Wild Junket » Adventure Travel http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Wed, 22 Oct 2014 17:07:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Life on the Edge: The Most Extreme Places I’ve Been http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/09/24/extreme-places/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/09/24/extreme-places/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:00:34 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17251 Pyongyang subwayTravel to me is about getting out of my comfort zone and exploring places that make me hold on to the edge of my seat. But these days, with travel getting more affordable and easily accessible, it’s getting harder and harder to find untouched destinations – places that remain relatively raw and untainted. That’s why [...]

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Travel to me is about getting out of my comfort zone and exploring places that make me hold on to the edge of my seat. But these days, with travel getting more affordable and easily accessible, it’s getting harder and harder to find untouched destinations – places that remain relatively raw and untainted. That’s why I like traveling to less conventional destinations. Most often than not, the places that I enjoy the most are the ones with slightly negative connotations.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not silly enough to put my life at risk for bragging rights. But even Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet who recently wrote a book on his tour of the axis of evil, poised it eloquently, “In almost every bad land I am moved by the outgoing friendliness of ordinary men and women. I  have come to see that bad is a relative term, and that there are always two sides to every story.”

Forget about holiday brochures – get your atlas, find somewhere you’ve never heard about before, and go there. I promise you nothing will make you feel more alive.

North Korea

It comes as a surprise to many that anyone can visit North Korea as a tourist. Notorious as one of the “axis of evil”, North Korea (better known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is often sullied by negative perceptions. Since the end of World War II, DPRK has closed its doors to the outside world. Only local channels are shown on TV, there is no internet anywhere and only 2,500 foreign tourists (not including the Chinese) visit the country each year.

North Koreans are taught to think that anything foreign is a threat – yet, I was surprised to find how curious locals were of us. On the subway, we interacted with people, showing them our photos and laughing along with them. We even had the chance to play with Korean children at a park, through charades and guessing games. Read about my time there.

Pyongyang subway

Palestine

Technically, it’s not even considered a country. The Palestinian Territories has had  a long and tumultuous history, largely due to its location on the crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. The treacherous Israel-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing since the mid-20th century, and until today, the two parties have failed to reach a final peace agreement. Hundreds of thousands people have been killed and many more displaced and injured. 

In recent years, there continue to be bombings in Gaza and the West Bank, so be sure to keep yourself updated before visiting. During our visit in February 2013, it was safe to visit Palestine’s West Bank and we had an insightful time traveling around Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah. As the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity, Palestine definitely has plenty of historical and cultural sights to see, but most importantly, visiting Palestine allows you to get a chance to talk to its locals and find out more about the conflict on a first-hand basis.

Our Palestinian guide and the Wall

Iran

I’m currently in Iran as we speak and it’s definitely exciting to be a in place that has earned quite a reputation for itself in the public eyes. For over a decade, the U.S. has charged Iran with sponsoring terrorism and producing nuclear weapons. In his 2002 State of the Union Address,George Bush stated Iran “aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.”

As one of the “axis of evil”, Iran has been looked upon as a public enemy for the past decade or so. However, friends who have visited all say quite the opposite about Iran. They’ve only got positive things to say about the country, with its outstanding architecture, good food and some of the most hospitable people in the world. Most parts of Iran are safe to visit and I can’t wait to experience it for myself. I’ll be writing more about it here, please stay tuned.

The Jāmeh Mosque of Yazd _IranFlickr image by Ali Reza

Albania

Albania is often linked to the Soviet War even until today. With more than 40 years of communist rule under the dictator Enver Hoxha, followed by a period of extreme capitalism in the mid ‘90s, the country is still struggling to get back on its feet. During my visit in May 2010, Albania surprised me with the hospitality of welcoming locals (I lost my wallet and a local brought me to the police station and even lent me some money), local cuisine that easily tops anywhere else I’ve been, and clusters of beautiful towns tucked high in the mountains. Plus with prices well below the European standard, Albania is definitely a rare find.

Kruje, Albania

Myanmar

Due to decades of political conflict, travel to Myanmar presents an ethical decision – are we encouraging the regime by visiting? While Myanmar remains a troubled country, things are definitely looking up. Following the election in 2010, a civilian government took over, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, and the tourism boycott has since been lifted.

Traditional and surreal, this country offers time travel back to the days when roads were non-existent and creaking buses throttled along with hundreds of passengers onboard. It is a country that stirs my soul with its thousands of sacred stupas, poetic Buddhist towns, and mystical lakes. It remains one of my favorite countries to date.

Perhaps it’s because of years of isolation, perhaps it’s the deep-rooted Burmese culture, Myanmar remains pure and untainted – for now.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Zimbabwe

Like the others on the list, Zimbabwe has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. Since Robert Mugabe took ruling power in 1980, the country has spiralled into a series of racial conflicts, human rights abuse and violence. Although the country’s economy is slowly recuperating, millions of people are still living on food aid and struggling with disease outbreaks.

Behind this dark history lies a gorgeous country waiting to be explored. From the wilderness of Mana Pools to the chaos of Harare, Zimbabwe shows Africa at its best. Besides spotting the Big Five in the wild and witnessing the power of Victoria Falls, I got a chance to know its people – who all warmly welcomed me into a country clearly misunderstood by the world.

Gorge at Victoria Falls

Guatemala

Stories of violence, kidnapping, and drug trafficking incidents are all too common in Central America. Based on a CNN report, 6,500 people met violent deaths in 2009 and nearly 6,000 were slain in 2010 in Guatemala. 41% of these deaths were associated with drug trafficking. Worst of all, more than 96% of all crimes go unpunished. When I was in Guatemala several years back, I was stumped by all the tales of mugging and rape from fellow travelers.

Danger may be lurking in certain corners, but that doesn’t stop Guatemala from being a popular backpacking spot. It didn’t take me long to fall for the charms of this diverse, rustic nation. I traversed the country from the charming colonial city of Antigua to the impressive Tikal ruins in the north, and never got mugged once or felt like I was in any sort of danger.

