Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Last Sunday, December 15, heavy fighting broke out in Juba, the capital of the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Hundreds of people have been killed and about 20,000 seek refuge at two UN campuses.  According to the Human Rights Watch, there is likely that the fighting can lead to civil war as South Sudanese soldiers and rebels have executed people based on their ethnicity. About 500 people have already been killed and the fighting have now reached other states in the country.

As I continue to monitor the situation in the news, I thought of the times when I felt that sense of community among South Sudanese despite of their different ethnicity. The only thing that I can think of is working with my Community Liaison team in the field. I am the only expatriate and the only woman in my team. My local colleagues belong to different tribes and ethnic background. Seeing them coexist as teammates, workmates and eventually as close friends is a joy to watch. It is even more exciting everytime we camp together with the technical team whose members are mostly soldiers with different ethnic background. They play football and cards together, watch football match together, they eat and share meals together, they camp together and travel together. They often teach me the differences in their beliefs and tradition without being offensive to one another. There is always that sense of belongingness and identification as one people – as South Sudanese.

This week’s Photo Challenge allows us to interpret the word COMMUNITY in any way we want. As a way of tribute to my South Sudanese friends and colleagues, I am featuring that sense of community I witnessed in South Sudan to show to the world that amidst the fighting and tribal wars happening in the country, there is still the presence of ethnic diversity among its people — that feeling of oneness and belongingness where one matter to one another.

In particular, I am going to share one of my experiences…one that I will forever remember during my deployment on field with my team. We often travel in convoy, usually in two cars or more if the technical team are with us. I love seeing our land rover vehicles in convoy cruising in the countryside. We are always mindful of following our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) when traveling because of the insecurities in the areas we go to. Often, we communicate via radio to check one another making sure that we don’t lose sight of each other while on convoy. Because of the bad condition of roads in the country, we often encounter road accidents along the way which makes us stranded for more than an hour sometimes almost the whole day stuck in the middle of nowhere. This is where I often see the spirit of communal unity and cooperation among my local colleagues as well as with the nearby communities.

One day, we were on convoy with the technical team (about 5 cars) heading to a far flung village when we encountered a road accident. A truck was stuck in the middle of the road blocking our way. My men hurriedly went down to check the situation.

south sudan

They immediately offered to help.

south sudan

Two of our vehicles got stuck also when we tried to maneuvered to the side of the road.  The road was muddy and slippery with huge puddles everywhere. This is always the case when it is rainy season.

South Sudan

Nearby villagers also volunteered to help. It was a sight to behold. South Sudanese of different tribes and ethnic background working as one community.

South Sudan

After all our vehicles managed to pass by, everyone cheered, shaking hands and hugging each other for a job well done.

As the new conflict arises in the country, my prayers goes to my colleagues and friends hoping that they will remain to be the way they used to be — as one family, one community.

There are several images that I wanted to share but I opted not to show them in public to keep the identity of my South Sudanese colleagues.

For more on the current situation of the South Sudan Unrest, please visit UNMISS Videos on YouTube.  Here is one of the videos uploaded:


Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: | 3 Comments

In Memory of Priscilla, the alcoholic Princess of the Paddock pig

One of Australia’s quirkiest pubs is located in Tasmania’s East Coast hinterland. The Pub in a Paddock, as the name suggests, stands alone in the middle of a paddock in the valley of South George River in Pyengana, a beautiful valley just a few kilometers away from the St. Columba Falls. Aside from offering hearty country meals and cold drinks, Pub in a Paddock also provides budget accommodation.


However, aside from its quirky ambiance, the pub is well known for its pig who had downed 76 bottles of beer in one session.


Meet Priscilla, the Princess of the Paddock.


Random tourists coming in and out with beer all day making Priscilla an ‘alcoholic’ pig! Tourists buy stubbies of beer from the bar. The beer is a special blend specifically made for pigs.

pub in the paddock

Tourists can get a chance to hold the stubby while the pig slurped the beer within seconds!


For some, this could be an experience of a lifetime, something to remember but for others, this is something to forget.

