Shipping off to Thevenard Island

sea turtles nesting

green marine turtleOn Friday, this rugged adventurer and all-round dashing outdoorsman will be on Thevenard Island.

It’s my second adventure in marine turtle conservation, and the game has changed since last year’s West Pilbara Turtle Program.

If you have been following closely, you’ll remember that the threatened flatback is native to Australia, and nests only in Australia, and the martine turtle holds cultural, spiritual and economic significance to Indigenous Australians from coastal regions.

Thevenard IslandThevenard Island

Thevenard island is a nature reserve, home to the traditional custodians of the land for tens of thousands of years, and more recently home to decommissioned Chevron-operated Gorgon gas project (who fund the North West Shelf Flatback Conservation Program.)

The island is one of the important turtle nesting site for flatback sea turtles, and in addition to flatbacks this year there will be green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

As well as other marine life like dolphins and dugongs, but who cares about those when you are there for the turtles.

Adventure is out there

Not only are there different turtles to be seen, on this adventure the work gets more hands on, too. Activities include taking tissue biopsies and fitting satellite trackers, on top of the more-familiar track monitoring of nesting turtles.

I’ve completed my online training. I’ve had my medical assessment, I’ve borrowed a head torch, and I need to start packing my bags and arranging my journey to the airport for my 6am flight.

Unlike last year’s adventure, I’ll be working with other people, too — a new challenge of its own. While other adventures, like the ones in Peru and Norway, involved other people I wasn’t working in a team. I was more of a team with my sled dogs in the Arctic than I was with the other people on the expedition.

You know it’s a good adventure when I’m feeling nervous about it. That means I’m getting out of my comfort zone.

Down in the Sand

Bells Beach timeline

Bells Beach in Point Samson doesn’t show up on Google maps. After several attempts to reach the beach that hit private roads or entrances to mine sites, I arrived at the sand of a pristine and deserted shore.Boat beach, Point Samson

Shortly after sunrise, I was met by the program coordinator where we assembled with the other trainee volunteers.

You see, one does not simply just walk onto a beach and start monitoring marine turtles. Or, in this case, their tracks. It takes training.

Training starts with a hidden backpack. A backpack for volunteers inside a locked metal box. Hidden behind a sign. The backpack contains essential items including a clipboard, sheets of paper for recording turtle activity, a GPS tracker, a tape-measure and other important items.

It turns out Bells Beach wasn’t the pristine beach, but instead about a 10 minute walk away over sand dunes, hills, and long grass.

Our very first job on the beach involved a large stick.

One of the most important things with tracking the activity of marine turtles is being able to distinguish what is new and is old activity. To do this, you need to establish a timeline in the sand.

To establish a timeline on a beach, a volunteer takes the stick and marks a line in the sand over the top of the line drawn the previous day. Any tracks that cross over the top of the previous day’s line are new. The fresh line drawn resets the timeline for the next day.

What happens when you find a fresh track? That’s where the items in the backpack come in useful.

Turtle Tracks

First, turtles leave two tracks: an emerge track and a return track. The names are quite self explanatory: when the turtle emerges from the ocean and leaves a track up the beach that is the emerge track. As the turtle returns to the ocean it is a return track.

Telling the two apart is vital for finding if a turtle has nested, and for a new volunteer this means getting down in the sand. Because of the way turtles almost swim through the sand, they push the sand behind them.

Why care which track is which? Turtles don’t necessarily decisively emerge from the ocean, make a nest, and then return. Sometimes they might try digging several pits for nesting. Sometimes they will traverse about the beach before returning to the water. If you follow their emerge track you could be led on a wild goose chase. Or, in this case, a wild marine turtle track.

By following their return track, you find their last activity. A turtle doesn’t nest and then wander about for a while longer.

West Pilbara Turtle Program volunteersAs volunteers, we then had to identify the breed of turtle whose tracks we had found. This is where the tape-measure would come in useful — to distinguish a flatback turtle from a loggerhead, green or hawksbill turtle. Each turtle leaves different tracks, which also differ in size — so when in doubt, down in the sand you go.

Nine times out of ten, the turtle is a flatback on Bell’s Beach. 100% of the turtles I recorded on the beach were flatback, but just the same — you have to be sure.

