Water for Elephants

During my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand this year, I visited the Phutawan Elephant Camp where i get a close encounter with elephants. When we arrived at the camp, we crossed the hanging bridge to get to the other side of the river where the elephants are taking their afternoon baths in the river.  One elephant caught my attention…splashing water, rolling around and just being playful while taking a bath.  Here are some of the photos I took on that day:

Elephant

elephant 2

elephant 3

elephant 4

elephant 5

elephant 6

IMG_0163elephant 9elephant 10elephant 11elephant 12elephant 13

Categories: Asia, Thailand | Tags: | Leave a comment

On taking the next journey…

travel quote

Photo taken in Collingwood Bay, South Island, New Zealand

Travel Quote of the Week: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.”       – Martin Buber

After a few months of rest and recuperation at home from my last humanitarian work in South Sudan, I am finally leaving for my next assignment in another country.  When I was offered the new job, I immediately accepted without researching about my new host country.  I have heard about it in the news as the world’s longest running civil war.  But other than that, I am unaware of its other aspects (such as cultural, geographical, historical, economical among others).   Although I have read the crucial bit of the country’s profile particularly on the security aspect (I know I can just google the information or read from my briefing orientation notes), but I prefer to learn more while in country rather than depending on available literature prior my journey.  I am excited to find out its uniqueness to my previous other host countries and to explore its road less travelled destinations.  It will be another challenging experience for sure, but I know that at the end of it all, I will come back home with new learnings and a much wider perception on how to live life to the fullest.

To all my followers, I apologize once again if I will not be as active as I promised I would be  in blogging this year.  Nevertheless, I will still continue to find time to post once in awhile if my situation permits to do so.

——

Categories: New Zealand, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions, Weekly Travel Quotes | 2 Comments

The Baths of Caracalla: The Ancient Roman Spa

After all the hustle and bustle of sightseeing around Rome, I wanted to get away from tourist groups to spend some quiet time.  I met a few backpackers at the hostel who directed me to places in Rome where there are not too many people in one place at the same time.  One of these places with very few tourists around is the ancient Roman architecture called the Terme di Caracalla better known as the Baths of Caracalla.

Rome

The Baths of Caracalla is essentially divided into 2 sections:  one inside the bath complex and one around it.  Built by Emperor Caracalla in AD 212, the magnitude of the baths were staggering and the buildings enormous.

Rome

About 9000 workers were employed daily for five years just to create the 337 x 328 meters platform.  The baths were not just built for swimming but also as a wellness and sports venue.

Rome

The baths were inaugurated in AD 216 but were only completed after the death of Caracalla.  The whole site was abandoned after the siege of Rome  in AD 537.

Rome

Today, many of the walls are still several stories high giving you an idea of the scale of the establishment.

Rome

There are informative plaques at strategic places showing the original layout.  You can also pay for an audio guide which will help you imagine what it must have been like when it was being used.

Rome

There are quite a few mosaic floor fragments still left as well as some stonework and few frescoes.

Rome

Rome

The Thermae Antoninianae, is considered as one of the largest and best preserved ancient thermal complexes showing the sheer ingenuity of the Roman engineers.  If you are a history and archaeology buff, walking through the ruins would be a nice respite from the crowded tourist attractions in Rome.

Rome

The Baths are south-west of the Colisseum. To go there, I took the 160 bus from Piazza Victtorio which stopped just after the baths.  There was a small street with signs that led me to the main entrance.  I paid 6 Euros for the entrance fee (you have to pay additional 7 Euros for the audio guide).

Rome

More than the history and the ancient archaeological ruins, I particularly enjoyed the garden area.  It is a nice place to stroll or just relax and rest as there are very few people and little or no traffic noise.  I stayed there for awhile just to get away from the tourist crowds.  It was a worthy visit.

Categories: Europe, Italy, Rome | Tags: , | 7 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

IMG_0967

This is my interpretation of last week’s Photo Challenge: Beginning.  When I learned that I will be staying in a tent, camping in remote areas with minimal basic facility or none at all (including shower and toilet!) in South Sudan, I decided to cut my hair short.  I  love having long hair and Ive had it for years.  But because it needed a lot of maintenance care like regular shampoo or conditioning, having a long hair in a hardship condition will not be easy (at least for me as I have the tendency to be very vain when it comes to my long hair!)

