Categories
Africa In Photos La Reunion The Nomadic Life

Photo Gallery: Quirky Street Art in La Reunion

Jace Graffiti La Reunion

“You can always tell the kind of personality a place has by the way they treat graffiti,” – My little brother.

If that’s the case, then I’d call La Reunion quirky, cartoonish, and welcome to the burst of color graffiti adds to its streets. Most of the graffiti I took photos of ended up being by an artist named Jace (I’m sort of in love with his yellow-man character and the different situations he winds up in), but not all of it. Anyways, I ended up with so many photos of graffiti from La Reunion — and there’s a surprising amount for such a small chunk of land — that I decided to devote a whole post to it.

Enjoy!

In Saint-Pierre; By Jace

Jace Graffiti La ReunionIn Saint-Pierre; Unknown artist

Peuf Graffiti La ReunionIn Saint-Pierre; Unknown artist

Stencil Street Art La Reunion

In Saint-Pierre; Unknown artist

Old Man Graffiti La Reunion

In Saint-Pierre; Unknown artist

Spraypaint Hand La Reunion

In Cilaos; By Jace

Jace Street Art La Reunion

What has been your favorite travel destination for street art?

Categories
Africa Ethiopia In Photos The Nomadic Life

Photo Gallery: Looking Back on One Month in Ethiopia

The month that Liz and I spent in Ethiopia marked a lot of strong positives and negatives. I was yelled at threateningly (twice), and Liz was told that all Americans should go to hell. Boarding a bus first thing in the morning turned out to be an experience akin to the running of the bulls. The habit of having local and faranji (foreigner) prices for everything (food, hotels, transportation, literally… everything) drove us crazy. But then we would meet a kind shopkeeper or group of playful kids, or find ourselves overlooking a dramatically beautiful landscape, and those negative experiences seemed instantly to be countered. Unfortunately, it sometimes took all of our patience and will power to get through the most unpleasant moments and remember the kindness and beauty other people and areas of the country had shown us. Actually, wherever we are in the world, it’s all too easy to let the rudest and meanest representatives of a new place be the loudest speakers in our minds. But because of how strongly I felt this in Ethiopia, I always hesitate when people ask, “so, wasn’t Ethiopia amaaazing?” or “Everyone was really nice there, right?” The answer is yes and no. I’ll probably elaborate further in coming posts, because, at the very least, Ethiopia has given me a lot of stories to tell.

Despite the ups and downs, one thing Ethiopia was consistent in was being beautiful (with, perhaps, the exception of Addis Ababa) and full of visually stunning scenes. Personally, I was also a big fan of the food, but maybe I’m less bothered than most by eating the same thing three times a day. So, in the end, while I may hesitate to sum up the overall amazingness of Ethiopia or general nice-ness level of its people, I won’t hesitate to say I don’t regret going there and I’d enthusiastically encourage others to go there and explore.

But anyways, the purpose of this post is to dazzle you with some of my favorite photos of the trip, so let’s get to it.

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{1} Men and women in a church in Bahir Dar
{2} Street scene from above in Harar
{3} Woman preparing coffee for a coffee ceremony in the Simien Mountains
{4} Waiting for the clouds to part at the top of a peak in Simien Mountains
{5} Traditional breakfast food, “ful medames” made of beans and tomatoe and served with bread
{6} Young girl by our campsite in the Simien Mountains

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life Travel

Photo-Frenzied in Morondava’s Avenue de Baobabs

Seven

I went to Madagascar’s most iconic and photographed site, and I didn’t bring my camera.

Just kidding. Though I did think about it for the purpose of writing a piece on how photography distracts from being present and the importance of absorbing and interacting with a place rather than documenting it. Maybe I should have done just that, but I selfishly wanted my postcard snapshot of the Avenue de Baobabs at sunset too. They’re just so damn photogenic.

I wasn’t alone in this. Car after car full of tourists rolled in, parking at the entrance closest to the road back to Morondava town or pausing for a few seconds to drop off groups returning from the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, so they could lazily walk the several yards of baobab-lined path back to their private four-by-fours just in time to get dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large concentration of tourists in Madagascar in my whole two years of living here (although Isalo came close).

As we made our way down the sandy path, a group of small children ran up to us with chameleons on sticks. They knew from experience that basically every visitor would have a camera and demanded we take photos then give them small change. “Madame, photo! Madame, photo!”

