Year in Review 2018 – Joel Oleson Adventure Traveler Fun Photos


At the beginning of 2018, I started working at Blizzard Entertainment and visited a couple of offices in Europe as well and now two of my oldest sons started college.  Great accomplishments for which I’m very pleased.  As a result of supporting 2 in college, I’ve had to get good at cashing in airline miles.   Our big family trip this year was to Ethiopia and Tanzania and it was awesome!  The great migration and seeing the It’s one my wife has been asking to do for years.  I finished the Western Hemisphere UN (North and South America).  I started the year with 155 to go and ended with 163… but lots of great highlights as you’ll see below.

Screenshots above are from “App in the Air” based on Tripit.  Reality is somewhere around 1.5 million miles, but who’s counting?

These stats are primarily based on flights alone since I left Microsoft about 11 years ago.  It doesn’t count the visits by car or train.

8 New UN Countries

Roadtrip from Bissau to Dakar

  • Guinea Bissau
  • The Gambia
  • Senegal

Island hopping around Madagascar

  • Seychelles
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritius
  • Reunion (TCC)
  • Mayotte (TCC)

Weekend in the Caribbean

  • Antigua
  • Grenada

Revisits and some New Areas (Some selected photos below)

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The tribes in the Omo Valley were like visiting my ancestors from 5,000-10,000 years ago.  Huddling in the grass huts and talking about their experiences was surreal. Having my son and nephew experience this ancient tribe was so fantastic.  I do worry these days are limited.  Life on this planet is changing quickly… There was a group of Chinese tourists complete with green screens and lighting equipment that beat us to one of the tribes and I struggled to not be heartbroken.  Just when you think there’s no way you’ll see a tourist…

The Great Migration is one of the most amazing things on the planet, and is the largest mammal migration of it’s kind with more than 1.5 million individuals.  I was told by my driver that I would cry I’d see so many wildebeests. I think my heart was full, but it was others in the group that voted to move on. I couldn’t get enough of these odd creatures.

Travel can be so much more interesting you see a place not how it is, but how it changes… our perspective changes…  a place can be so different at different times of the year.  Our driver was telling us about the different times of the year based on baby animals, the rainy seasons with the hippos and crocks, the dry season where the animals get close and the lions have an easier time.  Imagine how the Serengeti looks if you’re standing in the middle of a meercats den… every day a different story. (Yes, I did see Meerkats and they did NOT dissapoint!) The Wildebeests were a testament to a creator.  The creations of this planet make us think of organization on a massive scale rather than pure chaos.

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Watching The Lion King… in Nature play out in front of my eyes… now that brings you to tears!

lion hunt

Watching the lions in the Ngorongoro Crater was fascinating.  The density of large mammals is the most dense on the earth in the crater.   (Minus the lemurs in Madagascar more on that later). It was incredible to see this lioness be first tracked by a male, then go hunting. 

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This massive 49 meter tall bronze statue located on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, outside Dakar, mixture of corruption, Stalinist architecture, and North Korean architecture.

I LOVED Madagascar…  The Lemurs, the Baobabs, the surprise trekking of nocturnal night lemurs by flashlight… oh, so amazing… There is so much rich and unique biodiversity in Madagascar, and while it’s so difficult to get there, it ended up being more amazing than I hoped.  Madagascar as a culture is still quite primitive and not without problems, but wow what an amazing experience.   You can read more about my experiences with the lemurs and baobabs of Madagascar. I couldn’t believe I found covered wagons like those who crossed the plains to Utah in Madagascar. I’ve seen a lot of camels, donkeys, and horses, but true classic covered wagons with wooden wagon wheels… that was a first in Madagascar for me.

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Seychelles with the largest nut, the large rocks, the beautiful beaches… I had the opportunity to do some diving.

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Venice is a magical city.  St Marcos Square with it’s looming tower and incredibly ornate frescoes, mosaics,and golden horses.  It’s a must see for any traveler, and even better on this my second visit.

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The Mosaics in Ravenna, Italy seem to capture lost mysteries.  It’s super fascinating to study and wander the dozens of basilicas and churches in the surrounding areas.

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From underwater sculpture gardens, to waterfalls and sulfur hot springs, Grenada was a very green relaxing spice island.

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Antigua is a beautiful island.  It got quite a bit of destruction recently mostly on Barbuda.  This dog followed me for over an hour.  By the end of my walk I had 6 dogs following me.

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Christ the Redeemer in Lisbon was a gift from Brazil

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Mont Sant Michel France

Mont Sant-Michel on the coast of France… very appropriate given the anniversary of the end of World War 1. Our visit to the coast included a walk along the beach in Normandy and a heavy heart.

Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more blogs on some of my adventures last year…  Thanks for your support!  Here’s to travel in 2019!

Current Travel Plans for 2019…

  • Family Spring Break trip to China – Xian Terra Cotta Warriors, Heavens gate, Glass bridge, Huge Buddah statues, Avatar Forest, and Pandas (My youngest LOVES Pandas!)
  • Remote South Pacific island hopping for my birthday including Vanuatu and Tuvalu and possible diving in the Great Barrier reef
  • TBD

Hope you’ll like and subscribe for more in 2019! Let me know what you’d like to see!

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African Road trip – Bissau Guinea Bissau to Dakar Senegal


I was looking for a quick African adventure, and I was not disappointed.  Bissau delivered on the feel of being on the edge of civilization. 

Bissau Bus

When we landed we went straight to a hotel and we asked them what time the bus was going to leave.  Online I’d heard it was sometime around 7, but something to do know about African buses is they leave when they are full.  The hotel front desk encouraged us to be ready by 6am.  Sure enough without asking for a wake up call, we got a call at 5:30am telling us to get ready to go and a car was ready and would take us to the bus.  Before light the bus was nearly full of people.  We got on the list and there was only 1 or 2 spots left.  It took another 45 minutes to fill the last couple spots and to fill the top and side of the bus.  This bus for about $10 USD would take us all the way to the capital of The Gambia including two border crossings as it would pass into southern Senegal before arriving in Banjul.  Apparently there’s a bridge under construction so this route may end up being more efficient soon.

African Snacks

This young girl brought fresh cakes to sell.  Very easy to get great snacks along the route.

Day 1: Arrive in Bissau – Explore Bissau, Guinea Bissau

Day 2: Depart for Banjul by Large bus arrive 4pm – Explore Senegambia

Day 3: Explore The Gambia: Banjul & Senegambia – Depart by Ferry then catch a smaller bush taxi or van toward the border (about 1 hour ride), then short 2Km ride to the bus stop to catch a ride to Dakar.

One of the great things about road trips in Africa is the various different markets you’ll see where the tribes and local villagers come together.  Trade is one of the things that makes the world go round.

Sengalese Market

How many stores or commerce do you see in this photo?

African women

I see no less than 4 different stores.  The local industry is really thriving and people are very passionate about what they are selling.  No need to give money away, you can help out the local economy by buying fresh bread, fruit, nuts, and getting a ride across town. 

On the bus we made a lot of friends with the friendly people.  The relatively short 6-7 hour bus ride cross from Portuguese speaking Guinea Bissau through French speaking Senegal to English speaking The Gambia.  Many of the people also speak a couple of different tribal languages.  Incredibly diverse.

When we arrived in the greater Banjul area we got some advice from our new friends to head toward Senegambia the beach area.  Huge variety of food including local varieties and also European and even Thai varieties.  I was trying to get some cultural experiences and local food.

Drumming in Senegambia, The Gambia

The wild monkey fit the bill.  We listened to local drumming and dancing while we had some vantastic local food.