False Crawl

With a turtle identified by breed, we had to record if it nested. A false crawl is when a turtle emerges from the ocean, and doesn’t nest — for whatever reason. Sometimes a turtle might start to dig, hit a root or a rock and be put off. Sometimes a turtle might just not feel like. Sometimes a turtle could get spooked, and be frightened away before they lay their eggs.

But sometimes, a turtle did nest…

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Hyden Seek

Wave Rock, Hyden

Ever seen a wave that’s 15m high and over 100m long?

It was a long weekend in Western Australia for Anzac Day, so with a few friends I took a road trip to a town called Hyden — and to the iconic Wave Rock.

Wave Rock is about 350km east from Perth, out in WA’s wheatbelt. You can do the drive in about four hours, but if you want to see anything of Wave Rock and the surrounding area, it’s best to take an overnight trip, making some stops on the way.

Getting out of the city always excites me, there’s so many new places to see and the way the empty road stretches out in front of you seems like a red carpet, or an invitation. With WA, the desire to get in your car and just drive and drive and drive is a real possibility — and that’s just going north. Imagine if you pointed the car east and just kept driving.

Our first stop on the journey to Hyden was the town of York, and calls itself the oldest inland town in Western Australia. Whether that is true, or true depending on a certain definition, I’m unclear.

York

York, WA
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:York_WA_town_hall.jpg

York is a beautiful historic town with some original architecture and heritage buildings dating back to the gold rush.

If you’re ever passing through, it’s a good place to stop or to visit for a few hours. You can have lunch at a local cafe and have a look around the town, it’s one of those places that could use your tourist dollars now there’s little to be made from traditional agriculture.

Corrigin

Statue to acknowledge the world record convoy of 1527 utes with dogs, Corrigin WA
source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corrigin_dog.jpg

After a short break in York, and a visit to a local bakery, we pushed on: to another notable town, a placed called Corrigin.

As difficult as it may be to believe at first, Corrigin holds  the world record for ‘the most dogs in a ute’.

It may sound incredible, but this WA town took the title back in 2002 with over 1,500 dogs in utes.

I’m presuming that’s separate utes, not one ute piled high with 1,500 dogs. The town even has a statue to commemorate the historic event. It also has a large pet cemetery, but that didn’t seem like such an important thing to visit.

Hyden

Wave Rock, Hyden, WAIf Corrigin seems like a difficult place to beat, even if you don’t see any dogs in utes, then the only thing left to do is keep pushing on to Hyden.

While the town of Hyden might not have historical, heritage buildings, or world records for dogs and utes, it does have a big draw: Wave Rock.

Big is the word for Wave Rock: it’s nearly 15m high and over 100m long. And yes, it kind of looks like a crashing wave, appropriately enough for Western Australia.

Some people think I’m slightly crazy for wanting to drive for nearly 4 hours and stay overnight in a motel in a country town just to see a rock. I think those same people are slightly crazy to prefer to spend that time watching sport on television.

Hippo's Yawn, Hyden, WAWave Rock isn’t the only thing to see in Hyden, either! So don’t think it’s a wasted road trip, and that all there is to do is look at this one rock.

There is also the Hippo’s Yawn: a short walk through the bush from wave rock. Hippo’s Yawn is a rock that’s over 12m tall that kind of, maybe, looks a bit like a hippo’s gaping mouth.

Once inside the mouth of the “hippo” if you’re so inclined you can climb and wriggle through gaps in the rock to get on top of the rocks behind it, for a view of the surrounding area.

Another “must see” place in Hyden is Mulka’s Cave. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much — not after Wave Rock and Hippo’s Yawn. But, much like with people and a Kinder surprise, it’s what’s inside that counts. What some of the legends about a child-eating cannibal don’t tell you is that inside the cave are original hand prints and paintings on the rock. That kind of thing always excites me more than any footy game on television ever could.

You don’t need much more than 24 hours in Hyden — and technically you could do Wave Rock in a day, if you wanted an 8-hour round trip, but it’s worth taking your time, stopping on the way, and getting a room at the Wave Rock Motel.

Traversing Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Adventure is out there.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53197929@N00/6641930801/

I’ve been talking about a new “big” adventure for a while. It’s been more than three years since I was in the Arctic Circle, and while moving to Australia and completing the country’s highest urban abseil have kept me occupied, I need a real adventure like drop bears need warm human blood.

