Choeung Ek – The Killing Fields

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

Back in the 1980s, while I was studying at Georgetown University, I attended a lecture by Dr. Haing Ngor on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. Catapulted to fame for his Oscar-winning role in the “Killing Fields,” the entertainment media had wondered aloud at the time about how Ngor, a non-actor, had managed to win the ultimate acting award. In his lecture, Dr. Ngor revealed the answer to this puzzling question – he wasn’t acting.

Haing Ngor was a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust, a period of complete societal breakdown from 1975-1979 under the rule of the notorious psycho-ruler, Pol Pot. Often referred to as a genocide, this period of murderous cruelty which resulted in the killing of approximately 18 percent of Cambodia’s population, seems to merit a term of its own. Ngor’s first-hand descriptions of the atrocities he had witnessed during his imprisonment left Georgetown students and professors alike gasping in disbelief and horror. I clearly remember his graphic description of Khmer Rouge soldiers torturing prisoners in a room they had decorated with fetuses cut from women they had tortured to death. I remember feeling embarrassment as certain people jumped up Continue…

Remembering Evelyn

Evelyn Molony, Ssese Islands, Uganda

Fifteen years ago on this day, we lost a good friend.

In 1994, while traveling across Africa, we met Evelyn Molony in Khartoum, Sudan. Having just returned from a month-long journey to the remote Jebel Marra region of Darfur, she was clearly an adventurer in the truest sense of the word. Joining forces with her and her traveling companions Chris and Kathy, we made our way through Eastern Sudan and crossed what was then a wilderness border into Eritrea.

Traveling across such a remote, politically tense region was full of challenges. Evelyn, who had studied Arabic at Leeds University in the U.K., became our de facto guide and led us through a series of comical adventures that we treasure to this day. Evelyn was hilarious yet subtle, incredibly capable yet impressively modest. Best of all, she could be a goof-ball.

Tony, Evelyn, Thomas and Chris on Ssese Islands

Our adventures with her continued months later, when we met once again in Kampala, Uganda. We traveled to the border of Zaire to visit the mountain gorillas and then on to the Ssesse Islands in Lake Victoria where we camped, explored the jungles, and kicked back on the isolated stretches of white sand. We still laugh about Evelyn running around shooing away a herd of massively horned Ankole-Watusi cattle that invaded our pristine beach. We celebrated the moonlit nights with fish fries and stories. For us, these were fantastic times, yet just across the border in Rwanda, genocide was coming to an end and the full extent of the atrocities was coming to light.

Evelyn and Chris, moved by the suffering of the Rwandan people, decided to travel to Rwanda and volunteer at an orphanage there. During her stay at the orphanage, Evelyn must have contracted cerebral malaria. Shortly thereafter in Nkata Bay, Malawi, Evelyn passed away due to complications related to the disease.

Chris and Evelyn

Our enduring image of Evelyn is of her with Chris laughing and goofing around with huge pieces of orange stuffed into their mouths. Those were really good times.

Celebrating Berlin

Berlin East Side Gallery Mural

Berlin is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Mauerfall, the fall of the Berlin Wall. During tomorrow’s Festival of Freedom at the Brandenburg Gate, over 1,000 oversized, artfully decorated domino pieces will be brought down by the flick of a finger to symbolize the end of the cold war, but also, the end of an artistic era.

What was an impenetrable barricade to Easterners, served as a political canvas to Westerners. Twenty years after the Mauerfall, however, little of the wall remains. During our four years in Berlin, we documented some of the constantly changing art on the longest remaining part of the wall, the East Side Gallery. Here’s to freedom!

Post No. 500 – CN Blog Revisited

After celebrating my 40th birthday with an Italian feast, the celebration goes on commemorating our 500th blog posting! We’ve revisited the last 27 months and put together a list of the more memorable blog moments.

Traveling in Style?
An honest movie about first-class train travel in India where the comments are more telling than the video itself. It definitely makes for good reading.

Worth a Thousand Words
One of our favorite photos, taken in Zhaoxing, China. What a life she must have had…

A Different Kind of Ice Plant
A bizarre ice formation associated with certain plants. Researchers from across the globe are coming to our blog to check out our pictures. What’s your theory on it?

Attack in Mumbai
Caught in the middle of the Mumbai terrorist attack, we kept typing away hidden in our room just behind the Taj Hotel as the battles were fought all around us. Definitely one of our most memorable experiences. Mumbai Follow-Up now with additional photos.

Nubra Valley Through Bella’s Eyes
It’s great to sit back sometimes and let other people do the work. Read our first guest blog by 11-year old Bella from New Mexico. Great job, Bella!

