Extreme Sports

Extreme Sports

I have done some pretty adventurous things.

I have hitchhiked in the Middle East (not intentionally but we did end up doing so); I’ve stripped in front of a tour group and jumped into the icy depths of the Milford Sound. I’ve driven a golf cart, a tuk tuk and a scooter. I’ve hiked a glacier. I’ve swam with sharks. I’ve bungee jumped one of the highest jumps in the world. I’ve scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve abseiled off Twickenham stadium. I’ve been canyoning through waterfalls, I’ve trained and ran a half marathon.

I’ve gone snake hunting. I’ve tubed in the dark and out in the open. I’ve been steps away from a Hyena out in the bush. I’ve hiked up mountains and volcanoes. I’ve white water rafted and kayaked. I’ve surfed in shark prone waters. I’ve swam in the sea in a hurricane. I’ve trekked through the Himalayas on my own suffering from a stomach bug. I’ve quad biked through jungle and desert. I’ve skied, snowboarded and sand boarded. I’ve zip lined.  I’ve trekked on a camel and on an elephant. I’ve slept in airports, train stations, in the desert, I’ve couchsurfed at complete strangers houses. I’ve eaten street food in the wrong places and survived. I’ve sky dived. I’ve stayed in a Buddhist Monastery. I’ve swam with dolphins, manta rays and turtles, and I’ve even parahawked in Nepal.

I love living life to the full, seeing life and the opportunities it brings as one big adventure. I’m enthusiastic and passionate about exploring the world and all of the beauty it contains, however big or small. I enjoy all kinds of extreme sports not only because of the incredible unique experiences and memories you create, but the adrenaline you have whilst doing so.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

 

Asia, Extreme Sports, Myanmar, Travel

Kayaking on Inle Lake

For many, Inle Lake is the light at the end of an exhausting exhilarating tunnel. After a two or three day hike from Kalaw reaching a haven of luxury in comparison, where beer and massages are a plenty. For others, Inle Lake is a picturesque town in which they can observe local life from afar and in lavish and plush hotels settled on the lake.

For me; it was a tourist hotspot, where backpackers, flash packers and holiday makers all merge to celebrate the beauty of Inle lake, whilst being jostled for attention from boatmen, restaurant owners and taxi drivers.

Being dropped off by the night bus at the neighbouring town of Shwen Yaung (confusingly called as the town near to Inle Lake is called Nyaung Shwe) I stepped off the 15 hour night bus dazed and confused, whilst the bus driver began to already plot with awaiting taxi drivers for a commission filled ride for me, as if a vulture tantalising other predators with a piece of fresh meat. Dismissing the becks and cries for a taxi and exclamations of it being “very far!” I asked local passers-by where exactly I was on the helpful offline app, mapsme.

Unfortunately for me, the map wasn’t as helpful as I thought as my GPS location wasn’t installed in my settings and after being told by a polite local I was “on the right road”, I calmly walked on, unaware of the far-flung distance I was, and the treacherous trek to arrive there. Sweat began to form at the top of my sticky forehead, my back and backpack merged together in a sweet marriage of sweat, and as the midday sun continued to beat down on my tired aching body and my 15 kg luggage, I soon quickly realised just how far I had to travel. I laughed at my stubbornness at refusing a taxi driver and began to wearily plod along the path ahead debating whether to hitchhike once again in Myanmar or not.

Luckily, good fortune was bestowed upon me and an angel appeared from the heavens, (a local donned in army uniform balancing a bouncing baby on a passing scooter). He took pity on me and pulled over, asking if I would like a lift. A bit wary, I looked at my overflowing luggage and his curious child on the front of his motorbike, but he reassured me that it was fine. Taking me to the tourist checkpoint, (all tourists have to pay 12,500 kyat when entering Inle Lake), I soon found out that he worked for the ministry, his baby was two years old, and that heading into Inle Lake was an 11km journey from where I had started. After dropping me off to pay at the checkpoint, I began to walk reluctantly again, rapidly finding myself on the back of another motorbike heading into town by another local. Turning him down to be my personal bodyguard “in case of troubles”, I told him I was strong enough and headed to my hostel. Thanking my blessings, I arrived relieved that I’d managed to hitchhike from helpful locals and slightly windswept.

The town is larger to Hpa An, luxurious hotels and numerous restaurants embedded into a sprawl of local life and businesses, where tourism is beginning to make its mark, infecting the simplicity of local life that lives here. The similar looking tour companies and neighbouring massage parlours line the streets, turning the town as if into a hall of mirrors with commercialism as its terror. Of course, a boat trip around Inle lake is why tourists flock to this town, wanting to be whisked away on water, embracing the natural scenes of fisherman casting their nets in hope for a enormous haul to feed their family.

