Sunrise in Cambodia

Sunrise in Cambodia

A moment lived in Cambodia by Nina, a traveller from Sweden

“Two for one dollar, three for one dollar, four for one dollar!” The little girl with her basket of postcards trailed imploringly behind me. When l shook my head she repeated her plea in German and then Spanish. She was one of the hundreds of children that wandered the temples of Angkor Wat. Built during the reign of the Khmer empire, it is the largest religious monument in existence and has the honor of being named the 7th ancient “Wonder of the World”. Once a place of sanctity and worship it is now home to monkeys and barefooted children selling postcards to the throngs of tourists that flock there every day.

I was one of those tourists and this was why l had come to Cambodia. l had arrived the evening before with my backpack and visions of haunting temples reflected in pools of lily-covered moats. Stepping out of the airport alone, not knowing where l would stay or who l would meet l was greeted by the setting sun sinking below the plains where the town of Siem Reap lay hazily in the distance. The potholed road into town in search of a hostel was a whirling chaos of bicycles, cars, and occasional cows, for 5 dollars l was given the grand tour in a tuk-tuk and my first taste of Cambodia.

First impressions were the dust. Everything was covered in dust, having just flown in from the lush islands of Thailand, this far inland l felt claustrophobic.
Arriving at the “Siem Reap hostel” l checked in and signed up for a 5am sunrise tour the next day. Then l traded my flip flops for runners and went to find some street food. In this respect, Cambodia did not disappoint. The streets were littered in food carts, where everything from fried ice-cream, fruit shakes, noodles or grilled meat could be bought. In a country where the currency is so weak, that they prefer to use Dollars then their local Riel, it almost felt like being in a pound shop. It seemed everything you enquired the price on was “one dollar”.

4:45 am the alarm rang and groggily l stumbled off the second bunk fumbling around for my clothes in the dark. I had spent the evening talking with my roommates until pure exhaustion turned my replies into mumbled incoherence. Making my way down to the entrance l exchanged nods with the two others who had signed up for the tour. We were shown to our tuk-tuk, and the first 15 minutes we all silently sat in the dark watching the city fly by on our way to the temples. But soon the wind cleared our heads and we introduced ourselves. There was Neal the New Yorker with the ready smile and dark unruly hair and Felix the stoic Berliner, who would casually drop stories about being abandoned in Bolivia or trekking the Himalayas. These two would end up being my steadfast companions for the duration of our stay in Cambodia; we would get lost together, climb ancient ruins, eat crickets and scorpions, and stay up all night talking and drinking 50-cent beers in dodgy bars.

Arriving at the temples we made our way to the sunrise viewpoint and patiently sat waiting for the sun to slip over the temples carved domes. The moment l had dreamed of was now a reality. Slowly we watched in awe as the cool dawn air turned thick with heat, the sun slowly burning away the mist. The pools of water reflected the temples like a mirror and the colors flared orange and red. Monkeys chattered in the trees beside us and you could almost imagine yourself thrown back to the days of the Khmer empire.

All too soon the sun cleared the temples and it was over, the little girl arrived with her basket of postcards going from group to group her discount increasing with every shake of the head. I had been warned not to buy anything from the children as it encourages the parents to keep them out of school, but l couldn’t resist reaching for my bag of crisply wrapped caramels. Guiltily I passed her two. One for her and one for her brother who sat on a nearby tree stump, bare bottomed in a ripped Adidas t-shirt. She instantly scampered away and gleefully shared her sweets with the little boy who sucked on the wrapper and smiled at me, dark eyes crinkling with pleasure.

The rest of the day Neal, Felix and I wandered the ruins and exchanged stories of travels and shared tips on where to head to next. It was a day filled with laughter and memories that will last a lifetime, we were so different yet shared the same passions and dreams and that common thread was like a bond that drew us together. Our religion or social status didnt matter, here we were equals, just as dusty and hungry for new experiences with that special spark that only strangers on the road together experience.
After three days together we went our separate ways but it still amazes me how fast friendships form when traveling. Traveling alone is never lonely and that day two strangers became as close as lifelong friends and the moment we shared watching the sunrise over the ruins of Angkor Wat will always be with me.

credit photo: Nina
Kia Ora The Catlins!

Kia Ora The Catlins!

A moment lived in New Zealand by Lisouille, a traveller from France

During my stay in New Zealand I discover paradise!
You don’t believe me?

