Yoga Teacher Training in the Magical Himalayas

 

In November 2016, during an epic world trip, I had an epiphany moment and decided to train to be a yoga instructor! I was already in Asia, and where better to train than in the birthplace of yoga itself; the Himalayas!

The popular belief is that India is the birthplace of yoga. Little did I know it, but I was about to discover another side to this well versed story. My husband was set on trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal after we visited India – this would be the 16th country on our route so far. So, I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training 200 hour course in Nepal. Where I was soon to discover that Nepal is actually the birthplace of yoga – as well as the birthplace of Buddha.

And as Buddha famously said “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

My Nepalese yoga guru Dr Gautam Chintamani coincidentally was born in Lumbini – the same place as Gautama Buddha.

As a filmmaker and photographer I collaborated with Nepal Yoga Academy (NYA) to help promote their amazing yoga school and retreat while training there. Here is a short promo film we made that gives a beautiful snapshot of what you can expect there:

I had researched several yoga schools in Nepal – where there is only a handful – compared to the zillions in India. I’d heard that Rishikesh was the world capital of yoga, and although it sounds like a fantastic place to visit, it also sounds like it’s overcrowded with tourists and not so off the beaten track anymore. So Nepal Yoga Academy was the school that finally won my heart.

NYA is directed by the highly qualified, immensely knowledgable and dedicated yoga Guru Dr. Chinatamani Gautam  – or Guru Ji -who has a Ph.D. in Yoga and Sanskrit, and a Master’s Degree in Human Consciousness and Yogic Science from Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar, India, and another in Sanskrit Literature from Sampurnananda Sanskrit University in Varanasi,  India.

“He also has a beloved interest and a wealth of knowledge in Mantra chant and Vedic Karmkand which he conveys to his students with diligence and appreciation. He has studied extensively the ancient scriptures of the Vedas, Upanishads, the Gita, the Great Six Eastern Philosophies and many other ancient yogic scriptures with some of the top rated Sanskrit scholars and swamis in Nepal and India.”

Salutation to the Sun at Pokhara Lake

I signed up for the Yoga Teacher Training (YTTC) 200-hour course and knew instantly that I had made the best decision. Certified by the Yoga Alliance (USA & Australia), the 200-hour training is an internationally recognized course that certifies you to teach yoga. The 500-hour course is a more advanced teacher training also available at the NYA. There is a maximum of 14 students per course, but on this occasion, they had two groups of 14 each; because NYA is becoming so popular!

Sanatan Classical Yoga

At Nepal Yoga Academy Dr. Chintamani teaches classical Sanatan Yoga akin to Hatha yoga.  Sanatan Yoga is based on classical Hatha yoga as outlined in the traditional texts, Hatha Pradapika and Gheranda Samhita, as well as traditional Astanga (8 Limbs of Yoga) outlined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Hatha yoga is the original style of yoga and a good basis to learn before exploring other yoga styles. In Sanskrit (the oldest human language – used in Yoga) Hatha combines the sun and moon meaning to balance aggressive sun energy with receptive moon energy.

Yoga is an ancient philosophy with a history of 5-10,000 years. Through yoga, you can develop a greater connection to your own spirituality; whatever religion you may or may not follow. Yoga is for everyone, all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Studying at Nepal Yoga Academy will enable you to learn the true, authentic yoga.

“Living in the stressful and hectic life of the twenty first century, people from around the world have sought an escape and linked their life to Yoga or want to be connected. Yoga has reached every corner of the world from its origin in the East but the two important questions should be asked, “Is Yoga being taught the way it should be?” and “Is Yoga becoming too commercial and diverging from its authentic track?”. These questions and others need serious answers. Yoga in the modern world has been developed as a fashionable form of exercise changing the fundamental essence of Yoga and downgrading its form. This watered down form of yoga, can bring fun and fitness to people for a while but they remain far from the real experience and benefits of Yoga.”

– Dr. Chintamani

Nepal Yoga Academy is set on a lush landscape, in an idyllic location, about 45 minutes drive from Kathmandu, so not too off the beaten track, but far enough away from the chaos of the city. Set on a hilltop, the school and retreat have two centers within walking distance of each other in the beautiful Himalayas. The scenery is literally breathtaking and the air is crisp and fresh! The staff are so helpful and welcoming, they really make you feel at home the moment you arrive; and their organic, yogic cuisine is simply delicious and mouth-wateringly nutritious.

The accommodation is very modern and comfortable and there is so much to do around the area; hiking, visiting temples; such as the beautiful Buddhist Bodhnath Stupa, as well as villages and markets. Performing 108 sun salutations at the culmination of the course, at sunrise on a Himalayan hilltop is truly magical! For those who are not looking to train as a yoga teacher, you can just visit for a shorter retreat, take part in the yoga classes, read a book on a hill top, go trekking, relax in their sauna, or enjoy a massage.

A Typical Day of a YTTC Trainee:

6.30-7.00 AM   Satkarma & tea

7.00-8.00 AM Morning Mantras & Pranayama Breathing Techniques

8.00-9.30 AM Asana

9.30 AM Breakfast

10.30-12.30 AM Yoga Theory

1.00 PM Lunch

2.00-3.00 PM Self Study

3.00-4.30 PM Yoga Workshop

4.30-6.00 PM Asana/Meditation/Yoganidra

6.30-7.30 PM Dinner

7.30-9.30 PM Self Study

The Training Experience:

Students are all ages and levels, some are beginners, some are more advanced practitioners, some are in their 20s some are in their 60s or 70s. It’s an international mix of students, from the USA, Australia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, South America, Canada and the UK. There is a really homely, friendly and supportive environment at the academy. The training is a truly life-changing and soul-searching experience. So, of course, there are ups and downs for nearly every student, but the trainers and staff are always there to give you a supportive hug and help you with any concerns you may have.

Warren & Lulu are two of the NYA leaders. Lulu also runs yoga retreats in Mexico and Warren was the brainchild of the Yoga Flash Mob in Kathmandu (see below)

When you arrive you are given the Nepal Yoga Academy training manual, as well as a copy of Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Saraswati Satyananda Swami which is the yoga bible for yoga teacher trainees.

Satkarma – Cleansing your nostrils with warm, salty water (specially prepared by Krishna) first thing in the morning, is not easy at first, but you’ll soon get the hang off after Krishna carefully and patiently demonstrates. Vomiting after drinking several glasses of salty water certainly purifies the digestive system… It’s the best way for a yogini to start the day!

Mantras & Meditation – Mantras are an integral part of the training. These are performed daily, and practiced throughout, even at mealtimes, to help students master these ancient mantras. Dr. Chintamani also performs singing bowl meditations, which are truly mind-blowing! Most students leave Nepal with their own hand-made singing bowl, purchased in Kathmandu or from a local market.

Pranayama – Yogi breathing techniques are also practiced throughout, and integrated into the training practicums; in which trainee teachers demonstrate skills in teaching pranayama such as ‘Bumblebee Breath’ or ‘Nadi Shodhan’.

Teaching Experience – There is plenty of opportunity to get teaching experience throughout the course which starts with shorter asana and pranayama demonstrations of 5 or 10 mins building up to the final practicum of 45mins to 1 hour max, which usually take place in the school yoga studio. Though mine happened to take place on the beautiful Peace Dragon Lodge hotel roof top in Pokhara overlooking the magnificent lake…

Yoga Science & Theory – The science and theory behind yoga is truly fascinating. Workshops range from Anatomy, the Endocrine or Lymphatic system, Kundalini Energy, to Karma yoga. Dr. Chintamani is well versed in ancient Sanskrit, and texts such as the Upanishads, as well as mantras which he is also so passionate about.

Asanas – Learning yoga postures in two classes a day, with an extra yoga asana workshop, really helps students to master their asanas and alignments and how to teach each pose with confidence.

Graduation – At the end of the course, after performing 108 sun salutations at sunrise, the graduation involves an ancient ‘fire ceremony’ and students dress in traditional Nepalese attire.

Women wear dresses, men wear white clothes, both are presented with a necklace of yellow flowers and Mala beads. Because the course is so intense and challenging, the students are pretty exhilarated and excited to receive their certificates!

I had personally been practicing yoga on and off for many years, and had always wanted to deepen my practice, as well as meditation; as I realize the benefits of both for the mind, body and spiritual development. So for me, the YTTC 200 hour training was a personal challenge; which has also inspired me to teach others and share the yoga love, especially with women and girls, of all ages and backgrounds. Check out more about that on my FB page HER Yoga & Healing.

Yoga Teacher Trainee Celeste from Australia leaping across a foot bridge!

Yoga Trekking

As part of the yoga course, we set off for a 4 day trip to Pokhara to enjoy the thrills of white water rafting (en route) and yoga trekking to the Australian base camp.

Guru Ji and students getting ready for a white-water rafting adventure!

Here we not only got to trek and do yoga with the breathe-taking Himalayas as our wallpaper, but we got to practice our yoga teaching skills, and sing mantras around a camp fire.

Pokhara is a must-see if you are visiting Nepal, so joining the yoga trek with Nepal Yoga Academy will help you tick that box too!

