The above photo, which was the photo for the photo challenge of the month in May, was taken in a photo workshop (organization listed in post on where to continue your learning in Melbourne). The workshop’s theme was storytelling, and the subject was the State Library. The workshop was in June, but to commemorate my current visit to Melbourne I’m posting this now. Below are the rest of the photos and my amateur attempt to convey a story.
As soon as the doors were unlocked, the people waiting flooded in and secured their best spots, with powerpoints (plugs) and silence. I went inside to see what all the fuss was about.
When I stepped back outside, there were a lot more people. The regular city goers had taken their places in the lawn outside. Skateboarders were doing tricks and even the crepe food truck was setting up.
A live band started playing and I went across the street for some coffee. So Melbourne.
Perhaps the featured photo is misleading. When my friends and I took a day trip from Melbourne to Phillip Island in April, it didn’t end up being a murder mystery.
For us at least.
The six kilometer walk around Cape Woolamai (try the Cape Woolamai Beacon Walk!) passed through the sandy beaches, slight inclines through bush and around dramatic cliffs below the lighthouse. But it wasn’t the scenery that kept our attention.
It was the sheer number of dead animals.
Despite the fact that park rangers trolled the kilometers of the coast on their 4×4, they didn’t seem phased by the number of animal carcasses littering the premises.
Death is a natural part of life.
But one has to wonder if the park officials should be a bit more concerned with tidying up the trail for the thousands of tourists that visit each year.
I can imagine that all of the dead wallabies would be something especially traumatic for young child. They are, after all, a sought-after site for tourists in the country.
People normally go to Phillip Island to see the overpriced, hyped-up Penguin Parade. (Don’t try to not pay and instead go up on the cliff overlooking Summerland Beach. The park ranger will ask you to leave.)
But when I go to Phillip Island, I tell people why I make the trip. It’s not for penguins.
In this post, I share with you a series of photos taken in Calzadilla de la Cueza, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Model: Kimberly
As the Melbourne weather turns cold and dark, each day I grow more nostalgic for the Camino de Santiago. As I sit on public transportation to and from different parts of the city, I remember what it is to walk these distances. Watching daily life go by from my window seat, I’ve begun to idealize unpleasant parts of the camino: the dehydration and urges to barf, the sticky air and desolate landscape of Palencia, the sexist elderly men and the competitive middle-aged pilgrims.
The constant flow of traffic and people in Melbourne makes me forget that a place like Calzadilla de la Cueza exists. Calzadilla de la Cueza, a place generously called a town, is one of the many tiny locals pilgrims pass through on the French route of the Camino de Santiago. According to the last census, it has a population of 52 people. I’m almost certain that the suburban subdivision I grew up in has more residents than that.
In the article El Camino De Santiago: 8 Things That (Almost) All Small Spanish Towns Had In Common, I explain the phenomenon of affecting small towns along camino: mass migration to urban centers in the 1960s and 1970s and the transformation to large scale agriculture and industrialization. One might even link this to the loss of small town life, the irreversible changes that would change rural Spanish life forever.
But passing through Calzadilla de la Cueza, it’s clear that small town life still exists. And is it small. The eerie, silent streets would be the perfect setting for a horror film. Our arrival to the town was even set up perfectly as such: We walked all day through the hottest part of the day, struggling through a 17km stretch of Palencia’s least beautiful landscape. A hour before reaching the town, both Kimberly and I had run out of water. I was having flashbacks of throwing up at the finish line of the Formentera 8k. No one else was on the trail with us. One lonely farmer in a tractor saw us and waved, but that was around 3 hours prior to reaching it. Just before we might have fainted, we got a glimpse of the top of a church. It was a sign that would give us strength to continue walking.
Upon arrival, we were like limp pasta, at the mercy of whoever would find us there. The first thing we noticed was the absolute quiet. The quiet which was interrupted by my screaming to finding a middle-aged man that we had met two days prior. Luckily for us, there weren’t murderous villains lurking in the abandoned houses. Instead, we found two competing albergues – one with a pool – and new and familiar faces.
