Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:

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First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view

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Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart

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The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

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Bat Out of Hell

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Lots of people don’t like bats – some even have phobias of them. It’s fairly easy to see why, due to their association with horror and darkness (hence the Meatloaf title). I am definitely not one of them – this little guy was so sweet. It’s easy to see why fruit bats get called ‘flying foxes’! Anyway – I jumped in half way through the day… let me start from the beginning.

I’m running out of days here now! Just when I’m starting to get to grips with the place, I’m going to have to leave! I woke up this morning and hopped on a bus up to the village of Mele, around 10 minutes from town. There are a few places of interest in that area – one of which is the ‘Secret Garden’. At the Secret Garden they apparently bring over men from Abrym Island – the island where black magic is said to originate from – to do magic shows for tourists. Unfortunately, as I was by myself, they hadn’t been able to justify asking the men to come and perform through the morning, so I rearranged to tomorrow morning when some other tourists have booked up to go to the show. They did, however, show me the animals they keep on site, which I was perfectly happy with as an alternative!

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These Fijian banded iguanas are rapidly decreasing in quantity due to destruction of their habitats…

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They explained to me how they rotate the animals every 6 months or so – releasing and catching new individuals. They were all remarkably tame. Many of them are actually endangered now as they’re unfortunately ending up on dinner tables too much. One such example is the coconut crab. They no longer have them on site due to the scarcity of crabs left! Another example are the fruit bats. I couldn’t resist this little guy – absolutely adorable! They don’t seem to have much meat on them anyway so I’m quite sure why they’re so popular as a food source… They’re just such weird creatures – the way he wraps his wings about himself really does make him look like Dracula, haha.

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More on ‘secret garden’ after I’ve returned for the show tomorrow.

Around 10 minutes up the ring road around the island you arrive at the ‘Mele Cascades’. Some entrepreneurial individual has set up a café near the base of a series of waterfalls in order to be able to charge people to visit. There wasn’t anybody there when I arrived, however, so I just walked on in. The cascades themselves were stunning: a series of waterfalls over an outstanding long stretch of river. The path along side is very well maintained by the people who run the café so it was a very pleasant half hour walk to the pièce de résistance at the end.

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I say ‘path’, some of it included sections like this, with ruts carved into the rock to walk up!

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Another half an hour back down the ring road and you come to the beach across from ‘hideaway island’. I didn’t bother going across to the resort as it was an incredibly low tide so not ideal for snorkelling. I loved the way the school kids were playing about on the beach in their lunch hour – their school is right on the shore!

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Back tackling with the internet again this evening, so going to draw a line there!

Shores of White Sand

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I’ve had a hectic day today – firstly I was trying to get a little work done, then ended up spending hours wandering around town trying to get people to participate in my survey. This was not easy! People seemed to not even understand the concept of a survey, let alone the reasonably complex personal questions I was asking about body image. A few hours later, I gave up and returned to my infuriatingly slow computer to start working through my photos. For some reason the computer, in addition to the internet, barely works. Not ideal.

Yesterday was far more idyllic. I headed out, with a small group, to Lelepa Island – around 30 minutes from Port Vila, followed by a short trip on the boat. We walked across the island to a spectacular beach with the most incredibly clear water.

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Caves where, apparently, the coconut crabs live

Caves where, apparently, the coconut crabs live

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Each area here seems to host its own collection of goodies for beach combers – this beach had tons of small grey sea beans and those beautiful dotted cone shells. The variety of sea slugs out and about was incredible. I even spotted a few nudibranchs in the low tide. They were a little plain though, unfortunately, but still fun to watch as they floated about!

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Whilst admiring this classic outrigger canoe, I asked one of the girls from the island if they still use it – to which she replied by taking me out for a spin!

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The man showing us around his island took us to some caves along the shore. He’d lit it up right to the back with candles to show us the hand prints his ancestors put on the walls when they arrived on the island. This was relatively recently actually but that didn’t seem to dampen the excitement for him! To my delight the roof was covered in tiny little bats trying to sleep. So sweet! They started to wake up and chatter to each other to complain about our intrusion!

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We promptly moved onto another beautiful snorkelling spot. The coral gardens around the island really were stunning.

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Finally we made it down to the village on the island where some of the ladies were weaving baskets in the hope to sell their wares to the nosey tourists walking about in their homes. They had a series of necklaces they’d put together from the shells with the amusing label ‘neckless’ beneath them… The village was right on the beach, with some of the houses actually built out of pieces of coral.

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Carving up a new outrigger

 

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All in all a beautiful day out to make up for the day in today! It’s taken around 4 hours to try and load photos. Needless to say – I’ve lost patience. Not sure if these are actually going to come through. Attempting to scroll back up to proof read is definitely not going to happen so apologies for that!

 

The Little Clownfish From The Reef

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Yesterday, I decided to spend my only full day here in Nadi by heading out to one of the little islands off the coast. I booked a trip through the hostel then eventually headed on an incredibly bumpy little motor boat, arriving absolutely drenched 45 minutes later. Nearly all of the little islands have each been claimed by a ‘resort’ or hotel. This one was ‘Beachcomber’ Island.

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white heron fiji

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The people were hilariously friendly. In fact the welcoming through guitar playing and singing seems to happen everywhere: walking into the airport to a small group made me giggle but watching them serenade the boat as we approached the island was even more entertaining. The three of us that were visiting for the day got a further 5 minute session of ‘goodbye song’ before we left, through which we were told to sit about a metre away from them and were not really sure where to look! A few other cultural things were put on such as a kava ceremony.  This is something which I’m sure I’ll become more familiar with when I return so I’ll leave a description until then…As you can see, despite the wind and clouds, the islands are very Maldives-esque. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that it was overcast so I didn’t get fried whilst spending so much time in the water!

The island lived up to it’s name: within the first few yards I’d already found four sea beans and a couple of cowries. I counted 17 of these lovely little things after the day was done! The tide sank pretty low after lunch so I headed out for a couple more laps of the island – I was delighted to find a little black and blue nudibranch swimming about in one of the little pools! So beautiful.

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This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

The island provided the opportunity for me to test out the relatively cheap underwater case I bought for my small camera. It worked perfectly well so fingers crossed that continues! Although the visibility was poor due to the wind, and recent bad weather, it was lovely to be out with a few old favourites: parrot, trigger, angel fish etc. There’s a reason why a chose a song from the ‘Finding Nemo’ soundtrack for the title of this post: All of the clown fish seem to current have eggs or young. They all, consequently, posed beautifully for me above their anemone nests. My underwater accuracy wasn’t adequate enough to get the adorably tiny little nemo specks in the pictures but here’s a compilation of some protective parents!

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Back on land, they had a turtle nursery on the island where they help the little ones to survive the initial stages of life so that they can then be released back into the ocean. So cute!

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I also enjoyed stalking this beautiful little heron about the place as it looked for goodies in the low tide line.

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Overall, a day well spent, I think!

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Bring It On Home / Christmas In The Sun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when the weather’s good there’s no place like Cornwall. http://www.westbriton.co.uk/Cornwall-officially-England-s-picturesque-county/story-25893227-detail/story.html. – Watch this space for a fantastic new website guiding you through this spectacular county: http://www.wearecornwall.com/. In the mean time here’s a youtube showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsvjIkECQVI&feature=youtu.be

London too, although one of the most crowded places I’ve ever experienced, has many treasures to uncover. Undoubtedly another must-see destination if you haven’t yet joined the ranks of London tourists!

For Christmas 2014 we travelled to a different kind of ‘home’. As my dad was brought up in Zimbabwe, his three sisters remain scattered around southern Africa, with two of them based in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of people are hesitant about spending Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. As you can image, I cannot think of a better way to spend the holiday! To swap the winter for the summer is my idea of paradise. What’s more, to be able to spend such a special time with our relatives is priceless.

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Hout Bay Seal

Hout Bay Seal

Heading towards Chapman's Peak drive.

Heading towards Chapman’s Peak drive.

Dassie

Dassie

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Penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

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Gansbaii

Gansbaii

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Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

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Stilbaai

Stilbaai

Cable up Table Mountain

Cable up Table Mountain

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Beautiful little sun bird

Beautiful little sun bird

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The Iconic Protea

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Cool, Calm and Collected

Yoga in Swedist Sunset

“The pursuit, even of the best things, ought to be calm and tranquil.”
 – Marcus Tullius Cicero

I met the Gambill’s at Copenhagen airport and together we hopped on a train to their hometown of Älmhult in the Småland province of Southern Sweden. (Had to get Vendela to write down all the names for me as couldn’t quite get the hang of the letters!) It’s so incredibly special, being completely cut off from stress and technology and surrounded by lakes and forest. There’s very limited internet access and no need for phones. The sun didn’t set until around 9 or later in the evening creating the magical feeling of midsummer. Again one of the first things I noticed was the smell: a really strong omnipresent smell of pines which I must have grown accustomed to pretty quickly as didn’t notice it after the first evening.

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Daisy Chains

Vendela and Paulina making daisy chains in the garden of their Grandpa’s house

Delicious local kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls)

Delicious local kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls)

 

We spent lots of time on the shores of the enourmous Möckeln lake which was perfect for swimming in the scorching sun. It was fantastic to just get back to simple outdoor activities like playing the traditional Swedish game of ‘kubb’ where you essentially knock down pillars in opposing teams with elaborate ‘sticks’. The food was also delicious and simple: we had lots of knäckebröd (crispbread), cheese and tomatoes! Essentially our time was spent relaxing and going for walks along the lake and in the forest – very tranquil!

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Friendly ducks at Bökhult beach

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Playing kubb in the garden of the Gambill’s summer house in the forest

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We found a little board walk into the lake by the summer house which made an ideal spot for some evening yoga. We noticed the potential for photos though with the silhouettes against the sunset and ended up getting completely carried away! Overall, such a relaxing spot to get away from reality for a few days!

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What The Water Gave Me

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“If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake – Aye, what then?”
 – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The park itself is a large expanse of wilderness where the tropical rainforest meets the Pacific. It’s packed full of monkeys, sloth, exotic birds, butterflies and a huge array of other animals.

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I followed a family of Raccoons (beach-coons, as we decided to call them) across the beach to a spot that they’d clearly smelt from a decent distance: a pile of somebody’s left over lunch at the edge of the forest.IMG_2317

Trying to cram as much of the food as possible into that little mouth of his!

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What at first appears to be a beach full of moving rocks is actually herds of hermit crabs scuttling around. Here’s a particularly tiny one!

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An adorable little squirrel monkey, playing about in the tree tops.

The town beside the park has an incredibly relaxed, mellow atmosphere; locals are dotted about with their boards in the surf whilst the tourists (yes, unfortunately there are a lots of them) soak up the hot Costa Rican sun. There are also numerous boards for hire. Perfect.

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On our first night in this paradise, one of our group members was leaving the next morning so we decided to give her a send off on the beach, unsurprisingly involving copious amounts of alcohol. The inevitable swim which followed was so fantastic that I had to go back in the following night: not only is the idyllic beach entirely isolated and star-lit but the ocean is teaming with phosphorescent plankton so that when you swim it lights up specks of greenish light all around you. Absolutely stunning. The best night time swimming I’ve ever experienced.

The downside was that the $20 note I had been keeping in my bikini fell out into the water. As I’m on a very strict budget you can image that I was pretty cut up about this, so when my, rather intoxicated, self realised it was missing I went back down in the dark to try and find it – with a candle of all things! It was such a hilariously fantastic moment when I found it, washed up on shore with the shells.