Yoga & Healing Festival 

In Pokhara I was also very blessed to attend the Pokhara Yoga & Healing Festival. This also takes place in Chiang Mai Thailand each year. It was an incredible experience sampling Partner Yoga, Contact Dance, Mandala Art, Singing Bowl meditation and many other workshops.

I was also fortunate to meet Imana Lightweb, a Reiki Master who led group healing workshops at the festival and also gave me the most incredible one-to-one sound healing with singing bowls.

Yoga to Empower the Locals:

During my course, I accompanied Dr. Chintamani to a Kathmandu Engineer College where he teaches students about the benefits of yoga. Even though I couldn’t understand Nepalese, I could see the impact his lectures have on young people and promoting yoga and a healthy lifestyle; through his engaging, charismatic and passionate approach towards a yogic lifestyle.

Yoga Flashmob in Kathmandu:

During our stay, yoga guru/coordinator of NYA – Warren – devised a Yoga Flashmob in Kathmandu: the first ever yoga flash mob in Asia. With my husband, they worked with local organizations and businesses to set up our very successful flash mob in Thamel – in the heart of Kathmandu. The police even helped us by blocking the roads to traffic to help our flash mob run smoothly.

The aim of the flash mob was to promote Nepal as the birthplace of yoga. Many of the ancient yogis and meditators, including Buddha himself, practiced in the magical Himalayas, which stretch mainly across Nepal. In recent history, Nepal was struck by some devastating earthquakes, which affected the tourism there, so our flash mob aims to bring Nepal to center stage for yoga tourism.

Teaching Yoga to Scuba Divers:

After graduating from the NYA I flew to The Philippines where I had recently trained as a PADI Divemaster. That’s where I started to get some real experience, teaching yoga to scuba divers as well as non-divers. I led daily classes to staff and guests at Scandi Divers Resort in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Island in beautiful Big La Laguna below….

In the locality there are no other yoga classes, so most of my students (mainly female locals) had never done yoga before. So it felt very rewarding for me to share my yoga teaching and inspire other women to live well, experiencing the mental and physical benefits of yoga.

There are many benefits for scuba divers who incorporate yoga into their fitness regime which include: improving air consumption and bottom time, dealing with anxiety and stressful situations such as night dives, strong currents, over-exertion, improving strength and flexibility, overall health and wellbeing. Even getting up close to sea-turtles and coming up for air with them!

As you can see the scenery in Puerto Galera is breath-taking! Coupled with the sound of the waves, and palm trees rustling in the wind it’s the perfect place to do yoga!

If you are thinking about doing the yoga teacher training then I highly recommend training in Nepal at NYA. I had travelled for 1 month through India, before arriving in Nepal, which is also an amazing country. But Nepal is different, the people are so relaxed and welcoming, and the environment felt much calmer and more conducive to studying yoga for me personally. Seeing is believing – why not take the plunge and discover Nepal for yourself!

Planet Hero limbering up near the Ganga river getting ready for Nepal!

I made so many new friends at NYA who I am sure I will meet again on the continuation of my yogic path – if not back in Nepal for the 500 hour course, then somewhere else on this planet! Check out the Nepal Yoga Academy & Retreat Facebook page here.

A Bird’s Eye View: How to Travel Around the World with a Drone (and a husband)!

Have you ever thought about traveling around the world with a drone? Ever thought about travelling around the world with a husband (or significant other)?

In October 2015,  I did just that! I set off on an epic trip around the world with my husband; and his beloved drone. To cut a long story short, we sold almost everything we owned, including the husband’s other most prized possession: a 52 inch 4K TV.

We also donated a car full of junk to the local charity shop and left London to explore the big wide world; to help kids from underserved communities and the environment along the way. Throwing away a lifetime of superfluous accumulated possessions is cathartic, to say the least!

Photo of our cabin on the Trans-siberia Train to Irskust

                                                                                                   One of our first homes at the start of our epic world trip!

From Moscow to Beijing, we spent a month hopping on and off the infamous Trans-Siberian Railway, lived with Mongolian nomads in the Gobi desert; climbed mountains in China with hoards of Chinese men in their tuxedos; women teetering up in stilettoes; and poodles wearing jeans and wooly jumpers. We diced with death on a motorbike traversing the most dangerous road in Vietnam, followed by multiple shots of ‘happy water’ at Vietnamese weddings.

We scuba dived with manta rays in Indonesia; jumped off jetties with Papuan kids; enjoyed wet sloppy kisses from Thai elephants; certified as professional PADI Dive Masters in The Philippines; and watched the sunrise over Bagan, Borobudur, and Angkor Watt; the three most important Buddhist temples in the world.

In a Myanmar guesthouse, our host officially declared me a Buddhist on the night of a full moon after he had me recite a prayer to the Lord Buddha (I felt like a fraud as I slurred my words sinfully on whiskey sprite). We navigated rivers on bamboo rafts: a dislocated husband’s shoulder proved his macho attempt at steering the raft himself rather than allowing the accomplished guide do it for him. We played with monkeys galore, who will steal your sunglasses or flip-flops – and my make up bag in Jaipur India – if you don’t hold onto them for dear life.

Listvyanka

                                                                                                             Baikal Lake Listvyanka Siberia

We even lost a drone in Baikal Lake in Siberia (more on that below) and a camera microphone when my husband whipped his horse mercilessly while galloping across the Gobi desert fantasizing himself as Genghis Khan. I, on the other hand, gently nudged my docile horse’s flanks so we could collaboratively get from A to B: from one Mongolian Ger camp to another. Of course, we have captured all of the above, and more, from a bird’s eye view!

Then, in Goa, India, the drone crashed for a third time, much to the husband’s horror: in a jungle behind the sea. More on that below. After India, our drone took to the skies in neighbouring Nepal home to the Himalayas.

We have so far travelled with our drone through 16 countries which you can read more about down below:

The UK, Russia, China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, India and Nepal.

Well, enough waffling for now. Let’s get to the finer details of traveling the world, with a drone, and a (sometimes) droning husband (!)

If you are considering buying your first drone and are not sure which one to invest in here are some tips from a drone buff – the husband himself:

TOP TIPS FOR BUYING YOUR FIRST DRONE

  • It’s very hard to get parts for the DJI Phantom 2 if you are on the road (so that rules this model out!)
  • The camera capability is one of the important differences to consider when choosing your DJI Phantom 3 drone:The Standard sp0rts a 12MP camera that can record footage in 2.7K resolution, 30fps, 40Mbps. The Advanced has a Sony Exmor 12.4 sensor which records in 2.7K, 30fps, 40Mbps.The Pro features Sony sensors but can record in 4K resolution, 30fps, 60Mbps.
  • The Standard, Advanced and Pro all feature single shot option, automatic exposure, bracketing, time-lapse and burst modes.
  • The Standard is more affordable for entry-level drone fans.
  • Flight Range: The Standard can fly up to 1km.
  • The Advanced and Professional models can fly up to 5km.
  • On the Phantom 3, you can use a phone or an I-Pad / tablet as a monitor on the control station which makes it very easy to navigate the skies (which wasn’t an option on the Phantom 2)
  • The Phantom 3 has a fixed camera plus a still image button, which makes it much less hassle than the Phantom 2 (on which I had to install and de-install my GoPro camera all the time).
  • It’s great to have the still image option and be able to take photos uncompressed in RAW on the Phantom 3 which gives you much more scope in post production to keep optimum image quality.
  • On the Phantom 2 you cannot control the camera remotely i.e. take still images, or stop the camera video, it’s continuous recording from the moment you take off.
  • Both the Phantom 2 and 3 navigate by GPS.
  • The in-built camera on the Phantom 3 doesn’t concave the skyline as the GoPro camera does.
  • If you are on a tighter budget but still want professional looking footage I would opt for the Phantom 3 Advanced. It has so far done me proud!
  • Accessories: we would recommend buying a couple of batteries at least as battery time lasts 20 minutes on each, chargers, and some spare propellers. For a protective bag, we recommend this baby, which is very durable and compact. It’s only 5kg approx weight, about half the weight of the Phantom 2 and accessories, so being the co-pilot, me the wife, is a much happier donkey carrying it on her back around the world!
  • Here is a DJI Phantom 4 review if your budget permits. It has anti-crash sensors and a whole bunch of other perks but of course, you will pay ‘extra’ for those little extras. But having just crashed the drone into a tree for the second time, I’m starting to realize these little extras are worth splashing out on!
  • The DJI Mavick is the latest DJI drone to hit the market– currently on Planet Hero’s wish list! This drone is a delight for travellers because it folds away into the size of a bottle of water – much more easy to carry around the world compared to all the other drones mentioned. But time will tell if this drone lives up to the hype! Also fresh on the market is the GoPro Karma – but which foldable drone is best? Check this review for a comparison!

Before we set off on our journey we checked out a World Drone Map which shows the laws of each country: where you can and can’t fly. Even the monkey below recommends you do!

Through personal experience the following tips will give you an idea of any hiccups you may or may not encompass flying a drone further afield:

London

Going through customs early on October 8th, 2015 the bomb siren went off at Gatwick and airport security jumped into action,

“Don’t touch! It could be explosive,” they declared as we attempted to assist them in opening the drone bag.

