Angkor Thom’s Main Temple: Bayon

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While Angkor Wat is the better known of all the temple complexes in Cambodia, there are others that are a must.  Bayon is one of those.  It is imposing and a veritable maze, making it fun to explore.  Bayon (built in the 12th-13th century period) sits in the middle of Angkor Thom which was the capital of the Khmer Empire back when (it is said between 80-150K people lived there at its peak back then).  Bayon was at the center of that capital city as its most important temple.  If you look at a map, the moat around Angkor Thom is much larger than the one around Angkor Wat.  (All these sites got “lost” in the early 1600s for a few centuries.)  Movies like Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider have had scenes shot at Angkor Thom.

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Bayon (Angkor Thom is the larger square around it) in relation to Angkor Wat

We approached Angkor Thom and had a great view of the wall around Angkor Thom and a bridge (or causeway) decorated on either side with sitting statues.  One drives through a gate that towers at the end of the bridge with each side of the tower carved with the face of a divinity.  I believe we went through the south gate.

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Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

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View across the causeway of the south gate

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Statues on the causeway

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The south gate

In any case, one approaches the main temple at Angkor Thom, Bayon, among a green field with palm trees.  Having first seen Angkor Wat with its dramatic towers and monumentality, Bayon felt a little less imposing yet so different it looked magnificent.

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Approaching Bayon – majestic!

From then we walked around different former hallways and around many towers and carvings.   It is said Bayon is more baroque while Angkor Wat is more classical Khmer style.  I am not an expert but certainly can tell that Bayon was much more loaded with carvings and more elaborate.  Bayon is certainly striking due to the many towers carved on four sides with faces of deities or other figures but it lacked the big open spaces within it that Angkor Wat had.

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Imposing

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The explorers look diminutive as our guide tried to capture it all

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Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Interesting things no matter where you look

As in many places, it is fun to watch other tourists engage with the site – and take their photo while they do so :)

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Strike a pose!

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One of the many tourists :) (thanks, Phil I. for snapping this winner!)

While Angkor Wat is overall more imposing, Bayon is definitely different enough to warrant the time to explore it – hope you get to do so!

Hiking in Nepal: To My Turning Point – Deboche (Day 4)

Ama Dablam, Nepal, Himalayas, mountain, peak, Everest Base Camp, majestic, Samsung Galaxy

After a restful and relaxing day in Namche Bazaar, it was time to hit the road for the last leg of my trek before turning back.  As I explained in an earlier post, I was shy a few days in my vacation bank so I would not be going all the way to Everest Base Camp this time.  Day 4 would take me past Tengboche with its beautiful monastery to tiny Deboche.  This day would represent the highest altitude I would reach in this trek, a hundred or so meters under 4,000 m (or some hundred or two feet under 13,000 ft.).

The day would start climbing up out of the half bowl that is Namche Bazaar past the museums and great viewing point I described on the Day 3 post.  And we could also see in the distance the two hanging bridges we had passed on our way to Namche Bazaar.

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Looking back at the spot from Day 3 from here we saw Everest

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The hanging bridges

Then we skirted the side of mountains on a beautiful and changing trail that offered us a new and closer view of Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse than the prior day’s.  We passed a stupa/chorten honoring the sherpas of Everest.

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Headed towards the stupa with the best backdrop!

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Detail of the stupa

Stupa, chorten, sherpa, Himalayas, Nepal, EBC, trail, Everest, Tibetan, design, colorful, Samsung Galaxy

Beautiful and colorful detail of the stupa

Later on we had the best view of my favorite mountain in the area:  Ama Dablam.  It looks like it is a person with two arms and flowing robes!  Pretty darn cool.

Ama Dablam, Nepal, Himalayas, mountain, peak, Everest Base Camp, majestic, Samsung Galaxy

Ama Dablam!

Of course, as we did every day, we stopped for tea at a tea house.  Mint tea or lemon tea – I could never decide which was my favorite.  Sometimes one, sometimes the other!

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Loved admiring typical Tibetan architecture during tea time!

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Lemon tea, anyone?

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Typical outdoor area of a tea house

The team guides and our lead discussed whether to make the push for Tengboche (which involved a serious climb) for lunch or to stop short of the climb to have lunch and rest.  They decided to eat before the climb.  I was torn.  On the one hand, the sooner we got to Tengboche, the sooner the hardest part of the day would be behind us and then lunch would feel more lackadaisical.   I also would not be doing the hardest part of the hike on a full stomach.  But, on the other hand, it would delay eating lunch by a good bit.  So, I didn’t mind which way they decided.  Now having seen Tengboche, I think the spot by the water where we stopped for lunch was perfect for rest and recovery prior to the climb.

Nepal, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, EBC, food, Khumbu, Samsung Galaxy

Part of our lunch – soup and rice!

Nepal, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, EBC, Khumbu, Samsung Galaxy

Toilet in a very scenic place at lunch (you can thank me later for not putting a photo of the inside…)

Overall, that day we would cover about 4 miles (6.5 km) and were expected to be on the trail for about 6.5 hrs.  The most exciting part of the day was when we came to the top of a slope to find ourselves in fairly flat ground looking at the Tibetan Tengboche Monastery through the foggy afternoon.  It was not only a beautiful sight but very surreal.

Tengboche, monastery, Himalayas, Nepal, Tibetan, color, Samsung Galaxy

Entrance to the monastery (more pix on the next post)

Tengboche, monastery, Himalayas, Nepal, Tibetan, color, Samsung Galaxy

Lots of color and detail

Tengboche, monastery, Himalayas, Nepal, Tibetan, color, Samsung Galaxy

We entered the main prayer room but no photos allows – and I respect that

Tengboche, monastery, Himalayas, Nepal, Tibetan, color, Samsung Galaxy

You better follow these rules – especially no kiss!

