Yearly Archives: 2016

Oaxaca Scenes

Oaxaca Scenes

In case the weather is turning cold where you are, here are some scenes from the sunny city of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico. Oaxaca was founded by the Spanish in the 1520s along key trade routes between Mexico City and Central America. Today, this city of 300,000 people is full of Baroque churches, colorful colonial… Read More

Ixtlan de Juarez

Ixtlan de Juarez

One day recently we escaped the city of Oaxaca for the mountains that tower over it to the north. An hour’s ride on twisty roads in a shared (collectivo) taxi—three people jammed in the front seats and three in the back—brought us to the mountain town of Ixtlan de Juarez. “Ixtlan” is thought to be… Read More

Life in Oaxaca

Life in Oaxaca

Like countless North American snowbirds before us, we’ve come to the sunny city of Oaxaca, Mexico, for December. Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HAH-kah) sits on a plateau surrounded by mountains in southern Mexico, in the middle of the area where the country narrows as it heads toward Central America. Oaxaca is known for its balmy climate, its… Read More

Images of Tana Toraja

Images of Tana Toraja

I was a bit scared that the photos of this amazing place would get lost if posted as galleries under each of Chris’s excellent (but rather lengthy) articles about our time there. So here’s a separate post with links to the Tana Toraja photo galleries!     One of the symbols of the Torajan people… Read More

A Countryside Dotted With Ancestors

A Countryside Dotted With Ancestors

Foreign visitors come to Tana Toraja in central Sulawesi for cultural tourism as much as for beautiful mountain scenery. We’ve written about the Torajans’ distinctive architecture and buffalo-centered funerals. Another part of their culture for which Torajans are famous is their burial practices. Until a century ago, the Torajans had a rich variety of ceremonies for… Read More

Houses That Reach for the Sky

Houses That Reach for the Sky

On the seemingly endless bus ride from southern Sulawesi, you know you’ve reached Tana Toraja (Land of the Torajans) when the houses start to look unlike anything that came before. Rectangular wooden houses, set high on pillars, are carved and elaborately painted in shades of black and ochre and are crowned with improbably large curved… Read More

A Ceremonial Send-Off in Tana Toraja

A Ceremonial Send-Off in Tana Toraja

One thing I love about being a vagabond is not knowing when I wake up in the morning what my day will bring. This morning I would not have expected that by midday I’d be sitting 10 feet from a man hacking up a buffalo carcass with a machete while I was politely being served… Read More

Bunaken Life

Bunaken Life

For the past week, we’ve been in snorkelers’ paradise. There are few things that we both love more than swimming over a brightly sunlit reef, gazing at the multicolored corals and fishes below. When the waves are high, the currents are strong, or you see something large or unexpected, it’s exciting. When the sea is… Read More

Merdaka Day in Melaka

Merdaka Day in Melaka

In our travels in Malaysia, we saved the oldest for last: Melaka. In the 1300s and 1400s, that port city in southwestern Malaysia was the heart of a sultanate that ruled much of the Malay Peninsula and had trade contacts throughout Southeast Asia. Its wealth inevitably attracted attention from European explorers and merchants, and in… Read More

We Admit It, We’re Here for the Food

We Admit It, We’re Here for the Food

Much of our daily life in Malaysia—our plans and our outings—revolves around food. That’s probably true in a lot of countries we visit. But here, we’re in good company. Malaysians are crazy about food. Penang has a reputation for having some of the best food in the country, so lots of Malaysian tourists go there… Read More

A Farewell to Penang

A Farewell to Penang

As we leave Malaysia, I’ve been finishing sorting through my Penang photos, and I’ve found a few more that I thought were worth sharing!     Read More

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghost Distracters

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghost Distracters

It’s the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar. That means the gates of the underworld have opened, and for 28 days, the ghosts of the unreincarnated walk among us. There’s nothing to eat in the underworld, so when they come back to earth, they’re very hungry. In Penang, where about 40 percent of the… Read More