Personally, I do feel bad for the pig being penned up all day drinking beer as a big draw-card for tourists. Tour operators (like ours) has made this as one of the stopover tourist destination usually done during lunch time.

Ive read that The Pub in the Paddock was put on the market in 2012 for $838,000 which includes the beer-swilling pig. Sadly though, Priscilla has passed away and was replaced with a new one…..another ‘trained alcoholic’ pig!


Categories: Australia, Oceania, Tasmania | Tags: | 9 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

This week’s Photo Challenge is all about the “wow factor” of a scene or subject that makes a picture stunning.  Since I am an outdoor person and a nature lover, I will stick closer to the theme.   Here goes….presenting the grand majestic Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Victoria FallsKnown as the smoke that thunders, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world because of its height and width creating the largest single sheet of flowing water falling at a rate of 3,000 tons per second.

Victoria Falls

From the Zimbabwean side, tourists can see a more comprehensive view of the falls at one time and experience its beauty from various perspectives.  The park opens at 6 am in time for sunrise, the best time to visit as the sun rises behind the falls.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls can also be accessed from the Zambian side where tourists can take trails along the top of the falls allowing one to have a glimpse of the beautiful gorges and the Zambezi River.

Victoria Falls

During rainy season, it is better to travel with rain gear or umbrella as there is so much mist and spray from the force of the tumbling water.  For those who wants to capture the wow factor of this spectacular wonders of nature, it is advisable to protect your camera from getting wet as the splashing falls almost appear as rain in a rainforest.

Victoria Falls

One thing that excites me while taking photos around Victoria Falls is the ever present rainbow.  Combined with the right water volume and sunlight, a rainbow adds a magical quality giving you a picture perfect panoramic view of the falls.

Victoria Falls

The best time to visit Victoria Falls is between June to July where the water levels are not high…just the right time to explore its unique trails and rainforest surroundings and to photograph its splendor.

Categories: Africa, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe | Tags: , | 14 Comments

South Africa: A Country of Eclectic Cultures with a Fascinating History

South Africa

South Africa is known for its great safari and outdoor activities.  From the top of Table Mountain to the barren desert of the Kalahari with both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to choose from, South Africa is considered the most geographically diverse with unbelievably beautiful nature reserves and wildlife on the African continent.

But, aside from spectacular landscapes and natural beauty, the country offers sites full of vast culture and historical value.

South Africa

South Africa has a colorful history at the heart of which lies the Apartheid and the legacy that it left behind.  To get to know the country, you have to understand its history.  And this is just what I did when I travelled to South Africa with two friends – taking the Liberation Heritage tour.

Most of the historical sites can be found at the vibrant city of Johannesburg where you will find links to key Apartheid historical sights.

First stop is the Apartheid Museum.  It was a bit of a gruesome experience which reminded me of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia because of its provocative and violent film footages and actual photographs.  However, unlike the Tuol Sleng, the Apartheid Museum brings the visitors to an emotional journey based on the struggle to overthrow tyranny and racial discrimination.  The museum tour will actually make you feel like you are actually in the Apartheid era where the segregation of black and white is re-enacted from the time you enter the museum grounds. This is a fundamental trip particularly for those who wants to understand the Apartheid.  The only downside is that taking photos is not allowed inside the museum.  With R65.00 (about $6) admission fee for adults, it is all worth your money.  For more information, visit their official website at: http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/.

Next stop is Soweto short for South-West Township, the most famous district in the country.  We took a guided tour to revisit its history and its significance in the resistance movement during the Apartheid in the 70s to 80s.  On the way, we passed by homes ranging from extravagant mansions from the prosperous white areas to makeshift shacks that traditionally houses the black workers.  Under the Apartheid, this city was developed as a township for black people.  It was the center of the struggle against Apartheid.

South Africa

One of the places that encapsulates the spirit of resistance is the Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in the country where gatherings of various political and anti-apartheid organizations happened.

