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Wildlife Journalist and Ocean lover contributing to Getty Images and The Scuba News. Local Patch Reporter at BBC Wildlife and Brand Ambassador at Sand Cloud. Happy Travelling! // LiveTheDream

Monday, 9 October 2017

What The State of Nature Report means for UK wildlife

 The RSPB State of Nature Report 2016 revealed that 15% of UK wildlife faces extinction, a figure which scientists are “extremely concerned” about.

The report also discovered that 56% of UK wildlife, including British Hedgehogs, Robins and Basking Sharks, has been in serious decline since the 1970s.

Sir David Attenborough said that “Our nature is in trouble, and it needs our help like never before.”

Animals ranging from Dormice to Bats are experiencing huge drops in numbers, the report shows. Bat expert Kiki DeAngelis claims the findings to be “simply tragic.”

One explanation suggests that an “out of sight, out of mind mentality” from people has allowed wildlife across the British Isles to suffer so dramatically.  DeAngelis said that “nature need not be seen as separate from human lives but rather a part of it… We need to wake up.”

The main factors influencing UK wildlife populations are:

  • Agriculture

  • Climate Change

  • Drainage of wetlands

  • Urbanisation

  • Poor forest management

  • EU wildlife regulations

Idle Valley Nature Reserve in Nottingham is one of the largest sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands

Help is on the way, however, in the form of volunteers, wildlife conservation charities and nature reserves.

A significant finding from the report showed that wildlife in protected areas actually saw an increase in key wildlife populations, such as Harvest Mice and Dartford Warblers.

This trend has been recorded in Nottingham’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve by wildlife ranger Ian O’Brian. Meanwhile, Scottish wildlife photographer and conservationist Andy Hare said that "unfortunately, humans are the problem. We are just too dominant, we put too much pressure on the ecosystem."

Marine mammals like this Spinner Dolphin often mistake plastic bags for food, such as Jellyfish



This view was strongly supported by the report, which cited agriculture and climate change as the two biggest factors contributing to the wildlife decline.

The report also explains that wildlife cannot contend with the rapid habitat loss in the UK which has been accelerated by more roads being introduced into Green Belt land.


In terms of aquatic life, the report highlights the growing threat from plastic and how it can easily be mistaken for food.

On land, invasive species have been blamed for declining wildlife populations. It is not all doom and gloom however. The State of Nature Report aims to wake people up to the “next great extinction” happening before our eyes. According to the charity, through “well – planned and sufficiently resourced conservation, we can turn around the fortunes of our wildlife.”


If you want to help here are a few ways to get involved :

  • Volunteer at a local nature reserve

  • Do a beach clean up

  • Adopt an animal

  • Recycle

  • Check where your food comes from

  • Set up a bird feeder or bird box in your garden

  • Join a wildlife group

*Photos courtesy of Jo Payne, Wiki Creative Commons and The Wildlife Trust*

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Spotlight : Marsa Alam, Egypt

For thousands of UK tourists, Egypt has long been a prime holiday destination - Sunny, sandy and full of glorious beaches, the attraction is obvious. As a diver, I go to Egypt for what lies beneath the waves of the Red Sea. In short, an abundance of marine life largely unparalleled by few other places on Earth.

Perhaps the most enticing thing about Egypt is that it is largely accessible for everyone. A large budget and a second student loan are not required - It's not a weekend in Skeggy, that's for sure, but it's hardly a stay at the Four Seasons Bora Bora either.

In recent times, the price of a package holiday to Egypt has plummeted - The country's role in the Arab Spring combined with ongoing turbulence across the Middle East have largely been identified as the main culprits. After MetroJet flight 9268 crashed in the Sinai desert, questions were also raised as to whether it was safe for overseas holidaymakers to travel to Egypt.

 Since late 2015 UK tourists have not been able to fly into Sharm El Sheikh, which was both a huge shame but also a huge opportunity for divers to explore other parts of such a diverse country.
At present, an all-inclusive week in Hurghada could cost you as little as £300. Of course, this is before we add on the diving costs, but even so, that's not half bad at all.
Three hours south of through Hurghada however, lies Marsa Alam. The chances are, you've already heard of the place. What was once a small fishing village 20 years ago is now emerging as one of the best places for diving in the world. It's a million miles away from the buzzing atmosphere of Sharm, but Marsa Alam offers a much more calm experience, and the diving is incredible. It is becoming a not-so-hidden gem, perhaps because divers are looking for an alternative to the resorts in South Sinai and dive magazines are showcasing what Marsa Alam has to offer in glossy 10 page-spreads on a fairly regular basis.