Right past it, we stopped at a tea/coffee house before embarking on the short last hour (or less) to our stopping point for the night in Deboche.  With the hardest part of the hike for the day over, it was very enjoyable to kick back and sip away!

Once we got to Deboche, the teahouse was one of the sparsest, most austere of the teahouses I stayed at in this trek.  Being that we were higher, it was colder and the place had one tiny stove in the center of the dining/living room (as do most teahouses).  I definitely stayed more warmly dressed, even through dinner, as I tried to keep by body heat in me.

Deboche, trail, teahouse, tea house, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, Nepal,EBC

View towards the trail from our room

Deboche, trail, teahouse, tea house, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, Nepal,EBC

The rooms were basic but who needs more? Except heat…

Deboche, trail, teahouse, tea house, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, Nepal,EBC, dung, stove

Yeah… heating was very limited and crowds formed

The evening was nothing short of frigid.  There were two toilet rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. But the one upstairs was a Western toilet with a tank that would not fill.  I found it more effort to flush it so, in the middle of the night, I would walk down the very steep staircase to the non-Western toilet room, though by doing so I had to walk further in the cold of the night.  All indoors but, trust me, it was FRIGID; not sure there was much of a difference between inside and outside.  Thank goodness, I had the slight sleepwear and, more importantly, the right sleeping bag!!

Deboche, trail, teahouse, tea house, Himalayas, Everest, base camp, Nepal,EBC, Olympus

Yeah, that’s our ice-covered window in the morning…  Yes, it was THAT cold.

From this point out, the destination changed – back to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu!

Building a School in Kumari, Nepal

Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Prior to my trek in the Himalayas along the route to Everest Base Camp, I spent 3 days in the village of Kumari, Nepal thanks to Trekking for Kids‘ work to support this village.  The village, as many places in Nepal, was severely impacted by the April 2015 earthquake that struck the country.

The recently-built medical clinic was quite damaged and the school that served about 400 children was pretty much destroyed.

Nepal, earthquake, damage, Kumari, medical clinic, Nuwakot

Most damaged part of the clinic

Trekking for Kids had planned a trip to Nepal (it has been going there for years to bring hope to orphaned kids via its treks) and chose to direct the funds raised by us trekkers towards the re-construction of the school.  The school certainly will provide a better environment for the kids to receive education but it will also encourage parents to send the kids to school which helps reduce the risk that human trafficking poses for these children.

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Makeshifts structures -and outdoor spaces- serve as temporary classrooms

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Teacher holding class outdoor

Our stay in Kumari

We left Kathmandu on our way to Kumari, a village development center in the Nuwakot district.  Though it seems to be about 30 miles from Kathmandu, as the eagle flies, it took us about 3.5 hours.  The first 1.5 hrs were on a paved road that we left after a quick stop at a roadside kiosk.  From then on, we took a dirt and bumpy road that in the rainy season is impassable, driving past terraced hills and lots of green.  Occasionally we would pass small rural homes and saw a little bit of life in the countryside.

In Kumari, we stayed in the medical clinic compound, a very large space that was fenced and gated.  The medical clinic laid near the far end and had been badly damaged by the April 2015 quake.  Though damaged, a couple of spaces were still in use for examinations and to house the pharmacy.  Behind the clinic, there was a small structure housing the women’s and the men’s restrooms (2 stalls each) plus one basic shower.  Along the sides of the compound were tents used by our group and others supporting the construction work and our visit.  I imagine the tents were donated post-quake to help with temporary housing for locals but I think I heard tents were not very successful in Nepal as they were too foreign for regular folks.  Not sure if our tents were indeed originally intended for that temporary shelter but they look pretty clean and unused.  I will have to say that they were a little larger than the small two-people tents I have used before so I was glad for the extra “comfort.”

Sukman, medical clinic, polyclinic, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Sukman Memorial Polyclinic, our tents to the right

Staying in the compound was far better than I had been expected.  The grounds are well kept, the indoor restroom was a pleasant surprise, and though I only used it one of the 3 days, it was nice to take a shower after a day’s hard work.  The compound also had a kitchen and outdoor (covered) seating area so all our meals were there.  I tended to wake up very early and enjoyed a cup of tea while soaking in the quiet and sunrise.  It was a little cold at night but not frigid.  We were a 5-minute walk to the work site (the school grounds) so all-in-all, I was pleased with the setup they had prepared to host us, not having too much time traveling to- and from- the work site so we could maximize time at the site.

A grand Kumari welcome!

When our small caravan was approaching the medical compound, we noticed a lot of people were there waiting for us.  The more we walked, the more it seemed the entire district had come to welcome us.  We left our stuff in the cars (someone would take care of that) and after an initial greeting which included music, we were taken up a dirt road towards the school grounds which were located above the medical compound.

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, voluntourism, trekking

Walking from the clinic to the school grounds

As we made the final turn up the dirt road that passes the school grounds, we noticed schoolchildren were lined up waiting for us – loaded with long necklaces made from orange marigolds (like Hawaiian leis).  As we walked along the kids, teachers, and others, these “leis” were placed on our necks.  They must have spent long days making these (the flowers were all fresh)!!  Some of us ended with a heavy yoke of these leis around our necks but it was a very joyful welcome – much appreciated!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, marigold, schoolchildren

Schoolchildren awaiting us with the marigold necklaces!

