back man in the world) was beginning to get agitated and worried about the conditions. If there is one thing we’ve learnt from our travels, it’s that guides NEVER get worried. Or at least never let you know. And yet, here we were, alone on the ridge, huddled behind a boulder, without any other trekkers, freezing and windy, as I waited to catch my breath.

After a couple of minutes, my head cleared, and my breathing returned to normal. I grabbed a (frozen) snickers bar, sucked some water from my now frozen water bottle, and we set off again, this time for the peak.

As the ridge was still covered in snow, we had to take a detour along the edge of the ridge, a 1 foot wide ledge with the rocky side of the ridge to one side, and a sheer drop the valley below. At this point we were both scared, no shame in admitting that. If we had known that we would have had to take this part of the mountain on, we would not have gone up. It was a case of putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly but surely work our way along the ridge. 

It was at this point that something completely unexpected occurred, but that’s another story for another time. For now, we were focused on reaching the peak, a mere 100m in front of us.

trekking mount toubkal

Reaching the peak was an emotional moment for us. The sky was a deep blue, and the horizon was punctured by sharp, jagged forays into the sky from the deep orange and white mountains below and all around us. It was an epic scene, and to look at it you would think the most serene moment. We crumpled down onto the summit, our guide telling us not to get up unless he was next us, his fear of us falling off clear to us.

We huddled in together for 30 seconds, taking in the view as much as we could. But it was time to go. It was too cold and too windy to stay there any longer than that, with temperatures as low as -28°C and wind speeds of 100 km/h, staying there any longer and the cold and fatigue would have set in. We needed to go.

As we left the peak, we felt relief to be making our way back down. We had conquered North Africa’s highest peak in some of the worst conditions, and we lived to tell the tale. As we sat in the refuge a few hours later, we watched the doctor work on the man with the broken leg, it was at this moment we felt truly drained, physically and emotionally. As the doctor energetically asked him a series of questions, first about his condition and then about his insurance situation, it became clear the options were either call a helicopter to the refuge (the insurance option) or, somehow, get this guy to the nearest village of Imlil on a stretcher which was a four hour trek at the best of times, nevermind having to carry someone down. The options looked bleak.

Our guide looked on quizzically, before turning to us:

“At least he is alive, a few months ago a girl fell off the top of the mountain.”

We later verified this and found the story of this poor girl who fell in the October prior to our ascent. Trekking Mount Toubkal in winter is not a decision to be taken lightly, and our advice would be to monitor the weather conditions carefully before beginning the trek. 

Reflecting back on the climb now, it’s a shame the weather was so bad that we weren’t able to fully enjoy the views. But what we lacked in views we make up in memories of an epic challenge that we’re proud to say we achieved. We’d attempted, and succeeded, a winter ascent of Mount Toubkal, easily one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced, and certainly the most proud to say we achieved.

The Hike Details & How To Arrange A Trip

SUMMARY: The starting point for the trek, Imlil village, is only a 2 hour drive from Marrakech (and Marrakech airport) therefore you could skip Marrakech altogether by arranging to be picked up from the airport and taken directly to Imlil village. You could even do all of this over a long weekend from the UK or Europe if you don’t have a lot of time!

LOCATION: Atlas Mountains, Morocco

TOUR COMPANY: Atlas Trek Shop

SUGGESTED ITINERARY: 

Day 1: Pick up from Marrakech medina and transfer to Imlil village – overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 2: Trek to base camp of Mt Toubkal – overnight in Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 3: Ascent of Mt Toubkal – overnight in a Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 4: Trek back down to Imlil and overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 5: Trek around local area/villages then transfer back to Marrakesh

ESTIMATED COST: £260 GBP (approx $390) USD for full tour including accommodation, meals, guide and transport to/from Marrakesh, but check tour company website for latest prices.

Looking for more Morocco inspiration? Click here.


Eating Sheep Head In The Sahara Desert, Morocco

Our host arrived at our makeshift table, and with a flourish presented the final meal of our time in the Sahara. We both looked at each other, and then to the plate in front of us: this was to be our final challenge of the Sahara.

The berber family we had been living with for the passed couple of days had decided to give us a special treat on our final evening with them. We were honoured and intrigued, after all, it’s not often a sheep’s head is presented to you for dinner. That’s right, eyes, teeth, skull, the works.

Now, how to react to this properly.

As it had been with the rest of our stay, none of our host family spoke any English or French, solely the local berber dialect. To communicate we used mostly hand signals and smiles. As our ‘mama’ placed the food in front of us, she described the food in berber and pointed to her face. We’d already been told that we would be eating sheep head for dinner.

“Choukran” we said, utilising one of the only words we knew in Morocco. “Thank you.”

Our host left, and we were ready to dissect our dinner.

sahara desert homestay

Rewind 48 hours, and we’d arrived in the village of Merzouga in the very South of Morocco. A small, sandy outpost, and a perfect launchpad to explore the Sahara. With the lack of accommodation there, we had been glad to take up the offer of staying with a local nomadic berber family nearby. In the passed few years, they had put down roots for the first time in generations, and we were welcomed into our temporary home by the grandmother and 4 daughters who lived in the same home, with a further 5 grandchildren.

Conditions were basic (as you would expect) but very comfortable. Ushered into a small room, we plumped down onto the various pillows on the floor. As is customary with almost everywhere we went in Morocco, we were to be welcomed with a plate of nuts and some mint tea. One of the daughters scurried off into the kitchen to make it for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We sat and surveyed our surroundings. The building we were in was made of mud and straw, and it was warm and comfortable. As we discussed our impending trip into the Sahara, there was a commotion outside the room. Suddenly the low table in the room was taken out of the room and replaced with a brand new, seemingly never been used table. This was to become a recurring activity, with the table being changed whenever we were to use it, despite our protests that the other table was perfectly fine. No, we were guests and we got to use the good table!

sahara desert homestay

Our tea arrived, and with the vigour and flair we’ve become accustomed to, it was poured. One pour into one glass, back into the pot. One pour into the second glass, back into the pot. And then the pour, from a great height, into our glasses and presented to us. We thanked our hosts and eagerly gorged on nuts and the mint tea. We had arrived in the Sahara.

As with most homestay experiences, there isn’t much to do except sit back and observe how the locals live. It was fascinating to watch, with the whole day and activities revolving around preparing the next meal. Breakfast was a feast, pancakes, bread, eggs, mint tea, egg tagine and water. Once breakfast was complete, it was time to make lunch, and once lunch was complete it was dinner preparation time.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We finished our tea and went back to our room to relax a little for dinner. Staying with a local family in such tight conditions did get a little intense, especially when we couldn’t actually speak to them at all. As with all things in Morocco, you should always be prepared for the unexpected.

That evening, as I went to check on the time for dinner, I noticed an older gentlemen sitting in the living room talking with the grandmother. Outside, the other girls prepared dinner in silence and with nervousness, but unable to ask them what was happening, I left.

Later that evening we found out that the visitor for the evening had made a visit to ask to marry one of the girls! Intrigued, our guide explained that the mother would talk with the visitor to figure out if he was a suitable match. As we delved deeper, the whole process was laid out in front of us, and it was the most fascinating of rituals. In this area of Morocco, if the mother agreed to him marrying her daughter, he would leave, and 2 weeks later return to marry the girl. All having never spoken to her, and sometimes never having met. This for us was incredible to hear, and there was more.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

If the marriage were to proceed, on the evening of the ceremony, the couple would consummate their marriage. This is where it gets interesting. Providing the girl was still a virgin, the groom would triumphantly bring the sheets out from the marital bed to everyone gathered to celebrate the consummation. This ritual was to show that she was indeed a virgin. Following this, she would leave the family home and go to live with her new husband, all in the space of 2 weeks. We couldn’t believe it, and it was fascinating to hear.

As it turns out, the mother declined the offer of marriage to one of her daughters, and our visitor left on his motorbike, presumably to another home to ask for a hand in marriage. It was yet another intriguing story and insight into the Moroccan culture. After all of this excitement, it was time for dinner, and our sheep head.

sahara desert homestay

After our host had left, we looked at each other and puffed out our cheeks. We were exhausted. We’d just returned from our camel trek in the Sahara where we had been caught in a sandstorm and only just made it back to camp. We were hungry and tired, and here in front of us was a huge pile of steaming hot sheep head.

The first thing that hit us was the smell. It was a pungent, cutting aroma which if we’re completely honest, didn’t exactly invoke a mouthwatering reaction. Quite the opposite actually, but we wanted to be respectful. The family had spent hours preparing it, and it was a lovely gesture for them to make for us, so after poking around the pile, trying to work out what bits were what, we took a bite.

The flavour was the same as the aroma, pungent, strong and overpowering. We nibbled at it for a few minutes but had to give up. We just couldn’t eat it, and knowing the family would get the leftovers, we hastily thanked them for dinner so that they could eat it whilst it was still warm. As we left for bed, we caught a glimpse of the family diving into the feast, glad that they could get to enjoy it.

Back in our room, we ate a banana and some bread, put on all our layers (including hats and gloves) and got into bed. As we lay there in our cold room, the sandstorm still raged outside us. As the final chapter of our Saharan adventure, like so many other experiences we have when we travel, it had finished on a high and a low. A low in the sense that we were hungry and cold, and a 13 hour bus beckoned us the following morning, but also high that we had experienced the real Morocco, no matter how uncomfortable it was for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We’d met and lived with a local nomadic berber family, and it turns out we were their first ever foreign visitors. We’d interacted with them and watched them go about their daily lives. We’d played (and lost) many games of connect 4 with them. We’d seen marriage proposals come and go. We’d hung out with the camels outside, and seen thousands of stars in the night sky, and we tried to eat a sheep head. But more importantly we’d achieved what we’d set out to do, to get off the beaten track, live like a local and see the Sahara.

Wrapped up in our beds, it had been real adventure.

Looking for more Morocco inspiration? Click here.


Stranded In A Saharan Sandstorm

“I think we’ll just switch the engine off and wait for a moment.”

This statement from our guide seemed like the best idea, given the limited options available to us now. We’d been driving through the sandstorm for the last 15 minutes, and now we had no idea of which direction we were going in. Rather than drive further in the wrong direction, we decided to stop in the hope it would clear enough for us to get our bearings. The sandstorm had engulfed us quicker than expected, and we were sitting ducks out in the Sahara.

It was one of those situations where a million things run through your head at once. For the first few minutes, we sat there and took some photos and video of the sandstorm, talking and joking. To begin with, it was a fascinating and exciting experience, we never would have thought that we would experience something like this! We were also glad to be inside a jeep, and not on top of a camel which had been the original plan. But after a few minutes, the exhilaration and adrenaline gave way to something else. Excitement became tension, tension became low level panic in our heads.

saharan sandstorm

The questions began streaming into our heads. How long will this last? Will we be stuck here overnight? Will we be warm enough? Will someone try and find us? What if the sandstorm doesn’t calm before sunset? How are we meant to find our way back in the dark? As we sat quietly as the winds battered our jeep, and the sand poured in through the gaps in the window, we assessed our options.

It had all started so innocently. We’d taken a 4×4 from our camp, and went off in search of the nomad tribes that live and move within the sand dunes of the Sahara. We’d found some, and spent some time wandering through the various tent settlements they lived in. As we met and talked with the nomads, a foreboding sight was bearing down on us in the distance.

“Is that a sandstorm?” I asked. “Yes, but many miles away. Don’t worry.”

Our berber guide wasn’t concerned, and neither should we apparently. We continued on our exploration, but after another half an hour, the skies grew dark and orange, and the wind whipped up around us. It was at this point that we decided to head back to camp, but we were too late.

The sandstorm had hit us, and we were slap bang in the middle of it.

We drove for a few minutes until we could barely see a metre in front of us. Even the sun, our main reference to keep ourselves orientated, was blocked out completely. Sand poured into our jeep, through the gaps and slots in the doors and windows, and we wrapped our scarves around our faces. It was decided we would try and wait it out.

saharan sandstorm

A lot of things go through your mind when faced with danger, and although it may sound melodramatic now, at the time it really was a scary situation. As we sat there for that half an hour, we half heartedly made conversation in the jeep, all the while quietly considering and calculating our options. Even if we could make it back to the nomads, at least there would be some respite there.

And then, all of a sudden, our berber guide sprung into life. What must have only been a few seconds gap in the wind and sand, and he’d spotted something.  A mixture of catching a glimpse of where the sun was, and some tracks in the sand, he quickly became animated.

“Let’s go. Turn around the jeep!”

We spun the jeep around 180 degrees and we plundered off back into the sandstorm, the visibility decreasing back to almost nothing again. But we pushed on, trusting our berber guide to get us back to where we needed to be. To us, it all looked the same; dark orange skies, and the same sand patterns repeated over and over again. The noise of the wind was relentless, and we drove for 10 minutes through almost total blindness as our guide made small alterations to our route. And then, suddenly, a shadow ahead of us! Something breaking up the monotony of the sandstorm.

It was a tent! And then a small building! We had made it back to the nomads whom we had visited earlier! They were (of course) completely surrounded by the sandstorm, but this is what it looked liked in more peaceful times earlier in the day.

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

The relief was immense, and we knew we were now only 10 minutes from our camp. It was decision time though, do we make a run for the camp or do we wait it out with the nomads. Our guide was confident, we could be back at the camp in 10 minutes. So we pushed on, across the wide expanse of sand we had crossed at the beginning of the day. We swung right, then left, and then we stopped again.

Our hearts were racing. Had we made the wrong decision to leave the nomads behind and head for camp? We were close to camp now, no doubt about it, but we didn’t want to overshoot it and become lost again. We sat again for a few minutes, our berber guide winding down his window to catch a glimpse of something, anything to orientate ourselves. The sand poured in more relentlessly than ever. Laura and I sat in silence and waited for something, anything!

And then, in the distance, the outline of a small bush. Irrelevant to us, but hugely important to our guide. We drove towards it, swung right and he told us to look for another bush on the left in about 50 metres. Find that and we were home! Our jeep crawled through the sandstorm, time slowing as we held our collective breath for another bush! Never had the anticipation for spotting a bush been greater. And then it appeared! A wave of relief came over us as we drove round the bush, between two dunes and swiftly back into our camp!

We had made it! We were ecstatic.

We jumped out of the jeep, scarves wrapped around our heads and bolted for our tent, there was no time for pleasantries or thanks when we arrived. Relieved to be back, it didn’t matter that everything was covered in sand inside the tent! We were back and safe.

saharan sandstorm

As we sat on the edge of our bed and surveyed the scene, we reflected on the events of the day. How close had we come to being in real danger? How many other ways could that scenario have played out? We were shook up, no doubt about it. But despite all this, after sunset I still clambered up a dune to take a snap of the sandstorm in the distance. It was an eerie and powerful sight, something we never thought we would witness. It was nature at its most awesome.

saharan sandstorm

That evening, as the wind and sand howled around us, we reflected on why we travel and do the things we do. What makes us leave the comfort of our home and see the world?

The short answer is, it depends on what you want from life. We live to see the world, to experience new and exciting things. And if that means putting ourselves in situations that are riskier than staying at home, then so be it. If that’s the price we pay for living the life we want, then we shall take that risk.

But it’s experiences like this where you appreciate the inherent goodness in people across the world. As we travel, we put our trust in strangers we meet along the road. Whether it be guides or hosts, when we arrive somewhere we are relying on them, just like millions of others around the world right now. We were thankful that, in the sandstorm situation (and like all of our other adventures), we had surrounded ourselves with the right people with the right skills. It reminded us that travel, whilst scary at times, gives us the highs and excitement that makes our lives all the more enriched. To sum it up:

“A ship is safe in its harbour, but it is not what a ship is built for.”

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

We also get to dress like this, but that’s just an added bonus!

For whatever reason, we were built to get out and see as much of the world as we can, and despite some scary moments, we wouldn’t change a thing about it. As we sat on the edge of our bed, and the wind and sand whirled around our tent, we kept coming back to the same moment from earlier in the day. Every now and again, as we sat in the jeep, the silence would be punctured by our berber guide. With a wry grin and glint in his eye, he summed up the day without even realising.

“Sa..ha..ra” he would say, over and over again.

As in, you came to the Sahara, what did you expect? Rainbows and unicorns? Have you had an experience whilst travelling that made you reflect on why you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

saharan sandstorm

Looking for more Morocco inspiration? Click here.


india video

India

India is a country full of verve, energy and contradictions. It is a challenge to visit, but it leaves an indelible mark on your soul

When we think of India, the mere mention of the place conjures up a deep set of diverse and contradictory images and emotions. On the one hand, India for us is a mystical, magical place full of energy and ambition. It seems the absolute majority of people who actually go to India leave with a sense of connection with this wonderful country, its landscapes and its people. You see, India is a place that gets up in your face and then gets under your skin. It’s brash, abrasive, intrusive, energetic, exciting and heartbreaking all in one.

For all the highs it has to offer, from the landscapes and sights, to the people and their food, there is the inequality and poverty which are inescapable on your journey through this magnificent country. It is these elements that cause many to prejudge India, and as a result, will never even consider visiting. For all its positives, India’s image is a complex and unwieldily beast.

india video

india video

Our time there was full of highs, excitement and challenges. Through it all we were accompanied and caught up in the energy and passion of the people. We fell in love with India, a somewhat unexpected outcome for us. We went there for the challenge, because we thought it would take us way out of our comfort zone. And in some respects it did. People will stare, they will burrow their eyes deep into your soul, they will feel intrusive and uncouth. But below this energetic and pushy exterior lies a deep seated goodness. They’re not being intrusive, they’re simply intrigued by you. By your hair, your clothes, whether you are married, how many kids you have, why you don’t have any kids yet and what you do for jobs. Below it all is a strong sense of pride in their family and their country.

india video

india video

Some travellers say you have never truly travelled until you have visited India. Whilst we don’t agree with the sentiment entirely, we’re absolutely certain that it helps if you have had some experience of travelling before you visit this incredible country. India will shake the will of even the most hardened traveller, and we wouldn’t change that for a moment.

With India it is all or nothing. You either commit or you go home, there are no half measures in this diverse country. We had some fantastic adventures in our time there, some of our favourites you can find here, from camel treks in the desert, to boat trips on the ganges where public cremations take place, India packed quite a punch when it came to adventurous activities! We saw some of the most beautiful places in India in our time there.

Adventures don’t always have to be activities, we found almost every meal to be an adventure of its own. Disclaimer: we were already lovers of the Indian cuisine before we arrived, but nothing prepared us for what we experienced across India. Honesty is the best policy, and not all the activities we chose to do resulted in positive experiences. We didn’t enjoy the Kathakali dance in Kerala, and we explain why in our detailed article above. And then there was the magnificent Puja ceremony in Varanasi, a mystical and enriching evening on the Ganges. Wow, what a place.

India is blessed with some incredible places to visit, places where you just sit and soak it all in. From the world famous Taj Mahal, to the countless towns and cities in Rajasthan, some of our favourite experiences in India were wandering through alleyways and markets, getting lost and seeing what we found. We’ve hand picked some of our favourites above.

INDIAN ADVENTURES

Cruising The Backwaters Of Kerala On A Houseboat

Cruising the beautiful backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat was one of our highlights of all of India. Take a fascinating tour with our photos and story.

Camel Trekking Under The Stars, India

A camel trek into the desert was always something we wanted to do, so we jumped at the chance in Northern India. What followed was a day of bumpy trekking, a night under the stars with only a blanket and a million beetles to keep us company!

holi festival of colours

Holi Festival Of Colors, India

Holi festival in India can be intimidating, but don’t worry, use our tips to ensure you get an authentic and real experience of this celebration!

Life And Death In Varanasi, India

Varanasi was an absolute attack on the senses, and our experiences there will stay with us forever. Public cremations on the banks of the Ganges, processions of shrouded bodies through the narrow streets and sweltering heat all left an indelible mark on us.

The Mystical Puja Ceremony Of Varanasi

Beautiful photos of the mystical Puja Ceremony on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India.

Travel Momentos: The Woman With The Inquisitive Eyes

This is the story of a wonderful encounter with a family on a train in India. Sometimes it’s the little unique moments that create the best travel memories…

Delicious Indian Food Photos

Oh boy do we like Indian food, and you’ll find some mouthwatering photos of the best food we had in India! Enjoy!

The Blue City In The Desert Of India

Jodhpur is a city famed for its blue buildings, take a tour of this wonderful city in our Blue City India photo essay!

kathakali dance

Traditional Kathakali Dance, Cochin

It’s a must do in Cochin, and a famous tradition, but what should you expect from a Kathakali dance? We left with a headache and a sense of unease.

India’s Jewel – The Taj Mahal In Photos

A photo essay of the Taj Mahal, one of the most impressive sites in all of our travels.

india video

India

Watch our India Video and get inspired! India is a country full of verve, energy and contradictions. See why it left an indelible mark on our soul.


The Blue City In The Desert Of India

Clambering to the top of the fort, finally we were able to truly appreciate the incredible juxtaposition of the blue city of Jodhpur, India.

Stretching out into the distance, a mosaic of vibrant blue buildings punctured the barren orange and red Earth below them. It was quite a sight. We’d been in town for a few days, but this was the first time we’d been able to climb to the top of the fort due to the annual Holi festival of colours which had taken place the day before. For a city that is already vividly colourful, to see it covered in a multitude of other colours made our time there all the more special.

blue city india

The truth of it is, we spent our time in Jodhpur relaxing, wandering the maze of alleyways and markets, bumping into random characters along the way and eating lots of Thali, all with a backdrop of vivid blues. Sometimes the best experiences when travelling are to plan to do nothing, to sit back and watch this new and interesting world pass by around you. Without this attitude, how would we have experienced cows trying to eat out lunch as we hunched on plastic stools on the roadside as various scooters, tuk tuks and cows passed by? Or watching the locals try to scrub the colours from Holi from their buildings and roads?

We did, however, manage to climb to the top of Mehrangarh Fort at the heart of the city, and we were rewarded with panoramic views and some new friends as well. Our time in the fort was very special, not because of the fort itself (although it was impressive) but more for the people we met there. With it being the day after Holi, every person we met was still in high spirits from the celebration. We found people across India to be very friendly with us, but we met so many families in the fort that day all eager to talk to us and have their photo taken.

This was not an uncommon experience for us, but we’ve never had a queue of people waiting to have their photos taken by us. We felt so much love and happiness in the fort that day, every person we met was warm, friendly and engaging with us. A day we’ll never forget, or the people we met.

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

Anyway, enough of the words and more of the photos we hear you say! Enjoy our photo essay around the blue city of Jodhpur, a welcoming and enchanting place we would highly recommend!

The Blue City Of India In Photos

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

blue city india

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here.


Delicious Indian Food Photos

One of the absolute highlights of arriving in a new country is the inevitable gorging on the local cuisine. There is no doubt that the food we eat on our travels has a major bearing on how much we enjoy a country!

As you probably know by now, one of the main reasons we travel is to try new and exciting foods from across the world. Food really is a major part of the adventure, and there isn’t much we won’t try at least once. Turns out, pretty much everything we ate in India was delicious, and I mean everything. From fresh fish in the South, to heavy and hearty Thalis in the North, every meal passed by with ease and excitement. And the crowning glory of it all? Not once did we get sick in India.

indian food

The simplest piece of advice we give to travellers going to India is to seriously consider being a vegetarian whilst you are there. We are not vegetarians, and didn’t do it out of any moral or philosophical viewpoint. Our theory was by cutting meat from our diet (apart from fish), we would reduce the risk of getting sick in India. That was the theory, and in reality in our whole time in India, we didn’t once get sick, something we are very proud of! Maybe cutting meat had nothing to do with it, but it worked for us.

Going vegetarian had another unexpected advantage. For the first time, we appreciated the vegetables that go into Indian food, and the depth of flavour these options provided. In the past, we would always plump for chicken (Laura) or lamb (Barry), but a good vegetarian curry was always equal, if not better than some of the meat options we’re used to. We still seek out vegetable curry options and we suggest you do the same, like us you may be pleasantly surprised!

