Ocean Rowing

This year we’ve had the chance to do a bit of adventuring on the water. In February 2017, sixteen students from Shantou University will join Charlie Pitcher, world record-breaking Ocean Rower, in an epic journey from Shantou to Hong Kong. We got to witness the beginnings of the training and team selection.

Here’s a short teaser of their journey so far.
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Andrew Thomas on Scat Singing

In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.

We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.

February ’16 – Snapshot of life in the Philippines

We recently came back from the Philippines where we were visiting families of the new kids that joined the ICM Choir. We had the chance to visit new communities and take a look at this beautiful country and beautiful people with fresh eyes.

It’s important to remember to stop from time to time, to look up from our mobile phones and take a look at the world around us. Here is a snapshot of life in the Philippines.

You and Me Together

Part Two of the Smithfield Sessions is here!

And, as always, there is a journey to the story behind the music, which I want to take you on.

Think about the most significant person in your life. It may be your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, a dear friend, a sibling or parent…

Imagine you had never met… and imagine if you met them again today, what would happen.

Strange idea, right? It’s an interesting scenario to think about, and it really makes you think what strikes you about your dearest. What was it that drew you to them? What were your first conversations about?

Would you do it differently?

Today, if you met them again, would your paths still cross in the ways that they did?

My relationship with my husband started in such a chance encounter; I from England, he from Poland, and yet we managed to bump into each other in Hong Kong airport, and pretty much fell in love on the spot. If it hadn’t have been there, and it hadn’t have been then, it would have been almost impossible for us ever to meet again.

So, the idea of us meeting somewhere else at some other time in our life is so unlikely that it is fun to to explore those ‘what if’ questions…

I’m not sure that I believe in the idea of there being one person in the entire world that each of us is destined for. But I do know that the things I prayed for as a young girl are exactly the traits that are found in my husband.

And I would like to think that, under whatever circumstances we met, there always would have been that spark, that chemistry that hit me right in the part of the stomach where the butterflies live, and that we would have ended up together. 

That spark grows. Yes, the butterflies have settled down. And yes, I don’t think and talk about the love of my life every waking moment… but the spark has grown into a steady flame. A flame that is fierce and will fight to protect the one I love. A flame that needs intentional fuel. But a flame that will be sustained as long as we both shall live.

So, thanks for reading this far. Here’s your reward… This is “You and Me Together.”

Enjoy!

Louise

The Travellers Two are back

It has been way too long but The Travellers Two are back on the grid. From the US we flew to Hong Kong and got really busy right away. Louise started studying at Hong Kong University and she had to go to an orientation meeting the day we returned. Fighting through jet lag she officially became a music and journalism student.

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Soon after that we started working on a presentation for a charity banquet. For the past few years we have been involved with International Care Ministries; helping people to get out of extreme poverty in the Philippines. Before we started out on our USA expedition we prepared the program for the banquet, but since we were back we decided to make it better, worked on new videos and tweaked scripts, which is the hardest work.

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But it was well worth it. The evening was a great success. We brought the ICM choir from The Philippines and the members had a chance to share their stories.

Also if anyone is interested in the more in-depth aspects of poverty reduction in the Philippines, here is a link to the keynote speech by the ICM chairman David Sutherland.

For some time we’re going to be based in Hong Kong again but there are so many amazing people around, so many stories that need to be told, and places to see. Hong Kong is also a great hub for traveling around Asia so we hope to do so on the future and share our stories here.

The End of the Road

After twenty-one thousand incredible miles, we made it to our 48th state.

What a blessing to be able to have seen so much of this beautiful land; we’ve had countless people tell us that that is something that even few Americans have been able to do.

The last two states for us to visit were Ohio and West Virginia – but as we were on an epic 48 hour drive on our way back to New York to prepare to fly out, we only got a glimpse of these states.

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A rough sketch of our route

But, we took the time to celebrate the 48th state milestone with one of our last on-the-road meals, at a little park in Bethlehem, WV. Thankfully we could enjoy the sunshine before driving through nine hours of torrential rain across Pennsylvania and New Jersey!

