Gerald Ford Slipped Here

28 04 2009

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“That’s nothing that flossing and a good dental hygienist can’t remove.” (Stone Town, Zanzibar)

 

On buildings all over the world there are plaques and signs commemorating famous people who were born, died, lived or sometimes just fell over therein. Some are quite fascinating, others utterly bemusing. If it’s a house in which Michelangelo sculpted, Machiavelli schemed, Casanova seduced, Beethoven composed or Hemingway wrote, they are well worth a detour and a photograph, but if it’s somewhere that Paris Hilton once lost her chihuahua, not so much. Sometimes the buildings don’t have signs and it’s only local knowledge that identifies them – like the building in the backstreets of Zanzibar where Farrokh Bulsara – later better know as Freddie Mercury – grew-up.

 

Few people plan their travels solely around these spots, but if in the neighbourhood many of us swing by for a glimpse or possibly even a visit if the building now houses a museum, no matter how modest.  However, there are some people who do follow the trails of their heroes and tour companies who make it easy to do so.

 

Of course, it would be possible to read Che Guevara’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries’, pick up a detailed Michelin map of South America, hire a motorbike, pack a sleeping bag and tent, a wad of pesos and follow the route yourself, but that’s a lot of work for the average person with two weeks annual vacation. Instead, there are companies who are more than happy to lead you on at least part of his route and show you a few iconic spots along the way. An air-conditioned minibus doesn’t quite capture the spirit of Guevara and Granado’s adventures aboard La Poderosa, but for those with a keen interest in the Argentine revolutionary, it at least gives them a taste of what he saw several decades ago.

 

There are trips that take you to spots that were inspirational for artists or poets, or that follow in the footsteps of adventurers or explorers…but not that many for famous tax collectors or politicians, possibly because tax and politics are two of the last things people like to think of when on vacation. However, there is one new one that is an exception.

 

Earlier this year the “Roots of Obama” tour was introduced in Kenya. In addition to visiting the usual sites like Nakuru National Park and the Masai Mara, the trip heads to western Kenya and its towns and markets before landing in ‘Obama land’. There are visits to Kogelo, the birthplace of Barack Obama Senior. A member of the family leads visitors through the village to discover the family’s roots and to visit the household. There’s a walk to Nyangoma to visit Senator Obama High School and all along there are tastes of the local warmth and hospitality and plenty of traditional food!

 

Even without the connection to the 44th president, this trip provides a glimpse of real Kenyan life that passes completely unnoticed for almost all visitors – even if you don’t get to see where Gerald Ford fell down.

 

 

Photo and post by:   Simon Vaughan © 2009

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A to Z of Adventure Travel: A is for Amazon

12 01 2009

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“Garden looks a bit over-grown, luv.”                               (Suriname)

 

The Amazon is the largest river in the world. Starting high in the Andes and continuing for more than 6,000 kilometres, it eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean having drained almost 40% of South America along the way. In the rainy season it can be almost 45 kilometres wide and has the distinction of being one of the few major rivers in the world not spanned by a single bridge. For most people however, the Amazon is synonymous as much for the dense jungle which sweeps down to its banks as for the body of water itself.

 

The Amazon rainforest is not just the area around the great river, but also that which lines its many tributaries. This vast basin covers not only Brazil and Peru, but also Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Suriname and Guyana and is home to more than one third of all the species on earth and one of the richest eco-systems in the world.

 

For adventure travellers, the Amazon is a wonderland of exploration and discovery that offers something for everyone. Luxurious ships serve as waterborne hotels and cruise its wide expanses with smaller craft employed to explore the narrow tributaries. For the more intrepid, there are classic wooden riverboats that offer mosquito nets, ceiling fans and oodles of character. For those happier on terra firma, there are luxury lodges hidden in the jungle, lit by oil lamps and serenaded by the sounds of the bush. There are camps with minimal facilities but maximum experience and rustic lodges that combine comfort with unforgettable adventure.

 

Regardless of the country in which you choose to explore the magnificence of the rainforest, there are always plenty of people eager to share their verdant paradise. Whether guides, biologists, geologists or enthusiastic locals, you can choose between hiking the thick undergrowth, following easier jungle tracks or strolling wooden walkways with access available for every level of fitness and every appetite.

 

While some people stay for a week or more, most are satisfied with a few days spent watching for monkeys and parrots, dolphins and caimans and learning of the indigenous people and the threats to the environment. A trip to the Amazon can be made by aircraft and boat from most major cities in the area and combined with a beach stay, a week exploring cities, towns and markets, or a trek to Machu Picchu.

 

Regardless of your budget, choice of accommodation or style of travel, the Amazon will reward you with spectacular wilderness, an almost-overwhelming verdancy and magnificent – if sometimes elusive – wildlife.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan