Tag Archives: travel

A Quick Trip to India

14 May

Overnight trains, sweet lassis, glass bangles clanging, swimming with elephants, repelling down canyon walls. I just returned from India, land of colours and crowds, bindis and bangra. Over three weeks four friends and I visited the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur) and then headed down for a relaxing week on the beaches of Goa. It was a great first trip, though it will have to be a first. India is not a sub-continent for nothing; I only saw a very small slice of this diverse and fascinating country.

Having lived in a developing country myself for the past year and a half it was interesting to see a country that has moved so much farther ahead of its counterparts. While other tourists commented on the “mysticism” of India, the “simplicity” of life coupled with the crazy honking cars, and large crowds, I really heard them commenting on the “mysticism” of poverty.  That culture shock doesn’t hit me anymore. What I saw was where a country like Ethiopia could be in 30? 40? 50? years.

But enough on the larger themes of development and travel. What did I do? What did I see? How much did I spend on pretty things? Well, I had some amazing experiences (see photos below), saw some huge castles and forts (and the Taj Mahal), and too much. I spent too much. And yet still came out under budget (the magic of rupies).

So if you’re planning a trip, and you happen to be going to any of the above mentioned cities, here are some things you absolutely must do:

Delhi

Bike tour of the city. We rode bikes through the crooked alleyways and markets of old Delhi and through the grand architecture and colonial houses of newer Delhi. They also ended with an amazing lunch.

Alyssa excited to go biking

Alyssa excited to go biking

Flower market in Delhi

Flower market in Delhi

Us Girls

Us Girls

This is 7am. This is "not busy" at the Spice Market

This is 7am. This is “not busy” at the Spice Market

The Red Fort

The Red Fort

Agra

We hired a driver for the day who took us to many more sites than we would have thought to visit. For 600 rupies (split between 5 of us) it was very much worth it.

 

The Agra Fort

The Agra Fort

amazing detail work

amazing detail work

Every fort had some sort of palace in it

Every fort had some sort of palace in it

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because we are too cute

because we are too cute

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The baby taj! or some other mosoleum

The baby taj! or some other mosoleum

There it is!

There it is!

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not paint, actual inlaid marble.

not paint, actual inlaid marble.

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Jaipur

We spent a week in Jaipur. You could probably do it in a couple days. But you most definitely have to do Elephantastic! We fed, rode, painted and swam with rescued elephants who live in one of two elephant villages in the world (the other is in Thailand). We also took a day tour of the sights of Jaipur including some of the forts, silk printing and an observatory park. We also did some major shopping here.

It was amazing to be this close to the elephants

It was amazing to be this close to the elephants

we fed them by their trunks

we fed them by their trunks

His name was Raja. He was rescued from a circus.

His name was Raja. He was rescued from a circus.

This is how we got on their backs

This is how we got on their backs

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Our masterpiece

Our masterpiece

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Swimming with elephants!

Swimming with elephants!

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

The Albert Museum, so many birds!

The Albert Museum, so many birds!

a painting of Krishna

a painting of Krishna

so. many. bangles.

so. many. bangles.

The Jaipur observatory

The Jaipur observatory

horoscope lines

horoscope lines

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silk block printing

silk block printing

A view from the Amber Fort

A view from the Amber Fort

Mirror Palace... the whole thing was covered in glass and mirrors.

Mirror Palace… the whole thing was covered in glass and mirrors.

need I say more?

need I say more?

Goa

Goa is actually a region, not a city, but we managed to ride public transportation up and down for hours doing awesome things. In the south, near a city called Palolem, we went canyoning (repelling and jumping into to pools of water in the jungle). In the north, we visited Anjuna, a hippy town and host to one of the largest flea markets in the region- so many hippies. And we stayed in a town called Benaulim, with white sand beach for miles. We also visited some temples, a spice farm, and generally got our tan (ahem, sunburn) on.

At the Spice Farm, with our bindis

At the Spice Farm, with our bindis

Cashew harvesting by climbing palms

Cashew harvesting by climbing palms

local liquor - fenny. Rough.

local liquor – fenny. Rough.

getting my traditional dance on

getting my traditional dance on

Benaulim Beach

Benaulim Beach

Breanne got some henna

Breanne got some henna

Canyoning!

Canyoning!

