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Preview: A Regular Travel Digest from Mark Moxon

A Regular Travel Digest from Mark Moxon

A selection of travel tales by Mark Moxon.

Published: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:05:02 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2017 Mark Moxon

Burkina Faso: Friendly in French

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 11 December 2002, 15 years ago. I've written before about the difficulties of communicating in a foreign language – French, in the case of Mali and Senegal – but on the way to Ouagadougou, the capital of the Francophone Burkina Faso, I realised exactly how confusing things can get when you combine a language in which you're not fluent, a culture in which you're not versed, and a fundamental aspect of life at which you, basically, suck. It started on the bus from Ouahigouya (pronounced 'Waee-goo-yah') to...

New Zealand: Southern Scenic Route (East)

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 10 December 1996, 21 years ago. Leaving happy Dunedin behind, I drove off down the coastal road, heading west along the south coast of the South Island, with not a cloud in the sky. My first stop was a little walk to Purakaunui Falls, a gushing torrent of water surrounded by forest that reminded me of the rainforest around Strahan in western Tasmania. As it was getting late, though, I drove straight to Papatowai, home to a beautiful little campsite and the prettiest little bay. That night it hit me that I was well and truly...

Guatemala: Tikal

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 9 December 2013, 4 years ago. There's a strong argument that Tikal is the most impressive of all the Mayan sites in Central America. At a whopping 65m, the site's tallest building – the inspiringly named Temple IV – is the second-tallest pre-Colombian structure in the western hemisphere, second only to the 70m-high La Danta in El Mirador (which is also in Guatemala but requires a difficult five-day jungle trek to reach, so it's for die-hard fans only). Temple IV at Tikal is half as tall again as the...

Mali: Thoughts on Leaving

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 9 December 2002, 15 years ago. After being thoroughly underwhelmed by Senegal, I desperately wanted to like Mali. I wanted it to amaze me on a daily basis; I wanted its landscapes to astound me; I wanted the culture to enthral me; in short, I wanted too much. It's hard for me to be totally honest about what I thought of Mali, because a lot of my thoughts were affected by malaria pills or illness. My initially negative experience of the River Niger was probably more to do with the fact I was recovering from a nasty bout of...

Guatemala: Flores

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 8 December 2013, 4 years ago. Flores is the traditional first stop for travellers on their way from western Belize into Guatemala, and it's easy to see why. It's a small island off the southern shore of Lake Petén Itzá that's joined to the mainland by a short causeway, and its winding cobbled streets and easy-going tourist vibe make it an excellent place to relax... so that's exactly what we did. We came in by colectivo from the Belizean border, which was a rather more crushed affair than the posh colectivos in the...

Malaysia: Taman Negara

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 8 December 1997, 20 years ago. Malaysian place names can be surprisingly uninspired. From Muddy Confluence I travelled to National Park; yes, Taman Negara literally means 'Park National', a whoppingly original name for a National Park, don't you think? I wondere if I'll soon be crossing the River Sungai on my way to Mt Gunung on beautiful Pulau Island... The bus journey from KL to the jetty at Kuala Temering was fairly uneventful; I slept through most of it, thankfully. The only way to get into Taman Negara is by a...

Mali: Dogon Country

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 7 December 2002, 15 years ago. Mali has three major tourist attractions that earn it a reputation as one of West Africa's best destinations. Timbuktu is famous for being famous; Djenné is famous for its mosque; and Dogon Country, or Pays Dogon as it's known locally, is famous for its culture, its trekking, and the number of guides who will try to flog you a Dogon tour the minute you step foot in Bamako or Mopti. Luckily the home of the Dogon people is interesting enough to warrant the hype. The appeal of Dogon...

New Zealand: Dunedin

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 7 December 1996, 21 years ago. On the way to Dunedin, I made an overnight stop at Waikouaiti – home to a beautiful little beach where I played my guitar and tried to play my harmonica, much to the delight of the local wildlife – and in the morning I headed south of Oamaru to the Moeraki Boulders. The Moeraki Boulders are pretty weird. They're big, round balls of rock, which isn't so strange when you've seen the likes of the Devil's Marbles, but they're not in the middle of the Australian outback, they're...

Malaysia: Walking the Rainforest

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 6 December 1997, 20 years ago. Here are a few walking highlights from the place that orang-utans, tigers and elephants call home: the Malaysian rainforest of Taman Negara. Humidity You hear about the humidity in the tropics, but unless you've been deep into the jungle, you haven't got a clue. The common perception is that humidity makes you sweat, but that's not strictly true; humidity makes you condense. Ten minutes into my first day's walking I was drenched, sweat dripping off my nose and running into my eyes, stinging...

