Category Archives: Personal

Thoughts on my second year of full-time travel

I wasn’t going to write a summary post for my second year of full-time travel, but re-reading my summary from last year I realise that a lot has happened, and my life has taken some unexpected turns!   So I changed my mind 🙂

Here is where I ended up going over the past year (you can click and drag the map, best view is with Africa in the middle):

The Silk Road

The year started out with an overland trip across the Silk Road with Madventure: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran.

I have to admit that I found this trip quite challenging.  “Overlanding” is about covering distance rather than really exploring a place, and this contrasts completely with how I usually travel.  To deal with the frustration I felt around this, I had to change my thinking to make it all about the journey, not the destinations.  I placed myself on a “mechanical camel” traversing the Silk Road as they did in the old days, scouting locations that I wanted to return to and explore more fully at a later date.

Staring out the window - Turkmenistan

Me in my “mechanical camel” traveling the Silk Road

And where would that be?  Definitely Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and probably Tajikistan.  Loved these countries!  They were very different to other places I’d traveled (well, except Mongolia many years ago), and there are plenty of hiking and trekking opportunities as well 😉

Other highlights:

  • The weirdness of Turkmenistan
  • Crossing the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan (I love being on boats)
  • The Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.  It is more impressive than you can possibly imagine 
Registan at night - Samarkand - Uzbekistan

[click and drag to see full panorama]


What can I say!  After 20 years of dreaming of visiting this incredible country, I finally went.  I should not have waited so long!  I absolutely LOVE Greenland!  I will return this year for a month and am already working on trying to arrange an extended stay in 2019.

The view across the Nuuk Fjord to an iconic mountain from near Café Inuk in Nuuk, Greenland

You only have to talk to me for about 10 minutes before I’ll bring Greenland up in conversation, and the most common question is “why are you so into this place”?

This is a very difficult thing for me to answer, but here are a few thoughts…

It is a fascinating place.  The way life works in Greenland is dictated by its isolation and the logistical difficulties faced when access to and within the country is so restricted by ice.  It has European tendencies (it is part of Denmark), but there is a whole other aspect as well, with hunting and dog sledding (in winter) and other elements of traditional life still present.  I find the dual-nature of Greenland intriguing.

Greenlandic sled dogs in Kulusuk - East Greenland

Greenlandic sled dogs are still a part of life in much of Greenland

It is surprisingly accessible.  Getting around Greenland (in summer at least) is actually quite easy, though definitely not cheap!  Air Greenland flies regularly to most of the larger towns, and boat transfers operate as the main mode of transportation within a local area.  In addition, although Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) is the official language, almost all Greenlanders speak Danish and most of the younger ones also speak extremely good English.  The latter was an unexpected but welcome surprise that allowed me to gain a little insight into Greenlandic life.

Flying or boating are the main methods used to get around Greenland

Flying (aeroplanes and helicopters) or boating are the main methods used to get around Greenland

It is beautiful.  Did you know that there are no trees in Greenland, but a surprising number of wildflowers in the summer?  I only explored part of the South and East of Greenland last year and they were very different to each other.  South Greenland (in the Narsaq/Narsarsuaq area) is basically sheep country – quite green in summer with lots of rolling hills.  East Greenland is much more remote and dramatic, with spectacular craggy mountains and ice-filled fjords.  Both have their charms, though I admit I was more drawn to the mountains of East Greenland.  

Images showing the contrast between South Greenland and East Greenland

The landscapes in South Greenland (top) and East Greenland (bottom) are very different!

There is no-one there.  The world’s largest island has a population of only 56,000 people and hosted 86,000 tourists in 2017, so you don’t have to go far before you are surrounded by wilderness and completely alone.  Land is not privately owned in Greenland and you can wander and camp wherever you wish – unfettered freedom to explore, enjoy the outdoors, and disconnect from the world.  I’ve already talked about how the silence is one of the reasons I love long-distance trekking so much, though it is very difficult to explain its impact unless you have experienced it for yourself.  Silence and being present in nature abounds in Greenland and is another reason I love it there. 

