Photo Essay

On Broadway: Our walk from Wall Street to Harlem | Manhattan, NYC

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broadway map manhattan 13.3 miles
Broadway in Manhattan

When I told Jess, “I want to walk the length of Broadway,” she looked at me like I was crazy.

I know it sounded crazy, but I meant it. This wasn’t an impulsive declaration. Broadway splits Manhattan north to south 15 miles (24km), and when I looked into it further, Broadway actually runs through Manhattan, and then an additional 18 miles (29km) across the Harlem River through Yonkers up to the town of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.

What better way would there be to really absorb New York, I thought, than to walk at least the 15 miles south to north to the top of Manhattan – watching the neighborhoods, people, architecture and overall vibe morph and shift throughout the day. I thought this was an amazing idea, genius in fact. Jess wasn’t entirely convinced. Luckily our friend Jaime came to town and he thought the idea was as perfect as I did! So, that settled signSpoiler: We didn’t exactly make it the whole way. We started from 1 Broadway at 10am and ended at 125th and Broadway in Harlem seven hours and 13.7km (8miles) later.

The day begins:

new york broadway number oneWe actually started at our walk at the gorgeous statues at the grand entrance of the National Museum of the American-Indian south of Bowling Green.

new york broadway statues native-indian museumnew york broadway statuesThe Financial District

We still bounced full of energy here, past ornate buildings and modern skyscrapers,Wall Street and the World Trade Center. This felt ‘so New York’ to us all!

new york broadway & wall streetnew york broadway stone sculpturesnew york broadway 195 doorsnew york broadway cemeterynew york broadway mcdonaldsNoho

20-odd blocks later, and we ended up in Noho, an area of trendy lofts and great shopping. We may have slipped in to a few stores and shopped for a half an hour here and possibly bought shirts, shorts and shoes which we then carried 100 blocks north to Harlem. (We got a couple of great deals!) Plus we got some fabulous pictures of the wrought iron fire escapes and intellectual graffiti in this trendy area North of Houston (where the name comes from).

broadway nohonew york broadway buildingsbroadway noho taxinew york broadway bumBroadway crowdsUnion Square

By midday this area is pulsing with as many break dancers as businessmen, and those poor survey takers jumping out in front of camera-toting tourists like us with their ‘excuse me, miss, do you have a a minute?’ line. The farmer’s market here is excellent, but we didn’t want to carry anything else.

new york broadway union square buildingsnew york broadway union square strawberriesMadison Square

Arriving here after hours of walking through New York, it was amazing how this part could feel like we had somehow now arrived to the quintessential part of New York City. Yellow cabs, traffic, and of course, the Flat Iron building, which Jaime and I spent ages here photographing.

madison square new yorkFlatiron Building New York CityKorea Town

Now a three hours in to our Broadway walk, we stopped for pizza and an eggplant Parmesan sandwich, ironically near Korea Town, as we knew, without a doubt, restaurant prices would double as soon as we reached the next section of Broadway:

new york broadway koreatown shopnew york broadway eggplant parmigian sandwichTimes Square

I love Times Square, I don’t know why. I am still wowed by the lights and the chaos and the fact that it feels ‘so New York’ even though there are only tourists here. For all those reasons, Jess can’t stand Times Square, but we had fun taking crazy photos of the naked cowboy and cowgirl and other oddities that you can only find here!

new york broadway duffy square times squareTimes Square New York CityOn Broadway…the Theater District

Surrounding Times Square is the famous Broadway Theater District, but we ended up being distracted here by a bit of New York drama. The platform holding two window washers, high up at the top of a building just off Broadway, split in two. A crowd of confused tourists (which we joined) stood and looked up, commenting, questioning and actually talking to each as helicopters packed with news crews thundered overhead. We later heard they survived. The whole thing felt like the scene right out of a movie.

times square billboards new york citynew york broadway mamma mia theatermovie scripts new york broadwaynew york broadway jess and jaimeCentral Park / Columbus Circle

