Just Me Travel

Just Me Travel

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Category: Photo Stories

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THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS FROM MY CAMERA’S PERSPECTIVE

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people. The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And…

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people.

The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And this ‘smoke’ can be seen from some distance. I had a clear view of the ‘smoke’ rising from the Falls from my hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, one kilometre away.

Mist rising from Victoria Falls, the smoke that thunders

The ‘smoke’ from Victoria Falls rises above the skyline

 

Walking around the escarpment on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls, the roar the Falls produce from the volume of water crashing over the edge of the gorge makes it difficult to hear conversations.

Victoria Falls is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I travelled to the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls in November 2016. It was the end of the dry season; with November being ‘low water’ for the Zambezi River. When the Zambezi River is in full flood (usually February or March), Victoria Falls forms the largest curtain of water in the world. At my time of visit, Victoria Falls was at 40% capacity. And yet, it did not disappoint.

I will be writing a detailed itinerary blog post on my visit to Victoria Falls in the near future. But for now, I just want to showcase the majesty of “the smoke that thunders” from my camera’s perspective – to let my camera do the talking.

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a walking tour

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a helicopter tour

Due to Victoria Falls’ reduced volume of water cascading over the edge of the gorge, I wasn’t going to take a helicopter flight over the Falls. At the last minute I changed my mind – one of my better decisions. My camera’s perspective gained a unique angle of the smoke that thunders.

Which camera perspective do you prefer?

A note on protecting your camera

Walking along the escarpment, you and your camera are going to get wet from the spray spewed up by the sheer volume of water crashing down the cliff face to the floor below.

Whether or not you keep yourself dry is up to you. But it is important to keep your camera dry if you want it to continue working.

I have a DSLR camera and have tried two different professional ‘raincoats’ for my camera. Each time, I revert back to my tried and tested method of a plastic bag. I attach the lens hood as this provides some protection for the lens glass and filters. Then, using a wide plastic bag that is longer than my camera body and extended lens (300mm), I make a hole in the bottom of the bag. I slip the lens through the hole and secure the plastic bag to the lens with a rubber band. Pulling the plastic bag up over the camera, the camera is kept dry, I have good access to all the camera’s dials, I can clearly see through the viewfinder and see the back of the camera, and I have plenty of room for my hands. And the lens can still be extended and retracted.

My experience of professional camera raincoats is so opposite to that of my plastic bag. I found them restrictive, providing poor visibility through their plastic window, and having limited space for my hands.

I also carry a microfibre cloth so I can wipe the water droplets off the lens glass.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

 

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THE SASSI DI MATERA – from national shame to cultural showcase

If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a…

If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a colourful history that has seen it go from the earliest inhabited city in Italy, to a place of national humiliation, to Italy’s pride. This history, all of which is still visible today, makes the Sassi di Matera a matchless tourist destination. Matera’s Sassi has been reborn and now is the time to witness that rebirth while Matera celebrates its recognition as a city of culture.

A brief history – from shame to gain

Italy’s southern city of Matera (along with Bulgaria’s, Plovdiv) is the 2019 European Capital of Culture. For this honour, Matera receives hundreds of millions of euros to develop infrastructure and present year-long cultural and art activities; activities designed to improve the quality of life in the city and to strengthen a sense of community. It is expected that being a European Capital of Culture will bring fresh life to the city and will enhance Matera’s cultural, social and economic development. It is an opportunity for Matera to showcase itself internationally and to boost tourism. An opportunity Matera needs in order to reclaim its dignity and credibility in the eyes of Italy and the world.

This is a chance for Matera to leave behind its reputation as the “Shame of Italy”. The object of this shame is the Sassi di Matera (literal translation from Italian, “Stones of Matera”). The Sassi are a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and people have lived in these cave dwellings since 7000 BC.

In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli (published 1945), Carlo Levi put the Sassi di Matera on the world map when he highlighted the poor living conditions. He painted a picture of abject poverty. Malaria, cholera and typhoid were rampant in the Sassi. Families and their animals were living together under the same roof in dwellings with no natural light or ventilation, no electricity, water or sewers and there was a high infant mortality rate.

