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My Favourite Photos of 2013

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Rather than pick out a load of pictures I took in 2013 with my trusty old Nikon (or Olympus for underwater pics), I thought I’d showcase my Instagram skills. For those of you who don’t know, Instagram is a popular, free photo sharing app available for your smart phone. It always you to crop, rotate and apply some basic effects to the image taken with the camera on your smartphone and I’ve been pretty impressed how easy it is to use.

Below are a sample of my favourite images I took using my phone. Any editing was done within the Instagram app.

Sunrise over the Cunard Building, Liverpool, UK


Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro


Dawn in Knutsford, north west England


Rainbow over Dedham Vale, England


Houses of Parliament, London


The last sunset over London in 2013

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Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro

 This isn’t a photo I posted to Instagram (Instagram pics are always square, this is panoramic) but I took it with the camera on my smartphone. It is the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where the 2014 World Cup Final will be played.

I’ve found Instagram to be a great little app to share photos which. A huge number of people have smartphones with cameras and the app is free to download. It is easy to use and allows you to share your photos quickly and easily onto Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

If you would like to see more of my Instagram photos, my account can be found here –


Rio From The Air

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Rio Helicopter TourRio de Janiero has some of the most iconic landmarks in the world that are instantly recognisable. The statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks this sprawling city with the stunning Copacabana and Ipamena beaches, Sugar Loaf mountain and the world famous Maracana Stadium which will be the venue of the 2014 World Cup Final.

Anyone who has been up the base of the 30m tall statue of Christ the Redeemer will tell you of the stunning views over this famous city. However, it is possible to get an even better view….from a helicopter.

There are various companies in Rio offering different helicopter tours. The one I took departed from the lagoon situated a few blocks behind Ipanema. There was a bit of a queue as this is a popular way to see Rio but eventually I got on board for the relatively short trip. By nature, helicopter tours anywhere are short but the views are worth it.

Ipamena and Copacabana Beaches

Ipamena and Copacabana beaches in Rio de Janeiro

There were just 3 passengers on our helicopter so we all had a seat next to a window. The pilot took us out to the coast our Ipanema Beach where we could see the stunning blue ocean, golden beaches and even the hotel I was staying in. We flew along the beach towards the headland and the Parque Garota de Ipanema separates Rio’s two most famous beaches; Ipanema and Copacabana. At the far end of Copacabana, the distinctive shape of Sugar Loaf mountain was easy to see.

Next we headed over the statue of Christ the Redeemer which has looked down on the city for more than 90 years. It is a seriously popular place for visitors to go to get a view of the city but their view wasn’t as good as the one I had. Looking down on the view area, there was a mass of people swarming round the base the statue trying to get a spot to take a photo of the statue and the city below.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro

To the north, was another of Rio’s famous landmarks – the Maracana Stadium (Estadio do Maracana). Built for the 1950 World Cup, it was here that a world record 199,000 people watched Uruguay beat the host nation 2-1 to win the World Cup. Defeat did not go down well in Brazil and their goalkeeper, Barbosa, was blamed for the defeat by Brazilian society. Shortly before his death in 2000, Barbosa said the maximum sentence in Brazil is 30 years but he had been paying for something he wasn’t responsible for over the last 50 years.

In a few months, the World Cup will return to Brazil and the modern Maracana has been rebuilt and will host the 2014 World Cup Final.

Maracana Stadium

Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro

The helicopter tour was over all too quickly but there is something magical view the world from such a high vantage point. Was it more expensive that a land based tour – YES, was it shorter than a land based tour – YES……was it worth it – ABSOLUTELY !!


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Remains of a White Rhino
Rhino have always been poached in Africa but until 2005, the numbers of animals killed illegally had been relatively low. Since then, the problem has escalated seriously and in 2012 a total of 668 rhino were poached. The increase has coincided with an increase in demand for rhino horn from Vietnam. The horn is ground into powder, mixed with water and the drink is used as a miracle cure for everything.

