A Dream Come True in Tibet

As I stepped off the plane in Lhasa, Tibet, absolute joy came to me because I was still breathing at 12,000 feet. And I continued to breathe normally hour after hour, day after day, making the 4-day visit my dream come true.

Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas.
Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas, in Lhasa Tibet.

It was the surprise of a lifetime because my lungs caused me great concern about visiting one of the highest cities in the world. At around 12,000 feet high, it was my first time to experience a super high altitude. I even Googled precautions suggested to be taken in a high altitude.

Portala Place, another beautiful view.
Portala Place, another beautiful view.

After consulting my physician, I was assured the altitude would not cause any breathing problems for me in Lhasa. And he was correct. I didn’t even know I was high in altitude and experienced no difference in my breathing at 1200 feet or 12,000 feet.

Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.
Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.

To make sure there would be no breathing problems, I even consulted a Travel Clinic. There, the altitude sickness pill, Acetazolamide, was prescribed and recommended that I follow the directions exactly as written for the medicine. It worked perfectly for me.

The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.
The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.

The first afternoon after arrival in Lhasa, we rested as recommended by all advisors. But the next day, we went full time seeing Lhasa, truly a place of the Gods on that Himalayan plateau with many of the culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites.DSC_0012

Potala Palace, the home of Dalai Lamas, was the first place we visited and the most glorious of all with 999 rooms on top of a hill totally viewable from 360 degrees. It overlooked everything. Now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a magnificent discovering adventure.DSC_0646

Tibetans were performing their daily clockwise sacred circumambulation, called Kora in Tibetan. Carrying their prayer beads, they walked around the palace while rotating a prayer wheel clockwise in their hand and praying to Buddha. DSC_0045

The faithful pray for good luck, protection, long life, good health, well being of others, wisdom, peace, and happiness, plus it is just good daily exercise. When we finished touring the Potala Palace, we joined the Tibetans in their circumambulation around it.DSC_0702

The most enlightening was the people and their faces and being allowed to experience a sliver of their lives on a particular day. And when the sun came out in the afternoon, we spent several hours in the large park full of beautiful landscapes, flowers, and people dressed in their native Tibetan clothing with apron. And I was still breathing just fine.DSC_0114DSC_0036DSC_0070DSC_0091

Our second UNESCO visit was the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace, Norbulingka, with its very colorful décor and flowers everywhere.

UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.
UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.

DSC_0258DSC_0204 The palace was built by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755 as the traditional summer palace and has the furnishings that the 14th Dalai Lama had until his exile in 1959 to India.

The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.
The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.

Serving as the administrative and religious centers, it is close to Portala Palace and has 1 of 3 parks adjoining it that remain of the 22 original parks in Lhasa. The highlight of this visit was the opportunity to dress like a Tibetan princess for a photo.DSC_0279

Our third UNESCO visit was to the most sacred and important Jokhang Temple, located in Bangkor Square in the old section of Lhasa that is the site of the most famous kora circumambulation ritual.DSC_0387 Here, pilgrims prostrate themselves daily continuously by lying stretched out face down on the ground.

Prostration is lying face down on the ground.
Prostration is lying face down on the ground. They have to keep their legs together so they tie them.

Prostration involves the full body above the knees touching the ground especially the hands. This Buddhist practice shows reverence for the Triple Gem (comprising the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community) and other objects of great reverence and respect. After the pilgrim is face down on the ground, he then gets up, walks 3 short steps forward and prostrates himself again all around the Jokhang Temple or any sacred site until 108 prostrations have been performed. And many pilgrims do this daily.DSC_0543DSC_0544DSC_0545DSC_0546DSC_0547

Buddhists believe prostration to be beneficial for practitioners because it is an experience of giving or veneration, an act to purify defilements especially conceit, a preparatory act before meditation, and an act that accumulates merit.DSC_0686

Each of the 108 prostration takes away defilement (greed, hate, delusion) and cleans a compartment in the mind. Sometimes a person has much anger, desire or a lazy mind and then must perform 300, 500 or 1000 prostrations. The person, then, is clean and is one with everything. Prostration purifies body, speech and mind.DSC_0850

Others circumambulate clockwise around Jokhang Temple and Bangor Square to shop in the colorful stores, formed as a bustling market for Tibetan and foreign goods. And I was still breathing just fine as I shopped.DSC_0894

DSC_0828Two huge prayer flag poles in front of Jokhang Temple were loaded with prayer flags. It is believed the energy of the prayers and sacred mantras on the flags flown in the wind will bring all good things to all who see them and their families, friends, and all people throughout the world. DSC_0387The red flags signify fire, blue for sky/space, green for water, yellow for earth and white for wind/air/clouds.DSC_0942DSC_0964

The incense pots send smoke up to the Portala Palace and over the block long row of prayer wheels waiting for the faithful to rotate each one often.

Large incense pots smoked 24 hours a day non-stop as worshipers regularly prayed as they put offerings into the pots. The incense smoke is not considered smoke because it communicates with the Gods.DSC_0378

The wonderful visit to Lhasa ended at the Enlightened Blind Massage Center with a massage. Started by Kyila, a blind lady herself, who had a dream at age 12 to help blind people have an occupation, the center opened in 2014.

The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.
The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.

After studying massage in Beijing, the students then come to the center in Lhasa to gain work and experience and hopefully one day open their own massage center. Kyila also opened a kindergarten in 2011 for blind children and it is very successful.

This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.
This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.

Our wonderful enlightening adventure came to an end but the experience will remain with us always.DSC_0094DSC_0433DSC_0057DSC_0746DSC_0168 DSC_0166The beautiful and friendly Tibetan people, the sacred Jokhang Temple, the magnificent Portala Place, and the very colorful Norbulingka Palace were truly outstanding UNESCO treasurers. And I didn’t miss a breath of air the entire visit.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

The branches on top of the original Tibetan apartment buildings signify good luck.



Dog Fight, Dog Sled & Dog Babies in Spitsbergen

It started out like a normal dog sled/cart ride in the summer in Spitsbergen. But in an instant, it changed into an all out war. Two dogs just glanced at each other as they were put side by side in the third position for pulling the ride and a vicious fight broke out instantaneously.
June was given the assignment of holding the dog team and I had to hold down the brake on the cart so the dogs wouldn’t take off until the team was ready. And the last 2 dogs immediately didn’t like each other.

We didn’t know what the dogs were fighting about but the thought hit my mind that all the dogs on the team would get into the fight. Maybe the dogs don’t get to interact with each other much at the Green Dog Sled Park except when they were pulling the dog cart.DSC_0356

Or maybe it was the off-white color hair on one dog or off-white with a black back on the other that they didn’t like. We didn’t know but a vicious fight ensued. First one went for the throat, then the face, then the leg, ear and on and on. Then blood was dripping.DSC_0338

DSC_0341Peter, the dog sled attendant, ran to break them up but to no avail. The dogs were stronger causing him to fall several times. After watching the fight for several minutes, a female sled attendant helped and the dogs were stronger than both of them. And she was bitten and bleeding. It seemed like the fight would never end and that the attendants would never get control. Over and over they tried to break up the 2 mad dogs but they couldn’t.DSC_0344

And the interesting thing about this fight is that the other dogs all stood and watched together. And they were behaving like perfect dogs. DSC_0341


Photo by June Landrum
Finally, after 5 minutes (it seemed an hour) of desperately trying to separate the dogs, the attendants succeeded and were able to gain control. DSC_0368The dogs were rushed to a veterinarian for treatment. And putting together the team continued with 2 new dogs chosen to work side by side and they got along beautifully and worked perfectly together. No fight occurred this time.

PICK ME FOR THE TEAM this barking dog might be saying because all of them are raring to go on every dog sled.

After all 8 dogs were hitched: the team was raring to go. But first June had to get in the cart from her position of holding the dog team so they would not run.

June took this photo of me holding the cart brake down so it wouldn't move as the dogs were hitched to the team.
June took this photo of me holding the cart brake down so it wouldn’t move while the dogs were hitched to the team. It was freezing cold in Longyearben, Spitsbergen, Svalbard.

And I had to turn over holding the brake down to Theresa so I could get in the cart. We never knew we would be put to work building the dog sled/cart team. When we signed the form where we agreed to proceed at our own risk, we never knew what would happen and that we would be put to work to ride.DSC_0468

Now all was ready to go down the gravel road in our cart. With 8 dogs pulling us, we proceeded at a good pace in the open territory toward the old airport in Longyearbyen. But nature called shortly after rounding the first corner, and a time-out was called to allow all dogs a potty break.


It was around 6-7 degree centigrade (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit) and just on the edge of being too hot for the dogs. Still shedding their thick winter fur, they easily became hot as they pulled us in the cart. Several dogs even lay down and rested for a brief moment. Several days before, it was warmer and 2 dogs collapsed from the heat. So caution was taken on this day. Theresa said in the winter, the dogs work every day and do not get hot. But in the summer, all the 170 dogs are rotated for the heat and the exercise. 


Every 3-4 km (quarter to half a mile) Theresa had to stop the ride and water the dogs and let them rest. Their tongues were hanging out about 6 inches and they were panting heavily. The best water in the world was right by the road. Getting 2 pans out, she walked to the flowing stream of newly melted mountain and glacier snow. It was cold, just perfect for those hot dogs.


The lead dogs were first to drink and they lapped it down fast. Then on through the team she proceeded, allowing each dog time to have lots of ice cold water. And then she offered all of them a second chance at the cold water. Before the break was over, Theresa poured the ice cold water on the back of each dog as she parted the thick fur to reach the hot skin.


All the dogs seemed happy now; so on we went toward the old airport. They sometimes pulled to the left or right but mostly they pulled the cart in a straight line. They knew the route well and had performed many rides for the tourists.

Theresa gave an audible command to the team which meant leave the road and go on the grass. After repeating the command several times, the dog team complied and turned onto the grass and stopped. This was the turning around point to return to the dog park. And they were happy to comply because they were going home.


Theresa, the lady who drove our dog cart/sled.
Theresa, the lady who drove our dog cart/sled.

After several stops for more cold water, the ride ended at the dog park where the waiting dogs barked at the team and the team barked back. All were happy.

