Top 4 Countries to Visit in 2018

January 1, 2018
.
Top 4 Countries to Visit in 2018
Dear Explorer,
As you write your list of ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ make sure to add the following: Plan my next trip ASAP!
One certainty is that life gets busy and then travel plans get pushed aside for another day… and that day never comes. Plan now, and then relax knowing you have an adventure in store!
“But, where to go?” you may ask. The ub-cool team recommends 4 countries to choose from. Why? Because they have so many awesome adventures that you can try! What are you waiting for? Pick a country, select your adventure, and book your trip!

Here are our Top 4 Destinations for 2018 from West to East!

#1 – Chile

chile-1818533_1920

The stunning mountains in Chile | Credit: Pixabay

This gem of South America boasts all sorts of terrain for every type of adventurer. From the grand Andes mountain range in the east, to the Pacific in the west and the Atacama desert in the north, there is no shortage of adventure for you! Home to the magnificent condor, you can catch a glimpse of this majestic bird (and its 3-meter wingspan!) while trekking through the Andes. Or, if ice is more your thing, try trekking across a glacier!

glacier-1261558_1920

Bundle up for this adventure: Glacier Trekking in Chile! | Credit: Pixabay

Not a fan of the cold? Then sign up for a hike through the stunning dry Atacama Desert. For those who love horses, saddle up and explore the mountains and enjoy the spectacular views on a horseback trip. Lastly, if you’ve always wanted to try mountain climbing, this is a great destination to finally give it a shot!

Interested? Check out more details of cool adventures in Chile!

chile-1740804_1920

Hike through the Atacama Desert in Chile | Credit: Pixabay

#2  Portugal

sea-2710932_1920

Algarve, Portugal | Credit: Pixabay

Known for its museums and delicious cuisine, many people don’t realize that Portugal also has a breath-taking coastline with caves, beaches, and hills to explore. In fact, the country has over 300 beaches! Portugal is a top destination for any adventurer because it has a plethora of activities from skydiving to river hiking! Try exploring the cities on a bicycle tour. Cycling through a country (with a guide, of course) is a great way to truly get a feel for the pace of life.

porto-2268628_1920

Cycle through the cities! | Credit: Pixabay

Similarly, kayaking trips allow you to check out the wildlife and offer fabulous views of the coastline. If you love animals, try a dolphin and whale watching trip. Or, if adrenaline is more your thing, this is the right place for you! There are so many caves to explore, canyons to abseil into, cliffs to climb, and waves to surf!

What are you waiting for? Check out these amazing tours and start planning your vacation!

portugal-3029665_1920

This cave in Algarve is one of the many you can explore in Portugal | Credit: Pixabay

#3 – Malta

malta-1964700_1920

The stunning historic island of Malta | Credit: Pixabay

This little island finds itself positioned perfectly between Italy and North Africa and is our next top destination selection. The millennia of historic events on this tiny island have left many tunnels to explore, that is if dark spaces and crawling are your thing. Moving away from the caves and tunnels, Malta has so much coastline to explore that you have to try scuba diving! There are so many wrecks and stunning marine life to explore. Or, if you don’t enjoy scuba diving, try snorkeling instead. If you prefer staying above water, head out on a kayak or stay on land with a cycling tour. Besides offering lots of outdoor adventures, this island gets 300 days of sunshine!!!

Convinced? Click here to start planning your trip to Malta!

scuba-diver-1049945_1920

Explore ship wrecks in Malta! | Credit: Pixabay

#4 – South Africa

348137646_7db8d9143b_b

From surfing to hiking, Cape Town and other South African cities have so much to offer! | Credit: Flickr

The southern tip of Africa is home to one of the most vibrant countries in the world. Not only does it have such a diverse culture, it also has such diverse terrain which makes it great for adventurers! If you’re seeking a great adventure in 2018, definitely head to South Africa. Leave the cities behind and ride a jeep through the safaris to come face-to-face with the gorgeous African wildlife. (Well, perhaps don’t get face-to-face with the wildlife… just a few meters apart is a safer bet – enough to wave and say hello.)

14917045072_3409e665ab_k

Cage diving with great white sharks! | Credit: Flickr

But, if you’re truly seeking that face-to-face experience with a giant creature, then hop into a metal cage and lower down into the ocean to meet the Great White Shark! There is no better adrenaline rush than cage-diving!

6417186763_38c1722c0a_z

Admire the stunning wildlife from the safety of a hot air balloon! | Credit: Flickr

If you’re looking for a little less of a heart-attack-type moment, then opt for a hike to Table Mountain or walk a cheetah (with a trainer). But, if you really want to put some distance between yourselves and the animals, then sail across the sky in a hot air balloon and admire the safari’s wildlife below.

Find your perfect adventure here and get ready to meet the sharks or climb a mountain!