Malaysia: Rainforest Statistics

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 6 December 1997, 20 years ago. Appreciating a jungle from the inside is a little different from reading about it, but to get you in the mood for my visit to Taman Negara, here are some interesting facts that I've managed to glean from museums and books about Peninsular Malaysia's tropical rainforests: Although it didn't feel like it when I walked through the rainforest, the annual rainfall in Taman Negara isn't that big, being between 2200 and 3800mm a year (for comparison, Milford in New Zealand gets over 8000mm a year)....

Belize: Thoughts on Leaving

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 5 December 2013, 4 years ago. Belize was just what we needed after the damp squib of Mexico. There's no language barrier, they have beautiful Caribbean islands, there's some excellent food, and they've got some very impressive sights. We were also lucky with the weather in the end; yes, it was a bit blowy in the islands at times and as a result the Great Blue Hole wasn't as great as it might have been, but overall we loved it. It isn't all perfect in paradise, of course. Belize is not a particularly cheap place to travel,...

London Loop, United Kingdom: Harold Wood to Coldharbour

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 5 December 2003, 14 years ago. Please note that since I did this walk back in 2003, work has continued on improving the last leg of the Loop. Peter Wynn, Project Manager of Cleanaway's Rainham Landfill, wrote on 27 June 2008 to say: 'We opened up a further 3km of walks this year. Far from ending at a rusty gate, the Loop now ends at a rather nice visitor centre on the RSPB reserve, and you get to walk along a great section of the river, with views down to the QE2 bridge. The changes are principally due to the efforts of...

Belize: Caracol

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 4 December 2013, 4 years ago. The journey to Caracol, Belize's most impressive Mayan ruins, used to be one of the most intrepid four-wheel-drive journeys you could take in this part of the world. Tucked away in the thick rainforest near the Guatemalan border in a remote corner of western Belize, the ruins were discovered by chance in 1937 by a wandering horseman called Rosa Mai, who was out looking for mahogany and cedar; the remains of this once bustling metropolis had lain undisturbed in the rainforest for 1000 years,...

Belize: San Ignacio

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 3 December 2013, 4 years ago. It took a while for us to warm to the charms of San Ignacio, because first impressions last. We got there in the end, but it was a bit of a long road... literally. It didn't help that we tackled the long journey from Caye Caulker to San Ignacio the day after our dive trip the Blue Hole, which had completely wiped us out (though in a good way). It started with the water taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City, which bumped along through the swell, adding sore patches to our sore patches, and the...

Belize: Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 2 December 2013, 4 years ago. Really, how could I resist? The chance to explore a remote flooded cave system, stuffed with ancient Mayan artefacts and the skeletons of sacrificed women and children, deep in the rainforest... isn't that what everyone dreams of? Of being Indiana Jones for day? Frankly, no, it isn't. I hate caves, I get claustrophobia, I don't like dark water, and I can live without bats flying round my head and cold water dripping onto my face from ancient stalactites, however pretty they are. I have...

Mali: The Right Staff

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 2 December 2002, 15 years ago. It's not compulsory to take a guide to the Dogon Country, but it's highly recommended. Although the area where the Dogon people live can be explored independently, the Dogon don't speak any French and there are no maps or books available to tell you where everything is, so you're much better off with a guide. The biggest problem is finding one. After my less than exciting experience with the uninspiring Assiké in Djenné, I learned my lesson: no guide is better than a bad...

Malaysia: Meeting the Orang Asli

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 2 December 1997, 20 years ago. It was two days into my six-day solo trek through the ancient rainforests of Taman Negara that I came across the Orang Asli. Orang means 'man' in its generic sense – hence 'orang-utan', or 'man of the jungle' – and the Orang Asli are the original inhabitants of the jungle. Evidence of their existence was obvious from the number of temporary shelters dotted around the place, mainly lean-tos with woven-leaf roofs that could be lowered above a sleeping body to keep out...

New Zealand: Down the Casino

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 2 December 1996, 21 years ago. At 6pm I finally managed to get through to Graham, who'd invited me to stay for a few days of work in Christchurch. He told me that if I could get to his house by 6.20, and I could play blackjack, then how would I like to go to the casino and help his local Rotary club spend NZ$3500 of someone else's money, all for charity? As if I needed asking: half an hour later we were heading off to the town's main den of iniquity. The plot went like this. Each of the local Rotary clubs would put forward...

Mali: Remember Me?

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 1 December 2002, 15 years ago. I might be getting paranoid, but I think I'm developing a problem with the pattern recognition part of my brain. One of the primeval abilities that are hardwired in from birth is the ability to recognise the human face, but in Africa I seem to have lost the plot. I can't tell anyone apart. I'm not talking about the toubabs, who are as eclectically bizarre as always, from pasty men with pale, bulging thighs peeping out from under ill-advised shorts, to steely-haired old women beaming the...

Mali: A Financial Perspective

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 1 December 2002, 15 years ago. While killing time in Mopti, waiting for my trip to Dogon Country to start, I found a haven that was perfect for reading, writing, planning and generally killing time. Its name was Bar Bozo. Bar Bozo overlooks Mopti's port. The port is a U-shaped mess, a clash of pirogues, pinasses, smells and colours that's fascinating to watch from the distant comfort of a bar, as the boats unload their cargoes and women peddle fragrant dried fish in the hot sun. Sipping a cold beer in the shade while the...

