Mean, brooding, dark and cold. Not a description of my husband, but our first impression of Scotland in April.
“We’ll avoid the midges,” the husband said. Of course we will, because it’s too cold for anything to survive.
“We’ll see beautiful beaches,” he said. True, he had shown me photographs of stunning stretches of empty white sand. Empty because it’s too cold to get out of the car, let alone take a leisurely stroll. It’s nature’s way of mocking us. You can look, but you can’t touch.
When I asked my husband for three adjectives to describe Argentina he came up with: “wine sodden, welcoming and weirdly Welsh”.
Might seem like a strange collection of words, but it’s not far off the truth.
Let’s start with the Cambrian influence: A small community, descendants of Welsh settlers, who moved to Patagonia in 1865. They even still speak Welsh, or a nineteenth century version. You can visit and inspect how life has changed over the years, and compare with your knowledge of Cymru culture.
Inle Lake and Bagan
Inle Lake was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Every morning we were picked up from our riverside guesthouse in a narrow wooden fishing boat, with the loudest two-stroke engine, which sounded like an industrial lawnmower. It wasn’t just the noise pollution that was alarming. Unfortunately, the black, arid exhaust will eventually spoil the region, if an affordable alternatives can not be found.
Yangon and Kalaw
No city epitomises the division between democracy and dictatorship more than Yangon.
After five decades of military rule, the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in November 2015, the first elections for 25 years. It’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been a figurehead representing hope for those wishing to join the democratic world, her pedestal only raised higher by house arrest and enforced separation from her half British sons.
Burma is on a lot of travellers’ bucket lists. But why? Is it the draw of exploring new frontiers, on the cusp of a new democratic future? Is the beautiful countryside and lakes? Or is it the temples and mystical stupas punctuating the skyline?
Keeping true to our motto, “have kids, will travel”, we packed a few backpacks to find out.
Here’s a peak at our top four places to see: Yangon, Kalaw, Inle and Bagan.
A strange change has taken place across the world, hiding under the leathery wing of a vampire bat. Hallowe’en has carved its way onto the calendar as a regular event to be celebrated. I find this as strange as seeing a pint-sized Superman walking down the road.
This needs some explaining. When I was a child Hallowe’en was about cowering in the living room with the light off to avoid the eggs and flour being pelted by boisterous teenagers. And this didn't just happen on the 31st October, but for a period of up to two weeks.
I was taught that trick or treating was akin to begging, afterall it is a little strange to knock on the door of a complete stranger and ask for sweets.
Then I moved to America. These guys know how to party. Hallowe’en is a family affair with hoards of parents and children on the streets, dressed up in every costume imaginable. It didn’t have to be anything ghoulish or ghastly. We even saw a horse dress as Clifford the big red dog. We joined in, and apart from the ridiculous amount of confectionary that would send a toddler hyperactive for a decade, it was a fun event that allowed us to feel part of the fabric of our new home.
So why was it different? For a start the local council stipulated when trick or treating could take place; not just the day, but the hours too. It was also known that if you didn’t want to get involved you simply left your porch light off, avoiding the element of “trick” altogether. Really this is treat or treating.
More than anything it’s the irony that gets me, wrapped up in the distance past.
The origins of Hallowe’en are intertwined: first there was the Celtic pagan festival to mark harvest and the end of summer, and then came the Christian celebration on the Eve of All Hallows. Yes, All Hallows’ Evening becomes contracted to Hallowe’en. From as far back as the 11th century, food was given in exchange for a poem or song. It wasn’t until the 19th century that tricks were involved.
Strictly speaking the festival doesn’t belong across the pond at all. It was introduced by immigrants, although the phrase “trick-or-treat” was first used in the US, in 1927.
Confusing, isn’t it? Even the church is confused. I’ve seen a pumpkin with a Christian cross carved out of it. I’m not sure how I feel about the church endorsing a festival that is so intrinsically linked to Pagans, or begging by another name.