African Dancing

Here the locals mix a spicy peanut sauce with a variety of meats

Domoda

Local dish usually served with Rice known as Domoda

“Caramelized onions, chicken and tomato stock, and hot chili peppers are also added. Maggi bouillon cubes are readily available in many parts of Africa and are commonly used in African cooking, including this dish.

In The Gambia there are some great opportunities to see African Animals.  I didn’t have a lot of time, but I was anxious to see the Chimpanzees of Chimp Island.  There are apparently 3 islands that have over 75 individuals.  It’s not easy to get to, so when I was offered a ride to a Chimp Reserve.  Unfortunately the driver was mistaken and he instead took me to a place with Baboons.  Not the same.  If I had more time I would have tracked down the Stone Circles of Wassu which is a lot like the Stone Henge of Africa.  There are a couple of UNESCO sites in The Gambia.

Baboon IslandNight in The GambiaWassu stone circles

Sites of The Gambia

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Sunset in Senegambia

Senegambian beach

Beautiful beach of Senegambia.  These beaches are shared by the hotels and the fisherman.

China Aid Gambian Confernce Center

China Aid is building a massive convention center.  China has the most interesting agreements in injecting stimulus into so many countries in Africa.  It blew me away the projects I saw in Ethiopia.  Incredible.

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Big variety of African birds

green vervet

green vervet monkey

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We bought a thing of natural peanuts to give to the troop of monkeys in a small reserve area.  They are very use to humans.

There’s a monkey park with 3 different varieties of monkeys with a couple

red monkey

The Monkeys are so amazing

cute baby monkey

I love the baby monkeys!  So cute!

I do really love the monkeys.  Such beautiful animals.  So human like in their features.

beautiful monkeys

The Gambia mosque

Mosque

gateway to the gambia

Gateway to Banjul

Streets of Banjul, The Gambia

The old city has seen better days, but it’s quite interesting to wander

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My ticket from Banjul to Bara on the ferry.  The cost was less than 1 US dollar.

Ferry women

Getting ready to unload the fascinating colors of The Gambian people with their loads get off the Ferry


colorful gambian boat

Fisherman off the coast of Barra.  These boats become an alternative method to getting around the port as well.

car wrapped in duck tape

Cars last a lot longer in Africa.  I’m sure this van had seen 1 million miles.  The duck tape keeps it together.  We stopped asking for AC and started trying to just make sure we got a window.  One of the tricks to local overland travel in Western Africa is learning that for comfort you can simply buy more seats.  Rather than simply trying to negotiate a private car which would have cost us 200-300 euro to get from Barra to Dakar, we instead took the local transport to the border for about $10 or less then negotiated buying seats next to us to give us more room.  When we couldn’t do that in the vehicle that was ready to leave, they offered to put us in the next vehicle, and it was there that we’d negotiated 4 seats for the 2 of us, and since they considered 6 seats as full we simply needed to pay for 2 more and we were on our way for about $40 USD, saving us hundreds of dollars from a private taxi. 

Primitive house

donkey cart senegal

transportation in a lot of the smaller villages is still by donkey cart, but they go far for efficiency.  It’s not unusual to see large groups on a cart.

donkey carts

The race to Dakar…

Senegal mosque

Spires of the mosque at sunset

Baobab trees

The majestic beauty of the Baobabs.  The locals have superstitions that keep them from cutting them down… which is fantastic.  There are so many more for us to appreciate.

broken down car in senegal

Interestingly along the way we saw another vehicle that was having issues, and we took half their passengers on in our vehicle.  More the merrier.  It was our choice and we were happy to have the local company.

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We made it to Dakar and met up with a friend.

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Pink Lake in Senegal … we missed the pink.  Apparently it happened earlier in the day.  These friendly women were so amazing.

Senegal National Mosque

The national mosque is extremely impressive on the side of an cliff

Roadtripping West Africa: Lagos Nigeria to Accra Ghana


I had a blast on Two recent road trips in West Africa.  Immersive experiences in cities not use to tourists.  The world’s past and future are tied up in these budding African cities.  Nigeria and Ghana are going to be so important not just to Africa, but to the world.  They represent where the developing world has been and the potential for tomorrow.

 

Road Trip from Nigeria to Ghana with stops in Cotonou, Benin and Lome, Tome and final destination of Accra Ghana

Before I left home I had to make sure to get both the Nigerian and Ghana visa ahead of time, Benin (e-visa) and the Togo visa on arrival at the border.

 

ghana to nigeria

Day 1: Lagos, Nigeria

 

Lagos Cathedral

Downtown Lagos, Nigeria – The hustle and bustle of street markets are everywhere.  Lagos is filled with energetic youth… Africa’s promise.

bus ridersbus riders lagos nigeria

The beginning of the road trip… City bus ride

 

The key information in roadtripping in West Africa is understanding how people move.

1. The first thing to understand is the key is finding the bus depot/bus garage.  In any given African city there’s the main bus stop where everyone gathers who wants to go to the next major city.  Early in the morning starting not later than 6am the people will gather and start to fill up the big buses.  The big ones often only go between the capitals, but there are the smaller bush taxis that go between all the major cities.  Buses don’t necessarily leave on a schedule, but instead leave when the bus is full.  Each seat will be filled or paid for and the tops and any given space is filled and then they are on their way.

 

Transportation in Africa isn’t like your traditional Western countries

moto taxi

Moto taxis are guys who drive their motorbikes around.  In some countries the drivers where little vests

gotta love the tuk tuk

Tuk tuks are for local rides.

modern dirt roads

In Western Africa you’ll see everything.  Contrast of old dirt roads and brand new buildings and infrastructure

My friend had some business we needed to attend to in Lagos before we left, but getting around the city on a bus wasn’t too difficult.  We did have to get to the right bus stop to find the bus that would take us to Contonou.

inside the bush taxi

The bush taxis can be quite crowded.  They don’t leave until their full and they get stacked up.

 

 

Day 2: Cotonou, Benin

 

temple robes

A Celestial religious group complete with White Robes and Caps.  They even have their own radio show.

royal palace togo

Outside the royal Palace.

statue in tribal Togo

Large statue of the old Tribal King in Togo

African voodoo

VooDoo is the official religion.  Superstition is rampant, and faith runs very deep.

 

African Courts in Togo

The green grass isn’t always what it seems.  You’re looking at the royal courts at the Imperial Palace near Port Novo, Benin

 

Togo and Benin border

A friend recently asked me if I’ve ever been scared while traveling.  This was clearly one of the the scariest experience I’ve had while traveling.  It was on the border of Tome and Benin.  I was dealing with a strange situation of the immigration officer trying to figure out why I had a visa and exit stamp in two different places.  It was just then that I saw a big truck barrel toward the border crushing people as it went and then topple over into the embankment crushing a small stand as it went.  People screamed and rushed to the place where the truck lay.  Immediately after the commotion they locked the fence to the border and the people gathered together to roll the truck off of a child.  A motorbike with a casket arrived at the scene and the locals sobbed as they put the child in the casket and marched around.  I felt so very vulnerable.  No ambulance rushed to the scene.  No police came to the aid, and instead the border police brought out their clubs and worked to clear the road and scatter the people.  It was a very sad scene.  I did think to myself I could have been crushed if I had only finished with my visa 30 seconds to 1 minute earlier.

 

Day 3: Lome, Togo

 

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Goat intestines, millet porridge and okra spicy dipping sauce… great local breakfast.

