The Palawan Underground River – Philippines

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The official name for the Palawan underground river on the west coast of the island of Palawan, is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is an 80km drive from Puerto Princesa and a short trip by Bangka to the mouth of the river. I

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The river sits under the mountain range on the west coast and although much is still unexplored, including waterfalls within the mountain, there is 8.2 kms of river that you can explore with a ticket and a guide, kitted out in life jacket and safety hat in small boats containing 6 to 8 people.

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The entrance from the river looks imposing, a great dark hole in the side of the mountain from what seems a relatively small river, but once inside the sheer scale is easily apparent. The darkness descends on you very fast and the journey is lit by flashlights. At some point the lights will go out and everyone go quiet and the weight of the darkness and the extraordinary silence descends on you. It is eerie, a darkness and quiet you can’t find in everyday life, and you realise the dangers and difficulties involved in exploring the river.

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The journey along the river and back is marked with rock formations, walls made smooth by the effect of water over generations, bats in vast numbers and the formations made from their droppings, narrow passageways and huge domes rising as high as 300m above the river.

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Voices echo in the darkness and the sound of cameras is magnified echoing against the walls and ceiling. In the distance you see a circle of light, incongruous in the darkness you have become accustomed to and it’s the exit, and you emerge into the bright sunlight and the sight of groups waiting their turn on the river, as if coming into another world.

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The national park is a world heritage sight, with the area surrounding the river mouth having its very own micro ecology and innumerable varieties of plants animal life and recreations from hiking to a zip line running out over the sea.

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The journey back where the road undulates through hills and small villages is a good time to reflect on that immensity and diversity of nature

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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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A Trip on Bangkok’s Waterways

 

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Like all great cities of the world Bangkok has a river, the Chao Phraya, which flows through Bangkok and on into the Gulf of Thailand. Cities often begin their existence where there is water not just for living but for transport too and Bangkok is no exception. Off the Chao Phraya flow innumerable canals and small tributaries known as Klongs. Many of the klongs have now been filled since they were not exactly healthy, but there are sufficient left to give you a great alternative look at Bangkok, at what became know as the Venice of the East although that name might not quite be valid today.

 

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Travelling on water sets you slightly apart from the world that borders the water, and in Bangkok that helps you to see the city without the danger of being run over! The river is wide, busy and carries you through the heart of Bangkok, through the history of the city combined with a view of the modern metropolis of office blocks and hotels. And once toy have done that divert into the networks of canals that subdivide, criss cross and are a labyrinth. There is every kind of boat including some that seem to be driven by outboard engines taken from large lorries.

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Bangkok is famous for its floating market on the canals which is often crowded being a favoured tourist destination but away from the you find sellers on small boats floating slowly down the canals in search of business. ~The sellers are often gentle faced ladies earning a crust, but they drive a hard bargain and are very persistent. They will sell you a drink a souvenir and if they don’t have what you ask you they will persuade you to spend your money on something else, or at least try to.

 

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Where there are rivers people live, and the canals are lined with old houses leaning over the banks of the canals jammed together, constructed haphazardly and remaining there for generations. Some even collapse into the canals and lie there a forlorn reminder of previous inhabitants. Wander in amongst those houses and you find networks of alleys and small streets and walk past people washing and cooking I the street, or plying their trade selling or making small things.

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The canals are in all the various parts of the city, the water grey, turgid and not smelling of roses, but the life that is around them goes on as it has for generations. It is not difficult to walk a short distance from all the symbols of the modern Bangkok and find the canals and people living there, hidden away , seemingly separated from modern Bangkok but still actively part of it.

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The canals are a fascinating world of seeming tranquillity in the heat and noise of Bangkok, the houses and buildings look forgotten but they are not, and aside from the Bangkok of condos and blocks of flats its another world, another Bangkok to see.

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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.