Monthly Archives: September 2012

Doors, Windows and Alleys in Portugal

For some reason I am fascinated by doors windows and alleys. If I take 500 photos on a trip, a hundred are usually of  beautiful windows, and doors and the occasional alley. This is especially true in Europe.  I just returned from the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Porto, Portugal. After the conference we were treated to a tour of northern Portugal by the Portuguese Travel Authority. Besides drinking an awful lot of port wine, we saw quite a variety of buildings and churches. This is a photo essay of my trip. Please enjoy it. By the way, I am not uptight about other people using my photos on their site, although I would like credit if you do. So, on with the show.

How could I help but start with this one!

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Easter Island / Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny Visits Easter Island

As I flip through my passport with almost two hundred stamps, and look back on my 185 posts in my WordPress blog, numerous posts on Tripitani or Travel Bloggers Unite, and my 75 reviews on Trip Advisor, I realized that I am living a dream come true. Due to a myriad of converging circumstances, not the least of which is marrying the right woman, I get to travel to exotic locations, luxury locations and mundane locations and write about them. Someday, maybe, someone will pay me to write about their “lodge in paradise with wild animals, white sand beaches, four star service, world renowned food, and free booze”. Until then I do it for fun.

One page of my passport. This is my second passport since 1995, and this one has two sets of extra pages in it, and almost full.

I read a lot of travel stories from other bloggers, some of whom can truly tell a story. I think that is what travel blogging should be all about, telling stories so well that it makes people go there themselves.

Possibly it should be about making then green with envy that they either cannot go to a place like Bhutan, or Borneo or Burma. Or perhaps making them realize that they just lack the gumption to do so. But that is not very nice, is it. Just leave it at this, people who do not have a passport and use it, in my opinion, are self deprived.

Most of all, for me, a good travel story should be funny, or ironic, irreverent. I strive for all three on this blog, and sometimes I succeed.

After my latest review of the posts that make up this tome of a blog, I realized that my own personal favorite travel experience is not documented here. That omission is due to the fact that it happened years before I started blogging, in fact years before blogging started. So, sit back, grab a libation and let me entertain you.

The Easter Bunny

In the early 90’s I was living a fat life as an expat in Chile. Great job, a salary that allowed indulgences, and a boss that let me get away with fun, as in away from work. My then wife, who had the adventurous nature of a snail surrounded by a circle of salt, had decided to take a long vacation in California, stay at her parent’s house and watch re-runs of Lawrence Welk. I decided that an adventure was in order for me.

I walked into my boss’s office when I knew he was concerned about other things and he would not take time to truly consider what I was saying. “Hey big boss man, can I have week off?”

He actually asked “where are you going this time?”

“I’m thinking Easter Island.”

He half nodded yes, and half rolled his eyes, which to me implied I had his permission.

At the time Easter Island was an easy flight destination from Santiago de Chile. The national airline, LAN, made a refueling stop there on flights to Australia. Easter Island is part of Chile, and LAN makes it inexpensive for Chileans to travel back and forth to see family, or buy Pisco. I got the Chilean nationals price by haggling with LAN that I was in fact Chilean because I had a permanent residence visa. So I booked the discounted flight and I was off to solve the “mystery of Easter Island”.

I’ll indulge myself by telling you a few quick things about the mysteries of the island before I get back to the story.

The first thing you notice when you land is that the runway is the widest, longest runway you have ever landed on. I mean it is easily four times as wide and three times as long as any international airport runway. This mystery is easily explained. Easter Island was an emergency alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle.

Long and wide it still serves the island today. It was never needed by the space shuttle, so lets just cal it foreign aid.

The next mystery is, where am I going to stay? In the early 90’s the Holiday Inn had not exactly discovered Easter Island. Well, the inhabitants had that under control. As soon as you walked out into balmy air, and before you could admire the swaying palms,or smell the flowers,  you were surrounded by Islanders with photo albums. They were all trying to get you to rent a room in their home. The albums put in front of your face, two or three at a time had photos of the room, the bathroom, and the meals each served. As soon as you said “yup, I’ll stay with you” they put a lei around your neck to ward off competing families, grabbed your bag and threw them and you into an open air jeep (or some other vehicle without doors or a windscreen), and whisked you off to their home. That beats choosing a place on-line any day!

http://nomadical.wordpress.com

This is not me and I do not know these people but this is what you look like after a six hour flight and getting “captured” by a family. (This photo from http://nomadical.wordpress.com)

However, the common idea of the real mystery of Easter Island is the  Moai.