The Sassi became an embarrassment for the Italian Government. So much so that in 1950 the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency, and plans were put in place to move the Sassi’s inhabitants out. By 1952 the Sassi was empty; abandoned through forced removal.

After sitting dormant for a couple of decades, the Sassi started to go through a transformation; starting in the 1970s with artists and hippies rediscovering Matera’s Sassi. This urban renewal, and a younger generation expressing their desire to have the caves brought back to life, led the Italian Government to pass a law in 1986 to repopulate the Sassi; connecting water and electricity and subsidising restoration work in order to encourage the Sassi’s revival.

And the people did come – restoring caves as homes, hotels, restaurants and bars. But many are still uninhabitable.

The Sassi di Matera’s revival was further cemented in 1993 when listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”.

A new image of the Sassi is forming and the tourists are coming. The Sassi di Matera have been transformed and Matera is the 2019 European Capital of Culture.

My visit to the Sassi di Matera

The Sassi are carved into the limestone cliffs of a ravine gauged out by the Gravina River. My first sighting of the Sassi di Matera was from across the ravine. What I saw from this vantage point was a mass of caves clinging to the steep slope. On top of these caves is the new city of Matera – a unique juxtaposition.

My hotel room

My hotel room – a restored cave in Le Grotte della Civita

My second introduction to the Sassi was my hotel, Le Grotte della Civita. Sitting on the edge of the ravine in the most ancient Sassi area, Le Grotte della Civita consists of 18 rooms. All the rooms are individual caves that have been beautifully restored whilst retaining their original features. The furnishings are simple but tasteful, with much of the lighting provided by candles. Breakfast, served in a reclaimed cave that was a church, was typical of Southern Italy – breads, cakes, pastries, James, meats and cheeses. This was truly a memorable place to stay.

Church of Purgatory's facade

Carving on the facade of the Church of Purgatory

Church of Purgatory's door

Skulls decorate the Church of Purgatory doors

Matera has 180 churches; 40 of which are in the Sassi, including the Cathedral and the rock-cut Church of Santa Maria di Idris. My favourite was the Church of Purgatory. Completed in 1747, its recurring and only theme is that of death. The baroque façade of the church and its doors are covered with carvings of skulls, skeletons and crossbones. While a church focusing on death might seem a bit Grim Reaper-ish, it was actually fashionable at the time of construction, as death was not seen as the end but as the beginning of a new life.

Caves look like houses

The house-like facades are a deception as they ‘front’ caves

While the Sassi look like a mass of houses, the house-like facades are only that, as the ‘houses’ are dug well into the rock, thereby forming the caves Matera is famous for.

"Stacks on the mill"

Sassi caves on caves and roads on cave roofs

Houses in the Sassi are often built on top of other houses and many of the streets are built on the roofs of houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One would be forgiven for thinking the Sassi are a place of shadow and crampedness. But not so. The squares in the Sassi are sun-drenched open spaces flanked by cafes, shops, churches and restaurants. And great for people watching.

I took a walking tour with a local guide in the morning to get acquainted with the Sassi. This included learning the history of the Sassi di Matera, visiting a cave dwelling for a glimpse into past life and viewing one of the ancient Rupestrian Churches that date back to the Middle Ages. However, what I enjoyed most of all was just walking around on my own – exploring narrow ‘streets’, talking to the locals, checking out their cafes, and having all the time I wanted to take photos. You will need comfortable shoes to walk around the Sassi. And don’t forget, the Sassi are built on the side of a ravine. So, there are lots of steep steps.

Timeline:

2019: Matera is one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019

2014: Tourism starts to take off. Most likely due to Matera being announced as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019. Matera has 4 years to prepare …

1993: The Sassi of Matera is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

1986: Change in Italian law and people are encouraged to return to the Sassi

1952: Abandonment of the Sassi through the Italian Government’s forced removal of its inhabitants

Prehistory: (approximately 9,000 years ago) People first inhabited the Sassi

A bit of trivia for you: Mel Gibson’s controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ”(2004) was filmed in the Sassi di Matera as too was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St Matthew”. It would seem Matera’s Sassi makes for a great ancient Jerusalem.

