Peel Castle and The Ghost Dog!

Peel Castle and The Ghost Dog

A blog post by Greg

I think that having a look through just some of our travel adventure videos, whether it is Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty, Turkey: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities or, perhaps most obviously, Romania, Seeking Dracula’s Castle, will give you the impression that at least one of us is fascinated by historical buildings, castles, temples and towns.

Whether they are the jungle ruins and temples of the Maya in Mexico, the Ancient Greek cities of Hierapolis or Laodicea in Turkey, or the various castles and fortresses which we visited across Romania following the legend of Vlad Dracula III, I always relish the opportunity to be in a place where the past can be seen around you. A place where you can pause and almost conjure up the ‘ghosts of the past’ in your mind’s eye.

I can remember very well sitting atop the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, looking down past the temples below and along the Street of the Dead. I’m not sure that I had initially sat down to look at the view so much as I had to catch my breath. We had gone from one morning waking up at sea level on the Isle of Wight in a cold February, to the following morning, quite early, climbing steep and uneven pyramid steps at an altitude of over 7000 feet in the hot Mexican sun.

The shock from a change in conditions, added to the fact that we were just coming out of the winter – so Christmas binge eating and being a lot less physically active than I usually am during my main show seasons or while we are travelling, meant that climbing up and down the various pyramids was a struggle, and so, having reached the top, a sit down was a necessity… but I digress.

Looking out at the ‘ghosts of the past’ at Teotihuacan.

Sat at the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, and looking down the ‘Street of the Dead’, with a few tourists and traders milling about below, it was quite easy to start to imagine the whole site back in time a couple of millennia and get images of the site at its peak. To imagine the pyramids not as ruins, but as freshly built and maintained places where the gods were honoured. It is easy for a person sat where I was, in their mind’s eye, to see the tourists fade and ancient people moving around the site, each with their own purpose. Dashing to a temple to thank the gods for something good in their lives or to to offer up a prayer for a sick relative – or maybe something as mundane as dashing home so that they were not late for a cooked meal.

In this blog post, however, I did not set out to talk about the metaphorical ghosts conjured up by the imagination, nor did I originally intend to write as much as I have about Mexico and Teotihuacan. When I sat down to write I was focused on our Isle of Man travel adventure, ‘The Isle of Man – Railways, Castles and Seals’, and in particular about the ‘Ghost Dog’ of Peel Castle.

Inside Peel Castle, The Isle of Man

I have found a number of websites which recount the legends of the ghost dog of Peel Caste, but, in order to be thorough, I am going to base this blog post on the oldest written account I can find, that recorded by George Waldron in ‘The History and Description of the Isle of Man’, published in 1731. For anyone wanting to dive into the source material, the entire book has been scanned and made available through Google here (complete with beautiful old fashioned ‘s’s which look like ‘f’s, and can make for some interesting reading), and for those interested, a little more background about the publication of the tome and it’s author can be found here.

We begin, therefore, the tale of Mauthe Doog, the ghostly dog of Peel Castle. Take a moment, either in reality or in your mind, to prepare yourself for a ghostly tale. Turn off the lights, light a campfire (only if you are outdoors, or have a fireplace, obviously – if not, find a video of a fire on YouTube), pause for a moment to cook some marshmallows on the fire (this will take longer if you only have the fire on YouTube). Once you have the appropriate atmosphere created, the story can begin, with George Waldron’s own words.

They say, that an Apparition called, in their language, the Mauthe Doog, in the shape of a large black spaniel with curled shaggy hair, was used to haunt Peel Castle; and has been frequently seen in every room, but particularly in the Guard-Chamber, where, as soon as candles were lighted, it came and lay down before the fire in preference of all the soldiers, who at length, by being so much accustomed to the sight of it, lost great part of the terror they were seized with on its first appearance.

I must admit that I had read various accounts of the ghost dog, many of which mentioned Waldron as a source. Many of them referred to a large black dog, or even a ghostly hound. The word which few of them saw fit to include was ‘spaniel’. The idea of a group of hardened soldiers garrisoning a castle being ‘seized with terror’ by a giant black ghost dog or large ghostly hound I consider to be the makings of a good ghost story. Add in the word ‘spaniel’, however, and it presents to me as more of a comedy sketch than a ghost dog.

Especially as it was in the reign on King Charles (both King Charles II was king in England and Charles, King of Derby, was king in Mann), I now can’t help picturing a ghostly black King Charles Spaniel, its ears flopping around somewhat comically in the way that the ears of King Charles Spaniels tend to do, and all of these soldiers screaming and standing on chairs – like the lady in the Tom and Jerry cartoons every time she sees the titular mouse. It even suggests to me a possible origin for the ghost story.

Let us assume for the moment that there was a black spaniel living somewhere in Peel, who had become lost. It found it’s way to the castle, where, dark and cold, it sought out the heat of a fire. This bumbling little spaniel wanders into the Guard-Chamber and flops down by the fire.

The guards, who had been sat by the fire (perhaps even scaring each other with ghosts stories) freak out at the sight of a black creature suddenly bursting in, perhaps casting large shadows from the fire. When their commanding officer rushes in to see the commotion – which has scared the poor dog off in the meantime – the men, not wanting to admit they had been scared by a spaniel, modify the story slightly to bring in a supernatural element.

Peel Castle – Home of Mauthe Doog

Let us ignore my meagre attempts to rationalise this big, scary, ghostly hound into a case of mistaken identity with a floppy-eared spaniel for a moment, and delve into the darkest part of the legend of the Mauthe Doog.

Despite the soldiers becoming accustomed to the ghost dog, it appears they never got over their fear entirely as none of them wanted to risk being alone with it. One passage in particular was its haunt, and it was the passage a guard must pass through at night after locking up the castle gates in order to take the keys to the Captain in his apartment. The men always did this duty in pairs so that they did not have to go alone… until one fateful night! I shall let Waldron pick up the story here:

One night a fellow being drunk, and by the strength of his liquor being rendred more daring than ordinary, laugh’d at the simplicity of his companions, and tho’ it was not his turn to go with the keys, would needs take that office upon him, to testify his courage. All the soldiers endeavour’d to dissuade him, but the more they said, the more resolute he seemed, and swore that he desired nothing more than that Mauthe Doog would follow him, as it had done the others, for he would try it if it were Dog, or Devil.

After having talked in a very reprobate manner for some time, he snatched up the keys and went out of the guard-room.

In some time after his departure a great noise was heard, but nobody had the boldness to see what occasioned it, till the Adventurer returning, they demanded the knowledge of him; but as loud and as noisy as he had been at leaving them, he was now become sober and silent enough, for he was never heard to speak more: and tho’ all the time he lived, which was three days, he was entreated by all those who came near him, either to speak, or if he could not do that, to make some signs by which they might understand what had happened to him, yet nothing intelligible could be got from him, only, that by the distortion of his limbs and features, it might be guess’d that he died in agonies more than is common in a natural death.

So there we have it, a man so terrified by his encounter with the Mauthe Doog that he died in agony over a period of three days. The ghost dog, apparently, was never seen by the soldiers after that time. This (say the critics of my brilliantly formulated ‘the Mauthe Doog may have just been a lost spaniel’ theory) surely proves once and for all that not only is the Mauthe Doog truly a ghost hound, but also that the soldiers in the castle were right to fear it… or does it?

Peel Castle, as it stands today, is a perfect setting for a ghost story.

The first, and arguably most noticeable, problem with this story of the Mauthe Doog is that it doesn’t actually feature the ghostly creature at all. I will admit, had the man returned from his task and spent the remainder of his life babbling incoherently about the black dog and its floppy ears, that we would then have a strong case that in some way the black dog could be associated with this man’s death – but he actually never said a word. Had the story been that the man vanished and was discovered the following morning in the passageway and covered in bite marks like a dog’s, but too big for any ordinary dog, or perhaps immediately cauterised by the dogs devilishly hot teeth, we would definitely have a case for Scooby and the Mystery Machine to investigate. Even if they eventually discovered that the Mauthe Doog was merely the creepy janitor in a mask, at least there was a mystery to solve.