 

The year goes by really quickly. Make sure you don’t let 2018 go by without an awesome adventure!

Enjoy your travel planning and we wish you happy adventures for 2018!

Subscribe below if you want more great tips right in your inbox!

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE ADVENTURES


best alternative marathonsbest alternative marathons

best alternative marathons

Jet Ski - Palm Dubai

Feature Image | Credit: Pixabay

Explorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).

Laure de Pryck
Can you bend like Cirque du Soleil Performer, Laure de Pryck?

Dear Explorer, Ever wondered how much training is required when you’re on a national gymnastics team? Or, how in the world Cirque du Soleil performers balance on their heads, fly through the air, and dangle from ropes? To get some answers, we caught up with World Champion gymnast, Laure de Pryck, from Belgium who performs in Cirque du Soleil shows around the world. At only 22 years old, this acrobatic gymnast has not only competed and won worlds but has also performed in three of Cirque du Soleil’s incredibly stunning shows. What does it take to become a world-class gymnast and performer? What is life like as a performer? Today, Laure reveals what life is like on the road as a performer and what’s next in store for her.   From Acrobatic Gymnastics to the National Team to Cirque du Soleil ub-cool: How did you get into gymnastics? Laure: I started with gymnastics as a kid because, as my mom told me, I had a lot of energy and was always climbing on things. So, she registered me in gymnastics and I kind of rolled into it – changing clubs and moving to higher levels. When I was in my last club, it turned out my coach was also the coach of the national team of Belgium. Together with my male partner, I got selected to join that national team of Acrobatic Gymnastics. There we were intensively trained by two Ukrainian coaches and one Russian choreographer. ub-cool: What was the training like? Laure: We had to train 28 hours a week, for a total of 10 training sessions. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday we had two training sessions: in the morning from 7:30am to 10:30am, then we would go to school, and after that we would train again from 4pm to 6:30pm. On Wednesday and Sunday, we had one 3-hour training session while on Saturday we were off. ub-cool: That’s a short period to head to-and-from school between trainings. How far was your school? Laure: I began going to boarding school because it was next to the gym. So, it was really easy to go in the morning to train and there was a school bus that brought us to-and-from school. After training, we would go back to boarding school to eat, study, and sleep. ub-cool: From what age did you begin competing and which events did you compete in? Laure: I competed from the age of 13 till 17 – it was 3 full years of acrobatics and we did 3 major competitions. One was the European Championships (for juniors) which we won, then the World Championships (for seniors), and finally the World Games which took place in Colombia. ub-cool: I haven’t seen this sport in the Olympics – do you think it’ll be included one day? Laure: Acrobatic gymnastics isn’t in the Olympics yet. It’s slowly trying to make its way – this year it is part of the Youth Olympic Games and it was also part of the European Games. I really hope that one day it will be included in the Olympic program so more people can get to know the sport! ub-cool: Did many performers at Cirque de Soleil start from this sport? Laure: Yes, a lot of Cirque du Soleil performers come from this sport. Our training prepares us to do different types of disciplines such as flying acts, trapeze, and hand balancing to name a few.   Career & Future ub-cool: When did you begin performing in Cirque du Soleil? Laure: After competing at the World Games in Colombia, my coach announced that my partner and I had been offered a contract by Cirque du Soleil. So, I joined when I was 17 and so far I have performed in three different shows. ub-cool: Which shows? Laure: I started together with my partner in the show Ovo doing a 1.5-year tour in Japan. When my contract finished, there was a long break ahead so I decided to start studying and try different things – I was looking for new challenges. After three weeks of being home, I accepted a 3-month contract for a temporary replacement in the show, Quidam. Joining this show meant a lot to me because it was the first show I ever saw as a kid. As a child, I remember being amazed and impressed and I would never have dreamed I’d one day be a part of that show. After the contract I went back home and continued studying biochemistry at the university in Belgium. Between contracts I try to catch up as much as possible with my exams and practical work. Suddenly, I got a call from the casting department of Cirque du Soleil and I got the chance to rejoin the team I worked with in Quidam but this time in a different show called ‘Sep7imo Dia’. Now I perform two acts, banquine and handbalancing. The show is honouring an Argentinean rock group and is only touring in South and Central America. ub-cool: You’re studying biochemistry – why did you pick this subject? Laure: At one point I will not be able to bend in half anymore… So, I am working on a back-up plan and chose something in sciences because I was good at it in high school. I looked at different options like