Basil Pao Photography Exhibition

A very short notice more than anything else. With some spare time on my hands and while  in London yesterday I went along to the Royal Geographic Society to check out a photography exhibition by Basil Pao.

TravelswithMichaelPalin

For those not familiar with the name, he’s a photographer and friend of Michael Palin who has accompanied him on all his big journeys, hence my interest.

It’s just a small exhibition with around 40 or so photographs, including aerial shots of waterfalls, stunning portraits of people in tribal attire as well shots of Palin on his travels. I actually found it quite good for new ideas and learning about my own photography.

It’s on at the RGS in London (Kensington) and free to visit until the 25th January 2013. I really recommend it.

As Seen on TV

When travelling we all love to find those cool little hidden things in any place that people don’t necessarily know about. Sadly this isn’t always the case and when visiting a new place you need a little nudge in the right direction.

In South America I’ve not been the biggest friend of the Lonely Planet, to be honest it’s an extra kilo I’d rather not bothered with. There have been some good travel blogs (sadly the best one, This Battered Suitcase, appears to be written by someone travelling a similar route to myself but always a place or two behind where we are). However one our most followed ways has been a couple of things we’ve seen on TV.

Before this trip we knew we’d be heading down through Peru and Bolivia. I used to love watching Michael Palin shows as a kid so Full Circle which took him to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca has always stuck in my head for this trip.

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It really didn’t disappoint, we marvelled at the beauty of the lost Inca city (more on that in my last blog). The scale of the place is incredible while the scenes of the ruins on the mountain top encircled by a river thousands of feet below are really did live up to my massive expectations. Of course Full Circle wasn’t the only way I knew of such a place but it was the clearest image in my head before out visit.

A week or so later at Lake Titicaca I was reminded of the boat called the Yavari – as seen on Full Circle, it was manufactured in the UK in pieces, then lugged up to the world’s highest navigable lake by llamas from the now Chilean coastline to be reassembled in Bolivia. Given walking a few hundred metres at a normal pace can leave you a little breathless at this altitude it really is amazing. Other boats like this were also taken up here but the Yavari has been loving restored and maintained via donations from tourists.

For a moderate fee we were shown all over the boat but kept coming back to admiring the logistics of getting it here. Well worth the short stop before heading to the floating islands. Yeah you read that right. Out in the lake are islands made of the local reeds, continuously replenished and anchored to the lake bed on which houses are built of the same material. Well you’ve got to see that haven’t you?!

Our second televisual travel inspiration came not quite from a travel program but the love or hate chaps from Top Gear. Personally I love them but I know many others have less kind words to say about it. I’ve previously been inspired to ride a motorbike over the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam that is to one of their Xmas Specials. On this trip we’ve watched their Bolivia episode which only served to make us more excited to visit the country.

They traversed this hugely varied country from the jungle in the east, up the treacherous Death Road, through La Paz and over the Andes into Chile. We didn’t have wheels for the trip (think bureaucracy and cost) but wanted to see what we looked at in awe on TV.

On a boat into the jungle it actually felt just like what we’d been watching. The butterflies as big as bats, fish jumping into the boat and weirdly coloured trees. Thankfully we didn’t freak out like Hammond with the insects!

Later in La Paz (following an incredible painful accident with my ankle) we took on Death Road – top to bottom by bicycle.

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So called due to the people who died building it, as well as having accidents on the perilously narrow unpaved road, this was probably pretty daft in the circumstances.

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From the breathlessly high start all was looking good. With a quick blast down a paved section to get used to the bikes we took on the gravel, stopping for the occasional photo and gawp down the sheer drops. Then ….

“BANG! OWW. FUCK!”

In no time approaching a bend the front wheel locked when not even touching the brake, I flew over the handlebars. With the only aim not to land on my ankle I walked off with just a few bruises and in a bit of pain. Much more careful now.

Despite that, just minutes later Katrina had gone down too in almost identical circumstances. Sadly for her this stopped her ride, her wrist was much worse and couldn’t grip the handlebars.

Thankfully I survived the rest if the ride on the spectacular road. And when receiving our t-shirts afterwords found we had both fallen on the part if the road called ‘the corners of death’. Phew.

In the days afterwords we heard of many more injuries, so lucky us.

The final spectacular attraction of Bolivia was to be the high Andes. We crossed via the Salar de Uyuni – a bit different to the programme and even more spectacular! A bit more of them later.

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The final personality to influence is an unlikely source – An Idiot Abroad – Karl Pilkington. Having changed our plans to end in Rio, I’d recalled I had his episode there on my laptop so we took a look.

It didn’t give us much more than we already knew about Rio – Karl mostly being there to be annoyed and see ‘the Jesus thing’ or Cristo Redentor towering over the city. He wasn’t too stunned by the sculpture, remarking on the chin/beard looking weird.

