the adventure travel blog

From climbing a glacier in Iceland, to hot air ballooning above Burma, from whitewater rafting through Bosnia and into Montenegro, to horse riding amid Lesotho's snow-capped mountains, and from walking along the Great Wall of China to camel trekking through the desert in southern Jordan, The Adventure Travel Blog compiles those incredible experiences in foreign lands which have well and truly taken me out of my comfort zone.


"Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain."
Jack Kerouac, American Writer


hiking to the summit of australia's highest mountain

Mount Kosciuszko, Australia, December 2020

This has been on my Aussie bucket list for a couple of years now and, with the Queensland border closure scuppering a planned road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, the opportunity to climb Australia's highest mountain finally presented itself. I was initially hoping to make it to the summit of ‘Mount Koz’ on New Year’s Day; this seemed like the most poetically satisyfing option. However, where hiking at (relatively) high altitude is concerned, practicality had to take precedence and so we took to sifting through ten days of weather reports so that we were summit-bound on the best weather day. There's nothing worse than getting to the top of a mountain and being unable to see a thing.

This being such a poor year for travelling anywhere, we also decided to max out on accommodation costs by booking a chalet for two nights at Crackenback, near Jindabyne. It was an investment which was to pay off in unforeseen ways. Not only did the booking allow us to avoid the very worst experiences guaranteed by staying in yet another run-down Aussie motel but it also meant that at dawn and dusk we would find ourselves sharing the grounds with a mob of kangaroos. I must say that sipping freshly brewed coffee outside in the morning whilst watching a mother and her joey enjoying the landscape as much as I, was, in itself, worth the exorbitant price tag. Looking out to the mountainsides from the chalet I quickly got a sense of the changeability of the weather in this part of New South Wales; quick downpours, blackening clouds followed by bright blue skies. We stuffed our backpacks accordingly not knowing what to expect en-route to the top of Australia’s tallest mountain; windproof macs and layers and gloves. Much of it was surplus to requirements in the end; hiking ever upwards at a fast pace inevitably meant we were shedding layers rather than adding them. Still, better safe than sorry.

We set off from the chalet at around eight in the morning to be sure we’d get to Thredbo with enough time to find a parking spot and be there for when the chairlift opened. As I stepped out of the car I could feel a distinct fresh Alpine nip in the air which had me thankful we’d been cautious in our preparations. With formalities complete we were soon on the chairlift and being cranked upwards to the start of our 13km hike. There were plenty of others undertaking the same endeavour but, on such a vast mountain, we soon fanned out, resulting in a tranquil morning spent in the bright sunshine passing exquisite Alpine flowers and hearing the faint bubblings of the famed Snowy River of ‘The Man from…’ renown. There was time to admire Lake Cootapatamba - Australia's highest lake – as well as use the facilities of Australia’s highest public convenience.

This is the highest and longest hike I have ever undertaken when compared to my previous efforts on Wales' Mount Snowdon (1085m) and Lesotho's Drakensberg-Maloti mountain range (2080m). I have also survived an altitude sickness-inducing overnight stay in a yurt on a mountaintop in Kyrgyzstan at 3012 metres but this didn’t involve any hike to the top. And so, reaching the summit of Mount Koz, two thousand plus metres above Australia, felt like a real achievement. For a second or two I must’ve been the highest person in the country. Unsurprisingly my descent was a little less fast-paced and less dignified, my manly struts up the mountain replaced by hobbling and tripping down it. I didn’t care; in my tiredness there was a sense of earned satisfaction that I had hiked to the top of Australia’s highest mountain.

swimming under a waterfall in northern laos

Luang Prabang, Laos, January 2020

Our first morning in Luang Prabang was undeniably a highlight of our entire three week journey - a trip out to the awesome Luang Si waterfalls. We set off later than we'd have liked, keen, as we were, to get there before the rest of the town's tourist population did. Our driver, Chantay, made good speed; it was satisfying to zoom past the public buses (basically tuk tuks with benches facing inwards down both sides) with people crammed in them. We were all going to the same place - but we would get there first. Sometimes travel is unfortunately all about timing; it creates a pressure cooker effect where being late or having a lie-in means you're likely to have to share the highlight of your holiday with a whole bunch of people who seem determined to spoil it. Thus, we heeded the advice of online reviews and got there earlier than most. This meant that we were able to swim in the turquoise pool of the incredible falls - possibly the best I've seen travelling - with only a few reticent people of the 'I'm not getting wet' ilk gazing on rather than being in there with us. This resulted in my capturing of some awesome photographs and a fun swim with the fishies nibbling at my legs in relative peace and quiet.


dawn kayaking amid the icons of australia

Sydney, Australia, June 2019 

After a tough week at work where I’d struggled to get a decent sleep for days, pretty much the last thing I felt like doing was to be up at the crack of dawn in the Sydney mid-winter. Still, what would probably have been a wash-out of a Saturday spent recovering on the sofa turned into one worthy of a post on my blog. Sometimes the most rewarding things demand that little bit of extra effort. So, with our clothes carefully chosen the night before, a 05:30am alarm set and an Uber booked, we headed down to Lavender Bay at a time in the day when Sydney is all dark and silent and when the winter sun is only just stirring. I must admit, after having got over the early start to my normal sleepy Saturday, I do attest to the spiritual benefits of seizing the day in this way – even if it is a jolt to a tired teacher’s body. We arrived at Lavender foreshore, cleared up a booking error (which meant that our ‘kayak and coffee’ experience was, in reality, now just a kayak experience), donned on our lifejackets and were soon sliding off into the glassy waters of Lavender Bay, passing bobbing boats, dinky jetties and mooring posts. My hands were soon cold as inevitable drips and splashes ran down the paddle bar, onto my hands and all over my legs. Sydney’s ferries were not yet running and so we were able to kayak to Blue’s Point, past the iconic Luna Park fairground and, in doing so, paddle under one of the most famous bridges in the world. Four years ago I climbed over the top of it and now I was kayaking under it. With every stroke of my paddle the city sky brightened, bursting into its familiar golden glow which bounced off of the business district’s corporate glass. Heading back against the tide and firmly into the bright sunshine, we docked at Lavender Bay – distinctly cold and damp but elated that we’d done something pretty cool with our Saturday and it was only 9am…

