Well perhaps it’s not such a great day in Argentina, but the fact that I finally arrived safe and sound I guess makes it a good day! After multiple delays I’ve arrived into a very modern Buenos Aires, albeit, cold and cloudy. My heart tells me I should climb into this wonderful looking bed and just relax but my mind tells me there is much to explore. So I am compromising and posting this blog instead.
Below are two pictures of flat Corbin. Corbin is a young friend who asked if the flat version of himself could travel with me on this trip, so I agreed. This is him at the Delta Sky lounge at La Guardia Airport and the second picture is him in the taxi just now on the way into Buenos Aires from the airport. You can anticipate seeing more of flat Corbin on this trip, why not right? Especially now that I have him wearing a Zim Photography uniform!
I suppose I have stalled enough and should start my day huh?
(I left my hotel soon after writing this post but since the internet was down I could not send it until now)
Well, I made it back on Tuesday night. Just in time for Christmas. It was the first Xmas I've spent on this side of the world in several years. It felt good to be back. It felt even better that I got two good night's sleep after returning.
Anyway, I wanted to share one last adventure. After experiencing 6 time zone changes in 8 days I arrived into Seoul, Korea where I had a 14 hour lay over. So it was off to speed tourism; I went shopping, had multiple things to eat on the street plus two restaurant stops, 1 temple stop, and 2 palaces). In the middle of all this of course there was the obligatory stop at a public restroom.
First let me rewind a bit. Last year, I also had a stop over in Seoul, but I got no further than the airport. When I used the restroom, I was confronted by an older woman who said something to me rather aggressively in Korean as I waited in line for my turn. So I said to her, I'm sorry I don't speak Korean. She responded, This for woman not MAN! As I had just gotten off one of the most miserable red-eye flights of my life¦ shall we just say, I was not the mood? So I responded (rather aggressively), Yes? and? would you like me to prove IT? and began to unzip my black winter jacket. With that she seemed embarrassed, quickly averted her eyes and said oh I don't know. and walked away.
Fast forward to Tuesday. As I walked into a public restroom, I was again wearing my black jacket, jeans and winter beannie (ok, ok I looked like a guy¦ I know), there was a woman who kinda starred at me. I paid her no mind and continued on my business. When I came out of the stall, I was stopped by two older women. One muttered something to me in Korean; all I could think was great here we go again. So I responded in as high pitched a voice as I could, I'm sorry? I don't speak Korean. with that the woman gasped and said something else and smiled/laughed. She then said something to her friend and then back to me and then patted me on the chest as if to say, You jokester you! You fooled me! Let me tell you it didn't stop there! She continued to talk to me and all I could do was smile, and wash my hands. When I was done washing my hands she hugged me! YES SHE HUGGED ME! When she let me go she was holding my arm which moved to holding both of my hands. When she discovered my hands were freezing she noted this to her friend. So they both took a hand and started warming them up in theirs!
This is what I will remember from my experiences in Seoul.
I’m heading back to Malaysia today. With many things yet to give I headed into another village to give away what I had left. One of the recipients was a farmer. He had willingly posed for some photos so what the heck right? I reached into my bag and grabbed 2 things – local peanut brittle and a toothbrush. I handed it to the man and he smiled a thank you. As I rode away I reconsidered what I had done. The man had no teeth!
My day started at 3:30. I wanted to be at the Merapi Mountain for the sunrise. Just 3 km shy of my destination I realized that I forgot some rather important things in the safe back at the hotel I had just checked out of…which was then 45 minutes away. Man that sucked. With that, my sunrise shot was gone, although I wasn’t missing much as it was overcast again, but it still sucked. After retrieving my stuff and stopping for breakfast we headed to Borobudur. I’ve now taken a room at the only hotel on temple grounds so that I don’t miss the sunrise tomorrow.
