Photo Friday – DUNCAN AND HIS HAREM

It’s Friday again – time for another photo and for me to keep to my routine!

Let me introduce you to a magnificent old lion we called “Duncan”.  We came across him on a morning drive in Zambia.  He was reclining in the shade with his bevy of females and a few cubs.  It was hot and they had just finished feeding on their kill earlier so were lying around just like household cats very full and very satisfied.

Duncan was keeping watch and as we approached he just looked at us with a mixture of curiosity and disdain.  The first feeling I had, being so close to this wild creature, was one of terror, after all what was to stop him leaping into the vehicle which was completely open?  Then I looked into his eyes and saw trust and immediately I felt drawn to this lovely old boy.

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Then he began grooming one of his females – look at the ecstasy on her face

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In the evening we went for another drive, it was getting dark and we could hear what sounded like a cough.  It was Duncan making his roar to the wild, letting all the other creatures know he was there and this was his kingdom.

Even today I think of him often and hope he is still around but the bet his he has been replaced by a younger, more virile lion and left on his own.  Sad – but that is Mother Nature.

Elephants Never Forget

A regular feature for a blog?   What a good idea.  Not only does it keep your mind on track but it should develop a routine – and I am a creature of routine!

My “Regular” will be photographic and I have a huge store of images I can draw on.  Several safaris in Africa have furnished me with hundreds of wildlife photos and I have lots of favourites.  This is the first one which I thought appropriate as “Elephants Never Forget” and hopefully I won’t forget to post on a weekly basis!

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This beautiful mother and her baby were cooling off in a waterhole in the Serengeti.  The herd had several young and they behaved like children, wallowing in the water, rolling in the dust and pulling at each other’s  tails.  This little one just wanted to stay close to Mum.

Everything Australian on Australia Day

Last weekend the whole country had a long weekend.  Monday 26th January was Australia Day and that gave the population a signal to “celebrate” .  There were sporting events and barbecues, welcoming and remembrance ceremonies, favourite Aussie icons and moments were recalled and music by Australian bands and singers was played throughout the day.

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I have now come to look forward to this special day.  We were on Magnetic island and invited to a BBQ lunch. Guests were obliged to wear something iconic such as thongs, board shorts, T shirts, Jacky Howe singlets, caps, hats, anything with a flag on it – and one guest even came in a bikini made from flag material!

Of course there were decorations everywhere including on the tables, where the good old crocodile provided a centrepiece accompanied by a snake!

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Food plays an important part of the day and typical Aussie fare, such as pies, sausage rolls, cheese and vegemite rolls, prawns and barbecues with lamb, steak and/or sausages are on every menu.  This is usually followed by desserts which include lamingtons, cup cakes, pavlovas and tropical fruit and trifles.

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Having been well fed, we then launched into a Trivia Quiz game where all the questions were, of course, Australian.  This stretched the mind a little with questions such as “Which former Prime Minister once managed a band called “The Ramrods”?  How on earth was I was expected to know that?  The answer – Paul Keating.  For anyone interested in politics, this would be the most unlikely person to ever be involved in rock music.  So, you live and learn!

Everyone knows Kylie Minogue but apart from her popularity in the music world, it was her Hotpants that brought such an impact to Australian culture.  Favourite icons are Holden cars, Speedo swimsuits, Four XXXX Beer, Vegemite, Elle Macpherson and Miranda Kerr, Waltzing Matilda, Surfing, the Akubra Hat, Qantas, the Koala and the Kangaroo.   The list goes on and on.

However, what puzzled me when I first arrived in this country was the language.  I spent some time in the early years travelling through and living in the Outback.  This would be the most difficult place to start to comprehend the locals.  I remember one day driving along a bush road and stopping to talk to a Drover who was sitting on the biggest horse I had ever seen.  He asked me a question and I had to turn to my companion and ask what language he was speaking.  I did not understand one word. He then told me he was once “so hungry he could eat the arse out of a low flying duck”.  I was totally perplexed. He then said he had to “hit the Frog and Toad” (road) and galloped off.

Gradually I began to learn many Aussie sayings: words such as “Joe Blake” for snake, “noah” for sharks, “lizards” for crocodiles and “Japanese riding boots” for thongs are casually mentioned in conversations on a daily basis. I even find myself calling a chicken “a chook” these days.

