Wat Magic

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat. One of earth’s cultural treasures made even more famous by appearing in a movie – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The movie appeared in 2001 and was followed by another in 2003. I’ll admit I’ve never seen either movie except for bits and pieces, but when you see the shot at Ta Prohm, it seems impossible that it is a real place and not a movie set. Seeing the roots of giant trees grasping for a hold on the ancient stone temple while massive limbs reach hundreds of feet into the sky seems to defy the laws of physics.  The roots, like the fingers of a cliff climber, curl around to lodge their bony flesh into every crack and crevice, securing a hold as the tree reaches for the sun.

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Ta Prohm, Cambodia

On my first visit to Cambodia in 2004, the Cambodians were eager to talk about the movie and the movie stars. That visit was prior to the massive hordes of tourists that are now commonplace and I felt I could explore the several structures in some peace, lingering to take photos and inspect the handiwork from around 1113 AD. Siem Reap was a small and manageable city then; a few restaurants for tourists and some small hotels and guest houses.  But I could already see the signs of progress as construction sites were rampant with signs announcing new hotels.  When I returned in 2014, the area had changed. It had become a city full of tourists and high end hotels, bars, and restaurants promoting a “party” atmosphere along the once quieter streets.

On my first visit I shot this small “traffic jam” at the ancient temple.  Look closely and you’ll see the elephant at the front of the line entering the gate.  Thankfully, the elephant rides are ending.  (The more I know about elephant training, the more I can’t stand the thought of these great creatures ferrying humans around.)  I was happy to hire a tuk-tuk for the day (a motorcycle pulling a small cart with an awning for shade) and my driver was great.

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“Traffic Jam” at Angkor Wat

 

Ten years later, Angkor Wat was just as amazing as before even if more crowded.  I always have mixed feelings about the number of tourists.  The more who see and appreciate historical sights, the easier it is to raise money to protect them.  The flip side is that more needs to be done to protect them from the ravages of the hordes.  Watch closely – some people insist on being disrespectful and even destructive (graffiti anyone?) but most truly revel in the sight of something so immense in its statement.  I found myself taking photo after photo (no flash!) to capture the timeless art and the lovely detailed engravings telling the stories and fables of the past. See the serpent grasping a man in his jaws below?  What could he have done to deserve that?

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Angkor Wat engraving: Serpent grasping a man in his jaws

How have these structures survived the years?  The temples and buildings of Angkor sit inside a dense jungle and efforts started almost one hundred years ago to clear the site and make it accessible once again.

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Jungle surrounding Angkor Wat

If only we could know all of the buried secrets of the past.  Lara – Is that you?

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Statue at Angkor Wat temple

For more travel information, visit www.wanderlynn.com.

Copyright 2016 ©wanderlynntravel.wordpress.com; photos cannot be reproduced without permission. (Wikipedia used to confirm a few facts about Angkor Wat.)

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Home Travel

Is the concept of home travel a contradiction?  In the U.S., the “staycation” has become popular as a “holiday” when people actually explore their home turf and do the things they normally regard as appropriate only for tourists.  Or just revel in some of the delights that they have to forgo when closed in an office all day.  It’s really a shame that we spend our lives working so we can enjoy free time in retirement.  I don’t want to wait until I’m older and less fit and flexible to engage in the activities that connect me with the world.

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Lucy waiting to go “hacking”

So while I’m exploring and establishing myself as a consultant, I ride with my friend whenever the weather is nice.  It’s a way to explore my local area, learn some of the history and the heritage (who knew Camp Woods was where George Washington and his army camped? AND is rumored to be haunted!) while connecting with nature in the best way, seated on the back of a sturdy little Connemara mare, courtesy of my friend.

One delight is seeing deer standing in the woods, curious about their fellow four-legged friends who have sprouted a human from their back.  We humans are dismissed as an immediate threat when fixed on a horse allowing both parties to silently evaluate the other.  Is it wonder?  Or a kindred acknowledgement of another being folded in the quiet of the woods, with only the birds to break the silence?

Today we caught the attention of a small group of deer who spotted us as we slowly walked along a field.  They patiently waited and once we hit their distance limit, they bounded off into the woods.  Our horses watched, ears forward until the deer disappeared.  Then their ears swiveled back into relaxation mode as we continued along the field’s edge.   Later, we startled a fox who trotted away stopping occasionally to glance over his shoulder and track our progress.  Again, Lucy and Flora watched but never stopped progressing down the trail.  These animals were no threat to the horses.

