Category Archives: Travel

A year of Serendipity

Serendib. Thats what the merchants called the Island off of southern India, known for its languid, warm shores and tropical beaches, full of the most juicy pineapples, and waters more clear than the word itself.

We derived the word serendipity from it, which means “peacefulness by happy chance”. Those are the exact adjectives that should be used for this lush and balmy slice of land.

English: A Dhow in the Indian Ocean. Crew memb...

English: A Dhow in the Indian Ocean. Crew members pull the ropes to adjust sails. The background shows the Zanzibar Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was only there for a year while my dad worked for Air Lanka as a pilot. The lifestyle wasn’t exactly brutal. We went to the beach on weekends, had ice creams in the park and loved life.

Most of my  memories are faded because I was only three years old at the time. However, memories like an elephant pulling a coconut out a tree and the vivid turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean will lie in my conscience for life.

It’s the little details that are important, like the crunching sound made by the aforementioned elephant, the dazzling peacock-dresses the women would wear and the bleached white, sandy beaches.

Oh Sri Lanka my country

Oh Sri Lanka my country (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They lie dormant for the most part. But they give me joy when I think about them. The joy is the simple knowledge that these memories form a part of my life and they’ll never die.

Swimming in the pool of the Airport Gardens Hotel and sitting by  the side, consuming the most delicious fruits and juices known to man is paradise. The crab silhouette at the bottom meant that I wouldn’t get in. It spooked me.

What about feeding the baby elephants at the orphanage? They were so cute, wrapping their trunks around the bottles of milk, making their sweet noises:) Anyway…

The time we had there was fruitful and we could go wherever we wanted to, with our personal driver, Lawrence. The cars on the road were mostly relics, kept in shape by “bashers”, or mechanics.

Cheap living is the norm here and we loved it. Seeing Kandy is an experience i’ll never forget. When you’re there, you’ll hear the birds of the jungle wake you at five in the morning.

Although this won’t bother you. It’s a spiritual experience. Fruitbats inhabit this enchanted land as well and, if you’re lucky, you may see one or two swoop over the rooftops in the evening time.

Snakes? Yeah. You have to watch out for them. There are venomous species on the island so never go walking through the bush with just sandals on. You should go in boots.

Adam’s Peak is a sight not to be forgotten as well. It is a holy site to Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Thats pretty good going. Many visitors come every year to visit this sacred peak, an imprint in the land left by Buddha.

Thats the legend of it anyway. The summit is over 7,000 feet above sea level, making it Sri Lanka‘s highest point. My father mentioned that it posed some danger to aircraft, but it was easily avoidable. Presumably, it still is.

English: Sri Pada mountain (Adam's Peak) on th...

English: Sri Pada mountain (Adam’s Peak) on the left, view from village of Maskeliya, Sri Lanka Français : Pic d’Adam à gauche vu du village de Maskeliya, Sri Lanka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want some time on the beach, how about Mount Lavinia? The annual beach party is a must and you should do this! There are girl galore at these parties and they go till two and three o’clock in the morning.

For exact info, view this page. http://www.ticketslk.com/events/view/we_did_it_amazing_colombo_city_romp_2013. This fortunately does not occur in the monsoon season.

The high season is between december and march. This is when the beaches and hill country are driest. However, prices peak plus the east and north of the country, along with the ancient cities, will remain wet.

April, september and november bring the shoulder, a time that offers the best weather nationwide. New year’s celebrations mean that the public transport will be a filled to capacity. This is a good time to wander without bookings.

In the low season, the weather in the north and east is at its best, while the Yala monsoon brings wet weather to the south and west coasts. Prices are at a nationwide low. So, if you want to head north, do so now.

Wandering the hill country will provide you with a chance to see how a subsistence life, orientated around the land and its resources feels. I lived this experience later in life on Zanzibar island.

This territory is, however, very famous for one commodity, that of its big brother to the north. Tea. Masses of it. Though, I suspect their exports are larger than the domestic market.

The island has a population of just over twenty million people. therefore the prospects for overseas trade would be larger than their internal ones.

