One of the best benefits of traveling in company is that casually your travel buddies are excellent photographers. My friend Lichix took this photo of me in Esfahan while visiting the stunning Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the biggest mosque in Iran and the pioneer of Islamic architecture.
With this post I’m opening a thread of How-To posts dedicated on how to take beautiful pictures in places where the camera is not very welcome. Stay tuned! 🙂
if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.
Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.
Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.
Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.
Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.
Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂
Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.
Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.
Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.
If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.
Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?
Paradise is Persian. An old Persian word that comes from an Old Iranian *pardis- “walled enclosure”.
By around the sixth century though, Persians started to associate the idea of Paradise with cooling and refreshing gardens due to the obvious high summer temperatures, so Paradise quickly found a beautiful graphic association.
And truly, Persian gardens are something unique. These are mostly royal parks where rulers (mostly kings and shahs) spent their time escaping hot summer (and Paradise could not be more appropriate due to the intense Iranian summers), entertaining foreign guests or simply spending family time away from political duties.
Because of the desert predominance in the country, it was vital to find a way to preserve water and create oasis of fresh air. In fact, dear Reader, Iranians (or Persians) are famous for pioneering a number of engineering projects in the world and one of these is precisely the invention of ventilation towers, else known as wind catchers.
The invention proved to be highly efficient in terms of sustainability and economic costs, so it comes to no surprise that the method was soon adopted and implemented in many other countries in the Middle-East.
Wind towers or wind catchers are traditional Iranian architectural invention built to provide natural ventilation for buildings that are located in dry arid regions. The structure normally looks like the picture above, where the structure conducts the outside air into the building to provide cooling. Wind or no wind, the airflow is generated with the temperature difference between outside and inside the building
The interior of the pavilion is superb, with intricate latticework and exquisite stained-glass windows.
I truly find that real Mexico is found only in few places. I say this because this country tends to be stereotyped and often confused to what spring-breakers look for every year.
Don’t fall for that trap, my dear Reader, for you’re looking for authentic and genuine sites. You’re not after mass commercial tourism. You’re after meaningful places, meaningful culture and discovery.
So this time I want to take you to Michoacán, my favourite state in all Mexico.
Michoacán is often regarded as a black-list state, a dangerous nest of narcos that yearn to hide among its many hills. It might be true but the way I see it is different. Besides, “danger” in Mexico is a very volatile concept, and all the Manzanillo lovers should know that Colima has in fact become very dangerous in spite of nobody saying anything about it. Check on this independent news website for more information about Colima.
Why I love Michoacán
Michoacan is simply divine in many ways.
“If you want to form an idea of our journey, take a map of Mexico and you will see that Michoacán is one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of the world, crossed by hills and lavish valleys, its prairies watered by several streams and its climate temperate and healthful.”
Marquise Calderón de la Barca
Michoacán is unique fusion of natural wild beauty, picturesque colourful, art, tradition and culture. Traveling through Michoacán is to take an extraordinary trip to the heart of Mexico, and I don’t mean it in geographical terms.
Michioacán has an infinity of mountains which never tire your eyes, many lakes and indigenous towns. In these towns people still speak their own native languages and some of them even struggle with Spanish. The towns of Pátzcuaro, Meseta and Paracho are a vivid example of it: these towns have preserved the traditions and language of the invincible empire of Purépecha Empire (allegedly distantly related to the Quechua people from north of Peru), which dominated the region.
Michoacán is a cultural hegemony where indigenous groups such as the Náhuatl offer a wealth of traditions, fairs, fiestas (see my post on Halloween and the Day of The Dead), customs, music, dance, handicrafts, cuisine and architecture. And while the characteristic towns have maintained their indigenous legacies, the attractive cities of Pátzcuaro and Morelia have preserved their colonial heritage.
Alternative Tourism in Michoacán
The geographical location and actual situation of Michoacán makes this state an unexplored sanctuary for nature lovers, adventurers, and those looking for an adrenaline rush. In Michoacán you can surf, you can mountaineer, you mountain bike, you can dive, you can camp, and even simply star-gazing. It’s not only the geology of Michoacán that makes it favourable in adventure travels, but also the variety of climates it harbours: rivers, lakes and springs bring the cold from inside the mountains, while the open ocean conveys the tropical warmth of the coast.
