#CTC13 Capture The Colour 2013

Five colours, five photos, that can’t be too difficult can it? Thanks to the talented Lani Cox, who kindly nominated me to participate in this devilish competition devised by Travel Supermarket, I’ve now discovered just how hard it is. The aim of this cool competition is to go through your travel photographs, (which most of us have far too many of), and pick five photographs in five colour categories: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and White.

Which is why I am now scrambling to get this up at about five minutes to deadline. Because searching for just the right photo can lead me off daydreaming for long periods of time. So lets just get on with it.

 Red – the monks of Mandalay

red - monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar
red – monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar


I am no stranger to a good monk photo, but normally the robes are various shades of saffron. In ancient Mandalay however the monks robes are generally a red wine colour. This photo was at an alms procession at a major monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Yellow – enormous bunches of yellow flowers in the local markets of Mandalay

yellow - markets in Mandalay, Myanmar
yellow – markets in Mandalay, Myanmar

I really thought yellow was going to be my ‘hard’ colour. As it turned out, I was completely wrong, I found many more favourite yellow photos than any other colour. So many that I’ve included a little gallery of the runner-up’s at the bottom of this page. Keeping to the Mandalay theme here, these huge bunches of flowers were all destined for the receptions and dining rooms of the hotels in Mandalay.

 Green – the blue hole in Vanuatu

green - the blue hole, vanuatu
green – the blue hole, vanuatu

The blue hole on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu is a glorious place to swim in deep clear blue waters. Except for the corner which is more shaded, and is all glorious greens in the water and the surrounding vegetation. It’s a beautiful spot to relax.

Blue – fins, togs and the sea

blue - at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu
blue – at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu

If you head to the very northern islands of Vanuatu, you can eventually find the tiny island of Rah. It’s warm blue waters, hospitable families and cheeky children will have you donning snorkel and fins to spend the day in the water as well.

White – girl in white in Mandalay, Myanmar

white - girl in white, mandalay, myanmar
white – girl in white, mandalay, myanmar

This young girl was a vision in white, including the complicated tanaka pattern on her cheeks. She was in the old teak palace grounds in Mandalay.


And some more yellow

I couldn’t narrow it down to only one yellow or green, so here’s a few more.

Now it’s my turn to nominate! And thanks again Lani for thinking of me. Unfortunately due to my very late attempt to get this finished, I doubt I have given my nominees any time left to enter the comp, but its such a fun post to do, I hope they will give it a go anyway!

Melissa at Mellovestravels
Laura at Little Travel Bee
Terri at Black Chick on Tour
Emily-Ann at The Grown Up Gap year
Mike and Linda at Moving Sushi

>>>> the rules:

To enter is simple, you write a post with your five best photos from these color categories: RED, BLUE, GREEN, YELLOW and WHITE. Be sure to nominate five other bloggers and tweet it with the hashtag #CTC13.

There will be a winner from each color category who will get: an 128GB iPad, a Fuji camera or £750 worth of Arc’teryx clothing and equipment (you choose). Then from the five winners, an overall winner will be chosen to win: £3,000 travel fund (worth about $4633 USD).

For the full contest rules go here.

To follow the entries watch the contest’s pinterest boards.

Or follow the Facebook page.


Do you have the Mountain Goat gene?

Some travellers just seem to be born with the mountain goat gene, but sadly I am not one of them. What’s a mountain goat gene I hear you say?

Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat | Source: nrmsc.usgs.gov

It’s the gene that enables you to be surefooted scrambling over rocks and uneven surfaces, up and down slopes of gravel or shale, jumping from one rock to another, fast and balanced. OK, it may not be a scientifically proven gene, but trust me, in all my years of travelling I have realised that there are only two camps – every person either has the mountain goat gene or they don’t, and there is no in-between. It’s not a factor of age or fitness, it’s an innate ability and balance when going where any mountain goat might go. If, like me, you don’t have this gene, you can’t fake it, and you can’t learn it. Give me a well built path of tramped down earth, a walkway, some steps, and I can walk all day. But throw in uneven stones, clambering up and over rocks, loose gravel and steep slopes, and I hesitate, I lose my rhythm, I stop and try to figure out where to put my foot next, I over-balance and then grab your shoulder, I graze my knee, I bruise my leg, and I probably end up on my bum. Sometimes I choose to sit down and edge forward gingerly, sometimes I trip myself up and end up there anyway.

