The Tour Du Mont Blanc – a Journey Through The Alps

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

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         Okay, maybe this particular journey wasn’t a thousand miles, but over one hundred miles through the topsy-turvy, meandering Alps in the summer heat with a 15kg backpack strapped to you wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. The ‘Tour Du Mont Blanc’ it was called – one of great long walks of the world that snakes its way around the Mont Blanc Massif as it passes through ridiculously pretty and bucolic regions of France, Italy and Switzerland. Following some research on the internet a few weeks before, I booked my flight, loaded up my backpack and set off to the Swiss city of Geneva where I caught a connecting bus to the French town of Chamonix that sat at the foot of the highest mountain in Western Europe – Mont Blanc. The aforementioned single step hit the tarmac as I immediately set off on my journey as I left the bus and began a short walk down the alpine valley to the charming French town of Les Houches – the official start-point of the tour. I lazed about all day catching up on sleep due to fruitlessly attempting to sleep in the airport the night before my 6.30am flight. A thunderstorm lashed down from above and I spent the first night cocooned in my tent before emerging enthusiastically the next morning ready to hike.

       The first day was still littered with light rain and grey clouds obscuring the surrounding mountains I had came to see, and I made way up out of the valley alongside quiet roads that were lined with chalets and holiday homes. The summer season of course meant an end to the skiing and this was reflected in the quietness of the streets and the eerily empty ski fields where ski lifts gently swung in the valley breeze as they

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picturesque and pleasant – a French valley

solitarily awaited the distant return of snow. For now it was summer season – the season of hiking where people like me trudged up and down these valleys while sweating profusely. I reached the top of the valley (the ‘Col’ as they call it), ate a packed lunch and spent the second half of the first day descending to the bottom before meeting two Canadian girls Melanie and Sarah on their first trip to Europe. Being from British Columbia, they were no strangers to beautiful alpine mountains and we spent the afternoon chirping the usual traveller back-forth chat while walking through the quaint and picturesque scenery that was filled with rustic, stylish houses and settlements adorning colourful flowers and immaculately groomed gardens. The day ended again with me sheltering in my tent as a night storm battered down into the valley. Well, at least it’s at night hey.

      Following a second day trudging up and down over my first 2500m Col in the now frustratingly gloomy weather, I was nestled in a beautiful French valley that exploded in the colour of green as the summer sun finally made an appearance. Doing the trek counter-clockwise (it can be done either way around), I was now in the tiny town of Les Chapieux and en route to climb the next Col to make my way into Italy where dramatic IMG_1196.JPGviews of enormous, spiky rock faces awaited me on the southern side of the Mont Blanc Massif, not to mention an entirely different language (as if my few French phrases weren’t painful enough to the locals). I packed away my camping gear, ordered a couple of delicious French baguettes for lunch from a small shop and starting climbing into Italy. Over the border I was met with stupendous views of the now-clear mountain range where a stretching alpine valley snaked alongside an engulfing, jagged crowd of sky-piercing mountains and wrinkled hills. The scenery was incredible; the skies clear and blue; the paths filled with butterflies dancing to the rhythm of nature; and I, despite walking over 30km this day, was extremely content witnessing such beautiful scenes. When you’re an avid world traveller with a lust to ‘see the world’ it’s easy to neglect some places that seem close to home; the mental world map in your head pleads to be filled with travel and experiences from far-off places rather than those within a small circle of home – Europe, in my case. But this is a ridiculous philosophy I realised as the accompanying world-class and stunning, mountainous scenery lit up my eyes as good as anything in New Zealand, South America and even Nepal did. I had never even considered coming to the Alps a few weeks back, and yet here I was loving it.

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          Following a ten hour day of walking where I had teamed up again with the Canadian girls and an adventure-enthusiast, American-Australian called Brooke, I was slightly off course as relentless talk of pizza and ice cream had roped me in and took me off my planned path and towards the Italian mountain town of Courmayeur – a pleasant and supposedly posh settlement that lay cuddled in the surrounding hills and mountains which left me with an annoying accommodation problem.

      As far as shelter goes, there are two main accommodation options for hikers undertaking the Tour Du Mont Blanc, and these were A) Refuges – the most popular option which were large houses essentially serving as hostels offering dormitory-style accommodation with meals, and B) Camping – the budget and, of course, most fun option. Being forever a budget traveller I was tactically following the camping sites around the trail, but a detour to Courmayeur meant tiredly wandering around the town in twilight at the end of a long day to find a refuge. I swiftly learned refuges could only be found in the mountains and that, also, there was nowhere to wild camp in a town surrounded by vertical landscapes. This left me reluctantly forking out for a hotel. Oh, the backpacker ego pain of becoming a tourist for one night! Still, c’est la vie I told myself; me and the three girls had a memorable day’s hike, good conversations and a bountiful dinner. Yes, eating a 15-inch pizza and drinking beer with brand new friends after a long day’s adventure in the mountains is how every day should finish I told myself. There may have been pain, sweat and more expense than I planned, but it’s the memories that count. In a world where people can get lost in numbers, money and possessions, always it’s the experience that is most important.

          The next two days I made my way out of the Italian section of the tour and into the Swiss section. Another long day’s 30km+ walk out of Courmayeur further along the south side of the Massif had left me with painful blisters on my feet and the usual weight-loss I had experienced twice already this year on my multi-day hikes in Nepal. A few tinned cans of spaghetti and tuna with a load of biscuits and fruit wasn’t exactly enough for long days spent in the sun climbing over 2500m passes with a 15kg backpack. But still, there was always time to recover. And if you’re going to take a day off to recover, eat and drain blisters on your feet then why not do it in one of the most beautiful towns you’ve ever seen. In this case, Champex – a gorgeous and relatively small tourist town in Switzerland that had a lake in its centre filled with crystal clear water reflecting the blue sky – the perfect place to laze, gaze into the mountains, read and drink some wine. I arrived here with my new hiking friend from the Ukraine – a family man and aerospace engineer who had started the hike the same day as me and was eager to power through to the end. Having never met anyone from the Ukraine, I was eager to speak with him and share the experience. He proved to be an extremely friendly and all-round good IMG_1275.JPGperson – eagerly sharing stories, offering food and drink and informing me about wild fruits as he foraged for small, edible berries along the trail. Following the first night in Champex where we drank wine, ate and chatted as the sun went down behind the enveloping hills, we parted ways as he pressed on and I took the day off, taking it easy before resuming the second half of the trail the next day. Three more days of hiking left I noted, as I studied the map and guide.

