Monday, 19 August 2013

Weekend Tales; Bushrangers Bay

The forecast for the weekend just gone was grim.  Squally, rain and miserable out.  Despite having a free day Saturday, we’d resigned ourselves to a weekend inside. That said, when we woke up, blue skies abounded and the wind was no where to be seen.

A last minute decision but we decided to head to the Mornington Peninsular National Park and do one of the Bushrangers Bay walks. I’d gone past the car park for Bushrangers Bay a few weeks ago on another trip down to the Mornington Peninsular and had been keen to return and stretch the legs ever since.

There are several walking options but we went for the shortest one (5kms from the car park to the beach and back). I’d like to return some day and do the longer option (11km to Cape Schanck and back). The path was an easy one and takes you past pastoral land, through tee trees, gums & ferns and to the beach. It was muddy at times but nothing to bothersome.

Whilst the path was mostly free from fellow walkers, we were by no means alone. Smaller animals could be heard (but sadly not seen) scurrying about, the birds were abundant and the kangaroos interested. So many kangaroos!

Bushrangers Bay (1)Bushrangers Bay (7)Bushrangers Bay (8)

Once at the bay itself, the strong winds that had been forecast could certainly be felt, but at least it was dry.

Bushrangers Bay is about 10 minutes drive from Flinders, about 90minutes from the CBD. It could only be reached on foot but the path was decent and easy. More about it can be read on Weekend Notes or on the Parks Victoria website.

We stopped off for some food and hot drinks on the way back. We liked the coffee at Red Hill Caterers Cafe in Red Hill but not so much at The Providore in Flinders. To each their own, I guess.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Up, Up and Away

I’ve watched the hot air balloons float over Melbourne for years.  From the top of the skyscraper I use to work in, from the freeway in the morning and now, from the boy’s balcony.  For years I’ve been saying it’s something I want to do.  And I’m going to do it. I’ve got a plan.
Balloons over Melbourne
Starting yesterday, every $2 coin I get is being put aside towards my balloon fund. Once I have the money for the balloon ride (& champagne buffet breakfast afterwards, of course), I’m booking it and I will be up there floating over Melbourne. I’m up to $12 already after 24 hours. Only $363 to go!

Hot air ballooning has often been an option in many of the places I’ve travelled but I really want to do it here in Melbourne. I want to be able to look out of the basket and recognise the sights, see the familiar buildings and appreciate this fantastic city from a new perspective.

Have you ever been ballooning? Are you more likely to do it in your home town or an exotic locale on holidays?

In other news, I’ve got a new blog design. After scraping by without loving it for years now, I finally got some help. Melyssa over at Bumble & Buzz Designs (and blogs about Japan, travel & positivity at The Nectar Collective) was delightful to work with. So patient as I worked out what I wanted, revision by revision. I’m loving the new look. Let me know if you see any kinks or things are hard to read etc.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Melbourne Wanderings: William Ricketts Sanctuary

On a rainy Tuesday not that long ago, I was taken on a surprise date.  The location?  William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenongs, Victoria.  I worked out we were heading to the Dandenongs early on in the piece but I never guessed we were headed to the sanctuary as I never knew it existed.

William Ricketts  (7){William Ricketts work; the grotto}

Once the home of sculptor and artist, William Ricketts, it is now run by Parks Victoria.  His former cottage and workshops are now education  showing some intriguing videos about the man and his works.  Speaking of his works, the wooden sculptors and carvings are set amongst the ferns and mountain ash in the grounds. 
William Ricketts  (13)William Ricketts  (14)William Ricketts  (1)William Ricketts  (2)William Ricketts  (12)William Ricketts  (5)William Ricketts  (9)William Ricketts  (10)William Ricketts  (8)
{more of his works, including the last one, a self portrait}

If you’re in Australia, have you heard of William Ricketts? Or his sanctuary? Entry is free and I’d considered it well worth a visit if you’re nearby.
Elsewhere, have you been late to discover something free and intriguing near you?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Africa: The Animals

For some people, Africa is all about the animals. For me, it’s part about the animals, part about the people and a lot about the landscape. That part that is about the animals though, that’s an incredible part.

I had a pretty safari heavy itinerary, beginning with Etosha (Namibia) and including Okavango Delta (Botswana), Matopos and Hwange (Zimbabwe), South Luangwa (Zambia), Mkumi (Tanzania), Nakuru & Naivasha (Kenya) & Queen Elizabeth NP (Uganda), as wells as gorilla and chimp trekking.

