- Sri Lanka
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I'll keep this short...
After finishing the Ayurvedic treatment I gave myself three weeks in Sri Lanka. The country's scenic bounty is no secret to the SE Asian expat community. Word was out and friends of mine had been making trips here since the end of the fighting in 2009.
In order to beat the heat I spent most of my time in the hill country. I flew into Colombo, went directly to Kandy for 4 days then visited Ramboda Falls outside of Nurawa Eliya, then Ella before heading down to the beach to Tangalle. I finished up with a stay in the fort of the old Dutch port town of Galle.
The soundtrack is by the renowned Sri Lankan musician, Pandit Amaradeva.
I hope you enjoy the photographs.
- Southern India
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My purpose for traveling to Southern India was to attend a 21-day treatment / retreat at an Ayurvedic clinic outside of Coimbatore. I selected Vaidyagama after an exhaustive search of the dozens of Ayurvedic spas and hospitals in Tamil Nadu Province, the home of the 5000-year-old practice.
Vaidyagama was no “spa resort” - far from it. We had no air conditioning with temperatures hitting triple digits. The food was Spartan. We weren’t allowed to leave the confines of the small quad and both physical and mental exercise was discouraged.
The clinic was the inspiration of four local doctors, schoolmates, dedicated to bring Ayurveda into the mainstream of healing sciences. Hopefully Vaidyagama is the future of Ayurveda – with a strict adherence to the precepts and procedures of the original texts couched in conveniences that make it accessible to a wider range of patients. (Westerners like me…)
My initial detox was horrendous – a week of headaches, rash and insomnia coupled with intemperance and anger. If it wasn’t for the amazing healing experiences of the men and women in attendance I certainly would have bailed.
By the second week I was able to get into the flow of things. With the exception of the daily 45 minute treatment, there was no structure – I spent most of my time reading, meditating and doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
Although I was physically weakened by the end of the 21 days I left with an equilibrium that I hadn’t felt in years, if ever.
I book-ended the trip with visits to the beach side town of Mamallapuram and Chennai (formerly Madras). Initially put off by the aggressive mania of India – I have been spoiled in Thailand – I grew to appreciate the earthy and spiritual flip sides of its culture. The pictures in the album were taken over a period of only a few days – visible proof of the sensual tsunami that is India.
- Cambodia - Khmer Rouge Country
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Of all the SE Asian countries Cambodia suffered most during the tumult of the post-colonial era. The brutal incursions of the US military, the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge and the current corrupt and punitive Hun Sen government has had a crippling effect on the Cambodian people. But neither the United State's four-year campaign of carpet bombing nor Hun Sen and his cronies come close to matching the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge. Their genocidal reign obliterated the continuity of custom and tradition, denying Cambodians a coherent cultural legacy – the lifeblood of a people.
Between 1.7 and 2 million Cambodians perished during the Khmer Rouge’s brief four-year rule. The entire professional, elite and middle classes were wiped out. Artists, educators and doctors were murdered and museums, theaters, schools and hospitals were plundered and destroyed. Anyone with an education or even a pair of glasses was denounced as a “traitor to the proletariat” and exterminated, often with their entire families.
On my arrival to Phnom Penh I visited Tuol Sleng Museum, the former Khmer Rouge detention center where over 17,000 people were tortured before being executed at the killing field of Choeung Ek on the outskirts of the city.
The inmates were all methodically registered and photographed. Hundreds of these photographs line the walls of the torture chambers of the former school building. The victims, incarcerated for fictitious crimes, stare bewildered and anguished into the camera lens – many were children.
The photographs of the exterminators are also on display. All of them young men, some teenagers with a glint of schoolboy mischief in their eye. The atrocities that were committed behind the walls here defy comprehension.
My next stop was Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat and the ruins of dozens of Khmer palaces and temples surrounding it. These ruins surpass even Luxor or Macchu Pichu in their sophistication and spectacle and the verdant encroachment of the lush jungle on the ruins has created a photographer’s paradise. (I have included a Angkor Wat montage on the blog if you’re interested.)
My primary purpose for the trip was to visit the remote final refuge of the Khmer Rouge near the border of Thailand. This part of Northern Cambodia has all the characteristics of the Wild West. Khmer Rouge battled with government forces until the late 1990s, and only recently gun-toting former members of the cadre committed murder for even an old motor scooter.
