Uncornered Market http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:57:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bassin-Bleu Waterfall — Jacmel, Haiti [360-Degree Panorama]http://uncorneredmarket.com/bassin-bleu-jacmel-haiti/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/bassin-bleu-jacmel-haiti/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:25:24 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19741 By Daniel Noll

Life is a continual exercise in expectation management. Witness our journey to the Bassin-Bleu waterfall outside of Jacmel in southern Haiti. Haiti, it turns out, possesses quite a many blue pools, all quite aptly if not unimaginatively named Bassin-Bleu or “blue pool.” The most famous of these, pictured below, is outside the town of Jacmel. […]

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By Daniel Noll

Life is a continual exercise in expectation management. Witness our journey to the Bassin-Bleu waterfall outside of Jacmel in southern Haiti.

Haiti, it turns out, possesses quite a many blue pools, all quite aptly if not unimaginatively named Bassin-Bleu or “blue pool.” The most famous of these, pictured below, is outside the town of Jacmel. If all the photos of Haiti’s bassins-bleus are anything to go by, each one is pretty much the essence of inviting: hidden and tempting; turquoise, deep blue or mystically translucent pools of water depending on the angle of the sun and time of the day of the photo.

But half the fun is getting there.

“To get to Bassin-Bleu, we’ll pick up the donkeys in town,” Cyril, our guide, told us as our van drove along Haiti’s southern coast towards Jacmel.

So I’m thinking, and in fact even utter aloud, “Awesome, donkeys. I love donkeys!” (I have a soft spot for the world’s most under-appreciated beast of burden, by the way.)

Unfortunately, I soon learned that “donkey” is slang for pickup truck. As in a pickup truck with wooden plank seats in the back that pound the rear-ends of passengers while navigating Haitian mountain-tucked moonscapes. On our donkey, we wound our way into the hills, even forded a river, then caught a wide view of Haiti’s southern coast along the way. If you are going to bruise your ass, you might as well enjoy it.

Finally, the truck pulls to a stop as we reach a sort of trailhead. From there, we take a short walk, after which we turn the corner to find a shallow patch of turbid brown liquid staring back at us.

“No < insert expletive here > way,” I say to myself. OK, my disappointment may have squeaked out for public consumption.

Perhaps in response, one of our guides says: “Because of the recent rains, it’s going to be a little murky.”

“You think?” I utter under my breath, sort of.

I don’t know if the comic timing was intended, but those brown pools served as a way to take the wind out of my sails and reset expectations. Any hue would have bested the stagnant brown of what looked like the terminus of the Ganges.

After another short walk, we turned a final corner, made a short rappel down some rocks, crossed some more shallow water, mounted another rock and witnessed a waterfall healthily clearing itself into a truly blue turquoise pool. Now this was Bassin-Bleu, a protected little forest oasis whose soundtrack consisted of a waterfall punctuated by the joyful shrieks and cheers of people in its clutches.

There was nothing more to do than jump in and join them. Refreshing, relaxing and rejuvenating. I remember recalling later that evening that my skin and hair felt remarkable, as if given new life. Hidden pools of natural mountain-fed water will do that to you.

Open the panorama below to catch a glimpse. Next step: get yourself there, take a dip, soak it up, repeat.

panorama directions

Disclosure: The experiences above happened on the Highlights of Haiti tour. This was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price remains the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

G Adventures Deals

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Travel to Haiti: First Impressionshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-travel/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:54:27 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19693 By Audrey Scott

Haiti. It’s a country that most people today still associate with earthquakes, coups, and unrest – a sort of irretrievable chaos. Before traveling to Haiti, we knew very little about the country. Even after performing our own research — let’s face it, there’s little information on Haiti beyond the headline news – we weren’t quite […]

The post Travel to Haiti: First Impressions appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Audrey Scott

Fishing Boats at Pointe Sable - Port Salut, Haiti
Dugout fishing boats take a rest for the day in Port Salut, Haiti.

Haiti. It’s a country that most people today still associate with earthquakes, coups, and unrest – a sort of irretrievable chaos. Before traveling to Haiti, we knew very little about the country. Even after performing our own research — let’s face it, there’s little information on Haiti beyond the headline news – we weren’t quite certain what we would find, experience or feel while there.

Haiti is complicated. Even Haitians will tell you that. Each time we thought we grasped something about Haiti, another event would intervene that would help us realize we had only just peeled back one layer of our understanding of the Haitian cultural onion. And that’s what makes Haiti so fascinating: it tempts one to question, to experience, to learn and to re-learn – an invitation to penetrate as closely as a visitor might to its innermost layers.

Sans Souci Palace in Ruins - Milot, Haiti
There be palaces in Haiti, too. Sans Souci Palace near Cap-Haïtien.

When we shared photos and updates while visiting Haiti, readers would respond: “Is that really Haiti?”

Welcome to Haiti. Time to become a little more familiar – with the everyday, the exceptional and the forces to be continually reckoned with.

1. Travel Safety in Haiti

Time to dispatch the elephant in the room. When we first announced we were headed to Haiti, responses of concern were not only common, but they often spelled expectations of doom. One reader, to wit, offered this: “I hope you survive.”

There’s no denying Haiti has historically experienced its share of instability over the decades. Between 2004 and 2006, kidnapping of wealthy Haitians, international executives and aid workers was common. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, crime and assaults increased. But as our visit to Rwanda earlier this year demonstrated, countries are not forever suspended in time: they change, they evolve, and many, quite thankfully, move on.

The streets of Haiti, just outside the main covered market of Cap-Haïtien
Wandering the market streets of Cap-Haïtien.

As foreign travelers in Haiti, we surprisingly never felt targeted or at risk – neither in the peace of its mountains or the din of its cities. It is true that much of the time we were with a group or with others, but even when Dan or I often peeled off to engage with people, explore markets and meander down side streets on our own, we did not feel anything menacing.

Of course, common sense and basic safety measures still apply. As in most countries (including my own, the United States), I would not wander inner city streets alone at night. As taxis are surprisingly uncommon in Haiti, even in cities such as Port-au-Prince, I would arrange return transport in advance so as not be stuck without a way back to wherever I happened to be staying.

If you pack some developing world travel sense and especially follow the advice outlined in #3 below, you’ll likely find yourself feeling pretty comfortable with Haiti and its people.

2. A Land of Mountains

Despite the fact that the word Haiti means “mountainous land,” we envisioned only a few hills here and there. Instead, the country is defined by layers of mountains.

We managed a glimpse of this on our flight approach to Port-au-Prince, but our first on-the-ground taste occurred on our hike up to La Citadelle Laferrière near the town of Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti.

Rubbled Guard House of Citadelle Laferrière - Northern Haiti
A rubbled guard house near Citadelle Laferrière in hills of northern Haiti.

Our appreciation of Haiti’s landscape was complete with our hike up to Pic la Selle, Haiti’s highest mountain, and through nearby Parc National La Visite.
View from Pic Cabayo in Parc Nacional la Visite - Haiti
View from the top of Pic Cabayo. I meant it when I said layers.

It’s no wonder that Haitians say “Dèyè mon gen mon.” (Behind the mountain, there are mountains.) This Haitian proverb proved one of my favorites, as it’s not only appropriate to the country’s landscape but also metaphorically fitting to the country’s history and circumstances. “There is more than meets the eye” repeatedly rang true during our visit to Haiti.

3. “A greeting is your passport.”

Bonjou se paspò ou,” is another of a raft of available Haitian proverbs, one we learned early and put into practice often during our trip. Simple gestures such as saying “bonjou” (hello in local Kreyòl), offering a smile and nodding in respect tends to open doors of good will. Perhaps this is obvious advice, a generally accepted good travel principle, but it is particularly relevant to Haiti.

Losing at Dominoes - Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
Although he’s losing at dominoes (the clothes pins are “punishment”), we still get a smile.

On the surface, Haitians can sometimes show a stern, skeptical look that might not feel particularly welcoming at first glance. However, a respectful greeting and smile can help break down that tough exterior, thereby reducing some of the distance between you as the blan (literally meaning “white,” but slang for foreigner) and local people.

Haitians are a social bunch. Perfect strangers call each other cheri meaning “my dear” (I loved when I was referred to this way). With monikers like this, Haitians transform the atmosphere from the appearance of something serious to something more open and laughter-filled in a matter of moments.

It’s also important to note that, in general, Haitians don’t especially invite or seem to enjoy having their photograph taken. It’s completely understandable given that there has been a string of photojournalists who have focused mostly on negative aspects of the country; people are tired of that. Best to store the big camera and lens until you’ve established a bit of a rapport, ask for permission and have some fun with the process by showing the image afterwards.

Haitian Kids Goofing Off - Les Cayes, Haiti
Goofing with kids en route to Port Salut.

4. Vodou in Haiti

“Haiti is 80% Catholic, 20% Protestant and 100% Vodou.”

Often when people think of Vodou (or Voodoo, as we foreigners like to spell it) they imagine the Hollywood-branded version: pins stuck into a voodoo doll, evil curses placed, zombies roaming the earth. Perhaps it does not come as a surprise when we say that Vodou in reality seems a far cry from this.

We were fortunate to spend time with a Vodou hougon (priest) who was open to answering questions about his practice and spirituality when we visited his ounfo (temple). Vodou in Haiti is a complex belief system that blends traditions and practices from West Africa, carried by slaves brought over during the 17th-19th centuries, with colonial Catholicism and a few local twists. At the core of Vodou are the lwa, spirits which serve as intermediaries to assist human beings to communicate and connect with a single, distant God.

An Area for Offerings at a Vodou Temple - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A table with offerings for the lwa at a Vodou ounfo.

There are hundreds of lwa, divided elaborately into societies. Each has his or her own characteristics and symbolism and ways in which they wish to be served. During a Vodou ceremony, a lwa will be summoned, and will often take over the body of someone present in order to provide spiritual and physical guidance and healing. A certain brand of emotional rawness is at work that yields an appreciation that death and life are in fact bound close together.

Vodou Stand at Marché en Fer - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Vodou section of the market with candles, scents, images and various offerings for the spirits.

As one hougon explained to us: “Vodou, it is what you cannot see that is all around you.” The suggestion: our practice only manifests what is already there.

Once you comprehend this, you’ve set off on the road to understand Vodou and the Haitian approach thereto.

Note: If you are interested to learn more about Vodou and its practice in Haiti, consider reading The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis.

5. Renegade Artists

Haitians demonstrate a remarkable artistic expression. Where this is most obvious is in veins of renegade artist communities such as Atis Rezistans, a group of avant-garde artists who live and create along a segment of Port-au-Prince’s Grand Rue. André Eugène and Jean Hérard Céleur, the founding artists of Atis Rezistans, broke tradition by cultivating a censorship-free artistic expression that defied social norms. Almost 15 years later, Atis Rezistans operates as a collective guided by a philosophy of sharing and support that trains young artists through its Ti Moun Rezistans program.

Community and workshop. Artists live and create art at Atis Rezistans.

To me, the feeling in this artist community is one of undressed emotion and unfettered expression. It’s clear in the atmosphere and also apparent in the works themselves.

On the surface, the art appears to exist as if to shock, particularly to a visitor like me. But it becomes apparent that the intention of their work is to stand as an emotional interpretation of a cycle of life to death, with all the requisite fears, dreams, and sex that make us human laid bare.

Artists rely heavily on recycled materials, lending a sense of re-packaging and re-purposing of emotion. Discarded items are incorporated, life’s detritus finds new life. And maybe even new hope.

Atis Rezistans Art - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A shackled baby, art made from recycled materials at Atis Rezistans.

“There is no death without life…there is no art that is not a liberation of the force of life. And when death is around you all the time, you try to profit from every day of life.” – Romel Jean Pierre, an artist and filmmaker at Atis Rezistans.

6. Everything tastes better with a few chili peppers, even peanut butter.

We knew almost nothing about Haitian cuisine prior to our visit, so we look forward to writing about it in depth and sharing it with you very soon. One of the facets of Haitian food that we especially enjoyed is its occasionally liberal and often creative application of spice and employment of chili peppers. As evidence, witness spiced peanut butter whereby a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper is a thrown in with a batch of ground peanuts.

OK, heat in food I get. But spicy peanut butter?!?

Yes. And we can attest to its goodness.

Throw in Haitian hot chocolate, grilled lobster, plenty of beans, odd greens, breadfruit, avocados and dark rum and you have the making for some culinary joy.

But you’ll just have to wait for our Haitian food throw-down to hear more about all of it.

7. A Country Rich in Proverbs

No two ways about it, Haiti has a way with words. Its proverbs are deep and funny, often sad, sometimes crude, always clever. It occurs to me that Haitian proverbs are a manifestation of the country’s narrative, a form of storytelling, evidence of the importance of oral tradition in Haiti in sharing wisdom and lessons.

Tap Taps, Haiti’s colorful buses are also covered with sayings.

A day couldn’t go by when we’d question or notice something and hear in response: “We have a saying for that in Haiti.”

The proverb shared was usually one with a story behind it that helped peel back for us another layer of the cultural complexity that is Haiti — one part quirky and another dark, evincing a certain pliability or resilience that almost seems required of Haitian people given their country’s history. Honesty and a bit of reflective self-deprecating humor, too.