          Walking alone on this hike proved to be a great decision so far. On one hand I had lots of time to solitarily wander, marvel at the mountainous expanse and listen to music while letting my mind wander; conversely on the other hand – because the hike was so popular with people of all group sizes, ages and shapes – there were also plenty of opportunities to speak to and team up with friendly hikers alongside the trail. As I made my way up and over the highest pass of the whole trek, I met Noam – a young Israeli guy who was also solo trekking. Like Ukraine, Israeli was a nationality of person I had never really encountered (at least not one on one) and ongoing chat showed that – despite borders, governments, cultures, religions, language and whatever else separates us – people are inherently similar and looking for the same things in life: usually to live their lives well with a sense of purpose, peace, community and fulfilment. We talked life and philosophy before sharing lunch atop the pass, gazing out at the spectacular view of the cutting valley and the dazzling glacier and white-watered river that streamed down into it. There below we camped and were joined again by Brooke – the American, Australian girl I had walked with previously to Courmayeur. With just two days left and the same way to go, we now had a trio of us to undertake the final miles as we headed back to the northern side and French valley that sat in the shadow of the Mont Blanc mountain. The end was nearing.

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          Following a relatively easy day’s walking of around ten miles, we rested, loaded up on food from the first supermarket in two days, and got tipsy off ‘hammer wine’ – 3 euros of low-quality, grape-filled goodness. My stomach was demanding calories as I hastily assembled an enormous French baguette and filled it with ridiculously cheap cheese (1.50 for 350g of Camembert!). This alongside the merriness of wine and good company meant a pleasant evening before undertaking the final day where we would climb up the mountain above to get the best panoramic views of the Mont Blanc Massif. Now joined by another friendly Israeli guy called Omer, we loaded up for the final time and immediately began a steep ascent of over 1000 vertical metres. Over the course of the trail, a hiker ascends and descends a total of 10,000m and this final day would make up a good portion of that with its relentless climb that even included vertical ladders and steps at one point. Climbing up an old rusty ladder on the side of a mountain with a big backpack and no safety harness really made you feel like Lara Croft or something.

      Finally all four of us made it to the top and took a short detour to the lakes beside us. We arrived here sweaty and exhausted after the thigh-stabbing final ascent and immediately sank down besides the rocks to eat, drink and rest. The scenery around us was breath-taking; the first lake was surrounded by shining green grass and lay directly in front of a panoramic and cinematic view of the Mont Blanc massif where enormous distant spikes and mountain faces zig-zagged their way along the horizon as they displayed their snowy peaks and glaciers. An array of colours dazzled my eyes in a dreamy dance of blue skies, white snow, green grass and reflective, crystal-clear waters. Mont Blanc stood gleaming clear opposite us across the valley.

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    I had the privilege of seeing a few spectacular views this year, but this was right up as the most stunning alongside the close-up view of Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks. The world and our reality truly is a work of art, and I could never get bored of this universal painting. Like a tourist in a gallery, I observed and marvelled at the views some more before me, Brooke and Omer jumped in and swam within the icy cold glacier water of Lac Blanc – much to the amusement of surrounding, photo-snapping tourists. We swiftly emerged freezing and refreshed, ready to head down the mountain and conclude the trek where it started – in the town of Chamonix. It, sadly, was the end of this adventure. C’est la vie; c’est la vie.

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the hiking team

       And so after eleven days, eight days of hiking, three countries and over 110 miles of good experiences, sites and people, I sat at the foot of my tent sipping beer and staring up into the mountains once more. I was alone again having said goodbye to the others – a natural and forever common occurrence in the world of backpacking. The last days had been exactly what I would call a perfect equilibrium of existence while we go about passing the time as we live and breathe on this floating rock in space. Days spent in beautiful natural environments, with changing landscapes, new faces, few worries and good memories is what it is all about.

My trekking adventures this year had helped steady the fire that burns inside a restless, young soul wanting to experience the beautiful gift of reality we have found ourselves with. And the Alps and this hike had been an experience that surpassed expectations.

Les Alps, it is Au Revoir for now, but surely not for good.

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Why You Should Consider Travelling After University

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Okay, you finish university this summer and you’re still unsure about what to do with your life. You pick up the rule-book of our capitalist society and flick to the chapter after university. ‘Chapter Five: Post-Degree Life’“You must now apply for a job in a business and field that you can see yourself working in for the rest of your career, nine hours a day, five days a week, year after year.” You read on with trepidation: “you must do this so that you can get a deposit on a house, get a brand new car, a new wardrobe, get those items advertised to you on the TV, and you must get all of this before your peers do”.

All those possessions you could have – the security; the comfort; the routine. If everyone chases these things instantly then surely you have to as well? Surely it’s the only way, right? Well, twenty-one years into my life and in my last year of university, I can safely say that I don’t own a lot of the aforementioned stuff, but the experiences I do have are something infinitely more valuable to my life. Yes, in the past I have threw out the car money so I could stay in Africa one summer working as a journalist and hanging out with a bunch of rastafarians; I threw out the deposit money so I could fly to Australia/Thailand and parachute, sail, cage-dive and party my way around the coast with a bunch of strangers; I threw out the wardrobe money so I could cycle my way through European countries, seeing the sights, raising money for charity and sampling the beers along the way.

The best thing about these possessions is that – unlike the stuff in the capitalist rulebook that I’m meant to obtain – these are things that aren’t mass-manufactured and can’t be lost with bankruptcy, divorce or some gambling addiction. They are locked up within myself, where they can never be compromised. So you have to ask yourself: which possessions are more valuable to you as a person currently in your life? Experiences or ‘stuff’?

In case you can’t work out with side I’m leaning to, it’s most definitely the experience side for me. We live on a crazy, convoluted, messed-up planet and only tread its vibrant soil but once; why would you want to spend it all in one routine, one job, one culture, one house, chasing all the items your neighbours have? Why would you not take this moment in time where the right combination of technology, political stability and infrastructure has allowed us to travel to multiple far-off places for the first time? Stories are created. Strangers become friends. Insights are gained. Experiences become possessions.

Perhaps this phenomenon can be further highlighted by looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a model that defined the common order people chase their human needs. Although just a theory on a theory, it’s a good way to reflect some possible ideas.

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As you can see, ‘security of body, of employment, of resources, of the family, of the health, of property‘ are some of the basic needs near the bottom of the pyramid that can be possessed in conjunction with work, mortgages, savings and material goods. But what about the self-actualisation and esteem qualities of ‘morality, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, respect of others, confidence, self-esteem, spontaneity‘ and those near the top of the pyramid? Will you grow those from material goods? Will you develop those immediately getting stuck doing something you have no interest in for forty-five years?

