Author: Heather - the kiwi travel writer

“Psst … ” I’m offered an illegal money deal. And drugs :)

“Psst … ” I’m offered an illegal money deal. And drugs :)

 

Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad

Kings guards outside the Palace walls

‘Pssst! Want to change money? Opium? Marijuana?’ Women, standing on the steps of the 1901 building, mutter the offer from behind hands and I succumb to temptation.

‘How much?’ I ask and, with that sign of encouragement, I’m whisked into the hidden walkways of the market and negotiations start.

‘Eighteen.’ says the younger one and I laugh, aware that laughter is a good lubricant in Asia.

‘Twenty.’ I reply knowing it’s the rate she gave a young man just 10 minutes ago.

‘Nineteen,’ she tries again to which I give the same reply as before. Conceding, to what is a fair exchange rate she hands me a few rubber-band-held-bundles, each containing, I hope 10,000 kip. A quick flick through convinces me it’s all money and my first illegal transaction is complete.

It’s hard to believe that such huge bundles, casually dropped into my bag, are worth so little: all those zeros are still confusing me. I’m a kip millionaire yet the money is leaking out of my daypack. 3,500 kip to replace a small towel, 15,000 for a basic room, 14,000 for an Indian meal and for another 4,000 I can walk up a gigantic rock hill, Phousi, for a 360-degree view over Luang Prabang, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) the Mekong River and surrounding mountains.

 See more about this book and author here on Amazon

Shopping bags and souvenirs

With New Zealand, and many other countries, reducing or banning the use of single use plastic bags I thought I’d photograph some of my shopping bags.

I often get them as souvenirs when travelling so now when I shop I have good memories of the place they came from. Nothing quite like reliving past travels while getting the groceries.

Here are just some of mine . . .

Where have you bought them as souvenirs?

How to be an ethical traveller – it’s easy peasy

How to be an ethical traveller – it’s easy peasy

How to be an ethical traveller is simple and your ethical choices will make a difference to the people you meet

  • don’t slavishly follow a guidebook – when you do that you will just end up in crowded places.  Do research on any sort of tour you are going on; are they a green company?do they invest back into the community
  • Learn something about the place you go to –  respecting how they act is not the same as agreeing with it – be culturally sensitive, don’t make judgements, be willing to and of learn dress appropriately for where you are
  • buy from locals and eat street food,
  • stay in locally owned accommodation places –   take shorter showers – hang up your towels for reuse.  Don’t waste electricity
  • use local transport when possible – one person in the car is not eco-friendly so always share
  • dispose of your own rubbish correctly – you can even pick up someone else’s rubbish!
  • watch animals in the wild – don’t disturb them – keep your distance – don’t touch or feed them – don’t use flash photography – don’t pose for photos with captured animals – most of which have been beaten into submission
  • minimise your carbon footprint
  • carry your own water bottle and food container
  • refuse straws
  • travel is not a competition – we are not impressed with the number of countries you have visited
Green Viper (Borneo)

Here is an essay I wrote before about ethical travel:

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher percentage rate of people with passports than, say, Americans, for example.  There are also many countries in the world where people will never have a passport  – and of course, poor countries are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.

I’m a travelophile. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not need to go the flavour of the month so can be in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.

This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has the least impact while providing the greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely (but not always) be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home  – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs to the locals – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Unfortunately, tourist money is often creamed the off a country in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them, or multinational hotels who don’t even pay tax in a country.

Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – the very trash that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

I’m reminded of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that alongside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

Combining the universal codes of ‘pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Independent solo traveller’s, or backpackers may be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country– those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a natural part many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sights ( and sites!) and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market the country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. Have we (or travel agents) have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sites they’ must see’, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound could have – buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes from the buses) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This of course is not only a New Zealand problem.

The slogan 100% pure New Zealand was created as an advertising slogan with no reference at all to being clean and green  – what it was talking about in those early days was that we would give visitors a 100% New Zealand experience  –  so pure New Zealand, not a copy of other places.

Sadly, a generation or two later, that has been forgotten, and people often think it means we’re 100% clean and green.

It doesn’t, and we aren’t, but we’re working on it.

Please help us give you a one hundred percent pure Kiwi hospitality and please, please, use our toilets and rubbish containers – do not leave such stuff on the side of the road, or in our bush.

 

 

 

Island Bay … my Monday morning walk

Island Bay … my Monday morning walk

Caught a bus – using my free ‘gold card’ – and headed to a suburb that was originally settled by Greek fishermen and their families.

Enjoy some photos from my walk with my U3A (University of the third age) friends.

Police or scammer? ‘take your f-ing hands off me’, I tell him

Years later I arrive in style

Budapest is home to two million people and transport choices are confusing so I’m pleased an English guy who is at the same home-stay has shown me the way here. ‘Will we find our way back without him?’ I wonder as I join the line of people at the ticket office. We’ve travelled from suburban Budapest to this castle-like building on the edge of the Danube: the journey – by bus, metro then trolleybus – baffled me.

Underground tunnels, where I lose all sense of direction, lead to the metro station where men and women were standing, almost silently, with their meagre goods for sale. Underwear, jackets, baby clothes, food, all held up to our gaze: only the eyes of the sellers asking us to buy. Their silence is daunting: their poverty makes me ashamed that yesterday I stole a train ride from this city, in a country that’s just emerged from a communist regime.

I was travelling by underground to a posh hotel for an all-you-can-eat afternoon tea when I didn’t buy a ticket – and was caught. Leaving the station two Aussies and I were approached by three or four inspectors. ‘Tickets’ they snap and we search our pockets for the non-existent items. I feel guilty, then intimidated, when they tell us we will have to pay an exorbitant fine. ‘We have no money on us,’ I lie.