Even when things are bad, rise up a proverb to place it all in perspective and shed some honest light on all that we humans do, good and bad.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Note: We learned these through English translations; we imagine the versions in their original Kreyòl are even better.

Lang pa lanmè, men li ka neye-w.” — The tongue is not the sea, but it can drown you.

Bourik swe pou chwal dekore ak dentel.” — The donkey sweats so the horse can be decorated with lace.

Avèk pasyans w’ap wè tete foumi.” — With patience, you can see the tits on an ant.

If you are interested in further availing yourself of Haitian wisdom through its proverbs, here is a great list.

A note on language in Haiti: French is the language of schools and government, but Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) is the language of the people.

Although one could argue that Kreyòl is French-based, the differences between the two are greater than their similarities. You’ll notice some common words and vocabulary, taken from French and employed in Kreyòl, but Kreyòl is spelled differently than French and is more phonetic. Beyond that, the structure of the languages is quite different.

8. 2010 Earthquake Recovery, International Aid

A common question asked of us since returning from Haiti: Can you still see the effects of the 2010 earthquake? (The catastrophic one centered near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 220,000 people.)

As you walk around downtown Port-au-Prince, buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake remain abandoned. In the city’s Champs de Mar area where the Palais National once stood, the square is filled with red corrugated metal construction walls.

But life goes on. It must. The central market, the Marché en Fer, was destroyed but has been rebuilt. Vendors have returned, new communities have emerged in the ruins of others. Haiti is very much an example of rebirth in the face of devastation and destruction.

You can still find a prominent international aid presence in Haiti; some organizations were there before the earthquake, others arrived afterwards and haven’t left. As anywhere in the world where a large donor-funded international aid presence exists, you can feel the draw of a double-edged sword. The flow of donor money to help in Haiti’s recovery has done a lot of good. However, big aid begets pockets if not a prevailing attitude of dependency and reliance on foreign handouts that paradoxically crowd out local solutions and create distortions in the local economy for real estate and other goods. Help is needed, but so is the idea that the citizens of Haiti must also find solutions that are suited to their own needs and context.

Fishermen recycle banners from an AIDS awareness campaign as sails.

Haiti is clearly a fertile country. It’s disappointing to see it depend so much on imported food when one imagines it could produce so much itself. We sincerely hope that the will exists to pursue long-term investments in education, infrastructure and agricultural reform.

Easier said than done, we know. But we can see the potential.

9. Haitian Music and the Singing President

“No matter what we do we have the drum. When we have problems we sing and dance, when we are happy we sing and dance. There’s always the drum in Haiti” –  Maurice Etienne, Lakou Lakay Cultural Center

The beat, the rhythm, the undercurrent. The drum in Haiti.

Music is infectious in Haiti; rhythm seems deep in the bones. Drums and dancing are integral to Vodou ceremonies and practice, but the love of and prevalence of music carries to all aspects of life. It’s not uncommon to see workers unconsciously incorporating a few dance moves here and there as they stock shelves or work the market while listening to local music.

Haiti’s current president, Michel Martelly, is also a famous musician. Known better as Sweet Micky, Martelly and his band play konpa, a style of Haitian music derived from local Méringue (similar perhaps, but not the same as Dominican Merengue) that further blends Haitian folk music with an imprint of American jazz leftover from the U.S. occupation from 1914-1934.

One of our best memories of Haitian music involved the kitchen staff at Auberge La Visite in the mountains near Seguin. They listened to konpa endlessly. We found ourselves drawn into the kitchen to find out the name behind the catchy tunes and infectious rhythmic earworms — 30-minute long ball renditions of classic konpa — that consumed the building. Although the origin of these tunes is up for discussion, the voice most often behind what we heard: Sweet Micky.

(Note: If you happen to be in Port-au-Prince area on a Friday night be sure to go by Presse Café for a live konpa band and a wide open dance floor.)

10. Haitians Love Their Lottery

Everywhere you go in Haiti, from the tiniest of villages to the biggest of cities, you will see plenty of colorful outposts labeled bank. My initial thought: a vast and highly competitive micro-credit industry in Haiti?

Patience! A typical bank borlette, a Haitian lottery shop. Numbers are based on the draw of the New York state lottery. This one on the supremely colorful streets of Cap-Haïtien. We played a ticket for just short of $1. If we win? Thinking we'll quit our jobs and travel the world. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1ES4qfU
Placing my bet at the Patience borlette.

I was later informed these were borlettes, or Haitian lottery outlets. Lottery, it turns out, is a national pastime. For legitimacy, lottery numbers in Haiti are based on New York Lotto numbers, drawn twice daily. As one Haitian we met put it, “Are you kidding? No Haitian would trust numbers drawn here in Haiti!”

The idea: you purchase a hand-signed ticket indicating your choice of a series of 2-digit numbers. From there, a complicated betting option exists where you can “marry” your numbers together for bigger winnings should you guess correctly more than one number. Although I didn’t quite fully understand my betting options and the mathematical gymnastics embedded therein, I placed a bet on three numbers and purchased a double marriage to ensure I’d win the maximum were I to choose all three numbers correctly.

Here’s what happened:

Audrey Wins the Haitian Lottery - Cap-Haïtien
Winning the lottery in Haiti!! Woohoo!

I won!! I selected one correct number. From my 40 gourd ($0.90) bet on three numbers, I won 100 gourds (about $2).

As my new Haitian saying goes, “It’s not how much you win, but whether you win at all.”


A huge thanks goes to Jean Cyril Pressoir, our G Adventures CEO (guide) in Haiti. He told great stories, knew a proverb for every conceivable life scenario, and never seemed to tire of our questions about his country.


Disclosure: Our tour in Haiti was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. We stayed a few extra days to go hiking in the mountains on our own dime. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price remains the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

G Adventures Deals

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A Maasai Circumcision After-Party [VIDEO]http://uncorneredmarket.com/maasai-circumcision-party-video/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/maasai-circumcision-party-video/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:10:21 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19567 By Daniel Noll

“There’s a circumcision party in a nearby Maasai village. Mela is inviting us to join her. Do you want to go?” Kisioki asked in the sort of unassuming manner one might use to ask a friend to a new restaurant around the corner for lunch. Circumcision party? After repeating the phrase and looking at my […]

The post A Maasai Circumcision After-Party [VIDEO] appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

“There’s a circumcision party in a nearby Maasai village. Mela is inviting us to join her. Do you want to go?” Kisioki asked in the sort of unassuming manner one might use to ask a friend to a new restaurant around the corner for lunch.

Circumcision party?

After repeating the phrase and looking at my shoes, I ruminated on this concept, turning my knees inward just slightly, clenching muscles in my pelvic region I never knew I had.

“Sure.” I mean who in their right mind says ‘No’ to a Maasai circumcision party?

Note: If prose isn’t your thing and video is all you’re after, click here.

Laughter, Maasai Women - Tanzania
Laughter: a Maasai language, a universal language.

Along the way, as we wended our way through an acacia-dotted clay track creviced by recent storms, Kisioki offered a bit of background. Earlier that day, at dawn, in the village where we were headed, a group of Maasai boys aged between 16 and 18 years old had just been circumcised. More specifically, as the boys were cut, they were expected to stand perfectly upright unflinching and tear-free in front of a group of warriors and elders — all in a hopeful first step on the journey to becoming Maasai warriors themselves.

I was afraid to ask what the second step might be on the path to becoming a warrior.

Arrival, The Veldt

Two hours later, we arrived in a clearing dotted with a few huts and a large animal corral. Maasai villagers of all ages walked about perfectly upright with unassailably good posture. Men were dressed in dark cloth — red, blue, purple, some checked. All carried ceremonial fighting sticks. Women were decked out in bright, colorful jewelry made of tiny stringed beads — just as Mela, our host, had been.

Maasai Village, Warriors and Women - Northern Tanzania
Maasai warriors and women gather for the party.

Remember the first party you ever attended as a kid? Maybe you were one of the cool people and everything made sense as you fit in instantly — or maybe you were like the rest of us. Our arrival in the village carried for us the same uncertainty of being perfectly out of place. Audrey and I were the only visitors, and amidst the lithe and remarkable bodies of the Maasai who surrounded us, we felt awkward, travel pants, goofy one-dollar bush hats and all.

“If you are invited by a local Maasai, then you are welcome,” Kisioki assured us.

“But you need to split up. Audrey go with the women, Dan with the men.”

“But wait,” I said in my head, feeling cut loose.

Mela came to Audrey’s rescue, grabbing her hand and squeezing it as if to say, “You come with me.”

Dan: A Man’s World

I was whisked away, or rather drifted away to a section of open field where men gathered and puttered in the sort of managed chaos that no outsider could reverse engineer. Amidst the veldt and scrub, men talked, drank, and danced occasionally. A few tended to large meat hunks smoldering on grills.

“The village chief tells everyone what’s next — when to eat, when to dance.” Kisoki explained.

A few minutes later, it was time to dance — or rather to practice. The real moves were for the benefit of the women of the village. (We humans have a lot more in common with one another than we’re often aware.)

Men gathered closely, their fighting sticks echoing the leanness of their bodies. This is the Maasai warrior dance I’d seen before on previous trip to Tanzania. This time was different, though. This wasn’t a performance for my benefit, it was all theirs.

Maasai Men Arrive at the Party - Northern Tanzania
Maasai warriors line up for the dance.

For as out of place as I was, the men paid little attention to me. Until, that is, someone handed me his stick. Unprepared, I moved forward, stick in hand. In response, the men laughed in anticipation of how much a fool I would make of myself.

“It’s time to eat,” the chief announced.

Bullet dodged.

Just like that, dance practice was over. Men scattered; meat was grabbed, pulled, torn and cut from the makeshift lattice-work grill stretched across a segment of creek bed. An entire cow whose skin and bones lay deflated, discarded just a few meters away. Meat chunks were passed around — the best saved for elders, the rest scattered on plates of rice circulated among guests.

Kisioki and I sat down with two other men and ate from a heaping plate shared between us. “Do you have that hand disinfectant with you?”

“No,” I said.

“Hmmm,” Kisioki replied, looking mildly concerned for my well-being.

We ate, passing the plate, taking a handful, scooping it into our mouths, passing again, repeating.

In taste it was nothing remarkable, but in ceremony it was something to savor.

I hoped that my digestive system would find itself on the right side of hygiene.

A few minutes later, mid-scoop, it was time to move on.

“Let’s join the women.”

Audrey: A Woman’s World

After Mela grabbed me she led me to a place behind the corral where the women were gathered. They told stories, laughed, and motioned others to join in.

Though I felt a little out of place with nothing to add, I could read the body language clearly – hushed voices, pointing, explosions of laughter, more gasps. Some things are universal. This was a gossip circle.

Infrequent occasions and celebrations to catch up on the latest news, I know them myself.

Tanzanian sky. Maasai women gather from the surrounding villages, offering gifts and goats. Some of their boys are on the way to warriorhood. #catchup #nofilter via Instagram http://ift.tt/T7V0u6
Women, too, prepare for the dance.

Then at once, the women turned and piled into a nearby hut. Aware that I was clueless, Mela grabbed my hand and led me inside. She found a small stool for me to sit on as people poured into the space around me. Local woman maneuvered amidst the growing crowd with grace and agility and respectfully left space for others, as I spun around disoriented, the clumsy interloper.

Several plates were passed into the room — meat soup and a pile of rice mixed with meat. Mela made certain to give me the best chunk of meat she could find. I felt guilty, but also knew that refusal would offend her hospitality. Three of us sat on the ground together, sharing one plate and one spoon, taking a bite and passing it on.

The process exhibited a simple rhythm and fairness. Simultaneously, the women made me feel like a guest yet also one of them.

Bottles of Coke and Fanta were handed into our space. Problem was, no one had a bottle opener. Mela motioned to the carabiner hanging off my camera bag.

I shook my head, “No, this is not a bottle opener.”

But it was. A few failed attempts later I finally got the hang of angling the carabiner and I took on a new, important role in my group: bartender. There I was opening bottles of soda for a group of Maasai women in a hut in the middle of Tanzania.

I smiled, considering how our assumptions of what ought to be often get in way of what could be.

Then another sound, indiscernible to me, that apparently indicated it was time to gather by the corral.

The Dance

In the distance, Maasai women descended from the hills. They sang, their voices carried. They bounced, undulated, their wide beaded necklaces mesmerizing, synchronized. I learned that Maasai women announce themselves on their approach when visiting another village. Should a woman find herself alone, she’ll wait to join a group so she doesn’t join the party by herself.

Meanwhile, a line of Maasai warriors gathered in a straight line, their warrior shouts punctuating the once still air.

Mela pointed to our camera, tucked away in Audrey’s bag: “Pictures OK.”

“Where are the boys from the ceremony?” I asked Kisioki, noting that none of the boys in front of my appeared as if they had just been circumcised that morning.

“Recovering in nearby huts as their friends and family party into the night,” he replied. Raw deal, I’d say.

We followed the group into the open-air corral and moved to the edges, positioning ourselves to absorb a widening scene in front of us. Grunts followed chants, harmony mimicked heartbeat. On the opposite side, a competing village began their own dance circle. The men jumping in the middle shot higher, their shouts growing more pronounced.

