EXPLORING INDONESIA – My expedition to Irian Jaya

I cannot call it trip and I cannot call it journey because this is a proper expedition that leaves a sign in your mind,  in regions difficult to access, without any infrastructure.  An encounter with people absolutely primitive due to their complete isolation.  A not easy approach with peaceful ethnic groups wary of strangers but that slowly start to touch.
A wild blooming nature, sometimes insurmountable.  In these impassable paths we have walked to reach ethnic groups that have rarely been in contact with our world:  the Dani, the Jali, the Tiom.  We got to know their traditions and rituals, habits of life, their homes.
la famiglia Dani
To fully explore these lands and these peoples  we move only on foot, helped by 17 local porters, a trekking extremely tiring, days of walking from village to village, crossing valleys and mountains, rivers and forests.
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We arrive in Jayapura (Irian Jaya) from Jakarta.  It’s a short stop to relax and recover strength after an exhausting plane trip from Europe.
The next day another plane will take us to Wamena situated in a great valley in the center of Irian Jaya and from here our trekking will begin.io aereo
 
In Wamena, a small city, we have just enough time to organize our trekking:  meet with the local guide, buy all kind of food, vegetables, eggs, live poultry and find and negotiate with the 17 local porters who will be with us for all the expedition and will carry on their heads and shoulders our bags and all boxes of food.
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The next morning we are ready to go, 7 of us, friends from long time, accustomed to travel together and to stand one another.  Thanks God two of them are doctors!!!! Never know!!
io attraverso ruscelloThe trekking begins, our trekking shoes are brand new, our trousers nice and clean from laundry.  With backpacks on our shoulders and cameras ready to film we start our adventure.io attraverso fiume
The first tribe we meet after a day’s walk are the Dani.  We stop at the village of Sogokmo and we are welcomed by the chief village.  We are guests in their homes where we will sleep.  They allow us to use their “kitchen” to cook our dinner.
 
The night is cold, we sleep with our clothes on in our sleeping bags.  Here I have my first nasty close encounter with fleas that will accompany me for the entire trip (and beyond).
 
On waking up the next morning, we have a quick wash at the river, a hot tea and off we go again thru valleys to find other villages.io e pepi alla fontenoi in fila
 
The Dani people look rather primitive as they are wearing almost nothing except for some decorations on the body.
Men wear only the “koteka” a  sort of sheath for the penis.guerriero lancia
 
Women wear on their hips short skirts made of grass or bark fiber;  when outside the house they cover their backs, from head to thighs,  with a net also made of grass and they use it as a bag to carry the baby or the little big or to put vegetables.
 
They live in huts made of wood capable of retaining the warmth of a small fire and to protect the cold nights.
Women and children live in a separate hut from men.
 
Women use to embellish their faces and bodies with floral white paintings, while women who have just become widow have to paint the full body with yellow paint and keep it on until it rubs out.
 
We continue our trekking thru other Dani villages of Kurima and Tugma always staying and enjoying the local hospitality.io scaletta
 
We reach the village of Wesagalep and meet with the Jaly tribes that nothing differ in clothing from the Dani tribes.
We are hosted by a Jaly chief in his village and for the occasion a little pig is killed and cooked in our honour.  We take part to the ceremony and of course the banquet:  an unforgettable experience!.
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The days are a succession of moves, new villages, new encounters with men, women, children and old people.  We shake hands and they try to converse with us.  But even our local guide cannot help us:  their dialects are so different.
io ponte tibetano
 
We have the opportunity to participate to a performace of men fighting.  Their body totally decorated, their heads adorned with various types of feathers and caps, necklaces around their necks and long arrows and axes.  They fight to prove how strong they are and to show their ability to fight.
il retro della battaglia
 
We return to Wamena really stressed out and filthy!!! The first need is a hot bath, very hot indeed, but here is a utopia, we have to wash with cold water.
Mt flea bytes start to irritate me a lot.  My body is covered with red spots, I am itching all over.
Home Sweet Home, where are you!!
 
