March, 2019

Mauritius by scooter: The best way to travel

Saturday afternoon races are held in the Mauritian capital Port Louis at a track owned by the oldest horse-racing club in the southern hemisphere. I’d set my sights on riding there astride my own trusty steed.
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“One helmet or two?” asks Kavi when he arrives at reception. Outside, the rental scooter’s fairings gleam in the bright sunlight.

The west coast road south of Grand Baie swings past palm-treed public beaches, fish shops and Indian Ocean views in the direction of Madagascar – more than 1000 kilometres away – then veers inland through sugar cane plantations to meet Port Louis’ congested outskirts.

In the centre of this post-colonial seaside city are concrete buildings on cobbled streets, dilapidated wooden cottages on asphalt roads, slave-built stone structures, hennaed beards and the occasional sari, hole-in-the-wall roti joints, enormous tropical trees and serene pockets of green.

Scooters, more than motorbikes, have a manoeuvrability suited to busy city traffic. And, with an open-face helmet, I miss nothing of the sights, sounds, smells, sun and moderate exhaust smog.

The laminated map from Kavi has limited city detail so I ask a local for directions to the racecourse and arrive in just “trois tours”. Three turns. The island speaks Mauritian Creole, French and English but favours the first two.

At Champ de Mars, the racetrack now celebrating more than “200 years of passion”, I leave the scooter on the street having been warned about getting hemmed in at the bike parking lawn. Trackside, other riders keep helmets on for convenience and, in the midday heat, I snack on dahl puri and watch horses race and people gamble.

My lunch destination is just a few kilometres away and the police conveniently pull me over just when I need directional advice. As Kavi had predicted, they want to check my helmet, rego papers and driver’s licence as part of a crackdown on poorly maintained bikes.

“Super and unleaded are the same here,” Kavi had also explained. Both words refer to unleaded, for which it’s cheaper to pay cash. He had advised taking roundabouts at less than 40km/h to avoid the negative attention of police and had been very relaxed about when I should drop back the bike.

It was much cooler at Eureka, a sugar plantation homestead built in a moist mountain shadow in 1830.

“Is it fast to Quatre Borne from here?” I ask Minta, the woman who has led the house tour. Mauritius is only 61 kilometres from top to bottom and just over 2000 square kilometres in area, but a road system built across a young volcanic island with some well populated pockets means travel times can be hard to predict. She grins.

“If you’re fast, then it’ll be fast.”

I whizz to the central plateau and then crawl through Quatre Borne behind a colourful bus, with a rear slogan “Catch me if you can”, past temples, mosques, markets and snack shops selling home-made Indian sweets. Mauritius has three other towns and around 130 villages.

Mauritians drive on the left, but otherwise behave quite differently on the road. As always, there’s method in the apparent madness.

Maintaining a steady speed is key, as is watching for obstacles on the other side of the road, so it’s no surprise when oncoming traffic swings across the centre line to miss something on their side.

I own my lane and keep my line, only deviating when I am sure nobody is in my unfamiliarly small personal road space. It turns out no one likes to stop and you are not obliged to for pedestrians, except when they step out.

Later in the week, I explore the island’s lusher, cooler, less peopled south where roads ribbon under massive banyan trees, trimmed like fringes over the bitumen, and curve past historic sugar factories. I visit Black River Gorges National Park, tea plantation Bois Cheri and ride the awesome hairpin bend at Baie du Cap on the way to the island’s most western peninsula of Le Morne.

One morning, on the way to meet Vertical World for canyoning, I get lost far from my destination of Henrietta. As I pull out my map, another scooter stops beside me. The guy rides miles out of his way to get me on the right track but refuses my offer of money for “super”.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

See tourism-mauritius.muGETTING THERE

Air Mauritius flies from Sydney and Melbourne (via Perth) to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolan International Airport. See airmauritius南京夜网.  STAYING THERE

Merville Beach Hotel, Grand Baie, has rooms from $130 a night. See mervillebeach南京夜网. Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort, Bel Ombre, has rooms from $315 a night. See 梧桐夜网outriggermauritius南京夜网. RIDING THERE

Organise scooter hire the day before you need it; your hotel or host will contact a local provider. Cost is around $35 a day and excess can be up to 10 times that. Previous riding experience is strongly recommended.

