Tag Archives: travel writing

How To Get Published on The Huffington Post

16 Feb

7 published writers, bloggers and photographers give some tips on how to get published on The Huffington Post.

how to get published on huffington post

Bloggers love to blog. We love it, of course we do. But, as much as we love blogging just ‘for the sake of it’, what we really love is getting more readers. We love getting more hits. We love getting more followers. It means so much to bloggers when our posts get read, commented on and even better…shared. As much as we love blogging on our own sites, the opportunity to blog on external sites is very appealing. So many bloggers are creating the most incredible content every day and sadly no one is seeing all these wonderful posts.

Enter The Huffington Post. If you haven’t heard of The Huffington Post, you must be living under a rock. With an Alexa ranking of 93 (meaning it is the 93rd most visited site in the world!), over 1 BILLION unique page views a month and tens of millions of visitors, it really is in a world of its own.If you are looking to share your writing with the world, and you really would be sharing it with the whole world, then The Huffington Post is a site you should be aiming to get published on. Aim hugh, as they say.

So the question is, how on earth does a blogger/writer/rambler like me get published on a site like that? Fear not, for I have done the hard work for you for! I have talked to some incredible bloggers from around the world and they have all kindly offered to share their Huffington Post experiences. Find out how to get published, and what incredible things it will do for you and your blog. 

Amanda Walkins - Blogger at AWalk on the Run

amanda walkins

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?
I initially got published on The Huffington Post after reaching out to their new section “The Third Metric” via email. They had a post on their main page for that section seeking new contributors, so I emailed that address directly, rather than a general inbox. I linked to my blog and told them briefly about where I live and what I write about, and told them how my lifestyle was in line with that section’s main concepts. Within about an hour I had access to the backend of the blog to post whenever and whatever I wanted.
How has it helped your blog? 
While I’ve written a few articles for HuffPost, two have gone viral and drawn a ton of attention to my blog. My average article will bring in a handful of new Twitter followers, blog followers, and Facebook adds, but the two that went viral boosted my numbers in a huge way. After the most recent one, I gained more than 50 blog followers within 4 days – which is big for a newer niche blog like mine! I’ve also had a lot of HuffPost readers reach out to me directly with in-depth questions on moving abroad, so it’s prompted me to cover other topics on the blog that I hadn’t thought of before.
It’s been a great experience, and a great way to build my portfolio as a freelance writer as well. I can write about topics on HuffPost that are completely unrelated to my blog’s central theme, which opens up new doors to me. Basically, I love writing for HuffPost in case you couldn’t tell. Except for some of the comments…people can be harsh! Keep that in mind if you write anything that could be at all controversial (or just completely misunderstood in my case). 

Cliff Hsia - Blogger/Owner of LiveFamilyTravel

ckiff hsia huff post

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?
I initially got published after I came back from my half-year cultural sabbatical of world travel. I pitched the editors of the Travel section with a simple message and a link to my blog post, titled “What I Learned From Five Months of Travel”. They liked it and it got published the next week. With a bit of beginner’s luck, the article was featured prominently on the Travel section for almost a whole week and has been one of my most well received articles on HuffPost to date.
I think the key to success is to pitch with one really good post that fits the content style of HuffPost. Good timing, persistence, and bit of luck helps too.
How has it helped your blog?
My blog has two distinct periods: before HuffPost and after HuffPost. With the large readership of HuffPost, my articles have been read by a lot of new readers, which results in a big increase in traffic to Live Family Travel. HuffPost has been the single biggest contributor to my early stage blog growth. Moreover, since most HuffPost articles are picked up by Flipboard, a considerable amount of new readers come from there as well. 

Lizzie Davey - Blogger at WanderfulWorld 

lizzie davey

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?
I’d just got back from Romania and was looking for places to pitch articles ideas from my trip, so I sent them a draft of a post I’d written highlighting my personal experiences in Bucharest and how I thought the city was changing rapidly. I initially reached out just to have that post published, but they gave me my own login details and the freedom to write posts and publish them whenever I wanted. 
How has it helped your blog? 
Whenever I publish a blog on the HuffPo I notice a surge in social media followers, subscribers, and views. My destination specific articles on there are the most popular, drawing in lots of visitors from those regions who have strong opinions. I’ve also had a number of brands approach me through my blogs on the HuffPo with press trip opportunities, and it always piques clients’ interest when I mention it in a pitch for new work. 

Aimee ChanEditor of Suitcases and Strollers

aimee chan

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?  
I received an email from Arianna Huffington inviting me to submit some posts and hooking me up with the editorial team. I think the key was to ensure that I pitched a story idea that was unique and had a clear point of view. I wrote it in a way so as to ensure that the editors would know exactly what kind of story they would be getting from me.
 
How has it helped your blog?
In the world of online I expected the response in traffic to be instantaneous and direction-changing and it wasn’t at all. At first I was disappointed. But after a couple of months and a lot of diligent plugging away, I have found that now there is definitely a correlation between my website’s traffic and what I publish on Huffington Post. The readers I get from Huffington Post are more interactive and loyal too — they email me personally and want to develop a relationship with me and my website. However, it is not always the stories that you think will be popular that are. The one that has been the most successful for me was the one that had nothing to do with my website at all, so you never can tell what is going to work. 

