Rowing the Ganges: A boat, a goat & three chickens

During one of India’s greatest festivals I embarked on a River Ganges adventure to Varanasi in a little wooden boatwith a goat and three chickens.

me11_bwBy Chris Raven

It’s a beautiful day in St Tropez and I’m relaxing on the deck of my luxury Benetti super yacht named Serenity. Today sees the last regatta of the season on the French Riviera and I have a sneaky suspicion it will kick off in style this year. Les Voiles d’Automne is a demanding, high level competition for ultra talented sailors so I will be a very skilled spectator.

My girlfriend Cinderella appears carrying a small tray of fresh bread, cheese and a bottle of Romanée Conti red wine from Cote de Nuits in Burgundy. A former Playboy bunny and successful model from St Tropez, Cinderella’s striking features resembles that of a young Brigitte Bardot. I noticed her three days ago at the opening of the new restaurant at Le Byblos, while I was eating Bouillabaisse and talking travel with a bearded man from Aruba. It was love at first…

…my eyes flick open. I’m lying on a bed fully clothed in a dark room in Allahabad. The sweet smell of apple molasses is heavy in the air and I can hear the busy street life outside the window.

‘Time to go!’ My brother Simon sings, throwing his rucksack over his shoulder.

‘Go where?’ I mumble, rubbing my tired eyes.

‘To find a boat. To row to Varanasi!’ Continue reading “Rowing the Ganges: A boat, a goat & three chickens”


On Assignment



Rio de Janeiro to New York City

MAY, 2017



From Cáceres to Mérida: A Little Walk Along The Silver Way

The Silver Way (Via de la Plata) is the longest of the pilgrim routes in Spain, and runs along an ancient path founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago. Starting from Seville in Andalucia, it runs northwards through the provinces of Extremadura and Castilla y Leon to Salamanca and Zamora.

MAY – JUNE, 2017


Bus Journey from Chefchaouen to Al Hoceima – One of Morocco’s most memorable mountain road journeys.

Hiking in the Riff Mountains and the Talassemtane National Park – Morocco’s last secret gem.

Tangier – Meknes – Fes – Rabat – Casablanca – Marrakech




Aug-Sept, 2016


HAMBURG – A walk along Hamburg’s River Elbe – from the Airbus factory to the Old Warehouse District of The Speicherstadt

July 2016


Tabernas Desert

May 2016




“BLACK SEA CIRCUIT” – An Adventure Through the Caucasus

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Up the Etna

The Raven brothers spark up their Rover 214 and head for Sicily in their quest to drive to the top of Mt Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

By Chris Raven

Sicily, the largest of the beautiful Italian islands, has a rich Phoenician and Arab ancestry and rivals Greece for ancient Greek architecture (The Valley of the Temples). It is famous for the Mafia (Cosa Nostra and the Coppola), tasty desserts (cassata), the Sonnet, sea monsters, Palermo’s Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele – the largest opera house in Italy, great street food (arancini – Sicilian rice balls with a choice of meat or bacon, new-wave of wine-growers, Archimedes ‘Eureka!’ and skiing down a volcano (Mt Etna).

Our Mission: To drive up Mt Etna on the island of Sicily to Refugio Sapienza, elevation 6,500 feet.

Vehicle: Rover 214 GSi, silver, bought for $500 in cash on eBay. Assembled at the Longbridge car plant in Birmingham, UK, in the year the Iraqi forces invaded and conquered Kuwait. Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady, resigned as UK Prime Minister. The movie Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner was a big hit and Something Happened On The Way To Heaven by Phil Collins was blaring out of every Pioneer LP turntable/record player music station around the world. Yep, the car was born in the year 1990. OK, so it was a rather old (almost a classic) vehicle, with fake wooden upholstery and a well thought out coin tray for your loose change, genius idea. The seats are comfy, music comes out of the radio, it has an electric sunroof, electric windows, and the brakes work, which is important, the engine looks like a proper engine and all of the four wheels roll. What more do we need?