There is, however, no mention of the Mauthe Doog. Let us look over the evening’s events one more time and, like Poirot, engage our ‘little grey cells’. The salient facts of the evening are as follows:

  • A soldier gets incredibly drunk.
  • The soldier walks out in the dark across an unlit Peel Castle with uneven ground.
  • A loud noise is heard.
  • The soldier returns, looking the worse for wear and unable to speak.
  • The soldier dies in agony three days later.

Let us agree that one possible explanation of this series of events is that our poor soldier encountered a ghost dog, and that ghost dog did something which put such fear into this soldier that he not only never spoke again, but was so terrified that he dies of fright three days later.

I would like to propose another possibility. What if the man wandered out drunk, and while he was out and about he slipped or tripped on some of the stone around the castle, and managed to bang his head on one of the many stone walls around a castle. Having hit his head hard enough to cause some serious damage, and to give himself concussion, he sought out his comrades. The remainder of the soldiers, also drunk and with little medical expertise, assumed that this must relate to the ghost dog they had been talking about before and so no medical attention was sought for the man’s head, leading to his death three days later, and a poor floppy-eared spaniel (who by now had returned to his owner in Peel and was by this time curled up on a hearth rug in front of a fire and chewing on the 17th Century equivalent of a ‘Bonio’) took the blame.

Here’s the thing, though. Despite having looked into this story and the other possible explanations, you will still find Mauthe Doog, brilliantly animated, within our documentary on the Isle of Man when we came to visit Peel Castle.

This is because often, when we are travelling around the world, we find that local legends and local stories can be even more interesting than the actual history of a place!

I think this blog post is now more than long enough, so it only remains for me to say thank you all for reading, and please do take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other.

Greg

 

Romania: Travel Broadens The Mind 

Romania: Travel Broadens The Mind 

A blog post by Greg

I didn’t realise how little I knew about Romania until one morning, early in 2020 (before we knew what chaos the pandemic would cause to the year), when, in the shower (source of many of my greatest ideas, for reasons unknown), I suddenly came up with the idea that we could choose Romania as the destination for our next travel adventure.

I know that Felicity has already written about some of the story of our decision to go from her point of view, but I wanted to share a little of my ignorance at the time when I suggested it.

We had been hoping that we would be headed somewhere else for our first travel adventure video of the year, and had started putting plans in place for that trip until we found a company who suggested that they may be interested in sponsoring our video there another year. So we put a hold on that, and began looking for somewhere else to visit.

The idea that we could travel Romania to search for ‘Dracula’s Castle’ came to me as I knew that one of Felicity’s favourite book series by Karen Chance featured the historical figures of Vlad Dracula III and his family as major characters. I suggested it, and within hours we had our flights booked and were busily investigating places to visit and film.

Bran Castle, Romania

This is where my ‘confession of ignorance’ has to come in. Before we decided to travel around Romania for our video, I knew next to nothing about the country. I vaguely remembered that Michael Palin had been there on his travel series ‘Europe’, but the closest I could get to an image of Romania in my mind was probably a very stereotypical ’Hammer Horror’ image of Victorian carriages pulled along mountain roads in the middle of the night! I didn’t really know much of the history of Romania, and I knew nothing of the beauty and majesty that awaited us there.

That is one of the reasons I like to travel. There are places (Mexico springs to mind, especially La Paz) where I could easily see Felicity and I returning to year after year as a ‘holiday’, but we choose not to. We usually look at the time we have available and choose to travel somewhere new, to learn about a new place, to have a new adventure! This doesn’t mean we won’t return to Mexico or Italy, for example, just that when it comes down to it I think we would both choose a new travel destination over a regular ‘holiday’ destination. This is at its very best at times like our Romania travel adventure, where we started our planning with very few preconceptions, and everything that we found in our research filled us with excitement and wonder until I couldn’t believe we had not heard of most of the places we visited before we began our research.

The first thing I learned, given that we were going to be ‘Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ in the video, was that there really is no shortage of stunning castles and fortresses in Romania. It seemed we kept finding them – even after we thought we had finished planning, and even had to reject a few beautiful castles and palaces as we couldn’t make them fit (even very loosely) the definition of ‘Dracula’s Castle’, I stumbled across an image of Corvin Castle.

Corvin Castle, Romania

This ‘fairytale’ castle is one of the most visually stunning I have seen, so when we discovered that Vlad Dracula was likely held in dungeons beneath the castle we immediately added it to our list, and we are so glad now that we did. 

When we visited Corvin Castle, having gained permission to use our drone there, we got some stunning shots for the video. We discovered a ‘Hogwarts’ style magical castle, complete with the sound of a lute being played by a musician which filled the air and added to the magic – almost as much as the snowfall which filled the air next. 

Eight months ago I had never heard of Corvin Castle, yet now that castle holds a very special place in my memories. I know some of its history, I know the stories of the well inside and some of the people who lived (or were imprisoned) within its walls. As we were leaving the owner of one of the souvenir shops around the site told us about the coins and some of the symbols of Vlad Dracul (Dracula’s father), and we learned even more history of the country beyond the castle.

This was true for nearly every part of our time in Romania. I had not expected the large bustling city of Bucharest with its Natural Geology Museum filled with fossils and all laid out in quite a Victorian/Edwardian style which suited us perfectly and we both really enjoyed, despite not being ‘city’ people. Nor had I expected the roads to be as good as they were, and so scenic. From driving up towards Bran, to a perilous feeling mountain road through the snow near Bucegi, to passing castles on hilltops as we made our way towards Poenari, the entire journey was filled with incredible views.

In January 2020, had you mentioned Romania to me, I would only really have been able to tell you that Vlad Dracula lived there, and pointed to ideas of Romania gleaned from the pages of Bram Stoker’s book (written by a man who had never visited the country!). Now despite making Vlad the focus of ‘Seeking Dracula’s Castle’, our Romania Travel Adventure has left me with a much better feel for the country and its people, and we have come away having learned enough about the country to fill our travel adventure documentary and a number of blog posts!

Travel certainly does broaden the mind and that is why we will continue to find new places to travel to and new things to see!

Thank you for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S. You can see our short follow up to our Romania video, ‘Seeking Dracula in Whitby’, here:

Race Across Space

Race Across Space

A Blog Post By Greg

Let’s be honest with ourselves – there have been a fair few surprises this year. As a few people who have seen my ‘Non-Psychic ‘Psychic’ Show’ have said, perhaps I should have seen it coming, but in the real world we all find ourselves doing things we hadn’t expected.

In August and early September I had expected to be out performing shows for the whole month – the Isle of Wight Steam Show, Bekonskot Model Village and the Legendary Llangollen Fairy Festival were just some of the events at which I had been expecting to perform over the summer. What I had not expected was to spend most of my time in the latter half of August and the first half of September writing, filming, and creating computer generated animations for a short science-fiction film set around a team of pilots racing across space. Especially with the spacecraft pilots including marionettes, eggs, and Dodos!

Indeed, Dodos have become a big part of our lives since April. What was once a term for extinct flightless birds has now become one of the most commonly used words around our house. Questions like ‘what colour beak should this Dodo have’ or ‘I think the Dodos will really enjoy this’ have become commonplace. For those of you who don’t know, my sister-in-law Jenny started crocheting Dodos at the start of lockdown and, after we created a magic trick build around them, ‘The Lavender Dodos’ was adopted by viewers of our online shows as the collective name for those who enjoyed the show. We have gone on to create the ‘Lavender Dodos Assemble’ Facebook group, introduced ‘Sparkles, King of the Dodos’ as a character in the shows, and Dodos have become a regular part of everyday life here.

While the whole country was in lockdown we began producing the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show, a fortnightly comedy and magic show going out online. Initially we did this with pre-recorded segments and ‘live’ links, and then due to technological issues we started putting them out every other Sunday with a pre-recorded first segment at 5, and a live improvised story at 6 (which we continue to do). However, as lockdown lifted we started to see a drop off in the number of people watching the pre-recorded show as it went out, and most people were watching it afterwards. So we began to look at ways to modify what we do so that some episodes are designed with the live feel in mind, while others are focused on people being able to watch at any time.