Ellen Frankel - Author at AuthorEllenFrankel

elen

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post? 
I was first published on The Huffington Post in December 2012. The blog was called: Five Lessons of Hanukkah to Unwrap. I had been working with a publicist for one of my books that was being released that spring (Revolution of Jewish Spirit) and had written this short piece, which she sent out to various outlets. I did not know that she was planning on sending it to The Huffington Post, but she did, and they published it and then invited me to become a blogger. Since then, I have enjoyed blogging for them and have published 10 posts.
How has it helped your blog?
I used to blog on my website but have done much less blogging since I went back to work (I am a bereavement counselor at a non-profit hospice in the Boston area). I do have 7 books published (actually, the 7th will be out this spring) and hopefully the blogs help book sales or at least get the word out about my books. I have had great feedback from many posts, especially my blog called: The Edge of Grief: A Summer Reflection, which seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

Tom Gill - Photographer at TomGillPhotography

tom

 How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?
A few years back, some of my frozen lighthouse photos were featured in a regional US magazine including the cover.  Shortly after, my images were discovered on my flickr.com photo sharing account by a news publisher in Australia.  The news syndicate ran a feature on the images and included a link to my personal blog.  A few days later, the Huffington Post contacted me and licensed the images for an article and feature on Huffington Post. Many other publishers and sites followed.  The Huffington Post followed up last December and ran a new set of frozen lighthouse images, and at that time, the photo editor asked me to become a photo blogger for Huffington Post.  I agreed to the terms, and they set up an account for me.  Now I can blog about what I wish, when I wish.  So while most of my posts so far have been in the Travel vertical, I’m really not a travel blogger, I’m a photo blogger, and will blog about my experiences where ever they take me.  But they do seem to fit well in travel.
How has it helped your blog?

The exposure from the initial features in Huffington Post (and other media outlets such as the Weather Channel) have increased traffic to my blog, and my photo sharing site.  In fact, after publication my page views on Flickr increased from an average of 3,000 a day, to over 80,000 a day.  Of course, this spikes, then falls a few days later, but it has not gone back as low as 3,000 in many months it averages around 10,000 a day.  My blog traffic also increased, but the numbers aren’t as dramatic, but percentage wise, it has increased 300%.

I don’t actively market my photography as many others do, I’m rather passive, so I rely on publications linking back to my work for additional work and photo sales. In addition to The Huffington Post, and the Weather Channel, my photos have been featured in books, magazines, calendars, news outlets, and countless web pages. I’m hoping to build a following on The Huffington Post.  My first entries received about 30 Facebook likes, but my post about shelf ice received over 10,000 Facebook likes, and hundreds of shares.  It could be the subject, or how it engaged the readers, I really can’t tell.

Carol E Wyer Writer at Facing 50 With Humour

carol e wyer

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?

I was very lucky as The Huffington Post approached me to write for them. I had just finished How Not to Murder Your Grumpy and The Huffington Post requested a copy to read and review from my publishers. After reading it they invited me to write for their Huff50 section and wanted the initial couple of posts to be written in a similar vein to that book.

How has it helped with book sales or your blog?

I can’t really say if writing for The Huffington Post has lifted sales as I have also been involved in a lot of media work and appearances on television and radio also affect sales. However, one post I wrote had a link to my blog and a post I had written about If Men Were More Like Women. The day the Huffington Post article went live, my blog got 850 hits, substantially more than normal. I also saw an increase in number of followers on Twitter and Facebook and was invited by other websites to write for them on the back of posts written for The Huffington Post.

Writing for The Huffington Post has given me opportunities and assisted me hugely as a writer. It tests my writing skills and is very enjoyable.

So what are you waiting for?! Get pitching those articles now! :-)

Myanmar Travel Guide: Everything You Read Is Wrong

3 Feb

This is my third guest blog post of 2015, written by the brilliant Brian M. Williams who runs the excellent website NetSideBar.com. Be sure to check it out to read the rest of his brilliant travel diaries. His photographs are also incredible – all photos in this post were taken by him.

Where to begin when talking about how different Myanmar is from other countries in Southeast Asia, and, indeed, the world? I guess you can start with the fact that it has a half-hour timezone difference: when it’s 8 in Bangkok, it’s 8:30 in Myanmar. However, this is just the inconsequential-tip of the iceberg when it comes to how different Myanmar is.

To begin to understand what makes Myanmar different you have to know a little about its recent history. Burma, Myanmar’s name during colonial times, was controlled by the British starting in 1886. They would continue to rule the country up until World War II when much of the country was taken over by Japanese forces. After the war, in 1948, Burma became an independent country with an elected government. However, in 1962, the military took over the country, restricted rights, arrested opposition leaders, strictly controlled and centrally planned the country’s economy and simultaneously isolated it from the rest of the world. The end result of all of this was that Burma became one of the poorest countries on Earth. During the the military’s long rule, there were many civilian-led protests that were almost always put down with violent force by the military government.

However, starting in 2008, democratic reforms, which included having open elections and releasing political prisoners, have resulted in Myanmar being allowed to rejoin the world community. The country even hosted President Obama, the first American president to visit the country, in 2012 and again in 2014. Still, there are some who argue that the reforms have not gone far enough and that the government is continuing to persecute certain religious and ethnic minorities in the country. Therefore, they say that foreigners should not support such a government with their tourist dollars. While I can appreciate this point of view and can testify that there is still fighting going on in the country that can sometimes shut down tourist routes (more on that later), I do not support sanctioning and isolating the people of a country because of the actions of their government. If the idea is that punishing ordinary citizens will cause them to revolt against their government, there has been zero evidence in history to show it works (see Iraq, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, just to name a few). What does work is people from around the world interacting, learning and sharing ideas and views about things like freedom and human rights. So, yeah, I had no moral reservations about going to Myanmar.

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First Impression

Regardless of this debate, the result of Myanmar’s long isolation is that tourism has been slow to develop in the country. The country is full of old cars and old buildings and there are very few things that appear modern or 21st century at all.  There is also a lack of advertising and big name brand Western goods that makes it clear it has not been fully overrun by Western capitalism which is something very difficult to find these days. For these and other similar reasons, travelers, such as myself, have been drawn to this country despite it being more difficult to travel in than many other places.

