Friday, April 30, 2010

Hanging Prayers


As I walk past Logroño, heading towards Nájera, I reach a hill called Alto de la Grajera, in Spain.

There, the pilgrim's path is re-routed across the hill to avoid roadside walking along the motorway. Climbing steadily up to a sawmill, the tarmac road for pilgrims overlooks the motorway separated by a wired fence on the right side while a forest on the left offers a longer alternate path to the Camino.

As I get closer to the sawmill, I notice thousands of crosses threaded in the fence by passing pilgrims. They were in all shapes and materials from branches, chipped wood from the sawmill to wires, pipes and clothes. Here and there, messages and prayers were carved on planks of wood hanging on the kilometer long fence. The contrast was strong with the primitive crosses on the foreground and a busy motorway on the background.

I put down my backpack and stop for a while, connecting myself to the spirit of the place. One can almost sense the thousands of pilgrims, slowly threading crosses, whispering prayers to loved or lost ones.
Focusing on the messages and taking photos transports me to a different dimension, where stillness and peace float in the heavy cloudy atmosphere, sometimes broken by a passing truck overloaded with goods on the motorway.
My peaceful world is finally shattered by the sound of two young boys shouting and running around picking up branches to help their mother add a new cross in a small empty corner. I watch them weaving a new prayer in this spiritual cover protecting this place. I politely smile at them, wish them a "Buen Camino" and continue my path.

I sometimes wonder, how did this all start? Who put the first cross on a wired fence along a noisy motorway, followed by thousands of others? I realize later that Alto de la Grajera is a dangerous section where many accidents occur. It probably all started with prayers added in memory of road victims. It just happens to be on a spiritual path, where the smallest prayer is magnified by the hundreds of pilgrims seeking answers every day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Street Food


I have to admit, one of my biggest pleasures while traveling is: Tasting new food!
Especially street food.

Street food is obtained from a streetside vendor, a portable stall or small stand (like a hot dog stand in the US, or "kitchen carts" in Asia). It is often "fast food" to take away, although some vendors also put up stools and small tables on the sidewalk for clients to sit and eat.
It is mostly regional or local food. Prepared on the go, in 2 minutes, it's the best way to taste local flavors and mix in with the crowd.

Unfortunately, in "civilized" countries, it's becoming less frequent to find street food vendors, mostly because of safety and health concern. Many people still doubt the cleanliness of these stalls.

In my case, I'd rather focus on the benefits of street food:
  • It gives you a taste of local flavors, makes you discover new dishes. Why would you want to travel across the world to a foreign country and eat the same food you ate at home?
  • It's quick and cheap. 
  • It gets people out! Adds life to the streets and boosts local economy.
  • Concerning Health safety, It actually makes you healthier than all the germ-less bland food served in restaurants. No I am not crazy: We fall sick in foreign countries because of germ exposure. We are not used to the same germs and bacterias in different countries. Our body just needs to adapt and a fast way to do so is to eat street food! What's the worse that can happen? An extended stay in your bathroom?
Anyway, I'm just going to get myself a pad thai with some spring rolls.. Cheers!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Photo Essay - Songkran, the Thai New Year!

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year from the 13th to the 15th of April. It is also widely celebrated in Laos, Burma and Cambodia.
Traditionally a time to pay visit to elders and family, prayer, cleansing and renewal, Songkran has evolved into probably the world's largest water fight lasting up to a week in Northern parts of Thailand.
The water throwing originated as a way to bless people, by capturing the water used to cleanse Buddha images or shrines and sprinkling the passers.
Nowadays, as it falls during the hottest days of the year, the emphasis is on water-fighting with hoses, buckets and waterguns, widely celebrated by foreigners, tourists and locals.
The water is often mixed with mentholated talc and the use of chalk is common to cover faces to mark blessings.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hug a Tree!


Now, who wouldn't want to just grab that cute koala and squeeze it hard while being all mushy..?

I found this cuteness overdose in Chiang Mai's zoo, in Thailand, napping (duh!) with all its buddies.

Just so you know, here are some koala facts:

  • Koalas are called "bears" but they are in fact marsupials.. like the kangaroo, or the wombat.
  • The word koala is aboriginal for "no drink". Koala's get the water they need from the leaves they eat.
  • Koalas don't have tails.
  • Baby koalas, after being born, stay in their mother's pouch for 6 to 7 months drinking milk!
  • Koalas are happy sleepers. They sleep about 18 to 20 hours per day and are active only after sunset.
  • Koalas have few natural predators. They usually get killed by dogs or cars.
  • The baby koala is called a joey.
  • Koalas cry like a baby screaming when in danger. They also "bark" when aggressive.
  • Eucalyptus leaves are poisonous to most animals, but koalas' digestive system is able to detoxify the leaves inside the stomach.
  • Koalas are not "high" on eucalyptus. They sleep a lot to conserve energy due to their slow metabolic rate.
Yes, koalas are cute little animals, they are protected species though so don't get one as a pet...

Aaaaaaaawwwwwwwww so cuuuuuute! *drools*

Sunday, April 18, 2010



Volcanoes are spreading havoc in the skies of Europe.
Protests, wars and violence are spreading like plague.
Earth shaking like a dog trying to get rid of the fleas.. Us.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you'd wish you were in a distant place, away from civilization, surrounded by forests and mountains, in the tiniest village, chatting with an old man on a bench about the beautiful weather. 
Just like this place in Spain, near Zubiri. 
I feel we are flooded by media focusing mainly on bad news. Yes there are bad things happening out there, but not always as bad as pictured. Sex sells? Bad News sells too. When's the last time you heard good news on TV?
Sometimes, a good way to keep your sanity is to unplug yourself from the "Media Flood". Too much information is just unhealthy.

So, go ahead. Disconnect, grab a few stuff and go spend a few days away from technology and horrible news. Remind yourself that there is more to this world than what we hear on TV/Internet/Radio. The World is gorgeous out there!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Le Bistrot Parisien

When you hear Paris, what do you think? What image comes to mind?

Of course, most people visualize the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame. But Paris is also much much more than that!
What I love most is the small narrow streets with the old bistrots and the cliché frenchman with his baguette (for the record, a baguette never reaches a house untouched.. half of it is ALWAYS eaten on the road..yumm!) going home under a cold rain while a couple is kissing soaking wet.

That's Paris for me, the old Deuch ("Deux-Chevaux" The old Citroën car on the photo), the cafés and bistrots, the smell of croissant, the sound of accordion..

Listen to this music, close your eyes, and wander in the streets of the city of Love!

~Paris je t'aime!~
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