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View of the fields

The horses know the way and seem eager to stretch their legs in a quick trot along the meadows or a little canter on their favorite trails.  Sometimes there are just the two of us riding but our group can expand to four when schedules cooperate along with the weather. I can’t think of very many things that make me feel like I’m a 12 year old girl, out on a pony adventure.  It’s a bit sad to not see more people on horses using the trails as a way to enjoy nature.   And I hang on the words of the women who grew up in the area telling the stories of long field rides and gallops, referring to each trail by the names of the original property owners, these names a part of their history and their memories even if the land has changed hands.

But of course, there are the sacrifices of pieces of land, the slow and disturbing disappearance of woods and fields transformed into another development in the name of progress.  Preserving the horse trails protects tracts of land for the resident wildlife and means there are natural areas for the human residents to explore.  I think it’s a way to share this treasure and perhaps convert more people into protection mode for the land and the wildlife.  After all, whenever someone complains, “There are too many deer,”  don’t you wonder if the deer are whispering, “There are too many people”?

Copyright 2016 ©wanderlynntravel.wordpress.com; photos cannot be reproduced without permission.

Travel Sines (or Signs?)

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Sign in shop in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

This is one of the most hilarious signs I’ve seen anywhere and to see it hanging on a door in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, made it even more hysterical.  Maybe this is the Vietnamese version of shaming a deadbeat landlord.

I love words and I love to see what people do with them when translating or communicating in another country.  The English language can be tricky – think of all the words that sound alike but are spelled differently, such as sine and sign.  These homonyms must be a constant source of frustration for the English learner – the devil is in the details.

Some signs are fun and humorous in their depiction, such as this “Beware of Dog” sign in France.  Yikes!!  Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words and possibly a deferred medical bill.  Notice the absence of underwear.

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“Beware of Dog” in France

And here is another sign you don’t see every day.  Kind of made me want to jump on the ramparts, but I had to ask my friend, “What EXACTLY are ramparts?”  And would I incite the fury of the French police if I tiptoed across one?  I’m sure the French version of jail with bread and water might actually mean Perrier and croissants.  Unless it’s really as grim as in Les Misérables.  I settled for the photo.

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Sign at a castle in central France

I found this sign to be so politely perfect while walking through one of the temples at Angkor Wat, that I couldn’t even be upset that they had blocked a section to tourists.

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Angkor Wat apology sign

There is the occasional best attempt to translate into English and it is generally not a bad effort, if only off by one letter. I let it go, with a chuckle.  I can’t even pretend to translate into Cambodian. My sign would probably end up saying, “Vice Shop and Drug Shop.”  And then I would wonder why I had such a shady clientele.

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Shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia

And sometimes the concept is communicated…. well, almost.  I get it. This is not a hat.

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Road sign in Cambodia

And then I found this especially interesting.  I had turned on the TV in a small hotel in Sittwe, Myanmar and found the movie “Tremors” playing.  But what really surprised me was the notices that kept popping up every time one of the actors lit a cigarette!  “Smoking causes Cancer. Smoking Kills.”  And this was in a hotel where I actually had to move rooms because the stench of smoke in the hallway was so horrendous.  Go figure.

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Smoking Warning, Myanmar TV

I’ve decided I could make an entire career by translating various signs all over the world.  I’ve visited amazing places like the Shanghai Museum, knowing they’ve made a huge effort to translate exhibit descriptions into the internationally recognized language of English, and then I see a small misstep that always seems to catch my attention.  I know I’m not perfect either so I just smile and keep reading.  The intent is genuine and that is most important.

For more travel stories and information, check my website:  www.wanderlynn.com

Copyright 2016 ©wanderlynntravel.wordpress.com; photos cannot be reproduced without permission.

 

 

The Power of Prayer

Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

When visiting the sites of the world, the “must-dos”, the places that capture the culture and passion of the people, I find myself in many temples, mosques, and cathedrals. Although the religions are different, the places of worship, prayer, and meditation have much in common. There is the reverence for tradition, the quiet, respectful attitude, and the art. I find it fascinating that these symbols of faith and community present a dichotomy of engaging the many, often poor, while the opulence they display conveys a wealth not always shared with the followers.

I’ve walked through the cool quiet cathedrals of Europe amazed at the masterful art that adorns the walls. I’ve stood absorbing the oils, still vibrant after hundreds of years, the characters caught in mid-step in the glories or anguishes of life. This is how the masters sold and displayed their craft, focusing on religious themes to ornament the churches.

