Tag Archives: Madagascar

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Australian Geographic Outdoor magazine published my photograph on its front cover along with an eight page feature article on the Madagascar Coast to Coast expedition in its July August 2014 edition. You can see more photographs from the expedition here or purchase a copy of the magazine from Australian Geographic website. Here is what it looks like.

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Cover shot from the July August 2014 Edition

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Looking down on the foothills of the Sambirano valley and out to the waters of the Mozambique Channel

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Following the mighty Bimarivo river in the low lands

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Ali’s blisters are world famous now

Australian Geographic Outdoor

A good flavour of scenes from the expedition

Australian Geographic Outdoor

Climbing the lower slopes of Mt Maromokotro, highest peak in Madagascar

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Australian Geographic Outdoor Magazine

Australian Geographic Outdoor

My photograph from the Madagascar expedition

My first cover shot was published this month for the July August edition of Australian Geographic Outdoor magazine along with an eight-page feature on the expedition. You can read more about the expedition on my site or visit Australian Geographic Outdoor’s website and find out more.

I took this shot with my trusty and battered Nikon D700 and 24-70mm.

 

 

 

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Australian Geographic Outdoor Cover Shot

Trekking in Madagascar

Trekking in the Tsaratanana Mountains, Madagascar

I am thrilled to hear that my favourite shot from the Madagascar Coast to Coast expedition is going to be the cover shot for the latest edition (July/ August 2014) of Australian Geographic Outdoor magazine. The magazine will also feature an eight page feature article on the expedition. It hits the stands on 17 July so those of you in the Southern Hemisphere make sure you pick up a copy. I will post a scan of the cover when it comes out. Can’t wait.

 

 

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Madagascar: Spirit of Discovery

Australian Geographic Outdoor July/ August 2014

My article is to be featured in Australian Geographic Outdoor July/ August 2014

My article on the first trans Madagascar expedition is to be featured in Australian Geographic Outdoor July/ August 2014 edition. It is an eight page feature with lots of photographs. The magazine will hit the stands on 17 July so pick up a copy! A brief description of the expedition and photographs can be seen on the Madagascar Coast to Coast Expedition page.

 

 

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Garmin 60CSX GPS Review

Garmin CSX60

Nine-year-old GPS still going strong and continuing to take the punishment I dish out

I bought my Garmin 60CSX GPS back in 2006 and just wanted to re-review my nine year old GPS as it has been such a reliable and effective tool. I haven’t kept up with new developments but I am sure that are many newer and fancier versions out on the market today but I haven’t needed to keep up or up grade as the one I have has been so good.

This is an old review I used back in 2008 but I thought I’d add it to my new site and update it as my Garmin 60CSX GPS is still going strong nine years after I bought it. It is an amazingly rugged and reliable tool and if you treat it right it will last for a long time. And by treat it right I don’t mean baby it. My GPS goes with me everywhere and has been high in the Himalayas, to the volcanos of Kamchatka, through the untracked jungles of Madagascar, The Alps, the Australian Outback. It has been exposed to sand, rain, humidity, extreme cold, bashed around with the rest of my gear. I have protected it in a zip up hardcase. I look after my gear but I don’t baby it. It is a tool to be used and it goes everywhere I go.

I originally owned a Garmin Etrex Vista GPS but found that it had some severe limitations: weak signal in clouded conditions, under trees or in valleys, limited memory and it soon got shaken to death while using it on my mountain bike.

While researching the market I came across a couple of contenders which looked up to the job of helping us accurately and reliably pin point our location in the Himalaya. The one I came closest to getting was the Magellan Explorist series I think it was either the 500, 600 or 700.

The two biggest features that worked against the Magellan Explorist series GPS for me was the lack of an external antenna and their use of a proprietary battery design.

When you are travelling in remote locations the last thing you want it to be limited by batteries. On the other hand AA batteries, of dubious quality, can be obtained in some fairly out of the way village shops. Also, we were using solar panels to charge our batteries for various electronic devices – torches, cameras, gps – and we had to make sure every device ran on standard batteries.

I then came across the Garmin 60CSX GPS and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly: extendable memory, standard AA batteries, good battery life, external antenna and waterproof.

During the Trans Himalaya 2007 expedition we went through some very rugged country and had very bad maps so we had to make sure we had the best back up systems that we could. The Garmin 60CSX GPS stood up very well to the test.

