Tag Archives: travel

Bahia of All Colors

Upon arriving in Bahia, Brazil, you can immediately feel warmth in the climate and in the people, I spent 5 days in the Municipality of Monte Gordo / Camaçari near the touristy beach of Guarajuba.

In Bahia the music, food, religion and way of life are influenced by African culture. During the Atlantic Slave trade era more slaves were brought to brazil than any other country.

Here’s a selection of my favorite pictures to give you a colorful taste of life in Bahia.

Photos and story by Elba Lacerda

 

Unmasking Macedonia

In Europe the road less traveled leads directly to Macedonia.  A land of stunning natural beauty, an eclectic mix of ancient history and modernity and some of the most welcoming people on the continent.

At every turn I was welcomed with open arms, offered coffee, followed quickly by a shot (or two) of rakiya, a strong fruit brandy, and often food followed. This is not the cold Europe that many have come to expect. In fact it is more reminiscent of an Ottoman and Soviet infused dreamland.

The landscape is absolutely stunning from the glittering shores of Lake Ohrit to the steep cliffs of Matka Canyon. Unfortunately, as is the case across much of the former Yugoslavia, industry has disappeared, and along with it went the jobs and the social safety net. While everything is relatively cheap, the average wage is the lowest in Balkans at less than $400 per month.

Jobs are increasingly scarce in Macedonia’s slumping economy, however the younger generation is tapping into the global, digital gold rush. In Veles I met a professional video game player.  A few of his friends are part of a ring of over 100 fake new websites based in Veles that tapped into the US economy by spreading fake news. It turned into a very lucrative hobby as the US election heated up.

Corruption runs rampant and is clearly visible in the capital, Skopje,  currently undergoing a massive government-led transformation. Most Macedonians think that the money is being misused. Giant statues of Alexander are great, but all the money could be spent in far more productive way.  The roads are full of potholes and crucial infrastructure is crumbling.  Turns out construction is a wonderful way to launder money and this is not lost on the people.  They voiced their disgust with the ruling party during the Colorful Revolution this past summer, but so far it was only a small step in the right direction.

Macedonia is immune to labels and endlessly fascinating.  Part Balkan, part Mediterranean and rich in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history, this tiny country has much to offer.  Ultimately I would return simply for the people.  It is not too late to explore Macedonia and experience a little known slice of Europe before it lurches out of obscurity.

Albanian Adventure

I never expected to end up in Albania, but once I did, and tasted the delicious burek and coffee, met wonderful people and experienced the untapped beauty, I had a difficult time leaving.

Albania was under the tight grip of communism for nearly 50 years. Enver Hoxha ruled the country with an iron fist as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces from 1944 until his death in 1985.  During his rule Albania declared itself the first atheist state and destroyed many religious artifacts.  Communist rule collapsed in 1991 and the country has been rapidly opened itself up to the world since.

Now it is a land of opportunity,  just starting to crank it into high gear.  You can sense an eagerness to embrace western culture.  Unfortunately corruption runs rampant and the average salary is hovering around $300 a month.  This does make the country cheap for travelers who can take advantage of the wealth of natural beauty and history.  The best part is that you can do it without running into any other tourists.  Lets go on a journey back to the days when coffee and tobacco ruled and family was the only law. Visit now before its too late.

Young in Bagan

The Rapidly Changing Culture of a Modern Myanmar

Bagan is home to Myanmar’s precious “Valley of a Thousand Temples”. It is a place quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a landscape that is both barren, and vibrant, and host to an ancient culture that is in the midst of modernization.

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All over Bagan, there are thousands of temples tucked away, hidden between trees and cliffs. These temples, though ancient, are made surprisingly accessible to the public, with some allowing people to climb through their dusty passages. A recent law by the government has now restricted this, in an effort to preserve these beautiful structures.