73_4_turkey_cappadocia_800When I was younger I envied those with the mountain goat gene, but in the end I realised  it doesn’t matter. Because the truth is, if it’s something I have to do, to get to somewhere I really want to be, then I do it anyway. I will be scrambling without elegance, clutching at any guide or tree or random stranger for balance, cursing too loudly and sitting down when I need to – but I’ll do it.

Because if I am in Cappadocia I can’t ignore the amazing landscape and rock dwellings.

Because there’s rarely a waterfall that doesn’t need some rock scrambling to get to it. (but I try and save it for pretty spectacular falls these days, any old local one just won’t do)

Because sometimes you need to get to the top of the hill (and back down) via a mountain goat track to see the most amazing sunrise or sunset.

The people with the mountain goat gene can’t understand why we with the “klutz” gene are so bad at doing something that is as natural as breathing for them. And us klutz’s don’t understand how they don’t fall over and injure themselves, preferably painfully!  But if like me you are a klutz, just remember that we are the truly brave ones, because we actually choose to force ourselves over these mountain goat tracks, without the right skill set and against the full force of our genetics, just so that we can enjoy whatever is on the other side.

What is the Liebster Blog Award?

Thanks very much to the lovely Claire from TheSameStars.com for nominating me for a Liebster, see her nominations here.  liebster2

What is the Liebster Blog Award?

It’s been around for a few years and it’s “rules” seem to have morphed over time, but basically it is a way to recognise bloggers that you enjoy following. It is passed on from one blogger to another to let them know that they are doing a good job and to encourage them to keep blogging. It’s a good way to show support, check out new blogs, and help promote readership.

So how does this work?

When you receive the award, post 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you on your blog.
Pass the award onto 11 other blogs and ask them 11 questions. Make sure you tell them you nominated them.
You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated you.

My 11 Random Facts:
  • I was born with eleven toes.
  • I have eaten barbecued silk worms – and enjoyed them.
  • When I lived in London I lost all my freckles through lack of sunshine (but luckily they all came back in sunny Sydney).
  • Rollercoasters are not me friend – even the little old fashioned ones make me nauseous.
  • The All Blacks are my religion.
  • My favourite food is fresh Nelson Bay scallops from NZ.
  • I lived in London for 10 years in the following suburbs: Paddington, Wembley, Turnpike Lane, Plaistow, South Clapham, Putney – yes, I did a complete compass circumnavigation of the city.
  • When I first travelled to Mexico, the Chiapas uprising occurred.
  • When I first travelled to the Middle East, the Gulf War broke out..
  • When I first travelled to India, a local civil war broke out in Rajasthan and there were curfews and helicopter gunships shooting all night.
  • …do you see a certain pattern here?
My Answers to Claire’s 11 Questions:
  1. What book changed your life? a big glossy kids atlas of the world with pictures of the Pyramids and igloos and things – I was hooked.
  2. If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life what would it be? a bespoke album containing all 8533 songs currently on my iPod – I’m sorry, I need variety (OK maybe I can leave Wham behind).
  3. What is the best Festival you’ve ever been to? Glastonbury, the year Oasis headlined, before they imploded.
  4. If you could fly anywhere in the world in the morning where would you go? Antarctica.
  5. Why did you start your travel blog? My friends had already heard all my travel stories, I needed to expand my audience.
  6. What do you miss most about home when you are away? my local cafe and it’s perfect brunch.
  7. Who inspires you the most? My friends, they inspire me daily.
  8. What is your earliest travel-related memory? Being car-sick as our parents drove us for a day out at the beach over winding, one lane wide, unsealed roads, where you had to beep the car horn before every corner to warn any on-coming traffic.
  9. What one item do you never travel without? A camera.
  10. Where do you think of as ‘home’? Bondi.
  11. Are they thongs or flip flops? Neither, they are jandals (it’s a kiwi thing).
My 11 Questions to the Blogs I Nominate:
  1. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
  2. What is something you wish you could do really well?
  3. If you had the chance to have lunch with one person living or dead, who would it be?
  4. What makes you smile?
  5. What activity recharges your energy?
  6. What is the best Festival you’ve ever been to?
  7. What social network do you use the most?
  8. Why did you start your travel blog?
  9. Where did you get your first passport stamp?
  10. What one item do you never travel without?
  11. Dogs or cats?