This culminated on Sunday 13th September with the release of ‘Race Across Space’, the first time we have pulled many of the characters from the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show into an extended ‘film’ format, working together and interacting as opposed to all being in their own segments through the shows. If you want to avoid potential spoilers, you can watch the full half-hour film here now:

Creating a half hour film crossing through different characters created a new set of challenges. We needed a single plot that would run through and which would be engaging enough to keep people watching, but simple enough that we could bounce around the various characters (and even throw in some surreal moments) without confusing people or derailing the main through road of action.

A race seemed the obvious solution for this first film. As we wanted the characters to interact with each other, but we also needed to work with many of the characters individually to film, the idea of a race across space seemed to fit best, with each set of characters within their own craft.

Once I had the script written, there were only a couple of minor problems left. We needed seven spacecraft, inside and outside, and we needed to be able to create whole worlds for them to race in.

For the outside shots I wanted to use computer animation to allow us to build the best race possible. I have some basic knowledge of CG animation, but am by no means an expert, and even for an expert the idea of building all of the spaceships and buildings we needed from scratch would be a huge ask, but luckily I got some help. A company named KitBash3D create and sell CG models to use within animations and they had a range of steampunk buildings and spaceships available – and even better, they were prepared to help us out with a special discount to support the show! I now had most of the models I needed to put together in the computer and create the worlds, and animate the races.

We had only one minor issue. My laptop, which Felicity bought for me last year as a powerful laptop to cope with all of our usual computer editing and effects on our travel videos, couldn’t cope with the level of computer animation we wanted. So I then had to become a laptop technician as I bought some more RAM memory online and, with the aid of YouTube videos, upgraded my computer! It still took almost a day to render out each minute of the animation, and we had to delay the release of the film for a week as a result, but we could make the film we wanted.

While I was busy learning to be a CG animator and computer technician, Felicity and Jenny were busy making ‘real world’ magic as they painted the physical sets for our puppets and Dodos. Painting is not my forte (as proved on the one day I tried to help them, and in about five minutes made such a mess of the painting that it took the two of them much of the following day to correct my mess). Once I had been banned from picking up a paintbrush the set design and painting went incredibly, and there was a wonderful moment the first time I saw Bonnie and Any, our marionettes, in front of their set through the camera view screen, and it looked wonderful!

Filming was great fun, every time we added new characters to their sets, and got to try out their scenes, it felt magical. Most of the time, for reasons of time, space and equipment, if we need a backdrop we have used a green screen and edit the background in afterwards on the computer. So to see all of our characters in these wonderful sets was beautiful.

From there it was just a ‘simple’ matter of editing all of the different elements together, and adding the sound effects and music to the video. It always amazes me how much the addition of sound and music completes a video. We find the same thing with our travel videos, and I always like to spend a lot of time choosing the right music for the different moments.

As well as finding the right music for this film, however, I spent a lot of time trying to find the right engine noises for each of the spaceships – using everything from engineered alien sound effects to Aston Martin and aeroplane engines. When they all came together and we had the final video, however, I was incredibly pleased with how the whole film came together!

Just before I wrap up this little insight into the video, I feel I ought to offer up some thanks to all of those who helped make the film, and are responsible for it being as good as it is. Thanks to Felicity, of course, for putting up with my stresses over the computer problems, taking a starring role, helping create the sets, and everything else she does. Thanks to Jenny for painting the incredible sets, and making the Dodos! Also a special thank you to all of those people who provided video or character voices throughout – Robby Measday, The Captain of the Lost Waves, Steve Wardhaugh, Rob Norris, Pete Dodo and Amber Dodo. Thanks to Czech Marionettes who introduced us to our marionette co-stars, and Kitbash3D for helping us get the 3D models!

Finally, thanks to all of you who read the blog, and watch and share the videos which we create to help new people find them.

Thank you for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves and of each other.

Greg

P.S. While we wait to be able to do live shows again, our videos are the only way we make money, and we do this through the support of people buying us a ‘virtual coffee’ at www.ko-fi.com/greg.

The Famous Chichen Itza

The Famous Chichen Itza

A post by Felicity

Chichen Itza is probably the most famous and certainly the most visited of all the ancient Mayan sites in Mexico. The Maya name of the site, ‘Chichen Itza’, means ‘At the mouth of the well of the Itza’ but another possible translation for Itza is ‘enchanter (or enchantment) of the water’.

Located in the Yucatan region, Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and its variety of architectural styles (Central Mexico as well as the Puuc and Chenes styles) suggests it had a diverse population. Chichen Itza was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands, participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route, and they were able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas (such as obsidian and gold). Between AD 900 and 1050 Chichen Itza expanded and became a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatan but its power extended down the east and west coasts of the peninsula too.

From its earlier occupation between 750 and 900 AD to its rise in the 10th century Chichen was a bustling city but after this time, the history gets rather sketchy. One source suggests in the 13th century they were conquered by Mayapan while more recent archaeological evidence suggests that Chichen Itza had declined before the Mayapan became a powerful entity.

Many of the Ancient Maya and Aztec sites we visited while in Mexico filming ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’ had apparently suffered similar fates – usually it appeared the city had grown too large and it became impossible to sustain resulting in the inhabitants being forced to leave and seek out water and new land to grow their crops etc. Over time the ancient cities were forgotten and the jungles reclaimed them. There is no evidence to suggest that this was the case at Chichen Itza, however. In fact records suggest that the cenotes located in and around the city of Chichen Itza survive to this day and one in particular, the Sacred Cenote, remained a place of pilgrimage for the Maya people (which we found ironic as it was the one thing we visited while in Chichen Itza which was not swarming with people as it required a short walk from the main site!).

During the Spanish conquest in 1532 the Spaniards used Chichen Itza as a base and faced growing hostility from the Mayans which forced them to barricade themselves in while the Maya cut off their supply routes. No reinforcements arrived and when the Spanish attempted to break the siege they lost around 150 soldiers and then in 1534 they were forced to flee Chichen Itza. By 1588 the Spaniards had conquered all of the Yucatan Peninsular and absorbed Chichen Itza and used the site as a cattle ranch.

In 1483 John Lloyd Stephens wrote a book ‘Incidents of Travel in Yucatan’ which first introduced the site to the wider world and inspired many more visitors and exploration eventually leading to the much of the site being restored and becoming one of the most prized and famous examples of an ancient Mayan city in existence today.

The most famous buildings in Chichen Itza are the El Castillo and the massive ballcourt. While they are certainly impressive (and all of the remains in Chichen Itza are worth looking at), I must say that Greg and I were actually somewhat disappointed when we visited this grand site. Our guide book was somewhat out of date and talked of the views from the top of the remains and what you can see as you look around inside them…. That is no longer possible at Chichen Itza. Everything is roped off. Its location to the nearby tourist destinations means that Chichen Itza has become a major coach trip destination for all tourists. With the huge increase in tourism, I guess it became necessary to reduce the human interaction to protect these ancient treasures.

With the increase in tourism came the increase of souvenir stands. Greg and I tried to arrive at opening time for each place we visited in Mexico and this usually meant the sites were either deserted or certainly quiet while we were there. This was not the case at Chichen Itza! Upon arrival at opening time we were forced to join an already extensive queue to enter the site. The entrance to the site includes a large market area and we watched the vendors opening their stalls and setting up for the bustling day ahead. We had seen other such set ups at other sites – a market at the entrance and then the well preserved archaeological site within. I assumed this would be the case at Chichen Itza but it was not quite so as once you get through the gate the market continues. On every path between ruins there is a continuous row of stands selling all sorts of souvenirs.

I had very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand we were there to explore the ancient city, not to stock up on modern gifts. We found that exploring the city was not possible in the way we had hoped but at the same time, this city was alive with people which it would have been back at its height of occupation. The stands would have been a variety of everyday goods and necessities rather than solely souvenirs and the crowds (I assume) would have been going about their every day lives rather than posing for selfies in their holiday and beach wear but the energy and crowds would have been there all the same. It was a different experience to any of the other archaeological sites we visited in Mexico.

