Just Me Travel

Just Me Travel

Solo Travel Blogger

Category: Postcards to Home

500 or less words

BENIN CELEBRATES VOODOO DAY WITH AN AMAZING JOYOUS FESTIVAL

AN ANNUAL EVENT NOT TO BE MISSED Dear Ryan, Voodoo Day in Benin falls on January 10 each year and is a national holiday celebrating the country’s heritage of the…

AN ANNUAL EVENT NOT TO BE MISSED

Dear Ryan,

Voodoo Day in Benin falls on January 10 each year and is a national holiday celebrating the country’s heritage of the West African religion of Voodoo (or Vodoun as it is known in Benin).

My trip to West Africa was coordinated around attending Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah.

Ouidah is regarded as the birthplace of Voodoo, which is one of Benin’s official religions. It is probably one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. I have to admit it was curiosity that fed my travel plans to include the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah. I wanted to witness this annual celebration of Benin’s heritage and traditional culture, and to experience a unique festival.

My participation at the Voodoo Festival commenced with a visit to Ouidah’s Temple of Pythons – home to some 60 pythons. They are said to be docile, which was just as well because they are free to roam. The pythons are a major symbol for followers of Voodoo. They are not feared but are revered and worshiped. It was here, through a break in the trampling crowd, that I momentarily sighted the Voodoo Pope who had come to pay homage at the Temple of Pythons.

A group of black women in colourful dress

Women Voodoo followers at the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, Benin

 

From the Temple of Pythons, the Voodoo Pope led a procession along the historical, 3-kilometre Slave Road to the ‘Door of No Return’ (of slave trade infamy) on Ouidah’s beach along the Atlantic coast. It was here, on this stretch of sand, that the celebrations of the Voodoo Festival truly got underway.

And what a celebration!

Once the dignitaries’ speeches were completed (this took over an hour), it was all action. The Voodoo Pope, whilst hidden within a circular wall of blue plastic away from public view, sacrificed a goat to appease the spirits and Voodoo gods. Animal sacrifice is a fundamental element in Voodoo. No Voodoo ceremony is worth its salt without an animal sacrifice in exchange for favours from the spirits.

Immediately following the sacrifice, the Voodoo Pope made his way to his throne, which was placed in the shadow of the Door of No Return. I say ‘throne’ because the festival hosts referred to him as, “His Majesty the Pope”.

With the Voodoo Pope seated, the atmosphere changed. The speeches gave way to vibrant displays of dancing and the throbbing of drums. I witnessed ‘exorcisms’ in which a seemingly possessed person would run away from a group of people; to be caught, dragged to the ground, and have powder sprinkled over him. The crowd became particularly excited when coloured haystacks appeared, spinning around the grounds. I learned these ‘haystacks’ are Voodoo spirits known as Zangbeto and are the traditional Voodoo guardians of the night – the Nightwatchmen. They are the unofficial police force and dispensers of justice. I did not envy the human police who battled to keep the crowds from encroaching on dancers and Voodoo spirits.

So much was happening in different areas of the Festival grounds that I didn’t know where to stay or where to go next; what to watch (fighting the crowds to do so) or what to move on from. This went on for a couple of hours until I decided it was time to sit down and people watch.

Overall, the celebrations taking place at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah was a hive of activity in which people would swarm from one dance display to another. The Festival was dominated by a kaleidoscope of colour from the attire worn by attendees, and a cacophony of noise from the frenzied pounding of drums. The crowd was buzzing. [Sorry about the bee analogies but that’s exactly how it was.]

But, perhaps the best way to describe the Voodoo Festival is to share some photos with you.

 

Black man dressed in coloured shirt in front of a crowd in Ouidah, Benin

Black man with woven grass baskets, bags and mats on his head

This was a never to be forgotten experience.

 

If you like this post, PIN it for keeps

Coloured haystack with man inside and surrounded by people

 

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

No Comments on BENIN CELEBRATES VOODOO DAY WITH AN AMAZING JOYOUS FESTIVAL

SHOES ON THE DANUBE – a holocaust memorial

  Dear Pip, It is from a cold, dark place that I write you this postcard. A place that reminds me of a horrific time in history – a time…

Caste iron shoes on the riverbank with Budapest in the background

Budapest’s holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube Promenade

 

Dear Pip,

It is from a cold, dark place that I write you this postcard. A place that reminds me of a horrific time in history – a time that should never be forgotten.

