I take this week’s chance to announce the release of the second issue of Wicked World, a digital magazine project that dares to be different. Unrestricted by commercial considerations, it remains free to challenge, question, and tell the truth about the business of international travel. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round-the-world gap year tickets, or travel insurance, but exist primarily to provide a platform for the kind of honest, alternative and irreverent travel writing that wouldn’t normally find a home in more mainstream publications.
In Issue Two you will find articles on: the walled Muslim city of Harar in Eastern Ethiopia; the Sultan of Sulu and the disastrous recent invasion of Sabah in Borneo; frenzied voodoo ceremonies in Benin; the sculpture of Iran’s Ahad Hosseini; the strange religious cult of Caodai in Vietnam; Thailand’s spirit tattoos; the sacred city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka; rapidly changing Cuba; and the punk rock scene in Penang, Malaysia.
You can read the present issue in digital format clicking here.
If you feel like you have something worthwhile and relevant to contribute to the Wicked World project, or would simply like to know more, then feel free to contact either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Whoever idealized the serene night scene of Berber tents surrounding an oasis, fires flickering, a reflection of the stars above, the quiet hum of insects and maybe a bedouin bathing by moonlight had obviously NOT actually spent a night at an oasis; especially on a festival night.
If there is one thing that an oasis night is not, under any circumstances, it is quiet. There is really no way to describe the cacophony of sounds that paint the darkness: donkeys braying, dogs barking, cats calling, camels roaring (they don’t exactly roar, but they are certainly making their best attempt.) Add to that the clip clop of horse hooves, followed closely by the squeak of the wheels of the cart it is pulling, the low level drone of Arabic, whispers, conversations, laughter, shouting and singing and it is a symphony that echoes out onto the desert and disappears into the darkness.
The drumming started just at bed time. BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-BOM-BOM-bah-bah-bah…. The constant beat of skin drums beaten with smooth sticks by men in ankle length, hot pink robes and green vests topped by red hats hung with long black tassles, reminiscent of a horse’s tail, attached at the center. The high, shrill trilling of the Bedouin women accompanying their beat: “HIEEEELA-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA!” BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah…. There was no sense in putting in earplugs and trying to sleep. The only thing to do was lay awake in the deep dark and frosty cold of the desert night and enjoy the symphony, trying to burn it into my sound memory for the deep dark and frosty cold of my ancient days, sixty years from now.
Then, sometime after midnight, as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown: quiet. No more drums, no more people sounds, only the lonely donkey’s cry or dog’s bark. We emerged from the tent to make a run to the bathroom, our breath hanging in the frosty air. Desert nights, especially in winter, hover around the freezing point. It was impossible to rush (as my chilly self wanted to do) across the sand to the bath house. We had to stand, heads held aloft and look at the stars. It is hard to believe that these are the same stars that watch over us in the pine forests of northern New England, but they are, the stars of the northern hemisphere: Ursa Major and Minor, the Pleiades and Orion, standing like an arab warrior over the ocean of sand. The moon was no where to be seen, hidden among the date palms at the edge of the horizon, perhaps, but the stars more than made up for its light. The desert stars alone were worth the trip.
Between drumming and the dawn prayers came three or so hours of twilight sleep. Douz has at least four mosques, each of which seems to pride itself on the accuracy of timing their morning prayers, and they certainly do not agree. The first wail arose at five thirty, sharp, and it was nearly half an hour before the last song faded into the semi-darkness. The sound of the muezzin is an effective alarm clock and reminds even we infidels that Allah is, indeed, Akbar. Emerging from our green tents, blowing on our frozen fingers, starting the fires that will result in coffee and tea we greeted Christmas Day on the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental, while Gramps hummed the inevitable under his breath: “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Maldaur (1973).
Visit this link to hear a version of the song by Renee Olstead.
In the past few months, I have complained several times about the current status of travel writing and how it does not satisfy my needs.
