Friday 26 December 2014

Canyoning in Spain - A natural water park

We make our way through thin, rocky trails beneath Boixols Canyon. I am cushioned within layers of neoprene and it feels like a furnace beneath the Spanish sun.  Suitably geared up, we’re ready for a day of canyoning with mini waterfall jumps, abseiling and swimming through narrow gorges. 
Canyoning, September 2014
Walking in Neoprene = a personal oven!

I amble along the mountain path, gradually entering the canyon formed by the force of the water's descent. We eventually reach our first jump. The waterfall seemed to fuse itself into distinct threads of watery fabric as I approached, like a loom of liquid silver pouring down between the rocks. 

I try to dispel my nervous energy. The water will catch you. The jump is internalised fear. I begin to picture hitting a rock. Is the water deep enough? What if I jump too awkwardly and I don't clear the water sculpted walls? I've realised I've started thinking too much, creating a mental block and losing my usual happy go lucky confidence. I normally love this, yet I've started to shake. My feet refuse to take the leap. I've watched the pool of water beneath me for far too long.... 
The instructor says kindly that I can climb down. His words stir a inherent stubbornness within me and with a clumsy leap and a squeal I plummet straight down into water. 
I'm the last one to jump (obviously boring the instructor!)
Suitably over my mini-meltdown, I catch onto the thrill of the activity. We descend down the canyon through jumps, swimming through silky chutes of water and falling through mountain fresh air. 

A few hours in, we reach a 15M abseil and an area of the canyon that requires rope led climbing. A cascade of water surges downwards like a steep silver slide. The instructor ties a bright orange rope to a hook on the rock-face and with trepidation and glee, I start to lower myself down. 

Slippery abseiling! 
Faceful of water...
Our final jump is approximately 8 metres. I glance down at the drop and feel a hard knot of fear. Yet I can't help but feel that I love these situations. Enthrallment mixed with fear. A challenge that anyone can overcome. With a final faithful leap, I tumble downwards, plunging into the pool and watching bubbles rise towards the surface. 

Trip Tips 

  • I went with Experiencia en Mutanya.The company is based in Andorra and the cost of 1 days Canyoning with a single hotel transfer was 52 euros or 55 euros, including insurance. 
  • All equipment is provided throughout the activity.
  • I used a waterproof camera (Nikon AW110) for taking pictures. When I didn't take pictures, I stored my camera in the chest zip of my wetsuit. 
  • It is quite a long drive from Andorra (Soldeu) to Boixols Canyon (Spain). The drive is approximately 3 hours. 
  • I did the canyoning as a optional activity. It was part of a longer multi-activity week with Intrepid Travel (AAXS), a link to the trip is:
  • The activity lasted a whole day, including transfers. The changing rooms were a carpark and the toilet was the nearest bush :).
  • If you have any further questions of queries, please feel free to comment here or email me.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

A Mallorcan Mountain Picnic

I can't distinguish where the sea ends and the skies begin. Perched upon the flattest rock I can find, we sit in scattered positions at the foot of Puig d'en Galileu (1,181M), below one of the highest peaks in Mallorca. Having descended from our climb, we reach into our rucksacks and pull out an array of Mallorcan produce ranging from a  loaf of freshly baked, unsalted bread to a jar of green olives. 
Sea and Sky...
Everything we have is laid out on a picnic rug and the food selection is a patchwork of contrasting colour. Tomatoes, larger then tennis balls, gleam a healthy red. The long green peppers are sliced and the quarter of cheese is cut into manageable chunks. We prise open a tin of pate and the salty parma ham is unwrapped. Plastic plates and serviettes are passed around and we gather round in anticipation of our feast of local produce in the mountains. 