Panorama of the Tasilap Kua valley in East Greenland

[click and drag to see full panorama]

I re-found me.  The person I was while working as an astronomer in Chile was very different to the person I became while working in Melbourne.  It took almost 2 years of travel, but I finally re-claimed the person I want to be while in East Greenland last year.  Would I have found her somewhere else?  Quite possibly.  But the fact that this coincided with my stay in Greenland is part of the reason why this place is so special to me.

Me with my copy of Nanook's Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq CD


After traveling across the Silk Road, fulfilling my dream of visiting Greenland, and visiting great friends in Portugal (with a side trip to the Azores), my plan was always to live in one place for several months in South America and figure out how I was going to continue to fund this lifestyle of a full-time traveler.  I chose Ecuador as my base, as Chile (my home in South America) has become too expensive and I have always loved Quito. 

Panoramic View of the Historic Center of Quito from the Basilica

[click and drag to see full panorama]

I have to admit, the first 6 weeks were pretty rough!  I had a hard time making the transition from travelling around without a care in the world, to staying put and trying to sort my life.  Plus, my head and heart were still in Greenland.

However, after making some great friends through a Spanish conversation group and figuring out that I really liked living in the area just east of Parque La Carolina, I ended up loving my 6 months in Ecuador.  I didn’t do a lot of touristy things (though I did get out for a few hikes), I simply test-run what it was like to live there.  In the end, it was remarkably difficult to leave and, if I decide to go back and live in South America full-time, it will almost certainly be in Ecuador.

View Laguna Caricocha from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and the Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the summit of Fuya Fuya.


It was not part of my plan for the year to end up in Patagonia for a 7th time.  However, one of the joys of full-time travel is that you can decide things as you go, and when my friend Mathilde (who I’d met in East Greenland) said she was going to be there in February – I thought “why not”.

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy

I had a fantastic 5 weeks (mostly in Argentinean Patagonia) hiking and hanging out in one of my favourite parts of the world.  I crossed the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition off my bucketlist – undertaking this remote and incredible journey with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia, and really enjoyed hanging out with old friends as well as news ones that I made along the way.

[click and drag to see full panorama]

What did I discover

The general things that I talked about last year under this heading are still very valid.  But in addition:

  • I finally cemented in my mind that outdoor adventure (particularly long-distance trekking) is my thing.  My two favourite experiences from this year were the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, and the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia.
  • That maybe, just maybe, I can make a living as a travel photographer and writer!  This has always been my dream and I have had some early success this year in offering photography/writing services in exchange for experiences with different companies.  I’m focusing on this much more now and seeing where it could ultimately lead.  Very exciting!
  • That I really love living in South America 🙂  I knew this from when I lived in Chile, but spending 6 months living in Ecuador this year has re-confirmed it for me.
  • That I really want to go live in Greenland for a year – to experience the full change of the seasons and more of the culture and place.
  • That I don’t want to live in Australia at the minute.  As much as I have loved coming home and visiting my family and friends, I actually don’t want to live here right now.  The cost of living, the nanny-state restrictions on what you can and cannot do (most of which should just be common sense), and the parochial outlook of many Australians really struck me this trip home.  I love Australia and have no doubt that I will return one day.  But it is not my place right now.

What’s next

I’ve been home for 2 months now, relaxing, spending time with family and friends, and getting myself sorted for more adventure.   The next 6 months has me visiting friends in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, then trekking pretty solidly for several months through Iceland, Greenland, Nepal and Kenya.

More from the road soon!

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated.
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Greenlandic Music – Nanook and Frederik Elsner

Frederik Elsner!

As part of my ongoing fascination/obsession with Greenland (I spent 5 weeks there last year, will spend another 4 weeks this year, and already have plans for 2019), I started listening to music by Greenlandic bands and very quickly came across Nanook.  


The band was formed by brothers Christian and Frederik Elsner 10 years ago and is currently one of the most popular in Greenland.  

