Tag Archives: adventure

Trials & Tribulations of Travel

28 Jun

Color photo of a long boat on the Mekong River

As I write this I am at hour 7 of my second day traveling up the Mekong River by long-boat.  This mode of travel should be more appropriately titled SLOW boat.  I’ve estimated that we are moving at a pace of about 5-10 miles per hour.  Yesterday, with an overflowing boat, it took us over 10 hours to travel less than 100 miles.  All I can do is sigh and take a deep breadth… I am just so not used to this pace of life.  I’ve found myself totally conflicted by the rat race I run everyday at home in Washington, DC.  This really is the slowest I’ve moved in a days time in the past 6 years.  I guess if nothing else can get me to slow down and relax, well Laos certainly can.  And quite simply I don’t have a choice so I had better pull my head together and suck it up.  And in coming to terms with the fact that I have another 5 more hours to go in this long & slow boat better leave it with my favorite anecdote – in life there is a reason for everything.

Color photo of man rowing a dug out canoe

So why have I taken a 20+ hour slow boat journey up the Mekong River in the first place?  For one, I didn’t know this when I purchased the boat ticket two days ago but it really wouldn’t have had made a bit of difference if I had known, I would have had to travel this distance (and this slow) no matter what.  I suppose if I had known how long this would take I would have mentally prepared myself, brought water & food – and I certainly would have arrived at the boat launch well in advance so we didn’t have to [literally] push and shove to get seats on the boat.  It was so overloaded with people, motorcycles, sacs of rice, produce, bicycles, and everything in between that there weren’t enough seats on the boat for all the passengers.  Some of the long boats even carried goats, chickens, and ducks on the roof.  Though luckily we did manage to get seats, even if it meant sitting three people to 2 seats in hot and humid weather.  Let me tell you how fun this was! [sarcasm] And well actually I really didn’t have it as bad as some.  I had a seat next to a Dutch backpacker which lead to some good conversations that helped to pass the time.  But that wasn’t the only entertainment we had for the 10 hours.  The majority of the boat passengers were young (ages 20-30) Lao traveling from Luang Prabang to their homes in rural villages that are scattered along the edges of the Mekong River.  Most of them were quiet and reserved.  Some traveled as boyfriend-girlfriend couples.  While some groups of girls played card games and giggled for hours.

Then there was the back of the boat.  Now that is where all the “action” was – or however much “action” there can possibly be on a jam-packed wooden boat that is barely 9 feet wide.  But it did lead to the highlight of the day.  In the back of the boat there were a few young Laos (guys and gals) drinking the one and only BeerLao – for over 10 hours, laughing, eating sticky rice, and simply trying to have a good time.  Next thing I knew I turned my head to look at what the ruckus was and there in the back of the boat was one of my good friends (who I’ve been travelling with) hanging out with a glass of BeerLao and attempting to communicate with the half-drunken group in the back.  And well, this all lead to ongoing entertainment for the rest of the trip.  As the hours went by, they all continued to guzzle down BeerLao towards a drunken stupor.  I didn’t join them because I was on the verge of the infamous traveling “stomach bug” – if you know what I mean.  But every few hours we all had to “pay our dues” and visit the loo in the back of the boat.  Let me share with you a vision of the “loo” on the slow boat.  You push open a rickety wooden door and inside the door are a pair of old plastic sandals.  You leave your shoes outside the bathroom and slip on the wet nasty plastic sandals.  The floor inside is old & weathered ceramic with a small oddly star-shaped opening cut into the wooden side of the boat so you have some light.  A few pairs of old mens’ underwear and a womans’ bra is draped over a basket with used toilet paper.  Then there is the lovely Asian squat toilet. [sarcasm, again].  It’s a ceramic square with a hole in it – you peer down and you see the river water down below.  Now its time to test this interesting device.  You carefully squat, ensuring you keep your balance as the boat sways back and forth)and aim into the hole.  Meanwhile a concoction of river water and urine sloshes around your feet, and if you have bad aim your urine will join the rest of the sloshing mix.  A plastic grocery bag filled with traditional Lao herbs hangs on a rusty nail in the corner, attempting to curb the noxious aroma of urine and poo.  Be very careful not to lose your balance, or else you will fall either into the Asian toilet or the nasty liquid mess.  Another good reason to avoid drinking too much BeerLao on the boat.  Well I am pleased to report that by the end of this journey I did in fact “master” the Asian squat toilet.