We were dumbstruck – which is rare for my husband who is the world’s biggest chatterbox and loves nothing more than wagging his tongue vigorously 24/7.

We were about to miss our flight to Moscow on the very first leg of our round-the-world escapade and with our groggy eyes, propped open with matchsticks, we certainly didn’t recall packing a bomb in our backpacks.

After this episode of airport security drama, the drone apparently had 5% explosive pick up on their detector so we were eventually allowed through immigration just in the nick of time to catch our flight. Not before the security had casually asked,

“Do you have a pilot license to fly that?” – Apparently not. The husband had not been to flying school before we set off – ‘You don’t actually need a pilot license for an amateur drone’ he mumbled under bated Brazilian breath.

Me bidding farewell to the Big Smoke!

Before departing London, the husband had practiced flying his new toy in various places, one of those was Alexandra Park by Ally Pally, which is not in theory allowed, but he was not apprehended by anyone official. There is also a nifty Helicopter pad where we landed it. He also practiced flying in my sister’s garden where all the men of the family crowded around after Sunday lunch wearing crash helmets on the husband’s first few attempts to launch his shiny new drone into the London skies.

Certainly, it’s becoming much more strict and difficult to fly in London not only because it’s a densely populated city, but also to protect one’s privacy. And oh how we Brits like our net curtains.

What are the rules for flying in London? The law is getting tighter after a drone collided with a British Airways Plane.

Roni flying his new toy near Baikal Lake

Russia & Siberia

In Moscow, we experienced not one iota of trouble flying our drone over Moscow State University with a group of newly acquainted Russian friends. We weren’t cheeky enough to fly our drone in the Red Square like fellow traveler Yumi who was swiftly apprehended by the police when he tried to fly his over the Kremlin. Brave man!

At the border of Europe and Asia in Yekaterinburg, we acquired some amazing aerial footage without any hiccups. In Novosibirsk, we had no trouble flying the drone in the city center right in the middle of the square at the central point of Russia. In Listvyanka we flew the drone with no questions from the authorities, but unfortunately, in Siberia our drone – who my husband had by now christened George – suddenly passed away. George unexpectedly took a turn for the worst and crash-landed in Baikal Lake one fresh, frosty morning. We weren’t sure if Georgie Porgie had taken his own life (he didn’t leave a suicide note) or if he had died of old age, but he selfishly decided to take our trusty Graham with him (our GoPro Hero 4 camera).

The husband flying the drone just before George took a turn for the worst (headfirst into Baikal lake) at Lystvyanka

You should have seen the look on the husband’s face when he lost control and George went flying towards the center of the lake instead of flying home to me (Planet Hero official co-pilot) on shore. Well, you can see the look on his face cos I instinctively pushed the shutter on my Canon 5D Mark ii as he began to strip off, then jump into a speedboat waving his hands frantically at a Russian man to help him rescue his drowning drone. But to no avail.

According to the husband, there was a magnetic field problem so George got slightly confused. I’d say it’s more likely that George was worn out, and being a secondhand flying machine (bought on eBay) he pegged it.

Roni grieving over George and Graham…

RIP George who is now laid to rest on the bed of this magnificent lake 1,600 meters below. If you are visiting the area then please feel free to send some floating candles out or lay flowers near his resting spot. He would like that. So would Graham.

Baikal Lake -Listvyanka

Baikal Lake -Listvyanka

In Ulan Ude, unfortunately, we could not fly George over the biggest head of Lenin in the world, nor at the biggest monastery in Russia due to his passing over to the next life.

But the good news is we chose the best insurance company Photo Guard who I’ve been using for years to insure our camera equipment. They took pity on us and paid out for a new drone and a new GoPro. Three cheers to Photo Guard! Hip hip hooray!

China

A drone in China is the perfect conversation piece. At the giant Buddha of Leshan, a crowd of Chinese people gathered around the husband like a swarm of bees on a Manuka nest: evidently transfixed on his drone instead of the most jaw-dropping Buddha in the world. I was astonished. I didn’t know whether to look at Buddha or the Chinese drone-spotters.

Datong is another amazing place to fly the drone, around the breath-taking Buddhas carved into rocks, over 2,000 in total though many are inside caves so clearly not accessible to drones.

The drone flew high over a spot of the Great Wall, Beijing, less populated by tourists.

Over the rooftops of Xian, to the Avatar mountains in Zanazje which inspired the Avatar movie.

When the husband decided to climb Huashan mountain in below freezing conditions, I opted for some ME time: which is a very good tip if you are traveling with a partner so you don’t drive each other insane when you are spending 24/7 together. I stayed in our rather quaint and cozy hostel so I could stuff my face with vegetarian dumplings and stick my nose in a good book while frostbite stuck her claws into my husband and attempted to make a claim on a variety of Brazilian body parts.

In Fenghuang we struck it lucky and flew over the Miao festival, another drone was also capturing footage there and nearly collided with ours. We also flew the drone there at night and got great footage.

In Yangshou the husband (and I) were brave enough to fly the drone while we were bamboo rafting, launching and catching it (me!) from the raft. Also over rice paddies, while we were cycling.

In Shipping, we flew the drone over the famous iconic landscape, which is on a Chinese bank note, and on the top of a hill for jaw-dropping views.

We did not attempt to fly in the ancient walled city of Pingyao or Panda Paradise in Chengdu.

Mongolia

Gobi-4855

The husband practicing his flying techniques but finding it difficult to take off…

We were very happy to find a replacement drone a DJI Phantom 2- who on closer inspection I decided was female and christened her Daphne – from Hobby Zone Mongolia. It wasn’t easy to find a drone in Mongolia so we were relieved especially because we were about to stay in the Gobi Desert and had our hearts set on getting aerial footage. We discovered that Daphne was quite a free spirit so flew her everywhere in Mongolia except the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. There are apparently no restrictions in the rest of Mongolia. Our adventures in Mongolia ran smoothly and most authentically thanks to Sunpath Tours – who we would highly recommend to anyone planning a trip to Mongolia. They will take care of you and on an affordable budget of approx $50 US per day!

I would advise wherever you are flying your drone around the world please take animals into consideration as the sound of a drone is foreign to them and like fireworks they are potentially very disturbing. There are so many animals in the Mongolian desert, horses, goats, yaks and camels to name a few. Here is a great article about the ethics of flying drones near wildlife. I have personally seen Indonesian chickens and Cambodian cows bending their necks to look up at our drone with alarmed behavior. As well as Thai elephants see more below…

Hong Kong

We only flew our drone on the nature walk summit high over Hong Kong where it appeared to be permitted to fly but the strong wind (and perhaps the limits of aerospace) led the husband to quickly land it with another panic-stricken face. Personally, I wouldn’t have taken the risk. But luckily it landed in safe female hands. Mine!

Macau

There are restrictions in the main areas of Macau but we were surprisingly permitted to fly over the city by a security guard in the main tourist attraction.

Vietnam

Flying at Hanoi Lake in Vietnam a policeman politely told us to take our drone down (after we had already unknowingly captured important turtle footage first of the famous Hoan Kiem legendary turtle who shortly afterward passed away). However, be very aware if you do decide to fly your drone in Hanoi as we heard of somebody who’d had their drone confiscated. Here’s a little video we made of the infamous turtle and lake..

On Cat Ba Island It is strictly forbidden by the military area. We were warned it would be confiscated if we attempted to fly it. We did not attempt to fly around Ha Long Bay as the weather was extremely gloomy and miserable much to our dismay.

In North Vietnam, we flew the drone in many other places fine, i.e. by the China border. In Ha Giang, we flew the drone everywhere. In the countryside, we got some amazing footage while living with some indigenous people when working with YESD Organisation.

We named our 3rd drone Brian after this real life American Brian who is such an amazing storyteller! Here Roni is about to throw Brian into the Vietnam sky!

In Ninh Binh flying over paddy fields seemed okay though if they ask if you are filming beware! As they will be suspicious and our Vietnamese guide advised us they could stop us from flying. On Phu Quoc Island in South Vietnam was fine though not too close to the cows who were sunbathing on the beach and we didn’t attempt to fly in HCMC!

The Philippines

In Puerto Galera while making a promo video for a dive resort, a man came along the beach almost waving his fist at the husband; ‘How would you like it if I flew a drone right outside your house?’ to which the husband swiftly apologized. ‘I’ll shoot it down if you’re not careful’ the man threatened the husband. Later the manager of the resort explained to the local we were shooting a promo video, which anesthetized his anger fortunately. Check out some of the amazing aerial footage we made on this video for Scandi Divers Resort…

At Apo Reef and on Pan Dan Island we made some amazing footage from the land and boats.

Indonesia

So far Indonesia has been one of the more challenging and restricted countries to fly a drone particularly at temples where they try to charge you a fee. In Bali at Tanah Lot, they told us we would need to pay a fee so we took Daphne drone down (after getting some good footage!). We also managed to get some great shots around Bali.

