The Towers of Wind

Many things made and still make Persia famous today. Going along the line of Persian inventions, today we find the Towers of Wind ūüôā AKA the mother of air conditioning devices.

The towers of wind are found all over Iran. And they have to be! Desert weather, unbearable temperatures and the inhospitable heat has always made it imperious to find a solution since ancient times.

How did ancient Persians survive the torrid heat?

The Tower of Wind is basically a ‘wind catcher’, a building designed to refrigerate hot air. These towers, normally connected to water channels, are capable of storing water so efficiently that even during summer water can feel nearly freezing.
The invention proved so effective that it rapidly spread out in many Middle-eastern and Asian countries.

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(c) wikipedia. This is a very simple scheme of how a tower of wind with qanat works. Basically, hot air, thanks to wind pressure, is pushed down the tunnel where the contact with water cools it down and then pushed inside the building through its basement. Always due to pressure, hot air is naturally expelled out of the high tower. There is never dust in these towers because the sand is carried outside by the underground water flow.

Their invention is certainly credited to the Persian Empire but we are still not sure today if the first Tower was actually built in Iran. What we know is that one of the oldest of these magnificent towers is about 3,000 years old and located in the city of Yazd.

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The Dolat Abat Garden in Yazd. The tallest tower of wind in Iran.

Yazd is a desert city which has been able to maintain its ancient architecture, and as such, it represents today a beautiful example of Iranian planning engineering.

The Towers of Wind may come in different designs. The ones you find in Iran all come with a qanat, meaning underground water flows, which aggregates an even better cooling effect.

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These Towers made it possible for very hostile environments to become fit for residential use. Inhabitable.

Its invention was widely applauded in the region, becoming an integral part of sacred temples and palaces.

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Always because of the arid conditions, gardens in Persia were extremely important and taken care of.

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Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.

 

Photo of the Day: Stanito in Esfahan

Dear Reader,
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.

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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! ūüôā

Chiapas, the forgotten state

Dear Reader,

One can never generalise about cultures and countries in general. Least of all those countries with such diversities as Mexico.

Mexico is BIG and ethnically very diverse. Migrants from distant lands and the already existing indigenous communities inhabit this country. In fact, the second article of the Mexican Constitution asserts that the country is a pluricultural nation originally founded upon the indigenous peoples.

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Indigenous people are located in many states of Mexico but the biggest concentration is found in the state of Chiapas, south border of Mexico with Guatemala, and Oaxaca.

With chilly pine-forest highlands in the north, sultry rainforest jungles, attractive colonial cities and filled with remnants of the Mayan civilisation, Chiapas nonetheless looks completely cut off from the rest of the country.

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It is the perfect off the beaten path destination for those adventure seekers willing to explore the frothy waterfalls and eco-indigenous jungle reserves. But we will explore this side on a second post.

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Overlooking San Cristobal de las Casas

Talking about the situation in Chiapas comes with contrasting versions depending on whom you ask. There is strong ongoing propaganda from both the government and the Zapatistas, whose claim on the government’s violation¬†human and constitutional rights of community members eventually culminated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising, but I won’t get into that.

Instead, I will tell you why Chiapas seems and looks so isolated and distant from the rest of Mexico, both culturally and geographically.

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Ca√Ī√≥n del Sumidero

It has significantly underdeveloped infrastructure compared to the rest of the country, and its significant indigenous population with isolationist tendencies keep the state distinct culturally.

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Children I met in Zinacantan, indigenous town in the central Chiapas highlands. In spite of San Juan de Chamula being the neighbouring, famous indigenous and very commercial town in the area, Zinacantan still doesn’t experience the touristic crowds that its neighbour does.¬†

Cultural stratification, neglect and lack of investment by the Mexican federal government has exacerbated this problem in several¬†aspects. One of them, is the lack of telecommunication in the mid-south Chiapas where communication system is instead provided by Guatemala (when you book a hotel in south Chiapas don’t be surprised if the dial number starts with +502).

Another aspect concerns the condition of federal highways and cross-state roads.

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About road blocks. There are periodic road blocks randomly located throughout the state. It is common to find them on the road between San Cristobal and Palenque. They are sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes blamed on the EZLN (the Zapatista movement), and look like simple tree trunks cut off and thrown in the middle of the road (I was not able to take pictures of the one we experienced but Google offers many examples of it).

On the positive note, Chiapas does indeed offer spectacular landscapes, wildlife and the peace you’ll never have elsewhere in Mexico.

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Be a Local, not a Tourist

Dear Reader,

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.

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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.

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Stanito in Abyaneh, sleepy town in central Iran

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.

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This is kashko badem-jan, the best eggplant dish I have ever had…

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 ūüôā

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A lovely evening with Qashqa’i nomad friends near Chemarhahijn

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.

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The nomad tent used for supper and entertaining the guests.

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.

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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 ūüôā try¬†getting more involved with them.

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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?

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Stanito in Esfahan, Iran, photo taken by Alicia Venegas.

