S: Around the World in 28 Days (2011)
BC: Hi! Ni hao! Xin chao! Oo-a s'day! Namaste! Praram! Salamalaikum! Jambo! Ola! Salut! Hallo! | Thank You! Xie Xie! Cam on! Or-goon! Dhanya badd! Shukriya! Shokran! Asante sana! Obrigada! Merci! Takk!
FC: Around the World in 28 Days in a Private 737 with 70 Fellow Travellers, 3 Pilots, 1 Mechanic, 2 Tour Leaders and 4 Flight Attendants
1: From Vancouver 49 14' 58"N, 122 58' 47" To Anchorage, Alaska 61 10' 28"N, 149 59'47"W Elev: 152 ft Flying Time: 3 hours 25 minutes | What induced us to go on this trip was the fact that we would get to see sights we always wanted to see in a most efficient way, seeing them separately would take a decade or so. The other advantage was that only 2 flights would be longer than 5 hours and all would be during the day. Well... It started out great, private check-in, minimal fuss, champagne, great food on the plane, good wines and endless supply of drinks. Anchorage was grey and drizzly so no Aurora Borealis but no blizzard either. The check in at the hotel was lengthy and not organized. The Get-to Know your Fellow Travellers (FT) dinner was delicious and since it was my birthday everybody sang Happy Birthday and I had to go up to the speaker to receive a card. A little embarrassing but on the other hand I never had 80 people singing Happy Birthday for me before so there is a first for everything. From there it went downhill fast. Instead of sleeping a t the hotel we were told that Beijing changed the arrival slot and we had to leave the hotel at 11.30 pm to go to the airport. The bus let us out at the wrong terminal so we had to lug our bags about 1 mile to another one. No sleep on the plane. The seats, while wide, had no foot rests let along leg support. So with a refuelling stop in Russia we had 2 five hour legs on the plane. A lot of people got really cranky, me included, of course. We finally arrived in Beijing early in the morning, bleary eyed and totally ticked off. Clearly the travel organiser (Travel Guild from Toronto) knew of the change beforehand but found it wiser not to let on from the outset. Bad mistake! | Alaskan Wildlife | Old and New Architecture in Anchorage
2: Beijing, China 116 35' 04" E 40 04' 48" N, Elev: 116ft Flying Time: 10hrs 5 min | At least we got to go to our rooms at 8am and the Regent Hotel is incredibly luxurious, the food superb (breakfast from every corner of the world and so I indulged in pickled octopus babies (sorry!), congee, fruits and things I had never seen before). We slept for several hours after breakfast and later Jenice and William (our Chinese friends who returned from Vancouver to China for lack of suitable work) took us to a wonderful heritage building across the street. It was the former residence of the dean of Beijing University and is now a very fancy restaurant. We had 25, possibly more, delicious courses. Afterwards they showed us the neighbourhood and we walked to one of the many shopping areas and watched people and were overwhelmed by the many expensive brand name stores. There were also a few a few Chinese department stores. which looked like ours. The next day we did the usual sightseeing tour: Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. The square was full of Chinese tourists, usually each group in identical outfits. The palace consists of a large number of giant squares, one behind the next one. They were in not too great shape and what seems like miles later we came upon the Private Quarters which had an intimate scale and beautiful proportions. Peeking through the windows there was little to see and everything was very dusty. In the evening Jenice took us to dinner again and a performance at the Laoshe Teahouse, an old theatre and tea house where we watched a variety show, all weird and wonderful and no understanding of Chinese was needed to have a great time while nibbling on some more food and drinking delicious tea. Since Jenice had been praying for blue skies over Beijing, a rarity, we actually saw the miracle and two days were sunny. Then we experienced the "real" Beijing, terrible apocalyptic yellow sky, hazy sun, dusty trees and cars everywhere. Hardly any bicycles in sight. Since cars are only allowed to downtown on certain days, depending on the licence plate number, people like our friends have to have 3 cars to be able to drive to work everyday. Good for the GDP.
3: Vast spaces, intimate spaces, crowds everywhere. Lost in translation? The rare blue sky and the usual smog.