Elspeth Callender was a guest of the Mauritian Tourism Promotion Authority.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Float through the wilds of Peru’s Amazon in luxury

Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon cruising the Peruvian Amazon.I am in the river town of Iquitos, north-east Peru, the gateway to the Amazon on the eastern ridges of the Andes mountains. This town, the most inland port in the world, some 5000 kilometres from the river’s mouth in the Atlantic Ocean, feels dilapidated yet buzzing with life. It’s a remote frontier cut off from the world, surrounded entirely by water with the only access by boat or plane.
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We drive through the busy streets jammed with tuk-tuks and motor bikes, past faded mansions built by the rubber barons who made their fortunes here in the late 19th century until the industry collapsed around 1912. The story of Fitzcarraldo springs to mind, a movie by Werner Hertzog filmed on location in the early ’80s about a rubber baron’s obsession with building an opera house in his home town. Sixty per cent of Peru is classified jungle and we are in the heart of it, the greatest remaining wilderness on earth. Its vastness is mind boggling, a silent witness to the immense beauty.

Our group of boat arrivals is transported in a canoe to the middle of the river in the centre of town to a thatched-roofed restaurant Al Frio y Al Fuego for a lunch of catfish ceviche and local seafood. Afterwards we venture into one section of the vast Belen Market for a glimpse of town life at work, past the colourful displays of edible fruits that characterise the river wetlands. There is a cacophony of sounds and all manner of sights and smells; it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it certainly is an exotic market with every type of produce imaginable.

We leave Iquitos and drive north for 90 minutes to Nauta, another river outpost at the source of the Amazon where the Mananon and Ucayali rivers meet. Here we board the Aria Amazon, one of two Aqua Expeditions boats in Peru, cruising the upper reaches of the Amazon year round since 2007. It’s a floating hotel, a generously proportioned 16-berth riverboat that exemplifies low-key luxury.

The downside of our visit in the dry season is that restricted flight times to Iquitos mean we have a six-hour wait before we can board. Settling into our suite, which has floor-to-ceiling windows, the sense of isolation engulfs us as we glide down the river away from the lights of the town into the heart of darkness.

On board, the itineraries vary according to duration of trip and time of year, broken in two seasons – wet (December to May) and dry (June to November). The bird, animal and marine life changes dramatically between the seasons, so any time of year offers terrific and different sightings. During the wet season, the rivers swell to form an inland sea that becomes the largest flooded forest in the Peruvian Amazon with the cycle of life and bird migrations before the waters start to recede in the dry season.

The rivers are the highways of the Amazon forest and we share the waterways with canoes and rafts to large freight boats that bring essential supplies into these remote parts. On each of our morning and afternoon river safaris, our on-board expert naturalist guides (Luis, George, Roland and Ricardo) share their wealth of knowledge as we break into small groups and explore the rivers and black water creeks in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in small skiffs that skim the surface as every bend reveals more of this wildlife sanctuary. The impenetrable forest pulses with a diverse wildlife, most of it invisible, and we glimpse small village communities that coexist sustainably with the rainforest and drenching rains without electricity.

We see playful pink dolphins, a sloth, iguanas, tiny bats, butterflies, toucans, falcons, kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, tamarin monkeys and scarlet-bellied piranha whose razor sharp teeth can shred a buffalo carcass in seconds. The only thing we don’t see is the elusive anaconda. We spot gigantic Victoria water lilies, up to three metres in diameter that grow in the ponds and lakes behind the riverbanks. Vivid-coloured heliconias hang majestically among the trees and villagers relish the opportunity to sell their handicrafts, mementoes of river life.

An evening safari up one of the creeks has us on the look out for lurking caimans (freshwater crocodile) and our guide drops his hand overboard and pulls up a metre-long specimen, expertly grabbing it behind the neck and swinging it around onto the skiff for us to ogle from a safe distance. An afternoon jungle safari has us walking into the rainforest away from the river with a local villager, sweat pouring with every step under our protective clothing, the air thick with humidity. He forages for plants and insects to reveal the secrets of the rainforest, what plants are used for food and medicine, some tiny brilliantly coloured frogs used in blow pipes, tarantulas, snakes, tiny tree monkeys and iguanas clinging to tree branches. It’s an alien world.

