The Best Complaint Letter Ever

30 01 2009


virgin-complaintAt one time or another, we’ve all been moved to complain about something, although perhaps not all of us have been moved enough to put that complaint in writing. The following letter – now circulating as ‘The Best Complaint Letter Ever’ – was recently sent to Sir Richard Branson regarding its author’s less-than-satisfactory culinary experience on Branson’s airline. Branson was impressed enough to not only personally telephone the writer to discuss his issues…but reportedly to also offer him a position in Virgin’s catering department!


Dear Mr Branson

REF: Mumbai to Heathrow 7th December 2008

I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit.

Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at thehands of your corporation.

Look at this Richard. Just look at it: [see image, above].

I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, which one is the starter, which one is the desert?

You don’t get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it’s next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That’s got to be the clue hasn’t it. No sane person would serve a desert with a tomato would they. Well answer me this Richard, what sort of animal would serve a desert with peas in.

I know it looks like a baaji but it’s in custard Richard, custard. It must be the pudding. Well you’ll be fascinated to hear that it wasn’t custard. It was a sour gel with a clear oil on top. It’s only redeeming feature was that it managed to be so alien to my palette that it took away the taste of the curry emanating from our miscellaneous central cuboid of beige matter. Perhaps the meal on the left might be the desert after all.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant at the moment. I was raised strictly but neatly by my parents and if they knew I had started desert before the main course, a sponge shaft would be the least of my worries. So lets peel back the tin-foil on the main dish and see what’s on offer.

I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about.

Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That’s how I felt when I peeled back the foil.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It’s mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month. On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown glue-like oil and on the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.

Once it was regurgitated it was clearly then blended and mixed with a bit of mustard. Everybody likes a bit of mustard Richard.

By now I was actually starting to feel a little hypoglycaemic. I needed a sugar hit. Luckily there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier due to it’s baffling presentation.

It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above.

I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was relax but obviously I had to sit with that mess in front of me for half an hour. I swear the sponge shafts moved at one point.

I was the hungriest I’d been in my adult life. My only option was to simply stare at the seat in front and wait for either food, or sleep. Neither came for an incredibly long time. But when it did it surpassed my wildest expectations.

Yes! It’s another crime-scene cookie. Only this time you dunk it in the white stuff.

Richard…. What is that white stuff? It looked like it was going to be yoghurt. It finally dawned on me what it was after staring at it. It was a mixture between the Baaji custard and the Mustard sauce. It reminded me of my first week at university. I had overheard that you could make a drink by mixing vodka and refreshers. I lied to my new friends and told them I’d done it loads of times. When I attempted to make the drink in a big bowl it formed a cheese Richard, a cheese. That cheese looked a lot like your baaji-mustard.

So that was that Richard. I didn’t eat a bloody thing. My only question is: How can you live like this? I can’t imagine what dinner round your house is like, it must be like something out of a nature documentary.

As I said at the start I love your brand, I really do. It’s just a shame such a simple thing could bring it crashing to it’s knees and begging for sustenance.

Yours Sincerely


The Best Job In The World

29 01 2009


     “What do you mean, I don’t get paid for overtime?”  (Great Barrier Reef)


The best job I ever had was as a movie extra shooting on a sun-soaked beach in summer. My job was to lie in the sun awaiting my turn to casually stroll down the beach well behind the principal cast. Although even that wouldn`t have been particularly taxing, the call to action never came and I spent the entire day helping myself to free cold drinks and snacks and sunbathing along with a coterie of bikini-clad would-be starlets named Amber, Tiffany and yes, I kid you not –  Bambi. Thoroughly exhausted, I eventually collected my respectable pay cheque and headed home with my tan.


Although not a bad day`s work, it certainly pales by comparison to the recently posted `Caretaker of the Islands` position posted by Tourism Queensland. On offer is a six-month contract based on luxurious Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. The live-in position offers flexible working hours and responsibilities include exploring the Reef to discover what the area has to offer and then reporting on the adventures to the rest of the world via a blog, photo diary and video updates.