It felt like a huge accomplishment once we made it to the corner of Central Park. I thought back past Times Square, the Flat Iron Building, Union Square, Noho and Wall Street, it felt amazing how far we had come and now finally we were getting to an area of Manhattan we hadn’t spent much time…

new york broadway columbus circlenew york broadway columbus circle globeThe Upper West Side

This is where Manhattan and the scenes along Broadway slowly but completely changed. There were no more obvious tourists, the road has more trees, it widens out, the buildings turn into elegant condos and there is more of a calm, sophisticated neighborhood feeling. Our feet ached, time was running, and I had to accept we weren’t going to make it to the top of Manhattan. But would we make it to Harlem?

new york broadway upper west sidenew york broadway westside marketnew york broadway upper west side taxisColombia University

There was a bench where Jess and Jaime sat down, if just for a minute, to rest their feet. I knew we needed more of a break, but I was suddenly completely re-energized at just how far we had come. So I gave them my best ‘stern’ look and got them to their feet. Onward to Harlem!new york broadway harlemHarlem

Unlike much of the walk which changed progressively along the way, the shift between the university and reaching Harlem was much more pronounced. Although this had to do with the time of day – rush hour had now begun and people were rushing back and forth in what felt like a frenzy compared to the sleepy feeling of the upper west side, there was a complete shift in demographics. In the same way that the tourists began to disappear and we reached a more neighborhood vibe after Central Park, these last 10 blocks had a much more mixed population similar to Brooklyn than the whitewashed feeling from whence we had just come. Black, white, Latino, and hipsters pounded the pavement here to get home. As for us? Jaime and Jess hit a huge wall and got super giggly, while I was both sad that we still had 100 blocks left until the end of our walk and relieved that we could head home and finally have a nice cold beer after a long summer day out on Broadway!

new york broadway apartment blocknew york broadway and 125thNext Time

That’s right – there will be a next time. We will finish this walk from 125 St all the to Broadway and 220th and the river!

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Love lockdown on the Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn bridge lovelocks

On our first ever visit to the Brooklyn Bridge in 2009, there were no locks hanging off every hook and in every nook along the bridge like there are today.
brooklyn bridge new yorkThis isn’t because it was illegal to lock your love up on the bridge then and that it is legal now. In fact, the rules haven’t caught up to the trend here in New York or around the world. Over the past few years love locks have been popping up on bridges and fences in major cities everywhere. We most recently wrote about an entire fountain covered in love locks we spotted in Montevideo, Uruguay.

But New York is a city that has our hearts, which meant it was most fitting for us to lock our love up right here, on the Brooklyn Bridge.

dani and jess lovelockThe trend seems to have taken off first in Italy after the release of the 2004 movie, Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo, based on a 1992 novel by Federico Moccia. The film included a scene where a couple ‘locked’ their love forever by locking a padlock on a bridge and tossing the keys into the river below to symbolize their eternal love. This took place on the Ponte Milvio bridge in Rome, which then immediately became a popular meeting point for couples making their own eternal declarations of love.

brooklyn bridge new york love locksNot long after, love locks started to appear in other places from Korea to China to Australia, Germany or Serbia. We came across them for the first time when we hiked in Cinque Terre in northern Italy, where ‘The Path Of Love’ is covered in love padlocks from couples from all around the globe. Interestingly, Wikipedia has an entry listing all of the world’s popular love lock spots.

Brooklyn Bridge Love LocksIn Paris, the city of romance, the Pont des Arts bridge has evolved into a popular destination for proposals, engagement photo shoots and newly-weds, with the couples adding a love lock to the bridge on their special day.

brooklyn bridge new york love padlocks dir gehoert mein herzIt didn’t take long until the trend had reached North America – the Brooklyn Paper reported about the love lock appearance for the first time in April 2010, just a year after we had walked over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time.

brooklyn bridge new york love locks and skylinebrooklyn bridge with lovelocksAlthough New York might not hark of the romance of Paris, the phenomenon has most definitely spread and couples are marking their engagements, wedding and declarations of eternal love by locking their own padlocks to this famous landmark.

