Friday, 5 February 2010

Unforgettable places... memorable experiences

"By their very nature islands are often unforgettable. Their stark beauty and peaceful solitude bear witness to the drama of their creation "... Steve Davey

BEFORE BBC BOOKSHOP IN BELFAST was closed permanently in 2007, I bought several books and DVDs for a half price from the store. In particular, I collected 3 out of the 4 exciting series of books written by international travel writers, Steve Davey and Steve Watkins; and photographers, Marc Schlossman and Clare Jones. Briefly, these travel books include the following: Unforgettable Islands to escape to before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die, Unforgettable Things to do before you die, and finally Unforgettable Places to see before you die which I am planning to purchase in the future.

First, I will be sharing to you the fourth title published in 2007, entitled Unforgettable Islands to escape to before you die! Why the Unforgettable Islands? Well, just to give you first a background of my origin. I was born and raised in one of the 7,107 islands of the Philippine archipelago? Where is Philippines located, by the way? Having a review of geography, my home country is just 3 hours away from Japan and Singapore by plane and almost 5 hours from Australia. Also, this is where Mylene Klass' mother and Nicole Scherzinger's (Pussycat Dolls) father came from. People who are living in the Philippines are known as Filipinos and the country got its name from Spain - colonized "Filipinas" for more than 300 years. In other words, I am an islander who loves the beach, coconut trees, waves, sunset, coral reefs, forest, cool breeze and rivers! The environment I grew up was quite similar as portrayed in the Shipwrecked or Lost TV programmes, except that there is no competition and no fear for survival. It is a place I always called "home".

This is the reason why the book reminded me of my home - a place where illustrated inside the colourful 256 pages of the book. When I found this book during my first visit to BBC store, I was fascinated by its cover and the title itself. A feeling that draws me to browse the book and finding out why it is unforgettable. I searched it thru Amazon to see if I could get a cheaper deal using my dooyoo voucher; unfortunately the price is the same at £18.99. Few months later, I found out the BBC store is closing down and offering for 50-70% discounts. Without a second thought, I bought the 3 titles. The author, Steve Davey and with the assistance of Marc Schlossman for the images of the 40 islands featured in the book, vividly describe his personal experience visiting these islands for almost 11 months. Some of the islands where covered in the first three series of his publications which I will be reviewed in the near future. I don't want to give you all the contents of this book, but rather I will provide you the outstanding elements of the book that a traveller and photo hobbyist like me could get unforgettable insights of the featured islands which I am also dying to explore them before I die!

Generally, the book is perfectly packaged in a form suitable for a coffee table display. The image featured in the hard cover is taken from Stockholm, Sweden. The author's introduction is very well written emphasizing the value of visiting these places, without affecting the eco-system of the islands. He acknowledged both the positive and negative effects of tourism to these vulnerable places, and the same time the rewarding hospitality and generosity of the people living in these islands surrounded by bodies of water. On the other hand, the lay-out is simple where the texts and images were laid-out for easy reading. Each of the 40 islands featured in the book are illustrated between 8-10 pages, where photos are in different sizes with individual short caption. For each island, extra information is added explaining on how to reach the place in terms of the best time to visit and the mode of transport to reach the island.

Few pages at the back of the book cover important contacts that the author recommended to communicate, including useful websites. It also contains a map showing the locations of each island as a table contents graphically laid out at the first few pages of the book for easy browsing. When I finally finished reading the book, the first thing that entered my mind was on the decision of the author to embark visiting these places in a span of 11 months. As a traveller, visiting a place is always motivated by fascinating features and priceless experience of being there in the island as described by others who have been there and also the promotional campaigns thru available on-line or printed materials. I am not sure if the author was persuaded by what others have said or what he had read about these islands. Maybe, as a travel writer, he was looking for distinct characteristics of each island that might encourage other people (like me) to experience what he had or maybe trying to persuade a segment of the urban society to visiting some places that they would never considered before. In order to understand the motivation of the author to publish these 40 islands, I decided to examine the characteristics of each island as being discussed by the author.

These are the interesting points that I have found out and vividly demonstrated in the images printed on it.

* The island has unspoiled beaches, wildlife (flora and fauna) or biological diversity.
* The island has interesting history, including the way of living: culture, tradition, settlements, inhabitants, religion and beliefs

* The island has unique geological formation that attracts people for climbing, cycling, walking

* The island has a archaeological significance, including sensitive marine environment with endangered species

* The island has beautiful landscape, including cityscape and urban form and architecture

* The island is accessible for all means of transport, especially by air

* The island has "photogenic" charisma - a delight for both professional and amateur photographers

I also observed that the quality of the images inside the book portrayed the significance of these places, without major alteration of the print. In other words, the photos do not bear any special effects which enhance the colour and presentation of the images. What you see in the pages of the book, are what you get when you visit these places - very natural view of people, structures, motion, textures, and surroundings. I was really impressed with images taken in Thailand, Fiji, Santa Barbara (USA), Sicily, Portugal, including the Philippines. Why this publication stands-out from the rest of the travel books that have read?

Aside from the reason of having visited the countries (not the islands) mentioned, the book is unique in a sense that the author gave his personal reflections about the travel as well as the photographer captured the natural sceneries thru the images. There was a chemistry between the writer and the photographer to bring out the best features of these islands - to captivate the hearts of travellers like me - destined to explore the planet Earth. In a way, it serves as a travel guide as well but more on the aspects of the physical features of the islands - exploring the unspoiled beauty.

Are you hopeful that you have already visited some of these places during your holidays or are you planning to visit them in months to come and still undecided to have it a go as your next top priority holiday destination? Well, personally I have only visited 2 of the islands, namely: Stockholm (Sweden) and Hongkong (China) out of the 40 places mentioned in the book. But Im desperately dying to explore the rest before I die especially the following: Bacuit Archipelago, Palawan (Philippines), Big Island (Hawaii), Phang Nga Bay Island (Thailand), Bali (Indonesia), Ibiza and Formentera (Spain), and the Society Islands (French Polynesia). It is an unforgettable reading this book that provided me a glimpse of beautiful places that Mother Earth can offer. Despite the economic crunch, everybody deserves one or two places to visit before the year ends.

UNFORGETTABLE ISLANDS, unforgettable places, unforgettable moments and memorable experience of a life time await everyone!

Monday, 1 February 2010

A challenging priesthood life...

I got a copy of the book personally from the author himself. James (Jim) Kennedy had the opportunity to work and live in the Philipppines as a priest more than 30 years ago. The book accounts his personal struggles to serve God, his survival against the political and social system in the country. It is a human journey of facing difficulties and challenges to uphold his faith and beliefs while helping Filipino communities (north part of Metro Manila) with their daily lives.

Religion was an intellectual as well as an emotional experience. It had to be offered as something which could be accepted and rejected, and that meant that there should be dialogue about it.

Filipinos in general don't go in for 365-day-a-year or 52-weeks-a year religion. They do go in for 15-days-a-year religion - Easte (five days), Christmas (nine days), the town fiesta (one day) - and when they celebrate them, they do it in style.

... If you're clear in your mind about what you're going to paint, there's no sense in painting it. Our work should always be uncovering surprises, new options, new necessities. We should gear ourselves to life so that its Pandora's box confronts us, teases us, frightens us, awes us and shocks us into becoming bigger and better, albeit a bit more furrowed.