This photo is a painful reminder of the sacrifice I made for a humanitarian mission.  It also signifies a beginning for yet another new chapter of my life and a beginning of a new journey…far different from the comfortable material world I live in!

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: | 14 Comments

Images of my 2013 Gasm Travels

Last year, I was able to travel to 3 countries: United Arab Emirates, Morocco and South Sudan. I went to the first two countries for my holiday break while the last one was for humanitarian mission.  It was my first time to visit these countries.

Here are the highlights of my visits:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

One of the things I really enjoyed during my trip to Dubai was watching the spectacular dancing water fountain outside the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa. Walking around during the day was not fun at all for me.  I got blisters from walking under high temperature (it was 50 degrees when I was there!).   The best way to see the city is through its metro.  Most of the metro stations are connected to malls and or tourist attractions.  It is the fastest and cheapest way of seeing the city.  As I wandered around, I was fascinated by the contrast of modern architecture to the traditional architecture.  Dubai’s modern architecture can be described as cosmopolitan with unique architectural designs made of steel, concrete and glass.  The traditional architecture uses limestone building blocks and muds as evident in the residential houses, mosques, forts and souqs.   I also enjoyed the various skyscrapers clustered in three different locations: Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina and the Business Bay district. It is advisable to see the skyscrapers during the day and in the evening.   Aside from the skyscrapers, Dubai is the quintessential home of shopping with so many malls to choose from.  I find electronics and jewelries more cheaper in Dubai than in other countries.  Although, there are also various attractions and tourist destinations within and outside the city,  I did a little exploring on my own and got way off the beaten track.  I discovered many unique places such as shops, alleys and secluded beaches.  My visit to Dubai is definitely one ‘gasm’ experience!

morocco

MARRAKESH, Morocco

My visit to Morocco is more of a photographic journey than a mere holiday trip.  In Marrakesh, I enjoyed staying at the Place Jemaa El Fna, the heart of the old Medina (old city). I spent more time exploring the main square and the nearby souks.  It was hectic and crazy, filled with motorscooters, donkey carts, horse drawn carriages, snake charmers, hash-sellers, fortune tellers, food stalls, cafes, vendors and tourists.  Once I was inside the walled city, I was engulfed in the bustle and flurry of the sights, smells and sounds of Marrakesh and the combination of stunning historical and cultural heritage.  I met a real herbalist and learned a lot about tea, spices and herbs.  Together with my travel buddy, we went on a food trip at the square and ate different variety of tangines, one of the most famous Moroccan main dishes.  We also had a day tour of the city through its city tour bus to see the contrast of the old and new medina.    The old medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history while the new medina is more of a European modern district with 5 star hotels, big shopping malls, fastfoods and a variety of restaurants.

We also toured Essaouira, a charming and vibrant port and seaport town, about 3 hours drive from Marrakesh.  Despite the strong European influence, Essaouira was able to preserve its 18th century contemporary architecture in a North African context.  I particularly enjoyed walking at the Kasbah’s Sqala, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site which has a remarkable view of the port and the Atlantic coastline. I also got lost while wandering at the old medina and souks and ended up in a maze of blind alleys where I discovered some of Morocco’s best craftsmen.  Since I came from a landlocked country and living in hardship condition during my humanitarian mission, I spent more time relaxing at a seaside bar by the beach.   Essaouira is watersport’s paradise, a perfect location for kitesurfing and windsurfing.  With its subtle beauty, unspoilt sands and wonderfully slow pace of life,  Essaouira was a great relief from the madness of Marrakesh.

On the way to our Sahara Dessert tour, we crossed the picturesque High Atlas Mountains passing by the Col du Tichka with an altitude of 2260 m.  This part of Morocco looked like another country.  The landscape was amazing.  I felt like I was floating in the air while standing at the highest peak on top of the mountain.  Then we visited Ourzazate, the Gate of the Desert.  People here are mainly the traditional indigenous tribe called Berber.  It is a popular tourist town, home to the world’s largest film studio, the Atlas Film Studios.  Several Hollywood movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and The Mummy were shot here.  30 km away from Ouarzazate is the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, another UNSECO World Heritage Site in Morocco. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat with houses built entirely of earthen materials with rich red mud plaster.  The houses crowd together within the defensive walls with high angle towers dating from the 17th century.  Its stunning location was where one of the Star Wars movies was filmed.  Most of the tourists find it exciting to walk the same streets as their favorite movie stars once did.  This part of our trip was well worth every minute spent here not to mention the photographic opportunity in each and every corner of the Ksar.