In many parts of SE Asia, tourists are catered to to such a degree that all anyone has to do is just arrive at the airport and from there they can go anywhere on a VIP bus to any number of high-end resorts (or, more likely, party scenes) and spend weeks in the region without really seeing any of its culture or having to do any thinking or planning for themselves. The original or traditional culture in such places has bent so much to accommodate the wants and desires of tourists that much of it seems lost or at least hidden away very well. In its place has developed a feeding frenzy to get the most tourist dollars a person can which sometimes includes an endless deluge of people asking you to buy the same crappy items every three minutes, constantly being approached by beggars, and ripping people off and scamming tourists. Foreigners are seen as moneybags who are meant to be hit up like a pinata every chance a person has to see if some money will fall out.

My hope in going to Myanmar was that this aspect of “development” wouldn’t have reached the country, and I’m very glad to say it hadn’t. The people in Myanmar still have a friendliness, purity and sincerity that is hard to find in modern and big city cultures. Unlike many other parts of SE Asia, when people in Myanmar talk to you, the vast majority of the time it is without an agenda and someone saying “Hi,” and asking “Where are you from?” is not the opening of a sales pitch but just a reflection of their curiosity about who is coming to visit their country. Every where I went – big city or small town – children would regularly run up to me just to say, “Hi.” They would then, just as quickly, say, “Bye,” all while waving their hands furiously and smiling. While this can happen in other places in SE Asia, it is almost always in remote, small villages that don’t get a lot of tourists.

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Travel Tips: Everything You’ve Read Is Wrong

Traveling in Myanmar is more difficult than many other countries in the region. While the trains run on time, they bounce, sway and rock violently and often times give you the feeling they’re about to go off the tracks. I literally had to tie my bags down to keep them from falling off the overhead luggage-rack. At another time, a train I was on crossed over a large bridge so slowly I could have literally walked it faster. Still, it’s a great way to see the vast countryside and some very small villages and towns.

Buses there have very odd schedules. Most long distance buses are overnight, which wouldn’t be such a problem except they will do bizarre things like leave a place at 7 pm only to arrive at your destination around 3 or 4 in the morning. The roads can also be bumpy and very swervey. I personally suggest paying a bit more to get a VIP bus when you can just to get a better ride and better sleep on an overnight trip.

There are also many slow boat options in the country. It can be expensive, but slow boats are a very relaxing and pleasant way to travel. However, the five day slow boat I was planning on taking had been closed to foreigners apparently due to fighting along the river banks. (I was lucky enough to find this out the day before I was going to head out to start that part of my trip.) Similar reports of random places, even by land, closing or reopening were frequent among travelers. Talk to your fellow travelers and always try to find people who have been to a place you want to go to make sure your travel plans are actionable.

Accommodations are not the cheapest in Myanmar. Hotels in Yangon start at 25$ which is a big jump up from the $10 a night you can easily find in the rest of SE Asia. While there are certainly places cheaper than 25$ in other parts of the country, they can be hard to find and are no where near as plentiful as Lonely Planet makes them out to be. I would suggest budgeting 15-20 dollars a night while there for rooms. Some days you’ll be under for sure, but some days you’ll be over. Hotel prices have gone up a lot in just the past two years and will likely continue to move that way. The best way to cut these costs is to find someone to share a room with. Also, with buses arriving at such odd times at night, this can create an extra problem: Some hotels will check you in right away if they have an open room and treat it all as one day. Others will, however, charge you for an extra half day. On the bright side though, every hotel, guest house and hostel offers breakfast but some places’ breakfasts are much better than others.

Another very important area where Lonely Planet is horribly outdated is that it is much easier to get money in Myanmar than it was just a few years ago. ATMs are everywhere and work just fine. You no longer need to bring in mint condition US 100 dollar bills which I broke my back trying to get in Bangkok just before my flight. However, if you do bring US cash, the banks and government exchanges offices give very fair rates and there is no need to go to the black-market anymore like LP suggests.

There also seems to be visas on arrival (VOA). I don’t know any details about this, but I did see a counter for it at the airport and several Westerners standing in line for it. Just Google it. If this is an option, it might be much easier than running back and forth to their embassy and might be cheaper than paying a travel agent to do it.

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Final Thoughts:

While I have no way to prove it, I personally believe that Myanmar is attempting to smartly develop their tourist industry and is trying to avoid becoming like certain other countries in SE Asia. To that end, the high cost of hotels, the complete lack of a party scene ( I averaged going to bed around 10-11 while there) and just the overall level of difficulty in traveling is all aimed at keeping out large numbers of tourists. There were plenty of wealthy tourists traveling or flying around the country to visit the ever-growing number of expensive resorts just like much of SE Asia. But gone were the budget accommodations, booze cruises and pub crawls that are common throughout the region.

Myanmar isn’t for flash packers, gap-year party kids or idiot travelers who can’t bother making any plans for themselves (save the very rich ones). The lack of these things showed in the quality of the travelers I met there. No one was there by accident or by way of lazy curiosity. No one was there because they had heard it was a “good party.” No one was there because it was effortless to get there. People where there with a real interest in seeing the country and the culture. They had detailed plans about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. And everyone really seemed grateful to being seeing this country before it gets further along on the path to integrating with the rest of the world.

What A Life – Incredible Tales From The Road

1 Feb

This is a guest post by Samy Amanatullah who has written two other brilliant guest posts for this blog HERE and HERE.

One of the Moustache Brothers

One of the Moustache Brothers of Mandalay

“What a life” was something we’d say when there didn’t seem like anything else to say.

The first time I thought this phrase the way I’d think it for the next few months, I was sitting across from a Thai cowboy. He wasn’t a real cowboy though he wore the hat. Cowboy is the name of his bar.

He sat with his wife, sipping and constantly refilling a glass of whiskey and soda, his wife sometimes going for more ice.

He left home at a young age and found work as a chef for the U.S.army, where he’d learned to speak English and cook western. Decades later, he opened a bar tucked into one of those smaller passageways that fit into the streets of Chang Mai.

It wasn’t the travel or the family or the decades of stories that put a “What a life” under my breath. It was his daily schedule. He woke up, cooked for the kids, opened the bar, closed it when he was tired, got drunk in the in-between. He considered himself a content man.

