The List: Number 117 – Jumping shot with the Laputa Robot at the Ghibli Museum

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I’ve loved Hayao Miyazaki since I first saw My Neighbour Totoro. Miyazaki is an amazing anime animator who co-founded the infamous Studio Ghibli, and has produced a number of delightful, ever so slightly off beat anime movies.

Anime really was never my thing, I once watched Sailor Moon when it was the at the height of popularity at my primary school (we’re talking a good 20 years ago now) and it was kind of amusing but not my thing. I completely blanked Pokemon and that was my full exposure to the world of anime right up until I sat down to watch My Neighbour Totoro.

SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS! It has a cat bus! And cute little soot sprites! And May, the cute little thing, she is is hilarious! I loved it, and devoured a million movies there after (highlights: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howls Moving Castle, Kikis Deliver Service… okay, I’m just naming them all right now. They’re ALL amazing). They’re quite old (some were released in the 80s old) but they’ve aged wonderfully well.

One of those movies was Castle in the Sky who has these amazing robot guardians who take care of the gardens.

I know it’s not a great shot of the Laputa Guardian, but how pretty is that shot? Love it.

Studio Ghibli has a museum on the outskirts of Tokyo. I think I saw something on my twitter feed when I was writing The List and I added it without a second thought. I knew there was a life size amazing Laputa Guardian somewhere in Japan and I was 100% going to go see it.

I bought tickets in the UK (which requires booking months in advance, just a heads up. You can’t rock up on the day to visit) and then, when we were finally in Japan we went. There was a really long train ride, and then a short little bus. From the bus stop everything is styled Ghibli, so it’s pretty easy to figure out where you need to be and how to get to the museum.


The Museum is small and oh so charming. You’re not allowed to take photos, so I didn’t. It was well good, though. As you moved through the rooms you were walked through their animation process. Every detail was exquisite, even if I couldn’t read most the signs. There was so much art, I loved it.

On the roof is where the Laputa Guardian was, and we waited in line again and again to get photos.

He was amazing.

The jumping shot required for The List:

Love. So yes. #117 on The List – done. Boom!

Have any of you been out to the Studio Ghibli Museum? What did you think?

The List: Number 13 – Ride/Swim with an Elephant

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Number 13 on The List… after my last post about tigers it’s difficult to come back and tell you how I rode and swam with elephants. I know that my last post was also about animal abuse in the name of tourism and profit and it’s almost as if I hadn’t learnt anything last time, because this is the same line all over again. I did this, I rode and swam with elephants and I did it TWICE because I loved it so much.

It’s less than awesome, I know. 100% wrong, and horrible.

Wild animals shouldn’t be used as tourist attractions to make money.

It’s a weak excuse, ignorance, but the truth was I actually didn’t know. This experience was sold as a delightful add on. It was on The List, and so I said yes. Ticked the box that said free elephant experience if you get the tiger one. See the tigers and swim with the elephants! Fun times all around. Then because the first time was so phenomenal I booked a second experienced when we had a spare day.

Obviously that week was big on animal abuse, one that I recognise I encouraged with my tourist money, and I didn’t even realise. It wasn’t until I got back to the UK a good month later and was going through the photos that I started to wonder, and then I saw the huge outcry that Dooce got when she happened upon a baby elephant unexpectedly… and my heart sort of dropped. I read her post, and clicked through all the links, and followed more down a rabbit hole of how very not awesome elephant tourism is. And then I put some search terms into google and went down a few more rabbit holes.

Shame. That’s how I feel. Uncomfortable shame.

So, I’m going to post the pictures from both days and talk about how easy and amazing it was, and how very wrong the whole situation is. I promise this is the is the last animal cruelty tourist post I’ll write, because I don’t plan on supporting any more of these experiences with my tourist money. My eyes, 100% wide open.

After the tigers, we were driven on our tour out to Elephant Village Muang Sing, which is small elephant park. So small it doesn’t have a website, and is mostly advertised through tour operators. It wasn’t far away, really. First up we went swimming, which ideally was to help bath the elephant.

We got on the back of an elephant, and walked down to the water. Once in the water it was lovely, really. We sat on the back of the elephant has he waded around. Sometimes he sat, sometimes he stood. What I didn’t realise at the time is that he was 100% following instructions from his mahout for our benefit.

It is not okay to train animals behaviour to do tricks for tourists.

But that’s what he did. You stand here, and he lifts his trunk, lifting you into the air. You stand here, on his leg, and he’ll lift you up, a nice board for you to dive off, or pose for a photo.

We have a million photos. Millions of them. I’m actually ashamed to post them all and realised that I was posting two of the more tame ones. Truth is that most of them actually look more like this one:

Oh, sad face.

It is terrible, I know this. But it was also amazing – an absolutely phenomenal experience. Scrubbing away at the elephant with little brushes while he moved around us was really lovely. His skin was rough, and bristly in most spots, and in others (like behind his ears) so soft and silken. He was massive, and I felt tiny and small next to him. It was pretty amazing.

Next up, we had an elephant ride.

Dun dun dun. This was at least really physically uncomfortable. Riding behind the elephants head was a million times more comfortable for us than riding in that horrible chair. It’s even more horrible for the elephant.

Elephants spines aren’t designed to support the weight of humans long term.

Add two humans and that horrible chair contraption, factor in (based on the number of sessions we could pick from) 10 half hour walks a day and that’s a good five hours a day of carrying around a lot of weight on a back that isn’t meant to be carrying that much weight around. Which means the more we ride them, we’re causing some seriously long-term harm. Boo.

I think even worse for me though is that wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of the. To tame a wild elephant, a baby elephant is basically tortured.

Baby elephants should not be tamed. Baby elephants should not be tortured

It’s horrible. It looks like this:

(source. Photo taken by Brent Lewin / Redux Pictures. Brent won a Science/Natural History Award of Excellence for this image at the Pictures of the Year competition in 2011.)

Here is a video. I actually couldn’t even watch all of it. I got a few seconds in and felt sick (and ashamed, and guilty….)

It’s ghastly. Horrific. I HATE it. But this is how they tame elephants. They call it crushing (or Phajaan). They take them away from their mothers, confine them to a small space and beat them clubs and prod them with bull hooks. On top of that, they are starved and deprived of sleep. They learn to fear the bull hook, and take commands from their mahout.