The Asian Squat Toilet on the boat looked kind of like this, but this one is actually a bit nicer.

This boat trip has proven to be yet another test in patience.  Making me slow down and deal with all the discomforts that are required to travel & experience some of the most incredible and untouched places on Earth.  It’s a test in staying strong and remaining graceful amidst shear discomfort.  We passed through several rainstorms along the river.  And down come these heavy plastic curtains along all the sides of the boat – our long slow boat is now a makeshift sauna.  I can feel the sweat build-up on the backs of my legs that are pasted to the vinyl boat seat.  How [not] refreshing!  This is a test of grace for my mental strength.  DEEP BREATH.  But it wasn’t all bad – there was the occasional breeze from time to time that reminded us of how beautiful the Mekong is.   I look beyond it and admire the glorious Lao scenery.  And much to my delight I did spot one lone Elephant playing along a sandy shore.  Laos is “the land of a million elephants” and my singular elephant sighting was gratifying.

Color photo of the elephant I spotted

I’m now at cumulative 19 hours on this river journey.  My thoughts slip away from me.  I reflect on my life back at home, at what I will do when I return.  While some people count sheep I think about my happy puppy eager to take me on a long walk in our neighborhood.  I ponder some different tactics on a couple of projects at work, some new solutions come to mind and I jot them down.  And before I know it I am back in the present, living in the moment.  Though, I have to admit, this long-boat ride was also good for me to reflect on all these things.  It reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for in my life and how much I love & cherish my small family back home.  And remind us all that the experience of travel, as I define it, is not all the glitz and glory we often envision it to be.  And with that my mind goes back 10 years to my past adventures, far more challenging and uncomfortable, especially when I was “adventure travel fresh” and naive.  I remember the time when I was barely 20 years old and I decided to take a cargo boat (almost the size of a ship) for 27 hours non-stop across Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) to the mouth of Rio San Juan.  There were not even such things as seats on this boat – it was a true cargo ship.  Just a metal boat deck loaded with sacks of produce: melons, guavas, mangos, and breadfruit to call home for these 27 hours.  I rested my body across the bags of melons for what felt like eternity.  It rained heavily throughout the night and there was no roof on the boat deck.  I attempted to cover myself with the a thin layer of polyester from my travel hammock – and at some point I just accepted the fact that there I was and I was going to be wet.  The rain did provide a sense of relief from the oppressive daytime heat.  I can’t forget to mention that this entire time I had a bad stomach virus from drinking bad water several days prior, that progressively got worse during these 27 hours on the cargo ship.  [Most of you who have really traveled know what I mean by “stomach bug” – aka dysentery] Was there a bathroom on the boat equipped with so much as an Asian squat toilet?  Hardly!! Just a closet with a hole through the floor that went to the water.  The men on the boat just peed over the side, and I of course as a woman could not do that.  It was a trying 27 hours to say the least.  So worth it in the long run – Rio San Juan was beautiful, San Carlos, and El Castillo de la Concepcion were all incredible and mostly untouched places.  I feel so lucky having experienced these wonderous places before they get overrun with commerce and tourism.  And well, I am just so grateful that while on the Mekong River in Laos I am not sleeping in the rain on bags of melons and I don’t have a full-blown stomach bug.

Color photo of children playing on the Mekong

In this moment of new-found gratitude [and hopefully an ounce more of grace] for this long and SLOW journey I embrace the moment as I arrive at the Laos side of the border with Northern Thailand.

