“Like most things in life, the journey is usually more important than the destination.”

We all have childhood dreams. Some of these get fulfilled over the course of life, accidentally for the lucky ones, or with great resolve, intent and effort for the tenacious ones. Some get forgotten or lost in ?adulting?, and some we hold ourselves back from due to fear.

Last month, Wildfire Expeditions spoke with someone who never let fear or apparent impossibilities of those dreams stop her. Watching the live interview, even having known her half my life, I was caught by the matter of fact tone she uses to describe experiences beyond what most of us could even fathom. As if she rolled out of bed one day, decided to be a freediver and went straight to setting national records!

I decided to do a deeper dive with a fellow adventurer, whose exploration of life has led her to discover new worlds both within and without.

 

WF: Would you describe yourself as a fairly patient person?

*both of us burst out laughing even before I finished the question*.[Aside]?A Tunisian memory sprung to mind. Back in 2009, our very first trip overseas together, Anqi utilised her full arsenal of 3 French words to goad the hapless mini van driver to moving with a less than half-full van ? something that NEVER happens. You allez! Toute de suite! We allez! Now! Something in her resolve must have communicated itself to him, transcending language and protocol. This is clearly not someone who takes No for an answer.

Anqi: So no, I am not a patient person. I was caught by the beauty of watching a freediver in action, the freedom of moving without big chunky apparatus, the elegance of his fish-like movement through the water as he cut cleanly through all our scuba bubbles. Then and there, I decided I am going to freedive. I was actually intrigued by freediving and read the manual of freediving by Umberto Pellizari, but I didn?t think it was something I could do. But when I saw the Freediver in action in real life when I was breathing air out of my scuba tanks, I knew right away it was something I wanted to explore.

(Watch the Wildfire Expeditions live?interview?with Anqi?for more context into her story and how she transitioned to freediving.)

 

WF: So being impatient, how did you first learn breath hold? And subsequently, how did you train yourself to record breaking standards in freediving? ?

Anqi: I would say that my freediving progress was very gradual. The advantage I had was that I was a Scuba diving instructor already so was already very comfortable being in the water. When I started freediving I progressed in small baby steps, overcoming different barriers initially in breath hold, to the fear of the deep and the most difficult challenge was equalisation, especially advanced equalisation for deeper dives.

From Philippines to Greece to Mexico, I trained all over the world and competed in freediving events wherever and whenever I get the opportunity. I was very fortunate in being able to interact with the best freedivers in the world, train with them and learn from them.

WF: In my mind, there was always that dichotomy between letting go and relaxing to allow yourself to go deeper and the motivation, desire, effort needed to push your body to extreme levels of exertion. Isn?t one at odds with the other? How do you manage that?

AnqiπŸ˜• Yes I agree that this is very contradictory indeed. Besides the physical demands, freediving is mostly mental, which has been the biggest difference for me in experiencing freediving compared to other sports. Initially I had pushed myself with certain depth goals, but later I realised freediving was not such a sport like a 100m sprint where you can use brute strength to reach your goal. I learnt from many failures that this strategy does not work. Instead Freediving requires a lot of inner awareness, patience and adaptation. It is the kind of sport where you need to arrive at the goal without the expectation of arriving. Like most things in life, the journey is usually more important than the destination. The way I manage it is to not focus on the end goal but to cherish every moment that I am freediving, for example practising all different disciplines is one way to be an overall well-rounded diver rather than one just chasing for the deep.

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WF: You told me once about the adage: scuba divers dive to see the world, freedivers dive to look within. I thought that was a beautiful summation. Do you feel that freediving has changed you or affected your perspectives, and how you live life?

Anqi: Freediving is probably the purest way to connect and explore our oceans. It is also for me a form of meditation. When I dive into the deep, I feel all my worries fade away. You feel so small, like a tiny drop in the vast ocean. It gives me perspective in life. Many things I worry about seem insignificant in comparison. The ocean is beautiful, life is amazing, and connecting back to nature can make you feel alive. That?s all I need, not societal status, great wealth or endless diversions. Freediving helped me see that a simple life can be rich if it is lived fully.

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WF:?You are the first Singaporean to medal in Honduras last year, finishing third in the constant weight no fins discipline at the Carribean Cup. You also set 4 new national records in all depth disciplines at the CMAS World championships?right around Singapore?s National Day in fact.

Being born and bred in Singapore, we both know that Singapore does not give handouts. For a non-mainstream sport, what kind of support have you been able to get?

Anqi: It is my dream that Singapore will become a nation that supports Sport on a bigger scale. Sport is great avenue for youth development and community bonding.?Freediving is not in the Olympics or SEA games so it is not a supported sport in Singapore unfortunately. I have not been able to get any financial support for competing or training from the country or dive federation. Luckily most of the competitions I had joined were around the region in Philippines or Indonesia. I dug deep into my personal savings to fund my own training and competition. In order to compete at the world championships in Honduras last year, which was more expensive and further away, I reached out via crowdfunding and received enough support to join the competition. I am very thankful and grateful for the opportunity. It inspired me to go all out to compete in 2 more competitions after the world championships and break more records. My hope is that the sport will be recognised internationally, so that future athletes can receive national or corporate support to pursue their depth dreams. For myself it may not be financially possible to be competing full time, but I know the depths of the ocean will be there for me and I will always dive for the love of it.