4: We were surprised at the slow speed people walk here, we had expected a frenzied pace. The traffic speed, however, is deadly and rules seem quite open to interpretation. After a great night's sleep and a long swim in the beautiful indoor pool we were ready to "climb the Wall". It is a truly mindboggling sight! I walked quite far up, the steps are wildly uneven and everybody is huffing and puffing. Thousands of people start the climb, .it looked like a giant ant hill. The higher I got the fewer people were around and it became quite pleasant. Going down was easier than anticipated and my legs hurt hardly at all. In the evening we skipped the group dinner and ate street food.and discovered rows and rows of narrow streets crowded with people, .food stands, .people hawking merchandise. Real fun! Much more as we had imagined China to be. Upon our return to the hotel we found out that our departure slot had been changed too and that we needed to get up at 2.30am. Mutiny was in the air. .Clearly they knew that in advance and instead of telling us at the outset they treated us like children. We were not impressed. GAP has a much better organisation at a fraction of the price of thisTravel Guild trip. | At the Laoshe Teahouse: acrobats, theatre, comics and musicians who each played with one hand his own and with the other his neighbour's instrument.
5: Miles and miles of food stalls. No idea what we ate, but it tasted good. A throne indeed, has nothing to do with the above pictures | In need of a cup of tea Teacups used as musical instruments Unusual foods! Very fancy WC Good Luck charms along the Wall | The amazing Wall
6: Climbing the Wall, or not!
7: Saigon, Vietnam 106 39' 07"E, 10 49' 08"N, Elev: 33ft, Flying Time: 5 hours | We arrived in Vietnam on the 20th of October and so far it is delightful. The hotel room and luggage distribution worked like a charm and the city is exciting. We have never seen so many motor scooters before! There is a constant honking and screeching, crossing a road is high risk but fun once you get the hang of it. People are smiling and the sky is bluish. The swimming pool is on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Hotel and allows for a nice view over the city. Vietnam is fascinating and possibly worth another trip. The French connection can be seen in Saigon, aka Ho Chi Minh City, in the elegant bearing of the women, the chic clothing even on the motor bikes and the delicious food. People smile a lot even if they don't want to sell you something! We toured the Mekong Delta, crossed the river on an interesting boat to Unicorn Island. The water is of a solidly brown colour except for tiny green islands floating on it, they turned out to be water hyacinths. On the island we transferred to small dugouts and were rowed through narrow canals, barely 15' across. We were shown a coconut candy "factory", a fresh fruit "plantation" with exotic fruit which were quite familiar to us from the Broadway stores at home but were new to many of our FTs. It is very hot and humid. We had lunch, Elephant ear fish, which was waiting on the tables for us. Maybe that was the reason that within 8 hours 14 of us were quite sick? Kari and I had discovered a market the day before. While generally you are expected to bargain many stores had a neat trick, pointing to an sign in English declaring that this was a government store and therefore prices were fixed. Hmmm. Many of the river boats have large eyes painted on them apparently to scare the crocodiles away who swam here before hunted to extinction. At 5.30am we were woken up by roosters although we seem to be in a fancy neighbourhood. Dinner the first night was on a river cruise boat which provided a nice breeze. Leaving Vietnam they took away my miniature Swiss Army knife and tiny nail files. The woman customs officer was very insistent.. Hmmm again. | The famous Vietnamese Electricity Tree | A couple of motor bikes.... | Glimpses of modern Vietnam | Cricket made out of a single palm leaf | Glimpses of the Colonial past
8: Chinese temple with hourly and week-long burning incense Great market with food, clothing, art and souvenirs sold by friendly, smiling merchants | The sidewalk serves as kitchen, living room and sometimes even bedroom
9: Scenes from the Mekong River and the canals on Elephant Island | Elephant Ear fish, the possible culprit of many severely upset intestines | Ingenious boats of all sizes