Wait and head down to the river before bartering with a boat man, to ensure you get a fair price- as the main business are boat trips, so there are a number of boatmen who will approach you whilst walking down the street. When arranging a boat trip confirm where you want to go on the boat trip; popular places are the floating market, lotus making and the long necked tribal women, as well as stating that if you do or don’t want to visit any shops.

I had previously booked an all-day cycle, kayak and boat trip with Grasshopper Adventures. The cycle was a 25 kilometre route around Inle lake, whizzing through local villages on dusty tracks alongside beaming school children playing absent mildly outside, watching wondrous women at work, plucking tea leaves in the solicitude and silence of still rice fields, passing towering crop plantations and lonely dogs, only stopping for a snack of freshly made local salads or an explanation of a certain crop. As cycling really isn’t my forte, I struggled at times, balancing along a narrow edge alongside paddy fields or up dry paths cracked and withered in the sun.

After lunching at a guesthouse in a local village on the river, where my guide bombarded me with information about Inle Lake and the cook fattened me up with course after course, we came to the highlight of the tour- the kayaking on Inle Lake. Paddling through a local village, we raced pristine schoolchildren in their boats, paddling courageously on their own and floated past houses on stilts where children happily splashed in the river for an afternoon swim, and mothers washed their laundry in the murky waters.

I felt that I had gained a glimpse into the private life of locals, far away from the tourist eye. But I also felt like I was intruding, invading this calm sphere of life, with my garish life jacket and bright kayak. I felt awkward. The active day was an exhausting one but the rigorous routine of the bicycle was broken up by a local boatman taking me and my guide to various other areas of the lake to continue cycling in different villages and environments around the lake. My highlight of the day was speeding over the smooth serene waters, where mountains towered in the distance and local fisherman fished in such a way it seemed as if they were a dancing an intimate river dance, embracing the waters and hoping to be rewarded with by a fruitful bounty.

Although incredibly expensive for a backpacker (80 dollars for the full day), if you are not on a budget and are travelling in a group or pair and want to catch a glimpse of what local life is like around Inle Lake whilst getting fit, this is the tour for you.

Another popular thing to do in Inle Lake is to hire a slightly rusty (and ever so creaky) bicycle from many of the tour operators in town and head around the lake, cycling one half and getting a boat across and cycling the rest of the way around the lake, a total of 6 hours. After quite a sore bum from a 7 hour cycling trip already, my friend and I decided to cycle half of the lake and then head back, heading as far as we could before having to cross the lake.

Passing corn swaying in the wind and noisy motorbikes that gracefully overtook us, we whizzed past noodle stops and local convenience stores (open spaces with hanging goods for sale). Whilst en route to some Pagoda Ruins, the Red Mountain Wine Estate is a wonderful place to admire the view over Inle lake (after a steep cycle up a hill). If you can afford to, give yourself a treat and rest your weary feet with a glass of wine, and even a plate of cheese.

Saving our kyat for local beer, we left the winery behind us and headed to the Forest Monastery, another tough and steep hill to ascend. Visiting the pagoda at the top was not as astonishing as other temples you will visit, but the monastery hiding under the loft boughs of the nearby forest, really is a gem. Trying not to disturb the chanting monks, we observed what their days were filled with: meditation and concentration.

Heading to the Natural Hot Springs was next on our agenda but with no obvious signposting and clambering through forgotten trials in the forest, we had no such luck of finding it.

Delicious restaurants are in abundance in Inle lake, but of course the price differs quite drastically from Hpa An. Nepalese food with warm masala chai satisfied my two yearlong craving at Everest 2 (second one to Kalaw).

Everlight is a tantalising Indian restaurant (where they take your picture and add it to the wall- so cute!) and Sin Yaw restaurant has an incredible selection of Shan food- get the Shan special and you’ll receive a mixture of Shan dishes in return, mostly vegetable dishes all cooked in varying styles and flavour, a real delight.

Watering hole’s glammed up for tourists can be found here too, but I mainly drank at my hostel (happy hour cocktails were two thousand kyat) or beer from local eateries for 800 kyat (quite the difference than the 1,500 kyat beers in the hostel).

My hostel was Ostello Bello– the hostel chain that is also present in Bagan and Mandalay. A dorm bed in an 8 bed mixed dorm with AC and a bathroom is 10 dollars, which is a little steep in comparison to other dorm beds in South East Asia. There are cheaper guest houses that have private rooms with fans and shared bathrooms for as little as 5 dollars like Joy Inn or Gypsy Inn but Ostello Bello is a very sociable hostel. Although a flash packer price; it’s free breakfast, tea and coffee, pasta tasting 3 times a day, happy hour, WIFI and fun activities attracts a vast majority of backpackers. Ostello Bello has everything you need in a hostel-it’s just definitely not an authentic guesthouse, that’s for sure.

