Check Mate in Budapest

My winning piece in this weeks Telegraph Travel writing competition. I actually wrote this three years ago (but only submitted it last week), and have still not thought up a good name for it; ‘My new check mate’ (works better if set in Czech Rep!) and ‘You have reached your chess-tination’ (sometimes you can take…

A Tumble in the Jungle

I probably couldn’t have picked a worse place to break my leg. We were deep into the Bolivian Amazon basin for starters, a three hour boat ride from civilisation. Not only that, it was 11pm and we were half a kilometre from our river side camp, amidst thick jungle on a walk upon which we…

Life on the Lake

There’s a lot to be said for living on a floating island in the middle of a lake. For starters, you’ve got unrivalled lake views, as well as your very own swimming pool just metres from your front door. A plentiful supply of food and water is readily available all year round and most importantly…

Into the Deep

Of all the pleasures in life, there’s not many that come close to a nice, long walk. It could be over the barrenly beautiful hills of England’s Peak District, hugging the idyllic shorelines of New Zealand’s Abel Tasman coastal track, hiking across Andean Plains or clawing our way through steamy Asian jungles, but the chances…

Thrills, Meals and Bellyaches

“You have to be kidding me, right?” Glancing nervously from the toy sized six seater aeroplane in front of me to the pilot, jovially taking photographs of our fellow passengers, I tried to block out everything I’d read online as we’d tried to research our flight over the Nazca Lines. Multiple crashes over the last…

From darkest Peru

“I came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade. Bears like marmalade.” [Paddington Bear, 13 October 1958] This wasn’t marmalade. Far from it. In front of us was stretched the baked crispy skin of a Guinea Pig, known locally as Cuy and all my childhood perceived opinions of Peruvian food had been thrown out…

The Gringo Fail

Of all the things I expect to happen when I ask for a bus ticket, the ticket attendant collapsing in a mock suicide is not one of them. While I stood there utterly bewildered, nervously glancing from side to side while trying to work our what the hell is going on, the previously stricken girl…

Viva la Evolution

I’m sitting here cleaning animal muck off my walking boots, and try as I might I can’t stop smiling. This isn’t any old stinking animal muck you see, the origin of the faeces is the Galápagos Sea Lion, and in its current pungently fresh state, it’s as good a reminder as any of the ten…

Head in the Clouds

There was definitely a lake there a minute ago. Definitely. In fact a minute ago we were rapidly shedding clothes in the late afternoon sun, and now here we were in the depths of thick, grey cloud, with freezing rain spitting sharply against our bare skin. For the view we had currently we could’ve been…

Imports and Exports

“We’ve been in Colombia one month now, and we still haven’t tried the country’s most famous export.” “What, you mean Co…?” – I cut her off there. “Yep. Surely we can’t come all this way and not even try any, can we? Colombia is kind of world famous for it after all…” So off we…

Privates, Pirates and Paisas

What were we expecting from Colombia’s Caribbean coast? Sunshine, obviously. Calm, clear waters? Hopefully. Maybe a bit of wildlife – tropical fish, turtles, a bit of bird life – and perhaps even a hammock and some typically local fruits, you know, a few coconuts and bananas. But no, we were not expecting this. All of…

Lost and found – a journey to Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City. Straight away your ears prick up. A lost city in the depth of the Colombian jungle, a city built, lived in and left behind by an ancient civilisation vanished to time. What more do you need to hear? Occasionally you come across these places where the sense of intrigue…

Embracing El Pais

One of the great pleasures of traveling is experiencing news things, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Whether it be sampling strange local delicacies, immersing yourself in a culture foreign to your own, or simply learning some swear words in a new language, it’s inevitable that discovering new places and new countries will expand the mind. While…

Cidade Maravilhosa

The instruction was to just run. Don’t run and jump, don’t run too fast or slow, and whatever you do, do NOT run and then stop. My immediate concern at this point, and in my view a very legitimate one at that, was that the platform we were supposed to be running on ended after…

Dancing in the Streets – Rio Carnaval 2014

“Welcome my friends! Welcome to Riiiiiiio, and welcome most of all, welcome to CARNAVAL!”. Meet Max. Max is a portly, cross dressing carioca barman with a smile as wide as his outstretched arms. Before him is the main square of Lapa which right now is a seething mass of noise and movement, all overlooked by the…

Brazilling out

It was a piano player from Rio de Janeiro who surprised us by saying it, while clutching a frosted glass of Antarctica in a ramshackle canvas bar close to the old town of Paraty. “I love my country” he sighed, “and I know how lucky we are. We have no wars and no extremist political…

Knowing Me, Knowing Iguazu

It doesn’t take long for the novelty of a South American overnight bus to wear off. For us, it was right about the time that while sat on a broken down bus on the side of a motorway in 36°C heat, a group of teenage Swedish backpackers cracked open some champagne and started singing ABBA songs.…

Viva la Argentina

I’ve never really been too fond of Argentina to be honest. Be it the hangover in the British press from the Falklands war, an uncanny ability for their national team to knock us out of World Cups, or the fact that they’ve always seemed a bit rugged alongside their glamorous Brazilian neighbours, it’s just a…

Houston, we have a problem

Of all the places that might be on the Gringo Trail – that much famed backpacker route around South America – the Best Value Motel a few miles from Houston international airport is not one of them. We were supposed to be touching down in Buenos Aires around now, but instead I found myself smuggling…

Dancing on the Ceylon

Allow to me to introduce Mr Ambakubura; 80 years old, a lifetime of stories and a handshake that lasts almost as long as the three hours we shared sat next to one another on a bus. He spoke like a Sri Lankan Rowley Birkley QC – mostly rapid inaudible mumbles interjected by sudden bursts of…

