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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Village Life – Philippines

 

 

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On the way to the Maquinit hot springs in the hills above Coron at Palawan, in the Philippines, the road winds up and down through hills and around bends in the road that suddenly give vistas of the blue sea below. The road is dotted with villages, each going about its daily life, in the world around the tourists and travellers that come to these islands.

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On the lower slopes is a fishing village with boats moored alongside jetties in front of simple houses, and the village straddles the road into the hills. When you travel its easy to get divorced from the simple fact that the places you travel to are not just destinations, and the world does not exist just to stimulate the traveller but in fact the opposite is true.

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Houses abut the sea with boats parked outside like cars. A man paddling across the bay in a canoe is carrying things not just taking people for an outing; the small houses are deserted waiting for people to return from their daily chores.

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A man sits outside his small shop waiting for customers, and when asked for permission to take a picture he smiles and straightens himself, because there is pride and enterprise there, not just a job. By the water small fish lie drying in the sun, the results of the morning’s catch and boatmen paint and repair their boats.

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A restaurant made almost entirely of bamboo does good trade in the middle of the day, the atmosphere of being in something entirely mad of bamboo being fascinating, but to the people there its just as it is.The market is filled with people searching the displays of fish and vegetables each person with a particular mission.

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You are just passing through but that snapshot of a daily life is a counterbalance to the traveller’s objectives of islands, sunsets, food and relaxation. The experience adds flavour and colour to the journey, and the people you visit stop for a moment to talk to someone new, before returning to the routines of daily life.

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As travelling and tourism grows and the boundaries between tourism and everyday life blur, the village and its life adds some meaning to the surroundings

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Cape Town

 

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In his records of his circumnavigation of the world, Sir Francis Drake described the Cape of Good Hope, where Cape Town rests, as the “fairest cape in the entire circumference of the world”. It is also known as the Cape of Storms so named by the Portuguese explorer Bartolommeo Dias in the 15th Century and was later referred to as The Cape of Good Hope because it was the point at which the sea route to the East opened up. It is part of the Cape of Good Hope national park. Cape Town was originally a supply station for ships travelling from Europe to the East and for this reason was also know as the Tavern of the Seas.

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Today Cape Town is a successful cosmopolitan city; it is the largest by population and the home of South Africa’s Parliament. It has a Mediterranean climate of long warm dry summers and damp cool winters. It has become a major tourist destination as well as a vibrant business centre and a home for some 3m people of various cultures. The city has a wonderful combination of great physical beauty, as well as a lifestyle that is relaxed welcoming and very varied. The streets are varied from traditional zones to the small houses and streets of the Bo Kaap.

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The most famous place in Cape Town is Table Mountain, one of the new7 wonders of the natural world. The city sits in a bowl beneath the mountain that towers over it and you are conscious of it wherever you look. The prevailing winds from the south east mean that the normal city pollutions are blown away and not only is the air cleaner than most cities the quality of the light brings everything around you into the sharpest focus the colours deep and intense.

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Cape Town in famous for its beaches, white sand, blue water, sun and great variety. If you like beaches with people bars and restaurants they are there, but if you like big beaches with few people on them just a few kms brings you to long beaches virtually deserted.

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One of Cape Town’s prides is in its food, of every variety. Seafood fresh from the ocean and the variety of foods representing the different African, Asian and European cultures that make up the city. Like all cities there are two worlds, the one that everyone reads about and the one that locals know so if you know someone that’s the best way to know the city. The food ranges from fine dining to roadside cafes all of which have something to offer.

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The hub of the city for most newcomers starts with the waterfront development at the harbour from where you can visit Robben Island and where you can shop eat and relax to your heart’s content. It’s easy to get stuck there since the centre has everything, but to do so is to miss the other delights.

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In spring, September/October time, a visit to the national park to see the acres of wild flowers is an experience, huge fields of natural varied species. The Cape national part is one of the largest micro ecologies in the world. October is also the time for the annual visit of Southern Right whales who come to the warmer waters of the cape with their young, and as you drive down the coast its special to stop and watch these creatures in the water. The Cape is also home to the Great White shark a protected species in South Africa and the cape is one of the largest breeding grounds in the world for these very formidable creatures. Try cage diving to see the sharks a memorable experience.

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From Cape Town the next destination going south is Antarctica, so its at the very tip of Africa, but distance is relative nowadays and it’s a must see place.

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Travelling North or South

 

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The world has traditionally been divided between north and south, not just because it is split by the equator, but also because the geography, history, culture, politics, climate and way of life of each part has been seen to be different. Sometimes that division is as simple as saying the north is cold and the south is hot. Sometimes it is more complex, but within this tradition is also the understanding that the North is richer, better educated and more prosperous than the south, and therefore more ordered and safer.