Color photo of the moon rising over the Mekong River near the Laos-Thai border

Savoring Cambodia

9 Jun

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Bright pink and ruffled dragon fruits are poised gracefully in a large pile on a wooden table. Deep bowls filled with yellow turmeric, green kaffir lime leaves, and scarlet red hot chilies complete this illusionary sunset. To the left a woman sits indian style trimming meat in preparation for drying, her golden silk veil eluding to the expansion of Islam in traditionally Buddhist Cambodia. A woman walks through the tight market alley ways with a long pole stretched across her shoulder. From each end of the pole, two baskets hang down perfectly balanced. One is filled with a heaping mound of shredded green mango mixed with shredded carrots. On the other side there are a series of smaller bowls filled with fresh lime slices, dried fish pieces, ground peanuts, and a jug of fish sauce. These are makings of the Khmer version of mango salad. She carefully opens a plastic baggy and places a fistful of mango slaw inside, then she tops it with a bit of peanut, dried fish, squeeze of lime and a dash of fish sauce. She hands it over to her customer, lunch is served, and the she is paid 1,000 riles (25 cents). These are just some of Cambodia’s simple everyday culinary wonders.

Bright pink dragon fruit in the market
Fresh produce of all sorts is abound. I walk around the market with the tuk tuk driver I befriended, Pan, and we contemplate which place would best for lunch. At another stall a young man mixes turmeric, rice flour, water and egg into a thin batter for Khmer pancakes. This seems like an ideal stop. He laddels some batter onto a hot flat cooking surface, with a spoon he distributes the batter evenly and forms a large bright yellow circle. There it sizzles for several minutes before we carefully turns it over with a long flat wooden cooking tool. He then places mixture of cooked ground chicken, fresh crisp bean sprouts, spring onions, and a sprinkle of chiles into the middle of the cooking pancake. The pancake is then carefully turned over, closing in on the savoury filling and forming a bright yellow half moon. After just a few moments he slides the pancake onto an oblong plastic dish, its browned & crispy edges hang over the side of the dish. It comes out served with a small bowl of sauce – a concoction of ground peanuts fused with freshly squeezed lime juice and fish sauce – a handful of bright green lettuce leaves and slices of fresh cucumber. Mr. Pan shows me how to ea this delectable ensamble. Using your hands, you place a piece of the stuffed turmeric pancake on top of a leaf of lettuce and drizzle a spoonful of the sauce on top, allowing the sauce to run through the pancake & crevices of the lettuce. One bite and the blending of the fresh and bright ingredients is refreshing and satisfying. It’s the Cambodian version of the Turkish gozleme, the Costa Rican chorreada, or a savoury French crepe. And this is just one of a multitude of divine Khmer delights Cambodia has to offer.

I spent the afternoon afternoon taking with Pan. It gave me the opportunity to listen and learn about Khmer culture and daily life in this fine country. He is one of the older Cambodians I have seen and met, and he is just 41 years old. Cambodia has a very young population because the genocide in the 1970s left so many young children without parents or elders. Pan remembers well but he has made peace with it in his heart. He is also deeply motivated to strengthen Cambodia at all different levels. He has a vision to start an eco-tourism cooperative by getting together a diverse group of local Cambodian owned businesses (tuk tuk drivers, small hotels, family run restaurants, artists, photographers, local farms, etc.) and organizing unique cultural & nature oriented tours for foreign visitors. For now he is a very successful tuk tuk driver enjoying life with his wife and two children. Our conversation carries on into family, education, and the like. His son is 18 years old and just finished high school, the first in the family to go through school. His daughter will be turning just 3 years old in a couple of months. He later shares that he and his wife adopted their daughter, Myste which means ‘among the flowers’, from the local hospital in town. In Cambodia there are many orphaned children and its obvious that most do not have the means to provide for large families and at the same time birth control is also a commodity for the privledged. Pan and his wife told the Doctor at the hospital that they wanted to adopt a baby, the hospital did due diligence checking on their home, and bank account. Several months later Myste, at less than 4 weeks old, came into their lives. Chills came over me as he told me the story and showed me pictures of his wife & daughter, so much pride for his family. And even more beautiful is to see Cambodia’s effort to place orphaned children in average income-level local communities, where they can be loved by their communities and stay close to their roots. Ten years ago this was not as prevalent, as the tourism industry hadn’t grown enough to fuel the local economy to a scale that could foster this type of community development. This is just another way I see how deeply Cambodia is restored in peace and stability.