10: Siem Reap, Cambodia 103 48'46"E, 13 24' 38"N, Elev: 60 ft Flying time: 1 hr 5 minutes | !The Angkor Century Resort and Spa had a wonderful pool, delicious food for those who could eat again and a relaxing spa where we indulged in a massage Curtains and decorations inside the bus! Stuck in the mud! | Unfortunately the whole area of the South was flooded and it was awful to see the half submerged villages from the plane. We were lucky to get here this week as the groups last week couldn't get to the Angkor Wat site, which is the purpose of this stop. Even our smaller bus got stuck and we had to walk 1.5 km to the entrance which suited us fine, being in the "young and fit" bus, the others turned back as it was too strenuous for some of the FTs. 11 people are still suffering from food poisoning or such (including me). Hurrah for Immodium. The tour guides claim this has never happened before and the people who have taken these tours 4 times (!) confirm it. We departed for the South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphoun and the terrace of the Elephants. Angkot Wat is mindboggling, it is vast, it is intricate, i t is in a constant battle with the jungle. The kings had an interesting set of priorities once they ascended the throne. First thing: build a giant temple. Use thousands of workers, if they die, get more. If the king dies before the temple was finished it was an instant ruin as the next king started a new one right away. The ruins are eerie, many are getting slowly reclaimed by the vegetation which also badly damages the stone work.The buildings look mottled and even when the sun hits them it is hard to get a proper three dimensional picture of them as the shadows overlay the black and white streaks. But what details have survived are delicate and sometimes quite humorous. On the second day we saw Angkor Wat proper. It is a humongous site, very symmetrical, interesting sequences of spaces. We climbed some steep stairs and overlooking the area seeing the jungle approaching again. There are 4 levels to the "temple", each representing a stratum f society: workers, merchants, bureaucrats and the Royals. It is overrun by tourists like us but if one waits long enough one can take pictures devoid of humans which is probably totally unrealistic as before tourists the site was overrun by Cambodian people and rulers and before that by thousands of workers. I now thoroughly understand the expression :sticky heat. It is around 30 C and 99% humidity and my fingers and arms actually stick together and one has to sort of rip them apart. True! We also visited a craft school that is partially financed by the EU. The quality of their goods is very high, as are the prices but there is a great need for schools like that as the Khmer Rouge killed off so many people with knowledge in crafts and sciences that the tradition of handing it down has been broken. We saw some disabled people at the school, generally they are not integrated into society although especially in Cambodia there are tens of thousands of amputees (well hidden from the tourists). Still now, hundreds of people get maimed by land mines every year, it used to be thousands a year got killed and hurt by them.
12: The constant struggle of claiming from and reclaiming by the jungle
13: Vast and complex spaces, some had had their glory days, some had never been finished Elaborate and finely detailed relief carvings. Very steep stairs to the higher levels of the universe.
14: Churning the river of milk with a giant snake... Floor plan Details | Handing out candy (not a good idea culturally but kids like it) Scenes from the street Weirdest food I ate there
15: Kathmandu, Nepal 85 21' 33" E 27 41' 48"N Elev:4390 ft Flying Time: 3 hrs 50 m | What a contrast! The people in Cambodia were not only delicate looking but also lovely in their behaviours and gestures. Mind you, we were only in Siem Reap which relies almost entirely on tourism. But people smiled easily and apparently naturally. they were not pushy in the market but basically whispered: " you'd make me very happy, Madame, if you buy something from me".. In Kathmandu we were greeted in the airport with an awful, undefinable smell, the tour leader had to pay additional bribes so the officials would condescend to look at our passports and the forms which, as always, we got upon arrival starting a mad dash to fill them out instead of having organised it in a way so we would get them on the plane where we had plenty of time. The officials, 4 of them for each passport, worked at glacial speeds.. Not a single "welcome!" or smile. We had thought traffic in Vietnam was unbelievable. Compared to Kathmandu it was a well oiled, organised affair! We were stuck in the middle of an intersection for 30 minutes, the traffic around us squeezed, pushed, bumper to bumper, tire to tire. And unbelievably, not one but two traffic police were "directing" the traffic mayhem. Nobody gave a hoot, everybody honked their horns. At first it was amusing but it got annoying and finally, after half an hour two military fellows managed to stop the traffic and let us through. We had another feast at a restaurant and a 2 hour show of folk and other dances. We saw fascinating stupas on top of a hill overlooking the smog filled valley. Large birds were circling over a particular spot below. Who knows over what? Everything was unbelievably filthy. Possibly even filthier than Egypt! We had anticipated a clean and serene country but it was the exact opposite. The government had promised a constitution years ago but nothing has been produced. In the meantime. It is everybody for him/her self. Some women are dressed in