medicine, bioengineering, pharmacy, etc. and, to me, the biochemistry program looked the most appealing. So, I made arrangements with the professors in Belgium to complete the 3-year bachelor’s degree and the 2-year master’s degree. So far I’ve almost completed 2 years of my bachelor. ub-cool: How do you fit studying into your hectic training, work, and travel schedule? Laure: I need to study on my own as I can’t attend the classes. I buy the books then I leave on tour, I study by myself, I take the exam in whichever country I am in, etc. I don’t take up the full course like normal students would do, because I don’t have enough time to both study and do a full-time job. ub-cool: What is your favourite discipline? Laure: I really like working with the banquine guys because I grew up doing this discipline. I feel I have lots of room to grow, to try new things; because the guys are very strong they can throw me very high and teach me new things – and that’s what I really like about it. ub-cool: What is the life span of a gymnast in the industry? Laure: It depends on your discipline – it’s hard to say. For example, handbalancing is really hard on the body because I’m putting a lot of pressure on my shoulders and my back.  I would say banquine is easier because I don’t need to bend so much. ub-cool: For you, up to what age are you planning to perform in gymnastics? Laure: I plan to perform for a couple of years. But, I think the traveling situation would stop me from doing it longer because I would like to build a family. I know of a woman who has two kids and she is still performing with her husband; both of them are still travelling a lot and they are around 40 years old. There are a lot of performing artists who travel with their families but I don’t think I would want to do that; maybe I’ll change my mind but time will tell.   Personal Life ub-cool: Where do you live when you’re not on the job? Is your family close by as well? Laure: I live in Belgium and all of my family lives in Belgium too. ub-cool: Are there other family members who are into sports professionally? Laure: I am the only one. My whole family is active and into sports – my brothers and cousins like rafting, climbing, soccer, and volleyball. But, I’m the only one who is actually working in sports professionally. Everyone else in the family has gone to university. ub-cool: Do you play other sports or do you not have time? Laure: Not on a regular basis– I don’t really have the time for it. ub-cool: What else are you passionate about besides acrobatics and biochemistry? Laure: I like to travel and visit places; I mainly enjoy nature I am not so interested in architecture. I’d rather be in the mountains and see lakes, sinkholes, national parks, and be outside in nature. ub-cool: What has been your favourite adventure? Laure: In Guatemala, I hiked up the Acatenango volcano, which was one of the best experiences of my life. It was almost 4000 meters tall, and we drove up to a camp around half way up. After being dropped off, it took us 4-5 hours to reach the base camp where we slept overnight; from there we could see the eruptions of the volcano next to us. Then, we woke up at 4am and completed 2 more hours of climbing to reach the top and to watch the sunrise. ub-cool: Was the climb easy or difficult for you? Laure: It was difficult to climb because of the small stones which you keep sliding on. But, I really liked the experience. ub-cool: Which are the three top things / destinations you want to do or visit? What’s on your bucket list? Laure: I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand actually for a stupid reason: as a kid, I looked up the furthest place away from Belgium and it turned out to be New Zealand. And, I would really like to see the Northern Lights and ride dog sleds and stay in an ice hotel. Third, I would want to visit Africa and go on a safari!   Inspiration ub-cool: Do you have a favourite gymnast or athlete that inspires you? Laure: When I was young in Belgium, I looked up to the Belgian team from the previous generation that did the same sport as me. My idols at the time were Julie Van Gelder en Menno Vanderghote. ub-cool: Has your life as an athlete giving you any life skills? Laure: I feel being on the national team for three years taught me a lot about life Those three years really shaped me into who I am now. So far that period has been the hardest in my life as we had a lot of trainings, a lot of school, and our coaches were really tough. At training every small mistake we would make meant we had to start the routine over again. We learned to be very disciplined and I had to be at a certain weight as well; so, even what I ate was strict. I think that period taught me a lot of the discipline I need right now to study at university while working. It taught me to accept responsibility; I know what needs to be done and I know what I need to do to get it done. ub-cool: What is your inspirational advice for our readers to overcome challenges and achieve their dreams? Laure: I feel I really found what I love to do and am very passionate about it. I think that passion helped me through the challenges I have faced, for example an injury. If you really love what you do, you’ll find the motivation to get through it and continue to work towards your goals. Follow Laure on Instagram @laure_dp Feature photo credit: Julio Lopez Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!