Java and out

Life as a celebrity? No, it’s not for me. I knew there was a reason why I had never excelled enough at anything to the point it would bring me fame, and I realise now that I have lived a life content in mediocrity for a reason. I just can’t handle the attention you see.…

King of the swingers

It’s a peculiar feeling the first time you look into the eyes of an Orangutan. Mostly because you know they’re probably thinking the same as you – “Well he’s an odd looking chap” – is the immediate thought – “odd, but I can definitely see something of myself in those roguish good looks“. The likeness…

Beauty and the beasts

As a boy, I used to feed my imagination with books. Poring over the pages I’d discover the depths with deep sea divers, soar with winged dinosaurs and clamber through ruined jungle temples and lost kingdoms. I could travel into space, march with mighty Roman empires and battle with medieval knights, all from the comfort…

Over Land and Sea

My four rules of travel: 1. Never miss the opportunity to wind up a Canadian by asking them where in America they are from. This can then be further enhanced by stating upon their reply that ‘Canada is one of the northern states, isn’t it?” 2. Eat as the locals do. 3. Travel as the…

Into Indo

Wedged snugly between the handlebars; the baby lies asleep, oblivious to it all. Oblivious to the shrill drone of engines roaring, oblivious to the engulfing toxic fumes around her and perhaps gratefully, oblivious to their own frantic path through the rush hour traffic. In an instant the motorbike disappears into the sea of motorbikes as…

Aussie Rules (OK!)

According to recent survey results, among the most popular names given to Australian born babies this year is ‘Bruce’. They don’t help themselves, do they? If ever there were a nation that lived up to its stereotypes then surely this is it. Think of Australia and you picture the dusty outback, surf breaks and Merv…

Ah yeah, see ya!

“You like New Zealand bro?” “Yeah, nah – sweet as bro, eh?“ “Eh, bro?“ “Eh?“ “Ah yeah, bro, eh?“ “Eh?“ “Bro?“ “Ah bro“ “Ah yeah, it’s choice eh?“ “Choice bro!“ “Eh?“ “Good as gold bro, eh?“ “Sweet as bro!“ “Ah yeah bro!“ Well, exactly. Today we leave New Zealand, and while our grasping of the…

Islands, sand and the end of the land

Lost in the woods at night. It’s the scene of nightmares isn’t it? Bound with the fact that it’s a situation which will only develop from running in bewildered, snotty nosed circles to an untimely but all too inevitable demise, it’s one we weren’t overly keen in experiencing. Huge Kauri trees loomed over us from…

Surfin’ Safari

Surfing. Pastime of the effortlessly cool, sport of the effortlessly coordinated. Neither of which I am, and these being attributes that you tend to just have rather than acquire, I am destined to always fail at surfing. Not that it’s a bad thing entirely. Surfers are eaten by sharks more than most, as are they…

Māori, Whales and Colonial sails

“Go waaaay out East” – grinned the man at the info site – “as far as you can go“. Out to a part of New Zealand that’s less trodden than most, out to a blueprint of its past. Out East to see the new day before the rest of the world, where the ways of…

Life’s a beach

The last time I was on holiday with my folks was in 1999 I think, when aged 15, I spent most of a two week trip to California fighting with my brother and trying to spot Snoop Doggy Dogg. Looking back in fact, I seem to recall wreaking havoc on most of the holidays of…

A freak of nature – New Zealand’s volcanic zone

New Zealand is a bit weird, really. The country and its people are just not normal. Never mind a worryingly high volume of mullet haircuts or the curious national obsession with beetroot – both of which are bizarre – and ignore also the tricky place names (try and pronounce Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu without drawing breath). What’s most…

Wellington, Wairarapa and the wind

“So whereabouts are you and the vehicle located, sir?” “Rivendell” “Rivendell?” “Yes Rivendell, you know, the Elven outpost of Middle Earth, home to Elrond – Lord of all Rivendell and leader of the Elves” “Ah yes, of course, your roadside assistance will be with you within the hour” Only in New Zealand. OK – the…

Marlborough, Sounds of silence

Dolphins, eh? Tedious bastards, the lot of them. Our jovial, ocean marauding friends are hard not to love really, but bloody hell, it was nearly 8pm and getting well past dinner time now. Six months we’d been in New Zealand, predominantly on the coastline, without seeing a single flipper, and now they’d just tipped up…

Christmas in a Campervan

We were hunched over two bowls of ice cream, rapidly melting in the heat, when Sir Paul McCartney first announced that Christmas was upon us. Now in my book, Christmas songs are generally not played when I’m eating ice cream whilst sitting in a hammock in my pants, so when the familiar annual declaration came…

Living the golden way

New Zealand’s tourist board has a rather easy job really, doesn’t it? Never mind the grandiose landscapes that sell themselves so well, an overabundant collection of wildlife rarely seen elsewhere and the vast array of action packed activities on offer, its place names alone are enough to pull tourists in. A map of New Zealand is a…

A Seaside Stroll – Walking the Abel Tasman coast track

Anything that comes under the term of ‘Great Walks’ has a certain level of expectation to meet. We’d been here before with the town of Paradise in Otago you see, where a distinct lack of talking snakes and naked locals had left us quite underwhelmed and dismayed at the false advertising. But in the midst…

Wild, Wild West

Squeezed in between the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps on the South Island is the area known as New Zealand’s West Coast. Once an inhospitable land where sand flies swarmed and suitable farmland was sparse, it was originally considered a write off following early European exploration, it just wasn’t worth the effort. With its…