Page 3 of Weir travels Travel Blog Posts


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?
rhododendron
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


I’m back in El Castillo, sitting in a hammock on the balcony of the charming Casa de Huésped Chinandegano, with the rapids that almost defeated a young Nelson in 1780 off to my right. I feel a little guilty for not going back to the pretty Nena Lodge that did me so well last weekend, but this place is right on the river, the French-Argentinean couple I’ve run into from time to time this week went out of their way to recommend it to me, and I was already going to come back here for dinner tonight, with the mouth-watering memory of its “camarones en salsa”… Did I really think this morning that the San Juan del Norte-San Carlos “rápido” could stop here and I would be able to resist the temptation of Yamil’s “bom-bom” coffee ... read more
downriver from the fortress
main street, El Castillo
El Castillo


I stood knee-deep in the water at the edge of the lake, my skirt hitched up as we used to do when attempting handstands in the school playground, rubbing my laundry on the already-soaped ribbed board at one side of the concrete unit. When everything was thoroughly scrubbed, I bent over to rinse the clothes. Having wrung them out, I took them back to dry land and hunkered down under the small lapa, watching the water and the birds as I waited for my flip-flops to dry in the sun, before I headed back up the hill to my washing line and a rare date with a book and a hammock. This is island life. This is the Archipiélago de Solentiname. Where there is no traffic; there are no roads – only, at most, paved pathways ... read more
cormorant drying his wings
howler monkey, Isla El Padre
laundry Solentiname-style


Sitting here in my unexpectedly pretty room in the Hospedaje Familiar in San Juan del Norte, I feel a very long way away from anywhere.* It’s not the remotest place on the planet, I’ll admit, and I’ve probably been to places that took longer to reach, but there’s something about being in a little town on a big continent which is only accessible by inland waterway – and even then only if you have half a day to devote to it, always supposing that you’ve already reached the head of the river, itself fairly remote by any standard – that somehow exaggerates the remoteness: a sense of “so near, yet so far” perhaps. The only way out of here is the way I came yesterday, by boat; and there are only two directions, six hours by ... read more
a tranquil morning in San Juan del Norte
a brief glimpse of the Caribbean coast
early morning mist on the Río San Juan


North or south? This was the tough decision facing Amy and myself when it came to deciding which part of the country we would tackle for our final road trip together in Nicaragua. The south – the Lago de Nicaragua port of San Carlos, the contentious Río San Juan that forms the border with Costa Rica, the hidden depths of several natural reserves, the rarely visited Solentiname islands, and the historic Spanish fortress at El Castillo – was entirely unexplored by Amy, despite the length of time she had spent in this country. Juigalpa and the Parque Arqueológico Piedras Pintadas of the Chontales region was as close as we’d got. After all, San Carlos is at the other end of a 16+ hour boat trip or a bumpy 8-10 hours on the road (about six hours ... read more
view from the road to Jinotega
Nicaragua's national bird, the guardabarranco
coffee beans drying on plastic sheets




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