I accompanied Yem Khlok, heading the Cambodian contingent of the Thai based NGO, Child's Dream. In the spirit of reconciliation he is working hand in hand with former Khmer Rouge soldiers to build schools for their children. The experience was particularly compelling as Yem's sister had been killed by the Khmer Rouge and his parents enslaved, nearly starved to death. (The article I wrote on the trip can be accessed at my website www.cordkeller.com)
- Angkor Wat - Montage
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Soundtrack - Michael Hedges
- Road Trip - Northern Thailand
Mr. Norman V. Konrad joined Mr. C.Cord Keller for a motorcycle tour of an extended version of the Mae Hong Song Loop out of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The first stop was Pai - a bohemian backpacker haunt.
We stayed one night before pushing south to Khan Yuam after pausing in Mae Hong Song for lunch. Hankering for a less-traveled part of the country we pushed on to Mae Sariang where we stayed for two days at a cushy riverside hotel.
We capped off our trip muscling the husky 650cc Kawasakis over 26 miles of terrible rutted dirt roads led by our Karen guide Naa Lii. Our destination - the Mae- Sa-Wannoi Waterfall - was well worth the ordeal. Water cascaded from a mountaintop spring into 5 separate waterfalls hidden in a lush jungle ravine.
- Burma Selects
- Chiang Mai Flood - Water Rising
The flooding continues to worsen here in Chiang Mai. I'm literally surrounded by a lake. The roads are awash and the water in some areas is rushing along at a good clip.
There's no telling how much higher the water will go. It's risen a meter in the last 24 hours.
I was blase about my nine day rush through Japan. I had heard it was expensive, the people remote. Frankly, I was ready to hang up my sandals after 11 months of hard travel and even attempted to reroute to avoid it. I'm so glad I didn't. It was expensive but the people were friendly and helpful.
I loved the Tokyo city life - the oddball youth culture. The historic nooks and crannies of Kyoto were fascinating, gorgeous. I visited the Sky Garden and the Osaka Castle during my brief 36 hour stop-over in Osaka. Hiroshima was the highlight. I did a day trip to the island of Miyajima, hiked to the overlook on Mt. Misen and spent a few hours in the amazing Daisohin Temple. The Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum was a stunning tribute to the thousands who perished there, victims of the atomic bomb. I found myself sneaking off into a corner of the museum to wipe the tears from my eyes on a couple occasions.
I'm writing this in Los Angeles, jet lagged but renewed. The time's gone quickly and in a sense I feel as though I've just started my real adventure. I hope you have enjoyed these thoughts and pictures. Peace.
Singapore was an unexpected delight. I had become so accustomed to the inconveniences of Third World travel that my sudden immersion in Singapore's sanitized modernity was invigorating. The streets were spotless, trimmed with lush manicured gardens, the skyline was sprouting magnificent public works and state-of-the-art commercial architecture. The shopping centers and transit system were world-class. Even the zoo (and I generally dislike zoos) was intelligently designed and humane. There is little crime and I saw NO police on the street during my brief stay there.
The city's success is the result of a thriving economy and forward thinking governance. On the flip-side, I sensed a rigidity in the culture, a conformity that accompanies an obsession with order. I wasn't there long enough for it to become annoying. I'll have to come back. :)
Landed in Bangkok from Cario in the midst of civil unrest. The booming economy of the last two decades has done nothing to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Red Shirts have taken to the streets. You'll seen none of that here - I came here to catch my breath, not dodge bullets...hello Phuket
I backed into my trip to Laos after a bout of traveling fatigue. Somewhat revitalized in Thailand I thought I'd give it a go. Laos is impoverished, suffering one of the worst illiteracy rates in the world. The U.S. dropped more US bombs on this little country during the Viet Nam War then on all of Nazi Germany and Japan put together during WWII. And they were a neutral country - or so we were told. Historically Laos has been whipsawed by its powerful neighbors, which continues today in more subtle economic terms. Without question the country is tragically ill-fated. In light of this the Lao are a remarkable people; friendly and easy going and they made my journey a pleasure.
My friend Joan has been living in Seminyak, Bali for fifteen years and its taking as long to get around to visiting her. I hung out at her spacious home, walked the beach (over-rated), read and wrote for a few days before we struck out across the island to Permuteran on the north coast. I finished my visit with four days in the amazing Ubud (not over-rated) before heading back to Bangkok to rally the Red Shirts.
Big bad Cairo - noisy, dirty and and home of some of the most gracious hosts I've encounter thus far (as well as some of the most annoying touts!). I spent a week here making my first efforts to wrap my brain around Egypt's 4500 years of history. The country offers an architectural " who's who" of significant movers and shakers. The home of monastic Christianity, the genesis of African Islam, not to mention over 2000 years of Pharaonic history. From Cairo I headed south down the Nile and visited a staggering array of ruined temples whose bones still manage to dazzle the imagination. The soundtrack is Nubian folk music. The Nubians lived south of Aswan until Nasser's dam went up, flooding their historic homelands.