I’d like to recognize other deserving bloggers too, both new and established. So here’s my 11 Nominees:

Clare at Earth Travel Unlimited
Elle at Elle Croft
Red at Red Nomad Oz
Paul at Walk Fly Pinoy 
Amanda at Adventures All Round
Ryan at Just Chuckin It
Girish at Girish Menon
Yvette at Where is Yvette
Juno at Runaway Juno
Ainslee at Good Airs
Meruschka at Mzansi Girl

Let’s give these blogs a round of applause and show some love. Visit their website, comment on their posts, and share their stuff with friends on social media.

Thank you again Claire from TheSameStars.com for the nomination! Let’s keep this going and recognize other bloggers for their work.

Hi nominees, what are your answers to the questions above?


My RWC2011

I love rugby. Maybe not a surprising statement from a Kiwi, it is often said that rugby is New Zealand’s religion. As any expat will tell you, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and since I’ve been an expat for twenty something years now, my passion for rugby in general and the All Blacks in particular burns very brightly.

And I say to you, even if you’re not a rugby fan, if you like a festival, if you like an ongoing party, you might want to go to future RWC’s. Because until you get to the pointy end, the Semis and Finals, the party atmosphere completely overrides the rugby.

RWC 2011 - flag
RWC 2011 – flag

So when there’s a RWC in New Zealand, I have to go. Impossible to stay away. I bought my tickets 18 months ago in the first ballot. I booked my airfares 9 months ago – flying in and out for 3 day weekends every weekend, since I couldn’t get the time off work. My sister, who also lives overseas, chucked her job in and went back to NZ for three months – I am so jealous of that. So on the eve of our big semi-final, here’s my highlights (and lowlights) on the RWC so far.

Week 1 RWC 2011

  • We head to the big open air fanzone set up on the Auckland waterfront to have some lunch and soak up the buzz. Seems like dozens of nationalities in team colours all with big grins on their faces. Get to see the massive waka’s rehearsing on the harbour – cool
  • Go meet a friend for an afternoon coffee in the lobby of the Heritage Hotel – where it just so happens the All Blacks are staying. Us, stalkers?- no… Got my photo taken with Dan Carter, I am totally star struck. Then turned around  and saw Ritchie McCaw on the sofa behind me, lost my mind, left the hotel babbling like a teenager – OMG! Have to say, those All Blacks are very accessible.
  • My tip for future RWC’s – try and have your friends live within 15 minutes walk of the stadium, and go stay with them – every weekend. Even better if there is one french wine bar and numerous pubs along that 15 minute walk. Especially important in Auckland, where public transport is an embarrassing joke.
  • To the great surprise of everyone, Aucklanders actually took notice of all the exhortations for them to “leave their cars at home” and “take the train”, and they did – and the train system promptly melted down, leaving thousands stranded on trains and missing the opening ceremony and the opening game.
  • All Blacks  play Tonga in the opening game. I was really looking forward to the atmosphere, as the arrival of the Tongan team earlier in the week and the turn out and fervour of the Tongans in NZ to greet them, had already kick-started the Cup atmosphere. I am disappointed – there are only a handful of Tongans in the crowd, I have a horrible feeling they got priced out of the game – and that’s a real shame and to the detriment of the tournament. Someone should’ve done a deal for them. All Blacks win.

Week 2, RWC 2011

  • Missed this one as I was in Amsterdam for a very quick work trip – normally that would be a good thing but during a RWC? I’m missing all the fun.
  • Ireland beats Australia and suddenly every single Kiwi rediscovers their Irish roots and cheers them on. All Blacks win.

Week 3, RWC 2011

  • Possibly the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen at a game. Both All Blacks and French supporters are dressed up, revved up, chanting and cheering non-stop, but it’s all good natured, no aggro at all. Even though the French lost, they carried on cheerfully partying all night – I have to love a team whose supporters want to buy us drinks all night after they lose – class act. All Blacks win.
  • If you have a bit of a beer belly and you are going to wear an unforgiving white clingy unitard and a red, blue and white rooster as a cock sock, do it with confidence, just like the French supporters
  • I am getting used to hearing the French Horn blown before every kickoff in the RWC. Its not very ‘rugby’ but it is a great addition to the atmosphere – its sounds like a bull fight is starting and 60,000 people yell Ole! every time.