With a lot of time on my hands I borrowed one of the hotel bikes and road into and around town but before I even left the premises I ran into this: (an aerobics class… outside)
I knew my day was looking up! So off i went; I came to discover that if you veer off of the main road just a bit, the land opens into fields of rice. Everywhere I went people would look at me with a curious gaze but if I nodded or smiled they would gesture back with the biggest welcoming smile you have ever seen. As I rode past a group of women working the fields they yelled and waived at me; I took it as an invitation so I sat and watched them for a while. Here’s a clip of them working.
You can see a woman beckoning me for money. Every time she did this everyone would laugh. It was pretty clear that they were having a good time… courtesy of me, but that’s okay, I was taking their picture and I haven’t learned their language either! It was also amusing that every time I did something they would all watch and then comment. Like when I pulled out a tissue from my pocket and blew my nose they all laughed then one would say, “Flu?! Flu.” One woman gestured for me to come and join the fun. I was tempted but I didn’t want to push my luck with the possibility of parasites, leeches, etc.; I don’t think this is good time to test the Travel Gods, eh?
As I watched and photographed (nothing to brag about here), I start to burn under the sun and realized that it’s winter here! It also brought home the fact that cultivating rice is totally back breaking work it; and of these 8 women 5 were clearly over they age of 50. It’s amazing that we pay under $1 a pound for rice in the US. Before I rode off I left them all of the soaps and hotel shampoo’s i had. They were grateful. Not much further down that road I came a upon a group of children gathered around a dessert vendor the way children in the US gather around the ice cream truck. With that I decided to buy some for the women in the field. As I waited more and more children gathered. They were easily humored, especially when I took their picture and showed them on the digital camera. Then I decided to play a game called “What’s Your Name?”, here it is:
When I returned to the field, the women were leaving for lunch. They waived and smiled at me; I gestured at my bag of goodies. When they approached I handed each a bag; these were bags of dessert soup (beans, palm sugar, tapioca, coconut milk – a local favorite). This dessert is rather common throughout SE Asia, and EVERYONE loves the stuff (myself included) so I knew I had struck gold when I ran into this vendor and it was clear from the women’s reaction that I had! The one who gave me the hardest time about money, was also most pleased. She laughed out loud!
There were no spectacular sites or photos but I think the day turned out quite nice!
Again I got up early today and was on the road by 5. As it was overcast yesterday morning I figured there was no reason to get out any earlier than that. Wellll… I was wrong. The sun actually showed itself today but on the other hand the spot I went to was not open until 6, when the sun is a bit too high for my taste.
So what did I do today? First I went to Prambanan, home to a complex of temples divided into two sites. On the main site the largest temple is about 4 stories high and built of volcanic rock. Unfortunately tourists are not allowed to enter 3 of the largest and most impressive temples. Why? I’m not sure. One is clearly under renovation (due to the earthquake several years ago). The others? I just dunno. Although still somewhat impressive, about half of the other site is in pretty bad condition and there was not much to see. So after that it was into the market for some breakfast; here’s a clip of that:
Then off to Rotu Boko temple. Due to the hefty entrance fee, I was looking forward what to seeing what was in store. Unfortunately about 80% of the site was also just piles of rubble. In other words I saw piles of square rocks which were once impressive buildings – so they tell me. Then I got eaten alive by mosquitoes! As I had not planned on coming here, I have not thought about that little thing called MALARIA! So I just checked the internet for some information and this is what I found: There is no risk in Jakarta, resort areas of Bali, or the island of Java, except for the Menoreh Hills in central Java. So I’m thinking to myself, “Hmmmmm, central Java……central Java, central Java? Where am I? google search, google search, google search -SHIT I’m in central Java; SHIT Yogyakart is IN the Menoreh Hills?” Did I mention that it was a last minute decision to come here and until a couple of days ago I couldn’t have found this place on a map? I guess I be looking for some Mefloquine tomorrow eh?
Well on with today’s events. From Boko I headed south. I wanted to go to the Royal Cemetary. My driver (a new one spoke a little English, and by little I mean little) instead took me to the “Silver Village” where they make traditional silver jewelry. Obviously there was some serious confusion but fortunately it was in the same direction and was just further up the road. After we got there to the site, I walked about 200 yards and faced this.
