La Manga Mayhem

This blog has been written due to a multitude of requests, badgering and lots of “aww come on Bels” “you have to do a La Manga blog”. This one certainly is not of my own making. I usually like the term “what happens in La Manga stays in La Manga” This is my third year of attending the CityPink annual bank holiday trip to La Manga club in Murcia Spain.

Each year CityPink, a city based female only networking group take a bunch of mature, respectable business focused city slickers for a weekend of sport and fun in the sun. My blogs are normally around the 500-1000 word mark – this one I just don’t know where to start, but I think I can sum it up in ten words and one number.

“29 women, tennis, golf, fun in the sun, cocktails and carnage”

 

Let’s start with the sensible stuff…

La Manga Club is an exclusive award-winning holiday, sports and leisure resort located in a privileged setting bordered by natural parks and unspoilt beaches, offering luxury, leisure and sport.

The sports facilities are world-class in nature and world class in guest lists. The England football team train here as their sunshine getaway. David Haye plays tennis here every year and the resort is frequently visited by other top named sports stars.

This year Kenny Dalgleish, Alan Hansen, the Swedish ladies football team (that was a Spa afternoon to remember) and CityPink elite athletes graced the hallowed golfing turf and clay version wimbledon-esque tennis academy.

La Manga TA

The staff, hotel and facilities are 5* in luxury and service. I would say 5000* especially my gorgeous little tennis coach ‘Jose’ he has the patience of a saint!! My tennis weekend started off eager and focused, I even posted on Instagram “This years all about the tennis” Laugh out loud!

Beginning of the weekend……

“Ooooh Keeeelllllyyyy, wait for the ball Kelllyyyy why you no behind the base liiiinnnneeee, seeeee whhhaaattaaaa happens when you wait for the baaalllll, yooouuuuu plaaaayyy ddaaaa shhhhoottssss – leeeesssaaaa ddaaaa power Kelllyyyyy – have a da focus, and consistency”…. (Said in best Spanish/Scottish accent)!!!

End of the weekend…..

“Ooooohahhhhhhh Keeeellllyyyyy, why you no mooovvaaa your feet today? tooooo much of the alcohol, yes?”

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My feet moved sharpish off the court to make it for a visit to the chunder bus… yes Jose’ way too much alcohol.

Chunder buses to shuttle buses.

This is definitely a down side to the La Manga resort there are not enough shuttle buses and you are forever waiting for one to get around the resort.

Entering the shuttle bus is, like entering a time machine. Hours upon hours can be lost in those shuttle buses. Especially between the hours of 2am and 5am. Rumour has it that the shuttle buses end at 2am – not true though eh girls? some of us can get “home” on the shuttle bus at 4.30am – what happens on the shuttle bus – stays on the shuttle bus!!

Not sure my nickname for the weekend is at all appropriate now “Shuttlebus Kels Bels” 

Nicknames were given for a team ‘Golf’ afternoon – well, I call it Golf, it was actually 18 holes of pitch and putt. (With Cava at the 9th hole – fatal on every level)!!! It started with my best party buddy Anita – we are known to be a bit of a double act. She was our golf captain for the afternoon as she’s now a golf pro expert. “Anita Palasteros” This year she gave up tennis for golf lessons. She made one lesson I think. Champagne breakfasts were far more appealing.
Champagne Breakfast

Anyway, led by “Captain Palasteros” Golf pro extraordinaire we arrived to collect our golf stuff! By the way, our outfits also rocked! Barbie’s was the best. Nothing new there then… Although watch out Barbs… Zoe is giving you a run for your money!

Pal pipes up at the golf hut “Bels why do we all need 2 sticks each?” “Errrrrrrrr Pitch & Putt Pal” one for pitch and one for putt. Good job we attend the City Pink tennis tournament each year and not the golf one!!!

However, we did not know that actually on our team, we had a real Golf Pro of our very own “CHARLOTTE 007 MOORE” (there’s another blog, another time, to explain why Charlotte’s name is in bold). Now aptly named 003!

Team tennis golfers were born. Captain Palasteros, Barbie, Shuttle Bus Bels and Charlotte 003 Moore. Drunk by the 11th hole we all needed the toilet – Pal went first, me next but I got the wrong ‘toilet block’ one foot in the door, all I can hear is 003 SCREAMING across the ‘fairway’ “BELS that’s not the toilet block – that’s somebody’s villa” oooppppssss…

Headlines in the Sun: Small, blonde, female, city slicker arrested for breaking and entering in 5* professional sports resort.

Pal, then gets locked in the actual toilet and I’m dancing on the fairway. The ‘round’ ended with Saibh running at me on the 18th “My fecking family is in the pond” (said in best Irish accent). Child one fell in, the wife went to the rescue – fell in, child two went on to ‘rescue’ mum and brother. Sensible family member stayed on the fairway and laughed.

Golf

If Carlsberg did Golf days…… 

From dancing on the fairways to dancing in the Piano Bar…. Now I’m well known to hijack bands at weddings, parties and generally any given night out (It’s why I am no longer invited) but this year I had a partner in crime – yup you guessed it Palasteros. Carnage at every turn.

After this weekend, the Piano Bar at La Manga will never be the same again. We had dancing, singing, tambourine, and some of the best chat up lines you will have ever heard in your whole life… “Fheeellll MA Lhheggsss” (said in the best drunken Scottish accent) and “Fhheeell MA Lubes” from Kim. To normal, sensible people in the world, Lubes actually means Glutes and we all know you meant feel your muscles really Kim. Highlight of the weekend…….

Feel Ma Legs

With every blog and travel adventures there are always 5 tips from the now wise. Here is mine for City Pink’s La Manga weekend:

  1. Watch the shuttle bus after 2am – taxi might be best.
  2. If you are intending to get into bed next to your wife naked after multiple vodka & tonics, tequila, champagne, red & white wine, then spending half the night on the bathroom floor chundering – then TAKE OFF your lipstick for the morning after!! It is not a good look ANNA!!
  3. Go to bed early if you are an elite athlete. Chundering on the tennis court is not dignified!
  4. Do not drink alcohol at the 9th playing serious Golf. People may drown in 1ft of gunge and be arrested for breaking and entering.
  5. Stay ALERT at every City Pink event – next time…. It could be you….. 

