Welcome!

When I was 12 I decided to devote myself to being a marine zoologist. I wanted to travel on boats, and find myself looking at Earth from a different terrain. I researched all I could, I watched shows about marine life and emailed everywhere whilst making manic notes about algae and dolphins and endlessly compiling lists of destinations I wanted to visit.

Four years on from this in 2012, I was deciding which A Levels to pick and somehow wanted to actually BE David Attenborough, so picked Biology, Chemistry, Geography and English. Little did I know that I was sewing the seeds to set myself up for adventure. Geography and English Literature took me all over the world in the space of two years – whether through analysing worlds of fictional tales, or through studying Earth systems in all their different magnitudes.

In these two years I visited Ypres on an English trip and collected memories of the past. During a Geography field trip I visited Snowdonia and chased geographic processes taking place in the present by reading the scars of glacial migration and climate change. I was hooked and inspired by these subjects that – to me – showed that you can be anywhere and everywhere all at once. I was learning about so much more than a textbook could tell me by just examining places, and to me this education through immersion in another culture or landscape is the most important thing about travel.

I am nineteen years of age, and I have recently moved across England to find adventure in Cornwall. I am studying English Literature and Geography at University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus and now see that all this time I have been an aspiring travel writer.

This is the story of my Universe day by day – where I go, how I see the world, and how each detail affects me. Maybe I’ll make you smile, maybe I’ll teach you something you never knew – or maybe I’ll teach you something you’ve known all along.

Travels through Time and Place: Sagada’s Hanging Coffins

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The bustling town is hushed by the weight of today’s three hour trek to visit the hanging coffins. As small motors and bikes fly endlessly across the busy roads in a bizarre mishmash of colours, I am quiet and still, half-deafened by contemplation and knowing that I must think back to what Sagada was to understand what it has become. This is a town filled with stories, and not the usual ‘a dog pissed here and now we’re famous’ kind. Sagada seems ancient, wise and trembling with legends that reverberate through time and create schisms that silence the world of today.

Of course, the hanging coffins themselves are like a mask covering the real attraction they symbolise. Their rugged exterior is a portal that beckons immersion of oneself in the emotions and respect of a 2000 year old tradition suspended in time within the ageing wood nailed upon a cliff face. The noisy town of Sagada falls away behind you as you descend further into their past.

As we begin our trek, my group is led across a graveyard that shows no evidence of decay. The glaring white is a stark contrast against the dark green grass, and it sets a sombre, buzzing tone for our descent into Echo valley. I am immediately aware of the importance of death in this community, and it is unexpectedly refreshing. ‘Funerals are for the living’ is what I am told in England (though I have never been to one), and though this is a comforting thought, the traditions in Sagada show an understanding that though the funeral procession may be for the living, the respect and effort is for the dead.

After walking through a chill valley echoing with the morbid sounds of chopping wood, we reach the site of the hanging coffins. I am struck by the uncomfortable feeling of being almost too close to this culture’s past, and try to maintain a respectful distance from this scene that I am not entitled to reach out to fully. The tall, dead red-barked trees leaning on the cliff face, the resounding ‘CHUCK’ of an axe in the distance and the decorations that only family members and the people within the coffins can truly appreciate are all reminders that this is a truly interconnected process that bridges the gap between life and death, crumbling into one through a landscape that seems integrated within the culture itself. It belongs.

A common belief of this culture is that the bodies of the dead must be elevated to bring them closer to ancestral spirits, and this complements the fear of being buried beneath soil to become part of the rotting detritus, or worse – to be dug up again. The dead are placed on chairs, wrapped, covered with a blanket and smoked whilst left facing the main door of the home, and after paying respects the family carry them to the valley, smearing the dead’s blood on their faces in an age-old inheritance tradition that is said to give them the skills of the deceased. Within the coffins, the dead are in foetal positions, replicating the way that humans come into this world in a circular sign of life in death.

A woman tells me this story of ascent as we descend further into echo valley, knowing that our end goal is the furthest descent possible, within the dark karstic chambers of the Sumaguing Cave. This cycle of transition from exterior to interior, from light to dark, modern to ancient and life to death is the source of ancient cultural energy in Sagada.

