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Interview: Sustainable Travel with Kate from Travel For Difference

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Interview: Sustainable Travel with Kate from Travel For Difference

Sustainability is a big topic lately in which I’m more and more interested in but also I feel is getting more and more important for most travellers.

Through the magical app that is Instagram, I discovered Kate from Travel For Difference, who regularly shares amazing tips and educate people on how to be a little bit more sustainable in our everyday lives as well as when travelling. I actually discovered so many things myself which I didn’t think could be more sustainable!

I asked her a few questions to discover more about her as well as her passion to make a difference!

Hello, can you introduce yourself and what you are working on with your blog?

Well, I'm Kate!

I'm from Melbourne, Australia and I have been blogging for about 2 years now. I'm currently focusing a lot on sustainable and ethical travel and writing inspiring, thought provoking pieces!

I am also a firm believer in peaceful activism, so that's what a lot of my content is based around.

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How did you get into travelling responsibly, ethically and sustainably?

I went on my first big trip in 2014, which was to Europe with my partner. But at that point eco-travel was not something that I really cared about.

I have travelled pretty frequently ever since then, but I only started to care about sustainability in 2016 after visiting Alaska... For the first time, I was confronted with the clear signs of climate change and from that point on, something inside me switched!

It took me a long time to realise it, but I'd say that the last 18 months is when my passion for sustainability really bloomed!

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What are the causes that you care most about?

To be honest, I care about everything (haha) - I'm a pretty deep thinker and I'm constantly looking to learn about issues and how my personal actions can help to resolve them.

But environmental destruction is definitely what pulls on my heart strings the most! Seeing extreme plastic pollution in India and the effects of climate change in Alaska are the two things that forced me to change to begin with, so naturally, they are the issues that I always try my hardest to avoid.

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How can travellers start to travel more ethically?


Research, research, research, research! It really is key.

The most important thing is to try your best to give back to the local communities, travel with intention, avoid unethical practices and be respectful to different cultures.

Just make sure that you always take the time to learn about how your actions can avoid doing more harm than good.

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Beyond travel, what little every day actions do you value to be more sustainable?

Without a doubt, reducing your meat/dairy consumption is the easiest way to be more sustainable. But I understand that this sort of lifestyle change isn't for everyone...

For me, I just try to be a conscious consumer! I am currently aiming towards a very sustainable lifestyle (zero waste, plastic free, palm oil free, cruelty free etc). But I think the very first step is to just be more aware of your purchases and your actions.

There is a sustainable alternative to pretty much everything these days, it's just up to us to find them!

Lots of people would like to be more sustainable but don't know where to start or feel like they can't make a big change, what would you say to them?

Progress over perfection!

Don't ever expect yourself to be perfect at the click of your fingers... Sustainability is loooooooong process. I used to think that our individual impacts would make no difference in the grand scheme of things, but that's so far from true!

As they say "small acts when combined by millions of people, really can change the world"

Just try your best and don’t beat yourself up!

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There is a lot of change and questions at the moment with animals and tourism, what advice would you give to people to avoid making common mistakes and not participating into animal cruelty while travelling?

This is such a good question!

I think the easiest way to avoid participating in unethical animal tourism, is to simply avoid any "tourist attraction" that has animals involved. If a company is using animals to make money from travellers, it was generally created with bad intentions.

That's not to say that there are some amazing wildlife rescue organisations that use tourism to fund their work, but it's important to do your research first! Green washing is a real thing, and sometimes "sanctuaries" aren't always kind.

In the end, the easiest and most simple way to avoid any destruction is to see animals in the wild! Go and see them in their natural habitat instead of taking the easy route at these attractions. And trust me, it's 100X most fulfilling too!

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What was your favourite encounter with animals during your travels and why?

There have been SO many!

Experiencing wildlife is the base of many of my trips as I'm a big fan of wildlife photography. My trip to the Amazon Rainforest and seeing wild Orangutans in Borneo were both incredible, but Kenya is definitely the winner for me!

I travelled there during the great wildebeest migration and it was so amazing; seeing such a huge amount of different species in one place was simply beyond belief!  

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What is your next adventure?

I am heading to Tasmania in October, which is a part of Australia that I am yet to explore - so that is very exciting!

But after that, I'm not entirely sure where my next adventure will be! I am hoping to visit Samoa, Tonga, Lord Howe Island and the Cook Islands in the near future, but I'm just going wherever the wind takes me!

If you’d like to read more about Kate, give her a follow at @travelfordifference or read her amazing articles on Travel for Difference

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12 days of travel stories

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12 days of travel stories

As the end of the year approaches, my feet are itching for some more travels and since I won't travel internationally till 2018, I shared a few travel stories on my instagram account before Christmas day. A good way to countdown, isn't it? 

But I haven't forgotten about you either dear readers so here's a recap of my 12 stories in one blog post! Hope you enjoy those. 

Happy holidays! 

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Day 12 - Planes are the best  ✈️

Some may dread being on a plane, some may love it. I definitely love it! .
Whenever I’m at an airport, it makes me super happy because I know I’m going on a new adventure. I do struggle to sleep in planes and it’s hard to stay still for long, but it’s fine because it’s all too exciting.

My favourite thing? Look at the stars and lightning 🌩 on a night flight! .
 

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Day 11 - Visiting familiar places 🗺

I was thinking, how does it feel to travel in your own country or to a place that is or was familiar?
After three years of living in Australia, I finally went back to Paris this June. It was funny to consider myself as a traveller in a city where I use to live and that I visited countless times.

Yet, I loved rediscovering my favourite spots in Paris, getting lost and capture moments like this one at the Trocadéro with my friends.

Because I think, after all, we appreciate even more familiar places when we are relaxed, visiting and enjoying them rather than getting stuck into the daily routine.

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Day 10 - Gotta love a road trip 🚗

Road trips in the USA, so many in Australia, in France to Germany or Portugal, in New Zealand, in Uruguay... so many good memories on each of those

And since I’m living in Australia, I’m even more addicted to road trips! I just love the feeling of getting on the road, discovering new landscapes, having a good playlist and sometimes singing along... 🎤

My little indulgence? Go to Macca’s on a long road trip 🍟🙊 don’t tell me this is a road trip classic! 

My most funny road trip memory was our car breaking down in the middle of the US countryside while driving from North Carolina to Washington D.C. and having to stay overnight in a random city.

And finally, it’s fun to share road trips with loved ones. This picture is from road tripping in Tasmania two years ago with my family and I still vividly remember the winding roads, the lush environment, endless kilometers without seeing a car and the fun of it... I'd road trip there again in a heartbeat! 

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Day 9 - living in New South Wales, Australia

I consider myself very lucky to be able to live and travel around Australia and my state of New South Wales so easily and still be in awe of every new corner I’m discovering.

This photo is from the Stockton Sand Dunes, 2.5 hours from Sydney, I’ve been only twice but I really want to go back again as the landscape is so magical and mystical. Plus, there’s so much to explore around like Port Stephens, Newcastle and more!

The landscapes in Australia, whether by the sea or inland, are just incredible. This is also such a big country, you can never go bored of travelling around!
 

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Day 8 - New York City 🗽

I’ve only been twice to New York City but I have so many stories attached to it weirdly

First, a funny one when I went to NYC in August 2001 for the first time with my parents. My mum made me walk countless kilometers to see this building, the flatiron building, because she was obsessed with seeing its unusually shape. I can still remember asking how much long I would have to walk to see it and after probably asking a billion time, we finally made it! I was exhausted but happy we made it and thought this building was quite funny

Of course when I came back for the second time in 2012 before studying in North Carolina, I had to go back to this specific place with such a vivid memory of it. The building was as impressive as I thought it was back then but I didn’t think the walk was that long then! I’m pretty sure we didn’t walk that far in the end, how funny it seemed like forever as a kid!

But I also have a more emotional memory about NYC. As I said above, I discovered the city in August 2001 and passed many times in front of the World Trade Center. Weirdly, we never went up the towers. My dad just didn’t feel like it and I honestly really don’t know why we didn’t go up. Maybe we had a feeling...

Needless to say when 9/11 came and I was just getting out of my school day, I was terribly
shocked and sad of what had happened and
how just a few weeks before I was just standing in front of those towers where people were coming in and out.

So once again when I went back in 2012, I had to visit the memorial which was also super emotional. Just standing in front of those massive fountains and reading each name of every person in those towers was just... I was speechless.

But there’s so many other cool memories I have made with NYC. Getting massive slices of pizzas at the local delicatessen, walks in Central Park or on the high line in the upper west side, Brooklyn views, checking gossip girl spots and more...

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Day 7 - I missed a flight... 🛫

This one’s for the mini-meltdowns and struggles of travelling!

Don’t be fooled, getting to this magical island of Kangaroo Island and *finally* be able to observe those funny creatures that are sea lions from Seal Baywasn’t as easy and seamless as I imagined.

Last year, I thought it would be a good idea to leave about 1h30mn before our flight to Adelaide from Sydney. That was on the 27 December, aka one of the most busiest times of the year to fly domestically.

I also thought it would be a good idea to leave only one hour and half in advance given that we had to park the car at the airport (I was living a bit far at the time) and then catch the shuttle from the car park to the airport. 

What I didn’t take into account: car park was full so had to park on the edge hoping it’s ok (I booked before though!), shuttle took forever to come get us, the most insane lines I’ve ever seen for check in, virgin airlines system totally broke down anyway but weirdly they didn’t want to take us.

So missed the flight. And although I was a bit angry but still calm, managing my annoyed French family was another thing. Luckily the VA staff saw my despair on my face and booked us on the next flight, for free! Relieved.

But next problem: we would miss the ferry to Kangaroo Island. And did I mention busiest time of the year? Back to the start: now finding a way to go to Kangaroo island in time to not loose 3 nights of accommodation non-reimbursed. Ouch. Thank god after countless calls with Sealink (who’s staff was so lovely), they booked us on the last ferry of the day! I mean, we even considered flying to kangaroo island. After all that, we made it to this amazing place. 

Moral of the story: take your time before flying during the holiday period, don’t book flights and small ferry transfers to small islands back to back, don’t let your family get into a mini-meltdown. And, have a nice holiday!

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Day 6 - Arriving late at night to discover new landscapes!

After traveling through a big part of New Zealand, we finished by settling down for a few nights in Baylys Beach on the north of the north island.

After a long drive we arrived pretty late and saw the relatives of my boyfriend and didn’t get to the place till it was pitch black. And as we arrived in a small sea side town, we really didn’t know what to except nor could see much when we arrived. I still remember though the very rough and heavy noise of waves rumbling down the beach, not far from our little cabin, and wondering what it looked like up there.

So of course when the sun came out in the morning, I just couldn’t wait to see this beach. And I wasn’t disappointed! The light on that morning was just incredible and on top of that, there was no one else on the beach!

I wish we could stay a little longer and that I took a few more pictures with that incredible light. But in the end it was such a nice moment, that’s all that matters really.

 

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Day 5 - if life gives you lemons, make lemonade! 🇰🇷

Last June, I had a 20-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea between my way from Australia to Europe. A little detour but I was determined to make the most of those 20 hours.

I decided really last minute on where to sleep, what to see and get a bit of advice from a dear friend as well. I was running short on time so literally downloaded maps and guides for the plane and figured out what I’d do when on the plane.

What I didn’t expect was an amazing supercity, bustling with energy, between traditions and technology and a totally new scenery for me. Now I just can’t wait to plan a trip back to Seoul and to discover more of South Korea as I am quite unfamiliar with its culture still. Funny fact: I’ve never had Korean BBQ!

So I’m super grateful for having this 20-hour layover between my planes and having discovered a brand new country and culture. You can read all about it here in my blog: 20-hour layover in Seoul: My experience. Random travel opportunities like that are the best! 

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Day 4 - Travel photography 📸

What I love about photography when travelling is the spontaneity of it. When I was on this little weekend escape and discovery this new place last month, I was walking over to the headland when I noticed this group of teenagers ready to hit the water.

I already thought it would be a good shot but then they all lined up perfectly with their surfboard and I was so glad I could capture that moment. So I guess that’s true for any travels or escapes, when spontaneity hits it can make amazing pictures!

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Day 3 - Wombats, wombats, wombats...

I haven’t posted a wildlife shot in a long time and thought about this funny story while I was camping in in Kangaroo Valley last year. We were at this cute and basic camping called Bendeela and as the sun was setting, wombats and wallabies arrived as well.

It was amazing seeing them so close and observe them munching on the grass. .
What wasn’t amazing though, was once we were sleeping in our tent to hear them literally crunching the grass right next to our tent. I am sure I literally felt one wombat next to me eating extremely loudly. A bit annoying when you want to sleep

At one point of the night, my boyfriend even thought a wombat entered the tent and quickly moved his arms around as to defend himself. Turned out it was just me moving around because I couldn’t sleep, it was so ridiculous, I laughed so hard haha.

So yeah observing wombats is great but sleeping next to them isn’t that fun

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Day 2 - Travelling Solo

I absolutely loved travelling solo to this wonderful city and the feeling of freedom when travelling alone was just amazing.

I was surprised at the different reactions I got when I said I was travelling alone (positive and negative) and how weirdly it isn’t yet totally accepted! I wrote a blog post about that which I still didn’t publish but promise it will come out.

Re-discovering San Francisco after 7 years was also really fun. To go back in places I knew, to discover new ones and try to live like the locals! I also met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for almost 5 years!