A fleeting beat, a universal rhythm.

Video: Maasai Celebration, Singing and Dancing


Kisioki tugged at each of us, indicating we had to leave; it was late and the sun would soon set.

I was aware how fortunate we were — to be there, to be humbled by the generosity of this Maasai community to welcome two foreigners like us into a piece of their private world, their celebration.

Mela was the instigator, in all the right ways. She grabbed Audrey’s hand one final time, as if to squeeze it goodbye — for now.

And somewhere nearby a group of young boys nursed their wounds as their family and friends celebrated them.

Disclosure: The experience above happened completely by chance. However, our trip to Tanzania was to visit Planeterra Foundation Clean Stoves project and was provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program.

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Next Up: Exploring Haitihttp://uncorneredmarket.com/exploring-haiti/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/exploring-haiti/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:13:43 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19626 By Audrey Scott

Why we’re going to Haiti later this week. A view to a different side of the country, including its re-emergence — and we hope, a path to sustainable tourism development. It’s also about our pursuit of Haitian culture, landscape and cuisine – and the unknown. While on a press trip earlier this fall, we mentioned […]

The post Next Up: Exploring Haiti appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Audrey Scott

Why we’re going to Haiti later this week. A view to a different side of the country, including its re-emergence — and we hope, a path to sustainable tourism development. It’s also about our pursuit of Haitian culture, landscape and cuisine – and the unknown.

Waterfalls of Bassin Bleu near Jacmel, Haiti.
Waterfalls of Bassin Bleu near Jacmel, Haiti.

While on a press trip earlier this fall, we mentioned to a well-traveled British journalist with an intrepid penchant for hot spots, particularly those in the Middle East, that we were headed to Haiti later in the year.

“Really?!” His reply was shriek-like. “Be safe.”

When most people think Haiti, they don’t often think travel. The images that come to most peoples’ minds are those from of the 2010 earthquake and various other political and environmental disasters that news reports suggest seem to plague the country indefinitely — rather than of artists, musicians, waterfalls, clear Caribbean waters, hilltop fortresses, cave networks and the mysteries of Vodou.

So that’s where we come in.

We don’t mean to imply that Haiti doesn’t still have its share of serious economic and environmental issues to address. But like so many places we’ve visited, we suspect there’s a different, additional side to the story and dimension to the place than what we’re deprived of in prevailing media.

That’s why we’re going to Haiti this week to find out.

Haiti voodoo
Dancing and Vodou in Haiti.

Tourism in Haiti. Is that even a thing?

Not currently. Let’s just say there aren’t a lot of travelers coursing through Haiti at the moment. This is one of the things that stoked our curiosity about visiting now.

In fact, when our partner G Adventures were first engaged by Haiti under an Inter-American Development Bank project to assess tourism potential in the country, its analysts were uncertain if not skeptical as to what they might find. Perhaps surprisingly, they found remarkable landscape, a rich living history – one full of art, music, Vodou religious heritage, Creole culture – and a resilient people seeking to move on toward a better future.

The result? Not only did G Adventures suggest that Haiti does have tourism potential, especially of the community-based variety, but they developed a new tour to the country for 2015 to act on their own evaluation.

It’s this tour – in addition to our own independent exploration — that we will experience during our time in Haiti.

Sustainable Tourism in Haiti?

But wait. Will tourism development be a force for good in Haiti? Can’t it destroy a local culture and environment?

Tourism is the people’s business. And how tourism develops in a country, particularly in its early stages, truly does make a difference — good and bad — to the lives of its people.

Haitian food
Time to make Dous Makos, a Haitian dessert.

Our own tourism and travel experience tells us that both outcomes are possible.

So where has Haiti landed in all of this? And more importantly, where does it hope to go?

It’s still early days, but the Haitian Tourism Ministry has apparently indicated that it wishes to pursue tourism development of the more community-based or sustainable variety. It’s because of this that we’re excited to have a look at Haiti for ourselves in its formative stages of tourism development – to not only see and highlight what the country has to offer generally as a destination, but how a community-focused approach might benefit locals and travelers alike.

The circumstances recall a Haitian proverb: “Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” Which roughly translates as “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

So what is there to do and see in Haiti?

Although the first G Adventures’ Haiti tour officially launches in February 2015, we’re part of a visiting group including a few independent journalists and G Adventures staff who will have the advance opportunity to experience it for ourselves. We will also extend our stay and explore parts of Haiti on our own.

Although you may find all the details for the G Adventures Haiti tour on the official itinerary, here’s a snapshot of what we’ll do and see:

The Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti
La Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Americas.

  • Citadelle Laferrière: Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, born of a slave revolt from 1791-1804 that defeated French forces and resulted in the founding of a free country. With that in mind, we’ll visit the UNESCO-designated Citadelle Laferrière, a hilltop fortress built in the early 19th century to help defend Haiti’s newfound independence from its colonizers.
  • Cap-Haïtien: We’ll explore various markets and learn how to make Haitian rum from a brandy-like sugar cane extract called guildive, a mispronunciation of “kill devil” which is supposedly what happens when you drink the stuff.
  • Port-au-Prince: The 2010 earthquake left Haiti’s capital city largely in ruins; remnants of this are still visible. We’ll visit the artist community of Atis Rezistan that has emerged from the rubble, and we’ll have a chance to learn more about Haiti’s Vodou culture by meeting with a Vodou priest. Of course, we will spend time in local markets and walking the streets.
  • Jacmel and Bassin Bleu: We continue with the theme of local artistic expression in Jacmel by exploring the town’s street mosaics and visiting the studios of various local artists. Then we’ll enjoy some time at Bassin-Bleu, a network of waterfalls and freshwater pools.
  • Port-Salut and Grotte Marie-Jeanne at Port-à-Piment: On our way out of Jacmel we’ll stop by the Art Creation Foundation for Children. The foundation provides leadership training and practical lessons in various crafts – in addition to providing meals — to at-risk youth. From a stopover in Port Salut, we’ll set off for Port-a-Piment to explore the underground cave network at Grotte Marie-Jeanne.

We will spend an additional week in Haiti in Les Cayes along Haiti’s southwestern coastline, in and around Port-au-Prince, and quite possibly climbing Haiti’s highest peak, Pic la Selle.

Follow our Haiti adventure in real-time

Curious to know what Haiti is like? Who are the Haitian people? What do they eat? What does the island look like? What is the spirit of the place?

We hope to answer that and more.

Please follow along real-time with our adventure via social media. Follow the hashtags #DnA2Haiti and #GadvHaiti on Twitter and Instagram. We will also share updates on our Facebook and Google Plus pages. We’re excited to have the opportunity to share what we see and experience in Haiti with you.

Photo credit: Oana Dragan (G Adventures) and Alex Proimos

Disclosure: Our trip to Haiti is provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Uganda Beyond the Gorillas: From Boda Boda to Bunyonyihttp://uncorneredmarket.com/uganda-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/uganda-travel/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:20:24 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19419 By Audrey Scott

While mountain gorilla trekking is the big draw and anchor experience for many people visiting Uganda, the country offers a lot more in terms of atmosphere and experiences. Prior to our trip to Uganda, we’d heard from other travelers that the country was among their favorites in Africa due to its friendly people and laid-back […]

The post Uganda Beyond the Gorillas: From Boda Boda to Bunyonyi appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Audrey Scott

Africa red, Africa green. Roads carving the jungle, etched by the rains. As I took this photo in Southwestern Uganda, I overheard someone say, "I can't believe it, we are in the jungle, in Africa." True that. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1lpbQOo
Jungle roads, carved by the rains in Southwestern Uganda.

While mountain gorilla trekking is the big draw and anchor experience for many people visiting Uganda, the country offers a lot more in terms of atmosphere and experiences. Prior to our trip to Uganda, we’d heard from other travelers that the country was among their favorites in Africa due to its friendly people and laid-back feel. Beyond the critical human element, you have rafting through Nile River rapids, exploring sprawling markets, hopping a back-seat motorbike tour around the capital city of Kampala, and taking mini animal safaris across the country.

So if you’re wondering which travel experiences in Uganda to consider beyond the mountain gorillas, here are a few thoughts.

Note: If you are interested in learning more about mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda, read this article with all the details you need to plan and prepare.

1. Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi served as our base for gorilla trekking. While its location made for a long drive on the morning of the trek, it made for a great place to reflect, recharge and soak up the surrounding natural beauty of the lake and its many islands. Particularly if you’ve been on the road and are moving at pace, it’s an excellent spot to relish in some down time. Horizons and the surface of the water seem to have a meditative effect.

Looking Out Over Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
A short hike and big rewards above Lake Bunyonyi.

Although we mainly relaxed at Lake Bunyonyi, we also took a short hike up to Arcadia Cottages for a fantastic mountaintop view across the lake and the islands. We can definitely recommend the restaurant’s crayfish curry, with crayfish caught fresh from the lake. Top that off with a cold beer and the view and you’ll have one of life’s “it doesn’t’ get any better than this” moments.

Crayfish Curry at Arcadia Cottages Restaurant - Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Spicy crayfish curry and a cold beer above Lake Bunyonyi. So nice.

If you wish to get out on the water and visit the nearby islands, you can rent a canoe or kayak. There’s also no shortage of men with dugout boats to take you island hopping. Just remember to negotiate a fair price.

2. Rafting (or Flipping One’s Raft) on the Nile River Rapids

We’ve rafted Class V rapids a number of times – New Zealand, Costa Rica, among others – but none of that quite prepared us for the joy-meets-terror experience while rafting the Nile River rapids near the town of Jinja. These rapids are an intense adrenaline rush, often complete with several raft flips and a fleeting sense of your own fragility. We won’t lie to you: flipping is exciting, but it’s also frightening as the current is strong and you must keep your wits about you. In many ways, it’s life affirming.

We recommend it.

Our Boat Flips on the Nile River - Jinja, Uganda
And this is how you flip on the Nile River, Uganda.

Be sure to ask questions of your river guide as you’re floating along in-between rapids. Juma, our guide, was an Olympic paddler. Beyond his skill on the water, he was a wealth of great stories, fabulous humor, and cynical insight into Ugandan politics, corruption, religion, foreign aid and more. His perspective alone was worth the price of admission.

White Water Rafting Down Nile River - Jinja, Uganda
On one of the more mellow rapids, Juma steers us through.

Note: If you have not been rafting before or are not completely comfortable in the water, consider taking one of the other more mellow boat rides offered. You can also let your guide know at the beginning of your paddle which level of adrenaline you’d like. There are measures the guide can take to ensure a smoother ride over the rapids – or a rougher one. If you are already out there and find that the rapids become too much — as they were for one woman in our group who had never been rafting before — there is a safety boat that you can hop on to float over the more unnerving segments of the paddle.

Details: We rafted with Nile River Explorers. They run a hostel in Jinja town and a campsite out by the river. We would have preferred to stay out by the river but during our visit the roads were too washed out for our truck to pass. The cost: $110 for a half day, $125 for a full day, which includes a lunch and a beer (or two, or three) at the end. Given the price and the fact that the most memorable rapids are in the afternoon, we recommend the full day experience. The price also includes transfer from/to Kampala and a night’s accommodation at the Explorers Hostel or campsite. Even if you don’t require the transfer and free accommodation, the price remains the same.

3. Boda Boda (Motorbike) Tour of Kampala

Kampala is a big, sprawling city that can feel nothing but overwhelming when you find yourself in the middle of it. Locals affectionately refer to it as “organized chaos.” We think of it as something a bit simpler: chaos.

One of the women in our rafting boat, a public health consultant working in South Sudan, knew Kampala quite well from frequent rest and relaxation visits. When we asked her how best to explore and approach Kampala, she responded immediately: “Take a boda boda (motorbike) tour with Walter. I learned so much about Kampala on that tour, even though I had visited the city several times before. And, being on the back of a boda boda, it’s just a lot of fun. In fact, I’m thinking of doing it again this visit.”

We were sold.

Dan Enjoying His Boda Boda Tour of Kampala - Uganda
Dan explores Kampala on the back of a boda boda (motorbike).

Walter’s boda boda tour quickly breaks the city down into a series of manageable and enlightening experiences over the course of one day. Your motorbike driver will double as a guide, so be sure to bring your curiosity. Ask him anything about his home city and country and he will likely be glad to share.

You can customize your motorbike tour experience to your interests. We spent the morning visiting traditional sights like the Hindu Temple, National Mosque (including its panoramic views of the city and its “7 hills”), and the infamously crazy Kampala central taxi and bus park.

A long way down. The spiral staircase of Kampala's National Mosque. Afraid of heights? Don't look over the railing. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1jBz1Rr
A long way down. The spiral staircase of Kampala’s National Mosque.

The typical tour continues with historical sites like the Royal Palace and National Museum, but we were more interested in going local by visiting markets and neighborhoods. We visited Mengo Market, small and local, and spent the rest of the day in several of the sprawling downtown markets (e.g., Owino Market), and neighborhood “slums” (our driver’s words) on the city’s edge.