It is normal for sled dogs to have fights. Males fight for dominance with another male or female and vice versa. And fights can occur concerning breeding.

A cute one in training to be a Sled Dog when he grows up.
A cute one in training to be a Sled Dog when he grows up.

The sled dogs start to be trained for rides around 10 months old and are given easy rides at first. Then as they progress, they become full time sled team members at 1 ½ to 2 years old and they generally pull sleds until 8 years.


But we were not happy until we saw the puppies. And waiting for us was Misa and her 6 three-week old pups. They were so fat and cute and stinky. But we just had to hold them and cuddle them. And then we were happy too.

Photo Copy ©  2015


Polar Bears Here Polar Bears There in Spitsbergen

It was like a fire alarm. When the captain announced a polar bear sighting, all of the passengers immediately dropped what they were doing, grabbed their gear and ran as fast as possible donning cold weather clothing as they ran to the spotted site. “Where is it,” we asked each other and then click, click, click, click, and click as hundreds of cameras photographed another priceless polar bear riding or walking a floating ice sheet while hunting its favorite snack.DSC_0844

It didn’t matter if we were in the shower, on the treadmill, eating, sleeping or visiting with new friends, we all instantly ran to the polar bear site to fulfill our dream of seeing a real live polar bear in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.DSC_0830

Such was life onboard the MS FRAM as it circumnavigated Spitsbergen near the Arctic Circle when the 200 passengers would hear their favorite words, “a polar bear has been sighted”.DSC_0882

Seven times this happened by luck on the MS FRAM on the July 23, 2015 sailing around Spitsbergen. “You never know when we will see a polar bear in the wild” Corinna Skrindo said. “So we inform the passengers on this Hurtigruten cruise no matter what time it is because the passengers come on this cruise with a big wish to see polar bears.” DSC_0800

We saw two Polar bears in Woodfjorden sleeping on land. It was 5:20 AM and 79 degrees 41.3’ N and .013 degrees 41.3’ E when Captain Rune Andreassen woke us all up to tell us of the first sighting. Our hearts were pounding as we awoke from deep sleep and it took a few seconds to realize what he had said.  “Polar bear sighted” keep ringing in our ears as we grabbed jacket, gloves and hat to go to the freezing outside spot where our first polar bears were.DSC_0824

The bears were sleeping on land. And we expected to see them only on a floating ice sheet section from the frozen fjord. But, no, they were just snoozing on Makeoyane Island land, taking a rest from a busy day and night spent looking for their favorite meal, the seal. “That is not a polar bear, it is a clump of ice,” I said to June. But after looking at my photos up close, I discovered it was 2 real live polar bears males just sleeping away. And we all celebrated our first spotting. But we wanted to see some bears standing. DSC_0848

An 80-year-old wheelchair-bound man from Germany went on this cruise just to see a polar bear. “And when you showed him your first photo of that sleeping polar bear, his wish came true,” his son, told me. “And he slept all day after that and was so happy.” DSC_0972

By now, the MS FRAM was going south when we started seeing standing polar bears between 79 and 78 degrees North as we sailed for 5 hours through broken sea Ice sheets at 3 nautical miles per hour in late July.  Luck had for us 4 more polar bears going about their daily lives. And every time the captain announced a sighting, we all took off like running a marathon to see each polar bear because every second counted. It was a priceless sight to behold. DSC_1005

And we were rewarded each time with another awesome photo of a polar bear. One time we were running from one side of the ship to the other as polar bear after polar bear was spotted.DSC_0392

It all happened because of our Captain Andreassen.  Updates on the condition of the sea and frozen ice shield are not available on weekends and it was Sunday. The captain talked to a ship in the area that knew of the sea conditions and had been through this route on the east side of Edgeoeya Island. So the FRAM captain made the decision to go through this broken sea ice route down the eastern coast of Edgeoeya Island instead of taking the planned itinerary route on the western side as the passage between the islands to the west side was still frozen. DSC_0774

“Because our MS FRAM captain’s decision, we got to see almost all of Svalbard and polar bears,” expedition leader Steffen Biersack said as he showed us the old and new route on the map. “We saw much more of Norway’s special northern islands of Svalbard, including Hopen, an island that very few people have visited.” It was wonderful music to our ears as all 200 passengers on this Hurtigruten MS FRAM ship had come on this cruise for one thing mainly, polar bears.DSC_0083

“We went BEAR spotting, Biersack exclaimed.  Had we taken the planned route that was still frozen solid, we also would have been delayed. With this decision, we remained on schedule and saw polar bears.”DSC_0485

Going through broken ice sheets was just incredible and a one-of-a-kind experience in itself. Huge sheets the size of half a soccer/football field would crack in several pieces as our ship hit them. And when it did, it made a sound like severe thunder and would jolt the ship like a little earthquake. The sea birds were chirping, ice was cracking and thundering, and several polar bears were walking from broken ice sheet to ice sheet looking for seals. It was beyond exciting and priceless. It was a 24-hour experience that we included on our list of top wild life experiences in the world.DSC_0844

We saw 4 polar bears walking on the broken sea ice as we passed through it slowly. One bear stopped and looked at us as we went through his territory so that is when I snapped THE photo. That bear was wondering what was that big thing that was slowly moving through his ice, we guessed. Any way, he gave us a perfect photo of a beautiful polar bear.DSC_0919

The next morning around 10 a.m. we were going through a different section of broken sea ice when the Captain announced another bear sighting, and this one was eating a seal. Well, this became an emergency because we had not seen a real live polar bear eating a seal. And there he was just eating away and dragging his food with him. “He was dragging his food because he was real close to the ship when we spotted him” explained Corinna, the assistant expedition leader. “The ship scared him so he just picked up his food and moved away to safely eat his breakfast.”DSC_0921

Every sighting was an emergency to us because every second that passed, a polar bear would be moving further and further away from the ship. Several times when we saw one, it was a few hundred yards/meters from the ship and telephoto cameras were needed to record those beautiful bears. And cameras clicked away and produced some awesome shots of 7 bears on this cruise.DSC_0808

Besides the excitement of polar bear sightings, we did see other wild life.  While visiting Moffen Island, the most northern we sailed at 80 degrees 01’, we saw a herd of walruses on the beach.DSC_0077

On Torellneset Island, 2 herds of walruses were bunched up on shore about 300 meters from our polar circle boats, and all were male with long tusks. The island consisted of small loose pea gravel and walking on it was like walking through sand. Each step we took we would sink down about 4 inches. And each step brought us closer to those stinky males. The stench got stronger and stronger as we approached because we were downwind from them so they couldn’t smell us.  As a result, they were not scared and remained calm so we could photograph them. DSC_0222

Male and female walrus hang out in separate herds except for mating. Tusks were showing everywhere and occasionally a fight would erupt among 2 males and then they would settle down for a rest. Close to this herd of males was another herd of walruses, sex unknown. It was a very foggy day on the island, making for a mystical looking photo of them that seemed out of focus.DSC_0348

DSC_0356After viewing the herd of walruses, several of us decided to slowly walk back to the boat that brought us to the island. As we did, 2 walruses were in the water swimming around and checking what we were doing on their island. Occasionally, they would stick their heads up to see us and that’s when we got THE photo. They ended up at the small boat, checked it out and then left. We wondered what the bull walrus told the rest of the males about us. Could it be that we were all alike in our blue coats, we wondered.DSC_0096

At Alkefjellet, we saw a wall of natural columns in a sheer cliff more than 100 meters (300 feet) high. The landscape of the cliff was formed like individual columns which have been dissected out of the cliff by erosion that followed the columnar structure. A large breeding colony of Brunnichs Guillemots was the main attraction of the cliffs. Many thousands of birds occupied almost every square inch of the cliffs during this summer breeding season and many were flying around.DSC_0110

DSC_0142Beautiful birds were everywhere on this cruise. We saw Northern Fulmer, Glaucus Gull, Ivory Gull, Arctic Tern, Long Tail Skua, Kittiwakes, Little Auks, Red Throated Diver, Barnacle Goose, Brent Goose, Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan and many more different kinds of Arctic birds.DSC_0958DSC_0934DSC_0770

DSC_0546But we didn’t see just wild animals. Glaciers were often just waiting for us to experience them and we did. Several people chose to hike the glaciers while others chose to walk around the area and others just experienced them from the ship. A good time was had by all. But most of all, a good time was had experiencing those polar bears even though they caused us to lose sleep, delay a shower, eat our meal cold or stop the treadmill.  It was all worth the priceless fire alarm adventure.DSC_0511DSC_0892DSC_0988DSC_0015DSC_0865DSC_0374

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Mosaics, Flowers, Churches, Frescoes, Wine, Antiquities, Lefkara Lace and Cheese in Cyprus

The people are friendly and strong and their faces showed so much character as Cyprus has existed for 10,000 years and it is still glorious, triving and beautiful today. As we traveled east, west, south, and north and many places in between to see as much of Cyprus and the people as we could, we saw much of what Cypriots have experienced through the years.DSC_0235

White and pink oleander bushes, white, pink, and red bougainvillea trees and white and pink petunias were in bloom all over the island, making for magnificent and glorious scenery everywhere we went. Every median of the major highways were full of white and pink blooming oleanders as far as the eye could see.DSC_0664

Not only does Cyprus have many beautiful flowers, people and beaches, it also has many ancient ruins like the mosaics in the House of Dionysos in Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mosaics depicting scenes from Greek mythology have remained in almost perfect condition since the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries AD.DSC_0558DSC_0749

As the only island located close to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, Cyprus sits in a strategic position to all of them. Today, Cyprus is divided into 3 countries, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the British Sovereign Base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, and the divided capitol is Nicosia. The United Nations is working on a solution between the two. DSC_0700

DSC_0091The island has many modern buildings with many remembrances of the past, like the Famagusta Gate and the old walled city with a moat that now serves as parks, tennis courts, playgrounds and event areas in Nicosia.DSC_0107DSC_0860

Halloumi cheese is made every day in the villages and enjoyed by many happy customers.  Loulla Euthemiou and her family milk 200 goats daily and then make the cheese for sale to customers. She has being making the cheese with pride all of her life for her many customers.DSC_0386