Tikal, Guatemala

 

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Death-Defying Extreme Adventures: Are You Brave Enough? http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/27/death-defying-extreme-adventures/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/27/death-defying-extreme-adventures/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:00:19 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17254 ImageSkydiving, bungee jumping, canyon swings. Been there, done that. But what about rock-climbing or sleeping in a tent a few thousand meters above ground? Or white-water kayaking off a ferocious waterfall? Or abseiling into a deep crater? We’ve found some death-defying adventures that will test even the most hardened traveler out there. These extreme adventures [...]

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Skydiving, bungee jumping, canyon swings.

Been there, done that.

But what about rock-climbing or sleeping in a tent a few thousand meters above ground? Or white-water kayaking off a ferocious waterfall? Or abseiling into a deep crater?

We’ve found some death-defying adventures that will test even the most hardened traveler out there. These extreme adventures aren’t for everyone but if you’ve got the guts to do them, we salute you. As compared to these brave souls, we’re no where near adventurous.

Warning:  if you’ve got a fear for heights, these photos below will probably make you queasy.

 

Image
Image source (photographer unknown)

Ice caving

Image by Jonathan Griffith

Russian skywalker levitates

Image by Vitaly Raskalov 

Climbing Verdon Gorge

Image by Keith Ladzinski

Bodyboarding Oahu

Image by Ray Collins

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Image by Martin Lugger

cliff-tent

Image by Gordon Wiltsie

Image by Desre Tate

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Finding a Life of Adventure: How to Overcome Your Fears http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/25/finding-a-life-of-adventure-overcoming-your-fear/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/25/finding-a-life-of-adventure-overcoming-your-fear/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:00:54 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=15758 Fear quoteFor many people, fear is the biggest obstacle to achieving personal goals. We give fear so much power that we sacrifice our dreams to avoid anxiety or the possibility of rejection or failure. The first step towards dealing with fear is to recognize that it is inevitable. We all experience fear, whether first-time travelers or [...]

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This is  chapter extracted from my new book The Adventure Traveler’s Handbook. To read more on it, head over to my book page or to Amazon.

Fear quote

For many people, fear is the biggest obstacle to achieving personal goals. We give fear so much power that we sacrifice our dreams to avoid anxiety or the possibility of rejection or failure.

The first step towards dealing with fear is to recognize that it is inevitable. We all experience fear, whether first-time travelers or a seasoned athletes. It is important to know that while it cannot be completely eliminated, fear can be managed. By facing fear with a clear and objective mind, you will realize that it is possible to fight it, focus on what you’re doing, and achieve what you want in life.

Next, we need to realize that fear builds character, and teaches us how to act with courage. In a study on fear associated with extreme sports, conducted by Eric Brymer and Robert Schweitzer, a mountain climber described dealing with fear as ‘empowering’ and ‘feeling very at peace’, while a BASE jumper termed the pursuit as ‘the ultimate metaphor for jumping into life rather than standing on the edge quivering.’ Confronting fear can be transformative, and equip us to deal with the tribulations of everyday life.

Start seeing fear as an opportunity — it can act as a guidepost to help us identify problems and solve them efficiently. When you feel afraid of something unfamiliar, take it as a sign that you need to get to know the place or situation better. If you are afraid of heights, think about the opportunities that will open up to you once you overcome it. Be motivated by the prospect of expanding your horizons to a different dimension.

By preparing in advance with proper information on risks and safety procedures, by training physically and mentally, and by assessing our skills and experience levels in relation to the adventure, it is possible to gain confidence and keep fear under control. It may take a huge leap of faith and a dollop of courage, but the results, and the journey along the way, are always well worth it.

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Managing Your Fear in 5 Easy Steps

1. Visualize the results and the journey to get there. Make mental snapshots of the outcome and how you’ll achieve it, and then set out to make it a reality. Each time fear creeps in, replace it with an image of success.

2. Break the cycle of negative thoughts. Think about something totally unrelated to the mission at hand and then come back to see the situation more objectively. Remember: you have the power to control your thoughts.

3. Don’t let the momentum subside. It takes a certain amount of momentum to deal with fear. When you’re faced with setbacks it can be tempting to give up. Stay determined and persevere, even when it seems impossible to reach your goal.

4. Make short-term goals. To make the task feel less intimidating, set smaller goals at intervals. Let’s say you’re doing a long trek; aim to walk to the next tree each day and then expand upon it as you get closer to your final goal.

5. Celebrate your victories. Give yourself a pat on the back for each milestone. When you see how good it feels to gain an edge on your fear, you’ll be ready to face the next one head-on.

 

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A Quick Guide to Walking the Camino de Santiago http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/07/23/camino-de-santiago-guide/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/07/23/camino-de-santiago-guide/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:04:51 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17175 Trail markers on the CaminoAs a well-known long-distance trek, the Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes running across Europe, all leading to the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Retracing its origins to the 9th century, Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way of Saint James”, was an important pilgrimage route for the Christians. The Christian apostle Saint James [...]

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As a well-known long-distance trek, the Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes running across Europe, all leading to the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Retracing its origins to the 9th century, Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way of Saint James”, was an important pilgrimage route for the Christians. The Christian apostle Saint James was beheaded in Jerusalem in 42 AD and his remains were buried in Santiago de Compostela. When his tomb was discovered, Christians across Europe began to travel to see it. This journey  became one of the most important pilgrimages in the world.

These days, the Camino de Santiago is more of a personal journey than a religious pilgrimage. Millions walk it each year in search of direction and deeper meaning in life. For many of us, the Camino has the power to change your life and give you new perspectives.

It doesn’t take a great amount of planning or research to prepare for the Camino, but it’s always wise to read ahead and know what you’re in for. I’ve compiled a guide to give an overview of how it is like to walk the Camino, covering every aspect from budgeting to lodging. If I missed out something, please leave your question in a comment below.

Buen Camino!

Trail markers on the Camino

Route

Various Camino routes begin in major European cities such as Paris, Lisbon, Geneva and Seville — the most popular is the Camino Francés, which covers almost 800km from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago. This route weaves through the Pyrenees mountains, across the width of northern Spain, into the mesetas and meadows of Galicia.