Here’s to being “DEMURE” at La Manga 18’ only 360 days to go. If Carlsberg did weekends………

Best photo on Facebook….

The end

Adios Amigos, Hasta la proxima vez!!!!!

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Homeward Bound – Hiking The West Highland Way

“Perhaps when one has come over a mountain pass, and is hungry, happy, beaten, and sad, and finally humbled, and lonely, perhaps then sunshine is enough!!”

Homeward Bound

Why not give this blog the title, It’s deserved? Scotland the land of “Freedom” beauty and tranquility. Or West Highland Way – the stunning long distance footpath of Scotland.
The West Highland Way (WHW), is 98 miles in length and no-nonsense in nature. And although only taking five days to complete the WHW. The build up to this has been quite substantial. My journey started a long time ago and has covered way more than 98 miles and five days.
Homeward bound is a significant title for my blog. I left ‘home’ 24 years ago to follow my heart, my dreams and to be with the love of my life to travel the first 392 miles of this journey (told you it was more than 98).
As a young, mischievous 16-year-old everyone thought I would “get it out my system” have a gap year and be home within the year. My friend Mandy thought I was insane – in fact at one point I think she said “I don’t know what you are f**in thinking” (or words to that effect). Ha ha ha…  Here I am now going “home” 24 years later with the same rucksack I left with. The timing of this adventure is quite a milestone.
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My WHW blog has a three-way parallel theme running, the actual hike on the West Highland Way, the physical exertion of the hike, (having not trained at all for this) the best and worst bits of hiking the WHW. A story of hunting and being hunted, and elements of a famous song. Big prizes for anyone guessing the song theme throughout this blog.
But first, a *WARNING* apparently I have been known to make people laugh, cry and bring them on the journey through my adventure stories. Therefore I thought I better write a warning up front.
*Anyone that’s a softly feely sensitive type, prone to feeling sorry for people in physical pain or suffer irrational bouts of crying during weepy moments may want to stop reading here. Anyone that loves reading about spirit, mental toughness and resilience then keep reading.
🎤 Welcome to your life… There’s no turning back! (First giveaway on the song front)  This works for all my parallels. Hiking – you can’t turn back,  have to just do it! (JFDI). Once you are on the WHW you are on it. There’s no going back, there’s no getting off & there’s definitely no “I’ll give this a wee try” sometimes it feels like the road to nowhere!
I’m doing the WHW with my best friend Joanne. Jo LOVES Scotland she begged me to do this adventure with her, she’s done the WHW before, but, backwards, that’s right people into the howling wind and rain (Jo equally likes a big challenge) and wants to do it the right way round this time – thank the Lord!
Bestie
Milngavie to Rowandrennan.
Twelve miles in and I’ve lost my will to live. My bodies hurting already and I can’t quieten my mind down. “This hurts, I’m in pain, not going to make this. Conic Hill to go today and I can’t even walk the WHW trail let alone another 86 miles.
Any fellow adventurers not breaking up this part of the journey better be prepared to try to mentally switch off! I was bored rigid and mentally destroyed. There’s not much beauty to see here, nor much pleasure. If going from A-B and hunting down the miles is your thing, then this section is fine. If you want to enjoy the journey then break this section up with an overnight stay at Drymen.
Drymen to Balmaha 
This reminded me of my youth days undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh. Miles and miles of hills, hills and more hills. Be prepared for Conic Hill. It’s a tough climb of eight miles up and down the hill. The weather can catch you out very quickly. We went from freezing cold, howling wind & rain to getting sunburnt.
Be prepared for all seasons. The eight mile climb up and down Conic Hill completely busted my body! Literally feel like I’ve been in a car crash. This pain may be intolerable mentally & physically*
*WARNING* DO NOT do the WHW over 4/5 days if you are A) New to Hiking B) Have not trained – HARD! C) playing at being on the run to relieve the boredom. There is a classic book – “How not to walk the WHW” – I’d say just dinnae bather (don’t bother)!
🎤 It’s my own design, It’s my own remorse, help me to decide, help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever! (BIG song clue)
Balmaha – Rowandrennan
Arrived at Rowandrennan (29 miles – 68,937 steps) broken, shredded, starving and just generally busted!! (Jo’s half cocked homemade tuna pasta was disgusting and had to be thrown out, we’ve survived on protein bars and tablet!) I struggled to make it 300 yards after our snack stop and had to rest on a bench watching the sun come down. (Jo captured the Kodak moment perfectly) still had 7 miles to go to our first checkpoint! It’s also important to note here we were doing 3-4mph and only had 2 rest stops in 10hrs. Nutters!!
Loch Lomond
Made into our bunk house for the night. Funniest part was Jo checking if I was still alive in the shower. I’d been in there ages. I finally confessed later in the journey I was sitting on the floor in the shower crying like a baby and then couldn’t physically get up as there was nothing to grab on to and my legs wouldn’t function. Ha ha ha ha….. Comforting moments, future WHW adventurers?
I’ve been on quite a journey since I left Dundee back in October 1992. I love the open road, I love travelling and ultimately, it’s been an incredible journey. Lots of pleasure and happiness, and lots of pain and mistakes. Everyone’s life’s like that, right?
Recently I’ve been left wondering, what if I hadn’t left Dundee my choices and journey would have been so different. Doing the WHW is part of understanding all I’ve missed about the beauty of my homeland and to rid myself of the “what if” demons.
Rowandrennan – Crianlarich. 
