OWPC – Escape

This week’s prompt is escape and it brought to mind my recent trip to Myanmar (Burma) which was an escape not only geographically but also in time. Wonderful country, fantastic people, all smiles.

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I was lucky to be on a small boat near the bridge  – and supplied with champagne while waiting for the sunset. It was magical.

The U Bein Bridge is a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura in Myanmar. The 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. (Wikipedia)

Cruising and Me

Cruising and Me

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Cruising is not for everyone.

There is something adventurous about going on a cruise but I didn’t discover it until late in life.

I guess this makes me a typical cruise passenger, in the eyes of many.

What held me back from cruising was the thought of all those people confined in such a small place.

I don’t feel comfortable in a crowd. The only crowds I can cope with are those in concert halls and theatres, probably because when the lights go down, I’m alone with the artists. It’s a mild form of claustrophobia, although I’m comfortable in confined spaces and have never been troubled taking the elevator or driving through a tunnel.

It’s not even a phobia, more of a dislike. I can deal with it, but given the choice, I avoid adventuring into crowds if I can.

I love travelling.

Sometimes I think I get more enjoyment from the voyage than from the destination. There’s something about airports and train stations that brings out the adventurer in me. Waiting for an airplane or a train conjures up the possibilities of discovering unusual or exciting destinations or of embarking into the unknown.

I was having a great evening with friends a few years ago and after the meal and a few glasses of wine we took our places around the fire and continued our conversations.

Holidays and travel are always interesting topics and we were exchanging our latest experiences.

Our hosts had just come back from a cruise and I was surprised. They were young and had two teenage girls, not the typical cruise clients I thought. Over the course of the evening they managed to dispel most of my fears and apprehensions.  From what they said, cruising seemed more and more like an interesting proposition.

I wasn’t totally convinced, but it did spark my curiosity.

So on my next trip to Florida, my wife and I  booked a weekend cruise to the Bahamas, just for three nights.

Long enough to find out what it was all about but no too long if we  discovered that it just wasn’t for us.

Well the first surprise was the boarding experience because it held the same excitement as waiting for a plane or a train. We only had two destinations, Nassau and a private island but we were going to sail to them and I’d never been on a boat larger than a ferryboat before.

My inner adventurer had been sparked.

I must admit to being apprehensive and I wasn’t prepared for the sheer size of the vessel. There were hundreds of other passengers who were waiting to board with us.

Boarding the boat provided sufficient distractions, and we got our key cards, had our photos taken and were ushered onto the boat.

The boat itself was the biggest surprise, because once on board, I totally forgot I was actually on a boat, until I was reminded later outside on the deck.

The corridors are vast and endless, the restaurants are immense, and in the theatre, watching a show, you could be in any theatre, anywhere in the world.

The sheer size of the vessel dilutes the hundreds of passengers, each doing their own thing, I found you could always find a quiet corner to relax in.

My biggest fears had been quashed.

But when the boat left port, and navigated on the open sea, I had my greatest surprise.

It’s a feeling that only a large seagoing  vessel can provide.

The movement of the ship in the water and the vibrations and rocking motions of a ship at sea were unlike any sensation I’d experienced travelling on land.

And late on that very first evening, after an excellent meal and a good show, I took the lift to my cabin and retired for the night.

The sea was calm, and I drifted off to sleep rocked by the gentle caring movements of the ship as it glided toward our next destination.

So even after that very first night at sea, I knew that while cruising might not be for everyone, it definitely was for me.

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I’ll Love You to the End of the World

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It’s a cheeky play on words I know, but I’m sure you noticed that I substituted ‘to’ for ‘till’.

But the end of the world does exist, and you can find it in Ushuaia, South America.

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, and is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world. It is bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel.

The End of the World is at the southern end of the Pan American Highway which is a network of roads that originates in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and runs 19,000 miles to just south of Ushuaia — with only a 60 mile interruption in Panama.

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Ushuaia

When we booked our South American holiday one excursion stood out more than most. A visit to the End of the World. We booked our places on the tour and early one morning boarded the coach for the drive to our destination.

It was a wonderful sunny day, and there was an almost cloudless sky. It might have something to do with being so far south but cloudless sunny days like those have a slight dream like quality far from the mists and haze of the big cities to the North. The mountains just seem to grab you from afar, the colours are a lot brighter and the air tingles with expectation.

It was a pleasant day, neither warm nor cold. It was also a public holiday and as we drove along the winding roads through the Patagonian Forest there were picnickers and families gathered around their barbecues, probably preparing their Asadas while their children skipped and played on the grass.

