Tales of another island, not so far away

These days, when I’m travelling to a new place, I tend to go wondering if I’ll like it enough to make it my home. I love living in the UK, but often dream of finding somewhere else that I can call home. I have travelled all around the world, and have come to realise, that if I want to settle somewhere other than the UK, it’ll probably need to be within Europe. If I go to live in a new country, I want to be safe in the knowledge that I’m working legally, I want my money to be safe, I’d want to be able to own land without necessarily having to marry a local, and I want to know that it’s a politically stable environment (as stable as any country seems to be in this day, anyway).

With this in mind I was very excited about my trip to Malta, as the island seemed to have it all. Sunny climate, steeped in history, incredible scuba diving, a language that isn’t too difficult to learn, and with many people speaking English anyway.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival, was that people were not exaggerating about the traffic. The taxi I’d booked with William’s Garage (for a fantastic €16 return, would heartily recommend), was running seriously late because of a big accident on the main artery of a road that connects the sprawl of towns around the capital, Valetta, together. The road had been closed, and it felt as though all of the other roads had come to a standstill. A journey of a few kilometres that usually takes about 15 minutes, took well over an hour. On the plus side, I got to see lots of small side streets thanks to my savvy driver trying to outsmart the traffic.

I checked into my hotel, the Corinthia Marina Bay Resort, just as it was getting dark and went out into the balcony to find the sea gently lapping at the rocky bay beneath my room. I was looking out into St George’s Bay, and despite the proximity of the sea, I wasn’t quite… Awestruck. Everything seemed a little built up, and I realised I was further away from the main sights and attractions than I meant to be, due to confusion on my part over the number of Corinthia hotels on the island.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, but cool. The temperature for February is like a spring day in the UK, with temperatures between 12 and 15 degrees, but it was still a welcome change from the snow that was falling in the UK when I left. As the crow flies, there is very little distance at all between the towns of St. Julian’s, Sliema, and onwards towards Valetta, and they seem to flow seamlessly into one anther. In fact, I was slightly disoriented when I got my taxi from Luqa airport in the southeast of the island, which I knew to be several towns away from my hotel, but I didn’t seem to pass through any boundaries. What separates all these towns are a series of many bays and creeks, which means walking between these towns, although picturesque, is frustrating as you can see where you want to head, but every time you reach the end of one bay, you turn the corner and see another bay to walk around.

I started out from St George’s bay and wandered along to Sliema city centre, and except for a few pretty buildings, I was left uninspired, feeling that the whole area was massively overdeveloped, particularly annoyed by the eyesore of the Portomaso tower that seemed to be looming and trying to get into every photo I took. Huge, sprawling concrete hotels that take no care in trying to blend into the surroundings are commonplace (mine included).

I did get to duck in and out of a few little coffee bars along the way though, dodging a few rain showers, and sampling great coffee and the warm hospitality that Malta has to offer. I can thoroughly recommend Mint, a medium sized cafe that’s a hive of activity, serving everything from snacks to vegan lasagne for reasonable prices, along Sliema’s waterfront.

I got the bus back after my walk, pleasantly surprised by how cheap it was, and how relatively easy it was to work out the route. The only problem I encountered was the fact that all my maps had anglicised place names, but the buses ran in Maltese (St. Julian’s for example is St. Guljian – and not all of the translations are so easy!

The next day I decided to go and explore Valetta, hoping to be more inspired than on the previous day’s walk. I was, instantly. The city is a huge walled fortress which sits atop imposing cliffs on three sides, connected to land on the other. Driving into the city, through the neighbouring Floriana, is a great too, as you can see the buildings getting older and more elegant as you go through, and it also gives you a peek into a stunning cemetery, and winds through the harbours full of yachts.

I headed straight for the Co-cathedral of St John which was built between 1573 and 1578. I thought the beautiful, relatively plain exterior of the cathedral was wonderful to look at, but I was blown away by the interior. If you ever needed to see the love man has for his god, the you needn’t look any further. The rich baroque interior, lavishly decorated with gold and paintings and marble and velvet everywhere you looked, coupled with the hint of frankincense in the air leaves you nothing less than awed. After wandering around all of the chapels, dedicated to different divisions of the Order of St John, and each differently, but just as richly decorated, I found the Oratory, with it’s huge painting of The Beheading of St John, by Caravaggio, along with a few of his other works. Words will never do this incredible interior justice.