Duomo, Milan, Italy

Duomo, Milan, Italy

I’ve visited mosques in Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, and Abu Dhabi, wandering through with the crowds, a scarf respectfully covering my hair, absorbed in discovering the beauty of colorful tiles, carved wood, and ornate marbled flowers growing along the floor and up the walls. The meticulous detail speaks of craftsmanship and dedication.

Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

And there are the temples of Buddhist Asia, the insides displaying scenic depictions of old stories passed down through the generations, somewhat faded but still illuminating stories of men and women and the struggles of their lives, a common theme in religious focused art. The silent Buddhas stand, sit, or recline, their guarded smiles revealing little.

Pindaya Cave of Buddhas, Myanmar

Pindaya Cave of Buddhas, Myanmar

I often reflect on one common theme across all of these religions – the role of women is never equal to the men. And in that detail, I continue to cautiously observe hoping that one day women and men will be equal in how they live and how they worship.

For more travel information, check my site:  www.wanderlynn.com

Copyright 2016 ©wanderlynntravel.wordpress.com; photos cannot be reproduced without permission

 

When the Earth Moves

It’s been just over a year since an earthquake shook the mountains and valleys of Nepal on April 25, 2015. I have great sympathy for the victims, having been to Nepal twice and knowing that resources are limited even in the best of times. After the earthquake, the scarcity of clean water, food, and health care was compounded by a lack of shelter as villages crumbled and the lucky escaped with their lives.

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Annapurna, Nepal

Nepal stuns with the beauty of the Himalayas, stretching from Annapurna to the Everest region. I’ve hiked both areas and most “roads” are narrow rocky paths crisscrossing the region, peopled with locals, travelers, and donkeys laden with cases of food (and beer!). I realized how isolated the people were as we walked through forests stopping at the scattered tea-houses for masala tea and momos, the Nepalese answer to the dumpling. People were kind and welcoming. I’m sure the few dollars we spent on our meals were a significant source of income.

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Porters in Nepal

Fall is the trekking season and some of our porters had left their farms after the harvest for the more lucrative tourism-supported pay they could enjoy in October and November. And we were just as happy to have them help carry our gear as we trekked on the back of the Himalayas, enjoying the autumn sun during the arid and warm days, wrapping ourselves in our sleeping bags at night, braced against the mountain cold.

When I hear of disasters in another country, it doesn’t feel distant to me when I’ve been there. I think of the people I met and worry for their safety during the event and I worry for their recovery. Location makes all the difference, as a similar event in the U.S. would not have near the same effects.

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Tengboche, Nepal

I was in Japan when the earthquake hit on Friday afternoon, March 11, 2011. I was on a bus on the way to the airport with another colleague after a week of business in Tokyo. I was glad to be leaving as we’d already had some disturbing small earthquakes that week and I felt it was time to be going home before something more serious happened. But our timing was off. When we arrived at the airport, flights were shut down and we spent the night in the airport until flights could restart the following day. I was in a heated building on a relatively cold wet day, with access to restrooms, and some access to food and water through the various vending machines in the airport. The ever organized Japanese handed out sleeping bags. We stood patiently in line, took our bags and staked out a spot for the night. The workers who were stuck at the airport, closed their shops and prepared a place to sleep on the floor. All relatively calm and I’m sure, nothing like the mayhem in Nepal. Of course, we were nowhere near the tsunami zone. But I’ll admit that the constant aftershocks that night while tucked into my airport sleeping bag were unsettling. The cold hard tile floor was not the most comfortable bed but I felt lucky in comparison despite the feeling that I needed to sleep with one foot out of the bag, ready to run for the first exit if the aftershocks turned into an actual quake.

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Kamakura Buddha, Japan

Japan has just had more earthquakes and one shook Ecuador in the last month. Natural events become natural disasters for many reasons. Countries scramble to help and the global response eases the burden but the cycle continues and each time we think that things will be better next time. Like many others, I do what I can, contributing money to various agencies. I also spend time in countries, volunteering my time for other projects with the intent to empower the people and propel them to better lives.  And I hope that the men and women I met while volunteering and hiking in Nepal, working in Japan, and traveling in Ecuador are safe and healthy along with their families.

For more travel information, check my website:  www.wanderlynn.com

©wanderlynntravel.wordpress.com; photos cannot be reproduced without permission

 

Africa Pride

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Storm over Etosha National Park, Namibia

Some of my favorite journeys have been the safaris of Africa. Experiencing animals in the wild is mesmerizing and connecting even within the confines of a sturdy vehicle, windows down and the roof open to invite the sun and provide unrestricted views for photos. Smelling the brush of the Masai Mara, feeling the pressing heat of the Serengeti, looking across the dusty plains of Amboseli, and being dwarfed by the immense expanse of sky in Etosha, all while touring the homes of my hosts – the lions, elephants, impala, zebras and wildebeest.

