This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Luxurious Europa 2 Cruises Ship

“You are the chosen one,” said Ulf Wolter, the fair-haired captain, ofEuropa 2 cruise ship. He was pointing at me. “Return here to the bridge at 6pm tomorrow night just before we set sail and I’ll show you what to do”.

That was an enticing offer, especially on a ship as stylish as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises‘ newest offering. Having a tour of the bridge is one thing, every passenger can have one, but pressing the captain’s klaxon is quite another. In the meantime though, I had a medium-sized luxury ship to explore.

This was a four-night cruise, sailing from Lisbon to Lanzarote, calling at Morocco’s Casablanca and Agadir with a day at sea. It was hardly any time at all, but enough to sometimes forget that I was on a liner. The bright décor, open spaces and easy decorum reminded me of times I had spent in luxury five star hotels.

This ship, probably the most expensive liner around, is not the largest – at most it will carry 500 passengers – but it offers a huge amount of space. Their motto is “luxury is being able to waste space” and the space often show-cases works of art and paintings by acclaimed artists such Damien Hirst and Hockney.

And there’s no need for room envy on this all-suite, all-balcony liner. There are eight grades and even the smallest room is a hefty 28m2/301ft2 (the size of a studio flat). There’s plenty of room for a huge double bed, lots of wardrobe space, a living area with a sofa, as well as a desk and tablet, flat panel TV and a mirror TV in the bathroom.

Mine was the spa room defined by a whirlpool and Jacuzzi and its own sauna-cum-shower in the ensuite. The largest suites are a humungous 100m2/1066ft2 (as much space as a small house) with spa bathrooms that are larger than some double bedrooms – these are so luxurious they won’t give out the price to idle enquirers.

Though drinks are not included in the fare, there is a Nespresso machine and a free mini bar with various spirits, beers and soft drinks. Oh, and a welcome pack comprising fruit and bottle of Champagne.

Feeling as effervescent as the bubbly nectar I was now liberating into a flute, I took time to savour the moment on my veranda on the first night as we set sail from Lisbon. I soon settled on the cushioned sunbed, sipping and watching the twinkling city lights until they finally popped out of view.

In communal areas floor-ceiling windows let in lashing of light on all floors, with glass lifts to maintain the flow of light. The wide open reception area is particularly attractive decked in bright white, with comfy seating, and a small bar with a piano whose melodic tinkerings were good to hear even when just passing through.

The ship has a gym and spa, of course, and a pool surrounded by wooden decks where slumber comes easy on oversized sunbeds. From there stairs lead to the 10th floor and to a communal Jacuzzi – the centre point of a most peaceful segment of the ship.

That’s where I spent one morning when everyone else had disembarked to visit Agadir (I had been before). I sat there relaxing in the bubbling water warmed the midday sun, so serene and all I wanted to do was sleep off the lethargy in one of the cushioned pods dotted around the deck.

This is a German ship, with unfamiliar sounds of German conversations in the ether. In social areas, such as taking tea at the Belvedere, drinks and nibbles at the Sansibar (a partly alfresco bar on deck 8) or cocktail parties around the pool I found myself, sometimes comically, engaging other cruisers with smiles and body language.

At night, entertainment comprised acrobatics, dance and music, but if the entertainment was a show with a lot of chatter, I was better off tapping toes at the Jazz Club with my favourite tipple.

Though I don’t sprechen Deutsch, it wasn’t a problem service-wise. Staff are multi-lingual and this is important because this year Hapag Lloyd Cruises want to reach out to the English speaking world.

Lunchtime, for me, was best enjoyed at the Yacht Club where a waitress/buffet combo and alfresco tables on the terrace appealed.

For non-meat eaters there’s Weltmeere with its large vegetarian options and Sakura sushi restaurant which I liked so much that I joined the sushi making class on sea day. Though what I ended up with looked nothing like what I had been served at Sakura, it was a fun and a brilliant way to encourage camaraderie with other cruisers.

There are other ways to spend time, including a large screen golf simulator, lectures, wine and whiskey tastings and yoga lessons.

It’s good form to dress for dinner, and that fateful night, I’d made a special effort and headed for the bridge for my special pre-dinner role.

“You are just in time” acknowledged the captain. “You will be pressing the horn three times at five second intervals. Don’t worry, I will signal you in”.