The good news is, I know what the adventure should be. The bad news is, there’s a high barrier to entry.

First: the adventure. The Costa Rica traverse is a 12-day journey crossing the Latin American nation on foot, by kayak, on bicycle and by raft — distinguishing it immediately from my hike to the lost city of the Incas, and a world apart from driving a pack of huskies across Norway’s frozen tundra — making it easily my most ambitious adventure yet.

sea kayaking

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a expedition for the faint-of-heart. There are full days of hiking, days of nothing but cycling, and days split between activities — such as rafting and cycling, or cycling and sea kayaking.

I haven’t cycled anywhere in years, haven’t hiked seriously since I was in Peru, have never set foot in a white water raft, and my one and only experience with sea kayaking was a recent trip to penguin island [aside: it’s opportunities like that I live for in Australia].

These days, I keep myself in something vaguely resembling a state of fitness, even without a specific adventure to train for — on a good week I visit the gym several times a week in the mornings before work, and add on a couple of trips to the rock climbing wall. To get myself to the required level of fitness for this adventure I am going to have to add at the very least swimming and cycling to my weekly routine.

I’m presuming lack of experience kayaking and rafting isn’t good to be an issue, like a lack of experience with a rickety wooden dog sled wasn’t in Norway. This kind of training is all part of the adventure, though — it’s not fun like the adventure itself, but feeling yourself getting fitter and stronger and knowing what you’re training for is almost an adventure in itself. Almost.

There is a dark cloud hovering over the whole adventure, however, and why I haven’t yet registered.

While there is a fundraising element to it, this is quite modest and something I could achieve without too much hassling of friends and family for donations, a bigger barrier to entry is not having the funds to pay to sign up. Without even including flights from Perth to San Jose, or additional costs, I need $3,600. And I don’t know how to find it.

Costa Rica Traverse

In previous adventures when there’s been large sums needed to be raised, the full amounts were going to charity — making it slightly easier, because I could spend entire days standing in train stations with collection buckets, or organise fundraising quiz nights. This doesn’t work when all the money is going to you: or to the trip organisers, via you.

I have considered crowd-funding the adventure through the usual websites, but get stuck on the question what’s in it for anyone else? I’m taking suggestions here, and welcoming feedback: how can I raise this money, or what can I offer sponsors in return for donating towards it?

The Successful and the Passionate: An Interview with Therese Hansen

imageIt seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.

Today we talk to Therese Hansen about living small and travelling.

Therese is a Computer Scientist, Programmer, Blogger and Startup Weekend Mentor. On top of this, Therese is also the co-founder of Monzoom, and the woman behind xiive.com (the social media filtering site) and rouqk.com (analyzing Twitter every 20 minutes).

Therese’s passion is for travelling and living small. Therese says the two go together pretty well with her professional life as a entrepreneur, but they are her passion and she would be doing it even if she wasn’t a successful entrepreneur.

Therese, you tell me that your passion for living small started when you and your husband moved in with your father when you were 30. What prompted you both to quit your jobs and work full-time on your professional passions in this way?

My husband and I were part of a Startup Weekend (weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas are viable) in our then-home town of Aarhus. That weekend we met other entrepreneurs, worked on something we were passionate about, and were injected with the entrepreneurial spirit.

It was a transforming experience, and we decided halfway through the weekend that this was the kind of thing we wanted to do full-time. We both had well-paying jobs in IT, so we had quite the nice buffer of money saved and after that weekend we started talking about how to stretch our savings so we had as much time as possible before we had to make money from our new company.

My father was living alone in a really big house at the time, and he had an unused attic as big as our apartment, and when we told him our plans he invited us to stay with him. My father was also an entrepreneur, though with a physical shop, and so was his father, and my great-grandfather.

It runs in the family, and I think my father was quite happy to learn that I had the startup-spirit as well. With the support of our family and a lot of great feedback from our social circle we decided to do it.

Alongside this another side of the story developed. I was stressed out from commuting 4 hours a day to and from work, and sometimes staying in hotel rooms alone to avoid the long commute. The Startup Weekend woke me up to see that there are other ways to live.

You mentioned to me beforehand that your travels to date have so far mostly been to Asia, with cheap trips also within Europe. Can you tell me about your first trip — or about a particularly memorable trip?