Every March, Yiannis Christofi gets out the dirt, fertilizer, baskets and tools and makes hanging baskets full of white and pink petunias. And he makes basket after basket until he has 800-2,000 of them to decorate his family restaurant in Doros, Cyprus. Many of their customers come to eat breakfast, lunch and or dinner and leave with one of those baskets costing 15-20 Euros each.DSC_0223

Loved by so many of his Cypriot citizens, First Cyprus President and Archbishop Makarios and his glorious statues can be seen all over Cyprus for his admiring followers to remember him. This one in the mountains is 10 meters tall (32 feet) and can be seen for many miles.DSC_0016

Savvas and Froso Iacovou and their families make and sell the famous handmade Lefcaritika lace in Lefkara. And they also sell and make silver objects and jewelry.DSC_0344

DSC_0913Wine is an important part of the outstanding Cypriot cuisine and we visited several wineries in Monasteries and private estates.  Reasonable priced, we were able to enjoy a bottle or two during our visit.DSC_0680

Making Cyprus Delight candies for sale is Anthoula Gabriel who gave us a tour of her workshop. She makes and sells thousands of the jellied candies covered in powdered sugar every day. DSC_0354

Artists abound in Cyprus capturing the gorgeous landscapes, scenes, donkeys and people of the villages. In Lania, this artist has painted many scenes of Cyprus all of his life.DSC_0873DSC_0944

The Bee lady of Kato Drys, Elli Konioti, has been processing the bee’s honey for years and she showed us how she does it now and the way it was done in her Bee Museum full of the old equipment. Oh yes, she also sells honey.DSC_0561

Taking us around Cyprus was Maria Ioannou, our outstanding free lance and thoroughly knowledgeable guide and native of Cyprus. And this wonderful tour was arranged by Korona Tours of Cyprus and Bestway Tours and Safaris of Canada. Here we are with Maria (center) Sharon and me at the House of Dionysus. Maria lost her home and everything in it near Famagusta when she fled from the invading Turks in 1974. She and her family only had time to get out with their lives and the clothes on their back. She thought she would return to her home soon after the fighting. Now 41 years later, she still can’t return as the Turks moved someone else in her home where they have remained for all of these years.DSC_0836

Driving us everywhere carefully was Theodoros Kyriakou, our fun, helpful and outstanding driver. Theo and Maria are available to give tours anytime by emailing Maria at We felt like we were part of their families and their island by the time the trip was over as we visited their many friends in many professions that gave us the personable side of Cyprus.

Another sculpture of Makarios was carved out of this huge stone and stands in Paphos.DSC_0689

Delicious candies, olive oil, olives and sweet treats were available everywhere we visited in Cyprus for Cypriots and visitors to enjoy and we enjoyed many of them. DSC_0302DSC_0297

Classic Greek Orthodox churches stood gloriously in the center of each village in Cyprus and each was outstanding and adorned inside with frescoes or prints of religious icons. Each contained priceless relics for all to see.



DSC_0733Beautiful mosques were all over the island and we visited 2 of them, Selimiye Mosque in Nicosia and Lala Moustafa Pashia Mosque in Famagusta.DSC_0705

The wishing tree in Paphos provides a place for citizens to tie a white handkerchief or cloth on the wishing tree. Legend has it that if you make a wish, the dream will come true.DSC_0455

The Temple of Apollo is located near the ancient town of Courion. It was one of the main centers of ancient Cyprus where Apollo was worshipped as god of the woodlands.DSC_0632

Cyprus is renown as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. The “Petra tou Romiou” (the Rock of the Greek) area is one of the most beautiful coastlines in Cyprus, where, according to mythology, Aphrodite rose from the waves. The Rock is associated with the legendary hero, Digenis Akritas, who, according to legend, heaved a huge rock and tossed it into the sea. DSC_0830

The original settlement of Cyprus, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Chirokitia Neolithic Settlement was 7000-4000 B.C. and the recreation of the original homes sits near the site.DSC_0292 - Copy

The village of Lania
The village of Lania


Cyprus was an education, an adventure and a delight to visit, especially in the late spring/early summer when all the flowers and blooms are showing their glory to us. And the people are the friendliest, most charming and delightful to visit year round.DSC_0376 - CopyDSC_0604DSC_0383 - CopyDSC_0365 - CopyDSC_0358 - CopyDSC_0313


Photo Copy ©  2015 


The Magic Highway Ride in Baku, Azerbaijan

As soon as we started our ride from the airport into downtown late at night, we noticed it. Each fence or rock wall and each building contributed to the beautiful and dazzling colorful magic show that consumed our attention all the way into Baku, Azerbaijan.DSC_0967

We were just amazed at the outstanding presentation by almost every building and rock wall that was dressed up in lights like no other. And the lights were not all ordinary lights. Others glowed in neon lights and all colors of the rainbow and the colors of the flag of Azerbaijan, red, blue and green.DSC_0174

DSC_0180DSC_0126 (2)Each fence or rock wall was a custom design, different pattern and illuminated, making the highway look like a continuous ribbon of light instead of being illuminated in spots. The 10-foot-tall fences were constructed of concrete and rocks or bricks.

multi-color Olympic Stadium
Photo compliments of our guide, Ramin.

Then we noticed the buildings. The first one we saw was the OLYMPIC STADIUM. That round stadium was all glorious BLUE neon lights when we passed it upon arrival in Baku. It was gorgeous. And then we learned the stadium has a different color every night and some nights it is multi-colored. DSC_0134

The FLAME SCULPTURE was next, with beautiful landscaping around the sculpture that put on a light show that looked like it was burning.DSC_0126DSC_0125

Next was the GYMNASTICS STADIUM with neon lights swirling around that round stadium.  And neon figures danced on the façade doing their gymnastic ribbon performance.DSC_0955

Then, we saw THE one-of-a-kind GAS STATION that was dripping and dazzling in NEON lights. We couldn’t figure out what the building was so we asked our guide, Ramin, of GEO Travel, and he said it was the GAS STATION owned by the government. It was outstanding. DSC_0937

When we drove by this same gas station during the daylight hours, it didn’t look anything like it did at night. But it had one thing we did not see at night in those lights. It was the formal flower garden full of perfect blooming flowers planted like the formal gardens of the palaces in Europe. It was unbelievable and awesome.DSC_0022

Next was the HEYDAR ALIYEV CULTURAL CENTER (named for the President’s father who was the former President) that looked like a whale with a circular roof. And it was illuminated in magic lights with illuminated yellow rabbit and red snail sculptures out front in the gigantic plaza. DSC_0028

Close to this Center and its Plaza was the TRUMP TOWER, resembling a sail and it put on its own non-stop dazzling light show with letters crawling on the building, neon lights dancing on and off and around and frequently changing different colors.DSC_0002

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Photo by June Landrum
Even the Hilton Hotel was dazzling in a multi-colored neon light show that featured the flag of Azerbaijan.

The highlight of Baku was the FLAME Towers, which are 3 buildings side by side resembling flames, even though they are not on the magic highway from airport to downtown. But it is the dominant centerpiece in the Baku skyline and makes a grand finale statement.DSC_0077DSC_0096

These towers represent the past, present and future of Azerbaijan.DSC_0075

Each one of the Flame Towers was a different color and each had a different pattern of lights yet all 3 blended together as one unit. One tower is for businesses, one is a hotel with shops, and the last one is residential.


Even the triangle Metro Station is illuminated on the magic highway.

And it continued on like this all along the ride into downtown with all classic designed buildings bathed in regular lights or neon lights. It was a magic land ride where each uniquely designed building put on an equally unique light show. It all was a total light show for the senses.DSC_0153

I wondered who came up with this magic dazzling ride idea into downtown Baku so I asked Ramin, our guide, who replied, “It was the idea of the wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, of our President of Azerbaijan, ILham Aliyev, and she oversees the gigantic project.”  This beautiful lady has done and is doing a stellar job in Baku.

The President of Azerbaijan, ILham Aliyev Photo compliments of our guide, Ramin.
The First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, wife of President ILham Aliyev. Photo compliments of our guide, Ramin.
  And she has created a one-of-a-kind statement ride from the airport to downtown Baku like no other.

This is how the Flame Towers look during the day.
This is how the Flame Towers looked during the day.
That gas station with a outstanding sculpture in the garden in front of it.
That gas station with a outstanding sculpture in the garden.
The Gymnastic Center
Buildings were illuminated like this all along the route into downtown.
Sculptures in the plaza of the Cultural Center.
Sculptures in the plaza of the Cultural Center.
Large screen TVs are placed around Baku for all to see.
Large screen TVs are placed around Baku for all to see.
Magnificent illuminated rock walls were on both sides of the highway, and none were alike.
Another designer rock wall along the magic highway. At night is beautifully illuminated
Another designer rock wall along the magic highway. At night, it is beautifully illuminated
A daytime photo of Baku
A daytime photo of Baku


Even some of the bridges over the freeway are illuminated in neon lights.
Even some of the bridges over the freeway are illuminated in neon lights.

Photo Copy ©  2015 


The Beautiful People, Buildings, Food and Antiquities of Iran

It was a week full of wonderful discovery and enjoyment as our senses absorbed the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of beautiful Iran. The hospitality was outstanding from the minute we arrived as we met new friends everywhere we went.

DSC_0023   Some buildings inside were so gold and glowing that they dazzled the eyes.


Some were mirrored tiles and colored tiles creating this unique interior.


Some were very colorful and full of artistic features and designs on every inch.


Having lunch with our new friends in Tehran was a delight we shall never forget. June met their daughter on a plane to Amsterdam 4 months before our Iran trip and she insisted we meet her parents when we were in Tehran. They were such a lovely couple and a joy to be with for an afternoon of touring the Carpet Museum. We each exchanged gifts from our country.DSC_0936

These 3 beautiful ladies were just sitting on a bench in a park in Tehran when we visited with them. After taking photos of each other, we said goodbye and wished them much happiness.DSC_0927

The men we met in Tehran and all over Iran were so handsome and friendly.


More beautiful ladies with our guide, seated. Of course, we visited and exchanged photos in Tehran.


This Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Imam Square in Esfahan was so glorious. The dome changed colors from cream to pink to turquoise, depending on the sun, clouds and light conditions. It was magnificent.DSC_0045

This is what those tiles looked like close. They were gorgeous.DSC_0101

Iran is great to visit anytime of the year and we visited in November.DSC_0894

The Shah Mosque in the Imam Square in Esfahan reigned glorious over all.
The Freedom Tower in Tehran marks the west entrance to the city. Constructed in 1971, the architect, Hossein Amanat, won a competition to design the monument, which combines elements of the architecture of Sassanid and Achaemenid eras, and Post-Islamic Iranian architecture. A museum in under it.



This pretty young lady was sketching the Golestan Palace in Tehran when we met her.

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The food we ate was delicious everywhere we went. And a box of facial tissue was provided on each table to use as we wished.


We saw oranges everywhere on trees and in shops. Don’t they look delicious!


As a snack, the Iranians eat Beetroot or Beets and they were being sold on the street by this handsome vendor.


Dates were also being sold on the street as a snack and were strung in a circle, resembling a wreath. This, we were told, helps dry out the dates and makes them easier to handle.


And yes, Iranian ice cream is delicious. Our guide treated us to these in Tehran.



And the restaurants we went to were each different and so was the food. We enjoyed the different tastes of Iran.


This is the way one vendor in the market displayed the different spices he had for sale. The layered look was a very different way to display spices.


Persepolis, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire ca. 550-330 BC, ruling over 44% of the people of the world.


Persepolis was the example par excellence of the dynastic city, which  is why it was burned by Alexander the Great. They carried away its 20,000 treasures on 5,000 camels, according to UNESCO.

DSC_0519We saw unique Iranian carpets in the market and the museums.



This man was stamping cotton card table size cloth with traditional Iranian designs in the market store in Esfahan..


And those hand stamped tablecloths were very warm when it got cold after shopping until dark in Esfahan.


The Iranian boxes also are decorated with those intricate Iranian designs. Iran is a treasure of people, buildings, food and antiquities. It was a delight to visit.

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Even the ancient baths were decorative and featured great architectural designs.



This man is cleaning up the Imam Square street in Esfahan and getting ready for another day of rides in the horses and carriages. The Square has a Great Bazaar at one end where shops are selling many kinds of souvenirs, many with the iconic Iranian artistic patterns on them.

The One-Of-A-Kind Old City of Sana’a, Yemen

The buildings radiated a persona like no other. Standing tall in the desert and numbering over 6,000 houses, 103 mosques, and 14 hammans of architectural wonder, they stood out and showed brilliance in a time when such buildings were one of a kind. And the structures stand today in one of the longest occupied cities in the world.DSC_0348

Constructed of ochre-colored rammed earth and burnt bricks on stone foundations and decorated with white gypsum, the 5-9 storied buildings exist today in the ancient city of Sanaa, Yemen, like a Manhattan in the Desert. They have endured 2500 years of earthquakes and everything else that has come along.DSC_0353

Surrounded by a 45-foot tall wall, the only entrance gate remaining into the city is Bab al Yemen. Many people, products and animals have passed through that gate and it still reigns as the only entrance into the one of a kind city. The other 5 original gates were destroyed. The Sana’a old city is an UNESCO World Heritage site.DSC_0058

DSC_1001It was this outstanding architecture that endured me as we entered the city to go to the Suq el Yemen market through the city. Just walking through the market was an adventure back in time and an experience to remember forever.DSC_1012

First to greet us were the children living in the old city. Running to the windows to see us and running out the doors into the streets to wave was a such wonderful greeting. Blowing kisses to the children, saying how we love then and waving “Hello” and saying how we love their awesome city made for a happy experience for all of us.DSC_0275

And it continued as we strolled further into the market. First, the men, each wearing a dagger called jambeya, gathered to find out where we were from and when they found out, told us they loved us and we told them the same and greeted them. Then 2 ladies totally covered in black from head to toe except for their eyes asked about the latest research and danger of cell phones held to long to the ear.

He just purchase several bags of Khat to chew.
He just purchased several bags of Khat to chew.

Proceeding through the market, we came across the bakers just baking rolls one after the other. We wondered what the rolls tasted like because they smelled so good. DSC_0096Then it was the metal worker in his little 6×6 foot (2×2 meters) shop making door knockers and hinges for customers. DSC_0133DSC_0085Next, we found the seamster making new clothing and repairing the old.DSC_0164

Pretty soon, it was the donkey market, where owners brought their donkeys, young and old, to sell. One owner told us a donkey with all teeth was young, one with a little space between teeth was older and one with a lot of space between the teeth was old.DSC_0177

Along the way, we saw these 2 older men heavy in conversation and we wondered what they were discussing.

Dagger  salesmen were everywhere. As we entered a shop to admire all the gorgeous silver daggers, and semi-precious decorated ones, a peddler came in selling khat (cot).DSC_0231

One vendor in his 4×4 foot shop greeted us, we told him where we are from and that we loved his classic city and the people in it and then he gave each one of us a little silver box as a gift from him and as a remembrance of Sana’a Yemen.DSC_0299

Wondering what the big bulge was in every man’s cheek as we continued through the market, we learned that it was khat, an evergreen leafy tree that produces a stimulant and causes euphoria and excitement. Legal to chew in Yemen, it has been around for thousands of years.DSC_0295

Now it was time for lunch and our guide, Mounir, took us to Fawaz Kabab Restaurant, a 6×12 foot (2×4 meter) restaurant that had 4 tables for customers.DSC_0254 The kabobs were grilled on the street in front of the restaurant and were delicious. Remember those rolls that the bakers were making, well, we put a delicious tomato relish on them and several other tasty little vegetables and they were wonderful. Mounir told us every customer that he took to this restaurant loved the food and atmosphere.DSC_0280

But we were not finished yet because we had to end with fresh brewed tea across the street. And as we sipped our hot tea, market shoppers walked by, greeted us and several even said they loved our country as it had been spread all over the market by then where we were from. DSC_0278Men with their daggers strapped to them, children wanting their photos taken “so we could make them a TV star” and ladies in their black robes walked by and greeted us.DSC_0191

Next, we passed the rope sellers and the date seller. He had every type of date for sale that must have existed in the world and he constantly swatted the bees who wanted a tasty snack. DSC_0340

The donut man was watching for them also. Business at noon had been pretty good as he had sold half of his donuts on the tray.DSC_0305

We preceded to an open area surrounded by stalls or shops and every one of them sold raisins. DSC_0209Raisins were everywhere and they had so many, they poured them in a pile out in the open and one man was standing on top of the pile but we couldn’t understand what he was doing. I had never seen so many raisins in my life. It must have been harvest time all over the world.DSC_0331

We then proceeded to the garment area where t-shirts, shorts, beautiful scarves, fabrics and dresses were being sold. We just loved these beautiful ornate ensembles complete with headdress. We had seen these on ladies who had performed in the area. They were so beautiful.

Vendors gave us bananas and June was still sampling hers as the photo was made.
Vendors gave us bananas and June was still sampling hers as the photo was made.

Too soon, it was time to bid the priceless old market goodbye. And as we left, we greeted several old men and children sitting on the curb wanting us to take their photo or wondering why we were taking their photo. The market has continued day in and day out for 2,500 years and the magnificent, distinctive buildings still stand majestically, just like a Manhattan in the Desert.

The middle section between the palm tree and the other tree NO LONG EXIST after a bomb destroyed it in June 2015. The gingerbread mud houses are now back to the dirt after hundreds of years. The Old City is an UNESCO site.


[1]Photo Copy ©  2015 


The Dervish Dance in Khartoum, Sudan

Circling around and around the center pole, they dance into a trance in the shadow of the Sheikh Hamad-el-Nil Tomb in the Omdurman section of Khartoum, Sudan. While circling, these Sufis chant gratitude to the Prophet Mohammed and repeat “there is no God but Allah” many times. It is the first line of the Muslim profession of faith.DSC_0087

To start the ritual ceremonies every Friday except during Ramadan one hour before sunset, the dervish march across the cemetery to the Sheikh’s Tomb carrying their green madrassa banner, which is placed on the pole in the center of the ceremony yard. The purpose of this dance ritual called ‘dhikr’ relies on the recitation of God’s name to help create a state of ecstatic abandon so the follower’s heart can communicate directly with God.DSC_0097

Also called Dervishes, the ritual is put on by the masters of the madrassa, an Islam religious school, in Khartoum, who are dressed in red and green gallabiya robes while the rest of the believers wear the white gallabiya robe. The Sudanese red and green robes have patches like those put on the robes in ancient times to cover a hole. Now it is done for decoration to keep the tradition.DSC_0082

Keeping the beat provided by drums and cymbals, the dervishes start whirling with the music, the fragrance of frankincense, and the endless repetition of religious chants, then dizziness happens, ending in a state of trance. Over 500 people watched this ritual the day we visited.DSC_0090

The Sudanese dervishes wear beads and the elder ones can have scores of beads wrapped around the neck showing their status as master in the madrassa. Some carry a stick symbolizing power or a scepter-like instrument. Long hair and dreadlocks are also part of the Sudanese dervish look.DSC_0131

The ceremony lasts for at least 45 minutes and the singing and chanting slows down before the sun sets below the horizon. Right before the sunset, a dervish walks around the crowd carrying smoking frankincense which is considered to be a blessing to the faithful.DSC_0081

Sufism is the ancient belief about purification of the soul in the pursuit of inner peace. It is associated with Sunni and Shia Islam. It began in Baghdad and spread to Iran, India, North Africa and Spain. The Sufi order, Tariqa Qadiriyyah is the order in Sudan.DSC_0080

The mausoleum tomb in Omdurman belongs to one of the 19th century Qadiriyyah leaders, Hamad al Nil. And Khartoum is divided into 3 parts by the Blue and White Nile River and Omdurman is 1 of the parts of the city.DSC_0069

The dervishes are not whirling dervishes. But the whirling dance did come from the Mevlevi order in Turkey and is one of the physical methods used to reach religious ecstasy.DSC_0103

Family, friends and vendors bring food for the ceremonies to give to the poor and to sell. There was tea, cooked beans, beads, frankincense and other foods and items available.DSC_0076

And almost every Friday, the dervishes continue to whirl dance around the center pole reciting “there is no God but Allah” to help create a state of nirvana so the follower’s heart can communicate directly with their God.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

During the ritual whirling dance, this little boy went into their circle and copied their dance.
During the ritual whirling dance, this little boy went into their circle and copied their dance.