Mali: The Best Laid Plans

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 30 November 2002, 15 years ago. I'm one of life's compulsive planners, and I'm not too proud to admit it. I travel with a computer and I'm endlessly creating fancy schedules of places I'd like to visit, all laid out in the kind of spreadsheet accuracy that would make your average flower-child traveller squirm. In a sense I run my travelling like a workplace. This is for two reasons. The first is that I like it this way; I've always been tidy, as is evident from my backpack, which is home to lots of plastic bags, each...

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 30 November 1997, 20 years ago. After exploring Melaka, I jumped on the bus for Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, and in the local language the name means 'muddy confluence', an apt description of the two rather brown rivers that meet in the city centre. Despite the name, Kuala Lumpur is a very smart place; it's a far cry from the large conurbations of Indonesia. KL, as the city is affectionately known, has a population of just over one million people; this isn't a huge figure when compared to other...

Belize: The Great Blue Hole

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 29 November 2013, 4 years ago. 'Oooh, are you planning to dive the Blue Hole?' people ask when you tell them you're going diving in Belize. 'What, that massive hole full of deep, dark water and sharks?' I reply. 'Are you kidding? No thanks. I'm much happier diving on nice shallow reefs.' And that's that. Except things don't always turn out the way you planned, so yeah, we ended up extending our stay in Caye Caulker just to dive Belize's Great Blue Hole, even though that was the last thing we thought would happen when we...

Mali: Djenné

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 29 November 2002, 15 years ago. I had three reasons for returning to Mopti, hardly my favourite place in Mali: I wanted to extend my visa; I wanted to visit Djenné; and I wanted to work out the best way to get to Dogon Country, the famous trekking area to the southeast of Mopti. Given the amount of hassle I encountered in Mopti the last time I was lucky enough to wash up there, I didn't relish any of these tasks. Luckily, extending my visa was no problem. At first the policeman at the desk turned me away, asking...

Belize: Travelling by Internet

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 28 November 2013, 4 years ago. I'm going to sound like a bit of an old-timer here, but wow, the Internet has really changed travelling compared to 18 years ago. I didn't notice the effect so much when I visited West Africa in 2002, because that's a pretty poor part of the world and the Internet was still a bit of a novelty then, but here in the touristy parts of Central America there's wi-fi absolutely everywhere, and the effect on the travelling community is huge. Of course, this isn't the first big change that travelling...

Mali: Sahel Food

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 28 November 2002, 15 years ago. The reason I haven't talked much about food in the Sahel is because it's generally pretty nondescript – it's not terrible, just uninspiring, and if you're used to travelling among the beautiful smells of Asian or European food, then you're in for a shock. The Sahel is incredibly poor, and inevitably it shows in the diet. Once you get beyond the staple meals of rice with some kind of sauce, couscous with some kind of sauce, fried chicken and chips, and (if you're in a posh restaurant)...

Malaysia: Malaysian Politics

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 27 November 1997, 20 years ago. Malaysia is not dissimilar to Indonesia and Singapore in that all these countries have long-serving, non-elected leaders who tend to stick around until they're almost dead, before passing the reins of power onto a well-groomed deputy. There are elections here, as in Indonesia, but the National Front party, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) majority faction, has held power continuously since independence in 1957, and the opposition has all but disappeared. Malaysia is...

Malaysia: Melaka

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 27 November 1997, 20 years ago. I'd incorrectly assumed that Malaysia would be like Indonesia; after all, they're geographically close, they're both predominantly Islamic, and they both have dictatorial leaders. So I wasn't prepared for the fact that Malaysia is a totally different travelling experience from Indonesia. Malaysia is an advanced nation. It's not as advanced as Singapore, which has managed to make advancement a clinical science, but Malaysia is instantly a step up from Indonesia. The shops have fixed prices on...

New Zealand: Low Patch

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 27 November 1996, 21 years ago. When I wrote the following, I was feeling pretty low. This has obviously happened before, such as when I had to wait around for ages in Melbourne for my car to be ready, or when I had to drop Queensland from my plans because I'd miscalculated the amount of time I had left on my visa. Both of those times I had good reason to be annoyed – delay and disappointment, respectively – but this time I had no good reason at all: I just felt really miserable and I simply didn't want...

Australia: An English View of Australia

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Written on 27 November 1995, 22 years ago. When talking to people in Australia – people who actually live here, rather than tourists – you notice how different things are between Australia and England, even though, on the surface, they can seem almost anticlimactically similar. Take Chris, a recently divorced university researcher who knows Laurence through Acorn. He lives in a lovely old house near the centre of Melbourne; I'm probably going to be staying with him for a couple of weeks while the Hardwicks take...