I could tell you a great big lie about why I have massages when I’m travelling. I could say it’s for research, or I could say it so I can write a blog, but neither of them would be true.
Sure, I may write an article or blog about a massage – and I confess I have one everywhere I go – but nearly always the main reason is pure pleasure and relaxation. Of course, sometimes I have tight muscles or a sore back and massages are my go-to treatment for them too.
About 18 months ago, while staying at the Kannur Beach House in Kerala, I gave myself an early Christmas present – the day before Christmas – and had an Ayurvedic massage, here in what must be the Ayurvedic capital of the world (Kerala) – the first time I’ve had one.
So, what is Ayurveda? Firstly, the word is evidently Sanskrit and translates as the knowledge of life or life science. It’s a holistic way of living that combines meditation, yoga, diet, herbal remedies and massage. Its beliefs include: everything in the universe is made up of elements, including ear fire and water. It is the balance of these bodily energies, which governs our physical and emotional health. According to a book I read at the beach house. These were written in the ancient Hindu scriptures, The Vedas, which describes health as balance and illness, as an imbalance. Imbalance can be set right through eating foods based on body type, proper digestions, physical exercise and yoga or meditation.
Enough of my research, what about the massage?
I arrived by Auto (a 3-wheeled, Tuk-tuk type vehicle) and was first interviewed about my health history.
She started with a head massage, which was lovely, and finished with my face being massaged at the end. It felt luxurious having very warm oil poured over me. No oil on her hands but poured directly onto my body in copious amounts.
The massage included long dramatic, two-handed swirls and strokes from my foot to my fingertips. Smooth figure-eight movements travelled all over the front of my body and included long sweeps over my arms and torso. This certainly was a different sort of massage and not at all like a Thai massage or Swedish.
With great care,
I climbed off the oil-covered massage table – fearing I would slip right off. I thought that was the end of it, but no, I was then put in a steam box and wish I had a photo of the box with my head poking out. I found it very claustrophobic and quite scary and asked to be let out after about 5 minutes, which she did gracefully. A shower followed – with shampoo and body wash provided.
So, I’m not sure if the herb-infused oil used in the massage purified me, detoxed, cleansed or removed any toxins, but I can say it was a great massage and next time I’m back in Kerala I will return for another!
However, like all massage therapists each one differs: that first one was magic, it felt authentic, but then I had another one further south, which seemed more tourist orientated, and more like a regular massage> I’m pleased I was able to ask a local where to go, who they could recommend, when I was at the Kunnar Beach House 😊
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 you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.
I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.
Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.
We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.
“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!
“Close your mouth. Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.
“Whew that was close!’ Adrenaline is surging through my body. I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.
True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me! In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.
Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.”
Read more in ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ by Heather Hapeta. Available as an ebook on Amazon etc.
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.
Some people chase fire trucks, others follow typhoons to get the best photos, while war journalists or photographers, because of their job, are often in the most dangerous parts of the world, but what about tourists?
As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, earthquake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s tourists, often with group travel arrangements, who cancel their bookings, while solo travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who usually continue with their travel plans. Is it ethical to go to places who have had an earthquake or other disaster? What about places with chronic poverty?
Do you indulge in dark tourism? Defined as travelling to places historically associated with death, has been around for ages. Concentration camps in Europe; the killing fields in Cambodia; the site of the twin towers in New York; and Pompeii in Italy, just to name a few. I’ve been to many places that could be considered ‘dark’. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; the Colosseum in Rome; John Lennon’s garden in New York, the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. I’ve also been to the 1692 site of my ancestors’ notoriety, Glen Coe in Scotland.
Of course, more recently I’ve been a constant visitor to my home city, Christchurch New Zealand, where 80% of the inner-city was lost due to quake damage. (See more that I’ve about Christchurch – as it was two years ago 2016)
Black or dark tourism is nothing new but when it’s recent many people think it is insensitive to go – or for novelists to write about it, comedians to joke about it, or films to be made. I believe it depends on the traveller’s attitude – are they chasing fire trucks or cyclones?
Think of slum tours in India, do they help the locals or not? It’s all about ethical travel – are you taking from a place, or are you adding something? Are in locals involved? Did they set up the tours with community involvement, or is it someone making money out of another person’s misery or are they interested and supportive?
As a travel writer I am often conflicted about taking photos – sadly, poverty and misery often produce fantastic photos.