So how do you call a place where You stand on a breathtaking cliff and see the perfect sunset (You know the colourful one with orange, pink, blue and red…).
On this cliff, turn your eyes to the east, You will discover yellow-eyed penguins. They are usually turning back from the hunt and share food with their babies. Honestly it’s the cuttiest thing I’ve ever seen. Now imagine yourself standing on this cliff with me…listen to their sound. Magical, isn’t it?!?

If you think this is the end of this wonderful place, you’re wrong! Turn your head to the west, You’ll discover Hector’s dolphins (only in New Zealand the “Maui’s” are the smallest of the dolphins). It’s a marvellous time while You’re watching these dolphins having fun with the waves!

So? Now you trust me?

The Catlins is a major highlight of the Southern Scenic Route in kiwi’s land. You travel through forests, coastlines, hidden lakes and stunning waterfalls. This natural landscape is fascinating and the wildlife is extraordinary!

I’ve been in Curio and Porpoise bays several times and every time I’m bemused! It is a perfect place to care for wildlife and swim with dolphins. If You want to respect them, You just have to wait for them, Hector’s dolphins will come around You. Fascinating!

One day while my boyfriend and I were having fun swimming with the dolphins around us, we thought a dog was coming. In reality it was a sealion… I try to take a picture of it and that was not the thing to do… Pieces of advice, if you swim with a sealion, go away! Seals and sealions may look placid but they are powerful, wild predators and can be very dangerous if they are approached too close. Since there are very curious, they like to come around You and it’s really scary. Amazing but Scary!

Just one more thing: perfection doesn’t exit! The Catlin’s is near Slope Point (the southernmost point of the South Island in New Zealand), so guess what? It’s freezing cold. Especially for a girl coming from the French Riviera Coast, I admit…I spend most of my time shivering!
But you know, if you want to swim with sea lions, penguins and dolphins you have to deserve it!

I can only recommend You to discover this magical place.
It’s a changing life experience!

credit photo: Lisouille
trekking Kawa Ijen
Sokerman, my friend from the volcano

Sokerman, my friend from the volcano

A moment lived in Indonesia by Maxime, a traveller from France

It took us a day to ride from the south of Bali to the south of Java. Whilst I lived in Bali, I had the impression to arrive in a new country. I felt like being home; but a different home.

After a short night, we took the road in the direction of the Kawa Ijen.The road went through the coffee plantations, then a dense rain forest with huge tree ferns. The road was more than bumpy, and the mud – gift from the previous tropical rain – didn’t simplify the ride. More than once we had to get out of our motorbike and push it uphill.Parked at the entrance of the National Park, the walk starts.

After an hour of climbing the steps, we finally were out of the forest that covers the volcano sides and approached the top. No more lush vegetation around us, only stones and some dead trees that have been burned by the acid rain. With the first lights of the day, the landscape that surrounded us seemed to be otherworldly… A smog was covering the path ahead; on the right side, the volcano wall clear, with only a few burned  tree trunks. On the left, a steep slope until the bottom of the caldera where a lake has formed.This lake, with its chemical and unreal blue colour, is actually the most acid lake in the world. At the bottom of the slope there was a hut; near there, a huge column of white and thick smoke spiralling towards the sky.

We were sitting on the side of the path, flabbergasted by the infernal beauty of this view when a creaking sound, as regular as a metronome, seemed to get closer to us.From the way coming out of the caldera we saw him: walking fast, on the rhythm of the creaking, his body bent under the weight of the bambu sticks that he was carrying on his shoulder. A basket hung on each end of the sick; full of yellow and smelly stalactites: sulfur.From his face, we only saw his smiling eyes; the rest was hidden by a cap and a scarf. Coming next to us, he said hi and sit with us. That’s how I met Sokerman.

We stayed there for a while, chatting and sharing some food. He then offered to lead us downhill until the camp next to the huge column of smoke.

The way to go downhill was steeper, more slippery and dangerous than expected. The drizzle coming in this early morning didn’t help us, nor did the remarks of our guide that punctuated our path with “be careful, someone fell down here and died”.

Once we were in the caldera we passed next to the hut where someone was asleep and went closer to the smoke.

Suddenly the wind changed and the smoke came on to us. The air was then full of toxic gas, burning my lungs. Squatting, trying to get some fresh air near the ground, Sokerman came to help me to get out of the toxic cloud, before disappearing into it, with a crowbar. He returned one minute later, the arms full of hot sulfur stalactites.