  • Are you going to Galway (Ireland) or Rijeka (Croatia) in 2020? They are the European Capitals of Culture for 2020.

 

Want to take a self-guided walking tour around Venice?…

A Venetian Walkabout

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A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN

With Sri Lanka being named the destination for 2019, tourism will only increase in this teardrop shaped nation. Finding places to visit away from the maddening crowds is a very good…

With Sri Lanka being named the destination for 2019, tourism will only increase in this teardrop shaped nation.

Finding places to visit away from the maddening crowds is a very good reason to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s garden as it is largely undiscovered by tourists, being something different from the ‘usual’ tourist attraction.

Not to be confused with Brief Garden – the former estate of Geoffrey’s older brother, Bevis.

Who was Geoffrey Bawa you say? He was Sri Lanka’s most well-known architect. In fact, he is deemed to be the most influential Asian architect of his time (dying in 2003). For those architect enthusiasts out there, he was one of the founding fathers of the architectural style known as, “tropical modernism”. Bawa is probably best known for designing Sri Lanka’s Houses of Parliament.

Living permanently in Colombo, Lunuganga Estate, situated on the banks of Dedduwa Lake in Bentota (midway between Colombo and Galle), was Geoffrey Bawa’s country retreat. Here, on 23 acres, he spent 50 years turning this abandoned rubber plantation (and prior to that, a cinnamon plantation) into gardens of multiple shades of green.

We explored the gardens with the Head Curator on a 2-hour private tour.

Don’t expect to find manicured gardens of colourful flowers, neat borders and gurgling fountains. But do expect a tamed, tropical wilderness of sudden vistas, intimate groves, sculptures and wide landscapes. I found Bawa’s garden to be a place of peace, tranquillity and restfulness.

Come take a stroll with me on a visual tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden.

Hen House

Hen house

The Hen House – in the same style as Sri Lanka’s Parliament House

Bawa designed Sri Lanka’s Parliament House and then designed his hen house (chicken coup) on the estate in the same style. Take from that what you will!

Sandela Pavilion

Sandela Pavilion

Sandela Pavilion where Bawa had his office

Sandela Pavilion is an open, airy space and served as Bawa’s office. From here he had a lovely view of the lake and could see anyone who arrived at the main gate.

The Red Terrace

Red Terrace

The Red Terrace

The Red Terrace derives its name from the red laterite ground surface, produced by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.

The Water Garden

Water garden

Water Garden where Bawa would sit

The water garden pond is shaped like a butterfly and covered with water lilies. The area has a number of sculptures and a bench seat beside the pond in the shade of trees. Here Bawa would sit and ring the garden bell for his gin and tonic to be brought to him.

Sculptures

There are a number of sculptures around the garden.

Sundial sculpture

Sundial sculpture in the water garden

'Hindu' Pan

Sculpture of the pagan god, Pan

 

 

The sundial sculpture (above left) in the water garden has an air of decline and abandonment. While the sculpture of the pagan god, Pan (above right) was called “Hindu” Pan by Bawa. No reason was given as to why he called it such.

The Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars

Ming jars dot the landscape in an area know as “The Plain of Jars”

In a setting of sloping grassy plains with the occasional tall tree, the Ming jars that dot this part of the landscape were added here by Bawa.

Jack Fruit

Jack fruit

Jack Fruit – a tropical fruit growing on the Estate

 

The estate is set in Sri Lanka’s wet tropical zone.

So tropical fruits, like the Jack Fruit, are not unknown and grow to large proportions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon Hill House

Bawa's studio

Cinnamon Hill House

Cinnamon Hill House was used by Bawa as a studio from where he created his architectural designs. It was the last addition to the Garden.

Geoffrey Bawa’s Home

Bawa's former home

Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on the Estate

 

On Cinnamon Hill sits Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on the estate.

Lunch on the wide veranda of Bawa’s former home, with its views over the lake and a set menu of traditional Sri Lankan curries, was a visual and gastronomic pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gardens are open to the public and the buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel. Should you like to have lunch whilst visiting the estate, a reservation is essential. For more information, go to the Geoffrey Bawa Trust website and click on “Lunuganga Country Estate”.