We take a relatively relaxed ride through the jungle on the back of an elephant with no idea that, to begin with, this how they train them to do that.

Yeah. Look at that massive big hook that mahout is carrying. He carried that the whole way around our walk.

Shame shame shame shaaaaaame. That’s how I feel. All of the shame.

Afterwards, we fed them. You buy a bucket of bananas and stand on a balcony and they come up and eat. Considering how much they eat, I feel like this little single bit was acceptable. This bit alone was okay (and I did lots of checking, turns out elephants eat bananas if they can find them, and they’re not deprived of food outside of crushing, and they get enough foilage… I was sure at this point that by feeding them I was doing something wrong).

And then we gave our mahouts tips for the amazing experience (because it was amazing, ignorance allows things like this to be amazing) and we went home, uploaded some shots to instagram and talked about how fantastic that whole thing was. What an amazing day! Oh, we had no idea. No idea about the animal cruelty that had been inflicted so we could have had such an amazing day.

It was so amazing, and we talked about it for such a long time that a week later we did it again. This time we were in Krabi, and visited Nosey Parker Elephant Camp (yes, that was it’s actual name).

This time we did a trek on the elephant, which seemed fine enough. This elephant had an experienced mahout who generally guided the elephant around with words and clucks rather than using pain or the bull hook he carried with him. He was pretty lovely, actually. The elephant seemed pretty happy, and was allowed to stop and eat and she pleased. Her daughter met us half way around and they were clearly affectionate with each other.

Which is to say it all seemed so relaxed and easy. It’s hard to align such a lovely ride with all the horrible training that she had to go through to get there.

Sad face.

Next, we went swimming with another lady elephant. This one did an awful lot of pooping, and at one point I was completely surrounded by it, before the current took it away down river.

Otherwise, it was just as lovely as previously. Elephant moves around and underneath you, sprays you with water. Sits down in the water as you swim around her. Again, another lovely, glorious experience. Really difficult to remember that as wonderful as it was, she’d never interact like this with anyone in the wild. Never ever.

She’s been trained to do this, for our benefit, so someone else can make a profit.

Sad face.

So, if I was ashamed before about the tigers, I’m even more ashamed now.

How to help? – Do your research.

I didn’t do enough research, I really really didn’t. I didn’t know about the abuse, or how they train elephants into doing unnatural things. I didn’t know that elephants spines don’t do well with human loads for long hours. I didn’t know that there’s a law loop hole and baby elephants are being trafficked into Thailand. I didn’t know that tourist dollars are primarily fuelling this abuse.

I didn’t know. I didn’t think. I didn’t ask questions. I should have.

Visit sanctuaries, not for profit tourist experiences

If you want to visit with elephants, make sure you’re doing it at a sanctuary like the Elephant Nature Park. This place? Rescues elephants from abuse, exactly like the two places that I visited. The Nosey Parker Elephant Park and the Elephant Village Muang Sing both train unnatural behaviour for tourist + profit. They both crush their elephants into submission.

Visit a place where elephants don’t have to carry people around on their backs for rides. Where they won’t be beaten or prodded with bull hooks. Where they don’t have to be tortured into obeying.

There are places like that. You can still interact with them, apparently. However the elephants aren’t forced into interacting with you.


Donate to WWF. Turns out the Asian Elephant is endangered (there are now less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand) and it’s habitat is shrinking thanks to an ever growing human population. Wild elephant populations are mostly small, isolated, and unable to join as ancient migratory routes are cut off by human settlements.

WWF is committed to conserving the remaining wild populations and their habitats. It’s a worthy cause, I think.

So then, I did #13 and #72 in the same week, and I have to say I’m not proud of having done either.

The List: Number 72 – Pat a Tiger

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Okay… so this was on The List. And I did this… Our third day in Thailand we did a tour, drove out the many hours to Kanchanaburi and paid to see and interact with tigers. It was all kinds of amazing, exactly like you’d expect it to be… except I do have put up a really big disclaimer: I didn’t think I was doing a bad thing.

Which is to say – I was absolutely doing a bad thing. Because at the heart of it?

Wild animals shouldn’t be used as tourist attractions to make money.

No wild animal should have to pose for a photo with me. No animal should be bred and then forced into interaction with people. I point blank didn’t realise while I was out there what I was doing, and yes, I fully 100% agree that supporting the tourist fuelled animal abuse trade is horrific.

When I think about it now, I feel guilty. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I didn’t stop to ask the bigger questions, and I didn’t see the subtext.

So, photos first. Because it did happen and it was absolutely a highlight of our trip and I feel slightly ill thinking about it. Then why these photos are terrible, and what we can all do about the horrible horrible things.

Tiger Temple is not a conservation project

So, at the very start of the day we stopped and got food to donate to the monks. We had a wad of cash for donations to the temple too. We met the monks, kind of. We stood behind tables and they walked by us. As they went we put food in their baskets. It was awkward and weird.

We then met our very blonde, very young and very very American lady guide who told us thus: The monks at Tiger Temple took in a few rescued tigers. Originally they were circus animals, or possibly poached orphans. And the amazing monks cared for them and since then everything has gone swimmingly. They operate as a conversation project, and their main goal is retraining tigers to hunt and letting them loose on a reserve, and caring for those that couldn’t fend for themselves. They let nature do their thing (which is to say, the tigers breed and have babies). They now have over 100 tigers, and we were lucky to be see a part of the whole big project while it was all going on.

Mm. After I left I started doing a bit more research. Turns out the Temple is neither a sanctuary nor a recognised conservation NGO, despite us paying out ‘donations’. To be a conservation project you have to promote the well being of the animals in captivity. You educate people about the animal and fund protective programs for animals in the wild. As a conversation project you fund the money you receive back into conservation and protection, right?

