Lust on the menu at the Larco


Gigantic sprays of glorious flame-red bougainvillea festoon the wall beside the brick ramp leading to the main entrance of the privately-owned Larco Museum, in the Pueblo Libre district of the Peruvian capital, Lima.

This museum ranks on top of the city visitor wish list …. and now I know why.

Given that the main emphasis of my trip has been to explore the little known wonders of northern Peru, meaning the uncovered glories of the ancient Moche civilisation, I can’t imagine a more suitable location for a fine lunch to complete my brief time here.

The Larco Museum occupies a grand 18th Century mansion that, itself, was built on the site of a 7th Century pre-Columbian pyramid.

But wait, there’s more ….

IMG_0108The Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera –  it’s full name in Spanish – is feted worldwide for the finest collection of pre-Columbian art in Peru. This superb accumulation of treasures includes a fabulous wealth of intricate gold and silver masks, ornaments and jewellery.

Not only that. The museum is also home to the most intriguing assemblage of erotic pottery dating from those ancient days. This extraordinary collection, an eye-popping celebration of fertility, tells me that life all those centuries ago wasn’t as dry and arid as the land in which the civilisation thrived.

I am also able to wander through the museum’s storage facility and see shelf after shelf of amazing archeological treasures the museum simply doesn’t have space to display. I’m told this storage space holds a jaw-dropping 45,000 pieces!

IMG_0110After exploring all the displays in the museum’s galleries, and once my jaw has resumed it’s normal state, I am presented with tantalising prospect of a leisurely lunch enjoyed amid the idyllic setting of the splendidly-tended Larco gardens, this fine repast accompanied  – strictly for the purposes of research, of course,  by a refreshing pisco sour, which is the national alcoholic treasure.


Put a visit to the Larco in Lima down on your wish list as being essential in coming to terms with Peruvian culture …. and getting face to face with fine local cuisine.


The magical Moche – Peru’s ‘unknown’ marvel

Gold Moche mask: Sipan Museum

Gold Moche mask: Sipan Museum

Google the words “Peru+tourism” and what do I get? Inca, Inca, Inca  …  ad inca-nitum

Any mention of the Moche? Not likely. I type “Moche” into the search box of a leading Peru tours site and this is all I get: “We’re stumped on this one. The little robot inside our webpage can’t understand what you’re searching for.  Now this is truly disappointing. Any worthy Peruvian tour operator should at least have some knowledge of this important subject.

The history of the Moche civilisation of northern Peru is an epic saga of intellectual sophistication, artistic grace, blood sports and ritual human sacrifice. A mini-series about these people would rival the Game of Thrones saga.

Moche warrior figure from the tomb of the Lady of Cao

Moche warrior figure from the tomb of the Lady of Cao

The Moche thrived from about the time Jesus was born until about 800AD, when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in Europe. And that scant outline is about all the hard information I had when I set out on the Moche Route, between the northern Peruvian cities of Trujillo and Chiclayo.

The surrounding countryside can’t hope to rival the grandeur of the Andes but, from what I am seeing, the many wonders that are being painstakingly extracted from this arid land are the equal of any Inca treasures.

Some of these Moche marvels have only recently been unearthed. They include the mummy called the Lady of Cao. She was discovered in 2004 which, in archeological time, is like saying a few seconds ago. I see her desiccated 1600-year-old corpse in a museum at the El Brujo archaeological dig north of Trujillo. The museum also showcases the exquisite jewellery and sensuous ceramic art found in her tomb.

Further north in the town of Lambayeque another outstanding display of Moche gold, silver, turquoise and lapis lazuli jewellery and delicate pottery jugs, often in amusing animal shapes, fills the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, a.k.a the Lord of Sipan Museum. It’s dedicated to an elite Moche man whose mummy was discovered in 1987. He and the Lady of Cao are Peru’s archaeological ‘royal couple’.

Moche murals inside Huaca de la Luna

Moche murals inside Huaca de la Luna

Both mummies were discovered during digs at ancient pyramid adobe temples called huaca. These extensively eroded mud mounds are a common sight in Peru; there’s even one, Huaca Juliana, in the middle of Lima.