F RhinoBig 5 BuffaloBig 5 ElephantBig 5 LeopardBig 5 Lion
{The Big 5; rhinoceroses in Nakuru, buffalo in Nakuru, elephant in Queen Elizabeth NP, leopard in South Luangwa, lioness in Etosha}

From the first safari of my trip (and there were many), my fellow travellers were keen on finding the big 5. Whilst I certainly was also keen to check that list, there were other animals I wanted see. Animals I like more, that are cuter, or goofier or just more endearing to me.

F ElephantF HippoF RhinosF GiraffeF Zebra
{My favourite 5: elephant in QENP, hippopotamus in Hwange, rhinoceroses in Nakuru, giraffe in Crater Lake Sanctury, Naivasha & zebras also at Crater Lake}

Along with the above animals, I was lucky enough to also encounter warthogs, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, oryx, genets, sable antelopes, eland, impala, gazelles, klipspringers, pukus, aardwolf, brown hyenas, wild dogs, waterbuck, steenbok, spotted hyenas, jackals, baboons, puff adders, black mamba, terrapins, vervet monkeys, springboks and more. Also; birds. I’m not a twitcher but my oh my, so many birds.

Yeah, the animals of Africa were a big part of the trip.

If not the big 5, which animals would you most like to see on safari in Africa?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sunday Suggestions

I'm getting back my blogging mojo and in doing so, have been spending a lot of time online lately.  Here's a round up of some of my favourites from the last week.  Enjoy, and let me know your favourite links or what I've missed in the comments below.

I’m loving this summer mash up, even though it’s not summer right here right now.  This came via the girls at This is Our Jam DC. Krista, Kristen and Stacey are three friends that share their new music finds as well as throw backs. Have you heard of them? I recommend you check them out.

As well as TIOJ, 8Tracks is another favourite online music resource of mine. You can search by artist or genre and come across some great playlists.  I’m loving this Australia (Part 1) playlist, described as chill out/sad vibes from Aussie bands.  I don’t find it sad, but relaxed for sure.  It features The Rubens & Vance Joy among others. I found it by searching for Vance Joy.

There are a few photo competitions underway or just completed, some of which are just spectacular.  Have you seen the winners of the National Geographic Travellers Photography competition?  As well as the winners, I really enjoyed the galleries of all entries, especially the travel portraits gallery. I’m always too shy to ask to take photos of people so I end up with so few despite loving them. 

The winners haven’t yet been announced but the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2013 but the finalists are in.  Dedicated to extreme sports, there are some superb shots. What these guys get up to is phenomenal but so are the backdrops. 

I have no trips planned at the moment (well, nothing booked, but a few on my mind).  If I did though, I’d be wanting to pick up these New Balance 10V2 shoes (in the grey, light grey and light blue).  They would have been perfect for the travel I’ve done this year. Light weight but totally appropriate for a hike or two.
I’ve enrolled in a short course this coming week.  It’s only three days but I’ve been told to expect homework and have an exam on Wednesday.  Do you know the last time I did any formalised study?  My last exam of post grad was in October 2006.  Time to stock up on some stationery, obviously.  Time to head to Typo (I love their journals and needle me pens).

Jay knocked it out of the park with her post on ethical travel. Even if you’re not a big traveller, it’s a great read.  And don’t just read the post, it really takes off in the comments.  I’ve left a comment, particularly pertaining to Uganda and UAE.  When I get around to blogging about UAE, I might go into some more detail on how their culture directly impacted me. In the mean time, go read Jay’s Post Thoughts on Ethical Travel.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Desktop dreams–August 2013


The thing I love about travel and living overseas is the people you meet.  I had dinner with a New Zealand friend (from Wellington, lives in Auckland) who was in Melbourne for work for a few days. We met and worked together in London for a time and realised that this weekend marked the 1 year since our trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Time really flies when you’re having fun! We were laughing at how laid back out time there was. There’s a lot history, recent history to be seen.  We instead saw beaches.  Sometimes, a girl just needs a beach break.  Our most adventurous day was a day sail from Dubrovnik to some nearby islands (Lopud, Sipan and Kolocep) for more beaches and swimming.

The picture that is currently my desktop wallpaper was taken  on that day. From memory, it was on Sipan but I might be wrong.  I like to use my own photos as a desktop wallpaper but I often add a calendar to them in Picasa or PSE. You can see the original image below.  If nothing else, it ensures I update them regularly.