Resting long enough to find the energy to take a look around the town before it got dark, we left the comfort of the poolside of the albergue and into the streets of the ghost town. The first person we encountered was an elderly man. He stood at the foot of a door, a cane in his right hand. He saw Kimberly and I walking down the street with a camera. He stared. We waved. He stared. We greeted him: “Hola, que tal? como esta usted señor?”
He stared. “This is weird,” I said to Kimberly. We felt unwelcome, like his attitude towards us was slathered with an air of distrust. As we got closer to him, our irrational paranoia dissipated. He was deaf. He couldn’t understand what we were saying.
We continued walking and still feeling a creepy vibe, we examined the old windows, the straw mortar that kept the buildings intact and the seemingly unnecessary broken street signs. There is something inescapably frightening about walking past abandoned houses, ruble, meowing cats and creaking doors.
The town still had a schoolhouse. A place that must have been filled with farmers’ children years ago, before the mass urban migration.
Walking down a side street from the main road, we were surprised to come across a middle-aged man. He was short and balding. The type of man that might wear a silver chain around his neck and carries his phone in a carrying case attached to his belt. He was washing a car outside of his house, which turned out to be his parent’s. Just as we were speaking with him a teenager walking a dog passed us. Where did all these people suddenly come from?
He lived in Carrion de los Condes, the closest “big town” nearby. He had left years ago. “There is no opportunity here,” he told us. His parents still live in the town, and he often comes back to see them. He reflected on how the camino used to be a very different concept. His early memories of pilgrims were far and few between, often devout Catholics whose presence were special occasions that prompted festivities and ceremonies with the local priest.
He told us about a man a couple of years ago who was accused of raping a female pilgrim. When it came time for the trial, the woman didn’t show up. “No one knows what happened there,” he explained. No one took sides, but it did change the way locals viewed the increasing numbers of pilgrims from around the world. The event sparked a general distrust, just as Kimberly and I had suspected. Today, the camino is commercial, no longer a place where exhausted and hungry pilgrims can knock on a locals’ door and be fed and housed in heartwarming hospitality.
The camino has changed, and so has rural life in Northern Spain. But some things, like the town of Calzadilla de la Cueza, haven’t changed at all. Depending on the way you look at it, of course.
Want to read more about the Camino de Santiago? Check out these articles:
We sat at Platform 5, ready to take the train from Flinders to Sunshine. Sunshine is a notoriously rough area, but when we arrived, it seemed harmless.
Why were Alexe and I going to Sunshine? I wanted to attend a real, official International Women’s Day event. My last minute attempts to plan something for March 8 were failures. I was too late. Most of the events had already filled up. Music shows, breakfasts at the archival women’s center and poetry readings wouldn’t be on my agenda for the day.
Instead, I found an event on the International Women’s Day website for a community event at the Braybrook Library, a name that feels like a tongue twister to say. After going to St. Kilda beach, lunching at Jungle Juice Bar and feeling suffocated by the 38 degree heat in the city, we jumped on our train to Sunshine. From there, we took a 20 minute bus to the library, at first missing our stop.
I noticed we had been on the road for quite some time. Looking around, it felt like we were in a different country. The strip malls, sidewalks and 1970s looking housing felt years away from the European style CBD. I approached the driver, and in compliance with the sign – “don’t distract the driver while he’s driving”- I politely said “Eh, excuse me, could I ask you a questions?”
He took both hands off the wheel and lifted them up in unison and bulged his eyes, as if to express that I had just asked the dumbest question imaginable. “Where’s Braybrook shops? That’s the stop.” I asked. He shouted back, “You passed it a long time ago!”
After exiting the bus, walking around the corner, being tempted to hitchhike when I saw the air conditioning blowing from the cars of men in business suits, finding the stop, waiting for the bus…we got back on with the same driver. After even more confusion, some extremely kind Kiwis (playing loud music and laughing) disagreeing with driver and helping us find our way, we had made it.
And it was worth it. The library felt like a cooler in comparison to the heat outside. Inside, beyond the books, we made our way to the back end, where it took me a second to realize this was still Australia. It was almost identical to the library in my hometown. Looking out of the slightly tainted windows I looked at the dry grass and kids playing soccer. The sidewalk almost looks different in intense heat. It could have been summer in Midwestern USA.