Anyway, enough words, let’s have a look at some tasty photos of some of our highlight meals in India! First up, a mouth-watering lassi in Varanasi. Lassi is a yoghurt based drink, great for cooling after a spicy curry, and whilst we’re used to plain and mango lassis, we had no idea of the options available in India. Take this little piece of heaven, a strawberry, chocolate, pomegranate and pistachio lassi. Sensational!

indian food

This delightful spread of dishes was rustled up in one of the smallest kitchens we’ve ever seen, squeezed into the back of our Kerala houseboat. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, an unbelievable feast was presented to us each time. What you’re seeing here is a mixture of vegetarian curries, a pachadi (beetroot yoghurt) and a green bean masala. Mouthwatering.

indian food

indian food

Breakfast on our boat was either a spicy masala omelette (look at those chillis!) or Goan coconut pancakes. Both delicious and washed down with mint tea and orange juice.

indian food

indian food

Another breakfast option in the South were these Kozhukkatta (Steamed Rice dumplings) with coconut filling. Or these pancakes stuffed with curried potatoes and coconut dip, what a way to start the day!

indian food

indian food

indian food

We began our Indian adventure in the south, so this was our first taste of real Indian food, and we were blown away by it. In retrospect, we grew to learn that we prefer the southern Indian food options. The prevalence of coconut and fruits in the food were a big positive for us, and we found the dishes lighter than the North. That’s not to take anything away from the food in the North, it was absolutely delicious, as you will find out. Let’s go North!

indian food

This beautifully presented buffet dish is ‘Thali’ style. Order a lunch or dinner, and you’ll be presented with a number of different curries and sides on your plate, with rice, chapatis or naan to accompany them. We ate so much Thali, but it really is the best way to try a number of dishes for a reasonable price.

indian food

indian food

indian food

indian food

indian food

indian food

Of course, we also treated ourselves to some more expensive (relatively anyway) meals, including some fantastic seafood in the South of India, including Cochin and Varkala. Take for example, this BBQ masala fish with a generous helping of Indian spiced calamari and jumbo prawns. This was in the beach town of Varkala.

indian food

indian food

I mean come on, even the food on the planes was outstanding!

indian food

So there you have it. A sweet (and savoury) tour of our food odyssey through India. We loved our time in India, in particular the people, the sights and the energy all intrigued us, but what sealed the deal for us with India was the food. It sits alongside Vietnamese food at the top of our food table!

Do you like Indian food? If you’ve been to India, what did you think of the food? Let us know in the comments below! For more India inspiration, click here!


The Mystical Puja Ceremony Of Varanasi

The Puja ceremony is a Hindu ritual full of colour, smoke and fire, and takes place on the banks of the river Ganges. It was by far one of the highlights of our time in Varanasi.

Whilst the Puja ceremony may have made the highlights list on its own merit, there is another reason why it was one of my most favourite experiences in Varanasi. One quick photo with some new friends descended quickly into a quite frankly ridiculous impromptu photoshoot, with a queue of women and babies stretching out into the darkness, all keen for a photo with yours truly.

It began, as with most things in India, with a smile and a slight wobble of the head.

puja ceremony

We’d seen the Puja ceremony the night before from the river Ganges, on a small boat as it gently bobbed on the river, and although it was a fantastic spectacle to witness, it had left me wanting more. I wanted to get closer and be right at the heart of it to appreciate it fully.

puja ceremony

I arrived early the next night and picked my spot, to the right of the final podium and just below it. Before long many more people began gathering, taking seats and crates behind the plinths, and the boats began arriving as we had experienced the night before.

It was at this point that three young guys sat down next to me, and in broken English, began the usual series of questions I’d come to expect from locals in India.

“What is your name? Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have any children? What do you think of my country?”

The questions spilled out of the mouths of my new friends in rapid succession, barely giving me a chance to respond and certainly no time to elaborate. Such was the way with many of the new friends we made in India, their line of questioning was inquisitive, friendly and direct. After a while, the conversation turned to that universal language I share with all males (and some females) across the world: football (or soccer if you must use the incorrect term).

Little did I know but these guys would become my bouncers for the evening.

puja ceremony

We talked for a while as the sunset, and as the ceremony was about to begin, they asked for a photo with me. This of course, was no problem, by this point I had grown accustomed to getting photos taken of me in India. They didn’t have their own camera, so they asked one of the professional photographers to take a picture and print it out. We stood up, got the photo, sat down and looked forward to the ceremony. The rest of the crowd, however, had other ideas; that photo opened the floodgates…

Note: There wasn’t a spare copy of the photo, but luckily I managed to get this rough photo of the photo for keepsake.

Barry at Puja Ceremony

Almost instantly after the first photo had been taken, a young boy had clambered over the people in front of me, stood next to me, and motioned to his father down near the water. Oh, I see, I’m getting a photo with you as well. Sure no problem. I sat back down, thinking that might be the end of it.

And then the babies came.

Out of the corner of my eye to my right, a woman had manouvered herself next to my friends, and was holding out her tiny newborn baby for me to hold. I smiled and shook my head (I’m not very good at holding babies), she did the Indian head wobble and smiled, I did the wobble back and all of a sudden I had a baby in my hand. I stood up with the lady and had my photo taken, and all of a sudden I realised that there was a queue of people now lining up to have their photo with me, stretched out into the darkness. Many with babies and young children. I was being papped India style. Sadly I don’t have a copy of any of the photos myself, but I assume there are quite a number of me adorned on the walls of various family homes in India. Perhaps I’m some sort of celebrity now, who knows.

puja ceremony

puja ceremony

I couldn’t help but smile at the scene. People were quite literally queueing up to have their photo taken with me. Where would these photos end up? Pride of place on a mantlepiece? Hanging above a fireplace? I had no idea, but I was a fair target. Secretly I was enjoying the spectacle, it was moments like these that make travelling the world special.

After about 10 minutes of this, I realised the crowd were getting restless. The Puja ceremony had begun already, and due to my impromptu photoshoot, their view was obscured because a) I was standing up, and b) the queue of people lining up to have their photo taken. It was surreal and hilarious, and I couldn’t help but grin at the situation as 1000 Indian eyes peered at me from out of the darkness.

At this point I had to disappoint the remaining people in the queue and sat down, back in the safety of my new friends who had spent the whole time organising the queue and laughing at me. All they needed were some suits and shades and they would have been my entourage and bouncers.

puja ceremony

puja ceremony

We watched the rest of the Puja ceremony in silence, and I beamed from the inside at what had just happened. I had come to watch the Puja ceremony, but as with most things about travel, it was the people whom I had met that had made it a special memory I would never forget.

India is an attack on the senses. It can be brash and direct and uncompromising, but if you can find a way to cope with that, you will be rewarded with interactions with people full of warmth, energy and intrigue. As I walked back to my guesthouse along the orange lit banks of the Ganges, I reflected on how I had probably made their night memorable, as they had for me as well. It was nights like these that reaffirmed why we travel.

puja ceremony

puja ceremony

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here.


Cruising The Backwaters Of Kerala On A Houseboat

It is difficult, but not impossible, to retreat from the frantic pace of life in India. At times it may seem difficult to escape the hustle and bustle, but rest assured it is possible.

We found one such place whilst in the South, where the trees were green and the waterways blue. We are of course, talking about Kerala, a place we spent some time relaxing and reflecting on our time in India.

As it turns out, Kerala is quite simply, beautiful.

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

A lush green paradise sliced apart with rich blue veins of water. It is an age away from the desert forts of the North, and for us was a haven on our travels.

One of the very best ways to experience this part of India is by exploring the backwater waterways of Kerala by boat. Imagine hiring a boat all to yourself, with a couple of crew members to look after you for your cruise, and you start to get an idea of why we enjoyed this part of the world so much.

backwaters kerala

The Backwaters of Kerala

As for the experience, well there isn’t too much to write home about. Not that it was boring or a poor experience, but rather the pleasure is in gently gliding through green waterways, a book in hand, and admiring the scenery. Every now and then we’d float passed a small village where people were busy going about their daily activities, and often a small canoe would float by transporting some crops or people. Occasionally we’d come across a fisherman, but other than that it was a time for reflection and relaxation.

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

We spent most of our time on the top deck, reflecting on all that we had seen and done in India, and all that was to come. It was a perfect place to take stock of our adventure in India. The very best thing about the houseboat? Hands down the incredible food that was delivered to our plates every meal from the tiniest of kitchens in the back of the boat.

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

We were vegetarians for our time in India, not through any moral or philosophical viewpoint, but mostly because we felt avoiding meat would significantly reduce our chances of getting ill. And you know what? It worked for us! In our 7 weeks in India, neither of us were sick once. We’re very proud of that record!

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

As for choosing a houseboat, prices and quality vary dramatically. How many rooms you want and whether you need air con or not are the two main differentiators.

We plumped for a cheaper option (no surprises there) and booked through our guesthouse in advance. You can just wander down and try and book one at the harbour, but we liked what we saw online with our boat and preferred to book through a recommendation.

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

Our boat was one of the most basic we saw, but we did have an upstairs deck to relax on which in retrospect turned out to be a massive advantage and something to look for when making your decision.

By having an upstairs, we had an area all to ourselves away from the crew (and the noise of the engine). We also were afforded much better views of the Keralan backwaters compared to being water level. Just our experience but well worth considering.

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

backwaters kerala

For a while in Kerala, the hectic pace of life in India slowed to a stroll, and it was a time to be cherished on our adventure through India. If India is an attack on the senses, then Kerala is the quiet spa you retreat too in preparation for your next adventure.

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here.


kathakali dance

Traditional Kathakali Dance, Cochin

We tend to think of ourselves as culturally aware. When we travel to a new country, we embrace the cultural idiosyncrasies that push against our senses, including the good and the bad. These cultural quirks are one of the main reasons we travel, to interact with the culture first hand and learn more about it. Our minds are always open to new and interesting cultural quirks.

Sometimes, however, we encounter something on our adventures that, despite trying our best to enjoy, we simply do not understand. One such instance occurred when we went to a ‘must see’ traditional Kathakali dance in Cochin, India. Not only were we left with two banging headaches, but also a sense of unease at the underlying messages of one of the dances. Perhaps we should explain.

kathakali dance

The Kathakali Dance

It all started innocuously enough. We bought some tickets from our homestay for a show nearby, and arrived early to watch the set up and make up of the Kathakali dance. This was by far the best part of the show.

For those who don’t know, a Kathakali dance is an incredibly detailed, intricate dance drama with elaborate costumes and make up. Traditionally the plays last all night, but we chose to see a reduced (2 -3 hours) excerpt of the overall story. Despite this edited version, it would still prove too much for us.

Firstly, the positives. The preparation and training for a traditional Cochin dance is incredible, and if you arrive early enough (at least an hour before it starts), you can observe the actors preparing themselves on the stage through a long process of make up application and various additions to the face. It is an amazing effort to create the look of the Kathakali dance.

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

Following this, a demonstration by one of the actors takes place which explains the various facial expressions, hand gestures and the meaning behind them. To try and explain them to you would take an inordinate amount of time, but below are a selection of the different expressions available to an actor, with training to reach this stage taking many years before their craft is refined. Even the shaping of their eyes and which they look, combined with a different facial expression and hand gesture creates a different emotion. A truly amazing level of detail.

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

Sadly the combination of eye movements, hand gestures and facial expressions was lost on us once the performance began, despite being explained in great detail prior. Each actors facial expression changed every few seconds, combined with a different hand gesture, made it almost impossible to keep up with the detailed narrative.

kathakali dance

There was however, a darker undertone to the show we witnessed, with the overarching narrative disconcerting. The story we were shown was between a man and a woman, a woman who constantly spurned the advances of the man. What followed was 2 – 3 hours of the man trying to woo the woman, through various dances, the show becoming increasingly aggressive as the male became more desperate to win the woman. It was strange to watch a man essentially forcing himself onto a woman, the music growing louder and aggressive as he kept making increasingly invasive moves.

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

Perhaps we’re just too uninformed on the intricacies of the dance, perhaps we’re being too sensitive. Although it is a traditional dance in Cochin, and we appreciate the effort the actors go to, we felt growing levels of unease as the show progressed, irrespective of whether it is tradition or not. There was a dark underbelly to the narrative that we didn’t appreciate. We wouldn’t say we enjoyed it either, quite the opposite actually.

The overarching storyline made us uncomfortable, and combined with the constant banging of a drum for 2.5 hours gave us a splitting headache. Perhaps if we understood the intricate movements better it may have helped, but it still wouldn’t change our unease at the overall spectacle.

kathakali dance

kathakali dance

Would we recommend it? Certainly not the part of the story we saw. Perhaps if a different part of the story was staged we would feel different, but based on our experience we would not recommend it. Our advice would be to ask more questions before going. How long is the show? What part of the story will be shown tonight? Are there other types of performance as part of the show? Perhaps then we would reconsider, but our experience of Kathakali left a bitter taste in our mouth, and sore head to match.

Have you been to a Kathakali dance? What did you think?

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here!


India's Jewel - The Taj Mahal In Photos

There isn’t much you can say about the Taj Mahal that hasn’t already been said. The ultimate show of love and exuberance with a sad tale behind it. Although the world is awash with millions of Taj Mahal photos, here are some of our personal favourites from our time wandering around this world famous landmark. Enjoy!

taj mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos
Taj Mahal photos

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here.


Camel Trekking Under The Stars, India

There are many romanticisms when it comes to travel. The thrill of arriving in a strange new land, the exotic fruits, or the intriguing new cultures and customs.

There are also times when you wonder what you might be letting yourself in for, whether it be the time we went snorkelling in the Galapagos, bracing for a polar plunge in Antarctica, going on an epic volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, or a Sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, you never quite know whether the experience you’re about to have fits with the vision you have for it.

jaisalmer india

As we were about to clamber onto our camels in the dusty, hot desert of Northern India, it was becoming clear our expectations might not fit with the reality that lay ahead that day and night.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

We’d arrived in Jaisalmer, and settled into our small Haveli, where we could watch the comings and goings of a real life fort. But we’d really come to Jaisalmer to do one thing, take on one of the oldest romantic notions of a camel trek through the desert. Any romantic vision we had for the trek quickly disappeared as the harsh reality of life in the desert became very real.

I suppose, with all stories, the warning signs were there from the beginning.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

Packing a small backpack for our overnight trek, we made our way out of our haveli and into the blistering afternoon sun beating down on Jaisalmer. When it was time to leave, we walked down the winding red hot cobblestone streets of the fort to find our ride into the desert. Sitting in the afternoon sun, our battered and tired looking jeep sat proudly on the street, its dust covered frame spluttering as it waited for us, our driver obviously keen to get going.

We jumped in the back, grabbed onto whatever we could hold onto, and we were off, hurtling along the dusty and sandy roads outside Jaisalmer and into the desert. Destination unknown.

jaisalmer india

After an hour or so of hanging on for dear life, we arrived at a small brick/mud dwelling in the middle of absolutely nowhere. A young girl carrying her younger sister greeted us, her skin dark and cracked from the searing and unrelenting heat of the desert. Here we sat, and we waited.

jaisalmer india

After a while, in the distance we could make out the faint silhouette of two camels, our view obscured by the heat haze rising from the desert floor. As they approached, we noticed two men walking alongside our camels, evidently our guides for the day and night.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

To see camels up close is still an exciting experience for us, their size overwhelming as we are reminded of the shear scale of these resilient animals. Arriving, they slumped themselves down in front of us, and waited as the saddles were padded out with various rugs, sheets and cooking utensils. After another while, it was time to get going.

jaisalmer india

Anyone who has taken a camel anywhere will know the absolute terror and fear of the camel standing up and sitting down. Laura was to go first, struggling to get into the saddle which was almost as high as her even when the camel was sitting down. As soon as she was on, the camel decided it was time to stand up, jerking forwards and then backwards like a real life, desert buckaroo. She was up, and she was still on the camel. So far so good.

Now it was my turn, I clambered on, grabbed hold of whatever I could, and braced for the launch. A jolt forwards, a bigger jolt backwards, and I was up and still in one piece. It was time to get on our way.

jaisalmer india

The ride was uncomfortable to say the least, constantly shifting in the saddle to allow the blood to return back to our feet as the sun beat down and the sand whipped up around us. After a couple of hours of slow progress, we began climbing sand dunes, hanging on again as the camels ascended. And then we stopped.

We’d arrived at Casa Sand Dune for the evening.

As the camels were liberated of their cargo, we had a chance to really admire them. Camels are some of the most incredible beasts we have had the privilege of getting up close and personal with. For us, it is simply their size that is so intriguing. Their mouths and heads are gigantic, with thick, wiry whiskers and hairs protruding from all areas. The way they sit is fascinating to look at, their legs seemingly contorting and bending in places where we assumed there were no joints.

jaisalmer india

It was at this point that my camel (Papaya) decided to relieve himself, a torrent released from his bladder into the sand dune we were to call home for an evening. Now we had a water feature as well, what’s not to like?

It was at this point that we got a better idea of our sleeping arrangements for the evening, and it was to be even more basic than the time we camped on Antarctica.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture what you imagine a desert accommodation would look like. Perhaps your picturing crisp, square white tents pitched into the sand, a small mattress inside with blankets. Or maybe just a basic tent. No such luck for us.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

It became very clear to us very quickly that the dirty blankets that had been used to pad the saddle up were to double as both our mattress and blanket. The same blanket that had spent the last few hours, most probably the last few weeks rubbing up against the camel was now our bed.

What would you do? In the middle of the desert, the sun setting, there was no choice, we were sleeping rough tonight.

As we sat and watched our camel guides prepare dinner, the desert came alive. Alive with one little black bug to begin with, followed quickly by another, and another, until there were hundreds of them scuttling about in the sand dunes. And they were big. Did I mention we were sleeping out in the open?

jaisalmer india

It was survival time now, and after dinner we settled into our beds. Our strategy was simple, take our jackets, wrap them around our heads, tuck them into our blankets and hope no bugs found their way in. The only orifices available were our eyes, but it was better than nothing.

I’m probably painting a poor picture of our time in the desert, but honesty is the best policy when it comes to these things. This was not a romantic camel trek in the desert, it was an uncomfortable slog into the middle of nowhere with no comforts whatsoever. But this was normal for our guides, whom we assume did this almost every night.

And yet, despite all of this, there is absolutely no way that we can complain. This for us was one night in our entire lives. For the majority of our existence, we will sleep with a roof over our heads, with running water and heat available to us at all times. For those guides whom we met in the desert, and their families, a version of this experience is their life.

jaisalmer india

This is not to patronise our guides. I did feel for them, but I also had huge respect for them as well. They’ve taken the hand dealt to them and done their best, and I always wonder if I had been born into this life, how would I cope? The simple answer is I would just get on with it, just like they do. Sometimes travel teaches you things, sometimes it gives you an experience you’ll never forget, and sometimes it rises up, punches you in the face, and makes you stop and appreciate all that you have, and all that you will ever have.

jaisalmer india

And there were rewards from this experience, oh boy were there rewards.

Away from the light pollution of towns and villages, the stars came out in all their glory, puncturing the night sky with millions of tiny dots of light, many white, some blue, some red. Just looking at one point of the night sky for a few seconds would result in hundreds more becoming obvious to us. It was incredible.

Shooting stars dashed across the sky at regular intervals, and the silence was beautiful. It was an incredible thing to witness, and for most of the time we forgot about the bugs and snakes in the sand dunes, and our minds drifted away into the night sky. Lying down and staring at the stars in a place you will never return to is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.

jaisalmer india

The rest of the evening passed without incident, we slept in fits and starts, and we were happy to get up early to watch the sunrise over the dunes. It was at this point that we glanced down to the sand dunes around us, shocked by what we saw.

Hundreds, if not thousands of tiny trails had been left in the sand around us, the fruits of the many hundreds of beetles that evidently scuttled around, and on us, throughout the evening. As I clambered out from under my blanket, two crawled out from under me, somehow finding their under me without getting crushed in the process. They’re resourceful little things l’ll give them that.

jaisalmer india

Following sunrise and a basic breakfast of bananas and nuts, it was time to head back to the relative comforts of Jaisalmer. Our guides rounded up the camels, we secured everything back on the saddles, and we made our way back to the mud huts where we’d catch a jeep back into Jaisalmer.

Our trek into the desert had been a short, uncomfortable one, but on arriving back to our Haveli, the experience had certainly given us a jolt to the system. Yes we had been uncomfortable, yes we worried about the snakes and bugs in the desert, yes everything was dirty, but it was only one day and night.

As we sat having dinner as the sun set over Jaisalmer fort, it was another stark reminder to appreciate all that we have, and all that we will ever see in our lives. Sometimes a memory of an experience fades, but we will never forget lying on the desert floor, looking up at the thousands of stars on display. It was a time we were taken away from Jaisalmer, from India, to a place of reflection, a place where we could truly appreciate all that we have.

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here!


Life And Death In Varanasi, India

It’s difficult to imagine a country with more extreme contrasts than India. It is a place that attacks your senses at every moment, a country full of energy, verve and intrigue.

From the calm, green backwaters of Kerala in the south, through to the all-action cities of Delhi and Mumbai, to the quiet and remote forts and castles in Rajasthan, the contrasts in India are there for all to see. Nowhere is the contrast so obvious and so extreme than in Varanasi, where you come literally face to face with life and death on the banks of the spiritual Ganges river.

varanasi india

varanasi india

You see, many Hindus come to Varanasi to die. It is considered one of the most holy places in all of India, and to be cremated and scattered in the Ganges is the highest honour for Hindus. The cremations are very public and, most of the time, very graphic.

Varanasi is not the prettiest place you will ever witness. It is a complex maze of narrow alleyways, crammed with people, shops, cows and frequently shrouded bodies held on the shoulders of loved ones as they make their way to the Ganges. Varanasi leaves an indelible mark on all that come here, for many it will change them forever.

varanasi india

varanasi india

Whether you are there for the cremation of a loved one, or as a visitor observing the rituals, it is impossible not to contemplate your own mortality, and indeed your own belief system. In the UK, we shy away from discussing the mechanics of death, of cremations and burials, we hide it away and we rarely talk about it. But as we’ve experienced in other cultures, from the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ to the Hindu approach in Varanasi, there are alternative, arguably healthier methods and viewpoints on death, where it can be witnessed and processed by those who choose to do so.

Spiritual Varanasi

For this reason, we consider Varanasi to be the most unique place we have ever visited. Varanasi changed our perspective and relationship with death, made us question the methods by which we deal with it in our home country, and left us with a sense of calm and acceptance of the inevitable cycle of life and death.

varanasi india

Imagine yourself, for a moment, sitting on the banks of the Ganges river on one of the numerous ghats that line it. Directly in front of you, a cow and a bull stand idly chewing on a huge pile of flowers left by worshippers, seemingly free to wander the lanes and ghats of Varanasi.

Behind you, a friendly game of cricket has been interrupted by a group of cows making their way from the Ganges up the ghats. Meanwhile, a woman searches through the trash and sewage that lines the shore of the Ganges, searching for anything of use.

The contrasts are everywhere to be seen.

varanasi india

varanasi india

On the steps down to the Ganges, worshippers strip down to their underwear and wade into the river, dunking their heads under the water 3 times in a ritual full of energy and concentration. Most will complete this ritual every morning at sunrise, before the beating sun and heat become intolerable. Everyone is here, from young children frolicking in the water to elderly couples helping each other into the Ganges. Each individual has their own personal relationship with Ganges, and it is absolutely fascinating to watch.

varanasi india

A group of boys swim nearby, surrounded by a group of 15 cows who have also made their way into the river to escape the intense heat. Some are playing with a ball, others taking turns to launch themselves into the Ganges. It’s a fun activity with a very serious goal.

varanasi india

varanasi india

varanasi india

To our right, open sewers run directly into the Ganges, sending its contents towards the various swimmers and bathers, but nobody cares.

Then the bells start to ring, and the men start to chant.

We glance up the steps leading away from the ghat. A group of men are making their way down the steps, carefully and methodically. On their shoulders rests the body of a loved one, carefully wrapped in yellow, white and red cloths. They bring their delicate swaddling down to the waters of the Ganges, and rest it on the bank.

And then they wait for their turn.

varanasi india

varanasi india

varanasi india

The cremation process on the Ganges is a carefully orchestrated ritual, and very public at that. As the men wait to begin the cremation, locals and foreigners alike begin to congregate near the ghat. Here it is perfectly acceptable to sit and watch, and the rules are simple: be respectful, quiet and do not take any photos or video. Quite frankly why you would want to take photos is beyond me, but people do, we saw them.

varanasi india

varanasi india

A pile of wood is assembled near the river, the type of of wood carefully chosen based on the price. If you’re rich, you can have sandalwood and your own private ghat. If you’re poor, it’s a cheap piece of wood and a shared ghat. Each piece is carefully weighed so that just the right amount of wood is used to completely cremate the body. It was fascinating to watch a process which is normally, in our culture at least, hidden away from us. It was a very calming experience.

varanasi india

varanasi india

As the pyres are assembled, the family take their loved one and immerse them in the Ganges, shroud and all. They are then taken to dry the water off in preparation for the cremation.

When the time is right, the body is placed in the wood pile and is set alight. Very quickly the cremation becomes graphic, the shrouds and materials wrapping the body quickly burn away, revealing the loved one through the flames. As the wood burns, the various men tasked with managing the cremation make various ‘adjustments’ to the body with sticks and pincers, to ensure full cremation. It was a graphic scene, but it’s amazing how quickly one can become accustomed to the sight.

varanasi india

For those who live and work in Varanasi, cremations are a 24 hour event, and over time it is obvious that people become accustomed to, and comfortable with the event. Of course if it is a loved one of your own I’m sure it would be a very different matter, but for the majority of the time, it is simply another shrouded body beginning the next stage of their Hindu existence.

varanasi india

We knew we would see burning bodies in Varanasi, and the first time we did it was a shock, a slow realisation that what we were looking at was not a stick of wood pointing out from the fire, but part of a person. I’ll never forget my reaction. As I realised what it was, I didn’t turn away, I didn’t feel sick, I became intrigued, inquisitive almost as my mind tried to process what it was I was looking at. After a few moments, a sense of calm came over me, and I began to think about who that person was, had they been happy? Did they have a good life? I felt sad for them, then I felt happy for them, then sad again.

varanasi india

varanasi india

varanasi india

As for the family of the loved one, the men stood on the ghats and watched with the other observers, all stood, arms folded, watching and waiting. There was a functionality about it, a purpose to what was happening and that they were achieving something. Just behind them, a man was selling ice creams to local children playing – talk about contrasts.

varanasi india
Nevertheless, as the children played in the waters metres away, and the bathers soaked away their sins, the pyres continued to burn. In a country full of contrasts, Varanasi amply demonstrated the incredible juxtaposition of life and death along the banks of the Holy Ganges. It is not often that we can say an experience or place changed us, but as we sat on the banks of the Ganges and watched all that took place, it is hard not to believe that those impressions, those indelible marks have been left on our consciousness.