Wanting to know more on what to do in Sri Lanka? Click on the link to read about my walk along the railway line: Walking the Line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara.

Related Post: First 24 Hours in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

 

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WALKING THE LINE IN SRI LANKA FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA

When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka with…

When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble.

On a recent trip to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister decided it would be an adventure to walk the 3 kilometres along the railway line from Ella to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge. From there we would decide whether to walk back to Ella or continue a further 3.5 kilometres along the railway line to Demodara train station, catching the Kandy-Colombo train back to Ella.

With all in agreement, and knowing the expected time the train departs Demodara, we set off at 8.20am after an early breakfast for our possible 6.5-kilometre walk.

Walking the railway line

Walking the railway line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara

So, you ask, what’s the connection between walking a railway line in the hills of Sri Lanka and a grandmother teaching her grandson how to get out of trouble? Read on and the dots will be connected.

Just after stepping onto the railway line near our hotel, we were confronted with the sign, ‘WALK ON THE RAILWAY LINE IS PROHIBITED’. I immediately decided that when stopped by the railway police, I was going to tell them, “The devil made me do it”. I wonder how well this translates into Sinhala or Tamil? If that didn’t work, I was going to blame my sister, the hotel manager and guide books because they all suggested this escapade – a “must do” in Ella; to do as the locals do

I stopped worrying about ending up in a Sri Lankan prison when, about 5 metres further down the line, it became evident the authorities had given up telling people that walking the line is prohibited because there was now a sign advising that walking the railway line is dangerous. I relaxed. ‘Dangerous’ I can handle, but ‘prohibited’ goes against my ‘good girl’ nature.

However, ‘dangerous’ became a not-so-friendly companion again upon entering a tunnel that was impossible to see any light coming from the other end. Blindly feeling my way through the tunnel with my feet against the railway track, I wondered aloud what action should be taken in the event of a train coming whilst we are in the tunnel. Luckily, my brother-in-law had been thinking ahead and had consulted with the Hotel Manager; finding out what time we might come face-to-face on the Nine Arch Bridge with the train from Kandy.

Exiting tunnel

Exiting the tunnel at Nine Arch Bridge

Feeling relatively safe in the knowledge I was not about to be squished by a train, the walk through the tunnel became a devil-may-care adventure filled with excess adrenaline running rampant through my body. I imagined I was breaking new ground, being the first person to walk through a railway tunnel.

I may not have felt quite so safe, and would definitely have run out of adrenaline, had I known the tunnel exits right on the Bridge.

Pip and Wayne on Nine Arch Bridge

Walking the railway line on Nine Arch Bridge

The Nine Arch Bridge, a popular tourist attraction, spans a deep gorge and is surrounded by a vision of green; of tropical forest interspersed with tea plantations. And so-called because it has nine arches or spans. Very imaginative! At 91.44m (300ft) long, 7.62m (25ft) wide and 24.38m (80ft) high, this railway bridge is deemed to be an engineering marvel as it is made entirely of rocks, bricks and cement without a single piece of steel. Not knowing anything about engineering, I have to concur with the experts. What I do know is that its height and all those arches, plus the environment in which it is erected, make it one pretty and impressive bridge.

Here comes the train

Here comes the train down the line from Demodara

We had timed our arrival at the Nine Arch Bridge to watch the 9.15am train from Kandy cross the bridge. All the information you read about Sri Lankan trains tell you they rarely run on time. However, this one – my thanks to the driver – was on time and came down the line just after we crossed the bridge. Stepping off the tracks, I expressed my thanks with an enthusiastic wave to the driver and all the passengers. I was reliving a childhood experience. Mind you, one that I have never had. I have walked a gas pipeline before but never a railway line and have never been close enough to a train driver in a moving train to wave to him.

The Nine Arch Bridge is the midway point between Ella and Demodara stations. Having got this far, the decision was made to continue our walk along the railway line to Demodara to catch the 10.40am train back to Ella. I was on a mission now to reach Demodara in time to catch that train as I was not walking the 6.5 kms back to Ella.

