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

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

 

 

 

Food and travel – heaven for some, hell for others!

Food is an important element to travel – it’s heaven for some – hell for others.

I love the new, the different, the local delicacies, while others want to mostly, or even only, eat at multinational outlets. what do you prefer?

This phenomenon is not confined to only westerners but also many others. I’ve known, Italians, and Asians who only want to eat their usual food while travelling …  I know in New Zealand many Chinese tours always insist on meals at Chinese establishments.

Here are just some photos of a tiny amount of meals and food I’ve eaten all over the world.

 

Sarawak, Borneo: a land of paradoxes

Borneo – the land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to many travel brochures: it could also be called the land of paradoxes.

Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of about 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous tribes, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and alongside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally-tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Sarawak Laksa has local pepper in it!

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre, about 70 people attend the twice-daily feeding. Free to range throughout this 300-hectare (740-acre) greenbelt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats numerous ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominant male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is feeding.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Richie

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step, his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like some TV adverts say ‘but wait, there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival  (10-12 July 2020– set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers. I’ve been a few times and just love it!

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at one Rainforest World Music Festival

 

Mathew – a virtuoso on the sape

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail, they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

proboscis monkey – even more endangered than the orangutan!

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and I (the Kiwitravelwriter) soon returned to the land of head-hunters for even more exploring!

I’m scared – I’m in New Orleans

I’m in New Orléans for the first time – and I’m scared!

Green viper (Borneo)

Excerpt from Naked in Budapest : travels with a passionate nomad

Over the past few days I’ve listened to Elvis singing, sat through rhythm and blues on Beale Street and now the musical theme continues in New Orléans.

Arriving in the dark at the usual grotty bus-depot, I agree to an offer of a taxi. The driver, carrying my pack, walks out the doors to his cab where an argument immediately starts. A tough-looking, rotund man is trying to grab my pack from driver number one; it seems my driver has jumped the queue. This second driver is insisting I go with him, his taxi is in the front of the queue and the young man looks at me and shrugs his shoulders: it seems I get to go with the bully. Reluctantly I get in the cab – it’s dirty, smelly and the upholstery is ripped – I feel a little unsafe.

We speed though dark streets and, after a few turns, when I’ve totally lost my sense of direction, I begin to worry: seriously worry. Finally, one more turn and we’re in a well-lit street where he pulls up at the hostel.

‘Don’t go walking around here at night lady – it can be dangerous’ he tells me.

In the morning, the hostel is buzzing. I’ve slept through a murder.

Not long after I’d arrived, a young man – a local – was shot three times and died on the hostel doorstep. A drug-deal gone wrong is the common consensus but drug deal or not, I’ll try to look like a local: my camera and bag left behind, my money tucked into a pocket.

Sometimes things, and taxi drivers,  are not as I, fearfully, imagine. If you want to travel alone this is a great how-to book.

Print version was published in 2007 – also as an ebook on Amazon (kindle, kobo, android, etc)

 

 

 

Pics from around the backwaters of Kerala

I first came to Kerala many years ago after reading God of Small Things.

It’s a beautiful part of India and here are a few more photos – more will follow – with words 😀- when I return to New Zealand in about 10 days.

Taking a canoe ride with the ferryman … birds and an elephant

Had a short ride with a ferryman yesterday. We picked up a couple of women and on my return to the landing spot saw an elephant leave the river side Hindu Temple. Here’s a photos – sorry I didn’t take any on my phone and the internet is too slow for uploading so once again you’ll need t wait until I’m back in NZ and can blog about birds and elephant and potters and weavers all near The Pimenta here in Kerala.

Another yatra in India – travelling solo you’ll love it or loathe it it seems

Salt Plains, Gujarat

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.

the author in Haridwar

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.

photo of Narenda Modi
I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat’s Chief Minister)

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!

 

Haridwar – pilgrims get blessings in the Ganges
Navratri festival in Maheshwar
Another beautiful Indian (Gujarat) woman

 

Meditation on the banks of the holy Narmada River, Maheshwar.