What do we take away from our time in Varanasi? Life is short, or rather, the times when you are fit and healthy and free of worry are precious, so grab hold of them with both hands and take action. Whether it be grand plans to see the world, or learn a new skill, or try a new food, Varanasi provided us with the ultimate lesson in contrasts. Those shrouded loved ones we watched on the pyres reminded us that the time to take action is now.

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here!


japanese tea ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony Experience In Kyoto

Nothing sums up the careful and attentive approach of all things Japanese quite like the rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony.

In all our travels across Japan, we were constantly surprised at the attention to detail placed on many seemingly unimportant things. Whether it be the delicate and intricate preparation of all Japanese food, or the way everything just works, Japan constantly made us grin a little when we realised a solution had been designed for a problem we never knew existed.

A Japanese tea ceremony, however, took things to a whole new level.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

We’d always known about traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, how they formed an integral part of the Geisha experience, and that depending on the type of ceremony they can run for hours!

I mean, how long does it take to make a cup of tea? Boil the kettle, add a tea bag, wait a bit, remove said tea bag and drink. Alas, it seems, despite drinking on average 3.5 cups a day in the UK, we are all complete amateurs when it comes to tea making!

Anyway, onto the tea ceremony itself.

We arrived to a small, wooden room with a sliding Ryokan style door in front of us. Removing our shoes as is customary, we slid open the door and stepped up, and into, a beautifully decorated, calm and serene traditional ryokan.

japanese tea ceremony

We were greeted by one of the sweetest smiles we’d encountered during our time in Japan so far (and there had been many already). Welcomed by our host, we happily took our crossed legged positions on the bamboo mat floor with a small pillow to make us comfortable.

As our eyes adjusted to the light, we could see all of the instruments that would go into making one cup of tea.

Laid out before us was an intriguing set up consisting of a stove, a clay teapot, a small bowl, a spatula & a whisk made of delicate wood…interesting. We sat in quiet contemplation as our host prepared in a room behind us.

japanese tea ceremony

And then it was time for the ceremony to begin.

Our host, dressed delicately in a beautiful traditional dress, began proceedings by thoroughly cleaning all of the tea making utensils and positioning them ready to begin the actual tea making ceremony. Every move was delicate and purposeful – I honestly didn’t know such a simple process could be so fascinating and beautiful. Slowly and gently, we watched the intriguing hand movements, from traditional gestures including use of a special red hanker chief to simply placing and adjusting various bowls and utensils until they were in exactly the right position.

From this point, the bowl of tea was created. First, a small amount of green tea powder was lifted from its box on a small metal spoon, and placed in the bowl. Then it was time for the hot water, brewed to a specific temperature and taken from the pot that had been steaming away in front of us. Then the mixing of the water and tea, done with a small brush to stimulate the powder and water, creating a foamy and frothy green tea mixture.

japanese tea ceremony

After around 10 minutes or so, the bowl of green tea was ready to be sampled. The verdict? It was, of course, delicious. Green tea can be slightly bitter, but this was subtle, colourful and just perfect. And we’re not just saying that because it took half an hour to make!

japanese tea ceremony

Japan is famous for many things, from the highs of Japanese food, to onsen, karate, sumo, ryokans and Mount Fuji, there are a wealth of rich cultural traits and quirks. A Japanese tea ceremony for us is something that is quintessentially Japanese, but it also brings together some of the biggest themes in its culture: patience, respect, care and attention to detail. After our tea ceremony experience, we made our way back into the cold streets of Kyoto with a sense of tranquility, knowing we’d just witnessed something we had always wanted to experience.

Have you experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony? What did you think of the rituals and process? Let us know in the comments below, and check out some of our other articles from Japan!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


The 20 Best Japanese Food Experiences

You’d be hard pressed to find a country in the world where the food splits opinion quite like the way Japanese food does.

We love Japanese food, in particular sushi and sashimi. We think it’s fresh, healthy and absolutely delicious. But we know not everyone feels the same way…

Japanese food creates the most extreme of views, and for many people, the idea of raw fish is a culinary step too far. From our travels around Japan, we know Japanese food is much more than just sushi and sashimi, from steaming bowls of ramen to deep fried octopus balls, and from our Japanese culinary odyssey, we present to you 20 of the very best food experiences in Japan.

Prepare those tastebuds…

1. Deep Fried Takoyaki Octopus balls

japanese food

We start with one of my all time favourite quick bites, a snack so good I’d make it mandatory in all restaurants (if I had the power). Takoyaki are balls of meat made from Octopus, deep fried in cheese and other delicious ingredients and they are especially good when accompanied with some chilli sauce and a beer. They are a snack fit for Kings (and Worldly Nomads).

2. Stand Up Sushi Bars

japanese food

Stand up sushi bars are something we stumbled across whilst in Tokyo, and we had one of our favourite evenings trying all manner of exotic treats. I mean, why sit down when you can crowd into a tiny space, lean against a counter and admire as the chefs a couple of feet away prepare each sushi dish with delicate and intricate fever.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

This is a must do in Japan. The bonus is that no Japanese is required, you can simply point at the various creatures in the displays or on the menus, and watch the chefs work their magic. If you’re not sure, the chefs will be more than willing to ply you with the things they think you should try.

TIP: try the flame grilled baby squid, outstanding.

japanese food

japanese food

3. Risking It All At A Japanese Banquet

Our stay at Mount Fuji also coincided with our most adventurous encounter with Japanese food, and probably the most confusing meal we will ever eat.

japanese food
We’ll be honest, this is when we struggled most with Japanese food. Coupled with the fact that we were so remote that there was nowhere else to eat (in fact, there was nowhere else full stop), made meal times all the more ‘exciting’.

As part of our Ryokan experience, we had signed up for the traditional dinner and breakfast option, which we’d read online was a banquet with all manner of delicious treats. It was here that we experienced some foods that 1) we had no idea what they were, and 2) we were not sure which part of said thing we were meant to eat. A case in point:

japanese food

We still don’t know what this is (if you do please let us know in the comments below!).

In all seriousness, which piece of it would you eat? In the end, I nibbled off the dark bit at the end and ate it. It was, quite frankly, awful. And I do feel bad about saying that, but it was. It tasted like a pool of sea water that had collected in rocks on the beach, with said pool full of various crabs and shells. I don’t mean to sound uncultured about it, after all as you can tell I love Japanese food, but this was all a bit too much for me.

We also had some blockbuster dishes as well, like these morsels of goodness.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

Much of what we were served was as expected: beautiful cuts of sushi and sashimi, delicious pieces of beef ready to be cooked in a hot broth on the table and vegetable tempura – all absolutely delicious.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

The rest of the banquet went without too much of a hitch, each dish was meticulously prepared and presented, and we tried them all once. For some, we couldn’t figure out what we were eating, like these things:

japanese food

japanese food

And others we gobbled down with delight. Moral of the story? Be adventurous, try everything once, take on a Japanese banquet, but maybe do it somewhere where you can get something else in case it doesn’t quite fit your tastebuds!

japanese food

japanese food

4. Cook Your Own Sukiyaki Meat Soup

Picture the scene. You’re in a buffet style restaurant with all manner of heavenly salad options and dressings, all accompanied with a cacophony of condiments. You feel like you’ve landed in green heaven. But I’m a meat eater I hear you scream, never fear, meat is here.

japanese food

japanese food

The idea is pretty simple. Pick a couple of soup stocks, and wait as they are delivered to the centre of your table, bubbling away as the rich aromas tease your nostrils. Quickly following behind the soup stocks are three plates of raw meat: beef, chicken and pork, all thinly sliced and delicately laid on the plates. You’re halfway there. Head up to the buffet bars, and grab yourself some noodles, mushrooms, other vegetables, whatever you feel will go with the soup and meat. Head back to your table, pronto.

japanese food

japanese food

Now comes the biggest decision of all, which broth are you going to cook your meat in, and what are you going to cook it with? We must have looked like complete amateurs to begin with, the two local Japanese girls giggling quietly to our left as I put something unexpected into the broth.

For the next hour or so, we dipped our thin slices of raw meat into the bubbling hot soups, along with various combinations of noodles and vegetables before scooping them out and placing them in a bowl with chilli, soy and garlic all waiting. My goodness we ate well that day.

5. Okonomiyaki Fried Noodle Heaven

For most meals, the crescendo comes when the food arrives. After all, thats what you’ve come for, and what you’ve been sitting waiting patiently for, trying desperately to not eat another bread roll which sits in that bowl in the middle of the table. Anyway, I digress.

When you go for some Okonomiyaki noodles, the best part is the show that goes into the preparation of the meal. Teppanyaki plates are super heated, and then your meal is rapidly built in front of you. The expert ladies in our place threw down some paste onto the super heated plates, and added cabbage, noodles, various sauces, vegetables, maybe some prawns if you’re feeling flush. Bang, on goes the pan lid over the dish, allowing it cook and steam.

japanese food

japanese food

To your left, someone has made the incredible decision to order some mussels, and they suddenly come alive on the grill. Well, when I say alive, they are very much dead but making some serious sizzling noise. Again, the pan lid bangs down over the top to allow them to steam.

Everywhere we look things are happening. Another beer arrives, these ladies know what I want and when I want it. I sit mesmerised, and then my food arrives.

It’s best described as like a stack of pancakes, filled with vegetables, barbecue sauce, noodles and other herbs and spices. I’m given what looks like a paint brush, which I’m told to use to paste more BBQ sauce onto the top. After all, you can never have enough BBQ sauce. I enthusiastically slice my tower open and devour it.

The Japanese guy to my right who ordered the mussels offers one to me, I refuse at first out of embarrassment as I have nothing to offer him, but he insists. I take one, taste it and indadvertedly let out a wow. He laughs, his friend laughs, the ladies laugh, I’m glad I reacted the right way. It was delicious. If we’d found this place earlier, we would have been back every day. Go somewhere like this when you’re in Japan, you won’t regret it.

6. Conveyor Belt Sushi

japanese food
You’ve seen them, or at least heard about them. They are a rite of passage for visitors to Japan. Grab a seat, and then help yourself. Just remember to keep the bowls, the number you have helps them work out your bill. Try things out here you wouldn’t otherwise have.

7. Inadvertently Almost Eating Raw horse Meat

A confession, we didn’t actually try this, but we came close, completely by accident. We entered a lovely looking, small restaurant with a few tables. We sat down, our waiter provided us with hot towels and menus. We thankfully cleansed our hands and face with the hot towel and sat it down on the table. And then we looked at the menu.

The realisation came slowly at first.

The first thing that confused me was the outline of a cow with all the various cuts in Japanese, except it was a rather lean and tall cow, much like a horse shape. The penny didn’t drop.

Then the descriptions, translated into a version of English where the words were all clear individually, but together made up sentences which left us scratching our heads, ‘saddle cut’ being one that stands out.

And then it hit us, this was a horse meat bar. Not only that, a raw horse meat bar. We’ll try pretty much anything once, but we decided we didn’t quite fancy the idea of raw horsemeat. What to do though? I mean, we’ve already used their hot towels, that’s practically a signed contract in restaurant land. And, of course we don’t speak any Japanese.

We decided the best course of action was to feign sickness, and we headed back into the cold Tokyo night, in search of a steaming bowl of Ramen.

8.  Steaming Bowls Of Ramen Noodle Soup

Japan has some serious competition from Vietnam and its steaming bowls of Pho. As soup connoisseurs, Ramen was one of the main reasons we travelled halfway across the world. Our opinion? Whilst it doesn’t topple Pho from the soup podium top spot, it certainly comes close.

japanese food
What we didn’t expect from Ramen was just how hearty and filling it is, you’ve got to be hungry to tackle one of these bad boys. There is also so much choice, and normally you can order a set meal which comes with soup, some dumplings and maybe some pickled delicious treats. Dive in and try any one of the soups below!

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food
9. Sake

Enjoying a small bottle of sake with sushi is a pretty common occurrence in Japan. we’re sad to say we failed miserably at liking sake – trust us we tried it a few times but we just can’t get our tastebuds around it. Sorry, Japan.

10. Deep Fried Tempura Heaven

A pretty regular occurrence around the world, the style of tempura has made its way into everyday life in many places, with various non-Japanese restaurants offering it.

japanese food

japanese food

We’re big fans of it, obviously. I mean, who doesn’t like things deep fried? With most of the sushi banquets we had, tempura came part of the deal, but you’ll also find tempura prawns floating in your ramen sometimes as well, which we never quite got used to.

11. Edamame – Better Than It Sounds

japanese food

To describe Edamame to someone who has never tried it, you’d struggle to enthuse your audience.

“Well, it’s like peas still in their pods with a bit of salt. You kind of throw the whole thing in your mouth, squeeze the peas out and deposit the pod in the bowl”.

That sentence there is why we are not salespeople. Its not exactly complicated, but oh boy do we enjoy a hot bowl of Edamame as a pre cursor to our meals, and you should try it at least once!

12. Well Massaged Kobe Beef

This is meat romanticised. Cows fed the very best feed, massaged on a daily basis and allowed to roam free. I’d been told this made the meat the most tender and delicious on the planet, and as a meat eater I just had to try this.

The good news? The meat is absolutely delicious, I mean outstanding. The meat has a depth of flavour I’ve never experienced before, and it was as tender as can be. The downside is the size and the price.

japanese food

japanese food

On one evening in Kinosaki, I splashed out and ordered a steak, which was easily 6 times the price of a regular meal. What I failed to do was check the weight of the steak I was ordering. I’ve never felt more crestfallen when a steak arrived at a table, it had to be the smallest piece of meat I had ever seen. Perfectly cooked, aromas wafting from it, but small. I could have had a weeks worth of dinners for the price of this piece of meat! Nevertheless, I savoured every morsel and as I said, it was delicious. And yes, I did give Laura a bit.

13. Naughty Katsu Curry

japanese food

japanese food

So the sauce may come straight out of a plastic bag, what you gonna do about it? This is the treat of Japan, and isn’t anywhere near as healthy as sushi and sashimi, but when you need something to eat at a train station before a long journey, get yourself a bit of Katsu curry action. Salty curry sauce with salty, deep fried chicken and pickled radishes. You’ll be healthy most of the time eating raw fish, so allow yourself this little treat.

14. Nikuman Meat Doughballs On The Go

What a treat these bundles of joy were.

japanese food

japanese food

I picked the brown and white bundle from a van on the street in Kinosaki, and devoured it en route to yet another onsen. It’s a sweet tasting outside with a meat and onion filling, or even better how about the deep fried meat and cheese morsel I picked up at a train station on the right?

Both amazing snacks when you’re on the move.

15. Japanese Beer

If you’ve followed my previous Worldly Beer adventures, you’ll know I have a soft spot for the amber nectar. Japan has a lot of beer to choose from, from national brands to smaller local microbreweries, and the stuff is pretty good as well. The Yebisu brewery in Tokyo is worth a visit.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

16. Traditional Ryokan Dining

A stay in a traditional Ryokan is a must in Japan, especially when you can stay in your room and have the food delivered straight to your table. Your hosts will also make up your beds for you in the evening and remove them in the morning.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

17. Go To A Weird Themed Restaurant

We like our culture and unique experiences, but we also like to act like normal tourists as well. Do yourself a favour, if you ever find yourself in Tokyo, go to one of the multitude of themed restaurants in the city. We went to some sort of Asylum themed place, the food wasn’t great but the experience was, well, interesting I guess. You get to meet people like this as well:

japanese food

japanese food
What’s not to like? And yes that is a beer in a bedpan.

18. Wait, No Ketchup?

Take a moment to think about what is typically on a table in restaurants in your country. If you’re from the UK (as we are) you can almost guarantee on a table you’ll find salt, pepper and probably tomato ketchup. Standard, boring condiments to supplement our meals. Not so in Japan, in fact it got to the point that we were excited to see what else we could add to our already amazing meals!

japanese food

japanese food

Not only did we have access to lovely chillis, garlic, ginger, soy and fish sauce, lots of places had cold green tea by the tap! Imagine that?

19. See Where All That Sushi Comes From

If you’re wondering how they keep the fish so fresh for the sushi, you’ve got to head along to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo to get to the source of all things sushi. It’s not for the faint hearted though, and it is a working market where deals are done and all manner of creatures from the deep are hooked, filleted and thrown away in front of your very eyes.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

We wrote more about this place in our article: The Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo! We still can’t believe they let tourists in to just wander about!

20. What Did We Miss Out On?

We tried as much as we could in the time we had in Japan, but alas there is always something new to try everywhere you go! Have you been to Japan before? Do you have any experiences that we missed? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

And so to our challenge for you.

We travel to see things we’d never see at home, to experience highs and lows which are more extreme than those in our normal lives. We travel to meet new people, to experience new cultures, to see the world.

We also travel to eat foods completely alien to us, and Japan fit the bill perfectly for us. So what one food are you going to try THIS WEEK that you’ve never had before? Go ahead and do it, try something new once, you never know, you might just like it. Let us know how you get on in the comments below!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


holi festival of colours

Holi Festival Of Colors, India

As the sun set and darkness fell on the blue city, it was time for a very special celebration. Throughout the narrow alleyways and streets that make up the city of Jodhpur, people were excitedly milling around and smiling.

On the cobblestone streets, pieces of wood were being piled high; flowers and colourful powders were being delicately placed along the streets. As we stood on our rooftop, we surveyed the beautiful scene. From the darkness of the alleyways came light. Small orange glows began to pop up across the city, growing as the Holika bonfires were lit in the alleyways to signal the beginning of the Holi celebrations.

holi india
The Holi festival is an ancient Hindu spring celebration also known as the festival of love, or more appropriately, the festival of colours. And it was only just beginning.

Morning came, and it was time to enter the fray. Staying in a predominantly residential area away from the main square, whatever experience I was likely to have would be genuine. I made my way down the steps of the haveli and into the streets.

holi india

Almost instantly, a group of young boys, resplendent in a cacophony of colours spotted me. I was a prize target, clearly a tourist with blond hair and my completely clean appearance made me all the more alluring. Instantly I was set on, 10 pairs of hands rubbing the multitude of colours into my face, my hair, my back, arms and legs. Their excitement grew and the noise levels rose, attracting more boys to the fray to add their own imprint on me.

holi india

Before I could react, I was dragged along the street by my hands and around the corner to a dead end alleyway. I will never forget the scene in front of me.

Hanging 8 feet above the alleyway was a series of make shift plastic pipes, arranged into a grid like system. Crude holes had been punched into the pipes, creating a number of shower like spouts from above. Underneath, around 20 boys and girls were dancing under the showers, the music pumping out of a nearby window.

The entire alleyway was a blitz of colour.

And then the group spotted me. 40 Indian eyes fixed a delighted stare on me, the whites of their eyes and teeth grinning at me through the colours etched into their faces. The group erupted, launching themselves towards me with hands filled with yellow, red and green powder, and once again I was engulfed in the group. It was exciting and innocent fun, and the group delighted in coating me in yet another layer.

holi india

After a few moments, the original boys dragged me under the shower to rinse off, the colours streaming into my eyes and clothes. Now I was soaking wet, blind and covered in paint. Great.

A older man took pity on me and motioned for me to come to him, where he wiped the colours from my eyes with a damp cloth and told the group to give me a break, I needed it! After a few moments, I noticed a small boy sitting next to him, quietly and intently staring at me with inquisitive eyes. I could see he wanted to add his own impression on me, and motioned for him to come over. Carefully, he took two scoops of yellow powder from his bag, and gently brushed them across my cheeks; happy Holi, he whispered. It was the calm within the storm.

holi india

holi india

For a moment, I had zoned out of the party, but very quickly I was back into it, in the middle of 20 young boys and girls, all covered head to toe in colours and soaking through from the water from above. Apparently it was time to dance.

Those who know me personally know I have some choice dance moves, and it was time India was introduced to them. For the next 15 minutes it must have looked like the strangest dance off ever witnessed on planet Earth. On one side, a white, blond man from the UK, soaked through, stands under a make shift shower in an alleyway in Rajasthan, covered in various colours of paint. On the other side, 20 young Indians were in a state of hyperactivity, baying for some new dance moves. I duly obliged, pulling out some of my finest moves to the delight (I think) of the group.

holi india

holi india

holi india

Either way it didn’t matter, this group had made my first Holi experience spectacular and real, and I’m thankful for the memories. For many people, Holi can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience, and many choose not to participate for fear of the unknown. My advice to you is to avoid the large gatherings in the centre of towns and cities, and seek out an authentic experience in a neighbourhood nearby.

If you can find a place where families and children are playing, you get the authentic real experience of Holi, rather than a mass organised, tourist focussed celebration. Take the time to research and seek out these smaller, intimate gatherings.

In a country as energetic as India is, Holi seems to magically increase those energy levels to fever pitch, whole towns and cities dancing and celebrating to an unseen beat. To see Holi is to witness India in all its glory.

Looking for more India inspiration? Click here!


Living With Monks In The Mountains Of Koyasan, Japan

As the snow fell and the mercury dropped on the thermometers, we ascended the mountain on the steep funicular railway, its old gears and winches creaking and groaning as it dragged us to our destination.

We were on the final leg of our journey to a temple retreat, nestled in the heart of the mountains near Koyasan, an area home to some of the most important religious sites in all of Japan and we’d arrived to a beautiful scene.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Perfectly manicured trees perched delicately around a small pond, a layer of snow resting lightly on each branch. Above us, to our left, a large temple was only accessible by some steep stone steps, and to our right lay the entrance. The temple was beautiful. Inside, its wooden floorboards stretched out along perfectly straight corridors, flanked on either side by the thin white sliding doors to various ryokan accommodation. It was quiet, and it was cold.

koyasan japan

Our ryokan style room was simple and sparsely furnished, decorated lightly with tatami mats across the floor. A small table sat in the middle, adorned with a fresh flask of hot water, two cups, some green tea and two sweets. The room was ‘heated’ by a small kerosene heater, fighting a losing battle against the harsh conditions outside. The smell of kerosene was intoxicating. We’d chosen to spend a few days here to do, well, nothing really. And that was just as well, given the heavy snow falling outside, coating the temple and surrounding areas in a thick white blanket. We sipped our tea and requested another heater for the room to avoid having to wear all our clothes, all of the time.

Our first morning required an early start, awakening before the sun rose to witness one of the ancient rituals carried out on a daily basis in the temple. This morning fire ritual turned out to be the highlight of our time in Koyasan.

Throughout the ritual, each task was given fervent attention and focus, with every move purposeful and precise. From the blessing of the various instruments, to the careful and methodical building of the fire. Prayers were made for various people, the papers briefly exposed to the fire. The constant beating of a drum provided routine and rhythm to the ritual, and as the fire rose in front of us, finally began to warm us in the freezing dawn air. It was a fascinating insight into the lives of these monks.

koyasan japan

Warmed slightly from the fire ritual, we trudged through the snow to the nearby mausoleum of Okunoin, an important and respected religious site, where we wandered for a couple of hours through the 200,000 shrines, tombstones and temples as the snow once again fell on Koyasan.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Seeking shelter in one of the many temples, we sat and watched a group of monks go about their daily rituals inside the temple. After spending time carefully and methodically closing a large wooden chest, it was taken outside into the cold air and quietly and solemnly taken away from the temple.

koyasan japan

As the snowstorm whipped up into a frenzy, we sought the shelter of a nearby soup restaurant, and the warmth of a hot bowl of ramen to reheat us. Koyasan was an intriguing experience, one we were glad to have sought out despite the freezing conditions. Sitting in quiet contemplation alongside monks in a temple in the mountains was something we had come to Japan to experience. As the mercury dropped once again into the night, our second heater arrived to fight the battle against the cold night, and we settled in for another evening of green tea and books.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


From Japan With Love

A chorus of “Irrashaimase” loudly welcomed us as we slid open the patio door and stepped into the cramped and humble food stall.

The place was a buzz of activity. Businessmen perched on wooden stools, lunching on steaming bowls of ramen noodles as the trio of kitchen staff strained noodles, blowtorched slices of pork and effortlessly built up various bowls of rich broth and noodles. We’d arrived in Japan, and thrown ourselves head first into it.

