Socotra, South Yemen – The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean

Socotra is an island in the middle of the Arabian Sea and belongs to Yemen. The island stands on coral banks and probably in the past was connected with the African and Arabian mainlands.

Socotra inhabitants differ from mainland Arabs and are believed to be a mixture of Greek, Portuguese, African and Arabs. Their language is a version of the ancient Himyarite language which was spoken in pre Islamic Arabia for many centuries. They are engaged in fishing and in small part in agriculture, nomads keep cattle and goats are very common.

Saeed, our guide by a beautiful Desert Rose, the Bottle tree

Socotra flora includes several species and among them the two most important are the Dragon Blood Tree and the Bottle shape tree, the desert rose.

The Socotran Bottle Trees, with its beautiful pink flowers, are the most mysterious and bizarre trees, they grow only here, having roots in mostly hard limestone rock on vertical cliffs and mountain plateaus.

The particular shape of these trees are linked two special drought adaptations to retain as much water as possible during adverse periods.

Men in Socotra wear the above kind of skirts called Ma’awiz, made from patterned fabrics. It is worn around the waist like a wrap and it is fixed on the body by folding the top. Some people wear usual belts or Jambia belts like in inland Yemen.

The Dragon Blood Tree with its peculiar umbrella shape, grows in rocky grounds and on high locations. The red resin which is obtained from this tree is considered till today be a panacea and used for many purposes: lacquering wood, in medicine, in cosmetics and in dyes. The tree produces also a red honey, which is considered the best honey in the world with many health benefits.

Dragon Blood tree branches from bottom to top

Socotra is a paradise, hard to reach, but the fatigue to reach it is indeed worthwhile. It has been an unforgettable trip to this pristine island. Well organized and tailor made trip according to our needs and interests, the 15 days tour gave us the opportunity to visit all spots in the island and discover the culture and traditions of Socotri people. We never felt unsafe during all tour, also when in remote spots and alone. Socotri people are very friendly, generous and curious to know about you and your culture.

The tourism season is quite short, from October to beginning of May. On other months strong winds, dust winds, monsoon rains make the island impossible to visit.

The limited adventurous eco tourism, not mass tourism, allowed Socotra to remain relatively unspoiled in comparison to many other islands in the world.

Endemic plants and animals can be found all over Socotra, sometimes uniquely found in the highlands or in the mountains. Socotra is very important for the biodiversity conservation because of its rich flora and fauna. Out of 825 plant species, 308 are endemic; this means that these species can be found only in Socotra and nowhere else in he world.

Socotra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 due to its rich flora and fauna most of which, as said, is endemic.

We appreciated the beautiful breathtaking landscapes, sand dunes, lagoons, caves and cliffs, forests and long large beaches.

Qalansiyah beach and our camp site by the beach

Enjoying white sand dunes

Children in Socotra are friendly and curious but humble and mannerly. Never pressing you to buy little things they have nor asking for money. They have beautiful smiles and deep eyes.

Abdullah, the cave man in Detwah lagoon. A 2 hours walk from our camping site in Qalansiyah took us to Detwah lagoon where in the morning we had to pay visit to Abdullah, better known as the Cave Man. Abdullah’s family lives in Qalansiyah village, but, he says, he prefers to spend most of his time in this quiet cave. We add: this allows him to gain some money during the tourism season, as tourists flock to his cave to meet him and enjoy a nice plate of fresh fish food. This excursion is part of the Socotra trip and all tourists who visit Qalansiyah want to go there and meet him.

Abdullah in his cave

Socotra Food: most of our meals were based on fresh fish, usually bought early in the morning directly from fisherman. Fresh fish, delicious, is accompanied by rice and sauce with potatoes and vegetables. Rarely we had meat, and when if it was goat always accompanied by rice. Tea is always available at any time of the day. You will always find a hot thermos of prepared tea ready to drink.

More views of beautiful Socotra



Bangladesh – Land of Smiles

Cox’s Bazar Fish Market

Bangladesh is situated in the fertile plains of the Gange river delta of the Bay of Bengal, hence its name meaning “Country of Bengal”.

It is famous for being home to the world largest river delta formed by the Brahmaputra and the Ganges rivers; for the Bengali tigers in the Sundarbans (a mangrove and swampland in the delta); for the longest natural sea beach located in Cox’s Bazar (150 km. long); for the Malnicherra Tea Estate, the oldest tea garden in the subcontinent; and last, but not least, for the ancient historical city of Panam Nagar.

Bangladesh is far from being a volatile or dangerous country and Bangladeshi citizens are some of the most hospitable and friendly people you’ll ever meet.

DHAKA is the Capital and largest city of Bangladesh. It’s the 6th most populated city in the world with a population of approximately 9 Million residents within the city limits and 21 Million residents in Greater Dhaka area. Dhaka emerged as a cosmopolitan city during the Moghul Empire. It’s a hub for trade and culture. Once upon a time called the City of Mosques and the Venice of the East and nowadays also known as the Rickshaw Capital of the world, as there are over 500,000 cycle rickshaws running on its roads. Dhaka streets and rivers are filled with colorful chaos. Being part of the Bengal plain, the city is bounded by 4 rivers. The origin of name Dhaka is uncertain. Probably the name comes from the Dhak trees which are very common in the area, but it could also have origin from an instrument the “Dhak”, or from a Hindu goodness Dhakeshwari whose temple is located in the south western part of the city.