Nanook official image

Apart from the amazing music, one of the things I love is that although they all speak fluent English (and Danish), they sing in Greenlandic – a language that less than 60,000 people in the world understand.  No – I have no idea what the words are (though I have started learning a little Greenlandic.  Wow!  Tough language!) – but their songs are mostly about Greenland, nature and love, and they publish English translations of their songs on their CD inserts (see their Facebook gallery).  It’s frustrating (because I want to sing along), but beautiful at the same time.  

If you want to hear what I’m raving on about, they’ve just released an awesome single – Aarnuaq (Talisman) – from their new 10 year anniversary album “Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq“.  This song features another of the things I love about their music – a strong acoustic guitar component within a rock song.   

I actually pre-ordered this album from Atlantic Music – Greenland’s everything-to-do-with-music shop and the main distributor for Greenlandic music.  Sooo excited when it turned up in the post last week, signed by the band 🙂  Awesome, awesome album cover (Nanook means polar bear)!

Me with my copy of Nanook's Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq CD

Very excited to receive my signed copy of Nanook’s latest album: Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq. Less than 2 weeks from Greenland to regional Australia! I’m impressed!

I also highly recommend having a listen to their “Best Of” album on Spotify.  Start with #3 Inuinnaagavit (the first two songs are good, but not my favourites) and listen to the rest – AMAZING!


Frederik Elsner – F

Then, after a week of listening to Nanook on continuous repeat back in January, I was watching a video on Vimeo showing the Kangilleq Glacier (did I mention I am obsessed with Greenland?) and absolutely loved the music. I loved it so much in fact, that I messaged the person who made the video and asked him who it was (Shazam doesn’t recognise Greenlandic music it seems 🙁 ). 

It turns out that Frederik also has a solo album “Katassinnaanngisaq” which, for me, is even more powerful than the already incredible music from Nanook.

Cover for Frederik Elsner's solo album - Katassinnaanngisaq 

A lot of the songs on this album sing directly to my soul – something that I’ve only ever found with a handful of artists (John Denver’s songs, “Cootamundra Wattle” and a few other John Williamson songs, “Vor í Vaglaskógi” by Kaleo).

I have listened to almost nothing else besides Nanook albums and Katassinnaanngisaq in the past 5 months, and am very much hoping that the band and/or Frederik will be playing in Greenland or Iceland while I’m there this year 🙂  

Give them a listen!

Qujanaq Nanook!  Takuliiv!

btw was watching Australian Foreign Correspondent’s Greenland: The Land Of Ice Embracing Climate Change documentary yesterday and guess who provided the majority of music for the segment? 🙂

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures by clicking on the link. 

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Why I’ve stopped traveling for a while

It was always the plan this year that when I arrived in Ecuador, I would stop traveling for a while.  “Why?”  you may ask, given I have the resources to keep going. 

There are a couple of reasons related directly to me:

  1. I haven’t had any income for over a year and I need to do something about that so that I can continue to have the resources to travel.  Unfortunately, my bank account is not infinitely deep 🙁 
  2. Even though I don’t travel very quickly and tend to spend at least a week in each place, last year I found that I got tired after about 3 months of moving around.  I really needed to stop and recharge, and for this reason I ended up hanging out in an Antigua, Guatemala for 3 weeks mid-year, and Santiago, Chile for a month at the end of the year.

But there is another reason as well that applies more broadly.

Mark Manson is one of my 2 favourite bloggers (the other is Tim Urban who writes Wait but Why).   He makes a point at around minute 41:45 of this podcast with Lewis Howes that absolutely resonates with what I’ve grown to feel/realise over the past 1.5 years.

“Overcoming problems is the engine that generates happiness … When you remove problems, it creates its own special kind of misery… You need the problems because that’s what generates the meaning.  If you don’t have the meaning, then everything else feels pointless”

My biggest “problems” for the past 1.5 years have been deciding what to eat, where to sleep, what to do the next day, and how to get from A to B.   And although I’m definitely not miserable (I’m actually incredibly happy with the life I’m leading), it really has started to feel as if there is something missing.   I have started to feel useless, which is actually very unpleasant.