Rumaitha Al Busaidi
Meet Oman’s Youngest Explorer to Reach the South Pole, Rumaitha Al Busaidi

Dear Explorer, Would you like to explore the South Pole and experience the freezing white environment one day? To reach Antarctica is a mission in itself! To find out more, ub-cool caught up with Oman’s youngest explorer to go on an expedition to Antarctica – and, she’s also the 3rd Omani female to reach the South Pole! In 2013, she celebrated her 26th birthday in Antarctica – isn’t that the coolest way to celebrate your birthday? Rumaitha Al Busaidi has travelled to 64 countries, dove into icy Antarctic waters, and climbed mountains. When she isn’t out exploring the world, this dedicated environmentalist is focused on promoting and establishing fish farming in Oman.   The Antarctic Expedition ub-cool: Tell us about this amazing expedition to the South Pole. What was the goal behind it? Rumaitha: I went on an environmental expedition that was arranged by an organization called 2041. Their goal is to spread awareness about Antarctica and how we should protect it as it is the last wilderness on earth. Because, by 2041 – thus their name – the Antarctic Treaty that countries have signed to protect the region will be up for discussion; and, there is a possibility that people may look into introducing mining, human settlements, and so on. ub-cool: How many days did it take? From where did you begin? Rumaitha: In total, I was in the Antarctic for a good 4 weeks around March, 2013. Getting there was a long journey. I boarded a flight from Muscat to Doha then to Sao Paulo (Brazil) then on to Buenos Aires before taking a domestic flight to Ushuaia, known as the southernmost city in the world, from where we took a ship to the Antarctic. The ship journey took 3 days to reach the Antarctic and from there we started skiing and hiking. ub-cool: What was the craziest thing you did during this trip? Rumaitha: At the end, while celebrating, wearing just our clothes we dove into ice-cold Antarctic waters! The water was minus 2 degrees Celsius – I couldn’t even swim! I was supposed to do a lap but couldn’t complete it because it was that cold. I remember screaming: Take me out of this water now! It’s too cold! ub-cool: Was it only you who swam or the entire group? Rumaitha: There were 88 people on the boat and we all swam except for 1 woman. She was from Qatar and she felt so defeated that she decided to return the following year so she could try the swim, which she did. ub-cool: What’s the most memorable thing about your expedition? Rumaitha: The animals and the silence. We live in a very quiet country (Oman) as it is but I think I experienced silence in its true meaning – in its true sense – when I was in the South Pole. It was nothing but animals breathing; and, the animals don’t really feel afraid. I mean you really see the impact of humans on its surroundings when you see animals here and how they run away from you; whereas over there, they really don’t really care who you are. They are interested in knowing what this weird blob is in front of them. Penguins! ub-cool: What types of animals did you see there? Rumaitha: Lots of whales, seals, and different types of birds including penguins. Penguins stink. That’s the first thing you’re warned about. Once you get your ice boots on, they tell you: “be careful not to step on guano – penguin poop.” Because if it sticks to your boots then everything smells – you, your tent, everything! ub-cool: What was the most dangerous part of the expedition? Rumaitha: When we were sleeping on ice and we heard one of the glaciers crack… and we didn’t know if it was going to affect us or not. Would there be an avalanche, would it be on the other side, would it be us? It was a very scary situation because you could actually hear the glacier cracking. And, that’s how silent it is there because you hear the crack happening. It ended up not affecting us fortunately, but we did get a chance to see the crack and it had split the ice into two. ub-cool: When you completed the expedition, what did you learn? Was there a lesson you learned? Rumaitha: Antarctica changed me as a person – it made me a “seize the moment” type of person. It has made me more committed to give back; you see the influence there and what you need to protect in terms of the wilderness and the environment. If it wasn’t for that experience, I wouldn’t be a board member of the Environmental Society of Oman right now. Because I want to make sure that I’m doing the level best that I can, at least in my community, to make sure we are doing as much as possible when it comes to saving the environment. I think Antarctica has made me seize the moment.   