What do you use as your wallpaper? Do you change it often? Feel free to use it as yours if you like. Equally, if you want to make your own calendar one, I’ve copied and pasted the date data to make things really easy for you. Just add this to a text box in your editing software and voila.

M            Tu           W            Th           F              Sa           Su
                                                1              2              3              4
5              6              7              8              9              10           11
12           13           14           15           16           17           18
19           20           21           22           23           24           25
26           27           28           29           30           31          

Friday, 2 August 2013

Reading: the Rwandan Genocide

There’s so much about the genocide that I just can’t get my head around. How did it come to be? Why were the west so slow in responding? How can we prevent it happening again? (can we? Current happenings in Syria make me think maybe we can’t). There was a lot of information to read as you make your way around the Genocide Memorial but I was still left with more questions than answers. This led me to the gift shop there where they sell a healthy number of titles about the genocide.

I bought a couple. What did I buy? What have I read? Why did I choose these ones? Well…

Guns Over Kigali
by Henry Kwami Anyidoho.
Anyidoho was a Major General in the Ghanian contingent of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) and served as the Deputy Commander of the mission, under Canadian General Romeo Dallaire.

I’m Not Leaving
by Carl Wilkens
Wilkens was a US (religious) charity worker who remained behind in Kigali during the genocide (his family were able to leave but he chose to stay).

An Ordinary Man
by Paul Rusesabagina & Tom Zoellner
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became the hotel manager at Hotel Mille Collines. This biography became the basis for the movie, Hotel Rwanda.
With so many books to choose from, it was pretty hard to narrow it down at the shop.  My reasons for choosing the first two were that they were both slim (my luggage was already near capacity) and have had quite small print runs.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pick them up elsewhere. I also liked the contrasting points of view – a UN worker and a charity worker. I chose An Ordinary Man because whilst I had not yet seen the movie, Hotel Rwanda, I was familiar with the story and wanted to read more about it.

All books make for interesting reading. Heartening at times, as heartening as a story may be with the genocide as backdrop.  The writing styles as well as the stories to be told are very very different though.

Anyidoho has been in the military his entire adult life and from memory, has studied military writing. His account is factual based and in time sequence. It provides an insight into the struggles UNAMIR faced on the ground in Kigali and the support they were sometimes left wanting from the UN in New York. It is no secret that there were serious shortcomings in the UN’s handling of Rwanda. As well as covering the genocide, Anyidodo spends time making suggestions for future missions.

Wilkens is a charity worker who is able to evacuate his family but he himself refuses to leave. Using his contacts in the Red Cross and the UN, he is able to provide assistance to Rwandans throughout the genocide. His account is a far more personal account of the genocide. Of what he witnessed and how he reacted. Almost journal like at times, much of it comes from the cassette recordings Wilkens made for his family, should he not survive.

Rusesabagina’s story is probably one of the most well known, thanks largely to the movie. I probably found this the easiest of the three books to read and is the only one of the three by a Rwandan. It begins with hearing about Rusesabagina upbringing in rural Rwanda and provides a lot of context but more from a personal point of view than Anyidoho sets out to do.

Of course, there are many other books on this topic, some of which I hope to read. General Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil is probably next on my list. Some of my fellow travellers had read this and heavily recommended it but warned that it was heavy going.  That, and it being the size of a telephone book, are the main reasons I am yet to read through it.

Have you got any other book suggestions for me on this topic? Biographies and autobiographies are one of my favourite styles of books.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Kigali: Remembering the Rwandan Genocide

{This post is about various genocide sites and memorials and what I saw. It is not a pleasant topic and what I saw was confronting, harrowing and remains burnt to my memory to this day. I believe it’s important not to forget what happened in Rwanda less than 20 years ago but just be warned that this isn’t a pretty lovely happy travel post. Far from it}
{Rwandan countryside, our taxi driver & guide with our taxi}

Rwanda was never on my itinerary for Africa.  I wanted to go there but between the two group tours I’d booked, I hadn’t really left myself time. Then, after arriving in Lake Bunyoni, Uganda, our group organised a minivan taxi to take  us on a Kigali day trip.  From the get go of this post, let me make it clear that I don’t think a day in Kigali is sufficient time to see the best of Rwanda.  At all. If anything, a day in Kigali just gives you the time to the the worst of it. Or sobering reminders of the worst of it.  ‘

Lake Bunyoni isn’t that far from the Ugandan/Rwandan border and with Rwanda being so small, it’s only a few hours drive. Our itinerary for the day was tight and sobering.  We were heading to a massacre site memorial, the Genocide memorial and Hotel Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda).