The abundance of endangered Green Turtles in Marsa Alam is a year - round treat, along with a high concentration of Dugong or Sea Cows. These tend to feed on the Sea Grass at Marsa Mubarak and Marsa Abu Dabab dive sites, both of which can be accessed by shore.  If you're an advanced diver, Elphinstone Reef offers some of the best chances to see Oceanic Whitetip Sharks and Brothers Island could even leave you with a sighting of a Great Hammerhead - now that is an all- inclusive holiday. Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins also make regular appearances en-route to dive sites, and Sh'aab Samadai (Dolphin House Reef) is always a popular option for younger divers and snorkelers. Its novice diver rating combined with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities (a resident pod of Dolphins never fails to amaze) makes it a family friendly dive trip with something for everyone.

Accommodation varies from 5 star all-inclusive resorts (Such as The Three Corners Fayrouz Plaza or the Hilton) to more "backpacker" style digs, like the ever popular Marsa Shagra and Marsa Nakari dive camps, which are situated on the beach less that 100 yards from the reef. Liveaboards are also a popular option for divers as they offer
three dives a day, seven days a week, for the full Red Sea experience, which is most definitely offered in Marsa Alam.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Underwater Photography - Green Turtles In the South Red Sea

To me Turtles are one of the hardest animals to film underwater, because, as odd as it sounds, they really aren't bothered by our presence. With that in mind then, keeping a respectable distance is something that you need to remember, and constantly! I always found it so upsetting to see people touching marine life, whether it be stamping on the coral reef or indeed trying to ride or stroke Turtles. However the temptation to get closer and closer for the perfect picture is something that I really had to be mindful of on this trip. If you're looking for a place to see or film Green Turtles then look no further. Marsa Alam in the South Red Sea is home to many. This place is my favourite travel destination, and for good reason! The highest concentration of Green Turtles (and sometimes Hawksbill, but you will have more luck finding them on the nearby reef) can be found at Marsa Mubarak or Turtle Bay as it is known locally (not the Caribbean Restaurant, but far more rewarding)
We decided to give it a go. We knew they were here as we were lucky enough to see them the previous day, nibbling inconspicuously at the sea grass which lines the sandy bottom of the bay. Getting on our snorkelling kit was no problem until we attempted to enter the water- rocks everywhere! Of course, with fins on it is almost impossible to enter the water corectly, so of course we stumbled around unable to remove our fins until one of us fell over. Luckily the camera wasn't damaged! (I have never attempted a shore snorkel or dive with my fins on since!)
The water at Marsa Mubarak has pretty good visibility despite the sandy bottom; and the abundance of both sea grass and reef (found a little further out) makes it a brilliant place to spot wildlife. Whitetip Reef Shark pups are known to visit the bay and Dugongs known as "Dennis" and "Dyson" to the locals have made it their permanent home. You'll be pretty lucky to see either of these- but your chances of seeing Green Turtles here is pretty much guaranteed! After 10 minutes in the water we were greeted by two giant Green Turtles, each one the size of a lorry tire. Camera time. I use an Olympus camera underwater - It's by no means top of the range but for a beginner SCUBA diver like me it does the trick! Here are some of the photos. This was the first time I had ever attempted underwater photography! Now I am fully aware that these aren't top of the top amazing, but I was pretty impressed that I managed to stay still enough at depth with my dive kit to take them at all! These pictures are from both Marsa Mubarak and Marsa Abu Dabbab, another exceptional spot for diving with Turtles just down the road from Mubarak. Turtles are so peaceful to dive with, pushing through the water with ease and nipping away at the sea grass, whilst us divers and snorkelers faff around with our kit and try not to disturb the wildlife. We should feel grateful that they allow us to share their space with them in this way. If you're a big fan of underwater photography or can recommend any camera kit or camera techniques, please drop me an email because I would love to hear from you!
Happy travelling,

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Arizona Horses - The wildlife of South Mountain