With the smoke blowing uphill and the rain getting stronger, this was not the best moment to leave, so we decided to go into the hut and wait for a more appropriate time to climb.In the hunt, around a fire, we talked about our lives, becoming more and more aware of the differences between our lives.Sokerman was 40, working in the volcano since he was 12. Twice a day, six times a week, his job was to go down and snatch some sulfur from the toxic heart of the mountain. In total, around 60 men were doing this “job”.

The sulfur, bought 500 rupiah per kilo by a company, was used to refine sugar beet, make matches and also denim.Taking a total of 100 kilos allows him to get $5 per day, which allows him to feed his family and pay for the studies of his son.The job is extremely hard. Sokerman’s shoulders and back were distorted by the weight of his baskets and every single laugh followed by a coughing fit. However, Sokerman never complained about his life.

He told us a bit about the man that was asleep. This post is offered by the company to the men that are now too weak to carry the baskets: the “firemen”. They stay in the caldeira, monitoring the pipes that carry the liquid sulfur out of the volcano. Sometimes with the contact with the cold air, the sulfur burns and might damage the pipes. The small advantage of this position: a gas mask is provided by the company, whereas for the others a simple wet t-shirt covering the nose and mouth is enough.

The accidents in the volcano were numerous, and every year was synonyme of victims. To be sure that their baskets were full of the bigger pieces, some workers start to work earlier, in the darkness, taking more risks.The life in the south east of Java is not always easy, and while this job seemed to us to be a form of modern slavery, more and more people were coming to the Kawa Ijen: getting $5 for a working day of 10 hours was appealing for some poor people.

During the years I spent in Indonesia, I came a dozen of times to Kawa Ijen, and seeing most of the times my friend Sokerman. He looked a bit more worn every time, a bit more stooped under the weight of his baskets that seemed to be less and less full, but never the smile on his face seemed to vanish.

credit photo:

Beach bums, or how to become the richest person on earth

Beach bums, or how to become the richest person on earth

A moment lived in El Salvador by Caroline, a traveller from Québec

I travel all the time. By all the time, I mean not as much as I would like to, but just enough to hear tons of “you are so lucky”. Here’s my secret: compulsive travelers are not lucky. They prioritize differently, figure out how to combine as many days off in a row as possible, make sacrifices, learn how to travel cheap, and most of all, they understand that the level of richness is inversely proportional with the size of the bank account, if every penny is spent on plane tickets.

My latest trip was to El Salvador. And the same people who thought I was lucky also thought I was crazy, since I travel solo and, oh my god, I AM A GIRL.

“Did you know that San Salvador’s crime rate is one of the highest on the planet? You will probably be kidnapped, robbed, raped, killed and your organs will be sold on the black market, because this is what they do in those strange countries. ”

Then, I look back, smile, let the words fly high, and so do I. Down to the heart of Central America, with my camera and a bikini.

I arrived late at night and my entire self was immediately overwhelmed by the chaotic poetry. The picturesque first sight from the aircraft window of the bustling city lights next to a majestic volcano, the hot and sticky tacky tropical breeze, the excessively loud reggaetón that escaped every window, a bunch of unidentified smells, and the exciting feeling of being part of a messy but blooming crowd.

The next morning, I woke up to catch the early waves of the Pacific Ocean with my surfboard. I was expecting an empty beach. But surprise, surprise, it was fully crowded. It was the Semana Santa, the Easter week, when the whole country is shut down. Families and friends get together, hang out and massively take over every square centimeter of the pitch black floury beach. That was not the desert seaside I expected at first, but it turned out to be one of those precious human experiences I will carry with me forever.

When I started street photography, I was always wondering what will be the reaction of the people I was immortalizing. I was afraid, for some reason, to get close and to invade their private space. Now, with more or less 60 countries visited, I think my sample is big enough to get to a conclusion: people don’t care, when done respectfully. Depending on the culture, some will be shy, like in most western countries, and some will run into your frame to give you a peace sing and a huge grin, like in Egypt or Indonesia for example. With time, I learned to use street photography not only as a way to stop time and bring it back home, but most importantly, as a tool to get in touch with the locals, to create the rewarding but not so always easy first contact.