Upon reaching the entrance of the cave at the Lumiang Burial Ground we are welcomed by more ancient coffins. Inside there is water flowing continuously across the slowly progressing limestone structures. The sound of it licking the rock surface is lit by our guide’s lamp in a motion that repeats its first illumination by firelight with the same fascination that I am experiencing, before Sagada’s culture had even begun.

Win a custom Illustration !

TheUniverseAndEmma:

THIS SEEMS REALLY COOL

Originally posted on Dianasadventures:

As you guys can tell, my blog got a major makeover! I reached my goal of 500+ followers three weeks early and wanted to give a huge thankyou to my new followers + my followers who have been there for me since day 1! What better way to thank you than to give you something that you can put on your blog? 

There will be 2 Winners! 

What You Get

1. A CUSTOM illustration of anything you want (In Black & White)

You can use this custom illustration to make a blog header (like I did), or to print out and keep up on your wall. It’s entirely up to you. You may not, however, use this to sell or as a commericial product. 

How to Enter (MANDATORY)

1. Follow My Blog If you haven’t already. Don’t have wordpress? Don’t worry! Follow me either through e-mail or through BLOGLOVIN’. Bloglovin’…

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Mad Max: Fury Road, Leading the way towards equality in Hollywood.

TheUniverseAndEmma:

So glad that this was a film that seemingly has done everything right. Can’t wait to see it and I definitely recommend reading this article – sounds like a great movie that needs people to take notice of it!

Originally posted on Siobhán Eardley:

George Miller’s latest entry into the Mad Max franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road is revolutionary. Not simply because of the insane pace,  stunning visuals and the impressive costume and makeup. It is revolutionary because it is a rare gem among the countless blockbuster films. It contains female characters that are equally as awesome as the men.

*SPOILERS* (only minor)

Mad Mad: Fury Road portrays the struggles of humanity in a post apocalyptic Australia, and really makes one think about the value of water, freedom and a stable society. At the beginning of the film Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys and taken to the Citadel, a universal blood doner, he is used as a human blood bank. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) supposedly on an oil run for the leader of the Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), goes off road, carrying Joe’s five wives to their freedom. Fury Road from…

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5 ways to be a better student

At the end of my first year, with two out of four exams left to go, I have realised that I didn’t do it entirely right. I tried, I achieved balance between studying, lifestyle and social matters and didn’t go insane, but I realised how to do university ‘right’ a little too late.  That’s why there’s a first year that doesn’t count! (For most people). Here’s how to correct the blunders I made:

1) You may not think you’re spending a lot, but make sure you’re spending on good things.

‘I only spent £15 this week’ slowly turns into an empty fridge that gives me nightmares because I only bought cheap booze, ice cream, biscuits, bacon and bread. Oh, the price of freedom. Stock up on meats / whatever your substitute is and FREEZE THINGS, GOOD LORD, FREEZE EVERYTHING. You WILL run out of food if you only buy junk. The best way around this is to plan ahead and budget well.

2) Do work over summer to get ahead.

It’s boring (well, hopefully you’re at least a little interested!) but believe me when I say that you will need to do a lot of reading otherwise (and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be doing something else / have to do something else during term time). If your course has an interactive online website with resources and reading lists on it, look at it way ahead of time and try to get ahead, whether that’s for your first year or for those of you already at university preparing for years that count towards your final grade. This is SO important if you want to get a job during the year – time will fly!

3) Figure out when deadlines are and get assignments done early.

This is one that I didn’t get down until term 2. Don’t obsess over assignments needlessly but don’t just leave them until the last minute like you don’t even want to look at it. I know how you feel, but I also know how you’re gonna feel if it’s 2am and you still don’t know what you’re doing and you’re questioning your life choices after watching an entire show on Netflix in a week (for me this was Breaking Bad, which was amazing). You’re lucky to be at university, but you’re also paying (ridiculous amounts) for it, so make use of all of its facilities – including asking lecturers for help if you need it!

4) Make friends.