As I understand it and from what I saw the first one seemed to be on par (from my very limited, non-existent expertise). There weren’t any education centres or displays about tigers at all. The protective programs in the wild also seemed non-existent (our blonde lady didn’t have any answers about how they train tigers to return to hunt, and just said they weren’t in the habit of releasing animals who can’t help themselves into the wild…)

Tiger cubs shouldn’t be removed from their mother for tourist photos

Next, our young blonde american guide gave us a run down of the rules. Remove all red clothing. The smaller ones are a bit like domestic cats, but sometime they bite. When it comes to the bigger tigers, don’t touch the tigers faces, if you get permission to pat the tiger from the minder, only the back, and only the top. Don’t turn your back on the tigers, and always pay attention to the minders. They’re there to keep us safe.

And with that, they let us loose. We bottle fed some of the youngsters. Oh man, you guys they were adorable. Some were tiny and small and some really weren’t. Each tiger had a minder or two, and we were able to move freely between them. Sometimes feeding them, sometimes patting them. Whichever. It really was a free for all.

Some of the larger cats were chained to the side… at the time it made sense from a safety point of view. Now? Now I think that perhaps there is a reason why tigers are mostly solitary and there is a reason why mother tigers feed the cubs, instead of human tourists. Perhaps being tied up to feed isn’t the most awesome of things.

Now, here’s the thing. These cubs were tiny. Some clearly less than a month old. The bigger ones which weren’t even a year weren’t as cuddly as the younger, smaller ones. If cubs are meant to stick to their mother until the two year mark, then these tiny little babies were being removed purely for us. The tourists, to take photos of and feed and pat.

I feel a bit ill, really. I was so happy at the time, but now? It’s horrific. I had such a great time and it makes me uncomfortable to think about it. Sad face.

Next up we took the tigers for a walk. Which is to say, they handed us leashes, and we got a minder and we walked very carefully behind our tiger. Seriously, if he had wanted to bolt we wouldn’t have been able to do anything to stop him. We stopped when he stopped. We walked when he walked. We followed him. The leash thing was a bit a of a misnomer, really.

Still, he had a belly full of milk and knew where he was going and was happy to go there. So off we went.

Seriously you guys, that grin on my face doesn’t even come close to the joy I felt just then. Being so close to a tiger, the delight at following him around. It was amazing. Which I think in part is why I feel so guilty now. That little itty bitty tiger shouldn’t be forced into interactions with humans, let alone paying tourists like me.


High risk interactions between tigers + tourists is not cool

He didn’t really like what came next, either. We gave him a bath, which was less than fun for everyone. It’s a bit bizarre to have your hands on the back end of a tiger, and then FEELING him rumble his unhappiness at being washed. He wasn’t loud or vocal about it, other than the occasional ear flick. If I hadn’t had my hands on him when he did it I wouldn’t have noticed. Still, he doesn’t look happy or comfortable, does he?

Which as I read it back, is kind of ridiculous.


What the actual fuck, you guys. There is no way that is safe. After a quick google search I found this. That actually happened at Tiger Temple, a girl got mauled doing exactly what I was doing. Holy shit, you guys. I’m actually blown away by how cool but really not cool this all is.

A tigers diet needs to include red meat

So, after washing our grumbly tiger, We fed him chicken after to appease him. However, because he’d just eaten not an hour before he wasn’t that interested. When I asked the keeper what they fed them, she pretty much waved the chicken around and said ‘this’

Apparently red meat is too expensive? As I understand it tigers need to eat red meat regularly to get the enzyme taurine and other essential vitamins for their muscle development and long-term health… I’m really not sure about this, because while I’m sure that running the temple is expensive, but we paid a fuckton of money (“donation”) to the temple, and counting the 20+ tourists in our crew, knowing they do it every day that’s a lot of cash coming in. You’d think that red meat would be up there on the priority list…

Next up these young critters went back to their folks (or so we were told) and we walked one of the bigger cats down to the enrichment centre. When I say ‘we’ I mean the entire group of twenty. We got to walk behind the tiger, each taking a turn of about half a minute, snapping some photos and then moving out of the way for the next couple.

I’m actually kind of ashamed at my grin.

Next up, enrichment with the teens. This was actually really fun, and bar the completely not safe-ness in it, this part of the show seemed at least to be good for the tigers. They were very active, and played as they pleased. In fact, mostly they behaved exactly as a domestic cat would, if you had an enticing bit of string. Some weren’t interested, and that was fine too.

We each had a minder and a stick of recyclables to wave about. I remember that one of the tigers lay down in the water (it was a stinking hot day, easily 40°C+) and he lay on my foot, wrapping his tail around our legs as he watched the bottles from above.

As you can see there is no barrier between us and the tigers. They were RIGHT THERE. Oh man. It’s kind of mind blowing now, but at the time it seemed like the most natural thing to do in the world. So easy, and everyone assured us perfectly safe. Being in that context with people ushering you around and encouraging this kind of behaviour it just seemed so natural. You couldn’t go there and make a fuss about being in a space with tigers, really. Better to not go at all I think.

Afterwards, we were ushered into much larger area, and had photos with an adult tiger with his head in your lap.

Okay, I personally don’t think this tiger was drugged. Considering that tigers are mostly nocturnal, and it was hella hot, I can see this tiger being pretty placid. Apparently this tiger had been trained to do this, and had been doing it for such a long time he knew the drill and wasn’t bothered by it (this doesn’t excuse the practice or make it safe… my point is I don’t think he was drugged). I think even more telling was that once we’d all had our photos, he got up and was just as active as the other cats.

What I remember though, is that his head was really heavy. Ridiculously heavy. His fur wasn’t as soft like I imagined, but thick and a bit rough to the touch. He was amazing, and huge. The size of him was overwhelming. He watched lots of people but after a while was happy to close his eyes and snooze in the heat. He was pretty aware, if someone came too near he opened his eyes to look at them. It was pretty awe inspiring.

In saying that, it 100% isn’t okay to train a tiger to do this. It 100% is not okay to pay money and have an animals behaviour changed for tourist photo opportunities.

It is not okay to train animals behaviour to do tricks for tourists

Next up, we were corralled into a little pen (mostly a flimsy fence tied together with string. True story) and we watched some of the adults play. They had been chained to hoops in the ground, but once loose mostly hung out. It was really really hot, so while some of them were reluctant to play, one or two could be coerced into chasing the bag of recyclables on a stick.

After the show we went on our merry way. As I was thinking about it after, there were a few questions I wished I’d ask, but didn’t. Or if I did ask, was redirected or shut down.