So, that sunny day, I grabbed my camera and explored la playa de El Zonte. I met kids trying to tame the waves, a young couple on their first date, a family playing in the sea holding grandma so she stays up while being splashed in the back, friends laughing loudly while participating to a backflip contest, french-fries sellers, groups sharing beers and BBQ. I had the chance to dive into a chunk of this easy going and welcoming culture, to witness social connections, to get genuine smiles, to hear candid laughs.

El Salvador through my lens could have easily look like landscapes to die for / colorful tropical flowers / stunning pinkish sunsets / edgy surf moves / silly selfies between too many mojitos and a refreshing Golden cerveza.

But at the end, it turned out to be a human immersion that made me way richer than the day before. Plus, my bonus reward was to come back home with an amazing photo series that I called Beach Bums.

But let’s be honest. El Salvador through my lens was also a few landscapes to die for / colorful tropical flowers / stunning pinkish sunsets / edgy surf moves / silly selfies between too many mojitos and a refreshing Golden cerveza.

PS – moral of the story:
– Don’t listen to alarmist people: most of them don’t know what they are talking about;
– Dare to travel solo, even if you are a woman;
– Don’t stick to your expectations. Be flexible;
– The vast majority of people are well intentioned, no matter where on the planet. Go talk to them; nobody bites.
– If you go to El Salvador, try the pupusas and the chicken bus.

This traveler has a photographies website: Caroline Thibault

credit photo: Caroline Thibault
Living the dream!

Living the dream!

A moment lived in Argentina by Cirilo, a traveller from France

Once upon a time, not so long ago (13 years to be exact) I decided to buy my first backpack (and I actually still have it) to hit the road for the first time of my life outside Europe.
During those last few weeks I was talking to my friends about going on a trip and on a Saturday morning, I woke up, passed by the ATM to withdraw 690 € and headed straight to a travel agency to purchase my “pass” to the outside world! I bought an open ticket to Santiago de Chile…Why? I do not know …but what I know is that I landed there on the 26th of May 2003 and damn, it felt sooooooo good!
Nowadays, I always say: “The best thing about traveling is not knowing where you are going, no planning is the key and I said to my friends before leaving that I would go wherever the wind would take me, well…It turned out that it took me to Argentina ! Buenos Aires to be precise, it is a very fast paced city with a population of over 15 millions, the city (as the country in general) is holding some very strong Italian – Spanish roots because of the migration during WWI. It is crazy to be in South America and be able to eat, what is for me, the best Pizza and pasta in the world…Let’s not forget the ice creams, which are a delight and the red meat can be cut only with a spoon as it is so tender.
But the biggest thing in the country is Football! And Buenos Aires is a capital city well known for its best football , there is a huge rivalry between the clubs of the capital! The most famous are Boca Junior where “the god” a.k.a Diego Armando Maradona played in the 80’s, the second biggest one is “River Plate” among some other ones.
While I was in Buenos Aires, I could not stop myself from going to la “Bonbonera” stadium to see a Boca game, and so…I was in for a treat as that year they won La “Copa Libertadores”. For the ones who do not have any clue about what “La Libertadores” is, it is the equivalent of the European Cup of football ! It is simply the “Holy Graal” of football in Latin America ! Later that week, I found myself walking around the city centre not anticipating what I would find that evening.. Just approaching to the “Obelisco” (the spot where Argentinian’s seem to celebrate everything or protest or just gather for any National day or sport victory) I found myself trapped among thousands of Boca hooligans screaming, jumping up and down.. singing “Football songs”.. and the funny thing is that they wanted me to be a part of it.. it almost seemed as I did not have any choice. Now…Close your eyes and imagine a young kid from Europe, not understanding the culture or language very well.. what would you do? you just JUMP! How did I end up this beautiful night? Well the latin way.. riots.. police arrival and hooligans challenging them! It is at this moment that someone took my hand and told me “Corré!!” = ” RUN!!” but… run WHERE?!! Well guess what? 13 years after I am married to an Argentinian Boca fan, and I came back to Boca Stadium more than 6 times already.. VIVA ARGENTINA and their passion for FOOTBALL!