It made me a little uncomfortable but one of my friends was impressed they had figured out they could make money off of this. They would have made a cute photo, but I was more interested in chatting with them. I asked one of the little girls her name in Malagasy. When I couldn’t pronounce it quite right she got pouty and stomped her feet “NO! Boon-BOO-na!” I laughed. I love it when kids step out of their robotic “oh, madame-o, please give me something” and let their personality escape.

I snuck a photo of her from behind, and she snapped her head around, obviously in recognition of the shutter’s ‘cliiick’ and was back to berating me with ‘madame, photo!’ I feigned ignorance. I told another group of boys near her I didn’t want to take their photo because they were dirty. They were amused. I was serious.

Four

In the end, my seven friends and I all joined the photo-snapping frenzy, but I could tell that all of us still felt somewhat separate from the tourists passing through. We were observing them and their habits the same way they were observing the trees and cooing over cute little African children holding chameleons on a stick. Even with our cameras, we were putting our Madagascar-acquired habits to good use by simply standing in the middle of the road, chatting and staring, moving slowly and not worrying about time.

After we put away our cameras and piled into our taxis to head back to town for pizza, the cool night breeze forcing me to put on a sweater, I felt reminded of why I love travel — for these moments of absolute beauty and tranquility. For being separated from ‘the rest of the world’ but in such a way that isn’t anxious, but peaceful. I felt absolutely content to be where I was in that moment, but at the same time excited for the adventures to come once I’m off this island (which is soon…)

Oh yeah, and those photos:

Avenue de Baobabs

Baobab

two Canoe Morondava

Rasta Bar

Photos: (1) Entrance to the Avenue of Baobabs (2) Bobona and her chameleon (3)  The kids in front of the baobabs (4) Baobab from the bottom of the trunk (5)  A woman on the road to the Avenue de Baobabs (6) A traditional canoe called a ‘lakana’ on Morondava’s beach (7) Musicians in the ‘Rasta Bar’ in Morondava

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar Peace Corps The Nomadic Life

Peace Corps Volunteer for a Week: When Shaz Came to Visit

The idea of inviting a non-Peace Corps volunteer to fly all the way to Madagascar and brave Taxi-brousses and kabones (outhouses) while living off rice and beans for a period of time is always an intimidating notion. I’ve tried to paint a realistic enough picture on this blog, but reading about a kabone and experiencing one are two totally different things. Fortunately, when my friend Shaz came last month to visit me, he took all of our little mishaps with surprising stride. On the way up to Mahajunga, our brousse broke down several times, and while I was slouched in my seat muttering “uhg, we’re never going to f*ing make it” he stayed positive. “Maybe we’ll still get there before the pizza place closes! Here! Drink some of the whiskey I brought!” He actually liked the food, especially brochettes (which are one of the most fantastic snacks here… he has good taste). He aslo didn’t complain nearly as much as I did about the rather putrid kabone situation at one of my friend’s sites (the outhouse has gone to shit because the whole middle school uses it). Furthermore, he even tried toka-gasy, the homemade sugar-cane moonshine that’s known to turn people blind, and was enthusiastic about it. Okay, okay, I mostly pressured him into trying toka for my own amusement, so way to go Shaz for taking that bullet! I took a lot of hilarious photos of him and another PCV throwing down shots with looks of utter disgust while I sat by and giggled.

Also, we took a lot of photos

Ankarafatsika CanyonDrink Seller Mahajunga

Mahajunga boardwalk
Girls in the window
Breakfast
Lemur Forest
Mahajunga baobab(1)
Bush

Categories
In Photos Switzerland The Nomadic Life

A Skipped Beat: Tuesday Travel Snapshot in Lugano, Switzerland

Bringing you a travel snapshot from the Beat Nomad archives each and every Tuesday…

Lugano, Switzerland… except for last Tuesday because I was having some internet problems. To continue with today’s post:

I wish I had better pictures of Lugano, Switzerland. Even though I’ve ended up in the tiny Swiss town just north of Milan several times, I have disparagingly few. I’d like to say it’s because I was too busy drooling over cobblestone streets and bugging my friend to drink espresso or climb a castle with me… so we’ll blame it on that. This photo is a view of Lugano from a nearby mountain (but really just a hill in comparison to the Alps that hover in the distance).