It has been really difficult, fatiguing, uncomfortable but what we saw and experienced will forever remain in our minds.  A world of awesomeness and strong intense emotions,  forgetting for some days that somewhere there is
“civilization”.
 
bimbo allattadonna bimbo in braccioguerriero con zanne al nasomummiaprimo piano uomop piano guerriero c lanciaguerriero neroio fiume in piena
 

MYANMAR – The essence of oriental sweetness

Myanmar is the name to describe the homeland which the British called Burma.io libero birdy
Visiting Myanmar is a succession of beautiful landscapes, an occasion with a different world for those who love art, nature and religion.
1 Shwedagon
The plane trip was long but finally we reached Yangon, the capital city.  We are tired but fatigue does not stop us and we start immediately to visit the great Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important place of worship for Buddhists and symbol for the country with its huge golden dome.  The weather is unsettled, rain, sun, rain, humid:  it’s nice to feel the freshness of the marble under your bare feet while we look around the pagoda.  So many families, so many children and many women with flowers to offer, such a mystical atmosphere!!5 pagoda d'oro4 cupole shwedagon
2 cupola d'oro Yangon
We get up early the next morning and after a drive of about 200 km. we reach Kyaiktyio mountain, famous for the “Golden Rock” an holy place of pilgrimage for Burman.  To reach the Golden Rock, situated on top of the mountain,  under a torrential rain we jump on a big lorry with all other pilgrims praying and singing while approaching the holy site.  camion s acquazzone
The Golden Rock is huge, all covered with golden leaves and placed in balance on the mountain edge.  In the middle of the Rock there is a small golden pagoda containing the Buddha’s relic. golden rock con monaci Ordinary people and monks gather to pray and make offers:  fruits, flowers, incense
We come down the holy mountain on foot, a long walk but pleasant and gives us the opportunity to meet and talk with local villagers
It’s 6.00 am the next morning and we are already at the airport waiting for our plane.  Next destination the Bagan Plain situated in the middle of Myanmar.pagoda
Bagan is considered one of the most important monuments of Asian architecture.  Currently only 1000 pagodas are left from the original 3000 built during 1000 and 1200AD.2 pagode Bagan
 
We are stunned by the beauty we are surrounded:  this large plain on the Irrawady river covered by hundreds of Pagodas.  We climb on top of one of them and wait for the beautiful sunset!!!Bagan dopo temporale
But off we go again, our trip is long and full of emotions and by car we move towards Mandalay, the visit of the Holy mountain Popa is waiting for us.
At bare feet we start our ascent, a long flight of steps to the top of the mountain. 
All the way long we have to struggle against the many monkeys that live the mountain and try to come up to us for food!
Finally we reach the top,  sweating with heat and fatigue, our feet filthy!!! We visit the temple that hosts the tutelary deity of the entire country.  It has been a tough excursion but worthwhile,  the panorama from the top is breathtaking!montagna Popa
The next day in flight we reach Kengtung close to the Laos border.  Here, spread in the hills,  we visit various villages of different ethnic groups called “the Golden Triangle tribes”, the land of Opium Lords.io con bimbi Lasudonna Akha e bambinodonna akha con vasodonna birmana con pipa
On a trekking we visit three very isolated villages:  these ethnic groups have preserved their traditions and beautiful costumes, in particular the Akha tribes with their caps covered with silver coins and the Ann Lisu called also “Black Teeth” for the habit to chew betel,  and the Lahu.donna denti neri 1
They live in the so called “Long houses” a long constructions , all together 3 or even 4  families.   They do not see much tourism here:  we give balloons, sweets and pens to the children but also, thanks God one of our Group is a doctor, we can help an old men not feeling well,  examining him and giving some medicines.vecchia Akha o chi min
They are all very happy to take photographs with us and when we live the village they take us half way down!!!
Our next destination:  the Inle Lake situated in the middle of the country. 
We sail the lake on board of long boats.  The scenery around is spectacular:  the lone Intha fishermen rowing their boats moving the oar with their leg;  the floating gardens in the middle of the lake where they grow all kind of vegetables;  the big bow-nets hanging outside the fishermen houses;  and the children waving to you from the balcony of their palafitte houses.pescatore che rema c piederematore ortofamiglia finestra palafitta
We are close to the end of our journey.  Another stop in Yangon to complete our visit:  the old city, few more pagodas, some shopping.panorama cupolepalme con cupole
 