 

African tribal facade

Old traditional style on the façade of a building in Togo

Togoalese fishing

Major western African port with big and small boats

fishing nets of Togo

The men relax on the fishing nets and the children play

Voodoo Market signVoodoo market

While I was looking for the Voodoo market, I was not willing to pay 5000F just to get in and take a photo.  I found a nearby voodoo market that didn’t charge to take photos.  So I didn’t get the baboon heads and strange bones and all sorts of odd stuff they sell.  It seemed like it was either becoming tourist trap or was one.  I don’t know when the last time they sold a baboon skull.  I started feeling bad for being there anyway.  5000 is about 7 dollars.  Very pricey.

cat cage

Why were these cats in such a small cage at the market.  Sad.

 

Togo child femaletogo child male

The cutest kids waiting for their parents to work in the market

Togo Market

The hustle and bustle of the market in Togo

intestine stew

Intestines simmering in chili sauce

watermelon

How many watermelons can you balance on your head?

 

Togo monument

National Monument of the struggle in Togo

Day 4: Accra, Ghana

 

markets

Our bush taxi stops for a moment and the locals bring up selling, fruit,  nuts and snacks

Ghana fishing boats

On the shores in Accra Ghana… at a fishing village

Ghana foods

Fresh grilled

 

Ghana LDS Temple

Accra Ghana LDS Temple

Giant water urn

Water Urns outside an impromptu squatter tent village

littered beach

The scattered littered beaches of Accra Ghana.  I have high hopes this will change.  There are many who live on these beaches who struggle.

Accra Ghana National Monument

My friend Ifeatu and me at the national monument in Accra Ghana

Modern Apartment building in Accra Ghana

Modern Apartments in Ghana

traffic in Accra Ghana

Ghana is changing fast!  Accra is a leading city in Western Africa

Beautiful beaches in Accra Ghana

Beautiful beaches and pier in Accra outside the old fort with beautiful little fishing villages that could easily be seen as squatters, but these locals have been here for generations.

As I reflect on this road trip, I think about the crazy foods, old religions and voodoo that’s on the edge of tourist fascinations and the sights, smells, and sounds… I saw so much and experienced so much in just a few days.

 

I was happy to have shared much of my experiences with my good Nigerian Biafran friend Ifeatu Osegbo travel blogger on that other city.

Where did life begin? Traveling to Ethiopia’s Omo Valley – Early Man


My passion for understanding the past through early man caves, paleontology, archeology, encounters with ancient tribes with connections to the past and life origins and what matters most…  these strike directly at the heart of what I find meaningful in travel.  Indiana Jones wasn’t just looking for gold statues… he was looking for answers.

Early Man Ethiopia

If you’re trying to connect with the past, there really isn’t any place where you’ll find more diverse tribes in such a small area than in Ethiopia.  Seriously.  If you have found something more diverse and connected with the past, I’d really like to know.  While the exact number is unknown, there are around 80 tribes and 86 living languages with an incredibly diverse ethnic groups living in Ethiopia. Most of the urban population belongs to the Amhara or Oromo tribes.  Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world.  Ethiopia today is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and yet has some of the best preserved untouched primitive tribal living in the world. What makes Ethiopia unique is the longevity of Ethiopia without much outside influence.  Italy was trying to build an empire in Ethiopia had such a small impact, you’ll struggle to find anything Italian unless you visit Gondar where there are a few buildings that look Italian.  Italians made an attempt to have Ethiopia as their share of Africa. They invaded in 1893 but were shamefully defeated by the Ethiopians to become the first European losers in a colonial war. This led to the Italy-Ethiopia war conducted in 1930’s.  Ultimately Ethiopia was colonized by Italy from 1936 to 1941.  Only 5 years, so you can understand how little impact would come from that.  Things will change. 

So, going back to it.  Ethiopia has a lot of primitive tribes that continue to live the way they have for thousands of years… I was anxious to visit early man, and what an incredible experience I had making so many new friends and gaining insights about ancient life.   

Early Man Lucy

While it may seem like Ethiopia has always been the cradle of civilization it was not until 1963 that ancient hominids were discovered in Ethiopia where stone tools that were over a million years old at Kella.  Since then many important finds have propelled Ethiopia to the forefront of paleontology. The oldest hominid discovered to date in Ethiopia is the 4.2 million year old Ardi found by Tim White in 1994. The most well known hominid discovery is Lucy, found in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia’s Afar region in 1974 by Donald Johanson, and is one of the most complete and best preserved, adult fossils ever uncovered. Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago.  You can see Lucy and Ardi bones in the museum in Addis Ababa in the capital.  

early man skulllucy bones

There have been many other notable fossil findings in the country. Near Gona stone tools were uncovered in 1992 that were 2.52 million years old, these are the oldest such tools ever discovered anywhere in the world.  In 2010 fossilized animal bones, that were 3.4 million years old were found with stone-tool-inflicted marks on them in the Lower Awash Valley by an international team, which is the oldest evidence of stone tool use ever found anywhere in the world.  In 2004 fossils found near the Omo river at Kibbish at 195,000 years old, the oldest date in East Africa for modern Homo sapiens. Imagine walking around in a valley where the bones you might stumble across could be an ancient ancestor.

tribal encounters

You really don’t have to spend much time with the tribes to find their simple, but ancient traditions to be enlightening.  You really don’t have to go to distant islands where you risk getting shot by arrows.  You can come to the Omo Valley, and get a guide and scout who are provided for your safety and convenience to communicate with the chief and his warriors, who are really quite friendly.

olmec headimage

Last summer I traveled to Mexico to see the Olmec heads.  I was NOT expecting to see one in Addis Ababa outside the museum in Ethiopia.

National Museum of Ethiopia

The National Museum of Ethiopia is worthwhile.  Even in just the last few years it has gotten a lot better.  It was the Lucy bones that drew me the first time, but taking my 9 year old boy to put some context in paleontology was very worthwhile.

 imageNational Church Ethiopia

My friend Abeye who I met on a trip to Lalibella, Ethiopia 8 years earlier with his school friends.  It was him and his friends who were our guides when we were trying to locate an orphanage.  I had the biggest epiphany… everything you think you know about Africa is wrong.  Everything you think you know about Ethiopia is also wrong.  Giving money to the orphanages in Lalibela would have been a mistake.  They were the only spoiled kids in the city.   Who would have guessed?  Instead I found a blind kid and his friend who helped us locate school supplies which we were able to distribute to as many kids as we could find.  It was a life changing event.  Bringing books and school supplies to a few schools along our route on our trips was a lot of fun for the whole family.  Mission accomplished.  My 9 year old and his cousin will never forget how they felt as they had many first contact type experiences with the kids at the markets.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to be a minority, I highly recommend it.  It’s important to get out of your comfort zone, and let a villager touch your freckles or softly pinch your skin and stare right through your blue eyes.  You sort of feel like an alien.  Imagine if everyone had the opportunity to feel like an alien.  How much prejudice and bigotry would melt away to empathy?

first contact

first contact ethiopia

No matter how much you try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you will still struggle to understand how someone could put such a large plate in their lip, but if you don’t try to connect with them and imagine life in a straw hut and attempt to connect with their present and your past… to see what life might have been like 3,000 or 30,000 years ago.

Mursi tribe

The Mursi tribe are a nomadic people known for their lip plates, they live in grass huts between the Omo River and its tributary the Mago, one of the most isolated regions of the country.  They are animists. Lip plates are a well known aspect of the Mursi and Surma, who are probably the last groups in Africa amongst whom it is still the norm for women to wear large pottery, wooden discs, or plates in their lower lips. 

happy tribal encounters

I had a great time with my new friend.  We were taking selfies and could keep a straight face.  After traveling 3 days to get deep into the Omo Valley I was so excited to spend time with one of the most primitive tribes in Ethiopia.  Clothing optional, this tribe could construct their grass hut village in less than 24 hours.  They are a nomadic tribe.