Absolutely THE best part of the WHW. Even when you’re in physical agony. The views, solitude, air flow and aura of this part of the walk is incredible. It touches every sense in you. You can feel it, smell it, touch it, see it and breathe it. I can’t describe it anymore. I doubt my pictures will do it little justice either. If any fellow adventurers want to just pick a section of the WHW – this simply HAS to be it. Breathtaking!
Loch Lomond
As we made it in good time to Inversnaid, we decided to have a wee boat trip to Tarbet and come off the “beaten track” and chill for a wee while. On the boat we passed honeymoon island. It’s a lovely wee island in the middle of Loch Lomond, legend has it gypsies of the past left newlyweds there with a little to survive the first weeks of their marriage. They say if you can survive there together, then the marriage will last forever.
This is a tough day for me generally in the annual calendar and I wasn’t sure how I’d manage this with the physical exertion on top. I had to stop at one moment on a tree trunk as the area was so peaceful and just ‘have a moment’ I said to Jo – “I’ve just let it all go” Jo cried – I cried, we hugged it out, coughed, laughed at being pathetic and off we went.
Moment
Five minutes later we were caught in an almighty storm! Howling wind, rain, sleet and freezing cold! We were amazed as 5 mins earlier, we were sitting on a tree trunk chilling in the sun! Storms in Scotland literally come out of nowhere. Or storms of the past were now being swept away? Who knows?
Storm
🎤 “There’s a room where the light won’t find you – Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down – When they do I’ll be right behind you – so glad we’ve almost made it, so sad they had to fade it. All for freedom and for pleasure, Nothing ever lasts forever……. (Big song clue)
There’s a classic saying “it’s better to have loved & lost than never loved at all” that’s nonsense. I hate that saying. The classic book by Dr Brian Weiss actually proves “Only Love Is Real”
Happy Birthday J – maybe 12 years gone, but never forgotten.
Crianlarich – Tyndrum
I love Tyndrum, it has elements of beauty, serenity and culture. I enjoyed stopping off at the Lochan of the lost sword. According to history this spot was where Robert the Bruce and his army threw their weapons into this small Lochan. This included Bruce’s sword Claymore. Local legend suggests it’s here to this day!
I lay down in a quiet spot this afternoon and listened to the birds singing and the river flowing. This level of serenity will heal all your aches & pains. Recuperation at its finest!
Chilling
Recuperation to reluctance. 
The ominously named Devil’s Staircase is probably the most legendary, part of the WHW! The Devil’s Staircase was initially given its name by the soldiers who were part of the road building programme of General Wade. The carrying of building materials up that stretch of the road was not popular!
For the workers at Kinlochleven the journey proved to be more difficult than many realised. The journey back was even worse as unsteady legs meant that many were unable to manage the return trip and, on a cold winter’s night, the devil often ”claimed his own“. The devil had claimed his ‘own’ in me long before I reached the devils staircase on this journey. My spirit was shredded by Drymen.
However, in saying that I would like to mountain bike the Devils staircase. The 5 miles and 550m decent would be EPIC!!!! Somebody should also build a zip wire at the top all the way to Kinlochleven. Now that would be fun!
Devil's staircase
The best and worst bits of The West Highland Way. 
The best bits…. 
1. Reaching Fort William……!!!!! The END!!! If you have enough energy to do Cows Hill Trail then definitely do it. The views of Ben Nevis & Fort William are spectacular. You also get to meet the Highland Hairy Coos….. At the bottom of the trail is the Wishstone you’ve to hop around it 3 times – do you think hobble counts & my wish will come true?? Trust me, push yourself up one more hill and walk 3.5 miles more. It’s worth it!
2. The mental & physical challenge is fantastic – it will undoubtedly make you see your future in a different light. They say a lot of people only do the WHW way once “no shit Sherlock” once is more than enough!
3. There is a wee White House between Rowandrennan and Inversnaid with home-made snacks outside – this is the best homemade tablet in the world.
4. The views, solitude and serenity. Freedom!!
5. The great start to my WHW journey, dinner and a catch up with my Vietnam to Cambodia friends. Moira, Jim, Carolyn and Linda. So lovely see them. And….. Carolyn’s message half way through….. This lady definitely knows when to say the right things to lift and get the best out of me. In Cambodia on a dusty red dirt track, (read that blog) and here in our homeland of Scotland. This lady is one in a million, one of the worlds best and I’m proud to have her as a friend.
Highland Coo
And the worst…. 
 1. When you are on it, you are on it. There’s no getting off this journey. Miles & miles and miles of just walking. 98.5 miles and 262,640 steps to be exact! The grimness of it during certain stages can be soul destroying. Hiking the WHW requires a deep commitment. A lesson for me, I now know I can deeply commit. Often the most important lessons are learnt during the toughest of times!!
2. Misconception. Everybody (including me) thinks the WHW is a stroll. It soon teaches you. This is a tough hike.
3. My broken body, destroyed spirit and a right calf in bits!
4. Certain points you’re not sure where you are, where you’re going or why you’re doing this? I kept asking Joanne “Where are we now?”
5. Milngavie to Drymen. Hated this stretch!
For all my best and worst bits, I wouldn’t change doing the WHW for a million quid (I wouldn’t do it again either for a million quid) it was sunny when we started and sunny when we finished. Never a truer sign that even in your darkest days the sun will shine again.
“Perhaps when one has come over a mountain pass, and is hungry, happy, beaten, and sad, and finally humbled, and lonely, perhaps then, sunshine is enough!!”
And if all else fails……. There’s always Prosecco!! Cheers!!
Prosecco
🎤 All for freedom and for pleasure, Nothing ever lasts forever. Everybody wants to rule the world!!! Tears For Fears.
Alba gu bràth Scotland!! 
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 “The moment we decide to begin the journey to cross Great Plains of uncertainty is the moment we become pioneers”

Neih Hou Shanghai..