 

WF: Ever since I?ve known you, you have been pushing limits, in whichever sport or activity you choose to pursue. Running, touch rugby, ultimate frisbee, yoga, diving. You have either competed at national level or worked to achieve instructor certification in each of these sports. And they are so different. What motivates you?

AnqiπŸ˜• Sometimes I think I tried so many things that maybe I am a jack of all trades but master of none. I enjoy at different times in my life various activities and always try to do my best at them. I guess I am just motivated by a sense of adventure and the outdoors. I have always been active and love to be outdoors / in nature and I like to try different things!

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WF: What is occupying most of your time at the moment??

Anqi: I have started an ocean conservation project called the Sea Glass Project last year to bring awareness about keeping our oceans pollution free through making sustainable choices. This is a passion that has kept me very busy!

You can read about Anqi?s inspiration for the Sea Glass Project here:?bit.ly/seaglassproj, and purchase her amazing jewelry at:?Seaglassproject.etsy.com

Malaysia is open for diving for adventurers based in Malaysia! Explore the wonders of Pulau Sipadan, one of the top dive destinations in the world. Book now with Wildfire for the best availability and rates: wildfirexpeditions.com/tours/sipadan or contact us at info@wildfirexpeditions.com.

Talk to anyone about trekking in the Central Asia region, and the list goes on and on. In particular, one of the most raved about treks in the Pamir-Alay area has been crowned the title of “Asian Patagonia”. It got its name from the stark resemblance to the majestic beauty of the South American Patagonia, which offers hikers the alpine meadows, endless valleys, high ragged peaks, and white snowy landscapes with glaciers surrounding the peaks of Sabakh (5823m) and Aksu (5365m). With anticipation, we drove to Uzgarysh village, and met up with our hosts. We were showered with typical Kyrgyz hospitality, served traditional home-baked bread known as Lepeshka with constant topping up of tea and coffee.

After a hearty breakfast with our host, we are ready to embark on our journey! Blessed with great weather and clear blue skies, we followed the trail by a massive river called the Laily-Mazar Canyon,?and the sunrays flicker like glitter on the river surface.?

Even the cows and horses were out and about to bask in the sun.

That’s where we are heading towards! The majestic peak that appears right before our eyes.

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. “- Dorothea Lange. There is always time to stop for a photo to capture that beautiful moment.

Curious adventurists we are, we decided to do a quick detour to the other side of the river bank to see what this captivating land offers!

Marching on!?

I was beguiled by the beauty of this place. As the sun sets, the?sky was ablaze with the rich and bold colours of the setting sun. As night falls, the moon rises and the sky changed to a purple tint. We fell asleep in the tent listening to the sound of rapids from the canyon, to the nature lullaby that relaxes our body and mind and were soon lured to sleep.

Good morning world! We woke up to motion outside the tent. Curious, we peeped out of the tent and were greeted with cows grazing the grass near the river.

After a quick breakfast, we are off to explore the peak that have been in sight the whole time.?

Relaxing day out! Quick siesta before we proceed with our day trip exploration.

The river valley is surrounded by birch trees lining the river banks, juniper thickets scattered all around, and as we got closer to the peak, we were so close to the glacier! Surrounding rocks and slopes bear the tracks of ancient glacier activity.

Found a great spot for a rest. Surrounded by massive glaciers and snow capped peaks in the background.

Much as we would love to continue with the exploration, we had planned for a quick 2 Days 1 Night trek instead of the whole Aksu – Sabakh trek itinerary, so at this point, we had to turn around to start our descent.

Our kind and hospitable host was very kind to offer to pick us up from the trail head at 3pm, so at the arranged time, he was indeed out there to welcome us back! We were excited to see him! Just like seeing our long-lost friend whom we have not met for years (in actual fact, it had only been 1 day)!

Back in the host’s guest house, we were offered food but we had to kindly decline the offer as we needed to continue a long drive to our next destination. And finally, I managed to convince the younger of the 2 little girls to take a photo with me! I guess she was amused at how I was playing peek-and-boo with her.

Time to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts. Their hospitality and kindness towards guests are just beyond what one can ask for.

Want to experience the typical warm hospitality the Kyrgyz shower their guests with? Want to join us on this beautiful trip to the Asian Patagonia? Looking for more wild adventures in?Central Asia? Wildfire Expeditions offer trekking, mountaineering, sight-seeing and horseback riding trips within Central Asia region.?Contact us?to find out more!

Do any research on Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, and results will definitely prompt you to visit one of the beautiful, clear, breath-taking turquoise lakes in the region. One of the most raved about gem is located in western Kyrgyzstan, within the Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve in the?Jalal-Abad Region, which is also a designated UNESCO World Biosphere reserve. There are 6 lakes in this area, Kylaa-Kel, Aram-Kel, Cheychek-Kol, Bakaly-Kel, Chacha-Kel and the most spectacular of all is the Lake Sary-Chelek. To spice things up a little, we are going to explore this lake in the traditional nomadic way, on a horse! This is really exciting, because it is my first time doing a horseback trek!

So we started our journey towards Arkyt village, driving by a massive turquoise lake that has a yurt built by the bank of the water. How clear is the reflection of the mountain ranges on the water! What a view!