Hence the break.  To establish myself as a freelancer and find work where I feel I am contributing again. 

In her Ted Talk about the 4 Pillars of Happiness, Emily Esfahani Smith also talks about how important belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling are to happiness.  From my own experiences – I absolutely concur – though the pillars manifest in different strengths depending on your circumstances.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to take 12 minutes to watch!   


Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Did I get a tattoo in Portugal?

Never in my life had I ever considered getting a tattoo.  I didn’t like the look of them, and I couldn’t conceive of why you would want something permanently engraved on your skin.  I certainly couldn’t come up with something that I would want permanently etched into me anyway.

That is, until I arrived in the Azores with Pedro and we were talking about the new tattoo he was going to get.  I actually really liked the one he got in Nicaragua last year of Pepe – the macaw he rescued whilst he was there – and loved that it had so much significance for him.   This new tattoo was also incredibly meaningful for him – an image of Leo, the ocelot he also cared for whilst at La Mariposa Spanish School in Nicaragua. 

Now, anyone who has ever met me and talked to me for a while knows how much La Silla Observatory (where I used to work in Chile) means to me.   Certainly Pedro has heard me talk about it ad nauseum, and when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a “Wanderer Bracelet” with the coordinates of La Silla, he came out with the following poetry:

“You already have La Silla tattooed in your heart and mind, why not have it tattooed on your skin?”

And in that moment, the seed of the idea was planted.

We talked about it often over the next few days, I looked up different options for the design and placement on the body, and, I have to admit, the idea really grew on me.  To the point where I submitted what I wanted to Manel – the tattoo artist – to prepare.

Fast-forward to the next week in Porto, and I went with Pedro to get his tattoo done and discuss the possibility of mine.  Having never had any interest in tattoos, it was really interesting to watch the the whole process.

First of all, the final design (which has been decided between the artist and client) is transferred to a stencil.

tracing the design for transfer to the skin

Next, the area is shaved and the image transferred to the skin.

transferring the tattoo design

Then the needles are prepared.  They come sealed in individual packages, and different sizes are used depending on what is required for the image.  Manel was extremely conscious about hygiene throughout the whole process – I lost count the number of times he changed rubber gloves!

preparing the needles for the tattoo

Then there is the actual tattooing.  


Manel used one of the newer guns that didn’t make anywhere near as much noise as the traditional ones (he demonstrated a traditional one for me and I think that would have put me off right there) – and Leo came into being, with only the occasional grimace/face-pulling by Pedro.

tattooing and the final image

So, did I get a tattoo?

my tattoo - the coordinates of La Silla Observatory

After this photo was taken, Manel slathered on some cream and wrapped my forearm in glad-wrap, which had to stay on for a couple of hours.  Here’s Raúl and I out on the town afterwards with me still wrapped up (love this photo!  Thanks Pedro 🙂 ). 

Out and about in Porto with Raúl - arm still wrapped up from tattoo

And did it hurt?  

Nowhere near as much as I expected! In fact there were only a couple of moments where it “bit” a little (that’s what it felt like), though admittedly it was only a very small tattoo.

And do I regret it?

Not at all!  🙂  Sorry mum and dad!

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Why I love long-distance trekking

Karale Glacier - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

This is my favourite image from my trip to Greenland this year.   

Taken on Day 3 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, it (almost) perfectly captures everything I loved about the trek and the reasons why the experience was so special to me.

Many people have asked me about why I love long-distance trekking, given that the thought of trekking for 8 or 10 or 12 days without a shower or many creature comforts is quite a stretch for most.  But for me it’s absolute heaven for the following reasons:

The beauty

Just look at the image.

Those who have been following my travels through the blog have probably figured out that I love mountains, despite the fact that I come from a country that doesn’t really have any “proper” ones.  I’m not a beach girl at all (very un-Australian of me) and am not fond of heat and humidity, though I do love deserts! 

