I’ve written a blog before on emigration and the positive aspects of emigrating, but this time I want to delve into why I emigrated, why I left Ireland in the first place, and why, six years later, I still haven’t moved back.
I still feel that a lot of the time, the Irish media portray the whole idea of emigration in a very negative light. The stories are usually about the people who were forced to leave Ireland in search of work when the recession hit, or more recently, the stories focus on the people who left during the recession but now want to return, but can’t because the Irish government aren’t offering them enough support. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away from those issues, and they are issues, I recognize that. But we are aware that thousands of people left during the recession because they lost their jobs and couldn’t find work in Ireland (although Fianna Fail still did pretty well in the elections this year, showing that the Irish electorate has a short memory). But my point is, we know that, it’s been covered, and we don’t need to constantly read about it. And again, it is an issue that the Irish government are trying to encourage emigrants to return to Ireland, but are not doing much to help those said emigrants settle back into Ireland, or even attract them back. But what about those of us who left Ireland of our own free will? What about those who were forced out by the recession, but as a result found new opportunities in greener pastures and are now happy they left? Those stories are not covered nearly enough in my opinion and as a result, emigration seems to be something to fear and hate in Ireland, becoming just another thing to hold against the Government.
I left Ireland when I was 23. I packed my suitcase and headed to South Korea by myself and I haven’t looked back since. I had a job, a good job at that and one that I enjoyed, and one within the area that I had studied – marketing. Many thought I was crazy to be leaving a job during the height of the recession and many thought I was even crazier to be going to South Korea – sure who goes there? I also had a boyfriend. We were together a year when I headed off to Korea, but I didn’t let that stop me. As hard as it was, I knew I had to leave, it was something I had to do for myself, and it’s worth noting that we are still together, 6 years after I left for Korea! I knew since I was a teenager than I wanted to travel, get out there and see the world. My sister had lived in Poland for a while, my brother had travelled, and one of my uncles had travelled a lot, so travelling was literally in my blood. When I was 23 I knew it was a case of “now or never”. I was settling into a job, settling into a nice life in Galway, settling into a relationship, and I knew if I didn’t leave then, I would grow comfortable within my life, and I’d never go. Now, I’m not saying it was easy. I had to say goodbye to all my friends, my family and of course, Phil. I was an emotional mess the week before I left – after I had said my goodbyes to Phil. I would literally burst into tears for no reason. But I still went, why? Because, even though it was hard, I knew that I would regret it forever if I didn’t at least give it a go. So off I set on May 13, 2010, with my bulging suitcase and a heart full of excitement, sadness and fear. I cried the whole time on my flight from Dublin to Heathrow!
Fast forward six years and I’m living in Toronto, and have been here almost two years and have applied for permanent residency here, I lived in Australia for 2 years, before that, South Korea, and I’ve done a lot of travelling in between. These 6 years have been amazing; I have seen so much, done so much, and learned so much and as corny as it sounds, I truly believe that travel is the best education you can get. I have made so many friends along the way, from so many different places and my eyes haven been opened so much. There is a whole world out there and you cannot let your life pass you by without seeing as much of it as you can. So anybody out there who wants to travel, or wants to emigrate, but has something holding them back, I urge you to go, just do it, do it for yourself. There will always be a reason not to go; a job, friends, family, a boyfriend or girlfriend, but you owe it to yourself to at least try. You might not like it, you might go back to Ireland after 6 months but who cares, at least you will always know you tried. On the other hand, you might love it, it might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you and it might set you on a path that will change your life forever, do you want to risk missing out on that?
As the 6th anniversary of my departure from Ireland approaches, I’ve been looking back over the past 6 years, the places I’ve been to and the experiences I’ve had. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I LOVE to travel, in fact if someone would just pay me to travel the world, I’d be a very happy woman! I’m always planning our next trip (much to the dismay of our bank accounts!), and dreaming about where we should go next, and after all, why not? I’m pretty sure that no one ever uttered the words “why did I take all those amazing trips and see all those amazing places” on their death-bed, after all life is for living! I think a quote that sums up travelling perfectly is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – wonderful and expresses my feelings on travel perfectly. So during all this reminiscing I decided to blog about the top 10 travel moments I have had – here it goes!
