Kagoshima Autumn

When I was posted to Tokyo many years ago, I loved the city.  This fall, Kagoshima became my favorite Japanese city.  The three things I like most are:

  1. Its natural setting set among hills and a bay across from a volcanic island.
  2. Trams and public transport are easy to follow.  City is the end station for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).
  3. Lying in south of Kyushu Island, the citizens enjoy the warm weather even in the fall.

To get to Kagoshima, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Osaka with Air Asia.  After two days, we boarded the Shinkansen for Fukuoka.  Spending a week in Fukuoka gave us the chance to visit Nagasaki on a day trip.  Then we traveled by long distance bus to Kagoshima where we spent a week.  Afterward, we returned to Osaka for two more days before flying back to Kuala Lumpur.

Our November sojourn there was filled with many subtle kindnesses.  Strangers were patient and ensured we made connections.

In small restaurants Google translate augmented our very basic Japanese to experience some typical and some atypical dishes.

Taxi drivers provided very positive first impressions of the cities we visited.  With limited English, one in Osaka showed us that the taxi stop across the street would save us time and money by taking the taxi in the direction of our hotel.  In Kagoshima, another finalized the fare several blocks before the station so that there would be no extra charges while waiting to find a stopping place at the station.

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A few views of Kuala Lumpur

KL as everyone refers to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is the Federal Territory.  It spreads out including other suburbs without much distinguishing the official borders.  There are new developments as the famous Twin Towers area is almost completely built up and connected via highways and mass transit.  With all of that, it seems to be friendlier to walkers compared to the first time I arrived back in 1987.  Here are a few photos that capture some of the interesting aspects from my walks.

 

 

“What hurts more, a coconut or a durian falling on your head?”

“Your head, of course (ha ha ha).”

For those who are not familiar, durians contain a sweet custardy flesh around large seeds.  It has a distinctly pungent smell reminding some authors of sitting in an outhouse.  I wonder if Joseph Conrad ate durian.

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Thirty days hath highs of 34°

The lows were  25°.  If you still use the British (now abandoned) System, the daily high was 93° and a little more, and a low of 77°. A month in Malaysia with a long weekend in Jakarta with no variation in temperatures. We stayed in the heart of Kuala Lumpur near Masjid India (Indian Mosque), not the real Little India of Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, but pretty close.  I could bear the heat so enjoyed walking all over the city. I used to work here. In those days, I was driven by many interesting locations. This is the first time to really explore on foot.  Except for the oppressive heat, Kuala Lumpur has become a very walkable city.

I have lots of photos of the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower. I like this one from the Thean Hou Temple:

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Here are three more:

Lots of good eating:

In Jakarta, we walked all over Old Town and China Town contrasting the traditional with the modern.  My photos fail to capture this essence.  For me having seen the whole humbly-jumbly cacophony, the photos remind me of what is not shown, not captured.

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Porto Pictorial

I spent the last two weeks of August in Porto, Portugal.  Daughter stopped by for a week on her way from Paris to Lugano.  Wife hoped to catch up but was attending to family in Malaysia.

Daughter and I enjoyed our time seeing the typical sights and looking for “odd and unique” adventures.  Porto is big enough to be easily accessible by trams and buses, but compact enough to offer great variety: Old city, shopping centers, beaches, interesting day trips, Harry Potter references.

My hope that these snaps illustrate this variety.  The display uses WordPress slide show feature with random on.  I’m an old “tripeiro,” tripe eater, as the local call themselves.

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Glimpses of Central America

Here’s a map (thanks to Google) that shows our two month journey pretty accurately through Central America.  The Blue line follows the buses overland traveling up from Panama to Belize, the orange line is the flight back from Belize to Panama at the end.

Route

There is no way I can condense all the feelings, all the surprises, all the vistas in this adventure. I rode in colectivo buses, called chicken buses, truck beds, motorcycles, tuctucs, taxis, and eight different long distance buses (but never Tica Bus).  Colectivos are almost like taking the school bus in Windom, MN, except friendlier and more interesting luggage. I lived in a tree house (see the banner). Hurricane Earl passed overhead in Belize. There were beaches and volcanoes, churches and Maya ruins, Central Markets and festivals. I ate pelibuey, rabbit, ceviche,  tripe, ants, and drank lots of local coffee. Technically, these photos were taken with an iPhone 5 and a few with an iPad 3.