Temples and Mosques

Temples and Mosques

Penang’s places of worship are as diverse as its people. Although Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, Penang is also home to large and vibrant communities of Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and Christians. The Chinese temples and ancestral clan halls are the most atmospheric—with their incense, lanterns, and sculptured roofs—while the Hindu temples are the most… Read More

People of Penang

People of Penang

I didn’t spend as much time as I might have liked taking pictures of people in Penang (mostly because of the withering heat). But here is a small representation of the varied faces and styles of a wonderfully diverse place—much of whose population is descended from immigrants from China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and… Read More

Shophouses of Penang

Shophouses of Penang

If there’s one thing that epitomizes Penang’s historic center, George Town, it’s the traditional shophouse. Street after street in George Town is lined with these multipurpose rowhouses—dating from the 18th to the 20th century—in myriad styles, colors, and states of repair. A typical shophouse was intended to play many roles: the front of the ground… Read More

On Top of Penang Hill

On Top of Penang Hill

On Tuesday, we did what countless people in Penang have done for centuries: rode up to the highest part of the island in search of cooler air. Most of the development in Penang is around the coasts; the center of the island is forested mountains. The highest point that is easily accessible, Penang Hill, is… Read More

Art Around Every Corner

Art Around Every Corner

One of the things we love about Penang is its passion for street art—everything from murals covering the sides of multistory buildings to small paintings tucked into the corners of random alleys. The last time we were here, in 2014, we posted a photo gallery of Penang street art that included some of the most… Read More

How Penang’s 1% Lived

How Penang’s 1% Lived

The buildings that Penang is best known for are Chinese-style shophouses—long, narrow rowhouses with stores in front, workshops behind, and living quarters above. Built in the 1800s and early 1900s, they housed much of Penang’s urban lower and middle classes. Wealthier residents had stand-alone houses, and the wealthiest of all had mansions. We took a… Read More

Penang’s Clan Jetties

Penang’s Clan Jetties

We have a master plan for exploring Penang. We made a long list of places we want to visit (sections of George Town we haven’t seen yet, museums, nature sites), and twice a week we’ll get up early, pick somewhere on the list, and explore it for a few hours before the day gets too… Read More

Festivities in Penang

Festivities in Penang

We missed July 4th (Independence Day) weekend in the United States, with its cookouts and fireworks, but early July in Penang has provided us with lots of festivities. The end of Ramadan, known here as Hari Raya, is a two-day national holiday. This year it fell on a Wednesday and Thursday, so some people took… Read More

Exploring the Neighborhood

Exploring the Neighborhood

The last time we were in Penang, at the end of 2014, we stayed in the old part of the island’s capital city, George Town. This time, we’re in a suburban neighborhood a few miles away. The area, called Tanjung Tokong, is dominated by huge high-rise apartment buildings and malls, with new ones being built… Read More

Our Summer Home

Our Summer Home

At last we’ve gotten to the reason for our trip to Southeast Asia this summer: a two-month housesitting assignment on the island of Penang just off the northwest coast of the Malay Peninsula. In exchange for a free place to live, we’re looking after the house, garden, and cat(s) of a European couple who are… Read More

The Shadow Puppets of Nakhon

The Shadow Puppets of Nakhon

It’s not every day that you get to visit the workshop of a national treasure. Suchart Subsin, who died last year at age 77, was a master of the ancient art of Thai shadow puppetry. It’s a form of theater, dating back at least to 400 BC, that tells stories with flat figures made of… Read More

Where Is Everybody?

Where Is Everybody?

Some people dream of having a beach all to themselves. Right now, we’re living that dream, and although I’m a confirmed introvert, I initially found it a little unsettling. We’re at Nai Phlao beach near the town of Khanom in southern Thailand. It mainly draws Thai tourists, though it must be in some European guidebook,… Read More

Life at the Beach on Koh Phangan

Life at the Beach on Koh Phangan

The long, thin peninsula that stretches from Thailand down to Malaysia is blessed with beautiful beaches on both sides. The last time we visited Thailand, it was January, and the islands on the east side were having bad weather, so we concentrated on the west. (See the photo galleries for Koh Lipe and Koh Ngai.)… Read More

