Showing posts with label Montevideo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montevideo. Show all posts

Friday, July 3, 2015

MaxGlobetrotter's Ten Favourite Countries - Numbers 1 to 3

Publishing lists seems to be the craze right now, and indeed the new owner of The Great Canadian Travel Company, the redoubtable Ian Kalinowsky, has asked me to pen my top ten “new destinations for 2016”, which in due course I shall.

However, for now I am going simply to answer one of the most common questions that I am posed, “Which is your favourite  place in the world?”.

It is not a simple question, and there really are no straightforward answers, and so I am picking my Top Ten, and, in no particular order, am posting them on a daily basis on my new Facebook page, a page that I would strongly urge you to visit and “like”!! I am also marching blindly into the world of Twitter, and taking this most peculiar communication more seriously; I don’t quite get it yet, but am advised that with perseverance, its logic structure and  will become apparent.

We shall see.

In the meantime, however, I have given a great deal of thought to my favourite destinations, and felt the need to lead the pack with Portugal, and more specifically, the slice of the country that lies from Lisbon south to, but not including the Algarve, and inland to the Spanish border.

Portinho d'Arrabida
It is a land that holds many, many memories. I was introduced to travel when I was young, and from the time that I was seven-years old my parents rented an apartment for the month of August. I learned Portuguese, although my accent and vocabulary was limited to the in-shore fishermen with whom I passed many happy daysgutting fish. My particular linguistic skills, of which I was 
inordinately proud, had shortcomings that only became apparent at a Christmas gathering of my (then) girlfriend’s family; they were senior Portuguese diplomats, and surprised to hear the frothy vernacular of the sea in their rather particular salons.

I have continued to travel to Portugal, and love this special area of coastline, the Costa Azul, the plains of Alentejo, the plaintiff sounds of Fado music from its heart in Lisbon. The region has been good to me, and I am sure that I will continue to visit for as long as I am able.

My second choice is Suriname. I have been fortunate to visit four times in the past couple of years and each time gain a deeper admiration for the people of this fine country. For visitors, Suriname offers the frisson of excitement that travelling to “new “destinations brings; it has exquisite birdlife, and the expanse of the Amazon rain forest can only make Costa Rica weep.

There arejungle lodges (fly-in only) that offer the flora and fauna of the jungle on an “up close and personal” basis, and there are any number of simple resorts along the Suriname River. There are communities whose lifestyles have changed little in the three hundred years since their ancestors ran from slavery and founded the Maroon villages, and there welcome is genuine and open. For those who love to fish, the rivers are full of fine sport, and for those whose outdoor pursuits are more gentle, the butterflies that dart into and out of the canopy in true visions of colour.

Amazing Butterflies! 

Rural Suriname

And then there is the capital, Paramaribo; built apparently from the leftover bits of Amsterdam in the mid nineteenth century, it houses wonderful period houses, fine public buildings, and then tumbles into the contemporary suburbs of any growing city. Nationalities and religions coincide with mosques adjacent to synagogues and all celebrating each other’s’ High Days and holidays.  The river is magnificent, as are all of the massive waterways of The Guyanas, and to sit in the evening at the marvellous Baka Foto restaurant lying within the walls of Fort Zeelandia, built in the 1650s by the Dutch.

What a fine country Suriname is!

And so is Uruguay; not a hot destination among travellers to South America, it is really a very fine place to visit. I have been there several times, and love the balance between the cosmopolitan nature of Punta del Este, one of the world’s preeminent beach destinations, and the rather rakish nature of Montevideo; the steamy colonial towns of the western regions and the frontier nature of the inland communities of Trienta e Tres and Tacuarembo are dusty, unvisited and quite delightful.

It is also the home of Corned Beef, that disgraceful staple of English school food in the 1960s, and the massive and now fortunately dilapidated factory at Fray Bentos is a testament to just how much of the stuff was made. The office, closed in the late 1970s remains as it was on that final day, looks for all the world like a relic of the Victorian era, it is hard to imagine it at work only forty years ago.