We continued to talk about life – and all things related to food. Like in all cultures, food is an important part of daily life here in the Kingdom of Wonder. Food is prepared and sold everywhere you look. On a little dirt road on the outskirts of town an older woman sits in the street. He has prepared a little fire, no more than 4 by 5 inches using just a couple of wooden sticks. To her right side is a small red plastic bucket. She takes a spoonful of batter and places it inside a small hand held waffle iron that rests on the hot coals. A slight sizzle sound is heard. After a minute or so she turned the piping hot iron, ensuring both sides are cooked to a perfect golden brown. Children on their way to school line-up at her street kitchen to savour a Khmer waffle.

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Lets talk about where the food here comes from. About the Land. And the people that work the land to make this bounty available. Siem Reap and its surrounding area is as flat as that turmeric pancake I had for lunch. There are also several natural and man made lakes here that provide water for irrigation, especially in the dry season. This land has been heavily famed for several thousand years. Over 1 million people survived by the ground I walk on during the Ancient Khmer Empire. Cultivating the land has always been a way of life for Cambodians yesterday and today. Like most “lost” civilizations, there is no exact proven fact as to why the ancient Khmer civilization here collapsed. Like the ancient Mayans and Incas, it is believed that the ancient Khmer civilization fell due to famine caused by desertification of the land after over a thousand years of over farming, leaving the land stripped of vital nutrients & minerals required to sustain productive soils. Much of the land was given a rest from these intensive agricultural practices for at least a few hundred years, allowing the Earth to rest and regain its strength through natural succession. Siem Reap has grown significantly in the last 35 years, and along with this is an increasing demand for greater food production. Many small villages survived by subsistence agriculture (producing only the food needed for their local community) but with the pressures of a globalized and tourism-driven Siem Reap, many have converted their land into larger mono-cultures producing a single variety of rice, cattle, crocodile, bananas, or pineapple. Ultimately provoking the same problems that led to the theorized fall of their ancestors. Worse yet is the rise of aristocrats from China and the Middle East (namely Saudi Arabia) that are buying up whole farms – and even entire villages – to produce rice & other agricultural commodities for export. Whole villages, and their people, are getting the land pulled right out from under them as it is being sold to these foreigners by the Cambodian government. These once sustainable and subsistent farmers loose all their autonomy – dignity & pride. Their land, once again being stripped of life. This is a grave injustice. And, I can’t help but ask why? After the Cambodian civil way in to 1970s, all existing records of land ownership and titles were burned. Leaving the villages and people without any evidence of their ownership of the land they survived by for hundreds of years. Without these records, the government is able to sell the land to foreigners at great profits, while destroying the livelihood for many at the same time. Cambodia is not alone in this nasty land-use transition. The same phenomenon is a growing problem in Laos and throughout much of Africa.

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Despite this sobering picture of Khmer agriculture, and its globalized demise, there are also a growing movement of small scale home grown organic agriculture. Several NGOs have sprung up that are dedicated to facilitating women’s empowerment through micro-economic development vis-a-vis home-based gardens. One of the major activities fostered by this movement is supporting women to use their existing land resources around their homes for small organic gardens. First they feed their family with the bounty they produce and whatever is left over is sold to one of a few socially & environmentally conscious restaurants in town. While this movement is one a much smaller scale than the foreign-owned mono-culture movement, it is still a powerful example for Cambodians. And with Pan’s vision and the home-based organic farming movement, Cambodia has a good chance at much brighter & peaceful future where future generations can flourish in the Kingdom of Wonder.

 

Recommendations in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Restaurants

Hotels

63 Islands of Efficiency

5 Jun

Welcome in flowers in Little India

From the moment I got off the plane I could see the signs of efficiency at every turn. At immigration, there were automated lines where Singaporean residents just swiped a card and a machine scanned their finger print. For foreigners there was a long bank of border control agents that issued visitor visas. Not a single line at any of them, I just walked-up handed over my passport and off I went. Sure beats the 2 hour immigration lines at US Airports. And then there was the big bold red letters on my tourist carrd – Warning Death for Drug Trafficers Under Singapore Law. A stinging reminder that this is a land that embraces judicial corporal punishment. There is no trial by jury and you are proven guilty before proven innocent. Singapore is thought to have the highest execution rate in the world. And you are reminded of these strict laws at every turn. $1,000 fine for riding your bike through a walking tunnel. $500 fine for littering on the street. Death for firearm offenses, murder, etc. The list goes on.