Rice Fields, Ubud, Bali

Komodo Dragon

In Komodo National Park we flew the drone without any problems from security. We flew it very high so it would not bother any of the famous Komodo dragons who you would certainly not want to piss off as they are known to snack on humans! Over the ocean and around Labuan Bajo we had no difficulties, as well when helping to make a film for Trash Hero Komodo, and in the forests, and at the waterfalls. We had a very happy stay and unrivalled diving with Blue Marlin Dive who we’d highly recommend if you are planning a scuba dive and dragon trip!

In Yogajakarta At Borobudur – an important Buddhist site – the security strictly forbid us to fly and followed us like hawks, because apparently a sports advert had been made for advertising there that had insulted the Buddhist religion, with an athlete leap-frogging all over the pagodas etc. So the husband wasn’t put off when we left the site he got our driver to stop round the corner in a field and he flew it from there to capture the famous temple from further away. A man on a motorbike tipped us off and told us to bring the drone down or the security would come after us and confiscate it. So we scarpered!

In Raja Ampat in West Papua – We were much more remote and found it completely fine to fly the drone.

barefoot_web-1337126

While working with Barefoot Conservation we flew Daphne on Arborek Island, and surrounding areas and seas even capturing dolphins, and manta rays in full flight!

The husband managed to crash the drone again, but this time, it was on a remote island on a tree! By great serendipity, there was a large piece of tarpaulin below the tree, which we used as a net to catch the drone after shaking the tree vigorously.

barefoot_web-1347461

Cambodia

Surprisingly there was no problem flying the drone across the city of Phnom Penh from the rooftop of our hotel.

In Siem Reap, it was much stricter and not permitted at Angkor Watt. But we had a marvelous time outside of the city Living Like a Local where we were able to fly the drone with kids who had a field day!

South Thailand

On Phi Phi Island in Thailand very irate police demanded we land the drone and delete the footage. They got quite impatient and did not understand that you need time to land it safely as it does not have a tele-transportation button – yet!

In Koh Tao, we shot some footage for a hotel called Hillside which was permitted but we were not allowed to fly it on the little island of ….. We made a film for Ban’s Dive Centre so flew the drone off the dive boat, out at sea, and on Shark Island.

Bird’s Eye View in the North of Thailand

North Thailand

Chiang Mai – As well as flying over the many pagodas and temples, including the White Temple – while staying with the indigenous Karen people in the hills outside Chiang Mai we captured the amazing river, waterfalls, hillsides and paddy fields and villages of these people but also the long neck and other indigenous villages. Working with elephants we were careful to not fly it too close as the sound of a drone is like the sound of bees: an elephant’s worst enemy aside from MAN!

The White Temple

Here’s a little video we made for the Karen girls at Chai Lai Sisters – the first ever indigenous Burmese women to own their own tour company in Thailand!

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur We are now the proud owners of a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone. In KL we bought our 3rd drone at a very helpful shop called Average Drone who we christened Brian after a good friend and amazing storyteller we met in Hanoi.

Singapore

Crossing the border by land from Malaysia we were stopped by security and accompanied into what appeared to be an interrogation office. After making us wait what seemed like hours, twiddling our thumbs, we heard them say something about confiscating another drone and then instructed us to fill out a form and call a number to register our stay with the drone in Singapore. Then they let us go. So we made the phone call and all was well. By this time our bus had driven off without us, which was slightly aggravating, to say the least! We eventually managed to hitch a ride on another bus after several other buses tried to overcharge us.

By Garden Bay we were asked to take the drone down, so we crossed the bridge to get further from where it apparently is permitted to fly and were able to capture some awesome footage of the Singapore skyline.

Myanmar

One of the more chillax countries so far. Myanmar is a Buddhist country so there are pagodas galore. We flew Brian In the countryside of Mawlamyine, over water and trees on the way from Myawaddy. Brian was in his element as he loves a Buddhist temple and the world’s biggest book below.

World’s Biggest Book

In Hpa-An we flew the drone throughout a tour: of caves, climbed a hilltop, the Lumbini Gardens seated Buddhas, a pagoda in the middle of a lake, at the bat caves (but we missed the bats fly out over the river though perhaps that was better not to scare them into believing it was a giant bat).

At Ilhe Lake, the husband gatecrashed a school and stopped the lessons of the whole school to teach 100 kids ‘Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’, even the teachers were almost joining in! He flew it over fishermen, a pagoda, and the top of a wooden monastery.

Temple Aerial View

In Mandalay, we flew over Mandalay Hill just in time before the military phoned the monks and asked: “What is that drone doing up there?”

We flew at U Bein’s Bridge, both of the big pagodas, around the Royal Palace moat walls (but not inside), at the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, Sandar Muni Pagoda (world’s biggest book), and the Kuthodaw Pagoda,

Ubein Bridge

In Bagan, the sunset and sunrise are a must and perfect opportunity to get great aerial footage.

The skyline is awash with ancient pagodas some over 1,000 years old. We watched the sunset from high up on some of these pagodas and the drone once again did us proud!

Roni even gatecrashed a school and gave a flying lesson to every kid in the vicinity!

In Yangon we flew the drone at the Tha Bar Wa Meditation Centre just outside the city. It’s an awesome place to volunteer and meditate by the way. They house 3,000 people who have been rejected by society, such as the homeless, the elderly, the sick and orphans. It’s also a great place to fly the drone! As well as the park. 

India

In Kochi in Kerala Brian flew gleefully over the coastline to the delight of many Indian families – mostly men – who gathered around to watch and ask “the price?” The drone very nearly got shot down by a murder of crows; who confronted this great metal bird that was trespassing their neck of the woods. But they were more interested in stealing the fish caught by locals in the Chinese fishing nets. In Kochi Brian also flew gleefully over the breath-taking backwaters…

In Goa Brian nearly joined George up there in heaven. Aside from flying in Ajuna, by the sea, and from Chill Inn Guesthouse (which we highly recommend!) we worked with Goa Outreach to teach filmmaking to street and slum kids. Indian families there loved to see the drone, which we flew inland from private property. But, today we took a trip to Arambol up the coast and flew the drone over the sea and a lake behind. Suddenly, the husband cried ‘I’ve crashed it!’ And ran towards the jungle. After a couple of hours, and accosting two local Indians, he emerged from the thick vegetation with his beloved third drone, who much to our surprise was still working. It had crash landed, upside down, after hitting a tree. The husband is covered in cuts and scratches but thankfully no snake bites!

In Udaipur we had the pleasure of staying in the Tat Saraasa Resort & Spa who sponsored Planet Hero to help local kids learn photography & film-making and also fly the drone with the kids and some of the lakes and other breath-taking landscapes.

In Jaipur we flew the drone over the most amazing landscapes and lakes. In India we generally didn’t have any problems from official people flying the drone; only at one main Buddhist temple and of course built up cities where we didn’t attempt to fly.

Local Musicians in Udaipur

See this short video we made here for Hathroi Palace & Tours – who we suggest you stay with to have a really fun, homely and authentic visit to Jaipur and surrounding Rajasthan:

In India we also flew our drone over the famous Buddha pilgrim sites. We will be posting a blog about the Buddha pilgrimage soon – so watch this space! 

  • Bodh Gaya, Bihar – The site of the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha.
  • Sarnath, outside Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh – The site of the first sermon.
  • Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh – the site of the Buddha’s death.
  • Then Lumbini – where Buddha was born in Nepal below…

We even managed to sneekily fly the drone in the Taj Mahal vicinity (not too close as it’s strictly forbidden) from a hotel rooftop nearby!

Please watch this space for edited videos and photos of India & Nepal coming soon!

Nepal

Finally – on this leg of our world trip so far – we reached Nepal. Nepal was the perfect place for us to go trekking and yoga training and to fly the drone. 

Half of Planet Hero trekked the Ana Purna base camp circuit, by Pokhara lake and the other half trained to be a yoga instructor, sponsored by Nepal Yoga Academy. Check out some of our amazing aerial footage in this video we made for the yoga school and retreat…

The only two places in Nepal that were troublesome to fly the drone were in the city of Kathmandu during a yoga flashmob we organised, we tried to get permission but were prohibited! The other place was at Pokhara lake where we flew the drone but quickly took it down after we learnt the military base is right next to the lake!

We’ll update this blog with more country tips in due course! If you have any questions about flying drones around the world then we are happy to help!

Or any questions about traveling with husbands, or significant partners, around the world… really needs a blog post of its own!

Happy Flying! Check out this little video which shows all the countries we ‘flew’ in before we got to India & Nepal…

Coming soon is a blog post about Aerial Cinematography so Watch This Space!

A Year On the Road: of an Epic World Trip

Our cosy cabin on the Trans-siberia Train

Our cosy cabin on the Trans-siberia Train

Happy Birthday Planet Hero!

1 year ago today we left London to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! And it’s certainly been an exhilarating ride!

After the unexpected loss of our stepmum Lesley, followed by a miscarriage: it hit us how short and fragile life can be so we said what the heck; let’s travel around the world! We are sure that Lesley – an avid traveller – is following our adventures from up there!

Many concerned relatives and friends asked, “Shouldn’t you spend your savings on a mortgage?” “Why not settle down and have kids?” “Don’t you think you’ve done enough traveling?” “Why not wait til you retire?”

“NO WAY JOSE!” We replied “We might not be alive by then!”

And we haven’t regretted our decision one bit!

