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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The Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

 

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A 5-hour drive north from Phnom Penh brings you to Siem Reap, the home of the temples of Angkor, the most famous and best known being Angkor Wat. Built near the Great Lake with its supply of water fish and fertile soil these temples and buildings date as far back as the 6th century reflecting the mix of Hinduism brought by the Indians and Buddhism in an extraordinary array of temples which are even now emerging from the jungle that overwhelmed them.

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The Angkor Temples have become a major global tourist attraction with the sleepy provincial ton of Siem Reap now housing an array of large and luxurious hotels that accommodate the vast numbers who come to see this fascination every year. But for those less disposed to western hotels in Asia you can still find great accommodation more in tune with the area close to the site. Entry costs $20 for a one-day pass brought from a huge modern ticket office near the site.

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The sheer scale of the buildings and their sophistication given the period when they were built is hard to express. Built of stone, intricate, tall, beautifully designed. They are filled with passages, rooms, staircases and views over the surrounding lush green countryside. Built over a long period period of time these buildings are testament to a sophisticated society. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer empire from 11th century. At its zenith it was the largest pre industrial city in the world and incorporated the Hindu religion until the 12th century when Buddhism took its place. The development of the magnificent buildings was achieved over 300 years from the 9th to 12th centuries.

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Some of the temples are simply piles of stones, other remarkably preserved and restoration happens all the time. Surrounded as you are by the lush vegetation of the area it seems and almost secret place each temple seeming to emerge from the jungle as you reach it.

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To get the true sense of time and scale you see that some of the temples have blended with nature and formed the foundations for trees that have grown into and onto the buildings, sometimes appearing to be some enormous triffid that has consumed a building. That vision gives you a sense of both the power of the natural world and the ability of man made structures to survive the revages of time. The area has survived nature, war destruction the Khmer Rouge and endless attempts to loot the place, but survives in all its grandeur and splendour.

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The site is hidden from Siem Reap and the contrasts between that town of modern Cambodia and the wonders of Angkor tell lots about the march of history. Anyone in Cambodia has to go. There are many extensive books about the history of the area and the site but I think good to read after you have felt the atmosphere of this extraordinary place.

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Journeying in Cambodia

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Memories and emotions from journeying in Cambodia are, for the most part, triggered by colours, also water and of course people. Outside the urban sprawl and tourist areas it is the consistency of colours everywhere that strikes you. The land is flat with the odd seemingly misplaced hill, a world of farmed fields rice paddies, a couple of cattle in the flat fields, and the odd farmer pushing his bicycle to or from his work. The villages that dot the landscape are consistent and small with wooden houses on stilts, subsistence shops, the ubiquitous scooter, food sold beside the road, and a real feeling of timelessness.

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In the landscape the earth is brown and the water is brown, the cows are brown and the houses mostly brown, and growing alongside those every shade of green tree, plant, and bush. The varied shades of green highlight the vivid colours of the flowers, and even a very tiny butterfly as yellow as you ever saw, takes its prominence when seen in contrast to all that green and brown.

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The colours that are the most vivid are those of the ubiquitous Buddhist temples. Deep terracotta tiled roofs and bright shining gold embellishing the symbols. If the sign of the extent of religious belief is to be found in temples and churches them for sure Bhuddism thrives in Cambodia. The poorest village will boast a beautiful temple and even in the middle of busy roads are shrines at which people pay devotion as they pass by. The nature of Buddhism is not to impose and you never feel imposed on but the beautiful temples and statues can’t be ignored. Those colours offer a vivid and vibrant contrast to the brown and greens of the landscape.

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Water is everywhere, big wide deep rivers and tributaries starting with the Mekong, no small streams, irrigation ditches, dykes and of course the rice fields providing that staple diet. It rains lots in Cambodia in season and that rain disturbs no one. A violent downpour drives people inside but within minutes of it ending the world is alive again, life continues as before, the torrents of water just a normal part of natural life. Someone cooking with a wok stops for the rain but barely has it gone and he is at work again. The rain is just rain, its not even an inconvenience.

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And the people? Gentle smiling ever friendly, they have not acquired the hard edge of some people of the countries of south East Asia. The people are family orientated, conservative, hardworking and very cool. The best way to know them is to eat with them at an open air restaurant where the food is real, the price almost embarrassingly low and the flavours divine. Enjoy that hospitality and curiosity and be part of lives that, whilst very simple, fulfil everyone. A Cambodian driver for your journey ensures you will pass the time with the people and enjoy them.

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Cambodia is a proud place, and a growing place, but away from the centres of change and construction and the increasing western facilities it’s a beautiful warm friendly and unassuming country to bring a person back down to earth.