snorkelling to post an underwater postcard in vanuatu

Efate, Vanuatu, April 2019

Flagging down one of the long buses is a really cool way to get about the island. We headed to the Mele part of Efate to do what was, without doubt, the most touristy thing possible: posting a (waterproof) postcard in the underwater post office which lies twenty metres just off the coral beach of Hideaway Island - a fun little expedition made possible with the help of a return boat crossing, a GoPro underwater camera and some hired snorkel gear. Unsurprisingly this post office is the only one of its kind in the world.


mountain hiking along the rooftop of africa

Tsehlanyana, Lesotho, October 2018   

Tsehlanyane is a national park in Lesotho's far north with incredible views of the interlocking Drakensberg-Maloti mountain range and valleys full of boulders and the culturally important berg-bamboo. We stayed in a rondavel, a Western take on the traditional African round house, overlooking the valley where mountain peaks were regularly kissed and embraced by passing clouds. A seven kilometre hike through the mountains along the wonderfully-named Lets'a Lets'o trail, crossing small streams and some cute little mountain blooms, was an energising way to spend our first morning in what some describe as the 'Rooftop of Africa'. At 2080 metres above sea level I found myself short of breath far quicker than I would otherwise have been but brief stops along the route to compose shots of the very photogenic landscape helped to ease the additional strain brought on by the altitude. The ever-changing weather resulted in ever-changing mountain scenery: romantic pinks and pastels one day, cloudy and stormy the next, sleet and snow the next.

horse riding through lesotho's snow-topped mountain ranges

Tsehlanyana, Lesotho, October 2018          

This was a wonderful experience on Lesotho's Independence Day; horse riding a few kilometres through the valley and along the tracks of the Tsehlanyane valley and one which lived up to the traveller hyperbole of being the 'rooftop of Africa'. The air was fresh and the mountaintops dusted with snow. My horseriding skills have come a long way since the first time I mounted a horse back in Turkey nearly a decade before.


on safari in search of africa's "big five" beasts

Pilanesberg, South Africa, September 2018

Barely rested from our marathon journey from Sydney to Jo'burg and three hour transfer to the national park, we set off on our game drive at 5:30am having had a matter of minutes to get ready - just enough time to fish my crumpled clothing out of the backpack and chuck a cereal bar down my neck as a poor excuse for 'breakfast'. As it was, we crowded onto the safari jeep with a German couple and what I took to be a Croatian couple, and headed off into the park - bouncing all the way and with the fierce African sun rising to the east. We were assigned a woman called Jess as our game drive ranger. She was a tiny slip of a girl dressed in the full ranger regalia of khaki and baseball cap. She had her hair platted to the side and came with the thickest South African accent I think I have ever heard. She was as hard as nails and rather fantastic. However, it wasn't long before the beasts of Pilanesberg put on their best African performance. Over twelve hours spread across two days and three separate game drives, I'd managed to photograph white rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, elephants, antelopes, warthogs, wildebeest and the mighty lion - plus a whole host of other lesser-known creatures whose names I can't recall. Jess informed us of some of the wonderful collective nouns for some of these most African of creatures: a 'dazzle' of zebras, a 'tower' of giraffes. I also picked up some fascinating facts about animals that only a ranger would know: animal tracks always lead to water; anything you see a monkey eating humans can eat too (because of our genetic similarities); many animals have stripes to dazzle and confuse their predator when trying to escape. In our little jeep we had two fascinating close shaves where two of the big five, elephants and lions, got up a little too close for the comfort of our Croat friends, one of whom let out a squeal of terror when the elephant approached - a squeal Jess shut down as soon as she heard it. My Sony camera with its zoom lens, so often relegated by the camera on my mobile phone these days, truly came into its own at Pilanesberg, allowing me to capture some impressive images of wild African animals roaming, hunting and relaxing in their natural habitat.

