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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Travel- A journey into history and time.

 

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It is said that history is a symphony of echoes. Einstein’s equation says that time is like a river that speeds up meanders and slows down. When we travel we come across those two concepts combined and receive some surprising answers. Different places give us a different perspective of what time means in the context of the places we discover and their history.

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Table Mountain in Cape Town, is the core of the city, the city sits beneath it as if in a basket. The mountain doesn’t have any forbidding presence, it is is a comfort, a real everyday presence that give reassurance and motivation to the city. Not for nothing are Capetonians known by some as the “mountianhuggers”. The cloud formations that fall from it at evening are affectionately known as the table cloth. Table Mountain is here now and today, it does not occur to anyone that it is history and that its origins are 300 million years old.

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The Arenal volcano, in Costa Rica, is a real live volcano and the sense of time in that piece of nature, and its history, tend to be measured by the last time there was an eruption, 1968. The excitement of a real life volcano might induce some of us to wish it was more recent. 48 years is the sense of history and time that many create around it. But the real history is that it has been erupting for 7000 years. Time has shrunk.

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The city of London is a place where the past and the present have melded together with history to live in the present. The church of All Hallows by the Tower dates back to 675 and is still a church today where people worship. Time there is a history lesson nothing more. London is filled with old places still used sitting alongside the most modern places that befit one of the great cities of the world.

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At the other end of the spectrum is the ancient kingdom of Angkor and the ruins of its various temples, dating back to 11th century and now simply a place of ghosts, (and tourists), a place where nature has imposed itself in the intervening years and taken back what belonged to it originally in some places. We learn the history, but don’t live it and we marvel that such things could exist nearly 1000 years ago. There, time is very real and not in any way compromised.

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Finally the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, in that country, are as old as Angkor but there is a big difference. In truth no one is compltely certain as to who built Great Zimbabwe. The African oral tradition of history has allowed parts of that history to disappear in the telling of it, and so we are left with a place that hangs in the air in time, with no real reference point as to why and when.

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Our perception of history and its echoes, bend and shape the sense of time in the places that we journey to.

Travel Broadens The Mind – they say

 

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This expression is so widely stated and so accepted that it has almost become a platitude or even a cliché. It suggests that the very experience of travel and exposing oneself to other influences, cultures and experiences ensure a better understanding of the world we live in and the people in it; I subscribe to that.

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I read a blog today, not about travelling but about politics, (please don’t disappear this blog is not about politics!) and the content frankly shocked me accepting as I do the outlook of this phrase. Without going into detail the blog reflected upon the attitudes of the people of one country viewed from the writer’s country. The shock lay in the fact that the writer, who had been to the country he talked about, ascribed negative attitudes and motivations to the people of the other country with a degree and ferocity that bore absolutely no resemblance to my own experiences. These observations by the writer were not apparently, borne of any bad experiences in the country; simply a set of attitudes or one might call them prejudices that seemed to have overcome the supposed broadening of the mind.

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Now I am not naïve enough not to know that politics makes people say things they might not actually feel, nor am I conceited enough to think that my attitudes are always right, but in this case the attitudes were separate to the main thrust of the article, and they seemed to come from the heart. Had I not been to the place I might be inclined to accept them, but that would not have been fair to the country.

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Maybe I’m wrong about the idea that travel broadens the mind, maybe the writer’s idea of travel is simply to visit a resort in the sun where the experience given is so close to that of home that it is almost undistinguishable? Maybe the writer was looking for trouble or maybe so set in the idea of the superiority of their own environment that they could not open their mind to a different one?

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Being an avid reader of travel writers I wondered whether the real truth is that, as my favourite travel writer Bruce Chatwin writes:

“Travel doesn’t merely broaden the mind it makes the mind”?   or

as GK Chesterton wrote:

“They say that travel broadens the mind but you must have the mind”   or

as Paul Theroux has written:

“Extensive travelling induces a feeling of encapsulation, and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind”

I am still of the view that travel broadens the mind but I wonder?

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.

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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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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Walking Intramuros – Manila.

