My Favourite Weird Place Names

Working for a travel company I frequently come across places I never knew existed with some pretty amazing and often hilarious names. I thought I’d compile my top ten places and how to get there, if, like me, you plan to one day do a comedy place name world tour!

10. Haha Island, Japan.

Haha-Jima

A tiny dot of land located over 1000km south of the main islands of Japan with little over 400 inhabitants. Haha actually means ‘mother’ in Japanese.

Getting there: Well. If you take your starting point in Japan’s capital, Tokyo, from there you need to reach the Ogasawara Islands. You take a ferry, which departs approximately once every 6 days dependant on typhoons and takes around about 25.5 hours to reach your next stop, Chichijima. Accommodation on board consists of communal futon sleeping, you better hope it isn’t a rocky ride or I can only imagine you all end up in a pile of humans and futons being rolled from one side of the cabin to the next.  From Chichijima it’s just a 2 hour ferry, which departs daily, to Haha Jima. Simple huh!

9. Cape Disappointment, WA.

cape disappointment

We have a giant map on the wall at work, which if you sit at a specific desk means you are sat right next to Cape Disappointment all day. Located on a peninsula headland, with a famous lighthouse (see above), right in the south-west of Washington state where it borders Oregon.

Getting there: Why bother? Doesn’t sound worth the effort! If you’re sure though, starting in Washington’s capital, Seattle, it’s a scenic 3 hour drive south-west to the Cape Disappointment State Park, and the thrilling sounding Cape Disappointment Trail….

8. Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.

Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat, whose tagline, “the gas city” makes it sound very exciting indeed! The name derives from the Blackfoot Indian word for the headdress worn by the tribe’s witch doctor, or Medicine Man.

Getting There: If we take the State of Alberta’s capital as our starting point, it is a rather uninspiring 5 hour drive south-east through open dusty plains, once described to me by a local as, “so vast and boring, you can see your dog running away for three days.”

7. Hankey, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

South_Africa-Hankey-01

One of three towns which make up the Gamtoos Valley, and named after Brit, William Hankey, treasurer of the London Missionary Society back in the 1820s. Potentially only amusing to people who call tissue, hankies, or to anyone who has every watched South Park…

Getting There: Starting from Cape Town, Capital of the Western Cape, do a short hop by plane to the city of Port Elizabeth and hire a car for the hour’s drive due west to Hankey. Alternatively, make a trip out of it and drive the famous Garden Route from Cape Town to Hankey. In one go it takes almost 9 hours, but the attractive seaside towns of Knysna, George and Wilderness make great stopping points, and dropping by the adventure capital of Plettenburg Bay would allow you time to do Bloukran’s bridge bungee, one of the biggest in the world….if you’re not well in the head.

6. Varginha, Brazil.

Varginha 23 a 26 de Fevereiro de 2011

The Roswell of Brazil, famed for a 1996 UFO sighting as well as sounding like someone slowly enunciating the word ‘vagina’.

Getting There: Starting in Rio de Janeiro, not because it’s the capital (as we all know that’s not true!) but as the most likely point of arrival in to the country, it is a simple 5.5 hour drive north-west to Varginha.

5. Humpty Doo, Northern Territory, Australia.

humpty doo

No-one knows the true origin of the name of this small town located some 20 miles south of Darwin in Australia’s tropical top end. One theory suggests it derives from a colloquial word to describe “doing everything wrong and upside down”.

Getting There: Well, as I said, only 20 miles south of Northern Territory’s capital, Darwin, you could drive there in 30 minutes. To shake it up a bit, why not cycle? Google Maps say you can do it in 2 hours 5 minutes. 

4. Batman, Turkey.

batman

Back story of my discovery of this city is probably not all that amusing and only serves to prove I am a little bit sad. So, all cities which have airports large enough for scheduled flights have a three letter identification code which enables you to search on flight systems more effectively (LHR for example, for Heathrow, JFK for John F Kennedy Int.) To find a code you can type in the city name in to the flight systems, and to decode a city, you can do the same by typing the code. Yeah, fun. Whilst bored one day, I was sat decoding amusing three letter words, as you do, POO (Pocos de Calda, Brazil), FUK (Fukuoka, Japan), COK (Kochi, India) etc. etc. Exhausting this game, I tried to decode BAL (so I could have a flight from COK to BAL you see…) and what pops up, “BAL – Batman, Turkey.” A prominent Silk Route outpost in the 11th-12th centuries, the city has been inhabited since at least 500BC….2500 years later and its major claim to fame was when its mayor tried to sue Hollywood for the use of the name Batman in ‘Batman Begins.’