Our time passes quickly, we fall into the natural rhythm of river life, whether it’s from the privacy of our suite with uninterrupted views of the moody skies, to having a massage, a dip in the outdoor jacuzzi or lounging in the bar on the upper deck sipping on a pisco sour or camu camu juice. This is not your typical boat cruise; the emphasis here is on adventuring into the natural environment and exploring its extraordinary beauty, appreciating the fragile ecosystem and stopping to take it all in. A staff of 24 takes care of the guests and, as we plow through the water, we pinch ourselves to be reminded that we are wrapped up in modern luxury in one of the world’s wildest and most remote landscapes. MORE INFORMATION

See 梧桐夜网visitperu南京夜网 . To plan your Peru itinerary contact Epicurious Travel (梧桐夜网epicurioustravel南京夜网419论坛 ).

For details about riverboat itineraries, see 梧桐夜网aquaexpeditions南京夜网 . GETTING THERE

LAN operates flights from Lima to Iquitos twice a day. Times are subject to change. See 梧桐夜网lan南京夜网  .

Visas are not required for Peru. You are issued with an Andean pass on arrival that you keep in your passport for the duration of your stay in Peru. This must be shown when checking into hotels – without it, you are charged an extra tax. STAYING THERE

Aqua Expeditions operates three, four and seven-night Up River and Down River cruises on the Amazon. Cruises start at $4600 per person. Private transfers and single supplements are available. See 梧桐夜网epicurioustravel南京夜网419论坛  , 梧桐夜网aquaexpeditions南京夜网. SEE AND DO

Make time to walk through the vast Belen Market in Iquitos, with an amazing array of exotic jungle produce that stretches across 20 blocks. DINING THERE

Al Frio y Al Fuego, Iquitos. Stop off for a ceviche lunch. See 梧桐夜网alfrioyalfeugo南京夜网

Christine Manfield travelled with the assistance of aquaexpeditions南京夜网.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Why do people travel? The art of reinventing yourself

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Photo: iStock The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isahan, Iran.
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The tourism business makes many promises. Your destination will be unspoilt, romantic, filled with adventure and banana pancakes, rich in giant Buddhas and fairytale castles, rife with cheerful locals and bargain-priced leather goods. It will be beautiful one day and perfect the next. Yet, somewhere under tourism’s weighty carapace of snow domes, batik, cocktails and coconut palms, you can still feel the beating heart of what it means to travel, and why we travel at all.

The journey is a fundamental human compulsion. We’re restless, sticky-beaking creatures with a nomad’s need to wander. Gustav von Aschenbach​, the central character in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, evokes “This yearning for new and distant scenes, this craving for freedom, release, forgetfulness … an impulse towards flight”. Travel author Jonathan Raban​ suggests a “sense of incompleteness” urges us along the road. “Every journey is a quest of sorts, though few travellers have more than a dim inkling of what it is they’re questing for.”

The journey as quest permeates human cultures and has supplied a chief plot structure in literature for thousands of years. The hero (and, more recently, the heroine) sets out on the road, overcomes dangers and often obtains a talismanic object, then returns home with a sense of fulfilment. The road itself becomes a metaphor for the journey of life, and a symbol of self-discovery and freedom for everyone from ancient Greeks to Hobbits.

The world’s religions talk about the road to salvation and are sympathetic to the idea of travel, despite its nonconformist tendencies. The notion of physical journeying for spiritual benefit is central to Buddhism and Islam, and is frequently practised by Hindus and Christians. The word “holiday” is derived from Christian holy days, and medieval European pilgrimage is arguably the precursor to today’s mass tourism. Medieval tourists set off for Canterbury, Rome or Jerusalem in the hope of spiritual grace. So, too, when we travel, we renounce our lives for a time and set off in search of the spiritual or, at least, regenerative. We visit sites said to be of particular significance and bring back relics in the form of souvenirs.

No surprise, then, that a founder of modern mass tourism, Thomas Cook, was a Baptist minister who thought travel should be morally uplifting. Some of his first tours were to the Holy Land, others to Switzerland, where mountains replaced dead saints during the Romantic era as objects of veneration. Arnold Lunn, the great Victorian tour organiser and rival of Thomas Cook, made it plain: “Men lifted up their eyes to the hills to recover the spiritual values which were clouded by the smoke and grime of the industrial revolution.” The restorative value of nature had been recognised since ancient times. However, the ancient Greeks built temples on hilltops and wellness centres in the countryside.

