iconic

More India snippets….

…. well yes there is more.    My whirlwind tour of Rajasthan and the Punjab saw me visiting a few cities and experiencing some cultural nuances.

India has several treats to unload on the unsuspecting traveller, and here are just some of the interesting features I stumbled across:

  • Picking your nose on public transport is a national hobby.  There is no age or gender bias when it comes to having a good
    It's me at the Taj!!

    It’s me at the Taj!!

    old finger poke around your nostrils in a confined train compartment.

  • Spotting someone wearing jodhpurs in Jodhpur can’t help but make you smile.  Result!
  • There are possible more flies here than every other place I’ve been added together.  I had my own personal swarm wherever I went.
  • The bizarre brilliant orange henna hair colour is a favourite with the older generation.  The trick, so it seems, is to apply the dye really badly so it doesn’t fully cover your natural tresses.  And for those braver types also dye your beard in the same haphazard way.
  • Note however prepared you are, seeing the Taj Mahal takes your breath away.  It has to be the most iconic building in the world and being up close and personal is amazing.  If it’s not on your bucket list add it.  Go on, do it now!
  • The closing ceremony at the India Pakistan border is a must.  It was a highlight with Bollywood dancing, a compere buoying up the crowd and some seriously funny marching with dangerous high kicks thrown in.  There also appeared to be a competition between the two countries leading guards as to who could say “goal” for the longest time possible without taking a breath.  OK so it probably wasn’t the word “goal” but it was reminiscent of south American football commentators.  But seriously if this is the border ceremony I would love to see a cricket match between these two nations!Wonky telegraph post
  • Amritsar was the jewel in the crown, an unexpected pleasure.  The serenity of the Golden Temple and the welcoming of the Sikh religion was heartfelt.
  • Top tip, Delhi is definitely worth a visit just don’t make it your first destination.  Nearly everyone I met who’d arrived there fresh to India was a victim to scam merchants, hawkers and tuk-tuk drivers who can spot new arrivals, and a financial opportunity, from a mile off.  You have been warned!
  • Top tip number two, gen up on cricket facts before you go.  In this country it’s a national obsession, and everything stops when a big game is on. Knowing anything about this sport goes a long way towards making friends.
Categories: adventure, Asia, culture, iconic, people | Leave a comment

So what’s the truth about the Indian head wobble……..

……… sadly after spending time travelling in Northern India I have to admit I still have no idea what the head wobble means.  It could signify a yes, a no and more commonly an “I don’t know”.  It has to be the most confusing gesticulation known to man, but here it’s learnt in childhood and is extraordinarily prevalent.  It’s also done with a smile, so even the facial expression provides no hint.

My confusion, or other world feeling, started from the get go.  Which of course simply leads to more fun and adventure.???????????????????????????????

  • Filling out airline forms regarding my nut allergy lead to me being fed a diet of fruit for the entire fourteen hour flight.  What I would have done for an omelette!
  • Upon landing in Delhi, to very 70’s airport complete with dizzying geometric carpet, the news screens displayed welcome signs saying “60 more cases of swine flu confirmed in Delhi”.
  • Train travel is the way to see this country, but buying tickets isn’t straightforward.  It isn’t sufficient to *queue at just one ticket window.  I queued firstly to obtain the reservation form, this then had to be signed by the station manager.  He had an office rather than a window but still a queuing system was at play.  Lastly I had to queue to get the train ticket.  Timing is everything and all windows close for a tea break mid morning………..
  • Beer in certain strongly religious areas is not served.  However rules can be bent, and I managed to get served in a tea cup to disguise the fact I was drinking beer.  Well what else could I drink?  Kingfisher beer and curry is standard fare in northern England, though possibly not northern India.
  • Cows are more important than people, it would seem, as they are simply roaming everywhere.  Daily life incorporates weaving around
    Morning....

    Morning….

    these animals and ensuring that they don’t wreak too much havoc.  People bring them food or failing that they eat rubbish from the streets which generally consists of plastic, this results in an uninspiring life expectancy.  Goodness only knows how chaotic the streets would be during mating season – yikes!

