Posted by: travelrat | April 25, 2019


View from the Fort Door Vanushyraa

Vanushyraa: 27th September 2018

Our destination tonight was the ‘Jungle Camp’ at Vanushyraa. It was like no other camp I’ve ever been in before; I suppose it could be called ‘glamping’? The cabins were circular, stone-walled buildings, with what we were led to believe was a canvas roof. In the military, we called similar buildings ‘sangars’; the whole thing was slightly reminiscent of an African rondavel.

It’s a prime location for bird watching, but, at first glance, there didn’t appear to be much else to do. But, they’d laid on an excursion for us, which I shall tell about later … and, on returning to the complex, we were entertained by a cooking demonstration, and a presentation by folk musicians and dancers, before dinner.

Our only mild complaint was the tiny insects, like black ladybirds, only a quarter of the size, that we found in the room before we retired. But, a few squirts of our ‘dinkum Aussie’ bug spray dealt with them, and we spent a fairly peaceful … and unbitten … night.

Entertainment at Vanushyraa

Posted by: travelrat | April 23, 2019


Essaouira 1

Essaouira: 3rd February 2019.

Another road trip today, to Essaouira. It’s rather a long trip, but I was just getting bored with the coastal road when we turned inland, up a winding switchback mountain road into, it seemed, another country.  Rugged scenery, mountain villages and, of course, argan trees. On the way, there was yet another visit to an argan oil producing co-operative, and we came away with yet another packet of argan soap. They were so nice and helpful, and greeted us with tea, bread and honey that it seemed churlish to leave without buying anything.

At every settlement we passed, it seemed to be market day, with folk along the road bringing their produce by truck and by donkey. Everywhere, the men were wearing thick robes, usually brown, with a pointed hood which made them look like mediaeval monks.

Essaouira is sometimes called the ‘City of Winds’, and not without reason. The main attractions for us were the extensive fishing port, with stalls selling all kinds of seafood, and the walled medina, where it seemed they sold everything else.

And, on the way home, we saw something we weren’t expecting to see till we go Tiout on Tuesday … tree climbing goats!

Essaouira 2

Posted by: travelrat | April 21, 2019

More Write Stuff

It’s rather flattering when people contact me after they’ve read something I’ve written, and say something like:

‘This is good! You should write a guide book!’

That, actually, is something I’ll never do. I just can’t be bothered traipsing round hotels, restaurants and the like gathering information. I very rarely stay in one place long enough, anyway. I don’t think I could even write a guide to Salisbury … although I’ve lived here over 20 years. So, my hat’s off to all those compilers whose (usually) painstaking research culminates in those handy little books you slip into your pack when venturing abroad.

All I can do really is simply record my impressions of places, without setting myself up as any kind of expert. What’s got under my toenails this week is the writer who spends a couple of weeks somewhere, and believes himself, or herself as an authority on the place, and produces stuff like:

‘What You Need to Know About the Republic of Upchuk’

You’ll find that some of it are things you didn’t ‘NEED to know’ anyway; much of the rest is just courtesy and common sense which applies anywhere.

Another thing is ‘Ten Lists’. I can’t come down too hard on them, because I do the odd ‘ten list’ myself. But, I still sometimes ask, when I see something like ‘Ten Best Restaurants in Shitole’ … do they mean ‘ten most expensive restaurants …’ or, maybe ‘Ten Places I Blagged a Free Meal in Return for a Promise to Write Something Nice About Them’?

Before anyone calls me out on this … let me say, yes, I do accept the occasional freebie. But, I’ll always include a statement to that effect, and let the reader make his or her own mind up.

Posted by: travelrat | April 18, 2019

More About People Pictures.

At the Chand Bara step-well

I posted the other week about people pictures, and how important it was to ask permission. I remembered one or two instances where permission was not only freely given, but almost forced on us.

In China, our tour group, which included several elderly people, were often approached by people asking if they could take our photo. Someone told us later that white hair, which some of our party had, is almost unknown in China.

Then, there was India. The two lovely ladies at the Chand Bara step-well asked me if I would take their picture using their camera. And, of course, I asked if, in return, I could have a picture for my own collection.