Mountain Picnics

"PA AMB OLI! IT'S AMAZING!"  announces our tour guide, Eduardo enthusiastically. He demonstrates the art of creating a typical Mallorcan lunch. Grabbing a halved tomato, he rubs the flesh of the fruit directly onto the bread, leaving a pink tinge and a few tomato seeds on the bread's surface. 
He grabs his hiking knife and exclaims "now you must take out the meat of the tomato". The fruit is defleshed in front of us and the soft inner core is placed onto the bread. Thin slices of parma ham are placed on top, along with a few slices of roughly cut Mallorcan cheese. He grabs a handful of olives, capers and green peppers and scatters the sides onto the plate. A final light drizzle of olive oil finishes off the lunch. "It is the best, I eat it everyday!" Eduardo says cheerfully. 

Pa Amb Oli 

 A little weary after our hike, we follow Eduardo's directions and create a Mallorcan lunch. I balance the plate on my lap. There is a gentle caress of the mountain's breeze. I take in the magnificent backdrop of the Tramuntana mountains unfolding beneath us. Deep green forests of Olm Oak contrasts the coastal blue waters and the cerulean sky. Vultures encircle the crumpled rock face and wild flowers bloom through the mountain range. It is incredibly tranquil and a far cry from the assumed image of Mallorca as a party island. 

I thoroughly enjoy my picnic lunch. The airy, unsalted bread provides an excellent base for the crisp peppers, dried meats and mellow cheese. Pickled jalapenos add a touch of heat and the lunch is rounded off with fruit and chocolate topped biscuits. 

I spent a week Walking in Mallorca. It was a beautiful insight into the island as a emerging premier walking destination. From coastal walks to steep scrambles, Mallorca offers a choice of routes for anyone with a interest in exploring the island by foot. I've wiped away all my previous misconceptions of Mallorca as a tourist destination and I look forward to returning to the island for further exploration. 

Puig d'en Galileu [1,181m]
Exodus Travels Walking in Mallorca Group - 26.10.2014

Friday 24 October 2014

Green Canyon, Manavgat, Turkey

It is a thirty minute drive from my hotel in Side to Green Canyon. From the coach, I take in the sight of the emerald green lake stretching far amongst lush woodlands and surrounded by the Taurus mountain range. The sunlight basks a warm glow, making the water glisten like scattered glitter strewn across the water. 

Built in 1984 on Manavgat River, Oymapinar Dam is the concrete mouth of the Green Canyon. The tour leader explains that the freshwater dam has a 300 million cubic metre capacity and it is the 5th largest dam in Turkey. Civilisation feels at bay here. Other then the handful of day trip coaches, the setting is incredibly tranquil. A cerulean sky creates a canvas like background, with the canyon waters a glass clear green rippling gently against boats docked within the quay. 

We board the boat and I climb up a short stairway to the upper deck. I watch as speckled fish flip-flop in the crystalline lake beneath us. As the boat disembarks, I feel a deep sense of clarity as I take in my surroundings. I admire the glorious lustre of the water and the earthy scent of the valley surrounding us. 

Lots of fish!

The boat glides through Green Canyon Lake for a couple of hours before eventually stopping at a narrow gangway floating within a designated swimming area. I can’t wait to swim here! We dive straight into the water from the dock and I am momentarily enveloped by coldness. I re-adjust to the water’s temperature and gently tread water, taking in the water's glow and green hillsides rising over us.

After our swim, it’s just a short boat ride to Paradise restaurant by the waterside. Long clothed tables are situated  beneath a trellis of vineleaves. We are served a fresh, crisp salad, trout grilled to perfection and a side of sautéed potatoes. Dappled sunlight beams across the eating area with the backdrop of Green Canyon Lake just a stone throw away. We watch small boats drift in the distance and a group of fishermen at a wooden pier. 
Paradise restaurant
We congregate back onto the boat after lunch, where we embark on our journey back towards the quay. I take a final mental image of the panoramic views of the Taurus Mountains range towering above the green lake, before we board our coach transfer back to our hotel in Side.