It was simple enough, intensely satisfying and though it was all over quickly it was meaningful. After-all, I was signalling the departure from one port and beckoning in a whole new adventure, starting with a pre-dinner cocktail and ending with a day in Casablanca the next day.

Getting on board:

Cruise only fare from £3,140 per person.

Cruise-only fares include: accommodation in the category booked; full board on the ship; mini-bar in the suite; a different entertainment programme each day; port fees; and gratuities. Plus an onboard beverage credit of Euros 150 per person.

Places Experience the Northern Lights in Autumn

When most people think of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), they imagine frozen lakes and several feet of snow. But, believe it or not, there’s a better time to go and hunt that once in a lifetime experience – autumn.

Why Northern Lights in Autumn?

For a start, it’s usually much warmer than the deep artic winter, so you won’t normally have to get kitted out in snowsuits or ski-gear. There is a chance of some snow and it’s not going to be tropical, but jeans and a heavy jacket will usually do the trick – maybe with a thermal vest underneath if things get a little chillier.

Most importantly for the avid Aurora Borealis hunter is that the snow clouds have not yet gathered in earnest and so the skies are much clearer. Cloud cover is the enemy, so the better the weather the better your chances of a sighting.

The lights are at their most frequent in late autumn, but the later you go the more the risk your hike will turn into a snowshoe trek so it’s your call.

September 21st is the start of the season so any time after that and you should be in with a good shot.

While September, October and November can produce Auroras to match any of the deep winter months there are no guarantees any time of year.

The longer you stay and the more time you set aside the higher the chance you’ll see one or more displays. We’re also currently in the liveliest phase of the eleven-year solar cycle so now is the time to seek out this fickle phenomenon.

As well as the lights, there are a wealth of other things to see that are unique to the autumn months. While in winter some wildlife are still up and about, there are so many more that are active in autumn. It’s a particularly good time for bird watching as it’s the migratory season.

The autumn colours in the forests provide an unbelievable backdrop to see the lights, as the contrast between the amber tones of the trees and green of the Aurora is simply mystical, all made more intense by the depth of the darkness that surrounds it.

Where to see the Northern Lights?

As the name suggests, you’ll need to head north to catch a glimpse of the Lights’ ethereal show but beyond that it’s up to you as there various options to choose from.

Norway

Norway is definitely a northern lights hotspot, particularly the town of Tromsø, which teems with Aurora Borealis activity when those long summer days end and autumn makes its appearance. It sits above the Arctic Circle, but is astonishingly easy to get to – less than a two-hour flight from Oslo. The town also boasts a planetarium for some more sky-based fun, and the world’s most northerly brewery for something a little more corporeal.

Finland

Finland is a firm favourite for Aurora hunters, and probably the first place that comes to most people’s minds when they start planning their trip. For a full-on Aurora experience, head to Luosto in Northern Finland to the Aurora Chalet where you’ll be given an “Aurora Alarm” which beeps once Northern Lights appear – but don’t worry, they usually don’t go off after 1am so you’ll still get some sleep! For something a bit more activity-based, head for Lake Inari, Finland’s third largest lake for spectacular hiking and camping. One of the really special things you’ll experience here in autumn is the lights being reflected in the vast lake that would be frozen solid in winter, giving you the incredible sensation of being surrounded by this magical effervescent light.

Canada

If you fancy heading further afield and your budget can stretch a bit, Canada is a great option, although the best lights are at the very end of autumn and into winter so it will be colder. The Yukon is one of the world’s great wildernesses and the town of Whitehorse is a prime viewing spot. If you decide to head out into the vast wilderness, make sure to take a guide who knows the areas, and to let someone know where you’re going and roughly what time you should be back – safety first!

Tips for seeing the Northern Lights

Make sure to get as far away from manmade light as possible, as this will dramatically reduce how well you can see the show.

Put the camera down. Too many people spend time trying to secure the perfect photo of the lights, but to get a really great photo you’ll need specialist equipment and a lot of precious time. Sure, try and get a few snaps for the album, but don’t just see the show through the lens of a camera, put it down and look up – the memories of this incredible experience will last much longer than a photo anyway.

Don’t mock the lights! Legend has it that if you point at, wave at or mock the Aurora, it’s bad luck – some say it will even come down to take you. The lights are ancient and so surrounded by myth and legend; maybe do some research into them for some great pre-trip reading to get you in the mood.