Before I go into these sites and the genocide, I should probably let you in on a secret. Rwanda is beautiful.  Incredible scenery, stunning landscapes.  And that’s just along the highway from the Ugandan border to Kigali.  I can only imagine how stunning the Verungas are and other parts of the country might be.

After a bit of a delay at the border (for us Australians to get our visas which, in theory, need to be applied for 3 clear days in advance) and switching sides of the road (yes, despite it being a road border crossing, you just change sides of the road once in Rwanda. I’m not sure how it works with oncoming traffic but luckily we didn’t encounter any), we headed for Kigali.  After reaching Kigali, our first stop was the Nyamata Memorial Site.

Nyamata is a church that was the scene of mass killings of Tutsis during the genocide in 1994. We were told approx. 10,000 Tutsis were killed inside the church itself with more on its grounds in one week at the hands of the Interahamwe (but given the chaos of the time, it is hard for numbers to be substantiated). The church is now home to a memorial and mass graves.  Nothing could prepare us for what we would see when we first went inside. Never has the silence of 10 people hung so heavy. Clothes of the victims remain behind, as do many blood stains, including on the altar cloth.

Downstairs inside the main building is now effectively a catacomb, a collection of skulls and bones of some of the victims. You can see the impact the various murder methods (stabbing, machete, bashed, bullets) impacted the skulls. There is a full skeleton of a girl, raped and cut open from top to bottom, left to right.  Out the back of the church are more mass graves, one of which you can descend into. Family groups are together where possible. Unidentified bones elsewhere. As well as the physical reminders of the human toll, the building is scarred by the massacres.  Bullet holes dot the walls and roof. Never has a building or site had this much impact on me. Hopefully none ever do again.

{Nyamata Church, mass graves behind the church. I didn’t take any photos inside at Nyamata at all but after googling, I’ve found this post on African Walkabout which has some. Worth a look but know that they’re shocking. Google images also shows what we saw.}

After Nyamata, we rode in near silence into the centre of Kigali, to the Genocide Memorial Centre. This is an incredible museum. Less confronting in that you don’t actually see bodies but horrific in that you read the stories, hear about the victims on a personal level.  Broken in to several areas, it covers Rwandan history in the lead up to the genocide, the genocide, the west’s reaction (or lack there of) to the genocide,  the rebuilding afterwards and an exhibition on other genocides of the 20th century (Holocaust, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Armenia to name but a few). There are victims stories, a children's gallery and so much more to see. Outside of the centre, there are more mass graves in the grounds, a list of victims, a rose garden and sweeping city views. There is also a gift & book* shop on site. It is a peaceful place to visit.

{Part of the list of victims, mass graves (x 2),
the views of Kigali from the gardens}

Last stop of the day was at the Hotel Mille Collines for a late lunch.  Eating by the pool, we were able to wander the building and grounds in which Paul Rusesabagina sheltered Tutsis. This story is now famous and was told in the movie Hotel Rwanda (although the movie itself was not filmed on site).

{In and around Hotel Rwanda}

An incredible day, memorable for how sobering it was. A day that happened to come the day after the best of my travel days to date. That’s travel though, highs and lows, good and bad.

Is Rwanda on your travel list (or have you been there?). Or have you been something similar? Nyamata reminded me of the room of hair at Auschwitz in some ways. Do you remember the genocide occurring?

I'll be back tomorrow with some *book reviews on books relating to this.
Boring things. As I said at the top, I was only in Rwanda for a day. This meant getting a Rwanda visa ($30USD) and then another Ugandan Visa ($50USD). Getting the Rwandan visa didn’t impact my Kenyan single entry visa (that counts as more than one entry if entering from Uganda or Tanzania). It cost us around $100USD each for the taxi for the day, a guide and entry fees.

Australians should apply for their visas 3 days in advance and then collect them at the border. We applied for ours about a day and half in advance so we were aware things might not run smooth. The border people reminded us it should have been three days in advance, took our money and processed them with nothing more than a five minute delay. We smiled and we were lucky, I wouldn’t bank on it though.