Our first long trip took us to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur, Krabi, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and then home. We were travelling for 7 months and loved it. I learned a lot about myself and my husband on that trip. It changed our view on our daily life.

Anyone who travels a lot will tell you that seeing how other cultures organize themselves and what they hold as truths will make you do some introspection and question the things you take for granted.

It also inspires you. Nothing compares to the freedom you feel when you know you only have the things in your suitcase (we are too old to be backpackers). You can’t spend a lot of money because if you buy new things you will need to discard something old to be able to still carry your things with you.

As an entrepreneur, when you are travelling have you found there are marked differences to how you are received in different places to how you are at home?

I wouldn’t say that I know how it feels like to be received as an entrepreneur in different cultures because it has never been something we told people. We always just say “we work in IT” and the response you get for that is not much different in Thailand to what we hear in Denmark.

In what ways has living small changed life for you and your husband? What impact has it had on your outlook on life?

Living from a suitcase and living on a small budget has changed a lot of things for us. We are able to support ourselves by doing relatively little paid work. Our budget requires us to work 2 days a week on paid work and we can do what we want with the rest of the time.

It turns out what we want is to work some more on getting our own products out there, and I can’t say that that was what I had predicted when we started cutting back on spending.

I have had a lot more mornings waking up and thinking that I’m too lucky after we made this change in our life. In the old days I would work hard to earn a lot of money to spend on expensive clothes and gadgets and now my clothes and gadgets are mostly packed away and my newest dress cost 150 Thai Baht (about 30 DKK, $5 USD, £3.50 GBP or €4 Euro).

I do not spend a lot of money, but when I do, I spend it on things that will make it easier to travel. My latest purchase was a foldable whiteboard – something we really have missed while travelling. I have a whole new outlook on spending and consuming. “Do I really need it?” is the one question I have with me all the time – not “Do I want it in this second?” which were my old criteria for shopping.

You tell me that living small and travelling go well with your professional life as a entrepreneur. Can you tell me about the benefits and challenges your lifestyle has had on your professional life?

The benefits are simple. I don’t have to spend a lot of time making money to put food on the table, because my expenses are low. That allows me to create the products that I want to make and not focus on the profit from day one. My priorities are different.

The challenges I have faced while travelling have been relatively small. We couldn’t go to a certain island because the internet connection was not good enough for us to work. We can’t meet with customers in person when they are in Denmark and we are in Thailand. My professional network in Denmark is shrinking because we are not there a lot of the time and I have to use a lot of time online to keep it.

Cutting back on expenses also means a lot of public transport and that makes it a bit difficult to get places to meet with customers. It also takes a lot of time to save money.

What are the top pieces of advice you would offer to others who wanted to start living small but are unsure how to break the cycle of always collecting more “stuff”?

Start with changing your thinking. Brand “collecting stuff” as something undesirable in your head. Stop and think before you buy. Do an experiment: don’t buy anything for a week (except food) and when you get tempted, write it down. If at the end of the week you can’t live without the things you have written down then buy it; my guess is that you won’t miss anything on the list.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time? Do you and your husband plan to always keep travelling, or do you think you might travel less while still living small?

When my father died last year we reexamined our priorities. Yes, we do want to keep travelling, but we will probably do it less because of our business and how it is changing.

I really don’t want to spend another winter in Denmark, ever, so that means that we have to make plans for the period of November-March in another country: with the exception of Christmas. Our mothers don’t allow us to travel on Christmas; we did it one year and they missed us too much.

Living small is now part of who we are. Even if we were millionaires we wouldn’t change much about our current lifestyle. My attitude towards my mindless spending can’t be changed back. I think collecting “stuff” was weighing me down mentally, and I will never go back to that life. Now the top of my priority list is the people around me. Material things has never meant less to me than they do now — it is a learned mindset. Less is more.

This attitude has seeped into all parts of my life.

For example, we launched our company website (monzoom.net) a few weeks ago. The website is one page, and it only has the things on it that our customers asked for. Not the many, many things we could tell about ourselves, but the things that are needed.

You can almost see the change in our mindset in the products that we create.

In our first product, xiive.com (search and statistics about keywords across social media sites), we put in all the features we could think of. Now we create apps and websites that are small and with only a handful of features – and we invite people into the process, not just to see the result.

Other than your work, travelling and living small, do you have any other passions?