Expeditions with 2041 ub-cool: Does 2041 organize these expeditions on a regular basis? Rumaitha: Every expedition is a different expedition so it depends on your luck. One year they do the Antarctic and the next year might be the Arctic. In fact, next year, they are planning to do the Arctic in June; I’m thinking of whether or not I should join but I’m not sure yet. ub-cool: How can someone register for these expeditions? Rumaitha: You can apply directly. But, for my expedition in 2013, I was part of a program called the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program. ub-cool: Please tell us more about this program. Rumaitha: It goes through a very rigorous selection process and they only selected 5 young people to represent that program; we went on a type of scholarship so a lot of things we got were subsidized. For the Arctic, because I’m not considered a “young” person anymore, I can’t represent that program again. A lot of people actually get their companies to sponsor them as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility for the environment. ub-cool: Can anyone attempt these trips or do they check your fitness? Rumaitha: So, you can apply as an individual but you have to get the “okay” from your doctor along with a long list of things to do beforehand. At the camp in Ushuaia, they test your fitness and equipment to check whether you are capable enough to handle the expedition; some of the people on our trip were sent back because they were told they can’t handle the expedition physically. Waving the Omani flag from Mt Damavand, Iran. Other Exciting Adventures ub-cool: I read that you’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. What else have you tried? Rumaitha: Yes, I climbed Kilimanjaro and the next year I attempted Damavand in Iran, which is the highest peak in the Middle East; but, I was unsuccessful. A large storm on summit night meant we couldn’t make it. ub-cool: How far did you make it? Rumaitha: Damavand is about 5,610m tall and we managed to reach around 5000m; then it was abort mission, it’s not possible, it’s too windy, it’s too dangerous. And, also, there was a language barrier between us and the guides. They said we could bring the same gear that we used for Kilimanjaro but we ended up needing more of what I used in Antarctica. They told us it was a hike not a climb, so I didn’t bring the required gear for a climb such as an axe. ub-cool: What’s next, and when? Rumaitha: We are planning to climb Mt Elbrus. The plan was for this year but I just joined a new job and I can’t take leave – haha. So, hopefully next year.   When Passion Becomes a Career ub-cool: What do you do for work? Rumaitha: I’m an environmentalist and currently am working for GlassPoint Solar in Oman, which is the leader in solar for the oil and gas industry. I feel like my values and the company are aligned in terms of sustainability and working in that field. ub-cool: Why did you choose to become an environmentalist? Rumaitha: I was supposed to be a doctor but then I realized I didn’t really like medicine; it was more of my parents’ dream. Second, would be because I really love the sea. My specialization is actually marine sciences and I did a master’s in environmental sciences and another master’s in Aquaculture (fish farming). ub-cool: What type of projects have you worked on? Rumaitha: For aquaculture, my project was starting these small aquaculture farms. The first one was successful back in 2011 and now we have 16 farms in Oman. Since then, the government is adopting it as a national project. ub-cool: What type of fish do you farm here in Oman? Rumaitha: Mainly tilapia, which is a fish that’s popular in Egypt, the Philippines, and India. The main reason we farm tilapia is because it can tolerate the changes in salinity while at the same time it is a fish that you can do anything to and it won’t die. It can sustain being handled. But, you have to introduce it very carefully here in Oman because the farmers are not fishermen and fish farming is something very new; so, you need to use a type of fish that you know is not delicate enough to die like hammour, for example. They are looking to introduce another type of fish called barramundi – this is higher end in terms of fish and it is very popular in Indonesia and Australia.   Favourite Destinations ub-cool: You love to travel! How many countries have you visited? Rumaitha: 64. ub-cool: Which 3 countries are your favourite and do you consider them adventure locations? Rumaitha: I’m always bias towards my country. Oman is always a place where I find more and more things to explore. For me, I still consider Oman as a destination for me to do adventures, especially during the weekends. I would highly recommend it. Turkey and Argentina. I had a really amazing time exploring different places there which were all outdoors hiking adventures – it was beautiful. My trips are usually away from where tourists go; so, I choose weird places sometimes. It was amazing. ub-cool: Do you mostly travel solo? Rumaitha: Yes. My mom told me to travel the world – she said don’t be like me. She is the type of person who needs someone before she does something; so, she encouraged me to travel on my own. ub-cool: Who inspires you when you travel and are on these adventures? Rumaitha: My mom. I imagine her screaming at me. That’s what happened at Mt Kilimanjaro. During summit night, I had a really high fever and everyone said it’s time for you to go down. I kept screaming, “No! What would my mom think if I went back down before finishing?” So that was my push forward. ub-cool: Are you an adrenaline junkie or an endurance? Rumaitha: I think I’m more endurance than adrenaline. ub-cool: Do you calculate the risk or jump right in? Rumaitha: I calculate the risks. Like for Mt Kilimanjaro, I read that there are around 21 people who die there per year. So, I asked myself whether I should really do this. But, then I told myself I’ll just go and talked myself out of the fear while I was on the plane – haha.   Follow Rumaitha’s adventures at: Facebook: Rummy On The Radio Twitter: @rumaithabusaidi Instagram: @rummoya   Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!

