Novel Ideas

17 11 2008

“This Hemingway guy writes so well, I feel like I’m actually in Africa!”  (Kicheche Camp, Kenya)

There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book whether on a rainy night at home or to help kill time during a 5-hour layover in a distant antiseptic and impersonal airport terminal. But picking the right reading material for your travels can be an art almost as intricate as writing the masterpiece in the first place.

I’m a book-junkie and spend a lot of time and effort selecting just the right books for my travel. I long ago learned that size does matter and always try to travel as light as possible. Whenever I can I try to choose thick pocketbook paperbacks that will last me many hours yet fit comfortably in my pocket or carry-on. I always try to avoid mammoth telephone-directory hardbacks that I know I will quickly come to resent no matter how good they are and vindictively want to abandon after the first few hours of lugging. It’s also better to carry books that I don’t mind leaving behind or trading along the way – rather than carrying a family heirloom first edition.

 

Light not only refers to size and weight, but also means something that can easily be put down and picked up amid the chaos and distractions of airports and train stations without losing the thread. Just because you’ve always wanted to read Stephen Hawkings’ “A Brief History of Time” and valiantly failed a dozen times at home doesn’t mean you’ll have more success on a train racing through the Swiss Alps or on a Central American beach. If it was a struggle at home, it will probably still be a struggle on vacation…so pack that new Stephen King instead!

 

Apart from airports and flights, you may actually have less time to read than you expected. After a long day of sightseeing and exploring, you may well fall into a deep sleep the moment your head hits the pillow. During train or bus trips in strange lands, you may will be so intent on drinking in every last drop of passing scenery that your face will be glued to the window throughout instead of glued to your book, so one or two titles will probably be enough.

 

However, if you are a voracious reader that eats books even while doing the grocery shopping, don`t assume you can find decent reading material along the way even when in an English speaking country. Although easy enough to find appealing titles in North America or Britain, books are often quite expensive throughout the developing world and the selection may be limited. Take a spare book in your luggage just in case you do manage to finish the first one.

 

Try to be a bit culturally sensitive. Brazenly reading the “Biography of Borat” while on public transport in Kazhakstan or a colouring book entitled “The Genius of Sarah Palin” in Wasilla, Alaska may not make you the most popular person in town so either leave them at home…or hide the covers!

 

Plan ahead and try to anticipate what might appeal to you along the way. If you`re interested in history you might just find that while travelling through Australia the constant references to Captain Cook may whet your appetite for more information and leave you searching for a decent biography. In South America it could be Simon de Bolivar, Che Guevara, Evita Peron or a famous local author. Try to think ahead to what might be piquing your interest while on your travels and pack accordingly.

 

Reading is one of the great pleasures of life and a good book can make a great trip even better.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

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Travel Photography 101 3.5/18

14 11 2008

Confessions, tips and musings from a snap-happy wanderer.

“It’s not overcast…it’s atmospheric!”                        (Iceland)

 Never mind the weather.

 

Although we all long for great weather on our travels, unless we always choose parched deserts or sun-soaked equatorial islands, we are likely to encounter at least a few days of inclement conditions. As a photographer, don’t lock your camera away and let the weather get the better of you, instead be creative and use these days to your advantage.

 

Firstly, make sure that you are prepared for all conditions. Most photography stores sell special cases or heavy-duty clear plastic covers that can protect your camera from anything shy of a hurricane and still take great photos. However, if unprepared for Mother Nature, make your own using a zip-lock bag or even a plastic shopping bag. Failing that, shoot from beneath awnings or even from inside through an open window. Use the dark skies or teaming rain to paint a picture. Play around with your camera settings to make the conditions even more dramatic than they perhaps are. Use the reflections in puddles or on rain-soaked windows. Heavy rain will likely drive many visitors inside leaving streets and sights merrily-free and eager to pose for your camera.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Live And Let Fly

13 11 2008

“Blogger, Adventure Blogger.”                   (Jökulsárlón, Iceland)

 

I will confess that James Bond films leave me shaken and stirred like a slightly imperfect vodka martini. I’m not really a huge movie buff, but I do look forward to new Bonds with much the same anticipation as a bloodthirsty villain cradling a luxurious Persian cat looks forward to the suave agent’s elaborate demise. I love the gadgets, Bond’s sinister opponents, the cars and luxury lifestyle, the touch of humour, the chases and spectacular action…and the Bond girls haven’t gone unnoticed either.  I also love the exotic locations.

 

The latest episode, “Quantum of Solace” debuts in North America tomorrow – not that I’m counting down the minutes like an Omega Seamaster clocking the countdown to nuclear annihilation at the hands of a disfigured evil genius or anything – and was filmed in Chile’s Atacama Desert, California’s Baja, London and Siena amongst other destinations. And while I doubt I would go out of my way to visit a Bond location, I do get a kick when I find myself in a spot memorable from one of my favourites.