There are many questions left to be answered regarding this modernization, especially with regards to the new youth of Myanmar, many of whom are now working in the tourism industry, a business that didn’t exist when their parents were their age. Many Burmese people, both young and old, have acknowledged that as Myanmar opens itself up to the world, it is inevitable that change will happen. However, both have expressed sentiments that aim to preserve as much of their traditional culture as they can.  As I walked around the plains of Bagan, meeting with locals and travelers alike, I asked myself, how will Myanmar look in 10 years? It was then, that I met a young Burmese girl, who introduced herself as Ma (younger sister in Burmese). She approached me, with a stack of foreign money in her hand, and asked me where I was from. I told her the United States, and she promptly spoke to me in English. Perfect English, not a word wrong, her accent was impeccable. She reminded me of a highly intelligent young girl in junior high. So what was she doing with a stack of money from all over the world?

“I can speak all of these languages” she told me.

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Ma showed me her collection of money from all over the world, which she has used as a means of educating herself about culture outside of Myanmar, and to make a living.

Every single one?” I looked at the stack, there were bills from all over the world. France, Brazil, England, Chile, China, everyone was accounted for.

I tried Spanish with her, she nailed it. French, again, perfect. Her Portuguese was good enough to get her a job in Rio. I couldn’t believe it. We walked for some time, and she told me how she learned so much.

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Ma, like many Burmese youth, is proud of her heritage, and at the same time, excited to embrace new cultures from all over the world.

“Tourists are my teachers” she said with a smile. Ma has been a tour guide for 5 years, literally starting as soon as the borders opened. In that time, she has worked all around Bagan, hiking from one temple to the next, with a bag full of postcards, and foreign currency.  From sunrise to sunset, this has been her life.  As the tourists come in larger and larger numbers, Ma has seen more and more business. So, how is this influx of global culture affecting young people like Ma?

In a recent study published by Routledge, a publishing company that specializes in providing academic books and journals regarding humanities and social sciences, researchers went to Bagan, and conducted interviews with locals, who described the three biggest changes that they had seen since the opening of the borders. People of all ages agreed on three major areas; the consumption of alcoholthe way thanaka (traditional make-up of the Burmese people) is worn and the perceived importance of marriage (Rich and Franck 334-44). Although, tourism in not alone to blame for these changes. Free access to the Internet has also helped foster a developing mindset in the minds of many young Burmese people, especially with regards to drinking alcohol, and relationships. According to the study, it is in conjunction with modern media formats that Burmese people have been exposed to and have assimilated new cultural identities.

A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.
A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.

There are undoubtedly benefits to tourism, and most locals do agree that those benefits are very important to providing new opportunities for the next generation. Many young men and women are now able to afford luxuries that their parents could not have thought possible at their age, and many more are able to attend schools now. Whatever future these changes hold in store for Myanmar, it is important to learn from the successes and failures of nearby destinations like Thailand and Cambodia. Will Bagan’s Valley of a Thousand Temples someday have backpacker ghettos lined up across it’s plains? Will the environment suffer the way it has in some parts of Thailand? These questions are left to the people of Myanmar to manage, and to hopefully, resolve. Either way, it is a fascinating time to be young in Bagan ;a time when the new generation is setting out to define itself, and decide what direction it wants this new Myanmar to go.

 

Source Citation:
Rich, Anna-Katharina, and Anja K. Franck. “Tourism Development in Bagan, Myanmar: Perceptions of Its Influences upon Young Peoples’ Cultural Identity.” Tourism Planning & Development 13.3 (2015): 333-50. Print.

For anyone interested in reading more about Myanmar, here are some interesting books to check out:

The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Freedom from Fear, Kyi, Aung San Suu. London: Viking, 2009.

Yangon: Through the lens

There is undoubtedly an air of electricity in Yangon. Myanmar’s largest city is in the midst of an incredible growth spurt, brought about by foreign investment from countries like China, Japan and Korea. Ever since Myanmar opened its doors to tourism in 2011 the country has experienced a huge upsurge in the number of people visiting, giving the former capital of Myanmar, a breath of new life.
I ventured to Yangon in January of 2016 to see for myself what the city looked like beneath the surface of so much change. What I found were good people, great food and a city that was ready to embrace its bright new future.