A year in the life of a travel writer equals gratitude

While searching for a document I found this email summary of 1999  which I’d sent as a Christmas letter.  What a privileged life I’ve led, one I value and treasure it’s a sort of GRATITUDE LIST from just one year!

“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba dived and snorkelled off the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia;

I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist temple and did a cooking course in Thailand.

food features large in my travels

Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.

Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.

Celebrated four new year’s: on the calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one.

Stayed in little villages, large cities and islands.

Climbed: up into Buddhist temples, and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to boats.

Travelled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.

Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4-star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!

I’ve danced. . . on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.

Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and needed a blanket for the first time for ages

Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.

Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap everywhere including on the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s hairdressing shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens by an Aussie

Made music with bongo drums, spoons sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.

Moonlight. Perhentian Islands

Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother in Malaysia and a mother-in-law in Thailand. And I’ve been called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, Fox, H, as well as Pouhi (which I think is chubby in Thai!)

Ate in night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes – including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!

Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.

Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.

Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poison-ness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water, and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated water.

Been to the toilet: on a boat -watched by kids on the riverbank; on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms; off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and used my right hand for eating and greeting!

Heather (L) joins in the fun of Thai Buddhist new year festivities

Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia, served pancakes, nasi-goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in an Athens hotel cafe.

Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.

Met people from all over the world was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners’ attitudes and behaviour. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller, not a tourist.

Given blood in Malaysia, broken a toe, had an allergic reaction [written in 1999 and I now can’t recall what it was!]  and apart from insect bites have been disgustingly healthy.

And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!

National park India

 

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taiwan’s “Lantern village” has a train running through it

An unexpected road trip, with 2 local Taiwanese women,  ended at a lantern village that, surprisingly, had rail tracks running through the middle of the settlement.

Playing chicken for a photo

Here, daily, and at night time, people write wishes on paper lanterns, before releasing them into the sky in the hopes ancestors will answer their prayers.

It seems this ritual started during the Three Kingdoms period and were first to send military signals and, lighting these lanterns grew widespread during the mid-19th century when bandits often attacked these towns. So now, although once used as signals for villagers to let their families know they were safe, they now carry people’s wishes, dreams and hopes, skyward.

An annual lantern festival also takes place on the last day of the Lunar New Year but you can set off the lanterns any time of year.

There are many lantern colours and it seems the different hues have different meanings -from hoping for greater wealth and fame and fortune through to marital happiness and everything in between. Although I didn’t see them, there are also animal-shaped lanterns such as cats, monkeys and pandas.

“You can’t just let the lantern go, there’s a ritual to it and a meaning” I’m told. It seems you can even buy digital, electronic, lanterns for virtual prayers! (an environmentally-friendly version :))

For safety reasons, a shop worker lights the lanterns and controls the release – another safety measure is they now use soybean oil instead of kerosene.

To prevent the mountainside from being littered with lanterns, they have a recycling programme and residents can exchange used lanterns at shops for items like toilet paper or detergent.

WHOOPS

On rainy days, visitors can write their prayer on a piece of bamboo, which is hung along a fence in the village.

rainy day prayers

This was my first visit to Taiwan was fantastic and more stories will be written about it soon!

 

 

 

 

Kapa haka festival and competition in Wellington

The world’s largest celebration of Māori traditional performing arts is in the capital.

Held every two years, Te Matatini is a whānau-friendly, alcohol-free and smoke-free event and I’m one of the thousands to watch kapa haka’s finest 46 teams  (out of 163 contenders this time) competing for the ultimate prize: as well as pride, the title of te toa whakaihuwaka.

I just heard a kaumatua say, on RNZ National, that matatini is for all, ‘from two to toothless’ 🙂

Here is a glimpse of the prizes they want to win;

And some action from the powhiri at Waitangi Park on Wednesday … more to follow on Instagram and other social media tomorrow – from inside the Westpac Stadium here in Wellington.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village

Drumming at a music festival in the Borneo Jungle

The Rainforest World Music Festival has just celebrated twenty years of family friendly fun: that’s two decades of unique, worldwide, musical experiences and talents in the heart of the Borneo jungle.

It started over twenty years when a Canadian, Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician and student went to Sarawak to learn their traditional music. He particularly became enamoured with the Sape, and this instrument has become an enduring, recurring theme of the festival which is held at the living heritage museum – the Cultural Village – just out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo.

A much-loved tradition, that started a few years ago, is the drumming circle led by 1Drum.org Drums, and other percussion instruments, are provided for 100 people at each session – and each seat in the circle is highly sought after – and it’s first in first served.

Judy, from Los Angeles, and who was travelling with, was lucky to get a seat – ‘lucky’ as I pushed her into it. 🙂

Emerging thirty minutes later she said she was thrilled to have taken part and also said “I can see the attraction of playing music or singing on a group – the conductor was marvellous and easy to follow I can also see why you wanted me to experience it – it’s wonderful”. I suspect, had not everybody been asked to give up their seats for others, she could still be sitting there now. However, the second ‘sitting’ of musicians were just as enthusiastic!

The ‘outer circle’ of people (swaying, dancing, and flag waving) are just as much part of the noise and fun of the drumming circle as those sitting in the front row. So, when you get to this wonderful event make sure you too participate in the drumming circle.

Here’s a video from 2015 when, I too, was in the drumming circle https://youtu.be/NsFAvbL4UEw

Diary in these dates: 13th – 15th July 2018 for the twenty-first festival (#rwmf) and your turn to get drumming.

NOTE: this is a great stop-over destination between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Some general scenes from the drumming circle:

I’ve always stayed at Damai Beach Resort while at the #RWMF

#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang


It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!