It’s not so bad right? But did I mention that I had already walked up a hill to get to Boko? Well at the top of that, I was faced with this:
Did I mention that I had gotten up early… AGAIN, and that I’m fighting a cold? arrrg. I bought a bottle of Pocari Sweat and headed up. Once I got to the top there was still another 40 steps or so into the grounds but when I got to the main gate, there was this:
The site was closed for reconstruction. With not much else to do I walked around the complex to see if i could get a glimpse in. But no luck. Instead I saw this behind the complex: (if you listen closely you will hear the murmur of morning prayers from a couple of different mosques in the valley.)
I have only spent 2 full days here and have already run out of things to do. I’ve seen all the major and minor temples and historical sites. The mosques here are not like those in Turkey; they are very modest here. The tourist information office and the hotel concierge are unable to suggest anything else to do, other then going to the beach (1 hr drive) or going up to the mountain. With 3 days left I think I’m going to just relax for the rest of today and tomorrow and give my body a break; perhaps I might be able to kick this cold. Then I’ll head up to the mountain and overnight in at Borobudur to try to catch another sunrise and sunset.
Well I arrived yesterday afternoon and low and behold I was able to get a “Visa On Arrival” without a problem! phew. This morning I got up at 4:30 and took the long drive to Borobudur. Below is the view from the top of the temple! Amazing!
Thus far I am finding that the locals are rather friendly. Most of the tourist here are either Indonesian or seem to be from Malaysia; with a few western caucasian faces and a few Japanese thrown in the mix. As a result there are very very few English speakers here. There also seem to be very few western style anything other than the McD’s and the KFC in town.
The weather here is also incredibly humid, although when it’s cloudy it stays a bit cooler. When the sun peeked out today all I could think to myself was, boy I’m glad it’s not July!
Yesterday I became fishfood…literally. After arriving into Kuala Lumpur (aka KL), I decided to take in a massage. They were offering free “15 min. fish bar” with every 1 hour massage. I couldn’t resist. I had heard of this in the states back in the summer and I know that it is big here so I thought I would give it a try. They have this pool with these little fishies (about 1″-3″long) and what you do is you stick your feet in the pool. The fish detect that you are there and then come along to nibble on your dead skin! really! So here’s the not so clear video footage below.
Download Video So what does it feel like? Well it feels like a bunch of fish nibling on your feet… duh! It started out feeling very very ticklish and then it just feel like critters picking at you. They were extremely sensitive to any movement in the water or from the surface. Like if I moved my feet suddenly or waived my hand abruptly above the water they would scatter. At this point you must be wondering what the result was, right? Well I must say that my feet have never felt so clean before. Really! Even this morning my feet still felt really great… just clean. Having said this, the fish did not remove all the dead skin around my heals as I had hoped… So now you know about my feet problems.
Well at the last minute I have decided not to head to Sapa Vietnam, but rather south to Indonesia. There will be an overnight stop in Malaysia and then off to Yogyakart, Indonesia to see Borobudur! yipper. The last week in Hanoi was productive with work for the Nom Foundation and a board meeting. I think I managed to get my face on t.v. albeit in the crowd. More from KL and Indonesia soon!
On Sunday I went to a place called Ninh Binh, also dubed the Ha Long Bay of the interior. (you can see images of Ha long Bay here: http://zimphotography.com/fineartphotography/south_asia/vietnam/vietnam_clr.html – row 5). I had been wanting to go here for a year now. When I arrived at my hotel , I expressed this interest with the Hotel’s front desk staff when one of th doormen interjected and said “That’s where my family is from!” So with that I invited him (Cuong) to join me along with a couple of the other board members from the Vietnamese Nom Preservation Foundation (Sally & Steve) and one of the front desk guys (Bon). Everyone was pretty enthused to go until I anounced that I wanted to be on the road at FOUR a.m!! But they all relented and came a long anyway.