As Rhino have few natural predators, they don’t have many off spring so when an unnatural predator in the form of poachers starts to kill them, their numbers will decrease rapidly and even if all the poaching stopped today, it would take a long time to restore the numbers of White and Black Rhino. With rhino horn fetching around 60,000 USD per kilo and the weight of an adult rhino horn can be more than 3kg, it is easy to understand why the rhino horn is so valuable to poachers.

For most of us, the closest we get to rhino poaching stories are reading about it in the news. On a recent trip to South Africa, the story of a poached female white rhino was brought closer to home. We had booked into a small, private game lodge in the Waterberg (Limpopo province) for a safari break. The website listed the various types of game we may find including white rhino. However, a few weeks before we arrived, the poachers struck. There were a pair of white rhino at Bushwa lodge which lies around 10 miles (15km) north of Vaalwater and the entire property is fenced off with locked gates.

The group of poachers had gained access to the land and had tracked the female rhino. The poachers had initially shot the rhino in the spine to disable it and once it had crashed to the ground, they shot it in the head. However, even with their powerful weapons, the female was still alive. Although rhinos have poor eyesight, the female could see the poachers approaching. If you watch any wildlife programmes on TV where animals have been sedated with a tranquilliser, the rangers will often cover the animals eyes to reduce stress.

These poachers had little regard for the welfare of the rhino but as the last thing they wanted was an upset rhino, they brutally hacked out her eye while she was still alive before removing the horn. The carcass was left for the jackal, hyena and honey badgers while the group made off with the horn with little doubt it was destined for the Far East.

White Rhino, South Africa

The poachers work in small groups and are able to target their prey in various environments such as large, national parks like Kruger or small private game lodges which are dotted all across the country. Far from being clumsy locals with no remorse, the poachers are professional, well organised and armed. They are able to track the rhino whilst leaving few, if any tracks of their own to alert rangers to their presence. They are armed with advanced weapons and are usually prepared to restore to deadly gun battles with authorities rather than face arrest.

One of the rangers took us to the spot where their rhino had been killed. The head had been removed and taken away in the hope of retrieved the bullet but to no avail. The rest was buried but local predators had little trouble locating and digging up the dead rhino. To make matters worse, the female had been pregnant so two rhino were lost. Small safari lodges invest a lot of money to have rhino on their property but they can’t insure them against poaching. A difficult decision has to be made whether to replace the rhino at great cost or not.

It is difficult to see how to solve the problem. Officials at various levels have been found to be involved either directly in poaching activities or by simply ignoring them. There is little point having laws in place to protect rhino if the officials won’t enforce it. My belief is that while the demand for rhino horn is there, poaching will always exist. That means the demand from Vietnam and other Far East countries has to be reduced. Unfortunately, I have no answers as to how this could be achieved.

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Zodiac Modern Art in Moscow

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Leo, Zodiac Park, Moscow In one of the northern suburbs of Moscow I found this little park with 12 works of modern art. Closer inspection revealed that each represented a sign of the zodiac.

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to find the name of the park but it is only a couple of minutes walk from Sviblovo metro station on the Orange Line (Number 6 – Kaluzhsko–Rizhskaya Line). There is also a pretty little white Russian Orthordox church with a golden onion dome which is also worthy of a photo or two.

When I first visited the park, I didn’t realise at first that each piece of art represented a sign of the zodiac. All the pieces were made from various pieces of scrap metal. The bull representing Taurus and the lion representing Leo were easily identifiable but other pieces were a bit more abstract. For example, instead of an archer for Sagittarius, there was a small boy with a catapult. There was also a bit of humour with Pisces. Two large fish are sharing a meal at a table and the meal is of a fish. Picses, Zodiac Park, Moscow

In addition to not finding out the name of the park, I also don’t know who the person was who created this pieces of art so unfortunately, I can’t credit them. However, if you are ever in this part of Moscow, it is a quiet little place to sit and relax for a while.

