From Mary to the Ancient City of Merv Turkmenistan

Merv Turkmenistan

If you haven’t traveled to Turkmenistan, you’re not alone. I bet they really don’t see many visitors due to the challenges of getting approval to visit.  You can read about it on the Lonely Planet guide to Turkmenistan or trust me, there is no such thing as independent travel.  You’re required to have a guide and simply taking your guide to places you decide you want to go is also off the list.  You strictly have to check in as scheduled and not deviate off course.  In our travel along the silk road, Turkmenistan was initially planned to be a quick stop, but they wouldn’t have it.  They required us to spend at least one night and even that came across as extremely suspicious to them.  I do think we had some extra scrutiny, but after all the attention, we did make it through the border fairly quickly (about an hour).  It was good to know that we could essentially got to the front of the line as “tourists.”  We didn’t see any other tourists the entire time we were in the country, but I did meet a lot of friendly people and the nicest camel I’ve ever met in my life… and in my travels that is a lot!  The opposite end of the spectrum is the camel at Petra that spit and bit at me.

Turkmen Camel

While I’m on the topic of camels which is one of my favorite things about Turkmenistan, we saw a lot of camels simply roaming through the desert.  In some countries you see sheep on the hills.  In Turkmenistan, you see groups of camels by themselves just walking along the desert.  It’s amazing how long they can go without water.  There were often 2 or 3 adults among a group which may have a handful of young ones eating near by.  For these more wild camels we never knew how crazy they might be, but we took our chances for some good shots being cautious and then snuggling up with this lovable camel.

Turkmenistan Wild Camel

Kissy Camel lips

Turkmenistan Desert

The deserts of Turkmenistan do have a lot of green in them.  Our guide was pointing that from space it looks pretty green.  Much of what Turkmenistan looked like on the drive across looked like the picture above.  I hear there are even more great adventures out through the sand, but we didn’t get to spend that kind of time.  Our trip to Turkmen was a part of a bigger trip across the silk road.

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Some maybe most wouldn’t be able to point out where Turkmenistan is on the map.  It’s north of Iran, West of Afghanistan, and shares a large border with Uzbekistan and finally the Caspian sea to it’s West.  We would start our journey in Bukhara and spend the night in Mary after seeing Merv. I want you to see a few pictures of life today in Turkmenistan based on what I saw as we drove across this fascinating land.

 

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First you do see lots of flags and statues including the famous Turkmen symbols from the special star to the Turkmen rug symbols for the tribes on the national flag.  I think every tour in Turkmenistan starts out by explaining the nomadic tribes and their tribal symbols on the flag.  Great story or unifying tribes.

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These ladies were selling their wares on the side of the road out in the desert.  Most of it looked hand made from camel fur.  Pretty amazing what they could make with a little wool and camel yarn.  These ladies covered up their faces pretty quickly when they saw us take our camera’s out.

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Kyrgystan has yurts in the mountains, and Turkmen has yurts in the desert.

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Many muslims in Turkmenistan (93%).  They are a very religious people it seemed to me for the most part, despite being a former soviet country.

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Women wear very long dresses and young girls wear their long hair down.  Once married the hair goes up.

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Statue and Soviet looking bus.  You do really see a variety of old and new in the cities.

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Traditional dinner in Mary.  Yep more Shishka, but these were very fresh and tender.

Now for the old.  In Merv I had two favorites both part of the ancient city of Merv which is part of the Unesco heritage site.  Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia.

Clay Walls of Kyzkala Palace Unesco Turkmenistan

Clay Walls of Kyzkala Palace Unesco Turkmenistan

The oasis formed part of the empire of Alexander the Great.  Fluted Clay Wall of Kyzkala Palace

Read more about the UNESCO site on their website  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/886

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Palace, Dome and Ruins… (even a little came in the photo… can you see it?)

I appreciate this quote on Merv.  While I saw there, I tried to imagine the city in it’s 12th century times as potentially the largest city in the world!!  “Merv (Turkmen: Merw, Persian: مرو‎ Marw), formerly Achaemenid Satrapy of Margiana, and later Alexandria (Ἀλεξάνδρεια) and Antiochia in Margiana (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια τῆς Μαργιανῆς), was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today’s Mary in Turkmenistan. Several cities have existed on this site, which is significant for the interchange of culture and politics at a site of major strategic value. It is claimed that Merv was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The site of ancient Merv has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.”

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Merv was home to practitioners of various religions beside the official Sassanid Zoroastrianism, including Buddhists, Manichaeans, and Christians of the Church of the East.  While in much of it now you see mounds these were once great walls.  The idea that Zoroastrians were in the same town as Buddhists and Christians is amazing to me.

 

“It is during this period that Merv expanded to its greatest size—Arab and Persian geographers termed it “the mother of the world”, the “rendezvous of great and small”, the “chief city of Khurasan” and the capital of the eastern Islamic world. Written sources also attest to a large library and madrasa founded by Nizam al-Mulk, as well as many other major cultural institutions. Perhaps most importantly, Merv was said to have a market that is “the best of the major cities of Iran and Khurasan” (Herrmann 1999). It is believed that Merv was the largest city in the world from 1145 to 1153, with a population of 200,000”

As we walked around trying to soak in the history and imagine the vast cities within cities, we were in awe.

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Now in much of what was the largest city, you see mounds.  In 1221 Merv opened it’s gates to the son of Genghis Khan, named Tolui.

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Not much to see now.  Looking from the walls of the city toward the dome at sunset.

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Artists rendition of the “before”

It is during this period that Merv expanded to its greatest size—Arab and Persian geographers termed it “the mother of the world”, the “rendezvous of great and small”, the “chief city of Khurasan” and the capital of the eastern Islamic world. Written sources also attest to a large library and madrasa founded by Nizam al-Mulk, as well as many other major cultural institutions. Perhaps most importantly, Merv was said to have a market that is “the best of the major cities of Iran and Khurasan” (Herrmann 1999). It is believed that Merv was the largest city in the world from 1145 to 1153, with a population of 200,000” – Merv Wikipedia Article

Fascinating to read the largest cities of the world over time.  Surprised not to see any Incan or Mayan cities or even Angkor Wat.  I think it’s a fun list but not complete.

