30 augusti 2011

20 minutes. Belize.

Under the Palompa - the writer's favorite place to sit for a half hour. Belize.
You know you're on a small island when it's enough to tell the airline that has lost your luggage, 'my local address is Casa Amarillo (the Yellow House)'.

'So when do you think I'll get my luggage?' I ask. The polite lady behind the counter answers 'oh, in a day or so, (pause) Belize.' With a long line of other travelers behind me, I decide not to question further. After flying Stockholm-New York-Miami-Belize City and then a further short jaunt to the island of Ambergris Caye, I'm not really surprised my luggage didn't make it.

Ambergris Caye is the largest of the 200 cayes that dot the coastline of Belize, (25 miles/40 kilometers long and a little over a mile/almost 2km wide in some places) and is located in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea just off the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

The only inhabited place on the island is the area around San Pedro town. The tiny town of San Pedro is about a mile and half mile long. I quickly found a local shop where I purchased a swimsuit and tooth brush. Not being on the island for work, I figured that would tide me over till my luggage arrived. Shopping done, I jumped into our golf cart (the main mode of transportation and equally as expensive as renting a mid-size car!) and was off to Casa Amarillo.

'How far from here to Casa Amarillo?' I ask the locals. '10 minutes. (pause) Belize.' is the reply. Keeping track, I notice we arrive some 25 minutes later.

The coastline of Ambergris Cays is is protected by a 190 mile/305k. long Barrier Reef. It is the second largest living coral reef in the world. We set out to explore the transparent waters of this area by boat. Our journey took us to Hol Chan, the area's marine reserve with coral over 500 years in the making. After an amazing snorkeling experience full of marine life, we were making our way back to the Casa. I ask the captain, 'how long does it take to get back?'. The reply, '20 minutes. (pause) Belize.'

Later that evening, I realize I had no idea how long the boat trip back had taken. I am finally starting to get it….the idea….the feeling….the understanding….of Belize time.

Caught up in my city life of schedules and of deadlines, where effectiveness is often measured by how much we fit into our day, I found myself blissfully sinking into the place where time just 'is'. For the week, the word HURRY was banished from my vocabulary. (apart from when running from the golf cart to the Casa door to avoid the swarms of thirsty mosquitoes!) Maybe a little 'belizin' when in Stockholm isn't such a bad idea. 

As for my luggage, filled with stuff I was so sure I needed but did just fine without….it arrived a day or so later. Belize.

Lynn G.

23 augusti 2011

Everyone for raki

Crete, in Greece, is world renowned for being the home of the Minoan culture and civilization. Nowhere does this become more apparent than in the ruins of the ancient palace of Knossos. The palace, which was home to King Minos, was a huge labyrinth of rooms, with shafts of natural light and ventilation systems. The Minoans were a peaceful race, so secure in their own culture that they didn't build any walls around the palace to keep out their enemies. No walls, no moat, no watchtowers. A very hospitable people, the Minoans cultivated business relations and traded in olives, grains and wine.

This sense of hospitality has carried over the centuries to current day Cretans. While the Minoans would ply their guests with wine, today's island residents offer a very different brew.

In most traditional tavernas on Crete it is customary to bring fresh fruit or another kind of sweet to the guests after they have eaten. This sweet treat is complimentary and is always accompanied by a little bottle of raki and enough shot glasses for each of the guests. Raki is a Cretan spirit. Strong and potent. The kind of stuff that makes your face grimace and your toes curl. The raki comes after you've asked for the bill but before the bill is delivered. In Crete, it takes at least half an hour to pay. The time is spent knocking back the powerful shots of raki.

But the strategy of giving the guests free raki is not only hospitable, I'm sure. The Minoans were shrewd business people and so are the Cretans of today. Who leaves a better tip?
A sober guest? Or the tipsy one who's just knocked back a few glasses of this lethal complimentary Cretan potion?

Neil S

21 augusti 2011

Crossing Istanbul

You think you have traffic???

How does one travel smoothly and efficiently across a sprawling city of over 19 million people? Well, if that city is Istanbul, and you're going by bus, it's not easy or quick - but it is exciting! 

The bus is waiting to take us from the airport, half way across town to our hotel. As we get underway, we are immediately immersed in the atmosphere of the city. Istanbul spreads, literally, across continents, with the western half in Europe and the Eastern half in Asia. Separated by the Bosphorus sea and connected by two main bridges, traffic is a bit manic! With the majority of the people living on the Asian side and commuting to and from work on the European side, driving across town (or even half way across) on a week day can take hours! 

I was enjoying a chat with fellow passengers while also noticing the very creative interpretation by our driver (and many other drivers) of where and how many lanes the were on the road. There seemed to be a preference for keeping within very close proximity to other cars on all sides. Guess this makes for maximum use of space on  the roads!  'Wow - I just saw a 4 lane road materialize into 6 right  
before my eyes!' This nearness to others also provided an opportunity for close observation of the locals.  Lots going on inside the vehicles! People singing, eating and of course talking in a multitude of animated emotional states to themselves, to those beside them, behind them, and on the phone. While observing the people, and the plethora of local sites and sounds along the way, my senses filled with excitement. Then suddenly one sound rises above all else - SMACK!

That's the sound our bus makes as it rams into the back of the taxi in front of us. For a brief moment everything comes to a SILENT STOP. Then, just a quickly, sounds fill the air again as horns start honking, voices shout and sirens soar. Engines rev on all sides of us as other drivers seek every opportunity to maneuver around what is now in their path. It seems though, that this is not an infrequent occurrence as the police arrive to the scene quickly and in just over an hour, we are on our way again.

So, how long does it take to get even half way across this city? The answer-well it  
could take an hour, maybe two, but six would not be totally surprising. I think dinner this evening is close to the hotel - maybe even in the hotel. Perhaps for tonight, that's the best choice. I can save the other side of town for my next visit!


Journeys close to home...

On our way again.....

Apologies to our readers for not posting much about our travels in the couple of months leading up to the summer holiday. Even though we didn't write much then, it doesn't mean we weren't on the go. We are pleased to say that those months were, to put it mildly, BUSY!

The majority of our trips during that time were within close range to our home base in Stockholm. Imagine all the places you can get to from Stockholm by taking a one hour flight. Now add to that a one hour train journey, bus ride or car trip. During April-June, my colleagues and I covered most of those places within an hour's range (or at least it felt that way!). While planning the timing and logistics for getting to each new location, I heard myself saying over and over -
'Oh, no problem - it's only about an hour away!'. Well, I gravely miscalculated!

The road works, the traffic, the parking, the train delays, the bus or taxi to get to the train, bus or plane.....hmmm.....'Only an hour away'......well, I learned a valuable travel lesson.....

.....Better get going by 6am at the latest, and with any luck, I'll get there by mid-day!