Photos of Ayutthaya

Photos of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya in central Thailand is now a modest town of 55,000 people, but a few centuries ago it was Thailand’s bustling capital city, with a million residents and many foreign delegations. The major draws of Ayutthaya now are the picturesque ruins of elaborate temples commissioned by Thai kings, mainly in the 15th and 16th centuries.… Read More

Thailand’s Answer to Angkor Wat

Thailand’s Answer to Angkor Wat

An 80-kilometer trip north of Bangkok takes you back 400 years in time. Ayutthaya is Thailand’s Angkor Wat: the remains of a former royal capital, now in ruins. But unlike Angkor Wat, which largely stands by itself, Ayutthaya is still a modern town. That leads to sights like high school students using the lawn around… Read More

Photos of Bangkok

Photos of Bangkok

Our guesthouse in Bangkok was across the street from the city’s oldest Buddhist monastery, Wat Pho, founded in the 1600s. It’s famous for being a center of learning (especially about traditional medicine and massage), for the elaborately tiled chedis (memorial pagodas) built by early Thai kings, and for its enormous reclining Buddha.   Bangkok has… Read More

Bangkok’s Royal Bling

Bangkok’s Royal Bling

The story of Bangkok is the story of the Chakri dynasty: nine kings, all called Rama, who have reigned in Thailand since the late 1700s (as absolute monarchs until the 1930s and as constitutional monarchs since then). Rama I established Bangkok as the royal capital and built fortifications, palaces, and monasteries that still dominate the… Read More

It’s Still Hot, but at Least It Glitters

It’s Still Hot, but at Least It Glitters

After a 13-month absence, we’re back in Southeast Asia. When we left in April 2015, we were determined not to go anywhere so hot for a long time. But then we heard about an opportunity to housesit for free in July and August in a fun part of Malaysia: the island of Penang. We applied… Read More

Farewell, Ye Banks of Sicily

Farewell, Ye Banks of Sicily

Just in time for our return to Southeast Asia, here’s the final post about our European trip last summer. How do you end a visit to Sicily? With a 400-mile trip to Naples, of course. The frequent-flyer tickets that our friends AJ and Francesca were using required them to leave from an airport in mainland… Read More

Enna Before the Clouds Rolled In

Enna Before the Clouds Rolled In

One of the oldest cities in Sicily, Enna sits high atop a crag in almost the exact center of the island. Its strategic position means that Enna was fought over by warring armies for more than 2,000 years. Today it’s a densely populated but quiet city and a good base for visiting the nearby Villa… Read More

Roman Mosaic Marvels

Roman Mosaic Marvels

After the Greeks came the Romans. As it was in high school history class, so it was in Sicily. By 200 BC, Sicily had been absorbed into the Roman Empire. Few structures from the Roman era remain in Sicily; most succumbed to the island’s later history of warfare, conquest, and taking stones from old buildings… Read More

Agrigento Archaeology Museum

Agrigento Archaeology Museum

The archaeological museum in Agrigento is full of beautiful artifacts dating from the period when Agrigento was a major city-state of the Ancient Greek world. Read More

The Ruins of Agrigento in Pictures

The Ruins of Agrigento in Pictures

In the 5th century BC, the city of Agrigento on the southern coast of Sicily was one of the largest and wealthiest colonies in the Ancient Greek world. The ruins of Agrigento’s Greek temples are among Sicily’s major tourist attractions. Read More

Agrigento: Greek Sicily on an Epic Scale

Agrigento: Greek Sicily on an Epic Scale

If you’re not a classicist, you might not think of going to Italy to see Greek ruins. But in its heyday in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the island of Sicily was home to many city-states founded by Greek colonists. One of the largest and wealthiest was Agrigento in the middle of Sicily’s southern… Read More

The Beauty of Belgium in Pictures

The Beauty of Belgium in Pictures

After all the sad news we’ve been hearing from Belgium lately, we thought you might appreciate seeing a prettier and more peaceful side of that European nation. Here are the photo galleries from our travels last summer in some of the most interesting old cities of northern Belgium (also known as Flanders).   Read More