Destination: French Polynesia

From Mandalay to Timbuktu: Great Names, Lousy Places

Mandalay. Photo by Stefan Munder via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

In an excerpt from his new book, “The Tao of Travel,” Paul Theroux recalls a number of places that just didn’t live up to the romance evoked by their names:

Mandalay: an enormous grid of dusty streets occupied by dispirited and oppressed Burmese, and policed by a military tyranny.

Tahiti: a mildewed island of surly colonials, exasperated French soldiers and indignant natives, with overpriced hotels, one of the world’s worst traffic problems and undrinkable water.

Timbuktu: dust, hideous hotels, unreliable transport, freeloaders, pestering people, garbage heaps everywhere, poisonous food.

I was always drawn to Kuala Lumpur because of its name. I loved just saying the words, and I loved the way they sounded. I loved the way they evoked lumpy koala bears, or something even more exotic that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

When I finally went there, I was initially underwhelmed. The Petronas Towers are impressive, but they’re not lumpy koala bears. After exploring the city for a couple of days, however, getting lost in Indian neighborhoods with sari shops and aromatic cafes, and even spending a couple of hours in an elegant old theater watching a Bollywood movie I couldn’t understand, I decided Kuala Lumpur had its lumpy charms.

Ever gone to a place that didn’t live up to its great name? Or that did?

Surfing the ‘Ultimate Wave Tahiti’: IMAX 3D

I love the occasional IMAX film for vicarious big-screen travel thrills, and I can’t wait to see this new one about surfing Tahiti’s famed Teahupoo. Here’s a taste:

The Critics: ‘Couples Retreat’

Poster via IGN

A few months back I said that “Couples Retreat”—you know, the one where four couples unwittingly book into an all-inclusive marriage counseling resort?—had “some comic potential.” Well, the flick opened this weekend, and I have to report that while said potential was there, it never blossoms into vacation comedy gold. There are a few decent jokes scattered throughout—everyone likes a good jab at Sandals, right?—and the scenery is lovely (the movie was shot in Bora Bora) but the story drags aimlessly between the occasional laughs.

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Travel Song of the Day: ‘Southern Cross’ by Crosby, Stills & Nash

Mind the Vog

vog Photo by birchster via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by birchster via Flickr (Creative Commons).

It’s the byproduct of an active volcano. Vog, it’s called, volcano plus smog. It might make for some pretty sunrises or sunsets, but vog also produces acid rain and can aggravate respiratory conditions. The Department of Health just launched a website to monitor vog conditions and United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a fact sheet up about the dangers of vog:

SO2 is a poisonous gas that irritates skin and the tissues and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. During even moderate physical activity, SO2 penetrates deeply into the airway and can produce respiratory distress in some individuals. In the absence of strong winds, SO2 emitted by Kilauea can accumulate in the air and reach levels that exceed Federal health standards. Since 1986, this has occurred more than 85 times within Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, which includes much of Kilauea.

Kiluea Volcano is a stunner, but she’s also the culprit, emitting sulfur dioxide into the air whenever she erupts. Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park keeps their site up to date with not just where to see the lava, but which parts of the park are closed due to vog. Live lava is a big draw, but don’t be disappointed if the volcano isn’t active for you—your lungs may be thankful for the volcano’s rest.


The Road Less Eaten

America’s relationship with food from around the world has traveled a long way in the last few decades. Case in point: Weight Watchers “Worldwide Favorites” recipe cards from 1974. Say what you will about globalization, at least we no longer have to endure these fish “tacos” (their quotes), an anything-goes orgy of tomatoes and cheese, or ashen-gray Fish Balls or Fluffy Mackerel Pudding.

I’ve never been to Polynesia, but something tells me the combination of ingredients in the Polynesian Snack—fruit, buttermilk and sprouts—would make an islander eat sand before laying hands on anything from this recipe book. We’ve come along way, baby.

Or have we?

Honeymooning with Jaws

Bora Bora Photo by Nancy Smay.

She went to Bora Bora on her honeymoon. She had a few tropical drinks. Someone suggested scuba diving. Then Nancy Smay found herself in way over her head.

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