Our luggages are full……….full of all kind of souvenirs we bought around our trip but also full of happy memories of this magnificent holiday!!!!villaggio palafitte 2vogatore nell'ortovillaggio palafitte 13 donne in costumeorti galleggiantimonastero gatti

Welcome to Mali!

mussa al buioA country that offers a wide variety of environments and different people.  If you want to enjoy the best of it follow me in this short but rich journey.
We start our trip from Bamako, capital city of Mali.  Moussa , our Italian speaking guide, meets us at the airport.
  On board of our 4×4 vehicle we proceed through villages inhabited by the Bambara ethnic group people and we arrive in Segou, the second city of Mali, on the Niger river.

ninfee

We then visit the beautiful town of Djenné founded in the IX century on the river Bani, an affluent of Niger river. With its Arab/African style quarters and the spectacular mosque hand-moulded with clay, straw and dung  considered one of the most beautiful mosques of all Africa, Djenné deserves the name of “Queen of the Delta”.moschea controlucemoschea djenne 1
We cannot miss the navigation on the river Niger, the soul of this country and see how the Bozo fishermen still live and how they still work and preserve the smoked fish.  We visit the colorful market and have lunch in a traditional place.barca gente porto
We proceed towards Bandiagara, capital of Dogon villages and here we start our trekking and visit the scenic villages of the Dogon people perched among the rocks of the great cliff of Bandiagara.The stone houses camouflage among the rocks.  I need the help of Moussa in carrying my backpack while we climb the stone track which leads to the villages.
Only on foot you can visit their remote villages and only on foot you can walk into their world and live at their own pace.io e mussa in golaio e mussa in salita
The Dogon is the country’s most isolated and untouched ethnic group still tied to the ancestral rhythms of life.capanne paglia nroccia
We are enchanted by their curious typical houses “Toguna” which means “house of words”, by the colorful and bustling markets and the hospitality of people isolated by rich in culture.
We continue thru the Senogondo plain visiting the nomad camps of Peul ethnic tribes whose main activity for centuries is cattle-breeding.mandria buoi

We pass the border and enter in the neighbouring Burkina Faso to end our journey in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina.
A fascinating world, full of sounds and colours, a kaleidoscope of people, traditions and cultures.
donne montagna con vasins villaggioveduta case

villaggiocapanne paglia Continue reading

Iceland

CGF_2990 bisCGF_3299Iceland, a land with unforgettable landscapes that follow one another and change very rapidly due to an unimaginable volcanic frenzy.

Sometimes you can even doubt to be on the Earth Planet and you also wonder if the geological era has perhaps changed.

Vast expanses of ice, deep fjords, hot springs of an unusual milky blue, gysers: hot springs that periodically give rise to powerful jets of warm water mixed with steam. One of the most fascinating natural events that can be seen.

But also fumaroles, bubbling mud, deserts of black sand, beautiful formations of basaltic columns and menacing volcanos still active.DSC02143

And the soft and thick moss covering the lava, majestic waterfalls rumbling and CGF_5626unforgettable. But also birds, seals, whales and beautiful colorful flowers.

If  you go in the right season you will be able to see the marvellous spectacle of the “sun at midnight”an ephemeral phenomenon, wonderful, amazing. For us, not Icelander, the continued presence of the sun in the middle of the night has something magical, the light that spreads in those particular moments is something unreal!CGF_3514

This is Iceland, a land of extremes and of contrasts! A unique destination for those who love nature and solitude!