After meeting our local guide at the village, we were brought to what he calls his “humble home”, and like how all Kyrgyzs always treat their guests with immense hospitality, we were offered some tea and coffee, with home-made Lepeshki bread, or round loaves that have been baked in a traditional tandyr oven. We did have our breakfast already, but it was so hard to resist the kindness of the host (actually, the kitchen area redolent with the aroma of the Lepeshki bread was the real reason why we could not resist), so we dug in for our second breakfast of the day.

Time to get on the horse! With guidance and help from our guide, we are off to our journey to the renowned Lake Sary-Chelek! We rode around the village, and were greeted with big smiles from the villagers and inquisitive kids who were definitely curious about these new foreign faces they see in their village.

This boy definitely loves his soft drinks!

After around 20 minutes, the guide stopped by a house in the village and prompted us to join him in there. We were greeted by the family members of the house (I counted at least 10 of them), and we stepped into the dining area. To our surprise, in front of us, was a brightly coloured traditional floor carpet (known as shyrdak or syrmak carpet) with a big spread laid on top of it.

“Come join me!”, the guide says. In such dining setting, the guests are usually seated at a spot furthest away from the door, and the hosts and hostesses will sit closer to the door and pour tea and pass food to the guests first.

Guests will never leave a table hungry. As soon as we finish a plate of food, another dish was offered to us. In this case, it was the plate of fragrant and delectable lamb plov, or pilaf rice, laid in front of us.

Some of the table talks revolved around where we are from, what life was like in our country, about our family, and whether we are going to start our family soon!

After our repeated refusals for the food that was still being served to us since we were so stuffed, we were toasting with vodka shots next. After a few toasts, and the hosts are satisfied that we are 100% full (or maybe 150% full) and ready for the rest of our horse riding adventure, the head of the family said a little prayer by cupping his palms in front of him, and then raise his palms to his cheeks and then lower them again, before bidding us?farewell.

So back to our horses! The rest of the journey involved riding through lush green forests, up and down hills, crossing little water streams (where the horses would always stop to get their little water break), and riding right beside the smaller beautiful lakes.

Here we are, Lake Sary-Chelek!

Despite using padded saddles, the body still ache after riding for a couple of hours. A break to stretch out the body is definitely very much needed! The guide took out some snacks (more food again!), and we had a little picnic in the shelter. The kids (aged between 8 to 12) we met at the shelter were initially very shy, but I guess some sharing of snacks and chocolates that we brought along with us made them more comfortable chatting with us eventually!

Despite the weather being a little overcast and cloudy, Lake Sary-Chelek is still a beautiful sight to behold. Time to head back towards the village!

Had so much fun today! Spending time with the locals, experiencing the typical Kyrgyz hospitality, chatting with them, eating traditional home-cooked Kyrgyz food, and finally checking an item off my bucket list (i.e. attempting horseback riding). It was hard to say goodbye to our wonderful guide!

Looking for more wild adventures in Central Asia? Wildfire Expeditions offer trekking, mountaineering, sight-seeing and horseback riding trips within Central Asia region. Contact us to find out more!

?A road less travelled? A statement often overused, but in this case under-describes the road between Langhar and Murghab, Tajikistan.? Also known as the Afghan corridor or Wahkhan Valley corridor, the lonely stretch of road was once travelled by large caravans from Europe and Persia that wanted to reach the Far East,to buy and sell their goods. I guess this stretch of road is most commonly known as part of the the Silk Road.

A journey to the mountainous Lenin Peak (7134m) brought us to Kyrgyzstan and the lure of adventure on this lonely highway brought us to Tajikistan. The Pamir Highway is officially considered from the city of Dushanbe, in Tajikistan to the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan.? Most of this road has small villages and towns along the way, but the section from Langhar and Murghab, is extremely desolate with the exception of a few ranchers during the summer season.? I found myself spending 3 days exploring just this piece of the highway.

With a 4×4 vehicle, plenty of food, water, and camping gear, we set out to take a step back in time and see what the travelers of the caravans saw, some 500 years ago. I was warned that if I had car trouble, do not expect to see another car for two or three days at least. It wasn?t quite that desolate, we did see at least one car of locals each day. But the conditions of the road did give us our share of challenges.

The road itself goes thru several high-mountain passes and we were camping at around 4300 meters each night. Having just finished our Lenin Peak attempt, we felt acclimatized for our day walks we took, but the surprise was the temperature in the evenings.? Dropping down to well below 0 degrees Celsius at night, we chose to sleep in the back of the SUV.? The sleeping bags were more than warm enough and the early morning Sun gave a pleasant warm up before climbing out of the car.

Each day, it felt as if we were visiting different worlds.? First the beautiful greenery of Earth, then the barren landscape of the Moon, and moving on to the red sand mountains that resembled Mars. It was truly remarkable.

The high mountain lakes with it?s glacier water and mineral deposits reflected a blue so deep, that it couldn?t be captured in photos. The reflections of the mountains in the water was as clear as highest quality mirror that money could buy.? Each remarkable landscape that we passed, we tried to photo but the photo just didn?t capture the beautiful realities of the surrounding.

The Fortresses of the different khans during the period still stood in it?s weakened form.? But one could imagine life in these mountains behind these walls.? The petroglyphs inscribed on the rock, tell of stories of Marco Polo Sheep and the Ibex that populate the area.

