Travel

Guest blog: Will Hide on why he's never seen anything crap on his travels

In the latest in our series of Crap Things Seen while travelling, renowned travel writer and Times scribe Will Hide tells us why he never finds anything he thinks is rubbish…

In 20+ years of travelling I can honestly say it is extremely difficult to think of much that I regard as “crap”.

I think if you travel with the expectation that things will be different, not much comes across that’s bad.

It’s when you go with the “ooooh, it’s not like at home, is it?” mentality (which drives me nuts) that you get negative impressions. (Incidentally, of course it’s not like at home – that’s why you just sat in a long metal tube at 30,000 feet for the last six hours).

Yes, there’s hassle in Delhi and Marrakesh but even looking back on that I can (just about) see the funny side. And I suppose the one thing I really do hate when travelling – being at the mercy of airport taxi drivers who know they have you over a barrel – can be put down to an unfortuate side of human nature that you can find anywhere.

In fact travel only serves to highlight for me how much is crap when you come home.

Leeds Station: home of stationary trains?

Like the thoroughly annoying tannoy announcements at UK stations that tell you to be vigilent about looking out for unaccompanied bags, which just serve to stir up paranoia. And the equally excrutiating computer-generated “we are sorry you are inconvenienced for the cancelled 18.00 service to Leeds” messages that are totally meaningless because no one actually cares at all. In fact only in Britain does the word “sorry” actually mean “Piss off and leave me alone, I’m going home in five minutes and it’s only two years till I retire and get my pension.”

So I really don’t find much at all that’s crap about being abroad, except the jaded realisation that on returning home, the airport train probably won’t be running, the cash machine will be empty, someone will be chucking litter on the floor two feet from a bin and just one man will be manning the desk at Luton immigration on a Sunday night.

If anyone out there is reading this and thinking “well if you don’t like it, leave”, then great. If you can get me a US green card, or an Aussie work visa, please do get in touch.

Taking puppets across the water from Sri Lanka to Haiti

Sri Lanka schoolchildren learn the art of puppetmaking

Back in 2005 when I was in Sri Lanka post the tsunami, I came across a chap called Stefan Birckmann who’d come up with a genius idea.

Stefan was staying in Ambalangoda, a town on the west coast that is home to Sri Lanka’s ancient artform of puppet making. Prior to the tsunami, the puppet makers had largely been dying out as craftsmen.

With locals more interested in Westernised forms of entertainment like TV, cinema and the internet, puppet makers were making a living just from selling their wares to tourists.

The tsunami brought further devastation to these people, wiping out their workshops as well as their homes – at least until Stefan came along.

He had the idea of getting sponsorship for the pupeteers, getting them to create new puppets and taking a show around schools and refugee camps.

With no other entertainment and no electricity, puppets came back into fashion and puppet making classes were held in some of the schools with the children encouraged to tell their tsunami stories via the puppets, so offering a form of therapy to boot. One girl said: ‘I can talk about it now, because it’s the puppet talking and not me.’

Stefan ended up taking the show around the country, moving on to refugee camps housing people left homeless on the east coast as a result of the final push in the civil war between the government and Tamil separatists.

Stefan’s now come up with the idea of taking the puppet show to Haiti. As he says: ‘It would be a gesture between cultures of islands and about showing solidarity with victims of a natural disaster. Because of the experience of five years ago, the Sri Lankans are able to understand the experience and are able to share the needs in grief and trauma.’

He’s planning to take five puppeteers and musicians from Sri Lanka to Haiti and get local artists like painters and carvers to help out with the show and sets.

What he is looking for is some kind of sponsorship money to help him achieve it. I can vouch for Stefan, he’s a kosher bloke and a good pal. If you can help him out, please do so by getting in touch with him by clicking here.

Holiday supper clubs and more gay breaks

For some reason, it suddenly feels as though the travel industry in London has come out of winter hibernation.

For the previous three weeks, there’s hardly been a dickie bird of a bash for poor travel writers to attend – bad form when you think how skint people are in January; the pesky travel companies and PRs should really know better.

