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New Adventures in Australia

IMG_20170409_151113Well, it’s been a few months now since quitting London (again!) and arriving to start a new chapter in Sydney, Australia. Back in February, shivering through a dreary UK winter, I’d made the decision to return to sunnier climes, and happily “fate” provided just the opportunity I’d been looking for – a job offer from Amnesty International in Sydney, producing content for their digital team.

DSCN2147I should be used to international relocations by now (!), but the past few months have yet again been a kerfuffle of finding somewhere to live, starting a new job, making friends, and finding new places to hang out. Luckily, Australia is a very easy place to live (I lived in Melbourne for four years) and here in Sydney it all seems pleasingly familiar. Best of all, I’m beach-side, having found a beautiful recently-renovated studio apartment in Coogee, two minutes walk to the ocean and a gorgeous yellow-sand suburban beach.

I’m loving my work at Amnesty International. In just a few short months, I’ve already produced films and other digital content about all kinds of human rights themes – Global Ambassador Alicia Keys talking about her work with Amnesty, a series of films on child labour in the palm oil industry in Indonesia, a film with the Sydney Swans AFL footy team, and interviews with some amazing Indigenous rights campaigners right here in Australia. I’ve been setting up an in-house production unit, buying camera kit and all sorts of toys so we can film different kinds of projects as they arise. Very exciting!

Now I’m getting settled, thoughts are of course turning to buying a bike – yes, my next two-wheeled adventure isn’t far away, folks…. – and the maps are out once again to plan another Australasian jaunt. I’m longing to experience Aussie’s wide open roads once again and I’ve got my eye on the perfect bike to do it…

Right now, though, I’m enjoying a typical winter Sunday afternoon down at Coogee Beach – 20 degrees Celsius, glorious sunshine, and people out in force, enjoying beachside delights (in my case, that means a ginormous Italian-style gelato!). Yup, glad to be back in Oz. Very glad indeed. 🙂

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Posted by on July 9, 2017 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Amalfi Adventures

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Exploring the ruins of Pompeii. Vesuvius glowers at the end of the street…

 

Winding along the precarious coast road from Sorrento to Amalfi in southern Italy on a hired motorbike has to be one of the more hair-raising rides I’ve ever done. The views along the costiera Amalfitana are, of course, simply stunning: if you dare to take your eyes off the road for a moment, the glittering aquamarine sea of the Gulf of Salerno stretches out in a wonderful sunshiney haze, and round every new bend is the breath-taking sight of more brightly-painted pastel-coloured houses clinging to the cliffside, seemingly defying the laws of gravity (and building logic!).

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Sorrento on two wheels

 

Take your eyes off the road at your peril, though. Apart from the endless hairpin bends, which are especially exciting to navigate on two wheels, there’s always the chance that round the next blind corner will come a car or – worse – a bus that suddenly claims right of way, forcing you to take immediate evasive action. Being on a bike means you can usually squeeze round the traffic somehow. But still, I found myself in more than a few altercations with assertive Italian drivers gesticulating passionately about their right of way, regardless of whether it was theirs or not! Mainly it was good-humoured, though, and I found myself getting stuck in with the best of them, using every Italian expletive in my phrasebook (pezzo di stronzo! is one of my favourites – the locals use it A LOT!).

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Beautiful Amalfi, as seen from the pier

 

 

And that’s the thing. After a few years away from Italy, coming back here has rekindled my deep-seated passion for this country. Exploring the spectacular ruins of Pompeii, one of the world’s great historical sites, hiking some of the gorgeous cliff-top coastal routes near Positano, and indulging all over again in the delicious Campanian cuisine (not to mention the regional speciality, limoncello)… southern Italy really does have it all.

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La dolce vita – a coppa Sorrento sundae, a glass of Italian white, and a view to die for!

 

And it’s more than just a wonderful place to take a holiday: there’s something about Italy and its people that makes me feel uplifted and joyful about the world. People live life big here – they eat well, enjoy “la dolce fa’niente” (the art of doing nothing), and are generally much less buttoned-down than the British. No nanny state here: that road round the costiera Amalfitana probably wouldn’t be allowed in the UK: the sheer stupidity of such a road, barely wide enough to take two-way traffic, combined with the renowned Italian style of driving offensively (as opposed to defensively!), would earmark it almost certainly for some kind of regulation (traffic lights? one-way sections? a ban on buses?) or at worst see it completely re-built as a two-lane carriageway fit for safe passage.

