Page 3 of Weir travels Travel Blog Posts

Central America Caribbean » Nicaragua February 19th 2012

I first met Paulette last year. She is, without doubt, one of the most “good” people I have ever been privileged to meet. A retired social worker from England, she now runs La Mariposa Escuela de Español, a language school in central Nicaragua which is devoted to supporting, and putting every possible córdoba back into, the local community through a wide range of methods, from an extensive home-stay programme whereby students live with local families, to purchasing only locally-grown fruit and vegetables for consumption at the school, to funding all sorts of projects – including village wells, market gardens and local schools – in which her students often volunteer. She also does all she can to operate the school and the projects in which she is involved in as eco-friendly manner as possible. I was hugely ... read more
already catching a chico's attention
small person concentrating
waiting for the microbus

Asia » India » Kerala » Kochi June 5th 2011

The pages of my diary feel limp and damp. Fresh towels smell musty. Laundry dries, but only relatively speaking. The Calcutta-acquired Polos are soft and crumbly. We are kept awake by claps of thunder more deafening than any I’ve ever heard. Our movements to and from dinner are delicately gauged to try and avoid the worst of the downpours. My Mac waves the white flag and sacrifices its mouse-click capability, and the cursor develops a life of its own. The local football pitch resembles a lake; the boys play on regardless. Welcome to the early days of the monsoon in Kerala, or, as our sweet chatty host puts it the next day, the “pilot rains”, the actual monsoon being yet to come, so we’re told. We’re sceptical. A month later, I was walking down the street ... read more
Chinese fishing nets
taking shelter
the synagogue in Mattancherry

Asia » India » West Bengal » Kolkata May 26th 2011

Stepping off the flight in Calcutta, I felt a twinge of trepidation. The only other occasion on which I’d been to this inadvertent icon of India’s romantic past and chaotic present I’d been hiding behind the tails of Prateek’s kurta. I had found the juxtaposition of even moderate wealth and poverty oppressive – street people asleep on the gorgeous staircase of his grandmother’s colonial apartment building – and the humid, dirty, grey heat overpowering. In an attempt to dress conservatively yet remain cool, I had bought a salwaar kameez in the market, but it was made of a nasty nylon-type material, the salwaar hopelessly short for European legs, and I had felt scruffy and over-cooked. This time was going to be different. After all, I was different. No longer the anxious junior lawyer on her hard-earned ... read more
Mullik Ghat Flower Market
hope the lift keeps working!
South Park Street Cemetery

Asia » Bhutan May 21st 2011

My second Bhutan adventure was born over a long and well-oiled lunch Café Español in London’s Soho. The starting point was the wish of my companion, Allyson, to go to Bhutan, a country that this most-widely travelled of my friends had not yet visited. But I didn’t take much persuading. I’d loved my first trip there in 2009, and now wanted to “do a coast-to-coast” of the country – in other words, to cross into Bhutan at one of the two land borders open to tourists (one is in the south-west corner of the country, the other in the south-east) and come out of the other, after traversing the country. Over the next eighteen months, we collected a few other folks to join our adventure, all of whom I had met on my travels at some ... read more
western Bhutan
Punakha Dzong
challenging road conditions

Asia » Bhutan » Bumthang » Ura May 18th 2011

If an eighth century saint answers a village’s prayer to cure a leprosy epidemic, it is only fitting that the miracle be commemorated for ever after in dance and colour and panache. And when that village is in Bhutan, the dance and colour and panache are truly fabulous. On my first trip to Bhutan, I’d been lucky enough to go to one of the biggest festivals in the country, the Tsechu held in the imperious Punakha Dzong, which marks the anniversary of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s seventeenth century victory over the Tibetans. The Tsechu had been an incredible occasion, presided over by Bhutanese Buddhism’s highest-ranking official, the Je Khenpo, with elaborate dances and re-enactments, fabulously-dressed crowds and colour, bemused tourists and rituals, and the closest I’ve seen to a traffic jam in this sparsely-populated country. This ... read more
dressed to the nines
Ura's temple
"be prepared, come armed!"

