Prospect Park Polaroids

Prospect Park

I recently bought an instant camera. I thought I was being very cool and original but it turns out I’m a latecomer to a very crowded party full of very trendy people with better haircuts than me.

Prospect Park Subway Station

But that’s ok. I still think this will be a nice way to document some of my travels and adventures. It’s bulky and heavy and photos cost a pound a pop. But they look really cool and washed out and evoke a feeling of nostalgia.

Prospect Park Lake
With the effort it takes to lug this thing around, plus the cost of film, I hope it will make me really think hard about what I choose to photograph and put effort into making sure it’s a good shot.

Prospect Park Long Meadow
So, with this in mind, I visited Prospect Park in Brooklyn for the first time to take some snaps and get used to using the camera.

Prospect Park Lake

The photos came out ok for the most part. Two or three are unusable but I’m particularly pleased with one of them. See if you can guess which one.

Prospect Park Boathouse
Prospect Park is lovely. It’s quieter than Central Park and feels more spread out and less manicured. Nature takes priority in wooded areas where it is strictly forbidden to step off of designated paths to allow regrowth.

img_3607

An area called ‘Long Meadow’ is particularly pleasant, with rolling grassy hills, scattered oak trees and picnicking families. Prospect Park is also home to an impressive lake and a beautiful white boathouse, built in 1905.

Prospect Park Boathouse

Let me know what you think in the comments section. Share some of your favourite Polaroids.

Iceland: The Perfect Country for First Time Hitchhiking

74

A couple of years ago I spent a month hitchhiking around Iceland. To some, this may sound like a great premise for a terrifying horror movie. In actual fact it was one of the easiest, most stress free travel experiences I have ever enjoyed.

Here are my reasons why Iceland is the perfect country to lose your hitchhiking virginity…

The Ring Road
Hitch hiking Iceland Ring Road

Iceland’s main “motorway” is known as Road 1 or ‘The Ring Road’. It is quite literally a two-lane ring around the whole country with smaller roads branching off into towns, villages and areas of interest.

This makes it very easy to figure out where you are going. Just make sure you are standing on the correct side of the road and get that thumb out.

It’s a fairly small road, meaning you can stand at the roadside without feeling like you might get flattened by a lorry. The air is remarkably clean considering you are on the country’s biggest road. It feels more like a quiet A Road than the M25.

Language

Hitch hiking Iceland Ring Road

99% of Icelanders speak, and are happy to converse in perfect English. However, if you want to get off to a really good start with your driver, put in the effort and learn a few key words and phrases.
Icelandic people are fiercely proud of their language and culture and love sharing it with others.

The word ‘Takk’ meaning ‘Thanks’ is a great place to start.

Proud people
Myvatn Nature Baths

The very best recommendations and local secrets don’t come from guidebooks and websites – they come from locals.

I once spent an eventful day being driven around The Ring Road by a man named Jon. At first I thought he was a murderer but he turned out to be a great bloke. He showed us hidden waterfalls and a secret roadside bathing house among other things we would never have spotted without him.

Stick your thumb out, get a ride and ask some questions. Who knows what you’ll discover?

It’s Safe
74

Iceland is a friendly, peaceful place. The murder rate is 1.8 per year (the lowest in Europe) and they often go whole years without a single homicide.

There is a national joke that says if someone sneezes in Reykjavik, someone will say bless you in Akureyri (Iceland’s largest northern settlement).

It’s a tight knit nation with a real community feel. It is difficult to get away with being a bad person in Iceland, and it shows. I’ve never once felt unsafe or unwelcome… apart from that time I thought I was in a car with a murderer.

 

Wild Camping

Hitchhiking Iceland Ring Road. Wild camping.

Unless explicitly stated, wild camping is permitted on public land, for foot travellers (cars must find a designated site). Even on private land it usually only takes a brief knock on a door and a friendly chat to gain permission.

If you’re hitch hiking with a tent, this takes the stress out of travel deadlines. Didn’t manage to get as far as you had hoped? No worries. Pitch your tent for the night, give your thumb a rest and get it back out in the morning.


Daylight

 Hitch hiking Iceland Ring Road

From mid-May to mid-August it is essentially light the entire day with the sun skimming below the horizon for about 3 hours late at night before coming back up again.

