Lynx and Pilgrims- Adventures in Spain’s Wild South

Last October I went to a place in the south of Spain called El Rocío and it was mental. I tried to sell this article to several travel websites, but they ignored me, so here it is, just a bit less serious. It’s partly about wildlife, of course, with a bit of storytelling. I even had to do a bit of research.

In October 2017, my parents took me and my sister to the Costa del Sol (Estepona, sort of near Malaga) for two weeks. Going on holiday with your parents as an adult isn’t particularly cool, but it was a lot of fun, and to give my parents their dues, it was very kind of them to take us; they certainly didn’t have to.

I’d wanted to go to Andalucía/ Andalusia for a long time (I actually applied to spend my year abroad there, but ended in Galicia, which couldn’t be much more different). Apart from beaches and a climate that reaches highs of over 40° in the summer and remains in the 30s well into October, it also has a lot of Spain’s most impressive cities and cultural sites, especially Sevilla/ Seville and the Alhambra and Generalife (which to me always sounds like a brand of insurance that should sponsor a major Spanish football team) in Granada.

I’m as keen as anyone else on walking around a fancy Moorish castle and eating tapas (even though my vegetarian family limited this), but years ago someone told me about a far more important reason to visit Southern Spain: the Doñana National Park.

 

Alcazar, Seville.

The Doñana is one of the Europe’s most renowned birdwatching sites, with iconic species including flamingoes. It’s also the best place to spot the endangered Iberian Lynx, a secretive big cat* with a wild population of approximately 400 in the world.** Fortunately, my family like birds and animals as well, so I was able to convince them to break up the holiday with a safari in the Doñana. This led to us staying in El Rocío.

 

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So for a number of reasons, it’s all been quiet on here of late. I might continue the autism blog in the near future, and I’m planning a couple of book reviews and travel pieces, but for now, I’d like to make you aware of Rainbow Heron’s Late Night Café.

The Night Café takes place once a month in Sharrow, Sheffield. It works as a safe space to talk about mental health (if people want to) and runs different activities each time. I wrote an initial blog for them summing up what the café was like (it was a nice environment, and I’ll probably go back) and may well be writing more blogs for them in the future.

Cheers,

Jack

Autism Blog Three: Making Sense of Fashion

Note: I didn’t ask anyone whether they were happy for their photos to be used in this blog, so I’ve just cut everyone else out of the photos of me.

In my previous two blogs, I introduced myself – a young man on the autistic spectrum – and went through how I think having a condition influences my actions, and how knowing that I’m in some way “different” makes me think about myself. In the next few, I’m going to look at individual subjects and the challenges they pose to my desire to see things in absolute terms. This week’s is fashion. 

Yes, this is the word “Albuquerque”, a leopard, and some writing in what might be an Asian language, or might be nonsense.

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Autism Blog Two: How does being on the spectrum affect me?

In the previous blog, I introduced myself as a young man with Asperger Syndrome and reflected on my perception of autistic spectrum conditions and how they apply to me. In this post, I identify some typical autistic tendencies and discuss how they affect my life and whether the traits I discuss can really be attributed to my condition.

So, how would I describe myself and my condition? I’ve identified four typically autistic traits that I think I exhibit:

Number one- finding it hard to empathise with others, with the result that I often try to guess what they’re thinking.

Number two- spending a lot of time finding out about subjects that interest me (though I wouldn’t use the term “obsession”). There is a stereotype that autistic people compulsively talk about their favourite subjects, which is not always true, or at least not more than anyone else.

Number three- finding routine and predictable patterns comfortable and being nervous when changing them.

Number four- seeing things in absolute terms.

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Autism Blog One: Should I Even Write About It?

I’m a high-functioning autistic person. At the age of eight I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, though that term is officially no longer in use; it now comes under Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I’ve known since I started blogging that having a named condition could be an interesting thing to write about, but I haven’t done so yet. Part of this is practical; I know that in this series of articles, I’ll mention some of my less-than-ideal traits, and when I say in a cover letter that I pride myself on my writing and that you can find it on my blog, I don’t want that to be the first thing that a potential employer sees (hi!).

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Fansipan: Climbing the highest peak in Indochina

Photos by Alex Ivanov. Additional photos by Rob Gooding, Dom Marshall, Jack Nuttgens and Dean Wall.

 Fansipan; a comical name, and not one that’s on many bucket lists, but it is the highest mountain in Vietnam, measuring 3,143 metres at the summitBack in November 2016, when I was teaching English in Hanoi, I had a week of standard but annoying teacher problems (last minute requests to cover lessons, being left with a class from Hell in a rural school by the teacher, playing on the world’s grumpiest football team), and felt desperate to disappear to somewhere green, remote and beautiful. Mai Chau, the highland rice paddies, or Cat Ba, the rugged tropical island off Ha Long Bay, beckoned, and as I tried to arrange to travel to one or the other, I found out that my flatmates where planning to climb Fansipan, far in the Northwestern Highlands, over the weekend.

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Sapa: Misty morning, clouds in the sky. Without warning, TEFLers walk by.

The plan was to leave Hanoi at ten p.m. on the eight-hour sleeper bus on the Friday night, meet the guide from VietTrekking in Sapa (a small town surrounded by minority villages that functions as a hub for trekkers and backpackers) the following morning , arrive at the summit of Fansipan at dawn on Sunday and return to Hanoi by sleeper bus the same evening. In VietTrekking’s itinerary there was also a mysterious reference to “bath or shower with herb of Dao”.

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The Beautiful Game: Playing Football in a V-League Stadium

When we started playing football on a Wednesday night, we didn’t expect it would lead to us playing an 11-a-side match in the stadium of a professional Vietnamese team.

Photos by Hannah Meldrum. Additional photos by Elle Chambers, Simon Edwards, Katie Russell and Geri Ryall.

Teaching English in Hanoi, where changes in schedule and teaching times are the norm, is a hectic lifestyle. Since my first week in our Trung Hoa apartment, Wednesday night football has been one of the few constants. Until last September, I hadn’t played regular football since sixth-form; the last game I remember playing was an eccentric warm up at my karate club in Bad Godesberg, where we played with two balls and had to hold hands with another person. Wednesday night football has been a way of bonding with my flatmates, meeting Vietnamese people, and exercising in a city where going for a run requires a car or motorbike.

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A rare press photograph of a Team Western Teachers tactics session

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