I then took in the National Museum of Archaeology, which on the ground floor houses incredible prehistoric finds, including the moving “fat ladies”, many figurines carved from stone of all different sizes depicting very voluptuous women, that have been found at historical sites around Malta, which are around 5000 years old. Upstairs did feel much more like a school exhibit, though interesting, was nothing like the downstairs.

I decided to follow the Lonely Planet’s walking tour for the rest of the afternoon, starting at the city gate and taking in buildings of national and historical interest, such as the building where Napoleon stayed whilst he was on Malta, the eerie Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck, a walk along the waterfront, taking in the views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities on the other side, ending up at the stunning Upper Barrakka Gardens, perched high above the harbour with commanding views and the perfect place to relax on a bench. Valetta was just what I needed after my disappointing day before, and my spirits were rejuvenated, having been reminded why I wanted to visit. I fell in love with Valetta’s fading grandeur.

The next day I decided to give my feet a rest, and enjoy the hotel’s spa facilities, but by the next day I was raring to go again. Given the huge list of sites to visit, I decided to buy a ticket from CitySightseeing, which for €18, gave me a two day pass on it’s busses around the island. I started off on the Northern Route, and once finally leaving the sprawl of buildings and standing traffic behind, I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh wind in my face and the sight of greenery and the sharp, citrus smells in the air.

I spent most of the day in the stunning, tiny walled city of Mdina, the old capital and home to the other co-cathedral on the island. The narrow streets, with tall buildings either side felt wonderfully hushed after the constant hubbub and noise of traffic that I had already grown used to. There were hardly any cars, as not many can squeeze through the gates and along the tiny roads, all of which seemed to head towards the cathedral, which, perched high up on a hill, can be seen for miles around. There are a handful of shops, cafes and museums to spend your time wandering around, as well as a Roman Villa just outside the city walls. All too quickly I realised that I’d spent too long in Mdina, and decided to do the rest of the tour the next day.

The other place worthy of a mention on this tour was the church of Mosta – with it’s huge domed roof said to be one of the biggest in Europe. The dome can be seen for miles around, and as you get closer, the more imposing the building becomes. This building is not only famous for it’s stunning architecture, but also for the story that it holds. On the 9th June, 1942, about 300 parishioners were inside praying when three bombs were dropped on the building. Two of the bombs bounced off the dome and fell into the square, neither exploding, and the third pierced the dome, dropped into the church, rolled across the floor and also failed to detonate. Not a single person was hurt. A replica of the bomb can be found inside the church.

On my last day, I decided to book Malta Sightseeing Tour’s southern tour route. At €15, they were more expensive than their rivals, as the ticket lasts just for a day, and was only valid for that route, but had a much fuller itinerary. First stop, I took in Vittoriosa’s waterfront, one of the Three Cities that looked out across the Grand Harbour and over to Valetta and beyond. Then I skipped the Hypogeum, despite it being one of the things I wanted to visit most during my stay, because you have to book tickets weeks in advance – a fact I only found out once I arrived on the island. The Hypogeum is a subterranean necropolis which dates back as long ago as 3600BC, and it’s thought that upto 7000 bodies were buried here.

Then it was onto the little town of Marsaxlokk, a town made famous for it’s fish market on a Sunday. The fish were abundant on little market stalls, and so were stalls selling tourist tat, lace and local produce such as honey, olive oil and fresh fruits and vegetables. On the other side of the stalls are hundreds of brightly coloured little boats for which this town is also famous. I then went on to the Blue Grotto, a series of caves by the sea that you can take a small boat through. This side of the island is absolutely stunning with steep cliffs rising from the incredible blue sea,

Then it was on to the main attraction of the island for me, the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples. These megalithic temples are a UNESCO heritage site, and also thought to be among the biggest and oldest sites of it’s kind in the world. A short trip through the information centre tells you how archeologists think the structures were built, and give reasons as to why they think they were built, and also show you how the sunlight penetrates the structure on the solstices and the equinoxes, but nothing quite prepares you for what you see perched on the hillside. Huge slabs of rock balanced against each other, with more huge slabs of rock on top to create a roof, with examples of intricately carved spirals and beautifully decorated with dots. One of the slabs of rock that lies upright and longwise has been calculated to weigh over 20 tonnes. There are great pieces of stone with holes carved from the middle to allow light to penetrate and doorways created. It’s so well preserved that it really is like stepping back in time. It’s also where some of the “fat ladies” have been found.