My favourite part of this solo trip in SF was to hire a bike and bike 12 kilometres in one day around SF. I had so much fun!

This trip definitely makes me want to go on more solo trips and made me learn one thing: although travelling solo you are never ever alone. You meet so many people!

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Day 1 - Travelling for Christmas! 🎄

This one’s a bit special because it’s Christmas! So merry Christmas to wherever you are in the world and I hope you had or will have a wonderful time surrounded by loved ones 💓

Although I wanted to travel so bad this end of year, I decided to stay in Australia and explore a bit more of the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales with my family. .
I especially chose this place so I could surf everyday during my little break and mostly on Christmas Day! I never surfed on Christmas Day before so this was for me quite fun and made me super happy!

But most of all this holiday, I’ve decided to kick back a bit and enjoy just relaxing and not go exploring all the time. Something I don’t do often because I can’t really stay still haha...

Just a few days now before the end of the year now, watch out for my best nine of 2017 in my stories soon and a few more snaps before the year ends!

And that's a wrap for my travel stories of this year! Hope you enjoyed those and watch out for many more stories in 2018 :) 

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A surfing experience in the Maldives by Zoe

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A surfing experience in the Maldives by Zoe

If there are world-class waves in the world, you would expect them to be in the Maldives of course! Although mysterious, It’s been one of the hottest surfing destinations for quite a few years now. So let’s fly to the Indian Ocean and discover Zoe’s guide to surfing in the Maldives!

Hi Zoe, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hi I’m Zoe. I’m a Kiwi who has recently moved back home after living overseas for the last 8 years. I found my passion for surfing around 5 years ago since living in Australia and now I’m what you might call a frother - I can't get enough!

How did the Maldives trip come up and was surfing your main purpose?

Well my husband and I decided we needed to get some serious surf time in before we moved back to NZ to start a building business. So yes it was definitely always going to be a surf trip!  Besides, our stuff was going to take a number of weeks to ship so we decided it was the best way to spend a month with few belongings. We researched some different surf spots around the world that we haven't been to yet. Initially we ruled out the Maldives as we thought it would be too expensive. But after researching some more we realised there are cheap options there!

Zoe's husband on a makeshift bridge. 

Zoe's husband on a makeshift bridge. 

How did you prepare before the trip, did you research on best spots to stay in the Maldives for surfing, did you have some recommendations etc?

So I used the internet mainly. We read up on the surf breaks in the area. My husband being natural and me being goofy we wanted a spot that had access to both lefts and rights. We chatted to a few people along the way who gave us a bit of info, but most of the people we met had stayed in resorts or on the charter boats. After realising there are accommodation options including surf camps on local islands, I dug a little deeper using the internet. I also read a few blogs and followed a couple of Instagram accounts to get a better idea of the local island that we decided on - Thulusdhoo.

Zoe on a Maldives beach in Thulusdhoo.

Zoe on a Maldives beach in Thulusdhoo.

How easy or hard is it to get there from Australia plus to bring your own boards?

Yes I would never travel to a surf spot without my own boards! We took 5 boards between us in a double and triple board bag. It was actually relatively easy to get there - we stopped over in Singapore for an hour and then landed straight in to Male - the capital of the Maldives. We arrived late in to Male so stayed a night in the city before getting the boat the next day, but if you can avoid it, I would recommend getting to your island asap. From Male Thulusdhoo is about a 45 min fast ferry ride away ($30 USD).

Zoe on a wave in the Maldives.

Zoe on a wave in the Maldives.

What did you think of the surf in the Maldives compared to other places you’ve been before?

I highly rate it! Oh my gosh it was so much fun! The great thing about the Maldives is that the reef is more forgiving/less sharp than the likes of other places such as Fiji and the waves are not as fast and hollow like places in Indonesia. So for a surfer of my ability, it was fantastic. Perfect peeling waves, but also a bit of variability which made it challenging enough. It got a bit too big for me on some of the days - double and triple overhead but it was great to watch the guys and girls out there! Also a couple of days we were there the wind went onshore, but even then I thought these waves are better than some of the waves I would surf in Australia! We mainly surfed the Chickens and Cokes surf breaks as they were closest, but there are plenty of others around closeby.

Do you think you need to be a very good surfer for Maldives waves or could any levels go?

From what I experienced, I would say you would want to be able to surf confidently before heading to the Maldives. You don’t have to be an advanced surfer - I’m certainly not!, but you do want to be able to feel confident in the ocean.

What I found was that there would be some rogue sets coming through now and then that would clean up the line up. And because you mainly get dropped by a boat you have to be able to paddle back out through/around the breaking waves to get back to safety - i.e. there’s no turning around and paddling to the beach!

We could also jump off the rock at our local break off the island, but again, you are jumping off near the break zone, so you need to be able to get out the back confidently. You also need to be able to paddle against currents, as they can get reasonably strong with the change in tides in some spots.  

But in saying that, I went in the peak season (August) when there is the chance of bigger swell, and from what I hear there is enough variability in the spots and seasons that you could pick your times to suit your ability i.e. go in the shoulder seasons

Maldives hold world-class waves.

Maldives hold world-class waves.

Do you meet some locals with the same love of surfing?

Yes! I met a great new friend Ni who is one of the only female surfers in the Maldives. She has overcome many challenges all in her journey to become a better surfer and is just an awesome human being. She is fully committed to learning to surf better and an inspiration. We pretty much hung out every days. She is currently planning a trip to NZ so I hope to see her soon!

What boards did you bring and are there any other essentials? 

I took two boards there. Both were 5’10 short boards slightly different shapes. Always good to take a spare!

And yes, reef booties are a must in my opinion if you are planning on staying on an island. Also sun protection in the water i.e surf tees/rashies in necessary.  And, make sure you bring your own zinc, spare fins and leggies!

Zoe tackling big waves in Maldives.

Zoe tackling big waves in Maldives.

What did you think of the destination apart from surfing?

The Maldives are the bom dia! The people are great, the waves unreal, you’re on island time and there’s plenty of fresh Tuna to go around. Great snorkelling too!

What were your best and worst moments?

One of the  best moments would have to be when we were sitting in the line up with only a few of us out, and as a set was approaching, we saw a big Manta Ray roll up into the wave about 3m in front of me. I was in so much awe, I almost forgot to duck dive through the wave! Other notable ones were being able to see some of the pros surf  - Sally Fitzgibbons, Taj Burrows, Rob Machado etc.

Worst moments would have to be when those aforementioned rogue sets would come in and you just knew you were about to take a beating no matter what. My new mantra when i’m facing into a big set wave is Hakuna Matata! I say this outloud sometimes before Im about to get pummeled! Oh and another worst moment would have to be getting a sea urchin stuck in my foot - ouch.

Zoe on the right with her new Maldivian friend, Ni, and her husband. 

Zoe on the right with her new Maldivian friend, Ni, and her husband. 

Your next adventure?

My next adventure is exploring my own backyard here in NZ. I didn’t surf before I left NZ so it’s going to be a whole new experience living back here and exploring the surf breaks with my husband. We have already done a couple of road trips to Gisborne when the surf has been up but I’m also keen to check out Raglan and up North very soon!

 

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An incredible road trip through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

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An incredible road trip through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

In August 2017, Matt and Kel, two friends and photographers from Sydney, Australia went onto an incredible adventure and road trip through two of the "Stans": Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Although those two countries are not the most popular destination as it's not very known - yet - they are home to magnificent mountains and landscapes, warm local experiences and still hold something a bit mysterious for all the adventurers out there. 

Discover below the journey of Kel & Matt, their itinerary, their gear, adventures and misadventures as well as pictures. 

Cover photo: Bel Tam Yurt Camp - Camp situated on the sourthern shores of Issyk-Kul Lake. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Kel: I’m Kel Morales, an amateur photographer originally from the Philippines. I moved to Sydney in the summer of 2012. I work as an IT professional in a government branch during weekdays and I like to explore and go on micro-adventures during the weekends

Matt: My name’s Matt Horspool, I am a 30-year-old photographer and special needs teacher from Sydney, Australia.

Adventure Mode On - Matt Horspool on the left side and Kel Morales on the right side.

Adventure Mode On - Matt Horspool on the left side and Kel Morales on the right side.

Can you explain your adventure and how it came about?

Kel: I’ve been an Olympus camera user since 2015 and I initially saw a post regarding Olympus Vision Project. It was a competition to grant aspiring creatives to pursue their passion project. I didn’t really think about it at that time but after I attended the Sydney Travel Bootcamp, I got interested. I originally planned on submitting a proposal for a project documenting the religious festivals of the different islands in the Philippines. However, Matt told me that he also want to pitch an adventure project and I thought maybe to just submit one with him. We initially planned on doing India but I wanted to do something a little bit different. I don’t know how I stumbled upon it, but I just found myself looking at photos and articles about the Pamir Highway in Central Asia. It piqued my interest and Matt agreed that it’s a great place to explore. We decided to do our project pitch for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan instead. After a couple of months, we learned that we got the photography grant and the rest is history! :)

Matt: I had caught wind of a competition that Olympus was running which provided a grant to assist aspiring photographers and videographers to complete a dream project. Initially, I had entered with another friend focused on a completely different style of project and thought I would love to also pitch an adventure with Kel who I had been shooting with regularly. We met in a local library to sit down and decide what it was we wanted to do. I had my heart set on India and as we were trawling the internet for ideas, Kel came across the Pamir Highway aka second highest highway in the world. We were sold.

Orto-Tokoy Reserve - Large salt lake formed in the desert. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Orto-Tokoy Reserve - Large salt lake formed in the desert. Photo: Matt Horspool.

What was your itinerary and preparation?

Kel: Originally, our focus was only driving through the Pamir Highway. But after spending a lot of time researching, we found out that there were a lot more amazing and interesting places to see in the other parts of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We decided to spend two weeks in Kyrgyzstan and another two in the Pamir Highway and Tajikistan.

Preparation wasn’t easy at all. These places are known to be some of the least explored regions in the world and unsurprisingly, information were pretty scarce. We spent a lot of time researching online and contacting people who have traveled there to get an idea of what we should expect. Apart from that, we spent almost every weekend to go out and practice shooting. I also had to prepare myself physically as I am not really fit and I knew that the trip would be physically demanding. Doing mountain hikes in high altitude and being on the road every single day - I had to prepare myself.

Picture Perfect - Sunset silhouettes along the eastern shores of Song-Kul Lake. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Picture Perfect - Sunset silhouettes along the eastern shores of Song-Kul Lake. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Matt: Many many hours of trawling the internet for information, emailing people who had ridden the Pamir Highway and learning to use the camera gear which was foreign to me. Nearly 6 months worth of weekends and evenings after work spent preparing. Funny though, it only takes one thing like a broken car to throw hours of work out the window.

What gear were you using?

Kel: We took a lot of gear on the trip. From photography gear to camping gear, we brought everything we can.

My photography kit consist of the following:

  • 2 x OMD EM1 MKII Body (with 9 BLH-1 Li-On batteries)
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.2 PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital 75mm F1.8
  • 1 x DJI Mavic Pro (with 4 batteries)
  • 1 x Olympus Tough TG5 (+ 2 extra batteries)
  • 1 x MC-14 M.Zuiko DIGITAL 1.4x Teleconverter
  • 1 x HLD-9 Power Battery Holder
  • 1 x CBG-12 Camera Backpack
  • 1 x RM-CB2 Cable Release
Lone Horseman in Song-Kul. Photo: Kel Morales.

Lone Horseman in Song-Kul. Photo: Kel Morales.

Matt: For anyone who had accessed our website you would have seen we took over a lot of gear. So much so that my two bags were 29kg and 15kg respectively. It was a difficult trip to pack for as the locations would range from sub-zero temperatures through to 40+ degree heat and everything in between. My wallet has hated me, but I always buy top quality lightweight items, e.g. tents, mattresses, cooking gear etc. As long as you take care of it, they generally last for 10+ years or more, meaning you can take more, and save your back.

My photography kit consisted of too much to name. In a nutshell, it was as follows

2 x OMD EM1 MKII Body

  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO
  • 1 x M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F1.8
  • 1 x DJI Mavic Pro
  • 4 x MAvic Pro Battery
  • 1 x TG-Tracker Tough Series Camera
  • 1 x MC-14 M.Zuiko DIGITAL 1.4x Teleconverter
  • 1 x HLD-9 Power Battery Holder
  • 1 x FL-900R Electronic Flash
  • 1 x CBG-12 Camera Backpack
  • 1 x RM-CB2 Cable Release
  • 9 x BLH-1 Li-ion Rechargeable Battery
  • 2 x BCH-1 Rapid Lithium Ion Battery Charger

The list goes on and I recommend you check out our website “gear page” for the comprehensive list and photos

Heaven On Earth - Turpar Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Kel Morales.

Heaven On Earth - Turpar Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Kel Morales.

What was your most memorable moment of the whole trip?

Kel: Ah, just thinking about the great moments that I’ve had during the trip makes me smile. :) I’ll choose one standout moment for each of the countries we’ve visited.

My most memorable moment in Kyrgyzstan was definitely when we visited a rural village in Kyrgyz Ata. We went there as part of an organised day tour by the tourism board in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. When we got to the village, there were quite a number of people and they were really kind. There was a group of elderly people dancing and they invited us to dance with them. It was so much fun! :) After that, I asked if I could take their photo and they were pretty happy for me to do so. I took their photo, printed it (I brought a portable photo printer), and gave it to them. They were so happy with it - the happiness on their faces was indescribable. It was such a great feeling realising that a simple act of giving a photo can bring so much happiness to people. As a thank you, they gave me a watermelon. Haha!