Brooklyn Bridge Love Padlocks New YorkThe locks themselves range from ordinary padlocks to colorful ones with engraved dates and names.

brooklyn bridge new york love lock steffi danielSo far, the padlocks on the Brooklyn Bridge haven’t reached an extreme like on Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, which holds over 40,000 (!) love locks. But there are at least a few hundred now.

Brooklyn Bridge Love PadlocksWhile this love lock gesture is utterly romantic, it’s not quite legal. Supposedly there is a sign on each end of the sidewalk over the bridge that says “Attachment of any sorts to this bridge structure shall not be allowed.”

brooklyn bridge new york love padlocksWe have crossed over this bridge several times now and neither of us have seen the sign – otherwise we might not have added our very own padlock to the collection. While it seems as if the authorities turn a blind eye to the locks on the pillars, benches and railing, the many locks that are added to the street lights are removed regularly, to ensure the safety of the drivers who pass below the lamps. You can see how this lamp poll was pulled down by the weight of love…

brooklyn bridge new york love locks lamp poleA lamp pole being overloaded with love locks has happened before – at the most famous of the love lock bridges, the Ponto Milvio in Rome. The lamp post that was covered in locks partially collapsed in 2007, which resulted in the removal of the locks and the introduction of a €50 fine for anyone trying to add a padlock to the bridge.

brooklyn bridge new york love locks lamp poleWhile there might be some naysayers who feel that the locks disrupt the natural look of the bridge, the two of us, romantics that we are, think that it is a beautiful gesture for lovers to promise everlasting love to each other in such a simple, yet public way.

Love Locks Brooklyn BridgeSymbolic gestures of love seem to appear less and less today with people acknowledging anniversaries in status updates on Facebook and e-cards replacing thoughtful love letters. That’s why we personalized our own padlock with Dani & Jess on the front and our nicknames on the back, locked it on the Brooklyn Bridge and threw the keys into the water below.

Brooklyn Bridge Love Lock GifHow do you feel about love locks – do you think they are cheesy or a meaningful way to seal your love?

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Photo Essay: A stroll through Montevideo

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Touching in down in Montevideo, the two of us city girls were giddy with excitement. Six weeks of traveling through barren landscape of Patagonia and the green spaces of Chile and Argentina’s Lake District had been unlike anywhere we had ever been, but we missed the buzz of a big city: culture, people, diverse food, art. After such great experiences in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, we also had high expectations for Montevideo, our third South American capital and Jess had even harbored some ideas about living there for a few weeks at one point. When we walked out of a gleaming, futuristic airport terminal to catch our bus into the city, we were convinced that Montevideo wouldn’t disappoint.

A few minutes in to the ride, however, and we had passed the first of many horse carriages and dirt roads. We wondered if maybe Uruguay’s capital wasn’t as modern as its airport had teased?

horse carriage in montevideoWe started our exploration in Ciudad Vieja, the original colonial part of town. As we explored around our hotel, we discovered historic colonial buildings either in a charming state of disrepair or beautifully restored.

montevideo old buildingmontevideo confiteria montevideo architecture lionmontevideo vw beetle greenmontevideo sheep sculptureThe Mercado del Puerto, the port market, was originally built in 1865 to be a train station. This wrought-iron construction now houses an array of restaurants that specialize in meat and seafood dishes. While there wasn’t much for us vegetarians to try, people rave about the restaurants in this market.

montevideo mercado del puerto We loved the little restaurants,cafes and shops in the old town, and the old-fashioned fruit and vegetable stores.
montevideo booksmontevideo ciudad viejamontevideo vegetable store montevideo street signThis charming antique flea market sprawled out on the tiny Plaza Constitución, the oldest square in all of Montevideo.

