Xochimilco’s Neon Lights

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We arrived at the watery edge of the Mexico City UNESCO site of Xochilmilco after a long journey on the city metro line terminus: El Tren Liger.   Non-motorized colorful boats and barges slowly carry passengers down canals and around artificially created islands or chinampas.  This World Heritage site is all that remains of Pre-Hispanic Mexico City.  Here, there are nine docks or “embarcadero’s” where boats can be hired for a fixed rate.  This port pictured below is known as the “less touristy” Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas.

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Chinampas of Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas - Xochimilco

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Palace in the Sky

The top of Lion's Rock Temple

The muddy red clay trails leading into the park are quiet. It looks like the mid-day rain has kept people away. There are only a few obstacles to contend with here in Sigiriya this muddy afternoon. These include the slippery metal stairs, muddy trails and the small pest problem.  Snake holes are everywhere, but signs do not warn park visitors about the local venomous cobra population. The hornets are the real issue.  Visitors must stay extremely quiet while walking the trails.  Loud noises and disruptive visitors, for that matter, agitate hornets.

Top of Lion's Rock - Sigiriya
The stairs to the top of Lion's Rock
Mural
Words of warning at the Lion's Rock Base Trail

Dreams of Gold

Golden Rock Temple - DambullaThis time last year I spent my last remaining hours of 2012 at a hostel in the center of Kuala Lumpur.  KL is nice, but this is my third and final visit in 2012.   Sri Lanka is new and there’s so much to see.  These pictures make me want to go back sooner rather than later. These are some of the World Heritage sites around the central Sri Lankan city of Dambulla and the valley of nearby Sigiriya.

Golden Rock Temple - Dambulla

Inside the Dambulla Buddha Caves - Central Sri Lanka

Patzcuaro: Pueblo Magico

Landscape that some say looks similar to ones you see in the Hawiian Islands
The Mexican state of Michoacán stretches all the way from the Pacific Coast east through the colonial heartland of Mexico. Patzcuaro was once the capital of Michoacán and looks very much like it did after the Spanish rebuilt it over 500 years ago.  The area, with its interesting history, diverse culture, landscape and geography, makes for a fascinating place to explore.

Market day before the Dias de Los Muertos in Patzcuaro

What brought me here?

The Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead Festival) is the largest and most popular draw to this small town.  I later found out that Patzcuaro is well-known for many other celebrations centered around Christmas/New Years and Easter/Carnival. So, why not stay and see more.

Some say that the area reminds them of Hawaii.  After the crowds have left and the orange marigolds begin to fade, Patzcuaro takes on a different look.  The leaves fall, the rain stops, the skies clear, the days are warm and the nights are pleasantly cool. It gives photographers plenty of beautiful backdrops which helps to make great pictures of the town, its festivals, and the lovely scenery that surrounds the region.

What to expect:

Make sure you at least learn how to say Hello (Hola) Good Morning (Buenos Dias) Good Afternoon (Buenos Tardes) and Thank you (Muchas Gracias).  This is one of those wonderful places where people are friendly and  exchange greetings in public.  Don’t hesitate to be the first to greet a passerby when you are out exploring the area.

Patzcuaro’s sits up in the mountains and is about 2,140 m (7,020 ft) above sea level, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself gasping for air and/or feeling a bit hung over. It’s easy to become dehydrated and altitude sickness is common.  It’s important to stay hydrated and not push it.

It’s a quiet town, but they love firework’s here.  There’s always special events going that call for celebrating, so expect to hear them at any hour amongst other noises from dogs to music.

The towns along the lake have a history of being home to many highly skilled artists.  It’s a great place to pick up handmade hats, scarves, baskets, wood carvings, copper bowls, natural chocolate and more.  It’s also a wise way to spend since money will more than likely go straight to the artist and their family.

Patzcuaro has much to offer those looking for a place to see one of the most scenic parts of central Mexico.  There are many places to explore, natural beauty to discover and a great history to learn about.  What struck me most about Patzcuaro was the fact that the city and the region is full of charm, beautiful and fun to explore.

In a very practical sense,  Patzcuaro is very easy to get to.  There are several daily direct flights from the US to the state capital of Morelia, and it’s just a 4-5 hour first-class bus connection from Mexico City.  There are many apartments for rent in the area, so it’s wise to book one for a short or long stay instead of a hotel.  Not only is it good for the budget, but a great way to get to know the town.  There are plenty of wonderful options available on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO.  There’s a small but extremely welcoming and vibrant expat community that is always looking for new members.  They host weekly hikes, cocktail hours and offer great advise to those new to the area.