That was a perfect way to end my holiday in Malta. Would I live here? No. Would I come back here above anywhere else? No. But I’ve still been left with a feeling I haven’t quite seen everything. I’ve not had a chance to dive the spectacular dive sites, visit Gozo with it’s caves and beautiful towns, lie on sandy beaches, visit the Hypogeum and explore the wilder western coast, and it’s for these reasons, I think that’ll I’ll be back.

The Tsunami

On Boxing Day eight years ago, the world woke up to one of the most shocking stories in recent memory. There had been a 9.3 magnitude earthquake just off the coast of Indonesia, and as it lasted for nearly ten minutes, it was the third largest and the longest ever earthquake recorded, the effects of which are still felt around the world today.

In 2004 I was 18 years old, and I had set off on my gap year adventure. I left in the September, and the plan was to stay away as long as I could afford to. I started off the trip by doing a bit of work in Bangkok, and after a couple of weeks, I was free to go and explore the country. First on my list was the beach!

I think I ended on on Koh Phi Phi almost immediately after I left Bangkok and fell in love with the place. As a first time traveller, it was full of the ideals that I thought I was looking for. Cheap, laid back, lots of alcohol, and somewhere you could get away with wearing only a swimming costume or bikini as evening wear. Idyllic during the day, with gorgeous sandy beaches, jungle topped cliffs that dropped off into the incredibly blue sea, and more marine life than you could shake a stick at, and a notorious party island at night, with (literally) buckets of alcohol and fire displays on the beach.

In fact, it was so much like paradise, that the film The Beach was filmed in part on the larger Phi Phi island a few minutes boat ride away. It was very rustic. There were hardly any buildings made of concrete or bricks and mortar, most of the places to stay were little bamboo huts with a tin roof, as were most of the businesses on the island too.

I quickly made the island my base, and in between trips back to Bangkok to do a bit of work, I settled there and made it my home away from home. I did do a few other trips, one to the nearby island of Koh Lanta, which is a bigger island still in sight of Koh Phi Phi, over to the mainland to do some rock climbing with monkeys in Krabi, some time spent in Phuket, and I had to endure the bane of the Thai traveler’s life – the visa run.

At the time, unless you had a special (expensive, harder to obtain) visa, you could only spend 30 days at a time in Thailand. If you overstayed this limit, you ended up with a rapidly increasing fine, so every 30 days you’d find yourself on a bus to the nearest border to cross over, and cross straight back I to Thailand again to get another 30 day pass.

On one of these trips, I met Paul, a Mancunian divemaster, who was living on Phi Phi at the time. I met Paul on the minibus from the port in Krabi to the Malaysian border. He told me that he was living on Phi Phi and we got chatting and hit it off straight away. It was a very long bus journey, to a fairly unsafe border town, and once we arrived 6 hours later, and had got our stamps, we went for a night out on the very rainy town before catching the bus back the next morning. Once we were back on the island, we met up regularly, with him introducing me to his scuba diving friends, and showing me the ways of island life.

I did my first scuba dives on Phi Phi, with my friend Prab, also from the UK. I remember breathing underwater for the first time, and I was immediately hooked. I looked at my instructor, Bex, and thought that she looked like a mermaid, so totally at ease underwater. As soon as I finished my first set of dives, I emailed my mum straightaway, telling her how much I had loved it, and that I wanted to do more and more, and being very excited at the prospect of where diving could take me in my life. Seven years later, I finally became a scuba diving instructor, inspired by Bex and Paul and by so many of the other people I met on the island.

We were rapidly approaching Christmas, and I’d been away for three months. I’d kept in contact with my friends and family back home and was starting to feel homesick, and when my Grandparents emailed me and offered to buy me a ticket home on Christmas Eve, and returning back to Bangkok for New Year, I jumped at the chance. It was incredibly extravagant, and when I told my friends on the island what I had planned, they laughed and told me what I’d be missing out on. I started having second thoughts, especially when Bex offered to do the next diving course with me, starting on Boxing Day, for a massively discounted price. But, I decided I had made the right choice, and headed home.

I can’t remember my Christmas Day very well, but I do remember seeing my mum’s face when I turned up n the doorstep (I’d kept coming home a surprise), and I’m sure my Christmas was just like all the others, one where I was spoiled rotten and ate too much. I was still in regular contact with Paul and the others on the island, and they were all having a ball, eating their Christmas dinner in the heat and humidity and relaxing on the beach afterwards. I went to bed on Christmas night feeling very relaxed and happy and content, and looking forward to being back in Bangkok in a few days.