Heather helps plant mangroves

 

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board

A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

 

Mongolia – off to the annual cultural festival: Naadam

In 2 weeks’ time I’m off to Mongolia, so have been doing a little research. It seems the Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th century was the largest land empire that ever existed – stretching from Korea to Hungary and most of Asia (not India or Southeast Asia) and it lasted for over a century.

While I’m there I’ll be attending Naadam – an annual, traditional festival: which, in 2010, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

I’m looking forward to “the 3 games of men” of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. It seems women now take part in the archery and horse racing games and I’m expecting to get some great photos in this, the biggest festival in the Mongolian calendar.

One of the things that confused me about Mongolia were the terms Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia. Wikipedia tells me that Outer Mongolia ( where I will be) is an independent, landlocked democracy, between China and Russia. Inner Mongolia was, or is, the part of the country closest to China and is not really part of the country known as Mongolia. I have no doubt I will be learning a lot in the 10 days I’m there!

I’ll be based in Ulaanbaatar, where about half of the of the 3 million population live, and expect to be posting on Instagram and Facebook (The Travelling Writer) while there – my blogs will follow once I’m back in New Zealand and had digested all I’ve seen and learnt.

20th #RWMF in Malaysian Borneo – music music music

 

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2013

Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is an amazingly eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians performing. It lasts 3 days and the musicians, as well as performing on one of the two main stages each evening, they also lead amazing workshops.

Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival

All this happening in the Sarawak Cultural Village  only a short distance from The City of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

I’ve been to the festival three times, and my fourth magical weekend starts in 51 days – at the 20th Festival (14-16 July 2017) This award-winning festival has, this year, musicians from: USA, Wales, China, Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa, UK/India, Cape Verde, Guinea, Colombia, Tahiti, Finland – to name just a few! As I said, eclectic with a capital E. Check the performers list on the #RWMF website – and follow the hashtags. (and this blog of course – more links to my social media here)

A typical day starts around 2pm with many workshops and interactive activities with the bands and other performers in the wonderful setting. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large, and always, enthusiastic crowd.

It’s not fair to try to sort out my favourites to check out, but I will. They are: Two South African bands – Abavuki and Kelele  – who will be performing at the #RWMF) at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

  • Abavuki means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language, and it seems they will offer “energetic and multi-instrumental performances which mix traditional rhythms of the South African people as well as more modern styles of kwaito, samba and Jazz.”

Based in Cape Town, it seems Abavuki’s high-energy afro-beat music “reflects their optimistic outlook on life, music-making and the resilience of the South African people.”

  • Kelele –  a minimal-instrument band – use their voices as the focal instrument.

They are keeping traditions alive with melody and harmony, maintaining the age-old African oral tradition of storytelling through song, passing on history, folktales and lessons in life over generations.

Accompanied by tradition instruments like the mbira dzavha dzimu (the finger piano), the uhadi (the traditional bow instrument of the AbeXhosa people), the umrhubhe (another bowed instrument) and the talking drum of the Nigerian Yoruba people.

  • On a very different note – and continent – I’m also looking forward to hearing Pareaso from Korea. These four young musicians will blend “serene spirituality and rhythmic pulse on the daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang,  janggu, gayageum and vocals”.

Of course, with so many to choose my favourites from, I have no doubt that when I next read the bios about more talented musicians, I will add more to my list.

Will I see you there? Who are you looking forward to hearing and, or, dancing to?

Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF

 

 

 

Packing for out-of-season holidays and vacations

sorting my carry-on bag on a previous trip

Taking a break, vacation or holiday – whatever you may call it – in the opposite hemisphere to your home can be an advantage when packing. Out-of-season sorting can also be a pain. For me it’s a mix of both.

Living in an apartment, and with too many clothes, means twice a year I either store, or unpack, my winter or summer clothes. The disadvantage of this is that in our New Zealand winter it’s those thicker clothes that are hanging in my wardrobe (or closet as Americans call them) and I’m needing some summer clothes for travelling in the northern hemisphere – in their summer.

I’m in the middle of this process now, and as I begin to put some light clothes aside, now that it’s mid-autumn, (fall) I’m also considering what I need for 5 weeks of travel in Mongolia and Malaysia – Penang, Sabah, KL, and Sarawak.

This means a shelf in my wardrobe for possibles and/or essentials and, at the end of one railing, coat hangers of the same – possibles, probable, or definite. The advantage for this sorting – about 3 months before my travels – is that, when the time comes to pack my bag, I have fewer options to consider. And, as it will be close to travelling time it will be easier to make quick decisions and of course, not overpack.

On the shelf, along with ‘must take’ items like aqua shoes, swimming gear and sarong, will be a list that I can add to as I think of things. Once again it means my packing will be considered, rather than rushed, and therefore lighter, rather than heavier. As I have said in other blogs about packing, take anything out that has been put in your bag for ‘just in case’.

As always, my travels will be a mix of conditions. Business meetings, a rainforest music festival, Mongolia’s National festival, hiking in national parks, snorkelling at a resort and, exploring city streets and restaurants: my clothes need to be suitable for a range of activities. They also need to be, for me, easily washable in my room. I also expect my check in luggage – on my outward journey – to be 15kgs (about 33lb) or under.

My carry-on bag will have my electronic gear, and e-reader and eye mask, travel docs etc for on the plane, and a few items in case of an unexpected stopover, or for me in this case, a 13-hour layover in Beijing.

So, while Wellington airport is closed because of fog, on this dull day I’m sorting summer clothes for winter travel. Just checked the calendar – it’s exactly 13 weeks today that I fly out, and most of my gear is sorted!

Time to apply for my visa.