DHAKA GARMENT WORKERS: the Readymade Garment Industry —

Special mention goes to Garment industry: the Garment and textile business is the number one industry in Bangladesh, accounting for 80% of the country’s export. Bangladesh is second only to China. Most of the nation 4500 garment factories are concentrated around the capital Dhaka and attract thousands of rural residents in search of jobs and better life for their families. Many global brands have contracts with garment factories in Bangladesh for their clothing production at very low production prices compared to western manufacturers. Garment industry worker works for an average of 12 hours a day for a monthly salary which varies from 35 to 90 US dollars. According to an international study, only the 2% of the price of an article purchased in the western world goes to the Bangla worker who made it.

Workers at Garment Factory

PANAM City is famous for its unique and fine architectures. Once a small village, known as the Capital of Isa Khan (a ruler of Bengal) it existed during the 15th century and a few memories are still remaining nowadays.


My Tour Operator in Bangladesh

This mangrove forest is one of the largest forests in the world and lies on the delta of 2 rivers: Ganges, Brahmaputra , in the bay of Bengala. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, lizards, mudskippers, dolphins, for the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and Indian python.

With its variety of trees and wildlife the forest is a showplace of natural history. But it is also a centre of economic activities such as extraction of timber, fishing and honey collection. The forest consists of about 200 islands, separated by about 400 interconnected tidal rivers, creeks and canals.

Sailing in the Sundarbans is pleasant and relaxing. You can enjoy your boat sailing through backwaters canals while admiring the astonishing nature around you.

Honey Collectors

Sundarbans is famous also for its honey.

The most famous is the one obtained from the Kalisha flower, found in the deep interiors of the forest. The peak season of honey collection begins in March and ends beginning of June. The Mawalis (honey collectors) as they are called, often risk their lives to collect honey, victims of tigers, venomous snakes and crocodiles in the muddy waters, all this for an average earning of about 80 Us Dollars for the whole season. Honey picking sounds like a normal rural occupation but here it is perhaps the most dangerous occupation in the world. Honey collectors need to properly cover their face with cloths, otherwise bees could attack. Beehive has to be approached cautiously, using torches made up of leaves to create smoke. The smoke produced forces the bees to fly away and allow the collectors to climb the tree to reach the honey. In the past few years honey collection has fallen so much and the Mawalis are no longer motivated to enter the forest and put their lives at high risk.


The name Cox’s Bazar derives from Captain Hiram Cox, an officer of the British East Indian Company who was appointed as the superintendent of Palonki (former name) outpost.

A fishing port and tourist destination located along 75 mile stretch of beach. Its beach is considered Cox’s main attraction with an unbroken length of 150 km, also called “the longest natural unbroken sea beach in the world”. A destination for the richest Bangladeshis but recently it has become a hub for foreign humanitarian staff who work here to help in the Rohingya refugee camps.

The Rohingya issue

The Rohingya (Bengalis) are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Before the displacement, an estimated 1.4 million Rohingya lived in the country. The 2017 exodus, due to the Myanmar violence, brought more than 800 to seek refugee in neighboring Bangladesh. They risked everything to escape a military offensive of local Burma and buddhist mobs, which was described as an “ethnic cleansing”. Cox’s Bazar is the city hosting the main camps for the refugees living in poor conditions but assisted by many w/w Ngos who are helping the community trying to improve their living and health conditions. Refugees are not allowed to work in Bangladesh and cannot leave the camps without the permission of the Government. Other important aspect regards the Rohingya children who have a bleak future with little freedom of movement, inadequate access to education, poverty, serious protection risks and abuse, including child marriage.


Located about 7 km from Cox’s, it’s a worthwhile excursion. The western side of the island is sandy; on the northers side there are beds of windowpane oysters (placuna placenta).

During winter time fishermen set up temporary camps on the island and dry their catches of sea fish to sell at the market.

Chittagong Hill Tracks

It’s located in the south eastern part of Bangladesh and includes 3 Hill Districts: Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban. It’s one of the most diverse regions in the country and home to eleven indigenous ethnic groups of Mongolian ancestry which differ from the majority of Bengali people as regards race, language, culture, heritage, religion, political history and economy, and these differences are the cause of permanent conflicts in the region.

To conclude: Bangladesh is a country of luxuriant nature and a thousand smiles: these are the first two impressions you have from a trip in Bangladesh. A unique experience, strong and humanly fascinating, a country with astonishing culture and people.!


November 2019

Maha Kumbh Mela 2019, Prayagraj

IMG_8768The Kumbh Mela festival 2019 took place in Prayagraj (once called Allahabad, the Moghul-era name).  The Kumbh Mela is the only event in the world where no invitation or permission is required and is allowed to all faiths, yet millions of pilgrims and visitors gather to celebrate the holy event.  Kumbh Mela has its origin from a legend, describing a battle between gods and demons over the possession of the nectar of eternal life.


Kumbh means “POT” and Mela means “FAIR”. According to Astrologers the Kumbh Fair takes place based on astrological calculations.  It is celebrated over 4 places in India:

Haridwar on Ganges River  –  Ujjain on Shipra River  –  Nashik on Godavari River and Prayagraj on the Sangam of 3 holy rivers Ganges/Yamuna/Sarasvati

The pilgrimage is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years, this because the battle between gods and demons went on for 12 days, and twelve days for the gods are equivalent to 12 years for humans.   Each 12 years cycle includes the Maha (great) Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj, attended by millions of people, making it the largest faith pilgrimage in the world.  It is also considered as the most significant among all Kumbh fairs held in the other locations as it is source of light and knowledge.

