Travel

A Shark Encounter

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Why are we so afraid of sharks?

I have been fortunate enough to have experienced so many incredible encounters with sharks over the years. Sometimes these experiences are deep below the ocean waves, as I descend into the blue in order to interact with the sharks in their natural habit. Sometimes they are chance encounters, such as in this photograph captured in the Maldives when I stubbled across a baby shark feeding in the shallow waters at sunrise. Either way, every experience with a shark is special.

Sharks are so perfectly adapted for their environment, so elegant in their movement, it is hard to think about a more beautiful creature. Any yet they still seem to invoke primitive feelings of dread and apprehension in humans, when just the mention of a shark is enough to bring on a real sense of fear.

Why?

Their fierce some reputation is so undeserved. Despite the attention grabbing headlines, sharks are far less likely to cause serious injury - or worse - than falling coconuts. And yet, how many of will happily wander beneath a coconut tree without ever giving it a second thought. Worse still, this undeserved reputation has real life consequences for the shark population. Every day, tens of thousands of sharks are killed by people believing they are ridding the world of one of the great killers of the ocean, when in reality we are the very greatest of killers on our planet.

But fortunately things are starting to change. Over the past few years, as we have learned more about these world around us, we are slowing beginning to realise the important role creatures such as sharks play in maintaining the delicate balance of the planet. I just hope that change of opinion doesn’t come too late - otherwise future generations will never be able to experience the wonder of their own shark encounter.

Under the bridge

London is full of surprises. Sometimes, these surprises are hidden away from prying eyes, behind walls and high fences. But, just as often they are in the most obvious of place, in broad daylight for anyone to see. Providing they look of course.

The Palace of Westminster is just such a place.

On any given day, at any given moment, the streets around the Palace will be crowded with visitors, all taking exactly the same photograph of the famous Big Ben clock. Hundreds of identical photographs taken at the same identical spot, on the bridge overlooking the river.

But within just a few meters of that spot are some steps leading to a tunnel running under the bridge. Follow those steps and you will find the view from under the bridge, bring with it a brand-new perspective on this most famous of landmarks.

Often, that change of perspective is all that is needed to bring new light, and new life, to the things we thought we already knew.

Pure

Boxing is pure in Cuba.

In a country where the pursuit of personal wealth is largely seen as irrelevant, boxers don't train for money, or fame. They know they will never see their names lit up in lights, or fight before an audience of adoring fans. Instead, they train for themselves, to simply see what they can achieve.

In run down gyms, on the backstreets of Havana, the boxers will spend endless hours skipping, and running, and sweating, all for the chance to simply match against someone else who has spent as many hours doing the same. Adversaries for the duration of the bout, friends the moment the bell sounds to end it, the result of each match is rarely as important as the effort each boxer has demonstrated. In one of the few places left where sport remains pure, they are driven by nothing more than their own determination, as they trade blows watched only by their fellow boxers.

But the biggest challenge still lies ahead for the boxers of Havana. As Cuba gradually opens up, to a world where so many of our sports have been tainted by temptations of money, let us hope these boxers are able to stay true to their sport.

That will surely prove to be the hardest fight of all.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

Watching the sun rise over the rounded incline of Sugar Loaf Mountain, it is impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere of Rio de Jeniero.

Home to around 6,000,000 people, Rio is definitely not somewhere to get away from the crowd. Isolation is an impossible dream with so many people crammed into a single city. But there is something about the vibe of the city which makes everyone your friend.

Even in the dark, sat on top of a desolate mountain top waiting for the sun to make its appearance so I could take this photograph, I was soon joined by the small group of people passing by for a morning walk.

Sharing their coffee with me, we soon found ourselves in such an engaging conversation. I very nearly missed the shot I had been waiting for.

That was my experience all over Rio de Jeniero, where the carnival spirit lives on as much in the hearts of the people as on the streets of the city.

Friendship

The summer heat of Dubai can take your breath away. It grabs hold of you from the moment you step out of the comfort of air conditioned buildings, and just won't let go. But wandering around the old souk region of Dubai there is a much greater warmth to be felt, the warmth of the people going about their daily lives.

