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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we approached India and honed in on the airport of BOM, a rather unnerving abbreviation on the flight map and quaintly out of date too – the city hadn’t been tagged as Bombay for twenty years and one would have thought MUM’s the word.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…
A ball of orange fired up the Cambodian sky, casting heat on the makeshift market stalls lining Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Road. Cars dotted the road and yawned past the protruding awnings, pop-up shops and pedestrian consumers. Veng Sreng slowly stretched itself awake as the clock rolled around to nine in the morning. AFESIP Fair Fashion’s Executive Director Rotha navigated his truck towards the AFESIP workshop and spoke of the grisly not-so-distant history behind Veng Sreng’s serene façade. Less than three years ago, the workers of this largely industrial area took to the streets in protest for higher wages. The unfortunate result: Five deaths and at least 40 injured as government troops rained AK47 bullets on the crowd. Without Rotha filling in the background, I’d have remained ignorant to these tragic events of early 2014. The AFESIP workshop shows a similar façade; situated on a peaceful side street near Veng…
Sunday, 01 May 2016

Standing Naked in Turkey

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Not long ago I found myself on the shores of Mediterranean Turkey. In the course of this voyage, I booked a tour to see Pammakule and Heirpolis. Ancient ruins and mineral deposits on the sides of cliffs . . . seriously, there is little better to fuel the fire of my inner nerd and wanderlust gal. Though, perhaps one of the perks of this trip was the promise to bathe in the mineral waters of Cleopatra, slather myself in healing mud, and stand in the sun absorbing vitamin D while it dried. After all, I do live in the northern hemisphere, New York City to be exact, so the odds of my ever holding the recommended value of vitamin D is a sliding scale of slim to never. Though, in eleven countries and and thirty-three US states (nine of them having lived in) I have become fairly accustomed to embracing…
Tuesday, 01 March 2016

Madurai, India

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Few things color a tourist destination more than being described as “the Paris of this” or “the Oxford of that.” The letdown is almost inevitable. Back in the Seventies, my parents had returned from a tour of the Soviet Union and I still recall my father’s comment regarding Leningrad, “the Venice of the North.” “Some bloody Venice,” my father said. Madurai is a different case. This ancient burg, the spiritual center of Tamil Nadu state, has origins dating back to the Third Century B.C. Under the enlightened auspices of the early sultans, it burst into flower as a major cultural and commercial hub, attracting scholars, poets, merchants and traders. At its height Madurai was known as “the Athens of the East.” I despise Athens. The appellation of course, applies to Athenian glory of centuries past, not to the dirty, oppressive Greek capital of today. My hope then, in arriving here…
Friday, 01 January 2016

Mysore, India

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Mysore, to put it delicately, makes a lousy first impression. Clanking into the bus-clogged, frenzied Central Station on a Sunday afternoon, lugging baggage sans map through the simmering maze of streets, neglecting of course, to book lodging ahead, had me snarling and snapping and grinding my molars in five minutes. Toss in the prerequisite honking (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain – this stuff is all by the way – India’s main religion is the Cult of Horn, which they practice devoutly and ceaselessly) and the charm of the “Sandalwood City” was lost on me. On the other hand, one may have a more phlegmatic temperament (keeping in mind that the sub-continent is not a first impression kind of place), settled in, had a shower and counted to ten, in which case Mysore can be a delight, as classically ‘India’ as it gets, boasting a splendid market, some fine squares, a very…
Sitting in traffic, I looked out the open rickshaw vehicle. It was pitch black on our drive to the restaurant. I could make out the shadows of the many people milling around the streets. The mob of people was so close they could touch me through the open side of the rickshaw. People huddled around small wooden tables with candles lighting the merchandise down the sides of the streets. Sitting in that car, I realized, I was in Africa. I was halfway around the world from my home. I did not go out at night unless I was with other people. As a woman traveling alone in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had to be savvier than others might have to be. Some people see a woman alone as an easy target for crime or to take advantage of when negotiating prices. “Wow, you went by yourself. That’s brave. I…

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