Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Hare, and there

So, I break off from sorting out the airing cupboard (how come there are so many pillowcases in there? Do they breed?) to view a big motor yacht gliding into Oneroa Bay, and straight away get a connection with a couple of boats of quite a different sort (but one exactly the same age), plus Prince Andrew, a round-the-world sailor, and Bluff.

First, the boat: 58m long, and now called the Dancing Hare, it was built in 1986 for the Saudi businessman cousin of recently murdered (and dismembered) journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It was later bought by media mogul Robert Maxwell, who named it Lady Ghislaine after his daughter. He disappeared off the yacht near the Canaries in 1991 when big trouble was looming for him - jumped, pushed, fell while peeing in the nude? - and his (or maybe not his...) body was later found floating in the sea. Nobody's telling who currently owns or is using the boat, but it's been hanging around NZ for a few months now.

It's an obvious link from the yacht to Maxwell's daughter Ghislaine, and then from her to Jeffrey Epstein - was it suicide? or murder? - and from both of them to Prince Andrew. Now that's a story we're all going to be horribly fascinated to follow, when they finally get around to the trial. But, the royal non-sweater with a sailing ship? And all of this with me?

Right. Back in - also - 1986, when I was living in England, our loose group of regulars at the White Hart Inn got involved in organising fun events to raise money for the pet charity of one member, Liz (whose handmade Christmas tree decoration present to me I packed away today for another year). The aim of the Jubilee Sailing Trust is to enable the physically handicapped to enjoy sailing on the ocean, in the company of able-bodied people. We helped raise money to build a sail training ship, the STS Lord Nelson, a three-masted barque, and were then invited to attend the naming ceremony in Southampton in July. The Patron of the organisation was Prince Andrew, but the person performing the actual naming was Miss Sarah Ferguson - as she still was, just, their ill-fated wedding coming a fortnight later.

It was all very grand - I wore a hat! - with band, anthem, prayers, Rule Britannia and so on, and then after the naming ceremony there was a lunch at long tables, and the host on ours was Sir Alec Rose. He was knighted - despite not being the first - for doing a solo circumnavigation of the world by sail. That was back in 1967 in the 11m Lively Lady, during which he had to call in at Bluff, way down south, to do some unplanned mast repairs. His previous port of call, incidentally, had been Melbourne, where PM Harold Holt came to see him sail in, and who later that day went swimming and disappeared, presumed drowned. Bit of a theme here, eh?

Even 20 years later, Sir Alec was lapping up any adulation that might come his way, and made sure to tell us all about his adventure - but he was jolly enough, I suppose. Preferable to seedy Andrew and his mates, anyway. And the whole connection is certainly a lot more interesting than tidying bed linen.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Yebo, Phinda!

Dutifully watching the TV news last night, it was a novelty, though not a relief, when the gloomy focus moved away from Covid, prison riot, road toll etc to Africa. Not just Africa, but South Africa. And not just South Africa, but Phinda Game Reserve, where I've been. Twice.

The topic was the poaching of pangolins - inoffensive, cute little creatures covered in scales which the Chinese, despite being clever in so many other fields, insist are a vital ingredient in traditional medicine. Like rhino horn, it's just keratin, same as fingernails, and just as inert and useless; but so convinced are the Chinese, and so eager to acquire it, that the poor pangolin is the most poached animal in the entire world.

One ranger interviewed reckoned that the weight of the annual haul of rhino horn, elephant tusk and lion bone, horrific though it is, would have to be multiplied hundreds of times to equal the tonnage of pangolin scales. Incredible, and so sad. I'm guessing it helps that they're so much easier to catch than the other animals. I'm also pretty certain that, with tourism currently so diminished, there are a lot of unemployed people out there busily poaching for an alternative income.

Rescued pangolins, which survive, are released to safety in places like &Beyond's Phinda, a private game reserve where they are very energetic about protecting endangered species. It's a lovely place, with a choice of six environmentally different lodges (mountain, grassland, forest, rock), all of them gorgeous, luxurious and staffed by real enthusiasts. I had such a wonderful time there, and got so close to the animals - bumping along behind cheetah running down a nyala, being looked at by a lion walking right past the open Landcruiser where I was sitting, rushing in reverse away from a black rhino that was pawing the dust before it launched into a charge. 

