Friday, May 4, 2012

Photos from Faraway Places

There are some names that come to mind when you think about faraway places. Some of them are mystical places like Timbuktu that evoke images of ancient cities that are hard to get to. Other places you don’t even recall having heard about but, when you see their name written somewhere, or you read about them in a book, your mind immediately tells you that you should go there on your next adventure out in the world.  I have a few places like that in my travel history and all of them have been worth the over 2 days of traveling to reach them.

Woman selling fruit in Yangshuo, China
The first time Joe and I traveled to a remote place was back in 2007 when we headed to Yangshuo, a small town in South Central China. We had not originally planned to go to China on that trip but ended up deciding to cross China overland, rather than buy tickets straight to Hanoi, and we ended up “discovering” Yangshuo along the way, and staying there for 4 days.  To get there we had to catch a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and then an overnight bus to Yangshuo. The trip took a bit over a full day and we were kicked out of the bus at around 4 in the morning.

Karst Mountains on the Li River, China
My favorite photos from Yangshuo are from the many bike rides we took, and from the 25 km we walked along the Li River. All of our excursions were done without a guide or a map, but we just decided to trust our instincts, and people’s good nature and willingness to help us out if we needed it. Yangshuo, as you can see in the photos, is surrounded by karst mountains that tower like giants everywhere around the town. Some of them have magical names like “The 7 Supernaturals Crossing”, and some have plain descriptive names like ”Fishtail.” I love the photos from Yangshuo because they show the same formations that are usually featured in classic Chinese art. We were so lucky to be there and see those gorgeous formations that are pretty unique to the area—I think you can see something similar in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, with the difference that there, the formations tower from out of the ocean.

Biking around Yangshuo
In fact, we liked our Yangshuo photos so much that we printed 2 of our favorite in black and white (the ones I included here) and put them on our fireplace mantel. I had found 2 gorgeous solid wood carved gold frames at a second hand store and the photos look simply beautiful in them. We were looking for a Zen-type of d├ęcor for the mantel and those photos sure accomplish that!

The next stop on the faraway places list was in 2010 when our 16-person plane landed on Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an archipelago made up the Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. I vaguely remember having heard of Zanzibar when I was little and I heard its name once again during my grad school years when several of my classmates were going to different African countries to do their field research and work. All of a sudden, Zanzibar was on our radar and we decided to get there.

Man and Bicycle in Old Stone Town, Zanzibar
In Zanzibar we chose to stay on the eastern side of the island, on Jambiani beach. Getting to our beach of choice in Zanzibar took also a bit of time. We started our trip in the city of Arusha, but if you are coming from the US like we were, you must first get to Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and will very likely have a connection somewhere in Europe. Anyway, after a 2-hour flight we landed in Zanzibar. After spending a couple of days in the Old Stone Town, we took a bus that dropped us off at in Jambiani after about 4 hours.

Zanzibar is a photographer’s paradise. Old Stone Town is dotted with buildings that show their multicultural influence. Around town you can see churches, mosques and Hindu temples, all mixed together. It’s quite fascinating! The island, known as a place of religious tolerance, used to be on an important trade route several years ago, and due to this trade, it was influenced by Arab, Indian, and African cultures.

Jambiani beach, Zanzibar
My favorite photo from Zanzibar is of a man walking with a bike in front of an intricately carved door in Old Stone Town. I liked the photo so much that I turned it into a 16x20 pencil drawing. My first one, and the one that caused me to start choosing one photo from each trip to turn into a pencil drawing!

But not all is history and architecture in the island. The beaches here are also a beachgoer paradise. The water is crystal clear and the sand white and fine. Several times we walked to sand dunes, left our clothes on them, and went swimming in the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean.

Women harvesting seaweed in Zanzibar
Some of the beaches in Zanzibar are also used for growing and harvesting seaweed. Women are in charge of doing this work and, everyday, they walked into the ocean waters, dressed in bright color dresses, and they worked their parcels. Once their work was done, they carried the very heavy bags filled with seaweed out to the beach. Whenever people say that women are not strong, or that it takes a man to do the heavy work, I think of the women in Zanzibar. Not only they did all this hard work, but they did it looking beautiful and always with a smile in their face. Is that explained in terms of culture? Or is that a woman’s thing? Who knows?

Our photos from Jambiani convey so much peace. We love them!

View from our cottage in the Togian Islands, Indonesia

The last place on my list of faraway places I’ve been to is another archipelago of islands known as the Togian (or Togean) Islands.  Getting here is a huge challenge, but one that is completely worth it.

We started our trip in Singapore. A 5-hour flight brought us to the city of Manado in the island of Sulawesi in Central Indonesia. From Manado we took a 10-hour bus ride to Gorontalo and, from Gorontalo, we took a 14-hour ferry ride to the island of Wakai, which is the main port in the Togian Islands. The last leg of our trip included an-hour long motor boat ride to Fadhilla Cottages, the lovely family-run place where we stayed.

Our days in the Togians were very similar overall: we read, we snorkeled, we hung out, we relaxed, and we admired the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us. It rained a few times and the rain was followed by one, and sometimes two, rainbows.

Sunset from the dock at the Togian Islands, Indonesia
As if it were a sacred time in the day, we (as well as the other very few guests on the island) showered and dressed up for the sunset, and then sat on the dock to see our day come to an end with an explosion of oranges, red, yellows, and pinks all over the sky. Occasionally, a canoe or small boat would go by and it would make our view all the more picturesque and beautiful.

Like our guidebook said: It might take a lot of determination to get to the Togian Islands, but it sure takes a lot more to leave. I could not agree more with that!

So, why do we choose to travel to faraway places? I don’t really have a clear answer to that. I guess I like the peacefulness that you find in places that haven’t been “discovered” by tourists or that are not in the main route. These places tend to be more low-key, less expensive, and people tend to be more welcoming, both travelers and local people.  I think all of that makes the incredibly long (and often uncomfortable) journey totally worth doing.

Where will we go next?
In fact, I think that it was going to places like these that made me be even more interested in photography. And, I think these are the places that have allowed me to capture some of my best photos. At least that is how I feel about them! 
Enjoy them and don’t forget to check out my Etsy store for more photos from around the world!

1 comment:

  1. How beautifully written! For me, a trip to your blog and your etsy page is a visit to an exotic land!