trekking through virgin rainforest on borneo

Ulu Temburong, Brunei, Borneo, April 2018

Our journey across to Temburong was a long one, starting with a transfer to the Brunei River, a boat journey to the regional capital Bangar, a transfer to Batang Duri and a cruise in a traditional long boat through the shallow waters of the Temburong River. In entering Temburong we embarked on a trip through the most pristine virgin rainforest left on Borneo. Brunei's oil wealth has meant that it has not had to resort to deforestation for the contentious production of palm oil - a feature of the Malaysian part of the island which is threatening the survival of precious species, most famously, but not limited to, the endangered orang-utan. Temburong is protected, with almost all of it open only to scientists. We would trek through the tiny fraction of Temburong only open to a limited number of visitors so as to minimise the impact on the environment. The real work started when we arrived at the entrance to the national park; an upward climb to over 1000 steps in the heat and humidity of a rainforest meant that, by the time we reached the top, my shirt was wringing wet with sweat. We then set about climbing the sixty metres of the canopy walking frame affording us a panoramic view above the tree tops and out across this virgin rainforest. I was standing looking out across the trees at almost half a kilometre up from the rainforest floor. Later we were to cool off underneath the cascades of one of Temburong's many waterfalls. The waterfall's pool was home to the 'Borneo Piranha', so called because they nibble away at the dead skin of anyone who happens to be bathing therein. Although completely harmless, I just couldn't get used to the sensation of having fish nibble at my body and so, having well and truly cooled off from the earlier ascent to the rainforest canopy, and having screamed like a girl at every fishy nip, I clambered out to the safety of dry land - much to the amusement of our guide. Despite my tiredness, and probably near heat stroke, I returned to the comforts of the capital feeling a sense of accomplishment that I had trekked through virgin rainforest, climbed up above the tree canopy and swam in a 'piranha'-infested waterfall. I told you Brunei was the destination which kept on giving...


walking along the great wall of china

Mutianyu, China, January 2018

A trip to Beijing is a golden opportunity to walk along the famous Great Wall of China. I am very glad we ended up at the Mutianyu section because, off season and harder to get to, there were times when we had entire stretches of the wall, between its 26 Ming-era watchtowers, entirely to ourselves. Aside from a group of Americans, an Italian couple and, bizarrely, a stray cat, we walked the 3km stretch of Mutianyu without much human traffic to spoil the experience. The beige blocks of the wall snake up the taupe-coloured scrub of the mountainside and, set against the deep purples of the wider mountain range in the distance, cut a dramatic sight; this stretch of the Great Wall in winter is a travel photographer's dream.

kayaking the circumference of a fijian paradise island

Kandavu Island, Fiji, July 2017

Okay, so Kandavu was a pretty small island. Still, kayaks were free to borrow and so our final afternoon was spent kayaking around the entire circumference of this little slice of paradise; lazily we went in the direction of the current rather than actually enter the realm of real physical exertion and the waves pretty much did half the work for us. We were on holiday after all.


snorkelling among the corals of the south pacific

Kandavu Island, Fiji, July 2017

Above water, Kandavu is beautiful and many people's perception of what paradise is - but underwater Kandavu is magical. Taking full advantage of the free loan of snorkelling equipment from the resort's boat shed and a newly-purchased GoPro underwater camera, we headed out to the coral reef to see what lurked beneath the wobbly cobalt of the South Pacific. Snorkelling took a bit of getting used to but once I'd mastered the art of breathing only through my mouth and sounding like an aquatic Darth Vader, I began to enjoy this colourful coral world with its population of fish of all shapes and sizes. There were also sea cucumbers and, amazingly, deep blue starfish the size of my hand. The stinging coral cuts to my feet, which later became infected with marine bacteria and required both a course of antibiotics and anti-fungal cream to get rid of, were the relatively low price to pay for witnessing these underwater marvels.

feeling the heat at azerbaijan's mountain of fire

Absheron, Azerbaijan, January 2018

Azerbaijan is also home to the remarkable Yanar Dag, or Fire Mountain. Yanar Dag is a mountainside which, because of its location above natural gas deposits, has been shooting flames ever since a shepherd discarded a cigarette there back in the 1950s. For the second time in twenty four hours, Azerbaijan had surprised and stunned me with something straight out of Science Fiction. And the entrance fee for beholding such a unique sight? Two Manats (around £1).


climbing active mud volcanoes in eastern azerbaijan

Absheron, Azerbaijan, January 2018

Our hotel's (only) driver was reluctant to drive us out to the fantastically weird cluster of Mud Volcanoes at Gobustan, claiming the ground had been made impassable by recent wet weather. But, in travel, if at first you don't succeed, keep trying. After all, we were only going to be in Azerbaijan once. So we did what every traveller does when their cheapo hotel lets them down: we headed to the nearest five star hotel for advice. We fell upon the services of a kindly concierge who was happy to translate our wishes to a waiting taxi driver. For a bargain price of 20 Manats per hour (about £10), he would drive us out to Gobustan. We weren't to know it at the time but our trip southward to Gobustan was to make our visit to Azerbaijan a truly unforgettable one.

Stop one was the Gobustan Petroglyph Reserve, a part of the boulder-tastic national park wherein which engravings of frog-like human figures and reed boats made by hunter gatherers date back 12,000 years to the Stone Age. Impressive. But the best was yet to come. Setting off further south from the Petroglyphs our taxi driver, driving one of Baku's boxy Hackney carriage taxis, pulled over at the side of the motorway where we swapped vehicles. We were handed over to a giant of a man whose tiny white Lada was to be our chariot along the dangerous quagmire of a mud track and up the mountainside to the volcanoes themselves. Driver Number One also joined us in the Lada, sitting in the passenger seat whilst we squeezed in the back. We had previously been told that a 4WD was the only vehicle capable of tackling the treacherous route. So why were we sat in a Lada? Answer: because locals know that only a Lada is small, light and nimble enough to make it through the mud and up the slippery mountain. The laws of gravity dictate that the heavier the vehicle, the quicker they'll sink. Indeed, some unfortunate souls we passed along the route had done just that, including a group of Russians who were forced to abandon their car and instead head up the mountainside on foot (one man choosing to walk barefoot rather than ruin a perfectly decent pair of shoes). Our Gentle Giant Lada driver was superb at handling the car, thrusting its wheel left, right, left again to avoid getting bogged down in the mud. The car skidded and bounced and, at a number of points, I thought that perhaps we should have heeded the warnings voiced back in Baku; I had visions of having to get out of the car to help dig it out. But he knew what he was doing and any fears I had about being in a car I'd initially deemed completely inappropriate soon evaporated. Expert driving, combined with the trusty machinery of a Soviet-era tin can on wheels, meant that after a few touch-and-go moments we had made it along the makeshift track and onto the mountain plateau, home to one of the strangest sights I have ever clapped eyes on: a collection of conical shapes, some metres high, bubbling and coughing their thick grey liquid and shooting the odd flame up into the air. The volcanoes were all rather astonishing in themselves but set amid an eerie lunar landscape, encircled by a 360° mountain range, and topped with a deep blue sky, was truly remarkable.