Favorite part about Lugano: Stumbling upon a violin-cello duet around the corner from the Louis-Vuitton store, performing with sheet music and all (even the street musicians have class)

Least favorite part about Lugano: It’s retardedly expensive and a Swiss couple judged me for climbing that mountain in Toms

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life

Photos From Inside an African Market

Malagasy girl eating riceI hate to say it, but I’ve gotten used to the Antsirabe market’s smell. It’s a weird combination of muck and old produce, rice being cooked, and charcoal. The meat section has a totally different stench. Even after two years, I scrunch my face and try not to breathe it in as a walk quickly past. Once past the meat and surrounded by piles and piles of vegetables, (the women, because the overwhelming majority of people selling goods in the market are women), shout out the names of vegetables they think I want. “Citron! Citron!” one woman carrying a basket of limes calls out “Les tomates, madam, les tomates!” another says from her perch on a table covered in various vegetables, holding one up for me to see. It catches me off guard on the rare occasion they ask in Malagasy, and I wonder “if I were a tourist, would I have even noticed?”

The place is dark and dingy. Although it has no walls, the stalls of various vendors lined up at the entrance to the covered market and sectioned off with sheets of plastic, make it seem as if they do. The whole place is ensconced with a brick-tiled roof. I’m pretty sure several birds and bats have made homes in the rafters. The floor is no better. I keep my eyes to the ground to make sure I don’t step on a chicken, a small child playing with a cardboard box, or any other mysterious, liquidy substances.

On the other side of the produce market, sit rows of tiled lunch counters. Behind each one, people tend to giant metal pots over charcoal flames, cooking rice and loaka — the thing that accompanies the rice, (pork, beans, cow tongue) — coffee, or frying different sorts of bread in hot oil. Off in the far corner, I notice all of the street kids have gathered at one of these counters, being fed rice and chicken by the owners.

“Hey look, they’re doing their dishes when they finish,” one of my friends notices.

“I guess that’s a fair trade for free food, right?” I reply.

In that moment, I’m still finishing up my own plate of rice, beans, and cucumber salad when one of the older kids ambles up to beg for money, still munching on a chicken bone.

“Sorry kid,” I say, “but you can have the rest of my rice.”

“Sure,” he replies, and dumps the rice into a plastic bag. (This is one thing I love about Madagascar, how little is wasted. If I can’t finish my food, which I rarely can when it’s rice, there’s always someone else who’ll eat it — even if it’s just the cat that hangs around the hotely)

We finish and leave the dark, weird-smelling, half-open market and step out into the street. I’m startled by the sunshine, but also on some level how normal sitting in a dingy market eating rice has become.

Chickens and Bananas

ChickensBasket SellerStreet kid eating chicken boneWashing ShoesBag vendorPhotos: (all were taken near Antsenakely, Antsirabe)

(1) Small child eating rice (it would have been cuter if she hadn’t made that weird face just as my friend Amy snapped the photo!) (2) Women selling chicken, bananas, and brooms (3) Chickens… duh (4) Woman selling woven rafia baskets and hats that are common in Madagascar (5) The street kid I gave my rice to… he’s making a funny face because he was in the middle of eating a chicken bone, but I think the photo is kind of hilarious (so did he) (6) Shoe vendors washing their shoes just outside Antsirabe’s small market (7) Tangerines, bananas, and bags

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life

A Skipped Beat: Tuesday Travel Snapshot in Diego, Madagascar

Bringing you a travel snapshot from Beat Nomad’s travel archives each and every Tuesday

Diego SuarezI recently found a blog describing Diego Suarez (the northernmost city in Madagascar, known as Antsiranana in Malagasy) as a “small fishing village”. It made me giggle a little, but then again, everything is relative. It’s small by western standards and most well known for it’s Portuguese-founded port, but tell someone from Diego that they are from a village and they’ll likely tell you off. Within Madagascar, it’s a hub of cosmopolitanism in the north. The city boasts a couple of night clubs, banks, a university, round the clock electricity (which says nothing of its reliability), and an airport. And then, there’s this semi-cryptic graffiti all over the place — a style of art I’ve always associated with urbanism. Through the Peace Corps rumor mill I heard that a French volunteer, not a local, is responsible for the graffiti, but of course that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Best part about Diego Suarez: The nearby Ankarana national park, the retardedly beautiful Emerald Sea, and all the fresh seafood and coconut rice we could handle.