10. The DMZ – Korea
Korea had to appear on this list in some shape or form as it’s the first place that I lived in aside from Ireland and will forever hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Korea is an amazing, often forgotten country in Asia, full of history, full of rich culture, full of amazing experiences and full of craziness!! While there, I visited the DMZ, or the Korean Demilitarized Zone which is the buffer zone between North and South Korea. As we all know, North Korea is one of the most secluded, secretive nations in the world, so the DMZ is as close as many of us will ever get. Despite its name, it’s actually the most heavily militarized border in the world and visiting it is quite surreal. You can see North Korea when you’re at the border, but they are very strict on you taking pictures. I remember when we were there we saw the two famous flags of the so-called “flagpole war” between both nations. South Korea erected a giant flagpole flying the South Korean flag and North Korea responded by building an even bigger flagpole and hanging their flag from it. When you’re at the DMZ you also get to go into some of the incursion tunnels. The South Koreans have found 4 tunnels (the most recent one being discovered in the 90’s) dug across the DMZ and leading into South Korea, towards Seoul. It’s widely believed these tunnels were built by the North Koreans to launch a surprise attack on South Korea, however, North Korea have never admitted to this. Overall, it’s a strange and interesting place to visit, even just for the glimpse into the elusive North Korea.
9. Elephant Orphanage – Sri Lanka
While we were in Sri Lanka in 2013, we visited an elephant orphanage in Pinnawala. The orphanage was first established to provide care for abandoned baby elephants found in the wild. There are also elephants there who have been injured, one of the elephants that we saw had lost part of one of her front legs from a land mine. Facilities such as this are always called into question but from what we saw the elephants are taken care of, and they have a very large area of land to roam around on. We got up close to some of the baby elephants but my favourite part was when they brought the elephants to bathe in a nearby river. They ushered all the elephants out of the orphanage and walked them through the streets of the nearby village and to the river where they then spent the next hour or so washing and splashing about in the river. It was amazing to watch so many of these huge animals walking through the streets and then having such fun in the water, I loved it!
8. Whale watching – Kaikoura New Zealand
While in New Zealand in 2011 we went whale watching in Kaikoura on the South island and it is an experience that I will never forget. The sea was so rough that day that there was a question on whether or not the tour would actually go ahead, but it did thankfully. Neither myself or Phil took any sea sickness tablets as either of us had ever been sea-sick before, however, that was a terrible decision on my part. The tour was largely made up of Japanese tourists, who at first were loving the big waves and the choppy seas but very quickly their “ooooohs and aaaahhhs” turned to moans and groans. A lot of people were vomiting and at this point I was feeling ill myself so others vomiting wasn’t helping. By the time we got out to the area where the whales were, I was feeling so sick that I told Phil I didn’t even care if we saw any whales. However, went I went out on deck and saw a whale breaching, it was all worth it! The moment when they dive under and the tail flips up above the water is just beautiful and it’s something that I would love to witness again sometime (preferably without the preceding sea sickness!)
7. Seeing the Kumari – Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal would appear on this list, regardless of the Kumari as it’s just such a great and interesting place. We were only there for a long weekend, but it’s a place that I would love to visit again, perhaps do the trek to Everest Base Camp! Kathmandu is beautiful, full of gorgeous temples and little random bars in people’s houses which we discovered and tested courtesy of my brother Gavin! The Nepalese people are also very nice and kind people even though they have very little themselves. While we were there we went to Kumari Ghar – a palace at the centre of the city where the Kumari lives. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl believed to be a living goddess. The girl must go through vigorous tests to prove that she is the next Kumari, including spending a night alone in a room with the severed heads of slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. Once she becomes the Kumari she remains as so until she menstrates or bleeds for any other reason. When she is Kumari she only leaves her palace a few times a year and her feet are never allowed to touch the ground. She also only gets to see her family a few times a year. At the palace in Kathmandu, you stand in the courtyard and wait to see if the Kumari will make an appearance, under no circumstances are you allowed to take pictures of her. When we were there she appeared at the window briefly and I was shocked at how young she was. Her hair was in a knot on top of her head and she wore heavy make up. If she looks down at you it’s said to be good luck. I found the whole experience fascinating but unfortunately I don’t think she looked at me and passed on any luck!