South Africa

In June 16, 1976, during a student uprising, the church became the refuge of protesting students fleeing from the police’s bullets and teargas canisters.  Many were injured and the church’s sacred symbols were damaged .  Despite its renovation, it has retained the damaged altar and bullet holes in the ceilings bearing testimony of what happened on that fateful day in Soweto.  Beautiful stained-glass windows donated by Poland in 1998 surrounding the walls are a welcome invitation.

South Africa

A mini exhibition was built for visitors (ranging from 200 a day) wanting to have a glimpse of its historical value.  Entrance is free but donations are welcome.

Another important stop in Soweto is the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum.  It was erected in honor of the late Pieterson, the 12-year old boy shot dead by police during the 1976 student uprising.

South Africa

The museum is located not far from where Pieterson was shot and killed.  On the day he was killed on June 16, students were protesting against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.   The supposedly peaceful protests ended in a deadly riot with police firing openly to the protesters.  His death was captured by a photo-journalist and was published globally.

South Africa

Since then, Hector Pieterson has become something of an iconic image of the Apartheid uprising.

South Africa

The museum is open Monday to Saturday with a fee of R25 ($2.42).  Unfortunately, photography is again not allowed inside the museum.

Other attractions in Soweto are residences of famous anti-apartheid activists such as the Sisulu residence, the house of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the mansion belonging to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, second wife of Nelson Mandela and lastly the first house of Nelson Mandela which is now a popular tourist attraction.

The Nelson Mandela’s humble house in Orlando West, Soweto, has been transformed into the Mandela Family Museum.  The house was preserved the same state it was when the Mandelas lived in it in the 1960s.

South Africa

The house contains assortment of memorabilia, paintings and photographs of the late Nelson Mandela.

South Africa

When I visited this place in 2011, I find that it was not worth the R65 ($6) fee for international tourists.  At that time, it was just a small building and does not fall as a high quality tourist destination.

South Africa

However, the Soweto Heritage Trust is keen to improve the museum and expand the area.  And with the untimely death of Nelson Mandela, this place might turn into a worthwhile point of interest in South Africa.  For updated information, visit its official page, http://www.mandelahouse.com/.

South Africa

If you want to learn more about Nelson Mandela, the first South Africa’s democratically elected black president, visiting Robben Island is a must if you visit Cape Town.  Over the centuries, the island has been used as a hospital, mental institution and a military base.

South Africa

However, it is most famous for being a political prison during Apartheid where Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years of his prison life.

Since 1997, it has been a museum and a heritage site with ferries departing from the mainland regularly (each tour takes approximately 3.5 hours).

South Africa

A bus will take you around the island stopping over at the Lepers’ Graveyard, Kramat Shrine, the house where Robert Sobukwe lived in solitary confinement, the lime quarry area where prisoners including Mandela did hard labour and the maximum security prison where Mandela’s cell was left in its original state.

South Africa

One of the interesting things of this trip is the on-foot-tour with the former inmate giving their firsthand accounts of prison life, making the whole visit a personal and poignant tour.

South Africa

Aside from its historical significance, Robben Island is a home to African penguins and interesting mix of flora and fauna.

South Africa

Ferries depart from Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and costs R250 (about $24) for adults and P120 (about $11.60) for children. For more information, visit  http://www.robben-island.org.za/.

South Africa

South Africa, is definitely one of my favorite African destinations. With Mandela’s death, South African tourism is likely to boost, not just as a premier outdoor destination but also as a country of eclectic cultures and a fascinating history.

South Africa

Categories: Africa, Cape Town, Johannesburg, South Africa | Tags: | 3 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light!

When I am traveling, I seldom visits touristy areas that have entrance fee. I prefer spending my money on food and out of town trips. Also, I am an outdoor person. I enjoy nature trips more than visiting museums and historical monuments.

However, when I was in Barcelona, Spain, a famous tourist place caught my attention — the La Sagrada Familia Basilica of Antonio Gaudi. Usually a historical church with an entrance fee turns me off but this one is 100% worth going and I definitely recommend this as a must visit place in Barcelona.

The basilica has been under construction since 1882 and is expected to be completed by 2026.  Gaudi planned many parts of the church so that they could be built in the future. Since his death in 1926, different architects have continued the work after his original idea.