Trip Tips

  •  I booked my tour with Selale tours in Side, Turkey. The tour operator is located on the main road near to Anatolia Hospital. I paid 35 per person for the day trip.
  • The tour included a return hotel transfer (pick up at 8:00am and drop off at approximately 5:30pm), tour guide, the boat trip, lunch at Paradise Restaurant and swimming stops.
  • There is a photographer on the boat. At the restaurant, you are presented with an array of readily printed photos, souvenir photo plates and postcards with your picture on. The cost of one photo was 3.
Souvenir Photos 
  • You are given a choice of either meat, fish or a vegetarian option at Paradise restaurant. Oranges are served after the meal and drinks are purchased separately.
  • If you have any further questions about the Green Canyon Excursion, please feel free to comment here or email me.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Shaftesbury Theatre: Memphis the Musical - Review

It’s Monday 13th October 2014. I got up at 4:30am to queue for 15th Anniversary Lion King Tickets in the pouring rain. It’s now 7:20pm and I’m outside Shaftesbury Theatre, ready to see Memphis the Musical! Having researched very little about it and being unsure of what to expect, I was highly anticipating the show for the evening.
Set in the 1950s, Memphis the Musical highlights the emerging popularity of black music through heart-warming and thought provoking themes such as an interracial love story and uniting others with a common love of music in an era where ‘coloured records’ were frowned upon.
Huey Calhoun (Killian Donnelly), a white working class retail assistant, is fired from his job and thrown into the spotlight after hijacking a radio station to play African American music to an audience that previously did not welcome black records. He discovers Felicia (Beverly Knight), in an underground rock and roll bar. Huey Calhoun disregards the underlying racial tension to share his love for African American music to other radio listeners.
His gentle yet determined persona carries the production forward. Coupled with a strong and compelling storyline and good characterisation, the production creates a rich experience that an audience member is transported into. I couldn’t help but root for the characters throughout the show!
Although the lead actors carry the production forward, I felt that the pacing of the musical slowed drastically towards the middle of the show where there were a lot of ‘filler’ scenes that did not add much to the value of the show itself. The pace quickly picked up again after the interval.
Overall, Memphis the Musical has a gripping storyline with high energy dance chorography and uplifting songs that will ensure a smile when you leave the theatre. The lead actors, Killian Donnelly and Beverly Knight excel in their roles, I left with the theatre with goose bumps! It is a unique addition to the West End with underlying themes such as social injustice, racism and class divide weaved beautifully into a story that translates into a dynamic and memorable performance.

 Round up:

  •         Favourite Song: Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll. 
  •         Seat: I sat in seat R26 in the stalls. My seat was more towards the back of the stalls, but the view was clear and unobstructed and I still felt immersed within the musical.
  •        Show running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. The show runs Monday - Saturday at 7.30pm and Wednesday & Saturday at 2.30pm.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Cycling the South Downs Way

It's Saturday 23rd August and my alarm clock pierces the weekend silence. I roll over dolefully, making little effort to shake myself out of the depth of sleep. The delayed start got the ball rolling for my bank holiday attempt of cycling The South Downs Way. 

I packed as little as possible the night before. I was weary of the weight I had to hold whilst on my bike. My pack consisted of a set of clothes, 1.5L water, a puncture repair kit, route notes and some nutty snacks. 
My Weekend Supplies
My initial journey takes me from my home in Colliers Wood to Clapham Junction Railway Station. I cycle straight up the CS7 Cycle Highway, weaving around parked buses and cars and dragging my bicycle from the platform, onto the train. 

God, this is realI watch the rolling countryside flash by. There are animals grazing on deep green pastures, ribbons of passing streams and feathery trees touching the skyline. I feel my trepidation melt away: yes, I think I can do this... 
There's always a dedicated carriage for bicycles on the train. 
It's a short journey and the train soon rumbles into Winchester. The pedestrianised town centre is hosting a Saturday market! I approach a stall brimming with soft, floured rolls and organic fruit filled cakes and I buy myself a cheese, red pepper and oregano roll for lunch.

Adjacent to me is a flower stall bursting with colour and a small group of street musicians, soulfully playing violins. I feel like I've visited this scene before, and I am reminded of a market scene in Disney's Tangled. 