I refer to the holocaust memorial, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” in Budapest, Hungary.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” was created in 2005. The memorial comprises of 60 pairs of life size, iron shoes stretching along a section of the Danube’s riverbank. Caste in the style of the 1940s, the shoes are in different sizes; representing the men, women and children this memorial is a tribute to.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” holocaust memorial is dedicated to the thousands of Jews (approximately 20,000) who were executed along the Danube riverbank during 1944-1945. They were shot by members of the Hungarian fascist and anti-Semitic organisation, the Arrow Cross Party. The victims were forced to remove their shoes, face their executioner, and were shot so that they tumbled into the river. The river would then carry their bodies away. This saved the Arrow Cross Party having the hard labour of digging graves. The victims were forced to remove their shoes because shoes were a valuable commodity and could be sold by the executioners.

‘60’ was not just a random number of shoes to include in the holocaust memorial. It reflects the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who died during World War 2, and the memorial was created 60 years after the war.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” is located on the banks of the Danube River on the Pest side of Budapest between two well-known landmarks, the Chain Bridge and the Parliament Building.

I deliberately set out to walk to this holocaust memorial after our tour guide pointed it out from the bus on the way back to our ship from our walking tour of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter. The memorial is unique; unlike anything I have ever seen. Even with all the tourists, I found the memorial poignant and haunting; a place for reflection and contemplation.

On my way back from the Parliament Building, I passed the “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” holocaust memorial again. Someone had put a white carnation in two of the shoes. I like to think it was the wedding couple who were being photographed nearby. That, on a day that was so memorable for them, they have taken the time to remember and honour those who so tragically had their memories taken from them. Perhaps they were remembering a family member.

I was profoundly moved by this holocaust memorial (more so than any other I have been to on this trip), and thankful for how fortunate I am.

Love,

Joanna

A carnation placed in a shoe

A carnation is placed in one of the memorial shoes as a sign of remembrance

Line of caste iron shoes on the Danube riverbank

Some of the holocaust memorial’s 60 pairs of shoes on the Danube Promenade

 

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

No Comments on SHOES ON THE DANUBE – a holocaust memorial

FOOD IS FREE LANEWAY ENGAGES AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY SPIRIT

  Dear Meg, Down a laneway in Ballarat is a hidden gem that inspires a true sense of community at its best. Pip had recently seen a feature story on…

 

Fresh fruit, veggies and herbs in Ballarat laneway

Food is Free Laneway Ballarat

Dear Meg,

Down a laneway in Ballarat is a hidden gem that inspires a true sense of community at its best.

Pip had recently seen a feature story on the ABC’s Gardening Australia about Ballarat’s Food is Free project. So, when arriving in Ballarat on our Victorian road trip, our mission was to find the laneway where Food is Free is happening.

It was not the best day for a walk as it was bitterly cold, with the wind-chill factor making it difficult to walk because we were freezing. But we persevered and eventually found the Food is Free Laneway.

From the Gardening Australia story, we already knew the Ballarat Food is Free Laneway was founded by Ballarat resident, Lou Ridsdale in October 2014 and that it is located in the laneway beside her home – at 305 Ripon Street South; near the corner of Ripon Street South and Warrior Place.

We also had foreknowledge about the purpose of the Food is Free Laneway; that it is, as the name implies, about sharing food for free. People drop off their excess produce which is then accessible to all at no cost (except perhaps a chat with a neighbour). This sharing has gone a long way to building community interconnections and engagement.

The Laneway is lined with boxes and tables of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs that are donated by the public for people to take as they want. There are also drawers of seeds, and excess pots and jars for the taking.

We didn’t meet Lou but chatted to the volunteer who was manning the laneway and keeping things in order. She told us that a team of volunteers help out at the site. This is important as people will want to drop off, for example eggs, but only fresh veggies, fruit and herbs can be accepted.

The Food is Free Laneway is a unique project for sustainably managing excess food, assisting those less advantaged, and building community through collaboration. It is a credit to Lou and the volunteers, who donate their time to this community initiative. It is also a credit to the Ballarat community who have embraced Food is Free.

As we were leaving, a lady arrived to drop off some vegetables. We were off to find hot soup.

 

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

 

For more on Australia, read:

Unique Silo Art Celebrates Local Communities and Fauna

3 of the Best Things to See and Do in Rochester

No Comments on FOOD IS FREE LANEWAY ENGAGES AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY SPIRIT

LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

Dear Pip, Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical…

Simien Lodge at sunset

Simien Lodge – sunset in the Simien Mountains

Dear Pip,

Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical comfort, or more precisely, my physical discomfort enabled me to create my own meaning to communication.