We decided to "hike with horses" during our recent trip to Arizona. I absolutely love spending time with horses, and it seemed a great way to get around - it also gave us lots of opportunities to spot wildlife (and spot we did!)
From the research I did before leaving the UK, Ponderosa Stables up near the South Mountain Preserve seemed like a great choice - Not too far from Phoenix and the horses looked in beautiful condition. Bill had never ridden before (apart from Camels in Marrakech, see previous blog posts if you're interested) and so what better place to learn than in the wild west!
We had come to realise that hiking in Arizona in the peak summer months was hard work. Both of us are fit and strong but it soon became clear that the sun was stronger. Twice we had to abandon big hikes/climbs up Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain through either being too hot to even continue, mild heat stroke and then running low on water (6 litres still wasn't enough for us) so an early morning horse trek (7.30 am) seemed like a much nicer way of getting around, and it wasn't too hot for the horses either at that time of day.
Our guide was called Peter, or Curly-Slim (his ranch name,) an ex military man who embodied everything wild west - Tasselled boots, spurs, a thick southern accent and infectious enthusiasm which was channelled through a big smile and thick shoulders, all finished off with a Stetson. (What else?) We could point to any landmark, or odd looking rock, or Cactus, and he knew about it. Our horses (Specky, Sherrie, Skyball and Dingo) happily plodded along the terrain, which was a challenging mix of navigating up and down steep riverbeds and then guiding the horses through the infamous "Snake Alley" which proved to live up to its name. Our first wildlife sighting occurred minutes after setting off - A Zebra Tailed Lizard sat on a rock - A nice find for us, as we were yet to see anything on our previous failed hike up Squaw Peak. Turns out little lizards popped up everywhere, unfortunately I missed a few of these as my horse, Specks, wandered off the trail for a few minutes before we finally returned to Bill and Curly Slim. A Jack Rabbit was the next surprise. Huge with big, bumbling ears and a sort of dazed and bewildered look about them, native to the US and Mexico, it sat under a tree, perhaps avoiding the sun or maybe hiding from predators, it was completely un-phased by our presence, and bimbled off as we tailed past. Seeing a Coyote was a big highlight for me - I wasn't expecting to see one, and I still couldn't believe it when Bill shouted at us to turn and look. Trotting over a ridge no more than 20 metres away was a young male Coyote, panting under the sun and sniffing the air, before stopping to take a good look at us. What do we do? Are there more? Will the horses spook? Will the coyote attack the horses? It occurred to me that I didn't actually know what to do at this point, but the Coyote simply looked on and trotted away through a river bed, leaving us to our trek. What an experience to see such a beautiful animal in the wild. Seeing it on the television never prepares me for encounters like this - Life almost seems to pause momentarily.
Now the scariest part of these treks was our encounter with a Diamondback Rattlesnake. I should mention that our horses were an absolute delight - Well natured and enthusiastic but not easily spooked by birds flying from the trees or rabbits jumping nearby, but the Rattlesnake was different.  Dingo near enough threw Curly Slim on the ground, as minutes after we entered Snake Alley, a Diamondback emerged, coiled in the hot sand, hissing and rattling, ready to have a go. We weren't sure at first if Dingo had actually trodden on the snake, but either way he knew it was there. By this time, our horses had noticed what was going on as the Snake rattled and hissed and gradually we backed them away and headed up a little ridge, away from the Snake, which was an adolescent male about 4 or 5 feet long. Adrenalin fuelled we headed back to the ranch, exhilarated, Curly Slim laughing, clearly taking the encounter in his stride. I guess to him it was just another day in the west.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Sun, Sweat and Snakes : How to stay safe during a Desert trip

Whether you're off to the Outback or the Sahara - Desert environments are no joke.
When I was 6 I went on my first desert trek in the Sahara, and my parents were in charge of making sure I was adequately protected - I was told to drink water, I had a hat and a headscarf, high UV protection sunglasses, and factor 50 everywhere. So naturally for the countless more trips into the desert I was pretty set.
Of course this all changes when you start to go away without your mum and dad, and you realise just how much all the nagging paid off - The first time I went away on my own I went to Malaysia and I soon realised just how bad I was at remembering to put sun cream on, (thankfully I remembered the Malaria tablets!) Then the year after I headed to Spain with my friends - I ended up with a heat rash and a very burned everything. Clearly I was so used to being told to put sun cream on or put a hat on that when it came to looking after myself I wasn't all that prepared.
Thankfully I learned from past mistakes, and I came home from Marrakech unscathed and unburned.
Of course the dangers of the desert are far worse than just sunburn - Heatstroke, exhaustion, dehydration and animals all play a role in making desert trips, whether that's 3 weeks in the Sahara or a day hike In the Sonoran, a potentially dangerous venture. So here's some tips on what to pack and how to stay safe :

- Bring a scarf or shawl > Most of the time its boiling in the desert, so its understandable that shorts and vests seem like a good idea, and they are, but make sure you bring a scarf in case you need to cover your shoulders or head. If you're wearing a cap and you feel too hot, swap it with a shawl and gently drape it over your head, it will still give you some protection from heatstroke and it will stop your scalp burning.

