Earth Expeditions by Amanda King

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Welcome to Earth Expeditions – this site is all about Exploration, Adventure Travel and Wildlife from around the World.

For a complete collection of gallery photography from Antarctica to The Amazon please go to: http://www.amanda-king-akimages.com

For travel stories and some hair raising experiences please read on, in a nutshell: following an expedition that did not go according to plan I found myself in a survival situation living largely on my wits out in Costa Rica (read on below) and it was this that led me to a lust for more adventures.

A video extract of some amazing parts of the planet in under a minute:

I will start off with a little background on what led me to an ever-growing passion for photography, wildlife and adventure travel to some rather remote parts of the World.

Back in 2008 I joined a voluntary conservation program in Costa Rica, however things did not go according to plan out there and I found myself with no money, no food and no water and the task of getting myself across country without these vital necessities.

As with any adventure there was danger, I escaped a gang of machete men by outrunning them through the forest and many other hair raising things happened which have all been diarised and I am writing these out as a book, which I hope to get published one day.

Eventually I ended up staying in a hut at the edge of a forest and having struggled to find food, had to rely on a group of monkeys who would hurl mangoes at me whenever I got too close to photograph them, natural rain water would be collected from the many upturned plants which were like natural goblets.

I was rather skeletal at the end and reading back through my diaries had some dark days where I had to fight off the constant misery of insect bites, I had also never experienced such intense hunger, it never left me while I was out there giving a constant, nagging pull in my stomach.

However, in my time spent there I got to see such diversity in the rain forests and cloud forest photographing and documenting insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds, it was a naturalists dream albeit a hungry one!

Below is a little more detail on my time with the monkeys:

Monkey magic

How did it get to this? I went from being part of a conservation group working as a team to roaming the forests of Costa Rica alone with no money and down to just one small tin of tuna per day. I soon found myself to be consistently hungry and it became a daily challenge not to keep thinking about food. In fact it became like a game to force myself not to think about it and just ‘get through the day’.

The frustration was that there were mango trees in the area, but the fruit I sought was too high up and I could not get to it, I tried throwing sticks; but to no avail. I tried to think of other ways to get these mangos; but came up with nothing.

However, the unexpected twist in fate that had led me to this situation gave me something really special; time to experience the rainforest and its wild inhabitants in close proximity.

The sounds of the rainforest were enchanting to me; from eerie bird calls to the singing of tree frogs accompanied by the percussion like clicking sounds of the insects and waking up to the loud growls of Howler Monkeys at dawn fast became my natural alarm call.

I soon learnt that the sound of rain meant not only water for my bottles outside the hut, but it was also a signal to run out there and let the rain sooth my mosquito bites, of which I had many, this was natures way of cleansing me for the day.

Watching the behaviour of the wildlife in the area I realised that they too had their daily routines; a group of White Faced Capuchin Monkeys would habitually pass by my hut, moving from tree to tree at around 16:00 hours followed closely by a group of Howler Monkeys.

I quietly followed these two diurnal groups of monkeys with my camera and took pleasure in photographing them at play; a few of the females had babies on their backs and would leap, launching themselves from branch to branch and landing with perfect precision.

The Howlers stayed further back, however the two groups seemed surprisingly tolerant of each other, not quite so of me though.

I noticed early on that two of the Capuchins were acting as ‘sentry guards’ creeping nearer to me and watching my every move, they screamed and bared their teeth each time I took a photograph, as my camera made a loud clicking sound, it was clearly the camera that they were threatened by, rather than me.

Making my way back to the hut I was sitting writing the diary for the day, when suddenly two mangoes hit me one after the other on the leg, aimed perfectly and was a clear warning from the monkeys for me to stay away from their groups.

This was an absolute blessing in disguise though, as now I had mangos!!!

I decided then and there that I must follow the monkeys daily to get my mangos.

The next day I was ready and trailed them again, the Capuchins were a joy to watch with the adults grooming each other and the young play fighting. However, I needed those mangoes badly, so I stepped out from behind my tree and did a little dance to annoy them and sure enough, right on cue the monkeys threw more mangoes at me.

It became a game where I would run away then creep back for the floored mangoes, quick before the ants descended then return to my hut to enjoy them, hacking at them with my knife and greedily drinking in the juices.

After a few days of successfully getting pelted with mangoes, I decided to leave the camera behind and simply watch the monkeys, it is good to do this to really ‘see’ the wildlife instead of being intent on capturing it all on camera, observing them was quite magical.

I watched the families resting at a spot where the Howler monkeys lay on their backs along branches or would hang upside down by their prehensile tails scooping up leaves and fruit to eat. They seemed to love play fighting and also spent time using sticks and rocks like tools, tapping one on another, it was interesting to see.

The adults of the Capuchin Monkeys looked on while their young played, I stared into the eyes of an adult male sitting nearby on a branch; his face was so expressive and human looking and his eyes seemed to be full of an ancient wisdom.

The image below is that monkey:

The monkeys were less threatened that day, as I did not have my camera with me, even the two sentry guards seemed more at ease. I moved slowly from behind my tree sitting in full view and they at last seemed to accept me, it was a special day and I felt extremely privileged to be this close to them.

No mangoes were thrown and this time I got back to the hut without being followed by them… or so I thought. However, just as I was in sight of the hut I was suddenly covered in a sweet, hot sticky liquid; one of the monkeys had urinated on me!

So much for acceptance!

After 5 weeks out there I returned to do a photographic exhibition at the Vale and Downland Museum and did talks about my encounters at public events and on BBC Radio Oxford.
From there I gained some interest from people (including BBC Radio Oxford) who have encouraged me to write a book on these events, it is already written as I kept a diary of my time out there.

Following on from Costa Rica, I found that I could not settle long before wanting to get out and explore more places in my quest for wildlife and adventure!!!

Back in the UK I was once again looking for this next adventure and was fortunate to meet some of the relations of the early polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew including Henry Worsall, as I had contacted them about their Expedition to complete Shackleton’s quest to get to the South pole.
I got an invite to their presentation on the Expedition of that journey which was fascinating and the question they posed at the end of the talk was:

“This is our Antarctica, what is yours?”

I knew then I had to get out there too!

Following this they sent me an invitation out (see below):

I was of course very excited to receive this invitation which arrived on my birthday.

So off to London I went and headed to the BAFTA in Piccadilly and met more of the relatives from Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition team (1914-1917). What an absolute privilege.
Princess Ann was there, but far more exciting to me was to be able to read extracts of the original diaries of Shackleton and see his maps and equipment, it was all rather surreal and served as further inspiration to get out there.

I got home from that very special day and knew that I would be going to Antarctica and so started looking at various options.

In 2010 I flew out to Ushuaia the Southern most city in the World and met up with two complete strangers, Rudy from Belgium and Peter from Australia and we trekked and camped around Patagonia crossing into Chile and back into Argentina. We trekked up mountains and ice trekked across ice shelves and into ice caves; it was fantastic!!!

We then travelled back to Ushuaia and boarded the M/S Expedition to head out of the famous Beagle Channel across the dreaded Drakes Passage out to Antarctica!!!! The object was to explore as much of the wildlife as was possible and to cross the Antarctic Circle which we did at 66°33′ S.

Here is an extract of my diary to illustrate the roughness of the seas over the notorious Drakes passage:

Tuesday 2nd March 2010 – Approaching Drakes Passage
“A terrible night followed as we hit Drakes passage at around 01:20am and the ship was hurled about the waves like a cork, it was very difficult staying on the bunk and I got thrown off mine 4 times throughout the night. In the end I tried to sleep with one hand gripped firmly on the edge of the bunk, however as soon as sleep did take over and my grip relaxed off I fell”

Wednesday 3rd March 2010 – Crossing Drakes Passage
“Dreadful, just dreadful, we are still rocking against huge waves and I can hear plates smashing downstairs.

I can only describe this as an inescapable living hell!!!! The hours are so long and I just want this to pass, I cannot move off my bunk as I am so sick, but just lay flat here as I write this.

We are being blown off course and are now heading WEST instead of SOUTH!”

I wrote that bit of diary whilst laying flat on my bunk, the biro would stop working periodically as I wrote holding it upside down, however the seasickness that I felt would not allow me to write in any other position than that, the rough sea crossing lasted for 3 days due to being blown off course.

Once through the passage the seas calmed down and I got up off my bunk and went out of the cabin, down the long hallway and out onto deck in my pyjamas with my waterproof downy jacket thrown over and wearing wellington boots. As I stepped outside for the first time it was just getting light on that early misty morning and I slipped slightly as there were pieces of ice on the wet deck floor. Looking up I saw that it was snowing, the sky was grey and a huge block of ice which looked like a giant glacier mint sailed by the M/S expedition or should I say we sailed past it. This first sighting of ice was quite magical and I was alone up there with not a soul around, just how I tend to like it.

The Russian Ice Navigator would now have to do us proud as we were approaching more ice!

Th wildlife encountered in the Antarctic includes: Gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins, Chin Strap Penguins, Weddell seals, crab eater deals, Leopard seals, Fur seals, Albatross birds, Cape Petrels, Skua birds, Cormorants, Killer Whales, Right Wing Whales and Humpback Whales.

