Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
The time has come for me to hang up my blogging pen and camera.
With Covid-19 ruling the roost and very little or no international travel on the horizion, I’ve decided to stop blogging – soon.
I have an IT professional collating my 1200 plus blogs into one file so I can keep them for future family fun. (and proof of my copywrite should any plagerisim happen and I want to persue the culprets) I suspect I’ll stop at the end of this year … but I will continue writing in some other way.
My next blog will be about my travel writing career which started in 1998 with a magazine story about canoeing down the Zambezi river.
Hopefully you will enjoy my last blog posts about travel – for now anyway. 😀 let me now if you have questions or requests re topics you would like me to write about.
So you want to be a travel writer, you want some tips?
Okay, first of all, after teaching travel writing over many years I can tell you most people never get published – sad but true. In fact, that’s why I stopped teaching – it didn’t feel right to be encouraging an almost impossible dream. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, you will find there are and fewer places for you to send your work to, and the competition is high.
You will also find that you will not be swanning around the world with free airline tickets accommodation in five-star hotels and meals at fancy restaurants – again, sad but true.
I’m sure your friends and family tell you that you write really well, that you should be a travel writer, that in fact, you should write a book. That may well be true, but and this is a big but, editors do not want articles sent to them that is really like a letter you sent your grandmother about your time in Rome; or the one to your girlfriend about the romantic date you had with a dishy Italian.
Something else that stops people fulfilling the dream to become a travel writer is a discipline and hard work it takes! It’s not just the writing, you will also need to be your own travel consultant, tax advisor, receipt keeper, bookkeeper, bookings maker, PR person, media and it is a chaser, and of course photographer. Oh, one more thing, you also don’t get paid until the editor actually prints your work – so make sure you have some cash hidden away.
However, if you love to travel, if you love to write, if you love to take photos, this is a great job: in fact, I think I have the best job in the world. I’m on the bottom of the food chain, but I have a great lifestyle. Sometimes I do get airline tickets and five-star accommodation too but that’s because people know my work and believe they get value for money from me. What’s even more confirming is that I have been invited more than once to the same place by the same tourism agencies.
I started travel writing after a year-long trip around the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe. On my return to New Zealand, I took a small writing class where I was encouraged to send some of my travel stories to local newspapers and magazines. To my amazement, they were all accepted and cheques were sent to me – I immediately decided I would be a travel writer. It seemed it was that easy, but no over the following years, I received many ‘no thank you’ letters, or, as you will find out, silence from editors. Yes, that’s right, most don’t even answer.
at work in Malaysian Borneo
RWMF Kuching, Sarawak
Pelican in Florida
Hippos kill manypeople
Canterbury, New Zealand
Nevertheless, if you decide to become a travel writer here are just a few tips – I don’t do these all the time, but mix-and-match to suit the occasion, and more importantly, the style of the magazine or newspaper I’m pitching to. As I am not a journalist, I very rarely approach editors before my travels – this is because mostly I’m a traveller who writes, not a writer who travels. Sometimes I have an idea of stories before I go, but usually, I just go exploring and stories find me. Back to that list of tips.
And, there are more in my travel memoir “Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad
The basics: Learn about the place by talking to locals. Don’t interview the computer or guidebook your readers can do that for themselves
Don’t write about places you haven’t been to -unless of course, you are doing a story about your bucket list
Get lost – the best stories are not always in the main tourist destinations but in the back roads and streets of places
Take notes, ask questions, get quotes, and note colours smells and tastes
Avoid clichés like the plague – although I’ve just used one because occasionally they’re useful
Lose the ‘best-kept secrets’, ‘city of contrasts’ and ‘unspoilt gems’. Why do lodges always ‘nestle’ at the foothills or ‘perch’ vulture-like atop a mountain with ‘breath-taking views’ over a ‘rustic’ village?
Find a fresh angle to the story. Rarely will you find a place that has not been written about so find something original to grab a reader’s attention?
Be realistic and tell the truth – in other words, talk about the filth, the cruelty to horses, the stray dogs or what seems to be, starving camels eating cardboard from rubbish dumps.
This should have been my first tip: Read, read, read: Rinse and repeat, frequently. Good reading will make you a better writer. You will never develop your own voice and style without reading.
Along with reading you need to write, write, write, even when you don’t want to. Paint a picture with words for your reader
Add some historical or political context to add to the point. As Thomas Swick wrote in Roads Not Taken ‘It is the job of travel writers to have experiences that are beyond the realm of the average tourist, to go beneath the surface, and then to write interestingly of what they find … Good travel writers understand that times have changed, and in an age when everybody has been everywhere (and when there is a Travel Channel for those who haven’t), it is not enough simply to describe a landscape, you must now interpret it.’
Write about your local area, become a travel expert on your own city. [When my city, Christchurch, New Zealand had the quakes in 2010/11 I was inundated with requests for up-to-date information and I ended up writing travel webpages for prestigious travel companies and airlines
Don’t forget the old adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ and as Stephen King would tell you – lose the lazy ‘ly’ words, ditch the adverbs and flowery descriptions and find the perfect verb instead.