Don’t fear the word slum. These neighborhoods aren’t frightening, but in the words of our motorbike drivers, are instead “the real Uganda.” Being on the back of a motorbike allows you to cover large parts of the city while enjoying a reasonable pace and the flexibility to cut through narrow alleys and market spaces.

Details: The easiest way to book: send an email to Walter through his website. Tours run between $30-$45/person, depending upon the number of people in the group, time of year, etc. Walter, the founder of the company who adores motorcycles himself, has an interesting story and tries to help foreign visitors experience his country in different ways. Check out his other tours.

4. Fresh Markets

Fresh markets are usually where the action, people, and food are. Whether we found ourselves at a weekly market on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi or in the middle of Kampala, it’s no different. As English is spoken by many people in Uganda, it is relatively easy to ask questions about vegetables, roots, fruits, smoking implements and other bits and bobs that were previously unknown to us.

Boats Bringing Charcoal to Lake Bunyonyi Market - Uganda
Vendors bring their goods to market by boat across Lake Bunyonyi.

Though sometimes the exact meaning of the name of a vegetable was lost on us. We picked up kilos of “sweet potatoes” and “bitter tomatoes” for our group thinking they were one thing, only to be enlightened by our guide that they were not at all potatoes or tomatoes but cassava-like roots and a rough local version of an eggplant. We found a way to cook and eat them anyway.
Fruit and Vegetable Stand, Mengo Market - Kampala, Uganda
Overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, Mengo Market.

The best-known markets in Kampala are the Nakasero fresh market (partially covered) and the Owino goods market, both of which can feel overwhelming because of their intensity and sprawl. For a smaller and more personal market experience, consider checking out the smaller neighborhood markets (e.g., Mengo Market).

5. Chimpanzee Trekking

Although Uganda’s mountain gorillas usually steal the traveler spotlight, chimpanzee trekking is also pretty cool and provides an opportunity to learn about these intelligent yet conniving, meat-eating apes.

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kalinzu Forest Reserve - Western Uganda
Chimpanzee tracking, we follow our guide.

Our chimpanzee trek began early in the morning from Kalinzu Forest National Reserve and our challenging climb followed the sounds of the chimpanzees in the trees above us. Along the way, we also spotted Colobus monkeys.

The chimpanzee jungle guides have highly tuned senses and can pick up chimpanzee sounds that are imperceptible to the untrained ear. The chimps usually hang out high in the canopy, so they are hard to see up close, but if you are quiet you can watch them as they feed on the leaves of the trees above and occasionally make their way to the jungle floor.

Chimpanzee Mother and Baby - Kalinzu Forest Reserve, Uganda
Mother and child chimpanzees up high in the branches.

Be sure to take a moment to enjoy the sounds, including a chorus of birds like none you’ve heard or seen before. This is the jungle — enjoy the entire show.

6. Eating a Rolex

No, this is not about downing a luxury watch. In Uganda, a rolex is a chapati (Indian flatbread) filled with eggs, onions, tomatoes, and cabbage. It’s quick, tasty and cheap street food that fills you up. And it’s fun to chat with vendors and watch as they make them. Particularly at less tourist-trafficked markets, take a photograph and the cooks will really think you’re crazy.

Time to Make the Rolex - Kampala, Uganda
Time to make the rolex. Mengo Market, Kampala.

Kikomando, a Ugandan dish composed of beans tossed with slices of chapati, is also worth a try. We were told that the name of the dish is inspired by scenes from action films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. The idea: eating kikomando will make you strong like Arnold. I’m not certain about that, but this dish proves exceptionally efficient at filling you up for the rest of the day.
Kikomando, Filling Ugandan Street Food - Kampala, Uganda
Kikomando. Become strong like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And if you love avocados like we do, be sure to stock up on them in Uganda. They are delicious, cheap and not prone to browning like the avocados you might be accustomed to. When ripe, they can be spread like butter over a chapati. Oddly delicious, especially when hungry on a nine hour bus ride through the border to Rwanda.

7. Ugandan People

Finally, we close with the lasting impression that Uganda often gives: the warmth of its people. From the endless groups of kids waving from the side of the road or the all the people who helped us with directions through Kampala while retrieving our bank card from Barclays Bank in Entebbe (it was swallowed by the ATM at the Kampala/Entebbe airport…beware), the people are the country.

Mother and Son - Mengo Market, Kampala
A Ugandan mother and her son ham it up for the camera.

English serves as one of the country’s national languages and people will often greet you, ask where you are from and inquire as to how you like their country. We found that people were rather open to talking about life, politics, challenges, hopes, and more. So don’t be afraid to follow your curiosity respectfully.
Market Vendor, Big Smile - Mengo Market, Kampala
Friendly vendor at a market in Kampala.

As a foreigner, you’ll likely find yourself attracting touts aiming to sell you something, or otherwise attempting to extract money from you. One of the twists in Uganda, however, is that often these touts are representing a nearby “orphanage” or similar heart-tugging NGO, employing what our guide called “sympathy tourism.” We found that asking a few questions regarding the organization’s operations, allocation of money, and contact information would usually leave touts speechless and with no other choice than to move on. We don’t want to discourage giving in general, but suggest you give responsibly by researching organizations and avoiding indiscriminate giving on the street.

A note on seeing the mountain gorillas

This piece aimed to highlight what to do and see in Uganda outside of the mountain gorillas to create a well-rounded itinerary. For all you need to know on this topic, check out our Gorilla Trekking Beginner’s Guide.

In full disclosure, the highlights of our Uganda travel experience represent only the beginning. Had we more time, we would have trekked the Rwenzori Mountains, taken a wildlife boat tour in the Kazinga Channel, and spent a few days at Murchison Falls on safari, as was recommended by another traveler we’d met.

We often leave a country with more things on our wish list than when we first arrived. Uganda is certainly no exception. We’re already imaging how we’ll return.

Dan and Audrey at the Equator in Uganda
Uganda, one foot in each hemisphere.
Disclosure: We experienced most of the above on the G Adventures Uganda Gorillas & Overland Tour that was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

Africa Tours with G Adventures

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An Adventure Manifesto: Adventure Is a State of Mindhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/adventure-is-a-state-of-mind/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/adventure-is-a-state-of-mind/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:07:37 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19592 By Daniel Noll

What is adventure? We explore the definition and unpack 10 emotional and physical dimensions of adventure in travel and life.

The post An Adventure Manifesto: Adventure Is a State of Mind appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

A crumpled bit of inspiration I hijacked from Audrey early in our relationship hangs above my desk.

Think of this as an “Adventure Manifesto” in progress. A way to think about adventure so we might infuse it more happily into our everyday lives.

Who would accuse Helen Keller of not leading an adventurous life even though she never went skydiving, bungee jumping or mountain climbing?

While I was recently free climbing sandstone walls in Northern Ethiopia en route to a 2000 foot-high cave church, a question occurred to me: “What constitutes adventure in practice? Where do we draw the line, and how do we draw it? And why?”

Does hiking to a hair-raising cliff-side church in Ethiopia qualify? Some might answer yes, while others would answer no. For me, it certainly felt like it. I was testing the limits of my own fear of heights. Meanwhile, around the world, people are facing up to hazards, uncertain outcomes and risks in all manner of ways.

To some degree, our society often views adventure primarily as a physical act — our colleagues summit mountains, the Red Bull guy jumps from outer space, and friends throw themselves off buildings and bridges. Since we focus so much on the physical, however, we insufficiently acknowledge or altogether discredit all the emotional facets of adventure.

We often hear that people want more adventure in their lives. But why? What makes adventure desirable?

In the circles I run, adventure is assumed to be a positive force — and I agree with that — but the traditional sense and image is akin to conquering Mt. Everest a la John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Huge hurdles, push and transform. At the same time, the definitions of adventure and adventure travel are broadening to experiences that constitute almost entirely non-physical, emotional activities. In this way, some might even say that adventure is a bit like porn: hard to define, but each of us is pretty certain we know it when we see it.

Based on my own experience – in adventure travel in particular — and listening to and reading others, here’s my attempt to unpack what adventure means and why.

Adventure: A Working Definition

As I considered the meaning of the word “adventure” I consulted my old friend the dictionary to find that adventure comprehends a handful of accepted meanings that converge on the themes of excitement, risk, and uncertainty.

1. “An exciting or very unusual experience.”
An exciting experience? A 3-D horror movie might qualify, no?

An unusual experience? Have you ever eaten bugs? Maybe bug eating is an adventure, too? I’m surprised to find a definition so bland as to garner it the first entry.

2. “Participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.”
There’s the excitement again. But “undertakings or enterprises” begins to suggest that adventure can be found in our life choices — in arenas like education, personal development, business, and family. And it follows with an example of how we might use the term “the spirit of adventure.” This is where I imagine “adventure” really begins to resonate with each of us, for it’s a spirit, an attitude, one’s character.

What is the spirit of adventure to you?

3. “A bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.”
Oddly enough, this entry is the third one down. It is broad and encompasses any sort of undertaking that involves hazardous action. But what is hazardous action? Is it something only physical? Or does it imply an activity that may begin to involve and chip away at such things as our emotions and comfy prejudices?

“Uncertain outcomes” speaks to uncertainty and vulnerability — terms that are de rigeur, in fashion for everyone to agree are helpful to embrace in building our resilience.

Adventure: The 10 Dimensions


1. Adventure is less about what you do and more about how you do it.

Adventure is an orientation.

I remember hang-gliding for the first time in New Zealand. For some, tandem hang-gliding with a hang-glide master is obviously adventurous. For others, maybe not so much — “You should hang-glide on your own; now that’s an adventure!” They might add.

Then, my hang-glide master told a story of a 96-year old disabled man he once took on a ride. Can you imagine? And I thought I was overcoming my fears and barriers.

2. Adventure is personal.

My adventure may not be your adventure.

What might be adventurous to Helen Keller because of her life circumstances may only be life’s baseline for you or for me. Adventure is relative to one’s individual situation, limits, constraints, and boundaries.

Take, for instance, para-olympians and the limits they overcome. Would anyone in his right mind accuse them of something other than adventure?

Sometimes we’re born with those limits, sometimes we develop them, sometimes we unknowingly foist them on ourselves.

3. Adventure is not only physical, but mental, emotional, psychological.

The first step in unpacking this is easy: any ostensibly physical, obvious adventurous activity — say, like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or running your first marathon — is often quite accurately referred to and reframed as a challenge of the mind, one that is more mental than physical.

I can attest firsthand that this is true. Some of the greatest challenges we must overcome during an adventure are not those involving whether our bodies can take on the task before us, but whether our minds are adequately prepared to handle the setbacks stacked on top of the entirely unexpected.

4. Adventure is about the courage to envision something different in our lives and in our world.

There are three steps to consider in this journey:

A) Courage to embark on experiences that will introduce doubt and cast into question your values, your preconceived notions, your prejudice. Your views may be reinforced, or they may be tipped upside down.

B) Courage to place yourself on the edge of the cliff not only to understand how you will respond to the danger, but also how you will emerge transformed.

C) Courage to see the world differently. Work and struggle to advocate for your values, placing yourself in mentally and physically precarious situations to do so.

What sort of physical, mental and moral precariousness am I going to place myself into in order to champion and fight for the things I believe in?

Take a moment to think on this. Come back and continue reading, if you must.

“What is he talking about, here?” You ask.

The true great leaders of the last and most recent era of societal transformation — people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Vaclav Havel — they were adventurers.

5. Adventure is inherently discontinuous.

Adventure forces disturbances in what we understand about the world and ourselves. Adventure is a break in the cycle.

You can’t adventure by doing the same thing over and over again, because then it’s no longer adventure. It’s inertia.

Adventure forces us to examine fears and feelings. We conflate them, we rationalize them, we package them, solve them, unpack them, reflect on them, and enjoy them.

6. Adventure is about uncertainty and embracing discomfort.

I’m not talking about discomfort for its own sake, but discomfort that results in a stretching of ourselves to build adaptability and resilience. If you think about it, “adventure” implies that precariousness is a prerequisite of permanence. Likewise, as we build stuff of lasting value, we also must accept that to varying degrees, all that stuff is fleeting.

It can – and likely will be – gone someday sooner than our choosing.

Similarly, adventure implies some level of inherent danger. If so, there’s risk, there’s reward. The idea: I’m going to face the danger so I can reap the rewards, often mental, on the other side.

Adventure in travel, adventure in life is about accepting this equation, this exchange.

7. Adventure is a bias to action.

We can’t adventure without doing. Nor can we adventure without doing differently.

In this way, adventure requires a certain amount of forward-leaning. That posture implies a sense that as we venture forth, we can rarely venture back.

8. Adventure is a balance.

We can’t successfully bring ourselves to state only by push without pull.

I believe it was Pico Iyer I overheard saying: “One hand to hold on, the other to let go.”

The wise adventurer understands who he is, so he can adequately question himself.

Adventure involves a sense of appreciating limits. No dragon slayer ever disrespected the dragon. Adventure is about the smart stretch, calculated risk and sense. You don’t go to the top of Mt. Everest without the right equipment. Also, you carry with you a sense and prepare for letting the dream go at the right moment. If the storm comes along, you test your limit and know when to turn back to take the mountain another day.