I do genealogy as well, but that is a relatively new passion of mine, so there’s not much to tell yet. Although I did find out that my family has blood ties to the Danish royal family far, far back, but this is something I probably share with most Danes :)

Right now I live in a small Danish city where I have found family members all the way back to the year 1600.

Therese is now a mentor at Startup Weekend, and recommends the experience to anyone who thinks they might have entrepreneurial blood. Therese would also like to invite anyone with an interest in travels, entrepreneurship or social media to connect with her on LinkedIn dk.linkedin.com/in/theresehansen
or twitter @qedtherese
.

A chilly city suits a troubled soul

Landing in Berlin, it was almost as if I had never left London.

London had been grey and cold when I left, and Berlin’s airport looked just the same. Even the snow could have been explained if you’d told me we’d taken off from London and circled for 90 minutes — during which time it had snowed.

But from the air I’d seen towns and half frozen lakes, instead of the sprawling English home counties and the city I call home.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think all airports do look the same — from my limited experience, I have found airports in places like Scandinavia and Switzerland to have very different personalities to those of Italy and Spain. In a very generalised way about the characteristics of those nations, perhaps.

Berlin airport was confusing, there was no obvious place to go at first for taxis and being a stranger in a strange land I didn’t know what the procedure or etiquette was. Outside there seemed to be plenty of taxis, and some unmarked cars that may or may not have been taxis, and a guy who seemed to maybe be trying to get people into taxis, but it didn’t seem very efficient, or very German.

Instead, I wandered around inside the airport looking for an information desk. There they told me what area to go for taxis, and the leaflet that said not to go anywhere else.

Clearly, there are phrases I need to learn in every language. Things like “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” (je suis désolé, je ne comprendes pas), “I would like a taxi”, or “I don’t remember, I was very drunk”. The only drawback is when you can ask questions in another language, you need to be able to understand the answers. It was very well for me in Paris to be able to ask “Where is…?” but if you don’t understand when someone answers, you just simple stupidly, and walk away none the wiser.

I’m here for MongoDB Berlin on Monday and Tuesday, then I have Wednesday to myself to explore the city and learn a little about Berlin, before returning home on Thursday. Since my hotel reservation is only until Wednesday, I am staying one night in an apartment I found on Airbnb. Since Lisbon, and the charming Portuguese family I lived with, I have learned to search for whole apartments. Though I did enjoy in Lisbon being fed, being shown around the city, and taken out for Gelato, so maybe there is something to be said for just booking a room.

I hope to update several more times while I’m in Berlin!

By Any Means Necessary (the adventure dream)

The Americas

The Americas
Image source: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Americas_satellite_map.jpg
For some time, in my head I’ve an idea for an adventure.

It’s been there, in some dark corner, getting kicked about occasionally like a half-deflated football.  I’ve been wondering about a trek covering the entire length, top to bottom, through Central and South America — taking in the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas along the way, as well as the cities, towns and scenery.  I have no idea how long such an adventure would take,or  how possible it could be — let alone how to even begin funding something like that.  So it’s stayed as the half-deflated football — it comes out occasionally when I’m bored, and I try to kick around for a while, but give up before too long.

Then, last week, the idea evolved.

I read a BBC News report about Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his upcoming record-breaking attempt at an Antarctic expedition.  The story asked if there are any real adventures left: now the highest peaks have been climbed, the oceans explored (apart from their depths), and everything available to view on Google Earth.  As a side note, I remember one day at an early age telling my Dad that I when I grew up I wanted to be an explorer.  He let me down gently, but told me there wasn’t anything left to explore: all the lands were discovered, and the maps published.  I guess the Queen of Spain will never give me a fleet of ships to seek out new lands.  The BBC article also asked people to respond with what they thought, what adventures could be left — I wondered myself if adventures couldn’t be had (or records broken) with time constraints.

Oh, sure, you can circumnavigate the globe — but how quickly can you do it?

Then that old half-forgotten idea of the Americas adventure resurfaced, but this time I had another thought relating to it.  Thankfully, not about how quickly such an adventure could be completed (which with my flat feet and no sense of direction couldn’t ever be quickly) but since at the time I was enjoying Canada so much I thought “Why not include North America?”.  And I came up with the adventure I am calling “By Any Means Necessary”.  Like the Arctic Adventure (or “Jay and the Great Arctic Fundraising Challenge” to give it the full title) and “The Year of the Dragon”, it’s important to start an idea for an adventure with an interesting title: it saves time when you commission a book deal later on.