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Some of us sporting the massive and heavy leis

After we got to the covered space that had been set up for the welcome ceremony, we took our seats and then all the children and other locals stood behind us.  At the end of the ceremony, 3 hours later or so, I was very impressed the locals stayed the entire time, in the sun.  There were some local figures present but maybe the draw was the two emcees (MCs) who I take had come from Kathmandu and were well-known.  The ceremony entailed many speeches in Nepali or in English as well as some dances/songs by the local kids.  I soaked it all in though, at that point, none of us had eaten anything since breakfast and I, for one, was hungry and trying hard not to pull something out of my day pack when so many in the crowd were probably as hungry as I was.Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourismMukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

School administrators, civic organizers, the MCs and the trekkers

Sweat equity

Trekkers like me commit to fundraise $1,000 towards the projects chosen for the specific trek.  The projects funded are normally anchored on capital improvements or new infrastructure.  In this Nepal trek, the school was the main project our funds would support.  I am proud to say that my group of trekkers and I raised over $33,000, much higher than the minimum we each committed to raise (thanks to any of you who donated!).  This allowed us to also fund the construction of new indoor restroom facilities at the school, something the children had never had before:  one restroom with several stalls for the girls, and the same for the boys.  When I go in these treks, I often leave pondering the things I have taken for granted all my life… and I am humbled at the blessings in my life.

Shree Bikash, school, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, construction

Plans for the new school

One of the three days was focused on us pitching in in the construction efforts.  Trekking for Kids’ approach is to ensure local labor performs the projects and local materials are used.  But trekkers get to get down and dirty lending a hand.  In these projects, trekkers got to help both with preparing the foundation for two of the new school buildings as well as with pouring the new roof for the restroom building.

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Foundation trenches completed, next step was to lay rocks at the bottom

I worked in the crew that helped dig the trenches for the school buildings’ foundations and then “harvested” rocks from the debris field from the former school building from the side of the hill and tossed them (via human chain) up to fill the bottom layer of the trenches.  While we were happy to help, it was clear the locals who worked on the project and the local teen youth group that was volunteering to help were much more effective and fast than we were…  It was certainly an honor to be able to humble ourselves for such a good cause.

Other trekkers helped prep the restroom roof before the concrete was poured by framing the area and cutting and setting up the rebar.  At the point the concrete was being mixed and poured, the locals took over.  It was interesting to watch their methods!

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Cutting rebar

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Roof being readied for the concrete pouring

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Roof being poured with the sewage tank visible in the lower part of the photo

Finally, our trekkers helped finish the digging of the “sewage tank” that had already been started with the use of mechanical equipment.  Hard work indeed!

And just having fun

Working on the projects is something trekkers enjoy doing but trekkers always enjoy the opportunity to be with the kids.  The kids made us smile with the great welcome they gave us so I certainly enjoyed giving back in this way to them.  We got to be with the kids during school hours and afterwards, including one afternoon dedicated to fun and games that went late.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini-carnival games, the arts and crafts, and a good early dinner!

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One of our trekkers, a former teacher, spends time in the classroom

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

The kids played games in the afternoon

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

Kids enjoying an early dinner

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, Shree Bikash, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, Samsung Galaxy

At the end of the day, kids line up for parting gifts!

As for me

The treks themselves, of course, helped keep me challenged and appreciating my own life’s blessings.  But, in the end, I would not be doing these treks if it were not for the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of children around the world.  It is faces like these that keep me prioritizing my travel budget and vacation time for doing these treks (at the expense of doing more with my own friends and family), that keep me “pestering” friends and family for donations to fund the projects, and that keep me accepting conditions during my treks that are less than what I’d prefer during my vacations.  Take a look, can you blame me?Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Check out Trekking for Kids and pass the word about this great organization to others via word of mouth and social media!

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A beautiful Nepali sunset over our camp

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

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Recently, the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou has been trending on Twitter and for good reason. The world’s view of Africa is often a negative one, focused on violence, disease, and poverty. The hashtag was formed to show the world that this is not what Africa is all about, in fact there is so much beauty that is overlooked by the media.

Several bloggers and I decided to join the movement and share what it is that we love about the continent. There are common misconceptions about the way Africa is portrayed in the media, and we’d like to be part of the solution. Our hope is that the world will see that we need to change our view of Africa.

Raul of I Live to Travel  (yours truly!)

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

The news outlets, unfortunately, tend to focus on the sensational, on the negative. Sub-Saharan Africa is mostly portrayed in an unflattering light unless there is a story about safaris perhaps. Wars, AIDS, etc. always get top billing. But there is much more to Africa than the media would have you see. And most of it is actually quite positive. During my work at CARE, I got to visit its work in Tanzania. One of my most enlightening and heart-warming experiences was outside of the town of Mwanza. There I was taken to visit a woman who had been shown how to earn a better livelihood by selling fried fish along a road many went on (mostly on foot or bikes) to get to a market miles away. She and her family lived in a mud brick house with a thatch roof; anytime massive rains came, they risked the house flooding – or worse, washing away as many do. With her increased earnings, she was able to start building a home raised from the ground made with real bricks – providing a safe home for her family. THAT is the Africa I met the first time I went to Tanzania. Go beyond the sellers of “news” and meet the real people of Africa, living their lives with hope and hard work!

Erin of The World Wanderer

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

No matter what stories I heard in the news, Africa was always a place I knew I would visit. The cultures, diversity, food, people, and wildlife have interested me for years, and when I finally saw the opportunity to travel to the continent in 2012, I took it. As soon as I arrived, I realized how wrong the media was. Every continent and country has their fair share of bad news, but as I have found by traveling, there is always more good than bad; Africa is no different.