Trade my trip to Shanghai for anywhere else in the world? Not for all the tea in China. Shanghai an eclectic mix of 21st Century living and historic traditional culture. The most populous city in the world, Shanghai is a city of architectural beauty. A city filled with wonderful hearts and beautiful minds to create such architectural beauty.
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Shanghai’s literal meaning is “upon-the-sea” Shanghai grew in importance in the 19th century due to trade and recognition of its favourable trade and economic potential. Shanghai has been described as the “showpiece” of the booming economy of mainland China and renowned for its historical buildings and beauty of said buildings along the Bund, City of God Temple and Yu Garden.
Like my recent visit to Hong Kong, my visit to Shanghai was of a business nature and whilst I don’t normally write blogs on business trips, I again felt compelled to write about my visit to Shanghai.
My days were spent sharing time with students at East China Normal University. Having spent time observing their lessons and personal time chatting to the students I have no doubt the group I spent time with will continue the trend of exceptional education to support Shanghai’s continued growth in favourable trade and economic dominance.
ecnu
I had two favourite lessons, my first one was Lulu’s delivery of Economics and Business. Naturally had to be my favourite given I am Scottish and a business woman at heart. (A love of money and power).
Anyone who locks me in a room and uses lollipops to make money and create “demand” is a winner in my book. Let’s just say Lulu’s delivery of style and grace was not only amusing and engaging, but boy did she make a decent amount of Yuan Ren in 5 minutes flat! A teacher of Shanghai’s future economic dominance. I was in awe of her delivery style. Now for a qualified stockbroker it’s no mean feat to capture my praise in the field of economics – this lady is definitely “one to watch”!!
Lulu
My second favourite was that of Wen’s Quantum Physics lesson. This lesson captured me from an emotional well-being contextual. Wen spoke of the theory of positive and negative energies and he used nature and low energies of atoms to do so.
We spoke at length (more dominated by the class) how the atmosphere and physics can effect our mental wellbeing how we always feel better when perhaps we are near water. Mr Wen really brought “Physics to life” for me and so it seemed the rest of the room (all non physicists) we were all deeply engaged in how physics effects our everyday life.
I suspect deep in his heart Wen was perhaps a little frustrated by the rooms ‘hijacking’ of his lesson, but he handled it like the perfect gentleman and fantastic teacher he is by completely indulging his students. It was a pleasure to observe his lesson.
ECNU is a cultural experience in itself. Such a beautiful university and fantastic students to boot… Really enjoyed my time at ECNU.
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Back to Shanghai…… 
I had limited time in Shanghai, but I tried to cram in as much as possible during my visit, for all you travellers out there passing through or visiting Shanghai here’s my top tips and must do’s….
Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall & Gardens. 
This little park in the middle of the concrete jungle of Shanghai could so easily be mistaken as somewhere to relax and have a cup of Jasmine tea with its pretty waterway and architectural bridges.

In actual fact, it’s one of the most cultural sites in Shanghai. It is a memorial and museum for the 17th century scholar Xu Guangqi. Xu Guangqi is a Ming Dynasty Chinese politician, scholar and lay catholic leader. Xu Quangqi was worried about the ability of his country to defend itself, especially with the threat of invasion from the Manchus. 

Xu Guangqi wrote a book on military techniques and strategies. He put forward the concept of a “Rich country and strong army”. The museum is a fascinating experience, and his Tomb one of honour and beauty. You only have to stop and watch Chinese tourists on how they act around this Tomb to appreciate it.
Make sure you seek out this little bit of cultural experience and not simply ‘stumble’ upon it in your midst of the concrete jungle of downtown Shanghai. If you get the chance to see the local saxophone player, make sure you stop and listen. He’s fantastic!
The Bund
A magnificent light show and stunning buildings. Whilst the Bund didn’t quite “grab” me quite like the harbour in Hong Kong, it’s still a must see. A friend commented on one of photos saying one of the boats looked like it was made of gold. The graphical light show is immense and a real highlight of Shanghai.
Bund
Shanghai City God Temple. 
My favourite of all the things to do in Shanghai. Dedicated to God Cheng Huang Qin Yubo (1295-1373) during his time as a Mongol Yuan Dynasty. After he died the Emperor made him the City God of Shanghai to keep the people safe, healthy and wealthy. There’s no more to say, only experience. Just go…..
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Yu Yuan Gardens & Yuan old town. 
I loved Yu gardens!!!!! When I sent these images to a friend, she gushed “oh my, it’s so romantic” It doesn’t look like it can be possibly real!!!!! The sheer detail and architectural design are phenomenal” “simply amazing”…….. I think this description from a photo says it all. To experience it is indescribable.
My initial reaction to Shanghai as ‘romantic’ was to laugh out loud. But in fairness, in among the skyscrapers, bustling traffic, a population of more than 24 million people. This part is as romantic and as beautiful as it comes. Forget Rome, Venice and St Lucia beach. Shanghai could well be a honeymoon destination of architectural beauty, exquisite hotels, exceptional customer experience, culture and history.
Granted, not much here on this blog for my usual Intrepid Adventurers, but as confessed in my Hong Kong blog, I‘ve been on a cultural adventure so far in 2017. Don’t worry fellow adventurers….. I will be back…..
Shanghai in itself is an extreme experience. Getting on and off the metro is more enthralling and as extreme as a red bull weekend. It’s more heart raising than jumping 50ft off a rock face in Weymouth or abseiling 80ft in North Wales. (And more scary!!!!)
There is plenty cycling, walking and water based activities in Shanghai. Trip advisor can show you the best. The highlights for extreme enthusiasts are a couple of hours trip outside the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s everything from Rock Climbing to White Water Rafting. I would definitely try the Rock Climbing in Hangzhou. Masterhand Rock Climbing Club arrange trips.
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Would I swap my visit to Shanghai for anywhere else in the world?
Not for all the tea in China……
chinese-tea

Hong Kong More than skyscrapers & spectacular views.

When I took myself to the front of the boat, in a private area of solitude, was when I truly savoured the magnificence of Hong Kong, the deeper spiritual feeling it gave me.

Granted, I normally write about ‘Intrepid Adventures” and my last few blogs have been more cityscape or cultural expeditions. Maybe I am maturing hey? no more hair raising crazy adventures!! Nah, will never happen.

