Cool trees

You have got to hand it to them; trees never judge, bitch or moan, and they make oxygen, which is amazing when you think about it. Every tree in the world, no matter how ragged or sad-looking, is busily making the earth more habitable for you, so go on, give ‘em a hug!
Here are 29 of my favourite trees from around the world:

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Training for mountaineering update

Training for mountaineering… What does it take to sit on top of tall, pointy mountains as featured in cliché motivation posters? To be honest, even though I have done it before, I still have no bloody clue. I’m completely making this up as I go! Maybe the last summit was a complete fluke. Maybe this time will be different…

In exactly one month I will be stepping off a plane in Kathmandu and heading off into the hills with a good mate of mine. Despite being busy with my studies, some relief pharmacy work and organising my book launch (scheduled for a week after I return, which will  be a challenge considering I slept for a month after my last climb), I am pleased to report that my training has come along apace. Since my first Ama Dablam training blog post  my fitness has improved immensely. My waist is 6 cms smaller and I am 7 kgs lighter. Finally I am starting to look less like Homer Simpson and more like the guy to the right!

I am swimming 3 kms two to three times a week. The last time I went to the pool I was super-motivated and busted out the first 1.5 kms without a rest. My lungs are feeling strong thanks to yet another wild theory of mine. You see, I figure that swimming is one of the best ways to train for a low oxygen environment. I have been trying to teach my body to function under ‘oxygen stress’ (my term)  by not breathing when I want and alternating between a breath every five and one every six strokes. Once I tried breaking my swim down into laps of ten. I breathed once every 10 strokes on the first lap, 9 on the next and so on. This meant that when I did breathe I needed  to be efficient. This hurt, but I could feel myself pushing through all sorts of uncomfortable I-want-to-breathe barriers. Surely all this helps my breathing efficiency. Maybe. Another wild Ben theory…

I have recruited a rag-tag ‘team’ of dudes to rock climb with. Once a week Davide, the barista from over the road, and his mate, as well as my paragliding buddy Juan join me to ‘hang out’ at the climbing gym. All the lads are new to the sport, but they love the challenge and excitement. I am loving the company, making new friends and fun of it all. Rock climbing is amazing training. When you get tired, you fall off. This gives a surge of adrenaline that makes it possible to go again and keep on climbing beyond normal tired.

On top of climbing and swimming, I train with the slack-line during breaks from my book launch and study work. I can now wear my rucksack (big red, naturally) with 12 kgs inside on the slackline. This is super-exciting considering I could hardly stand on the thing a few months ago. Also, if climbing does not work out for me, I can run away to join the circus as a tightrope walker.

Queue shameless brag video:

 

All those oft-forgotten balance muscles that sub-consciously twitch and keep us upright get an amazing workout on this contraption. I have found muscles down the side of my legs and in my bum, which I didn’t know existed. If you have absolutely no imagination at all, you may be wondering how slacklining would help with mountaineering. Below is a short video, which shows just how important balance is on mountains:

 

I think maybe the next goal for the slackline will be to do it as Jette throws slushy ice at me, or get her to spray me with a hose in the nighttime. She’d enjoy that!

Anyway, that’s the latest on my training for the big climb. Did I mention that the Red Rucksack now has GPS capabilities? As we climb I will be updating here via sat phone, and tracking our progress using a GPS spotter. The GPS SPOT will be stuffed in my pack and plotting our exact location to a very detailed map as we climb. Thankfully, Ama Dablam is near Everest so there are some amazingly detailed maps available of the region. You will even be able to see, in real time, which ridge line we are sitting on, and which cliff we are climbing. High tech gizmos meets Yak transportation. BOO YAH! Yeah…I’m starting to get excited, and I look forward to having you tag along!

Do you have any questions about the expedition? Do you want to know any specific details? Please comment below and I’ll try to answer any question before I go. Note: while I’m in Nepal communication will be one way, so I will not be able to see comments or answer any questions so get in now.

Thanks for joining me.