It was still very early in the morning when I set out to meet the people of the souk. The sun had hardly risen in the sky, and people all around were greeting each other on the street before starting their day. That was exactly the scene when I met this group of friends sitting on the curb side, drinking hot tea.

They told me they were from Bangladesh, attracted to the city of Dubai by the opportunities it offered them. Life was a struggle, the hours long and the work arduous. And yet despite this they were still able to laugh and tease each other as only friends could, the warmth of their friendship seeing them through.

Nana Viv

The quietly spoken matriarchal elder of an Aboriginal family, which can trace it’s roots back far before any Europeans arrived on the shores of Australia, Nana Viv has dedicated her life to the preservation of Aboriginal culture and history.

For over 40,000 years, the Nyungar people have called the lands of South West Australia their home, but today only a tiny fraction of the inhabitants this vast region are of Aboriginal descent. In just 200 years, their population has been decimated by disease and war brought by the colonial settlers from the west.

For generations, Nana Via and her family have been fighting for the recognition of the Aboriginal people in the Australian constitution. But it is not ownership of the lands which drive  them. Seeing themselves as the guardians of the coastal lands, the gateway to their sacred ocean, the Nyungar feel it their responsibility to protect the land for future generations.

"They are like children who don't understand what they are doing to the land all around us", Nana Viv tells us, speaking slowly to allow our western minds to understand, "we have to protect this land. This is not something we chose to do, it is something we have to do."

Time and time again, the history of the world is littered with examples of humanity charging in without fully understanding the consequences of our actions. We rip fossil fuel from the land and the ocean, we cut down the ancient rainforests, push back the ocean to create more space to build upon, and pump huge volume of chemicals into the atmosphere, all in the name of the advancement of humanity.

But to Nana Viv, and many of the other ancient peoples and civilisations, our actions are simply those of impatient children, tearing up the world without thought for the future.

As the governments of the world look towards an uncertain future, as we begin to better understand the damage our actions have caused, I am left to wonder whether perhaps Nana Viv has a point.

Empty Streets

Have you ever noticed how the world never seems to slow down?

Everything always seems to happen at a breakneck speed. There are never enough hours in the day; never enough time to feel we are totally in control. If only we could finish that last job, we think to ourselves, we will finally be on top of everything, only to have that feeling snatched away when we realise there is always one more job to complete, always one more task to undertake.

An ordered existence constantly seems so tantalisingly close and yet always just out of reach as we find ourselves trapped in the chaos of every day life. And yet, there is order out there. We just have to go out and look for it.

Wandering the deserted streets of London, at 5am before the rest of the world stirs, is a surreal experience. In just a matter of hours these very streets will be packed to bursting point, as huge crowds of office workers who adhere to the rhythm of the corporate world which tells them when to arrive, when to leave, when to eat, and when to work.

But before that hour, just for a short window of time, the city belongs to whoever wishes to claim it. It becomes an oasis of peace in the heart of chaos, a private playground for anyone wishing to follow the beat of a different rhythm.

The truth is, the reason the world never seems to slow down is because we choose to live our lives at that speed. And there is nothing wrong with that. Many people enjoy the exhilaration of life at that speed. But every now and again, it is worth reminding ourselves that it is ok to slow down occasionally, so we can enjoy the empty streets of our lives.

Freedom

In Amsterdam, it the bicycle which rules the streets not the motor car. It is pedal power which moves the city, not oil.

Cars have become so entrenched into our daily lives, it is hard to imagine that they really are a very modern invention. Our world has existed for millions of years. Humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. The motor car has existed for just a hundred years and yet already it dominates our planet.

Huge road networks now span the globe. Planning where to park all the cars now dominates the thinking behind every new building. And the fumes pumped out by the billions of cars we own have made the air virtually unbreathable in cities all over the world.

And yet, despite all this, we remain totally addicted to our cars.

We have become so obsessed with them, we use them for journeys which make no sense. We will sit in a traffic jams for an hour to make a journey we could walk in 20 minutes. We will sit in them alone, side-by-side with other people all alone in their cars, all travelling to the same destination.

