Earlie Beach and The Golden Plover

Earlie Beach is a little town with about 1.300 people, in Queensland, Australia, along the Whitsunday Coast. It’s the gateway to the unparalleled Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s very popular with backpackers… and I was one of them! After arriving in the famous locality, I spent a couple of days relaxing and having a look around, trying to find out what could interest me in the area.

I simply loved the feeling of being careless free, fortunate to be in this superb part of the world.

One day, I do not remember if I was in a backpacker or in a pub, I saw an advertisement on the wall that unchained my imagination. The image of wonderful tall ship with all its sails unfurled appeared in front of me. A comment said that being on it would have been an adventure of a life time experience.

It was about a week cruise around the Whitsundays, a collection of 74 continental islands in the North-East Coast of Queensland.

I was hooked. I knew that I needed to go.

The ad also published: “Backpackers willing to help out with serving food and cleaning up will get a huge discount.” Without hesitation, I went to a travel agency and I bought a ticket immediately. I was very lucky; the ship was nearly booked out for the next weeks and they only had a few places left.

I was very excited about the trip and the ship as well. I started to gather information about my new mean of transport, which was a brigantine.

What is a brigantine? I am sorry about the technical wording but there is no other way to get around it…

It was, they do not exist anymore nowadays, a two-masted sailing vessel with an entirely square rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square top sail and a gaff sail mainsail (behind the mast). The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts.

The ship was built in 1910 by the Ports and the Harbours of Victoria, in Australia. At that time, she was called “Plover”.

For its construction, they used the best materials: the New Zealand Kauri, a gigantic native tree, and copper fastenings.

This astonishing 30-meter vessel was one of the last tall ship on planet earth.

It is hard to describe the feeling of being on it.

Its story is fascinating. It started as a steam powered ship in Melbourne and worked at diverse jobs as fishing ketch, ferry, scallop boat and finally as a striking cruise ship.

Unfortunately, in 1986 it caught fire. Luckily nobody died while the fire was raging but the deck was destroyed. Even its superstructure was completely wrecked. The ship then was abandoned in the mud for 2 years in the Marybyrnong River. A disaster!

Providentially 4 guys from Germany and a professional rigger of Geelong, called George Herbery, had the vision of seeing the huge potential of the discredited ship.

The brothers, called Helmut, Günther and Gert Jacoby and an engineer called Ed Roleff, were ship lovers. Within 4 years and 6 months they turned the derelict into a classy and elegant sailing vessel.

It was so picturesque, eye-catching and unique that it was regularly used in movies. One was the notorious softcore “The Blue Lagoon”…

Nevertheless, the day I was impatiently waiting for to start my new journey arrived…

The ship was blue with immaculate sails. What a wonderful sight when I saw it for the first time! What a feeling to embark on this masterwork!

My imagination ran wild… The Golden Plover reminded me of pirates, black and white flags with the skull, symbol of piracy par excellence… of deadly naval battles and hidden treasures…

Not only I was on a magnificent vessel… I was going to cruise along the legendary, stunning Whitsunday Islands.

Shiny white sand beaches and turquoise waters were waiting for me…

What’s next? Just follow me… And I will show you the world.

Solo Travel – 10 Ways to Save on Single Supplements

In your school days, you may have found, as I did, that economics really is the “dismal science”. However, I did learn one key fact. Supply and demand drive prices. For solo travel, the surcharge or “single supplement” does vary partly in keeping with this tried and true rule. The good news? If you prowl through the Internet, you can find ways to save on solo travel when demand is down. The bad news? Reduced or no single supplement offerings are limited in number and go fast.

Here are 10 ways to save.

1. Don’t ask for one room. Ask for a “room for one’. In Europe, lodging is often sold with solo pricing. Be sure to see if it is a solo price for a standard room or a small single room. Look at the size offered for single occupants. Then consider the amount of time you will spend in your room. I often take 10-12 hour day trips abroad with almost no time spent in my hotel room except to catch some sleep before heading out again.

2. Get there first. Book even one year ahead since few slots are reduced for solos. This is really important if you go in-season. Holiday resorts and hot spots in summer may have return visitors book the next year when they check out.

3. Head to the airport when everyone else is heading home. Off-season travel is the best way to get immediate 50% off reductions. In the south of France, rates go down as fast as Sept 9. Ski resorts, like the fabled Sun Valley Lodge, have specials just before Christmas. In winter and spring, European discounts can be half-price as well.

4. Get excited about rainy weather or extreme heat and cold. You will have to think how far you want to take this. I had a thrilling short term work trip one Jan. in Siberia. I also went on tour in India during the monsoons. In some cases, the negative pronouncements may not impact your trip. A good example? The risk of hurricanes each fall is less likely to touch the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) making for better pricing. In Africa, for example, safari rates are lower during the rainy or “green” season if you can get away, and don’t mind the possibility of short, heavy rains.

5. Look for new travel providers. Hotels that are just opening or reopening after renovations have specials to gain or regain market share. The Hotel Castille in Paris, for example, had short-term deep discounts when it reopened just steps from fashionable boutiques. Thereafter, the rates increased in keeping with other high-end small hotels

6. Be a contrarian. Don’t pay a premium for what’s currently trending. Prowl the Internet for undervalued regions. If it is all the rage, prices will soar. In the 1980’s, I somehow found a Montenegro resort right off the Albanian border. Since then, Sveti Stefan, where I stayed, has been updated as reflected in its 5 star pricing. The moral of the story is get there before the crowds discover a destination.