Despite this stark reality. Singapore is the world’s fourth largest financial center. It gives the vibe of intellect, progress, and accomplishment in every nuance. There are skyscrapes as far as the eye can see, and tropical rainforest trees and gardens are interlaced throughout a sea of glass and steel.

Singapore Skyscrapers

Along with the immense sense of economic development, vanity and wealth really is everywhere. Shopping malls are all around and filled with only the highest end European and American shops. Gucci. Yves Saint Laurent. Prada. Jimmy Choo. Such a sharp contrast from the rest of Southeast Asia that we’ll be exploring over the next two weeks.

It’s not just all about money and lack of individual freedom. There are also a million wonderful things about this island country made-up of 63 islands, totaling just 224 square miles. Singapore has mastered efficiency. You order a taxi on your mobile device and its at your door in under 5 minutes, no questions asked and no delays. Street access for cars during peak times is controlled by automated tolls controlled by microchips in every car. There are no homeless or shanty towns, the government subsidizes adequate housing for all Singaporeans regardless of income. There is no garbage. There are no rats. There are no cockroaches. None has or carries firearms – except the police of course. And a sense of personal safety is shared by all. These are all things I really appreciate about Singapore.

Its also a land of beautiful cutural fusion. Malays. Chinese. Indians. Europeans. Indonesians. Americans. Hindu. Christian. Muslim. Buddhist. They all call this home and many of them are ‘Singaporeans’. From my short time here is appears all ethnicities and religions coexist in harmony with one another. There does appear to be some class divisions based on ethnicity to a certain degree, but not absolute divisions.

Flower necklaces in Little India

One of the areas of this island nation that I really loved was Little India. It was very authentic in terms of all food & decor Indian and Hindu. Except it was probably a million times cleaner than any Indian city and there was no sign of poverty anywhere. Vibrant flower neclaces hung at little carts along the narrow streets. The pungent aromas of Indian spices hung in the dense hot & humid air. Glimpses of glittery gold and beaded sarees adorned women at every turn. We walked on through the many bazaars. Then we came across a neat little area where a few women sat on plastic stools at tables with other women carefully painting detailed designs
on the skin of other Indian women. These women are henna artists. Their hands moved swiftly with a little henna pen that released a small amount of ink onto the skin, forming the designs of intricate flowers, mandalas, birds, and more. This is Little India in Singapore and I loved it.

Henna artist in Little India

Moving on. Other cultures collide in this serendipitous landscape. I just happened to be in Singapore during the Dumpling festival. This is one of the local traditions that originates from the Chinese influence here. Its a typical street festival. With dancers, street performers, traditional music, and all the like. And of course lots of rice dumplings were sold all over the streets. The dumplings consist of rice sweetened with cane sugar or honey and stuffed with a myriad of meats, vegetables, nuts, and spices. They are bundled in banana leaves, tied with string, steamed, and hung out on long poles for sale in the streets. I tried a vegetable rice dumpling and it was delicious. Its basically an Asian version of a tamale. Then there are hawker stands everywhere that sell a variety of other asian dishes and fresh juices. I washed down the dumpling with some fresh pineapple-celery juice. Perfectly refreshing!

Rice Dumplings

Now on to the rest of Asia!

Zeus – Master of Olympos

1 May

Photo of a carved face within a ruin in Olympos

Olympos, Turkey

Today I headed down the beach by foot towards the Lycian Way, a series of trails that have been the “roads” of ancient civilizations dating back earlier than 350 BCE (pre-Hellenistic era).  Just a few kilometers past Cirali is a small river with crystal clear water flowing from a valley nestled within the Taurus Mountains, which are mostly covered in a blanket of pine trees & rock formations.  This whirling little stream, that is seemingly uncontaminated as there does not appear to be any discharge of grey or black water or any garbage, flows out into the Mediterranean Sea.  The mouth of this little river is the entrance into the valley, and the ancient lost city of Olympos.  Little was known, and much still unknown, about the city of Olympos until about 1990 when the government of Turkey began to explore.  Along the banks of the river are the remnants of civilizations lost over the past 3,000 years – and still granite arches stand tall and tombs remain untouched.  Young tree saplings, ferns, and vines have managed to find elements of life (water, soil, & sun) in the cracks and crevices of the ancient building blocks.  The power of nature, in this case natural succession, is quite remarkable.

