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The Antanas Cesnulis Sculpture Park was amazing. We thought it would just be a small attraction with not that many sculptures – mostly because of the location in a remote area of southern Lithuania just next to the Belarus border, but there were so many beautiful and whimsical sculptures in the traditional Lithuanian style that we were extremely impressed and so happy we visited. The site is inside Dzukijos National Park in the small village of Jaskonys. Most of the sculptures are done by one artist, Antanas Cesnulis, an older gentleman who lives on site and has been working for over 40 years. He has also been a member of the Lithuanian Folk Art Union since 1978 and has won many awards for his traditional creations. He has sculptures in various cities in Lithuania and in private collections, but most of his life’s work is here. There is a huge…
It’s 3am and excitement hums through me. Strolling the cobblestoned streets of Antigua is magic. Filled with vibrant color, floodlights, haphazard gangplanks erected a foot off the ground and what seems to be an endless supply of smiling grandmothers that nod their heads as you pass. The air is rich with culture, tradition and the smell of some of the world’s best fresh ground coffee. Beautifully shaded alfombras. ©Bel Woodhouse It’s Semana Santa. Easter week in Antigua, Guatemala where a beautiful tradition exists. Glorious alfombras –temporary carpets– are skillfully built with care. Layer upon layer of sawdust, boldly colored sand and flowers fill the streets in some of the most stunning patterns I’ve ever laid eyes on. Taking hours or the entire night to create, they are destroyed in a matter of minutes as the Catholic processions pass over them the following morning. There’s no cars, no pollution, just the…
I wandered along the stone walls of one of the largest fortresses in the Caribbean. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas dominates the approaches to the old city of Cartagena, Columbia by both land and sea. This city is one of the cornerstone locations of the old Spanish Main. The Old Town of Cartagena is rich in history. The beautiful squares and its cathedral remind visitors of its importance in the Caribbean. Vendors selling a variety of souvenirs are everywhere. I saw several women carrying pans of fruit on their head while wearing colorful dresses. They would pose for photographs with the tourists. I asked my guide, Victor Mendez, about them. He said they are called Palanqueras from a village south of the city. Their history reflects one of the lesser known but important stories of the Caribbean. One of the best places to find these women is near the Plaza…
They call themselves the Diné (Din Nay), the people. They have inhabited the Four Corners region of the United State for hundreds of years. Their traditional homeland is contained by four mountains they consider sacred. Mt Hesperus and Mt. Blanca in Colorado, The San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Mount Taylor in New Mexico. They currently occupy one of the largest reservations in the United States, but it only encompasses a portion of their traditional homeland. Iconic places like Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock, and Antelope Canyon attract visitors to view the beauty of Navajo land. It is the people and their culture which developed here that makes visiting here memorable. This land is like a giant church bounded by four sacred mountains, its landscape providing lessons to guide their lives. I look at a beautiful mesa and see a postcard while a Navajo might see a natural…
I have not seen or read Eat, Pray, Love. I am not sure I want to. I did want to see the most exotic of destinations in Asia. The island of Bali. What I expected was probably a combination of swaying palm trees and beautiful beaches with an Southeast Asian ambiance. What I experienced was one of the most spiritual cultures in Asia. Bali is a Hindu enclave in the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia. The island's location allowed it to remain isolated and retain its centuries old culture while the rest of Indonesia became mostly Muslim. Christianity flourished during the colonial period of Dutch rule in these islands but Bali remained Hindu. Along the pier, three Balinese women greeted the cruise ship tourists with the "sembah" (to greet by clasping two hands together in front of the chest while slightly bowing). The streets and roads from…
Friday, 01 September 2017

Stunning Sapa, Vietnam

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After precariously zig-zagging our way up and between the mountains, we arrive to find Sapa’s beauty concealed in a shroud of mist and darkness. When we awake, the town has too. Its aliveness proves a delight for the senses: the vibrant colours of the traditional dress, the whirl of hustle and bustle, the smell of roasting pigs and motorbike fumes – the west seems sterile and dull in comparison. It is here that we meet Lan, our beaming local guide from the Dzay tribe. Her ancestors arrived here from China 600 years ago. Today her entire family live in the same nearby village, whose eldest inhabitant is 110. “No fast food here,” Lan chuckles. We begin hiking and she assures us that this afternoon will be even more beautiful than Sapa town. “More beautiful?” we exclaim back, eyes widening, as we take in the splendor already unfolding before us. We…
Going to a beach in Mozambique is totally unlike going to a beach in Greece, Italy or the South of France. Its role is different; it’s all about interaction. Maputo beach on the edge of Mozambique’s capital illustrates this in many ways. Obviously, people go there to escape the heat and humidity of the city, but they don’t go there to swim - few can, or to sunbathe - little need to. They go to play, socialize and do business. People jump up and down in the water and frolic at the edges. Groups of young boys and girls play football as they howl and scream. Anyone can join in. They shout, “Come and play”. There are children scooping the sand for the thousands of tiny crabs trapped in dips in the sand at low tide. Women and their children grill fish or chicken to serve with “xima” which is…
A serious bout of food poisoning threatens to put a stop to a desert road trip until a chance meeting with unconditional kindness... I pulled the car over and ran as fast as I could, difficult given the circumstances, up the loose rocky lunar-like scree to the top of the low hillside in search of some privacy. In reality this was lunacy as the only other human for as far as the eye could see was my cousin, and traveling companion, Jack. However, some basic human need to be out of view drove me up and out of sight where I crouched down behind a well-placed rock. Something wasn't right but I already knew that; I'd spent the last hour or so spasmodically vomiting from a moving car's window. I stood up, light-headed, and stumbled back towards the beat-up hire car down on the asphalt below. It was then I…
A serendipitous walk along the spine of Bolivia's Isla del Sol leads to an unexpected and unforgettable festival experience. The TV camera panned across the scene and onto the politician from La Paz. A young reporter fired well-prepared questions from his notebook whilst a group of bemused locals looked on in amazement. It wasn’t every day a film crew from the capital turned up here, but then it’s not every day you celebrate the birth of the Sun, Moon and all life on Earth. We were at what seemed like the extremities of the world; 4000 meters up in the crystalline air of the Andean massif at the northern tip of Isla Del Sol, a small island floating in Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water. No cars, roads, mobile phone masts or chain stores here. We had stumbled across a traditional celebration of the Aymara and Quechua…
How can a place so remote be so alive? Doolin in County Clare, Ireland, is barely a town, but the locals who gather at Gus O’Connor’s pub couldn’t be more of a community, as tightly knit as a woolen Irish sweater. Located on the wind-swept west coast of Ireland, the village is situated between the sea and the Burren, an area covered by flat, barren rock — a desolate place secretly filled with history and song. I spent a drizzly afternoon walking from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, down a path used by horses and carts, past ruined stone cottages that I imagine had been abandoned for the fair shores of America during the famine. By the time I got to the cliffs, I was soaked to the bone, but the lack of tourists venturing out on such an especially rainy day made the place all the more mystical.…

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