jeans, some in saris. Everybody practices Hinduism and Buddhism simultaneously. The hotel is super swanky I guess we are helping to provide a lot of jobs. The second day the world seemed transformed! Thanks to an important holiday everybody was scrubbing down buildings, awnings and decorating their door steps with thousands of marigold garlands, petals and coloured rice. We were taken to a Swiss run Tibetan Refugee centre where they produced high quality pashmina and gorgeous carpets. We bought many shawls and a small rug. Afterwards we were taken to a "handicraft" centre, probably run by the local tour guides cousin which had awful and ridiculously overpriced wares. Nobody stayed long. We were finally allowed out of the buses and joined the throngs of people, amazingly nobody got lost or squashed! Passing by wonderful, World Heritage architecture we were hustled into an interior courtyard where we were served a bland lunch and neither the local nor our guide bothered to point out the fabulous works of architecture that surrounded the plazas. We escaped for a little while on our own to discover lovely places and shops. The buildings were truly amazing, stacked in a haphazard way, painted, decorated, some just a smidgen away from toppling over.It is a fascinating city, noisy beyond belief, colourful, dirty, sellers everywhere hounding you. To live well in this city one needs apparently $ 300.00 per month.I think just our group often buys that from the many women who sell jewellry and trinkets within a few blocks. We like the stuff and help them into middle class. It is practically our duty!!! | Expectation: Pristine Himalayan Mountains Reality: Chaos. Filth and surprising glimpses of beauty
16: Chaos and Serenity
18: Scary ancient and modern constructs Stupa on top of a hill overlooking the city
19: Sunset over Kathmandu Sweeping views and small details Extreme contrasts everywhere
20: Fabulous colours. Slums. Our 5 star hotel. Tibetan Refugee Centre spinners. Weird tree. Prayer flags.ingenious architecture.
21: Kathmandu..incredible traffic, noise, pollution, art,splendour, filth, ingenuity...and then some more dirt
22: Small and even tiny decorations in front of entries, sometimes incorporating existing stones of the pavement
23: Agra, India 77 57' 39 E 27 09' 21" N Elev: 551 ft Flying Time: 1 hour 40m | The next day we flew to Agra. Luckily we could land directly and did not have to go via Delhi, as feared in which case we would never have made it to see the Taj Mahal in time! Getting through customs was yet an other ordeal, nobody seems to land at this airport and we didn't see an other plane. Although informed of our arrival hours in advance there was only a single, VERY slow, officer there. Maybe he expected a bribe to speed things up? But since we all had a heck of a time filling out the forms for the visa in Canada we felt we had done our duty and more already. At the hotel we were greeted by a group of Bangra dancers, the hotel was vast in the style of Imperial palaces. You basically needed a guide to find the way to your room. Service however was far from Imperial. We wasted a lot of time waiting to get a connection in our room and finally gave up. Although we had had lunch on the plane we had to have a second one at the hotel, little did we know that this total waste of time later prevented us from seeing the inside of the Taj Mahal or we would have revolted right then and there. The Taj was every bit as stunning as I had expected and more. The thousands of people who were there also can confirm it! In fact, the line up to the interior of the Taj was kilometers long, as we got there relatively late we missed the opportunity to go inside which was very disappointing and had one FT in tears.The proportion and whiteness of the Taj are stunning, the landscaping perfect. The snaking line of colourfully clad people was a wonderful contrast. A ride in a rickety contraption pulled at high speed by a skinny horse took us to the gate. Miraculously nobody fell out. Dinner was a grand affair in a stunningly decorated garden, guarded and welcomed by sentries and maidens showering us with flower petals. Fabulous drummers and dancers entertained us, the dancers footwork was incredibly fast and the steps made the bells on their legs jingle madly. The next day we went to Fort Agra. We hadn't expected much but this was simply breathtaking! There were endless series of courtyards and gardens and before the Brits carted off all the gold that decorated the columns and the carpets it - must have been a sight out of this world. No time for shopping as the plane was waiting for the flight to Dubai. | First impressions Chaos, dirt, people everywhere, cows everywhere, ingenious improvisations Colours and more colours in wild and amazing combinations
24: Second Impression:Stunning beauty! The colour of the Taj Mahal is impossible to capture, it is stunning in every shade. People line up patiently for hours to see the inside. The gate and other structure are of red brick which makes the Taj the whiter.
