Brazil : part 1 : as a volunteer

scwc at ChristoI’ve just returned from two weeks in Brazil, in Lonier near Rio de Janeiro.

I was just one of the many volunteers, from lots of different countries, who were at the Street Child World Cup. It was an incredible experience and was a fortnight filled with the highs and lows of emotions and tears of total despair & sadness but also tears of joy.

I learned of Street Child World Cup (SCWC) through one of the co-founders, John Wroe. John and Tim are Swansea Jacks (meaning they support some football team called Swansea City). John’s enthusiasm and total commitment to the SCWC was impossible to resist and when I saw a tweet asking for volunteers for the Comms Team, I leapt at the chance. I didn’t tell John though and, at the volunteers training weekend earlier in the year, when he saw me, his first words were “What are you doing here?” Chuckle, I was warmly welcomed after that. The Wroe family is just wonderful, John and Jo and their two daughters, Alice and Ruby. Yes, I am using superlatives but they deserve every single one . . . and more.

One thing I did find out was that it’s hard work being a volunteer! I was part of the Comms Team and we spent the first few days in the media room, ensuring all was ready for the football tournament. From before breakfast until you went to bed – those people were so dedicated and committed to what they were doing, you happily joined in. On one day, 06.30 was the first meeting and, at the end of another, 22.30 was the last!

Hard work it most definitely was, but with so many pluses. The joy of meeting new people, learning new things, sharing experience and expertise and being part of a team. I cannot properly put into words how exhilarating it was to be a member of a team that was doing something totally for others, to give without wanting anything back, to get so much from it. It was an absolute privilege to work as part of the ‘J’ Team, Jo Clark, Jo-Jo Ellison and Joe Hewitt. Not forgetting, wonderful Ben, amazing Matt, lovely Jo, gorgeous Malachy, Wilf and Alan, beautiful Ben, Becky, Kate and Vicky, Tanzi and Hena, Jessie and Bex, Nick and Paul, Sam and David, someone called Lynn (without an ‘e’) and, and, and . . . . . .

As for the sleeping arrangements; our little room slept five with just enough space between the beds to put your suitcase side on! We five,  Sue, Bev, Ingrid, Lynn without an ‘e’ and me, got on really well, especially as there was only one key for the room. You had to remember to take it to main reception if you were the last one to leave the room – thank goodness we didn’t have too many moments of forgetfulness.

The children, who were in the teams, were amazing. Some of the stories of what they’d been through would break your heart, but that’s for another post.

Brazil volunteers arriving backThis is a photo of some of us arriving back at Heathrow after our 12 hour flight – all looking extremely glamorous, of course. Great timing!  I hope we stay in touch, wonderful friendships were forged.

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!

P.S. Just have to mention the outrageously lovely reception peeps – WonderWoman, Angel and her hubby, Superman.

P.P.S. Not too late to donate and help the street children – it isn’t just for the duration of the Street Child World Cup.

www.JustGiving.com/lynnerosie

 

 

 

 

Samoa and falling in love (number 2)

IMG_1295Samoa and Paradise in the same sentence is as natural as bread and butter! You really don’t need any rose tinted glasses – the beauty is there in all its glory.

Vailima - the home of Robert Louis Stevenson - now a museum.

Vailima – the home of Robert Louis Stevenson – now a museum.

It’s where Robert Louis Stevenson settled and made his home after saying, during an amazing long voyage of discovery; ”For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

It’s where Rupert Brooke said, “Sheer beauty, so pure that it is difficult to breathe it in”.

It’s where we went and found peace, tranquillity, beauty and smiles.

It’s where you can soothe your soul and saturate your senses.

It’s the sacred centre of the Polynesian Islands.

It’s the treasured islands of Samoa.

It’s Paradise.

DSC01760DSC01759IMG_1297And why do I wax so lyrical, why is it Paradise? Because it is virtually unspoilt – you can tell it is Samoa by how the buildings are crafted by hand from natural, local materials (apart from a couple of white, modern government buildings looking totally out of place).

