Sand dune surfing

Huacachina in Peru is a surreal mirage of a place. Steep golden sand dunes tower over the green lagoon where wading birds parade in the water against blood orange sunsets. Hotels cluster around the water. At sunrise, guests trek 250ft to the top of the slopes, and enjoy the view of the desert for miles around.

Growling dune buggies leap across the sand and launch passengers from their seats. My friends and I decided to tackle these giant shifting hills armed with snowboards for a more eco experience. Here are some things you should know about sand dune surfing:

1) Make yourself sand-proof
Flip flops, t-shirt and shorts might seem appropriate for this terrain, but when you are hurtling down the steep dunes on your belly inches from the sand you will regret not having an extra layer. Ask my arm. Leave your camera at home unless it has a waterproof case.

2) Be realistic
If you’ve never been able to stand on a snowboard, mastering these skills on sand is unlikely. It is possible to board if you have extreme skill, but even then it is much easier to hit bumps and dig your way into an impressive face-plant. It might not look pretty, but you will always win the race if you belly-surf like a rocket down the slope.

3) Wax up
Candle wax is an essential accessory here, so ask your guide to provide you with some. The more time you spend rubbing your board, the faster you’ll speed down to the base.

4) Stick to the plan
Listen to your guide and only hit the slopes that they recommend. My friends and I got carried away and launched ourselves down a series of 200ft dunes, before our guide told us to walk all the way back up a monstrous crumbling hill. It was regrettable.

5) Don’t look down
Some of these dunes are seriously steep, so avoid looking at the tiny ants waiting for you at the bottom. As always, it’s best to go earlier if you’re afraid of heights, and dig your shoes into the sand if you want to slow down.

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Happy surfing!

The hidden canyon of Beji Guwang

Bali’s hidden canyon lies in Sukawati. To find the entrance, we drove down a small street with faded shopfronts. On corners, fat syringes of golden diesel perched in wooden huts. A woman, dressed in yellow lace, balanced a tower of fruit on her head to offer to a nearby Hindu shrine, which was nestled between shops selling sim cards and cans of Pocari Sweat.


We clawed our way onto the rocks that were deceptively smooth, like the skin of black eels. The choking rapids cajoled our limbs to join them as they bulldozed their way down the canyon.

Our two guides, Wayan and Made, had expertly navigated us through so far. They knew the crannies to trust with our weight. They knew which torrents to fight and which to surrender to. They could foresee the rock below our feet, despite the murky depths of the water.

The cliffs of striated rock, shaded like exposed muscle, curved to great heights around us. Thick vines dangled like dreadlocks from toppling trees. As the pale glow of sunlight fizzed brighter, spots of bleach illuminated the brown water we found ourselves in.

Layers of khaki stubble clung to the lower levels and made each step and handhold treacherous, yet we felt the giddiness of adventure stall any fear.

The river launched itself with force between the narrow rocks. The surface of the water was puckered with the strong undercurrents that shot downstream.

We continued through the hidden gorge, feeling with every subsequent step the power of the water. It toyed with us, spinning and pummelling our bodies as we moved forwards.

The rock faces dropped away, revealing a still lake. Turning the corner, we had entered a technicolour scene with the leafy vegetation giving us relief from the dull palette of grey and brown.

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The path, forged by the water, twisted on further. The rocks grew steadily in size, until they were monstrous. Leaving the water, we climbed a steep rock face and squelched our baked toes into the reddish soil beyond.

When we emerged from the canyon, the bleak sunlight stung our eyes. It felt as though we’d spent the last two hours in a cave, shielded by the cold stone.

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We hotfooted it along the path that skirted the paddy field, each row meticulously straight and growing fresh shoots. Our guides retrieved fallen frangipani heads and tucked them behind our ears.

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The canyon tour is becoming more well-known to travellers so locals believe it will not retain its ‘hidden’ name forever.


Name: Beji Guwang hidden canyon tour
Address: GPS -8. 609844, 115. 289898, Sukawati 80582, Indonesia
Website: Bali hidden canyon tourTripAdvisor
Cost: IDR 15,000 ($1.50) for entry each, then IDR 100,000 ($10) for one guide. Guides are compulsory and visitors are not allowed to explore on their own for safety reasons. Larger groups should expect to have a couple of guides to assist them. Tips not included.
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
Facilities: Toilets, showers and lockers at the entrance. Refreshment stall near the end.
What to bring: There are lockers so bring a towel and spare clothes to change into afterwards. You will get wet so bring a waterproof pouch for phones/cameras if necessary. The guides will carry some items, such as water and flip flops, in their dry bag. Walking barefoot in the canyon is advisable.
Top tip: Call ahead to check that the canyon is open. After heavy rainfall, the water levels become dangerously high and the canyon is closed to visitors. Some places were deeper than 5ft when we visited so tell the guides if you are a weak swimmer.
Age and fitness level: This activity is for adults only. The route requires good balance and strength, so a general level of fitness is required. For those with knee injuries like me, bring a knee support as it is slippery.
Extra information: Avoid the mini zoo attraction at the end as it does not promote the welfare of the animals. Birds of prey, boa constrictors, flying foxes and lizards are used as ‘props’ for photographs, and the owners encourage tourists to handle the animals. Rather than visiting or giving donations to continue this practice, walk on and buy refreshments from the hut to support the local economy instead.

Published work


1. Plastic

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All the plastic ever made still exists. 

Let that sink in for a minute. Every single piece of plastic made in the past century is still around in some form. So how can we go about reducing the amount we use?

One million plastic bags are used per minute. That’s 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. In total, 300 million tons of plastic was made in 2018.


2. Teach.PNG

GVI logoAre you considering taking the plunge to teach English overseas? Perhaps you are a student on a gap year, a recent graduate, or you’re looking to have a career break.