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“On the Silk Road”

I was particularly excited and curious to make this journey.  An important route thru Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang and last, but not least, Pakistan, the Land of Pure.

But the greatest thrill was to return for the third time to the intriguing city of Peshawar.

It would have been a journey of magnificent landscapes, passes almost inacessible with peaks set against a deep blue sky, boundless steppes.  And the Karakoram highway, a 750km long road between the peaks and the highest mountains in the world. The Nanga Parbat, the Khunjerab pass with its spectacular road, one of the most impervious spots of the ancient silk road.

Off we go then!  Leaving Italy towards Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan to visit Qoqand in the enchanting rich Ferghana Valley and Andjan, birth place of Babur the first Mogul Emperor.  From Andjan our journey takes us to Osh and then Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgizstan, situated between Kazakhstan and the Tien Shan chain mountains.

Our journey proceeds thru spectacular places which skirt the Pamir mountains, the roof of the world. We stop in Naryn for the night and we sleep the 4 of us in a typical yurta tent.  What an exciting and cold experience!

The next morning, after a typical local breakfast, we start our drive on a road flanked with plateaus and snowy mountains to reach Kashgar in the Takla Makan desert. Kashgar’s history spans over 2000 years and its importance comes from its strategic position.

Its Sunday market it’s spectacular, an experience that only Kashgar can offer. A fascinating mix of ethnic groups such as Kirghiz, Chinese, Kurds, Turk Mongolian in its typical costumes and caps.  Here you can buy almost everything from sheep to horses, food and any kind of fancy goods.  Trade remains a bygone style where the entire community gathers at the world’s liveliest market.

As we proceed towards the Karakul lake at 3700 mt the scenery is incredible and we can admire the great amphitheatre of the Kongur chain mountains and the breathtaking Muz Tagh Ata (7569 mt) glacier.

We arrive at the border city of Taxkorgan in the Cinese Xinjiang Uygur.  After customs formalities, which take quite a long time, we leave Taxkorgan and thru the Khunjerab pass (4700 mt) we finally reach Karimabad in PAKISTAN!  Here we meet Mehrab Khan (uncommon name for this country!!!!!!) our Paki guide, with the 2 Land Rover waiting for us.  Our Pakistani Adventure starts!!

We first visit the Hunza Valley with its small characteristics villages surrounded by huge glaciers.  We proceed towards Skardu Valley and Shyok  Valley to visit Kaplu and the famous Baltoro glacier.  Then back towards Gilgit passing by the majestic Nanga Parbat.   Thru the beautiful scenarios of the Shandur Pass we enter Chitral Valley with the great panoramas of Hindu Raj and Hindu Kush.  We stop 2 days in Chitral and visit Bamburet and Birir villages where we meet with the Kafiri Kalash people who seem to be descendent from Alexander the Great.  Women and girls are dressed in their colourful local dresses, their hair is blonde and they have beautiful blue eyes!  These people still maintain their culture, traditions and animistic beliefs.  It’s with great sorrow that we leave these beautiful places and the lovely people!   But our journey is close to its end.  Down the Lowari Pass and we arrive in Peshawar.

Peshawar, a striking, animated city, an important commercial crossroads of Central Asia.  The ancient part of the city, more crowded and fascinating, it’s a labyrinth of narrow roads, shops and the extraordinary bazaar full with all kind of things.  I spent most of my time at the Afghan bazaar buying all sort of things from old tea pots, to tea trays, jars, carpets, always assisted by Mehrab, our guide, who tried to negotiate  the best price for me!  I was fascinated by the Afghan vendors!

Goodbye Peshawar, I wonder if I will see you again!!!!

A quick stop on the road at Darra to have a look at a weapon shop and then off to Islamabad airport.   Lahore is waiting to say goodbye  to us with its splendour.  We have just enough time to visit again the Mogul fort, the Badshahi and Wazir Khan mosques and the Shalimar Gardens.

