Post COVID-19 we will travel again – so solo, or with others?

Do you travel with others or alone? What are the pros and cons? And once this virus is under ‘control’ how will you travel? Alone or with others?

Which do you prefer – on a bus with strangers; with a friend; with your partner, or independently?

Whichever you choose, your travel journey becomes different because of that choice!  I mostly prefer solo, independent travel – however, I have friends who think there could be nothing worse!  I once travelled in parts of Europe on a bus with strangers – at every stop, we were always waiting for someone and that drove me nuts.

When travelling with a friend, we have to be very specific about what is, and isn’t, acceptable -especially if you’re sharing a room.  Of course, it’s very easy to say, but sometimes it’s hard to do -leaving one of you, sometimes constantly, inwardly fuming.  It’s very easy for one of you to minimise your requests, wants, or needs.

Over the years, during times of travelling with another person, these have been the issues of being confronted with.  Not always easy to solve – although if you both can compromise 50% of the time things work out.

  • Someone with a well-developed fear of germs and food that’s ‘different’
  • Night owls who want to talk – I’m an early bird
  • Coughing, but not taking, or refusing to buy, medication
  • Proposing things to do, we agree, then changing their mind – resulting in more convoluted conversations about option A B or C
  • Struggling while carrying  many bags instead of one or 2
  • Train travel only because ‘a friend said the buses were dangerous’

What has been your experiences of travelling alone, or with others?  What problems have you encountered, and what advice would you give to someone who was planning travel?

Britomart

Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, I refuse to stop travelling!

Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.

And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River  -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival  -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling.  I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”

Coffee in XIam, China

Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world  I am going to keep on travelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,

Solitude, Wellington, NZ
Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.

So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.

What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required.  they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.

I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).

If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.

So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.

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Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

Stuck inside under Covid-19 isolation I’m just remembering this wonderful trip’

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

read this and start packing

” ‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If…

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Covid-19 and the travel writer!

What to do, what to do!

How can I be a travel writer and stay at home? What will you do? (NZ goes into shutdown in 2 days)

Well, the first few days in, and all is well.  In fact, I have just made a coffee date for in a few days – my neighbour and I will make our own coffee, sit on our respective balconies, and talk over the fence.  I’m sure we can make that a regular occurrence.

‘Have a coffee with me’ an old man indicates – I do. Muscat fish market, Oman,

However, a trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River has been cancelled, and the Rainforest World Music Festival which I love to attend (in Kuching Borneo) has been postponed until further notice.

adventure in Sarawak after the RWMF

So, what is a travel writer to do, well, actually what I can do is go over all my old notebooks and photos and tell you about some of my past travels -actually, some of which I haven’t even written.  Others I would have written about parts of it, but there is still way more – so, lots of virtual travel still coming your way from me :-).

So a few more stories from my last travels and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Siam Reap cultural show

Are there any topics about travel, in general, you would like me to cover?  I’ve been travelling solo for a long time and specifically since 1995 so have a lot to share.

In the meantime, I have to adjust to being mainly confined to my apartment.  Luckily, I have a big view and a balcony where I grow flowers and veg. I have lots of gratitude :):):)

I’m also sprouting beans, creating nice dishes for my dinner, keeping in contact with friends via the Internet and phone and not living all day and my PJ’s – I’ve already been caught once on a video call!

I’ve also decided to use my travel medication boxes on a weekly basis, as without my normal routine I think I could very easily forget them.

Of course, I will also be reading copiously, and maybe even lying down and be ‘read’ audiobooks 😊

If you need some e-books perhaps you’d like to check these free books (below) out while most of us are confined at home.

For now the physical world is reduced to my map in the kitchen

Off on a road trip

I’m passing thru Whanganui in a couple of days – heading further north – and we will stop to stretch our legs and have lunch. Here are some notes about the lovely little city.

 

what pencil do you use?

When planning a road trip to Whanganui www.wanganui.com  you soon realise the Bridge to Nowhere seems to have no road either. To see it requires a long hike or a jet boat trip up the Whanganui River.