When I think of Africa, I think of it as a place full of warm, welcoming smiles and unspoiled, natural beauty. For three weeks, I traveled throughout Southern Africa, not enough time to truly know it or understand the way it works, but it was enough time for me to fall in love. Botswana, in particular, took an immediate hold on my heart; I felt connected to the vast landscapes and kind people. During a few days in the Okavango Delta, we spent time with the locals who we bonded with, especially over the campfire. We shared songs and dances, one of the girls and I made everyone s’mores, and we laughed and joked until the early hours. It was one of those moments, I will never forget. My time in Africa was full of small moments like this, moments that I wish people knew about because if they did, they’d truly understand what the continent is all about.

Francesca of The Working Mom’s Travels

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

I traveled to Africa by myself at age 31 to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and go on a Serengeti safari. I was nervous for a few reasons, mainly because I was traveling alone and it was AFRICA.  It’s so far and so mysterious and only bad things happen there. At least that’s what I was led to believe by those in my life who thought my traveling there was a bad idea. Little did they know, it was just the motivation I needed to go through with the trip, to prove that Africa is not as awful as mainstream media portray it.

I arrived in a village outside of Moshi, Tanzania, on Christmas Eve, and was to spend the holiday with a local family, along with a group of my American friends (we all traveled there separately). I arrived to a festive scene and happy, laughing kids everywhere. Everyone, including the children, was dressed in their Sunday best: men and boys in suits and dress shoes; women and girls in fancy dresses and extravagant hats. After they returned from Christmas Eve mass, the father and head of the family began cooking up an enormous feast. For a family that seemingly did not have much, they wanted to make sure they shared everything with us. We ate, we danced, and we sang, and it stands as one of the happiest Christmas celebrations I’ve ever been a part of. This family was grateful for what they had and was able to share, and they were joyous. That’s an aspect of Africa we don’t see much of in the media.

Craig of Stay Adventurous

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

I don’t know one person who traveled to Africa and didn’t come back different. For most it becomes the trip of a lifetime. Today, they don’t speak of Africa in only hardships and poverty, but describe its raw beauty and tell of its energy and what amazed them. Their stories seem endless.

For me, much of my one five-week adventure to Africa is documented on my travel blog. Yes, I showcase sunsets, sand dunes and safari (all expected), but I show more and things I didn’t expect. Things I certainly don’t hear people who haven’t traveled to Africa and or the media discussing today.

Many of such memories happened in Namibia. One morning a few of us set out to explore Walvis Bay, along Namibia’s Atlantic coastline. Watching seals, dolphins, and taking a look at a shipwreck were part of the itinerary, but so was tasting the local oysters. Delicious. Fresh. Oysters.

I never thought I’d be on a boat in a bay in Africa eating oysters one day. Well, is that something you see in today’s coverage of Africa?

Gerard and Kieu of GQ Trippin

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

Kenya has made its way into the media more recently for terrorist attacks which, unfortunately, has negatively impacted its tourism, but we didn’t let this deter us from coming here on our honeymoon. During our time in the small town of Nakuru, we visited the East African Mission Orphanage and was immediately rushed by excited kids eager to meet us. Apparently, they don’t get visitors often, maybe once a month at times longer during the slow seasons. Here, the children learn to grow their own vegetables and spend a good amount of their day in class getting a proper education. It brought a smile to our faces to learn most aspire to attend a university and finish school to pursue careers like becoming a teacher or an engineer. Here at EAMO, we weren’t pushed to give a donation, a surprisingly different experience than we’d thought. Instead, we truly felt it was our presence that was most welcomed and wanted… and our gadgets — the kids couldn’t get enough playing with our cameras & phones, they asked to see pictures of our home or of really anything that was beyond the gated community they call home. It both warmed and broke our hearts, not going to lie. There are good things happening here, we wish more people knew about it.

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If you’ve been to Africa, we ask that you join us in spreading the good. Create your own post, share photos on Twitter and Instagram, and shed some positive light on this beautiful place. Let’s show the world what Africa is really all about, let’s show them #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

If you want to read more about my visits to Africa (sub-Saharan or not), just click above on the menu item “Africa”! Hope you enjoy my stories about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, visiting an incredible coastal town in Morocco, seeing post-apartheid Johannesburg, and other stories!

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 4 from Palas del Rei to Boente

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After a great dinner in Palas del Rei and a nice comfortable stay overnight, we left the town on Day 4 to head to Boente, a tiny town and our next overnight.  On this day, I would walk 21 km (about 13 miles) in around 5 hours to get to my destination.  But we would first make a stop in Mélide to try its famous “pulpo” (octopus).  Now, I am not a fan of octopus and similar ugly sea creatures but I had heard about how good the pulpo was in this part of Spain so we took off from Palas del Rei knowing lunch would be in the town of Mélide – I had to try it, I mean, I didn’t come this far to not try the local specialty!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we had to have a mid-morning snack (even though the breakfast at the hotel in Palas del Rei was pretty darn good!).

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The pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) along the Camino is huge!

After eating that monster (OK, I shared…), I had too much energy as my trek roommate, Emory, could attest…Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekkers, blue, travel, hiking, photo, Samsung Galaxy

As usual, the path is well marked and consists of a wide range of trail types, some more natural than others.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trailsCamino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails It is always amazing how there is a symbiosis between the age-old trails and the farms or villages the trails go through.  Sometimes you feel bad you are walking right by people’s homes but, it is likely that the trail was there first…

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, bridge, trails

The scenery can be quite charming!

One of my favorite parts of the walk is running into the old churches in the small towns along the way.  I am not sure how active these churches are (I am sure they don’t all have their own priest) but they serve as witnesses to the needs of the pilgrims back when the Camino was truly a journey of faith, not just a modern-day trek.

