Thursday, 31 January 2013

Travel essentials

Top Ten Travel Essentials 

Over the years I have developed a list of items which I cannot afford not to pack for any trip.
They have helped me out of scrapes and been a comfort and a friend in times of need.

Wind up torch
Batteries can be a problem. Buying them repeatedly after you got some dodgy ones from a market or leaking acid and ruining your bag. Therefore a wind up torch is essential. LED lights make them powerful and the lack of batteries saves you time trying to haggle for ridiculously overpriced fake batteries in the dodgiest of markets.

World receiver radio
Sometimes you may be out of phone signal area or away from TVs computers and the like. Therefore to get your fix of world news from the trusted ally that is the BBC world service; invest in a small world receiver with fold out aerial.
I have a little one that has lasted for years and whether I was deep in the Sahara or heading up a river in West Africa or even sitting watching the waves lap against the shore in Cambodia. A world receiver will bring you news of home, sports results and potential difficulties that may lie ahead of you.
Sometimes hearing a British accent after so long away from one can lift the spirits if you are rather down.

Two good books
Never take just one. Take two that are completely different and I do not include guidebooks in with this. Take a novel that can transport your mind away from where you are and another that is more factual and keeps your brain working. Sometimes when travelling journeys can take days or longer. The repetitiveness of being on the move can numb your head. Therefore a good book can save you from boredom and repetition.
But don’t lose yourself in them and ignore all that is around you.
Also they become a second currency to swap things for once you have finished with them.

The problems with an ipod is that they need charging. So do similar MP3 players. Sometimes however you need to blur out the world around you and listen to music, an audiobook or a podcast.
It helps you sleep when all around you is going mad and can calm the nerves. Music is a great emotive power. It can make you happy, sad, melancholy or excitable.

Everyone likes being barefoot, but sometimes you just can’t risk it. Flip flops, thongs, jandals whatever you call them are brilliant for making you feel the elements on your feet but protecting you all the same. They are remarkably robust and comfortable. Easy to wash, pack and go with jeans, shorts or even if you are naked.

Converse all stars
Possibly the best all round shoes on the planet. I have ran in these, climbed mountains, walked through deserts and trudged the streets of many cities.
Easy to dry, hard wearing and bloody comfortable.
Comes in so many colours and high or low tops and even a thin sole range.

Pillow case
Forget taking ages to inflate a travel pillow only for you to find it too hard or too noisy. Pack an old pillow case and fill it with jumpers, t shirts and stuff like that. Quick easy and comfortable.
I added a Velcro line on mine to stop all the insides spewing out. Always useful if you are in a hostel and you don’t like the look of the stains on the provided pillow cases or camping.

A good camera
It does not matter how eloquent or elaborate when describing something you saw in your travels a picture will always explain it better to those less imaginative. It also captures a moment in time and can be emotive and brings back all the smells, feelings and excitement of when it was taken.
Try and get a good robust camera. I use the Olympus tough TG-820. The previous one came to a sad end at the hands of a bull in Pamplona. But out of the three Olympus toughs that I have owned two had been outstanding. Waterproof, shock resistant and sand resistant.

Rugby shirt
Warm, tough and smart. One essential piece of clothing for any eventuality. You can look good on a night out, rugged in the desert and manly on safari. Also it shows you have a rugby knowledge and it is a conversational starter. A plain or dark coloured one is preferable and cotton rather than synthetic.

Notebook and pencils
Where would I be without something o make a note on and with. Pens dry up and leak but the pencil is an age old tool that can help you record all that happened, what was said and even sketches.

Sharpens pencils, digs splinters out of your feet, cuts rope to fix a tent and makes you feel manly when carrying one.
A good Swiss army knife can be essential when travelling. But don’ t do what I did and forget that it was in your hand luggage and get it all the way to Changi airport in Singapore and then cause a security scare when they find it!

Of course there are other essentials such as a watch, maps, mobile phone in case of emergencies. But these are  the essentials which I will never travel without.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Neapolitan Graffiti


                          Graffiti in Naples

Vesuvius looks down on the ancient city of Naples, which is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

The Castel Nuovo, seat of the medieval kings of the city stands guard in the bay.

The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and the cobble pavements make the cars and mopeds that travel then rattle and clatter.
Famous for pizza, Neapolitan ice cream, sea food and the drink lemochello. Restaurants pitch their foods to passers-by with full voice.

One thing Naples is also famous for is its dirtiness. The rubbish that piles the streets in parts can be stacked as high as a building

The Naples waste crisis peeked in 2008 as landfill sites over flowed and the streets have since been lined with rubbish. The issue has still not yet been fully resolved.
Hidden among the rubbish and the ancient streets, nestling in alcoves and on pillars you will find graffiti galore. Not you’re run of the mill graffiti that you find in your average high street. These are not crudely written words or obscenities.

