Wellington welcomes the Chinese year of the rooster

On a windy Wellington day it cannot have been easy to keep the dragons and flags under control.

Thanks to all the participants who help us celebrate our city’s cultural diversity.

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the wind encourages the dragon to escape if it can!

On my way to watch the performers prepare for the parade I come across some non-parade  action outside some Chinese food shops.

. . . and then I went a round a couple of corners to watch the parade assemble

. . . then left to go to the waterfront to watch the parade go by

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See more I’ve written about the year of the rooster

Looking forward, looking back, living in the now

IMG_2649Looking forward, looking back – while living in the now, almost seems impossible. However, living in the ‘right now ’ is how I try to live my day, every day.

use fish market OMAN (45)
Muscat fish market

That doesn’t mean I can’t contemplate the past – in fact as a travel writer I’m often looking at the past as I write stories about something I did last week, last month, or last year. Photos, whether on the wall or on my electronic frame, are constantly reminding me of a great time I had in Oman, Thailand, France or New Zealand.

And of course, photos of special people, now dead, absolutely have me looking back. Nevertheless, all this looking back is very different to wallowing in the past and beating myself up for wrongs done, or praising myself for good achievements or actions. These memories do not stop me living in the now but often inform my now so I hopefully don’t repeat mistakes but do make sure of recurrences of good deeds.

plane overheadLooking forward is easy, especially as I have a wonderful life. A visit to Mongolia later this year means I had to book tickets and make reservations ready for my travels. However, now that is done it’s no use wondering if my flight will be smooth, there will be no delays, or conversely, all my planes will be late, but stay in the now and know that I can and will deal with those events on the day.

Part of living in the now while looking to the future means I’m also reading about Mongolia so when I arrive I will have a little background knowledge to its history and places I’d like to visit. So, I’m reading about Mongolia and living in the day – and doing exactly the same for another trip except that one has all 3, past, present and future.

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Planting mangroves before the RWMF

Malaysian Borneo, had been on my bucket list for many years before I finally got there so planning for another visit means I have evidence from past visits to enhance my current preparations. The Rainforest World Music Festival (in Kuching, Sarawak) is again high on my to-do list. Nearly 2 years ago, I spent some of a birthday there in the middle of a drumming circle – such fun. Meeting people from around the world will again be a highlight there as well as the fantastic international musical programme they’ve planned. As you can see once again I’m in the present, looking at the past, and planning for the future. As I said earlier, I do have a wonderful life – one I do not take for granted, and over the years have worked hard to live this ‘easy and fabulous’ life that people often comment on.

‘Living in the now’, also gives me the luxury of being able to consider my past and plan my future. This is not how I used to live my life -I was never in the now but always wallowing in the past and how awful life had been or looking forward to a day when, somehow, without any effort, I would be plucked from my current position into fame and fortune: it never happened.

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What I didn’t realise was all that time I spent in the past or future was taking up energy for today. I learnt about living in the now but it wasn’t until I started travelling – around the world for a year with no bookings – that I really understood and valued its practice. It didn’t take long for me to realise that if I was worrying about crossing a border tomorrow I could not value the beach I was snorkelling on today. A fabulous lesson that I continue to use.

So, living in the now does not mean I cannot make plans for tomorrow – what it does mean I can make tomorrow’s plan and then carry on living today, not worrying about what the weather will be like or if I will enjoy the movie, all I have to do was buy the ticket or plan to meet someone and then carry on with today’s tasks.

I’m so glad my life does not require me to make New Year resolutions but to keep learning from mistakes and moving forward.

solace
solace

 

 

Swimming with Florida’s manatee (dugong)

It’s satisfying ticking off a bucket list item: swimming with manatee – tick.

With two Florida locals, and three from Mexico, I cruise some Florida canals looking for a 600-kg creature (1322.77 lb). Sirenia are large marine herbivores and are also called sea cows, manatee, dugong and for sailors, mermaids.  It’s not the right season, but a few are permanent residents. We are looking for a fat needle in a large, watery haystack.