Young Adelie Penguin shedding its downy feathers, Antarctica 2010, by A.K.

Following on from that I have been on many adventures most of which are written about on here, inclduing Madgascar, the Rainforests of Guyana, Cambodia and Vietnam where I set up my own caving expedition, here is a short extract of it here:

Barbados

Pirates, caves and haunted tombs

When I was a little girl my mother gave me a book that was full of adventure with black and white illustrations of pirates, parrots, ships and treasure, it caught my imagination by storm, that book was called Treasure Island.

As a child I was given a soft toy monkey, a soft toy parrot and a huge book about Rain forests, all of which further planted an adventurous seed in a young girl’s mind of visiting these distant lands and so when I was a teenager I set off on a trip to experience 11 beautiful Caribbean Islands, this piece gives a little taster of Barbados.

Barbados was my first experience of a Tropical Island and stepping onto the Island was like a dream from that first breath of air spiced with vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and aromatic flowers and the sky was blue, just blue, with no cloud at all and the melodic happy sound of steel drums rang out across the harbour, which was dotted with stalls of locals selling giant conch shells and natural sponges.

The Island of Barbados was formed during some volcanic activity when it emerged at the surface of the sea, it is a coral island with fine white sands and clear blue, warm waters and at just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, this island is a tiny, independent British Commonwealth Nation where nowadays the locals enjoy afternoon tea, cricket and vanilla rum and coconut spiced foods.

Although small, this island is rich in interesting history, most notably that of pirates, the two famous ones being Sam Lord and Stede Bonnet.

Sam Lord was one of the more creative Pirates in gaining treasure, avoiding the discomfort and risk of taking to the seas, instead he took to hanging lanterns on coconut trees, the lights of these lanterns would attract ships that were out at sea passing by, whose crew would mistake the lanterns for lights of the capital and consequently get ship wrecked on the coral reefs, Sam and his men would then attack the ships and take all of the possessions that were on board.

They did very well out of it too, Sam did not live poorly, instead he lived in a lavish castle by the beach, the Georgian mansion was built by Sam Lord himself in 1820 and years later it became a landmark tourist hotel, however the castle was destroyed in a fire in 2010 and now lays in ruins, I think that somehow it is more befitting and mysterious as a ruin, being a hotel stole away the intrigue of the story, as a ruin it has been restored.

The castle ruins

The other well-known Pirate of Barbados was called Stede Bonnet and nicknamed ‘the gentleman’ he also had an unusual way about him, he had been a former well respected plantation owner and British Army Major but then one day he turned a different corner in his life and ‘bought’ a Pirate ship in 1717 naming it ‘Revenge.’

Stede then turned to the pirate ways and began capturing and setting fire to other ships in order to gain their gold, interestingly he befriended the most famous pirate ‘Blackbeard’, who sailed the Caribbean seas but their friendship was not to last.

Blackbeard was notoriously bad and lived up to his name in violently taking over Stede’s ship, however Stede stepped up to the mark and fought Blackbeard to get his ship back at the same time winning himself a worthy pirate reputation.

Eventually Stede was hunted down by the authorities and publicly hung as a pirate in 1718.

Beware the tree

There is lush vegetation all around but one thing to be aware of is the Manchineel Fruit Tree which has miniature green apples on as these trees are highly toxic, so much so that in the past, Caribs have used the sap of these trees for their arrows to kill Monkeys and wild boar.

For humans though these trees are dangerous in that the milky coloured sap will blister the skin on contact and something to really be aware of is that the sap can cause blindness if you mistakenly touch it and then rub your eye.

I have been stung by some trees before in rain forests from other parts of the World, some of these stings can be nasty and last for several days, but to be blinded is extremely serious so awareness of plant life around you is essential in areas that you are not familiar with.

Most beaches where these trees grow have warning signs telling people not to sit under them and sometimes the trees are painted with a red ring, but it is still good to be aware of the danger and know what these trees look like, below is an image of one.

Manchineel Tree

Typical warning sign

While we are on the subject of trees, never sit under the coconut tree, it is common sense but always look up and check what is hanging above you before you sit (as well as what is underneath you!), if a coconut falls and hits you on the skull it can be fatal as our skulls are thin in places, monkeys are also fond of throwing coconuts at people!

Warm seas and Turtles

The first thing I wanted to do was get out into the ocean, so I bought a yellow snorkel and set off to the palm fringed beach, which had the finest, whitest sand I had ever seen.

Beaches of beauty

When I walked out into the sea I was amazed at how warm it was, like a hot bath, with snorkel and mask I swam out and dived under water and the very first thing I saw was a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and I was overawed by its gracefulness and how beautiful it was, these turtles can live to 80 years of age and I suspect that this one had swam in co close to the shoreline to look for a potential nesting area to lay its eggs.

It seemed totally unfazed by my presence and swam right alongside me before eventually making its way further out to sea, something I will always remember from this island.
I also saw some pipe fish and striped sea eels, along with some very colourful coral reef fishes, I did not have a waterproof camera to capture those images, but it really was something special.

There are four different species of turtle that swim in the seas around the island all of which nest in the area, Green Turtles, Loggerheads, Hawksbill and Leatherbacks.

Make sure you wear sea shoes around the reefs as there are a few spiny sea urchins, the ones on the island are not toxic, however the spikes going into your feet will hurt! The spines dissolve after time but you can get an infection so take care and wear the shoes.

St. Nicholas Abbey – 17th Century Plantation House

Nicholas Abbey is a great old building formerly a plantation house which is now a museum and rum distillery, rich in history right out of a textbook it was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer for the purpose of being a sugar cane plantation house.

The history is interesting in that the Colonel had a duel with his neighbour Sir John Yeaman who won the duel killing the Colonel and then promptly married his widowed wife and took over the Plantation House claiming it as his own, many years later the children of the late Colonel took Sir John to court and successfully won back the property!

Sugar had been harvested on the plantation since 1640 and this finally stopped in 1947; nowadays the building is currently owned by an architect and it is well worth a visit to the museum in this vast Jacobean mansion.


The Mystery of the Chase Family Vault

I was very keen to explore the island and on asking the locals advice I was directed to, rather bizarrely, a graveyard in Christ Church cemetery to see the mysterious Chase Family Vault around which a ghost story legend has circulated for many years.

It is said that in 1807 a Mrs Goddard was buried in the vault followed by Anna Maria Chase in 1808 and then Dorcas Chase in 1812, later that year the vault had to be opened once more for the body of Thomas Chase to go in, however when the heavy vault door was opened (which required 6-7 men) the heavy leaded coffins of the girls were found to have moved around within the vault in a haphazard manner.

The coffins were all re-arranged back to how they were and once again the heavy the vault was re-sealed, then when the vault was opened again in 1816 and 1819 – once more the heavy lead coffins were found to have been thrown about in there with no sign of any outside access to the vault.

The Chase Family Vault

Many of the locals who I spoke to are still very superstitious about it all not wanting to go anywhere near the vault, at the same time there are just as many sceptics who put the story down to folklore or a natural phenomenon, such as a mild earth quake shifting the coffins.

I will leave you to make your own mind up about what you think.

Whilst I was there a service was going on in Christ church with some amazing Gospel singing ringing out over the yard, I am not religious, however it was a great privilege to listen to the mix of these soulful voices, I popped my head in and took some photos.

The congregation

There is dense, lush rain forest all around the island filled with gem like flowers and orchestral birdsong punctuated by the percussion like sounds of the insects and amphibians, there are plenty of walks to do, I prefer unguided as you tend to see more alone, if you do this though remember to ‘cross sticks’ – leave crossed sticks all along your track so that you know the way back, it is very easy to get lost in the jungle, something I have done a few times!

Dense jungle

The tropical brightly coloured flowers are stunning, I wish I had had a better camera in those days, but below is a simple shot I took of some of the foliage, the vivid colours are an easy attraction for Humming Birds and pollinating insects.

Some of the tropical flowers

Harrisons Cave

A place that really is worth a visit is Harrisons Cave, following attempts via various expeditions to explore the cave in the 18th and 19th centuries, explorers did not in fact gain access inside until the 1970’s due to its entrances being so difficult to break through.

Nowadays, these limestone caves are very much set up for tourists, therefore are very easy for people of all ages and physical abilities to enjoy, look out for bats and some of the amazing cave stalagmites and stalactites that can be seen.

Rum
An important subject such as this cannot be left out, the rum in Barbados is amazing! laced with all manner of spices and vanilla sticks it tastes absolutely delicious and is very potent, locals say it is made from “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak” but there is nothing weak about this rum!

Glass bottomed boating
This is a fun thing to do, go out in a small wooden glass bottomed boat, I have to be honest though, although I enjoyed being out in the open air this is not the best way to see anything, the movement of the boat muddies the sea with disturbed sand particles and you are far better off snorkelling and getting down with the fishes yourself than relying on looking through a pane of glass, as long as you can swim I would advise you to take to the sea.

Please beware of boats though (and sharks of course) there are certain areas where the snorkelling is safe, look to those areas and be aware of what is around you.

