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  1. Travel Music: A Playlist for Travellers

    Missing ben on 9th July 2010 | 6 comments

    Manu Chao Esparanza Cover Art

    Travelling always seems to be accompanied by a rich soundtrack, a background playlist that plays through the cafes, the hostels, the bus journeys and of course the bars we pass through. Much of it consists of a terrible pastiche of traditional music (think of the souvenir shop) and often hashed reworkings of western popular music. Likewise your Ipod is subject to whatever is the flavour of the day - so for me Australia will always remind me of Fat Boy Slim (yes, it was that long ago). More interesting though, is the music that talks, no, sings of a place - travel music. Travel music is the kind of music that, if you close your eyes, drags you away from a rainy evening at home to somewhere far more adventurous. This collection of travel music is a combination of truly great world music and songs which, although produced far from the shores of their subject, somehow manage to capture its spirit. So without further ado, sit back and enjoy.

    The playlist is available on Spotify at http://open.spotify.com/user/bencol/playlist/1rCOZEZAUGmaLwBXw90MZX

    1. Before You Go: Ramblin'Man by Lemonjelly
      A song for anyone with a spirit of adventure, this should by default, be the hold music for any travel company worth its salt. The song samples an interview with a fictional ramblin'man with a wonderfully gravelly voice that talks of too many late nights with a fine scotch. At times it is simply a recital of evocative place-names (67 places to be precise - of which I've only visited 20 disappointingly) but it ends with a line that will strike to the core of any itchy footed traveller, "and you are going to keep on rambling?" "Oh yes .... I have to"

    2. At The Airport: Mad Rush by Phillip Glass
      A song for any transport terminal anywhere. Put you headphones on and float through the crowds as if you are starring in your own movie. This should actually, in all fairness to the genius of Phillip Glass, be served as a crescendo to some other Glass masters such as Knee play and the Evening song.

    3. Moving On: On the Road Again by Willie Nelson
      This is the song that will play through your head every time you leave your last night's abode. There ain't nothing like packing up your sack, leaving a joint and never looking back. It doesn't matter whether you are hitch-hiking or climbing back into your rent-a-reck, it'll always be there with you. "on the road again...I just can't wait to be on the road again..."

    4. Hawaii: Somewhere over The Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
      Sun, surf, warm evening light, swaying palms and the Ukulele just about sums up Hawaii and this re-imagining of the classic Wizard of Oz ditty captures the spirit perfectly. The best and original ukulele version is by the legendary Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, one of the most influential musical artists in recent Hawaian history. Unfortunately this version isn't available on Spotify so you'll have to do with this passable imitation.

    5. US Road Trip: Silver Dagger by The Fleet Foxes
      Sun, surf, warm evening light, wait a minute we did that. This time it is blissful sunshine filled rural USA that is evoked by one of the classic US folk ballads (dating back to the 19C) reworked by the heavenly voice of Robin Pecknold of the Seattle based Fleet Foxes. Perfect listening to accompany The Grapes of Wrath by John Stenbeck on your great American road trip.

    6. Koh Samui or any other Thai Island: Pure Shores by All Saints My Weakness by Moby
      I'm sorry. There, the apology is out of the way, if you ignore the rest of their back catalogue what you have is a song that (thanks to Alex Garland) evokes the feeling of leaving the heat and chaos of Ko Sahn road behind for the bliss of a hidden beach on Kho Pha Ngan. If Pure Shores lays the ground then My Weakness by Moby is the track you'll be listening to as you sit back on the tiny verandah of your ramshackle beachside hut, sun slowly slipping below the horizon...

    7. Australian Backpacking Jaunt: Down Under by Men at Work
      Obvious maybe, but if you've backpacked the East Coast booze cruise (sorry travel route) then you are pretty much guaranteed to have yelled this at the top of your lungs whilst drunkenly caressing a bottle of VB. This song is an integral part of Australian culture, played loudly during the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony and also by John Bertrand's Australia 11 in their legendary defeat of the US establishment in the 1983 Americas Cup.