The artistry and the purpose of traditional Samoan houses, resorts, fales are what makes Samoa unique. It really is like the sense of being enveloped in a great big hug, you feel safe and cherished. The wondrous thing is that it has stayed true to its heritage, so far it hasn’t let big business come in and spoilt its beauty. There are so many beautiful islands that the corporates have invaded and taken over – and always to the detriment of the environment and its true roots.  For those who want to get close to the country, its natural wonder and the people and their culture, it remains one of the best places in the world to do this.

It is Paradise because of the beauty of the flowers and plants, the beauty of its natural landscapes and the beauty of its people – but all that’s for another post!

Peace and love.

From the chaos of Hanoi to the calm of Ha Long Bay

View Bhaya islands.jpg in slide show

Sailing out in the bay

Never having been to Vietnam before, we were unaware of the traffic rules in the country. Actually, there really doesn’t seem to be any, other than you ‘should’ stay to your side of the road and at most junctions, no one has any precedent over another.  With mopeds, scooters and bikes outnumbering cars by at least ten to one, it makes for really interesting journeys and, as the SAS so succinctly puts it, who dares wins!

Four full-on hours of travelling tension in Vietnam’s chaotic traffic – and for what? For a 2 night & 3 day voyage –  a cruise around Ha Long Bay. Was it worth it? Oh yes, indubitably my dear Watson.

So why go on a cruise? Basically, I’d heard about Bhaya Cruises and how they were making a difference to the local community and environment, and they invited me for a 2 night/3 day cruise to see what it was all about. Also, it would be another first – I’ve never been on a cruise before. Big smile as I tick another one off the bucket list. Two actually, first time in Vietnam.

The ship's manager, Albert Long, at the Cat Ba village which Bhaya Cruises supports.

The ship’s manager, Albert Long, at the Cat Ba village which Bhaya Cruises supports.

Conscious travel/tourism is good, local is good, responsible is good & sustainable is pretty good too! Not something you would expect from a cruise company; but when they all come together, it’s time to let people know! The Au Co II, Gulf of Tonkin, the newest vessel in the portfolio of Bhaya Cruises, is just a few months old and has 32 cabins, all with their own balcony or terrace. We were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi at 08.00 hours and the minibus picked up another three couples, then off we went.  As I said, four hours of driving, with a comfort stop at a restaurant. Situated within an enormous warehouse, it morphed into an Aladdin’s cave, full of goodies for the tourists to choose from.  Ha Long Bay port was a complete surprise; I’m not sure what was expected but not a newly built resort, highly organised and looking a little like an airport concourse inside. Much building and development is ongoing. Perhaps this was going to be a very slick and commercial affair, but we need not have feared so.

We were warmly welcomed and taken out to the beautiful ship, where a second genuine greeting on board was waiting from the crew. Heading out into Ha Long Bay proved to be magical. Nearly two thousand sandstone islands rise majestically from the water, ranging from single very tiny ones to immense ranges. And it wasn’t just my imagination that saw dragons and lions and all manner of wondrous shapes there in the different rocks.

View Bhaya better floating village.jpg in slide show

Floating village

View Bhaya women rowing out.jpg in slide show

The women from the floating village coming to get us

We were taken out to see the floating village and the girls rowed out to collect us in their bamboo boats. Bhaya Cruises has been instrumental in setting up a school for the children and continues to support it.  The village has been there since the people who first founded it, hid from wars and hardship,made their homes there.

Returning to the ship there was a Vietnamese Tea Ceremony by the bar, love the fresh green tea.

The next day I got up early to do Tai Chi – 6.15 in the morning on the top deck of the ship, surrounded by mist and magical islands, it was quite surreal. My instructor was a delightful young man and I say ‘my’ in a very possessive way as I was the only pupil! There were three stages, the warm up, the body and the breathing. It was over in just minutes, seemingly, and then it was time for breakfast.