Visit The Lanzarote

Lanzarote‘s year round clement climate is the primary draw for most visitors to the island. Even in the depths of a northern European winter, the temperature rarely falls below 21°C. Add in over ninety great beaches and an abundance of high quality hotels and holiday villas and Lanzarote has all the right ingredients for the perfect beach holiday.

But this speck of Spain off the coast of Africa has more to offer than just bucket and spades alone. Thanks to the influence of the Lanzarote-born artist and architect Cesar Manrique, this little island is packed with a series of unique tourist attractions that are well worth a visit. Whatever the weather.

Timanfaya Volcano Park

The Volcano Park at Timanfaya is Lanzarote’s number one tourist attraction. Drawing nearly I million visitors last year alone. And it’s little wonder as the landscape here is literally out of this world.

This eerie and haunting terrain was created by the world’s longest ever volcanic eruption, which lasted six years from 1730 to 1736. The eruption buried, what was once the most fertile farm land on the island, under a sea of lava.

Today the scene has not changed much. The vista is populated by exhausted volcanic cones, weird, twisted lava shapes and a surprisingly wide range of earthy and organic colours and tones.

Visitors to the Volcano Park are treated to a coach tour through this surreal landscape accompanied by a commentary recording the diaries of the local priest of Yaiza, who witnessed these terrifying eruptions.

The tour culminates at an incredible restaurant – The Devil’s Diner – where food is cooked over the heat of a volcano and where guests can enjoy panoramic views of the Volcano Park.

Jameos Del Agua

Lanzarote has many star attractions. But this collapsed, 6km long lava tube, located in the north of the island close to Punta Mujeres, often tops the bill for most tourists.

The Jameos Del Agua’s popularity is attributable to the fact that this incredible natural space has been further enhanced by Cesar Manrique. He, with the help of fellow architects Luis Morales and Jesus Soto, transformed it into a stunning subterranean auditorium.

Tropical gardens, bars and a restaurant surround an underground lagoon. The atmosphere is hushed and cathedral like. Blind albino crabs – unique to Lanzarote – glisten in the water like jewels.

Visitors emerge from this underground area and encounter a dream-like swimming pool that is so opulent that it is reserved for the sole and exclusive use of the King of Spain.

Behind the pool lies a concert hall – formed from volcanic rock – with incredible acoustics. This has provided a stunning backdrop for many classical and avant garde concerts since it was first built in 1987.

The Jameos Del Agua was declared the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Hollywood legend Rita Heyworth when she visited as a guest of Manrique. And it continues to wow visitors today.

The Cactus Garden

The Cactus Garden in Guatiza is a celebration of the plant world’s spiniest species orchestrated to perfection once again by the ubiquitous Cesar Manrique.

The site here was formerly a quarry but today it is home to over 1,000 different species of cacti all artfully arranged in terraces around this bowl shaped amphitheatre-like space.

Visitors are initially greeted by a giant, eight metre high, green, metallic sculpture of a cacti, spikes and all. This stands sentinel-like over the car park and main entrance.

This cacti motif is repeated everywhere: on door handles, in the big wrought iron front gates and in slightly more abstract forms such as in the beautiful glass ball sculpture that adorns a sinuous spiral staircase in the stylish bar beneath the restored Gofio mill, at the rear of the garden.

The Cactus Garden is a plant lovers paradise. It is located in the heart of what was once Lanzarote’s cactus country. This plant was originally grown by islanders in order to attract the cochineal beetle, which was in turn dried and crushed and used as a natural dye-stuff.

Cesar Manrique Foundation

This incredible house, built by Cesar Manrique into five volcanic bubbles, never fails to blow visitors away.

This ingenious feat of architecture was one of Manrique’s first creations on Lanzarote and was designed to illustrate just what could be achieved. Many thought Manrique was crazy for believing that Lanzarote could be transformed into a tourist paradise.

But by the end of 1968, when this creation was complete, they were forced to think again when the building won numerous international architectural awards. The rich and famous visited in droves – curious to find out more about this suddenly fashionable new destination.

One celebrity visitor – the actor Omar Sharif – was so impressed that he immediately commissioned Cesar to build him a similar style of holiday home. Manrique found the perfect site just up the road in Nazaret, and transformed an old quarry into the most incredible private residence.