The room was full of younger mothers with screaming (still adorable) children, middle aged women and teenagers. Some men were also in attendance. It stuck me that the crowd in attendance was remarkably diverse. I looked around the room to see Vietnamese, Somalis and Turkish. I even heard languages being spoken I couldn’t identify. There were multiple generations of women grouped together.
Despite the diversity of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that the presence of an American and a French girl was somewhat of a confusion to everyone. Even so, we were treated in a warm and welcoming way. A university student of Somali descent had us try the tea she had made. It was placed among tea and beverage samplings from other parts of the world- Mexico, China, and Italy. The Somali tea was by far the most satisfying.
We grabbed our tea and listened to the variety of local talent. A young Arab boy performed spoken word poetry dedicated to his mother, where he recalled his childhood filled love and strength from his mother, despite the hunger and violence they suffered. A Turkish-Australian storyteller reflected on the definition of “girl” in the lives of the women in her family, a term that used to be filled with shame. She’s since reclaimed the word and finds it empowering: “Girl isn’t limited, its limitless,” she told the audience.
Melbourne-based singer songwriter Jess Locke got up to the microphone, joking that she didn’t envy the cricket players out back sweltering in the afternoon sun. She performed an impressive set, accompanied by some witty and inspiring remarks. 10 years ago, she overcame her fear of performing in front of an audience. It was a fear that had withheld her from fulfilling her desire to sing, even though she “desperately wanted to do so.” She encouraged all of the girls in the room to push through their insecurities and go after what they want the most.
If International Women’s Day wasn’t my favorite day of the year, I’m not sure I would have gone through so many hoops to travel to what felt like the outback, not to mention on a day when I’d rather be laying on the beach, languid and pathetic. Visiting a local IWD event was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the passionate cry of protest, but it fulfilled all expectations of celebrations of our very existence, appreciating our strengths and talents. It was a wonderful example of how a small, diverse community puts a local spin on a global issue. Speaking to the diverse experiences of immigrants, the program was relatable to the lives of the women in the audience, more so than an all-white Australian panel of women at a talk at the Queen Victoria Women’s Center (although this was equally fantastic, it would have probably been far less sympathetic to their realities).
Can’t get enough offeminism and International Women’s Day? Me neither! Check out these articles:
Not surprisingly, we loved visiting the temples. But the crowds, heat and overpriced everything made it a less than ideal tourist attraction. We only went once, skipping the three day pass and opting for a one day pass. Although after our second day we had already checked off the main attraction in Siem Reap, we loved the city and wanted to stay for longer. But we had nothing to fear, there is much more to do Siem Reap than just visit temples! Bloggers at Never Ending Voyage have an excellent guide for alternative activities. Unfortunately for us as backpackers with a tight budget, we couldn’t afford to do most of the things on their list. Although it was pricey, we were drawn to their description of horse riding at Happy Ranch.
Erin and Simon of Never Ending Voyage describe their horse riding excursion with Happy Ranch as eye-opening. They received great information and while on their horses saw rice farmers, water buffalo, and a Buddhist ceremony. The photos they published were stunning – just the thing my sister and I were looking for. Knowing it was going to be worth our time, we didn’t mind paying $46 for a 2 hour ride (that’s a huge sacrifice for a budget traveler; my typical budget was between $20-$40 per day).
What happened when we finally did go on our two hour ride was very different than Erin’s and Simon’s experience. Although we kept a good attitude and tried to goof around with our guide, it was nonetheless a very disappointing experience. The photos below were taken while on the horse which unfortunately was a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. Please excuse the poor quality.
The tour promised a cultural experience, visiting villages that aren’t typically tourist destinations and getting to know the people there. The above picture is a temple we passed. It took us over 30 minutes of horseback riding down paved roads and through a construction site of luxury hotels to reach this.
We continued past the temples without explanation. As we passed, many people were sitting in shops and watching small TV screens with a big antennas. The stores were stocked with packaged, manufactured snacks. Sometimes I saw fruit.