Spending 24/7 with your better half does require a lot of patience and meditation 😉 But, we’ve made it through the highs and lows without strangling each other!!! And it’s certainly made our relationship even stronger after 7 years of marriage.

After we quit our jobs in London (both happy ones we must add) sold all our possessions (including Roni’s 50inch 4K TV!), stuck some of our junk in a friend’s loft (thanks Cleiton!) bought a drone, got our vaccinations, travel insurance, Russia and China visas, and a train trip on the Trans-Siberian railway (thanks Real Russia!): we set off on our journey like proper backpackers!

So far, we have traveled through 15 countries: Russia, Siberia, China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, West Papua, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and India…

On trains, planes, boats, horses, tuk tuks, jeeps, and motorbikes!

Swimming with Turtles in Komodo

Swimming with Turtles in Komodo

We’ve climbed mountains and sand dunes, showered in waterfalls, dived with manta rays, sea turtles and pygmy seahorses. Starting out as novice scuba divers we advanced to professional PADI Dive Masters! We’ve learnt the basics of about 10 new languages (which we soon forget after leaving each country!) and captured all of our adventures with our drone, and we’re on number 3 now!

Flying the drone with kids in Myanmar

Flying the drone with kids in Myanmar

Drone number 1 crashed landed in Baikal Lake in Siberia. Number 2 got traded in for an upgrade and Number 3 had a lucky escape last week in Goa when it crashed into a jungle behind the sea – but luckily lived to tell the tale!

With no major health scares fortunately, apart from a dose of Dengue fever, for Roni, and a dislocated shoulder (after showing off on a bamboo raft), an eye infection and tooth abscess for me: we are both happily healthy.

Papuan Girls in Raja Ampat

Papuan Girls in Raja Ampat

Most importantly we have worked with over 1,000 children from underserved communities; teaching them filmmaking, photography, English and eco-conservation. Working with over 10 voluntary orgs we’ve made films to help promote their causes, to help encourage others to volunteer abroad and be responsible tourists. This has included helping to empower indigenous Burmese refugee women with Chai Lai Sisters and Daughters Rising at risk of human trafficking and elephants exploited for tourism.

Dee Dee a Thai Elephant

Dee Dee a Thai Elephant

We’ve worked with street kids, homeless kids, little nuns and monks, orphans, and kids with special needs. We have met people who have NOTHING that literally live in corrugated iron shacks, or on the street, who have the biggest smiles and do not complain like us Western consumers. We have lived in a Buddhist Meditation Centre in Myanmar, cared for the sick and elderly, and visited so many pagodas we’ve lost count! We’ve lived with nomads in the Gobi desert at -25 degrees, which we crossed on horseback, been kissed by Thai Elephants and ignored by sharks!

Happy Mongolian Lady in Gobi

Happy Mongolian Lady in Gobi

We’ve met so many other animals around the world, most of whom, are treated very badly and inhumanely. But some who are loved and cared for… like a baby peacock, and white bunny rabbits this week at the Tat Saraasa Resort & Spa, in India. Homeless street dogs are on every corner throughout Asia. Chickens, ducks and fish have been violently killed in front of our eyes – it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the fear and terror in their eyes.

Fallen Bird in Cambodia - launched into the sky by human hands to 'set free'

Fallen Bird in Cambodia – launched into the sky by human hands to ‘set free’

Reptiles and Amphibians trapped in plastic key-rings filled with coloured water, camels and elephants exploited by tourism – we have never witnessed so much ignorance and cruelty to animals – it has certainly opened our eyes. But there are also so many good people and charities out there doing so much to help all these violated animals 🙂

Camel in the Gobi desert in Mongolia

Camel in the Gobi desert in Mongolia

We have met so many, in fact hundreds, or thousands of amazing people on our journey who feel like life time friends; so many it’s not possible to mention you all here. These people have helped change the way we see the world and how we live our lives. Not stuck in the daily rat race we now feel thoroughly refreshed and enlightened after escaping from our hamster wheels!

Raja Ampat Indonesia

Raja Ampat Indonesia

Planet Hero’s next steps? We are currently enjoying a whirlwind tour of India where we have already worked with over 200 children and are doing our very best not to get a dose of Delhi Belly! Next we visit Nepal for some hardcore trekking and yoga. Then we are heading back to the Philippines for more social art projects with kids and to work as Underwater Videographers!

We are happily squeezing in a little sojourn to Bali to meet our filmmaker friends at Caraminola Productions to start to format all the footage we’ve captured (several Terrabites) into a TV or film of some kind. We have been invited to Tanzania with Kitikiblu to teach filmmaking to tribal kids, help whale shark conservation and the abundant wildlife. We may even travel through Australia in a camper van and circumnavigate the world via Central & South America!

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Above all, we will continue to develop our work with kids to make more sustainable filmmaking & photography projects. And we will be coming home soon to London & Rio – WE PROMISE YOU MUM!!!! As we know you are both missing us more than anybody else 😉

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Anyone thinking of traveling but feeling anxious or fearful? We just want to say don’t listen to all the doom and gloom in the media. Yes bad things happen in the world, but so far we have not met any nasty people or had any unlucky experiences apart from being robbed by a monkey! Touch wood – People have been so kind to us and the less people have usually the kinder they are. If you have ever thought about volunteering, we highly recommend – as it’s a life changing experience!!! We can all do something little, however small, to make the world a better place.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference. Try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Dalai Lama

SPREAD YOUR WINGS!!! is what my Grandma always used to say to me so we are taking her words of wisdom very seriously as she lived in an era where she wasn’t able to.

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And on that note this quote was my stepmum Lesley’s favourite which we found pinned on her wall after she passed away:

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STOP PRESS! We’ve been interviewed on Thai travel programme: The Passion to be aired on 24th October on Nation TV!

Please have a look at our 3 min video at the top of this post – it’s a snapshot of all the kids we’ve worked with around the world so far – and PLEASE SHARE!!!

Voluntary Orgs we have worked with:

Handmade Charity, Circle Time Play Studio, YESD, Chai Lai Sisters & Daughters Rising, Barefoot Conservation, Live Like a Local, Goa Outreach, Tha Bar Wa Meditation Centre, Trash Hero, plus various schools.

Special Thanks to companies who have supported us including:

Scandi Divers Resort, Ban’s Dive Resort, Blue Marlin Dive, Tat Saraasa Resort & Spa, Koh Tao Hillside Resort, Borobudur Tours, Caraminhola, Skidun, Chill Inn and Hathroi Palace and many others who have helped is along the way!

 

 

Message Me! Marine Conservation in Raja Ampat

 

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When we stepped foot on Barefoot Conservation camp on the island of Arborek – in Raja Ampat West Papua – we were greeted by a sea of smiles. 70 of the 120 island inhabitants are children – all under the age of 12! The older ones all study in Wasai on the mainland.

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On the tiny, flat island of Arborek, there is little fresh water, electricity or technology; life is very different to the Western world. Kids are not glued to screens and they have very few toys. The natural environment is their playground: somersaulting off the jetty, paddling along the shores in wooden canoes, free diving with the neon-coloured marine life, or climbing coconut trees is how they play, day after day!

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Oh and they go to school on Arborek and the other surrounding islands!

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During our 3-week stay at Barefoot Conservation, Message Me was born: a participatory eco-arts project we made with the young girls on Arborek.

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With the help of Barefoot’s community officer Maya Puspa Kewi we got our Message Me project off to a flying start!

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Our drone Daphne helped to capture all the amazing aerial footage!

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Message Me involves the kids writing marine conservation messages to put in the plastic bottles they find polluting the seas or washed up on the beaches. Each child’s message invites other kids around the world to participate and create an eco-activist dialogue.

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First these girls started with a beach clean up.  The participants also made these photographic portraits of each other with their bottles under the ocean before sending the plastic waste off for recycling.                                                              

Raja Ampat is one of the world’s most remote locations and home to the highest concentration and diversity of marine life on Earth. The oceans of Raja Ampat contain 80% of all the world’s coral species, 1350 species of fish, 6 of the world’s marine turtle species and 27 varieties of marine mammal. Manta rays are also abundant here.

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Messages such as ‘Don’t stand on the coral!’ and ‘Please do not disturb the mantas..’ have been written by the Papuan girls to help raise awareness to man’s destruction of our eco-systems.

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Through photographic and filmed documentation of the messages, the concept of throwing the message in a bottle into the sea is reversed: to spread the message on the internet, posters or publication and other means of communication: then recycle the bottles after displaying them in the local community.

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“This staggering concentration of biodiversity is unparalleled anywhere in the world today. The reefs at Raja Ampat show remarkable resistance to global marine threats such as climate change, coral bleaching and disease. Larvae produced here are swept across the oceans to replenish other reefs which support healthy ecosystems globally and sustainable subsistence fishing for poor local villagers. What happens in Raja Ampat will have a direct impact on the world’s marine ecosystem. It is vital we understand and protect it.” – Barefoot Conservation

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Inspired by the movement 1 Million Women, the project started out with the aim to empower girls globally through education and arts participation to act on climate change. Arborek is a patriarchal community, where girls are expected to finish their education early, marry, raise children and run the household; whereas, for boys their education is prioritized.