Worst part about Diego Suarez: A surprising lack of cheap Malagasy food options and a not so surprising abundance of prostitutes (the seedier side of Diego: it’s a sex tourist destination, though still not as bad as Nosy Be)

Categories
Asia In Photos Thailand The Nomadic Life

A Skipped Beat in Krabi, Thailand: Tuesday Travel Snapshot

Bringing you a travel snapshot from Beat Nomad’s archives each and every Tuesday:

Thai Street FoodI had a serious space-cadet moment when I was in Ko yao noi, a small island about an hour’s boat ride from Krabi, while traveling around Thailand last September. I said goodbye to my friends, packed up my bag, got on a boat, all ready to fly back to Madagascar and realized “wait — it’s Wednesday, not Thursday… I still have a whole other day in Thailand!” How did I spend it? Eating, of course. Sushi, iced coffee, and noodles were all obsessions of mine while traveling there, but don’t judge me for also getting overly-excited at a packet of freeze-dried raspberries in a 7-11. (RASPBERRIES! NO WAY! I haven’t eaten these in over a year!)

Anyways, this photo was taken at Krabi’s nighttime street food market, right on the ocean. I suspect that most of the food here is a mysterious meat-on-a-stick sort of thing — one of Thailand’s food options that never struck my palate much, but I always gravitated towards for their colorful displays.

Favorite part about Krabi: Oh, besides the food? The night market (not the one shown here) and its overload of sensory experiences, and all the super rad climbing spots (which I didn’t climb) nearby.

Least favorite part about Krabi: This really awkward Barbie-pink pedicure I got because it was raining and I couldn’t think of anything else to do — awkward because of the language barrier and uncomfortable chair.

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life

5 Reasons Why Antsirabe is Madagascar’s Best Urban Destination

Antsirabe

Happy May, blogosphere. I’m sure for most of you it means a thawing out of the winter that lingered in the northern hemisphere, but for my part, I’ve been camping out in the same pair of sweatpants and light sweater-down-jacket combination for the past three days. Normally, I hate cold weather, but somebody imported maple trees to Antsirabe, which means at least in that small pocket of Madagascar, I can bike over crunchy, brown leaves, and indulge in the charm of autumn – my favorite season. It makes the chill worth it.

Fall in Antsirabe

But then again, Antsirabe in general just makes all the frustrations of life in Madagascar worth it. A small city just 160km south of Antananarivo on the RN7, I would argue that Antsirabe is Madagascar’s best urban gem (and this is even after visiting Mahajunga, Diego, Fort Dauphin, Tamatave, Fianaratsoa, and Antananarivo). In a country most visited for its national parks and wildlife, it’s easy to gloss over the cultural aspects of travel here. However, Antsirabe is a compact, and easy to reach city that has it all.

1. La Cabana

La Cabana

Next door to the hostel I usually stay at is a small, Malagasy bar called “La Cabana”. They are locally known for their freshly grilled chicken (actually marinated!) and cheap, cold beer. It’s one of the few places I regularly see foreigners and Malagasy happily mixed, I imagine because the prices are still ‘Malagasy’, but it doesn’t have the same dodgy, dingy appearance of most Malagasy bars. I also love it because it’s literally a place where everyone knows my name…

How to get there: Go to the ‘Score’ grocery store on the main avenue and follow the smell of grilled chicken.

2. Concerts at Alliance Française

Main Avenue

I have yet to figure out why the local music scene in Antsirabe is so vibrant – some bands from the area have even gone off to tour in La Reunion and France – but you don’t see me complaining. Almost every Friday night, folks in Antsirabe can find a live concert happening at Alliance Francaise, either for free or a small cover charge of about 5,000AR. The bands are almost always Malagasy, sometimes traditional but sometimes more of a rock/reggae kind of vibe.

How to get there: Alliance Francaise is on a small street near the supermarket, Score, and the train station.

3. A smaller, cleaner version of Antananarivo

nine

Antsirabe and Antananarivo hold a lot of similarities – both are highland cities and major economic enters – which makes Antsirabe, the country’s third largest city, feel like a less grimy and more manageable sister to Tana. Throughout the city are signs telling residents to keep streets clean and it seems like people actually listen. Sure, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but compared to most urban areas in Madagascar, Antsirabe is down right tidy. Most spots worth seeing are within walking distance of each other, and a lot of the slummy grittiness of Tana is practically non-existent in Antsirabe. For this reason, if I were to use any one word to describe Antsirabe, it would be ‘pleasant’.