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“Mountain of the Gods” Climbing Mount Olympus

Chris Raven climbing Mount Olympus. (Photo © Simon Raven)

The Raven brothers drive to Greece in their quest to climb to the top of Mount Olympus, the home of Zeus.

By Chris Raven

I have only climbed two mountains in my life. The first was Ben More on the Isle of Mull in Scotland at the tender age of fifteen. There I was an adolescent teenager with a bumfluff moustache and skinny legs, battling through the whipping rain on an adventure to the summit. My second mountain was one in the Himalayas in Nepal. At twenty-four I was stronger, wiser, and I knew how to pierce a blister with a pair of scissors. An old Dutchman in our shelter that cold, dark night told me, “In the mountains there are only two grades.’ The old man stopped talking, the orange glow from a candle flickered on his weather-beaten face. He then dropped his smile and leaned forward. “You can either do it, or you can’t”.

I’m in Greece, the Hellenic Republic to be exact. It’s my first visit to this beautiful Mediterranean country famous for feta cheese, baklava, moussaka, Philosophy, Mythology, Plato, Alexander the Great, Homer, Socrates, Aristotle and Easy Jet’s Stelios Haji-Ioannou, archaeological museums, the capital city of Athens (one of the oldest cities in Europe), sea sponges from kalymnos, the Olympic Games, quite a big national debit, early retirement, 9,000 miles of coastline, 2,000 islands, Mount Olympus, Parthenon (438 BC, dedicated to the maiden goddess Athena), Greek tragedies (Ajax), and the largest maritime fleet in the world.

The mission: To climb to the Mytikas summit with my brother Simon.

Altitude: 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).

Location: Olympus Range on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres (62 mi) away from Thessaloniki.

Equipment and Supplies: Walking boots, energy drink, sun protective cream, sunglasses, cheese sandwiches, binoculars, plasters, packets of crisps, water, warm clothes and bananas.

Risk factor: High altitude, indigestion from eating too many cheese sandwiches, falling off a cliff, being attacked by a wild goat or being trampled to death by a mule train.

Mount Olympus was the most worshipped mountain in ancient Greece, and has been the setting for many Greek mythical stories. Great battles were fought up here in the misty summit, with Olympian Gods booting the Titans off the rugged slopes. With their new kingdom all furnished and the blood and bodies removed, the gods would snack and drink nectar and discuss the fate of the world and the poor mortals living on it. But it wasn’t all roses in the kingdom of the Olympus gods. Should a god break an oath, he would be cursed to live nine years away from Mount Olympus and banned from taking part in any of the gods’ parties and fun gatherings. So cruel.

Our journey begins in the pretty little town of Litochoro, just 5 km from the sea at the foothills of Mount Olympus. It’s six o’clock in the morning and I feel wide-wake. Making our way to the central square, we wander through the quiet lanes and admire the old wooden courtyard doors and gabled roofs belonging to the traditional Macedonian houses. After filling up our water bottles from a public fountain, we begin our accent on the beautiful country roads that lead us through the UNESCO Mount Olympus National Park. As we climb higher and higher, our attention is diverted away from the strange blowing noise coming from under the hood and is now focused on the truly breathtaking views. We pull over and gaze out across the calm Aegean Sea, and watch a sailing boat kiss the horizon against the rising fireball. It is so magical. If the views are this dramatic here, I can’t imagine what they’ll be like from the summit. We eventually reach Prionia, the highest point up the mountain that you can drive to by car.

Within ten minutes of slipping on our walking boots, we find ourselves on the trail and knee-deep in thick forest and Greek strawberry trees. There appears to be no one around, and the feeling of having the trail all to ourselves puts a skip in our step. Thirty-two species of mammals roam the forests in the national park from the chamois, deer, ferret, wolf, bear and lynx, and over 108 species of bird. The entire area was declared Greece’s first national park in 1937 and consists of eight peaks including the “Throne of Zeus” at 2,909 metres and Mytikas which has the highest summit at 2,919 metres.