Balloons Over Bagan, Myanmar


It was cold and dark as we rode to the launching grounds at 5 am for my third balloon ride in the world. This was the hot air balloon ride over Bagan, Myanmar and it was glorious.DSC06880

With 5 other balloons going up around the launching grounds, we watched them all come to life as each one filled with hot air from the fire blower. It was magical watching them as we sipped hot coffee and hot tea.

Then the time came for us to board our balloon basket and we climbed into it and waited for the moment we would take off. Our basket was full of 8 excited people. To keep our balloon from taking off before it was ready, the workers tied the balloon to the bus we rode in to get to the site. And it worked. The balloon couldn’t take off because the bus was too heavy.DSC06885

Soon the ropes were untied from the bus and the balloon rose slowly and majestically as it was our turn to go up. Several other balloons already were in the air and as we ascended, we could see them and the ones yet to fly.DSC06893

It was a thrilling experience as we had a bird’s eye view that allowed us to appreciate the scale of magical Bagan with its thousand year old pagodas and temples that dotted the shores of the mighty (Ayeyarwady) Irrawaddy River.

Photo by Joy Burleson
Photo by Joy Burleson

There were large, medium and small pagodas and temples made of red sandstone everywhere we looked. DSC06963The many ancient kings and leaders each had many built when they were ruling. DSC06970Earthquakes have claimed many of them but several thousand are still standing today.DSC06933

We floated up, down and around the flat plains by the river and could look straight down into the pagodas and temples. The sun continued to rise and so did the rest of the balloons. DSC06949

But all beautiful, fun and glorious balloon rides must end and it was our time. DSC06990To my amazement, we landed perfectly and standing up in the basket. And as I watched the others land, they did the same.

The local children were waiting for us to buy their photos as a souvenir as we landed early in the morning.
The local children were waiting for us to buy their photos as a souvenir as we landed early in the morning.

It was a wonderful ride that we enjoyed so much, even though we had to get up at 5 a.m. in the cold and dark.

Joy Burleson celebrates her first balloon ride that went perfect.
Joy Burleson celebrates her first balloon ride that was perfect.

This dream ride was worth it all and we celebrated with champagne and snacks.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

Photo by Joy Burleson
Photo by Joy Burleson

The Parade To Monkhood in Myanmar

Children 5-10 years old dressed like royalty for a day and riding in gilded carriages in a half mile parade through their village of Mingun, Myanmar, were bidding farewell to the lifestyle as they know it. For the next day, their lives would change dramatically.DSC06372

This was the 2-day Novice Initiation Ceremony for Monkhood-Nunnery, where gilded and decorated chariots and wagons carrying the young princes and princesses, both wearing makeup and lipstick, were being pulled by elaborately decorated Brahma cows and horses led in procession by a regally caparisoned elephant. An elephant always leads a parade as they are the largest animal in the world and were used since ancient times to lead parades. Gold, red, green, purple, blue, white and yellow were the dominant colors on the highly adorned children, animals and carriages in the parade. Each child had flowers and a brightly colored umbrella for protection and good luck.DSC06369

It is an honorable deed for parents to let their young children go to the monastery-nunnery where Buddhism is practiced by 89% of the people in Myanmar. By sending their young children to the monastery-nunnery, they receive great merits to obtain a favorable rebirth and it is the most important duty a parent can do for a child to become immersed in the teachings of Buddha. Being a novice is the most auspicious day in a child’s life and the novice parade begins it. The other most important day in their life is becoming a monk at age 20.DSC06367

Another reason parents will send their children to the monastery-nunnery is because they are unable to feed and educate them and the monastery-nunnery does it all. If parents do not have a boy to send to the monastery, they will adopt one or adopt one from a poor family. It brings great merits for the act of sending a child to the monastery-nunnery in Theravada Buddhism. It is a very meritorious act to send a boy to a monastery.DSC06371 (2)

The children go to the monastery-nunnery when there is an opening and most ceremonies occur around their New Year in April. The girls may also have their ears pierced with a gold needle at the same ceremony.  Children from several neighborhoods gathered together to form the long parade. Before the parade, the parents watch their children closely to make sure they are not injured in any way to prevent them from the process of novitation, also called shinbyu.DSC06368

Sending their children to the monastery-nunnery costs the parents a lot of money. Many go into debt to do this for their children. The gilded chariots, animals, elaborate prince-princess ensembles, animal decorations and all other things needed could be rented for the parade. Most of the animals in this parade were obtained from the fields where they were working as they were somewhat dirty. Formal invitations are set out to the entire village inviting them to participate in the ceremonies.DSC06362

The parade starts in the morning and goes into the early afternoon and that is when we saw it. We had sailed down the (Ayeyarwady) Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Mingun to ride a taxi cart pulled by a cow on the bank of the river through the village. Waiting for us was a little man who would help us into his cart. But the cart was at a 40 degree angle and we couldn’t get into the cart without sliding out. After 3 attempts, I gave up and let Joy try to get in and she kept sliding out also.

Not being able to stay in the cart without sliding out, we saw a Novice parade in progress to send young children to the monastery-nunnery in Mingun, Myanmar

As she was trying to get into the cart, I looked toward the village and saw an elephant walking about 2 blocks away. I told my Abercrombie and Kent guide who said we had just seen a rare event, called the Novice Initiation Parade. So we walked and ran as fast as we could and when we caught up with it, we saw the parade. Continuing to run and fast walk, we were able to see some of the fast moving parade.DSC06365

The parade proceeds around the village pagoda several times for hours. Finally, the parade stops at the temple so the people can pray and rest. Then the children go to the monastery-nunnery in the afternoon where their life as they know it changes for one week or a lifetime. A child may leave at any time after one week and can re-enter the monastery-nunnery several times but at age 20, each becomes a monk or nun. Our A&K guide had entered and left 4 times.DSC06371

The young novices in white in line to eat one of their 2 meals a day provided by volunteers wanting to earn merits for a good deed.

Upon entering the monastery-nunnery, the child surrenders to having the head shaved. As the hair is being cut, the child and parents kneel and the child recites on body defilements to increase self detachment from the hair for it symbolizes impurity.  The hair falls into a white cloth which then is presented to the parents. After head shaving, the child changes into a white robe, kneels and recites the 10 Precepts of Buddhism. The parents watch all proceedings and present their child with their alm bowl for food, their monastic robe, maroon for boys and pink for girls, and a palm leaf fan for hot days. Then, a child changes into the robe and receives smiles of joy and tears from the parents.

This novice nun in the nunnery we visited was going to a class.
This nunnery we visited was beautiful, just fitting for a new novice nun.

Next, the child changes to a new Dharma name in the Pali language that is based on the astrology-based naming system. And each must abide by the many rules and regulations of the monastery-nunnery including rising at 5 a.m. to meditate.  Then they can go out into the village, barefooted and wearing only their robe, to collect donated food in their alm bowl. They must line up in single file and proceed by the line of people donating food in an assembly line process. Buddhism followers provide rice, spices, meat, fruits and vegetables for each alm bowl to receive merits for doing a good act. The last meal of the day is at 11:30 a.m. and is obtained the same way as earlier. Then the next meal will be at 5:30a.m. the next day.DSC06271

The parents return to Mingun village of 50,000 people and the last celebration occurs that night to honor success of the children entering the monastery or nunnery. The 2-day celebration began with  the community sending well wishes to the child.

The royal clothes, makeup, flowers and grand celebration now has ended and the child’s life has changed. The horses, cows and elephant have gone back to their normal lives  and so have the parents. And everyone is honored and proud to have participated in a glorious celebration of novitation.

Photo Copy ©  2015


Be Anything You Want to Be at Carnival in Rio

Groups of dancing and singing people dressed as lions, giraffes, eagles, cars, dolphins, flowers, leopards, African tribal people, and scantily-clad women strutted in unison one after the other to drum beats and the clock, with each group featuring a different color and design that coordinated with the theme of their school float.DSC_0701

1 of 8 Beija-Flor floats at Carnival in Rio depicting the African roots of Carnaval in Rio. Our group was called the Beija-Flor group on the Tauck Events tour. Photo by the Rio de Janeiro News Media.
This was Carnaval (Carnival in English) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the largest and greatest carnival in the world, where 2 million people celebrate, eat, drink, and party to the max for four days before Ash Wednesday. DSC_0359On this day, many Christians sacrifice for 40 days in preparation for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance and moderations, and spiritual discipline.

Sitting in our “Frisas” Front Box seats with the Tauck Events ( group around 9:30pm, we could clearly see the 15,000 celebrating people pulsating in rhythm side by side like marching soldiers.  DSC_0476Passing by us were the schools of Sao Clemente, Portela and Beija-Flor. We were amazed at the fierce competition among schools for the Grand Prize.DSC_0573 At 2 am, we decided it was time to leave without seeing the other 15,000 participants in 3 more schools that paraded until 6 AM.

The Carnaval parade was in the Sambadrome designed by world renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer. It was purpose built in 1984 in the middle of Rio de Janeiro exclusively for the parade. The stadium was renovated and completed in 2015 to increase seating capacity and acoustics for the 2016 Olympics. Around 90,000 spectators with seats on each side of the ½ mile long (700 meters) by 42 foot (11 meters) wide runway/street can view the carnival perfectly.Painting the Carnaval runway white

Each year before the parade, the street is painted white because the Sambadrome parade floor has to be spotless and painted white to reflect the light and to improve the TV broadcasting images.

Smiling Renato
Smiling Renato, caught in his Broom Samba Dance, by the Rio de Janeiro News Media. Phot0 by the Rio de Janeiro News Media.

In 1997, Renato Sorriso nicknamed Smiley Renato, and his Rio city cleaning crew was cleaning the Sambadrome runway between school performances when he started dancing samba with his broom.

The Garis or cleaning crew sweep after each school's presentation for debris on the runway.
The Garis or cleaning crew sweep after each school’s presentation for debris on the runway. Photo by the Rio de Janeiro News Media.

