Category Archives: Travel Photos

Time travel to Rarotonga, Cook Islands

The Cook Islands, named after Captain James Cook, is a group of 15 islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean between Tonga and French Polynesia. The capital is Avarua in Rarotonga.  

The peaks of the mountains are reminiscent of the mountains in Jurassic Park. Their jagged, primitive edges seem misplaced in 2012. They appear imposing, prehistoric and untouched.

Mountain peaksRoad
Travelling from Sydney, Australia to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is like travelling through time in more ways than just crossing over the International Date Line. Here, the birds look and sound wilder, the elongated leaves of the plants appear primal and the sultry climate behaves like an adolescent – unrestrained, heated and tempestuous. The climate in Rarotonga is how one would imagine the climate was at the beginning of time, when nature was only concerned with feeding and watering the earth instead of rebelling against the geological fluctuations introduced by humans.

The concept of time in Rarotonga is not what time is in Sydney or other busy cities. The people here are not governed by a ticking hands or clocks on mobile phones. The compendium in my room explains: ‘Rarotonga is renowned for being stress-free and relaxed. Please be aware that timing and some services may be slower and more approximate than you are probably used to in the faster pace of your daily life.’ The locals walk slower, looking at the world instead of their smartphones and the speed limit on the main road that circles the island is a leisurely 50 kilometres per hour. There are two bus routes: Clockwise and Anticlockwise.

Papa Nga, the local handyman who comes over to help me operate the safe, asks me how I slept the night before. “Not bad,” I say, “but I woke up a few times.” I full well know that it’s not because of the soothing, calm air being circulated by the fan, and it’s not because of the gentle sound of the ocean outside. It’s because I’m still connected to the concrete jungle and all its concerns. “I must have a couple of things on the mind.” Papa Nga smiles and says, “Well, no time for that now, you’re on holiday and you’re on island time.”

Coco at sunset
In fact, I don’t even know what time it is.  I’m pretty certain that I’m three hours ahead, but the day before. I look outside at the sudden, torrential rain which will give way to blue skies before long, and I know that time doesn’t matter, anyway. There’s nowhere I need to be in a hurry.

Sitting on a deck chair on the veranda, three-quarters of the way through my first book I feel something soft and warm at my feet. Squeaky, the local ginger tabby starts mouthing, eyes pleading. “I have no food for cats here, sorry little one.” Squeaky insists, and makes his way through the doors, into the kitchen and stops at the fridge. “I don’t think you’ll like limes or lettuce.” I fail to mention the chicken breast that I plan to cook that night. Squeaky accepts the situation and goes back outside with me, content for now with a neck rub instead of a feast.

Reading is easy here. Back home it can be a challenge to find the opportunity to read because there’s always so much going on. At home one can often glance at a few pages in a zombie-like state and in the morning already forgotten what was read. Not here.

When the rain clears and the sky explodes with blueness, I pass by reception and borrow a snorkel and fins. Coco the dog meets me at the driveway and decides to come along. The beach is pristine and the water inexplicably clear. It is easy to just float, breathing through the tube and looking down at the multitudes of colours and life that thrive in this other realm.  Approaching a large cluster of coral, a sound travels through the water and the ‘chomp, chomp’ sound of fish teeth gnawing at it can be heard. I wonder if they can hear my muffled sounds of admiration and wonder.

In the evening, instead of switching on a television, I cook to the sound of music. There are no TVs in the rooms. The compendium says, ‘There is a TV in the Breakfast Café for guest use. There is only one TV channel in the Cook Islands. New Zealand’s TV One News screens every night at approximately 8.30pm. Cook Islands local news screens at 7pm Monday to Friday.’ I love this. I love that instead of having their consciousness interrupted by ridiculous plotlines and shouty ads encouraging them to buy things they don’t need, guests can daydream, make up their own stories and remind themselves of what matters most.

Sunsets are not merely a reminder of the world’s beauty. They tell us much more than that. Sunsets show us that a day has passed and that the world is huge. When our sun disappears for us, it rises for many others. A Rarotongan sunset is an unhurried, spectacular blaze of colour and when the orange sphere finally falls past the horizon, one knows that it is now time to rest and prepare for another beautiful day.

When all is quiet, the pool beckons at night. It is like an ancient, welcoming family, where The Cool Water introduces its wife, Clear Night Sky and their children, Warm Air and Sound of Stillness. They all embrace me at once, my mind clears and I melt into a blanket of tranquillity.

See you again soon, Rarotonga.

Swimmers at sunrise

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Photos: The Blue Mountains

Last weekend we went with friends to the Blue Mountains. It was cold, but it was beautiful. We took a walk, we got the fire roaring, and had a delicious lamb dinner. We’ll be back for many more walks soon!

Click on the photo below to view the gallery.

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Photos from Alcatraz

On the first of this month Andre, Eunsoo and I made it to Alcatraz on a splendidly sunny day. The photo opportunities were plentiful but the highlight was the audio-tour….it wasn’t one of those monotone museum tours – it had variety and special effects so never a dull moment!






All images appearing on this blog ( may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010


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The Castro District, San Francisco

If you haven’t seen Milk (starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk), you should. It’s an excellent depiction of the life of the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

The Castro (district) became a gay centre following the Summer of Love in the neighbouring Haight-Ashbury district. When Milk began his political activity in 1972 as a gay activist the district further blossomed as a gay destination.

