U is for Uluru
On 26 October 2019, Uluru was officially closed to climbers. The rock is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area, who believe that the spirits of their ancestors continue to reside there. Climbing was not permitted under Anangu law but tourists began to ascend in the 1930’s. For decades, the indigenous population have pleaded with visitors to respect their culture and just walk around the base.
In 2004 we hired a camper van in Alice Springs and headed for Uluru. We hadn’t thought much about it but ‘presumed we’d climb it’ – how amazing it would be to say that we’d stood on the top of Ayers Rock. Meanwhile, when we arrived at the campsite we signed on for a dawn walk around the base of the rock.
The guide (couldn’t put a name on him now if my life depended on it!) wasn’t local but he was brilliant. He had such respect for the rock that although he’d been living in the area for several years he’d never climbed. By the end of the tour, that respect was instilled in every member of the group – none of us would ever set foot on it.
The group was being dropped back to the campsite in a communal bus – anyone could use it. As we waited for it to fill, this guy (nationality unrevealed!) about 30 years old boarded. He was decked out from head to foot in serious khaki – you know the look – cap, shirt, shorts, socks… everything matching and accessorised with a rucksack and belt – both jangling with every known tool and gadget. He was sweating buckets and looked absolutely wrecked. He sighed and groaned as he awaited the question which no one was going to ask!
Finally our guide inquired ever so nicely whether he’d reached the top. He had of course. The guide asked him what it was like up there and our pal was off, sharing his morning’s experience, totally oblivious to the fuming indignation emanating from all those around him. The guide nodded away politely – he knew he’d done his job and his message could not have been rammed home in a more effective way!
(First light, Uluru, August 2004…..)
(….and a short while later)
(U – first published Feb 13th, 2020)
V is for Vesuvius
In August 1986 we spent 6 weeks in Italy. We went as far south as Sorrento which was a great base for the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Pompeii and Vesuvius.
We’d spent a fabulous day in Pompeii but it was hot – hot – hot!!! We were exhausted but opted to persevere and climb Vesuvius the same evening. We parked the car and decided to carry as little as possible. We gave some lira to a ‘parking attendant’ who doubled as a plastic bag vendor, selling covers to protect feet from the burning dust. We took our small camera, a bottle of water and the car keys. Everything else was locked into the boot of the car.
Up we headed – it was still very warm but the rush of the day was obviously over and there weren’t many on the path. It took about 20-25 minutes if I remember correctly.
At the top of the path we were met by a man sitting at a makeshift kiosk. He was selling tickets! All our money was locked in the car! He wouldn’t let us walk around the rim without said ticket!! So that was that… back down we went!
We scoured the car park for a sign but there was absolutely no indication that we needed money at the top! We returned to the area some years later. We made it to Herculaneum that time but gave Vesuvius a skip…. Some day….
(Me posing on Vesuvius with plastic bags to protect my feet – 2 puddles of sweat as I recall!! )
(V – first published Mar 2nd, 2020)
W is for Weather
‘Bring your togs‘ says she – ‘its lovely in South Carolina at this time of year… nothing heavy – maybe something for the evenings‘. A few days before we travel…. ‘We’re having some kind of weather episode – you’ll need warm clothes… bring layers… and a raincoat… and scarf and gloves…. sorry’. Ah! Well that’s more like it isn’t it.
No real surprise – my travels always been dogged by bad weather. I don’t complain (much) with minus temperatures at new year. I can handle flight cancellations due to snowstorms and boat cancellations due to hurricanes. I cover up for sandstorms and stop driving in heavy fog. But rain!! It always finds me! I expect rain in the tropics – or Europe. But Morocco, Oman, Arizona (in their driest seasons!) – now that’s not fair.
Like half the country (and possible the planet) I’m using my social distancing time to declutter. Clearing shelves yesterday, I came across my old Douglas Adams books – and that was it – my EUREKA moment! I know why it always rains on me!
Meet Rob McKenna. He’s a truck driver and it ALWAYS rains on him. He has identified 231 types of rainfall e.g. 33 =light pricking drizzle which made the road slippery, 100 = post-downpour squalling, cold, 17 = a dirty blatter battering against the windscreen so hard that it doesn’t matter whether the wipers are on or off…. He is always miserable and has lousy holidays.
BUT the reason its always raining is that he is in fact a Rain God and the clouds follow him around in adoration!
So that’s it – I’m a Rain Goddess!!!
Rob ends up making a lucrative career out of it – getting paid to stay away from the holiday resorts and paid to visit drought stricken areas!
So I’m open to all offers!!
(Superheros! – San Sebastian, September 2017)
(W – first published Mar 21st, 2020)
X is for Xunantunich
Anuradhapura, Kanchanaburi, Chichicastenango, Chefchaouen, Xunantunich……. I can rattle off place names with 3 or 4 syllables but don’t ask me to remember anything shorter (and don’t get me started on people’s names – I was always useless!).