Bridgetown
The capital of this small island, Bridgetown is a wonderful place bustling with life and it is great to potter around and interact with the locals, there are market stalls galore with coloured scarves, trinkets, fruits, coconut milks out of the shells, natural sponges, etc.

There are buses all over the island marked ‘City’ all of which cost around £1 to jump on to Bridgetown, as the island is so small, this is a great place for anyone who wants to do duty free shopping.

The National fish of Barbados is the flying fish and is the signature dish of most restaurants and on the menu as ‘Fried fish and coo-coo’, all of the food I tried was both inexpensive and delicious, some fantastic creole dishes, try them all!

There is a nod to Lord Nelson in the National Heroes Square where you can see a statue of him that was put up in 181, close by are fountain gardens if you want a break from the shopping for a bit of peace and quiet.

Rather than all of the shops, I preferred the market stalls out in the streets, which I found to be much more interesting dotted with different trinkets and wares and friendly traders who greeted me with huge smiles, all in all there was nothing not to like about Barbados, it is a warm, friendly place full of wonder.

I think the image below is how I will fondly remember Barbados

Barbados – lush and green

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

A Harbour of many colours

I went to Copenhagen with two of my best and closest friends, my cousin Cathie and Tracey for a short break of 4 days, perfect to see some of the main sites and get a feel of the city.

Flights from the UK are direct and approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, we flew with British Airways and it was a quick, easy and comfortable flight.

This is a place that I have wanted to visit since I was a child as, like many other people, I was captivated by the magic of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories, The Little Mermaid being one of my favourites, but first lets talk about the city itself.

Getting about

Cycling is huge in Copenhagen, there are more bikes than cars, which makes makes for a healthy environment and the roads are so wide and straight, no potholes, a joy to cycle or drive on, bicycles are so symbolic to Copenhagen that in 1997 when American President Bill Clinton visited the city, he was presented with a City Bike as a gift.

You will see the City Bikes parked up in rows all around the city and if you want to hire one, then get on a bike, go to the touch screen tablet to pay for it via credit card then you can unlock the bike with a code, next select the built in GPS map to tell it where you want to go, yes it will even guide you, these bikes are very high tech. The tablet will even guide you to special tourist attractions in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, once you are finished with the bike you can return it to any bike station or wherever you see them parked up.

To register online it is quicker and will save you some time, although it really is user friendly to just do it by the tablet, here are the details though if you wish to book ahead:

Web Email Phone
www.bycyklen.dk info@bycyklen.dk +45 8988 3910

Rent a bike

Bicycles everywhere!

Public transport in Copenhagen is superb, everything was on time to the second, the train and bus stations were spotlessly clean and there were no barriers or ticket attendants to check the tickets we bought, when I asked a local why no one was checking our tickets he shrugged and simply said “This Copenhagen, it is done on trust”

Although on occasion a ticket may be checked and the fine is very high if you have not paid, this system seems to work extremely well saving time and stress by cutting out those queues at the barriers, it cuts out the chaos.

Copenhagen Central

It is extremely easy to get about once you have worked out the trains, the S Train will take you to the main station Copenhagen Central, all trains were spotless, had comfy seats and wide seating areas, perfect, one of the most impressive things was that they also had cycle lock up rooms that were painted in bright colours, cyclists are well catered for here.

Bicycles are catered for

You must go to the famous colourful Harbour with its painted houses, there is a bridge there connecting the centre and Island Brygge and on this bridge are hundreds of ‘lovelocks’ locked to the railings of the bridge, all different colours and styles.

Lovelocks are where a couple take a padlock, write their initials on it, then lock it to the railings and throw the key into the water as a way of showing their commitment and sealing their love, it is a romantic idea that has caught on globally, below is a photo of some of these locks.

Lovelocks locked to the bridge railings

The wonderful Harbour

I booked us a house to stay in via Air B&B; a very popular way to get accommodation these days, the house belonged to a couple called Kristen and Louise and was a beautiful home with wide, open spaces and a large garden.

In Denmark everything is very high tech for ease of use, for example in the kitchen one twist of the cold tap gives standard cold water, a second twist and it lights up blue for chilled still drinking water, a third twist and it lights up green for chilled sparking drinking water ….fantastic!

Instead of curtains, I notice that the Danes prefer simple white pull down blinds or shutters, these were in most houses that I passed, the floors were wooden whitewashed and everything was about space saving, each kitchen drawer was rather like a Russian doll, with many smaller drawers inside for even more storage.

Hygge

The Danes are responsible for the latest craze for simple, good living and relaxation, which has gone huge in UK, the Danish word ‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘Hooga’) means ‘cosiness’ and they encourage ridding your life of anything that causes stress or annoyance, making time for yourself, your family and friends, making your home as comfortable as possible, burning candles, eating well and drinking fine wine.

Calm colours with lots of whites and creams along with creating clean, open spaces, getting rid of clutter and keeping your surroundings comfortable and chilled out seem to be the way forward, if you get tired, rest, make time for quiet.

Some businesses in Denmark have taken Hygge to the workplace allowing employees to go home and sleep if they are tired with the outlook that they will come back refreshed, trust plays a large part of this in the hope that it wont be abused in any way.

I think it is a great way to live and have started making some changes in my own lifestyle going the Hygge way, so far I have white washed my stairs making them brighter and bought an egg swing relaxation chair complete with sheepskin fur cosy.

The importance of time out and relaxation can never be underestimated.

In the working environment if you get tired at any time in the day for example you can go home and have a sleep, the Dames believe if you are tired you will not function properly so you can go home for a sleep, once you have slept you can return to work fully refreshed, I like this outlook very much.

The city felt very relaxed, there were lots of outside cafe and bar areas, there are some very trendy arty bars and it seems very much the civilised norm to work on your computer whilst having a cappuccino or a hot chocolate, I have to say that I sampled the best hot chocolate ever in Copenhagen, as if there were not already enough reasons to go back.

We went on a boat trip to get a look at the harbour areas, these trips are popular but seem to be running every 10 minutes so no need to book, the trips vary in length from 30 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minutes and you can choose from a live speaker to a recording with headphones.

Go for Netto, they are half the price of the other companies and just as good, the locals all recommend Netto to sail through the waterways of Copenhagen, its costs around 40 Kronen and is worth every penny for what you get to see.

You can have a glass of wine on the boat as you pass by all the sights, however if you wait until you finish you can head to a bar for a much better glass of wine, still it is a nice touch.

Christiania – The free peoples town

One of the places I was most keen to see is the free town Christiania which was formerly the military barracks of Bådsmandsstræde housing the Royal Artillery Regiment, ammunition laboratories and depots. Following WW2 these barracks were abandoned and in 1971 squatters broke down the fencing and took over the buildings, shortly after cannabis trading started up in the area, over the years the area and number of people grew so the police started to do regular raids and evictions.

Christiania from the water

Due to the lack of housing in Copenhagen eventually re-negotiations began and on 26th September 1971 the area of Christiania was permitted to be lived in, Jacob Ludvigson who helped enable this to happen wrote magazine articles aimed at young people and this paragraph gives an insight to the hippy area:

Christiania is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch – while nevertheless still incorporating the remaining constructions. Own electricity plant, a bath-house, a giant athletics building, where all the seekers of peace could have their grand meditation – and yoga center. Halls where theater groups can feel at home. Buildings for the stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race…Yes for those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more.

A painted house in Christiania

Christiania has been a source of controversy for years with drugs and police riots fast becoming an ‘us and them’ situation, the people were free to live as they pleased openly selling drugs on ‘Pusher Street’ and use the song You Cannot Kill Us by Bitfrost as their anthem song.

Having heroin so freely came at a price and in one year 10 people died from overdosing at Christiania, they also had some serious run ins with a gang of Hells Angels bikers and rival biker gangs where more lives were lost, which is why biker colours are now banned in Christiania.

Despite the free living following these problems they made their own rules for the community of no stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs or bikers colours, however in 2005 there was trouble with a gang who murdered one person and injured three others over cannabis marketing.

The incident happened when 8 masked men sped up in a car with automatic weapons heading for pusher street and fired rounds at the people there and in 2009 someone threw a hand grenade into a crowd and a 22 year old had his jaw blown off, others were left with injuries.

The trouble continued on and in 2016 one of the residents pulled a gun and shot two police officers and a civilian, he was later wounded then died from shots fired by a special police unit.

Nowadays the people keep themselves to themselves as much as possible, Christiania is more of a peaceful hippy commune but sadly it will always have this controversy hanging over its reputation.

A little boat house, Christiania

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is the iconic statue that sits upon some rocks at the shore of the harbour in Copenhagen, many people have complained that she is very small, but as she is known as The ‘Little’ Mermaid, I think she is perfect as she is, a large statue would look odd.

The Little Mermaid

The statue is made of bronze and granite and was given to Copenhagen by Carol Jacobson the famous brewer, who fell in love with the Ballerina (Ellen Price) who in 1909 danced as the character of The Little Mermaid at the Ballot in the Royal Danish Theater, he commissioned sculptor Edvard Eriksen to make the statue.

Ballet Dancer Ellen would not pose for the sculpture so Eriksens wife was used instead to model for the statue which was unveiled in August 1913 and now sits on the rocks at Langelinje Pier, the statue although over 100 years old, is not the original one anymore due to vandalism, she has had her head cut off, her arms cut off and very recently an Anti-Whaling group threw red paint over her, just was we came back from Copenhagen in fact.