The adventure involves a journey through North and South America, from Alaska to the southern most tip of Argentina, by any means necessary.  It could involve hiking, dog sledding, snow mobiling, travel by motorbike and perhaps even kayaking — pretty much whatever options were open, so long as there’s no cheating and taking a bus or train for several days.  At some points, I recognise, it might occasionally be necessary to include something more robust — since it isn’t meant to be a survival challenge, but as I say it would be cheating to take a bus through a whole country.

Right now this is just a silly dream.  I have no idea how long something like that would take, or if it would even be remotely possible for a number of reasons: like how would I ever fund or equip such a journey, what employer would ever give me the time off from a job to pursue it, let alone who could possibly want to stick around in my life while I disappear for however-long chasing such a crazy adventure. And most of all: is it even physically possible to do it at all?

I really really don’t want to go ‘back to sleep’ and forget about this idea, or have it be a story I tell, or a dream I have that’s never realised (“Oh, have you heard about Jay’s crazy dream of an adventure?  Tell them about it, Jay, it’s really funny, he’s been talking about this for years…”) but right now I see no way to even approach getting it started.

The Niagara Adventure

Horseshoe Falls

Niagara Falls: the Horseshoe FallsNiagara Falls is apparently the biggest tourist attraction in North America, and one of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations.  We were in town for a friend’s wedding, where I had been asked to be best man.  Last year, when Calvin told me about the upcoming wedding he asked if it would be possible for me to make it out to stand by his side.  It’s not often I can claim the title of “best” anything — so I readily accepted and told him he could count on me being there. I would make it happen, somehow, some way.

The Canadian adventure began in Toronto last week, and after three days in a spacious downtown apartment in the city the girl and I braved Ontario’s public transport to get to Niagara Falls, where we were booked for a week in a motel.  We arrived early evening, and just after my friend Calvin had finished work, so he was able to pick us up at the bus stop and ferry us to the motel.  As he dropped us off, he made clear we were invited over to his house for dinner as soon as we were unpacked and left us with directions to get there.

I was asked yesterday what — aside from being best man at my friend’s wedding — my “favourite part” of my time in Niagara Falls had been.

As a tourist, there is lots to keep you enthralled and I think the girl and I must have seen the Horseshoe falls (the most famous of the three waterfalls) about every way it was possible to do so, short of going over it in a barrel.  We saw “Niagara’s Fury” a 4D experience exploring (largely in cartoon form) the creation of the falls, we rode the Maid of the Mist boat into the spray of the Horseshoe Falls, we explored the tunnels and saw the the thundering water from behind the falls, we got alongside the raging (and sometimes deadly) rapids downstream on the white water walk, and even saw the falls and rapids from above on a helicopter flight and the Whirlpool Aerocar.

There was a lot to choose from.  They were probably expecting me to answer with one of these amazing things you can do, but really the best part for me in Niagara Falls was the people.

The Whirlpool Aero car, designed by Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres QuevedoAlmost without exception, everyone we have met and spoken to in Canada has been amazingly friendly and nice — but in Niagara Falls our friends and their families made us feel so incredibly welcome, and loved.  The people took hospitality and friendliness to whole new levels, to the point of telling us to consider ourselves as their family.  More than any memorable flight in a helicopter, or leisurely walk alongside raging river rapids, long after my pictures have faded or lost the anecdotes attached to them, we will remember the warmth and kindness of the people we met on this trip.

One of the most common threads in my travels and adventures is that people the world over are generally nice.  Watching the news or reading the papers, you can get a distorted of the world and think that people are angry and selfish and fearful — but everywhere I go, people along the way are kind and welcoming, and nowhere has been more so than in Niagara Falls.  This morning, checking out of our motel, the girl and I were sad to be leaving — if we could, we’d have loved to stay among these people, but more adventures await, and no doubt there are yet more lovely people waiting out there.  But for now, there has been a heap more added to our Christmas card list.

5 days in Munich

The sun sets in Munich after the rain has clearedAlternate blog post title: “Hamburger! Der Grundstein eines jeden nahrhaften Frühstücks!”