In New York City, the end of our journey, we amazingly met some friends who had also just finished an epic journey of their own. Rob and Christine Lilwall cycled from California to New York City on a tandem!

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We both reached our milestones on Thursday – for us 48 states, for them coast to coast – and we both arrived in New York City on Friday. _MG_0576

Enjoying a celebratory drink overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and where so many Europeans first set foot onto these magnificent shores, we were thrilled to be able to share our stories and congratulate each other. And, we look forward to seeing them both back in Hong Kong.

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In Tulsa, just three days before we arrived in New Jersey, we gave the car a tremendous clean out, scrub and hoover – so much dust from the desert! So when we got to NJ, we just had to get it ready to drop it off with the shipping company.

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It is really amazing how much you can fit into a car! Our stuff was spread all over the lawn, garage and our bedroom. And the car looked very ‘naked’ without all of its equipment.

But now everything is almost-neatly packed into bags and boxes; our whole life seems to be a series of packing, unpacking, repacking and re-repacking. I’m thankful for the new Lianne La Havas album that got me through it.

On Friday, we took the Defender to the shipyard to have it inspected and received to clear customs, before it makes its long voyage home to the UK. The next time we see it will be in December.

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It really is remarkable car; although it is very loud, not the most comfortable, and there’s always something that doesn’t quite open or close properly, it drove us thousands and thousands of miles through extreme heat and crazy terrain, and never let us down once.

If only it had air-conditioning…

While the car is on the ship, we are already dreaming of how to prepare it for the next expedition – what we would change, what we would keep the same, how we can make it fit a few more people in so we can share the road with some friends…

Hopefully next summer we will be able to take the car somewhere even more challenging. We have a destination in mind – maybe we will be able to reveal that within the next few months.

But for now, as we look back over the past four months, we also look forward to The Travellers Two returning to Asia and sharing those new stories as the journey continues.

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Yellowstone – but instead of Yogi we met Lucy

Driving across Northwest America has been another feast for the eyes and for the soul.

Leaving the west, making our way east, led us through Cascade National Park with the bluest lakes I have ever seen and some of the most jaw-dropping mountains of our drive.

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Thick, dense pine forests coat the landscapes, and we spent a day exploring Glacier National Park before heading to the world’s most active volcanic region; Yellowstone.

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We’re not usually early morning people, but we entered Yellowstone at 6am in time for the sunrise, and the mystical scenes that greeted us easily repaid the hours of sleep that we had given up.

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It was magical; the mysterious mist rising over early grazing herds, the lakes, rivers and mountains, the colours, the smells.

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We hiked one of the parks highest peaks; Avalanche Peak, and it almost lived up to its name! Once we summited, we made our way across a ridge to the next peak, with Louise being literally knocked over by the wind several times. And as our path downwards turned into a scree slope, the only way down was to slide through rocks and pebbles, creating mini-avalanches and hoping we wouldn’t bring any bigger piles down on top of us.

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It was an exhilarating, somewhat nerve-racking but beautiful hike… and we still had a day ahead of us to explore the Teton Mountains, a stunning mountain range that we had heard so much about.

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But when we woke up, the heavens opened, and our plans for a beautiful hike in the Teton Mountains were spoiled. So we decided to just drive south.

Ten minutes later, as we entered Jackson, Wyoming, we were shocked to see a beautiful red Defender sitting outside a Dairy Queen. It wasn’t just any Defender; it was kitted out with a roof tent, roof boxes, two spare tyres, and those tell-tale stickers with a website and logo that told us “this car is on a serious journey”.

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So we went inside, and met Sam and Hanne – a couple from Belgium who are into their 11th month of travelling.

When we told them that we had a Defender parked outside next to theirs, they of course jumped up and went out to take a look!

We started comparing our different interiors and exteriors; Michal and I were a little envious of their fridge and custom built units at the back. They had travelled around Africa for the first ten months of their trip, and had had a lot more time to build their house on wheels. The end result was beautifully organised and convenient; we learned a lot from them!