Although I’m not religious, I find release in journeys and, occasionally, an almost mystic happiness; most recently in Mutawintji National Park in the rocky red Bynguano Ranges near Broken Hill in outback NSW. The still silence of the gorges and their cupped water suggest a kind of magic, and the handprints of Aboriginal people are testament to 8000 years of human presence in this wilderness. In the evening, gum trees are sculptures in orange and the horizon is a dark purple hint of the night to come. As the sun sets, the moon is a cuticle of light in a pale blue sky. In moments such as these, I feel I couldn’t be in a better place.

This is, maybe, what saints and mystics feel when they’re at one with god. In any case, this transcendence of self is a reward of journeying. The great 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho​ set off on his famous journeys as an antidote to depression and soon found his mood lightened, as he was distracted by the passing scenery and changing seasons. His Narrow Road to the Interior is a deft portrayal of travel as a mechanism to cast off ourselves and our worldly trappings, to feel at one with nature, to wander free. It was a theme revisited by the American Beat Generation, whose writers greatly admired Basho’s poems.

Travel is my flight from responsibility, too; my leaving of myself behind. I can think as I please and go where I wish; living is in the moment. Elizabeth Barrett Browning called travel a “surprising riddance of one’s life” and extolled the “perfect solitude of foreign lands”. Oh yes. I can forget myself – transcend myself – when I’m surrounded by beautiful landscapes, interesting people and exotic otherness. Travel is about finding oneself, yet, paradoxically, about losing oneself, too.

The rewards of travel aren’t just spiritual, however. Another important aim of journeying has long been the acquisition of knowledge, an idea that particularly flowered during the era of the 18th-century Grand Tour, devised as an educational experience for the indolent offspring of European aristocracy. Grand tourists set off with a tutor for upwards of 40 months, not only because of the difficulties of travel but because of the amount of study involved. Travellers were expected to learn a new language, polish their Latin and artistic skills and familiarise themselves with great literature. Many took copious notes on architecture, gardening and the arts with an eye to improving their ancestral homes. The notion of travel as education is still alive and well: no coincidence, surely, that France and Italy, fundamental to the Grand Tour, remain among the world’s most-visited destinations.

My first-ever solo journey was to Greece, propelled by the enthusiasm and pretentions of youth. I plundered its ancient literature, scrambled uphill to every temple, peered at every museum amphora that I imagined would somehow make me a sophisticated European. I was a university student, and it was an intellectual journey. Curiously, it was only decades later that I finally made it to Rome: cradle of European culture, seat of the Pope, lodestar of the European romantic and cultural imagination during the era of the Grand Tour. My response was more emotional. I was almost a physical shock to walk past the Roman remains of the Eternal City. I was surprised at the electric current of thrill, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Much of travel is in the mind and Rome loomed large in my attic of cultural clutter.

But education can come in surprising places and isn’t just about accumulating ruins and cathedrals. A visit to Iran opened my eyes to a bigger world than newspapers were inclined to describe: a world of decorous, educated folk, a long and stately civilisation, an architecture of almost sublime beauty. It shifted my viewpoint. Now I hear about extremist Iran on television, but think only of poetry and roses, sloe-eyed people and the smell of flatbread on coals. I think of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, with its filtered light and aquarium-blue tranquillity. The proper journey is one during which you leave your certainties and acquired beliefs at home, and see everything with skew-whiff eyes and in unusual light. To me, one of the supreme joys of travel is that I’m still discovering exceptions to stereotypes, expectations turned upside down, smug cultural assumptions undermined. Travel isn’t just about new destinations but new eyes, as the cliche has it.

People forget that this shift in understanding works both ways, however. It doesn’t just give the visitor new ways to see the world: it may open the eyes of the host as well. This is something sadly forgotten by loutish tourists in Bali and topless sun-bakers on Mediterranean beaches. Go on a journey and you’re an ambassador – whether willing or not – for the country and culture you represent. When I lived in China in the late 1980s, at a time foreigners were scarce and glamorous, I became acutely aware that, for many Chinese, I was the only Westerner they’d ever encountered. I’ve never quite lost the feeling of my own strangeness to other people. The thrill and terror of living in China was that I represented much more than just myself, and at the same time when that self – and all its cultural certainties accepted since birth – was being turned on its head.

