The Marble Mountains – Vietnam

 

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The Marble Mountains are 5 marble and limestone hills that are just south of Da Nang on the east coast of Vietnam. The area is famous for marble creations although the marble no longer comes from these hills but is brought from other parts of Vietnam. Each of the hills has a name relating to an element, metal, water, wood, fire and earth. The hills are on an essentially flat coastal plain and rise out of the plain in an almost random way. img_0159

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These marble factories produce amazing carvings, all entirely carved and polished by hand. You can buy designs there or they make designs to order. The craftsmanship is amazing although there is a major discrepancy between what a carving costs and what someone gets paid to make one. You can wander round the marble factories and watch the carvings being made all the way from a block of marvel to a beautiful modern or traditional carving.

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Buddhist sanctuaries and grottos are inside the mountains, having been constructed to fit the contours, and these themselves have some extraordinary and intricate work. There is a lift up part of the mountain that is accessible to visitors, followed by some 150 steps up to the summit. The amazing views from the mountains look out over the beautiful beaches of this part of the country and west across the plain to the mountains in the distance. These hills have been a look out point for centuries.

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It is said that in the Vietnam war the Vietcong had a hospital in these hills close to an air force base hiding its existence effectively in plain sight. There are tickets to buy but reasonable priced. The local currency, the Dong, has a lot of zeros in it which is quite hard to get used to, so you have to remember that when you are told that something costs say 250, you need to add three zeros to that figure!

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This area of coast is now subject to huge development for the tourist industry with big and numerous resorts being built down the coast from Da Nang to cater for the tourist trade predominantly from China, Korea and Japan. In a way it is a sad sight because the natural beauty of the coast here is stunning. But ask a Vietnamese person about it and they are happy that it will bring income and prosperity to the area, the classic conundrum of development.

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Hoi An – Vietnam

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Hoi An, the name means “Peaceful meeting place” sits on the east coast of Vietnam in the centre of the country. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site being a beautifully preserved trading town showing a whole variety of cultures, and it has been a trading town since the 15th century. img_0090

 

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The town stretches along the river and is a beautiful evocation of past eras and has become a very popular tourist destination, allowing people to enjoy the beauty of the town, but at the same time explore the surrounding areas by bike motor bike or even by boat. The town sits on the estuary of the Thu Bon river so there are access to beaches also.

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img_0120At night the town is lit with lanterns and the many restaurants and bars come alive. There is a huge variety of food from traditional Vietnamese street food to western food if you want it. For myself the street food in Vietnam is amazing, filled with flavour despite its seeming simplicity. You realise that many places are family run which use recipes that they protect to create their popularity which they guard assiduously. img_0113

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The river is alive a real river giving a livelihood from fishing and from transport. In my wanderings I found on the bank of the estuary a place where small boats were built. The builder collecting planks of wood from wherever he could find them and turning them into beautiful small boats used for fishing or carrying people.

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Vietnam likes tickets, so there are often places where you might expect to go freely but for which you have to buy a ticket, but they are not expensive and that is just part of the culture of the place. Hoi An is famous for clothes making so if you want some clothes made in silk or cotton they will get it done while you are there from the fabrics you like at a great price.

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Hoi An is a beautiful place to go and a fun place too with a lot to see and to do and it’s a must see in Vietnam. The weather can be very hot and humid, so its an advantage to research that before you go.

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Bon Voyage, Take Your Time

 

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This little gem of a greeting was sent to me today by a good friend on the eve of my departure for another journey. Those I know who don’t share my obsession with “going on a journey” as I call travelling, have got used to these regular disappearances. They have seen the familiar signs of introspection as I decide where to go and what to do. They have seen the minimal research I do in order to create as much of an adventure as possible when I arrive, and they know that the space they have made for me in their lives, will be empty for a while until I return refreshed and reinvigorated by my experience,, at which time they wont ask me how it was but where I will go next. I will disappear from their lives for a while and they from mine and normality will resume when I have had my journeying fix.

For me the nervous anticipation of pastures new, the preparation, the familiar routines of preparing to go, the nervousness that will turn to exileration as the wheels leave the runway tomorrow, and that wonderful sense of the unknown starts to fill me. What will I see, who will I meet, what challenges lie in store because of my vague itinerary, what special moments, what will go wrong as something surely will, it’s the anticipation of the journey. You start to cut away the routines and events that bind you to daily life, try to make sure that nothing will happen when you are away and turn your face to the unknown. You start to feel a different person, the flavour of life is richer because you will undoubtedly learn many things new and you wont be the same when you return.

I am excited and yes, I will take my time!

