Tag Archive: Africa



Here you are, way too giddy with excitement in the vastness of the Savannah plains. Then your camera jammed, wasted after all that zooming in for close up shots. Must be dust in the lens. What do you do? You fish out your iPhone and try your best not to lose your calm. These animal sightings have been your Safari dreams and NO ONE, and NOTHING can ruin this holiday for moรญ. Seriously. Then, I found a solution. It was my good fortune to be traveling with a hobby photographer. And I did push my luck by unashamedly asking if I could grab some of his photos. Master Photographer Ernie Albano, you saved the day for me! Even if my camera didn’t conk out on me, I couldn’t have taken these lovely, stunning closeups of the safari animals we met and experienced. And just so you know, your dear wife takes pretty neat photos too with her tablet! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Simba and his Queen both make good profiles but admittedly, the Lion King looks more impressive with his royal mane. Ernie caught him with his mane blown by the wind in the vastness of the golden savannah. And don’t you agree he snapped a good impression of the lioness with keen hunter’s eyes? Or have a look at the Mommy and Baby Ellie out on a stroll, or this cheetah with spots so clear you’d want to run your fingers on its fur. Those zoom lens are good but obviously, Ernie has mastered these shots. I’d be afraid to have him take my closeup — warts, wrinkles and all. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Some animals really look lovely. Like the swans of the Savannah — the giraffes, looking so demure with soulful eyes generously endowed with thick, long lashes. So with the regal lions, exotic cheetahs, graceful gazelles and impalas, majestic elephants, tough looking rhinos, smart baboons, sexy zebras. But I couldn’t find an adjective to describe the hippos. We found more of them in Lake Naivasha and in Ngorongoro, but the stinky ones we encountered in Maasai Mara look just the same. Non-descript smelly mammals who look fearsome and aggressive? I’m trying here. Or maybe I’m just biased against them after the mauling incidents and attacks in Lake Naivasha.

Ernie took very good photos of the birds too. The yellow weavers responsible for those nests we found in many trees grace many of Ernie’s frames. My favourite. And there were others — kingfishers, herons, egrets, vultures, cranes and many more species we couldn’t name. We stopped to let him take these impressive shots every so often until we grew tired and connived to refrain from alerting him of our spottings. My bad! ๐Ÿค

Thank you, Manong Ernie, for sharing all these Safari photos with me. So crisp and clear, and such depth. Very generous of you. And ohhhh, the last 2 photos I took. Not as crisp nor clear, but just so the readers see you “in action”. Hakuna Matata!๐Ÿ˜Š


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. ๐Ÿ˜Š

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

๐Ÿ“ธ by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” ๐Ÿ‘Œ

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind โค๏ธ


It was not planned and it wasn’t exactly a detour. Lake Naivasha was right along the way and it was a no-brainer to go for it. Some do this as a day trip from Nairobi. After all, this 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya is only 100 kilometers northwest from Nairobi and is along the way to Nakuru. Of course we didn’t know at the time that there have been hippo attacks in this area. Hippos being extremely territorial have attacked humans, with the latest incident just 2 days after our visit.

Blue skies and blue waters, with dead trees reaching up, and many water birds resting on a branch or twig. We took the boat safari and motored up to an island where we found a community of hippos lazing around. Most of them looked like they’re sleeping but every now and then, one or 2 would stand up snorting and grunting to stray a bit from the group. It’s hard (and scary) to imagine one of them biting into one Chinese tourist’s chest a couple of days after our visit. Read the tragic news after the wonderful morning spent here where we actually felt safe. A couple of hippos we found wallowing in the waters, peeking out, but our boat carefully observed a distance.

The water birds are another thing. The lake was teeming with trees sprouting out of the lake, providing resting branches for the pelicans, ibises, storks, and many more we couldn’t name. The trees by the lake shore bore many nests, mostly from yellow weavers. The entire place looks so serene and relaxing. The one hour boat safari was enough to see the resident hippos and birds. No wonder this place was chosen as one of the movie locations for “Out of Africa”. Remember that Redford-Streep starrer? I know, you must be humming the movie title’s song now. ๐ŸŽต๐ŸŽถ

๐Ÿ“ธ by Ernie Albano
๐Ÿ“ธ by Ernie Albano

Some Hippo Trivia:

Hippos are 3rd largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos.