Morocco

CENTRAL, EASTERN and WESTERN EQUATORIA, South Sudan

Although my stay in South Sudan was work related, I was privileged to be able to see three different states aside from its capital, Juba.  South Sudan was my first humanitarian assignment in hardship location.  To be able to serve the newest country in the world was a humbling experience, something I will never trade for anything else.  It was one of my best if not the greatest experience in my life.  For more of my humanitarian experience in South Sudan, visit this link: Wandering the Road Less Travelled: My Humanitarian Missions.

South Sudan

Categories: Africa, Asia, Dubai, Morocco, South Sudan, United Arab Emirates | 4 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Joy

One of the joys of working in Africa is interacting with the local communities in rural villages.  In South Sudan, local people, old and young, greet each other by shaking hands.  They are always curious as to the purpose of my visit.  Some would even stop by to chat with me asking about my country or other personal stuff like are you married, why you don’t have children etc.  Often I am mistaken as Chinese.  They greet me with Ni Hao (Hello in Chinese) or call me simply as China.

But what I like the most is when children excitedly shout Khawaja everytime they see me driving or strolling around the village.  Khawaja is the term that South Sudanese use to refer to foreigners particularly white people.  It is always a joy to hear children shouting Khawaja while waving at me with a big smile.  I am the only expatriate in my team, hence, I get all the attention.

One time, we passed by a primary school and students aged 4-7 were all waving at me shouting Khawaja.  On the way back, we decided to visit the school to conduct a mine risk education.  As soon as the car stopped, about a hundred children rushed towards the car all eager to see me.  I was mobbed by children all wanting to have a glimpse of the Khawaja!  Some even wanted to touch me and shake my hand.  Luckily the teachers came on time and asked them to go back to their classrooms. Before I left, I taught them how to do the flying kiss gesture.  Since then, everytime I pass by that village, children would greet me with a flying kiss.

However, in far flung areas, this is not the case.  Since white people are rarely seen in the area, young children are scared of me.  One time, we were mobilizing the community members for another mine risk education, when about 4 young children passed by.  I called them to join us.  As I approached the children, they were so scared that they started crying (shrieking actually) and ran away as if they have just seen a zombie walking.   The adults were laughing at me.

There was also one time where I heard one boy asking my colleague whether I am a man or a woman because I was in jeans and wearing a cap.   South Sudanese women always wear dresses, sarongs or skirts, rarely you will see them wearing trousers.

Children in the main town are more welcoming.  They are always excited to greet me usually asking me to take a photo of them.

So for these week’s photo challenge, I am going to feature photos that show JOY.  Here are some of the children I have befriended during my field work.  They were the ones who requested me to take photos of them and film them while they sing a song for me.  It was a joy to watch as they show off and pose for the camera.  They were so happy when they saw their photos and videos.

Joy

Joy

Joy

Joy

Here is the video I took of my little friends as they embodied life’s simple joys.

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , | 17 Comments

On reminiscing one’s journey…….

DSC07730 by susanmaedetera
A photo by susanmaedetera on Flickr.

Travel Quote of the Week:  “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Whenever we see on television, movies or magazines the images of places we have visited in the past, all the memories come back again.   For instance, just this morning I was watching the Globe Trekker at Travel and Leisure Channel when they featured Venice in one of the segments about Italy.  As the host toured the viewers around the city, I remember not just how i have seen it but also how i felt at that time, what I did in that particular place,  what special food i ate during my stay and how i explored the city.  A rush of memories came flooding back.  Suddenly, as I continue to watch, I remember vividly almost everything that happened to me during my Venice holiday trip in the summer of 2012.