The crowd went crazy and he’s being doing it ever since becoming an attraction during the parade himself. He became so famous with his dancing that he was invited to the London Olympics closing ceremonies dressed in his cleaning outfit representing Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics.

Sonia Lima, our fun and expert Rio city guide on our Tauck Events tour, with Rio's Sugar Loaf Mountain and Bay.
Sonia Lima, our fun, outstanding and expert Rio city guide on our Tauck Events tour, with Rio’s Sugar Loaf Mountain and Bay.

“Carnival is feeling the music inside of you and moving your body anyway you wish,” Sonia Lima, our Tauck Carnival guide in Rio demonstrated as she moved her body to the music. DSC_0881DSC_0449“Carnival began in 1920 when the African people living up the hills came down in costumes playing drums and dancing the samba. Then in 1935, parading in the streets began. We have been celebrating Carnival ever since and this was how different schools started with groups of friends,” Sonia explained.DSC_0496DSC_0499

To prepare for this Tauck Event (, we all were offered samba lessons and then went to a samba school to see their costumes, floats and drums. To our surprise, we learned firsthand what it was like to be a Carnival participant as we tried on last year’s costumes. Suddenly we became anything we wanted to be as we selected from the many costumes.

Keeping the beat going for 80 minutes non-stop.
The bateria percussion drummer band keeps the beat going for 80 minutes non-stop for their school.

Amazed at how heavy the head pieces, dresses, jackets or drums were, we tried to image walking several hours from 9 PM to 6 AM in less than 80 minutes in the heat wearing or carrying them without passing out.DSC_0321

As soon as the parade is over each year, designing begins on next year’s float theme and costumes. “The designer works 8 months to create 6-8 one-of-a-kind floats, costumes and music and it is all revealed and shown to the public in an 80 minute performance”, Sonia pointed out. “Each school has to start with a plot or idea, then, research is done on that idea to have a story. Then a carnavalesco is hired to design all the music, floats and costumes.”DSC_1023DSC_0938

There are over 75 samba schools that participate in Carnival each year in Rio, but the Elite Special Group of 12 schools is the one that performs on the Sunday and Monday before Lent-Ash Wednesday.DSC_0493 Six schools participate in the parade on each day and we attended the Monday parade which often has the winner of the competition each year.DSC_0469

And the schools really compete in this $1 Billion Carnival business in Rio. “Each school in the Special Group needs at least $5 million to compete in the Carnival parade,” Sonia emphasized. DSC_0414“The money comes from the Association of Samba School League, parade ticket sales, CD sales of the school’s original samba song each year, TV rights telecast to 150 countries, and sponsors for television. Each school has its own sponsors that do not conflict with the TV-Sambadrome sponsors.”DSC_0505

In addition, schools make money by selling the hundreds of costumes after the parade, and the schools require that parade participants buy their costume for the parade and attend practices at the school for about 2 months before the Carnival parade. DSC_0598In those 2 months, costumes are made to fit each person, cosmetic professionals teach makeup to go with the costume and samba dancing is taught to go with the school’s original music. DSC_0422DSC_0616Cost of a costume is $300-$1000. per person per costume depending on the complexity of it.  And a person can parade for more than one school.DSC_0855

“They participate in the Carnival parade for one school in a $300-1000 costume for 80 minutes, and then go to another school, get in their costume that costs $300-1000, and parade for that school for 80 minutes.” Sonia said. “The people in costume on the float get their costume free because it is part of the cost of the float.”DSC_0677

“Carnival is our passion in Rio and it is big business,” Sonia continued. Each samba school has 1800-5000 participants, totaling 60,000 participants for 12 schools. DSC_0645Plus, each samba school has 30 wing groups and can have a minimum of 6 floats and a maximum of 8 floats. Each float can have up to 4 wing groups with over 100 people each accompanying it. DSC_0686Each wing’s costumes and colors have to create an effect that leads right up to or be related to the float theme.DSC_0702

“Carnaval creates jobs for us,” Sonia said. “To build these floats, and sew these costumes, schools hire several carpenters, painters, artists, sculptures, seamstresses and sewers, designers, business managers, bookkeepers, cleaning people, and others when a job needs to be done.”  Many of the floats and costumes are being recycled, repurposed and redesigned into new floats, saving time, expense and materials.DSC_1000

“The bateria drum section of each school totals 3-400 persons who have to keep the rhythm going in the carnival parade and repeat the school song 62 times in 80 minutes.” Sonia noted. “Five singers on the top of each float keep the singing going throughout the parade.” “They are the leaders of the drum section by using hand gestures to tell the drummers when to play and follow the music.”

Photo by the Rio de Janeiro News Media
Photo by the Rio de Janeiro News Media
Five persons on top of each float keep the music beat going for 80 minutes nonstop by using hand signals telling the drum group how and when to beat the drums.
Five persons on top of each float keep the music beat going for 80 minutes nonstop by using hand signals telling the drum group how and when to beat the drums.

Each school is scored 5-10 points on each of the following items: the drum band, the samba song, harmony, theme of the year, flow and spirit (they lose points if they parade over 80 minutes), floats and props, costumes, flag carrying couple that leads the school, overall impression.DSC_0435 The samba school with the highest score wins the competition. Four judges score the same category for a total of 36 judges scattered along the parade route. DSC_0440The six winners of the 12-school competition then go to the Parade of Champions held the following Saturday at the Sambadrome for their final performance.DSC_1027

The 12 samba schools are: Viradouro, Mangueira, Mocidade, Vils Isabel, Salgueiro, Grande Rio, Sao Clemente, Portela, Beija-Flor, Uniao Da Ilha, Imperatriz and Unidos Da Tijuca. DSC_0637And the winner of the carnival we attended was Beija-Flor, meaning butterfly in Portuguese, the language of Brazil. This was Beija-Flor’s 13th Carnival competition to win. Their theme was Africa as the beginning of Carnaval in Rio originating from the slaves and this theme was shown over and over in everything the school did in music, costumes and floats. It was one wonderful night where you could be anything you wanted to be at Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Huge masks on a pole operated by men covered in tight fitting netting.
Men operating the huge masks in the parade.
The Eagle is the mascot of the Portela Samba School. It was so tall, it had to bow to clear the news media tower. And when the Eagle bowed, the crowd went wild with screams of approval, After it cleared the tower, the Eagle rose again and the crowd went wild again.



Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons in Cuba

“It was terrible, so terrible, very difficult and a hard time as the people tried to live with almost no economy.  Slowly, everything we had turned to nothing and it was terrible.”DSC_0544 Hector, our national guide in Cuba on the Tauck People to People tour, was explaining about the Special Period, the name given by the Cuban communist government to describe the time when the Soviet Union broke apart and Cuba was no longer supported by the new Russia. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the trade and support was lost. And no other country in the world would support them either.

“One day we had a normal life and the next day the bottom fell out of the Cuban economy”, Hector explained. “Slowly, everything we had was gone and it was terrible. 1991-92 was the worst of the 1989-1995 Special Period.” Then inflation set in for any products remaining in Cuba “and the prices doubled, tripled and went through the roof after that.

Some people killed themselves and others escaped by boat to the USA,” he said. The USA sent food and medical supplies but the prices on them were high. Canada also helped.

With the lack of things needed to live their normal lives, the Cuban people started creating. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Hector pointed out. “We started comforting everyone more than ever, and sharing and uniting with each other. DSC_0543 People in Cuba are highly educated and we found the best solutions to each challenge without affecting someone else.”

Art by Martha Jimenez is shown in galleries around the world today.

Many people developed their creative art talents to make extra money to entertain the people and to give them a break from the daily struggles of fending for themselves.DSC_0723DSC_0826 DSC_0415DSC_0704

All types of people in need of extra money to make it gathered to create objects d'art and clothes to sell. It was a win-win for all.
All types of people in need of extra money to make it gathered to create objects d’art and clothes to sell. It was a win-win for all.


Leather sculptor Jose "Pepe" Guiterrez and his very creative leather items.
Leather sculptor Jose “Pepe” Guiterrez and his very creative leather items.

DSC_0720DSC_0188DSC_0048DSC_0629Authentic professional theatre groups, and well known dancers, creative leather workers, experts in pottery, art, acting, sewing, gymnastics and other artist fields emerged from this Special Period.

Hector said they designed different ways to cook after they collected wood for the fire. Cooking oil was needed and Cuba had coconuts so foods were cooked with coconut oil. Ketchup did not exist so pumpkin was used and red food coloring was added to make them think they were eating Ketchup.Tapioca served as flour.

Sheep and cattle lard was used to fry pumpkin skins in the lard and Hector demonstrated how the fried skins would stick to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t get them off. Meat and dairy was nowhere to be found anywhere in Cuba so some people ate the meat of any animal or bird.

Ladies in need of extra income joined the sewing group and made aprons, dolls and other objects for sale.
Ladies in need of extra income joined the sewing group and made aprons, dolls and other objects for sale.

Making clothes also became creative. “The seamstress was a genius.” Hector explained. “Old clothes, out of style clothes, wrong size clothes, all became Haute Couture designer clothes by a seamstress. We were proud of our new fashion clothes.” Salt was used for toothpaste and ash and lemon was used for deodorant.

Those designer clothes and the body had to be washed and getting soap was a challenge. Soon they figured out that coconut milk and certain chemicals they had would work ok for regular soap.