I actually largely preferred the other sites. I am not generally one for crowds. However I would still recommend everyone visit Chichen Itza if you have the chance. Just know what to expect. If you are just interested in the history and exploring the ruins themselves, other sites such as Calakmul, Palenque, Uxmal or Yaxchilan will be more your cup of tea. If you like walking around the ruins rather than climbing and interacting with them, but want somewhere quiet, I would recommend places like El Tajin. However, if you just want to see a Mayan site and you aren’t afraid of big crowds, include a visit to the most famous site of all, visit Chichen Itza.

 

I strongly recommend you save your spending money for this site too and stock up on souvenirs while you are there. As we walked around, it almost felt that this site is more about the market than the ruins! You can find a huge assortment of things from the typical tourist bits (such as magnets and factory made statues and t-shirts) to hand crafted, traditional treasures. Things such as carved drums, Mayan and Aztec calendars, carved masks and statues, wind instruments and precious stone ornaments and so much more and all at great prices too. For any of you that love souvenir shopping, save it for Chichen Itza and you can get a bit of history and ancient culture while you shop!

I enjoyed shopping at Chichen Itza and am so grateful that sites like this exist. It gives package holiday style tourists somewhere to visit and see something of another country and it keeps the other sites free for those of us that want to delve deeper and do more than shop or take a selfie. Either way, whatever your reason, I would recommend a trip to the famous Chichen Itza.

Thanks for reading, stay safe,

Felicity

 

 

Rescuing A Dolphin

Rescuing A Dolphin

Do NOT try this at home.

A blog post by Felicity

Many of my blogs tend to focus on nature, animals and marine life in particular. If you have read any of them you will already know this. I have such a fascination for the sea and a love of the creatures who live there, that my husband and I set up a marine based conservation show called Curios Aquatica in the hopes that through education and entertainment we can help to make a difference. The plastic, fishing nets and rope, the oil and noise pollution constantly harming the sea and the life within. The over-fishing harming many species, but sharks especially so. The cetacean parks such as SeaWorld imprisoning and torturing these sentient, clever and highly evolved species. We set up Curious Aquatica to raise awareness about all of these and to raise money for marine charities already trying to help save the seas.

The sea is my passion but I would help any animal in need and through the years my family and I have cared for many animals, many of which were brought to us injured. Through careful care and rehabilitation those animals were able to return to the wild once more.

This morning I was browsing on Facebook whilst getting up the energy to clamber out of bed to face the day (not that there has been all that much to do during lock down as we have been in strict shielding in my household!) when I saw a post about a stranded dolphin, less than a mile from our house, uploaded a mere eight minutes previously. I searched the comments to see if the situation had been resolved and upon finding that they were struggling to get in touch with anyone to rescue the creature, I leapt from the bed (startling Greg considerably as I am not in the habit of such lively behaviour first thing of a morning) and started throwing on clothes, explaining to Greg the situation and encouraging him to do likewise.

Once dressed I located some buckets (I didn’t know how ‘beached’ the dolphin was from the sparse information in the post and if the dolphin had been out of the water it would need to be kept moist), and a blanket (we looked for our stretcher too but couldn’t immediately locate it and didn’t want to delay any longer) and off to the site my sister, Greg and I went.

Upon arrival we were met by a few bystanders and one lady trying to get into a dry suit. She explained that she was from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and that she was trying to get in touch with other agencies to help, but she was struggling. While my sister tried to help this lady by trying to phone these agencies herself, Greg and I assessed the situation.

The dolphin (a young bottlenose from the look of it) had been swimming in the causeway when the tide went out, leaving it stranded in a mud bank in the estuary. The dolphin was not, as I had first feared, stranded on the mud and drying out. It was in shallow water, caught in the mud. The biggest problem was that the dolphin was caught on its side. This meant it could not keep its blow hole out of the water and was in real danger of drowning.

Greg took one step towards the dolphin and sank instantly to his knees. It was a long way through this thick muck to reach the dolphin in its shallow bank of muddy water. With some effort Greg freed himself from the mud and raced back to our van for the 100 foot of rope we keep in there (luckily Greg is an escapologist so 100 foot of rope isn’t hard for us to lay our hands on).

I tried again to discover from the BDMLR team member what the plan was, but she was still struggling to get assistance. Her team was meant to be bringing a pontoon and boats to help aid with the dolphin rescue, but we were struggling to find out where they were or how long this would take. In desperation the coastguard and lifeboat station (and RSPCA) had also been contacted. She even asked if any of the bystanders had a boat, but none did. I explained that I was able to get out to the dolphin to support it so it wouldn’t drown, but she told me that the mud is too dangerous and that we had to wait for the groups from the other organisations, or her own team, to arrive instead. By this point she had struggled into her dry suit but felt unable to break protocol and go any further.

At this point I want to make it perfectly clear that rules are usually there for a reason. If someone had become stuck in that thick mud when the tide turned they would have been at real risk of drowning. Also, I am aware that many people panic when they become stuck and that would have made things even worse. On top of that, the dolphin was a wild animal and they can be very unpredictable. Humans need to respect animals and interact with wild animals as little as possible. This is very important to remember – and had that dolphin not been drowning at that moment I would have followed this good advice and left it to the professionals.

In this situation, however, there was no sign of the professionals coming to the rescue. The one person we had didn’t feel able to break the rules and assist us or the dolphin (although when we went ahead anyway, she did offer advice from the bank).

I know I am a good swimmer. I also know how to move across that kind of terrain without sinking or getting stuck (during my years’ training as a ranger I ended up sinking and moving through a lot nastier stuff than this mud!). I know a lot about cetaceans and how to handle wild animals while staying as safe as possible and not causing the animal in question any more harm or distress. I had my husband running down the road with his 100 foot of rope and my sister on the bank ready to assist in any way needed. I had my team and I couldn’t stand by and watch this dolphin drown when I knew we could prevent it.

I tied the rope around my waist and slithered across the mud (to the cheering of the watching crowd and the concern of the BDMLR team member) towards the dolphin. Once there I looked back and found one of the other members of the public had seen me make my move and rushed to kit up in his wet suit and was making his way towards us too, using my rope to guide him as he slid towards us. The BDMLR team member seemed torn between the fact that her job was to stop us, but her passion was clearly to save the dolphin, and so she began to offer instructions and advice from the bank.

Once the man reached me, we positioned ourselves on either side of the dolphin and carefully re-positioned it so that it was resting gently on my legs and its blowhole was finally clear of the water, and it could breathe again at last. Once able to breathe it vocalised gently to us. A few squeaky whistles and I felt as though the breath I hadn’t realised I was holding released (and Greg tells me that the same emotion was felt by everyone on the bank as the sound carried to them). I checked the dolphin over as best I could considering my pinned position and the murky water we were in, but, aside from a few scratches, I could see no injury. The more worrying thing was that the dolphin’s eyes were closed and I could feel that if we let go, the dolphin would have tipped back over onto its side.

Back on the shore some of the bystanders who had been wanting to do something, but were not sure what to do to help, had taken up the rope along with Greg to ensure that they would be able to recover me and the other helper if things started to look dangerous. The lady from the BDMLR continued to point out that she couldn’t physically help us and she had to tell us that what we were doing was dangerous and we should wait for her boat (she later spoke to Greg and told him that she was sorry that she had had to keep repeating it, but it was part of her job). Greg pointed out that we weren’t going to let the dolphin drown while we waited for a boat, which we had seen no sign of, but that as soon as her boat arrived we would be happy to hand the task over to her team. At the moment, however, we were all the dolphin had, as the professionals were either not there yet, or not able to do anything because of their rules.

Once more of her team arrived it was decided that two of them in dry suits would come into the water and take over from us, still using Greg’s rope for safety (my helper and I did say we were still fine to help in any way needed, and were not in any difficulty in the water).

The first of the team had joined us when the Coastguards arrived and the plan fell apart. The leader of the Coastguard would not let another person come out across the mud to us until their ‘mud team’ had arrived from the other side of the Island, nor would they allow one of us without dry suits to return as they didn’t have equipment to allow us to ‘safely’ cross the mud (which we had already crossed).

It was frustrating to me, my helper and the lady from the BDMLR who had joined us, as well as the other member of her team who was kitted up and ready to join us but then unable to do so. Some members of the BDMLR team admitted that while they cannot officially condone my rule breaking, they are glad we did it as the dolphin would most likely have drowned before anyone got to it if I had not.

