Budget Image 1

5 tips that will Pay for your next Vacation

Travel is an investment. Not only in yourself, but the world around you. If you travel with children even more so. Paying for travel should be approached with the same mindset as preparing for any other long term investment. Although one side doesn’t fit all, I’ve put together this short list that I used when initially planning my travels.

 

Pick your Travel Destination

One of the biggest mistakes people make making a travel budget is NOT picking a destination early. Sounds simple but people usually talk themselves out of travel even before they begin. Often times I hear, “flights cost thousands and hotels cost hundreds”. Well yes. Where are you going? *BLANK STARE*.

Flights from the U.S. to Japan can cost thousands. But they cost hundreds to Europe. Far less to Central America. Hotels vary greatly depending on the country you visit. A $150 hotel in London may cost you $40 in Bangkok. A $200 hotel in Buenos Aires may cost you $75 in Dubrovnik. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. Figuring out how much you need starts with finding out how much something cost. A few location thoughts

- Croatia. The coast is stunning and full of life. Compared to its Italian and Greek neighbors, it’s a downright steal.

Thailand. I have no idea how but Thailand remains the best overall travel value in the world. No question.

Colombia. Cheap, Safe, and beautiful. The stigma of Pablo Escobar still hangs over this stunning country. Resulting in reasonable prices and a light disbursement of tourist.

And remember, a decent holiday doesn’t have to be found abroad. More than enough great destinations lie in most home countries. If you’re American then you have the best country for tourism on the planet.

 

Find your Travel Style

Start by asking yourself the question, “How do I want to travel.” Seems simple but this is something very important to consider as it lays the foundation for how you plan to finance travel for yourself. Are you a 5 star hotel kind of person or a youth hostel dweller? Are you comfortable with sleeping on someone’s couch? Do you want to fly, drive, bus, or take a train? Maybe bike. This is possibly one of the most frustrating portions of travel planning because you don’t truly know because, (A) you’ve never been there or (B) you’ve never traveled. This takes personal research and insight on your part. And be honest with yourself. It could save you quite a bit of money. Travel budgets have been decimated when people travel outside of their price range. Travel budgeting truly depends on knowledge of yourself and your habits.

Personally I travel fast and light. I don’t mind sleeping in a ditch or a King Size bed. Less is more for me so a minimalist approach to travel is just fine by me. Here’s the budget I used in 2011 when planning my first year on the road. I searched the internet and found another travelers spread sheet format and modified it to my needs. This budget reflects my style of travel and is inflated in some areas just in case. Remember, every person is different and thus every budget is as well. Use my budget as a template.

TIP: If you would like a copy of the template to edit on your own and play around with send me an email.

Budget Image 1Budget Image 2

 

Start Cutting cost TODAY

When you decide to create a travel budget you decide to SAVE. In today’s world of TV packages, student loans, and soaring fuel prices that can be hard. But it all starts with cutting what you spend and letting go of financial burdens. Let’s look at a few places you can start cutting cost to get started with travel budgeting.

YOU DON’T NEED (or things I didn’t need)
Cable/ Satellite TV: I was paying about 90 a month. I realized that I really never watched TV outside of sports. Once I figured out how to download and stream everything TV disappeared. It’s not only a money waster but a time waster as well. I think I searched for something to watch more than I actually watched.

Super fast Internet: I went from a $50 plan to a $20 plan. Couldn’t tell the difference much. My downloads were a little slower but that’s about all. Gaming, uploading, and surfing remained close to the same.

EATING OUT: Possibly the biggest money pit and simplest to fix. I was easily spending $400 a month eating out and that’s on the low end. If you think that’s too high imagine if you grab a cup of coffee and lunch 5 days a week. A cup of coffee is $3 ($15 for the week) on the cheap side. And you go to a decent lunch place. Average is going to be about $10 ($50 a week) plus tip in the U.S. That’s already $260 without a breakfast and dinner meal. Start cooking. If you don’t know how, LEARN. I was able to cut down to maybe $100 a month eating out. I became healthier and wealthier for it. Imagine saving $260 a month. $3120 a year. Holiday fund complete. You’re welcome

To drive everywhere: Now this was HUGE for me. The thing about Austin, and many other U.S. cities, is you can take a bus or bike pretty much everywhere you really need to go. BUT it takes effort. That alone saved me $500 a month in car payments, parking, tolls, gas, and pure anger from the ridiculous traffic here. Not to mention how amazing I felt cycling again. I cycled to work and home every day. If you really need to go somewhere rent a car. I’m going to teach you how I rent from Avis for around $50 total for an entire weekend.

Designer clothes and shoes: I was that guy. Designer suits, Ed Hardy (I know I know), and nice coats. I ONLY wore classic white Reebok or Adidas sneakers. I went through my closet and realized much of the stuff I owned I didn’t wear more than a few times and was wasting money like water. I eventually donated 7 lawn bags full of clothes to the Goodwill. I now have one suit (had 8), three dress shirts, three pair of jeans, three pair of shorts, and a bunch of t-shirts and underclothes. I don’t care whose name I’m wearing on my ass (I literally had a dragon and tiger fighting on my ass once and not in the good way).

 

Finding Side Money and Keeping It

Sell EVERYTHING you don’t need: Realistically, this should be the first place you look when travel budgeting. Do you really need that crock pot, XBOX 360, or armoire? I sold everything. Not only because I wanted to travel but I realized I didn’t need any of it. 90% of what I own I carry with me. The rest fits in a truck and two boxes at my friends place. Everything else is replaceable. I netted about $3000 from selling my stuff. What’s more important to you? Stuff or experiences?

 

TIP: If you haven’t used something in 3-4 months then how much do you really need it? Go through our place and pick 5 things you could see today if all else failed. Now why do you still have them?

 

Debt consolidation and adjustments: This can not only help you finance travel, but help you maintain a good quality of life. Some people mistakenly believe I have no debt. WRONG!!! I have bills. I have debt. I’m going to pay it back…..eventually. HEHEHEHE. Seriously, debt collectors will be there. If you already have bad credit like me, what’s another few months going to do? Hell I hope I die with a million worth of debt. Kidding……kind of. Some people will not like this advice, especially debt companies, but the truth remains. Don’t let your debt control you. Control it. Am I saying to tell debt companies to ****off? Yup!!! They’ll do it to you.

If you have good credit, contact your debtor and ask them to skip a few payments if things get too tight. I did this with a credit card and they were all for it since I never missed payments. My friend was able to get two months of payments cleared. All you have to do is ask. For student loans, look into deferments. You never know. This is short term planning. By no means make this a long term strategy.

Buy USED. I pretty much buy everything major used. I would say 90% of the things I own are used. Craigslist, Ebay (not so much these days), and the Goodwill are great.

 

Tip: Don’t let debt control you. Debt is a hustle. They will bleed you for every cent. If you can get away do it. Another option is a settlement on very old debt. Say you owe $500 and your debt is old. Call them and tell them you’ve got $250 to clear it. You’d be surprised how many debt collectors will take something over nothing especially in this economy. The easiest way to get out of debt is to never get in it. BOOM!!!! If you can’t buy it then you don’t need it.

Tip: Shout out to http://www.pausethemoment.com/. Check out their site. Great tips and advice.

Put Your Skills to Use

Clearly the best way to finance travel. GET ANOTHER JOB!!!! As I said above, I made decent money but not a lot. I knew that I had to do something to fund this trip so I got a summer job. Now I initially had calculated it would take about 2 years to save the money I needed with my primary source of income only. My job at the Department of Motor Vehicles cut that by a year. The pay was FANTASTIC, people were great, and I was doing something I’m passionate about. Teaching. Although I was only given a four month contract, I was able to make enough money to fund 50% of my trip around the world and met some amazing people. The reason I’m telling this story is to drive home a point.

We all have talents. I was able to get that position because of two things. 1. I had experience 2. I know how to ace an interview. Use the skills that you have. If you can knit a mean sweater, sell them. If you make pies then send me one, for a price of course. Are you in great shape? Thought about personal training people? Good at math? How about tutoring? In life we all have to make sacrifices to get what we want. What’s more important?

This is the BEST WAY to fund your trip. Part of travel budgeting is increasing cash flow. One job pays the bill and another pays for your trip. Let’s do some quick math. Say your first job covers all bills. You get a part time job. 20hrs a week at 7.15 (minimum wage). Take out 33% for taxes (and that’s on the high side) and you get about $4598 a year. That’s “free” money. Saving almost 5 grand a year is pretty good no matter why you’re doing it.

 

These tips are just a road map. Travel Budgeting is tough. But my overall point is DO SOMETHING. Paying for travel is relatively straight forward and simple when you break it down. You just need to decide to do it.

What are some of your tips to pay for Travel?

How to travel to Plitvice Lakes National Park from Zagreb Croatia

1. Go to Zagreb Bus station (if you are going to Split you can also buy the ticket). You can take Tram 6 from the city center and trams 2 and 3 from the train station. YOU MUST GO TO THE STATION to get tickets. You can see the schedule online but not book.

 Number 6 Tram Zagreb

TIP: If you’re planning to go to Split also you might consider just going straight from the lakes. It’s almost half way there. You can book you’re ticket at the same time and it cost an additional 149kn. It picks up right where you’re dropped off for the lakes.

 

2. 2. Buy a ticket to Plitvica-Jezera. Ticket cost 93kn one way and they only take cash.

Bus Ticket Zagreb to Plitvice or Plitvicka Lakes National Park

Zagreb Bus Station Ticket Counter

3. 3. Board the bus on one of the platforms. the number is printed in the upper right of your ticket. if you have a bag that needs to go under the bus it’s an extra 7kn (this is most buses in Croatia)

Bus from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park

4. 4. The ride takes about 2 hours with a 20 minute stop. plan on about 2:30. where you sit didn’t seem to matter much. locals get on and off regularly and just sit wherever they can. only foreigners are worried about the seat numbers from what I saw.

Croatian rest stop before Plitvice Lakes National Park

5.  5. You’ll be dropped off near entrance 2. make sure to tell the driver you’re going to Plitvice or Plitvica in Croatian. This bus has far more locals throughout the trip than tourist. Pay attention to the time. and you’ll be fine. Not to mention the driver announces the stop. Don’t count on this as one bus I took didn’t have the PA system working.

Zagreb bus at Plitvice National Park Bust Stop

Bus stop at Entrance No 2 of Plitvice Lakes National Park

6.  6. When arriving cross the street from the bus stop and turn left. Walk about 20 feet and you’ll see stairs going up (in front of these is a bus stop going in the opposite direction back to Zagreb). Climb those stairs and follow them to the left.