We know it makes no sense, and yet still we do it. Why?

There is no doubt the motor car is a wonderful invention. It has brought us so much convenience, helping bring people together, helping people to explore. But like all technology we have to learn that sometimes is it ok not to use it. That sometimes pedal power makes more sense.

It is a lesson they have certainly learned in Amsterdam and personally, I envy the freedom it has brought them.

Memories

I have lost count of the number of times I have found myself standing on this very spot, staring up at Big Ben. It brings back so many childhood memories, as I remember the feelings of wonder and excitement, as I waited for the famous bells to chime.

Many years may have passed since those childhood days, but the those feelings are just as strong as they ever were.

Spirit of the Samurai

Tradition still runs strong in Japan.

Despite being at the forefront of technological advancement for decades, all across the neon lit, modern city of Tokyo, people are keeping the old ways alive. They haven't forgotten their heritage.

People like Kazuhisa, who I met early one rainy Tokyo morning, practicing his traditional sword play in the park. I asked him why he still practiced the long outdated skills of the Samurai. "Because I am Japanese" was his simple answer.

The glory days of the Samurai may have long passed into the history books. In the 21st century, there is no place for people walking the streets with killing swords in their hands. And yet their memory lives on through those who keep their traditions alive, ensuring their spirit remains an every day part of the identity of modern Japan.

We are all products of our past. And yet so often we forget where we have come from, ignoring our personal heritage as we race towards the future. After all, how can we know where we are going if we don't know where we have been?

The traditional ways may not always have an obvious place in our modern day lives, but it is worth considering whether the best way to know who we want to be in the future, is by understanding of who we were in the past.

For that, perhaps we could all benefit from searching for our own sprit of the Samurai.

A Magnificent Colosseum

At the height of their popularity, the gladiatorial contests held at the Colosseum were some of the most spectacular events Rome had ever seen. But they were also spectacularly expensive, and their cost ultimately led to the amphitheatre’s eventual demise.

Today, 2000 years later, the Colosseum is more popular than ever, contributing far more to the economy of Rome than those first gladiators could ever have imagined.

Smile

Despite being widowed for over 10 years, Beeponee wanted me to know she wasn’t lonely. Her son lives close by and she has other children and grand children. In this respect, she says has more than many.

Still, life isn't easy. After a lifetime of working, she still has to work to support herself, growing vegetables in her small garden to sell by the side of the street.

But the thing which struck me most, as I listened to her story, was her amazing smile.

I saw it from all the way down the street. It was a smile of pure defiance, a smile that declared to the world, no matter what, this is a woman who intends to live a full life. It is a smile I will never forget.

Legacy

After her husband, James Russell, passed away in 1848, this is the church Jane Smith Russell had build in his memory. Standing high over the "Poison Glen" of Dunlewey, in Ireland's County Donegal, the church has long fallen into disrepair.

The roof was removed, for fear of it collapsing. The furniture long distributed to other churches across Ireland. And yet here it still stands, a cold, lonely testament to a family who once stood proud in the community within which it was built.

Skin Deep

Madison is not someone you are likely to miss in a crowd.

When I met her, she was sitting outside the barber shop where she worked, enjoying the Toronto sunshine. With a huge smile on her face and a shock of blond hair on her head, there was something about her which made her immediately stand out against the suburban backdrop. Of course it is quite possible the tattoos running the entire length of her arms, chest and neck, as much as the smile on her face which helped her to stand out.

"I've always been judged by my tattoos", she told me, "I have never been in trouble in my life, but people still ask if I have been to prison. The truth is I just like tattoos."

We are all guilty of subconsciously judging the people we meet, often based on nothing more than the colour of their skin or the clothes that they wear. Sometimes those judgements have little impact on our interaction with others, and other times they have terrible consequences. And yet, we also all know these differences between us are literally only skin deep. How ridiculous it is, in the 21st Century, that we are still all so guilty of making these judgements.

Madison was one of the most interesting and friendly people I met, as I walked around the streets of Canada. Polite, talkative and happy for me to photograph her portrait, despite only meeting me moments before. And yet many of the people she meets still make snap decisions about her based on nothing more than the art she wears on her skin.