I wheel my bike pass the magnificent Winchester Cathedral and I start riding at a footbridge crossing the A31 road. I leave the roar of cars behind and reemerge in a field of rippling, golden wheat. It's a gentle descent and I feel my heart lift with joy. My hands gently grip the rubber handlebars as the wind brushes past me. I take in the clicking rhythm of my bicycle and the scent of wheat, like warmed oats, blanketing the summer air. Wow, I whisper gently. This is why I love cycling, it is the feeling of pure freedom, embracing nature away from the walls that constrain us from the great outdoors. 

Within ten minutes of riding, I reach a hill - Cheesefoot head. I lower my gears a few notches and brace; pedalling as hard as I can in the hope that I do not need to get off my bike and wheel it. I feel my bike get heavier and heavier. I start to wobble as my bike gets unsteady with a lack of speed and I have to dismount. I'm panting hard as I peel my rucksack away from me.  I try to think positively: It's okay, with every uphill there's an easy downhill! 

I am cycling on chalk tracks and I didn't anticipate how much slower this would make me, especially on hills. I cycle downhill but with unease. The uneven terrain was extremely disconcerting. I shudder and rattle with my bicycle, gripping the handlebars hard and as tense as a shell. I do not feel at one with my bike, I feel like I am battling it! I brake constantly to slow down the bumping on downhills and I fight with my pedals on the uphills. 

This became a reoccurring pattern for the next few hours and it was extremely draining. I did not envision the route to be so technically difficult: it's an established route, how hard can it be? I thought naively, prior to leaving. 
I stop for lunch in a sparse field with no civilisation in sight. I greet other walkers, cyclists and even a horse rider as they pass me. It's late afternoon and I still have far to go. I feel disheartened and even some self-hatred for finding it so difficult. I firmly establish a goal in my mind: Reach Moonlight Cottage, today's milestone, tiredness is temporary, don't be clumsy, just cycle, the only way is forward.

I immediately reach another hill. Why?! It's another battle with the pedals. I am breathless. I taste iron rising up in my throat. I descend down Butser Hill a little recklessly and I brake hard, my back wheel skids and I squeak in fear, planting my foot on the ground before I fall with the momentum of my bicycle. Uphills are hard. Downhills are hard. Flat sections are few and far between on the SDW. I just don't win. 

I descend off Hartling Down and I reach a road. Road cycling is so fast, easy and efficient! I impulsively decide to cycle down it and I find myself lost within 40 minutes. I drop my bicycle to the ground, sitting crosslegged and I feel consumed with frustration. I decide to phone Dany, as I felt I needed a friend to talk to. I tell her I'm lost and my route notes do not cover my diversion. She's calm and she does not greet my situation with bemusement. She lets me know that its a 37 minute cycle to my destination. I thank her gratefully and I apologise for my grouchiness on the telephone. 37 minutes and you can stop. Just one last stretch....
I pedal fast on the tarmac roads. There is a bite of coldness as the wind whips pass me. I cycle pass the village sign 'Cocking'. I finally reach Moonlight Cottages in a rather dishevelled state. 

My tent: Only £20.00 a night including breakfast, towel, shower and toiletries!
I am pleasantly surprised by the tent accommodation for the night. wow, its a mansion tent! I can even stand inside it without brushing my head on the fabric. I happily play with the proprietor's dog and I spend my evening in the lounge area, chatting to x2 Londoner's who were also walking The South Downs Way.

Slept extremely soundly - didn't wake up at all until morning! A 40 mile days 
mountain biking in the bag. 
Ascents: 1223M. Descents: 1175M

Day 2 - Cocking to Amberly 

I start the morning with a silky sweet yoghurt and a cup of tea that sends waves of warm comfort. I am served a mammoth big breakfast with sauteed mushrooms, vegetarian sausages, buttery toast and scrambled eggs (eggs from the hens wandering around the grounds!). 

I set myself the target of reaching Amberly, approximately fifteen miles away. I ascend and descend Heyshott Down, Bignor Hill, and Westburton Hill. 