7.  7. The road will start turn to the right. follow it. this is the entrance to the park and parking 2.

Plitvice National Park Entrance No 2

8.  8. If you have bags go to this counter and have them stored FOR FREE. Get there early because they don’t have many.

Parking and Luggage storage kiosk at Plitvice or Plitvicka Lakes National Park

Luggage storage at Plitvice Lakes National Park

9.  9. Enter the ticket office and buy your ticket. they take credit card as well. Entrance cost 110kn for adults from April 1st-June 30th and 180kn from July 1st-August 31st.

Ticket and Information Building at Plitvice National Park

Ticket counter for Plitvice

1   10. Choose your route and get moving. If you arrived early don’t waste valuable “tourist” free time by hanging around chatting and eating. You’ll have plenty of time for that once the hordes arrive around 10:30.  I recommend route “H”. It has all the highlights and is relatively easy.

     11. HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE. And take a lunch. Some sandwiches and snacks. The  food areas are expensive and aren’t very close together. It can be a couple hours trek between on some trails. Be prepared. We stopped a few times for a quick sandwich and it was perfect planning.

 

Photographers Tips

1.       1. CHARGE YOUR BATTERIES. My goodness I made a rookie mistake and missed an amazing shot at the very end of  our day.

2.       2. Take CP (Circular Polarizer) and ND (Neutral Density) filters. The water is amazingly clear but a CP will pull that glare off. ND filters will come in handy for calming the waters BUT time may be against. The chances of taking a 45 second exposure without other guest shaking the bridges is slim to none. Prepare for a hand held day. If you arrive early enough you can pull it off though. I met a couple using Lee Big Stopper ND6s.

3.       3. Tripod/monopod. I was able to use my tripod but a monopod would have worked well with the crowds. Early my tripod was fine.

4.       4. Lens cleaner. There are two gorgeous falls that shoot mist right at you. You’re so close on the catwalk that you can’t avoid it. Lens cleaner and a cloth are necessary.

5.       5. Wide and telephoto. Plitvice Lakes National Parks offer a wide range of opportunity for all focal lengths. But I found I basically lived between 11mm-120mm.

6.       6. Shoulder harness. pretty self explanatory. makes it so much easier to shoot and move which you’ll need.

7.       7. Know your gear. one of the biggest time wasters were people out there with D800s and 6Ds that were too busy trying to figure them out than shooting. they were just in the way. KNOW YOUR CAMERA. If all else fails switch it to AP and move out of the way.

8.       8. If possible stay at one of the park hotels. Some fine “Golden Hour” photo opportunities. Guesthouses and hotels in the area are going to run you around 100 Euro.

 

Basic Info:
DON’T WASTE MONEY ON A GUIDE. You have no reason to get one.

http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/plan-your-visit/operating-hours-and-prices/

 

Have fun and get ready for sights like this:
PlitHDR2

Happy Birthday to Me: My Real New Year in Travel

I don’t get excited for Christmas, New Years, or Halloween. My birthday is the real holiday. Some may see it as narcissistic, and that may be true. But for me to live another year is very special given where I came from. Given the friends who didn’t see 25. So for that reason alone I celebrate my birthday with all the pomp as I can muster. So this year I decided to share with you my highlights and what I’m looking at for my next year of LIFE.

This last year was one of discovery and friendship. I’ve met some of the coolest and most caring people over the last year and want to thank them for choosing me as a friend. Many of you know I take friendship very seriously. A friend is a direct reflection of who you are. A friend chooses you and you choose them. Unlike family, a friendship can’t be forced. It’s only through understanding and love that real bonds grow. And I’ve found that in spades the last year. I’ve lost some friends this year as well. But that’s fine. People change and grow apart. But you have to cherish the time you had. Both good and bad.

What a year of discovery. I added five new countries to my travel resume and couldn’t have been more impressed. Top of that list, easily Transylvania and the Balkans. Not to mention another side of Istanbul. My trip to Romania led me to reach out to and discover the REAL Roma community. I was able to interview the world’s leading authority on the Roma people and was blown away by what I discovered. Excited to push some great work next year. And I saw my dream site, Hagia Sofia. Such an emotional and thought provoking experience. Can’t wait for you guys to read the piece I wrote on that experience………available in my book August 2015. Hehehehehe

I’m also speaking at my first conference. WOOOOOOOOO. Less than a month from now. I’ve always said I’m more comfortable talking than writing. How good I am in a formal environment remains to be seen. Not only is this a great opportunity for my journalism career, but it gets major visibility for A World Beyond Youth Exploration. And speaking of…….

A World Beyond Youth Exploration will be seeing a major push this coming year with my book being published in August, and all proceeds going toward the foundation goal of raising $50,000. This last year has been a very difficult year for our foundation but all of you who supported our Indiegogo campaign kept us alive to get to this point where we have some great opportunities. We’re a little slow but we’ll get there. lol.

Before moving on I want to take a second to point out something I’m starting to realize the older I get. Too often we become set in our ways. Where “That’s my opinion” becomes a valid response to anything regardless of verifiable facts. We marginalize and ostracize people. We refuse to acknowledge the struggle of others because we haven’t experienced or lived it. I challenge myself and anyone living this to realize that our perceptions isn’t the only one out there. Lived experiences vary and that diversity should be embraced and nurtured. Turn off the TV and Facebook. Develop your opinions through experience and interaction WITH PEOPLE. And don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something instead of repeating bullshit. We really can make the world a better place with just a bit of effort.

Now pictures of me and some great friends from the last year of travel.

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What are my plans for this coming year:

  • Try not to fall flat on my face at my first speaking engagement. I can’t believe someone is giving me a microphone and 30 minutes to speak.
  • Finish this book. FYI, writing about yourself isn’t as easy as it sounds.
  • Become a better writer. I write the way I speak. Unfortunately that doesn’t appeal to everyone. By becoming a better writer, I’m able to spread my message further. I’ve become friends with two of my favorite writers. Leah Walker and Bret Love. They’ve helped me immensely already.
  • Visit 5 new countries. My current travel plans have me stuck at 71. Need to switch something’s around.
  • Reach 100,000 Unique Readers on my blog a month by the end of my year. I seriously need to focus on my blog more.
  • Help more African American men start travel blogs and mentor other POC who want help. Too often our voice is lost simply because of a representation lack in this medium. Just not enough brothers writing about travel.
  • Find my Father. Need to mend that bridge.
  • Speak to 20 low income audiences. My blog and foundation have always been about helping low income and marginalized people travel. Time to get in front of them.
  • Take my grandmother to Europe. Although she wants to go to Hawaii, I refuse to take her anywhere in the US on a vacation. But she refuses to fly over water but I think a Business/First Class ticket might help change her mind.
  • Party in Vegas with friends. It’s been far too long. Whose coming?
  • Call my mother more. We aren’t close but she definitely changed over the years. That’s what’s important.
  • Learn better Spanish. It’s really bad.
  • Stop allowing negativity to bother me. I find myself wasting so much time responding to other peoples negativity towards everything. From politics to entertainment. I’m just going to STOP.
  • Spend more time with family. Those who I care about and have supported me from the start of this crazy life.
  • Find a way to cover Iceland, Greenland, or New Zealand. Time to chase down some sponsors or something.
  • Find my six pack. It’s hiding under here somewhere.
  • Stop saying FUCK so much. Seriously becoming a fucking problem now.
  • Become a better photographer. People think I’m good. All I see are easily fixed habits I need to take care of. I’ve surrounded myself with great photographer friends who have given me invaluable advice and help. Art is evolution. And to evolve one must learn his craft. Shout out to Gary Ardnt who has gone out of his way since we met to help me out with some sage advice. And Ken Kaminesky who has been giving me some great advice when I know how busy he is. I admired their work for YEARS and now to get personal advice from them is a crazy twist of fate.
  • Find more haters. I need some free press an attention. And no one spreads your name better than haters.
  • Hire a Personal Assistant. Anyone want to apply?
  • Live life on my terms. I always have and always do but have to remind myself of who I am and what I stand for. It’s not always PC or tactful but hell it’s Erick. And if nothing else on this list happens that’s this is the most important.

Me at Khao Sok

 

Have a great “Year of the Erick”. Hope our paths cross and if not do what you can to make it the best year of your life.

 

Only Reason to Visit Ubud: Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

To say I disliked Ubud,Indonesia would be an understatement. My utter disdain for the pretentious and self righteous expats who have infested that beautiful area knows no bounds. When I thought all was lost. My bags were packed and plane ticket purchased, a small beacon of hope appeared. In the form of a monkey trying to steal my camera. This is the beautiful Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The only reason anyone needs to visit Ubud Bali.

 

Monkey Statue in Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Statue in Ubud Indonesia

Also known as the Ubud Monkey Forest, this 28 acre nature reserve houses over 600 Crab-eating Macaaque (Macaca fascicularis) divided into four distinctive groups around the complex. These monkeys freely run, jump, fight, play, and eat all over the complex. No cages here folks. You’ll be up close and personal when these guys.

Hear See Speak no Evil Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Hear See Speak no Evil Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

How personable they are will immediately become evident. Simply put, they have amazing personalities. Even when their trying to go in your pockets or steal your camera, it’s hard to get mad at them because they are so damn cool to watch. And don’t worry about safety. Rangers are throughout the park to ensure guest are safe from them and their safe from guest. And trust me, I feel like the monkeys were the better behaved of the two.

Happy Make Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Happy Make Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

Grooming Monkeys at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Grooming Monkeys at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

I was intrigued by the clear family structures. Mothers protected their young with ferocity. Several times I saw the mother run off an aggressive male trying to bother her baby. Being born and raised in this highly touristic environment really lends itself to an adventurous nature for these monkeys. No fear of humans existed. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad yet.

Baby Monkey stares at camera in Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby Monkey stares at camera in Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby monkey eating Banana at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby monkey eating Banana at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby Monkey attacks camera at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby Monkey attacks camera at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

Quick expose. Once one of these guys decides they like you then it’s done. You’ll have a little furry stalker following and jumping all over you. After this shot he decided it would be a great idea to hang out on my back and head for awhile. Although relatively harmless, I don’t like furry creatures crawling all over me. Especially when their mother isn’t look very happy about the activity.

 

Baby Monkey and Fruit at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Baby Monkey and Fruit at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Big monkey bites little monkey Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Big monkey bites little monkey Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Big male Monkey rest in tree at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Big male Monkey rest in tree at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

About a minute before I shot this, he went on a rampage. Yelling, screaming, and attacking anything in sight. No tourist but pretty much every other monkey in the vicinity. GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!! Even though he’s smaller than the average person, his speed and power will do some damage before you can get help. He was easily one of the dominate males in the park. Was lucky to run into him because he was the only true large male we saw. Luckily he calmed down and decided to hang out. Pun Intended.