25: Luxury and poverty Expanse and extreme crowdedness
26: Fort Agra
27: Fort Agra
28: Dubai, UAE 55 21'52"E, 25 15' 10"N Elev.: 62ft, Flying Time: 3hrs 50 min | The flight to Dubai was fascinating. We flew over arid plains and strange mountain formations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. No wonder the Taliban rebels are so hard to find. It seems quite impossible judging from this new perspective. Arriving in Dubai in the "Private Plane" section we still had to wait but in luscious leather seats and drinks in our hands. The promised lunch on top of our hotel on the 50th floor in a Japanese restaurant was a total disappointment: it was dark by the time we got there, the teppan included scalloped potatoes and my small sake cost $ 40.00. The hotel rooms were large, all marble and dark wood, everything electric and many of us had to sleep with lights on as it was impossible to turn them off unless you read through a lengthy manual. The light switch to the bathroom on the other hand was behind the open door and impossible to find. It was like a scene from the Tati movie "Mon Oncle". Dubai was a fishing village 50 years ago. Then oil was discovered. Apparently the then ruler was of the enlightened kind and distributed money generously among his people. He also wisely foresaw that oil was unlikely to last forever and pushed for a large traffic hub both for air travel and shipping. He built, and continues to build, the largest hub in the region and indeed most of the income now comes from these commercial enterprises. Money buys a lot of things but taste is not one of them. Oh the pain to look at these highrises! They are truly beyond description! While some architects got the chance to express their egos with at least interesting results others are just pomp and megalomania. The malls are gigantic but luckily my guts are still out of it and I spent most of my time recuperating at the hotel. There is one exception though: the highest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa is 808 METERS high.and is a poem set in architecture. When the desert storms blow though, the top sways 10ft! We went to a museum that documents the history of Dubai and it was very well done but there were too many people thronging through it. In the evening Kari joined the excursion into the desert for a traditional meal and belly dancing. The dancer was from the Ukraine. We are now more than half way through our trip. After the first week people started to get to know each other and small sub-groups formed.. Generally we are in 2 bus groups of 36 and people come from all walks of life. We are about in the middle of the age groups, which range from early 40 to mid 80's. The cultural sensitivities vary vastly and one person in particular seems to have none. She even bought a burka, put it on in the market and proceeded to link arms with the fellows in our group and hugging them and clowning for the cameras. I pointed out that this was not only insensitive but possibly dangerous. She had no ideas. With so many people it was easy to find either like minded people or some with differing but interesting points of view. Even though we travelled together for 28 days I didn't get around to talk to all of them. Some younger ones are slow and hate to walk, some older ones are full of vim and vigour. Most are Caucasians, one has a Chinese background and 3 South Asian ones. All but 2 are Canadians, mostly from Ontario. Some have taken the trip 3 times already but for most it is the first time.
29: Gift shop at the museum At the market One of the many malls | Kari in the desert Viviane at the beach Some astounding building, others made me shudder Beautiful old boats harking back to the Fishing Village past of Dubai
30: In the beginning there was the desert, then the oil, then the malls, then the high-rise buildings (some fascinating, some terrible), the kitsch, the pomp and then the realisation that one should preserve at least some of the past. And then there remained some mysteries. (rise store??)