- Never skimp on water > If you need to bring an extra backpack just for carrying water then bring one. Being caught out in soaring temperatures is far worse than having a bit of backache - And the backache will give you an incentive to keep drinking, too!

- Don't hike alone > Similarly to diving, make sure you have a buddy with you! Hiking alone can be dangerous if you start suffering from heatstroke, and if you get lost either on a trail or elsewhere, two heads are better than one!

- Wear Shoes > Feeling the sand or ground beneath your feet is a beautiful feeling (it's called earthing) but in certain places (I'll use Arizona as an example) you can never be too sure what you're going to stumble over. Rattlesnakes, Scorpions and even broken glass can pose a serious threat in the desert, made even worse if you're in a remote area or on your own. You're unlikely, however to come across any "nasties" when you stay on designated trails or you're with a guide, but you can never be too sure, so always keep your feet protected.

- Bring the Factor 50 > I cannot stress this enough, unfortunately through my own experience going without suncream in a desert environment is agonising. (I walked to Port Ghalib from Marsa Mubarak in Egypt, its a mere 30 minute walk, desert on one side, reef and Red Sea on the other, but by the time I arrived I knew my legs had been seared into next week by the sun. Putting my wet suit on the next day during a dive was near unbearable) Just putting high factor sun cream on before a hike or trip won't be enough, sun cream becomes inactive much faster than you may realise and once you start to feel that burning sensation, it won't stop until you get into the shade.

So there you have it, a few things I've learned over the years during my desert travels. I hope you find this useful and have some awesome adventures too!

Happy Travelling!


Monday, 2 May 2016

Cheap Thrills : New York on a budget

The USA has always been on my bucket list and I have finally sorted out a trip, starting with 3 days in New York, followed by 2 weeks hiking in Arizona. Fear not if you fancy a trip  across the pond, because America on the cheap certainly seems possible. When Bill and I sat down to discuss where to go next, America seemed like the obvious choice. We had already sampled the delights of Morocco and The Netherlands together so we fancied somewhere further afield. Bill is a seasoned traveller to New York, where he visits his friend Chris, so we decided it's
 a perfect place to start. If I'm honest, seeing the words "New York" (specifically Manhattan) and budget in the same sentence aren't something I'd expect to see. Manhattan prices are pretty steep, even for hostel accommodation. So, we are staying in Queens, a cultural hot spot in New York, not too far from Manhattan. We have been lucky enough to be invited to stay with Bill's wonderful friend Chris, but if an option like this isn't available to you, I'd really recommend looking at accommodation away from Manhattan. Not only is the subway system in America extensive, it is also relatively cheap, it only takes around half an hour to get from Queens to Manhattan, and don't forget that a subway trip in New York City is, by the sounds of things, a fascinating experience in itself too! For me, arriving in a new country with little money is both exhilarating and terrifying. Take Morocco for example, by the end of day 3 we had almost run out of money, and it was at this point that we began to walk to new places, eat street food from little stalls that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise, and found little restaurants off the beaten track offering cheaper meals than the big touristy areas. I hope that New York is the same! New York does not just necessarily mean downtown Manhattan, Times Square and the usual tourist hotspots. An apartment in Brooklyn will set you back a similar price to a hostel in Manhattan, and you get to see two different districts of New York this way.
To avoid big taxi rates and sore feet from walking, we are taking Penny boards with us (similar to skateboards, but smaller and much easier to use!) We are specifically taking them for Central Park, which is an absolute must for us. The penny boards make it much more efficient to get around, meaning we have more time to explore different places as we only have three days in New York. Conveniently, they also fit nicely into our suitcases.
In terms of food, it looks as though good old street food is the way to go. Corn dogs/Chili Dogs/Hot Dogs aren't nearly as expensive as some restaurants (though we have been told that Parker and Quinn is an absolute must, so this is on our list)
In terms of "the sights" this is where we have really had to cut back. We are not doing the Statue of Liberty trip or the Empire State building, (Bill's already done them, and I'm more than happy to just be lucky enough to see them) We are however, planning a cheeky walk in - walk out of the Plaza Hotel, in homage to Crocodile Dundee, but thankfully this won't cost us anything (as long as we don't get caught)
If you're planning to do New York on a budget, you have to be prepared to not do everything on one trip. In a few years I am certain that we will do New York big time, perhaps for New Year, but for now, this is the plan to make the first part of our America trip epic but easy on the pocket.
Happy travelling!
(Thanks for lending me the NY pictures, Bill)

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Canals, Cannabis and Cheese tasting: 36 hours in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one hell of a place, a vibrant yet relaxed city which has become the tourist capital of The Netherlands - No Wonder. Without trying to sound like a holiday rep, there is so much to do here, a lot of which, we managed to do in our 2 days.
We booked our trip to Amsterdam about 2 weeks in advance, getting the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam rather than flying to Schipol airport. We had a rough plan of what we wanted to do, but our budget wasn't massive as we had just booked a trip to the USA. In a place like Amsterdam however, this wasn't an issue!