I didn't see any pangolins though. Sounds like that's getting even more unlikely, now.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Kia ora, 2021. Haere mai.

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2021: odd-numbered years have always been better for me, so let's keep that custom going, eh? 

Aiming to be relentlessly positive, the current pandemic set-up is precisely the sort of scenario that this blog is designed for: all about being reminded of past travels, and not, as most travel blogs are, about current exploration and experiences. Not that there won't be a few of those too - necessarily domestic, but none the worse for that as (our national smugness currently reaching, er, epidemic levels) most of the world would have to agree.

So, onwards and upwards, right?

Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020: fun to write. That's it.

It would be nice to be able to live up to the title of this blog - the skite bit - but it hasn't been that sort of year, has it? This is usually the post where I gloat about all the places I went and what I liked best, and all that. Well, exactly one year ago today I was on a Christmas cruise to Sydney sailing through the hellish orange smoke of the bushfires, and then a fortnight later flitted to LA for the joyful announcement by Viking cruise lines of their expanding from river and ocean into exploration cruises, building two new ships to take on the Arctic and Antarctic. Afterwards, I went to the Museum of Death.

Since then, I've been hunkered down in NZ, safe but bored. Yes, of course there are heaps of lovely places here to visit and explore but you need energy to sort out your own famils and I'm sure I'm not alone in finding that hard to summon up in 2020. There is, obviously, no reason to believe that simply clicking over into 2021 is going to make any difference - but I will try to have some faith in all those hard-working scientists and medical people, and look forward to perhaps, sometime, somehow, taking a step or two towards a version of normal that might allow some sort of travel, eventually. Maybe.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Many a true word spoken in error

Desert Safari Dubai has perfect includes for Sole, Family, and Couples. If you are traverse in Dubai or on a stopover flight. You were most likely to do different activities in Dubai. Either than visiting malls, dine in restaurants or city sightseeing. For an adventure break, one should endure a 6 Hours Evening Desert Safari. 

This is a spam email that came to me via a comment on this blog. Clearly, targeted, at least; but had they done a little research, they would have discovered that I have actually done the Dubai desert safari not once, but twice (actually, three times, if you count the one I did in Qatar). And neither time, to be honest, with real enjoyment - which at least makes their choice of verb in the last sentence very apt, I reckon.
You get picked up in a 4WD and taken out along the motorway into the proper desert - which doesn't take long at all, since Dubai is plonked, very unnaturally, right in the middle of a vast, sandy expanse. Then it's time for the tyres to be let down a little, for added grip, and you're off into the dunes, following a path of sorts, apparently chosen for maximum jolting, lurching and sliding, in every direction. Honestly, you do have to hang on, inside the vehicle, to stop from slithering about, and bumping your head. There's some excited whooping to begin with, but then, in my experience, things quite quickly go a bit quiet.
It's properly sick-making, if you're that way inclined, which I am, and also others I shared the trips with - one, literally. It's very far from the ideal preparation for a buffet feast at low tables in a pretend Bedouin camp, trying to be positive about a woman doing a cliché belly dance (the first one I went to, she turned out to be Russian). There was also a pre-dinner single circuit on a camel to do, which would have been a novelty if I hadn't already done proper camel treks in Australia: it was hardly worth the lurching effort of getting on and off. I did enjoy spotting an oryx, though.

My safaris were free, provided by the tourism people, so I got the basic deal, understandably. There are much fancier versions, with added astronomy, owls and falcons, hot-air balloons and even luxury overnights, which does sound lovely, and not at all the sort of thing you would have to 'endure'. All, though, very academic right now of course.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Until yesterday, iGNorant of a connection

I didn't mean to stalk Graham Norton. I didn't even know I'd done it. It was only yesterday, over a year later, when I was listening to an old RNZ interview with him and Kim Hill that I realised I'd done it. He mentioned how he liked living in Bantry because although, same as in London, he was recognised everywhere he went there, Bantry is so small that he can recognise people right back - supermarket checkout lady, petrol station guy, man who fixes the boiler - so it's fair.