credit photo : Cirilo

Belgrade Illuminated

Belgrade Illuminated

A moment lived in Serbia by Shane J Cassidy, a traveller from Ireland

“What do you think? That Serbia will bend to the will of NATO? Or the EU? People forget that we held off the Turkish empire as it roared across Europe. People forget that.”
“People may forget it – but you certainly haven’t”, I thought as my enthusiastically nationalistic guide enlightened me on centuries of Serbian history.
I was in Belgrade and it was 10pm on a warm September evening. Bright yellow squares decorating large high rise apartment buildings indicated that most Belgradian’s had returned home for the evening. The night sky was clear and a warm breeze blew lightly. The 13.35 express from Budapest had delivered me into the heart of the Balkans and wandering into the night with my camera and map, I hoped to discover what Belgrade looked like lit up at night.
Upon arriving onto the main street, I stopped a tall, rakish looking man with sharp features in the hope of being pointed towards the Orthodox Basilica, which I had been told was a must-see in the evening. Sensing that this was my first time in the city, Peter agreed to direct me but suggested altering the plan slightly.

“I’m walking in the direction of the only 24hr Post Office in the whole world. Would you like to see it?”. Feeling the Basilica could wait, I told him I would and slipping into easy conversation, we strolled unhurriedly in the direction of the post office.
Peter was a Serbian but had lived abroad for 20 years, only recently returning to settle back in his place of birth.

“When Yugoslavia was at it’s height, every single man, woman and child could be mobilised in times of war. My father was an editor of a magasine and I was a student but we knew exactly what our duties were should it have been required.” He spoke openly and with a healthy trust for a new acquaintance. I appreciated his candour and he was easy company and I felt privileged to be privvy to this private walking tour of the city. As we moved through the city, Peter would casually point to different buildings.
” This is where NATO bombed during their siege of our city”. Indignant to how his country had been treated, this proud Serb generously shared his knowledge and helped me understand the many complexities and contradictions of Balkan life. Over the course of the next hour, we touched on a number of wide ranging subjects, from the assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić to ex-wives, his – not mine, before finally returning back to our original meeting point.

At that moment, I understood the feeling of being totally intoxicated without having touched a drop of alcohol. As we shook hands and prepared to part company, I offered to buy him a drink to thank him.
“Thanks but I can’t, my wife is waiting for me and she will already be suspicious why I’m gone so long!”. He shook my hand vigorously and then he was gone, disappearing into the Belgrade night.

I visited the Basilica the the following night and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful sight to see it lit up. But the memory I will hold close is the sign of Peter’s eyes light up as he spoke passionately and openly about his wonderful city.

credit photo :

The Town of Rights

The Town of Rights

A moment lived in France by Shane J Cassidy, traveler from Ireland

I got there early and only a few stragglers, running late for work, remained on the old streets.

With the fresh Spring morning ahead, I started to explore the old part of the town and its cobbled streets and ancient architecture. I was in Chambéry and I had been coaxed into visiting this ancient French town, aware that Jean Jacques Rousseau had once called this place home. This is the great mind that gave us ‘The Social Contract’, which served as the catalyst for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also became an inspiration for the most famous revolution of all time. I made it my priority to visit his house, even if it was a 2km walk uphill and out of the town so off I set.

I sucked in large gasps of the fresh spring air, the snow littered throughout the countryside punctuated by frozen rivers and leafless trees. The nearby hills, slightly obscured by the fog that hung at their base, jutted out at the top with their snowy peaks. Reinvigorated from the injection of energy which nature, as only nature could, provided me I strode uphill contented, to the house of the man who gave the world the foundations for the Rights of Man, called home.

A largely unassuming yet undeniably picturesque home of splendour and fine architecture greeted me, just off the main country road. I entered the only building to be greeted by a fine stone staircase in front of me and directly to my right hand side i was drawn in my a grand old fireplace and exquisite 17th century furniture. I couldn’t help thinking that by this very fireplace, ideas of grandeur far beyond what Jean Jacques Rousseau could have imagined were born.

I gently fingered the old arm chairs and marble fireplace before returning to the grand stone staircase and proceeding upstairs where i was greeted by 2 large bedrooms which were still decorated as you would imagine they would have been 300 years ago. Inspired, speechless, full of bristling emotion, I sat upon his armchair in his bedroom by the fireplace and pondered how such a great mind came to be. Surrounded by such simple means as candles and books. No electricity, no internet, no phones, no televisions and yet he imagined thing people today consider the most natural of things – rights for all.

Before leaving the grounds, I took time to walk through his impressive gardens to the side of the home which overlooks Chambery below and the mountains in the distance. I may have travelled here alone but I left with Jean Jacques Rousseau most definitely in my company.

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