Hippos can run at 30 kms per hour.

Hippopotamus is a Greek term for “water horse”.

Hippos need to stay near the water to remain moist. If skin turns dry, it can crack.

Stay away from a “yawning”, honking, snorting and grunting hippo — such are signs that they’re marking their territories.

Life span is up to 40 years.

Closest relatives are whales and porpoises.

One of dangerous animals in Africa because they are highly aggressive especially when you get between them and the water.

Although they largely wallow in water and come out 4-5 hours only to graze, hippos can’t swim nor float. They can however hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Even while sleeping, hippos can resurface from the water without waking up.

Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as moisturiser and sunblock, but gives the appearance that they’re bleeding.


I have been to Africa before, but never in Kenya. The Great Migration and River (Mara) Crossing is top of mind, but we were eager to see those long pink legs in Kenya. Lake Nakuru was first on the list. Never mind that the flamingos have moved to Lake Bogoria where pink flamingos found a more abundant feeding ground. Algae forming in the lake bed attracts these flamingos with thin, long, pink legs and just as thin, long necks. Still, the few who remained in the area of Lake Nakuru managed to present quite a spectacle amidst cape buffaloes frolicking by the fringe of this soda lake. An iconic image of both Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria is a swathe of these birds feeding as a flock thus carpeting and turning the lake pink or taking flight thus turning the sky pink. To say such scenery is breathtaking would be an understatement. But the numbers have dwindled and the lake in Nakuru is hardly pink.

Still, not all is lost in Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley some 150 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, home to both white and the more elusive black rhino with hooked snouts. The threatened Black rhinos number 25 here, the biggest concentration in Kenya. It also abounds in game animals like leopards and prides of lions who’ve decided not to make an appearance during our visit. ๐Ÿ˜” But we were rewarded with sightings of zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles, elands, baboons and many species of birds we couldn’t even name. Birdwatchers will have a heyday here.

By the time we’ve reached Lake Bogoria, it was late afternoon. The “kill” we’ve been praying for happened here. Nothing as grand as a “wait, chase and kill” of hunter beasts seen in NatGeo videos but rather, an unexpected predator bird patiently waiting by the edge of the lake. The whole drama unfolded before our eyes. A Marabou stork threateningly flapping its wings, scaring them pink flamingos to take flight. Flying as a tight flock can be disastrous as these birds may accidentally break their wings as they collide into one another especially in a sudden flight. And a pink flamingo with a broken wing is this stork’s easy next meal. How tragic. The marabou stork lost its charm with our group as we witnessed this lone stork feast on this lovely bird, still moving and flapping its better wing while its predator pulled out what looked like its intestines. Ouch!

(Trivia: Pink Flamingos have pink eggs (inside) and pink milk. Would their intestines be pink too? Must be their diet of brine shrimps, Blue green algae and crustaceans.)

๐Ÿ“ธ by Master Photographer & good friend Ernie Albano

We can only watch with mixed emotions as the “kill” provided excitement and the slow death made us cringe with disgust as the stork delighted on its meal. We tried as best as we could to soak in the whole African credo that such is the “nature of Nature” — an acceptance of the circle of life. Survival of the fittest may sound harsh, even cruel, but Nature is a universal law of life here without question. We share this same acceptance but seeing Marabou storks the next few days on this trip reminded us of the sad plight of one pink flamingo with a broken wing that lay dying in front of the entire flock, seemingly indifferent to the whole drama. Sad. But such is Nature.

https://youtu.be/Jb-bgXIbxA8

Touchdown, Nairobi


My excitement started long before I boarded that Qatar flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya. I have long wanted to experience this after that first African Safari in South Africa in 2012. At the time, I was tentative, hesitant, dripping with excitement, adrenaline pumping, nearly out of my wits. After all, it’s not everyday you see wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, zebras, kudus and cape buffaloes having a “party” out in the open Savannah, hear a roaring lion, sit still while a rhino crosses your path, or wait till the pair of cheetahs grow tired of the shade under a lone tree in a vast field. It’s wild. And then and there, I knew I’d never ever want to see any of these beautiful animals in a zoo or caged, whipped like in a circus.