Rhyming slang is another Aussie favourite. Phrases such as “Pass me the dead horse” (Pass the sauce) or “I’ll go and have a Captain Cook” (I’ll go and have a look) “Give me the Jack and Jill” (Give me the bill) and “on the Al Capone” (on the phone) are often heard in the bush.

It doesn’t take long, eventually you become absorbed in this totally fascinating country and its culture. Then you can call yourself “An Australian’

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Magnetic Island – My Island Home

Situated just 8km off the coast of Townsville, North Queensland is my “island home”.  The place where we escape on weekends, spend holidays and enjoy the company of friends and family.  Where we indulge in the luxury of reading, hiking, swimming, cooking unusual dishes and where time really means not much.  We can do what we like, when we like.          210711114530magnetic-island

This beautiful island has 23 bays and beaches and much of it is National Park surrounded by Marine Parks with some beautiful fringing coral and sea life.  In winter we watch whales on their migration north from Antarctica and dolphins and turtles abound.

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Huge granite boulders, hoop pines, eucalypt forest and patches of rainforest are found and of course, the resident wildlife is always there ……P1010682 IMG_4524 IMG_4458 IMG_4478 IMG_4850 IMG_8354 IMG_4949 IMG_4869 IMG_4859 IMG_4494Rosellas flock at dawn and sunset and greedily gobble up seeds thrown by residents.  The curlew looks on haughtily but doesn’t dare intercede.IMG_4451One morning a young kookaburra hopped onto our verandah and expected his breakfast – which he got – pieces of bacon which he slapped against the railings attempting to “kill it” before devouring.

IMG_4520 IMG_4515 IMG_4838 IMG_4845There are some beautiful walks through the National Park, including one to the “Forts” – a series of structures which were lookout forts during the Second World War.  This is where you will often see koalas in the wild.  Textures and colours of trees and leaves never fail to amaze me.P1000759 IMG_4854

And finally the sunsets – always magnificent and there is nothing better than to enjoy a sundowner at the end of the day watching the sun sink into the horizon declaring the day is over and a new start awaits in the morning.

Welcome to my Island Home !

Random Thoughts on a Journey

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Journey.”

One of my favourite quotes is by the well known travel writer, Paul Theroux – “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they are going”  It’s all about the journey whether that be in the travel sense or in life.  There are times when I sit and ponder on where life is taking me and I wonder at the turn of events.  They say that everything happens for a reason but many times we don’t know why.  I have had cause to seriously question fate and the lessons we have to learn.

Let me begin by saying I have been a traveller since a very young age.  Travelling the world has been part of my life since the age of 2 years and travelling through the vagaries of life is always there, in all of us.  Life is a journey.

Not long ago I embarked on another journey with my husband – to Africa.  It is often said that Africa weaves its way into your soul like nowhere else on earth.  It is certainly true for us and we have visited the continent several times in the past decade.  We loved it.  I use the past tense because now I am not sure if we will ever return.

Our wonderful holiday turned into a nightmare which grew worse day by day until fate decided that maybe we had endured enough and it was time to go home.  Today I am sitting at my desk looking at a calm and sparkling sea.  The sky is clear and blue.  Everything is calm and serene and I know I am lucky to be living in this peaceful part of the world far from recent events which have terrorised Europe and the world.  However, I cannot think of Africa in such light again and now know that we were meant to be on that particular journey for a reason – which I have yet to figure out.

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Life, Music, Memories

It’s strange how music can bring alive so many long buried memories. The haunting music “Dream of Olwyn” fills my study as I am remembering just why this piece means so much to me.  I was in my twenties and living in an idyllic village in the depths of the English countryside.  You can picture it with thatched roofed cottages, winding lanes, quaint little shop fronts, a village pond where ducks, well fed by local children, float serenely, and an ancient village church dating from Norman times is the focal point of the community.  In essence this is chocolate box scenery and it actually exists.  The music reminds me of a very close friend who passed away several years later, in the prime of his life.

Likewise tracks from singer Kathleen Ferrier or pianist Charlie Kunz, recordings of popular musicals or jazz from the American Greats bring back vivid memories of my parents when they were young.  Music was always playing on the LP record player, styluses had to be changed and records carefully cleaned to ensure no scratch marks would interfere with the quality of the recording. I grew up loving all genres and to this day music is a constant in my life.