No.  For me, it is the mountains that really give a sense of the grandeur of the World, whether it be looking up at them towering above you, or looking down from a bird’s eye view.  And although there are plenty of mountains that are easily accessible, if you trek for 10 or 12 days, you end up a long way from anyone or anything, and can really experience nature in all its glory.  It doesn’t get any better!

The silence

There is silence in nature – which in turn quiets my own thoughts.

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash in Peru

Hiking and high intensity exercise are the only things I’ve found that switch my brain off from its constant chatter about what is happening in my life or what I would like to happen in my life.  The advantage that hiking has over high intensity exercise is that it is relatively easy to sustain for long periods of time, if you go in with a good level of fitness to begin with. 

For example, I love boxing!  It is my favourite type of exercise (apart from hiking).  But even at my fittest (just before I left Australia 18 months ago), an intense 30 minute training session with Charles would wipe me out for the rest of the day!     Another example, one of the things I try to do most mornings while traveling is High Intensity Interval Training.  I use the 12 Minute Athlete App and, if you really commit to the idea and put everything you’ve got into it, 12 minutes is more than enough time to destroy you.  If you don’t believe me – I encourage you to give it a go 🙂

And so back to long-distance trekking.  To me, it is a luxury and the best gift I can give myself to have 12 days of peace and serenity and freedom from thinking about life.  To be completely “in the moment” and disconnected from “real life” allows me to reset my thought patterns and eject things that I may have been obsessing over prior to setting off.  I always come back from a long-distance trek with a much clearer mind.

And for those of you who need a break from technology – we had no phone reception from the moment we left Kulusuk to the moment we returned.  Going cold-turkey for 11 days is a good way to break the cycle!

The simplicity

I’ve always lived a fairly minimalist lifestyle, preferring to spend my money on experiences rather than things.  However, since leaving Australia in February 2016, I’ve taken that a step further and have been traveling with just a 60L bag for the most part (OK, this has extended a little this year because I had to bring all my camping gear with me).  Trust me – you can’t fit much in a 60L bag!  For example, I have 2 pairs of trekking pants and 4 quick-dry shirts, so my daily decision about what to wear comes down to: “does it smell, or can I get away with wearing it for another day?“.   After all – you don’t want to be doing washing every 3rd day!

Trekking for 12 days takes this to an even more extreme – after all, you actually have to carry this stuff!  Decisions about what to eat are minimised – you eat what you have with you.  Decisions about where to sleep are minimised – you pitch your tent wherever you find yourself when you stop hiking.   And decisions about what to do are minimised – you are either hiking, or you entertain yourself with whatever you have with you.   Your options are severely limited when you are in the middle of nowhere, but that makes it all the more special, as you can really appreciate where you are and the people you are with.

Keeping ourselves entertained

Entertaining ourselves on a rainy day in the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. Reading, sleeping, talking, drinking tea, and innumerable games of UNO.

The challenge

For some people, the thought of walking 6 blocks in the middle of a city is too much.   For others, a day hike is more than enough to last them for the next week or month.  But when you walk (and engage in other exercise) as much as I do, these shorter hikes are great, but often don’t provide much of a challenge.   

The exceptions I can think of off the top of my head since I started traveling in 2016 are Volcán Maderas in Nicaragua, Rucu Pichincha in Ecuador, and Laguna 69 in Peru.  These were tough day hikes – Maderas because of the heat, the others because of the altitude.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru is a tough day hike, mostly because of the altitude

The first long-distance trek I did was the Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile in 2015.  I remember when I signed up that I was a little nervous about walking for 8 days, especially with the osteoarthritis in my toes.  But it was an incredible experience (for all the reasons I’m talking about here), and while there were challenging parts to it, on the whole, it really wasn’t that difficult.

Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

The Torres del Paine Circuit was the first long-distance trek I did. We had pretty ordinary weather but it was an amazing experience

Then, last year, I hiked the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, 95% of which is over 4,200m, with several passes over 5,000m.   Having spent quite a lot of time at altitude, I knew I wouldn’t have any problems with altitude sickness, but if you’ve ever been above about 3,000m, you know that doing anything at these altitudes gets very difficult very quickly. 