This is just one set of many sets and many more individual Maois on the island. Remember, I was there BEFORE DIGITAL cameras, so I used this photo courtesy of http://annoyzview.wordpress.com, which happens to be an excellent blog.

Ever since their “discovery” ( I am always amazed that when a westerner or white man first sees something he claims he “discovered” it) they have baffled scientists, ethnologists, archeologists, explorers and mere tourists. The main element of the mystery is “why were they built?”

Mystery Solved

Well, the answer is quite simple. As the population on the island grew before it was “discovered” by the Spanish, the king needed something to keep the people busy. Only so many people could fish or farm. So he invented this need to honor the gods, carve these statues, transport them from the quarries and stand them up to face the seas and ward off evil. Call it industrial welfare, sort of like the arms race.

The moai did not ward off the Spanish who enslaved all but a few of the male inhabitants and shipped them off to work the gold mines in Peru. The small population that remained lived off the sea and the land for hundreds of years before they were “re-discovered” and in turn became a tourist destination.

On with the Story.

After taking all of two days to solve mystery, I had five left to explore the island. Anyone who gets a chance, or can make an opportunity, should go. It is a wonderful place full of warm people. At least it was 20 years ago.

I had seen the whole island, and on my last day I went to the post office to purchase and send post cards. Remember, no blogs back then! The Post Office is beautifully located on a craggy cliff with tables and benches to enjoy the view and compose your post card home. I knew I would be there for a while. I walked in to buy a few cards. I looked at the boxes for the local’s mail and I was amused to see many letters stacked on top of them addressed to;

Easter Bunny

Easter Island

Chile

Of course they were all in children’s handwriting. I laughed and pointed to them. The woman behind the counter asked me “Are you the Easter Bunny?”

How do you say no to that? “Yes, may I have a letter”.

She laughed and handed me one.

It was a sweet letter from a 9 year old girl named Annie who lived in a suburb of London. She was writing to thank the Easter Bunny for the chocolate she had found on Easter morning. She said her mother always made sure she wrote people thank you letters. She asked what it was like to live on a far away island, and did I have any friends.

It was a thoughtful, well crafted letter, and I decided that the girl should get a reply. She had provided a return address so the plot was possible. I wrote the following.

Dear Annie

Thank you so very much for the thank you letter. I get very few of these and I cherish them. Your mother is a special person to ask you to write these letters.

Yes I enjoy living on my island. The weather is great. The only problem is all my friends are carved of stone, and they do not move, or talk, so they are no fun to play with. They all have the same name Moai, so I make up names for them. I will name one Annie in your honor.

I drew her a little picture.

Also, because you wrote me this letter, just tell you mother whatever you want for Easter this year. She can write me, and I will make sure you get it! You want a pony? Just ask!

Thank you

Easter Bunny

Chuckling, I put the photo in an envelope and posted it. I did not think about it for years.

Fast Forward to Y2K

I was now divorced and traveling alone. I found myself in a hotspot of backpackers and hostels called Bocas Del Toro, Panama. There is not much to do there besides hang out in bars, so I found one on the water called The Barco Hundido. A true dive, but the beers were cheap and the view was great.

The Barco Hundido is trashy, run down, dirty, and fun.

I ingratiated myself with a few English girls by buying a round, and we started talking. What do travelers talk about, except travel. We compared stories for a few rounds. When the conversation came around to me, I bored them with stories about Machu Pichu and such, then I mentioned visiting Easter Island.

One of the girls interrupted.

“Oh wow” she said. “my big sister has a daughter who wrote the Easter bunny a thank you letter. Some wanker traveling to the island answered on behalf of the Easter bunny and promised her a damn pony if she asked my sister for it.”

Not wanting to be recognized as the wanker, I just went silent and centered on the irony of a small world, and the wonders of travel.