When we arrived at our destination at 6 a.m. It was still dark and there seemed to be only one shop keeper around. Cuong was concerned that we were too early and so asked if we wanted to continue somewhere else to wait for the sun came up. Instead I suggested that we get out of the car and stretch our legs; and sure enough the vendors came out of the woodwork. We had 2 offers to cook us breakfast and several to provide us with the boat tour we were looking for! There is just never a shortage of people trying to sell you things in this country – not even at 6 am while it’s still dark out.
As we finished breakfast the sun came up and it became light enough to go out on the boat. Soon it became clear that I would not get the sunrise shot I had been seeking. And so it remained cloudy for the rest of the day and not once did the sun show it’s face. Arggg. As there was nothing I could do to change the situation, I decided just to relax and enjoy the ride. It was wonderful. The scenery was incredible! And the company? They were pretty fun as well! That was great.
After our boat ride we were invited to Cuong’s parent’s house for lunch. They were farmers with 4 children all of whom had moved into the city to find work; they were totally totally amazingly hosts. I have come to learn that one should never turn down an invitation to enter a private home anywhere in the world. Much more than any scenic tourist trap, the only way to understand a people and a place is to share a meal with them. Cuong’s parents fed us until we were completely full and offered us locally made rice wine (which I declined but as you can see from the clip below Steve enjoyed it immensly).
I was just thinking to myself that going through Korea has certainly started to feel more routine and that I pretty much know where everything I really need is, and getting from point A to point B is not an adventure anymore. Only to find that they have shut down the food courts i had come to enjoy; leaving one out of the way restaurant behind with Subways, mc D’s and KFC in tact…. hmmm I think Korea has been bought.
Today I got to the airport early to check my stuff and then returned home for a couple of hours which was great, as i had many last minute things to do. I even got my favorite seat. As i like to work on my laptop on the plane and since i learned to type on a manual typewriter… i pound the keys. Sitting in the exit row i get my leg room and freedom to pound away! The only trouble was i got to sit in front of 2 kids one of whom cried much of the trip. The other kept on kicking my chair. I finally had to have a “little talk” with my little friend! It DID slow down the kicking; but it did nothing to stop the other 10 or so children from taking turns crying on this 14 hour journey or from running up and down the aisles or fighting with one another. To the boy’s mom behind me, I suggested that he play the on board video games to the parent. (Get a hint parents: when there is that much on board entertainment USE IT!). Off to Vietnam in about an hour.
Tomorrow I head back to Hanoi… Aaagain. After a really long show season and then Turkey, boy I’m feeling really really tired. But Vietnam is always fun for me and the work is important. I also enjoy the food and over the past several trips I have been making more and more friends there … but that 30 hour commute is a killer!
I’ll be checking in with Vietnamese Nom Preservation Foundation’s staff, sit in on a workshop on book preservation and attend our annual board meeting for the foundation. Then it’s off to the see some of the hill tribes and perhaps China. I will actually get to leave the Seoul Airport this time!
More from Vietnam in a few days and of course more pix and clips to come.
Returned from Turkey on Sunday evening and I must say once again, that there is no greater feeling than my own pillow. Although the bed at the Renaissance was perhaps the best bed EVER!Â Overall I found Turkey to be a delightful place where the people were extremely friendly overall and some of the sites were breathtaking. It is a culture which is still deeply rooted in the traditions of the past while keeping its eyes focused on the future. It is also a culture which has beenÂ and is informed and influenced by a multitude of others who have passed through it’s territory from conquerers and would be invaders to traders and passers by. It was difficult to figure out what was uniquely Turk but I guess it is the fact that it is a combination of so many things that make it unique.
As I unpacked my things I realized that I was already preparing and packing for my next adventure. In only a matter of weeks I will again be headed off to Asia and I have yet to decide my full itinerary.
I hope to post the final edits from this current trip soon along with more footage which never made it onto the blog.
So I can write about the pictures I was not allowed to take today of the Florence Nightingale Museum or the adventure I had entering the museum because it is on an active military base that is heavily fortified or I can write about the several mosques I visited today that were either closed for repair or where photos were not allowed or I can talk about being in the market place (see footage below).