4. Bikable streets and day trips

Madagascar's Highlands

Okay, I was in Antsirabe when that goat jumped on me and my bike, but for the most part wide, flat roads and slow traffic – half the vehicles are rickshaws, bikes, and cows – make it a really bikable city. Just a few kilometers south-west of the city on hilly but well-paved roads sits Lake Tritriva, a lake-filled crater. About 22 kilometers away is another small highland town, Betafo, which I personally love biking to since there’s less traffic on the road west of Antsirabe than the RN7.

5. Hamburgers

Pousse Pousse Cafe

The Pousse Pousse Café, a restaurant at the center of town near the small market (Antsenakely), has created a unique ambiance with table and chair sets made out of rickshaws locally known as pousse-pousses. I love everything on the menu, but for Peace Corps volunteers we naturally gravitate towards the place for their hamburgers. Chez Dom, another establishment further north of the town center, has a dining experience much like eating in someone’s living room. Dom, an amicable French gentleman, rocks the hamburgers by finishing them off with blue cheese.

How to get there: For Pousse-Pousse, it’s in the small market (Antsenakely) just near the Shoprite. Chez Dom is an unsuspecting house on a small road just off the RN7 by Zandina’s. Look for the giant sign to point you in the right direction

And a few more photos before I leave…

Cathedral Pousse Pousse in Autumn Street Kid

Photos: (1) A street kid shying away from my camera (2) A view of the maple trees from Ravaka hostel (3) Outdoor seats at La Cabana (4) The main avenue at sunset, just near the Alliance Francaise (5) A cobblestone street near Antsenakely (6) The RN7 about 15 kilometers south of Antsirabe (7) Taking photos while anxiously awaiting our hamburgers at Pousse-Pousse cafe (terrible lighting) (8) Rush hour traffic outside the Cathedral d’Antsirabe (9) Another shot of the maple trees (10) Another street kid

Categories
Adventure Travel Africa In Photos La Reunion The Nomadic Life

Dining and Hiking on La Reunion’s Active Volcano

La Piton de la Fournaise

Seriously guys, I’ve already gabbed on enough about La Reunion, but want to point out two more highlights of the trip, Le Piton de la Fournaise, an active volcano, and a cozy restaurant called Le QG before returning to posts about Madagascar. Next week, look for some colorful photos I’m eager to share depicting the arrival of autumn in Antsirabe (wait, what? Fall? That’s right. Madagascar is not ‘Africa hot’ – as my mom would say – as we roll from April to May).

Hiking an Active Volcano

Plant

But anyways, at the center of La Reunion sits the Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and perhaps the pinnacle of its attractions. The tourism board’s website is littered with dramatic black-and-orange photos of the volcano’s last eruptions back in 2007, 2008, and most recently 2010 to leverage this unique geographical feature in creating an adventurous allure to the island. “It’s like a moonscape,” one French expat had described it. Because we didn’t have a car, Chip and I weren’t confident that we would get the chance to see it, but lucked out by tagging along with one of our couchsurfing hosts and two of her friends visiting from France. Once we arrived at the trailhead to get to the volcano, having watched a landscape filled with every imaginable shade of green change to an ominous field of dried, black lava and scraggly plants, I could easily see why it gets so much attention as a tourist destination on the island – It is super cool up there.

A Fog Engulfs Us…

La Piton de la Fournaise 2

Unfortunately, a heavy fog engulfed the volcano the day we set out. Off in the distance we could blurrily make out other hikers on the trail – little specks too far off in the distance to shout out at and be heard – and it gave me the impression that I was caught in some sad, forlorn dream. When we ran into hikers closer up on the trail, they only emphasized my impression – many of them looking grumpy and defeated at how unexpectedly less than pleasant the hike was. I guess most of us hadn’t considered it beforehand, but trying to summit a volcano is clumsy business. Instead of an actual trail, visitors follow a route marked out by white spray paint on the rocks to the top. Small rocks and pebbles make the route slippery (I’ve got the scabs on my hand to prove it) and I never quite felt like I was on a solid, steady surface. Fortunately, a clumsy, rocky way up proves the only danger to hiking La Fournaise.

Wait, is This Dangerous?

Formica Leo

“Can they predict eruptions with enough accuracy to keep people from being on it during an eruption?” Chip asked aloud as we neared the top.