During the Swinging Sixties, when I lived in London and was part of that hedonistic society;  mini skirts were the height of fashion, Twiggy with her huge black eyes, short hair and even shorter skirts defined all that was modern, Mary Quant was a favourite designer, and model Jean Shrimpton was the “face of the sixties.  Popular music came over Pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline and the pop stars of the time were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Freddie and The Dreamers and The Who.  Today I am transported back to those times whenever I hear a track from those artists and it reminds me of the carefree and unrestricted life that we all led.

That brings me to thoughts of my parents and the profound wish that they were alive today so I could tell them how much I loved them and share the joys and tribulations that life has brought me in the years since they have gone.  Fortunately they loved to keep memorabilia and I have well documented photo albums, books, letters, cards, diaries and even cassette tapes which we used to send instead of writing letters at one point.  This keeps many memories alive and I am attempting to document their lives so that my grandchildren will know more about their ancestors and about life before, during and after the Second World War.

I was inspired by the post Life Slips Away which expresses so well the feelings that I have on the subject of Death and Dying.  I have realised that as I have reached different stages in my life, my priorities have changed and what was important then is no longer of any consequence now.  It is a journey we all take and the realisation that life is precious and should be lived to the full without regrets is something we should hopefully all come to terms with in the end.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end”  Ursula E Guin

RIO’S CARNIVAL – A TIME TO PARTY

The tall, young Brazilian waiter with a wide grin handed us a plate of cactus fruit and said “You have to be part of the street parade, it’s on this afternoon,” and so began our introduction to the “world’s biggest party”.

We had come to Rio de Janeiro for the Carnival, it was late February and the intense heat had a languorous effect on everyone. Slowly making our way to Leblon, an extension of the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, we found that the samba beat worked like a magnet; there were no barricades to separate the public from the parade and so we joined in the throng. Pressed tightly against hot, sweaty bodies we moved with the crowd in what became a wave of humanity, unable to move forwards or backwards we had no choice but to go where the mass took us. It was late afternoon and the sun was setting. The scent of freshly squeezed limes, coconuts and suntan oil mixed with perfume and perspiration was overpowering and I began to wonder what had possessed us, when suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of the procession.

Face to face with dozens of drag queens in Carmen Miranda costumes, platform heels, frothy tulle dresses, feathers and elaborate head-dresses, we became part of a street opera. Minnie Mouse, with a polka dot dress, white gloves and a huge bow in her hair, was inviting everyone to samba and others wearing silver glitter body paint, sunglasses and little else encouraged her along. The crowd loved it, yet this was only a taste of what was to come.

Rio de Janeiro’s carnival has been billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth” and around two million people dance to the rhythm of samba for almost a week. This takes place during the days preceding Ash Wednesday and we found the city in party mode. There are numerous street parades in local neighbourhoods, masked balls and both street and private celebrations. The Cariocas (local Rio residents) love to party and it is impossible to go anywhere in the city during this time and not hear the beat of the bossa nova or samba coming from bars, restaurants and private apartments.

Towards the end of the week the grand carnival procession takes place over two nights in the 60,000 seat Sambodrome – which is a 700 metre long parade strip flanked by concrete spectator stands and boxes. There is fierce competition amongst the fourteen samba schools who all vie for the title of Grand Champion. Over 70,000 people take part over the two nights in which seven samba schools perform each night. Our tickets were for the second night and arriving at our places in the centre stand, the bright lights and energy from the crowd initially took our breath away. When the parade began at 9pm, the multitude around us broke into song, chanting the school’s theme song along with the participants.

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A samba school is not a teaching institution but rather a group of people from a ‘favela’ or poor neighbourhood who get together for samba nights and rehearse for a year, also providing year round jobs to the community making costumes and floats. There are social welfare programs as well as workshops, educational activities and professional courses. This helps to create better living conditions for youngsters in the community as well as for handicapped people of all ages.

We found ourselves in the midst of a group of supporters for Mangueira, which had won the title previously and was obviously one of the more popular schools. All around us people were waving flags in the school’s colours of pink and green. The moment the group stepped onto the parade ground there was a loud roar from the crowd who broke into their theme song. Soon we were standing up and dancing the samba with the rest of them, cheering, clapping and gasping in awe at the sheer size of the floats that dwarfed the human beings alongside.

Each school chooses a Samba Queen who is not only beautiful but an accomplished samba dancer as well. Wearing a jewelled costume consisting of a tiny bikini, lots of feathers, an intricate headress and impossibly high heels, she sambas her way down the parade ground, gyrating and twirling in front of the judges and leading the 300 drummers who are judged on their precision and enthusiasm.

