After the orientation our group that had formed over breakfast made plans to explore together. Andrew our natural leader had spent the last couple of summers in the city and offered to show us the sites. I think we all felt lucky that we didn’t have to get our guide books out but could just relax and enjoy a leisurely tour with an enthusiastic guide who was willing to share his knowledge and experiences. If you have ever been to New York or any of the major American cities you’ll recognise the landscapes immediately. So many TV shows and films seem to have been set in this amazing city. Our journey began with a subway ride with some busking New York style. Two brilliant rappers got on the stop after us placed a leather cap on the floor and started their performance. It was a surreal beginning to our trip unfortunately have only recently arrived I didn’t have any small change so couldn’t give them any coins but we showed our appreciation.
Today was orientation day. The room was full of young people embarking on various types of working holidays in America. Although tired, we were all excited by the prospect of what lay ahead over the next few month. Two friends were staying longer in New York to experience the 4th July celebrations. My journey would take me to Ocean City, Maryland but first orientation; it was a requirement of our student working visas. A few hours to learn about how to navigate our way through New York City, the rest of America and our many adventures ahead.
Orientation was delivered by a young guy who was obviously very well travelled and relaxed. I remember thinking that he had a great job living in New York getting to meet travellers and helping them on their way. He went through legal stuff, what to do if certain problems occurred like if the job we had arranged months earlier turned out not to be what we expected; how to change employer and location. He also covered security issues, we needed to be street smart as in most major cities. It was not uncommon to hear stories of seemingly friendly locals offering help only to disappear with your luggage. He reminded us that we were embarking on an adventure that could be life changing but to be aware that some laws in America were slightly different from the UK for example the legal drinking age of 21.
During an unseasonably warm week in early spring I read about Noo Saro-Wiwa’s trip to Dagona lake part of a wetlands conservation project, near Nguru, Nigeria’s most northerly town. In a chapter of her book “Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria”. Her description really captured my imagination; Saro-Wiwa describes her journey to the area on the back of a motorbike:
“…through the arid savannah dotted with acacia trees and down palms; there was not a house or building in sight. Every so often a lake appeared, transforming the parched landscape into a quenching patchwork of shiny blue water and quenching reeds.” (p164).
Given recent developments in the last year I wonder if the trip will be possible to repeat anytime soon…..
Stepping out into streets that were unfamiliar and yet very familiar with their wide expanse and well-known yellow cabs. We had been let loose that afternoon to explore the city the next day we would be all making our own journeys to the cities and towns that would be our homes for the rest of the summer. A few hours earlier my companions and I had met for breakfast in Columbia University’s breakfast room despite most of us arriving late the night before and just beginning to adjust to the time difference we all had plenty to say. Breakfast consisted of a buffet including scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast and crispy bacon.
The people at the breakfast table had come from all parts of the UK. Some were students, teachers and new graduates. I suppose it just goes to show how large America is that no two people were going to the same city. Some had plans to go to the west coast others to stay in the east others were going south. Maria had plans to write postcards to herself whilst travelling an idea I liked but didn’t think I would have the discipline to do myself but it did get me thinking about starting a diary of my travels.
Reached by canoe, I spent a night camping on Inchcailloch Island in Loch Lomond national nature reserve. Arriving late afternoon stepping off the Canoe and walking up the stone steps to be greeted by a carpet of bluebells covering the Island. My initial ideas for my project had been inspired by reading Noo Saro-Wiwa’s book. Saro-Wiwa visits a wetland that is under threat from the growing population and their need for more resources. This is a problem echoed around the world, site designations like RAMSAR and National Nature Reserve help to provide a management structure and protection for these areas.
During a family trip to Nigeria last year I got to see firsthand Nigeria’s home grown movie industry in action. I had opted to stay behind whilst my sisters went to explore the Lagos markets in search of a few last minute bargains. I went to sit by the indoor hotel pool to catch up on some work.The spot I choose was close to a power point for my tablet and phone. Whilst walking to my seat I spotted a film crew filming in the room just off from the pool area on the right. About 20 minutes later the film crew moved to the pool area, fans and equipment were brought very close to the table as the action moved to the bar area to the left of the pool. As the actors and director prepared for the next scene the writer/ producer and sound engineer both reassured me that there was no need to move from my location. I was very interested to watch the filming so was happy to be distracted from my work. Whilst the scenes were being set up I got talking to the production team about how they got into filming. The sound recordist had previously worked in finance but had given it up to work in film. The Writer/ producer had begun making videos whilst attending university.
One a hot summer’s day in July 2013 despite engineering works adding an extra hour to my journey I made it to the north shore of the Solway Firth, south-east of Dumfries. I suppose my perseverance was due the thought that it was a great day for cycling along an unknown coast. I wasn’t disappointed. As part of my research for the Ankur Ha Ha writing project I planned to visit several nature reserves/ wetlands for inspiration. Caerlaverock, a national nature reserve was first on my list. From Dumfries train station I made my way south cycling along the River Nith for part of the way. Then along quiet winding country roads. I had been advised that some of the most dramatic scenes occur between September and April when large numbers of Barnacle geese are resident for the winter but there is still plenty to see in the summer. At the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre, I explored the bird watching hides and viewed the large expanse of Merse and mudflats supporting a variety of wildlife. Merse is low-level ground by a river or shore the soil is sandy and fertile.