I was hopelessly ill-prepared for the challenges this fantastically muddy landscape posed: the thick mud sucked and pulled on my trainers at every step. I tightened the laces as much as I could, preventing them from being completely left behind in the deep, inevitable squelch of my next step. It didn't matter that my trainers were ruined - the Mud Volcanoes were truly worth the sacrifice. Bizarrely, Driver Number One, the most ill-equipped of us all, joined us among the bubbling volcanoes wearing his formal black leather shoes, seemingly having been overcome with as much excitement as our own, leaving the dignified safety of where the car was parked and taking to scrambling over the mud cones along with the rest of us. Standing on top of a gurgling mud volcano I surveyed this most Science Fiction of landscapes, one which was, rather incongruously, disrupted by the presence of three white Ladas parked in the mud below and positioned at disconcerting angles. We were a million light years away from Baku. And it was great.

outdoor adventures in new zealand's fiordland

South Island, New Zealand, January 2017

The words "stunning", "wonderful" and "beautiful" are much overused in travel writing and, in many cases, misapplied. I always try hard to avoid this kind of travel blog cliche but, in the case of New Zealand, the words are more than apt. Indeed, the further south in New Zealand we travelled the more beautiful and awe-inspiring it became. I firmly believe that beauty can be found in any country should you wish to look for it. You have to look harder in some places than in others but it is there. In New Zealand, however, you don't have to look very hard. The diversity of its natural wonders is beyond anything I have ever seen. This photograph is tokenistic at best as it barely captures the beauty of a place such as this and the adventures we had; how do you cram such a plethora of adventures into just a single post?

Basing ourselves in the sleepy village of Whataroa and then the townships of Alexandra and Te Anau, we set out to see the South Island's most incredible natural wonders, starting with a hike through the Westland Tai Poutini national park, itself photographically-worthy with its vistas and waterfalls, to see the Franz Josef Glacier. Having hiked on, and abseiled up and down, glaciers in Iceland we didn't feel the need to go hiking on this particular block of ice - nor the taking of the obscenely extravagant option of flying over it in a helicopter (New Zealand seems to want to flog helicopter rides to tourists like they're going out of fashion). As it was the glacier was a great sight - especially when juxtaposed with the tropical-looking fern trees in the foreground (yes, tropical ferns and icy glaciers in the same place!) Our drive southward along the West Coast took us past the dazzlingly blue Lake Wanaka and Lake Huwea. Our next stop involved a slight detour west to Omarama to see the Clay Cliffs, tall pinnacle rock formations, with a blue hue, which cut a jagged outline against the sky. Their strange shapes conjured up memories of the Fairy Chimneys I had seen in Capadoccia in central Turkey. A little further southward took us to the snow-capped Aoraki mountain range (more commonly known as Mount Cook). A hike through to Kea Point gave us the best possible side-on view of the famous mountain without the need to undertake a serious mountain expedition in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary! Further southward into Fiordland at Te Anau brought us tantalisingly close to the majestic Milford Sound (Piopiotahi), an iconic composition of interlocking mountains and the highlight of many a person's visit to New Zealand's South Island. We arrived early to avoid the tourist hordes who we knew would be winging their way on scores of coaches from 8am onward. We took a two hour cruise to get up close an personal with this famous fiord's waterfalls and seals but, perhaps ironically, I managed to capture a stunning photograph of Milford Sound from the car park. It is, quite arguably, the best photograph I have ever taken: the purple moodiness of the peaks are reflected perfectly in the fiord's morning tide. This just goes to show that often the best views to be had are ones that are free - no need for expensive helicopters or even the considerably cheaper boat cruise. Our scenic return drive back from Milford Sound included stop offs at The Chasm, the Mirror Lake and a walk through the gobsmackingly beautiful rainforest and alpine lake of Lake Marian.


snorkelling at the heart of arabia in the gulf of oman

Gulf of Oman, Oman, May 2015

The Gulf of Oman isn't just home to a playfully large incense burner which sits on top of a large hillside overlooking the Gulf, but also pods of dolphins. For a bargain price we went on a dolphin watching cruise with Sidab Tours along with a bunch of other tourists. It was intensely hot and I was a bit concerned about being out on the ocean in the morning sun waiting for hours just for a glimpse of the odd fin or tail - especially with the overheating episode still fresh in my mind. However, my fears were unfounded; within seconds of arriving in the dolphin-inhabited waters, pods of the majestic creatures put on a wonderful display for us, zooming alongside the boat and jumping out of the water. I wasn't sure the day could get any better. It did. Having captured a few great photographs of the dolphins above the water, a couple of hours snorkelling gave me a chance to see what was below the surface. It was the first time I'd been snorkelling and loved swimming through schools of fish, seeing the coral reef and the vicious spikes of sea urchins. Okay, so it wasn't the Great Barrier Reef exactly, but it was still great. This underscores a key point about travel in this region: there are infinite possibilities for doing something rather special outside of the city. Dolphin watching and snorkelling in the Arabian Gulf accounts for the best forty quid I've ever spent!