6. Travelling around South island New Zealand in a camper van
This just had to make it onto my list of my top 10 travel moments. In 2011, myself and Phil spent 7 weeks travelling around New Zealand, and half of that time was spent travelling around in a camper van and it was brilliant! We loved every minute of it! The freedom you have when you are travelling a country on your own terms, not worrying about booking transit in advance, or sticking to timetables of buses or trains, is amazing. We traveled where we wanted, when we wanted and we stayed for as long as we wanted. At times we thought we would only spend a few hours in a place but then we loved it so we would stay overnight, and it was great to have the choice to do that without worrying about booking accommodation. We were there during the Rugby World Cup so accommodation was hard to come by – and expensive. Part of the beauty of it was that we had no plans, it was just us, the camper van and our Lonely Planet book. We saw most of the South island in that camper van, we randomly parked up in places at night (we had a bathroom on board so in that case you are allowed “freedom camp” in some places), we went to campsites to charge up every few nights, and we cooked in the camper van every single day! It was fantastic and I couldn’t recommend it enough. If you ever have the chance to explore a country by camper van – DO IT!
5. White water rafting – Rotorua, New Zealand
One of the best travel experiences I have had was white water rafting. If you are a thrill seeker, you have to try this. We did it in Rotorua on the South island in Kaituna River. We had been out the night before, celebrating my birthday, and I remember we were feeling somewhat delicate as we arrived at the river. However, hitting that freezing cold water was enough to knock the hangovers out of us! There are three waterfalls that you raft down on the river, and numerous rapids and it is a huge adrenaline rush! The final waterfall is a massive 7 metre drop, which is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Beforehand, you are warned that when you go over the edge of the 7 metre waterfall it’s a 50/50 chance of whether or not the raft flips. The guides warn that if the raft flips and you fall into the waterfall you should just curl up and you will float to the top, you are NOT to try to swim or struggle as you are basically falling into a massive washing machine and struggling will make things worse. Now if impending doom isn’t enough to sober you up, then nothing is! I remember as we approached the edge of the waterfall, I was absolutely terrified and excited at the same time. My heart was beating out of my chest and then in a split second down we went and guess what -we didn’t flip. Whew, exhilarating stuff.
Manta Ray with mouth opened – Ghetty Images
4. Snorkelling with Manta Rays – Fiji
This is something that I will never forget for as long as I live. We were on this tiny island in Fiji, with no electricity. It was about 6am in the morning, and all of a sudden there was shouting and an excited knock on the door of our beach hut. We had just arrived on the island the morning before and it was the guy who brought us over on the boat. “Get up” he yelled, “the Manta Rays are out, we have to move quickly” ,myself and Phil jumped up like wild-fire, threw on our swim wear and ran outside and into the boat, a few short minutes later we were out in the ocean looking for the Manta Rays. Phil spotted one first and then we were all in that area of the water looking for them. Now, if you have never seen a Manta Ray, they are HUGE. I didn’t realize this until we were in the water with them. I think maybe I was confusing them with their smaller cousins, sting rays. They can also open their mouths up really wide, like, I mean seriously wide. At one point one of them was swimming up towards the surface, towards me, with its mouth wide opened and I thought it was going to eat me! Needless to say it didn’t, they are indifferent to humans and didn’t seem to mind us snorkelling with them at all. They are very serene and graceful in their movements and beautiful to watch in their natural habitat.