In this sense, it would have been too easy to just sit there and complain without actually doing something about it. And that’s exactly what I did by joining forces with British travel writer Tom Coote.
We sat down and worked hard to create a new digital magazine: Wicked World.
You can access it by clicking here.
Wicked World exists to promote the kind of travel related writing that wouldn’t normally find an outlet in more mainstream publications. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round the world tickets or travel insurance. On the contrary, we are here to provide a showcase for honest, alternative and irreverent writing, with a particular emphasis on internationally oriented underground culture. And we of course accept related, inspired submissions from like minded travel writers and adventurers.
If you want examples, the very first issue of Wicked World has articles on: the burgeoning black metal scene in Bangladesh; the rarely visited Meroe Pyramids in Sudan; mine clearance in Cambodia; a haunting return to Vicksburg, Mississippi; the resurrection of a mummified monk in Thailand; a bizarre encounter with the police in Kyrgyzstan; System of a Down’s self-financed film about the Armenian Genocide; and a festival for hungry ghosts in Malaysia and Singapore.
In the future, we are planning to provide a syndication service for travel related articles, and to experiment with publishing the kind of eBooks that wouldn’t normally find an outlet through more mainstream publishers.
If you would like to get involved in Wicked World, or would simply like to know more, then send an email to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
After spending several months in Africa, I have seen a lot of strange things and it has all begun to be quite normal. Therefore, the contrast of Kigali, Rwanda was actually the strangest thing I have seen in a while. The streets were impeccably clean, everything was organized and you couldn’t find corruption anywhere. The harassing street hawkers weren’t trying to sell me the same worthless junk or “Made in China” African statues and masks like everywhere else, but rather USB sticks, Oxford English dictionaries and Economist magazines. Compared to the past few months, this was very strange!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In Malawi I was introduced to the water spirit Tokoloshe. It resembles a human figure – two hands and two feet – but with extremely exaggerated features like the massive belly and enormous mouth and tongue. I have never seen anything quite like it and decided I had a buy one. Luckily, there’s a million craft stalls in Africa and Malawi is no different. I bought mine from a fellow that called himself “Cheap As Chips”.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In South Africa, seeing a lion eat an impala, a family of elephants cross the road, two giraffes fight, rhinos hanging out, a leopard chase its prey and a handful of other breathtaking scenes at Kruger National Park was definitely “strange.” It honestly didn’t feel like it could possibly be real.
In Mozambique, the chapas – a shared mini-bus taxi that is typically the only mode of transportation available – are designed to fit 14 people. However, it typically has over 20 people + luggage + household supplies + the occasional live chicken and bag of raw fish. Waiting for and watching everyone squeeze into this vehicle while a guy came up to the window selling a bundle of machetes and an elderly woman came up with a huge barrel of oranges balanced on her head was probably the strangest overall visual of the trip.
About 110 years ago an Englishman named Ewart Grogan made the journey across Africa from south to north. He was the first person to do so, and it took him two years.
In Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure, author Julian Smith recounts some of Grogan’s story, following much the same route. The title refers to the fact that Grogan journeyed with the knowledge that when he finished – assuming, of course, that he survived the dangerous trek – there was a particular woman he planned to marry. Smith also departs for Africa with a woman he loves, and to whom he is engaged, waiting back home.
The book deserves a place in a well-rounded travel library because it introduces us to one of the last great explorers, and such a young one at that (Grogan was in his mid-twenties when he set out). The reader is given a glimpse of Africa circa 1900 and a glimpse of Africa today. I particularly appreciate how Smith weaves in excerpts from Grogan’s journal, passages such as:
How many people have ever caught the exquisite flavour of bread-and-butter? the restful luxury of clean linen? the hiss of Schweppe’s? One must munch hippo-meat alone, save one’s sole shirt from contact with water as from a pestilence lest it fall to pieces, and drink brackish mud for days, to realize all this.