There are lovely ranches, horse riding tours, music, street markets, wine and fine food; there are good roads, a sixteenth century town, the massive Rio de la Plata, and for any travellers venturing south to Argentina, I would urge a few days in Uruguay be added to the journey. It is a terrific place, and will not disappoint.

And so these are the first three; seven more to come, and frankly I have yet to determine just who will make the list. There are destinations that I visited decades ago whose charms and idiosyncrasies have stayed with me, and there are countries that I have visited only in the past year or two that have enchanted me.

We will indeed see. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Joys and Sorrows of Wandering (not many sorrows really)

Even by my own rather peripatetic standards, 2014 has started off to be a year of much travel. It is the first of July, and in the first six months of the year I have covered 89,500 miles, and during those wanderings have been as far distant as North Korea, Adak in the Aleutian Islands and now to St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

I travel only partly for personal pleasure; one of the joys of owning a travel company that specialises in travel to the more outlandish parts of the world is the requirement to get out and see for one’s self before marketing programs to our clientele. While this may seem to be a wondrous job, and indeed I get many notes asking if I need assistance with my bags, it is actually work.

The role of a travel company, once its boundaries and mission have been established, is to provide its clientele with travel experiences that will satisfy their interests, style and curiosity. There are many fine travel companies the world over, and it is with the global cooperation of a vast network of businesses and individuals that the travel industry can continuously refresh itself, and offer new destinations to the world’s wanderers. It is through this vast network that we are able to find and meet partners to help us bring ideas to vacations.

Of course, people globally do not travel to the same places at the same time. This gives the opportunity for destinations to grow, to become more sophisticated and to evolve as their market becomes more diversified and grows into a mainstream destination.

Of course, there are many who are not looking for that sophistication, or homogenisation. Increasing numbers of travellers are seeking a more “raw” experience. Not hard-core adventure, but at least the feeling that they have travelled to a foreign country, and not simply another “global brand” location. And so our quest for our clients takes us to new and exciting destinations, and more often now to exciting and unexplored parts of better-known lands.

I am often asked where my favourite destinations are, and where I think are the “new” locations for folks to look at as they plan their vacations, and I am happy to offer a few here, and in a couple of subsequent blogs. They are, of course, highly subjective, but do bear in mind that as I am a “professional” traveller, my living is made by being right, and if I am wrong, I stand to lose a lot of money and time!

Georgia the country and not the state is one of my favourite destinations in the world. It has evolved from the Rip Van Winkle era of Soviet depression fast, and the tourist industry is one economic sector that has seen investment, development and success. Based on the country’s inherent attractions, its landscape, culture and above all its people, Georgia has started to become a popular destination with regional and European tourists, and slowly but surely, it is making its mark with North Americans.

Montevideo, the quirky capital of Uruguay, is another favourite. Less brash than Buenos Aires, it sits on the far side of the River Plate welcoming all who visit (except, perhaps vegetarians; Uruguayans appear to consider a chicken as a sort of vegetable). It is a city in need, some would say, of a coat of paint, but frankly I love the patina that it has. Evocative of a time when South America was embracing immigrants from Europe, live was good, fun was everywhere, the candombe music of the region was and remains infectious and the city’s wonderful location on ocean and river was everything; truly fine place to spend a few days or a few weeks.

Les Isles du Salut in French Guyana are the most extraordinary day trip that I have ever taken; three islands, formerly part of the brutal French penitentiary system, they lie partly fading and partly alive. To feel the isolation, deprivation and sheer helplessness of life here is impossible to describer, but after a day’s visit, or perhaps longer as one island now houses an auberge, one can readily understand the anguish of their former residents.

The Great Barrier Reef, and in particular spending a day out with the catamarans of Passions of Paradise, is an astonishing way to understand this wonder of the world. They head to a quiet reef, the number of passengers is small and the attention is amazing; all too many tours in the world’s most iconic destinations are being ruined by volume. The Barrier Reef is in places, but not from Cairns with Passions!

And there are more favourites yet; The Faroe Islands, Lufthansa, Pyongyang, Kerala, the Languedoc and Newfoundland to name a few …. Let me know your favourites … I love to hear from you! And while we are at it, what are some of your worst destinations, or pet travel peeves?