I remember arriving at the campsite in Reykjavik in the very early hours one July morning and feeling very silly when I opened my bag and found my head torch, Maglite and spare batteries sitting at the top. Oops.

That being said, the opposite is true in winter with very few hours of daylight to play with. Maybe keep hitch hiking as a summer adventure.

In Summary
Hitch hiking Iceland Ring Road

Whether it’s budget constraints, thirst for an adventure or something else that leads you to give hitch hiking a try, there’s no doubt that it can be an incredibly fun and rewarding way to get to know a country.

Understandably, it can also be a nerve-wracking experience so why not take some of the stress out of it and choose Iceland as the location for your inaugural hitchhiking adventure.

To learn more about Iceland and for help planning a trip, why not pick up the fantastic Lonely Planet Guide by clicking HERE.

They also have a really cool guide specifically for planning a trip on the Ring Road. Check that out HERE.

Cloud Forests & Rainforests of Costa Rica

img_2049

My two week trip to Costa Rica was one of the most action packed fortnights of my life.

I made a short video of the trip that will give you an idea of some of the cool things we got up to. Click here to watch the video.img_1951

As incredible as these experiences were, the zip lining, whitewater rafting and beautiful beaches were all beaten to the top spot of trip highlights by cloud forests and rainforests.

img_1950

‘What on earth is a cloud forest?’ I hear you ask. Well, the main difference between cloud forests & rainforests is that cloud forests are situated at higher elevations in areas of very high humidity. As a result they are some of the most biodiverse places on earth… and they look like insane movie sets!

img_1949

It’s a wonder I didn’t swallow some sort of tropical fly as I walked around, wide eyed and open mouthed. I was waiting for Tarzan to come swinging in followed by the blue girl from Avatar. Let’s throw Batty from Ferngully into the mix for the 90s kids. It was that beautiful.

img_1948

We visited Monteverde Cloud Forest, Santa Elena Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio Rainforest among others.

img_1947

If you are lucky enough to visit a cloud forest or rainforest, my one piece of advice would be to make sure to get out in the forest when it is actually raining !!!

img_1952

This may sound ridiculous but the amount of people we saw sheltering in the lounge of our guesthouse during a downpour was astonishing.

img_1998

We visited ‘Monteverde Cloud Forest’ on a clear day and the smaller ‘Santa Elena Cloud Forest’ during a complete and utter deluge and the later was most definitely the more enjoyable experience.

img_2048

The rain brings with it eerie hanging clouds that you can get lost in.

img_2049

The trees are so tall and the forest canopy so thick that it takes forever for a raindrop to make it down to the ground. The result is a hypnotic cacophony of sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

img_2062

My photographs really can’t do these places justice but these are 10 of my favourite forest photos from our two weeks in Costa Rica. I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

 

Chefchaouen, Morocco: Hiking to Akchour Waterfall

A pair of muppets enjoying a vegetable tagine.

A 40 minute drive from Morocco’s ‘Blue Pearl’ Chefchaouen, there is a popular hiking trail that winds through the forest, hopping back and forth over a river, dotted with handy stepping stones. After 6 undulating kilometers, hikers are rewarded with an incredible view of a tall narrow waterfall, perfectly framed by the surrounding cliffs tumbling into an emerald green lagoon. If you can muster up the energy for one final scramble down to the water, a refreshing dip in a VERY cold swimming hole awaits you.
Hiking to Akchour Waterfall

Getting there and back:

The easiest way, or at least the way we went, to get to the Akchour trailhead is to take a ‘big taxi’. I don’t just mean go out and pick the largest taxi you can find. Most cities in Morocco have 2 types of taxi – ‘big’ taxis and ‘small’ taxis.

Small taxis are…you guessed it… small. They are colour coded (red in Fez, blue in Chefchaouen) and can take a maximum of 3 passengers (often less, even if they have the seats, on account of their haggard old engines). They are only permitted to take customers short distances in and around the town. One driver told me that this is strictly enforced and taking a fare further than the boundaries can result in punishment by the police.

Big taxis are…well done smartarse… big. They’re not colour coded, can take up to 6 passengers and can take you on longer journeys. If they are seen taking more than 6 passengers, the driver can get into a lot of trouble with the police.