View Bhaya kayak.jpg in slide showAfter breakfast we sailed to another part of Ha Long Bay and stopped so that we could go kayaking, swimming or just chill on board. Tim and I chose to go kayaking, another first! Fascinating rhythm when you finally get it right, the pic is of us before that point! Great fun and wonderful exercise, so they say! Seriously though, it was another first for me and it was a most excellent adventure.

Lunch on board, as with all the meals, followed the five elements of Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal – and yes, that did mean that lunch and dinner were five course affairs! The chef and his team have to be mentioned here, we all fell in love with the cooking.

Bhaya girls fishingIn the afternoon, we were taken to the village of Cat Ba, which is the only village on the islands. Cat Ba is supported by Bhaya Cruises too. The village has been given the tools and the seeds to grow and harvest organic crops and then the cruise line buys them at market price. I shall write more about this later. Bhaya Water buffaloThe walk to the village was five kilometres from the jetty, great exercise and we saw the girls out fishing, the girls working in the fields, in fact it would appear the female of the species does most of the hard work.

We were privileged to see a local wedding there, between one of the crew and her beau. Quite a few of the crew come from the village; strengthening the ties between the two communities of island and cruise ship. The photo shows the bride & groom with Albert Long (in red top), the Cruise Manager. Bhaya weddingWe were commenting on how very young the couple looked, however, we found out they were 24 and 25.

We enjoyed a fabulous dinner with Steve and Bev Norgate, from the shire of Gloucester; Gil and Sally, also from old Blighty, and Kathy and Mike Gagnon from the United States of America. Much merriment was had.

When we had returned to the ship, we were given a cookery demonstration by the superb head chef. We learnt how to cook Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Nem Ran) and exceedingly good they were too :-)  Later there was also a visit to the bridge and the engine room. For some odd reason, I expected to see a ship’s wheel, not a gps system! To sleep amidst all these fabulous islands was magical.

Day 3, the final day, saw me up to do the Tai Chi again, makes you feel so good. I had company as well, the lovely Kathy was there.

View Bhaya cave me & tim.After a light breakfast, we departed for a visit to Sung Sot Cave, a magnificent place to which we had to climb many steps – some of us were huffing and puffing more than others! The stalactites and stalagmites were incredible – I always say stalagmites have the ‘m’ for mountains which go up from the ground, to remind myself which is which!

This post could become a short story, there was so much to take in, so much to see and do, but most of all there was harmony, happiness and hospitality.  A winning combination. And if you get a chance to visit Ha Long Bay, I would strongly recommend you take a trip with Bhaya Cruises – they’re the best!

Delicious Devon and the Gnome Reserve

Recently we went to Devon for a short break (courtesy of a gorgeous girl friend, Louise) and had a fabulous time. Driving along the A39 ‘Atlantic Highway’ through Fairy Cross, we suddenly saw signs saying Gnome Reserve.  Now, never having seen anything like this before, we felt we had to visit before we left, if only to satisfy ourselves they weren’t living under the same dreadful conditions that the Native Americans had suffered!  Rescue plans started being hatched!

The long and winding road that led to the gnomes was not always easy to follow.  At one point we stopped to ask this delightful old man if he knew where it was, as we had run out of brown rose signs to guide us.  “Never heard of them” he said. “Although if you carry on this road and then do a left, there’s a forest where the little people live.”  With huge smiles on our faces we drove on and then suddenly saw this sign (in the photo on the right) by the side of the road. Oh, if they were warning motorists to go slowly then perhaps the gnomes were being well looked after. With hope renewed, we carried on and turned into the car park.

At this moment I was thinking of a dear friend, Zoë Dawes, who is the Quirky Traveller, as this would have been just perfect for her travels!