What a life.

The only other person in there was an old friend of the Cowboy’s—English, old and bald, speaking nonsense. He’d come to the table where we were sitting, try to speak, and be shooed away by Cowboy who was having none of it. He cleaned furniture for a living, and even if the booze hadn’t done him in that night, the decades working with chemicals had mushed his mind. He visited Thailand a few months every year. He didn’t have anyone back home.

What a life. In a different way.

There’s a tendency to be shocked by what you see and also by what you don’t notice anymore. “What a life” was a recurring thought, a response to the incredulous. The kids on the beach who build a bracelet on your wrist on the spot? What a life. The tour guide who points out his house and, without skipping a beat, points out the adjacent killing field where his family died? What a life. The tuk-tuk drivers, men in as many industries as they have fingers—pimps, drug dealers, tour guides, drivers, police informants, whatever else might be paying at the moment; the motobike taxis, who take the tuk-tuk drivers’ ambitions and prop it on a suicidal weave through big city traffic; their counterparts on trishaws, motos, and cyclos. The bar girls, young and thin and glossed with make up, looking for sugar daddies. The old men, fat and pasty and tall, looking for Thai “wives”. The women dressed to find a john. The men dressed as the women. The guys they let screw them and then rob.

What a life.

The old man in the sleepy tourist attraction town in Myanmar whose job it is to unclog my friend’s toilet, whose age suggests he’s lived through not just Cyclone Nargis, the riots and shootings of his country’s recent history, the release and many arrests of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, but also the inception of his country, its partition from India, even World War 2, who walks into my friend’s room, bucket in hand, ready for shit duty, and smiles.

What a life.

The old toothless woman who distills rice moonshine out of a shack and sells it for 50 cents a bottle. The Lebanese painter who describes this jetset “as his life” and then tells me about places I saw as a child and will never go back to. The journalists dancing on the riverside, on a brief vacation laughing, dancing, tripping when a few days ago they were in Egypt when Egypt was ousting its president. Mr. Lao Lao’s son, serving the hard drink on the river, his entire body drawn on with magic marker and dancing around the dock as the water rises, intoxicated foreigners all around him. What a life.

The Mustache Brothers (deserving of a blog post of their own), resigned to house arrest, performing the same show every night, its host smiling on cue, looking tired and weary when the spotlight’s on his brothers, who spent seven years in work camps doing hard labor for telling jokes (“Do you think,” my friend asks later, “that they ever just get the urge to go outside and dig a ditch?”), and the people you see from your bus window as you leave building a new pagoda in a country that uses forced labor and believes that building pagodas can offset bad karma. What a fucking life (apparently to be reincarnated in).

The crap police informants you notice following you, and the better ones you don’t notice. The kids hawking cheap wares and making rational arguments in your language as to why you should buy. The girls learning to balance baskets on their heads by practicing with bricks. The makeshift family that doesn’t sell anything and lives in a shack and plays their music on the beach.

What a life.

There’s the foreigner at a random train station. A volunteer English teacher in small town Thailand, younger than me, who’s almost on his way out, who will next walk the Camino de Santiago and follow that up with Burning Man, who admits that while it’s awesome that he’s based the rest of his year around festivals, what’s seems most important, most exciting is doing things with the people in his life he’s been away from.

And let’s not forget the animals: the monkeys and birds in cages and chains, doing the dance so their owners get money and they get snacks; the stray dogs wandering in packs, begging, roaming the car parks, the sole thing you see against the moon on the streets at night, battling amongst each other for turf, for fun, for a stick; the horses—the poor horses—marching through the heat, carrying at least two fat foreigners and the driver, in some towns the main source of transport and no other way about it but miserable. “What does the horse get out of it?” my friend asks as it steers us towards a semi-famous ruins site. Maybe something at the end. Maybe some sweet, sweet hay.

Then again, as someone suggests after a day spent wandering a village and drinking a tea-whiskey concoction that’s supposed to make us tired and healthy, what about us? What about we who go from place to place without any particular reason, acclimated to the long bus rides, the winding roads, the stenches and bathrooms that will never see porcelain? A little thing I found out was that almost every foreigner I met going through Southeast Asia kept with them sleeping pills for the long bus rides. So much so that in conversation it stopped being a question and became more of an assumption, something you’d compare or share as the novelty of going somewhere else faded into the reality of a bumpy, disorienting ride.

There are people who live in countries of tremendous beauty who have never gone the 50 miles between their home and that incredible beach or mountain because they can’t afford to, and we do it in a single run and we tell them about it and ask questions, and they smile and at least act like they’re happy for us. We who go just because we can, spoiled for travel, eating and drinking whatever and whenever we want, jumping out of planes and onto buses, living lives that are equally strange and infinitely more charmed, doing nothing as people ask, incredulously, as if they don’t understand, if we’re actually just going until we run out of whatever, no phone, no travel insurance, no plan.

What a life.

But, of course, it can’t last, and a little later, I can’t help but ask my friend if, when he returns to the states, he’ll just get the urge to go off and take a 14 hour bus ride. Imagine him seeking out the shittest bathrooms and the worst bus seat and soaking in the smells of being sandwiched between someone throwing up into a bottle on one side and someone spitting betel nut out the window on the other, thinking contently before the sleeping pills kick in that this, indeed, is the life.

Battling Rabies And Hanging Out With A UFO-Abductee

30 Jan

From riding in the back of an ex-army truck across Africa to battling rabies and drinking his own Urine, Irish travel writer and presenter Manchan Magan is not your regular D4 head!

He may have grown up in Donnybrook but he is living a life far removed from the world of Yummy Mummies. He could speak Irish before he could speak English and despite being the great-grandnephew of nationalist “The O Rahilly” he has always felt disconnected from Ireland.

“I never connected with the world I was brought up in and it left me feeling depressed in my teenage years”, he says.

