Friday, February 19, 2010

How to travel safely in South Africa



......You need at least a month in South Africa to see the major tourist sights and absorb the culture and cuisine. As a bare minimum you must visit Cape Town, then traverse the southern Garden Route to Port Elizabeth, thence head north again, by devious means, to Durban, the major sea port on the Indian Ocean. Time permitting you can venture into the Drakensberg Mountains and perhaps visit Lesotho, or head north to traverse Swaziland and visit various game parks, such as Kruger National Park. Invariably you end up back at Joburg where you catch your plane back home, or elsewhere. It is all very straight forward.

How to do it? I have always gone the "backpacker route" which provides a pretty safe and inexpensive means of travel and accommodation. Every city or town has a plethora of backpacker hostels which have tourist travel down to a fine art. They are listed in the many South African travel guide books published today. Check them out and decide where you want to stay in Joburg on arrival.

Many hostels in Joburg are (or were) luxury mansions complete with beautiful gardens and a swimming pool, now converted to hostels safely protected by high walls and razor-wire, with instant communication to the local security company in case of armed holdup... you get used to this security after awhile. Feel lucky if you are not there if an incident happens.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Otavalo Craft Market, Ecuador


....... A tiny Indian woman shuffled at a snail’s pace along the pavement to the next door with a big milk can on her bent back. The householder offered a kitchen saucepan to receive the day’s milk supply. A few coins change hands.

I watched from across the cobblestone street while having breakfast at a restaurant in downtown Otavalo. Here old people work to survive. Women are beasts of burden, often carrying heavy loads on their backs or balanced on their heads. The division of labor among the Indian community puzzled me.

The women are artistic and creative. They spin and weave at home during the week, look after the children and may run a market stall at weekends. The man’s role is not immediately obvious, but it seems he tills the land, harvests the crops and takes them to market, and does laboring jobs and house construction.

Otavalo is an Indian town of 25,000 inhabitants. It lies on the Andean altiplano at 2800 meters altitude and 95 kms north of the capital, Quito. Its Poncho Plaza is said to be the largest and best handicraft market in South America.
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Foto: Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mexico City


...... The natural starting point to explore Mexico City is the Zócalo. Formerly this was the center of the lakeside Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which was a thriving metropolis with a population estimated at 200,000 when discovered and later destroyed by Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, in 1520 AD. He rebuilt the city as the Spanish capital of the New World.

Much of the paving stone in the Zócalo is derived from destroyed Aztec buildings. The foundations of the Great Pyramid are preserved in the block adjacent to the Cathedral. On site is the superb Museo del Templo Mayor which records the development of human habitation here.

Next door is the National Palace, now home of the Mexican President, the Federal Treasury and National Archives. It was built by Cortés on the site of the palace of Emperor Montezuma II. The main attraction for tourists today is the display of dramatic murals by Diego Rivera, that adorn the walls of the balconies overlooking the central courtyard.
Foto: National Museum of Anthropology
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