But alas I want to write about my experience here in Turkey and Barack Obama. Yes Obama! Prior to the election everyone would ask if I was going to vote for Obama once they found out that I am an American. The question was usually posed like this “Bush or Obama?”. Not “McCain or Obama” but BUSH! Crazy. Now that the election is over they all just say “Obama number one” or “Obama very good!” etc. Last night at the airport returning to Istanbul from the Kayseri airport even the airport security guys had to mention Obama when they saw my US Passport! Tonight while in the market place here in Istanbul the vendor said “You vote for Obama?” I asked him, “Do you like Obama?” he showed me this under his sweater!
After several hours of shooting it was back to the hotel for breakfast then off for a “short hike”. The driver suggested that we get dropped off on the top of this canyon (Pigeon Canyon) and hike down to the bottom where he would pick us up. As soon as we started our decent it was clear to me that there was going to be some spectacular sights and it turned out to be an experience I will never forget. The valley was lined with Fairy Chimneys (see image below) and throughout the canyon were wild grape vines, apple trees, apricot trees and several other edible fruits I don’t know the name of. About 1 hour into the trip and stopping for lunch a cat met us on the trail and walked with us for nearly an hour on the trip. It was about then that we took the wrong turn. In hindsight it would seem that the kitty was actually trying lead us in the other direction but we stayed the course and he reluctantly followed. Just about the time when it became really clear that we were lost the cat left us… hmmm.
At this juncture the valley dropped again. I can not tell you the feeling when I walked up to the edge. Here is a clip. That’s me in the background waiving.
As we tried to descend it became clear that there was no way down from where we were standing: we had taken a wrong turn. About 100 meters prior to this we had passed a man who seemed to be living in the valley. In Mike’s rough Turkish we convinced him to show us the way back to Pigeon valley… but instead of back tracking he took us on a short cut… which meant walking up and over this ridge:
When we got to the top, and I almost didn’t make it because I couldn’t get a grip on the very soft 30 degree surface, he sat us down to have a smoke. There are no pictures of this because I was terrified and couldn’t figure out how we were going to get back down; any awkward movements meant I was going to go flying off either side. (the top was less than a foot wide – barely enough to put my feet side by side). Obviously I managed to get down with this man’s help but it was all I could do to convince myself not to look down!
As if that wasn’t enough fun, at the end of the trail (which is the edge of a small town) we ran into two women who had plastic grocery bags filled with fresh picked apples and fruit. They had walked into the valley (obviously) and now they were heading home. The four of us happened to be walking out of the valley at the same time and they stopped for a break at the place where we had made arrangements for a pickup. While waiting Mike heard one of them say in Turkish, “Maybe we get him to carry one of these bags.” And they both started laughing. When Mike turned around and said in Turkish, “How far do you have to go?” They first stopped in their tracks, responding “really?”. In the end we offered them a ride. Needless to say they were very happy. So here is the picture of them in the back of the car. That’s me on the right side.
On Saturday I flew to Trabzon on the Black Sea. There is a monastery there that was built right into the side of a mountain. Here is a clip of the monastery. It’s situated in the middle of a beautiful forest with streams and waterfalls below. Here’s a quick clip. Notice how high this mountain is!
Yesterday I flew from Istanbul to here, Cappadocia, which is in central Turkey. I had arrived here expecting rather cold weather but in the middle of the day it has been perfect! Just jeans and a long sleeve shirt has been enough. Although once the sun goes away it IS rather cold. So I was glad to be wearing my flannel lined jeans this morning when I got out there at 5 a.m. catch the sunrise! The landscape here in Cappadocia is amazing. In some places it feels almost like a moonscape or even alien! It will be a 5:30 a.m. call tomorrow for another sunrise shoot that I hope to do a little bit of extended hiking into the various canyons. Mike shot this clip this morning; notice the whooa momment at the end when he almost falls over trying to get the 360!