Barely two hours earlier, we landed at Tokyo Narita airport, jumped on a train to the city centre, hopped on the metro and dumped our bags at our hotel. Standing in the food stall, we clearly looked tired, hungry and slightly bewildered. We stood patiently for 2 seats to become available, sat down and waited to order. Ah, the first of many mistakes.

first time japan

Our friendly and energetic waiter took one look at us, a wide grin forming across his face, and motioned for me to follow him. Led to what looked like a cigarette vending machine, the system (which we instantly fell in love with) seemed pretty simple. Put your money in the machine, press the image you want to order, hand the waiter the receipt. Simple, efficient and perfect for us non-Japanese speakers.

Two bowls of pork ramen noodle soup ordered, we relaxed and took in our new surroundings. The place was a hive of excitement, everywhere we looked there was another new food to try, all accompanied by a symphony of slurps, sucking and talking in a language completely indecipherable to us. It was the Tokyo we had dreamt about.

first time japan

We sat there both seriously jet lagged and began day dreaming about our upcoming adventure in Japan, until a jolt awoke us from our sidetrack. Two HUGE steaming bowls of ramen landed in front of us. Our eyes widened, it was time to try our first bowl of soup in Japan.

Despite all of our adventures across the world, Japan provided us with some of the most unique cultural quirks and traits we’ve encountered, especially given the subtlety involved in them.

You see, with Japan, it’s the little things that count.

first time japan

Arrival at the airport was smooth, and without incident, and we cleared immigration quickly. In the arrivals hall we were confronted with a scene of quiet serenity. No hustling taxi drivers trying to get us into their cars.

The train to the city was clean, quiet and on time. On our way to the train we had to use a set of escalators, which were managed by two ladies. One at the top giving advice and guidance to users about to use the escalator, and one at the bottom to help us off.

first time japan

From the outside looking in, Japanese culture seems extremely alien to us, from its minor, almost imperceptible quirks to its grander, cultural points of view. In our few weeks there, we didn’t even scratch the surface of this unique culture, but what we saw, we liked.

first time japan

There are the little things that make the big differences. Being handed something with two hands instead of one meant more to us. The toilets with the ‘shower’ option or the more exciting ‘jet’ option provide a bit of additional fun where none normally exists. And the fact they flush a little fresh water when you sit down is nice as well, or play running water noises if you don’t want anyone to hear what you’re up to. Oh and the toilet seats are heated too.

first time japan

Whilst we don’t speak any Japanese, there have been many people who have helped us on our way. From the young student on the streets of electric city who stopped to help us with directions, we thank you. To the lady at the metro who approached us at the machine as we tried our best to buy a ticket, we thank you too. To all our servers and chefs in restaurants, we thank you as well, especially the guys at the raw horse meat bar who graciously guided us on our way after we had sat down, washed our hands with their hot towel, and then realised all they offered were variations on raw horse meat. We thank you too.

Would we recommend a visit to Japan? That really depends on what you want, but we’ve never felt more safe and welcomed in a country so quickly. We came to experience the culture and the food, as well as see some sights. If you’re interested in sushi, sashimi, ramen, noodles, sake, tea ceremonies, temples, interesting toilets, sumo, karate, karaoke and geishas, Japan is the place for you.

We fell in love with Japan, and we have no doubt that we’ll be back again in the future.

Looking For Accommodation In Japan?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Japan, or anywhere else in Asia, check out the options below!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


The Chaotic Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Bewildered and disorientated, we stood on the sidelines studying our map of the market intently. A mere metre in front of us, a mixture of motorbikes, vans and strange little stand up driven machines weaved and swerved around the two of us.

We were slap bang in the middle of a busy fish market, wondering why we’d ever been allowed in in the first place. We’d arrived at the entrance to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, ready to see one of the world’s largest fish markets in action. Over 2,000 tonnes a day pass through the market, as restaurants and merchants battle to satisfy the Japanese thirst for sushi and sashimi.

tsukiji fish market

We knew it was a working market, but we had no idea just how seemingly inappropriate it was to have tourists visit. We were shocked at being allowed to simply wander around, although all the guidance was pretty clear, be aware of yourself and don’t get in the way. Easier said than done when the walkways are only one person wide, and various huge carcasses are carried through the narrow polystyrene alleyways.

tsukiji fish market

We gingerly dodged the various vans and lorries ferrying the days catch back and forth to enter the wholesale market where the main action happens. Instantly we were disorientated by the spectacle. A fishy polystyrene maze stretched out in every direction, each full of things we had never seen before. Some routes were brightly lit, others less so and some seemed impassable as eager merchants completed deals with various buyers.

tsukiji fish market

We made our way further in. Huge carcasses from various unfortunate sea life littered the walkways, one man using a huge hook with great skill to slop huge fish heads into his van, destination unknown.

tsukiji fish market

Tentatively, we picked a narrow walkway and proceeded with caution. It was a mesmerising experience, everywhere we looked there was something interesting to observe; the old man filleting a huge tuna with tender care, a man using an electric saw to cut up a huge frozen tuna, another trying to persuade us to buy an octopus arm. I think it was anyway, it’s hard to tell when it’s been detached from its owner.

tsukiji fish market

The market is incredible, with some of the strangest things we’ve ever seen all sat in ice waiting for the buyers to take them to their final homes. Eels, huge starfish like things and various crustaceans littered the alleyways.

tsukiji fish market

And then the various characters that made up this place, from Mr fish hook head who took great delight in collecting all the unwanted bits and pieces, to the drivers of the quirky one man cylinder trucks, to the ladies in the tiny offices who dealt with the money.

tsukiji fish market

tsukiji fish market

tsukiji fish market

Each had their own job in a unique ecosystem, and despite the chaotic nature of the market, it all worked with fantastic Japanese precision and efficiency. We spent two hours in those cramped alleyways, and tired of asking each other “any idea what that is?” as another polystyrene box presented itself with an unknown being.

The Tsukiji fish market was an incredible experience, one we would happily see again given the chance. We dodged the final challenge of vans and lorries scurrying to various restaurants and made our way back into Tokyo in search of some breakfast sushi.

Looking For Accommodation In Japan?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Japan, or anywhere else in Asia, check out the options below!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


Zodiac Cruising With Quark Expeditions In Antarctica [VIDEO]

Antarctica with Quark Expeditions

Travelling to Antarctica gave us a number of firsts. Our first time on the white continent, our first time seeing penguins, seals and whales in their natural environment, our first time on a boat for 10 days, and the first time we took a polar dip. All of this was incredibly exciting, and to top it all off, we also got to spend a lot of time zooming around the icy waters of Antarctica in a zodiac, another first for us!

For those of you who don’t know what a zodiac is, it’s an incredibly sturdy inflatable craft which can nimbly navigate through mellow iceberg graveyards as well as cope with the choppy waters as you leave the Antarctica peninsula. For each of the five days we were down in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, we took two excursions a day via the zodiacs, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

We saw some incredible sights in our time in the zodiacs, and it’s something we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. It’s not easy to get to Antarctica, but once you’re there it is one of the most incredible sights you will ever witness.  If you enjoyed this, then why not check out our full highlights video of ‘4 minutes in Antarctica’.

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here.


The Displays of Semana Santa Guatemala

We were incredibly lucky to be in Antigua, Guatemala for the famous Semana Santa Guatemala (Holy Week) celebrations which are revered as some of the best in all of Latin America. We were also there purely by chance on those dates, one of those times where a lack of planning turns out better than we could ever have imagined!

You can read about our experience of Semana Santa in Antigua here, but one of the main elements of the celebrations are the intricate and delicate floral displays laid on the road for the processions to walk over on their journeys. People spend hours preparing them, only for them to be walked over by the processions and swept away afterwards. Here are some fleeting glimpses of some of our favourites from the celebrations!

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


Things To Do In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Sometimes when you’re travelling so much, it’s hard to really look far ahead and plan things out properly. This can work out great sometimes, with impromptu adventures stemming from a lack of planning.

But sometimes not planning can be a pain in the backside.

After arriving in Panama City, a little tired from our South American adventures, we decided to give ourselves a few days to relax and see some of the local sights such as the Panama canal. Then we looked at our options after our time in the city. This is where our travel weariness came in. We’d travelled pretty much overland from the very southern tip of South America to Ecuador, and quite frankly we were sick of buses. We were also keen to hit up a small group of islands off the North coast of Panama called Bocas del Toro. We had one thing in mind: to relax and enjoy the relaxed vibe of the Caribbean. But how to get there?

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Hardened nomads look away now.

We considered our options. Another night bus across the country, or a short hop in a plane directly onto the island. Can you see where this is going?

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

It was one of those rare occasions where we took the easy option, and before we knew it we had arrived on Bocas Del Toro, ready to spend a few days exploring the archipelago.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

There are quite a few things to do in Bocas Del Toro and around this group of Caribbean islands, from ziplining on red frog beach, to deep boarding (basically being dragged along behind a boat underwater!), there is something for everyone. Click here to review the highest rated tours currently on offer. Alternatively, there are plenty of beautiful beaches to just chill out on…

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

On one of our relax days, we hired a couple of bikes and went exploring around the main island. Heading out along the main road away from Bocas town, we quickly ended up cycling alongside beautiful beaches on one side, and lush green jungle on the other. As we go on, the road becomes a little sandy, then a little more sandy, and then, it seems, the road builders just gave up and our road became a beach! Anyone who’s tried cycling on sand will feel our pain. But the views, oh the views!

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

We got off our bikes and began to push, and as we turned a corner we stumbled across a mirage in the distance. What looked like a large wooden shack with cold beers and cocktails. Oh how the heat can tease you. As we drew closer, it was real, oh so real.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

We grabbed a cold beer to share, watching the surfers battle the waves as we sat perfectly content with where we were right at that moment.

After a couple of hours, we made our way back to our place for the evening. Again Bocas del Toro was kind to us, revealing more beautiful coastline to admire as we cycled home.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

The archipelago of Bocas Del Toro is a beautiful place, and we only wish we had spent more time there to explore some of the other islands. But even with the best of planning, we just couldn’t manage it. Our Central American adventure had just begun, and as we were to find out, there was plenty more to see from this collection of exciting countries.

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Panama inspiration? Click here.


things to do in ushuaia

Top Things To Do In Ushuaia Argentina

Have you ever imagined what it’s like to stand on the edge of a continent?

To gaze out at a body of water, with nothing but water between you and Antarctica? We can tell you its an incredible feeling! Maybe you’re even considering going to Antarctica? Well, either way you’ll want to know about the top things to do in Ushuaia, the end of the world, and the gateway to Antarctica! We’ll tell you everything you need to know about Ushuaia in this guide!

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

  • How to get to Ushuaia

  • Where to stay in Ushuaia

  • Top things to do in Ushuaia

things to do in ushuaia

1. How to get to Ushuaia

BY PLANE: If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll land at Ushuaia airport. From there, our recommendation is to book a transfer in advance so that there is someone there to greet you on arrival and transfer you to your accommodation. Where possible, we always book our transfers in advance when we arrive in a new destination, it gives us peace of mind! We find the best way is to book it through your accommodation, although there will be taxis available at the airport as well.

BY BUS: If you arrive by bus, like we did from Puerto Natales in Chile, we were just dropped off in the centre and made our own way to our accommodation!

things to do in ushuaia

2. Where to stay in Ushuaia

Finding a hotel in Ushuaia can be tricky, with many places booking up in advance due to the remoteness of the city. We always prefer to book our accommodation in advance, especially when heading to a place like Ushuaia! Our recommendation? Search and book your Ushuaia hotel on Booking.com, we find that the best site for Ushuaia and it has an excellent selection of hotels to choose from!

things to do in ushuaia

3. Top Things To Do In Ushuaia

You’re spoilt for choice of things to do in Ushuaia, so we’ve put together our top activities for your time at the end of the world. There’s a little something for everyone in here!

Walking In Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego

At only 7 miles (11km) from Ushuaia, the national park is ideally located for half day and whole day treks around the park. We decided on spending a day in the park, and took on some relaxing walks around the park. It’s really easy to organise, and again can be booked in advance if you’re tight on time in Ushuaia and want to ensure you fit everything in! The best way to research your options and book a tour online is through TripAdvisor, and this link will take you directly to your options and reviews!

Sailing The Beagle Channel

things to do in ushuaia

Ushuaia sits on the shore of the Beagle channel, and there are departures in the morning and afternoon. This is a fantastic opportunity to see local wildlife, and depending on which tour you choose you may see the lighthouse, sea lions and various birds, all from the comfort of your boat! TripAdvisor offers various cruise options that you can book online in advance, with reviews and itineraries for you to check which sailing is best for you! You can click here to be taken directly to the tour options!

Hike The Martial Glacier

things to do in ushuaia

If you’re into trekking and glaciers, you can climb to the Martial Glacier, high above Ushuaia Argentina and reward yourself with fantastic views down the valley to the colourful dots of Ushuaia in the distance. Simply take a taxi up to the start point of the trek, and follow the river of ice melt up the valley as far as you dare. On the day we completed this, the weather conditions were poor, visibility hit and miss and the valley sill covered in thick packed snow. But the view was still incredible!

Ushuaia Prison: Museo Maritimo De Ushuaia

things to do in ushuaia

If, like us, you seem to visit a lot of prisons on your adventures (not as prisoners I hasten to add), then you’ll want to check out the Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia, the cold remnant of the buildings previous life as a penal colony. This is a fascinating place to visit, to understand the horrendous conditions prisoners endured in their time there, and the lasting impact on the city of Ushuaia due to the prisoners efforts in construction.

We spent a day wandering through the cold and dark corridors of this fascinating place, and would highly recommend a visit. It also houses a maritime museum which features heavily the early explorers to Antarctica, including Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton. A great place to brush up on your Antarctica history before your cruise to Antarctica. You can walk there yourself, or book a tour and pair it with a tour of Ushuaia as well!

Visit Lake Fagnano & Lake Escondido

If you’d like to see more of the country, and in particular the Fuegian Andes, you could opt for a full day tour of lake Fagnano and lake Escondido. Theres a chance to visit various valleys, the lakes, a defunct sawmill and of course a feast of local food should you wish! One for history, geology and wildlife fans! This can be booked in advance through tripadvisor.

Eat Asado Ushuaia Argentina Style!

things to do in ushuaia
If, like me, you are an obsessive meat eater, you must go to Argentina now! No I’m serious, the amount of meat on offer here is astounding, and Ushuaia has its fair share of Asado restaurants cooking all manner of delicious meaty cuts which are then served up buffet style! Whole lambs sit on top of huge fires, countless different types of sausage grill nearby, whole chickens spit juices out as they cook, and if you fancy a steak you’ll be well served here!

Walk Around Ushuaia

things to do in ushuaia
Ushuaia is a fairly buzzing place, and you can easily spend a day wandering through the narrow streets as people frantically buy last minute supplies for their treks in Tierra del Fuego or for their cruise to Antarctica. There are plenty of coffee shops and asado places to keep you busy, and a walk along the shoreline can reap rewards as you watch smaller fishing and tour boats compete for space alongside the larger ships bound for Antarctica.

The coastline may have a changed a little since it was first discovered, as according to historical records, the original local inhabitants, on spotting the ships off the coast, reportedly lit huge fires along the coast to warn the unwelcome visitors away. Thus the land of fire was born into western records.

The fires are now replaced by brightly lit buildings only really appreciated from the sea, as we experienced as we bid farewell to Ushuaia Argentina, and the South American continent for 11 days when we set sail for Antarctica.

As the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia Argentina is the gateway to Antarctica. The excitement of travelling here is enough for many visitors, simply content with reaching the southernmost city in the world. There are also the travellers lucky enough to be taking a boat to Antarctica, and this leads to a potent mixture of excitement and anticipation in the streets.

If you are going to Antarctica, don’t just use Ushuaia as a launchpad. Stay for a couple of days before and after, eat some nice food, drink some nice coffee, perhaps drag yourself up a glacier, into a national park, or a former prison. Let’s face it, you’re unlikely to ever be back down there, so make the most of it!


Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Argentina inspiration? Click here.


Gili Meno Island: A glimpse of what could have been...

When you think about seeing the world, what image do you conjure in your mind?

What one experience would you like to have above all others? For us, when we first started travelling, we were obsessed with finding a small island to call home for however short a period of time, our own slice of paradise.

gili meno island

We found our piece of island paradise when we visited Indonesia, opting to spend a week on the island of Gili Meno, nestled just off the coast of Bali. The reasons for this were numerous: we could walk around it in a couple of hours, it has some of the best snorkelling around Bali, and despite some developments, it is still rustic and barren in places. Fancy a fruit juice? You might need to walk 15 minutes along a dirt track to get to the next wooden shack facing out onto the turquoise waters.

Whilst on the island we did stumble upon a reminder of what Gili Meno could have become, or more worryingly, a vision of what the future holds. Most of the developments on the island are small and unobtrusive. Away from the main port, you will come across a few single storey wooden buildings, but aside from them there remains a stark lack of larger developments. This hasn’t always been the case, as we discovered when we stumbled upon an abandoned larger resort on the island.

Gili meno island

We first noticed one of the old bungalows, set alone amongst the barren grey dirt ground. Some poorly looking trees and growth remained around it, but where we assume was once vegetation and grass there was nothing. Catching our eye behind this bungalow was another, and then another, and another. Each empty and abandoned, each in a state of disarray. We left the dirt path running alongside the beach to investigate further. When were these bungalows built? When were they abandoned?

We felt like we were in an episode of ‘Lost’ as we peeked inside these rooms.

And then we saw the main building, which must have been the main lobby and common areas. In front of the old building was the once sparkling pool, resplendent with a swim up bar and stools.

Gili meno island

Gili meno island

We couldn’t quite believe this kind of place ever existed on Gili Meno, the island just seems too small to support something as big as this. Perhaps it is too small and thus the failure of this resort.

Gili meno island

We wandered into the old reception area, watching where we put each foot. The floor was cambered and twisted, structure and design fighting against nature. The roof was fighting and losing the battle as well.

Gili meno island

We stumbled across a table where an open book was lain prone, one of its pages fluttering in the quiet breeze. This was a bit weird, had someone come here to read and left it there?

Gili meno island

We peered inside the old locked office, an old computer still sat there. It was a peculiar and unexpected site for us, and after a while we left the building and carried on our walk along the beach.

It did remind us of how lucky we were to be somewhere where developments were growing in a slower, more sustainable manner than the one we had just witnessed. But it also showed us just how quickly things can change, and what the future may have in store for other smaller islands as tourism increases. Is it possible to protect a paradise if it isn’t a designated national park?

We left the crumbling wreck to continue our walk, once again happy to be on Gili Meno and a place where, at least for a short period of time, we could escape the modern world and live a more simpler life.

Looking for more Indonesia inspiration? Click here.


Where Bolivian Trains Go To Die...

Graveyards are eerie places at the best of times.

Replace the headstones and motifs with huge rusting train carriages sitting in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni, or the salt flats Bolivia, and you have what can only be described as a train graveyard!

salt flats bolivia

salt flats bolivia

It’s a peculiar place. There is no entrance to the site, and no officials. Just a set of huge, rusting, redundant Bolivian trains sitting quietly below a cloudless blue Bolivian sky. It was almost as if they had been flippantly cast aside, dragged and dumped at their final resting place, left to slowly weather and rust away as the harsh conditions of the Bolivian salt flats takes its inevitable hold on these once mighty machines.

salt flats bolivia

Here there are no health and safety notices, no barriers, in fact no one at all seems to be in charge of this place. We rocked up in our jeep, jumped out and were free to wander around, between and in the rusted shells. A makeshift swing had been fashioned out of old chains and metal which children (and Laura) gladly played on. I climbed inside an old engine and sat for a while. Another couple played on a ‘train bone’ see saw. It was…strange.

salt flats bolivia

salt flats bolivia

salt flats bolivia

The trains themselves were incredibly impressive, bronzed relics of a previous time. They were magnificent to wander around.

salt flats bolivia

Admittedly, it was one of the strangest sites we’d witnessed on our travels. Surely there was a better final outcome for these machines? Instead, they rust and slowly erode apart as the harsh Bolivian desert takes its toll.

salt flats bolivia

We visited the train graveyard after our jeep journey from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, via the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. We were tired, it was hot, and we did question whether all of this was real. After all, we had spent three days in the back of a jeep. Alas, reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, and we left this eerie place with a sense of awe at the machines on display, and the haphazard way they had been left to weather in the middle of the desert. We paid our respects and left.

Looking for more Bolivia inspiration? Click here.


Is The Inca Trail Too Popular Now?

“!Ama Sua, Ama Kjella, Ama Lllulla! – Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t be lazy” – Quechua greeting during Inca times

The Inca Trail seems to split travellers straight down the middle. For some, it is a chance to walk in the footsteps of the Incan Empire, to a forgotten city shrouded in mystery. For others, it is a well worn, tourist path, too cliched for many hardened nomads.

But what is it really like? Is it too busy with lots of people? Is is too easy? Has it simply become too popular?

 

inca trailTo understand our view, a little background on us: we’ve completed some epic hikes, from our Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, to our Sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, we’ve done our fair share of hikes. We enjoy backpacking but we also like the finer things in life.

The Landscapes of the Inca Trail

Surrounded by deep valleys and incredible vistas, the Inca Trail offers some incredible sights, one of the major reasons for its popularity. We completed it in the month of July, and we had perfect weather the whole time. No rain, no clouds, just blue skies and sunshine. We were given countless opportunities to take photos, sometimes stopping every 10 minutes to admire another incredible view. The best opportunities for photos were on the first and second days of the trek, so make sure you take lots at the beginning.

 

Day one finds you walking alongside the Vilcanota River, providing you with opportunities to take great mountain range photos and landscapes. Day two, at the summit of Dead Womans Pass, is another great opportunity to get some photos with the mountains in the background, but make sure to take photos of the other side of Dead Womans Pass too. We thought the alternative view was much better.

inca trail

Rush hour on the Inca Trail?

The chief concern amongst many people is the fear that the trail is crowded. This I think depends on what you are used to and what you expect. We didn’t mind the fact that there were other people walking the same route as us, and for the majority of the trek we were completely alone (as a couple) or part of our group of 10 people walking it together. This suited us fine, we weren’t looking for complete isolation and silence on the trek.

inca trail

Having said that, there were parts of the trek when we were with a number of other people and groups, it just depends what stage of the trek you are on. Day one we found ourselves pretty much alone for the whole day, occasionally bumping into a llama or group of locals which was fantastic. I don’t remember seeing another group on the entire first day, until we reached camp where there were a few other groups camping in areas near to us.

inca trail

The second day we climbed ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, and this was the ‘traffic’ day. We saw most of the other groups at this point. This part of the trek certainly became a bit of a bottleneck of people, but the fact that day two is the hardest day inevitably meant the different tour groups would bunch up. Having said that, day two isn’t easy as you have to walk up a path of steps for a number of hours, by the end you’re only looking a couple of feet in front of you towards your next step! The top of Dead Woman’s Pass saw a number of groups congregate there, but again it wasn’t so busy that you couldn’t find your own spot to recover in silence.

On Day 3, and our descent to the final camp before Machu Picchu we barely saw anyone else and we felt like we had the trail to ourselves.

inca trail

If your guide was like ours, whether you are in a large or small group, if you want to walk alone (or with your partner) they respect this and allow you the time and space you want to enjoy the trail your way.  We were lucky as we had a great group of people of mixed ages, and abilities, and we had a fantastic guide who didn’t insist we all stick together.  He simply went up front and walked with whoever was fastest, and waited at the next stop point.  At the same time our second guide walked with the slowest.  In reality it meant we waited for an hour or so at each point as the slowest caught up, but as days 1 and 3 were pretty easy it meant we weren’t pushed for time.

inca trail

inca trail

Working up a sweat

As we said earlier, we’re two young and relatively fit people who don’t go hiking or hill walking when in the UK. We found the trail to be a comfortable trek, with the notable exception of a few hours on day two climbing Dead Womans Pass really testing us. In our group, we were the youngest, with the oldest being Don (a 72 year old grandfather) and he made it round the trail as well without any complaints (he just took a bit longer but fair enough!).

Camping and amenities

The most ridiculous thing about the Inca Trail is watching as your 50/60 year old porters run past you with your tent and cooking equipment on their backs to set up in advance of you arriving. All while you carry your small bottle of water and camera on your back.

inca trail

The camps were great, the tents pitched for when you arrived, and the food they cooked was incredible. Soup, potato cakes, rice, lentils – arguably one of the most impressive elements of the trek was the food! And that is saying something considering how much we love the food of Peru! The toilets were pretty awful as you may imagine so be prepared.

We absolutely loved our time on the Inca Trail. At times we were completely alone in the silence, and at other times we had company from our group. Either way we always felt like we had a choice of what experience we wanted to have. The scenery was incredible, and is on a par with our experience of trekking the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand. The difficulty was also pitched just right for us. We would highly recommend it, and remember, you’re walking along the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu!

Looking for more Peru inspiration? Click here.