Other routes include:

  • Camino Portugués: 230km from Porto in Portugal
  • Camino Norte: 825km along the coast from Irun in northern Spain
  • Via de la Plata: 1000km from Seville in southern Spain
  • Camino Inglés: 110km from Ferrol in northern Spain

All routes on the Camino are well-signposted with yellow arrows, so all you need to do is just follow the arrows and they’ll lead you the right way. Sometimes things can a little confusing in cities, but just make sure you don’t walk too far without seeing an arrow.

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Length of Time

The entire Camino Francés takes around 30 days to complete, but the total length of time you’ll take depends on how fast you walk. You can also choose to start from any point on the Camino — it’s all up to you. To get the compostela (official certificate) at the end of the Camino, you just need to walk a minimum of 100km (many Spaniards start in Sarria for that reason). My friends and I only had two weeks to walk the Camino, so we decided to start from León, covering a total of 310km.

In the Middle Ages, many pilgrims — and even some today — began their spiritual voyage by just walking out their doors and heading for Santiago de Compostela. We met several Dutch travelers who started walking from their doorstep in Holland, taking a little more than three months to reach Santiago.

Most people walk around 20-25km ( 10-15miles ) a day, waking up early at 6am and walking all the way to late afternoon (you’ll be used to these hours by the second day). Again you should decide your own pace and not try to follow the crowd. It’s also important to include rest days in your plan and give yourself ample time to get to Santiago. I wished we had kept that in mind and scheduled in rest days so I could have let my knees recover before continuing on the trail. Regardless, keeping your schedule flexible is key.

For those who would like to see which route best suits you based on time:

  • 1 week: Camino Francés starting from Sarria
  • 2 weeks: Camino Portugués
  • 3 weeks: Camino Francés starting from Burgos
  • 4 weeks: Camino Francés
  • 5 weeks: Camino Francés and Camino Fisterra (continue on to Finisterre)

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When to Go

Most people advise against walking in summer due to the crowd and the intense heat. Before going on the Camino, I’d read about how busy it can get in summer and that albergues (dorms) run out of beds quickly. People would walk fast just to get to the albergue early and grab a bed. There were even cases of pilgrims getting into fights with the albergue volunteers just because they denied them entry. Click to read more about albergues.

We walked at the beginning of summer and we didn’t encounter any of these problems. It did get quite crowded on the trail especially after we passed Sarria, the 100km mark where many Spanish students and holidaymakers start their walk. But there was never any problem getting a bed in the municipal albergues. There was only once that the municipal albergue was full by the time I got there (and I’m a slow walker), but there are always plenty of private albergues in each town and these private ones only cost €2 to €4 more per bed.

As for the heat, I didn’t think it was unbearable. As compared to southern Spain, summer in the northern part of the country is actually quite pleasant, with average temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius and bright sunshine most of the time. Mornings can get quite chilly though, there was one day when we were in the mountains and it was probably close to 5 or 8 degrees Celsius. Even in that scenario, a light rain jacket is enough as you’ll have some body heat from walking.

From doing some research, most say that the best time to do the Camino is in April-May and September-October.

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Physical Challenges

Whoever said the Camino is easy has got to be joking. I’ve seen even the fittest and most seasoned trekker/traveler crumble and suffer.

Walking around 25 km (15 miles) a day for 2-4 weeks is definitely a physical challenge because of the long walking distances and added load on your back. Regardless of your age, it’s common to suffer blisters, tendinitis and muscle pain. During the walk, I was suffered tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons) on both my knees and I also pulled the tendons on both my Achilles. It hurt to just move my limbs, so you can imagine how much pain I was in while walking. There was also a contagious stomach bug spreading around the Camino and I unfortunately caught it towards the end of the journey.

The Camino turned out to be the most physically challenging thing I’ve done to date and I’m really glad I pulled through it. If you’ve never hiked before, then it’s wise to start training at least six months before the Camino and to test out hiking long distances with a backpack. If you suffer from tendinitis on the Camino, the best thing to do is get some anti-inflammatory cream from the pharmacy, take some Ibuprofen and get a knee guard or in-soles. Icing the infected part can also help. If you catch the stomach bug, I recommend you take a day to rest, not only to recuperate but also to prevent spreading it to other pilgrims.

To stay healthy on the Camino, I recommend reading this useful article on how to prevent these health problems on the Camino.

Physical challenges

Mental Challenges

Before I went on the Camino, I kept wondering if I could do it — if I would have the determination to keep walking until the finishing line. I knew mental challenges were harder to overcome than the physical pain. But to my surprise, walking just became a daily routine that I eased into. Everyday, I woke up at 6am, packed and started walking. There was nothing on the agenda except to put one foot in front of another. Perhaps it’s because everyone was doing it, it didn’t feel like a chore or a challenge to just keep walking.

But for some pilgrims, there is another type of mental challenge to overcome — their own mind. Most of the pilgrims I met on the Camino came on their own and even those in a group chose to walk solo. In fact, many came on the Camino to do just that: spend some time with themselves, be alone with their own thoughts and do some serious thinking. That’s why the Camino can be an emotional journey — it forces you to confront yourself, your fears and insecurities. Many people I talked to said the Camino helped them to learn more about themselves and what they really want in life. I came out of it feeling blessed and very content with the life I have.

Mental challenges Language

It seems to surprise many pilgrims that English is not commonly spoken in Spain and along the Camino. I was constantly asked why waiters or volunteers at the albergue didn’t speak English and I was always acting as translator for everyone. As travelers, we can’t visit a country expecting everyone to speak our own language. I get annoyed whenever I hear people saying things like “English is a universal language”. It may be true that English is one of the most popular languages in the world, but that doesn’t mean everyone speaks it.

Have some respect for the locals and pick up a few Spanish phrases before coming to Spain. Words like ‘gracias’ (thank you), ‘por favor’ (please) and ‘comida’ (food) can go a long way. Even if you don’t know any Spanish words at all, be patient and use body language — that always does the trick!

Friends on the camino

Social Life

One of my favorite things about the Camino experience is the friends you make along the way. It’s like a community on the Camino — you’re on the same trail for weeks, it’s inevitable to meet and walk with the same people, and therefore build friendships along the way. On the Camino, it’s easy to develop strong bonds and camaraderie with one another. We all look out for each other, and nobody leaves anyone behind. When I was injured and limping the whole way, so many people stopped to ask if I was ok and offered medication or advice. It warmed my heart and made me feel that no one is ever alone on the Camino.