Go to societies, talk to people – they’re not as scary and judgemental as they were at school – we’re adults now (mostly!) and generally more open and aware of the fact that other people have feelings. Don’t be afraid to be yourself because you’ll naturally lean towards people interested in similar things, so try not to overthink it all. You’ll need people to lean on when it gets tough, and so will all the other people around you!

5) Be interested in the world outside of university.

You’re at university to learn about something you’re interested in, and that interest has real world application that matters – so get involved! Look at current events globally and visit the local area around your university. Start thinking early about all the potential your course has and where YOU can take IT. What can you bring to your degree?  I took an a English Literature degree and switched to English/Geography half way through the year because I knew that with knowledge about the ‘real world’, I could interact with material on my course in a personalised and more focussed manner. Let everything you do be infused with things you care about and are interested in – that is how you’ll engage more with your degree. Most of all, enjoy it! It’s the tip that all lists like this end with, but it’s the most important – you have the chance to find out who you are in an environment that will challenge you and force you to think differently about things so you can realise how big the world is and how different it has been, and how much potential people have. Go kick ass!

Tracing The Scars of Glaciers

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All photos courtesy of Tom Grant (apparently I was too in awe to take any…)

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about places I’ve visited in the past and which one had been my favourite. This was a question that – strangely enough – I hadn’t really considered before – I’m always focussing on where to go next, but after contemplating all the amazing places I’m lucky enough to have seen, Snowdonia seemed the right fit.

Snowdonia was – if you read the introduction to this blog – where I found my sense of adventure and my love for travel because it was here that I broke through boundaries I didn’t know I had set for myself. I found beauty in a landscape scarred by its own processes and was captivated by the idea that completely different ecosystems can coexist beside each other. I loved going from being on sunny dunes one day to being in the middle of a snowstorm climbing to the top of the Y Garn peak then staring up at the vast 1085m of Snowdon the next.

The Aberglaslyn Pass was one of the most interesting visits. This is a narrow, fast flowing gorge along the Afon Glaslyn river. It was the first real experience I’d had of a trek alongside a river channel, and following the course of water is something that I think teaches you a lot about Earth processes – they’re relentless.

The Afon Glaslyn has its source in Glaslyn – a tarn (lake) in the middle of a cirque formed by glacial erosion due to converging ice flows, and abrasion of bedrock due to rocks held within this ice. It terminates at Llyn Gwynant, which was a filming location for Lara Croft in 2003!

Walking along these rapids is one of the memories of this trip I cling to most – hearing nothing but the sound of rushing water in my ears was exhilarating, and I even found some rose quartz along the path! I had a lot of time on this walk to think about what I was doing in the middle of North Wales, and what I had achieved over the 5 days that I had been there, so the water really helped clear my rather dizzy 16 year old mind. It was the most purifying places I had ever had the pleasure to be and I wish I’d had the time to sit down and appreciate it for longer.

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Another cirque we visited was Cwm Idwal, which is at the head of a glacially eroded hanging valley. The snow was lightly compacted but extremely thick, so we were waist-deep in snow for most of the journey around the beautiful and partially frozen Llyn Idwal. It was times like this on the trip that I would scream that I could not be a Geographer because nature was insane, yet I’ve found myself doing an English Literature and Geography degree a couple of years on because of these exact moments!

As I say in my video, it wasn’t just the natural environment that was so diverse – it was an age-old tradition of dedicated and proud local people that made this landscape so interesting. The farmers, council members and community action plan leaders we met were all particularly concerned about degradation of local environments, and expressed deep care about their culture and language. It was inspiring to hear of programmes like the Welsh Language Scheme in 2010, and to listen to the voices of people from a rather marginalised part of the UK raise awareness of the fact that this was an issue that they felt was of significant importance – and it is! Wales holds such beautiful folklore, stories and landscapes, and we should be doing everything we can to be aware of them and work with them to preserve their cultures.

The farm we visited was the epitome of this committed attitude to preservation – it had not only a beautifully preserved path to walk along with waterfalls and a link to The Watkin Path to Snowdon, but also showed amazing management techniques that made you appreciate the effort these people put in to protect not only their culture, but also the earth that they live on – a lesson that I think many of us should learn.