Though we spent only 3 days in this section, it truly felt like time travel, stepping back to another time. ?This is a time travelers dream.? Interested in experiencing the Pamir Highway? Contact us at info@wildfirexpeditions.com and we can make it happen. The road less travelled is waiting for you…

The Great Himalaya Trail which is one of the world highest and longest footpaths is more adventurous destination in any of other trekking. Spanning several hundred kilometers of amazing Himalayan terrain, this trail stretches over the full length of Nepal. For those looking for the cutting edge of adventure trek, Nepal?s Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) presents the opportunity of a lifetime. The trail itself passes through some of the most beautiful parts of the Himalayas ? winding under the highest mountain peaks in the world. You can trek, run or bike the trail, take the high route and challenge yourself with some mountaineering, or try the lower route and travel from village to village. It is the most dramatic, traversing the entirety of Nepal from east to west in the shadows of the world?s highest peaks. The Great Himalaya Trail will provide you with a truly unforgettable outdoor adventure of a lifetime.

Great Himalayan Trail

Though, the route is not official (unavailable for trekking), Robin Boustead in 2008 for the first time completed the Nepal section and proposed an idea of it being the longest trail, if developed accordingly. The major purpose of developing this trail is to bring benefits of tourism and develop livelihoods in remote mountain communities. Potentially, the longest and highest walking track in the world, the long- term vision for the trail is to develop it further, to cover more than 4,500 km of the Great Himalayan range, connecting six Asian countries- Pakistan, China (Tibet Autonomous Region), India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. You can trek, run or bike the trail, take the high route and challenge yourself with some mountaineering, or try the lower route and travel from village to village.

History Of The Great Himalayan Trail

The formation of a trail along the Greater Himalaya Range was precluded by access restrictions to certain areas in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan requiring detours into the mid-hills away from the Greater Himalaya Range. With time these access restrictions were eased or lifted, and in 2002, with further restrictions being lifted in border areas of Nepal, it became feasible for the first time. After years of research, documentation, and mapping, the concept of Great Himalaya Trail was walked for the first time in 2008 and 2009 by a team led by Robin Boustead. The first trip ran from February through August of 2011 and was completed successfully in 157 days.

There are two routes encompassing the Great Himalaya Trail: the high route and the low route. True to its name, the high route winds its way through 3,000 to 5,000 meter high terrain, with the Himalayan giants watching over as you trek your way through snowy paths with very few trees and villages along the way. The low route, on the other hand, though not as challenging as the high route is more culturally stimulating, as it passes through numerous Nepali villages and communities. However, you may not get as intimate views of the Himalayan peaks as you would on the high route. You can of course, alternate between the high and low routes at various points during the full trek.

Trekking along the GHT high route makes for an unforgettable adventure and the trip of a lifetime. The proposed trail would stretch over a distance of about 1,700 km and passes through spectacular, high altitude mountain landscapes, visiting some of the most remote villages on earth, where life remains as it was centuries back.

Trekking along the GHT high route requires to cross high passes with altitudes up to 6,146 m and the whole trek takes about 150 days on average. Proper trekking gear and mountaineering equipment is needed and anyone attempting this trek should be physically fit and have trekking and ideally some mountaineering experience. For safety, a local mountain guide who knows the terrain is definitely recommended especially in high altitudes. Due to the remoteness of the proposed route, camping is required for most parts of the adventure therefore a tent, food and cooking equipment is necessary.

The GHT low route ? also called the cultural route ? winds through the countries mid hills with an average altitude of 2000m. However, there are many passes to cross with the highest being the Jang La at 4519 m between Dhorpatan and Dolpa in West-Nepal. Trekking along the proposed GHT low route means walking through beautiful lush forests, pastures, green rice terraces and fertile agricultural land, providing the basis for Nepal?s rich culture and civilization. You will come across local settlements of many different cultural groups, giving you the chance to see what authentic Nepali village life is all about.

For most parts of the trek, you?ll be able to stay in small guesthouses or home stays, but make sure to still take your tent for some of the more remote sections of the route. With lots of local restaurants around, trekkers will find a place to eat almost everywhere and so will not necessarily need to carry large amounts of food. Shorter than the high route, the GHT low route stretches over a distance of 1,500 km and the whole trek will roughly take around 100 days.

 

You love diving and adventure travel, so you?re taking the plunge (excuse the pun) and booking yourself on your first liveaboard! With so many options, how can you possibly decide among all the available choices? Here are a few considerations when planning the ultimate dive holiday.

Island Diving Maldives Liveaboard

Location
Research how to reach your dive adventure destination. Some trips might have different start and end points, so consider travel time. When travelling to remote areas, give yourself enough time to get there. Consider flight delays, re-routing, and religious holidays. You might not always get connecting flights on the same day.

Also consider the season. Is it ?peak? season due to weather, diving conditions, or marine life migrations? If your dream is to see manta rays, hammerheads, or whale sharks, research whether they remain year round or are seasonal.

Type of Diving
Are you looking for crazy currents? Mindblowing macro? Pelagics? Or a little bit of everything. Make sure you do your research on the type of diving available. Also consider the time of the month you are going. In some places the currents are tied to the moon phase, often with the strongest currents being around new and full moon.

Be aware if your operator has a set daily/weekly plan for dive sites. If they have a set plan that does not deviate, and you are in an area where there can be strong currents, be confident that you can handle yourself in any conditions.

Group Size
Bigger isn?t always better?

