Kerala; Home To Adventure In India

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When travelling to India, I never dreamed there would be a part of this incredible country that would be able to quench my thirst for adventure. While famous for its mouth watering food, friendly people and contrasting landscapes, it is not exactly known to be the adventure capital of the world.

While there are many things I am excited to tell you about from my two week tour of Kerala on the Kerala Blog Express, first I want to regale your with all our stories of adventure in India from the past two weeks. I will try to give you as much information as possible so if any of you plan on visiting this beautiful part of India, it should be easy enough to retrace my footsteps on an adventure tour of Kerala. Here are my favourite activities from from our time, in no particular order!

Hiking

One of the highlights for most people on the Kerala Blog Express was the day we spent hiking across the Western Ghats near Munnar with an adventure tour company called Kalypso Adventures. We rose fairly early and after a delicious breakfast cooked by the amazing staff at our campsite, we hiked up, up, up through tea plantations and forests. For me, it was a fairly tough hike as the fist 2km was entirely uphill and it took close to two hours to compete. After about one hour of difficult hiking, and fast running out of breath and water supplies(!!), the guide says to me, “1km down, 11km to go!” At that moment I was SO ready to go right back down that hill, back to the campsite and to pass out! With a little pep talk from our guide, I persevered and kept on trundling up that goddamn mountain, sweat pouring off me and stumbling and falling over a few times. Making it to the top of that mountain was the most incredible feeling and the view from the top looking down at all the lakes and tea plantations below was nothing short of phenomenal. Sadly due to the haze caused my the intense heat, the view is no entirely viewable, but I think you get the picture!

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Boat cruises

While boat cruises (unless on a crazy fast speed boat!) might not be viewed as extreme adventure, the types of boats you get to experience in Kerala are an adventure and a half. Our first taste of life on the water was on day two of our tour when we were told we would be speeding the day cruising through the backwaters and spending the night on a houseboat organised by Rainbow Cruises.

It was the most relaxing day of the entire trip and remains one of the highlights for me. The boat was pure luxury, with each paid having their own private room with en suite bathroom, and there was almost a 1:1 ratio of staff to guests, with the 4 of us bloggers being waited on by the captain, a helper and a cook for the entire 24 hours. Even though these men have no formal training, the service with impeccable and the food they made us was some the tastiest I ate over the past two weeks. When I woke up in the morning, I opened the blind to discover the boat was already moving back to the port. It was a strange feeling lying awake, watching boats passing by and fishermen in traditional wooden kayaks passing by as the sun started to rise. An activity I would recommend to everyone visiting this part of Kerala, a truly magical experience.

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Kayaking

We actually had two opportunities to go kayaking during our trip, and both were totally different from the other in every way. Our first kayaking trip was my favourite activity of the entire trip and if I return to Kerala later this year (which i hope to!) I will definitely be returning to do another kayaking trip with Kalypso Adventures. While it only lasted for about an hour, it was unlike any other kayaking trip I have ever done. We paddled through narrow backwaters and canals in what was essentially an overgrown jungle. At times, it was even difficult to paddle through the think plants that were winding their way through the water. We passed my villages, women washing their clothes, their pots, their pans and even their young children in the canal water.

At one stage, when I was quite far ahead of the rest of the group (hoorah, a physical activity I am actually good at!) the backwaters in front of me totally opened up and the water was totally still, reflecting all the trees and surroundings perfectly on the water in front of me. It was one of those special moments i will never forget. I had no camera with me so have no photographic evidence of this magical moment, but trust me…it was special!

Our second kayaking adventure was up in Waynad, in the north of Kerala province.We spent the day at Karla Lake Adventure Park where they has these super comfortable inflatable kayaks. It was a pretty relaxing affair, just paddling around the lake at leisure, enjoying the sunshine and watching some other group members go zip lining over our heads as they whizzed across from one side of the lake to the other. The adventure park itself is set to open in mid March and has an upscale camp site and lots of other activities available for adventure seekers, some of which are detailed below.

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Zip lining

There was no zip lining in sight for the first 10 days of our Kerala trip and then suddenly we were treated to two separate zip lining sessions in one day, one at Karlad Lake Adventure Park and one at Vithiri Village Resort in Waynad (the adventure capital of Kerala!).

