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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,…
The large cross located outside of the Cathedral is the meeting point for a Mayan Village Tour with Alex and Raul Our travels had brought us to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, and while we were deeply entrenched on the Gringo Trail, we wanted more. We wanted to see what Mexico was really like. What old Mexico was really like. Throughout our travels in Mexico we’d experienced the warmth and friendliness of the Mexican people, but there's a lot more behind the smiles and the friendliness. Mexicans have a deep patriotism and pride for everything that is Mexico and are fiercely protective of their native cultures. While in San Cristobal de las Casas we heard about a small tour company called Alex y Raul who run small, culturally responsible tours out to two nearby Mayan villages called San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. All we had to do…
My husband and I were in Valencia, Spain for a week during the Three King’s Day Festival (El Dia de los Reyes) that takes place in early January. We travel often and opted for a hostel with a private room and bath, which ended up having such a great location that we would have paid triple the price to stay there. Location is key when you are traveling, especially for those on a budget. The less you spend on public transportation and taxis the more you have for other expenditures. We were able to walk all over the city from the hostel and partook in the holiday festivities easily. Three Kings Day celebrates the love and adoration by the Three Kings for baby Jesus. The celebration begins with a huge parade, during which candy is thrown from all the floats and into the hands of the dressed up children in…
Monday, 30 December 2013

The Bajau of Wakatobi, Indonesia

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The Bajau people of Wakatobi national park in Southern Indonesia are perhaps the most smiley people I have ever encountered, but then again… I haven’t met many people. Three months ago I traveled to Indonesia, embarking on a South East Asian odyssey. This was my very first ‘big’ adventure. 18 years old, with a bag so heavy that it made me walk like a new born calf, I set off with a friend, to a corner of the world very different from my own. 48 hours later we had made it to Jakarta. The blast of heat wasn’t the most comforting element of my first few moments off a steamy, sweaty airplane. Forget that, I was in Jakarta! The roads alit with red and orange lights, car horns of course, the soundtrack to an Asian city. We were quickly bustled onto a bus, and off we went, to a hotel…
The crowd built up along the street, shoulder to shoulder, building the pressure around me. Older children climbed up coconut trees for a better view. An opening formed and an elaborately decorated buffalo was pulled in. It was positioned in front of the house and the crowd formed a circle around it. Everything became still. The whole world radiated from where the buffalo stood. A man with a machete slowly walked up to its side. You are witnessing a funeral rite in a village in the remote island of Sumba, Indonesia. You know by now that in Sumbanese society, ancestors are revered, and death means elevation from a mundane world to the realm of Marapu, a few steps closer to God in their ancient animist religion. Death is also when social standings are audited. Therefore, fortunes are spent on building grand tombs and organizing elaborate sacrifices and feasts during funerals.…
I’m alone on the bluff above the magnificent Fulda Cathedral. I’m no ghoul – at least, I don’t think I am. But I can’t take my eyes off of the large slab of gray slate that’s bolted to the sandstone blocks of Saint Michael’s chapel. It’s quite the experience. Rows upon rows of skulls are carved in stone – large skulls, small skulls, adolescent, child and infant. The skulls are carved in relief, with such gentle detail that I think that I can distinguish between male and female. On the far right, a stylized angel/monk points heavenward. Saint Michael’s is the oldest Holy Sepulcher church in Germany—and dates back an incredible 1200 years. I’d spent the morning thirty minutes to the south, in the “Salmuenster half” of the spa town of Bad-Soden Salmuenster, a smallish town of 15,000 permanent residents. It’s Blutsonntag—Blood Sunday. I was early, but Saint Peter and…
Sunday, 30 June 2013

Holi Moley!

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The streets were deserted, the shops closed. A lone pedestrian hurried down the street, anxiously glancing upwards as if looking for some unknown threat. Street corners were crowded with heavily armed riot police in lightning blue urban camouflage. The police eyeballed all who approached the large collection of small stalls which had been set up in and around the alleys crisscrossing Thamel, the beating heart of Kathmandu's backpacker scene. Unable to stand the tension any longer I gathered together a small group of foreigners from my guesthouse and ventured out towards the stalls. Hundreds of packets of dry paint in various shades and sizes lay scattered across the tables and it didn't take us long to buy a dozen packets between us. A Nepalese journalist was instantly upon us and, with a camera shoved in our general direction, we were encouraged to begin. I was the first to crack. Ripping…

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