Monkey Call at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Call at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Climbs statues at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Climbs statues at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

In the center of the sanctuary you’ll see several temples. Their used for Balinese ceremonies and housing for the monkeys. This was closed to the public but clearly not this guy. One aspect of Balinese culture I truly respect is their craftsmanship. Throughout Bali you’ll find entire villages dedicated to ONE craft. Stone working, wood working, textiles, etc etc. They dedicate their lives to make beautiful art such as those which decorate most temples. 

Monkey eats trash left by tourist at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey eats trash left by tourist at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

FYI, This is what happens to your litter. We tried to get this piece of metal, a soda can, away from him with little luck. Eventually he stole my paper ticket and dropped this. Their attracted to anything shiny so folks, take off the ear rings and chains. These monkeys are VERY smart. As we were walking down a path, I observed three monkeys trying to start a fire. Yes, a fire. I’m not sure if this is evolution or learned behavior but their actions were clear.

Monkey eyes at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey eyes at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

MONKEY FAMILY PLAYING AT Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

MONKEY FAMILY PLAYING AT Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Mother sleeps with Baby Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Mother sleeps with Baby Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

I love the shots above and below because they show the bond between mother and child. Reminds us that we aren’t too far removed as a species. Mothers watch over their young very closely for the first 4-5 months of their lives. Unfortunately many young don’t survive as they are often killed by invading males or taken by higher ranking females within the group that aren’t lactating.

Mother cleans baby monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Mother cleans baby monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Family Resting at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Family Resting at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey looks to Heaven at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey looks to Heaven at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Statue and Mother at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey Statue and Mother at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkeys at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkeys at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey thinking Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Monkey thinking Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

I watched this guy for about 15 minutes. It just seemed like he had so much on his mind. Not eating, playing, or yelling. Just sitting alone thinking. As a photographer shooting emotion is something we strive for. These animals make it so easy by constantly displaying their emotion with such passion and depth. Take your cue from this. If they look angry they probably are which means back off.

 

Tourist and Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Tourist and Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

Sacred Monkey Sanctuary should be a reminder of the gifts nature has for us. To be able to interact so closely with these animals is a gift everyone should experience. With a great record for conservation and safety I fully recommend a visit. I would be remiss not to mention the risk of visiting this park. These are semi wild animals. They’ve been trained that people=food and can be aggressive at times. I refused to buy any food for them because I knew this going in. Once you’re identified as a food source they will hound you. If you don’t want to get this close then don’t feed them.

NOTE: DON’T TOUCH THE BABIES. Yes their cute but you know what isn’t? A full grown mother monkey biting your face. 

Tourist ridden by Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Tourist ridden by Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Hide and Seek Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

Hide and Seek Monkey at Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud Indonesia

 

 

 http://www.monkeyforestubud.com/

High Resolution versions of all these images and prints are available here http://minoritynomad.smugmug.com/Indonesia/Sacred-Monkey-Forest-Ubud

 

So will you visit the Sacred Monkey Forest on you visit to Ubud?

6 Eastern European Cities You Must See Now

Antiquated images of poverty and dilapidation are burned into the western psyche when thoughts of Eastern Europe appear. We can thank the Cold War and western media propaganda for that. Although some areas of Eastern Europe are destitute, few regions of the world conjure up as many misconceptions as Eastern Europe. Gone are the days of soviet turmoil and fear. Eastern Europe has become one of the most affordable and enjoyable regions in the world to travel in. Especially for Americans and the favorable exchange rates. With so many great cities to choose from where to begin? Well sit back and enjoy as I take you by the hand through the must see cities in Eastern Europe with one special treat.

Budapest,Hungary
Szechenyi Baths in Budapest

Szechenyi Baths in Budapest

Architecturally, Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Budapest has all the charms of more popular destinations without the crowds. Giving it an appeal all its own. But I’ll assure you, it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out just how special Budapest is.

From the relaxing thermal bathes, to the views of the Danube from Gellert Hill, Budapest has quite a bit to offer tourist. Hungarians have managed to create a welcoming culture to the international community which will appeal to expats and tourist alike. Nothing beats a delicious glass of Tokaji wine while watching the sunset behind Buda Castle.

Be sure to schedule your travels around of the many international festivals hosted in Budapest. The city is alive with energy from all around the globe. I recommend the Sziget Festival, Budapest International Wine Festival, or Budapest Pride Week

St.Stephens Basilica at night in Budapest

St.Stephens Basilica at night in Budapest

 

MUST SEE: Views of Pest from Gellert Hill and the bridges spanning the Danube. 

MUST DO: Grab some friends and check out the Ruin Bar Scene. You won’t be disappointed.

MUST EAT and DRINK: Be sure to check out Taste Hungary. An outstanding introduction to Hungarian cuisines in Budapest. Gulyás (goulash) is my favorite Hungarian dish.

 

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo Old Town

Sarajevo Old Town

 

After suffering the longest city siege in the history of modern warfare, Sarajevo has risen to represent the virtues of multiculturalism and determination. The scars of the Bosnia War, from 1992-1996, can still be seen not only in the buildings but the faces of the people who lived through it. A proud and resilient people who have maintained much of their culture in the face of adversity. You would be hard pressed not to question your own views on warfare and the human condition during your visit.

Nothing can prepare you for the Sarajevo Old Town. It’s uniquely split between “west” and “east”. With the west carrying architectural influences from Austrian-Hungarian builders. The east is largely influenced by Ottoman culture. You must try traditional Bosnian coffee. Word of warning, don’t compare it to Turkish coffee at least not while in Sarajevo. A spirited “debate” will likely ensue.

Giant Chess in Sarajevo

Giant Chess in Sarajevo

 

MUST SEE: See the Old Town or Bascarsija.

MUST DO: Smoke a Shisa at Dibek or pretty much anywhere in Old Town

MUST EAT and DRINK: Drink a Bosnian coffee and eat Jagnjetina at Kod Kibe. A bit “posh” but the views are worth the cost alone.

 

 Dubrovnik,Croatia
Dubrovnik City Walls at Sunset

Dubrovnik City Walls at Sunset

So much more than a stand in for Game of Thrones. Few places in the world can rival the beauty of Venice, resilience of Rome, or allure of Paris. Dubrovnik rivals all of these destinations in every category. Billed as the “Jewel of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is a must visit for couples and history buffs alike. Not to mention beach lovers.

Dubrovnik’s coastline rivals that of its westerly neighbor Italy. Beautiful turquoise waters great those with the foresight to skip it’s more expensive neighbors for this gem. With such stunning beaches and favorable exchange rate to the Euro, Dollar, and Pound, it’s a wonder the city isn’t more popular given the economic state of Europe. The playground of Europeans in the know, Dubrovnik is best seen between April and June.

Cat overlooking Old Town Harbor Dubrovnik

Cat overlooking Old Town Harbor Dubrovnik

 

MUST SEE: The Dubrovnik City Walls at Sunset. Go up around 615pm. You’ll not only have it largely to yourself but get to escape the heat and see the sunset as well. 

MUST DO: Take a Elaphite Cruise from the Old Town Harbor. You’ll see the beautiful Dubrovnik coast and the outlying islands. 

MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat grilled Fish at Azur Restaurant or any other sea side restaurant. 

 

Krakow,Poland
Horsecart in Krakow Old Town

Horsecart in Krakow Old Town

 

History. Pure unspoiled history. I believe Krakow is one of the few places in Europe that has maintained their culture in the face of modernity. A perfect blend of the old and new. As the former home and spiritual center for Pope John Paul II, visitors can visit not only expertly preserves sites from his life, but also that of marginalized and displaced Jews whom he was raised with.

Krakóws Old Town was placed on the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site list and still maintains it’s beauty under the watchful gaze of the spectacular St.Mary’s Basilica. Krakow is far more deserving than a stopover on the way to Auschwitz. With a vibrant nightlife, delicious food (Pierogis are delicious), and extremely friendly locals, I found it to be one of my biggest surprises when visiting Eastern Europe.

Krakow offers some great day trips. Auschwitz is one of the most life changing experiences I could recommend. For the more adventurous, a trip into the Wieliczka Salt Mines is a hidden gem.

Vendor on Krakow Main Square

Vendor on Krakow Main Square

 

MUST SEE: Schindler’s Museum is one of the best museums in the world. This experience walks you through the lives of Jews before, during, and after the Nazi occupation. Very detailed and informative. 

MUST DO:   Shop at Krakow’s Main Market Square and visit museum underneath. Try and visit one of the many markets held on the square. I recommend the Christmas and Easter markets. 

MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat as many Pierogies as humanly possible. Filled dumplings often accompanied by a light sauce. Also try a Vodka tasting. Some of the worlds best vodka comes from here and ridiculously inexpensive.

 

Istanbul,Turkey
Turkish Men fishing in the Bosphorus

Turkish Men fishing in the Bosphorus

 

With the induction of their first directly elected president, Turkey has ushered in a new era of democracy which undoubtedly will result in a huge influx of foreign visitors. Given its geographic location, both in Europe and Asia, the economic and political potential is astronomical. Istanbul will be the most important city in Europe within the next ten years. From a pure tourism stand point, the transition to a more open minded culture has made Istanbul far more welcoming than it once was.

After spending 6 weeks exploring recently, I’ve fallen in love. The food, the architecture, and the people all warrant a visit. Seeing the conservative and liberal blend seamlessly together gives Istanbul a distinct “vibe” of its own. The history of this nearly 1700 year old city is on full display. From Hagia Sofia to the posh Nisantasi District, visitors won’t be at a loss for things to explore. 

Hagia Sofia Aya Sofya in Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Aya Sofya in Istanbul

MUST SEE: See Sultanahmet Park which includes Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and Cistern Close by. You can visit all three in a morning/afternoon. This entire area is filled with history and culture. 

MUST DO: Take a cruise down the Bosphorus.

MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat Adana Kebab and Turkish Delights. Drink Turkish coffee. It’s more than just a drink, it’s a cultural experience. Honestly, you can eat pretty much anything in Istanbul and love it. They have some of the freshest produce in the world. 

 

Transylvania
The Roman Catholic Church view from Big Square in Sibiu Romania

The Roman Catholic Church view from Big Square in Sibiu Romania

 

I know I know. It’s not a city. Transylvania is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled regions of the world. I just couldn’t choose one city as they are so different yet each brings something special in its own right. From the architecture of Sibiu to the youth vibe of Cluj-Napoca, the Transylvania region is simply stunning.