Along the way, I met so many people from all over the world, each of them with a different story to tell. There were so many interesting characters along the way whom I’ll always remember: the humorous and wealthy Italian who was looking for some hardship on the trail, the lost Korean engineer seeking a new direction in life, the chirpy English doctor who loves challenges and the heart-broken Austrian hoping to get past her grief and move on in life. I don’t know if I’ve made any lifelong friends on the Camino, but what I do know is that I’ve learned something from each and every one of them.

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Lodging

There is a variety of lodging along the Camino — but the albergues (dorms) are the cheapest and most popular option. There is usually a municipal albergue in each town and a cluster of private albergues as well. These usually involve sleeping with a big group of people in one room, but by the second night, we already got used to it.

The municipal albergues are managed by the government and they are the biggest and cheapest, with €5 for a dorm bed. These are usually clean but basic and can range from 10 to 80 beds in a room. I was quite surprised by how well-maintained most of the municipal albergues were. Private albergues are usually smaller scale so you can expect to have less beds in each room. Prices range from €8 to €10 per bed. Everyone shares a common bathroom/toilet; most albergues have kitchens that you can use as well as washing and drying machines. Some albergues (especially the private ones) even have free WiFi.

Booking in advance is not necessary, most albergues don’t even allow you to reserve a bed in advance. Some say that it gets crowded in summer and albergues may run out of beds by the time you get there, but there are always private albergues around so there’s nothing to worry about. Like I mentioned above, I only encountered that once and even then the private albergue proved to be a great alternative.

In most towns, you can also find pensiones (guesthouses) and hotels with private rooms. The only time I stayed at a pension was in Pedrouzo when I caught the stomach bug and had diarrhoea and stomach cramps. In Santiago we also chose to stay in a hotel just to treat ourselves. Prices can vary largely, from €40 to €80 for a double room.

photo (6)

Food

I was surprised by how easy it is to find pharmacies, supermarkets, albergues and cafeterias along the Camino — pilgrims definitely are spoiled in that sense. Even if you do walk long stretches in the countryside without seeing anyone, you’re almost guaranteed to find a bar in every village or town you come across. There is no shortage of food on the trail, but you’ll notice that most bars serve the same things. Many people I met complained about food in these bars (especially the vegetarians who definitely have limited options!) but it’s important to know that these are basic pilgrim meals and they don’t set the standards for normal Spanish food (which is SO good!).

Here’s a look at what’s usually on offer at most bars along the Camino:

Breakfast: Our days began at 6.30am most of the time, so bars wouldn’t be opened then. To start off the day, we usually had muesli bars or fruit cake and banana to give me some energy. Then around 9am, we would stop for cola-cao hot chocolate and my favorite tomato toast tostada con tomate.

Lunch: At the beginning, we bought things from the supermarket and ate lunch along the way, but we soon got sick of having bread with canned tuna or salami and cheese. The snacks also added weight to our backpacks. Eventually, we got into the habit of stopping for bocadillo (large baguette sandwiches that cost around €4-5) or Spanish omelette, tortilla española, at cafeterias. There was one time when we found the best paella I’ve ever had (it was at Las Herrerias) and had a hefty lunch, which kept me going longer than I usually do.

Dinner: Most restaurants offer a menu de peregrino, three-course set lunch/dinner for pilgrims which costs around €7 to €10 and comes with wine/beer and dessert. The first course is  usually a salad, pasta or soup (caldo gallego) and the second course ranges from meat stews to grilled pork chop or fish. It’s great value for money and is sure to fill you up.

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Budget

This is one of the best parts of the Camino — it is easy to do it on a tight budget as food and lodging are very cheap for pilgrims.

Some students budget around €15 a day with food and lodging included, but this is only if you cook your own meals or picnic along the way and stay at albergues only. We cooked our own meals twice and it was more for the fun of it than anything else. We also opted to stay at municipal albergues most of the time, mainly because they were big so we had higher chances of seeing our friends.

For most people, I would recommend having a budget of €30 a day. That’s how much I spent on a daily basis and it includes breakfast at a bar, snacks and drinks, a simple lunch, dinner and lodging. I also spent quite a bit at the pharmacy for my knee guards and in soles. Here’s a brief break down of the average prices of each item:

  • Breakfast €3
  • Lunch €8
  • Dinner €12
  • Albergue €5

TOTAL €28 20140723-160816-58096245.jpg

Packing

As you’ll be carrying your pack with you for more than six hours/day, it’s important to pack as light as possible. Excessive weight will add pressure to your knees and heels and increase the chances of having injuries. All the guides I’ve found say that the optimal weight is 10% of your body weight. Anything between 5 and 8 kg would be ideal.

I started out with a pack that weighed 7kg but the added snacks and medical supplies made it slightly heavier along the way. I had to throw away a fleece and my sunscreen but other than that, I was carrying just the bare essentials. I will be sharing my Camino packing list (and what gear to carry) later on, but meanwhile here are some important tips.

The two most important gear to consider is your backpack. Your backpack should have a well-fitted hip belt that transfers all the weight to your hips rather than your shoulders. It’s wise to choose one with a Camelbak hydration bag compartment for easy access to your water. I always opt for front-loading backpacks (with a zip across the entire length of the pack) rather than top-loading as it’s much easier to find your belongings.

For those who do not want to carry your pack the entire way, there are also transport services available that are will help send your backpack to your next destination. Prices range from €3 to €7 per day. All you need to do is call them up, add a luggage tag from the company (which you can get from private albergues or restaurants) and leave it at your agreed drop-off spot. Note that they are not allowed to pick up or drop off bags at municipal albergues (perhaps because it goes against the principles of the Camino), but the company will let you know the nearest place to do so. I used Xacotrans (only €3 per day) twice to transport my backpack when my tendinitis got serious and I was very happy with their service.

