September 25, 2007

Good and Bad

My parents always told me that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I didn't listen to them and I don't listen to them now.

My favourite piece of writing this year is a short piece on cruising the Pacific, which at first sounds like any other sun-drenched travel story that focuses more on the pool deck than the countries a ship visits. This one did neither, because it was a WWII theme cruise populated by the most conservative of Americans. Not only did these people vote for George Bush, but they helped fund raise for his elections. Even the family nanny was onboard, I kid you not.

My story about the cruise had to be tamed down a little, because some of the comments and behaviour of the passengers aboard this ship were so outrageous and vile that to publish the events would be tasteless. But the story did run and for that I have to thank my editor at the Herald Sun.

It's not often we get a chance to "tell it like it is" when writing travel. For starters most of the travel I do these days is with very professional companies who make damned sure the trip goes well - no use sending a bunch of journos on a tour that sucks is there? Besides, when people read the travel section they want to be inspired to travel, to leave their real world and enjoy a moment of make believe.

As a travel journo, however, you desire more than anything to spill the beans on shoddy operators and tell people what the reality is like in the world of travel. Companies spend a lot of money to present an image to the market, but they don't always make the same commitment to ensure their product lives up to the hype.

September 03, 2007

Small Tales in Tabin

Sometimes you can't see the forest for the palm trees.

Tabin Nature Reserve is one of the more important patches of forest in Sabah, held high by the Malaysian government as an example of eco-tourism and green friendly governance. While the reserve is now home to an increasing number of rehabilitated orang-utans, tht hasnt translated into better opportunities for tourists to actually see the wildlife that Borneo is famous for, let alone photograph it.

Bird watchers are avid fans of Tabin, because it offers very comfortable accommodation and the chance to see some exotic species. But if it's jungle and wild animals you really want, then you're better off to visit Danum Valley.

One of my major disappointments at Tabin was the lack of basic walking trails. Any adventures into the forest required a guide and gumboots, and there are no simple trails for guests to explore at their own lesuire. As such the opportunities for shutter-bugs to patiently seek out wildlife to photograph is equally limited.

The guided walks do take in some lovely sections of forest, albeit ankle deep in mud for much of the way and mostly unfetted by sightings of wildlife.

Tabin is located not merely on the outer edge of a forest, but the very edge. To one side is the secondary growth that has rejuvenated since logging stopped in 1978, and to the other side are miles of palm plantations.

The most interesting animals for foreign visitors, the orang-utans and rhinos, live deep in the jungle and are never seen by the guests or even the guides. A night safari can yeild decent glimpses of leopard cats, civetts, and flying squirrels but none of these make for great photography either.

Alas Borneo is no easy challenge for the man who likes to snap pictures of wildlife. Jungles are dark places and wild animals are notoriously shy. Even wide open spaces such as the Mud Volcano at Tabin provide more promise than opportunity. Animals can sense a photographers desperation.

An expensive telephoto lens is no guarantee of success in Borneo, and indeed the best shooting is often found when you focus on the little things. Sneaking up on butterflies, frogs and lizards is perhaps the most rewarding of photographic pursuits where wilderness is the subject.