Making Sweet Chocolate In Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Are you one of those people who can’t resist a sneaky bit of chocolate everyday? Especially with the choice of flavours and types it comes in, from milk, to dark and white chocolate? What about combining it with some nuts or fruit? How about ginger or marshmallows? Heck it even comes with chilli in some places! Have we got you salivating yet? Prepare yourself.

semuc champey

When we were visiting the stunning Semuc Champey series of pools in Guatemala, we were lucky enough to stay in a place called Utopia, which had its own supply of cacao beans growing in the fields surrounding it. If you had time, you could use it to make your very own chocolate! Not one to turn down the chance to learn something (and eat some chocolate!), we signed up to make our very own delicious treats from scratch.

semuc champey

Obviously chocolate is big business these days, but as it is with many things that are commoditised, the original reasons for eating it have been toned down and dulled to obliteration. Chocolate you see, is bad for you. But what about dark chocolate? Isn’t that less bad for you? And what about high percentage cacao chocolate, isn’t that supposed to be good for you, especially if you use it as a cooking ingredient? It’s all a bit confusing isn’t it?

As we wandered around the chocolate pods that house the cacao beans hanging from the trees, we were struck as to how big and heavy they are. After picking our pod to work with, we went inside to learn more. John and his mother were incredibly enlightening on the process of making chocolate, and indeed all the benefits. The first job was to roast the beans, to make the removal of the husk easier.

semuc champey

Following this it was time for the painstaking task of peeling each individual bean to get at the goodness inside. As a side note, the husks that are discarded are actually very good for making tea, something we tried and agreed as a delicious little bonus.

semuc champey

semuc champey

semuc champey

semuc champey

Once dehusked, it was time for the blending of the beans. This is where things got really interesting. In the end we blended the beans six times, following a process of blending, heating, blending, heating etc until the consistency was just right. The first time the beans were blended, they simply looked like they had been finely chopped. After heating though and returning them to the blender, the natural oils started to release, and ever so slightly bring the mixture together. A little sugar was added at this point, and the mixture returned to the heat before being blended again.

semuc champey

We had no idea how much of the natural oils were housed in the cacao pods, and indeed how much of this natural, good for you stuff is removed when creating mainstream chocolate. You see, the natural oils which make chocolate good for you, are stripped out as they do not help when it comes to transporting chocolate. If the natural oils were kept in, the chocolate would have to be stored, transported and displayed in much cooler temperatures, making the costs exorbitant and unrealistic. So you take the only good part of chocolate away, and replace it with more sugar! Genius, no wonder people are confused.

After this process of blending and heating, all of the natural oils had been released, and were gelled together with the rest of the mixture. It was time to create our mini chocolate treats. In front of us lay our chocolate, and everything from nuts, to coconut, chilli, ginger, marshmallows and mint.

semuc champey

semuc champey

With our work for the day done, our chocolates went into the fridge and we went tubing down the river for a few hours. When we returned they were ready, and boy were we excited!

At this point you’re probably expecting a photo of the final outcome. Well, there isn’t one. In our haste to taste, we neglected to take a photo of our final masterpieces! The best we can do is this!

semuc champey

The chocolates were delicious, unlike anything we had tasted before. They had the sweetness of milk chocolate, but with a hint of the bitterness of dark chocolate. We devoured them in a few minutes, sharing them with our fellow travellers on the balcony in Utopia. The next day we would make the long journey north, where we would visit the famous Tikal National Park. But for now we would spend one last evening in Utopia, sheltering from a fierce tropical thunderstorm that crashed down around us. It was the perfect ending to our time in the Guatemalan countryside.

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


And then there was India...

First there was Japan. A place we have always wanted to visit but somehow never found the opportunity to go, which is especially strange given Lauras love for Japanese food and my obsession with searching out some of the stranger experiences in life. Once we’d decided to go to Japan, we were excited. Then there was Myanmar. A place many fellow travellers insist you must go NOW before it becomes too developed, and so onto our itinerary it went.

And now it’s time to reveal our jewel in the crown, our most challenging yet most exciting destination of our travels next year. Yes, that’s right, we are going to INDIA!

Why the excitement over India? Well, you’ll find out over the next few months as we post numerous articles and photos of the food, the people, the culture and the colours of this magnificent nation. Alongside Japanese and Vietnamese food, Indian food is in our delicious top 3 of cuisines.

We absolutely, unashamedly cannot wait to get to India. Of course, Japan will be incredible. Myanmar alluring, but India is the elephant in the room for us. A country that is so popular and incredible yet we both haven’t travelled around it, save for a 4 night business trip years ago. Once we decided on the country, the hardest decision of all came, we can’t see it all (or we could try but we’d be exhausted), and these days we prefer to see less and travel slower instead of rushing around.

So there was a clear choice: travel to the South to ancient forts in Kochi and the backwaters of Kerala, or north for tea plantations, the Ganges River and the Taj Mahal.

After much deliberation, we will be spending our time in India travelling through the north of the country, taking in Kolkata, Darjeeling, Varanasi, the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan, the Land of Kings. We want to see and perhaps stay in palaces, to eat the food, smell the aromas and meet the people. We want to see this incredible place for ourselves, to try and understand what makes India tick.

It will be a challenge, but the greater the challenge the greater the reward when it comes to travel. Have you been to Northern India? We would love some tips and places to see in the comments below!


We're Going To Myanmar!

We’re very excited to announce the second destination of our travels next year! Following on from a few weeks in Japan, we will be heading to Myanmar, a country that we have heard so much about from fellow travellers and one we have been desperate to visit for some time.

We’re planning to spend our time there in the north, arriving in Mandalay before travelling south to take in the stunning Bagan temple complex, where over 2000 incredible temples and pagodas spread out into the landscape. After our time in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Tikal ruins in Guatemala, we’re looking forward to seeing this temple complex for ourselves!

We’re also planning on spending some time on Inle lake, visiting the locals who live on the lake in floating villages. After visiting floating villages in Vietnam, we cannot wait to compare it with Myanmar. The locals here are also famous for their ‘leg rowing’ technique so we’ll be giving that a go if we are given the chance!

Finally, a new country provides new food and drinks to try, I’m keen to add to my Worldly Beers list which currently sits just shy of 300, but also taste the local delicacies and treats along the way. Myanmar will be a completely different experience to Japan, a chance to see a country just opening its borders to the outside world. We’ll be swapping bullet trains for bumpy buses, but like most travel experiences, the harder it is to reach your destination, the more more rewarding it is. We cannot wait.

Have you been to Myanmar? Any tips for us let us know in the comments below!


Ometepe Nicaragua: Twin Volcano Island!

Perched on a wooden bench, our backpacks deposited in a heap in front of us, we were excited. We’d caught a glimpse of the majestic twin volcanic island of Ometepe Nicaragua as we made our way to San Juan del Sur, and after a relaxing few days by the beach, we were finally on our way to the island!

We clambered onto our boat for the short one hour crossing. The boat was small and basic, and we perched ourselves on one of the wooden benches that had been nailed to the floor. A young boy approached us selling various local nuts and fruits, a few other people got on board and we were on our way.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Standing at the front of the boat as it gently rolled over the waves towards the island, the majesty of the volcanoes became all the more apparent. Two towering twins dominate the lake, the perfectly formed volcano cone of Concepcion and its sister Maderas, both cutting against the clear blue sky as we approached the island. We’d chosen to spend some time on an organic farm, and planned to help out in any way we could.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Arriving at the main port, we grabbed some supplies from the local shops. There were a few restaurants and bars, but we hadn’t come here to socialise, we’d come get away from it all on a farm. Jumping into our pre arranged jeep, we headed to our home on the other side of the island an hour and a half away.

The journey there was…uncomfortable. Imagine driving along a dried out river bed and you won’t be far off the ‘road’ we encountered on our way to the farm. Ninety bumpy minutes later and we pulled up to our home for the next few days.

Ometepe Nicaragua

We’d chosen to stay at Finca Mystica, a small organic farm set back from the beach in acres of lush green land. Here they grow much of their own food, and are continuing to plant more to become self sufficient. Arriving here we instantly knew we had made the right decision.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

Our home for the next few days could be found down at the bottom of the garden, a path guiding us between the various fruits, nuts and other assorted crops that grow around the farm.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

There are, of course, numerous things to do on Ometepe island, especially in close proximity to the farm. We chose to trek to the nearby waterfall on Ometepe, almost sweating to exhaustion in the stifling heatwave (we’re really selling it aren’t we?). You can also attempt a day trek up to the top of the nearby volcano, which is a challenging but rewarding experience.

The shoreline is also only a ten minute walk away, and it is completely undeveloped. As in, there is nothing there except the beach, so take everything you need with you! Or, if you’re nice to the owners Angela and Ryan, they might even let you ‘help’ out around the farm, as we did when we there, helping them harvest cashew nuts. We will appreciate cashew nuts even more so now, given how time consuming it is to grow and harvest them.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

Sadly, the machete is purely for show. You don’t need a machete to harvest them, I just wanted to use it to look hard.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe island is an incredible place to stay, and we’d highly recommend you get away from the main port and see the rest of the island. You can get bars and restaurants anywhere you go, so get in a jeep, or take the bumpy bus and explore this majestic island!

Looking for more Nicaragua inspiration? Click here.


We're Going To Japan!

That’s right, we’ve taken the plunge and booked our one way tickets to Japan!

This coming January we will be heading off to the land of the rising sun, to the home of incredible technology, food and cultural quirks unique to this part of the world! To be honest, it’s surprising we haven’t visited this country yet, given how much we love many of the things Japan is famous for. Despite having the good fortune to have travelled to many places, Japan has always alluded us until now. We’re very excited!

So why are we going to Japan? What are we looking forward to the most? Well, here are a few reasons why we want to visit Japan!

SUSHI TO RAMEN AND EVERYTHING INBETWEEN

We love Japanese cuisine: sushi, sashimi, ramen, anything Japanese goes down well in our books. In fact, Japanese food would easily make it into our top three cuisines, sitting alongside Vietnamese and Indian in a delicious top three. We cannot wait to try sushi from its home country! Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook for a daily photo of our adventures!

TEA CEREMONIES

Residing in the UK means we’ve been indoctrinated with a love of tea, we’re famous for constantly ‘putting the kettle on’ for a ‘quick cuppa’. But as far as tasting the differences between teas, it does have a downside as our taste buds have become desensitized to the intricacies and delicacies of traditional teas. This is mostly down to the fact that we boil, bag and add copious amounts of milk and sugar to our teas. This is our chance to taste tea the way it should be, and enjoy the experience and drama of a traditional tea ceremony.

SAKE

We would say we are medium to low scale fans of Sake at the moment, but we hope that will all change as we wash down shot after shot of it whilst dining on all sorts of exciting Japanese food!

SUMO WRESTLING & KARATE

Watching these huge, well respected men launch themselves at each other as part of an ancient art form is something we want to experience whilst there. We also want to see, and perhaps learn a little Karate as well. Lets hope it’s better than the blindfolded kickboxing we witnessed in Chiang Mai, now that was weird.

KARAOKE

You’ll be grateful to know we’ll be on the other side of the world from many of our readers when we indulge in this famous Japanese past time. This will no doubt have to follow on from a night on the Sake, giving us that bit of confidence required!

QUIRKY THINGS

We want to see some of the more quirky elements of Japanese culture. From the fashion, to the obsession with anime, to restaurants that are themed as prisons, zoos, or even eating out of fake dead bodies (yes these all exist!), Japan will give us a chance to experience things we will never experience elsewhere. And that’s the whole point of travelling right?

Have you been to Japan before? We’d love some tips and ideas from you in the comments below!


Doing Nothing in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

“Cambio, change, dollars, money!”

Just to our right as we left the border control building, a huge grey mesh wire fence separated us from the noisy throng of changers keen to take our Costa Rican currency, or US dollars, or anything we had really. They clung to the fence in an almost feverish state, willing us to come forward and agree a price whilst behind them, wooden shacks lined the road. Welcome to Nicaragua.

It was a loud and unruly welcome to Nicaragua, and as we had no money to exchange, we walked straight passed them and headed for the border checkpoint. Trucks and lorries competed with a handful of people as we carefully navigated the shared border crossing, with literally hundreds of lorries lining up to cross the border.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

How long had they been here? How long would they be here? We skipped passed a couple of DHL lorries, cut between two other lorries and made our way to the small white hut in the distance where we would get our passports stamped.

It’s always the same with land border crossings. You get stamped out of one country, and then walk or take a bus through no mans land to another checkpoint where you are duly stamped into the next country. When we crossed the border between Chile and Argentina, we drove for hours before our passports were stamped for entry, here it was a 0.5 km walk.

We reached the hut and paid our entry fee, we had arrived in Nicaragua! We debated on our next course of action. There were two options: wait for a bus or take a taxi. We were heading 45 minutes south west, to the coastal hamlet of San Juan Del Sur, and the easiest way was to jump in a taxi.

Instantly we were approached by three eager individuals all vying for our trade, or more likely colluding together to keep the prices high. As usual, we walked passed anyone overly keen to take us to find the more relaxed, subdued drivers who in our experience were a better bet. Finding no one, a lone security guard gave us a helping hand by walking us through a throng of taxi drivers at the border gate entrance, and picked out an older gentleman with the right price. Our senses said yes, and we were on our way.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Leaving the border crossing behind, the tree lined road gave way to an open expanse, and to our right we got our first glimpse of the majestic twin volcanoes of Ometepe Island. We would be heading there in a few days, but first we’d scheduled some down time after all our overland travels through Central America. We were headed to a small cove near the town of San Juan del Sur called Marsella beach.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Marsella beach is around 45 minutes from the border, and 15 minutes drive from San Juan del Sur, along a dusty and bumpy track. We planned to spend a few days there, with day trips into San Juan del Sur, but we ended up staying in this quiet little cove for the whole of our time there. It was tranquil, and with only a handful of other people there, we more or less had the place to ourselves! We’d highly recommend booking into this lovely hotel called Casa Bahia Hotel near Marsella Beach!

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Talking about things to do here isn’t easy, because there isn’t much to do. But that is kind of the point really. You come here to walk along the beach, marvel at the incredible sunsets on offer, and generally wind down from what can be quite a hectic time in Central America.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

For those of you who want to travel through Central America, we would highly recommend a stop off here. We were able to recharge our batteries before we took the journey across Lake Nicaragua to reach Ometepe Island. After the disorientating border crossing with Costa Rica, you’ll be looking for a relaxing Nicaraguan retreat, and this place might be just the ticket for you.

Looking for more Nicaragua inspiration? Click here.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Barry! Well almost...

There are some things that are simply too good to turn down. A good bowl of Pho in Vietnam, an empanada in Argentina, and the chance to live out a boyhood dream of becoming a real life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!

Perhaps I should explain. You see, I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their sidekick, Splinter. They were cool, they were nimble, they were, as they might say, AWESOME! So when I was given the chance to climb inside a real tortoise shell at the Darwin Centre on the Galapagos Islands, I jumped at the chance.

This is my attempt to become an all action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Lets just say some dreams are meant to remain just that…

In my defence, that shell was incredibly heavy (no wonder these guys don’t move around very fast). It was heavier than the plastic washing basket I used to strap to my back in my youth, and pretty awkward to get into. Still, with a few years in the gym, I’ll head back to the Galapagos to complete some unfinished business! Think you could do better?

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Excavating The Pyramids of the Sun & Moon, And Finding Moche Art!

Heading north from Lima, bound for the coastal town of Mancora, we broke the monotony of dusty roads with a brief break in Trujillo, a small city in La Libertad region of Northern Peru. After our experience of trekking to Machu Pichu, and driving through the Nazca lines in Southern Peru, we’d become a little obsessed with learning more about the history of Peru, and in particular the civilisations that came before the famous Incas!

moche culture

5km outside the city lies the ruins of the Pyramids of the Sun & Moon, a pre Incan city built by the Chimor civilization, formed from the Moche civilisation. With the sun beating down on us, we made the journey to see the once imperial capital where over 30,000 people lived. Arriving at the site, the scale and intricacy of the settlement isn’t immediately apparent, as much of the ruins remain underground as it is slowly excavated. Making your way round to the only entrance of the site, the scale becomes apparent.

moche culture

moche culture

Despite being attacked by the desert over hundreds of years, the intricate carvings and relics of the main wall were still remarkably clear and vivid. Moving inside, the Moche culture carvings became even more impressive.

moche culture

moche culture

The most intriguing part of these ruins, and the reason why it is taking so long to excavate, is that the Chimor built five iterations of the complex, each one on top of the previous, essentially filling in the previous temple with bricks, before building the new one. As the site is slowly excavated, new reliefs and designs are revealed once again.

moche culture

Each relief is slightly different, enabling the archaeologists to determine how many times the site had been rebuilt, with some layers of Moche art still tantalisingly hidden.

moche culture

It was exciting for us to see a ruin as it’s being excavated, before it becomes famous. We have no doubt once the site is fully excavated, it will be an exciting draw to the North of Peru. The scale of the site and the intricacy of the reliefs is worth the dusty bus ride north, particularly if you are travelling into Ecuador from Peru!

moche culture

If you ever find yourself travelling through Northern Peru, a stop off in Trujillo to break the long journey can be rewarding if you visit these ruins, alongside the Chan Chan ruins and La Huaca del Dragon complex nearby.

Looking for more Peru inspiration? Click here.


Copacabana Bolivia - Top Things To Do!

Sometimes it’s nice to find somewhere whilst travelling where there isn’t much to do, having a holiday whilst travelling if that makes sense. This is especially true for overland travellers working their way through Peru and Bolivia, where it is not uncommon to spend 24 hours on a bus just to move between cities! It grows tiresome, but never fear, on the shore of Lake Titicaca lies Copacabana Bolivia! 

Nestled on the border between Peru and Bolivia lies the small town of Copacabana Bolivia, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, a quiet Bolivian tourist attraction for locals and travellers alike. It is a great place to spend a few days, and thankfully not a Barry Manilow tribute in sight.

copacabana bolivia

On the shore of Copacabana Bolivia

With precious few things to do there, Copacabana Bolivia was a very attractive proposition for two weary nomads. After crossing the border with Argentina to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama, taking a three day jeep journey through the Bolivian salt flats, and travelling the full length of Bolivia, we were in need of a rest! Copacabana was our destination of choice.

As our bus negotiated its way around yet another turn, we could suddenly see Copacabana in the distance. Textured, seemingly unfinished orange brick buildings crawled up the steep hills away from the beautifully curved bay of Copacabana.

copacabana bolivia

Here it seems is a place for wandering foreigners, selling their cakes and trinkets on the streets alongside local women offering breads and various fruits.

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

We take a walk around, and stumble across an indoor market where locals pile their wares as high as possible all around them, and then try to sell themselves out of their self imposed food based prison cells. Adorning the circular market are all kinds of exotic fruits piled high, a cacophony of colours surrounding each stall as the local women chatter amongst themselves. Other stalls offer various breads and different parts of animals, we purchased some bread and head back into the streets.

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

Wandering further, we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, a dominating sight in the small town of Copacabana. Across from the church a group of older gentlemen are dancing in a circle, drinking shots of what we assume to be alcohol and playing their various flutes and guitars as a group of locals look on. We’ve stumbled upon a festival, and watch as our brightly clothed coloured friends dance, sing and generally act as happy a people as we’ve come across on our travels!

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

Whilst your options are limited, there are things to do nearby Copacabana. One option is to visit the nearby Sun island on Lake Titicaca, with boats leaving each day from the pier in the harbour. Here you have the opportunity to trek up a couple of hills, visit some ruins and meet some locals. It’s a fairly relaxing day, and the ride across the waters of Lake Titicaca is a welcome bonus. You can also partake in a Bolivian or Peruvian homestay if you like as well, returning the following day.

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

Or if you are more of a land lover, you can hike up to the top of the nearby hill which overlooks Copacabana and has some interesting monuments and fantastic view of the small town and Lake Titicaca itself. Again, well worth the burning knees for the views!

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

copacabana bolivia

In all honesty, we stayed in Copacabana as a stop off point between Bolivia and Peru, but we were so glad we did. It’s not the most glamorous or exciting destination in the world, but its a great place to spend a few days whilst in Bolivia!

Looking For Accommodation In Bolivia?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Copacabana or elsewhere in Bolivia, we recommend you check out Agoda.com. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas in Copacabana, or anywhere else in Bolivia, click here!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Bolivia inspiration? Click here.


Deception Island - The Awful Consequences of Whaling in Antarctica

Amidst the excitement of watching whales fluke and dive around us, penguins going about their hilarious daily routines, and the general excitement of being in Antarctica, there was a more somber tone to one of our excursions whilst on the white continent.

deception island
In the late 19th and early 20th century, whaling on the white continent was widespread and barbaric, with many stations set up around the continent to process the whale carcasses. We were horrified to learn of the farming of the whales, primarily for blubber for lamps. Thankfully, with the use of kerosene and vegetable oils replacing whale oil, the need for blubber markedly decreased, and whales numbers are slowly recovering despite still being hunted in the area.

deception island

At the risk of sounding pompous, seeing these animals in the flesh, rising and falling in the waters surrounding Antarctica, almost folding back into the water with such grace and precision made us sick to think of the killing that took place here, and still does around the world.

deception island

As a result of the whaling in Antarctica, a number of whaling sites remain in situ on the continent, acting as a morbid reminder of man’s earlier disastrous interventions in the waters of Antarctica. These sites have been preserved as a reminder of the terrible things man can do to these beautiful animals, the bones remaining in situ as a stark reminder of the white continents black past.

Deception Island

Maneuvering a ship into a now sea flooded active volcanic caldera in Antarctica sounds like a scene from a movie, but we experienced this as we visited Deception Island. After navigating through ‘Neptune’s Bellows’, the small opening in the side of the crater, we entered alongside incredibly red rich cliff faces on one side, and a steaming volcanic brown sand beach on the other.

deception island

Due to its location and topography, Deception island was a favoured refuge from storms and icebergs in Antarctica in the early 19th century. It therefore became a popular location for sealers and whalers until the station was abandoned in 1931, following a drop in whale oil prices and the great depression. We found it fascinating to see the remains of the island’s history, including old scientific stations and factory ships, an aircraft hanger and huge rusting iron boilers and tanks!

deception island

deception island

deception island

deception island

On our visit to deception island, we were allowed to walk around the various relics of the whaling days: old oil vats and buildings, and sadly, the bones of unfortunate whales slaughtered on the continent for no crime worse than having something that humans found useful and needed.

There was, however, some time for light relief as we made our own piece of Antarctic history by taking the leap and completing the Polar Plunge, a freezing leap into the freezing Antarctic waters. This was something we were glad to have done, but will never do again!

deception island

Our visit to Deception island and the abandoned whaling stations was one of the most interesting parts of our Antarctica adventure. Seeing these places made our moments with the whales of Antarctica all the more special. It was a sobering moment on a trip of a lifetime.

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here.


Exploring Magnificent Mayan Ruins In Guatemala

Guatemala offers a wonderful diversity of things to see, from the aqua green lagoons of Semuc champey, to candlelight caving and the semana santa celebrations in Antigua, we were incredibly impressed with what Guatemala has to offer! Guatemala also provided us with our first glimpse of Mayan history after our extensive travels through Incan territory!

You may have heard of Chichen Itza in neighbouring Mexico, and we had considered visiting the famous site but we were put off by the number of people likely to be there, especially the large tour groups. You see, we’ve been spoilt on our travels. We’ve grown accustomed to visiting quieter places off the beaten track, so we decided to visit a less well known Mayan site, but arguably just as impressive near the small town of Flores in the North of Guatemala.

The Mayan Ruins Of Guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Our travels have taught us many things, what we both like and dislike, so when we arrived at the Tikal Guatemala ruins and found ourselves in a group of 20 people, we quickly made the decision to tour the park independently, and we would recommend you do too. A quick chat with our tour guide to arrange a meeting time, and we were off exploring the acres of ruins ourselves! It would turn out to be a wise decision.

The first thing that struck us about the site is just how vast it is, covering over 16 square kilometres, with the majority of it completely untouched and unexplored. There are estimated 3000 structures hidden in the deep undergrowth just waiting to be discovered!

The first site we came across was a magnificently preserved square stone pyramid, its huge steps inviting you to climb to the top.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Unaccustomed to such access to historic sites, we clambered up the huge stone steps, filling us with a mix of wonder and burning knee rage as we made our way to the top.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

After this fantastic starter, we wanted to see the largest and tallest of the ruins at Tikal, and took off along a jungle path to get there. This is where the Tikal National Park comes into its own. After only a couple of minutes walking from the previous ruin, we were in the middle of the jungle, walking along a dry muddy path as it weaved through the various vines and trees. After 10 minutes of walking, and doubts creeping in as to whether we were going the right way, we stopped for a drink of water and rest, and heard a group of almighty howls go up from the canopy around us.

Looking up, we counted what must have been at least 10 monkeys clambering through the canopy, jumping and swinging from branch to branch with ease. We sat in awe for a few minutes as they made their way passed our position and onwards into the jungle. Remembering we had come to see the ruins and not the wildlife, we carried on, but couldn’t believe our luck.

Climbing up to the second of the ruins for the day, this was the one that gave us a sense of the scale of the Tikal national park, with other smaller temples puncturing through the green carpet below us.