The next morning, I already had a text from Paul. I was still jetlagged, and it was very early, and I grinned as I opened up my phone. The message was weird. It said that he had been on a boat as the Tsunami came in, got to the mainland and up into the hills just as the wave had crashed, and that he’d spoken to his sister, and she was fine. He expected communications to go down shortly.

I was confused, I ran downstairs to put the news on, and every channel was reporting the news as it came in. I tried to phone and text my friends in Thailand, and I couldn’t get through. My friend Prab and I were on the phone to each other constantly updating who we’d been able to get hold of, and who was still unaccounted for. I tried to go on as normal that day, and went to my grandparents to see the rest of my family. They tried their best to console me, to tell me that Phi Phi hadn’t even been on the news, so it must have been fine. I knew that wouldn’t be the case.

That afternoon, I watched as the reports began to roll in about Phi Phi. The reporters were on the beach, with the dead, dying and severely injured lying on the beach behind them. I could see people I knew lying on the beach, and I watched as I saw other friends trying to aid them.

Phi Phi had been badly hit, but not one, by two waves. The island was only a few hundred metres wide in the middle, and one wave had come in from one side, and a few minutes later, another wave had come in from the other. The next few days passed in a blur. Paul had gone back to Phi Phi to try and help with the rescue and recovery of the island, and I was due to go back. My family didn’t want me to go, and the island had all but shut down. There was no running water or electricity and disease was becoming a risk. I took the easy option, I decided to stay in the UK.

Over the next few days, weeks and months, the stories about what happened that day began to make a clearer picture. Bex, who was at home that morning since I’d refused her kind offer of the discounted diving course, was in her bathroom when the first wave struck. She was dragged across the island and ended up heaped against a wall with a scaffolding pole through the centre of her body. She was dragged to safety just as the second wave crashed, and after 6 months of major surgery and rehabilitation, she met up with me and Prab in the UK for breakfast. She was a changed person. Paul continued to stay on the island to help with the rebuilding, and eventually came home and started working with disabled kids, teaching them about the great outdoors.

21 of my friends died on the 26th December 2004, and over 1000 people died on Phi Phi. 5393 people died in Thailand and it is thought that the total for the deaths worldwide as a result of the tsunami is over 230,000, with casualties as far away as the east coast of Africa.

I went back a year after the tsunami hit the island. The place was very different. Concrete buildings had gone up where the shacks once stood, the place was a hive of activity, with huge rebuilding projects going on. One of my favourite places to drink had also become a tsunami evacuation shelter, and huge evacuation route signs were all over the island. On the beach, there were trees tied with ribbons that served as rememberence to the dead and missing.

I’ve been back to Thailand many times since then, but I’ve never visited Phi Phi again. My story isn’t very unusual, there are far more interesting stories out there of people that had near misses, but I felt I needed to write this. Eight years on, I still think about how lucky I was, with my twist of fate, and wish that my friends and all of the others could have had the same.

The Middle of Nowhere

Due to some big changes in my life, my series of remote places has stalled at only two. This Lonely Planet article features none of the remote places on my list, but makes an interesting read

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/california/travel-tips-and-articles/76574?affil=fb-fan

Enjoy!

Tales of faraway places – Easter Island

Easter Island. Or Paasch Eylend, as the Dutch called it when they discovered it on Easter Sunday in 1722. Or Isla Pascua as it’s officially known in Spanish. Also known as Rapa Nui or just Rapaby the slaves traded there in the mid-19th century, that thought it looked like their home island of Rapa. It’s original name is said to be Te pito o Te henua which can be translated as either The navel of the world or Land’s end depending on the translation. Or it can be called Te pito o Te kainga a Hau Maka which means The little piece of land of the Hau Maka, or it has even been known as Mata ki Te rangi, which means Eyes looking to the sky

Whichever name you use for this island, it doesn’t change the fact that it is often described as the most remote inhabited island on Earth. I’ve always been fascinated by this place, and my fascination only grew when I flew over it on a flight from Chile to New Zealand a few years ago. It was the longest flight I’ve ever been on, and it the middle of it, so far away from anything, was this tiny island. 