He is talking to me via Skype from New Mexico, where he is currently helping with the Obama Campaign. Never a dull day I would say.

At the young age of 20 he embarked on a trip of a lifetime. He brings me back to a young, innocent Manchan Magan about to begin his first ever adventure; an epic six month trip from London to Nairobi in the back of an ex-army Truck with 18 unlikely adventurers from 2 privately educated schoolgirls to a locksmith who claims to be a UFO-abductee.

Magan holds back nothing when describing some of the hilarious, eccentric, and shady characters he travelled with, which he explains is why he waited nearly 20 years to publish it.

“When I was younger I preferred reading books that were honest so I like to be brutally honest about everything, whether I am writing about the terrible things I did in South America or the terrible things people did to me in Africa”.

On this first trip across the Dark Continent he encountered witch doctors, drug runners and missionaries. He talks about hitching with dessert nomads in Morocco to being stranded in the middle of the Congo with no food and no money. He was looking for some romance and compassion but all he got was an infectious disease.

“When I returned home with Bilharzia, the doctors here had never seen it before and were entranced by he tests”, Manchan recalls.

“The doctors in the tropical medical bureau out in Dun Laoghaire couldn’t hide their excitement. They seemed to forget my life was in their hands! A new cure had just been released and the Irish government was obliged to use me as a guinea pig to try in out and I was cured within days.”

As I listen to Manchan talk about his travels I can’t help but smile. I can immediately sense his passion and love for the places he has been. That is until I get him talking about his years at a student in UCD, where he studied Arts for 3 years.

“I promised my mum I would go back to College so it was only for her. I was disgusted by how little I had learnt in 3 years in UCD compared with everything I had picked up in Africa. It was my travel experience that created me!”

“The trip I enjoyed the most though was my time in Ecuador”, he tells me. As he reached the Valley of Longevity he realises he had reached a place he could call home. Here he settled down for 7 months where he worked at an organic health spa.

“I also had no choice but to stay put as the Doctors there were treating me for Rabies”. Honest as always.

From running a spa in Ecuador to living in a cave and befriending a gay Leper up in the Himalayas, Manchan has had no shortage of diversity in his life. It was here, high up in the mountains, that Magans brother Ruan came to rescue him.

“I was living the life of a Hermit and had lost all communication with the outside world. I had become delirious living on my own Urine so when Ruan came along with the camera it was the only thing I could talk to.” It was from here that Manchan Magan became the renowned travel presenter he is today.

Now a full-time writer, broadcaster and TV presenter he has a travel column in the Irish Times, regular slots on RTE radio and has made over 50 documentaries worldwide. Yet Magan says he is sticking to his Idealistic ways. He lives in a house made entirely of straw surrounded by his self planted forest in Co. Westmeath.

“I got the idea when I was living out in British Colombia for a few years. I needed to find what I connected with in life and ended up living in a hippie commune where everything was environmentally sustainable.”

I ask him his plans for the future, and he tells me he plans on following his heart…right back to Africa, where all this madness began over 20 years ago. Another crazy adventure awaits for Manchan Magan.

Dear Diary – Laughter and Crocodiles

3 Jan

I have to wonder sometimes why we put ourselves through hell, why I chose to endure sky rocketing temperatures, no electricity, no water and a culture unlike anything I have previously experienced rather than staying at home in Ireland like most sane people my age?! How is it that we can endure such body ache, such frustration, such pain and keep coming back for more? We don’t just simply give up and go home, we get knocked down but by God do we get up again!

I’ve always disliked fish and have been somewhat allergic to it, but today suddenly I pushed this knowledge aside as Beth, Kerrie and I  scrambled our way up the back of a moving lorry, almost over flowing with foul-smelling fish. A lorry we had to cling on to for our dear lives as it sped across the Northern Kenyan desert, as we sat on the roof top at laughing at our lucky escape from the hellish weekend we had just had.

But let me rewind…

We set off to the beautiful Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge for the weekend, which after a 2 hour bus ride and 7km walk across the desert surrounded by about 100 kids, we discovered had shut down about 5 years earlier. Thanks a lot Lonely Planet!! We were ‘befriended’ by a guide who turned out to be a dirty, rotten, cheating, scoundrel! We had to sleep the night on the beach,exposed to all the elements and who knows what else, drink dirty water and had nothing to eat but fish.

We were cajoled into risking  life and limb by getting into a dodgy ‘boat’, which was in fact more like a tree trunk, in gale force winds in a lake inhabited by the highest concentration of Nile crocodiles in the World! After much stress over money with Thomas our ‘guide’, miles of walking in the desert heat without food nor water, and losing all our cameras as they were flung overboard into the swelling waters… after all this emotion and stress, what did we do when the trip was suddenly cancelled? We laughed. Because nothing else could possible go wrong at this stage. We were in hell. We could have cried but instead we laughed, it could never get worse than this…or so we thought!!

Suddenly we are ‘obliged’ to pay Thomas for a trip that was cancelled and he runs off with all our money leaving us penniless! What do we do? We laugh again. It will be ok, we can survive this. We set off across the shores of Lake Turkana, angry, thirsty, hungry and a little faint from the heat. All is good though, we will be ok, we always are.

As we waded waist deep in water backpacks raised above our head, attempting to cross the channel – all the local children start screaming at us. ‘Crocodile, crocodile!‘ -Fuck. I swear my heart has never pumped so fast in my life. I stood, my feet glued to the river bed, my eyes darting in every direction, thoughts rushing through my head. We need to get back quick. We have one hour to walk 7km in order to get last bus from Kalikol to Lodwar. So fuck the crocodiles we are crossing this channel! We wade, one foot after the other, heart pounding, across the crocodile infested river – knowing if we can make it through this we can make it through anything. I can remember thinking if I would prefer to lose an arm or a leg and decided upon an arm…a frightening thought to say the least.