7. If you can’t pronounce it or spell it, you’ll love the prices! Substitute the road less traveled. If you have a dream to see the Parthenon you must go to Greece. (That is unless you live in North America and would like to see a perfect replica in Nashville, Tenn.!) Regional air carriers are a good way to find out great largely undiscovered places at low prices. One example: I dreamed of Tahiti in my early post-graduate days. When rates were high there, Air New Zealand suggested alternatives: Rarotonga and Aitutaki. I took them up on it and had the trip of a life time dining out on the stories for years.

8. Scour the Internet for national and regional programs offered by tourist boards. Check ahead as they may only be available abroad. One of the best deals I found in the 1990’s was with then “Lan Chile”. From the US, I purchased three stand-by tickets for a total of $200 to go anywhere in the country. At that price, I made my way to Antarctica Chile, at the end of the world!

9. Use flexible dates to grab week-day deals. Hotels and airline rates often go up and down together. Why is that? That takes us back to supply and demand. When planes and hotels have low load factors, prices are softer.

10. Share to save. Look for tours that have no single supplements by agreeing to share. The benefit to this approach? It is a way to save if your travel dates are not flexible, and no to low single supplement deals are not available.

In any case, before you give up on fitting solo travel into your budget, look at these options.

Durga Puja: The Queen of All Festivals

India is a land of festivals. Being a secular country, there is no dearth of things to celebrate in this land of wonders. From Christmas to Eid ul Zoha, Independence Day to the Cricket World Cup, there is hardly anything that Indians do not like celebrating. Simply point us towards an occasion and we are all for it. But hidden amongst this long list of celebrations is a gem in the form of Durga Puja, something celebrated in its full glory in the Bengali community.

So, what exactly IS the Durga Puja?

Well, for the sake of clarity, Puja refers to a religious festival. However, for us Bengalis, Durga Puja is less of a ‘Puja’ and more of the embodiment of the spirit of festiveness. What exactly does that mean? Well, let us go back a few millenniums to answer that question.

The tradition of invoking the goddess Durga (or the mother, known as ‘Ma’) is first considered to have been done by Lord Ram before he went forth to battle Ravana, as documented in the epic Ramayana. However, the tradition lay dormant till about the late 1500s, when the landlords in Bengal took it up. It was finally given its final form in the 18th century as Baroyaari (or 12 friends’) puja, a term which finally came to refer to community sponsored Durga Pujas held in Kolkata.

Essentially, all parts of India celebrates this period, but in the form of Navratri. It constitutes of 9 days’ worth of fasting, which ends with Dussehra, a day where an effigy of Ravana is burned as a way to show that evils are always championed by good as Lord Ram had championed above Ravana.

In Bengal, however, the meaning of these 10 days are quite different.

My earliest memories of Durga Puja are that of waking up in the middle of the night to listen to Mahalaya on the radio. It is a programme that has been airing on the first day of the Bengali month Ashwin for more than 7 decades and 4 generations of Bengalis, forcing them to wake up at 4 am, something I still do religiously every year on that particular day. Although the magic of the scent, the half awoken self and knowing Ma is coming has somewhat diminished with the years, the idea of something so collectively powerful that it makes a whole community look forward to it still holds a great deal of charm nonetheless.

We treat Ma Durga as something more than just the goddess. While it is true that she embodies the raw power (or Shakti) that overcame evil by slaying the evil demon Mahisasur (hence the term Mahisasur-mardini), she is much MUCH more than just that. The ten days that start with Mahalaya signify her annual visit to her paternal home in Bengal with 4 of her children. As such Ma is, at the same time, a mother, a wife, a goddess, and most importantly, a member of our family. We pamper her, we respect her, we love her and we adore her. She is more than just a divinity.

To us Bengalis, she embodies our truest nature. No matter where a Bengali might be, come Durga Puja, he/she feels a connection to his/her family.

THIS is what it means to celebrate Pujo (a colloquial term for Durga Puja).

Frankly, it cannot be compared to anything else in the world. But, remember the togetherness one gets when visiting the family, or the warmth during Christmas, or the feeling you get when you visit your family after a year away? That is what Pujo means to a Bengali. It is more than celebrating a religious festival. The idea of Pujo is bringing everyone together. And what better way can there be than a mother facilitating all that? We eat, we cry, we talk, be happy and celebrate something that is practically unheard of anywhere else in the world. It does not matter what you religion is. Whether a Muslim, a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain or anything in between (including atheists), if you are a Bengali at heart, Durga Puja is for you. From visiting the tens of thousands of makeshift podiums (or pandals) for hoisting Ma Durga to having a cup of tea in the middle of the night (under a tree in the local shop because it seems to inevitably rain during Puja nights these days, especially if you are out at 2 am) to dancing during the idol immersion ceremony (called Bhashan), Durga Puja is something that you have to experience at least once in your life.

Oh, and did I mention scrumptious luchi and khichudi as lunch during Ashtami and the gorgeous ladies who grace the pandals? Pujo is worth it… believe you me.

And once Pujo is done, while we are all sad, we pray for Ma to return safely to her heavenly abode atop the Himalayas. Thus begins the wait for the next Puja. Another year to spend before our dear mother comes back. Because Pujo never ends, it simply gets shifted by another year. After all, Ma is like the mother who wants you to be happy even when she is gone.

Come, be a part of this wonderful festival of togetherness.