I took a walk up Castro Street and admired the multitudes of rainbow flags, the half-dressed mannequins in shop windows, the relaxed, cheerful crowd and the saucy, double entendre names of shops.



All images appearing on this blog ( may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010

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Salade au Chèvre Chaud (Hot Goat’s Cheese Salad)

Cétait délicieux!

That’s what I said to my waitress when she cleared away my bowl of what had been Hot Goat’s Cheese Salade. How can you go wrong with a bowl of salad leaves mixed with walnuts, tomato, bacon, roast potatoes, fried egg and three generous portions of grilled goat’s cheese on top on toasted bread? 


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The definitive guide to doing Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu – one of the world’s most visited and photographed attractions, yet there is very little constructive information out there about how to actually do it. We’d heard the usual advice for those doing the Inca Trail: “Shop around for the right tour agency when you get to Cusco.” Easier said than done. There are tour companies absolutely everywhere and the prices are all generally very high. We had decided that we weren’t going to do the Inca Trail, but we were going to spend one night in Machupicchu Pueblo, otherwise known as Aguas Calientes, in order to be able to get to Machu Picchu early the next morning and have the chance to climb Wayna Picchu.

There are four main ways to do Machu Picchu:

  1. The Inca Trail (4 days)

  2. The Inca Trail (2 days)

  3. A 2-day tour (transport from Cusco to Machu Picchu, accommodation and guided tour of the ruins)

  4. A 2 or more day trip to the ruins on your own. (You cannot do the Inca Trail without a tour)

Note: A day trip from Cusco is really cutting it short and not recommended, plus you won’t get the chance to climb Wayna Picchu).

We would have liked to do it all by ourselves but with the lack of information out there and the feeling that Machu Picchu is better geared to tour companies, we chose a 2-day all-inclusive tour at USD235 each. However, you need not do this because now I will tell you exactly how you can do it all on your own.

Let me prepare you, though. It is not cheap, even if you do it yourself. Let’s break it down:

  • Train transport from Cusco to Machu Picchu = between USD80 and USD140 return depending on which train class you can get

  • Accommodation in Aguas Calientes = approx USD60 for one night in a private double room with bathroom 

  • Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (25 mins each way) = USD14 return

  • Entrance to Machu Picchu = USD45

  • Water and snacks over the 2 days = USD8

  • Meals in Aguas Calientes = approx USD12 each, for a total of about USD36

  • A sandwich at the Machu Picchu cafe = USD9

  • Tour Guide (recruited at Machu Picchu) = approx USD20 – USD30 per person and you are expected to tip on top of this

So as a minimum you’re looking at approximately USD189 if you don’t eat or drink anything, which is unlikely considering the energy you’ll need if you climb Wayna Picchu (the taller of the two mountains that you see in photos) like we did. Including water and food you’re looking at a figure closer to USD225 if you’re careful.

If you are going to take one of the first three options or do an alternative trek to Machu Picchu, Frommers has some tour company recommendations. We went with Inca Explorers.


However, if you want to get to Machu Picchu and climb Wayna Picchu by yourself then follow these steps:

  1. Buy your return train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu on Note that until July 2010 the first part of the tracks will be closed due to the flooding damage, so you will be taken by van or bus from Cusco to the temporary Piscacucho station. Click here for details.

  2. Purchase accommodation at Machupicchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) – has a good listing of hostels including ones with private rooms.

  3. Buy snacks and water in Cusco before you go – prices are even higher in Aguas Calientes.

  4. When you arrive in Aguas Calientes go to the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu, which costs 126 Soles at the time of writing. Supposedly you must pay in Soles and not USD and note that you CANNOT purchase this at the entrance to Machu Picchu.

  5. Then go to the bus stop and purchase your ticket for the early morning bus up to Machu Picchu the next morning – this is USD7 one-way and the tickets are applicable for any of the buses.

  6. Go to bed early and be at the bus station between 4.30am and 5am to be on one of the first buses up.

  7. Get your Machu Picchu entrance ticket stamped at the entry gate in order to be able to climb Wayna Picchu. There are only 400 people permitted to climb this per day – 200 at 7am and 200 at 10am. I recommend 7am as there will be less people up there and the sun won’t be as high in the sky. 

  8. Recruit a tour guide there and bargain on a time and price for your guided tour of the ruins. (Of course, this is not necessary but we did not find any good books that would allow us to conduct a self-tour.


The Machu Picchu entrance ticket gives you access for 3 days so you can stay in Aguas Calientes for more than one night if you like. There are camping facilities at Aguas Calientes too, othewise if you want to stay at the only hotel on Machu Picchu and you’ve suddenly come across heaps of money you could stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge at the very modest price of USD825 per night in high season (minimum). But fear not – breakfast IS included!

However you decide to carry out your visit to the peaceful and spiritual Lost City of the Incas, take lots of water, sunblock and fully-charged camera batteries, because no visitor to Machu Picchu can walk away with a lack of beautiful images. 

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Icy a glacier! – Perito Moreno photos

80kms from El Calafate in Patagonia lies the behemoth Perito Moreno Glacier. As it advances, chunks fall off the front and smash into the water with the sound of dynamite blowing up. It is nothing short of astonishing and shows the power of nature in a spectacular way.



All images appearing on this blog ( may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois. © 2010

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