Week 4, RWC 2011

  • My long weekend doesn’t start so well when, on my flight to Wellington, lady in seat in front of me passes out, needs oxygen, and then throws up everywhere. No thanks steward, I won’t be having dinner, I seem to have lost my appetite.
  • Not sure if I am really in Wellington – the sun is shining like a summer’s day and there is no howling wind from Antarctica. Have a coffee and realise that yes, this is Wellington, not many places on earth do coffee this good – in every single cafe!
  • Nonu nonchalantly walks past us in the street in the middle of the day (for those who don’t know, All Black with magic flying feet and dreads.) I very non-nonchalantly stop, stare, point and gape.
  • The official merchandise stores are all full of French buying up All Blacks gear – guess they like us?
  • We take the cable car up the hill, great view of this city of hills around a perfect little circle of a harbour. We walk back down through the botanical gardens and find the flower beds planted as the flags of the 20 participating countries.
  • All Blacks have no problem beating Canada, as expected by everyone. Canadian fans celebrate that the All Blacks only score 79 points against them – their goal was to hold us at less than 1 point per minute (80 points – well done Canada). All Blacks win.

Week 5 RWC 2011

  • Quarter finals time, now it’s all getting serious. I’m seeing two of the quarters live, two on the big screens in the pubs.
  • I watch Springboks v Wallabies at a pop-up garden bar in a (award winning) burger joint in Kingsland, just next to the stadium, with a couple of hundred people. I am definitely not a short person, but this is the tallest crowd I have ever seen – at least 198 of the other people are taller than me, by a lot! It must be a parallel universe.
  • Worst faux pas of the tournament. During the pre-match entertainment, before the start of the 4th and final quarter final, the All Blacks vs Argentina, the Kiwi TV presenter says to camera “isn’t is amazing that the 4 semi finalists in this tournament will be the same 4 countries in the semi finals in the first RWC in 1987, also held in NZ. Um, hello, a bit presumptuous anyone? Just a little bit rude to our Argentinian friends I think. All Blacks win.

So now our semi final is about to start – our “bogey” game – I think it’s going to be good – go All Blacks!

** update from the semi-finals  – AB’s win, a hard fought game against our favourite foes, Australia, shame it’s not Wales we are meeting in the final, they were robbed by the ref!


Looking Back through my Blog: My 7 Links

It’s a bit presumptuous really, I’ve only been blogging for 18 months, and I’m not exactly prolific – but when I saw people blogging under the #My7Links project I thought it was a really interesting idea put out there by @Tripbase and I really wanted to take part. So after some begging, pleading and grovelling on my part, my lovely southern-hemisphere friend @clareappleyard nominated me to join in.

And then I promptly disappeared for about 10 days on a work project. I’ve finally re-surfaced this evening, I have a nice glass (OK, bottle) of McLaren Vale Cabernet Merlot to hand, and I’ve finally put fingertips to keyboard. So here goes: my 7 links – do you agree with my choices?

My most beautiful post

Twiga (giraffe) in the Ngorongoro Conservation area
Twiga (giraffe) in the Ngorongoro Conservation area

For a while I struggle with the word beautiful – I can’t decide if it should be a blog post of  an experience that I found beautiful, where I think my words are beautiful, or where the pictures are beautiful? Then I remember that my flickr still gets more views per day than my blog, so that might suggest that my photo’s are more “beautiful” than my words, and I plump for a blog highlighting the beautiful ridiculous giraffes of Tanzania, my Tall Tales of Twiga 

My most popular post.

Trinidad, Cuba, colour, music, sun
Trinidad, Cuba, colour, music, sun

How to measure popularity? I’ve scoured my traffic stats, comments and retweets and it seems my most popular post is Hot Salsa Nights in Trinidad, Cuba. Which makes me very happy, because I fell in love with Cuba when I went there a couple of years ago. Every time I am reminded of the people I travelled with, the people I met, the music, the culture, the fascinating combination that is Cuba, well I just can’t stop smiling. I hope the people who read this post get a little bit of the same feeling. Or even better, go to Cuba!

My most controversial post

Folsom St Leather Fair, a San Francisco festival
Folsom St Leather Fair, a San Francisco festival

I am a little bit disappointed that I haven’t really attracted any great controversy. I must be playing it too safe – oh well, a new goal for the future. In the meantime, the closest thing to a controversy I can pull up is a blog post that got me my first really negative comment – as you can tell, I am perversely proud of that. So here’s to the weekly PhotoFriday topic of “street” which inspired my The Eye-Popping Folsom Street Leather Fair, San Francisco blog post.