Icarus Trophy
The Icarus Trophy – Would You Paramotor 1,000km over Africa?

Dear Explorer, I’m sitting down with Seth Royce, a bearded man of the skies. He is effortlessly cool & inspirational, and his latest adventure is no exception! Imagine flying over 1,000km across the wilderness of Africa with an engine no bigger than a lawnmower propelling you whilst you rely on it to carry the weight of your body plus all the kit you will need for the next 12 days. This isn’t a trip for the faint hearted. We caught up with the man of the moment to find out more about what the heck he was thinking attempting a daring challenge like this. The Icarus Trophy   ub-cool: Hey Seth! Never a dull moment in your life – how are you feeling after this momentous challenge? It feels surreal that it’s all over after all the planning; it was an epic trip and we have memories to last a lifetime. Both myself and Zak, my friend and flying partner, had such a good time. We didn’t have any breakages or serious issues like some of the others. Thankfully we had luck and experience on our side; having hundreds of flying hours between us meant that any issue that arose was overcome through past experiences. ub-cool: Tell us a little more about the Icarus Trophy. In a nutshell, it’s a self-supported aerial race across Africa flying Paramotors. The start is from just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, and heading due North over some of Africa’s toughest terrains. The end point is at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Being self supported in this challenge is difficult because you have to do everything for yourself: fly, navigate, carry your own equipment, know how to repair your own equipment, avoid hazards, and generally keep yourself alive & moving. In normal flying conditions you only carry around 10 litres of fuel in the tank and the machine weighs about 30kg. However, in this challenge we needed to add extra fuel – a lot of extra fuel. In some places in Botswana we went nearly 400km without seeing a town let alone a fuel pump so we took spare fuel tanks, an extra 10kg for the 10 litres strapped to your chest. Then there is the safety equipment and extra mandatory kit to take with you. So the machines that normally weigh a lot end up weighing even more: add fuel, sleeping bag, tent, clothes, sleeping mat, water, food, radios, charging kit, etc. Everything you need, you carry yourself. ub-cool: You had a support vehicle though, right? Did that not carry your non essentials? No, the support wagon was just carrying my mates (and a fridge full of beers). There are classes (categories) you can fly in. There is pure race class: in it to win it. It is a bit too serious with early mornings, strict diets, strict logistics, and a long list of race rules – great if that’s what you want to do, but we didn’t. We took friends and a support truck ready for the adventure. We didn’t want to win, what’s the fun in that? We went because who else can say they flew across Africa in the world’s most ridiculous aircraft? Zak Shanfari & Seth flew the distance together ub-cool: Tell us a little more about the distance and speed of your paramotor. It all comes down to the wing that you’re flying and the weight of the kit you are carrying. We probably averaged around 50km/h overall but of course a lot depends on the wind; we saw top speeds of around 100km/h. We could fly around 200km per leg on the 20 litres of fuel that we were carrying, so we needed to plan our logistics to find a fuel station along the way, meet the support wagon, or find somewhere to stay if it was getting late in the day. ub-cool: How long is the distance from A to Z? Straight line it’s 1,200km but you can’t go in a straight line because there are no roads, no fuel, no support if you land or something goes wrong. You are landing in nature reserves with lions, elephants, and hippos everywhere. So realistically it’s about 1,400km following the road. The race organisers specify that you have to land at certain check points; they put one in particular in the middle of Botswana, in a place called Sowa Pan where there is a tiny place called Kubu Island. The reason they are putting us there is because it’s literally in the middle of nowhere, like, nowhere. So the idea is you have to be able to get there, land, check in, take off, survive and figure out all your own logistics and fuel in such a remote location. If you run out of fuel, you are literally walking across a salt pan for 50km carrying all your gear…   The organisers, The Adverturists, are really big on the adventure. The biggest prize isn’t actually the one to cross the line first – it’s the person that has the biggest adventure along the way. If you cross that finish line and half your wing is missing because it’s been eaten by a lion and you survived it, then that’s a good start. So we crossed South Africa up into Botswana, up to the very corner which is next to Namibia & Zambia. Then we crossed the border there into Zimbabwe. And, yes, we walked across the border; we had to go through every border point like normal people with our passports and visas. We had to do all the formalities properly, or as close to properly as you can get with an engine strapped to your back. Then we headed over to Victoria Falls for the finish line. Miles and miles of Africa’s toughest terrains to fly over Training & Concerns Before the Trip ub-cool: How did you train for something like this in terms of physical prep, mental prep, and pilot prep? Because we are technically racing we flew with smaller wings