Mayan ruins guatemala

This was a fantastic spot, we sat and ate our sandwiches as we admired the view below us, imagining the family of monkeys we met previously somewhere in the vast jungle below us, swinging and howling as they went.

We moved on through the park, literally stumbling across new ruins without a soul in sight. It was quiet and serene, and we took our time admiring a temple full of bats, where my bravery went as far as sticking my head in as a bat leapt out of the darkness! Serves me right I guess, Laura kept a safe distance as you can see from below!

Mayan ruins guatemala

Then it was onwards to the main event, the incredibly elegant Great Plaza, a green courtyard surrounded by beautiful stone pyramids and Acropolis. Rising 47 metres above us, two stone pyramids stood at either side of the courtyard, facing each other in an eternal stand off, their huge brick steps leading upwards away from us.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Flanked on either side of the plaza are the North and Central Acropolis, where we would eventually rest and watch the sunset.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

On a clear day, sunset is incredible here, and our time there was no exception, the sun dropping perfectly over a temple in the distance to cap off a fantastic day around the ruins of Tikal.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

It goes without saying that no trip to Guatemala is complete without a visit to the Tikal ruins! For those keen to visit, you can use the nearby island of Flores as a base, with numerous operators offering day trips to the ruins. If you find yourself in a large group, grab a map and head off exploring on your own, you won’t regret it!

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


Giant Tortoises of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

When Spanish explorers first discovered an archipelago of islands off the coast of modern day Ecuador, they were so astounded by the giant tortoises there, they named the entire island chain after the spanish word for tortoise, Galapago. It would be remiss of us, therefore, not to see these magnificent creatures for ourselves on our visit to the Galapagos!

 

Making our way up a dusty narrow road, we left behind the blue waters surrounding Santa Cruz island and headed inland. Our trusty Galapagos guide and driver were taking extra care as we approached the giant tortoises natural habitat. Suddenly our car slowed, and in front of us what seemed like a large boulder lay half on the road, half in the bushes. Our first glimpse of a wild giant Galapagos tortoise!

Out of the bottom of the mammoth shell, a small head on the end of a long neck stretched out from underneath to identify the noise interrupting his day. After a minute analysing the situation, our new hero in a half shell tucked his head back into his shell. He certainly wasn’t planning on moving anytime soon!

Seemingly experienced with this approach from the giant tortoises, our driver checked the other bushy side of the road was clear, hitched up onto the other side of the dirt road and we continued on our way. Finally arriving at our destination, we made our way through the lush green forest excited to encounter more wild giant tortoises.

Galapagos Tortoise

After only a few minutes, we rounded a corner and bumped into this tortoise in search of some shade (and perhaps a nap). We watched him as he ambled towards the undergrowth, his thick strong legs heaving the weight of his shell towards the nearest bush.

Galapagos Tortoise

Now in search for a larger, older tortoise, we made our further into the rich forest nearby. And then, in the bushes nearby, she spotted a mature giant tortoise!

Galapagos Tortoise

Our guide approached slowly and quietly to avoid surprising the tortoise, and we followed behind. In hushed tones our guide enlightened us about this giant tortoise, as he sat and munched through his lunch, disinterested in his newly found audience.

Galapagos Tortoise

We sat for a few minutes in awe of the creature, and observed their behaviour from close quarters. Obviously they walk slowly, but we learned everything they do is done in slow motion, with an assured purpose to each and every movement. A glance to the left takes a few seconds to make, they will fix their stare on you for minutes at a time, before slowly sweeping their head back whence it came from.

They remain stone like in their demeanor, and barely make a noise, although if they are startled or annoyed we are told they can let out a strong cry to ward off unwelcome visitors. But most of the time we spent with them, they were docile, gentle, quiet creatures sat in almost eternal contemplation.

Galapagos Tortoise

Everything about their bodies was fascinating, from the huge smooth, polished shells they call home, to the cracked, rugged texture of their legs and feet. Even their nostrils and mouth were interesting to us!

Galapagos Tortoise

Galapagos Tortoise

We were absolutely captivated by the wild giant tortoises of Santa Cruz, and we wished we could have sat and admired them for longer. Santa Cruz island is an incredible place to see wild giant tortoises, a must if you make a trip to the Galapagos Islands!

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Best Philly Cheesesteak in Philly?

Steak and cheese, arguably two of my favourite foods, come together in bread with onions and mushrooms to create the classic Philly Cheesesteak! But where to go for these all American delicacies? Well, America probably, and you might want to hit up the sandwiches city namesake of Philadelphia! But even after narrowing it down this far, who gets the nod from this particular pair of culinary nomads?

Following our trusty local guide David, we reached a crossroads. Not a metaphorical one, but a literal crossroads where diagonally opposite each other were two of the very best joints for Philly Cheesesteak in the world. My thoughts were racing, do they get on? How did they end up so close to each other? Which one is the best? WHICH ONE DO WE CHOOSE?

fun things to do in philly

Perhaps if it was the fear of missing out on the best Philly Cheesesteak. Perhaps it was a mixture of bravery and stupidity, but there seemed to be only one real option: we had to try both. What came to pass was one of the best lunches of all our travels, and in our opinion there was a winner…

First up was Pat’s King of Steaks, and we sought guidance from our trusty guide: “whatever you order, make it quick they don’t mess about”. After assessing the menu from a safe distance, we approached the small window where we would place our order. Glimpsing in, we could see a bucket full of thinly sliced red pieces of meat sitting next to a grill a couple of metres long absolutely swamped with delicious meat, steam and smoke rising from the flat grill. I was excited.

“Yo man, what’ll it be?”

“I’ll take the provolone cheese and mushroom steak sandwich please mate”

A quick nod from the big guy and the order was complete. Much like a McDonalds drive through without a car, we walked to the next window to order a coke and pay. And then it arrived, a foot long piece of bread, meat, cheese, onions and mushrooms.

fun things to do in philly

Moving away from the window, it was time to customise this cheesesteak with the incredible buffet of sauces and spices before sitting down and getting stuck in. So how was it? The meat was tender and soft, the sandwich juicy with the juices of the mushrooms, steak and cheese all coming together with the chilli sauce. It was awesome, and in five minutes it was gone (along with a litre of Dr Pepper to cool the spices!).

fun things to do in philly

Round one complete of our cheesesteak adventure, and with a slight case of meat sweats, we crossed the road to the competition at Geno’s.

Feeling like pros by this point, we rocked up to the window and placed our order, this time with cheese and onions and extra chilli sauce. Again in the background we could hear the unmistakable sizzle of the steak, and the various shades of red meat on the cooking grill. I was so glad I had resisted the urge to have a Philly Cheesesteak anywhere else in the world until now.

fun things to do in philly

Grabbing a table, and a bottle of water this time, we got stuck in. This time it was different, without the mushrooms it was less juicy but more meaty, the onions and chilli sauce oozing out as I battled to keep it all together. The bread was crispier than the last, and again it was delicious.

So two footlong Philly Cheesesteaks down, which was the winner? It was tight, very tight. I feel like we need to go again to verify the result, but squeezing into the winning position was Pat’s King of Steaks, arguably the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a lot of sandwiches.


The Best Empanadas in Argentina!

Arguably one of the best things about travelling is sampling the national culinary delicacies that each place has on offer, and boy did Argentina have some highlights! From legendary asado BBQs to the delightfully simple empanada, you’ll have to excuse us as we indulge in one of our favourite culinary memories of our travels to date!

Arriving in Salta, Northern Argentina for a few days, we’d heard of a place called Patio de la Empanadas, a square surrounded by different stalls offering various versions of the empanada: deep fried, oven baked, some with chicken, some with beef, some spicy, some sweet with raisins. The place sounded incredible and we decided to check it out.

empanadas argentina

Navigating through the streets of Salta in the sweltering heat, we finally stumbled upon the unassuming entrance to the Plaza and entered empanada heaven.

empanadas argentina

Entering the plaza from the bright sun, our eyes struggled to adjust to the darker space as we were set upon by various eager stall owners all keen for us to try their pastry offerings. “Aqui senor!” the various ladies barked as we struggled to work out where to sit and who to eat with. A forest of multi-coloured parasols and chairs lay in front of us, and with absolutely nothing to help guide our decision, we sat down on a red table, much to the delight of the stall owner and displeasure of all the others!

empanadas argentina

A simple menu was hastily slapped on the table, with various interesting combinations of meat and pastry: chicken, beef, spicy beef and vegetable all feature, and you could have them oven baked or deep fried. There seemed to be only one real option for us, try them all!

empanadas argentina

What makes empanadas here so good is the variety of fillings that go in them, with the main filling complimented with onions, chopped eggs, various spices, sometimes raisins and chilli to give you a surprise every time you have one!

empanadas argentina

Despite Laura’s firm view that a bit of salad would go down nicely with them, we finished off our pile of empanadas with earnest! Time for a second pile of our favourites, the spicy beef and chicken options. As we waited for our food to come, we noticed the plaza was now full of locals lunching on some of the best food in Argentina, ceremoniously ripping the empanadas in half, dipping them in the spicy salsa sauce and devouring them with ease. All washed down with the popular South American tradition of a two litre bottle of soda or beer on the table.

empanadas argentina

The place was buzzing, and we watched with intrigue as our stall member delicately prepared the next batch of empanadas on a table nearby, mixing a huge bowl of filling and stuffing each pastry circle full before wrapping it up and sending it off to the oven or pan!

empanadas argentina

The patio was a great experience, and after finally finishing our second pile (yes pile) of empanadas, it was time for us to stumble back into the sizzling heat of Salta and make our way home for a siesta. Having eaten many empanadas in our time in Argentina, Salta provided us with the spiciest example of the great food of Argentina!

Looking for more Argentina inspiration? Click here.


Smoke Filled Food Markets of Luang Prabang

Tired and hungry after our 2 day boat journey down the Mekong river, we had finally arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos and were desperate for some comfort food, Laos style! Boy were we in for a treat.

luang prabang

We made our way to the heart of the action, the central market where all manner of Laos style trinkets and garments could be bartered over with the enthusiastic and insistent sellers.

luang prabang

Nearby, a small lane cuts away from the main street, leading you down an alleyway which is an attack on the senses. On the corner of the main street and the lane, two small stands cloud the entrance in smoke, as the fat and juices from kebabs cooking on the BBQs obscure the lane. The smell is intoxicating, spices and aromas attacking us as we pass through the smoke.

In front of us, a veritable delight of culinary delights lay in wait. Eager locals stand prepared with a plastic plate as you push and shove your way down the alley. “Fill this plate with as much food as you can! All for one set price!” one eager chef barks. Across from him an energetic old lady is currently grilling whole fish, which for a small add on charge is yours to have.

luang prabang

Overwhelmed, we carry on through the throng of locals and travellers alike, all hunched around small plastic tables, perched on plastic stools eagerly shovelling the assortment of vegetables, noodles, rices and meats with varying degrees of chopstick accuracy. All washed down with a litre bottle of Beer Lao. Old and new friendships are formed as you battle to grab a seat as we continue down the lane.

Reaching the end of the lane, we take stock and try to figure out which stall to go too. The old woman with the whole fish option is deemed the best, and we squeeze our way back towards the beginning of the lane to load up our plates with mounds of Laotian food.

luang prabang

We reach our host, plate thrust into our hands and with our fish chosen, we’re free to fill our plates with all the wonders of Lao food. I step up to the table, on goes a pile of noodles, some spring rolls, perhaps some green beans in some sort of sauce, a sausage might go down well, ah there’s some dumplings. And prawn crackers! The choice is incredible, my plate not capable of supporting all that I wish to take.

luang prabang

With a plate full of food in one hand, a plate of fish in the other, Laura grabs the beer and her food and we crush into a corner where two others are already sitting. Time to taste our haul, and we’ve made the right decision it seems! The spring rolls are delicious, perhaps owed to the fat and grease that surrounds them. The noodles incredible, the fish succulent and fresh. Our plates are devoured in minutes, and then we’re off, out of the madness of the lane and back into the main streets.

We’d waited two days for a decent meal, but boy had it been worth it. Our Laos odyssey had begun.

Looking for more Laos inspiration? Click here.


Hiking And Exploring Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Melting in the middle of a stifling heatwave, we slumped in our hammocks as we considered our options. Yes we’d travelled a long way to reach Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, but the thought of leaving the cover of our farm building (and its fresh fruit smoothies) to trek to a waterfall three hours away filled us with dread.

Three hours away by foot was a stunning waterfall, and with some reluctance, we decided we should really go and see it. Given the forecast for the weather only getting hotter, it was now or never. So with our backpacks loaded with water and chocolate bars, we left the cool comfort and security of the farm and headed out into the sweltering heat.

Trudging down the dusty farm road, we ducked under any shade we could find from overhanging trees. Ten minutes later we hit the shoreline and took a left. Gone was any chance of shade, and we made our way along the desolate and dusty lake side for 30 minutes until we reached the ‘beginning’ of our trek to the waterfall.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

Our jaws dropped. All around us had been arid, dusty, yellow stones and rocks, but suddenly we found ourselves in an oasis of green as we began our ascent. A lush, landscaped driveway stretched out in front of us, sprinklers and gardeners keeping the area pristine. This of course, was the beginning of the national park area, but it still took us by surprise.

The abundance of life was fleeting, as we reached the end of this pathway to find a sign stating “Waterfall: 2km”. The fun was over, it was time to climb. Over the next two hours, we made our way through varied landscapes, from arid dry pastures to lush green jungle.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

At this point the mercury was tipping 40 degrees, we grew lethargic and tired as we left the jungle and began our climb up the dried out river bed. Huge boulders blocked our way, as we slowly made our way up the river. After an hour and a half of sweaty Nicaraguan trekking, we stopped, and asked ourselves a question all trekkers dread:

“Are we going the right way?”

I mean, we hadn’t seen a sign for the waterfall for the last 45 minutes, there had been numerous moments where we could have gone left or right, and we hadn’t seen anyone, or any signs of life since the last waterfall marker. But what to do? Turn back and check along the other routes? Soldier on? In the end, Laura made the most selfless decision of all time. She had decided the best course of action was for her to sit down and relax whilst I went on ahead to figure out if we were going in the right direction! Wow.

Off I went, searching for any clues that we might be heading in the right direction. The first 10 minutes brought no signs, but then the sign we had hoped for! Cascada 0.5 km! We were on the right path. Laura rejoined the trek, full of energy after her self decided rest. 15 minutes later, we clambered out of the river bed, edged our way round a turn in the valley, and suddenly in the distance, we saw what we had worked so hard to reach.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

The valley we had been clambering through for the past two hours suddenly narrowed, its two towering sides coming together to form an impasse in front of us. Water powered over from the ledge 50 metres above us, turning into mist as it reached the bottom. We basked in the cool mist for some time, glad to have made the arduous journey.

And so it was time to make our way back down with a spring in our step, only this time the afternoon was cooling slightly, we were going down hill, and awaiting us back at the farm were two hammocks with our names written all over them. Safe to say we didn’t budge for quite a while.

Looking for more Nicaragua inspiration? Click here.


Exploring Semuc Champey Caves By Candlelight, Guatemala

Peering into the darkness ahead of us, our guide handed us a candle each and ushered us forwards. Kitted out in our swimming costumes, we had been told to expect darkness, various obstacles to climb and swimming…the latter intriguing us most considering we would be carrying a lit candle! It was a far cry from our previous week enjoying the Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua.

Inevitably the first into the caves, Laura and I faced total darkness as we made our way gingerly forwards. The candles we held illuminated the huge stalagmites and stalactites around us, giving us a fleeting glimpse of our path ahead.

semuc champey caves

To begin with it was easy, tiptoeing through ankle deep water as we negotiated the various obstacles en route. After a few minutes of tentative footsteps, the water quickly got deeper, first reaching our knees, then waists and finally we were up to our neck in water with our candles held high above us as we waded further into the darkness. This was brilliant!

semuc champey caves

And then the ledge came. One step further and suddenly there was no rock beneath us! Instantly my hand shot up to keep the candle out of the water, and I began treading water with the other. Ahead of me, perhaps 15 metres of so was a rocky outcrop. With no other option but to swim, we got going, finely achieving the balancing act of swimming with one hand in near darkness underground, whilst trying to keep a candle lit! Call this a holiday?

During our time in the caving system, we had to ascend rickety and slippy wooden rope ladders, crawl through narrow passageways whilst a torrent of water roared around our feet, and descend steep, slippy rock faces. All interspersed with aforementioned one handed, candle holding swimming! Some of it was too much for some, and they turned back.

semuc champey caves

After 45 minutes, we reached a dead end. In front of us, a deep pool of water surrounded by steep, slimy cavernous walls was illuminated in front of us by strategically placed candles. Our guide scaled one of the walls, until he was about 15 feet above us. And then he jumped.

Most of us didn’t see him jump, but heard the huge splash as he entered the pool in front of us. Popping up to the surface, he casually asked “who’s next?”. Having seen the difficulty he had in scaling the near vertical walls around the pool, I declared myself out straight away. So too was every other member of our group, save for one brave/foolhardy soul who decided to attempt the jump.

After watching him struggle to reach the ledge above us, I thought how crazy this was. We were 45 minutes from the entrance, with underground swimming to deal with and rope ladders to ascend and descend. What if he slipped? Gladly, after some difficulty, he made it to the ledge and jumped into the pool. Mission accomplished, we could make our way out of the caves now.

We followed the same route back, save for one minor change. Our final challenge was to drop ourselves through a small gap between two rocks where a waterfall poured down. This was unexpected, and caused consternation among many members of our group. When it came to my turn, I saw the challenge ahead. Essentially a small gap not much wider than my body was in front of me. A couple of metres below it I could see a pool of water, my (hopefully) final destination. Positioning myself over the gap, I lowered myself until I was hanging between the two rocks, my hands clinging to two outcrops protuding from them. And then I let go.

Before I knew it, I had slipped between the two sides of the gap, alongside the waterfall and was underwater in the pool below! Phew, I had made it. Laura followed after me without a fuss, nimbly slipping between the rocks and into the pool below as well!

All that was left was a short walk back to the entrance and the ceremonial blowing out of candles. In need of some relaxation after our adventure, we made our way along the river to the beautiful turquoise green pools of Semuc Champey!

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


4 Minutes in South America [VIDEO]

Have you ever dreamed of visiting South America and wondered what it’s like? Check out our ‘4 Minutes in South America’ video for a whirlwind trip through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos islands! Warning, may cause you to travel…

 

Looking for more South America inspiration? Click on the country page links below:


Deep Boarding In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

“If you want to go deeper, tilt the board downwards. If you want to go to the surface, tilt it upwards. And try not to let go!” Our deep boarding guide.

With that intensive (?) training session complete, it was time for us to try deep boarding, something until the day before we had never heard of!

Deep boarding is a slightly crazy idea on paper, but in reality it is an exhilarating and challenging experience. Imagine being dragged along behind a speedboat on a rope, holding onto a clear plastic semi circle which curves slightly upwards at the sides. As the speedboat drags you along, tilting the board downwards will take you under the surface, tilt it upwards and you can emerge from the water to take your next breath. It looks a little something like this…

After this quick explanation, it was time to leave the safety of our palm tree lined island, and get in the water. Our group of 4 were the first people to go out!

Deep boarding in books del toro

In truth, the experience was a mixture of exhilaration and endurance training, as we grappled initially with the grip on our boards and the drag from the speedboat. After a minute at the surface, it was time to test out the ‘deep’ part of deep boarding.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Tilting the board ever so slightly, suddenly I was two feet underwater and dropping fast. It was an incredible feeling, almost like flying as chunks of coral that protruded from the sea bed dipped and grew as we flew above them. Before I knew it, I was 10-15 feet under water, flying through schools of fish and stingrays!

Deep boarding in books del toro

The strangest feeling of all was the distinct lack of need to get some air. As we weren’t expending any energy at all, we could spend much longer underwater simply being dragged along. Deciding I should probably get back to the surface, I gently tilted the board upwards and I was brought back to the surface for another breath of air. This was brilliant!

After a quick check to see Laura was still on her rope, I went back under for another piece of the underwater action! Dipping under the water again, I headed straight down. Perhaps buoyed by my first attempt, confidence got the better of me and I found myself crashing into and off the bottom of the sea bed, narrowly avoiding a large rock that was in my path! Hanging on, I readjusted my grip and took control of the board, dipping down and then upwards over the undulating sea bed, switching left and right as I wanted and then breaking back onto the surface again.

And then as soon as we’d begun, our experience was over! We had around 10-5 minutes in the water, which for our first time was long enough as it did get tiring towards the end. We took a tour with Under Sea Panama, just off the coast of Bocas del Toro, and it looked something like this:

The rest of the day passed by in a more tranquil manner. There was time to relax and have lunch on a pristine and unspoilt tiny island, and with a short walk across the island to the other beaches, it was paradise.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

We also had time to snorkel as well, spending 45 minutes in and around mangroves admiring the local schools of fish and coral.

Deep boarding in books del toro

After that, it was time to get back on our boat and head back to the main island. Our experience of deep boarding had been a fantastic one, surging through the crystal clear waters of Bocas del Toro and relaxing on beautiful palm tree lined beaches. We were sad that it was over, and we’d highly recommend you have a go if you ever get the chance!

Looking for more Panama inspiration? Click here.


Semana Santa Celebrations In Antigua, Guatemala

Arriving on the outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala, our bus ground to a halt as a chorus of horns, trumpets and drums echoed around us.

“I’m sorry, but this is as close as I can get you to the centre – the Semana Santa processions have closed all the streets.” Our driver apologetically told us as he handed us our bags from the roof of the bus.

Semana Santa Guatemala, or Holy Week in Antigua is revered as one of the very best in all of Latin America, and we’d arrived in the evening just as one of the many processions was under way. A few blocks from the centre, we lugged our bags onto our backs and made for the heart of the action.

As we made our way through the streets, thousands of people lined the pavements as the processions made their way through. The air thick with incense, combined with the unnerving beat of the drums gave us a welcome we would never forget.

semana santa guatemala

Holy Week in Antigua is special, with numerous processions in the day and evening, set against a backdrop of beautifully coloured colonial buildings.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

During the Saturday, we marvelled as a procession began at 2pm and would continue on until 6am. This was a special procession, as hundreds of women garbed in black solemnly walked through the streets accompanied by a hauntingly powerful band.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

Everywhere the procession went, it would be greeted by displays along the street, each very different and beautiful in their own right.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

As night fell, the procession took on a different feel, the darkness providing a dramatic backdrop as the procession relentlessly marched on. The heat and smell of the incense burning became more intense, the air thick with white smoke. The band became louder and louder, as the women continued to walk the streets on their seemingly never ending march.

semana santa guatemala

Being in Antigua to witness the celebrations was a fantastic experience, and something we would highly recommend. Just make sure that you book accommodation in advance, as literally the whole town books out!

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


Under The Sea On Our Galapagos Islands Cruise With Happy Gringo

As I sit on the deck of our catamaran, a splash in the water in front of me catches my eye. Intrigued, I watch as 5 seconds later a bird emerges with a huge fish in its mouth, and takes off into the sky! 15 minutes earlier we saw a sea lion wrestling with an octopus from our zodiac. Earlier that day we were snorkelling with huge sea lions (and even a shark!) just off the coast of one of the islands. It’s never dull in the Galapagos islands!

galapagos islands cruise

The Galapagos islands are special, and with 97% allocated as national park, and endemic species galore, we were constantly seeing things we would never see anywhere else in the world.

Visiting the Galapagos islands is a bit of a misnomer, given that much of the action actually happens in the blue waters surrounding the islands. Snorkelling and diving are unmissable given the abundance of sea life in the fertile waters.

On our cruise with Happy Gringo, we were afforded the opportunity to snorkel each day, sometimes twice in one day and saw some of the most docile and beautiful creatures on our underwater odysseys.

On our very first snorkel, we battled with the incoming waves as we watched in awe as 20 sea lions played in the water around us. Our presence seemed to energise them, and a competition seemingly developed around who could get close enough to us! Cue huge sea lions zooming alongside us, sometimes only a metre or so away. It was an incredible, if not intimidating experience!

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

If dodging huge sea lions as waves crash above you sounds a bit too intense, then a more tranquil experience snorkelling with sea turtles might be right for you! Our experience of snorkelling with turtles was incredible. Slipping into the water from our zodiac, we put our heads under the water and instantly a huge, graceful turtle was floating a couple of metres below us. As we watched it ebb and flow with the waves, we could see others all around us.

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

Seeing sea turtles in their natural environment ranks as one of the highlights of any of our travels to date!

The abundance of wildlife in the fertile waters was complimented by huge stingrays, thousands of fish and even (gulp) that shark!

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

Galapagos islands cruise

Snorkelling in the waters of the Galapagos islands is a must do activity, and you are almost guaranteed to see graceful turtles, energetic seals and (we hope) friendly sharks!

*With thanks to our friends for kindly sharing their underwater photos with us!

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Sea Lion Surprise On Sante Fe island, Galapagos Islands! [VIDEO]

“Always there is something happening in the Galapagos islands” Never a truer word spoken from our tour guide!