My second zip lining experience was the best as it was so unexpected. Picture this: I was sitting with some other blogger waiting for a cultural performance to start before we head to dinner in this 3 star resort’s sky bar. We are dressed in the smartest clothes a backpacker can find, sitting around patiently chatting to each other when the owner of the hotel approaches us and says, “Do you want to go zip lining?” Anyone that knows me well will know that I was up out that chair and jumping into the harness before any of the other girls had time ti reply! Next thing I know I’m running across a rope bridge connecting the 3rd floor conference room to a tree, then throwing myself out of the tree and flying across a small valley to the other side of the resort, last a bridge and a beautifully illuminated waterfall part of Vythiri Village in Waynad. I then ran across the bridge, back up the stairs and was all ready for our gala dinner! Such an exhilarating ‘before dinner’ experience.

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Bamboo Rafting

While I myself did not go bamboo rafting as I was suffering from a bad case of Delhi Belly (I’ll spare you the details!!!), I heard it was great fun from those who did go. Organised by lots of the hotels in Waynad or by contacting the local tourism board, groups of 5-5 people sit on bamboo rafts and take turns to help paddle the raft to the other side of the river then back again…without falling in!

The guides also did little meditation sessions on board the raft, so I guess this would be an adventure for those looking for a more relaxing afternoon that won’t involve any strenuous activities!

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Zorbing

That’s right….we found a place to go zorbing in INDIA!!! The group may have become a little over excited at this opportunity and some fights may ever have broken out about who should get to go zorbing (versus the other group going hiking in 35 degree heat and about 90 per cent humidity).

The zorbing takes place in the same lake adventure park that organises archery, zip lining and kayaking as is set to officially open in mid March of this year. This means we were essentially testing all their activities and equipment for the first time!

Sadly the ‘zorb pit’ was not fully constructed so we had to make do with a semi-steep hill that runs down to the main entrance. They strap two people into the giant hamster ball at a time, with an assortment of velcro straps (we soon discovered these straps weren’t quite strong enough to keep all our limbs secure!), and then give you one almighty push and watch as you go rolling down the hill screaming laughing and rolling upside down inside of this huge inflatable bar. Brilliant fun!

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Archery

Similar to many of the others, there was more than one opportunity to do this in Kerala. One at the adventure camp, one at the Vythiri Village Resort and one at a local village in Waynad.

The last one involved a ‘guru’ from the Kurumas tribe teaching some members of the group how to shoot a more traditional bow and arrow. The tribe he is from tribe used to be hunters, using the bow and arrows to hunt and kill animals to feed their family all around northern Kerala. Now they have been rehabilitated to local villages to protect the wildlife population, so they instead pass on their skills to visiting tourists.

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Camping

Camping in Kerala was one of the absolute highlights of the trip for most people While staying in 5 star resorts was incredible and such a treat for so many of us, it was cool to get back to nature for a few days, and it was also a chance for the entire group to be together in one place. Camping here wasn’t exactly the same type of camping you do in your own country. It was more like luxury camping, with just 2 – 3 people in each large tent, and the tents has two beds inside and even lights and plug sockets!!

The food was we were cooked was also way better than any camping food I have ever cooked myself. We started with a delicious bbq followed by a traditional buffet style dinner, with a wide selection of curries, nan bread and local rice.

The best part of the night was sitting around the bonfire singing songs, having a few beers and looking up in awe at the incredible night sky, full of glimmering stars and a bright full moon. We stayed at the Calypso Camp Site near Munnar, which you can get more details about here.

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Jeep safaris

When visiting the tea plantations around the hill station of Munnar, one of the best ways to get around is by jeep safari. The roads are absolutely mental in this area, barely wide enough to let one vehicle pass let along a few buses. We left our bus as soon as we could and hopped into 4 or 5 open top jeeps which we had great fun travelling in to get to the Spice Village resort where we had the best lunch of our entire 2 week tour.

We got to have some more fun in the jeeps when on our camping trip with Kalyspsi Adventures, and the roads are miraculous;y even worse in that area. The ride was so bumpy and the roads were so awful that it was most likely easier (and more comfortable!) to walk! We all concluded that getting a ride in a jeep in this area is an adventure in itself as anyone who follows my adventures of snapchat  (username: janetnewenham) will have seen.