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One of several churches we passed this day

Camino, Santiago, Spain, church, small town, village, Olympus, photo, travel, The Way

Another church on our way

One of the good things about the Camino is the availability of clean, safe water to drink so you don’t have to be buying bottled water or treating water.  I filled my bottles at the places I stayed but you can also do refills along the way in any of the public fountains available to the trekkers.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, water fountain

Water fountain along the trail

Now before I get to the “pulpo”, I have to say I enjoyed the chorizo small plate more than the pulpo.  The place we ate at was across a small church along the main street in Mélide.  It had long picnic-like tables and a nice mix of locals and pilgrims!

chorizo, Melide, Camino, Santiago, Spain, food, foodie, trek, hiking, photo, bread, foodporn, Samsung Galaxy

Chorizo al vino in Mélide

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The guy at the “kitchen” (right by the front door) preparing the pulpo!

Oh, and I have not told you about one of my favorite discoveries along the Camino:  the delicious tarta de Santiago (a dense almond cake, sort of)!!  Yum.  #period

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Tarta de Santiago

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Leaving Mélide after a nice lunch of chorizo, pulpo, bread – and some wine…

The walk that day was long and, as we approached Boente, we could not wait to arrive at our “albergue”.  You could say this was the day we stayed at the “least” of our accommodations (not being a hotel or house) but it was perfect.  We had reserved two private rooms to share across the 8 of us and it was perfect as we did not have to fight with individual trekkers to get a bunk bed, etc.  The albergue was more than adequate and clean, and the dinner they served was delicious.  At this point in my life, I don’t want to do a trek where I have to wonder if I will find a spot to sleep on a given town, or whether the one I will find will be not right by the toilet so booking ahead is the way I trek.

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The awesome Albergue Boente!

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The Igrexa Santiago de Boente (right across the albergue)

After a stroll around town and dinner, it was time to end Day 4 and rest for Day 5!

———————————————————————————————————————-

Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Travel Inspiring Reads – Or Is It??

travel book, dangerous places, good reads

My book for this installment of “Travel Inspiring Reads” may seem to actually be the opposite.  It is called “The World’s Most Dangerous Places.”  But, oh, did it made me want to see those places!  This book certainly made the adrenaline rush within me just by going through it.  I liked how it classified danger by different vectors, like crime or just being a “forbidden” place.

travel book, dangerous places, good reads

What’s funny is that I read this book in its 1997 version and, looking back, some of the levels of danger in the places cited have abated whereas others not discussed have likely become “dangerous.”   For example, Myanmar was classified as forbidden but very recently that has changed.  Other places remain in the right category; again, in the forbidden grouping lies Iran, Iraq, Cuba, and North Korea.

One of my favorite writeups in the book is Albania.  Classified under the forbidden group (something which no longer seems to be applicable), it is presented as a place that is “oil and water” with the mix of the Albanian majority with a small separatist Greek minority.  More interestingly, he says has “nasty” neighbors in Serbia and Greece.  Maybe the former made sense in 1997 but I never would have thought Greece would be a nasty neighbor (Turkey aside, perhaps?).  Apparently, at the time the book was written, there was some unrest from a small group of ethnic Greeks.  Either it has subsided or it is just not covered in the news we get through major news outlets (who are likely talking more about some dumb starlet or bad boy athlete than real news… soapbox!).

In terms of pure danger, some of the places the book called out were and remain dangerous.  Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan to name a few.  But mercifully, I can re-read this book years later and be thankful that places like Cambodia, Peru, Colombia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and The Philippines have become safer and great places to explore and visit while feeling safe (or as safe as one can be anywhere).

I also enjoyed the book’s self-awareness as it identifies its key weakness:  the moment it is published, it is already out-of-date.  Cleverly, it points out “coming attractions,” or those places likely to appear in the book in the future.  Some of the places called out were called out correctly as things turned out, others did not (at least, not yet).  On the former:   Mali and Zimbabwe have become messy places indeed.  On the latter:  the Basque country has not exploded but instead remained fairly calm; Bangladesh has not fallen to civil war; China did not break up after Deng Xiaoping died; and Panama did not get re-taken by the Noriega crews nor became a mess after the Canal turned over in 1999.

I should seek out the latest version of the book and see what places feature prominently as dangerous.  And see if the adrenaline kicks in like when I first read it so many years ago!

Travel Inspiring Reads – In the Empire of Genghis Khan

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Stanley Stewart shares with us in his book about his travel through the lands of Genghis Khan.  Even before he gets to Mongolia, you get to enjoy his anecdotes from traversing what is to me an obscure corner of our planet:  Central Asia.  And, I may add, a part of the world I am dying to explore myself, inspired partly by another book I reviewed earlier:  The Alluring Target.travel, book, good read, Genghis Khan, Mongolia, Central Asia, inspiring, entertaining, anecdotes

Stanley, or “Stalin” which was the closest some people could get to his name, shares about his journey which started in Istanbul, crossing the Black Sea on a ship where he met some interesting characters.  Two of those characters in this ship, which was no cruise liner, Anna and Olga, were described as a “dramatic illustration of the way that Slavic women seem unable to find any middle ground between slim grace and stout coarseness.”  And this will be the freedom that he uses along the book to describe his experiences and the sights.  His observations are funny and truly helped me picture the scenes.

He hits Sevastopol, recently in the news to the Russian invasion of the Crimea, and eventually trains his way across parts of Russia eventually exiting it at Kazakhstan.  Perhaps Russia invaded the Crimea this year to get Sevastopol because, as he explains, back in Soviet times, Russians from Moscow would go down there “just to look at the vegetables.”  LOL, Putin just needs some fiber!  He also finds -and shares with us- wisdom he gets from a Russian:  “In Russia, everything takes time.  We have a saying: ‘The first 500 years are always the worst.’ ”  Good news:  no dictator lasts even a fifth of that, right?!