We continued walking along the road. By this point it had become a dirt path. The horses easily got scared by reckless motorbikes and tuk tuks. The houses were small huts, sometimes made of precarious materials and other times of concrete.
A few people started to notice us. This was the best part of the whole tour. Children would see us from afar and sprint to meet us at the edge of the road. They waved and jumped and the littlest ones would just scream and run in circles. The more outgoing of the bunch would scream “HI HOW ARE YOU” without fail. Although the adults were often more reserved, if their children were with them they would encourage them to wave and smile at us. Moments like this made us feel very welcome prancing about on a horse through their village.
Our guide spoke very little English. We are very lucky that he spoke any at all. However, we were paying a large sum, especially for the local prices. He was kindhearted, but it started to become irritating when we had questions. For example, as we rode through the village, we passed many women all in one building staring at us. A group of around 15 children were outside playing in a field across from them. There was a school, a few more convenience stores selling junk food, and more houses.
“What do most people do here?” I asked our guide. He started to laugh. He crinkled his forehead and shook his head. “I don’t know!” he shouted as if I asked the dumbest question possible. “This isn’t MY village!”
When he said that, I realized we wouldn’t be getting much cultural information. Still hopeful, I asked questions throughout the tour but got the same responses. How dare I be asking him these things! Either that, or he didn’t understand my question and ignored it.
There was one good piece of information that came from our guide: Cambodian women. We commented how there are many Westerners living in Siem Reap. “Yeah,” he said, “Cambodian women love Western man, because they pay for everything. We say ‘no money, no honey.'” At least it’s no secret why there are so many tiny women gallivanting about with European men in Siem Reap.
When we reached the village, our guide told us to get off our horses to have a break. Jennifer and I had to stretch our crotches out (painful!) so we walked a few feet down the path where the cows were grazing. This part, despite my annoyance at lack of information, was breathtaking. It was golden hour, my favorite part of the day, and it turned the fields glistening green. Everything became more radiant, and therefore more magical.
The man in the above photo was limping, he appeared to have a prosthetic leg. Even so, he was busy tending to his animals. He smiled at us and I attempted the Khmer I had watched in a YouTube video. He nodded and kept walking.
Even though I was disappointed with the tour with Happy Ranch itself, I was amazed by the warmth of the people we passed. I would get so sick of tourists if they walked through my neighborhood on horseback. Even though people pass through their villages all the time, they were kind, smiled, and didn’t appear to be bothered.
I recently submitted the featured photo for a contest on EyeEm titled “Youth of Today.” This photo captures a toddler who is snacking on crackers along side his grandfather in a Khmu village outside of Luang Prabang, Laos.
Out in the jungle with just my sister and I and our guide Sii, we started off our one-day trek through Tiger Trails with a 30 minute sickening tuk tuk ride outside of Luang Prabang. After a short boat ride down the Mekong, a hike through an “elephant sanctuary” (judging by their shackles, I wouldn’t call it freeing), and crossing several small streams, Sii announced we had arrived at Houayfay, a Khmu village.
The collection of straw houses had street signs, house numbers and various facilities. The only thing missing was people. It was a mystery where everyone was. Then, we saw our first greeters, four small boys sitting outside of a house.
The youngest of them all was disturbed by our presence. He saw my camera and started to cry. The older boys giggled and pushed him a little. I can imagine how odd it must feel to have groups of tourists filing through your ten house village. They don’t speak your language, they don’t look like you, and they have massive machines in your face.
While many adults were absent because they were working in the rice fields, others must have known we were coming and avoided us altogether. With the exception of only a few adults, the only locals we saw in our tour were young children. There is a fine line because treating locals like zoo animals and encouraging cultural exchange.
Sii lead us to the dining room of one of the families-a covered area with dirt floors and a wooden bench. There, we sat with an older gentlemen and two of his grandchildren he was looking after.
I tried to utilize Sii’s language skills to make the situation less uncomfortable. After all, we were sitting in this gentlemen’s dining room and staring at him and his grandchildren. This family also had a spare room where tourists who do the two-day tour sleep. They had experience with foreigners.