 

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From the top of the tower.  Dome in the distance.

 

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum, the old dome.  It really is the best preserved of everything we saw in Merv.  This 12th-century mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, also in Sultan Gala is the largest of Seljuk mausoleums and is also the first dated mosque-mausoleum complex.

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum old 1890

 

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The stacked rocks reveal that buddhists have visited the place and leave prayer rocks.

muslim star

 

 

 

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The ruins of Merv were fascinating to explore.  With civilization after civilization for millinum it is overwhelming to think of this area as some of the oldest continuous civilization.

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In conclusion… Turkmenistan was a fascinating visit.  I do recommend Turkmenistan on any silk road tour.  I wish I could have made it to the door to hell or derweze.  Make sure you look that up to see if it fits you’re schedule.  Otherwise if you want some history and friendly camels, Soviet city of Mary/ and Ancient city of Merv is a great destination.

A Day as a Tourist in Afghanistan

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When I started planning my trip across Central Asia, I always had the idea that it would be fascinating to visit one of the most talked about places on the planet.  A place where tourists really don’t get.  In 12th century Spice Route Afghanistan was an important stop to visit the shrine of Ali, even Genghis Khan felt it was worth a visit or a razing.  If you think about it, Afghanistan hasn’t been as safe as it is now, for the past decade, and even before that it may have been since the 50’s that it was a place that outsiders could visit.  After getting all my visas for the variety of places I was going I got in a good conversation with my traveling partner about the possibility of visiting the city of Mazar-e Sharif.  I had a friend on Facebook who I connected with over the past couple of years and have been asking him all about life in Afghanistan.  Zaki, my good facebook friend said he’d be willing to show me around his town.  It really came together and Zaki fulfilled his promises.  Not only that, he ended up spending a couple of extra hours waiting at the border for us to get through.  After getting through security and walking across the bridge at Termez going through Uzbekistan and Afghanistan security we finally made it and what an adventure it was.

Strolling in a Burka in the Park

Is there really anything to see in Afghanistan?  Oh Yes!!

Shrine of Ali and Blue Mosque Afghanistan

Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue MosqueThe Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue Mosque, is a mosque located in the heart of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. It is one of the reputed burial places of Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in law of Prophet Muhammad. The site includes a series of five separate buildings, with the Shrine of Hazrat Ali being in the center and the mosque at the western end. The site is surrounded by gardens and paths including an area with white pigeons.  You can see more of them in my pics in this post. Read more about the Ali shrine on Wikipedia

Our Afghan Driver

Our driver, the head of security in Mazar-e Sharif, and the uncle of our friend Zaki.

Driving in Afghanistan

We all piled into Zaki’s uncles taxi and headed out from the border for the city.  We decided we didn’t have enough time to make it to Balkh, but we were anxious to see the Blue Mosque and Shrine of Ali.

Afghan House

On the drive to Mazar-e Sharif, about an hour from the border, we drove by a number of homes build by mud bricks and natural elements.

Desert Sands of Afghanistan

The sands of the desert working their way to the road.  It won’t be long before the sands need to be handled.

 

Peace in Afghanistan

Peace to Afghanistan!

Blue Mosque Begging

This little guy was persistent.  He didn’t speak a word of English and I don’t know what he was saying, but he was carying a can of hot ashes and mumbling something in a persistent manner.  He wouldn’t let go of my clothes.  I’m sure he was very poor and hoping for assistance, but not sure what I could do to help.

Do you want Gum

These young boys were a joy to talk to.  While language wasn’t our forte, I had some real moments where we exchanged smiles and introduced ourselves.

Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif

My friend and I with our Afghan Friends Zaki and Hamid in front of the Shrine and Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan IT University

IT University.  Talking with Ahmad professor at the technical college in Mazar-e Sharif.

 

Full Burka with kids

Mother in Burka with her sons…

Full Burka with hand holes

Burka with Arm holes and lady with Hijab

Burka Peek

Burkas

One of the differences between Afghanistan and all of neighbors to the north is the Burka.  In terms of cultural differences I found it to be the most start contrast.  I’ve been around a lot of Hijabs (head scarves) in a variety of places, and even ran into a lot of Saudis in black full burkas in Kuala Lumpur, and Dubai.  I haven’t gotten use to it.  It’s really a fascinating thing.  The women cover up when they go out.  It not only keeps the sun off their faces, but keeps them from being attractive to men outside the home.  The thing that really surprised me was seeing women that would pull up the burka to interact with their kids at the park.  I wasn’t expecting that.  Based on what I’d heard and gathered on TV I was really worried they were going to get in trouble.  In this far north town in Afghanistan, there were plenty of women in the city that both wore and didn’t wear the burkas.  It did seem like most that didn’t wear the full burka would wear the hijab.

I grew out my beard for months in planning on my visit across Central Asia and “the Stans” coming to Afghanistan hoping to blend in, but ended up not noticing too many beards.  I did see some good beards, but for the most part the young men in their twenties would shave, and the older men involved in business seemed to shave into mustaches.

Afghanistan Beard

I wore an Uzbekistan hat and a shirt I also got in Uzbekistan a couple days earlier.  I’m sure it confused the locals, but at the time I wasn’t going for American, even though I’m sure I came across as traveler or tourist which may not necessarily be a be a best practice.

The locals were a mix of stand offish, and quite a bit curious.  I only had a couple of stares that came across as mean ones.  I ended up in a line at the mosque and park to visit the toilet, or what was really just a line of Turkish style toilets or better said, hole in the ground.  First time I’ve waited nearly 5 minutes in a toilet line for a squat style toilet.  The conditions weren’t great.  A few more public toilets would be a good thing when they decide to open up the town as a tourist attraction.

Why did I decide to come to Afghanistan?