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this is me, free falling... because the rope was too short! not. cool.

this is me, free falling… because the rope was too short! not. cool.

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temple in the jungle

temple in the jungle

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I was on vacation. what of it?

I was on vacation. what of it?

Giant flea market in Anjuna

Giant flea market in Anjuna

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Timket 2.0

11 Feb

Living here for two years you get a few chances to see holiday celebrations. Is this craziness typical? What exactly is a tobat? Do I really have to get up at 3am? These are the questions you have a year to mull over before diving in to the second time on a holiday. This is my second Timket in Gondar. And it’s just as crazy as last year.

watching the parade

watching the parade

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on the way to the bath

on the way to the bath

Priest with an i-pad... yup.

Priest with an i-pad… yup.

Per usual, we started the day before with a parade of the arcs of the covenant down from the 44 Orthodox churches in town. Though not as much of a spectacle as last year, there were just as many people walking right in front of my house.

A priest pouring holy water float

A priest pouring holy water float

We woke up at 2:45am (learned our lesson from last year) and went down to the baths to get good seats on the rickety platforms. Lucky for us, this year they reserved seats for tourists so we just pretended not to speak Amharic for a day. Last year I was right in amongst the crowds, but this year we were more separated. I’m glad I got to experience both. Being in the thick of things last year was a great introduction to my community and the culture. This year, after living her for a while, ya…. I deserved the breather.

dawn prayer

dawn prayer

Fasil Bath at Night

Fasil Bath at Night

waiting for the service

waiting for the service

The rickety platforms

The rickety platforms

Timket in Gondar!

Timket in Gondar!

Timket is Gondar at its best and worst. People travel from all over Ethiopia to worship at the baths, as well as see the sights. A bazaar is set up the week before, tour companies pick up all sorts of business, and professional pickpockets from Addis come up to take advantage. The ceremony is both spiritual and chaotic. Young men jump in with no thought to the significance – one almost fell in before the water was blessed. But as the ceremony moves from religious to more generally cultural, we still get to experience a very unique part of Ethiopian life. This year many of the PCVs who visited jumped in to the pool! I declined, knowing from last year how cold it would be.

 

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jumping in!

jumping in!

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

in the holy water

in the holy water

so. cold.

so. cold.

climbing the trees to get a good view - too bad they aren't sycamores, that would have been perfect

climbing the trees to get a good view – too bad they aren’t sycamores, that would have been perfect

Seeing this holiday for the second time, I’ve come to realize how much I really have integrated into life here. Hearing the questions other tourists were asking their guides, I felt pretty knowledgeable. We knew where to go, when to go, and who to schmooze. I ran in to many many friends and acquaintances. It really is a community holiday, and on some level I’m really part of the community now.

so many visitors

so many visitors

priests at service

priests at service

More Portraits

27 Jan

It’s been a while since I posted some portraits, but since I just went all touristy all over Africa I had my trusty camera in hand. Here are some of my favorite photos of people over the past month, Ethiopian and Tanzanian.

a long way from home

a long way from home

siblings on Zanzibar

siblings on Zanzibar

Stonetown slave monument

Stonetown slave monument

Masai schoolchildren

Masai schoolchildren

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in the Masai village

in the Masai village

an inviting smile

an inviting smile

Masai women

Masai women

a safari photo

a safari photo

The perfect Timket view

The perfect Timket view

Yemrehanos Kristos monastery by candlelight

Yemrehanos Kristos monastery by candlelight

roadblock

roadblock

through the trenches of Lalibela

through the trenches of Lalibela

on the steps of Bet Giorgis Church

on the steps of Bet Giorgis Church

it's been a long day

it’s been a long day

a friendly priest

a friendly priest

hermit on pilgrimage

hermit on pilgrimage

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A priest in Lalibela

A priest in Lalibela

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In her Sunday best

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Threshing wheat outside Gondar

Threshing wheat outside Gondar

following the Arc of the Covenant

following the Arc of the Covenant

waiting for the parade

waiting for the parade

a PCV at Timket

a PCV at Timket

dawn prayer

dawn prayer

Timket boys

Timket boys

Playing Tourist – The Rock Churches of Lalibela

21 Jan

Christmas Day I walked through the bowels of hell to come out into the light on the other side. Dramatic, non? Well, that’s just how you get around in Lalibela, Ethiopia – tunnels, trenches, on your knees in caves and alcoves. Heading East after the first few days in Ethiopia, my family and I set out to see some of the most impressive monolithic architecture in the world. This is national Geographic stuff people.