Zebra kids

As we drove by these zebra stripped kids I was struck.  I was really on the edge of the planet.  Our guide said, “don’t take their picture they’ll throw rocks!”  It was too late.  I caught this beautiful photo first.  I hope it represents them well.  For the most part prior to us arriving at a village there were terms on photos and we’d work it out with the chief.  It’s true… sometimes they wanted money for each picture, but it was my preference to trade.  If we could bring things the tribe needed, I felt a lot better…. school supplies, solar lantern, or simple toys.

Ancient Konso pole

This pole may look like a bunch of poles lashed together, but actually this is a clock.  The tribe adds a new pole to this central point in the village every generation (18 years.)  Konso, this ancient UNESCO heritage village is over 400 years old.

Tiye UNESCO

Tiya, a UNESCO site of large stones from an ancient burrial ground.  No one recognizes the swords.  They don’t match any on record in Ethiopia.   I love it.  The site is still being understood.  You can be an archeologist and figure it out!  The guides on site have some good ideas, but you can tell much of what they are saying is guestimates.

Ethiopian sword and shield

You can compare these swords from the museum… Doesn’t look anything like it.  The 1600s was a pretty exciting time in Ethiopia with the royal courts, castles, and conquests.  You wouldn’t believe the history.  Gondar Ethiopia where the castles are is a must for a longer trip to Ethiopia.

Ethiopian crock Lake Chamo

Humans aren’t the only ancient thing in Ethiopia.  Very old crocodiles and hippos in the lake.  You can take a guide, captain and scout by boat and go trekking for animals in Lake Chamo Nechi Sar

Adadi Mariam

Ancient stone churches are both in the North and in the South.  Lalibella in the North has some of the best monolithic buildings in the world.

The only southerly rock hewn church Adadi Mariam… It’s like visiting a cave church carved out of rock, not unlike the cave churches in Cappadocia, but those churches don’t have a holy of holies and these are all fashioned after Solomon’s temple and often have a ark of the covenant replica based on the real one… just ask them.  The religion runs very deep in Ethiopia, and there’s no doubt they are from lost tribes of ancient Israel… the DNA studies and the heritage back up the stories.  The stories are fantastic and rich as the countries culture.

Ancient New York

Breathtaking natural beauty outside the windows of the ancient village near Konso.  This valley is coined New York for what look a vast city scape in dirt… like sky scrapers.

Mursi Warrior

This Mursi Warrior may look tough, and they are, but they are also very sweet.

Raw Beef

If you don’t stick to tourist food, you can try some amazing tibs.  Tare tare may be a french term, but at this shop, they chop off cuts of fresh beef, seasoning optional.  Strips of raw meat – Tere Sega.  I LOVE Ethiopian food.  It took some convincing my driver that I had an iron stomach, then I could get to the really good places where the locals eat.  Tibs, Shiro, Kifto, Gomen, Doro Wat, Shiro Feces, served with a layer of Injira. 

Ethiopian Market

Incredible markets.  Tribes would come to trade or sell their vegetables or clothes.  Markets aren’t every day, but on market day it’s a treat to meet those that come from far away.  I did find it annoying that some local government officials thought we needed a permit to go to the market.  They were persistent.

Konso tribal hut

Traditional ancient Konso tribal Hut.  These are really the nice huts.  There are much more primitive and temporary huts.

Ethiopian hard working women

The hardest working women in the world.  I believe.  These women spend all day looking for sticks to turn to charcoal to sell or to use as firewood to feed their families.

Konso Tribal Elders

The wise tribal elders of Konso

Tribal market

Those wooden seats double as a pillow and are one of the few items you might find in a hut.

Ancient tribal hut

The inside of a hut.  This women was near the center of the village so she has some additional amenities.

huts

The animals live in the stone walled in village for protection.  The further outer rings of the village the newer but more risky.

inside Mursi hut

The inside of the grass hut.  Embers still warm.

 

In a spirit of transparency.  I’m fine sharing what I got

Omo valley cultural tour

Day 1 – Rock Hewn church, Tiya UNESCO site

Day 2 Trekking for Zebras, visiting crocks and hippos

Day 3 Jinka!!! Konso tribes the 400 year old UNESCO village including New York

Day 4 Mursi tribe and Mago National Park.  This is the lip plate tribe.  Dimeka Market…

Day 5 Turmi cultural tribal city in the middle of Omo Valley

Day 6 Dorze village

I ended up going back to Paradise Lodge.  We loved that place.  The view was incredible.  So we elected for 3 nights there in Arba Minch. 

King Dawit tours

For $75 a day for $525 we had a Toyota Land Cruiser driver and vehicle for about 7 days.  I felt pretty good about what I negotiated.  Our driver knew the route, and while he didn’t like driving in the dark.  We were able to push him to put in 12 hour days and saw an incredible amount of Southern Ethiopia on this trip.

It was so great to get back to Ethiopia one of my favorite countries not only in Africa, but in the world.

If you enjoyed this post… you might enjoy my previous post on Ethiopia on Lalibela and the Rock Hewn Churches where I first met Abeye and fell in love with ancient Ethiopia.  My friend Abeye is now building his own ethiopian tours.

Natural Wonders of the World – Underground River of Puerto Princesa


Philippines is hidding a real gem.  In fact, scratch that, they are hiding some of the most amazing islands for vacation in the world.  I’ve been to the main island a couple of times, but it was this intentional visit to go see the 7 natural wonders of the world that brought me to the little gem of an island of Palawan.  Puerto Princesa Underground River started with a motor boat ride to the nearby beach to an outfitter to provide us with smaller boats bright mandatory big orange life jackets and shiny hard hat helmets. 

The puerto princesa national park is a limestone karst mountain landscape. The actual St. Pauls Underground River Cave is more than 24 km (15 mi) long and contains an 8.2 km (5.1 mi) long underground section of the Cabayugan River. The river system of the cave flows into the West Philippine Sea and is navigable by boat up to 4.3 km (2.7 mi) in from the entrance. The cave includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers, including the 360-meter-long Italian’s Chamber with approximate 2.5 million square meters of volume making it one of the largest cave rooms in the world.

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Tourists getting ready to enter the cave

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Just inside the cave system

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On the first boat headed to the beach with the smaller boats

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The island of Palawan has many uniquely styled canoe boats designed to move quickly over the water

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The boat captains love and live on the water.  It is life.

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Bats, snakes, birds, there’s a lot of life going in and out of the caves.

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Chili crab.  Some of the best food on a banana leaf.

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The boats are a very important part of life on Palawan island

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I stand back to back with our guide and she’s next to one of the indigenous oldest elders.  They are known as pygmy people due to their height.

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Palawan not only has an underground river cave system, but also native tribes!  This friendly looking tribe recently emerged from the forest.  They danced with us and taught us about their mythologies and shared traditions.  A young guide who is from another nearby tribe can speak their language and helped us communicate with them.   The young ones are now attending a school built right next to the huts, the teacher resides nearby.