Often misrepresented in western media, the Transylvanian region offers a glimpse into what Romania culture truly is. Few other countries have such a vast disparity between their culture and their capital city. You must visit Transylvania to not only truly explore Romanian culture, but also Austrian and German. A holiday in Transylvania will give you a new appreciation from Romania and Eastern European history.

If only able to see one city in Transylvania, make it Sibiu. While there be sure to visit the Astra Museum. A collection of Romania homesteads, art, and cultural artifacts that will give you a broad idea of Romania history and culture.

Band playing at Jazz in the Park Sibiu

Band playing at Jazz in the Park Cluj-Napoca

 

MUST SEE: The entire city of Sibiu. The 2007 European Culture capitol has become quite popular in the last few years. The new president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, was their last mayor. With a mix of Romanian, Austrian, and German culture, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore the true history of Romania here. 

MUST DO: Must Drive or ride the Transfagarasan highway. Once a military road and now a stunning right of passage for any Transylvanian visitor. 

MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat Ciorba and Sarmale. Drink Palinka or Toica but be careful. At 65% alcohol a couple  shots will have you feeling rough in no time. 
What Eastern European cities do you think should have made my list? Any that you want to visit? Comment below and don’t forget to share.

The Intercontinental Bali Club Experience

Intercontinental Bali Resort

The beautiful white sand Jimbaran coast has no shortage of high end resorts. Stretched across the stunning Jimbaran Bay, the Intercontinental Bali has a special place in the rarefied Bali resort scene. Chief amongst their offerings is the outstanding Club Experience. The experience,  billed as ‘An exclusive resort within a resort” , boast 24/7 Butler service, private pool access, an executive lounge with complimentary tea and cocktail hours, and several other outstanding experiences.  As a recent winner of a World Luxury Hotel Award, the Intercontinental Bali is at the pinnacle of luxury resorts. Come with me as I spend three wonderful days experiencing traditional Balinese hospitality and the excellence we’ve come to expect from the Intercontinental brand.

 

What is the Club Experience?

The Intercontinental Club Experience truly has too many privileges to cover here. However, a few definitely stand out amongst the offerings. From the moment you arrive at the Intercontinental Bali as a Club guest, you gain access to the spectacular 24/7 Club Lounge. Not only is the service top shelf but the space is secluded and designed with discerning taste in mind.

Intercontinental Bali Resort Club Lounge

Upon entry you’ll notice not only the European colonial decor, but a hint of Balinese style in the clubs open space. Located in an exclusive enclave that offers views of not only the beautiful main lagoon, but the expertly manicured grounds, you immediately realize that you aren’t just another guest here. Sit back and enjoy the in house pianist while sipping on delicious Rosella Tea and cooling off with lemongrass scented cold towels. Club Access includes private check in service and personalized attention from the moment you arrive.

I found myself planning my days around the complimentary services offered at the Club. In addition to being one of the many on site breakfast locations, you can enjoy tea time and cocktail hours here. Tea time (2-4pm) includes a huge assortment of English, Indian, and Balinese teas accompanied by a three tiered cake stand. Each item chosen and prepared by an exclusive Club Chef. Cocktail hour (4:30-730pm) is the perfect preparation for a wonderful night on site. Be careful. Their bartenders make the drinks STRONG!!! Some of the best I had in Bali and the Canapes are simply delicious. Although the Club has a no child policy during this time, they extend the service to the private Club pool and Sunset Bar and Grill which has STUNNING sunsets during this time. Both of these great services are overseen by an expertly trained staff of waiters and butlers.

Intercontinental Bali Resort Club Lounge

My companion had  spent four months in Bali prior to our arrival. According to her, she learned more in three days about Balinese language, art, and culture from our Butler team than she did in her entire time prior. The Club Butler service is one of the most unique and well delivered services of this package. Not only is your Butler there to serve your every need, but also to help you understand Balinese culture. Our team taught us so much. From how to use the coffee machine, which is harder than it seems, to how Balinese children are named. You can’t help but leave every interaction with them changed for the better. The ability to get personalized service at the press of a button is truly something you’ll hate leaving.

Club InterContinental Butler

 

 

Finally a Room With Character 

Measuring an impressive 58sqm, outfitted in beautiful indigenous woods, your room truly feels like a tiny oasis. It’s simply massive when compared to other rooms I’ve visited in Bali. Your bathroom not only has a walk in shower and tub, but a private walk in wash room as well. Each of the 77 Club rooms has a furnished balcony overlooking either the resort gardens or lagoons. But honestly, you likely won’t want to leave the your room at all.

Something most guest may not notice is the safe. Granted, most hotels have safes. But the safes in the Club rooms are laptop sized. For a digital nomad like myself, and in a world where most of us travel with laptops, it’s a thoughtful addition.

With ample space to move, luxury bathroom amenities from HARNN, premium espresso and tea bar, and blazing fast internet (rare on Bali), you’ll have ample reason to check in and stay in your room. But I can assure you, this resort definitely offers far more outside your lovely doors.

 

Intercontinental Resort Grounds. Why Leave?

Don’t believe for a second that the beauty and service ends at the boundaries of your Club Access. Every aspect of the Intercontinental Bali has been carefully selected and maintained to ensure  maximum service and pleasure for all guest. Simply put, this is one of the most well maintained resorts in the world. From the beach chairs to the flowers, the Intercontinental puts on an invisible show of meticulosity that will have you questioning if this place is real.

Half way through my second day I began to look for anything out of place. A singed leaf, missing towel, even a candy wrapper on the ground would have sufficed. The grounds team just wouldn’t accommodate my journalistic endeavor. They truly are that good. And fast. You may be hard pressed to see them unless you rise early like myself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o924JE9dJJw

One of the unique attractions at the Intercontinental Bali is their main pool. I think this may be a bit of an understatement. More like their main water park. Open to all guest, the main pool and Balinese Bath Pool, offer everything from a kiddie wadding pool to interactive falls and fountains. All overseen by an attentive staff. Not to mention it’s only a few yards away from the stunning white sand Jimbaran Bay.

Intercontinental Bali Resort Balinese Pool

Dining is also of high priority at the Intercontinental Bali Resort. Club guest have nine different dining options. From a romantic private meal under the stars, to a Japanese Hibachi meal sure to please the whole family. I highly recommend the Sunset Beach Bar and Grill for some stunning sunsets while enjoying some Tapas.  Also, Ko Japanese restaurant. A Balinese twist on a Japanese tradition.

Intercontinental Bali KO Japanese Restaurant - Chef In Action

Intercontinental Bali Sunset Beach Bar & Grill

Also housing a world class Spa, which I had the pleasure to visit, a Tennis Court, private Club Pool, and water sports area, you’ll be hard pressed to not find something up your alley at this elite destination.

Intercontinental Bali Resort Leisure Activity Bicycling

 

 

Exceptional Service and Care

A house is only as good as those who built it. And the foundation of the Intercontinental Bali is very strong. During my stay I witnessed another guest, and elderly woman, appear to have a stroke. The fast response and compassion of the Intercontinental staff was nothing short of inspiring. The guest was given speedy medical attention and care. This scene only reinforced what I had already seen up to that point. Intercontinental Bali hires and trains their staff to ensure the safety of their guest and to ensure that they all have an excellent experience.

Intercontinental Bali Club Pool Butler in Food Counter

The Balinese hospitality so often touted is on full display here. From the grounds keepers to the butler team, everyone takes it upon themselves to ensure guest happiness. I had too many great experiences with staff to list them all but one stands out.

Our second day we had a bicycle tour through a local village planned. It rained all morning and we had to push our trip back. Even though we began late, our guide ensured we saw as much as possible even though the trip schedule was totally off. Our guide, Madee, taught us about Balinese religion, fishing culture, language, and hospitality. He was a great guide an outstanding ambassador for the Balinese people and Intercontinental Bali.

 

Award Winning Service and Quality

The awards just seem to be piling up for  Intercontinental Bali. In addition to receiving the prestigious World Luxury Hotel Award and their fourth straight Holiday with Kids Award, they were also recently awarded the Platinum Award from Tri Hita Karana. This award recognizes the Intercontinental Bali Resort’s  achievements in incorporating sustainable spiritual, social, and environmental principles and practices into their daily operations. Through various community initiatives and charitable givings, Intercontinental Bali is leading the way among Bali resorts in terms of giving back.

Bali has some of the best resorts on the planet. And the Intercontinental Bali is certainly among the elite. With beautiful facilities, excellent food, and world class service, they’ll ensure that you’ll have the vacation you’ve dreamed of. The Intercontinental Bali Club Experience is the only real way to vacation in Bali.

Brought to you by Intercontinental Bali Resort

Savoey Restaurants: A Thai Staple of Quality Dining

Thailand has the BEST street food in the world. Having long advocated for tourist to make a large part of their travel diet street food, it may come as a surprise I’m writing about a franchise. But we aren’t talking about a Sizzler or Swenson’s here. This family owned franchise not only provides excellent dishes, but allows foreigners an opportunity to try traditional Thai cuisine without the fear, no matter how unfounded, of getting sick or ripped off. Savoey offers excellent dishes and and progressive pricing structure that will be sure to leave you wanting to return for more. With four locations, some dating back to 1972, Savoey has firmly established themselves as the restaurateurs to watch out for.

Pandanus kale juice

Pandanus kale juice

When my host suggested I try Kale juice I politely declined. I’m all for trying new things but I’ve tried Kale juice before and hated it. Through their insistence I gave it a try and don’t regret it. Unlike the bitter blend I had in the US, Pandanus Kale Juice had a light sweet and sour taste. Similar to lemonade. The kale is very subtle on your tongue and only becomes prevalent later in the tasting. Part of a seasonally revolving drink menu, this drink was designed by a mixologist whom has created several delicious drinks exclusively for the Savoey brand.

 

Sea prawn Tom Yom Soup

Savoey’s Sea prawn Tom Yom Goong

OF COURSE I ordered Tom Yom Goong. It’s my favorite Thai dish. Any restaurant specializing in Thai cuisine MUST produce high quality versions of a few staple dishes. This is one of those and they hit it out of the park. My spice tolerance is a bit higher than most given my time in Thailand, but I found it quite on the mild side. Perfect for the uninitiated, western palettes. A healthy portion of prawns and vegetables rounded out this excellent soup.