Asia » Bhutan » Bumthang May 15th 2011

There aren’t many places in the world where you can gaze upon sights that few, whether local or visitor, have seen – or will ever see. The route up Mount Kilimanjaro seems to be a well-beaten highway; the path to Everest Base Camp in Nepal is apparently strewn with litter; crossing the Gobi there are very few moments when the view is not dotted with at least a couple of gers. Even two years’ ago, I’d walked paths in Bhutan that, if not in the guidebooks, nevertheless saw the regular footfall of local people, with their horses and yaks, going about their daily lives. This year was different. For three days we didn’t see another person. Tshetem himself hadn’t walked this route in five years, and had only ever brought two groups of tourists here before ... read more
wot you lookin' at?
damply setting out

Asia » India » West Bengal May 2nd 2011

Taking a newbie to India is a little like introducing a friend to an adored aged aunt. You know that she’s great value, but how will she perform on the day? After all, there are times when she forgets to wash or “has an accident”, her sense of humour isn’t always to everyone’s taste, and she can be pretty cantankerous on occasion; but when she’s on form, sharing her stories and showing off her jewels, you love her to bits. It’s not like Lorraine was new to travelling. We’d met while she was working, and I was volunteering, at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia; now she’d recently returned from 18 months’ teaching English in South Korea; and she had travelled relatively extensively before that. When she found out that I was planning another India trip ... read more
Darjeeling roofs
the Himalaya from the top of Heritage Road, Darjeeling
Siliguri back streets

Granada was a hole in my Nica experience. A big one. It’s like going to Scotland and not visiting Edinburgh. Travelling around Italy, and missing out Venice. I’d spent the best part of two months in Nicaragua and not darkened the doors of its second city. The weekend before I flew home to a mini-mountain of paperwork and a defunct boiler I rectified my omission. Granada is Nicaragua scrubbed-up for the tourist or the retiring ex-pat. (And very beautifully it’s been scrubbed-up too.) That’s not necessarily a point against it; it’s just something to remember as you sit at a Parque Central café supping your ice-cold Toña while the dying rays of the afternoon sun make the Cathedral glow dazzlingly golden. Because this Granada, the scrubbed-up version, isn’t the whole story – although it’s something of ... read more
carriage, anyone?
Volcán Mombacho from Granada
Mercado Municpal

I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in Panama, so I sulked and came home early. To be fair, this is only the second time in the last five years’ travelling that I haven’t managed to get to where I wanted to go because of logistical and security (rather than simple lack of time) reasons. The first was in Rwanda when, despite getting to the towns at the northern and southern ends of Lake Kivu, I failed to reach the town in the middle of the Lake’s eastern shore, despite trying from three different directions. The buses and the road conditions simply wouldn’t play ball. In Panama, my main aim had been to visit the site of Scotland’s short-lived and tragic attempt at an empire in the 1690s. While much of my school-taught Scottish history ... read more
city contrasts
old and new, Casco Viejo side street
Panama City in a nutshell...

In mid-March I found myself spending a whole day in the company of one of man’s greatest feats of engineering. By “engineering”, I don’t simply mean “architecture” – although that’s not in any way to belittle the experience of wandering around Angkor Wat, walking along (and up and down) the Great Wall of China, imbibing the atmosphere at the Taj Mahal, or catching my breath at the first sight of the Potala Palace. By “engineering” in this context, I mean something that “operates”, with “moving bits” (to be un-technical about it). I was embarking upon an ocean-to-ocean transit of the Panama Canal. A far cry from chasing elephants in the Namib or trekking in the Himalaya or even pottering along the Río San Juan. For once, my camera shutter clicked at things mechanical: the enormity of ... read more
dredging equipment on the Atlantic side
vast walls of riveted metal
Puente de las Américas

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