Top 10 Travel Destinations

Machu Picchu To help you with your travel planning I’ve selected 10 countries I feel confident in recommending based on four criteria. First, there must be lots to see and do. Second, access must be easy without oppressive visa regulations or tourist taxes. Third, the country must be relatively safe. And fourth, the cost of travel must be reasonable. My choices span the globe with all five continents included. Bon voyage!

Armenia: The monasteries, museums, and mountains of Armenia are unsurpassed with loads of attractions packed into a small area. And unlike many of its ex-Soviet neighbors, visas are easily available upon arrival (best months June to September).

Azores: This is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. The nine inhabited islands of the group are supremely picturesque with wonderful streets, buildings, museums, waterfronts, and hiking possibilities. All nine islands are conveniently linked by air (best months June to August).

Cuba: The colonial cities of Havana, Camaguey, and Santiago de Cuba are living repositories of Afro-Cuban culture. I strongly suggest you go soon before the Miami hordes arrive (best months November to April).

Ethiopia: This colorful country has more attractions than any other sub-Saharan destination with historical monuments in the north and tribal life in the south. The food will delight vegetarians and many people speak English (best months November to March).

Malaysia: This Southeast Asian country has much of the color of Thailand without the chaos. Some of the best street food in the world is served nightly in Penang and the monuments of Kuala Lumpur are just fine (best months June to August).

Mexico: So long as you avoid the areas bordering the United States, Mexico is quite safe. The people are friendly, the culture appealing, and the choice is what to see and do is unending (best months November to April).

Morocco: The ancient cities of Fez, Meknes, and Marrakesh are a delight to wander around. Accommodations, food, and transport are all readily available at prices half those of Turkey (best months April to October).

Peru: Peru has more pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial sites than the rest of South America combined. The Amazonian, Andean, and coastal regions are each quite unique (best months May to November).

Romania: The mystery of mountainous Transylvania and the sophistication of urban Bucharest are a winning combination. Visit now before the introduction of the euro leads to a spike in prices (best months April to October).

Samoa: It is easier to get close to nature in this small South Pacific country than anywhere else in Oceania. Staying in a Samoan beach fale resort run by a local family is one of the world’s top travel experiences (best months June to September).

Reach For Paradise

Reach for Paradise Author Andrew Rayner writes that his book Reach for Paradise, a journey among the Pacific Islands, just crept up on him. When he set sail on a trip around the world it was to last three years maximum, then he would return home to build some form of pension for himself. The three years segwayed into eight and his experience begged to be communicated. There seemed to be a need for an entertaining travel book that conveyed the remarkable spirit of the island people. Just as the various Polynesian languages are quite different from one another but have a common root, so too the islands as a whole have a sort of unified magic in spite of their remarkable differences. The furthest reaches of the Pacific, sheltered by a lack of resources and insulated by time and distance, are quite unlike any other region of our globe. Paradise is a horribly abused word, but there’s no better label for the islands, imaginary or real.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that the first love, the first sunrise, and the first South Sea island are memories apart and touch a virginity of sense. James Norman Hall added, “And so are the tenth or the fifteenth island. The purity of perception is not lost by repetition of the experience. There is a magic about these islands that is time-defying.” Andrew Rayner calls them “fragments of perfection”.

The area covered in Rayner’s book excludes the cosmopolitan islands of New Zealand, Japan, and Hawaii. What’s left are some 10,000 lesser known islands and Reach For Paradise is a celebration of those islands rather than a sailors’ handbook. It’s a personal story, as all proper travel stories are. The context begins with the destruction following the arrival of the first Europeans, colonization, further disruption during the Pacific War, and eventual independence. Key themes to understanding it all are custom, tradition, the canoe, life without modern gadgets, dancing, music, generosity, and beauty. Reach For Paradise is a fun read, regardless of whether the reader ever intends to venture into the Pacific, although the book may inspire just that.

Top Tourist Attractions of Fiji

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

Fiji is an island paradise everyone should experience at least once. Fiji`s idyllic vistas and natural beauty surpass even the glossiest brochure photos of the country. Well known for its white sandy beaches, super surfing, and pure relaxation, Fiji has much much more to offer. Although the weather is great year round with average temperatures of 25 degrees celsius, the best time to visit the country is during the cooler, drier season from May to October when both children kids and adults can enjoy range of exciting outdoor activities.

Visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant, just 10 minutes’ north of Nadi by car, is an ideal attraction for families. These lovely landscaped gardens, situated at the foothills of the Nausori Highlands, are home to over a thousand orchid varieties plus a wide variety of Fiji’s endemic plants. Extending over 20 hectares, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant allows admiring to admire the local flora on jungle walks through the native forest.

Pump your adrenaline with Fire Walking
For those in search of a unique holiday activity, Fiji provides the opportunity of witnessing not one, but two styles of firewalking. An ancient religious ceremonial act dating back to 1200 BC, firewalking involves walking over hot stones (in the Fijian tradition) or over ashes and glowing embers (in the Hindu purification ritual). Many large accommodation providers in Fiji stage firewalking shows for tourists.

Participate in a Kava Ceremony
Kava (also known as yaqona) is the traditional drink of Fiji. The consumption of the beverage is a ceremonial and social unifier, and tourists can immerse themselves in Fijian culture by witnessing a kava ceremony. Guests take part by sitting in a circle facing a hand-carved mixing bowl called a tanoa, then the kava is sipped from a coconut shell cup with the village chief always drinking first. You can book participation in a kava ceremony through most hotels and resorts in Fiji.

Visit Kula Eco Park
Set in a beautiful coastal rainforest reserve, Kula Eco Park is a popular tourist destination dedicated to the preservation of the country’s indigenous fauna. During a visit to the park, travelerss can see creatures such as the crested iguana, experience hands-on interactions with a variety of animals, and learn about Fiji’s amazing wildlife.

Hike the Falls of Taveuni
Nature lovers are sure to enjoy hiking near the three Tavoro Waterfalls on Taveuni Island, lying just off the east coast of Vanua Levu. Taveuni is known in Fiji as the “Garden of Eden” and much of the interior and east of the island is protected within Bouma National Heritage Park. A hike through this terrain provides access to rare orchids, clear waterfalls, natural waterslides, and ancient tree ferns. Those wishing to spend longer than a day on the island can book accommodation at a variety of guest houses and resorts.

Getting there and Away
Daily flights to Fiji depart most of Australia’s major airports including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane and flights to Fiji on Fiji Airways (Fiji’s national carrier) start from as little as $259AUD one way. Direct Fiji Airways flights from points all around the Pacific Rim are also available.

Adventures of Walt Christophersen

By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking During the 1980s Walt Christophersen worked in Europe as a television journalist and later he wrote a memoir titled A Temporary European about those times. Christophersen’s second book takes us back to the 1960s and 1970s as he travels the world By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking. The story begins in Micronesia and the South Pacific with an account of sailing around the Marshall Islands, Yap, and Fiji on copra boats. The last third of the book is the story of his overland journey from Beirut to Tokyo.

Imagine sailing through the outer islands of Yap for three weeks on a 178-foot copra boat, exploring atolls most tourists have never heard of, all for a fare of $56.60. An extra $5 a day bought you endless meals of corned beef and rice. There was no charge for the shower, which was turned off for 12 days to save water. That’s how it was in the early 1970s as Walt hopscotched his way across the Pacific, recording his experiences for the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Toronto Star, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Examiner.

Readers of By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking tag along as he thumbs his way around Tahiti, attends a royal birthday party in Tonga, and surveys war debris on the shattered island of Peliliu. Christophersen’s affinity for ships also leads him to other parts of the world, including cruises down the Amazon and up the coast of Norway. His longest journey was a nonstop seven-month overland odyssey from Beirut to Tokyo via Afghanistan at peace and Vietnam at war. By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking is available in a Kindle edition as well as paperback.

Fiji Fun for Families

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

We all know that travelling with young children, and even teenagers, can be difficult. What may start off as a relaxing overseas break with the family, can quickly turn into an epic voyage filled with stressful situations as you try to keep the children controlled and entertained. Indeed, combating their excitement and boredom is just one of the many tasks you need to be on top of if you want to ensure your holiday remains hassle free.