He was however given a chance to see the wonder by helicopter – something he enjoyed more than the sculpture itself. Ridiculous but funny travel programming at its best. And enough to make us want to take a flight.

Our first visit up the Corcovado mountain where the sculpture sits saw the cloud roll in at sunset, spoiling the view a little but providing an alternative atmosphere. It did however leave us wanting more.

With some money towards the cost from my birthday. We took a flight from Sugar Loaf mountain over the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and around the mountain. And it didn’t disappoint, I loved the experience!

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The perspective provided by the flight is totally different to any other angle. Swooping around the statue I’m so happy with my photographs. And on a clear day I could admire the clean lines of an incredible piece of architecture. If you’ve got the money (or want a treat to end your trip) it’s well worth it.

I’m yet to see much of the Michael Palin series on Brazil, but I’m sure it will only add to my desire to return there very soon.

My Travel Inspirations

While fooling around on Twitter the other day I came across this blog by Paul Corbett talking about travel inspirations. EasyJet Holidays are asking travel bloggers the who, what, where and when as part of their Inspiration Initiative and given I find the idea quite interesting I thought I’d give it a go.

Who – Michael Palin

I remember watching Michael Palin shows like Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole on rainy school holidays at my Aunt’s house in Glasgow. I was completely addicted to them, they made me realise how different other places and people were which I’ve wanted to explore ever since. I’ve been hooked on all his other travel shows ever since as well as comedies such as Monty Python and Ripping Yarns, at the release of the latter I was lucky enough to meet him! That’s why it’s all his fault I’m writing this blog ;)

When – Hitchhiking to Morocco

My first real adventure was in my first year of University. I’d seen somebody advertising a charity running a hitchhike from Nottingham to Morocco and was hooked straight away. The trip took about 5 days (including a day off in northern Spain) while I encountered crazy Romanian Truck Drivers, blagged a lift from an OAP coach tour and even got a lift from a French driving school. The trip felt like my first real adventure and raised about £600 for Link Community Development supporting education projects in the UK & Africa.

Congratulating my arrival in Morocco!

Where – the old city of Fes

Fes was the highlight of the hitchhike to Morocco. After arriving in Tangiers and travelling to Essaouira and Marrakech, Fes was the last place I visited in Morocco. I’d read a few articles about Morocco before setting off and it was always Fes that stood out, many of them romantically describing the traditional nature of the old city. The experience really didn’t disappoint, I fell in love with the traditional craft work taking place including the potteries, street food but especially the tanneries where you can still can watch the whole ancient process of the animal skins being washed and dyed in the sun. I’ve been looking for the heart and soul of locations ever since, it’s so much better than a museum!

The tanneries of Fes

What – Manas figure from Kyrgyzstan

Another one from my childhood when my Dad did some project work for the World Bank in Kyrgyzstan. One of the souvenirs he brought back for me was a small wooden statue of a warrior called ‘Manas’. My Dad told me the background of the story about how he fought off  the Uighurs and was considered a hero in Kyrgyzstan and a strong part of the national identity, similar to Ghenghis Khan in Mongolia. Barely anyone had really been to Kyrgyzstan back then (not many people have even now) so I value its uniqueness to me and how it has made me bring back exotic travel ornaments as souvenirs of my own journeys.

Manas

Legendary Kyrgyz warrior

As part of this initiative, EasyJet Holidays want me to nominate 5 people to write their own travel inspirations. I’m going to nominate my girlfriend, Katrina, as this might make her start the blog she keeps saying she will do. I’m also going to nominate a friend, Hazell, who’s been writing this blog over the past year or so.

To bring it up to five I’ve been following these guys on Twitter, have enjoyed reading their stuff and think they should join in!

Our Oyster

Bucket List Publications

Malllory on Travel

Ready, Steady …. Hop!

Watching Michael Palin travel shows as a kid certainly gave me a travel bug I still haven’t managed to shake off, but also introduced me to the world of Monty Python and all the spin offs it produced such as Fawlty Towers with John Cleese and the lesser know Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Meeting Michael Palin & Terry Jones

To my surprise and delight when I first started writing this blog, I had a quick Google search for “Michael Palin”, mainly to see if he had any new travel shows in the pipeline. It turns out he does, it’s set in Brazil and comes out sometime in 2012, however the best thing I found was in the Ham & High about his attempt at a world record for hopping. The reason it turned out was to commemorate the re-release of Ripping Yarns on DVD. The first episode of the series involved a parody of public boarding school rituals, in this case involving a 30 mile hop – it makes much more sense if you watch it!

Hopping 400m around Hampstead Heath Athletics Track on a Saturday morning seemed like a pretty daft idea but this was a chance to a) meet Michael Palin and b) do something totally random I’ll probably never do again so I was in, and so was Kat. And after all it was only a 20 minute walk up the road.