My visit to Hong Kong was on business, and whilst I travel for business, I never normally write about the countries I have visited. But – Hong Kong fast became much, much more than a business trip. It became a deep and pure love affair. Hong Kong is definitely in my top three places to live in the world.

Let me tell you about this love affair, Hong Kong is much more than skyscrapers and spectacular views. The Hong Kong Tourism Board describes the city as “a kaleidoscope of life, a sophisticated fusion of East and West, a city of diversity where new and old meet at every turn.”  It’s a pretty decent description to be fair.

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Genuinely excited by my time in Hong Kong and knowing I had no time to waste due to working during the day, I done one of the fastest check-in, bag dump, clothing change and out the door in history. Seven minutes from arriving at the hotel to being checked in, changed and out on foot exploring – there it is people, an intrepid adventure in itself!! Maybe I should write to the Guiness book of records to see if I win for fastest exploring turn around – Usain Bolt eat your heart out.

Always one to love the history and ‘real’ aspect of any country I had done my research and was ready to head off the beaten track. Much to family & friends horror and messages of “be careful” – “don’t eat anything funny” – “don’t hook up with local gangs” bloody hell I’m in Hong Kong not Mexico and I’m not Stacey Dooley investigates.

Back to Hong Kong…

Hong Kong was once a fishing village tucked away in the Guangdong province until British merchants moved in and set up shop in the 1700s. The place to start my exploring absolutely had to be a fishing village. Off to Victoria Harbour to find a boat, I arrived at Pier 9 and took a boat to the Tai Sheung fishing village a divine mixture of sophisticated seafood restaurants and traditional shanty houses owned by the fisherman. A classic example of where new and old meet at every turn. Really didn’t have enough time here and will be back!

 

The boat ride was where I truly fell in love with Hong Kong. Yes of course, everyone must savour the bright lights, tall skyscrapers and incredible views. It is a magnificent sight, and one I am sure you would never be bored of viewing. But, being an adventurer at heart (not touristy) I deeply sought something else in this mini adventure with limited time.

A friend once sent me an image via Instagram with a caption of “THAT’S YOU”… It said “She had a gypsy soul and a warrior spirit. She made no apologies for her wild heart. She left normal and regular to explore the outskirts of magical and extraordinary”.

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The boat trip around Hong Kong bay was different to my normal experiences and maybe this won’t happen to everyone in Hong Kong, but when I took myself to the front of the boat, in a private area of solitude, was when I could truly savour the magnificence Hong Kong, deeper spiritual feeling it gave me.

Hazy skies nearing dusk, it was just me, my thoughts and waves of the water against the boat. The mountains in the distance, the bright lights, hustle and bustle in the distance, but feeling a billion miles away. It’s actually a feeling I can’t describe, but their in that beauty and sensation, my love affair with Hong Kong began.

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I done all the other usual touristy stuff Hong Kong has to offer, but the perfection in it for me was spending time with my dear colleague and host Catherine.

Now very much my “lou jau gei”  – my dear friend. Catherine knows all the best restaurants, places to go, and stories to tell. Immediately upon meeting at the office, we fast became friends, or what I called kindred spirits.

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On the first day we tackled a gigantic ferocious lobster for dinner (ok, slight exaggeration here) rewrote our whole strategy becoming pioneers of education and business in Hong Kong, laughed at my childlike passion for Chinese floating boats and shared endless chat about spiritualism, meditation, adventure, travel and Buddhism.

 

Catherine studied in Scotland so at least understands a bit of Scot and I now understand a bit of Cantonese “ach aye lou jau gei” surprised we didn’t get sectioned by anyone listening.

Catherine predicts I will move to Hong Kong within the year, and meet the love of my life. I’m currently balking – but in saying that, with 1.8m residents in 80sqm in Hong Kong Bay and 2.6m in 50sqm in Kowloon I might stand a chance here in Hong Kong. She also predicts I will get a £3m HKD business contract and live there forever. Right now I’d be happy with a visa! Very bold predictions!! Maybe we should lay off drinking so much Jasmine tea. Watch this space….

I will definitely return within the year to fulfil the intrepid adventures I so desperately wanted to, but ran out of time. Here is my 10 do’s and dont’s of any visit to Hong Kong:

  1. Visit my lou jau gei Catherine K at our business premises (28F 1063 Kings Rd, Hong Kong) beg her to join you for lunch, savour her wonderful company and stories about Hong Kong, spiritualism, meditation, Buddhism, books and travel. She will also tell you all the best places to go in Hong Kong!! But don’t ask for directions (she’s rubbish at geography!! 🙂 Number one DO!!!
  2. Take the Star Ferry Pier 7 to Tsim Sha Tsui at night. It will cost you approx 30p but will be the richest experience you’ll ever have (PS This isn’t the boat I took to Tai Sheung). Another classic example of old meets new.

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3. Visit Tian Tan Bhudda. (Big Buddha). A great spiritual experience.

4. Get on a “ding ding” and bask in the glory of downtown Hong Kong.

5. Shopping – designer clothes heaven!

6. Temple Street night market. Don’t go when it’s too hot – very humid! Do eat in an authentic restaurant (if you’re brave enough) doesn’t matter what you eat – just make sure it’s cooked and not raw and you’ll be fine!

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Want to get off the beaten track? These are the must do’s for outdoor adventurers.

7. “Off the beaten track” hike Dragons Back. Views are spectacular over Hong Kong Island and China Sea.

8. Hike and Bike in Tai Mei Tuk & Plover Cove. Bike ride can also start from Tai Wai adding an extra 20km of cycling. Then hike up into the mountains on foot and seek out the hidden waterfalls. You’ll hardly believe you’re in Hong Kong. If you fancy a trek with more undulation, you can hike to the remoteness of Pat Sin Leng and explore some more.

9. Sai Kung wild beach adventure. White sandy beaches, mountains, waterfalls, rock formations and speedboat adventures. This Island has it all. Trip Advisor says it is the “crown jewel of rural Hong Kong” A MUST SEE & DO!!