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If you accept the equator as being that dividing line, and of course that is arbitrary, traditionally you could look at the map o the world at the countries in it and see clearly that the problems of the world were in the south, the wars the poverty, the danger, and the north was the safe place to travel. But today if you look at the same map with the same divide, the story is different. Increasingly the problems of the world are found in the north

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The north is still richer and more ordered but undoubtedly wars and the fear of danger are by increasingly in the north. Is that simply an accident of history, or is it a function of the south actually becoming safer and the north more dangerous. There is no one reason but the facts speak for themselves and so should travellers be looking more to the south of the world for their destinations?

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Well it is still vey poor and it is harder to get around and you can get stranded, but at the same time the south has got its act together as far as travellers are concerned. Countries understand that not all travellers are the same so cater for the whole range from luxury to backpacker, they understand their earning power from travellers, and so their attitudes are different. No longer is the traveller the interloper but now the traveller is the welcome guest whose motives are simply to understand and to enjoy.

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There is always the traveller who decries the increases in numbers to destinations, since those travellers are looking for the raw flavour of the unexplored, but for most of us the opportunity to explore the verdant exciting and fascinating south of the world is only just beginning

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Wildlife in The Western Cape South Africa

 

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Historically, before European settlers came to the Cape of South Africa, there was abundant wildlife throughout the area, alongside the Khoisan peoples who were hunters and gatherers, and who populated the Cape. When the settlers came, especially the British with their traditions of hunting, much of the wildlife disappeared as a result of hunting. To read accounts of those days and the numbers of animals killed in any one hunt, which would be numbered in hundreds, it is not surprising there was none left.

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Now wildlife animals including the big 5 of Lion Leopard, Elephant Buffalo and Rhino, have retuned to the Cape, brought back there in extensive reserves where breeding programmes abound and the animals roam free. Their threat now is no longer from hunters but from poachers particularly of the rhinos.

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The safari has also returned to the Cape at a number of privately owned game parks like Aquila, Sanbona, Gondwana and Inverdoorn,and others to suit all pockets. All are driving distance from Cape Town and some suit for a day trip, others you can stay and enjoy a more extensive experience; there is a cheetah refuge in the Cape where Cheetahs are rescued and bred.

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An added attraction on some farms is the existence of rock panting from the Khoisan some 100s of years old because, although there are very few of their descendants in the Cape, most Khoisan being found to the North, their heritage and culture are there.

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Seeing these beautiful creatures in the stillness of a picture enables us to see what they are and how they are made, but the picture can never do real justice to the power of these creatures, their places in their environment and the extraordinary variety of nature.

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Everyone has their favourite animal for their own reasons, but the experience of seeing them together is a special one. Its easy to forget that these are wild animals and the wild does not leave them because they are in game parks, but their coexistence with humankind is a positive for us all. We have to look after them.

 

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Wanderlust

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I don’t make long term plans about travelling a journey. I like to ponder where I want to go and then other than taking time to deal with the formalities of travel, visas tickets and satisfying the official permissions of life, I like to just go and do it. There is this edginess in side me that needs to get moving. It is as if life at home, however pleasant, familiar, comfortable and enjoyable it is amongst the familiar, ones family and friends, is unsatisfying. That edginess starts, you become distracted the next destination looms. I am addicted to cigarettes and chocolate but even they don’t create that same edginess, they are mild and comfortable compared to the need to get moving again.

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I need to decide where to go. At the end of many journeys has been the sense that I want to go back to where I have been to see and learn more, to take advantage of what I have seen and learned already and delve deeper into that world. But inevitably I go somewhere new. It’s rare to retrace my steps. Travelling is a bit like a life lesson that you know, that the first joy of a place or an experience can never be repeated, it feels pure and new only once and so you don’t retrace your steps but you go to new places all the time.

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I wonder often when I come back from a journey what the most satisfying and enjoyable moment is, and I often think that the most exciting moment of a journey is the beginning, the moment you set out on that road to who knows what. You close the door behind you and are gone, the world maintains its daily routines but at that moment you seem to detach yourself, start to look and watch things that you do every day as if you are detached from them.

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Travelling is not all easy. You face difficulties, disappointments and even dangers and you know that is going to happen again, but you learn never to expect the easy outcome, the place you are going is not designed to make you happy, it’s designed to make the inhabitants happy. You know that on your journey you are going to bump into things, and see with open eyes things that you take for granted, see the extremes of kindness and misery that you don’t need to face at home.

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Does this urge to wander, to move, to travel to experience change you? I think so. When I return to the familiar to the people and things I love, I know I am different to the person who walked out the door some time before. It does change you. Travel and you realise that there is little in life that is black and white however convenient it may be. Nothing is ever quite the same again.

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Then, satisfied you get your feet under the table, you ruminate on what has gone before and try to put some words together to describe it and before you know it that edginess is back, the wanderlust is rising up again. Why? I think its because the greatest joy in travel is to be able to experience all the time everyday things as if for the first time. To be able constantly to rediscover that feeling of not taking anything for granted and finding novelty everywhere.

 

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