Sometimes, others would say always, end with a punch or at least captures the point of the story. Don’t dare say you ‘can’t wait to return’ – it’s been done to death.
When your piece is finished, read it out loud. Edit. Read again. Run the spellcheck- put your work aside for some hours or days, or even weeks, then read it out loud again then, and only then send it to an editor. But, make sure you have read their publication again and again so you know their style, and if they ask for 800 words that means 800 words. Not 802 not 850 but 800.
where to next?
Hone at Waitangi
Mumbai train station
NZ traffic jam
If they require photos send your best half a dozen and caption them.
And some final points, don’t tell people what you going to write as you can lose the essence of the story. Be like the Nike advert and just do it
Don’t write for free. Let me repeat that don’t write for free. If it’s worth publishing, it’s worth paying for. You don’t need a portfolio to start, the editor is only interested in the piece in front of them.
Start a blog, practice writing there, give it away free there: I have had many invitations to events and countries (and that’s not easy when you live at the bottom of the world) by people who have found me through my blog. And of course,
you need to be on all social media to encourage all those eyeballs over to your blog.
While searching for a document I found this email summary of 1999 which I’d sent as a Christmas letter. What a privileged life I’ve led, one I value and treasure it’s a sort of GRATITUDE LIST from just one year!
“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba dived and snorkelled off the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia;
I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist temple and did a cooking course in Thailand.
Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.
Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.
Celebrated four new year’s: on the calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one.
Stayed in little villages, large cities and islands.
Climbed: up into Buddhist temples, and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to boats.
Travelled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.
Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4-star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!
I’ve danced. . . on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.
Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and needed a blanket for the first time for ages
Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.
Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap everywhere including on the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s hairdressing shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens by an Aussie
Made music with bongo drums, spoons sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.
Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother in Malaysia and a mother-in-law in Thailand. And I’ve been called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, Fox, H, as well as Pouhi (which I think is chubby in Thai!)
Ate in night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes – including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!
Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.
Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.
Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poison-ness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water, and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated water.
Been to the toilet: on a boat -watched by kids on the riverbank; on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms; off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and used my right hand for eating and greeting!
Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia, served pancakes, nasi-goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in an Athens hotel cafe.
Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.
Met people from all over the world was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners’ attitudes and behaviour. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller, not a tourist.
Given blood in Malaysia, broken a toe, had an allergic reaction [written in 1999 and I now can’t recall what it was!] and apart from insect bites have been disgustingly healthy.
And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
I feel the same way about my photographs. I’m never bored as going through them I get to travel the world yet again and for that, I’m really grateful.
I feel sorry for those, in these times of the Covid -19 pandemic, who have saved and planned for years and who have had their one big dream travel trip cancelled – mostly with their money down the drain. I too have had trips cancelled, but at least I’ve had years of travelling the world, mostly solo, and have accumulated numerous memories. My photos are merely prompts – I even have a box of photos for friends and family, or dementia ward staff, to use to prompt me. Just a little forward planning for something I don’t think will happen is luckily for me, there has been little cognitive degeneration and my family. Here’s hoping that continues.
I look at my walls and my living area and see photos of, the salt plains of India, a Buddha in a tree trunk rubbish bin, sunrise over a river in central India, a promiscuous monkey at a national park in Malaysian Borneo, and finally, post 2010/11 quakes in Christchurch, a huge bronze bull on top of a bronze grand piano. The stories behind each of these photos, like Oscar’s diary, give me sensational memories.
Here are some more photos, each which have a story behind them, and right now, in fact, especially now – in lockdown, I can write a story in my mind as I wandered down my memory lane of travels. I’m grateful for the life I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen, and all my memories.
Reposting this. What advice would you give me? Should I (would you) travel to China in 2021? I look forward to hearing your opinions.
The Yangtze is the lifeblood of China; a vital artery from the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau to the spectacular East China Sea. It weaves among fertile agricultural lands, through towering limestone gorges, past hidden villages and into the heart of great cities.
Today, 5th May 2020, I’d booked to fly out of Auckland, New Zealand, to cruise the Yangtze on this riverboat. I was going to ’. . . . step back in time in the historic Kuanzhai Alley of Chengdu, known for its traditional teahouses and vibrant outdoor dining scene; witness the landscape fly by on a high-speed rail experience, and then embark on a four-night cruise aboard the Century Sky or Century Glory river ship. Cruise along the Yangtze in comfort, admiring the ever-changing scenery from bustling cities to remote villages and hilltop pagodas. Visit Yichang, gateway to the Three Gorges; and stop in colourful Chongqing, known as the ‘Mountain City’. Relax on board, or take advantage of optional tours such as the Three Gorges Dam, Shibaozhai Pagoda, and an in-depth tour of Chongqing.
I do have a replacement voucher to do this trip in 2021 — I wonder if it will happen post-Covid-19?
I wonder if I will get to weave some Yangtze River notes I made– from China’s Water Crisis by Ma Jun 2004 pub: EastBridge. [Originally published 1999 by China Environmental Sciences Publishing House] for an article or two. here are a few
quote: it was alongside a river where Confucius said: thus do things flow away, never ceasing day and night
China’s landmass is drained by the river, 6300 km long, more than 700 tributaries
‘one does not have to be a hydrologist or an environmentalist to see in an instant that the Yangtze these waters are just about as muddy and turgid as the yellow River is and there is garbage and other waste everywhere. P.45/46
1949 after it took over, the Chinese Communist Party right away started pumping money into taming the Yangtze p. 46
the expression ‘great river flowing eastward’ represents the role the Yangtze has played in Chinese geography, certainly for centuries if not millennia p.47
numerous rhinoceros, deer, fish, turtles, and alligators thrive in cloud Lake and dreamlike to huge wetlands between the Yangtze and it’s tributary the Hun. P.48
Oh well, it was fun planning and researching – hopefully, this time next year I will be on this boat enjoying my cruise!
What can I say, there is no doubt I am a lockdown failure. I’d originally planned to do heaps of things during this time of being alone in my apartment. Here are just a few:
improve my level of te Reo Maori (the Maori language)
visit art galleries and museums around the world
write numerous blogs
complete a bio of my life – only halfway through it
eat well – succeeded but just ate too much
catch up on my reading pile – sort of completed (but bought more for my e-reader)
However, what I did do was travel. Armchair travel via a few of my thousands and thousands of photos and I’ve set aside a few to show you.
So this is the first of my gratitude blogs. I still cannot believe that someone who had only left New Zealand a couple of times before I was 50 years old (a couple of weeks in Australia, and a month in the USA -mostly the Pacific Northwest.
Looking at my photos I’m amazed at the amazing life I’ve led. So in no particular order, and chosen for no particular reason, here are a few of my memories – memory lanes I’ve slipped down while I should have been exploring or studying all sorts of things.
King of Cambodia shakes hand with me
glad I’m a travel writer
I’m given some tea by a salt pan family. Gujarat
Rain Forest World Music Festival Sarawak, Malaysia
Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.
And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling. I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”
Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world I am going to keep on travelling.
Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,
I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.
Navratri festival .. longest dance festival in the world
Ernakulm, Kerala, India
Drummer boy, Ernakulam, Kerala
Florida well caught
So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.
What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required. they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.
I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).
If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.
a few of my clippings
and just a few more!
So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.
A circus in Siem Reap? Absolutely! And, it’s become one of the city’s biggest attractions – and has a positive social impact.
Siem Reap, Cambodia, of course, has the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the awful, infamous Pub Street but it also has many charity and community projects like Phare Circus which aid this still-troubled country. (see also my blog about the HeroRATS) Both initiatives benefiting great causes as do many of the places we visited, ate at or bought from during our week there.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak – a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province – a few years ago I spent a week in Battambang, (on the other side of Tonle Sap) right opposite the market and loved it.
The Phare Ponleu ‘helps vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association.’
When I, and a friend, attended the circus, it meant we were doing more than paying to be entertained: our money benefited the growing arts scene in Cambodia, that is, helping talented young people get the opportunity, income, or training access in which to develop, and showcase, their skills.
The Phare Circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. We loved it and talking to the young people after the show reinforced the value of attending.
Shows, each of a different theme or ‘tale ’change about every eight days. It seems tales, and sayings, are a big part of the local culture and the circus is an extension and visual representation of this with the moral of the shows often being about facing your fears in order to overcome them. The performance we saw was about being different, and bullying – combining laughter, happiness, music, and entertainment in a superbly presented show.
I recommend getting advance reservations during high season. (November through April) as performances sell-out most nights during this period.
It’s more than ‘just’ a circus, and the performers use – with energy, emotion, enthusiasm, and talent – theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories – historical, folk and modern. What’s even better – no animals!
All the Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s – an association which was formed in 1994 by young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime.
“They were greatly helped during that time by an art teacher using drawing classes as therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.”
Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage, money that takes them out of poverty and provides self-respect and freedom. Many of the performers have gone on to be employed by the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Phare Circus also travels the world so you may see them in your backyard!
Phare, The Cambodian Circus is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through ticket, refreshment, merchandise and private performance sales support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. It is one of the business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, along with Phare Creative Studio. Other business units will come soon. The circus survives through sales of tickets, merchandise, refreshments and private events. Ideally, the business will do better than just pay bills, but also make a profit from these activities. The majority shareholder is Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO School. Therefore, the majority of the profits go to support the school’s free education and social support programs to 1200 students daily.
Circus Phare The Cambodian Circus a responsible, social business in many other ways too. While always keeping an eye on making a profit to send to the school, other efforts are made to benefit society when possible. We both bought some items in the Phare Boutique shop as it supports local artisans and craftspeople. (higher quality souvenirs or gifts than you will find in the big markets – where many items are imported ☹) Royalties for each show performed -that was created at the school – are paid to the school before profit is calculated. The business invests a great deal in the personal and professional development and the welfare of the artists and staff and participates in many community activities, sharing art with Cambodian people who otherwise might not be able to experience it.
The school survives mainly on donations and earns some revenue through sales of show tickets, merchandise and refreshments, but it depends mainly on donations. Maybe you can help – each little bit helps – and, if I get back to Cambodia, I plan on visiting the school.