A lot of movement then occurred on the bank. All the while I was thinking it was finally the team ready to assemble the pontoon or do something, anything, to help the dolphin in my arms but none of it was. Somehow it became an unnecessary mission to rescue us rather than the dolphin – and, Greg told me, as much time seemed to be spent by the leader of the coastguard on making sure that the public were not around as it was on anything else. Greg pointed out to another member of the team that there was no way he was letting go of my safety line while I was on the other end of it, and luckily found that most of the coastguard were much more friendly and prepared to listen than their boss. It still seemed that no amount of reassurance from us that we were fine, we were definitely NOT stuck, that we were NOT cold, that we just wanted the team to take over with the dolphin for us and we would all be fine, seemed to get through to the agencies on the bank.

In the end, boats appeared on the water (we first thought it was the coast guard but instead it was the harbour master) which we thought were the boats we had been waiting for to assist the dolphin – but no, they were there for us. More faffing followed and the result was that I had to let the BDMLR lady take my position while the Ventnor Mud Specialist Coastguard Service took me to shore.

They did not ‘rescue’ me -despite what they apparently told a member of the press later. I had informed them that I was fine, and both of us in the water (and, I later found out, Greg on the bank), made it clear that I could get myself to shore, but would be happy to allow them to take me themselves if they preferred (I had been in the water over an hour and could understand their concerns on that score), but only once we knew that the dolphin was not going to be left without care. There was only one thing in that estuary who needed rescuing, and that was the dolphin.

After being checked over and the Coastguard team agreeing with my assessment that I was fine, I was sent home to shower and warm up. Watching the news streams for updates afterwards, the hours passed so slowly and with such slow progress with the dolphin. Eventually they got it onto a pontoon and onto the bank to be assessed by a vet, before the decision was taken to put it down. We still don’t know the reason why it was put down, although we will update this blog if we discover the reasoning behind it.

I guess my reason for writing this particular blog is largely down to frustration. We try to raise awareness and money for charities like the BDMLR whose mission it is to save these amazing creatures, yet due to endless rules and regulations with regard to health and safety, today we saw them having to stand by, not only unable to assist in saving a dolphin, but actually having to try to tell us not to. Of course, there must be rules, but there should also be the possibility to treat each circumstance on its own merit. The professionals I spoke to all truly seemed to care as I do for these animals and yet they could not act to save it in time. Members of the Coastguard, BDMLR and the public thanked and commended me for what I had done once I was out of the water, and yet the members of the organisations had been required to try to stop me from doing it. I find it so disheartening. One of the BDMLR team even said that she would like me to do the training and join their team and I was tempted… until I realised that then I would also be bound by their rules and would have been sacked today as I would have still been unable to sit by while this dolphin drowned.

It is so difficult to do the right thing when there are rules which were designed to keep you safe, but would require you to go against your conscience and heart to follow. It is so hard.

I would like to make it clear that I am not having a go at the people who came to help. Almost without exception the BDMLR members and Coastguards were friendly and seemed torn by the problem of wanting to help save the dolphin and wanting to follow the rules. The problem comes with the lack of possibility for these people to adapt the rules to suit the situation.

Thank you for reading, stay safe,

Felicity

P.S. If you would like to see us with cetaceans in happier circumstances, do watch our visit to the grey whales of Magdalena Bay, Mexico below.

 

Pyramid of the (Dwarf) Magician

Pyramid of the (Dwarf) Magician

The Magic of Uxmal

A blog post by Lady Felicity

Back in February 2019 Greg and I went to Mexico on our honeymoon. If you have read some of our previous blog posts you will likely already know this. We chose Mexico as our destination as I was desperate to see the grey whales of Magdalena Bay and Greg favors any excuse to act like Indiana Jones (just look at the hat I got for him!).

Our honeymoon therefore had two parts. The first half of our adventure saw us climbing ancient Aztec and Mayan Pyramids in deserts and Jungles while the second half involved our quest for marine life and water based activities. (If you look back through our past blog entries we go into a few of these things in more detail.)

It is usually Greg who writes about the ancient ruins and Pyramids we have explored on our travels, him being the human history enthusiast while I either go for the prehistoric history or, more often, the nature and wildlife we have been fortunate enough to encounter. On this blog post, however, I am actually going to combine the two.

Uxmal is an ancient Maya city of great significance. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is considered (along with Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul- all of which we visited during our time in Mexico) one of the best examples of the regions dominant architectural style. The buildings are noted for their size and decoration. They are typical of the Puuc style and you can often find decorative serpents and masks to represent the rain god, Chaac. There are also skull carvings, geometric patterns, lattice-like stone work, as well as carved birds and jaguars. One particular building attracted me- it is a temple known as ‘House of the Turtles’ and was adorned with decorative stone carved turtles – an instant hit with me!

The name of the site, Uxmal, likely derives from Oxmal (meaning three times built) or Uchmal (meaning ‘what is to come, the future’).

What really resonated with Greg at this site was its link to the Dwarf King. A magician. It is actually said by tradition that Uxmal was meant to be an invisible city, built in one night by the magic of the Dwarf King. (Perhaps the magician-god named Itzamna)

One of the popular legends about Uxmal is told beautifully by Greg in our video ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’ which you can watch in our video here:

There are various legends told by the indigenous Mayan people. A lot of them talk of a boy (or dwarf) born from the Iguana egg, cared for by a witch. The ruler feared this boy and in some stories the boy had to complete various tasks (such as building the pyramid later dedicated to him) or be executed. In some versions he was in competition with the King and through the clever sorcery of the witch the Dwarf defeats the ruler and takes his place. We enjoyed researching these folk legends, but in truth I suspect my vertically challenged magician, juggler and escapologist entertainer of a husband most enjoyed the fact we had found a pyramid which could have been named after him…

One of the most impressive structures in Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician (In Spanish it is Piramide del Adivino, the Pyramid of the Foreteller). It is also referred to as the Pyramid of the Dwarf or the Pyramid of the Soothsayer. Standing taller than any other building in Uxmal, it is the most recognizable and famous structure in Uxmal and considered unique because of its rounded sides, great height, steep slope and elliptical base. It stands at about 115 ft tall and 166 ft wide. The building of this incredible pyramid was completed in several phases over three centuries.

Uxmal was once home to about 25,000 Maya and flourished from 600-1000 AD. The first pyramid temple was constructed in the 6th Century AD and it was expanded over the next 400 years. It fell into disrepair after 1000 AD and was later looted during the Spanish Conquest. It was rediscovered in about 1838 and restoration efforts began in the mid-19th century.

The site of Uxmal is amazing. We had hours to explore it before we had to get back on the road and move on to our next destination, but we both agreed that the hours we had there just didn’t feel long enough. It was the one ruin where we felt pushed for time, we could have happily spent hours more exploring and admiring the place. The buildings and their decorative carvings are beautifully preserved, there is so much to see. While some sites (like the famous Chichen Itza) have the buildings roped off so you can see them but not interact with them, Uxmal was one of the more interactive places. You can go inside many of the buildings and properly explore. You can immerse yourself in the history and feel like you are part of the site while you explore it. You can almost imagine yourself as one of the citizens who once inhabited Uxmal all those centuries ago or one of the archaeologists who worked on restoring it all those years later.

I am fascinated by the history. My imagination often runs wild with me and I truly end up getting immersed in places like Uxmal. Greg’s knowledge and enthusiasm for these places adds to and fuels my own and the hours just disappear as we explore them together. With the right company, sites like these feel truly magical to me. Uxmal had an extra layer of magic though, all its own.

When we explored Teotihuacan (you can read Greg’s blog about that site HERE) we felt that the stray dogs who now inhabit the site felt, to us, as though they could have been guardian spirits, watching over and protecting the site.

When we visited Xel-Ha there is actually a legend about the gods creating Xel-Ha and appointing three guardians, an Iguana, a Pelican and a Parrotfish, to watch over their beautiful creation.

We discovered Uxmal has its own guardians too. Uxmal is teeming with lizards and alive with birds. As the buildings are largely open to the public, they are open for the wildlife too. In many of the rooms we discovered swallow nests high up in the walls and Iguana (as well as a few other species of lizards) lying on the sun-kissed stone floors.