At Bhangarh, there was a party of uniformed schoolchildren. One lady took a picture of them playing with a monkey. She asked a teacher first; she was a teacher herself, and knows how important this sort of thing is.

He then barked a command, the children obediently posed, football-team-style and Master-ji almost ordered us to take a picture. Some of us asked for an email address, to which a picture might be sent; that’s a good way of ensuring good people pictures, too.


Posted by: travelrat | April 16, 2019

Agadir Train Ride: Video

Agadir Train 2

Agadir: 2nd February 2019

I’ve posted rather a lot about land trains lately. But, I promise this one will be the last … until I take another ride on a land train!

Music: “River Valley Breakdown” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Posted by: travelrat | April 14, 2019

The Little Trains of Crete

My post the other day was about the land train in Agadir, which led to some discussion with other bloggers about similar trains elsewhere. So, I thought that I might discuss the matter further, with some account of the first one I rode, the ‘Little Red Train, in Crete in 2005.

I wrote the piece below for ‘English Zone’, a Japanese magazine for English language learners; I’ve only had to update it slightly.

0751 Train at Therissos


The train station at Platanias, on the Greek island of Crete is outside a motor-cycle hire shop. This may seem a little bit odd, because, as far as I know, Crete does not have one single foot of railway track.

But, a ‘train’ does not have to run on a railway. The dictionary simply defines it as one or more trucks drawn by a locomotive or tractor. But, having said that, many are made to look like old-fashioned steam railway trains, although almost all have diesel engines.

In other parts of Europe, the land trains usually simply run a short distance along a seaside promenade, but, on Crete, they venture greater distances. Some go quite a long way inland.

Factories in Italy, France, Germany and Austria, all produce land trains. Their great advantage is, if not so many people wish to ride on the train, the unused coaches can be uncoupled and, of course, hitched on again if they are needed. And, on the narrow, winding country roads of inland Crete, the articulated train can negotiate tight corners more easily than a motor coach can.

CT4-The train passing through Pantelari


Another advantage is that the coaches are open, getting passengers closer to the country than sitting in an air-conditioned bus would. Since most routes pass through the orange groves, the smell at blossom time must not be missed, as it would in a completely sealed bus. And, of course, if you like taking still or video pictures, your picture is not spoilt by reflections from the windows.

If you want to wait at Platanias for the train, the owner of the motor-cycle shop may invite you to sit inside, in the coolness and shade while you are waiting.

One of the most popular routes of the train is the trip up the Therissos Gorge. This is one of the many gorges to be found in Crete, and one of the most easily traversed. A motorable road runs right up it. At first, the train travels the road along the sea front then, when it is almost at Xania, the main town of the province, it turns inland.

The narrow road then rises steeply, and even steeper are the slopes above, which are coated with scrub. The floor of the gorge, with the rounded boulders in its dried-up river-bed showing how fiercely the water can come down there in the wet season, is covered with deciduous trees. The purple leaves of ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, closely related to our own British cuckoo pint, are everywhere. The occasional goat, grazing among the trees, can also be seen.

The train runs as far as Therissos village, at the head of the gorge, where it stays for a while to allow its passengers to explore, before setting off on its return journey to the coast.

The best views can be had on the way back down, Caves, hollows and side-valleys appear in the red cliffs above, which didn’t seem to be noticed on the way up.

CTd-The train at Galatas


Another route is the ‘Galatas Country Tour’. This route crosses an old ‘Bailey Bridge’; this was built by the British Army in World War II as a temporary structure, but is still in position, and still serviceable.

The month of May is the best time to visit, because then, there is a heady small of orange blossom in the air. At Ayia Lake at this time of year, snow on the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) reflected in a beautiful lake makes the visitor think of anywhere but Greece!

Here, the train shows how easily it can get into confined spaces. A bus can only drive down the narrow lane into the car park with difficulty. . On the way out, the train usually stops at a roadside stall, so passengers can buy fresh orange juice or a bag of oranges.

The train also stops at the Allied War Memorial, which commemorates the British, Australian New Zealand and Greek troops, who died defending the island from the invading Germans in World War II.  Then, there is a stop in the village of Galatas to visit the church, and a small museum, and have some coffee and a look around the flower-decked, whitewashed houses.

CTa- The train at the Allied War Memorial 

There is another advantage to the train having no tracks. It can go almost anywhere. So, if your hotel is on, or close to its route, it will pick you up or drop you on the doorstep, if you ask nicely!








Posted by: travelrat | April 11, 2019

Bhangarh Pictures

Bhangarh c

Bhangarh: 27th September 2018

It may be thought that ‘ … if you’ve seen one ruined city, you’ve seen them all’. But, the operative word is ‘city’. In these kind of places, you can’t sum up what you saw with just a couple of snaps. So, here are some more.

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Posted by: travelrat | April 9, 2019

Agadir Train Ride

Agadir Train

Agadir: 2nd February 2019

It was supposed to be a lazy day today, but we took a taxi ride down to Bird Valley to have another look at it.  The Land Train leaves from nearby, and takes a 40 minute trip through the town. It’s pretty typical of the ‘trains’ seen around most resorts, and, usually, a trip on either one of these, or an open-topped bus is a good way of seeing what’s to be seen.

So, since, as far as we could discover, there are no open-top buses in Agadir, we took a ride on it, to see if we recognized anything from our previous visit in 2002. Of course, it’s expanded considerably since then; in fact, although I took photos and video, I could have quite a guessing game if I didn’t say where they were taken.

We also took another walk along Bird Valley, to see if we had missed anything in our rather hasty traverse the other day. It’s rather worn at the edges, but interesting nevertheless.

Before taking a petit taxi back to the hotel, we sat down at an open-air café at the entrance to the valley, to sample a well-known Moroccan specialty. Mint tea! We have heard it described as ‘Berber Scotch’ and is said to be able to cure anything from bubonic plague to ingrowing toenails. We don’t, thankfully, suffer from either of these; we just found it very refreshing.



Posted by: travelrat | April 7, 2019

People Pictures


‘You might think you’re a travel photographer, but, to them, you’re just another nosey tourist with a camera’

I don’t know who wrote those words, but I like to keep them in mind whenever I’m out taking pictures. Although landscapes and buildings feature largely in my images, I do like to have people in them, although I do try to make them as ‘local’ as possible, and exclude the beer-bellies and baseball caps of some visitors.

Really, a problem arises when you’re taking a recognisable picture of someone, maybe at their work, or in a colourful local costume. In such a case, you must, wherever you are, always ask permission. If you don’t speak the language, producing the camera and an inquiring look will usually do the trick. There are a few cultures around the world where photographs are frowned upon, if not actually forbidden. Even if not, it’s always wise to ask first … since images can be instantly uploaded to social media, it wouldn’t be good for someone to be seen sunning themselves on a beach, when they told their boss they wanted time off for Grandma’s funeral.

So, you’ve got your permission. But, this tends to result in wooden, posed pictures. A good way around this is to take an extra picture when the subject thinks you’ve finished, I’ve often got much more satisfactory results like this.

Finally, the question of payment. I feel to offer money in all circumstances is somewhat patronising, although this will depend on what you’re photographing, and where you are. In Egypt, for instance, a small baksheesh is almost compulsory. I suspect the colourfully-dressed Peruvian kids, who showed us their alpacas, posed and sang for us made more in contributions from the delighted tourists than their parents on the nearby market stalls did.


I would, though, recommend that you always give something if you want to take pictures of a street performer or something. Sometimes, what goes into their tin from passers-by is their only income.

But, the thing to remember, above all is … if you annoy or distress someone by taking a picture without their permission, the price of a can of cola will not make it right.

Chullo 2

Posted by: travelrat | April 4, 2019

The Ruined Palace, Bhangarh

Bhangarh 1

Bhangarh: 27th September 2018

We broke today’s journey at Bhangarh, an abandoned, ruined city built around a once-imposing palace in the 17th Century. It is said that a magician had designs on a princess who lived there, and cursed the city when he was rejected. The population moved, and the city is said to be the most haunted place in India. It seems the authorities take that seriously, for entry after sunset is strictly prohibited.

It’s a fairly long walk to the fortified palace, along a street of ruined shops, slightly reminiscent of Pompeii.

The palace itself, although ruined, is still a feast for the eye or the camera, and is popular with locals and tourists alike.

Bhangarh 2

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