It is obviously dependant on you, your own personal interests, your relationships and what you seek to get out of, contribute and achieve from working in your particular field; however it’s more than likely for a lot of people – still unsure of what career (if any) will fulfil them – that those things can currently grow from the amazing opportunity of travel where you can gain perspective, learn first-hand about the world and experience other cultures, ideas and peoples – rather than sit at at the same desk every day in a job you’re not interested just to mindlessly chase the word ‘successful’. Just remember that the term ‘successful’, used in the context of the working world, is one constructed by a capitalist ideology – the parameters of which are measured by money and market share: things that were again constructed by other people that aren’t you. Don’t be instantly pressured into something you don’t want to do by such a debatable, problematic and relative term.

So go and travel. Go and travel if you still don’t know what to do with your life. Especially if you haven’t been before. Ignore your tutors who want you to constantly chase ‘success’; ignore mum and dad who want to see you ‘grow up’; ignore the TV that tells you to work to buy the latest car. Respond. Respond against a system that can hinder you. Go and catch a plane to an exotic country; go and hike through the expansive wilderness; go experience other cultures; go and party to the early morning on a beach with a bunch of strangers; go and spend your days gazing out at sea and your nights looking up at the stars.

If you don’t have the money then work for a bit, or combine the two and work while you’re away – working visas and teaching schemes are common in many countries and are a part of such experiences. Don’t worry about falling behind – you can still have all those other items and fulfil those other important needs later on in life; just take the lack of responsibility, proliferation of good health and the complete freedom and liberation that this age brings to head off with a flimsy backpack and see our bewildering world. There’s a good chance you will discover what you want to do with your life whilst out there travelling. And if you end up in a mundane job working for the human necessities of family, security and home, at least you took your chance to possess enriching experiences on top of those when you had the chance.

Just remember that after the rule-book is read, the adverts consumed, the paycheck cashed, the garage occupied and the wardrobe full – travel, like education, is one of the few things you buy that makes you richer.

How To Save Up For A Backpacking Trip

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Okay, so you’ve got it all planned. You’ve dropped a pin on a map of the world, found your far-off destination, researched all the crazy things you want to do and are itching to throw your clothes and camera into a bag and jump into the glistening, pure pool of adventure travel. A sense of excitement warms your soul and you begin to float towards the heavens – but suddenly the quantum reality of the universe pulls you back down and reminds you to check your bank account. You view your account balance: $32.04. Enough to get you to the next town maybe, but not to the corners of the earth. You realise you’re gonna have to save up to afford this next adventure.

This is such a battle global backpackers go through time and time again. If you were lucky enough in the game of life to be spawned in a first-world country then even working for the minimal wage will be enough to get you out in the world to travel; in fact, there are many people out there who travel with little to no money – but that’s another story. With a sense of grit, determination, patience and by just being sensible with money, it’s possible to save enough to go anywhere you want. Here are some things to think about as you save for your next backpacking trip.


Do I really need it, or do I just want it?

A few minutes walking around any city centre will see your eyes swamped by a starry universe of advertisements for clothes, products, gadgets and expensive cuisine. It may have just been payday and you’re itching to shower yourself in such luxuries, but it’s adult-18774_960_720useful to step back and think whether any of that stuff is of any use to you as you save up for your travelling adventure. In fact it is during backpacking trips that many people come back to basics and realise the small amount of things that you need to get through the day. These are: food, water, oxygen and shelter (sometimes even this is a luxury on the road). Put simply, these are the fundamental things you need in order to survive – cutting out the luxuries or other things we’re led to believe are ‘necessities’ will see you saving hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars/pesos each month. How much you are willing to embrace ‘the simple life’ will reflect how much you begin to save. So skip lunch at Nandos and grab a potato salad from the nearest supermarket.

Find extra ways to make money

Seven times in the past I have took a dive into the unknown of pharmaceutical testing and donated my body to medicinal research. Essentially I became a human guinea-pig where my time and body were used to test new medicines. While this sounds scary and crazy to anyone I mention it to, the reality is that it is very safe, ethically approved and thousands of these studies are conducted every year in most developed countries. Such ventures allowed me to save additional hundreds of pounds for a backpacking trip in South America, a long-distance bike ride in Central Europe and ongoing travels (including a cage-dive with great-whites!) within Australia whilst I was there. This is just one example of another way to gain income besides work, but if that’s not for you – look elsewhere. Get a weekend job; sell your unused possessions; go into a casino and prepare to win millions (I take no responsibility for the consequences of this one).

Get rid of your car

Yes, that shiny metallic stallion that gets you around town may be your immediate ticket to freedom, but in the long run of saving up for an adventure it can be anything but that. Cars, while great to get around, are ultimately a massive consumer of your finances that can see thousands being spent on fuel, insurance, tax and repairs. If you have legs and have a job that is accessible by bicycle or public transport (your ego may have to take a hit), then sell the car, store the money from it and start counting the hundreds you will no doubt save each month. Hey, if you even live in a hitch-hiker friendly country maybe even try hitching around – it is a genuine mode of travel that will be extremely useful to you on your travels.

Stop drinking and smoking

If you’re really passionate about strapping on that backpack and going on a grand adventure then your hedonistic vices may have to be suppressed for a while. Oh the humanity – the reality sinks in and one hears the groans for miles as the thoughts of beer-2218900_960_720.jpggiving up those weekend sessions or fag breaks for the near future ring cold and clear. The simple fact is that nights out, drinking and smoking see massive amounts of disposable income being spent in the matter of a view hours in a bar or club – all for you to be left with a hangover and a need to spend even more money on fast food hangover cures the day after. Give it up. Your body and wallet will thank you for it I assure you. And if you thinking this is rich advice, know that this is coming from a very keen drinker numerously accused of being an alcoholic who is currently two months sober on the road to adventure – my longest period sober in the last six years!


The list could really go on longer when focusing on the cultural, consumerist spending habits of people in modern day society, but it really is as simple as looking at where your money is going and taking control of your finances and life. We live in a world of distractions, advertisements and temptations where you will be shown hundreds of ways to spend your money every day. But ultimately it’s you who is in control of your spending habits and if you’re serious about getting out there in the world of adventure, then it is up to you to look at how your money could be saved.

With a little first-world austerity, and some simple temporary lifestyle changes, you’ll be surprised at how quick those travel tokens rack up in your bank account.

Why Travel Is The Purest Form Of Rebellion

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Rebellion
: an angst-ridden word that brings about images of uprisings, stoic defiances and Bastille-esque overthrows.