My most helpful post

Is the Taj Mahal really boring? Agra, India
Is the Taj Mahal really boring? Agra, India

I’m not sure I have ever written anything really helpful. I aim for readable and even interesting, but helpful? So this is a bit tangential but I’m linking this to Top 10 Most Disappointing Travel Experiences. Travel is an amazingly positive experience, but occasionally something I am looking forward to does disappoint me. Maybe it’s helpful to share those experiences with others? To be honest I was hoping at least one of these ten might be controversial but it didn’t start any arguments at all – maybe this time around!

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

A trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar gave me a nice little anecdote about the chances of my luggage arriving on my flight with a particular airline, with a little twist about who you sit next to. So I wrote what I considered to be a little throw-away post based on that anecdote. And somehow Google has picked up on that tag #luggage and has sent a ridiculous amount of traffic to that post. Judging by the bounce rate, I’m guessing most of that traffic wanted something a little bit more retail based. So although it’s successful in traffic terms, it’s really not successful in ‘customer satisfaction’ terms. If nothing else, it’s been a useful learning experience. How to travel without luggage (even if you start with some)

A Post I Feel Didn’t Get The Attention It Deserved

Felucca trip Egypt
Felucca trip Egypt

Let’s be honest – who doesn’t want their blog posts to get more attention! But the one I kept coming back to, that I think might’ve appealed to many more people if only they had seen it, is my story of my  Felucca Trip from Hell.

The Post I Am Most Proud Of

The Tannery, Fez, 1988
The Tannery, Fez, 1988

Wow, this must be like picking your favourite child? I mean, really, I am proud of all of them. Or maybe just proud of myself for even attempting them. So I am going to go out on a limb and nominate Fez, Morrocco – how I got the travel bug. Why am I proud of it? It’s a personal tale of  the moment I realised I had been hit with the travel bug, a moment that really changed my life for the better. I hope you enjoy it.

And to get more people enjoying this fun project, I nominate these five fun & diverse bloggers to also do their 7 links:

@kezisms ;  @capitalwinescraftyclaudes; @rachelhamada; @neanster77

Did I really eat that? – weird and wonderful food in my travels

Discovering the local food has always one of my great enjoyments while travelling. Last weeks #TTOT reminded me of some of the more weird and wonderful foods I have come across in my travels, and also reminded me how one person’s weird is another person’s normal – it really depends on what you grew up eating.

cockroaches, scorpions and more
cockroaches, scorpions and more

Some of my favourite foods I only discovered while travelling (or at least discovered how good they could be in their home country compared to our westernised versions). I loathed oysters until I tried a freshly shucked Sydney rock oyster off a friend’s plate and ended up having to order him another dozen. Then there was ceviche in Peru and sashimi in Japan – yes, raw fish does feature a lot for me.

There was the excitement of trying my first real pasta in Italy, first real burrito in Mexico, first banana pancake in Thailand, first chicken tikka in Pakistan, first croissant in France. Or the entire food menu of South East Asia, which has changed my tastebuds forever. But not everything I’ve tried went on to become a favourite, here’s a few of the weird and wonderful, the bad and the fabulous, that I  may never have sampled if I had not been travelling.

  1. Snails and frog legs.

    Perhaps surprisingly my first taste of snails was not in France, it was in Morocco – djemaa el fna in Marrakesh to be precise. Wandering the stalls for dinner, I was dared to try the bbq’d snails dripping in garlic butter – by a pasty-faced englishman who prided himself on only eating meat and spuds, with no seasoning. So of course I did, and they were a revelation – let’s face it, anything tastes great dripping in garlic butter. At least I went to Paris to try the frogs legs – just like chicken really. I’ve eaten snails many times since but the frog legs were a one-off.

    Frogs legs
    Frogs legs
  2. Squashed prawn heads.

    In Tokyo, enjoying a teppanyaki feast, where the chef kept up a flow of dishes, chopping off the prawn heads and serving up succulent prawn tails in many ways. Then he gathered the prawn heads, smashed them flat on the hot plate so that the brains(?) ran out, fried them to a crisp and handed them over. I really wanted to try them and to not be squeamish, but I only managed half of one – it actually just tasted like a prawn chip but I couldn’t get past the texture (and the antennae).