A taxi from Chefchaouen to Akchour costs a flat rate of 150 Dirham. Split between 6 that’s £2/$2.50 each. This is a pretty good deal for a 40-minute ride into the mountains.
Danny and I arrived at the taxi rank on the main road out of town. It’s hard to miss with dozens of taxi drivers sitting in the shade chatting and joking with each other next to a small car park crammed full with vehicles. We approached the drivers and said that we would wait a short while to see if any other Akchour bound hikers might appear and share a fare with us.

In an apparent stroke of luck, a greasy haired, red eyed Frenchman with a tight string of beads around his neck and some tribal tattoos approached us and asked if we were heading to Akchour. We said we were and all agreed to wait a while longer to see if any other potential hikers would appear.

Hiking to AkchourWe stood and chatted for a short while. I say we, but in fact Danny, being the nice guy that he is, stood enthusiastically responding while our new friend bragged about how much hash he had already smoked that day while I glazed over and kicked a pebble repeatedly into the curb.

A few moments later a group of 4 young Canadians appeared, bringing our total to 7. Perfect, Danny and I can jump in the cab with them and our stoned friend can hang out with the cab drivers a while longer.

Before we even had a chance to introduce ourselves to the Canadians, ‘old tribal tats’ had already slithered over to them, schmoozing in French. A few minutes later they came over, introduced themselves, told us about all the wonderful places they had been on their travels around the world before jumping into a cab as a group of 5 and waving us goodbye.

I’m not really sure how it happened but both of us were left feeling rather miffed.

We stood for another 10 minutes glumly waiting for someone else to come share a cab with us. Standing there in the heat I did a quick mental calculation and laughed as I realized that the taxi was £6 each… not much more than a London pint… for a 40-minute journey into the mountains. What the hell was wrong with us?

 

I called over a cab driver. “TO AKCHOUR!” I yelled in his face. He looked at me with an expression that I took to mean, “What the hell is wrong with you?” which is funny because at that moment I was wondering exactly the same thing.

When we arrived there were 5 cabs parked in the small car park next to the trailhead – no sign of the French Canadians. Our driver asked if we wanted to arrange a ride home in advance but we didn’t know how long we would spend on the trail so we opted out.

Crude wooden bridge approaching Akchour
One of many bridges crossing the river.

We’d been pre warned that there would be local ‘guides’ waiting at the trailhead who would tell us it was dangerous and we’d get lost and die if we went without them. We’d also been told that it was an obvious trail and you’d have to be a complete idiot to get lost.

As expected a guide approached us but before he had a chance to warn us of our impending death, I used my favourite and most useful phrase that I learned walking around the medinas in Fez, ‘la shukraan’, meaning ‘no, thank you’ in Arabic. It worked like magic.

Twenty minutes later we were retracing our steps back to the beginning of the trail, having taken a wrong turn shortly after shoeing away the guide.

We rechecked the map on the signpost at the entrance to the trail, took a photo of it on our phones, gave a quick wave to the grinning guide we turned down and headed back out in the right direction.

The hike

 

The view on the approach to Akchour
The view on the approach to Akchour

The hike itself took about 2 hours one way. We crossed back and forth over the river several times, sometimes over picturesque little bridges or nice natural stepping-stones. Other times there were huge cubic slabs of concrete to climb over which were handy, if a little ugly.
Being the off-season it was quiet on the trail and we went long periods of time without seeing anyone. There were several makeshift cafes along the route but they were closed up and not operating.
As with most popular trails, it was pretty obvious where we needed to go so we plodded on, not worrying about the route, stopping occasionally to take photos and make videos.
The trail passes through shady forests, dense foliage and farmers fields with the odd marijuana plant here and there, all the while loosely following the river.
After a couple of hours we arrived at a food stand that was actually open. The owner confirmed that we were at the end of the hike and the waterfall was just around the corner. We ordered a couple of vegetable tagines and he told us they’d be ready in 45 minutes so we went off to check out the waterfall.

The Waterfall

The waterfall was a bit of a trickle when we were there but it’s so tall and the surrounding landscape makes it an impressive sight nonetheless.

Akchour and the swimming hole beneath
Akchour and the swimming hole beneath

We scrambled down to the swimming hole and threw ourselves in. It felt good to wash off the day’s dust and sweat but the water was incredibly cold and I only stayed in long enough to swim over to the waterfall and back. What had looked like a trickle from above turned out to be quite a powerful torrent and I was briefly dragged under.