Highlights along the Moche Route are seeing the extraordinary murals at Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo, visiting Huaca Cao at El Brujo and rambling around the Tucume digs, north of Chiclayo, where there are 26 of these ancient structures.

Scientific scrutiny of Peru’s ancient huaca is a relatively modern development. But they’ve been plundered for centuries and therefore no-one knows what treasures might have been pilfered by night and secretly sold? How much Moche heritage lies hidden in unknown locations? 

Moche ceramic pots used in ritual burial: Sipan Museum

Moche ceramic pots used in ritual burial: Sipan Museum


And who can say what future wonders may still still buried in the north of Peru somewhere along the Moche Route, just waiting to be discovered? Time to get digging …


Turquoise and gold brooch found in Moche tomb

Turquoise and gold brooch found in Moche tomb

Moche ceramic figure in Sipan Museum

Moche ceramic figure in Sipan Museum

Australia’s hot raw heart

For two in our group the pain arrives soon in the shape of blisters from ill-fitting boots. Fortunately I have comfortable shoes. My particular anguish stems from the abrupt shift from being fairly sedentary to being super active.

Hiking the Larapinta Trail definitely takes me out of my comfort zone. And that’s a good thing.

On the summit of Mt Sonder

On the summit of Mt Sonder

It’s hard-baked ground in the vast MacDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs, a sunburnt, cracked earth covered in mulga scrub, broken red rock and scree. Australia’s raw heart is a forbidding land of awesome proportion and isolation yet also a place of incredible beauty.  

The 232-km Larapinta Trail snakes across this tortuous terrain of wind-scoured broiled stone. It follows narrow spurs flanking precipitous gorges and winds its way up steep slopes that are littered with massive boulders.

The highest point, Mt Sonder, proves to be both the toughest climb and highlight of our four-day hike along sections of the trail.

Camp at sunset

One freezing night is spent in swags flung between ghostly river gums along the dry bed of the Hugh River. Another night I’m soaked in a desert storm despite ducking for cover when the rain arrives. Within moments I have sleeping bag and swag in a tangle and have brushed against all sides of my tiny tent which immediately starts to leak like a sieve.

Tough land, tough walk

Each day spent trekking through the spacious eternity of the Red Centre I sweat and I struggle up steep inclines, living fully in the moment, one step at a time, totally focused on not stumbling or slipping in loose shale or being stabbed by spears of tough grass flourishing beside the track.

All I hear is the steady, rhythmic crunching of dry earth beneath my boots. Work and city life pressures no longer exist. My Larapinta hike is more effective than meditation.

The scale of the surroundings renders anything human as infinitesimal. I’m overwhelmed by sheer immensity in size, proportion, scale and time.

The Larapinta leaves me with a lasting impression of my total insignificance in the grand scheme of things. This cosmic realisation is at once profoundly beautiful yet totally sobering.

Heaven for shopaholics

New York’s the best city by far for a binge on almost everything. Whatever your choice, you’ll most likely find it bigger and better in the Big Apple, particularly when shopping, so to check out the latest and greatest in cameras I ride the subway to Manhattan’s west side, get off at 34th Street and walk a couple of blocks to 420 Ninth Avenue.

Anyone with an interest in photography will instantly recognise this address as the location of B&H Superstore.

B&HThis electronics behemoth occupies an entire city block, with 6,500 square metres of display space stocked with just about everything imaginable related to images and sound.

I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. I just can’t make up my mind. Do I head upstairs to photography right away, or do I first check out all the techno-goodies spread before my eyes on the ground floor?

Instant gratification wins the day, so I spend the next 40 minutes or more immersed in a world of portable entertainment, simply having fun messing about with stuff I have no intention of buying. I sample an ear-bashing brace of headphones, fiddle with professional audio and video gear, peer through binoculars and telescopes, assess home theatre systems and LED screens.