Getting There: Well, as you can immediately know from my fascinating story above, Batman, has its own airport, meaning if you wanted,  you could take the simple 2 hour flight from Istanbul (once again, not because it’s the capital…!). Or, for a mere £23, you can get a gruelling 20 hour bus ride diagonally across Turkey to the far south west corner of Turkish Kurdistan, close to the country’s border with Iraq.

3. Gondar, Ethiopia (pleasingly just down the road from Shire!)

gondar

Referred to as the ‘Camelot of Africa’ due to the large number of royal castles, Gondar is located in northern Ethiopia. It is also the only one on this list I have near definite plans to visit this year. A secret LotR fanatic, I continually refer to it as Gondor and secretly hope to encounter Viggo Mortensen there (who you will all know as the king of Gondor…).

Getting There: From Addis Ababa you can fly to Gondar in a little over an hour. A bus will cost you 2 days, and 6 months of chiropractic treatment.   

2. Intercourse, PN.

intercoursemug

Hopefully twinned with Concepcion, Paraguay. What makes this name even more satisfying is that it’s slap bang in the middle of Amish country. Also famous for quilting…which I’m sure the majority of visitors are there for.

Getting There: Intercourse is an hour’s drive from the closest airport in Harrisburg, which, as many of you won’t know, is the State capital of Pennsylvania.

1. Truth or Consequences, NM.

torc

My personal favourite, although, judging by the photos, this small New Mexican town, with a population of 6000 odd, potentially one of the less interesting. Affectionately referred to a T or C by locals, it is just down the road from Elephant Butte National Park, which is also pretty amusing. I have been disappointed to learn this town wasn’t Christened such by a religious zealot wanting to constantly remind the townsfolk that lying was ungodly…rather it changed its name from Hot Springs in 1950 in response to the host of a NBC radio show, “Truth or Consequences” announcing that the first episode would be televised from whichever place changed its name first…Oh America.

Getting There: Albuquerque, state capital, is a couple of hours drive from T or C, why not make a trip out of it and continue another 3 hours east across New Mexico and drop in to Roswell and see if you spot a YU-FOH?

PS. I take no credit for any of these photos, I stole each and every one (let me know if you took the photo and it’s not ok and I’ll steal another one from somewhere else…)

Venezuela you are not alone!

jose

Overnight I received a message from a Venezuelan friend I met whilst travelling his country some four years ago. Squinting away the sleep, my eyes still heavy, my brain blearily trying to make sense of the Spanish, it read, “Hello Cris…please help us, you know many people in the world, right now, here there is a massacre and we are defenceless…write to your government, your friends, that they might incite an international protest… please help us…”

A peculiar sense of shame and helplessness washed over me that resonated right through to the tips of my fingers. Shame, that I had been seeing, but largely overlooking the tweets and posts from my Venezuelan friends over the last few weeks. Helplessness, because, well, what on earth could I do for him, sat thousands of miles away?!

His message affected me as I fumbled my way through the morning routine. I stood motionless in the shower, letting the hot water run over me, deep in thought over what I could possibly do to help. After all, this direct and unashamed cry for help had been aimed entirely at me, what sort of person would I be to just sit by and do nothing? His faith in me as a beacon of hope to raise awareness of his plight, was touching, perhaps futile, but not one I could simply ignore.