Danny carries a tad more insulation than me and he stayed in there splashing around for a good half an hour while I enjoyed the sun from the rocks at the water’s edge.
Admiring the well earned view


The tagine and the journey back

The time came to go and eat. I went and sat at the alfresco dining area (a colourful mismatched set of garden furniture) while Danny went to tell the cook that we were ready. Moments later he traipsed over to me looking forlorn, “There’s no tagines left.”

Miffed yet again, we went and bought some biscuits and crisps from the guy instead to wolf down on the return walk.

The blow was quickly softened by a couple of things. Firstly, it occurred to us that we didn’t bump into the French Canadians at any point on the trail, meaning they must have got lost. Obviously I hope they didn’t get in any serious trouble but still… ha.

Secondly, we bumped into a friendly group of 4 who were just about to head back and get a taxi to Chefchaouen with 2 spare seats. Perfect! We all started walking back together.

As we rounded the first bend, a food stand came into view and the grinning vendor waved at Danny and I, holding up a steaming tagine.

I don’t know how we managed it!

My mood is often dictated by food and this moment was no different. I was flooded with mixed emotions. Delighted that we would get our tagine after all, frustrated that we were about to miss out on a ride back with our new friends and a little embarrassed that we are such a pair of Muppets.

We wolfed down the tagine. It was very tasty, which was a nice surprise as food had been quite hit and miss so far. Then we got back on the trail and, determined to catch up with the others, we started running.

A pair of muppets enjoying a vegetable tagine.
A pair of muppets enjoying a vegetable tagine.

We caught up with them about two thirds of the way back and walked the rest of the way together. When we arrived in the car park their driver informed us that as they had booked a return journey as a group of 4, they were only permitted 4 passengers on the way back.

Triple miffed.

We did a loop of the car park and managed to find 1 other person trying to get back to Chefchaouen but he refused to split the fare 3 ways with us, preferring to wait for another 3 passengers. We managed to persuade one driver to take his 25 Dirham and 75 Dirham from us on the proviso that he was allowed to pick up more passengers along the road on the way back.
This was how I found myself wedged into the back of a cab next to an ancient looking grumpy old Moroccan lady and Danny next to a young man who looked like he was wearing the old lady’s dentures.

Akchour is a fun and achievable hike for someone with the most basic fitness levels. We had a great day; the adventure began before we even got in a ‘big taxi’ and didn’t end until we got back to the guesthouse. I highly recommend it.

One last look at Akchour before an entertaining taxi ride home.
One last look at Akchour before an entertaining taxi ride home.

If you’d like to watch a short video of our trip to Morocco, including clips from the hike to Akchour, go ahead and click here.

 

VIDEO: Costa Rica – Arenal, Monteverde, Montezuma & Manuel Antonio

I recently bought a beautiful new Jack Wolfskin backpack. However, I paid for it not with money, but with a travel video of a trip to Morocco. It was part of their ‘Go Backpack’ promotion.

Delighted with my free bag, and both pleased and proud of my new video souvenir, I decided to give it another go.

With another trip, this time to Costa Rica, on the horizon, I ordered a bigger rucksack (you order first, submit your vid and get a refund later), flew to Central America and set about making travel video number two.
img_1796

This time I was with my girlfriend, Claudia. We had an incredible trip and once again I have come away with not just a great new rucksack for future trips, but another travel video that we can look back on and treasure for the rest of our lives.

This video features volcano hikes, waterfall swimming, white water rafting, cloud forests, zip lining, TONS of wildlife and so much more.

I really hope you like the video and if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica then feel free to get in touch, we were both really pleased with the way our trip turned out and would be happy to share our itinerary with you.

Here’s the vid, sound tracked by one of my very favourite songs; the wonderfully appropriate ‘Rain’ by PhoenixDown.

VIDEO: Morocco – Fez, Chefchaouen & Hiking in the Rif Mountains

Goat in Chefchaouen

I recently went to Morocco for a week with my mate Danny during Ramadan.

We visited the blue city, Chefchaouen. From there we hiked to the Akchour Waterfall and battled 32 degree heat to summit Jebel el Kelaa in the Rif Mountain range. Possibly the best day hike of my life.