The Mermaid gazes out to sea

Hans Christian Anderson wrote children’s stories and loved to tell the tales too, he wrote The Little Mermaid in 1837, it was a sad story about a mermaid who at the age of 15 is permitted to swim up to the surface of the sea and gaze upon the human world. She spots a handsome prince and instantly falls in love with him, a storm breaks out sweeping the prince into the sea and he almost drowns, but the mermaid rescues him holding him up and saving his life, he is found on the shore by a maiden and taken back to his castle.

The Mermaid goes to see the Sea Witch and asks her if she can become a human, she is told that she can but at a price and the Prince must marry her otherwise she will die and become sea foam, she takes the opportunity and goes ashore to find her prince, he is mesmerised by her but also loves the hand maiden who took him back to the castle, in the end he marries her.

The Mermaids sisters tell her that if she kills the prince she might live, but she cannot do it as she still loves him, the little mermaid is left to die, but instead of becoming sea foam, she has earned a soul through all of her kindness and love, and her soul rises up to heaven.

If you are a fan of Hans Christian Anderson as I am, you can see what was once his house along the colourful Harbour, the house is now a gift shop selling his stories, pictures, etc. but is still worth a visit, upstairs is still a habitable living quarters and some Scholars who are studying his works live there, which seems very fitting.

Rosenborg Castle and its Silver Lions

Rosenborg Castle

This is well worth a visit, Renaissance ruler Christian IV had the Castle built as he wanted somewhere modern to entertain guests in, a space where he could entertain, dine and relax with his own guests, the old Medieval castle of Copenhagen was deemed too old fashioned, so works to build a secondary Castle took place from 1606 through to 1633, it was grand with high walls, a moat and a park.

Inside the Palace you can clearly see throughout the numerous rooms that there were four different stages of the castle coming together:
1605 – 1606
The Palace had two storeys and a spire turret tower with winding stone steps.
1611
A gate with a drawbridge was built.
1613-1615
The palace was expanded to twice its size
1616 – 1624
Now it was ready to be lived in, a large tower was built on the West side and Christian IV named the Palace Rosenborg which in literal terms means ‘big house in the garden.’

Rosenborg Castle took 28 years to complete and Christian IV loved it there so much that on his deathbed he requested to be put on his sleigh and taken to Rosenborg to die on his bed there, in every picture painted of him, we noticed how happy and contented he looked which is unusual as often portraits painted at this time often had the subject looking stern and serious.

Christian IV

The Palace is stunning inside, huge chandeliers hung from every room and the ceilings were decorated even further with panels painted with colourful birds and cherubs.

Intricate chandelier

There are 24 rooms to explore here, some of them truly stunning with the decor, The Dark Room (room 4) stands out though as being darker in both senses of the word, it served as a windowless antechamber. In this chamber is a chair which was used to restrain unwanted guests, the person once restrained would then be soaked with water running from pipes in the back of the chair and when they stood up a trumpet hidden in the seat would loudly toot.

The rooms are all full of treasures, golden mirrors, precious gemstones, rich paintings and tapestries, antique ornaments, literally wherever you look there is something spectacular to see.

Gilded bird cage

The Knights hall is very impressive with the King and Queens Coronation chairs and it is guarded by the three life size silver lions, these lions are absolutely stunning and seem to be looking right at you, I can only imagine how sumptuous a banquet here would have been with the silver lions looking on.

Protective Silver Lion

All of the rooms are impressive, however there is one that really stood out to me, the glass cabinet, just off Knight Hall, this is a small space filled with some of the finest glass objects I have ever seen, the collection came from Venice as a gift and it was all packed in crazily into this cabinet with a green light shining onto the precious goods, see the images below.

Crazy glass collection

The cabinet of wonders

For a full online informative guide around the castle, click on this link which takes you to the Rosenborg website tour: http://www.kongernessamling.dk/en/rosenborg/rosenborgs-interior-and-objects/#ground_floor

At 11:30 you can see the Guard leave his barracks in the castle grounds and march through the city to Amalienborg Palace, the changing of the guard can be seen at 1200 noon daily.

The guard on walkabout

As I began to walk down the stone stairs to leave the castle I noticed the most beautiful delicate lace green curtains, strangely enough, of all the wonderful things I saw at the castle, apart from the silver lions, these curtains still stick in my mind, I thought they were stunning.

The green lace curtains

Out in the Kings Gardens, it is green and spacious but more like a big park rather than the pruned gardens I had imagined, it is still worth walking round though and there is a huge statue of Hans Christian Anderson there, which I had been on the look out for.

Hans Christian Anderson

Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg palace is home to the Danish Royal family and is made up of four palace veneers set around an octagonal courtyard, the area is spotless and pleasant to walk around, there are some pretty gardens behind the courtyard and an impressive statue of King Frederik V on horseback.

Amalienborg Palace

The Botanical Gardens

The Botanical gardens in Copenhagen are well worth a visit, they were first established in 1600 but moved twice and finally set where they now remain in 1870, these gardens have over 13,000 species of plants.

The gardens are nicely set out, with 27 greenhouses – the largest being the Old Glass House which is Victorian and 16 metres tall with an iron staircase, of course these glass houses are set up for tropical plants. However there is also a special greenhouse which has cold air pumped into it making it habitable for Arctic plants, I did not see this when I went as I was dashing about looking for wildlife, but I shall definitely go back and see that.

The highlight for me in the end was a small lake where I came across some wild turtles sunbathing on the rocks, I sat and watched them slipping in and out of the water back onto their hot sun warmed rocks and ended up taking about a hundred photographs of them.

The Botanical Gardens are open 08:30 am – 6pm Spring/Summer and 08:30 – 4pm Autumn/Winter

The Turtles

This was a short, but sweet, taster break and I definitely intend to go back, there is still much to see and learn about this wonderful city of statues and there are many more interesting areas to see further out from the city centre, if you are going do plenty of research, there are some good deals on the Copenhagen Card, etc. and it is well worth checking all of this before you go.

Explorers Guide 2. Ice and Snow

Nowadays remote destinations that just a few years ago were unobtainable are far more accessible to travellers, trips and expeditions in cold areas are fast becoming popular for sports, photography and adventure travel, by far the coldest place I have ever been to is Antarctica and I would have struggled had I not been well prepared for the trip with the correct clothing and kit, so it is essential to plan it out.

North wall of the Eiger

Below is a kit list and some travel tips which I hope will be a useful guide for you.

Kit List

If you are going to a very remote area and stepping on land, such as Antarctica, aim for new kit, this is so that you do not contaminate the area, before you are permitted to step on Antarctic land you will be instructed to have hoovered zips and pockets to ensure no seeds are stuck there and any boots are soaked in a special detergent to kill any potential germs off, then you step on land. Therefore, if you go for new clothes, you will not have to go through this procedure out there.

*In cold places you will wear the same layers daily, go for Merino for your inner layers every time, it will stay fresh without the need for washing the garments and it will keep you insulated.
Merino wool cleverly regulates your body temperature, so that you neither get too hot or too cold, it also wicks away any sweat from your body and has antibacterial properties allowing you to wear it long term, which is handy if camping or doing longer treks or climbs.

Wear your clothing loose and in layers.

Footwear
Make sure that you have a decent, waterproof pair of gortex hiking boots that are comfortable and slip proof, you can get boots which have a thermal tread in to keep feet warm and some boots will protect feet in up to – 30 in extreme cold, handy if you will be standing still for long periods.

Rubber Wellington Boots
Good quality wellington boots are useful to have for short walks in icy conditions as they are rubber with a good tread, if you prefer walking boots, ensure that you have some protective spray to keep them sealed and waterproof throughout the trip.

Gaiters
These are waterproof leggings which are great for waterproof protection if you are wearing hiking boots in areas of deep snow or slush and strap on over your boots and can be pulled up to about calf height, light and easy to pack.

Merino wool Layers
You need to wear layers in cold weather as they insulate your body trapping heat, layering for a cold trip consists of base layers, mid layers and an outer waterproof shell.

I would recommend two pairs of each under layer as it is always good to have a spare in case you get wet in the snow, when I went to Antarctica I bought the Merino Icebreaker brand which was superb, I wore these layers for 6 weeks straight and they were still odour free at the end of the trip.

Leggings (legs 1st under layer)
For your legs under layer Merino Icebreaker is an excellent thermal brand and will keep you very warm for extreme cold temperatures

Fleece trousers
(legs 2nd under layer)
A Pair of loose fitting fleece trousers which will easily fit over the top of your thermal leggings for an extra layer of heat, you will be thankful for these if you are out for several hours standing still filming or photographing.

Waterproof down filled outer Trousers (legs outer shell layer)
Your outer layer must be waterproof, for very cold places go for goose feather downy filled trousers. North Face, Rab and Patagonia brands do some excellent downy filled trousers so that you stay warm and dry, remember that once you get wet in the cold it is very difficult to warm up again.

Avoid the cheaper waterproof trousers as they can cause a great deal of sweating and trapping water will make for an uncomfortable time as you will get hot and bothered.

