Travelling – Malawi

 

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Malawi sits at the southern end of the rift valley, its lake that runs the length of the country, 580 kms in length, its prime feature. It’s a poor country, in 2015 the poorest in the world and to give you an idea of what that means for a country of 16m people, the per capita GDP of the states in 2015 was $51000.00, that of the UK $41000.00 and that of Malawi a mere $494.00. That is poor. Chances are the computers we use cost more than that.

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It is a landlocked country with few raw materials in exploitable quantities, its main export being tobacco, and the huge bulk of that economy is in agriculture. The country’s existence is an accident of history, a result of the European imperial growth of the 19th century, its culture unique but influenced by Zambia, Mozambique an Tanzania which surround it. It has only ever been poor.

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Having listed all that gloom, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. The grasslands of the 2000ft Nyika plateau with its wildlife and unique flora, to the valleys and mountians of Zomba and Mulanje, and the lake itself, the centrepiece, long, freshwater and more than 1000 species of fish. It’s a place where a safari is really wild and very exciting.

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Malawi calls itself the “warm heart of Africa” and it is. Its people are renowned for their friendliness, tolerance, and acceptance. Despite all the tribulations the country has suffered in its history, politics, floods, HIV, its people are proud and feel in themselves a uniqueness which makes the country special. Poverty and pride are not mutually excusive. Anyone who really wants to see, feel, hear and experience sub Saharan Africa at its most beautiful and most African, loves Malawi.

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I need to declare in interest here in that I was born there, my parents both working there, that country and indeed Africa are in my blood as they say. Life was not comfortable, all water had to be boiled before drinking, occasional electricity in the early days, malaria and the health risks of the tropics, but the sense of freedom and space and the desire to learn were bred for me there. The beauty of nature and the people teaching so much. The contrasts for mw in Europe were enormous, I found the sight of people locking their doors to go out very, very weird indeed. The last time I visited I arrived at Lilongwe airport, the immigration officer looked at my passport, saw that I was born in Zomba Malawi, smiled, and said “Welcome Home”! It was so good to be back.

Noordhoek Beach – Cape Town

 

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I have been to many beaches in many countries, but the one that stands out most, my favourite of all, is Noordhoek Beach In Cape Town. The word Noorhoek means literally North Corner. It sits on the edge of the city, a 20 minute beautiful drive from the centre along the cliff road called Chapman’s Peak. noordhoek_beachThe beach is 8 kms long bounded at one end by the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak and at the other end by the Hamlet of Kommetjie with its famous lighthouse. It faces the Atlantic Ocean, being on the west side of the Peninsular and the back of the beach is made up of protected wetlands so that this is not a beach with bars and clubs and crowds, it is just the beach.

img_2584It is a beach for surfers and kite surfers and swimmers, but best of all it’s a beach that is so big, that no matter how many people come you can enjoy the feeling of a beach to yourself. You want to escape the pressures of city life then there is nothing like walking in the early morning sun here, to commune with nature, be on a white sanded blue watered beach surrounded by nothing but nature itself, perfect to take you out of yourself and get some perspective on life. img_2491-1The water is not warm since the beach is brushed by the Benguela current that rises on that side of the peninsula, which includes sub Antarctic water that surfaces there due to prevailing winds, but in summer its warm enough. The beach has its very own shipwreck at one end, a ship than sank when driven aground by storms, a reminder of how this tranquil place can erupt when huge storms come

img_2500It’s a perfect place to relax, swim, think, walk, take time, have a picnic, and generally escape. The evenings bring sunsets that on a clear day are intense and can be watched until the last edge of the sun disappears below the horizon. In October the Southern Right whale coms to this part of the world with its young and the sunset can be made even more special by the sight of these beautiful creatures in the water, not far off shore, with their young learning to breach. img_3325

Magical

 

 

What is art?

 

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I was reading a blog about art today which started discussing the perennial question “what is art?” That question is a recipe for a looooong inconclusive discussion in which we can drain all our resources of intellectual savoir faire, as will all the others in the discussion, and end up hours later none the wiser.

Anyone who travels will visit great works of art in one form or another, The Mona Lisa, great galleries of the world, cathedrals that contain artistic masterpieces in carvings, frescos, or just the architecture. We will visit strange lands where the indigenous art is part of our journey and will be part of the enriching experience.

But in the same way that it is not good to talk about politics or religion at dinner parties since it is a recipe for a disastrous evening, so conversations about art can have that same addictive fate even when the discussion is in one’s own head. In the end it is often about perspective, we see something in a gallery or building and we know its art because we went there to see art. It is quite simple.

It all reminded me of a picture I had taken that I posted in my blog about Cape Town’s townships so I played around with the picture for a while and the three outcomes told a story. The first is just a street scene. The second a building with a mural on it, a splash of colour in the grey street. The third is what? A painting? A work of art? Should I go and ask the owner whether I can buy their wall? Should I introduce the person to a gallery? Is it a work of art or is it just a tiny splash of colour in a grey street? Or is it nothing but some person having a bit of fun with their house? Is it Banksy???

I leave it to you.

Travelling The Townships of Cape Town

 

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When democracy came to South Africa in 1994 townships had developed on the borders of the city, some created, some the results of migration, ignored and sometimes not even on maps and they became part of the city itself.

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The contrasts between the Mediterranean cosmopolitan Cape Town of the brochures and the harsh realities of township life are stark. But while the areas can seem intimidating to many people, they are in fact fascinating worlds of culture, an economy, a society of their own, and the strongest community links.