Regular 😀 readers will recall that in August last year I went on a Silversea cruise from London, around Ireland, and back again. It was blighted by a terrible case of the flu/possible pre-Covid that laid us out for most of the trip - yes, I'm still coughing, thanks for asking - but, diligent as ever, I did force myself off Silver Wind at each port to do an explore. Bantry was a little gem: colourful old houses reflected in the waters of the harbour, bustling main street, picturesque ruined church with a wild cemetery outside, grand mansion up on a hill, lively history, passers-by full of banter with our funny guide... it was a treat, and well worth dragging myself out of what had been feeling would become my deathbed. It was, if further proof is needed, memorable enough for me to properly remember it, and not rely on my trusty notebook which, for the first time ever, I had no energy to actually write in:

Not enough contact to qualify as stalking? Fair comment. But before the cruise began, we had to be driven from our splendid hotel right next to Tower Bridge, where the ship was meant to be moored, way out to distant, and desolate, Tilbury Docks. That was because the wind had been too strong for the ship, despite its small size, to be safely sailed through the Thames Barrier and up the winding Thames through Tower Bridge to its mooring beside the Belfast. It was disappointing (though made up for at the end of the cruise, by doing exactly that) but it did mean we had a long and very expensive taxi tour, at Silversea's expense, from St Katharine's through, initially, Wapping. Which is where Graham has his London residence, our helpful driver told us. Helen Mirren too, apparently. (Gary was very chatty - it took him 4 years to do the Knowledge, part-time, which he reckoned was equally as necessary to the job as GPS.)

So, ok, maybe stalking is stretching it a bit. But two GN connections in one cruise, without even trying? Good enough for me.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

A different sort of Christmas scent

I have no idea how this deodorant came to be in my bathroom cupboard. I discovered it while rummaging through various baskets looking - in vain, it turned out - for the replacement roll-on I thought I had laid away ready. I stopped buying aerosol deodorant many, many years ago because of the CFC thing, so that's the first bit of the mystery. There is a clue, though, in the size of this container: it's very small, which suggests it was complimentary. Plus, of course, it's German. 

I haven't been anywhere German-speaking for ages. The last time was just before Christmas 2014, when I did a cruise with Uniworld up the Danube from Budapest. They threw us travel writer freeloaders unceremoniously off the boat halfway through the trip, so we missed out on the highlight of sailing through the Wachau Valley, with its hills, castles and vineyards, and on towards Passau and beyond. Instead, we were mini-bussed back to Vienna to fly home. It had been lovely up till that point, though - despite every day being seriously cold and grey. It was an education in understanding why Christmas in Europe is so much more Christmassy than it is here downunder, with our summer holiday distractions that include, notably, summer. When it's that grey and grim, you really need things like mulled wine, gingerbread and market stalls draped in coloured lights.

Vienna was actually my first introduction to the European Christmas, way back in 1987, when we went from England to Austria. Vienna was certainly gorgeous, but even better was Salzburg, where we spent the actual Christmas Day - plus, more to the point, Christmas Eve, which is more important than the 25th, dinner-wise. We'd got a bit anxious in the preceding days, seeing menus that all focused on the traditional Karpfen - carp, the fish, an everyday fish at that, unlike salmon, say. 

Anyway, we turned up at our Vier Jahreseiten hotel restaurant on the evening of the 24th, dressed up, with our presents, just as all the locals were, picked up the menu - and oh! What a relief! Main course: Englisches Roastbeef! 

Earlier that evening, we'd been to a service in the cathedral, quite a casual affair with a lot of coming and going, and then afterwards trailed behind everyone else to the cemetery, where people were putting wreaths and candles on family graves, and singing along to a live accompaniment of violins and cornets. That was wonderfully atmospheric. Christmas Day itself was anticlimactic - so ordinary that we hired a car and went for a drive, looking for snow and, after deciding that it was cheating to pretend a frosty spruce tree would do, found the real thing on top of a peak that we went up in a gondola.  

It was a lovely Christmas. Which is not to say it's not equally lovely to look out of the window and see this sort of thing:

(None of which, of course, solves the mystery of the German deodorant.)


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