Useless to say that the bathing ritual is the most significant and awe inspiring among all rituals at Kumbh.  Devotees believe that this holy bath cleanses them of all their sins and gain the mystical powers of the Amrit (the nectar of immortality).IMG_8883


One of the most exciting sights of the festival is the “shahi” or royal procession of the Hindu holy men known as “sadhus”.   Bathing in the sacred waters of the Sangam, where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers meet, is believed to achieve “moksha” or salvation.  There are  normally 3 to 4 days deemed to be particularly auspicious. .  It is believed that in those particular days the water turns into “amrita”, the nectar of immortality.




The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela attracts visitors from across the world, most of them spend the whole month in a quest for salvation through Yoga and prayers.



Another prominent part of the festival is the act of donations to the poor and helpless, to the saints and to cows, donations which can vary from basic food or clothing to more precious things.IMG_8859



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For its importance and spiritual values, Kumbh Mela pilgrimage has been inscribed on 2017 Unesco “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”  list.

……………and when dark falls, a mesmerizing scene will appear in front of your eyes:  hundred of floating lighted lamps on the flowing waters, like twinkling stars, reflecting in the river.  In fact devotees make a “vessel” from leaves on which a lamp made of wheat flour filled with oil and cotton strand is lighted and floated on water as an offering of gratitude towards the holy river.IMG_9842IMG_9840IMG_9841



Kumbh Mela pilgrimage can be summarized in these three sayings:

  • From untruth lead us to Truth
  • From darkness lead us to Light
  • From death lead us to Immortality




Mongolia: Nomadic by nature



MARCO POLO in 1324 said about Mongolia:



Chinggis Khaan, the founder of the Great Mongolia;  he symbolizes Mongolia’s independence and national identity, playing an important role in shaping the history of Mongolia.

IMG_8496For most of the 20th century Mongolia was isolated for the rest of the world and a sense of remoteness still exists today.  Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. It’s is a pristine intact country,  it’s the land of steppe, of blue skies, valleys full of flowers, mountain peaks hidden in the clouds.

IMG_8487It’s aIMG_1080 place where dunes sing, where wild horses freely roam and where nomadic families hospitality has no limit and to understand how far it goes you have to live it personally. IMG_8457

In Mongolia the four seasons have their own colors and peculiarities and astonishing geographical composition.  At the east an endless steppa, in the south the Gobi desert with its bactrian camels wandering in the sand dunes, in the west the mountain peaks and glaciers fill the valleys,  in the north are the most spectacular rivers and lakes, whilst at the centre the large valleys where the first Mongolian State started.



The Mongolia Ger deserves a special attention as it expresses the Mongolian concept of  symbolism in harmony with nature.   The word “GER” is Mongolian and literally means “Home”.IMG_8250

The Ger symbolizes the Mongolian people: no fences around their gers or they would lose their freedom, no stones or they could lose their connection to nature.IMG_8248

Traditionally ger are extremely mobile and can be set up and set down in a very short time, in more than 1 hour.

IMG_8454The orientation of the Ger is symbolically important to Mongolians:  entrance always faces south towards the sun, north is the most special place for sacred objects and visitors.  West side is the male side where their tools, saddles and hunting kit are stored.  East side is the female side where women sit and where cooking utensils are kept.  Fireplace or stove is in the centre so smoke can exit through the crown of the roof which can be closed during bad weather conditions.IMG_8458

The Gobi desert and flaming Cliffs — The Gobi desert has one of the most unusual desert landscapes with its spectacular singing dunes;  this place made the Gobi desert famous all over the world.  Bayanzag, a must see place,  spreads across 8 km. in a valley, once was an ancient sea floor and site of several remarkable palentology sites.  Wait for the sunset when the cliffs become of a breathtaking color with the red clay almost glowing.IMG_1076VVA_9521

Western Mongolia —  Meet with the Kazakhs, eagle hunters in the Altai region, and experience their way of life while understanding how they hunt with their eagles.VVA_0231

The Kazakhs is Mongolia largest ethnic minority group living in the provinces of Western Mongolia.  Hunting with eagles (called Berkutchi) is a form of falconry practiced here and almost all families are eagle hunters. Hunting takes place only in winter months and female eagles only are used.

IMG_9008Hunting with eagles is a sense of identity.  To western eyes the relationship may seem cruel or cold, but eagles are not considered as pets but working animals and Kazakhs hunters have an incredibly close connection with their eagles, they are virtually considered as family members, as for the other animals!



…… and when the night falls over the Mongolian countryside, the endless blue sky becomes a stage of bright stars:  your personal light show to watch in a awe!!!!!IMG_1127





THE ARCTIC: our Polar Adventure



Our decision to visit the Svalbard Island and the Arctic Pole dates back a few years.   A destination which is not easy to reach, as many are the things to take into consideration before choosing the more suitable trip.  We did not want this to be a proper cruise, one of those cruises in large comfortable boats which offers you the maximum confort but, on the contrary, because of the size of the boat and the large number of passengers, does not take you in all those spots and angles a small ship would do.IMG_8095
For this reason, after a deep search, our choice went to a small Dutch vessel, the Rembrandt Van Rijn, able to accomodate 27 passengers and only 12 professional crew members.  The ideal boat for us for a sailing ship voyage, reaching numerous fjords, glaciers and visiting amazing places in remote areas.IMG_8101
We will sail along the west and northwest cost of Spitsbergen. We will maKe several different types of excursions (different for length, difficulty and duration), using the zodiacs to reach and land on the shores.IMG_7852
After long flights from our home country, we finally reached the Longyearbyen airport located in the Svalbard Island.  Longyearbyen, the capital city of Svalbard island is located the Isfyorden.  It’s a small village of about 2000 inhabitants, most of them dedicated to tourism activities and island administration.  The small airport  connects the island to Norway, the motherland.  There is no much traffic in the village, most people you meet are tourists who stop for a day or two before embarking or disembarking their cruises.
Once upon a time the main activity was the coal mines and you can still see tracks of it in the mountain around the village and a statue of a miner in the village center in memory of the many men who worked and died doing this job.

