Travels Far and Fortunate
All journeys are an encounter with unexpected places and people. I am fortunate. Business travel has given me the chance to visit destinations on and off the tourist track. Surprise events, new cultures and detours that bring discovery of the world, of people, of places and sometimes of the self.
A trip I was most excited about. Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels here; it is one of the grand holiday isles of the Caribbean and home to some of the fastest sprinters ever. Jamaicans are a warm and proud nation. Their easy going nature permeates the streets and the boardroom. The island is an emerald.
We were lucky. A sudden cancellation and our client took us on a helicopter trip around the full circumference of the island. All along the coastline from the air we glided along the many fine beaches, the resorts and we peered down to the cove where the famous (or is that infamous?) film The Blue Lagoon was shot. The laid back atmosphere of holiday resorts and the aquamarine waters, viewed slowly hovering through the air. A joyride if ever I have had one.
Shortly after the demise of communism, I traveled to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. It was a complete time warp. Golden topped temples along wide streets. Cars that dated thirty, forty years, rows of apartments with a sinister soviet appearance, and derelict playgrounds in the parks. People on the street had two expressions: grim and very grim.
We were a bunch of South Africans whose only experience of snow was the fake variety in shop windows over Christmas. Stuck in the country over a weekend, we eagerly trotted off to our first snow and skiing experience. We cartwheeled, bumped and tumbled en masse down the snow slopes. One careered into a bush where it took three of us to untangle him. The diminutive ski instructors went flailing about to keep the wild and wobbling South Africans on their feet. Giving up eventually, a snowball fight ensued. We left blue in the face from the cold and bruised in many places. But what a day of fun. As we walked away, for the first time I saw smiles on the faces of the onlookers.
Stupendously beautiful, Uganda is the hidden jewel of Africa. Lush green forestry and a rich brown earth; even the smell of the flora invigorates. The people of Uganda are the friendliest of all the many countries on the continent that I have visited, and African peoples are friendly.
The Nile River flows through the country. We took a day off and traveled upland to the highest reaches of these streams. Through dense forest and pot-holed roads we arrived after a few hours. There between trees and bushes and with no big views or vistas, I was standing at a source of one of earth’s most life-giving rivers. A river that provided food and a livelihood to half of Africa through time. A spot with an immense impression of natural and human history.
Mato Grosso state in Brazil is roughly the size of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma combined. A few decades ago the state was an undeveloped frontier. Intrepid farmers obtained large tracts of empty land and began as agricultural entrepreneurs. Visiting a local business, the second generation owner invited us to his land, a tract not atypical of soybean farms in the state. Mato Grosso farms are altogether on a different scale to anything I have ever seen.
By light aircraft from the homestead it took almost an hour’s flight to the farthest reaches of his farm. Miles and miles of soy plantations stretching to the horizon. As the proud land baron alighted after the ride, he thought he would quickly show us his hobby; “I do a little cattle farming on the side”. A short distance from his home there were only sixty thousand head of cattle herded together. We went to his small thirty year old farmhouse to have coffee. I clearly recall the huge scale of contrast between the farmer and his vast enterprise, and the same farmer and his humble home.
China, and more specifically the city of Shanghai is an energetic, developing and sprawling city. It is China’s biggest city with 25 million inhabitants. Situated along the Yangtze river, it houses the World Financial Center building, nearly 500 m tall. From the top I looked down onto a busy hive of offices, pedestrians, cars, trains and cranes stretching to the horizon. The city was a bustling and busy swarm of people going about their days' activities.
In business gatherings, restaurants and shops, the Chinese were unfailingly efficient and courteous. Yet, I find China a foreign country and culture. After a day with
clients and amidst people of the most populous nation on earth, back in my hotel room I felt a strange sense of isolation, in a place far away and vastly different from the sparse
spaces of Africa.
Some countries are pure holiday destinations and business is at a leisurely pace. Mauritius is one such place. A gem of an island in the warm Indian Ocean known for its beaches, lagoons, reefs, rain forests and waterfalls. First discovered by the Arabs more than a thousand years ago, today the economy revolves around its sugar plantations and tourism industry.
The capital, Port Louis, is small and quaint. Business meetings are interrupted midday so people can go home to have lunch and an afternoon siesta. Sitting in an office block overlooking the sea and the harbor, the urgency of the business activities of the day float away and a feeling of languid tranquility pervades. Business was exchanged for leisure, three times I have visited Mauritius for a holiday. It is one destination which I yearn to go to again, very soon.
Travel is an encounter with unexpected places and people.
Many journeys are an unexpected encounter with the self.
(Google Images used for photos)