When we got off the bus at Centraal Station, we were greeted by a downpour of rain, so brolly in hand, our first job was to find our hotel, The 2 -star Di Ann Hotel on Raadhuisstraat. Map in hand, the conversation went like this. "I haven't read a map since my Duke of Edinburgh" to which Bill replied "I can read a wilderness map... but we aren't in the wilderness are we." We never plan what we do or where we go with military precision, but both of us stumped ourselves with our own ignorance at apparently not being able to map read. Common sense kicked in however and we had no problem reading the map and after about 20 minutes, the rain had stopped and we found our room. The Di Ann hotel is situated in a brilliant location, about 5 minutes away from Dam Square and Anne Frank's house, along with the Red Light District and a very large selection of "Coffeeshops" (for the full cultural experience.) We had read some diabolical reviews on Trip Advisor, mostly about the steep stairs and money being stolen but we found the hotel to be perfect for what we wanted. It was relatively cheap, we had a shower, a TV (we didn't use it) and the most comfortable bed we have ever slept in. On the last day however, some money was taken from my bag when we were at breakfast, but the manager very kindly reimbursed it to us (surprising as we thought he was the very person who had nicked it). 
Anyway, back to day 1. We decided to start the trip off with a meander around and we ended up in a coffeeshop, specifically, The Bull Dog, one of the most famous coffeeshops in Amsterdam. It was a very smoky place, obviously. Bill went for a pre-rolled weed joint, which was huge. So huge in fact he only just finished it. After, we did the canal cruise. If you've never been to Amsterdam a canal cruise is a great place to start and I highly recommend it. An hour long trip takes you through Oosterdok (East Dock) and all the main tourist streets. A lot of places in Amsterdam look similar, so its a good way to get your bearings, especially as it allows you to use churches as landmarks if you get lost. All the excitement got too much for the little girl in front of us however, and she soiled herself mid cruise. Trumpy Miranda (name changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, depends how you look at it) as she became known to us, only added to the experience in hindsight, but at the time the smell was nothing short of eye watering, however I had the same accident in the Cairo Museum when I was significantly older than Trumpy Miranda, I might add, when dealing with food poisoning, so I of all people cannot pass judgement here. On the cruise we noticed an amazing floating Chinese Restaurant, "Sea Palace." In the end we went here for dinner, which was expensive but a real treat and the food was very authentic. It's worth a visit just to look at the d├ęcor inside. Koi ponds, golden Buddha statues, streamers from Chinese New Year, nothing short of a beautiful assault on the senses.
There is no shortage of places to eat in Amsterdam, you could stuff yourself silly. Holland's colonial past has introduced a smorgasbord of international restaurants - Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Argentinian Steakhouses, Italian, British, and of course, Dutch, so we were spoiled for choice at lunch time. My parents, who were also in Amsterdam at the time actually, said they chose where they ate on the basis that they knew nothing on the menu, which led them to a Malaysian restaurant. If however, you don't fancy the not knowing, there are plenty of frites stalls, waffle and pancake houses, hotdogs, pretty much everything you can imagine. After lunch it was back to the Coffeeshops. This was my first time trying Cannabis, I must admit and it was a very relaxing experience. We went to The Coffee Store, next to the Bull Dog and had their pre rolled joint. The shop itself felt much less intense and intimidating than some of the others we had been to and it made the experience very enjoyable. We very much did the full Amsterdam experience, as later that evening, we hit the Red Light District. It is not an intimidating place at all, though it is most definitely a culture shock. The district itself is apparently very well regulated and although sex is very much part of the culture in Amsterdam, this side of it was actually fairly low key. We meandered through and headed to a pub for a Heineken (what else?)

