The year of feath­ered foes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - HELEN McKEN­ZIE

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese zo­diac we are in the year of the rooster. But for this trav­eller, 2016 was the year of the feath­ered fiend. I am ter­ri­fied of birds. Ap­par­ently it’s the fourth most com­mon fear, af­ter spi­ders, snakes and the dark. Or so I’m told, pos­si­ble un­re­li­ably. I don’t mind birds fly­ing through the air, pad­dling on lakes, or tweet­ing in trees, but around my an­kles, in­deed any­where near me, some­thing hap­pens and I go from ra­tio­nal to crazy as in­vol­un­tar­ily as a cock crows at the first rays of day­light.

Spec­tac­u­lar photography of the Hawai­ian is­land of Kauai fea­tured in the pages of Travel & In­dul­gence grabs our at­ten­tion as a per­fect des­ti­na­tion last year for an ac­tive fam­ily hol­i­day. Hik­ing, swim­ming and boat­ing sound just the ticket. Fur­ther re­search shows that The De­scen­dants, star­ring Ge­orge Clooney, was largely filmed there, and tick­ets are promptly booked.

Min­utes af­ter land­ing it be­comes ap­par­ent Kauai is the is­land of the rooster. They are strolling the rental car lot, the su­per­mar­ket carpark, ev­ery scenic spot, the beach, the walk­ing tracks, in­deed ev­ery­where you look there’s a chook. Le­gend has it that a cargo ship, with crates of fowl aboard, was ship­wrecked on the is­land and, with no nat­u­ral preda­tors, the chick­ens fled their cages and with a shake of their tail feath­ers, be­gan to breed. On T-shirts, caps, post­cards and tea tow­els you’ll find an image of a rooster with its chest puffed out; the is­land’s ra­dio sta­tion is KTOH: Rooster Coun­try.

Mean­while, in Asia, the river ves­sel RV Mekong Pan­daw cruises from the mid­dle of Cam­bo­dia to Viet­nam’s delta re­gions, stop­ping fre­quently for pas­sen­gers to get up close to vil­lage life along the banks of the Mekong. Not sur­pris­ingly, there are chick­ens ev­ery­where, en­joy­ing a very free range life­style (un­til they are eaten). The mar- kets dis­play dan­gling birds, com­plete with heads, as live ones scam­per about, obliv­i­ous to both their fu­ture and the ter­ror they strike in this poor fool.

My most ab­surd bird ex­pe­ri­ence takes place in Viet­nam at the float­ing vil­lage of Cham tribal peo­ple, where Mus­lim fam­i­lies have cre­ated wo­ven silk goods for cen­turies. In the re­tail sec­tion of the vil­lage a shim­mer­ing ar­ray of scarfs of ev­ery hue lines the walls and a weaver works her loom, sur­rounded by the waters of the mighty Mekong delta. For many this scene would be a vi­sion of tran­quil­lity, an ed­i­fy­ing dis­play of in­dus­try, an en­light­en­ment of sorts. But as a mother hen and 10 chicks scurry across the wooden floor in my direc­tion, I am so ter­ri­fied I mount the loom. I wish my­self to be on an­other planet, as I am sure the star­tled weaver does too.

With a cer­tain sense of re­lief I farewell the Mekong vil­lages and ar­rive in Ho Chi Minh City, with its chaotic traf­fic, glam­orous ho­tels, clam­our of noise and four mil- lion peo­ple. No place for chick­ens, I rea­son. But I am wrong. We climb 10 flights of stairs to get to a highly rec­om­mended rooftop res­tau­rant, where both the view and vibe are on trend for this hip and hap­pen­ing 21st-cen­tury city. The waiter di­rects us to our ta­ble, with a smile and sweep­ing ges­ture and then, I lose it. Right be­side our ta­ble in a cage on the floor is a rooster.

So far 2017 has pre­sented no ren­dezvous with roost­ers. Nor have there been too many em­bar­rass­ing pi­geon in­ci­dents. (Am I the only one who thinks San Marco Square in Venice is a liv­ing hell?) In Bei­jing in March I ex­pect the worst, feel­ing sure there will be pi­geons ev­ery­where. But I spot only a hand­ful and they are up atop bell tow­ers and pago­das, not be­hav­ing men­ac­ingly in the streets.

“Where are the pi­geons?” I ask my guide on a food tour. “You prob­a­bly won’t see them down here on the streets,” he says as we lean over a counter of cooked and skew­ered chick­ens. “I hear they taste de­li­cious.”

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