All this philosophising can seem precious. My journeying isn’t an overt decision to sit like Byron on a hillside, to make myself a better person, to feel some spiritual connection with the world, to tap my way to nirvana with a pilgrim’s staff. But I like to think that, over the decades, it has just happened anyway. Surely, I’m more enlightened than if I’d just stayed at home like Proust in his bedroom. Surely, remote places, unnerving differences and uplifting beauty have somehow soothed those parts of my troubled psyche that first urged me onwards. Or have they? Perhaps people who travel are people just perennially dissatisfied with the here and now, scratching an itch that never really gets resolved. Happy are they who just stay at home.

Well, either way, the reward of the true journey is that it makes you think. It challenges your perceptions of the world and your place in it, it educates and invigorates, it might even provide solace to the soul. And in my journeying, I’ve found not Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness but amazing places and people, pleasant surprises and the universal sympathy that binds us together in our shared humanity. The world enslaves me with its mysterious delights, and the winding road still beckons.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Tuvalu: Visiting one of the world’s tiniest countries

Fualopa motu in Funafuti Conservation Area. Photo: Louise Southerden Tuvaluan girls outside church. Photo: Louise Southerden
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At first it looks as if we’re going to ditch in the satin-blue sea. There is no seabird’s view of jewel-like islands as we approach Funafuti, the main atoll. In fact, there’s no land in sight at all. Just the endless glittering Pacific until, seconds before touchdown, I glimpse whitewater fringing the edge of a coral reef and the mop-heads of coconut palms flanking the unfenced airstrip.

That’s how tiny Tuvalu is. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, this daisy-chain of nine “islands” (three true islands and six coral atolls) is one of the world’s smallest countries, with a population of  11,000.

It’s also one of the least elevated. If you’ve heard of Tuvalu at all, it’s probably because, along with other low-lying island nations such as neighbouring Kiribati and the Maldives, it’s in danger of being wiped off the map by rising sea levels. Already king tides and storm surges regularly inundate Tuvalu; Cyclone Pam devastated some of its outer islands a year ago and Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga​ has been increasingly vocal about his country’s vulnerability to climate change.

“I’m sick of climate change,” says Lita Afelee, whose husband was Tuvalu’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2006 to 2012.  “You can’t think about it every day. You have to live, work, go to the beach, live your normal life,” she tells me during my stay at their small, solar-powered lodge, Afelita Island Resort.

Others I meet in this devoutly Christian country believe that God will save them from climate catastrophe.

Nevertheless, Tuvalu is doing its bit to mitigate the effects of climate change. It plans to be the first country to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, for instance, and there’s talk of starting up “climate change tours” to showcase climate adaptation projects funded by foreign aid.

I see some of these projects during my week-long stay: new solar panels on the government building, an impressive solar array at the formerly diesel-fuelled power station, coral reef regeneration projects, solar “Love from Taiwan” streetlights, earthmovers replacing sand on the main beaches and mangrove plantations to reduce coastal erosion.

Until these tours get off the ground, however, Tuvalu is the destination that tourism forgot. Just two hours north of tourist-savvy Fiji, it has no tour guides, tour operators or organised activities and isn’t on the cruise-ship circuit.

On the plus side, there are plenty of places to stay (a government-owned hotel and about a dozen family-owned guesthouses and B&Bs on Funafuti’s main island), English is the official language (once part of a British protectorate called the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Tuvalu has been part of the Commonwealth since it became independent in 1978) and they use Australian dollars – although there are no ATMs or credit card facilities, so you have to take enough cash for your stay.

The people are friendly, too, if a little unsure what to do with strangers. More than once I was asked, “What are you doing here?” By the end of the week I understand why: I see no other tourists, only visiting expats including a couple of helicopter pilots working on tuna boats, a Japanese anthropologist and two Kiwi solar electricians.

All of which adds to Tuvalu’s offbeat charm and takes you back to a time when you could land in a destination without a plan or a guidebook, learn about it from the people you happened to meet and let your days unfold without an  itinerary.

When I arrive, for instance, Tuvalu’s tourism officer, Paufi Afelee (Lita’s daughter), picks me up and takes me on an island tour – on the back of her motorcycle. It’s the perfect introduction to Fongafale, the long, backwards-L-shaped main island, riding palm-lined roads, waving at kids riding in handcarts towed by other motorcycles (it’s too hot to walk anywhere), the wind ruffling our hair (no one wears helmets, everyone rides sedately).