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Zebras, Namibia

But nothing seems to draw looks of amazement on the faces of the spectators as easily as the lions. I’ve watched lionesses stalk prey carefully focused on a remote chance far in the distant. I’ve seen the power plays between the jackals, hyenas, and lions as they feed upon the scattered body parts of some unlucky zebra. Hierarchy favors the lions while the others wait restlessly off to the sides eyeing an opening and a chance to grab a bite.

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Hyena, Namibia

And I’ve seen the ultimate play for survival – the shaggy maned king of beasts bid for the lioness’ affection until turned away with a swat and a growl.

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Lion, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Their impervious attitude towards the humans in the mobile dining carts is a bit unsettling as they seem to ignore us but I know that one dangling limb can easily disappear to whet their feline appetites.

It’s best to stay inside the protective coating, although it’s not uncommon to see some idiot step outside their car, oblivious to the risk. But let’s admit it – it might make for an interesting YouTube video if they don’t make it back to the car in time. Survival of the fittest. Be smart or be dinner.

For more information on travel, check my website:  www.wanderlynn.com

 

Swimming Over the Sharks

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock, Galapagos Islands

I took a workshop at my old job focused on change and resiliency.  At the time, the corporation was bending itself into unnatural contortions that left a lot of employees very uncomfortable, to say the least.  I think that some people felt the changes demanded gymnastics, both mentally and physically, that were a bit of a stretch. Hence, the corporate answer – shove people into a workshop for a few hours and they will emerge complacent and subdued.

As part of this workshop, we were asked to create a phrase that would characterize what this change meant to us and how we should think about handling it.  I had recently returned from a Galapagos Islands vacation and one of the most surreal experiences I had there was a snorkeling afternoon that included swimming along an iconic natural wonder known as Kicker Rock. 

I’m a very confident swimmer with the caveat that my confidence is strong as long as I’m not trying to out-swim something with a protein based diet that might include humans.  So when our guide, Tomas, enticed us with the promise of seeing some sharks, I wasn’t really sure about strapping on my mask and dropping my appetizer sized body into the water.  My skeptical look only drew a laugh from him.  “Don’t worry, they won’t bother us.”  Okay.  Sometimes you just have to trust the guide and ASS-U-ME that he knows what he’s talking about.  Or in legal terms, would any company really set up their customers for a death defying experience?  I wouldn’t even consider the fact that not everything always goes as planned. 

Our small group of five dropped into the water and followed Tomas as we neared the arch of Kicker Rock.  “LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!!!  SHARKS!!”  I was the only one close enough to Tomas to see where he was pointing.  I looked down below, way below, and saw several hammerhead sharks swimming loosely in a circle.  And it was mesmerizing.     They seemed to have no knowledge of the entrees swimming above them.

I popped my head out of the water, almost too excited for words, “Oh my God!  Oh my God!  That is so COOL!!” followed by a quieter question so as not to attract their attention “They won’t swim up here, right?”  As much as I read about animals and the natural world, the habits of hammerhead sharks was not my specialty.

“No, no.  They stay down deep until dusk.  And THEN they come to the surface.  We will be long gone by then.”  Tomas’s quiet confidence was the assurance we needed.

Now I could truly enjoy the experience.  I was swimming over the sharks!!  And as dangerous as it seemed, I was safe.

This was the image that crept into my head on how to handle the resiliency challenge – swimming over the sharks.  As bad as things seemed in the work environment, I thought the best way to think about it was as an observer just watching the action below.  I needed to keep swimming, focused on confidently making progress, remembering that I could stay safe by not stressing about what was below me — possibly an unrealized threat. 

As we were asked to share our phrases with the group, the woman next to me, a blossoming traveler herself, endorsed my comment.  “What a great visual!” 

This is one of the treasures of travel.  The experiences I have in the world seem to insinuate themselves into my “real” life.  We all build stories.  Some are true but many are fiction and the viewpoint I build when I’m wandering the world influences my stories, eliminating distortion or bending the light to a positive reality.  So the next time you feel like you’re drowning, surrounded by some hungry and aggressive fish, keep swimming confidently forward.  Just remember to get out of the water before dusk.

For more travel adventures, check out my site:  www.wanderlynn.com