Oasis of Sand

The Oldest Fortress of the Ancient City of Merv in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan

The ancient Silk Road city of Merv in the Karakum desert (Turkic for “Black Sand”) reminds me of a bit of the fate of ancient Carthage. Tracing its origins to the 3rd century BC, it was the largest city in the world in the 12th century only to be razed to the ground some 300 years later. What remains from that time is the unrestored Kyz Kala (“Girls Fortress”), standing quiet in the sunset.

Friday Evening Traffic Jam, Turkmenistan Style

Road to Merv

Don’t you just hate it when you’re on your way to visit a ancient city that’s been abandoned for 500 years and you’re held up by a herd of camels? Yeah, me too. I mean who wouldn’t want to just gawk at these magnificent ‘ships of the desert’ as they slowly made their way along the solitary sands.

The End of the Yellow Brick Road

Rebuilt Sections of the Ancient Parthian city of Nisa

The phrase ‘lost to the sands of time’ tends to conjure up thoughts of mighty empires that have faded away into the desert. Nisa, the first capital of the Parthians, is no different in the dusty hills a short distance outside of Ashgabat. The spectacular mountaintop setting on what is now the Turkmenistan/Iran border belies an eery silence of its literally lush past. Peaceful, yet one has to wonder if this is the fate of future realms as well.

Pasargadae: How Alexander the Great and UNESCO saved it

Tomb of Cyrus the Great copy
Road to Cyrus the Great
Tomb of Cyrus the Great
Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.Grudge me not therefore this monument.

Pasargadae looks pretty barren today and its simple remains says nothing of how great of a leader Cyprus was to Persia.  The limestone tomb contained a golden coffin which rested on top of a table also made of gold.   Tall trees, flower beds, pools and waterways encircled the resting place of Cyprus the Great.  It’s called the “Four Garden”  style today is still the prototype for Western Asian architecture and design

When Alexander the Great arrived in 334 BC, the tomb had been destroyed by those who wanted it’s treasures.  Cyrus bones were scattered around outside of the tomb and thieves carried away treasures found inside.  Alexander was outraged and ordered the thieves to be prosecuted and had the tomb restored.

More is still be discovered today at the site.   Iran had announced that it intended to make the a dam near the site.  The dam could have caused the area to flood and the dampness created by the water would accelerate the deterioration of the fragile limestone.  The UN encouraged Iran to allow a team of architects from around the world excavate what they could before the dam became fully operational.  They  scrabbled for a bit in 2004 and uncovered many sites including a road that linked Pasargadae and Persepolis and caves believed to be inhabited 7000 years ago.   The site became a UNESCO site in 2004 and things are looking pretty good for this site and many others waiting to be discovered in the area.

The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace and the Zagroes Mountains
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Citadel to the right and the Prison of Soloman to the Left
Prison of Solomon
Prison of Solomon

Hoi An..better part of the Banana Pancake Trail

It’s no wonder Hoi An is on most travelers itineraries while visiting Vietnam and South East Asia. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, a place to do some serious shopping and learn how to cook authentic Vietnamese food by a trained chef.

Hoi An represents everything Vietnam is and more.  French, japanese and chinese influences in the architecture, food and layout of the city.  The city once was the center of Vietnamese merchant trade, but in the mid 1800’s Da Nang became the trade center with its larger and deeper port.

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Hoi An was left virtually unharmed after it’s country experienced military conflict in the mid to later part of the 20th century.  The city is best at night when the tour buses have left and the winding streets are closed off to traffic.  The city becomes dark and quiet and the streets are only lit up by silk lanterns and an occasional street light.  The Old Town center does not have the internet cafes, karaoke bars and snarled dirty scooter traffic that have taken over the night in other major Vietnamese cities.

My favorite thing to do in town is eat at one of the many restaurants (my favorite is Cafe des Amis) along the river and wander the Old Town streets afterwards.  There many things to see and do before heading back to the hotel.   Visitors can indulge in a french pastry and coffee, grab a Tiger Beer and/or shop.  This is also a good time to visit a Hoi An tailors since most are open later in the evening and will be more relaxed after working it all day.  I suggest bringing pictures,  allow enough time for alterations (usually need 2-4 days) and keeping it simple for the most desirable results.

Hoi An may be in the center of this Banana Pancake Trail that backpackers have come to call it, but it can’t be missed.  I would almost suggest going here instead of Da Nang, Hue or even Saigon if there was a choice to be made between them, but then again that is up to you the traveler.