Our tour escort sent a video a week before our departure. The video was captioned “spotted near the border” where we are headed for. Read: “happening now”. Just enough to whet our appetites for the long-coveted Great Migration or Maasai Mara. We pocketed those “dreams” as we struggled during our long flights via Doha, Qatar. The Doha airport looks so much better than the last time I was here in 2008. And it’s a very busy airport too.

As we tried to dismiss the same thrilling thoughts of animal sightings, we touched down this one bright afternoon in Kenya’s capital, just south of the equator. Almost anti-climactic as there isn’t much to do upon arrival. We felt wasted, post-flight, and needed to recover our energy. Not even a quick city tour of the capital’s historical landmarks perked us up. We did spot some really huge birds though up in the trees lining the roads leading to our hotel. Birdwatchers would have a heyday here. It would also have been lovely to visit the Karen Blixen House and Museum but there isn’t much time. Besides, we’re told much of the furnishings in the house were really production sets from “Out of Africa” — a movie based in Ms. Blixen’s book of the same title. I’m really quite happy with the movie and the house at the foot of Ngong Hills would have been interesting. But that visit can wait for another day. Instead, we headed straight for Sarova Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. I wasn’t confident to venture out of the hotel after freshening up. A few of us braved walking towards the market and narrated their encounter with a couple of “aggressive” locals who kept asking them where they came from. They promptly returned to the hotel after that episode. As for me, I stayed in the room and decided to rest till dinner. I just knew I’d doze off as soon as my back touched the comfortable bed, with my head snuggled between the soft pillows. And so, it was a quick soak in the tub before the dinner inside the hotel. The adventures can wait. My apologies for a very uneventful day. These long trips really suck my energy. Tomorrow we head for Aberdares where we booked at Treetops. Should be quite a relaxing day in a very historic place. Karibu, Nairobi! Goodnight ๐Ÿ’ค ๐Ÿ’ค ๐Ÿ’ค


A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 






In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why ๐Ÿ™„) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!





Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive ๐Ÿ˜Š Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 






Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileรฑo lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 




Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family ๐Ÿ˜˜




In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences ๐Ÿ˜œ 






In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 




For more photos and details, just click on the links/highlighted headings. 

For more blogs celebrating life, check out : 

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/

http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/

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Food is an integral part of my travels and yes, you may say food defines many of my adventures. The passion to search for certain kinds of food is serious business. Going to great lengths for a food particular to the area builds the excitement as much as checking out the local attractions. So, here’s a compilation. It is a living, breathing list as I intend to add more as I get busy celebrating life. A few inches more on the waist, on the hips won’t hurt ๐Ÿ™‚

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EATING AROUND THE PHILIPPINES

It all starts at home. While the Philippines has national dishes like adobo, sinigang, Kare Kare and lechon, there are regional cuisines that are must-try eats. Check these out.

Philippine Cuisine

Regional Cuisine: Northern Philippines

What and Where to Eat in Laoag and Vigan

As Spicy As It Gets in Bicol

What To Eat In Batanes

Eating Frogs and Crickets From the Philippines’ Culinary Capital

DINING101 in AFRICA

Boma Dinner and the Exotic Meats of Africa

South African Cuisine

BUEN PROVECHO EN ESPAร‘A!

Eating Around Spain

Best Churros Con Chocolate

FOOD PORN IN BANGKOK

EATING AROUND BHUTAN

PHร” & MORE IN HO CHI MINH

BEYOND NASI GORENG IN INDONESIA

FOOD COMA IN KOREA

SUBJECT TO ADDITIONS, NO DELETIONS.

