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October 12, 2019

“Li-ber-tat! Li-ber-tat!” The chant was sweeping across the square like a Catalan wave. The crowd ignored the soaring heat to remind the world that their pro-independence leaders were still in exile or jail. “Libertat-del-presos-politics!!”

But we weren’t here for the politicians; we were waiting for one of city’s most anticipated traditions - the Castellers de Barcelona. Dating back to the 1800s, these human towers originated in southern Spain and have been gleefully adopted by Catalonia.

“Do you think we’ll become part of the foundations?!” chuckled my new American crowd-friend. Before I could answer, dozens of mauve-shirted castellers surged forward, pushing us apart. As they jostled into position, the big men lined up in four directions to form a base. Like an organic mass of human endeavour the climbing began. Feet on shoulders, hands on sashes, arms on waists....

August 20, 2019

Vasillia gently touched my arm and leant in. “You are an Orthodox at heart,” she whispered, her eyes lighting up. “Yes, yes, I can see it inside you!” For the first time in my life I had to disappoint a nun. 

Upon learning of my Protestant upbringing Vasillia feigned disappointment. “Ahh, we all have our crosses to bear!” she laughed, her round face beaming out of her habit.             

We were standing in the nave of the Monastery of Agios Stefanos, gazing up at a fresco of the Second Coming of Christ. Vasillia was handing out candles.

“I have been living here now for 15 years - there are 32 of us. Meteora is my home,” she said proudly. 

Meteora, a collection of ancient monasteries perched atop towering pinnacles of rock, is one of the holiest sites in Greece. Derived from the Greek meaning “suspended i...

December 11, 2018

"Um, aren’t we a little low?!” shouted my fellow passenger over the Cessna’s engine.

She was right of course, we were only 50 metres above the ground and below us impala were scattering everywhere. “No, of course not,” I reassured her while secretly enjoying a personal ‘Out of Africa’ moment as she gripped the armrest.

We were half an hour out from Samburu airstrip in central Kenya, a wee spot on the map just inches above the equator, and the entry point to Samburu National Reserve.

The landing wasn’t pleasant. My fellow passenger gave me a pained smile as she mumbled off the plane. Unlike her, I wasn’t there to go on safari; it was the guardians of the animals who interested me.

“Super!” came the crisp New England welcome from behind a beige Land Rover. Strolling towards me was Tina Ramme, a Professor in Biology who tracks nomadic male lions for six months of the ye...

October 24, 2017

“Hold on, I just need to scrape something off…” My guide had removed his gumboot and was reaching for a knife. Slowly he sliced the blade down his leg to remove the blood sucking leech that had attached itself to him. “Welcome to Mentawai!” he said with a broad grin.

The leech and I were on the island of Siberut in the Indian Ocean, 150km west of Sumatra, on one of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. I was there to spend a week living with the Mentawai tribe, a proud, independent hunter-gatherer people living off the land since the Stone Age. 

Far from your typical holiday, only a few people make it this deep into the equatorial rainforest, and had I not been researching for an exhibition I doubt I would have heard of them. So, here I was, three flights, one ‘fast’ ferry, 1 motorcycle ride, 3 hours on a motorized canoe, and 2 hours tramping through mud later. No electricity,...

May 9, 2017

Even the most ardent solo traveller at some stage will need a guide - someone who knows their cantons from their arrondissements better than you do. I’ve used more than 20 guides around the world, from well-known tour companies to local specialists to random taxi drivers, so here are a few simple tips that might help next time you travel.

Choose if you can. Often I travel independently and need a local guide / translator / fixer that can’t be found in a Lonely Planet. TripAdvisor’s online forums are a great starting point – if only to identify companies that specialise in where you’re going – and from there a little desk research will get you far. Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest, make sure they have a good grasp of English over e-mail, and be clear about what costs are and aren’t included.

The tour company isn’t your guide. But the guide will be your company,...

