Monthly Archives: January 2014

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.

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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

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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

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