What Michoacán is like today
Michoacán has the capital of avocado. Or aguacate. You name it. Uruapan is officially Mexico’s largest supplier of avocados and some say the world’s avocado capital too.
In spite of Michoacán’s many natural attractions that could easily make the most attractive of all Mexican states, it suffers greatly from the reputation it gained over the past few years due to drug-fuelled incidents over the past years. Ever since the former President Felipe Calderón declared and initiated the war on drugs by sending military forces into Michoacán, the state has been a hot spot and black listed destination to everybody, locals and not. Plenty of websites strongly alert about the risk of traveling to various Mexican states due to threats to safety and security posed by organised criminal groups and drug cartels. The situation fluctuates, one year it is constantly on the news while the following one you won’t even hear the name Michoacán.
Even though current President Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly promised to take a different approach towards the war on drugs, he still deployed thousands of troops to Michoacán in order to suppress the violence that has led many communities to take up arms.
Even though several years have passed since the most hazardous incidents in the area, locals still won’t do their homework and dig a little bit deeper. The state, unfortunately, still is in the negative headlines even though overall things have considerably quieted down and left the top place on the list to its neighbours.
So, dear Reader, if you do come to Mexico looking for Mayan ruins I hope you unveil some of the hidden gems that still keep a secretive identity: Muyil.
It is not down on any map, best places never are.
I have no clue who authored it but it’s brilliant and surprisingly accurate 🙂
In the Sian Ka’an biosphere, which is Mayan for “Door to the Sky”, there is a vast jungle of about 265 hectares. Probably one of the neatest and most notable among the pre-Hispanic ruins sites.
Muyil was a densely populated settlement during the pre-Hispanic era and its buildings were mainly for a civic-religious and residential purpose. Settled around 300 B.C., centuries before Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum, it remained as a settlement up until the time of the Spanish invasion in the 16th Century where people either fled from the Spanish out of fear or were killed from diseases spread by the Spanish.
What I Loved About Muyil Ruins
The site is very small, you can circle it in less than 1 hour. Not many buildings are on sight but those that are there are simply stunning. Muyil needs to be experienced, not read about, to truly appreciate this site.
Fast Facts About Muyil Ruins
Muyil was one of the earliest settlements on the Caribbean Coast.
Only some of buildings have been excavated and much still remains covered.
The Castillo (pyramid) is 57 feet high, the highest pyramid on the Riviera Maya Coast.
Ceiba trees are located throughout the site. Alux (Mayan for “spirits”) are thought to watch the trails, protecting those in the area. Known as the “tree of life,” Ceiba trees were believed to be the connection to the underworld for the Maya.
Our Stanito’s correspondents from Colombia sent us a photo of what illegal gold mining looks like.
Our source tells us that close to 80% of all the gold produced in Colombia comes from illegal miners. Colombia has also one of the highest rates of mercury contamination in the region, followed very closely by Peru, whose government’s efforts have achieved not much much in this fight. In basic terms, mercury is used to separate the gold from the rock. But then this chemical is tossed and wasted into the nearby water streams, leading to an actual ecocide.
So much to tell about this remarkable and peculiar country. In the meantime, here’s a glance of what the centre of Managua by night, particularly its colours.
There is a lot you need to know about Nicaragua and especially about its politicians. Rumor has it Mrs. Ortega, the current President’s wife, is somewhat linked to witchcraft. Seriously, that’s what local people say. They say she loves colours and that in an attempt of having people forget about painful memories of the revolution’s colours red and black, she invested 20,000 USD for each coloured tree you see in these photos. Each of these trees has different bright colours and they all represent the Tree of Life, heavily inspired by Gustav Klimt’s 1909 painting Tree of Life. And I’m talking about few hundreds of these trees spread all over Managua. The old abandoned cathedral also went the same way but only on one side.