Do you, should you, travel after a terrorist threat?

The KiwiTravelWriter in Sabah

Are you thinking about travel in areas that have had various forms of trouble or terrorism recently? If so I offer this quote from one of my books, subtitled Can this travel writer be green? See here on Amazon  

“It’s providing this familiar food and experiences which Rooksana Hossenally talks about in the Huff Post article, Sustainable Tourism: barking up the wrong tree In wanting to adapt themselves completely to the lay western tourist, but as the recession bites and trends change, the countries are slowly losing their visitors who prefer to go somewhere that offers better quality holidays comprised of a more authentic experience at a destination closer to home. But already ruined by the Parador model, it is too late to overturn these countries’ initial short-sightedness. When money is lacking, why pay significantly more to travel halfway across the world when exactly the same infrastructure and weather is available a two-hour flight away?

I agree, it’s the differences most people travel for, and although hotels need to provide for the person who is unwell and needs, or wants, familiar food, it should be a tiny part of the menu. Tourists who want the same services everywhere will always go to the closest place, the fashionable destination, the place with the best bang for their buck.

As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, quake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s the tourists who cancel their bookings, and the travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who continue with their travel plans. It’s their differences that all countries need to cultivate and celebrate. Uniqueness attracts real travellers and provides the steady tourist dollar. Activities like the Batang Ai treetop walk nature walk, and our quirky guide, could not be replicated.”

So, would I travel to London, UK; or France right now? Of course I would and so would all other travellers -the chances of being affected by such events are small, and the chance of being killed – even smaller.  I guess I’m a traveller not a tourist – what would you do travel or change your destination?

Nevertheless, I’m not going to London, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or France – as, in 3 weeks I’m off to Mongolia, for 10 days, and after that down to Malaysian Borneo, (Sabah & Sarawak) then over to Penang on Malaysia’s Peninsula. After that who knows! Of course am always open to suggestions or invitations. :):):)

 

20th #RWMF in Malaysian Borneo – music music music

 

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2013
Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is an amazingly eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians performing. It lasts 3 days and the musicians, as well as performing on one of the two main stages each evening, they also lead amazing workshops.

Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival

All this happening in the Sarawak Cultural Village  only a short distance from The City of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

I’ve been to the festival three times, and my fourth magical weekend starts in 51 days – at the 20th Festival (14-16 July 2017) This award-winning festival has, this year, musicians from: USA, Wales, China, Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa, UK/India, Cape Verde, Guinea, Colombia, Tahiti, Finland – to name just a few! As I said, eclectic with a capital E. Check the performers list on the #RWMF website – and follow the hashtags. (and this blog of course – more links to my social media here)

A typical day starts around 2pm with many workshops and interactive activities with the bands and other performers in the wonderful setting. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large, and always, enthusiastic crowd.

It’s not fair to try to sort out my favourites to check out, but I will. They are: Two South African bands – Abavuki and Kelele  – who will be performing at the #RWMF) at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

  • Abavuki means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language, and it seems they will offer “energetic and multi-instrumental performances which mix traditional rhythms of the South African people as well as more modern styles of kwaito, samba and Jazz.”

Based in Cape Town, it seems Abavuki’s high-energy afro-beat music “reflects their optimistic outlook on life, music-making and the resilience of the South African people.”

  • Kelele –  a minimal-instrument band – use their voices as the focal instrument.

They are keeping traditions alive with melody and harmony, maintaining the age-old African oral tradition of storytelling through song, passing on history, folktales and lessons in life over generations.

Accompanied by tradition instruments like the mbira dzavha dzimu (the finger piano), the uhadi (the traditional bow instrument of the AbeXhosa people), the umrhubhe (another bowed instrument) and the talking drum of the Nigerian Yoruba people.

  • On a very different note – and continent – I’m also looking forward to hearing Pareaso from Korea. These four young musicians will blend “serene spirituality and rhythmic pulse on the daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang,  janggu, gayageum and vocals”.

Of course, with so many to choose my favourites from, I have no doubt that when I next read the bios about more talented musicians, I will add more to my list.

Will I see you there? Who are you looking forward to hearing and, or, dancing to?

Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF

 

 

 

Packing for out-of-season holidays and vacations

sorting my carry-on bag on a previous trip

Taking a break, vacation or holiday – whatever you may call it – in the opposite hemisphere to your home can be an advantage when packing. Out-of-season sorting can also be a pain. For me it’s a mix of both.

Living in an apartment, and with too many clothes, means twice a year I either store, or unpack, my winter or summer clothes. The disadvantage of this is that in our New Zealand winter it’s those thicker clothes that are hanging in my wardrobe (or closet as Americans call them) and I’m needing some summer clothes for travelling in the northern hemisphere – in their summer.

I’m in the middle of this process now, and as I begin to put some light clothes aside, now that it’s mid-autumn, (fall) I’m also considering what I need for 5 weeks of travel in Mongolia and Malaysia – Penang, Sabah, KL, and Sarawak.

This means a shelf in my wardrobe for possibles and/or essentials and, at the end of one railing, coat hangers of the same – possibles, probable, or definite. The advantage for this sorting – about 3 months before my travels – is that, when the time comes to pack my bag, I have fewer options to consider. And, as it will be close to travelling time it will be easier to make quick decisions and of course, not overpack.

On the shelf, along with ‘must take’ items like aqua shoes, swimming gear and sarong, will be a list that I can add to as I think of things. Once again it means my packing will be considered, rather than rushed, and therefore lighter, rather than heavier. As I have said in other blogs about packing, take anything out that has been put in your bag for ‘just in case’.

As always, my travels will be a mix of conditions. Business meetings, a rainforest music festival, Mongolia’s National festival, hiking in national parks, snorkelling at a resort and, exploring city streets and restaurants: my clothes need to be suitable for a range of activities. They also need to be, for me, easily washable in my room. I also expect my check in luggage – on my outward journey – to be 15kgs (about 33lb) or under.

My carry-on bag will have my electronic gear, and e-reader and eye mask, travel docs etc for on the plane, and a few items in case of an unexpected stopover, or for me in this case, a 13-hour layover in Beijing.

So, while Wellington airport is closed because of fog, on this dull day I’m sorting summer clothes for winter travel. Just checked the calendar – it’s exactly 13 weeks today that I fly out, and most of my gear is sorted!

Time to apply for my visa.

 

 

 

What’s the right way to eat?

Despite having a wee kitchen, the size of a yacht galley, I love food. And, living alone, I whip up few culinary delights – even though I attended one of the first cooking schools in Thailand; managed a café in Athens for couple of months’ mid-season, and even worked as a sous chef in Wales – in an Italian restaurant, under a French Chef. I’m like the Guardian’s Jay Rayner, ‘a greedy’ eater, and like him, I love smelly foods like blue cheese and durian.

only 12% of westerners like durian – I am one of them

When I was a vegetarian it was difficult to be sure no chicken had sat in the soup water despite having learnt to say I don’t eat meat in a dozen different languages. “Vegetarian meal? No problem, here is chicken, fish or pork.” As long as it has no red meat some assumed it was vegetarian. “No – no meat, no chicken no pork. Rice please. No, no soup on it” I’d say as they carefully scooped some liquid and left the chicken pieces floating in the fatty cauldron.

Some countries are easier to travel in when you don’t eat meat however even some Buddhists eat meat. During those vegetarian days, the best place I found for vegetarian meals was a small suburb in Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia) If you are going there, write out these directions – I hope they’re still there as I’m going back in a few months.

Go to the reclining Buddha (walk or bus from town) then cross the road to visit the peaceful Buddhist temple and when you have finished looking, go out the front gate – turn left, walk a kilometre down the road to a T-intersection, turn left and stop at any food shop. I guarantee it will be fantastic.

food features large in our travels

I also know you will ask, as I did, “Are you sure this is vegetarian? No meat?” They were amused. Yes, no meat. They have developed creative and tasty ways of using tofu in its many forms – I forget what ethnicity they were.

After a few years, I gave up being vegetarian and would join locals and try their cultural delicacies such as crocodile, haggis, and in Cairo, pigeon stuffed with green rice. My stomach still continues its cast-iron behaviour of allowing me to eat everything put in front of me.