You can see all the marine action here! On ‘Message Me’ the first in a series of short videos of kids participating around the world:

We have since taken the Message Me project to the Philippines – supported by Scandi Divers Resort – so please WATCH THIS SPACE to see what messages Filippino kids are saying to help spread the marine message! Boys wanted to take part too – so even better!

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Our 3 weeks spent as volunteers at Barefoot Conservation was one of the highlights of our world trip. Living on a remote island, with few creature comforts, scuba diving with mantas everyday and helping with marine conservation was truly a unique experience: realising Message Me with the local kids really was the icing on the cake!

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If you are interested in learning more about what it’s like to volunteer at Barefoot Conservation then fire away with any questions in the comments section below. We will be publishing lots of videos we made during our stay there soon, such as a ‘Day in the Life of a Volunteer’…. ‘Diving with mantas’….. ‘How to get there’ etc. etc.

 WATCH THE PLANET HERO SPACE!

 

 

 

Give Something Back – Be a Responsible Tourist!

 

Ha Giang, Vietnam

Have you ever thought about giving something back when travelling abroad?

Since we left London 6 months ago we have made it our goal to give something back to local communities while travelling the world for a year especially with children, animal and eco-conservation.

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The first thing we did when planning our trip around the world was to subscribe to Work Away. You can become a member for about £20 for 2 years, and get access to their massive database of volunteer opportunities all over the world. From pet-sitting in Australia, teaching English to orphaned kids in Cambodia, building libraries in Bolivia, helping create a better life for kids on rubbish dumps in Guatemala to working with horses in Europe; the world is your oyster with WorkAway. You can work for 4-5 hours per day 5 days per week in exchange for free accommodation and food. For us it was certainly money well spent!

YESD Organisation Volunteers

We hooked up with YESD Organisation through Work Away to help foster responsible tourism in Vietnam. We had an amazing and authentic experience of Vietnamese culture and certainly went off the beaten track for 2 months working on responsible tourism projects across northern Vietnam.

Indigenous Tay People

Our adventures included a death-defying motorbike ride to Ha Giang and Saba on the most dangerous road in Vietnam, driving close to the edge of cliffs through thick fog it’s not for the faint-hearted, to the border of China; to deliver warm clothes and other donations to the indigenous Tay people.

Delivering Donations

We stayed with the amazingly hospitable Tay people in a Homestay which is a traditional bamboo hut (on stilts) overlooking rice fields. The rustic hut comprised of individual double rooms sectioned off with curtains, and open windows.

Homestay in Ha Giang

The main living space was warmed up in the colder weather by an open fire utilized also for cooking our evening meal. There was plenty of tofu and other vegetarian options on offer for animal-friendly tourists and volunteers, so this was certainly pleasing to my palate! There was also a resident black cat who liked to cuddle up to volunteers for a stroke. Plus traditional handicraft workshops given to volunteers and visitors.

Tay people

YESD took us to two Vietnamese weddings where we danced the night away, and awoke at 5am to a chorus of 100 cockerals to collect the bride from another village in an entourage of vehicles. The overindulgence of ‘Happy Water’ which Roni consumed the night before, didn’t revive my husband when he was forced to drink another 10 shots of ‘Happy Water’ for the wedding breakfast; by the father of the bride and his chums.

Village life

In a small village, on Christmas eve in Nanh Binh we were frog marched to the stage by the local mayor and summoned to sing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ in front of 400 locals. Even though we sang like a group of four alley cats having a scrap, we were applauded, presented with a bouquet of flowers, and treated like a famous pop band. It’s amazing how four volunteers – one Brit, 2 Americans, and 1 Brazilian can sing so fabulously out of tune and sway from side to side without tripping over each other on a Vietnamese stage in the middle of nowhere. All without the influence of alcohol.

Give something back!

An undercover policeman in the audience then frog marched us down to the local cop shop insisting that we register our passports (which we had all accidentally left in Hanoi). So we spent Christmas eve house-bound tucked up in bed by 11pm after the male volunteers had smoked a pipe with the cops, taken group selfies, and tried on some rather dandy police helmets.

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Youth unemployment is a big problem in Vietnam. At YESD we also helped with the free English classes they provide for Hanoi youth to improve their employment opportunities.

River tour

Sampling YESD tours which you can book here was an amazing way to have a truly unforgettable experience in Vietnam. We rode on bamboo rafts in the longest caves in the world. We cycled through rice fields, tranquil villages and climbed a hill by a temple to see the most breath-taking views.

River rafting

Watch this short video we made for YESD in collaboration with volunteers Tyson and Lina Cronin to see how as a tourist you can help with a more eco-friendly approach when travelling to foreign lands:

 

 

 

 

Jumping for Joy! At Cunca Wulang Waterfall

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When was the last time you jumped for joy? Maybe you passed an exam? Won a prize or even decided to take off and travel around the world?

At Planet Hero, we’ve been jumping for joy a lot in the past 6 months while travelling around the world. So far we’ve jumped on the Trans-Siberian-Mongolian railway from Moscow to Beijing , climbed mountains in China, sand dunes in Mongolia, trekked in Hong Kong, worked with the indigenous Tay people in Vietnam, become qualified scuba divers in the Philippines…

This past month we’ve had more than one reason to leap into the air like a frolicking lamb with unbounded zest for life:

But alas! We had another very BIG reason to jump for joy! Quite literally – at Cunca Wulang waterfall in Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia – in the form of a cliff dive!

Here you can see all the action in our short film – with beautiful aerial footage from our trusty DJI Phantom drone Daphne & GoPro Hero 4 camera – capturing the exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping-jumping from the 8-metre high cliff top into the water below.

The waterfall and surrounding area is a magical place to visit, described on Trip Advisor as A Mini Grand Canyon.  It makes an alternative and adventurous afternoon if you are in the Komodo locality for diving but you want to explore the nearby area on land. After you have made your death-defying leap you can swim against the current, a few strokes upstream, to the powerful waterfall, which is truly mesmerising and breath-taking, and there is a slide in the form of a huge rock too! Mother Nature at her finest!

After you have made your death-defying leap you can swim against the current, a few strokes upstream, to the powerful waterfall, which is truly mesmerising and breath-taking, and there is a slide in the form of a huge rock too. Mother Nature at her finest!

It was much more fun joining a group of fellow travellers to trek for half an hour to the waterfall (with the help of local guides as you are not permitted without) – a hidden gem, tucked away at the end of a forest, about a 45-minute drive from Labuan Bajo.

The guides who live in a rustic village at the mouth of the trek charge about $2-3 US per person, with the price getting cheaper in groups. We hired a moped to get to the trek starting point, and the group hired an open back truck (health & safety box clearly wouldn’t be ticked in the UK!)

Top trekking tips:

  • Don’t forget to take water like we did. We were so thirsty on the trek back that we inadvertently drank a massive gulp of cigarette infused water from the guide’s bottle (yuk!)
  • Wear trainers, not flip-flops like I did, as it’s a challenging trek to the waterfall; with rocks, trees and water to climb and scramble through and over
  • A hat, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant goes without saying!

If you are in Labuan Bajo for diving in Komodo we recommend Blue Marlin Dive They will take great care of you, give you excellent PADI instruction, and leave you with memories of scuba diving you’ll never forget! They are also eco-friendly and pay great attention to safety while diving.

So when was the last time you jumped for joy?

We would love to know – please post in the comments below!

 

A Walk On The Wild Side – With Komodo Dragons!

Komodo Dragon

Fancy a walk on the wild side? Then head to Komodo National Park in Indonesia. But don’t forget your running shoes – or sneakers as they say in the US – because Indonesia is home to the famous Komodo dragon; who can run up to 12 mph (20 km).  If one starts to chase you it’s your cue to run in a well-choreographed zigzag motion or sneak off quite literally… up the nearest tree! One ferocious looking dragon started to chase us but thankfully had other plans for lunch.

About 3,000 to 5,000 of these gigantic, solitary lizards inhabit the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Gila Motang, Rinca, and Flores; where they have thrived for millions of years. Komodo Dragons are the largest lizards on earth, reaching 3 meters in length and weighing up to 70kg.

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We were lucky to spot several dragons on our trip, which we took around 10am. Apparently, there are less around in the afternoon, and it’s also not as hot in the morning. I’d personally prefer to be dipping in the pool than trekking in the hot sun drenched in buckets of sweat. And it’s easier to leg it in cooler weather! Some visitors leave disappointed for seeing only 1 or 2 dragons, or none at all. That’s the beauty of being an eco-tourist! Let the dragons decide if they want to see you – as these ones are not caged in a zoo thankfully for them.

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Their dinner consists mainly of deer, but they are also partial to carrion, pigs, birds and smaller dragons. But, they have been known to consume large water buffalos and the occasional human when it takes their fancy. So if you have an inkling that you are on their menu take heed. And speed!

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If you bolt up a tree, remember only the baby dragons can climb trees – to keep safe from predators and cannibalistic adult dragons – and they are still eating baby food so a human is reassuringly not usually on their menu.