Once the system was set to Battery Saver Mode, a new set of regular Duracell AA batteries would last for two days of constant use. If you use Lithium batteries, which I highly recommend, 60CSX will give you five days of continuous use, for about eight to ten hours a day. Lithium batteries might cost more but they are lighter and last a lot longer than regular batteries so on a trek this is a no brainer. All our equipment, and our bodies, got bashed around a lot. The GPS unit survived the mud, rain, scrapes and punishment and still works today.

I carried my unit in a crush proof hard case which was suspended on one of my rucksack straps. The case wasn’t waterproof and I did have to use the GPS in the pouring rain. I stuck a protective layer over the screen to prevent scratches.

The external antenna worked very well in all conditions and I never had a problem getting a signal in heavy cloud or jungle. There were times when the sat phone we used couldn’t get reception due to obstructions or cloud but the gps would get reception. In fact the 60CSX even gets reception indoors so there you have it – great reception. There was only a couple of sections where were in deep gorges where the signal got very confused but then again in a deep gorge you generally only have two ways to go.

Overall the unit proved to be very useful, versatile, accurate and rugged. I would definitely use it again on my next adventure, and have been ever since I bought it back in 2006. In the age of planned obsolescence and constant upgrades its a testament to  Garmin that a nine year old electronic product such as the Garmin 60CSX can continue to perform reliably under harsh conditions in the world’s most remote and rugged conditions such as the Himalayas, Madagascar, Kamchatka and the Australian Outback.

 

 

 

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On the Road – Expedition vehicles from around the world

During my travels to places on the end of the world I have travelled in some pretty outrageous expedition vehicles; from the tops of trucks in the Himalayas, to battered taxi brousse in Madagascar and monster 6×6 trucks in Russia. There is nothing quite like the feeling of setting out on an expedition and on these trips I am ready to put up with all kinds of discomfort and inconvenience. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig writes “Physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much.” Hard seats, bald tyres, squeaky breaks, no suspension – seat belts? What’s that?!

Travel in these places, like Madagascar, the Himalayas and Kamchatka, is not about comfort – it’s actually about discomfort! If I didn’t suffer, get totally exhausted, eat bad food and travel in dangerous vehicles I would feel cheated and feel that the trip was too easy. Here are a few memorable vehicles I have had the pleasure, in retrospect, to travel in.

Taxi brousse Madagascar

Crammed in the back of a classic Taxi brousse in Madagascar

Here is a classic shot from my expedition in Madagascar. We spent over four hours travelling in the bowels of this ancient Peugeot and covered little over 70 km that day. The roads were atrocious and we had to get out every so often so the driver could get up a steep hill, across some deep ruts or ford a river. Here the driver was negotiating a deep section of water. He would open the bonnet, disconnect the exhaust, so it wouldn’t backfire and pull water into the engine, and power his way across the watery obstacle.

Kumaon Himalayas

Setting out on the Lasser Yangti Expedition, Kumaon Himalayas, India

On the spectacular drive between Munsiyari and Dharchula in the Kumaon Himalayas in India, the road winds through the deep and narrow valley of the Gori Ganga river. On this trip we were headed on a trek to the Darma and Lasser Yangti valleys. Two fully loaded jeeps were crammed with gear, provisions, fuel, rum, porters and three of us. If you get the opportunity, do this drive September in the post monsoon period when the orchids are out; the trees are blanketed with them. Unfortunately a dam is being constructed in this valley and this beautiful place with all it’s diverse ecology and picturesque villages will be submerged forever.

Russia troop carrier

Russia troop carrier that we rode in while Kamchatka

This, believe it or not, is a standard issue Russian military troop carrier! On my trip to Kamchatka we rode for about four hours in that hotbox mounted on the back of this beast. We had to hire this off the military as the area we were in had zero tourist infrastructure. We rode in the metal box which had some carpet and couple of mattresses thrown in the back. The driver had very thoughtfully hung an air freshener for his esteemed guests. The box had a couple of windows which we couldn’t open as we were travelling trough thick birch forest. Tress constantly slammed against the side as we squeezed along the narrow roads; notice the scrapes and dents along the roof.

The sun heated up the metal box and we were bathed in sweat by the time we reached our destination. One of the guys was suffering from a bad hangover from last night’s vodka session. Last night, the Spaniard, oops sorry Catalonian, was in good form singing bawdy songs and crashing around the kitchen pretending to be a bull, using forks as his horns; but that is another story.  I cannot imagine what it was like for him being tossed around in the stuffy heat for hours in the back of that truck. He didn’t look too good and didn’t end up doing much that day.