3. Varanasi – India
This unique place definitely deserves its place on the list and I think I have probably mentioned it in previous blogs but it’s a place that made a lasting impression on me. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India because it sits on the Ganges. Hindus believe if their ashes are thrown into the Ganges it will end the cycle of reincarnation, and therefore, many Hindus make the trip to Varanasi when they are nearing death. Varanasi is a city full of winding, narrow passages, which you can easily get lost in and although it’s hustling with people and life, it has an eery feeling of death. This due to the burning ghats that are down at the river. The city has numerous ghats, many used for bathing and others used for the puja ceremonies, but there also several burning ghats which operate 24/7. The burning ghats are where the dead are burned before they are placed in the river. These bodies are cremated right there in front of your eyes, in public and it’s an assault on the senses when you first witness it. The dead bodies are carried through the narrow alleyways of the city on wooden stretchers and are first doused in the Ganges before being cremated. You are free to watch the cremation but photography is strictly forbidden. There is a little stall near the main burning ghat where locals sit around drinking chai, as we sat there sipping our chai, watching the “bonfires”, it was easy to forget that it was human bodies that were being burned in front of our eyes. These burning ghats lead to the eery feeling that haunts Varanasi, especially at night. It is a deeply spiritual place and probably the most interesting place I’ve ever visited in my life.
2. Ranthambore – India
India makes the list again, this time at number 2. This time for the safari that we did in Ranthambore National Park. Again, I have probably mentioned this experience before, but it was a truly amazing and unforgettable moment. We had 2 safaris planned during our 3 days there and knew that the elusive tiger is what everyone wants to see in Ranthambore. Speaking to other tourists at our hotel, we learned that some had done 3, 4 and 5 safaris in the hope of spotting a tiger, but to no avail so we weren’t counting on seeing any tigers either. We went out on our first safari, luckily we were in a small jeep so there were only 6 of us in all, along with the driver and a guide, others did the safari in these big trucks called canters that held about 20 people. Somehow, we got lucky on our first safari and not only saw a tiger but got within mere feet of it. It was a terrifying and exhilarating for those few minutes to be face to face with this beautiful beast. Our driver stopped the jeep and turned off the engine and we all just sat there in awe as the tiger walked slowly alongside us. I think I was holding my breath for most of it because I was so terrified that the tiger was going to decide that we looked tasty, luckily that didn’t happen. There was a moment when the tiger walked in front of the jeep and crossed over and when she was on the other side she stopped and turned her head and looked directly at us. It sent shivers down my spine, but somehow, Phil managed to get that shot on camera. It’s probably my favourite picture that we have ever taken.
1. Skydiving – Queenstown, New Zealand
And in at number 1…………….. it’s skydiving, and it’s New Zealand. Anyone who knows me knows that New Zealand is my favourite country that I have ever visited (so far!) and I cannot say enough good things about it. Couple this with a thrill seeking adventure, and of course it was going to be number 1 on this list!! As you may have guessed from number 5 on the list, I’m a fan of adrenaline rushes and skydiving was one that was on my list for a long time so when we planned to go to New Zealand I knew that’s where I would get it ticked off! We did our skydive in one of the most scenic places in the world and surprisingly on the way up I wasn’t really nervous, Phil was more nervous than me. However, Phil jumped out the door of the plane before I did and when I saw him disappearing out the door, suddenly I was verrrry nervous. When you are sitting there on the ledge of the plane, half out the door, it is simply terrifying, but then, before you know it you are free-falling and it’s the greatest feeling it the world. It’s such a rush, for those 45 seconds you are plummeting towards earth and it feels amazing. Then all of a sudden, the parachute is out and you’re no longer plummeting but you are gently floating. That’s when you can really look around and enjoy the beauty of the place you are falling towards, in our case we were surrounding by snow-capped mountains and beautiful landscape, it really couldn’t have been any better.
So that’s it, my top 10 travel moments as of 2016. Hopefully I have many more travel moments to come. Until next time 🙂
You know its time to write a new blog when you start getting requests from your friends – yes Carley and Boca I’m talking to you guys, this one is for ye! Before I get into it I have to give a special mention to a good friend of mine; Christine O’Connor who just recently got engaged to Liam Kiernan. Congrats again guys! Christine and Liam
were away for the weekend a couple of weeks ago to celebrate their 4 year anniversary and Liam popped the question. Very exciting, all I can say is – I cannot wait for the wedding 🙂
So, as I write this I’m still elated as I just handed in my final assignment for the Digital Marketing module of the Masters I’m doing, so I am officially free from all things Masters related for the summer and I must say, it feels pretty damn good! I must mention here that my friend Mark in Dubai is also doing this Masters, he would hate it if people didn’t know that! So now that I no longer have to worry about lectures, readings and assignments, I have time to blog again – I can feel your excitement from here. So as you know I normally like to mention any weird, strange or quirky things that I have come across in Toronto, so let’s get started with that!