May 2, 2017

“In the olden days,” began Apinelu, a tone of longing in his voice, “it was never this hot. Never. Now everything has changed, not just the sea.” It was a very still 33° and my earlobes were sweating. Welcome to the small island nation of Tuvalu.

“Tomorrow I take you out to the islands, less crowded, more local,” he chuckled. We were driving around Funafuti, the densely populated capital and I’m pretty sure I was the only tourist here.

To answer your ‘where?’ question, Tuvalu is 1000km north of Fiji, an archipelago made up of six coral atolls and three islands nestled under the Equator. It used to be one half of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands before it became independent from Britain and dropped the Ellice name. These days it’s better known for being the poster child of climate change.

It’s fair to say that Tuvalu is unlike any other islands you’re likely to visit: smal...

May 3, 2016

“Y’all not from round here, are ya? Ain’t nobody drinks Buuuud. This is Shiner Bock country, sir.”

And with that the barman passed over a golden-labelled bottle of ale. I was in Luckenbach, Texas, population 3, a small town in the Hill Country west of San Antonio. It was to be the starting point for an adventure deep into the heart of Texas, a road trip to discover the smaller side of the big state.

The Hill Country is known as much for its wildflowers and Harley-hugging roads as it is for being in the Bible Belt of America – a place where God meets guns, traffic yields to longhorns, and TexMex and ribs are a staple diet. Even the towns have great names; you can travel to Welfare in the morning, visit Comfort in the afternoon and spend the night in Utopia.

‘Luckenbach, Texas’ was made famous by a Waylon Jennings song and is not so much a town as a gathering of buildin...

January 12, 2016

“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, cause every little thing, gonna be al-riiight…”

It seemed only appropriate that Bob Marley blared out the front of the pick-up as we bounced along the dirt road. After all, this was the country of Emperor Haile Selassie, recognised by Rastafarians as the Massiah of African Redemption and head of their religion. Not that any of that mattered as we dodged goats and dug into ruts.

I was on my way to the Lower Valley of the Omo, a great swathe of land in Southern Ethiopia, to spend time volunteering with the Hamar tribe. Our driver had taken a ‘short cut’ as he’d heard that one of their most important rituals was taking place: the Jumping of the Bulls. Ukuli is a three day coming-of-age ceremony that every Hamar boy must go through in order to prove himself a man. We arrived just in time for the whipping.

“Aiii, Aiiiiii!”, a young woman was scr...

February 5, 2015

“When the alarm goes you grab this,” Officer Cadet Dusan said as he pointed to my lifejacket. “And this.” An orange survival suit. “We muster on C Deck, starboard side.” I didn’t know if it was a good or bad thing that my welcome was bringing up Titanic-like thoughts.

I had just boarded the ANL Bindaree, a Liberian-flagged freighter that was slowly pulling out into the Hauraki Gulf laden with 30,000 tones of freight, 24 crew and 1 other passenger. I was following a little-known tradition of passengers on cargo ships, harking back to the days when cabins were set aside for owners and VIPs. Today they’re taken by people looking for a slow alternative to air travel, who are independent, have time to spare, and who – like me – just want to do something a little different.

I’d chosen a rather circuitous route as was pointed out by Adrian, the bemused Chief Engineer. “OK,...

April 13, 2009

When you're in Morocco colour is inescapable. The contrasts, hues and shades that make up this North African country are evident from the moment you land. Travelling through the country is an unbelievably vivid experience, an intoxicating blend of colours, photo opportunities mixed with spicy smells and the strange sounds of a foreign land.

No photograph can ever capture the chorus of mosques in evening prayer. And even when the camera does freeze some spectacular scene it risks looking unreal.

At the edge of the Sahara, the sight of the mighty Erg Chebbi dunes looming over an ancient desert fort, reflected in the mirror of a tranquil oasis, seems too perfect to be true. Similarly, like an elusive mirage on a sea of yellow, the Auberge Yasmina looks impossibly beautiful.

Round every corner the images continue. One day I am standing in the stark whiteness of Midel...

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