than we would usually for cross country – 22 square meters. There are many factors why – it can be a struggle to take off in Africa. Firstly because in the centre of the continent there is not much wind and when there is it’s a thunderstorm so you can’t take off in that either. We had a lot of “nil wind take offs” meaning we have zero wind helping us off the ground – in simple terms, “you have to run really really fast”. On top of that you have all your extra kit & fuel tanks to carry whilst you run and just to really mess you up you factor in altitude; since the air is thinner, you get much less lift from your wing and much less oxygen in your lungs. The start line is at 1,400m and it’s uphill from there. All of these things combined means every take off is emotional. Looking back, we didn’t fail any take offs or landings so we didn’t ruin any equipment. A lot of people had issues: breaking propellers and paramotor cages, blowing engines, breaking toes, and some landed in thorn trees ripping their wings. My physical training was lots & LOTS of squats and speed training to prepare for the take offs; a short burst of speed while fully loaded is a surefire way to rip something in your quads, especially when its cold. It’s been hard to train living in Oman (the temperature has been around 42 degrees celsius every day) in comparison to  flying at altitude in Africa where it is around 2 degrees celsius. The difference is massive. ub-cool: Can anyone register to race in the Icarus Trophy? To enter the race you have to have done a certain amount of flights to qualify. I took part in the first Icarus Trophy in the United States back in 2015, so I know the organizers quite well. If anyone else wants to take part however, they do need to get proper training and start getting flights under their belts. ub-cool: Going into this, what were the biggest concerns for you? Landing out, which means engine failure; this doesn’t bring a safety concern with a crash landing because we just glide down smoothly if our engines did die – the problem comes with where we land. We were flying over some interesting terrain and the difference is, if we cut a corner, meaning cutting 100km off the leg, we would be flying directly over bad lands of unaccessible terrain and dangerous wildlife. The biggest risk to us was probably hippos – but it could be anything from a snake in the grass to a charging predator to an upset local, anything is possible in Africa. We literally pitched our tents where we could for the night, embraced the adventure, and took each challenge as it came. Equipment ub-cool: I know you, and I know that you love your gadgets and kit, what have you got up your sleeve here? We have all kinds of great kit for these events – location trackers, radios for comms, headsets to listen to music. Obviously I have my trusty GoPro to document the trip. We have some other trusted pieces of gear that help make the challenge better: My boots are made my a company called Altberg, they are the same ones that I wore when I was in the Marines. The ankle support comes in handy during take off and landing in long grass when I can’t see rocks or other dangers like snakes. The wings are made by Ozone – we used a wing called the Sirocco 2. It’s fast & stable and super light and easy for launching. Our paramotors are made by a company called Parajet –  the brand we have always used. They make really good & trusted equipment. ub-cool: How the heck did you carry everything? It is all well planned… The paramotor is obviously strapped to our back, then in a pocket under our seat goes the ultra lightweight sleeping bag and roll mat. On the right hand of the paramotor is your reserve parachute – which is obviously essential. On the left side is where the tent is stored. Then there is a fuel tank strapped to my chest and underneath that is a CamelBak for our hydration. The trousers have pockets to carry all the other essentials that need to be close to hand and our flying suits go on top. The combined weight of all the extras on top of my body is 40+kg. Keep in mind we carry all of that whilst doing a running start at a full sprint, 3 times a day for 12 days. ub-cool: It sounds like an incredible trip. What were your best bits of the trip? For me it was the people on the trip, there were some incredible pilots flying with us. We were very relaxed in our trip preps, whereas some people took it a little too seriously at times. They were training so hard ahead of the race; one of the guys broke his toes a few days before the start which meant he then couldn’t run and he was out of the race before it even begun. Being in the adventure class, not race class, helped us. On some of the days we flew 11 of us together in one formation where we could get together, instead of the monotony of being alone, and have a laugh. We were relaxed, made friends with people and offered them food & beer and were able to enjoy the trip in good spirits. ub-cool: What were the toughest parts of the trip? When we arrived it was minus 6 degrees celsius at night. Coming from the Middle East in the summer where it rarely drops below 40 degrees at night, this was a massive change for us. The day we left Muscat it was 47 Celsius, so a 53 degree temperature drop was a bit of a surprise, especially when you have to add wind chill to that and fly. ub-cool: Now that this Icarus experience is over, would you do it again? We have already signed up for the next Icarus Trophy in Brazil. So yeah, try and stop us!   Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.