At Bet Giorgis, the most famous rock hewn church

At Bet Giorgis, the most famous rock hewn church

through the trenches of Lalibella

through the trenches of Lalibella

my dad at one of the entrances

my dad at one of the entrances

The columns were carved so straight in lines

The columns were carved so straight in lines

Over two days we toured the three compounds of the rock churches in Lalibela, monolithic ones (freestanding), ones that had three sides exposed and one wall attached to the “mother rock,” and cave churches (similar the buildings in Petra, Jordan). Though the monolithic churches were impressive, the passageways, trenches and sheer number of buildings (11 built in just 24 years) made the whole experience unbelievable. King, or Saint, depending on who you talk to, Lalibela built his 11 churches as a 2nd Jerusalem, a place of pilgrimage for African Christians in the 6th or 7th century. Most certainly religious in nature, these churches are still active (with the pilgrims to prove it). The architectural and engineering feet brought the center of Ethiopian political power to Lalibela during that time nonetheless. Today, Lalibela is still a small town, boasting only about 35,000 people, but during holidays like Genna (Ethiopian Christmas on January 7th) the town grows to accommodate 3, 4, even 5 times that size.

praying on the wall, including an ancient swastica style cross

praying on the wall, including an ancient swastika style cross

A priest with his cross

A priest with his cross

around sunset the lichen glows yellow on Bet Giorgis

around sunset the lichen glows yellow on Bet Giorgis

typical Ethiopian Orthodox painting of Mary and Jesus

typical Ethiopian Orthodox painting of Mary and Jesus

wax candles

wax candles

My family and I visited over Christmas, the ferenji kind, December 25th, so not that much was going on. Pilgrims were starting to come in to the town for the big event two weeks later, but really we got a front row seat to these churches. Though orthodoxy really doesn’t come close to my family’s version of Protestantism at all, it was still a powerful experience to walk through and see all the devotion.

an orthodox priest who told me that visiting Lalibela would mean 7 generations of my children would be blessed because it is the 2nd Jerusalem. When I told I had been to the 1st Jerusalem, he changed that number to 14 generations.

an orthodox priest who told me that visiting Lalibela would mean 7 generations of my children would be blessed because it is the 2nd Jerusalem. When I told I had been to the 1st Jerusalem, he changed that number to 14 generations.

A priest with his cross

A priest with his cross

wind erosion

wind erosion

me and the brothers

me and the brothers

priest's drums to accompany the chanting. The leather lashes represent the lashes of the whip on Jesus' back.

priest’s drums to accompany the chanting. The leather lashes represent the lashes of the whip on Jesus’ back.

some amazing carvings and an old Star of David. There is a lot of connection to Jewish history in Ethiopia

some amazing carvings and an old Star of David. There is a lot of connection to Jewish history in Ethiopia

a hermit on pillgrimage

a hermit on pillgrimage

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these trenches provide paths and drainage

these trenches provide paths and drainage

On our second day in Lalibela we took a drive up to Yemrihane Kristos monastery about 40 km north of the town. The monastery is still active as a religious school and houses a few different buildings in a large ivy covered cave.  The priest showed us the carvings by candlelight, bringing us back to when they were first built. Just living in Ethiopia tends to bring you back to Biblical times, with farmers threshing wheat by hand, livestock running over the open air markets and huts that make my theater sets look sturdy. But going through the same unchanged churches and monasteries that people have worshiped in for centuries really brought me back in time.

Ancient Tukul Bets raised and made from stone. Usually they are sticks and mud.

Ancient Tukul Bets raised and made from stone. Usually they are sticks and mud.

our van needed a little help on the sandy roads

our van needed a little help on the sandy roads

Yemrehana Kristos Monastery is in that ivy covered cave

Yemrehana Kristos Monastery is in that ivy covered cave

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Mummies in the monastery

Mummies in the monastery

Yemrehanna Kristos by candelight

Yemrehanna Kristos by candelight

Very different from the historical tours in the Gondar, this was the last stop on our Ethiopian tour. In total we spent just under a week in Ethiopia, which my mom called the “real Africa” part of the trip. Considering how different the culture here is from the rest of Africa, it’s an interesting moniker, but I get what she means. Tanzania was luxury and animals. In Ethiopia I threw my family into the thickest of Ethiopian culture, history, food and even a little language. Recently Ethiopia has been popping up all over the place on top travel lists and best bang for your buck tourism. My home is open!