In fact defined as  “the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention”, said action or process can be realised in workers’ strikes, protests, political movements or even in fashion and subculture – groups such as Punks, Hipsters or Bikers going against societal expectations in the way they act and the way they style themselves. But when one looks at these things holistically, we can so often witness a way everything spirals around and each one is ultimately fallible to the system. Worker’s strikes can only last for a set period of time before their livelihood collapses; protests can spiral out of control with protesters getting arrested by authority and their voice ignored; subculture styles are capitalised on by advertising and marketing companies reciprocating the trends back to them in order to profit off their rebellion. Through the resistance of it all, so often it ends with ‘the man’ getting his way. However, there is another act of rebellion that has the capability to evade such capture and compromise – a ‘movement’ and lifestyle that resists conventions, control and authority to a much larger degree than any of the aforementioned examples.

Travel. Backpacking. Wandering. The act or process of venturing to new places, new people, new horizons and new worlds. Packing your few possessions into a flimsy backpack and leaving your home, system and conventions behind; setting your eyes to the horizon and relentlessly aspiring to wander to the next place and the next experience. In the act of adventure travel, one becomes distanced from the overarching prism of society where the mechanisms of control and convention may dictate the way for a period of time, but never for the duration. When one uses all their money to voyage to a new place and not on things that tie them to a single society, how can specific conventions, control and authority be a part of that person’s life? When one systematically moves from society to society throughout the years, how can one individual society’s rules and views be implemented onto that person in any effective way?

The answer is that they can’t. Societies and political structures rely on people’s lives being static and still in one place, and if one becomes nomadic in nature and lives a life of physical movement, then the mechanisms of an individual society lose their influence drastically. To travel is to rebel. No monthly mortgage payments; no permanent job and pension scheme; no expenditure being used on consuming advertised or marketed products; no singular exposure to bias, samey media conveying everything one way. A single society’s foundations of control, authority and convention lose their zest when a person exists on a global scale. Yes, travellers adhere to laws and conventions when they are in a specific country, but when that stay is never set or fixed, any long-term hold over that traveller becomes marginal – all they need is a few hundred dollars and then all of it is left behind again.

French philosopher Albert Camus said that “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion” and perhaps travellers/backpackers are the ultimate embodiment of this. A life of movement and adventure is not compatible with the system – after all if everyone were to live a nomadic existence then the conventions, control and authority of single societies would be completely disrupted. The system would buckle, be forced to change to be reborn. And as far as rebellion goes, it can so often consist of violence, intent to destroy and something that eludes a sense of danger – however in travel we see a form of rebellion that is arguably entirely ‘pure’ and harmless.  

Most travellers’ (the good ones) aims and ambitions are to explore, to enrich, to learn, to anew and to experience; many work jobs locals don’t want to do on working holiday visas in countries and many teach languages and spend money they gained from first world countries in third world countries – a direct transfer of money from the rich to the poor empirically bridging the international poverty gap. To associate this kind of rebellion with anything as negative as violence or a clashing of two sides is just not correct; if anything it resembles more of a peaceful protest. A pure rebellion. An act where the world and its people become enriched, thoughtful,  less materialistic, less judgemental and close-minded.

So angry with the system or disillusioned with the lack of options your society gives you? Sick of working a soul-less job for a faceless corporation whose only aim is to line the pockets of their bureaucrat bosses and investors? Don’t destroy, don’t protest, don’t get angry, don’t strike. Travel. Move, explore and experience other societies; engage in other ways of thinking and new philosophies; tread new grounds and gain new perspectives in a true peaceful protest. Reply. Respond. Rebel. Perhaps in a world of chaos, scandals and corruption, it’s the last escape from the corrupted system that free-spirited souls truly have.

A Dangerous World? The Fears Of Backpacking Finally Addressed

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So you want to go on an epic trekking adventure in South America or travel around the beaches and temples of Asia. Maybe you even want to go volunteer in some tiny vague African country that your mom has never heard of. Either way, fears and concerns from friends, relatives and your own mind begin to nip away at your conscience. Somebody points out a recent tabloid news story about a backpacker dying in a jungle in Columbia and you begin to worry about being kidnapped, killed or mugged the second you get out of the airport. But all these concerns and worries just? Are you right to worry? Should you really risk your life on the quest to adventure?


I think the first thing to acknowledge when discussing an issue like this is to recognise that such concerns and worries are perfectly natural and reflect thousands of years of human evolution that has allowed us to divide and multiply to the billions. It is the notions of treading water carefully, staying away from the edge and being primitive mammals looking for security and shelter that makes us the successful, flourishing species we are today. While it is natural for our consciousness to be cautious and tentative when going to unknown territory, I would argue that this side of us is stretched and abused by the culture and media in which we all live in today.

Such culture and media allows us to see a story about one backpacker being killed somewhere plastered over newspaper pages while not paying attention to the fact that hundreds of thousands of backpackers travel without any issues and that – shock, horror – people get killed or murdered in their own country every month of every year. It is not putting things into perspective and becoming too invested in the media that lead to the illogical fears that plague many when it comes to adventure and travel. Believe it or not, we actually live in the most peaceful time in human history with there being less wars, political stability, genocides and murders than ever before overall across the world. We also live in the information era where we have unprecedented access to research facts, statistics and info to help us make decisions and be informed about the ‘unknown territory’ than ever before.

The world really is setup well for you to have an amazing adventure – but of course it helps us to be mindful towards certain issues of security before taking flight into the unknown.

Deciding which country/city/area you are travelling to

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When I decided to go backpack around South America after I finished University, the arguments with the parents began straight away. They worried I was going to get murdered or kidnapped by a drug cartel and be mailed back pieces of me unless they paid some Colombian drug lord a six-figure ransom. Of course having travelled before and vastly researched the countries in which I intended to tread foot, I was pretty confident that their concerns were a bit overblown and built on stereotypes and media rather than experience and research. A simple visit to your own country’s government website will see the foreign travel section provide you with up-to-date information and advice about the relative dangers and political stability in specific countries. Please note even these are only useful to an extent – further research on backpacker forums and blogs will be thoroughly more useful to you as a guide to what level of safety you can expect. I would just like to add in five months in South America I had no issue at all with crime or danger besides hear a few stories from others about pick-pocketed phones and stolen valuables. This brings us nicely onto the next point…

Common Sense as the Best Safety Mechanism

Now if you want to be one of those backpackers who travels around without the ability to apply common sense in looking after yourself and belongings, then I would say fears of being a victim of crime in undeveloped foreign countries from yourself, friends and relatives are understandable. Those aforementioned backpackers I heard of who had their phones stolen were travelling on overnight buses sat next to strangers; they fell asleep with their iPhone in their outer pocket and found it missing when they awoke the next morning. Now while this could feasibly happen at home in your own country, the fact that you will be visibly foreign and western in many undeveloped countries popular for backpacking will make you a bigger target. This is a reality but does it need to be a major fear? My opinion is absolutely not. Just applying simple common sense about how you carry your valuables, how much you carry, where you store your belongings and which behaviour you chose to exhibit in a seemingly sketchy place will dictate the level of safety available to yourself. With a bit of common sense, this can be a vastly improved level against crime and danger.