Day 2 was much quieter, we took a sunny walk to Vondelpark, which is a half hour to forty five minute walk from Raadhuisstraat. Vondelpark is lovely. It is also home to a heartwarming "findfence" whereby items found by people on the park were hung to a little fence with crocodile clips in the hope that people would find them again. We, to our surprise, also found a colony of parakeet in the trees, and watched a little spotted woddpecker tap through the trees. Everything about the place was relaxed. The lovelock bridges Paris is so famed for also showed up in Amsterdam, though not quite to the same extent. Romantic messages and declarations of love scraped into the metal locks just added to the charm of the place. On the way back to Centraal Station, we wandered into an art gallery cum clothing store at the end of Raadhuisstraat, which featured some incredible stories from Tibetan and Syrian refugees who had found their way to Amsterdam to build a better life. We headed back up to Dam Square for a sandwich, to find Yoda, Darth Vader, Death, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and a man playing the bagpipes. Not to mention the pigeons, who were resting on a boy's shoulders as he fed them some bread. Our final challenge was choosing cheese. We went to Henri Willig's cheese and more to try some samples; we needn't have bothered buying lunch! So many different flavours, truffle, lavender, pesto, garlic, champagne, asparagus! We settled on a garlic and herb gouda, before heading, shattered but enthusiastically, back to Centraal Station for the ride home. Amsterdam truly is a wonderful city, and we will most definitely come back for round  2.   

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Tribes, Orangutans and Glowing Oceans: 336 hours in Malaysia

I was 17 when I first went to Malaysia. I went with some people from my college (who turned out to be an amazing, dynamic group of people, many of whom I'd known from the age of 11, but had never got to know them properly.) The expedition was a 2 week trip to Sarawak province, specifically to Matang Wildlife Centre, to volunteer with the building of enclosures for rescued wildlife (Such as Orangutans, Sun Bears and Binturong) whilst painting walkways and making enrichment toys for the furry residents. We also spent a few days clearing fields and planting organic fruit and veggies, which would feed Matang's animals later on in the year. For a few incredible days, we lived with a Malay tribe in the village of Telok Serabang. It was a truly life changing experience, which shaped my love for exploring and adventure.

We flew to Singapore (best airport EVER!) and headed to Kuching from there. 16 hours after leaving London, we left the airport in Borneo and headed to Matang. The heat was the first thing that struck me. The dryness of the Sahara, Eastern and Western Deserts which I was relatively used to was nothing compared to the humidity of Borneo. Nonetheless within a few days we were used to the glorious heat of the rainforest.

We spent the first few days exploring Matang and making enrichment toys for the Orangutan/Sun Bears. We stuffed sacks full of fruit, honey, nuts, leaves and .... Durian Fruit. (Try it at your peril.) The critters, however, loved it.

We headed to Telok Serabang on about day 6. We drove for a few hours through cities, then towns, then villages, until gradually the rainforest grew bigger and the settlements grew smaller. That was until we arrived at Semantan town, on the shores of the South China Sea. We met the tribe leader near the beach, and were told by our guide, Alvin, to get supplies. We headed off into the town armed with baskets and gathered fruits, vegetables, meat and spices, and staggered back to rendezvous with everyone.
It was at this point, we got into boats, each carrying about 8 of us, and jetted off out into the South China Sea. We followed the coastline for about an hour and a half before the

rainforest began to stretch out in front of us, and a little beach became visible. We were here. "Ok everybody take shoes off now and drag the boats in." Soggy footed, we said hello to the tribe before seeing our home for the next 3 nights. A beautiful palm roofed, wooden outdoor longhouse awaited us, it was very basic but we were grateful for a matress and a mosquito net. The first evening, we had a traditional Malaysian curry and went for a sunset swim in the sea and watched the stars come out. The night after, we made jewellery with the tribeswomen whilst half of the group went to monitor some turtle hatchlings on the beach, and by night 3, it was our turn to take a night walk - Rainforest on one side, ocean on the other... Unfortunately, we didn't get to watch any hatchlings, but we got something even more beautiful. An electrical storm over an island in the sea, and as we sat and watched, the stars came out, and so did the fireflies. One beauty took a particular interest in my hair and sat there for nearly half an hour, whilst the others drifted through the trees, with noise still echoing throughout the jungle as the waves lapped the beach. All of  a sudden we noticed that the sea began to glow - A vibrant white-blue colour which was made even stronger when the waves hit the sand. It was a spectacle like no other - Bioluminescent zooplankton. A glowing Ocean. Stars. Fireflies. Friends.
It was such a special night, and in the end we decided to go swimming, to just, "be." To simply exist in a world so beautiful, to exist with close friends and new friends. It was incredible.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

