No Monday morning walk … but Thursday in Cochin, India

Travel disrupts routines which is great … however it also means I don’t post as regularly.

Here are a few photos from a walk today in Cochin, Kerala (sthn India )

Living the dream is a privilege I value

hh sarawak IMG_2148
Planting mangroves in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo


While searching for a document I found this summary of 1999 I’d sent to friends. What a privileged life I lead – be assured I value and treasure it. 

“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 snorkeled 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 years…. The calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one. Currently the year of the rabbit

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.

Traveled 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 every where including the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s 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 een called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, fox and H as well as Pouhi.

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 watched by kids, 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 use 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 Athens.

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 behavior. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller not a tourist.

Gave blood in Malaysia, broke a toe, and had an allergic reaction and apart from bites have been disgustingly healthy.

And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!

Buddha holds buddha

solo travel or with a group? the pros and cons

Solo travel doesn’t appeal – what about a tour?

Firstly I must declare my prejudice – I am a lone traveller. That is my preference, born out of nature and experience.

My group travel is limited: an overland truck tour on the southern African continent with strangers; plane and bus travel with a group of Kiwis attending an international convention then adding a three-week tour in the USA, and recently, a few days with a group of Californians in New Zealand to do some hiking.  So this column is based on some brief concentrated group travel and observations. Totally biased you could say.

What are the advantages of group travel? As with my African experience, I saw a lot more in a short time than I could have possibly done on my own. Someone else had done the research, created the itinerary, smoothed the way and that gave me an overview of what I would like to do on my return to Africa.

When I’ve discussed this topic with travellers many say it feels safer, is cheaper as they didn’t have to pay a single supplement – the bane of the lone traveller- it’s cheaper also in the bulk buying rates of transport or accommodation and of course, the good company of like-minded people when the trip has a purpose.

Conversely it is not always plain sailing. A snorer like me may be assigned as your room-mate. The Sierra clubbers were great, prompt – no waiting for stragglers as I had to with the group of kiwis – always the same one or two no matter what the threats.

However for me, a low-planning-wanderer, the African trip was hard because in a tour there is no freedom for changing the itinerary. I found places I wanted to explore and couldn’t, and even worse, I felt separated from the very people I wanted to meet.

Although we shopped in markets for supplies we did it in groups of 2 or 3 which made it difficult for us to interact with the locals in any real way.  It seems all tours mostly socialise together, and even when on the bus, truck, or train, seem more interested in talking to each other for long periods rather than take in the views. This mixing together, as on the tours I took, meant I was less aware of local customs, beliefs, or language than when alone.

As you can see, the pros and cons of group travel is really subjective and I’m making sweeping generalisations. I suggest you discuss this with friends who have toured.

However the final difference can look like this:

The tour leader tells you. ‘Tomorrow morning breakfast will be here in the hotel dinning room at 7 30am. We leave for the border at 8 15 so make sure your bags are outside your room ready for collection before you come down for breakfast.’

When alone it is more like this. Wake up at 5 am to the rustling plastic bags of an early riser in the dormitory you are sharing with others. Go wandering the streets at 6 am for breakfast, eat it in the company of tuk-tuk drivers and wonder why every one has both a cup of coffee and tea in front of them. You hire one of the drivers to pick you up at 8am to take you to the border only half an hour away. He takes you but you find you haven’t got a vital piece of paper the last official told you were no longer needed. You struggle with a combination of English and the local language, watch the bus drive through with the minimum of fuss and some two hours later, passport stamped you finally arrive in a new country.

While the tour is exploring the local temples and has a free afternoon to buy souvenirs the bus can carry, it is now time for you to find somewhere to sleep. Lonely Planet’s recommendation is full, has closed or changed its’ name and the next one seems miles away.

Your choice is simple, tour or budget solo,  as I have heard “you pays your money and takes your chances!”

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