However, there are many ways to drive to this river city. So, if you’ve been skiing or hiking near Ohakune, I recommend you use the historic and popular, ‘Rural Mail Coach’ route. This scenic route, narrow, windy and beautiful, takes longer than the 106-kilometres suggests.  Allow 4 hours or longer if you plan to hike or take photographs on your journey.

Leave State Highway 4 at Raetahi, heading for Pipiriki (27ks) where you will join the 1935-built Whanganui River Road.  Pipiriki is the first of many historically significant settlements along the way, each o which have good reasons for you to stop.  A little further on is the Omorehu waterfall lookout and the picturesque Hiruharama (Jerusalem). This was home to both James K Baxter and Sister Mary Aubert whose catholic mission and the church is still there.

A few more kilometres on is the restored, two-storied, 1854, Kawana Flour Mill, only a 100-metre walk off the road. Back on the road, just before Koriniti, is the Otukopiri Marae and in 1840, site of the region first Anglican Church.

If you want to stretch your legs, the Atene Skyline Track has a 1½ hour track that takes you across farmland and up to fabulous views of the region. Returning to your car, you will soon be driving through an old seabed, the Oyster Shell Bluffs, before moving onto Parakino and your destination, Whanganui city.

The architecture here is varied.  Some of the oldest buildings are the 1853 Tylee Cottage (Cnr Bell and Cameron St), the old St Johns post office (Upper Victoria Ave) and the 3-storied Tudor style Braeburn Flat.   It’s also worth visiting St Peters Church (Koromiko Rd), the 100-year old opera house and the award-winning Sarjeant Art Gallery (Institute of Architects Gold medal 1961). This magnificently proportioned building has naturally lit galleries and the steps leading to it are the resting place and memorial to 17 soldiers who were killed in 1865.  The buildings in the Queens Park area around the Sarjeant are considered one of the best formal townscapes in New Zealand.

Alongside the river, as well as cafes and the River Boat Centre, is the must-visit Moutoa Gardens, site of an old fishing village and where an 83-day occupation occurred in 1993.

Wanganui is compact and all attractions are within walking distance. The revitalised Victoria Avenue has gaslights, wrought iron garden seats, plane trees and wide paved footpaths. The Thai Villa (http://www.thaivilla.co.nz/ ) is in Victoria Avenue, river end, and this fully licenced and BYO restaurant comes thoroughly recommended. Then, while you are near the river, take a cruise on the restored paddle steamer, Waimarie.

Whanganui has many festivals including a book one early in the year. Another is the Real Whanganui Festival http://www.realwhanganui.co.nz/  that includes the Wanganui Glass Festival which showcases the talent of local artists www.wanganuiglass.com   in September 2011

Phare Circus: Siem Reap, Cambodia – a must visit

A circus in Siem Reap?  Absolutely! And, it’s become one of the city’s biggest attractions – and has a positive social impact.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, of course, has the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the awful, infamous Pub Street but it also has many charity and community projects like Phare Circus which aid this still-troubled country. (see also my blog about the HeroRATS) Both initiatives benefiting great causes as do many of the places we visited, ate at or bought from during our week there.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak – a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province – a few years ago I spent a week in Battambang, (on the other side of Tonle Sap) right opposite the market and loved it.

The Phare Ponleu ‘helps vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association.’

When I, and a friend, attended the circus, it meant we were doing more than paying to be entertained: our money benefited the growing arts scene in Cambodia, that is, helping talented young people get the opportunity, income, or training access in which to develop, and showcase, their skills.

The Phare Circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. We loved it and talking to the young people after the show reinforced the value of attending.

Shows, each of a different theme or ‘tale ’change about every eight days. It seems tales, and sayings, are a big part of the local culture and the circus is an extension and visual representation of this with the moral of the shows often being about facing your fears in order to overcome them. The performance we saw was about being different, and bullying – combining laughter, happiness, music, and entertainment in a superbly presented show.

I recommend getting advance reservations during high season. (November through April) as performances sell-out most nights during this period.

It’s more than ‘just’ a circus, and the performers use – with energy, emotion, enthusiasm, and talent – theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories – historical, folk and modern. What’s even better – no animals!