Firstly, and many of you who know me may have heard me mention this, because it’s the one thing I really hate about Toronto (aside from tipping but that my friends would need an entire blog dedicated to it), but I find the banking system over here downright ridiculous and very archaic. When myself and Phil first went to open accounts on our second day in Toronto, the guy asked us if we wanted cheque books, myself and Phil looked at each other like “why the hell would we want a cheque book?”, gave the guy a strange look ans said “…eh……no. We don’t want cheque books”. Well, weren’t we the bigger fools, turns out that’s how you pay rent over here, most landlords will only accept cheques. Yeah, so guess who had to go back to the bank and ask for those cheque books after all? That’s right, Phil did 😉 The second weird question we were asked when opening our accounts was if we wanted online banking. Again myself and Phil exchanged weird looks, then looked at the banker strangely and said yes, we would like to avail of online banking. Its 2015 Toronto-why are you even asking that question?? But to get back to the cheques, I have never owned a cheque book in my life, never even written a cheque (untill I got here), and I think its a very outdated system, when I think of a cheque book I think of my parents (no offence ma and da!) but I don’t anyone under the age of 35 has ever used a cheque book in Ireland. Oh yeah, and Phil gets paid by cheque to top it all off. Anyways aside from that, they charge you for the privilege of minding your money for you, they charge you if you take out money more than a certain times per month, they charge you if you transfer money between your accounts (with the same bank not transferring to another bank) and they charge you $3 if you go to an ATM that isn’t owned by the bank you’re with. God be with the days when I lived in Ireland and could take out my money from an ATM and not be charged! Okay, I’ve calmed down, rant over (for now).
Next up for things that infuriate me is the subway. Not the subway itself, more so the people who use the subway, particularly during rush hour. So we all know that Canadians are famous for being polite, friendly and mannerly, and its true, they are all of those things, but let me tell you, when its rush hour and you enter the underground system of the subway, something happens to Canadians. Those world-renowned manners get left outside and Canadians get mean. It is every man for himself down there and being polite is a fools game. People push, shove and push some more for good measure. When the subway stops and those doors open, god help anyone actually trying to get off the train because no one waits, everyone just starts pushing their way on. A few times I’ve tried to be nice and stand back and actually allow people get off before I try to get on, but nope, the people behind me were having none of it and just kept pushing me forward. I don’t get it. There is a subway every 2-3 minutes so I really don’t see this need to push your way on as if this is the last train that will ever grace the platform. Maybe I can’t understand it because I don’t come from a place that has a subway, in Ireland we don’t have subways, we have trains, buses and the luas, but no underground subway system, and a bus really doesn’t create the same sense of urgency as a subway, where you feel you ave to board it immediately or the door will slam shut in your face. So maybe it’s not the Canadians’ faults, they were brought up in a city with a subway system, this is what they learned so this is what they do. I must say they aren’t as bad as the Koreans for the pushing, over there your own granny would push you out-of-the-way so she can get on first!
