Mark faces his fear of heights in the open door of an airplane at 15,000 feet. Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 19 Jan, 2014.
The plane leveled out at 12,000 feet above Queenstown, New Zealand. I straightened up and looked out the window to my left. The deep blue of Lake Wakatipu snaked through the Southern Alps, the outline of New Zealand’s adventure capital reduced to just a few small houses in one corner of the lake.
The jump master threw open the door and the cabin pressure dropped. A green light began flashing. To my right, the line of first-time skydivers was sucked out of the plane with their instructors strapped to their backs. Out the window I saw them hurtling towards the earth at 200 km per hour – terminal velocity.
Then the door was closed, leaving just me with my brother Alex and our dive instructors. The plane nosed sharply upwards, climbing towards 15,000 feet. I tried to remain calm, but somewhere in the crevasses of my mind lurked was a primordial, instinctual aversion to what I was about to do.
From behind me, I felt my instructor tap my shoulder and pass something forward– a thin tube of oxygen, perhaps to calm my nerves. I put the tube between my lips, breathed deeply, and prayed that the parachute was packed correctly.
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The boys take a espresso-paced tour of Melbourne’s 2,500 coffee shops to learn about why Melbourneans take so much pride in their daily roast. Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 10 Jan, 2014.
I felt like a snob. My brother Alex and I were standing in what I can only describe as a coffee laboratory where glass beakers bubbled away in the background converting top-quality, single-roast, fair-trade coffee from a small-scale Honduran producer into reputedly one of the finest cups of coffee in Melbourne. As if that mouthful of adjectives weren’t enough to qualify as pretentious, we were drinking our espresso from wine glasses.
Our local guide, Maria Paoli of Melbourne Coffee Tours, raised a glass to her nose, cupped the coffee and closed her eyes in ecstasy. I attempted to do the same.
I’ve always believed that the longer the name of your coffee order, the worse. Standing behind someone at Starbucks ordering a grande-mocha-frappachino-latte-with-soy-milk makes me want to scream. I tend to keep it simple: a cup of coffee, size medium.
I told this to Maria.
“Melbourne is different,” she said with a wink. “We take our coffee seriously here!”
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Diving the Great Barrier Reef tops the Vagabrothers’ bucket list. But when once they get below the surface they find something they hadn’t expected. Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 2 Jan, 2014.
The waves came on strong and suddenly. Within moments of clearing the farthest island in the Whitsundays, Queensland, our catamaran began to pitch in the open ocean as swells smacked our bow from the south east. The horizon was grey with rainclouds and a strong wind blew across the deck, but I looked at my brother and smiled. Today we would cross off the single biggest item on our bucket list – scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef.
We’d come to Australia explicitly to visit the reef and our minds raced with anticipation: home to 1,625 species of fish and 1,400 coral reef species, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest marine park in the world and one of its seven natural wonders, the largest living organism on earth and the only one seen from space.
We were not alone in our ambitions. Our boat was a double-decked catamaran packed with over a hundred passengers to Reefworld, a semi-permanent pontoon anchored just off the edge of the most accessible section of an ecosystem larger than Texas.
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Alex and Marko explore the mountains and deserts of Oman with a long time ex-pat, and uncover the culture’s beauty as their host rediscovers what he’d forgotten. Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 7 November, 2013.
“Sinbad the Sailor wasn’t from Oman,” said Ingmar as we ripped through the desert outside of Muscat at nearly 160 kmph. “He’s just a myth, probably never even existed.”
“Shit,” I said, crossing Visit the Home Port of Sinbad off our bucket-list. “That changes things a bit. Less time on the coast, I guess.”
Our Dutch-born companion had been popping my romantic notions about Arab culture all morning, but I appreciated the detached observations that only an expat could provide. He had lived in Oman for 20 years, was fluent in Arabic, and knew the country better than his own.
Hiring an Omani guide for our trek had been impossible, as our visit coincided with Eid, one of the most important holidays of Islam, when Muslims honor Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to Allah by buying and slaying a goat. Aside from expats, the country was shut down.
Ingmar had time off and had agreed to guide us into the Hajjar Mountains, though I wasn’t sure why. He said he was a photographer who couldn’t find anything worth shooting in Muscat. I suspected holidays are when expats most strongly feel their foreignness.
I sat in the back seat struggling to wrap a black and white keffiyeh around my head. I asked Ignmar how to do it.
“It’s better not to wear a keffiyeh,” he chuckled. “Locals don’t like when you dress like them.”
He shoved the truck into top gear. Omanis went home for the holiday and we sped farther from civilization.
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Alex starts a 1500km bicycle adventure across the Pyrenees mountains from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
In the first half, he bikes through France from San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country to French Catalonia, sleeping outdoors along the way.