But Sharif soon after lost the property in a high stakes game of bridge and left the island in a fit of pique. Never to return.

Mirador Del Rio

Whilst Manrique was very much a child of the 60’s he was no hippy preferring a natural high. This philosophy is best epitomised by his transformation of a former naval gun battery in the North of the island into the most breathtaking look out point – or Mirador – on Lanzarote.

The Mirador Del Rio sits at one of the highest points on the island – some 479 metres. And affords the most incredible views down and across to the neighbouring island of La Graciosa – just one thousand metres away across the El Rio Strait and the uninhabited islets of Montana Clara and Alegranza.

Originally, Manrique planned to create a restaurant here. The curvaceous windows of the Mirador are very similar to those he later utilised when transforming the basement of the Castillo de San Jose in Arrecife into one of the most impressive dining rooms on the island.

But today, whilst it’s still possible to buy snacks and drinks at the Mirador, it doesn’t house the grand restaurant that Manrique initially envisaged. The space is instead dedicated to framing the fantastic view.

Things To Know Before A Vacation To Ho Chi Minh City

1. Flooding

Ho Chi Minh City is not immune to flooding. I went to Saigon in June, during the rainy season, and although it only rained once during my stay, the downpour was heavy enough to cause a bit of flooding. Luckily, a mall was nearby so I stayed there until the rain stopped and the floodwaters subsided.

2. Transportation

It is easy to blow your budget on transportation costs. I made the mistake of hiring a cyclo (a three-wheel bicycle taxi), and was charged 300,000 VND for my city tour.  I was not scammed because I agreed on the price but we only went to 4 sights, which were fairly close to one another. Walking or taking a taxi would have been a better alternative.

3. Currency confusion

The currency in Vietnam is the dong. However different Vietnamese dong notes look similar and one can easily get confused. I was giving a tip to a massage therapist and was meant to give her 60,000 VND but handed her 540,000 VND instead. The girl realized my mistake and handed me back the 500,000 note, which I promptly replaced with a 20,000 note after thanking her profusely.

4. Taxi scams exist

A taxi from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the backpackers’ area in District 1 costs around 6 to 10 USD but I paid 20 USD.  The meter was on but I believe the driver took the longer route. It wasn’t until I chatted with my hostel’s receptionist when I realized that I’d been ripped off.

5. Vendors can be aggressive

I shopped for souvenirs at the Ben Thanh day and night markets and I noticed that vendors are pushy, rude, impatient, and even aggressive. If you are not interested in what they are selling, it is best to take a deep breath and just ignore them.

6. Not all hotels have lifts

When booking a room in Ho Chi Minh City, always ask if there’s a lift available. If there’s none, ask for a room on one of the lower floors to save yourself from having to carry your bags up several narrow flights of stairs.

7. Massages and pedicures are super cheap in Saigon

During my last night in Saigon, I was walking around Bui Vien Street when a young woman handed me a calling card and told me to visit their spa if I wanted to have a massage or a pedicure. I paid less than 10 USD for a full body massage and a pedicure in a clean and well-appointed environment.

8. Vietnamese iced coffee is really good

Never leave Saigon without trying ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee. I ordered a glass at a roadside eatery and it proved to be sweet, refreshing, and definitely a highlight.

9. There’s life beyond Districts 1 and 3

It would have been great to spend an hour or two in Chinatown in District 5, or have dinner at a riverside restaurant in District 7.

10. Three days is not long enough when visiting Ho Chi Minh City

As my time in Saigon was limited, I skipped the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels Tour. Shame.

Exotic Winter Sun Breaks From The UK

1. South Africa: Johannesburg and Cape Town

The passing of the late Nelson Mandela has put the world’s focus on one of South Africa’s major cities – Johannesburg. Also known as Jo’burg or Jozi, the big city vibe is discernible. Life is fast-paced and buzzes with cafes, theatres and a burgeoning art scene especially in the cultural districts of Newtown and Braamfontein. Indeed what was once a no-go zone is now a sought destination by tourists who enjoy its a stunning skyscape.

Since South Africa has hosted the world cup in 2010 the city and the nearby township of Soweto, Mandela’s birthplace have been regenerated. This is where the Apartheid Museum and the Old Fort Prison complex that held Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela captive can be seen.