The photo department is more like a Photographic Expo than a city store display. Each brand of camera has its own dedicated kiosk manned by experts. I’m encouraged to pick up and handle whatever I want, so of course I spend ages doing just this. Prices are much lower than at home, as I expected, but most amazing of all is this sheer volume of choice. 

Leica S2-P littleAlong with apparently every photographic accessory ever invented, there are more cameras and lenses than I can possibly count, from the cheapest point-and-shoot to the top-of-the-range “in my dreams” Leica. 

As the B&H promo video suggests, I am now “discovering what a product range really looks like”. It’s precisely this experience that entices 5000 eager shoppers through the store’s front doors every day … or so they say.

My advice is simple. Just don’t go on a Saturday. B&H is owned by Herman Schreiber and he and most of his employees are observant Hasidic Jews, so the store closes 2pm Friday and reopens at 10am on Sunday.

Take an interactive look around the store for yourself



The fabulous Frick

Rembrandt Frick

Self portrait, Rembrandt

Manhattan is chock-full of cultural cornerstones. The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue is perhaps the best known and most stupendous with its “two million square feet housing more than two million objects of which you can see tens of thousands at any given time”.

The trouble with such big numbers is that, just like the Louvre in Paris, this cultural behemoth requires a lifetime of visits and close inspection to be truly understood and appreciated.

For the vast majority of travellers, those rarely in the city, the Met presents a great challenge. Visitors rarely have time for a comprehensive experience and have to choose carefully what they want most to see.

In this sense then, smaller can be greater, and I’m fortunate to be steered towards a worthy alternative, The Frick Collection, housed in a magnificent former private home not far from the Met. (1 East 70th Street)

This Manhattan marvel is perfectly suited to time-poor tourists seeking a stellar experience. The Frick contains one of the most extraordinary collections of fine art you could ever hope to appreciate in a morning or afternoon.

Renoir Frick 2

La Promenade by Renoir

And it’s a bargain; entry is $18 adults, $15 seniors. Children under 10 are not allowed so you can look forward to a squeal-free ambience while wandering spellbound through the mansion’s 16 galleries with your free audio guide.

Another singular joy of the Frick is being able to get as close as possible to priceless art. Naturally there’s security in place but it’s unobtrusive. Provided I didn’t try to touch I was able to keenly inspect, judiciously, the brushstrokes of Old Masters – Rembrandt, Velasquez, Turner, Degas, Renoir.

I’m a huge fan of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels (Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies) so I am elated to see the Holbein portraits of  Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. These two splendid oils are suitably juxtaposed either side of the great fireplace in the Living Hall. As the audio guide pertinently comments in my ear, “it’s hard to believe you are looking at the originals of these famous works”.

At the same time I can’t help noticing that Holbein’s portrait of More looks uncannily like the Cromwell of the BBC television series, far more so than does his painting of Cromwell. Perhaps the series producers got their portraits mixed up?

Holbein Frick

Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger

Above my head hangs the huge El Greco depiction of St Jerome, on an opposite wall are two paintings by Titian, and between them and where I stand is Michelangelo Buanarotti’s sculpture Sampson and Two Philistines gracing a elegant table.

Cromwell Frick

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein

And that’s just some of the art in this one room!

This superb collection of beautiful objects and extraordinary paintings was amassed by the 19th Century coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Indeed, it was a fortune well spent.

In addition to European masterpieces it comprises sculptures, 18th Century French furniture and porcelains and an unrivalled display of exquisite Limoges enamels. Wherever you look there’s something extraordinary to see. And I have hardly mentioned the wonder itself of being allowed to see the interior of this magnificent house.

My travel advice is that you promptly engrave the Frick’s address on your next New York itinerary.



That New York state of mind

Staying in the East Village turns out to be the smartest ploy imaginable. Our apartment, which I find on AirBnB, is located on 1st Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets, just off Houston (pronounced “Howston” by residents of the Big Apple). Serendipity has placed us right at the heart of one of New York’s most interesting and flavoursome neighbourhoods.

New York springJust one block from our front door is an entrance to the subway F-line, so we have easy access on tap to almost anywhere we might wish to go.