The mapping applications get better and better. I took a 6 km hike from Juayua to Nahuizalco through back paths between coffee plantations. I tried to follow electric lines but relied on a couple of Map applications.  Besides Google maps, I use Ulmon CityMaps2Go and Maps.Me


Here are some places I stayed. They might not be for everyone, but provided me with many nice perspectives.  The link connects to the page in Trip Advisor:

Tegucigalpa, Honduras: La Ronda Hostel

San Salvador, El Salvador: EC Tours and  Ali’s Guest House

Juayua, El Salvador: Casa Mazeta

Santa Ana, El Salvador: Hostal Casa Verde

Las Flores, Guatemala: La Casa el Lacandon

San Benito, Guatemala: Buenas Cosas (Off the tripadvisor path)

Belmopan, Belize: Hacienda Tropical

(note: Wife and I started this trip together.  In Managua, she had to take a slight detour through Malaysia to assist her family. Much of this trip was already booked, so I continued on, providing her a vicarious experience.  We are meeting up on the next leg of the journey.)

 

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Moving On

This has been the latest theme of my travels as  I continue from South to North (and also East to West along the isthmus) in Central America.  Later, I will provide more descriptions and photos of where and how.  In this post I want to touch a little bit on my philosophy.

In the city of San Salvador, El Salvador I found this monument to Pablo Neruda.

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He wrote one of my favorite books in Spanish, Confieso que he vivido (translation: I confess that I have lived, the title in English is Memoirs). His spirit of adventure as he lived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India have been an inspiration

I am not adventurous though some might wonder considering this headline from May 17th:

In El Salvador, the Murder Capital of the World

  • First, nowhere is totally safe.
  • Second, mostly we have encountered the nicest and friendliest people in our travels
  • Third, advancing age makes up for my lack of common sense.  The need for a public toilet and a place to nap keeps me out of a lot of trouble.
  • Fourth, I learn slowly from mistakes, but I do not dwell on unpleasantness.

Remember, headlines sell advertising.  They generally do not reflect what is really happening at the level of local communities and travelers. Here is a headline from May 20 about my hometown, Tukwila, WA.

Tukwila named America’s most dangerous city

I mark my place. In San Salvador,  I was at Kilometer 0 where all distances are measured in El Salvador.  Later, I moved up to Kilometer 84 near the village of Juayúa.

 

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My hope and wish is that wherever you are and whatever you do, in the end you can also confess, “I have lived.”

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Panama: Three Things

We spent almost a week in Panama, flying from Barcelona via Frankfurt on Lufthansa.

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Over the Alps

We did three really touristy things that every traveler should see.  Rather than do it all in a day on a tour bus, we went by ourselves on local transport.  The links in this list open to tripadvisor.com pages where you might find my reviews for more details.

  1. Old City called Casco Viejo, views from the rooftop of our apartment.
  2. Panama Canal, specifically the Miraflores locks.
  3. Panama Canal Railway.

The way we went about planning this, getting directions from locals, and actually boarding the local buses gave us many insights to life in Panama.

Here are three things I have always known about Panama:

  • The way the Central American Isthmus bends in Panama, the Pacific Ocean is in the East and the Caribbean Sea/Atlantic Ocean is in the West.
  • S. I. Hayakawa summarized a century of American Policy in Central America with this quote, “We should keep [the Panama Canal]. After all, we stole it fair and square.”

  • “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama” is a Palindrome (reads the same left or right).

I had some problem getting my reviews accepted by Trip Advisor.  I described how to access these activities using local transport at local prices instead of a more expensive (albeit more personalized) tour operator.  It’s understandable since Trip Advisor receives advertising revenue from the operators.

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What happened to Barcelona?

A number of viewers of my blog comment how much they like Barcelona.  We traveled from Malta to Panama, but there is no direct flight.  In our plans we found that the best airfare involved a stopover in Barcelona with two full days to explore.  Clearly not enough time, but tried to make the most of it.  We were slowed due to train strikes and other complications.  All in all it was a very interesting two days.  Here are some of the impressions I have.