This is a journey I will never forget and I promised to myself that, sooner or later, I will return to Pakistan, a country that has a special place in my heart!

Khuda Hafiz Pakistan!

MY TRIP TO IRAN – October 2009

That it was a particular destination we realized it on the plane upon our arrival at Tehran airport. Suddenly, even though the season did not require it, from women handbags came out coats, shawls, scarves that transformed all ladies on board of the aircraft. At the Tehran airport this was elegantly confirmed by obvious signs saying:

“DECENCY, MODESTY AND HIJAB OF WOMAN HAVE MADE HER A DIVINE BEING”.

We were approaching a different world full of charm and contrasts. On the other hand Iran has been able to keep forever its different culture, its distinct way of life dictated by its own origin: an Aryan area compressed between the Arab and Indo Asian world.

And here we are in Tehran, the chaotic, vibrant capital of Iran. The city, surrounded by the Elburz Mountains, called “Polar Star” by the Iranians is a modern city full of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, fashion shops and museums, palaces and memories of past and recent times. To mention a few: the Golestan Palace, the Sad Abad palace with its magnificent rooms with shiny crystals and luxurious furnishings. And the Peacock Throne, the Imperial Crowns, the precious Globe, an indescribable accumulation of precious stones.

The Azari Tower built in the occasion of celebrations for the 2500 years of Persian empire.

The Imam Khomeini Mosque. Tehran is all this and much, much more.

We proceed our journey towards Shiraz, a very refined city known as the cradle of Persian culture with its madrasas with mirrors vaults, prayer halls illuminated by stained-glass windows that create an unreal, relaxing atmosphere.

We continue by car towards Persepolis, the ancient Parse of Cyrus the Great, of Darius, of Xerxes and of Artaxerxes, visited and unfortunately accidentally destroyed by Alexander the Great during a night of drunkness.

Far beyond the plains of Parsagat are the imperial tombs of their ancestors carved into the rocks.

On the route of the silk road, we find the city of Yadz with its ancient Kabir Jaan mosque, its Zoroastrian temples where the sacred fire is kept burning since thousand of years.

But if one has to identify a place that can make lasting memories on the beauty of a whole nation, well for Iran there would be no doubt! We visited a town, in our opinion, the most beautiful ever seen: Isfahan (Nesf-e-Jahan) which in Farsi language means “the half of the world”.

The huge square, of almost ten acres full of jetting fountains and gardens with flowers of every colours, at the sides of which there are two of the finest mosques ever built, with high blinding blue domes and slender minarets towering on the sides. Rich of blue tiles, mosaic, the angle of the whispers, the 12 echoes of the mosque.

Its bazaars full of endless tunnels and narrow streets, center of every business.

The palace of Ali Qapu, high soaring sumptuous and sign of political power.

And the bridges lit up at night, place of meeting for Isfahan youth.

But my last thought goes to the people, so friendly, open and curious.

This is Isfahan, masterpiece of Iran and Unesco world heritage site.

We leave Isfahan, and return towards Tehran stopping in Kashan for a quick visit. Kashan is a pleasant city with its ancient luxury traditional houses (Khan-e-Borujerdi, Khan-e-Tabatei, Khan-e-Ameriha, to mention a few) surrounded by gardens dotted with springs of crystal clear water.

We continue towards Abyaneh, a 1500 year old village perched at the foot of Karkas mountain and situated in a narrow pittoresque valley. Abyaneh is one of the most attractive villages to visit in Iran. Even today the way of life, costumes and dialect of its inhabitants has remained unchanged from past times. This village really deserves a visit!!!

We reached the end of our tour. But one trip to Iran is not enough to discover the many beauties of this nation and its people.

For this reason I have decided I will return very soon and complete my knowledge of this land, its culture, its customs and its wonderful people, so friendly, warm, hospitable and, why not, curious.

KHODA HAFEZ IRAN!!!!

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