All the Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s – an association which was formed in 1994 by young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime.

“They were greatly helped during that time by an art teacher using drawing classes as therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.”

Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage, money that takes them out of poverty and provides self-respect and freedom. Many of the performers have gone on to be employed by the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Phare Circus also travels the world so you may see them in your backyard!

Phare, The Cambodian Circus is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through ticket, refreshment, merchandise and private performance sales support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. It is one of the business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, along with Phare Creative Studio. Other business units will come soon. The circus survives through sales of tickets, merchandise, refreshments and private events. Ideally, the business will do better than just pay bills, but also make a profit from these activities. The majority shareholder is Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO School. Therefore, the majority of the profits go to support the school’s free education and social support programs to 1200 students daily.

Circus Phare The Cambodian Circus a responsible, social business in many other ways too. While always keeping an eye on making a profit to send to the school, other efforts are made to benefit society when possible. We both bought some items in the Phare Boutique shop as it supports local artisans and craftspeople. (higher quality souvenirs or gifts than you will find in the big markets – where many items are imported ☹) Royalties for each show performed -that was created at the school –  are paid to the school before profit is calculated. The business invests a great deal in the personal and professional development and the welfare of the artists and staff and participates in many community activities, sharing art with Cambodian people who otherwise might not be able to experience it.

The school survives mainly on donations and earns some revenue through sales of show tickets, merchandise and refreshments, but it depends mainly on donations. Maybe you can help – each little bit helps – and, if I get back to Cambodia, I plan on visiting the school.

 

Chungking Mansions – great accommodation or den of inequity in Hong Kong?

When travelling, it’s always great when plans come to fruition.  At our arranged meeting point I meet my friend whose LAX flight arrived 20 minutes before my New Zealand one.  After a coffee, we find the bus into town, and get off at the correct spot – our 5 weeks of SE Asian travels are beginning well.  And, we’re off to stay in a mansion!

Chungking Mansions to be precise – and despite the name, these mansions were the cheapest accommodation we could find in the centre of Hong Kong.  Fantastic we thought.

As we approach the doorway, dragging our wheeled suitcases, half a dozen men offered us their cards – touts for suits, dresses and jackets that we could have made. Silk, linen, cotton, a sari perhaps?  All we wanted was to check-in and start exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This huge block is actually a collection of 5 buildings each named A, B, C, D or E -and each block has 2 lifts – one stopping at all the even numbers, the other at all the odds.  Despite the rabbit warren confusion, we found the appropriate check-in place. What we hadn’t realised there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses, and once checked-in we were taken to our accommodation – in a different block.

My room is across the hallway from my friends one: it’s tiny, spotlessly clean,  has air-con, a bottle of water and is windowless. It’s also shoebox-size, with an even tinier bathroom.  I have no problem with that, I only want this room to sleep in as I know I’ll be out exploring – this is my first time in Hong Kong!

We stayed here for 3 or 4 days, and then after our travels, I stayed another couple of days before returning to New Zealand.

This is not only full of guesthouses but also restaurants, shops and moneychangers.  As someone said you could have a holiday in Hong Kong and never leave the mansions.  No matter what you want it will be here: fruit, biscuits, bread, curries, pizza, computers, or kebabs; new luggage, new phone, Sim card, umbrellas or batteries, they’re all here -and of course suits, dresses, jackets, or a  sari.  In fact, anything you want.  We had our delicious, early morning, Indian breakfast, on the ground floor, every day.

This United Nations of people seem to come from, largely, Southeast Asia and Africa, and in conversation with a young Hong Kong woman on the ferry, she was astonished at our bravery. ‘I’ve never been allowed there’ she said. ‘My parents would never let me go anywhere near there.  Is it safe?  It’s full of drug dealers I think.’

There is no doubt about it, for years it’s had a notorious reputation, and at any one time, among the 4 or 5000 people who live, and or work, there.  I’m sure there are drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and sex workers.

Over the years it’s cleaned up its act, and despite still being a fire hazard, I never saw anything that concerned me.  However, over the past few years, there have been assaults and even murder (s?)