And for laundry soap, substances of plants with soapy leaves, called maguey, worked. Ash and lemon was also used. “We had water but we also were going through a terrible drought at the time”, Hector said. Often times, the people had to wash their clothes in the river.DSC_0639 The sugar for oil deal ended and gasoline was super expensive and almost non-existent so the people parked their vehicles and went back to the basics of horse and carriage, bicycles and walking. DSC_0947 (3)DSC_0870DSC_0861DSC_0098

The Cuban government made farmers with many hectares of land give some of it to others so they could grow vegetables, grains and fruits for themselves and to get the people to return to the countryside from to the city where they went when the going became difficult.DSC_0487 The people had to learn how to grow crops and be farmers. Gardens popped up on rooftops, in back and front yards and parking lots. DSC_0876Growers set up booths to sell their legally grown products right by their “gardens”. DSC_0864The people were forced to eat what they could grow, catch or pick for themselves. DSC_0975DSC_0539And to make matters worse, Hurricane Elena hit Cuba in 1991 and destroyed many of the crops and caused extensive damage. A black market became a creative way of life for getting objects wanted for living.DSC_0957 Horses and oxen plowed fields, and manual labor returned, As a result, Cubans became healthier because of the high fiber vegan diet. Obesity, heart disease, and strokes all decreased during this terrible time.DSC_0295 Large cargo trucks and 18-wheel tractor trailers were no longer needed for industry to haul products from factories, farms and fields so they were converted to people movers, called “camels” and they still exist in Cuba today, as are horse and carriage for transport of people, food and crops, bicycles, walking and manual labor.DSC_0157 “We always had pride and love through these severe times and we always looked at the glass as half full, not half empty. This attitude stimulated their creativity, and we were constantly focused on solutions to everything without losing our dignity, pride or love. Even through it all, we never showed sadness,” Hector said.

Making tips from tourists for photos for money to live.
Making tips from tourists for photos for money to live.
Cubans made money any way they could so the tourists paid a little to take a photo of these pups in Havana.
Cubans made money any way they could so the tourists paid a little to take a photo of these pups in Havana.


After several years of these devastating conditions, some countries in Latin America started helping Cuba and the terrible times started to ease a little. Out of every bad comes some good the saying goes. “We have been through war, hurricanes, drought, economic collapse, different governmental rulings, near starvation, and lack of medical supplies and we are still here, ” Hector pointed out. The Cuban people make lemonade out of lemons.

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Acting Like An Actress at Harcourt Studios in Paris

When I entered the portrait studio, huge lights were focused on a high chair in the middle of the room. Then Xavier showed how he wanted me to sit on that high chair. With this photographic session in Paris, I was posing for my portrait photo by Harcourt Studios, the premier photographer in the world of movie stars and famous people.DSC_0194 For a few minutes, I thought I was a movie star on Tauck’s first Paris New Year’s Event tour. It was more than a photograph, it was an experience.DSC_0175  “Stand on your left leg and lift the right leg and lean on it on the high chair”, Xavier Gray, one of 10 Harcourt’s professional photographers, explained, “and rest your right hand on the back of the high chair and your left hand on your right thigh.” Then Xavier began focusing the lighting on my face and upper body by bouncing the light off of a reflecting fabric, adding 2 low lights and adjusting the 4 tall lights to show my character, spirit and personality.DSC_0193 “With lighting, Xavier showed us, “I can make the character of a face or body really stand out and show mood, your soul and personality, Xavier demonstrated as he adjusted lights up, down and left and right adding shadows or subtracting shadows.”I have used as many as 12 different lights on one person to get the relaxed look I want.” The tungsten lighting was like a movie set. DSC_0203 Then, Xavier snapped a photo of me and instantly had a proof of it provided by a machine near him. Xavier was working with no flash and was using only the lights he had shining on me. “Too dark,” he said as he viewed my proof photo so he adjusted several lights and shot another photo and replied; “Now that is what I want.” So he took another photo of me.DSC_0196  “Now I want you to turn your head to the left and look at the camera with your eyes,” Xavier explained as he adjusted my jacket collar and moved several strands of hair that were in my face. And he took more photos. My once-in-a-life time portrait session was over then and my experience of how movie stars and celebrities have their portrait made by Harcourt Studios.DSC_0209  So, I left that high chair and went to the proof machine behind Xavier to view my 4 photos on a 24×30 inch computer screen. And I could only select one. After discussing each photo, the proof man and I agreed on the first photo taken. And immediately, the final black and white print was in my hand with the famous “H” icon logo of Harcourt at the bottom right. I had a priceless souvenir of my visit to Harcourt and Paris.DSC_0210  All 125 guests on Tauck’s first Paris Event had their portrait made on 4 different days and they were as happy as I. Our photographic session began in the make-up room of Jean Cocteau where the makeup artist worked wonders with all the tricks of the trade. She powdered shiny faces so they wouldn’t cause a glare in the photo. Then lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, blusher or eyebrow color was added to make each one of us picture perfect for the portrait session with Xavier.DSC_0179  So, with this experience, we all learned how movie stars, celebrities and prominent clients are photographed in black and white at Harcourt Studios. For 2000 Euros (approximately $2250 USD) each famous client gets to select one photograph just like we did. Cost to photograph a family is 3000 Euros.DSC_0232

June Landrum
June Landrum
Robin Tauck of Tauck World Discovery
Robin Tauck of Tauck World Discovery
Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld
Spike Lee
Spike Lee
Brigett Bardot
Brigett Bardot

 “We have photographed many famous people such as Brigett Bardot, Spike Lee, Charles De Galle, Josephine Baker, Karl Lagerfeld, Salvador Dali, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland and many more.” Gorge Hayter, Harcourt Sales Manager, said as he showed their photos and explained the lighting, personality and mood of each one. “We photograph 300-400 people/objects per year.” DSC_0220  When we had lunch at Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris after our photography session, we viewed scores of Harcourt’s photos of movie stars and celebrities hanging on the wall all over the restaurant.

Gorge Hayter, Harcourt Sales Manager, with the photo of the polo player on his horse, and a car.
Gorge Hayter, Harcourt Sales Manager, with the photo of the polo player on his horse, and a car.

 Harcourt also photographs animals and objects. “We have photographed a polo player on his horse, Barbie on her 40th and 50th anniversary, the Energizer Bunny, Hedwig the owl in Harry Potter, Minnie Mouse, buildings inside and outside, weddings, motorcycles, cars, planes, and the soccer team in Paris,  explained  Hayter. “Many clients want a photo with their precious cat or dog also and dogs are easier to photograph because they usually pose and hold still and most cats don’t. And we will go to locations outside of our studio if need be and set up the same lighting as in our studio.”

Cosette Harcourt, founder of Harcourt Studio
Cosette Harcourt, founder of Harcourt Studio

 Harcourt Studios began in 1934 when Cosette Harcourt, an industrial photographer who was fond of the Parisian and aristocratic ways of life, noticed her friends didn’t have the time to sit for a painting but they did for a photograph. So she began her studio that has grown to 10 professional photographers, all in Paris but moving on command. “It takes 3 years for a photographer to learn how to manipulate light according to the unique expertise of Studio Harcourt,” Hayter explained. And it was very unusual for a woman to begin a business in 1934.

Our photography session was over for all of us and we left with wonderful memories, the experience of Harcourt and the joy of being photographed by the top portrait studio in the world. It was exhilarating and fun experiencing how celebrities are photographed by Harcourt Studio. And that high chair in the middle of the studio waits the next movie star or celebrity.

Photo Copy ©  2015 




Necessity is the Mother of Invention

  It followed us from the ancient temple city of Khajuraho to Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks, as part of our multi-vehicle convoy. And it was ready for our every need on the multi-hour rides into Central India which everyone enjoyed and appreciated.

Our custom Luxury Loo followed our convoy everywhere we went.
Our custom Luxury Loo followed our convoy everywhere we went.

It was the Luxury Loo that was invented by Tauck World Discovery because the need arose for their tour members traveling to their tiger safaris.  There are no toilets available along the vast expanse of open land and small villages to the parks.  So Tauck solved the challenge by providing a toilet in their convoy for their tiger adventures to operate smoothly, comfortably and conveniently. Necessity is the Mother of invention and the Luxury Loo was the answer.

The line up to use the Happy Van.
The line up to use the Happy Van.

Every two hours, next to rice fields, pastures or farms in the northern Central India area, the convoy would stop for a Luxury Loo break. Alongside the road in an unknown location, tour members exited their white SUVs headed straight for the “Happy Van.”DSC_0488 Two mini-motor home vans were modified to fit Tauck’s need for complete clean restroom facilities plus a comfortable waiting area from the weather.DSC_0493 And the Luxury Loo would be everywhere the Tauck tour was going because it always joined the convoy full of tour members ready for the next potty break.DSC_0496 Inside the big white van was a 3×3-foot room with toilet, sink, and amenities, just perfect for all Tauck tour members to use.DSC_0478 Plus, two comfortable couches with table were available where tour members could wait for their turn with the single unisex toilet.               DSC_0546 As guests used the Luxury Loo facilities one at a time, refreshments of snacks, fruits and soft drinks were available, making the tour even more consumer-friendly.  DSC_0545Some exercised, practiced Yoga and Tai Chi positions or walked around the convoy of cars to stretch their legs and bodies during each “Shangra Loo” break.DSC_0623 When it was time for lunch, the convoy stopped on the side of the road under a huge tree, set up a buffet table with white table cloth and all the trimmings. Rocks served as seats as all enjoyed the delicious food, scenery and Indian rural people going about their daily duties.DSC_0604 Two vans had to be modified to create 2 Luxury Loos so Tauck would have one available for their Northern India and Nepal tour which includes 7 total tiger safaris in Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks. When one tour has a Luxury Loo in use, another tour begins and uses the second Luxury Loo, and this rotation continued throughout Tauck’s Northern India and Nepal tour season.DSC_0739 The Luxury Loo comes complete with attendants who help open the door for the tour members, help them into and out of the van and provide needed supplies from hand sanitizer to towelettes for each one. Then the attendants clean the Luxury Loo and drive it at the end of the Tiger safari convoy, ready for the next Luxury Loo stop along the way to the national parks. DSC_0542 Along the way, the tour members enjoyed the everyday lives for the rural people, seeing how they are making it, ladies collecting water every morning for their home, men working their animals to thrash rice grain from the stalk, a Tuk Tuk stuffed with people for a ride into a village, children happy to see us and smiling and waving, people on the road stopping to speak with us and welcoming us to India, learning that cattle are sacred and have the right-of-way on every road not vehicles,  cattle pulling wagons full of hay, and ladies walking in their beautiful colorful saris carrying different products on their head.   DSC_0861                               DSC_0803DSC_0771DSC_0764DSC_0766DSC_0714DSC_0636DSC_0712DSC_0801DSC_0284 DSC_0816DSC_0592DSC_0544

The rural people in Central India paint their houses blue because dust does not stick to blue paint.
The rural people in Central India paint their houses blue because dust does not stick to blue paint.

