Ta Prohm, Cambodia: Trees Take over a Temple

Before my trip to Cambodia, I knew about Angkor Wat (of course!).  But, I did not know about Ta Prohm.  I had seen pictures of it but did not know that it was a specific temple close to Angkor Wat and, much less, its name or extent of the wonders it contains.  I did hear about it more concretely from someone who had been to Siem Reap before right before I got there so it got on the “itinerary” of the temples to visit while in Siem Reap.  It is hard to say that it is my favorite over Angkor Wat or Bayon.  In fact, it is hard to pick any of those over the others; each has something that feels unique enough to lift it in my “estimation.”

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Amazing place

Ta Prohm’s claim to fame, if you will, is how trees have taken over the ruins of this former temple complex from the 12th/13th century.  We are able to see this because the temple has been left in the same condition it was found (for the most part; some work has been done to stabilize structures, make it safe for visiting, and enabling access).  This uniqueness earned it a spot in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and rightly so!

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Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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The most famous trees growing through the structures are Tetrameles nudiflora, which is like a mouthful for a non-botanical person like me (so I had to look it up!).  They create surreal images – and surely, if the trees were cut, many of the structures would collapse!  These trees grow super tall and the roots look like the buttresses of pre-Renaissance European cathedrals and can be quite gigantic as one of my pictures shows.  Banyan trees can also be found.  These trees grow their roots downward from where the see landed (not directly on the ground but, say, on a tree or building) and they end up enveloping the “host” tree or structure, eventually seemingly strangling the host.Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan

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Yea, these trees are HUGE!

What to Know

  • It will be hot and humid as the day progresses so starting with sunrise is ideal though it makes for a short sleep night…
  • Visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and a couple of other smaller sites, starting at sunrise, took us until noon/1 PM at our speed of walking, stopping to take photos, etc.  That is quite a long day already considering hotel pick-up (for us anyway) was at 4:45 AM.
  • Bring water, snack and sunblock!

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Colonia del Sacramento: Uruguay’s Historical Gem

When I started to plan my trip to Argentina for my trek, I thought maybe I’d arrive a couple of days early and do something other than eat and walk in Buenos Aires.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with those things!  Those are indeed very noble activities in my book in that great city.  But I was looking to just do something different.  I looked at one-day or half-day tours, and I looked at museums and other similar attractions.  One thing caught my eye due to my eternal wanderlust:  Uruguay was just across the river and it would be really easy to cross by boat.

I was aware of Montevideo and Punta del Este.  The latter seemed to require an overnight.  Montevideo seemed a tad boring but I thought, “why not?  it’s the capital?”  And then I ran into Colonia del Sacramento (or simply, “Colonia”).  I had never heard of this place.  Quick research led me to find out it was listed in “1,000 Places to See before You Die” so I had to learn more.

Funny how history runs its course…

Colonia del Sacramento was established by the Portuguese across the river from another small town called Buenos Aires in the late 17th century.  The town was part of a ping-pong match in terms of who ruled it:  Spain, Portugal, Spain, Portugal, …, Brazil, and then independent Uruguay.  Must have been exhausting!  The modern town’s old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a population of roughly 25,000 folks.

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French map dating from the 1740s made into a mural

Getting to Colonia del Sacramento

Certainly one can get there by road from Montevideo but, if you are in Buenos Aires, the Buquebus ferry leaving from Puerto Madero is quite efficient and convenient.  There are fast ferries that make the crossing in one hour (the river, at that point, is really no longer a river but the sea meeting the river) and slow-poke boats that make the crossing in three hours.  Needless to say, three hours on a boat when I can do it in one was a no-brainer….  The one hour ferry was at 8:30 AM so that was a bit of a sacrifice since there was a line or two to make at the port… But it was the right choice.  On the way back, since we wanted to have dinner in Buenos Aires, we took the ferry that arrived around 6 PM.  One thing to mind is that there IS a time zone difference between Uruguay and Argentina (crazy).

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The walkway to the ferry in the port in Buenos Aires

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Welcome to Uruguay!

Oh, and another thing to mind is that you MUST bring with you the reciprocity fee receipt for Argentina (if you are a U.S. citizen)… When you leave Uruguay, right at the port in Colonia, you will go through BOTH Uruguayan and Argentine immigration officers.  When you get to the Argentine officer, if you do not have it, you are in a for a nervous wait to see what the officer will do with you.  No, it did not happen to me, but it happened to a friend.  Note:  the other friend hanging with her volunteered to the officer “Oh, I don’t have mine either” – lol!  Somehow, the officer did not care about her but did about the other one.