I have been told that I’m crazy for wanting to visit a country at war.  In reality, I found a people very in need of outside love.  They are ready for outside investments, education, access to more.  I’m sure there are many challenges to getting the right kinds of services in.  The youth are very anxious to better understand the world, and connect.  I’ve had a number of facebook messages since my visit.  There’s so much hope.  I pray for my friends Zaki and Hamid, and the Admad at the technical school.  Be anxiously engaged in a good cause.  Hamid wants to be involved in security, and Zaki wants to be successul in consulting and IT.  Personally, I’m very anxious for this area to blossom.

This far north the risk wasn’t as great.  It really is tightly controlled.  We saw the drone balloon, and there were reminders that we were being watched.  Even crossing the border we went though a couple of check points, and got some strange looks, but overall, it wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be getting in and out.

Getting the visa for Afghanistan took less than a week, the easiest of the visas on our Central Asia tour.

I felt like we timed this right.  We spent an afternoon, I wish we could have seen Balkh which was another hour and has so much more history, but based on our plan of get in and out while seeing what we could in daylight, we did pretty well.  I have no regrets really.  I have been blessed in my life to live where I do and I hope the time I spent in this part of the world has helped me and my perspectives and outlooks on life, and I hope that the time I spent with my new Afghani friends helps spread peace and inspires them in their righteous pursuits.

Peace Tree Afghanistan

These pigeons look like doves.  They bring peace and happiness to the people.  They make people smile and laugh.

So do I recommend Afghanistan?

I think for those who are real travelers, yes. Mazar-e Sharif has a lot to offer as does Balkh based on my research.  At this point, our strategy of in and out, worked quite well.  We weren’t there long enough to cause a stir, which I find has been a great strategy for us. Whenever we feel like we might be going to an area involving any kind of risk, we play it safe and not spend too much time in any one area, and we don’t back track.  We’re always moving.  That’s been a great strategy for us.  We try to be unpredictable, so no one could plan anything.  I don’t have a death wish, it really was a fairly safe and calculated risk.  On my pursuits to see and connect with folks in every country in the world, this was an important one for me.  I still have strong feelings for the people I met.  It really makes this place very real to me now.  I think that’s really important.  When there’s a war on the other side of the world in an unknown place that’s being fought in a way that’s unimaginable, it’s easy for ignorant people to say, just bomb the place.  I have friends there, and it means something to me.  The only way to find peace is to find empathy and understanding.  Travel has helped provide a mechanism for that.  I’ve never met a military person who would want to go back to Afghanistan to visit, but I would.  I have friends there that are great people who are making a difference for life in there town.

I admit I am a bit of a travel junkie, and I believe that there are good people everywhere as do many of those that visit every country in the world… a pursuit of mine.

You can read about some of my extreme travels to Iraq (Kurdistan), Tunisia, Venezuela, Egypt

Traveling the Silk Road from across the “STANS” Introducing Central Asia

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wild camels

I recently got back from traveling across Central Asia. Some things have changed and some things haven’t.  The road is now mostly paved roads, but you will still find sheep herders, and wandering camels in some places.  When I shared with my friends I was going to Central Asia and even mentioned some of the countries by name… Most don’t know what I’m even talking about even when I added Silk Road or Central Asia.  I needed to fill in the detail between China, Russia and Turkey.  In this post, I want to give you some of the highlights and background.

My friend Michael and I have been planning to travel the silk road and visit “the stans.”

Our plan involved spending time in each of the following countries:

  • Kyrgyzstan – Serene Kyrgyzstan Land of Mountains
  • Kazakhstan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Afghanistan – A day as a tourist in Afghanistan
  • Tajikistan

I plan to share some of my experiences from each of these amazing and diverse countries.  Each of them is different in their own way and I saw amazing and fascinating things in each of these places.  There are incredible people in every country.  I continually get asked if I ever felt threatened or at risk.  No, I didn’t.  I did have some moments where I was feeling eyes watching me and moments where I felt like I was out of place, but I really enjoy that feeling of being the minority and feeling odd.  If I’m traveling and I’m not feeling that then I’m not challenging myself enough.  This trip was the most logistically challenging.  It took over 3 months just to get visas and I still didn’t get all the visas I wanted.  I missed out on Pakistan due to my Jamaica and trip to Quebec and Montreal earlier this year.  The only country that didn’t require a visa for US Citizen was Kyrgyzstan, and the hardest to get into ended up being Turkmenistan who assigned us a monitor and required traveling company which ended up being our most expensive of the trip.  In addition Pakistan was a challenge for time.  The visa would have been an additional 4-6 weeks and I couldn’t surrender my passport long enough make it with my Jamaica plans.

Samarqand, Bukhara, and so many of these places stir up the magical and mystical old world of East meets west.  Where Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and a variety of old faiths like Zoroastrianism met through caravans and trade routes.  I had the incredible opportunity to visit some of these places and soak up the influence of this melting pot of culture, religion, food, and history.  I plan to share the highlights and some favorite stories, but wanted to get this post out as a placeholder.  I’ll link to the subsequent posts from this one to be as a landing page of the best of Central Asia.

 

Women of the desert of Turkmenistan

Turkmeni ladies of the desert selling camel hair trinkets on the side of the road

 

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Desert Yurt in Turkmenistan

furry camel

One of the friendliest camels I’ve ever met. This friendly hairy camel enjoyed posing with us.

 

dome

Old Dome in Merv

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Merv, Turkmenistan

bukhara, uzbekistan

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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Blue Mosque and Shrine in Mazar-e Sharif Afghanistan

uzbekistan yurt

Countryside in Uzbekistan

sheep herding

Wandering Sheep in Uzbekistan

 

shakrazabh

Old Shakrazabh, Uzbekistan

ark in shakrazabh

Ark of Shakrazabh, Uzbekistan

Bob Marley Adventure Guide to Reggae Jamaica

Bob Marley Tour of Jamaica

I’ve been wanting to go to Jamaica really bad.  When a few of my friends were asking when we’d go,  I knew I was going to be in Orlando and said why not?  At first I was planning on a dive, but most of my friends that were joining weren’t divers, so instead we made this an interior trip.  Why not explore the parts of the island that the tourists miss and be real travelers and go on adventures .  I did see a lot of Jamaica and I write about the other parts of Jamaica in my follow up post “Get all right in Jamaica”.