Under Tops (upper body 1st under layer)
There are many under layer tops on the market these days but Merino Ice breaker are still the best in my opinion and you can get them vest style and long sleeved, I would get both.

Middle Top (upper body 2nd layer)
Go for a warm fleece that you can throw on over the top of your under layer, get a good one from a reliable company such as Rab, Northface or Patagonia, Helly Hanson has started to produce some better quality clothing too, but try it, see how it feels on you.

Outer Shell
A waterproof Parka is by the far the best thing you could get as an outer shell, if you go for anything else just ensure that it is both waterproof and a downy filled jacket, to keep out those biting cold wind chills.

You could take a lighter jacket as well just so that you have some freedom and are not reliant on the heavier coat all of the time.

*If you have a warm base such as a log cabin or boat, then take a ‘onesie’ or some fleece loose clothing for evening casual comfort, think carefully about footwear for casual times too, pack something easy and light to wear as an alternative to heavy boots.

Thermal Sleeping Bag
If you are camping you will need a proper thermal downy sleeping bag, get a hooded one that you can get maximum protection from.

Socks and liners
Firstly you will need silk sock liners, these are fantastic for keeping the cold out and feet are prone to the chill creeping in, these can be ordered off the internet for approx £12 a pair, worth every penny, a spare pair would be advisable if you are going for several weeks.

Your main socks need to be woollen, hard wearing and thermal, always carry extra pairs with you, there is nothing worse than wet feet and pulling on a pair of dry socks will help to warm them up as a temporary measure if you are out and about.

Gloves and liners
Essential!!!!!
Hands are very prone to the cold and frostbite is always a possibility without gloves, never underestimate the dangers of not wearing gloves, as with the socks I would advise a pair of silk gloves underneath as a liner for extra comfort and warmth. Again, take two pairs of silk glove liners, just to be sure, it really is worth it.

For your outer gloves you will need super warm WATERPROOF gloves, snow gets everything wet and it is miserable having wet gloves on hands, there are tons of good gloves on the market, you will be spoilt for choice, always try them on to see how they feel before buying them.

Balaclava
One of these should go in your back pack, if you are out at night when the temperatures are really chilled or if you are travelling at speed, such as on a snow mobile, these are great to keep off the windchill.

Hats and Scarves
A must for the cold as we lose so much body heat from our heads, make sure the hat covers your ears as they are also at risk of frostbite, a woolly beanie hat is ideal, preferably with a fleece lining, this will keep you snug.

Scarves or Buffs are required to keep your neck extra warm, avoid bulky thick scarves, instead go for a thinner insulated one, nothing too long, the shorter the better so that it does not get in the way.

Sunglasses and Goggles
These are absolutely essential if you are around snow, when the sun hits the snow it reflects UV radiation dazzling brilliant white and without the aid of sunglasses you will not only struggle to see properly you run the risk of damaging your eye sight.

Snow blindness can occur over large reflected snow or ice areas without sunglasses causing a feeling of grit in the eyes, then red eyes which get increasingly painful on movement and intense headaches. This is followed by the risk of permanent sight damage, always ensure that your sunglasses and goggles have the maximum UV protection, the cheaper ones without UV are of no use.

If you lose your sunglasses and are in a remote area you will have to use your initiative and use a strip of material such as a bandana and cut slits for the eyes, if you are hit by snow blindness bandage your eyes and rest quietly until the symptoms ease up.

Goggles will be needed for activities such as Snow Mobiling, Skiing or Husky Dog Sledding, in fact anything at speed in outdoor icy weathers, go for tinted, good quality ones that do not fog up.

Sun cream
Its very important to have a high factor sun cream where there is snow as the sun can reflect up to 80% UV light from the sun rays causing sunburn, make sure you have plenty of sun cream, even if it is just your face that is exposed, go for a minimum of factor SPF 30.

Lip Salve
Take plenty of lip salve and keep it with you at all times, the wind chill will get any exposed areas within a few days, when I went to Patagonia and Antarctica, I had cuts under my nose and across my lips which remained as irritating bleeding open wounds for the entire trip.

Use your lip salve or some vaseline under the nose, under the eyes and on the lips, sun cream anywhere else, this will help those vulnerable areas splitting open from biting winds.

Moisturiser
Male or female you will need some of this at the end of each day, if you are camping and cannot have a proper wash, clean and refresh your skin using a moisturiser with a flannel or wipe, a handful of snow can be used to clean away sweat and freshen up.

Travel First Aid Kit
Make sure you take a small First Aid Kit with you, these can be bought in Boots or any adventure store or you can make your own one up, but the kits are such good value nowadays that you may as well buy one readily made.

Always take plenty of water in remote areas

Dehydration
Tempting as they are, avoid alcohol and caffeine, instead drink water. Most people drink water in hot places but forget to keep hydrated in cold places believing that they do not need to drink as much, but we need to drink as much in the cold as in the heat.

Our bodies need to have a temperature of 98 degrees to remain healthy, the body uses water to regulate temperature, if we get dehydrated we risk getting headaches, dizziness, nausea and hypothermia.

The clothes layers that you wear will absorb or wick away any moisture that evaporates in the air so you must drink water to replace the loss of this, so keep water with you and drink it steadily throughout the day.

If you are on the go, climbing or hiking long distances a Camel Pack for water is really useful, this consists of a clear plastic holder similar in shape to a hot water bottle, except it is for drinking water, it has a handy tube coming out of it to drink from and can be strapped to your back.

Our bodies cleverly tell us when we are dehydrated by the colour of urine, if it is a dark yellow then your body is telling you to drink more, urine should always be light and clear for a healthy hydrated person, check its colour in the snow if unsure.

Terrain
Check what the terrain will be like, will you be hiking over long distances? Will it be mountainous or flat? Research as much as you can and cater to the area making it a safe and successful trip.

Remoteness
If it is a remote area, with no shops or civilisation then there is no margin for error, you must ensure that you take the right kit, pack it by rolling garments up to save space, do not over pack, take just what you need, always have a back up plan, let people know exactly where you are going and when you expect to return.

On the Ice Trek, Patagonia 2010 A.K. Exhibition image

High Altitude
This is something that you must be very vigilant on, always check how high the altitude of the areas that you will be visiting, as altitude can catch you out and affect you extremely quickly.

I got caught with altitude as I tried to climb the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador too quickly without testing my ability or tolerance to the high altitude, it is one of the highest volcanoes in the World and stupidly I went for it without the proper preparation, consequently I suffered from High Altitude Sickness.

I remember feeling violently sick, my mind did not seem to work properly and putting one foot in front of the other felt rather like trying to run in treacle, stumbling about up there I quickly became dizzy and disorientated with the addition of a bleeding nose.

I had a similar experience the following day and had to have oxygen, it took me 3 days to fully recover from the sickness, headaches and dizzy spells and Doctors suspect that I may have suffered some permanent damage to my health from this, so please do not underestimate how serious this can be.

*Slow and steady is the key and acclimatise as you go, if you are unsure of how high you can go, try it in stages and start walking up mountains to see how you get on, NEVER go alone, always take your phone, wear red or another bright colour to enable easy spotting for search parties, take at least one other person with you and let people know where you are going and approximately what time you are expecting to be back.

Acute Mountain Sickness and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema

These are very serious conditions, if you are aware of your symptoms start heading back down straight away before it gets too bad. Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS as it is often referred to can occur through climbing or walking too fast without acclimatising first, (which was my mistake), if you are dehydrated or carrying super heavy equipment this can also be a factor for AMS.

The symptoms of AMS include headaches, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea and loss of balance therefore, the best way to stop it is to descend with oxygen to a sensible drop of 3000 feet which should make a great difference and allow for recovery.

If the individual does not recover though they can then develop further problems which are very serious and can be life threatening, symptoms to look out for are a dry cough and breathlessness even when laying down at rest. It is essential that you descend if you have these symptoms, as if left fluid can build up in the lungs leading to death.

Frostbite
Frostbite can quickly creep up on you if you are not careful, it is caused by frozen tissues which become sold and the main areas to be hit by this are the face hands and feet.

In the first stages make moving slow and painful, the skin will look a sickly dull white colour the second more serious stage of frostbite is where there is no movement at all and the skin turns black, limbs are usually amputated if it gets this far.

In order to prevent frostbite, in the first instance wrap up as we have discussed, keep hydrated and keep movement going, scrunch your face up and wiggle your fingers and toes within gloves and socks to keep your circulation going.

I had light frostbite when I was in Antarctica, as foolishly I would remove my gloves on one hand to take photographs, I found that hand became very stiff and really painful to move during the rest of the trip, it was white in colour from lack of circulation, it has been painful and stiff periodically ever since.

I keep my hands warm in winter and massage the bad one whenever I get pain, feet and hand warmers are great if you have room for them in your backpack, you can buy them in Boots or any adventure store, open the packet and put inside your gloves, they stay warm for about 6 hours.

Trench Foot
It is important to keep feet and hands dry in cold weather, if you get wet you need to dry off as soon as possible and put clean, dry clothing on.