Images of all pieces of art in the Zodiac Park can be found on my Moscow Flick set:

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View of Ipanema

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Along with Copacabana, Ipanema beach is one of the best known beaches in Rio de Janeiro. However, there is more than just a wonderful beach to Ipanema. It is considered to be one of the more desirable areas of Rio to live in.

Naturally, the beach is incredibly popular and people arrive early to secure their favourite spot for a lazy day in the sun.

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema faces south on to the Atlantic Ocean. When the sun begins to rise and the shadows start to retreat, life starts to stir on this wonderful stretch of coastline. Joggers are a common site and dotted along the beach are a number of exercise stations when people can stop for a stretch. People are already sitting outside the little refreshment kiosks which never seem to close and always seem to have a supply of fresh coconuts.

It isn’t long before tented shelters start to appear on the beach where vendors will set up offering sun loungers and parasols to sunbathers.

As the sun climbs in the sky, more and more people arrive at Ipanema. Some just want to soak up the sun while others are more active. You don’t have to look hard to find a group of men or women kicked a football around. Sometimes there are organised games, other times people are playing football / volleyball. The level of skill is quite impressive.

Getting to the beach is fairly straight forward with buses constantly running in both directions along the road. The only exception is that every Sunday, the lanes closest to the beach are closed to motorised traffic to allow more room for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Dois Irmaos mountains from Hotel Praia Ipanema rooftop pool

To the right of the beach the skyline is dominated by the instantly recognisable Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountains. The beach stretches along to the headline in the east where it borders Copacabana. The views from any of the beachfront hotels are simply stunning.

There is more to Ipanema than the beach. The streets are set out in neat grids so it is quite easy to find your way around to the various bars, restaurants and shops. Around 1km away from the ocean you will find the lagoon and if you look high up, you will see Christ the Redeemer looking down on the city of Rio.

For years, Copacabana was the place to head for when in Rio but now Ipanema offers a superb alternative and next time I’m Rio, I’ll be heading back there.


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The luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel is one of Dubai’s most recognised landmarks. While most of us will never get to stay there, it is possible to sunbathe (fairly) close by on the Umm Suqeim public beach.

The beautiful, white sands and waves gently lapping make Umm Suqeim an ideal place to relax. It offers some of the best views of the Burj Al Arab hotel and Dubai city tour buses pass along the road next to the beach to afford tourists a photo opportunity.

The one drawback is that apart from a couple of changing huts, there are no facilities or shade on the beach so you will need to bring your own towels and if possible, chairs and umbrellas. The lack of facilities probably keep the numbers of visitors down but this shouldn’t put you off visitor Umm Suqeim beach as it is a great place to soak up the sun.

Throughout the day, helicoptors circle the beach as they land on the helicoptor pad on the Burj Al Arab dropping off guests who have recently arrived at the airport. It certainly beats fighting the Dubai traffic.

The other iconic hotel next to the Umm Suqeim Beach has been part of the Dubai skyline for a lot longer than the Burj Al Arab. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel was opened in 1997 and it’s unique wave shaped design beautifully compliments the sail shape of it’s 7* neighbour. Although it is not cheap, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is a far more affordable option if you would like to spend your visit to Dubai in this part of town.

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Categories : Big Blue Marble, Dubai, UAE
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British ColombiaOur family looks forward to spending time together, and I really enjoy those special times. We all have hectic schedules, and sometimes I think my life consists of ferrying kids to soccer practice or something like that. So we all gather at some point during the fall – to check the calendar and pick a destination for our spring break getaway. Choices – boy, do we ever have a lot of those when looking around British Columbia for a family vacation.

Snow Skiing
Typically spring break falls in the middle of March – just perfect for catching some great snow skiing before the season ends. Whistler and Big White are both outstanding resorts, and during the spring break holidays, have free skiing and rentals for the kids, which is great for a family on a budget. Only too soon they won’t be “kids” any more and won’t qualify for kid rates, but we’ll take advantage as long as we can.