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There are 70 indigenous peoples and the Bataks are thought to come from Asia 50,000 years ago.   The island of Palawan, the largest province in the Philippines, is home to several indigenous ethnolinguistic groups namely, the Kagayanen, Tagbanwa, Palawano, Taaw’t Bato, Molbog and the Batak tribes. They live in remote villages in the mountains and coastal areas.  We drove as far as we could and then walked across 6 streams to this remote village.  We visited this small tribe of about 17 individuals, some of the last of the Batak tribe.  The Batak tribe is a group of indigenous people who reside in the rugged interiors of the northeast portion of the province of Palawan. These group of people lives close to nature and are extremely peaceful and shy, traditionally they believe in nature spirits with whom they communicate with through the aid of a shaman. At present, there are only about 500, or less, Batak people remaining in the Philippines.  This group is now Christian and preferred not to talk about the old beliefs, but did tell us how much their lives changed when they found rice.  It was rice ultimately that drove them from hiding in the forest to coming out and coexisting with the other people.

Tribal Adventures in Papua New Guinea


The tribal chief would explain to us that when he was a boy he was wandering through the forest and he and the other boys heard a sound.  Large bats up in the sky.  They were afraid.  This was first contact.  What an incredible story to hear how their entire tribe would be transformed with World War II.  War planes would later land and change their lands forever adding roads, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and more.  Papua New Guinea has an ancient and very modern history.  They hold onto tradition and have a rich culture which provides an insight into the past I haven’t seen elsewhere to such depth.  I have lived with tribes in Mali, Swaziland, and Fiji and LOVE the opportunity to connect with these tribes on their terms.

Tribal feather headdresses of papua new guinea mt hagen sing sing

Yotube my footage: Massive Tribal Sing Sing in Papua New Guinea in Mt Hagen

All of the photos and videos you see linked here are mine captured during my trip. Enjoy, but if you want a copy of any of these let me know, I have higher res ones.  In addition, I created a number of fun short videos you can see in a single playlist  Joel Oleson Travel Youtube Channel Papua New Guinea Tribal Playlist and visit these videos be sure to like and subscribe!

Joel Oleson Youtube Channel - Papua New Guinea Playlist

It started with a friend of a friend on Facebook, named Felix.  I explained to him I wanted to have a true tribal experience and he replied quickly saying we could visit his tribe in the hills.

Felix - the SharePoint and Exchange guy on the island of Papua New Guinea

Felix from Port Moresby, PNG

He was an Exchange Administrator who had even done SharePoint in the capital.  He had a good job.  We had arranged to meet Felix at the airport and continue on.  He said he wasn’t able to get off work, but that his brother Saki would be there.  Saki has been out of work, and had ample time to take us around.  His english was very good and he was very well educated.  Come to find out, Felix and Saki’s dad is the tribal chief.  When we arrived at the village, the villagers surrounded our van and cheered.  It was an incredible feeling.

Sari tribe, Kali Clan, Puman Clan Papua New Guinea Highlands

Some of our new friends from the Sari Hill Tribe (Kali Clan and Puman Clan) … Saki is in the middle with the hat.  The boy with the gun is a gangster (just kidding, it’s a toy gun, but for real he was our body guard as was a half dozen other guys)

The tribes and clans in Papua New Guinea still operate on foundation of offerings of pigs and tribal war rules.  We stayed with a tribe that was very peaceful, loving, and trusting.  They worried about our health and safety at all times and made sure we had plenty of villagers to be with us.

 

We attended a funeral

PNG Traditional Tribal Funeral March

At a funeral the mother’s tribe traditionally puts mud on their bodies and adds ferns to the waist line.   Marriage is very frequently across tribal lines which create alliances and offerings that create stronger bonds in the community.  A bride price could easily be dozens and dozens of pigs.

View the video on Youtube: Traditional Funeral March in Papua New Guinea

Sharing an umberella with the colorful tribal friends

Colorful rainbow umbrellas are popular among the villagers.  The people sometimes look Mauri, native Australian, they love their beatlenut which is another form of currency.

Looking for something to eat

Shoes are optional.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are some of the happiest peaceful people on the planet.  They live off the land.  I wouldn’t call them poor, as they have some of the most beautiful land in the world, and they have fruit on the trees and yams and sweet potatoes in the ground.  With a few pigs for trade, they are doing great.  The family, tribe and clan bonds go very very deep.  The wealth of the tribe contributes to the wealth of the individual and visa versa  It is commune style living.

We saw a sing sing in action as tribes from across the island gathered in Mt Hagen in anticipation of the Prime Minister of PNG.

PNG Mudmen

Mudmen

SingSing in Full Swing Mt Hagen Cultural Dance Festival

You can identify a tribe based on their paint and look.  These tribesmen are from Mt Hagen.

Tribal Abs of Steel

Tribal thumbs up

Their beautiful features are some times from endangered birds so that creates controversy, but these guys don’t seem too concerned.  There is a hierarchy of needs.

what are you looking at willis?

Scary kids!

Some of the war paint is definitely designed to look scary.  Shaving the heads down the middle too.  Yikes.

Cultural Dancing in Mt Hagen with little kid

I love how the kids get into the tribal dancing too.  Traditions being passed on.

Enga dance troupe

Saki recognized some of his friends, he was showing us how it was done… drumming on the SharePoint mug

beautiful head dress

Youtube: A Walkthrough of the Beautiful Tribal Sing Sing of Papua New Guinea in the Highlands

Catholic Church Singing in the Small Village in Highlands Papua New Guinea has a Tribal Sound and Feel

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I have to imagine the tribes are in different stages of living off the land or embracing western society, but it is great to see them coming together to sing and dance.

There is one serious thing the tribes and clans still need help fixing.  It is the tribal to modern warfare.  It was a great education to see how problems would have been settled in the past.  I’ve heard even in the capital some Enga people still don’t trust the judges to settle issues if they feel marginalized and wronged.

Enga is still known to have tribal fighting.  This is a clip from the museum in Wagga.

Modern Warfare Papua New Guinea

Rules of Warfare in Papua New Guinea

The tribe where we stayed has not been involved in a war since the mid 90s.  They have decided it is better to pay the bigs and kina than retaliate.  The tribal warfare goes back many many years, but it has become more dangerous due to the escalation in weapons.  All tribes have weapons including bows and arrows, how most of the wars start.  We did visit a tribe where their huts and buildings had been burned to the ground.  It was sad to see, but they were happily rebuilding.

Rebuilding the town with a smileEnga Tribal Dancer

Left: Rebuilting their houses and huts.  Right: Traditional look of the tribes we were visiting.

 

 

 

 

PNG traditional hut

We spent one night in this hut.  It was Felix’s Uncle’s house.  We all slept in one big room on the elevated floor on mats around a fire in the middle.

 

On our last night the kids caught a cecada massive flying bug, and asked us to eat it.  Saki explained that’s what they use to eat and they still did.  He popped one in his mouth.  They found another and another and before long I was crunching down on what I can only describe as a cream puff taste.  Michael thought it tasted like peanut better.

Eating bugs

Youtube video: The kids brought me a treat!  A large Cicada, of course I’d give it a try….

 

I’d love for you to see some video as well… go to my Joel Oleson Travel Youtube Channel Papua New Guinea Tribal Playlist and visit these videos be sure to like and subscribe!

 

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YT Video: Cool Dancing Music with PVC pipes with Funny Dancer

Traveling the Nubian Pyramids of Sudan


 

Nubian Pyramids

Who goes to Sudan?  I did and it was awesome!  My planning started by scouring the internet for stories of people who visited Sudan and searching for stories of visiting the Nubian Pyramids of Meroe.  Thought they were in Egypt???

Pyramids in Sudan? Indeed!  In fact there are more Pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt.  There are 255 pyramids in Nubia in three sites built over a few hundred years.

Yes, there are 120 large pyramids built over the period of 3000 years.