4km later, totally lost and literally dying of thirst at this stage (but happy to be out of the water) when suddenly a 4 wheel drive jeep comes driving by. Oh my god what a feeling! “We’re saved. I knew we would make it!”, I said to the girls! The jeep slows down and the front seat passenger winds down her window, looks us up and down then shouts, “Bye Mzungos!(white people) See you in Lowdar” and off they speed! If only you could have seen the look on my face as I collapsed into the sand, anger and delirium taking over as motivation to keep going faded away.

But what choice did we have but to laugh it off, and keep on going. We eventually made it to Kalikol and I have never been so grateful to be handed an ice cold bottle of coke and a plate of hot chips. So what if we were sitting on top of shit, in some guys hen-house surrounded by goats an other animals?!

Minutes later we were back on are feet and in search of the last bus to Lodwar…which, yup you guessed it, had departed minutes earlier. With no money and classes to teach the next morning we were starting to panic a little. And then we saw the truck, like a knight in shining armour, full to the brim with fish, and with a big smiley driver who welcomed us to climb aboard…by scrambling up the back of the truck and falling onto the piles of smelly fish.

We were alive, we were homeward bound and all we could do was laugh at the absolutely disastrous weekend we had just had.

Only in Kenya!

Dear Diary- Hello Kitale

23 Dec

Dear Diary,

Day of luxury-if the people back home saw us now they would laugh so hard! Taken straight out of a holiday brochure for spain- as one of the girls so nicely put it. We spent the day at the ‘Kitale Country Club’- swimming, sun bathing, chatting and laughing. Gazing up at a cloud covered Mount over the vast, beautiful golf course, spotting our first monkeys- over 30 of them!

As Lowdar was ‘out of water’-whatever that means- we have to stay  put here in Kitale until we are given the green light to continue the journey North towards Sudan. Fine with us if it involves lounging in the sun, getting a tan!

After 2 hours at the club and one very burnt Beth, we headed into town- a short 2km walk away. Greeted my endless children shouting ‘how are you FINE, how are you FINE?!’- I guess no matter where you go in Africa the children are the same friendly selves!

We found an internet cafe, checked our mail, bebo, the news and 1 hour only cost 60 cent! Brilliant!! After some shopping, befriending a local boy- ‘david’- whom we discussed Roy Keane, Ronaldo, Beckham and….Bosco with, we found a busy, wooden interior and exterior restaurant opposite the bus stop.

The menu confused us as everything was converted in cents. E.g Chips-30cent, Coca-Cola 20 cent. Were the exchange rates different here? NO! We got a drink each and chicken stew and pilau rice with beef (3 meals!) all for 4.40 euro! PLUS a complementary tossed salad from the owner-man was happy to see us I guess!

Back to the club for an afternoon tea (cough white wine!) for only 65 cent-it tasted kinda like banana-very weird- but I drank it anyway! Sister Geraldine (name changed for privacy reasons!) collected us and brought us home. Then the bishop collected her – off to watch the French Open- Oh how could she miss such a spectacle! She is some character it must be said! So straight forward and direct. “HAVE SOME TOAST GIRLS!” “GODFREY- GET SOME TEA!!” Right little gossiper she is too- always giving out about her italian friends drinking habits, other people stealing habits and how children are ‘forced’ into the catholic church even though they aren’t even Christian- SCANDALOUS! ;)

We played with Margaret, little girl named after Sister Margaret who delivered her to the hospital on day of her birth. We finished the day by watching Wimbledon and Bridget Jones Diary- jeez we are living the life of luxury!

Finally after 2 days in Kitale we have Sister Kathleen said we can go to Lodwar tomorrow. They have no running water at all but now have jerry cans to transport it around so we can survive with those. No showers for us for 2 months..this should be interesting! As weird as it sounds to be happy about no running water, it will be an experience of a lifetime and we are kind of sick of being pampered at this stage-we are ready to get down to work!

Even people here laugh at the mention of Lodwar…’it’s hot there you know, way hotter than here’, our waiter informed us today. Eeekkk Why do so many people seem to think we are crazy going to Lodwar? What is it going to be like…hot, we know that! No idea what to expect tomorrow- a bus or a matatu, a house or a hut, a town or a village?! Whatever comes,we’ll be ready.

When in Rome….I mean Kenya!

 

Bye Bye Kitale!

Guest Post 2: Notes from the Random

23 Jun

The mystery of the missing popcorn factory was hell on my feet.

Full Moon Festival by Day

The town of Hsipaw (pronounced See-paw) isn’t known for attractions. Mainly a starting point for trekkers, we’d gone there just to go. The popcorn factory stuck from a list of attractions that ranged from interesting to time killing, so it was on the road leading out of town, the temperature nearing 40 Celsius, when I began walking toward hell.

We’d inadvertently arrived the day of the Full Moon Ceremony, and after a night sleeping under our guesthouse stairs (the last affordable accommodation), we’d found transportation (a cross between a jeepney and a tuk-tuk), made it to a field massed with merchants and tents and a temple, ridden the one ride, toasted with rice wine, and, in my case, wandered off into a temple for some “peace of mind.”

Excluding the tastes of trekkers, who eventually don socks, flip flops are as much a part of the backpacker uniform as could be said to exist. They accommodate the Southeast Asian heat and cluster wherever there’s comfort—the legs of veranda tables, hostel entrances, beach eateries and bars.

For the past months, I’d sported a slick pair of flip flops I’d bought the first summer in Korea. Cloth-thonged with smooth black soles and an imprint of Africa (a reminder, I told myself when I overpaid for them, of where not to forget to go), they marked the rare occurrence of successful shoe-shopping in Asia, particularly for someone whose feet have been compared to those of clowns.