Of course, the new thing is snowboarding, and the kids are all quickly becoming experts. We made them take lessons before they went out, but the instructors said they were naturals, so I watched them head up the lifts with only a bit of hesitation, which proved unfounded. My husband Ed wanted to try snowboarding, so he went with them, and came back all excited, declaring how proud he was of the boys – he thought they were amazing. My daughter and I were very content with the regular green (easy) ski slopes, thank you very much.

Pirate Adventures
Sometimes the kids decide to go the other direction, and head south to Victoria for our family getaway. They fell in love with a place called Pirate Adventures a couple of years ago. First the pirates gave all the kids pirate names. They dressed the kids up in bandanas and drew little moustaches and beards on them (yes, it washed off – I asked first), and even gave one of the boys a fake hook. When they took the pirate ship out into the harbour, the kids went nuts. They went on and on about the movies Hook and Peter Pan. Two of the crew engaged in a sword duel, swashing and buckling all over the ship. It was like a ride from Disneyland. I got a big kick out of it myself, even though I had to go take a nap at our Victoria hotel after we were through.

Bike riding
One year the kids decided they were really into cycling, and I found a couple of suitable trails near Victoria. I had to ask someone where the name of the Galloping Goose Trail came from. It turned out the trail runs along an abandoned railway line, and the noisy gas rail-car which took passengers from Victoria to Sooke back in the ‘20s sounded like – yes, a galloping goose. It was perfect for a family ride – a composition trail with just a few gently rolling hills that were easy on the legs, with forests on either side, streams and the occasional waterfall. It was very relaxing, and such a wonderful way to have the family spend time together.

Whale watching
If we go to Victoria, it’s almost assured we’re going to take a tour to see the whales. The kids love it, the whales are plentiful, and it’s a wonderful family adventure. My boys are getting to that age where they try to act nonchalant and “cool,” but that goes away when we’re out on the whale boat and they spot a plume of spray from a whale surfacing. The sight of the orca whales is really impressive, and the tour guides have tons of great information about the habits and nature of whales. We have a great time any time we do this. We always have choices when it comes to our family spring break getaway – sometimes we have to just pick a direction to see which way we want to go this year. But variety – it’s never a problem – enjoyable family activities are always available. We come back from our adventures a bit tired, but always more bonded as a family.

Carol Atkins has been traveling the world for much of her life. She enjoys of all types of travel adventures including island hopping, cruising, hiking and being lazy on the beach :). Her recent BC road trip was so much fun she can’t wait to do it again!

Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol

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Photos made available under Creative Commons license:

Flickr User: Kyle Simourd

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This is a wonderful guest post from Carol Atkins who kindly wrote about a visit to Cheyenne, Wyoming in search of the Old West. 

Cheyenne Frontier DaysMy husband Ed and I are from Fort Worth, Texas, so we grew up with tales of cowboys and cattle drives.

When we went to Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we wanted an authentic taste of the Old West.

We did it all – parades, rodeos and concerts. The whole experience was a blast! I was glad we had booked early, because this 10 day event draws huge crowds, understandable since it has been held every year since 1897. Of course, I love a celebration, and the Frontier Days Parade was an exquisite way to kick off our vacation in Cheyenne. I got into the spirit of things when a horse drawn stagecoach came by, driven by two cowboys in jeans, hats and boots. I overheard a man dressed up as a cowboy tell someone the origin of the term “riding shotgun” was from the stagecoach days, when the man next to the driver carried a shotgun to protect against bandits and Indians. I’d never heard that, but it made perfect sense.

When we first got to Cheyenne, I was a little self-conscious about wearing boots, jeans and my cowboy hat – I’m not sure why – but it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Almost everyone lining the streets was in Western clothes, and I felt right at home. As Miss Frontier and her court rode by, I wondered how much their outfits cost with all the bangles and sparkly things on them. I mentioned that to Ed, but of course, didn’t get much of a response.