The changing face
We’ve now returned to the UK after nearly seven years, and this year’s Hallowe’en has been a much more orderly affair. We live in a fairly rural area so trick-or-treating isn’t really done; the lanes are too dark, the houses are too far apart and I think there is a greater respect for elderly neighbours.
However, other neighbourhoods have been getting organised. Hallowe’en happens on the 31st October and that’s where is should stay. The role of the porch light seems to be understood. Children are accompanied by adults, rather than the marauding hoards of bored teenagers. It’s about children, and of course the children are excited about sweets. I hope all neighbourhoods are experiencing this changing face. It could be a great way to invigorate our communities.
I can’t change that Hallowe’en occurs, but I can get into the spirit of it, and it looks like everyone else is too.
What’s your Hallowe’en experience? Like it or loathe it?
Like most people interested in the future prospects of their homeland, I’ve listened to the debates, read the arguments and have conviction in the way I voted.
And the future is still as clear as mud.
First things first. Let’s put the vote on the table. I’m a remain supporter for three reasons.
That said, I do believe a truly British approach is required. I’m not talking about a whinge over a pint. I’m talking about a stiff upper lip. If we can’t talk positively about an inevitable change, inevitably it will end badly.
We now have a new female prime minister and the chance to make a fresh start. How will Theresa May get the best out of the Brexit bust up?
Let’s start with the popular issues surrounding Brexit. It’s not all bad, but anything can be presented in a bad light. The main divisive issue has come down to immigration and the protection of British sovereignty.
The Brits don’t run the Union flag up the pole as often as other nations, but we are a proud nation. Unfortunately, we only seem to be united over sport (Hamilton at the British F1 Grand Prix, Murray at Wimbledon, Froome on the Tour to name a few examples). So if we’re not always that bothered, why do we need to protect our sovereignty and what is it anyway? Let’s start with what it is not:
Sovereignty protection is not about protecting British jobs for the British. After all, in some sectors of society, Brits have the energy to complain about “foreigners coming over ‘ere stealing our jobs”, but don’t have the energy to actually do a job.
Sovereignty is not even about pulling up the drawbridge to stop immigrants flooding in. Refugees and legal immigrants need help. I would want to protect my family from the dangers of war. I would also want to return to my homeland when it was safe, and we tend to make the assumption that others do not.
Sovereignty is not a teenager that needs protecting from an overbearing European parent that constantly tells it what to do, preventing it from becoming an individual.
To me, sovereignty is about community. We can’t be cookie cutter nations, otherwise what is the point of sovereignty in the first place? My children have lived in four countries and they are only seven and nine years old. They know that the world is made up of all colours, all religions, all cultures. And that’s all ok. As my older daughter said: “We all have two arms, two legs and one head, so aren’t we the same?” Essentially, yes. We are all the same, but different, and that’s to be encouraged and welcomed.
Sovereignty is about celebrating our differences and changing elements that help us work with others, while not denting our own development of community. Here’s an example: I don’t know why we still measure road distances in miles in the UK, when we have been part of a metric system my entire four decades on this planet. It makes no sense, and only complicates issues when I drive in other countries. However, when I go to the pub, I may like to have a pint. It’s a quintessentially British measure, and changes nothing else. The world does not shift on its accent. Nothing else is measured in a pint. I don’t have to convert it. It’s just a pint.
So what does this all mean? To me, it means that developing your own personality and individualism is something your parents taught you when you were growing up. As long as it doesn’t impact other people it’s fine. Individualism, or in the case of the UK, our cultural community development, isn’t racist. At least it shouldn’t be. It should be a excuse to say: “Hey, we’re a bit difference. Come and join us for a cup of tea and some scones.” It doesn’t say: “Stay out, we don’t want you to join our gang,” or “Come and take the mickey out of the way we are different by being the last to leave the party.”
So Brexit voters, you’ve got what you voted for, and in a democratic Britain that’s fine. But please don’t screw it up. Create something individual and different, so others want to join our gang and hang out with us for a while.