Here some peculiar things you will find in Longyearbien:


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The day after our arrival in the village, at 4pm we were at Bykaia Port where our ship the Rembrandt Van Rijn was waiting for us to board and start our Polar adventure.  SVA_3649  We were welcome by the captain and all the crew and met those who were going to be our guides, Jordi and Adam,  for the whole period as well as all the other 27 passengers coming from different world countries. After the “Safety and sea” briefing and “Abandon Ship” demonstration we were ready to sail.IMG_7208IMG_8094 2IMG_7205
The first night  was a  very rough sailing night, nevertheless early in the morning we are all up, ready for our breakfast in the small dining room.
After the mandatory briefings on several topics we are ready for our first excursion with the zodiacs, but first comes the dressing ritual which takes quite a long time:  heavy  jumpers, warm trousers, boots, parkas, gloves, wool caps, sunglasses and last but not least the safety vest.  This is how we had to be ready and queue for embarking our zodiacs and leave for the three or four hours excursions:  twice a day morning and afternoon!!!SVL_6416
There are strict regulations to observe living in the boat.  One of these is showing your presence on the boat: hanged on wall close to the zodiacs exit there is a billboard with all passengers name and a magnet closed to each name.  When you go out on excursion you move your magnet in the “Out” space, when you return and enter the boat you have to move the same magnet in the “In” space.  If you forget doing this operation and go straight to your cabin….. your name will be called with loudspeaker to check your presence on boat and asked to rush and move the magnet!!!!!IMG_8211IMG_8015 2
POLAR DAY:    full daylight all around the clock is a new great experience for us, used to our day and night life.  It seems strange but being daylight for the 24 hours seems your daily activities never end and you are spurred to continue on your work.  Morpheus never comes to you!!!  This happens of course from March to October, when you have the total day with no light till the next month of March.  Then it comes the opposite, always nighttime, all day long!IMG_8102IMG_8143
IMG_8131THE GLACIERS:  we had the opportunity to visit and see closely many glaciers, such as the Murraybreen Glacier of great scenic beauty and located at the eastern side of Prince Charles Island;   the Horusund Glacier, considered to be the largest one; the Smeerenbugbreen  located in the same fjord in the NW corner;  the Gullybreen glacier in the Magdalena fjord; the 14th of July glacier, name that pays homage to the French National Day and located in the Krossfjord.FullSizeRenderIMG_8022
THE ANIMALS:  Many are the animals you  come across during this trip.  Apart from the Polar Bear, which deserves a special top place in the list, we saw the beautiful reindeer and my mind went immediately to Father Christmas and his sleigh and asking to myself:  “which one  of the 9 reindeers will be that one?  maybe Dasher or Vixen or Rudolph???    We also see seals, walrus,  foxes and many many birds of all species, some of them never seen before as they are endemic in the region_N8V5566-Edit.IMG_8096IMG_8126IMG_8128IMG_8147 2IMG_8136IMG_8097IMG_8137
HIS MAJESTY THE POLAR BEAR:   The view of a female polar bear and her cub creates excitement on the ship.  It’s 2 o’clock at night, we are all sleeping in our cabins when Jordi, our guide, gives the announcement on the loudspeaker:  “Polar bear in the mountain left to our ship…..  please come on the deck”  In less then a minute we are all ready, dressed up someway, with our pajamas under the trousers and parkas ready with our binoculars to see the “scope of our cruise”. IMG_8100    Meanwhile the crew prepare and launch the zodiacs so that we can board and go closer to these lovely creatures.  We stopped sometime to admire them, shoot as many photos as possible.  After a while the female and her baby decide to jump in the cold water, probably searching for something to eat for breakfast!!!   What a lovely experience, we went back to our boat and our cabin but we could not go back to sleep because excited to see and share the photos we took of this lovely white creature!!!IMG_8099IMG_7847


NY ALESUND:  it’s a cloudy raining afternoon when we disembark in Ny Alesund  a small village in Kongsfjord, one of the most important places for the exploration of the North Pole.  What is now an international research base, started as a coal mine settlement till 1962 when a serious mining accident happened in the mine killing many workers.  From that came the decision to close definitely the mining activity.    One main road leads you from the small port to the village and from the village square you can reach the 1926-28 airship mast used during the Norge/Italian airship expedition to fly over the North Pole.SQL_4838SVA_3889IMG_8138IMG_8072SVA_3918IMG_8140
THE ICE CATEGORIES:  Sea Ice and Icebergs    Ice comes into many forms and shapes.  Could be Glaciers, Icebergs, Pack ice or Multi year ice.   The DRIFT ICE  is so called when sea water freezes forming the polar ice cap; it ‘s a floating platform and not anchored which roams floating following the sea currents.   FAST ICE  is the ice anchored to the coast or in small lakes or bay.  It does not move but melts and forms again in the same place.  In the Arctic region you can find all these kind of situations.SVA_3032_N8V6473-EditSVA_3059IMG_7964IMG_7955IMG_7945IMG_7953

This Arctic Polar trip is,  together with the Antarctic Expedition, the most interesting experiences I had in my life.  Similar as tours but completely different in landscapes, nature, animals.IMG_7989IMG_8006 2IMG_7970IMG_7927IMG_8013FullSizeRender 2

I close my article with a  quote of  Jean Baptiste Charcot :

“Where does the strange attraction of the polar region lie, so powerful, so gripping that on one’s return from them one forgets all weariness of body and soul and dreams only of going back?  Where does the extraordinary charm of these deserted and terrifying regions lie?  “








Malaysia : Truly Asia!! Selamat Datang!