Worth the Struggle - Morning in Ala Archa. Photo: Kel Morales. 

Worth the Struggle - Morning in Ala Archa. Photo: Kel Morales. 

In Pamir Highway/Tajikistan, my most memorable moment would be when I got invited by a local to their house and we just sat there exchanging stories while drinking tea. This happened when we arrived in Langar and I decided to explore the place. I was just walking on the street - feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed by everything - and a lady standing in front of their house with her kids saw me and asked if I was a traveller. I said yes and that started our conversation. She spoke very good english and I found out that she is an English teacher from Dushanbe. They were just in Langar for the holidays. We exchanged stories about travels and culture, and I’ve shown her some of photos and videos from home. It was such a normal conversation and situation but it’s really something that stuck with me. It was what I always wanted on this trip - getting to know people and understanding the way they live and their culture. :)

Watching the sunset in Sulaiman Too in Osh Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Kel Morales.

Watching the sunset in Sulaiman Too in Osh Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Kel Morales.

Matt: I have so many and for different reasons, feelings or joy, sickness, frustration, and shock. I guess for both of us the most memorable moment would be when the car crash occurred but I will touch on that in the next question.

My greatest positive moment of the entire trip would have to have been when we arrived at the tiny isolated yurt camp at Sary Gorum. The place was nothing short of stunning. Nestled deep in the valleys of Tajikistan, surrounded by rolling green hills and towering snow-capped peaks, an area 5 star resorts would die for. There were around 4 - 5 yurts that formed the small community of shepherds who grazed their goats, yaks, and horses in the vast fields. The light was near perfect for an epic sunset, the composition was nothing short of breathtaking and there was so much to photograph. However our kind and generous hosts had other plans for us. We were invited to partake in a ‘social’ game of volleyball. Which suited me fine as I love the game. Kel, however, was a little more apprehensive. The game started and gradually we ended up competing with around 20 men, women, and teenagers, laughing, yelling and having the time of our lives. Of course, the moment wouldn't have been complete without the stunning sunset that shrouded the valley. I stopped at one stage and wondered how the hell I got here and asked if this was even real?

Skazka Stars - Sun flare over Skazka Canyon aka Fairytale Canyon. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Skazka Stars - Sun flare over Skazka Canyon aka Fairytale Canyon. Photo: Matt Horspool.

What was the worst moment you’ve experienced?

Kel: I experienced my worst moment third day into the trip. We did a trek in Ala Archa National Park and it was supposed to be an easy 4hours hike - but I can’t believe how wrong I was. I did a lot of hikes and walks back in Sydney so I was pretty confident in doing the hike. Not even one fourth of the way, I was already struggling. We were supposed to go to a base camp but we had to reassess because I was just so out of it. My mind wanted to finish the hike but my body just cannot do it. It was the worst feeling. I was devastated. I felt really broken and I started questioning if I am able to actually do the trip. And to add salt to the wound, I also lost my drone and one of our radios. It felt like the universe was against me.

Coming on this trip, I knew it would be physically demanding and a lot of things can go wrong - I just didn’t know that I would experience all of it all at the same time. Thankfully, I managed to persevere and finish the trip without any more big hiccups!
 

Serene Song-Kul Sunset. Photo: Kel Morales.

Serene Song-Kul Sunset. Photo: Kel Morales.

Matt: Basically, we were driving along a winding dirt road a few hundred metres above a river. The road went on for hours and weaved in and out of sketchy areas. As I was coming around a small left-hand bend I noticed in my side mirror, a car speeding towards me. The car took me on the inside, lost control and flipped off the road, rolled about 4 times down a waterfall and crashed into a river. It was the first time I had heard Kel swear and everything happened in slow motion. I ran down to the car to pull the guy out whilst Kel ran off to find phone signal. There are some pretty crazy videos that documented the whole experience and you will have to wait until they are released on our blog to see.

Another terrible moment I guess would be when I was sick at the end of the trip. No idea what it was but it crippled me. I always seem to get sick at the end of an overseas trip!

Bird of Prey - An eagle that lives with a local Kyrgyz trainer. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Bird of Prey - An eagle that lives with a local Kyrgyz trainer. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Did you encounter any challenges to pursue your adventure?

Kel: Nah, I didn’t encounter any challenges. Haha! Kidding. I definitely had a lot of challenges on the trip, it was crazy. Language barrier, the physicality of the trip and focus are the top ones I can think of.

I haven’t travelled to another country before except for Australia and the Philippine so everything was really new to me. It was a bit of a culture shock. The language barrier was definitely a big challenge. Every region had their own language so it was pretty tough and miscommunications and misunderstandings always happen.

As for physicality, as I’ve mentioned earlier - the trip was physically demanding since we were almost always on the road and we don’t really have much time to stop and relax. It felt like I was always tired and add the fact that you have to go out to explore and shoot, it just takes a toll on your body and your mind.

This leads me to the other main challenge for me - focus. Being tired all the time, I just can’t focus on what I need to do. Also, being a new traveller and experiencing a lot of new things for the first time, I just get excited all the time and lose focus on what I need to do. There were a lot of times that I just wanted to sit down and talk to people - which is a good thing since I am able to have a natural travel experience but also bad since I was on the trip to also take photos and videos, and I wasn’t able to focus on that.

Almost Freedom - Three horses are shepherded along a grassy stretch of grass. Their feet are tied so they cannot run too far. Photo: Matt Horspool

Almost Freedom - Three horses are shepherded along a grassy stretch of grass. Their feet are tied so they cannot run too far. Photo: Matt Horspool

Matt: For me there were two difficulties in our trip. The first being the obvious language barrier. We found that many of the young people in both countries could speak basic English which was helpful however when it came to reading signs, menus and other written text. We had to rely on Google Translate. It was quite a difficult trip to plan for as there were 4 or more languages that were spoken across the two countries. Impossible to learn prior to our departure.

The second challenge I found was how tiredness. In the early stages of our trip whilst I was driving, I found it difficult to concentrate for consecutive 8-10 hour days on some of the most sketchy roads in the world then unpack and venture out to shoot creative photos. It just wasn’t happening. Definitely glad that we ditched the car once it broke down and hired a driver.

Our Drivers Family in Tajikistan. Photo: Kel Morales.

Our Drivers Family in Tajikistan. Photo: Kel Morales.

Did you meet up with some locals in both countries and can you tell me a bit about it?

Kel: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are countries that have amazing landscapes. But truthfully, it’s  the people from these countries that really made the trip special for me. I’ve already mentioned above that the most memorable moments that I’ve had from the trip were interacting with the locals. All of the people we met were kind and hospitable and they made our trip amazing.  From people of the Kyrgyzstan community based tourism boards who helped us a lot while we were on the road in Kyrgyzstan, to the family in Song-Kul yurt camp who made us feel really welcomed. From the villagers in Kyrgyz Ata who’ve shown us the Kyrgyz horse games to the nomadic shepherds in Sary Gorum who let us play volleyball with them. And from our drivers along the Pamir Highway who really took care of us and made sure we had the best time along the road, to the people in the Green Square Bazaar in Dushanbe that was so keen to have their photos taken. There were just countless great moments that I’ve shared with them.

Matt: We interacted with so many locals it is impossible to name them all. Each with their own unique stories. All the families that we stayed with were lovely, welcoming and extremely hospitable towards us. They really made us feel like we were a part of the family. I had the opportunity to teach 2 sisters English at a local yurt camp at Song-Kul which was cool. They were both really keen to learn new words and phrases that would help them interact with guests that stayed with them. They now follow us on Instagram which is cool! Will be sending them some more pictures once the blog post goes live.

The Road to Kazerman - The incredible road which snakes its way across these stunning mountain ranges. Photo: Matt Horspool.

The Road to Kazerman - The incredible road which snakes its way across these stunning mountain ranges. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Did you prefer Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan in the end?

Kel: This is a tough question. Each country has its own charm. I would say that I’d be keen to explore Kyrgyzstan more. I feel that there’s a lot more to explore and discover, and also - the people won me over. :)

Matt: I enjoyed both countries for their different landscapes and cultures. However I think I’d like to go back to Kyrgyzstan and explore the mountains further.

The Kyrgyz Eagle Hunter. Photo: Kel Morales. 

The Kyrgyz Eagle Hunter. Photo: Kel Morales. 

What’s your next adventure?

Kel: Nothing major planned for now, possibly some small ones around Australia. I was thinking of travelling for a couple of weeks in South East Asia next year. I would probably shift my focus more on exploring and discovering the cultures of these countries on my next travels rather than doing an adventure. :)

Matt: I have a few projects in the works. If all works out I should be heading to India at the start of next year with a side trip to South East Asia again followed by a return to Italy later in the year.

If you'd like to read more about Matt and Kel's adventure, head over to their website The Stan Collective. And if you'd like to see more of their images, follow them on Instagram: @etchd for Matt and @kemikulz for Kel. 

Have you been to any of those countries? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

Bel Tam Yurt Camp - Camp situated on the sourthern shores of Issyk-Kul Lake. Photo: Matt Horspool.

Bel Tam Yurt Camp - Camp situated on the sourthern shores of Issyk-Kul Lake. Photo: Matt Horspool.

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From Alaska to Ushaia - The Ultimate Americas Journey

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From Alaska to Ushaia - The Ultimate Americas Journey

Warning: this adventure may give you ideas of stopping everything right now, book a one-way ticket to somewhere on the american continent and just live the life. Just a few months ago, Gaëlle, a French 25 years old graduate, came back from the very long and exciting trip from Alaska to Ushuaia.

I asked her a few questions to know more about this incredible adventure. I warned you, it will definitely give you the travel bug!

Gaëlle and Noëmie at the Rio Carnival

Gaëlle and Noëmie at the Rio Carnival

Marine: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Gaëlle: My name is Gaëlle, I’m 25 years old and I finished my communication studies almost 2 years ago. During my licence, I studies for 6 months in Valencia, Spain, which gave my the travel bug. I lived there with a Mexican girl who is a friend since and who I saw for a month in Mexico three years ago. This was my only travel outside of Europe before this big road trip.

Guatapé, Colombia.

Guatapé, Colombia.

Why did you choose this trip and what was your itinerary?

For a few years, it was my dream to cross the american continent from North to South - so from Alaska to Ushaia. I thought this was a crazy thought so it stayed as a dream for a long time. But at the end of my studies, with no boyfriend, no kids and no job either, I thought this was the best time to leave. I got my flatmate to come with me and we were both on the road.

At the start we planned to only do the USA, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cuba. We didn’t want to get too greedy at first but we still wanted to reach our goal ;). Few countries actually got added to the itinerary: Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and French Guinea. 16 in total! We left for 14 months.

Tulum, Mexico.

Tulum, Mexico.

Let’s talk logistic. How did you do to finance your long trip and once there, how did you plan country to country?

I financed with all of my savings from my (young) life haha! And I worked for 7 months between the end of my studies and the departure to save even more. But I may have borrowed a little bit of money from my parents at some point… I was lucky that they were encouraging me and wanted me to reach my goal.

Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.

Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.

What’s your best memory?

THE one question I get! This is the question everybody asked me when I came back and also the hardest to answer… There’s not only one because I instantly think at the discovery of the Grand Canyon, the Rio Carnival, the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia…

But I think our 4-day stay in the Amazon rainforest will stay as one of the best memory. We fished piranhas, built a camp in the jungle in which we slept in, met the local community living next to monkeys, snakes, toucans and more! We also saw some pink dolphins, chased baby caimans in the middle of the night, discovered medicinal plants which could cure lots of diseases here, talked about sexuality with the village chief and our guide while drinking caipirinhas… So many things I would never have thought of doing in my life!

Glacier Perito Moreno, Patagonia, Argentina.

Glacier Perito Moreno, Patagonia, Argentina.

What was your worst moment?

There’s been the theft of my bag with cellphone, glasses, debit card on the beach of Copacabana. The very expensive 800 dollars bill in the Las Vegas emergency room for a tooth pain which no one took care of in the end (the doctor looked at the tooth with his Iphone light lol), the car breakdown in the middle of a tropical storm at the heart of Costa Rica….

But the most painful experience mostly concerned my friend travelling with me. While we were picnicking in San Francisco, some cucumber juice dropped onto her passport which made a little stain next to her photo. We took dozens of flights with this document without a problem until our depart from Guatemala where the ground crew staff refused to let her on the flight, saying the customs in Panama - our next country - were very strict and that they won’t let her in.

Playa estrella, Panama.

Playa estrella, Panama.

We didn’t want to lose two flight tickets so I left alone thinking she’ll do an emergency passport and she’ll be here in two or three days. It actually lasted a month… The emergency passport didn’t work and she had to wait the digital passport from France but once it arrived, there were more problems.

First, the embassy took her previous passport and she didn’t have the stamp of entry in Guatemala. Once this was solved, she booked her flight at the airport but couldn’t pay because there were some missing documents she needed to bring on her departure. But she couldn’t even get on this flight because after two hours of wait, on the departure day, they announced to her the seat had been sold.

And finally when she could leave, there had been a blackout in the airport which almost made her miss her flight while a cyclone hit Panama - which also almost cancelled her landing. You can imagine I was extremely relieved when I saw her at Panama City Airport. It was definitely the most difficult time.

Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Which tips would you give to travellers wanting to try this adventure?

Just do it! This is usually the most difficult part because our subconscious stops us as it’s not easy to get out of our comfort zone. But to be honest, DARE to do it! You’ll never regret it.

Practically, travel light (this wasn’t really our case haha…), research the seasons mostly for Central America to avoid rain seasons and cyclones (which we didn’t do either haha…) and keep a journal. It’s a bit heavy to do it daily but in the end, we were extremely happy to write down all of those memories and to be able to keep them forever.

Gaëlle and Noëmie's tent in the middle of Monument Valley. 

Gaëlle and Noëmie's tent in the middle of Monument Valley. 

Travelling alone as a woman is becoming more and more common but many are unsure to actually do it. What were your thoughts on this for such as long trip, and what’s your advice?

I didn’t travel solo and honestly I don’t know if I would have been able to for such a long time. But during the month I spent in Panama and after all the stories from the girls travelling solo we met, it is totally possible. Wherever you go, you always meet people and you share moments and sometimes travels, so in the end you are never alone.

Gaëlle and Noëmie with Princessa, an Anaconda of 4 meters length and more than 30 kilos in the Amazon Rainforest.

Gaëlle and Noëmie with Princessa, an Anaconda of 4 meters length and more than 30 kilos in the Amazon Rainforest.


My advice is to not have a plan that’s too set because it’s often following who you meet that will set what you’ll do next. You need to be open to the unexpected. My friend also gave me the French “L'art de voyager seule quand on est une femme”, [the art of travelling alone as a woman] which gave me some clues on lots of topics and proves it’s possible!

Sambodrome Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sambodrome Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Of all the countries you visited, which one would you settle down for a while?

I think I would choose Brazil and mostly Rio - a city where we stayed a whole month and we loved! The weather was beautiful, hot, there’s the sea and mountains, and the cariocas (people living in Rio) were so friendly.

This city has a real cultural identity and a very rich history which makes it so interesting. And Brazil is so big, I think there’s enough travels to do for a long time. We didn’t do the Northern beaches but we heard it’s beautiful. And as they speak Portuguese, that could be a new language to learn for me!

Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil.

What’s your next adventure?

Asia, I hope! I would love to travel between four and six months to discover this new continent. I also dream to cross Russia with the transsiberian and to visit Canada - a country we didn’t visit during our trip. So in short, new travel projects are not missing ;)

Few more pictures from Gaelle incredible trip:

Mont FitzRoy, Patagonia, Argentina.

Mont FitzRoy, Patagonia, Argentina.

Vinicunca Mountain, said the 7 colours mountain, in Peru.

Vinicunca Mountain, said the 7 colours mountain, in Peru.

Sunset on the canoe in the Amazon Rainforest.

Sunset on the canoe in the Amazon Rainforest.

Monkey in the Amazon Rainforest.

Monkey in the Amazon Rainforest.

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A magical encounter with Gorillas in Uganda

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A magical encounter with Gorillas in Uganda

Ever thought of travelling to Uganda to see beautiful and wild Gorillas? If not, this interview with Rosie Richardson, a travel-addict and Director at Mosaic Travel, might just tempt you to book a ticket right away.

Discover my interview with Rosie about this incredible adventure below and decide for yourself if your next trip should be all about nature and wildlife.

Can you please present yourself in a few lines and what do you like about travelling?

I’m a travel addict! My first big trip was going to live in England for a year when I was 18. I loved the freedom that travel gave me, and I got to explore a lot of Europe during this time. I’ve since lived in France and Turkey too. I’m now the Director of a Travel Agency, so I get to facilitate other people's travel, for a job!

Can you give me an overview of your adventure in Uganda, how did you choose this country and this particular adventure?

Seeing the rare gorillas in their natural habitat has always been on my bucket list. Every now and then, as a Travel Agent, an ‘educational’ trip comes up. When this one landed in my inbox, it was far too good to pass up!

How did you organise to go see the Gorillas and what else have you seen there?

It’s very difficult to see the Gorillas. You must book a long time in advance, as the permits are extremely limited, and you must have a big budget. There is nothing cheap about doing the trek in this part of the world! The permit alone, which allows you access to the National Park, costs around $1000 for one day!

As well as trekking for the gorillas in Uganda, we also were lucky enough to see monkeys in the forest, and zebra, lions, elephant and hippo, while on safari.

Were there any challenges to see the gorillas?

There are many challenges! Once you’ve overcome the financial challenge and you actually arrive in Uganda, you must be prepared. We had to wear special safari clothes - long sleeved, muted colours etc for our trek, and we had to be fit. The climb to see the gorillas is steep. You could be walking for 20 minutes, or 8 hours, depending on where the gorillas are that day. We were lucky that we were only walking for an hour before seeing them.

What was your best moment?

The moment when we saw a gorilla, just sitting in the scrub only 3 metres away from us, blissfully munching on leaves, is a moment I’ll never forget. They’re beautiful creatures, and very much like us!

Has this trip changed your perspective on wildlife and the environment or were you already aware of it?

I have realised, since doing this trip, that conservation of wildlife and the environment is very important. Of course, I did realise that before, but when you see the impact pollution and our modern day environment is having on these gorillas, it really makes the issue real. Uganda is doing a lot for conservation, and I think they’re doing a fantastic job.

Rosie while on the trek in Uganda. 

Rosie while on the trek in Uganda. 

What would be your advice for other travellers wanting to go to Uganda and see Gorillas?

Just do it! Sadly, these gorillas may not be around forever, so to see them in their natural habitat while you still can, is magical. All proceeds from your permit go towards conservation too, plus you employ local guides and porters, which is great for the community.

What will be your next adventure?

We’re off to Bali for our honeymoon! It’s not much of an adventure, but we can’t wait to relax in luxury for 2 weeks! Then in June, I’ll be in Croatia leading a group tour.

Have you ever been to Uganda or have you done an amazing adventure like this one? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch with me!

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An Extreme Road Trip on The North American Great Continental Divide

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An Extreme Road Trip on The North American Great Continental Divide

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This is THE road trip is for the true adventurers looking for scenic landscapes. Rob Boegheim, Managing Director of Hema Maps, decided to take his company on a unique challenge last summer with a 10,000 kilometres trip across the USA, the Rocky Mountains and Canada: The Great Continental Divide. With three months to complete the trip and map out the road, Rob took on North America’s highest vehicle trails, passing over 13,000 feet above sea level and through everything from basic dirt roads to technical mountainous terrain.Discover more about Rob’s adventure, the high and lows and how to be prepared for such a huge and adventurous road trip wherever you are in the world.

How did you choose/plan the places you would go?

With Hema Maps, I was looking for a significant North American expedition to take on, one that would showcase what Hema was about - what we could do and what we are capable of. We spoke to our partners in North America - Shane Williams (TCT Magazine) and Chris Cordes (Expedition Portal) - who suggested that it had been a long time since anyone had mapped the Great Continental Divide.

The Great Continental Divide is a continuous mountain range that goes from the bottom of South America to the top of North America. We selected the section beginning at the border of Mexico to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, a journey in excess of 10,000km (6,000mi).

Understanding that Hema Maps is a 4WD and navigation company, we didn’t want to take the easy road. Where a lot of travellers might do the route on fairly easy bitumen roads and comfortable back roads, Hema were more focused on dirt back roads and 4x4 trails that crossed the Continental Divide, to stay as close to the Divide as we could but also cross it as often as we could, wherever possible.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide

What was your exact itinerary and who did you travel with for the 3 months?

The team consisted of myself as the Expedition Leader, Chris Cordes from Expedition Portal for Logistics Planning and Vehicle Support and Shane Williams from TCT Magazine, for Route Planning.

The team sections were:

  • Recce and southern New Mexico – Rob Boegheim (1 week)
  • Northern New Mexico and Colorado – Chris Cordes, Sam Hayward, Rob Taylor (3 weeks)
  • Wyoming and Montana – Shane Williams and family (2 weeks)
  • Canada and Alaska – Rob Boegheim and family (3 weeks)
  • North of the Arctic Circle – Chris Cordes and George Muratidis (1 week)

How did you prepare beforehand, what was the material involved (and cars)?

It was important to draw on the knowledge of our key contacts in North America, which included asking them to confirm the physical geographic features of the route. We uploaded our intended route and proposed tracks to the Hema Explorer Cloud, which allowed us to share and collaborate with Shane and Chris online. We also used as many printed and digital maps that we could find on the regions we were exploring.

Each field-team leader planned the day to day itinerary for the sections they were involved with. We had a broad plan of where we wanted to go and what times we wanted to touch points with the Continental Divide, but we also had to be flexible with the itinerary planning because problems could be encountered at any time, and the weather was unpredictable.

In the year prior to the expedition, we completed half a dozen short trips in the west of the United States, specifically Colorado and Death Valley, to get use to the terrain.

We utilised our local vehicles to improve our own 4WD driving skills and training, particularly four-wheel driving in snow which is a less common experience in Australia. Every expedition member had to undergo bi-annual 4WD training and accredited first aid courses. Also, we knew what to do in event of a bear attack - we had a grizzly bear run along the track in front of us.

What kind of vehicle did you use?

We required a vehicle that had long distance fuel range, a strong engine, good axial articulation and could tow an off-road camper trailer. We decided to bring one of our Map Patrol vehicles from Australia, the LandCruiser 200 series, a very capable long distance expedition vehicle as well as very good with technical climbs. The handy part of that was it was already setup for expedition use. In essence we were exporting the Hema experience to North America.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide

Once on the road, did you encounter some challenges regarding travelling but also for the mapping?

There is a whole network of tracks, and we wanted to pick a route that was enjoyable, meaningful and safe for others to follow. It was a challenge because you never know what you will really experience until you’re there.

The sheer distance that we had to travel was also a challenge, specifically the time it took to map such a long route and in such great detail, particularly due to the density of the tracks, campsites and everything else. Plus we had some new Hema explorers on the trip who required additional training on the mapping process.

We also experienced snow blizzards in the Artic. In Colorado the tracks don't open until the snow is cleared from the tracks. There were only a few tracks, such as Mosquito Pass, that were closed until later in the season.

What were your most memorable moments?

The biggest standout for me and the other team members was the spectacular country and mountain side landscape that we travelled through. We were doing regular mountain passes that were 10 to 13-thousand feet high in the Colorado summer. To an experienced Australian off-roader, terrain like that is a trail you can normally only hike or ski yet we were driving on mountains that were higher than anything else in Australia. To put it in perspective, our Australian Alps height is comparable to their lowlands. You’re in postcard spectacular Colorado mountain terrain, it’s unbelievable that you’re on legally registered roads and trails.

My most memorable moment was going through Mosquito Pass by myself, which is the highest mountain pass in North America, with only my camper trailer behind me, on the first day it was open for the season.

Another memorable moment was along Canol Rd, the North Eastern part of Ukon territory in Canada. The road was built back in the Second World War to establish an oil pipeline for the Northwest Territories to Alaska to secure oil supply for the war effort. It’s a really lonely track that sort of wanders off to the Ukon Northwest Territories border. The scenery was so spectacular, particularly as you get to the northern end and very remote. I always knew it was going to be one of the more beautiful roads that I would travel through. I spoke with some hunters along the way who recommended a track that veers off to the left along the road. It wasn’t on any map that I had and that for me is always exciting when you get to go on a track that is not on a map but in this case it was in a country that I wasn’t experienced in and really high terrain. To follow this track all the way to the old mine and the whole time being able to look right across the valley to the snow-capped ranges across the other side and find some beautiful campsites. They’re the sort of places that make you think, should I put this on a map or save it as a secret place for myself. We had an opportunity to get up close with a snow lion.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide

What highlights would you recommend to travellers wanting to take the same road? What are your trip and tricks for travellers wanting to use maps in a better way when on a road trip?

  • Definitely worth travelling the Great Continental Divide, particular the routes my team and I travelled.
  • Spend as much time in Alaska as you possibly can. The beautiful scenery is just magnificent.
  • Plan a lot of time in the Colorado sections because there are so many amazing tracks to see. It is comparable to the High Country in Victoria, Australia without so much altitude. If you want to get some practice for the Colorado section here then I suggest going there first. You’re more likely to bump into snow and high terrain there.
  • Get hold of as many copies of printed maps for the route as you can because we found they were far better than any digital maps available.
  • Organise to purchase a vehicle already in North America. It cost us $10,000 each way to ship our vehicle from Australia. 4WDs are a lot cheaper in North America than they are in Australia but you will also need someone to set it up properly before you so you know that it is reliable.
  • Get a camper trailer of some sort.
  • We found that most of the route, except for Colorado, wasn’t extremely technical so you won’t need a guide. You will be driving on generally better quality dirt back roads that we have here in Australia.
  • The camping facilities along the route are high quality. The national park services in USA and Canada have a done a great job setting up quality campsites so you probably don’t need to take as much with you as you do in Australia.
  • Be prepared and plan for changes in the weather such as a wet weather pack up routine.
Continental Divide
Continental Divide

Is there an amazing road trip adventure you would also recommend in Australia?

I highly recommend completing a Simpson Desert crossing but make sure to pick the loneliest, quietest track that you can. I just love big, open spaces where you are able to get a real sense of the vastness and isolation, in addition to the beautiful colours on the horizon and the stars at night. It’s a busy world we live in, but when you go out there by yourself or in a small group, the busy-ness seems to wash away. This feeling comes back to me when I remember laying on a salt lake in the middle of nowhere, trying to get pretty close to a panoramic view of the sky. For me, it puts a lot of things in perspective.

