The Politics In Travelling

IMG_1955

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.

IMG_1984

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.

IMG_2038

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

 

 

Europe in Russia

 

IMG_6033

St Petersburg, set along the banks of the Neva River, dates back to the 18th when Peter The Great started to develop it as a major port for Russia. It was at one time the capital of Russia and the tides of history has seen 4 names, St Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and now St Petersburg again.

St Petersburg  fascinates and you cant get bored. You can feel that mystical Russian soul, and sense the extraordinary suffering in Russian history, as well as its achievements and pride. St Petersburg inspires thought and hope mixed with the tragedies of history.

IMG_2324

The city figures in the great classical Russian novels. You can stand on the Kokushkin Bridge where the hero of Crime and Punishment stood at the opening of that great book, and, given how the city has retained its extraordinary character over time, you imagine yourself there at the moment.

 

It is a city where you cant escape the embrace of history. You see it all around you and you walk down streets and avenues that are still filled with its atmosphere, all around you the sights that give history a meaning face you.

IMG_6004

As well as the great museums The Hermitage and the great buildings, Church of the Blood, the city is filled with small very Russian museums which give a great perspective as to how Russians see history. The Museum commemorating the 900 day siege of the city by the Germans in the second world war gives a painful but fascinating insight into what life must have been like, and the small KGB museum intriguing specially for western people to see how people they thought of as traitors where heroes there.

IMG_2331

Some of the vistas of St Petersburg are mesmerising along the Neva; the old refurbished buildings along the banks of the river take you back in time. The centre is great if you like to walk cities, to soak up the atmosphere. Its easy to get around and a new journey every day brings you new experiences.

IMG_6011

It is also a very modern cultural city, galleries, museums, restaurants, theatres, clubs, bars, with huge variety. It’s a city that lives inside a lot of the time because of the cold of winter and the interiors reflect that, being warm and inviting Fascinating art and photo galleries are tucked away up staircases in old buildings on narrow streets, filled with intriguing exhibits.

IMG_1424

Dispute its overtly historical character the city is very alive energetic, filled with possibility. The people there, are very warm friendly and accommodating despite a somewhat serious demeanour on first meeting.

 

IMG_5979

Of the great Russian poets of St Petersburg Anna Akhmatova experienced and survived the deprivations of war and the Stalinist terror and wrote a great poem Requiem following the arrest of her son in the Stalin era.It says much of the place and its people and the inherent hope and strength that human beings use to survive.

Epilogue

1

I’ve learned how faces hollow down to bone,

How from beneath the eyelids terror peeks,

How cuneiforms cut by suffering show

Their harsh unyielding texts impressed on cheeks,

How curls that once were black or ashen-tipped

Can turn to palest silver overnight,

How a smile withers on submissive lips

And how a mirthless titter cracks with fright.

Not for myself alone, for all I pray,

All those who stood beside me without fail,

Alike in bitter cold and sweltering haze,

Beneath the brick-red blind walls of the jail.

2

Once more the hour of remembrance draws near,

I see you, I hear you, I feel you all here,

The one helped to the window—she barely could stand,

And the one who no longer will walk through our land,

And the one who stepped forward and tossed her fair hair—

‘‘When I come here, it’s like coming home,’’ she declared.

I wanted to read off each name in its turn,

But the list has been seized, and there’s nowhere to learn.

For them I have woven a mantle of words

Made up of the snatches that I’ve overheard.

Every day, every place, I’ll remember them all,

I’ll never forget, though new terrors befall,

And if torturers silence me, through whose one mouth

A nation of one hundred million cries out,

Let them all speak for me, mention me when they pray

Every year on the eve of my burial day.

And if ever in Russia I have such acclaim

That a monument’s set up to honor my name,

My consent to a statue I only would grant

With a condition on where it should stand.

Not down by the southern sea where I was born—

My last tie to the seacoast has long since been torn—

Nor in the Tsar’s park by the stump of that tree

Where an unconsoled ghost is still looking for me,

But here, where I stood while three hundred hours passed,

And the gates never budged, and the bolts remained fast.

Because in the blest ease of death I’m afraid

I’ll forget the harsh rumble the prison vans made,

Forget how that door slammed, its harsh banging noise,

And the animal howl of an old woman’s voice.

And as the snow melts from my statue each year,

From my bronze-lidded eyes may it trickle like tears,

And a single dove’s cooing be heard from the jail

As far off on the river the quiet ships sail.

 

Anna Akhmatova

Requiem

Tr Nancy K Anderson

Beach Life

Noordhoek_Beach

 

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”

IMG_3787

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.

IMG_2384

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”

IMG_6619

 

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.

Boulders

“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

 

IMG_5375

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.

IMG_5343

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

IMG_5327

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

IMG_5328

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.

IMG_5344

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.

IMG_5079

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.!!

IMG_5073

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

 

Costa Rica – Cano Negro

IMG_4881 (1)

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.

IMG_4935

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.

IMG_4906

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.

IMG_4985

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.

IMG_4980

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.