I soon learn that tourism is a follow-the-locals affair and the best way to get your bearings is by chatting with your guesthouse hosts.

My host at Esfam Lodge takes me to church – also on the back of a motorcycle, barefoot – then to Sunday lunch with her extended family where we all sit on bamboo mats eating fish, chicken and coconut dishes with our fingers. Another local shows me around the Tuvalu Marine Training Institute, which trains about 120 cadets a year for life on international cargo ships (thousands of Tuvaluans work abroad as seamen, cooks and marine engineers).

Don’t expect to find anyone to talk to in the middle of the day: that’s hammock time. They all emerge by late afternoon, however, and converge on the airstrip, which becomes a cross between a public park and a sports ground at the cooler end of the day; on hot nights people even sleep there, dragging their mattresses onto the tarmac in search of a breeze.

You know you’re not in Touristan any more when two of the main attractions are the post office and a hole in the ground. To be fair, the special issue stamps on display at Tuvalu Post are works of art, long prized by discerning philatelists (they also make unusual souvenirs).

And the hole, David’s Drill, put Tuvalu on the map in 1896 when researchers from the Royal Society of London, accompanied by Australian professor Edgeworth David, drilled down to 340 metres to test Charles Darwin’s theory of coral atoll formation. (The results were inconclusive, but the theory was supported in the 1950s by drilling to 1300 metres in the Marshall Islands.)

Before my visit, I’d imagined Tuvalu to be an undiscovered Maldives, and it does have natural beauty. You just have to venture off Funafuti’s densely populated and rather polluted main island to find it.

Speeding across the lagoon to the far side of the atoll in an open boat, I watch the bumps on the horizon morph into uninhabited “motu”, tiny castaway islands rising out of gin-clear water, each no bigger than a clump of palm trees. This is Funafuti Conservation Area, a haven for hundreds of black noddies, crested terns, manta rays and nesting sea turtles.

On one island, while I snorkel over colourful coral offshore, my guide, Kaunati, walks up to the soft sand to look for turtle eggs and returns cradling something in his hand: a turtle hatchling with two-heads, dead. He can’t say whether it’s a genetic anomaly or a consequence of pollution, just that he’s never seen such a thing. For me, it’s just one more surprise in a week of them.

The day I leave, there are hugs all around at my guesthouse before I walk to the airport terminal, right next door. Someone ticks my name off a printed passenger list, an air-raid siren sounds to clear the airstrip and, in the absence of an X-ray machine, a young woman in uniform frisks me before boarding. “Have a nice trip,” she says. “Come back?”

Tuvalu won’t be everyone’s cup of coconut water. It’s not the next Fiji or Vanuatu. But for those with time, curiosity and a sense of adventure, it’s the kind of place that makes you feel like a traveller again. And for the rest of us? It’s a healthy reminder of a world that exists outside the tourist universe, for now. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

See timelesstuvalu南京夜网  GETTING THERE

Fiji Airways flies daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Suva, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Suva to Tuvalu. There are no same-day connections between Australia and Tuvalu so visitors must overnight in Suva each way. See fijiairways南京夜网. Tourist visas for Tuvalu are issued on arrival. STAYING THERE

On the main island Funafuti atoll, the 16-room government-owned Vaiaku Lagi Hotel has rooms for $126.50 a night and there are about a dozen family-owned guesthouses with rooms from $80 to $120 a night; see esfamlodge南京夜网 or filamona南京夜网. Afelita Island Resort has rooms for $120 a night; see booking南京夜网.

Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Driving the ‘American music triangle’: Small towns, juke joints, honky-tonks and dance halls

It’s late morning when we slip across the Mississippi border into Alabama, after a couple of hours lazily cruising through typical Deep South landscape, much of it lined with earthy red fields of fluffy cotton and of tobacco.
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Here and there, the monotony is broken by tiny townships. Some are opulent, some tumbleweed poor, littered with abandoned shops, skeletal clapperboard houses, clapped-out trucks. But all seem proud of their dazzling white church.

Each has a signboard message for passing traffic. “Have you made God smile today?” one inquires. “Like it or not Jesus is coming back,” warns another.