I myself pushed the boundaries of my known territory by completing a cross-country trip to the geographical centre of the Simpson Desert. I was lucky enough to do a trip that had not been mapped or marked, following old exploration shot lines left there from 50 years ago - pretty exciting stuff.

What's your next adventure?

We are going to extend our North America expedition down to Baja California, Mexico, a popular 4WD destination for American off-road enthusiasts.

We are also planning to head back to Cape York this year. There are some unexplored tracks around Cape Melville that I tried to explore during an earlier mapping expedition but as yet haven’t managed to get back there. At the heart of it I always love putting new tracks on the map for others to explore.

You can also watch Hema Maps expedition's video here and discover more about Hema Maps here.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide

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World Bites: the Monthly Snack box that takes you around the world

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World Bites: the Monthly Snack box that takes you around the world

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For all the travel and snack lovers, World Bites might be the thing you’ve always waited for! The World Bites Monthly Snack Subscription Box is a box full of snack surprises from all over the world with one new country each month. I’ve tested the very first box, Japan, and also interviewed Kelly, founder of World Bites, to know more about her passion for travelling and her box.

Interview with Kelly Teng, Founder of World Bites

Kelly is a true citizen of the world. She was born in China, grew up in New Zealand and then moved to Australia when she was 18. By day she works in Marketing, and she just launched a really fun monthly snack box: World Bites. 

Kelly with a Giant Pocky in Japan!

How did you come up with the world bites box idea?

I love to travel, and I think that the foods you try in different cities can give you such a sense of place. As a child, my friendship circle was quite multicultural so someone would always bring snacks back from a different country, and through that we managed to discover bits and pieces of their culture - whether it was Korea, Malaysia, the US, or Japan. I wanted to share that feeling and experience with people, and transport them to a new country, even if it’s just for a bite!

One thing that was really important to me when coming up with the idea was to provide more than just snacks. That’s why every month there’s a booklet with information on all the snacks, and some bite-sized facts on every country, so you can really get a glimpse into what each country is all about.

How do you come up with the countries and how do you choose the snacks?

I’m fortunate enough to travel a lot for my job, and as such I base the countries on the locations I am travelling to, or have travelled to previously. I always try to alternate the regions that the snacks come from too - so you never get two consecutive boxes from Asia, or two consecutive boxes from Europe.

When it comes to picking the snacks, it takes countless hours of research (including taste tests!). I try to find snacks that people most likely haven’t tried before, but are also very iconic to a country - for example, in Japan the wasabi kaki no tane senbei (rice crackers) are popular in Japan, but not many people in Australia would have tried that flavour.

Are there any countries you would love to do snacks from?

I’m really excited for January’s box, which is from China. I spent a lot of time there as a child and have the fondest memories of running from my grandparent’s house down to the local convenience store where I picked out a different treat to try every day. I can’t wait to share a little bit of my heritage and my childhood with everyone!

What are your favourite snacks?

Is it any surprise that they mostly come from Asia? I love Want Want Shelly Senbei Crackers from Taiwan! These are salty rice crackers but have sugar glaze, and there is something so incredibly more-ish about them. They’re an absolute staple for every kid in China (and probably the reason my jeans get tighter when I go back!).

I also love Pocky and Pretz - any flavour will do -, 7D dried mango, biltong, Daim chocolate, and birthday flavour Oreos.

What do you love about travelling each month to a new location?

When I start delving into a country’s snacks, I always have a surface-level appreciation for the taste and texture of the foods, but what I truly love is understanding how different snacks are ingrained in culture and history in different ways. For example, I loved learning that Kit Kats are popular in Japan because they sound like the phrase “good luck” (“kitto katsu”), or that the French madeleine cake was included in Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’.

I try to include some of these facts in the booklet, so everyone can embark on a journey of discovery while they’re trying new delicious flavours.

For the Japan box, what was your favourite snack?

The DIY toilet candy kit, purely because it was so weird! It’s a snack that I think represents everyone’s idea of Japanese pop culture: quirky, crazy, but just awesome in every way.

The DYI toilet candy! More pictures below

What can we expect from World Bites for the next year?

Of course, there will be 12 great countries to explore through snacks, and we’ll also be launching our gift function soon. My ultimate dream would be to take this even further and create ‘discovery boxes’ from each country, where we bring together snacks with books and souvenirs (and possibly wine!). The sky’s the limit, really! I’m excited for the next year and can’t wait to share more delicious discoveries with everyone who wants to come on the journey :)

My review of the Japan Box

To be honest, I know nothing about Japanese snacks. I went to Japan for the first time at 13 years old and still have a wonderful memory of Tokyo and Kyoto. However, I don’t remember much about the snack culture there although I’m sure I tried a few Kit Kats.

Discovering the Japan Box from World Bites was super amusing and surprising. The little booklet provided really helped me understand the different snacks and what they represent. It’s great to also discover more information about the country as you go.

I tried all the snacks and there’s not many that I didn’t like! All of them were a good mix between candies, chocolates, sweet and savoury. I really loved freezing Pocky and while eating them try to play the “musical” game on the back of the packet. The Easter Kit Kat was also surprisingly delicious with a pancake flavour. YES, pancake flavour!! To my surprise, I also survived the Wasabi snack, being a real chicken when to eat a bit spicy. It was actually pretty good and I got even more.

But my favourite snack from far was… the DIY toilet candy kit! I’ve never seen or heard about such a candy like this one before and this was a true experience! After mounting the toilet, you have to pour some water in it and then it will foam magically and all you have to do is drink from the toilet! The toilet can also be re-used for practical thing such as planting a mini-cactus.  

Overall I was deeply satisfied by the end of the box and not so hungry anymore (I made sure to not eat too much at lunch haha!). Whether you are a foodie or not, this cute snack box will make you want to travel even more to discover all kind of snacks around the world!

You can subscribe to Kelly’s box at https://www.worldbites.com.au/, the next box coming in France (yay!) and the one after that will be China, orders are open! Shipping is available only in Australia for now. 

The box was full of cool and yummy snacks!

I loved the frozen Pocky. So yummy!

The Milk Candy!

The best for the end.... the toilet DIY candy.

The toilet is ready!

World Bites box.

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A Kuala Lumpur Photography Trip

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A Kuala Lumpur Photography Trip

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Mario and Gareth, two Sydney-siders and photography-lovers recently went on a trip to Kuala Lumper to meet creative-mind alike friends and also discover the KL culture and its people. Discover their trip through their pictures throughout this interview and below: 

Photo: Gareth Hayman.

The Frenchie: Hi Mario and Gareth, who are you? 

Mario: My name is Mario, I’m 22 y.o. and I come from Borneo. I’m a photographer based in Sydney, and been doing a photography for the past year. I’ve been using a Nikon D750 since roughly December 2015 till now and started with Canon 7D earlier, on March 2015.

Gareth: Hi I’m Gareth, I’m 35 years old and based in Sydney. I was born in the UK and moved to Australia with my family when I was a teenager. I currently work full-time in the IT industry and do photography in my spare time. At the moment, I’m really into urban and night photography. I first picked up an Olympus M-m5 camera in late 2014 but I’ve recently migrated to a Nikon full frame and mostly shoot with prime lenses (14, 24 and 50mm)

The Frenchie: How come you went to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a photography trip? Where did it all start?

Gareth: I’d been following @azzamchemanir from Kuala Lumpur on Instagram for ages and when I noticed he’d recently posted a shot from Sydney I hit him up to see if he was keen to shoot while he was in town. We hooked up a couple of days later and did the Bronte to Bondi walk, he was super chilled and said if I ever made it over to KL then to let him know and he’d show me around. I’m always keen to travel even if it’s just a quick trip overseas once or twice a year so a few weeks later I made the decision to go for it and hit Mario up to see if he wanted to come.

Mario: It was Sunday afternoon when Gareth, his GF Jane and I went for exploring the weekend. Gareth had a thought to go visit KL during his 1-week break from work and I thought that would be great for me to join him as I haven’t got back home (Borneo) since 2 years and the date was perfect for me to leave as I was in a break from Uni. Then we start to book up the flight and hotel, also contacted our friend @azzamchemanir who's living in KL. And it was a surprise that we ended up on a instameet that was held by @stevoxmag and sponsored by the government over there.

Photo: Mario Palufi

The Frenchie: Have you been to Kuala Lumpur before? What were your expectations?  

 

Mario: Nope. Big city, Petronas Tower and yeah street food!

Gareth: Yeah I’d been in KL for a few days while travelling around Asia in mid-2015, I knew it was always somewhere I’d like to go back to and explore more of at some stage.

The Frenchie: What’s the coolest things in this city? 

Mario: It has a lot of tall buildings, nice architecture and cheap stuffs, accommodation, beer and food compare to Sydney. The culture mix over there is also cool. You will see a lot of it on the street, start from the food, people, stores and stuffs that they sell.

Gareth: I’m a sucker for bustling Asian cities, KL has awesome streets and buildings to explore not to mention the amazing super cheap food!

The Frenchie: Anything you were surprised about? (Good or Bad)

Mario: Good thing that surprised me was the nature place called Genting Highland that you could easily go there from the city as it's less than an hour drive. There are some temples there that are really unique and bring up different vibes. Chinatown is something else, some unique to extreme foods are there. I was about to try frog meat while there, but I passed haha.

Gareth: the one thing that surprised me the most was the generosity of the people, everyone we met over there welcomed us with open arms and we were never short of an adventure.

Photo: Gareth Hayman

The Frenchie: Which spots would you recommend to go take amazing photographs of? What are the must do in KL?

Mario: A view from the helipad rooftop bar during sunset is a must to try when you visit this city. There was a carpark I went to with some friends that has a crazy look of the city and you could get a view of Petronas Tower along with the building surrounding it.

Gareth: the city is full of street photography opportunities, the usual stuff like the Petronas towers are a must and there are some pretty cool carparks and rooftops you can get some new angles on them from. If you know where to look you can find some crazy staircases and vanishing points. Also south of KL is the new government office city called Putrajaya, home to some amazing buildings, mosques, and bridges. That’s definitely worth a visit.

The Frenchie: Did you meet with the locals and how was it?

Mario: Yeah! We met some of the local instagrammers (@azzamchamenir, @karyaaia, @huskar____ and many else) and also now our good friends. Also met some locals from the meet in Putrajaya that held by @stevoxmag.

Gareth: yeah for sure, while we were there we collaborated on an instameet with a local magazine crew called stevoxmag and were lucky enough to have some of the guys as our tour guides, they’re all really enthusiastic about photography, sharing knowledge, and spots so it was great!. The Instagram community there is really active and we ended up getting about 180 people to the meet despite the fact it was 45 mins drive outside of KL - it was such an awesome opportunity to meet more local like minded creatives.

The Frenchie: What’s your next adventure?  

Mario: I was thinking on going to either NYC or Japan at the end of the year. But some small adventures in Australia too within the short holiday. Laurel Hill during winter is something that I have in mind as you could get snow in that pines forest area.

Mario

Gareth: next month I’ll be travelling to Brisbane to host the first #brisbanenightsquad instameet but the next big overseas adventure will be to either Hong Kong or Japan later in the year. I’m just at that initial looking at flights and working out an itinerary stage so it’s pretty exciting.

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You can follow Mario and Gareth on their daily adventures on Instagram under the names: @nightsnlights and @borneon.lad Have a look at their photos below!

Some more photos from Mario: [envira-gallery id="6242"] [envira-gallery slug="mario-kl"]

Some more photos from Gareth: [envira-gallery id="6243"] [envira-gallery slug="gareth-kl"]

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A Tasty trip in Japan with Windar

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A Tasty trip in Japan with Windar

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Photography above of Streets - "Nanba area in Osaka. The streets in Japan are always so filled with crowds and neon-lit signs." Photo: Windar Sudjono.   

Windar, young wanderer, is living in Sydney and recently visited Japan for the first time in December. I met her in 2015 while on Instagram meets where we share our love for photography and adventure. Here, she tells me everything about her trip full of flavours in Japan!

 

Tell me about you.. 

My name is Windar and a few things about me: are I am a foodie, an amateur photographer, a dog lover (that’s why I’m part of cool dog group on Facebook. If you’re not in it, join the group asap. It’s life changing, really) and a globetrotter. I hope to be able to do more traveling in the next few years - I have Indonesia and Machu Picchu on the top of my list. In the meantime, with my trusty Sony Alpha 6000, I am doing micro adventures in Sydney and its surroundings.

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Why did you want to discover Japan, what was inspiring you?

Travelling to Japan was on the top of my travel list since high school when I used to watch anime and read mangas. After this phase of my life passed so did my interest in traveling to Japan. However, the envy resurfaced after I have been seeing a lot of photos on Facebook from my friends and of course, Instagram. So in a way, you could say social media definitely influenced my decision and my friend’s to travel to Japan and besides, we both LOVE Japanese food.

Can you explain your itinerary? What’s the best way to go around Japan?

Frankly speaking, I am not a “let’s just wing it” kind of traveller but for this time around, both my friend and I were doing the Chartered Accounting Program, so lacking of time, we did everything last minute. We started off with one night in Tokyo, one night in Kyoto, three nights in Osaka and the rest of the trip in Tokyo.