And even once the dream is achieved, you carry an appreciation that your victories are not permanent, but ones that must continually be built upon – by you and by others.

9. Adventure is an ability that is exercised like a muscle.

Adventure opens, stretches, enables, expands and transforms our knowledge, capacity, perception, and endurance.

Sure, there are some activities for each of us that will always be a challenge, but the more we adventure, the more we are able to endure what those adventures may throw our way.

Adventure is the tearing of mental and physical tissue. Adventure is rebuilding.

Not all adventures are certain to pay off. In fact, what makes a real adventure is that there are no guarantees. In this way, life is an adventure. Adventure is as much a comprehension of failure as it is the relish of success.

Adventure is knowing that once you’ve surpassed one limit, you’ll likely face another, if not seek it out. It follows that adventure is a function of deliberate and conscious practice.

10. Adventure is for everyone.

It’s easy to look around Facebook and watch all your friends jumping off bridges and summiting mountains. Sometimes their actions and stories inspire, sometimes they overwhelm.

Do yourself a favor and set social media aside. Look at yourself, alone. Examine your limits and ask yourself how you’ll begin to stretch them. Then act.

Adventure is there if you choose.

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Romantic Rhine Travel: On and Off the Beaten Pathhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/romantic-rhine-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/romantic-rhine-travel/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 12:16:11 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19547 By Audrey Scott

Through sunny days and fog, famous towns and little known ‘burgs, wine cellars and village vintner festivals, this was our time on the segment of the Rhine River known as the Romantic Rhine. Half-timbered homes sit as the foot of cobbled streets. Vineyard paths wind into the hills. And foggy moments as castles disappear and […]

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By Audrey Scott

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, no shortage of castles and medieval towns.

Through sunny days and fog, famous towns and little known ‘burgs, wine cellars and village vintner festivals, this was our time on the segment of the Rhine River known as the Romantic Rhine.

Half-timbered homes sit as the foot of cobbled streets. Vineyard paths wind into the hills. And foggy moments as castles disappear and re-emerge on hilltops hint at history.

If you have a fear of missing out on the must-see bits of the region, but long for a taste of the lesser-seen local experience, then this article and guide to the Upper Middle Rhine is for you.

Here is all the information we would have wanted to know before our road trip to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the 67-km UNESCO World Heritage segment of the Rhine River from the towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim north to the city of Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.

Rhine Valley Road Trip, Up Above Oberwesel - Germany
Rhine Valley road trip, enjoying some late summer sun.

Skip ahead:

Recommended Rhine Valley Route and Towns

We traveled on the Rhine River from south to north, beginning in the town of Bingen and ending in Koblenz. Our recommendation is to spend at least three full days in the area. Ideally, give yourself more time so you can visit the area at a relaxed pace, leaving times for walks and hikes, a bicycle ride, and a few unexpected stops. (Note: We visited the area in just over two days and found our pace a bit rushed.)

Bingen am Rhein

We confess that we timed our visit to coincide with the Bingen 11-day wine festival, the longest such festival in the region. What makes this wine festival especially fun is the feel of locals enjoying their own wine and community. On the evening we spent in Bingen, absolutely everyone was in the streets enjoying the local product — even the mayor, who wanted his photo taken with us.

Bingen Wine Festival - Rhine Valley, Germany
People gather under Klopp Castle during the Bingen Wine Festival.

Many of the local wineries set up stalls on the various squares across town. We recommend that you ask to taste a few wines before selecting the one you wish to commit to by buying a full glass. This region is mostly known for whites – Riesling, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, and Grauburgunder. Show your curiosity and flash a few smiles. This will likely yield generous samples and a lesson on the different grapes in the area, the characteristics of this wine region, and the varietal in which the vineyard you are chatting with specializes.

Fireworks as Part of the Bingen Wine Festival - Rhine Valley, Germany
Fireworks over the Nahe River, Bingen Wine Festival.


Just across the river from Bingen, the town of Rüdesheim is the traditional favorite with Rhine River cruise passengers. It’s easy to understand why. Rüdesheim’s collection of half-timbered homes and narrow alleyways stuffed with shops make it feel like you’ve stepped into the set of a Grimm Brothers fairytale. Hopefully one with a friendly ending.

Drosselgasse, the most popular old town street in Rüdesheim.

Rüdesheim is also a wine town — more specifically of the Rheingau wine region — and is famous for its Rieslings and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). There are vineyards spread throughout and surrounding the town. We suggest that you try one of the terroir Rieslings, called as such for the distinct influence of the local soil and terrain noticeable in some of the wines. Taste a couple of terroir style Rieslings side by side and you’ll begin to understand how the expression of a single grape can be influenced by the various minerals present in a specific patch of soil.

Boosenburg Castle and Vineyard - Rüdesheim, Germany
Every castle needs a vineyard. Boosenburg Castle, Rüdesheim.

Rüdesheim gets busy with visitors, especially with river cruise passengers in the daytime. However, it begins to clear out a bit in the late afternoon and early evening. Consider spending the night here so that you can enjoy the feel of the town without the crowds.

Things to do in Rüdesheim:
Cable Car to Niederwald Monument: Highly recommended. A lot of fun to soar above the vineyards and gaze across the hills to the Rhine River below. At the top, take a walk over to the Niederwald Monument for even more views over the city and river valley. Cost: €7 roundtrip.

Dan enjoys the ride above the Rüdesheim vineyards.

Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet: Although we had our doubts — a museum full of mechanical music devices sounds a little yawn-inducing — our host’s excitement about the place motivated us to visit. The history of mechanical musical instruments — including contraptions like full air-powered symphonies in giant organ-sized boxes complete with single-stringed mechanical rotating violins — is almost unbelievable, particularly in light of how much we take for granted about the production of sound and music in today’s technology landscape. Cost: €6.50 (includes tour)


Lorch, a sleepy working wine town, proved our unlikely favorite spot along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing town we visited and we were only there overnight, but there was something about the feel and personal nature of the place that we really enjoyed. Maybe it was our morning run through the misty vineyards above the river and town that made the whole area feel mysterious, as if the clouds were hiding secrets.

The sleepy town of Lorch in the early morning mist.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Lorch wasn’t very touristed and featured a slow, relaxed pace. The personal touch and attention also helped, including at a family-run hotel in a converted schoolhouse (the owner went to school there as a child) where we stayed the night. Top that off with a last-minute decision to drop in on the Perabo winery restaurant for a some appetizers and local terroir wines. A great way to spend an evening.

Small Plate Eating at Perabo Winery Restaurant - Lorch, Germany
Small plates well paired with a Riesling at Perabo Winery Restaurant, Lorch. Fine and fitting.

Kaub am Rhein

The morning drive from Lorch to Kaub is one to take slowly, pulling the car over at every overlook to catch views of castles on hilltops across the river. Kaub itself is a small medieval town that looks over Pfalzgrafenstein, a colorful 14th century castle on an islet set in the middle of the river. We skipped going inside the castle in favor of a quick walk through town to pick up a coffee and morning snack — all before hopping the car ferry to Bacharach. Try to get here in the morning before 11AM, as we saw bus tours arriving around that time.

Kaub, a Little Town Along the Rhine Valley - Germany
The wee town of Kaub, complete with vineyards and a castle on the hill.


Bacharach is another absurdly cute town on the west bank of the Rhine. Among the more sight-loaded towns in the region, Bacharach also features a 1000 year-old castle (Burg Stahleck) perched high on the hill.

Burg Stahleck overlooks the town of Bacharach.

Our recommendation: find the walking path behind the church and head up through the woods to get to the castle (now a youth hostel) for a view of the town and river. If you have more time, get lost in the vineyard paths leading to and from the castle. Otherwise, head back down into town to explore the church and wander around the medieval streets and alleys. Stop by Eis Cafe Italia (Oberstrasse 48) for some Riesling ice cream. Yes, Riesling ice cream! We had our doubts, but it was surprisingly tasty and refreshing and featured hints of fragrant fermentation.

Bacharach Back Streets - Rhine Valley, Germany
The back streets of Bacharach, just one block from busy Oberstrasse.

Lorelei (Loreley) Overlook in Urbar

We confess that we don’t get the almost cult-like need to visit Lorelei. It’s a pretty rock and segment of the river, and we know about the legend of the mermaid and Heinrich Heine’s poem. Despite this, we don’t quite understand all the hype. Perhaps you can blame our literature teachers from high school. That said, we did enjoy — and recommend — the detour from Oberwesel to Urbar for the Lorelei overlook as the road and journey offers beautiful views of the river valley along the way.

Note: If you wish to see a photo of Loreley, it’s here.

A long look down the Rhine River on a day of blazing sunshine. Giving life to happy grapes overlooking the town of Oberwesel. Taken from the lookout en route to the Loreley overlook at Urbar. #Germany via Instagram http://ift.tt/Wu1uon
Rhine River and Oberwesel in the blazing sun – from the Loreley Overlook road.

Oberwesel, Boppard and Braubach

We stopped briefly in — or drove through — the towns of Oberwesel, Boppard and Braubach on our way to Koblenz. If we stayed another day along the Rhine Valley, we would likely have spent it in one of these towns. There’s a lesson here: everything in the region takes longer to cover. It’s also easy to get stuck. So it was that we ran out of time walking village streets in the early parts of our days there.


Koblenz served as the final stop of our Rhine Valley road trip. It’s the largest of the towns along this stretch of the Rhine River. As such, we kept our expectations in check, especially after all the fairy tale half-timbered homes and castles from the day’s earlier stops. However, Koblenz surprised us.

Koblenz in Late Summer - Rhine Valley, Germany
Late summer dining in Koblenz’s old town.

Koblenz was originally a Roman town, dating to over 2,000 years ago and making it one Germany’s oldest cities. Like Aachen and Cologne, it was under French rule for a spell at the end of the 18th century, and prides itself on still having a bit of French blood coursing through its cultural veins. Much of the city was destroyed during World War II. However, some sections survived while others were rebuilt with an eye to the traditional style, all of which made for pleasant atmospheric walks, especially in the old town.

We ended our visit to Koblenz by walking out to the Deutsches Eck (German Corner) where the Rhine and Mosel Rivers meet. The sun set as we took the cable car up to Ehrenbreitstein, the 19th century fortress across the river.

This aerial view of the Rhine River at dusk seemed a rather fitting close to our journey.

Deutsches Eck, the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.

Avoiding the Crowds Along the Rhine Valley

We’d be lying if we told you this segment of the Rhine River is undiscovered and untouristed. We visited in early September, coming off the high season when river cruises and bus tours are still active. What we found, however, is that if you wish to get away from the crowds it is not especially difficult. All it takes is moving a block or two in either direction from the beaten tourist thoroughfare and you’ll have the streets, castles, and vineyards much to yourself. It’s literally that easy.

Even in the back streets of Rüdesheim, there's no shortage of color. Our journey continues along the Romantic Rhine route. #welterbegermany #germany #rudesheim
Even in the back streets of Rüdesheim, there’s no shortage of color.

We also suggest getting an early start to visit some of the more popular towns in the morning before the river cruises and buses arrive (in our experience, around 11AM). You’ll have the opportunity to see how the town wakes up — locals stocking up on bread at the bakery, picking up groceries, greeting shopkeepers as they make their way to work. We also tried to begin each of our days with a morning run or walk along the wine paths. Pleasant and mind-clearing.

Hiking and Biking in the Rhine Valley

Although our time was short and we couldn’t do this ourselves, we recommend incorporating hiking and bicycling into your trip. There are hundreds of kilometers of hiking and bicycle paths that take you through all of the towns we mention above, as well as through vineyards and other castles tucked higher in the hills and away from the banks of the Rhine.

It’s easy to pick up booklets from hotels and local tourist information offices that recommended day hikes and bicycle rides. And with the various options for train and boat transport (see below) you can easily return to your hotel at the end of the day.

The RheinSteig Weg includes 320km of paths along the east bank of the Rhine River. We ran along a very small portion of this through the vineyards outside of Lorch (called the Wein Wander Weg) and it was just beautiful. The paths on this side of the river seem a little less busy than those on the opposite side.

On the west bank of the river you have the RheinBurgen Weg, featuring 200km of hiking and biking paths. You can find some of the recommended day trips listed here.

Note: If you aren’t especially picky about your ride, don’t worry about bringing your own bicycle with you. Many, if not all, of the tourist offices along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley offer bicycle rental. They also offer the option of electronic-assist bicycles if you are worried about not being able to conquer some of the steep hills in the vineyards. In addition, we noticed many hotels and shops offering Rhine Valley bicycle rentals for €10-€12 per day.

Rhine Valley Transportation Options

The jury is still out for me on whether I would rent a car again to visit this area. While I enjoyed the flexibility of having a car, I was impressed by the public transport and boat options available that allow one to move around without the stress of driving and parking. It’s worth noting that I (Audrey) am not a big fan of driving. If you especially enjoy driving, by all means rent a car.

Renting a Car in the Rhine Valley

Pros: Having your own rental car provides the most flexibility to visit little towns and villages along the river. You can take car ferries from select towns to get to the other side of the river, as there are no bridges between Bingen and Koblenz. These ferries are quite reasonable at around €5 for two people and a vehicle.