The schools, with multi coloured costumed dancers, are allowed 80 minutes to dance, bounce and sway through the stadium. There are anything from 3,000 to 5,000 members and from six to eight floats making up each samba school and they portray the many aspects of Brazilian life in a lavish style of street theatre with dazzling costumes, massive floats and dramatic sets.

By 5am the next morning, with three more schools to parade and realising the show would go on until well past sunrise, we decided to call it a day. Flushed with the entire spectacle of the evening, my thoughts were that if there is one thing you should do before you die, it is to go to the Carnival in Rio.

Exploring Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Over dinner one evening, after devouring local seafood, beautiful salads and even more beautiful wine, the suggestion was made that we should join some friends in their 60′ Maritimo cruiser and explore the Milne Bay area of Papua New Guinea.  It didn’t take long to make a decision and several months later we began our exploration of this fascinating area.

Our home port was Alotau, in the south-east of Papua New Guinea and on the northern shore of Milne Bay – the area in which the Japanese suffered their first land defeat in the Pacific war in 1942.  The gateway to Milne Bay Province, this area has some of the most remote island communities in the world and this is what we came to discover.

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First we had to stock up with some fresh supplies as there would be no stores where we were going!  The local market was the answer and here we found some fruit, bananas mainly, greens the likes of which we had never seen before, avocados, limes, pumpkin, coconuts and masses of “kau kau” (sweet potato). Dried fish we left alone, hoping to catch fresh ourselves.

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The locals love to chew betel nut – which turns their teeth and mouths a bright red colour.  They wrap the nut in a leaf sprinkled with lime and then chew.  This makes their mouth quite numb but apparently gives a pleasantly soporific feeling!  Deciding we needed to experience it for ourselves, we gave it a try – never have I tasted anything more disgusting in my life.IMG_4231

Then it was off to the islands, the coral reefs and exploration

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“pek pek haus” – in other words, the village toilet

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The local people were curious and paddled over to our boat in their dugout canoes offering fresh vegetables from their gardens and sometimes fish.  We were invited into villages and shown around with big smiles and pride in their simple way of life.  It was a privilege which we were lucky enough to experience – there are few who ever visit these islands. IMG_7166 IMG_7285 IMG_4361 IMG_4364 IMG_4402IMG_4378 IMG_4368 IMG_7187

After ten days, numerous islands, so many experiences, new friends, reef encounters, fascinating cultures and magnificent sunsets, it was time to head home.

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An African Story – Dream Reader Assignment Blogging 101

Are you interested in Travel and new experiences?  Then you are my Dream Reader. Perhaps my story will awaken a long suppressed desire to go to Africa – one of the joys of which is to observe animals in their native habitat.  So, please read on!

“Watch out for elephants!” we were warned on arrival at Old Mondoro Bush camp in Zambia. “They love the winter thorn and acacia tree pods and are always wandering through the camp.”     Set in a grove of Acacia trees on the banks of the Zambezi River in the Lower Zambezi National Park this beautiful little camp overlooks a maze of hippo-inhabited islands and channels and provides the thrill of a genuine bush camp experience in Africa. With no electricity or hot water, the camp is a far cry from the luxury camps we had been staying at up until now. Constructed of four reed and canvas tents all with ensuite bathrooms with flush toilets, washbasins and canvas bucket showers combined with beautiful views of the river and hippo islands, this is a very special place.Old Mondoro2

On arrival we were greeted by John and Lana, a young Afrikaans couple who manage the camp – and an elephant slowly making his way through the camp in search of more pods! These huge animals, whilst they look gentle and seem to be quiet, are still wild and unpredictable and we were told to never walk from our tent to the lodge area if an elephant was wandering along the path. Over the three days we were there, we met these animals daily and became so confident, that we watched from our tent as they slowly walked by ignoring us. On one occasion, when an elephant heard the shower running in the afternoon, we were greeted by a trunk appearing over the reed wall in an effort to take some water! Eyeballing an elephant from close quarters is a very unnerving experience especially when the animal is taller than the tent! Turning the shower off did the trick; the elephant lost interest and wandered off.ele eye