 

I would first like to stress that I am not now and never have been a candidate to play James Bond. It’s an understandable mistake given my proclivity to rappel down the sides of buildings, jump out of aircraft, fly in helicopters without doors, sip champagne in first class and hob-nob with world leaders, but alas I also sleep in youth hostels, get the bulk of my culture from yogurt, cry over paper-cuts and the closest I have ever come to a tuxedo was dressing as a penguin in a school play. But it doesn’t stop me from quietly humming that famous Bond tune when I find myself somewhere Bondly familiar.

 

During it’s more than 40 year history, celluloid Bond has popped up in such exotic locales as India, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Japan, Brazil and Iceland.

 

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon several hours east of Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s an impressive waterway filled with giant floating icebergs in virginal whites and sumptuous blues surrounded by icy clear waters. While an impressive sight from the shore, it’s best explored from one of the sightseeing boats that weave among the towering bergs. If you screw up your eyes or pick your views carefully it’s easy to believe you’re in the Antarctic, especially when the fog rolls in from the sea and obscures the surrounding countryside. Jökulsárlón was the backdrop for one of Bond’s megalomaniacal nemeses and played its part well, but in reality it is a place of serene beauty like much of Iceland. Seals rest on the rocks beneath the bridge that separates the lagoon from the ocean while seagulls wheel and soar overhead. The salt air is fresh and crisp even at the height of summer and bracing ocean breezes invigorate. 

 

Not far away, the magnificent Vatnajökul Glacier sweeps down from the island’s centre carrying millions of years worth of ice and geologic history with it. Guides will kit you out with ice-axe and crampons and lead you – Bond-like – up the glacier’s sheer ice walls and into hidden cathedrals of blue and crystal that drip and crackle with life. At the glacier’s edge where the mighty ice transforms into pristine water, wild flowers explode in a riot of reds and yellows like the inevitable movie-ending destruction of the Bond villain’s imaginative lair.

 

Iceland is arguably one of the most photogenic of countries and has lent itself countless times to productions seeking untouched wilderness, sci-fi beauty, stark nature or raw agelessness. Although you might not want to hike its volcanic quicksands, black lava fields, verdant hills or rocky cliffs in your finest Turnbull and Asser dinner jacket and Church’s shoes with Honey Trip-a-lot on your arm and a bottle of Bolinger and Lalique flutes in your hand, even the most un-Bondable desk-jockey can feel ruggedly free in such magnificent desolation.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

 





Remembering

11 11 2008

Salerno, Italy

Several hours north of Bangkok there is a wide brown river spanned by a large metal railway bridge. It is a bridge like many others. Though thoroughly unremarkable in its design and appearance, every year travellers from all over the world make the journey to see it, cross it and pay tribute to those responsible for its construction. The bridge is located in the small town of Kanchanaburi: a place even less remarkable than the bridge itself yet now home to one of Thailand‘s major tourist attractions.

 

This is “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. A structure made infamous by books and an Oscar-winning film and built during the Second World War by the forced labour of hundreds of thousands of local Thais and many thousands of Prisoners of War.

 

Not far from the bridge sit two cemeteries that are the final resting place for more than 8,700 prisoners from Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Malaya, India and elsewhere. If the bridge is the result of their brutal toil, the tranquility of Chonk-Kai War Cemetery is the reward of rest they were so cruelly denied during their last days.

 

Like war cemeteries everywhere, it is impossible not to be moved by these simple memorials. To walk amongst the immaculate headstones, to read the names of the fallen and witness their stolen youth is to see the destruction of innocence and the annihilation of entire generations. For those of us fortunate enough to have avoided conflict in our homelands, such loss of friends and brothers, fathers and uncles is incomprehensible, but sadly for millions of people throughout the world it is very much an ongoing reality even today.

 

Since the beginning of time, war has brought out the very worst and the very best in people. While it has been greed, hatred, powerlust and evil that has been responsible for war and the mind-numbing atrocities that have accompanied it, war has also provided us with some of the greatest acts of bravery, sacrifice and selflessness. Amongst the horror of violence and genocide are countless accounts of staggering heroism. Tales of seemingly ordinary individuals who risked – and often gave – everything to save the life of another.

 

When we travel, we often encounter memorials to those who have died in conflict and invariably we pass straight by on our way to a pub, restaurant, train station or art gallery.  The carefree attitude we have on vacation might well be the very same approach to life that those whose names are now carved in granite had until their own lives were interrupted and they were sent away to a distant shore.

 

Next time your travels take you past a memorial in a small town square or a perfectly maintained cemetery, spare a moment for those whose own involuntary travels never brought them home again.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Lessons Learned The Hard Way – No. 5

10 11 2008

“Now, where’s my flashlight…”                      (Masai Mara, Kenya)

Don’t panic!

 

We had checked-in for our flight, cleared Kenyan Immigration and airport security and were resting in the Nairobi departure lounge awaiting our overnight flight to London. We had already done the circuit of souvenir and duty free shops and settled into two well-worn plastic chairs that faced the windows and the dark African evening beyond. It is always sad to bid farewell to a great adventure and we sat in contemplative silence sorry to be leaving but eager to get on our way, when we were suddenly paged.