In Christchurch tourism dried up just as if tap was turned off and the water stopped flowing. I heard and read many articles and blogs and sadly, advice given by uniformed travel writers, tourist companies or information centres, advising people not to go, there is ‘nothing there’ or ‘you will only be in the way’. In the beginning I know locals thought some other locals did ‘get in the way’ of clean-up work and considered them ‘rubber-neckers’ by other locals who felt their privacy, and misery, were being invaded.
However, ethical travel may just another word for green travel which is about leaving money behind in a community so can dark tourism be ethical too?
Perhaps travel agents and guide books sell us too narrow a view of places to visit. Along with our tickets they, (and guide books, blogs or articles) often give us a list of sites we ‘must see’, activities ‘we must do’, or places we ‘must’ stay. It’s not for nothing the popular Lonely Planet books have been nicknamed the ‘travellers’ bible’ as many won’t eat, visit, stay or see anything or anywhere until the guide book is consulted. Sadly examples of unintended consequences can be the six accommodation places are mentioned are full – while three, not in the book, and maybe better, are empty.
This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made by travellers and owners – some places over booked others empty. Tell friends you are going to Bali or Timbuktu, Christchurch or Botswana and immediately you will be told that you should have gone there two, five, ten, fifty years ago, ‘before it was discovered’, or in Christchurch, New Zealand’s case, ‘before the earthquakes’.
So, what can we travellers do? Well, I don’t know what you will do, but what I do is travel slowly, travel cheaply, support local businesses and use their home-grown products whenever I can – and this is even more needed after a disaster whether it’s man-made or a so-called act of God.
I asked on Facebook for people’s opinion about disaster, or dark tourism. One person sent me a link to a blog she’d recently listened to and believe its well worth giving you the link too – BBC World Service: The Why Factor. In it the reporter visited Auschwitz and the site of the Grenfell Towers disastrous fire in London. I’ve not been to either – and chose while I was in Poland not to visit Auschwitz. If I was in London I would also not visit the Grenfell Towers – I don’t need to be at either site to know how appalling the events were. Others of course will disagree with me.
My father was a fireman in Christchurch New Zealand when they had the worst fire disaster in our history – Ballantynes, 1947. He was so distressed about attending the fire and having to recover bodies, that our family were forbidden to give the store any patronage – I have broken this rule two or maybe three times.
The Christchurch earthquakes 20101/11 have produced things that also could be considered dark tourism. The Memorial Gardens at the site of the highest number of deaths, a memorial wall on the banks of the River Avon, and a museum exhibition – which for me triggered the smells of dust that hung in the air – and up my nose – for ages.
The owner of Beadz Unlimited (one of the many shops damaged inside the Christchurch Art Centre – and now in the historic New Regent Street) posted on my Facebook page where I was asking about dark tourism said ‘actually we desperately needed people to come and put money into the community because we were all hunkered down just trying to survive. It was a necessary evil.’ She did not clarify what was ‘evil ‘.
In the UK there is an Institute for dark tourism research and they have studied many facets of this topic if you want to delve into it! Wikipedia says “Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea  in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply”.
New Zealand heritage haswebsite and touring map for some war sites in the Waikato region and its hoping to eventually have one for all NZ land wars and other fighting – perhaps some will consider this ‘black tourism’ too
What are your thoughts. Do you believe you are an ethical traveller – and why? And, do you indulge in dark tourism? What black tourism spots have you been to – after all it seems we all do that at some level.
I’d really love to start a conversation about all this in the topics – so before you board your next flight, or bus or train, will you please join in and add your opinion ?
About ten years ago, the author Christopher Kremer, who, at a book festival I helped organise in Christchurch, New Zealand, signed his book (Inhaling the Mahatma) by saying ‘To Heather, with best wishes on your yatra!’ Christopher, September 06′.
That was just before my first trip to India, and now with my fourth starting soon, I wondered what is it that attracts me to the country – after all, I have family members who find India too intense, too difficult. Why do people love it or loathe it? Why am I different? And why do people always ask : is it safe to travel alone?’
Yatra means journey and, as a travel writer, for me a journey is not just the places I go – it is also the trip my emotions take – and India takes you on many journeys of the emotions – the highs and the lows.
I loved it, I hated it, I laughed at it, I laughed with it, and I cried about it – confused and sad but ultimately optimistic about this huge country, an intensely vivid country – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the sights (and sites) – which assaults all your senses for good and for bad: and that’s just in the first hour of course.