The birds create a beautiful, undulating, dancing cloud above the main square which is mesmerizing to watch. As we walked around the site it almost became a game of spot the wildlife! The lizards really were everywhere. Not just on the ruins or inside the rooms, they were running across the grass and land between the buildings and basking in the sun just about everywhere we looked. They were fantastic! The Uxmal swallows are guardians of the air while the Iguana were guardians of the land. It felt wonderful to me that Uxmal is inhabited still. What a stunning place these creatures call home.

If you are scared of birds or lizards, it would be a real shame but you should probably skip Uxmal. Otherwise, if you find yourself visiting Mexico and the Yucatan region, make sure you visit Uxmal. It really was a magical place, dwarf or no dwarf.

Thanks for reading, stay safe,

Felicity

 

Italian Origins

Italian Origins

A blog post by Greg

It seems odd this week to write a blog which is supposed to be about the places we have visited for our travel adventure videos by writing a post about a place which Felicity and I have visited, but in the days before we had decided to make travel videos into a career for ourselves. Despite it falling outside of the travels we have had for our videos, however, today’s blog post will feature Italy, and two very special visits over there made a little over a decade apart – my first trip to Italy in 2007, and my first trip to the country with Felicity made in 2018.

Let me take you back to May 2007. Tech savvy folk were awaiting the release of a newly announced gadget called an ‘iPhone’. A new television show called ‘Big Bang Theory’ had just been commissioned in America. The third Shrek film had its premiere. All this, however, was completely missed by a 21 year old Greg embarking on his first international tour in Italy.

I had previously toured in one ultra low budget pantomime in the winter of 2005, and I had spent a week in the winter of 2006 performing in Lapland. The experience in Lapland had been amazing, the experience with the pantomime decidedly less so. So I’m sure I should have felt nervous when, having applied for a job with a company named ‘Action Theatre in English’, and met the company director Rupert once for an audition in London, that I then found myself in May 2007 arriving in a country where I did not speak the language and was picked up at the airport by a man I had met once, and driven off to his house in the middle of nowhere where the two of us would be living and rehearsing for the next week, and then heading off on tour together around the country.

What is odd to me in a lot of ways is that I have no memories at all of being nervous. From our first emails, and particularly in the first audition, Rupert and I got on, and although I was initially only going out there for five weeks, the conversation and artistic discussions we had in my first week in Italy would be the basis of us working together as I toured Italy on and off for over a decade until my last tour with the company in 2018 (and when I say last tour, who knows! At the moment we can’t commit, between our travels and my shows and Felicity’s fossil tours in the UK, to months of touring in Italy, and they need to have longer tours – but who knows if we’ll be able to tour there again sometime!).

A 21 year old Greg on tour in ‘Here Comes The Train’.

Over the course of that ten years a lot changed with the company and touring for me. The company grew from having just Rupert and I touring every day in a five week season, to me touring almost constantly from mid-October through to mid-June most years, and multiple groups of actors on the road at the same time.

For me, personally, it changed from touring mostly with Rupert, to touring mostly with Rupert and one other actor, to, from October 2008, touring almost exclusively with one man shows. This solo touring was, I thought, the perfect way to tour… until I met Felicity.

Over the course of the decade that I toured with Action Theatre I had the opportunity to see a lot of the north of Italy, learn the language, and also experience more than a few of the difficulties and joys of travelling life.

For example, arriving in Venice for a show only to realise that you have to carry your entire set through the city (with, on that occasion, the assistance of a pregnant teacher and a nun!) trying to wind down narrow streets full of people with large, heavy set pieces without toppling into a canal. On the flip side, the following day one of the parents from the school arrived in a boat to take me back, and I got to experience standing on the bow of a small boat cruising through the canals of Venice and up the Grand Canal – quite an experience which would probably have cost a fair amount to arrange as a tourist!

There was also the time when the steering wheel of the car I was driving suddenly stopped working halfway across a roundabout, and I was lucky that the roads were clear and the exit was right ahead when it went so that I had space to stop the car safely. This left me stuck, and with no way to return to base that night, and unfortunately the only hotel available was a luxury hotel nearby.

I came to learn that there was always a solution to a problem on the road, and, in the words of Douglas Adams:

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Nothing made this truer than 2013, when because of a major change in the way taxes worked in Italy, I had to reduce the number of weeks I would be touring quite drastically at the last minute. This meant that I suddenly found myself with a lack of work, and took a job at the ‘Isle of Wight Pearl’ shop on the Isle of Wight – where I met the ‘girl next door’ named Felicity… and that was definitely where I needed to be.

I had originally decided to stop touring in Italy at the end of 2016 – my own show commitments were too many for a long tour over there, but then in January 2018 I managed to negotiate a short tour in Italy for a month… with the agreement that Felicity would come along with me to assist on the tour.

Italy, therefore, became both the first country where I toured abroad, and the first country that Felicity and I toured together – and I was very keen to see how she would take to it. We didn’t select our own route or hotels (on the main), so it would be a case of staying in the places that the company had arranged for us (which I was not worried about, as the team at Action Theatre had usually been very good at finding accommodation, and they even went so far as to try to arrange the tour in such a way that our weekends were spent in some of the scenic parts of Italy, such as Lake Garda and Venice).

There is one moment from that tour which will stand out in my mind forever, the moment that I knew that we could travel and tour together (we had started booking our honeymoon in Mexico at this point) and that Felicity would also be able to cope with whatever was thrown at us.

It happened just outside of Cremona, when we were looking for our hotel for a couple of nights. We drove up and down the autostrada trying to find a turnoff which the sat-nav said was there.

Felicity spotted the turning – although it was questionable whether one could really have defined it as a road. We pulled off the autostrada, and started to approach the town in the middle of nowhere. As we looked out the windows of the car, the town looked a little dishevelled, but as we drove into the town it looked abandoned, and like the set of an apocalypse or monster movie.

Houses were collapsed or grown over, shutters and windows were broken. A side road once paved had grown over to the extent that the road had disappeared. Our hotel was somewhere in this.

I looked at Felicity, wondering whether she was going to say that we had to leave immediately, or whether she was prepared to carry on and find out what the hotel itself was like. Then she spoke.

“Can we leave the town…” she said. “And come back in again so that we can film it?”

It was in that moment that I knew we would be fine on tour together. That we would cope with anything that got thrown at us on the road. It spurred us on to create Curios Aquatica (see Felicity’s blog on that here) and was the moment that I could cling to when we were planning everything in our Mexico adventure (which was to become ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’, which you can watch the video for here).

If you would like to see our arrival in the town, watch that here:

It is also why, although the current world situation makes travel more difficult right now, we know that we will be back up and running with more travel adventure videos as soon as it is safe!

Visiting Venice Carnival together in 2018.

For now, thank you for reading, and please take very good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

 

Expect the Unexpected

Expect the unexpected.

A blog post by Felicity.

I like organisation. My friends and family often joke about how my lists have lists. Not only do I list, research and plan everything, I also often put little picture icons next to each thing on my list so I can know what I’m looking at with a quick glance. I like to be prepared. I like schedules. Even when booking our wedding and honeymoon, some of the people we booked with were amused at how far in advance we were booking them!

My husband is not usually what I would call organised. I sometimes call him ‘last-minute.com’. He copes well under pressure and can make something up last minute. His shows don’t need the scripts and weeks of rehearsals I would need were they mine.

I have come to realise that, although it’s a bit of a cliche, in life you should expect the unexpected.

Despite what most people likely think, I consider myself a bit shy. I was worse as a child. I’ve always been chatty and a bit hyper behind closed doors but in public I was well behaved and quiet. I’ve never been a fan of huge crowds and if you had told me back then that one day my job would involve public speaking to large groups of adults as well as school groups…. I would have laughed and then freaked out when I realised you’re not joking. Yet that is what the fossil hunting side to my life involves. Despite the idea of public speaking still knotting my stomach, I do actually enjoy that job. (Most of the time!)

My point is, you can’t always predict and plan for things. Expect the unexpected. This is very much true with the travelling part of my life too.

