Tag Archives: travel

Seeing Big Bird in Patagonia

I was drugged. A potent pill caused by a combo of jet-lag and pre-dawn rising in order to see condors with 3m wingspans rising on the early morning air currents on an estancia (ranch) just outside of Coyhaique.

I was drugged and probably dribbling… till a huge bird languidly strolled across the tundra in front of us. When I say huge I mean ostrich-sized proportions.

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“What is that?”

It looked like a throwback to prehistoric times. With the wild Patagonian backdrop adding to the drama I could actually have been in a real Jurassic Park.

“Ñandú… Darwin’s Rhea,” answered Alejandro.

I knew we were hoping to see big condors in this part of Chile, but I’d no idea there were ancient looking birds like this.

Jet-lag and a lack of sleep were suddenly not a problem.

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Mind Reading

One sentence. The woman has uttered just one sentence of seven words and I now know everything I need to know about her.

She reads the Sun newspaper and believes everything in it, even when it admits to printing inaccurate information; she likes to watch soaps and reality shows on TV; her and her husband eat exactly the same thing on the same day every week (usually involving meat and two veg – none of that fancy foreign muck); she believes Syrian refugees are actually terrorists in disguise; she works in a factory located two streets away from her house; she thinks Jeremy Corbyn is a scruffy dangerous Communist and votes Tory although she thinks Nigel Farage is a thoroughly decent bloke, and she uses the line ‘I’m not racist but…’ on a regular basis.

How do I know this from a sentence of seven words?

Because the sentence was “normally I go all inclusive in Sharm.”

The Buffer Zone of Sal

There’s a not very loud ‘beep’ followed almost immediately by a question “Taxi?”

Within a couple of hours I’ve come to know this as the soundtrack of the streets in Santa Maria on Sal, one of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa.

I say streets, but the main tourist town seems little more than a colourful and quasi-colonial main avenue with a few dusty side streets.

This is tourist hell according to some Cape Verdeans.

I think as ‘over developed’ tourist towns go it’s actually quite palatable. I like its easy manner and relaxed, smiley residents.

“Hey,” one shouts. “You promised to come see my market stall.”

I haven’t set eyes on him before.

“Maybe next time,” I wave dismissively.

He laughs. It’s no hassle. No problem.

No stress, like it says on the t-shirts around the town.

The walk to the end of the road involves stepping over a few dogs sleeping in the middle of the cobbled street and shaking my head a couple of times at ‘beep’… “Taxi?”

A beach bar on the sand beckons. Actually a cold beer in a beach bar on pristine golden sand lapped by what could be ‘touched up’ brochure waters beckons.

I want to take a photo of the perfect tropical scene. Between me and the sea is a snoozing sunbather. I can’t tell if it’s an overweight man or an overweight, topless woman with small breasts.

Whatever he/she is, it spoils the scene.

The waiter brings my beer. The air is warm, the beer is icy. Perfect.

Beer in Beach Bar, Santa Maria, Sal, Cape Verde

I’ve a few hours to spend before it’s time to jump on a plane and hop to another island where tourism comes way down the line from real life.

This is the buffer zone.

The False Snobs

I know who they are within seconds of one of them speaking. In this case I also know exactly where they come from… or which coast at least.

Opposite coast and opposite in so very many other ways as well.

They’re not like the people I know and grew up with in the country of my birth. Those people were down to earth and lacking airs and graces whatever their social standing or occupation.

No, they’re definitely not like that.

They’re successful and well to do. We know this because they tell us it is so.

They’re not like other tourists – they seek quality and culture. But they’ve been working hard you see, so this time they’ll relax by the pool.

It’s one of many signs that flashes like a neon light when you meet people who are not what they try to tell you they are. The neck of the bottle of wine sticking out of the ice bucket is another.

I bristle whenever someone tells me ‘I’ve been busy, so this time I’m doing nothing except relaxing.’

There’s almost an inference that people who like to fill at least some days of their well earned holiday still being active and exploring can’t have been quite as busy as those who ‘need to relax and do nothing’.

The statement tells me a lot about them.

They talk of luxury hotels and exotic destinations. Of fine food and wanting to only enjoy the best.

“There’s excellent local wine here,” I tell them.

“Yes,” one replies confidently and authoritatively. “We know, we’re enjoying a nice bottle of the local stuff right now.”

My eyes flick to the neck of the bottle and back.