This week, things have changed though and the thirsty hack could attend at least a couple of dos a night if they were that way inclined. If it’s not Australia Day, it’s a dinner at the London Eye or the latest from Visit England… next week is similar with another rash of invites popping up in journo inboxes.

Two of the most interesting this week come from two of the country’s biggest package operators and, aside from giving them the chance to schmooze writers, they actually have some news to announce.

Tonight is the turn of Virgin Holidays and their partnership with Hip Hotels. Apparently, they’ve done research with 2,000 holidaymakers and found that many people return from their hols all inspired by the local grub.

Necker Island - Lee Cowie had to work here, poor love

As a result, they’ve got Executive Chef of Morocco’s Kasbah Tamadot Lee Cowie to come up with a range of recipes from their hotels around the world, so people can host their own post-holiday supper club. Lee’s a former executive chef at Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, so you’d hope he’d know what he’s doing.

To get the recipes and for other supper club tips, visit www.vhiphotels.co.uk

Meanwhile, tomorrow night Thomson come out of the closet as the first major tour operator to offer gay and lesbian friendly holidays. The Freedom Collection includes holidays where staff are trained specially to make gay people feel at home, properties that are gay exclusive and gay weddings for those wishing to become Mr & Mr or Mrs & Mrs.

www.thomson.co.uk/gay-holidays.html

Just one bottle and latest wi-fi

Nice to see that the blogosphere continues to exert pressure on hotel groups ridiculous insistence to keep charging people for wi-fi… London Hotel Insight has done a great round up of who’s doing what here. Well done to the site editor Rajul Chande for keeping up the pressure.

On another campaigning point, Tyson Benton, who used to work for Getty Images, has launched a site that gives a photographic record of his current trip through South America.

Aside from being full of amazing pics of his journey, Tyson is also promoting a serious issue – the overuse of plastic bottles that jam up landfill sites around the world. On his 18 month journey on the back of a 125cc motorcycle, he is using just one filter bottle manufactured by EcoUseable.

Well done Tyson.

You can check out his site here http://justonebottle.tumblr.com/

If you want a reason to leave the UK, check this

As news comes in that we are two degrees warmer than the poles, I’ve just been emailed this picture from the Dundee Satellite Receiving Station (www.sat.dundee.ac.uk) – it shows the UK looking pretty cool as it’s covered in snow…

All the more reason to leave the country… or it would be if the airports were open! Ho Hum…

Baby, it's cold outside

My South Africa top ten

So with a few days back in the country, I’ve decided to warm myself up with warm thoughts of our three week trip to South Africa and produce my holiday Top Ten, in no particular order.

Hoerikwaggo Trail, Table Mountain National ParkHiking the Hoerikwaggo
Three days and nights hiking from Table Mountain, through the national park and culminating on Noordhoek Beach. We covered more than 60km and stayed in tented accommdation along the way, hiring the services of Frank Dwyer of Slackpacker SA (www.slackpackersa.co.za) to have a cold beer in the fridge and some meat on the braai for when we arrived. The trail is built on an ancient Khoi path and, when completed later this year, you’ll be able to hike from the Point right into Cape Town – a five night, six day hike of more than 100km.
www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/ht/

Robben Island, Cape Town
It’s hard to talk to South Africans without race and Apartheid coming up somewhere along the line. Problems still exist – with some whites now claiming discrimination – but things seem to be getting better. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandella and other political prisoners were incarcerated for so long, proves a moving portrait of the years of shame.
www.robben-island.org.za

The Vinehopper, Stellenbosch

Someone knows what they're talking about

While South African attitudes to drinking and driving are pretty lax compared to the UK we preferred to avoid the temptation by jumping on the Vine Hopper in the Stellenbosch wine region. There are two routes that run on alternate days that each take in six wineries; you get picked up at 10am, dropped off at 5pm and the cost is 150 rand (about £12). Tastings in each winery (you get to try between four and nine wines) cost no more than 20 rand (£1.40) and by the end of the day you are as the proverbial newt.
www.vinehopper.co.za