After a couple of hours of hearing each others’ stories, since we had no plans for that day thanks to the rain, we opted to join Sam, Hanne and “Lucy” their Defender on the road.

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After an afternoon of driving and filling up on groceries, we found a perfect, secluded spot in the Idaho wilderness and set up camp for the evening.

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The rain clouds had cleared out and the sky that night was absolutely stunning!

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After a European breakfast, Sam and Hanne found some 4×4 trails through Crater of the Moon national park, and so after a morning of exploring caves and volcanic craters, we took our vehicles off road to put them through their paces.

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They wanted to give us a little taste of what it might be like driving through Africa…

And within the first ten minutes, we heard a smash… We had lost a window!

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We’re not sure if it was the intense vibrations, or the pressure from the car frame, or a stone flying up and hitting the window.

But it was gone!

With Sam and Hanne’s help, we patched it up using a plastic crate lid, and have now joined the league of travellers whose cars are somewhat held together by duct tape.

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The rest of the 50-mile trail passed without any drama. But Sam and Hanne said that the roads and the landscape looked so similar to that of Namibia that they expected to see a giraffe or elephant at any moment!

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We were planning to go our separate ways when we reached the lake, but there was a campsite just a mile away and so we spent our evening fishing (again, zero fish for us…), cooking and planning our next journey together somewhere in the world.

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The next morning, we were both planning to get on the road early, but again we had so much to share and discuss and dream about that we didn’t get away until almost 3pm.

What a joy to meet such like-minded travellers by absolute chance! But we don’t believe in coincidences, and are very sure that we’ll get to travel somewhere together again in the future; maybe we’ll get ourselves a matching roof tent by then…

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Sam and Hanne have been through Africa, N. America, and you can follow the rest of their epic journey through Central and South America and into South East Asis on their website www.tweejaaropreis.be – which means “Two Years On Vacation” – and if your Flemish isn’t up to scratch, google translate will help you out!

On a trip like this, it is imperative to be prepared and make good plans. But, sometimes, it is just wonderful when plans get changed or rain throws a curveball… something amazing might just happen…

Old Fashioned, Organic, and The Smashing Burrito

Before you read any further, you have to watch this short video… If you have watched the show Portlandia, you know exactly what Portland is all about. If you haven’t… sit back and relax…

We came to Portland to visit a friend, as we were on the way up to Seattle, and he told us to watch this video before we got there.

It turned out to be 100% accurate.

It’s all organic, chilled out, and young people do go there to retire.

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But we started the visit with a smashing burrito! Tomek, who is a partner at the “FUEGO burritos and bowls” food carts business, brought us a couple of his best burritos. Food trucks are one of the Portland staples, and Tomek’s burritos are one of the best! They’re only open for lunch and you can find their locations on their site.

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old-fashioned-short1Tomek is a friend from Poland, but he has lived in Portland for years, before  the hippie-organic movement exploded. He wanted to show us the best that his town has to offer, and so we went on the search for his favourite cocktail, the best “Old Fashioned” in town.

Michal and I are new to the Old Fashioned drink; it’s a simple, yet hard to perfect mixture of Bourbon, Bitters, Orange Rind and Simple Syrup. We sampled these delicious little drinks in bars all over town, and they all had their own twist. And they were made all the more enjoyable by the local bands that were playing here and there.

Mornings were lazy breakfasts from farmers markets or at brunch spots; at the farmers market, we took so many samples that we weren’t particularly hungry for breakfast… but of course, everything’s local, everything’s organic, and everything’s triple the price!

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The organic, vegan, local movement is hard to get used to… Even when Michal asked for some milk at a bar, they apologised and said that they were a vegan bar! A little bit strange…

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Portland is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and Tomek took us hiking to a spot with amazing views of several peaks. After the previous evening’s bar tour, it was good to get some exercise.

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After a good barbecue, we went to try a couple more Old Fashioned’s at a couple of bars that we couldn’t visit the day before since we didn’t have our passports (If you’re a foreigner visiting Oregon, make sure you bring your passport as ID otherwise they won’t let you in.)