On Wednesday night in Munich, I was sat outside in a movie-theatre-cum-restaurant.  All of the menu was film-themed, I chose a hamburger and because of my love for Pulp Fiction I chose the Big Kahuna Burger from what was on offer.  Except the waitress corrected me: it was not Big Kahuna it was Big Kahlúa.  I had a feeling the restaurant had confused Pulp Fiction with The Big Lebowski, but ordered the burger anyway.

Fortunately, it did not contain Kahlúa.

I’ve been in Munich since Sunday, for a conference about Drupal — it’s my first time in both Munich and Germany.  I should get extra adventurer points for visiting two new cities in the space of two weeks, and points for visiting a new country.  I deliberately booked a flight out of London early Sunday evening so that I would have time to go to my Dragon Boat training in the morning, and still get home, showered, changed and to the airport.  I’m reluctant to let things get in the way of my Dragon Boat, although it isn’t always easy.

(As a brief aside, the Dragon Boat training is coming along well — I have been to half a dozen training sessions so far, and I will be taking part in a regatta in London at the beginning of September.)

London was in the grip of a heatwave last weekend, and my journey to Heathrow was too hot as I was overdressed as normal, hoping that dressing smartly would possibly get me upgraded.  As with Dublin, there was just enough time between checking in and walking to the gate before boarding, but I should have checked in online earlier in the day — I was stuck in the dreaded middle seat, with no others available to change to.  The plane sat on the tarmac for way too long, it was stuffy and hot and the air blowers overhead seemed to only blow warm air.  The captain made some announcement, but it sounded something like there was engine trouble, which sounded worrying and couldn’t possibly have been right.  Eventually we were on our way, the blowers started blowing cold air, and I went to sleep as usual — though the person next to me woke me up when the cabin crew brought some food or pretzels round.  I refused them and went back to sleep.  It’s quite a talent to be able to sleep when your flight is only an hour.

As we began to descend on Germany, I was looking across past the man in the seat next to me and down onto the fields of Bavaria.  I can’t remember what the man said to me any more, perhaps it was just “Look, it’s Germany” — but I do remember thinking he was right, in his own stating the obvious kind of way.  I enjoy landings more than take offs, just for the view — you seem to be below the clouds for a lot longer, and I like looking at the land.  I get a strange sense of peace looking at the cars with people going about their daily lives, oblivious or indifferent to the plane overhead — just like I am every day.  I also like the contrast of how different countries look from above.  Returning to England, I never fail to be struck at how green it looks.  Germany seemed to be a country of autumnal colours — yellows and oranges and browns.

In Munich airport it occurred to me that this was the first time I had ever been in a non-English speaking country on my own.  While there would be colleagues at the conference, I was on my own until then — and my heart started to beat a little faster when I remembered that I don’t speak a word of German.  My brain would unhelpfully dredge up Italian, Spanish and French phrases I’ve learned when faced with the indecipherable signs.

Dramas were all averted despite this — I bought a drink of water, collected my bag and even got a taxi.  Although my white-haired taxi driver and I had a few minutes of language barriers, as I pronounced “Westin Grand” with a “W” rather than as a “V”.  We drove in silence for the 45 minutes to the hotel, until we had almost arrived when he attempted to tell me in what little English he knew that the Audi he was driving was new, although it was not his own car.  I tried to be polite and tell him it was a very nice car.  He unloaded my luggage, gave me the long bag containing the pop-up banner I’d brought for the conference and attempted to ask me if I was a snooker player.  He also asked if I was American.  He’llA beer garden in Munich be writing in his taxi driver blog about the silent American billiards player that was his fare.

In the days that have followed I’ve spent all of the daytime working — on our conference stand, doing the usual marketing thing.  The evenings have been spent doing things like visiting German beer gardens.  I imagine a beer garden to be like in an English pub: a small garden or just a pub car park with a dew tables outside.  In Munich, the beer garden we went to seemed to be an entire town square just filled with people: sitting, drinking, eating, talking.  I read somewhere it could hold up to 700 people.  The other nights of drinking aren’t worth going into detail about: there was the pub meetup of the UK Drupal people: they said they’d found a British pub. It wasn’t, it was an Irish-themed bar.  But it was fun all the same.  We came in to this post at the outside cinema/restaurant: something London could do with — and we’ll leave there, too.

There had been thunderstorms predicted for days, that never arrived.  Tonight after several days of heat, it finally rained.