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Guidebooks

 

Most people on the trail used the book, “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley. The book didn’t have an electronic version, so I downloaded “Camino de Santiago: A Guide to Walking the Camino Francés” by Robert Hamilton instead. While it provided quite a bit of background info on the Camino, it didn’t offer enough practical details on each stage of the walk (there wasn’t even info on the distance from one village to the next). I would recommend it for some pre-trip reading but not to use it on the road.

I depended on my Camino apps most of the time. The most useful one I found was the Eroski’s Camino de Santiago app, which is only in Spanish. It provided details on each stage of the walk and information on albergues in each town. The only useful and free app available in English was the Way of St James tourist guide by SEGITTUR. It’s quite brief and general though.

Good luck with the planning! Buen Camino!

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The Camino Diaries: Why I’m Walking 300km http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/30/camino-diaries-planning/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/30/camino-diaries-planning/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 14:30:19 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17066 The CaminoThis week, I’m off on a new adventure: I’m walking 310 km (192 miles) across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I had learned about the Camino on my first trip to Spain almost eight years ago, and ever since then, I’ve dreamt of walking it. We’ve lived in southern Spain on and off for about four years [...]

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This week, I’m off on a new adventure: I’m walking 310 km (192 miles) across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

I had learned about the Camino on my first trip to Spain almost eight years ago, and ever since then, I’ve dreamt of walking it. We’ve lived in southern Spain on and off for about four years now and I can’t believe I still haven’t done it. This year is my year of fulfilling my bucket list and I’m not letting anything get in the way this time.

Right now I’m writing to you from Madrid, where I’m meeting up with friends I’m walking the Camino with. After showing them around my old ‘hood, we plan to catch the bus up to Leon, a city in northern Spain, to start our trek the day after tomorrow. Now that we’re so close to the starting point, I’m starting to get nervous. I know I want to do this, but the real question is: can I do this?

The CaminoFlickr photo by Jesus Perez Pacheco

What is the Camino?

The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes running across Europe, all leading to the city of Santiago de Compostela, a town near the Atlantic in the northwestern tip of Spain in the province of Galicia. . To retrace its roots, Camino de Santiago translates to mean “The Way of Saint James”. When the Christian apostle Saint James was beheaded in Jerusalem in 42 AD, his remains were buried in Santiago de Compostela. When his tomb was discovered  in the 9th century, Christians across Europe began to travel to see it. This journey  became the most important pilgrimage, especially after the construction of the present cathedral in the 12th century.

These days, the Camino de Santiago is more of a long-distance hiking route than a religious pilgrimage. Routes begin in major European cities such as Paris, Lisbon, Geneva and Seville — but the most popular is the Camino Francés, which covers almost 800km) from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. In the Middle Ages, many pilgrims — and even some today — began their spiritual voyage by just walking out their doors and heading for Santiago de Compostela.

The entire Camino Francés takes five weeks or more, but my friends and I are tight on time so we’ve only got two weeks to walk part of the route. We will be starting from Leon and covering 310km in two weeks. Even though it’s just a section of the Camino, it’s still the longest walk I’ll be doing to date and it’s definitely going to be a challenge.

St James Way

Why I’m Walking the Camino

Thousands of travelers walk the Camino every year, for a variety of reasons — very few of them do it for religious these days, rather many go on this long walk to experience a culture from the ground up, for fitness reason or for a prolonged meditation on one’s life. My reasons for doing the Camino are three fold:

I choose to see the Camino as a way to unplug, not just from the internet, but work, life, and everything else. It’s time for my mind to take a break. I know I’ve talked about slowing down since two years ago, but my itchy feet just doesn’t seem to let me catch a breather. This Camino hardly counts as staying still, but I think two weeks of walking and reflection should do some good for my soul.

Walking at last 25 km (15 miles) a day for two weeks is surely going to be a challenge both physically and mentally. I think of myself as an adventurous person — having skydived twice, jumped off a 109m-high canyon, swam with sharks and kayaked through icebergs  — but in retrospect, I actually haven’t done anything really physically challenging to date. The longest trek I’ve done is no more than 50km (30miles), but now I’m ready to push myself further and harder. This is not going to be easy and I’m sure there’ll be tears and hardship along the way but I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

On this trip, I’m also looking forward to reconnect with good friends I’d met on a trip to southern Africa in 2011. That trip was so special because of the friends I made. We got along so well and had the time of our lives. I’ve visited a few of them on my travels, but it’ll be the first time that we’re traveling together once again. It’s going to be plenty of fun!

The symbol of the Camino
Flickr photo by Alex Bikfalvi

Following My Journey

During my walk, I will be sharing live updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (click on the respective links to follow me) thanks to reliable Spanish 3G network. These will of course be short snippets and photos from the trail. I’ll be using the hashtag #CaminoDiaries on all my social media updates, so follow along and leave me some comments!

I won’t be bringing my laptop but I will hopefully be blogging from my iPhone. These will be in a series of blog posts titled “The Camino Diaries” with updates on the interesting sights, challenges and friends I meet along the way. (A special shoutout to my friend Liz Carlson from Young Adventuress for giving me the inspiration to start this series!)

I’m off tomorrow and am really looking forward to the adventures that come my way. Wish me luck!

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Skydiving Gold Coast — Plunging Off at 12,000 Feet Above Ground http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/17/skydiving-gold-coast-plunging-12000-feet-ground/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/17/skydiving-gold-coast-plunging-12000-feet-ground/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 15:34:06 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17033 Preparing to take off“Are you ready?” David, my skydive master from Gold Coast Skydive, shouts from behind me amidst the strong winds and the roaring engine. I’m sitting at the ledge of the plane’s opened door, about to jump from 12,000 feet above the ground. Looking down at the earth far beneath my feet, my head spins deliriously and my heart races faster than [...]

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“Are you ready?” David, my skydive master from Gold Coast Skydive, shouts from behind me amidst the strong winds and the roaring engine.

I’m sitting at the ledge of the plane’s opened door, about to jump from 12,000 feet above the ground. Looking down at the earth far beneath my feet, my head spins deliriously and my heart races faster than before. Seconds later, the strong wind slaps me back into reality. David signals to me a thumbs-up — it’s time to jump. Oh shit.