Ancient unearthed sarcophagous

As I meandered through the forest, I could hardly believe what was before more.  On the ground lie pieces of fallen columns intricately carved with scrolls and other decorative design, all weathered by time and the elements.  It could almost be a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, but it’s not – what lays before my eyes is real, I can touch it, feel it, and smell it.  I stumbled by a pre-Hellenistic stone sarcophagus resting on the forest floor.  It had a hole in the front of it, as most that are unearthed do, from grave robbers long ago.  Maybe it was the pirates? Or the Greeks? Or the Romans? In these bits of unknown history lies the mystery.  I continued on and found the ruins of one of the first Christian Churches (Byzantine) known in the region, and still this dated back to the 5th century CE.  I walked along the “floor” inside this ancient house of worship and it came to life in my mind – these walls held a place of devotion for many people.  I could envision people walking around the church, wearing sandles and simple clothing.  And next thing I knew I found my way to a Roman Temple, and quite possibly even pre-Roman era.  Hidden among trees and other flora, was the towering entrance way to this even more ancient spiritual place.  This “temple” pre-dates nearly all known recorded history of religion.  I couldn’t help but stop and marvel in its grandeur and intelligence.  Yes, intelligence.  The Romans, and pre-Romans, were truly masterful in how they cut, created, and assembled each of the massive marble blocks into solid structures.  And their refined building skill actually reminded me of the precision and detail held by the ancient Mayas in Tikal (2000 BCE to 900 CE) and the Incas in Machu Piccho and other sites (400-1500 CE).  Could this temple be the house of Zeus – Master of Olympos?  I will never know and that in itself is the magic in this place.

Color photo of an ancient temple with the Taurus mountains through the doorway

After several hours exploring Olympos and the Lycian Way I continued on wards into the “modern” village of Olympos.  And to my surprise it was a haven for young Turkish teens escaping the cities for the weekend – in a very rustic way I might add.  Along just one side of the small dirt road were a few tree houses, pansyiones, and basic traditional eateries – yes tree houses and how cool! much like the kind we build for our kids in our backyards.  I crossed over the river by foot to check out the less accessible ruins and came across a lot of bright red poppies, croaking frogs, and a myriad of unearthed ruins.  I couldn’t help but think that someday our modern cities that we know so well may somehow not withstand our civilization, or perhaps the opposite – that perhaps we will not withstand ourselves, and in effect will become lost cities to future civilizations.  I picture history made in my own “backyard”, the Capital of the US – Washington DC.  Much of our buildings are made of marble & granite, grand with architectural detail borrowed from the pre-Hellinistic era, Greeks and Romans alike.  I do not see this in the near future, and even if I did, It is not necessarily a bad thing, afterall evolution is a natural process – much like succession in the forest.  The real question is, what lessons will we ensure are carried forward from this life & era to the next?

Realizing the sun was going to set in about one hour, I started to head back and stopped at one of the little huts serving fresh food and drinks.  Realizing how little I’ve shared with you about the food so far, it’s about time I give you some detail.  I stopped at a place serving Turkish tea and Gozleme.  I sat at a small wooden table and before me was the kitchen.  A wooden platform hosted a large dome-like metal cooking structure (I think it was heated with hot coals or something of the like), 2 wooden circle tablets, and 3 people – 2 women prepared the Gozleme dough and one male handled cooking it on the dome cooking structure.  The two women, one in her 50s and the other one in her 70s or 80s, sat Indian style in front of the wooden circle tablets preparing the dough.  One formed the dough into round balls while the other use a wooden stick to roll the dough out into perfectly-uniform paper thin pancakes.  She carefully placed the filling of choice (in my case fresh spinach & feta cheese) on one half and then closed the extra thin pancake in half forming something resembling a quesadilla but only better.  She then rolled this filled pancake up on the wooden stick and placed it on the metal dome cooking structure.  The man carefully watched my Gozleme cook for a few minutes on each side, turning it with a flat wood tool.  He then cut it up into four piping hot pieces and vwalah!  Divinity on a plate served with cold natural yogurt milk (Ayarn) to wash it down – another typical Turkish beverage – all for less than 5 bucks.  What made it even better? Well from my seat I could see the family’s garden plot where all the lush spinach grew, alongside peppers and arugula, and their goats which they milked to produce the cheese.  Truly and organically from farm to table. What made it modern?  Well they had one refridgerator that kept the Ayarn and a few Coca Colas cold for its customers.  You can’t ask for much more in a day’s journey!