Our hiking partners assured us that yes; the eruptions could be predicted in advance enough to get a warning out. A nearby observatory, the Piton de la Fournaise Observatory, keep a constant watch on volcanic activity using geophysical sensors and have a no-nonsense warning system and evacuation plans for nearby villages. It appeared our only concerns should be tripping and falling – like one French woman who was now shuffling back to the parking lot with a chipped tooth.

“Ahrgg! Are we there yet??” I yelled, too cold, wet, hungry, and sleep-deprived to give a shit about being present and enjoying the physical challenge anymore. At the top, our hard work was rewarded with sitting with a half-dozen other tourists eating sandwiches in a cloud. We knew that we were sitting on the mouth of an active volcano, but appearances alone wouldn’t have given that away. We sat long enough to eat a cookie and left – now with the new motivation of knowing that descending meant ultimately reaching “the best creole food in La Reunion,” as told to us by Chef Fred.

“Pig Intestines, Please”: Lunch at Le QG

Creole FoodWhen we finally did reach Le QG, the cozy, dimly lit restaurant was a welcome reprise from the chill and rain outside. Chip, our couchsurfing host, and I clustered around the wall mounted fireplace in the back sipping Dodos (the local beer) and doing our best to warm up. Fred greeted us in a chef’s apron, an introduced us to the head chef, a Senegalese man with a broad smile and a towering, white chef’s hat. I had hardly finished my Dodo before we sat down and Fred asked us what we wanted to eat.

“Pig intestines, please,” Chip told Fred.

A minute later we could see the Senegalese chef and Fred discussing the order – “really? The American wants that? You’re sure? Well okay then…”

The intestines tasted salty yet full of flavor, but my favorite dish on the table was the goat seasoned with bay leaves. In true creole fashion, they brought out large bowls of rice, steamed greens, beans, and the various meats each of us had ordered – family style. In true French fashion, our host ordered a bottle of red wine since drinking beer with a meal was simply “improper” (this is totally a custom I can get down with). As our last real meal in La Reunion, we went all out, even splurging for desert – crème brulee and something called a “pineapple surprise” – and espresso. I couldn’t have imagined a better farewell meal.

Pineapple Surprise

Slightly tipsy from the beer, wine, and complimentary samples of rhum arrange, a rum infused with different flavors such as ginger, baobab flower, or vanilla, I got up to pay and thank the chef.

“Wait, before I leave, I have a question for you… Degena Wolof?” I asked – which means “do you speak Wolof?” in Wolof. He looked at me for a second then gave me a resounding “Yaow!” before running off around the restaurant shouting “did you hear what she just said? Degena wolof! Degena wolof! Oh my god, did you hear that?” It made me miss how vibrant and outgoing West Africa is compared to the passivity of Madagascar.

“Come back Friday and I’ll cook a big meal for us!” he exclaimed after he finished circling the restaurant in excitement. Genuinely sad, I shook my head and said “sorry, I’m going back to Madagascar tomorrow,” and instead said goodbye, thank you for the food, and headed back to our hosts’ home for a much needed nap.

Le QG Server

Photos: (1) Beginning the ascent (2) A plant on the hike to the volcano (3) On the way down from the parking lot (4) ‘Formica Leo’ (5) Pork and rice (6) Pineapple surprise desert (7) One of the owners of Le QG serving up some delicious food

Categories
In Photos North America The Nomadic Life The United States

A Skipped Beat: Tuesday Travel Snapshot [Washington]

Bringing you a travel snapshot from Beat Nomad’s archives each and every Tuesday.

Crescent Lake

This photo was taken at Lake Crescent on a trip to the Olympic National Park shortly after I moved to Seattle. A couple of medical students from Arkansas that I met at a hostel and I were staying at Lake Crescent Lodge, and this was the view of the lake and it’s canoes right when we woke up. Being here in Madagascar, I seriously miss the Pacific Northwest.

Categories
Africa In Photos Madagascar

A Skipped Beat: Tuesday Travel Snapshot [Fianaratsoa]

Bringing you a travel snapshot from Beat Nomad’s archives each and every Tuesday.

Betsileo

This week’s photo was taken on the RN7 just south of Fianaratsoa, somewhere near Anja National Park, in the wine-making region of Madagascar (although, trust me, it’s terrible — I once got drunk after drinking an entire bottle because I was convinced it was just weird tasting grape juice and it couldn’t possibly be actual alcoholic wine. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked when I stood up). Anyways, I took this at the end of a two-day bus journey back from Fort Dauphin, when, just a few hours away from our destination our bus got a flat tire right in front of a wine stand. So naturally, we bought a bottle of wine and sat down in a gazebo, where immediately after this group of party-people (yeaaah, they’re looking lively here…) sat down and joined us. Since they were all Betsileo, it would have been rude of us not to offer our wine, and (begrudgingly) went from five to ten people sharing one bottle. Also characteristic of the region is the way the man front and center has a blanket draped over himself, and the man next to him had a tall stick. Fancy, right?