Originally built as middle class, one-family flats or apartments, many families, seeing an opportunity to make money, bought other flats and converted them into guesthouses to serve American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam -it was then that the sex workers started hanging around the entrance.

Would I stay there again?  Of course!  Would most my friends stay here?  Of course not!

our first day in Hong Kong we experience and march

shops and restaurants are beginning to open .. about 630 am. some are open all night

messages of support to the marchers – in the underground

 

 

 

The year of the rat? Meet the HeroRAT

 

‘Rats?  I’m in Cambodia for the first time and you want me to go see rats?’  Reluctantly, dubiously, my friend gets into the tuk-tuk – we’re off to see the HeroRATS I’d recently heard about.

When last in Siam Reap, in the countryside, I placed my foot exactly where the person in front of me had put their foot.  Landmines, laid during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and throughout the 80s and 90s, have had, and continue to have, a devastating impact on the people of Cambodia. I didn’t want to be yet another victim. Sadly, over 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded since 1979.  It’s been a long, slow and difficult task finding these unexploded devices – which can last 50 years.

Numerous ways have been tried to find and disarm them and these new heroes seem to be the best in many ways, so, in April 2015 15 giant mine-sniffing rats flew into Cambodia, one of the most mine polluted countries in the world.

Not all heroes wear capes and these Gambian pouched rats, also known as Giant African rats, are now used to help the local demining efforts. They’ve been renamed ‘HeroRATS’.

Before being introduced to these heroes, my reluctant friend and I read most of the well-written signs explaining what we were about to see: by now she was getting enthused and interested to see a skills demonstration by these rats and their handlers.

After arriving from Tanzania, they then spent the rest of the year acclimatising and continuing their training.  Cambodians, SokHeng Hul and Thoeun Theap, had spent 6 months at the APOPO training centre near the mountains of Morogoro, Tanzania, learning the science, technology, and of course the practical operation of allowing the rats to detect unexploded ordinances.

The HeroRAT training continued until November 2015, when it was decided the team was ready for the first stage of the accreditation process. They took a Performance Test. This test is designed to show evaluators that they and the handlers were capable of detecting all mines that had been placed in the examination area. Over a one-week period, all the rats were tested and produced a 100% pass rate so were deployed in helping the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) deminers in their mine detection work and have since found roughly 500 anti-personnel mines and more than 350 unexploded bombs.

This success rate has no doubt saved many lives and limbs and for many families, enabled them to farm their land without fear and increase productivity.

Further information /sidebar

  • APOPO is a global non-profit organization with roots in Belgium that has developed an innovative method using African giant pouched rats, to detect landmines and tuberculosis using their extraordinary sense of smell. They detect only TNT and ignore scrap metal.
  • One HeroRAT can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes – this would take a manual deminer with a metal detector up to four days (depending on the levels of scrap metal present).
  • The HeroRATs are too light to set off the landmines and not a single rat has ever died in a minefield.
  • The expert rat handlers are trained in basic nursing care and rat first aid. Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health inspections and regular prevention treatments for common parasites. Every week a university vet inspects the rats. When necessary, sick or injured rats are interned at the APOPO sickbay.
  • Their diet consists of high-quality pet pellets, fresh peanuts, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, sun-dried sardines and clean water that is regularly infused with extra vitamins and minerals to boost the rats’ immune systems
  • On retirement, typically between 7 and 8 years of age, the rats work as long as they are performing well, are happy, and pass their weekly health checks. If a rat decides to stop work, or if its performance has declined, or it is suffering from age-related health problems, it is retired to its home cage. It then continues to receive its usual healthy diet, is regularly taken out to play and exercise, and continues to receive its weekly health checks until it eventually passes away. If a rat is clearly suffering in its old age or from an untreatable disease, it is humanely euthanised.

Want to adopt a rat? Save a limb or a life?

SEE MORE www.apopo.org  https://support.apopo.org/en/adopt 

 

A potpourri of photos (been looking back!)

Been searching – on some old CDs – of old pics taken and these took my fancy for no particular reason – except for the Peackok Fountain photo which I think is my best one of it! Next time I’m in Christchurch I will try for a better one with no buildings to be seen! 🙂

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