The image below are of two soldiers I met at a tourist site who were assigned to oversee an area called Uchisar. I had gotten off the main path and gone hiking down into a canyon to get some pictures. As I ascended back out I noticed these two guys watching me from above. There were a couple of other tourists who had decended as well but not nearly as far as I had; so I was feeling a little bit uneasy. So when I reached the top and they had not said anything to me I figured all was okie dokie so I asked if they would stand for a picture and of course they were more than happy to! As a matter of fact they were so happy with my picture taking they kept on asking if there was anything they could do for me! They even offered to allow me to climb up their 4 story guard house to get a better picture of the landscape! Like I said in an earlier post, the people here really are very friendly. And overall the number of people harassing us to buy things like postcards and trinkets have been all but non-exsistent.
Anywhere you go where a community is strongly involved with religion, (which is about 90% of the world) the tourist attraction is usually centered around a place of worship. These places of worship are usually home to the most beautiful and interesting buildings (things I love to photograph). So being in a predominantly Muslim coutry means that there are many people who observe the call to prayers… 5 times a day. Which also means that the likelihood of being at a mosque during prayers is pretty high. So here is some footage at Beyazit Mosque. They actually let us sit in the back quietly and observe this afternoon call to prayers! Off to Trabzion tonight.
Another day another observation. I have come to find that the Turks (at least in Istanbul) do love cats here. There are pharoah cats EVERYWHERE you go. And clearly the people here don’t mind them, as a matter of fact they seem to provide endless amounts of entertainment for everyone!
The other big observation? They love tea, coffee and honey. All day long you will see tea being delivered to shop keepers everywhere. And the vast majority of their desserts have honey. Today I had what looked exactly like a Churro. You know those long doughy cinnamony things you get at amusement parks? And most often it is thought to be Mexican of origin (but i think it’s actually from Spain)? well We saw someone selling these on the street and guess what? Forget the sugar, forget the cinnamon. Just soak it in HONEY! oh yes, it was yet another HONEY BOMB! WOW, talk about a jolt of sugar! Here’s a picture of me with the thing!
This is a video clip of the Grand Bazaar. What you see is less than 20% of the market.
Fourth day in Istanbul. First take a look at the video clip below. It’s not a floating restaurant it’s a floating kitchen! Look closely, I’m not rocking the camera it’s the boat that’s rocking. On the left of the boat you see the still dock! Man, do these guys deserve a tip or what? They’re grilling up fish sandwiches and they are grilling them up as fast as they can! There are actually three boats next to one another and they all seem to be sellinng them just as fast. This is crazy! and if you were wondering, the sandwiches were great!
On to the rest of the trip. Well I got over the jet lag right away – yipper! And I’m enjoying my time here in Turkey. My first impressions? I have come to find that it is a place where East and West actually melt together. As I ride the train during rush hour I see the evidence in the faces of the commuters. You can see the greek, the roman, the middle eastern and eastern european blood in these faces. And these Turk faces? They are definitely a group with very…. shall we say three dimensional facial features? It is also a predominantlyÂ caucasian group (like 99%), so I get a decent number of stares when I’m on the train. The melting pot is also evident in every part of the culture: food, dress, architecture and music too. I find it interesting to see the architectural similarities with India as well. It has become very obvious that Turkey was a major part of the silk road.
So unlike visiting the rest of Europe where it’s one cathedral/church after another, or East Asia where it’s one buddhist temple after another, here it’s one mosque after another. They are everywhere, I guess when you have to pray 5 times a day…Â Speaking of which today I got to see the footprint, the sword and I kid you not, clippings from the beard of the Prophet. And in the room next door I saw the right arm and part of the skull of John the Baptist. Unfortunately there will be no accompanying photos to evidence what I witnessed today, as photography was forbidden, so you will have to take my word for it.
Tonight it’s off to ISTANBUL, TURKEY! After spending a lot of time traveling to Asia over the past several years, I decided enough was enough. So it’s Eastern Europe and….. Asia. But at least it’s Western Asia right? I can’t wait to see what’s in store!