This is not like India. The billion-plus population of that state means there is little, if any, need for trade abroad with regards to this plant.

English: Fresh, still undried tea leaves of di...

English: Fresh, still undried tea leaves of different qualities in a hand. Plucked from the same plants, but the smaller the higher the price per gram. Taken at the Happy Valley Tea Estate at Darjeeling, India. Deutsch: Frische noch ungetrocknete Teeblätter verschiedener Qulitätsklassen auf einer Hand. Geerntet von den selben Pflanzen, aber je kleiner das Blatt, desto hlöher der Preis pro Gramm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all, this island has just that. All of it. Its a place resonant of the name given by those arab traders all those centuries and millenia ago. Its beaches will welcome you whenever you need them.

Spend a week, spend a lifetime. You’ll still find a nook, a cranny, a corner that will suddenly explode with life and vibrancy, fulfilment and life. If you want to move here, you have my complete and utter understanding.

The cheap living will mean that, provided you have a decent job like my dad, you’ll have no more worry in the world than where your next glass of fresh pineapple juice is coming from. They will have been picked that morning:)

You’ll be able to see all the joy of life in every area of it. Whether that is social, leisure, work or anything else, this is your island.

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Canada Customs Confusion

English: customs control at London Stansted Ai...

English: customs control at London Stansted Airport Deutsch: Zollkontrolle am Flughafen Lonond-Stansted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get through customs. Then the mini-bus. Then the hotel. Easy. Or so I thought. But, after a hiccup that I had in Vancouver having flown from London’s Gatwick airport, I was asked to see the duty customs officer for a temporary visa.

Border control in the United States (U.S. Cust...

Border control in the United States (U.S. Customs and Border Protection – United States Department of Homeland Security) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took about five minutes just to answer all the questions of the agent at the desk. Subsequently, I had to see a duty officer and it was from her that I obtained a six months residency visa. Despite having a British passport, I am a Canadian citizen.

This led me to assume that, when I went through that channel, they would have a record of me. I was wrong. However, they quite reassuringly cross-checked me to make sure I was who I said I was. Anyway, he was very friendly and not at all threatening.

She told me all the compliant details and I was sent off happy with a bit of paperwork, but it wasn’t terrible. So, anyway, I headed for the nearest hotel, a Stay n’ Save.

After having hopped on the shuttle bus and being driven there, I was casually informed that it would be an extra fifty dollars for him to book me a room for the night without a credit card. He very kindly let me off this charge.:)

Well, the next day I caught the ferry to Vancouver Island via a Pacific Coach Lines service to Tsawwassen and then I sailed over to Swartz Bay and found my ride, a family friend of mine. A pretty smooth ride over all.

Belt Buckles Beep

English: An example of Airport security.

English: An example of Airport security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Security at airports in a post 9/11 world is paramount. That is why it baffled me that, in August of 2004, as I returned with my mother and sister from a holiday in Sweden, that the airport security in Stockholm would simply run a scanner over my belt buckle, obscured by a sweater, and say “go on”.

 

Well, apparently they do just that. It made me feel terrific that they were so lax about it. I could have had anything under there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gun, a bomb, a 4th century Chinese sword:)? Well, at least in a few hours I would be home. And indeed I was. But that incident really opened my eyes.

 

The questionable behaviour of the security individuals is probably limited to only a few of them, but, if this ever happens to anyone who reads this in the future, do what I didn’t. Complain about it. Everyone’s life is being risked because of one person not being vigilant.

 

How safe can we really be if they do not even bother to lift my sweater? I began to wonder also about how thoroughly the bags were scanned and who was able to fly, plus a whole host of other security variables that are of paramount importance.

 

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi Inter...

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. This security post is located for entering the airport which means all people (visitors and passengers) have to pass such a control. Another control will be for boarding luggage before entering the secured area (passengers only). View towards the street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I boarded without further incident and settled in for a shortish hour and forty-five minute flight back to Stansted, from where we would pick up our car and begin the lengthy journey back to Gloucestershire. We got there and my big Labrador greeted me with happy kisses.

 

 

The Spirit of a Volunteer

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Its one of those words that people utter with awe and amazement. “Volunteer”… Thats what a plucky band of us had the privilege of being called when we taught English and were thoroughly fulfilled with our lot.

It took place on the Island of Zanzibar and it was probably the best experience of my life. Getting to meet the other volunteers who came from all over the world was awesome.

These people chose to spend a chunk of their youth to assist another community, while, at the same time, learning and growing through an experience that will leave a mark for the rest of their lifetimes.

Their wisdom, even at their young ages, brought a sense of hope and joy to the East Coast of the Indian Ocean‘s Spice Island.

The project was teaching English and also at primary schools, along with various community assistance such as school DIY. I was one of the oldest volunteers at 23 years of age.

It is without a doubt that I mention that these most uncommon of people, combined with those we aided are a shining torch to future generations to carry on this tradition.

Lets meet a few of them. There was Manoel, an Economics student from Zurich University. He had studied there for a year and also was in the process of completing three weeks national service for the six years after his first year, when he completed nine weeks worth.

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He was completely different to me, money savvy. He advised me on more than one occasion. What about Aidan, an Irish bank employee who worked in Frankfurt.

His girlfriend, Catherine and himself gave us a great time for the first week. It was later understood that, after leaving us, they headed for the Maasai Mara on Safari and it was here that he proposed to her.

That was happy news, despite us having heard it second hand. They met at a Catholic summer camp, I’m not sure where.

Andre and Lilya, from Bulgaria? Andre had his Private Pilot’s License, something I hope to gain in the future. They had met and then been apart for two years before their relationship started.

This is what he told me, anyway. Lilya and I had some interesting conversations, namely about Shakespeare and the fact that she had formed the opinion that Romeo was on drugs. She may not have been wrong:)

What days we had together. Our free time was spent playing volleyball on the beach or at the bar sipping punches on those sensational white Indian Ocean sands listening to Reggae music from Culture and Tarrus Riley, to name a few.

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We’d buy ten drinks at a time and party till 1:30 a.m. with the same breeze of the Indian Ocean current from the south that cooled us during the day now warmed us. It was a tough life:) Also brutal was the fact that that we had to watch twenty-something women in bikinis.

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As for the people who we met at the bars, they would sit with us and talk all night on the beach. The night sky was like the heavens had been sown with white crystals that set your eyes alight. These were dazzling and we almost always had a clear sky.

Want to try some of their Stoney Tangawizi ginger beer. Its worth buying just for the name but the taste of the cool, fragrant liquid inside means you’ll buy it again and again.

These drinks can be found at almost any bar along the beach and you’ll generally pay between forty to sixty pence per bottle. As for the alcohol, there’s Havana Club and Black Vodka. Preferably you’ll have more sense than to mix these together.

One night a guy, thinking that my half-filled glass of rum had whisky in it, topped the other half off with that drink. Wow! I may be six feet five inches, but even I felt like my head was in the clouds after that one. It was the next morning that I went dolphin swimming at 6 a.m. What a rush!

Well, we bounced around in a ten foot boat the next morning. It was with great excitement that we saw these happy creatures in their natural habitat. They leapt out of the water, dove, swam away and were just fabulous! No decent photos, I’m afraid. I borrowed this one.

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian...

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other excitements included the Spice Tour, which also takes place in Jozani Forest, the sanctuary of the Red Colobus Monkeys. Of particular interest is the mangrove swamp, where our guide showed us how the seeds fall off the mother tree and embed themselves in the mud.

Ecology is central to the Archipelago. We were given an eco-tour the first Wednesday after I arrived. This showed us much about the island and its delicate ecosystem.

This tour consisted of us visiting the seaweed plantation, going to a family’s home to see how coconut milk is made…by grating the innards of the fruit out… and paying a visit to Jambiani‘s much revered herbal doctor. These were useful chunks of knowledge tht we could gain an insight with.

Our guide told us that seaweed was the main cash crop on the Island and we were well-reminded of this every morning, when we would look out over the beach into the rising Indian Ocean sun and see handfuls of women and men toiling over their plots, trying to make a few pennies here and there.

They were the coolest people I’ve ever met. They were fun, smart, beautiful in the case of the women, and generally happy with their lot in life! What a place, where your heady dreams of fulfillment and paradise come to fruition!

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Storms in Brittany

A storm at Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, F...

A storm at Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, France Français : Pors-Loubous (Commune de Plogoff, Finistère) un jour de tempête 日本語: フランス、 フィニステール県、Plogoff、Pors-Loubousの嵐 Português: Uma tempestade em Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, França (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

I vividly remember standing on the rocky coastline of Brittany, near the small village of Penmarch in France’s Brittany region, and watching the wildest surf possible come in and strike the outcrops, dashing them again and again. It was a blast for a fourteen-year-old!

 

 

 

The first couple of times it happened, my mother and I were flabbergasted! We couldn’t believe our eyes. The cliffs were at least thirty feet high and still the waves hit the tops of them.

 

Balade dominicale....

Balade dominicale…. (Photo credit: Laurentquinquis *Lolo*)

 

My memory is embalmed with the smell and taste of the salt as the water lashed my face. And the lighthouse! Oh, the lighthouse…shining its thunderous beam through the mist. Its rotations, calm and orderly, provided  soothing and beautifully surreal feature to mother nature.

 

 

 

Eventually, we learned to adjust to the weather. But we never ceased to enjoy it and often a drive to the beach was in order. Wind would blow in our face and we’d lick the salt off our lips. What a time. Our journey would often take us out to the headland.

 

 

 

Memories like these make me happy to write on the blog. They are precious and are rarely encountered on somebody my age. I look back on them and realise that, whether it is the icy wind that slices through you in Norway or the allures of the Indian Ocean, travelling is a great pastime.

 

 

 

Well, if anyone feels like having a go at learning to speak French and shift geographical locations, then come here. You’ll love it!

 

 

 

All the King’s Men

Stockholm, Sweden 073 - Early morning - Royal ...

Stockholm, Sweden 073 – Early morning – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

Late August in Stockholm. How about that? How about seeing the Palace Guards? If you go to the city, then you have the chance to experience that privilege. Although, you’d best be warned. DO NOT touch anything beyond the guard rail. If you do, it will be on pain of death.

That was what a young man tried to do during the ensemble before the changing of the guards the day we were there. The guards, a magnificent sight in their gold pickelhaube helmets with screaming sky blue trousers, will make their intentions very clear and bark at anyone who trespasses.

Stockholm, Sweden 068 - Royal Guard at the Sto...

Stockholm, Sweden 068 – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

This particular individual reached across the flimsy rail and had the nerve to touch a cannon that lined the main path to the palace entrance. I did not see this.

What I did see, however, was the guard who briskly marched toward the scene of the incident and yelled “UT!”, waving his hand in the air and brandishing a heavy-duty rifle! Lesson well-learned, not that I needed to.

Afterwards, the changing of the guard happened and we were subject to a wonderful display. The Marines that were taking over from them put on a fantastic march.

Marvellous people with kind and helpful hearts inhabit the city that will leave its charm lingering in your memory forever.

What more could be said about this dreamy fairytale land other than we had a lovely, joyous time in the Swedish capital and it was the experience of a lifetime!

Spice Island Soaring

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I had booked a flying lesson the previous evening. Now, here I was up in the microlight, soaring like a young man dreams to from the age of three. How about that. How about flying high above the Indian Ocean‘s torquoise waters?

There was a deep blue, cloudless sky that Saturday and Cedric, my instructor, took me into the hangar where his Kitfox microlight was and he showed me around it before having some people roll it out onto the tarmac.

It was at this point that I was asked to take a seat in it. So I did and soon I heard the engine turn over.

The first thousand feet or so after takeoff was a bit bumpy. Its always a rush, though. Soon we started heading east and already could see the east coast where Jambiani is located.  Cedric asked me if I wanted to take the controls. I said yes, of course.

I handled it through a few shallow turns with the stick and a little bit of rudder. I was in paradise. What could be better for a young man like myself.

After we got on the ground, Cedric said that he thought it would be a easy for me to gain a Private Pilots License. This thrilled me! Wow! an instructor had just spoke those words to me!