Sometimes, it is not just the things that we see in a place that makes our stay more memorable.  It is also the experiences such as embarrassing or funny moments that happened during our travels.  Sometimes having bloopers and making a fool of ourselves can make our trip more extraordinary.  In Marrakesh, I treated myself to an expensive lunch at a high end cafe.  I always carry with me extra money in my secret pocket that is why I was confident to order pricey dishes from the menu.  After all, I only do this once in every trip.  When I was about to pay, I forgot that I finished all my money in my wallet from shopping.  I also forgot that I did not bring my extra money and left my card at the hotel so that I will not exceed my shopping budget.  (I am an impulsive buyer, so I am mindful of my expenses every time I plan to buy souvenirs especially at crafts market).  I was so humiliated when I asked the waiter if I could go to my hotel to get some money and come back later.  Surprisingly, he said just go.  I was not sure whether he understood me because he was speaking in French (and my French is so bad!).  I offered to leave my belongings behind to ensure him that I am coming back.  He gestured to me to leave.   I left running towards the hotel to get money.  Midway down my hotel street, it rained hard.  Everyone ran for shelter except me.  I was so scared that the waiter might not have understood me and will call the police.  So I ran…and ran….and ran…in the rain.  I will forever remember Place Jemaa El Fna in Marrakesh with that image of me running towards the hotel while carrying shopping bags like some crazy woman being pursued by police officers! LOL!

Aside from experience, your feelings or emotional state during your travels is what makes you remember the place you have visited.  It was in Sydney when my ex boyfriend broke up with me.  We were both there for a holiday.  Prior to the trip, we were already having problems.  I thought that the trip might save our relationship.  The fighting intensified.  It was the worst holiday ever.  Every time I see the Opera House or the Taronga Zoo, i am reminded by not the beauty of the place but how I cried and cried while walking around…i was lost in my own emotional state that I do not remember much of the things that Ive seen in the city.

People we met along the way (unexpectedly!) also make our trip more memorable.  While on the way to Brussels from Amsterdam, I met different interesting people on the train.  There was a major train accident and I had to find my way back to Brussels as I cannot afford to miss my train to Paris the next day.  Luckily, I met few Samaritans along the way.  One Dutch young woman, helped me to find a different route.  While on the train,  she asked me about my travels.  When she learned that I am from a developing country, she asked me bluntly, how I could afford to travel in Europe when I am from a very poor country where all people are so poor.  I told her that just like in her country, there are some people who cannot afford to travel despite being in a rich country! (Of course I explained later on how I worked and saved hard for my Europe Dream Tour!)  :) On another train, I met another Dutch lady named Anika.  She was in her mid 40’s.  We chatted endlessly.  She shared so much about her life, her family, her love life (she got divorced twice!) her struggles as a victim of domestic abuse and how she is finding her own self again after being separated from her ex-husband.  So when I do get the chance to go back again to Amsterdam, I will be reminded of the people I met on the train.

There are other factors that make us remember a place we visited in the past such as the local food, local music, different culture etc.  But for me, I want my travels to be more meaningful aside from being unforgettable because this is what will make me remember more than what I have seen.    As the saying goes, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

How about you?  How do you remember your travels?

—-

Photo taken at Christchurch Botanical Garden in New Zealand with my friend, RC.

Categories: Weekly Travel Quotes | 6 Comments

Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, a tsunami generated by a 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean slammed into the coastline of 11 countries including countries from East Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.  The quake created 50-foot waves onto the shores of the affected countries resulting to about 150,000 casualties making it the most destructive tsunami in history.

9 months after the tsunami, I went to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, Eastern part of Sri Lanka and in Central Thailand to produce a documentary film on the rehabilitation efforts of humanitarian organizations that have not been given much attention by the international media.

Almost all the countries situated around the Bay of Bengal were affected by the tsunami. In India, the most affected is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprising of 572 islands out of which 38 are inhabited.  Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located right at the center of Bay of Bengal just north of the earthquake epicenter causing extensive damage to the Andaman Islands.

In Port Blair, the capital mainland, most of the areas were still submerged in water.

Asia Tsunami

Asian Tsunami

What was used to be an agricultural land area, the tsunami has turned it into a lake of seawater.  Instead of the farmers plowing their rice fields, they fished for food.

