I spent much of the spring and summer of 2017 working on the new edition of Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Jordan. Research was broken into two month-long sections, falling either side of Ramadan (the fasting month is never the ideal time to write restaurant and cafe reviews for a guidebook). The first time I worked on the guide was at the tail-end of spending nearly a year living in Amman, and it was great to head back to see friends, revisit old haunts and find new places to write about.
Jordanian tourism has been in a tough place since the Arab Spring, but it was good to still be able to find green shoots. The community tourism scene is thriving, not least thanks to the efforts of people like Muna Haddad, the powerhouse behind Baraka Destinations, and its many projects in Umm Qais and Pella. Haddad is also one of the leading lights behind the Jordan Trail, an epic 650km hiking trail that runs the entire length of the country, from the northern hills to the Red Sea. If you were to hike the whole route it would take about six weeks, but the organisers have broken it down into eight bite-seized chunks, the most splendid of which is the four day trek from the Dana nature reserve along the back-routes to Petra. It’s been dubbed the ‘Inca Trail’ of the Middle East, and a few years ago National Geographic named it one of the world’s best 15 hikes.
The new edition of the Lonely Planet Jordan guide is out next year, and will contain detailed information about each stage of the Jordan Trail. As a small taster, they asked me to write an article about the route. No matter how short a section you might hike, the trail is a revelation about the diversity of Jordan’s landscapes – brilliant as they are, there’s a lot more to the country than just Petra and the craggy deserts of Wadi Rum.
You can read full article on the Lonely Planet website here.
The new edition of Lonely Planet’s Morocco guidebook is out now. I researched and wrote the chapter covering Tangier and the Mediterranean Coast. Rather pleasingly, this means that my area is this edition’s cover star , with a lovely shot of Chefchaouen’s blue-washed medina.
Guidebook writing can sometimes be a bit of churn, writing up one destination while planning the next trip and sometimes working on the edits of a previous job at the same time. There’s not always much of a chance to look back at what you’ve done, but as I put the new edition on my shelves it was quite startling to realise that I’ve now worked on five consecutive editions of the Morocco guide for LP over the past decade, as well as covering the country on separate research trips for LP’s Africa on a Shoestring, West Africa and Mediterranean Europe guides. Adding it all up, that’s a lot of mint tea and tajines.
My relationship with this particular guide goes back to 1994 when I used the first edition on a backpacking trip to Morocco. Back then the book was called Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and it was a great tool even if it didn’t warn a couple of naive students just how silly it was to take a non-stop bus from London to Casablanca (answer: very). It’s a great book, and it’s always a thrill to work on it. Here’s to more editions to come!
I’ve written a couple of short pieces for G Adventures about Jamaica.
The first is about the historic town of Port Royal near Kingston, which as various times in its history served as a haven for such notorious pirates as Blackbeard and Henry Morgan, a Royal Navy base where a young Nelson served, and a location for Dr. No, Sean Connery’s first outing as 007. You can read the full piece here.
The second article is about the joys of Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica’s biggest music festival, which is held every July near Montego Bay. Read more about it here.
You can find out more about G Adventures’ trips to Jamaica here. The new edition of the Lonely Planet Jamaica guidebook, which I co-authored, is published in Oct.
My latest two guidebooks for Lonely Planet are now available. I’m the co-author of guides to two rather different destinations – Bangladesh and Fiji.
It’s hard to think of two guides that had two such contrasting research trips: from rattling about in rickshaws in Dhaka – the most crowded and congested city I’ve ever visited – to scuba diving resorts on the edge of Pacific reefs. But both worthy destinations in their own right. And counter-intuitively, it was Bangladesh that had the exciting surf scene (in Cox’s Bazaar) rather than Fiji. The latter wins out for waterfalls and manta rays however…
Lonely Planet Bangladesh is available here. Lonely Planet Fijiis available here.
The second edition of my Haiti guidebook for Bradt Travel Guides is finally out!
Tourism in Haiti has seen a lot of developments since the book first came out at the close of 2016, and it was a pleasure to write about them for the guidebook. These aren’t just the big headline grabbers like the grand new hotels in Port-au-Prince, but local tourism iniatives from tours of coffee collectives near Jacmel to whale watching off the coast of Petit-Goave, and community-run cave tourism in Dondon. These are all initiatives that show that the talk of tourism isn’t just a series of social media slogans put out by the Ministry of Tourism, but local communities taking action themselves to encourage visitors to their areas.
The book also includes several new maps. I’m particularly pleased to include plans of the Citadelle and ruins of Sans Souci (collectively Haiti’s biggest tourism draw card), as well as a map of historic sites around Cap-Haïtien to make it easier for visitors to the city to see what’s on the doorstep.
Haiti being Haiti, 2016 wasn’t a very straightforward year, and the book went to press after Hurricane Matthew ripped through the southwest. We were able to add in a short update to the eBook versions, which is planned to be included in later reprints of the actual book.
The guidebook is available direct from Bradt here, (in print, PDF and .mobi formats for eReaders) as well as the usual online sellers.