The trail becomes steeper as it weaves through the beautiful, sweet-smelling forest. My trusty staff (or, moss covered branch) helps me along the way. A yellow sign nailed to a pine tree let’s us know we’re now 1,750 metres above sea level, and that it’s a three hour trek to refuge ‘A’. Hearing cow bells clanking further down the trail, we quickly perch ourselves on a large boulder and wait in anticipation for the mule train to pass by. I spot the big ears of the first mule slide into view, followed by seven others trailing behind, all of them ladened down with sacks tied to their saddles. We both exchange smiles with the guy and the girl riding on the first and third mule. With his long black hair and beard and her leather jacket and biker boots, I can’t help thinking they both look more suited to cruising down an open highway on a big Harley Davidson, rather than riding on the back of a lolloping floppy-eared mule.

A middle-aged guy grasping ski poles appears from out of the trees and walks up close behind the mule train. He’s in his late fifties and wearing full trekking gear. He looks agitated and is annoyed to be trapped behind these dumb animals that are affecting his pace. “For god’s sake, even in the wilderness there are traffic jams!”, I can hear him cry. The impatient guy strides past us at speed, with only a quick nod to express his good morning. Making a daring move, he sees an opportunity to overtake and leaps down the grass bank. He runs like an athlete alongside the mules, and just about manages to jump back onto the small trail in front of them before disappearing into the forest. Why are some people in such a rush?

Before long we arrive at the refuge at 2,100 metres, and slump into a couple of chairs on a balcony. Si orders the cold drinks, while I whip off my walking boots and feed fresh air to my sore feet. My calf muscles feel like they are about to explode. I ask the young guy running the refuge if many tourists stay the night, and he explains that tourism this year is at an all time low. He blames the recent protests in Athens and the economic problems in Greece that have been dominating the headlines all summer.

After a good rest, Si suggests we continue with our mission to walk to the summit and hang out with the gods. We set off once more and pass a spooky charred tree that wouldn’t look out of place in one of Tim Burton’s quirky, dark Gothic movies. At around 2,300 metres, we say goodbye to the trees and enter alpine terrain. I begin to feel rather breathless at this altitude. Up ahead we see a group of people sat down beside the trail. We stop and say hello to three gentlemen, who are taking time out from their journey down the mountain. One of the men is from France, near Paris. He’s hunched over and looks exhausted. The second guy seems a little friendlier. He has a slight quiff, and we find out he was born in Athens, but now lives in Toronto. A local guide accompanying them beams. He looks as fresh as the morning dew.

“Much further to the top?’ Si puffs.

“Only a few hours,” the guide smiles. “Be careful of the ridge.”

Appreciative of the advance warning, we continue on our way and soon approach a heavily misted area. Walking cautiously through the mist along a narrow path, we peer over the side and can see shale disappearing into white cloud. One foot wrong and it’s over the edge we go into Zeus’s steaming cooking pot. Stone steps lead us up closer to the summits of Skala and Mytikas, and we see markers on the rocks pointing us in the right direction. It’s very rocky and barren with mist clinging tightly around the two peaks. A chamois pops its head up over the shale horizon. It looks at us and then leaps off. The steep trail soon hits another ridge, and after three hours it opens up to a wide flat grassland area and an unpaved track. We’ve reached the high plateau called ‘Musses’ at an altitude of 2,450 metres.

Once on the Skala peak (2,866 metres), we are rewarded by amazing views of the dominating rocky tower of Mytikas. Red markings lead the way, as we walk higher and higher along the route called Kakoskala (bad steps). With my legs turning to jelly and my knee joints on fire, we finally arrive at Mytikas. We had made it to the top of Greece’s highest mountain. We had made it to the home of Zeus. I open my arms out wide and absorb the energy of the surrounding peaks. A Greek flag dances in the breeze and sitting down on a rock, we snack on cheese sandwiches in celebration, drink nectar (well, Red Bull) and discuss the fate of the world like two Greek gods.