That said, if you’re looking for the perfect family escape, one that is affordable, relaxing, and filled with activities for the kids to do, why not consider the sun, sand, and smiling faces of Fiji? The Fijian archipelago is made up of 330 tropical islands surrounded by crystal clear waters, and the region provides a raft of adventure options for families including swimming, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, cruising, and kayaking. In addition, the many quality resorts on the islands offer fantastic children’s programs to keep kids amused and give parents a little alone time.

From Sydney, flights to Fiji on Fiji Airways take just three and a half hours and prices begin from AUD$254, with kids flying cheaper at just AUD$149. Once you touch down, consider staying at three of the more popular family friendly accommodation spots in Fiji: the Castaway Island Resort, the Outrigger on the Lagoon, and the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa. All three resorts offer a free kids’ club where children are cared for and entertained giving you the chance to unwind. The kids are kept busy enjoying a variety of games, crafts, cultural storytelling and activities, fish-feeding, canoeing, treasure hunts, and even learning some of the Fijian language. For the teenagers, the resorts encourage exploration through their many facilities including surfing, parasailing, jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, hiking, beach volleyball, tennis, snorkelling, diving, water skiing, and cultural village tours.

Families looking to spend some time together away from their accommodation have a variety of attractions to choose from in Fiji as well. Kula Eco Park, set in a coastal rainforest reserve, is a popular spot dedicated to the conservation of the country’s indigenous animals such as the crested iguana. Kids can experience hands-on interactions with animals and learn about Fiji’s amazing wildlife at the same time. Zip Fiji is another popular family-friendly attraction to visit. The South Pacific’s first zipline experience, it’s located on a private eco-reserve in the heart of a rainforest and provides a fun day of adrenaline-pumping activity for the whole family. Children as young as five can participate in the zipline tours that soar over the rainforest canopy below, plus the attraction is just as much fun in wet weather as in dry, so it’s a great place to visit even on rainy days. The all-inclusive price, which includes zipline adventure, round-trip transportation and a snack will set you back around FJD$225 per person.

The Other Hundred

cake sellers at the Bai Bazaar in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan

cake sellers at the Bai Bazaar in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan

My photo of cake sellers at the Bai Bazaar in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan, is one of the 100 iconic images appearing in a new photographic book from Oneworld Publications. The Other Hundred: 100 Faces, Places, Stories introduces a series of everyday people attempting to live the good life despite a lack of disposable wealth. The Other Hundred is the antithesis of the Forbes 100 list of the world’s richest people. With eighty percent of the inhabitants of earth living on less than $10 a day, the people we meet in this book are more far representative of humanity than the rich and famous adored by Forbes. Yet this is not a book about poverty. As Chandran Nair says in the Foreword, “being poor is a bad thing; everyone should have enough to satisfy their fundamental needs.”

The Other Hundred is not-for-profit project of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, a Hong Kong-based think tank engaged in executive education from an Asian worldview. This endowed the book with a fresh outlook distinct from the media correctness of London and New York. The faces you see in The Other Hundred are unlikely to appear on networks like the BBC or CNN or to grace the pages of Time or Der Spiegel unless they happen to be involved in some disaster or other. In contrast, this book celebrates their lives as they are.

Traditional Culture on Ambrym

Vanuatu slit drums in the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, France

Vanuatu slit drums in the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, France

The Ambrym islanders of Vanuatu produce high-quality woodcarvings and tree fern figures in large quantities. As in most of northern Vanuatu, a powerful system of traditional copyright applies, and only those with the traditional rights to make certain types of objects are allowed to do so.

Vanuatu’s most famous handicrafts come from North Ambrym, especially the tall slit drums called tamtams in Bislama. Craftsmen slot and hollow two-meter breadfruit logs, then carve faces on them, and these are used as signal drums. Also characteristic are the black tree ferns carved for the mhehe graded rituals, and bamboo flutes up to a meter long with burnt-in geometric designs. Painted masks with hair of bleached banana fiber are worn in rites to increase the yield of yams. Masks worn by participants in Rom dances during the Ole ceremony in July and August represent certain spiritual aspects of power associated with yams.

Storytellers on Ambrym use intricate sand drawings to illustrate their tales. Up to 180 stylized patterns that the artist draws without removing his finger from the sand can convey a variety of messages. Ambrym sorcerers are famous throughout Vanuatu for their magic, often associated with the destructive power of the island’s volcanoes.