Greg and I plan our adventures. We research what we want to do or see in the country we are heading to. We find prices, opening days and times, nearby hotels, how long it takes to get everywhere, how long each thing usually takes to do or explore… everything we can think of, we plan for. It doesn’t mean the trip will go as planned and I’ve learned to expect that. All sorts of things can and often will go wrong.

When we were in Mexico we struggled to find a few of the hotels and attractions which hurts the timings (If you haven’t yet watched ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’ and want to do so first without any spoilers, you can below!).

One accommodation in Palenque was not a private bungalow as the website had described. Instead they tried to put us in an upstairs room of a back packer hostel which had a broken door, floorboards we could see through the cracks to the room below and no glass or anything in the window frames… I didn’t even need to see the shared bathroom before deciding to leave!

By this point it was after dark, in an unfamiliar country where most people didn’t understand English and our Spanish was rudimentary at best.

I learned then that Greg and I make a great team. Our travel adventures are well organised and structured thanks to the advanced planning but when things go wrong, Greg can fix them! That night I picked a hotel I liked the look of (likely the most expensive one in the area!) and Greg went in and (with the help of a lovely American guest who helped translate our situation to the hotel desk staff) got us a beautiful room at a great price.

We had a similar story in our recent trip to Romania- we had a gorgeous looking hotel booked but, thanks to some unexpected road works, we couldn’t reach the hotel without getting stuck in about a mile of deep mud!

That night we changed our schedule and drove a few hours to the next destination and picked a hotel at random. It happens.

If you haven’t watched ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’, you can do that here:

 

Another big change was in Mexico – we had a full schedule planned, but we hadn’t allowed for us catching a delightful bug known as Montezuma’s Revenge. A lot of travellers get this bug. It is caught when you drink contaminated water (it is best to try not to think about what it is contaminated with!). We were well aware of this and tried to be very careful. So much so that I know when and where we caught it – in one of the cafes in Isla Mujeres. I always stressed when ordering a drink ‘no ice cubes’ and only half of the places actually listened. I always fished them out and disposed of them. This cafe was the only place where they weren’t proper ice cubes but shards of ice – they apparently didn’t use bottled water and I wasn’t fast enough at fishing them out.

Montezuma’s Revenge caused me to be violently sick and unwell for a week or so (despite having the antibiotics with me to clear it up) and Greg had a bad stomach for a few days. While laying in bed sick all day Greg went through our schedule, contacting people and rearranging everything so we missed out on only two activities rather than a whole weeks worth. It meant longer days with extra driving and hassle later but was well worth it so as not to miss out on anything. The man is a genius, even when locked in a bathroom for most of the day!

Then on another occasion, when in Romania, I mentioned how I wished we could include the country’s large bear population and explain about some of the conservation issues the country is facing and Greg then spent an evening researching how we could add them to our video in a sanctuary as we had been unsuccessful at finding them in the wild. More shuffling and rescheduling followed and it was so very well worth it to be able to include them.

There is also always the weather to consider. When on the Isle of Man, for example, Greg was in charge of the schedule (such as it was!) and even he had to rearrange a few things as he had planned for us to explore a castle (Castle Rushen) and on one occasion we had to reschedule due to a heavy downpour and on another as he couldn’t drag me away from the Seals at The Sound quickly enough but that’s another story!  (If you want to watch ‘The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals’, you can do that below. To read about the gorgeous seals, click here!)

The weather even affected our visit to Turkey. One very memorable morning saw us walking around the ruins of Heirapolis and the Cotton Castles of Pammukale or at least they would have seen us do that had anything at all been visible through the incredibly dense fog which cloaked just about everything that morning!

We squeezed our afternoon plans into the next morning’s already busy schedule in order to stay at the Cotton Castles long enough for the conditions to improve so we could actually see this incredible natural wonder (you can watch our adventure in Turkey below!).

Thick fog also nearly caught us out on the Isle of Man when we tried to admire the scenic view from atop the Snaefell Mountain. Luckily the fog cleared while we enjoyed a slice of cake in the café, so that in the end we did get to admire the view before catching the tram back to the bottom. You get the idea, weather is bad when trying to plan in advance. Naughty weather!

Speaking of naughty things, another unexpected thing which can catch you out is when you have booked diving experiences for your honeymoon, have organised things so that you can qualify to Scuba dive before said honeymoon and then your husband gets an infected ear which results in a blown eardrum. This too required much rearranging and rescheduling for our honeymoon. Luckily in most places we had planned to dive, we were able to snorkel instead. This seemingly devastating (not to mention very painful for Greg!) situation actually led to one of my favourite memories from our honeymoon.

When initially researching Mexico I discovered that you can swim with whale sharks there but found that this is usually done in the summer months. We were due to be there in February and March as this is the time the grey whales are there. (To read about the whales click here)

Disappointed that we couldn’t swim with my favourite shark species I kept researching to see what we could swim with instead and found that it is possible to dive with bull sharks. One of the few shark species which makes me somewhat nervous. Naturally we booked this dive experience.

Greg’s blown eardrum took this dive experience off the table. On our third round of research Greg found a review for swimming with sealions which mentioned whale sharks. Deeper research revealed that in this one location you can swim with both the sea lions and the whale sharks during the winter months! Elated we booked this experience instead and it is now a treasured memory which shall be with me forever (plus Greg made a full recovery if any of you were wondering!?)

To read more about the shark experiences or about learning to dive, see our previous blog posts.

At the end of the day, I love travelling. It can be stressful, things can go wrong, the unexpected happens and sometimes you weren’t strict enough and you can end up spending more of your trip in the toilet than you hoped… but it all adds to that sense of adventure and so long as you have a positive outlook (being with the right traveling companion works wonders too!) every moment is worth it. That goes for life too. Take the unexpected and run with it wherever possible.

Thanks for reading,

Felicity

P.S. If you have enjoyed this blog, or any of the videos within it, please consider commenting below, or on the YouTube videos which you enjoy, as this really helps us spread the word about what we do!

 

 

 

Like A Puppet On A String

Like A Puppet On A String

A Blog Post By Greg

This blog will be about our recently started, ongoing series of short marionette films – if you want to watch the series so far before reading the post so you can watch it ‘cold’, then you can do that here:

I can’t remember the very first time my Dad sat me down to watch Gerry Anderson’s series ‘Thunderbirds’, but I can remember spending hours watching that series, as well as ‘Stingray’ and ‘Captain Scarlett’.

We had all of the toys – my mother made Thunderbirds outfits, and we were given toys of the Thunderbird craft (Thunderbird 2 was always my favourite). One of the first toys I remember saving up to buy myself was a toy vehicle from Captain Scarlett (I actually remember after getting it that I kept waking up in the night and checking it wasn’t a dream!).

Most of all though, I remember watching the series, and enjoying seeing the puppets. It’s not that we were young and didn’t mind seeing the strings – the strings and the puppetry were all part of the magic.

That was over a quarter of a century ago. I grew up (an arguable statement, I acknowledge), to become a showman and performer, and I always had those Thunderbirds lurking in the back of my head, but I could never quite figure out how marionettes would fit into my shows and so while I looked at them often while looking for something new to add to the shows, I never actually ordered one.

I came close in 2019. I had found a company in Prague named Czech Marionettes, and I had been looking through the marionettes on their website. So many marionettes leapt out at me – a marionette you can buy to assemble yourself named ANY, a beautiful Charlie Chaplin character with moving eyes, an absolutely incredible dragon called Spike and… well I could go on for a long time (I have a large ‘wish list’ tucked away in my head). I very nearly bought a skeleton marionette named ‘Baby Bonnie’ to dance around at my shows, but that was just as we were on the verge of releasing our first travel video, ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’, and our funds had to go towards booking our travels, so that we could build up our travel films and make that the focus of our career.

I ought to point out at this point in time that the Czech Marionettes company have not asked us to write this blog, nor have they paid us to promote them – so although they are being incredibly supportive of our entry into the world of marionettes, any gushing about their work here is all my own!

This brings us to this year and the arrival of Covid-19, which, as well as leading to the tragic loss of so many lives, has also been a  game changer for so many people. For us that meant that live shows disappeared, at least until the autumn, and so I moved my shows online to create a fortnightly comedy and magic show.