 

Ten travel tips for Vanuatu

grey Ten travel tips for Vanuatu

Tanna Island flight

 

Ten travel tips for Vanuatu

  1. The price of eating out is equivalent to Australia; don’t expect a cheap Thai-holiday.
  2. Robbery and scams are minimal, however, don’t be dumb about things. Keep your valuables locked in your room and your packs in sight.
  3. Kava is a local drink with mild sedative and anesthetic properties. Australians can bring back 2kg before customs becomes interested.
  4. Mt Yasur is one of the world’s most reliably active volcanos. It is also one of the most easily accessible – go there!
  5. Don’t book any activities before going. You can stroll down the main street of Port Vila and book with the companies direct.
  6. Walking through town, there are many times you would be forgiven for thinking you are in Jamaica – they lurve that Reggae music mon!
  7. Locals are super friendly – numerous times a local would fall into stride with us and just start chatting. It takes a while to relax into this lovely island mentality without thinking ‘SCAM!’
  8. Groceries are expensive; the few times we cooked for ourselves it would have been cheaper to eat out. 3 tomatoes cost $5 Aus and 100g of bacon was $5.50
  9. Efate is the main island with a population of around 240,000.
  10. Did I mention; go to Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur Volcano – Vanuatu

grey Mt Yasur Volcano   Vanuatu

Air Taxi – Vanuatu

 

Mt Yasur Volcano on the island of Tanna is one of the world’s most reliably active and easy to access volcanos. Following a short hop in a single engine aircraft (piloted by a chap who looks just out of school) you take a two hour four wheel drive trip that ends within fifty metres of the lava. On the way in, Eddie our driver stops on a vast plain of black ash that leads to the conical volcano. I start to get disappointed, thinking that this is as close to the action as we are getting. After we’ve all had a chance to soak up this surreal landscape we are urged back to the four wheel drive and bundle out of the truck sometime later, right near the smoking top.

 

 

The flight to Tanna Island

A concerned looking guide takes control of our huddle and tells us that, as Mt Yasur’s activity is a high two out of five, we will not be climbing to the top today. As if on cue the volcano makes an unnerving boom and throws a baby-sized lump of lava towards us. The wind is coming our way, and this is also a bad thing as the smoke is blown into our field of view and obscuring any more volcano babies that may try to land on our heads. We all readily agree that safety should be the main priority so we all grab our cameras and busy ourselves with taking photos.

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Mt Yasur ash fields

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Mt Yasur from a distance

At one point I wander off to take a leak. With my back turned to Mt Yasur I go about my business but am expecting a smack on the back of the neck … this is how they all die in the movies.

The guide bolts up to the top to check conditions. Once there, he starts frantically waving us all up. I start to think that this may be just part of the show but Kevin, a quietly spoken Aussie who was here yesterday, assures me otherwise.

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Mt Yasur eruption

“Five minutes,” the guide shouts. “Five minutes only, then we go…”

At the top I am sure to hold Jette’s hand (not solely for her benefit) as the volcano booms and sends powerful shockwaves through us. Occasionally a few bits of lava land too close for comfort but none as big as the initial baby. Volcanos are unpredictable and hugely intimidating. They’ll go quiet, hissing and humming like one of Willy Wonka’s chocolate machines, then BOOM! A huge plume of lava lurches into view.

grey Mt Yasur Volcano   Vanuatu

Volcanic eruption

I discover that you can ready for a photo by watching for shockwaves through the smoke. The sonic boom of these impossible explosions warps the smoke and you can clearly see a quiet shockwave pass through the smoke like a ghost just before the boom. Light travels faster than sound. This only gives you half a second or so to brace for the boom though.

 

 Mt Yasur erupting (and wife cursing!)

The activity seems to be picking up and our guide hurries us in the dark down the stairs and to the relative safety of the trucks.

Just as we are turning to go, the volcano gives us one final farewell. The biggest one yet.

A bright bulb of lava comes into view as the sound reaches us, making us all catch our breath.

Those tourist office people were right. Seriously, if you only do one thing in Vanuatu.