 

 

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I love walking in cities, there is no better way of getting to feel, the atmosphere, pace, culture and senses of a city than to walk its streets and interact with the people and places you see. Manila is considered to be the most densely populated city on earth, bisected by the Pasig River, which flows into manila Bay. One of the best parts of the city to walk is Intramuros, the site of the original Spanish occupation of Manila. Intramuros sits alongside the banks of the river so that is a good place to move onto.

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Literally Intramuros means within the walls, the walls having been built as defensive walls by the Spanish beginning in the 16th century, and the community within the walls is a vibrant, alive one, mixing the traditional Spanish architecture and history, with universities, Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago, as well as a hive of streets combining old Spanish buildings and street signs, with the densely packed urban life of Manila.

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The area was badly damaged at the end of the second world war during the capture of Manila from the Japanese, but restoration work has recreated the ambiance of the place.

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Wander through the streets and admire the old buildings and their Spanish streets names, turn a corner and come into rows of small shops, cramped buildings and alley ways, which is the modern poorer Manila. In a street is a chicken chained to a fence alone, standing on the pavement, turn another corner and find a shop that makes bicycles with the frame made of bamboo, the working parts recycled from the remains of discarded bikes, eco sound and ideal for sale to poorer parts of the world.

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Everywhere is colour and variety, these small crowded buildings festooned with clothes, washing or endless varieties of items, contrasting with the traditional gray walls of Spanish style classic architecture.

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Everywhere you will be offered a tricycle ride and guide to show you Intramuros, but honestly they are way over priced and anyway a walk through this variety is infinitely preferable.

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For the historically minded Manila Cathedral, the Church of St Augustin and the famous Fort Santiago are there all within walking distance. Stop and watch the world go by in one of the many restaurants and sample some great Filipino food. At the end of it you feel good and awash with the sounds sights and sensations.

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The Poetry of Travelling

 

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Much more than just accumulating information, experiences, sights sounds smells and distance, travelling is about adventure and that sense of adventure is romantic. It appeals to our senses and purest instincts because there is always the understanding of being set free from the things that constrain daily life, and being released to find ourselves or to find something that is a trigger of our feelings. We may start with the poetry of travelling when we are very young with

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

But later when we realize how travel gives us instant choices to make we start to understand what is probably the most famous poem, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Poem that most sums up for me the Romance, mystery and excitements of new destinations is John Masefield’s “Cargoes”:

QUINQUIREME of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

There are loads of poems and quotes, writers and poets and you make your choice, but there is no doubt that travel stirs the poetic juices in us.

Moscow Choices.

 

 

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Moscow is a multi trip city, its big, steeped in history, and lots going on, but there are some places that warrant a definite visit.

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The Tretyakov Gallery, which is housed in a fascinating building, is a State gallery that houses some 130000 Russian paintings. It dates back to the 19th century although the main building that houses it is early 20th century. The history of Russian painting is there and it is a gallery designed in a way that you can walk and look without other people imposing.

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Red Square is well known to all, as is the façade of the Kremlin in Red Square, but a visit inside the Kremlin is a discovery of a varied and fascinating world of architecture and churches and gardens. It is a structure that conjures dark and forbidding images in our minds but those are wrong images. The forbidding façade of the Kremlin doesn’t do justice to what is inside.

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Outside the kremlin can be found the Tomb if the Unknown Soldier. Many cities have such memorials but what is unique about this one is sadly the numbers of soldiers it commemorates who died in Second World War nearly 10000000. That is a number hard to get ones head round and far more than any other nation that fought in the war, it’s the equivalent of roughly the entire population of greater London.

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That sad statistic takes me on to the final place in this piece the Museum of The Great Patriotic War. Being interested in history I have seen war museums in various countries but this one is the most inspiring I think. The museum is set in Victory Park and the museum itself is 14000 sq. metres of exhibition which extraordinary fascinating exhibits and it is very a very moving, experience especially when you come onto another terrible statistic, that over twenty million civilians and soldiers died. It teaches you to understand just how much that terrible period is part of the life around you and inside its people.

 

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Moscow is a big place in a huge country, but these ideas will give some sense of it today and historically.

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