It continues the whole time you are there. When you are travelling on your own, such as I usually do, you get 100% of the pain, and of course, a hundred percent of the pleasure. What you don’t get, is bored.
Of course, there is also pollution, and rubbish, nearly everywhere, as well as people desperate to sell you something. Poverty and richness live side-by-side and it’s devastating to see and hear the beggars.
While I usually don’t give to beggars, I travel sustainably and support small businesses and responsible tourism – instead of waiting for money to ‘trickle down’, wherever possible I spend with small traders – and certainly not with international companies.
On my first trip I travelled from Haridwar, Uttarakhand, in the north then south to Ernakulam in Kerala and of course, Maheshwar on the banks of wonderful Narmada River. My other Indian yatra have been in Gujarat, home of Gandhi, and which has few tourists – I recommend you go there. Search on any of these names in my blog and find stories and photos about each of those places.
Let me make a list of just some of the reasons I’m returning on yet another yatra:
the people, the food, and the feast of colours, sights and sounds
2000 years of sacred buildings; Buddhist, Hindu, Islāmic, to name just a few
Interesting festivals throughout the year
There are nine or ten religions in India, and about 33 million gods – I’m bound to stumble over at least one!
And maybe, just maybe, when they know I’ve been an extra in the Bollywood movie The Italian Job they may make me a star – or, knowing what happened, they may not!
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.
Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of people with passports than most countries, and countries which are poorer are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.
I’m a travelophile. Like Asians need rice, Italians pasta, British curry, Kiwi’s fish and chips: I need to travel. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not have to go the flavour of the month.
This means I often arrive in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.
This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?
My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has least impact while providing greatest benefits.
Independent travellers are the ones most likely be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours have often paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.
Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – usually bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.
We think of New Zealand as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground or dirty air. So, are we conservation minded or is it just our low population that produces less rubbish? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has. Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This is not a New Zealand only problem.
It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that beside me, waiting for their turn, to record the moment, is another busload of chattering travellers.
The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.
This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”
However, help maybe at hand. An organisation called Green Globe 21 is on the rise in New Zealand. Some 200 companies have embraced its ten different indicators for sustainable environmental codes. What is even better is that many local authorities have signed up too. (www.greenglobe21.com)
What can I do? Shop at locally owned places wherever I am; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. Kiwi Host, Green Globe) are a good start.
Combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.
Do you have wanderlust? I have and consider it rather like a friendly disease or benign addiction – or are they oxymoronic?
Maud Parrish 1878-1976 (in Nine Pounds of Luggage) said “Wanderlust can be the most glorious thing in the world. Imagination is a grand stimulating thing, like a cocktail, but to find reality is the full course with champagne”.
As she travelled around the world sixteen times (with very little luggage and a banjo) I imagine she knows all about both wanderlust and reality.
When I read the above quote I wondered, what do those words REALLY mean? Imagination, wanderlust, reality – they trip off the tongue so lightly and yet maybe when I say I have wanderlust you may not know what I mean, or, when you agree that yes you too have it, maybe the attributes I give it – on your behalf – are way off beam.
Time for some market, or rather word, research: The Oxford Paperback Dictionary & Thesaurus (Oxford.1997) dictionary tells me that wanderlustis an ‘eagerness to travel or wander. Restlessness.’ Yep. Got that.
My eagerness takes the form of an obsession with travel programmes on television or radio, travel pages in magazines and press, in fact I even buy magazines with names such as Wanderlust, Sojourney, and NZ Wilderness. Why? So I can find new and exciting places to visit – places to add to my list – eager to get to places not so well known. Restless when I feel trapped.
Goal planning, and goal achieving are often different. So often the people who tell me, ‘You’re so lucky,’ also have dreams of travelling. But are they eager enough to do the necessary saving and budgeting at home to reap the benefits of being ‘lucky’ enough to travel? Usually not.
However I digress, back to the book of words: imagination. This evidently means having a ‘mental faculty of forming images of objects not present to senses.’ Guess that’s me thinking of lazing on an Indian river, or viewing polar bears. Being able to see the dollar or two saved this week as a coffee on the West Bank in Paris. Yes, I have imagination too: imagination that my back will always be able to carry a pack on it and I will stay in good health.