Not that there is any imperative urge to stray far from “home” because all along 1st Avenue there are excellent restaurants offering a choice in cuisines that encapsulate the colourful, cultural diversity that is a hallmark of both the East Village and the Lower East Side.

It also means that following an inspiring yet inevitably tiring day of adventure while roaming around the big city there’s really no need whatsoever to leave our friendly neighbourhood for an evening meal. Even better, after we’ve dined we can simply stroll home well fed to our beds.

Even the weather does us a huge favour on the day we arrive in town by shifting abruptly from late winter chill to soul-inspiring spring sunshine.

This switch to a long awaited welcome warmth transforms Sunday in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park into a day of rich outdoor celebration and entertainment. There’s a jazz band in full flight at the NYU entrance and classical pianist in full cry on a baby grand beside the Garibaldi Statue.




A spontaneous, joyous jam on massed guitars breaks out among the crowd gathered beside the famous Arch at the centre of the park. This celebration of live music and the general bonhomie of the people gathered in the sunshine prompts us to shift instantly and effortlessly into a New York state of mind.

Silence is the secret in the wild

Moving steadily and silently on water is the finest way to get really close to wildlife without causing any disturbance. Sometimes it can almost seem as if you are invisible. In Botswana’s Okavango Delta the transport of choice is a makoro (dugout canoe) pushed through the water by a skilled local wielding a long pole. In this fashion I have one of my most outstanding elephant encounters.

We’ve been moving at a tranquil pace along one of myriad narrow water channels forged the reeds by hippo as they forage for food when suddenly, up ahead, we see a massive elephant drinking at the water’s edge. Our silent approach is seemingly unheeded and, as we collectively hold our breath and our poler crouches in the rear of the canoe, we slip past the elephant so close it seems we might get sucked up its trunk.

elephantIt’s certainly the nearest I’ve been to a elephant in the wild, so close I can count its individual eyelashes. Amazingly our silent passing by on the water doesn’t faze this magnificent beast one iota.

But silence can equally be your enemy in the bush. In Zimbabwe I paddle a canoe down the Zambezi River for four days between Chirindu and Mana Pools. The river is teeming with life, the most evident being the many pods of hippo. They’re extremely territorial creatures and fearsome if they feel threatened.

Surprising a wallowing hippo is the last thing anyone should do – quite possibly the last thing one might ever do. So rather than silence, in this situation the golden rule is to let them know well in advance that you’re coming.

_MG_0993When rounding a bend in the river or passing along any stretch with reduced visibility, we repeatedly bang our paddles against the sides of our canoes. By making this noise – or so the theory goes – any hippo in your path will usually swim away to safety in deeper water. I’m pleased to say that it works!

A world away in Canada there is no such danger while kayaking magnificent Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island. This is a truly special corner of the Canadian wilderness and my water-level vantage point reveals the true glory of the surrounding landscape enclosed by snow-capped mountains, a truly fabulous scene that’s reflected in the mirror-smooth surface of the Sound.

Gliding past floating gardens of bull kelp I explore the edges of rocky islands, peering down through the clear salt water at starfish and sea urchins. Occasionally a pale jellyfish drifts by. A solitary bald eagle wings its way through the bright blue sky. Peaceful, silent passage by kayak also radically increases my chances of seeing a shy black bear foraging by the water’s edge for salmon berries, thimbleberries, huckleberries and blue berries.

A wet and wild time in Bangkok

Thailand’s New Year festival Songkran could just as well be called sànùk – the local word for fun. Getting well and truly soaked is how this annual celebration is celebrated in Bangkok. Songkran starts on April 13 and lasts three hectic days that are one big splash.

Along Khao San Road – where farangs (foreigners) are most Songkran 8likely to get involved – participants arrive armed with water guns ranging in size and power from palm-sized pistols to fluorescent pump-action monsters.

Songkran means “change place” or “move”. It marks the day the sun shifts position in the zodiac. Songkran’s also a time for renewal, for spring cleaning, tidying up the past and beginning afresh. The H2O connection stems from the belief that water can wash away bad luck, particularly on such an auspicious occasion.