I’ve done this before. I remember how much I loved my first skydive, why the hell am I still freaking out?

Within seconds, we are air-borne, surfing on a powerful upward force of wind. For 60 seconds, we plummet through the sky at almost 100 miles per hour, heading straight for Earth at a speed so fast it’s hard to fathom. The rush from the free-fall sweeps through me like an electric current and my mind is on overdrive. I feel an adrenaline high, a sensation that I’m addicted to.

Suddenly, I feel a jolt that pulls me up into the air. David has pulled the cord, releasing a parachute that sends us gliding smoothly through the air. We break through the clouds and the beautiful Gold Coast now sprawls beneath our feet. My eyes are now wide open; I try to soak in the view and remember just how stunning the Gold Coast looks from above: huge lapping waves, wide sandy beaches and the different shades of blue in the Pacific Ocean.

Skydiving is a different experience each time you do it, but one thing never changes: it definitely makes you feel alive.

Preparing to take off

Taking off on our small airplane at Gold Coast Airport

Sitting in the plane

I look surprisingly calm in the plane

Sitting at the ledge of the plane

Sitting on the ledge of the plane

Skydiving!

Air-borne!

Yehhaaaa!

Yehaaaaa I’m flying!

AWESSOMMEEE!

Awesome sauce

Breaking through the clouds

Breaking through the clouds

Steering the parachute

I get to steer the parachute?! YES!!

Preparing to land

Gliding above Coolangatta

Beach landing

Preparing to land

TOuchdown!

A perfect beach landing

This kicked ass!

 Special thanks to the best skydiving master ever!


Additional Information:

A tandem skydive with Gold Coast Skydive costs AU$345 per person. If you’d like DVD and photos included, the total price is AU$510. Skydiving tandem means that you will jump with an instructor who will be attached to you throughout the jump.

The Gold Coast Skydive office is located just two minutes away from the Gold Coast Airport in Coolangatta. You will land on Kirra Beach, right in front of the office.


Disclosure: This experience was made possible by Queensland Tourism and Gold Coast Skydive, but all opinions as always remain my own.

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Shotover Canyon Swing — the World’s Highest Cliff Jump http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/10/shotover-canyon-swing-worlds-highest-cliff-jump/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/10/shotover-canyon-swing-worlds-highest-cliff-jump/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:33:53 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16973 Shotover canyon swing“1…2….3….” Counting to three, I mentally brace myself for the jump and slowly push myself backwards with my toes. But just as I’m pivoted on the ledge, the jump master pulls me back up. He laughs at the expression on my face, but I’m too scared to laugh along. It’s not funny when you’re the one sitting [...]

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“1…2….3….”

Counting to three, I mentally brace myself for the jump and slowly push myself backwards with my toes. But just as I’m pivoted on the ledge, the jump master pulls me back up. He laughs at the expression on my face, but I’m too scared to laugh along. It’s not funny when you’re the one sitting on a chair, 109m (357 feet) above the ground, about to jump off into the unknown.

Considered the world’s highest cliff jump, this canyon swing will have me free falling for 60m (109 feet) and then swinging horizontally for 200m (656 feet) at 90 miles per hour across the river. I’m shaking in the cold air, wondering if I can really do this.

He tells me to push off again, so I repeat the same steps, counting from one to three and then pushing myself gently backwards. Again, he holds on to my rope and pulls me back up, but just as he looks away to chat with his mate, I feel his grip loosen and off I go, this time for real.

The world spins 360 degrees as I flip my way down the gorge, with nothing but a harness and a chair strapped to my body. I scream my lungs out during the free fall, but once the tumbling and turning stops, adrenaline kicks in and I’m overwhelmed by a gravity-defying sensation. “Wow. Just wow!” I feel as though I’m flying over the beautiful canyon.

Shotover canyon swing

This isn’t my first attempt; I’ve tried bungee jumping before – when I was 14 years old – but I knew I wanted to do it again in New Zealand, the birthplace of the commercial bungee jump. Here in Queenstown, there are no less than five bungee jumping sites ( within a ten mile radius. I chose to do the Shotover canyon swing mainly because of the great reputation it has.

The company has a track record in safety and has won numerous awards, including the New Zealand Tourism Award 2008 in the adventure category and the Best Activity in NZ award at TNT Golden Backpack Awards. They’re also the only swing in New Zealand with more than 70 different jump styles to choose from (such as the chair, flips, handstand and many more).

Multi-shot of my jump

It’s easy to see what sets this company apart from the rest. The jump masters, who are the core of the business, have an infectious enthusiasm which is complemented by their sense of humor. They are supportive, funny and professional at the same time, chatting with us the entire time to make sure we’re having fun and not stressing too much.

One of the jump masters wore a cheeky grin when he told us there was a problem with the motor right after the first person in our group did his jump — with that look on his face, we seriously thought he was joking! Apparently it was so cold in the morning that the motor had frozen, thankfully they managed to winch up my friend manually but he was shaking like a baby when he came up.

Despite the initial setback, our group had a terrific time doing the canyon swing with these folks thanks to their professionalism and sense of humor. If I ever get back to New Zealand, I know for sure I’m coming back here for another jump. Will you join me?

Chair of Death


Additional Information

Prices:

$215.00 NZD per swinger (this price includes 1x Free spectator seat)
$35.00 NZD extra swings
$20.00 NZD per additional spectator

Prices above include transfers from the Shotover Canyon Swing office in the city center of Queenstown. The entire experience takes around two to three hours. The company operates rain, hail or shine all year round. Photos and videos can be purchased at an additional cost.

Disclaimer: Special thanks to Shotover Canyon Swing and G Adventures for making this experience possible. However, all of the opinions expressed above are my own.

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Video: Flying Over Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/02/video-flying-franz-josef-glacier-new-zealand/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/02/video-flying-franz-josef-glacier-new-zealand/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 14:30:59 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16948 A vast sea of blue ice stands beneath us, with traversal crevasses running through them like cracks on the Earth’s crust. The chunky blocks of ice look almost like lego pieces jutting out from a frozen mountain that extends all the way from the top of the mountains to the valley beneath. I am flying over Franz Josef [...]