Illegal tiger trafficking? That shouldn’t even be a question.

One of the questions I had is if they’re allowing the tigers to breed naturally (which they are, when I asked I got a haughty american accent with the comment ‘I don’t know why anyone would say more tigers in the world is a bad thing’) then if there are 100+ tigers breeding, with a reproductive cycle of a litter a year, and it’s been around for over 15 years… shouldn’t there be more tigers? A lot more tigers? Where are all the other tigers?

Where are the trained professionals?

Our blonde guide was blissfully in her first season as a paid professional. Previously? All her tiger experience was here, as a volunteer, which is kind of disturbing. Also, I’m pretty sure the minders we had didn’t have degrees in zoology or biology (or whatever it is that people who work with animals are meant to educate themselves in). To be fair, they literally just seemed like people pulled from wherever they could find them. The complete opposite of what I’d expect of a sanctuary.

Sad face.

There were many terrible things, but this trip was amazing.

So, there are many things which are less than awesome about this place. But what I struggle with most? This trip was amazing. Being so near the tigers was amazing. Having a tiger comfortable enough to snooze in my lap was by far one of the most phenomenal things I’ve ever experienced. I struggle because all of things were so very amazing to experience, and I’d love to do all of it all over again.

I also know that this practice is terrible. Morally I’m 100% opposed to animals in captivity being trained unnatural behaviour to do tricks for tourists. It makes me uncomfortable, and it’s not something I want to encourage.

However, the pull of all of the amazing is really really strong. I actively have to keep thinking that in a way it’s a kind of rape (forcing an animal into unnatural behaviours) to pull my feelings about that day into line with my moral values.

So, then….

Should you go to Tiger Temple? No.

I want to say no. Don’t go. Don’t buy into animal cruelty. But, I get that some people are a bit dubious and have different morals than me. This guy volunteered there, has a whole bunch of posts about it and came to a similar conclusion. If you go, he says be aware that your money is not supporting tiger conservation. The tigers, which are the stars of the show are practically working in a circus. It’s a tiger business.

Sad face.

How to help

Donate. Donate to WWF’s TX2 Tiger program. A program across 12 countries with an aim double the number of tigers in the wild. Apparently there as few as 3,000 wild tigers left in the world. Part of it is a lack of habitat, part of it because some cultures still believe that tiger products cure ills (they don’t), which creates a demand for poaching.

TX2 aims has six aims:

1. End demand for tiger parts, but educating consumers away from tiger products.
2. Reduce the means by which tigers are culled, through anti-poaching measure and the political scene.
3. To protect tiger habitat, to establish protected areas and corridors between them.
4. Encourage knowledge around research and monitoring techniques
5. Reduce conflict between people and tigers.
6. Increase political will, funding and commitment moving forward.

As far as I can tell from the research I’ve done, this seems to be the most efficient and forward thinking campaign for tigers at the moment.

So. I went. #72, done. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever had regret over completing something from The List. Sad face.

The List: Number 45 – Ride in a helicopter

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When Zee + I were talking about The List way last year, he laughed at number 45, and said that he’d much rather FLY a helicopter than just ride around in one. It seemed like a fair call, stepping it up and all that.

So, for his birthday I rather selfishly got him something that would help me with the list – I got us both helicopter lessons.

I won’t lie – I white knuckled the chair in front of me while Zee took his turn. 15 minutes of flying, up along the M1 for a bit, and then across to a little field to try the hover challenge. The thing about being in this helicopter was that it was domed – the glass went below the chair, and you could look straight down and see the ground, a few hundred feet below.

When it was my turn my heart was beating a million miles an hour. It was insane – the helicopter was such a bizarre machine. There was so much going on, peddles at your feet to change the way you rotated, the cyclic (basically a massive joystick) that was super sensitive, any slight movement and the helicopter was already going that way before you could register it was, and the collective, a handbrake like stick that controlled the up an down.

Every time we took a turn, my stomach lurched – it was such a bizarre feeling. Being in the air wasn’t so bad, though. You had time to react if it was going to fall out of the sky. The hover challenge (keeping the helicopter in one place without moving) was interesting, and much harder than I thought (the pilot said I did a better job than Zee, high five!) and novel all the same.

The worst bit was when I didn’t know where to hold. Once the pilot had taken back the controls and had swoooped to male a turn, I panicked when I didn’t know where to hold. I grappled at the door before I realised that was a bad idea, and held onto my legs instead. Awkwardly, though I hadn’t realised it, I’d OPENED THE DOOR while I was grappling. While we were flying. Miles up in the air.

I got such a fright when the pilot asked me to close it.

Still, I flew a helicopter! Very exciting. Zee even took a video of it:

Flying totally trumps riding in a helicopter. I’m calling this one done. High five!

The List: Number 102 – Be able to run 5k in one go, without stopping.

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I’m not a runner. I find it hard, and cumbersome and I have to force myself to go. I don’t have a great technique, and one guy once told me to stop ‘slapping’ my feet on the concrete, and just, running is HARD. However, running is also free. So I run as one of the things I do to feel less pudding like.

For years, I’ve been trying to run, with this magic 5k goal in mind. I vaguely remember trying to run back in New Zealand (in 2010) with Quinn. With the Couch 2 5k podcasts, but I never got past week two.

When I moved to London, I got all pudding like was determined that I’d beat the Heathrow Injection. Spoiler – didn’t really. I did start running regularly with the guys at work, which got me into some kind of habit. I knew I COULD run, which was helpful, even if was not especially graceful about it. I had a route, which was also helpful. And I had people to guilt me into going.

However, when I ran, I’d get to a few random points on the route and just… flake out and walk. I’d pick a landmark, a post, a box, a tree. And once there I’d start running again. Maybe I was running too fast? Perhaps I just lacked the will?

I mostly remember thinking about how hard running was. How my legs hurt, or my lungs or whatever.

I ran when I was training for Kili, and as part of rowing training. Which was hard, because it wasn’t just running, it was running and strength training and all of the things. Because rowing is hard, and you need to be fit to row. Still, I didn’t run like the others did. I never sprinted when our guy said sprint. I was too worried about rolling and ankle, or injury. The closer the climb got, the less running I did.