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

 

 

Water Water Everywhere and Not a drop to drink

 

 

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My title, from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, talks of an ocean of salt water that surrounds his boat, but despite the forbidding description there is something that is fascinating about the image of being surrounded water itself, regardless of whether you can drink it or not. Even if they had loads of drinking water the image would still be powerful

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Humans have a true fascination with water. There are the obvious things that we need to drink it to survive, that our bodies are, to a large extent, made of water, that we wash with it, swim in it for relaxation and many will tell you its because that’s where humans came from in the first place. But that is all the practicalities of water.

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Travellers are no different, when we travel and explore we go and look for water. Millions of us go to the sea or the ocean to rest, we love to see waterfalls, we row on lakes or sail on the sea or take a barge down a canal, or even walk by the river. We sit and contemplate by a gurgling stream, we listen to the sounds of waves, we are in awe of the sheer power of water in waves or Tsunamis , water has a hold on us. We admire huge tracts of water and marvel at the place of water in religions we come across. We take delight in describing a mountain stream with the cool clear water of melted snow, and complain of polluted water, not just because we cant drink it or use it but because you just should not treat water in that fashion.

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If you travel to a country with a coast then at some stage you will visit that coast. if you are in a landlocked country we seek out rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls even a pond in a park. Its as if we need a little fix of the sights and sounds of water to make our journey complete. We even go on cruises, sitting atop that very undrinkable water the poet wrote of as we feel at peace with the world while we sail on the water.

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We might travel to be near water, or alternatively visit some nondescript seaside town for no other reason than to have stood beside the sea and be able to say we saw this this or that sea or ocean. Somehow a journey without the visit to some water is not complete.

 

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Travels and Photographs

 

 

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The great photographer Henri Cartier Bresson said that “Your first 10000 photographs are the worst” a somewhat daunting prospect, and I have never counted! I would not presume to think of myself as a photographer but I do like to take photographs and have accumulated many over time of myriad people and places.

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I take photos of my travels, download them on to my computer and leave them there, the memories images and emotions of my travels still fresh in my mind. Then much later, feeling curious and often nostalgic I revisit them and my eyes wander through those moments in time and places that the camera has captured to preserve for my reminiscences.

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I find a whole array of different reflections in the pictures, formal ones of places, buildings, streets, squares, architecture, walls, history, the things that make a place what it is, the structure and outline of a society or place and its history. Then people, ones that I have seen, some whom I have met, others who are just passing through a scene at the moment the shutter clicks. Then there are those that create the atmosphere of the place, the light, the colours, the pace of life and its daily round.

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These pictures remind me of the place, they don’t stir the emotions so much as remind me, they are the diary of a place, the narrative of a place, they are the place rather than the experience of being there.

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I find that the photos that stir the emotions are the odd ones, the quizzical ones, and the ones that capture a moment rather than a place. The ones that have flavour, that set the senses alive A set of footprints in the sand of a pristine beach, a monk sipping a drink through a straw, a tree growing out of a building the intricacy of a piece of some art that tells a mystical story, a chicken chained to a fence. Those ones tell a story beyond the picture itself they stirs the emotions about my experiences and about what gives the lifeblood to journeys, the ones that make you smile, and recover the feelings that accompanied your journey.

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Cartier Bresson also referred to the camera as being “ a sketch book an instrument of spontaneity” and that’s very true. Out of the thousands of pictures those are the ones I am sure I will keep revisiting forever.

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Hot Springs – Basuanga Island Philippines

 

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After a 35 minutes ride up into the hills above Basuanga Island in Palawan, you come to the Maquinit hot springs. Maquinit means Mainit, which in turn means hot in the local Tagalog language. And they are hot up to 40 degrees.

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The springs are one of the very few saltwater springs in the world and emerge from beneath an extinct volcano that sits on the island. The salt waters flow through the springs and then into the sea, either directly or through mangrove trees that surround the site.

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The springs are open into the evening so are often visited in the evening to avoid the heat after a long day hiking, diving or island hopping. But, if you can cope with the heat, it can be worth visiting in the day because there is a wonderful view over the sea that you don’t see at night, and you might just have the place to yourself since local people tend to go at weekends or in the evenings.

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The road to the springs winds up through the hills and the springs are not in a village or town. The surrounding natural environment shows beautiful flowers, birds and even some monitor lizards. Although the lizards are shy they have a wonderful pre historic look if you are fortunate enough to see one.

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The pools give you a variety of temperatures up to about 40 degrees. The hot pool is misleadingly comfortable at first touch because of the salt, but it’s certainly hot and you need to be ready for it. The waters are also said to contain spirulina so their medicinal or healing properties are sought after. The dark volcanic rocks of long ago eruptions surround the pools

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The view across the bay is well worth some time to sit take in the scene and reflect, and, having enjoyed the springs, time slows right down as you sit there, although the bumpy ride back to town will soon restore you to reality. As well as its therapeutic qualities it’s a fascinating change from the island and water life of a Philippine journey

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