One disappointment with Crossing the Heart of Africa is that unlike Grogan, Smith didn’t make it all the way to Egypt; he made it as far as Juba, Sudan. He had good reason to go no further. The back cover blurb, however, gives the impression that both men covered the whole distance, and I felt slightly deceived once I reached the end of the story. Also, at times the narrative feels rushed and even forced, which may be in part because Smith had only two months to cover a vast amount of territory — too short a time, I think, but it was what he had to work with if he was to be back in time for his wedding.
Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure is available in many bookstores and on Amazon.
On Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired film footage of San Francisco in 1906. The footage, taken by a camera attached to a cable car going down Market Street, is less than 12 minutes long, and it is mesmerizing in a way a still photo cannot be. We see bodies moving, faces moving, vehicles and pedestrians weaving all over the place in an era few of us ever bother to think about. There is a hauntedness to it all, in part because we know what the people in the video don’t: many will die in just a few days in what will be called the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Some years ago I used to take a lot of video footage in my own travels, and I’m glad I have it today. On those rare occasions when I watch some clips, they evoke time and place in a way my still photos do not. A photograph can’t capture the crickets at night in Yanjing, Tibet, or the giggles of an innkeeper’s little girl as a radio plays Chinese classical songs in the background.
I’ve not traveled with a proper video camera since 2005. I feel I just don’t have the time to do video when I’m focusing on still photography — and trying to do decent writing at the same time. But my Nikon D300s does have a video function, and I’ll kick it on once in a while. The quality is poor, but it is enough to capture something that a single picture can’t. For this post I’ve uploaded to youtube a few video clips taken in the past year. If any of the following capture your attention, you’re most welcome to check it out (the girl in the photo above is in the first clip):
“Right now Egypt is like having a fast pass at Disney. People should come over.”
These are the words of Rick Zeolla, the general manager of the Cairo Marriott, quoted last week in a New York Times article titled “Tahrir Square, Egypt’s New Tourist Draw.” In that same article, the general manager of the Semiramis InterContinental said that his guest today are asking for rooms with a view of Tahrir Square rather than the Nile. “The early guests we are seeing are more independent, well seasoned and globally focused travelers,” he said.
There is indeed a strong case to be made, on several fronts, that now is the time to visit Egypt. True, lines are currently non-existent at tourist sites. But the stronger argument, I think, is that what is going on now in Egypt — i.e., a transition from autocratic rule to what the majority of Egyptians hope will be democracy — is no less stunning to behold than the gazillion blocks of stone that form the Pyramids of Giza or any number of other ancient monuments in this land. I visited the Pyramids last week and they were nice. But it was even more fascinating to sit in Saad Zaghloul Square in Alexandria, or Tahrir Square in Cairo (above), and watch teenagers, Muslim and Christian together, give railings and curbs a fresh coat of paint. To be sure, they often did a lackluster paint job. But I wasn’t focused on their painting skills. I was focused on the spirit with which they painted and worked together, on the dreams they had for their country and communities.
Seldom will you be encouraged to visit a country to watch people paint curbs and pick up trash. But if you’re a reader wondering where to go in 2011, I’m doing precisely that. Come to Egypt to watch mediocre paint jobs. Come to watch Egyptians, who often meet and coordinate through Facebook pages, as they pick up trash from sidewalks. Talk with them. Watch their faces and laughter and eyes. Listen to what they have to tell you about pride and freedom and service. In saying this, I’m not romanticizing the challenges Egypt faces — they’re pretty darn huge. I’m just saying that something remarkable is happening here, particularly with many young people.
Some travel warnings will encourage you to stay away a while longer, and many brochures will only suggest the ancient monuments. But consider coming anyway, and coming primarily to meet and watch Egypt’s vibrant, beaming youth in the city centers. They’ll tell you Egypt isn’t just ancient ruins; it’s a place still under construction.
For a beautiful video welcoming visitors back to Egypt, check out “From Egypt with Love“.
For more of my images from Egypt in February, including the demonstrations and celebrations, visit my Flickr set called Cairo, Egypt (2011).