Rhine River car ferry. Who needs a bridge?

Cons: Parking in some towns can be a bit tricky. It can also get expensive (10€/half day, for example in Rüdesheim). If you’d like to travel part of the Rhine River by boat (recommended, see below), then you’ll have to find a way to backtrack to pick up your car. Additionally, if you want to sample wines along the way, driving may impact your tasting and consumption options.

Rental car details: We rented a car from Cologne railway station and dropped it off at the Frankfurt railway station. If there’s not much difference in the cost, I suggest dropping the car off in Koblenz and taking the train to Frankfurt. Driving in central Frankfurt is stressful, particularly with construction, one-way streets and a hidden drop-off rental car lot at the Frankfurt central train station.

Note: If you are not a German resident, be certain to indicate this when you are booking your rental car. In searches I performed with various rental car companies, I found it much less expensive to rent a car if you are a resident of the United States than if you are a resident of Germany.

Boats Along the Upper Rhine River

There is definitely no shortage of boats going along or criss-crossing the Rhine River, and we recommend taking at least one trip as boats and ferries offer a different visual perspective on the towns and landscape along the Romantic Rhine.

We hopped on one of the KD Boats from Rüdesheim to Lorch (and then took the train to return to Rüdesheim to pick up our car). There are hop-on/hop-off boats that run up and down the Rhine River several times a day, so just check the timetables. You can buy point-to-point tickets, too.

For a budget option, hop car ferries to cross the river. It’s a short ride and trips are reasonably priced at just a couple of euros.

Regional Trains

There are regional trains that run up and down both sides of the river. Trains run more frequently on the east bank of the river (Rüdesheim-Lorch-Koblenz). We also know from experience that trains can be faster than a car if you time it well. You can buy a Rheinland-Pfalz ticket that provides unlimited rides in a 24-hour period. Alternatively, point-to-point tickets are quite reasonably priced (e.g., around €2.90 from Lorch to Rüdesheim, one-way).

Taking the train works well with hiking and biking as you can complete a trail and take the train back to wherever you are staying. Just be sure to check the schedule before you go so you aren’t spending unnecessary time waiting for a train at the end of the day.

We realize that we only scratched the surface of what there is to see, do, drink and eat along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in our short time there. However, we hope this guide assists you in your planning and your approach to spending time in the area. 67 kilometers may not sound like much, but there’s a lot to unpack and experience in the area.

Our trip around the Rhineland of Germany was supported by the German National Tourism Board (GNTB). As always, the experiences and thoughts expressed here are our own.

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10 Ways to Make the Most of Any Tour, Anywhere in the Worldhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/10-tips-organized-tour/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/10-tips-organized-tour/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 15:38:23 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19302 By Daniel Noll

Have you ever been on a tour and felt like it’s just not working for you? Maybe there’s something missing? Or the connection just isn’t there? What do you do? When I consider this question, I’m reminded of a conversation with a passenger on a tour we took recently. The conversation with Miranda (I changed […]

The post 10 Ways to Make the Most of Any Tour, Anywhere in the World appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

Watching the Glacier from the Boat - El Calafate, Argentina
Capturing Perito Moreno Glacier — Patagonia, Argentina.

Have you ever been on a tour and felt like it’s just not working for you? Maybe there’s something missing? Or the connection just isn’t there?

What do you do?

When I consider this question, I’m reminded of a conversation with a passenger on a tour we took recently. The conversation with Miranda (I changed her name) went roughly like this:

“I don’t really feel like I’m engaging with [this place] on this tour. I don’t feel like I’ve done [this place],” she said with a look of disappointment. Clearly, Miranda wasn’t getting the depth of engagement she wanted from the trip.

“So what would you like to change?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she responded. “It would be great if maybe we visited a local market or somewhere where we can talk with more local people.”

“Funny you mention that,” I said. “It’s not on the itinerary, but we just heard about a weekly market tomorrow morning that’s a short walk. Come with us.”

She never came with us, she never visited the market. And this was one of several opportunities she missed that would have tuned her into the sort of experience she claimed she wanted.

It’s our experience that tours are often subject to the implicit assumption: everything is taken care of, so you should sit back and passively check off the elements of your itinerary as they’re delivered to you.

Not so. If you really wish to make the most of any travel experience, whether you travel independently or in a group, you must take ultimate responsibility for your own satisfaction. Sure, once you’ve booked a group tour, there are certain elements that are out of your hands — the guide, itinerary, and fellow passengers. Beyond that, however, it’s up to you to take control within those constraints. (Note: We’ve already discussed the various reasons why people choose to take small group tours here.)

Ugh, Dan. You mean I pay this money for someone else to organize my holiday and it’s still up to me?

Kind of. During the last few years, as independent travelers who’ve also taken small group tours to places like Iran, Ethiopia and Japan, we’ve discovered that the value we derived from the experience was due in one part to the organization of the tour, and another part to how proactive and engaged we were. If you want to have a great vacation, you must make an effort. You must invest a piece of yourself — to engage and participate in the tour and be a part of the experience. After all, you are ultimate arbiter of your own holiday happiness.

OK, you’re making a great argument, Dan. But how do I do actually this?

So glad you asked. Here are ten pieces of practical, actionable advice you can implement straight away to make the most of any organized tour. The upshot: consider the tour itinerary as a foundation, a basis for you to create ad hoc experiences in the in-between space.

1) Proactively communicate your specific interests to your guide.

Fact: it’s impossible for your guide to read your mind and to know everything about you and your interests. When it comes to travel, passivity does not pay. This goes for independent travel and tours alike.

If you have a specific interest – ancient history, sports, local foods, markets, weaving, ceramics, music, whatever – share that interest with your guide at the beginning of your tour. Then ask your guide nicely if he can direct you to places, experiences or people that will help you learn more about your interest.

This may sound obvious, but we’re surprised by how often it does not happen.

A couple things to keep in mind when applying this approach. Understand that you are a guest – a guest in a place that is likely the guide’s home. It’s best to express your interest in the form of questions, rather than in the form of demands. If you come at your guide combatively with an “I paid for this” attitude, forget it. Instead, show your interest and humble curiosity to provide your guide with a platform to share more of his knowledge of his home country and culture with you.

Ice Cream Stop - Kermanshah, Iran
Our G Adventures group in Iran, *all* with an interest in ice cream :)

Finally, understand that other people’s needs are at work, too. The trick: make your desires known in a good-hearted way, and position it to see if the experiences you seek may also meet the interests of others on your tour. If they don’t, then try to schedule these experiences during your free time.

We’re reminded of: We told our guide on the first day of our Ethiopia tour about our deep interest in learning about Ethiopian food. Over the course of the week he took us to a rural village preparing food for a 500-person wedding, organized an impromptu cooking course at a lodge, introduced us to restaurant owners who explained their cuisine to us, and found food markets along the way that were not on the itinerary. This not only added to our experience, but to that of our fellow passengers and our guide.

2) Perform your own research.

The first time we saw a person on a tour with a guidebook we thought it a bit odd. I mean, you’re paying for the tour and a guide who is a local expert so why bother?

We soon saw the light.

The more research you perform on the place you are visiting – by reading a guidebook, asking friends, doing internet research – the better prepared you’ll be to ask informed questions and go off-itinerary for a bit, either by yourself or with your group. At the very least, this research can help source new restaurants or cafes to explore outside of your hotel (see #6 below).

We’re reminded of: During our visit to Iran, our questions — prompted by advice from an Iranian-American friend — led to an unscheduled visit to the Tomb of Esther and Mordecai in the town of Hamadan. Our thirty-minute visit there was not only interesting for the tombs, including of the fabled Jewish Queen Esther, but for our meeting with the Iranian rabbi caretaker who told us about the lives of the Jewish community (surprising!) still living in town.

Tomb of Esther - Hamadan, Iran
An off-the-itinerary stop at the Tomb of Esther in Hamadan, Iran.

3) Ask questions, channel your curiosity.

Unleash your curiosity and leverage your tour guide as the resource he is — or should be — to learn as much as you can about the place you are visiting. This will not only benefit your understanding of the local context and history, but it will also jump-start your guide’s energy and direct his knowledge and explanations more to your interests.

This is especially important to break what I call “tour monotony” where it’s clear that the guide is giving an explanation on auto-pilot. This can get boring for everyone very quickly, the guide included. Asking questions changes the pace and energy and often surfaces stories that you’ll take home and remember forever.

We’re reminded of: During our tour to Antarctica we passed a pod of killer whales. Audrey took a bunch of photos and later approached the cetacean expert (i.e., whale and dolphin specialist) with her photos to ask more information about the whales and their behaviors. He was excited — because he was always excited by passengers’ interest in wildlife — but this time he was really excited. It turns out that we’d come across a previously unidentified sub-species called Type D Orcas, and Audrey’s photos were just the proof he needed. The photo later appeared in a scientific journal.

4) Take advantage of your free time.

Many tours incorporate free time into the itinerary — either entirely free days or chunks of time before or after scheduled visits to sites. Be sure to use these bits of free time deliberately to go off on your own and explore – perhaps to a café, market, or new street you haven’t walked down. Most often, it’s the ad hoc, unexpected experiences that not only provide real, authentic culture and context, but leave us with the “you wouldn’t believe what happened to us…!” stories that we tell our friends back home.

We’re reminded of: During our Japan tour, we visited the Nishiki market in Kyoto on a free afternoon. We took one of the people on our tour with us, walked through a market flush with local students and sought out freshly-made takoyaki (octopus balls!) from one of the food stalls. It was a simple yet resonant experience. The traveler who came with us told us it was one of her best memories from an already memorable trip to Japan.

Pickled Vegetables at Nishiki Market - Kyoto, Japan
The Nishiki market in Kyoto. A great way to spend a free afternoon.

5) Realize that you don’t have to do everything.

This is one that I struggle with. When I’m on a tour, I often feel compelled to do everything that’s offered. But sometimes the best decision is to strategically skip an optional activity or do something different so long as my choice doesn’t disrupt the group or their schedule.

We’re reminded of: While in Uganda, most of the group went off on all-day optional tour in the Lake Bunyonyi area. The itinerary sounded a bit hurried to us, and we were at the point where we needed a break. We woke up late, took a walk up the mountain and enjoyed a beautiful plate of crayfish curry at a restaurant with an incredible view. Rather than packing our heads with even more experiences, we needed a sprinkling of reflection. This was exactly what the doctor ordered.

An early afternoon hike from the water's edge to the Lake Bunyonyi overlook, where a fresh crayfish curry and a cold beer await. Unexpected Uganda. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1j0EF5l
The view above Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda.

6) Get outside the hotel.

As tempting as it is to stay in your hotel — it’s easy and close — push yourself to get outside to take care of basic necessities like eating, drinking and shopping. And use those journeys to find local restaurants, cafes, bars or shops. This approach forces you to engage with more local people, thereby expanding the nature of your impressions and experiences in a place.

These outings will also allow you to spread your tourism dollars to different businesses and families. Family-run businesses – particularly if you interact with the people that run them – will often provide you with a sense of connection and a handful of stories to take back home.

We’re reminded of: Finding small restaurants and street food stalls in Bali that were much cheaper and served tastier food than the shiny restaurants at the hotel. It took more effort to get out and find these places, but we were rewarded for it with beautiful local food and conversations off the most heavily traveled bits of the tourist trail.

Bumbu Bali Fish at Sanur Beach - Bali, Indonesia
A meal with a view at Sanur Beach, Bali.

7) Experience the beginning of the day.

Sleep is a precious thing, and it is especially important while traveling. But as much as a good lie-in helps sometimes, so does waking up early. In fact, it’s almost always always worth the effort.

Many towns and villages around the world come to life in the early hours of the morning as vendors carry their goods to market. Morning is also a great time to see children going to school and watch the day unfold as cafes and restaurants set up for the day. This time is often less stressful for everyone, so you are more likely to have friendly, focused interactions. For example, you’re more likely to get an answer to your question of a vendor when they are just getting set up than when they are in full swing dealing with a handful of customers.

After getting your fill of activity, you can return to the hotel for breakfast or a coffee to meet the group for the rest of the day.

We’re reminded of: Going to the weekly market at Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda before breakfast. Within a short walk from our campsite we found the market and saw dugout wooden boats transporting sacks of charcoal, fish, bananas, and vegetables from other islands in the lake and even from neighboring Rwanda. Nothing like sensory overload to kick off the day.

Sacks of Charcoal at Lake Bunyonyi Market - Uganda
Early morning at the weekly market at Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda.

8) Extend your time in the country.

A tour is a great way to introduce you to a destination. It can allow you to get your bearings, find your feet, and build confidence traveling around a new country with a different language and culture. Spending some extra time after your tour allows you to explore cities or regions more deeply than might have been allowed by your tour itinerary. Alternatively, you can further explore new areas of the country.

We’re reminded of: Spending an extra week in Iran to see the lesser-visited northwestern part of the country and to take a 60-hour train to Istanbul. As American citizens we were required to have a guide with us, but we were able to ad hoc visit towns where we had Iranian friends and see sites like the Armenian monastery of St. Stephanos and the ancient Tabriz covered market and carpet bazaar.