Umlani Bushcamp, Timbavati Reserve, Greater Kruger
I’ve been on some special game drives, but none like those offered by the Umlani Lodge in the Timbavati Reserve of the Greater Kruger Area. We got to see rare white lion cubs, leopard cubs, baby elephants and wild dogs on a kill – all discovered by our wonderful ranger, believe it or not called Elvis. The lodge itself is as close as you will get to sleeping out in the bush and if that is not enough, they’ll take you out to a treehouse at night to sleep among the animals by a watering hole.
www.umlani.com

Shark Diving, Gansbaai
Some people claim that sticking a load of tourists in a cage and putting them in the water where Great Whites hang out upsets the ecosystem and encourages more shark attacks in South African waters. Operators claim they keep the poachers away. Whatever the merits, being in the water as a 2.6m Great White glides by is a thrilling experience.
www.whiteshark-diving.com

New Year’s Eve, Ballito
Durban may have a fabulous beach but the surrounding areas are pretty grim. Head north to the suburbs of Umhlanga Rocks and Ballito and it’s much prettier and there’s more fun stuff to do. Ballito plays host to South Africa’s biggest NYE party when more than 10,000 people gather in the street for an outdoor rave. Don’t bother getting dressed up – the code is flip flops, shorts and no T-shirt (the latter for boys only of course).
www.ballito.co.za

Who's the Grand Daddy?

Grand Daddy Hotel Trailer Park, Long Street, Cape Town
The Grand Daddy is one of Cape Town’s premier boutique hotels but don’t expect to find a swimming pool on the roof – instead, the hotel has lifted seven 1950s Airstream trailers to provide the world’s only hotel trailer park. Each trailer has been designed by a different local artist; they’re a little cramped but a real experience. The cocktails in the hotel bar, Daddy Cool, are pretty special too.
www.granddaddy.co.za

Kaizer Chiefs, Johannesburg
Catching a match by South Africa’s most popular team will transport you to a footballing atmosphere unmatched elsewhere in the world. The ‘Amakhosi’ support is the most vocal in the country and the stadium buzzes to the angry wasp noise of vuvuzela horns.
www.kaizerchiefs.com

Table Bay Hotel, Victoria & Albert Waterfront, Cape Town
Cape Town’s re-developed Waterfront area may be a little touristy but its also home to some of the city’s top hotels like the Cape Grace and the One & Only. Our pick though was the Table Bay – a big old Colonial-style place run by Sun International.
www.suninternational.com

Premier Classe Train
For years people have rattled on about the super luxury Blue Train that cover the Cape Town to Jo’Burg route overnight. All well and good but the price is around £500 per person. For less than half the price, you can travel Premier Classe – another sleeper which may not be quite as luxe as the Blue Train but is more than adequate. Food is included in the price and you can even have a massage in the onboard spa room.
www.premierclasse.co.za

How to get lost cameras back

Aussie blogger and author Andrew McDonald claims to always leave a series of photos on his digital camera that give detailed instructions on what to do if the camera is lost and then found by a good Samaritan…

You can see the full list of pics on his blog post here There are 25 of them! You could obviously do it in less pictures, it would take up less of your camera memory for one thing… but then again, there’d be less chance of your blog post going viral!

South Africa is super for sport

Since we’ve been here, we’ve managed to get to two very different but equally compelling sporting events in South Africa.

Two days before Christmas, we managed to get a couple of tickets to see one of the country’s best supported football teams, the Kaizer Chiefs take on AmaZulu in the South African league.

Chiefs fans dance round the stadium at half time

As a Leeds fan, I’ve a particular soft spot for the Chiefs: they’re the club from which we signed one of my sporting heroes, Lucas Radebe – a fact that also inspired the bastardised name of the Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs.

The match had been postponed from the previous week due to bad weather and happened to be re-arranged for the one night we were in Johannesburg, where the Chief’s Soweto home is – but the match was played 30 miles down the road in Pretoria as their stadium is being revamped for the World Cup.