When we came back, we were greeted by a garden on fire! The hot ashes from the grill had fallen onto the wood chips that the landlord recently spread all over the back garden. Had we come back an hour or two later, the house would probably have been gone!

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So after playing firefighters, we spent the rest of the night celebrating the fact that we had been spared and learned our lesson.

We had a wonderful trip – Portland is definitely a fun place. But the health-food hippie culture brought out Michal’s rebellious side – after finding out that the bar we were in was vegan, he asked for a steak…

But if you want eat chicken-with-a-name, sleep in until 11am, and live the 90s dream, Portland is the place to be.

Wild West

Louise’s 2nd July Concert to kick off the 4th July weekend seemed a little ironic – a Brit wishing Texans Happy Independence Day?

But, music is a universal language and the concert connected superbly with the audience. And since we had given ourselves one week to get to Los Angeles from Austin, as soon as the gig was over, we packed up the car and headed into the night.

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West. Wild West, truly!

We had seen some pretty remote parts of the states; the Badlands in the Dakotas, tiny little towns in Minnesota, never-ending fields of farmland in Missouri and Kansas.

But the vast expanses of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were something even more incredible.

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The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border were our introduction to the rugged, wild terrain that continues across the south of the USA. Rich rocks filled with quartz, mountains lions, cacti and forest, snakes and deer – the mountains held a diversity of life thanks to their abundant water supply.

But as we headed further into the desert, the numbers of species fell and soon we were alone with lizards, birds, and bugs. There is nothing like the quiet, the darkness, the heat, the expanse of the desert.

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In towering sand dunes or vast canyons, with the unforgiving sun and no sign of water, it is easy to see how lost and helpless we are under the forces of nature.

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As we approached one of the world’s most stunning features, the great crack in its crust formed by a formidable earthquake, Grand Canyon, we wanted to have a different experience than we had had before – something more than taking that same photo that everyone has.

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So we started hiking down into the canyon. As soon as you start to descend, you start to understand the sheer size of the place. We walked for hours, and had not even got close to the bottom. One can not easily conquer these wild places.

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One of the most fascinating features of the Wild West is the number of abandoned, or almost-abandoned towns that are scattered across the landscape. We came across several mining towns that had fallen into ruin, with their run-down buildings, scrap cars in yards, and mine shafts – some still with undetonated explosives!

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It is amazing to let your imagination create the stories of those who lived here; why they came, how life was, what finally forced them to leave. And for those who have stayed, how do they possibly survive when there is no-one for miles and nothing to build a life around?

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Amazingly, the post office and the railroads are the veins that keep the life blood flowing; connecting and crisscrossing and keeping these tiny towns alive. In the most remote of towns, high in the mountains or deep in the desert, post boxes line the roads and are a welcome sign of life.

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Perhaps the creepiest place that we came across was while we were off-roading in the Mojave desert. We had turned onto tiny dirt tracks, when we crested a hill and found an old trailer; the windows were gone, and it was covered in plastic sheeting.

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Bullet casings and shotgun shells were strewn everywhere, and our minds immediately jumped to Walter White and Breaking Bad! It was a great hideout… shielded from view and protected from the rear by mountains. So either someone there had a score to settle with the coyotes, or the King of the Hill had something else going on…

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But that night, we found a perfect camp of our own. In the middle of nowhere, peaceful, with the brightest stars we have ever seen. It is easy to see why our ancestors worshiped the moon and the stars; these bright oracles bring light in the midst of darkness, and their beauty is astounding!

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As night fell, the howl of coyotes greeted our ears. We made sure the door was firmly locked that night!

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While the days are hot and bright, the nights are usually dark and cool and peaceful. But when storms come, the lightning is awe-inspiring. Driving towards Las Vegas, the air was thick with the smell of electric charge – it looked like “Sin City” was under attack with fierce vengeance! With lightning all around us, in every direction, piercing through the night sky with great cracks of light, once again we felt the force of nature – knowing we were at its mercy and have no power to stop it.

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It is an amazing feeling to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and wildness of our world. It can be uncomfortable, daunting, truly scary. But it is always an enriching, humbling and inspiring experience.