Anyway lets move on. So I want to talk about the #3030vision. This something that Miriam and Mark came up with and I liked the sound of so I jumped on board. You make a list of 30 things you want to do before you turn 30. Now, I love a good list so I do. For years I have putting things up on my bedroom wall, things I want to do or achieve, I’ll write them down and put them on my wall so I look at it every night before I go to bed and when I wake the next day, and it works, I always do the things I put on my wall. Or if its something I want to happen, but can’t control I will pin that up too – you know, the power of positive thinking and sending out positive vibes out the universe and all that. So when Mark told me about the 30 before you’re 30 list, I was all over that! Now, credit must go to Miriam for the hashtag – #3030vision, so if this goes viral, Miriam must get all the praise. So the three of us made our lists, some were slower than others (ahem Miriam) and sent them to each other, and then you tick them off as you complete them! Now I will post our lists below for you all to see, but I was a bit ambitious when writing mine. You see in my head I’m still young, 23 or 24 so I was like pppffft I have years to complete this list so I’m going to put loads of travel on there. Then after I finished it and as I was reading it, I realised that only have a year and a half to do it all. Hmmmmm. Mark has over 2 years to do his, and Miriam, well, Miriam has THREE years to do hers. And she has already ticked off one destination on her list and is planning to tick off 3 or 4 more this summer, spot the teacher eh? (insert joke about teacher’s getting too many holidays here!). So, I probably won’t get my list finished by the time I’m 30, but that’s okay, I will get it done. I bought whitening strips there a few weeks ago, so I’m counting that as getting teeth whitened, wuhoo one ticked off the list!
Now you may have noticed that Miriam has two blank spaces on her list, yes, that wasn’t a mistake. Brave woman that she is has left those two blanks up to the decision of the public, so anyone reading this who has a great idea for Miriam’s #3030vision please comment! Anyone who would also like to do their own #3030vision, we welcome you to join us and let us know you’re participating with the #3030vision.
Hi everyone, this is my blog entry to the #ExploreTheElements competition that Thomas Cook are running. Myself and Phil have been watching this show on Netflix recently called Departures, it’s about two Canadian guys who pack in their jobs, leave their lives behind and travel the world for a year. We actually just realized it was filmed in 2007 but it doesn’t matter, it’s still amazing and what they did is my BIGGEST dream ever. To travel the world for one whole year? Amazing. Myself and Phil would do it in a heartbeat, the only thing getting in our way is that little thing called money. With each show of Departures we watch, the longing to travel grows within me, it’s literally all I can think about these days. And although myself and Phil have done our fair share of travelling, there is so much more to do, so much more to see. So when I came across the #ExploreTheElements competition and saw that the main prize is $5000 towards your travel fund, it was like a sign! I’m not a photographer, so picking these four images was tough and they may not be the best photographs in the world, but they each represent something. They are each real, raw, un-edited, un-filtered photographs taken during some of our amazing travels.They each represent a time, a memory, a part of my life that I will never forget, and a time that I sometimes wish I could travel back to. These four pictures stir emotions deep within me and make me want to travel this entire beautiful world of ours, so here are my four pictures, enjoy. EARTH This picture was taken in Queenstown in 2011 when we travelled around New Zealand for two months. It was the best two months of my life and New Zealand to this day remains my number one place I’ve visited in the world. It is simply a spectacularly amazing country, the South island particularly beautiful. The picture was taken after a long cable ride to the top of a peak, where you could then take the luge back down to the bottom. As a side note, the luge is super fast, and somewhat terrifying, but oh so fun! The image is looking down over Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world and I chose it to represent Earth as you can see the snow-capped mountains looming in the background. The sheer physicality of these mountains, forever visible, is a sight to behold. We did our skydive in Queenstown and as we descended over these mountains it was both terrifying and amazing to witness them as you hurdle towards the earth at a ridiculous speed, its enough to take your breath away. Mountains like these are a constant backdrop in many parts of New Zealand, quiet in the background yet remaining powerful and solid. WATER When looking through my pictures, I had so many of water to choose from; amazing beaches in Boracay with blue waters like you’ve never seen before, bright turquoise lakes in New Zealand that would take your breath away, sparkling waters in Fiji so clear that its hard to believe what you’re looking at is real, but I didn’t want to use any of them. Everybody has nice pictures of bright blue waters off an island somewhere. I chose this picture, not because it is a picture of water, but because of what it means, what it stands for. This