It is now a part of Chile (located 2,180 miles west of it’s coast), but carbondating suggests that the earliest inhabitants settled there between 700 – 1100 AD. These settlers are thought to have been Polynesians from the Gambier or Marquesas Islands up to 2000 miles away. The island’s history is as famous as it is mysterious. The settlers arrived on a lush, verdant island, less than 63 square miles large. The island had a freshwater supply, found in the crater of one of the three dormant volcanoes, and over the course of the coming years, the settlers settled and the population increased. As the population increased, the people began to move around the island, creating small clans. One thing they would have noticed was an increasing number or rats. These rats were brought over with the settlers, and having no natural predators on the island, along with a huge supply of food, the rats bred quickly, eating almost anything, including palm tree seeds.

As the clans made their homes around the island, they lived in caves, or elliptical boat-shaped houses and they farmed the land, growing crops such as sweet potatoes and sugar. They also created ceremonial statues, Moai, which are still there today (though the only ones standing are due to archaeological renovation) for which the island is probably most famous. The Moai are on average 13 tall and weigh 14 tons, and took huge manpower to create and move around the island. Trees were used to transport the Moai around the island, as well as for fires and areas were deforested to make way for more agriculture. The deforestation caused the nutrient rich soil to wash away, and food became more difficult to grow, and the rats were eating through what was growing and other supplies. As people began to starve, wars broke out between the clans, and clans toppled other clans’ Moais, and cannibalism between the clans became widespread. Europeans discovered the island in 1722, and brought with them new diseases, and by 1774, the first accounts of Moai-toppling are written. The destruction seems to come in waves, and by 1825 no Moai were left standing.

The Rapanui create a tale of ecocide that can teach many lessons about human shortsightedness, but it was the Europeans that were the true downfall of the Rapanui. The early explorers noted the rich, fertile land, and it’s use as a stopover in the South Pacific. First, the whalers came, and then the planters came to the island, spurred by the want things like sugar, rubber and coffee in Europe.   Next came slavers who kidnapped the islanders and shipped them off to places as far away as Peru and Australia.

 In 1862, a raid by Peruvian slavers captured 1000 islanders, including the king, and took them to mine guano deposits. After many protests, the Peruvian government ordered the return of the islanders, but over 90% had already died. When the remaining were being transported back to the island, there was an outbreak of smallpox on the ship, killing all but a few of the people. The few that did get back to the island were carrying the illness and an epidemic broke out. What was left was a small group of a few hundred islanders. The Rapanui never fully regained the culture and knowledge that died out over that time.

Catholic missionaries then arrived on the island, suppressing and degrading the little culture that the Rapanui had left. The population was now very small, with very little land owned between them. The missionaries brought the land, along with European farmers, who wanted the land to graze sheep on for wool production. This lead to huge confrontations between the settlers and the Rapanui. By 1877, only 111 people lived on the island, most of whom were older men. This was the lowest point of the population, and it began to increase soon after, as the missionaries evacuated and the lives of the people began to get better. 

The island was annexed to Chile in 1888 after an incredibly traumatic few hundred years. The lives of the Rapanui were still far less than perfect, and there are rumours of human rights being ignored up to this day, but now there are also rumours of independence too.

Getting to the island is still quite difficult, as you can only fly to the island from Lima in Peru, or Santiago, Chile. There are only a handful of hotels, as most people stay in guest houses, and only a few restaurants too. Contrary to popular belief, there is far more to do on Easter Island that just see the Maoi statues. The scuba diving is apparently incredible, as well as great surfing, biking and horseback riding. It’s easy to get around and car rental is cheap. Tourism is still the biggest economy, but so people visit that it’s likely that you’ll get to see some of the archaeological sites on your own. Even if none of the above takes your fancy, you can go and lie on a sandy beach and drink the unofficial drink of the island, pisco, and relax.

The London Olympics

Tales of faraway places – Patagonia

Patagonia was the first place to spark my curiosity for wild open spaces back in 2007 when I was planning a round the world trip. It is located on the southern tip of South America, on land shared by both Chile and Argentina. With the Andes mountains and the Pacific ocean to the west and Tierra Del Fuego (land of fire) and the Atlantic to the East, it encompasses a huge area with rivers, glaciers, canyons, plateaus, mountains, volcanoes and is home to the largest ice fields in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.

The area is vast, and has a very sparse population today with a population density of 1.9 people on average per km2, well below the national averages of both Chile and Argentina with 22.3 and 14.4 respectively. The area’s population has a surprisingly diverse heritage, with the first settlements here recorded at about 12,500 BC! There’s very little known about the daily lives of the early settlers to the region, and the first accounts of Patagonia come from the early European explorers, with some accounts possibly as early as 1502 AD, but the first validated account of the area being explored dates to 1520, during Francis Magellan’s expedition.