In any case, the author keeps moving east and begins talking more about the focus of this epic journey:  Genghis Khan.  He explains how Genghis could not respect towns as he was a nomad from the steppes, who viewed townsfolk with pity, from “a position of cultural and moral superiority” while viewing settled farmers as nothing more than a “flock of sheep.”  The freedom of the nomadic life was highly valued.  Therefore, destroying these settled peoples did not trouble good ole Genghis.  Mongols were seen at the footsteps of Vienna but like the Ottomans later, they did not make it there.  No, it wasn’t a Polish king that saved Vienna from the Mongols (like from the Ottomans) but it was an odd thing that kept them out:  the Khan of those days died; and all the Mongols had to haul back to the capital to be part of the election of the next Khan.  So just like that… poof! … they left and Europe was spared further destruction.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is this mixing of the observations of a traveler with the historical info, all giving me enjoyable insights into this part of the world.  For example, he describes Bishkek, the not-well-known capital of not-well-known Kirghizstan as a “sweet provincial place of tree-lined streets” – it only makes me want to see this place along the Silk Road with my own two eyes.

In another part of the adventure, he describes visiting a highly isolated monastery of only two monks who seemed to have barely escaped the 11th century… and stayed at the 12th century.  Further on, he describes flying into Mongolia since there was no land route with an open border in that corner where Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia meet.  The plane was from a company with only one commercial flight that was clearly not regulated by any aviation authority.  No, no, it was not Aeroflot.  He lands in the town of Olgii which proves to him that “Mongolians are not very good at towns.”  He elaborates that it had “an apocalyptic air,” a town “built by people who hate towns.”  Good stuff!

Through his time with his Mongolian guides, he learns about the Mongolian worldview.  Choice stuff.  Like:  “We hate the Chinese… And the Chinese hate us right back.”  Stanley points out that no better evidence of the latter than the Great Wall itself, to keep the barbarians out:  “To the Chinese, the Mongols are the neighbors from hell.”  I am not sure about that.  Let’s ask the Tibetans, shall we?  Another great nugget into this relationship is the Chinese saying he shares:  “When Mongolians party, the rest of Asia locks its doors.”  So the Mongolians, it would seem, would belong in the SEC if they had a college football team.

And the insights into how Mongolians live are aplenty.  For example, we read about the wrestling competition where the jackets worn by the wrestlers have long sleeves but are open in the front.  That’s to be sure no women wrestlers pretend to be men.  You see, he explains, women wrestlers are well feared in Outer Mongolia and, this way, they keep men wrestlers from getting hurt…  Another insight is why jeeps tend to have no door handles on the left hand side of the vehicle:  jeeps, like horses, should only be mounted from the right hand side.  A final insight I will share here is how nothing “horrifies Mongolians quite like the admission that foreigners, like animals, regularly consume raw leaves.”   Horrifies me too.

Now, I am NOT going to take that crazy flight into Mongolia by a local airline with one plane…  Nor am I looking to spending weeks on horseback, much as his crazy horses sound like a barrel of laughs…  But I have to say that the anecdotes, the observations, and the facts shared make me wish I’d been right along him -not all the time- in this journey and feed my hunger to meet Central Asia some day!

Travel and Adventure Show: A Great Way to Explore Destinations

wildlife, sloth, Busch Gardens, travel and adventure show

These days, there are so many ways to learn about places to travel in the U.S. and abroad.  A Google search away you can find a treasure trove of sites (like this one!) with topics from “top X fill-in-the-blank” to “Y on a budget” to tourist boards’ plethora of information about any given destination.  You can also get your question answered on any given platform, for example, by just tweeting your question and hoping the tweet-o-sphere responds back.

On the more “analog” side of things, the options may be more limited but if you are lucky to live in a number of cities in the U.S. (or be able to get to one of them, like I do), the Travel and Adventure shows (which take place in cities like D.C., L.A., Chicago, Dallas and others) are a fun and efficient way to “visit” destinations all in one day (keep up with them at @TravAdventure).  These shows pull in a large number of information and service providers in the arena of travel and adventure, making it easier to scan a larger number of destinations, asking questions from a live human being, and even listen to some famous travelers share their story (including many TV travel show hosts).  In addition, these shows often have some of the fun things you could experience in travel right there for the visitor to try out.

travel and adventure show

The larger space for the guest speakers

Doing the show

I have been to three of these shows in the last two years and I always enjoy the energy of the people who come to the shows.  I do get there early as it is easier to talk to some of the folks with a booth.  I try to pick an aisle of top interest to me and then start there while the crowds are making their way in.

travel and adventure show

Nicaragua’s tourism folks providing information

I am not a big fan of listening to celebrities myself but there are plenty of those to listen to (and some are quite good!) – and the bigger the name, the earlier you want to grab a seat so you can be there up close.

Also, if you decide to partake in the activities by trying out scuba diving or climbing a rock wall, the earlier you get there, the shorter the line!

travel and adventure show

Scuba diving practice

I normally spend a few hours there which brings me to the topic of food.  It feels like the options are finally growing but it is relatively expensive so, if you are on a budget or just rather save the money for that trip, pack a protein bar or something else and save money that way.  The show itself costs little for the amount of value and, yes, entertainment it provides.