Mt Elbrus: The Frosty Caucasus

Exploring southern Russia’s wild west, Chris Raven and Simon Raven pay a little visit to Mt Elbrus considered to be the tallest mountain in Europe.
Mt Elbrus, South Ossetia-Alania, Russia. By Simon Raven
Extract from their book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
By Chris Raven

The rain thunders down as a veil of thick cloud swirls around the body of Mt Elbrus. Si flicks on the squeaky windscreen wipers, and on the glass I draw a smiley face in the condensation. Rising 5,642 metres above sea level, Mt Elbrus is a double-coned volcano with a permanent icecap that feeds twenty-two glaciers. This majestic fortress of rock and ice is located on a moving tectonic area, and was formed more than 2.5 million years ago. The name Elbrus “Alborz” is believed to have roots in Middle Persian and derives from a mountain in Iranian mythology called “Hara Berezaiti”, meaning “High Sentinel”. Located at the crossroads of cultures at the axis of migrating civilisations, Elbrus has names in many other languages including “Mingi Taw” in Turkic, meaning “Eternal Mountain” and “Oshkhamakhua” in Circassian, meaning “Mountain of Happiness”.

During the Hellenistic period the mountain was known as “Strobilus” (pine cone) in Latin; in reference to the volcanoes twisted peak. According to the curse of Zeus, everyday a giant eagle was to descend from the skies and devour Prometheus’s liver. During the night, his wounds would heal and the torture would begin again. The Titan was eventually saved by Hercules who defeated the eagle. In local Balkar mythology, they believe Mt Elbrus was trapped in ice by Allah as punishment for being too proud to bow in prayer to the Muslim holy site of Mount Arafat, east of Mecca.
Refusing to let the weather dampen our spirits, we drop by the 7Summit climbing shop and tour office in Terskol. We meet the assertive manager named Anna, who has shoulder length jet-black hair and rosy cheeks. We sip coffee and watch a group of climbers trying on hiking boots and choosing their ice axes and ski poles. There is an air of excitement in the shop, an anxious anticipation. Si sparks up a conversation with a ruddy-faced chap from Moscow, who strides around and tests out his new hiking boots. He tells us they hope to climb Elbrus in two days’ time when the weather is forecast to improve. Two women from Norway inspect their poles, while a young couple debate about whether a blue or orange jacket looks better on the mountain.

I join Si outside and we meet a local guide who is chatting to his wife and young son on his laptop. I leap in front of the webcam and sing “dobryy vecher!” The guide named Pavel laughs, he has a great sense of humour. When he hears about our quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea, he tells the story about the Russian adventurer, Alexander Abramov, who drove a Land Rover to the top of Elbrus in 1997. The vehicle had become stuck on the way down, and still remains on the mountain to this day. Mt Elbrus is considered to be Europe’s highest summit, with regards to the seven highest mountains of each of the seven continents. F. Crauford Grove and a Swiss guide, Peter Knubel, made the first recorded ascent of Mt Elbrus in July 1874. Grove was one of the best British climbers of his time and wrote a book ‘The Frosty Caucasus’.

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Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains

During an epic road trip driving full circle around the Black Sea, Chris Raven and Simon Raven, explore the high pasture village of Ayder in the Kackar mountains, in a region of Anatolian Turkey that is home to the Hemsin and the legend of the Laz Big foot.
Turkey’s Pontic Alps. The Kackar Mountains. Photo by Simon Raven
Extract from the book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
By Chris Raven
Waving farewell to Georgia we enter ancient Anatolia. To the left of the road the land rises steeply into the lush green Pontic Alps, a mountain range that stretches parallel with the southern Black Sea coast for a thousand kilometres. Studying the road atlas, Si reveals that directly south across this geological barrier lie Mount Ararat on the Armenian border and the predominantly Kurdish provinces in the southeast of the country bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Curious to explore these mysterious green mountains that are covered by alder, chestnuts and hornbeams, we continue west on the E70 highway to the small coastal town of Ardesen. Si turns sharply inland, and we pass tea growing on the hillside and climb steadily through the Firtina gorge into the rugged Kackar Mountains. This picturesque region is home to the highest part of the Pontic Mountains, with the tallest peak, Kackar Dagi, reaching an elevation of 3,937 metres. We begin to see winch wires stretching across the gorge, which are used for hoisting goods up to the wooden tea houses. An elderly woman and a small boy crank a handle and send a small basket over the river to a man standing on the opposite hillside. Turkey is the fifth largest producer of tea in the world, with 225,000 tonnes of the leaf being grown in 2012. Tea was introduced to Turkey in the 1940s and 1950s and was offered as an alternative to coffee, which had become expensive and comparatively rare.

Continue reading “Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains”

Driving the Georgian Military Highway

There are few roads in the world more spectacular than the Georgian Military Highway. Join Chris Raven and Simon Raven as they descend the GMH from the Russian border to the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi on a road trip of a lifetime.

Dramatic landscape on the Georgian Military Highway, Caucasus Mountains.

Photo by Chris Raven

Extract from their book: Black Sea Circuit

By Chris Raven

A dusty, unpaved stretch of the Georgian Military Highway winds through the Dariali Gorge the “Gate of the Alans”.

Pumped full of adrenaline, Si squeezes past a truck from Azerbaijan on a narrow shelf below a 1,800 metre vertical wall of granite. I try to remove the thought from my mind of rocks smashing through the windows, or a landslide forcing us into the steep valley below. This dramatic and ancient trade route is considered to be one of the most romantic places in the Caucasus, with both Lermontov and Pushkin drawing inspiration from the region. Concentrating on the road, Si reminds me to keep my eyes peeled for lammergeyers “bearded vultures” and griffon vultures nesting on the cliffs. In this remote region of Georgia there are plans to construct a new hydropower plant that would generate electricity to be used locally in winter and exported in the summer to Turkey, Syria and Iraq. If not built with care the threat of environmental disaster seems like a terrifying possibility.

After half an hour of negotiating switchback corners and hairpin bends, we cross the Tergi Bridge and arrive in the northeastern Georgian settlement of Kazbegi (1,797m). In the distance I can see the 14th century Holy Trinity Tsminda Sameba Church perched on the adjacent hilltop. The setting sun kisses the jagged horizon and silhouettes a group of hikers making their way up the mountain. In the main square we are immediately surrounded by a group of hard-faced local men touting rooms. A guy appears suddenly at my window. He has flecks of grey in his wiry bushy hair and deep lines embedded in his face. Wearing a brown woollen tank top over a checked shirt, he has the manner of a mountain warrior and despite his age he looks as strong as an ox. I notice his teeth are yellow and decaying and his lips are dry and cracked. The smell of tobacco drifts inside the car.
  ‘You want room?’ he asks, the corner of his mouth curling upwards in a slight smirk.
  I shake my head. ‘No, we go to Tbilisi. Can we buy car insurance here?’
  He drops his smile and raises his bushy, out of control eyebrows. ‘What?’ he growls, fixing his stare.
  ‘We need to buy insurance, for the car,’ Si adds, knocking his fists together to demonstrate a collision.
  The tout mutters something under his breath to the sun-dried gentlemen standing around him.
  ‘No room?’
  ‘No,’ I smile.
  Exhaling a deep sigh, he turns sharply away and marches over to a young traveller struggling up the hill with his rucksack. Si swings the Volvo over to a nearby petrol station. I ask the guy working the pump about car insurance, but we are both suddenly distracted by the surreal sight of a camel walking along the road. A man with long white hair runs alongside the animal and barks orders at its backside. I turn back to the petrol pump attendant, who looks equally puzzled. He shrugs his shoulders and suggests we try in the capital city of Tbilisi.
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