Highest point on the Huayhuash Trek

The highest point on the Huayhuash Trek at 5,200m.

However, with the slow walking pace set by Eliceo, the  altitude challenge was entirely surmountable (though there were some tough climbs), and the sense of achievement I felt at the end of the 10-days was a kind of euphoria.  It took me several days to come down off the high of that incredible experience.

The 12-day Unplugged Wilderness trek in East Greenland was this year’s challenge.  And although altitude wasn’t a concern, I hadn’t actually done much exercise for the previous 2 months while traveling the Silk Road (I’d also been a bit slack on the High Intensity Interval Training 🙁 ) so wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be.  My other concern was the cold (this is Greenland after all, even if in Summer), something that I feel very keenly, and one of my biggest challenges on the Huayhuash Circuit.  It turned out that this actually wasn’t an issue at all (except for Day 4) and I think this trek is the easiest of the 3 I’ve done so far.  No less spectacular for it though, and 3 months after the fact, my head and heart are still in Greenland!

Sunset bathing the tips of the peaks behind the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut with a golden light. The hut is in the foreground

Another favourite image

So what is my next challenge?

Well, all the treks I’ve done so far have been supported – in other words, I’ve only had to carry a day pack while hiking.  And although my day pack tends to be heavier than most because of my camera gear, it’s still a lot lighter than carrying a full pack.

However, in February 2018, I will be leveling up in my challenges and undertaking the 10-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition from El Chaltén in Argentina.  On this hike, I have to carry a full pack, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very, very nervous about the cold.   Check back in March to see if I survive!

Update:  I survived!  Read my stories from this incredible expedition with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia.

The new friends

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.  But I’ve found that the types of people who undertake long-distance treks and actually stick it out, tend to be easy-going, fun, and interesting companions. 

Because you spend so much time together – hiking, eating meals, hanging out – you have tons of time to chat and get to know one another.  And if you really click, it very quickly and easily turns into an ongoing friendship.  I’m still in touch with Max and Nico from the Huayhuash Circuit last year (I am working on convincing them to come to Greenland next year), and I’ll catch up with several of my companions from Unplugged Wilderness again in 2018.   I’m really looking forward to this!

Max and Nico from Huayhuash (top), and the crew from Unplugged Wilderness (bottom)

So there you have it.  If you’ve been curious (or have asked me previously) about why I keep doing these crazy-long treks, I hope that gives a bit more of an idea why I’m so attracted to them.  I really wish I’d discovered this passion earlier in my life, but am making the most of it now that I’ve seen the light 🙂

So who’s in for the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland in August in 2018?


Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Unplugged Wilderness Trek – Video Slideshow


I am a photographer.  One who rarely remembers to take video (even though some of my blog posts include short clips).

And even though I spent almost 10 years working on the periphery of the film industry in Australia (in particular, I was one of the main time-lapse photographers for the IMAX Movie: Hidden Universe 3D), I haven’t personally played around much with video.

So imagine my surprise when, after my experiences in East Greenland on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures, I had a real (and unabating) desire to create a video slideshow with some of my favourite images from the trek.  

The idea first surfaced when I heard the song Vor í Vaglaskógi by the Icelandic band Kaleo – one of the many music recommendations I took on board while we were hiking.  I love all their music (give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them), but this song reached out and grabbed me, as it perfectly captures the grandeur of East Greenland and also my melancholia for having to leave.

I’m really looking forward to returning in 2018!

Read more about the Unplugged Wilderness Trek

If this post has piqued your curiosity about hiking and trekking in East Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Tour with Greenland Adventures:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images

If it has sparked an interest in Greenland more generally, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours of all kinds (not just hiking and trekking) at Guide to Greenland.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

My year of travel – a summary

Well, the year of travel is over.   And it was absolutely awesome!  So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again!   So more to come…

Here is where I ended up going over the past year:

The Places

Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.  