Selective Photography
Those travel posters can be deceptive. Don’t believe everything you see as advertised.

Deprung Debates
Tibetan monks debating philosophy is everything but a quiet pursuit. And now, we’ve even added a video of this outrageous spectacle!

Dinner at the Cemetery
This was a new one for us! We just wanted a quick bite but unexpectedly found ourselves eating a masala dosa in a graveyard.

Chola Pass Misadventure
Our biggest wrong turn as of yet. Don’t let this happen to you.

The Ultimate Chicken Bus
If you thought chickens were bad, check this out!

Edgy Travel

Once while traveling with my grandparents as a child, we stopped off at a mountain viewpoint overlooking Lake Elsinore in Southern California. My grandma Mary thought one boulder looked particularly enticing and asked me to climb over the safety barrier and crawl out onto a crumbling rock ledge to get a “good picture.” It became a family joke that only grandma Mary would be crazy enough to send her grandchild out on to an overhanging chunk of rock to get a better photo op. Little did my family know it was just the beginning.

So when I came across MatadorTrips.com’s Photo Essay: 13 Places to Get Close to the Edge, I started digging through the old photos to find some of our favorite “edges.” Two of them are in locations mentioned in the article! But clearly a visit to Norway is in our future.

Another Day at the Beach

Yes, another day on a beautiful beach! During the last year, you have to admit we have been seriously spoiled when it comes to spectacular sea and sand. Diu, Goa, the Konkan Coast, Sri Lanka, and the Andamans – all world class beach destinations.

Beach Day

From the cliffs of Varkala, India to Hidden Beach near Mirissa, Sri Lanka to the pristine gems of Havlock, Neil, and Ross/Smith in the Andaman Sea, we’ve seen the best of the best.

And yet, somehow, the vastness of the open Pacific still seems to define beach for me. Maybe it’s because I’m Californian, but I love to see the waves rolling in onto the sand.

Khao San Road

khao san

Khao San Road is a travelers’ institution, a piece of backpacking history. Not so long ago this was THE hub of Southeast Asia, the ultimate intersection where travelers spent a few days rejuvenating on mango lassis while they exchanged travel tips and stocked up on the latest boot-legged cassettes. The street was lined with postcards, Nepal bags, some jewelry from Thailand’s northern tribes, and a few pharmacies. Any backpacker worth anything had been to Khao San. The street gained international attention in the 2000 film adaption of “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (and more importantly Tilda Swinton). Perhaps the focus was a little more than Khao San could handle.

Today Khao San feels like the place where manic Fort Lauderdale spring-breakers have crashed into the drugged-out Ibiza crowd. Embarrassingly goofy Continue…

Bangkok

The last time I was in Bangkok was 1991. Back then, Bangkok was a steamy, filthy third-world capital which wasn’t much different from our last location, Calcutta. I loved it 🙂

My god, it’s unbelievable what 19 years can do! Gone is the filth. The air is far cleaner than it used to be. The low-rise third world city has been replaced with a glistening, ultra-modern, high-rise metropolis which rivals Hong Kong and Singapore. Wow!

My initial disappointment at the fact that my old Bangkok was gone has given way to curiosity at Thailand’s version of modernity. I’m baffled at the hype over China and India when I see what Thailand has become. This appears to be the real country of change.

The Jarawa and the Grand Trunk Road

It has come to our attention that the Indian government has recently been turning a blind eye to “human safaris” in which tourists are illegally visiting (or should I say harassing) the Jarawa. ContemporaryNomad.com does NOT encourage any form of visit to the Jarawa and we STRONGLY support the ban on travel to the Andamans until such issues have been resolved. Visit Survival International for information on the Jarawa and their struggle. We emphasize that our encounter with the Jarawa took place during the crossing of a collapsed bridge in 2009 before these organized safaris began.

After our previous post, I thought that I should comment a little more on our encounter with the Jarawa, one of the most isolated tribes in the Andamans. Those of you who have traveled in the developing world and have encountered tribal people there may be wondering how such traditional people could be standing right next to the road. It’s a very good question.

The Andaman Grand Trunk Road is a highly controversial construction Continue…

Mysterious North Sentinel Island

Without a doubt, the most fascinating island in the entire Andaman and Nicobar chain is the mysterious North Sentinel, an island off limits to both foreigners and Indians alike. The tribal North Sentinelese are considered by many to be the most isolated people on Earth. Most attempts by the Andaman tribal authorities to contact the North Sentinelese have been greeted with a very clear answer of angry arrows. Yikes! In response, the Indian government has stopped their attempts to contact the tribe. In 2006, Sentinelese archers killed two fisherman who were illegally fishing near the island. Clearly these people want to be left alone. Continue…