In 2010 I lived for a short while in the Andean town of Mérida in Western Venezuela, a stones throw from the Colombian border. As I am sure you are aware, the crime in Venezuela is amongst the worst in the world with a homicide taking place every 13 minutes, which outnumbers the Iraq War in civilian deaths despite the country being at peacetime. I volunteered at a local zoological park and shadowed a vet, Félipe, who told me of some of his own experiences. He had been shot in the thigh and left for dead two years previously on leaving his office with the day’s takings and his elderly father had been the victim of a “secuestro exprés” or express kidnapping just a few months before my arrival. When driving at night, Félipe never stopped at traffic lights, advising me it was more dangerous to obey the road signs and become a target to armed gangs, than to run the light and crash. The father to an 8 year old daughter, I wondered how he coped bringing her up in such a violent country needing to be constantly on his guard. Félipe’s stories aren’t unique, pretty much everyone person you encounter has a similar story to tell.

Even during my short time there I became a victim when an armed gang mugged myself and my companion, threatening us with a makeshift weapon (a plank of wood with nails through it), and forcefully alleviating me of all my belongings (the strap of my bag around me was cut with a pocket knife). By Latin American standards this was relatively tame, no harm was done to either of us, and we were released with the orders in Spanish: “keep walking and don’t look back until after the corner.”

Despite all of this, the majority of my memories of the country are fond ones, a Venezuelan flag has hung in every flat I have lived in since my return, and I count it as #1 of my favourite countries out of the 60 or so I have visited. With such a wealth of natural beauty and incredible people, Venezuela should be up there as a top tourist destination, not a crime rate.

The more I have delved in to the news events, the more I have come to realise the great disparity in what is reported to us, and what is left to fall by the way side. An obvious case of picking and choosing the events THEY want us to hear about which makes me wonder what else happens but never reaches our eyes. The most up to date reports are coming through from Venezuelans in situ, utilising that new phenomena of social media. They have been uploading some seriously shocking and violent videos of the Bolivar National guards attacking and opening fire on peaceful protesters, yet none of this is reaching the world headlines. The world news has been awash with images and videos of the current unrest in The Ukraine, yet there is a distinct lack of coverage of Venezuela. They seem to have a blind spot and fail to update their news pages on the current events. So if they aren’t going to raise awareness, it is down to us to make sure the Venezolanos don’t continue to be ignored and that their voices are heard. I am doing my best to retweet, repost and generally bring as much focus to the issues arising as one person can do. I ask that if you agree, perhaps you might do the same, as a member of this planet it is our combined duty.

I may not be able to do much, Jose, but I have done my best.

Do your bit: #Venezuela #SOSvenezuela #Venezuelanoestasola

Sign the Petition.

Aside

Travelling in style from Cusco (Machu Picchu) to Puno (Lake Titikaka). The Andean Explorer runs 388km, linking together Peru’s top two tourist attractions. It takes approximately 10 hours, depending on traffic (it passes quite literally through the centre of several large town, so close, the awnings of market stalls brush the windows as you pass) and is a much more relaxing way to enjoy the spectacular and ever changing countryside than travelling the bumpy road which run parallel to the train tracks practically the whole way. You start in the subtropical highlands surrounding the former Incan capital of Cusco, (altitude 3,400m/11,200ft) climb through dizzying mountain passes until you reach the tiny stronghold of La Raya (meaning, ‘the line’), which signals the provincial border between Cusco and Puno and the train’s highest point at 4,319m or 14,172ft. From there, you pass downwards onto the somewhat desolate Altiplano flat-lands, where the tracks level out for the remainder of the trip before eventually arriving in Puno, on the shore of Lake Titikaka, which at 3,812m/12,507ft, is the world’s highest navigable lake.

More More Peru and Bolivia 163DSC_2238More More Peru and Bolivia 178More More Peru and Bolivia 180More More Peru and Bolivia 181More More Peru and Bolivia 208DSC_2297DSC_2429DSC_2308 CSC_2310 DSC_2368 DSC_2372 DSC_2405More More Peru and Bolivia 331More More Peru and Bolivia 324More More Peru and Bolivia 334More More Peru and Bolivia 336More More Peru and Bolivia 341DSC_2481

Image

Sunrise over Lake Titikaka ~ 7th May 2013, 5:36am

Titikaka sunrise 005“Cuanto más aumenta nuestro conocimiento, más conscientes somos de nuestra ignorancia”

~ The more we increase our knowledge, the more conscious we are of our ignorance.

Round-up of all the things I’ve done.