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On one particular day we visited Llanberris, home of the Electric mountain – so called due to Dinorwig hydroelectric power station built within the Elidir Fawr on an abandoned quarry site. What made this town so interesting, however, was that this modern environmental technology was juxtaposed wonderfully against the tradition rack and pinion Snowdon Mountain Railway from 1896.

me and the snow

North Wales had so much to offer – a truly amazing landscape combined with idyllic settlements –  I saw so many amazing things and learnt so many new skills on this trip (I even learnt to ice climb!). It was exhausting but definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone needs to find themselves at some point, and exposing yourself to the elements will push you to places within yourself that you wish you’d found sooner.

‘Why do you write these strong female characters?’

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‘Because you’re still asking me that question’ Joss Whedon

I’m on a rampage after finishing watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and this struck me as something people look over a lot.

Equality (in every sense) is not a mere concept to strive for. When asked ‘why do you write these strong women characters?’ Joss Whedon’s answer turns this idea of strong females being ‘rare’ and something to be sought out into a world (our world) where women and people are all strong in their own ways – ways that we see every day, not JUST in the life of a slayer.

‘Equality is a necessity’ he says, ‘and misogyny … is life out of balance’. Inequality is a distinct and all too real division in humanity that won’t allow us to progress and be stronger *together* until we see the strengths right in front of us, everywhere.

Women *are* fighters – they have their own expressions of strength and resilience that should be seen as a strength not just compared to that of a man, and not something that sets them apart from or against other women, but an integral part of *all* women, and of all humans.

We are all stronger than we know, we can all work towards expressing our strength – not in a divisive, oppressive way, but together. In a way that says ‘I am strong because I am here, I am me’.

To wake up and see the strength and value in all people and to be inspired by this to actually contribute to expressing a world where everyone is strong and can get stronger is what Joss Whedon did with Buffy and what people should look around right now and see within THIS world.

‘Strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do, and we can do it together, but if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn.’  – Buffy Summers, BTVS. S3E10.

Why we need to focus on environmental issues as well as human issues (hint: they’re related)

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‘It would make my life so much easier if I could say that those animals are thriving in captivity, living happy and enriched lives. Unfortunately, after all the years of experience that I had, I saw the psychological and physical trauma that results from captivity. A massive corporate entity is exploiting the hell out of the whales and the trainers. You are nothing more than a number on a sheet, and if the moment arises, you will be thrown under the bus and even blamed for your own death.’

… ‘It’s shameful that as a species we are so arrogant to believe that we can do whatever we want to any animal.’

                Simon Worrall quoting John Hargrove, Former Trainer Slams SeaWorld for Cruel Treatment of Orcas 

One of the most profound things I took from the Blackfish documentary was the idea that in the future people will look back on parks like SeaWorld as I think many of us now look at ‘old-school’ circuses – generations in the future will look at the crowds of SeaWorld, at the videos of crowds watching trainers die, and they will say ‘How barbaric – how could anyone think that was okay?’. Well the future has to begin at some point, and I for one am taking that stance today. A really great article that raises awareness of an important issue. These animals are so much happier and better in the wild and I can only hope to see one in its natural habitat someday.

If anyone cares in the slightest about dolphins, whales or the fishing industry please watch ‘The Cove’ (accessible from Box of Broadcasts for most University students or Youtube / the internet somewhere if not), ‘The End of the Line’ (same) and ‘Blackfish’ (Netflix) – they’re so important and basically just open your eyes to everything you should know about captivity, vile slaughter and overfishing. I was already pretty interested in this but it’s always horrifically shocking to see how wonderful these animals are and how wrong humans can be sometimes. There’s a lot of bad in the world but the best thing to do is just be aware of it and do your best to change it or at least help to make others aware of it.

World change comes from individual awareness and desire to do good and these documentaries prove that change is possible. No matter how many causes you root for and try to help, they’re all important and this is one that’s overlooked a fair bit. Have space in your mind for an abundance of issues, and rise to the challenge to change them.