32: Masai Mara, Kenya 35 15'E 1 35' S Elevation: 5800ft Flying Time 5 hours | Jambo! This was amazing. We hadn't planned to go on Safari ever but this was definitely one of the highlights! The lodge was set in a beautiful area with its own hippopotamus pond only steps away. We were welcomed by colourfully dressed Masai youth who performed traditional dances which included jumping as high in the air as possible seemingly without bending the legs while singing and humming mesmerizing tunes with fascinating rhythms. 6.30am we were in the safari vehicles, just after a beautiful sunrise accompanied by a symphony of bird songs. The roads were deeply rutted, we were lucky as the group the week before us could not go out as the "roads" were impassable because of torrential rains. We spotted a spotted hyena trotting along, driving to a hillock we basically stopped right in front of a lioness communicating with some far away friends in a strange, loud growl. Next there was a cheetah, then an ostrich, then a pride of lions, a herd of elephants, zebras, gnus (wildebeest), many gazelles, birds of all sizes, a leopard resting near his fresh kill, another one lying in a tree, then more elephants, zebras and of course the phlegmatic, smelly hippos who turned out swift footed once the sun was down and they swam to shore to graze.
33: Wide open spaces surrounded by low mountains just a few kilometers North of the Serengeti
34: Dawny Eagles | Marabu Stork White Stork Secretary Bird Eagle Southern Crowned Hornbill | Lilac Breasted Roller Grey Crowned Crane Masai Ostrich Vulture Helmeted Guinea Fowl | White Browed Robin-Chat | Kori Bustard | Cape Glossy Starling
35: Dawn and dusk at the lodge Ever fascinating hippos Amazing skull bones
36: We saw the animals from a far, up close and eye to eye!
37: Smaller planes flew us from Nairobi to Masai Mara. Monkeys strolling about the beautiful grounds at the lodge, still, clear nights at this high elevation | "Authentic" Masai Village, clearly all staged for tourist. 30 minute show at $ 20.00 a person. Not seen: motorbikes by the dozen parked behind bushes. Aggressive market after the show, kids tore the candies from my hand in great contrast to the kids in Vietnam and Cambodia. We would have enjoyed the visit much more if they hadn't pretended so much and just said: this is how we used to live". | 'authentic" warrior with lion's head and digital wrist watch to tell him when it is time to go hunting? | Jumping high even without MBT's (Masai Barefoot Technology) shoes that I have been wearing for the past 5 years and paid a fortune for!
38: Sao Tome 6 42' 44"E, 0 22'41" N Elevation: 33ft Flying Time 4 hrs 40 min | We are now smack on the equator, a short stop at a nice hotel right on the beach with a lovely "eternity" pool. As we went on the next morning we didn't have much time to explore but Kari and I went for a walk at 8am and it was already unbearably hot. We were dripping within minutes! However we saw beautiful, though dilapidated Colonial buildings. People were friendly as tourism is still relatively new. We somehow missed the market which apparently was fascinating. As we love markets we were rather miffed about this but instead of exploring after sunset we went to bed thinking in our Northern mindset that things happen in the morning, not at night. So we learned something new, unfortunately the hard way.
39: Principe and Sao Tome are former Portugese colonies and have just recently changed from a Communist regime to a government that is trying to attract tourism.
40: Dakar, Senegal 14 44' 23" N, 17 46' 48"WElevation: 85ft, Flying Time 4 hrs 20 min | The airport had only 2 planes arriving and getting to immigration was speedy, but there it slowed right down again. Although in a "Private" jet we only had privileges in a couple of the airports, I guess, we not "private" enough! Dakar was hot! I felt like Gulliver, everybody here seems at least 2 m tall and pitch black, the people look stunning. In Cambodia it was me who towered over the native people, here I feel like a shrimp. A pink one to boot. The women dress in many bright colours and wear the clothes with verve, like Parisians. Dakar is on the Western-most part of Africa which facilitated the slave trade both to the Americas and Europe. The main slave traders were Arabs who bought them in the interior of the continent to sell them on the coast but many African tribes were in the business as well capturing other tribes and selling them. We went to Goree Island off Dakar where most slaves were held and fed again to reach the minimal required weight before being thrown on the ships. As soon as we got off the ferry, indeed even on it, we were pestered to exhaustion by vendors who, with unbelievable insistence , tried to sell us trinkets. In Dakar we saw tens of thousands of goats, they were everywhere. The reason was the Islamic festival Eid coming up where every family is to slaughter an animal and invite their families for a feast. They also are to buy new clothes and clean their houses made the normally dirty city much more appealing. Buildings range from palaces to abodes consisting of a couple of rags thrown over ropes, often right in front of the fancy mansions..Senegal had been colonised for centuries, the last time by the French and their influence is still visible. French is the official language but the patois was hard for us to understand. As in every country we visited we went to a restaurant that features local dancing. This one was on top of an Art Gallery (read: tourist trap) but was open and had lovely breezes and good food.The dancing was wild! 4 very young girls moved, jumped, twirled to the beat of 4 drummers at speeds that made Jitterbug seem like a Viennese Waltz! A nice pool at the hotel invited to a swim and cooling off and the restaurant served nice food which we enjoyed with 3 other couples. We had a great time complaining about the organisation and exchanging stories.