Color photo of the Gozleme experience

And well, here is my version of a modern-day Zeus.  Equally grand in his own demeanor.  Blessings to my animal kingdom at home.

Color photo of my Zeus

Land of Pirates & Fairy Tales

30 Apr

Cirali, Turkey –

Now that I have officially spent 24 hours in Turkey, I can justifiably share with you the adventure over just the past few hours.  I arrived in Antalya on Friday evening, hopped a taxi from the airport and headed into the old town of Kaleici.  I knew I was in the right place when I saw Hadrian’s Gate lit up against the night sky.  After checking into my hotel, which was an old Ottoman house repurposed as a small B&B and museum of a small collection of Ancient Turkish artifacts, I headed out for some dinner.  The streets are very narrow and mostly for walking, as only cars can go down a few of them.  Little bazaars are set-up all along the streets selling everything from clothing to bottled water, apple tea, and souvenirs.  The owners of the bazaar stalls are very friendly, almost too friendly, but egh they are just trying to make some business so they can close up shop for the night.  I found a nice little local open air restaurant for dinner and by that time I was done for so I headed back to the B&B for some rest.

Color photo of the Kaleici skyline at daybreak, just after Fajr.

View of the Keleici skyline at daybreak at the end of Fajr. The Mosque is directly to the Northeast of the tall trees. Just a few moments later smoke started billowing out of a small metal chimney. (Rebecca Harned - Kaleici, Turkey - April 2011)

At exactly 4:28am the sound of prayer reverberated through the old single paned glass Ottoman windows in my room.  The nearby Karakas Mosque to the north and the Pasa Mosque to the West began the Fajr prayer through intercoms that resounded prayer throughout the entire city.  It is the first prayer of the day and is thought to be God’s (or Allah’s or however else you relate to a higher power – all the same to me) most-favored prayer since all others are still asleep.  I also learned that Fajr is the most essential and obligatory prayer requiring that all are congregated at the Mosque for this moment of devotion, as stillness & tranquility resides over the community.  During today’s Fajr, I didn’t know how important and regimented congregational prayer is to the Turkish until I experienced the Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha later in the day.  And each time the sound of prayer is echoed across the city or village it really does make me stop and think to myself what is meant by devotion.  During Maghrib today I paused and noticed a baby porcupine foraging among a grove of lemon trees abutting the turquoise coastline.  At that moment, while most are at the Mosque praying, I saw God in the lemons, porcupine, and orange blossoms.

I am not yet able to fully characterize this landscape – though I see, feel, hear, touch, and taste it.  Breathtaking mountains & ocean vistas, ponderous customs, and vibrant spirituality.  And not to mention the mysterious history of this rich land.  The history of Turkey is as complex as it is ancient, and we are talking about some of the first human existence known to man.  So I won’t attempt to give you a glazed over Turkish history lesson here but tid bits of Turkey’s mysticism and history have already come to life in the last 24 hours and I am sure to share more.