Our second morning we tried the pancake breakfast, a big event in itself. There was a lot of rich food, and a sense of hospitality that fit right in with the Old West mindset of Frontier Days. We met some great people – Fred and Edie from New York said this was the first time they had been out west, and they were enchanted by the whole experience. They wanted to see the “Behind The Chutes Tour” at the rodeo grounds, so we all headed over to get a look behind the scenes at the Frontier Days Rodeo. The New Yorkers told us all they had learned about rodeos, and Ed and I politely listened, even though we’d been going to rodeos since we were kids.


They told us the rodeo has origins in the cattle drive. As cowboys had to “brand” their herds before moving north to the railroads, where the markets were, they used ropes from horseback to bring down the calves. The skill needed to actually rope a fast moving calf was phenomenal. Fred said that they had been to the rodeo the night before and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of their lives. Steer wrestling had similar origins – a cowboy riding on a horse twirled a rope around their head and caught a steer to rope and tie it up. As the cowboys got better and better, competitions naturally arose, and they began roping for time, which led to events like the Frontier Days Rodeo.

As we toured the chutes where the bull riders emerged, Edie said she wasn’t sure where bull riding came from, but she had never seen anything like it. A cowboy would voluntarily get on top of a huge bull – she was in awe of the whole concept – and when it was released, try to stay on top of it for 8 seconds. She said it felt much longer than that. There was also barrel racing, team roping, saddle bronc riding and of course, the rodeo clowns mixed in.

After we promised to meet Fred and Edie for pancakes the next morning, they set out to an art show, and Ed and I went to see the Native American music and dancing at Indian Village. After that, we would go back to the hotel for a rest. I had booked tickets online for a concert by one of my favorite singers for that evening, and I couldn’t wait. There was so much to do at Frontier Days, I knew we would get a taste of the Old West that I’d remember for a long time.

Carol Atkins has been traveling the globe for much of her life; she’s a travel-holic. She loves of all types of travel adventures including island hopping, hiking, biking and being lazy on the beach :). She was recently in Wyoming with her family and enjoyed an authentic frontier rodeo!

Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol

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Photos made available under a Creative Commons license by Flickr User Adrian Hu

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Fontainebleau CastleApart from the ever romantically famous Eiffel Tower, France is known for its wildlife and forest attractions. Fontainebleau Castle and Forest has been noted to have 13 million visitors yearly, surpassing the Eiffel Tower, with only 6 million visitors. Fontainebleau Forest is protected by France’s Office National des Forets which has 25,000 hectares of forest surrounding the vicinity of Fontainebleau and its neighbouring villages. The place is a former royal hunting park that is often visited by walkers and horse riders. Several sport activities are said to be perfect in this neighbourhood. Card games, Tennis, and rock climbing are the usual sports of the people residing in this area.

Card Games in the Castle 

Blackjack and poker are popularly played card games throughout Fontainebleau, France. In fact, poker uses a 52-card deck of French cards, which is said to have originated in France. The card game’s popularity in France is on the rise as it made numerous French poker players known in land based and online based casinos worldwide. One famous French poker player, Vanessa Rousso, extended her overwhelming excellent poker skills and strategic gameplays at online poker websites like partypoker français. Aside from playing poker as a sport, poker can be a relaxing alternative to those who have been working excessively. Online poker gaming websites developed their downloadable mobile applications, providing online poker enthusiasts an easy way to play through their mobile phones anywhere – even in the courtyards of Fontainebleau. Furthermore, visitors can share their great strolling experiences in Fontainebleau with their friends at online gaming portals. The Royal Courtyards listed below are also some of the most visited historical places in Fontainebleau which visitors can boast about online.