My friend had only planned our Kyoto and Osaka part of the trip the night / wee hours before we fly off. We agreed that we will just “wing it” for Tokyo. In a way, it’s a refreshing kind of holiday. Not having a set schedule and being flexible on the days’ activities depending on how we feel.

The best way to go around Japan is definitely by the local trains within each city and Shinkansen or bullet trains to travel between the cities. As a foreigner, we can buy a Japan Rail (JR) pass from travel agents in Sydney that covers the JR line except for two types of train services for Shinkansen.

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Can you describe your favourite place?

Ooh, that’s a tough question! I loved everything about Japan but if I must choose one, it would be Kyoto as a city. I loved that I got to put on the Japanese kimono, walking around the temple Kiyozumi Dera and walking around Higashiyama district.

I loved the bright red orange Shinto gates in Fushimi Inari. I loved the many soft serve stores on the streets of Kyoto. I had wished I had more time there to go to the bamboo forest and to do cycling around the city!

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"I don’t believe that I had a bad meal while I was in Japan."

One thing one can’t miss when going to Japan?

Going to Tsukiji Market to eat the freshest and best sushi out there. My friend and I got to Tsukiji market at 5am. At first, I thought she was mad for suggesting to go to the fish market so early in the morning because who eats sushi THAT early in the morning. When we got off the Tsukijishijo station, the crowd was maddening and there were some people power walking and half-jogging.

When we got there, the line was as long as when a new iPhone launches and this happens everyday! Unfortunately, we did not wait for Sushi Dai as it would’ve been at least 5 hour wait but we got to try the supposedly second best, Sushi Daiwa and it was still very amazing.

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How were your relations with the locals? How would you describe Japanese people?

They are just such wonderful people! Very accommodating to tourists and they were always willing to go out of their way to help us when we were lost. They don’t speak much English and when we had asked for directions, they would stop what they’re doing and try to best of their capabilities to guide us to our destination. They’re always smiling when we were communicating with them and definitely very friendly and polite.

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Can you tell me a bit about your culinary experiences? What did you love or hate?

Gaining weight in Japan is just inevitable. I don’t believe that I had a bad meal while I was in Japan. The food whether it’s in the restaurant or street stalls was amazing. Some of my most memorable meals would be:

-       Sushi Daiwa, Tokyo

-       Maisen Tonkatsu, Tokyo

-       Ichiran ramen, Tokyo but they have outlets all throughout Japan.

-       Matsusakagyu Yakiniku, Osaka

The only thing I hated was the amount of time we had to wait to get into a very busy restaurant but for great food, why the heck not?

 

To aspiring travellers in Japan, what would your tips be?

Have a budget! It’s very easy to spend your money very quickly in Japan – whether it’d be shopping, train tickets (if you don’t have JR pass) or food expenses. I found myself having to visit the ATM very regularly. I also realised that things are not as cheap as they would be in comparison to other parts of Asia.

Another tip would be to have a rough guide of the cities and things that you’d like to do. Japan’s train system is very confusing for a first timer and if you’re not familiar with the language, the station or area names are very confusing.

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What’s your next adventure?

I haven’t booked anything but fingers crossed, I can go to Bali in June with a few friends. We want to do sunrise hikes, have our “eat pray love” moments of cycling through the rice paddies and just have a relaxing holiday. I feel so zen just thinking about it!

 

 

 

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Living in another world at Burning Man Festival

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Living in another world at Burning Man Festival

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Burning Man has always made me dreamy from beautiful pictures to the famous Malcom in the Middle episode. I’ve always wondered what was behind the mystery and how people were living the experience.

Remi Jaouen, 29, is a professional photographer from France I met while I was in Paris and part of the photography club. After studying engineering in Brest, Bretagne he started photographing around 23 as a trigger to a new addiction. Now as his full-time job, he never stays in the same place. Between Paris and Bretagne, Weddings in the french Summer and long adventures around the globe, he chose this year to discover the mysterious Burning Man Festival in the United States. He told me his crazy adventure as well as discovering Paris cities, made in USA.

Lever de soleil a Burning Man. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Where did you go for your last adventure in the U.S?

I arrived in San Francisco, where I spent two days to visit before meeting Eric Bouvet (Professional and Praised photographer with many publications such as  Time, Life, Newsweek, Paris-Match, Stern, NYT magazine and The Sunday Times Magazine) and Olivier O’Mahony (US Bureau Chief for French Magazine Paris Match) who took me into their camper to Burning Man. They came for written and photography piece for Paris Match. It's been a great help in my organization.

We therefore went to the Nevada desert crossing Sacramento. After the Burning Man, we got back to San Francisco. From there I found a car to get from Seattle to New York which matched the journey I wanted to do. I only had to pay gasoline. I stayed a few days to rest in Tacoma in Washington State with a friend, to recharge my batteries before the long journey.

I then crossed many states where I discovered landscapes and met people. I was sleeping in typical motels at night, often in tiny towns with sometimes a bit dodgy and scary places. Very shabby and cliché of the American heartland. I crossed the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and its magnificent mountains, New Mexico and Texas -  where I stayed at a friend's who was a Burning Man airline pilot but he unfortunately had a tragic and very sudden accident soon after. So I then shortened the end of the journey and found some comfort at a very good uni friend working in Columbus, Indiana. I was late to give the car back and drove back in one go from his home to New York - 1200 km in the pouring rain and the night which was very difficult. The adventure does not always have good sides!

"They say it's the third time you really understand the spirit, how it works to really enjoy your Burn."

Une participante du Burning Man a Black Rock City. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Why did you choose to attend Burning Man? How did you discover the festival?

I first saw pictures in magazines and I liked the very photogenic look : People are dressed in brilliant way, vehicles are dressed up, Artwork is beautiful, always very surprising, inventive, ingenious and technical.

I like places and communities where the "rules" of society, normality and how to behave with others is flattened and reconsidered. Burning Man is a place with its own rules, but implied that everyone applies them. They all go in the direction of compliance, it is the respect of the other or its environment.

I can’t remember exactly what pictures I have seen first but I know I've seen a lot of Eric Bouvet, so it was fun to go there with him for my first time. I was really curious about it because lots of different things are said about Burning Man. I like to discover everything and now I know Burning Man spirit a lot more and also  why people have so much difficulty to describe it. By the way, people say that it’s only at the third time one really understands how it works and its spirit to really enjoy the Burn!

Une "art car" dans le desert. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Can you describe the mood of Burning Man? 

It's long to describe but I enjoyed the respect and the consideration of the other. No one is ignored, and no one is higher or lower than another. These are things that often annoy me in Paris, in the street or in transportation where one can feel transparent. People are often harsh with others. People get angry for no reason, for a person honking and they are ready to fight...

I already knew before but Burning Man is a beautiful proof that people would be much happier if they respected each other and if they were kind to each other. Happiness is a virtuous circle. When one makes me smile in the subway that makes me happy and that gives me strength to smile to others also. But let's say that with little efforts to respect life could be beautiful in Paris, it's time to realize it and change our habits! And it's not about money...

I'm not sure that everyone would live well Burning Man. It is a unique experience and one does not agree to the spirit, I do not think one can appreciate it. Someone who believes it's a big party with psychedelic stuff, drugs and naked girls may be disappointed or feel out of it and surely will leave the second day!

Burning Man is more a spirit and values, but in this context there is a very personal adventure. Nobody lives their burn the same way and everyone will describe their Burn differently.

Portrait de Totem. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Can you describe why and what kind of person goes to Burning Man?

It is a bit hard to describe the type of person going there. I think people are coming from very different horizons and of all age. By the way, there are also children there which can surprise people not really aware of Burning Man. Black Rock City is a really smooth cocoon, everybody has good intentions so there’s nothing to be scared of really.

If you lose or forget your professional camera, you will surely find it at lost & found objects (oops it happened to me.) So bringing children is really secure and they will even brag about it in school. People are really different but all look-alike on values and their motivations to go to Burning Man. Being open to other people, discover yourself, experimenting, respect of others, discovery of others… In short, the happiness of living together!

La nuit a Burning Man. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Was it a lot of preparation or improvisation?

The organization was rather preparing the budget. For Burning Man, we still have a minimum of equipment but it can be found in San Francisco anyway because space is limited in luggage. I like to improvise because it leaves a freedom and above that is the way that you meet people and you are doing things that no one would have expected.

I work with very little equipment so the organization is easy enough to that level. I just needed something to print pictures and also store one month of photos with two hard drives that contain the same data to prevent loss of picture, shock or hard drive theft.

"Burning Man is the proof people would be a lot more happy if they respected and were nice to each other."

Portrait de Pimprenelle. Photo: Remi Jaouen

How then did you get the idea to visit American versions of Paris?

Visiting New York or  San Francisco, everyone does it, everyone dreams of it, and everyone knows it . I am often attracted in things nobody cares about. In a group, I prefer to talk with the discrete person who said nothing than one who speaks well and everyone listens to.

One day I realized that there were many towns called Paris in the USA, so it was a fun excuse to see cities we would have no idea to visit otherwise. in my opinion, to know and understand a country you have to go anywhere. New York, for example, is a very large city that does not represent the United States - a country with many rural and sparsely populated areas compared to France. You can drive one hour without seeing a trace of human life. It was also a way to see their vision of France, and allusions to the capital. I thought it was also a good way to approach people by telling them "I'm from Paris too." But not the same Paris.

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What impression did you have of the different Paris you have visited?

This is the downside of my journey: after the death of my friend I had absolutely no strength nor the courage to do all the Paris, to go talk to people...

So I visited Paris, Idaho to beginning of the journey, it is the smallest with only 500 inhabitants where I only chatted with a waitress in the single restaurant in town.

Then after my friend’s accident, I went to Paris, Texas. I photographed the Eiffel Tower and the memorial’s guardian just next door - who told me things about the city. In the evening, I went to a bar where I was alone with the barman. I told him my misadventures and him his. It is a moment that made me feel a lot better.

I rapidly did Paris, Tennessee, who was also on my road but it was ugly and I did not find any point of interest.

What is a little confusing is the construction of these cities. There is no real downtown. Americans are all the time in the car, they go into commercial areas where there are bars and restaurants, but in city centers, even in Paris, Texas, the largest of Paris, there is hardly anyone downtown, so no life. In their trade areas they are often large institutions and channels so they are very similar across the country. And that's not very interesting to photograph. (Discover more of his Paris roadtrip pictures here.)

"I thought it was also a good way to approach people by telling them "I'm from Paris too." But not the same Paris."

La fin du burning man. Photo: Remi Jaouen

A highlight at Burning Man and / or on the way to Paris?

At Burning Man, I photographed a paratrooper who gave me a ticket to board a plane and fly over to Black Rock City. I was so happy I told all my camp. Chris, a camp friend said he was a pilot for parachute jumpers.

During my road trip in Texas, I did a pretty big detour to visit him at home, he lived around the parachute center and next to the dirt road among fields. I also jumped even though I was super scared. But I wanted to overcome my fear and I jumped, it was a great feeling! Full circle. In the evening we partied like crazy in Austin with other friends from Burning Man. It was great. I found his way of living simply as all instructors around the skydiving center very impressive, his job is to fly small airplane everyday.

I thought he was not afraid to fly every day, he lived by taking risks but at least he lived his passion and thoroughly took advantage of life. I really made myself this reflection there thinking it a lot, telling me it was hard compromises of life in lots of areas, even in love, we enjoy life when we take risks. The more we take risks, the more advantage, but the greater the chance of losing life.

He lost it the next day he would land. He took off for some reason and the plane picked the nose down suddenly and Chris died in the crash of his plane on the other side of the road. I had never really been confronted with death in my life and this was a very strange experience for me, especially in this part of happiness. It was a great story to the tragic end.

Remi Jaouen en action.

Have you faced some difficulties during your journey?

This story was a big difficulty. I assume we can be happy if we go to other easily. When we are too busy, it's hard to listen to others and be open-minded.

Then just before I got another technical difficulty. I was at a gas station and my car was still at the gas pump while I filled my huge cup of coffee. Meanwhile a big pickup came crashing my Lexus and push my front wing.

When you have problems in another country, you never really know how it is going to work. Eventually all the gas station came to support me and show they saw everything. The Subway lady even called the police to make an "accident report". Police came but ultimately it did not help. The guy ran away and despite that a customer had time to read three letters on the plate it was impossible to find and impossible to run his insurance. I lost my deposit for the car, 350 dollars, which was an expense that I had not anticipated.

Le soir a Burning Man. Photo: Remi Jaouen

How have you approached your adventure photography-speaking? 

I always work in the same way in photography so I do not ask myself too many questions. I photograph the moments of joy, life innocuous scenes, precisely everything that is not particularly interesting but all those little moments that make life finally.

I also like to see a general atmosphere of a place or event, so I take rather different picture for people to imagine the best the place where the event I want to tell. But I do it naturally without thinking about it.

The only thing for which I have made an effort at the Burning Man and during the road trip is to do more portraits. Identify interesting people, have the courage to approach them and explain why they and not someone else then do fairly quickly a beautiful portrait with a natural context is not necessarily an easy exercise. I'm pretty happy with portraits I could make.

Evenement dans le desert de Black Rock City. Photo: Remi Jaouen

Would you have advice for once on site, budget level, organisation, equipment?

For the Burning Man, it's better to go with people who are already familiar with it. The organisation is quite complex because it is hard to imagine what we are going to need on site. It is best to find a camp and join. It will be a kind of family that will support you and direct you.