 

Savoey's signature fresh spring rolls

Savoey’s signature fresh spring rolls

Spring rolls are fairly straight forward in general. A rice paper wrap, vegetables, and usually a meat of some kind. Here they served them up as expected with a bit of flare. A sweet thai chili sauce adds some kick while the peanut crust gives them some crunch. I’m still on the fence about these because I found they had a “fishy” taste even though the meat was pork. Very fresh but the flavors weren’t my favorite.

 

Samui's fresh oysters served with Thai-style condiments

Koh Samui’s fresh oysters served with Thai-style condiments

Savoey imports their ingredients from every region of Thailand. Seafood comes from the east coast islands. Oysters are brought in daily from Koh Samui providing fresh options for guest and ensuring maximum flavor. Paired with spicy and savory condiments, you receive large portions of Oysters with subtle flavor and great texture.

 

Deep-fried snapper with sweet fish sauce and mango salsa

Deep-fried snapper with sweet fish sauce and mango salsa

One of the surprises of this tasting was the deep fried snapper. A delicious white fish cooked perfectly. Bones make it paramount to eat with your fingers as they tend to hide in the fish meat. This adds to the experience as you dip snapper into the amazing Mango salsa. They really need to package that stuff. It’s one of the most delicious condiments I’ve had in Thailand. I would buy it and eat as a side.

 

Stir-fried Curry Crab

Stir-fried Curry Crab

Let me get this out there. I’ve never really liked crab. I find it far too much work for a mediocre crustacean. Savoey takes the work out of eating crab and managed to make it more than worth the effort even if they hadn’t. Their stir fried crab is served already cracked, be careful of still present shell, and stir fried in a delicious yellow curry sauce. Crab meat absorbs the savory curry similar to the way it absorbs butter. It’s hard for me to imagine eating crab without this curry sauce now.

 

Savoey's signature honey-roasted pork spare ribs

Savoey’s signature honey-roasted pork spare ribs

Signature dish indeed. These sweet little devils were a perfect compliment to my seafood filled tasting. Covered with a thick honey glaze and light coating, guest receive a generous portion of pork spare ribs. The meat is tender and juicy with great flavor. This is one of their most popular dishes and highly recommended.

 

Taro Bualoy with coconut ice-cream topped with crispy rice

Taro Bualoy with coconut ice-cream topped with crispy rice

Coconut is a prevalent ingredient in Thai cuisine. Especially in their desserts. Here you see Taro Balls with coconut ice cream and crispy rice. A mild flavored ice cream allows the Taro flavor to come through. You may recognize the flavor from the popular Bua Loi Phuak dish which is similar.

 

Coconut ice-cream with diced mango and butter cake

Coconut ice-cream with diced mango and butter cake

My personal favorite. Mango is probably the number two dessert ingredient behind coconut in Thailand. The butter cake easily absorbs melting ice cream and adds texture to the dish. Although the coconut ice cream isn’t very sweet it balances with the mango well to provide a refreshing finish.

 

Coconut Granita served with stuffed water chestnut and grass jelly

Coconut Granita served with stuffed water chestnut and grass jelly

Yup, grass jelly. This is definitely something we largely don’t have in the US but is everywhere in Asia. I first fell in love with it in Macau. Imagine a thick jello that taste like Good and Plenty. A bit too sweet for me but the water chestnuts mixed with the Granita (like shaved ice) is a nice combo.

Savoey offers excellent value. I immediately noticed how inexpensive their menu was when compared to comparable restaurants. When i inquired about this I was told they structured their pricing to be between a traditional restaurant and street food pricing. Serving that “sweet spot” of customers looking for both. I believe they’ve succeeded. The food quality, value, and ambiance are all here. For those of you who  want to taste traditional Thai cuisine without the “risk” of local vendors definitely stop by. 

https://www.facebook.com/savoeyrestaurant

 

 

Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camp Photo Essay

My trip Auschwitz and Birkenau came about by accident. I met a group of MBA students from the US,China,Poland, and Germany at my hostel. They were on a cultural tour as part of their program and invited me to join them since they had an extra spot on their tour. As I was planning to go anyway, and enjoyed their company, I decided to join. I had no idea how this “tour” would not only change my perspective on the Holocaust, but my perceptions of myself as a person. It’s taken me almost a year and a half to produce this piece because of the emotional and moral confusion I have with this subject matter. I plan to write about that soon. But in the meantime, I’ve compiled what I hope will be a brief introduction to what guest can expect when visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland.

Arbeit macht frei (Work makes you free) Auschwitz Entrance
Arbeit macht frei (Work makes you free) Auschwitz Entrance

As soon as you step off your bus the history hits you. I don’t care if you’ve never heard a word about the Holocaust, you’ve seen these images your entire life. Auschwitz is part of our western identity and one feels it instantly. It’s heavy. It’s dark. And yes, it’s emotional. Preservation efforts here are nothing short of spectacular. From the imposing gates, to the uniform barracks hiding heartbreaking interiors, historians and architects have preserved it all well. Prisoners were told “Work Will Set You Free” by the Nazi’s and emblazoned on the entrance gate. A lie which changed the face of the world.

Auschwitz Barracks and Wire
Auschwitz Barracks and Wire Fences

 

Survivor Barracks at Auschwitz
Holocaust Survivor returns to Auschwitz for the first time

I met this gentleman and his grand daughter outside the former barracks. I left the “Block of Death” a bit early and they were standing outside. We began chatting about the cold and I was told he was one of the survivors on his first visit back. His strength and character spoke to me. He didn’t speak much as his English was poor but meeting him and hearing his brief story was special. Out of respect I decided not to photograph his face as I didn’t think to ask him for permission given the gravity of his personal visit.

Barracks in Auschwitz
Barracks in Auschwitz
Vorsicht Sign and Fence at Auschwitz
Vorsicht Sign and Fence at Auschwitz
Confiscated Luggage at Auschwitz Holocaust
Confiscated Luggage at Auschwitz Holocaust

Inside Auschwitz I, personal items of former prisoners are on display. HAIR, Luggage, clothing, and prostheses are just a few of the items you’ll see. It can be a bit overwhelming once you see the sheer amount of items the Nazi’s confiscated. Once you realize the luggage has names on them, you begin to imagine the live behind those names. Who were they? Were they rescued? An internal struggle to understand what happened here. Unfortunately this leads you to more questions.

Shoe Display at Auschwitz
Confiscated Shoe Display at Auschwitz Holocaust
Prostetics and supports at Auschwitz Holocaust
Prostheses and supports at Auschwitz Holocaust

The most heart breaking site is easily the gas chamber. Word’s really can’t express the extreme cold, grief, and fear that still lingers in the air here. These walls still have the fingernail marks from people clawing at them as they choked on Zyklon-B gas. It would take up to 20 minutes in the winter for everyone to die, choking on poisonous gas while watching those around them die. Bodies later being removed and burned by other prisoners.

Photographing this place, knowing it’s history, is difficult. I wanted to educate and show those who can’t visit, what it’s truly like. But I found myself lost in thought most of the time. Wondering what these victims last thoughts were. What scare still haunted the survivors. As a former soldier, what would I have done if order to kill innocent people? Questions that still haunt me.

Furnace at Auschwitz
Gas Chamber Furnace at Auschwitz Holocaust
Auschwitz Urn with Human ashes
Urn with ashes from Holocaust Gas Chamber Victims
Furnace Chimney at Auschwitz
Gas Chamber Furnace Chimney Auschwitz Holocaust

 

Zyklon B Gas Auschwitz
Zyklon B Gas Auschwitz Holocaust
Somethings should NEVER be on postcards. An empty canisters of Zyklon-B, that killed thousands each, are at the top of that list. Not sure why Auschwitz has a gift shop selling such items.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Gas Chamber re-creation
Auschwitz-Birkenau Gas Chamber re-creation

 

Auschwitz I houses many sculptures and recreations that not only depict the camp, but also the suffering of it’s prisoners. The graphic details are on full display and I must warn you, some of the images you’ll see are graphic to say the least. Particularly for American’s. One of our greatest sins as a country is censoring the more graphic images of war. People in the west need to see what truly happened. See what war, torture, famine, and pain truly are. Our privilege has bred ignorance and that ignorance needs to end before places like Africa, where genocide is happening TODAY, spirals into another Holocaust.

sculpture by Mieczyslaw Stobierski, at Auschwitz, is titled Starvation.
Sculpture by Mieczyslaw Stobierski, at Auschwitz, called “Starvation”.
Sculpture by Anna Raynoch-Brzozowska, titled Mother and Child.
Sculpture by Anna Raynoch-Brzozowska, called”Mother and Child”.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Starving Children Images
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Starving Children Images
Auschwitz-Birkenau Starvation Photo
Auschwitz-Birkenau Starvation Photo
Auschwitz-Birkenau Victims of Experiments Gypsy children Josef Mengele Dr Death
Auschwitz-Birkenau Victims of Experiments Roma children Josef Mengele Dr Death

 Prisoners at Auschwitz weren’t only Jews. 5 million non-Jews were killed during the Holocaust which included Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals, and the disabled. Furthermore, Hitler instituted a sterilization program targeting mixed raced German children. In his manifesto, Mein Kampf, he wrote “The mulatto children came about through rape or the white mother was a whore. In both cases, there is not the slightest moral duty regarding these offspring of a foreign race.” These children were know as the “Rhineland Bastards”.  He blamed the Jews, like pretty much everything else, for this as well. “Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.” The influx of African’s came from the French Allies after WWI when they brought in African soldiers. Hitler created “Commission 3″ which was tasked with the forced sterilization, usually without their parents consent by kidnapping them, of these children.

 

Auschwitz prisoner booking card
Auschwitz prisoner booking card.
Auschwitz Men Photos
Auschwitz Male Prisoner Photos
Auschwitz women prisoners Photos
Auschwitz Women Prisoners Photos
Auschwitz-Birkenau children prisoner cards
Auschwitz-Birkenau Child prisoner cards
Barracks lining Wall of Death Auschwitz
Block 10 where victims of Dr.Carl Clauberg lived

 Wilhelm Friedrich Boger  was one of histories most diabolical men. Many place the atrocities of the Holocaust at Hitlers feet. And of course they should. Butt it was the people under him that truly were the architects of torture and murder. Boger invented the infamous “Boger Swing”. ” A prisoner would be brought in for “questioning,” stripped naked and bent over the bar, wrists manacled to ankles. A guard at one side would shove him—or her—off across the chamber in a long, slow arc, while Boger would ask “questions,” at first quietly, then barking them out, and at the last bellowing. At each return, another guard armed with a crowbar would smash the victim across the buttocks. As the swinging went on and on, and the wailing victim fainted, was revived only to faint howling again, the blows continued—until only a mass of bleeding pulp hung before their eyes. Most perished from the ordeal; some sooner, some later; in the end a sack of bones and flayed flesh and fat was swept along the shambles of that concrete floor to be dragged away”. This from testimony by his former secretary Frau Braun at Bogers eventual trial.