The Naples graffiti is on a larger scale. Giant murals, comical pictures and the most bizarre creatures stare down at you from high walls.

Some say it is art, some say it is vandalism; ultimately it is for you to decide. Graffiti has been around for a long time. The Roman recorded day to day life on the walls of Pompeii. Is this art or graffiti?

 The brothel in Pompeii has pictures of sexual positions; a menu on the all if you like. These were here for the visitors who did not speak Latin and therefore could sample the fruits of that establishment.
Political slogans, youth movements and even graffiti relating to bands and music cover walls.

Neapolitan's have a history of graffiti. During World War II they took cover in the tunnels and catacombs under the city. Here they scratched messages on the walls. Again is this graffiti?

A trip to Naples is not complete without seeing the famous graffiti and deciding for yourself.

Art or vandalism?

Either way they are all worth seeing.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

My mask obsession

When I travel I have always brought home a few trinkets.
Spears, carvings, glass wear and ornaments adorn the walls and shelves of my house.
But my true passion is masks. I have collected over 30 from all over Africa and some from South East Asia.

It first started when I visited Ghana in 2005. There were mask sellers everywhere in the capital city Accra. Hundreds of sellers tried to flog you there wares in the arts markets and stalls were laden with masks all looking the same as if they had rolled of a carving production line.

However when you got off the tourists trail and disappeared into area of the country where not many 'Obroni's' (white men) went you stumbled across absolute gems of masks in the remotest places.

I first bought one and have not stopped since.
Here are ten of my favorites.

Mask purchased in Zanzibar
I bought this mask from a seller in Stone town. He had many of the same and it seemed to be the only mask available on the island. Although it is not old or unique is is quite cheeky and has earrings the only mask I have that does so.

Bought in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chaing Mai, Thailand

In 2007 I found my self in Northern Thailand. While there I visited many of the Wats and temples that fill the city. Visiting Wat Chiang Mai, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Wat Pra Singh to name but a few.
When I was in one of them  I saw a sign saying 'Monk chat'. This was where you could speak tot he Monks in English to help them with their language skills. I had many questions about Thai Buddhism I wanted to ask but all the young monks wanted to know about was Manchester United! When I was leaving there was a little trestle table set up selling some dog eared books and a few incense sticks. But next to that was this little gem which I bought without hesitation for 100 Baht. It reminds me of the 'Mighty boosh' logo and I have never seen another one like it.

Chaing Mai mask

Java, Indonesia

As far as I know this is the only mask that I have which is blessed. I bought it off a wheelchair bound old man with whiskers who carved them in his garden. I was at a Maduran festival in the outskirts of Malang a city in Est Java in 2006.
The old man I bought it off said that It can never touch the ground and if I put it on the ground and walk over it something bad will happen to me. Naturally this has never come off the shelf where it lives.

Volta region mask

Ghana, West Africa

This mask can be found everywhere. In shops in London, boutiques in Cape town or a stall by a waterfall in Kpandu int he Volta region where I found this one. 

The reason I bought this mask is because everyone I saw was painted in bright colours. This was the only unpainted and plain one. Therefore I instantly liked it and purchased it off a woman with no teeth but a brilliant smile.

Johannesburg, South Africa

I did not see much of Joburg to be honest. I had booked into a hostel which turned out to be a fortified compound outside the city and in the middle of nowhere. I did however find a stall selling masks and I wanted to get rid of some of the smaller Rand notes which I was carrying.

This mask has two long tentacles that fit into the top and protrude out. One white and one red, unfortunately they have fallen behind a bookcase and I have not got round to moving the entire thing to get them out yet.
This is my biggest mask and has something duck like about it as the bottom section opens up to look like a beak.

Livingstone, Zambia

Livingstone, Zambia

This mask is the most evil looking one that I have. Normally I go for ones that look slightly comical. But this one has a row of jagged teeth and a pointed nose that adds something dark to its persona.

This one I know for sure is quite old and probably the oldest of all the masks I have.

Malang, Java

I was rummaging around in a back street junk shop in Malang in Java when Ia came across this one. The man in the shop didn't care about haggling or even if I was there at all. He said it was old and it was rubbish from a time long ago.

I liked the bright colours and once I had dusted off the years of grime it shone bright again.


I know this mask is old, but not as old as my Livingstone mask. I bought it in Botswana in 2008 after I found it inside an old chest.

It was covered in dust and the man selling it didn't seem to realize he had it as he kept trying to flog me spears and axes.

Bolgatanga, Ghana

Normally this shape of mask is another example of colour. Everyone is bright and the sellers seem to be out painting each other to sell their wares. Unlike this one though which I found near the Burkina Faso border. It was dusty and weather beaten but exactly what I wanted.

Cape Town, South Africa

This mask is tiny, one of the smallest I own. But it has character  Open eyes that seem to be pleading and lips that are worn at the edges. I am not sure why but it always makes me smile.