 

The Travel Bore

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I learned a long time ago that when returning from a journey, heart and mind filled with reflections on the things I have seen, people met, the places explored, the scents, emotions, secrets and sensations experienced, its really not good to talk about it too much.

Camera loaded with amazing photos, tales of people met, places seen and dangers overcome fill you, as you sit comfortable in the knowledge that you have something very special to offer now that you are home again and with friends. There is a fine point between simply saying that the travel was great and being a travel bore. Even sitting with another traveller it can become a competition trading the most beautiful, the most ugly, the highest, longest and most dangerous, oh and of course the oldest. Comparing notes on outlandish activities you would not do at home, and the sensuality of travelling is not wise, its easy to become a travel bore.

How much people really want to know you have to gauge. How many times people say would love to see your photos, but still they are unseen by all but you, except for one with a fabulous beach which is all they seem to want to see. You wonder why, you are slightly hurt. You have the wonders of the world to lay at your audience’s feet, but somehow they dont really want to know. “They are envious” you whisper to yourself, “they don’t care, they don’t understand”, but in truth they know that if you start you will never stop, and they will have nothing to say because for them such things are abstract compared to the appalling weather we have been having lately. You can hope that one day they will come to you and say “tell me all about Timbuctu” and then you can expound, but in truth they just want to know where you were and whether you enjoyed it. You are safe returned, that is enough. To hear the rest would be unsettling. So here is an ode to the travel bore!

The Traveled Man

SOMETIMES I wish the railroads all were torn out,

The ships all sunk among the coral strands.

I am so very weary, yea, so worn out,

With tales of those who visit foreign lands.

When asked to dine, to meet these traveled people,

My soup seems brewed from cemetery bones.

The fish grows cold on some cathedral steeple,

I miss two courses while I stare at thrones.

I’m forced to leave my salad quite untasted,

Some musty, moldy temple to explore.

The ices, fruit and coffee all are wasted

While into realms of ancient art I soar.

I’d rather take my chance of life and reason,

If in a den of roaring lions hurled

Than for a single year, ay, for one season,

To dwell with folks who’d traveled round the world.

So patronizing are they, so oppressive,

With pity for the ones who stay at home,

So mighty is their knowledge, so aggressive,

I ofttimes wish they had not ceased to roam.

They loathe the new, they quite detest the present;

They revel in a pre-Columbian morn;

Just dare to say America is pleasant,

And die beneath the glances of their scorn.

They are increasing at a rate alarming,

Go where I will, the traveled man is there.

And now I think that rustic wholly charming

Who has not strayed beyond his meadows fair.

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1896

 

The Politics In Travelling

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All the panic, noise and general hysteria about the Brexit vote got me to thinking about travelling and the extent to which politics affects our view of a place we come to or a place we leave. Do we consciously think about politics when choosing a destination, what effect does it have when we are there, do we change our opinion about a place because of the prevailing political wind? I have visited perfect democracies, rabid dictatorships, autocratic empires, tribal fiefdoms, and how have I dealt with the politics that I have found, has it affected me at all, should it?

 

Do the images of a place that we receive from considered journalism reflect what we find, is journalism too much of a microscopic examination of a place? Are we too detached when we visit somewhere and do we turn a blind eye to what is around us in pursuit of the experiences we seek from travelling? Do we have an obligation to tailor our travel plans to our sense of decency or fairness, or are we free to do what we want, go where we want and in doing so give some quiet unintentional support to things we don’t really approve of? Is there some moral obligation on us, does our presence exacerbate what is wrong or alleviate it?

 

I have seen, following this vote, how people across different countries who before felt at ease together now call names and are angry. There is this strange sense of rejection on the one hand and liberation on the other, similar to the end of human relationships, that has suddenly come forth in an outpouring of bitterness on the one hand and exhilaration on the other.

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There are a lot of questions here and I don’t really know the answer. I suppose to an extent we compromise. When it suits us we are simply observers of where we are and don’t judge, or alternatively we feel detached and say well this is bad but its nothing to do with me. Perhaps we say this is bad and something must be done but what do we do about it? Certainly whatever we think we don’t usually intervene, we accept what we find and move on. We store the experience in memory and it may affect our own approach to life but that is in our own minds and our own place.

 

When we travel to a place do we simply feel as outsiders come to visit or does traveling, by it’s a nature, engender a sense that we are really not from one corner of the world but we are citizens of the whole world? Wherever we stop we feel part of the landscape, and accept what is around us. In doing that we can feel part of the other person’s world, and perhaps we can act, or, we can cop out and just look and move on.