Physical Injury or Sickness

Another fear that many people worry about is becoming sick or lying in a foreign hospital with a broken leg surrounded by people who don’t speak your language with friends and family a long way away. What could be worse than suffering from malaria, lying in an unclean hospital bed while a person next to you screams from a broken leg? This is a true situation for one person I met on a trip in Ghana a few years ago. Having used the best malaria tablets and only being bitten a handful of times, he managed to contract malaria whereas somehow me – with my 76 bites and cheap malaria tablets – somehow didn’t. I guess this goes to show that if something bad is going to happen, it is going to happen. However if injury or sickness is a big enough worry to put you off travelling or backpacking, I would implore you again to research the area you’re going, put it into perspective (that friend was one out of maybe fifty volunteers I knew that contracted Malaria during a summer in Ghana), and minimise the risks again by research and common sense. Find out the relative health dangers, get injections, exercise caution when doing adventurous sports, don’t drive a scooter in Thailand when you’re wasted at 3am, always make sure your bungee jump or shark cage-dive is with a certified and reputable company, and of course – have travel insurance; just in case you do break that leg, you know.

What Your Biggest Fear Should Really Be

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People could spend all day talking about the relative dangers of visiting each and every country and doing each specific activity or whatever it is people do in the world of adventure travel. The great reality is that the concerns from home when you go off to travel the world by yourself are completely misinformed and from an area of thinking that is crippled by stereotypes, mass media and a lack of real-world experience. When I hear the extent of people’s concerns about travelling to some areas, I can’t help but feel grateful I have learnt to have logical, analytical thought that allows me to assess and judge the relative dangers and risks involved in the pursuit of my dreams and adventures. I will always exercise caution and research when going to unknown territory and encourage everyone else to do so.

However I implore anyone who is willing to let fears and concerns prevent them from chasing their dreams of adventure, to look in the mirror and think again. Are your concerns relevant? Are they real? Are they logical? In my humble opinion it is letting illogical and unreasonable fears control your life which should be the greatest fear of all; imagine ending up on your deathbed having not travelled and lived your adventures all because you let a singular news story or relative’s uninformed opinion lead you astray. This is the greatest fear for myself I can tell you that. So just remember, exercise a degree of caution and common sense, do your research, get insurance and remember the positives that await and the possible dangers of staying at home, getting old whilst not chasing your dreams when you had the chance…

Iceland: A Spontaneous Adventure In The Land Of Earth, Wind, Fire And Ice

   “Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.” – Terence Mckenna

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     The bags were unpacked and the house was silent.  The rain continuously tapped against the windows as the greenery of England’s spring lay soaked and drenched in the May showers outside. A slight break in cloud and I went for a familiar walk around the local park – a place I had no doubt completed hundreds, possibly thousands, of identical laps around whilst out jogging and walking. I was back home following a ten-week spell abroad trekking through the mountains of the Himalayas in Nepal and then briefly getting some sun and party in Cambodia. Originally I had planned to return to Blighty a couple of weeks later than planned, but a tiredness of conventional South-East Asian backpacking (heat, stomach problems, getting drunk every day) had led me to wrap up the trip slightly prematurely and conserve the money for something else. Something else still within the realm of adventure of course; I was still hungry to keep exploring and challenging myself upon the platform of planet earth. I loaded Google Maps just to remind myself of the territories of the world that lingered close to U.K shores. Portugal? Greece? Hungary? Everything seemed a bit ‘safe’ and nothing really tempted and got the blood pumping as it should when you’re young and attempting to live life to the full. Then it struck me. I wanted to explore a place like I had in Nepal or New Zealand where striking natural beauty, unique landscapes and adrenaline-filled adventure lingered at every corner. I wanted to explore the tops of mountains and not the bottom of beer bottles. I wanted to go to Iceland.

         In what was probably one of the more spontaneous decisions of my life, I hedonistically booked the flight and began researching and preparing for my first venture into Scandinavian lands. From what I had seen from nature documentaries and imagined from the otherworldly, ethereal music of Icelandic artists Sigur Ros and Bjork, I was going to go and see a magical, mystical land of volcanoes, glaciers, wholesome people and alien landscapes that sat isolated from the rest of the world. My mind was open; my bags packed once more. Let the next adventure begin.


      Following a three hour flight North, I touched down in Keflavik airport and made my way to the capital Reykjavik. After walking around the rustic capital, getting some food and checking into a hostel for the first night, my first thoughts circled around disbelief and confusion about how ridiculously expensive everything was. Sure I had heard this land of vikings was pricey to the visitor, but come on – $50 for a hostel bed; $25 for a meal; $6 for a small bus journey; $3 for a bottle of water!? I soon realised I was going to have to undertake this journey a bit more ‘hardcore’ than usual and live as bare as I could. Luckily I had my tent, sleeping bag, hiking boots, a penny-pinching attitude and good health all in tow. I spent the rest of the day climbing a small mountain (Mt. Esja) that overlooks Reykjavik then hit the road outta the city the next day. Wilderness: here I come.

Hitch-Hiking

           Your choices when travelling around Iceland as a tourist were generally either you A) rent out a car at an expensive, but affordable price; B) get shafted paying for the local buses where journeys of one hour need four separate tickets; or C) get extremely shafted by paying the almost laughable costs of tour agencies and companies who would transport you around the island for the mere cost of your life savings and probably a kidney too. As a poor backpacker without a driving license the choice only seemed to lie in option D) – walk along the side of the main road casually and stick your thumb out. That I did as I headed East along the south coast. Although I had hitch-hiked numerous times before, you can’t help but feel a little weird the first time you stick your

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Seljafossland

thumb out and stand awkwardly on the side of the tarmac. Luckily the journey started with a direct hit when two Canadian girls I had met the day before on the mountain instantly recognised me and pulled over to pick me up. Less than ten cars passing and already a ride. A good start. We chit-chatted and eventually headed to Seljafossland – a large and beautiful waterfall that rained down over the top of a large green cliff. A path circled around the back of it so you could observe the spectacle of the universe from every angle whilst getting drenched inside out. I scrambled up the hills around it to get the view from over the top too, and I have to admit that in the heat of the sun, among the green grass, blue skies and the music of Sigur Ros sailing into my ears, I was in a place of sheer joy and happiness – the kind of pleasure you feel as a kid on the first day of freedom outside on the summer break. Iceland was already as beautiful as I hoped it would be.