Why Did the [Blank] Cross the Road? – Adventures traveling by car in Africa.

9 Jan

The Crozier family came to visit for the holidays. We spent a little less than a week in Ethiopia, visiting my town Gondar and then seeing the historic monolithic rock hewn churches of Lalibella. Next we jetted down to Tanzania for a week long safari and a few days on Zanzibar Island. I’ll get into more details on all these adventures in later posts, but for now I thought I’d illuminate a funny theme of the trip – animals crossing the road. Our safaria hit all the highlights, the Big 5 (elephants, leopard, buffalo, lions, and even rhinocerous), and plenty of other typically crazy looking savannah creatures. We were guests in their territory, bouncing along on barely used roads. The animals walked where they wanted, and so – a theme post! and a preview of the amazing photos to come.

leapin'

leapin’

BABY ELEPHANT!!!!

BABY ELEPHANT!!!!

 

Stompin'

Stompin’

swaggerin' (impala)

swaggerin’ (impala)

struttin'

struttin’

amblin'

amblin’

gallopin' (Thompson Gazelle)

gallopin’ (Thompson Gazelle)

Migratin' (wildebeast)

Migratin’ (wildebeast)

slitherin' (this snake was probably over 3 ft long)

slitherin’ (this snake was probably over 3 ft long)

water buffalo herdin'

water buffalo herdin’

Panorama of the Serengetti Plains

Panorama of the Serengetti Plains

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Saunterin'

Saunterin’

Blue Monkey

Blue Monkey

Strollin'

Strollin’

More to come!

Hyenas and Harar

31 Aug
Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

I just returned from a quick weekend trip to the old city of Harar on the East side of Ethiopia. Close to the Somalia border, Harar is the 4th Holiest City in Islam and the root of much of Islamic culture in Ethiopia. Having lived in a highly Orthodox area for the past year, it was a nice break and a trip down memory lane to my time in Jordan. The old city of Harar had a much more middle eastern feel and some more recognizable market spices.

Harar is the site where a part of the Umma (original muslim community in Arabia) immigrated for refuge from the Mecca – Medina conflict in the late 600s. The ruler of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) opened his doors to the Muslims and started the tradition of religious tolerance in Ethiopia. Islam is the second largest religion here after the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam - the old city boast 88 mosques

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam – the old city boasts 88 mosques

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Representing Peace Corps as I walk through Showa Gate

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Women selling chat – a leaf chewed by many Ethiopians with the equivalent effect of the cocoa leaf. It is very common in Muslims communities.

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A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

Picking up a guide for a tour of the old city we walked through ancient city walls and toured some of the local homes and more famous residents of the town. Haile Selassie used to have a “palace” here (Ras Tefari’s house), and the interior decor of the homes was famously “Harari.” Tasting street food along the way (I am in Peace Corps after all), we finished the afternoon  with some Hakim Stout – the local brew.

Ras Taferi's house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Ras Taferi’s house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari's house

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari’s house

A typical Harari home

A typical Harari home – these pots get taken down to entertain

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Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

The main attraction in Harar though are the famous “hyena men.” These local guys sit outside the city walls every night around sunset to feed wild hyenas fatty camel meat. These hyenas have basically been domesticated over years of guaranteed food, and consistent feeding has made them huge! I did not realize just how big these animals would be. I thought big dogs, the reality was more like small bears. But, I screwed up my courage and we all volunteered to feed them ourselves, with help from the hyena man.

A very clear "what the hell am I doing with my life" face

A very clear “what the hell am I doing with my life” face

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Carmen is BRAVE!

Carmen is BRAVE!

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This is one of my first trips outside my immediate region, and it was great to see a very different part of Ethiopia with different culture, food, and infrastructure. After Harar I headed down to the Southern Nations to do a training in a city called Butajira for the new group of education volunteers. So over a few days I was able to see the Harar region and a part of the south, expanding my understanding of Ethiopia as a whole.

Video

The Drive to Desie and Back: Settling In

2 Jan

Happy New Year!
(and belated Merry Christmas!)