The town – ruins

The thing to see in Colonia is the old quarter.  When you exit the very modern port facility, you go out of the port and go on that same street uphill and, eventually, you will hit the main street where you will make a left and walk for like five minutes before you hit the old quarter.  (There is a tourism info office outside the main building of the port but I did not go in.)

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The old quarter is on the left side of the map

The old buildings have been beautifully kept up or maintained and the quarter is easy to walk around in.  The old quarter is in a peninsula so you can’t go too far without hitting the water except in one direction (as you can see in the map above).   The old quarter has ruins of fortifications from those centuries when the European powers were trying to take control of the river.  You can also see parts of the foundation of the former Portuguese governor’s house and ruins of the old convent.  Most of these ruins are, one could say, ruins of ruins but, nevertheless, they help understand how the town was set up and defended.

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Ruins of San Francisco Convent in front of the lighthouse

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Ruins of Bastión de San Miguel

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Ruins of the Portuguese Governor House in the Plaza de Armas

The town – buildings and structures

There old church, the Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento (Basilica of the Sacred Sacrament) was heavily restored starting in the 1950s.  It is simple in its design and decor.

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

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Inside of the basilica

The town is clearly oriented to visitors from Uruguay and abroad with many cafés, restaurants, gifts shops, and art shops.

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Local shop

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Outdoor café near the basilica

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Eclectic café chair and table

But the best this charming town offers is just the simple yet beautiful architecture of the streets in or near its old quarter.  A peaceful setting graced by history and architecture!

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House near the lighthouse

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Shop in Calle de los Suspiros

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House in Calle de los Suspiros

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Detail of the local architecture by the Plaza de Armas

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Home

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A local street right outside the heart of the old quarter

Lunch time in Colonia!

Of course, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch where I enjoyed an incredible pasta dish and we all enjoyed trying Uruguayan red wine – an unexpected treat (later followed by a cup of Freddos ice cream!)

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Lunch was this delicious butternut squash gnocchi in a pancetta cream sauce!

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Surprised at how good the local wine was!

A resident enjoying summer…

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Dog days of summer in Colonia are awesome!

 

 

Petra, Jordan: History on the Rocks

I first went to Petra, Jordan back in 1998 on a day trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.  If you know the lay of the land, that may sound impossible.  Well, not if you take a flight from Sharm-el-Sheikh to Aqaba, Jordan and then hop on a bus.  That’s exactly what I did.  I did not have the luxury of time so it was an either do it on a day trip or not do it.  Since I could not predict the future, I had to go for it to be sure I got to see Petra in case I didn’t get to come back.

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Headed to Petra

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Great vistas along the way

Return to Petra

Fast forward 15 years and I return to this necropolis-turned-town-turned-movie-setting-turned-massive-tourist-site.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to return and explore it on more depth.  You see, in my first visit, I decided to walk my way in which is great in many ways but it eats away precious time for someone on a day trip there from Sharm-el-Sheikh.  The second time, while I did walk in, I walked faster knowing time was precious and I rented a donkey to take me up to save time.  That was a great idea except that the donkey preferred the edge of the path on the way up rather than risk hitting itself against the rocks at the other side of the path, making this rider a little bit worried about the way down!

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Donkey in the shade – smart!

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Giddy up!

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Look Ma, no hands!

Thanks, Nabateans

Petra is amazing due to how it has evolved over time but it was the Nabateans who deserve the credit (after God, of course) for this place.  Certainly, the landscape and topography are thanks to the Maker but what happened after that really starts with the Nabateans who carved a necropolis out of these beautiful rocks.  Others, like the Romans, continued to develop the site to what we know now.

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Some of the tombs around Petra that later peoples used for other purposes – like commerce

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The Romans put Petra to good use

More than the Treasury

You can see evidence of amazing early engineering when you see the channels that were carved into the rock to capture the rare rainfall that rolled down canyon walls and take it into a natural “holding tank.”

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Channel that collected rainwater from the canyon walls and directed to a well

Also impressive are the facades of the tombs built into the rocks such as the Royal Tombs and other areas like the Monastery and the very famous Treasury, which many think to be what the Indiana Jones movie showed.  In reality the Treasury is more of a facade.  Be sure to get a guide who explains to you what you are looking at as the Treasury, for example, shows evidence of how it was carved out of the stone.  And be sure to go all over!

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The Royal Tombs from a distance

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Some of the Royal Tombs

My advice if you are visiting Petra and don’t have but a day or two is to use a donkey for some of the climbs (unless you want or need the exercise) and then walk and explore – this way, you will maximize what you will see from this one-of-a-kind place and there is PLENTY to see and admire about this unique site.

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My family “came along” with me to Petra!

 

During my second visit to Petra, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

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