Armenian St. Stephanos Church - Jolfa, Iran
Armenian church of St. Stephanos in northwestern Iran.

9) Understand that alone time is OK.

The concept of a tour may make some introverts cringe and wish to crawl into a hole. So much people time! Even if you are extroverted like Audrey, you may still find yourself feeling something similar as your holiday progresses.

Understand that you don’t have to spend all your time with the group; be sure to take care of your needs, including the need to reflect. Don’t feel bad about getting dinner on your own or going solo for your free time or tuning out when the bus is moving. It’s your holiday, after all.

Having said that, you may want to let others know that you are not shunning them, but instead are taking some time to yourself to refresh. Reasonable people will understand and most will nod in approval. In fact, some may realize they need a bit of that themselves.

We’re reminded of: One evening on the safari portion of our Tanzania tour, I left the group early for some quiet time to reflect, take notes and read a book while the rest gathered around the campfire. After all, Audrey and I had only recently summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and had just finished an afternoon of tracking cheetahs. This is a lot to recuperate from and to process. The following morning, I rejoined the group refreshed and rested, and all the better for it.

10) Don’t let negative thoughts simmer to a boil.

Stuff happens. If something bothers you, tell your guide in private. Have an open conversation. His job is to try and make the trip as enjoyable as possible for everyone, within limits. It may be that he can’t solve the problem immediately, but at least he can begin to address the issue. Be sure to also give feedback to your tour provider after the tour is over so they can address issues on future trips.

What you shouldn’t do: Keep it bottled up inside so you’re outwardly angry (yet no one understands exactly why), complain publicly, particularly to everyone on the tour except your guide. There’s nothing that ruins a trip — yours and others — like shared misery.

We’re reminded of: Our tour in New Zealand was (at the time) a very new tour, so there were some inconsistencies between the accommodation description from travel agents and the reality on the tour. The tour leader couldn’t change where we were staying, but once he was aware of the concerns, he addressed them as best as he could. And, the trip was pretty remarkable.

The bonus nugget of travel wisdom: Even when we’ve paid for an experience and someone else is responsible for facilitating it, we and our actions help form the bridge to our own travel satisfaction.

The bad news: It takes effort.

The good news: That effort is often rewarded.

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Aachen and Cologne: Instagramming a European City Breakhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/aachen-cologne-city-break/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/aachen-cologne-city-break/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 14:13:49 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19458 By Audrey Scott

Upon a recent visit to the German Rhineland cities of Aachen and Cologne and the surrounding area, we realized there’s a lot to experience and unpack — that is, to comprehend the full picture of what we’d seen and how astonishingly complex history can be. From Roman beginnings, to medieval ascendency to industrial superiority, Germany’s […]

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By Audrey Scott

Upon a recent visit to the German Rhineland cities of Aachen and Cologne and the surrounding area, we realized there’s a lot to experience and unpack — that is, to comprehend the full picture of what we’d seen and how astonishingly complex history can be.

From Roman beginnings, to medieval ascendency to industrial superiority, Germany’s Rhineland seems to have known it all. It has been influenced by French culture, impacted by the Prussians, and even spiced by a dash of Eastern European industrial migrants. It knows a blend of influences, cultural imprints and scores continually settled and resettled through events like World War I and II. Pull out a map and note that by cause and effect, the region borders Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg — in addition to France — and you begin to get a sense of the near randomness of the borders we draw.

How to come to this understanding? Visit the towns of Aachen and Cologne on a city break, take a couple of day trips and immerse yourself in the history, eat heartily and take more than a few photos along the along the way.

Here are a few quick ideas regarding what you’ll see, what to seek out and how to break it all down.

Note: All square photos below were taken with an iPhone 4s.

24 Hours in Aachen

The fame and development of the German city of Aachen is due in large part to Charlemagne, crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800, and his choice to make the city his imperial capital. Just as the Romans had been centuries before, Charlemagne was drawn to the location because of the presence of hot springs. After logging over 50,000km on horseback, Charlemagne chose to give up his nomadic ways, settle down, rule from Aachen — and take a long, hot bath.

Like any good emperor, Charlemagne built a grand palace — one with an octagonal domed chapel that is today part of Aachen Cathedral, the city’s most famous site.

Our host, Christina, joked: “Aachen is so small that everything is within 15-minutes walking distance. Don’t worry if you get lost.”

Good news for us, as getting lost is permanently on our itinerary. Here’s what we found while wandering — er, getting lost — in the back streets of Charlemagne’s chosen city.

A view of the Aachen Cathedral from the Katschhof. Because of its shape, the dome is affectionately referred to as "the lemon juicer." I wonder whether Charlemagne would approve. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1ns0OHx
A view of the Aachen Cathedral from the Katschhof. Because of its shape, the dome is affectionately referred to as “the lemon juicer.” We wonder if Charlemagne would approve.
Aachen in autumn. A shot of the cathedral down the lane from the Domhof. #Germany via Instagram http://ift.tt/YIijO7
Another view of Aachen Cathedral, this time down the lane from the Domhof.
Remarkable light and color overhead at the Palatine Chapel, Aachen Cathedral. Carolingian architecture meets Byzantine style. Begun in 792, consecrated in 805, this is serious scale of history. #Germany #welterbegermany #aachen #unesco
Remarkable light and color overhead at the Palatine Chapel, Aachen Cathedral. Carolingian architecture meets Byzantine style. Begun in 792, consecrated in 805, this is serious scale of both architecture and history.
Münsterplatz, Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle). A representative slice of the city's architectural melange. Unsurprising given its proximity to Belgium and The Netherlands. #Germany via Instagram http://ift.tt/1sVv54x
Münsterplatz, Aachen (also referred to as Aix-La-Chapelle).
Looking up from Münsterplatz, Aachen. The light is mixed and the smell of freshly baked Printen (the local spiced cookie) reminds us that autumn creeps in. #Aachen #welterbegermany #Germany #travel
Looking up from Münsterplatz. The light is mixed and the smell of freshly baked printen (the local spiced cookie) reminds us that autumn creeps in.

Visiting Aachen: Travel Planning

Aachen Map by Use-It Europe: We enjoyed this Aachen map for the commentary and bits of local history and folklore interspersed throughout the actual map and practical information. It has solid advice for drinking and eating, as well as fun graphics.

Aachen Cathedral: It’s free to enter the Dom (Cathedral), but officials request visitors to donate a more than reasonable €1 if they wish to take photos inside (like this 360-degree panorama). If you’d like to take a tour, you should consider booking in advance with the Cathedral Information Office (Johannes-Paul-II-Str.). On the day of our arrival, Aachen Cathedral tours had already sold out. The ticket for the Cathedral Treasury (Schatzkammer) is €5.

Aachen’s Rathaus (City Hall): The Rathaus is used today for exhibitions instead of the coronation banquets of kings, meaning that it’s open to ordinary members of the public like us (with €5 admission). When we visited, it had been hosting Places of Power, one of the three Charlemagne exhibits running in Aachen to mark the 1,200-year anniversary of Charlemagne’s death.

Eating and Drinking in Aachen

Himmel un Ääd (Heaven and Earth): A hearty meal of black pudding, fried onions, mashed potatoes (earth), and apples (heaven). Trust us: the taste is better than it sounds. This dish can be found throughout Germany’s Rhineland region, but we’re told that each area executes it a bit differently. We recommend trying it at Restaurant Elisbrunnen on Friedrich-Wilheim-Platz.

Recommended areas for Aachen bars and restaurants:

  • The Hof: A cute, quintessentially European courtyard area located just near the Rathaus and dotted with several restaurants and pubs. After a heavy lunch of himmel un ääd, we enjoyed an early evening salad at Kaiser Wetter. Grab a beer before or after at Domkeller Pub and enjoy a vast collection of German, Belgian and Irish brews. When the weather cooperates, you’ll find everyone outside enjoying the atmosphere in the courtyard.
  • Pontstrasse: Follow this street from Aachen’s Marktplatz (main square at the Aachen Rathaus) and you’ll end up in Aachen’s university area where you’ll find endless options for drinks, cheap food and live music. If you take it all the way to the end you’ll find Ponttor, the city’s northern medieval tower.

Aachen Printen: Cookies with a pilgrim’s purpose

Aachen Printen in All Shapes - German
An array of Aachen printen.

Printen are the Aachen version of spice or gingerbread cookies (in German, lebkuchen). There are many different ways to eat printen — amorphous or in the shape of Charlemagne’s bust or the Aachen Cathedral; covered in chocolate or plain; fresh and soft or aged and a bit firm. Printen were favorites of pilgrims who made their way through Aachen in the Middle Ages en route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Yes, that’s a long walk. Printen served as a long-lasting food that could be carried for days and weeks without spoiling.

Having sampled several varieties, we suggest Klein Printen directly from where they bake it on the corner of Franzsstrasse and Aureliusstrasse outside the center. Just follow the scent of spiced cookies to the bakery’s front door.

24 Hours in Cologne (Köln)

“It’s laissez-faire around here. That is, as long as you know the rules,” our guide, Claudia, explained to us the inimitable blend of French and Prussian cultural influence found in Cologne and its surroundings. Although our visit here was short, we began to understand and feel these contrasts.

Exit the Cologne train station and you’ll find it difficult not to run into Cologne Cathedral, as the structures are literally adjacent to one another. An urban planning oddity perhaps, until you understand that when the railway was built in the 19th century, the idea was for visitors to exit the Cologne main train station and be awed by the first thing they saw, the Cologne Cathedral. First impressions such as these were meant to be long lasting and to firmly stamp the idea of Cologne’s prominence in the mind and memory of the visitor.

Cologne, once a city loaded with medieval architecture, was badly damaged in World War II. Much of the city was rebuilt with an eye to the modern. However, there remains a small old town area between the Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine River where a few original medieval buildings survived and others rebuilt in a style to match the traditional cobbled roads and narrow streets.

Here’s a visual stroll through Cologne’s old town.

The ever-resilient Cologne Cathedral. So much of the city was demolished in WWII, but the cathedral survived. Maintaining it is a constant struggle, apparently. There's been some bit of scaffolding on it every day over the last several decades, except for 3 days in 1970. Photographers from all over the world flocked to take photos for all those postcards. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1y7WEP4
The ever-resilient Cologne Cathedral. So much of the city was demolished in WWII, but the cathedral survived.
Old Town Köln (Cologne). A view of Groß St. Martin looking up from the Fish Market. Next up: a glass or two of Kölsch. This is Germany's Rheinland. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1lGieF7
Old Town Köln (Cologne). A view of Groß St. Martin Church looking up from the Fish Market.
Back street shadows, Old Town Cologne (Köln). A city with almost 2000 years worth of history, a few ups and downs. #Germany via Instagram http://ift.tt/1CqU7iD
Back street shadows in Old Town Cologne (Köln).
Cologne skyline, from Hansaring south to the Rhine. I spent the entire day trying to cram the spires of the massive Cologne Cathedral into the frame. Then I looked out our hotel window and found a way. Dear hotel security: that was not me and Audrey crawling out our window onto the hotel roof. #skyporn via Instagram http://ift.tt/W8aWh5
Cologne skyline, from Hansaring south to the Rhine, taken after a day of trying to cram the spires of the massive Cologne Cathedral into the frame.

Visiting Cologne: Travel Planning

Cologne Cathedral: It’s free to enter the Cathedral (Dom), but if you would like to book a tour, be sure to do that in advance with the Cathedral Information Center. You can also walk up to the top of the cathedral (€3.00).

Hohenzollern Bridge (Love Locks Bridge): Even if you have limited time while visiting Cologne, consider taking a walk across Hohenzollern Bridge. It’s known as the “love bridge” or “love locks bridge” for all of the padlocks affixed to it by couples from around the world. Beyond that, the bridge also provides a terrific visual perspective on the Cologne Cathedral and the old town via the train tracks coming out of the city.

Recommended guide: Especially if you only have a short time in Cologne (as we did) and would like an excellent overview of the city’s history, we recommend Claudia Lupri as a guide. She can be booked in advance through the Cologne Tourist Office.

Kölsch: Cologne-speak for beer
On the surface, Kölsch is just a type of beer that happens to hail from its hometown of Köln (Cologne). However, Kölsch feels more like a culture unto itself. There are specific rules on how to make it, serve it, drink it, and enjoy it. In order for a beer to officially be called Kölsch, it must be brewed in a specific area in and around Cologne.

It's Kölsch Time in Cologne, Germany
It’s Kölsch time!

This top-fermented beer is only served in small, thin glasses, usually at 0.2 liters, meaning that the beer is always fresh and slightly chilled. It also means that it’s not difficult to fool oneself and drink a lot.

And then there is the person who actually serves the Kölsch: the Köbe.

Köbe is the local dialect for the name Jacob. This is a reference to the pilgrims in the Middle Ages who came through Cologne on the “Jacob’s Path” en route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. These pilgrims were thirsty for beer by the time they arrived in Cologne, and those that served them — dressed in a blue apron and white shirt and just a tad rude — were referred to as Köbe. The name — and behavioral role — sticks to this day.

Recommended Kölsch: Of course, we didn’t have an opportunity to sample every variety of Kölsch, but we tried a few. Our favorites were Pfaffen and Früh. Each has its own brauhaus in the Cologne old town area.