    8. Southern Africa: Diamonds on the Sole of her Shoes by Paul Simon & Inkanyezi Nezazi by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
      Anybody who has travelled to Africa will talk of the mysterious allure to this great content, beyond the sights, the sounds, the smells. There is something about the combination of the huge landscape, colours, cultures and animals that is simply vibrant. This incredibly addictive trait is most perfectly enconsed in its music and Paul Simon's Graceland is the perfect introduction. I can pretty much guarantee that listening to this song for the first time wil be the start of a love affair with Africa. 

    9. Northern Africa: Sabali by Amadou & Mariam
      Beloved  by the world music scene Amadou & Mariam are the superstars of African music. Hailing from Mali their music is everything that is great about the country which has an incredibly rich cultural and musical heritage.

    10. South America: Me Gustas tu by Manu Chao
      Pick up anything by Manu Chao and you'll instantly be transformed to travelling in South America. Chao was actually born in Paris to Spanish parents but the music is pure Latin America thanks to years spent travelling in the region. Their finest work (imho) Clandestino was recorded whilst Manu drifted around South and Central America with his guitar and a four-track. Whilst many other songs on this travelling playlist evoke the blissed out relaxed moments, Manu Chao shakes you out of your stupor and puts you in the mood to party! Next time you laugh at the backpacker lugging around a guitar, think twice.

    11. Spain: Bamboleo by the Gipsy Kings
      Ah the buzzing tapas bars, the heady late night culture and the joyful sounds of Bamboleo - you may not recognize the name, but you'll know it when it hits the chorus, 1.2.3 Bamboleo, Bambolea  .......

    12. The Amazon: Don't Trust the Dusty Fruit by The Ruby Suns and the Penan Tribe
      We all have much to thank Bruce Parry for, he produces probably the finest travel television known to man-kind (in the form of his Tribes documentaries) and he also pulled together an album joining great modern artists with Amazon tribes. This is perhaps the best collaboration on the album.

    13. The Border Town: Tijuana Lady by Gomez
      Border towns are often dark and seedy places and Tijuan in Mexico is no exception. This much derided (and sung about) town is the haunt of drug mules, prostitution, and college kids from South California on a border bender to Mexico. In truth this song is probably a soundtrack to the morning after rather than the buzz the night before. 

    14. And finally, a song for when you have had too long on the road: Homelands by Nitin Sawhney
      We all reach that point when we have simply had too long on the road. The sense of wonder becomes jaded, nesting in Ikea is actually beginning to appeal on some levels and you'd just like a nice bed  and a bit of space to yourself. For me this song somehow evokes that sentiment, managing to incorporate incredible world music influences from tribal India yet not really feeling like it is from anywhere.

    If I could only choose one of these fine artists to populate my travel Ipod I would have to choose Manu Chao. Perhaps because it is so upbeat, and perhaps because he has travelled so much himself and gets it - Who would you choose?

  2. Travelling without a destination

    Missing ben on 7th April 2010 | 0 comments

    Last week I wrote about Zeke's Ryannair mystery tour in a post titled The web is ruining Travel. Exploiting a unique quirk in the Ryannair website, he booked a flight not knowing where he was heading, thereby avoiding the information glut that the web provides. He managed to offend entire nations, confuse border guards and make a general fool of himself. In the follow up video, Zeke unveils the mystery destination, struggles to find a room, and sadly ends up craving a good session on the internet - but you'll have to watch it yourself to find out where he went.


    In case you missed it, the first video can be watched in the original post 


  3. The web is ruining travel

    Missing ben on 1st April 2010 | 4 comments


    There are 918 travel blogs on Technorati and hundreds of travel forums and social networking sites. There is a bewildering level of choice and information and it is spoiling the joy of independent travel. 

    The traditional vision of a fresh faced traveller waving goodbye at the airport gate with little more than an outbound ticket and a well thumbed guide book seem to be gone.  Instead, after weeks spent poring over the excellent Matador Network and the exhaustive Lonely Planet Thorntree, they'll arrive at the airport porting a hybrid backpack stuffed with netbook, adapters and iphone. By the time they step of the plane in Calcutta they will have read up on the hassle they can expect from all and sundry in the streets and will have adopted the trademark aloof backpacker body language - "I know what I'm doing, don't try to take me for a ride!" - there is no way will they be falling foul of the hawkers! And in doing so, they miss something, they miss making their own mistakes and discovering with fresh eyes.