The tell tale symptoms of trench foot are tingling, numbness and pain, the skin will look white, waxy and shrivelled, eventually as more nerve damage develops the skin will turn black, the same as with frost bite.

Gangrene can occur and again amputations would be the result of extreme trench foot, keep extra pairs of socks and gloves in waterproof sacks or bags and ensure you dry off in good time.

Wildlife
A plus about travelling to the colder climate for those who are prone to getting bitten is that you will not be bugged by mosquitoes or other biting insects, however there will be some wildlife to consider.

Always research the area you are exploring and be aware and respectful of the wildlife, remember it is their home, essentially you are in their territory. In Antarctica for example Fur Seals may look cuddly but if you get too close they will run at you and a bite will fast become infected as they carry some very nasty bacteria in their teeth. It is strongly advised that you give them space, there is a general ‘5 meter rule’ of not getting too close when photographing them.

Skuar birds will dive at you if you get too close to their nests, they can also spit a nasty acid which can cause blindness, do not look up at them and keep your head covered, retreat straight away and give them some space.

If you travel to the Arctic then you will have Polar Bears to contend with, again be very aware of your surroundings and what is around you at all times, do not wander off alone, stay alert and you should be fine.

Getting stuck in snow
There are a few techniques of getting out of deep snow, the bets one that I was taught is if you are walking along and suddenly find yourself waist deep, you need to act fast and kick steps into the snow so that you can get out before it compacts around you.

Use a stick
Long sticks or hiking poles are good for testing the ground ahead of you as you walk to see how deep the snow is, I have experienced small crevasses which cannot be seen under the snow, use caution, never trust what you see with the naked eye.

How to make a snow cave shelter

Snow can make a surprisingly warm place to sleep due to its insulating qualities, igloos have been used for thousands of years by Eskimos and others who live or work out in cold climates.

Put some thin waterproofs on for this task, and either look for a snow drift which is deep enough to form your shelter in, about 3 metres is the recommended depth or make yourself a snow mound.

You can dig a shelter out of a snow mound quite easily, just pile up as much snow as you will need, form an entrance and continue digging into it, patting the snow walls to compact it and use any melted ice water to seal the ceiling and walls so that they stay in the formation of your little shelter.

Build your sleeping platform higher than the cave entrance and always dig a small trench around it to keep it from touching the cave walls, this will prevent your body heat from melting the cave walls and protect the structure.

Make your walls at least 12″ inches thick and build in a small air vent, make sure you are happy it is secure before you get in, once you are sure it is stable, this igloo will make a great little shelter.

If you are intending to take images out there, take plenty of spare camera batteries, I have watched a fully charged battery drain within seconds out in the extreme cold, use your body heat to warm your camera and batteries if either stops working. It will happen so be patient and just work with it, take a waterproof carry bag you can seal for any spare lenses to keep them safe.

Inform people of your whereabouts
Always let people know where you are heading to and approximately how long for, this is essential if you are going to any remote or mountainous areas so that a rescue can be organised for that area, saving time saves lives.

Enjoy it!!!!

Last but not least, have fun, the planet has some truly amazing areas, some of the most beautiful places I have ever been to are in the cold with stunning ice and snow scenery and to be in the quiet wilderness without the noise and pollution of traffic is hard to beat.

Listen out for any wildlife and enjoy the stillness and peacefulness.

My view of Everest

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Incense galore

Hong Kong is an intoxicating, exotic, exciting, fun place with plenty to see and do, it is really easy to get around this city of sky risers which never seems to sleep.

This was a holiday from a few years back in 1990 with my Mum and our friends who we met in Egypt – Barbara, Jo, Terry and Peter, my memories of this trip are still there after many years as this was one of the original trips that really got me into travelling.

I had a very basic camera back then and these photos are not great, so please forgive the blurs.

We got to experience the crazy airstrip runway landing of Kai Tak Hong Kong International Airport which stretches out across Victoria Harbour waters, as you land you are so close to the buildings that you can see through peoples windows. It was considered to be the 6th most dangerous landing strip in the World, 1998 was the last year that this runway could be experienced, I think all of us on that plane held our breath as it landed.

Hong Kong makes an instant impact on the traveller, the city is striking with its tall buildings all slotted in and rising up like huge jagged teeth with the glistening waters of the bay as a backdrop.

Getting around is fun as you have a choice of bicycles, trams, taxis, star ferry’s and junk sail boats, I enjoyed walking around the city as the maps were easy to read and the people were all very friendly, it felt like a safe place and easy to navigate around.

The trams are really easy to hop on and off, I loved these, they came in all colours white, pink, red, green, blue, yellow and glided about the city effortlessly.

Tram

The Star Ferry is a brilliant way to get across the bay and is really cheap to ride on, just a couple of dollars, or it was when we went, I have been told it is still reasonable and they leave every few minutes so you do not need to worry about getting tickets in advance.

Junk Sail boats can be seen crossing the bay, these are like looking into the past, they are romantic looking vessels with their huge impressive sails, they sail gracefully like ghost ships and remain an iconic image of Hong Kong.

We were so close to the equator that in the midday sun you could barely see your own shadow, it was eerie seeing it so faint in comparison with the dark strong shadows we get in the UK.

The Revolving 66 Restaurant – this had to be done, an evening meal in this high rise restaurant on the 62nd floor which revolves slowly in 66 minutes as you eat your meal so that you get a panoramic view of all the Victoria Harbour and the sky scrapers. The elevator up to the restaurant is an experience in itself as the floor is made of glass, so if you look down you get a hair raising view as it whizzes up to the 62nd floor, for those with a fear of heights it might not be good to look down.

The food was superb, spiced fish, stew and dumplings, rice parcels and seaweed, you can feel the room moving, although it is slow, it is an odd sensation and can make you feel dizzy if you are prone to it, however it is a unique experience and one to go and try.

The Original Tiger Balm Garden – this was a pretty area of a landscaped garden full of painted statues of Tigers, Dragons and other figures, I really enjoyed looking around this little area. Sadly the garden has since been demolished in 2004 as the site was taken over by the residential development of The Legend of the Jardins Lookout.

Garden view

Tiger Balm Garden statues

Victoria Park to the Peak by cable car – this is a must for anyone visiting Hong Kong, the six of us were all excited about doing this t get ‘that view’ of Causeway Bay, Victoria Harbour and the city. Formally a typhoon shelter for fishing boats and yachts, the shelter was moved in the 1950s and this charming park was formed instead

The park itself was named after our very own Queen Victoria with a statue of her at the entrance, this park is set in the Wan Chai District, it is picturesque with small lakes and large areas of green, people come here to do Tai Chi most days and it was lovely to see people practising this art outside under the trees.

Nan Lian Gardens – right in the heart of the city is some beautiful gardens with some sculptures, walls, mounds and ponds, this is a wonderful place to come to and has a peaceful feel to it despite its urban location.

There are chances to see open air martial arts and cultural dances, some if these are truly spectacular and well worth seeing, usually set against beautiful backdrops.

Martial arts

Outdoor show

In Hong Kong the number 8 is seen as being a lucky digit, a sign of wealth is having the number 8 on the number plate of your car, if you see a car with 3x 8’s on it then it means the owner is exceptionally wealthy, I saw many of these cars in the downtown area of Causeway Bay.

Causeway Bay is the expensive part of the city with the posher exclusive shops, there was nothing there that I could afford, but it was still worth looking around to see this area.

Repulse Bay was an area I enjoyed, it was developed into a man-made beach back in 1910 and many people come here to relax, the sand is coarse and the beach fringed with palms, it has a boutique shopping area and the apartments located here are very high end bought by the wealthy.

Repulse Bay

We walked around many markets in Hong Kong, they were everywhere and fascinating to walk around, though I found some of the live animal stalls really upsetting and in the end had t avoid any of these areas as the cruel sights haunted me. There is little you can do when it is their culture, but it is something I continue t struggle with on any travels where I see this.

There are, however plenty of other markets to see and we made the most of exploring these unique areas.

Temple Street Night Market – This was my favorite market and an amazing experience, it instantly reminded me of the film Bladerunner, full of neon lights, interesting characters and strange wares, the sights and smells.

The Night Market

The market opens at 2pm but livens up from dusk to dark, it is often referred to as the men’s market, as it sells a lot of men’s clothes, watches, lighters, mobile phones, etc. But I would say there is enough there to cater for everyone. The women’s market is across the water over in Kowloon, I would have liked to have seen that as well, but there was enough here to see, it was an impressive place full of life.

It was a heady experience that made the imagination race at every turn of what might be around the next corner, there were some really unusual carvings and items to be found here as well as many many noodle stalls which gave off exotic aromas.

Haggle on everything, the market traders will expect it and enjoy it, the best places to see are in fact the little side streets shooting off from the market, these are full of interesting items, including the Jade market.

The Jade Market – a small cluster of stalls selling jade trinkets, carvings and jewellery, some of the stalls had some fantastic jade pieces on, make sure you look carefully, there are a few fakes in with the real stuff, most of it is genuine though.

The Chinese deem Jade as a sacred gemstone which symbolises purity, it is as precious to them as diamonds are to Westerners and is to be respected, although the stall holders will expect you to haggle for Jade too, do not offer ridiculously low prices for Jade as it will be seen as an insult.