I wrote my first vignette in February 2019. Wasn’t I the lucky one to visit Belize last April – so no need to resort to XMAS MARKETS after all! (although I was also looking at XENAGOGY which is defined as a guidebook).
I love ‘walls and stones’ as my ‘pride and joy’ graciously calls them (usually with the addition of some choice expletives!). I’ve been lucky enough over the past few years to work my way through a few sites in Central America.
Chichen Itza is amazing of course, but, being accessible from major tourist centres, its so busy and overrun at times by bus tours. We recently got to Teotihaucan which, although very close to Mexico City, we at least made an effort and used public transport.
But such wonderful places deserve more than a day-long round trip – they should involve a bit of a trek to truly appreciate their awe and splendour. The closer to Heart of Darkness the better! I like it when access means visiting for a few days – finding accommodation close by and then setting off the next morning to enjoy several hours without the confines of a bus tour schedule.
And I know the ones I like best.
Tikal is one such place, where (unless you’re going to fly in and out on the same day of course) you’ll probably spend a night or two in Flores before approaching the fabulous site though the jungle.
With Xunantunich, you need to go one step further. Access is via the town of San Ignacio, in western Belize, close to the Guatemalan border. To get to the Mayan city, you have to cross the Mopan River on a hand-winched ferry. Brilliant!
Every day for the past week I’ve been receiving ‘rediscover’ photos from last April and the latest batch are from Xunantunich. I hope I appreciated those ‘walls and stones’ enough when I was there. I think I did.
(Bird’s eye view from top of the pyramid)
(X – first published Apr 23rd, 2020)
Y is for Yesteryear
Having been blessed with teacher’s holidays, I’ve been lucky enough to celebrate a summer birthday in some amazing places over the years. How’s this for a list …. Alice Springs, Antigua, Athens, Bali, Bath, Budapest, Capri, Chicago, Cologne, Dordogne (France), Guatemala, Hong Kong, Jodhpur (India), Las Vegas, Malta, Nashville, New York, Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka), Orlando, Serengeti (Tanzania), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Zadar (Croatia)….to name a few!!
(Birthday Girl, Hong Kong, 1988)
I’ve spent many birthdays on European campsites – 3 in France, 4 in Spanish camps and maybe 5 in Italy. I’ve counted 9 birthdays in the US.
The great thing about being away is that you’re already in festive mood. While I’d do something to mark the day, I never went all out for a grand splash – there was never a need… being away was enough of a celebration in itself. If there was something special in the place I’d try to coincide it with my birthday so I’ve cycled to Angkor Wat, had afternoon tea in Nuwara Eliya and gone to the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville….
(Birthday Girl, somewhere on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia, 2004)
Of course, not every birthday was exotic or glamorous – there were occasions when we were in transit – ending up in a dingy motel or a truck stop in our caravan. Sometimes in the early years, the holiday budget was so tight that the celebration stretched to a shared pizza.
There were 2 years (out of the last 40!) when I celebrated my birthday in Ireland – once, we came home for a wedding and on another occasion we were heading to Tunisia the following day (something to do with flights…)
And now 2020 makes for a third time.
I’ve recently celebrated my ‘Covid’ birthday. It certainly wasn’t what I could have possibly imagined at the beginning of 2020 but I’d a lovely time in Dingle, County Kerry – the sun even shone for a few hours!
I don’t know what the next few years will bring but we travelers have been blessed with wonderful memories – let’s never take anything for granted again!
(Birthday Girl, Vegas, 2019!)
(Birthday Girl, Dingle, 2020)
(Y – first published Sept 14th, 2020)
Z is for 😴😴😴
I know one should go out with a bang instead of a whimper but seriously, I’m practically dormant here!
Exactly 365 days ago, I flew back in to Dublin from the US (the photo above is my view from the plane). Still in denial, I was reminding myself on the flight to get a move on and book something for the Easter break which was little more than a month away. We’d been humming and hawing before I left – but veering towards the Netherlands, maybe starting in Amsterdam and visiting some of those lovely old towns with great names – Gouda, Delft…..
You can fill in the rest yourselves!!!
Dormant I well may be but, to borrow from the great Dylan Thomas:
I will not go gentle into that good night…
So I’ve started booking bits and bobs for a summer at home and who knows, maybe in another 365 days I’ll be dusting off the passport and getting back on a plane…
I couldn’t find a ‘z’ anywhere in the country except for Zion Road in Dublin and the Zoo!!! (although I am open to correction… is the a Zion Hill in Sligo?)
So I’ll leave you (and my ‘Vignette’ series) with these images instead!! Continents apart, and a long way from home… and all stunning in their own unique way…
Zion National Park, Utah (2015+2019)
(Z – first published Mar 3rd, 2021)
Before you go….
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