Categories
Africa In Photos La Reunion The Nomadic Life

Hello Reunion, Thanks for Smelling Nice

Women in La Reunion

Back to the Developed World

After over a consecutive year and a half in Madagascar – minus three weeks in Thailand – stepping off the airplane in La Reunion felt like going back in time to the world of my memories. At first glance, it was the developed world of my daydreams when I’m having a bad day in Mada. There were paved roads, large busses that didn’t sputter black exhaust fumes, quaint cafes, and an overarching scent of plastic, clean, and sea, rather than piss and unidentifiable stench. (Seriously Madagascar, would you stop peeing on everything?) Most everyone had shoes, and even if they were wearing cheap clothes they were still the sort of thing only Malagasy with a higher status could afford. I noticed two beggars in the entire week I was there.

Judging from our surroundings, Chip and I knew this trip was going to be easy. Normally, I like a challenge while traveling. I like choosing the more difficult route, because it usually means more adventure; better stories. Peace Corps has been one long series of travel challenges and honestly, I’m getting a bit tired and burnt out. For once, the thought of exploring a place where I didn’t even have to bargain for a freaking coconut made me excited to be there.

Couchsurfing and a Home-Cooked Creole Feast

Being in La Reunion also meant I got to do something else I haven’t done in a long, long time: couchsurf. We ended up getting hosted by a group of seven friends – one Reunionese and six French – who lived in a house that overlooked Saint Denis and the Indian Ocean. I like surfing in houses like that because it means there’s always something going on, but, if I’m honest, the language barrier made things a little awkward at first. Chip and I sort of speak French, and could handle ourselves one on one, but once the group started going and making jokes, I clammed up. Even so, I still ended up really liking the group.

Then again, how could I not? They were all laid-back, 20- and 30-somethings who had moved from France to La Reunion “for the sun,” and a more relaxed lifestyle. Our first night there, the one Reunionese housemate and de-facto chef of the house, Fred, cooked up a huge meal of Reunionese creole food.

Bouchons“I saw on your blog that you like food,” he said.

“Fred should be a detective,” one of the others joked.

I was flattered that he had read some of these silly blog posts that I’ve been writing (seriously, I’m always a little flabbergasted that people read my dribble, and that my following has grown to what it is… oh, and hi Fred!). I was even more surprised that he had rightly assumed that we’d appreciate some creole home cooking and had gone through the trouble of putting it all together. He started off with a steamed dumpling called bouchons, stuffed with duck and vanilla. I never would have thought to put those two flavors together (although I did once eat a delicious vanilla zebu steak in Madagascar) but they were fantastic; a tangy mix of sweet and savory. The main meal looked much like Malagasy food, but with more use of spices and a better rice to other stuff ratio. The spread included a spicy cucumber salad, bread mafana – a cooked leafy greens dish – pork with sauce, beans, and rice. The meat and beans thing became a common theme during our meals, and I left Reunion feeling like I had just consumed a year’s worth of protein.

Breaking Out the Funk Moves

Totally stuffed with food, wine, and beer, Chip and I and three of the other housemates left to go dancing at Funky Terrace at Les Récréateurs – a dance night that played old funk, disco, and reggae hits while reruns of Soul Train were projected onto a wall. “We usually go every Wednesday, but they were closed for awhile because someone brought a gun into the bar. Now they’re open again,” one of them told us before we left. Oh, phew, I thought, funk dance night is back on.

At the bar, I felt like a ‘real human’. Nobody creepily tried to dance behind me on the dance floor. We could pay for our beers with credit cards. People bought rounds (and I still feel bad that we never were able to sneak in there and buy a round for our CS hosts). It all felt foreign yet familiar. I fumbled, but it was fantastic. I drank beer and did the twist. Sadly though, at midnight exactly, the DJ cut off the music and we drove home in a tired, beer haze. Before crashing, Chip and I got instructions on how to get to the beach by bus, figuring that even if La Reunion isn’t much known for its beaches (they’re littered with pine needles and rock fish dot the waters), lounging by the ocean was exactly the sort of day we wanted to have after a night of a few too many drinks. Without a doubt, this trip was going to be blissfully easy.