The first day of festival is Maha Songkran Day, marking the end of the old year. The following day is Wan Nao (literally ‘the day after’) and the third day is Wan Thaloeng Sok, the start of the New Year.

During the holidaySongkran Bangkok June thousands of Thai’s originally from the country but living in the city have the chance to return home and celebrate. Other than along hectic Khao San Road the rest of Bangkok can, for once, seem deserted which is a slightly eerie feeling.

By custom Songkran is a time for families to gather and pay respect to their elders. Children pour scented water over the hands of parents and grandparents and receive blessings for prosperity and good luck.

On Khao San, however, there’s no respect shown anyone. Lone sharpshooters roam the crowds dispensing squirts of chilled justice, which are actually most refreshing on a hot, humid day. Our group of doughty combatants make a stand beneath Lucky Beer signs. We assume battle position around a restaurant table dead centre in the cordoned-off street. It’s a bold but rash decision that renders us prime targets.

We retaliate furiously, age being of no consequence. A Thai toddler gets me unawares and is duly soaked in reply. He flees squealing with delight, then returns and prowls nearby, gun at the ready, waiting for a second chance.

Songkran 3A bearded Rambo farang appears in black bandanna, wrap sunglasses, beads around his neck and stripped to the waist showing off his tattoos. He’s obviously got American Sniper syndrome and with his monstrous pump-action water gun sets about spraying everyone in sight. “I’ve been here like five years, man … it’s amazing, so cool.”  We suspect he’s suffering equally from water on the brain.

Songkran 6


A brass band strikes up and at last the procession we’ve come to see begins led by a trio of young girls in traditional dress carrying a banner which reads: “Let’s splash and be blessed.” Miss Songkran passes by on a flower-strewn float. A priest blesses the crowd. The procession is beamed live on TV.

We return to base and order more water. A beautiful young girl appears beside me with a silver bowl and delicately pours scented water over my outstretched hands. It’s a disarming, touching traditional moment amid all the mayhem. But then that Thai youngster pops up again and exacts his gleeful revenge by squirting me square in the face. Sànùk! 

A woodland escape

Way, way back in 1777, Samuel Johnson uttered his pithy and memorable quote that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Yet the modern British capital can be overwhelming at times, especially during the height of the tourist season when you almost have to push and shove to make headway along busy thoroughfares such as Oxford Street or to negotiate the crush of Covent Garden.

A Sunday newspaper article suggests fleeing this bedlam to what it calls “London’s satellite towns” – thereby drawing an immensely long bow to target distant locales such as Bath, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick. The article misses the obvious. London has a remedy much closer to hand: a walk in the woods.

All it takes to escape city overload is a pair of stout legs and the will to stride away. Whenever in London, I always find time to wander peacefully through one of the city’s many green spaces.

I’m never short of appealing options. They include Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood, Queens Wood, Alexandra Park, Regent’s Park, Greenwich, Wimbledon Common, Kew Gardens, Richmond Park …. even good old Hyde Park right in the city centre.

Tranquil Highgate Wood

Tranquil Highgate Wood

I usually stay in the city’s north so two of my favourite walks are on the Heath or into Highgate Wood. The latter is like a preserved slice of England’s past, filled with shady glades, ancient oaks and hornbeams. Once among the trees it’s easy to imagine what it was like when this sort of forest covered much of southern England.

I hear marvellous trilling birdsong. I glimpse bushy tailed squirrels scurrying between the branches and across the ground and occasionally I’ve sighted the slinking shape of a shy fox. Whether walking, or sitting and reading on a convenient park bench, I find Highgate Wood never fails to imbue a sense of deep and timeless tranquility. While here I really do experience the poet William Blake’s “green and pleasant land”.


Map of Hampstead Heath

There are many access points to Hampstead Heath. One option that presents the best of this green treasure is to take a stroll from Gospel Oak tube station, cross over Parliament Hill Fields and head north following the paths beside the various Highgate ponds that eventually lead to Kenwood House.