IMG_5567 (002)
Arthritis Eating his Bones Won’t Stop Tom Cycling from London to Monaco!

Dear Explorer, Many of us feel that having an illness stops you from achieving your dreams. If you need inspiration look to the courage and dedication of Tom Hill’s story. Despite having a disease eating away at his bones, muscles and ligaments, this determined Australian still plans to cycle a 7-day event in September through 8 countries from London to Monaco to raise money for the Blue Marine Foundation, a cause very close to his heart. Want to track the riders LIVE during the race? During the event, click this link to watch the rider LIVE here> Cyclists in the inaugural London to Monaco charity ride in 2016. Beating All Odds Exceptionally active, prior to 2016 Tom would cycle on average 350km a week. Then, suddenly during the inaugural London-to-Monaco ride in 2016, an unexpected storm dropped the temperature causing Tom’s knee to swell taking him out of the race and straight to Monaco to receive treatment. After being bedridden for 8 months and a slew of tests, Tom discovered that he has a rare and aggressive form of arthritis eating away at his bones, muscles, and ligaments. ub-cool: It’s great to interview you again. So much has happened since we last chatted in 2016. How did you feel when you were given this diagnosis? Tom Hill: I was told I would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life. It took close to a year of chemo-like treatment – a blocker to stop it attacking my body – for me to get back the strength I needed to get back on the bike again. ub-cool: Wow – you beat all odds and are now back on a cycle and working as Director of Rivergate Marina & Shipyard. What do you think helped you achieve such an incredible recovery? Tom Hill: My recovery focused on nutrition, a renewed focus on organic, unprocessed food. Fortunately, my family business, which stretches back three generations on my mom’s side, Tropical Fruit World in the fertile, volcanic soils of northern New South Wales, provided more than 500 varieties of fruit that more than replenished my appetite for training again. The protein I needed for strength I found in jackfruit, the carbs for energy in bananas and custard apples, and Vitamin C in purple dragon fruit and finger lime. I carry them with me everywhere and I will make sure I have them for London to Monaco, to share with other riders as well – a taste of the tropics all the way from Australia! ub-cool: The London-to-Monaco charity ride in September is fast approaching! Are your doctors concerned about you cycling for 7 days? Have they suggested any techniques to follow while cycling for 7 days?  Tom Hill: Yes, somewhat; however, they have accepted my decision. They gave me physiotherapy exercises and mental health exercises that I need to undertake regularly. ub-cool: What are your own biggest concerns about taking on this upcoming cycling trip while fighting this disease – are you afraid or are you confident? Tom Hill: I am confident.  This is my nature. ub-cool: Is your family supportive or would they prefer you stay home? Tom Hill: Can I say both?  They are very supportive, but I think they would prefer me to stay at home. Tom at home The London-to-Monaco 2018 Challenge: Sept 19th-25th Organized by Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), the past two annual charity rides saw 150 riders from 12 countries help raise over £570,000 for BLUE’s ocean conservation work around the world. The 2018 race will begin in London and end at the Palace in Monaco on the eve of the Monaco Yacht Show. This year’s funds will help support BLUE’s projects on Ascension Island and St Helena in the Atlantic. ub-cool: This year, are you riding for the same reason as you did in 2016 when your attempt was sadly derailed? Tom Hill: Yes, I am riding for the same reason this time. My family business, Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, continues to have a focus on the environment and sustainability, especially our oceans. ub-cool: How much you hope to raise for the BlueMarine Foundation? Tom Hill: I would hope to raise €5,000. ub-cool: Which countries will you be cycling through? Tom Hill: I will be cycling through 8 countries: UK, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Monaco. ub-cool: Where do you sleep along the way? Do you have to carry all of your food or are there pre-set pit stops en route? Tom Hill: Motels are provided throughout the cycling challenge. All nutrient and hydration will be pre-set along the way. I will supplement with a few things like dried fruit from my family farm to keep my body at the best performance levels. ub-cool: How many hours and km/miles a day will you travel on average? Tom Hill: Approximately 150 km a day. ub-cool: Does everyone have to finish within the 7 days and will there be support vehicles? Tom Hill: Yes, they do and yes there will be multiple vehicles escorting all riders. Tom Hill in 2016 with Andrew Winch, Winch Design Training ub-cool: How are you training ahead of this 7-day challenge? What does your training schedule look like? Tom Hill: I train around 15 to 20 hours per week, with a mixture of strength, flexibility and obviously a lot of bike riding.  Averaging about 350kms per week in the saddle. ub-cool: During these endurance practice rides, how have you been feeling? Tom Hill: Feeling really good actually. The disease has made me very sore at times and has affected my immune system, but I’m feeling on top of most of this now. ub-cool: Are you on a special diet for training? Does chemotherapy affect your training diet? Tom Hill: I eat healthy all the time with a focus on keeping my vitamins and minerals topped up.  Fresh fruits, nuts and grains, and mostly fish for protein. Regarding chemo, I cannot ride for a period following my injection but the drug doesn’t otherwise affect my diet or training. ub-cool: Do you think having done this event once before makes the mental challenge easier to prepare for? Or, do you anticipate the mental challenge to be as difficult as the previous attempts? Tom Hill: The mental challenge will be huge again. I know what I’m in for but this makes it no easier. Related: Read more about Tom Hill in ub-cool’s 2016 interview > Equipment ub-cool: We love to know what equipment and brands athletes like to use. Which brand and type of cycle do you plan to ride? Tom Hill: Trek Madone. This model fits the style of my ride and is high performance. I love this bike. ub-cool: What type of cycling boot will you use? Tom Hill: Bontrager – this shoe syncs well with the trek bike. ub-cool: What type of cycling helmet will you use? Tom Hill: Giro Synthe – very aero dynamic yet breathes well and awfully cool. ub-cool: Is there a specific water bottle you prefer? Tom Hill: My Rivergate Blue Marine Foundation bottles that we had manufactured for the earlier London to Monaco. Tom back in 2016 training in Australia before the inaugual London to Monaco charity ride.  Post-Race Plans ub-cool: After the London-Monaco Charity Ride, how do you plan to recuperate? What are your plans?  Tom Hill: A good massage, and a long sleep. Then being out and about with Superyachts brings quick recuperation. I will be there representing Rivergate at the Monaco Yacht Show. ub-cool: Do you have any advice for our readers to help them overcome challenges and chase their dreams? Tom Hill: Look at alternate ways to get the same outcome. Or, taking a seemingly impossible situation, know that there will be a way to chase your dreams. So, don’t give up. For me, I found meditation gave me clearer pathways to keep challenging myself. Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).