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10. 8 hour kayaking adventure & snorkelling. Visiting Long Ke Wan & Pak Lap Wan beach.

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Dont’s:

  1. Don’t do any guided tours. Go explore yourself, Hong Kong is one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world! Transportation is easy… walk, run, hike, ding ding, metro, bus, taxi and ferry. EASY!! Savour every moment.
  2. NEVER EVER LEAVE!! That’s is all….

ngóh gwaajyuh néih “MHGOI” Hong Kong (I miss you, THANK YOU Hong Kong)!!

“The moment we decide to begin the journey to cross Great Plains of uncertainty is the moment we become pioneers”

 

Vietnam – Cambodia Cycle

People ask why “Intrepid Adventures”? I always struggle to answer, but now I know why. It’s not life changing its life enhancing! Vietnam – Cambodia was life changing!!

Vietnam to Cambodia Bike challenge. 

8.30am Heathrow 17th of October 2015. I am here for the journey to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam with a stop via Singapore. Why? I am flying to Vietnam to take on a cycling challenge in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care. I wanted a challenge – one that would push me out of my comfort zone, test me to my limits. Body, spirit and mind.

I was met at Heathrow by a multitude of smiley and friendly people who were to be my new team mates for the next twelve days. The room was filled with an air of excitement if not tinged with apprehension of things to come!

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh “scooter” City. 8 million residents in Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon renamed in 1976 the year of my birth, maybe that’s why I’ve felt such an affinity with Vietnam) and 5 million scooter/moped owners which felt they were all on the road at the same time. Weaving, beeping and tooting their way through the city. Many Vietnamese versions of evil kennevil’s on mopeds! They carried everything from children, TVs to chickens and ducks sometimes a family of four to one small moped! Wow!!

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Bags quickly dumped and we were whisked off to lunch at a local restaurant for noodles with chopsticks and a well deserved bottle of Saigon Red. Post lunch off we trotted to meet our bikes and there I met my trusted steed who I named “Albert Cannondale” he was to be tasked with seeing me safely to Angkor Wat, Cambodia 545km later and 8 days biking together – GOOD LUCK on that one Albert!

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Dinner & then finally bed!! My only regret in Ho Chi Minh was not hiring a scooter and joining the locals for a “beep beep” session. But Kelly on a Vespa with sleep deprivation is a little more than the locals could handle I think at this stage!

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City to Tra Vinh. 50km.

5.30am alarm *OUCH* Cannot even begin to explain the level of sleep deprivation, jet lag and time zone challenge. Thank god for – EXCITEMENT. Yup, it’s the first day me and Albert hit the roads.

First, it’s a visit to the Vietnamese Chu Chi war tunnels where the Vietnamese Guerrillas hid from the Americans during the war. I was truly inspired by the lengths these people went to, to protect their city and country with their hand-made weapons and traps. 

Tunnels of 300km long with a whole other world underground, so far underneath the American bombs could not even get close to beating the intelligence and animal instinct survival power the Vietnamese had.

They had kitchens, houses, schools, a hospital! Simply everything they needed to survive. Now let me put this in perspective, I am 4ft 11 1/2″ (don’t forget my half) and I had to crouch to walk through these tunnels, some of the Vietnamese people lived in these tunnels for more than 30 years. Truly incredible.

How can I sum this up: The Vietnamese during the war, defeated the Americans by living and breathing a classic quote from the famous Bryce Courtenay book – The Power of One. “First with the head then the heart”

 For all the bravado, money and arrogance of the Americans they were defeated by sheer intelligence and heart. A heart the Vietnamese had for their precious and simply stunning land.

Enough with the history and back to the biking… Albert and I then hit the road for a 50km bike ride to Tra Vinh for our first overnight stop. It took a wee while for us to gel, but after a few seat adjustments Albert and I were ready to travel the world (well Vietnam to Cambodia maybe). 

Day 2: 75km. Tra Vinh – Can Tho 75km.

Yup, you guessed it 5.30am alarm. 75km to cover in the heat and humidity. 88 degrees when we set off after breakfast at 7am covered head to foot in sun cream and mozzie spray. (This was a better smell than the ones to come later in the week – trust me!)

Back on the bikes heading for Can Tho via the Mekong river. The Theme of the day was certainly peeing and the conversations had resorted to states of toilets and colour of pee. Yep, our team Macmillan had bonded!

Highlights of this day was at a water stop at a Vietnamese monastery where we met a local mum and her son who came to visit. The saddest part of the trip was not to purchase anything from the children or give them sweets or money. (We were advised not to do so) I cannot tell you how hard it was not to give this wee Vietnamese lad one of our chocolate bars. With every heartfelt aching bone in my body seeing his wee face as we ate and drank ripped my heart out.

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As we went to leave I turned around to see one of our local guides giving him a tiny packet of biscuits and he was leaping and cheering like my kids would Xmas morning. So day 4 and I’m thinking my biggest challenge is handling my emotions, not sudocreaming my nether regions.

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Day 3: Floating Market & 80km Cycle to Long Xuyen

Started with a visit to the “floating market” at 7am. As we headed down the river I was in awe at the “riverside homes” and it made me cast my mind back to when we went sailing the gulf coast of Mexico in Florida last year and the comparison of the “waterside homes”. Not going to try to put this into words as a “picture paints a thousand words” Worlds apart!!

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As we reached the floating market, we joined all the other boats selling their produce. Everything from fresh fish to coconuts and coffee. What a way to do your weekly shop. Fabulous! My highlight was a wee boy selling us bunches of bananas for a $1 a piece. Such was his sales patter with the ladies he’d sold out in a minute. A Vietnamese entrepreneur of the future if I ever saw one.

Back to Albert for another 80km heading to Long Xuyen through the Vietnamese countryside and villages. My favourite day of the whole trip. What a sight that was, if I have memories until the day I die I will remember this afternoon. Words, pictures, videos, a recount will never do it any kind of justice.