Extreme Sports, Inspiration

Flying A Helicopter and Holding a Tarantula (not at the same time)

Well you may be aware that I oddly like to live my life by my bucket list- which does sound strange, living life by a list of things I want to do before I die, but it enables me to live adventurously continuously with an excuse (instead of people thinking I am just that mad with no legitimate reason). If you are interested in reading my full up to date completed list just click here.

In the last few months I have ticked off two things off my bucket list which are both unique and conquer three kinds of fears that many people commonly share: of heights, of flying and of spiders.

Most recently I flew a helicopter for the first time, courtesy of a Christmas present that allowed me to fly with Phoenix Helicopter’s based in Camberley, in Surrey. Having never flown a helicopter before, or even seen one, I was excited about the prospect of doing so. As we stepped closer and closer to the little machine, (Robinson 22 if you are wondering) I realised just how minute this aircraft was- barely any room for any belongings let alone any extra sophisticated gadgets I have seen in many an action film! I was told by Will my instructor, that this machine was known to be “the mosquito of the sky”, famous for its light weight and quaint size. As we began to take off and I gazed at the numerous buttons ahead of me, the propellers began to surge, becoming louder and louder, gaining momentum.

Taking off so rapidly and with such ease was an incredible sensation, one minute we there on the ground and the next we were off, whizzing through the clouds, speeding over tree tops- it was enthralling and an experience like no other. I then got the chance to turn and dip and dive, controlling the speed, direction and height, even trying to hover at one point (which is extremely difficult). For anyone who is thinking of trying, I really can’t recommend it enough- even if you would like to see the world in a new light, travelling by helicopter is fascinating.

Before that I took a day trip down to Drusilla’s Park in East Sussex where I had been given a gift voucher to hold a tarantula (you can see where my family gets their birthday and Christmas ideas for me from). The zoo itself is small and mainly catered towards under ten year olds, filled with interesting facts and fun games (which we enjoyed nonetheless!) The voucher also enables you to bring a guest which means my friend and I were able to check out lots of small mammals like meerkets and ant eaters with very little interruption and queues, which was an enjoyable experience.

We both then met the “spider expert”, a woman who showed us a number of different spiders and creepy crawlies, from the basic garden spider to a tarantula. She was enthusiastic and positive about their enlightening individual defence mechanisms and continued to highlight how little harm they did to us- “they are more scared of you, than you are of them!” So it was lovely to be shown a tarantula by a true enthusiast. Holding the furry lady (the spider!) highlighted just how fragile this little creature is and not one to be afraid of, as many are.  A wonderful experience learning more about such a misunderstood animal!

Europe, Extreme Sports, Norway, Travel

The Midnight Sun Marathon & Tromso

After a shaky and delayed flight from Norwegian Air (including the aeroplane turning around to Oslo after a technical fault and us passengers having to change planes) we finally arrived in Tromso, bleary eyed and crabby. Whilst the friendly and upbeat taxi driver pointed out the markings of the marathon we were due to run a few days later, I began to feel nerves tingle my senses. Although it was 3:30am, I suddenly felt bright and awake. It’s amazing what fear can do to you.

After a late, (or should I say early?) check in from the chatty receptionist at Viking Hotel, we finally made it to our rented apartments at City Living. Dumping our belongings and flopping onto the beds out of sheer exhaustion, we spent our first night/morning adjusting to this bizarre sensation of the Midnight Sun. It is so strange to arrive in light, although it being so late into the night. During our stay in Tromso, it was difficult to distinguish when day was and when was night, which played a real havoc on our sleep patterns and body clocks!

Tromso is a small town which is catered for mass tourism, and the influx of international tourists whom visit this somewhat sleepy town for either the Midnight Sun Marathon, or to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in the winter period, has changed the town dramatically. Speaking to a British expat, she told us that life in the winter months is pitch black darkness, bar four hours, when the sky turns an inky blue colour. I can’t imagine what everyday life must be like in total darkness, even if there are streetlights and a regular routine is established, I would feel as if a creature coming out from under ground, burrowing to and fro.