climbing the sydney harbour bridge

Sydney, Australia, August 2015

Our first morning in Sydney was spent sleeping off the very worst of the jet lag caused by a nine-hour jump forward to Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) and a full 24 hours of travelling in an aluminium tube at 40,000 feet. The afternoon comprised of an impatient walk, fuelled by excitement, down to Sydney's famous harbour with its iconic bridge and even more iconic opera house. A short ferry ride out to Kirribilli and back gave us advantageous views of both of them. In the back of my mind I couldn't help but brood over the fact that in half a day's time I'd be climbing to the top of one of them... The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest single span arch bridge in the world and was, incongruously, designed by a company in Middlesbrough, UK. For around £150, and by booking well in advance online, you can climb over the top of the bridge's famous iron arch. It just so happened to be my birthday, too. Viewing the famous Sydney Opera House and the glittering towers of Sydney's CBD from a unique 360 degree standpoint was a pretty amazing way to spend my birthday - one spoilt marginally by the forceful whacking of my head on one of its steel girders. Unfortunately this would not be the last stupidity-induced injury I was to suffer on my journey Down Under.


waterfall swimming in central cuba

Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 2014

The road to El Nicho national park was not exactly plain sailing. Our Cubataxi displayed a red warning light on the dashboard almost from the moment we set off from Casa Ines Maria in central Cienfuegos. Within minutes of climbing up the hillsides to reach El Nicho the driver pulled over in the hope the engine would cool. It didn't. The driver hot-footed it to a nearby garden to fill his large plastic bottle with water, which he poured all over the engine. Ten minutes later another stop. Memories of my journey in the Morocco death taxi resurged in my mind. This time water from a stream. Bonnet up. Pouring of water. Steam. Would we get there? We did. But only just. The principal draw of El Nicho is its waterfall - and rightly so. It was wonderful. Bit of advice here: to enter the national park you need your passport - something you may not be carrying if you were not transiting between provinces like we were. The route you walk in the park isn't that long but it's stuffed full of weird and wonderful-looking plants, a few of which bear a remarkable resemblance to some of my house plants back in the UK. ‎Getting changed into swim shorts in the middle of the forest to stand under the waterfall and have a splash around in its pool will go down as one of my great traveller moments.

yurt-staying & horse riding 3012m above sea level in kyrgyzstan

Son-Kul, Kyrgyzstan, August 2014

We did what everyone must do when in Kyrgyzstan - sleep in a yurt on a mountaintop. Our destination was Son-Kul. Son Kul is a large mountain lake on the top of a plateau 30‎16m above sea level - and, after a couple of hours, I began to feel a little compressed - like my head was in a vice, such was the air pressure. Indeed, the plastic ball on my roll-on deodorant popped out and flew across the yurt. An ongoing headache soon kicked in and, to be honest, I was glad of the descent down the mountain the next day. Weather can be unpredictable at this high altitude and we soon found ourselves donning all the clothes we had to keep warm. Son-Kul is also the location of a community based tourism project offering yurtstays to foreign tourists. Not ones to pass up the chance of doing something out of the ordinary, we booked a one night stay on the mountain, sleeping in a yurt as well as doing some horse riding thrown in for good measure. We ate with the shepherd and his family - they had to prepare us special vegetarian meals which we'd helped our guide to buy back in the yurtstay hub town of Kochkor. The Kyrgyzs do not understand vegetarianism. Our hostess, the shepherd's wife, looked dumbfounded when our words were translated to her by our interpreter ("How do they live?" she said in Kyrgyz, looking at us as if we had just landed from Mars). The plateau is surrounded by snow-capped mountains - a dramatic landscape in which to go horse riding with the shepherd. He spoke very limited English, only saying "cold, cold!" when referring to the change in weather and "lunch!" when one of our horses would stop to eat grass. He had one of the most characterful faces I have ever seen; deeply cut wrinkles a feature of high-altitude and living outdoors, all of his bottom teeth were missing (bar two) and his upper teeth were all gold - a feature I found to be very common across Central Asia. It is not uncommon to spot whole mouths full of gold gnashers. Occasionally he would stop to pick plants and vegetation, stuffing it under the saddle of his horse to take back to camp. Having ridden horses, camels and elephants before, I took to riding this latest beast easily. A couple of hours later it was too cold on the mountain to go any further and, with our horses dragging us into the lake for a quick drink, and with the two dogs which had been play-fighting around the feet of our horses the whole trip finally tiring, we headed for dinner with the family and our sleep in the yurt.


hot air ballooning above burma's iconic pagoda plain on new year's day

Bagan, Burma/Myanmar, December 2013

The vista from the balloon basket of Bagan's old pagodas at sunrise was rather special. We drifted as high as 1400 feet and as low as a few hundred across the pagoda plain and over the Ayerwaddy River. Local villagers tending the land, and kids playing, waved up at us as we passed overhead - their subsistence life on the ground an uncomfortable contrast with the expensive, frivolous VIP balloon ride I found myself enjoying. Our pilot was called Peter, an experienced balloon pilot of fifteen years. We were joined by two pairs of Americans and a Chinese couple. Despite my abject fear of flying in aeroplanes, going up in the balloon felt completely natural and relaxing. The landing was textbook - bending our knees and gripping two rope handles embedded in the basket weave, there was a slight bump as we glided to the ground. This was quite clearly the best way of sampling the Bagan plain in all its magical entirety - expensive, but well worth it. I'm only in Burma once, right? Sometimes money should not get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime experience - you only live once - just do it.