As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover, a lesson we could all do with remembering more often, in our increasingly divided world.

Supertrees

There is not a lot we can teach Mother Nature about design. When it comes to form, beauty, and function, she has pretty much got her act together.

So when landscapers were deciding what to do with 250 acres of reclaimed land, right in the heart of Central Singapore, what better place to turn for inspiration, than Mother Nature herself.

The Supertree Grove, located in the Garden by the Bay national park, are an incredible sight. A collection of vast artificial trees, standing up to 50 meters tall, they dominate the Singapore skyline, forming an imposing canopy over the city below.

Acting as a vertical garden for a huge array of plants and ferns, the Supertrees collect rainwater for irrigation, whilst huge solar panels generate energy to power the lights which bring the trees alive, illuminating them against the urban backdrop.

Truly, the Supertrees are a spectacular sight. But, as we move further into the 21st Century, where concrete is replacing grass at an exponential rate, and tree-like structures now replace actual trees, I can’t help but wonder, what harm are we doing to Mother Nature’s grand design?

The long day is over

A fisherman rests by the waters edge, near the village of Isafordur in Iceland.

His two-thumbed woven gloves designed to be turned around as they wear out pulling the heavy oars through the turbulent waters. His wooden-framed fishing boat ideally suited to the freezing cold water so close to the Artic.

The tools of his trade virtually unchanged in hundreds of years, his long day over, the sea has provided once more, as it has done for generations.

Alone

The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet, contains 97% of all our water and is home to so much life we think we have only discovered a tiny percentage of what is out there.

Above the waves, it is a lonely ocean, vast expanses of nothing but water to break the horizon before the land arrives. Below, it is a vast wilderness, with more life than we can possibly imagine.

Throughout our history, the ocean has dominated our life in ways we can not comprehend and yet we are still so ill at ease in its presence, unable to achieve much more than floating across it's surface in boats of wood and steel.

Our constant companion since time began, it remains silent and in the shadows, always there, always waiting, always alone.

Passage of Time

History is everywhere in Athens.

On every street you walk, every corner you turn and every building you pass, chances are something within touching distance will be a thousand of years old, or more. Ancient ruins are so common place, many are barely given a passing glance, as the modern city goes about it's daily life.

But one site which refuses to be ignored is the mighty Acropolis, dominating the landscape from high above. Its presence is felt constantly, as it has done for millennia. At heart of the Acropolis, lies the Parthenon, the imposing temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, constructed around 500 BC.

It is such a strange sensation, to witness a building which has stood largely unchanged for over two thousand years. Sitting within it's shadows, you can feel an almost physical connection with generations of ancestors who have sat there before you.

Around the world, time passes so fast we often struggle to keep up. But with the Acropolis standing proudly above the city for more years than any of us can contemplate, Athens remains a city where the passage of time has done largely gone unnoticed

Caught Short

As hard as it might be to believe today, but when the iconic Flatiron Building first opened in New York, there were no female bathrooms.

This wasn't a deliberate omission. The lack of ladies toilets wasn't being used to make a bold statement or prove a point. Rather the building designers simply forgot to include any.

A common sense solution was quickly found, with bathrooms on alternate floors being designated as either male or female, but this solution was only arrived at after the building was opened. The fact that none of the many hundreds of people, who worked on the building, noticed there were no ladies restrooms tells us much about how little society valued women, when the building first opened in 1902.

More than a hundred years later, an awful lot has changed. We still have a long way to go to eradicate the gender imbalance in our society, but few of us could contemplate a time when women were so invisible as to hardly merit consideration.

And yet, there are still so many people in society we do forget.

Far too many buildings are still being designed without giving proper consideration to the needs of people with a disability. We continue to use steps when a ramp is just as easy to build, we still design bathrooms without thought to how others in our society might need to use them.

Just as the Flatiron building before, these oversights aren't being used to make bold statements, or prove a point. We are simply still forgetting the needs of people who have become invisible to us. One hundred years from now, I wonder if these modern day omissions will be as shocking to society as a twenty story building without a single female bathroom.