So after spending the morning in Kaleici, I decided to head 40 kilometers southeast to an agricultural & fishing village called Cirali.  To get there, I took a streetcar through the city of Antalya to the Otogar (or bus station) and then I found a mini-bus (the typical form of public transportation to surrounding villages) heading in the direction of Cirali, about 40 kilometers through very windy mountain roads.  The streetcar cost about .75 cents and the mini-bus cost about 6 bucks, not bad and very efficient.  I was the only foreigner on the mini-bus except one friendly guy from Morocco, Anass, who was on his way to Olympos to meet-up with his girlfriend.  About one hour into the trip, and many conversations later, the mini-bus left me off at the side of the highway, high in the mountains, and across the way was a little thatched roof stall selling apple tea steeping hot over an open flame and reused water bottles containing fresh honey for sale.  The sign read, Cirali 10 km, and off I went by foot down the road.  It wasn’t more than 10 minutes and a car came by heading that way and I took a free lift to the village.  Barely a few words were exchanged between the gracious driver and I, as hardly anyone here speaks anything but Turkish – more on that later!  And just in case you find hitchhiking a bad idea, it is a perfectly acceptable and typical mode of transportation in rural Turkey and in many other countries I have traveled.  I’ve both been a hitchhiker and picked-up hitchhikers many times and met some wonderful people in the process..  Back to the good stuff…

Little did I know the true splendor that awaited me in Cirali.  And that is where I found the makings for daydreams of pirate ships, lost treasure, pixies and gnomes.  Think white sand & pebble beaches, crystal clear waters, rocks jetting up along each end and behind the beaches, ruins of mysterious ancient civilizations poised above the spears of coastal rocks, snow capped mountains, warm breezes, royal palm trees, and quaint groves of lemon & orange trees.  And at the 5 prescribed daily times, the village Mosque recites the prayers over loud speakers.  How is all this in one landscape?  It’s the land of pirates and fairytales.  Just lay your towel out below one of the palm thatched umbrellas on the beach, and let your mind wander.  Ancient tombs to your back side.  And Mediterranean oceanside caves to your right.  While the sweet pungent aroma of lilacs & orange blossoms captivates your heart.  And in the midst of this beauty, you are sure to find neverland in a dream or two.  Goodnight.

Color photo of beachscape in Chirali.  Mountains landing into the Mediterranean Sea.

This is the land of pirates and fairy tales. These majestic mountains, with rocks & ancient ruins of unknown past jet out of the coastline. There are caves that bring the sea within the coastal mountains, where there must have been pirate treasure hidden a thousand years ago. (Rebecca Harned - Cirali, Turkey - April 2011)

Dicho del Domingo – Dia 100

10 Apr

Quote – Dia 100

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.  Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

No temenos que tenerle miedo a la vida, solo tenemos que entenderla.  Ahora es el tiempo para comprender mas, para que podamos temerle menos. – Marie Curie

Photo – Dia 100

Brightly colored costumes of traditional Guetamalan festivities

High in a mountain village in Guatemala, the people still practice their traditional dancing and music adorned in costumes. The dances narrate the story of colonization and the fall of the Mayan empire. The masks you can see above represent the Spaniards during the colonization of the 1400s and beyond. Through the dancing, they unraveled a story of torture and massacre on the people, land, flora, and fauna. The brightly colored clothing is very typical of Guatemala past and present. And in this village the only language spoken was Quiche, a language with ancient Mayan roots. (August 2003)

Want to go on a journey?

2 Apr

I’m not always going to take you to paradise, but sometimes I will!  I welcome you to join in my personal journey through life vis-a-vis this blog.

Together we will – Go to gritty little niches in the world.  To blissful paradises. To Pandora-like lands. We will face bitter realities of inequality and injustice.  We will try heavenly new foods.  Endure vast new lands.  And reflect on personal moments of fortitude, desperation, hope and triumph.

It’s a candid and honest reflection of the daily life and dreams of one woman – a global citizen, social entrepreneur, wife, daughter, Washingtonian, artist, companion to 3 cats & 1 dog – and someday a mother.

Learning at each step… how to be a better person, make the world a better place, simply striving to live more gracefully.  I will stumble along the way, trip over my own feet, gets bumps & bruises, pick myself back-up and live another day.

The essence of this journey – Vive y Deja VivirLive and to Let Live – The single most important lesson I’ve learned in the thirty years of my life so far.  I am still trying to figure out exactly what it means for you, for me, and for the greater humanity.

I hope you will share with me your reactions, thoughts, convictions, and insights on life throughout this journey.  I want to learn about your perspective – no matter how different from my own.  It’s through your contributions to this blog, that you will help shape the journey, determine the places we go & the things we will do for years to come.  Lets get ready for liftoff!

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