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Does travelling have any effect in any way? Maybe. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Perhaps travel prevents bigotry, but, by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” I hope so.The

 

 

Beach Life

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Many years of travels have taught me that there is something mystical about beaches. I don’t know anyone who does not love the beach. We can complain about crowds or pebbles or litter but we all love the beach.

 

For some it’s a place to chill, relax, do nothing, sunbathe, watch the world, feel at one with our friends, enjoy family, make friends, have a sense of luxury, feel we are “somewhere else”, surround ourselves with the sounds of the beach, the crunch of sand, the dull ring of pebbles, the whisper of the sea, the roar of the ocean and the whipping sound of the wind on water. It’s a place where we lose a bit of our sense of time, where we don’t feel guilty about doing nothing. It is as someone said the “apotheosis of loafing”

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For others it’s a playground, a place to swim, surf, sail, splash, run, walk, a place where we feel that we realise what nature gives us for pleasure and make use of it, all for free. We feel that we are part of nature and to see a surfer on an empty beach early in the morning is to see someone at peace, someone who feels a part of the beauty and tranquility of nature but knows its power.

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Then there are those who find solitude on the beach, they walk, feel and above all think. They are in the one place where all the very elements of life itself come together, the water, the sky, the earth and the air, they are at one with it, liberated from the world and able to think with a clarity that daily life does not allow. They feel free . “To go out with the setting sun on an empty beach is to truly embrace your solitude”

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We lie on beaches, we sleep on beaches, we camp on beaches, we walk to and from beaches, we endure crowds and jams to get to the beach, we travel far and wide to find the perfect beach for us, we anticipate for months in advance our next visit to the beach and when we get there we are never disappointed. We read of beaches, drool over photos of beaches, and long for that life free of the cares of the world where we can stroll out of our front door onto a beach of white sand, and then into crystal clear turquoise water that we seem to feel we can own.

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“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” We just love the beach.

Costa Rica – Caribbean Coast

 

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The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is far less developed than the more famous Pacific Coast. It has been more isolated for centuries and retains much of the natural wilderness that has existed for centuries. Its wet, tropical, a world of dense vegetation, blue sea, natural variety and abundant wild life.

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The main centre, the provincial capital is Limon, the largest port in Costa Rica. and north and South of Limon range tropical wildernesses including the Tortuguero National Park in the north and Chauita National Park in the south

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The jungle meets the ocean on this Caribbean coast, sandy beaches folding into dense jungle filled with wildlife and plants

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The area’s multiculturalism creates a unique atmosphere, with about 1/3rd of the local population being of Jamaican descent combined with indigenous Costa Rican people alongside, giving a flavour of life, culture, music and habits which is very special. Much of this can be found in Puerto Viejo, a surfing centre and town where the cultural mix finds expression in music and life.

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The wildlife is abundant including sloths, and the green jungle surrounds everything. Small hotels and guest houses are carved into that jungle, their development restricted to preserve the environment, and you wake to the sound of monkeys shouting in the trees beside your window.

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On the way were some Iguanas resting in a tree alongside a road bridge. Despite being quite small at first sight, they can look scaly and sinister but then their faces have an almost alien quality that almost smile at you with beady eyes that shine. They are mesmerising and gentle and look at you with an enigmatic smile. You can wonder whether they are nature’s version of the grumpy old man.!!

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The area is a step back in time to an equality between humans and nature.

 

Costa Rica – Cano Negro

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The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is in the north of Costa Rica, close to the border with Nicaragua, about 140 kms from San Jose. It is isolated and accessible only by boat from the Banks of the river. If you want to stay nearby, there is the small town of Los Chiles about 20kms away, a traditional small Costa Rican town, with its own repeating energy.

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Riding down the broad river with its dark brown water, surrounded by vegetation encroaching right to the edge of river bank and as dense and tall as jungle can be, you get a “heart of darkness” feeling, the feeling that the strong flow of the river carries you to who knows what. In tributaries of the river the water is literally black, reflecting the volcanic earth of the river bottom.

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The river journey is through territory inhabited by myriad species of wildlife, endangered species, monkeys, birds, caimans and you are deep in their world, the surrounding jungle like a huge green wall.

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Monkeys climb and swing in nearby trees, howlers prominent in family groups, a caiman basks on a sand bank and lazily gets up to walks away, birds perch on broken logs in the river contemplating the life of the river, and small birds swoop out and follow the boat soaring and diving at speed. A Basilisk, known as the Jesus Christ lizard becuase of its ability to walk on water for up to 20 metres, sits on a tree.

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Being in a boat you don’t feel you are interfering, just a patient observer carried along by the power of the flow of the river. Creatures ignore you, having only a passing curiosity about you. You are in their world, and they own it.

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