As if that wasn`t enough, there`s also a salary of AUD $150,000. Although this sounds more like a prize in an elaborate game show, this is a genuine job calling for genuine skills and experience and for which would-be caretakers need to apply rather than simply enter. The successful applicant will also have to undergo a lengthy process culminating in a series of interviews. Not that any of that has deterred interested parties however, as the website crashed four times on the first day alone after being besieged by more than 2,000 hits per minute!


The deadline for applications is February 24th with the contract due to start on July 1st. For more information, click here …but probably best not to put Bambi down as a reference.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

A to Z of Adventure Travel: C is for Costa Rica

27 01 2009


A rare image of a deadly sin caught in action.       (Costa Rica)


Whether your idea of adventure travel is sharing a pristine white sand beach with a herd of cows, or trekking the side of an active volcano, Costa Rica will satisfy everyone’s tropical wanderlust.


Situated between Nicaragua and Panama and bordered by both the Caribbean and Pacific, this Central American country has long been a success story in a region that has seen more than its fair share of trouble. While its neighbours were struggling with war, despots and upheaval, Costa Rica was boasting one of the highest literacy rates in the world, regularly topped United Nations lists for quality of life and environmental protection and became the first country to constitutionally abolish its army… although with border guards as heavily armed and intimidating-looking as theirs, who needs an army?!


Needless to say, the residents are justifiably proud of their nation and that is evident in the warmth and friendliness they show travellers.


Although a small country, Costa Rica satisfies both would-be adventurers seeking a gentle initiation to something a little more exotic, and more experienced hardcore veterans looking for new challenges and plenty of local culture. The Pacific coast offers superb beaches, fringed with palm trees and forests teeming with monkeys and colourful birdlife. The water is warm and clear and whether opting for a small locally-run hotel in a quiet fishing village or using a large international resort as a base for exploration, the west coast is a wonderful alternative to more crowded destinations like Mexico.


Whether hiking tropical rain forests in search of enormous morpho butterflies, resplendent quetzals or elusive ocelots or standing in a meadow after sunset and watching lava spew from an active volcano while fireflies flit about your head before retiring to your comfortable hotel room, Costa Rica is one of the easiest destinations in the world to satisfy your need for rejuvenation and relaxation.


The more diehard can try white water rafting on wild jungle rivers, zip-lining through the lush canopy, horseback riding or gruelling hikes through thick forest. The more sedately adventurous can opt to explore calmer rivers by motorised canoe in search of crocodiles, enormous iguanas or troops of noisy howler monkeys. If you enjoy soaking up the sun but only in small quantities, you can alternate your sun-loving with snorkelling or scuba-diving from white or black sand beaches with pelicans flapping gently overhead.


To properly explore Costa Rica from its urbane capital and historic sights to its steamy Caribbean coast and jungle-clad mountains would take several weeks. But Costa Rica is also a perfect destination for those with just a week who either want to fill every moment with activity and adrenalin, or just crash on a beach with a fancy drink and perhaps embark on a couple of day trips for a hint of adventure. Whether for a week’s break in the middle of a bleak winter or a longer exploration, Costa Rica is an ideal adventure destination for veterans and virgins alike.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan

You What?

26 01 2009




                              “Is that the hole thing?”   (Grand Canyon)


Park rangers throughout the world are renowned for their knowledge, helpfulness, bravery and fieldcraft. They are there to assist visitors with both information and to inspire them with their enthusiasm for the natural wonders of which they are custodians. They act as guides, counsellors, educators, conservators, peacemakers and law-keepers and when things go wrong they are the ones who risk all to save travellers in trouble.


However, we now know that in addition to all of these admirable traits they should also be revered for their tremendous self-control in not whipping out their firearms and putting certain visitors out of their intellectual misery.


