Travel Stories

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Honolulu, Hawaii: Islamistan in Alohaland

1 Dec 2010  |  7 min read

At the end of her sometimes scandalous life, the American heiress and socialite Doris Duke was unlikely to go into that great goodnight without some attendant controversy -- and she didn’t disappoint. When she died in at age 80 in 1993 at one of her homes -- the so-called “Falcon’s Lair” in Beverly Hills which had belonged to Rudolph Valentino -- she left her billion... > Read more

Seoul, South Korea: Now and then Zen

29 Nov 2010  |  2 min read

Soo Bool Sunim smiles broadly and asks, “Can you see your own eyes?” This is not a question that has ever occurred to me, but now it becomes troubling as I turn it around in my head, looking for an angle into it, and wondering whether there is an answer at all. Or even if that is really the question. This bewilderment is what Zen masters can do to decades of logic the... > Read more

Suva, Fiji: Resolving contradictions?

22 Nov 2010  |  5 min read

Give them credit, they were persistent. When the Reverend Thomas Baker, a Methodist minister, unintentionally insulted a chief on the Fijian island of Viti Levu in 1867, he and six of his Fijian followers were hacked to death and eaten. Baker has the dubious honour of being the only European Methodist to be dispatched in such a way. And the people didn't stop with him. The... > Read more

Samoa: The Biblical land

15 Nov 2010  |  2 min read

Samoa is hardly short of a church. To the casual eye it seems as if each village has its own Catholic, Mormon, Methodist, Assembly of God and whatever else building, many of them are quite breathtaking. And new ones are being built all the time. But high above Apia in Vaoala is the Shrine of the Three Hearts, an enormous, airy and very beautiful Catholic church with a commanding view... > Read more

The Samoan Surfriders: Lo'u Sei/Flower of My Heart

Kayenta, Arizona: Into the valley

24 Oct 2010  |  2 min read

Kayenta is a wide spot on the highway through north east Arizona. There's not much there worth reporting: a Wal-Mart, a small and somewhat pitiful town which shimmers in the dry heat, and a few motels. Kayenta -- not far from Four Corners where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet -- offers no reason to stop, unless you are looking for a place to stay before the short drive into... > Read more

Paris to Venice: Night train

18 Oct 2010  |  2 min read

The night train from Paris to Venice was about to leave when I heard the noise in the corridor outside my sleeper: loud American voices and the banging of baggage against the carriage walls. A woman carrying a small child and a large suitcase, and an older woman who was obviously her mother, appeared at my door. The older woman was also laden with luggage. They hauled their heavy cases... > Read more

Central Park, New York: Pride of the south

27 Sep 2010  |  2 min read

He was at the south-west entrance to Central Park, sitting by himself with a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag on a cool September afternoon. Pride was his name, Pride Wilson from Louisiana but mostly Kentucky. Been in New York maybe five, maybe seven years. We walked into the park where yuppies in expensive workout gear would glide by on their in-line skates, and young lovers... > Read more

Florence, Italy: A long way from Footscray

6 Sep 2010  |  2 min read

The instructions on how to get to her hotel were quite specific: she said they were located directly opposite Cartier. Which was true, but it might have been equally easy to describe it as being just down the street from the enormous Palazzo Strozzi which dominates this block in central Florence 10 minutes walk from the Major Attractions: the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo and so on. The... > Read more

Ireland: Ancient stones and pathways

5 Sep 2010  |  3 min read

As an example of Kiwi understatement it was masterful. As he emerging from the 5000 year old tomb, blinking into the bright Irish sunlight, the strapping lad from Taranaki was asked what he thought of it. “Yeah, pretty good, eh?” he said, then strode off purposefully, leaving behind him one of the most ancient and breathtaking sights -- and sites -- in Ireland. Little... > Read more

Oregon, USA: Night of the Hunters

1 Sep 2010  |  5 min read

Sonny -- that's what the big bellowing men called him -- runs a restaurant in Klamath Falls, a town in central Oregon halfway between San Francisco and Portland. His place, the Dynasty, boasts "authentic Chinese food". Sonny is from Taiwan. This town was originally called Linkville, but a century or so ago the locals decided they wanted a more dramatic name for their home on the edge... > Read more

