Tag Archives: Arizona

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!

Jeanie at Grand Canyon 2013

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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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. 🙂

 

News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: http://www.overlandexpo.com. Hope to see you there!

Ride To The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Well here I am at one of the Great Wonders of the World – and wow, what a wonder it is! My whole life, I’ve wanted to see Arizona’s Grand Canyon but nothing prepared me for just how beautiful – and how BIG! – it really is.

The ride up from Flagstaff was in itself an experience. I took the long way round – historic Route 66, then up Interstate 89 to Cameron, then westwards on the I-64, along Desert View Road, approaching the canyon from the east. At first the land was volcanic, with the San Francisco Peaks, still capped with snow, visible in the wing mirror for miles. Then the landscape turned to arid reddish-brown desert – it really reminded me of Namibia and immediately called to mind my journeys to the Fish River Canyon, which is second in size only to the Grand Canyon.

Look what I borrowed! :)

Look what I borrowed!

Oh and when I say “ride”, as luck would have it, on arriving in Flagstaff, I got chatting to a lovely guy who, it turned out, had a lovely bronze-coloured Honda Rebel gathering dust in the garage. Hearing about my plans to head for the Canyon, he immediately suggested I take the bike. It was an offer too good to resist and so, alongside all the ubiquitous Harley Davidson riders plying Route 66, here I am on a small-but-perfectly-formed Honda Rebel, tearing up the landscape with the best of ’em! 🙂

The first views of the mighty Canyon from the Desert View lookouts were absolutely breathtaking. I have to admit, a shed a little tear: I could barely believe I was here after so long dreaming about coming one day. The vast expanses of deep red, brown, cream and pale green rock, the intricately-chiselled cliff edges, and the sheer drops down the side of the canyon (it’s a mile deep!) left me breathless with wonder. At certain points I could see the rapids of the Colorado River gushing through the canyon far below, while up above condors circled and swooped, surveying the massive gash in the earth underneath them. I’ve seen many natural wonders in the world, but this has to be one of the most awe-inspiring, truly.

Contemplating the scenery...

Contemplating the Canyon…

I’ve been here a few days now, staying in a lodge (Yavapai) buried deep in sweet-smelling pine forest. I’ve hiked many different trails, breathless in the searing heat (101ºF) and altitude (7,000ft). And anywhere I could ride to enjoy yet another vista, believe me, I’ve ridden there!

I leave tomorrow with a happy heart – and some brilliant photos. And more adventures await! Next I’m off to the Overland Expo just south of Flagstaff (via the scenic route, of course!) to mingle with the great and good of the adventure motorcycle and 4×4 overlanding world. Before then, I’ve got a bit more riding to do… 🙂

Adventures In Arizona

Route 66 at Flagstaff, Arizona

Route 66, Flagstaff, AZ

Well after a few months of good living in Andalucía, I decided it was time to get on the road again. And where better to do a classic road trip than Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon, spectacular desert and mountain landscapes, and bisected by the infamous Route 66?

As I write this, I’ve just arrived in Flagstaff, dubbed the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, after a spectacular drive up from Phoenix, climbing gradually higher through some amazing rugged mountain and forest scenery to an eventual altitude of 7,000ft. After an afternoon exploring Flagstaff’s historic downtown – which is littered with picturesque 1890s buildings and a notable number of tattoo parlours! – I’ve just checked into a motel that makes Bates Motel look positively homely! It’s right on Route 66 and slap-bang next to the railway line, so all in all it looks like I’m in for a fun night!

Railroad at Flagstaff

Railroad at Flagstaff – just outside my motel room window!

I’m very excited as tomorrow I’ll be heading up to the Grand Canyon National Park to spend a few days exploring the “big hole in the ground”. I’m going to stay actually in the park so I can really soak up the landscape, do some hiking down into the canyon, go dirt-biking, and hopefully try one of the famed mule rides along the Colorado River.

There are Harleys everywhere in Flagstaff - but this is more my style!

There are Harleys everywhere in Flagstaff – but this is more my style!

Then I’ll be heading to the Overland Expo – a huge gathering of motorcycle and 4×4 adventurers, a 3-day event encompassing heaps of adventure travel lectures, workshops, presentations and other activities for overlanders of all shapes and sizes. There’s an impressive list of VIP speakers and guests, including the legendary Ted Simon who I can’t wait to meet. I’m helping run Charley Boorman‘s stand at the Expo, to promote his motorbike tours and TV series, so that should be fun. Plus the Expo incorporates the Southwest USA Adventure Travel Film Festival and, having helped organise the Aussie one earlier this year, I’m really keen to see how the American one shapes up: it will be great to see Lois Pryce and Austin Vince again too, of course!

So lots to look forward to here in the good old US of A. It’s great to be on the road again… 🙂