Fast forward to three months ago, and I started the new job, and I joined the running club. Running two or three times a week. At first we ran 3k, and we ran it slow, with much walking. And then we ran it slower, and ran all the way around. It was good, we got into a rhythm, and started the rule that if you couldn’t hold up your end of the conversation, you were running too fast.

We run around Southbank, across the bridges that span the Thames. It’s nice, pretty views of all the tourist things (Tower Bridge, the Shard, The London Eye, Westminster etc etc). A few weeks ago, instead of turning at Blackfriars, we ran on till Waterloo. We ran slow, and easy.

And surprise, I managed to run around the full 5k circuit. And then I did again a few days later. And then again this week, just to make sure.

It has been on The List for years. And each time I’ve come close, it just hasn’t happened. Now? Now that I know I can run 5k, I do. It’s a mental thing now, a matter of will.

It helps that I have a crew. A group of us who run regularly, and are all at the same level. We’re not flash, or fast, but high five, we can run 5k!

It’s ridiculous, because I know people run marathons. But running is fucking hard, it’s definitely not something that comes naturally, and I am ridiculously pleased with myself that I have finally, managed to run 5k, with no walking breaks.

High five!

The running club, after our first 5k run!

The route, care of run keeper. Ridiculously pleased with myself, did I say?

So yes, Number 102, done!

The List: Number 31 – Rock an African Safari

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This has been on The List since it’s inception. Let me tell you right now, it was phenomenal, but no where near as phenomenal in my head. For example, in my head I didn’t have secondary degree burns (complete with blisters) to my face. In my head I wasn’t exhausted or sore from climbing Kili. Literally, we got off the mountain, spent one night in Moshi and the next morning? Into jeeps, where we would spend the next three days, easily eight hours a day, baking in the sun.

You can see how that might affect a safari.

Still, it was fairly amazing. That first morning I climbed into the front of a jeep (we had such a big crew that we had 3 jeeps for all of us) and our driver, Steven, was awesome. He was big and cheery and well spoken. He laughed all the time, which made for an amusing safari. He also had keen eyes, and would point out all sorts of things we would have missed otherwise, like dung beetles pushing their little ball of poop down the road, about half the size of your fist (seriously, how did he spot that?). Once he realised that one of us was a bird enthusiast, he started pointing all of the birds, the gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous birds. So many that I stopped talking photos of all of them.

We drove through Tarangire + Ngorongoro Crater, and you wouldn’t have believed all the wildlife we saw. Lions, and elephants and zebra and warthogs and just, it was phenomenal. It was also a bit weird, because for most of it, it was just like watching cows in a field. The zebras graze, and the lions nap and the elephants wander as they please. They ignored you, just like they would in a zoo (apart from one elephant, who was determined she was going to cross the road where she wanted, and the cars could get out of the way). They got pretty close, and really didn’t worry about us at all. We weren’t allowed to go off the road, so we didn’t, but we also really didn’t have to.

The worst thing was that in the beginning, I was all ZOMG ELEPHANTS! OMFG THAT IS A BABY ELEPHANT! and then twenty minutes later, after hordes of them had crossed our path I was all, meh. More elephants. Which kind of blows my mind. By the end of the trip I was excited to see all the animals out in the wild, but it was a bit like at the end of long day at the zoo. You’re a bit tired, and really you just want to go home and nap. Still, reliving it through all the photos and telling people about woke up some of the excitement.

I was a bit worried in the beginning about how our presence would effect the animals lives. Would it change their behaviour? Would it be detrimental to them? Turns out, yes it changes their behaviour. They care very little about cars that drive past them. Also, if some of the bigger carnivores realised that cars were basically cans of sardines packed with soft fleshy unable to run very fast people, I think their behaviour would change even more. However, I don’t think it’s detrimental. As long as people stick to the roads (and safari operators are very careful to stick to the rules, else their permits are revoked) then I think its okay. We don’t leave anything behind us. Also, tourism like this helps bring in much needed funds to countries like Tanzania, and I think the bulk of the park fees go towards maintaining the reservations for the animals and keeping them as safe (as possible) from poachers. I was okay to be there in the end.

So then, how about a million photos of all the animals? These were all taken by me, off the back of the safari jeep. Aw yeah.


God, what a gorgeous place. It’s all dirt roads and dust and heat. There are ridiculous amounts of elephant here, a mammoth amount. I couldn’t even believe it. There are also the super annoying tsetse flies, the kind that bite. I spent forever covering myself in deet and banging shit around the back of the jeep trying to kill them.

This is the elephant I was talking about. Look how close she got to us!

The dung beetles. Apparently the male pushes the ball around, the the female just chills out.

These guys! What thieves! They hung out around the cars, and if a window was open, or a door unlocked they scavanged for food. I even saw one peer (with his paws around his eyes to block out the sun) through a front windscreen to see if there was anything in it!)

Tis an elephant skull. Massive, right?

Ngorongoro Crater
Was also a pretty phenomenal place. The view from the top was unbelievable. It was gorgeous! And offered such a range of different ecosystems. It was definitely a highlight. Also, there are designated eating places where you’re allowed to get out of the car. I thought they were fenced, but no way. You watch some lions napping, drive over a hill and have lunch by a lake filled with hippos. Madness. Even more mad was one of our cars got a flat, so everyone had to get out so they could jack it up and change it. We were all, wtf, where were those lions?! It was insane.

Watching the lions was incredible, though. They napped for a lot of it, but when they spied a warthog at a water hole, the started moving. It was a very slow business. A few steps here, and then a lie down. Watching, being very aware of their prey without appearing to care at all. Goodness. We watched about a half hour of very careful and slow stalking. I could have watched all day, but alas. There were other things to see!

What else can I say? The pictures pretty much speak for themselves. It was AWESOME.

So yes. Number 31, done!

Climbing Kilimanjaro

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This post (and a few others) have been a while in coming. It’s been a few weeks, and I’m still processing, and thinking and feeling all the things that I saw in Africa. In regards to Kili, I’m 100% sure we had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for. Oh sure, we knew we were climbing a mountain. A really rather large one at that, but knowing you’re going to climb a mountain is rather different from actually climbing it.