On the road near Wakro, Arunachal Pradesh

On the road near Wakro, Arunachal Pradesh

While this vehicle was comfortable, the drive was anything but! We drove on a treacherous road along the Lohit River in Arunachal Pradesh in the Eastern Himalayas of India. The road kept getting washed away in the early monsoon rains and more than once we were forced to backtrack wand wait till the JCB cleared the road. In a couple of memorable incidents the road was blocked by upturned JCBs, so then we had to wait for another JCB to arrive to rectify the situation.

On the way passed through the town of Wakro, which is also known as the ‘Place of Unemployed Elephants’. Wakro used to be a thriving centre for the logging industry and the elephants were used to extract the logs from the jungle where the inhospitable terrain and lack of roads prevented trucks from operating. Elephants were a status symbol for the local people and the rich had many pachyderms in their stables. Then logging was banned by the government and the elephants were all laid off. They now hang around the town like forlorn unemployed Japanese salarymen. This fine fellow was off with his mahout to collect fodder from the jungle.

Blue and red truck

These trucks are bought off the military and modified for civilian use

Russians don’t build better roads, they build bigger trucks and in Kamchatka we got to travel in some of these monster 6×6 trucks. Most of these trucks have been bought on the black market from the cash-strapped military. They remove the back section and add on a homemade cabin to transport tourists up to the volcanoes. The roads are often in terrible condition so you can only get close to the volcanos if you hire one of these – or else walk 60km through mosquito infested forest; an ordeal I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

 

 

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Advice for trekking in the jungle

Trekking through the jungle on steep slopes

Trekking through the jungle on steep slopes

Here are a few points I learnt about travel in the jungle after a 400km expedition through the jungles of Madagascar:

  • Use antibacterial wet wipes or cloth soaked in Detol solution for a full body wipe down especially armpits, crotch and feet to prevent fungal infections in humid conditions
  • Nappy san or nappy rash cream is great for fungal infections, rashes chafing or athletes foot
  • Do not wear gortex or waterproof boots. Wear light canvas boots that drain easily.
  • Never leave your boots outside you tent over night as some nasty critter might use it as a home. Plant a couple of sticks in the ground and invert your boots on these sticks. Give them a good shake before you put them on again.
  • Use short ankle gaiters to prevent stones and twigs getting into your feet. I used canvas ones with elastic on top
  • Look after your feet every evening without fail. Just before going to bed dry your feet and areas between your toes, rub your soles with cream like Climbers Salve. Keep one pair of socks which are always dry for putting on at night. Great article by Andrew Skurka here
  • Attend to all cuts, nicks and blisters before they start acting up
  • Carry good quality waterproof ducktape or gaffa tape to fix everything from your equipment to your body.
  • Wear heavy duty canvas pants which have a good range of motion not thin quick dry variety. Why? You will always be wet so there is no point trying to be dry while you are moving. Heavy duty canvas will protect you against thorns, spikes, leeches, biting insects, grazes and falls. They will also not rip apart easily. Yes, they will be heavier when wet but I figure that their advantages out weigh the slight increase in weight.
  • Treat and blisters, apply tape and pads like Compeed patches in evening as this gives the glue time to set over night and they will stay on a lot longer. Warm Compeed pads between your palms before applying as this makes them sticker (You will learn to love the oh-so-expensive Compeed pads!)
  • In wet conditions, the morning apply a thick layer of Vaseline to the soles of your feet before putting your boots on (obviously). This will act as a barrier for water and help stave off foot rot.
  • For leeches, carry a bunch of Tobacco leaves in a zip lock bag. Keep one handy, when you get a leech pinch it off with the leaf. The tobacco burns their skin and they release almost instantly
  • Take off your shoes and dry your feet at afternoon breaks.
  • I found this by accident, take up barefoot running or just skuff the soles of you feet by running barefoot in a paved car park (sprint, jog, change directing, run sideways). This will hurt and be very uncomfortable but you will soon end up with bulletproof or blisterproof skin on your soles. I did this and didn’t end up getting a single blister on a 400km jungle trek in Madagascar. Blisters are your enemy and in the jungle where you are constantly wet they do not heal very well and can get infected very easily. Some guys on the Mada trek for huge blisters on their feet on day two of a 16 day trek and had a very bad time.
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Camps under the stars

Night sky in the Australian Outback

Night sky in the Australian Outback

 

Camping under a giant gum tree

Camping under a giant gum tree

 

Hight camp on Mt Maromokotro , Madagascar

Hight camp on Mt Maromokotro , Madagascar

 

 

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