- Pantanal wetlands, Brazil, Herald Sun, Nov 24, 2000
Having been captivated as a kid by a picture book about a capybara living in a family’s backyard swimming pool, I jumped at the chance to visit the Pantanal wetlands in southern Brazil – this place is teeming with wildlife. We fished for piranhas, saw caiman up close (tiny little alligators compared to Australia’s giant crocodiles), saw an incredible range of birdlife, and yes, grabbed an anaconda! And I saw quite a few capybaras, who turned out to be cute but actually boring and apparently very stupid 🙂
(You might notice that the article feels cut-off – from memory I think they didn’t have enough space, and the sub-editor wasn’t feeling generous that day, so it’s cut short without any neat tying-off. So much for my beautiful words! A lesson that your writing really isn’t that precious to anyone else)
2. Teralj National Park, Mongolia, The Sun-Herald, Nov 17, 2002
I’d always been fascinated by the legend of Ghengis Khan and his warriors who rode thousands of kilometres to conquer vasts tracts of Asia and even Europe, all on strong little horses that just didn’t stop. So the fact that the great Trans-Siberian railway has a sister train that crosses Mongolia was just icing on the cake for me! Mongolia is one of the harshest countries on the planet, environmentally, and it was struggling economically when we travelled there, some years after Russia just upped and left the country to survive by itself. But the people are hardy, friendly and welcoming, in the great nomadic fashion. Thousands of years of tradition meet modern life, like the trendy lady chatting on a mobile phone while spinning a prayer wheel outside a Bhuddist monastery.
3. Cambodia, The Sun-Herald, Jan 28, 2007
Bike-riding in Cambodia? Sounds just as dangerous as biking in Bangkok (see story below)! But again it’s not so dangerous if you’re alert, maybe just a bit muddy at times following some heavy showers of rain. And if you do something silly like try to unscrew your water bottle lid while riding on a muddy, pot-holed country road, then you will most likely fall off into one of said pot-holes, no matter what country you’re in (there are no photos of me falling off, so I can pretend it never happened). Cambodia was one the most amazing, sad, invigorating, history-heavy countries I’ve been too – possibly one of the poorest, but where the kids had the biggest smiles.
4. Moscow, Russia, The Herald Sun, Oct 5, 2002
There’s few more cities in the world that evoke the imagination than Moscow. Standing on the cobblestones of Red Square between the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral is one of those travel moments of pure disbelief that you are indeed where you are. And I was lucky enough to travel with photographer Matt Irwin, who captured that moment for me with the glorious photo of the cathedral (built by Ivan the Terrible in 1561) that was used for the cover of the Herald Sun’s travel section. And no, we didn’t actually stay up for a straight 24 hours in Moscow, but it was an experience and a half all the same!
5. Patagonia, Argentina, The Australian Way magazine, May 2001
The wind sweeps through Patagonia in a constant icy gale that has the penguins huddling for warmth on the stony beaches. That was in summer time, and I still remember the wind whistling through the eaves at night from my cosy bunk bed in the Casa Grande farmhouse on the Fenton’s estancia, Monte Dinero. They’re a loooong way south – 2 hours’ drive from the nearest town, Rio Gallegos, which in turn is 3 hours’ plane flight from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. But this family, descended from Irish immigrants, has a connection to Australia in a number of ways. The Australian Way, the Qantas inflight magazine, published my story and photos in May 2001, more than a year after I visited Monte Dinero. That’s travel writing for you, as long and arduous as the distances travelled!
6. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia, Vacations & Travel magazine, Sep 2004
The clickety-clack of train travel holds a strange fascination for many, and it is a great way to see some of the vaster countries. The Trans-Siberian is a legendary trip, but I took the lesser-known (but perhaps even more mind-blowing) Trans-Mongolian trip, from Beijing, China, to St Petersburg, Russia. Along with the Melbourne photographer Matt Irwin, a brilliant guy who is now even more fabulous (check out his website here), we travelled courtesy of Intrepid Travel. It was an incredible and exhausting 3 weeks, including a good 6 days of travel on a train that was not the luxurious journey you might imagine… Think hundreds of unwashed people of all nationalities squashed into a narrow metal tube with tiny shared toilets and dubious showers, all rattling through Siberia, sharing each others’ food, space, smells… But it was amazing to say the least, and it was hard to find words to cover Beijing; the Great Wall; Mongolia and the tough nomads battling it out post-USSR; Siberia itself; then Moscow; then St Petersburg… aaghh, history and beauty overload!!! Matt, your photos captured so much more than my words!
7. Bangkok, Thailand, Australian Cyclist magazine, Sep/Oct 2007
Bike riding, Bangkok-style. Sounds like a pretty dodgy story, doesn’t it? But it’s all clean, totally clean, apart from a bit of sweating, which is mandatory in Thailand. You might think a foreigner would be nuts to get on a bike and ride the streets of Bangkok with the locals, but it was so much fun! Sadly the photos are not of my own day out, but courtesy of the tour company I was with, Grasshopper Adventures (disclaimer: my cousin Jason founded this amazing outfit!). I had a bad habit of forgetting spare batteries for my camera, so it serves me right that I didn’t get my own photos published, or get my own mug in the magazine!