Global snapshots

00:44, Feb 05 2014
puffins
Ireland: This trio of puffins are among the thousands of these birds that breed, nest and raise their young on Skellig St Michael, an island off the Kerry coast in southwest Ireland. The island is a World Heritage Site because of its monastic ruins that are at least 1200 years old. But it's the puffins that captivated me most. The birds have no fear of humans so close encounters are plentiful, in fact when climbing up the vertiginous stone steps (most of which were built by the monks) one has to be careful not to trip over the birds as they have a tendency to scuttle across the paths right under one's feet. I'm convinced these birds pose for photographers too. After the breeding season spent in the relative tranquility of the Skellig island group, these relatively small birds fly all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada to fatten up in preparation for spending most of the winter at sea in the stormy Atlantic.
puffins
Ireland: Killorglin in Kerry, Ireland, held its 400th annual Puck Fair in 2013. A puck is a male goat and although there are several theories as to the origin of the fair, the most likely is that it commemorates the time when locals were warned of the approaching pillaging army of Oliver Cromwell by a billy goat that had been disturbed by them high in the hills behind the town and then run into the town's main street. Every year since 1613 a feral goat is crowned King Puck; is raised up on to a pole in the main street where it presides over a three-day festival that includes a horse fair, stalls, entertainment and the odd pint or 15. This family had been to the horse fair, bought a kid (left, not the one on the right) and then popped into the nearest pub for a drink. I was relieved it really was a goat, and that I was not suffering a Puck Fair hallucination.
puffins
Killorglin: For a brief respite from the mayhem of Killorglin's main street during the fair we walked a couple of kilometres out of town to watch an open-air performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest. This play debuted the same year the fair received its royal charter. The setting was just as full of magic as the play.
puffins
Honduras: I never thought that one day I'd be lucky enough to see scarlet macaws in the wild. This pair was in Honduras among the Mayan ruins of Copan. Their colours are spectacular but just to prove you can't have everything in life; the call of a macaw is the avian equivalent of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard.
puffins
Iran: The goods for sale in bazaars never fail to stop me in my tracks. Syria's bazaars were once renowned for their risque array of women's lingerie and although you'd never find too much revealing underwear on public display in Iran, there are still some eye-popping items for sale. These dresses were on display in a wedding shop in the Tabriz bazaar in north-western Iran. This was the first time in five visits to the bazaar that I'd seen anything like this but I wasn't brave enough to ask my Iranian friends if pseudo-milkmaid outfits are considered in the same light as we might regard gymslips and maids' outfits. Maybe next time. The bazaar is a World Heritage Site, in recognition of its historical role as one of the most important bazaars along the Silk Road. It is also thought to be the largest covered bazaar in the world and one of the oldest in the Middle East.
puffins
Tajikstan: Khojand, in northern Tajikstan was once part of the Persian empire and in the 4th century BC was thought to be the site of the most far- flung cities of Alexander the Great's empire. It was later nearly obliterated by the Mongol hordes. Few western tourists venture here (especially as the road between Tajikstan's capital Dushanbe and Khojand involves passing through the Tunnel of Death as the locals have nicknamed this 5km long engineering nightmare). As a result, visitors are still a novelty and the children especially are only too keen to star in your photographs.
puffins
Moscow: I love this glimpse of a Muscovite wedding ... bride and bridesmaid (partly obscured) have a quick smoke in between photos before getting into what is possibly the world's poorest taste stretch limo. The love padlocks in the top right are a local tradition ... lovers secure a padlock to the Love Trees near Moscow's Luzkhov Bridge then throw the key into the river as a symbol of their unbroken love.
puffins
St Petersburg: The central doors of the iconostasis in St Petersburg's Church on Spilled Blood. An iconostasis is a wall of religious paintings (or in the case of this church, mosaics) that separates the sanctuary from the nave and is found in Russian or eastern Orthodox churches. This 19th century church was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 but during the Soviet era was abandoned, looted and later used as a warehouse. It was restored in the late 20th century. Some people find it too over the top but I believe everyone should experience at least one jaw-dropping moment when bedazzled with opulence ... and this was mine.
puffins
Tajikistan: Until last year, there had been one Central Asian "Stan" I hadn't the opportunity to visit. Tajikistan has had a difficult transition from being a republic of the USSR to independence and even now it is probably the Stan that struggles most in terms of stability and economic growth. It's estimated that up to 80 per cent of the country's income still comes from the trade in heroin being smuggled from neighbouring Afghanistan to the rest of the world. But if you steer clear of the smuggling routes, the people are wonderfully friendly and the mountain scenery spectacular. As it was my first tour to the region, the owner-manager of the local operator accompanied us for the week we spent in Tajikistan. Not only did Dilshod Karimov (pictured above) prove to be a consummate and tireless organiser, he also cooked the best plov (Central Asia's version of the rice, meat, fruit and spice dish found in many parts of the world) that I have ever eaten. He's promised me more plov if I'll go back and explore the Pamir Highway in eastern Tajikistan. Little does he know that I'd go even without the enticement of the plov.

It's the question frequent travellers dread. "What's your favourite country?"

I never know how to answer this because how do you rate the exotic flavour of Bhutan with the sophistication of France, for example? My long-suffering mathematics teacher was forever telling me not to try to combine, algebraically speaking, my apples and pears - it's just as inadvisable with places.

So, when I look back on 2013, a year that involved travelling through nearly 20 countries it's more a matter of plucking moments from the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of places, experiences and people I've encountered. For me, the more I tour, the idea of "ticking off" the travel equivalent of notches on the bedpost, if you like, becomes far less important; it's those brief encounters and often only fleeting glimpses of other lives that become more addictive.

This collection of photographs, all taken during my travels last year, encapsulate some of those moments; experiences that for me encapsulate that compulsion, in the words of Mark Twain, to: " ... throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails ... "

Advertisement

The Timaru Herald