Well signposted throughout the cycle.
Forest Tracks.
A field of sunflowers in the middle of nowhere! 
The best free cycling food!
It's forecasted to rain heavily on Bank Holiday Monday, and I decide to raise the white flag at Amberly. It was a beautiful and less strenuous ride on Day 2. I decide not to press on to Ditchling, as I did not have a suitable escape route from the slippery chalky trails, should there be a downpour. On my return train journey, I bumped into Linda, a kiwi with the grit to see through the SDW, after a mechanical set back on her bike.

The SDW Round up

  • A single train ticket from Clapham Junction to Winchester was £18.30 (with a YP Railcard). A single train ticket from Amberly back to Clapham Junction was £9.50. 
  • I completed approximately 55 out of 100 miles of the South Downs Way. I haven't really mountain biked before. Mountain biking is a technical skill. I underestimated the difficulty of it. I was under the firm belief that I could do it, as I cycle regularly to work. Mountain biking is at least x2 harder then road cycling! I would advise that MTB skills are brushed up or researched upon before you give it a go. 
  • I used a hybrid bicycle. I would advise a mountain bike for this trail as I felt wobbly/unsteady on a lot of ascents and descents. A mountain biker I passed advised me that my tyres would've done nothing for me in wet conditions. 
  • Moonlight Cottage is only £20.00 a night in a tent including a big breakfast, towel, shower, toiletries and a sleeping bag. They do not advertise the tent provision online. Send them a email enquiry and they will be more then happy to let you use their tent.
  • I used a TrailBlazer guide by Jim Manthorpe for directions. The SDW is extremely well sign-posted, I dare say that you can do the route without route notes.
  • My second nights accommodation was meant to be at Lantern Cottage in Ditchling. 
  • A very comprehensive guide for cycling the SDW is at:
  • I decided not to continue as I found it extremely hard doing the 40 miles on the first day. I felt I did not possess the technical skill to do it safely and comfortably but retrospectively I still enjoyed the challenge of it. I am looking into walking the remainder of the South Downs Way to complete the trail.
  • If you have any questions or queries about the SDW, please feel free to email me or comment here. 

Thursday 28 August 2014

YHA Patterdale - Lake District

We hike 13 miles from Windermere to Patterdale. A previously enthusiastic idea turned into a spiritless tread by the roadside. Having arrived on a Saturday, we're greeted with no buses and expensive taxis to get to our Youth Hostel. The leaden weight of my rucksack digs painfully into my shoulders as we shuffle onwards, intent on reaching our accommodation before nightfall. 

An ironic sign mocking our efforts along the way.

I press my hands underneath my rucksack straps in a vague attempt to stop the pack weight rubbing against my shoulders. The sky, acting as nature's clock, progressively got darker and darker. 
We eventually reached Patterdale Youth Hostel in the early evening. I unclip my bag away from me and feel instant relief as I peel the burdensome weight off my back. My knees throb painfully, protesting against the unplanned, concrete walk. 

I feel at home at the Youth Hostel. The lounge area looks out towards flour white mountains and the room is full of soft, squashy blue arm-chairs and nut brown coffee tables. I retire to bed straight away, ready to embrace our planned hike up to Helvellyn (950m). 

YHA Patterdale Lounge 
Bed! (female dorms available)


After breakfast we set off, following a trail towards Glenridding. We pass Red Tarn and Grismere tarn but we decide against ascending Helvellyn via Striding Edge due to the winter conditions. 

The view of Striding Edge from Helvellyn 
Overall, it was a beautiful days walk within easy access of our hostel. We returned back to Patterdale via a circular route through Glenridding and we felt that it was a trip made possible due to convenience of location and good value accommodation.

Travel Tips  

  • You can get cheap train tickets by booking as far in advance as possible with lots of flexibility. I paid for x2 singles at £22.10 each from London Euston to Oxenholme, Lake District. 
  • Lake District is notoriously expensive for accommodation, and even camping is quite pricey (around £8.00 per night). We stayed at a Youth Hostel (YHA Patterdale), for £15.00 per night. Buy membership for £3.00 off per nights stay. 
  • A single bus ticket from Patterdale to Windermere is £6.25. Although buses are irregular (around 1 every 2 hours) they are definitely manageable. Just pick up a bus timetable and plan in advance instead of turning up at a bus stop.