Just off the main street of Tromso there is a bustling port, filled with leaking and squeaking local fisherman’s boats nestled next to towering cruise liners which are quite the eye sore. In the distance you can catch a glimpse of the snow-capped mountain peaks arching out of the swirling crowds, reminding visitors of the stunning natural scenes around the settled town life.  In the town itself, there is a collision of local life; cheap eats and hidden quirky bars and independent cafes, wrestling with the impact of tourism on this town, expensive chain restaurants, luxurious hotels and tourist shops in abundance. Coming to the town at peak season, the sheer volume of visitors steadily increased by the day, as the Midnight Sun Marathon drew closer and closer.

So what is there to do in this sleepy town? There is much debate on the tourist activities and interests on websites like Tripadvisor and so my boyfriend and I went and explored what we found interesting. Walking to Telegrafbukta beach was a wonderful thing to do, the path is straightforward and easy to follow and you are rewarded by stunning scenic views of the sweeping landscape, where the vast sea couples with the jagged rocks that bed the coastline. Boats bob in the sea to their own rhythm and you can spot various other islands in the distance with a few lonely houses scattered in the distance. It’s easy to walk back or catch a local bus to rest your weary feet.

We also explored the Polarian Museum, which has mixed reviews. I personally loved the museum which highlighted aspects of life under the sea that we as humans, are unaware of. The exhibits are interesting and diverse, allowing visitors to stroke various molluscs and learn what must be done to help save endangered habitats. The information is a real eye opener and they host two wonderful films of the Northern Lights and animal life on Svalbard every half an hour, showing stunning scenes of natural beauty and snapshots of unique animals in their element. As well as this, the museum has two seal feeding and training sessions, which highlight the intellect behind a number of seals that live there. We are just mere bystanders at their training session which happens throughout the day, even before and after the museum has shut for visitors.

The Arctic Cathedral, the most northern Cathedral in the world, is worth a visit too. A short walk away (over the steepest bridge of mankind) or a quick bus ride of 50 NOK, the Artic Cathedral is an unusual shaped building which holds a magnificent display of stained glass windows. Come and enter the peace and quiet to reflect on the beauty behind such an architectural masterpiece.

Near to the cathedral is the Cable Car, a 170 NOK journey to the top of the mountain and back means you are able to visualize Tromso in its entirety and the surrounding picturesque views of gigantic mountains which dominate your view. Peering below at the town and its neighbourhoods that surround the city centre, we could see the route which we were due to run later that evening, a thrilling prospect. If you would like to save money, or aren’t planning on running a marathon after doing so, it is possible to hike up the mountain. There are many hiking trails that vary in accessibility and ease which allow you to reach the top of the mountain in your own time. Just be careful when heading back to Tromso that you wait on the opposite side of the road to catch a bus back into town, unlike us who ended up on an hour journey into some long lost neighbourhoods until we began to head back into town!

The sights in Tromso can be done quite cheaply, if you decide to walk places and stay within the local area, although a small and sleepy town, we did manage to entertain ourselves for the time we were there. Staying in rented apartments we were able to save money cooking for ourselves, shopping at the local cheap supermarket of Renate was beneficial in that aspect. However when we did eat out, Circa had fabulous pizzas for a cheap 70 NOK, Kaia Bar had lovely salmon and other main meals specifically catered for tourists in the 250 NOK area and Bla Rock Bar had delicious burgers from 125 NOK.

Bla Rock Bar is filled with punk memorabilia, where even a drum kit hangs upside down on the ceiling, which oozes character and individuality. We caught a free gig whilst we were there, a local girls band which was nice to see, although be wary the beers are as expensive as the burgers! If you want to find unique bars, Tromso is filled with many, as the Norwegians here love to party- you just need to know where to look. We also bought 100 NOK beers from Mack’s Brewery, a local brewery that sells a number of local beers and ales to quench your thirst.  I recommend Arctic Beer if you like a light lager.

And finally my thoughts on the Midnight Sun Marathon? As a new runner (and an injured one at the time of running), I would recommend those who are new to marathons, not to run this marathon. The run is filled with seasoned runners and with a set time limit to the event, it means that the pressure is on for you to complete the run in a certain amount of time; otherwise you are disqualified, which could mean you giving it your all and completing the entire event with nothing to show for it. The scenery is beyond stunning (when the weather picks up which is very little of the time as we are in the Arctic Circle) but as you are running away from the city centre, there are very little crowds to help support and push you on. In fact the only people who you are bound to see every mile, is a steward of the event. With chilling temperatures and a non-existent crowd (as well as the steepest bridge of mankind) it makes it quite a challenge for a new runner. The finale of the run, the climax of your dedication, persistence and hardwork, is defined by the finishing line right on the main street of Tromso, and as you are running through the night, you complete your run surrounded by drunken revellers enjoying their Saturday night with little support for the runners. Although beautiful, I would advise only seasoned marathon runners to choose this destination to run.