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  • Adamhill in Namibia

    Namibia 2010

    I've just got back from one of the most amazing journeys in my life - it was only two weeks long but it's changed my perspective on life massively!
    I headed to Namibia at the end of October as a guest of Land Rover and Biosphere Expeditions. I had won a competition to go on a two week expedition where I would be doing conservation work with big cats, specifically Leopards.

    When I arrived in Namibia I stayed in Windhoek for the night before being picked up by the Biospehere team in 3 Land Rover Defenders (what else?!). They took us directly to the Ongo's farm which was the research site. The journey in itself was a experience, the roads in the city were new and smooth, as we got further out some cracks appeared, then they were broken, then there was no tarmac, just dust and gravel and finally the 'road' disappeared into little more than a gap in the bush. Suddenly I realised why they needed to drive the Landy's everywhere...

    We were briefed at base camp about the sort of jobs we would be doing to aid the research, it all seemed like brilliant fun. Over the next two weeks we would be:
  • Checking Box Traps - large automated humane traps that shut as an animal enters.
  • Checking Photo Traps - Automated camera's that take pictures, day or night, of any animal that passes.
  • Tracking - With a local tracker following paths in the dust or looking for Scat (droppings)
  • Telemetry - Using a VHF tracking ariel to locate a collared Leopard (Lucy)
  • Foot Game Count - Walking a few KM looking for game animals
  • Vehicle Game Count - Driving a lot of KM in the Land Rovers looking for game animals
  • Meeting local people - Encouraging tollerance and conservation amongst the local population.

    The two weeks were action packed, starting at 6.30am for a group breakfast to be in the Land Rovers ready to head out on our daily tasks by 7am. Every single activity was awesome, checking the box traps and the camera traps were the most exhillerating as that involved real possible contact with the big cats.

    The camera traps provided lots of animals for us to look at, even if Giraffes, Oryx, Kudu, Aardvark, and birds were not the main focus they were still great to see. One Aardvark liked the camera so much he decided to dig his burrow right in front of it... for 4 hours... and 400 pictures...!
    We did get some photo's of the Leopards, 4 in one frame at one point! As well as Caracal, cape fox, hyaena and other small predators.

    The box traps, like the camera traps, were in remote locations where the animals might be passing, away from Human contact and smells so one of the most fun bits for me was the fact that just to get there might involved an hours good offroading (although it was a marked route) in the Land Rover. The box traps are baited with dead baboons to tempt predators into them. But catching something is not easy. During my expedition the Biosphere team decided on setting up a new trap. This was delivered on the back of one the Landy's to the spot where we'd seen four Leopards on the camera trap - surely one of them would go in?!
    'Cleo' as we named her was an 8 month old female Leopard who was curious enough to tip toe into our new box trap. The catch was very exciting for the whole group, at the time I was out doing Telemetry when I heard a frantic radio message from the cab of the Land Rover. We already knew something good had happened, we had that feeling. We all jumped back in the double cab and I drove back to base camp as fast as the road would allow.
    Later that day when the heat had subsided a little Cleo was sedated and lifted onto the tail gate of the Defender to be used as a impromptu vetenary table. Jenny, a vet and expedition leader, with the guidance of Ulf, a wilderness vet, took blood and disease samples as well as drip feeding in fluids - my time to shine - holding the drip feed. Unfortunately little Cleo was too small to place a GPS collar on, when she grows the collar would become too tight.
    So Cleo was released to find her mother again, but she wasn't happy. Upon her release she doubled back and came striaght for us, luckily we'd anticipated she might be a little peeved about being prodded so we had used the winch of the Landy to open the trap and we were safely inside. This didn't stop Cleo trying to maim us - she jumped on the bonnet and attacked us through the windscreen - am I glad that thing held firm! Eventually after growling, scratching and trying to bite the landy she realised she couldn't get through and off she went.

    The vehicle game counts were also particularily interesting, again if not only fot 4 hours of driving the unstoppable Land Rover through the bush, up 2000m mountains and back down again. Along the way you could see some of Africa's amazing animals, Giraffe, Oryx, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Kudu, Springbok, Steenbok, Clipspringer, Eland, Baboons, Mongoose, Rock Hydrax, Jackal, and not forgetting the two semi-tame Rhino's that live on Ongo's.

