A lovely Sunday afternoon at the Lahore Polo Club.
More than a decade after spending a semester studying the Indonesian language at the University of Indonesia on the outskirts of the unruly city of Jakarta, it was time to revisit Java, see old friends, taste familiar flavors. And, of course, get some of the sunshine and outdoor air that I sorely lack in my current setup. In an abbreviated, and admittedly more comfortable, version of an epic 2004 backpacking adventure, I spent the first week and a half of January traveling the length of Java, Indonesia’s most developed island and political center, from the capital Jakarta to first island to the East, Bali.
Even after so long, the warmth of the embrace of old friends was astonishing. Visceral memories came flooding back, as did the language, in bits and chunks. Truly one of my favorite places.
- I wasn’t supposed to climb up toward’s the cone of the active volcano Merapi… I did anyway. Well, part of the way anyway.
- I’ll never get sick of watching the sun set over rice padi fields.
- Street food Jogyakarta’s old city. Lovely pecel and gado gado.
And why not stop by Bangkok on the way back to work? This was my first time in one of Asia’s most fascinating cities in… well I’m not sure how long! It’s been a while.
And the food. Oh, the food. A selection from across Java, Bali, and Bangkok
The Chinese New Year this year, welcoming the year of the Sheep, was a great opportunity to get out of the capital city, Beijing, and see the holiday from a very different perspective. Not only is the Province of Sichuan ethnically different, with many more ethnic minorities, including a very large Tibetan population, but the practice of religion is much more widespread, the history is quite distinct from that of Beijing, the landscape and climate are incredibly different, and, perhaps above all else, it is simply not as urban and the attitude of most of the people I encountered reflected that.
Everyone was so busy either being a tourist or doing their own holiday thing, that it was a great opportunity for me to watch people, and simply be a more or less ignored observer.
The New Year events, such as the light and lantern festival, and the traditional performances, attract people from all walks of life. The festivals seem to be held in parks, temples, or other such public spaces.
Biking is, indeed, a fairly common form of transportation in dense urban areas, such as downtown Chengdu, the provincial capital.
OK, so the pictures uploaded in reverse order… but you get the idea. The temple at the “Golden Peak” sits at over 3,000 meters. The map said I hiked over 15 kilometers from the base to the top… my legs sure felt like it. I stayed at a hotel near the summit and hiked up the next morning for the sunrise.
The church on the cliff in Amasra, Turkey, on the Black Sea coast, was built in the early AD’s, then destroyed, rebuilt, then turned into a mosque, then back into a church, saw medieval castle walls rise around it and crumble away, and then turned into a mosque again.
Turkey’s Black Sea coast has patiently waited out the rise and fall of empires and civilizations, tribes and armies and kings and generals slaughtering and assimilating each other for control of heaven on earth ports, Amasra chief among them.
The Amazons, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans have all come and gone.
Today, for the few months of summer anyway, Amasra is a coveted refuge away from the realities of Turkish life (few foreigners seem to holiday here), with a thriving industry of fish restaurants and beach chair renters, and UNESCO World Heritage medieval ruins.
If only I had more than two days.
The minibus from Rize, Turkey got me to Camlihensin, and in that wonderful little mountain town in the Firtina valley I jumped in a van whose driver was apparently accepting money for rides. (The music selection on the radio was all his, I soon discovered)
Finally, I made it to the day’s destination, the Middle Ages era castle Zil Kale, first a defense and lookout post for the Black Sea towns for eastern threats, later an important point along the trade route further west into today’s Turkey.
The trip from the coast south into the Kackars mountain range of northern Turkey would have been worth it in itself, but the castle was fantastic.
My next destination was the village of Ayder, further to the east in the mountains. This didn’t seem too over ambitious on the map, but doubts arose when there were no buses from the castle back to the main road, 13 kilometers down a cliff side road.
Luckily, two friendly local Turkish fellows found this strange lost American curious enough that they crammed me the back seat along with their fishing gear, a few watermelons from a mountainside farm, and a pile of freshly caught river fish.
To my surprise the driver broke out in fantastic English, explaining that he lived in southern Georgia, USA for about ten years at some point.
“I didn’t have a green card or anything, I was jus working in some Turkish restaurant there. But no one helped me out,” he trailed off, leaving me to assume he came home before he would have liked. “America is the greatest country on earth,” he concluded.
I made it to Ayder, an admittedly gorgeous valley town, but it has become such a tourist trap as to make it unpleasant, unfortunately.
The town, with its majestic waterfall and full service hot springs spa, has for some reason become a favorite among tourists from the Middle East, many of the women and girls slowly swaying up the cobblestoned streets of Ayden in full black Burkas. The minibus back to Rize, my own “base camp,” was me and one large Saudi man, his three wives and seven children.