Travel – Vietnam

 

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Vietnam has a long history of insisting on its own identity and culture, dating back to the 10th century when they ceased to be part of the Chinese empire and became an independent state. Since then modern wars against the French there from the 19th century to 1954 and subsequently the US resulting in reunification in 1975 have cemented that sense of independence and pride you find in Vietnam.

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Vietnam’s geography is distinct and varied from the Mekong Delta south of Ho Chi Minh City through the central highlands to the old north and its national parks and mountains. The best way to see Vietnam I think is to start at one end and work up or down according to your choice. Many people but motorbikes in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and sell them in the other city when they arrive.

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The people of Vietnam are approachable, friendly curious and direct. They have an instinct for trading and business and the whole country gives a strong impression of going somewhere fast, accompanied by massive investment into tourism and business. The tourism industry is growing at a huge rate with ever increasing numbers from Asia so Vietnam is changing fast and it might be good to go soon while the traditions are still very visible.

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Its an amazing place to visit but a place where you need to take your time. There is so much to see, so much variety and so many contrasts that you need to absorb them slowly or you will miss a lot. I am going to write various pieces on various aspects so hope readers enjoy those as much as that country is enjoyable.

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London – Kew Gardens

 

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Kew Gardens, also known as The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, is set in 300 acres on the southwest edge of London. It is an area of London replete with history of British Kings, from Richmond Palace, the home of King Henry V11th through Tudor times to the reign of George 111 who owned what is now Kew Palace, as a nursery for his children. It is one of the most visited places in London but its big and the ticketing systems efficient so its an easy visit.

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There was a Palace at Kew from the early 16th century but the Palace that you see now dates back to late 18th century and is a microcosm of 18th and 19th century life including the Royal kitchens that have not been touched since 1818.

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The gardens are beautifully landscaped with large open areas filled with trees shrubs flowers and endless walks. The river Thames runs through the gardens and you can take time to walk its banks.

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Inside the gardens is the Great Pagoda build in 1762 and the Japanese gateway, and 4/5ths replica of the entrance to a Japanese temple. There are a number of other amazing buildings including the Palm House in which there is a walkway high up enabling you to look down on the trees and the Orangery.

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As well as being incredible gardens, Kew is a serious research establishment containing the world’s largest collection of living plants and a huge seed bank, there for conservation purposes as well as research in conjunction with over 80 international organisations. It also has the largest herbarium in the world.

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In the park itself there is a treetop walkway and endless places to sit talk relax picnic, eat, and just be enclosed by nature close to the centre of one of the largest cities in the world. Definitely a place for a day out if you are in London and you want to get away from the crowds noise and stresses of big city life

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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

 

 

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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The Reincarnation of the Quagga.

 

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Quagga is the name for a now extinct species similar to the plains Zebra that became extinct in the 19th century. It was found in large numbers in what is now South Africa. Quagga is the Khoi Khoi name for Zebra, the Khoi Khoi being the inhabitants of the southern areas of South Africa originally.

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When settlers came to South Africa in the 17th century the Quagga were hunted in large numbers such that they became extinct in the wild in 1878 and in captivity in 1883. The Quagga had diverged from the Plains Zebra as a species some 250000 years ago.

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In the 1950s the idea was raised that with careful cross breeding of the Plains Zebra it might be possible to recreate the Quagga, although this idea was met with little interest since it was thought that the Quagga and Plains Zebra were unrelated as a species.

 

 

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However in the 1980s, by means of DNA sampling of the skins that remained and that of preserved Quaggas from museums, it came accepted that the species were related and the project to recreate the Quagga coomenced, known as The Quagga Project and based around Cape Town.

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The process is known as “breeding back” and is intended to create the striping patterns of the Quagga from careful breeding, since the technology for cloning using recovered dna does not yet exist, and as such the new off spring look like the Quagga but are genetically different.

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These offspring are known as Rau Quagga, to differentiate them from the Quagga and the Zebra, named after Reinhold Rau who initiated the project. The process has produced a number of generations of offspring and these are beginning to show the markings of the Quagga as it was. This represents a fascinating way to try to rectify some of the wrongs of man to the natural world.