 

This was just a short trip this time but it reminded me there are lots of adventures and beautiful experiences to be had in this amazing country. I really hope I can get back to Italy for a bigger two-wheeled ride later this year. Once my nerves have recovered from that crazy coastal road, that is…! 🙂

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Posted by on August 11, 2016 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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A Weekend Of Adventure!

ATFF - starlight screening

Adventure Travel Film Festival – Starlight Screening

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next expedition, need tips on filming or writing about your latest trip, or just want to soak up exciting tales of the road from some adventure legends, then you should get yourself over to Mill Hill this weekend. Yes, it’s that time again – the UK Adventure Travel Film Festival kicks off on 14th August in an all-new venue in North London and, judging by the schedule, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Hosted as always by its passionate organisers Lois Pryce and Austin Vince, it promises to be a triumph of films, workshops and talks designed for both the budding adventurer and seasoned expeditioner alike. I’ve known Austin and Lois for a number of years now and their unbridled enthusiasm for organising this event, entirely under their own steam, makes the festival pretty unique in this age of sponsorship and commercialisation. Their “DIY approach” and belief that adventure is not about the gear but about getting out there and experiencing the world with what you’ve got creates a very special atmosphere where adventurers of all shapes and sizes can mingle, exchange stories and dreams, and hatch plans for new experiences yet to come.

This year’s schedule promises loads of activities guaranteed to get the travel impulses racing. There are some great speakers including Anna McNuff, who’s just run the length of New Zealand (as you do), writer and adventure legend Jonny Bealby (I love his travel books!) and Chris Scott, adventure biker and author of the indispensable Adventure Motorcycle Handbook, the book that has spawned more than a few two-wheeled dreams.

There are workshops on everything from travel writing to adventure film-making (Austin’s take on how to make your own travel movie is a must-attend!). And did I mention the films? They’ve got another fabulous line-up, including one of my favourites, Somewhere Else Tomorrow – Daniel Rintz’s heartwarming film showing that travel isn’t just about the mileage, it’s about the people – and, new for 2015, Going The Distance, a film about a married couple, a Ural sidecar outfit and a snapshot of love and life across 20,000 miles.

So check out the trailer here for a taste of what you’re in for and grab one of the last few tickets left for this weekend! Your inner adventurer won’t regret it. 🙂

http://www.adventuretravelfilmfestival.com/uk-festival/

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No Fixed Abode: 18 Months Living Out Of A Suitcase

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia, southern Spain

As many of you know, in March 2013 I left Melbourne – quit my job and my rented apartment, sold all my stuff including my car and beloved Suzuki motorbike – and, with no “Grand Plan” or itinerary in mind, threw myself, for better or worse, into the big wide world. Armed with a suitcase and some savings, my self-appointed remit was simply “to live a little”. Eighteen months on, I’m sitting here in a little cafe on the sunny Andalucian coast, sipping an Americano and looking back on what a year and a half it’s been.

Gorgeous Granada

Gorgeous Granada

I kicked things off last year with a couple of months in beautiful Granada, soaking up its gorgeous Moorish architecture and ambience, indulging in tapas and southern Spanish wines, and generally living la vida loca for a bit. All very nice – but soon I was itching to DO something and, after heading to London in the hope of scoring some casual work with a charity such as UNICEF, I found just the challenge I’d been looking for…

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Bring on 4 months in the farthest reaches of Uganda and Rwanda, near the border with the Congo, working with a small British NGO to set up a community film initiative for local people, teaching them video skills to enable them to tell their own stories about their lives, culture and key issues like health and education. I was plunged into a surreal and challenging life in a remote town with no running water or electricity. I filmed with a local pygmy tribe, had a heap of adventures involving 125cc Chinese motorbikes and some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever been on, and helped pioneer “pedal power cinema” (screening films in remote areas where, in the absence of electricity, you use a common or garden pushbike attached to a dynamo to generate power to run a DVD player!). Not to mention spending time with gorillas…

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

Coming back into “civilisation” after all that made me all the more appreciative of the simple things in life (light switches, showers, internet, Suzuki motorbikes…) and Christmas back in Granada saw me making the most of all these things and more! Early in the New Year, I landed some freelance work at Comic Relief‘s London HQ – and barely a week into the job, they posted me out to Ghana to oversee some vloggers making YouTube films about some of the charities Comic Relief funds in the capital, Accra, and in remote Tamale, near the Guinea border. I was the proverbial “pig in shit”, loving being back in Africa so soon and enjoying, once again, being able to act as a mentor, this time to two young film-makers.