Day 1

 

Day 2

Here is a link to the Yerevan, Armenia page for another work by the sculptor of cats.

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A Month in Malta

We spent four weeks in Malta, living in the Sliema district across the bay from historical Valletta city. Malta is the smallest country of the European Union. Daughter met up with us for three weeks on her Summer break from University. Initially, we wondered if we would run out of activities, but Malta has so much history and so much variety of experiences.  Here are my highlights.  I was aiming to post only five pictures, but I just could not choose from all our experiences.  We really enjoyed every day there.

Two things I carry with me:

  1. Maltese is a Semitic language related to Arabic but written using Roman Alphabet.  Contrast with South African Afrikaans, a Germanic Language written originally with Arabic script.
  2. Mdina and other old cities have many narrow twisty streets.  This was to confuse invading pirates. The narrow, curved streets near the Taksim Area of Istanbul serve the same purpose for protestors trying to avoid the riot police.

 

Here are some travel hints.  We took one of the hop-on-hop-off tours around the north island.  We learned a few things and saw a lot of places even though the experience could be a lot better.  Sliema is so convenient to the Valletta Ferry and bus connections around the islands.  We bought several twelve trip Talinga Bus cards, one card can be used for three people.  These took us all over, even to the Gozo Ferry. There is a Talinga smart phone app that was amazingly accurate in providing realtime bus arrival times at the stops near us.

The Gozo Ferry is interesting.  You only pay when you return.

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Black Sea Pilgrim

We arrived in Bucharest Romania after our stopover in Rome.  This story begins a few weeks later with a visit to Constanta on the Black Sea (Marea Neagră RO, Чёрное мо́рe RU). In four weeks we traveled a crescent by train and by bus back to the Black Sea.  The city headings in this post link to their Wikipedia Entries. There were so many amazing and unique experiences.  The best I can do is to provide a few things that I found wonderful and a few photos to capture the taste of the adventure.

Constanța, Romania

Constanta founded 2600 years ago.  The roman poet, Ovid was exiled here by emperor Augutus.

Bucharest, Romania

We arrived an hour late into Bucharest.  After other delays on the metro subway, we were home after four hours.  Our daily outings were among the old, the communist, and the new. Last year, I read Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy.  As it deals with the expatriate experience in Bucharest during the outbreak of World War II, reading the descriptions again made a strong impact.

Brașov, Romania

Brasov marks the border between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. The city center has a strong German atmosphere. Invited by Hungarian Kings, German colonists called the Transylvanian Saxons came to the city in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Bran, Romania

Less than an hour bus ride from Brasov, this castle was the favorite of the Dowager Queen Marie of Romania. She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. More importantly, she held ideas about equality and helping others way ahead of her time.

Iași, Romania

I booked tickets for the seven hour bus ride online.  We waited in the petrol kiosk (gas station) wondering whether this really was the spot and how much delay there might be.  The minibus arrived and knew about our reservation, very smoothly.  In Iasi, we encountered the Romanian poet and journalist, Mihai Eminescu, again. We had gone by his villa in Bucharest. He reflected his times and the Nationalism of the age. Time to reread Hannah Arendt.

Chișinău, Moldova

We took a taxi to the Iasi bus depot.  An unmarked van had a paper in the window for Chisinau.  We bought tickets from the driver.  Did I mention it was a bumpy ride? Did I tell you that my iPhone walking app registered 12 km just from bouncing in the back.  Pushkin was exiled in Chisinau instead of Siberia.  Works he conceived here became the classics defining Russian Literature.  He also could get himself  into trouble supporting the Greek revolutionaries and wandering around with Gypsies.  We toured his house and talked with a high school student, Alexander, who helped translating.

Odessa, Ukraine

Pushkin was exiled here too, along with many others. We arrived after a six and a half hour bus ride.  Isaac Babel called Odessa the “Star of Exile.”  It is also famous for the Potemkin Staircase featured in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.  For me, it was the fulfillment of a dream I had 45 years ago: the port, the people, the music, the beach, the sun.

The Final Swim, the Route and the Danube flowing into the Black Sea

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BlackSeaJourney

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