I was excited to connect with one of the greatest artists  Bob MarleyRobert Nesta “Bob” Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) He’s had such an impressive impact on the music industry with popularizing Reggae on the world scene and bringing light to Rastafarian way of life.  More than just having a few Bob Marley songs, I’ve met some real Rastafarians that helped me understand it’s more of a lifestyle.  Many wouldn’t realize the commitment of the Rasta folks including not drinking alcohol and eating veggie.  Most seem to focus exclusively on the fact that marijuana is accepted and taken religiously.  It was in Zanzibar where I really gained an appreciation for the Rasta music and sacraments.  It was then that I really wanted to visit the island and see what it was all about.  In addition, it was visiting the grave of Haile Selassie I and the castles of the empire of Ethiopia that made me feel like I both needed to learn the ancient and modern manifestation of what was going on with the line of Solomon and Bob Marley as a Prophet?  There was a lot I needed to learn.  There were really three main places on the island we visited.  Most of the tours be prepared to pay $20 USD on the spot.  For some reason most of the attractions on the island are twenty US dollars and yes you can pay in USD or Jamaican Dollars (approximately 9 or 10 to 1), while we were there it was even better to pay in USD as the dollar was stronger, wasn’t even worth exchanging the money…

1. Bob Marley Experience – House and Record Label on 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica (also where the attempted assassination took place) Tour required to see the house.

2. Trench Town Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play and where he lived after running away a few blocks. (a bit rough) Tour available. More on Trenchtown on Wikipedia

3. Birthplace, Mausoleum, and first home of Bob Marley in Nine Mile, his real retreat on his grandparents land.  Deep inside the island. (Multi hour drive from Kingston or much closer from Ocho Rios) Tour required to get to the mausoleum.

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There are a few ways to see the islands of the Caribbean, and while many simply get the all inclusive resort and catch a cab or van to their particular resort with a big fence and a private beach.  If they leave they are visiting a tourist attraction called an excursion where the entire path and time is laid out where very little interaction with the *real* islanders happen.  This trip on the other hand was the complete opposite.  While I did see a few attractions, where I drove, slept, ate, and spent my time was amongst the people.

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Popular Bob Marley Statue… One Love, One Life!

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I had some great opportunities to visit the homes of Bob Marley.  There are really three main areas to visit.

Bob Marley House on Hope Road – Bob Marley Experience

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This is the house where Bob Marley lived until his attempted assassination in 1976.  The house is now known as the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica dedicated to the reggae musician Bob Marley. The museum is located at 56 Hope Road, Kingston 6, and is Bob Marley’s former place of residence at his peak. It was home to the Tuff Gong record label which was founded by The Wailers in 1970.  They don’t allow any pictures to be taken inside the home, but there’s a great collection of the news, records, and history.  The guide takes you from room to room giving you history about Bob Marley and his success concluding in the theatre where they show a number of music videos and you get to listen to his music as it evolved over time.

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Trench Town, Kingston Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play guitar – Not a place some tourists will want to drive by themselves.  But for the adventurous traveler you’ll find a poor part of Kingston where the cement is the walls, floors, and many live in small spaces.  The place itself has a rough history.

Bob Marley’s mom moved to Trench town, a poor but cultural part of Kingston a few streets up from the Culture yard.  Bob moved to Trench town when he was 12 and wanted to stay on first street.

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Today Trench Town boasts the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, a visitor friendly National Heritage Site presenting the unique history and contribution of Trench Town to Jamaica. Trench Town is the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music, as well as the home of reggae and Rastafari ambassador and prophet Bob Marley.

“Though raised as a Catholic, Marley became interested in Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960s, when away from his mother’s influence. Marley formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks. The Rastafarian proscription against cutting hair is based on the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers.”

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Trench Town Culture Yard… birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley ran away from home and learned to play guitar.  There you can see his first guitar and see his room.

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Left: Bob’s first guitar.  Right: Statue of Bob Marley in the Culture Yard.

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Out in Ocho Rios the Ganja smoking is not welcome in some areas, but you can find people who can get you whatever your heart desires.  There are many plants all over the island.

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This weed seems to spring up everywhere.  I can’t say I tried any, but I did see a few plants and was offered much of the Reggae sacrament.

Bob Marley Mausoleum, Resting Place, Birth Place and first home in Nine Mile.

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Bob Marley’s home where he grew started his life on his grandparents property.  The mausoleum in Nine Mile (deep in the island) contains family members on his mothers side of the family.

 

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While I couldn’t sit on the bed, I was offered the rock which was where many songs of inspiration came to the Bob.

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I had an incredible time on the island.  I’ll follow up this post with the non Bob Marley things I saw, but felt like the Reggae experience was worth a post alone.  I hope this post can stand as a reference that there’s a lot to see to better understand the great legend of Bob Marley, one of the most influential singers of the decade a man taken before his prime.

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The landscape in 9 mile is beautiful.  In my opinion it’s worth the drive.  You get to see a very different part of the island and if you can find a way to relax with the people… I recommend slowing it down and listening to the music.  Don’t be so afraid to leave your resort.  Jamaica is amazing!

In my search for the origins of Reggae I found Marcus Garvey and read all about Haile Salasie I, then looked up more quotes on his rein.  You can also get a lot more history of Bob Marley with tons more detail on Wikipedia.

Colosseum Ampitheatre of the Roman Empire – 7 New Wonders

Colloseum

The Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy.  Definitely growing up you hear all about the colleseum.  You hear about the stories of the gladiators the Ben Hur, the Christians and lions.  Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas.  It is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Colosseum

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

  • Great Wall of China – Sacrifice of a Nation
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue – Religious Icon of Rio Brazil
  • Taj Mahal – Sacred Mausoleum of Agra India
  • Petra Jordan – Nabataean Cave City of the Desert
  • Machu Picchu – Lost Sacred City of the Incas
  • Chichen Itza – Ancient Mayan Temple Pyramid
  • Colosseum Amphitheatre of the Ancient Roman Empire
  • colloseumEmperor Vespasian had it built in around 70–72 AD, funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem, but since then it has been robbed itself of blocks to build other things.

