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Frosh week, pompoms and marching bands notwithstanding, the phrase ‘university town’ conjures up visions of mom‘n pop bookstores, the distant lilt of campus ditties and students composing under the Old Oak Tree. In Pune, one must factor in the host nation. As our bus skirted the city’s outer ring, we encountered three sights common to India; opulent wedding processions, impoverished tent cities and traffic jams to eternity. Pune was an Indian city to its core, with all the color and mania and crowds I’d come to expect, a university town as described by The Simpsons’ Apu, graduating first in his class of seven million. I’d checked in at the Centurion Hotel and rashly paid for the first two nights in cash, to show them I was a big man. This left me skint but near the bus station, an ATM coughed up the requisite rupees and I drifted through a…
A ball of orange fired up the Cambodian sky, casting heat on the makeshift market stalls lining Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Road. Cars dotted the road and yawned past the protruding awnings, pop-up shops and pedestrian consumers. Veng Sreng slowly stretched itself awake as the clock rolled around to nine in the morning. AFESIP Fair Fashion’s Executive Director Rotha navigated his truck towards the AFESIP workshop and spoke of the grisly not-so-distant history behind Veng Sreng’s serene façade. Less than three years ago, the workers of this largely industrial area took to the streets in protest for higher wages. The unfortunate result: Five deaths and at least 40 injured as government troops rained AK47 bullets on the crowd. Without Rotha filling in the background, I’d have remained ignorant to these tragic events of early 2014. The AFESIP workshop shows a similar façade; situated on a peaceful side street near Veng…
Sunday, 01 May 2016

Standing Naked in Turkey

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Not long ago I found myself on the shores of Mediterranean Turkey. In the course of this voyage, I booked a tour to see Pammakule and Heirpolis. Ancient ruins and mineral deposits on the sides of cliffs . . . seriously, there is little better to fuel the fire of my inner nerd and wanderlust gal. Though, perhaps one of the perks of this trip was the promise to bathe in the mineral waters of Cleopatra, slather myself in healing mud, and stand in the sun absorbing vitamin D while it dried. After all, I do live in the northern hemisphere, New York City to be exact, so the odds of my ever holding the recommended value of vitamin D is a sliding scale of slim to never. Though, in eleven countries and and thirty-three US states (nine of them having lived in) I have become fairly accustomed to embracing…
Tuesday, 01 March 2016

Madurai, India

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Few things color a tourist destination more than being described as “the Paris of this” or “the Oxford of that.” The letdown is almost inevitable. Back in the Seventies, my parents had returned from a tour of the Soviet Union and I still recall my father’s comment regarding Leningrad, “the Venice of the North.” “Some bloody Venice,” my father said. Madurai is a different case. This ancient burg, the spiritual center of Tamil Nadu state, has origins dating back to the Third Century B.C. Under the enlightened auspices of the early sultans, it burst into flower as a major cultural and commercial hub, attracting scholars, poets, merchants and traders. At its height Madurai was known as “the Athens of the East.” I despise Athens. The appellation of course, applies to Athenian glory of centuries past, not to the dirty, oppressive Greek capital of today. My hope then, in arriving here…
Friday, 01 January 2016

Mysore, India

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Mysore, to put it delicately, makes a lousy first impression. Clanking into the bus-clogged, frenzied Central Station on a Sunday afternoon, lugging baggage sans map through the simmering maze of streets, neglecting of course, to book lodging ahead, had me snarling and snapping and grinding my molars in five minutes. Toss in the prerequisite honking (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain – this stuff is all by the way – India’s main religion is the Cult of Horn, which they practice devoutly and ceaselessly) and the charm of the “Sandalwood City” was lost on me. On the other hand, one may have a more phlegmatic temperament (keeping in mind that the sub-continent is not a first impression kind of place), settled in, had a shower and counted to ten, in which case Mysore can be a delight, as classically ‘India’ as it gets, boasting a splendid market, some fine squares, a very…
Sitting in traffic, I looked out the open rickshaw vehicle. It was pitch black on our drive to the restaurant. I could make out the shadows of the many people milling around the streets. The mob of people was so close they could touch me through the open side of the rickshaw. People huddled around small wooden tables with candles lighting the merchandise down the sides of the streets. Sitting in that car, I realized, I was in Africa. I was halfway around the world from my home. I did not go out at night unless I was with other people. As a woman traveling alone in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had to be savvier than others might have to be. Some people see a woman alone as an easy target for crime or to take advantage of when negotiating prices. “Wow, you went by yourself. That’s brave. I…
Monday, 31 August 2015

Travel in Timor Leste or East Timor

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If you are Portuguese, chances are you’ve heard of Timor Leste, you might not know where it is, but you’ve heard of it. As a Canadian, you may have heard of East Timor, its unofficial name, but the more that I told people where I was going on holiday, I got more quizzical looks than approving nods. When I think back on it, I am not sure how I settled on Timor Leste for my annual holidays, but somewhere within the past six months I set my dates, bought my tickets and went to visit the travel clinic for a dizzying array of shots and medications. Flying to Dili, the capital, isn’t easy. It can only be reached via Singapore, Bali in Indonesia and Darwin on the northern tip of Australia. This type of isolation and challenge already had me excited because any country that is this hard to get…
Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Bagerhat, Bangladesh

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“No crocodiles today,” said Nazmul. “It’s too cold.” We’d made our first stop of the tour. Well, the second – we’d pulled up earlier by a pastiche of tents and kiosks so Nazmul could get a cup of tea. But ultimately, we’d reached the Dargha Mosque and Khan Jahan Mausoleum, a place of pilgrimage, honoring the saintly Turkish general who’d been responsible for the birthing of this “lost” city. Nazmul parked the car and took me inside (that I was allowed into the mausoleum was unusual in itself) where an old gentleman received us kindly and pointed out the general’s crypt. There were no other visitors, which also seemed odd, until we were outside again, where a large throng had already descended the steps to the “crocodile pond.” This was the Thakur Dighi in fact, a man made water tank common to the district but the lush vegetation had encroached…
Never did I realize that it was a journey of no return. Never did I realize that the trail I followed that day, on a sunny mid-autumn day in 2014, was an answer to my heart’s calling. The Magome-Tsumago trail in Japan is part of the 700-km Nakasendo Highway in Kisoji (or Kiso Valley) which extends from Nagano Prefecture to Gifu Prefecture, weaves through and along the mountains of the Central Alps. The Highway was a vital ancient route for traders traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. Defying time and change, both Magome and Tsumago are post towns which were rest stations for those traders. Both are joined by the trail like a red thread that draws a good marriage between yin and yang. My journey from Magome to Tsumago was launched with a climb. A rustic water mill rotated leisurely outside of a house with Edo-architectural…
Sunday, 01 March 2015

Forgotten Stamps on my Passport

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In the land of dreams, each country’s passport stamp surely has its own color and scent. It is never a generic, odorless black. Instead, the blueness, greenness, even orangeness, would fill up my nostrils in a celebration of travel – instantly reminding me from where I have just come. I imagine the hand of an unknown customs agent holding the stamp’s handle, then pounding the base into the small rectangular box of ink for a refill, then finally sailing down onto the pale blue piece of booklet paper where it gently twists, and twists, to ensure a proper stamp. What would the stamps of Latin America be in dreams? I know the colors of their flags in reality. I know red and green is Mexico – a colorful burst of hot peppers, the unofficial emblems of their land. I know Chile is a solid-looking blue and red, adorned with a…

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