From here, it’s just a short domestic flight to South Africa’s mother city, Cape Town – possibly the most beautiful in the land. To see it all take a trip to the top of Table Mountain – named so because a flat layer of cloud unfurls over its top) and from their choose your favourite beach. An hour’s drive away is the winelands grown out of fertile valleys and producing the famous wines of Stellenbosch.

2. Dubai

It was once a fishing village, but today Dubai artfully crafts its world-wide reputation as playground in the sun. With so many shopping centres and high rise hotels it may be easy to forget that this is the Middle East.

This means you won’t see any debouched night clubs, Las Vegas style shows or casinos (gambling is illegal even though Dubai famously hosts the world’s must lucrative race horse). But you will see sensational architecture. One example is the seven-star hotel, Burj El Arab that overlooks reclaimed land that has been fashioned into sensational palm tree shapes. The Beckhams reportedly have a home here.

In August 2016 the city became home to the largest theme park in the world. They are expecting over four million visitors over the year. Every day it can host up to 30,000 adventures and offer several zones over 1.5 million square feet: Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure, Cartoon Network, Marvel, and IMG Boulevard. Incidentally, the haunted house is said to be so frightening that children under 15 years old are not alllowed in.

The brilliant skylines shows off modern and Moorish architecture, modern shopping malls galore – one with its own ski resort – and away from all this there is still the souq where you can haggle for something oriental. Weather here is extremely hot and the best time to visit is from November to March.

3. Delhi

India, a country of a billion people, is not for the faint-hearted but Delhi, home to 25 million, is a good place to ease you into what is a uniquely shocking culture, of in-your-face friendliness and tenacious touting. In the centre, in New Delhi, there are monuments that speak of the Day of the Raj such as The Parliament house a circular colonnaded building that houses ministerial offices and India Gate an Arc-de-Triomphe look-alike memorial to British soldiers designed by Edwin Lytyens. Elsewhere, in Old Delhi are narrow lanes and sensational mosques that reflect Islamic India.

Some shoppers may find the noisy, chaotic bazaars exciting places to shop and haggle yet elsewhere there are mega malls. It is impossible to ignore the Red Fort, a sandstone fortress surrounded by an 18ft wall which founded Shah Jahan in 1648.

From here it’s just a train journey to Agra to see the great Taj Mahal.

4. Sydney

It’s about fun in the sun right now down under and affluent Sydney as a good place as any to be. It is on Australia’s south-east coast on the Tasman sea with a well-recognised shimmering harbour and an iconic opera house. And that’s without considering made-for-surfing beaches such as Bondi and Manly, the lively night life, shopping and myriad of festivals and galleries.

The city is built on hills around Sydney harbour and further in is the metropolitan area dotted with several national parks as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens. Life is outdoors and sporty and you could be tempted to jog, surf or cycle with the locals as they go about their daily routines.

5. Barbados

When it comes to going on winter holiday we could do worse than follow Sir Cliff Richard’s lead to Barbados because for winter sun, this tiny island is a classic. The hurricane season ends in November after which the island is showered in sunshine for 10 whole hours a day.

The island certainly has everything you would expect of a tropical paradise – coconut trees, humming birds, a rain forest, blue coral-reefed seas and miles of sandy beaches.

Bridgetown, the capital, is also the bustling commercial centre of the Island. Everywhere there are signs of the country’s heritage as a former British colony and also its passion for Cricket – Barbados’ national sport.

6. Cancun

This remote corner of Yucatan has quite the party reputation. Between the Caribbean sea and the lagoon are many all-inclusive hotels shimmering along the 15-mile strip of Zona Hotelera. It is the place to enjoy tacos while soaking up the rays and perhaps later moving to the salsa rythms. But when you are all partyied out, it’s easy to make your way down to visit the fascinating Mayan world of Chichén Itzá for the day.

Climbing Gunung Merapi Southeast Asia

Every now and then life pulls the rug from under your feet and leaves you lying on your back – this sibling-esque prank is often referred to as a ‘reality check’. Dangling off the side of Merapi with one hand on a fern root and the other on the arm of Khalid was my mine. I had taken too lightly to climbing the most active volcano in Southeast Asia, and when the path I was walking on suddenly gave way, it turned out to be a mentally draining, yet emotionally rewarding challenge.