Even our “classic American breakfast”, which includes signature southern dishes such as grits, fried alligator balls and chocolate gravy, is eaten at a typical roadside diner with a religious message of sorts.

“There’s a place for all God’s children…” it reads, “… right next to the potatoes and gravy.”

It all looks, sounds and tastes like something from the old Simon and Garfunkel road-trip song, America, or the Rascal Flatts hit Life is a Highway, which suddenly comes up on local radio station Shoals Country WLAY 103.5.

Within minutes we are in Muscle Shoals, named after the local mussels, and/or the strong American Indians, who navigated the nearby Tennessee River’s thunderous stretch of shallow rapids.

It may be just a dot on the GPS road map, but for more than half a century the town has been a place of pilgrimage for wannabe music makers, who come from all over the world to lay down tracks in one of its four recording studios.

They include Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, says local guitarist Travis Wammack, who cut his first record at 11, had a big hit at 17 with a song called Scratchy, and at 69 is still recording music.

No wonder local cars carry stickers reading, “Either you rock or you suck”. No wonder that hereabouts the mighty Mississippi has been dubbed “The Singing River”. Or that The Shoals, and its Hall of Fame, have become a magnet for music lovers everywhere.

The Shoals city is just one stop on a magical, 10-day musical tour through the American Deep South, a destination made more accessible in recent years by the non-stop Qantas flight from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth.

At anything up to 17 hours, the flight is currently the world’s longest, but it offers a wide gateway to the southern states of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and “sweet-home” Alabama.

The region is far-flung, full of huggable, genuinely hospitable people; an eclectic, culinary mix from Cajun to Chinese, from po’-boy (poor boy) sandwiches to gumbo and jambalaya; wonderful Gone with the Wind architecture; a fascinating, though sometimes bloody, Civil War and civil rights history. And, of course, its music.

For this, we are reminded everywhere, is the birthplace of blues, jazz, country and western, soul, gospel, Southern gospel, cajun/zydeco and bluegrass. It is “where history made music … then music made history”.

This can be explored by driving the “Americana Music Triangle”, a road trip covering 2400 kilometres, nine musical genres and thousands of stories. It’s an adventure linking New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville “and all the small towns, juke joints, honky-tonks and dance halls in between”.

More pressed for time, perhaps, than the average holiday-maker or music pilgrim, our group of four women and one man (me), travels by 12-seater bus, driven by Jason from South Carolina.

He is a great driver, dancer and source of local info, on subjects ranging from the proper dismemberment of crabs in a Lake Charles restaurant, to the passionate “Roll Tide Roll” chant of fervent University of Alabama football fans.

By the end of the trip he will have learned to “speak Australian”, admitting he’s a (red-haired) “ranger”, responding to cries of “Jaayyyyson” and occasionally “throwing U-ies”.

Appropriately, the first stop on our musical tour, devised by Travel South USA, is self-styled Music City, Nashville, where there is just so much to see, do, eat, listen to and look.

Most of the live action is out on the streets, on Broadway and The Gulch, in honky-tonks such as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World, Wild Horse Saloon and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn.

But before that, there is a Johnny Cash Museum, a Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and the must-visit Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like most American “attractions” it is bright, imaginative, proudly patriotic, offering a rich, interactive experience where visitors are “immersed in the history and sounds of country music, its origins and traditions”.

A whole day can be profitably spent watching vintage black-and-white film, admiring the colourful clothes of the crooners, inspecting their outrageously exotic cars, some decorated with guns, and simply playing their music.

Nearby is the historic RCA Studio B, self-styled “home of 1000 hits”, sung by musical giants such as Jim Reeves, Charlie Pride, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, who was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and died in nearby Memphis.

“Sit down and close your eyes,” says our guide Nita, as we enter the room where “The King” cut one of his most famous hits, Are You Lonesome Tonight?.

In silence, she snaps on a tape. After several false starts, between which Elvis laughs and joshes with the band, the song comes eerily, perfectly, powerfully, to life again. It is surprisingly moving.

A short walk away is the Gothic revival-style Ryman Auditorium. The so-called “soul of Nashville” was built as a tabernacle in the 1890s by a born-again businessman and steamboat captain, Thomas G. Ryman.

Subsequently saved from developers by a feisty widow who went by the gender-neutral name of L.C. Naff, the hall staged concerts, boxing matches and shows by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini and Mae West.