I’m in the middle of editing the new edition of my Haiti guidebook for Bradt, which will be hitting the shelves towards the end of the year. One thing I’m particulary pleased about are some of the new maps – a specific map to historic sites in the north, and plans of the Citadelle Henry and palace of Sans Souci. Haiti’s history offers so much to the visitor.
With that in mind, I’ve just put together a photo journal for Age of Revolutions, touring the main locations of the Haitian Revolution. It was a fun exercise, and gave me the opportunity to throw in some of the historical footnotes there’s never space for in a travel guide. On the cathedral on Place d’Armes in Cap-Haïtien for example, witness to so many key moments in Haitian history:
The great chronicler of Saint-Domingue, Moreau de Saint-Méry, wrote that when the church’s bell rang, the blacks would cry, ‘A good white is dead, but the wicked ones remain.’
I also spoke to the Haitian culture and lifetyle website Kreyolicious about the new guidebook, as well getting to take the temperature of the Haitian tourism right now. Overall I’m cautiously optimistic, although the continuing drama of that is Haitian politics makes it difficult to take a truly long-term view (to be fair, as a Briton writing in the days after Brexit it might be fair to equally turn the mirror on my own country). In the new guidebook there’s a lot more coverage of community-led tourism project, such as at Dondon, a little-visited town that has some great caves with Taíno carvings:
[The town] got together and formed a local tourist association so they could get organised to attract visitors so that those assets benefit the whole community. They weren’t waiting for the tourism minister to give them their blessing or for an NGO to come and do some capacity building, they just went ahead and set it up themselves. I was thrilled to be able to write about them in the new guidebook.
Efforts like this give me great hope for long-term tourism development in Haiti. You can read the complete Kreyolicious interview here.
I’ve just written an article for The Guardian about modern technology and copying cities. It was inspired by the destruction of the archaeological remains of Palmyra and possibilities that 3D printing bring to potentially recreate monuments and entire cities, but spins out to discuss the Victorian trend for plaster cast copies of Classical statues, how the resurrection of Warsaw after the Second World War was inspired by a nephew of Canaletto, and how Kathmandu might be rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake.
The technology raises difficult questions. What does it mean to copy an ancient monument or building? Can a reproduction ever be as good as the original? Or is “authenticity” less important than symbolism to people who’ve survived death and destruction?
I’ve just returned from six weeks in Haiti, researching a new edition of my guidebook for Bradt Travel Guides. I was also working on my Henry Christophe project, revisiting historical sites associated with him and the Haitian Revolution, spending time in archives and libraries in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien, and interviewing a number of Haitian historians.
The first fruit of the project has just been published in the March 2016 issue History Today, the UK’s oldest history magazine. It’s a 2200-word profile of the revolutionary leader-turned king, that serves an introduction to his life and times.
You can read the article here, but you’ll need to be aware that it’s behind the website’s paywall. A week’s access costs £7.95, which also lets you dig into their online archive, which covers almost everything that History Today has published since 1951 – great value!
My latest outing for Lonely Planet has hit the bookshelves. I covered Rajasthan – one of India’s most popular tourist destinations – for both LP’s Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra, and India, the 16th edition of one of LP’s most epic guidebooks.
Researching a destination like Rajasthan presents a different set of challenges to other guides I’ve done. Despite what the internet may tell us about the declining state of the printed guide, India is a country where it still very much holds sway – backpackers don’t refer to the Lonely Planet guide as ‘the Bible’ for nothing. For the writer, that means that any hint that Lonely Planet in town instantly brings out the touts hoping to get their business in the book. While I normally use my discretion as to whether I tell people what I’m doing (it’s useful in some circumstances, less so in others), Rajasthan is one place where it’s essential to keep a vow of silence. It’s easier said than done of course, and there were still several occasions where I was rumbled and had to change travel plans to avoid welcoming committees at train stations when I arrived in a new city – something that happened on more than once. At times I felt more like a spy than a travel writer! Luckily, India is a country where the rewards of travelling more than outweigh the challenges, and I’m happy to be able to help guide others around some of its sights.
Lonely Planet’s Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra is available here. Lonely Planet India is available here.
The new issue of Wanderlust travel magazine has hit the shops, and features a large trip planning article to Morocco, spread over a dozen pages. The piece has several different themed itineraries to give you a taste of the country: Cities, Mountains, Coast and Desert, plus a short nuts and bolts primer on getting the most out of a trip.
I still remember my first time in Marrakech, feeling bewildered in the maze of its traditional medina but always being sucked back to the pulsing energy of the Djemma el Fna square, with its musicians, acrobats, steaming pots and smoking braziers. Everything was loud, uncompromising and thoroughly joyful. On that trip, I hopped, skipped and jumped my way to Morocco by bus from London, but these days the cheap flight revolution has helped transform the country’s tourism, and Marrakech is an accessible four hour flight from a host of regional British airports, as well as easily reachable from other European hubs.
That first trip I made to Morocco was back in 1994. There weren’t any fancy riads then, but I can remember an awful lot of grungy hotels. I’ve been travelling there regularly ever since, including a spell leading tour groups there, and contributing to the last four editions of Lonely Planet’s Morocco guidebook (twice as head author, including the current edition).
You can find Wanderlust online here. The Lonely Planet guide to Morocco is available here, in book/e-book and PDF formats.