 

Colourful Travelling

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When I look back at travels I have made, journeys completed, the memories are always associated with colours. A place, some food, a building, nature, all these are associated with deep colours, sharp colours and they reflect the mood of the memory. Even difficult travelling experiences have colours attached to them

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The shades and intensities of the colours may differ from place to place but nonetheless it is colour that guides the mind. At home our own colours surround us every day, and being at home we can to some extent control the colours we see, try to ensure that they are the ones we like most. But somehow the colours never quite seem so intense. It is, I am sure, partly due to over familiarity and partly because our choices are made to create an environment that we feel comfortable in, and can blend into.

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Colour affects the imagination. When we see a building or a town or village in colours that are not familiar we wonder why, and there is a nervous admiration for the bravery of it. The purity of colours in nature can be spellbinding; the mixtures of the colours of nature’s palate surpass anything that an artist can create by mixing. The primary colours are intense sharp and pure.

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Then there is the interaction of nature and its creatures. See a butterfly resting and marvel at its colours and realise that each one of these seemingly random combinations of colour has a reason, a camouflage in the actual environment in which it exists.

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Why does food that is colourful seem to taste more exciting that the staples of life which we need to survive? Even the combinations of colours in a meal in a foreign place make the experience of eating more enervating and satisfying.

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Landscapes that unfold in front of us carry varieties of colours with mountains melting into hills and fields and even to the sea where the contrasts of blues and greens echo the land which houses the seas and oceans.

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Even under the seas and oceans we experience a world of unique colours. Their combinations and the creatures that live their blend in and give wonderful contrasts to the background shades of the undersea world.

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When I was young I was given a box of crayons, the few basic colours, and as time when on I wanted to get a bigger set because it had more colours and shades of those colours. I was no artist but the joy of the varieties of colours inspired me, and now there they are in the journeys I take.

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The Coffee Cooperative – Costa Rica

 

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As well as being famous for its commitment to the ecology, being famous for not having an army, and being famous for volcanoes, Costa Rica is about Coffee. Some of the very best coffee in the world is grown there, and has been grown since the 18th century mostly in the mountains that form a spine through the country.

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Much of the coffee is grown by cooperatives, groups of very small farmers who have been brought together to crate the scale necessary for economic development of coffee. More than 10% of the population belong to cooperatives, and the cooperative are successful not just in providing an income for the members but also in passing residual profits back to develop the communities and the environment and to develop other businesses benefiting the members.

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A day at a coffee coop is a memorable experience and the Coopetarrazu situated in San Marcos de Tarrazu is a great one to go to. It was founded in 1960 and has grown to have more than 3000 members who grow coffee together and sell it to the coop for sale in the market.

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When you come over the mountain into the valley of San Marcos your nostrils are immediately filled with the scent of roasting coffee coming up from roaster in the town below you. Like all agricultural areas it seems a scene of tranquillity but actually a hive of activity.

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Trees planted to give a natural shade and also to give back to the soil shade the rows of coffee bushes. The recycling of everything used in the coffee making process is a priority here including water and the dried husks of the bean.

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Harvesting starts in November and is done by hand by local people and also pickers who cross the border from Nicaragua with their families and are given shelter, pay and assistance in managing their money which has to last them through the year after the picking season. Hard work I can tell you!

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One of the challenges of picking coffee in this area are snakes of which there are a number of venomous species in Costa Rica. One of the ways they are dealt with is to feed the snakes before picking time to make them sleep while the picking goes on.

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The profits left after paying the growers are ploughed back by the cooperative to benefit the members in infrastructure development, ensuring the quality of the soil and even into investing in local businesses like grocery stores or petrol stations to benefit the members.

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“Cupping” tasting the new crop of coffee is an art similar to that of the established wine taster, and while I can know great coffee when I taste it, the varieties of flavours that an experienced person can detect in a cup of coffee is extraordinary.

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We all talk a lot about the benefits of communities and how they should work together, and here you can see that happening. Here the cooperative system has proved itself really successful and a long-term benefit to future prosperity in the area.