All Tauck tour members were back on the road for their third and final convoy ride with the Luxury Loo and were happy and appreciative for Tauck’s relieving invention, and even happier because they saw their first Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild in India. It truly was Incredible India!

A Kanha National Park Photo
A Kanha National Park Photo

Tiger Tracks and Tiger Too

Ashish spotted something moving 98 feet away (30 meters) on his left side as he was driving us on the paved main road to the entrance of Kanha National Park in Central India. Instantly, he hollered and pointed left, “TIGER”!

Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo
Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo

With that, Denise, May, Ed and I, went into immediate action riding in the safari vehicle to see our dream realized after 3 tiger safari treks through the Sal Forest of Kanha National Park. Since we were going 25 mph (40 KPH), we were completely covered in blankets including head and face to stop the freezing wind chill. And when the TIGER word was said, we grabbed our cameras and uncovered as fast as possible for our wish come true to see a tiger in the wild.DSC_0418

Ashish knew our third attempt at seeing a tiger in Kanha National Park would be good when he picked us up at 6:10 am Dec. 1.  As he was driving to our Banjaar Tola Safari Tented Lodge, a jungle cat crossed right in front of his vehicle. “In my area, people believe if a cat crosses the road while driving or walking, it’s not a good sign but I believe it is a good sign,” Ashish Bais, our 35-year-old driver expert  naturalist on tigers at the Lodge, explained  “And I usually see one tiger out of every 3-4 safari drives so the luck was with me again by average.”

Ashish Bais, Naturalist
Ashish Bais, Naturalist

Luck did come his and our way at 6:17 AM on our third safari ride in Kanha just a few minutes after the jungle cat incident. Only 1.2 miles or 2 kilometers from the lodge, a huge male tiger was walking along a fence about 60 feet (20 meters) from us near the Banjaar River. And we were driving on the paved road to the Mukki entrance for our morning safari drive. DSC_0346The tiger was near the edge of the forest and we had about 60 seconds to clearly view his swaggering, strolling walk. “This early in the morning,” Ashish said, “he was also looking for his girlfriend. I knew it was a male because of his size.”

We finally managed to grab our cameras and start photographing as fast as we could having been given an instant’s notice and we managed to succeed with still photos and video. I was shaking, hyperventilating and saying OMG, OMG as Ashish drove the safari vehicle backwards following the tiger that was walking towards us to the creek.DSC_0363


We all tried to keep a positive attitude after seeing no tigers on 3 safari drives at Bandhavgarh National Park and 2 times at Kanha, but the sixth safari drive was a charm at Kanha. We didn’t think we would ever see a Royal Bengal Tiger on this Tauck World Discovery tour of Northern India and Nepal after spending 27.5 hours looking for one.DSC_0165  We had seen tiger paw prints in the dirt, tiger poop and tiger scratches in the tree trunks, but never a tiger. DSC_0211DSC_0408

As we toured and toured the parks, we learned that Indian tiger safaris are not like African safaris where you see many animals. In these Indian parks, we saw all kinds of deer, birds, wild boar and gaur cattle that were food for the tigers. And we learned that the deer, langur monkeys, and birds sound alarm noises to alert everyone a tiger is near or in the area.

Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo
Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo

When we continued on our safari in Kanha after spotting our dream tiger, we learned that several other tour members also saw a tiger cross the road and walk around them about an hour after our tiger spotting and they were as ecstatic as we were. Then we learned from a lodge worker that several more tour members saw a tiger at the river as they were sitting and enjoying coffee. Almost all of us saw a tiger on the same day and it was a very happy day for us.DSC_0413

It was on this tiger spotting that we learned how expert our safari naturalist guide is. As we were looking for tigers, Ashish educated us about them. “They are solitary, elusive and live in the thicket in a big area of 4,942 acres (20 square kilometers) by themselves, Ashish, who has a master’s degree in botany and worked for the All India Tiger Monitoring Project, explained.  “So this is why it is so difficult to see one.” To make it more difficult, Bandhavgarh has 65 tigers in the 110,209 acre (1598.10 SqM) park and Kanha has 96 in the 232,279 acre (2051.79 SqM) park, making our tiger one chance in 96, almost a 1% chance of seeing a tiger.DSC_0388

Having studied botany with specialization in plant pathology and tiger behavior and Swamp Deer(The hard Ground Barasingha) food behavior, Ashish learned to constantly look for tigers while driving or walking. He came to Kanha to work as a naturalist in a lodge and then moved to the All India Tiger Monitoring Project for 3 years where he studied and collared tigers. He used to go on elephant back for research work and follow tigers with the help of his team and to know tiger behavior, he set up cameras to count the number of them. And he studied tigers in each of the 4 seasons and followed one tigress. Ashish has been a naturalist at Banjaar Tolar Tented Safari Camp since 2008.

Tigers on Kanha National Park T-Shirt
Tigers on Kanha National Park T-Shirt

So Ashish was happy to make our day by noticing that male tiger sauntering along the edge of the park, and wanted to know if he could be of further help. “Yes” we all said. “Show us another tiger.”

Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo
Kanha National Park Royal Bengal Tiger Photo

The Beautiful Tombs of Samosir

Each one resembled a miniature church, pyramid, or a multi-layered structure that reigned magnificently throughout Samosir Island.DSC_0387 DSC_0276DSC_0998They were all different colors, shapes, sizes and designs that sat in rice and vegetable fields, next to Toba Batak family homes, on top of hills and near the lake. These were the beautiful Toba Batak family tombs on Samosir Island, the largest island in the world located in a lake, Lake Toba, which is the deepest  volcanic lake in the world at 1,666 feet or 505 meters, in the northern part of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.DSC_0186

 DSC_1018 DSC_0220We viewed over 50 tombs as we circled Samosir Island looking at the design of the Toba Batak homes, its people going about their daily lives, the rice fields, the mountains and those magnificent tombs on a Bestway Tours and Safaris tour of Indonesia.DSC_0317DSC_0198DSC_0188DSC_0185DSC_0130 The glorious monuments are perpetual remembrances and a place of honor to many past generations. The Toba Batak people are Muslim, Christian, or Batak religion.DSC_0124DSC_0362DSC_0381DSC_0160DSC_0145

 Each Toba Batak family has a family tomb on their property as a place of honor for generations of family burials. Some of the tombs were as high as 5 levels with stairs to reach them. But, it was not only the design but the color of the tombs that made each one outstanding. Orange, yellow, pink, white, burgundy, purple and navy were the bright colors most often used on the facades. Several tombs were grouped together, but most stood alone like sculptures.DSC_0196DSC_0177DSC_0205DSC_0173DSC_1001DSC_0191

 Tombs were made of marble, stone, tile, or concrete and are built to last years for Toba Batak family members. Many had designer fences around them and it seems each family tries to have the most outstanding tomb on the island. Each family tomb and plot of land is handed down to the next generation to use and keep for the next generation. DSC_0223DSC_0314DSC_0404DSC_1027






Tau Taus Guard Tombs in Torajaland

After the elaborate funeral celebration of the life of a family member, Torajan people believe the deceased must be buried between Earth and Heaven. So coffins are placed in rocks, cliffs, trees, or rock walls so the deceased will not be buried in the Earth. And a tau tau is carved to guard the tomb.DSC_0221

With items needed in the afterlife beside the body, the coffin is placed in a tomb in a rock cliff located in Lemo, Sulawesi, Indonesia, after weeks of chiseling out a big hole. Then the opening is closed with a wooden door and a tau tau placed above it.

The out-stretched hands offer protection, wealth, prosperity, and good health to family members.
The out-stretched hands of the tau taus offer protection, wealth, prosperity, and good health to family members.


Guarding over the tomb is the hand-carved wooden tau tau, an effigy or likeness of the person in the tomb standing on the adjacent balcony. Every August the ritual is held where the Torajan family takes the body from the tomb and washes, grooms and dresses it in new clothes.

And the effigies are dressed with new clothes and refurbished regularly. Coffins are repaired and replaced when needed, our Bestway Tours & Safaris guide told us.DSC_0464

In another burial rock cliff called Ke’te’Kese in Sulawesi, Indonesia, coffins of all shapes and sizes are hung from the side of the cliffs. These are called the Hanging Cliffs.DSC_0479The coffins are repaired and replaced after years of deterioration and many families collect the remains and place them with other family member’s remains in one family communal coffin. It is not unusual to see skulls on top of the grave at the Hanging Cliffs.DSC_0469

Guarding the tombs at the Hanging Cliffs
Tau tau guarding the tombs at the Hanging Cliffs


When babies die before they have started teething, they are buried in a large pine tree trunk, called the Baby TreeDSC_0268. The deceased baby is wrapped in a cloth and placed in hole dug out in a palm tree trunk. Palm fiber is placed over the hole to close the tomb. DSC_0274As the tree trunk grows, the baby’s remains become one with the tree. When many babies are buried in the same palm tree trunk, the tree dies.DSC_0088

The Torajans have one more place to bury their loved ones. Since the people live in a rocky hilly terrain in the mountains, rocks are used as tombs. Many of the rocks are huge boulders making it a perfect place for tombs. And a tau tau of the deceased person is placed over the coffin to watch over it.DSC_0052

The former King and Queen had their own tomb built. And they guard it to this day.
The former King and Queen had their own tomb built. And they guard it to this day. Notice the Queen has her arms out-stretched but her hands are down. She was the Queen.

After several years of preparing for the deceased’s funeral celebration, Torajan people then spend weeks preparing the burial tomb located between Heaven and Earth. This is followed with the ritual cleaning and dressing the body every August after burial in rocks, trees, rock walls or hanging from cliffs.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

A Torajan lady in her traditional headdress.
A Torajan lady in her traditional headdress.

Dani Tribe Perform Traditional Ceremony Barely Clothed

Barely clothed and wearing a feather headdress, a koteka, and fur arm bands were all each tribesman wore as he battled barefooted with men of another tribe. These tribesmen were the Dani of Papua Irian Jaya, also known as Papua, Indonesia, and they used spears and bows and arrows to fight others.