A pleasant welcome and more of Devon’s beautiful scenery greeted us. The house set in the gardens was one of faded grandeur and something about it made it look ethereal, yet still full of homely charm. As we entered, a voice called out a greeting to us and we met a delightful lady, by the name of Ann Fawssett Atkin, who was sitting in one of the rooms painting pixies. Ann is an absolutely wonderful and mesmerising lady and is the founder of the Gnome Reserve. We chatted for a while and then Ann told us to go into the other room and choose our Gnome hats to wear ~ you better believe it ~ she also added that it was almost compulsory to wear one.  Oh, I am loving this adventure :-)

Look at the photo – how funky is my hat??!!  Out to wander in the woods and it was like entering another realm; lots of gnomes, hundreds of gnomes, young gnomes, old gnomes, athletic gnomes, lazy gnomes, naughty gnomes and, oh my, you will have to visit yourself to get the full splendour of it all.  I have never really gone past 6 years old so I was in my element.  You can follow the path or go your own way – you can even get help with your lottery choices by fishing for pebbles.with numbers on the bottoms.

And deep in the heart of the wood was a magical fairy circle with the remains of an ancient tree (looking like a chair) in the middle.  The photo to the right shows the sign by the path, isn’t it wonderful? I flew away through the trees with the fairies, which will come as no surprise to a few people! The quote from Lord Byron says:

The beings of the mind are not of clay; essentially immortal, they create and multiply in us a brighter ray and more beloved existence.

When we’d finished our walk, we returned to the house and gave our hats back and were given a clip board with a question sheet on it, to show how observant we could be when walking around the Fairy & Wild-flower Garden. Somehow this just seemed so normal! We got the correct number of fairies, but failed to see three of the cuckoos ~ all will become clear if you visit! And to top the day off, we then had a sandwich followed by a Devon cream tea; all freshly made and delicious.  What a happy experience.

Great Britain’s coast – huge jewels in our crown

Cornwall - with thanks to Andreas Øverland, http://www.andreasoverland.no/

Britain has spectacular coastlines, gentle downward gradients to the sea, crumbling coasts into the sea and phenomenally dangerous rocks waiting for the unfortunate and the foolish.  Our coastline is one of our jewels in the crown of this scepter’d isle And, in this glorious travel and tourism industry of ours, we actively encourage people to stay in the UK for their holidays and to visit our seaside towns and villages.

Beachy Head - with thanks to Simon Falvo http://www.wildabouttravel.com

Visit Britain is currently running an impressive international ad campaign to entice travellers in other countries to visit us. Great for us to show off how lucky we are to live in such a gorgeous place, on this wondrous planet of ours.

Land's End - with thanks to Bruna Zanelli http://www.brunazanelli.com

When I was young (many moons ago), we always went to the seaside in the school summer holidays.  And, as far as I can remember, we always had a fabulous time. Caravanning in East Runton, near Cromer, Norfolk; staying on a dairy farm in Seaton, South Devon; exploring along the Lincolnshire coast; going across to the Isle of Wight (I can remember writing England on my postcards ‘cos we had gone across the sea!) so many wonderful memories.

Land's End - with thanks to Walks Britain http://www.walksaroundbritain.co.uk

And when my children were young, we went to these wonderful places again, and many more, Tintagel to visit King Arthur’s castle and Merlin’s cave; St. Michael’s Mount to beat the tide back to the mainland; Lynton and Lynmouth to catch crabs and chase the waves; Hunstanton to run free with kites along the coloured cliffs; Cromer to walk along the planks of the pier and keep a watch for pirates, Happisburg to climb the red and white lighthouse for a better view of the sea pirates; so much fun, so much happiness and such wonderful places.

Exmouth Beach, thanks to Serena FitzGerald, Facebook

The wonder of social networks, is that people respond to questions and pleas for help that you post. I got these wonderful photographs through Facebook and Twitter. Lucky me, all the above were sent. A huge thank you. Co-incidentally, today is St. George’s Day and all these pics are of gorgeous places along the English coast.

Birthday Blessings

Yesterday (Sunday 17th July)  was my birthday, something that happens on an annual basis I know!  I am a very lucky girl as my daughter, Kezia, son, Aleck and grandson, Finlay, spent most of the weekend with me. Friends popped in and the slice of birthday cake was much bigger than it should have been ;-)  I blew out the one candle and we relit it so Finlay could blow it too, to give me extra luck ~ it just keeps on getting better!  My front room is full of flowers, cards and balloons.

I thought I’d write about how the amazing world of technology impacted on the day.  On my mobile, I had some lovely texts from friends.  And I’m lucky enough to have great friends on Twitter and Facebook and that is where the wonder of today’s technology kicks in.  I had birthday greetings from all over the world ~ Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United States of America, Brazil, Iceland, Germany, France, Holland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Spain, Romania, India, Rajasthan, Bhutan, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England :-)

For any of you sitting there reading this and saying ‘So what?’; to me this is still inspiring and the fact that you can also live chat to any of these wonderful countries is wonder-full!  This has only developed in the last few years, something our children and grandchildren will, and do, take as the norm; but something that we older beings had to explore and teach ourselves.

The travel and tourism industry on these social networks is refreshingly open, friendly and sharing.  You can easily see the difference between the bigger companies and organisations who are really talking to people and those who are just paying lip service ~ but that’s for another post!

Thank you to all the lovely people who took the time to send birthday wishes, I am very grateful :-)

WTM itself

After leaving BT to follow my dreams, I became involved in this wonderful industry of travel, hospitality & tourism and have remained fascinated by it ever since. I can’t remember which year I started going to World Travel Market, but it was many moons ago when the event was at Earls Court. Imagine your first trip to WTM, being squashed on a tube, in rush hour, between a magnificent Canadian Mountie and a beautiful young lady from the Far East; listening to so many different languages being spoken and trying to guess which they are and just breathing in the different exotic scents.  So exciting.

This year I was going with two clients ~ the amazing Anna Pollock and also, Polynesian Xplorer from Samoa.

The A Team for Samoa & Polynesian Xplorer

What a fantastic week it was! Every single person there was an inspiration to work with ~ in the picture to the left is Dwayne Bentley, Samoa Tourism Authority; Anna Pollock; me and the lovely Kate Fenton, Representation Plus for Samoa.

Samoa means the Sacred Centre of the Polynesian Islands.  Such a magical name! Polynesian Xplorer is a Destination Management Organisation (DMO) and was managing the World Judo Championships in Samoa whilst WTM took place. The company was formed by husband & wife, François Martel and Zita Sefo Martel. They make a brilliant team ~ François, originally from Montreal, Canada and now a Samoan national, is a highly accomplished and internationally recognised specialist in nature conservation, biodiversity and sustainable forest management. Zita is a High Chief (matai) hence the formal title of Vaimasenu’u and, earlier this year, Zita was privileged to receive her “malu,” the tattoo received by women in Samoan society. Have a look at Anna’s blog, ‘Samoa provides deeper meaning to the concept of branding‘.  Zita is Samoa’s first and only woman Fautasi skipper and has trained & led the majority of winning crews for ten years. The French Government invited Zita to become the Honorary Consul of France in 2000, a prestigious diplomatic role which has supported and enriched her capacity to welcome guests from around the world.

The stand, which was a model of a traditional fale (beach house), was shared between Samoa  and Tonga ~ another part of the paradise that is Polynesia.  The girl with the lovely smile in this pic is Sandra Fifita, Ministry of Tourism, Kingdom of Tonga. Such a wonderful warm person and, like Dwayne, with an inner serenity. The other member of the Tonga team was the delightful Ronnie Simpkins, but he mysteriously disappeared when the photos were being taken. The smiles were there all week, we had a great time meeting and greeting people and passing on this marvellous happiness that exists in Polynesia.

Perhaps more people should try this, smiling, that is! At some stands, there were people who looked forbidding, bored, disinterested and too busy talking to each other to have time for anyone else.  This marvellous event is a celebration of each country represented there, so let’s all celebrate ~ the advantage should be grabbed by the buyer and the seller ~ every single person who attends has a unique sets of values and wants. There are some brilliant events and seminars there you can go to – take advantage, make it work for you.

One of the people I met on the Samoan fale was a very interesting travel journalist from Vancouver, called Robin Esrock.  Robin has his own take on WTM, ‘Notes from the Underside‘.

And randomly, between where we were and Madagascar, the next door stand was for Tang Dynasty Tours of China. Again, fascinating people to talk with.

Now back to the people I was with. Anna Pollock has worked in the travel & tourism industry for more than thirty years. Her bio on Twitter, where she is @PembridgeAnna, states;  ‘Boomer (international speaker, change agent in tourism) kept very young by her fascination with deep change affecting business, marketing, the tourism community’.

She is an outstanding strategist, a visionary (recognised by BC, Canada, when she was given the Tourism Visionary of the Year Award), a very successful international speaker and, subjects now being discussed in the industry, were addressed by Anna in papers she wrote nearly 10 years ago! Definitely a change agent, she inspires people!

Anna is a true advocate of sustainability and responsible travel.  Indeed, many people are these days – it is very fashionable to have jumped on the bandwagon for this.  And that is where the travel and tourism industry starts to look a little on the jaded side.  There is a distinct old boys’ network, with many huge egos out there; but not to be completely negative, there are some truly wonderful people out there too, and after a few years you get to know the good guys from the posers. It’s the same on the conference circuit, so many people who do the rounds as speakers, especially at annual ones, but that’s all they do – they talk. They don’t actually achieve anything, they just talk.  If you have conferences on certain subjects, then why are action points not agreed and measurable goals set that can be checked on during the year up to the next conference? Or is that too simplistic?

This year, I didn’t even get to go to the other side of the halls at Excel – but that’s a good thing as we were busy.  Excel is soulless, nevertheless, the cacophony of sounds and the vibrant rainbows of colour everywhere bring it to life. Where else can you pop to Canada, America & Latin America, then look at safaris in South Africa and sample lunch time treats in South Korea, going on to anywhere in the world that your wishes (or meetings) take you?

There have been some negative comments on travel bloggers not getting proper recognition at WTM; that they should have separate areas at each destination and even have lunches and receptions held for them! Please! I know many travel bloggers, all of them absolutely wonderful but not one of them expects to be treated this way. Yes, it is very busy there and yes, sometimes you don’t get to talk to people but that is the same as at any large event – you just go back again if you don’t have an appointment! As the meerkat would say, simples!

Talking of travel bloggers, on the Tuesday evening was the Travel Blog Camp. Organised by Darren Cronian (@travelrants) and presented by Kevin May (@kevinlukemay), the evening was a sell out.  Good speakers (the first being the delightful Andy Jarosz, @501places), good sponsors and the chance to meet up and chat with lovely friends. Monday and Wednesday evenings were spent working, had to skip having dinner with the gorgeous Simon, she is @1step2theleft on Twitter. Must remedy that!

The most important thing anyone exhibiting can do is to listen before talking.  Well actually, you don’t talk, you start to build a relationship.  We met some wonderful people on the Samoan stand, people I sincerely hope we see again and share in building, not only a successful business relationship, but also, a relationship built on mutual trust and respect. It is an absolute privilege to meet so many different people, from so many different cultures and countries ~ I always come away with new learning and understanding.

If there is any pointer about how to / how not to exhibit, it is the mindset, the attitude! Celebrate being there, celebrate making new friends, celebrate your country, celebrate what you do, celebrate life!  That joy and enthusiasm will shine through, will make a difference, will enhance your experience and that of the people you meet.  Enjoy!

So here’s to Fiona Jeffery and the superb team at World Travel Market, and here’s to WTM 2011, Monday 7 to Thursday 10 November ~ long may it continue!