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A vast sea of blue ice stands beneath us, with traversal crevasses running through them like cracks on the Earth’s crust. The chunky blocks of ice look almost like lego pieces jutting out from a frozen mountain that extends all the way from the top of the mountains to the valley beneath. I am flying over Franz Josef Glacier on a six-seat helicopter, swerving just a few feet above the imposing mountain of ice, and the views are just outrageously stunning.

I’ve seen several glaciers in my life from those in Alaska to Antarctica, but this – the Franz Josef Glacier - is definitely the most beautiful one I’ve ever set my eyes on. The world famous glacier is located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier, it is unique in descending from the Southern Alps to less than 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level, amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.

I will be writing all about my experience heli-hiking on the glacier, but in the meantime, here’s a short video I took from the helicopter.

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Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland — Part I http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/21/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/21/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 14:30:22 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16798 Constance Range Flying over the vast savannahs, I feasted on amazing views of  orange earth and green spinifex cacti that ran for miles and miles. The terrain twisted and curved around gentle hills and long dirt roads, and cattle herds ran in all directions on the dusty plains. This was my first glimpse of Outback Queensland. It [...]

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I’ve just returned from a four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove which got me out and about in the Boodjamulla National Park and Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland. Here’s Part I of my story on the trip, stay tuned for Part II. 

Flying over the vast savannahs, I feasted on amazing views of  orange earth and green spinifex cacti that ran for miles and miles. The terrain twisted and curved around gentle hills and long dirt roads, and cattle herds ran in all directions on the dusty plains. This was my first glimpse of Outback Queensland.

It wasn’t easy getting to Mount Isa (actually involved five flights), but this view from the air already made it well worth the effort. Even before I stepped foot in Outback Queensland, I already knew I loved it.

Constance Range

Outback Queensland: Beyond the Tourist Trail

Outback Queensland takes up roughly half of Queensland, sprawling across the areas west of the Great Diving Range. The Outback is often described as the vast, remote and empty inland Australia — but I can’t disagree more. It may be vast and remote, but it’s far from empty. It has a rich history, shaped first by the Aboriginals who arrived some 40 to 50,000 years ago, weaving their stories, dreamtime, across the landscapes, leaving behind a legacy of cave paintings and heritage. The explorers came next who opened up cattle stations inland which still underpins the Queensland economy. Today, it’s a treasure trove for travelers with its hidden gorges, ancient Aboriginal rock art, waterholes and wildlife-rich wetlands.

In north west Queensland lies Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, a two million acre reserve studded with rose red sandstone ranges, deep gorges and a limestone plateau with significant fossil fields. This part of Outback Queensland resembles the Red Center — after all, it is just 50km from the Northern Territory border — but you won’t see any crowds here. It’s hot, dry and harsh, studded with gorgeous unearthly landscapes and criss-crossed with excellent hiking trails and waterways. Yet, it seems to be a secret even among Australians. It’s thousands of kilometers from the coastline that Queensland is so well known for, but as I found out last week, this is a part of Australia that is just as stunning as many of the country’s renown attractions.

View at Harry Hill

Day 1: Driving from Mount Isa to Adels Grove, and everything in between

My four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove started in Mount Isa, an unattractive mining town and the main gateway to the Lawn Hill and Riversleigh area. Rod, the fun and wise owner of Adels Grove, was my guide for the journey and I couldn’t be more honored. He has more than 20 years of experience guiding and is a fully certified Savannah guide. Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides and tour operators based in the tropical savannahs of northern Australia and their guides withhold the highest of standards. Guides have to go through months of training and at least two schools (they organize two learning schools per year) to qualify.

From Mount Isa, we had almost 330km to cover to get to Adels Grove, but thankfully Rod had planned a few stops to show me some interesting sights along the way. Leaving the town and mines behind, we were instantly surrounded by vast fields of red sand mounts, green spinifex and small termite mounds. Rod pointed out the vegetation that were typically found in this open savannah habitat – snappy gum tree (a type of eucalyptus), holly grevilleas, acacias and silverleaf box that was used by the Aboriginals to make their didgeridoos.

Rod and his 4WD

War Remnants and Fossil Sites

Our first stop was a World War II site, where remnants of the old Barkly Highway are still visible. The rugged track was built during the WWII period by Italian soldiers and was used for over 50 years before the completion of the new Barkly Highway in 1996. Rod said that it used to take him twice the time to get to Mount Isa on the old road but these days it hardly takes more than four hours to cover the distance. The highway now forms part of the national highway system and joins up with the Stuarts Highway in the Northern Territory.

Soon enough we veered off the road into a dirt track and arrived at a big acacia tree, where a plaque had been erected. This was apparently the site of an old boarding school dating back to 1898. Rod explained, “Back then, there were no cars or motorways. Horse carriages and wagons used to pass through this area as people made their way to the coast in search for work. Enroute they left their children in the boarding school for months before picking them up again on their way back home.” We could still see the remains of the school gate, made from acacia tree trunks that had stayed strong despite centuries of wear and tear. It was just incredible to find the remains of a school that was more than a century old here in the middle of nowhere.

The remnant of the 1898 boarding school

Continuing our drive, we passed through several creeks like the O’Shannassy River and Gregory River before coming to a stop at the Riversleigh (Miyumba) Fossils Site, a World Heritage site that covers approximately 10,000 hectares in Boodjamulla National Park. The Riversleigh fossils are among the richest and most extensive in the world, revealing mammalian evolution since the Gondwana period. Almost 25 million years ago, this was home to an inland sea and because the freshwater pools  were so rich in lime that they petrified the fossils instead of compressing them, and thus most of the animal remains retain their three-dimensional structure and can be clearly seen today encased within the limestone rocks.

Rod led me through Site D, the only site opened to public access. There are plenty of individual locations in the area where fossils have been found, but all of them are under private property. On this site alone, paleontologists have dug up remains of more than 200 different species of animals most of which are early relatives of many familiar present-day animals, including possums, wallabies, koalas and Australia’s oldest venomous snakes. Less familiar animals lived here as well such as gremlin-like possums, marsupial lions, flesh-eating kangaroos and thunder birds. These creatures left no living relatives, although many of these lineages continued to evolve until they became extinct during the last 100,000 years.