41: Goree Island Dakar Scenes Goats everywhere Giant monument " For A Better Future"
42: How a lot of people seem to live How we lived Large harbour in Dakar Interesting buildings amongst hovels Cargo on the ferry to Goree Island
43: Colourful buildings hiding a hideous past on Goree Island The last corridor on African soil before the enslaved got forced on the ships
44: Marrakech, Morocco 8 2'11 'W 31 36'24"N Elevation 1545ft, Flying Time 3 hrs | Well, unfortunately here is where the organisation of the Travel Guild really blew it. Marrakech is famous for its great Medina and the narrow streets of craftsmen and artisans, the streets of weavers, of dyers, of coppersmiths etc. I remembered it from my trip there in about 1969. As we arrived in the evening my cold was in full bloom but luckily Kari decided to go to the Medina with another couple. He took some great pictures and was astounded by the lively hustle and bustle. The main square was full of story tellers, magicians and snake charmers. Unfortunately many of our FTs were tired and stayed at the hotel. Remember Eid, the huge Islamic festival? Well, it started the next day and every craft store, every artisan shop was closed down for 3 days!!! The exact length of our stay. I was furious as I knew what we were missing. Others had no idea and were happy with few tourist shops. What we did get to see were countless little fires everywhere where improvised BBQs smoldered away. All covered with goat heads and some legs. After all hair were burned off these were smashed up for soup. Our usual entertainment/dinner took place outside town with a staged production of a horse mounted battle, singing and belly dancing. The food was delicious, the belly dancer, barely covered, incongruous as the women generally are covered up in burkas and veils. Just like in Egypt last year, when I was in Morocco previously the women were generally dressed like in the West, were smoking and gathered with their boy friends. You would not see that now. The net day we were driven into the countryside near the High Atlas mountains in 4x4s.The Atlas here reaches around 4100 meters and we drove on some precarious pass "roads" through gorgeous areas tinted by red stone and the sands of the Sahara. It was very difficult to spot the Berber villages as they fit in perfectly with their surroundings. It is definitely subsistence farming, Eid surviving goats, sheep, some dromedaries. Lunch was in a little resort and we agreed that that was the best meal of the entire trip so far. The colours of Morocco are well defined, brilliant blue sky, reddish/pink stone and some green bushes and trees. Our hotel had a luscious Andalusian Garden with fountains and a gazillion birds arrived just before nightfall and their songs drowned out not only the sounds of the fountains but of the muezzins as well. Salamalaikum!