montevideo flea marketmontevideo flea market glassesLined by beautiful grand buildings and a fountain in the center, the plaza made for a great place to sit down and (crazy) people watch for a while.

montevideo fountain angels and fishmontevideo plaza constitucion arch and lionThough it seemed impossible at first, Uruguayans are even more obsessed with drinking their mate, a South American herbal tea drink, than in Argentina. While we saw people walking around with mate gourds in Argentina occasionally, it seemed that everyone in Uruguay was bringing their mate gourd and a thermos with hot water with them, where ever they went.
montevideo couple in the parkmontevideo mate gourdsDrinking mate out of hoofs seemed to be particularly trendy.

montevideo mate hoofsOn our walk through Ciudad Vieja, the ornate and restored buildings were contrasted often with a bit of an edge, including street art in many areas.

street art montevideomontevideo restaurant signmontevideo street artThe historic Teatro Solís is one of the most elegant buildings in Montevideo. Renovations only finished in 2004, six years and US $110,000 columns designed by French designer Philippe Starck, later.

montevideo teatro solismontevideo teatro floorOur next stop was the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important square, which separates the old town from the commercial downtown center.
montevideo plaza independencia with sculptureThis modern office tower right on the square, the Executive Tower, is the workplace of José Mujica, the current Uruguayan Head of State.
montevideo glass towermontevideo plaza independencia buildingThe Palacio Salvo is the most impressive building on Plaza Independencia, however, with its 100 meter tall ornate tower (below on the right), designed by the architect Mario Palanti, who designed a similar building, the Palacio Barolo, in Buenos Aires.
Historic buildings in MontevideoPalacio Salvo marks the beginning of the Avenida de 18 de Julio, Montevideo’s most important shopping street which is also filled with gorgeous art deco buildings and old-fashioned shops and restaurants.
montevideo opticianMontevideo Uruguaymontevideo door with stone lionsmontevideo clock towermontevideo bar grillWhile shoppers go about their business, there are always groups of men playing chess on the sidewalk.

montevideo chess playersThe smell of roasted peanuts hangs in the air, wafting from several stands where they cooked them fresh along the avenue.

montevideo peanut vendormontevideo peanutsIt is no secret that I am obsessed with love padlocks on bridges (and we even put our very own one on the Brooklyn Bridge!), so I was beyond excited to stumble upon an entire love lock fountain!

montevideo love lock fountainmontevideo fuente de los candadosmontevideo fuente de los candadosThe fountain says: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked”.
Love locks MontevideoWe loved the Diego y Jose lock – and were surprised to learn that the country is actually very gay-friendly, having recently passed a bill that will make same-sex marriage legal in Uruguay as of 1 August 2013 – making it only the 14th country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The Old Town even has a dedicated Espacio Libre de la Diversidad Sexual Montevideo, a square dedicated to sexual diversity!
montevideo love lock fountainAnother thing we loved about Montevideo were the many tree-lined boulevards everywhere.

montevideo streetThe trees seem to form a natural arch over the streets.
tree-lined street montevideomontevideo french windows

montevideo facade with womenmontevideo angel balconyAfter marveling at some more of the city’s extraordinary architecture, it was time for us to hit the beaches. Montevideo has over 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) of sandy beaches. We rented bikes, but you can walk or even just drive along the Ramblas, the coastal road, for over 20km of beach after beach after beach.
montevideo beachmontevideo beachPlaya Pocitos is the best-known beach in the city, lined by luxury apartment buildings in this upscale part of town.
montevideo beachMontevideo does have all the ingredients of what makes a great city, but this particular recipe just didn’t impress us much. We weren’t captivated the way we were in Buenos Aires or even Santiago, which took longer to win our hearts. We might be biased because of the attempted robbery, but overall we felt that the city is a bit rough, lacking in much diversity and just doesn’t have the interesting, laid-back vibe that makes the rest of Uruguay such a great destination.