Suddenly with the need to create a lot of new material, and a lot of that in the form of new short films, it felt like it was finally time to realise the idea which had been hovering in my mind for the last twenty-five years and take my first steps into the world of marionette filmmaking. We weren’t looking to make the Thunderbirds – this would be something smaller in scale and more intimate feeling – but would be an ongoing series of short films starring a marionette. All we needed was a star.

I got in touch with Czech Marionettes to speak to them about their marionettes, and they understood what we were planning to do in our series and were really supportive of our ideas. Not long after that our first marionette arrived.

The first marionette which we received from the people at Czech Marionettes was a wonderful creation. Named ANY, it is a hand-crafted wooden marionette designed to be ‘neutral’ – no gender, no specific personality features, a blank slate to fill with a personality. To make it more interesting, he came in kit form, which meant that I would be able to assemble him myself.

***As an aside, an interesting point here. You’ll notice that I said that the ANY marionette arrives with no gender, and yet I refer to him as ‘him’. I have done so since I first mentioned him in an email to the company, and they asked me why. This took a little thought, and then I realised that I was already giving a little of my personality to ANY, and our ANY was male.

Assembling ANY felt magical. This is no doubt part of my personality, and may seem strange to some, but I hope that from the comments I have received about ANY and his adventures that most of you will understand, that from the first moments putting him together it felt like we were bringing him to life.

While the kit was relatively simple to put together, it felt deeper than just putting parts in place. Many of the parts need sanding down, and especially as we were sanding down the face, on which you could see the chisel marks from the craft person who had made it, it felt like we were part of a team who had been involved in making this little piece of puppet art.

Once we had ANY pieced together and strung, the joy of letting him take his first steps in the world began. With strings controlling his arms, legs, head, body, and even when we want, his nose, there is a lot to think about each time we move him, and the simplest of actions or gestures for ANY can require a fairly complex set of movements from the strings. What I found amazing, however, was how intuitive and natural it felt to be working with him. I could immediately sense his personality shining through – he is, like us, an adventurer, and he is clever and quick at problem solving.

We started filming with him straight away – because ANY is waking up and finding his feet during the first episode, and I therefore wanted it filmed while I was still starting to learn his movements myself. If you watch through the series (four episodes have been released so far) you will hopefully see that as ANY’s confidence grows, so too does our confidence working and filming with him.

We have a long way to go to become expert marionette filmmakers, but we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far, and I am very grateful to my wife, Felicity, my sister-in-law Jenny, everyone who watches and comments on our YouTube videos and to Czech Marionettes (whose work you can see here), all of whom have helped this 35 year old man (and the eternal ten year old Thunderbird fan who lives inside him) to start achieving his marionette dreams. Thanks also, of course, to ANY – for bringing our series to life!

Thank you for reading – please take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S. This week I released my second audiobook – ‘The Ever So Slightly Exaggerated Tales Of Mr Greg Chapman Volume 2: Losing The Lost World’. For more information and to get a copy, click HERE!

Dinosaurs? Yes, Please!

Dinosaurs? Yes, Please!

A Blog Post By Lady Felicity

I consider myself very fortunate in that most of the things which always interested me as a child still have some significance or place in my adult life. My love of animals and the sea, my fascination with seeing the world, seeing different cultures and delving into ancient ones where possible – through making our travel documentaries and with Curios Aquatica, those things are still very much present in my life.

I do still share one passion with the majority of children though, a love of dinosaurs. My sister has always been intrigued with geology. Her gemstone collection started at a young age and has since grown not just to take up a considerable amount of wall space in her home but to her now owning a gemstone and fossil shop called Island Gems.

My sister and I started working for Island Gems as soon as we each moved to the Isle of Wight. She quickly became a manager (and when the owner was ready to retire some years later, the new owner of the business) while I became the head fossil tour guide.

Some years later, a certain Greg Chapman worked next door to Island Gems and would often pop in for a chat. A few more years passed and I found myself training him as our fill-in tour guide. . . later I found myself exchanging marriage vows with him while stood beside a life-sized replica triceratops. . . as you do. . .

The Isle of Wight is the best place in Europe for finding dinosaur fossils. Many places can boast of fantastic marine fossils such as ammonites, belemnites (fossilised squid shells), ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs (marine reptiles). To find actual dinosaurs (land living reptiles with the hips placed underneath the body rather than to the sides like crocodiles or the Dimetrodon which is often wrongly mistaken for a dinosaur), the Isle of Wight is the place to visit. This does not mean, however, that dinosaurs can’t be found in other places too. They are usually found in a museum rather than walking along a beach like we regularly do on the Isle of Wight.

Whenever we start researching a new destination to make one of our adventure documentaries, I like to have a quick check to see what (if any) fossils can be found in that place.

When we visited the Isle of Man to make Railways, Castles and Seals, Greg was in charge of everything. The research, organising, booking, everything. For someone who over-organises to the level I am known for, that was quite an experience for us both! Even then, however, Greg knew to check for fossils and the main fossils found on the Isle of Man- crinoids (sea lilies)- feature briefly in that video.

During our most recent travel adventure in Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle, the video, as the title suggests, was less about seeing what the country has to offer in general and focused more on one specific thing there.

Despite this we couldn’t resist a quick dinosaur and fossil related search and discovered that Romania has its fair share (by this I mean about six different species) of dinosaurs, one of which, the Magyarosaurus Dacus (‘Magyar lizard’), is incredibly both the biggest dinosaur found in Romania and yet it is also (one of) the smallest sauropod species (long neck) found in the whole world.

While most of the dinosaurs found in Romania can also be found in countries like Austria, France and Spain, they do also have one species also found on the Isle of Wight – Valdosaurus (Wealden Lizard), as well as two species Zalmoxes (Dacian Deity) and the aforementioned Magyarosaurus which are unique to Romania.

I realise for those of you who have sadly grown out of your dinosaur-obsessed days, I probably lost you for a moment there. For those of you who love dinosaurs still or are happy to walk around a beautifully presented park which demonstrates the majesty of these long dead (or evolved if you are one that accepts each time you see a bird you are looking at a dinosaur) creatures, there is such a park (Dino Parc, Rasnov) in Romania which doesn’t disappoint.

If you are also like me and lean more towards the old fashioned feeling museums rather than the often too sterile, state of the art, ‘gadgety’ museums, there is a great National Geology (and fossil) Museum waiting for you in Bucharest too. As well as having some old-fashioned, Victorian feeling model displays, it had some genuine fossils (I always get a little thrill whenever I see some fossils from the Isle of Wight included and have rarely been disappointed. This Museum was no exception!) as well as a fantastic room ‘full of rocks’ as Greg so eloquently put it. In truth it was a room I felt would have had my sister practically drooling, the gemstone specimens were so fine.

To get a glimpse of those, do check out our video!

One of the things I like most about the world of fossils, of palaeontology, is that it is always changing. We are forever finding new specimens, new species. The regular advancement in science means we are always learning more, changing and adapting past theories and ideas regarding these prehistoric creatures and the world they lived in. It does mean that you think you know what you are talking about, you have all your ‘facts’ straight and then yet another scientific paper is published and you have to change everything you thought you knew (don’t get me started on Brontosaurus/ Apatosaurus or Seismosaurus/ Diplodocus!).

It does also mean that likely in ten years time, I will re-read this blog post and find some inaccuracies, either in what I have written or in what I believed to be the truth at the time of writing this. That’s palaeontology for you!

It’s wonderful though. In many ways the dinosaurs are gone but their remains are still being discovered, their life and world is still fascinating and surprising scientists each year, they live on in children’s imaginations and in mine. I will always be grateful to these long ago creatures for the role they played in my imagination as a child and, more recently, the role they played in me finding my husband. I hope to see the world, to see and learn so many more incredible things, there is so much out there but everywhere we go, if it makes it into our travel documentaries or not, I suspect I will always at least check for dinosaurs and fossils in every country I visit.

Thanks for reading, stay safe!

Felicity

P.S.
You can find out all about our travel adventures, Curios Aquatica and ‘(Almost) Live’ shows at http://www.gregandfelicityadventures.com!