Phuket Vegetarian Festival – Thailand

On a small island of Thailand exists a festival that can only be described as mind-blowing. The name is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival where the locals conduct a ceremony to cleanse themselves.  The festival lasts for nine days and the locals abstain from sex, alcohol and meat throughout the entire thing.  During that time a ceremony is conducted where some of the participants invoke the ‘Nine Emperor’ gods within themselves.  In order to prove they are acting as mediums for these gods they perform acts of mutilation upon themselves without showing signs of pain.  They walk across exploding firecrackers and pierce parts of their body with large knives, skewers and other household items all the while appearing to be completely possessed.  Without any prior knowledge of this wild spectacle and during my very first week in Asia, I found myself amongst the locals staring through clouds of smoke from the firecrackers bursting all around me.  Overloaded by feelings of wonder, confusion, and discomfort I squeezed through the crowds of exotic people, attempting to photograph some of the madness.  The experience was surreal to a level I had never felt before and although photos are never a substitute for the real thing I present to you the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in one sentence per picture style. (***WARNING*** These photos are not for the squeamish or feint of heart!!)

Wearing mostly white, carrying spirit houses over streets of firecrackers.

Invoked by gods making them invincible to pain.

And causing them to bear no scars from these self-inflicted wounds.

No matter what your belief system, this behavior makes you wonder.

Could it be true?

Would people do this if they didn’t truly believe in it?

It’s impossible to ever really know.

But what does it matter anyway, it’s an incredible thing to see!

Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats – Bolivia

Words.  Sometimes they can be used to paint a picture so vivid and clear they are almost better than a picture.  In Bolivia, home to Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats on planet earth I couldn’t possibly begin to describe the sheer beauty my eyes were lucky enough to take in for a few days.  Only a camera can come remotely close to portraying the strange landscapes of an ancient sea that dried up to form massive plains of salt surrounded by natural wonders that can only be described as out-of-this-world.  With one sentence per picture I present to you the great Salar de Uyuni…

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

An ancient island of the Incas, now a peculiar cactus riddled land mass poking out of a never-ending plain of salt.

Salar de Uyuni Flags

People come from far and wide to splendor at its wonder.

Bolivia Salt Flats Flamingo

Flamingos glide above the glasslike puddles stretching toward the salt and mountains.

Alpacas Salar de Uyuni

Llama and Alpaca graze along the grassy wetlands at the foot of a volcano.

Bolivian Salt Flats Road

The path to adventure…

Salar de Uyuni Desert

An altitude where the desert meets the snow.

Laguna Colorado Bolivia

One the shores of murky red waters.

Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats

No animals should exist in this barren world where the flamingos thrive.

Boliva Salt Flats Uyuni

An endless desert where even a shadow appreciates a cold beer.

Bolivian Salt Flats Bathroom

But also needs a place to use the bathroom.

Salt Flats in Bolivia

A great place to reflect on things.

Train Graveyard Uyuni Bolivia

The journey, that’s life…

Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll

Tayrona National Park – Sick In Paradise

When you aren’t feeling good doing much of anything is far from a fun experience.  Especially when it’s the type of sick where your not sure whether the food entrance or exit hole is going to release what I like to refer to as ‘the demon.’  Unfortunately this is a reality when traveling abroad, especially when you love eating street food in third world countries.  A question I unfortunately discovered the answer to during one of my bouts with ‘the demon’ was, ‘Does being in paradise lessen the effect of being sick?’ It’s a reasonable question as being in a gorgeous place makes a lot of situations better, like waking up early or doing boring work. However, I can honestly tell you that unless your paradise is a comfortable bathroom then it does not improve your situation.  The following tale is my experience with ‘the demon’ in one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen.

Tayrona National Park on the surreal Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia can quite truthfully be called a paradise.  A thick, lush jungle covers mountains for miles, ending in a series of beaches so beautiful you need to rub your eyes to make sure they are real. The coastline is dotted with gargantuan, perfectly rounded grey rocks that look like something of a different planet.  The place has a raw and ancient natural presence where it seems like dinosaurs still might actually live.  Equipped with hammocks my travel buddy and I took off intending to camp in the national park for a few nights.  After an amazing short trek through a dense jungle containing spiders the size of my face and the horrifying sounds of howler monkeys we arrived at a beach so amazing we decided we must sleep on it no matter what the cost. Now technically it’s illegal to camp outside the designated camping areas which cost money, but there wasn’t a soul around, the sun was beginning to set and sometimes adventure means breaking the rules.  Our hammocks were equipped with mosquito nets which were more than necessary in a land where the mosquitos carry dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria.  The jungle was so dense leading up to the beach it was hard to find any trees far enough apart to hang hammocks, but eventually we found two adequate palm trees. The problem was that there was only one good spot to set one up a hammock on the whole beach so we came up with a creative solution, bunked hammocks!!!