For the budget you will find information on the internet with people who are travelers. It depends on your comfort, if you go in a camper that would not be the same budget than a tent. Frankly, a tent is already a big budget, and that's enough comfort as well. Just take a good air mattress, it lasts one week and you have to sleep well!

 

Remi Jaouen quand il ne photographie pas.

What's your next adventure?

I do not really know. I'm waiting to see what will happen to me, the meets that I do, the opportunities I have. I just recently met a Brazilian who I am very well getting along! I would go see, and I like to visit a country with people who live there, and I saw that country more like a local than a tourist.

She lives in São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world, and I like the big cities showing a lot about humans. They are to me great anthills where there is a great social and cultural diversity. They have their own codes. I know Paris well, obviously, as well as New York and I have a little experience in Mexico City that is in the top rankings. I like to compare things. In short, it would be a great adventure, although as always in life money is missing! But I will not complain, I just came back from a 2 month trip in the USA.

 

Remi is now continuing his photography adventures in Paris. Head to his website to discover more of his work as well as his full photography report on Burning Man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drive through Europe with Europ'raid

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Drive through Europe with Europ'raid

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Carine, 22 years old and in fourth year of graphic design in Nantes, France chose to live an amazing adventure for the European summer. During 23 days, she crossed 23 countries in a Peugeot 205 for a humanitarian, cultural and sporty raid full of sensations.

Devant la mairie de la ville qui accueillait les participants, Nowy Sacz, Pologne.

What is Europ’Raid?

Europ’Raid is a humanitarian, cultural and sporty raid. We cross Europe by doing 10,000 kilometres in 23 days in Peugeot 205 cars. We also bring with us almost 2 tons of school supplies to give them to orphanages in Bulgaria and Romania.

The road is simple, we leave from France and we get to the further point on Europe, in Turkey and especially Istanbul which is the most important stage of the raid. We cross 19 countries in total.

Each day, there are some stops offered in a road book - it can be some water falls, lakes, capital cities, caves. All that makes Europe rich in heritage. We do about two to three stops per day.

The goal is to see most of the things in a very small amount of time. It is kind of a “bing travelling” life.

Venise, Italie. Credit: Carine Guillaud.

Why did you choose this adventure?

The association posted an announcement in my school because they were looking for photographers and videographers for the whole raid. A golden opportunity for me! Photograph daily insane landscapes and discover all that Europe has to offer was more than a dream. It was also the opportunity to push limits, get out of the comfort zone. At night, we were sometimes sleeping outside and we didn’t have daily showers… Each day was unique with a different country, a different language, a different tradition, a different landscape. In short, each day was bringing surprises - whether they were negative or positive.

 

"On 14 cars at the start, only 8 came back to France."

 

Do you need to know about cars and technical stuff before doing this kind of adventure?

At first, no. Anyone can launch themselves in this adventure without having lots of mechanical skills. However, during the preparation you have to get interested in it and therefore you quickly learn the basics like changing a tire, know where is the alternator and check the oil level.

During the raid, we got very lucky because each time we broke down, we had the adventure mechanic with us. But the mechanical is the most difficult and unpredictable part of the raid. On 18 cars at first, only 8 came back to France. The second day, we had to drive up to 2,000 metres in the Swiss mountains. For 20 year-old cars, it was quite rough.

"Problème mécanique, on est restées 2h sur place en bulgarie et y a un mec local qui vivait là qui nous a aidé" Crédit: Carine Guillaud.

What did you discover during the travel?

Honestly I discovered so many things… but what I loved the most was Istanbul. The atmosphere in there is so crazy, the colors of the city are insane and the scenery is amazing. I loved crossing Slovenia, we don’t really hear much about it but it was the most beautiful country I crossed with its rivers and lakes that take your breath away. In Bulgaria, I was really touched by the Bouzloudja. It is an old building by the communist party that is now in ruins, and you see all the remains of a time that is not so far away from now. Then in general, we got to discover how to live and think like the locals. Each night, we had bivouacs organised and the people were coming in masses to welcome us. The discussions were always very animated, especially in Bosnia or Serbia where the wounds are still not healed.

Istanbul, Turquie. Crédit: Carine Guillaud.

 

Was there a moment that was particularly important for you?

When we arrive in Bulgaria, we installed our bivouac and we saw the city was on fire. When we got down to eat, 500 people were waiting for us. All the inhabitants dressed traditionally and did a guard of honor, it was crazy! They did a show just for us with traditional songs and dances. It was being welcomed as a President!

"I am thinking about only one thing, leaving again, further and longer."

Did you have some difficulties on the way?

In some of the Eastern countries, the roads are really in a bad state and it happened that sometimes we had to go on very dodgy ways. In Serbia, we drove up a mountain for 10 minutes and once at the top, the wheel was literally broken in two. So we had to drive back, we were 7 cars. Apart from that, all went very good.

Le transfagaran, l'une des plus hautes route de roumanie, près de 2000 mètres. Crédit: Carine Guillaud

What did you feel once the adventure was over?

I can’t land. I just want one thing, it is to leave again, further and longer. When we left, we were 42 strangers and now I consider them as very special friends. Each day, we got up with the excitement of discovering new things. So when it stops and you have to go home, alone, the back to reality is quite hard. Even if you tell what you did to your friends, if you don’t live it, it is impossible to imagine how crazy it was.

Carine dans sa voiture ultra-chargée.

What is the best way to get ready for this kind of adventure?

One needs to really get ready mechanically. The car must be the most reliable because it will really suffer. Also, to prepare stuff before the raid is important because when we leave to 3 weeks, with almost no comfort, one needs to be equipped (Thank god for wipes!). And mostly, I think one should not expect for anything in particular, let the things go and surprise you all the time. Be a sponge and take all what you can get.

Bouzloudja, l'ancienne maison du parti communiste bulgare. Crédit: Carine Guillaud

What is your next adventure?

Ah if only I knew! I want to complete my European tour with Scandinavian countries and why not do an internship there because the design culture is insane there! Then I am not making too many projects, Europ’raid came to me only 2 months before leaving! We never know what can happen. In 6 months, maybe I’ll be in Sydney, who knows :)?

 

Un panneau au coin d'un carrefour en Roumanie. Crédit: Carine Guillaud.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Incredible hike of the Appalachian Trail

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The Incredible hike of the Appalachian Trail

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Chloë de Camara, 24-year-old american girl graduated from UNC-Asheville in December of  2013 with a double-major in French and Religious Studies. As of recently, she hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail from March 25th to August 13th, 2015! Discover her incredible adventure here:

 

Can you tell me a bit about the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a long-distance trail that runs along the Appalachian Mountain range between Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in central Maine. It was first thought up by Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery in the 1920s, and officially created in 1937. The first person to “thru-hike” (meaning walk from one terminus to the other) was Earl Shaffer in 1951. Since then, approximately 15,000 people have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The trail traverses through 14 states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), each state having their own unique challenges and differences in terrain.

 

 

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Why did you choose this particular trail?

My obsession with the Appalachian Trail started with my undergraduate thesis at UNC-Asheville. I argued that “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail held certain religious characteristics, and could be seen as a new form of “lived religion” (faith and practice in everyday life). Thus, I got to study the A.T. from a philosophical and academic point of view for close to two years. Through my studies I met incredible people who had previously thru-hiked the trail and spoke with such enthusiasm about their experiences that I started to consider the idea of hiking it myself one day. By the time I graduated, it was decided. There was no way in hell I was going to dedicate that much time to researching the act of thru-hiking without making an honest attempt myself. The A.T. also is near to where I lived at the time, Asheville, NC. So it seemed like an easy decision. I had just graduated school and had no real obligations tying me down.

 

"To hike all day everyday for ~5 months without bad or difficult moments is impossible."

 

Can you describe what you were  carrying with you?

I carried an average of 30 lbs in my backpack. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The essentials consisted of: 1-person tent, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping pad, dry clothes to sleep in, cook kit (stove, pot, spork), fuel, databook (the Bible of the A.T.), camera, food, and water. You would hike through towns to resupply on food, so it was always awesome hiking into town because your pack was so much lighter. Hiking out of towns (which typically required a big climb out of the lower elevation) was a different story. A full resupply of food could be felt in every step up that mountain.

 

 

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What’s the best moment you’ve lived on this journey?

That’s an incredibly hard question! Without trying to sound cliche walking up to the summit of Mt. Katahdin (northern terminus of the A.T.) was a rather incredible moment to experience. I could see the summit, while trying not to stumble over my feet as I walked closer and closer to the “end.” I kept making erratic squeals of excitement (good thing I was alone), and then I reached the iconic sign at the top. I’d seen so many pictures of previous thru-hikers’ summit photos, but to physically stand in front of this sign after walking for so long...it’s almost inexplicable. I collapsed on the front of the sign and tears came rushing to my eyes. Tears of joy, exhaustion, excitement, and disbelief. I finally screamed, “Oh my god!”, and a couple of the men I had been hiking with for the last week turned and saw that I had made it. They cheered and got pictures of me with the sign before coming over to give me some of the most genuine hugs I’ve ever given/received in my life. Ahhhhh that day will forever stay with me as one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced!

 

 

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Did you experience any bad or difficult moment?

Ha! Everyday. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is not fun. It can be fun at certain points, but everyday is hard. Whether is be a physically demanding 3,000 ft ascent with a heavy pack, non-stop mosquitos, sweltering heat, downpours, aching feet, etc. there will always be something challenging to encounter. To hike all day everyday for ~5 months without bad or difficult moments is impossible. Sometimes just waking up, convincing yourself to get out of your sleeping bag, and start hiking all day is the hardest part. There certainly is a sense of mundanity that goes along with everyone’s thru-hike.

How would you sum up your experience in 2 sentences?

It’s an ineffable experience that can never be summed up into just two sentences. However, this journey led me to more self-discovery, friendships, laughter, discomfort, and honesty than I’ve ever experienced before.

 

 

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What was the feeling when you made it to the end?!

Shock, awe, excitement, sadness, triumph, and fear.

Did this experience change you?

I believe so, yes. Physically my body will never be the same. Mentally, I think I’m going to continue to see how the A.T. has and will continue to affect me. For the better I hope! A friend once told me, that “the A.T. ruins your life in the best way possible.” So far I tend to agree with that statement. The A.T. has given me a taste of an atypical life, and it’s hard to look at life without this new perspective. I feel like I have a new set of eyes, and I’m ready to embark on the next chapter of life with a higher level of confidence.

 

 

"Having a healthy relationship with nature and the trail is crucial."

 

 

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What would you say to people wanting to hike this trail?

Know what you’re getting yourself into. Thru-hiking the A.T. is not easy, and don’t expect it to be a simple walk in the woods. Unless you’re willing to grow as a person, and accept all qualities of yourself (the good, bad, ugly, and smelly), then a thru-hike would not be an enjoyable experience.

How did your passion for hiking start?

My thesis really sparked my interest, but it wasn’t until after I graduated and decided that I wanted to thru-hike the following year that I started really hiking. I forced a couple guys, whom I’d known for years, to take me backpacking for the first couple of times. I didn’t care how many mistakes I made in front of them (which were countless), I just wanted to be outside and start challenging myself! It was an awesome transition to be a part of. From depending on others to do everything, to becoming my own motivator and climbing up and down literally hundreds of mountains.

 

 

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What is your relationship with nature?

That of respect. Having a healthy relationship with nature and the trail is crucial. Hiking on established trails up to the peaks of mountains can be exhilarating, but it’s important to acknowledge that we have an impact on the terrain. There are specific Leave no Trace ethics everyone can follow to ensure a better wilderness experience for those who come next. But, in honesty, I like to think that by being a decent human being and respecting the land (i.e. packing out whatever you pack in, cleaning up trash, staying on established trails rather than making more impact on the surrounding vegetation) that’s giving us the opportunity to observe its beauty in the first place. It’s also important to acknowledge your own limits in nature. Respect the power of nature and its ability to harm you. Getting caught in a lightning storm on top of a mountain makes one realize just how little control they have over nature. Thus, it’s important to come prepared and pay attention to your surroundings.

 

What is your next adventure?

As for now, it’s building up my resume to help me eventually get work in the outdoor stewardship or conservation fields. However….I wouldn’t be opposed to another long-distance hike in a couple years. Maybe the Pacific Crest Trail? Ha! We’ll see :D

 

 

 

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Discovering Europe

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Discovering Europe

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Discovering Europe with Australian eyes

What is usual for Europeans is actually exceptional for many people living outside of the famous continent. It is exceptional for Europeans to go outside and discover the world, but I’ve noticed it is even more exciting when Australians are going to Europe for the first time. It is such a mysterious, faraway and iconic fantasy. I’ve never heard of anyone being disappointed by it, it really is a must-do. Here is the story of Alice, young Australian girl, who left Australia to discover Europe for the First Time. 

 

 

 

Alice in front of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

 

Can you tell me a bit about the trip you did in Europe?

My boyfriend Fraser and I went travelling for two and a half months and covered most of Western Europe (and a bit of Eastern). We began our trip with a week in London over Christmas, before hopping on the EuroStar to Paris, where we spent another week over New Years. After Paris, we spent a month and a half travelling by EuRail to Lyon, Geneva, Lucerne, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Ypres, and then back to the UK where we did a road trip around England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

 

 

 

In Amsterdam

 

Which places were memorable?