    As well as the Rhino's there is another tame animal on Ongo's, possibly the most photographed Leopard in Africa. Induna was raised by Ulf and so is tame, he is a gorgeous cat that you can't help but love. A true highlight of the trip was going to meet him. We took the landy into his area and he soon joied us on the back, sitting at our feet or jumping onto the roof rack to get a better view. To be so close to such a powerful yet graceful animal was truely humbling.

    All of this however was dwarfed in comparison to the experience of meeting the local people, and especially the local children. I am a school teacher, so children are my life and passion. And when I met the local children from the near by Township of Katatura I was blown away. We visited their school - a hall with no resources, more of a meeting space - and brought them back to Ongo's. The children were wide eyed with wonder, firstly at the Land Rovers, they'd hardly seen, let alone been on such vehicles and they were so happy and proud to be stood up on the back, waving at their passing friends.
    Then at the farm the animals, despite being so close, were like alien creatures to them. They'd never seen Kudu, Orys, Warthog or a Leopard - and Induna didn't fail to make an appearance! Not only that the children were fascinated by our camera's, sunglasses, watches, all the things we take for granted.
    Back in Katatura we took a walk around the township with a local translator, the people there live in, what I'd describe as tin sheds, with no electricity, no running water and a 3x5m house for 6 people. Yet they're happy and content people. As well as proud, a local women invited us into her house, what an experience, she was so pleased of her home, it made me feel so guilty for wanting a home with an office, or garden or spare bedroom. She was just happy to have a curtain to split the living and sleeping areas.

    The expedition came to an end - my last chance to drive the amazing Land Rover - before the sad farewell to Africa. I am now more aware, more open, and determined to do more to bring equality, for the animals as well as the humans around the world.

    Thank you Biosphere for the Expedition and Thank you Land Rover, without your vehicles it wouldn't have happened.
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  • Boston

