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Saturday, 01 May 2021

Cape & Town, South Africa

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In England, as the saying goes, one can experience four seasons in a day. On the South Africa cape, they’ve economized somewhat. “Three seasons,” the residents will tell you, and since the standard African calendar is divided into wet or dry, it bolsters the argument that Cape Town is a place apart somehow. Africa, but not really. Different vibe from the continent. Nevertheless, I wondered how that elusive third season manifested itself, even just for the day. Cape Town, according to the folks who compile such lists, is routinely slotted as one of the globe’s loveliest cities. It’s certainly that, and judging from my airport cabbie’s rapid litany: “Dutch rule…British rule…Boer Wars…Nelson Mandela spoke here…Christian Barnard operated there…” has seen its share of history. The inner city is a handsome center of glass and steel with an upward sweep toward Table Mountain and a downward spread to the Waterfront, the…
At some point, between the cataracts and grunting hippos, one starts to grapple with the basics, the real mysteries of life. For instance, the letter Z. With Zambia on the left bank, Zimbabwe on the right and my ‘sunset cruise’ ferrying me down the Zambezi, the riddle of ‘Z’ inevitably crops up. As for the Zambezi itself, I loved it from the first. Loved the name. Africa’s more famous waterways, the Nile, the Congo, might have their pyramids and gorillas, but if ever a moniker conjured up unscrupulous ivory hunters and Edgar Rice Burroughs, surely it would be the Zambezi. Two days prior, the Zimbabwe officials had sold me a dual visa for fifty dollars and I snagged a ride with a South African troupe over No Man’s Land (catching a tantalizing glimpse of lofty cliffs and mists and pounding waters), arriving at the Zambian frontier and its town of…
Tuesday, 01 September 2020

Poling the Okavango, Botswana

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The Old Bridge Backpacker’s Lodge has a cool, bohemian wayfarer air; a shrinking anomaly in Botswana, where the tourist mandarins are phasing out the backpacker crowd and phasing in the high rollers (flights into the bush and want-for-nothing lodges at two thousand dollars a night). But the packers were certainly here today, sitting at the outdoor tables, chatting and smoking and having breakfast, so Botswana hadn’t purged them yet. And it was a lovely spot to boot, with a pond and a creek and water birds and the rickety bridge from which, I suppose, the lodge took its name. There was also a sign near the pond: BEWARE OF CROCODILES So the reported sighting yesterday may have been legit. While I’d been arranging for the Okavango trip at the tour office in Maun, one of the other clerks burst through the doors. “They saw a big crocodile at the Old…
Wednesday, 01 July 2020

Sossusvlei, Namibia

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“If you want to get to Sesriem,” said Mr. Duplessis. “You have to hire a driver. Or find someone who’s going that way.” The trouble with Namibia is that nobody lives in Namibia. Notwithstanding the Intercape line, which links southern Africa’s major cities there’s not enough public for public transit. The big bus had wheezed to a stop in Mariental at five in the morning, depositing me outside a Wimpy’s restaurant and adjacent gas pumps. For the past twenty hours, between naps, I’d been chatting with Mr. Duplessis, up from Cape Town to visit his daughter and in-laws. Sesriem was the jump off for the great dunes at Sossusvlei. As for people ‘going that way’, most had already left or been picked up by family. Then our Wimpy’s waitress flipped her cell phone and told her husband he had a client. “He’ll be here in about twenty minutes with his…
Art galley tours are the next thing to adapt to today’s social distancing. Here are some museums you can explore online with virtual tours or with their collections online: The Louvre, Paris Everyone knows its impossible to see all of the Louvre in one visit anyways, so some pre- or post-visit perusal is warranted, even without a pandemic. They also have a free virtual reality app to view Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in 360: Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass. Download it on the app store for android or apple. https://www.louvre.fr/en You can search the collection here: https://www.louvre.fr/en/moteur-de-recherche-oeuvres or see their masterpieces here: https://www.louvre.fr/en/selections/masterpieces Their list of video’s is here: https://www.louvre.fr/en/media-en-ligne Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy The best of their collection is right here on the first page: https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks You can do a virtual tour on Google and ‘walk’ around the museum here: https://artsandculture.google.com/streetview/uffizi-gallery/1AEhLnfyQCV-DQ or use the museum's 360 for its…
Sunday, 01 July 2018