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Having worked in those areas extensively before leaving business and not having been there for a while I went back the other day to see an old friend. As I came into the area I was reminded of what vibrant places there are. There is a true unique vibe, one that the residents recognise. There is an energy and drive.

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The townships have endless activity, music, family life, and economic and political structures. It’s alive and passionate and progressing. The days of seas of shacks now changing into formal housing, spaza shops, shops in shacks, now starting to include small malls, the township economies starting to grow and trade outside themselves.

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There is an irony there you can see in the names of businesses, my favourite on this day the Miracle Driving School. !! People are friendly welcoming and really enjoy visitors preferring the individual approach rather than coach tours that can make residents sometimes feel as if they are in a zoo.

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There is a famous township restaurant called Mzoli’s on the edge of Gugulethu where many visitors go to sample township food and township fun. Well worth a visit.

Whilst to go there is a great cultural experience and fun, its important not to forget that these are places of hardship, poverty, crime and sometimes destitution, but the positive is that there is so much talent and energy there, that there is a definite future of possibilities

If you go to Cape Town, don’t ignore the townships while enjoying the Europe in Africa of the city. Give it a visit, its great!

Travel – Architecture and Cities

 

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I love it that every city I visit is different. Sometimes people ask me what is my favourite city out of all those that I have visited, and of course that’s an impossible question, but I sometimes try to work it out.

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There is a big difference between cities that were built as cities and those that simply evolved over centuries, from settlements beside rivers or the sea, into those that exist today. There are the great cities of the world, London New York Paris etc, and then there are cities, none the less great to those who live there, but not one of the places that everyone feels they must go to.

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London is a city that has evolved over centuries from a small settlement in Roman times to the metropolis of today. The City of London is formalised architecture the result of the great fire in the 17th century which led to the city being laid out but for the rest it has grown and evolved over centuries resulting a whole mixture of styles uses and inhabitants, some would say a whole series of villages strung together.

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As a contrast the centre of St Petersburg was planned and built and preserved, despite wars and changes, such that even today you can get the feeling of being just a step from the world of Tolstoy and the characters of War and Peace. Sometimes that purity has an almost big chocolate box feel about it, almost too good to be true, but such a pleasure to explore, and a living cultural museum.

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Eastern cities reflect the rises and falls of their history and culture and have become a world of enormous contrasts, where ancient powerful histories have faded and been replaced by new modern recoveries of prosperity, interlaced with the growth of informal settlements resulting from the migration of poorer inhabitants from the countryside to the city in search of a better life.

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Some cities are defined by nature, the physical environment dictating the shape and limits of the city, and nature itself being the limiter of its expression. Then there are the new, purpose built, modern cities of the 21st century, pragmatic, functional but none the less appealing for the imagination of their design.

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Which are your favourites, well you pay your money and you take your choice but for me, despite my efforts to analyse, I don’t know, I still love them all because what ever they look like, however planned organised or random and chaotic they are, it’s the inhabitants that define them

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The Layers in Cities.

 

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img_6969All great cities have their layers, the public and the hidden, the prosperous and the poor, the safe and the dangerous, the historical and the modern, the picture and the real place. If you start in the middle its usually all the good things and as you move away from the middle it gets more ordinary and less certain, and the harder it is to find what in fact is the real life of a place. img_6971Sometimes these distinctions can exist side by side, and it can make the city all the more exciting to see if you visit these “other” places and feel the contrasts between the city as presented to you the traveller and the city as it really is. img_6956

In Bangkok, within walking distance of the Royal Palace, the Democracy Monument and the Golden Mount is am area with its own canals buildings and life hidden away from the Bangkok as presented to us, but it is the real Bangkok for those who live there.

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The canals there are grey, the water ruined by the life beside it, electric cables droop into the water, people are packed together living their everyday lives. A small area of historic houses, not the mansions of old but small ancient buildings, still accommodate people and have shops and people living in them and you walk the narrowest of streets beside them. If you walk behind the Golden Mount, a major attraction, you can see the old ruined graves of people of times gone by and that adds some life to the monument that you wont find from the monument itself.

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Not only are these areas of cities fascinating of themselves but also they add a valuable counterpoint to the city as it is presented to us and helps get the real feeling of the inhabitants and the lives they live.

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You would not know it was there is you didn’t go and look around, so its always good just to wander a bit off the beaten track and find these little gems. They are not as pretty as the “sights” but they have their own impact on you.

 

 

The Life Inside Flowers

 

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No matter where you travel in the world there are flowers. Their colours textures brilliance and contrasts are different but nature delivers flowers everywhere. They grow on trees, bushes, from the ground and even in the sea but they are ever present and add to the memories of a place and its flavour.

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What has always fascinated me is what happens inside the flower, at its root, where nature creates the flower, because inside there is a whole world of activity that goes on in the life cycle of the life of a flower, and some of the most beautiful parts of a flower are those that we don’t see close up. They add to the picture but they are not completely visible

 

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That inner world has perfect shapes, bugs and microbes, contrasts of colours and shades which together create the perfection of a flower. Its as if you can see the mechanics, the motor, the engine room the beating heart of the creation.

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The varieties in different places in the world are extraordinary and even flowers we see every day and perhaps take for granted, have that hidden life that is so fascinating.

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If you see a beautiful flower that inspires you its worth taking a look really close up and see what is at home and what is happening inside. Flowers are conditioned by their environment but it does not matter if you look in a garden or a park or the other side of the world, nature is at work.

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