With its powerful camouflaged body, patient nature, razor-sharp claws, and serrated teeth they pounce on passing prey with a venomous bite that is sure to kill. Hopefully, your dragon guide will be there in time, with his wooden-dragon-poker to send the ravenous reptile packing if he does come your way.

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In September, after the mating season which begins between May and August, they dig themselves a nice big nesting hole and lay about 20 eggs. After 7-8 months of incubation, the baby dragons poke their cute little nostrils out of their eggs and hatch in April. After 8 or 9 years they are considered mature and can live for up to 30-50 years old apparently.

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Visiting the Komodo dragons is more animal-friendly than visiting animals trapped in a zoo or other cruel tourist attractions, as they still live in the wild in their natural habitat. And they certainly rule the roost. However, the dragons are now considered to be an endangered species due to poaching, natural disasters, lack of egg laying females or oppressive humans.

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Whether you are scuba-diving, snorkelling or dragon-spotting there is a fee to enter Komodo National Park and apparently one for camera use, which we did not get asked for, using our Canon 5D SLR camera, nor for flying our DJI drone Daphne with Go Pro. As well as the dragons, many other animal friends live in the national park such as the Timor deer, orange-footed scrub fowl, and endemic rats.

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The park, now a World Heritage Site, also has one of the richest marine environments which includes coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds, where you may come across more than 1,000 species of fish; as well as other sea animals such as sharks, manta rays, whales, dolphins, seahorses and sea turtles. The underwater world here is truly astonishing. But many of the animals and the ecosystem is scarily under threat. So they money you pay is going to a good cause (apparently).

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If you are looking for something truly out of the ordinary then why not get shipwrecked in Indonesia like Adventurous Kate who went on a five-day Hunting Komodo by Camera trip

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If the above hasn’t convinced you to go dragon-spotting in Komodo then watch this short video we made in which we took a boat trip – after a fun scuba dive with manta rays (another story altogether!) courtesy of Blue Marlin Dive Komodo – to marvel these magnificent prehistoric reptiles. 

The Great Escape!

Thinking of visiting The Philippines? Are images of long, sandy, white beaches, framed by never-ending-palm-trees, enticing you to escape – as you secretly surf the net – from that dreary 9-5 job you would just love to quit?

Just Breathe

From what I’ve experienced during my recent 4 weeks spent in The Philippines, it’s not as dangerous as we are led to believe by the media. But, if you do decide to visit this paradise area of South East Asia; your great escape may just be from the seedier side. Because the moment you disembark your plane at Manila airport the notorious Philipino sex industry will make itself apparent.

So I have compiled a few tips on how to avoid such an unwelcome intrusion on your eyeballs (if the sex industry is not your cup of tea either) after you tell your boss to get stuffed and hop on that plane to arrive on one of the 17,000 glorious islands of The Philippines!

Escape to the underwater world!

It will enable you to emit crossing paths with all the wrinkly old Western men who saunter along the local promenade with a scantily clad girl on their arm: young enough to be their grand-daughter or great-grand-daughter (a leopard-skin mankini springs to mind with dentures swimming in a glass of water on the bedside table).

Life on land can be stressful whether you are stuck in the rat-race in a big city like London, or fretting over whether you might get caught up in the next unpredictable terrorist attack somewhere on Planet Earth. Escaping to the underwater world is pure medicine for the mind: Mother Nature at her finest, most glorious, peace-inducing potency. She has it all under the big blue sea. Especially in The Philippines!

If you want to escape from all those pot-bellied, red-faced older men from the Western world, who hang out in places like Sabang, in Puerto Galera, rubbing their knees and guzzling 3 viagras a day, along with all the cheap beer and happy hour cocktails; you can explore the underwater world with an oxygen tank on your back, face mask, fins and a wetsuit – after training on a course like PADI Open Water Diver. The course usually costs around 400 US dollars and takes 3-4 days.

We highly recommend Scandi Divers it’s truly a ‘home away from home’ as one guest commented. The instructors and staff are first class, and the dive sites are incredible. If you need more convincing then this short promo film we made about Scandi Divers should do the trick!

Scandi Divers actively participate in Project Aware – A global force of divers helping to protect our ocean planet in more than 180 countries and territories around the world. Here are Project Aware’s 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet. So why not take the plunge! You can help to save our seas while you have your scuba fun under the sun.

When you have your scuba diving license under your weight belt you will certainly feel more buoyant and able to dive up to 18 meters with a dive master, and explore the enchanting sea life on offer. Sharks are not as ferocious as they are often thought to be (by human animal standards anyway). It’s a cultural myth constructed to induce the climate of fear that we live in (Jaws springs to mind): the only thing to fear is the culture of fear itself. Of course, ferocious and dangerous sharks do exist, but many are very shy and wouldn’t say boo to a seahorse. This White Tip Reef shark we spotted cat-napping at the bottom of the ocean in Apo Reef. They either ignore you, carry on enjoying their REM, or swim away rather sharkishly.

Sleeping shark

Now sea snakes are another story altogether. Luckily for my dear husband they did not retaliate when he brandished his GoPro on a selfie stick and waved it under their nostrils. Sadly, there have been a lot of horror stories in the media lately about tourists disrespecting animal life, or even killing animals: all in the name of a selfie. Thankfully, my husband doesn’t get so aggravatingly close to the sea life he films and photographs.

If you’re really interested in animal behaviour check out this article about the ‘Mirror Test’ which scientifically demonstrates that dolphins, amongst other animals, recognise themselves in the mirror; “this kind of research strengthens many scientists conviction that dolphins have an acute sense of themselves and others” notably self-awareness and probable animal consciousness.

This little seahorse we spotted snoozing on the bed of the ocean during a full moon night dive, which was out of this world! Apparently male seahorses carry the pregnancies. If you don’t believe me, you can watch this rare footage of a pregnant male seahorse giving birth in the wild!. Rumor has it that human males may also be able to give birth in 5 years time.

Sleeping Seahorse Planet Hero

Here you can read some great tips on how to be an animal-friendly-tourist, such as avoiding activities like swimming with dolphins – which may appear fun and educational but are unnatural and stressful for the animals involved. 

Talking of husbands, or partners, under the ocean you will also be in the perfect place to avoid any bickering or niggly arguments that often happen if you are traveling with your better half or a friend. Try telling your husband to clean the toilet after himself when you are 18 meters underwater in scuba sign language (this doesn’t apply to Italians who are infamous for talking with their hands and having their mamma clean the loo for them).

Marine Meditation: Medicine for the Mind

Pandan Island

Apo Reef

Once you have got over the initial anxiety that is often experienced by newbies learning to scuba dive for the first time, you should hopefully take to it like a duck to water! After almost having a panic attack when I first entered the training pool for my PADI Open Water training, it quickly passed with the patience of my instructor, and I was euphoric when I entered the sea and didn’t want to get out again!

What I experience now every time I dive is akin to meditation on land or what it might feel like to be floating in space. Here are 20 Scientifically proven reasons to start meditating today (on land at least!)

The diving community is a fun and friendly one so it’s a great way to make new friends, learn new skills, and explore the underwater world, as well as the land above! We had a fun Jeepney group tour around Puerto Galera, visiting a waterfall and other natural delights, followed by a delicious meal at The Viewpoint (the veggie option was delicious!)

Making friends above the water!

Making friends above the water!

Diving with the ability to breathe underwater is a truly magnificent, mind-bending experience that I would highly recommend as the best escape from the stresses of life on land, a bit of peace and quiet from the partner, or the wrinkly old perves parading with prostitutes on the local Philipino promenade nearby.

10 Reasons Why You Must Go To Moscow!

Must Go To MosccowMark Twain once said,

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So after 6 years of marital bliss and disposing of our worldly possessions we have taken Twain’s advice, thrown caution to the wind and left the Big Smoke!

Why must I go to Moscow? You may be asking yourself…

“Because you must!” declared my Glaswegian travel chum Suzi who I met while living in Naples 10 years ago.

So here are 10 alternative reasons why you simply must go to Moscow:

  1. MEET A RUSSIAN ANGEL
  2. PLEASURE YOUR PALATE WITH VEGETARIAN DELICACIES
  3. MARVEL CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN ART
  4. SEE AN ITALIAN OPERA
  5. MAKE SOME RUSSIAN ANIMAL FRIENDS
  6. HANG OUT WITH GRUNGY BACKPACKERS
  7. NAVIGATE MOSCOW BY UBER WHEN YOUR TIRED-TOURIST-TOES TELL YOU WHERE TO GO!
  8. WARM UP WITH A SHOT (or 2) OF VODKA (hic!)
  9. GIVE SOMETHING BACK
  10. DO ALL THE USUAL STUFF

1) MEET A RUSSIAN ANGEL:

What better place to start the Trans-Siberian train trip than Moscow?

Russian_Angel

On our first night in this magical city, we bumped into a Russian Angel called Sasha: lost behind Basil Cathedral we asked him for directions. In retrospect we now feel so lucky we got lost. With tour guide gusto, he showed us the hidden gems (and yums!) of Moscow for the next four days.

If you don’t literally bump into Sasha himself then another kind Russian might just take you under their wing! Russians really aren’t as grumpy as some of them look at first glance – quite the opposite! They are much more hospitable and friendly than us cold, icy Brits who have icicles hanging from our nostrils! In fact, they are some of the warmest, kindest and most helpful people I have ever met and they will bend over backwards to help you.

