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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.…
“Can I show you some rooms?”, the young kid, about my own son’s age, asked. We looked at a few, since he insisted on showing us each type of room they offered in the small hotel. It was midday, hot and sticky, and all the rooms were sunny and warm. When he saw us still hesitant, he took us a next door, to another hotel, where he talked to someone who we supposed was the owner. I couldn’t contain my smile when I realized that they were talking in Mayan! Not that I understand a word of it, but it made me so happy to hear it, to know that this ancient language is still used every day. We found a room in the shadiest part of the building, and as soon as we unpacked, we left to explore the ruins. We only had about an hour left until closing…
Thursday, 30 April 2015

Carving A Piece Of Cambodia

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"Clink, clink, clink". Every strike of the hammer sends my chisel plunging into rough sandstone, dislodging tiny chunks which scatter haphazardly across the table. A tingly ache has begun to creep up behind my hunched-over back while dripping beads of my forehead perspiration dissolve into damp speckles on the red, earthy surface of the stone block. It is Sunday afternoon, and I am learning the traditional Cambodian art of stone carving in the modest workshop of 31-year-old Poy Khet, a professional craftsman. An hour into incessantly chipping away at a square slab, an exquisite Romdoul flower - the national flower of Cambodia - is slowly but surely beginning to take shape. "One by one, not too strong," says Khet as he watches me struggle to control the strength exerted from my hammer. Carving the delicate contours of the flower's petals proves to be the most difficult task for the day,…

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