Hari Raya Nyepi:
Bali’s Day of Silence
Imagine Nyepi in Bali.
Picture South-East Asia. Motorbikes vie against big smoking diesel busses for space. The scream of mechanics’ tools and the barking of road-running dogs are overpowered only when you weave far into the depths of a market and the lowing of a fresh butchery or the spurious promises of top quality or specialpriceforyoumyfriend take first billing.
Now strip that all away. No traffic, no work, no commerce, no play. Not a soul on the streets, not a car on the roads, not even a single airplane landing at Denpasar airport (which, on any other average day, sees about thirty-three thousand traveling souls).
Nyepi is a day of reflection, and the sound of Nyepi is the sound of silence. No talking, no eating. No traveling, no working. No entertainment, fun, or distractions at all.
The day before Nyepi, however, is chaos.
There are girls in traditional Balinese costumes, that’s true, dancing traditional Balinese dances. But that’s the least of it. Where Nyepi is a day of holy silence, the day preceding (the Bhuta Yajna) is a day of hell on the streets; of demons on parade through the towns and village of Bali as they march slowly towards their own consumption by holy fire.
It’s also one hell of a party.
Celebrating Nooruz (Persian New Year) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
(Note: this Nooruz post originally published in 2014. Sadly I’m out of town for 2016 festivities, but hopefully next year I’ll be able to catch it in Bishkek or Tashkent or maybe even Tehran? Till then, sprazdnikom nooruz!)
As with any holiday worth the title, half the fun of Nooruz in Kyrgyzstan is in the lead-up for the week before the festival as the city prepares to have fun. In Bishkek this can be seen not just in new signs on Ala-Too Square or the increasing number of Kalpak hats around town, but even in the very weather itself. As the snow finally melts away and flowers start to bloom in the streets, it truly feels like time to celebrate the beginning of spring: Nooruz.
Playing with Penguins in Patagonia:
A Visit to Isla Magdalena
How to describe Isla Magdalena? Imagine that movie ‘March of the Penguins’, but instead of the remote and hostile shores of Antarctica it’s a chilled out two-hour cruise up the Strait of Magellan from the port town of Punta Arenas. That’s pretty much it. Penguins everywhere, unfathomable penguins, close enough to civilization for an afternoon visit.
A small island of about 210ac (or 85ha if we’re talking metric), yet home to an estimated 58,000 breeding couples that migrate here each year to make sweet sweet penguin babies. That’s a lot of birds. (That’s also a lot of poo and feathers.)
Hey That’s Me:
Features in Kyrgyzstan’s Media
Let’s talk, for a moment, about Kyrgyzstan’s media and about me. Big cities are great, wonderful in fact, full of culture and action and people and beautiful moments and hidden secrets. But they are not the places I crave. On those long dark nights when a trip has gone on for too long and I need to reanchor myself it’s not the nargile cafes of Istanbul or the dim sum joints of Hong Kong that I fiend for, but rather nature and mountains and a quiet campsite hidden far away from signs of civilization. These days, more often then not, the place I go to find that is Kyrgyzstan.
There’s something about that country, something about those mountains and that culture and the intangible feeling of just being there, that has an ever-growing hold over me. Of my ‘big projects’ that I’ll get around to in some theoretical future two of them are Kyrgyzstan-specific and two others are focused on Central Asia broadly (and so Kyrgyzstan would play a major role). It’s somehow delightful (and also occasionally frustrating, but more on that in a moment) then that I’ve randomly popped up several times in Kyrgyzstan’s media lately.
Bali’s Uluwatu Temple:
The Kecak “Monkey Dance”
Bali’s Uluwatu temple is beautiful, its clifftop location overlooking the Indian Ocean perfect for sunsets and engagement shoots and taunting indigenous macaques until they get fed up and rip your camera right out of your hand. While the temple itself is a beautiful backdrop, however, the temple is not the story.
The story, like all the best stories, is part of a thousands of years old epic incorporating love and loss, bravery and sacrifice, and anthropomorphized monkey men kicking great mounds of fire and breaking the king’s nice things. (Well, ok, that last bit is kind of particular to *this* great story.) This story is the Ramayana epic, or a small piece at least of this legend of Rama, and in this island at this temple it’s the Uluwatu Kecak Dance. (Or, if you’re on the streets of Kuta talking to touts: the Monkey Dance or Fire Dance.)
Skiing in Kyrgyzstan:
An Overly-Thorough Guide
Skiing in Kyrgyzstan – it doesn’t get a lot of international press, not nearly as much as it should. Kyrgyzstan isn’t necessarily the easiest place to spend winter, and for many I think dreams of Thai beaches and southern-hemisphere summer are often top of mind. While all the snow and ice and cold may not be so exciting when crunching around the slick sidewalks of Bishkek, though, it all pays off when you manage to get out to the mountains. Beautiful ski slopes, low prices, amazing scenery all around, and always a bit of plov and vodka to warm up when the runs are done.
I must admit to not having explored all the options for skiing in Kyrgyzstan with nearly as much diligence as I’d initially hoped, and as such my ongoing series on ‘Skiing in Kyrgyzstan‘ has so far only seen three updates:
Karakol Ski Base
Jyrgalan Freeride Base
ZiL Ski Base
Exploring Galveston Island:
Houston’s Favorite Beach Town
The fourth largest city in the US by population, and the 9th largest in the world by land area. A concrete jungle, a stretch of unbroken cityscape extending for miles and miles in every direction. Sometimes you need a break, and sometimes you need a beach, and unless you want to share it with a bunch of alligators you’re probably heading from Houston to exactly one place: Galveston Island.
Why Galveston Island?
Only an hour away, fifty miles from the city of Houston proper, Galveston is almost a different world. Two miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, trading the clogged city streets and constant city noise for the sounds of waves on the beach and live music in the bars is equal parts relaxation and party.
Relaxation, of course, is on those long stretches of beach that look out onto the Gulf of Mexico. While the innermost edge of Galveston town still has vestiges of the bars and restaurants that are the appeal for many, just beyond is a long stretch of beach houses and open sand calling out to those that visit for quiet and calm.
Cruising the fjords of Patagonia:
Bernardo O’Higgins National Park
The famed ‘fjords of Patagonia‘ – Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. This is the land of Magellan and pirates and National Geographic documentaries. Towering glaciers and mountains on the far edge of the world, home to dolphins and condors and maybe even the fabled ‘City of the Ceasars’. And yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through the nearby Chilean town of Puerto Natales each year, only a small fraction will set sail for a visit.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to visit the famous Torres del Paine National Park annually by 2025. Yet aside from the brief river trip up the Rio Serrano to the southern entrance of Torres, spend any time on the waters surrounding the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and you’re more likely to see seals and cormorants than you are to find another boat. The world’s 2nd largest extra-polar field (nearly 17,000 square kilometers) sees very few visitors and the reason, of course, is accessibility. You can visit by helicopter, you can visit by boat, or in theory I guess you could walk in via several weeks of crossing difficult and dangerous glacial ice. Don’t do that.