It’s a rather long post, but here it is in a nutshell:

I climbed Kili. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, took me 16 hours to get to the very top (Uhuru Peak from Kibo) and I was violently ill with AMS. Awesome. I was rather proud of myself, not for getting to the top, but because I learnt where my limits were and how to push past them. I’ve never pushed myself so far before. Also my motivations were laid out pretty damn clear. I did it, and I shook the fuck out of my flag at the top. Good for me.

Kili + the Saddle in the distance

Here’s the blow by blow version:

The first few days were long, (relatively) easy walks. We all set off in our fancy gear, all clean and shiny and expensive. Boots, gaiters and poles all new and ready for use. We were clean and happy and excited to get going – we were going to climb a mountain! There was puntastic jokes and laughing as we set off the 16 of us. It was all happy attitudes and a ‘go get em!’ kind of mentality. There was lush rainforest the first day, complete with monkeys and chameleons and blue skies. The second day gave way to moorlands, large gullies and rolling hills pretty quickly. In the morning we were walking under a bright, fairly brutal sun (we got some nice tan lines that day!) and by lunch? By lunch we were walking in clouds. It was fine, the walks had predominately uphill gradients with some nice flats. Five hours, maybe. Being dirty was still novel (and we weren’t really dirty). We were still using wet wipes rather discreetly and still really getting to know each other. It was still fun time jokes and singing Elvis tunes as we went. Playing cards and guessing games and gossiping about our lives back home.

At the lodge, all ready to set off.

At base, waiting for permission to get going.

Day 1 Camp – Mandara

Setting off, Day 2

Day 2 + 3 Camp – Horombo

Day four is where things got interesting. Where the reality really set in for me, and we got a taste of what the mountain really had to offer. We set off early, from Horombo (Camp #2) up to Kibo (Camp #3 the highest camp at 4700m). We were pretty cheery to begin with, but that was before the storm set in. It was cold and wet. The moorlands changed from stunted trees and shubbery and rolling hills into rocky wasteland as we crossed into the saddle. As far as you could see, flat rocky wasteland. We’d walk, more silent than usual, the rain and cold getting everyone a bit down. We passed a stream, the last water mark. All the water past here had to be carried up with you.

Around this point I got tingly fingers, thanks to the Diamox I was taking (for altitude sickness). The higher we went, the more difficult it became, and the more you had to will yourself through it. Despite the Diamox, I still got altitude sickness. Dizziness, pounding headaches, nausea. It was like the side effects listed in the small print of any drug you’ve ever read. It’s only 9k, but it’s a terrible 9k. All uphill with paths made of mud, and stones that crunch underfoot. Pretty uncomfortable going, and even worse was that it was cold and raining. I felt pretty horrid, but I’m pretty sure all of us did.

Lunch time. At the 0:55 mark I’m clearly feeling it. “Struggle city”- direct quote.

Looking up across the saddle. It’s a long way to walk.

After 8 hours of walking, arriving at Kibo was pretty disheartening. It was desolate. Snow everywhere, someone somewhere was cooking some foul smelling fish, which prompted gagging with all the nausea I felt. Dinner was early, and oh it was the feel of the camp that really got to me. We were all a bit apprehensive, all of us a bit tense, anticipating the climb. I can guarentee NONE of us had any idea what was coming next. We were woken at around 10pm, after maybe 4 hours of sleep. I was not ready to be awake, but mostly that’s because I barely slept. We dressed in the dark in all our cold weather gear. Headtorch on all ready to go. Ready to go climb a mountain.

I barely remember the first bit. We moved out all walking in a line, head torches bobbing up and down in the dark. All the way up I was nauseous, which was hard. There was pounding headaches, too. The beginning of the climb was about getting through, it was about taking a step and moving forward in the dark, trusting that you were making progress as we zig zagged slowly up a hill. I’m glad we couldn’t see where we were walking, or how far. It was literally about putting one foot in front of the other, minute after minute, hour after hour, just keep on moving ahead, watching all the little head torches bob their way up a mountain. At the half way point, maybe four hours in I was flagging. My head felt like it was in a vice and oh, all I wanted to do was sleep, or vomit. I wasn’t sure which. When we started moving again it was pretty clear I was holding up the crew, so I got my own guide – John. He and I went super super slow, poole poole. The rest of the crew waved goodbye and just like that it was me and John out in the wilderness by ourselves.

It was hard going, SUPER hard going. Each step was difficult, it’s own kind of torture as we zig zagged up the side of a mountain in the snow. Each step took my breath away and I had to stop. I often sat down, every ten minutes or so to rest. I’d yell down the mountain at my friend Matt, who I knew was also struggling with AMS. I wasn’t sure if he could hear me, but hoped that the encouragement was helpful all the same. It was good for me to have someone to encourage as I went. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, considering everyone else had left us behind what felt like years past. John kept up his gentle encouragement, calling me sister. One more step sister, you can do it sister, only a bit more to go sister. (That last one was a lie, because ‘a bit’ ended up being hours and hours). I got into a rhythm, and started repeating weird mantras (the one I remember most was “pole goes in *stabs snow with left pole* other pole goes in *stab snow with right pole*) – but there were many. Whatever got me moving and into a rhythm.

We were a few hours out from Gilmans Point before the sun came up over the clouds and oh. It was glorious. At first it turned the snow smokey blues with dusky grey shadows, moving into baby pinks with peach overtones and oh, it was gorgeous. It made climbing a smidgeon easier. It was a little bit shocking actually, to see how far we’d climbed. Kibo was a tiny dot so far down the hill. I couldn’t believe it, and was glad that I hadn’t been able to see how far we were to climb on the way up.

Kibo is just past the snow line in the middle. A tiny speck so small you can’t really make it out from here.