Kenwood House overlooking The Heath

Kenwood is a magnificent villa set on the Heath’s northernmost crest. Open to the public, it houses the Iveagh Bequest, an art collection that includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Gainsborough. Open air summer concerts are held in the grounds.

The cafe is a good refuelling station perhaps before heading southwest back through the woods and across the Heath to eventually end up in Hampstead village.

Whatever the time of year, I believe a simple walk in the woods (or through any green space) provides the perfect antidote to urban stress. You might wish to try these other London possibilities:

London’s Green Spaces

Hidden gardens; green spaces

Large Parks of London


Harry’s outback jewel

There’s something about Harry, an eagerness to do things differently. That’s why he prefers exploring east of Alice Springs rather than head west.

Most 4WD tours in Australia’s Red Centre head into the West MacDonnell Ranges to locations such as Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Hermannsburg and the tropical oasis of Palm Valley.
Red Centre 2

Harry in his element

But Harry Osborn would much rather take his guests into the East Macdonnell Ranges and not simply because fewer tourists go there but also because, out east lies Harry’s ‘hidden jewel’ – the remote and aptly-named Ruby Gap.

It’s located on Love’s Creek Station which also has one of the largest stands of river red gums in Central Australia.

Ruby Gap Nature Park lies 150 kilometres east of the Alice and it takes several hours of careful driving over rugged terrain to get there, the last bit of the journey along the dried-up bed of the Hale River. 

“Most people say I’m crazy to come way out here on a day trip,” says Harry, “but I get out here as often as possible. Even for a few hours it’s worth it.” 

 A particularly favourite spot is Glen Annie Gorge, a narrow winding cleft between towering walls of red rock where the sandy river bed snakes its way through these cliffs to form a large natural swimming hole.
Osborn track

The red road east

Harry says he rarely sees other visitors out here. Camping is allowed but much of the terrain is too rugged for most vehicles to negotiate.

On our return journey we make a diversion to Arltunga, the first town in Central Australia. In 1886 explorer David Lindsay reported rubies in the Hale River. But they turned out to be garnets.
A rich gold reef discovered at nearby White Range did, however, prompt a short lived gold-rush. 
Arltunga jail

Arltunga jail

At this ghost town I see old mining works and the remains of a post office, blacksmith shop and the 1912 police station and jail with it’s rusted iron door hanging off its hinges. 

We also pause beside the grave of stockman George King, buried 9 September, 1916, after falling from his horse. His remote resting place seems a fitting emblem of the tough and solitary life endured by pioneers in such unforgiving country.

All about Harry’s tours

Burma redux

Backpacking through Asia 30 years ago I had the chance to hop across the border from Thailand and spend a week in Burma. In those days a 7-day tourist visa was all anyone got. With such limited time it really meant having a razor-sharp focus on what I hoped to see and do.

myanmar mapA week wasn’t nearly long enough to explore the capital Rangoon (now Yangon) in the south before travelling north to Mandalay and from there take in Lake Inle and also visit Pagan (now Bagan). This was the traveller’s “Burma quartet” at the time. (Names may have changed since, but these four places remain core today to the country’s tourist industry.)

So something had to go. I made my choice: Rangoon to Mandalay, then west along the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) river to Pagan, which meant I missed seeing Lake Inle. I don’t regret my choice one bit as my visit to Pagan was brilliant. Now the country has opened up to the world I’ve inked Lake Inle on my ‘back-to-Burma’ itinerary.

Rangoon in the 1980s was pretty similar to what it is today, although the musty and faded Strand Hotel has since been overhauled and is now rather swish. In 1983 it was known for its dilapidated, rain-stained architecture and post-World War 2 colonial flavour. Taking tea or sipping a gin and tonic on the verandah was simply one of those things a traveller had to do. I couldn’t afford to stay there in 1983 and I certainly can’t now. Some things don’t change!

