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It was a long day in the air on two flights from Sydney yesterday to Kuching, via Kuala Lumpur and a near miss on the connection. We’re here in Sarawak province on the island of Borneo in the hope of seeing orang-utan and other local wildlife.

Today we familiarised ourselves with Old Kuching and the diversity that its different cultures and histories have contributed to the city.

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The old Courthouse has been turned into a community arts hub with music, and art spaces mixing it up with cafes.

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This display is a nod to a horticultural feature of Sarawak. Two hours away in the Gunung Gadang National Park,  the Rafflesia tuan-mudae – a large parasitic plant is flowering. We haven’t the time to go see it and apparently won’t miss the smell of this so-called corpse plant.

This is the Textile Museum. No photographs allowed but there are examples of all kinds of crafts relating to costume and other functional fabrics including the use of shells, dye and beads. Silver and puppet crafts are also featured. The most unusual object was a vest made from anteater ‘shells’.

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We also visited the photo-free Sarawak Ethnology Museum where the majority of people were ignoring that rule. This is an orang-utan skeleton.

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Around lunch time on this humid Sunday, there were few eating options open. Fortunately, the Indah Cafe was in full swing. They make superb roti dishes and cool drinks. It also boasts a gallery and art workshop space upstairs where I found these great old Sarawak tourist posters.

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We walked back along the waterfront to our digs with a stop for coffee/tea and cake to rack up the calories we’d walked off in the heat.

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Kuching is full of cat statues given the Bahasa Malay word for cat is kucing. This is one of the less kitsch pieces.

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Tomorrow morning we’re off up the river to Bako National Park where we hope to see proboscis monkeys and wild boar and other creatures of the forest.

It may be raining here in Old Hoi An (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but there’s still enough to keep you entranced in between the heavy showers. The vendors selling raincoats are doing a big trade today, as well as cafe and restaurant owners, as visitors take shelter and enjoy some of the finest Vietnamese food and beverages around. See below for more details.

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Lunch today included this tuna wrapped in nori and rice paper served crispy with passionfruit, mint and yogurt sauce. followed by a mango salad with vermicelli noodles, crispy rolls, grilled pork with mango. The Vietnamese are experts at using fresh herbs to highlight flavours. And it’s always good to end a meal with a dense earthy coffee that benefits from the inclusion of condensed milk and ice.

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November 1998 – Tibet – Lhasa

The early morning flight from Chengdu was spectacular. The glossy black and white pictures that I’d pored over in my high school geomorphology text paled in comparison. Glaciers, moraines, lakes, snow, cirques, arretes – they were all up there in the thin blue air. Some peaks were so high they rose above the clouds.

At the airport, it was bags loaded onto the bus then a communal push-start to get us going on the next leg which, over a distance of 60 kilometres, took as long as the flight. We bumped our way through the post-glacial landscape of wide flowing streams, swampy marshes and smooth river rocks. Prayer flags adorned the corners of white washed houses with yaks, goats, sheep and pigs in nearby enclosures.

Our hotel was a three-level concrete block structure with no lift. The entry steps were covered with a painted wooden portico. A heavy woven mat protected the foyer from the cold outside.

Despite spending a few days in the higher climbs of Chengdu, we were not yet acclimatized to altitude sickness. As we were checking in, our 12 year old lost consciousness briefly. Just as she was coming to, an old man appeared from nowhere and carried her up the stairs with us following quickly behind. He laid her on the bed and disappeared.

We were hatching plans to go and buy some canned oxygen from the markets outside when he returned with a container of yak butter and proceeded to apply the butter between her toes and fingers, under her ears and around her hairline. Surmising it could do no harm, yet still somewhat bemused, we thanked him for his care.

We spent the next day or so taking it easy as each of us succumbed in varying degrees to the symptoms. We got very good at sourcing provisions of dry biscuits, toilet paper, tissues and water to supplement our own supplies of Gastrolyte and black tea. The fact that our room was a good distance away from the bathrooms and toilets on the floor added to the adventure.

It was a couple of days before the first patient had the strength to take a shower by which time ….. well you know what butter does when it’s left out of the fridge for any length of time.  We both remember that shower and appreciating the warmth and light of the sun shining through the window.

Once we were all well enough, we took the long walk up to the Potala Palace to wonder at the golden halls lit by yak butter candles. Our fair-haired girls attracted much attention, none the least of which was from a group of Chinese Army recruits who, one by one, had photographs taken with them wearing their hats.

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And my last, but not least memory of being in Lhasa?  Every time I look at the photograph below, I’m reminded of the kindness of this woman who asked if we would like a photograph of her with our children. No common language was spoken between us. A monetary exchange was refused and there was no luxury of an email address to which we could send a copy to reciprocate her gesture. She took and gave pleasure in that one moment. 

Why do we travel? This.

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Here’s a revised edition of one of my favourite stories gathered from the tumblr blog of our 2012 trip to Madagascar.
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We clambered up from the Manampanihy River after an afternoon boat ride with our host and his over-excitable duck-crazy dog.

A game of ‘le ball” was being played among the young men of the district on a decidedly uneven pitch defined only by the corners of the field dug out in the grass.

The children watching the game came scrambling noisily down the river bank with much hilarity to meet the vazahas.

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After watching the game for a while, we began to make our way towards the path to our bungalow. Suddenly there was a voice calling out to us.

It was the match referee.  Noticing that we were leaving, he had blown his whistle and stopped the game.

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He approached us, gave us a welcome handshake and a warm smile and thanked us for coming.

Then it was back to his work as a referee. Another whistle and game on. 

I’m going to start putting together some of our travel stories for the blog. Here’s the first.

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It was April 2007. We had just picked up a rental car in Camaguey in Cuba. It was a Hyundai sedan, small, yet more than big enough for the two of us and our bags. Up until that point on this trip we had travelled from point to point with drivers or public transport.

Notwithstanding the traffic ticket we scored for driving down a street designated only for pedestrians and cyclists, we were soon on our way, enjoying the fact we could stop as and where we pleased. A few days on, we were in Marea del Portillo, near Pilon (circled on this map via ezilon.com).

There is no public transport on the road from Pilon to Santiago de Cuba. The local people are totally reliant on the kindness of truck drivers and car owners and, in our case, car renters, to get to their destination. Not far into this coastal drive, we came across this.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road used to go through the tunnel. If you look closely (to the right of the tunnel entry) you will see a truck coming around the point. After this photo stop, we put the car in low gear and proceeded with caution.

Our first passengers were a family who were walking around those rocks on what was a very hot day. There was a mother and her infant, a couple of children, and the grandparents. Yes. I know. The grandfather saw that he could not fit. “Hop in” said Rob. So he did.

“Te amo, te amo” said the grandmother. I could hear her because we were all quite close by this stage.

And so began a routine of emptying the car of people and welcoming new passengers. At one beach, a man who’d apparently been ‘spear-fishing’ with his machete joined us. He gave us a mango as a thank you gift.

Let it be said that we were the winners here. There were many unsigned forks in the road. “Donde” became my word of the day. We would not have made it to Santiago without local knowledge and I’m not just talking about directions.

When we proceeded past this pile of rocks on the road, the man in the back seat screamed in horror. Fortunately, we understood terror when we saw it and correctly assumed he wanted us to stop. So we did and followed his hand signals back and down into the village to the right of the road.

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This is what we saw as we looked left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally made it into Santiago de Cuba with the help of our last passenger after which we made one last traffic faux pas. This time the police officer sent us on our way with a warning and directions to our destination.