Value to travelers and presenters

I spoke with some presenters and participants about what value they derive from the show.  Some presenters are from very specific destinations, like counties, while others represent an entire continent, like Africa.  Some presenters are tour providers, lodging providers, or tourism boards.  The variety makes it appealing and valuable regardless of what you are contemplating doing.  In my recent visit to the DC Travel and Adventure show, I learned that Pennsylvania has a canyon and great trails in Tiago County, up in the northern part of the state.  I also learned about Duchess County and the Hudson River Valley in New York – an amazing depth of history, nature, architecture, and even food and wine (including the oldest winery in the U.S.).  I go to the show open to talk to many of the presenters to see what I may discover.  It doesn’t disappoint.

wildlife, sloth, Busch Gardens, travel and adventure show

A sloth at the show (courtesy of Busch Gardens)

That was a sentiment other visitors expressed.  Kimberly Robson, of Washington, D.C. told me how five years ago she went to the show looking for inspiration for adventure travel.  She found it in the form of a non-profit organization that puts together treks around the world to help orphaned children.  She was not quite envisioning that type of service opportunity but the show gave her the opportunity to learn about this organization with which by now she has trekked three times to Guatemala, Thailand, and Romania.

From the presenters’ standpoint, the value seems to be generating awareness which, fortunately for both, mirrors the objective of the visitors.  From sharing about a lesser known county in a neighboring state to providing more depth of awareness into a more well-known destination, the presenters aim to broaden the network of potential visitors or “leads.”

The DC Travel and Adventure show has been running now for 10 years and the company is expanding into new markets like Philadelphia.  I can’t wait for the day they decide to open the doors for the South to dream and explore about travel and adventure by doing a show in my hometown of Atlanta!

 

Travel Inspiring Reads – “Dark Star Safari”

travel book, journal, Africa, Cairo, Ethiopia, adventure, reading, inspiration

Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town”  presents the story of Paul Theroux’ overland crossing of Africa, quite the safari!  (“Safari” means journey in Swahili.)travel book, journal, Africa, Cairo, Ethiopia, adventure, reading, inspiration

I enjoyed this book because it presented interesting topics:

  • Thought-provoking questions
  • Rich descriptions of places
  • Horror stories
  • Good history nuggets
  • Ideas for off-the-beaten-path places to visit.

Let’s go through these briefly…

Thought-provoking questions

While a book about travel, certainly part of travel is gaining an understanding of the local situation (at least for me).  The author helps the reader gain an understanding of the current state and what makes it difficult for Africa to break bad cycles.  For example, he points out how education in some of the countries suffers because those that have education and could be teachers are pulled by foreign NGOs for other activities (though I think he misses the point that often what those people go do is to try to help while also further developing capacity in these would-be teachers).  He also discusses with people he meets the issues introduced by corruption and mis-management without writing a dissertation about it.

One thing that was unfortunate is that the author seemed interested in putting down NGOs (“the agents of virtue in white Land-Rovers”) wherever he could which is unfortunate since many do very good work on behalf of those in need (even if not all are perfect; many have learned and evolved their approaches).  It is unfortunate in my opinion since it gives the impression that he has a chip on his shoulder and, as a reader, that diminishes my appreciation for his critical thinking (though it does not impact my appreciation of his writing effort).  Also, I would worry that readers unfamiliar with the questions and topics involved may just take his word for it.

Rich descriptions of places

The rich descriptions he captures of what he sees make you want to explore the places he visits.  For example, this is his description of Bayna l-Qasrayn, a street in Cairo:

“Perhaps the oldest inhabited street in the high-density city of Cairo, one thousand years of donkey droppings, hawkers’ wagons, barrow boys, veiled women, jostling camels, hand-holding men, and hubble-bubble smoker, among mosques and princes’ palaces, and a bazaar with shops selling trinket, brass pots and sack of beans…”

I also enjoyed relating to some of his observations, not dissimilar to my own.  For example, in many hotels in Egypt there are metal detectors.  I often wondered what were they really good for should someone just decide to park a truck full of explosives in front of a hotel.  He is much more eloquent than me as he shares his observations on security while in Aswan:

“There were metal detectors at the entrances to most buildings though they were seldom used and seemed more symbolic than practical… Certainly the electricity supply was unreliable and there seemed to be a labor shortage.  The armed men, with assault rifles slung at their sides, meant to reassure the tourists simply looked sinister and added to the atmosphere of menace.”

Horror stories

His description of travel through southern Ethiopia and Kenya to Nairobi is filled with frustrating anecdotes and mis-adventures.  Unhelpful government people, bad roads, vehicle breakdowns, touts and thieves, etc. all color this part of trip.  You suffer with him and then remember to be happy you are not him.  Good reading though!

Good history nuggets

The book also included great nuggets of history which certainly pleased this fan of history.  It informed me about Italy’s horrible choices when it came to Ethiopia since the late 19th century – a story I had never heard about.  In 1896, the Ethiopians trounced 20,000 invaders from the Italian army at Adwa (a place I had never heard of).  Those poor young men, sent there by crazy leadership ill-equipped, for no good reason, to die or otherwise suffer.  Unfortunately, all these created resentment that the Fascists in the 1930s wanted to act on.  So off they went (with poison gas and all) to invade Ethiopia whose fighters were still using the same weapons from the 1896 era…  (Don’t mean to pick on Italy, by the way… History is loaded with ugly decisions by many!)

Ideas for off-the-beaten places to visit

The book introduces a reader like me to places I had never ever heard of but that I may enjoy visiting.  For example, his inclusion of Lalibela in Ethiopia where there are twelfth century Coptic churches carved into the mountains adds to my already-existing desire to explore Ethiopia!

Favorite quote

One of the pieces of wisdom he heard in north Sudan during this safari struck me as universally true and is my favorite quote of the book:

“The criterion is how you treat the weak. The measure of civilized behavior is compassion.” – Sadig el Mahdi

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While the author can come across a little self-absorbed or sanctimonious, the story of his crossing Africa overland is gripping and well-written, sharing a lot more than just a narrative of adventures and mis-adventures.  I wish I could do that trip…  Maybe.