But what really attracted me to pay for 14.80 Euro fee is its interior design. I read that the insides of the church is more interesting to photograph than the facade. Indeed, there are not enough words to describe it.

Natural light pours in not just from the colorful stained glass windows which most churches uses but also from electric lights positioned at the top. There are also glass windows high above the vaulted ceilings of the gothic style that let in sunlight pouring splashes of light and colors below.

The La Sagrada Familia Basilica uses natural light in the most phenomenal way i’ve ever seen.

So for last week’s Photo Challenge, Let There Be Light, Ive chosen to feature my interior photos of La Sagrada Familia Basilica’s most impressive displays of indoor and natural lighting.

La Sagrada

La Sagrada

La Sagrada

La Sagrada

La Sagrada

La Sagrada


La Sagrada


For more information about the church including the entrance fees and ticket booking, click this – La Sagrada Official Site



Categories: Barcelona, Europe, Spain | Tags: , | 9 Comments

On Letting Go……..

A watercolor painting I made of the sunset in Maun, Botswana.  © Susan Detera Paintings

A watercolor painting I made of the sunset in Maun, Botswana. © Susan Detera Paintings

Travel Quote of the Week:  People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.  (Author unknown)

This quote was an excerpt from the poem ‘The Reason, A Season, and A Lifetime’ a personal favorite of mine.

When someone walks away and leaves us behind (either a friend, an acquaintance or a loved one) we always end up asking the question Why especially if there is no fight, no argument, no other reason we can think of as to why they left without saying goodbye.  Moving on is often not easy as we are always left with the thought of the ‘WHYs’ and the ‘IFs’ eventually leading to self blame and or self destruction.

When I came across this poem, somehow, it helped me understand the ‘WHYs’….it somehow made me stop thinking of the ‘IFs’.

This poem helps us understand why people, friends and loved ones included, come and go and that why you have to let go and move on.

But what if, this time, you are the one who has to leave someone behind?   Do you still wonder why?

Today, I am sharing something very personal.  It is still very fresh so bear with me for I am going through a different ‘gasm’ journey, another diversion to the long winding road ahead of me.

Continue reading

Categories: Watercolor Painting, Weekly Travel Quotes | Tags: | 13 Comments

Gasm Travels Turns 1 Year Old

I received just now a message from WordPress.  It says:


Wow, it never crossed my mind that it has been a year already since I started blogging.  I’ve been too busy and preoccupied lately that I have not had the chance to update my blog.  Thanks to wordpress for reminding me of my obligation to my followers and readers.

Gasm Travels turns 1 with 787 followers and 11,938 hits….still a long way to go but for a neophyte blogger, I am happy with the result.  I like to thank all my loyal followers and readers who have stayed with me despite my long absence in the blogging community.  I wont promise but I will try my best to post more stories and photos in the coming year.

Cheers to all!

Categories: Unexpected Recognitions | Tags: | 12 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie

This week’s photo challenge is in celebration with the Halloween.  The challenge is to feature an image that is eerie making the viewer wonders what lurks in the shadows.  As I have not encountered any ‘ghostly’ images nor have I been into a haunted house, I decided to showcase photos that I did during a photography workshop.  In one of our sessions on creative photography, we were asked to use different kinds of effects apart from what is integrated in the camera.  One such kind of effects was  the use of a projector. To create an artistic visual, we used different art works and project it on the wall then superimposing these layers of clip arts over a subject.

Our first subject was a fellow photographer kneeling down and taking a photo beside a tree surrounded with candles.  The tree and candles were images projected on the wall.  At first, we were asked to use a tripod but after taking some shots, I find that my composition is a bit flat — plain and somehow boring to look at.  So I integrated one of the photography tricks, called camera movement, where you move your camera while taking a shot.   It created a ghostly shadow adding more depth to the image showing something eerie story to tell.


I did the same trick on our next subject.  It created a more eerie effect than the first one.