  • Cricket though is more important than cows.  The test with Australia was on during my trip, and everyone was obsessed with watching it.  I lost count of the number of times I got into a conversation about Tendulkar, though I use the term conversation loosely as my level of knowledge on their hero is extremely limited.
  • So once that aforementioned train ticket is firmly ensconced in your pocket doesn’t mean things get easier.  If you are lucky the station might have signs stating which carriage stops where.  Otherwise the twenty carriage train pulls into the platform and you join in the pandemonium running backwards and forwards looking for the correct carriage.  Wanting to experience the real India and being in a lower class carriage meant clambering over what felt like several hundred people to find my seat.  Over the next few hours sandwiched between non English speaking locals my every move was watched, and I was encouraged (using the head wobble) to drink chai that a hawker had miraculously manoeuvred down the full beyond capacity train carriage.  And heaven help if you need the bathroom……

* note the word queue is used extremely loosely in this context.  There is more of a rugby scrum technique required.

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So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu….

Recently I bid farewell to Sydney and moved to rival city Melbourne for work.  I thought that a change of scene would be just what the doctor ordered, and more excellent adventures would be in the offing.

It is iconic!

On parting I realised I have written little about the city I called home for almost eight years.  Aside from the iconic images and guidebook blurbs, these are the things that nobody tells you about Sydney:

  • Summer is awesome.
  • Every time you see the opera house it still wows you.
  • Locals are scared of rain; nobody seems to venture out in case they dissolve.  It’s true!!
  • The council makes up any reason for fireworks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in my life.  There’s a reason Australia has no ozone layer folks!
  • You can see dolphins on your way to work, that’s if you take the ferry.  Nothing starts your day like seeing a dolphin.
  • Suburb snobs are rife.  Like who cares?  You live in Sydney – enjoy!
  • Just because Sydney is a sizeable city doesn’t mean that the scary killer animals daren’t venture in.  Those Huntsmen spiders are beasties!
  • And did I say summer is awesome????
Categories: Australia / Pacific, culture, iconic | 1 Comment

Ethiopia does EVERYTHING differently…..

A historic and arid land which does everything in it’s own unconventional way.  This equals confusion for the visitor…….

  • At the time of writing globally the year was 2010 and the time 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  But in Ethiopia

    Market day….

    it was 2003 and 11 o’clock.  This stems from them having their own calendar and using sunrise as a time barometer.  As the sun rose eleven hours ago it is clearly 11 o’clock.  Confused? Hope so!!

  • There are more donkeys here than anywhere else in the world. OK so this may not be a fact, but I have never seen so many in my life – total donkeyrama!!
  • Lalibela is THE drawcard.  This town boasts eleven 12th Century churches carved in rock.  The unique feature here is that they are carved from the earth’s surface downwards; so when you stand on the ground you are level with the roof and have to peer down to see the whole church.  They really are remarkable, a most unusual way of deciding to build a church.
  • Ethiopians practice Orthodox Christianity, using a combination of old and new testaments.  The resulting effect is 241 days of fasting a year!  So for two thirds of the year food cannot be consumed between midday and 3pm.  On these days no animal or animal products can be eaten.
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The hot potato that is Myanmar (aka Burma)

Rural life

Like many others I thought through the ethics of visiting this government lead country.  By stepping foot in Myanmar was I backing a regime that sentenced it’s most vehement supporter, Aung San Suu Kyi, to 21 years under house arrest?  Or were my actions supporting local people, their livelihoods and highlighting their cause?  A difficult one to answer…. but the local people I met were happy that I was experiencing their country firsthand.