Fontainebleau Castle

Royal Courtyards 
The Real Tennis Room is known to be the oldest of the three remaining historical rooms in France. The place is normally a tennis place, and known for its popular old saying “the game of kings, the king of games.” The Real Tennis room is now a place of regular tournaments and promotes all tennis enthusiasts to play the sport all year long.

The Palace buildings are composed of five main courtyards, popular to due to its complicated infrastructures. Each area has several names according to different periods. The Court of the White Horse is prominent by its high-roofed pavilions that date back to the 16th century. Its famous double horse-shoe staircase was built in 1963 by Jean Androuet Du Cerceau.

The Ballroom is built under Francois I and then had its building completion under Henri II by Philibert Delorme. Its luxuriously gold and silver ceiling decoration never fails to be adored by its recent and regular visitors.

(PHOTO: Guilhem Vellut)

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Charyn Canyon Valley of the Castles

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Charyn Canyon215km east of Almaty towards the border with China is the Charyn Canyon National Park. Although it is nowhere near the size of America’s Grand Canyon, the Charyn Canyon is also a spectacular place to visit. Stretching almost 150km in length and dropping to 300m in places, there is one area of the canyon that is of particular interest.

The Valley of the Castles (known locally as Dolina Zamkov), this is the most commonly visited section of Charyn Canyon. A group of us arrange a day trip to Charyn Canyon using a local tour operator in Almaty who picked us up from our hotel and we headed out on a 3 hour trip to the Canyon.

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was one of the largest former Soviet states and as we made our way east towards the Charyn Canyon, we really got a feel for the wide open spaces that go on for mile after mile. At one point we stopped at a little village and took the opportunity to buy some fresh fruit. Buying local produce in places like this always tastes better than what is available back home in the supermarkets and was all part of the day out. Eventually we reached our destination, the part of the Charyn Canyon known as the Valley of the Castles. The plan was to walk down into the bottom of the canyon to a point on the river where we would stop for lunch. We parked up and headed down the first set of steps into the bottom of the canyon to begin our walk down to the river.

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

The landscapes in this part of the canyon were simply stunning with jagged rocks and contours that had taken thousands of years to erode away into the shapes we see today. We didn’t notice it at the time but as we made our way towards the river, we were heading down a gentle slope. Its fair to say our group wasn’t a typical collection of hardened hikers so we made a gentle pace stopping to take pictures at various places. Eventually, we reached our destination next to the wide, fast flowing river. There were some tables where lunch would be served and while it was being prepared, our guide offered me and a friend the opportunity to climb to some other parts of the canyon. Apparently, we looked fitter and more able than the rest of the group…at this point we started to seriously question the guides judgement. Approaching my 40th, its fair to say I’m not in as good shape as I was in my early 20s.

Charyn River

Charyn River

Nonetheless, we took up the little challenge but I should point out that our footwear wasn’t ideally suited to hard core hiking but for some reason, we trusted our guide. He proceeded to lead us up and down all sorts of precarious and narrow little tracks and on more than one occasion, I would have been quite happy to see an RAF Mountain Rescue Sea King appear but unfortunately, the Charyn Canyon was outside the range of operation. After what seemed like an age of nervous progress, we eventually appeared on the ridge overlooking the river and our colleagues below and we made our way down to join them for lunch. Despite a few moments of concern, it was worth the effort as we managed to see the canyon from different aspects from the rest of the group.

Looking Down Into The Canyon

Looking Down Into The Canyon

After our lunch we took time to relax and soak up a bit of the Kazakhstan sun before heading back to the mini bus. It was now that we started to realise there had been a gentle downward slope towards the river. It was only a gentle rise but the walk back to the car park was energy sapping in the hot sun. Finally we reached the last set of steps to climb out of the canyon.

The one thing we hadn’t see a great deal of was wildlife. Perhaps it was a case of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” going out in the midday sun but we did find a couple of little creatures.

CharyLizard CharynSnake

After hours in the sun, it was a relief to get into the air conditioned mini-bus for the journey back to Almaty.

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