LIFE AS A MOVIE (Part 1)


I’m on a REVIEW MODE. I always tell my family that when I grow too old to be able to travel without breaking any bones or being a burden to my travel companions, I’d be quite content in a lazy boy watching my OWN MOVIES and photo albums. It’s my MEMORY AIDE these “memory catchers”. I want to remember all the happy moments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Safari videos certainly rank up there in my collection of memories. How else can you replay those moments when you’re just a few feet from a rhino or a pride of lions? It’s a miracle my hands stopped shaking to capture these moments in video. But my Zambian adventure tops the list too. Aaah….. Zambia. It’s everything I did not expect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first helicopter ride didn’t happen in Zambia. My first heliflight was back in 2007 in Alaska. Setting foot on Mendenhall Glacier was a top thrill too. That’s when I knew I can give up shopping anytime to blow dollars on these expensive adventures. But there were also happy moments where I didn’t have to burn a hole in my pocket. Times with family. Adventures with my “elves”. *Happiness*

 

 

 

 

 


This blog was written some months back. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how I missed publishing it. I beg your indulgence. This “back blog” completes my series on South Africa’s Western Cape.

 

 

This morning, we bundled and layered up good for a cold day at sea. No matter how cold it gets, we were ready for the whales. Humpbacks or Southern Rights, we’re eager to see them whales. The sun was out. But the water’s far from calm. Our premium whale-watching cruise was cancelled for safety reasons.

 

 

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We were hoping till the last minute. Quite frankly, I hardly paid attention to the majestic seascape offered by Plettenberg Bay as I mulled over the idea of seeing them Southern Rights in their own territory. All too often, our sleepy demeanor was disturbed whenever our coach coasts along the Adriatic and Indian Seaboard while our Tour Director points somewhere off the blue waters. A whale? Where? I couldn’t trust my eyesight and I simply obliged by snapping photos here and there. Upon review, I was dismayed to find nothing other than what looked like rocks off the ocean.

 

 

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Well, no whales today. And we leave tomorrow for our safari. Tough luck. Instead, we headed for the Birds of Eden to while away that frustrating afternoon. On other days, this could have been an interesting afternoon. The photos speak for themselves. Those are beautiful birds. But. They. Are. Birds. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

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As we exited the bird sanctuary, we found a Monkey park right beside it. Also baboons right outside the bird park. They all looked busy. Either they found something to eat and share among themselves or they are simply on a “stroll”. Either way, they scare me. They look very aggressive. So unlike the safari “beasts” who didn’t seem interested in humans.

 

 

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And so, the day ended with some despair over the botched whale watching adventure. Coming on the heels of another botched adventure (cable car ride to the Table Mountain, no less!), we knew we just had to find our amusement elsewhere. Like a food adventure? Very well. Thank God South African cuisine didn’t disappoint.


I’m back. One short to make the Big 5. The leopard was a no-show. But the giraffes, zebras and many antelopes more than made up for the leopard’s absence.

 

 

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Game! I was happy and content until I reviewed a blog written by my friend Shane Dallas a.k.a. Travel Camel. Shane did his first safari years back and has since gone back to the less beaten paths in Africa. You can say I’m the newbie where Shane has gone on to pursue other dimensions of travel adventures.

 

 

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I may have seen enough zebras in Entabeni Private Game Reserve. ย BUT they were all COMMON zebras. Not the Grevy’s Zebras with white bellies and thinner stripes. I was awed by the regal giraffes with their elegant necks and luscious eyelashes, but not one I sighted was the reticulated giraffes Shane has blogged about. The ones we found in Entabeni had brown “splotches” while the reticulated giraffes have finer and more defined skin patterns. Spot the difference, if you will.

 

 

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Our very first Rhino!

 

 

The rhino we sighted was the white rhino. White not because of it skin color, but WIDE lipped rhinos. Compare this with the hook lipped BLACK rhino. Smaller in size, but different. More rare, they say.

 

 

 

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The Rare Black Rhino

 

 

And then there are the antelopes. Many impalas. Some elands. But no kudus with their spiral horns. Another friend (whose kudu photo i borrowed) suggests we do a national park next time. More animals, more natural, she says. Well, I guess there’s no “perfect safari”. There are some safari animals indigenous to a certain place. Like the springboks are indigenous to South Africa’s Western Cape while the Grevy’s zebras are nowhere to be found in Entabeni. But that’s fine. There’s always a next visit. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

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Kudus. I only met you on a dinner plate but NOT in person ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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Elands. Looking like they just had their sumptuous dinner.

“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.โ€

Brian Jackman (2004 Travel Writer of Year )