travel and other stories
We’ve all seen them and smelled them - from yoga parlours to out-of-the-way parties to, for those of us who travel, in pretty much every single temple all across Asia. From sticks of varying sizes to month-long-burning circular ones and even small pyramids, each of them smelling something different - jasmine, cinnamon, spices and pretty much everything in-between. Personally I fine myself liking some while others may be a bit too much, but there’s no doubting both the significance they play in buddhist and hindu ceremonies and how important they are for literally billions of people (yes, that’s more than 2 billion!). And hey, photographically speaking, they just look awesome!
Any traveller to Bangladesh - and there are precious few of them, for now anyway - cannot help but reading about the infamous brick factories, where thousands of workers across the country toil, from dawn to dusk, in “horrible” conditions to churn out about 10 million bricks a day. And this is despite the government’s attempts to stop such images from going out into the world - I guess for fear that the “outside world” might think less of the country because of them. So it was no wonder that for my first trip to Bangladesh I wanted to visit those factories (in fact, they were one of my very first points of interest and one I ended up visiting more than 3 times while there) and see for myself - hopefully capture some good images along the way.
When you research Zanzibar, seaweed farming does not even make it to the top 4 or 5 pages in Google and certainly does not appear in most travel forums or discussion groups. Yes, the determined researcher or traveller may eventually get there, but it’s harder than it looks. And this is a crime.
Setting aside the fact that seaweed farming is one of the largest, non-tourist related, single industries in Zanzibar, it is also a vehicle for significant social and cultural change in an otherwise rather strict Muslim country. It is fascinating to observe, incredibly beautiful to see and awe-inspiring to learn about. For more than a century it has changed the fates and fortunes of countless women, given them a way out of an otherwise very limited life, but now, this is changing. Rapidly and, unfortunately, not for the best.
Seaweed farming and its fortunes are one of the most obvious and visual indicators of how global warming is affecting our planet and this planet will be worse off if it were ever to die away.
Once branded as the single, most important, fish auction in the world, the morning tuna auction at Tsukiji market at the Tokyo docks is certainly absolutely amazing. True, it is hard to get into, it is very regimented and highly controlled, it is not very conducive to photography but it is an absolutely must-do for any adventurous traveller and certainly for any photographer. With all the trickiness involved in visiting the auction, it is surprisingly easy to get to - if you don’t mind skipping some sleep, sitting on the floor and, well, walking through a wet and freezing seafood market.
The stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka are, for one reason or another, on every travel photographer’s wish list (and for that we have Steve McCurry to blame - but that’s another story altogether!) And they are there for a very, very good reason. It’s not only the tradition itself - which is unfortunately dying - but the people who make this an amazing experience, both visually as well as in terms of the memories and the knowledge you take away.
These days, finding the fishermen is both easy and extraordinarily difficult as people who used to be fishermen have learned that posing for tourists can be, sometimes, more profitable that actually fishing, so in easily accessible beaches, where the stilts are close to the beach, most people posing as fishermen are not real. But, there are quite a few of them (and, don’t get me wrong, visually, they are brilliant!), so they’re relatively easy to find.
However, finding real ones, ones who wake up at 4am to wade out to the deep stilts to fish for barracuda, the ones who rely on the fishing for their living…well, that’s another story altogether!
The Chouara tanneries in the old medina in Fez must be one of the smelliest, loudest, hottest but also most colourful and exciting workplaces in the world. It is an incredible place, filled with some of the most hard-working people in the world and, despite the challenges, an amazing place to visit and immerse yourself in.
Most people experience a visit to the tanneries by accessing one of the many terraces overlooking the main area, usually “protected” from the smell by sprigs of mint or some other herb, observing the hive of activity below from a distance safe from the dirty waters, the chemicals and the dust. But that is not where the heart of the tanneries beats.
Going into the main area is - these days - surprisingly easy (and relatively cheap) but it is also a bit risky, will almost certainly get you very dirty and, well, it’s not for everyone. But to the determined traveller or photographer, it is heaven.
It’s not only the images which can be found there, but the feeling of the place - the camaraderie among the workers, their jokes (usually at the visitors’ expense, but hey, it’s part and parcel, right?) and their amazing willingness to laugh and smile which wins your heart.
Visiting a Himba village and seeing how these amazing people live gives the visitor no indication that they are, quite possibly, one of the largest indigenous tribes remaining in the world. While only present in northern Namibia and southern Angola, their numbers are more than 50,000! And yet, most villages rarely have more than a couple dozen people, mostly women (as men tend to their flocks or trade in the big towns and cities) and the pace is slow, calm and so very relaxed it lulls the visitor to a sense that this is just a tiny tribe, forgotten by everyone.
However the Himba are unique in many ways - especially in the way they have adapted to the huge water shortages that plague Namibia. You see, almost unlike any other tribe on earth, the Himba have adapted to live, practically, with very little to no water. On average, a Himba family uses less water than a Touareg uses crossing the desert!