Leave us a comment below. We'd love to hear your view.
Palau Sibu, Malaysia's east coast
Kakadu, Katherine & Litchfield
Where are we?
A two week tour of Australia’s Northern Territories and the Red Centre
For full itinerary please click here.
Part 4: Kakadu, Katherine & Litchfield
On Sunday night I watched Crocodile Dundee, the iconic film starring Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski, a story of a croc wrestling bushman in Kakadu called Mick. Do you know how old that film is? This will make you feel old. This year it will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
My first piece of advice for this part of the trip is: Don’t go in the wet season. Most of the park is shut. We visited in early April, which according to Kakadu’s Park Pass pricing system is considered to be the start of the Dry Season. However, after handing over AUS$100 we found that most of the park was shut and still waterlogged, making the fee a very expensive toll to drive on the only road that runs through the park.
When they are open, there are some beautiful walks however, and if you get the chance to go, take it. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t like walking. Most of the routes are very short, just a kilometre or so. Ubirr and the Sandstone walks are pretty, as is the climb to the Mirrai lookout.
There’s a short walk at Nourlangie, which will give you a flavour of the views, as well as some interesting rock paintings, or if you go early enough you can walk the full 12km. The routes are generally well signposted, although some of the maps and noticeboards are a little worn.
Before heading out get advice from the Bowali Visitors’ Centre on what’s open, what to see and what provisions you’ll need. Our girls loved the exhibition at the centre so it’s worth visit, and there’s free wifi!
One of the highlights, although a little pricey, was the Yellow River cruise. With an interesting commentary and a guide who had better eyes than a hawk, there was plenty to see. Who doesn’t want to search for crocodiles from the safety of a boat? Just keep all body parts inside the vessel. These snappers really do bite.
To cool off from the heat and humidity visit the Yurmikmik Motor Car Falls, which are free of crocodiles. (Don’t take our word for it. Crocs have a tendency to move around with the changing water levels so check before you go.) The water is clear, clean and cool. Although a linear walk of 7-9km, you can break it up with a short detour to climb to a look out.
You don’t visit for the upbeat, cool vibe of the town, because it doesn't have one. It’s a pleasant enough place to stop, but our real focus was a visit to the Katherine Gorge. Owned by the local Jawoyn people, the Nitmiluk Gorge, as it is also known, offers an insight into the cultural significance of these rocks. Our guide was brilliant at giving us information on the indigineous way of life, as well as the geology, flora and fauna.
We also spent time at the Katherine hot springs. The water is beautifully clean, but unfortunately the river bank has been concreted and reinforced, and the changing rooms are now derelict.
Litchfield National Park
Batchelor is the gateway to the park, a interesting little hamlet built on what was a demonstration farm established in 1912 by EL Batchelor. The discovery of uranium in 1949 led to an economic boom, although the mines were shut in the early 1970s.
You can spend days exploring the falls and walks of the park, but for a short refresher on the way back to Darwin we dipped into Florence Falls, a double waterfall with a natural splash pool for swimming.
If you’ve been to the Red Centre, this circular route at the Top End of Australia is a great trip, especially with children. Whether you’re looking for restaurants and bars, swimming, walking, wildlife, culture or history, there is something for everyone.
Where we stayed:
Kakadu - Cooinda Lodge. Tired and could do with sprucing up, but good location, clean linen and great dinner (not so impressed with the breakfast) and swimming pool.
What we ate:
Fish and chips, kangaroo burgers and lamb shank from Cooinda. Sandwiches, pastries and ice cream from Jabiru bakery.
Where we stayed:
Shady Lane Tourist Park, one of the best I've been to. A clean, neat and pleasant family-run campsite, which also has great little cabins on stilts. The river flooded in 1998, rising to a peak of 20.4m, hence the stilts.
Where we ate:
Not a great selection, but the Katherine RSL Club is the hub of the community.
Part 1: Darwin
Part 2: Alice Springs
Part 3: The Red Centre
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