    You do have to pay to go into the colloseum.  Despite the fact that huge parts of it are now decrepid and missing, it’s handled time quite well.  It really is huge and impressive… Definitely worth seeing.  People dress up in Roman costumes.  There’s a lot to see nearby as well with the arch, great restaurants, and museums… it really does feel like the center of town and hey, there are more things close to this tube station than most others.  Getting around this was one of the easiest ancient things to find.

    Italian in Italy with a view of the coloseum

    Great Italian food nearby!!

    When in Rome!

    As they say… When in Rome!

    I’ve been to Rome a few times and it’s a city that’s a great city filled with tons of things to see and do.  Very easy to spend a week in.  In fact we did that a few years ago as a family.  While driving was a challenge, after a couple of days I was getting around pretty well.  Driving in Rome has gotten a lot easier than it was a few years ago with tons more scooters.  I do have to warn you that if you have your own rental car make sure you understand there are areas you can’t park without a permit.  As well, certain lanes you can’t drive in (bus/taxi lanes).  I’ve gotten towed in Rome once, and a ticket in the mail once.  So let’s just say, I’ve had some experience in this area.

    Rome is filled with tons to do.  There have to be more nuns and priests in Rome/ Vatican city than anywhere else in the world!

    Here are a few ideas…

    5 Additional Places to go when visiting Rome (or Italy) when visiting the Coliseum

    Happy Nuns

    1) St Peters Basilica, PLUS Vatican Musuem, and the MUST SEE! Sisteen Chapel… Shhhh! No Photos!

    Spanish Steps

    2. The Spanish Steps…

    Great social place to meet the locals and throngs of tourists as well

    Trevi Fountain Rome Italy

    2. Trevi Fountain

    Florence

    4. Day trip to Florence to see Michelangelo’s David

    Track down the Catacombs.  There are a few different ones.  We absolutely loved them as well.  Depends on your interests…

    5. Day trip to Pompeii and YOU MUST GO TO POMPEII! It’s one of the most amazing places on the planet.  There is another amphitheatre there, but you’ll see ruins like no other on the planet… KM or miles of them.

    There really area ton of things to see in Rome, pace yourself so you don’t get “ruin”-ed out or museum’ed out.  The Blocks and Columns start looking the same and religious paintings as well start blending together.

    Coliseum

Christ the Redeemer Statue – 7 New Wonders of the World (2 of 7)

Christ the Redeemer Brazil New Wonder

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

View from Corcovado

Rio is one of the coolest cities in the world.  The environment that the city is build in, has the best of the water world with amazing beaches. Some of the best in the world, but also some of the best viewpoints in the world with the huge rocks that soar into the sky that have gondolas on them.  Corcovado topped by Christ the Redeemer is amazing.  First with such strong devotion in the culture of the people and then the iconic and larger than life Jesus with his outstretched arms becomes a very strong symbol of the people and their need to feel guided and comforted.

 

View of Sugarloaf in Rio

Corcovado, meaning “hunchback” in Portuguese, is a mountain in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 710-metre (2,329 ft) granite peak is located in the Tijuca Forest, a national park. It is sometimes confused with nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.  Sugar loaf is a tourist attraction in its own right and deserves to be visited.  This rock mountain is quite central and shaped in such a way as to escape the city while being in the city.  In an effort to help people gain better access you’ll see there’s quality care.  This escalator can really reduce to the last bit of stairs.

Christ the Redeemer's back with escalators

Corcovado hill lies west of the city center and is within the city limits and visible across great distance. It is known worldwide for the 38-metre (125 ft) statue of Jesus atop its peak, entitled Cristo Redentor or “Christ the Redeemer”.

Christ the Redeemer Statue... as a tourst.

Christian Cave Churches and Monasteries in Cappadocia Turkey


Iconic Early 5th Century Christian Cross

As a traveler one of the thing that really stands out in digging in to understand a people is how much of culture is influenced by faith and religion.  In Europe you must visit the cathedrals because it was the center of the universe for the people.  In Istanbul you must visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia or you haven’t seen Istanbul. I have found Israel, Jerusalem, Bethehem, and Jordan to be quite amazing.  Even Cairo had places that reminded me of Moses and the red sea.  I have found the cathedrals across Europe to be quite amazing, even Ireland had some amazing history as it relates to early Christianity.  Rome and the catacombs.  Early Christians in Ireland, or Monserrat in Spain… incredible.  These early Christians driven into caves and into the mountains the hermits of Bulgaria and Macedonia are fascinating and must see.  The monasteries in the cliffs of Meteora where they survived from decimation for more than 500 years.  I love thinking about Thessaloniki or the Thessalonians.  My visit to Armenia and connecting with locals and making friends the thoughts and attitudes of the people cannot be separated from their faith as a people.  Mount Arrarat and Noah’s Ark and God’s dealing with the Armenian people is so deeply ingrained in their art, their life and spirit.

A One trying to understand the mind of the pre-Nicean church can do much study the rich art and paintings captured on the walls of the hundreds if not thousands of painted caves now abandoned art work of Cappadocia.  The cave paintings while much has been destroyed have preserved a lot of history and messages through the images.  I find it quite inspiring and very peaceful.  In some of the churches that you pay to see one with no cameras allowed.  I could easily spend an hour staring at the ceiling and unweaving the thoughts in the heads of these early christians.  Their faith, their perspectivies, their stories.  Much of the tradition has been preserved, but a lot has been lost as well.  Lots of contemplation are required to understand not just the story, but the perceptions of the artist.

Cave homeMary the mother of Jesus

This photo is not a direct photo, but actually a photo of what I saw, but photographed from a book at the gift shop, or a post card.  You can see how much color is still in the images.   The color alone is quite the story as the paint was made from pigeon poo.