I was sitting on a rock when I looked up to see how far we had left and oh, I almost cried. We’d been climbing about 8 hours at this point and were so far from the top still. Gilmans Point is the first ‘top’ – it’s where the route reaches the kaldera. If you reach that point it’s acknowledged that you’ve climbed Kili. It’s not the very peak, but oh, getting there would have been good enough for me. Because oh, oh fuck, it was hard. It was torturous. Every step took everything I had. I was retching more often now, my head was pounding and I felt terrible. I’d take a step, force a second step that was really more of a lurch and then stop to breathe, like I’d just run up three flights of stairs in those two steps. It was insane. I was really quite miserable, I was nauseous and desperately wanted to vomit, as if that would ease how I felt, knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t and I’d be losing much needed liquid. As I came around every zig, I’d look up at the next zag and be filled with such despair at how much further there was to go, about how many more step and lurches I was going to have to make.

There was a wooden stick that you could see that marked where the trail ended, and fuck that fucking elusive stick. No matter how many steps I was taking, no matter how far I was moving forward that stick never looked like it was moving any closer. It was demoralising. It took everything I had to keep going. Pride mostly, I don’t think I could face the team if I had to turn around. They hadn’t passed me on their way down, so I knew I was going to keep going. Pride it turns out, is a pretty powerful motivator for me. I stopped looking at the stick. I stopped measuring progress and how far I was walking. It became about taking more steps, and less breaks. It was steep going, every step was uphill and a bit treacherous. When I finally rounded the corner and saw the sign I was shocked. I’d made it!

I cried at Gilmans. I was sore, I was sick and oh, all the things I’d emotionally and mentally pushed through to get there was overwhelming. I sat on a rock and just, felt all of the things. I couldn’t believe I’d made it and the thought of turning around to go back down all that way seemed impossible. It was just then that two of the boys from my crew walked back. I was so glad to see them, glad to see familiar faces, glad to see someone who was suffering just as much as me. We hugged, and took photos by the sign and congratulated all of us together on making it this far. It was pretty joyful, and I got a burst of energy. I asked them how far they’d gotten. 15 minutes, they said, before they had to turn around. Something sparked in me, and I thought I could probably walk another 15 minutes down the trail. If I went 5 minutes more I would have walked further than the boys. Turns out competition is also a pretty strong motivator for me. John saw the spark and said he thought I could do it (‘Sister, I think you can do it’ were his exact words), so I wished the boys a safe descent and off we went.

It was easier, the walk past Gilmans. More flats, some minor ups and minor downs, but mostly flat. After the steepness of the final ascent to Gilmans this felt like a walk in the park. I was still nauseous, and still had the headache, but the steps were easy on the flat. The sun was warm and the views of the glaciers above the clouds pretty phenomenal. That and I was walking further than the boys, despite taking longer to get to Gilmans.

When I got to the 20 minute mark I met two more of the crew coming the other way. I got my first good look at what worse AMS than mine looked like, which was pretty terrible to see. My friend was suffering and was focused on getting off the mountain, and only getting off the mountain. The other, a brilliant German with a ginger beard who is amazing hugged me. ‘Elly!’ he said ‘I never expected to see you here!’ and we grinned and we laughed and his enthusiasm and high fives gave me another burst of energy. And with that, me and John made it to Stella Point.

I sat for bit under the cliff, behind the sign. I was pleased that I’d made this far, further than some of the boys, further than many people. Some randoms sitting further down started chatting with me, they liked my flag, which I’d been wearing as a cape as I climbed. Sir Ed climbed Everest first, so surely mountain climbing was something ingrained into my countrymen, and it couldn’t hurt to have the comfort of my country behind me. Also, when my Dad donated, he said to shake the hell out of my flag at the top, and I’d done that. At Gilmans, and at Stella. Waved it around like I’d never waved anything before.

And just like that, I decided I was going to walk to Uhuru. That I’d come so far, that I’d walked five days, given so much, that whatever discomforts I was feeling, what was another few hours? I already felt horrid, but camp was hours away anyway. What was a few more hours? A few more steps? I was already at my limits, but I’d passed one line getting Gilmans, and another getting to Stella. Surely Uhuru could be the same, I just needed to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I could do that, couldn’t I?

So I hauled myself to my feet and off we went. The pace was slow, very poole poole. One foot, breathe breathe breathe. Lift your head to the sky and summon the energy to take another step. You move your other foot forward. You suck in another breath. And then another. And you will the other foot forward. It’s clumsy, and it’s slow, and it’s hard.

The walk to Stella was mostly flat with some little ups. Past Stella, oh, it was more up than flat. I came around the corner and saw how far up I’d have to go, and oh, I cried when I saw it. I was exhausted, completely spent, and the up was so demoralising. I was determined to get to the peak, I knew I was going to walk all those steps, but I despaired at how far left there was to go. Half way up, an hour, hour and a half after setting off from Stella the rest of the crew came around the corner on their way down. I cried. They cried. There were high fives, and in a flurry of emotion and movement and colour they were there, and then they were gone. The landscape was white, and felt much whiter after their departure.

They said I was so close, that I’d be able to see the sign around the next corner. They weren’t wrong, all filled with hope that the end was near, I climbed up the ridge and around the corner and oh sure, there it was, you could see the sign. A tiny tiny green dot against the horizon. I cried. There was a lot of crying, I was emotionally spent and couldn’t believe how far there was to go. Still, off we went. And maybe an hour, hour and a half later I was finding walking in a straight line hard. I was dizzy, and retching and my head was pulsing in a way I was sure was not normal. John took my arm, held me up and together we walked the rest of the way.

I made it to the top, to that sign. I cried. I shook the fuck out of my flag, and cheered, and thought about my Dad, and my family and friends and all the people I loved and adored. It was just me and John at the peak of the highest mountain in Africa. Just us two alone, above the clouds. And because I was standing higher than John, right then, for about a minute, I was highest person in Africa.

When we left, I left my flag up there, flapping away in the wind. John used his pocket knife to make it more secure. I hope it’s still there.

I don’t even want to think about the way down. I hadn’t trained for down, and after an hour of down my knees were ruined. I made it to Stella and fell over trying to sit down. I don’t remember getting to Gilmans, but at some point John had taken my arm and was holding me up. We descended past Gilmans by sliding down the scree, and oh, it was treacherous and scary (not helped by John telling me how a Jamaican man had died earlier in the week by falling and hitting his head). Hours and hours and hours we slid down, I was struggling to stay upright and oh, I was barely aware of my surroundings.