IMG_4898

 

Costa Rica — Eco Tour

IMG_5147

 

Everyone these days confirms a commitment to the preservation of the environment. For some it’s merely a gesture for others a greater commitment. In Costa Rica you very quickly get to understand that they really mean it. Everyone knows understands and buys into the protection of the environment. You feel that the pride in their environment is real and natural and deep. They are proud of it and contribute to its preservation and delight in showing it. This is a land of nature and coffee and cacao, lakes, mountains, animals, and two oceans, a country that decided long ago not to have an army because of its history.

IMG_5125

The Arenal volcano is the youngest of the active Costa Rican volcanoes, situated in the Arenal Volcano National Park. The area is centred around the small town of La Fortuna from where you get access to the man made Lake Arenal and the nature reserve in the mountains. The sides of the top of the volcano are pockmarked by cracks from which smoke feeds and the side lined with the marks of lava flows from previous eruptions. From La Fortuna take a boat across Lake Arenal and from there up into the national park. The roads are not great but then again to build a road too big wouldn’t be good for the environment would it?

IMG_5304

This is a world of hiking, amazing plants, wild flowers, great scenery and every conceivable shade of green you could ever imagine, all in one place. Water cascades off the mountains as pure as any you can find. Development is encouraged to give access to the area but the drive to retain the character of the place makes it a very true experience.

IMG_5253 (4)

Further west Monteverdi hosts a cloud forest and amazing hot springs fed by the hot water emerging from this volcanic area. Hot springs are something special in Costa Rica and a must do. This whole area is eco tourism at its very best and most naturel. All the areas are also great for kayaking, and zip runs if that’s your thing. Its easy to get around, minibuses 4x4s transport you where you want to go. And of course you walk.

IMG_5099

Costa Rica is a small country so very accessible but its variety is extraordinary.

PURE COLOURS

Travelling you encounter colours. Sometimes its the vibrancy of life that creates colours and paints images a certain way. Sometimes nature reveals colours and shades of intensity of colour that take your breath away.

IMG_5182

These colours are not from any palate, they are not fixed, adjusted, photoshopped they are the purest of the pure.

IMG_5185

Its hard to get ones head around the fact that the dark crumbly earth can give life to this intensity and contrast. These flowers growing at the foot of the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica

IMG_2447

Sometimes humans can achieve something similar when they make their mark in nature. This empty church on the edge of Kiev in Ukraine, the roof and cupolas are weathered but the blue, a human’s contribution to the tapestry of colours.

IMG_2446

Travel and Home

 

IMG_6464

Everyone who travels thinks of home. There is always an occasion when that longing for familiarity and the things we value appears. Even the most hardened traveller who takes the longest journeys will tell you that there is always a moment when they ask themselves why on earth they are wherever they are and just want to be home, before the thought fades and they move on.

So what does home mean to the traveller. Meet fellow travellers and ask them what they look forward to about home and the answer will range from having a wardrobe, to my own bed, to my friends, to my family, to work, to sport, to the garden. Some travellers have just had enough of the constant moving and lack of certainty of travelling and they just crave to be there amongst familiar things and never travel again. Some have a more philosophical attitude to home and how it connects to their travels, as if there is some spiritual or philosophical connection between travel and home.

Most travel writers deal with “home” in their writings in one way or another:

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow . Lin Yutang

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” G.K. Chesterton

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”

“When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean it IS brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.”  Catheryne Valente.

“Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away. But it’s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life. I, finally, knew where my life belonged. Home.”   J Maarten Troost

 

For me its great to get home, for the one reason if for no other, that it’s the very best place in the world to sit down and dream and plan to leave again.

The Epitome of pointless musings

Sitting on a beach three feet from the water, his feet buried in the sand. One hand lifts a small pile of sand and lets it run through his fingers back onto the beach. The other hand lifts a larger pile and he watches the sand flow as if the grains are connected through is fingers again. Then both hands together the small streams of sand run differently at different speeds and in different quantities. Lifting his feet out of the sand he watches the sand flow again off his feet and through his toes and if he places each foot at a different angle so the flow of sand changes.

He uses one hand to wipe the remaining sand off the other and stares at the nearly clean hand, slightly irritated that there are a few grains of sand that have resisted his efforts to make it clean. He stares at them wondering where they are supposed to be, feeling some guilt as if his actions have disrupted the quiet existence of the sand. There must be some structure, some alignment of the grains of sand on this beach? Surely some meaning, some purpose to provide for their place on the beach? Is his hand part of some great plan, has he disrupted the natural flow of the existence of the sand? Should he take each grain remaining on his hand and place it at some strategic point on the beach?

He gets up and wanders back towards the road, feeling the   drag of the sand on his legs. He walks diagonally to the boundary and not straight to the edge.

Why is it that when people leave a beach they rarely walk at ninety degrees to its boundary, they always find a path at an angle to the boundary? Do they want to preserve the sensation of the sand on their feet or do they feel that to walk the shortest distance would embarrass them by giving the impression they are in a hurry?

Stepping off the beach up onto the pavement his bare foot lands on a piece of broken green glass. Reality is back, his thoughts of the sand reduced to nothing more than the epitome of pointless musings.