How To Save For a Round the World Trip

In September 2015 I put a £49 down for a round the world trip, starting in June 2016 and ending late August for about two months. It was something I had wanted to do for a very long time and when the opportunity arose I was excited beyond belief! It took us a while to decide just where we wanted to go on our flight ticket, but we eventually decided on the countries to visit. We decided to head to Dubai then straight on to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, California, USA
France. When Bill and me first met we discussed it a lot in passing, but after we got together we realised the distant dream of seeing the world wasn't as distant as we thought. It was during my cousin's wedding when a family friend mentioned that such trips were possible through certain travel agents. We found STA travel online at about 2 in the morning and the day after, we went and discussed a trip. A few days after that, we put down the deposit. Shit. It was happening. We were doing it. The flights are costing £1400, and everything else will cost us around £1500 each. To us that was a hell of a lot of money (and still is, though our flights are almost paid for thanks to lots of extra shifts and family generosity at Christmas) and as of now we have 5 and a half months to save the rest of the money. Although saving the money hasn't been easy we've learned how to budget effectively for the future and our recent trip to Morocco proved to us how great we were as a team. If you're looking to undertake a similar trip around the world or any other adventure which will be costing you a fair bit, fear not! Here's some advice :
  •  Mindmap - Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? How long for? Who with? Make sure you have a general idea of this first, it makes it much easier to budget for and you can start looking at accommodation relatively early on.
  • Get a job - This can be anything, as long as you enjoy it! Working however many hours a week at a job you can't stand is all good experience but the process of earning your travel money should be enjoyable too. After all, it's all part of the journey. Print out 20 CVs and take them to bars, restaurants, cafes, garages, cinemas, Tesco, wherever you want, just get yourself out there. If you've already got a job, ask for extra shifts! Between us in 2015 Bill and me worked 6 jobs between us, all of which were, luckily, jobs we loved.
  • Do what you're good at - Teach yoga for a few extra pounds a week to friends and family, dog walk, make cakes, offer to clean for people, busk, teach guitar lessons, YouTube. Every little helps and if you're committed, no doubt your family and friends will be too. Be positive, optimistic, think outside the box and you'll manifest money in no time.
  • Fun doesn't have to be expensive - Tiny things like replacing coke or beer for tap water in a restaurant once a week will all add up (though don't do this all the time!), maybe walk to work instead of getting the bus. Have a look in the charity shops if you need some new clothes - There are some insanely good bargains in charity shops as we found out. 
These are just some of the things we have done to save for our trip, and even though we are still a way away from having all our funds, the flight tickets are firmly in sight. As long as you have the enthusiasm, perseverance and determination for it, saving for a big trip is much easier than many people believe it to be.

Happy Travelling!

Jo Goes Walkabout

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Camels, Streetfood and Giant Cats : 120 hours in Marrakech.

Spending a significant amount of my younger childhood in North African countries like Tunisia and Egypt, my decision to venture into the world of Morocco was a quick one. 5 days in Marrakech, staying in a Riad in the Old Medina. £135 for the two of us. Booked.
Before our visit, we were told to be prepared for a sensory overload. That didn't even cover it.
The motorbikes, the smell of spices stacked high in baskets next to Berber bread balanced precariously on roadside tables, the constant beeping of traffic, the echo of the Muezzin call from 1000 mosques drifting through the clouds with the sparrows. And through all that, us faffing with camera kit trying to take it all in and film it at the same time, sticking out like sore thumbs in an area of Marrakech less touristy than Djemaa El Fna Square for example. I very quickly learned that filming and experiencing Marrakech simply cannot be done at the same time, so we left our camera kit zipped and locked in the backpack for a lot of the time, to allow us to get to know the city properly.
We headed to the Majorelle Gardens, after a feast of pancakes, chutneys and Berber bread for breakfast. The gardens are set in a tranquil space, with Palms, Cactus, goldfish and blue sky adding to the Zen vibe it gives off from the moment you walk in. Bamboo plants line the entrance of the gardens, in tall green swathes leading to a bridge and a deep red path through the foliage. Birds sing ahead whilst in the distance, shouting and drilling can be heard, along with the sound of the odd beep from a car or bike, gently reminding us that we are still in one of the most bustling cities on the planet. After an hour of wandering around and taking photographs, recording everything from the shapes in the sand to the cats meandering through the Cactus garden, most likely waiting for an opportunity to grab a goldfish from the pond nearby, we headed back to Marrakech where a guide was waiting for us.
Next we headed to "Les Palmeries" to do a little camel trek. Both of us were very excited for this as Bill had never been on a camel, and I was intrigued to see his reaction when the camel (called Abdou) rose up and began to yomp amongst the Palm trees whilst me and my camel (Shakira) followed. If you've never been on a camel ride, whether on the flat or in the middle of the desert, the feeling is virtually indescribable, so if you get a chance, definitely give it a go.
Day two we headed to Ouzoud Falls, up near the village of Kasbah, deep into the Atlas Mountains away from Marrakech. The village is sprawling, set amongst a dramatic backdrop of valleys and waterfalls and traditional Moroccan carpets lining the waters edge, where the smell of mint tea resonated from the local stalls. We met our guide, who was probably 19 at most and we headed up the mountain. The path meandered on and over time gradually got smaller until we were walking up the rocks and through water. At one point, an elderly Arab man held out a ladder and our guide gestured towards it. Up we went. Up a ladder. Up a mountain. We could hardly believe it, but nonetheless we kept climbing until we got to the top. The view was breath-taking.