As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica.  And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!).   I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it.   10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.  

The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking.   And trust me  – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while!  10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss!    And the scenery was amazing!

As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down.   I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with.   The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time.   And oh the pupusas…..

As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba.   The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag.   A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero.    This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.  

I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.

The People

Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet.  I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:

Nicaragua:   Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala

El Salvador:  Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung

Guatemala:  Susan Jung, Julia Koch

Cuba:  Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels

Ecuador:  Jenny Waack

Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels

Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter

Chile:  My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack

Antarctica:  Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen

And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever!   I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit.  It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!

What did I discover?

The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”?   Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.  

So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year: 

  • it makes you live more in the moment.  I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next.  Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
  • it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing.  Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
  • it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
  • it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
  • it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
  • it teaches you patience and resilience.  Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
  • it forces you to live simply.   You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
  • it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America).  If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel.   It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
  • it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives.   Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure,  the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…

And what do I want out of life?   Well, I’m still not quite sure I know.  But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂  Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book.   If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!  

Stay tuned…

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

La Silla Observatory

Between 2000 and 2004 I worked as an astronomer for the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile.  ESO had 2 observatories in Chile at the time – the older La Silla Observatory that had been in operation since the 1960s, and the new Paranal Observatory where the Very Large Telescope was just starting operations with all 4 of its telescopes (there is also now ALMA Observatory, with first light in 2011). 

The year I arrived, I was the only Astronomy Fellow to be assigned to La Silla, everyone else was assigned to Paranal.   I remember being a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to work on the largest and newest telescopes and instrumentation, but in the end – it turned out that I had won the workplace lottery!    None of my friends at Paranal enjoyed their time at the observatory (it has changed a lot since then), whereas we had such a great time on La Silla that I never wanted to return home to Santiago.

La Silla Observatory

Standing in front of the 3.6m/CAT telescopes looking down at the main part of La Silla Observatory

It was the last of the really great years of La Silla, when there were still plenty of staff and visiting astronomers up there to form a really vibrant and fun community, and we certainly took advantage of that!   It was a beautiful place (all observatories are in incredible locations) with very special people – and it is the main aspect of my life as an astronomer that I miss.  Profoundly!

For this reason, every time I come back to Chile, I send a request to the Director of the observatories (who knows me from when I worked at ESO) asking if I can stay a few nights at La Silla.  He always says “yes” thank goodness 🙂  This year was no exception, and I got to stay for several nights over Christmas 2016.

Words cannot describe the feelings I have for La Silla, however, the following image from Buddha Doodles sings to me of the observatory.  Sitting with great friends above the clouds on the top of a mountain, with the even higher Andes in the background, looking at the night sky – it’s what we did there.

Buddha Doodles - La Silla memories

Another expression of La Silla comes from this piece of music from the IMAX movie “Hidden Universe 3D“.  This movie was inspired by a trip the Director of the movie and I took through the observatories in Chile in 2008 and, although the composer had never talked to me about my experiences, he captured my feelings perfectly. 


If you’ve seen the movie (if not, you should go see it!), you know that the crescendo at the beginning leads up to the first reveal of the glory of a nebula in the night sky.  I listened to this piece of music over and over again this trip to La Silla while laying out on the upper ramp to the New Technology Telescope (NTT) looking up at the southern summer sky.

La Silla Observatory

View from the upper ramp of the NTT. The 3.6m and CAT telescopes under a southern summer sky at La Silla Observatory. The two galaxies in the top right are the Magellanic Clouds

Then, after the crescendo, the music descends into a slightly melancholic feel – exactly reflecting how much I miss working at observatories in general, and La Silla specifically.

I have come to think of La Silla is my “spiritual place”, which is really saying something given that I am not at all comfortable using the word “spiritual”.   And I plan to continue returning for as long as ESO will let me – recapturing and remembering a really special time and place in my life.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Happy New Year! Welcome 2017

Yes, I know I’m in the middle of a series of posts about events that happened a month ago, but just needed to interrupt to say Happy New Year and all the very best for 2017!  