Demodara Station

Waiting on Demodara Station for the train back to Ella

 

We made it to Demodara by 10.20am but weren’t allowed to purchase our train tickets immediately; being told to wait until 10 minutes before the train is due. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this is so. However, Demodara is such a pretty station, with its many potted flowering plants lining the station, we were happy to wait to be ‘allowed’ to buy our train tickets. When I did front up to the ticketing window, I thought I had misheard when asked to pay 30 Sri Lankan rupees (the equivalent of 30 Australian cents) for 3, one-way tickets from Demodara to Ella (10c each). I was so impressed with how cheap it was, I shouted my sister and brother-in-law their tickets.

Train ride to Ella

Train ride from Demodara to Ella, with locals hanging out the doors

The train was practically empty. Not what I had expected. This made choosing a seat difficult due to having too much choice. Which seat was going to give me the best view of the scenery as it passes by outside the window? In the end, I chose to stand in the doorway like a local.

The train ride, although short-lived, was fun and the highlight of my day. Anyone would think I have never ridden a train before!

This walk along the railway line is touted by guide books as a ‘must do’ activity when in Ella. However, we came across no other tourists except at the bridge itself. Is it too far off the beaten track for most tourists? We were the only non-locals walking the line. I had to smile whenever we passed a makeshift stall by the side of the rail tracks – they cater for people’s needs wherever they can!

Train on Nine Arch Bridge

Our train from Demodara to Ella crossing the Nine Arch Bridge

 

The walk had actually been very easy. It was flat all the way and you get into a routine as you lope from sleeper to sleeper. The constant views of tea estates, valleys and mountains made for a very pleasant walk. And the company was good too – not one disagreement!

Note: You can get to the Bridge by taking a tuk-tuk from Ella or by walking through the jungle. Or, do as a local does and walk along the railway line.

Read more on what to do in Sri Lanka:

A Photographic Tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s Garden

First 24 Hours in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

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UNIQUE HORSEMANSHIP SKILLS ON SHOW AT A MONGOLIAN HORSE FESTIVAL

Dear Pip, We spent the day sharing in the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, not far from Tsaidam Ger Camp (our accommodation for the night)….

Ready for competition
Mongolian horsemen ready for competition with their uurgas (lasso poles)

Dear Pip,

We spent the day sharing in the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, not far from Tsaidam Ger Camp (our accommodation for the night).

Learning to ride almost from the day they can walk, Mongolia’s history, culture and peoples are intimately linked with horses. Perhaps inevitable in a country where there are 13 x more horses than people. Throughout the day, I came to appreciate the strong bond the nomads have with their horses.

After Meg shared snuff with the old men and our guide explained what the horse festival entailed, we found a pozzie amongst the locals to watch and photograph the men, dressed in traditional garb, compete in a number of events; events that showed off the nomads’ unique horsemanship skills and the strength of their horses.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about stampeding wild horses being lassoed but did laugh with the crowd when a competitor would manage to lasso a horse, only to end up on his bum, being dragged some distance by the frantic horse. I needed to remind myself, this is their way of life; their culture.

Men riding bucking wild horses elicited shouts of encouragement from the crowd and laughter as they fell off. One man who managed to stay on his horse delighted the crowd as he and his horse disappeared into the way blue wonder. 

I particularly enjoyed watching the men grabbing an uurga (long pole with a lasso on the end) off the ground from a galloping horse. I’m in awe as to how they stayed on their horse as they would be well down the side of the horse, around its fast-moving legs. Some of the younger men even had a go at grabbing a cigarette lighter off the ground from their running horse – some more successful than others.

A great day to remember.

Love,

Joanna

A competitor and his horse
Picking up an uurga off the ground from a running horse
Lassoing wild horses
Lassoing wild horses
Bucking horse
Ouch! Falling off a bucking wild horse
Picking up lighter
Picking up a cigarette lighter off the ground from a galloping horse


For more about Mongolia:
Fossil Hunting at the Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
How to Prevent Cultural Errors in Mongolia
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