  3. Tripe.

    I have one firm food rule – no offal (except pate, which I adore – oh well, rules are made to be broken). An overconfidence in my spanish skills lead to me ordering a cheap set price menu in Trujillo, Peru. I couldn’t quite figure out what the meat main was but using a process of elimination of the meats that I did know in Spanish, I decided it must be veal. It wasn’t, it was tripe. That was a very hungry day for me.

  4. Silkworm pupae.

    I had a great day at an open air cooking school in Luang Prabang, Laos, learning to cook delicious chilli hot local specialties. Then our chef threw a handful of small white bug/caterpillar things onto the hotplate, gave them a quick fry-up and offered us a taste. “This is the favourite snack food of all our local children” he said, “they take handfuls of these to school with them every day to snack on”. Well, if it’s good enough for the children. After all, I am a Kiwi, we eat huhu grubs in NZ (except me, never had one). So I pop one in my mouth, send my mind to its happy place and bite down. Yum, crunchy, warm, delicious. I grab a handful and try some more. I might have to try one of those huhu grubs next time I am back in NZ.

  5. Cuy.

    It’s the national dish of Peru, so in Cusco I decide it’s time to try roast cuy. The cuy is a type of guinea pig. I try not to remember that as I order roast cuy for dinner. It gets served whole, lying on it’s back, little feet sticking up, little eyes looking at me. Thank goodness I am a farmer’s daughter – carve up the cuy breast meat and dive on in, it’s like a gamey chicken, and makes an enjoyable dinner.

  6. Armadillo.

    I can’t even remember where I ate this, it might’ve been Mexico or Guatemala. I remember many of the small villages would stop the local buses using a makeshift tollgate, and we would be swarmed by food sellers. There was always a couple of people selling live armadillos, tied up like a live chicken at a market might be. But no, this is not a story of how I bought, killed and cooked my own armadillo. I did however try a dish of armadillo in a restaurant, I’m fairly sure it was in Flores, near Tikal, in Guatemala. Tasted like chicken, looked like crocodile.

  7. Chicken Feet.

    First sampled in London’s Chinatown as part of our Sunday ritual. Tastes so much better than it looks – it’s like the crunchy fatty chicken skin without the healthy white meat under it. Yummmm.

    Chicken feet
    Chicken feet
  8. Piranha.

    Staying at a lodge in the Amazon, fishing with basic hooks and line, there was something deeply satisfying about catching piranha and having the cook dish them up as our dinner stew later on that evening. Piranha are small fish with really big teeth, so while catching them was easy, taking them off the hook was a job reserved for the expert, to avoid too many lost fingers. They are not a good eating fish, each fish delivers up two fillets only an inch or two in size, so it’s a good thing we caught lots of them. That day, it was tourists 1, piranha 0.

  9. All things hoofed.

    I am going to hand number 9 over to East & South Africa and the amazing array of red meat, especially on the hoof. A nightly menu choice of springbok, eland, impala, kudu, gazelle, oryx, eventually I felt that I had sampled every member of the antelope family except bambi. I even extended the list to zebra, ostrich and crocodile. Some was old and tough, but most were delicious.

  10. The one that got away.

    In Beijing, at the Wangfujing night markets, there was a bizarre array of things on sticks – sea horses, scorpions, cockroaches. While most of us foreigners seemed intrigued, I only saw (older) local men actually bite into any of these. I wimped out completely and went for the “toffee grapes” stick – like toffee apples but with grapes – perfect!

So what local delicacies have you tried, and where?

Top 10 most disappointing travel experiences

To come up with the top 10 best travel list? Thats too hard, there are so many to choose from!

But the top 10 most disappointing, that’s more manageable. I’ve always believed that I can find something to enjoy, to appreciate, anywhere I went. And the vast majority of the time that has been true. But let’s be honest, sometimes, not very often, I am really, really, disappointed.  Maybe it doesn’t measure up to the hype, maybe something else interferes with my enjoyment. So at the risk of generating a bit of an argument, in no particular order, here’s my 10 Most Disappointing from 28 years of travel:

  1. Venezuelan beaches. The beaches along the Venezuelan coastline are beautiful, but are ruined by the locals. In short, the beaches are junk yards, with litter throughout the sand and the water. It’s particularly bad if it’s a weekend and the beach is within a daytrip from Caracas. Playa Colorada looks beautiful, but the sand was full of glass, bottle tops, cigarette butts and other litter, and many of the families visiting the beach disposed of their litter each day by throwing it into the sea.