illegally entering an abandoned ufo-shaped communist hq in bulgaria's central balkan mountains

Peak Buzludzha, Bulgaria, August 2013

Buzludzha is some 250km south east of Sofia. Public transport does not lend itself to travelling to this place as so few people actually want to go here. It features only nominally in the Rough Guide to Bulgaria - one paragraph, in fact. You could be forgiven for missing this destination out entirely because you didn't even know it existed. You won't find this building on any Bulgarian postcard or in any Bulgarian brochure. It is home to one of the most bizarre and curious sights ever built. Many Bulgarians despise it. The Prime Minister wants it demolished - if only they had the money to do so. It stands forlorn and abandoned high up on a hilltop, a cosmic, concrete externalisation of a failed socialist system which Bulgaria is keen to shuffle off into the vaults of time labelled 'forget'. It is the Mount Buzludzha UFO building, a once grand concrete meeting place for communists. Politics aside, it is one of the most marvellous examples of cosmic communist architecture there is and acts, I believe, like a touchstone to the ideology and period which built it. For this reason alone it should be preserved. It is a little trite to say that the state of the building is a perfect metaphor for communism itself - but I suppose that's what it has become: like communism, the building was cheaply executed, illusory and full of obscene hyperbole and, ultimately, completely unsustainable. Marooned on a hilltop, and an uncomfortable relic reminiscent of a darker past, it has been handed over to the Socialist Party of Bulgaria - who have failed to do anything with it except to lock the doors and leave it to rot. Except, as you'll see below, they even failed to secure the building fully.

However, more recently there has been a buzz on internet travel forums and online discussion boards about this little place as more and more would-be explorers lurch for ever more strange and other-wordly sights. Buzludzha has also featured in the top ten travel photographs of 2013 polled by The Times newspaper in London. I arranged, through an international tour guide website, for a Bulgarian guide called Petar to drive us out to Buzludzha. Leaving at nine we passed through golden Sunflower fields and impressive mountain ranges as we headed south eastward to one of Bulgaria's lesser-known, and more remote, sights. Advice on online travel forums told us to "take a torch". Indeed, as you approach the structure from the Shipka Pass, it is clear that the building, as a little taster of what's to come, has two immense torches of its own, sparkling in the sun. They greet you imposingly. Arriving at the mountaintop and beholding the soaring turret and extra-terrestrial UFO disk is a travel moment I will not forget. Walking around under the huge disk you are treated to wonderful 360 degree views of the lush, green mountains and a windfarm. The Cyrillic lettering on either side of the main entrance translates as: "On your feet, despised comrades! On your feet you slaves of labour! Downtrodden and humiliated, stand up against the enemy!" I was keeping an eye out, all along the way, for the way in to the building which people had told me about. Initially I couldn't find it and was convinced that it had been secured and concreted up. But there it was! Without hesitation, I scrambled up the stack of rocks which other tripsters had piled under the opening for a leg up, torch in tow, and dropped down into the building. This is quite clearly the weirdest thing I have ever done whilst travelling. If you are interested in this sort of thing it is an absolute must of a trip. It is weird, yes, but fascinating in equal measure. If you are not interested, and would prefer reviews of sunny beach resorts and package holidays to the sun...then you're in the wrong place.

Recording my entry on camera as I picked my way through the rubble (you can watch this below), illuminated by the torch, I made it to the central auditorium - with a jaw-dropping and sumptuous 360 degree mosaic all around featuring communist motifs and symbols: clenched fists, red stars, unified groups of workers, geometric patterns and portraits of three communist visionaries Marx, Engels and Lenin. Artistically it is magnificent. Above my head was a huge hammer and sickle symbol on what was left of the ceiling, through which daylight was now streaming. To say it was an eerie experience is an understatement but I feel really, really lucky to have seen it; the condition it is in means that it is unlikely to last much longer.


whitewater rafting along the great tara canyon from montenegro to bosnia

Bosnia & Montenegro, August 2013

Our last day in Montenegro saw us travel back up north to the Bosnian border to do what many do when in this country: rafting along the awe-inspiring Tara Canyon. We left early to make it back up north in time for the big rafting adventure. I'd heard that Tara is deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States but did not believe it. On seeing the canyon when we first entered Montenegro, I was left thinking that there was a fair chance that it was true! In fact, it's the second deepest canyon in the world. With almost no instruction, and with complete disorganisation, we were piled onto our raft - and set off tentatively perched on the side of the raft's inflatable sides, hooking our feet in the elastic cables on the raft's base. A couple of times, hitting the rapids, I thought we were going in - there was so much water flying about. I am not known for my "whooping" and despise anyone using or writing the word. I am British and therefore do not get carried away but prefer to smile. However... The rapids were truly exhilarating and even had me "whooping" uncontrollably. These crazy rapid episodes were interspersed with long periods of drifting lazily down the canyon in the sun, the others sharing fags and cans of lager which we were also offered. There were eleven of us on the raft - two Americans, us, and the rest were Serbian - all very friendly enough despite the language barrier. Two girls were particularly funny, perched on the raft's back with a fag and can of beer in each hand, not doing any rowing and shouting in English "Row, come on muscles!" They also translated the instructions from our Serbian lead rafter, who had taken to laughing and drinking like a duck to water. How these girls held on I have no idea and I forgave their laziness because they were friendly and funny. We were collected from Podgorica at 7am, exiting Montenegro and back into Bosnia to start at the rafting camp. We were then whisked along toe-curlingly dangerous roads in an open-door minibus back into Montenegro to the spot where we'd launch the raft into the Tara. We rafted 25km of stunning Tara canyon, and re-entered Bosnia Herzegovina yet again as we did so - passing the checkpoint up on the mountain road above. I thought I'd only be going to Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro once. Technically I went to both three times! I can also say that I have been white water rafting in both countries! The food back at Tara camp in Montenegro was hearty and home-made - all cooked fresh and a vegetarian dish was made especially for us with no quibble. It was a long, sweaty journey back to the capital Podgorica where we had a bed reserved at the Montenegro Hostel - slap bang in the middle of a run down housing estate encrusted with political graffiti declaring 'Kosovo je Srbija' (Kosovo is Serbian). The only reason we stayed here was because it would then allow us to use the hostel's transfer bus into Tirana, Albania - a snip at €35 each. There are no public trains or buses from Montenegro into Albania so this was our only option. The hostel was run by a lovely woman called Maya who did all she could to help and spent the time laughing and joking with us about Montenegrin and British habits ("oh, of course you are British - I like you as you are black and white, you say yes or no. In Montenegro they don't commit" and "Montenegro time is always later than planned - we are always late...") I tried to be polite by stating that Podgorica was "interesting" even though there was not much to do. Her response was "no it's not - and I was born here". She was memorable because she was honest, intelligent, ballsy and fun and I liked her a lot: she was one of the real characters we met on the trip.