Mondoro is the Shona name for “lion” and the camp is named after a legendary white lion seen during David Livingstone’s exploration of the Zambezi River. The genuinely rustic theme is carried through to all activities. Dinner is always taken by the light of paraffin lamps and candles, giving a really romantic edge to the evening. The river water gently lapping the edge of the bank and hippos honking in the distance, communicating with each other whilst hundreds of stars twinkled above instantly puts guests in a relaxed mode. This is just as well as one evening during our stay the table had been set in the open under an acacia tree. Eight of us sat down to a beautifully presented dinner and then we heard it; the soft thud of an elephant treading towards us. It is amazing how gently these huge creatures can walk. A bulky shape appeared in the dark and there he was, our uninvited guest who had decided to feast on the delicious pods hanging above us. “Get up very slowly and quietly” Lana told us “and move towards the covered area”. This we did in slow motion although the natural reaction was to rush for cover. Any sudden movement would cause the elephant to charge. Dining silently in the company of a huge male elephant who entertained us by shaking and rattling the tree to obtain pods was certainly not on the programme and presented a few heart stopping moments but is a memory which will stay with us forever.

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This same elephant was nicknamed “Stinky” because he was wandering through the camp one morning and happened to step on a septic tank which broke under the weight of his foot and he fell in. The resulting odour and mess to be cleared up did not endear him to the staff but he returns time and again and appears to love human company.

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Evening game drives can provide a different kind of adventure. Part of the safari culture is to have ‘sundowners’ in a unique spot followed by a drive spotting various animals. Watching the crimson sunset backdrops, often along a hippo lined riverbank or on a plain with harems of zebra or herds of buffalo staring is breath-taking. We followed bachelor herds of elephants, were amused by a family of warthogs and fascinated by the eerie cry of the hyena and the distant roar of the lion. One evening, finding a dead baboon in the bush, we concluded it had been killed in baboon combat and not by a predator. Deciding to check later, we drove on and followed the spoor of a leopard. Leopards are shy creatures and not often spotted; then we saw her, Kinky (so named because of the kink in her tail) had just made a kill, blood was on her face and she walked slowly around the stationary car and then disappeared into the bush. We waited some minutes for her to reappear and decided to move on. Unfortunately at that moment the vehicle refused to start. The battery was flat and we were unable to even radio the camp. It was dark, we were in an open vehicle, down a gully with a leopard on the prowl, lions nearby and a cantankerous mother elephant and her calf in the vicinity. This was when I felt extremely vulnerable and remembered a friend telling me “Africa is not for sissies!” Eventually we were able to make faint contact with a distant camp and forty minutes later help arrived in the form of ten Africans in a car who first tried to jump start our vehicle. Attaching the jumper leads to the wrong points did not help. Refusing to take our advice and demanding we sit in our seats, these ten men finally decided to use brute strength and manually pushed the Toyota up the hill to get it started whilst we sat in total amazement.

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“Would you like to see if something has taken the dead baboon?” our guide asked us once we were back on track. We declined and decided the bar at the camp made a safer option.

Why Am I Here? You May Well Ask!

Hello from Down Under!

This morning I saw this Blogging Course was mentioned in a feed I read daily about Genealogy.  As I had good intentions some time ago and actually set out and made a masthead with WordPress but never put any words onto the page – I thought it would be a good idea to start all over again and learn more about the World of Blogging  at the same time.

So, here is my first page!  I live in the tropics which suits me well as I was a “Colonial Kid” brought up in Hong Kong in the days when it was a British colony.  I went to boarding school in England and travelled a lot from a very early age, hence my love of travel which I have been lucky enough to do all my life.  Photography and photojournalism are hobbies I have spent hours indulging in with limited success. Memoir writing and social history are also passions.  I have worked in tourism in positions such as flight attendant, tourism marketing, tour guiding, interpreting and running tourism information centres.  If you love where you live, it is easy to be enthusiastic about promotion.  It is also wonderful to meet people from all over the world who are eager to experience what the region has to offer.

Reading, craft, music and the animal world are my hobbies as well as my daily yoga practice which brings a balance to my life.

I have a wonderful family and look back on my life with few regrets.  Life is a journey and I would like to document the ups and downs, the lows and highs and most of all remember and reflect.  I have many pages of life writing written over the years and this blogging is probably a way for me to make sense of all that.

Why should others want to read my blog?  I have no idea ! I started a blog on another site seven years ago which was primarily for friends and family to follow our travels at the time.  I loved writing it, they enjoyed reading it and It is great to look back on. Now I would like to become more disciplined and write more regularly and who knows, perhaps find more like people out there in the blogging world.