Sante Fe Island, Galapagos

Just moments earlier, a sea turtle had landed on the beach we were sitting on and was welcomed by an inquisitive sea lion. Upon discovering that the beach was covered by hundreds of sea lions, and thinking better of making land, our turtle friend turned around and headed out to the more tranquil waters of the bay! Only on the Galapagos!

Santa Fe island

Visiting the Galapagos comes with a lot of responsibility, and just like our trip to Antarctica, we were always wary of the animals who were unafraid of us. Obviously the main rule was to keep your distance and never touch the animals, ever!

With our guide and a responsible group, we were glad to avoid any of these pitfalls, especially when iguanas would come and say hello as you were taking a break! Or giant tortoises disguised as rocks sitting in the middle of the path, we were always wary.

So when we landed on the island of Sante Fe, we picked our way through hundreds of sea lions lazing on the beach, and found a safe spot near some bushes where we could safely observe these incredible creatures. Or so we thought…

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Exploring The South Plaza Island Of The Amazing Galapagos Islands!

Enjoy our photo journey through South Plaza Island, a stunning part of the Galapagos islands group!

South Plaza Island, Galapagos

For once, the landscape wasn’t what we came for! Even though it was stunning…

south plaza island

south plaza island

We came to meet the locals, many of which we wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world!

south plaza island

south plaza island
The Unique Blue-Footed Booby

south plaza island

south plaza island

South Plaza island was one of the smaller islands we visited whilst on the Galapagos, but we would recommend a visit here, especially if you like watching iguanas walk right up to you whilst taking a break!

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Welcome to the Galapagos Islands! [VIDEO]

As we surged through the green waters surrounding the island of Sante Fe, our zodiac driver cut the engine to a slow speed as our beach landing came into view! It was our first wet landing on the Galapagos with Happy Gringo, where you get out of the zodiac into the sea rather than get off at a pier. And there was good reason for this too!

galapagos islands video

As the beach came into view, we could make out a few black dots on the beach. As we got closer, we were astounded to see hundreds of sea lions lying on the beach taking in the afternoon sun. Some were sunning themselves, some macho fighting in the water, and some lying in the waves as the tide pulled them in and out of the bay. Along the beach we could see the alpha black male patrolling his beach and many female partners!

It was untouched, and a perfect example of our time on the Galapagos. Want to know what we saw? Of course you do!

Landing here was one of the highlights of all our travels, and set the tone for the rest of our Galapagos experience!

Looking for more Ecuador inspiration? Click here.


Sand Dune Surfing, Peru

After a great couple of weeks learning Spanish and cooking classes in Arequipa, we’d heard about a small oasis called Huacachina, located in the blisteringly hot Peruvian desert and surrounded by huge sand dunes! We arrived after a long bus journey, and planned to do two things: relax, and attempt some sand dune surfing!

sand dune surfing Peru

How To Go Sand Dune Surfing

After our experience of traversing the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam, we were ready to take advantage of the miles of huge, rolling sand dunes surrounding Huacachina! We’d heard you could go on a dune buggying ride into the desert, and then sand board down the dunes on makeshift boards. We signed up, despite no real experience in snow boarding (or surfing) and waited for our driver to pick us up.

We knew we were in for a manic afternoon when the two jeep buggies pulled up, adorned with multiple roll bars and harness like seatbelts. It looked like it might get a little rough – we didn’t know the half of it. What followed was a chaotic, adrenaline fuelled ride across the sand dunes of Huacachina!

sand dune surfing Peru

Eyeing up the two jeeps, we quickly put our travelling heads into action, and did what we normally do when faced with a choice of driver: pick the more experienced (read: older) driver. It’s worked on most of our travels, why stop now?

Jumping into his jeep and buckling up, the journey started innocuously enough. Driving through the street (yes, street) of Huacahina towards the sand dunes. Then the moment when we thought, what have we signed ourselves up for?

Our driver turned around (whilst still driving) gave a cheeky smile and shouted ‘vamos’! Before accelerating onto the sand dunes and upwards toward the summit of a huge dune! Imagine being on a rollercoaster, but instead of being attached to rails you are attached to sand. Oh and it seems even the driver doesn’t seem to know where he’s going until the last minute, that was pretty much how we felt.

sand dune surfing Peru

sand dune surfing Peru

Reaching the top of the huge dune, the jeep paused slightly. Our driver turned to look at us all, and, with a slightly manic glint in his eye, revved up the engine and accelerated over the top of the dune and downwards! Now we understood the need for the roll bars! Fancy seeing a bit of the action? Of course you do.

After 20 minutes, our excitable driver stopped at the top of a dune and motioned for us to get off. It was sand dune surfing time!

sand dune surfing Peru

At this juncture it’s probably worth noting that I have never snowboarded or surfed, Laura having had one lesson (which apparently was a ‘disaster’). We were inexperienced to say the least! This is what we decided to do…

Our advice, be careful! Laura took a nasty tumble on her second surf down the dunes, making the mistake of going straight down the dune rather than the advised route of diagonally. After that, we decided to sit down and lie down on the board, and most of our group did the same. Listen to your tour guide when he tells you to go diagonally down, it makes it slower and safer!

sand dune surfing Peru

The tour across the sand dunes of Huacachina was a fantastic, if sometimes scary experience. We were glad to be in a buggy with roll bars and good harnesses, so it’s worth checking out what the company’s use. As for the sand boarding, take it easy and don’t get carried away, the sand is unforgiving if you slip up! And when you do, you’ll be finding sand everywhere for a couple of weeks…

Looking for more Peru inspiration? Click here.


Stunning Sunsets Above The Incredible Valle de la Luna Chile!

After a 12 hour bus journey, crossing the border from Argentina into Chile, we made our way north to San Pedro, in the heart of the Atacama desert! Arriving here was in stark contrast to our time in Antarctica, freezing temperatures, deep blues and whites replaced with sizzling heat, with strong red and orange colours everywhere we looked.

Valle de la luna

Basing ourselves in San Pedro for a few days, our first trip was to the famous Valle de la luna nearby, a stark and barren landscape which is said to resemble, yep you guessed it, the moon. NASA even tested its Mars rover here before sending it to Mars – if it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for us!

Into the Valle de la Luna, Chile

Jumping into our transport for the day, we headed out through the dusty, sandy desert to our first stop, the three Marias. Now, you’re going to have to use your imagination here to see the ‘three Marias’. To me they looked like three salty formations sticking out of the ground. But what do I know?

Valle de la luna

After leaving the three Marias behind, we headed out further into the valley where we did our best impressions of Neil Armstrong in the Lunar Valley. The place was incredible, awe inspiring and felt very other worldly.

Valle de la luna

Valle de la luna

As the sun began to set, we made it the top of the valley ridge, where we could see the incredible lunar landscape for miles.

Valle de la luna

Then, as the sun began to set, the landscape literally changed colour every few minutes, the valley floor reflecting the deep oranges of the sunset against its own dark orange and red rocks. It didn’t look real!

Valle de la luna

Valle de la luna

And then, the final flourish as everyone was watching the sunset, behind us the gigantic volcano turned a deep red colour to cap off a fantastic few hours!

Valle de la luna

The Valle de la Lunar is an incredible place to see, and a for a few hours we felt as though we were on a different planet!

Looking for more Chile inspiration? Click here.


4 Minutes in Antarctica Video

Do you dream of visiting Antarctica?

Our 4 Minutes in Antarctica video is a summary of our time on the frozen continent with Quark Expeditions, an inspiring journey through deep blue Antarctic waters, navigating magnificent icebergs and meeting inquisitive penguins, whales, birds and seals! If you enjoy this then head on over and watch our other videos from the ‘4 Minutes In…’ series, including 4 Minutes In South America, New Zealand & Asia.

4 Minutes In Antarctica Video

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here.


minke whales

Minke Whales Circling Our Zodiac in Antarctica [VIDEO]

Whilst cruising the waters of Neko Harbour with Quark Expeditions, we were intercepted by two curious Minke whales who got very close to our zodiac, and circled us for 10 minutes!

Minke whales are some of the most gracious and intriguing animals we’ve encountered in all our travels. We spent a magical time as they slowly grew more confident and came closer to our zodiac. At some points they were less than a metre away from us, and we could see them below the surface of the crystal clear waters of Antarctica as they checked us out.

And then of course when they surfaced we saw more of them as they rose and fell back into the calm waters around us. Words do not do it justice, so check out our (shaky) raw footage as our interested Minke whales swam around us!

This was one of our favourite moments in our time in Antarctica, and we headed back on our zodiac to the ship in awe of what we had just witnessed. This sums up Antarctica for us, you never quite know what you’re going to experience each day. We we’re zooming around the waters looking for interesting icebergs and penguins, and then all of a sudden two Minke whales decide to change our plans! Even when you set foot on Antarctica, plans can change quite quickly as well!

minke whales

When we visited Deception island, an old and abandoned whaling station set on a volcanic caldera (honest!), we had no intention of completing the Polar Plunge, a famous icy run and dive into the waters of Antarctica. But guess what? We took on the Polar Plunge, and won! Check out the video in our article there!

Barry actually had to complete it TWICE as the first video didn’t quite work – talk about dedication!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here.


Our Polar Plunge In Antarctica! [VIDEO]

“This is totally stupid” we thought to ourselves as we stood on the volcanic brown sand beach of deception island, our bare feet cold in the sand.

Two minutes earlier (after being convinced by our friends), we’d made our decision, we were going to do the polar plunge with Quark Expeditions, a breathtaking run into the icy waters of Antarctica!

polar plunge

We’d quickly taken off our jackets, fleeces, jumpers, thermal tops, boots, thermal trousers, waterproof trousers, gloves and woolly hats. We were now standing on Antarctica in our swimming costumes ready for the dip! It was cold, and the shore line was barely 10 metres away. We psyched ourselves up, took a deep breath and sprinted to the shore line and into the icy Antarctic waters!

As we sprinted into the water, at first we couldn’t feel the cold. Up to our waists after a couple of seconds, there was no going back, and we dived head first into the icy cold water! Now we were cold! After what could only have been a couple of seconds, we hit the surface again and frantically scrambled back out of the water to the safety of the shoreline. Greeted by our friends Lindsay and John with towels and dressing gowns, we wrapped them around us and looked at each other. We had done it, we had completed the polar dip challenge!

polar plunge

To prove we did it, we decided to borrow Lindsay and John’s GoPro to film the event! Unfortunately, due to the immense shock of the cold water, let’s say the video footage of the dip with Laura and I was…shaky at best! The solution, well… do the polar plunge again! Check out the second attempt at the polar plunge below! With thanks to John and Lindsay for the use of their GoPro!

The Polar Plunge

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


Mesmerised By The Wildlife In Antarctica

Our visit to Danco island coincided with some of the most stunning blue skies and calm waters we experienced in our time on Antarctica.

They were the most perfect conditions to explore more of the peninsula.

wildlife in antarctica

First up, we took a zodiac cruise around Danco island, where we saw some of the most awe inspiring and beautiful icebergs. We spent so much time focusing on the strange shapes and textures that are created as the ice melts and the trapped air is released. These twin icebergs in particular had an incredible shape and texture to them.

wildlife in antarctica

As we drifted through the icy blue scene, the calm winds meant the water remained glass like, allowing amazing reflections of the black, white and blue islands surrounding us in the water. We gently drifted around Danco island in awe of the scene, and our luck with the weather.

wildlife in antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica

After cruising around the island, we landed and were greeted by a large group of very friendly penguins, who moments before had been showboating their incredible talents of porpoising in the waters off shore. They were obviously wondering what these big, yellow things were on their turf.

wildlife in antarctica

On Danco island, we had a choice of a hike to the top of one of the peaks, or a more casual trek along the coastline. We opted for the latter, and we were delighted to find that no-one else had decided to take our option! We had the place to ourselves, and sat and watched as hundreds of penguins criss crossed our path. It was honestly one of the most magical experiences of our lives.

wildlife in antarctica

After sitting in quiet contemplation, sadly we had to make our way back to the zodiacs to get back to the ship. Not wanting to interfere with the penguins, we had to wait for so many to cross our path that we almost missed the last zodiac back to the ship as we had to let the penguins pass before we moved!

wildlife in antarctica

After a couple of hours on the boat to grab some lunch, we were back out in the afternoon on our zodiacs for a cruise around Neko Harbour to see more of the wildlife in Antarctica. The harbour itself was incredible, and offered an almost 360 degree view of enormous glaciers, penguin colonies and huge icebergs! Truly stunning.

wildlife in antarctica

wildlife in antarctica

We also saw a huge crabeater seal chilling on an iceberg, the scars of many battles clear across his body!

wildlife in antarctica

Upon landing, we sat and admired another penguin colony lovingly protecting their eggs. After a few minutes, we experienced a very sad but natural moment. Within a few seconds of noticing one egg left unprotected, a loud woosh startled us as a Skua bird swooped onto the defenceless egg, launched into the air and landed a few feet from us where it proceeded to devour the egg (and contents). It was a sobering moment, but one that occurs quite frequently apparently.

wildlife in antarctica

After the drama of the egg stealing, we sat and enjoyed the view out to the glacier across the water, listening to the loud cracks piercing the silence as huge chunks broke off and tumbled down the mountain into the water. Day 4 with Quark Expeditions had been one of the best, and a perfect way to spend a day after our night camping on the continent. After all the excitement, we looked forward to a warm shower and a bed not made of ice!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


Camping On Antarctica (Without A Tent!)

“We must be out of our minds, this is ridiculous!”

I thought, as I shovelled another load of snow out of our slowly forming hole in the ice. It was 8pm but as light as midday. We were cold, and we were about to camp on Antarctica!

things to do in antarctica

It all came about a few months earlier, when we were given the option of spending a night on the frozen continent with Quark Expeditions, joining a small band of people who could lay claim to it.  So after a false start the night before when gales made it too dangerous, we were good to go for our camping experience. After an early dinner on the boat, we raced upstairs to layer up for what would prove to be a very cold night!

On went the thermal under layer, along with thick socks. Then the second long sleeve top and ski trousers. Then the jumper, fleece and waterproof jackets. Throw on a pair of boots, and a wooly hat and we were good to for our night on the continent!

Zooming along the water in our zodiac, sleeping bags in hand, we were excited and a little apprehensive about the evening. Our briefing prior to leaving was simple, wrap up warm and don’t forget anything. Oh, and being too cold was not a good enough reason to be taken back to the ship. Once we were on the continent, barring an emergency, we would be there for the night.

things to do in antarctica

After landing on Antarctica, we found a piece of snow and ice to call our own and began ‘making our beds’. Out came the shovel and we dug a hole in the ground just big enough for us to squeeze in and protect us a little from the wind. After 15 minutes we had our magnificent bed, water bottle holders and a small (dare I say classy) wall surrounded us. All that was left was to lay our sleeping bags inside our bivi bags and we were ready for sweet icy dreams.

You’re probably thinking, what about the tent? Well, in our infinite wisdom and excitement, we opted to go ‘au naturale’ on the continent and sleep under the stars, or as it turned out, the sun. No tent, just us in a sleeping bag inside a bivi bag. Here’s some footage of us making our bed for the evening!

Getting into bed was a bit of a mission. First up, the boots needed to come off before we quickly slipped into our bags. After a delicate balancing act of feet in the air much like a turtle stuck upside down on its shell, we wriggled into our bags, pulled the draw strings up and hunkered down for a night we’d never forget.

things to do in antarctica

For a while we both lay awake, but after a while we must have dropped off to sleep until we were rudely awakened by large lumps of snow and ice hitting the outside of our bags. Confused, and bleary eyed, we opened the top of our bags ever so slightly and peered out into broad sunshine. It was 2am, and our friends sleeping a few feet away from us had woken us up with snowballs as there was something in the water a few metres directly in front of us.

Excited, we both wriggled into a semi sitting up position, and then we heard it. ‘Peugh’! The unmistakeable sound of a whale coming up for air, we scanned the water and there, in front of us, a humpback whale arched its back and dipped into the perfectly still water. Magical! A couple of minutes later, it was back, the water spouting from its blowhole as it meandered around in front of us. It was incredible to watch, and we sat there for 15 minutes until we began to get cold and dipped back into our sleeping bags to warm back up.

From then on the night was colder, and we were kept awake by the whale spouting every few minutes but it didn’t bother us, we were being kept company on Antarctica with a whale! This was our view as we lay awake during the night…

things to do in antarctica

The rest of the night passed without incident, and at 6am we packed up our bags and took our zodiacs back to the ship to warm up and grab some breakfast before our excursions for the day.

It had been a magical experience on the continent, the weather had held out for us, we slept out under the sky and even had a whale to keep us company for the night. For non campers we were very proud of ourselves!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


Navigating The Lemaire Channel On Our Antarctica Cruise

Following on from our fantastic introduction to Antarctica, the following day we were awoken early to an announcement that we would be attempting to move through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow piece of water within the peninsula!

The channel is often blocked by huge icebergs, and today we would be attempting to break through the channel to reach our destinations of Plenau and Peterman islands!

antarctica cruise

As we reached the beginning of the channel, it didn’t look good to our untrained eyes. Huge icebergs the size of office buildings littered the channel, and as we edged closer, we made our way down to the bow to get a front row view of our journey through the icebergs!

This was a really exciting part of the journey, as our ship smashed through huge chunks of ice, brushing them aside as the captain navigated through the channel. We couldn’t believe the noise the ice made as it smashed against our hull – we were excited and nervous at the same time!

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

After making it through the channel unscathed, it was time to power on to our destination for the morning – Pleanu island on the peninsula. This island would be our first time on land on the peninsula, and our first chance to get up close and personal with the penguins of Antarctica! Pleanu island is also surrounded by the iceberg graveyard, a place where previously huge icebergs gather through the currents to slowly melt away.

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

Following our time on the island, we spent an hour cruising around the waters of Plenau island and the iceberg graveyard, marvelling at the gigantic icebergs that inhabit the bay.

antarctica cruise

We also saw our first colonies of birds, perched on rocky outcrops around the iceberg graveyard!

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

After the cruise in our zodiac, we made our way back to the Quark Expeditions ship for lunch, and we set sail for our destination for the afternoon – Peterman island! Again we were delighted to view a colony of Adelies, and witnessed the first chicks of the season!

antarctica cruise

We were lucky to spot our first (very relaxed) seals of our trip, relaxing and snoozing on a floating iceberg!

antarctica cruise

Our final stop on our zodiac cruise in the afternoon was to find two penguins floating on a very small iceberg, waiting for the seals to leave before it was safe to enter the water again!

antarctica cruise

And so our first full day on our Antarctica cruise came to a close. We had landed on our first island on the continent, seen our first penguins up close, cruised through the iceberg graveyard and seen our first seals of the trip! It was an incredible day, but the best was yet to come!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


The Ice Of Antarctica

One of the most magical parts of our time in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions was marvelling at the incredible ice sculptures that formed around the peninsula.

Huge chunks of ice would break off from the melting ice sheet, and buffeted by the harsh Antarctic conditions would form into some incredible shapes and sculptures. Here are some of our favourite photos of the icebergs of Antarctica!

antarctica

What we loved most was the uniqueness of each iceberg, and the fact we knew that they would look completely different a few days later.

antarctica

As we zoomed around on our zodiacs, we saw incredible shapes and colours form through the ice, all beautiful!

antarctica

antarctica

We even saw icebergs flip over, bringing the underside of the iceberg to the surface.

antarctica

antarctica

And of course, amazing icicles the size of people!

antarctica

We’ll never forget zooming around these incredible icebergs and ice formations in our time in Antarctica!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


Welcome to Antarctica!

A loud ‘ding dong’ bell noise wakes us from our slumber.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, good morning. We have successfully navigated the Drake passage, and if you would like to make your way up to the captain’s deck or observation lounge, you will get your first glimpse of Antarctica.”

What a wake up call!

Two days earlier, we had said goodbye to ‘the world’, sailing east along the Beagle channel with Quark Expeditions, before turning south to cross the infamous Drake passage, one of the roughest seas and synonymous with sickness and general pain.  We’d been lucky, and experienced the ‘Drake Lake’, one of those few opportunities a year where the water is flat and the crossing enjoyable.

how to get to antarctica

After a brilliant night’s sleep, we opened the curtains of our room, and had our first glimpse of the continent that few get a chance to see, Antarctica!

how to get to antarctica

As you can imagine, we were excited. Antarctica was always going to be a highlight of our trip, and now it was upon us. We stood on the captain’s deck, as he passed his orders to his first mate, and we began to navigate alongside the continent through the many islands of the Antarctic Peninsula.

For the next four days we would be negotiating countless enormous icebergs, glaciers and waterways, with our planned route changing depending on conditions. Channels that were open and ice free one week could be frozen and blocked the following week.

how to get to antarctica

As we made our way to our first lecture of the day, the announcement came that we had all been waiting for:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, good morning. As we have made it across the Drake passage in good time, we will be heading out on the zodiacs this afternoon for a cruise. Stay tuned for further details.”

We couldn’t believe it! Not only were we there early, we were also getting our first chance to get down low onto the water and cruise around the area in our zodiac!  We almost exploded with excitement.

Preparing for the harsh Antarctica climate, we went to our rooms to layer up! First up was a skin tight thermal layer on our legs and upper bodies. We looked like a pair of burglars at this point. Pull on a pair of thick socks and layer one was compete. After throwing on a second thermal layer on our upper bodies, it was time for the waterproof trousers. At this point we’re getting hot, we’re still in our room and not the bracing Antarctic winds, so the next stage was done at speed so we could get outside before melting! On went our boots, fleece and bright yellow Quark jacket, almost ready.  All that remained to put on were our woolly hats, thick gloves, life jacket and sunglasses and we were ready for action.

how to get to antarctica

Making our way down to the loading area for the zodiacs, we waited as they were lowered from the upper decks onto the water.

Climbing into the zodiac for the first time, we had a completely different perspective of Antarctica. We were now down low on the waters, weaving between huge icebergs the size of office buildings and much smaller clumps the size of cars. The water was a deep dark blue, punctuated by brilliant white icebergs above the waterline, and incredibly compressed, light blue ice below.

how to get to antarctica

Where previously we had looked down at the icebergs from the ship, we now craned our necks upwards. To say we were excited is a major understatement! We were zooming around the icy cold waters of Antarctica for the first time in a zodiac, it was the real beginning of our Antarctic adventure and we were loving it!

We spent the first 45 minutes in search of wildlife and icebergs, spotting our first birds and penguins on rocky outcrops and icebergs. We were already over stimulated, when the radio of our zodiac driver crackled and burst into life. Humpback whales spotted off the coast, two zodiacs en route! Whales! This was incredibly lucky, as the main season for whales in Antarctica is between January and March when they complete the migration south. Needless to say, the zodiac swung around and we headed off into the open waters in search of our first whale sighting!

We left the calm and tranquil waters of the peninsula and headed into choppy waters. After 15 minutes or so, way in the distance, we saw the distinctive spurt of water from a blowhole! Moving closer, our driver cut the engine, and we floated in the waters waiting for the whale to surface again.

how to get to antarctica

At this point we wondered what the ‘rules’ were in terms of getting close to whales. The general guidance with whales is that they have an incredible sense of hearing, so they know we are coming from way off. It was unlikely we would spook them, so long as we kept a safe distance they could come closer if they wanted.  As as it turns out, they were just as interested in us as we were in them!

As we sat in the zodiac awaiting the next surfacing of the whale, we couldn’t quite believe we were bobbing about in Antarctica waiting for a whale to surface!

And then, about 5 minutes later, we heard the distinctive ‘peugh’ of a blowhole spurt, followed by a spurt of water in the air! The whale was back, and only 150 metres away! We watched in awe as it blew water in the air, arched its back and disappeared for about 15 seconds before returning to the surface to repeat the blowhole spurt and arched back. On average, this would happen 5 or 6 times before the final flourish, the most exciting part of whale spotting. In order to dive, the whale would raise its body out of the water, perform a fluke of the tail from under the water, curling upwards into a perfectly vertical position before slipping back into the water!

how to get to antarctica

We both sat there with our mouths wide open! It was an incredible moment, and on our first zodiac cruise!

At this point it was time to turn back, we’d taken a major detour to see the whale, and made our way back through very choppy waters to the peninsula. There was one last surprise though, an incredible ice arch that had formed from an iceberg! We zoomed passed just as the clouds came in and the water got very choppy!

how to get to antarctica

It had been an incredible couple of hours on our first zodiac cruise through Antarctica, and set the tone for the following four days of excursions where we would see many more icebergs, penguins, seals and, through sheer luck, more whales!

Feeling inspired and want to know how to get to Antarctica? Check out the incredible Quark Expeditions!

Looking for more Antarctica inspiration? Click here


Key Tips For Planning A Trip To Ushuaia Argentina!

Arriving in Chile from New Zealand, we only had one thing on our minds: head south to Tierra Del Fuego at the end of the world and catch our boat to Antarctica. We spent a lot of time working out our route south, so check out our route planner from Santiago to Ushuaia!