    Surely, the joy of travel is serendipity, spontaneity and in saying yes to every offer however bizarre?  Surely, it is about saying 'why not?' when a local claiming to be a university professor offers to guide you around the local museum.  Yes I know, there are some fantastic resources that will inspire you to go places you would never have dreamed of, and others which will help you really get off the beaten track, but at what cost?  Surely you can achieve the same by speaking to somebody on the road and asking a local?

    I have to ask myself, would we have been escorted up Sigiriya in Sri Lanka by three policeman and then treated to a traditional Muslim family meal back at the Police Chief's modest home if I had followed Tripadvisor's things to do in Kandy. Similarly, would I have been asked by a couple of young Malay women to provide male company when they bought their daily fish supplies from the intimidating commercial fishing boats in the Pehrentians?

    So, in our own crass unscientific way we decided to put our money where our mouth is. Zeke, a regular Tourdust writer, came up with a little experiment:

    "Did you know you can book a flight on Ryannair without knowing which country you are visiting?"

    Well, I didn't, but apparently it is true (I haven't checked), all he had to go by was an airport code with an unhealthy quantity of rarely used consonants. So before I could question his logic, Zeke had booked himself a ticket. Without knowing the destination it is tricky to buy a guidebook or to check out hotels on Tripadvisor.

    The first part of Zeke's amusing journey is documented below - I've watched the video and still don't know the destination. Let me know if you can guess, because Zeke continues to refuse to let me in on the secret. He will be gracing these pages in the next week with the second part of the video. 

    If this subject interests you there have been some fascinating posts and discussions on the general theme of staying connected on the road. Rolf Potts opened a beehive by critiquing the use of twitter when travelling, Stephen Chapman wrote an excellent piece about travelling unplugged and perhaps my favourite, a recent post by David Page wondering whether we are seeing the twilight of the guidebook? If you enjoyed Zeke's video and you want to see more of his frankly unusual sense of humour I recommend you check out his sites, http://www.tittybiscuits.com/ and http://www.smashingworkshop.com/

  4. Ballsy adventurers, decapitation & polar bears

    Zeke2 zeke on 17th March 2010 | 0 comments

    Ross Lee Tabak is a travel writer, photographer and author of the frequently exceptional We're Lost and Everything is Dirty.  Ross combines fascinating insights, punchy writing and sublime photography to drag the reader away from their laptop and into a completely different world.  We are lucky enough to be able to publish his frankly brilliant responses to our interview questions:

    Calcutta by Ross Lee TabakCalcutta street

    (TD) Ross Lee Tabak - You’re a dashing young man and owner of the “We’re Lost and Everything is Dirty” travel blog. You’re also currently travelling in India. How’s that working out for you?

    > It's too early to say, but it's at least as awesome as I thought it'd be. Mostly I've come to understand why everyone describes India only in vague hyperbole - the place is so big, chaotic and incomprehensible there really isn't any other way to talk about it.


    (TD) Tell us a little about the ethos of the “Everything is Dirty” blog.

    > I think it changes every other week. I actually started Everything is Dirty with the idea of writing about absurd news stories and ballsy adventurers (my favourites are James Holman and Jørgen Jørgensen) without the pretension of sticking myself in there, but at some point it turned into a personal blog anyway.
    If I have an ethos or an aim, it'd be to create an idea of 'travel' that's independent of the traveller. I love travel narratives, but reading story after story about some guy from Idaho's revelations at an ashram gets a little tedious. There are almost seven billion other people on the planet - the world is so huge that it doesn't make any sense to focus on what travel does to you. Making yourself the subject seems to completely disregard and obfuscate the place you're ostensibly experiencing. 
    Instead, I want to talk about all the weird little things you come across in the course of travelling. The strange food, forgotten temples, uncomfortable conversations, etc. It seems obvious, but it draws criticism sometimes - when you step out of the safe-zone of writing about yourself you have to start making judgements and assumptions that are often incorrect or offensive. Still, I think admitting and embracing the lens you're looking through is way more interesting than pretending to be objective or talking about yourself. Maybe it's ethnocentric to call things "weird," but I'd rather say something stupid once in a while than be boring all the time.

