Monday, 28 March 2016

Guide to souvenir shopping - Do you really need another sarong?

We've all done it - been enraptured by the vibrant clothing at an exotic destination and bought the shirt/hat/sarong/skirt, whatever, thinking that this will be just the thing to wear for summer barbecues back home. Problem is, we get back from holiday and find it simply doesn't look right in our home setting so it ends up cluttering a drawer. At some stage it gets hauled out for a fancy dress party.
                                                                                             One of my mistakes
 Wrong colour, wrong size, never worn

I have traveled a lot over the years and have learnt from painful experience what are good and what are bad souvenirs.  Here are a few of my suggestions to make your souvenir shopping worthwhile.

1. Think carefully about whether the item will be useful or whether is it just a novelty.  If it is a novelty don't buy it.  Novelties are five minute wonders and end up in a drawer until eventually thrown away.

2. On that note: Don't buy key rings, shot glasses, hula skirts, sombreros, clogs, mini Eiffel towers or similar, or anything vulgar or funny-the jokes wear off pretty quickly.
3. If you want to buy something to remember the trip by try to choose just one good quality item, within your budget, rather than a lot of small gimmicky items
4. Don't leave your souvenir shopping until the airport.  You will be pushed for time, flustered and could make rash purchases.  Airports are homogenous and there is not much of a choice anyway. Buying friends and family chocolates says "I forgot about you until the airport and then I panicked"

5.  Ask yourself if it is a popular item at your holiday spot. For example is everyone wearing a batik shirt?  Don't be swayed, you will probably never wear it back home

6. Beware of touts.  Good quality shops don't need them

7. Don't buy books on places you visit.  Unless it is something you are really interested in take it from me you are unlikely to look at them again.  I am referring to the  colourful, and usually expensive, guide books to palaces, castles, cathedrals etc. Having said that, one of my favourite books, a memoir, The Lady and the Monk, by Pico Iyer, is a souvenir from Japan

8. Start a collection of something useful.  I collected one Christmas tree decoration from every country I visited  until my tree had enough decorations.  Every Christmas it is fun to unpack them  and remember where they were bought. I have also collected coffee mugs, usually in blue and white, from various places I have visited.
Some of the mugs in my collection these are from Italy, Turkey, Japan, England and Wales


A child's antique kimono bought in a small village in Japan

A wooden tobacco knife crafted by a whittler from Tennessee

Displayed here with a Celtic cross from Dublin, a Japanese painting and a New Zealand sculpture

Miniature pottery houses from both the Cinque Terre and Copenhagen

A white linen and lace tablecloth and napkins from China
A tiny pewter pepper mill from Turkey
A collection of scarves from many different places
My diaries - I write extensive diaries on my travels and enjoy re-reading then from time to time.  It is amazing what you forget,
A few of my sarongs.
CDs of ethnic music - ethnic music is one of my interests 

.....and, yes, several sarongs.  Sarongs are useful and good gifts since they take up no room in your bag. I always pack one when I travel.  They can be used as beach wraps, table cloths, picnic mats, summer bed covers, even towels in an emergency.  It's just that you don't need too many of them!

Enjoy your holidays.  Don't spend time hunting for souvenirs and gifts, that's just wasting precious time when you could be doing other things. Send postcards if you want to remember folks back home.  It's a dying practice but I, for one, love to get postcards from exotic destinations.  Buy one good quality souvenir for yourself if you want and buy scarves, bookmarks (can't have too many, they always go missing!), sarongs, coffee mugs, place mats, linen for friends.  For male friends some duty free wine or spirits always goes down well.


Monday, 7 March 2016

Swakopmund, Namibia

More tales from my African adventure of 2010:
The Oryx - the national animal of Namibia

We travel through spectacular scenery on the way to Swakopmund, spotting exotic animals along the way including the solitary and handsome oryx, the national animal of Namibia. We stop for photographs at The Tropic of Capricorn and pass through vast mountain ranges of striated rock.  Way out in the middle of nowhere in a lonely and desolate canyon a couple of German men hid out during the second world war to avoid internment by the British.  I have no idea how they survived in this arid and hostile landscape but survive they did and wrote of their experiences in a book called The Sheltering Desert, a fascinating account of endurance and self sufficiency. Until I arrived in Namibia I had no idea that it was so scenically stunning, so vast, so empty.
It was in this area the Germans hid out - wild and desolate

Thousands of flamingos at Walvis Bay
We stop at Walvis Bay to admire the large flamingo colony and the lavish homes along the foreshore before  a long, tedious trip through a flat golden desert, the wind spinning the sand  into whirls. At last we arrive in Swakopmund and our accommodation - a hotel with real beds and showers and...well, you get the picture!  We are delighted and all dive into the showers.  What bliss!

Endless straight roads through swirling sand
In the afternoon we are taken for a tour of the shanty town on the outskirts of the city.  Many of the houses are built from cardboard, scraps of iron, plastic and timber but the streets are all tidy and litter free. It is very humbling to see people live this way, however, the government is endeavoring to improve things by constructing small tidy houses on the edge of the shanty town. There is a very long waiting list for one.
The "Township" Swakopmund

We call in at the home of a woman from the Damara tribe.  She is dressed in the rather quaint costume Damara women have adopted, based on 19th century German dress, including a hat shaped like cow horns, in honour of the tribe's love of cattle. It is a cultural requirement that women of the tribe speak in a soft low voice, almost a whisper, so our guide repeats her answers to our questions. She takes us on a tour of her tiny but very neat house and then offers to dress some of us in Damara dress as a surprise for the rest of our group.
With a Damara tribes woman -  We dress in the tribal costume.  I'm far right

 Our next stop is at the home of the Damara chief, a tiny, gracious,wizened old lady of 85. She sits in her living room answering questions interpreted through her nephew, Beadle, while children and grand children saunter backwards and forwards through the house. Beadle is a large, beaming young man with an impressive head of plaits.  We are all transfixed by their unique clicking language.

Proud of his gift of a pencil

As we walk around the township we are greeted  warmly be everyone we pass while children run around us playing tag and rolling around like puppies.  We give them gifts of pencils.  They are so thrilled you would think it was a million dollars and we are quietly ashamed of the affluence of the West. At the local shanty bar we enjoy a refreshing drink and listen to some cool, funky African music as locals come and go. I enjoy watching a loose limbed young man dancing to the beat and could have stayed watching him for hours.  In a small thatched hut beside the bar we are served a traditional meal of cold maize porridge, beans, chicken, spinach and roast caterpillars, yes, roast caterpillars!  I tried them to be polite, but won't again! Finally some children put on a short but enthusiastic dance display for us in a narrow, dusty alleyway.  It has been a brilliant tour, so sobering, so informative, so humbling.  We overcome our feelings of intrusion once we are told that tourism is vital to the township's economy and highly valued by the residents.

There are some good examples of the Namibian Click language on Youtube.