Goat in ChefchaouenHanging out on the roof in Fez, MoroccoKitten in Chefchaouen

Outdoor brand, Jack Wolfskin have been running a promotion where they offer people the opportunity to pay for new gear with travel videos. I leapt at the chance for a freebie and put my all into making a travel video of our trip.Jack Wolfskin Backpack Morocco

Lo and behold, a month later I have a brand new, awesome backpack, free of charge! But it’s the video of our week of adventure in Morocco that I will treasure the most. Hope you enjoy watching it.

Hitch Hiking with a murderer in Iceland…sort of.

Waiting for a ride...

Don’t touch anything!?  Of course…fingerprints mean evidence. My mind began to race and I started trying to put fingerprints on whatever I could without being noticed, hoping that Claudia was doing the same in the back seat.

577095_10152071901000790_1538200944_n-1560993_10152071899375790_1151112550_n

The second time he spoke I wasn’t sure if he had said, “You are students?” or “You are students.” It was impossible to differentiate between question and statement so I took a risk and responded. I told him that I was not a student and that I had chosen not to go to university for a number of reasons that I began to divulge. Nervous, I began to babble…   SCREEEEEEEEEEEEECH!! – he slammed on the breaks. Perhaps he didn’t like people without degrees stinking out his vehicle with their lack of academic knowledge.

“Here it is” he said, stepping out of the car. He nodded at us to follow. To our right was a colourful expanse of plants and rocks stretching up into miniature mountain range, on our left was a large, perfectly still fjord. There were no other cars in sight and certainly no other people. My heart was beating hard. The man motioned us to follow. Without any other options we followed him away from the road, across the scrub towards the mountains. I suddenly noticed a small shed a few metres away from the roadside.

564294_10152071900140790_1912389511_n

Textbook murder. He wasn’t even trying to be subtle about it. He seemed casual and relaxed, like he was taking a dog out for a walk. It was probably his third shed murder of the day.

We got to the door of the shed, he touched door handle and turned to us. A smile spread across his face. “Welcome to one of the Westfjords many secrets.” He opened the door.

Inside was a small bench, a large square pool of water in the ground, a bar of soap and a scrubbing brush. Our driver, grinning madly, put his hand into the water and said, “Have a feel, it’s perfect bath temperature.” I felt the water, it was indeed perfect bath temperature. He explained to us that a nice farmer used to spend his life driving a tractor back and forth through the Westfjords. (Most probably as a result of the naturally abundant geothermal energy in this country, Icelanders are obsessed with bathing; it is not uncommon to find public baths in villages with populations below 50.) So, one day, our bath loving farmer decided to channel the warm water from a nearby hot spring to create a small bath house where people could stop off and have a soak to break up the monotony of a long drive.

Icelanders love a hot tub
Icelanders love a hot tub

Claudia and I were both relieved to be alive and delighted by this quirky little roadside feature. Our driver, Jon, did not want to kill us. He was ecstatic to have someone he could show off his beautiful country to. As we drove on he let us in on more and more local secrets, becoming more animated and excited with each one. Within an hour he was positively joyous.

We chatted about his life as a policeman, a lawyer and a property developer – STOP – “Quick, come this way there is a secret waterfall that nobody knows about!” He told us about the summers he spends with his brother leading a two week horseback expedition through the Icelandic wilderness – HALT – “I grew up in this town (Holmavik), I was the sheriff, let me give you a quick tour! There’s my old house!” We told Jon all about our trip so far and he gave us all sorts of tips for the remaining journey – WAIT I ALMOST FORGOT – “There’s another waterfall, here’s another hot spring!

Jon's secret waterfall
Jon’s secret waterfall

Jon was amazing. We went from certain death in a shed to having our own personal guide through the Westfjords. For five hours we chatted and visited different secret spots that ‘only the locals know about’. It was perfect. Finally, after an action packed five hours in the car we went our separate ways. Jon back to Reykjavik, and us to a suitable spot to pitch our tent for the night.

He drove 20 minutes out of his way until he found us a perfect spot with everything we needed. Cover from the road behind a large bush, a river for drinking, cleaning and cooking and soft moss covered ground to sleep on.

Before leaving Jon gave us his card and told us if we needed any help or if anything bad were to happen to us we could call him at any time.

We slept well knowing that if we hitched a ride with a murderer the next day, we could always give Sheriff Jon a call.