    So in the week since I last updated my blog, I've traveled from Cleveland to Pittsburgh (which I only briefly got to see as delayed buses and stupid bus schedule meant I arrived at midnight, and left at 11 am the next day.....There were some pretty, lit up bridges but can't share any more than that with you unfortunately. I did however meet quite a character in my taxi driver, who loved bellowing the phrase "You BLOODY BASTARDS!" in his aristocratic English imitation....quite hilare. His cab was unmarked, which I was a bit wary of, but was so desperate to get into my Hotel bed I just went with it and crossed my fingers.....then he started trying to persuade me to let him drive up this famous hill to get a really good view of the city....at this point I thought maybe my luck had just run out, but thankfully he hesitantly agreed to take me straight to the hotel, then gave me his taxi firm's number to order a taxi the next morning back to the station. I did ring the number the next morning, but it no longer existed...maybe he just took pity on me. I'll never know. Hotel was really nice, part of the hilton family (definitely wasn't aware of that when i booked it having had no luck finding any hostels in the area. There was a punn on the elevator door advertising their free breakfast saying even a piece of fruit can make all the difference and it exclaimed "Orange you glad you had breakfast this morning?", it must have worked, I did indeed have a bowl of fruit for breakfast, whilst reading the complimentary Pittsburgh Tribune. Felt very sophis. Got to Philly late afternoon, just as England lost on penalties to Italy, and boy did Mikey take it hard... rang him up when I arrived to see whereabouts in the city he was and his reply? "Er yeh I'm sat in a bar drinking whiskey.... alone. I'm so sad." Having dropped off my bags in the hostel which was situated slap bang in the middle of the old town part of the city, right by Independence Hall, I rushed to his rescue (waited an hour for the number 9 bus, as it was a sunday) and found he'd at least left the bar, but was considerably intoxicated at Brittney's apartment....so we decided to go meet Britts outside her work and go to another bar before cooking dinner. It was already 10pm by this point. We ambled down some steps which, when walking down you dont realise they're actually 181 of them and you're going to have to walk right back up them again having gotten drunk....Bloody stairs of death, that's what they were. STAIRS.OF.DEATH! It was great seeing Brittney again. She's exactly the same, but has this swanky recruiting job where she works on the 25th floor of one of the tallest skyscrapers in Philadelphia. Not too shabby, she seems to be really enjoying it as well, which is always a bonus. Met some of her work colleagues, they seemed nice, went to a couple of bars with them and played some pool (not to blow my own trumpet, but I am definitely progressing in skills,UEA red bar, watch out!) Mike and I walked around town the next day after meeting Brits for her lunch break. Went to the Barnes foundation exhibition centre. Barnes trademarked the medicine used to treat gonorrhea, which made him a a millionaire, allowing him to collect art, which is now on show for public viewing at this building. Nice little fun fact for you all. Had a day full of drinking once Andrea and Henry arrived, really fun, but my goodness, the energy levels of all of us the next day were severely depleted. Andrea managed to wake up for a shower and once I went to skype my friend, the sofa became officially hers for the entire day, dont think she moved until the mention of having a bbq gave her motivation to come to the supermarket with us to buy food. BBQ area in Brittney's apartment combo is really nice, it was just the constant dog owners bringing their pets out to relieve themselves that kinda ruined the whole atmosphere....there are a lot of dog owners where she lives, one dog could have been mistaken for a bear, humongous! Mikey left with Henry and Andrea in the car to New York, whilst I went to catch a bus to Boston ( which as stated above, was over an hour late, and meant I got quite sunburnt and drank all the fluids I had for the journey.....resulting in being more than ready for the restrooms when we made our one and only stop in the journey an hour after boarding the bus. probably the worst bus journey I've had in America, crying babies the entire 8 hours and to top this off, one lady forgot to get off at her stop which meant we hadto do a 40 minute loop right outside New York, which was utterly congested as you would expect. honestly how do you miss your stop when its the only stop the bus makes for the entire journey? what an idot! So got to Boston and decided it would be easier to get a cab rather than getting to middle of nowhere off the subway and find out the bus had stopped working. Only, I had a taxi driver that didn't seem to know any more about Boston than I did, and in fact asked me for the entirety of the journey which way he should be going.... all taxis should have gps, it's a no brainer really. Even having told the guy the nearest bus stop to the hostel and the number and street it was on he was still none the wiser. Once again a taxi ride that should have taken 10 minutes took 20 and therefore my fare was also doubled. however the driver did turn his clock off about 5 minutes before we got to our destination, so I thought 'ok I just won't tip him well, maybe a couple of dollars, that will still show him' but his damned card finger pad thing wasn't working, and as I was trying to get it to ork, he simply chucked my bag from his cab, so I thought '***k it, you're not getting any extras!' One qualm I have with his hostel, is lack of A/C or fans in the rooms. Ridiculously hot! apart from that though, it does exactly as it says on the can, so can't complain. Also, not too expensive. Walked around the city today. Got an overwhelming sense I was back in London when I first emerged from Down Town Crossing subway station. cobbled streets, old(ish) buildings, trees... then you see the skyscrapers, and excluding the Gherkin and Canary Wharf, London doesn't really encompass skyscrapers. Boston Gardens was really pretty, as was the old town quarter. Saw John Winthrop's grave which was cool and walked to the harbor and Quincy Market, which kind of reminded me of Covent Garden a bit. after about 6 hours I got the train back to the hostel and wrote some e-mails. Also popped to the shops with one of the girls in my dorm who's been working at the hostel to earn board here for last 3 months. She's trying to find a job here, but so far has only got cleaning jobs. She's originally from Vietnam but grew up in Portland. Wish I'd managed to visit Oregon; I will do the next time I come to America. Can't believe I have less than a week left! madness, what is time DOING?!!
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  • stephengmarshall

