James Galvin

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

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Aurora Borealis

I don’t have a bucket list. But if I did, then the Northern Lights would surely be on it. After all, it is by far the most common bucket list item of all (ahead of 2 “skydiving” and 3 “getting a tattoo”).

Well as soon as I set foot on Icelandic soil, it started to shake. Multiple earthquakes on my first day in Reykjavik. A massive volcanic eruption predicted, within hours, or days.

  • Friday night: I was advised to postpone the Northern Lights trip to Saturday, due to cloudy conditions. I later learned that the forecast was wrong. There had been a vivid display.
  • Saturday night: Clear skies and a rare Aurora Forecast of 6, indicating a “solar storm”, for only the second time this season. Expecting a solar flare, promising to be fantastic altogether. But unfortunately there was not so much as a glimmer of green in the sky. Some people in Ireland sent me photos of a spectacular...

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I wanted to go spearfishing, but they wouldn’t allow it because I’m not experienced enough. I tried to tell them that as a kid I used to catch Mackerel using Tayto packets and bent wire, and I would pull 20lb congers out from under the pier with a clothesline. Still no dice.

At least they let me get on the boat. I wanted to go to New Ireland. Mainly because I liked the name. And because I remember finding it on a globe 30 years ago and wondering about it. They told me it’s more beautiful than New Britain. I told them that’s no surprise. I could see its silhouette on the horizon but it was too far for this boat, a handy little craft with a canopy that kept the sun off. They had to be back to bring out some Japanese tourists in the afternoon.

Within a couple of hours, we had landed a sizeable barracuda and a few snapper. Mission accomplished. As we turned to head back, the...

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Eagle Hunting in Kyrgyzstan


It’s cowboy country, Central Asia’s answer to Wyoming or Colorado.

From the rocky shore of Issyk Kul lake into the Tien Shan mountains the scenery is diverse and stunning. Apricot orchards near the lake, proud ranks of birch trees and clusters of ancient walnut lead towards red sandstone canyons with warped martian columns. Clay hills, forests of juniper and spruce open up to reveal the famous grassy steppes, dotted with horses for miles.

Continuing upwards, the air becomes cold and harsh along with the terrain. Up, beyond the raging white rivers teeming with trout. Beyond the last of the cattle, grazing horses and the occasional bactrian channel. Past forgotten glaciers lodged in the folds of the mountains. Going up, until there’s nothing left for sheep to eat. Grey, featureless, windswept, barren and bleak. It’s a different kind of beauty, and this is where the eagles live.


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Old City of Dubrovnik


The medieval city of Dubrovnik is a warren of narrow, cobbled streets and “alcoves”. It reminds me of something from Raymond E. Feist books, Jimmy the Hand would love the place.

Game of Thrones tour was disappointing, it was mostly pointing out filming locations and how the Red Keep was inconsistently positioned. The ship in the photo is the Karaka Dubrovnik, replica of a traditional 16th century carrack ship. There’s so much history here.

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I did not prepare at all for my trip to Kathmandu. I didn’t even have local currency for the visa on arrival, the credit card machine didn’t work, and the ATM didn’t work. Not the first time I’ve had to beg and barter with strangers to get cash for a visa stamp, but hopefully the last!

I should have done my research. Last year I set myself a goal to read a book about each country I visit, in advance. But in the case of Nepal, “House of Snow” was just a collection of short stories about Mount Everest.
So I had no real agenda and didn’t know what to expect. Wander around, get a feel for the place. Check out some gemstones, maybe pick up a piece of aquamarine for the collection.

There’s a lot happening in the City Centre. Palaces, temples, statues, monuments of various times and creeds. I couldn’t get my head around all the information. The destruction caused by the 2015...

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Blue Poppy


The blue poppy grows at an altitude of 5,000 metres. My guide gestures triumphantly, congratulating me on encountering the rarest of Himalayan flowers. For a second, I believe him. But we’re only at 4,000 metres and I’m fairly certain that the little purple plant is just some kind of primrose. Does he know that? He has told me several times on this trip that he is a real Bhutanese, therefore he doesn’t lie. But I’ve already caught him out a few times. I crouch down and snap a photo with feigned enthusiasm. I don’t let him know that I know, but I think he knows.

I’ve experienced this before. Deep in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, gliding on a slipstream off a slipstream, the stifling silence of the swamp was violently severed by a guttural roar. For a second, we all froze. The ranger, who had spent his day dozing on the deck, snatched his rifle: “Bagha!”. The nature spotter...

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Forget about werewolves, asteroid collisions, killer clowns and demonic possession. The scariest thing on the planet is a fungus. It grows high in the Himalayas. It is a parasite that latches onto a caterpillar. It slowly infects the body of the caterpillar, then eats into its brain, and begins controlling its movements. When the time is right, it directs the zombie caterpillar to the surface of the earth, finds a prime location to release its spores, and then eats through its host from inside out until, having sapped the corpse of all its nutrients, nothing remains but a dusty exoskeleton. Then rich Chinese men pay up to $50k per kilo to consume this exoskeleton as an aphrodisiac. I can’t think of anything more horrifying.

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Archery in Bhutan


I’ve done archery before but not like this. Each person shoots two arrows that disappear into the horizon, at least as far as I can see. Then they set off on a long journey to the other side of the field to see if any of them hit the ridiculously small target. Then they turn around and shoot two more arrows back in the direction they came from. A winner is declared when a certain number of points are scored, or when they all stop codding themselves and agree to go home for dinner.

Bhutanese people also like a game called khuru, which is similar to darts but more heavily weighted and again played at an unreasonable distance from the target. I won’t talk about how I embarrassed myself in front of a bunch of kids. I’ve never been any use at darts anyway.

But I did find the archery intriguing. When the tour guide challenged me a game at half distance, I was happy to accept...

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In a Tamil village, I heard loud music as a truck passed by. The truck had a palm tree protruding from the front at a 45° angle. The palm tree had a shirtless man hanging from it, hooked through the skin of his back and his legs. I thought the hooks would break through the stretched skin.

He swung back and forth continuously, a long piece of cloth tied to his feet pulled by a guy on the truck. It’s a form of praying. Look liked agony, but somehow his features were calm.

The soles of my feet were ballooned with blisters from walking barefoot on the hot stone of the hilltop temple the day before. My ankle hurt from a few weeks back. But after seeing the hanging man, I was embarrassed by my discomfort, ashamed by the doubts I had about climbing 180m Sigiriya. Sure there are 90 year olds climbing Croagh Patrick barefoot every year, or so I’ve heard.

We stopped for lunch before...

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I got off the train at Brno. Grabbed a hot dog and I waited for a taxi. The second biggest city in Czech Republic, surely there are taxis, right? At the train station? The hot dog turned into a cup of coffee and a kastany bar. Still no taxis nor any form of public transport.

So I started walking towards the city centre, dragging my luggage (which hopped and staggered awkwardly due to its missing wheel). It’s times like these I miss having a smart phone. No taxis along the way, in fact, the streets were practically deserted. No families waiting on bus stop benches. I don’t know what I was expecting from Czech Republic, but I kind of assumed there would be loads of silent bearded old folk smoking outside newsagents wearing flat caps and drinking pilsner while pondering existentialism or life as an insect.

I’m not a nervous traveler, but on these empty streets the question of...

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