Nubian Pyramids of Sudan

Pyramids of Meroe

I had heard getting the visa for Sudan may take up to 6 weeks.  In fact 6 weeks is about what it took for my friend to get his passport back which pushed it almost too far.  He ended up having to call them twice for additional materials.  I had another trip where I needed my passport and had only 4 weeks.  My biggest breakthrough was connecting with Acropole Hotel.  Simply reaching out to these guys and we had a place to stay, we had a ride, and we were able to get customized trip with a driver and everything we needed.  In fact they were able to provide an invitation which then allowed for visa on arrival with a letter.  The turn around was less than a week, but they recommend a few more weeks, but can make it happen with simply a scan of the passport and $200 wire.  Normally I wouldn’t dive into details, but these guys were so great, and reasonable, and trustworthy, I do recommend them.  The owner is of greek parents but born in Sudan and has a great education and speaks great English and was very responsive and insightful.  On top of all this, I recommend getting the tourist permit and the photo permit (frequently on the same page, which the hotel can organize ahead of time), make sure you have lots of copies as every stop you’ll need to provide a copy.

ACROPOLE HOTEL

Your Home Away from Home

tel:  +249 1 83 772860

+249 1 83772518

Fax: +249 1 83770898

Email :  acropolekhartoum@gmail.com

Web : acropolekhartoum.com

P.s. No credit cards are accepted in Sudan

         only cash Usd,Euro,Sterling,Swiss Franc.

          Please bring 4 Passport photos.

 

When we landed we quickly found that the exchange for money happened on the ground as soon as you arrive.  There is no ATM, and the currency exchange is done primarily person to person as the official rate is 6 to 1, where the street rate is closer to 20 to 1.  Dollars and Euros are in high demand.

My trip to Sudan was super rich even though it was quick.

We visited three archeological sites each very distinct and unique.  The first was a real adventure offroading across the desert in a 4×4.  There was a new road under construction, which even made it more challenging.  We ended up picking up a nomad to help us track down the site.  Fantastic adventure.

First stop was a few temples that reminded me of Karnack and Luxor, but in miniature including the rams on either side of the approach and columns, but you’d find a mix of roman columns as well as egyptian looking temples and columns.

 

The time period of the pyramids is from about 700BC to 300AD.

 

 

Musawwarat es-Sufra

Musawwarat es Sufra is one of the most important archaeological heritage sites of Sudan. Situated in the semiard landscape of the Keraba, 25 km away from the Nile, it was the earliest site outside the Nile valley which the Kushites developed into a monumental arena of religious life in the Napatan period. Most standing monuments, including the unique sacral complex of the Great Enclosure and the famous Lion Temple, date from the Meroitic period (300 BC to 350 AD). Musawwarat is a UNESCO World Heritage.  Enjoy the discovery to find it.

Nubian Temples in Sudan

Nubian Columns in Sudan

Naqa

Nubian Heirogliphics

Horus and Isis

 

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The most extensive Nubian pyramid site is at Meroë, which is located between the fifth and sixth cataracts of the Nile, approximately 100 km (62 mi) north of Khartoum. During the Meroitic period, over forty queens and kings were buried there.

 

Pyramids of Meroe in Northern Sudan

 

Exploring these pyramids we were alone for the most part except for a couple of locals and guys with their camels trying to get us to take rides.  By the time we we were done with the first dozen or so we rode camels to the next set of pyramids and back to the 4×4… with bartering for the two of us the total cost was around 100 Sudanese pounds or about $5.

Camel Jockeys of Sudan

 

I got this info from the hotel, but it served very valuable:

· Passport Registration at the Ministry of Interior that all foreigners must do thru our hotel upon arrival is 42.5 Usd.  Please bring four passport photos.

· The cost of Tourist Visa is 120*** Usd paid to us plus 150 Usd (for US passport holders) paid at the airport upon arrival

Airport Authorities accept only U.S. dollars, all Bank notes of U.S. dollars should be edited after year 2006.

· Passport should be valid for at least SIX months and without Israeli Immigration stamps.

· For those who need a letter of invitation addressed to the Sudanese Embassy

· To issue exclusively a tourist visa**** (20 days before arrival Maximum) or a letter of invitation we need a clear scanned passport copy ASAP, guest must stay at our hotel for the whole period of his stay in Sudan and can travel outside Khartoum only to archeological sites.  We can organize excursions to all Archeological sites and also arrange for a Boat cruise in the Nile.

( From day trip to the Pyramids or more  up to 14 days in the desert with camping and food). We can arrange for free Photo and Travel permit to the North as without travel permit from authorities you will not be allowed to travel.*

· All foreign guests of the hotel must pay in foreign exchange currency as per regulations of Sudan’s Central Bank policy.

· Please note that NO credits cards are accepted in Sudan and there are no ATMs to withdraw money. Us dollar Bank notes should be edited after 2006.

 

 

My last night ended with attending a local wedding.   I wish I could attend a wedding in every culture across the globe.  Women on one side of the tent and men on the other with dancing in the middle.

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Best time to be at the pyramids for light is the sunrise, but I was able to get some interesting shots with the sun on it’s way down.

Sunset in Moroe

 

Beautiful People of Sudan

This young sudanese girl was selling traditional jewlery and rock carvings.  She was happy with the exchange and allowed me to take her photo.

 

Sudanese Food

Traditional Sudanese Lamb and Dipping sauce

 

Read more about Sudanese Archeological sites and pyramids at Wikipedia.

Persian Persepolis Road Trip Shiraz to Esfahan Iran


Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). It is situated 60 km northeast of the city of Shiraz in Fars Province, Iran. The earliest remains of Persepolis date back to 515 BC

I shouldn’t be one to give advice on where to go or where not to go, because I really see the world differently than the average person sitting at home wondering where to go on vacation.  People judge a place based on politics and past events.  I judge a place after visiting it and spending time with the people.  I find much of the warnings that people pass on are really unfounded for so many places in our amazing little world.  Really, Persia, Iran WOW!  Amazing.  Mind blowing stuff.  Thanks Obama for making this possible.  In 2008 I met a fellow technology enthusiast at a conference in Dubai who had an English Father and Persian Mother.  He grew up in Iran.  He invited me to visit.  The next time I’d come to the Persian Gulf about a year later I’d exhausted every method I could find on any website to get a valid visa to visit Iran.  I even found a professor at Berkeley who had a special program, but in the end I didn’t have the visa, but I was able to get an invitation.  Unfortunately no matter what I tried I could not get in.  After refused entry I boarded my plane back to Dubai and spent 4 hours at security in Dubai airport at the end of a 36 hour day trying to explain to security that I sincerely felt like my invitation and lack of visa was a good enough reason to be allowed to visit.  The Visa desk in Tehran explained there was no way he’d be allowed to let me enter without a visa.  No matter what my techy friend would say, there wasn’t a way to make it happen.

Couple more interesting things: “Normally they ask us to start the process two months before passenger trip and if they send the documents sooner they don’t start the visa process till two months before the trip.”

At the time, this was correct, it is subject to change…

Interests Section of Islamic Republic of Iran

2209 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20007

Tel  :202-965-4990

Fax:202-965-1073

Email: info@daftar.org  www.daftar.org

Office hours: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm (except for official Holidays)

Customer Service Representatives can speak with you Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 8:00pm EST.