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

After some work on the Sport Relief 2014 campaign and a few months overseeing, amongst other things, a documentary about the Street Child World Cup, shot in Brazil, India and Tanzania, it was time to hit the road again – this time in the good old US of A, yeeha! I’d been invited to be a presenter at the Overland Expo in Arizona, speaking about my Uganda/Rwanda Film Adventure, and decided to combine this with a road trip through some of the surrounding states for a few weeks. After a great time catching up with fellow travellers at the Expo, I spent some time hiking through the mighty Grand Canyon before hitting the road to travel through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and some of the most memorable and challenging scenery I’ve ever encountered.

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location with the Zambian TV crew

All too soon, my money was starting to run out again and it was time to look for some more work. Back in London, though, work was proving pretty tough to find – until yet again, the travel gods smiled, and a contact at the BBC emailed me about an opportunity to consultant produce on a series of documentaries being made in Zambia. Again, this was an offer too good to miss –  I found myself winging my way to Lusaka for a few weeks to work with a local Zambian documentary team on a UK Aid/DFID-funded film. It was very challenging work but after delivering a first film that “exceeded expectations”, they asked me back to oversee a second documentary – so back I went to Zambia!

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There’s adventure out there somewhere…

All of which brings things pretty much up to date and finds me here in Spain, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating what’s going to happen next. Looking back on the last year and a half, it’s been a roller-coaster of unforeseen opportunities and adventures that I could not have imagined before leaving Australia last March. I won’t lie, though – as a wise man (or woman?!) once said, “you can’t have the ups without the downs”: there have been more than a few hairy moments when I’ve had to stretch my money to the max and tighten the old belt considerably to make ends meet. Plus, living out of a suitcase as I have been – staying with friends, in cheap B&Bs, remote African village with no amenities (!), calling home “wherever I lay my hat” – is not always as glamorous and fancy-free as it sounds: sometimes you just want to be “home” somewhere, surrounded by all your own “stuff” again. But as all you long-term travellers out there well know, once you get a taste for “life on the road” – the freedom, the feeling of being truly “alive”, the chance that there’ll be another adventure just round the next corner – it’s pretty addictive.

So what next? Well, like I said at the beginning, there’s no itinerary and no “Grand Plan.” The next chapter is, quite literally, waiting to be written. What I can say is that it will take just one phone call, one chance email, or one random encounter, to set me on the road to the next adventure. Can’t wait to see how it’s gonna turn out…! 🙂

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Assignment: Zambia

Beautiful Zambia: the "smoke that thunders"

Beautiful Zambia: the “Smoke That Thunders”, Victoria Falls

Well, no sooner was I back from my wonderful road trip in the States than I got a call from a BBC contact about a new assignment – in Zambia! With barely a week in the UK – and most of my stuff still packed in my suitcase! – I was suddenly skidding back to Heathrow and flying south towards Jo’burg, then on to Lusaka.

My last trip to Zambia, maybe 3 years ago, was an unforgettable journey, entering the country’s western border via Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and driving up through Livingstone with a stop-off to gaze in awe at the mighty Victoria Falls before exploring the endless delights of the Zambezi River. Coming back to Zambia, this time for work, has been an altogether different kind of experience – though no less memorable!

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location: shooting with the Zambian TV crew

I’ve been working as Consultant Producer on a UK AID/DFID-funded documentary being made by a Zambian documentary crew. I’ve had the privilege of working with this small team of local film-makers, seeing how they work and advising them on technical and creative aspects of the production. I can assure you, it’s been a learning curve for all of us! And working with them has once again afforded me the chance to see a country in a different way from your average tourist or traveller.

Filming in all kinds of locations from remote maize farms to local downtown markets and back-street nshima (Zambia’s staple dish) restaurants, we’ve met an amazing cross-section of people in a very short space of time. As ever, I’ve been struck by how little people survive on here in Africa, but how happy they are regardless – and wondered at the poverty that still exists, even in the heart of big developed cities like Lusaka.

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels: not for the faint-hearted!

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without some forays out on two wheels. On my weekends off, I’ve been exploring under my own steam on a little Chinese-made 125cc bike that goes like a bomb and is great for dodging Lusaka’s burgeoning traffic – though nerves of steel and lightning-quick reflexes have been required on many an occasion: the combination of sudden pot-holes and things you wouldn’t expect to see shuffling across the tarmac (where did that one-legged woman come from?!) certainly made me feel well and truly alive out there on the road!