The cherry on top of a perfect night was spotting a two-toed sloth making it’s way along the telephone wire a couple of metres above our heads on the walk back. We watched it’s slow voyage for about half an hour, particularly enjoying it pulling off leaves to eat from the nearby trees. Another lucky up-close viewing.

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Darkness Between The Fireflies

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Next stop: Monteverde. My frustration with the health and safety rules continues. The Monteverde cloud forest itself was in fact so cloudy that we could barely see anything on our three hour hike through the park. The hummingbirds however in the national park’s ‘humming bird garden’ were simply stunning: ranging in many different luxurious colours and sizes.

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We decided to explore the lower forest that night and stumbled across a number of different creatures including agoutis (like a small version of a capybara), racoons, numerous fireflies, white-nosed coati and red-kneed tarantulas. We were also harrased by the tarantula wasp, which apparently gives one of the most painful stings in the world. It kept landing on our clothes – my back for example or our guides neck. Not nice! The forest became unusually quiet for a significant period of time – the reason soon became apparent  We got a very brief glimpse at a mountain lion wandering through an old farm!

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‘Headlight click beetle’. When in the air it shines about twice as brightly as the fireflies. It also has a nifty way of flipping itself over when it’s stuck on it’s back: It tucks it’s legs in and makes a loud ‘click’ noise with it’s wings plopping back over onto it’s front!

ImageI have to admit that I was completely unaware that scorpions reflect UV light! Pretty cool.

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Monkey On My Back

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Proyecto Asis, across the border now into Costa Rica, is a small wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre where it’s possible to ‘volunteer’ for a day. On our way through from the capital, San Jose, to La Fortuna I was dropped off the Bus at the nearby town ‘Javillos’ and made my way over to the project. The experience wasn’t quite what I had expected. Although we had a fantastic introduction to the animals in the centre, the actual volunteering consisted of solely the preparation of the food and the feeding of the animals. Great for seeing some of the local wildlife but not giving you the feeling of being particularly useful! If you want to get familiar with the animals and have a more ‘hands on’ experience it’s certainly necessary to volunteer for at least a week or two.

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The majority of the animals in rehabilitation had been confiscated from homes where they were being kept as pets, for example the white faced monkeys which I introduced you to in my previous post, spider monkeys, a lazy Kinkajou, Macaws, A young boa constrictor, White-lipped Peccaries, Parakeets etc. My personal favourites where the two orphaned baby white-faced monkeys, who desperately clung onto each others backs and tried to suckle from your fingers! So adorable.

The spider monkeys were also very fond of human company, even running over to hug the permanent volunteer worker when he walked over to their cage!Image

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http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g309226-d1231711-Reviews-Proyecto_Asis-La_Fortuna_de_San_Carlos_Arenal_Volcano_National_Park_Province_of_A.html

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

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“Being asked what animal you’d like to be is a trick question; you’re already an animal.”
 – Doug Coupland 

Our next stop was Ometepe: a beautiful volcanic Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. As you can see, I made a new little friend. It’s hard to believe that he’s wild! Perhaps I was a little foolish to get so close but he really seemed ravenous for human company – completely bizarre! He particularly liked holding my hand or having his hand or head stroked; he would come running over and splat down on the floor or chair in front of me and grab my hand and just lie there holding it! Alternatively he’d just reach out his hand expectantly, like a dog waiting to have it’s belly scratched! He even jumped onto my lap a couple of times!

Hilariously he didn’t seem to like my friends, actually bearing his teeth at the men! Later, when I left to have a shower after a dip in the sea lake, he followed me back to my room and apparently was peering through the glass of the door with his hands up by his eyes to block out the reflection like a human!

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Like little babies’ hands!

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The Island horses are allowed to roam free, stopping in herds to drink from the lake in front of our rooms. The horses were also available to ‘hire’ for an hour or so, leading to fantastic gallops across the beach. An idyllic place to visit on a trip to Central America.

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P.S.please excuse the infrequency and poor quality of posts – Have had lots of 4.30 AM starts and long days crossing borders etc.