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Then after Obama made that agreement, doors opened.  I was able to not only line up a travel company, but was able to get a visa through the Pakistan Consulate.  In fact, I found a half dozen tour companies that were willing to take me around.  I ultimately went with one that wasn’t an American one, and was one that met the price point.  They were on the list of approved companies.  For American’s you can’t just show up, and you can’t just get a visa and visit.  You have to go on an organized tour, but this tour was not exactly your typical Japanese tourist bus or the leader with the umbrella.  We were able to say where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see and it was off the charts fantastic!!  As you can tell from the title, we flew into Shiraz and spend a few days there, then visited Persepolis, and then went on to Isfahan.

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Travel Itinerary:

Day 1

Shiraz: arrive at the airport transfer to the hotel and dinner.

Day 2

Full day city tour of Shiraz including Zandiyeh Complex(Bath,

Castle, Bazaar,Mosque/Ali Ebn Hamze Shrine, Hafez tomb,

Naranjestan garden, Eram garden

Day 3

Shiraz-Isfahan: drive to Isfahan via  Persepolis, Naqshe rostam

and Naqshe rajab and Pasargade

Day 4

Isfahan:  Full day city tour of Isfahan including Imam Complex (

Ali Qapu palace , Shah and Sheikh lotfollah, Khajoo and Sio She

pol bridges

Day 5

Isfahan: full day city tour of Isfahan to visit Vank cathedral,

Jame mosque and chehel sotoun palace, Fire temple

 

 

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The Most Beautiful and Peaceful Places in the World

 

After the visit.  I’ll never be the same.  It wasn’t any one place.  It was the people, the faith, the diversity… yes really.  Armenian Christian, Old Zoroastrians, Young Jews,

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Our wheels.  One day in Esfahan we decided to get closer to the people, so for a couple bucks we were on bikes.  This wasn’t the only amazing bridge in this old incredible city.  Found something you wouldn’t find in many other places.  Found a guy singing at the top of his lungs in under the bridge.  He wasn’t a crazy guy, he was a popular singer… Everyone loved it!

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Relaxing on a nice cool day.

 

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Modern Zoroastrian Temple we tracked down… Super cool place.  Yep it’s a fire temple still in use!!  We had a very interesting talk with the Zoroastrian Priest

 

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Atashgah – Ancient Zoroastrian Fire temple overlooking Esfahan. This religion is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.

 

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Kabeh-e Zarthusht – Cube of Zoroaster, Naqsh-e Rustam, near Shiraz in Iran. This building is still a mystery. Is it connected to the Zoroastrianism religion?

 

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Naqsh-e Rostam

Tombs of the great Kings of Persia!  Fantastic!!  These are bucket list items.  Definitely a must see in Persepolis outside of Shiraz.  The great Persian Kings from thousands of years ago really left their mark.  This really is the equivalent to the pyramids left by the kings of Persia and you can just imagine how magnificent they were in their heyday.

Xerxes, Cyrus, Darius… Amazing still very popular.

Persepolis

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Grand entrance to the Palace of the Persian Empire

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Ancient Ruins of Persepolis

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It’s been 2500 years since the world was making their offerings to the Persian Kings of the vast empire.  With the pictures of the offering chiseled in stone it’s easier to imagine.  From a Christian perspective of history, it’s amazing how many of these kings stories in the bible contain these kings.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Iran is a desert that doesn’t have anything worth saving.  It’s definitely the opposite.  Amazing people, amazing culture, and under rated in so many areas.  Fantastic country that has a very rich culture.

I will admit I did see a couple of concerning things.  I saw a Down with America sign at the police station where a heavily armed guard was standing.  He didn’t seem interested in us, but at this same time we got the opposite experience from the people.  They didn’t seem to care really.  Showing up during the beginning of the negotiations, the people would ask us… “Why do you hate us?”  I don’t hate them.  I’m trying to understand them just as I would any state.  Politics these days are nasty.  If the people everywhere can understand on main street people are much more down to earth and open and interested in the people and culture.  Here in Southern California I find a lot of Persian people, with access to persian foods and a wide variety of attitudes that provide diversity.

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Americans? Why do you hate us?  We don’t hate you…

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Really there’s a lot we have in common include a can of Coke.

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In this world, we have a lot to contribute and thank the Persians in our modern society. Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to continue living and worshiping as they chose, we know this not only from the bible, but from the writings on the clay tablets.   Rather than destroy local economies for their own selfish gain, the Persians worked to increase trade.

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Easter Island Travel – Isla de Pascua Mystery


The island who seems to be on every bucket list has got to be Easter Island.  They mysterious Moai stand guard for all time.  The knowledge seemingly of these majestic statues is truly timeless.  First off let me tell you, you won’t accidentally come to Easter Island.  This is a place that takes real planning.  The first time I priced out travel to Easter Island I was the round trip flight from Santiago out to Easter Island at $700 or $800.  So for many years, it was a dream.  Then, it was a breakthrough.  Simply adding Easter Island to my itinerary from LAX to Santiago, it was only an incremental $200.  I booked early and wow, what a payoff!

Easter Island Sunset - Joel Oleson

While likely one of the most fantastic destinations it is out of range for most.  Only the truly dedicated will make it.  The community there is one of the most remote in the world!  It’s over 1000 miles to the nearest land mass of Chile, which by the way is most likely where you’ll fly from.  For me, I’ve continued to think of Easter Island as one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world that reminds us of lost knowledge.

Easter Island Moai with Hats - Joel Oleson

Surely these massive ancient rocks did walk from the quarry and down the mountainside and make their way across the island.  There’s no disputing the fact that the natives cut these amazing massive moai and brought them to their resting places.  There’s a lot more I could say about the mystery but instead I’ll save the mystery and encourage you to go.  The first thing to know is there isn’t just one group.

easter island silouette

There are so many fun places to see on the island.  My recommendation is a minimum of 2 days, but 3+ is preferred.    There are around 887 Moai scattered across the island.  There were no standing moai in 1825.  There are groups that have been put back to their proper places and you’ve gotta see the quarry where there are Moai half cut out of the stone with many working their way down the mountain.

Easter Island Rainbow

Rainbow follows the rain.  This beautiful rainbow taught us a good lesson… “After the storm comes a rainbow!”  We were standing under cover waiting for the rain to part, then bam!

Ancient Stone Masons

Does this stonework remind you of another group of people?  Me too.  This looked very much like Machu Picchu of the Incas.  You can also find stonework like this in ancient Egypt.

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Moai on the beach… minutes later wild horses would sweep across the sand!

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There are still many mysteries of the island.  The culture is very strong with the people.  Spanish is widely spoken, but the native traditions and language are well respected and celebrated.

Easter Island Wedding - Joel Oleson

We happened to happen onto a wedding performed both in the native tongue and translated into Spanish.

Kneeling Moai Easter Island

The stones carry a message from a time gone.  They teach us to respect the past and reverence the gods.  There’s something bigger than us, a mystery that will not be discovered until we connect with the cosmos and return to the earth.  We have an amazing wonderful world.  I hope you get to visit Easter Island sometime in your life.  Amazing!

Traveling Haiti Emperors Palace and Citadel

Cap Hatien Hills

When I told my friend Michael I was going to be visiting the REAL Haiti and not some resort and looking for a real adventure, he called me crazy at first.  He says I don’t know anyone but you that would be looking to take their family to Haiti on spring break.  My kids had a break coming up and two new UN countries was sounding really good.  There were plenty of ways to spend a week in Dominican Republic and people seem to not have an issue with the idea of a vacation there, but when I mentioned Haiti, people get confused.  Even in DR people were confused.  Why would we want to visit Haiti?  That’s truly what makes it a treat.  It’s virgin travel territory.  There are so few tourists. There’s this assumption that there is danger and security issues.  Sure crime rates are high, but the murder rate is actually higher in DR.  That’s not to say I don’t love DR.  Great place.  Save that for another travel post.