Park Rangers in the U.S. recently compiled a list of actual questions asked by park visitors and as you will see, giant redwoods aren’t the only thick things in national parks!


At Grand Canyon National Park:


“Was this man-made?”

“Is there an elevator to the bottom”

“Do you light it up at night?”

“Is the mule train air-conditioned?”

“Where are the faces of the presidents?”


At Carlsbad Caverns National Park:


“How much of the caves is underground?”

“So what’s in the unexplored part of the cave?”

“Does it ever rain in here?

“So what is this, just a hole in the ground?”

“How many ping pong balls would it take to fill it up?”


At Everglades National Park:


“Are the alligators real?”

“Are the baby alligators for sale?”

“When does the two o’clock bus leave?”


At Yosemite National Park:


“What time of year do you turn on Yosemite Falls?”

“What happened to the other half of Half Dome?”


At Alaska’s Denali National Park:


“What time do you feed the bears?”

“How often do you mow the tundra?”

“How much does Mount McKinley weigh?”


At Mesa Verde National Park:


“Did people build this, or did Indians?”

“Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?”

“Why did they build the ruins so close to the road?”



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Silence Isn’t Golden

23 01 2009


iceland-10-mwYou have only attained true silence when your ears buzz from the strain of trying to detect any sound in the aural void. It is a very rare state that is so unusually encountered that it’s instantly noticed. Houses creak. Pipes rattle. Refrigerators turn off and on. Neighbours bang. Bed springs squeak. Dogs bark. Cities endure endless traffic but even the wilds are rarely quiet. Whether the buzz of insects, the rustle of wind, the ripple of water on the shore, the roll of distant thunder, the eerie song of nocturnal birds or the ceaseless shrill of frogs, true silence is extremely elusive.


One of the few times I can recall pure and genuine silence was in Iceland. We were camping in the interior near Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Although there had been a veritable swarm of midges and annoying insects during the day they had all disappeared by evening and taken their buzzing with them. There was no other wildlife to disturb the peace and the air was perfectly still. We were far enough from the glacier not to hear any of its cracking or groaning, not near any glacial streams or babbling brooks, and our campsite had no electricity of generators to hum the night away. The campfire had been properly doused and once everyone had finished their night-time ablutions, unzipped and zipped their tents and nestled into their sleeping bags, silence descended like a heavy fog.


Being the middle of an Icelandic summer, darkness was as elusive as sound. Although soft and muted, the light was ever-present and no one required flashlights. It was even possible to read a book in the tent without assistance. After a long day of trekking in the fresh mountain air, I instantly fell asleep.


I awoke in the night and assumed it was dawn. The light was softer but still bright enough to make out everything in the tent. I lay on my back staring at the canvas above and instantly noticed the silence. An all-consuming complete and utter silence. Not so much as a mere rustle or breath. It was as if the entire world had stopped or everyone and everything had left the planet without telling me. My ears buzzed and rang with the effort to detect any sound, any proof of life, but none was to be had. The harder I concentrated, the louder the buzzing became.


Glancing at my watch, I saw that it was 2am and as bright as an early morning. I closed my eyes and rolled over but sleep wouldn’t come. The lack of noise was keeping me awake. It was utterly deafening. I tossed and turned with nothing ringing loudly in my ears. I longed for traffic, for a crying baby…for a snoring neighbour. I reached into my bag and pulled out my ear plugs in an effort to shut out the ceaseless and unrelenting silence. With the torture over, I finally slipped into sleep. In future, I would travel with a metronome.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Confessions Of A (non) Photoshopaholic

22 01 2009



“Is that Deep Purple I hear?”                             (Algonquin Park, Ontario)


I am a big fan of Photoshop…otherwise there would be no photographic evidence that I accompanied Eva Mendes to the Oscars or that Daniel Craig and I have the same abs, but when it comes to travel photography I steer away from the magic paintbrush and like to keep it real.