They were also the only pair of flip flops I’d ever owned, despite living in Southern California, where flip flops aren’t so much a uniform as the symbol of a state of mind, one I’d never been able to share (what with the Thursday to Sunday jaunts to another city or campus to see someone, some band, something, crashing on random floors, leaving before the sun came up or way too long after, or, later, splitting class with two jobs and always being on the way to somewhere else—a lifestyle accommodated by the close-toed and laced, forget slipping shoes on and off, I slept with them on), so my buy brought with it the lame feeling of late acceptance. Anyone who knows me (or read the other guest blog post) knows that stuff isn’t a big part of my life, but the right stuff can make a big difference.

—-

Back in Hsipaw, someone stole my shoes at the temple while I watched people lather Buddha with gold. You leave your shoes at one of the entrances of the temple, and I circled every one looking for the only pair of over-sized, black and red flip flops that could be at the festival. Then I walked back through the festival, hailed a jeepney/tuk-tuk, made my way through town, found my friends, had dinner, and retreated up the stairs into my room, barefoot.

I had, of course, been lucky till then. Four countries, and I’d not lost my shoes or had them stolen. This was uncommon. The fucking things are so popular because they’re so cheap, dispensable, replaceable. Drunk people confuse their shoes and take the wrong pair. I’d sat with people while their flip flops were literally taken from under, swiped from the pools of shoes at restaurant entrances.

Most Westerners shoe-shopping in Asia run into a problem at some point. If you’re in a small town, you might be out of luck finding your size. People have this problem in Korea, in China, in Taiwan, and I was in Myanmar, whose imports seemed to come mainly from Thailand and China. The biggest shoes were too small, and so began not only the hell but a cycle of loss and compensation constantly falling short.

—-

The popcorn factory had apparently shuttered for good. The only person who knew this and spoke English was a local monk. In consolation, he said that it had been a small operation and not much to see.

A couple weeks later, I left Myanmar. By then, the cheap plastic of the thongs had steadily and surely gashed my feet, scabbing the sides and the space between the big toe and its neighbor, red and blood melting with sweat and dirt air, and they continued to gash and tear at the scabs, reopening and gashing again and again.

That pair was stolen in a hostel in Taiwan the night before my flight. Broke and needing to compensate, I stole (or, karmically, traded for) a sleek black pair from the rack that turned out to be smaller and older. It not only continued the work of its predecessor but was also too short at the back and scratched the soles of my feet on the rough streets.

That pair made it through Songkran, the Thai New Year, where the streets flowed with water and clay washed off peoples’ faces and where this mud washed over the scab and gash (I thought of a friend who’d almost had her foot amputated when a foot wound set dirt into her blood). They were stolen from the pool of flip flops by the guesthouse door a few hours before my flight home.

So I compensated yet again, the same way I’m sure people are still compensating and have been and will continue to. After three flights and 13 hours or so of planes, the immigration officer’s “Welcome back” was a nicety paled by the pair of over-sized, almost comically large flip flops my ride put before me. There is some truth when people say that the little things are what matter in life. In my case, they scarred my feet.

If you’re hard-pressed to find my point, it might be because there isn’t one or because shoes and, more to the point, feet aren’t the stuff of stories. Over a fairly short period (4 months), I used various transport, and what stayed with me most was the feeling whenever you disembarked whatever plane, ferry, riverboat, skiff, random chunk of metal/wood with motor attached, bus, minivan, jeepney, taxi, tuk-tuk, motobike, elephant or horse-cart. In the end, you’re back to just standing there, knowing that you have to choose a direction and walk.

Has the Postcard become obsolete?!

7 Mar

If google was a slow as snail mail...

In this age of digital communication, from email and facebook to skyping home in the blink of a second, has the age old tradition of sending a cheesy postcard become obsolete?

I adore receiving postcards, sticking them to the side of my wardrobe or wall to dream of places visited or places yet to go to. I love sifting through all my old ones, as they help to jog my memory about friends past and present. Finding a dusty postcard sent from some back-arse-of-nowhere town in the middle of Ireland, from a friend who was probably just driving through on her way back to boarding school are always the best ones.

As much as I love receiving and collecting postcards, when it comes to sending them myself from my travels, to say I have been lacking would be a huge understatement.

While on vacation on the heavenly island of Boracay in the Philippines I could not help but buy a stack of stunning postcards to send home to friends and family. I wanted to let them know I was thinking of them and, of course, make them green with envy at the life I was living! Sure I bought them, and a few weeks later I wrote them (very clever and witty so they were), but you bet your money that they are still sitting at the bottom of my backpack (6 weeks later!!) and will sadly probably never see the light of day!

While I could make this post about a much deeper issue, one in which the written word itself is in decline, (with newspaper sales falling progressively and even the closure of post offices worldwide thanks to the increase in email and internet banking), however I would like to stay on point and simply look at the beloved postcard!

So now that everyone, no matter where in the world we are, from the deserts of Africa to the mountains of Machu Picchu, can easily access the internet to mail home or even skype their loved ones, is there really any NEED  to send postcards?

Nowadays the stamp is as, if not more, expensive than the postcard itself. And while picking up a handful of cards is easy, attempting to find a shop that sells stamps and a post office near the beach, or hiking trail or lake you are visiting may be a lot more challenging!

Do you appreciate a silly postcard full of cliched small talk about the weather is “simply beautiful” and how the place is “amazingly peaceful” and how your friend is having the “best time ever” blah blah blah…or would you appreciate an email, that will probably be a little juicier thanks to it’s more private nature and probably go into more detail as the sender does not have to squash all that they wish to tell you onto a tiny, crappy, rectangular piece of card?!

Amazing weather and it's just SO beautiful!

Or perhaps you would prefer to have quick chat with them over skype, see them face to face, laugh at their sunburn or their frizzy hair thanks to the awful humidity which you would never hear about it a postcard.

Even a txt message might be better, as you almost feel with the person as your phone beeps and up pops the message, “Lying here on the beach watching the sunset while sipping a pina colada out of a coconut, listening to some local rasta strum along a Bob Marley song…thinking of you”. Sure you’d be jealous but happy to know your buddy i=thinks so much of you that they interrupt such an idyllic moment to send you a message!

