Simien Mountains National Park: trekking Africa’s Grand Canyon

After Erta Ale and Dallol, would Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park live up to the hype?

If Simien Mountains National Park really were ‘Africa’s Grand Canyon’, how was it that I knew nothing of it? Was this just Peter’s ploy to drag me out camping again?

I knew of the park by name, but couldn’t point to it on a map, or tell you what I might find there. To be honest, prior to planning our trip, I had no idea there were proper mountains in Ethiopia – a result perhaps of TIA syndrome which conjures dusty, flyblown vistas and not the vast gorges of lush beauty that populate Simien Mountains National Park.

Leap of faith: hiking to the vertiginous Tigray churches

Tigray churches over the plains

To reach the Tigray churches of Ethiopia, one must scale sheer rock, inch along narrow ledges and skirt around yawning chasms – all in bare feet. Naturally, we leapt at the chance

I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous. It wasn’t the narrow ledges with sheer drops that had me spooked, but the prospect of climbing with ropes – something I’d never done before.

“This is Africa”: useful mantra or ugly prejudice?

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“This is Africa”, or TIA, is used to shrug off a range of inconveniences, but does its casual use perpetuate harmful stereotypes?

Africa, more than any other continent, has a PR problem. Popular culture tells the west that Africa is a land of conflict and famine where progress is slow and corruption is rife. Even the ‘better’ half of Africa is riddled with cliché: the giant red sun, open savannah and fearsome tribes in native garms.

The most pervasive cliché perhaps comes wrapped in a snappy epithet: “This is Africa” or its diminutive form, TIA.

Dallol: visiting the hottest place on earth

Dallol in Ethiopia, the hottest place on Earth

We visit Dallol, a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases, inside the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia.

I wasn’t daunted at the prospect of visiting Dallol, dubbed the hottest place on Earth. Despite its temperatures regularly reaching 45°C (113°F), I knew that after visiting Erta Ale volcano in the region, Dallol would be a walk in the park – if the park was a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds and geysers, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases.

Dallol lies 116m (380ft) below sea level in the Danakil Depression of the Afar region in Ethiopia and is part of the East African Rift where three continental plates are being torn apart.

Visiting Erta Ale volcano: the ‘hike to hell and back’

Erta Ale Volcano in the Danakil Depression

Erta Ale in Ethiopia is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and looms above a deadly desert. We ask if it’s worth the risk

The 4×4 steams across the desert, lurching over rocks and cracks. Sand whips against the window, almost liquid in its motion. Immediately behind me sits our military escort: two men with automatic rifles slung casually across their laps.

I hate to say it, but there is a distinct sense of lawlessness in the air. I hate to because this is Africa and, for centuries, westerners have come to the continent to gather tales of risk and adventure for recounting at dinner parties over and cheese and wine.

I don’t want to be that guy, but it’s true: here, in the Danakil Depression in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, it really does feel like anything could happen.

Photographing local people: 10 expert tips

We speak to a number of experts about navigating the ethics of photographing local people and present their best tips

At Atlas & Boots, we have photographed some incredible landscapes, from the crackling blue ice of Perito Moreno glacier to the mythical moai of Easter Island. What we’re less good at is photographing local people.

This may be rooted in an article I once read which asked how we in the west would feel if someone stopped in the street to snap a picture of us or our children and then walked off without saying a word. Clearly, we would find this intrusive. And yet the field of portrait photography flourishes with sumptuous pictures of nomads and tribespeople gracing every issue of National Geographic and the like.

Saddle up: horse riding tips for your first tour

Essential horse riding tips for your first tour, gathered from a challenging week in the mountains of Montenegro

Some may say that I’m poorly qualified to write this piece. After all, in the few years since I first mounted a horse, I’ve been trodden on, kicked in the shin while riding, kicked in the back while not riding and, more recently, fallen off a horse and got pinned beneath it with my foot stuck in the stirrup.

It’s sexist to assume I’m not adventurous

Despite what some may think, I don’t do adventurous things just because my boyfriend likes them

Last week, Peter and I were talking to an acquaintance (let’s call him Jack) about our possible trip to Australia next year. Over a shared pizza, Peter mentioned that he would love to dive with sharks in Perth.

Jack threw me a look and laughed. “Ha, I don’t suppose you’ll be joining him for that.”
I nodded. “Yes, as long as the sharks are treated responsibly.”
“‘Responsibly?'” He nudged Peter. “It sounds like she’s trying to get out of it, mate.”

Hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius: a guide

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A guide to hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius including a map to the trail entrance and our hard-earned tips and caveats

I wasn’t worried about hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius. After climbing Nevis Peak in St Kitts & Nevis and navigating sections of sheer rock on Spencer Trail in the US, I thought hiking Le Morne Brabant would be easy. I certainly wasn’t expecting to quit a few metres from the top…

Idiots abroad: should you speak out?

Elephants in Sri Lanka

What’s the appropriate reaction to tourists behaving badly?

I’ve always been sceptical of the introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy. A common interpretation of this theory suggests that people’s personalities belong in one category or the other. In reality, however, most of us likely lie somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

I’m generally a confident person, I’m comfortable with public speaking and I enjoy meeting new people, but I also have a healthy dose of British reserve. I’d rather avoid confrontation if possible and am more likely to silently seethe about manspreading or queue jumping than speak out and create a scene.

Diving at Trou aux Biches, Mauritius

Turtles seen while diving at Trou aux Biches

Diving at Trou aux Biches after a year’s break reminds us why we fell in love with scuba in the first place

We’ve arrived. In Mauritius. To hike and dive. For a month! What an absurd set of sentences for an ex-teacher and jobbing writer.

We’ve tooled together our month-long stay through a local contact and so here we are on the extraordinary island of Mauritius amid soaring volcanic mountains, yawning valleys and of course some of the best beaches in the world.

Mont Saint-Michel: 10 dos and don’ts

Essential tips for visiting Mont Saint-Michel – the most fantastical building in France

When it comes to French architecture, there are myriad contenders for the throne. The most notable is the Eiffel Tower, a world-famous symbol of Gallic ingenuity.

Then there’s the Louvre, possibly the most famous museum in the world. After that we have the Notre Dame and, in any chosen order, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Palace de Versailles and the Pantheon.

Are you an outdoors snob?

With complex hierarchies, obscure heroes and indecipherable lingo, the outdoors community is more daunting than it should be

Many years ago, before the prospect of camping became a real and constant threat in my life, I was a city girl through and through. I had never slept beneath the stars, never bathed in a lake and never answered nature’s call in, er, nature.