Riversleigh Site D
fossils dating back to 25 million years old

Sunset in the Outback

By the time we arrived at Adels Grove, it was the perfect time to join the sunset tour up to Harry Hill. With a group of other travelers, we drove up to a nearby lookout point for a panorama of the surrounding Constance Range. While we snapped photos of the beautiful golden lit skies and outback landscape, our guide Les had set up a table full of nibbles and drinks. He shared with us some general information of the Lawn Hill area and Adels Grove, before letting us mingle and chat with one another. It was plenty of fun getting to know my fellow campers – a Australian family of three including a jovial and sweet 83-year-old lady, an outgoing Brisbane couple who were traveling around the country on their caravan and a Singaporean-Nigerian doctor couple exploring their new backyard.

Les our guide

The sun was slowly making its way below the horizon and the color of the landscapes changed quickly from sandy brown to orange and eventually bright red. By 6.30pm, Constance Range was shrouded in a shade of vermilion red, glowing like a tungsten light bulb against a clear cloudless sky. Everyone went silent, watching the phenomenon in awe. As the magical moment passed us, we clinked glasses in celebration of the moment. Platters of cheese, crackers and olives and endless glasses of wine were served; everyone was in high spirits by the end of the evening.

That night, we gathered on Adels Grove outdoor dining deck to enjoy a hearty meal of beef steak and roast potatoes drenched in thick mushroom gravy. The group of us spent the evening chatting and laughing as we swapped stories and learned all about this new part of the world. Under the starry skies, I went to bed in my spacious and comfortable tent (with a double bed inside) and dozed off to the hypnotic sound of the river flowing just a few meters away from me – dreaming about what would await me the next day.

Sunset at Harry Hill

To be continued…

Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland — Part II


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland and Adels Grove for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

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Interesting Tribes from Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:28:34 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16529 A Huli wigman with face paintingDuring our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make [...]

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During our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make a place. To pay tribute to the amazing people we’ve met, here are some of the amazing tribes we’e encountered around the world.

The Huli Wigmen — Papua  New Guinea

The Huli is the largest ethnic group in the Highlands, with a population somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people, covering the whole of Tari. Huli men are best known for their custom of wearing decorative woven wigs, that are used as elaborate headdresses and decorated with bundles of multi-colored feathers during singsings (celebratory festivals). These wigs are specially made by a unique clan known as the Huli Wigmen, who attend wig schools and live together in isolation from the rest of the community. During my visit to Papua New Guinea, I met the teacher and students of Poroiba Akua wig school, and had an interesting lesson on how to grow wigs. According the Kupunu, the teacher, hair can only grow into a wig with the teacher’s spell.

A Huli wigman with face painting
Huli wigmen

Nomadic Maasai Warriors — Kenya and Tanzania

The Masai (also spelled as Maasai) are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life as well as their cultural traditions and customs. Living across the arid lands along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and Kenya, the Masai population is currently at around 1.5 million, with the majority of them living in the Masai Mara. They are reputed to be strong warriors who hunt for food and live closely with wild animals. Dressed in bright red Shuka cloth and colorful beaded jewelry, the warrior men proudly adorn themselves with what looks to Western eyes like women’s attire. According to the Masai people I met in Kenya, they have little interest in the supposed benefits of modern life.

The Masai doing their jumping dance
Making their own fire

Karen Women with Elongated Necks — Burma/Myanmar and Thailand

In the border mountains between Burma and Thailand live the Karen people, a tribal group related to the Tibetans. Today, their tribe numbers around 40,000 people as more and more of them are moving to the cities. The Karen people are most famous for the neck rings worn by the women of the tribe for beautification purpose. The first coil is applied when the girl is five years old and with the growing is replaced by a longer coil. Sadly, the number of Karen women who still practice this custom is dwindling and many people are exploiting them for tourism. We met a few Karen women at Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma, who had traveled thousands of miles to live there to work in tourism.

Karen people in Myanmar/Burma
Karen women weaving cloth for visitors

The Ochre-Covered Himba People — Namibia

A group of indigenous people live in the harsh, dry deserts of the Kunene region, northern Namibia, and they’ve become well known throughout the world for their practice of covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skin a reddish tinge, symbolizing earth’s rich red color and life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Himba women like to braid each other’s hair which is also covered in the ochre mixture. There are now 20,000 to 50,000 people left and most of them making a living tending livestock or welcoming visitors into their villages. During my overlanding trip in southern Africa, I had the chance to meet a Himba family in Damaraland and it was definitely an experience talking to them and understanding their way of life.

A Himba lady

The Hardworking Hmong Women — Vietnam and China

Our visit to the Sapa region of northern Vietnam was so memorable mainly because of these strong and hardworking Hmong women we met along the way. Even though the Hmong culture is patrilineal i.e. allowing a husband’s family to make all major decisions, Hmong women have traditionally carried a large amount of responsibility in the family. The children learn gender expectations at a young age and young girls traditionally learned household skills from their female elders by the age of eight. Besides taking care of the household chores, the women also plant and harvest fields with their husbands. Many Hmong women now work in tourism, offering their houses to trekkers for homestays and also giving a helping hand during the hikes.

A Sapa lady weaving art work
Our Hmong host cooking in her home

Bush-hunting San People — Botswana

The San people (or Saan), also known as Bushmen or Basarwa are members of various indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of Southern Africa (the most accessible groups are in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert). These indigenous hunter-gatherers were first made famous by the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy. Sadly, the San people were evicted of their ancestral land in the 1950s (which went all the way to the 1990s) and they were forced to switch to farming as a result. Banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter the reserve, they are now being pushed to the brink of extinction.

In Ghanzi, Botswana, we went out to the bush with a group of San people who showed us how they gathered herbs for medication and plants for food. It was really interesting to see the way they behave and speak (their dialect has a lot of click sounds) and learn how they’re using the same survival techniques as they have for centuries.

The San people showing us their way of life
The family

Have you met any of these tribes? How was your experience? What other tribes have you met?

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