Did you enjoy this story? Then share it with your FB friends, hit the like button, make a comment, or just finish your beer.

Inle Lake in Myanmar

 

Inle Lake hotel and spa

Our lodge on Inle Lake

Inle Lake is a very beautiful, tranquil and special place to visit in Burma or Myanmar. There are many hotels on the lake, maybe the best Myanmar has to offer. We stayed at the Inle lakeResort and Spa. It was off season and we were almost alone in a big resort and spa, so the prices were discounted for massages, which is always a big plus.

Even in the off season, there is a lot to see. Of course everywhere you go,you go by boat.

The lake area supports about 70,000 people. Many of them are fishermen. They fish in an unusual manner.

fishing in Inle lake

The fishermen stand in their small canoes and row with their feet. They are very stable as they throw and retrieve the nets. This guy was so good he was even able to smoke while doing this feat.

The crucial element of this talent is using the toes properly.

These guys are collecting the weeds growing in the lake for use as fertilizer.

Every year in September/October there is a three week event  called Hpaung Daw U Festival.

Included in this festival are races between villages in foot paddled boats.  Also during this festival the Royal Barge is brought out of storage and sailed from village to village.

This is a big deal to the inhabitants of the villages around the lake. The journey of the barge takes up almost the entire three weeks. Each town turns out their best as the barge visits them.

One year, a tragedy struck. A storm hit the lake and the barge sank. The real tragedy was that when this barge does the tour, it carries five Buddhas encrusted with gold leaf. Only four were recovered right away, the fifth turned up in a fishing net years later. This is a photo of a painting in a temple alongside the lake depicting the tragedy.

This is a memorial in the lake to mark the spot where the barge sank.

Buddhas encrusted with gold

Buddhas encrusted with gold leaf? Yup. In fact there is so much gold on these things they look more like a lump of mashed potatoes than Buddhas. Here I am adding to the treasure and having a spiritual moment.

There are numerous villages on the lake. Each one has a different industrious specialty.

In this village, they rolled cheroots and cigars.

In this village they had the Temple of Jumping Cats. The cats were trained by a monk to jump through a hoop. The monk is long dead, but the tradition survives. I canot get my cat to jump off the couch, so I am amazed by this. Of course I am easily amazed.

Burmese cats

In between two villages was a beautiful, very large sanctuary dedicated to the restoration of the Burmese cat to Burma. About ten years ago a wealthy man found out there were no more Burmese cats in Burma. So he went all over the world to find pure bred Burmese cats. They have a playground better than most grammar schools, a huge house to roam. They breed here, but they do not sell the cats. So if you want to see a Burmese cat in Burma, this is the place

Another village is dedicated to weaving lotus stalks into cloth. This is how they extract the fiber from the stalk. The emphasis is on quality not quantity. It takes many man hours (woman hours really) to get enough fiber to weave.

Weaving lotus cloth is much more complicated than cotton or silk, because the strands they have to work with are quite short and must be tied together.

Mary Ann owns more scarfs than I ever owned Grateful Dead T shirts, so I knew she would buy one. All those woman hours do not come cheap, and I imagine the village ate well for a few days after we left.

There were villages dedicated to silver work, paper making and aqua culture. We visited them all.

There are five community market towns surrounding the lake. The market moves from town to town every day. This is the parking lot where we went.

On the way we passed this vendor taking his baskets to market.

Because we were just visitors we had to park a ways away and use this bridge to cross the water to get to the market town.

It was a long walk from the water to the town. We saw many people who had shopped early returning home.

Look closely, you will see my wife “inspecting” a load of bamboo floor mats heading to market.

Traditional clothes are still worn, especially by the women. The Burmese know hats!

nuts in Burma or Myanmar

Nuts and such for sale.

Spices. What did I say about hats?

If you ever go to Burma or Myanmar, be sure to go to Inle. When you do, be sure to see the lost temples.

There is one area on the lake where (in relative terms) they recently discovered hundreds of small temples that the jungle had consumed. Most of them are visible now, and some are restored. It is a great place for a walk.

One more quirky thing to show you.

Whenever you leave the main body of water to go near a village or a lodge, you must go over a speed bump! I have never seen a speed bump on water before.