Ap Liu Street Electronics Market -this market was great, a really cool place to see, just packed with electronic devices wall to wall and people walking around trying to sell watches, all palmed off as ‘genuine imitation’ Rolexes. Near to this area was a tailors and I had a smart jacket made and bought a kimono, which was so comfortable to wear.

Bird Market – A little disturbing seeing all these birds in tiny confined spaces of their cages, wanted to let them all out, over here though people love to have caged birds in their homes, it is a popular cultural thing that many people do.

There is an amazing restaurant boat called Jumbo, if you eat anywhere go here, the food is amazing, they specialise in dumplings, the food is great quality and well worth a visit.

Jumbo restaurant boat

Hong Kong was a bustling, friendly and interesting experience, on one hand I would be interested to return to see how much it has changed since 1998, on the other hand I wonder if I should leave it and stay with the golden memories I have of this unique Country as it was.

Tigers, Lions and Jungle cats

Puna leaping!

Although this was not a trip abroad, it was a valuable experience getting up close to large and some very rare cats from around the world and I feel it is worth telling their stories alongside some of the photos I took of these beautiful cats.

Home to over 50 rare cats of the most diverse range in the UK, the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent was founded in 2000 and is home to some of the most endangered cat species in the World, both small and large cats, including the Amur Leopard with only approximately 45 left in the wild globally and Sumatran Tigers of which there are less than 300 left in the wild.

The BCS aims to breed endangered cats and where possible introduce them back into the wild, it differs from other organisations in that it is not open to the general public, however you can book a photographic experience (which is how I got in). Alternatively you can sign up to become a voluntary ranger for the day or have a safari experience staying in a lodge overnight in the grounds and meeting the cats with a keeper in the day, not to mention hearing the lions roar at night.

If you have any unwanted Christmas trees or bamboo please donate it to the sanctuary, as the Tigers like to walk through the bamboo as it is part of their natural habitat and all of the cats love the smell of Christmas trees.

Each cat has a story from the sanctuary, please read on to get to know these amazing characters and where they have come from.

TAMAIR – THE TIGER

Tamir the Tiger – relaxing

Tamair was born at an Irish circus along with his brothers Genghis and Rocky, and at 5 weeks old came under the care of Peter Sampson who started this cat sanctuary, I have already met Rocky as he is now at the Paradise Wildlife Park, I had a real connection with Rocky, he is a very affectionate Tiger, beautiful.

Tamair is the largest cat at The Big Cat Sanctuary and although he is now old with arthritis and dental problems, he has been very good natured to litters of other cubs born on site, he sleeps in front of a heat lamp for comfort but when he feels energised still plays with his boomer ball.

According to the BCS there are now only six sub species of Tiger left in the wild today, this is so very sad, which is why these sanctuarys where big cats are bred and released back into the wild are so important, in fact I would argue that they are now essential to saving these species.

KUSHKA – A HYBRID TIGER

Kushka – A Hybrid Tiger

Kushka – A Hybrid Tiger

Kushka is an older Tiger who spent most of her life in a Circus, she was taken out to breed in 2012 but did not cope well being with another Tiger, preferring to be alone, she was an unsettled Tiger.

Thankfully she is now at the BCS and is much calmer and happier, although she suffers from arthritis and loss of hearing she is loved and looked after with plenty of space in her enclosure for some well-deserved peace and quiet.

Hybrids are becoming more and more popular, often bred in circuses or for the exotic pet trade however we should be aware that these interbred hybrids usually have some weaknesses, a price that the animal pays by being born to cater to the exotic pet business.

In Tigers there has been a great deal of inter breeding for their size back in the early days of circuses and a typical problem is the older animal in later life becoming riddled with arthritis due to the unnatural pressure on its joints.

This sanctuary is not open to the general public, with only very small groups of 8 people or so being allowed in at any time, it ensures that none of the cats get stressed and that it remains a calm place for them to live.

PUNA – THE SUMATRAN TIGER

Puna – The Sumatran Tiger walking through her bamboo

Puna playing a game

Puna playing a game

Puna leaping!

Puna was my favourite Tiger, she is a Sumatran Tiger, native to the Indonesian Island of Sumatra and the most beautiful I have ever seen, she was born into a litter of two cubs in Tiergarten enclosure, Heidleberg but after just 5 days her mother lost interest in her and rejected her.
Puna wandered into an area where some keeping staff found her and looked after her by bottle feeding her and she was kept in an enclosure next to her father before being moved to the Kent Big Cat Sanctuary.

Shockingly, there were three species of Tiger in Sumatra but due to hunting the other two the Javan and Bali have now been classed as extinct, the main threats are from the Chinese superstitions about medicine so Tigers are killed for their body parts.

This makes me extremely angry, why are certain parts of the plant taking so long to wake up from these foolish beliefs? It is so backward and so detrimental to our wildlife and planet, really these ridiculous markets for medicine should have long been addressed and banned.

The other threat, apart from man killing Tigers for their skins, is the palm oil industry, which is taking out huge chunks of forest, Tigers need a lot of area to walkabout and mate, as they are solitary creatures and their habitats are fast disappearing, the loggers are also responsible for their decline.

As stated before, there are less than 45 of these in the wild that is shocking beyond belief.

TINY AND KAFARA – THE WHITE LIONS

Tiny – The White Lion sleeping

Tiny and Kafara play fighting

Tiny and Kafara are two brothers, there is a third called Manzi, who were born at Woburn Safari Park, but their mother sadly stopped caring for them when she stopped producing milk early.

All three ended up at the Big Cat Sanctuary, however one of the brothers, Manzi, had to be separated from the other two as he is a little too aggressive to them, so Tiny and Kafara stay together in one enclosure, but as you can see from these pictures, the two get on well together and although seen baring their teeth, it is just play fighting, there is true affection seen there.

These Lions enjoy experiencing new scents and toys to play with, so the keepers regularly introduce scented herbs to give them new stimulation, watching them play was just like watching household cats at home, it is so interesting to see their behaviours.

NARNIA – THE WHITE BENGAL TIGER

Narnia -The White Bengal Tiger

Narnia -The White Bengal Tiger in a playful mood

Narnia was born in a French circus, this attractive blue-eyed tiger was taken in by the sister site Paradise Wildlife Park but was not compatible with their other White Tiger so she was transferred to the Big Cat Sanctuary.

Narnia is naughty, she enjoys nothing more than to pace close to the next enclosure and roar at Nias to annoy him, she also loves to chew the wire and poo in the pond and she is playful and enjoys her boom ball and anything she can find to amuse herself.

These white tigers are rarely seen for various reasons, in nature the mother has been known to kill a white cub as it is too ‘visible’ drawing attention to the pride and destroys any chances of the mother sneaking up on other animals to make a kill. They are also sought after by man and hunted for their skins, these beautiful tigers are sadly at a disadvantage from birth.

LAILA – THE SNOWLEOPARD

IUCN Red List Category Endangered (EN)

Laila – the Snow leopard

Laila – the Snow leopard

Often referred as ‘ghosts in the mountains’, these beautifully dappled Snow Leopards live in the Himalayas and the surrounding foothills, they have huge paws for stalking in the snow and long fluffy tails that they wrap around themselves when it is bitterly cold and they have the ability to retain extra body heat.

Tragically Snow Leopards are hunted for their beautiful furs, to make just one coat for a wealthy human being, it takes 50 Snow Leopards to line up the pattern of just one coat, this is beyond appalling!

However, Snow Leopards do kill livestock of local farmers and are persecuted due to this, it is a very difficult problem to solve, but lets hope that awareness of how endangered these creatures are will make for some essential changes.

Snow Leopards are a protected species under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) making the killing of Snow Leopards illegal, yet despite this the greed of humanity continues at an alarming rate.

Laila was born in Antwerp zoo and her mother died when she was two months old so as a result was hand reared by keepers and is very affectionate and tame with human beings, she was moved to the Big Cat Sanctuary at one year’s old and I a firm favourite with anyone who encounters her.

I completely fell under the spell of this stunning snow leopard, I have a love of snow leopards as a few years ago was privileged to encounter a litter of three snow leopards at a world heritage cat sanctuary who played happily at my feet as I sat on a grass bank,.

The plan was to rear and release the snow leopards into the wild when they were ready, it is a story that I intend to follow up to see if it is possible to track their progress.

JACK – THE JUNGLE CAT

Jack – The Jungle Cat posing

Jack – The Jungle Cat

Jack – The Jungle Cat stalking

I have always been intrigued by Jungle cats and have never been able to see one in the wild, despite several attempts to look in the areas that they might be, so this was a great opportunity to at last see what a Jungle cat looked like in reality.

Little Jack was born in Olmense zoo in Belgium and came to the Big Cat Sanctuary at 10 months old, he arrived in winter and as it was so chilly the keepers named him Jack after Jack Frost.

He is strikingly beautiful to look at, with his sculptured face and pointed ears, there is a fox like look about him and his colouring is of a rich sand, have a look at the below images that I took of him in the afternoon sunlight.

According to the BCS, Jack is the only Jungle cat in the UK, he enjoys roaming around in his pen but does not like rainy days and will take up residence in his sleeping quarters, he seems to be very good natured and not at all phased by cameras.