So I wonder, has the postcard become obsolete?! Or will the shiny little card with the often atrocious captions or ridiculous pictures (as displayed on this site HERE) always have a place in our hearts?!


International Adventurers: Polar Exploration

29 Nov

Ernest and Jonathan Shackleton

“By endurance we conquer”.

Ernest Shackleton

 

This year marks the Centenary of Irish expolorer Ernest Shackletons legendary attempt to reach the South Pole. His cousin, Jonathan Shackleton, talks about what it is like to walk in his famous footsteps and how polar exploration is more accessible than ever.

We are sitting in front of a cosy fire in Shackleton’s beautiful Co. Cavan home, surrounded by shelf after shelf of exploration titles and reference books. Shackleton, whose stands over six foot tall, is wrapped up in a thick, red, arran sweater, with a cup of hot tea resting in his weathered hands.

Having studied botany and natural history in Trinity College, he says his interest in the Antarctic started after reading about his cousin’s famous explorations combined with his love of wildlife and natural history. “I would find a lot of inspiration from the wildness and remoteness of the place,” he says.

With an apparent love of family history, he says he spends a huge amount of time researching the Shackleton family. Taking the famous saying, “You can’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been”” quite literally, he set off to discover the wonders of the Antarctic.

Jonathan Shackleton

“I find something very important about knowing that there are places where I have been and I have walked where he once walked too,” he says.

Along with his cousin’s photos and diaries, Jonathan also posseses Shackleton’s original Sled which he used on his Endurance trip. It was a pure coincidence that he came across it one day while in New Zealand.

A couple were auctioing off their house and belongings and in the midst of all the junk there lay the sled of his heroic cousin. He knew in his heart he had to buy in and had it shipped back to Ireland within days.

One of his most memorable moments was visiting Ernest Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia 10 years ago.

When I was there for the first time I was the very same age as he was when he died, only 47. It’s a fantastic setting – a beautiful island with snow covered mountains and glaciers behind all the graves. It’s a really great place for him to be buried.

“Most people in the graveyard are Norwegian whalers and most of them would have actually met Shackleton so they are probably chatting away underground now,” he says with a smile.

On that same trip he tells me that he managed to land on Elephant Island, the very place where Ernest Shackleton and his crew – including Kerryman Tom Crean and Corkman Tim McCarthy – landed in their rescue boat after their ship Endurance, was crushed in the ice.

He looks at his watch and tells me that they actually landed on this very day, the 14th April.

“Elephant Island is a shocking place. Really gaunt and grim. With sheer slopes and glaciers forming the backdrop, its very hard to imagine anyone surviving there for more than a few days yet Shackleton’s crew had to wait there for over 4 months,” he says.

Antarctic exploration used to be for strong, hardy men willing to endure extreme living conditions, illness, starvation and possibly death. Now, thanks to modern technology, the ships are equipped with satellite navigation, rescue helicopters and even the internet.

For the Millenium, Shackletons whole family flew down to the Antarctic peninsula where they celebrated the night in a hollow, collapsed Volcano.

“There were four ships inside this nine mile wide volcano – it was absolutely crazy. We had this amazing dinner followed by a concert given by The Chieftans, Diana Krall and Paul Simon. It was very weird!”

In 2001, Shackleton led the first ever group of Irish students to the Antarctic on a trip he says they will never forget. “Its left its mark on all of them forever. It is a very inspiring place.”

Along with nature lovers, scientists and students, he has also played host to people like Baroness Jay of Paddington- daughter of former British Prime minister Jim Callaghan and South African Poet Ian McCallum.

He tells me one of the most amusing people so far was Kenyan paleoanthropologist, Richard Leakey, whose family discovered the first Humanoid fossils in the world.

It was very fascinating hearing him talk about his views of the world.”

“Both Leakey’s legs were prosthetic,” Shackleton tells me, “and when he did his landing on the continent, he got out of the boat and you just saw these pale, bare legs, that would make you shiver just looking at them. Somebody said to me ‘why didn’t he put his socks on?!’ not realising that the legs were artificial!” he laughs.

Shackleton explains just how much things have changed in the last few decades.

“The real world is much closer now. Getting help is much more immediate and these trips are not as big a risk as they used to be. Back then there was no help and when the Endurance ship sank it took them more than a year to find it.”

Wildlife such as fur seals and penguin colonies, which now attract tourists to the Antarctic, were used for a very different pupose 100 years ago, Shackleton tells me.

I can’t remember reading any diary extract that mentioned Ernest commenting on the beautiful wildlife,” he laughs. “When they looked at an Emperor penguin, which I see as sacred, they saw 8 pounds of meat. It was a matter of survival.

“On South Georgia island alone there are about four million fur seals. In the 1930’s you would hardly find one. The sealers wiped them out for their fur skin,” he says.

At present there are more than 20 million penguins in the Antarctic, which act as one of the biggest temptations drawing Shackleton there. “They are very fascinating things. They are totally fearless. These three foot high birds just come up to you and peck at your boots. Then they just go away again,” he recalls.

“The birdlife is spectacular too,” he adds. “You are crossing the drake passage from Argentina into the Antarctic peninsula and you see these enormous albatrosses gliding around effortlessly. It’s a totally evocative sight. After Christmas you can see spectacular whaling sightings too; from humpback whales, minkies and the southern right whale to huge killer whales a short distance form the ship.”

Enticed by the wildlife, Shackleton has three more trips planned this year to see “the holy grail – Emperor penguins breeding on ice”. He also plans to visit King Penguin colonies in the Antactic peninsula and return to the grave of Ernest Shackleton for the third time.

In the mean time Shackleton continues to promote the life of his cousin and the Shackleton family through lectures, talks and guided trips to the Antarctic, and is hoping his book about the life of Shackleton will be a success. As the Shackleton Family motto goes, “By endurance we conquer”.

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