2012 has been crazy! And moving in to my site right at the end of it was the perfect summation of the huge amount of change, adventure and starting over I have done this year. This past week has been a whirlwind of meeting people for work and in my neighborhood, setting up my house, and hosting other traveling volunteers. Because my site is a big cultural and historical city for Ethiopia, many volunteers (and volunteer’s families- wahoo free meals!) come through at some point in their 2 years to check it out. Looks like I will have a much fuller social schedule than the average volunteer (not a problem for me!)

But before I even arrived in Gonder, I got to travel across northern Amhara through the Ethiopian countryside, moving from lowlands to highlands and into the Great Rift Valley to close up shop in my previous site, Dessie. Traveling across Ethiopia is simply breathtaking. Imagine driving through 5 Grand Canyons, past a few Devil’s Towers, into the Rockies while passing some Nebraskan farm fields along the way, but all in the space of New England, or half of Colorado. There is no way to describe it and photos cannot do it justice, but I put together a short video anyway. This is just North Amhara- the Oromia Region (Ethiopia’s breadbasket) Tigray (Sub-Saharan Desert) and Southern Nations (Hammer Tribe and more typically “African” tribes) offer an even wider array of scenery! Enjoy!

Nooks and Crannies

13 Nov

This update is going to sound like an advertisement for Thomas’s English muffins. And maybe this is because about 70% of my thoughts are about food, but I promise there is a point, bear with me.

This past week I visited the town that will be my work site and home for the next two years. So I went in with a “you will like it or die trying” attitude. I think the mantra helped.

My site, Dessie, is large town of about 200,000 nestled between/on/in/around/under/through Mount Tossa (thyme in Amharic). They say it was designed by a blind man if that gives you any clue to how very nestled we are. The walk up to my house from my work is literally a 45 degree angle hike up a mountain. I highly doubt Peace Corps will be able to get a car up there with my luggage… I will be the fittest volunteer in Ethiopia. The pro to this, besides the exercise, is that nobody would bother walking up that way unless they lived there so I won’t have any strangers hanging around. And of course the view. I live above the clouds.

The eight hour drive from Addis Ababa to Dessie is breathtaking. A road through flatlands, mountains, valleys, cliffs, and farms, the only way I can describe the topography of Ethiopia is as a Thomas’s English muffin. The sheer cliffs and mountains drop so suddenly into valleys and steppes that it literally looks like the pastry’s nooks and crannies. I apologize for the lack of photos in this blog so far, my internet access has always been shorter than I want.

On the road from Addis to Dessie, an attempt to capture the landscape

But this week also produced some other realizations about culture, physical space and my place here that fit oh so nicely into the nooks and crannies theme. Moving into my house and beginning to meet my landlord’s family I started to understand the spaces, both big and small that I would be occupying in the compound and their lives. Right now I am the new exciting thing, but all I want is to be boring and ordinary. I never realized how much we prize privacy in my culture until I had none at all. I take my private moments in fits and starts- on a walk to work, sitting in café, the few minutes before I fall asleep. Squeezing my personal preferences and idiosyncrasies around the already established norm, I will settle into new routines and develop relationships that compromise the halves of a mismatched muffin.

While I am still dipping in and out of cultural nooks and crannies, I will also need to find my place and purpose in work and with my site specific reasons for volunteering here. It was nice to meet my coworkers and possible partners over the next two years, but it is clear I will be in and out of projects and organizations, providing bridges and weaving relationships, navigating the mountains and valleys of the professional bureaucracy.

The view from my office at the Aids Resource Center in Dessie

Finally I need to literally fit in the physical nooks and crannies. Attempting to return to my training site on my own yielded a very harsh lesson in safety and physical space. I already know that I am just about four inches too tall for any bus in Ethiopia. When my knees are hitting my chin, my elbow is behind my head, and there are five people in a seat made for three, a three hour bus ride feels like five. But when this is preceded by fights at the bus station (typical) where I am grabbed and shoved away from boarding (atypical) I do sometimes wish I was 4’2”.

But the best part of an English muffin is the juxtaposition of a crunchy toasted peak next to a buttery pool in the cranny. What makes this experience worth it is both the highs and the lows, the mistakes and the education, to form a more complete delicious whole. I probably could have made the same analogy with the bubbles in injera, but I eat so much of that I wanted to leave it alone for a while.

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