The BCS hope to bring in a female Jungle cat in the hope that they might be able to breed them, if there are any cubs I will be back over there as soon as I can get in and will take some photographs of the baby Jungle cats.

GRIFFIN – THE CARACAL

Griffin – The Caracal cat

Griffin the Caracal cat up close and personal

Griffin was originally born at Exmoore zoo, this handsome medium sized African cat has a lovely red colouring and extraordinary long ears with tufts of hair springing from them and these are thought to perhaps keep flies out of the Caracal’s face as well as acting as a form of accuracy when it is stalking its prey.

They are sometimes called the African Lynx or the Desert Lynx due to these long ears which are a characteristic of the Lynx, however the Caracal is a smaller and lighter cat.

These cats are solitary creatures, only coming together with other cats when they want to mate, the father has nothing to do with the cubs and goes back to his solitary life while the mother brings up the cubs for the duration of approximately one year.

These cats often get shot and killed by farmers in South Africa as the cats hunt and stalk the livestock on the farms, which must be a great temptation for a hungry cat, away from the lure of farm livestock though they are also competent survivors.

PETRA – THE EURASIAN LYNX

Petra – The Eurasian Lynx

Petra – The Eurasian Lynx

Petra is an impressive looking crepuscula cat in that she has an unusual white ring around her eye which is designed to work with its retina and improve its eye sight at dusk and lower light levels.

Petra was born at Norfolk Wildlife Park and was moved around quite a bit following the park’s closure, she has now been moved to BCS and thankfully is very happy and settled there, this is what most impressed me about the park, it is about the cats wellfare and happiness, they are not there for public entertainment.

These cats are there for rest and a peaceful retirement or to breed if they are young enough in order to try and conserve these beautiful animals, where possible the offspring are released into the wild.

VIKTORIA – THE PUMA

Viktoria – The Puma

Viktoria – The Puma what a beauty

Viktoria is a stunning looking Puma and these cats originate from South America, I can recall a story of a female tourist disappearing in Patagonia in an area where a Puma had been frequently seen, it made me think twice about wandering off alone in that area.
Pumas are often also referred to by other common names such as the Mountain Lion, Panther, Cougar, Catamount, etc.

Viktoria is an impressive looking cat, pure muscle tone and although a small cat she is capable of taking down much larger prey including a horse or an unarmed human.

To look at her though you would not think her capable of doing any harm as she looks so serene as she stalks about in her roomy enclosure, rather than roaring this cat makes little chirrup, mewing and yowling sounds with the odd hiss thrown in for good measure.

They do make louder screaming sounds, which are apparently mating calls to attract other cats, but the sound is quite eerie and disconcerting when you hear it, I will certainly be on guard if I ever hear that sound out in the wild.

JAGA AND AQUARIUS – THE FISHING CATS

Jaga and Aquarius – The Fishing cats playing

Jaga and Aquarius – The Fishing cats

At last my treasured Fishing cat!

For many years I have wanted to see Fishing cats in the wild, they are shy creatures though and not easy to find, having only ever seen pictures of them on the internet and in books, I was very excited to get the chance to come to BCS and see a pair there.

Fishing cats live in Vietnam (where I had hoped to see one), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Shri Lanka, India and Nepal, sadly though despite them being fairly widespread they are under threat as often killed on sight by locals, it is another example of a terrible persecution of a wonderful animal and saddens me beyond belief.

Fishing cats, as their name suggests can swim in water and under water for their food, they dive into streams from the bank to catch fish, they are also reported to eat snakes, birds and insects, they make a friendly chuckling sound and are fun to watch as they play along the waterside.

Sadly they are in decline due to their habitats being taken away and also by being hunted for their skins, we have no right to be doing this, I hope that stronger bans come into place to stop this illegal market.

It was fantastic to watch these two cats Jaga and Aquarius playing together in the reeds and jumping in and out of the water, it was a wonderful sight, Fishing Cats are top of my list for my favourite cats!

SAMIA – THE SERVAL

Samia – The Serval in the sunshine

Samia was born in captivity at Parc des felins zoo and has bred giving birth to two cubs, one of which called Jua is also at the BCS with Samia.

Her closest relatives are the Caracals and Golden African cats, her markings are very striking with distinctive spots and they are sadly killed for their skins and passed off in the illegal trade as cheetahs.

These cats eats rodents, deer and antelope and will go for flamingos, they can jump an impressive 9 feet high to catch birds and are superb stalkers due to their long ears which gives them a worthy advantage.

Servals differ to other cats as they do not hunt livestock so are no threat to the farmers, however due to their beautiful markings they are targeted for the illegal trade of exotic pets and are being bred with domestic cats to produce hybrid domestic cats, referred to as the Savannah.

BAJRAMI, MARTIN AND KEENE – THE CHEETAHS

Bajrami – The Cheetah

Keene – The Cheetah

Bajami, Martin and Keene were born at Boras Zoo in Sweden and these three cats are part of the studbook for The Southern Cheetah so hopefully they will be breeding in the future at BCS.

Cheetahs are the worlds fastest land mammals capable of running speeds of 68 miles per hour, although for short bursts only, they belong to their own genus Acinonyx due to their elongated body shape, which is very narrow and lightweight with long slender limbs, its fur is covered in single small attractive spotted markings.
Due to their distinctive black tear-drop facial markings the cheetah are one of the most easily identifiable cats to identify.

The cheetah is a very prolific breeder in the wild and can have litters of up 10 young cubs, this is to compensate for the very high mortality rate of cubs from predation and because the adult Cheetah is not a great fighter like Lions and other cats, and often will choose to run from conflict.

These Cheetahs were an absolute gem to photograph as they were very obliging and strode about in front of my camera with confidence. Their facial features are so strikingly beautiful and I felt a calm presence about them, these are really lovely cats.

ATARA – THE NORTH CHINESE LEOPARD

Atara – The North Chinese Leopard

Atara – The North Chinese Leopard with her long fluffy tail

Atara was born at a zoo park in Berlin and is a strikingly beautiful leopard with a long fluffy tail and stocky body and her species is from Beijing and the Gobi Desert, capable of running 36 mile an hour, due to the cooler temperatures these leopards have longer fur.

Atara was very obliging for photographs and seemed to enjoy interacting with us, she had a playful air about her as she roamed about unlike her neighbour, Chinese Leopard Ta-iri who was stalking us the minute we were in view of his enclosure.

As we got nearer he rushed out at us and roared aggressively before running back into the bushes from where he had been hiding, in those few seconds of this encounter you could feel his power.

These leopards are solitary creatures preferring to roam alone and hunt at night, they call out when they are searching for a mate and again sadly they are hunted by the illegal fur traders and are in decline.

HOGAR – THE AMUR LEOPARD

Hogar – The Amur Leopard

I was instantly struck by what an impressive cat this is, Hogar was born in a zoo in the Czech Republic and was moved to BCS in order to breed and with his partner Xizi, they were successful and produced two cubs who have now been transferred to continue the breeding program.

Shockingly it is estimated that there are only 60 Amur Leopards left in the wild, they are fast approaching extinction due to being hunted by the fur traders and also forest fires which are destroying their habitats, many of which are started deliberately.

There are now groups in place who are trying to save this Leopard, the main one being called ALTA (The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance), anything that can help stop the killings of these animals is worth trying, please spread the word and keep the awareness going about the help needed for them.

JETHRO AND TULA– THE PALLAS CATS

Jethro – The Palace Cat feeling shy

The WHF BCS has two Pallas cats, hopefully they will become a breeding pair, and they are amazing looking small cats, with huge eyes peering out of a bundle of unruly fur.

Pallas cats live in the mountains of Russia and parts of Asia and have the longest and thickest fur of any cat to protect them from the cold temperatures of Russia.

Pallas cats differ from the long eared Jungle cats, Pumas, etc. instead these fluffy small cats have small ears, similar to that of the snow leopard, the ears are short and positioned lower down on the cat’s head so that they do not stick up when the cat is hunting amongst rocks and shrubs.

Pallas cats are now a protected species as they were also hunted to small numbers, they are viewed by some farmers as an important asset as the cats feed off agricultural pests so the farmers do not bother them, good news for the Pallas cats, they are, however, still in very low numbers so breeding programs are necessary in helping to increase their numbers.

I only got to see Jethro properly as Tula was feeling a little shy, perhaps next time I will get to see them both, below is my one photo of Jethro, looking very sweet enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine.

This was an amazing experience, I felt incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to have a day at the sanctuary and meet the cats and there are a few ways in which you can do this.

I signed up to a photography day with John Wright, a recognised wildlife photographer who takes small groups out to these special places to learn about the wildlife and capture some memorable images of the subjects, if you love cats and photography, I can highly recommend it, a day taking photographs up close with these beautiful cats is very special.

You can adopt a cat, please see the Big Cat Sanctuary website for details on this, it really is a worthwhile thing to do and you can go and meet the cats with one of the keepers as a thank you.

I will certainly be going back to the Big Cat Sanctuary to see how the cats are all progressing, the staff are amazing with them and it is a truly wonderful place to support.

All images taken by Amanda King 2017