The canals are beautiful with expensive real estate and living at the water’s edge are a few ordinary working folks among the rich and famous including John Travolta who has a holiday home here.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge looks after this part of Kings Bay and many locals object to their speed, and other, restrictions. DJ, our young Captain, calls out to a young guy in a hire boat to slow down, to obey the speed limit – he did, but maybe just until we were out of sight.

Manatees, which lack blubber which allows whales tolerate the cold, have a near-perfect winter refuge here as many of the springs produce large quantities of warm (22 c) water.  We’re told that the locals in this de-facto manatee capital of the USA can, from November to March, walk out their doors and see dozens of them swimming or sleeping in the canals.

We pass a boat, with its passengers in the water watching this relative of elephants, but DJ moves on and later, just when I decide my bucket list will not be ticked today, we find a manatee floating on the water like a great grey blimp beside a private jetty.

I’m so excited. The only other manatee I’d seen was in a Disney park many years ago – wildlife in the wild is always different!

“She’s due to pop” our skipper says. It seems no-one has ever seen a birth and a local university has offered $US10, 000 for a video of the event. I immediately check my camera’s video setting, wriggle into a wet suit, then with mask and snorkel on, slip off the back of the boat.

For some reason the water’s very dark at this time of the year which suits the manatee as they can sink and be out of sight quickly.

Keeping well back from this pregnant cow I’m thrilled to be in the water with her. We’d learnt they needed warmth from the sun and her back was out of the water catching sun rays.

Although only a few feet away, the murky water made her hard to see clearly. I just float and admire her while sending mental ‘I love you’, and ‘we won’t hurt you’ messages. We stay in the water for about ten minutes and she’s motionless the whole time. As we get back into the boat she glides slowly into the middle of the canal and I miss her lifting her nostrils to breathe before sinking.

Our boat moves away slowly, heading for the Three Sisters Springs where, in season, photos are taken of the manatees resting in the clear, warm water. It was photos such as them that had put the manatee on my to-experience bucket list.

Once again we slide off the back of the boat, swim past two cruise boats moored between us and the entrance to the springs, then past the barrier that stops boats entering. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop canoes and kayaks and I keep to the edge as many of the boats seem to have passengers who have little control over their direction.

The water is much clearer here and I see how easy it would be to watch them underwater: a reminder that bucket lists sometimes need to be time specific.

Touching protected wild animals, as our captain had suggested we could (none of us did) would never be allowed in many countries, and it’s this ‘swim with manatee’ activity that has conservationists, boaters, some residents, politicians and tour operators arguing over the future of the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversee all wildlife refuge areas and, manage the manatee population too.

In the video shown before we boarded, we were told ‘don’t disturb resting manatees; don’t block them when they are leaving the roped-off areas (where people are forbidden) and don’t touch.’

Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, believes the situation at Crystal River is harassment of the manatees, and is “in direct violation of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.” He advocates stricter rules including requiring swimmers to “stop a body length away from manatees” so they are free to interact, or not, with people. “The majority of the dive shops are trying to do a good job” Rose says, and “If they want to be responsible and protect the privilege they have, which is so unique, then fine. If not, the swim-with program should go.”

Some years ago, in Florida, I’d bought a Wyland (marine artist) print of a manatee and baby and now I’ve seen one – without a baby, so no ten thousand dollars for me.  With its fat, flat, wrinkled face and sensory whiskers, the manatee looks rather like an overweight dolphin or small whale despite not being related to either.

Vulnerable to extinction, the population in this state is under 5000 and it seems that without stronger conservation efforts, these gentle creatures will be consigned to legend status along with the mermaids.

Like New Zealand’s flightless birds, the manatee evolved in an environment with abundant food and no predators.  Now vulnerable, its survival depends on locals and tourists being willing to share its home. If you are travelling in Florida, November is Manatee Awareness month and when you are most likely to see them.