 

 Do you want explore in depth what off the beaten track destinations really are? Check these other two amazing blogs: The Velvet Rocket and The Unusual Traveler.

Did you know…

… Paradise is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
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.

One of these gardens is the Dolat Abad Garden, located in the city of Yazd.

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In Dolat Abad Garden you can chill out on the grass to enjoy the sun, the breeze, or the ice-cold dry weather of winter, you can sip an Iranian black tea at the local cafe.

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.

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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.

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This is the wind tower at Dolat Abad, in Persian is called ō®ōßōĮŕĮŘĆōĪ‚Äé‚Äé b√Ędgir (b√Ęd “wind” and gir means”catcher”)

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

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The interior of the pavilion is superb, with intricate latticework and exquisite stained-glass windows.

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Vitró window
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This is the tallest badgir of the Dolat Abad garden

 

 

Inside Iran, land of contrasts

Dear Reader,

I traveled to Iran because I wanted to see if the conflictive view most people get from the outside is accurate or real. As it pleasantly turned out, in many ways it is not.¬†Iran is a conflicted place, a misunderstood destination, a cradle of culture, a million things all at once. Iran is a¬†country where contrasting understandings of the world live side by side every day and everywhere. One of the countries I longed to visit since infancy happened to be another jewel on the globe’s map and probably the safest country in the region.

Iran is a huge, it occupies1.6m sq. km. even though Mercator’s projection distorts our perception of its vast surface. Its borders reach the same latitude as Athens and¬†the southern boundary falls on the edge of the Tropic of Cancer. It is six times the size of Britain and three times that of France. Iran is really big.

Tehran is the first city I visited and I can heartily say that it is not only the capital of Iran but a capital of contradictions.

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The ever-present Ayatollah image. 

Well, sit down, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy this fantastic journey with me ūüôā

We’re landing in Tehran and the first impression I get is ssssilence…
The Imam Khomeini Intl. Airport is the second quietest airport I’ve ever been to, second only to the Pyongyang Sunan Intl. Airport in North Korea. And again, like in Pyongyang, our luggage was already there waiting for us.

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If you come to Iran and Tehran especially, you’ll soon realise that the city poses to you only one danger: traffic.

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Traffic in Tehran is both scary and amusing. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll be fine..

Dear Reader, by traffic I mean every possible vehicle transiting on roads, sidewalks, out of a store and in the middle of the bazaars little alleys.

Tehran is a lively peculiar city. On the one hand Iranians are notorious for their friendliness and hospitality, their unrestrained kindness, their love for culture and luxury, their passion for ornamentation of their art and their sense of amour propre, yet their restrictions and sensitivities are widely displayed.

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From people, to food, to gardens, every corner shows all the polite formality of their language with its inbuilt metaphors and phrases and its simple rules of syntax.

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Here we will see that just as the stylised expressions of the language provide a stable environment where the most within which the most passionate¬†and antithetical emotions are set free, so the enclosed and carefully structured Pardis (the origin of our ‘paradise’), provides a setting in which a wide variety of spiritual and secular activities take place in the same space.

So much to say that every angle deserves an independent article on Travel with Stanito.

So stay tuned, dear Reader, our trip in Iran will be the most pleasant yet shocking surprise for you…

 

 

 

Unknown Mexico: Colourful Michoacan

Dear Reader,

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 Michoac√°n, my favourite state in all Mexico.

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Wilderness of Anganguen

Michoac√°n 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 Michoac√°n

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 Michoac√°n 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

Michoac√°n is unique fusion of natural wild beauty, picturesque colourful, art, tradition and culture. Traveling through Michoac√°n is to take an extraordinary trip to the heart of Mexico, and I don’t mean it in geographical terms.

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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.
Michoac√°n is a cultural hegemony where indigenous groups such as the N√°huatl 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 P√°tzcuaro and Morelia have preserved their colonial heritage.

Alternative Tourism in Michoac√°n

The geographical location and actual situation of Michoac√°n makes this state an unexplored¬†sanctuary for nature lovers, adventurers, and those looking for an adrenaline rush. In Michoac√°n 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 Michoac√°n 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.

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What Michoac√°n is like today

Michoac√°n 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 Michoac√°n‚Äôs 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 Calder√≥n declared and initiated the war on drugs by sending military forces into Michoac√°n, 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 Michoac√°n.

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Even though current President Enrique Pe√Īa Nieto has repeatedly promised to take a different approach towards the war on drugs, he still deployed thousands of troops to Michoac√°n 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.

Unknown Mexico: Muyil

Dear Reader,

Exploring Mexico, and more precisely Yucatán and Quintana Roo, normally means beating  a very crowded path filled with utterly touristic places and therefore hordes of tourists. And this goes for archeological sites as as well beaches.

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 ūüôā

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In¬†the¬†Sian Ka‚Äôan 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.

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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 ‚Äútree of life,‚ÄĚ Ceiba trees were believed to be the connection to the underworld for the Maya.

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