Getting the tickets was pretty easy thanks to the fantastic computicket.co.za website – you buy them online and pop to a local affiliate mobile phone store where they print them off for you. The price? A huge 20 rand (about £1.60 each).

Despite the huge Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria only being a third full, the atmosphere was electric. The lower stands (its free seating when you get in) were a riot of yellow and black shirts and scarves and the crowds throbbed to the cacophony of vuvuzela horns that create a huge buzzing worthy of a million angry bees. When the World Cup comes around, visiting teams will have to get used to the deafening sound pretty quickly and it could give South Africa a huge advantage.

If you think the Premiership is fast, football in South Africa is played at five times the speed. It’s chaotic but skilful and the game was end to end in the early stages before the Chiefs took total control thanks to a stupendous 20 yard volley from forward Nkosinathi Nhleko.

Early in the second half though, keeper Itumeleng Khune – a young lad who will star for South Africa in the summer – showed his suspect temperament by rabbit punching one of the AmaZulu strikers and getting a red card. Luckily the subsequent penalty was blasted into row Z and the Amakhosi, as they are known, managed to hold on for the win that took them third in the league.

England take a strangle hold on the second Test

While on the computicket site, I’d decided to try my hand for tickets for day four of the second cricket Test between South Africa and England at Durban’s Kingsmead stadium and was astounded to find thousands of tickets were available – so we snapped up two for the grand price of 600rand each (£5).

It’s a ridiculously small amount to pay for international sport – especially when you think Test tickets in England are like gold dust.

We’re just back from the match where we saw England take total control thanks to a century from Ian Bell and then some superb bowling from Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. Bar it raining all day tomorrow, England should take a 1-0 lead in the series with one to play…

While the match on the field was electric, sadly the only atmosphere in the stands came from England’s Barmy Army.

I’m yet to find out why the match seemed to provoke such disinterest in the South African public but it does seem a little strange that a football team playing in a stadium an hour’s drive away in midweek can pull in a 20k plus crowd while the number two cricket team in the world plays in front of empty stands…

Food, glorious South African food

We finally find a restaurant with a menu

One of the joys about being here in South Africa is that in two weeks we have yet to have a bad meal and some of them have been truly superlative. Even Frank Dwyer of Slackpackers South Africa (www.slackpackersa.co.za), who catered for our three-day hike of the Hoerikwaggo Trail, had amazing freshly cooked dishes ready for us each night we arrived in camp.

Whatsmore, the pound to rand rate and the fact wine is locally produced mean it’s also dirt cheap for Brits; the most we’ve paid for three courses and a bottle of plonk has been £70 but, more often than not, it’s been about £45 a meal.

Three restaurants stand out though…

My personal favourite was Codfather (www.thecodfather.co.za) in Cape Town’s Camps Bay suburb. Forget the cheesy name, views are over the Atlantic and the food is incredible. There are no menus, just freshly caught fish and shellfish you choose from a cold counter and they simply grill it and serve it. Always ask for the price before ordering though, as it’s by weight, the shellfish can sting you, but the simple fish is amazingly cheap – I paid little over £3 for three grilled sardines as a starter.

Another restaurant with no menu – Headquarters (www.hqrestaurant.co.za) in Heritage Square in Cape Town – was also excellent. Here there’s one thing on the menu, sirloin steak that has been wet-aged for a month. All you have to do is choose your wine and how you like the steak cooked. A salad starter followed by a huge plate of steak and chips was £14 a head, add a nice bottle of wine and we paid £38 for a meal for two.

Our most expensive meal, but also one of the best, came in the wine-making region of Stellenbosch, less that 40 minutes drive from Cape Town. Here the countryside is all rolling hills covered in vines and at Terroir, on the Kleine Zalse (www.kleinezalze.com) estate, we had G&TS, an amazing three-course meal and a bottle of their wine for less than £90. We sat on the terrace overlooking the manicured gardens as the sun dropped on the horizon. And for the life of me, I couldn’t work out why so many South Africans end up leaving the country.