Wall of Death at Auschwitz
Wall of Death at Auschwitz Memorial
Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged on April 16, 1947.
Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged here on April 16, 1947. Auschwitz Gallows
Auschwitz-Birkenau Train Yard. The Game of Death
Auschwitz-Birkenau Train Yard. The Game of Death

I wasn’t aware that there were THREE Auschwitz main camps. Birkenau was the second one and the first built solely for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. The sheer scale of this place really drives home how massive of an operation this was. Being the inquisitive fellow I am I asked my guide how did the Nazi’s keep this a secret from the US and Brits. I was informed that they didn’t. The US and Brits KNEW about this before we went to war and did nothing. Now I haven’t been able to confirm this but at the time it blew me away. Let’s just say at the time my “pre programmed” perception of the US war machine certainly was dinged.

 Deutsche Reichsbahn Auschwitz-Birkenau Train car
Deutsche Reichsbahn Auschwitz-Birkenau Train car that carried prisoners to Concentration Camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial wreath
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial wreath
Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial Tombstones
Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial Tombstones

You may notice the stones on top of these memorial headstones and on the train cars moorings. Although in Christianity it’s common to lay flowers, some Jewish people believe at to be a Pagan ritual and thus leave stones. This is why you rarely see flowers in Jewish cemeteries.

Auschwitz II Guard Tower and Sign Holocaust
Auschwitz II Birkenau Guard Tower and Sign Holocaust
Auschwitz-Birkenau living barracks for prisoners. Concentration Camp Holocaust
Auschwitz-Birkenau living barracks for prisoners. Concentration Camp Holocaust
Auschwitz-Birkenau Toilet in Concentration Camp. Holocaust
Auschwitz-Birkenau Toilet in Concentration Camp. Holocaust
Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Prisoner Barracks
Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Prisoner Barracks

 This was one of the most difficult places I’ve photographed and rightfully so. I place no judgement on those whom don’t, but most will have a very emotional experience here if their being honest with themselves. Death is inevitable. Unfortunately the existence of evil is as well. What took place here is still debated today with many on both sides of the conversation using assumption and conjecture to further their narratives. But a few things are fact. Millions of people died at these camps because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Not fighting for their country or family. But for existing. Any human being that cares about life should understand what’s so very wrong with that.

Have you been to Auschwitz? What was your experience? If not would you go?

Elephant Hills Luxury Rainforest Camp Khao Sok Thailand

Your experience with Elephant Hills begins the moment you see your name being held up by your driver. Elephant Hills provides complimentary transport to all customers from several key points in the region. Mine was Surat Thani Train station. About 1.5 hours from the camp. As you travel through this beautiful region of Thailand, you quickly realize you’ve left behind the hustle of Bangkok or touristic resorts of the Thai islands. You’re entering into an entirely different eco system which is truly something to behold.

As you pass through the elephant emblazoned gates, a sense of solitude washes over you. Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp is truly an oasis. The sweet smell of incense fills the air as guest are serenaded by native birds in the distance. An imposing mountain range watches over you as the staff introduces guest to this impressive park in Khao Sok Thailand. For the next three days you’re treated to a truly unique and life changing experience . Here’s my wonderful Experience Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp.

 

Day 1: Canoe Safari down Sok River and Elephant Experience

Tent Move In and Lunch
Upon arrival we were given some conduct and insurance forms to look over and fill out. Standard hotel stuff. We were then shown the grounds and our tents by individual tents. Which I found was a nice touch. It gave us a chance to chat a bit with our guide. After settling in for a couple hours we heard the lunch bell sounding.

Elephants Hills Meal

Lunch consisted of an assortment of fruits and Thai dishes. One thing bothered me personally. The dishes that were usually spicy were definitely toned down to a western palette. I totally understand why they did it, but I don’t come to Thailand to taste food like it is at home. All in all though, very good lunch. After lunch it’s canoe time.

 

Canoe Trip
After a short break we were ushered to the Sok River where canoes and paddlemen were waiting. All guest are given life vest and let in the capable hands of experienced river guides. As we glided effortlessly down the river, pass Limestone mountains and lush tropical vegetation, our guides pointed out several local animals. Quite impressive given how well hidden these creatures were. After a bit over a hour, we are taken to shore where a truck awaits to drive us to visit the Elephants.

Elephant Hills River Sok River Trip

Elephant Hills Mountain Views from Sok River

Note: PLEASE tip your Paddlemen. These guys more than earn it but won’t ask.

Elephant Hills Paddleman

Elephant Experience
After a small snack provided by Elephant Hills, we head over to their amazing elephant sanctuary. Take a look at my previous coverage of this phenomenal experience.

http://minoritynomad.com/elephant-experience-elephant-hills-thailand/

Little could prepare us for what was in store. All of us came away from this experience with bigger hearts and personally, I’ve vowed to ensure the welfare of elephants in any way I can. Wait until you meet their baby Elephant named HA-HA. Pure joy.
Elephant at Elephant Hills Thailand in Mud Pool

Thai movie presentation, Dance, and Cooking Demonstration
I was a bit drained after such an eventful morning. Luckily, Elephant Hills gave us quite a bit of time to relax at the Main Camp before evening festivities began. Some guest attended the movie presentation, while others, like myself, rested a bit longer. I arrived near the end of the film and just in time to see the adorable dancers. Through this dance program, Elephant Hills supports three schools in the area. Wat Tham Wararam, Baan Bang Pru and Baan Yaa Phlong School. Elephant Hills consults with each schools headmaster on their needs and tries to provide them. Over the last few years they have built a library, a playground, installed water filter systems, bought an internet connection & computers as well as lots of classroom stationary, sports equipment and music instruments for the students. The traditional Thai dances these students perform shine a light on Thai culture as well as reminds us of the importance of properties being involved in sustainable programs in their own communities. After the dancing we were treated to a cooking demonstration by a local chef.

Elephant Hills Dancer

Our guide and the chef prepared Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) and sate skewers. Two of my favorite dishes. Once finished guest were not only given samples of the finished product but served dinner immediately as well. After dinner guest were free to have drinks at the bar or retire to our tents. I chose the later as I knew Day 2 would be something grand.

Elephant Hills Som Tam Cooking Demonstration

Elephant Hills Cooking Som Tam Demo Ingredients

 

DAY 2: Market Visit, Cheow-Lan Lake cruise, and Rainforest Hike

Market Tour with Elephant Hills Guides
Begins around 9am. After a delicious buffet breakfast we loaded all of our luggage into a bus and headed off for a day of sightseeing. The first stop is a small market in a local town. Nothing special but is a decent introduction into everyday Thai life. Visiting the local market is a daily occurrence in Thailand.

Cheow-Lan-Lake from Praphaphirom View Point

Visiting Praphaphirom View Point
We were then taken to see Cheow-Lan-Lake which is also known as Rajjaprabha Dam Reservoir. We visited a beautiful overlook which offered a full view of the Dam and Reservoir. The lake is an 64 sq mi artificial lake, created in 1982 by the construction of Rajjaprapha Dam. This project is unique because it not only was one of the largest in SEA at the time, but required a massive relocation of 385 families and local farmers. One village is fairly well preserved under water and is frequented by divers. After taking in the views we all boarded a long tail boat to the Rainforest floating camp.

Views from Praphaphirom View Point

Cruising the Cheow-Lan Lake
Long tails are a fun way to see rivers and lakes in Thailand. A highly recommended experience. You can sit back and enjoy the Cheow-Lan Lake tour for a couple hours while listening to the local Gibbon calls and observing the massive limestone mountains which now make up this man made wonders boundaries.

 

The Floating Rainforest Camp
Personally, I haven’t seen anything like the Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp. Only descendants of original inhabitants of Cheow Lan village and officials of the national park are allowed licenses to own and operate these bungalows and for good reason. What makes these place so special is their solitude, with only 17 camps operating today. Elephant Hills has ten tents connected to a main housing. The tents are almost identical to what we had at the main camp. Did I mention their free floating on the lake?

Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp Lake View

The entire complex is solar powered with each tent responsible for their own consumption and charging. We also received a private Canoe to explore the area in. After a 1pm lunch Elephant Hills outstanding guides take guest on a Jungle Trek in the area surrounding the camp. Although it was pouring rain during my stay, the professionalism and positive spirits of our guides made the experience special. After a rain soaked trek, we had the rest of the night to enjoy the quiet surroundings of Cheow-Lan. One final thing, there is NO internet or cell service. This is one of the few times I was perfectly content with this fact. Complete isolation and solitude.

NOTE: Children under 7 years old are not allowed to stay overnight at the floating camp. Families are able to visit and enjoy the facilities and area but must leave for the main camp later.

Family on Cheow-Lan-Lake

 

DAY 3: Gibbon Watching, Canoeing, and Departure

Gibbon Watching and Canoeing
After what was possibly the best night of sleep I had it Thailand, it was time to tour the lake after breakfast. Accompanied by two guides we were shown three families of Gibbons and a group of monkeys. All freely playing and interacting on the rainforest surrounding the camp. We were free to explore on our own which several of us did.

Elephant Hills Luxury Rainforest Camp on Cheow-Lan-Lake

Departure
Unfortunately we had to check out at 12. Lunch was served shortly after and we boarded our boats back around 1pm. Elephant Hills provided return transportation to Surat Thani and Koh Samui for us. They have transport options for Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi, and Phang Nga also.

 

Cheow-Lan-Lake view of private canoes and Solar generators

Overall Impressions

I’ll begin by saying some activities at Elephant Hills aren’t going to be for everyone. But they offer such a variety of activities that if you enjoy the outdoors then you’ll have plenty of options. I especially want to congratulate Elephant Hills on their responsible tourism push. Too often, companies lose sight of the importance of maintaining the communities and environment which they benefit from.

Elephant Hills prides itself on providing guest with a unique experience, great fiscal value, and outstanding customer service. All of these things were accomplished and more. Special thanks to our guides, Tik and Bua. These two young women LITERALLY took us by the hand and guided us through this experience. The Elephant Hills staff and Mahouts are truly the stars of this experience.

This experience brought to you by Elephant Hills

Family Trip to China

How Travel Can Save the Lives of African-American Men

Young Brother Celebrity China

I recently received an email with a news link from my hometown. Click…..my heart sank a bit. My younger brother was arrested and is being charged with multiple felonies. At this point it’s likely my brother will be in prison for some time. Over the years I’ve repeatedly cautioned my siblings on these ridiculous “hood” logic, get rich quick schemes. Yet here we are. Him sitting in a jail cell and me sitting on a beach in Bali. Where did our paths diverge?