 

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Amish in Florida – photos for Radio NZ talk

I’m talking about the ‘Amish in Florida’ on Radio NZ’s programme Nights (Our Own Odysseys) with Bryan Crump on Tuesday 24th Jan . Here’s a link to the audio and also to my blog about these photos and their pedal-powered buggiesweb3-wheeled-horse-and-buggy web84-years-old-and-still-working-long-hours webbird-houses-are-popular webonly-horse-and-buggy-in-town webquilt-is-are-a-tradition-among-plain-people

Listen in on Tuesday 24th January 2017 at 1910, or check the podcast later

Matiu Somes Island, Wellington harbour (NZ)

In the middle of Wellington Harbour, New Zealand, is a fabulous island. Easy to visit, by the Dom Post Ferry, I have been there quite often and have even stayed overnight a few times.

Matiu Somes Island is a predator-free scientific and historic reserve with a rich multicultural history.

The island is owned by local iwi (Te Atiawa) following a Treaty (of Waitangi) settlement. It is governed by a Kaitiaki Board – of local Maori and DoC (Dept of Conservation)

Since the mid 1800s, it’s been a quarantine station, for people and animals, and during World War 2 was a prison for non-New Zealand citizens.

I had planned a trip there last week but was unable to go, but because of that its been on my mind so thought I’d post a few photos for you. See a previous post about the island here

Visiting one of the oldest Tulou: China’s ancient earth buildings

During my trip to Fujian province in China we visited the Nanjing tulou area which I found absolutely fascinating. Built between the 12th and 20th centuries these earthen buildings are unique to the Hakka people in the mountainous areas of south-east Fujian.

very thick walls ... this one is 5 stories high
very thick walls … this one is 5 stories high

These, mostly round, enclosed buildings with thick rammed-earth walls, are many stories high, and can often house about 800 people.

Forty-six tulou sites were inscribed (2008) by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, and as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization [in a] harmonious relationship with their environment.

Self explanatory
Self explanatory

We only spent a few hours in the area, and as I knew nothing about them before visiting, I will let my photos do the talking – hover over the  picture to see the captions.

However, Wikipedia tells me that the one we visited is called “Yuchanglou (裕昌樓) is a five-storey tulou located at Nanjing County, Shuyang Town, Xiabanliao Village. It was built in 1308 Yuan dynasty by the Liu family clan. It is one of the oldest and tallest tulou in China. Yuchanglou has been nicknamed the “zigzag building”, because the vertical wooden post structure is not straight and perpendicular, but zigzags left and right. It was built that way due to an error measuring the building materials. But in spite of this apparent infirmity, this tall tulou withstood 700 years of natural elements and social turmoil. Yuchanglou’s outer ring is 36 m in diameter and boasts five storeys, with 50 rooms on each floor, 270 in total.

Each of the 25 kitchens on the ground floor at the back half of the circle has a private water well beside its stove. This is the only tulou in all Fujian with such convenient water supply”.

 

I’d certainly visit here again, and stay longer if possible – apparently you can be hosted in one of the tulou.

What is ecotourism?

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of people with passports than most countries, and countries which are poorer are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.row of travel books

I’m a travelophile. Like Asians need rice, Italians pasta, British curry, Kiwi’s fish and chips: I need to travel. 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 have to go the flavour of the month.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not!
My view from Doubtless bay Villas

 

This means I often arrive 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 least impact while providing greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours have often 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.P1124662 travel tips web

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component 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 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 – usually bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hosted me)

We think of New Zealand as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground or dirty air. So, are we conservation minded or is it just our low population that produces less rubbish? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has. Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This is not a New Zealand only problem.

It reminds me 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 beside me, waiting for their turn, to record the moment, is another busload of chattering travellers.

eat local
eat local

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.

TheTravelBook-2-pic for web

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.”

However, help maybe at hand. An organisation called Green Globe 21 is on the rise in New Zealand. Some 200 companies have embraced its ten different indicators for sustainable environmental codes. What is even better is that many local authorities have signed up too. (www.greenglobe21.com)

What can I do? Shop at locally owned places wherever I am; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. Kiwi Host, Green Globe) are a good start.

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.

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIf you’re interested in this topic see my small book about travelling in Borneo which looks at some of these issues too.