Yesterday I arrived at the Simien Lodge in the Simien Mountains National Park and had to haul my jacket out from the bottom of my bag. This was the first time I needed my jacket since arriving in Ethiopia. It could have something to do with the Simien Lodge being at an altitude of 3,260 metres above sea level – the highest lodge in Africa.

The rooms in the Simien Lodge are spacious, with a good-sized bathroom; including a shower that I was actually able to turn around in (an issue in Ethiopian hotels). But the room was cold, and, after a very thorough search, I couldn’t see any means for heating the room.

Due to my arrival at the Simien Lodge after a very long drive (getting anywhere in Ethiopia involves a long drive), I decided to have a rest and worry about the heating when I went down for dinner. Given the altitude and my hut being on top of a hill, I wasn’t going to walk up and down unless I absolutely had to.

Piling the blankets and quilts from the spare bed onto mine, I climbed into bed thinking that at least I would be warm for my rest. How wrong could I be! Even with an extra layer of clothes and my jacket on, I was still cold. Needless to say, I went down for dinner as soon as the restaurant opened.

My first stop was at Reception where I asked if there was any way of heating my room. I was advised that after dinner I would be provided with “a plastic card for the bed”. I assumed this would be like a hotel room key card that you slot in to activate the room lights; that I would slot this card in somewhere in the room that I hadn’t as yet located, and it would activate an electric blanket. An electric blanket would be most suitable. That it would be an electric blanket I hadn’t seen yet did not register. I should have known, don’t ever assume! The ‘plastic card for the bed’ turned out to be a hot water bottle. To say that I was disheartened by this method of heating my room, is an understatement. How was I going to be warm? However, the hot water bottle worked a treat. I was snug in bed all night and had a great night’s sleep. That the room itself was cold mattered not one bit.

Tomorrow we leave for Gondar where, I am assured, it will be warmer.

Love,

Joanna

Simien Mountains

Simien Mountains National Park

For more on Ethiopia, read: Ethiopia’s Unique Coffee Ceremony

1 Comment on LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

FOSSIL HUNTING AT THE FLAMING CLIFFS IN MONGOLIA’S GOBI DESERT

Dear Pip, Deep in the middle of nowhere are Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs. At approximately 100 kms northwest of Dalanzadgad in the southern part of the Gobi Desert, they are utterly…

Meg at Flaming Cliffs

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs are in the middle of nowhere in the Gobi Desert

Dear Pip,

Deep in the middle of nowhere are Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs.

At approximately 100 kms northwest of Dalanzadgad in the southern part of the Gobi Desert, they are utterly remote.

I don’t know how our driver found his way through the desert because there are no signs or landmarks that I could discern to guide the way. When I asked (as translated by our guide) how he knows the way, he shrugged his shoulders saying (as translated) he just knows. Beats me!

However, find the way he did.

The Flaming Cliffs, so named because of their ochre and red colour, are famous for the discovery of dinosaur eggs by the American palaeontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews in 1922.

According to our guide, the eggs were discovered when one of Andrews’ crew fell down the cliff into a nest full of dinosaur eggs.

Also known as one of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil sites, more and more bones are exposed through erosion. This excited Meg who scrambled over the cliffs (in thongs!) fossicking for dinosaur bones.

Nearing the end of our cliff walk and exploration, we came across what could be a large bone – possibly a dinosaur thigh bone. Our guide suggested licking the ‘bone’ to test if it is bone or stone. Apparently, when you lick bone your tongue sticks to it but not to stone when licked. Of course, Meg had to have a lick. Her tongue stuck to it – bone!

A bit of trivia for you…

It is said that Roy Chapman Andrews was a bit of a daredevil; a swashbuckler. It is believed he was the inspiration behind the film character Indiana Jones.

Love,

Joanna

Meg licking dinosaur bone

Bone or stone? The lick test!

 

Wanting to learn more about Mongolia? Click on the links to read about:

Unique Horsemanship Skills on Show at a Mongolian Horse Festival

How to Prevent Cultural Errors in Mongolia

No Comments on FOSSIL HUNTING AT THE FLAMING CLIFFS IN MONGOLIA’S GOBI DESERT

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

If you like this post, PIN it for keeps

Men on horses holding lassos















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

For more about Mongolia:
Fossil Hunting at the Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
How to Prevent Cultural Errors in Mongolia
8 Comments on UNIQUE HORSEMANSHIP SKILLS ON SHOW AT A MONGOLIAN HORSE FESTIVAL

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search