I believe that the value of travel photography lies in its ability to transport the viewer to the place at which the photo was taken. When the astronauts first ventured into space, painstaking efforts were made to accurately capture the magnificent views they had and share them with earthbound colleagues. NASA used the best camera equipment then available and provided the astronauts with in-depth training. Professionals were employed to instruct them on shutter speeds, f-stops and everything they would need to photograph the surface of the moon in diffused light or the brightness of an earthrise. It was extremely important that the brilliant colours of the earth in the void of space or the many muted hues of the lunar surface be properly reproduced upon their return. Only 24 people have been to the moon and none since 1972, so the rest of us have had to settle for the photographic and cinematographic images they brought back.


Photoshop is a fantastic tool whose creation ranks alongside graphite pencils and acrylics, but I personally believe that there’s a time and place for its use. While I would never dispute the artistic value of this and other digital processes because the leaders in the field have proven that their work truly is art, I personally do not Photoshop my travel photographs beyond minor corrections and adjustments that can be made in a conventional darkroom. This is purely personal preference and absolutely no criticism of those who choose a different approach.


I love travel photography and derive almost as much pleasure from later reviewing my pictures as I do in actually taking them. I most treasure the photos that best capture those magical times and places and I derive my greatest pleasure in sharing them with people who then proclaim a desire to follow in my footsteps. If my photos encourage even one person to explore this magnificent planet of ours, I’m a happy boy. But just like the NASA astronauts, unless I am aiming for art rather than reportage, I want my travel photos to be more Canaletto than JMW Turner.



Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan

A to Z of Adventure Travel: B is for Botswana

20 01 2009





“Don’t call me Big Nose…Big Nose!”                               (Chobe, Botswana)


Botswana is one of Africa’s greatest countries for safari. Situated in southern Africa and bordered by Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, although a popular destination for travellers it offers unique and uncrowded wildlife viewing in its parks and vast wilderness.


The Okavango Delta is one of the country’s biggest draws. A sweeping region of more than 15,000 square kilometres, it teems with elephant, hippo, lion and a spectacular variety of birdlife. The great watershed is created as the 1,600 kilometre-long Okavango River dissolves into the sands of the Kalahari desert leaving a vast network of islands and waterways. The region can be explored by vehicle in the dry season, on foot, or from the traditional poled dugout mokoro canoes that silently explore the channels. Accommodation ranges from isolated campsites on secluded islands to luxury tented camps and lodges that offer more than the comforts of home.


In the country’s northeast corner sits Chobe National Park which offers one of the largest concentrations of game in all of Africa and is rightly renowned for its elephant viewing. The park is situated along the Chobe River which forms the border with Namibia, and it is this water source that attracts the vast herds. The park also offers great opportunities for viewing lions and wild dogs and its luxury lodges have long been popular with celebrities and jet-setters including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who stayed there on one of their several honeymoons. One of the best ways to explore Chobe is by taking a daily sunset cruise along the river.chobe-6-mw


For the more adventurous, it is possible to pack all the necessities of life in a 4WD, leave civilisation well behind and venture deep into the Kalahari desert or to the vast Makgadikgadi Pan. Any possible hardship will be more than compensated for by the very real sense of being alone in blissful isolation amid nothing more than the wonderful sounds of the night, a spectacular ceiling of stars and perhaps a visit by the local San people – or Bushmen.


Botswana was the setting for Sir Laurens van der Post’s classic “The Lost World of the Kalahari”, Mark and Delia Owens’ bestselling “Cry of the Kalahari” and the current chart-topping “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. It also has one of the highest per capita GDPs in all of Africa.


Although Botswana’s capital Gaborone boasts an international airport, most travellers headed for the game parks start their journey in Maun or cross in by road from Victoria Falls or South Africa. Botswana is a worthy destination on its own, but is often combined with one or more of its neighbours as part of a larger safari.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan