Thursday, March 30, 2006

Travel Pants and Lack of Same

Why is it so hard to find a good pair of travel pants?
I have been to almost all the stores I can think of -- there's still MEC in Toronto but that's a commitment of half a day from here -- and there is nothing!

I want: lightweight fabric for tropics (you can wear silk long johns underneath them for cool climates), in a dark color so they won't show dirt (but khaki is okay except for green -- too 'military' and sends the wrong message), with pockets that don't 'slash' on your hips (this doesn't flatter men or women and should be banned) and with a zip pocket so I can open and close surreptitiously -- velcro screams! -- and no cargo pants -- those pockets just get in the way and are functionally useless, unless you want to look like a pack mule with droopy drawers, then fill them up.

Travel pants should be designed so that the cuffs can be drawn in at the ankle to keep bugs out when you are hiking, made from a quick-dry fabric so you can wade or rinse them out at night, and for heaven's sake, they should *have belt loops* so that you can hook on camera bags, etc with the added benefit that if the button goes, your pants stay up. They can zip off into shorts or not, but look stylish enough that in a pinch you can wear them to dinner and not look a total dweeb.

Rant over. I will keep looking but with only 3 weeks left till I leave, I have resigned myself to doing without. And if any outdoor clothing designer wants some suggestions, then email me.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Asia Travel Plans :: Update

Now that my travel plans, tickets and itinerary are in place, I am starting to work on the packing.

Today, I called my credit card companies to let them know when charges from Kota Kinabalu or Hong Kong show up, they are not to panic and cancel my card, as happened to a colleague on her first day in Australia. It only takes a minute or so, and saves a lot of hassle down the road.

I stocked up on film the other day -- I allow one roll per day. Some days I use more, but other days, like travel days, I take few pictures, so it balances out. While film is usually readily available, it's just easier to get most of it at home instead of wasting travel time looking for a store or getting local currency to pay for it.

Tomorrow is set for doctor's appointments, to renew my prescriptions and get a new one for malaria (just in case!) And maybe I will have another go at buying a new pair of travel pants. I found a highly-touted source a few days ago, but they were double the price I planned to pay, with so few of the features I want, that I gave them a snort of derision. (Hmmph! You call yourself 'travel pants'? You don't even have a zippered front pocket. The velcro-closing one you *do* have is so deep, the contents would be clearly visible on my leg.)

With three weeks to the day until I leave, I've started the travel pile: All the bits and pieces -- toiletries, outfits, meds, food -- get heaped up until a few days before the trip when I start to pack. If I have forgotten anything, then there's still time to get to the store.

Much of my travel check list is posted at Snapshot Journeys Before You Go and Snapshot Journeys What to Pack.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Thing about Haiti . . .

It's easy to write about Haiti, or Ethiopia, or any country beaten down by poverty, massive debt and civil unrest. All a writer has to do is transcribe the words of the people who live there. There's no need for any special writing tricks or tools. The stories stand on their own.

What is difficult about reporting such stories is to limit yourself to "just the facts, ma'am," without editorializing. It's immoral for writers to feather their portfolios with the misery of others. Then, the writer becomes the focus. The worst offenders, usually via television commercials or 'special reports', show images of desperate people, usually children, to raise funds. My friend who does aid work calls that Hunger Porn, and it's as despicable as the other kind.

Maybe the case could be made for using such images if all funds actually went to the implied beneficiaries. But before you open your wallet, check the charities' budget for admin, training and program costs. Chances are, you'll be surprised at how small a percentage is allocated to those who are supposed to be receiving them.

I was reminded of this the other night, when I was reading my copy of The Best American Travel Writing 2001, which includes a story called Desperate Passage, by Michael Finkel. Finkel joined a boatload of Haitians heading from Haiti to the Bahamas, with a view to going on to the U.S. This story was first published by The New York Times Magazine, June 18, 2000. It's a chilling account, all the more powerful, I think, for Finkel's simple, eloquent reporting. Google "desperate passage' -- you may still find an online version.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Travel with a Purpose

We travel for many reasons :: Work, family visits and holidays, to escape, to emigrate. You get the idea. But there's a segment that travels to volunteer their time and skills for aid projects, using their own funds and precious holiday time serving others.

And while volunteering overseas (or in their own country, as are American students who currently
volunteering for Spring Break in New Orleans) is increasing in popularity, there have always been those who travel for longer periods. Not really for work, as it is also their calling; not really as volunteers, as they are subsidized to some extent; and not really for pleasure, though the personal rewards are incalculable. I am thinking of those who serve in missions.

And unless you are in a community that supports mission work, you most likely have never given them a thought. I'm not talking about those who land plum UN jobs with all their perks, pay and prestige. I'm talking about those whose calling takes them across the world from family and friends. They live, and travel, on a shoestring, making the best of whatever abysmal conditions they encounter, secure their faith will guide them, and the Lord provide.

I have been thinking about this because, on Friday, one of those who most of his life served in mission, Vern Black, passed away quietly, at age 87. The day before, his son, my friend, had flown from Ethiopia, where he and his family are also serving in mission, to be with his father and family in Canada. He arrived in time to spend a few hours with his father.

A life in such service is not the road to material wealth; indeed, it's often the opposite. But like the rewards, the legacy, too, is rich. By his life -- living his faith rather than preaching it -- his children learned well, and continue his work, and reap the rewards of a life well spent.

It's fitting that even at the end, he was thinking of others. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking donations for completing a partly-built church in Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia, and a multi-purpose building that can be used as a Youth centre, education centre and worship centre for programs to help some of the thousands of unemployed youth, street kids and prostitutes in Bahir Dar.

I know I will never spend what's left of my life in service to others; I am thankful for those who do. If you'd like to help build the Bahir Dar project or to read more about the work of my friends in Ethiopia, go to

Should you wish to donate, specify the Bahir Dar project name to direct it to them. For the story I wrote about their work there, see

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Solo Travel

If you really want to travel, then you have to accept the fact you have to travel alone.

It's not that there's a scarcity of people who would love to come along with you on a trip. It's simply that it won't happen. They can't get away when you want to go, they say they'll come then want to change the route, the dates, the hotels, the tours -- sometimes even the destination. And that's not what you had in mind. If your heart's set on Borneo, say, then a week at an all-inclusive resort is just not going to cut it for you.

But truth be told, I *like* going alone. It's the one chance to be in control, as much as is possible on any long trip. I get to eat what I want, see what I want, sleep when I want -- you get the idea. And when you are on your own, I find, people are more likely to strike up conversations. Not the 'hit on you' kind, but the kind where they are interested in why you are on your own, and maybe feeling a little sorry for your solitary state. When you're with another person or two, you appear self-sufficient.

So although a friend has asked for details about coming with me to Borneo, I know ultimately, she won't, and that's just fine with me. For more than anything, I want to travel, so that's what I'm going to do. Go it alone? Just watch me!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Visas and Malaria -- not a problem?

I am sorting out the details for my trip to Sabah. I phoned the Malaysian Consulate in Canada to confirm the website visa information was up to date, and yes, I am assured, I do not need a visa to enter the country.

I also checked with
Hong Kong SAR, and no, a visa is not required for Hong Kong, either. That saves a few dollars. If I were going to mainland China, as I did on my other trips through Hong Kong, then a visa would be necessary.

Then I checked to see what I could find on the current malaria situation on Sabah. (The trouble with large health sites is the lack of specific information; it tends to be 'broad brush', or out of date. I've showed up in Colombo and Nanning, and asked about the malaria risk, and had the locals look at me much as I imagine a New Yorker would, had you asked the same question in Manhattan: Sort of a 'What? Are you nuts?'

So these days, I look for current information from someone on the ground. I've emailed Wildlife Expeditions, the destination company in KK (as I understand how they refer to Kota Kinabalu), and await a response. According to what I found online from WHO (World Health Org) sites and the like, the incidence is low, and greatly reduced over the past decade. As well, I will be there outside the rainy season, when risk increases.

Either way, dengue fever is always a threat in the tropics, so lots of DEET content in the insect repellent, and long sleeves and pants should help a lot. And mosquito netting is used in the hotels and lodges.

So the paperwork/groundwork seems mostly sorted. I still have to get a new pair of travel pants, but that's not critical, and I'd like a sarong or two, but apparently they are cheap in Sabah, so I will wait till I get there. I can't find a guidebook just for Sabah, and I don't really need one for all of Malaysia (heavy and $$$), so maybe I will rely on brochures etc that I can get when I arrive.

Five weeks till I go!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Going to Borneo!!!

I am so excited! If I were a puppy, I'd be wriggling all over! I just got my flights confirmed for a trip next month to Hong Kong (one week) and to Kota Kinabalu (one week).

Where on earth is Kota Kinabalu, you ask. Well, it's on the west coast of the island of Borneo just north of Brunei, in Malaysia.
I first saw the name 'Kota Kinabalu' on the seat-back flight tracking screen on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Cairns two years ago. Since I'd never heard of the place before then, I was intrigued. Then in Hong Kong, I think it was, waiting for my flight back to Canada, I came across a travel brochure for the place. It looked absolutely lovely - and I thought, Next trip, for sure.

You see, Kota Kinabalu was one of the 18 or so free add-ons with Cathay's all-Asia pass, and only a three hour flight south from Hong Kong. (Cairns is 10 and a half). Piece of cake! So last month, when I was trying to decide the best time to return to China and update some photos for my web site, I thought, hmm Kota Kinabalu.

