Seaport Village Busker

While we were strolling along the bay at San Diego’s Seaport Village, this busker sporting white 18th-century garb caught our attention. You go girl, don’t let that economic crisis get you down. 🙂

10 Hours in Seoul

Generally, I’m not one to rush my travel experiences. But on our flight from Bangkok to San Diego, we were left with a gaping 10-hour layover which made a quick trip into Seoul irresistible. So, with no guidebook and no real information in hand, we stumbled our way into the middle of the capital hoping to get a taste (both figurative and literal) of Korean culture.

Once you actually figure out how to buy a ticket, accessing Seoul is super-easy via the very convenient commuter trains which carry travelers directly to downtown Seoul. (Tip: if you have time, skip the expensive express trains and just take the normal commuter train. It only takes a few more minutes.) With limited time, our goals were to Continue…

Thailand’s Posing Tribal Children

While visiting Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep north of Chiang Mai, we discovered a relatively large number of very young Akha and Miao children who had been dressed up and strategically positioned around the monument to make some not-so-quick cash off Thais and foreigners alike.

Well-intentioned tourists will often snap some cute pictures of the kids and hand them some Baht without really asking themselves some basic questions: How long has this tiny child been forced to sit here? Has this child been pulled out of school to beg for money because the parents value quick cash over education? Why is the parent not sitting here dressed up in “traditional clothing” rather than the child? Am I indirectly contributing to the cultural marginalization of minority children by teaching them that begging is a sustainable lifestyle?

Yes, many minority groups around the world lack education and real opportunities for work, and as we mentioned in our Paduang post in Myanmar, sometimes the commercialization of “traditional culture” may be the only real survival strategy. But it’s worth taking a second to reflect a little on how these kids are being treated before rushing to snap some cute pictures.

The shot above was taken from a distance while a young Akha girl was trying to convince a tourist to cash up. We chose not to participate in this particular cash-for-photo scheme.

Bali Pictorial

Those who know us well – especially fellow nomads – have expressed surprise that we spent so much time in Bali, a destination they associate with package tourism and sprawling resorts. In all honesty, I avoided Bali on my first trip to Indonesia ignorantly dismissing the island as little more than tourist central. But guess what, Bali is beautiful.

While it’s true that portions of Bali have embraced the dark side of tourism and a visit to Kuta can leave you cringing as hordes of drunk Australians stumble their way through the streets, the larger island provides plenty of room for off-the-beaten-track exploration. There is much to discover here: Bali’s unique Hindu culture and architecture is visually stunning; colorful festivals and parades occur throughout the year; the sand runs the spectrum from powder white to glistening gold to charcoal grey to jet black; and the lush tropical center of the island provides for great walks. Perhaps the greatest discovery for us was that the scuba diving is absolutely world-class (and I don’t say that lightly.)

We liked Bali so much that we decided to put together a pictorial to share some of the island’s unique beauty. (I’ll admit the pictorial is a bit culture heavy, but – hey – how many more pictures of rice terraces can we post?) 🙂

West Sumba Video

Now that we’ve talked in detail about our travels in Sumba, I wanted to complete the (moving) picture.

Among the villages featured in this video are Prai Klembung, Tarung and Waitabar in the vicinity of Waikabubak, Praigoli in the Wanokaka district, as well as Ratenggaro and Wainyapu in the Kodi district.

Ratenggaro and Wainyapu

If you’ve got a sharp eye for funky tribal architecture and you happened to see our recent post on the back roads of Sumba, then you probably noticed that shot of Thomas fording the river backed by a series of unbelievably vertical thatched huts. That was Ratenggaro, perhaps the most stunning village in the entire Kodi tribal region (and perhaps all of Sumba).

Kodi is Sumba at its best, a region of superlatives. The huts are taller, the villages more traditional, the tombs a bit grander, the beaches more sweeping, the sculpture a little more plentiful… Kodi is simply awesome.

Discovering places like Rantenggaro is why we travel. Every time we start to get a bit jaded, we run across a truly incredible location like this which reminds us that – even in the 21st century – there are still discoveries to be made. The small headlands just west of Ratenggaro featuring half a dozen unique stone tombs is pure magic.  Looking back at the huts perched perilously on the river-side cliff, the village feels like a surreal figment of – well – my imagination. This is precisely Continue…

The Back Roads of Sumba

When they say the trip is the destination, they are talking about places like Sumba. Travel here is no piece of cake, but moving through this epic landscape, with all its challenges, is the definition of adventure. We set off on our motorbikes with little more than a vague Lonely Planet map and a couple of useless brochures, and ended up getting lost for two days in one of those fantastically rewarding misadventures we have grown to love.

Our trip started out a bit questionably as we dodged an endless line of overloaded trucks on the “main road” from Waikabubak towards Waitabula. Unable to enjoy the undulating tropical landscape due to the trucks, we improvised a detour across the forested back country to Pero. As is often the case, remote “roads” that appear on maps may not be there. Or there may be more of them than you anticipate. In this case, both scenarios proved to be true. Our road narrowed into slightly more than a paved, potholed path that wound its way through rainforest, past tiny farms and villages becoming a rural maze of forks and side roads. In other words, it was Continue…

The Tribal Villages of Sumba

Tarung village in Waikabubak, Sumba

Tribal western Sumba is without question one of the most fascinating cultural regions in all of Indonesia. Eclipsed by more famous destinations such as Papua, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Flores, remote Sumba is primarily visited by travelers with a keen interest in ethno-tourism. Way off the beaten path – or any path for that matter – you don’t just end up here by mistake; you come here specifically to take in the unique Sumbanese tribal art, architecture and cultural heritage.

Sumba is a tough place to travel: there are few hotels, roads can be terrible, English is non-existent and the tribal communities can be somewhat volatile. Conflicts can break out at any time, even in the larger population centers such as Waikabubak. In fact, on our way to dinner one evening in Waikabubak, we were turned back because a battle had broken out between two villages and mere meters ahead people were hacking each other to death with their swords. This ain’t Disneyland Continue…

Sumba Kids

Foreigners are a relative rarity in Sumba. While the adults tend to be rather aloof and suspicious, the kids are another story. 🙂

Rendezvous in Sumba

Hooray, I’m back! After flying to Kuta for medical treatment, Tony and I are reunited once again on the mysterious island of Sumba halfway between Bali and Alor. Sumba, Indonesia’s “Wild West” with its wide stretches of grassland and deserted beaches, promises to be a very different destination. Few tourists make it here, but the ones who do love it.

While tribal culture was only one aspect of traveling in Flores and Alor, it seems to be the dominating force in Sumba. The island is dotted with small traditional villages centered around ancestral megalithic tombs and giant stone altars. Skull trees, where Sumba warriors once displayed their trophies of battle, are relics from not-so-bygone times when head hunting was still common practice.

Although head hunting is no more, other rituals and ceremonies still play a vital role. One fascinating ritual is the Pasola in which Continue…