Known to locals as Fire Mountain, Gunung Merapi sits on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. There have been regular eruptions since 1548, with the most recent in 2010 where 30 people died.

Our walk was to start at 4:30am, under night at Desa Deles, the ranger’s hut at 1,300 metres. By 10am that day I’d be up 2,930 metres high on the summit of Merapi.

The smell of sulfur was in the air, and our torches pierced through a feint haze that slid up the cliffside, our visibility was low and we had to mind shrub, after fern when making our way up the gentle incline.

Our three Javanese guides were trekking without torchlight, one was even in sandals, they used the moon and the stars to guide them.

When the sun rose the air felt cold and we had our first rest break. Looking back down our path we could see the vast settlement that bowed down by the foot of Merapi. It’s hard to believe that so many people still choose to live there, but locals have their reasons; ideal farming soil and religious beliefs. Many believe that the previous eruptions are a result of spirits being angered by not receiving gifts, which they offer them at the summit annually.

The sun rise rays was flowing through the trees and the hike was about to get harder, as the gentle slalom route suddenly inclined along the cliff face.

We had to wrestle with branches, and grab what we could to pull ourselves higher. We’d sometimes encounter clearings in the jungle where we could peer out, always seeing Merapi to our left.

The group of 15 people was now dwindling, as experienced hikers thought they had met their match. Even the hike leader, German Carl had suspiciously caught a chesty cough when the path started to get steeper around 2,000 metres up. In the end five of us remained, with the guide in sandals who had now fashioned a ragged towel into a head scarf that made him look like Little Bo Peep.

Those that remained were determined to conquer Merapi whether our blisters bled, our water ran out or Bo Peep lost his sandals. The steep incline under thick forest meant that we would gain altitude at a faster pace, and gradually the hills, and rice paddys below shrunk and cold streams of air came and went as we entered different air pockets. We found ourselves alone on the side of the mountain, no sign of Indonesian settlements in the distance, or anybody on the mountain top.

The ash was becoming difficult to grip with my shoes, and I found myself bouldering, up vines and branches just to follow the path. It was then that I misplaced my foot and the side of the path that I was on collapsed. Dangling off a cliff face isn’t like they show it in the Mission Impossible films; I wasn’t coolly gripping the edge of the cliff with my fingers, nor was I suspended up in mid-air like a character from Looney Toons, instead I was holding onto a fern root for dear life as Khalid grabbed my arm and yanked me back up.

Shortly after our stop at around 2,500 metres (10:30 am), we reached the dusty, dead plain of Devil’s Bazaar. This is where the locals gather every year to place their offerings to calm the spirits of Merapi. The volcano has erupted every 5 – 10 years without fail, yet the locals still make the treacherous climb to hopefully bring peace between themselves and the mountain.

With every step a rock would tumble down and ash would be kicked up into our shoes and mouth. We passed weather stations that looked like they hadn’t been touched since the Seventies, and yellowing shrubs trying to survive as we continued our walk through what felt like the world’s most depressing desert getaway. We were now face-to-face with the clouds that wrapped around our ankles and passed along the cliff tops.

The head of Merapi stood above us and the surrounding wasteland with the white haze of sulfur circling it like a halo, we had reached the final stretch.

With smoke rising from the peak we began our ascent. The remaining point was like an old pub fireplace covered in ash and dust which covered our faces as we tried to scramble up the cliffside on all fours.

It was slippery. Every step we took we fell two steps down. Even Bo Peep in sandals seemed to tire, as more dust kicked up into our faces and the wind blew the clouds and ash into our sides. But I had to see the top, and so I pushed up the cliff face, hopping from rock to rock.

Standing on the shoulder of a giant, when I broke through the clouds I was surrounded by a deep blue and the air felt clearer. Finally I had reached the summit. I clambered up to the peak, which was an uneven rock around the width of a boardwalk and surrounded by a 200 metre crater drop which was covered by eery sulfurous fumes that seemed to escape from every rock crack. I was an ant on a pen nib, anxiously looking around, watching my step. The others joined me, and we waited a while in silence as the clouds sifted through our hair, and the monster of Merapi quietly slept.

We had to get down before nightfall, and luckily our guide knew a few tricks to get us down safely and quickly, no helicopter or ski lift. With our feet we skied down the side of the mountain, kicking up dust and dislodging rocks.

It was a huge challenge, but the summit will reward you in its own special way.