 

Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve been to, and getting lost in it is something I really loved. The Louvre is an obvious attraction, but I actually preferred both the Musee d’Orsay and the smaller Musee de l’Orangerie for their impressionist collections. There’s nothing like waking up early and walking through the back streets of Paris – the smell of freshly baked breads and croissants followed us everywhere and we couldn’t help but stumble upon a beautiful little boulangerie for a yummy baguette or almond croissant.

Having studied a lot of recent Germany history in school, walking around the streets of Berlin and seeing where the events I’d read about had actually taken place really made me appreciate the challenges the city had to live through for so many years. Walking through the Holocaust Memorial, decommissioned World War II and Cold War bunkers and Stasi prisons were emotional experiences.

Amsterdam is such a cool city! I couldn’t stop taking photos of the narrow, crooked houses along the canals, which looked all the more beautiful against a grey and wintery backdrop. We started every morning with Dutch Pancakes – a fantastic way to begin a day of walking around the city. We ended one of the nights with a walking tour around the red light district, which really opened my eyes to an industry I quickly realised I didn’t know much about.

Honourable mention to Prague and Bruges, which were both stunning!

 

 

Sunset in Paris

 

What made you want to discover Europe?

 

As a girl who’s spent her entire life in Sydney, Australia, Europe was somewhere I wanted to go to experience art, history, architecture and food. Every city we visited had its own culture and I loved getting to see parts of history that I had read about but never seen. We also really wanted to experience a wintery Christmas in the northern hemisphere! We had romantic ideas of walking around the London streets in the cold with cups of steamy mulled wine in our hands stumbling upon Christmas carols, which we did many times!

 

 

Christmas lights on Oxford St, London

Europe was somewhere I wanted to go to experience art, history, architecture and food

 

How did you organise to make it a perfect trip?

 

Firstly we sat down together and decided which cities we wanted to visit and how much time we had to spend in each place. We decided that we would travel between cities using EuRail and that we would stay in private accommodation using AirBNB. We booked all accommodation before we left because we knew exactly where we wanted to go and didn’t want to miss out on anything with the time that we had. We also did research into what each city had to offer, but ensured that every activity we did served our own interests rather than what the tourist websites told us to do. In saying that, TripAdvisor was our best friend for little tips, trips and reviews!

 

 

Alice next to Saint Paul in London

What would you definitely recommend for future travellers?

 

We would definitely recommend using AirBNB if you’re after comfortable, private accommodation. While hostels are great for backpacking with friends, we thought private apartments would suit our needs best as a couple travelling for several months in winter. We had excellent experiences in all the places we stayed for great prices! We’d also recommend EuRail which gave us the freedom to travel as many times within Europe in 2 months as we liked. EuRail was an affordable, reliable and no-fuss way of travelling between cities and countries. We’d also recommend walking tours! We did walking tours in Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Amsterdam and every one of them was great! You get such an interesting insight into the history of the city in just a couple of hours which allows you to really make the most of your time in the city.

 

 

 

 

Prague from above

Walking a couple of hours allows you to really make the most of your time in the city.

 

Are there any things that you wish you would have done during this trip?

 

Having never been to Europe before, I tried to get as many recommendations for ‘must-do’ places before we left from friends and family who had already travelled around Europe, and we structured parts of our trip so as to include as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, as a result of doing this we ended up spending several nights in a few places that we felt we ‘had to’, but upon arrival quickly realised that there wasn’t actually much there that appealed to our own interests. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken the time spent in those places and put it into places that, from my research, I knew we’d get a lot out of. One place in particular that I think we really missed out on is Budapest - especially since we were so close to it while in Vienna.

The other big thing I wish we’d done is to keep the cultural experiences of the trip as authentic as possible - especially when it came to food. Overall we tried to eat as much authentic local food as possible, but we definitely came to realise that the best food is found far away from the touristy spots. I wish we had stuck solely with the ‘eat where the locals eat’ mentality throughout to avoid some of our more negative food experiences in the touristy areas.

 

 

The Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

How does it feel for an Australian girl to discover Europe for the first time?

 

Europe was incredible! I really got what I wanted out of the trip. It opened my eyes to art, culture, architecture and history that I’ve only ever read about in books. The feeling I got in Europe was very different to Australia. Walking around every city I could feel and see the history around me, which is something I’ve never really experienced where I live. Everywhere I looked was inspiring and I definitely want to return soon.

 

alice under the Eiffel Tower

Would you go back to one of the places and explore it more?

 

I would love to go back to many of the places! For some time now I’ve dreamt of working in London – a city full of ambitious people where there seems to always be something new on. I will also definitely be returning to Paris, in my opinion the most beautiful city I’ve been to. I would never get tired of the cobbled streets, the old buildings, the art galleries, the baguettes and the walkways along the Seine.

 

Walking around every city I could feel and see the history around me

 

A future trip in your mind?

 

There are so many places I would love to travel but I’m currently lusting over Japan, Scandinavia and New York. Luckily enough I’m currently planning a trip to New York with my family at the end of the year, and Fraser and I are thinking of doing Japan next year! There are so many cultures I want to open my mind to so can’t wait :)

 

Bruges at night, Belgium

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Iceland: The Great Adventure of a Junior Musher

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Iceland: The Great Adventure of a Junior Musher

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Pierre, 22 , left for a unique adventure for several months in Iceland. Now back in France, he told me his story.  16134438913_c5623f38bb_k

"I wanted my mind and my body to be challenged"

 

When did you leave for Iceland and for what purpose?

I left in early February 2015, wanting a real adventure. This was the first big trip for me, I didn’t want to only go from A to B (I think this is just physically moving, not travelling) but really live an experience. Something that will be a part of me for several months. To create a new life and become someone else.

After lots of research, I found a website called Workaway.info which offers opportunities abroad. I applied to work in Norway, Finland, Patagonia and Iceland. I got offered all the jobs available - I think I'm very lucky. So I chose Iceland! To live in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere and drive a dog sled sounded quite exciting. I wanted my mind and my body to be challenged. I don’t like ease!

 

Where did you live and with whom?

On a mountain called Skalafell, about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. I left alone, with only two backpacks and my equipment. I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone else! I also needed to live this adventure on my own.

 

"We had one law: "dogs first!""

 

What would be a typical day for an Icelandic Musher?

 

Wake up time at 8 o’clock for coffee and to quickly prepare breakfast, especially to have time to get ready for the cold, rain, wind and snow. Mother nature will not be kind to you in Iceland.

Once you’re up, the dogs are too and you have to go clean the kennel at 9 ’o’clock. Once everything is clean, you move the dogs from the same team on the same line. It makes it easier to then set the dogs on the sled. We put two “lead dogs” first, followed by the “team dogs, and then the two last ones - the “wheel dogs”. Each dog has a very specific role and it's important to correctly choose dogs for a great run and good atmosphere.

We then install sleds near the team that will run.  They have different sizes and we choose them based on the weight and the number of clients we will have. The number of dogs also differs based on the weather and snow conditions (compact or soft.) We tie the gangline - a long central rope attached to the sled which has necklines (for the collar) and tuglines (tied behind the dog’s harness). We make sure that the snap hooks are well locked and that the bungee (which absorbs shocks between the gangline and the sled to ease the dogs) is in good shape.

Then comes the time to prepare dogs with their harnesses. Each dog has a different harness size so you have to be careful! A smaller size will compress the dog and cause irritations and limit him in his movements.

Once the dogs are equipped and the sleds ready, we welcome the customers. We prepare them with a thermal full-body suit and then explain how to behave on the sled. First start is at 10 o’clock. A tour is about 45 minutes and are from 6 to 9 kilometres based on weather conditions. When we go back, we take the equipment off the dogs and then re-start the process. We go on with the tours at 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and then midnight. Hours can vary across the winter and from weather conditions.

In between each tour, we have about 30 minutes to rest and eat something.

Between the sunset tour at 4pm and the midnight tour starting at 11pm, we feed the dogs. They need about three to four hours to digest their food so the feeding has to be done quickly. We take some time to rest and eat together and then we go outside at 10pm with headlamps and do the same process - but in the dark and with colder temperatures, under the northern lights.

After the last tour, we give food again to the dogs, check the chains and then we go to sleep. By now it's generally about 1 o’clock in the morning, however one dog can detach himself so they all start to bark. We have to run outside and catch the loose dog. In underwear or storms, it doesn’t matter! We have to be quick even with no time to dress. We had one law: dogs first!

Finally, when there is no tour, we clear the trucks from the snow, repair the sleds, clean the cabin, resew the harnesses or take a dog, put the harness on and hike! We never get bored, there is always something to do.

In short, the days of a Musher are intense!

 

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What is your best memory?

Driving my dog sleds at midnight, without my frontal lamp (it died from being too cold) under the Northern lights and the full moon. It was a wonderful moment which will be indelibly printed in my memory. And there is also this adrenaline rush when you ask your dogs to run and they pull the sled like never before. This chemistry with the dogs, I think it was the best memory I could have.

 

Did you ever have a scary, anxious or bad moment to deal with?

The first day, when I heard the other mushers talking, I thought that I would never fit in: my English was not up to standard! In the end, they reassured me and I realised it was nothing complicated. It’s like everything, you need to jump and then life goes on.

Also, the fear of hurting the dogs during declinations: without breaking early enough, the sled can hit the dogs. Otherwise we had storms. A tour can start under the sun and then get ambushed by a blizzard. We needed to stay calm, find the slope and reassure the clients, not to think about the weather freezing hands and feet as well as making sure the dogs were okay… Sometimes the pressure is not easy to deal with. That’s why a Musher needs to learn how to be calm and watchful 24 hours a day.

 

"The dogs are like the mirror of your personality."

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What was your relationship with the dogs and with the other people?

 

I made 36 new friends! I was very close to my dogs. I needed to gain their trust and respect which can take a long time depending on your attitude and your personality. I also needed to stay calm and act like a leader, controlling your emotions. I think you change a lot when you’re working with dogs. They are like the mirror of your personality: if you are aggressive, they will be too. But if you are calm and happy, they will be too! I have never met any animals that are so generous. Give them love and they will give you double or triple.

For other people, mushers have very strong personalities. Working in such harsh conditions and leading powerful dogs required stubbornness and responsibility. Sometimes there are some disputes between mushers because their points of view can be different, but overall there is a very good atmosphere. When you live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, with the same people for several months, you need to get on with each other!  

"It’s another way of living that I discovered."

 

What do you retain from this experience? Did it change you?

I fulfilled my goals, I lived what I wanted to live and so much more. As I said before, working with dogs changes you like crazy. You learn how to stay calm no matter the situation, to find a solution quickly, to deal with clients’ personalities and to be satisfied with little. It’s another way of living that I discovered.

For example, we didn’t have any running water. Which means we had only one shower a week, or not. You also learn how to manage with what you have! One stormy day, the power was out. So we decided to use antibacterial gel to cook an omelet! You forget all the comforts of modern life and you get on with a much simpler way of living; you use only what you need and you are more eco-friendly. 'Back to basics' was much needed in my opinion.

Today I live differently every day. I am not leaving the water running when I wash the dishes or when I brush my teeth. I am not washing my clothes every day. I 'DIY' more and I take time, simple as that.

I used to live a much slower life there and I re-discovered reading. I read more than 10 books during my trip. I would have never read 10 books within 3 months in France.

These three intense months definitely made me the change what I needed to.

 

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"Iceland invites you to an adventure and is full of hidden places that are waiting to be discovered."

 

How would you describe Iceland?

An wild beauty. In there, nature takes over everything and you feel so weak and so destitute when face with bad weather.

 

What would you recommend in Iceland?

Dog sledding? Haha. I will definitely recommend not following the tourist circuit. For example, if you want to see the Northern Lights, rent a car and go into a lonely place where you can see the sky. You don’t have to pay for a tour. For the Blue Lagoon, it is true that it’s beautiful. There are thousands of hot spring sources in Iceland! Go for a hike and find your own spring. You could swim naked.

Iceland invites you to an adventure and it is full of hidden places that are waiting to be discovered. Get good equipment, watch the weather conditions and organise your own road trip.

There are also the classics such as the Golden Circle, the geyser - I also strongly recommend diving in the Silfra Crack, which is located in the Thingvallavatn Lake in the Thingvellir national park. It is a crack between two tectonic plates where the water is so pure and clear that you can see everything under the surface. It reveals shades of blue that you will otherwise only see in your Photoshop palette.

 

 

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What is your next adventure?

I think Ireland or Scotland to do a trek for several days alone or with friends. I’m also thinking about Patagonia. To be honest, this trip in Island really opened my eyes and showed me how to see further. Why not leave and work in a Hacienda in Patagonia, learn how to ride a horse and then get equipment to explore South America like a Argentinian Cowboy? Never would I have imagined to become a Musher in Iceland one day, so now I’m having fun dreaming. It's not fun if goals are too easy to reach.

 

 

A dream you would like to realise?

Buy a motorbike with reliable equipment and leave everything to do a road trip in Europe or somewhere else and make a documentary out of it. Ideally, it would be this trip in Patagonia. I need to find sponsors, create an association or a cultural project and become one of those modern explorers who keep me dreaming.

 

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Ps: Do you know any Icelandic?

Unfortunately, I only know “Takk!” (thank you) and Fyrirgefou (sorry). Most of Icelanders speak English fluently and it is very useful. Icelandic is a very nice and sound language but very complicated….

 

 

Pierre also directed a wonderful documentary on his experience, to watch below: 

The Great Journey of a Musher from Pierre Prior on Vimeo.

 

 

 

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