I also checked wander and lust as separate words and I certainly qualify there. To wander is to ‘go from place to place aimlessly, diverge from the path.’ Well I have done that all my life, and travelling has not changed it at all. I love to get off the beaten track, in fact to be lost is ideal, that’s when the wonderful, the unexpected, the amazing, the different happens. As long as I am found one more time than I am lost, I know all is well.
Lust. Another word close to my heart. My trusty Oxford tells me it’s ‘passionate desire’. Well, been there, done that, still got it, intend to keep it – what else can I say. Passionate for travel, new places, new foods, people, and experiences.
And finally, last on my list of words to check reality. This seems to be the boring one, the one that people often accuse travellers of trying to escape from. Not so. This is what can separate the traveller (with time) from the tourist (on a schedule) as the dictionary says it is ‘what’s real or exists or underlies the appearances’.
How often I have made some assumptions about people, places, and things, about actions, beliefs, and religions by believing the appearances – what I think my eyes are telling me rather that waiting a little longer and seeing what is real. We humans love to have order in our lives so make up stories to make sense of things. However, that does not make them real. Knowing the ‘truth’ is like having a secret shared and I value the people who I meet along the way who share their truths, and their realities, with me.
Nevertheless, ask three people to describe an accident they witnessed and each will be different. We experience things from within our own reality or context.
So do you have the wanderlust? Is your description of it the same as mine? There will be commonalities, and I suspect, for people with the overwhelming desire to wander aimlessly, most will not be seeking a cure.
I agree with you Maud, wanderlust is glorious, stimulating, and it sure does provide the meal of life with champagne-like bubbles.
Here’s a simple message from yet another writer sitting alone in a room: they’re tips on how to be a good Facebookfriend, and blog, or another social media, follower. It’s easy peasy and helpful. Firstly, the basics: bloggers love readers who . ..
leave a comment
award a star or some such thing
assign a rating great, poor, fun, informative
sign-up to be sent new blogs by email
send our blog link to Facebook or Twitter etc
answer a question we may have posed
recommend the blog to others
It’s often called ‘netiquette’ BUT really is just being a good social networking friend to both the person blogging, or posting on Facebook, and to your other friends too. It’s rare to just ignore something someone says to us – so, me posting on my blogs is me saying something to you.
So how to be that good friend?
Just like all those funny, or cat video clips we watch and repost, it’s really helpful to your writing friend, or photographer, or artist, to repost their work too. Artists and writers need people to read their work or consider the artwork whether this is by pencil, paint or camera, or keyboard.
Another helpful way is to comment on the piece, ask a question, or tag a friend telling them, “hey Pat you will enjoy this” or “how about we go here on our next weekend break Peter”. Your friends will value the fact you were thinking of them, and are introducing them to artists, writers, or bloggers they too can follow, events they could attend, books they may like to read.
So see, it is really easy to be a good friend to your writing friend, your favourite photographer, or local artist – and that tiny commitment will make a huge difference to them, us, me!
Sitting at home – creating without any feedback is difficult, and for travel writers like me, it’s often the interaction I have with my followers that shows tourist destinations or activities that yes, this is a person we should invite to our city, country, or event. The more they can see that people follow me or enjoy my writing the more likely I am to get invitations or commissions to write more for you to read.J
One word of warning though, if you are anything like me, you need to do this instantly you see the blog or Facebook post or it will be gone forever, lost in all our other daily activity and busy minds! This doesn’t have to be a big chore, once a day would be wonderful, or even weekly! Monthly?
And, if you do repost my blog links (or posts) to my pages on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media like StumbleUpon or Instagram I’d be really grateful: so, ‘thank you’ in advance.
Huasheng Tang, otherwise known as peanut soup, is really popular in Xiamen, as is hailijian, oyster omelette – this is made with sweet potato flour as well as oysters. This was popular among the group I was travelling with but it was not a taste I acquired.
I also tried the sand worm jelly (tusundong), a local delicacy, and although it was not unpleasant I don’t like many jellied dishes, and after reading the article (see link above) about them I’m not sure I would eat them again.
One of the most interesting dishes (see main photo) was one of black chicken. I thought it had been dyed with perhaps squid ink, but in fact these chickens which apparently originate in Indonesia actually have black flesh, and actually tasted like any other chicken. It was not until my last morning in Xiamen, exploring some local streets near the hotel that I actually saw a black chicken for sale.