IMG_6145When you talk about Malaysia, you think of Kuala Lumpur and when you think of Kuala Lumpur soon the  Petronas Twin Towers come to your mind.IMG_5937

Malaysia is an amazing country to discover with prehistoric rainforests and a melting pot of cultures.  Consisting of two regions separated by the South China sea: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia located in the north part of Borneo. Malaysia is a multi ethnic, multi religions federation of 13 states and 3 federal territories.FullSizeRender

Kuala Lumpur, also known by locals as KL,  is the capital of Malaysia, with boasting gleaming skyscrapers, colonial architecture and many natural attractions.  It is divided into numerous districts, but the main one is the Golden Triangle.   KL  main attraction is of course the Petronas  Twin  Towers, but also the Batu Caves, Sultan Abdul Samed Building and the National Monument are worthwhile visiting.   And for the shopaholics a must visit are the Pavillion and Suria KLCC shopping malls.FullSizeRender (5)IMG_6503

The Petronas Twin Towers,  called in local language “Menara Petronas” are located in KL city center, they  are 452 mt. high and considered the tallest twin towers in the world.  The 88 storey chrome and steel towers are joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175 mt above street level) by a 58 mt long double decker sky bridge.IMG_5935IMG_6536

A view from above:  Set on level 86 there is the Petronas observation desk where you can get a close up view of the tower’s spire as well as an exhibit of the tower’s history.FullSizeRender (4)

From the double deck skybridge you can enjoy amazing views of the city.IMG_6523

Just outside the Petronas there is a beautiful park ideal for jogging, walking paths and water fountains and relax before having a drink or dinner in one of many restaurants in the area.FullSizeRender

The Batu Caves are located 11 km. north of Kuala Lumpur.  Is a 400 million year old limestone hill best known as the place of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam.  The celebrations, which take place at the end of January, attract thousand of visitors who come to see the colorful spectacle of devotees, making it one of the largest gatherings in the world.FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRenderIMG_6699

Sultan Abdul Samad Building  is one of the city’s most important tourist attractions and also an historical landmark in the city.  The Building, once the Secretariat for the Colonial British Administration, features strong gothic, western and moorish style influences with imposing porch, arches and colonnades.  Nowadays home to several Ministry Offices and used as location for Annual Independence Day parade.IMG_6755

But if you are tired of the city and  looking for a jungle escape, get on a car and drive to  the Taman Negara National Park (originally named King George V National Park) which is considered the oldest rainforest in the world estimated to be 1300 years. The abundance and diversity of nature is phenomenal being one of world most rich ecosystems.IMG_6793

Located at 4 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur plus 3 hours boat,  Taman Negara is the best place to have a natural forest experience.  There are many activities to do in the park, such as: day and/or night walking excursions under guide accompaniment, fishing, river cruises, rafting and canopy walks in 510 mt long suspension bridges between tree tops, where you can enjoy spectacular views at 45 mt. height.FullSizeRenderIMG_6812FullSizeRender (2)IMG_6808

The SABAH region is located in the Borneo Island, bordering with Sarawak, it is known also as “the land below the wind”.  It’s landscape is a mix of thick jungle, sun-kissed lands, towering mountains and undulating valleys.   It’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu, is a friendly city and offers a variety of places to visit.  Among those, the Mount Kinabalu National Park.  Mount Kinabalu is considered the highest peak in South East Asia, 4,095 mt.   The Park itself  offers nice trekkings for the  nature and bird watching lovers.

In the heart of Batang Ali Lake, in the SARAWAK region, we pay visit to the IBAN people, a community known for being headhunters in past times.  The IBAN is the largest tribe in Sarawak.  We are invited in their longhouse which is located along the lake.  In fact, many factors are taken into consideration when choosing a site where to build a longhouse: water, farmland, transportation and jungle resources.IMG_7097IMG_7098

Longhouses are traditional dwellings to almost 150 people and may contain thirty family rooms. The RUAI is the long covered gallery that runs the length of a longhouse and is the place where family members gather to do some works or simply to have a chat together outside their private rooms.IMG_7099

The TUAI RUMAH is the head of the longhouse. We are introduced to him as soon as we enter the longhouse and we are offered with a traditional drink called Tuak, a sort of alcoholic drink made from rice.FullSizeRender (1)


We gave him our gifts (biscuits and dried food) which were later distributed to each family member living in the longhouse.  In return, they danced for us  traditional welcome dances  in their local costumes and we were asked to join the dance.


Our local Guide, together with IBAN ladies, cooked lunch for us using one of the family’s fire.  We had roast chicken, rice and vegetable, fruits and tea to end our meal.  We all sit in the kitchen floor together with other family members and enjoyed our food very  much.IMG_7103

The Semenggok – Orang Utan   wildlife Center is the biggest rehabilitation center in Sarawak  to host wild injured Orang Utan or any adult or adolescent who need particular care.  Currently there are about 25 Orang Utans living in the forest within the nature reserve and they return to the Center at the feeding time.  This is the best opportunity to see them close, hanging and swinging on tree branches, mums and babies playing while eating their food.  Semenggok  has now become also a center for the study of Orang Utan (literally: “person of the forest”) biology and behaviour.