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I’m sure there are MANY more adventure activities in Kerala, but these are simply the one’s we were treated to on the Kerala Blog Express.

Writers note: My two week trip to Kerala was organised by Tourism Kerala, who brought 30 bloggers from 25 countries to India for a two week trip around the province. If you are a blogger and would like to take part in the next edition of the Kerala Blog Express, be sure to keep an eye on this website. It really is the trip of a lifetime.

Note: Thanks to Jins Abraham for letting me use some his pictures, taken on behalf Kerala Tourism, to Brittany from The Sweet Wanderlust for letting me use her photo of the bamboo rating and to Sarah from Fit Travels for the brilliant photo of me siphoning in the dark!!

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Jumping From A Plane at 15,000 Feet – My Kiwi Adventure

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“Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference”.

These are the wise words I was given before jumping out of a plane from a dizzying height of 15,000 feet in New Zealand; a country that  is foremost known for being home to the set of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The All Blacks rugby team and lots, and lots of sheep.

In fact there are 10 sheep for every one person in New Zealand. That is one hell of a lot of sheep. But enough about sheep…what some people may not know is that New Zealand is also the adrenaline capital of the world. You name it, no matter how crazy the concept, they probably have it.

My 2 weeks of adrenaline  and adventure junkie heaven started on New Zealand’s South Island in the picturesque Queenstown, where I met up with my best friend Ali and my parents. Queenstown is like no other place I have been. As my plane from Melbourne landed you could see everyone admiring the stunning surroundings of  huge, snow-covered mountains and never ending glistening glacier lakes. It is such a popular destination, especially during the winter ski-season, yet some how has managed to hold on its quaint, small town charm.

On our first day we set off to get our hearts pumping on the ‘Shotover Jet’, tagged as ‘The World’s most exciting jet boat ride’. And by god was it exciting. On many occasions I thought my heart was going to fly up and out of my mouth as the driver spun crazy 360′ turns at breath-taking speeds in the narrowest parts of the canyon with the sheer cliff face mere inches from my frightened face. Despite only lasting about 35 minutes, it was boat ride I will never forget.

Back into the Camper and off we set on our 10 day adventure with our next stop being Lake Wanaka, which I decided would be a good place to throw myself out of a plane. I saw this toilet graffiti while over there and felt it really explains my reasoning;

“If not here, where? If not now, when? If not me, who?” The only available jump was at 2pm so we set off to the near by National Park, where I, despite sub arctic conditions, decided to run off the jetty and dive into the lake. The glacier lake. The lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Cold would be one way of describing it. Icy would be another!

After drying off and feeling wide awake I was ready for my sky-dive. I suited up, was given a 5 minute safety breach and off we went. The 3 other jumpers casually ‘fell’ from the plane at 12,000 feet but as I had opted for the ultimate adrenaline rush from the altitude of 15,000 feet I had to hold on a bit longer. As the plane slowly climbed higher and higher, and my heart started beating faster and faster at the thought of soon having to jump out, I was given a oxegen mask to wear (as we were climbing to an altitude where it was becoming difficult to breathe). Far from calming me down or making me feel safer, this actually made me nearly poop my pants. Finally we had reached our destination and from the plane we flew.

As we tumbled from the sky, free-falling towards the ground at breaking speeds, and the ice-cold air brushed against my face I felt ecstatic. After about 45 seconds of free-falling the parachute shot up and we slowed right down, finally bursting through the cloud to take in the absolutely mesmerizing scenery of Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring National Park. As we gazed over to the glistening waters of Lake Wanaka, I told my tandem partner of my swim earlier that morning to which he replied, “Girl, are your crazy?!” Funny reaction I thought, as I’m not the one who jumps out of planes for a living! 

It was an absolute once in a life time experience that I’m sure to never forget.

After all, it’s not everyday you strap yourself to a beautiful stranger and leap from a perfectly good aircraft!

 

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9 Reasons NOT to Solo Travel. Seriously.