However, for many, apart from tummy problems there is a down side to travel: you’ll be destined to be rich in many ways but will be cash poor. You could be infected with a disease to which there is no known antidote; the travel bug.

Travel also gives you, a new way of thinking. Long held “truths” no longer seem true when viewed from a different culture, a different perspective.

A simple example is eating. Most New Zealanders are taught to eat with a knife and a fork. Knife, in the right hand, for cutting and the fork, in the left, for hold the food then placing it in our mouth – in other words the “right” way.

this crispy fish was delicious

Of course, in other countries this is not the ‘right’ way. In the USA, the fork is in the left hand; in Thailand food is cut to bite-sized pieces during the preparation process and a spoon is used to eat, other Asian cultures use chop sticks, another country, their right hand. To each culture their way of eating is the ‘truth’. But what about other ‘truths’.

Travel is intensified living, nothing can be taken for granted. It’s like having a new pair of glasses, we see often things, and ourselves, more clearly. Nothing is familiar, we are constantly aware of, or curious about, what is happening around us. We watch the interaction between people and try to decipher it. Body language is different from place to place and our previous knowledge of the rules of interaction no longer apply. And that’s one of the reasons why we travellers love travel.

‘Have a coffee with me’ an old man indicates – I do. Muscat fish market, Oman,

Why travel? Why not! Traveller or tourist, armchair or plane, life is richer not poorer, enriched not impoverished, colourful and, certainly never dull.

But, knowing all that, and knowing to always use a spoon in Thailand – and not to put a fork in my mouth while there – or lick a knife in New Zealand, why oh why do I get so uptight when I don’t get a soup spoon to eat soup?

teaspoon, dessert, soup, servin

Guess those old ‘rules’ that I was raised  on are right there, just waiting to be used. Nevertheless, however I’m eating, I assume that somewhere in the world it is the correct way to eat, the ‘proper’ etiquette – I may just be misplaced at times.

 

 

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.

hh-planting-mangroves-before-the-annual-borneo-rainforest-world-musisc-festival-part-of-their-greening-the-festival-event-kuching-sarawak-borneo
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.

luggage 20141001_091331

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

 

 

Connecting dots – from a book group to a national historic landmark

Life is funny sometimes – it arranges connections between things then ensures you follow the dots. I’ve had such an experience recently.

Mid-2016 my book group had set the topic American politics as our subject for reading around. Given that it was election-year I was actually sick of American politics as even in New Zealand our TVs were full of it.

So, while some chose history, others presidential (or hopefuls) biographies, I went looking for stories about the wives – and of course it was only wives given America has never had a female leader.

I found one about Betty Ford, called Betty a Glad Awakening – I chose this as, it wasn’t current times, I knew an A&D counselor who had attended the opening of the treatment Centre in LA that bears her name, and have known people who have attended a rehab centre – so thought this topic and book could be of interest. It was.

The next connection, or dot, along the way was a couple of months later hearing a presentation in which the speaker talked about an article in a Times Magazine and a list of ‘80 days that changed the world’.

Not having seen it, but interested, I looked it up and found, among these most diverse days of . . .
The First Talking Picture
The Overlooked Miracle
The Mouse That Roared
Wall Street’s Bad, Bad Fall
A Disobedient Saint’s March
Movies’ Moral Crackdown
Birth of the Superhero
Storming into Poland
Churchill Takes Charge
What I Saw at Pearl Harbor
D-Day: Saving a Continent
Flying Faster than Sound
The Dawn of Israel
New China is Born
. . . and at number 13 in the Time’s list, ‘AA Takes Its First Steps’ – a loose connection to the book.

Two days later I’m visiting the historical home (Stepping Stones) of one of AA’s co-founders Bill W and his wife Lois. stepping-stones-webimg_9562

So, that’s why I say life is funny: that a thread ran through my life this year – from a topic in my book group in Wellington New Zealand, to visiting New York, USA, to hearing about a magazine article, and as a result, visited Stepping Stones which has been a national historic landmark since 2012.

All I can suggest is check out the list and see if any connect dots in your life, holiday, or interests.

 

 

 

 

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.