Beach

DSC_1385DSC_1371Cilaos Bar

GraffittiCoconutPhotos: (1) Women sitting in a park in Saint Pierre (2) Bouchons at a bar (not Freds!) (3) The closest beach to Saint Denis — L’hermitage (4) Ice cream truck in Saint Pierre (5) Fast food chicken (6) Bar in Cilaos (7) Saint Pierre Graffitti (8) Coconuts in a road-side market

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In Photos

A Skipped Beat: Tuesday Travel Snapshot [Florida]

This week I’ve decided to finally start doing a weekly post featuring a forgotten or archived photo that, for whatever reason, never made it on to Beat Nomad before now. I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile and I’m excited to at long last make the idea a reality. I’m also excited about the name (which my friend, Sally Bull, helped me come up with. Thanks Sally!) So, from now on you can expect a photo each Tuesday from past travels.

Today’s Photo

Florida Motel
This photo was taken around New Years, 2011 in St. Augustine, Florida, while I was visiting a friend I met traveling around Nicaragua. The deserted motel at sunset reminded me of a scene out of a mid-20th century novel where the characters were road-tripping along America’s open highways (On The Road, Lolita…). I loved the sense of Americana it evoked.

Categories
Africa In Photos Mauritius The Nomadic Life

Twenty Hours in Mauritius [photos]

Maheborg, MauritiusWhen I was booking tickets for La Reunion, the cheaper flight from Madagascar (about $300 round trip) stopped in Mauritius. I felt clever with myself for choosing the one that had a twenty hour layover. Two countries for the price of one, right?

So, last Tuesday we landed in Mauritius around dinner-time, and immediately the humid, sea air hit us as we descended from the airplane on pull-up airstairs. At customs, the agent looked at me when I handed him my passport. I could have sworn I heard him say “home”.

“What?”
“Om! Your tattoo, it’s om!”

TattooI started to laugh. It failed to dawn on me that on an island where 68% of the population is of Indian descent, people would be able to recognize the terrible scrawled out Hindi ‘om’ symbol on my pinky finger (the first time I had this tattoo done was with a DIY kit. Last year I impulsively had it ‘touched up’ in Madagascar. I’ve jokingly referred to it as my ‘punk rock tattoo’ because of it’s terrible quality for years now.)

Still, the moment was an introduction of what to come. After a rather painless and quick customs check, we sped off to Mahebourg, a small town close to the airport and checked in to a (more expensive than promised) sea-side hotel with a terrace that overlooked a pirogue dotted bay. That night, we had no problem finding cheap Indian food after wandering wide, palm-lined back streets. We weren’t sure if it was the time of night (about 8 or 9) or just the feel of the city, but save for the odd person sitting on a sidewalk in a plastic chair, or ambling by on a brightly painted bike, it felt deserted.

The next day, we spent too long sleeping and eating breakfast, and decided to wander the streets instead of checking out a beach 6km south of town (which in retrospect, I am kicking myself in the butt for. We could have figured out the bus, or rented a bike, and only spend two hours on the whole venture). We walked as the town opened up. Men clustered by the bus station eating sandwiches and telling jokes. Women in colorful saris and umbrellas to block out the sun passed by us on the sidewalk. At one point, we had wandered too far out of town, and as we debated turning right or left, I noticed a woman in a bright yellow sari smiling at me from across the street. I smiled back.

“You should go right!” she shouted in French. “There is a beautiful sea down that road,” It was one of those oddly serendipitous travel moments I love. We walked alongside her for a few minutes before she ducked in to her house, and we continued our aimless walk. Eventually the walk led us back to our hotel terrace with cans of Guinness, to a KFC (!!!), and ultimately, the airport.

If you find yourself with a long layover in Mauritius, don’t make my mistake! Go to the freaking beach! It would have been about 20 minutes by taxi from the airport and like I said, I’m still kicking myself in the butt. Why wouldn’t you try to see a destination’s biggest draw? Enjoy the non-beachy photos!

Mahebourg Bridge

Mauritius Balcony

Hindu TempleDSC_1211

Photos: (1) Lion Mountain and harbor in Mahebourg (2) Bridge out of Mahebourg (3) Balcony (4) Hindu temple (5) View from our hotel terrace