As we weren’t supposed to be spending the night on the beach we refrained from making a fire and ate a dinner of canned tuna, crackers and fresh coconut water under the light of a couple headlamps.  We used rocks and fallen coconuts to throw at the fresh coconuts on the tree above our hammock and managed to collect quite a bit of the delicious nectar.  After a restless night sleep trying to get comfortable on the ‘top bunk’ hammock surrounded by mysterious jungle sounds and high winds, I awoke to an extremely distraught stomach.  My travel buddy was experiencing the same phenomenon and the beach didn’t look quite as beautiful as the night before.  As we packed up our gear and set off into the jungle ‘the demon’ started churning our stomachs and we had to take frequent jumps into bushes to do our business.  The walk to the next campsite took nearly the entire day and was nothing short of spectacular from a scenery perspective, but our condition would not allow us to enjoy even a minute of it.  An extremely strong sun, lack of toilet paper and the ‘huge spider web’ phenomenon were all contributing to our extreme discomfort.  This phenomenon is when you are walking through nature and you accidentally run into a spiderweb.  Now unless you are petrified of spiders this isn’t usually such a big deal you usually just brush it off and even if the spider managed to stick to you somehow it’s small enough that you probably won’t notice.  This is simply not the case for Colombian jungle spiders.  These things are literally the size of your entire face, so you can imagine when one of us broke through a web on our way to release ‘the demon’ in the bushes we involuntarily did a dance, screaming “Is it on me!?? ”  After a couple naps on various beaches we made it to another campsite, but not wanting to pay the fee we snuck off deep into the jungle, set up our hammocks once again and tried to ride out another night.

The next morning we awoke feeling slightly better which was a good thing because it turned out to be a strenuous 5 hour hike to get back to civilization.  The funny thing about this adventure is that whenever I’m talking to someone about my time in Colombia they often ask me if I visited the notorious Tayrona National Park and wonder what it was like it.  When I respond that it was absolutely gorgeous, but one of the most miserable experiences of my life people are often confused!  To this day I’m not sure if it was the canned tuna or the coconut water that brought on ‘the demon’ and unfortunately I find myself avoiding both whenever I can…

Marlboro Furniture for Kids!!??

One day on a sunny afternoon in the gorgeous high-altitude, adventure Capital of Huaraz, Peru I stumbled upon something that perplexed and slightly disgusted me.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a kid’s furniture store with logos painted on them.  First I noticed a car bed with a Ferrari logo painted on it, then my eyes were drawn to a chest of drawers with a Vodafone logo which seemed strange.  To finish the set were three different chests painted red with a white Marlboro Cigarettes logo on them.  I literally had to do a double take to see if my eyes were deceiving me, and I struggled to grasp how and why children’s furniture would have this deadly logo.  At first I played with the idea that Marlboro had some secret campaign to get kids comfortable with their logo at a young age so when they become teenagers they will smoke to remind them of happy childhood memories.

The truth is that Marlboro is probably not behind this or even knows about it at all.  The sad reality is that because it is an iconic logo that is popular in the States, the maker of this furniture probably just painted it on their to make it seem ‘cool’ and ‘trendy.’  American logos are often seen as a symbol of status and wealth in foreign countries and from the Playboy bunny being a popular symbol on children’s clothing in Thailand to Marlboro furniture in Peru, its not the meaning behind the symbol as much as it is just a recognizable American Logo.  To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if the painter of this furniture didn’t even know what Marlboro was at all!  Even if this is the case I still think that there are plenty of other popular logos to choose from. I also can’t believe that not one person involved in the furniture construction, marketing and sales process didn’t realize the negative aspects of cigarette logos on children’s furniture. South America is an extremely laid back and fairly disorganized part of the world, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse…

Below is a short clip of the astonishing children’s furniture!

Eating a Guinea Pig

Eating an animal that is considered to be a pet in your home country is always a bit strange.  While I’m all about trying new things, I’m generally not scouring the menus of local restaurants in foreign lands searching for kittens, ponies or puppies.  That being said when I found out that Guinea Pig was considered to be a local delicacy in Ecuador I was slightly disgusted and slightly intrigued.  The guinea pigs are prepared by first being speared through the bum with a long metal rod and deep fried whole.  Their thick rubbery skin is left to dine on along with the little feet and eyes that remind you of one of those guinea pig calendars you see in the mall.  They are hacked up into large pieces and the whole thing is served to you, organs and all.  How exactly you are supposed to eat this creature I wasn’t exactly sure, but I tried and can honestly say it will be the only Guinea Pig I ever consume.  The locals call them ‘Cuy’ and below you can watch a clip of me munching on my first Guinea Pig.  If you currently have or had Guinea Pigs as a child this video may disturb you.