Chilly Chile

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Ask any travelista, Chile is a quiet country. It’s not an Argentina or Brazil. It can’t tout – “We are the Paris of South America” as Buenos Aires, Argentina, can. Nor does it house the largest and most famous rainforest in the world – as Brazil can claim. In fact, in the ‘90s comedy film “There’s Something About Mary,” one of Mary’s crackpot, lying suitors owns up to his lies by asking who’s been to Santiago, Chile, twice in one year. Preposterous notion. I always chirp at the TV – “I have!” But still. Ouch. I bet Chile felt the burn on that one. Chile is magnificent partially for, not despite, all its quietness and modesty. Some might call it an emotionally “cold” country. “Where are my gloves?” I call it “beautiful.” I used to travel there in the mid-2000s while working for The Economist magazine. It was always my…
When I requested a fellow passenger to take my picture on the aerobridge, another passenger popped thru the phone screen exclaiming "At least ensure you can read Kazakhstan Airways" only to get a fitting reply by the photographer in question "It's Uzbekistan not Kazakhstan!" Such is the knowledge of Indians traveling to the mystical land of the Uzbeks, and I was thrilled to be on the flight after contemplating for many years! The aircraft was much beyond my expectation, new, modern and up to date although the airline staff does require a real world training of 'service with a smile.' The short flight from Delhi got me into Tashkent in the afternoon and after a quick lunch I was ready to explore the city. My first impressions were the quietness, cleanliness and the orderliness. With a small population of 2 million the city lends a feeling of usual tardiness. I…
Friday, 01 September 2017

Alias Mumbai

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I don’t know who Charlie Gibbs happens to be but somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, he has a ‘fracture zone’ named for him. That zone didn’t sound promising – the epicenter for some future tsunami no doubt, but what struck me was the informality of it. Why not Charles Gibbs, or better yet, Sir Charles? (My travel snobbery is boundless). I was considering names hours later as we approached India and honed in on the airport of BOM, a rather unnerving abbreviation on the flight map and quaintly out of date too – the city hadn’t been tagged as Bombay for twenty years and one would have thought MUM’s the word. Mumbai at that point was a transit stop – I had business in Gujarat State but I returned a week later to tour the city proper. With lingering, unpleasant memories of Delhi from two decades ago I felt uneasy, although…
Saturday, 01 July 2017

Solo Hike to the top of Diamond Head

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During President’s weekend I found a great airfare to Honolulu on the island of Oahu for a long “pop-up” weekend. One of my favorite hotels is the Outrigger Waikiki Beach due to it’s location – right in the middle of Waikiki Beach. It’s beachfront rooms offer one of the most photogenic spots for outrigger canoes, catamaran sailboats and the morning sun rising above the dormant Diamond Head volcano. Another perk about this hotel is it’s complimentary Waikiki Connection trolley. With over 20 stops throughout Honolulu, I took the trolley my first morning to the base of Diamond Head to hike from inside the volcanic crater to the top along the rim. It’s a good morning activity before the sun heats up the two mile trail. In the late 1700s, Western explorers and traders believed the calcite crystals on the slope of the craters were diamonds, and the name Diamond Head…
Frosh week, pompoms and marching bands notwithstanding, the phrase ‘university town’ conjures up visions of mom‘n pop bookstores, the distant lilt of campus ditties and students composing under the Old Oak Tree. In Pune, one must factor in the host nation. As our bus skirted the city’s outer ring, we encountered three sights common to India; opulent wedding processions, impoverished tent cities and traffic jams to eternity. Pune was an Indian city to its core, with all the color and mania and crowds I’d come to expect, a university town as described by The Simpsons’ Apu, graduating first in his class of seven million. I’d checked in at the Centurion Hotel and rashly paid for the first two nights in cash, to show them I was a big man. This left me skint but near the bus station, an ATM coughed up the requisite rupees and I drifted through a…

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