Traveller talk: July 2016

by on 02/08/16 at 10:50 am

Pilgrims near the cross shaped church of Bet Giyorgis dedicated to St George.

Pilgrims in Lalibela, Ethiopia. © Philip Lee Harvey / Lonely Planet

Each month our fab Thorn Tree moderators bring a few tasty morsels of community chat to the fore. This month’s menu includes: self-catering in Cuba; a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa; footwear; reading lists; discovering India by bike; and finding India in London. Our TT-ers are a very eclectic bunch.

Self-catering in Cuba?

The unusual topic of cooking in Cuba cropped up this month, which ttjpdo glowingly describes as ‘one of the best threads’ on the subject. While most users on the thread agreed that part of the travel experience was to sample local food, there was also something to be said for immersing oneself in the cultural process of buying said produce – even though that appears to involve a lot of queuing.

Original poster yuvalg1987 admits that they ‘didn’t realise how much [their] grandmother’s stories about standing in line once a month for a piece of cheese [were] still relevant to life in Cuba.’ However, queuing aside, johnavery was adamant that it made ‘absolutely no sense to cook for yourself in Cuba’ and adds that ‘shopping is a major pain in the ass even for Cubans.’

Poster yuvalg1987 was reassured that you can easily buy rice and pasta in Cuba and was told that Cuban cuisine had improved even in the last two years. But if you did want to try and cook some of your own meals it might be nice to invite your hosts, and this may be the only practical way of proceeding in terms of space and sharing amenities.

If you do manage to convince your hosts to let you use their kitchen, candydita suggests: ‘ALWAYS clean up double what you would at home to show you can be trusted to leave a kitchen as clean as you found it. Dirt and crumbs = cockroaches. Take along a couple of dish clothes [sic], sponges and t-towels. Again, a good carrot to entice the horse to let you cook in their kitchen.’

Vicsvacek enigmatically advises: ‘Be patient and enjoy the thrill of the unexpected.’

Best foot forward

Ever ready to lend a hand, TT-ers shared their travel sandal preferences for a poster travelling to Southeast Asia. Birkenstocks, Keens, Chacos, Tevas, or less expensive non-branded and locally-bought varieties? Do they slip when wet? How about comfort? Do you have wide feet? However, while walking a mile in someone else’s shoes might yield some good advice, one size does not fit all and it was suggested the poster might be wise to break in whatever they end up choosing before travelling if at all possible.

Your summer/winter reading

Summer holiday reading or books to snuggle up with and help keep you away from the rain/snow/leaves/frolicking new-born lambs or cute ducklings (tick or add whichever is appropriate for your part of the world) was introduced by shikibu. A few examples include: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘A Time of Gifts’; ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ by journo Kim Barker; ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton; ‘The Night in Lisbon’ by E. M. Remarque; and ‘Man without a Face’ by Marcus Wolf. Check out this thread for some fab book recommendations (and maybe also a few warnings – see grinninggnome’s description of trying to read ‘In The Time of Butterflies’ ‘but each page feels like an hour’) and do leave some of your own.

Fishermen on Lake Malawi at dusk.

Fishermen on Lake Malawi at dusk © Jonathan Gregson / Lonely Planet

Once in a lifetime Africa

TT-er cmilos is planning a three- to four-month trip in Africa and has been looking for help to plan the last three weeks in Eastern and/or Southern Africa due to being ‘overwhelmed with options’. This trip may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cmilos says: ‘As an American with some African ancestry, it’s really important to me on a personal level that I understand Africa better. People tend to have this monolithic view of what ‘Africa’ is, but I know it’s incredibly vast and varied and I want to experience that firsthand. I feel compelled to see that broader picture of what Africa looks like, and I’m not assuming I’ll ever get the opportunity to go back.’

Never deterred by tall orders, TT-ers listed some suggested intineries. Kaz suggests a few days in Zanzibar followed by flying to Ethiopia and doing ‘the historical circuit’. Nathalie2 recommended Namibia for ‘amazing scenery and plenty of possibilities for outdoor activities’. She adds that you could also spend 14 days in South Africa, and seven days in Namibia, doing the Windhoek-Kalahari-Sossusvlei-Windhoek Southern loop and suggested Lake Malawi for some relaxing beach time.

Exciting possibilities opened up but TT-ers quickly warned against trying to do too much. Mvbergen says: ‘You can’t travel like in the states. Even if it’s frustrating, it’s better not to try to see as much as possible because it’s the best way to see nothing’. Some difficult choices ahead.

India by bike and India in London  

Piwakawaka has been hoping that their plan of rocking up in Kerala with a bike and cycling through India isn’t ‘crazy’. And TT-ers on the whole agreed that it isn’t. Some discussion followed about where to source the bike with newislander suggesting very strongly that it might be best to bring the bike with you or at least do a lot of research into Indian bike shops/hire places: ‘Chances are if you do this trip, you will become hooked on cycle touring but not if you have a really crap bike.’

Ngea points out that you need a bike with a ‘comfortable riding position’ and TT-ers clamboured to give piwakawaka lots of solid advice about bike models and extra gear.

Meanwhile, TT-er Giora is looking to discover India in England. Self described as a ‘colonial history buff’ Giora has been asking the TT community for places to visit in or near London that have connections with India apart from the usual suspects of the British Museum and V&A. TT-ers racked their brains and one of the suggestions was the National Maritime Museum and the British Library. Nicolapicola suggests a very speedy day trip to the Isle of Wight to see Osborne House with its ‘Indian Empire stuff’. Pedro555 made the very important point that there are ‘Plenty of establishments where you can acquaint yourself with India Pale Ale’. If you have any further ideas add them to the post.