    (TD) Your adventures so far have been envious to say the least, which begs the question: what led up to the point where you thought ‘screw this guys, I’m outta here’?  
    > It wasn't so much being fed up as an intense fear that I was going to end up doing 9-5 in an office. In college someone told me, "Getting a real job doesn't mean you have to stop travelling. You'll still get about two weeks of vacation a year and you can do whatever you want!" Two weeks?! That scared the bejesus out of me. The complicated thing about wanting to travel is that it's completely at odds with everything you're supposed to do. You can play guitar or cook in your spare time, but travelling isn't something you can relegate to the evenings after work. It seemed like I had to choose between a steady income and a life of adventure, excitement and intrigue, so I sold everything I couldn't fit in a backpack and left. 

    (TD) Any long-term plans, or are you taking everything one step at a time?  
    > The second one. But it's working pretty well! 

    (TD) You’ve walked through a minefield in Laos, braved ‘Yak Killer Hornets’ and been hit by a truck while cycling in Japan (which is probably the funniest story about being hit by a truck while cycling in Japan I’ve ever read.) Are there any moments where you seriously feared for your life?  
    > One time I convinced myself I had rabies, which has a survival rate of precisely zero (I was fine.) I've fallen off motorcycles more times than I can count and that moment between hitting the ground and standing up is always terrifying. I'd like to think I've gotten a little smarter lately, but last week I ate a fingernail-sized piece of naga jolokia. It's the hottest chilli in the world, about two hundred times spicier than a jalapeño. I was pretty sure that was the end. 

    (TD) On that note, do you almost revel in things going wrong? Disasters often make for the best travel tales.   
    > I think disasters always make the best travel tales. There's probably a bit of schadenfreude in there, but a good disaster can turn a run-of-the-mill vacation slideshow into a story about overcoming hardship. Nobody writes fiction without conflict and plot twists, so why should travel writing be any different?

    (TD) As with any good travel journal, cuisine is an oft visited feature of the blog. You’ve eaten a cobra, a porcupine and a whale (a bit of one, anyway.) What have been the high and indeed low lights of your worldwide eating extravaganza? 
    > This is way back before I started blogging seriously, but there's a restaurant in Saigon called the "Jungle Barbecue." It pretty much serves everything in the jungle… um, barbecued. I used to go there about once a month and by the time I left Vietnam I'd checked off iguana, rat, sparrow, weasel and all sorts of unmentionable animal parts. 
    The low point was probably dog meat, coincidentally also in Vietnam. I ate it on purpose once or twice just to say I did, but later my friend and I took a motorbike trip up near the border with China and there actually wasn't anything to eat but dog for a good couple of days. It's not repulsive, but I'd rather not touch it again. 
    The take-home lesson here is that there's a reason humans mostly eat pigs, cows, chickens and the like - we've spent thousands of years breeding them to be delicious. Dogs and porcupines have had no such conditioning. 
    (TD) At the risk of sounding sycophantic, the photography on the blog is wonderful - both illustrative and artistic often at the same time. Have you had any formal training on that front? What camera set up do you use?  
    > Thanks! I've never had any serious training, but I've always been into design and it's kind of the same thing. I've also been using Photoshop for about ten years, but I think once you figure out how to use a camera properly the rest is just composition. I'm working on a lens collection but most of the time I just use a Nikon D60 and the standard 18-55mm that comes with most dSLRs. I have a whole philosophy behind it, but I think I just made it up to justify the fact that it's a pain in the ass to carry ten pounds of gear and I'm not responsible enough to own anything expensive.  
    The camera doesn't really matter though. A fancy SLR or 200mm lens might help, but if you know what you want to shoot you can do it with a camera phone. I think illustration comes before emotion, at least as far as travel photography goes. Feeling and mood are essential but it's more important to give a real sense of the place you're photographing. Unless you're calling your work art, which I don't, pictures have to be of stuff. 