My travels took me to Goreme, in central Turkey.  These natural occuring ferry chimneys are amazing.  I’ve only been in a few places in the world where they have these, Utah’s Goblin Valley, and Bryce Canyon, but what those places don’t have are the primitive Christian churches and the underground cities.  The Tuff left from the volcanic ash turned rock helped provide a substance that was very easy to carve, but also very strong, like a more dense pumice.

Goreme Open Air Museum Entrance

There are multiple locations in Cappadocia where you can find these cave churches.  First the largest collection in a small area is the Goreme Open Air Museum.  There are lots of great cave hotels in Goreme.  I recommend staying in a cave at least one night.  It’s a unique experience and it’s quite affordable.

Unfortunately nearly all of the churches would not allow photography or video cameras at the Open air musuem.  You could take pictures outside, but definitely not as  compelling.

high cave churchThe Snake Church

There were a few select churches that they allowed photography in.  The names of the churches come from the art work inside.  Apple church, snake church, etc…

Christian Column Inside the cave church

While these may look impressive, the reality is these were pretty bare.

On a walk through the various churches you’d mostly get directed at the various figures and stories from the bible, but it was stories like the animal below that represents paganism that really caught my interest.  I was interested in the explanations of what was different and how they lived and what they believed.  Like can you believe that most of the well preserved cave paintings have the eyes of the people carved out.

Pagans

I was told the local muslim people felt threatened and the eyes alone could convert.  So you have these scary pictures where the eyes are carved out.

Greek Influece on Caves in Turkey The Hive of Caves

Not only were the churches carved into the stone, the people as well lived in caves in stone where archways could be fancied up.  On the left you have the homes of displaced Greeks in Turkey.  Most of them moved back to Greece.

Next we travel to the Ihlara Valley were over a dozen caves were turned into churches.  One of the most amazing hikes… Combines peaceful walk along a stream with basalt canyon walls like the snake river valley in Idaho or, and pillars of the Giants Causeway in Ireland.

Ihlara Valley Map

As you can see by the little yellow dots along the slides of the river in the Ihlara valley, for miles along the river, caves were turned into places of worship.  If you were simply walking along the river, you would have really No idea this was happening.  It’s Fantastic!!

Ihlara valley cave churchesPainted Cave

Do these caves above look like they might contain this… image to the right.

Beautiful art still remains on the walls.  Much has been destroyed or defaced.  Eyes of the saints in the pictures are scratched out.  One guide told us that the people were worried about how the beautiful icononic art might convert them.  The watching eyes were just too powerful.  So much so that for much of what you see there are few eyes you’ll find.

The Three Magi

Below the three magi or wisemen and their gifts for the birth of the savior minus their eyes.  If you look near the hat you can see names in Greek.  It looks like the names of the magi were added afterward. The shape of their hats is interesting.  It brings a historical understanding.  Studying this brings much more understanding of the early 6th century church.

Mary on a donkey

Mary on the Donkey… Did you know the reference to Mary riding a donkey is actually not found in the bible, but in apocryphal writings in the text the Infancy Gospel of James?  This may be one of the earliest paintings that exists showing Mary on a Donkey.

The dome in pigeon poo

It is very incredible to think of the condition that these paintings were made.  These were painted many many years prior to the crusades, and the spread of the ottoman empire.  These were made at time when the Christians were hiding in caves.  The paint was made from pigeon droppings.  To think about that part of it it’s really very remarkable much remains at all.

Open Air churchesGoreme

When in Goreme and surrounding you’ll find that you need at least 2 to 3 days to simply race through everything.  4 days to a week will allow you to take a slower pace to really enjoy the valleys and take more in.  The tours are very inexpensive, and they are organized into the blue tour, the red tour and so on, and they really are packed with places to see and visit.  One morning you need to do the balloon ride for the adventuresome.  If you are thinking about the balloon, don’t wait till the last day because they are frequently cancelled due to weather conditions.

Goreme from above

View of Goreme from the top of the hills.

Abandoned fairy homes

The Fairy chimneys… turned home and now abandoned. A honeycomb of mystery and intrigue.

The Messiah scratched out

The Messiah, with a scratched out face…

Selime Cathedral

For more adventure… On one end of the Ihlara valley is the Selime Cathedral.  Walking to simply get to this Cathedral makes you feel like you’re rock climbing.  It isn’t for little old ladies or old men.  This requires a little bit of skill to navigate across the rocks, through tunnels and a bit of scrambling…

Selime Cathedral

But the payoff is big.  Huge rooms with archways and columns still remain while much of the artwork is destroyed and soot covers the ceilings.

Selime Cathedral

If you look closely you can still see remains, of what was once majestic.

Cappadocia Central Turkey Valleys and the all seeing eye

If there was any doubt that this valley wasn’t backed with mystery, intrigue and wonder… I hope a few of these picture have opened your mind.  Goreme and Cappadocia still remains one of my favorite destinations and the my appreciation for the early church and their cave dwelling days has shaped what we think of even as a catheral or church.  We have much to share in appreciation for these devoted follower of central Turkey.

Traveling Ireland’s Ancient and Natural Wonders

Cross in Ireland

Ireland has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years.  For Eons and Ages, Ireland has constantly been inhabited and has a rich culture of folklore, myths, and a myriad of megalithic structures scattered across the country marking structures from these older ages.  Early man left evidence from the mesolithic, neolithic, stone, bronze, and iron ages. I love traveling to Medieval and Neolithic sites.  The ancient world history is fascinating to me.  From the pyramids and temples of Egypt to Avebury & Stone Henge and on to the Nazca lines and the underground cities of Goreme and Cappadocia.  I’m absolutely fascinated with it.  So much of what we know is so little.  We talk about these places like we know all about them, but honestly it’s pre-historic and we know very little and are still learning.

History in Ireland started in 400 AD with the spread of Christianity.  It’s amazing to think of it spreading so far and wide.  There are some amazing structures to see in Ireland.  Within a short drive from the beautiful city of Dublin, you can be at amazing places.  I recommend Wicklow for an afternoon at Glendalough.  Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is known for its early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest.  It’s a beautiful drive and history itself unfolds as you walk amongst the graves, churches, and stone archways.