    Norway : Tue Oct 05, 2010
    Hope you saw last blog!! Check it out two in one day!!On from Bath to Stratford Upon Avon – Shakespeare Country, first stop was Anne Hathaways’ house, wife of William Shakespeare.  The cottage was where Anne grew up and where William and Anne had done their courting.  The house still had the original courting chair as they used to call them centuries ago.  Anne was 7 years older than William when they had to get married William only being 18 years of age. The cottage was set on a few acres of land with a lovely woodlands, apple orchard and statue garden.  We spent a few hours there, a very pretty place and then on to our B&B.  A walk into town across the River Avon and a few more stops at William Shakespeare destinations, house where he died, home of one of his daughters and Husband and the cemetery where the family is buried.  That night we had dinner at one of the Calluccio restaurants which completed another lovely day.    A drive to Mary Arden’s farm, mother of Shakespeare, the next morning which was a few miles out of town.  This farm was a working farm with people dressed in period clothing, cooking food from the period from animals still being raised there today.  It was amazing how the upstairs bedrooms filled with smoke as they cooked their meals on the huge open fires.  It is said that they all slept sitting up because the devil would take them if they slept lying down, we thought it would be more from smoke inhalation I think that was a cause as well.  The people working on the farm were real Shakespearians and they spoke with such passion when telling you about the family and the surrounding properties. We then headed back into town and went to Shakespeare’s birthplace which completed the Shakespeare picture.   Unfortunately the theatre was closed for an upgrade not reopening until next month.  We then walked along the river and watched some locks in operation and checked out the narrow boats dotted along the banks.   Wednesday we decided to head towards Blackpool and before we left as always the host at the B&B asked where we were heading to and we said Blackpool.  Great he said they have a light show there, good and we told him about the one that we had seen in Hong Kong, no he said it won’t be like that – oh we thought how could it be that different, anyway he said just keep in mind it can be a bit tacky.  Tacky we thought, we thought that we had seen tacky but no all was revealed when we arrived in Blackpool.  Probably our interest with Blackpool came from Coronation Street when Vera & Jack went there for their summer holidays and that should have told us a story – oh a bit of fun to be had ahead.   Luckily we hadn’t prebooked accommodation; this was one day that I didn’t mind.  We could not believe it, bigger and more brash than Brighton, B&B’s, arcades, Piers oh and once again we can not forget the Fish n Chip shops all the way along the promenade.  The promenade stretched along probably more than 5 kms.  We headed down the south end of the beach and decided we had better get somewhere to sleep, I was thinking I might just like to head out of town hehe.  The first hotel I went into seemed ok, 84 quid for the night with breakfast, no wifi in rooms though, I could try a newer hotel down the road they would have wifi in the room I was told, that’s ok I thought, would I like  showed me the room, oh my gosh no I wasn’t going to stay there.  I quickly gapped it out the front door dived into the car, gave Steve the bully and we promptly smoked it out of their car park to drive down the road and see if we could find this new hotel.  Luckily we did and wPleasure Beach outside our Hotel windowhen I went into see if I could get a room I asked the girl was the room nice, she looked at me strangely and said this is a new hotel, how many stars, 4 was her reply and the price was right so all was good for the night.  We got our gear and went to our room before heading out to walk the promenade and find somewhere for dinner oh and not to forget the lights which were turned on at 8.00 pm and we could catch a tram if we wanted to run the length of the promenade.  Actually out of our bedroom window was Pleasure Island theme park and we had a roller coaster screaming past our window every 5 minutes but that was fun to see.   In Blackpool although one beach they have a number of so called beachless beaches.  South beach, Pleasure beach, Myrtle Beach and North Beach.  If it was indeed Pleasure Beach I have never seen so many unimpressed people in my life, ….happy….NOT!  Geez these people look rough.  Never seen so many Mohican haircuts in my life, not even in a 1960s western movie.  Mind you the weather has cooled so that maybe why.  Virtually every shop sells Blackpool Rock, that is the candy with the writing down the inside; I remember that from my childhood days, best price seemed to be 7 pieces for 1 pound.  The entire waterfront wall to wall hotels or B&Bs, some very sad looking indeed.  Then the streets leading off the promenade were all B&Bs too, literally thousands of them and what was interesting was all the people on motorized scooters, it’s big business here we came across 3 shops within a small area.  Unfortunately with some of these sad looking people comes the gambling, the Arcades, the amount of bingo outlets calling you in, and the buy gold for cash shops that were everywhere.  We have been to Amsterdam where they have legalized cannabis and seen the culture and we have now been to Blackpool and seen what the pokey machines and arcades draw in – it’s not a great sight.   Well yes even we got sucked into the gambling, only a small amount but we needed to go to the toilet and Coral Island looked ok, well the machines, the lights and the music draws you in.  All that money could be yours just sitting on the shelf ready to fall off we must be able to win.  As you all know that we are pretty tight I thought I would chance a pound 50, 2p pieces that go into a machine with shelves moving back and forth, first haul we only lost 12p then it was all gone hey well we had a bit of fun, but you look around and see these old punk rockers with babies in pushchairs and you think how sad, what a way to spend a day.   Anyway plenty of fresh air and walking (probably about 20ks one day) was done in Blackpool and the lights were great, we will attach some photos, once again it is time to move on.  Next stop Edinburgh in Scotland.  
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  • Hammersonhaiti

    Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th

    Tuesday 14th

    This morning we all went to help an English lady called Hannah, who works for the Cap Haitian Health Network. She’d been sent some donated medical and drug supplies and she needed them sorting into order and itemised. We turned up to a not-very-large, airless and dimly lit room, stacked with cardboard boxes, and began the long and painful process of getting the contents into some kind of recognisable order. The next four hours were spent sorting through catheters, syringes and latex gloves, which possibly sounds more fun than the actual reality. It was extremely hot work and seemed to be going nowhere, so that in time patience was wearing a bit thin and we were probably the closest we’d ever been to frayed tempers. Just as we thought we’d all had enough and we were getting nowhere, order seemed to materialise out of the chaos and the job was done.

    We then had to wait for our lift back to the village and, when that arrived, we then went searching for our lunch which seemed to be in transit somewhere between our accommodation and the hospital. We finally gave up on non-essentials like eating and got back to the serious business of painting Humpty Dumpty in the paediatric ward. Apparently, there was a lack of enthusiasm from the patients for Stuart’s and Colin’s daily sporting activities (due to hot weather) and so the boys came and joined us and engaged their more ‘artistic’ sides. There were some different techniques on display, but, with luck, you might get a chance to take a look if we ever manage to get our presentation together about Haiti. One to look forward to!

    Wednesday 15th

    We hadn’t exactly been looking forward to this day, ever since we arrived – we were going to visit Shada, which is one of the worst slums in the area. This was yet another painting project as we were going to decorate a small hut for a Lady called Madame Bwa, who wants to start a vocational training centre for the most deprived teenagers. There is a high level of teenage pregnancy and prostitution amongst the young in the slums and Madame Bwa wants to encourage them to get skills and decent jobs.

    We were dropped off by the river, which was the colour of sewage and covered in oily looking slime. It’s banks were covered in discarded rubbish and the whole place smelled awful. We had to make our way down some tiny alleyways between shacks of wood, corrugated iron and crumbling concrete. Whole families live in one room, without electricity or running water and there are open sewers that you have to jump over. Everyone stared, as we obviously made a pretty unusual sight, and shouted Blan (white) after us – just a tiny bit discomforting.

    The hut we were working on was dark and there was rubble on the floor, which made things tricky from the start. The paint – like all Haitian paint – was the consistency of water and wall coverage was definitely minimal. Things took more of a downturn when we spotted a large spider lurking in one corner. Then Emma managed to disturb a nest of spiders that she said were spotted orange and poisonous – only they were orange because she’d managed to cover them in paint. Then one of the locals had to take over as nobody fancied taking on that particular corner of the room anymore. We then had a massive cockroach climbing up the wall and decided this was more wildlife than any of us really needed.

    We finally ran out of paint and had to call it quits, so we made our way back to the riverside to wait for our lift back. Once again, we found ourselves in Haitian time and had to wait for half an hour for the car to arrive. While we hung around, we found ourselves surrounded by the local children and getting more calls of ‘Blan’.

    Everyone was looking forward to having a shower when we got back to the village, only on our return there was no water and our lunch had gone missing for the second day running. The rest of the afternoon was spent painting or doing sports and so ended another day’s work.

    We went back to the village for dinner, rum and trapping large spiders (still no shower, though).

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