husky dog sledding in the midst of an icelandic snow storm

Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland, February 2013

It was a shock to go from capital city to snowblivion in such a short space of time. Even having tried to dress appropriately for the occasion, I was woefully under prepared and was thankful of an offer of an additional pair of waterproof overalls from staff. Here's a tip to make sure you are well-prepared for the ruthless Nordic chill of Iceland: wear everything you think you need - and then double it! Having acquainted ourselves with the dogs, and having donned extra winter protection in the form of a plastic onesie, we set off into the snow with Rolf, a happy-go-lucky twenty-something Dutchman with a love of huskies. We had six husky dogs pulling the three of us several kilometres on the slopes 50km above sea level. Rolf called our location 'Fog Mountain' - and with just cause. Going husky dog sledding was one of the most enjoyable things I've done abroad. I even made special friends with a female husky called Oskar who liked to lick my nose and lift her paw into my hand as if forbidding me to leave. Our lead husky was a lovely black bear-like dog called Manitock.


climbing & abseiling a glacier in iceland

Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland, February 2013

We drove to the edge of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier located close to Iceland's south coast: it had a distinct and intriguing blue tinge to it. Apparently the Mýrdalsjökull glacier moves 15cm a day along the valley. Kitted out with crampons (spike supports on our feet), a harness, ice pick and helmet we hit the ice (thankfully I didn't actually hit it - managing to stay on my feet throughout). However, nobody told me we'd be climbing up and abseiling down a glacier as part of the trip. Still, I did it, although coming down was harder than going up owing to my complete inability to follow simple instructions. Using two ice picks, one in either hand, and punting my spikes into the wall of ice, I managed to get to the top of what more experienced climbers would call a pathetically-sized glacier face.

gorge trekking in western armenia

Aragatsotn, Armenia, August 2012

We opted, despite the heat, to do the hike from Amberd to Byurakan village via the gorge at Kasakh, seeing some strange looking (and apparently rare) wild plants and flowers on my way. The trip around Aragatsotn concluded with lunch with a local family in their home - all made from local produce as well as meeting an internationally recognised musician who hand makes traditional Armenian instruments like the 'Duduk'. The cutlery we ate with during the meal was made in the USSR, stamped with the 'CCCP' letters on the handles (click here to view). The tour around Aragatsotn, meeting local nomads and hiking up the Kasakh gorge was a real highlight of the whole trip to Georgia and Armenia. It gave us a chance to see rural Armenia instead of just urban centres which can be a little superficial and manicured. We travelled with a wonderful Armenian guide called Maria (whose English was almost better than mine) and a couple now living in Italy (Cindy and Ricardo). Boarding the coach I had no idea whether I would be doing the hiking (which was optional) but decided to because, as my old travel mantra goes, we will only be there once and so might as well. I also hoped that there would be some good photo opportunities along the way, too. There were...


riding through a desert in southern jordan on camelback

Wadi Rum, Jordan, February 2012

Wadi Rum was the most memorable leg of our trip around Jordan. We arranged, through several emails, to stay in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Jordanian Desert, staying with a family of Bedouins for one night and one day. In that one day we climbed mountains, ran down sand dunes, walked along a canyon with towering mountains on either side, went camel trekking and were whisked around in a battered jeep to see the sights of the desert - a desert bordering Saudi Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia is famed for passing through this desert and so it is no surprise that this incredible landscape was used as the location for the film starring Peter O'Toole. Camping out in the desert felt like true adventure travel. I have so many amazing photographs from this leg of my Jordan journey, but I have tried to curate the best - that or risk this section of my Chronicle going on for miles. The vivid burnt oranges and reds of the desert and rock formations were almost lunar in nature. And, apart from one group of tourists we came across briefly at the Burdah rock bridge, it was a desert we seemingly had to ourselves - rock lizards and camels aside. Wadi Rum is definitely off the beaten track for most tourists because it is in the middle of nowhere, but with a bit of organisation, research and effort, a visit here will repay you in memories made. Wadi Rum was my first desert experience, my first camping experience abroad, and my first sand dune sight. Wadi Rum is exactly that - unique and full of firsts.