Part 1: Santiago to Pucon & Puerto Montt

We didn’t hang around long in Santiago, and after a couple of days we jumped on a bus for the 10 hour journey to Pucon. Pucon is a great place to visit, and you could easily spend a few days there, walking through the streets of cafes and parillas (BBQ’s), climbing the Villarica Volcano and white water rafting.  After a few days you can catch a 6 hour bus to Puerto Montt, the gateway to the Chilean Fjords and our cargo ship journey!

ushuaia argentina

Part 2: The Navimag Ferry – Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales

After some serious research, we’d decided to skip the onerous overland journey through Chile and book ourselves onto the Navimag ferry service which would take us on our journey through the Chilean fjords! Although more time intensive with three nights on the ship, if the weather is clear there are beautiful views of the fjords and the southern ice field (with glacier).

And so, after a couple of nights in Puerto Montt, it was time to hit the seas for the first time in Chile, destination Puerto Natales and the gateway to Torres Del Paine.  The journey was stunning, and certainly beat the long bus journeys that were the other options to get down the country.

ushuaia argentina

Part 3: Torres Del Paine

After what turned out to be four nights on the boat after a storm stopped us from entering port, we had reached Puerto Natales, ready for our Torres Del Paine adventure!

The national park has something for everyone, from one day bus tours through Torres del Paine to hiking in the wilderness for days and weeks at a time. Most will fancy the famous W trek, and complete this in between three and five days. We spent a week in Puerto Natales, with one day on a bus tour and a one day trek to the base lookout in Torres Del Paine, and the rest of the time relaxing and planning the rest of our trip.

ushuaia argentina

Part 4: Puerto Natales to Ushuaia

And so, after our journey down through Chile, it was time to head to the end of the world of Tierra Del Fuego, a mere 12 hour bus journey and border crossing with Argentina! The journey is rough along some basic roads, but the scenery is incredible and gives you a great summary of Patagonia.  You also get to take a short 20 minute ferry across the Magellan Strait before crossing the border into Argentina!

ushuaia argentina

And finally, the end of the world and Ushuaia! A lovely town to use as a base to explore Tierra del Fuego and of course Antarctica!

ushuaia argentina

To recap our route from Santiago (Chile) to Ushuaia (Argentina):

  • 2 days in Santiago
  • 5 days in Pucon
  • 2 days in Puerto Montt
  • 4 days cruising the Chilean Fjords
  • 6 days in Puerto Natales
  • 5 days in Ushuaia

Looking For Accommodation In Chile?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Chile, we recommend you check out Agoda.com. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas in Chile, or anywhere else in South America, click here!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Chile inspiration? Click here.


Sailing The Chilean Fjords On A Navimag Ferry

With our impending 10 day boat journey to Antarctica with Quark expeditions edging ever closer, we decided we needed to get some sea leg training in beforehand! Prior to this adventure, our boat experience amounted to a cruise in Halong Bay, so it seemed wise to have a practice run before we headed to Antarctica!

navimag

Before arriving in Chile, we’d heard about a cargo ship which also took passengers through the Chilean fjords. It would take four days, offered basic accommodation and service, but would also provide the best views of the Chilean coastline and fjords. Deciding between this or countless long bus journeys to make our way south, we signed up for the cargo ship option and prepared our sea legs for action!

After arriving in Santiago and making our way south to Puerto Montt, we picked up the Navimag ferry for our four day journey south through the Chilean fjords. What followed were four days of beautiful scenery, glaciers, whales and storms all of which set us in good stead for our Antarctica trip!

The Navimag Ferry Of Chile

Stepping onto the ship, we navigated the bulbous protruding steel rivets of the ship’s loading area as we ducked between the associated lorries and trucks full of cargo bound for Puerto Natales. In particular an open top truck full of cows caught the eye, well at least we’d be more comfortable than them.

navimag

We brushed past the cargo area of the ship and made our way up two decks to the main accommodation quarters and sought out our room for the next three nights. The Navimag has a number of accommodation options, and we opted for a 4 bed room. After meeting our friendly and normal roommates (phew), we headed up to the deck to watch the thousands that had congregated at the port to wave us off. Well, the two blokes who had been helping with the loading gave us a wave at least.

And we were off! We had no idea what to expect from the next four days, but we were with friends, had plenty of music and books, and the increasingly competitive monopoly deal game. As it turns out, there would be plenty of things to keep us occupied during the journey, especially when Monopoly deal became too intense…

navimag

The Navimag experience exceeded our expectations: the food was basic but tasty and filled us up, there was plenty of fresh water to drink and they even ran lectures during the day on topics about the fjords including the birds and mammals of Patagonia. There was a well stocked bar with comfortable places to sit and read, and if you fancied braving the cold, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to admire.

navimag

A major bonus was accessibility to the captains deck, where we could watch as the captain relayed orders to his first mate, all the time making minor adjustments to our route. We spent a lot of time on the deck, admiring the view and talking with the crew. It was seriously tempting to press one of the brightly lit buttons or flick a switch, I mean whats the worst that could happen?

navimag

The deck was always the best place to go whale or dolphin watching, and many a time on our journey there would be an excited announcement from the captains deck: “Ladies and gentlemen, there are two humpback whales alongside us on the starboard side” or our favourite (whilst we were having dinner) “Ladies and gentlemen, there are five dolphins swimming alongside us on the port side”. I never did get the handle of which side was port and starboard, opting instead to wait a second to see which direction everyone else went in and follow them. Most of the time they were right, not always though.

With three meals a day, time on the captains deck, running around the ship to see whales and dolphins and playing cards, you can see how easily the time would ebb away. In the evenings, a documentary would be shown in the dining room, from March of the Penguins to documentaries on Tierra Del Fuego and butterfly migrations.

On day 3, we were hoping to get a glimpse of the Southern fields glacier. Weather conditions and visibility sometimes restrict the opportunity, but not this time for us!

navimag

We had been used to rolling green and grey hills through the fjords, contrasted against the bleak white sky for a day or so, when in the distance something different came into view. We had reached the glacier, its bright whites and deep blues offering a welcome contrast to the surrounding areas.

navimag

As we got closer, a loud crack rippled through the valley as part of the glacier tore away from itself and into the water, just as we were having our photo taken!navimagWe spent half an hour or so at the glacier admiring it, and then it was time to get going, after all we had some cargo to be delivered! Those poor cows…

Our only other stop on the journey was to visit Puerto Eden, one of only a few remaining local villages home to indigenous groups in the fjords. It was a beautiful place, with the locals coming to pick us up from the ship in their own boats to take us to the mainland.

navimag

We had a couple of hours to walk around the area before making our way back to the ship. Puerto Eden was a welcome break from the ship and a lovely place to spend a couple of hours.

Making it to Puerto Montt in good time, unfortunately we were caught in a storm and couldn’t make it to the port that evening. Another (unexpected) night on the ship then, but another chance to relax in the bar and catch some sleep before our photo bus tour of Torres del Paine and our one day trek in Torres Del Paine!

navimag

We’d highly recommend the Navimag option if you have time and are heading south through Chile anyway. It’s well organised, comfortable and offers fantastic scenery of the Chilean fjords. It is not a cruise, but offers a fantastic opportunity to see parts of Chile you would otherwise miss on an overland trip!

Looking For Accommodation In Puerto Natales?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Puerto Natales or elsewhere in Chile, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Puerto Natales, or anywhere else in Chile, click here!

 Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Chile inspiration? Click here.


Conquering Volcan Villarrica In Pucon, Chile

So you’re thinking about climbing the mighty Volcan Villarrica? 

If you read anything about Volcan Villarrica, you’ll know that it’s a climb that should be treated with respect. Despite the difficulty, the lure of climbing an active volcano, covered in snow, was too much for us to resist! In this guide, we’ll show you:

1. Our experience of climbing Volcan Villarrica

2. What to wear on Volcan Villarrica

3. How to choose the right tour company for you

You can also click on any of those headlines to take you directly to that section in the guide.

1. Our experience of climbing Volcan Villarrica

Gluttons for punishment, after only three days in Chile we signed up for another volcano climb! After our volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, our sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, and our day trekking the Tongariro crossing, our next challenge was Volcan Villarrica near Pucon. You may think we’re obsessed with volcanoes, but it just seems to be that the most interesting climbs happen to be over things that are dangerous!

villarrica volcano

Arriving at the offices early doors, it was time to get our kit on. Yet again on our trip it was time to layer up. The set up was rigorous: waterproof trousers, climbing boots, crampons, waterproof jackets, helmets and a dangerously sharp looking ice axe all checked and verified. We looked like pros, once again we had no idea.

If we weren’t fully awake after our early morning start, the 30 minute journey on a bus with seemingly no suspension (or tyres) got our attention, as we ascended to the volcano base along a rock laden road. We were ready for what was to come, or so we thought. We reached the base of the Volcan Villarrica, and looked up at the challenge ahead: 1 kilometre above us we could see the smouldering summit of the volcano.  Wait…smouldering? Don’t worry, our guide assured us.

Our ascent would be over snow and ice to the crater at the top, no nice little paths to walk along, no steps to use. In fact, there would be no walking on any ground the whole way up (and down). And so came the easiest decision of our trip to date: to take the ski lift for the initial hour walk or not. What would you prefer? An extra hour of journey time scrambling across scree or a 10 minute ski lift to cut the boring rock ladden scree bit out? Some decisions are difficult in life, this wasn’t.

villarrica volcano

With our backpacks strapped to our fronts temporarily, we jumped up onto the platform and waited for our seats to fling around the end of the lift and come back at us. At some speed, the chair swung round, we bent our knees and smack, we were on the lift and already soaring above the base of the volcano. No safety barriers here, just a wooden seat attached to the pulley system, and our heavy backpacks on our front and ice axes in our faces. We relaxed and enjoyed the views as we passed over other much braver souls who had decided to walk the extra hour. Good luck to them!

Challenge number two of the day: getting off the lift with our heavy bags on our fronts. As we approached the platform, two bulky men were waiting in anticipation to yank us from our seats before they swung around and took off back down the mountain. Feet down, a strong arm from each side and we were off.  The rest of the ascent would be all our own work.

villarrica volcano

It was crampon time. We’d first used crampons on the fox glacier in New Zealand, so we were excited to strap them on again and get back on the ice and snow. After strapping in, it was health and safety time.

This was the moment we realised this might not be as easy as we’d imagined. One of our guides explained to us how, in the event of us slipping down the volcano, to use our ice axe to halt the slide. It basically involved slamming the ice axe into the ice ala the film ‘Touching the void’.  After this lesson, we were ready for our ascent.

And so we began our ascent. With its steep sides and icy covering, we had to zig zag slowly up the volcano. Left for 30 metres, right for 30 metres, and again and again. Digging our crampons into the icy slope, and using our ice axe to pull us forward, we were on our way. For 1 hour, we climbed without stopping, not borne out of time constraints but because there was nowhere to stop (we were, of course, on the side of a snow and ice covered volcano!).

After an hour, we reached our first stopping point and got our first chance to look back at the vista. And what a view it was, lush green volcanoes punctuated the landscape, the obvious remnants of previous flows from the volcano spreading like tentacles across the landscape. The occasional cloud drifted below us, but it was a perfect weather day and we could clearly see miles into the distance.

villarrica volcano

After our brief stop, it was time for hour number two and our climb to the ridge where we would have breakfast. Off came the jackets, we strapped our backpacks and helmets on, and we were off again. Instantly this leg of the journey was more difficult. The slope was steeper, the snow and ice looser than the lower slope. It was time to grit our teeth and get our heads down.

For what seemed like an eternity, we criss crossed the side of the volcano, inching ever closer to ‘desayuno’ and a rest. And then we reached the ridge, an incredible moment! We were only halfway up the volcano, but the slope we were climbing up suddenly stopped and formed a sharp ridge which we balanced along as we made our way to an outcrop of rock where we would rest before attempting the second half of our ascent.

villarrica volcano

At this point we were both tired, and quickly wolfed down some jam sandwiches, cereal bars and water to prepare ourselves for the next stage. Again we were treated to incredible views of the landscape, this time we could see further with the vastness of many lakes coming into view. After marvelling at the view, we turned to look at the challenge ahead. This is what we saw.

villarrica volcano

Two further hours followed, scaling the side of the volcano. First it was back along the ridge we came along before snaking left and upwards toward the crater at the summit. We had a much better view of the steam belching out of the crater at the top, and in less than two hours we would be at the top, peering into the heart of the Volcan Villarrica. We had some serious work to do before then.

Beginning the second half of our ascent, it would be another hour before we stopped again. We both kept our heads down, not daring to look up at how far we had to go, not wanting to see how far we’d come. Behind me I could hear Laura utilising her usual trekking strategy of counting 1,2,3 before returning back to 1 and repeating over and over again. I was struggling with a sore right knee and cramp in my left foot. Why were we putting ourselves through this again? Still we kept quiet, and focused on our routine: ice axe into the ice, left foot, right foot, ice axe into the ice, left foot, right foot etc.

villarrica volcano

Occasionally as we switched from climbing to the left to the right, we’d swap our ice axe into the opposite hand and continue onwards and upwards. After another hour, we were exhausted and delighted to sit and rest on the side of the volcano for 15 minutes. Strapping up my knee and knocking back some painkillers, it was time for one final push to the top. 40 minutes more and we’d be there.

The final push was easier than we thought, and we managed it with relative ease. We snaked left and right for a while, and then hit a ridge where we walked in a more direct route to the top. Reaching the top was an incredible feeling, high fives from our guides and fellow group members followed by our first glimpse inside the crater.

villarrica volcano

Standing so close to an active crater on a volcano was an unnerving experience. Peering in, our snow covered side of the crater looked ominously easy to slip and slide down into the crater from where we were. On the opposite side, a mixture of reds, oranges, greys and blacks dominated the inside of the crater, becoming darker and darker the lower we looked down until they slipped away into the magma pools just out of view.

villarrica volcano

We turned around to admire the view back down, and we sat and ate our sandwiches a mere metre from the crater rim. We couldn’t decide where to look! In front of us was the route we’d taken to the top. We were way above the clouds now, and our view was obstructed by these as we looked out over Chile. We sat and enjoyed our fleeting time at the top of Volcan Villarrica, took some photos, and enjoyed the view before it was time to leave.

2. What to wear on Volcan Villarrica

You should be provided with a waterproof outer layer from the tour company you book, but in terms of what you wear underneath that, we recommend:

  • Thick socks
  • Long trekking trousers (not shorts)
  • Layers on top (long sleeve top, a fleece and a jacket)
  • Sunglasses (the glare from the snow is unbearable without them!)
  • A hat or cap (we wore caps to protect from the sun above and reflecting off the snow, but our ears were burnt as they weren’t covered so a hat would have been better)
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of food and snacks to keep your energy up (cereal bars, nuts, lunch, water)
  • Money for the ski lift and tips
  • We’d also recommend you rent two poles to help you up the volcano

3. How to choose the right tour company for you

Climbing Volcan Villarrica is not for the faint hearted, people have died climbing it and weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. That is why we absolutely recommend you use a reputable tour company to get you safely up and down the volcano. A good company will have good guides, good equipment and most importantly know the volcano better than anyone else. They will know when conditions get so bad to turn back. So book a tour company. You can do this when you arrive in Pucon, but we also recommend you check the most recent reviews on here.

Looking for more Chile inspiration? Click here.


White Water Rafting: Pucon, Chile

Pucon is a great place for those who like adventure sports, and after climbing the Villarrica volcano nearby, we set our sights on the river rapids of Pucon! Check out our experience on the rapids below!

And some action shots from our time on the river! The anticipation/fear builds…

white water rafting chile

And then there’s no going back!

white water rafting chile

John and I doing all the work it seems…

white water rafting chile

In the heart of the action…

white water rafting chile

We conquered the category 4 rapids, but if you’re a beginner or just a bit scared of rafting you can also attempt the easier category 3 rapids down river!

Looking for more Chile inspiration? Click here.


Escape Rentals Campervans, New Zealand

Meet Geisha, our home for a month in New Zealand! She was small, but perfectly formed and a perfect companion for our tour of New Zealand!

escape campervans

Escape Campervans Hire New Zealand

First things first, we know it’s cliche to hire a campervan and travel around New Zealand, but it really is the best way to see this incredible country.  And it makes you look really cool too.

We booked our campervan online through Escape Rentals, and we’d recommend using them if you’re thinking about hiring a campervan in New Zealand. You’ll find there are many options for campervan hire in New Zealand, but if you’re looking for something small, at the budget end of pricing and funky, then get in touch and see what they can do for you!

We went for the automatic Toyota campervan, and were given little ‘Geisha’ as our home for the month. Each of their van’s paint jobs are unique, and we had great fun spotting other Escape Rental vans along the way, getting a cheery wave or hello when our paths crossed.

The van slept both of us comfortably, and when the bed was put away, we had a table and comfortable seats to sit on.

escape campervans

Open the back door, and you reveal the kitchen with sink, water pump and space to put a gas stove for cooking.

escape campervans

After talking us through the van and sorting out the details, we hit the road.  Escape Rentals provide an Escape Guide, a really great booklet of what to see and do in New Zealand which we constantly checked to see where we should head next. Need some tips on getting the most out of your time in New Zealand? Check out our list below!

  • Stock up on tinned and dried goods when you pick the van up in a city (especially before you head south from Christchurch).
  • Buy local fresh produce as you go (look out for farmers markets on the side of the road).
  • Open the windows slightly at night to make it less cold (avoids build up of ice inside the van when cold – this happened to us the night before we attempted the Tongariro crossing!)
  • Whilst on the south island, you’ll find many Department of Conservation (DOC) sites to stay at for a small price and minimal facilities, but you’ll struggle on the north island unless you want to go way off the beaten path.
  • Aim to get to DOC sites at least a couple of hours before dark, otherwise it’s hard to see where to park and you don’t get much benefit if you leave the next morning.
  • Stay at a more expensive camper park once every 3 or 4 days to get electrical devices charged, get yourself showered and clothes washed (we stayed at Top 10 parks when we needed these facilities).
  • Park nearby to the toilet on DOC sites, you’ll appreciate it in the middle of the night.

Looking for more New Zealand inspiration? Click here.


Glow Worm Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

If you’re heading up the West coast of the North Island of New Zealand, a great place to stop for a couple of days is Otorohanga where you can visit the Glow Worm caves of Waitomo!  As we were nearing the end of our time in New Zealand, we stayed for a few days in this small town, relaxing after almost a month in our escape campervan, and took a day trip to the Waitomo Caves.

To be honest, we’d never heard of Glow Worm caves before, but we were intrigued to see what they were like.  Obviously you have to see them in the dark, which means going into some caves, so we booked a half day tour and headed out to see what all the fuss was about!

glow worm caves

Into the Glow Worm Caves…

With our helmets strapped on and torches checked, we headed into the first of two caves on our tour. First up was the Glow Worm cave, with a small entrance alongside a flowing stream taking us into the cave where we followed the stream further into the darkness. Once we were far enough into the cave, we turned the torches off and instantly a couple of glow worms came into view. Tiny turquoise and blue dots of light above us. And then as our eyes began to adjust to the darkness, more and more started to appear out of the darkness until the entire cave ceiling was covered in thousands of tiny green lit dots! Unfortunately it was too dark and wet to get any photos of the glow worms, so we stood and admired them before being ushered further into the cave.

As we got further in, the roar of a waterfall in the distance became louder, and at this point the pathway ended. There was no other way to get any further than in a dingy along the stream! So in we got, and floated up and down the stream as the glow worms twinkled above us. It was magical! After around an hour in the cave, we bid our farewells to the glow worms and headed back out into the sunshine.

After a quick stop for hot cocoa and biscuits, we made our way to the second cave of the day. This was a dry cave, and we spent an hour meandering through the various areas of the cave as our guide explained how the caves had been formed over thousands of years.

glow worm caves

This glow worm cave was incredible, with new caverns presenting themselves to us as we moved further into the cave. Stalagmites and stalactites were all around us, as were the remains of animals that had fallen through one of the many sink holes in the landscape.

glow worm caves

glow worm caves

After an hour, we reached the end of the cave (or at least as far as we were allowed to go) and once again made our way back to the entrance.  There are many options for cave tours in the area, from a simple dingy ride and walk in the caves, to 100m abseils into huge caverns, there is something for everyone! We opted for an easy half day, but if you’re more adventurous there are plenty other options out there!

Looking for more New Zealand inspiration? Click here.


Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Rotorua

Anyone who has been to Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand will know it comes with a certain…odour. The area is famous for its hot, natural thermal springs which come in handy if you’ve just been trekking the Tongariro Crossing! When we visited Rotorua, we took half a day to visit the local Whakarewarewa thermal village!

whakarewarewa thermal village

The village is a real living village, but has been geared towards tourism with a number of daily tours around the village.  Despite the ‘touristy’ feel to it, we were genuinely intrigued by the village, which sits around 500 thermal pools and 65 geyser vents.

whakarewarewa thermal village

The Whakarewarewa Thermal Village & Rotorua Hot Springs

We were shown around by our guide, who explained to us how the village sits above many hot pools and indeed in some places the ground is less than a metre thick.  As a result, new vents open up in the village every now and then, forcing people to move from homes and adapt to the changing landscape.

whakarewarewa thermal village

whakarewarewa thermal village

There are, however, some very obvious benefits!  Being able to have a fresh, hot mineral bath whenever you want for free.  Utilising the steam vents to steam cook whole lambs and pigs, and the precise amount of time for perfect boiled eggs!  There are also areas of the village where the ground is hot enough to cook on as well, with the hottest pool reaching over 120 degrees Celsius! Jamie Oliver would love it here.

whakarewarewa thermal village

After an hour or so of touring the village, we were invited to watch a traditional Maori performance with dancing and singing.

Compared to some of our other adventures around the North island of New Zealand, this was a much more chilled out morning and we enjoyed the chance to learn more about the Maoris in New Zealand, and see how people live amongst a very active volcanic region. If you spend anytime in Rotorua, we’d recommend a visit!

Looking for more New Zealand inspiration? Click here.


Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch Review

It’s not often you find yourself in jail a mere hour after arriving in a new country, but that’s exactly what happened to us when we landed in Christchurch!  It’s not what you’re thinking, we’d decided to book into the Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch for a night before our month in a campervan! Turned out to be a good decision!

The Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch

The Jailhouse Christchurch hostel accommodation was built in 1874 and used as jail, women’s prison and military camp until it closed in 1999. You can also walk into the centre from here, perhaps visit the cool Re:Start mall. We loved spending a night there and would recommend it to anyone staying in Christchurch!

Arriving at the hostel is a great experience, with the welcome area and general spaces feeling much more open than you might expect. If you’re into straight lines and white walls, this place is your idea of heaven! Moving upstairs, there are many rooms and also places to sit and chat in some beautiful spaces in the Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch.

Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch

Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch

The bedroom was…basic. No ensuite options here, just a bed and four walls! Still what did you expect from a jail? We had enough room for our bags and clothes, and enjoyed our experience of sleeping in a cell. Either way you look at it, it was better than the previous inmates!

Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch

If you need a base in Christchurch for a few days, and want something unique with character, you should really check our the Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch! It’s a great place to stay, and it’s great story to tell your friends…’Did I ever tell you about my time in jail in New Zealand?”. That’ll get them talking!

Looking For Accommodation In Christchurch?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Christchurch or elsewhere in New Zealand, we recommend you check out Agoda. Check if the Jailhouse Hostel Christchurch is available on your dates here.

 Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more New Zealand inspiration? Click here.


Ice Bar Queenstown, New Zealand

There’s nothing better than an ice cold drink, so we couldn’t resist a visit to the below zero ice bar Queenstown! Everything in the bar was made of ice, from the chairs, to the tables and even the light fittings!

Ice Bar Queenstown

Ice Bar Queenstown

With temperatures hovering around -5 and 35 tonnes of ice around us, we wrapped up warm and made ourselves at home!

Ice Bar Queenstown

Fancy a game of air hockey? Or ice hockey? It’s a bit confusing, but still brilliant!

Ice Bar Queenstown

And of course, if you get too cold, just go and sit next to the (real) fire!

Ice Bar Queenstown

Looking for more New Zealand inspiration? Click here.


Rebuilding Christchurch with ReSTART Mall

Before we picked up our Escape campervan for a month, we took some time to walk through Christchurch and see for ourselves the devastation caused by the earthquake in 2011. We couldn’t believe how much of the CBD had been destroyed by the earthquake, and indeed the amount of time it is taking to clear the centre and begin rebuilding.

restart mall christchurch

restart mall christchurch

restart mall christchurch

We also took a look around the ReSTART mall which was built in the aftermath of the earthquake to allow business owners to continue to operate whilst their own properties were repaired or rebuilt.  The unique solution was to use shipping containers converted into shops, and we were really impressed at how useful the containers were as shops!

The Inspiring ReSTART Mall, Christchurch

restart mall christchurch

restart mall christchurch

Christchurch was devastated by the earthquake, and the city is keen to bring tourists back after a major drop off following the earthquake. We’d highly recommend staying for a couple of days (perhaps in the Christchurch Jailhouse?) and taking a look at the rebuilding efforts!

<