The neck of the bottle speaks volumes.

It’s not local. It’s a mass produced brand name from elsewhere that is, at best, ordinary.

They don’t know this because all that’s important to them is appearance not substance.

That’s false snobs for you.

We Speak the Same Language

“Your accent sounds different,” the American girl looks at me, a quizzical expression on her face.

Another American girl had commented on my ‘accent’ a few weeks previously. That time it had been ‘what language is that you’re speaking?’

“I’m Scottish.”
“My dad’s family is Scottish,” the girl smiles.
“Really? What’s his surname?”
She says a name.
“His family should have a clan tartan then,” I tell her even though I’ve never heard a Scottish name like it before . She doesn’t know what I’m talking about and the conversation stutters to a halt.

“I’m going to Scotland next month,” The girl’s teacher shouts from the other end of the table. “Edinburgh. It’s my first visit to Scotland.”
“Edinburgh’s very nice, you should like it,” I shout back, adding. “You must try haggis.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that.”
His expression confirms he has heard about haggis and probably isn’t going to try it. Offal just equals awful for too many people.

I’m distracted by the man to my right; another American – a journalist. English speaking foreigners have obviously been herded at tables together. He’s having a real tussle with his knife. I try not to look. Everyone else is nearly finished their crowdpleasing chicken except him. What on earth is he doing with that knife?

The girl is still looking at me. I feel compelled to try to continue to make small talk.

“First time in Europe?”
She nods.
“Has it surprised you?”
“Every new place has surprises,” She replies.
“True, true,” I concede. She’s the one starting to sound like the seasoned traveller.
“What surprises you here in Austria?” I like to know what other people think; what fresh young eyes see.
Hers go blank and she shrugs. The statement had been a platitude.

There’s a clunk to my right as the man’s knife slides of his fork, knocking the untidy jumble of food that was on it back onto his plate where it slumps in a defeated heap. I’m not sure if he’s actually managed to get anything into his mouth yet. I wonder if he’s had a stroke. But everything seems to be functioning okay when his hands escape from his cutlery.

I realise I’m staring and turn back to the girl. She’s part of a group of American college students, touring Europe with their teacher.

“Where in Europe have you visited so far… before here?”
“Erm… Munich,” she nods thoughtfully, as if to confirm this. “We’ve just come from Munich.”
“We’re just about to head there in a couple of day. Any tips? Must see places?”
“It’s big,” she shrugs and laughs. “We got lost.”
“Aha, right, easy to get lost. I’ll watch out for that.”
We look at each other, neither really knowing what to say to carry on a stuttering conversation. Her eyes brighten. She’s thought of something.
“My mother’s family are from Germany,” she announces.

There’s a loud clang to my right as the knife slides off the plate again and one more forkful of food fails on its mission.

Twelve Nights in Italy, Traveller Down

I’m never ill. Except clearly I am. And I don’t ‘pick up’ urine infections. Except clearly I do as I have one.

It hasn’t been diagnosed but I’ve heard enough descriptions over the years to recognise why I’m having to seek a ‘toilette’ on an uncomfortably regular basis without satisfactory results.

The location, the Cannero Riviera, is one of those ‘Italy as seen in the pages of Condé Nast’ destinations and the hotel room is fit for a king… of a very small country at least. And I can’t really enjoy either.

Seared tuna in Italy

In front of me is a dish of seared tuna that looks like the best dish of seared tuna that has ever been placed in front of me. I have no appetite; however, I go through the motions – smiling and nodding attentively, trying to make all the right noises when all I want to do is lie down and sleep… with a toilet close at hand. Well, not hand… but you know what I mean.

I’m pretty sure it was as a result of walking all day a few days previously without drinking nearly enough water. Whatever the cause I am now not functioning at a 100%, more like 50%.

I could kick myself for the rookie error and allowing my Scottishness to get in the road.

Sure, it wasn’t our fault that it was a Sunday and in this part of Italy, everywhere that would normally sell water is closed.

It’s definitely not our fault that the restaurant that we knew existed halfway along our walking route actually closed during lunch. It’s crazy. What sort of restaurant closes at lunchtime? Presumably they also closed at dinner times as well, only opening when people didn’t actually want to eat.

But what I do regret is saying ‘I don’t think so, there will be plenty of other places to get water’ on being told at a lakeside bar, the only open place around for miles, that a small bottle of water was €3.

Three euros seems a small price to pay now.