13 May

Monday Moment: Novice Monk Procession, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand Monks

Waking to the sound of Thai blaring from the mammoth speakers in the back of the truck we stumbled out to the patio to see what all the hub-bub was about. The truck passed slowly shouting indecipherable commands to the empty early morning street. In its wake residents soon emerged setting up small tables with juice and food packets obviously waiting for something to happen.

We watched from on-high, as we often do, searching for clues to help us understand what is happening around us. In a country such as this, whose culture and traditions are so far removed from our own, we often don’t do well at the guessing game but we are happy to wait it out.

A minute later, in complete contrast to the noisy introduction, a procession of novice monks rounded the corner onto our street. Silently, in bare feet and vermillion robes, they padded along the street stopping only to receive merit offerings from the waiting residents.

In a moment they were gone, leaving only the incantations of the more senior monks giving blessings to those waiting.

04 Mar

Monday Moment: Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam

Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi

This small shrine sits just beside the much more picturesque Ngoc Son temple on Hoan Kem Lake in Hanoi. While the temple justifiably receives much attention from visitors, tourists, and strangely, brides having their photos taken in elaborate get-ups, this shrine received a fair amount of attention from locals who burned money at the base presumably looking for good fortune and wealth.

25 Feb

Monday Moment: Favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro Favela

Rio de Janeiro is a city of contrasts. Stunning stretches of sand juxtaposed with gleaming city highrises, mountains reaching for the sky, and favelas on every slope.

More than slums, they are home to a good portion of the city’s workforce. With homes, shops, restaurants-of-sorts, and ‘law’ enforcement, they are neighbourhoods unto their own albeit not recognized by any city council.

Places like these grow out of need and it is only social policy that will eradicate them, or turn them into viable communities. It will be interesting, and I assume horrifying, to see how the Brazilian government manages these favelas as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games approach.

Have you been to Rio and seen the favelas? What did you think?

18 Feb

Monday Moment: Temple Offering, Bali

Bali Temple

It’s the vermillion orange and the verdant green. The attempted restraint of the wild lushness. The elaborate carvings adorning doorways, altars, and temples.

There is a gracefulness to Bali like nowhere I have ever been. An attention to detail, every detail, so precise that you’re not even aware of but that results in a quiet calmness overseeing everything.

 

04 Feb

Monday Moment: Sinop, Turkey

Sinop, Turkey

Sinop, in northern Turkey, was a pleasant surprise. The fresh, salty air was a nice reminder that we were back on the coast and the ability to enjoy a pint in one of the seaside bars made it clear that we weren’t in the heart of conservative Turkey any longer.

We followed the ancient wall around the outside of the city for a while and then climbed the most prominent hill to get a birds eye view of the peninsula. There is nothing like being up high while the call to prayer wafts up on the wind from the various mosques below like a round robin of ethereal beckoning.

Definitely worth the climb.

*******

Have you heard the call to prayer; with its lilting tones and dramatic pauses? Here is a YouTube video of the call from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I wish I had recorded it myself while there but this will give you an idea of the music that filled the hillside that day.

28 Jan

Monday Moment: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Although we arrived at the Tsukiji Fish Market at 7am we were still far too late to see any of the real hustle and bustle that goes on in the morning. The large tuna auction was over and most of the big fish had already been sectioned and sold off.

It was clean up time and the mood felt relaxed and jovial as everyone got to finishing their morning tasks laughing and gossiping amongst themselves.

We simply wandered up and down the endless aisle ways staring wide mouthed at the endless array of seafood on display. Tuna flesh as red and rich as any beef I have ever seen, fish roe as large as marbles and as orange as the Tang juice we drank as kids, and an indescribable array of creatures, and parts of creatures, that I had never seen before.

14 Jan

Monday Moment: Plain Of Jars, Laos

Plain of Jars, Laos

We are officially in the middle of nowhere. Central Laos is not overly populated and we are and hour and half outside of the nearest town of Phonsavon. Lumbering along the dirt roads, through pine forests and small villages, the only regular sound is the drone of the scooter under us.

It is hot. Really hot. My butt is burning from a combination of the heat of the engine under it and the incessant vibration caused by the uneven road surface. We break often to make it bearable.

But I love it. I love being way off the beaten track; love not knowing what we’ll find while using a faded, oft-photocopied, hand drawn, map to navigate. I trust we won’t get really lost. We pass by people often enough and I know that even without a shared language the local people would easily be able to point us in the direction of civilization.