Teaching English can be a great way to gain hands-on experience and increase your employability.

It is estimated that one in five people in the world speaks English, or around 1.5 billion people.


3. Mangroves

GVI logoMore than 35% of the world’s mangroves have disappeared, making mangrove forests one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems.

Once perceived as ‘swampy wastelands’, mangrove forests are now being lauded for some miraculous feats.

From curing disease, buffering coastlines from extreme weather, and fighting climate change, there is more to mangroves than mere mosquitoes.


4. Sinking fort

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Rising 350ft from the sand and flanked by 99 bastions, the Jaisalmer Fort is a formidable presence in the Thar Desert of India.

The fort, built in 1156, was an established trade stop of the Silk Road. Yet the past forty years of increased tourism has taken its toll on India’s last ‘living fort’.

Cracks are beginning to appear in the sandstone walls that have resisted sandstorms and earthquakes for over eight centuries.


5. Sharks

GVI logoI waited four long years to see my first shark. I was diving in Komodo National Park in Indonesia at Castle Rock, a pinnacle where the coral reef clung to the rock against swirling currents.

Without warning, a blacktip reef shark surged past me, making light of the strong current that battered me backward. Rather than fear, I felt awe. It had chosen to emerge from the blue.

I used to be scared of many things. Lightning, spiders, injections, and even the dark. I overcame each of these fears in turn, but there was always one remaining: sharks.


6. Pai.PNG

GVI logoThe town of Pai is nuzzled against green mountains. The place has a distinctly bohemian feel, with live acoustic music and independent artisan stores lining the river.

On a moped, take roads flanked by shining paddy fields. Slide down a waterfall. Visit a land split, and bathe in  natural hot springs.

The town is just three hours north of Chiang Mai, where GVI offers a range of volunteering programs and internships, from reintegrating elephants back into the wild to women’s empowerment working with a Karen hill tribe.


7. Nepal

GVI logoNepal has gained the moniker ‘Amazon of Asia’ due to the biodiversity of flora and fauna that inhabit its lands, from tropical Terai jungle to its snow-capped alpine climate. Yet fifty years ago, hunting threatened to push some of its species to extinction.

Despite occupying just 0.1 percent of the world’s land mass, Nepal wildlife includes the greater one-horned rhinoceros, Bengal tigers, red pandas, blue sheep, snow leopards, Himalayan tahr and its national bird, the danphe (or Himalayan monal).

In recent years, Nepal has been recognized internationally for its conservation efforts, especially its fight against the illegal wildlife trade of vulnerable greater one-horned rhinos, red pandas and endangered Bengal tigers.


8. Peru

GVI logoCollins Dictionary recently announced that their word of the year is ‘single-use’, reflecting the current zeitgeist of finding more sustainable ways to live, both at home and while traveling abroad. This shift in thinking is a key part of responsible travel.

Being a responsible traveler means focusing on having a positive impact on the people, wildlife and the places we visit, all while having fun along the way.

When traveling to Peru, trekking to the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu tops the bucket list for many travelers, but Peru offers experiences beyond the llamas and ponchos of the Gringo trail.


9. FAQs

GVI logoInterested in making a positive impact by teaching English abroad? If you would like the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, gain practical classroom experience and improve your employability, a teaching internship could be right for you.

If you are considering teaching abroad and developing your personal and professional skills, read our frequently asked questions to help you decide whether you should participate in a GVI teaching internship.


10. Wildlife

GVI logoThe United Nations (UN) recently revealed that 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with that number estimated to rise to 68% by 2050. With more of us inhabiting towns and cities than ever before, the urge to reconnect with nature is undeniable.

While urbanization continues to skyrocket, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a Living Planet Report this week that shows wildlife populations have plummeted by 60% since 1970.

In the last 30 years, half of the Earth’s shallow coral reefs have been lost. A fifth of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared in the past 50 years. Conservation projects are now more critical than ever to preserve the current biodiversity of species.


11. Costa Rica

GVI logoHave you ever imagined trekking in the rainforest to track an elusive jaguar, or helping hawksbill turtles hatch and return safely to the sea? Perhaps you would like to teach children English, then spend your weekends exploring waterfalls or climbing volcanoes?

Experience the ‘pura vida’ lifestyle for yourself when you visit Costa Rica.

Volunteering opportunities in Costa Rica are almost as diverse as its flora and fauna, with a range of projects from marine conservation, wildlife conservation, construction, community development and teaching English.


huffpost-logo-300x300ALL THE SINGLE LADIES

I’m filling out an official form, and one question asks for my marital status. I’ve been with Tom for almost a decade, but we’re not engaged, or married. So I tick ‘single’.

It gets me thinking – why isn’t there isn’t an obvious in-between phase for couples? Why must it go from official coupledom on Facebook to following Beyoncé’s advice and putting a ring on it, and why is there such a rush to get down the aisle?

The truth is, Gen Y is settling down much later than previous generations. The latest report from the Office for National Statistics cites that the average age for a man to marry in the UK is 36.7 years old, and for a woman it is 34.3 years old.  We’re not only getting married later – the average number of weddings in the UK in 2012 was around half of that in 1972. To put this into perspective, The Telegraph writes that ‘5% of men and 10% of women aged 25 are married, compared to 60% of men and 80% of women 44 years ago.’


huffpost-logo-300x300THE INSEPARABILITY OF TWINS

Twins are not that rare a phenomenon, with 8-16 pairs of twins per 1,000 pregnancies in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Of these, around a quarter are a subset called mirror twins.

There is a simple Thai phrase which sums up my experience as an identical mirror twin, ‘Same, same but different.’ Here are my thoughts about being a walking clone of my sister for the past 28 years: