I left Ziguinchor, a city in the south of Senegal, in a bush taxi to spent nine hours travelling through hot scrubby bush to Tambacounda, a scorching hot and dusty junction town on the very finger nail of the Gambia. The hotel I had chosen – primarily because it suited my somewhat meagre budget – turned out to have closed, but a friendly local man named Moussa, who lived in a shack nearby, offered me a bed in his family compound. He showed me to a dark room with a grubby mattress and a fan that merely swilled the hot, soupy atmosphere around. There were goats tied up in the corner, and children being scrubbed from head to toe in a large bowl in the middle of the room. It was perfect. The family was friendly and, come the evening, I joined them around a large bowl of rice and fish, dipping my hand in to eat like a local.
I think I mentioned the heat? In my years of travel, I don't think I've ever been quite so hot; sometimes it felt too hot to breathe. I simply lay down and felt the sweat trickle into my eyes and ears. I was hot. My mattress was hot. The towel soaked in water I used to try to cool myself was dry within twenty minutes. It was 45°C. Feverishly hot.
A few weekends ago in Busan, Korea, my friend and I just happened to get on the topic of eating dog meat. When I asked if he had ever eaten it he said yes; I never did and I was a bit surprised that he had, being from New Zealand. After all, my friend didn’t look like someone who would eat dog meat. By that I mean he didn’t have long arms with knuckles that dragged the floor when he walked or oversized fangs protruding from his mouth. He looks like a normal person. My friend then said, rather cheerfully, that he loved it and that it tasted like beef or mutton, "depending on how it's cooked." I thought to myself how disgusting and terrible it is to eat what we westerners consider to be 'man’s best friend' and, on top of that, say that it tastes like a farm animal. The next thing he did, almost inevitably, was to ask if I'd like to try some. I laughed. I like to try new things, but this was newer than I'd expected. 'Heck I'm in Korea, so why not?", I thought, and answered in the affirmative. I suddenly wondered to myself, did I just say yes to eating dog meat? I love dogs. Ever since I was a child I have loved dogs. I still carry a picture of my own beloved though long-dead pooch in my wallet. How could I have so readily agreed to partake in such an act of treason to my dog’s memory? But it was too late. My friend already had the plan in motion, which included inviting his Aussie friend, who also loved Bosintang, to witness my canine treachery. Wonderful!
Something mystical wanders the streets of Istanbul right around dinnertime. As sunset drags its last slow light over the city one can feel it. Up from the cracks in the cobblestone streets of Sultanahmet rises an almost palpable feeling of insight into one’s own role in the inexorable passage of time, like the steamy byproduct of the fermentation of history. Droopy-lidded cats that spent the day napping on centenarian graves, legs dripping over the sides in the lazy way that only cats can sleep, wake and stretch their toes. The Aksam [ed. the Muslim call to prayer as it is called in Turkey] sounds from the minarets.
And in this end-of-day haze, connections are made over cups of thick Turkish coffee, through the rattle of backgammon dice, wafting in the candied smoke of apple flavored tobacco. These connections linger on, even after memories have been filed away in the stacks of dormancy. I have seen a pattern emerge since the month I spent in the city that straddles continents.
Chaos. That, and supplying my own roll of toilet tissue were the only things I anticipated before my trip to India. I wasn’t disappointed, although I wish I had been better prepared for other things. After all, you can’t tip a porter with toilet tissue.
1. Expect to love it one minute and hate it the next.
Before I arrived I swore I wouldn’t be one of those people who “still can’t decide how they feel about India,” but I am – and at least now I can understand why. In India good and bad experiences rapidly intertwine, leaving travelers confused and skeptical one moment and delighted and amused the next.
2. Expect to tip everyone, for everything.
Porters, hotel security and waiters? Tip, tip and tip. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard they worked for you – they’ll be expecting something for their trouble. The amount, however, is “as you like.” Keep small bills – 10, 20 and 50 rupee notes [ed. values current at the time of posting of about $0.20, $0.40 and $1.00 US] – in an easily accessible place for these occasions.
3. Expect to drink a lot of chai.
The pilgrim first touched my right breast with her index finger, and then my left. I wondered if it was some kind of blessing, or whether she just wanted to see if they were real. A nearby Dutch tourist said, “Oh no, she wants some of that,” which made me giggle hysterically. I had gotten all kinds of remarks about my larger-than-local bosom in my years in China, but this was the first unasked for physical contact. The pilgrim was doing the daily kora - part of the pilgrimage at Labrang Tibetan Monastery - in the small town of Xiahe, in Gansu Province, China. One might think that a pilgrim’s walk around a vast monastery would be slow and reflective. Not so. These were intrepid hikers, walking at a brisk pace, swirling the outdoor prayer wheels as they went. Maybe it is part of the devotional practice, but I never heard them talking to anyone. Maybe they were too much out of breath.
In the spring of 2010, I decided to bite the bullet and do something I’ve always wanted to do: take six months out of my life to live abroad, sample another culture and way of life, and study Spanish in a language school. I thought what better place to do so than the sizzling hot city of Marbella, a millionaire’s playground on Spain’s stunning Costa del Sol, a place close to my heart having travelled there extensively with my parents as a child.
I arrived to a spacious apartment, which I was to share with three other students in the language school. It was fully furnished and equipped with all the essentials in the kitchen, a large lounge with dining table, television area and two bathrooms with views of the sea and the picturesque mountains that server as Marbella's dramatic backdrop. The first thing I did was fling open the doors to my private balcony terrace, from which I had perfect views overlooking the city below. My location was perfect: two minutes' walk to the beachfront, right in the centre of everything going on and eagerly anticipating where my journey might take me over the next few months. All I had on my mind at this point was paella, picadors and Puerto Banus!
Violence, conflict, displacement and political unrest are just a few of the words that rush to mind when
Sit back and relax along the river while sipping on a cup of tea. Enjoy the breath taking scenery and visit the old Dutch buildings within the city center. And at night time, take a walk and go shopping along Jonker Walk. That and many other interesting things are in store for you when you visit the UNESCO Heritage city of Melaka (Melacca) in Southern Malaysia. The site of the colonial trading era and shipping center, this place is a historian’s dream come true, while its beauty could make a miserable person happy.
During my many months of sightseeing throughout Malaysia, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Melaka. I checked in at the Roof Top Guesthouse, where I felt extremely welcomed by the staff and was given some valuable information on places to visit in the city. Since Melaka City is easy to see via two feet or two wheels, I decided to rent a bike to take in the sights around town.