When diving, especially if the conditions are challenging, smaller groups can be much better. Up to 8 divers per group is common, but on some boats, groups can be as small as 4 divers to one guide. That?s almost personal service!

liveaboard komodo

Cost
Much like bigger isn?t always better ? more expensive does not always equate to better service. There are ?flashpacker? style boats with shared toilets, cold showers, and sleeping on deck. Then there are the luxury boats with aircon, ensuite toilets, maybe even a jacuzzi on the sundeck! You are there to dive, but consider what level of comfort and service you want on the boat also. Some divers will love the phinisi style boats that have a pirate-like feel; others prefer the roomy modern boats with wifi service and a bar.

Dive Maldives Emperor Liveaboard??

Certification and Experience
Some operators expect a minimum level of certification ? generally advanced diver ? and some may require at least 100 logged dives. This could be because the majority of dive sites are deeper, or subject to more challenging conditions. Safety first. There are also liveaboards for the less experienced divers! Consider how comfortable you are in water and plan accordingly.

Dive Safely
Above all, pick a good operator. Like any other adventure sport, diving comes with skill requirements and safety measures. On a liveaboard, you will typically be exploring more far flung sites, possibly without any other means of transportation or ready access to medical facilities. Make sure you choose an operator who is experienced in the area, knows the site very well and has a good safety record.

Traveling and diving in places only accessible by boat, stunning sunsets, refreshing sunrises, friendships both old and new. Liveaboard diving has this to offer and so much more!

Although I?ve only been on two liveaboards in my diving lifetime, I can say that both of them had a profound impact on me. The first one was in Australia, as a brand-new diver (with only 8 dives under my belt), I took off on a 4-day dive liveaboard from Cairns. This was not only the first time I?d spent 4 days on a boat, it was also the first time in a long time that I?d traveled on my own. On this trip, I was able to do my advanced course and the 4 days went by in a blur of eating, sleeping and diving. By the end, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and it was so worth it. I had so many firsts on this dive holiday: my Advanced certification, my first shark, my first underwater somersault, my first night dive, my first unguided dive with just a buddy (and made it back to the boat!). The biggest achievement however was that I did it as a solo traveller and I loved it.

This experience was why I returned to Bali to continue my training and work as a scuba dive professional. This ultimately led to my second, much longer and far more challenging liveaboard – a 2 week crossing from Alor to Komodo on a small boat. Just 4 of us, close friends and partners in crime exploring some unknown parts of the Flores sea. It was an amazing, crazy, sometimes scary, out of this world and better experience than I could have ever imagined. From waters teeming with life, to intense currents, we sometimes got more than we expected from our adventure. We jumped into some unknown spots and found some gems?and some not so good ones! We pirated a small stretch of sand in the middle of the ocean and claimed it for our own. We laughed and we shared, and I grew.

Whether travelling alone or with friends or loved ones, dive liveaboards offer an experience unlike anything else you can get on land. Being the first one in the water as the sun rises, waking up with the ocean is such a magical experience. Seeing stunning scenery and visiting faraway places only accessible by boat. Rocking with the waves gently at night and watching the ocean light up from the bio luminescence. Even watching documentaries about the big blue while sailing along quietly in the night. This is the stuff dreams are made of. Not only will you have memories that last a lifetime, you?ll be left with a hunger that you can?t quite satisfy until the next time you?re sailing off into the unknown.

Ready to learn more about Scuba diving adventure holidays? See our dive liveaboard trips and more on our?website.

Years before I discovered the spirituality and transcendence of trekking, I stumbled into Nepal, and experienced my first multi-day hiking experience in the heart of mountain country.

Twelve years later, I found myself back in the region that so captivated me.

Since my first visit, Kathmandu had suffered a devastating earthquake. Seeing the aftermath was a sobering experience. Infrastructure was being rebuilt, but the devastation was clear; buildings and parts of roads lay in shambles. Thamel was quiet, and the absence of honking and blaring music made for a peaceful drive to the airport.

On our flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, our guide Raj made sure we had a clear view of the beautiful snowcapped peaks below. Himalayan giants towered majestically above the clouds. A sense of homecoming and exhilaration filled my soul. We were excited to begin our adventure.

Flight over Nepal

Day 1

Our trek began at Kande, with a gentle hike to Pothana for acclimatization to altitude. Into the forest the path weaved, strewn with beautiful rhododendrons, Nepal?s national flower.

Annapurna, Nepal Trek
Rhododendrons Line the Way

At camp, after a hearty dinner, much to our bemusement, the dining room was transformed into a dance floor! Nepali and Raksi music flowed and we were invited to dance with the locals.

Day 2

Awakening the next morning to clear views of Annapurna and Himchuli glistening on the horizon was a feast for hungry eyes.

Annapurna and Himchuli, Nepal
Annapurna and Himchuli peaks in the morning

The day began bright and sunny morphing into light hail. As we gained altitude, the temperature dropped and the hail gradually turned into snow. In the space of minutes, the landscape transformed in front of us, from greens and browns, to greys and whites.

Trek to Mardi HImal, Nepal
Happiness on the showy trail

Seven hours after leaving Pothana, we arrived at Forest Camp to the welcoming sight of a stove heating up the dining area.

Day 3

Rising with the sun, surrounded with mountains and forest views, the perfectly still morning just above 5 degrees lent itself wonderfully for some outdoor yoga.