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9 Reasons NOT To Travel Solo - Solo Travel Tips

9 Reasons NOT To Travel Solo

 

If I had a penny for every article I have read recently about how amazing it is to travel solo, I would be a very rich woman. Well, I would at least have enough to pay for a Tinder upgrade and find myself a hot travel buddy.

All this talk about how incredible it is to travel solo and how ‘everyone should do it at least once it their lives’ is such a load of recycled rubbish. Sure, traveling by yourself can be amazing sometimes and there are certainly benefits do doing it at least once, but it’s about time someone laid down the facts about what it’s really like to travel by yourself. Solo. Alone. With no friends. Not even one.

Here are 9 good reasons why you should do whatever you can not to travel solo on your next trip. For the love of God, find yourself a travel buddy. An acquaintance. A lover. Anyone who will turn your solo adventure into a trip to remember and one you can share and reminisce on in years to come.

9. Solo travel is expensive.

When you are traveling by yourself, everything is suddenly so much more expensive. There’s no one to share that expensive taxi ride with you. No one to rent that car with. There’s no one to split the costs of a hotel room. Many tour groups actually penalize you for being alone, and force you to pay humiliating ‘single supplements’.

8. Eating alone is depressing

Would you go to a restaurant back home by yourself? Didn’t think so. Trying to find restaurants where people won’t judge you for being alone is an absolute pain. You either sit in a nice place nervously, wishing your food would arrive faster so you can leave quicker, or you succumb to only eating at crap fast food joints so people won’t have enough time to see you eating alone. Half the enjoyment of eating out is sharing a meal with others, tasting their food and enjoying some good conversation. Eating alone sucks.

7. An album full of selfies

Anyone who has travel led alone even once is sure to have mastered the art of the travel selfie. But there really are only so many angles you can take of your gigantic face with the Pyramids, Great Wall of China or the Eiffel Tower in the background. Continually having to ask strangers to take your photo while you stand alone and pose can get tiring pretty fast, and you also risk your camera or phone getting stolen each and every time you hand it over.

6. Traveling alone can be dangerous

When you travel alone, you are taking a risk. You will always be an easy target and will, sadly, might even have some really horrible experiences. You won’t have a buddy to fall back on. You will have to defend yourself. There will be no one to help when your wallet gets stolen in Barcelona with all your money and cards or when your bags get taken after you have fallen asleep on a 12 hour bus ride across Northern Vietnam.

5. It’s hard to make friends

Have you ever walked up to a group of people in a bar and tried to make friends with them? It’s hard, right? They will most likely smile and then turn away. Making friends while traveling can be really difficult and leave you feeling drained at the end of each day and with a horrible feeling each time you wake up and know you have to do it all over again. Sure some people are nice and you will find some like-minded people in hostels and in bars on nights out, but those people move on or fly home and leave you right where they left you, looking for new friends.

4. Solo travel is boring

Unless you are a seriously introverted person who likes to hang out by yourself all day back home, solo travel can get boring. Quickly. There are only so many museums you can visit by yourself, books your can read and activities you can do before you start to wish, “Man, I seriously wish I had a friend to do this with”. Cycling around a city by yourself? Boring. Doing a sightseeing tour by yourself? Boring? Even mad bucket list activities like skydiving or shark cage diving are a million times better if you have someone to share the adrenaline rush with.

3. You will question all your life choices.

Spending a  little bit of time alone is great. Spend too much time alone and suddenly your mind starts to fill with endless thoughts about life choices, your career, past relationships and what direction your life is going. The smallest things, like seeing kids laughing or watching the sunset, can trigger a waterfall of emotions. A little bit of deep thought never hurt anyone, but it can get too much when you become overrun with emotion throughout your trip.

2. It’s harder to laugh off the small things

When you travel with a friend or a group, it is so easy to laugh off the small things such as missing your train or getting extreme diarrhea or getting scammed into buying tickets for a bus that does not exist. When you are alone, these problems become magnified and, at times, make you want to cry, scream or even pack your bags and fly home.

1. You have no one to share your memories with

Even your friends and family back home, who I’m sure love you dearly, will only be able to cope with 2-3 days max of your endless travel tales. They get it. You spent some time abroad. You met some Maasai warriors. You ate a rat. After one week max, they won’t want to hear about it. If you have traveled with others, you can spend as long as you like reminiscing about that crazy boat ride in Laos or those dodgy milkshakes in Bali. You will always have that bond between you, and it is an incredible bond to have.