Traditional Cologne Fare: The Brauhaus Früh just near the Cologne Cathedral serves up good traditional meals like sauerbraten (beef roasted in a sweet-sour marinade) and Halve Hahn (bread with Gouda cheese). Not to mention, the Kölsch is quite tasty there.

Recommended Day Trips in the Rhineland Area

Zollverein Coal Mine Complex — Essen, Germany

In full disclosure, we probably would not have gone to the Zollverein Coal Mine Complex had it not been suggested to us by the folks at the German tourism board. After all, a former coal mine and “industrial center” does not sound — on its surface — particularly enticing or appealing.

But Zollverein defies its seemingly mundane origins.

Late afternoon takes over at Zollverein, near the city of Essen in Germany's Rhineland. Once a sprawling coal mine industrial center, the Modern Movement brick complex is now a historical and design center. Readers of Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" will recognize the name. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1lrpJzg
Late afternoon takes over at Zollverein, near the city of Essen in Germany’s Rhineland. Once a sprawling coal mine industrial center, the Modern Movement brick complex is now a historical and design center.

The recent history of Zollverein is a story of transformation — from a harsh, angular industrial complex to one of culture, design and creativity. There is an odd beauty and surface aesthetic at work — one composed of industrial rusting metal and abandoned chimneys and brick buildings all seated in the surrounding green space. Inside, the museum complex does a remarkable job telling the story not only the coal mine, but also the area’s history. This telling includes the area’s prehistoric origins to its early development and right on up through the 20th century, and includes a found object storytelling exhibit and regional push button scents-and-smells exhibit like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

We realize this may still sound like an odd travel recommendation, but Zollverein is definitely worth a visit. It really did pique our interest to return so we can better understand the history and mindset of the local Ruhr area.

Recommended guide: We enjoyed an terrific afternoon with Sven Hilling from Visit Ruhr. He not only shared information about Zollverein and the Ruhr region, but also personal stories of growing up in the area and witnessing firsthand its transformation.

Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces in Brühl

Garden view of Augustusburg Palace as the seasons change. The palace is one of the few intact examples of ideal European noble life in Germany before the onset of the Age of Enlightenment. The pursuit of perfection in the public eye drove its owner, Clemens August, into bouts of depression whereupon he would seek refuge at nearby Falkenlust, his private hideaway. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1t2X9Tw
Garden view of Augustusburg Palace as the seasons change. The palace is one of the few intact examples of ideal European noble life in Germany before the onset of the Age of Enlightenment.

We’re not usually ones for ornate palaces filled with period furniture, but Augustusburg Palace featured a depth to it well beyond its glossy facade. The palace tells the story of mid-18th century, pre-enlightenment Germany through the story of its patron, Clemens August. In an era where families of nobility valued upward movement in status more than anything. August exhibited a public face of nobility full of pomp and ceremony while hiding another, that of a depressed intellectual who retreated to a nearby hunting lodge to get away from it all. Although the centuries are different, the desire to acquire what’s considered valuable at the time – wealth, power, and titles — is timeless and universal.

In order to visit Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces you must book a tour at the Augustusburg Information office (€6/person).

Schloss Augustusburg, Brühl. The epitome of early to mid-18th century pre-Enlightenment European life and art, particularly among nobility and the great families. Baroque to Rococo style, rationalism in mindset, French in its display of nobility, Spanish in its ceremony and a German blend of it all. #germany #travel #welterbegermany #UNESCO
Schloss Augustusburg, Brühl. The epitome of early to mid-18th century pre-Enlightenment European life and art, particularly among nobility and the great families. Baroque to Rococo style, rationalism in mindset, French in its display of nobility, Spanish in its ceremony and a German blend of it all.

Coming next: A road trip along the Upper Middle Rhine River. This doesn’t quite fit into the category of a day trip from Aachen or Cologne, but we recommend combining them together into a week-long (or longer) trip like we did.

Our trip around the Rhineland of Germany was supported by the German National Tourism Board (GNTB). As always, the experiences and thoughts expressed here are our own.

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The World Doesn’t End With The Blue Skyhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/world-does-not-end-with-blue-sky/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/world-does-not-end-with-blue-sky/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:17:16 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19411 By Daniel Noll

“You can call me Airport,” Esupat said, laughing. She sat atop a Maasai hut with her legs crossed, straddling a half-built chimney. Small piles of bricks surrounded her; wet cement fell from her hands. She was dressed colorfully, ornamentally. But this is how she goes to work. When she smiles, it is wide. Wide from […]

The post The World Doesn’t End With The Blue Sky appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

Esupat with her Smiles and Pride - Tanzania
Esupat, a Maasai woman in northern Tanzania.

You can call me Airport,” Esupat said, laughing.

She sat atop a Maasai hut with her legs crossed, straddling a half-built chimney. Small piles of bricks surrounded her; wet cement fell from her hands.

She was dressed colorfully, ornamentally. But this is how she goes to work. When she smiles, it is wide. Wide from unforced practice. Wide with pride, wide with ease.

Her given name was Esupat, meaning “the one who cares for others.” She was considered a master among a team of Maasai women installing clean cookstoves in Maasai huts in the hills outside of the town of Arusha, Tanzania.

More importantly, however, she was known by everyone in her village as Airport, the woman who went through the sky and returned to tell the tale.

But before we tell that story, some background.

Accidental Women’s Empowerment

We recently visited the Arusha area to see in action a new Planeterra Foundation project, a partnership with Maasai Stoves and Solar Project. The project mechanism: G Adventures travelers who are on safari in Tanzania have a portion of their tour fees go towards buying and installing a clean cookstove for a family in a Maasai village. The travelers then have the opportunity to visit the village, see a stove installation, and learn more about why this simple stove design can be life-changing, especially for children.

Maasai Children Greet Us in the Village - Tanzania
The local Maasai village welcoming committee.

During our visit, we spent a day with a young Maasai man named Kisioki, the local project coordinator who had been with the program from its inception.

One of the things that makes our clean stoves project unique,” Kisioki said, “is that we empower women as a core component.

Why did this project choose to include women’s empowerment?” Audrey asked, leaning in.

Well, it was actually an accident,” Kisioki laughed.

We appreciated his honesty. And we figured there was a good story behind it.

Maasai Woman Dressed Up for Party - Tanzania
Mela, our Maasai host and one of the women invested in the project.

Several years earlier, Robert Lange, a professor from the United States, successfully designed a new type of “clean” cooking stove for a community on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. He was then invited to bring his concept to the Maasai villages in the Monduli district near Arusha, a jumping off point for either climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or going on safari.

But there were problems: the Zanzibari stove design didn’t fit the cooking needs of the Maasai community. It would need significant adjustments.

In the beginning, the Maasai village men together with the women were involved in discussions and community events about the stoves. But the men quickly lost interest; things moved too slowly for them.

The women remained steadfast, however. They cooperated with the organization’s engineers, testing and providing feedback on several stove design iterations until nearly 18 months later, the design of the clean cookstove – a stove that women in the village would actually use — was complete.

When talk turned to training, organizing and paying stove installation teams, the men wanted back in. The women held firm said no. Their rationale: We participated from the beginning and we ought to be the ones to manage the project and, more importantly, to earn our own money.

Maasai Women Clean Cookstove Installation Team - Tanzania
An installation team of Maasai women installs a new clean stove.

And so the Maasai Clean Stoves project remained one led primarily by women, with women’s empowerment as one of its de facto core components.

Training Women, Esupat Rising

When the project first got underway, each village was asked to recommend ten women to be trained in stove installation. A young woman named Esupat was among the first selected.

When women like Esupat received training, it provided them not only with practical skills, but also a source of income in a society where men traditionally earned the money. Esupat estimates that she has installed over three hundred stoves in the five years she has been involved with the project.

Installing a Clean Cookstove - Tanzania
Women work together to install a chimney, a core component of the stove.

For a bit of perspective, a clean stove costs around 95,000 Tsh ($56) to produce using local materials and labor. A family is then expected to contribute 25,000 Tsh ($15) to cover some costs. This contribution includes the fees paid to the local women-run installation teams. It also ensures that the owner is personally invested in her new stove.

Eventually, the project took off. This system gradually meant greater economic empowerment for the women involved and also a societal shift in perspective regarding the capabilities of women in the village.

But Wait, How Important Can a Clean Stove Be?

Earlier that day, we’d visited a village to see a new stove in action and compare it with a traditional one.

Stove in action?” you say with a yawn.

This is a stove that reduces 90% of the smoke released into a hut and uses only 40% of the firewood of a traditional stove. Sure, this sounds mundane. Numbers are, after all, a bore. And stoves aren’t very far behind.

Firsthand experience is a different matter, however.

In the village of Enguiki, Kisioki led us into a hut with a clean stove. A few bits of wood poked out from a circular opening as a fire crackled away to heat a pot of water on top. Mela, the owner of the hut, was a mother of nine children, four of whom still lived with her. She earned the money for the down payment on her stove through her work as one of the installation assistants.

Inside a Maasai Hut with a Clean Stove - Tanzania
Mela’s puppies need warmth, too.

I didn’t have to depend on my husband at all,” she noted with a bit of restrained pride. “Now my children have fewer health problems. The food even tastes better without all the smoke.

Sounds good. But how bad could the smoke from a traditional stove really be?

Kisioki took us to see Mela’s neighbor, Nagoyoneeni, just down the village path. She had a traditional stove. Before entering her home, I could see smoke seeping out from around a blackened door jamb.

Kisioki looked at me, “We only need to spend a few minutes in here. Just let me know when you can’t take it any more.

C’mon. How bad could it be? I mean, a family of eight lived there.

Awful. I couldn’t take it, almost instantly. From the moment I ducked my head to enter the hut, my eyes, nose and lungs were accosted by acrid smoke, making it difficult for me to see and breathe.

I blinked repeatedly to clear the soot from my eyes, to relieve the stinging feeling. Our host went about her daily business, making porridge for her children. Not wanting to be rude, I attempted to suppress a cough. It was impossible.

Maasai Hut With Traditional Three-Stone Stove - Tanzania
Smoke in hut with a traditional stove.

We sat on little wooden stools and had a conversation about the so-called three-stone fire, the traditional Maasai open pit stove with a pot placed on top. Nagoyoneeni explained that there were eight people, children mainly, living in her hut. She planned to save money from this year’s corn harvest to help buy a clean stove.

Though we were there only for a few minutes, I was certain I could feel my lungs blacken. Imagine what the smoke must do to the health of the newborn at Nagoyeneeni’s side, or the children shyly gathering around us.

Children peek out from inside one of the huts.

OK, Dan. I’m getting antsy. What does this have to do with a woman nicknamed “Aiport”?

Breaking the Blue Sky

As Esupat slapped concrete into the gaps of the bricks, I tried to get a handle on the pronunciation of her name.

E – su – pat. Is that right?” I asked.

Airport,” I heard one of the village women mumble behind me. Others laughed.

Ooh, a story!” I said.

You can call me Airport,” she laughed.

Airport? What’s this?” I asked.

After the project got traction in northern Tanzania, Esupat was invited to share her stove installation techniques with a group running a similar project in western Uganda.

The problem,” Kisioki said “was that nobody from the village had ever been on an airplane before.

Esupat jumped in, “The plane keeps going up and up. And I think, ‘Are we going to see God?’

Maasai belief is that the world ends with the blue sky and clouds, beyond which their god resides.

I imagined what this looked like to a person who perceived the sky as a sort of ceiling. I remembered my own first flight, as I clung to the hand rest wondering how this hulk of a thing was going to stay in the air. I didn’t fear the ceiling in the sky, but rather the force of gravity.

Esupat paused laying bricks, her joy at the memory of flying unabated, “I think we are very close to God. Are we going to see him? The plane keeps going up. I thought I was going to hit God and make him angry. And not come back.”

Esupat did not hit God, and she lived to tell the tale. She did something that no other villager had done, men included: she not only saw the airport, but she also flew in an airplane. Her social status was elevated.

When she returned to the village, she told everyone about it — with a smile each time, I’m certain.

Esupat tells her airplane story.

The Future

In the last five years Maasai women have installed over 1,000 stoves in villages around Arusha. When you consider that each hut is home to somewhere between seven and ten people, you can begin to appreciate the impact of this project. This is hopefully only the beginning.

The goal of the Planeterra Foundation and Maasai Stoves and Solar partnership is to provide a sustained, reliable source of funding for the local organization drawn from a portion of the tour fees of a steady supply of travelers coming through the area. In this way, together with the family investment contribution, each traveler helps purchase a clean stove. G Adventures travelers will also have the opportunity to visit one of the villages impacted, and have an experience that will hopefully be as eye-opening for them as it was for us.

Maybe they’ll have a chance to meet Esupat or another trail-blazer who will never forget her chance to know that the world doesn’t end with the blue sky.

If you are interested in getting involved and purchasing a clean cookstove for a Maasai family, please go to this Planeterra Foundation online donation page and select the Maasai Clean Cookstoves project under the drop down list.

Disclosure: Our visit to Tanzania to visit this Planterra Foundation project was provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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