Sunrise yoga, Mardi Himal Nepal
Sun warrior. Shine your heart, open up your sides, strong legs. Reach for the sky.

 

Mardi Himal yoga, Nepal
Letting go…the mountain air inspires inversion

After breakfast, we continued upwards. The closer we got to Mardi Himal base camp, the more snow and ice covered the trail and the colder it got. But none of that mattered when we were surrounded by such awe-inspiring views. Annapurna, Himchuli, Macchaphucre Our distant giants peaking out at times to spur us on.

Trekking Nepal
Sunrise over the Himalayas

Hiking in snow was different here to other places I?ve been trekking; Taiwan (hard snow, more ice), Mongola (glacier, roped up), even the bitterly cold slopes of Bolivia and New Zealand where we needed crampons. I was surprised by the soft texture of the snow here. Beautifully pristine.

Trekking Nepal
Skiing may be fun also!

Day 4

An early rise today in anticipation of the day trip to Mardi Himal base camp. Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favour that morning. We made it to High Camp and holed up for 2 hours, warming up with delicious noodle soup and omelette to wait for a break in the weather. Instead powdery snow kept falling. The decision was soon made to descend the next day.

Day 5

After a final mountain sunrise, we began the 1,400m descent to Sidling village through alpine snow, forest and terraces. Emerging from the white of the snowlands to the forest literally bursting with rhododendrons was incredible. Such life, such vitality!

Trekking Annapurna
Endless vistas across Annapurna

The Himalayan gods were on our side that day with stunning views of Annapurna South, Himchuli, Annapurna III, Gangapurna, Macchapucchre, Annapurna IV and Annapurna II. Even Mardi Himal itself was in view! The full range lay out before us, bowing us out in style.

Trekking Nepal
Mardi Himal emerges!

I will never tire of these mountains. Not a day went by that I wasn’t amazed and gratified by the beauty that surrounded us. Not a day went by that I wasn?t awe-struck by being in a land that witnessed the pinnacle of human endeavor. From bright red blooming forest, to a blanket of velvety white 700m above, two (or even more) different worlds ever changing, the only constant being its majestic beauty.

A region with storied peaks and glorious landscapes. How could you resist?

Experience the majesty of Nepal for yourself on our next trek to Mardi Himal. Join us here!

 

 

What is the attraction of Mt Agung, a 3,031masl volcano in a country with more than 50 volcanos and 30 mountains above 3,000m? What inspires so many to try? Is it more difficult than Rinjani? Is it steeper than Semeru? Is it more beautiful than Kerinci?

 

For me, the allure of Mt Agung was steeped in stories of being beaten back by the weather, of the intense long hours of walking through the night and the fearful scrambling to reach the top, of the steepness of the incline, but also, most importantly, of golden sunrises and gorgeous views. This combination of challenge and beauty was a siren I could not resist. For two years, Bali?s highest and holiest peak loomed in my mind each time I visited Lombok, Bali or Nusa Lembongan. With Wildfire Expeditions and five awesome ladies, the adventure finally materialized.

 

A night in Canggu

 

2nd June:

Junior and I made our way to Canggu from a couple of days of diving in Lembongan. The villa took our breath away. A big beautiful house with 3 bedrooms, a swimming pool and an army of staff to cater to our every need ? including getting takeout dinner if we are too tired to go out!

8pm – Junior and I peeled ourselves away from the alluring king sized bed and explored the main drag of Canggu, a 7-minute walk from Villa Kumuda. It was busy, with lots of caf?s and boutiques, and aspiring yogis, surfers, bikers, backpackers…wandering souls. An arty, bohemian vibe embodied the night. A french bakery, a Spanish tapas place and where we ended up for dinner – Betelnut Caf?, which provides smoothie bowls, healthy wraps, hummus etc. with a Mediterranean flavour.

 

The adventure begins…

3rd June

8:00am

A beautifully lazy morning, we woke up to the aroma of garlic and butter. Home-cooked (literally) breakfast of scrambled eggs, sunny side up, omelette choice with grilled tomatoes, bacon, hash brown and chicken sausages laid out on six placemats. Served with orange juice, water and a basket of croissants and white bread. Heaven.

 

12noon ? Pickup from Canggu

Wayan from ID Guides arrived 10 minutes early to take us to Pasar Pura Agung, the temple from which we would start the hike to Bali?s tallest and holiest peak.?

Our lunch stop was lush green and among the most scenic of pitstops!

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4:00pm

After a quick dropoff of our big bags at Wayan?s and the last toilet break, we were almost ready to hike.

 

A?couple of steps up and we were at the entrance of the temple.

 

Tall beautifully crafted spires that grew longer as we climbed higher.

We took a couple of moments in front of the temple to ask for blessings – safe passage up the mountain and back.

The trek commenced at circa 1,600masl, through forest. The route was up, up, up. Some steps steeper than the others but with poles provided by the helpful Wayan II, it was a nice hike to warm up our legs and get the blood going after hours in a car. Wayan II estimated 2plus hours to the campsite at 2,300 masl. Wayan I had already gone ahead to set up the campsite. Exceptional service!

Midway through I looked back and got a glorious surprise. We had risen above the clouds. In the late afternoon sun and changing colours, what a stunning view!