We stopped, I remember. And I watched some school kids from an international school try make the ascent to Gilmans. I laughed, because it was the most hilarious joke. These kids hardly had the right gear, and didn’t look like they had trained at all. They were all decked out in fashionable street gear, nice sunglasses and fancy jackets. These kids weren’t even half way up to Gilmans and had no idea what was in store for them. Kili had decimated me. Those poor children had no chance.

I don’t remember much about the way down. At the halfway cave there was someone who was on his way up who we met. He asked for advice, and I said just to keep going. One foot and then another. An hour or two out of camp the leader had sent up a group of porters to meet us, with extra water. They took my pack from John, and one porter tried to carry me but I freaked out. So two porters, one either side held me upright and I walked myself down back to camp.

There were high fives from all the guides when I got there. It had taken me 16 hours, from when I left kibo to when I got back. I was the last one back by miles and miles and miles. When I got in, the rest of my crew were sleeping, and oh, oh oh oh, having walked all through the night on little more than a few hours sleep, I was ready to lie down. Truth, I kicked off my boots and fell into bed and was instantly out.

I was woken an hour or so later. A single hour, that’s what I had. I opted not to eat dinner, hoping to sleep more but not even 20 minutes later we were packin and heading out, leaving Kibo and heading back to Horombo. I don’t remember this walk so much, either. There was lots of down, and I remember sharing snacks with John. Down was easier, and now that we were at a lower altitude I wasn’t so nauseous or ill, and was happy to start eating again. We took so long walking back across the saddle that it was dark, and they sent up porters with torches to help us down the last hour. I fell into bed completely ruined.

The next day was a run back to the base. I walked at the back with my friend Matt (who, sucks to be him, he couldn’t see anything). So here’s the thing. Not only was my body exhausted, my knees uncooperative, but because I’d spent so long descending the day before, my face got second degree burns, from the sun. Yes I had sunscreen on, and yes I was applying it throughout the day. I was out too long with the blue skies above and the snow below I had no chance. It was blistering, and shiny and oh god, it was my FACE. From cheeks to chin, and it was painful.

In saying that, I was pretty happy to get off the mountain. We walked slow and easy down from Horombo to Mandara. On the way we saw two Chameleons across the path (which I was SO EXCITED ABOUT). There were monkeys near Marangu (EVEN MORE EXCITEMENT!) and all in all, took us a few hours but we got there. Once we got to the road, they got us a Land Cruiser, and we made it back to base. Oh my days, I’d never been more happy to be off a mountain.

The first shower was awesome. Kicking off dirty clothes knowing I wouldn’t need to put them back on was phenomenal. I was glad to be off Kili.

So like I said in the short version. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself through, ever. For anything. I didn’t even know my body could keep going, but it did.

It wasn’t on The List, but I did it anyway. Climbed Kilimanjaro. The tallest mountain in Africa. The tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Climbed it. Done.

The List: Number 36 – Complete a Guitar-Hero song on Expert

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When I wrote out The List, way way back in 2009, it came about (if I’m honest) because I was heartbroken. I’d just been broken up with by the boy who I was sure was the love of my life. The One, with the big capital O. We weren’t perfect, but I’d committed myself and I was two feet, all in. When it all fell apart I used The List with all it’s things I could do to remind me how to live. Things that *I* could do that would be worth experiencing.

To prove that it didn’t have to be as serious as it sounds, I put some ridiculous things on the list. Stuff like yelling out ‘Bingo!’ in a Bingo hall or make chocolate frogs. I also put complete a guitar hero song on expert on there. This is a throw back to that boy. We used to play guitar hero, it was one of those things that wove itself in and out of our relationship as we were establishing ourselves and I can’t play now and not think back to him.

Back then it bugged me that he was better than I was, and that he could get five stars on expert. Which is why it went on The List, I suspect. Now? Now I have a ps3, and a host of games, and it doesn’t bug me. I’ve moved on, hallelujah! I still did it, out of reverence to The List, but I didn’t go all out. Bon Jovi, Livin’ on a Prayer, the first and easiest track on Guitar Hero: World Tour. On expert. Five Stars.

Number 36. Done.

The List: Number 16 – Visit the Greek Islands

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Visit the Greek Islands… I’ve definitely done this, but it wasn’t the experience I was thinking of when I added it to The List. In my head, I imagined wandering along little cobblestone alleyways amongst a sea of white, gleaming buildings with cute little blue domes and arches over every doorway. I thought I’d be eating loads of olives, and enjoying epic vistas.

And while there was epic views, and I did eat a few olives (often accompanied by a stupid amount of feta), it’s not like what I thought. Perhaps that’s what you get, when you’re in more touristy spot like Fira, on Santorini.

While I’d love to see Santorini, I haven’t yet. But what I did see was just as gorgeous, I’m sure. I sailed around the Dodecanese Islands, a group of 160ish small little islands in the Aegean Sea (26 of them are inhabited, which was handy). While I know Patmos was gorgeous from the top (oh, the views were breathtaking!), mostly sailing around these little islands, they all looked very brown and dusty. They didn’t have an awful lot of sandy beaches (though we did mange to find some to bbq on), and generally only the inhabited islands had any kind of lush greenery.

Still, every time we sailed into a marina, the ‘greek island’ feel took over. My favourites were the little little tiny places, practically little fishing villages, like in Vathys, or Leros. Places that were extraordinarily cute, with gorgeous views, and cute little boats lined up in the marina, and fun on-the-beach restaurants. The people were fun, always happy to help. Some of the locals I met were always so pleased when I tried to use what little Greek I knew.

Still, I went, and it was brilliant. Our route:

A ridiculous amount of fun. The islands looked like this:

So yes. Lovely, no? There’s another Greece post coming where I talk about what we did, and there are photos that have people in them. But for this, Visit the Greek Islands, I think I can say Number 16 is done! Woo!

The List: Number 52 – Drive a Convertible with the Top Down

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It’s cooler than I thought it would be, driving a z4 with the top down along the little country lanes out in Somerset.

Number 52 – Drive a convertible with the top down. from Elly Rarg on Vimeo.

But it I did it! 52, done!

PS – Slight caveat, even more novel because I haven’t driven in two years. In London, no one really drives because we have such a rocking public transport system, and having a car in London would not be super smart. So yay! Driving!