Rangoon’s main attraction 30 years ago was – and still is – the magnificent, golden Schwedagon Pagoda in the centre of town. I think it’s one of South East Asia’s most wondrous structures and I spent quite a portion of my precious time soaking up the Schwedagon’s sights and sounds. This magnificent temple is as much a community centre as place of worship.

Another priceless memory from those days is my overnight rail journey from Rangoon to Mandalay. The train was so crowded I ended up crawling under a wooden seat to sleep on the floor and was awoken at each station by the shouts of food vendors. The mellifluous, subliminal sounds of the Burmese language – a bubbling murmur or so it seemed in my semi-comatose state – remain imprinted in my memory.


Bagan temples – photo: Nicholas Kenrick (Creative Commons)

Sunset seen from the top of the Schwesandaw pagoda in Bagan is yet another of my golden “Burma moments”. All thos years ago there were just seven foreign travellers up there marvelling at the amber sheen cast across the surrounding plain with its extensive array of temples and stupas with the landscape framed by the silvery glimmer of the river.

It most certainly was “mystical Myanmar” back then and I’m sure that it still is. I can’t wait to return.

Hairy power in a white Wyoming

togwotee dogs 1

Photo: Continental Divide Dogsled Adventures

The dogs are howling like demented wolves. They are tethered to iron stakes driven into the frozen earth and seem as cursed a bunch of critters as ever was sired. Their howling shatters the morning peace in upcountry Togwotee in the state of Wyoming. 

Yet despite this tumult and their wild-eyed, scrawny appearance these noisy mutts are as happy and as fit as can be. Each dog is capable of running 150 kilometres a day, for days on end, in temperatures low enough to freeze bone marrow. The only thing they abhor is being left out of the team, missing the action. Hence their anguished lament, which translates as “Me! Me! Me!” 

The dogs have names like Junkyard, Sweetheart, Vodka and Six-pack. Many have odd-coloured eyes; one blue, the other brown, or maybe yellow or possibly green. Each dog is formed of compact muscle and tight sinew. None carry an excess gram of fat. All are pure-bred “Springsteens”, literally born to run.


Photo: The Mountain

Amid all this noise, dog-driver Billy Snodgrass and his two handlers Dave and Esty select their sled teams. “You won’t be able to hear me talk for a while, not until we’re well under way,” says Billy.

“They’ll make such havoc you won’t believe, and they won’t stop ’til we’re some distance gawn. And I dunno quite where that’ll be … because they’ll just run like mad.” 

With a yell of Awright! he tugs the sled anchor from the ground and with a snatch-and-jerk we leap forward and begin bolting across white fields of snow. The dogs left behind in the kennels are howling their dismay. Those in front of me, pumping iron to pull us along, are baying with glee.

What Billy has failed to tell me is I may not be able to breathe for a while. As we gather speed the dogs burns up calories …. and begin expunging gas. For the first minutes of our headlong dash I ride a slipstream of noxious odours powerful enough to melt the frost off my balaclava. Meanwhile Billy is steering, standing behind me on the rear of the sled and laughing out loud.


Riding the exhaust plume – Photo: Blair Waller

We power along a trail cut through the white wilderness, cracking a screaming pace downhill then dropping back to a working trot on inclines. Occasionally Billy brings us to a halt  “so the dogs can cool off.” It’s dire cold sitting in the sled so I ask to try my hand at steering, or mushing as it’s called.

Now this ain’t easy. Mushing is an art learned over time. When when going uphill I must balance one foot on a runner and drive my other foot into the snow to assist the dogs. I must lean correctly into turns and sharply shift my weight as we slide into bends.

Soon I’m left lying in the snow while the sled hurtles into the distance. Billy stops his dogs and waits for me to catch up. As I approach all the dogs turn their heads in unison and flash me wicked grins, their red tongues hanging loose. It’s a look of glee that says ‘Gotcha!’

 #  Togwotee (pronounced Tog-R-Tee) is north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a snowbound playground in winter with 13 metres or more of the finest powder snow falling annually on the Togwotee Pass. 

Click here for more information on Continental Divide Dogsled Adventures