Me and my brother are one year apart in age. Although he’s a very intelligent and compassionate person, he never could escape the grasp of our upbringing in an environment that’s purely toxic. One that never showed us what we could be but highlighted what we weren’t. An environment that feels the life of a young black men is less than that of an animal.

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.”

It would appear that the worth of a black man’s life can be measured in however they can serve the corporatized prison system. If one thinks Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice are anomalies think again. There is a system of marginalization in place that not only harms young black men, but prevents the US from delivering on its promises of upward mobility and opportunity.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the problems facing young black men are entirely external? That would be disingenuous and unhelpful. I’m not the most militant of us, and personally don’t feel that the marginalization of black men in America will change anytime soon. So what’s to be done to ensure a future for our young black men?

Addressing the shortcomings within our communities and the teaching of young black men is the only way to save them. Travel is the world’s best education. Below I detail what I believe to be some of the primary lessons our young men can learn.

 

“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.”
Sun Tzu

Johnathan Diving

Young black men are often depicted as violent and irrational by western media. Although this is largely inaccurate, we do tend to place a high value on violence. Being “hard” and “gangster” are traits we often promote and attempt to emulate. Often times our quick reactions can lead to life altering, and sometimes deadly, consequences. Many young men’s lives have ended or been negatively impacted because of misguided emotional reactions.

Traveling solo as a black man teaches you that there is a time and place for controlled aggression. That anger never makes a situation better and is largely a pointless emotion. Traveling solo teaches you to control your emotions. Both positive and negative.
When removed from a position of comfort, your familiar, one begins to analyze his actions more thoroughly. Not allowing your emotional state to be dictated by the actions of others is one of the most important things young black men need to learn.

 

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
Frederick Douglass
Black man in Thailand

Black man in Thailand

You’re more than sports and music. Mainstream media and the people around us tend to push these two endeavors on us. We are so much more than that. When young black men are told we have two choices and fail to become successful at either (which is almost a statistical certainty), it eats at our self esteem. It tells us we aren’t good enough. When young black men are marginalized, beaten, and killed by the people who are supposed to protect us what message is being sent? That we are worthless. The life of a young black man is only worth what the corporatized prison population says it is. I say BULLSHIT to that.

Travel opens our minds to a world of WORTH. A world that values our contribution to the arts, medicine, and diplomacy. Exploration of moor history, evolution of jazz abroad, and cultural exchange programs show how valued we are globally. Travel builds a sense of accomplishment that so many young black men lack. Self esteem is the foundation of a well rounded individual. Black or otherwise. Gang relations largely come from a “hive mind” mentality. One that becomes pervasive in those who choose not to, or can’t, think for themselves because they don’t feel they can. Travel empowers young black men to make choices for themselves and allows them to become far less susceptible to the control of destructive forces.

 

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
Buddha

Antoine tuk tuk

We don’t instill basic discipline in our young black men anymore. During the Civil Rights movement we learned the importance of not only public discipline, in the image of peaceful protest, but personal as well. Young black men were expected to speak respectfully, show up on time, and the importance of keeping our word. Unfortunately through the degradation of the black family that’s rarely the case anymore. When I speak of discipline I don’t mean blindly following rules. I mean having the personal control to do what needs to be done. When it needs to be done. And how it needs to be done. Discipline needs to be applied in all aspects of life.

If we aren’t disciplined while traveling, the world will soon show itself to be a harsh place. If you don’t get to your train on time. The train will leave and world will keep spinning. Show up on time. If you decide to spit on the sidewalks of Singapore you will be arrested. Don’t break the law. Being a person of your word will create lasting relationships all over the world. Do what you say.

 

“I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Black Man on the Coast

Many won’t want to hear this but as young black men, we come from a racist, homophobic, and misogynist community. We are taught to not like or trust whites. Which I can understand. There is quite a bit of mistrust there. The media teaches us that Arabs are terrorist and Italians gangsters. Hence why so many black rappers take up Italian “street” names (Capone and Gotti). Homosexuality has largely been seen as a degradation of our community and women are treated like sexual objects in 90% of our music videos. Tyler James Williams, a phenomenal young Black Actor, recently spoke on the mass hatred he received from the black community for his portrayal of a gay man in “Dear White People”. A film that explores racial dynamics on a college campus. These people clearly missed the point. Our community perpetuates the cycle of marginalization without realizing it.

Young black men will learn how to live, interact with, and respect people from all cultures and backgrounds. Through EXPOSURE. Young black men have been largely miseducated, misrepresented, and misinformed. A lack of access and exposure has created this internal struggle within them. By nature, people are accepting and kind. By conditioning, we become bigoted, fearful, and combative. Solo travel begins to bridge the gap between human nature and conditioning for young black men.

 

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.”
Malcolm X

CabdriversandKerwininMuttrahOman1

I’ll attempt not to marginalize anyone’s struggle, my own included, here. But something we need to realize in the U.S. is that we don’t hold a monopoly on oppression. Young black men can only truly understand what racism and discrimination is when you see it from the outside AND the inside. We need to understand that systemic racism is real and pervasive in our world. That genocides are happening in Africa, NOW. That racist policy in the Dominican Republic is setting Haitians back generations. Young black men need to see these struggles in order to put their own in perspective. Racism and classism aren’t only African-American problems. They’re global issues.

Young black men need to see what others have done with less. What TRUE poverty is. The U.S. poverty line is luxury compared to the slums of Rio, India, Haiti, and Poland. Our community is poor. Yes. But we also have massive resources in the U.S. to lift ourselves out of said poverty even though we are largely marginalized. The opportunity IS there. Many around the world can’t say the same.

International travel will expose young black men to places that have a community of multiculturalism. Sarajevo is an example of Christian, Muslims, Black, Whites, and Arabs living side by side in an effort to preserve their history and culture. We have to see what our community CAN be if we put forth the effort not only to better ourselves, but the people around us also. International travel shows young black men that we are ALL part of a mutual struggle regardless of race, religion, gender, or nationality. There are courageous struggles all around the world that we don’t know about. Exposure to other heroes and other causes help us to better understand our own and realize we aren’t alone.

 

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Maya Angelou

African-American Brothers and Sisters skiing in South Korea
Oh how the world wants to see you. I can’t explain the enthusiasm when a 14 year old Chinese student FINALLY gets to meet a “real life” black man. We are like unicorns globally. A very rare find. And that needs to change. Many other journalist of color have taken me to task over saying this but let me reiterate this point. AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN DON’T TRAVEL. A few Facebook groups does not a trend make. Statistically speaking, African American men make up a very small percentage of Americans that travel internationally. Americans that travel internationally in general are already a small group with only 31% of us even having passports.

The media representation of young black men is FALSE and racist. We are often depicted as ignorant criminals. Good only for sports. The world needs to see more young black men. To understand what our culture truly is. That we aren’t all thugs. That we are intelligent and capable of great things. And it starts with our community realizing the far reaching benefits travel has for our young black men.

 

Brothers in Paris
I’m speaking to all the young black men reading this. If you take nothing away from this article but this piece of advice I fell I’ve achieve something. The best souvenir you can get from travel, regardless of your race or socio economic status, is a better understanding of yourself and of those you thought you knew. It’s important for you to evolve beyond just being black, or American. But to become a citizen of the world. To understand your place in the human species and what you can do to improve the future for others. Only then can you truly reach the potential engrained in each and every one of you.

shabazz

darren

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Brother Mike in Africa

Brother Donald Snowboarding
NOTE: I want to thank all of the brothers whose images you see in this piece. These are black men I know who travel internationally and understand the importance travel has on young black men. If you want to speak to any one of them send me a message and I’ll be glad to put you in touch.I’ll be regularly adding images of brothers abroad as I get them.

What other lessons do you think young black men can learn from travel? Don’t forget to Share

How to Plan your First International Trip

Finland Booth at WTM London 2014
Colombia, France, or Indonesia? Same Same but Different!!!!!

Destination selection can make the difference between an amazing experience and a nightmare. When selecting your destination be sure to take into account what YOU enjoy. If you’re not a beach person I highly recommend you stay away from Jamaica. If you’re a fan of big cities then Iceland may not be a good choice. Based on your interest, choose a trusted source to help guide your selection.

Too often travelers base their travel plans around anothers’ recommendations. Although smart, many forget to screen the source. Be sure to consider the likes and motivations of that source. For example, many early 20 something’s love the Full Moon Party in Thailand. Not many 40 something’s will. Always consider the source and find one who caters to your likes. Remember, it’s your vacation. Nothing wrong with doing the things you enjoy at home. Personally, I go to the cinema in every country I visit because I love movies.

 

Are you a Lone Wolf or Pack Animal?

Solo and group travel carry with them benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your personality type and that of your potential companions. I’m a huge advocate for solo travel. Especially internationally. I believe it helps you discover yourself and fully experience different cultures. However this could mean a bit of loneliness for some. Group Travel has its benefits as well.

Groups provide security and companionship. It’s enjoyable to share experiences with others. Many companies offer group discounts as well. However, groups of travelers tend to be a bit more rigid and conservative. Even when it’s made up of open minded individuals. Deciding what to do can also become a chore as the more people involved, the more complications exist.

Either will have its benefits or drawbacks but it’s definitely something you must think about. I know many planning their first trip abroad prefer group tours. Some I recommend, GAdventures and Intrepid Travel.

For the solo minded I recommend Couchsurfing. Easily the world’s best resource for solo travelers.

 

Don’t follow the Lemmings of a Cliff

Unfortunately, in the hyper capitalistic west, travel flexibility is easier said than done. With that said, having a bit of travel freedom can not only lead to amazing experiences but save you LOTS of money. Through my travels I’ve noticed a global climate change of about 45 days. This isn’t scientific by any means but just observation. This shift really affects the best time to travel. Shoulder seasons.

A shoulder season is the time before and after the “High Season”. Depending on the destination it’s usually based around when westerners travel. For example, high season for Paris is usually from May-August. So you would want to travel there in September or October. When prices and crowds are smaller.

Another aspect of flexibility comes when determining flights. Adding a connection or taking a very early flight can save you hundreds. I’m from Austin Texas. Taking a few hours’ drive to Houston or Dallas has saved me thousands over the years.

 

Travel shouldn’t be a Job of checking off a List

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen are travelers trying to see everything at once. I understand that travel for some is rare. But rushing through destinations will cause more stress than pleasure and magnify the chance of something bad happening. Travel fatigue is something to avoid at all cost.