DSCF8651 DSCF8653

I was very happy with the outcome that when we tackled the next topic which is camera movement. It was easy for me now to create various tricks.  One evening, in one of our field exercise, I saw one of my classmates sitting down by the garden while his group mates were standing beside him planning how to execute their next assignment.  I took a photo of them using the camera movement trick.  And the outcome? — eerie images….. that if one will see it without being told of a camera trick, he/she might think that a ghostly shadow lurks behind the subjects. It can also show images of people being in a trance state.  Do you see what I mean? Do you have any other interpretation of these images?




Click the link for more of Weekly Photo Challenge.






Categories: Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: | 20 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

The changes in color of the horizon after sunset is one of my favorite subjects to photograph when I am traveling.  I find it amazing how the sky can yield post-sunset afterglows casting beautiful splashes of red, yellow and orange colors.  But why are some parts of the world more colorful than others?

This week’s photo challenge features the horizon, the space or line where the sky meets the earth.  There are many places where the sky meets the earth around the world.  So in today’s post, I am showcasing my favorite photos of horizons in different countries taken just before or after the sun sets.  Let me know which one do you like best.

The Colors of Africa


The Classic Colors of Western Europe


When the sky meets the earth in Asia-Pacific

asia pacific

Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

Being In Tune With Nature

On my previous post, In the Midst of Hardship, I described the difficulties I have encountered in the field while on deployment for a humanitarian mission in South Sudan.  Towards the end, I discussed some of my coping mechanisms.  One of these is being in tune with nature.  How do I do that?

Every morning, I am awakened by the sounds of my ‘little’ friends.  Their presence give me a reason to get up.  They actually push me to wake up every morning!    Why? Watch this and LISTEN!

Who would not want to wake up with their charming tweets and chirping sounds?  Their soothing and calming natural sounds help me connect to nature and the world outside.  And when Im out to greet them, they always make me smile with their colorful looks.  Guys, meet my very cute ‘little’ friends!

south sudan birds

Every morning, they come and visit me at the campsite.  I am not familiar with bird species but I have not seen such kind of small little birds in different colors in its natural habitat.  (I only see birds like these in pet shops or inside a cage kept as pets at homes).  They do look like the bee eaters but I am not sure.  Although they have their local names, I prefer calling my ‘little friends’ according to their colors.

Yellows (photos above) are often my morning companions.  They come in groups as early as 5:30 am.  They often stay on top of the trees or shrubs and sometimes join me while I drink my coffee outside my tent.

Blues (birds below) are my companion at work.  I always see them around when I am visiting the communities, usually distracting me when they start flapping their wings and create their unusual tweets.   One time, I was giving a Risk Education session and I saw one on top of a branch making funny posses as if catching my attention.  I couldn’t stop myself from admiring my ‘little’ friend that I had to excuse myself from my participants just so I am able to take a photo of Blue.

south sudan birds

Blacks are my afternoon companions.  I often see these little fellas when I go for walks in the village or to watch the African sunset.

South Sudan Birds

And finally, Reds, my favorite traveling companion.  I see them often in the bushes along the roads.  They distract me from the tough rough roads that I had to endure traveling in far flung villages.  Sadly though, I was not able to take loads of good photos of Reds because of road security issues, we can’t stop regularly just for picture taking.


South Sudan birds

South Sudan offers a variety of Bird life because of the presence of wetlands.  It is one of the things that I love traveling in the field.  However, because of insecurities, cultural considerations and the kind of work that I do, I am not able to practice photography using my DLSR camera. Good thing I brought my compact digital camera with a very good Leica lens.  (There are a lot of places especially in the main towns and cities where taking photos are prohibited.  I was once caught by an undercover National Security personnel while taking photo of the River Nile. I had to delete the photo in front of him while explaining that I was taking photos only to show to my family because of its biblical relevance.  Since then, I am careful of taking photos particularly in the city/town proper!)

Instead, my photographic memories compensate to my lack of photographs.  Indeed, watching my ‘little’ friends in their natural habitat help me take my mind off my hardships. Their relaxing sounds help me fall asleep, unwind or wake up to.  They brighten my day and make my difficult situation a bit more pleasant to live with.


Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | 4 Comments

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