  • If, like me, you have a nut allergy take food supplies.  Unaware that they use peanut oil to cook absolutely everything, I survived on steamed rice, watercress and boiled eggs for two weeks.  Not the most nutritious or fragrant diet that’s for sure!
  • Myanmar has more gold than any other country in the world.  The magnificent stupa of Shwedagon Paya in the capital, Yangon, is decorated with more gold than the entire Bank of England possesses.
  • I saw the funniest zoo exhibit ever.  Now I don’t like zoos but this was behind the restaurant where I was waiting for my steamed rice and watercress, so I wandered around.  One cage complete with small placard contained a “Golden Retriever (UK)”.  Brilliant.
  • Relax with an “anti- ageing” Spirulina beer; well that’s what the label says.  Had several, purely for research purposes of course, and didn’t notice any difference.

Historic Bagan

  • Splurge on a sunrise balloon trip over the ancient city of Bagan.  Temples and stupas range as far as the eye can see.  Some compare this city with Anker Wat, but the sheer number of stupas here simply isn’t comparable.

 

  • In hindsight it was obvious that the “nightclub” we danced in during our big night in Yangoon was actually a brothel!  Culturally naive a few of us headed into the hotel basement enticed by music and flashing lights.  Throughout the evening women paraded on the dancefloor in a variety of outfits, none of which appeared prostitute like in my opinion.  In fact they were akin to Miss World long gowns – this combined with the presenting of leis reinforced our misconception that we were at a Miss Burma contest.  Not until our last man standing was asked which one he wanted to buy did it dawn on us.  Oh what fools…….
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Mexico – Festival Time!!

I was fortunate enough to be in Mexico during the month of celebrations at the beginning of spring.  There was always something mad happening to get involved in.

  • Explore a whole host of Mayan ruins.  My favourite site being Palenque, which is set amongst the jungle and gives off an ancient aura.

Happy Easter!

  • Experience Santa Semana (Easter) in San Cristobal.  Each church hosts its own religious parade.  The most theatrical of which is a re-enactment of Jesus’ struggle through the streets carrying his cross, whilst the Roman guards flogged him.  The nailing to the crucifix was also represented, although they no longer use real nails thank goodness.  Being selected to portray Jesus is regarded as an honour.  But it looks like a particularly painful way to spend a Friday to me.
  • Go rural and visit San Juan Chanula to witness their traditional worship.  The church was lit with hundreds of candles, many of which were stuck to the floor with wax.  The heat given off was fierce.  Each family group of worshippers held their own private ceremony.  After words of prayer the lead male sacrificed a chicken by suffocation.  He then opened some beer and distributed it to the others to finalise the ceremony.  My favourite part of the church was quite possibly the Jesus statue wearing what can only be described as a Sergeant Pepper jacket.  Awesome!
  • Love the wonky lamppost!

    Get involved, though not too closely, with the first day of spring celebrations.  Paper mache figures of people who in the previous year have been considered to be a Judas in the eyes of locals are hung in the main square.  This includes replicas of politicians, sportsmen and the like, all of which are loaded with fireworks.  No health and safety here as a lit match is held to each of these potentially lethal contraptions and the mayhem begins.  Fireworks fly off in random directions at varying heights.  Being at the back of the crowd is clearly a good tactic as injuries are common.

Categories: adventure, Central America, culture, iconic, The Americas | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Take your life in your hands in Guatemala

This country can only be described as a fun place to visit.  Risks left, right and centre – there is plenty going on for the adventurous!

  • Toast marsh-mellows on molten lava from an active volcano.  Clambering on Mt Pacaya’s hot surface

    Sadly photo a bit blurred – couldn’t stand still due to melting shoes!!

    is one of the mad tourist experiences offered in Guatemala.  The hot red lava is usually evident as it flows across the surface.  Sadly however the day I was there it was only visible between the volcanic rocks below my feet.  Here there is no standing about for too long else your feet burn and your shoes melt – I kid you not!