Take it slow. A good rule of thumb is allow three days per city and half a day for transit between. If you have two weeks it’s possible to see Madrid, Barcelona, and Ibiza. But it may not be very pleasant if you try to squeeze in Seville. Again, know what you’re interested in. Having a solid plan in this case is important. But that’s only in regards to a very tight time frame. I’ll cover why you shouldn’t plan too much later. 

 

Cut the cords and Travel Hack

Once you’ve followed the steps above you should have a good idea on where you want to go and when. This will give you the freedom to start figuring out how to pay for this trip. Let’s start with cutting cost. Here I wrote 5 Tips That Will Pay for Your Vacation. Some of the key points are covered above but the main one, CUT COST. Find a way to cut your day to day cost. Is that $5 a day Starbucks habit worth it. Picture this. You cut $5 a day of pre work coffee. That equals $100 a month saving. $1200 a year. That’s a plane ticket pretty much anywhere in the world. No it’s not? Well check this out.

One of the biggest cost to travelers is laziness. Simply put, people just don’t check all the options and the US airline industry loves that. I recently wrote pieces on Norwegian Airlines and EVA Airlines. Two discount international carriers with outstanding rates. I also suggest you subscribe to newsletters from Johnny Jet and AirfareWatchDog. Each offers regular updates and cost cutting tips. Johnny Jet in particular is the standard in airline savings.

 

Apple doesn’t make Cameras. They make Phones

So your trip is all planned and paid for. Now what? Time to document your trip. I’m a photographer by trade. I firmly believe that photographically documenting your travels is the best way to motivate yourself and others for your next trip. Here is my Budget Photography Gear List (Affiliate links that cost you nothing). For the new traveler I would say you don’t need professional gear at all. But you do need an actual camera.

Some may think a camera phone is a good travel accessory. It’s not. Camera phones just are great, but too many times I’ve seen them run out of power, shutdown, or simply not work well in photographic situations. Because…..you know…….THEIR PHONES. A camera phone(or tablet) should never be your primary travel documentation source. I recommend one of the many outstanding point and shoot options out there from Nikon, Sony, and Fuji. You really don’t need to spend much more than $500usd on a camera that will last you years.

 

Planning to not Plan!!!

I left this last because I think it’s simultaneously the most and least important aspect of your trip. You know where you’re going and what you want to do. Now how to do it? Well get rid of the Lonely Planet first off. The internet is your top choice starting with bloggers.

Note: Lonely Planet and Frommer’s (although I have great respect and admiration for Pauline and Arthur who recently bought their company back) are SHIT guides now. What happens when you become corporate entities. Rough Guides is what everyone should be using.

Well clearly I’m a bit biased being a blogger. But simply put, we are responsible for every word we write. If something is bullshit we’re a comment, tweet, pm, or email away. We are accessible and are largely here to help travelers. Before I was a blogger I was a blog fan. Following the early adventures of Nomadic Matt and Expert Vagabond. As I’ve grown as a traveler I follow bloggers like Grown Up Travel and Leah Travels. Next is Facebook Groups.

There are Facebook groups for everything these days. Some I recommend are “Travel Advice by Travel Bloggers ” and Nomadness Tribe for travelers of color. In these groups you can ask anything you want and get instant advice.
With all of that said, don’t plan too much. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is……..nothing. Get lost. Go someplace you didn’t plan on. These are where the real travel stories come from. It’s easy to follow a preplanned itinerary from one monument to the next. But do you want to be part of those sun burned and stressed out drones? Have you ever noticed how tired tour groups look? Not much of a vacation id you ask me. Remember, if you want to sleep until noon on YOUR vacation or rise with the sun. It’s your choice. Everyone else be damned.

CONGRATS on taking this first step into the amazing world of international travel. I hope these tips helped and feel free to comment below or reach out. See you on the Road!!!!

Elephant Experience with Elephant Hills Thailand

Asian Elephant Look in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Asian Elephant Look in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Elephant Exposure Limited

Admittedly, I had very little interaction with elephants prior to my trip with Elephant Hills. The occasional circus here and zoo trip there. But visiting elephants, with Elephant Hills, truly opened my eyes to how magnificent and intelligent these creatures are. Video and photographs don’t do justice to the grace and compassion in which these giants exist. Gliding effortlessly between enthusiastic play and quiet solitude. Elephant Hills gives guest an opportunity to not only observe, but to interact with Asian elephants in a natural setting. Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that stands out for us big city natives.

Thai guide demonstrating how elephants use their trunks in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Thai guide demonstrating how elephants use their trunks in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

 

What does a Mahout really Do?

Quite possibly the most misrepresented animal handlers in the world, Mahouts have a bad reputation. Partially in part due to the severe mistreatment of elephants that some “mahouts” have been known to practice. Elephant Hills prides themselves on having quality Mahouts that ensure the welfare and safety of not only their elephant charges, but their human guests as well.

Mahout Walking Elephant in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Mahout Walking Elephant in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Elephant Hills employs the Karen peoples from north western Thailand. A community who are taught how to care for elephants from a very young age. The mahout way is pass on from generation to generation, creating not only a physical bond to the elephants but a cultural one as well. In an effort to better work with tourist some Mahouts elect to take English classes provided by Elephant Hills.

Guide demonstrates the Ankusa and how it's used to contrl the Asian Elephants in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Guide Tik demonstrates the Ankusa and how it’s used to contrl the Asian Elephants in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

One of my concerns was the use of the Aṅkuśa, a sharp hook used to control the elephants. And at times used to “discipline” them. Those concerns were put to rest early as our guide explained what the Aṅkuśa is and how they use them at Elephant Hills. I made a special point to monitor the Mahouts behavior and the elephants body for marks. I can say I rarely saw the mahouts use them at all and when they did it was a light rub across the hide. Most commands were verbal. After getting VERY close to the elephants you can see that there had been no trauma and all were healthy and strong. Well taken care of by their handlers at Elephant Hills.

Elephants aren’t trained to paint or balance on balls here. Their taught to live. That’s it. Elephants here have been given a second chance at life and it’s truly a posh one. 

 

The Innocence of Youth

Youth in all its forms reminds us how important conservation efforts are. Elephant Hills recently launched a conservation program. Although all elephants there are females, they bring in Bulls (male elephants) to get the miracle of life moving. This hasn’t resulted in any births the last few years but as the program expands spirits are high.

Baby Asian Elephant in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Baby Asian Elephant in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Elephant Hills does have one special resident. A baby Asian Elephant. And she’s quite a sight to see. Her enthusiasm and energy can only be compared to that of the young children who were also on my trip. Watching them all interact was something every adult should witness. Unfortunately the global elephant population has been decimated by poaching and unethical tourist attractions. It’s important that children are able to interact with and observe these animals in an educational setting focused on their welfare. Elephant Hills is that place. With only 35-40 thousand wild African Elephants left, education is the key to their survival.

 

Getting Down and Dirty
Mahout watching over two female Asian Elephants in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Mahout watching over two female Asian Elephants in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

In my ignorance, I was SHOCKED to find out elephants can swim so well. A simple internet search would have clearly shown me this but I never had a reason to look. Half way through our visit two elephants were led to a large mud hole. AND THEY DISAPPEARED. I was really in shock at how long they stayed under water. Over and over they spun, dove, and rubbed in the mud hole.

Elephant at Elephant Hills Thailand in Mud Pool

Elephant at Elephant Hills Thailand in Mud Pool

Mud acts as a kind of sunscreen and coolant for the elephants. Not to mention the cool water. Throughout the day you’ll notice the elephants throwing dirt on themselves. This was definitely a sight to see.

 

Showering WITH Elephants?!?!?!
Mahout washes a female Asian Elephant in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Mahout washes a female Asian Elephant in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

After their mud baths, three elephants were taken to an area for showers. Initially their Mahouts prepare them by giving them a preliminary soaking and rub down. Guest are free to choose whatever elephant they like. With the small groups that Elephant Hills operates, there is more than enough muddy elephant to go around.

Mahout and Elephant getting clean in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Mahout and Elephant getting clean in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Using coconut fibers, we scrubbed the elephants and sprayed them down with hoses. Being that hands on and personal with these massive creatures was a bit scary and inspiring at the same time. Their gentle nature shines through as they take care not to move much and actively interact with the guest. They are allowing you to wash them. Having fun of their own at times by flipping water with their ears or rubbing you with their trunks.

Tourist gets sprayed with water from Asian Elephants ears in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Tourist gets sprayed with water from Asian Elephants ears in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Me washing and Asian Elephant at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Me washing and Asian Elephant at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

This is an experience that will change your perception of these magnificent creatures. Had this been the only experience the trip would have been more than worth it.

 

 Culinary Skills and Pachyderm Palettes

These elephants EAT!!! A full grown Asian Elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of food a day. Needless to say we prepare a snack. Guest prepare the mid day meal for 8 elephants. This includes Sugar Cane, Pineapples, Bananas, a vitamin mix, and banana leafs. You’ll but them into smaller pieces and then get to feed them directly to each elephant. But don’t be surprised if they aren’t pleased with your offerings.

Asian Elephant diet in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Asian Elephant diet in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

These elephants are very well kept so they can be a bit picky from my observation. For example, my elephant doesn’t like sugar cane. Every time I gave her one she would throw it on the ground in front of me and search for something else. Her favorites included pineapples and bananas when her sister wasn’t stealing food from her mouth. Not to mention she decided to slap me in the face with the last banana leaves I gave her.

Food preparation for Asian Elephants in Thailand  at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

Food preparation for Asian Elephants in Thailand at Elephant Hills Khao Sok

I was taken by how intelligent the elephants were. Clearly they had come to know this routine but seemed to enjoy every moment. Even posing for the camera. They say an elephant never forgets, well these beauties surely have mastered the aren’t of people pleasing.

See it for yourself

I have friends whom are against any form of animal tourism. Although there are unethical companies doing terrible things in the name of tourism, I believe that when done properly, experiences with animals can not only educate people but save these animals from extinction.

NOTE: If you take anything away from this piece, I hope it’s that riding Elephants is unnecessary. After my experience here and personal research, the physical tole it takes on elephants isn’t worth it. Please don’t do this. 

Elephant Hills was recently awarded by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Wanderlust Magazine with the Thailand Green Excellence Award for their Animal Welfare. This is a company that’s doing it right. I implore anyone who loves elephants to skip the riding and visit Elephant Hills for a truly special experience.

 

I was a guest of Elephants Hills and their outstanding staff.