climbing the burdah rock bridge in southern jordan

Wadi Rum, Jordan, February 2012

Wadi Rum was the most memorable leg of our trip around Jordan. We arranged, through several emails, to stay in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Jordanian Desert, staying with a family of Bedouins for one night and one day. In that one day we climbed mountains, ran down sand dunes, walked along a canyon with towering mountains on either side, went camel trekking and were whisked around in a battered jeep to see the sights of the desert - a desert bordering Saudi Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia is famed for passing through this desert and so it is no surprise that this incredible landscape was used as the location for the film starring Peter O'Toole. Camping out in the desert felt like true adventure travel. I have so many amazing photographs from this leg of my Jordan journey, but I have tried to curate the best - that or risk this section of my Chronicle going on for miles. The vivid burnt oranges and reds of the desert and rock formations were almost lunar in nature. And, apart from one group of tourists we came across briefly at the Burdah rock bridge, it was a desert we seemingly had to ourselves - rock lizards and camels aside. Wadi Rum is definitely off the beaten track for most tourists because it is in the middle of nowhere, but with a bit of organisation, research and effort, a visit here will repay you in memories made. Wadi Rum was my first desert experience, my first camping experience abroad, and my first sand dune sight. Wadi Rum is exactly that - unique and full of firsts.


cycling around a canadian city

Montreal, Canada, August 2011

An otherwise wasted morning before our next train departure in the afternoon to Quebec (which would prove to be even more French than Montreal) was profitably used to great effect by cycling around Montreal on the city's 'Bixi' public bike system - once we'd worked out how to pay by credit card at one of the bike stations. Cycling under the huge New York-style skyscrapers along giant New York-style boulevards on a sunny morning was fantastic, if not a little hair-raising at times. I clearly took a few risks I shouldn't have not exactly being cycling proficient at the time.

climbing the highest mountain in england & wales

Snowdonia, Wales, August 2010

I had made it to the summit of Mount Snowdon a year earlier in 2011 using the Snowdon Mountain Railway. The weather was truly atrocious: lashing rain and high winds with temperatures that certainly felt like they were close to zero. Any person wishing to ascend the jagged edges of Mount Snowdon on this October day would sensibly take the railway. As we chugged along inside the cold cabin, with condensation running down the windows, we did spot some maniacs braving the elements sans train. Whilst glad to have taken the easy option, and not really having travelled to Wales that weekend with the right gear, I vowed to do my sense of self worth a power of good by returning one day to 'do Snowdon' properly. Less than a year later I returned to claim the mantle of having climbed Snowdon; at 1085m high it is the tallest mountain in both England and Wales. It is also one of the UK's busiest mountains, packed full of novice climbers like me wishing to test their mettle. This means you're likely to share your Edmund Hillary moment with climbers of all shapes, sizes and ages. If you want more of the mountain to yourself, consider leaving a little earlier in the morning. The English name "Snowdon" comes from the Saxon Snow Dun, meaning "snow hill". More ominously, the Welsh name for Snowdon, "Yr Wyddfa" means "The Tomb" - an etymological fact likely to have the less experienced climbers out there reconsidering their climb altogether!


camel trekking through palm groves in morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco, February 2010

The second day proved much better as we'd booked a half-day camel trekking trip in the Palm Groves area twenty kilometres outside of Marrakesh. We spent our day with two Americans, a guide who spoke no English but whose smile made up for it, and a camel called Ali Baba. This leg of the journey showed me a more tender, calmer side to Morocco which I would not otherwise have seen. Our American friends headed back to their five star hotel on the edge of town with cable TV...and we headed back into the Jemaa El Fnaa. I was a little jealous of them but we had made our choice and had to stick with it.

horse riding through the countryside of central turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey, May 2009

We met a local man who makes his money by taking westerners like us on long horse rides through the Cappadocian countryside. Although pleasant and getting to see some more of the countryside in central Turkey, five hours on horseback took its toll on my bum cheeks, walking a little like John Wayne in a classic western! It did mean we saw a lot more of Cappadocia that we would otherwise have seen on foot.




travel tips, links & resources

  • Doing something more active abroad firmly takes you out of the ordinary and well-away from the relative safety and banality of typical tourist traps. Active travelling offers you the chance of an extra buzz, a chance to see the landscape and, more often than not, a chance to share the experience with other like-minded travellers from all over the world who, like you, are up for a bit of something different or just there to tick off the bucket list.
  • Getting active abroad is one of the best ways to by-pass all of the tourist confectionery. Break free from the mould, bypass the tourist hordes and escape from the sanitised city by organising an excursion before you set off. You'll be glad you did.
  • Away from the safety of the hotel room, pretty much most things can go wrong - even more so if you're engaged in something more active than just sightseeing. Therefore, it's important to check what your insurance covers you for when abroad before you set off.
  • It is worthwhile ensuring you take with you a small first aid kit on any active day experiences. There have been countless times when we've either been without one entirely or have remembered to pack it - only for it to not have in it the things needed at the time. Iodine is worth consideration - especially if you are taking part in any underwater activities; marine bacterial infections can get very nasty (as I was to discover).
  • I try to avoid booking myself on any excursions which revolve around many people being on a bus. Try to organise a 'private' experience as far as possible as, in my experience, this maximises your enjoyment.
  • Read up carefully on any company with whom you are placing your safety and wellbeing. Obviously, online reviews are a good place to start. Consider: what is their feedback score? Are the reviews suspicious or genuine? How long have they been operating? What awards or accreditations do they have?


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