The best bits started when we had to stop at the side of the road for a friend in need, Trish was suffering from dehydration (not a best bit, a friend in need obviously). Pretty far away from the Doc (aka Helen) with Trish feeling dizzy in steps Dr Jock (aka me) we managed to find Trish some shade and got some fluid in her with magic hydration tablets. (Thanks to Oundle fitness and your donation – they saved the day)! We were quickly joined by Rachael and James suffering the same feat.

We found we had actually stopped at the side of a Vietnamese family home who were so welcoming to allow us to sit on their cool porch. The children were brilliant and wanted to pose for photos, again a picture paints a thousand words so I have attached it here.

My new little ‘friend’ Wan found his new vocation in life – looking after hot and bothered English females. Here Wan is seen “fanning” Rachael down with his mother’s hat. Maybe we have the wrong idea here – let’s drop the biking and go for more “Wan fanning”

Back on the bike, we cycled through all the Vietnamese countryside villages and so many bridges we lost count Leanne and I tried for 13km and counted 27!! The sound of “BRIDGE” warning your teammates of the next one will ring like a wonderful bell in my ears forever. We were joined that afternoon by Lisa and Anita (aka Patsy and Edina Ab Fab Nam & Cam style). What a scream!! Never laughed so much ever……..

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Every corner and umpteenth bridge brought a new sights, visions, and welcomes so warm. Hellooooooos beyond thousands that I could not begin to count. Smiles as wide as the Mersey tunnel.

We cycled past schools, through markets, children playing in the river, adults chilling on hammocks. Sights I am sure I will treasure until the day I die. Today brought a new meaning to “life” Vietnamese style, one of which I’m proud to have encountered and no words or photos here will ever do it justice. It truly was one to see, feel, taste, smell and experience.

I never knew what heaven was until today – a reflection of the villages, a cold wet buff and a hammock! I went to bed with a sense of calm I have never experienced and all I could think was how can I bottle this and take it home.

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Day 4: Long Xuyen to Chau Doc. 95km.

Yes, it’s THE BIG one and now you have the idea 5.30am start! 95km, 90 degrees+ and 94% humidity with a 3km hill climb to end. Cannot put into words how tough this day was, no amount of training would have prepared you. But that’s why we take on challenges!! I suffered heat stroke, sun stroke and felt pretty sick most of the day. Where was my “fanning Wan” when I needed him? However, I had the next best thing, I had “nurse” Amanda. Without Amanda and her iced buff showers at each stop and encouraging words from team mates I could not have managed this day.

I have played and coached many football teams and been involved in team sport my whole life. I have had the pleasure of working within and leading high performing teams at a senior level in business but never have I encountered a team spirit, camaraderie and resilience as I have here in “Team Macmillan” when I say Team Macmillan I also include our Discover Adventure team and Vietnam/Cambodian cycle crews – we were all #teammacmillan here in Vietnam – Cambodia.

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People ask why “Intrepid Adventures”? I always struggle to answer, but now I know why. It’s not life changing, its life enhancing!

I made the 95km but a night of sickness ensued and the Doc was called, which we initially thought was sunstroke but very quickly turned into a gastro bug. Yuk! I’ve never felt so ill. BUT I’m keeping it real – it’s nothing to what our cancer patients go through and after all that’s exactly what “Team Macmillan” are here for.

Day 5: Cambodian border crossing & Killing Fields visit. 50km. Chau Doc – Phnom Penh.

Border crossing and first day in Cambodia passed me by in a wave of sickness. However, at one of the water stops (Kelly sickness stops) at a Buddhist Monastery the main monk man asked why I was lying in the van. I pointed to my stomach and the van driver explained I was sick. He said something in Cambodian and waved his hands about which apparently meant he was healing my tummy.

I wasn’t convinced after a lunchtime full of projectile vomiting, but by the afternoon I started to feel a teeny bit more human! So who knows….. Healing monks or was it the sheer horror of the afternoon at the Genocide killing fields made my gastro problems seem insignificant?

I’m struggling to put into words how inhumane the Pol Pot Khmer regime was during his reign of power. A population of 9 million Cambodians and he mass murdered 3 million innocent people all because they were intellectual.

But actually, how did he know how intellectual 7 & 8 year old children were going to be? The answer is he didn’t. He was a psychopath of the very evil kind. He mass murdered and tortured 1 in 3 of his own people purely for his own pleasure. May all the men, women and children rest in peace.

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Day 6: 75km stretch from Phnom Penh to Kam Pong Chhnang

The day started at Tuon Sol jail where 20,000 Cambodians were tortured and killed. This jail was a large former school-house. The irony that Pol Pot chose a school house and education establishment to torture and kill his victims.

The levels of torture are beyond anything I have read or seen ever. There were pictures on the walls and every pair of eyes told a different, yet harrowing story behind them.

Truly gut wrenching (pardon my pun). There were 11 survivors, 4 children and 7 adults. I had the pleasure of meeting two of the surviving adults. What an inspiration these two men are. Mr Bou Meng, a wonderful talented artist and Mr Chum Mey, who has written a book on his survival the first page says it all.

“The triumph of an ordinary man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide”. Having met him I’d say he is one of the most EXTRA ordinary people I have met.

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By far one of my most challenging days on the bike, through endless green paddy fields and Cambodian farms, such an inspiration these hardworking people are, cultivating miles and miles and miles of land, I still a managed to muster the required hello’s whilst being greeted like the queen was in town.

Such a lovely welcome everywhere. After being ill, it felt like 75km of sheer hell. My motto was just keep the legs pedalling and thinking back to the two gracious heroes I had met only that morning and my torture was nothing in comparison. I simply needed to refuel, and make it to each stop.

Sheer grit, determination and avoidance of sun stroke was the order of the remaining Km’s for me. Mr Bou Meng and Mr Chum Mey’s levels of grit, determination, intelligence and avoidance of death was a whole other ball game. Nothing short of remarkable.

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Day 7: Kam Pong Chhnang to Siem Reap 30km.

Started with the few hours boat trip along the Ton Le Sap Lake to meet Albert and the rest of our bikes for the 30km cycle in Siem Reap. I was feeling super confident and a lot fitter.

Ready to tackle the world Albert & I headed off at breakneck speed only to be thwarted by the off-road red dirt tracks, mountain cycling lumps, bumps and searing heat like it was the Sahara Desert.

As I trailed into the half way drinks stop, legs wobbling and body shaking, i sat in the van and down came the tears. Frustration did not even come close. When the brain is there, but zero fuel in the legs.

If my legs had a statement this day it was simply “F**k you – there’s no fuel in this tank”

Just when I was trying to find something deep inside to dig up for the final 15km. In swoops Macmillan team-mate Carolyn at the ready with inspirational stories of cycling the Pyrenees and a monumental challenge far more difficult than this, how she made it through with grit, guts and determination.

The tears were dried, I was dusted down, water fuelled Albert and I were off again on the 15km into Siem Reap. Thank you Carolyn, forever I will remember that 10 minutes in that dirty old van on a red dusty road in the countryside of Cambodia.

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Day 8: Angkor Wat 23km

This was my favourite cycling part of the journey, mountain biking style. Up and down, through winding tiny tracks and sand laid slipstream tracks. 37 seas of green Macmillan jerseys in a row blending into the rainforest style landscape. Wow! What a vision… We exited from a tiny track to the most breathtaking view I have ever seen, the moat around the temples with lilies gently blowing in the wind on the lake.

 We cycled to the first temples and had a short tour around it was 11.03am and 105 degrees the hottest day. Blistering heat we tried to shelter in each other shadows to salvage breathing space away from the sun. I have a sheer fascination with the stories that were being told that was carved into the rock face. For somebody that loves reading this was one almighty book I was reading crafted into the stone.

Back on the bikes to the temple with the tree, this temple was like something you would see in a Disney movie. It had an air of child like to it, in fact, this was where Indiana Jones temple of doom was filmed. Maybe that’s why I thought it had a mystical feel. Such a peaceful feeling being inside the largest religious monument in the world, even amongst the million of tourists.

Fed and watered we were off for the last 3km of the journey to the main Angkor Wat temple and the finish line to our epic journey. We made it to the end. There was oooohhhsss and ahhhhhssss at the sheer beauty of the temples. Hugs, kisses, cheers and tears. Team Macmillan we came, we saw, we felt and we conquered and in true Vietnamese style it’s definitely a V for victory!

Summary:

As I sit and reflect on my day-to-day epic Vietnam to Cambodia exertions. I have a thought on my day to day back home. I work in the field of helping organisation’s grow their business.

Organisations need people to perform to their peak in order to allow their business, sport or themselves grow. To deliver brand engagement and help customers have a meaningful experience.

Peak performance what does that actually mean? I have seen and heard stories of depth within people so deep this week it goes beyond high performance.

From start to finish I have immersed myself in something way beyond peak performance. You have a year of gaining trust and tapping into human kindness in order to fundraise for such a worthwhile charity.

Macmillan are a charity that knows no boundaries they help our cancer patients and cater for their families needs on top. They give their all on a daily basis. I believe this in our business world is more commonly known as having a common purpose.

Create a common purpose or vision / mission / strategy as we know it in the business world. You will find no better strategy in the world than the one the Chu Chi Guerrillas had to defeat the Americans during the war. One visit to the tunnels teaches you to build a strategy for survival to protect your country. A strategy like no other.

Building high performing teams and organisational alignment (having the right people doing the right things at the right time to be the best you can be) I have spoken enough about team spirit throughout this blog for you to gain a sense of what that truly means.

Vietnamese and Cambodians cook by the side of the road, and sell their wares, everything from the harvested food to hand-made chopsticks with such a sales style that the best could not complete. They greet you with wide smiles, hellllllooooos so long that it could cover the full A1 motorway from London to my homeland of Scotland.

They lay their hard-earned saleable goods out with such care and attention to detail that every inch of the mat, food stall or “floating market” boat is covered and made to look like the only thing in the world you should purchase right there and then.

I believe that is known in, the business world as “customer experience” sales and marketing.

Execution plans: In the business world we have business plans that require execution to grow and retain profits. In Vietnam and Cambodia I could utilise this word execution and execution plans in my blog within two different contexts. In this case I shall not use it to reflect on the Pol Pot Khmer regime.

But I shall bask in the glory of Cambodia as a country who have executed a mastermind of a plan to rebuild a broken country where generations were wiped out. I am not sure quite how they have done it, but when you visit the vibrant and growing towns of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap it is evident whatever plan they have is well and truly being executed!

Transformation and adaptation to change, in the business world we use this term to try to push our businesses to be innovative and grow in different ways.

The largest element of this I have felt this week in Cambodia has been that we were encouraged to not purchase goods for the children but instead encourage them to attend school. The Cambodians believe education and learning is the key to growth in the country and youth. Nuff said!

Another term we use in the business world is “insight” The insights I have had are we have all arrived here with a common purpose to raise valuable funds for a truly wonderful cause.

As a team we have raised a massive £193,000 so far. This will fund a Macmillan nurse (including all necessary training) for three years to support hundreds of cancer patients and their families that need their valuable support.

We saw three birthdays, an engagement at sunrise over the temples of Angkor Wat, bumps, scrapes, sickness, tears and laughter.

We shared insect cream, sun cream, mozzie spray, perfume (Leanne), inspirational stories, fun, laughter and most of all a team spirit any business I know would kill for. Team Macmillan, I thank you for the wonderful life enhancing experience.

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As everyone who knows me reads this, I started out this journey in memory of my dear wee mum who suffered the dreadful disease. I was with her when she passed and some of final words that last week to me were (which sound a bit cliched’ I know) – “stop pissing about, live life to the full, go and be happy” she also said many other things of which I couldn’t possibly repeat here.

Mum – this ones for you!!

“The moment we decide to begin the journey to cross Great Plains of uncertainty is the moment we become pioneers”

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