“Is there anything that Westerners do that you find weird or odd?” I asked the grandfather.
He laughed and shook his head. “We are just all so different,” he responded through Sii’s translation. “We have different customs.”
While the female grandchild was comfortably perched on her grandfather’s back, a precarious little boy was ready for the camera. By the way he posed and looked at me, I could tell he enjoyed the foreigner’s camera and liked the attention.
Notice his shirt saying “Wold Cup 2014.” Counterfeit?
I’m not entirely sure what he was screaming or why he was posing the way he was, but he gave us a good laugh. After feeling a bit odd walking through someone’s home, it was nice to have someone appreciate the attention.
After saying goodbye to the grandfather and his grandchildren, we took a quick walk around the village. There was a girl sifting through a 15 x 15 tarp of rice. She was shy, but smiled and showed us how to break the rice and eat it. As soon as we approached her, three children came running in from the jungle.
They were visible dirtier than the other children, with disheveled hair, mud on their skin and green, dried-up snot coming out of their noses. The most noticeable aspect about them, however, wasn’t their unkempt look. It was the huge knife they carried, swinging it up and down like a loose leaf piece of paper. (This wouldn’t be the first group of children we saw with extremely sharp objects. Later on that day we saw a boy playing with a long knife that had a live bird attached to it. He was throwing it around as his parents laughed from behind.)
“HELLO HOW ARE YOU!” they screamed. One of the girls wore shorts that had “Paris Hilton” embroidered on the back pocket. I would love to investigate how and why some clothing, counterfeit brands and odd sayings become popular abroad. How, and why?
We continued on our hike. Later, we passed through a Hmong village. There, we didn’t see anyone except one massive family with at least eight kids. They sat on a bench and watched us as we ate our pack lunches of fried rice. They laughed as the piglets, birds and apparent ravenous dogs fought for our handouts.
We finished out the hike in the humid air, jumping through creeks, stepping in wet undergrowth and passing through valleys. As Sii got increasingly annoyed with our inability to walk briskly in such adverse conditions, I thought more and more about how accepting children are. If our trip through the villages solidified anything, it’s that children are special creatures.
What else happened in Luang Prabang? Jennifer and I felt left out. Read about it here.
“It could be huge, or it could be nothing,” my driver said as he flipped through radio stations debating whether or not the snow would amount to what they said it would. “Depends on if you believe the mayor or the governor,” he explained.
I landed in JFK last Friday night, right as the flakes of the dreaded New England snowstorm began to fall. It was a miracle I even made it. “We’re not optimistic about it,” my friend Emily said referring to whether or not my plane would be able to land that night.
My flight from California was not one of the 13,000 cancelled as a result of snow. Winter storm Jonas, or “snowzilla,” as Wikipedia cheekily indicates, resulted in 30.5 inches of snow in New York City. For two days, residents had a travel ban and were advised to stay put.
Monday morning, things finally got moving again. I took my camera out and walked between 65th and 50th street from Lexington to 5th Ave. By midday, the snow had been plowed from the sidewalk and people were resuming their normal business.
The snow didn’t stop people from piling their garbage high above it.
The cold weather didn’t seem to make a difference whether or not people bought frozen yogurt. Or, it didn’t make a difference to its advertisers. Bikes made their way through the snow and slush faster than the fancy women in high heels boots tiptoeing around the puddles.
I couldn’t help but notice the absurdity of seeing a tanned, naked model in the midst of such a frigid, insufferable snowstorm.
During my walk through Midtown, I noticed a lot of older women in extravagant fur hats. Older men in wheelchairs were accompanied by caretakers of color and foreign nannies were telling kids not to run too fast or jump in the street.
Some of the women weren’t as elegantly dressed as others, but two older women I saw had color coordinated outfits. Perhaps they were going to yoga together.
While New York has colorful street art, the most provocative thing I witnessed in this neighborhood was a sticker that said #legalizeorgasms; I later discovered that it’s a marketing campaign by Foria, a company that sells “All natural cannabis infused sensual oil designed for female pleasure.”