We’re here to seek out one of the many Plain Of Jars sites in the area. Coming up on them is surreal; massive jars carved from stone dot the landscape. There is nothing else here. No other ruins indicating a long lost civilization or any hints as to what they might have been used for. They just lay, scattered in no discernable pattern, in the middle of nowhere.

Oddly beautiful.

07 Jan

Monday Moment: Violence Near Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armes, Cusco, Peru

I heard this story  of violence near Cusco, Peru this weekend and I have struggled as to whether I should share it or not.

I worry that stories of scams, petty robberies, and violence will be the nail in the coffin to those who are already nervous about travelling. That perhaps people will decide not to travel instead of understanding that crime against travellers is most often traveller to traveller crime and that it is very easy to stay safe on the road.

But this is a difficult story to ignore and reminds me of the only time in my entire travels that I was truly fearful for my safety.

There was to be a transit strike in Cusco on the day our bus to the Inca Trail was scheduled to leave so the trekking company decided to bus us out of town late the night before to avoid it. Leaving the lights of Cusco behind us, we entered the inky blackness of the altiplano. Peering out the window I could suddenly make out shadowy figures along the side of the roadway. Thinking them to be protestors making their way to the city for the next days activities, we didn’t think anything of it; until a hail of rocks began pummelling the windows of our bus.

Hunching down, I raised my head just enough to peek out the window. Large rocks, shrubs, and tires littered the roadway; various men roamed the sidelines chanting and yelling as they hurled more rocks our way. I crouched lower, shaking uncontrollably as I willed away the stories I had been reading about the Shining Path and their methods of gaining attention and control. I made myself keep my eyes open to avoid visions of the bus being stopped and boarded by such obviously upset, and violent, men. I could only hope that the bus would continue on and that it would soon be over.

Our convoy of buses did not stop. I don’t think they would have stopped for anything. They muscled through and soon we were past the danger, although no one on that bus relaxed until we reached our final destination.

The story coming out of Peru this week is much more serious; the people involved lucky to have escaped with minimal physical injuries although I can’t imagine the emotional turmoil they must be facing.

I share their story, Nightmare In Peru,  not to sensationalize the events, or to scare travellers away from Peru or from travelling, but to be responsible. I don’t want to only report the good side of travel and ignore that things can, and do, go wrong. To be clear; there have been plenty of travellers who have passed through this way in cars and campers, on bikes and motorbikes, without any trouble what-so-ever. Those who have reported Peruvians to be friendly, kind, and generous. These three were obviously terribly unlucky but we cannot ignore that it happened.

I believe that we will never understand the motivation behind such an act but as I read more about Peru, and of the Shining Path era, after my own incident I did gain some perspective around the history and culture of Peru. I think it’s part of travelling; not just seeing the sights and enjoying the food, but also learning about a place, about the history of a place, about what makes it tick and sculpts it into the place that we visit.

I encourage you to not only read the stories from this past few weeks but to also look deeper and research a little more about the area. It won’t change what has happened or what may happen in the future but a little understanding cannot be a bad thing.

 

31 Dec

Monday Moment: Rickshaw Traffic Jam

Delhi Traffic

Tomorrow my friends Kim, Sarah, and Hannah set off on what-sounds-like one crazy, fun, amazing, bizarre, fun, outrageous, and unbelievable journey from Jasailmer in the north of India, to Cochin in the south.

In a rickshaw!!

They will have to find their own way, drive the rickshaw themselves, and repair it if (make that when) it breaks down. Crazy, right?

I’m so jealous!!

Good luck Team Namaste Outta My Way! I can’t wait to read all about it!

What a great way to start the New Year. What are your plans to ring in 2013?

17 Dec

Monday Moment: Frankfurt Rail Station

Frankfurt Rail Station

I love travelling hubs. Those points where travellers come together; the point being to fan out again reaching to the next destination.

Airports, bus depots, and train stations filled with coming and going. Big bags, small bags, suitcases and backpacks. Experienced and efficient, or first timer and unsure; all funnel through with a unified goal of catching that plane, train, bus, or ferry.

Watching people say their goodbyes is as heart wrenching as watching the hellos is heart warming. A constant ebb and flow of coming and going whose balance must be maintained.