So it’s been work combined with a little bit of pleasure and, all too soon, my three-week stint here is coming to an end. I have a feeling I’ll be back here very soon, though. One way or another, Africa just keeps a-calling! 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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US Adventure – The Grand Circle

Monument Valley - like a huge movie set!

Monument Valley – like a huge movie set!

Well what an amazing time I’ve had on my latest adventure here in the United States! Five days hiking the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a few days down at the 2014 Overland Expo – presenting my African Film Adventure and taking part in a couple of roundtable sessions, talking all things adventure – and ten days on the road touring “The Grand Circle” in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

As ever, it was great to hook up with adventurous friends old and new at the Overland Expo. I had a blast presenting my African Film Adventure (last year’s Uganda expedition) – the session was pleasingly well-attended and it was such a boost to get positive feedback and questions from folks afterwards. Moderating the Africa/Middle East roundtable was also great fun, corralling speakers including Rene Cormier, Ron and Viv Moon and Fred Cook, as well as participating in the How To Integrate Travel Into Your Daily Life session (my key piece of advice, as it turned out, was “F*** it, just get out there!” which caused much mirth from the assembled crowd!). Huge thanks to the organisers for another fantastic event, and for inviting me to speak.

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Hitting the road after the Expo was what I’d been craving. I’ve always wanted to explore “The Grand Circle”, which apparently has the USA’s highest concentration of National Parks – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I covered well over 1,500 miles and although every day presented a new and amazing vista, stand-outs for me were Monument Valley (Thelma and Louise country!), Utah’s Grand Staircase (which was like crossing a vast, empty alien planet), and Mesa Verde in Colorado, an archaeologist’s dream containing hundreds of amazingly-preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages dating from c.1200 AD. Incredible, all of it. 

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

As usual, I could have kept going forever – there’s something about being on the road, just travelling where you feel like from day to day, that’s incredibly freeing. But with just a few days of my trip left, it’s time to turn my wheels around and head back to Phoenix, and then I’m London-bound.

Once again, the US has delivered those wide open spaces I was seeking – and a whole lot more besides. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure of it. 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Ace Cafe: Overland & Adventure Bike Day

Steph and me, flanked by Ed March and Austin Vince

Steph and me, flanked by Ed March and Austin Vince

Well it’s a bright but chilly Sunday and I’m down here at the legendary Ace Cafe, hanging out with hundreds of other bikers who, like me, have come to wave off Steph “One Woman One Moto” Jeavons on her round-the-world bike adventure.

Despite the cold, the air’s been buzzing with the usual chatter that happens when you get a lot of adventure bikers in one place – talk of two-wheeled trips to far-flung places, exchange of notes on travel gear and bike bits, and, on this occasion, lots of envy about another biker setting off on another exciting round-the-world trip.

Steph waves goodbye to the crowds atop the Ace Cafe

Steph waves goodbye to the crowds from the Ace Cafe roof

Steph rode off on her epic journey a couple of hours ago now. I chatted to her just before she climbed onto her bike to head off. She was feeling a mixture of trepidation and excitement, and genuinely pleased at how many people had turned up to see her off. Austin Vince was there to give her a few final words of encouragement – and a “lucky” Mondo Sahara badge to wear on her travels. All around her, people pressed forward to get a good look at “Rhonda the Honda”, her CRF 250L, all packed up and ready to roll.

And she's off! Steph sets off with the cheers of the crowd behind her

And she’s off! Steph rides out with the cheers of the crowd behind her

After waving goodbye to the crowd from the Ace Cafe roof and hugging friends and family, she was off! I could only imagine what must have been going through her mind at that moment – probably something like, “Please don’t drop the bike!” or “Did I turn the oven off?” Whatever, Steph’s got a whole lot of adventure ahead of her and I for one will be following her all the way.

Sunday afternoon at the Ace Cafe

Sunday afternoon at the Ace Cafe

After the excitement of the send-off, the Ace Cafe is still buzzing here. I’ve been catching up with lots of familiar faces including the lovely Sam Manicom and Iain Harper, as well as ogling all the bikes that are parked up here. (Well, seems rude not to!). I’ve also had the opportunity to say a proper hello to Dom Giles and tell him how much I loved his book, Gone Riding. If you haven’t read it yet, jump on Amazon and get a copy right now: it’s the story of his 30,000-mile bike ride through 18 countries, including Panama to Alaska and Southern Africa. Today Dom told me he wrote it “from the heart” – and trust me, it really shows in his writing.

Well it’s freezing cold here at the Ace Cafe and I’m off in search for another hot coffee. It’s been a great day all round – and of course, good luck to Steph on her epic adventure!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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