So on a Saturday morning, instead of enjoying a lie in or nursing a hangover from the night before, Kat and I found ourselves arriving at the venue to find a random collection of people young, old, in fancy dress, sports gear, normal clothes all ready to take part in the hop. We  were all given t-shirts and waited for the arrival of Michael Palin and Terry Jones. It’s kind of strange to see a person you’ve admired for a long time, often they don’t meet your expectations and you come away disappointed however the former Pythons were amusing and friendly in front of the crowd of about 100 people.

After an explanation of the rules (you are only allowed to hop on the same leg, although you are allowed to stop and rest) we were taken through a short warm up where even Palin joined in for most of it, not bad for 68 years old. A few minutes after that, a handful of late entries from a military fitness class and the obligatory press calls had been completed, we were off!

Now I don’t care what you say, but hopping 400m turns out to be a lot harder than some people thought. I think I had only completed the first 150m or so, my right leg feeling the impact of me (quite a large chap) jumping up and down on it and I had to stop for a few seconds. Upon going again it was clear this wasn’t going to be easy, just a few metres further and I stopped again. By the time I’d reached the 3rd bend the leaders were crossing the finishing line, a minor embarrassment but I was at this point ahead of Kat. By this point I was probably doing 10-15 metres in between short breaks when I realised a man dressed in a banana costume had crossed the finishing line.

Spurred on by the slight shame, I continued, thinking not far to go and cheered on by the two Pythons crossed the line in a time of …. um err… actually I never even thought about that. Kat was just a few metres behind me with Michael approaching to give her some words of encouragement but as soon as she saw a video camera, cut short the conversation just feeling the need to finish.

Michael encourages a Hopper at the finish (Taken by Kat)

As every following hopper approached the finish the crowd grew louder with cheers of encouragement, some were struggling however crossing the line was an achievement. As the last person crossed the line, having completed the course in fancy dress there was some relief. The winners received medals to congratulate them and their winning legs from Palin and Jones.

Sadly the solo hop, nor the following relay competition were able to beat the Guinness Word Records but maybe we should consider including hopping as a late addition to the London Olympics this year? There might be some sore limbs afterwards, I think I’ve developed a funny little limp – Ministry of Silly Walks anyone?

You can see a video of the hop and an interview with Michael Palin and Terry Jones here.

Being a tourist at home

When talking about travelling and various places I’ve lived with other people, it often comes up how little we visit many attractions right on our doorstep. I know people who have lived in Paris and not been up the Eiffel Tower as well as someone living in New York who never went to Central Park.

I’ve lived in London for about 18 months now and I think like many people I’ve probably become accustomed to certain areas (Camden market, eating in Soho and lazing on Parliament Hill on sunny days). This past weekend, knowing I’m only going to be here for a couple more months until my big trip I decided to head to a different part of London – Greenwich.

There’s a bit of a North / South divide in London. Once people move to London, they often stay in a similar area or at least on one side of the river for quite a while, perhaps part of the reason I hadn’t been to the area before.

Greenwich is known around the world for its association with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) with the world’s time zones set from this spot. The system originates from the Royal Observatory located on the top of the hill in Greenwich Park. The area also has history in the British Kings & Queens with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both born here. The original palace since destroyed was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and went on to form the Royal Naval College and much of the surrounding maritime association of the area.

Not a bad view!

Located right on the Thames opposite the financial district of Canary Wharf provides Greenwich with some impressive architecture and scenery. From the observatory on the top of Greenwich Park tourists crowd to snap the perfect image of the London skyline. I think I did quite well myself!

This weekend really was the perfect time to break out of winter mode, with unseasonably high temperatures in the mid-teens (Celsius that is) and the perfect excuse to enjoy an ice cream milkshake or ginger beer float in the sunshine. There’s something great about being able to go somewhere new so close to home and made me realise how important it is to do the little things ahead of a trip so far away coming up in just a few weeks time now.

Expertly taken and edited by Katrina Mackey (well I did steal her photo)!

I find that many parts of London get a little bit homogenised with big brands coming into areas were previously considered to be cool or upcoming. Camden has certainly been fighting these trends, Pret a Manger & All Saints just don’t feel like they should be around Camden, though thankfully the market has banned chains despite many stalls selling similar items. Greenwich still has cool independent and shops markets with varied eclectic things for sale unlike other places that feel big but undifferentiated, although that’s not to say some chains have been creeping in. My little bargain was a set of antique shot glasses for all of £2.

On that note about something new, watch this space. Next weekend I will be taking part in a world record attempt for the world’s biggest hop. Fans of Michael Palin may remember the TV series Ripping Yarns, if not then watch the episode “Tomkinson’s School Days” because next weekend in Hampstead they are relaunching the DVD with a ridiculous PR stunt, fingers crossed I can tell Mr Palin himself about how it’s his fault I need to set off around the world ….