“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
For me, one of the highlights of traveling in Southeast Asia has always been chatting with the monks at the Buddhist temples found around almost every corner. Without exception, I’ve found them to be friendly and open, and just as curious about Western customs and my personal life as I was about theirs’.
Of all the SE Asian countries, Laos is my favorite travel destination. I first went there in late 2004 while I was teaching in China. This first introduction was so pleasant that it encouraged me to begin the search for a job in a region where the gentle, laid-back vibe contrasted sharply to the rushed pace of the large Chinese city where I was working.
At that time, Laos was a place seemingly frozen in an earlier era, where locals would readily offer help to a traveler without expecting anything in return. This same spirit of openness was embodied by the young monks at the many temples in the old capital of Luang Prabang, a place I’d read about and was keen to visit.
Machu Picchu is an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization. UNESCO designation 1983
Machu Picchu’s stunning setting has contributed to making it South America’s most iconic and visited archaeological site. In this view, the pyramid-shaped Huayna Picchu (on the right) can be seen towering above the site.
As is often said about journeying to a new destination, getting there is half the fun. This is definitely the case when it comes to traveling to Peru’s UNESCO crown jewel of Machu Picchu (sometimes spelled Machupicchu).
The citadel sits high on an awe-inspiring mountain at 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level and is surrounded by cliffs on three sides that plunge thousands of feet down to the Urubamba River which twists and turns below. These natural barriers made the city easier to protect during the 100 years or so it was inhabited by the Inca and also helped spare it from destruction by the invading Spanish armies in the mid-1500s.
While many globetrotting travelers these days hurry from one megasite to another in their haste to check each off a ‘must see’ list that’s been compiled by someone else, many discerning travelers are ready to escape the crowds and delve into often over-looked and more remote historical gems in their search for a more authentic and unique travel experience.
One such site is the San Agustín Archaeological Park found deep in the montane rain forests (also known as cloud forest) of the southern Colombian Andes.
Pack snacks and don’t forget your worry beads
Just getting to San Agustín is half the fun. Well, that is if you have a keen sense of adventure and a durable backside.
When I say southern Oman, I’m referring to the governorate of Dhofar which borders on the Arabian Sea, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to the east, south and west respectively. This region includes the country’s second largest city, Salalah, which has a more tropical climate than the north, complete with coconut palms and a summer monsoon season known as the ‘Khareef’.
Salalah draws thousands of summer visitors from other Gulf countries who enjoy picnics surrounded by lush green (shades of which I’ve never seen before!) mountain landscapes and waterfalls, along with cool temperatures and misty, overcast skies. I lived and worked in Salalah for two years and must admit this region’s weather, white-sand beaches and unique variety of plants and animals, more akin to East Africa than the north of the country, made it my favorite.
This southern region is separated from northern Oman by 500 kilometers of barren, mostly flat and featureless sand desert. Making the torturous 10-hour drive across this moonscape between Salalah and Muscat multiple times alone (which surely places me high on the list of potential candidates for a mission to Mars!), gave me plenty of time to ponder both the geographical and cultural differences that spring from such isolation.
I lived in the north central region of Oman for six of the eight years I worked as a university lecturer in the Sultanate. This region contains the vast majority of the country’s population, commerce and higher education institutions.
While more than 25% of Oman’s population lives in the Capital Area of Muscat alone, I worked and made my home in the Al Batinah Governorate’s administrative center of Sohar, a small industrial city on the coast about 2 hours northeast of Muscat and 2 1/2 hours southeast of the UAE’s popular destination of Dubai.
The cities in this region are Oman’s most prosperous and least traditional, although a drive into the countryside’s smaller villages quickly exposes the viewer to the Bedouin way of life where close family ties are far more prized than the glitzy excesses of city living.
Over the past few years, the Sultanate of Oman, where I lived and worked from January 2008 until August 2016, has received a steady stream of accolades from top travel publications such as Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveler.
Words such as ‘a hidden gem’, ‘a startling variety of beautiful landscapes’ and ‘rich in history’ have been used to describe this friendly and peaceful country located on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the clear waters of the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean).
According to Rough Guides:
Amid the ever-changing states of the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a refreshing reminder of a seemingly bygone age. Over-development has yet to blight its most spectacular landscapes and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia.
“Nothing is art if it does not come from nature.”
Most people either love or loathe Gaudí’s designs. Some architectural critics have described his work as garish and overly busy. Gaudí was certainly not cut from the same fabric as Mies van der Rohe and other later architects who espoused the notion that ‘less is more’.
Personally, I admire his disregard for convention and dedication (or obsession) to finding unique solutions to the structural engineering problems posed during the process of creating his more unique buildings.
While Gaudí always aimed for perfection in his work and collaborated with the best artisans of his time, I’m drawn to the projects he designed in the latter half of his career with their whimsical style and forms imitating nature. Gaudí supposedly said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that there were no straight lines in nature so he didn’t intend to use them in his work.