        The next ride I teamed up with a Russian backpacker and we soon got picked up by an American couple heading East along the coast. A British guy, a Russian and an American couple in a rented car in Iceland – it almost sounds the start of some joke but such is the randomness of life of when you’re out exploring the world with no strings attached. Heading to the next giant waterfall Skogafoss, we conversed and shared stories and insights about life. The Russian jumped out to climb a volcano en route and I carried on to explore the beauty of this magical island with the Americans. The sheer randomness of hitch-hiking was a welcome reprieve to the organised, rigid travelling of minibuses and coaches in Asia; the total feeling of unpredictability you feel when you stick your thumb out at the side of the road and await for a stranger to come out of nowhere is a feeling that is exhilarating and in some way addictive. If I felt awkward on the first ride, I was now excited when I hit the road again and got picked up instantaneously by an elderly Austrian couple who were heading to the far east of the country to undertake a three-month boat ride around the island. Whatever floats your

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the beautiful farmland of Vik

boat as they say, I was rather jealous and slightly inspired – this wasn’t the first time in their life they had escaped society to undertake an adventure on the ocean. I loved the openness and open-mindedness of the elderly couple – an age group in my country so known for their rigid following of right-wing culture and fear of the ‘other’. Of course you always try to be entertaining and give something back; relying on free rides you always made sure you tried to offer something – whether in the form of petrol money, good conversation or offerings of snacks. Despite the age and language difference, conversation flowed nicely and they soon dropped me at Vik – a charming, small coastal town that was famous for adorning a beautiful black sand beach and interesting rock formations out beyond the cliffs. I made way to the top of the cliffs and explored the beautiful coast and farmland around the town.

Up In The Hills

              Although the weather had been great and pleasant since I first arrived, the inevitable rain I was worried about soon stormed in from the upper Atlantic. The green glass and blue skies suddenly lost the summery shine to the greyness and I spent an awful night sheltering in my tent as it got battered by 90km winds and horizontal rain. Eventually I gave up on sleep, got out in the perpetual daylight and packed up my tent to head inside the camping ground kitchen. The next day didn’t improve, forcing me to spend the entire day indoors waiting out the storm. Damn. My mood was defeated but finally the weather improved and I decided to give up on trying to reach the glacier lagoon which was currently being battered by another storm and instead head back west to Skogar – where there was an enticing 26km trek through the hills that passed between two active volcanoes. I hitched a ride from a friendly French couple and headed back in that direction with two American guys on their first trip outta the states. Before exploring an eerie plane wreck on a black beach and one of the island’s largest glaciers, I jumped out by the waterfall, said au revoir to the Frenchies and started making my way up the steep green hills, following the river and its many waterfalls upstream as I trekked deeper inland with my bulky backpack.

           The shore soon disappeared from sight and I became increasingly engulfed in the mysterious and fascinating alien landscape of this land of ice, rock, wind and fire. From what started as a walk along green grass and an array of glorious waterfalls, I was soon up in the arid land of snow, red volcanic rock and absolute, sheer beautiful isolation. I was totally alone, climbing up from hills of snow, marvelling at the clear blue skies and enormous dome-shapes of the volcanoes beside me. What stood to my left was a volcano that erupted in 2010, causing new land masses to form and creating an ash cloud so big IMG_0979.JPGthat it grounded many flights further south in Europe. I felt alive. On edge. It was probably dangerous for me to even be doing this trek alone as it was still slightly off-season, the huts were closed and nobody even knew I was here. But I loved that; the feeling of total isolation, journeying through breathtaking scenery, battling through the ankle deep snow as I headed over a kilometre upwards. Toward the top a beautiful, crystal blue pool of icy water reflected the sun into my eyes. The silence was sharp; the air cold. Beyond that I started to to descend into a distorted wonderland of newly-formed cliffs, boulders and jagged rock formations sporadically sprinkled with pockets of gleaming white snow. Even a rainbow stood shining in the valley as I breathed in the perfectly fresh air and trekked further into the idyllic surroundings.

       Eventually I realised it was 10.30pm (hard to spot in a land of constant daylight) and pitched up my tent in a completely isolated spot, miles and miles from the nearest soul and overlooking a glorious view of the natural wonderland of Iceland. It was a moment of ethereal beauty; never before had I just headed into the wilderness with a tent and camped up for free with a world class view and perfect silence. Free, yes! The idea of not having to pay somebody else to sleep on planet earth was liberating. I almost felt like the animal I am; the animal we all are and all were before we burdened ourselves with the concept of Money and bureaucracy. I was beginning to understand where the beautiful music of Sigur Ros came from; where the laid-back relaxed culture came from; and the fact that the country was not afraid to jail their corrupt elite bankers following the financial recession. Life is much more simple when it’s deeply rooted in the natural world – with much more connection to the physical reality of the universe and less connection to ideology of all kinds possible. A healthy dose of nature for everybody would truly make this world a less shitty place. But hey, for now I’ll enjoy the midnight sunset to myself.

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true freedom

Back to Reykjavik

               Unlike my other adventures, this one was certainly less open in terms of longevity and flexibility so I decided to head back towards the direction of Reykjavik where I would leave in a few days. I spent the next day descending into the bucolic valley and exploring the now alpine-like surroundings before heading back towards the coast while following a mountain dirt road. The road was a testing route with constant river crossings resulting in cold feet and wet trousers up to the knees. The wind was also picking up through the valley making it more of a trudge than a trek. Luckily hitch-hiking was back on the cards and I managed to catch a ride from a Colombian family on holiday – a man, his kids and their grandparents. Although the man spoke perfect English having lived in the states for some time, the rest of the family conversed in Spanish prompting me to test my awful Espanol for a whole twenty minutes. Again, the randomness of hitching cast a smile on my face. In what other scenario do you end up in such situations from nowhere? Eventually they dropped me off on the main road where I grabbed another ride off a French adrenaline junky who proceeded to tell me about his insanely adventurous life of backpacking, skydiving, skiing and surfing around the world. What an inspiration he was – over forty years old and still going strong, staying true to himself and keeping his adventurous soul in tact. His next adventure was a trip to Madagascar. He dropped me off in a place called Selfoss where I decided to go on an eating spree having been living off cheap, rationed food for the last couple of days. I pitched my tent again for the night before researching and finding my next destination the following day: a hot-spring valley with a warm river you could bathe in – the perfect place after trekking and constantly being on your feet for the last few days.