I actually stayed up till midnight for only about the 4th time in my life!   This was largely thanks to the 2 Aussies I got talking to up on the rooftop bar of the hostel when I took an Aussie pie and broccoli up there to eat my dinner.   Nice thing was that we had a clear view across to one of the main fireworks launchpads in Santiago – the Entel Tower.   And it didn’t disappoint!

Happy New Year 2017 from Santiago de Chile


And before the fireworks started, some of the Chileans who had joined us on the roof launched a lantern – seemed to be a very popular thing to do as there were heaps of them floating in the night sky above Santiago.

Happy New Year 2017 from Santiago de Chile

So goodbye 2016 – I had an incredible year.   Hello 2017 – which I’m sure will be another amazing one full of adventure.

Happy New Year / Feliz Año Nuevo!

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Thomas Covenant – the Unbeliever

For those of you keenly awaiting my blog posts on Easter Island and Antarctica – they are coming, I promise!  

The delay has been caused by my absolute immersion in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – the Unbeliever, the final installment of a fantasy series written by Stephen Donaldson.

I have always loved the Thomas Covenant books – ever since reading the First Chronicles probably 25 years ago.   They are unusual in that they tend to polarise fantasy readers – you either love them or you hate them (most fantasy is fairly innocuous) – and while I admit that the lead characters (Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery) can be very, very unlikable/annoying at times, the characters that help them throughout their journeys are incredible!   Donaldson forgoes the usual dwarves, elves etc of regular fantasy and creates completely new characters to populate his world.  There is not a single one that is not interesting, and most of them are downright awesome!

I actually read the first 3 books of this Last Chronicles a few years ago … before I realised that there was a 4th book – one he hadn’t finished at the time!   That book was released in 2013 and one of the few concrete plans I made for this year of travel was that I was going to start from Book 1 of the First Chronicles and read all the way through the 10 books.

I re-read the first Chronicles back in April (for the 3rd time) and really enjoyed diving back into the world Donaldson creates, reuniting with Saltheart Foamfollower (a Giant) and Bannor (a Haruchai) in particular.   For me, the Haruchai are the most awesome characters ever written, and is it just me or does George R. R. Martin’s characters, “the Unsullied”, seem to harken after the Haruchai (at least in the TV series, I haven’t read the books).

1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

After a break of a few months, I re-read the Second Chronicles (for the 2nd time) in August, and again was totally taken by how cool the Haruchai (Brinn, Cail, Ceer, Hergrom) are.  

2nd Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

I started the Final Chronicles at the end of my month in Santiago doing nothing, and spent every spare second on Easter Island and La Silla reading (I took a break for 2 weeks while I was in Antarctica – too much else going on).   There I really fell in love with Stave – yes, yet another Haruchai.   He has a “Maximus Decimus Meridius” moment at the end of the first book which sealed him as my favourite character of all time.   I think Donaldson perfected his writing of the Haruchai in this last series – so many awesome moments with this race!

Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

There is actually a 4th book – The Last Dark – as well

So now I’m feeling bereft – and want to immediately start reading them again 🙁   For me, this fantasy series is waaaaay better than Lord of the Rings (I know, sacrilegious), though I acknowledge that there are similarities between at least the First Chronicles and Tolkien’s epic.

If you like fantasy and have not yet read these books – I cannot recommend them highly enough.   You may fall into the camp of those that hate them – they are very dark after all – but you should definitely give them a go at least.  Acknowledge that Thomas Covenant is very unlikable (at least initially – this will be cemented in the first book in a particular scene that you will recognise as soon as you read it) and read past it – you won’t be disappointed!


p.s.  Although I don’t read a lot of Sci-Fi, Donaldson’s 5-book “Gap Cycle” series is also an incredible, unputdownable epic that I really enjoyed.   And his “Mordant’s Need” 2-book series is also awesome.  I guess I’m just a huge Donaldson fan 🙂   

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me: