A junction in the jungle

zambezi hippo 1Once upon a time deep in the heart of Africa, out in the midst of the mighty Zambezi River where canny crocodiles cruise and burly hippopotamus wallow, I set foot on an almost-secret island, a truly wild escape for roamers and romantics.

This tiny hideaway was a crossroads and resting point for wanderers heading north or south through Zambia and seeking respite from the rigours of the road.

Jungle Junction was a discrete haven for dreamers, a place for lazy days spent in cotton hammocks strung at considerate intervals beside the river, a place to pause and reflect about their adventures. All the while the great Zambezi surged headlong past the island towards its inevitable plunge over the mighty Victoria Falls a few miles downriver.

Jungle Junction’s existence was, at that time, known only by word-of-mouth. Two lads from Botswana had created the camp after painstaking negotiations with the local chief. They sought no publicity whatsoever, printed no brochures …. and access to the island was an adventure in itself. It was the case that only those meant to get there ….

Check-in was at a nondescript house in Livingstone, the Zambian town closest to the Victoria Falls. Here guests signed a document absolving everyone of any blame whatsoever should any of the following occur:

a) fall in the Zambezi and drown
b) fall in the Zambezi and be crunched by a croc or mashed by a hippo
c) fall in the Zambezi and be swept over the Victoria Falls or,
d) have the misfortune to have any other misfortune befall them

 

Passport, cash, cards and anything else deemed precious were shrink-wrapped and locked away. No money was allowed on the island, a percipient rule that prevented theft and avoided many other hassles. Everything paid for at Jungle Junction went on a tab to be paid on return to Livingstone.

We jumped into the back of a truck and set off to a rendezvous point an hour upriver where we climbed into narrow wooden dugout canoes. Backpacks were stuffed into dry-bags … just in case.

Once afloat, we shot several rapids with water gushing into our laps while keeping a constant wary watch for hippo. It was not a journey for the faint-hearted. Our first sighting of Jungle Junction was Hut 8, half-hidden among trees, merely a double bed beneath a mosquito net on a wooden platform with grass roof. No castaway could have wanted more.

The camp kitchen sat beside a covered boma serving as lounge, bar and dance hall. The bar was an upturned wooden dugout canoe flanked by giant speakers fashioned from former dugouts. Soft reggae by Manu Chao pulsated through the late afternoon heat.

_MG_0993Jungle Junction was primitive yet brilliantly functional. A network of paths connected the eight huts to camp core and  ablutions. Bucket-and-pulley showers dispensed water heated by a log fire and piped to a tap. Western flush toilets were concealed within reed walls.

The kitchen produced three meals daily according to demand, each guest writing down the meals they wished to have the following day. There were no organised activities. One happy camper scribbled in the guest book: “a place to do nothing, and in doing nothing do something, anything, a place where nothing is everything”.

We made the occasional trip downriver to swim safely in Zambezi rock pools or watch glorious sunsets. Nights were usually party time, with midnight skinny dips in a section of river fenced off from marauding crocs. Spitting cobras and grey twig snakes lived in the surrounding bush so a sensible, sharp awareness was needed, particularly when walking to your hut or tent by torchlight.

Doobie the hippo commandeered a stretch of river during my stay. From a hammock slung between trees above his chosen pool I watched him regularly raise his massive head above the waterline, cast an eye over his territory, honk a couple of times then sink once again beneath the surface. Such was my time out at Jungle Junction – Africa at its simplest and finest.

# Jungle Junction still exists but has moved to a larger island and now offers a choice of chalets, stilt huts and fixed tents as well as a BYO-tent campsite. It even has a website!  And it’s on TripAdvisor. Is it as good as I recall? Sadly I can’t say. But one thing I do know from my travels is that you can never, ever, really go back ….

Jungle Junction map

Revealed! A (not so) secret garden

Hill Garden 1My late father-in-law who lived in London had occasionally mentioned a “secret garden” that he particularly liked to visit and which was not very far from his Hampstead home. So when he offered to show me his special spot I jumped at the chance.

As we marched into the thickets flanking West Heath Road I wondered if he knew that this particular neck of the woods was notorious as a gay sex haunt. But my learned, professorial father-in-law never did pay much attention to what was published in the tabloids.

_MG_0241Striding purposefully along muddy paths that wound between the trees we arrived beneath a high brick wall set with regularly-spaced arches.

This wall extended for some distance and was topped by grey columns and fanciful lattice work.

Beneath one of the arches steps led up to a new, higher vantage point amid the stone columns and from here I first set eyes on the slender pond at the heart of this beloved “secret garden”.

Of course none of it was actually secret. That was my father-in-law’s private joke. The Hill Garden and Pergola are simply a ‘hidden delight’ of Hampstead, one that’s well worth seeking out.

_MG_0228Beautiful, tranquil and secluded, the garden has lush lawns, splendid flower beds, the long but narrow pond and several secluded nooks with bench seats. This gentle oasis exists behind Inverforth House (once known as The Hill), a grand mansion dating from 1807 but which in the 1990s was converted into two houses and several luxury apartments.

The property is located on North End Way close to Jack Straw’s Castle, an iconic Hampstead pub that’s now also been refashioned into apartments (which sounds a lot more grand than simply saying “a bunch of flats”).

_MG_0278The Hill Garden, pergola and summer pavilion are open to the public and are a legacy of soap maker and philanthropist, William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925), 1st Viscount Leverhulme, who lived and died in The Hill House having purchased it in 1904.

Lever made extensive modifications and additions to the house, including a ballroom and art gallery. He also bought and demolished two neighbouring houses, then called in architect Thomas Mawson to design the grounds for his extended estate.

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Mawson’s pergola

Earth from tunnels being excavated for the Northern Line was hauled by cart up to Hill House and used to raise the gardens and also infill the base of the colonnaded Pergola Walk that links the formal gardens beside the main house with the more private lower garden and pond. This grand project continued until Lever died in 1925, by which time the mansion had 60 rooms and the Hill Garden was well established.

Those benches in their various shady nooks are absolutely perfect for a sunny afternoon’s reading. Late spring into early summer is a fabulous time to visit as this is when the wisteria, rambling roses and jasmine adorning the Pergola and the elevated Walk are at their finest. Autumn offers other golden moments.

Whenever I’m in London, no matter what time of year, I always try to spend a few quiet hours here, both to relax and in memory of the marvellous man who shared his little secret. I invite you to do the same

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The secret is out ! Where you’ll find it

 

Not quite like it used to be ….

Air-Afrique-Africa-Travel-Giclee-70011Travel has never been more readily available to more folks than it is today. Technology has shrunk our world while also, in so many ways, helped make getting around the planet a lot more affordable and easier. But somehow, en route, the vital essence of travel – that sense of wonder – seems to have got diluted.

Simply put, it ain’t like it used to be ….

Browsing through a stack of magazines from the 1940s and 1950s I was amazed to see the high number – and top quality – of travel ads. I was thrilled by the beautiful artwork and intrigued by that fact that elements of design now classified as vintage still manage to evoke a sense of seduction and promote the desire of longing.

Is this reaction simply nostalgia weaving its subtle magic on my sensibilities? Has sentiment smudged my judgement? Or is it that travel, simply by becoming commonplace, has lost some of its allure? Look at these wonderfully vibrant examples and see what you think. Is travel sold quite so stylishly nowadays? juan les pins

Beyond the humour depicted in some vintage scenes  – can you imagine being carried up Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak today in the manner as shown in the poster? – the sheer brilliance of the art direction more than half a century ago is such that many of these vintage travel posters are far more imbued with a sense of escape, awe and inspiration than many of their modern day counterparts with all the technology at their disposal. A case of less is more?cerviniaposter hongkong

If you find images like these strike a chord then you may appreciate a handsome tome by Taschen (see below) which covers a century of advertising designed to cajole us to immediately drop everything and go globe totting. The book is available from Amazon.     taschen 20 years

Taking it to the streets

IMG_0057 (1 of 6)Food is always with easy reach on the streets of Vancouver, which may well be the food cart capital of the free world. My home town Sydney has followed slowly in its BC cousin’s footsteps in recent years and now has about eight trucks around town. In Vancouver there seems to be one on just about every corner.

James Iranzad, former president of the Street Food Vancouver Society, says the food revolution that’s swept his city began with mayor Gregor Robertson’s drive to improve food choices beyond the staple hot dogs and popcorn: “to provide something more reflective of Vancouver’s ethnic diversity”.

Legislation allowing the expansion of colourful, tasty sidewalk dining was passed in 2010 and an expert panel now assesses all vendor applications. “It’s all about great food under 10 minutes and under $10”, says James.

There are more than 100 vendors, carts and trucks registered but not all are operating. Those that are can be most easily tracked down using the Street Food Vancouver smartphone app. IMG_0044 (5 of 6)

Most carts have fixed spots around the city’s core, particularly along Robson and Burrard streets, and these carts do an especially brisk lunchtime trade as hungry workers stream out of the surrounding office blocks.

Mobile food trucks can’t operate within the Downtown area but have the advantage of being able to pitch at prime suburban locations including beaches and provide food at events and private functions.

The food cart style of casual, impromptu munching seems to suit the times and everyone’s tastes. It’s popular enough that, at one time, it prompted some entrepreneurs to offer an “Eat your Cart Out” city tour during which punters sank their teeth into a range of sidewalk dishes such as slow-smoked pulled pork sandwiches, pan-Asian tapas, bacon every-which-way, short ribs, soups, tuna tacos, hot smoked salmon sandwiches, perogy, pupusas and fajita wraps. Burp! IMG_0021 (6 of 6)

* There is currently a “World’s Best Food Truck Tour” available weekdays at 11am through Tour Guys Vancouver