In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
South Sudan: The wildest frontier
The world’s newest country has a wealth of wonders – from remote mountains to the Nile. It just takes a bit of effort and flexibility, says Celia Topping.
Standing exultantly on the summit of Mount Kinyeti, our small band of explorers boisterously congratulated each other. At a mere 3,187m, we were barely half as high as the brave summiteers of Kilimanjaro. However, it wasn’t the height of Kinyeti that was cause for celebration, but its location. We were at the highest point in the Imatong Range, in Eastern Equatoria – the wonderfully named region of South Sudan along the upper reaches of the White Nile. And we were the first commercial expedition team to climb the highest mountain in the newest country in the world.
Our trip, run earlier this year by the expedition company Secret Compass, was not without its risks. South Sudan, created on 9 July 2011, is a country born out of years of conflict and civil war and it remains an unpredictable place.
Happily, the leader of our 10-strong team, Tom Bodkin, is an ex-paratrooper. He and his partner, Lev Wood, take small groups into some of the most unexplored regions in the world. “We wanted to show that this remote area, which before had been thought of as inaccessible and dangerous, can actually be enjoyed if done responsibly,” said Tom.
At the top of Kinyeti, he pulled a bottle of champagne out of his rucksack and shared it around our battered metal camping mugs to hearty approval. However, just as we’d had the chance to catch our breath, we heard the familiar crackling of burning bushes and the pungent odour of wood smoke. Donato, self-proclaimed “Landlord of the Mountain” and our local guide, had set fire to vegetation on the mountainside, cutting short our jubilation and obscuring the fantastic panoramic view across the Imatongs with thick, eye-watering smoke. Ignoring our protestations, he shrugged and lit his cigarette from a nearby flaming branch.
Secret Cinema launches the Secret Hotel
Pioneers of popular immersive cinema experiences, Secret Cinema, today added a Secret Hotel element to the event, letting moviegoers stay on at themed mystery lodgings complete with staff in character.
Immersive theatre and cinema experiences are all the rage … thanks to pioneering companies Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema. More recently the likes of the Experimental Food Society and Poietic have created immersive restaurants that turn dining out into a theatrical experience (levitating canapés, anyone?). So, it was only a matter of time before some clever clogs came up with the concept of immersive, or theatrical, accommodation. Welcome to the Secret Hotel.
Tickets went on sale today at 1pm for an overnight experience created by the founders of the hugely popular Secret Cinema – the Secret Hotel gives audience members the chance to become guests at a curated themed “hotel” inspired by the film they’ve just watched.
As you would expect, the Secret Hotel is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that it’s somewhere in central London and that of the 450 or so people per night attending the film experience this autumn, 80 will stay at the hotel. The only other hint as to what the hotel might be like is in the price: tickets cost £30 per person.
In other words – you won’t be sleeping in a king-size four-poster. Beds will be in dorm rooms for up to six people, and breakfast, we assume, will be basic. “The most important thing is that it will be an experience … the building and the staff will be in full character,” says Fabien Riggall, creative director and founder Future Cinema, creators of Secret Cinema.
Macau: One hospital, 36 casinos
A short walk from billionaire Stanley Ho’s extravagant Grand Lisboa casino stands the faded pink exterior of the Conde S. Januário, Macau’s only public hospital.
Inside, bathroom tiles are stained and paint peels off the walls along the corridors where patients queue to be examined by busy medical staff. The hospital, built in the 1980s, serves the former Portuguese colony’s more than half a million residents.
A new hospital is planned, but won’t open until 2019. By then, Macau is expected to have added another six glitzy casinos to the three dozen that already make it the world’s betting capital, as Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn and others continue to bet on the only place where Chinese can legally gamble.
Life in Macau, a southern Chinese enclave one third of the size of Manhattan, is geared to gambling, which brings in revenue of more than $33 billion and accounts for more than 40% of GDP. There are more than four times as many gambling tables per 1,000 residents than hospital beds.
To many who live in what is both the world’s most densely populated territory and fastest growing economy, the priorities are all wrong.
“It’s unacceptable. These facilities are a joke. This is the main hospital in Macau,” said Simon, who has lived in Macau for five years and works in the hotel industry, as he wheeled his toddler up and down in a narrow car park waiting for his wife.
Macau last year attracted 28 million visitors – more than the population of Australia – and while the gambling industry has boosted general living standards over the past decade, residents say the development of social infrastructure, including healthcare and transport, has lagged behind.
Clowns get serious at 17th annual Feria de la Risa, or Laughter Fair, in Mexico
Laughter is a serious matter at a clown convention in the Mexican capital, where hundreds of the performers have gathered to discover some of the secrets of making people laugh.
The most important lesson at the four-day event this week was the difference between being a simple joker and a top-notch merry-maker.
Master clown Tomas Morales, who organised the 17th annual Feria de la Risa, or Laughter Fair, said what he calls “simple” clowns taunt their audiences searching for flaws, turning the spotlight away from themselves and onto their viewers.
What he describes as “prepared” clowns keep the focus on themselves, entertaining the audience without resorting to the ridicule of others.
Morales, who has been performing for 19 of his 60 years, plays a “grotesque” clown called Llantom and changes his colour scheme daily.
His fright wig always matches his suit, sometimes blue, other days electric orange, or perhaps yellow.
Demonstrating the kind of humour employed by more sophisticated clowns, Llantom delighted a young boy who held a stuffed toy monkey as he walked across a theatre lobby.
Llantom introduced himself to the child and told him how much he liked his dog, referring to the plush fake monkey.
Llantom says some of the more sophisticated clowns employ props, such as white-faced, rose-colour costumed Paulynn, who carried a white fake dog called Chuleta.
Another clown had a fake pet rat in his pocket.
Those attending the clown fair paid $US50 to attend workshops teaching skills ranging from how to twist balloons into sculptures to the intricacies of clown makeup and costumes.