Its history is described in part by “local” Australian actress Nicole Kidman, whose Nashville-centric husband Keith Urban first headlined a show at the Ryman in 2004.

If the 2400 audiences at the Ryman are slightly, rightly referential, the 4400 country music fans at the Grand Ole Opry (a local corruption of “opera”), where we go that night, are almost riotous.

They scream, chant, jump up and down to pose for selfies, shuttle back and forth for food, wave US and Tennessee flags. As the local guide explains, only the 90-year-old Opry, which is broadcast live on country radio, “makes fans feel like family”.

There is huge applause for Larry Gatlin’s musical “letter to the bad guys”, and for the knockabout geriatrics, Riders in the Sky. “Never take a laxative with a sleeping tablet… though you will sleep like a baby,” a rider warns.

Sounds cheesy? Well, it is, even down to the advertisements for everything from Durango Boots to roadside cafes and licences to fish the Cumberland River for big and small-mouthed bass. But it isgreat fun.

The next day we move on south, across the Alabama border, the music of Mississippi still rocking the bus. To The Shoals, where they are still cleaning up after a recent tornado. Then, onwards, southwards again, to Birmingham.

The city is better known, perhaps, for its fine dining and civil rights history than its music-making. But we are greeted with huge smiles, songs and swaying bodies in the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in 1963 four young girls were killed by a white extremist’s bomb.

Then it’s on to Montgomery, the state capital, again known better, probably, for its architecture, broad highways and prominent role as the capital of the Confederacy, at the start of the American Civil War  in 1861 and during the civil rights movement a century later.

However, the legendary country music singer Hiram King “Hank” Williams is honoured by statue, memorial and a fascinating museum, showcasing his short but productive career, his cars, his guitars and his funeral.

Sadly, Williams – known among other things as “The Hillbilly Shakespeare” – reportedly died in the back seat of his sky-blue Cadillac on the morning of New Year’s Day, 1953.

Even by the standards of lonesome cowboy musicians, his was a tragic life marked by divorce, pain, drugs and alcohol abuse, as well as memorable music.  He was just 29.

And so, after a day stop to explore the colourful history, delicious seafood, the wildlife and gorgeous, delta sunsets, in and about Mobile on the Gulf Coast, we arrive in New Orleans.

Music is as much a part of the daily life of this vibrant city as Mardi Gras, marching bands, monstrous weather and amazingly liberal “drink, dance and walk” licensing laws.

As co-author of the useful French Quarter Drinking Companion ​Elizabeth Pearce says, music is a key ingredient of the authentic Bourbon Street experience. Like the cocktail lists, the choices are long.

New Orleans, she explains, has one of the best live music scenes in the world, and nothing goes with music like booze. And vice versa.

“There’s a real range of musical styles, including ’60s cover bands, rhythm and blues, traditional jazz, indie rock, zydeco and everything in between.

“In most places drinking, talking and the music all co-exist peacefully. So don’t expect your fellow audience members to sit in respectful silence. In New Orleans, listening is an active verb.”

Try Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for rowdy, singalong piano playing. Napoleon House for non-stop opera and classical music. Cat’s Meow to join in a singalong session. Famous Door to hear ’80s cover bands, Funky 544 for hip-hop. And so on, into the wee small hours and beyond.

But whatever you do, wherever you go, don’t miss out on live jazz at the truly iconic Preservation Hall, an authentic, no-frills, hole-in-the-wall venue where the audience stands or sits on bare benches or, as we did, on the bare floor.

A limited number of tickets, a few for “big shot” seats with better views, are available each night, but most music pilgrims are prepared to queue for one of three nightly gigs by some of the 100 or so master jazz practitioners.

As the brochure states, “on any given night audiences bear joyful witness to the evolution of this venerable and living musical tradition”, that from Nashville through The Shoals to New Orleans helps define the Deep South. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION 


GETTING THERE Non-stop by Qantas from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth and on to Nashville by code-share partner American Airlines.

STAYING THERE The Deep South offers a wide range of hotels, motels and homestays, ranging in price from US $25 to US $500 a night. Included in the  author’s itinerary were two-night stops in  Sheraton Music City in Nashville and Le Meridien in New Orleans.

The writer was a guest of Travel South USA and Qantas

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.