My trip to Haiti started with a border crossing.  One of the most fascinating border crossings in the world.  While crossing I saw a nude guy bathing in the river, as well as a baptism off in the distance in the same river.  People were crossing back and forth across the river as if there was no border.  I’d later find out that this no mans land of the border has a lot of vendors that live on one side and work on the other without actually going across the final border crossing.  They vendor there wares which may simply be a sack of used clothes.

Haitian Baptism

The Haitians are clever people that see the world in a different way.

Catcus Fence

It was only recently that I started seeing the cactus fence.  Very clever.  The animals stay out because otherwise they get poked by the spikes.

My favorite part of Haiti was simply the unexpected.  There was so much to experience that I had not seen anywhere.  While I have participated in Carnival festivities in Trinidad and spent plenty of time across the caribbean islands, I found a culture, and a people that are so fascinating and resourceful.  With 40% unemployment, and a non functioning system to really take care of them, the people find ways of keeping busy and really begging really doesn’t make sense since everyone around them is in a similar situation.

There were a few things that really surprised me.

slave beans

These beans were awesome!  These beans have probably been boiling for days.

lunch in Haiti

Add some fresh rice and chicken and stewed veggies and you have an incredible street meal for less than 2 dollars.

 

ecology

Before I went to Haiti, I had imagined it as a place with no trees across the country with only mud and dirt.  There are plenty of trees, they are a valuable commodity.  I saw a group pushing a big tree across the border and over the course of my time I saw them push the tree more than 10 Kilometers.

 

zombies

Voodoo is a strong tradition in Haiti…  So are zombies.  I jumped out of the car to take this quick photo with these boys in a small little village.  I was happy to see that even in the most dire circumstances, the people knew how to have fun.

 

poor kids haiti

I’m not sure why this kid has ripped pants that seem to not have much left of them.  We simply stopped to see what was going on after seeing some of the zombie looking guys.

whip it haitiCar Jacking

Had I not had a driver who was use to being stopped on the road with a whip and a chain stretched across the road, I may have freaked out.  The masked men dressed head to toe might have looked like criminals, but apparently this is like trick or treating in the road.  Due to the holidays, they’d stop the cars and ask for money or food.  Some would dance and

 

Haiti Hulk

Hulk mask is a nice touch, so is the cool whistle.  His buddy with the goggles is definitely pulling off a great trick or treat vibe… right?

Haiti Festival

The back pack makes it easy to put the food or goods.  It’s like the sack during trick or treat.

 

Haiti Domed Church

This was the first building I saw as we pulled into the UNESCO Herigate site of Sans Souci

 

These Haitian monuments date from the beginning of the 19th century, when Haiti proclaimed its independence. The Palace of Sans Souci, the buildings at Ramiers and, in particular, the Citadel serve as universal symbols of liberty, being the first monuments to be constructed by black slaves who had gained their freedom.

Glory of Sans Souci UNESCO Haiti

This bust gives you a bit of the glory days for this once amazing palace built for the first emperor of Haiti.  King Henri I.  The history of the building, takes one back to the founding of Haiti and it’s amazing fight to independence.  This is where slavery began its end… as they held off and defeated the Spanish, French, and English.  The only island in the Caribbean to have done so.

Henri Christophe (Henry Christopher) (6 October 1767 – 8 October 1820) was a former slave and key leader in the Haitian Revolution, which succeeded in gaining independence from France in 1804. In 1805 he took part under Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the capturing of Santo Domingo (now Dominican Republic), against French forces who acquired the colony from Spain in the Treaty of Basel.

Sans Souci

Haiti Emperors palace

sans souci palace

motor bike ride

We rode motorbikes up to the Citadel.  It was one of the steepest and craziest roads to drive on.  Drivers really didn’t want to take us.  We got 3 quotes for $100 to drive us to the Citadel.  The motorbikes were $10 to drive the crazy road, but we negotiated them down to $6 which still seemed steep until we actually started the trek.

 

Citadel Haiti UNESCO

The Citadel – Citadelle Laferrière another UNESCO Heritage site… rising out of the clouds.  Largest fortress in the Caribbean.  What would end up being the seriously craziest ride negotiation ever, would end with this view.  I had left my family back at the emperors palace and needed to get back. We were then on to Cap Hatien for the night and a night we’ll never forget in joining in Hatian Carnival.  Simply getting to the Citdel is a real challenge.  Getting from the town where the palace is to the horses is $10 by motorbike, and then once you get to the donkeys/horses, it’s $15 by horse or a steep walk of 45min-1hr or so. Negotiation is possible, but very difficult to get more than 50% off.

 

Cap Hatien

Cap Hatian – view from our hotel balcony.

haiti tv watching

Wandering through the streets of Cap Haiten Haiti, I found this group of kids gathered around this open window watching what they said was a Jackie Chan movie on a 20 inch TV from the 80s.  There were nearly 20 kids.  It was a Bollywood movie and not even in French, but they were watching it intently.

hatian carnivale wolf man haiti

Haitian Carnivale!  The crowds came out by the thousands and filled the streets.  People dressed up in whatever fun outfits they had. In largest conga lines I’ve ever seen in my life, the crowds started to slowly move at a snails pace.  After a half hour of hearing the music we could see lights up a head.  Preceding the carnival float was a UN truck with armed men that would slowly push the crowd forward. That scene was a bit scary.  The army men didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much, but the people were relaxed and having the time of their lives.

cap hatien carnival

Seas of people.  The tall truck had popular musicians playing carnival songs.  As was related in Port of Prince as the tall lighted trucks passed under power lines, the people would use sticks to lift the power lines over the truck.

happy hatian kids

Something I really loved about my trip to Haiti was the kids.  So happy.

 

Is Haiti worth visiting?  Oh, Yes!  Is it setup as a tourist destination.  Far from it.  This is virgin travel territory.  The taxis barely know how to negotiate.  They aren’t use to negotiating very well.  There really are 2 price levels.  Those at the local level and those at what I refer to as the Mafia level.  There are a few that artificially inflate some of the services.  We negotiated a ride from the Dominican Republic border to take us to the Emperors Palace Sans Souci and the Citadel and to then take us to Cap Hatien hotel, and then back to the border.  The first offer was $200 which was too much.  When we agreed on a $65 price and started driving, the driver changed and by the time we got to the palace, he was telling us that was only for 1 day and not for both.  We ended up paying $65 per day reluctantly after some fierce war of words.  That was really our only challenge.  We never felt for our safety outside of the van driver situation confusion.  My friend Michael had a couple of years of high school French, which was very useful.  We did find some who spoke spanish in our wandering around the city.  There are still some very poor conditions, but the food was amazing.  The Creole food was great, amazing flavor.

Haiti hotel room

The hotel conditions were quite simple.  Our night with approximately $20 in gourdes.  Not something you could book ahead online.  There’s a big delta between what is available online verses on the ground.  This place was near the bus station.  Notice no glass window and no air conditioning.  The bathrooms were shared, and no sink in the bathroom.  It was definitely an adventure.

chicken foot rice and beans

Getting back across the border and having a chicken foot breakfast while in a mass of crowded vendors like a mosh pit was another first for me.  They setup a temporary city on the border and much to my surprise didn’t even get in the passport control lines.  I happened to have arrived on a morning they setup an impromptu market at the border for exchanging goods.

If you want to go to a place where you can make a difference, or where people don’t don’t frequently visit… Haiti is adventure travel.  It’s fascinating and could use your assistance to grow.  There are good people there looking to have a better life and you can make a difference.