 

Sights of Pucón, Chile

Villarica volcano, Chile, snow, ski

Many moons ago, I spent a few days in a beautiful corner of ChilePucón.  Pucón, about 480 mi (775 km) south of Santiago, sits on the eastern shorelines of Lake Villarica in the region called Araucanía, looked over by the Villarica volcano.  The town by now has gained reknown for its beautiful setting and the opportunity for great outdoor activities (skiing, hiking, white river rafting, hot springs, etc.).  Maybe it is now a little too popular but its setting is definitely gifted and well worth going down the beaten path to it.  Warning:  The photos are “vintage”, meaning pre-digital and by a dozen years or so!  They may not do justice to this part of Chile – but I hope you can imagine…

map, Santiago, Pucon

“A” Marks the Spot

Nine of us drove down in a minivan, leaving Santiago in the early evening and arriving early the next morning after I-don’t-know-how-many-hours of driving down the Panamerican Highway which was one lane in each direction most of the way (back then).  Thankfully, I didn’t have driving duties so I could try to sleep some.  It was a fun group and a fun ride!

In Pucón

Once in Pucón, we stayed at a hotel on the shores of Lake Villarica, not far from the town itself but not in it.  It was an idyllic spot with a peaceful view of the lake, home-cooked meals, and easy access to the places we wanted to go.

Pucón, Chile, nature, outdoors, volcano

Welcome to Pucón

Villarica, Pucon, hotel, Chile

The lake-facing side of the hotel

The Villarica volcano

One of our first outings was to go up the Villarica volcano, to the top of the ski slopes that sit on it.  Ski season had just ended so I was bummed as I would have loved to ski down a volcano!

Villarica volcano, Chile, snow, ski

The Villarica volcano on nice day

Villarica volcano, ski, Chile, Pucón

The top of the Villarica volcano once we drove up as far as we could. Shame ski season was over!

Chile, Villarica, volcano, tourists

Our group (minus 3) at the volcano

Salto del León

We were lucky that one in our group knew the area as his sister had a house in Pucón.  That got us to see some places perhaps less visited by, er, visitors.  El Salto del León was one of these places.  Beautiful waterfalls in a gorgeous setting.

Salto del León, Pucón, Chile, Trancura, nature, outdoors

Salto del León

The Trancura Valley

The Trancura River is born in the Andes near Pucón and runs its course to the Pacific Ocean.  Snow melt contributes to its waters and the rapid fall in altitude makes its waters fast.  Perfect for white water rafting.  I had never white water rafted before and was not sure about it but it was lots of fun though the water was FRIGID and we were ill-prepared for that!Trancura, white water rafting, Chile, Pucon

That area, sort of east-southeast of Pucón, was simply beautiful.  Lush greens and other vegetation, old bridges, and little development made me feel I was enjoying a unique place.

Trancura, Pucon, Chile, river, nature, outdoors

Scenes from the Trancura Valley

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We were not certain our minivan could cross this bridge. We all got out & left only the one driving stay in it!

Trancura, river, Chile, tourism

The fearless group (minus the photographer!)

When I returned to Chile in 2010, I wanted to return to Pucón but there was so much of Chile I had not seen yet that those places (the Atacama desert, Patagonia, etc.) took precedence and my time there ended without returning to Pucón.  But, oh, I shall return!

The Walls of the Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus

The Wadi Mujib in Jordan is a fun place because you get to explore a gully (“wadi”) in which water is flowing.  The first part of the Wadi is maybe ankle deep or a little higher in some places so pretty easy and fun (though I kept worrying I would drop my camera in the water!).  It is also a refreshing way to spend part of the day as you are generally out of the sun and the water feels good!

Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus

The entrance to the wadi

Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, OlympusWadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, OlympusWadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus

My favorite part of exploring the Wadi Mujib is to see those colorful walls up close.  I walked with no rush and soaked in the view all around me.  For the more intrepid, go deeper into the canyon where a true adventure awaits (don’t bring your camera unless it is waterproof!).Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, colors, travel, photo, Olympus

And if you are tired of walking, just ride your way out!Wadi Mujib, Jordan, outdoors, adventure, fun, Middle East, travel, photo, Olympus

If you go to Jordan, don’t miss this neat outdoor experience!

Travel-Inspiring Reads – The Alluring Target

book, travel book, expedition, stories, exploration, Asia, central Asia

We all find travel inspiration from different places.  It could be TV shows (Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, Anthony Bourdain, etc.), Eyewitness, Lonely Planet or other travel guides, friends, or our favorite blogs and websites.

Those are all great sources but some call to each one of us more than others,  some grab our imagination more intensely than others. For me, some of those sources are books other than the standard travel guides, usually books that talk about a journey, an experience.  I’d thought I’d share over time books that have inspired me in one way or another to travel and explore.  So, for the inaugural travel-inspiring read, I present:

“The Alluring Target – In Search of the Secrets of Central Asia”

(Kenneth Wimmel)

book, travel book, expedition, stories, exploration, Asia, central Asia

This book, which I read in early 1999, made me hunger not only to see Central Asia but to have been one of the early companions of the early explorers the book presents (one of which is supposed to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones).  This books tells the stories of these early travelers, way before TripAdvisor, electronic boarding passes, and, heck, even BEFORE flying.   I wonder if I would have had it in me to do what these men and women did back then!

While it is a book about these explorers, it does present Central Asia in a different way than a travel book may.  It helped me learn more about the importance of the region which, at the time these explorers went, must have seen an even bigger mystery than it is today.  For helping me imagine travel to those parts so long ago, Mr. Wimmel, I thank you!

Whether here or in future post, please share with us what has inspired YOU to travel!

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