Getting a visa for Russia as a UK citizen was complicated so I invested in the help of an agency called Real Russia who were excellent in helping us answer all the long-winded bureaucratic visa questions (yawn!) as well as booking our Trans-Siberia-Mongolia train tickets and China visas. So three cheers for another Russian Angel – Real Russia – and their premium service!

2) PLEASURE YOUR PALATE WITH VEGETARIAN DELICACIESHappy Cow

When I first planned to travel the world, I thought my work would be cut out finding animal-free cuisine. As a vegetarian-veering-on-vegan, I have so far been proved wrong; vegetarian translation apps such as Veggagogo and Google Translate are perfect tools for vegans and veggies like me on the go! And Russian vegetarian cuisine does exist if you scour the menus with the help of the above apps. Not only will you help save our beloved planet you will lower your contribution to animal suffering. Happy Cow is also a wonderful app which locates vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

Then Food Artyou can use this veggie calculator to see the impact you have made as a vegetarian. “Vegetarians use less resources like water, food, oil, contribute less CO2 to the atmosphere, and animals are not killed for their consumption. Raising livestock contributes more to global warming than automobiles, and is the second leading cause of global warming behind industrial pollution.”

Using my own new culinary language has also helped me to communicate withSoviet Cuisine the Russian waiters,

“I only eat faces like these…” I chant waving my handiwork under their nostrils…

Eating in the Soviet self-service-canteen-style-restaurant on the top floor of GUM Shopping Mall in Red Square is a must when visiting Moscow. The food is mouthwateringly scrumptious on the palate and extremely palatable on the pocket.

 

 

 

Red Square

GUM shopping mall (on right) in Red Square

More importantly, a variety of vegetarian and vegan options will get one’s taste-buds oozing with saliva; beetroot salad, peas, bulgar-wheat, aubergine and walnut wraps to name a few. Wash the nosh down with a cheap Soviet champagne or fruity jelly style drink, which (apparently) are animal-free too.

During the soviet times and communist regime, people would frequent this restaurant with ration books in hand. The waiters, who still dress in appropriate attire, and waitresses sporting hairspray-coiffed-buffons, serve with the same stone-faced soviet mannerisms of times gone-by. The décor and ambience elevate the impression of being stuck in a time warp.

Eat outside of the restaurant on the terrace to view the impressive architecture of the interior shopping mall.GUM

I highly recommend a visit to Georgian restaurant Elardji to sample some more exquisite, veggie-friendly cuisine. This restaurant has a cosy warehouse vibe with large terrace for summertime, plus live musicians performing on the piano and accordion. They even take requests! Brazilian bossa nova was on our list!

Accordian Musician

The handmade lemonade was divine. Grilled succulent vegetables and mushroom dumplings tap-danced on my taste-buds in synchrony to my Brazilian husband’s dazzling duet with the accordion player!

Georgian Cuisine

At Ukrainian restaurant Korchma the waiters are dressed in traditional frilly and flowery attire, which adds to the authentic vibe. This delicious apple and celery salad washed down nicely with another glass of Soviet champagne (hic!) and some more vegetarian dumplings. Plus the fine company of Russian and Brazilian friends!

So if you go to Moscow you must go to GUM restaurant, Elardji and Korchma to sample the best of Soviet, Georgian and Ukrainian cuisine!

Ukrainian Restaurant

Salad

3) MARVEL CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN ART

 Museum of Art & Multimedia – MAMM was my top choice for sampling my first taste of contemporary Russian art in Moscow, spread over several floors the entry fee of approximately £5 sterling merits the variety and diversity of work – with international artists also on display. When I visited, the Rodchenko School Generation Next was on show which included an interesting mix of photography, video and installation.

Of all the works, I enjoyed Polina Kali’s Eggs the most; an absurd video of a girl prancing around and catching eggs in her skirt. Personally it led me to look deeper into the industrial production of eggs and its contribution to the destruction of the planet and animal cruelty.

Here are 21 things the egg industry doesn’t want you to see.

Eggs

AES+F

 

But, my favorite part of MAMM was a pig slaughtering a butcher in Inverso Mundo

KARMA in a nutshell. A widescreen video made with high-end Visual Effects by AES+F a group of 4 Russian artists – on the top floor.

I loved the futuristic-flying-animal-hybrids in Inverso Mundo: dogs with octopus tentacles and rats with wings are conceivable human-meddling-mutations not far off in the future reality of our planet. The bean-bags scattered around the large viewing space were welcomed – with yelps of ecstasy – by my dog-tired-tourist-toes. For some fascinating insights and deeper investigation into such foreseeable subject matter, I recommend reading Antennae Issue 33: Naturally Hypernatural.

In some respects, Inverso Mundo reminded me of the film Melancholia albeit with a more humorous approach.

Animal Hybrids

 

My husband’s favorite part of the show was the interactive gadget wall. As you can see from this 10-second video:

 

4) VISIT THE OPERA HOUSE

We paid the bargain price of £15 for the front of house seats to a Verdi opera. I spent most of the performance distracted by my husband’s incessant rummaging around in his backpack to surreptitiously film parts of the show. He has since learnt how to turn the telltale flashing red light off his Go Pro camera. You may be wondering why you’d want to see an Italian opera instead of a Russian one if you are in Moscow – my advice is this: don’t follow the flock of tourists, Italians are the most amazing, jaw-dropping, passionate opera singers in the world! (We also saw an Italian opera because our Russian angel Sasha booked the tickets!)

5) MAKE SOME RUSSIAN ANIMAL FRIENDS

In Red Square, we hung out with the local sparrows. They are extremely tame and friendly, and love to nibble nuts or spinach pastry from your hands, without palm-plopping thankfully!

This little dicky bird enjoyed a feast on an artwork displayed in the square…

6) HANG OUT WITH GRUNGY BACKPACKERS

On a budget? Friends House is a very clean and quirky hostel a stone’s throw from Red Square, with the option of dorms, or double room at around £20 per night (shared but very clean bathrooms) with breakfast thrown in! In Moscow it’s etiquette to take your shoes off indoors, so don’t try to sneak up to your room with your shoes on like we did – the porter will chase after you brandishing a pair of irate Russian slippers! Airbnb is also another great option for quality accommodation we used them for the first time in Athens, Greece and our stay certainly met our expectations! CNTraveller offers a great guide to Moscow which you can read here.

Moscow Metro Map

7) NAVIGATE MOSCOW BY UBER WHEN YOUR DOG-TIRED-TOURIST-TOES TELL YOU WHERE TO GO! Taxis are currently mega cheap in Moscow if you’re armed with £££’s Sterling and you can use the same UBER app as London. Sometimes even cheaper than the Moscow METRO which is super complicated to navigate we must warn you! Here are some great tips from Luxe Adventure Traveler if you do go for the underground transportation.

8) WARM UP WITH A SHOT (or 2) OF VODKA (hic!)

It goes without saying that Russian Vodka warms the cockles and is also very agreeable on one’s pocket money, again, especially if you’re armed with £’s sterling. From Stolichnaya Gold to Baikal Vodka, to find out more about the variety of vodkas in Russia click here.

Bottoms up!

 

9) GIVE SOMETHING BACK

Thanks to our Russian Angel Sasha, we were lucky to join a Handmade Charity party, creative and culinary workshop for kids with Special Needs at Le Pain Quotidien in downtown Moscow…Handmade

…to give a helping hand, hang out with amazing Russian kids (and volunteers!) take some photos and make a video. It was an awesome day! We felt really lucky and happy to have had this alternative experience of Russian culture by giving something back to the local community. The organisers were also pleasantly surprised to learn that many of the children have a very good grasp of the English language after conversing with us!

10) DO ALL THE USUAL STUFF

How could I possibly not include the following?! –

Go for a stroll in the Square (the red one of course!) visit the deceased Lenin who is on display for all and sundry to gawp at in a Mausoleum in front of the Kremlin, apparently he wanted to rest with his mother but didn’t have any choice in the post-humus-matter. You can read here how Lenin’s body improved with age.  And let’s not forget Basil Cathedral, Peter the Great monument, Gorky Park + river, Moscow State University.

Luckily my other half wasn’t daft enough to fly his DJI Phantom camera drone over the Kremlin, but one drone pilot Yumi apparently took a brave chance, flew his ‘big boy’s toy’ over Basil cathedral and was promptly sent packing by Kremlins officials. Hats off to Yumi for having such big balls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greece Lightening

It only seems like yesterday that we were exploring the ancient ruins of Athens, climbing a volcano on Santorini, and chatting with the local donkeys. Being married to a Brazilian I have become somewhat accustomed to lounging in a hammock. So it was on holidays like these that we decided to extend our next hammock-lounging-vacation to longer than 5 days. Why not a whole year? I asked myself and my husband. Happily my better half nodded enthusiastically.

So now we are on our way… only 19 more sleeps and we will be boarding a flight from London to Moscow where our world trip begins… and 4 days later we will hop onto the Trans-Mongolian railway to Beijing.

Time for me to brush up on my Russian me thinks!

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