Authors note: I have had many, many positive solo travel experiences. I think everyone, and I mean everyone, should take a solo trip at least once in their life. It will shape your personality, give you confidence and help increase self-esteem. This post is simply a reflective piece on 10 years of solo travel

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Your Irish Adventure – New Blog!

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Exciting news readers…I have decided to set up a new website all about adventure in Ireland. Don’t worry, I will still be maintaining this as my main site, especially when it comes to my travel adventures.

The new site is aimed at people living in Ireland looking for fun things to do and places to go in Ireland and is aimed at both visitors to Ireland and locals living here. If you think you fall into either of those categories, or you just want to see what sort of fun adventures there are to do in Ireland, head on over to Your Irish Adventure and give it a follow! :-D

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Hitchhiking To Detroit – An Adventure Like No Other

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You’re hitchhiking to DETROIT?” friends asked of me incredulously. “Are you mad?” they would enquire, ever before I even mentioned that I would also be couchsurfing there. i.e. staying on an absolute stranger’s couch for the weekend.

I never planned to go to Detroit, it all just seemed to fall into place. I was invited to attend the Detroit Couch Crash, a meeting organized by all the wonderful couchsurfers in Michigan to unite people from all over for the US for Memorial Day weekend. It also happened to take place during DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival), an annual event attracting thousands of hard core music fans.

After standing awkwardly on the main highway out of Toronto, with my thumb stuck out and a strained smile on my face, I waited patiently for a kind stranger to pick me up. Many people pulled in, slowed down or stopped, before performing rude hand gestures or shouting obscenities in my direction and subsequently speeding off. The joys of traveling in a country not accustomed to hitchhikers!

Eventually I secured a ride with what seemed to be a very decent man travelling all the way to Windsor, a town on the Canadian/US border. However normal he appeared, his initial greeting once I sat into the car was anything but conventional.

“I hitchhiked myself once”, he said.  “All the way from LA to Montreal about fifteen years ago. Yup, and I got picked up by a mass murderer and all. You just ‘know’ when you have sat into a car with a mass murderer, don’t you.”

Words escaped me, but he continued.

“Lucky back then I was a lot bigger.” He flexes his now deflated ‘guns’. “We were driving through the corn fields of Iowa and BAM I knocked him out and threw him out of the car. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?”

Indeed, I thought, as I contemplated jumping out of the moving vehicle.

The four hour journey continued on a similar note with him telling me about how he asked God to find him a wife – he found one 2 weeks later and they have been married ever since, how he broke his crack cocaine habit in a bar days before ‘finding’ his wife, and of course all about his journey becoming a born again Christian and door-to-door salesman.

If having to listen to this mans slightly scary and equally bizarre life story for four hours wasn’t interesting enough material for a blog post or two, soon my worst nightmare was coming true. We were running out of petrol with not a gas station in sight. Hopping over the border for a weekend break to Detroit was proving to be more hassle than I ever could have anticipated!

Upon finally making it to the American border, alive and well, I was quizzed about where I was from, where I was living, and of course where I was going in a stuffy little immigration office and was once again questioned about my sanity.

How did you get here? the large, stern looking woman asked.

“I hitchhiked from Toronto”. Cue shocked, incredulous looks.

“Where are you staying in Detroit?”, she continued.

“Oh, I’m couchsurfing in Corktown with…”

‘You’re what??’ she interrupted.

‘I’m couchsurfing…it’s a website where you can stay on peoples couches for free all over the world’.

“So it’s (glances at her watch) nearly midnight on a Friday night and you are planning on meeting a total stranger in the ghetto, who you met off the internet and you’re going to sleep on their couch?! Are you crazy woman?!”

I was beginning to think she might have a point, but couldn’t help but laugh. As I get my visa approved and head for the exit, the woman’s colleague calls to me, ‘Have you got a gun with you?

Puzzled and thinking they are trying to catch me out and deport me from the US before I have even taken a step over the border, I immediately (and truthfully) reply ‘Of course not!’ to which the male immigration officer quickly responds,

“I would if I were you. This is Detroit.”

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