 

SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

 

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Welcome to Tranquility Island

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Weather coconut

SCUBA diving in Vanuatu! I am jittery-excited! Our short, energetic dive-master Claudia turns her attention to me, “So when was your last dive Ben?”

You know when you should lie but don’t. 

Hesitation, “Umm, three years ago in Thailand.”

“Oh, and you’ve only done a few dives total right? Well, I think you should skip the first dive and do a refresher with me.”

“That’s cool, I can keep Jette company on her test dive.”

We are on Tranquility island, a large, slightly detached island in the northern reaches of Efate. Jette, a keen snorkeler, is going to do her first dive to see if she likes it enough to do the course and I had planned to do two reef dives. I am somewhat comforted with the focus on safety here. Last time I went SCUBA diving in Thailand it was only my third dive after completing my certification. We went straight down to 35 meters (15 meters deeper than I should at this level) and into a sunken boat where we pulled ourselves through tight spaces. My qualification is for an open diver. That means I need open water above my head and shouldn’t be bumping tanks around inside boats or caves. That experience was rather intense, but I loved it!

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Tranquility Island Dive Resort

As the others set off for the reef Claudia starts enthusiastically gathering tanks, regulators and other gear for Jette and I. Soon we are kitted up, waist deep off the beach. I can tell that Jette is not entirely comfortable with the equipment but she gives it a good go. We kneel down underwater so that J can practice breathing through the regulators.

Sadly, the waves trying to flip her over, the mask fogging up and the weird, asthmatic feel of regulator breathing increases Jette’s discomfort to the point where she decides to give up and try again elsewhere. Maybe in a pool. We watch Jette waddle off up the beach. Normally Jette moves with a rather feline grace but, under the weight of all her SCUBA gear, she is now waddling. It looks hilarious. Looking up the beach I see the Turtle sanctuary is doing a release. Maybe we will see one.

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Lost turtle

 

With my skills proven Claudia and I decide to try a small reef dive near the resort. As we descend slowly to 15 meters I am amazed at the wealth of sea life surrounding us. Claudia proves to be an attentive and comforting dive buddy, unlike the Thai chap who often left me stranded as he disappeared to chase fish. We dive past WWII antisubmarine bouys like rusting aquariums they are filled with tiny Nemos and other fish. Then we spot a lonely looking turtle. We swim over to check his tag and realize that this little chap is one of the guys that was just released. He sits on a rock looking rather confused and, no doubt, wondering where all his friends have gone…

Suddenly I feel bubbles all over my torso and my buoyancy feels wrong. I get Claudia’s attention (thankfully not hard) and lift my arms so she can check me. The purge button on my spare regulator has stuck on and is letting air out. A quick fiddle with the regulator thankfully fixes the problem and we wind our way up and back to the beach.

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Ben SCUBA diving

Following an amazing barbecue I leave Jette to happily go about exploring with her trusty snorkel and jump into the boat for another dive. I am buddied up with a lovely, chatty school teacher who, like me, is happy to go slow and take in the sights. We dive down to 20 meters right into a veritable Atlantis. Big fish, small fish, turtles, coral, Clown Fish hiding in anemone and the occasional sea horse make the 50 minute dive feel like five. I was sorry to have forgotten the waterproof backing for my Go-pro and sad to leave when my buddy signaled that she was low on air, time to go up. It was amazing how far we traveled underwater, right back to the resort.

If you read the word ‘resort’ and think swim up bars and mini golf, I should clarify. The Tranquility Dive resort is a few bamboo buildings hidden under tall trees right on the beach. They have a cold water shower, a toilet, and a rusted barbecue. Real Robinson Crusoe stuff. It is perfect, not to mention that they run the Turtle sanctuary and so earn their stripes as an eco-lodge.

I am not surprised when Jette starts planning another try at SCUBA diving on our return boat trip to Efate. The girl is stubborn, in a good way. Just another reason I married her!

 

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Boat on Vanuatu

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Wife on boat on Vanuatu

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Tranquility Island

grey SCUBA diving Vanuatu at Tranquility Island

Vanuatu beach

 

 

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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