 

The gate agent inspected our tickets and passports before handing us over to a sombre-faced security agent who muttered an ominous “Follow me” and led us through a key-pad controlled door.

 

I have often wondered what lies beyond those doors, but now that I was being led into the bowels of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a severe and unsmiling armed officer I dearly longed for the comfort and boredom of my chipped and cracked plastic bucket seat.

 

The officer led us down a corridor to another secure door. He again punched in an unseen combination and we found ourselves at the top of an exterior stairwell that led from the terminal building and down onto the tarmac. Leaving behind the tinned music and muffled loudspeaker of the lounge, our ears were assaulted by the din of generators and engines, the buzz of enormous arc lights, the hum of activity, the racket of transistor radios and the shouts of baggage handlers and mechanics. The night was sticky warm and I immediately felt perspiration beading on my neck and along my hairline – whether from the sudden heat or my fear of the unknown, I wasn’t sure. Carefully watching my feet on the metal stairs, I saw my long jagged shadow stagger before me and glanced upwards at the blinding light and the hundreds of giant moths swirling around it and the hungry bats pursuing them.

 

Having reached the tarmac, a new world opened up beneath the terminal: a cavernous oasis of artificial light and machinery with mountains of luggage and an army of men in coveralls working feverishly. We walked beneath the enormous nose of our aircraft and the network of cables and hoses which connected it to its life-support and I spied my bag sitting on a table against the wall guarded by another security officer.

 

“Would you mind opening it, Sir?” he asked politely, while the original officer stood silently behind us.

 

I fumbled for my keys and opened the miniature lock, my palms sweaty with apprehension and my mind running into overdrive. The officer reached inside purposefully and quickly emerged holding my enormous black metal flashlight.

 

“Ah” he smiled with understanding and perhaps a hint of relief, “A big torch.” He flicked it on and shone the bright beam at the ground. “It is bright too” he grinned.

 

I nodded enthusiastically and re-locked my bag. The first officer, now warm and friendly led us back up the staircase and to the departure lounge. All eyes turned to survey us as we returned from the netherworld beyond the security doors.

 

“Have a good flight” our new armed friend said, “and come back soon to Kenya” he added with a smile while I considered myself lucky that my mysterious long metal tube containing three large D-cell batteries hadn’t been subjected to a pre-emptive strike instead of a courteous inspection!

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Travel Photography 101 4.5/18

7 11 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If you wait long enough, you’ll see the surfers.” (Wave Rock, Western Australia)

 

Pick your season!

 

Before we book our travels, many of us determine the best time to go. We may opt for the season when it’s not at its most ferociously hot or humid, or its coldest or wettest. Or we may time it to coincide with a particular festival, event or migration. Unfortunately, many others do exactly the same thing and you end up with ‘Peak season’ or ‘High season’ when flights, tours and accommodation are most expensive…and the main sites are most over-run with other travellers.

 

While there are times when you want crowds of people in your photos, you often don’t want the polyester-decked masses in your frame. You can try to miss them by carefully choosing your angle, patiently waiting for a quiet moment…or travelling off-season. The weather might not be quite as good and you may run the risk of leaden-grey skies spoiling your snaps, but your trip will likely cost you less and you’ll be able to capture the sites you’ve travelled so far to see without them being obscured by the crowds.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

 

 





The Fifth Great Adventure Quiz

6 11 2008

“Call me Cochabamba”                                      (Masai Mara, Kenya)

1) What is the name of the lioness made famous by Joy Adamson?

 

a) Star

b) Eva

c) Digit

d) Elsa

e) Cara

 

 

2) Giovanni Caboto was…

 

a) The real name of explorer John Cabot

b) Christopher Columbus’ navigator on the Niña

c) The first person to reach the summit of K2

d) The captain of the airship Norge which first flew to the North Pole

e) The Doge of Venice who conquered Zanzibar

 

3) Cochabamba is…

 

a)     A large Amazonian cockroach

b)     An annual music festival in California

c)     A spicy Spanish bean dish

d)     A city in central Bolivia

e)     A Mexican term of endearment for a child

 

4) Which of the following books is set in Colombia?

 

a) “Getting to Know the General” by Graham Greene

b) “The General in His Labyrinth” by Gabriel García Márquez

c) “The Night Manager” by John Le Carré

d) “Risico” by Ian Fleming

e) “Death in the Afternoon” by Ernest Hemingway

 

5) Yoruba

 

a) A mining city in Australia’s Red Centre

b) A lost city of the Aztecs

c) A West African language

d) A Tongan drink of fruit juice and milk

e) An Arabic leather pouch for carrying water

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

 

Answers: 1d, 2a, 3d, 4b, 5c – answer to yesterday’s ‘Spot The Imposter’: Vegas is on the left