MALAYSIA:  a country of fascinating contrasts, worthwhile visiting,  in one word: Astonishing !!!


I want to close quoting these words of a famous past times traveller Ibn Battuta:


SAMA-SAMA: Welcome to Brunei Darussalam (the Residence of Peace)


The small state of BRUNEI, enclave within its neighboring larger state of Malaysia, owes its fortune thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources.  Brunei is a peaceful Sultanate with a long history steeped in culture;  it’s a nature paradise with more than 70% of the country covered by tropical forest.

It gained independence only in 1984 but has the wolrd’s oldest reigning monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years.


Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan, is considered to be one of the richest men in the world.  He is in power since 1967.  He rules under a national philosophy known as Malay Islamic Monarchy which promotes Islamic traditions and values and loyalty to the Sultan.

Once a year, and for just 3 days, at the end of the month of Ramadan, the 29th Sultan opens the doors of his fabulous palace  and, together with his family, he welcomes visitors to exchange ritual greetings.  The Royal Palace,  ISTANA NURUL IMAN (“Light of Faith”) is located in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan, it has 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a surrounding park area of 200.000  It is considered to be  the largest royal palace in the world. The Palace was designed and created by Filipino designers and constructers in 1984.img_7378fullsizerender-1fullsizerender

The capital city is a rather small modern city with many new grey cement buildings, constructions which are the result of the  Japanese invasion and consequent city bombing.  Nevertheless,  it has many interesting sites which are worthwhile visiting.

First of all the two Mosques:

OMAR ALI SAIFFUDIN:  built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, it’s considered as one of the most impressive mosques in South Asia.  It’s located in the very heart of the capital city, surrounded by a peaceful lagoon where a replica of the royal barge reposes.fullsizerender14947826_10205444358426925_5311396984436123108_n


 and  JAME ASR HASSANAL BOLKIAH:  built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of current Sultan reign.  Because the Sultan is his dynasty’s 29th ruler, the mosque is adorned with 29 golden domes. Surrounded by nice fountains and gardens which leads you to the main entrance.14705786_10205444363787059_2970723834250128594_n14925732_10205444364387074_5542982706395289627_n14947937_10205444364147068_1013592599772681753_nimg_7374brunei-900x600

The Water Village (Kampong Ayer):  situated along the Brunei river, it’s a settlement area built on water and equipped with all modern facilities such as schools shops, mosque, clinic, police station, fire brigade, etc.  It is considered that almost 30.000 people are living the village.   The mode of transportation between the village is by water taxi or locally known as Perahn Tambang.   The Italian explorer Pigafetta, who visited it in the 16th century, has called it “The Venice of the East”.fullsizerender-3fullsizerender-1fullsizerender-5fullsizerender-2

Two hours from the capital city there is Temburong National Park: to reach the park you need to get a 40 minutes water jetty, then a car ride for 18 km and again a 30 minutes ride on a traditional longboat.15056343_10205509726981098_7959063644200868759_n

Temburong National Park is protected and preserved for scientific research and offers a rare chance to experience an incredible diversity of flora and fauna found in a virgin rainforest.14523251_10205403550606755_1696446734256681652_n

But to reach the canopy walk from the longboat banks it’s not that easy. An hard long, steep walkway in very humid, slippery conditions no matter the hour you start it.  At first sight the metal cage canopy appears to be as a scaffolding but the more you climb it, the more you are rewarded by the spectacular view around you which pushes you to go up and up and reach the highest peak 90 mt. high. 15094449_10205509727661115_7449266077191228546_n

Looking down the canopy it’s easy to believe you are standing at the top of the world.  Around you there is nothing but the vast rainforest spreading out in every direction.img_7315



BRUNEI, on the whole, is a pleasant small country to visit.  I found it very different than I expected.  Because of its wealth and richness, I was picturing a country with luxurious and glittering buildings where you could feel and notices the country’s wealth in every angle.  Anyway, I found the  trip experience enriching and I much appreciated  the kindness and hospitality of its people.















Madeira: the “Pearl of the Atlantic”

IMG_5796The Island of Madeira (the Wood Island) is situated geographically nearer to Africa than to Europe.  In fact it is only 500 km. from Moroccan coast and 900 km. from the Portuguese motherland.

The 270.000 inhabitants live in a surface of 741 sq. km. and almost half of them in the capital area: Funchal.FullSizeRender 6IMG_6232

Madeira is a verdant oasis in the Atlantic, an efflorescent green island privileged by a very mild climate.  For this Madeira has been included in the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage since 1999.

It has an extensive network of paths the “levadas” (walking trails) ranging from different grades:  Easy  –  Moderate  –  Difficult   depending on your ability and strength.  They much differ one from another and without too much change in elevation you can easily discover some of the remotest corners of Madeira.   Walking in Madeira is ideal all year around.  Summer months are not all that hot and winter months are mild.  The Miradouros offer you spectacular stunning views!!!IMG_6003

One of Madeira tourist attraction is its diverse vegetation.  About 140 of the roughly 760 plants species growing wild on the island are endemic, means they grow only in Madeira and nowhere else in the worlIMG_5896d.IMG_6031

One of these is the so called “Pride of Madeira”, a type of Echium that produces a lovely candle-like blossom mauve-blu color.FullSizeRender

Madeira owes its reputation as the floating garden;  much ornamental flora has been introduced from around the world.  Plants like Lilly of the Nile, Buganvillea, Hibiscus, Birds of Paradise, grow all along the roads.  The latter also called “Parrot flower” has become the botanical symbol of Madeira.IMG_5790

Funchal is the Capital, a city 500 year old, nestled in a great natural amphitheater facing the Atlantic.  Funchal is a city of flowers, lively and festive.FullSizeRender 3IMG_6342FullSizeRender 5IMG_6320IMG_6269FullSizeRender 9

It was founded by Zarco, one of the discoverers of Madeira in a place where it grew abundant the wild fennel, called “Funcho” in Portuguese language, hence its name FUNCHAL.

Typical are the old area of Funchal, most popular and lively, a maze of narrow cobbled streets animated by typical restaurants, shops and old houses with beautiful painted dooIMG_6354rIMG_6218s.IMG_5936FullSizeRender 2

The “Mercado dos Lavradores” (workers market) lively with its colorful stalls of fruit and flowers, attracts many tourisFullSizeRender 7ts.IMG_5941

Don’t miss a visit to the Monte.  A trip by cable car, an ultra scenic tour, until you reach the location situated at 600 mt. above sea level, in the back of Funchal.IMG_6345IMG_5092

Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, is a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of Funchal, and the statue of the Vergin, which dates back to 400, is subject of great devotion.FullSizeRender 2

If the cable car to Monte was much exciting, no less it will be a second cable car that connects Monte to the Botanical Garden with a scenic route of 9 minutes over Funchal bay and the verdant Vale do Ribeira.IMG_5908

The Botanical Garden, besides having a beautiful view over the city, has an exceptional variety of plants and flowers from all around the world, arranged in terraces with impressive geometric designs.IMG_5910

But the Island of Madeira needs to be explored as every corner offers surprises and emotions.  There are many beautiful costal villages with their beaches, ports, fishermen and everyday life.  There are many holiday amenities where you can stop for days, good restaurants for lunch or snacks or for just a cup of coffee.IMG_6088FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4IMG_5749IMG_5811FullSizeRender 6FullSizeRender

We were attracted by Machico, a pleasant small village, 16 km. from Funchal, and here we choose a lovely hotel sea view for our 10 days wander around the island.IMG_6152

Machico owes its name to a legend (or probably reality).  It is said that in the middle of year 300 a strong storm forced an English vessel to land on these shores. On board were two young lovers, Robert Machim and Anne d’Arset, who escaped from Bristol to get married.  But the two lovers died shipwrecked.  Their fellow sailors bury them there and soon left the island. But while on sail they are captured by pirates and taken to Morocco. Under torture they recount their adventure and the news of this mysterious island reaches the ears of Henry the Navigator who immediately prepares an expedition to find it. When he arrives and lands in Madeira he finds, under a cedar tree, the tomb and the cross with the names of the two lovers.  He then decides to name this place Machim (as the  he-lover English name), then changed to Machico.FullSizeRender 4IMG_5755

Madeira is an island which has much to offer, under many aspects: the cultural aspect, nature and botanical aspect, beaches where to relax  and enjoy many  sea sport activities. good food and …. why not the Madeira wine!   But my last thought and appreciation goes to the Madeira inhabitants: gentle, friendly and much hospitable!IMG_6334



Beauty has an address: Oman

AHLAN WA SAHLAN to Oman, a country of breathtaking natural beautysultano-oman_qaboos-bid-said

Oman is a land of rich history and fascinating culture that dates back well over 5000 years.  Modern omani culture still carries many of the traditions of bygone eras. That’s why Oman is often referred as “true Arabia” because its ancient culture has been so preserved.

Souqs are still selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, arms and weapons, in same way as many years back.FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 6IMG_4956FullSizeRender 13

CURIOSITY:  Featured on both the national flag and the one rial note, the Khanjar, the curved silver dagger, is the nation’s most iconic emblem.imgres

Omani people are considered for being among the world’s most hospitable: a traditional Welcome in the omani house is a strong hot coffee always served with dates and remember…… one cup is not enough…. you must accept at least 3 cups!!!

CURIOSITY:  Coffee drinking is part of everyday life in Oman.  More spicy than the western blend, this drink is a sign of hospitality, generosity and is always offered to guests.  You will find it in all hotels’s halls served in typical Dallahs (coffee pots) together with dates.bedouin

Oman spectacular land and seascapes offer many opportunities for adventures in mountains and deserts, canyoning, climbing, dune bashing or mountain biking.IMG_4615FullSizeRender 5FullSizeRender 2

Muscat   is Oman’s capital city, described as “Arabia’s jewel”. The city has retained its old-world character with many forts,  castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape. IMG_4411Among them a must to visit:


quietly imposing from the outside, this piece of modern islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign.  The mosque, with its second-large hand loomed Iranian carpet  in the world, can accomodate 20.000 worshippers.IMG_4315

the SULTAN Palace:FullSizeRender

a very modest palace, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens,  was built over the site of former British Embassy. The palace today is largely used for ceremonial purposes as Sultan Qaboos prefers as his residence a quieter seaside residence.IMG_4474

the MUTRAH Souq:IMG_4379

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is a must visit when in Muscat. The Souq is like all traditional Arab markets where you can buy almost everything from antiques to textile, hardware and gold.  An experience not to be missed although you have nothing to buy.