 

6:00pm

We reached campsite and stopped for the night. Wayan II had set a good pace. Carrying only what we need for a night and day, we were not laden with heavy packs. Wayan I had already set up 3 tents for us. We peeped in. It was ginormous! We can easily put 3 of us into one (instead of 2). Abit of extra warmth never hurts in the mountains!

As we were photographing the sunset, the guides were already putting out snacks and taking coffee/tea orders.

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What beauty Nature holds for those who would explore??

Witnessing the rapidly changing colours of dusk was a breath-taking experience.

Mount Agung

7:00pm

The sun has set and it was an almost cloudless night. The temperature dipped quickly. Thank goodness for the campfire!

Minutes later, dinner was served. What a spread! Chicken lalapan with nasi (huge amount of nasi) and vegetables with delicious gravy. Six very happy girls!

Climbing in Thailand

 

8pm

We sat under the dome of stars, watching for the southern cross, the milky way – and the odd shooting star or two. And then it is bedtime. Rest up for a 2am wake-up call and the 3-hour summit march!

 

1:30am

In a fleece lined sleeping bag with my thermal and yoga top and a bandana to protect the head, I felt a little cold. 10 degrees or so, it was mostly ok. We were woken 30 minutes ahead of time. Some groups were passing through. We would be roused anyway. The guides already got another fire going. The promise of warmth outside the tent got me up and out ? and was duly rewarded with a cup of hot tea, a hard boiled egg, and sweet rolls. Breakfast of mountain champions.

 

2:20am

Headlamps on, fleece and jackets donned, trekking pole in hand, we were finally on our way. The night was mercifully light in wind. The summit hike was along exposed terrain consisting of a 15-20 minute hike up to the midway point between the start point and the true summit. We would then traverse across below the crater rim (bypassing the crater rim) and heading straight up for the summit. Wayan gave us short 3-5 minute breaks along the way to keep the group together while making sure our muscles are not cooling down too much. Onward and upward the march goes.

In the darkness of the night, we were blissfully ignorant of the actual terrain. The blinking lights of Bali distracted us from time to time as Wayan would point out Denpasar, then Nusa Lembongan. Just a spectre in the distance where we had been a scant 24hours ago. How surreal.

 

5:45am

Just as Wayan has estimated, we reached summit in a little over 3 hours. At 5:45am, perfect timing. We caught the first rays of the awakening sky, too dark for photos but whose image would always be etched in our memories.

The summit was not a big spot and we were lucky to have arrived minutes in front of another group. Finding the prime spot to watch the sun rise, we finally sat on our butts ? and snacked. Wayan pointed out the outlines of a peak silhouetted against the sky.?That is Rinjani. Wow?.. Volcano to volcano.?

Sunrise Mount Agung

As the sun started to rise, the sky gradually turned crimson, then golden and bright. We started making out the ocean between the islands, then the three land masses of different shapes at the foot of Rinjani ? the 3 Gilis, Trawangan, Meno and Air.

 

And on the other side, a sea of clouds that looked like fluffy pillows. As we gaped and marvelled at the sunrise and the huge variance in the landscape from Agung, time trickled by without us realising?soon, the time came to descend.

 

7am ? the Descent

Heading down the mountain ? any mountain ? is usually my least favourite part. The agony of steep descents is nothing compared to the fear of slipping down a particularly nasty looking narrow ledge or sliding uncontrollably down slippery gravel and scree.

Mount Agung

Gingerly, with much trepidation, we made our way across the ridge and picked our way down.

Down, down, down we wound, eventually, finally, reaching camp where we were treated to the most wonderful nasi goreng and telur goreng in memory.

 

1:30pm

12 hours after we woke up, we were back at the base of the mountain, Pasar Pura Agung. Just 20 hours and the world already feels different. A little smellier, a little surprised by what we had accomplished, very much astounded by the beauty we were fortunate enough to witness.

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The Experience

Summiting Mt Agung by a well-advised route of medium difficulty was the best decision we made. It was a route that both allows the body precious time to refuel and acclimatise and ensures an adequate challenge with the added benefit of a path less trodden and relatively devoid of trekkers.? The camaradarie of the hike added a special dimension. We were 6 and 1. Laughing up the mountain, marvelling at Nature, laughing (or half crying) down. Joking, teasing, feasting, photographing, wondering what we are doing to ourselves while secretly rejoicing in the challenge and the company. Moments are always better when shared.

The traverse across under the crater rim to the true summit was at times hair-raisingly narrow, at others, steep. But always during the 3 hours, we were accompanied by a full dome of stars. A magical experience when looking up at a random stop for a breath just in time to witness a star streaking across the sky. Screaming thighs forgotten, the chill of the mountain air disappeared. Where else but on a mountain at four in the morning are you privy to such wonders? The forty-five minutes on summit watching the sky slowly awaken, with hues of navy, purple, red, then orange, yellow and bright, was simply breath-taking. Mt Rinjani peeked out above the clouds, then as the sun come up on its left, the ocean between the islands start to form, and the notorious Gilis took shape beneath the clouds. Like a map unfolding, Nature displays its magnificence bit by bit. A glorious experience that literally took my breath away.