The thing that struck the explorers most about the area was the height of the indigenous people, with the explorers supposedly recording heights of the indigenous people as tall as nine or even twelve feet! The belief that giants lived in the area continued for some 250 years until John Cook’s expedition of 1773 recorded that they had not met anyone taller than 6 feet, 6 inches on their travels, though these rumours persisted well into the 20th Century.

In the early 19th century, people began to move into the area to use the fertile land to crown crops and rear animals, and once the newly independent nations of Argentina and Chile were founded, the nations began pushing their borders south, with many conflicts along the way. The Chileans took the area on which Punta Arenas is founded (one of the oldest settlements in Southern Patagonia) and the creation of Punta Arenas was instrumental in making Chile’s claim of the Strait of Magellan permanent.

Once sheep were introduced from The Falklands, sheep farming became one of the most important economies of the region, and in 1885 a mining expedition came to the area in search of gold, which they found. This brought prospectors, missionaries and other settlers to the region, most notably the Welsh settlers of the Chubut region. The Welsh decided to settle there after a community decided that in order to preserve the Welsh customs and language, they should set up a new colony. This colony needed to have an area that could provide everything the colonists could need, and they decided that this area should be Patagonia. The small group of 150 settlers left Liverpool and landed in Patagonia in May 1865. The first few years were very difficult for the settlers, due to floods, poor harvests and difficult living conditions, and as more people began to migrate to the area, some decided to move further afield and try their luck there. By 1876, the population had grown significantly to 690, all but 35 of whom were Welsh.

Over the coming years, news of the success of the community spread all over the world, and the population continued to grown, but the immigrants were not all Welsh any more. Spaniards, Italians, Chileans and Argentinians all became a part of this thriving community, and the population now stands at about 12,000. The Argentinian government granted the settlers their land and has been co-ordinating with the National Assembly of Wales to help maintain it’s Welsh heritage.

The second half of the 20th century has seen a new economy coming to the area – tourism. Originally it was a remote destination for backpackers, but Cape Horn has become a stop for some cruise liners. People are attracted by attractions such as the Perrito Moreno glacier, the Valdes Peninsula, Tierro Del Fuego and Ushuaia (the city thought to be the most southerly in the world). There is of course incredible wildlife to see, such as the guanaco (a relative of the lama), cougars, the Patagonian Fox, the Patagonian Hog-Nosed Skunk and the Magellanic Tuco-tuco (a subterranean rodent), which are typical sights on the plains. It’s also a twitcher’s paradise, with birds such as the Chilean flamingo, steamer ducks and you might even see hummingbirds flying through the falling snow. The Valdez peninsula is a UNESCO world heritage site for it’s marine life; orcas, southern right whales, elephant seals and the Magellanic penguin can be spotted.

As if you needed any more reasons to want to visit the area, the food is basic but delicious sounding. Typical fayre is grilled meats (lamb is viewed as the area’s best meat) with herbs found in the area, as well as seafood, pastas, fondue, chocolate and traditional tea rooms can be found in the Welsh communities!

Well? What are you waiting for?!

Tales of faraway places

As a girl from a small town in the UK, when I dreamed of travelling, I always dreamed up places teeming with life and culture, and often, heaving with population. I lived in, and adored Bangkok for that reason – so many people, so many religions, so many walks of life, so many temples, so many smells, so much traffic – there was always something going on.

These days, my urge to visit these places has lessened. I still love huge metropolises, but I also have a craving for something a little more wild. I think this started on our trip to Iceland a few years ago. I loved the small capital, Reykjavik, the fact that you could view sea and ice and mountains from wherever you looked, and the urge became stronger once we ventured outside of the city into huge national parks. These parks were miles from anyone and anywhere and were a constant surprise to me. I think I’d always imagined these places as silent, but even as we stood on a high mountain ridge, I could hear the roaring of water and see smoke rising from volcanoes.

Since then, I’ve been compiling a list of far flung places that I’d love to visit. Some of them are relatively easy to get to, and some of them I doubt I’ll ever visit. The huge spaces of Patagonia and Siberia, the remote islands of St Helena and Tristan Da Cunha and the more well known Rapa Nui are some of the names on an ever expanding list of places that I’d love to go. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a bit about these places, their history and the way people live on these islands today and how easy or difficult they are to get to. Doing this, I hope to capture your imaginations as they have captured mine, or if you’re already interested in these places, share my intrigue of them. I hope you enjoy it, and as always, comments are welcome.

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