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          I arrived in the town of Hveragerdi the next day which was a town basically built around a plethora of hot springs. The centre of the town had a geothermal park, a restaurant that used geothermal heat to cook food and random manholes everywhere letting out steam from the volcanic land below. It was extremely interesting to see and I headed outta town into the neighbouring valley to explore the natural wonders that lay hidden in it. Yet again following some more walking through hills and rolling landscapes, I arrived at the hot river and took a good hour to enjoy the feeling of bathing in natural warm waters. The day was chilly and cloudy, but submerged in the water I was almost drifting off into sleep. Nice and relaxing for a while but eventually I jumped out into the cold Iceland wind and decided to hitch-hike back to the capital city for my last couple of days in the capital city.

       I finished my last couple of days exploring Reykjavik and around, including a great hike around one of the country’s biggest waterfalls where I met an Icelandic teacher and her two interns – a German and American girl. We ended up having a great full day together crossing rivers, climbing up hills, sharing snacks and jumping in the freezing ocean at the end of the eventful and fulfilling day. I guess following my lack of satisfaction in IMG_1084.JPGCambodia on the last adventure this was more of the sort of thing I was looking for: individual, unpredictable adventure with beautiful nature and time to reflect on the wonder of existence on this green and blue rock that spins a thousand miles an hour as it rotates around a ball of fire in an infinite universe. The world and its people certainly behold many wonders – whether in the form of the kindness of strangers and randomness of events, or just the sheer beauty of the world we live in. Iceland was a perfect example: waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, hot springs, dramatic cliffs, glaciers and the accessibility to hitch-hike and meet friendly people. Oh not to mention the rare Arctic fox me and the French couple spotted that one day! I was content for now as I headed back to the U.K to undertake an eight-day medical research trial to stock up the travel tokens again. Nothing comes for free hey, except if you head off into the wilderness with a tent. Thanks for everything Iceland, or as they say in Icelandic: ‘Takk!’

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midnight sunset

Down From the Mountains: A Holiday in Cambodia

“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories”Ray Bradbury

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        The bags were packed, the hiking boots ditched and the remnants of my Nepali money depleted slowly down to a few mere scraps – capable nothing more than purchasing some last snacks and the meagre taxi fare to the capital’s airport. The horizon lingered once again. Following seven weeks of travelling in Nepal it was time to hit the road to the East; this meant a one-way ticket to the heat of Bangkok and a goodbye to my recent comrade of adventure-travel Bryan. Me and the flying Dutchman from Rotterdam had now spent almost two months together in close companionship as we trudged up 5000m hiking trails and collectively threw our insides up into smelly toilets. The struggles had been real – the kinship of two like-minded dreamers bonded in a chaotic mix of mighty mountains, smelly socks, draining bus rides, humorous insights and cultural exploring. I often imagined myself to always travel as a solo wanderer under the romantic pretense of being some lone wolf or extradited renegade; but having spent some time travelling together with another fellow wanderer, I could feel the strange sensation in my stomach as we parted ways. It had been nice to share the experience for once with someone so similar in mindset, humour and style. Sure, there are negotiations and democratic decisions to be made during this kind of travel that may feel limiting in freedom to the solo traveller, but conversely there are plenty of experience-enhancing positives too – especially when sharing the journey with a person on the same frequency as you. “Happiness is only real when shared – not a phrase I’ve always agreed with, but definitely something that I thought of when standing under the immense enormity of Mount Everest with my travelling companion – both in awe of the world-class views and perfect silence we were gifted with following our two week pilgrimage through the mountains. However, despite such sentiment, the road is long and both of us still are fiercely independent at our cores – and no doubt we were both ready to head out alone into the wilderness of solo travel once more. Hunt the horizon; kick the tarmac. Safe travels brother.

Tomb Raiding

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exploring the temple

          Despite my scheduled flight to Thailand via Delhi, my destination was in actual fact Cambodia – it just so happened that is was considerably cheaper to fly to Bangkok and take an eight hour bus across the border to Siem Reap: a Cambodian top destination due to the proximity of the mysterious, ancient and beautiful Angkor Wat temple. It was the sort of place you imagined from an Indiana Jones movie, or more aptly Tomb Raider with the first movie actually having been filmed there. You know the sort of thing – old, weathered ancient ruins with tree roots snaking through them; lizards scuttering around into cracks and holes; a general feeling of being attacked by some ancient, tribal guy with a spear. I had wanted to visit for a few years so as I headed off at 4.30am in the dark on a bicycle with three guys I had just met, I could feel the rush of blood in my veins. Perhaps this was due to excitement, or the four Pro-Plus caffeine tablets I had just taken to combat the lack of sleep from the first few nights; either way, I was ready for a day of adventure.

        The reason we were heading off so early was to get to the main temple Angkor
Wat for the sunrise so we could watch the sun come up over the temple whilst reflecting symmetrically upon the water. It would make a good view and introduction to the temple ruins, and of course provide us with a perfect opportunity for the superficial photos taken probably a million times already.

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Unfortunately – after battling through puddles and darkness while taking a 4km detour to get the $37 day ticket – we arrived just after the sunrise; something that didn’t matter too much anyway due to the overcast weather. Still, we now had all day to explore the myriad temples of this fascinating and mysterious place. We crossed the moat of water to the main temple and began to explore. It was instantly easy to see why this place had the reputation of ‘king of all temples’ or religious sites; the architecture, design and general atmosphere of the atavistic buildings danced and dazzled with style. Monolithic towers and spear-like pillars rose high from the centre as they lay surrounded with a labyrinth and maze of columns, rooms, squares and hidden areas that you could spend hours exploring. The temple itself was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to the Hindi god Vishnu. And at almost one thousand years old, you really felt transported back to another era of human civilisation while exploring the temple ruins.

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After a couple of hours and some breakfast beside the temple, the four of us jumped on the bicycles again and headed off further into the lush jungle area that housed the various temples and ruins of the Khmer Empire. People had told me how vast the complex of temples was, and it’s fair to say my expectations were met as we spent long amounts of time and sweat peddling from one site to another. Each location revealed more and more captivating ruins and beautiful, ancient architecture. From big, individual temples to small, separate ruins scattered sporadically in the jungle – there was plenty to see and get lost in. All were unique and interesting in their own way and style, but the highlight for me had to be the Ta Prohm temple that lay deep in the jungle amid the clutches of nature. The old, weathered temple lay hidden among the trees whereby the large, snake-like roots of the jungle had wriggled and wrapped around the tattered ruins which consequently showcased a truly awe-inspiring spectacle of nature taking back and consuming man-made construction. It was beautiful, evocative and fascinating to observe and explore such a mix of ancient cultural human structures amid wild nature – a true coming together of two worlds. Although I was recommended to stay a few days, I felt that one long and sweaty day of exploring the temples was sufficient and was ready to move on to the next destination.