‘I will call the police. You have to pay,’ said heavy number one. His dark-haired, surly partner joins in.

‘Give me your passports; I will see if our supervisor will let you pay less.’

‘I haven’t got my passport with me,’ wails one of the young women.

I don’t carry mine around either then suddenly memory warning-bells clang at the mention of passports and I recall being cautioned about such a fraud. ‘Be careful of bogus ticket inspectors,’ our bus driver had said, ‘they run scams to get money.’ My brain tells me that genuine inspectors would not be asking for passports.’ These guys are not for real, I’m not paying’ I say, ‘let’s go,’ and turn to walk off.

‘Stop! Stay here!’ shouts one of the heavies and grabs my wrist.

‘Take your fucking hand off me.’ With a quick flick that amazingly removes his grip, I walk towards the exit. An Aussie races past me, a moment later the other does the same while I continue in the same measured, but fearful pace – expecting the police or heavies to grab me at any second. Relieved to see my young friends waiting at the top of the stairs, I burst into hysterical laughter. ‘Boy, you two can run!’

‘Take your fucking hand off me,’ they mimic. ‘Wait until we tell the others what you said. No one will believe you’d talk like that.’

‘Well I know I’ll buy tickets in future. That was scary!’

Excerpt from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad by Heather Hapeta – the kiwitravelwriter

The ‘navel of the world’ erupts on Bali – I was warned about its powers

The ‘navel of the world’ erupts on Bali – I was warned about its powers

With Mt Agung erupting again it seems appropriate to repeat the warming I was given when staying, for a month, on the lower slopes of the holy mountain some years ago, by reposting this.

Don’t go in the men’s shower. If you do the water will stop.” Within minutes of arriving at Tirta Gangga, Bali, I’m shown the bathing area and warned.wshing cattle

The day winds down, birds become silent, bats replace swallows swooping over the rice fields, frogs start their nightly chorus, and men and women call to each other as they bathe in communal showers.

The water is from the Tirta Gangga  (Holy water of the Ganges) on the lower slopes of Gunung Agung – the 3142 metre, conical volcano that the Balinese consider the ‘navel of the world.’

Lying on cushions and gazing at the night sky I can understand why locals believe that heaven is paradise and paradise is Bali.

Of course it depends on the Bali you experience. Apart from two days in Ubud and Sanur, my Bali does not include the tourist traps of bars and cockfights – so this little village on the Indonesian archipelago feels like heaven to me.

I relax into the rhythms of the locals: early to bed, early to rise and lots of jalan jalan – walking aimlessly – and around each corner I find new and even better vistas.

My camera clicks its way through the rice fields in the various stages of cultivation: burning, flooding, ploughing, planting, weeding, cutting, threshing, and finally, drying the kernels on the sun-warmed roads. It’s here that photos of sculptured rice fields are taken for the postcards you’ll send your envious friends and family.

Tirta Gangga has grown around the Water Palace, which was built in 1947 by King Karangasem and is his final resting-place. Although the palace and pools were damaged by an eruption of the sacred mountain in 1963, it’s been restored to its past glory.

water palaceThe water in the pools flows down the mountain in a constant, cool, clear stream, and is the lifeblood of the area. Locals believe swimming in the palace pools washes away their sins and the palace grounds are the centre of activities; I attend a concert there. The extended family – of the owner of my rented bungalow – and I share a picnic of fruit (mangosteen, banana, jackfruit) and nasi campur from the local warung (foodshop) while we listen to traditional and modern music and songs.

Balinese have only four first names, translating as one, two, three, and four, and which are given to both sexes. Wayan, the housekeeper, is a great source of information about customs and language. As in most Pacific islands, the yard is swept twice daily and a layer of dirt is removed along with any stray leaf, stone or blade of grass that dares to grow. Every evening, after she has bathed and changed into a good sarong with the usual temple scarf wrapped around her waist, Wayan, often with flowers in her hair, performs a ceremony. Small offerings or gifts are given to various deities to ensure all is well for us – a combination of thanks, prayers, and pleas for protection. Incense, flowers, and rice are placed at the entrance to the property, the bedrooms and kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, in the dinning room and, of course, in the spirit-house and small temple which every home has.

Each day I walk and each day people ask “Apa kabar? Mau ke mana?”(How are you, where are you going?) Each day I reply, “ Bagus. Jalan jalan” (I’m good and just walking.)rice padi feilds

blessing the houseWandering around these beautiful hills and valley, from one village to the next I see a very different Bali to that of most tourists. I sit and watch women carrying huge loads on their heads; see fields being ploughed and rice threshed; the activity at the market; children walking to and from school and talk with the hairdresser with his bicycle hair-dressing salon on the side of the road. I also see cattle being lovingly bathed, roosters having their feet soaking in the streams to ‘strengthen their legs’, and children weeding the fields to feed the pigs.

I become part of a farewell party. Flowers are strewn over the ground, incense is burning, and the men are drinking spirits from Lombok.  Old men lead the singing and laughing exposes their betel-stained teeth.

As the cliché says- the best things in life are free – and so it is in Bali. Orange sunsets, green rice fields, a rich culture and best of all, getting off the well-worn tourist trail is still possible.

Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

read this and start packing

” ‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.

I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.

Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.

the author sets off on her adventure

We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.

“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!

Close your mouth. Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.

“Whew that was close!’ Adrenaline is surging through my body. I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.

True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me! In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.

Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.”

Read more in ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ by Heather Hapeta. Available as an ebook on Amazon etc.

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village