All good things must come to an end.

That is it for Inle. Thanks for reading please hit share to send this to all your close friends on FB, and if you get truly adventurous, make a comment.

The Third Secret of Fatima Revealed

Just in case there is someone reading this who is not at least somewhat familiar with the legend about Our Lady of Fatima, I will give you a brief irreverent rundown. If you want more, you can always go to Wikipedia, but my version is more fun!

Fatima is a small village about two hours drive out of Lisbon, Portugal.  In 1917 three young Portuguese shepherds (all cousins) were (according to the legend) visited by a Marian apparition, six times over a six month period. The apparition is now referred to as Our Lady of Fatima. Our lady of Fatima is said to have entrusted the shepherd children with three secrets. The first is a description of hell. It is quite graphic and enough to make you give up drinking.

The second described the end of WWI and the coming of WWII. Once you get past the fire and brimstone, the second prediction was amazingly accurate.

Now we come to the third secret. Two of the cousins died at a young age from Influenza. The third, a woman named Lucia, who had become a nun, fell ill to Influenza in 1943. She had never revealed the third secret, saying that the world was not ready to hear it. So, the local bishop visited her bedside and convinced her to write it down, so it would not be lost to the world. Nuns tend to do what Bishops tell them to do, so she wrote it down. She sealed the secret in an envelope and told the church not to open it until 1960, when it would be better understood.

The envelope was stashed in the Fatima area until 1957 when it was delivered to Rome. As everyone knows, Rome can keep a secret. They did just that until 2000 when rumor and speculation around the secret were rampant. People around the world wanted to know…did Our Lady of Fatima reveal the end time? Why won’t the Church tell us anything?  One person was so desperate he hijacked a plane, with his only demand the revelation of the third secret.

In 2000 the Church told the world what was in it. Basically nothing, they said. It sort of predicted the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II, they said. They released some heavy fire and brimstone words describing fire and lights and flaming swords, all this supposedly the vision had by the three children and written down by Sister Lucia, they said.

Many people were quite disappointed and many more quite skeptical. There just has to be more to it, or why would they have kept is secret for so long.

Well in my first hour in Fatima I realized what Sister Lucia wrote down, and I am about to reveal it here. One sentence, no fire, no brimstone, no end of the world. What did she write? Ready? Here it is, hold on, sit down, take a deep breath. She simply wrote:

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

Build what you might ask.

Fatima, Our Lady of Fatima gift shop

THIS!

Our Lady of Fatima Gift shop

Quite simply the largest souvenir stand I have ever been in. If you take all the souvenir stores in Cooperstown and put them under one roof, it would not be as large as this place. They were doing enough business to keep the economy of Portugal alive for another generation. Mary Ann bought a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, I bought a ball cap made from cork. They sold Fatima wine, but I just could not fathom buying any. Maybe some of the Fatima Holy Water, but naaah.

I must say  once you got past the gift shop, the church did a beautiful job of creating a shrine for the faithful.

Our Lady of Fatima Basilica

Topped off by this gold crown is the Basilica

Our Lady of Fatima Basilica

The basilica is quite impressive. The tower the gold crown sitson is 223 feet high.

Our Lady of Fatima Basilica

The basilica has masses all day long to cater to the continuous line of tourist buses bringing the faithful, the curious and the likes of me. The three shepherds are buried in this basilica. They were beatified in 2000.

Services are also continuously held a hundred yards in front of the church which is the sight of the original apparitions.

This photo is from the front of the basilica overlooking the esplanade built to accommodate the over  one million pilgrims who attend service here on May 13 and October 13, the dates of the most significant Fatima apparitions.  In the far distance you can see the Church of the Most Holy Trinity which holds over 9000 worshipers.

Somewhere dwarfed by these massive doors to this ultra modern and very huge church is my wife.

Just to give you an idea of the size of this church.

And what would a modern church be without a modern depiction of the crucifixion.

Thanks for reading. You can now sleep easy at night knowing that Our Lady of Fatima and the Mayans were not on the same calendar!

Please share this with all your social media friends, all it takes is a click on a button! Stick around, come back soon for more about our recent trip to Portugal.

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