 The water was icy cold and tumbling down from the rocks above with the sun blazing from above. Day two in Marrakech was wonderful, and so different from the madness of the city centre. However, this was the evening we were introduced to the giant cat. Or small Labrador. Whichever way you like to look at it. Sitting on the terrace, we were sharing a piece of Turmeric spiced chicken, which had been cooked on hot coals in a little shop in the old Medina, with some Berber bread from breakfast when we heard an almighty bang on the roof above. Everything rushed through my mind. Burglar? Gunshot? Person falling? We were briefly terrified until we saw what had caused the commotion. A grey and white cat meandered off the roof and down into our Riad. Cue the awkward cricket noise when neither of us knew what to say. One thing we noticed in Marrakech was indeed the sheer size of the Cats, but this particular Cat was huge, perhaps the size of a Springer Spaniel. Of all the surprises in Marrakech, this was actually the biggest. For the remainder of our trip the cat continued to make appearances, often drinking out of the pool and watching the sparrows that lived in the trees above our room (indoors!)
During our last days in Morocco we did a lot of exploring. Meandering through the medina practicing our Arabic or French, or wandering around the Cyber Park to take some footage for YouTube or photography for Instagram.
Djemaa El Fna square is an experience in itself. You are welcomed into the square by a boulevard of horses and carriages, waiting for excited tourists to take a trip around the city. After you come to the end of this, we were met by the sensory overload we were expecting and yet so underprepared for. Snake charmers enchanting puffing Cobras into submission and perhaps confusion, Barbary Apes in leather jackets and sunglasses, tied to their owners just waiting for a tourist to come and snap a photo with the primates, ladies singing and calling out, offering their beautiful artwork in the form of henna tattoos to everyone passing by, dates, dried banana, apricot, oranges by the cartful. Restaurants in full swing, even in December, which is usually a low season for visitors, tagines, handbags, shoes, t- shirts, sunglasses, postcards, shouting, everything imaginable seemed to be happening here. The smells were intoxicatingly beautiful. Everything lingered in the square, saffron, turmeric, oranges, peppers, paprika, all mixed together with the sound of sellers trying to persuade us to make a purchase. By early sunset, chefs began to make their way down to the square, ready for the evening feast of flavours which takes place every night in Djemaa El Fna Square.
On our final day in Morocco we headed to the street for the final time and came home with olive pizza, a spiced chicken sandwich type concoction, fries (believe it or not!) olives, peppers and a coal  cooked chicken with saffron and turmeric, we think. Not forgetting the Berber bread. A feast. We had several tagines during our stay, the best one being in a rooftop restaurant next to Djemaa El Fna, which was chicken, with olives, (we ate a lot of olives) lemon and coriander, but we decided to stay local on our last night and ate only from the old medina street. The food in Morocco was nothing short of divine. Creative yet traditional and very tasty, with an abundance of different flavours. We did try to share this with the giant cat, but he wasn't all that friendly, so we feasted and shared the bread we had with the local sparrow population.
The trip was, for a number of reasons, eye-opening and an experience we will never forget. A bustling city which occasionally threw the odd challenge our way, but nevertheless, 120 hours in Marrakech was one heck of a trip, and a place worth exploring if you have 135 pounds and a spare 5 days.
Happy Travelling,

Jo Goes Walkabout

Jo's Instagram - @Jo_Goes_Walkabout
Bill's Instagram - @Great_Spirit
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR7TMV5fj1P8TWeMPHpxpyw