    Playa Colorada, Venezuela, hiding a lot of litter
    Playa Colorada, Venezuela, hiding a lot of litter
  2. Taj Mahal. I have never met anyone else that didn’t love the Taj Mahal so I know I am out on my own on this one. But I can’t help it, when I visited the Taj Mahal I thought “great, looks just like the post card”, then I thought “I should take a photo” , and then I was bored. All those lovely large alcoves are empty,  it’s a big hollow tomb and has no atmosphere. However I loved Agra and I spent hours enjoying the Red Fort, and found the distant view of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort the most interesting way to see the Taj Mahal.
  3. Alcatraz. Reputedly the most visited attraction in San Francisco, and I cannot understand why? The boat trip to the island and back is very enjoyable and provides a great view of either the bridge or the fog, depending on weather. Maybe if I had grown up with the history, with Alcatraz stories, it would’ve seemed more atmospheric. But it’s some old, not really ruined, buildings on a rock, that was once a jail. And Hollywood made some movies about it. I even did the night tour to try and amp up the atmosphere, but it still felt like a school trip to a not very exciting museum.
  4. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. It’s sounds good doesn’t it? The harbourfront wharf, the famous clam chowder. Maybe a few decades ago it was like that. Now it  is a plastic theme park of fast food and tacky souveniers. There is so much good food, great shops, interesting neighbourhoods and great views in San Francisco, so avoid this bit and enjoy the rest.

    Alcatraz, more interesting than it looks
    Alcatraz, more interesting than it looks
  5. the Mona Lisa, the Louvre. Mona Lisa’s smile is the most visited (and best known) art work in the world, housed in a massively impressive building. So by the time you search through the vastness of the Louvre and queue for a while, it’s a bit disappointing to discover the painting is so tiny, and for its own protection hidden away behind perspex. Maybe if I could see if alone, instead of from beneath a rugby scrum, I could appreciate it more.
  6. Dallas, Texas. To be fair, I didn’t choose to go to Dallas as a tourist destination – I was sent there on a work trip – for seven weeks. On the first afternoon I had covered the two things worth getting excited about – SouthFork Ranch (preserving the iconic Dallas TV show) and the Grassy Knoll. With hindsight I kind of wish I had done the second one with the “JFK death route” tour company who drive you along the same route that he took, in an open top limo, and they even play a gunshot sound in the car as it passes the appropriate spot. Sick and yet at least not boring. After that afternoon I was done, Dallas beat me down into sheer boredom. I saved my sanity by racing to the airport every weekend and jumping on a Southwest flight to anywhere else!
  7. Salar de Uyuni. This is a very different kind of disappointment. I was really keen to see this, one of the world’s largest salt lakes and at a high altitude of over 4000 metres, with it’s quirky salt hotels and traditional villages and cottage salt businesses. It’s immense and links Bolivia and Chile. We arrived there during floods. The arid salt flats were under water, not just a normal downpour but a real flood.  The owners of the 4×4 tour vehicles that normally take tours around the salt lakes were not running, as they feared their vehicles will stall and break down in the wet. We finally found one guy who took us a few hundred metres into the vast flats and then chickened out and took us back to the town of Uyuni which was also completely flooded. I am absolutely sure that I will go back one day and see Salar de Uyuni and not be disappointed.
  8. Riding camels. If you read my blog about camels in Morocco, you will understand why I find camels disappointing (as well as scary and distinctly dangerous). Suffice to say, do not ride a camel that is in heat, or is being mounted by another camel. Actually just don’t ride camels, end of story.
  9. Riding elephants. Yes, it does seem like a theme is developing here. I love elephants, they are beautiful, fun animals. In Laos I went to one of the many good elephant sanctuaries that are dotted around South East Asia. I fed the elephants, I stroked them, I talked to them. They were in an idyllic riverside setting next to some stunning shallow pools under the tropical jungle foliage.

I thought an elephant ride would be slow and majestic. It turned out more like an out-of-control rollercoaster. I sit on a wooden plank (seat) with another thin plank for a backrest and a tiny dowling rod across the front of me, to keep me in the seat, all tied loosely to the creature’s back. Suddenly we were climbing up near vertical 3 to 4 metre high mud banks and back down near vertical drops of the same scale – all in deep slippery mud, me at a right angle to the banks. And the elephant was sliding everywhere. Gravity was trying to claim me, and most of the time I had my eyes squeezed tightly shut and was hanging on to the dowling rod for dear life. The mahout, who seemed about 10 years old, was finding it very funny. This picture shows the misleadingly pleasant part of the ride.