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: Headlong into the future

22 Aug 2010  |  4 min read

Curiously enough, the place I know best in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah on the northernmost tip of Malaysian Borneo, is the airport. In the course of a few days I was there five times; while going to and from Brunei, then the city of Sandakan where I went to see orang utan and took in a city tour, and finally when I flew back to KL, Kuala Lumpur. But being familiar with the airport... > Read more

EUR, Italy: The facades of fascism

21 Aug 2010  |  3 min read

The view at sunset from these steps is spectacular. Old men have gathered to smoke cigarettes and silently watch the orange orb sink below a horizon punctuated by distant spires and domes. The view the other way is more problematic. And pretty ugly. This is EUR -- Exposizione Universale di Roma -- a district on the southern outskirts of Rome created when Mussolini's fascist dreams were... > Read more

Cameron, Louisiana: The stink of shrimp and petroleum

16 Aug 2010  |  2 min read  |  3

In 2005 smalltown Cameron in southwest Louisiana was washed away by Hurricane Rita and I suppose battered to hell again by Hurricane Katrina. It seemed tragic and . . . Well, let me tell you my memory of Cameron, a place we stayed in for one very long night while driving the Gulf Coast before heading up to Breaux Bridge then on to New Orleans. Cameron is in shrimp and petroleum country --... > Read more

Rome, Italy: The only sure thing in life

25 Jun 2010  |  1 min read

It's all in the odd juxtaposition really. Just off the Piazza Barberini in Rome with its magnificent Fountain of Triton by Bernini -- and only a short walk from the more famous Trevi Fountain -- is the Autocentri Balduini on Via Vittorio Veneto. In the window glistening Lamborghinis are displayed like shop mannequins in a clothing store. It is as if you could just happen on it when coming... > Read more

Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Cats

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The cliche and joke about Nashville, the country music capital of the world, is that every bus driver, real estate agent, waitress and desk clerk is an aspiring songwriter. Spend more than a minute in their company and they will be pressing their demo tape on you just in case you can be useful to their career. I'm not sure what Roger thought I could do for him -- we were both at a sleazy... > Read more

Nga Trang, Vietnam: He wears my ring

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

Within an hour of us meeting, Mama Thiu was knocking me up for money. Then her brother had a go. It was at Nga Trang in Vietnam and Mama ran a small, outdoor restaurant at the northern end of the gorgeous beach close to the port. Mama's place was near the centre of town but it wasn't a favoured area with tourists who headed for the quieter sands further down. So Mama struggled, which made... > Read more

Rome, Italy: When in Rome

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read  |  1

I don't know his name, never did, and it isn't important anyway. Let's call him Big Marco because that's who he looked like. I arrived at Big Marco's small hotel in Rome early one morning having been directed there by a sad-eyed gentleman at the hotel bookings booth in the nearby railway station. I had said all I wanted was a cheap room, with a bathroom if possible, somewhere near the... > Read more

Grimes, California: Tales of the riverbank

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The fact was, when you walked from the cool, fresh air of the Sacramento River into the restaurant at the RV park you could barely breath for the smell of cooking oil. It coated the tongue and hurt the eyes, and penetrated your clothes instantly. You immediately felt like you had spent a day working over a vat of simmering oil. Emily didn't seem to notice. I guess she was just used to it.... > Read more

San Francisco, California: Feeding the inner man

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

He didn't give his name and it didn't matter actually. My guess is he just wanted someone to listen. So I did, and it wasn't a pretty story. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday in the 21 Club, a bar in the rundown Tenderloin district of San Francisco with a handwritten sign which read "No bicycles inside" on the battered glass door. Outside broken and damaged people pushed... > Read more

Chinatown, Singapore: Life in the lens

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

Among the trinkets and souvenirs at the Chinatown Heritage Centre in Singapore the photograph caught my eye: a lone boatman, standing up in his small craft, is rowing between some other vessels as dawn light catches in the ripples off his oars. The image, obviously taken many years ago, has a strange golden tone and in the ripples the camera has captured the instant when shadows made... > Read more