Our guide was in good spirits because of the weather. It rains a lot around Ushuaia, on average there are over 146 days of precipitation a year, with many cloudy and foggy days, averaging 206 cloudy days a year. So he reminded us of our good fortune, while informing us of the ravages caused by wildlife introduced only decades ago that were destroying the forests. From just a few pairs, for example, beavers had bred and multiplied with disastrous damage to the trees in Patagonia.

We stopped at a Visitor’s Centre on the shores of a lake and it was a golden opportunity for me to leave our party behind and head off along the trail to take some photos so I left the others and made my way along the shore until I was alone. The conditions were ideal for taking some great shots. They would have been even better in early morning or late afternoon but at least the sun didn’t flatten the panorama, and as I mentioned earlier, the air was exceptionally clean and crisp. I could almost imagine a smile on my camera as I tried to find the most appealing points of view.

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I could have stayed for hours watching the sparkles on the water and listening to the sound of the waves on the shore but it was time to pursue our trip — to the end of the world.

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We got back into the coach for another few miles and finally arrived at our destination. Many of our fellow passengers headed to the last Post Office but my wife and I headed along a winding footpath a short distance from the shores of a lake.

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We left everybody behind and just walked. I wanted to get back to the shore further along the lake, but the footpath just winded toward the woods and after a few hundred yards or so I decided to leave the path and head across to the lake.

We held hands as we crossed the grass, making sure that we were safe under foot. You can never be too careful of what the grass might be hiding. Eventually we came to a clearing on the shores of the lake. Our own private heaven on earth, far from the crowds, just the two of us. Although it started off as just another adventure it became a special romantic moment that I will always treasure and I am certain that she feels exactly the same way.

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There we were, the two of us, alone but not alone, at the End of the World.

I took you in my arms,  and kissed you, sealing those precious moments of togetherness in my heart.

That is why, my darling wife, that I’ll love you to the end of the world and for the rest of my days.

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This is the tenth in a series of travel tales

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

 

Almost the Northern Lights

Almost the Northern Lights

I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but when my wife and I went on a transatlantic cruise last year, although we were due to visit three ports in Iceland, it was early September and far too early in the year for the right conditions.

We put those thoughts to the back of our minds for a future holiday.

There was something a little surreal in crossing the North Atlantic in a boat called the Caribbean Princess.

On leaving Southampton we sailed to Bergen in Norway and then on to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. Finally, we arrived at our first port of call in Iceland, Akureyri. We had booked an excursion to see the puffins on a private island just an hour away from the port by boat.

When we got to the pretty island we discovered, however, that puffins can only be sighted in the mating season and that was several months ago. We were disappointed. The island is also has a reputation for providing down from the eider ducks and we visited the installation and saw how the islanders gathered the feathers from the Eider ducks and produced the down for bedding and clothing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a duck in sight, just wisps of plumage, stuck to rocks here and there.  The only high point of the day were some delicious home-made cakes and pastries and a welcoming coffee. We were frustrated and disappointed.

On returning to the boat we complained and obtained a partial refund and a sympathetic ear.

Our ship then sailed North-West, crossing the Arctic Circle and heading for Akureyri. There’s something magic about being so far north. It transformed the holiday into an adventure. We all received a certificate to attest to our achievement and we can hang it with other certificates we have received in the past, like going through the Panama Canal and crossing the International Date Line.

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After an excellent dinner, we strolled along the deck to the theatre and watched another show before heading up to the buffet for a snack before retiring for the night. It’s a hard life cruising.

The Captain made an announcement over the ship’s speakers and said he had received a Northern Lights alert and that therefore there was a slight chance of seeing this magical phenomenon.

Excited, we headed to our cabin and, luckily, I had packed a tripod. I mounted my camera on the tripod and opened the sliding doors to our balcony. In my excitement, I’d forgotten that we were North of the Arctic Circle and I was met with a blast of icy air. It was blustery and very cold. I shut the sliding doors and wrapped up as warm as I could then headed back out with my camera and tripod. I wanted to photograph the sky, so I fumbled in the dark, using the light of my mobile phone to illuminate the dials and buttons of my camera to pick the best settings to catch the lights.

Once everything was as ready as I could make it I looked upwards to the arctic sky and waited. It was partially cloudy which was not a good sign but I persisted, shaking more from the cold than from the excitement of the moment.

I spent more than an hour in the freezing cold. Although my camera was secure on the tripod, the wind made the tripod tremble and we were, after all, on a moving ship. They weren’t the best of conditions to take good pictures of the Aura Borealis.

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I managed to take many blurry shots of stars and vague glimmers of green and blue in the arctic night, north of Iceland.

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It wasn’t a total disaster, taking into account the time of the year, and the conditions of the ship.

I call it an Aurora Borealis taster, and I look forward to future visits.

This time on dry land, and in the right season.

So that’s how I almost saw the Northern Lights.

This is the ninth in a series of travel tales :

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World