In the afternoon you can enjoy a cruise on a dhow from the Yatch Club passing by the Old Muscat Port to Al-Alam palace located between the two portuguese forts of Mirani and Jalali.  Make a stop and wait for a spectacular sunset.FullSizeRender

CURIOSITY:  As described by a great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid-al-Majid


Drive towards south Oman,  crossing the spectacular Wadi Shab, to reach the town of Sur, an old Port on the Indian Ocean.  A quiet seacoast town famous for its Dhows shipyards and presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor.IMG_4644IMG_4576

A long drive thru Wadi Bani Khalid, a spectacular wadi  for its natural beauty,  takes us to Wahiba Sands a large sand stretch with dunes 100-150 mt high in the shades of color from orange to amber. Enjoy the dune bashing experience with a good skilled driver or, if you prefer, take a camel ride more safe but less emotional. Get up early the next morning and out from you tent you can assist to the stunning sunrise on the desert dunes.FullSizeRender 4IMG_4694FullSizeRender 5

NIZWA also called “Pearl of Islam”:  is Oman’s most historic town. This verdant oasis city, it was Oman’s capital during 6th and 7th century. Nizwa Fort, completed in 1650, was the seat of power during the rule of Al YaRuba dynasty. It’s famous also for its 40m tall round tower which is worthwhile climbing to have a fantastic view of date plantations around the town and the Hajar Mountains.IMG_4878FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4

IMG_4970Long  drives are never boring in Oman especially if you go  thru the spectacular deep Wadi Ghul  (better known as Grand Canyon of Arabia) lying alongside, to reach Oman’s highest mountain: JEBEL SHAMS  (literally SUN MOUNTAIN) peak at 3075mt.  It’s chilly up there but you will be so busy taking  photographs to the panorama around you that you’ll soon warm up.IMG_5056FullSizeRender 7FullSizeRender 6

Two hours flight from Muscat and you reach Salalah, the capital city of the Dhofar region in south Oman.   Salalah , nestled in the middle of a plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean, is full of myths and legends that date back to biblical times. From the tomb of prophet Ayoub on Jebel Qara, to the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the queen of Sheba.   And also in the countryside on the flanks of the jebels grow the Boswellia sacra a tree from which you can obtain the frankincense, best known to Christians as one of the presents to Baby Jesus by the Magi in the Nativity story.

Salalah is also second preferred residence of Sultan Qaboos, infact Salalah is his mother ‘s home town.IMG_5153FullSizeRender 8

The Frankincense Museum of Salalah is considered one of the country’s most important historical museums, a Unesco World Heritage site recognized for its cultural and archeological importance.IMG_5137

CURIOSITY:   while talking about Frankincense, let’s spend a word about the MAJMAR: Omani incense burner.  Ornately carved, used primarily for burning frankincense, a majmar is also used when a final round of coffee has been served and wafted around  guests’ body to signal that it’s time for them to say goodbye!!!!  A nice polite way to say “we have enough of you for today”!!!!FullSizeRender 2


But in Salalah you can also take a break and relax in the beautiful beach resorts on the idyllic shores of the Arabian sea on white sandy beaches.   Comfortably sit on a beach chair you will hear the gentle lap of the ocean in the warm afternoon breeze sipping a fresh drink.

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I left the country with a “luggage” full of beautiful images, emotions, anecdotes and memories, but also with the aromatic wafts of frankincense smoke which pervaded every corner of the country from the traditional souqs to modern hotels.


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Abu Dhabi “Father of the gazelle”

Marhaba to Abu Dhabi!!!!!

Welcome to Abu Dhabi, a city where 1000s of years of unique Arabian culture and traditions combine with modern city life.  An exciting city, cultural as well as political capital of United Arab Emirates.

A fast growing city emerging from the shadow of Dubai, its glamorous northern neighbour.IMG_5445FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

In just 50 years Abu Dhabi has been transformed from little empty desert inhabited by nomadic tribes into a large city, which remains strongly attached to its culture and roots.FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

Distinguished by a skyline of ultra modern high-rises, the city of Abu Dhabi sits on a T-shaped island, with nearly 200 islands dotted along its coast.

Abu Dhabi offers fantastic leisure activities: from city tours, desert safaris, sporting activities. You can  take a trip to AD Ferrari world , where you can experience the Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster reaching speeds of 240 kmph.  Or you can  immerse yourself in the exhilarating Arabian -themed futuristic Yas waterworld: a  waterpark offering 43 thrill-a-minute rides, slides and attractions.IMG_5390IMG_5401

A MUST visit it to Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques with a capacity for 41.000 worshippers.  It has 82 domes, more than 1000 columns, 24 carat gold chandeliers and the world’s largest knotted carpet.   Reflective pools surround the mosque.  The white and gold colours shining in the sun are transformed at night by a unique lighting system which reflects the phases of the moon.IMG_5362IMG_5384FullSizeRenderIMG_5368IMG_5348IMG_5353

Falconry is an ancient art in the Arabic world which dates back in the 7th century.  It is estimated that nearly 2000 falcons are employed on the Arabian Peninsula each year.

Why not visiting then the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital which is located not far from Abu Dhabi international airport. Guided tours, which last nearly 2 hours, include a visit to the falcon museum, the examination room, you can watch a bird having pedicure by the hospital doctors and if you are brave enough, you can hold in your arm these well trained raptors.  An experience you will never forget.IMG_5496IMG_5597FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

You can also enjoy money spending in the many huge shopping malls spread around the city, and, if you cannot afford a stay, you can enjoy a coffee comfortably sitting at the coffee shop of the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel.IMG_5431IMG_5435IMG_5433IMG_5443

All this and much more you will experience in this fantastic city.