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Like these ancient sites.  Very easy to connect with nature and get a feel for what it was like in a village.  This tower entry reminds me of Rapunzel.  The entry to get in the tower is twenty feet off the ground.  Apparently the monks would climb up a latter and then pull it up.  They could drop rocks or oil and fire on the invaders.

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These ancient rock churches are beautiful, but not an uncommon site in Ireland.  They have lasted well through the ages.  You can see how important faith was through the ages.

Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”. Most of the buildings on the site today date from the 10th through 12th centuries. Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D.

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Amazing structures, history from an ancient time… you can feel it in your bones.

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Walking through the graves and the amazing Celtic crosses makes you feel an appreciation for the deep faith of the people.

Older than the Pyramids or Stone henge, Newgrange was an amazing find.  I was amazed to find such an ancient megalithic structure that I hadn’t heard of with such importance.  Driving north from Dublin straight north in the small town County Meath, Ireland on our way to Belfast and Northern Ireland, we saw a sign for this ancient site.  I was intrigued.  What is this Neolithic site I’ve never heard of?  Newgrange is a large mound in a circular shape with a stone passageway and decent sized chamber inside (no pictures inside).  On the tour they told us that during the 70’s some hippies were inside when it lit up during the winter solstice.  Apparently they really didn’t know what it was used for prior.  There’s still some confusion, but essentially this mount is not isolated.  There are a lot of them in a small area.

New Grange

This stone mound is surrounded by large stones with Neolithic carvings that still show up reasonably well.  I absolutely love the swirls.  It reminds me of the tail of the monkey in the Nazca lines.  What you don’t realize is just how old they estimate this place.

These megalithic structures are called portal tombs (a chamber consisting of upright stones with one or more large flat capstones forming a roof) or passage graves or dolmen often there is often no human remains. There are 40 of these passage graves near Newgrange.  The carvings on the rock are one of the largest collection of megalithic art.

megalithic artNewgrance megolithic

Incredible examples of one of the largest natural collection of Megalithic art… Newgrange is part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site.

solstice lottery

On the tour, they simulate the light, but there is actually a lottery to be able to be one of the lucky handful who can be in the chamber when the light enters.

In Northern Ireland is one of the great natural wonders of Ireland.  The Giants Causeway.  This basalt has dried in amazing formations on the sea side.  It’s like Black Chrystal formations.

Giants Causeway beach, Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

In the Giants Causeway with my sons.  I’m lucky to be able to travel with my family on occasion.  Ireland is a good family destination.  Very family friendly destinations, and accommodations. They really enjoyed Ireland as well, and to think I was afraid there wasn’t that much to see.  Incredible structures, incredible history, and very fun people.  I’d be happy to go back to Ireland… anytime.  So much more to see.

Meet the Fijian Hindustanis – The Other Side of Fiji


Fiji is a multi racial and multi ethnic place. In my previous post on Fiji I wrote about the native Fijians and my experience connecting with the locals.  The majority of Fijians are native Melanesians.  43% of the population are Indo-Fijians or Hindustanis. Indian indentured laborers were initially brought to Fiji, Indo-Fijian. In the late 1800’s Indians came as indentured laborers to work on the sugar plantations. Most have been here in Fiji for multiple generations.  They even have a fusion language.  After the indentured system ended, many stayed on as farmers and became businessmen.

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Now you have the most amazing fusion.  Hindu temples on an island jungle with culture, language, and society that is culture and tradition rich cultural island nation mixed with the incredible history of India. A little bit of curry goes a long way to spice up a dish.  The colors really light up the place.

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My friend Michael of sharingtheglobe.com is *really* good at travel.  When we put our minds together, we put together incredible adventures.  Michael knew that the hindu holiday of Holi was happening.  So while the first day of our trip, we knew we wanted to venture deep into the island and spend our time in a village.

The adventure began when we woke up on Holi morning.  We knew we wanted to find out where the holi celebration was happening.  We asked around and some mentioned that the Hari Krishna temple was where it was happening.  We tracked it down, and visited it, but while a beautiful building, they weren’t having it there.  They told us to go to a different hindi temple. It was there we saw a small gathering.  It was the super soaker of purple dyes that really made a mess.  We knew as we approached that we were going to get really painted up. 

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Within a couple of minutes, we were soaking with colors of the rainbow.  It was fun, exciting, and we joined in music and food.  The kids were loving it just as much as the adults.

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It was after we left the temple that we we driving a long all painted up when we saw a big truck full of Holi day people.  The truck was like a large military truck with room for tons of people. We waved and they waved back.  They were excited to see follow holi friends and gestured for us to follow them.  We followed them as they drove to a house.  An older lady answered the door, and the music and dancing began and paint started flying.  In western terms it felt like a mix between trick or treating for Halloween, and Christmas caroling, but the colors feel like a mix of easter and a spring water fight.  Amazing.  I hope you can just imagine the joy we were spreading as we were going from house to house, singing and dancing, and letting go of norms.  It was very energizing to let go and connect with these people.  In the end we stopped for a round of Kava.   

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The purple dyes would take over a week to get out, but the feelings lasted even longer.  I gained a huge appreciation for the hindi people in this experience.  The love, the friendship, it was amazing to see the outreach and ability to connect a community.  These traditions should be respected.  When I found out that not 50 miles from where I’m currently living, the hindu temple has an annual gathering and the community gathers to celebrate with the Hindu people.  If you ever get the chance to celebrate holi.  You must.  It will help you gain a huge appreciation for India, Hindus, and the global culture that has brought spice to the world. Happy Holi, and I pray for continued peace on the island of Fiji.  What an amazing place!!!

Fiji – An Experiment in “No Reservations” Cultural Island Travel

The interior of Fiji

 

I bought a cheap flight from New Zealand on my way back to the U.S.  On a discount Jet Star flight, I was in Fiji for a couple of days for less than a difference of somewhere between $100-200 USD.  It was great.  I loved Fiji.  The people were amazing!  The adventures I had in Fiji could not have been planned, and no guide could have planned some thing as authentic as what we experienced.  This post is the first night and I’ll separate the other experience in another post.  Fiji was just too amazing for one post.  Michael condensed his into one post on Fiji titled “Kava Shots and Holi Wars”, and I borrowed a couple of his great photos.  This post on our experience with the native Melanesian people and my second post on the hindustanis and celebrating “holi” with them.

When some people think Fiji, they think of beaches in paradise.  I was thinking… Natives in grass skirts, a real tribal experience that I couldn’t find in the Caribbean.  I knew I wouldn’t have my wife and kids with me, and hanging out on the beach was the furthest thing from my mind.  I wanted to go local and seek out a real adventure.

On the flight to Fiji I asked a flight attendant where I could find the most native village and one where I could live with the locals.  I was imagining huts or sleeping on mats or hanging hammock.  I was given the name of a place somewhere deep in the island.  When we went to pick up the rental car, they said we’d want a 4×4 to get there.  Ultimately we picked up a 4×4 and headed out into the woods.  Before we headed out, we wanted to make sure we had a gift for the village to cover any expenses we might incur to the village.

It was long before we started out on dirt roads, and deeper and deeper crossing rivers, and getting strange looks.  Miles and miles deeper we drove.  The stares started getting longer and polite “Boolah!” we would get.  We’d respond, “Boolah!” and smile big.  Then someone stopped us… where are you going?  We explained we were going deep into the heart of the island to this very native village.  He told us that was impossible and that we should turn around.  We let him know we weren’t in a hurry and were enjoying the drive.  He gave us a warning that the river had washed out the road.  It got more and more challenging as we drove along and finally we met our match.  The road was too much, so we turned around.  You’ve heard about Anthony Bourdain and his No Reservations show. On this day we were definitely traveling without reservations.  We were both up for adventure.  I was traveling with my friend Michael Noel of SharingTheGlobe.com and I said.  Tonight I want to sleep in a village, and we agreed even if we were on someone’s floor.  We were open to adventure.  As we drove back the way we came, we saw a big tent and a local gathering.  We slowed down to avoid the crowd walking along the street and gathered around the tent.

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Young men were pounding long metal pipes in little wooden canisters.  They’d lift and pound, twist lift and pound. We slowed and said “Boolah!”… What’s going on?  He replied, it was a birthday party for his 1 year old daughter.  The entire village was gathered for the party.  The women were inside the home, and the men underneath the tent.  He invited us to join them.  We had heard about the need to bring cava roots as a gift, so we were prepared.  I was so excited to join this exciting moment and the family was happy to have some foreign guests of honor.  We were brought to the head of the tent to the elders of the village and sat down on mats.

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The village chief elder asked us a few questions, but invited us to participate in a ceremonial “Kava” drink.  Kava is such an important part of the culture.  It is only consumed sitting with your legs crossed, with no legs and foot pointing to the sides.  The kasava root is pounded then put in a sock and water is added to create the drink.  The first person claps their hands twice, and from a large bowl a half coconut is dipped in and then the person who is presented the cava claps twice, then drinks the cava, after he’s finished he throws any remainder over his shoulder and hands the coconut back.  Both hands are used at all time.  It felt like a handshake, trust, confidence, and an opportunity to make friends all at once.

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The tent was filled with happiness and order.  Those with the most age were at the front of the tent and as a rite of passage, you had to be twenty or twenty one to enter the tent.  Those at the back of the tent had paid their dues in the pounding of the cava and only those who had come of age could drink the cava.

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In our search for a unique cultural experience we were given one.  We had arrived late to the party and the men had already eaten.  We were invited to eat with the women and children who as custom would have it, eat after the men.

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They accepted us and we had some interesting looks, but had some great local hand cooked fish and rice. The children thought we were interesting or funny looking.  Either way, we made friends with the kids, and eventually re-emerged back out toward the tent.  A couple of younger guys from the back of the tent approached us and asked us about our story.  Why we were here, asking if we were having a good time… Of course we were.  We were offered more kava.  At this point I was getting a little nervous.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to have strange dreams or what affect this kava might have.  I knew there wasn’t alcohol in it, but beyond that I didn’t know much about it.  I explained to the young man that I shouldn’t have too much.  He asked why.  I said for religious reasons.  He asked what religion.  I said. LDS.  He said.  “No way.”  I said, “yes way.  I am a Mormon.”  He replied…  That was impossible.  He stopped and said. I am a Mormon.  That house over there.  They are Mormon.  Many in this tent are Mormons.  I wasn’t sure if he understood me, or what, but then I remembered as we had turned off the road, I had seen an LDS church.  He said the prophet had told them that they could drink kava, but they should not drink too much.  Having spent the last 3 hours involved in the ceremony with the elders I could see the cultural importance, and for a young man this was a huge privilege for him to be under the tent and mingling with the men of the village.  He asked us where we were staying and I told him we were hoping to find a place to stay.  A while later he told us he had talked to his mother and we could stay with them.  Perfect!  We would be able to stay in the village and even if on the floor we had a real local experience rather than staying in some cheap hotel.  He wanted to stay at the party as late as possible, so I asked him about what time he’d be leaving.  He didn’t know, but somewhere around 1am.  We agreed that would be fine.  He ended up going back to the party after we settled down for the night.  The 1 year old’s party lasted till at least 2 or 3 am.  Wildest 1 year old party I’ve ever heard of…  The people celebrate together.  It’s a very communal society.

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Music got more lively and ultimately it turned to dance, and we were invited to boogy.  After learning a few local moves, we were invited by some locals to start dancing.  We had some more kava.  Danced some more.  Had more kava, met more locals and spent the evening having a blast with the local Vatuvu villagers. Fiji was amazing and we were experiencing it raw.  No guides, not paid group.  Our payment, a gift of Kasava root, smiles and friendship.

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That night I would sleep on my new friend’s couch, and feel what it was like to be a villager.  Mission accomplished!

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