The Horrors of Genocide

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      Following the temple exploration and a couple nights of partying in Siem Reap, I left my new friends and headed solo again to the capital of Phonm Penh – a pleasant but rather bland place as far as Asian cosmopolitan cities go. The primary reason backpackers frequented the capital however was to learn more about the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s while visiting the notorious ‘Killing Fields’ and ‘S21 Prison’ – two places of sobering sadness that showcased the true depraved depths humans can sink to on the pursuit of political or dogmatic ideology. Having visited slave castles in Ghana and Auschwitz in Poland before, I knew the gravity of going to places of systematic murder and unspeakable cruelties; it was never a normal visit, and parts of it almost feel wrong to go and glare around as a privileged tourist, but ultimately it’s profoundly necessary as a human-being to learn more about history and the atrocities committed by regimes so that you yourself can recognise the story of a country while educating yourself against the tyranny of certain ideologies and fascist movements in the hope such acts can never be repeated.

           We arrived first at the killing fields just outside of the city to take the audio tour around the seemingly peaceful grounds. Entering the gates the first sight that awaits you is of a path of lined trees, a distant white stupor and the peaceful sound of birds tweeting amongst the trees waving gently amongst the breezing wind. Such a bucolic sight only hides the traumatic history of the fields that were one of many used by Pol Pot’s fascist communist regime the Khmer Rouge to brutally murder their fellow citizens in whatever way possible. After spreading and taking control of the country in in 1975, the guerilla party would continually use places like this to ‘cleanse’ the population of intellectuals, city dwellers, capitalists, ‘traitors’ and anybody who didn’t fit into the agrarian ideal of Pol Pot’s new society. Those who didn’t die of disease and malnutrition after being exiled from the cities, would be taken to places like the killing fields to be hacked, stabbed and beaten to death with blunt instruments and even pieces of tree bark – the party displaying their sickening nonchalance in the systematic killing of their own people and species. Mass graves were sporadically located around the fields where bodies would be thrown into pits after being killed, or sometimes buried alive. Rather disturbingly, one tree adorned a sign saying ‘the killing tree’ – informing visitors that it was used to beat and kill small children against. Even the stupor stood tall showcasing the countless bones and skulls of victims.

 

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         A walk around the place as well as the equally sickening S21 Prison is truly shocking and leaves one in disbelief about how other human beings could be so blind, brainwashed and hateful to commit such heinous crimes against humanity. For a long time I have had my own indifference with ideology and ‘belief’, and have been trying to figure out my own rules of thinking to keep me free of repressive and immoral dogma. For me the visit helped me realise I can’t transfer any serious loyalty to any static belief of any kind; in the words of one of my favourite philosophers Terence Mckenna: My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite”. Apply logic and a constant state of questioning/reasoning through pure, personal direct experience and then maybe we could move beyond such immaturity and evil and not leave our minds open to being brainwashed against universal right and wrong by an external power. But then again, all is takes is a small few to manipulate a vulnerable few through ideology, lies, exploitation of ego, lack of education and then (no matter how educated you are) you are being herded like a sheep to the slaughter – exactly what the Khmer Rouge did as their young, naive soldiers were recruited, used and exploited by an older, scheming individual who told them their existence was of greater value than somebody else. The classic ego deception. Will our species ever have peace? Or are we forever doomed by ego, belief and desire? I guess there is no easy answer, although I had to appreciate the era of peacetime in the western world I had grew up in. Technology and the internet certainly gives people the opportunity to become more informed and less vulnerable to ideology and propaganda in these instances, although the advancement of these things also herald new threats and issues. As always, there are no easy answers to the insanity of humanity.

Setting Sun

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        Following the visit to Phnom Penh, I was due to head south to the coast of Cambodia to enjoy some ‘holiday time’ – you know the sort of thing: beach, sun, beers and being lazy. It had been over one year since I had been to the coast and was looking forward to spending some days by the beach. I took a bus to Sihanoukville and then a ferry to the island of Koh Rong Samleon which was supposed to be a beautiful, tropical island that was not too crowded or busy. Arriving onto shore I have to say it looked exactly that; the island centre adorned a wealth of greenery enlightened by the Asian sun as the pure white beaches serenaded the coastline. The water itself had the classic, crystal clarity of South-East Asia; it was even nice to see that the island itself, unlike many in SEA, had little infrastructure and development upon it – even no internet at the hostel I was staying at (meaning backpackers had to actually interact and socialise a bit more than usual). The place I was staying at was a party hostel and it immediately lived up to its rep with an arrival area where there were around one hundred travellers partying every day. The days were spent lounging around either by the beach, on the hammock, at the bar or playing volleyball before a big party every evening that always led back down to the beach after midnight to chill out and observe the luminous plankton that shone in neon blue underneath the water when disturbed. I was having fun of course, but ultimately I felt a thought that I had gradually began to feel as I made from transition of travelling in Nepal to Cambodia. I had begun to felt a bit unfilled and that ‘something was missing’.

         Now I don’t ever want to be one of these pretentious backpackers who denounces the consumerist culture of collecting ‘things’ but then entertains the same philosophy by bragging about how well-travelled they are – these people are plentiful on the backpacker trail and are a constant bore. Travelling in South-East Asia can be amazing; it is a beautiful, eclectic place rich of culture, history and fun things to see and do. It is a great place to travel – especially with the strong infrastructure and cheap costs which makes a first trip abroad an ideal place. However, after getting sucked immediately back into the culture of constant partying, often empty conversations (the generic shallow ‘what’s your name – where you from’), relentless harassment of people who see you as a walking $ sign and samey itineraries, I felt like I would much rather be doing something else in the realm of adventure travel. It is very much a personal thing but after experiencing travel in a few different places, I began to feel a bit disenfranchised with the backpacker culture here. As I walked alone down the shore of the island on my second day on the island, I was certain something just wasn’t right and that this trip alone in Cambodia would be enough for now. I wanted something more than just general lounging around and drifting for humid months on end – something that the trekking in Nepal had fulfilled. My thoughts swam back to touring on a bicycle – something I have daydreamed about for a long time since my last trip a few years ago. So although this place is a great place to travel and I respect everyone who comes and experiences a South-East Asia trip, for me my eyes linger to the horizon once again. The sun sets and I finish another couple of days of partying and relaxing on this beautiful tropical island. I met many great people here, experienced an immensely friendly and happy people (especially considering the recent history of the country) and had fun times –  but for me it was time to finish the drinks, dry off the sand and take a boat and bus back to mainland and the capital. Thanks Cambodia, but this holiday is over for now. Onto the next adventure.