I just got back from leading a Within the Frame Workshop to India. We went to some of my favorite places–Old Delhi, Jodhpur, Bundi, but, a personal highlight was returning to the sacred and ancient city of Varanasi.
Vast desert landscapes, nomads with weathered faces and blue robes, who fit the very definition of exotic, lots of sand and lots of camels! These describe my past week or so in Oulatta, a small desert town and home to this year’s cultural festival of Mauritania. As has often been the case through my African journeys so far, the last few days have been overfilled with excitement and awe, but also disappointment and frustration.
Istanbul is the city of one hundred names, incredible historical importance and, a heaven for street photographers. Fujifilm X100S is the next amazing thing that the photo-world seems to be raving about these days. I found myself lucky enough to be in Istanbul, with that very camera and, here are my impressions of both, the city and, the gadget.
There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners. If you do decide to travel to Mauritania, you should exercise extreme caution. If you are in Mauritania, you should avoid unnecessary local travel.
A month in Morocco and I feel that I am only scratching the surface, but finally starting to understand how some things work here. After being greeted by pleasantly easy going places free of hassle and annoying characters in the early goings, we eventually made it to the "other" part of the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen! I hereby declare that I am a complete disaster and one of the biggest dumbasses on the planet. In case you've been wondering how I've been doing on my around-the-world-journey in my Landrover, well, here's the story, in pictures, as usual, though, they are not mine, they are courtesy of a talented young French photographer Julie Higelin.
The fascinating cultures, the breathtaking landscapes, the ever present feeling that you are in a different time, a different dimension—this is what I absolutely love about Ethiopia. The constant feeling of being a human piggy-bank, the challenges in doing the simplest of things, the often occurring feeling that your new “friends” are measuring you up to see what they can extract from you—this is what I’ve come to hate beyond words about the country. I’ve been in Ethiopia for a bit over four months now. I know that many of the readers of this blog are photographers and travelers, some of whom have aspirations to come here. For this reason, I feel that I should write an account of sorts. One that is fairly uncensored and touches on the good, the not so good and the plain ugly sides of this incredible and incredibly challenging country.
In today’s world of technology and modernization it doesn’t make sense that there’s a place which lives virtually oblivious to that world. A place where ancient customs are still upheld strictly and where people walk around half-naked, with the little clothes that they wear being mostly those, which they designed hundreds of years ago. A place like that does exist and it’s called the Omo Valley. I had the opportunity to visit the area and to have a glimpse into the lives of the Hamer people by spending a few days in their village.
When you drink four chocolate milkshakes at a Western cafe, when you would rather chat to other travelers than take photos, when you arrive at a camel market, but don’t care about shooting anything and just want to catch up on sleep—that’s when you know you’re getting tired, getting close to burning out.
Dramatic landscapes, kind, warm people and photographic inspiration at every corner - this was my romanticized vision of Ethiopia. Perhaps this vision was what made me all the more disappointed and emotionally deflated, when for over a month I came across more rudeness, dishonesty and overall strange treatment than anywhere else I had traveled. It took time and a lot of luck to meet the right people, to finally find the Ethiopia I dreamt of, but I have found it and, it is A-m-a-z-i-ng! I'll give you a bit of a background story to put things in perspective and then, to the photos.
The climb takes around forty-five minutes and it is literally a climb using your hands and feet for the last part of the journey. Holes in the vertical rock surface are what you use to keep yourself from falling off and to get to the top. As The "Lonely Planet" guidebook says, if you're scared of heights, "Don't look down!" Having a panic attack or"freezing" here would not be a good idea.
Heat, huge crowds, continuous pushing and shoving, religious chants accompanied by war cries and the never ending tooting noise produced by vuvuzela-like instruments (those annoying things you heard at matches during the last world cup). This is Timkat (celebration of the Ephiphany) in Gondar. If you don't like any of the mentioned, this isn't the place for you. I didn't know any better, so I went.
Lalibela is Ethiopia’s answer to Jerusalem. In fact, it is often referred to as “The New Jerusalem” and it even has its’ own “Golgotha.” The legendary town is known for its’ incredible rock hewn churches. It is a place of elaborately dressed deacons and priests and a center for thousands of pilgrims who come during special occasions to recharge their “spiritual batteries.” Lalibela was one of the main reasons that I wanted to come to Ethiopia so badly. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.
My dream has finally come true. I’m in Africa! Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to be exact. Well, ok, the Addis Ababa part of it is far from a dream. To me the city seems like one big tragedy of humanity - a strange fuse of colonial and socialist architecture as well as tin-shacks that make up most of the small shops and all the slum dwellings. The city is overwhelming in many different ways - beggars, street hustlers, noise, pollution - a little of everything. Nevertheless, this is Africa! I have wanted to come here since I was a child and now I’m here at last.
I can finally announce my latest e-book. Actually, I almost missed the release, due to my temperamental internet connection here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The e-book is called “Rabari - Ecounters with the nomadic tribe” and it’s available HERE or by clicking the image at the top of the post.
Over one month, no blog posts. I have a good reason... kind of. I’ve been moving around Spain and Portugal. Living life, experiencing things and well, resting. I think without realizing it, I was on the verge of burning out after my Himalayan adventure.
Just under two months in India and my Himalayan adventure has come to an end. As usual, time flew by very quickly and as usual I wish I could stay longer. I am tired though. This trip was intense in so many ways. Riding in the mountains does take a toll on the body and the motorbikes. Both “machines” have cracked chassis from the horrendous (but spectacular) Zanskar road.
The villages of Spiti Valley are ridiculously picturesque. The landscapes, the people’s faces, in some cases, their costumes and in others, the combination of everything, I often feel like I am in a fairytale. It’s hard to believe that such places still exist, but I sure am glad that they do. Dhankar was one of the more fairytale-like villages that we visited and here are some images from there.
Building roads in the Indian Himalayas is a challenge.There’s a constant battle between humans and the terrain, which teams up with forces of nature to try to prevent the humans from making their creations or to destroy the roads they’ve already built.
Winding roads with sheer drops to hundreds of meters, huge rocks being exploded to clear those roads, ancient cultures clinging to their timeless ways of living and of course, incredible, awe-inspiring mountains, everywhere you look. This trip of mine to the Himalayas has been as exciting, as adventurous and as creatively satisfactory as I had dreamt and hoped it would be.