45: Left over skins waiting to be processed after Eid BBQing the heads and legs | Sunset over the Main Square Glimpses of the Market on the first night Medina Gate | Stork on one of the Medina Gates
46: The Medina and markets as they usually are...and as they were when we were there (except for a few hours one evening)
47: Trip towards the High Atlas mountains The colours of Morocco
48: Reykjavik, Iceland 22 36'20 W 64 08 Elevation 171ft Flying Time: 5hrs 30min Keflavik-Ottawa 6hrs, Ottawa-Toronto 1hr, Toronto-Vancouver 5 hrs | We arrived in the late afternoon and it was dark. Passport control was a breeze, the bus awaited us and the hotel was ready a 40 min drive away. We passed a somewhat deserted, large area, a former US base now transformed into student housing and most teaching is via the net. We also passed a giant plant: aluminum smelting. Apparently it is worth shipping bauxite all the way from Australia(!) as the electricity in Iceland is very cheap. At the evening dinner a lovely choir of girls and one boy sang traditional songs. What a contrast to the Chinese acrobats, the Cambodian and Vietnamese dancers, the Kenyan jumpers, the wild women in Senegal and the warrior dancers in Morocco! But all of the performances were typical for their culture and really entertaining and informing. The next day we went for a sight-SEEING tour at 9am. Except it was still pitch dark! After an hour through a fascinating, barren landscape it was light enough to admire the rocks, the lichens and moss and the lava. There are only about 350 000 Icelanders and most of them live in the Capital. A stunning waterfall was one of the sights. The weather was cool, very windy and rainy. Luckily there was a great gift shop where one item cost as much as a whole haul in the markets we had been to in the rest of the world! Fixed prices! What a relief! The apartment buildings we passed were mostly unimaginative blocks, boring and depressing. We all decided we could not live here in spite of the long summer days that compensate for the dark winters. The geysirs we saw were bubbly but not as exciting as the ones in Yellowstone for example. The next day we stopped at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. The building around it was innovative and well proportioned, Kari and many others went for a swim in the sulphuric water and came out looking 20 years younger. Or so they thought. After a long trip back to Vancouver we were delighted to be met by Cheyenne, Kieran and Esme waving happily to see us back and we were equally happy to be back.
49: Fascinating emptiness, yet full of subtle colours Entrance to the Blue Water Lagoon Spa complex
50: THE Crack! Here is where the geologic plates separate and why we have a subduction zone outside Vancouver Island. Who knew?
51: Conclusion Was the not inconsiderable expense worth it? Yes! We saw the sights we always wanted to see in the most efficient way, in one swoop around the globe instead of single, long return trips. Did the brochure give a realistic picture of the trip? Not necessarily. We expected private planes to be expedited but often it seemed to be exactly the opposite. While the seats were wide and comfortable they lacked footrests and there was no leg support. The middle console made it impossible to sleep. Every flight though started with a Mimosa and there was an open bar during the flight of which some people made ample use! The hotels were supposed to be 4 and 5 star ones but the interpretations were flexible. They were fine as far as we concerned but some FTs were grumbling. The best hotel, by far, was the Regent in Beijing. Was the organisation competent? Not necessarily. We wasted a lot of time filling out forms in the airports instead of having them available on the plane where we had plenty of time and space to fill them out. Many of the local tour guides spoke with almost incomprehensible accents which was a shame as they seem to know a lot of interesting facts. Also, we always seem to end up in touristy, highly overpriced shops presumably chosen by the generosity of the kick-backs. The owner of the Travel Guild joined us in Dubai, he was supposed to be the tour leader. Instead he left that part to clearly overwhelmed guides with little or no experience in their new roles. When he finally joined us all he said to Kari and me was: "Hi, my name is Ben" and that was it for the whole trip! ! No apology for the mess ups, the group leaders apparently had to talk him into springing for the bottled water in the restaurants! You'd think that could have been included, in fact, even the wine should have been (it was, on occasion). However:! We met many nice and interesting people, had great fun and laughter and every now and then delightful gossiping. At the end of the trip I talked to a 76 year old grandmother from Alberta who had spent the 10 days previous to the trip on a combine every day, all day long to bring in barley and oats. Then there was the guy who used to own many radio stations and introduced Ella Fitzgerald in a concert after discussing with her the various weight loss diets back stage. Then there were the retired school teachers, entrepreneurs, the young multi-millionaire couple who used the trip mostly to go from A to B but preferred staying in the $ 1500.00 suite at the Armani in Dubai, shunning our 5 star hotel. Would we do it again? For some people this was their 4th trip with Travel Guild! For us, as for many others, this was likely the first and last one. It is expensive yet only about half price compared to similar trips available. We saw what we set out to see, in relative ease, with a lot of luck weather- wise and many fun people but could not find a Scrabble partner!