I have been out of the UK pretty much constantly since the 4th May 2010, that’s 1.264 years – 14.7 months – 450 days. There are a lot of things I could have accomplished in that period of time, I could have flown to Mars AND back, had a child and be 5 months pregnant with the next (or instead gestated a baby rhino) or written a quarter of War and Peace.

Instead I think I have done pretty well. I have seen 17 countries, 15 capitals, 6 islands(1 on a lake), and 3 autonomous regions, travelling in 31 aeroplanes from a 4-seater prop to a MD-11 and crossing borders by boat, bus, car, train and foot (across 2 bridges). I have climbed ancient temples in monsoon rains and scorching sun, perused art until 5a.m., watched my first (and last) football match and first and last bullfight, swum fully clothed 200m underground, ridden a dolphin, modelled wedding dresses, snorkelled in the Atlantic and the Pacific with sea snakes, stingrays and sharks, taught English, sampled port wine, climbed an active volcano and stood so close to lava my skin blistered, swum with whale sharks, hit my first piñata, worn a bikini of real starfish, run with the bulls, spotted pink river dolphins, survived a “chicken bus”, heard the roars of howler monkeys, searched in vain for quetzals and fished without catching a thing. I have stood at the bottom of one waterfall and the top of another, zip-lined through a cloud forest, kayaked through rapids and parachuted off a cliff. I have slept in 5-star hotels, rough hotels, hostels, B&Bs, posadas, jungle lodges, Travelodges, and in tents and hammocks beneath the stars in rainforests and on 100m wide desert islands watching some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I have handfed bears, snakes and jaguars, touched tapirs, comforted a baby monkey, netted an angry vulture, put cream on an itchy lion, injected a 9ft anaconda, watched 3 live animal surgeries, 1 autopsy and fainted once.  I have been the witness of one mugging and the victim of two. Through all of this to keep me going I have eaten enough plantain hot and fried, baked and crunchy, cold, soggy and flaccid to last me for life, nibbled cautiously on the face of a pig and the legs of a frog, tried horse, conch, termites, ice-cream flavoured with meat, hot-dog and beer, licked ants from a twig, developed a taste for octopus, enjoyed freshly caught fish bbqed on the beach.  I have eaten arepas, tacos, hornazos, natillas, gestampte muisjes, fajitas, molé, currywurst, patacones, cassava, bacalao, gallo pinto, morcilla, tarta tres leches, lulas, pepper pot, stroopwafels, tamales, pico de gallo, patatas bravas, membrillo, jeta, hagelslag, cerviche, empanadas, revuelto, bitterballen, all washed down with custard (yes, as a drink), chicha, flor de cana (like it was going out of fashion) and coconut milk straight off the tree. I have made friends from Holland, Brazil, Japan, France, Korea, the USA, Germany, Saudi Arabia, China, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, Taiwan, Turkey, Hong Kong, Iceland, Greece, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ireland, South Africa and of course Spain. And to top it all off I have learnt a new language.

Phew.

It has been the most tiring and most testing time of my life but I know it was worth it even the bad bits. If I were granted a second life, I’d just go and do it all again.

The ghosts of Bamiyan.

A little while back I was watching a program about Afghanistan, which made me want to visit more than ever but don’t tell my mum! It was a fascinating program and I enjoyed every minute, however, one part really stuck with me and caused a lump to form in my throat as they described the atrocity that was The Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddahs by the Taliban.

Today I have been informed by a Travel blog I have linked to my twitter that they have FINALLY got the money and people together to start rebuilding these statues. I am so relieved as it was such an immense loss.

My final few days in Spain.

I have been offered a job in Cambridge and will need to be back in London by the 15th August for training, so looks like my 10-month long stint in Salamanca is about to come to an end 😦 I am very sad, but I will have some great memories. I only get 2 hours of internet access a day which makes blog writing fraught (with worry you are about to get cut off) and rushed (meaning I make errors, which I hate) so this is a quick one to say I am still here, and haven’t disappeared again.

Here is a small collection of photos from my time here in Spain:

El Puente Romano al atardecer - The Roman Bridge at sunset.

Las viejas costumbres no mueren, corrida de toros en Ciudad Rodrigo - Bullfight in Ciudad Rodrigo, old habits dies hard.

 

Los victores - Victories