Asian Tsunami

We also travelled to Little Andaman, one of the most affected islands about 10-hour boat ride from the mainland.  It was my most scariest boat ride ever!  While at sea, we experienced heavy rain, almost like a big storm. I thought we were going to die as big waves splashed through our old dilapidated boat.  People were vomiting everywhere.  I and my crew decided to go up the deck as there was no ventilation inside.  We were drenched from the combination of rain and big splashes of waves (I was imagining how we will survive if a tsunami happens at that moment!).

Asian Tsunami

At the deck, after the big storm

Little Andaman was not quite lucky compared to other Andaman Islands.  The entire island was ravaged.

Asian Tsunami

Almost a year after, clearing operation still left unfinished.  It was as if the tsunami has just happened the day before we arrived the island instead of 9 months ago.  There were still fallen trees blocking the roads, debris scattered everywhere and people have no permanent housing built yet by the government at the time of our visit.

Asian Tsunami

Due to logistical challenges, the rehabilitation process was way too slow.  Most of the humanitarian organizations operating in Little Andaman were from religious sectors such as the Catholic Church.

Asian Tsunami

The most primitive tribes in the world live in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  They have little contact with the outside world.  It was reported that most of the indigenous people have escaped the disaster because they live on higher ground or far from the coast.  Some believed that it was because of their oral tradition which taught them how to flee into the hills or elevated areas if the earth shakes that saved their lives.

Most of the deaths in the islands were recent settlers or immigrants.  We visited some of the affected communities and interviewed some of the survivors. We were also able to reach one of the indigenous tribes but we were not allowed to take photos.

In commemorating the 9th year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami today, here are some of the photos of the tsunami victims whose stories of survival, resiliency and hope have touched me immensely.

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Categories: Asia, India, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Christmas Message of Thanks

xmas greetings

During Christmas we give good wishes for people we care and love.  We send Christmas wishes messages through email, text or Christmas card and or by giving gifts.  We wish them peace, love and happiness this Christmas and more blessings for the coming year.

This year I have so many things to thank for.  I received many blessings and met new friends during my travels.  I received so much love and support during my hardship in my last deployment including from my wordpress community.  Since Christmas is celebrated at the end of the year, I think that this is the perfect time to say thank you too to all those people who have touched our lives this year.

So instead of the usual Christmas greetings and wishes, I would like to thank everyone who have supported me and accompanied me in my journey this year.  To my colleagues in South Sudan particularly the local staff and my team, it was a pleasure working with you all.  Thank you for taking care of me at the camp and for your generosity and warm welcome. It was a humbling experience to have served your country and to have contributed to the peace and development of the newest country in the world.

To my family and friends all over the world who have continuously supported me when I was living in hardship condition in the second most difficult place to live on earth…..thank  you, your messages of concern have lifted my spirit and have comforted me in many ways.

Lastly, to my loyal followers and blog visitors, thank you for still being there despite of my long absence in the blogging community.   Now I am more than inspired to post and share more adventures and gasm travels in the coming new year!

Thanking all those who have helped and supported me this year is what for me the true meaning of Christmas.  How about you? Have you found the genuine meaning of this joyful celebration?

—–

Image attached is a painting I did for a friend.  I attended this Christmas party and took a photo of Santa with my friend’s cute daughter.  I then painted it using watercolor.  So yes, another passion of mine aside from travel and photography is painting.  If you want to see more of my paintings, I have recently featured a few in one of my posts, Letting Go.

Categories: Unexpected Recognitions, Watercolor Painting | Tags: | 4 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: One

This week’s photo challenge is about establishing a focal point such as photos that focus on one thing.  Here is my entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge: One.

I took this photo at a botanical garden in Christchurch, New Zealand with my friend, RC, who was touring me around her new hometown.  I was so fascinated with this ornamental plant with strange white petals and little yellow buds in the middle.  I wanted to make it stand out without using the DOF effect or blurring the background.  So I asked RC to hold one flower.  This is another way of drawing the eye of a viewer to your point of interest or focal point that you want to highlight.  What do you think? Did it work out well?

New Zealand flower

Categories: Australia, Christchurch, New Zealand, Oceania, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , | 15 Comments

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