Moral of the story, Live Life with Passion! #livelifewithpassion

 

 

 

A Scuba Divers Dream

 

Exploring and adventure take many forms. Trekking through remote wilderness, summiting mountains where few have gone, kayaking down unknown stretches of river, or diving uncharted locations to see what you may find. When I got the invitation to join a group of good friends going on such a dive trip in south Sulawesi, I jumped at the chance. Indonesia has some of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world, and those are the ones we know about ? I couldn?t imagine what was in store for us going to an island where almost no divers have ever been.

 

We began the adventure based in Bau Bau, on Buton Island, which many of my Indonesian friends had not heard of before. We were impressed when day 1 began on a beautiful reef wall and into a multi-chamber cave abundant with large lobsters. This was followed by a wreck dive with loads of macro, pipefish, and tiny jellies. The night dive at a jetty produced pleurobranchs moving about, robust ghost pipefish, and starry night octopus among the other strange species found around jetties at night. I remember thinking ?Wow, if this is how we begin on the first day, I can?t wait for tomorrow!?.

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The next two days did not disappoint! First, a 90-minute drive to Pasarwajo led us to a warung that would be our base for 3 dives that included mostly sandy bottoms where we could find lots of the small and camouflaged creatures we love as photographers, mixed with a large school of very big jellyfish and the occasional Great Barracuda. This was followed by another night dive, this time to see the mandarin fish as they came out of hiding at dusk looking for a mate. The next day we had a 2 hour boat trip to Siompu Island where an undersea ridge was teeming with Blacktip Reef Sharks, many species of nudibranchs we had never seen, and even a few Eagle Rays. In addition to the diving, we had our surface interval on a small, uninhabited beach, and after lunch climbed to the top of the cliffs where we had amazing vistas of the sea and surrounding islands.

 

After this incredible start, we were ready to embark on the adventure we had all come for ? a 6-hour boat trip to a remote island that held only 3 small, local villages on land, fishermen in their small canoes on the water, and unseen reefs and life under the sea. Excitement was growing to explore the unknown! A pre-dawn start meant setting up hammocks or mats on the boat and getting some much needed sleep to start the trip. When the sun came up, we were too intrigued by what lied ahead to sleep any longer. A brief stop in the open sea halfway through the trip gave us our first taste of what to expect ? a swim in the clearest water most of us had ever seen!

 

Arriving at our destination, the first thing we did was check our gear and choose the first dive site, one which our guide had seen a few weeks before on a recon trip. What we found left us speechless! Steep sloping reefs with massive old coral growth, huge schools of fusiliers, surgeons, and sweetlips along with several huge Napoleon Wrasse, and when we passed around a corner we found a wall with no bottom in sight?and the visibility was at least 50m. Minds were officially blown! Next dive was back on that wall to explore further, finding ledges and deep overhangs, sponges much larger than a person, and eagle rays passing in the blue. I now had a new favorite dive site!

 

Big wall

What I didn?t know was that I would have a new favorite dive site every day. Practically all of the sites we explored were drop-offs to the biggest walls I have experienced, with the healthiest and largest corals I have seen. What changed however was the topography ? some were relatively straight across and straight down into the blue, some had multiple layers of ledges and overhangs, and some were winding with deep recesses that captivated us as we looked for what lived inside. And the water clarity and visibility gave us good looks at the Bumpheads or Giant Trevally when they approached.

The second morning began with an interesting twist when our boat wouldn?t start. As it became apparent that it would take more than a day to fix the problem, our leader negotiated with a local boat captain to take us out for the day?s diving. We didn?t need a proper dive boat, we just needed transport to places we wanted to jump in! Improvisation is key to any adventure.

 

Meanwhile, the adventure was not only limited to exploring underwater. On land, our guide had arranged a home where most of us could sleep while the rest of the group slept on the boat. A large crowd of locals gathered on the jetty to look at the foreigners stepping onto their island; most were children, and the greeting mostly involved staring until someone was brave enough to say ?Hello Mister? (even to the ladies). And they all followed us to the house, where the staring continued until they were shocked by the flash from my camera, then awed when I showed them the photo.

 

Sleeping arrangements were thick mats on the floor or the hammocks we brought. The ladies of the house also prepared basic local meals of fish and rice?the catch was, we had to bring all the food. The island has no electricity for cooling and preserving food, and being rock and sand, there are no vegetables grown. The locals survive on chicken and fish they are able to catch, and a yearly supply of rice and dried cassava that is restocked when their husbands return from their annual 8-10 months of working in mainland Sulawesi or beyond. There is no market on the island to buy food ? the villagers fend for themselves and their families individually.

 

On our final day, we moved about 45 minutes offshore where a local fisherman had shown our guide a pinnacle. This so-called pinnacle turned out to be more of a massive sea mount, as we made 3 dives on it and couldn?t come close to seeing it all! The topography was more sloping reef, and more a more conducive environment for sharks, resulting in whitetips, one large Grey Reef, and (although only one of the group saw it) even a Tiger Shark on the final dive! No one was quite ready to leave, but we were out of food and needed showers and a full night?s sleep. The sights continued during the return trip a large pod of dolphins played just beyond the bow of the boat, and we witnessed a stunning red-orange sunset before darkness fell over the water.

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We were 8 divers from 7 different countries, all friends who came together to explore the unknown. After spending a week with good friends on a small boat, seeing reefs no one has ever seen, more turtles than one could count, various macro even the most experienced of us didn?t recognize and visibility that is difficult to imagine, we all agreed we will be exploring again in the not too distant future.