  • Run the gauntlet of Guatemala City.  Billed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world my local bus had a police escort until well out of the city limits.  A friend of mine had to lie on her bus’s floor with all the other passengers to ensure the bus looked empty to deter hijackers.
  • Go caving in Semuc Champey.  No health and safety here, just plain madness!  The guide hands you a mere stub of a candle and invites you to follow him into the dark cave.  Swim through icy water avoiding sharp submerged rocks, scramble over slightly more visible rocks and ascend slippery ladders – all whilst holding your flickering light source aloft.  After an hour of this extreme obstacle course we returned via the same route.  Not unsurprisingly most candles failed to make the return journey, equalling even murkier conditions.  Hazardous, but fun!
  • If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, watch a lunar eclipse from Mayan ruins.  These ancient temples, built in alignment with the sun and moon, provided a mystical setting and an unforgettable experience.
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Can I ever do Brazil justice?

Brazil is such a HUGE country.  There simply wasn’t enough time to visit all the places I wanted to go on this trip.  Oh well, just looks like a revisit is on the cards….

  • Venture into one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.  These notorious areas house the lower demographics of society.  They are no strangers to drugs, gangs and prostitution; and life expectancy is generally short.  On a guided walk with a local I felt very much out of my comfort zone and wary of my surroundings.  At no point did I feel particularly threatened, but seeing young teenage boys on watch duty with guns sent shivers down my spine.  It was a real eye-opener to see how this area has been left to fend for itself with no government intervention or standard amenities.  It’s survival of the fittest in this environment.

Simply stunning!

  • Drink in possibly the most beautiful iconic city view known to man.  Take the cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain and gaze down on the sights of Rio; Copacabana Beach, Christ the Redeemer and the distant favelas.
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Experience the weirdness that is Easter Island

Chile’s Easter Island is one of the most remote islands in the world. Even birds find the distance from other landmasses daunting, and refuse to attempt the flight there. This makes the island a truly self sustaining ecosystem and a scientific blueprint for the whole planet.

  • Visit Easter Island to see the unique stone Moai statues, more than 600 of which are scattered across the island.  The tallest figure stands at ten metres tall and, as with all the Moai, faces inland as if protecting the inhabitants.  It’s all a little eerie……

    What exactly is their purpose?

  • Try and avoid the vast amount of stray dogs on the island.  I have never seen so many in my life, roaming in packs and particularly unfriendly!
Categories: culture, iconic, South America, The Americas, wildlife | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Australia – “He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich”

Possibly one of the best song lyrics ever written!  Plus it’s true Australians simply love this vegetable spread they can’t get enough.

  • Identified by many as a country with a ridiculous amount of dangerous animals, which is essentially true.  But where exactly are they?!  Could their existence be a bizarre marketing tool by the Australian government I wonder……?

Vicious Australian animals!

  • Sleep in a swag in true outback style.  The swag was clearly developed by someone who loved home comforts; it’s basically a tarpaulin sleeping bag with built-in mattress.  Winner!
  • On the must do list is pay a visit to Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) and gaze at the world’s largest monolith.  Once the disappointment of this has sunk in check out the other geological features of the region.  The lesser known sights of Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuat are more spectacular and prove to be less of a tourist Mecca.
  • Enjoy a typical Australian outback interpretation of the British Henley on Thames regatta.  Living somewhere where rain is scarce and riverbeds often dry doesn’t stop these locals for a moment.  Their “boats” are raced on land and powered in a variety of ingenious ways.  The races culminate in a huge water battle using water guns, flour and anything else they can get their hands on.  Funny day!

    A sightseeing mecca

  • Stay in an underground house in Coober Pedy.  Temperatures can reach 50 degrees in summer, whereas below ground it’s a pleasant 24 degrees year round, but ever so slightly claustrophobic.
  • Take a road trip with random people you have just met and discover that you are surprisingly normal.  One of my fellow travellers didn’t speak for the entire three days, whilst another collected dead insects.
  • Sample an ant’s bum (well technically it’s the gaster).  Certain ants in northern Australia have a green bum which once removed from the live creature tastes like an acidic fruit burst on your tongue.  It’s rather yummy!
Categories: adventure, Australia / Pacific, iconic, people, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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