The Akha of Northern Laos

Akha woman in northern Laos

The first time I went to Thailand in 1990, I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the North to visit many of the hill tribes. At that time, traditional clothing and culture were still very intact. Yes, there were already too many tourists, but there was still much to be seen and experienced especially in the remote regions along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The markets of the Golden Triangle were filled with a mix of exotic hill people donning colorful garb buying and selling goods in a dozen languages.

The obvious stars of the markets were the Akha, a group whose unique culture, blood-red betel nut stained teeth, and over-the-top headdresses made them one of the most recognizable tribal groups in the world. I had hoped to share this amazing culture with Thomas during our visit to less developed Laos in 2010, but that proved a bit more challenging than I had thought.


The Vanishing Whale Sharks of Donsol

As I mentioned on our Facebook Page last week, Berlin is THE crossroads for travel bloggers this summer. While exchanging stories and travel tips, we discovered that the whale sharks of Donsol, Philippines appear to be vanishing.

I was stunned.

When I got home, I immediately started researching the claim and discovered that it appears to be true. Apparently, the number of whale shark sightings has dropped dramatically. There has not been much international media coverage on the issue, but newspapers in the Philippines are reporting Continue…

Remembering the Lady in the Snake Bone Crown

For years, we referred to her as the “lady in the snake bone crown.” We met her while we were people watching at the market in Bontoc in the Philippines. Perhaps, “met” is a bit of an exaggeration as we really couldn’t speak to her. But we sat with her as she showed us her tattoos and her snake skeleton hairpiece, memories of a rapidly vanishing age. Despite the fact that we did not know her name or really anything about her, we remembered her very well. In fact, meeting her was one of the most meaningful experiences we had in the Philippines, a country full of amazing people.

In March 2013, Janet Scott Tama wrote to us to tell us the lady in the snake bone crown was Ina Ngallowan from Tucucan, a village near the Maligcong rice terraces, and that she was still alive and doing well. Putting a name to Ina’s face was an exciting discovery for us. We had talked about her and Bontoc’s vanishing traditional culture many times.

Last week, we received an email from Tesiesakoy Chapap telling us that Ina had passed away. We can Continue…

Our Roughest Roads

Madagascar south of Maroantsetra – 2003

Recently, we were asked about the worst roads we had ever been on. Hmmm, there’s a post in that question, I suddenly thought to myself. Thomas and I sat down to reflect on the thousands of roads we had traveled – the breakdowns, the potholes, the drop-offs, the landslides, the dust, the terrifying drivers – and came up with a list of some of the most challenging stretches we had experienced. As with all such questions, the year we traveled these roads is also relevant because things change. Here’s a list of our roughest roads Continue…

Der Mensch Bezwingt den Kosmos

Sometimes, it feels like the German government is in a rush to erase all signs of 20th century history. It’s a shame because one of the coolest aspects of being in East Germany is wandering around and discovering Cold War era memories hidden in the parks and architecture.

“Man Conquers the Cosmos” by Fritz Eisel, a series of mosaics built into the facade of the old Datenverarbeitungszentrum in Potsdam, is one of the best. Extending along the exterior of the ground floor, the panels document the socialist side of the space race. It’s a pretty amazing work of art as well as being a priceless piece of history. Unfortunately, there are ongoing plans to demolish Continue…

Neuschwanstein Castle

Since I mentioned Neuschwanstein in our post on Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I thought I’d share it on the blog. Germany’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein is said to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for the castle at Disneyland. And, just like Rothenburg, Neuschwanstein is firmly on the tourist trail, so you’ll have to share it with a few other people. (Unless, like us, you are willing to wait until the castle is snowed in and then hike through knee-deep snow.) But seriously, where else can you find the archetypal castle next to a beautiful waterfall backed by the Alps overlooking Bavaria’s snowy foothills. Ludwig II of Bavaria may have Continue…

Flashback: Egypt 1994

In a time of great tension, we thought we would flash back to 1994, a somewhat less volatile period when Thomas and I spent two and a half months in Egypt. It’s an amazing country with an unparalleled history; we desperately hope it remains open and accessible to outsiders. If the pictures look old, that’s because they are from the last millennium. 🙂

Mountain Gorilla Adventures

What’s the best thing we have have ever done in our travels? It’s a question we are asked all the time. Most people would probably guess that such an absurdly broad question would be almost impossible to answer. In reality, it’s quite easy. The most amazing thing we have ever done is visit the mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains of what was then called Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). It’s the best thing we have ever done and will surely remain the best thing we have ever done. At least in my eyes. As we head to Borneo in the hope of spotting orangutans in the wild, we can’t help but flash back to another millennium and reflect for a moment on a very different age in travel.

The year was 1994, Thomas and I were in Uganda halfway through an 18-month overland trip from Germany to South Africa and the genocidal atrocities sweeping across Rwanda were just coming to an end. Bodies were washing up along the shores of Lake Victoria and waves of refugees were streaming over the border into neighboring Zaire, one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world at the time. Bizarrely, that moment, as insanely dangerous as it was Continue…