- The Kalihari - Leopard Ecology & Conservation
The conservancy's camp is in Khutse, part of the Central Kalihari Game Reserve, the biggest game reserve in the world. It is a harsh and austere setting but one I grew to love during the two weeks I was a guest here. I tagged along on tracking expeditions and attended the community education program. In the process I met some fascinating people and saw stunning wildlife. Unfortunately, I trashed my camera early on so most of the photos included here were taken by David Mills, the Operations Director. From here I traveled (without camera) to the Okavanga Delta in Northern Botswana and Zambia to visit the stunning Victoria Falls.
- Southern Africa
Started out in big bad Johannesburg... Although I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in Soweto, I found the city oppressive. Every black African I met here had been directly effected by past apartheid violence and with the townships suffering 30% unemployment, their optimism for the future was veiled at best. Flew to Gaborone, Botswana to meet David MIlls and Monika Schiess-Meier of Leopard Ecology & Conservation. Ended up being waylaid for a week while David healed from an animal attack - the Lueken's dog!
- Patagonia Peak Experience
From Futaleufu I headed south by bus to Coyhaique, then to Chile Chico where I crossed back over to Argentina to pick up a caravan for the 15-hour trip to El Chalten via historic Route 40. Very hard traveling… Took four days to cover a thousand K. Crossing to the eastern slope of the Andes brought me from the wet verdant rain forests to the barren wind-swept steppe. Stopped off in El Calafate and a day at Glaciar Perito Moreno then back in the bus to Puerto Natales to gear up for a four-day trek in Torres del Paine, a magnificent national park equaling Yosemite in its splendor. I finished my month-long tour of Patagonia in Ushuaia, located at the tip of the continent.
- Futaleufu, Chile
Stumbled on to this wonderful little Chilean town by accident. One day became three, then five...I eventually had to tear myself away. Situated a stones throw from some of the world's most beautiful and torrential rivers, the town has attracted kayakers and adventurers who have settled in over the last decade. Happily, the usual friction between cultures has thus far been minimized. Reminds me of some of my favorite places; Vermont, The Rocky Mountains, all with a little rain forest thrown in for good measure.
- Argentine Patagonia
I arrived at Puerto Madryn after a relatively comfortable 18-hour bus trip from Buenos Aires. Toured Pennisula Valdes in the morning with the throngs. Stayed at a small pension there and hiked up to a cove that morning before swimming with sea lions that afternoon! It goes on like that - a succession of events and new friends, all wonderful, novel and passionately pursued. A full tilt travel boogie. Madryn, Valdes, Punta Tombo, Gaiman, Esquel, Trevelin... all in five days.
- Machu Picchu and The Sacred Valley - Oct. 24 - 26, 2009
Got back to Cuzco in time to do laundry, change hotels, pick up stored luggage, confirm tour for morning departure, meet new friend Fernando, taxi to the outskirts of the city to mistaken address, return camping gear, change money, forget to eat, repack my bag, pay Jose and sleep a little before heading out to tour Pisac, Urubumba then Ollyantantabo where I connect with the train to Aquas Calientes to arrive that night to sleep a couple hours before rising at 4:30 AM to get in line for the first bus to Machu Picchu with about 500 other dazed tourists. That's packing it in.
- Cusco, Peru Oct. 16 - 19, 2009
Arrived in Cusco after a short flight from LIma. It's hard to imagine a bustling city at such a staggering altitude - nearly 11,000 ft. I was struggling with a mere flight of stairs...
I enjoyed my three days of acclimation, wandering the narrow cobblestone lanes and exploring the quirky bistros and cafes geared primarily for the tourists and backpackers. There was a hip edge here that reminded me of Katmandu in the early 70's. I didn't realize it yet but the prevailing tourist culture had made it's indelible mark on most of the Sacred Valley. The focus of interest being Machu Picchu which attracts no less than 500,000 visitors a year. Regardless of the negative impact of the reliance on tourist revenue I relished my time in these Incan homelands.
My trekking partner, Barry Batchelor took some of the pictures that I've included here.
- Trek to Choquequirao
As scheduled I met with my guide, Jose Antonio Pillco Flores at the lobby of my overpriced hotel near Plaza del Armas. He was charming, pleasant - looking a bit like a Peruvian rock star and turned out be be terrific.
I had a chance meeting with an Austrailian Ranger, Barry Batchelor at the South America Explorer's Clubhouse who was on a similar acclimation schedule as I. He showed the vaguest hint of being interested in joining Jose and I for the 5 day trek and I jumped all over it. We were now three. Barry proved to be a wonderful hiking partner - very knowledgeable in local flora with a globe trotter's savvy.