The deceptively calm part of the elephant ride, Laos

10. Juliet’s balcony in Verona. Firstly, it is a fake. The “balcony” is an ugly recent addition to the outside of a house, to con tourists out of their money. The queue to get in is like standing in a particularly crowded and dirty subway. Most of the courtyard is a shop selling a variety of red synthetic plush love hearts to separate romantics from their cash. Again, Verona is a beautiful town with much atmosphere, much to see and do, and this little bit of fakery is not a good example of that.

Is there somewhere you’ve been that didn’t live up to your expectations? Anywhere you’d recommend against going as you found it disappointing?

How to lose your luggage, African style

Precision Air Mark I.

We mill around the Arusha airport luggage conveyor belt as it creaks into action. The first bags from our Precision Air flight come out and get grabbed quickly, then… nothing.

After a couple of minutes of nothing, a guy sticks his head through the opening next to the luggage pick up and says, very quietly, “that’s all there is, we left the rest on the tarmac in Nairobi, go see the office” and ducks out again with a brief wave.

He is so quiet, no-one was sure at first what they had heard. Then, as it dawns on us that he did indeed say that, we sprint for the lost luggage office on the other side of the room and form a disorderly queue at the closed window.

About 20 minutes later a staff member appears. He bravely stands on a chair to talk to the crowd. “We had to leave 88 bags on the tarmac in Nairobi, because the flight was too full, the plane was too heavy” he starts, to the sound of hope expiring from 70 people. “There are no more flights tonight, but your bags will come on the flights tomorrow and will be delivered to you. Please line up here so that we can take the reports of your lost luggage and get them back to you tomorrow”. Pandemonium breaks out as he ducks into the office and shuts the door, reappearing at the window.

We discover that he has to take the lost luggage reports from us verbally one by one, while he writes it into the paper form – we are not allowed to write it. This is going to take a while. 45 minutes later, my report is done, and I am only the fifth person in the queue. I get to do fun things like point at a large laminated poster to show which style of bag is most like my missing one. It’s clear this is a regular process. None of us believe we are going to see our belongings the next day, if at all, based on some sound crowd reasoning:

  1. Our bags are in Nairobi, not known as “nairobbery “for nothing
  2. Tomorrow’s planes will no doubt be full as well, so how will our bags fit.
  3. Just about every one on the flight is staying overnight in Arusha and heading off first thing in the morning – for their safari, for their climb of Kilimanjaro, or in our case to join our voluntourism group doing renovations to a school. The bags will never catch up with us.

I take stock – in my day pack I have my camera, my passport, my money. But I don’t have any change of clothes, I have no malaria tablets, and I have no sleeping bag or camp mat – this is not going to be comfortable, but it can be done!

Precision Air Mark II

Having convinced ourselves we will never see them again, our bags arrive the next morning, on the same flight bringing the last remaining people for our tour group. However, their bags do not arrive. Ahh – the airline decided to go for the knock on effect after all! Those bags arrive a couple of days later and do get delivered out to our campsite some hours away. However one lady finds her hiking boots and camera have been stolen out of her locked pack.

Precision Air Mark III

I am flying Precision Air again from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar. Taking no changes, I carry on three large pieces of hand luggage with almost all my belongings stuffed in them, and check in an empty pack.

I am sitting next to a very well groomed local businessman. I notice that all the flight crew are coming up to greet him, as are the other local businessmen on the flight. I ask him “Are you famous, everyone seems to know you?” He chuckles and says” No, not famous, I am just a businessman”. He hesitates for a second and adds “and I started this airline, my name is ***”. “Hi, I’m Vicki”, I reply. He then introduces me to the Tanzanian Finance Minister who has just come up to greet him.

I sit there thinking that all our bags are probably going to turn up when we get off this flight. I am right, not a single missing bag.

Precision Air Mark IV

A few of us met up again in Zanzibar after our Tanzania trip, and a couple of days later we got together in Stonetown for a fun cocktail-fuelled reunion. Turns out four of my fellow travellers had just flown in that afternoon, and their checked in bags never arrived (and were never seen again). Three of them had done what I did, carrying on everything they could as hand luggage. One checked in her bag. She had to borrow clothes off her friends for the rest of the trip.