    (TD) Which countries have you not yet been to but hope to visit in the future?  
    > All of them! Lately I've been pretty into the idea of spending a winter in Mongolia, but I'm not sure I could handle that for months on end without someone else I really liked along for the ride. Really though, if someone bought me a plane ticket tomorrow I don't think there's anywhere I wouldn't go. I've found that you can't actually say anything about your interest in a country until you've been there - places you've never even thought about can become fascinating the second you land, and ones you've always wanted to visit might turn out to be completely lame.  

    (TD) In which case, any countries would you go out of your way to avoid?  
    > I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of Laos or Panama. I know hating on Laos is backpacker sacrilege, but there are all these little things about it that bug the ever-living crap out of me. It's all stupid stuff I have no right to complain about, like people blaring Thai pop at 5am and the food being awful, but I've never found the peaceful land of elephants all the guidebooks talk about. And Panama... Panama feels like some sort of dystopian caricature of the US's worst aspects. There's nothing to eat except fast food and nobody seems to do anything except watch TV. I'm sure if I spent more time in either country I'd come to like them, but I don't have much desire to.

    (TD) Which have yielded some of your favourite experiences?  
    > The places I enjoyed the most are usually the ones where I stayed the longest, which I don't think is a coincidence. It takes a long time to start to see a country or city on its own terms and until that happens you're liable to miss out on the best parts. There are amazing experiences to be had everywhere if you look hard enough, and I'm starting to think the effect of place on travel is overstated. 
    Still, everywhere is different, and Vietnam never let me down in the adventure department (I wish I'd blogged more back then!) The landscape is incredible, the politics are absurd and the food is delicious. Colombia is amazing, too. I was only there a month, but I met some of the most sophisticated and interesting people I've ever come across. India is shaping up to be pretty ridiculous, but it'd take a lifetime to get a handle on this country. 

    (TD) On an unrelated but highly important note, for the record do you agree that polar bears are bad-ass? 
    > Oh hell yes, that's my new favourite Youtube video . My first blog was about animals eating each other, maybe I should start it back up.


  5. Cheap destinations for the travelling stomach

    Missing ben on 4th March 2010 | 9 comments

    Beijing Hot Pot

    Without doubt, my most memorable travelling moments have involved food - tucking into steaming broths in a bustling Asian night market, eating fresh seafood on a moonlit beach or tucking into a large bone of mutton on the Mongolian steppe. Food is arguably the most evocative and memorable feature of travelling.

    Ignoring the obvious gourmet foody meccas of New York, San Sebastian, Paris and Rome as this isn’t about eating at Michelin starred restaurants, which destinations can serve up a balanced diet of fantastic food in buzzing restaurants day-in-day-out at a modest price to suit the traveller’s budget?

    Some destinations renowned for their great food are nigh on useless for the purposes of a travelling stomach. Take Spain for instance. It hosts a fascinating tapas and pinxtos food culture and some of the best restaurants in the world. However, food in low and mid-range Spanish restaurants is often incredibly oily, devoid of any evidence of vegetation and served at ridiculously late in the night.

    The best destinations offer abundant restaurants whose food reflects the countries honest home-cooking rather than a refined and separate restaurant culture. Not surprisingly, SE Asia dominates my top three. Eating out is so cheap there you can enjoy three meals a day for months on end without diminishing your travel budget and the cheaper you go the better it gets, a bustling night market always beats a high end restaurant.


    1. Vietnam (street food = $0.5pp; local restaurants = $2pp; 1 beer = $0.60)
    bia hoi in Hanoi

    Vietnamese food has lots going for it, a very long coastline, French, Chinese and Vietnamese influences. The result is an incredible cuisine at an incredibly modest price. Everyone knows about the delicious spicy beef noodle soup Pho, but there is theatre too with the ever popular table-top bbq joints that are rammed to the rafters every night in Ho Chi Minh. Then there are the French influences, yes good wine is available as are French bistros, but seriously, skip the wine. Eat at a buzzing market, follow up with a divine dark chocolate sorbet from an ice cream parlour (Fannys in Hanoi is the best) and then head down to a street corner bia-hoi joint for some seriously cheap and fresh beer surrounded by the insane Vietnamese traffic. The Vietnamese people are crazy about their food, an ever lasting memory I have of our time there was seeing the locals head down en-masse to the beach at low tide to dig up the delicious clams to be found under the wet sand.


    2. Thailand (street food = $0.50pp, local restaurant food = $3pp, 1 beer = $0.90)
    Thailand night market

    It isn’t always easy finding a good restaurant in Thailand, but you can’t go wrong with the abundant street food.  A steaming hot bowl of chicken noodle soup can be picked up for a modest price and is both delicious and nutritious.  The night markets are without doubt the culinary highlight of Thailand, bustling, aromatic, cheap and delicious.  The greatest challenge is not filling yourself up with your first dish as there will be others you absolutely have to try.  The ubiquitous Thai Green curry and Pad Thai deserve a mention and they do always seem enhanced when served up with a tall bottle of Chang to share at a romantic beach-side table. (Thanks to Flickr user avlxyz for the image)


    3. Malaysia (street food = $1, local restaurant food = $2, 1 beer = $2)
    Chicken Rice

    The beauty of Malaysian food is the variety. Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nyonya influences are at play, and offer real variety. For everyday eating it is hard to beat a plate of Hainanese chicken rice, delicately steamed chicken served on top of the best rice you will ever taste and accompanied by a small bowl of chicken soup. That may not involve a huge dose of vegetables but you can always top up with fruit later. Nyonya cuisine is amongst the finest in the world, but unfortunately it can be hard to find in restaurants.  Malaysia hosts fantastic food markets too and a visit  isn't complete without a Roti Canai with dal. Roti Canai is a delicious flat bread similar to an Indian roti and is usually served with a spicy lentil dal. (Thanks to Flickr user avlxyz for the image)


    4. South Africa (street food = na, local restaurant food = $6, 1 beer = $1.50)
    Octopus on Braai

    Few would think of South Africa as a destination for great food, but the combination of modest prices and abundant red meat, fruit, vegetables and decent wine is a winner. Cosmopolitan South Africa boasts a similar passion for fine wining and dining as Australia and New Zealand, but wins hands down for its low prices and the ever present braai, where the humble bbq is raised to a true art form. Eating out is incredibly accessible, even with loud kids in tow – but unlike the Asian destinations mentioned above you will definitely want to plan to cook in some nights, if only to see if you can emulate some of the braai tricks of your hosts! (Thanks to Flickr user victoriapeckham for the image)


    5. China (street food = $1.50, local restaurant food = $3.50, 1 beer = $1.00)
    Street market in Beijing

    It is hard to sum up such a vastly varied cuisine as China's so I’ll leave you with some of my favourite meals.  A cup full of potato wedges cooked on an open fire and dipped in the most divine and intensely hot spice rub you could ever imagine in Zhongdian.  Piling up the plates of shaved beef and noodles around a boiling broth in a Beijing shopping mall.  Selecting our meat of choice from cages of live snakes, chicken and ducks.  Soaking rolled up balls of stale bread in a mutton broth in a backstreet Muslim restaurant.  Eating cubes of solid pig fat that tasted as close to heaven as I have ever come.  And finally a 20 course dumpling banquet in Xian!  Even the depressing sign of backpacker exposure was ever present – the dreaded banana pancake!


    And finally, the disappointments...

    Mexico was perhaps my biggest culinary disappointment.  It probably reflects a failure on my part to get under the skin of the cuisine, but honestly I’d take Tex-Mex over real Mexican food any time.  I found many meals under flavoured, too sweet or swamped in sauce.  Admittedly street food was good, but not always that accessible.  New Zealand also disappointed, but for an altogether different reason – a lack of diversity.  And finally who could make an argument for Russia? I'm not averse to a little stodgy Northern European food from time to time, but I have absolutely no memories of what I eat in Russia and that is telling!