picture was taken in Varanasi, India in 2013. It’s the Ganges or the “Ganga”, probably the most famous and definitely the most spiritual body of water in the world. This river is a living, flowing thing that is sacred to millions of Hindu people. It represents both life and death. Hindus believe that if their bodies are put into the Ganges after they die, they will be released from the circle of reincarnation, that is, they will finally be laid to rest once their bodies reach the Ganges. For this reason, many of them flock to Varanasi, one of the holiest places in India, in order to die there. Their bodies are burned at the burning ghats on the banks of the river and then placed in the Ganges. And this continues 24 hours a day. There are constantly fires burning along the river banks in Varanasi and if you watch for long enough, it can be easy to forget that you are watching the end of a humans life. I can’t describe the experience in words, it was chilling, haunting, overwhelming and interesting and at night-time, it had a certain eeriness to it, yet at the same time, it was amazing. People use the river to live, washing in it, bathing in it, drinking from it and then finally, their ashes been laid to rest in it. So although it’s not your typical beautiful picture of clear waters, I think it’s a perfect representation of water and what it can mean to people. AIR I chose this photograph to represent Air, which may seem strange. But when I was reading the competition guidelines and the piece on what air represents, I thought this was the perfect picture. Air is associated with elusiveness and evasiveness – this is the elusive Bengal Tiger. The picture was taken in Ranthambore National Park in Rajastan, India in 2013. People travel from far and wide to see the tigers in Ranthambore National Park, but of course you are not always guaranteed a sighting. When we were there, many others staying at our hotel had been there for over a week and done more than five safaris in an attempt to see one of these magnificent tigers up close yet in the wild, in their natural habitat. We spoke to many people who had extended there stay in order to try catch a glimpse of a tiger, and many others who were leaving in disappointment. Myself and Phil were amazingly lucky and privileged to see not one, not two but THREE separate tigers on our 3 day trip there! Many travellers in our hotel were openly jealous that we had been so lucky – it was the luck of the Irish, it’s the only logical explanation! The picture above is the first tiger we saw while dong our very first safari. That picture was taken without zooming, that’s how close we were. It was a fantastic experience and also terrifying. There we were within mere feet of this powerful beautiful beast, with no windows on our jeep, no roof and no protection. If that tiger had wanted to, she could have easily eaten all 6 of us in the jeep…easily. The driver got up as close as possible, and then killed the engine. We sat there in complete awe of this magnificent beast that was walking out of the bushes, alongside us. I was terrified, excited and amazed all at once. To be that close to a wild tiger is certainly an experience I will never forget. She (the guide informed us it was a female) emerged from the wooded area and crossed in front of our jeep, once she had passed the jeep she stopped, turned around and looked right at us. I swear I made eye contact with that tiger. I have a picture of that moment too, and I was torn about which one to use. But in the end I chose this one as I thought it portrayed the tiger best, in its natural environment, emerging from the shade of the trees in search of food, thankfully she did not feel like human meat that day! My heart was beating out of my chest, it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life and the adrenaline rush it gave me was something else. This is one of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced on my travels. FIRE I really struggled to find an image to represent fire but I decided to use this one in the end. It was taken on Gili Trawangan, a small island off Bali and I really like this photograph. I think this picture represents fire well as the sun is so forceful, so powerful and beautiful. After spending five days in Bali we headed for this island to get away from the non-stop tormentors in Kuta. If you so much as make eye contact with any of these guys on the street in Kuta you are in trouble, they will follow you for the night trying to sell you the most ridiculous and absurd things. So off we set for a smaller, more relaxed place. We spent 4 days on Gili Trawangan and it was definitely laid back and relaxed. There are no motorized vehicles on the island so you either walk, cycle or get a horse and cart. The skies were blue, the sea was clear and turquoise and the seafood was amazing. We were told that if you continued walking around the island to the quietest part that we would see amazing views at sunset and it didn’t disappoint. That side of the island was remote and didn’t have any restaurants or hotels and just had one bar. It was so enjoyable to sit on the beach with a cocktail in hand and enjoy the sunset. And once the sun disappeared behind the clouds, we very plunged into almost complete darkness. It was so peaceful and tranquil and just what we needed after our few days in Kuta. This picture always transports me back to the moment in time when I watched that sun set over that beautiful little island, with not a care in the world.