But the Cathay site All-Asia pass no longer included Kota Kinabalu. Nor was Beijing, that used to also be a free add-on. There were 5 Japan destinations shown, but I can't afford to visit Japan just yet, so they were of no interest.
I double checked with the Cathay office in Toronto to make sure the web site was accurate, and so it was.

But Beijing is only a $50 add-on from Hong Kong, I was told. Well, that's good, but I wanted to travel in April, and Beijing in April might still be quite cool. But the Dragon Air (a Cathay affiliate) in Hong Kong listed two trips from there to Kota Kinabalu. One for 3 days would suit someone looking for a golf getaway.

But the Borneo Eco Tour -- now that sounded good! A week of touring the north part of Sabah, sleeping on an island beach lodge near where turtles lay eggs year round, walking through the parks and staying two nights in a jungle lodge, then two days of rivers and caves, and a jungle resort with spa -- hmmm -- sounded fabulous.
And the price sounded good, too.

So after a week or so of calls and emails, I got confirmed on Dragon Air, and on my Air Canada flight to Hong Kong, and now I am scrambling to get organized to head out.
I don't need visas for either place, so that saves a few bob, but I want to check out the malaria-meds stuff. I am not sure how prevalent malaria is at this time, but maybe this trip, I will have to break down and get the meds. Or I can just go with Deep Woods OFF with DEET.

Still need to get hotel in Hong Kong confirmed. NOW I find out that April is a massive trade show month in Guangzhou (Canton, an hour or so inland) and all rooms in Hong Kong (International gateway) get fully booked fast. Oh well, I can always sleep at the Hong Kong airport! They have rooms with showers!

Update February 2008: Finally getting my pictures on the web site! Have a look at the Borneo tour photos so beginning with the Sepilok orangutans.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Travel Writing :: Not a Free Ride

It's easy, it's fun, it's a way to get loads of free trips -- not!

There's no such thing as a free lunch especially when it comes to travel writing. More like a Catch-22: To get the free trips, you usually need an assignment -- a letter from an editor of a magazine or large newspaper stating the piece will be published, and soon. The larger the circulation of the outlet, the higher the writer ranks on the Trip Guest Desirability Scale.

Yet many publishers will not accept stories that result from travel that's been paid for by a tourism bureau, airline or PR firm, or the like, in the belief that such stories are naturally biased in favor of the 'host'. They have a valid point -- it's hard to bite the hand that has wined and dined you, and treated you royally.

I find press trips exhausting. There's a very full and pre-set itinerary. The reps will run your little legs off from dawn to well beyond dusk, showing off as much as possible about a destination regardless of what type of story you have in mind, and where your interests lie. Sometimes I just don't want to inspect an entire hotel, preferring instead to sit on a stoop and chat with local women. But opt out of activities, and you may never be invited on another.

The timing of the trip may not suit me, either, like a press trip to Cuba scheduled for the week before I head to Hong Kong. I just can't fit it in. But by traveling independently to places that interest me, and then having a few good editors and outlets to publish my stories, well, that's all I ask.

Well, that and my web sites for all the material that won't fit into the stories.
There's guidebook writing, too, though it's something I know I will never do. Guidebook writers work hard, and so there's so much detail and dedication required to do it well, it's just too much work for 'bone idle' me.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Welcome to my travel-web builder blog

According to my diploma, I am a journalist, albeit one who suffers from 'f-stop html deficiency'. In the decade since I got my diploma, I have been steadily freelancing as a writer who takes photos. I do not pretend to be a professional photographer, but since I get paid for my photos, that's what they say I am. I am also the unofficial Queen of Typos, but give good advertorial and press releases.

My first loves are travel writing and traveling. (Now THAT"S been a lucrative field since 9/11. If timing is everything, I am chronologically bankrupt.)
And about a year ago, I fell in love with web building, going from zero to four websites (three of my own, and one for a charity) with a lot of technical help from my friend Teena, in Australia. The learning curve was vertical for some months, but it's leveling off.

All this, while suffering from a handicap (bone idleness.) I think it comes from being born under the signs of Libra (western) and Pig (eastern). But it just goes to show what you can accomplish when you love what you are doing.

My last name is a word in Polish (don't ask), though I am not, and never have been. Because of this name, though, my websites get a lot of hits from Poles apparently looking for a good time. I can't be sure, as I can't read Polish, either.

Now I am starting this blog about web building, photography, travel and writing to track my progress, and figure out where I want to go and what I want to do. Writing something down always helps me make decisions: When I can see a list of pros and cons, I can see which way to go. This blog seems more permanent than my usual scraps of paper, and harder to misplace.

If you are new to web site building, travel writing or traveling solo, then take from my blog whatever is of use, and forgive me my typos.