Door with ironHave you been to Montevideo? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the city in the comments below.

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Sculptures of Santiago – A photo essay

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In our Santiago quick guide, we talked about how Santiago is the kind of city that takes awhile to reveal itself, lacking any real landmark attractions outside of the Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas, and the unfinished Gran Torre de Santiago, which will eventually be South America’s highest skyscraper. However, there are so many interesting, if less obvious, charms to Santiago. For example, just down the rushing Maipocho River from the tower, set in a long, wide green space between one of the city’s main avenues, is a sculpture park with dozens of intelligent pieces. The park is subtle, yet, in true Chilean style, impeccably carried out. But we found beautiful stone, wooden and bronze sculptures in every neighborhood throughout the city, not just in the sculpture park, and some of the best were even just along the bike path where we walked the dogs every morning.

Join us on a tour of our favorite sculptures in Santiago – starting at the city’s main square, the Plaza de Armas, where you find this giant carved stone face, a testament to Chile’s Indigenous populations.
Santiago plaza de armas sculptureI loved this bronze sculpture on the Pedro de Valdivia bridge in the Providencia neighborhood:
Santiago female body sculpturesOther bronze favorites included the ‘kissing couple’ and the ‘women’s legs’.
Santiago de Chile sculpturesA unique sculpture in Santiago’s Bicentennial Park:
santiago sculpture bike ridersThe sculptures at the city cemetery’s main entrance are darker:
santiago sculptures cemeteryThe Santiago Sculpture Park had some great pieces, like the muscle man hanging from a steal rope and the standing needle:
Santiago de Chile sculpture parkAnother sculpture in the sculpture park:
santiago sculpture park metal sculptureThroughout the city there are many sculptures of faces…
santiago sculpture face…and I particularly liked this one:
santiago sculpture headA fountain with standing figures in Barrio Brasil:
santiago fountainThe best animal sculptures included a horse by Fernandero Botero and a dog on Cerro Santa Lucia:
Santiago animal sculpturesThe art in the Providencia neighborhood matched the contemporary vibe in the area:
santiago sculpture black and white figuresOther sculptures that caught our attention:
Santiago sculptures santiago sculpture shapes
santiago sculpture woman santiago sculpture woman in chair santiago sculpture bicentennial park Santiago bike sculpture santiago sculpture flute players

Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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Goodbye 2012: Our year of travel in pictures

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2012 was an intense year of travel, filled with ups and downs for us like never before. We ‘only’ traveled through 10 countries this year in an attempt to better balance the travel with the work that keeps us on the road. We made countless new friends, spent months on the beach and discovered places that will forever have a special place in our hearts – check out our top 5 destinations in 2012 and top 5 beaches in 2012 if you missed an inside look at those. Above all else, it was the year of the beach housesit for us, with six housesits in six different countries and we even published a book about it to help others Break Free in 2013.

It’s still hard to believe we are still on this great adventure, so as we did in 2010 and 2011, we wanted to highlight our year of travel in pictures of our third year as nomads!


We started the new year in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a city that we grew fonder of than we had expected! The night markets, the temples, the many coffee shops and so many new friends made the city a special place for us. When we left in January, we didn’t know it yet at the time, but we would return for a housesit a few weeks later.

monks at chedi luang


We moved on to Malaysia at the end of January and spent a month exploring the Cameron Highlands, the beautiful island of Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, where we housesat for a moody cat. Our favorite spot in Malaysia? Georgetown, the main town on Penang, an island just off the coast in northern Malaysia, where we jumped right into the incredible Thaipusam festival.

georgetown mosque at night


In March we finally visited Cambodia, a country we were both excited to visit. It was heartbreaking to see what the people went through under the Khmer Rouge, but heartwarming to see how warm and positive they were despite of the cruel happenings in their recent past. The famous Angkor Wat ruins were a must of course, but we much preferred small towns such as Kampot and Battambang and were taken by surprise at the great beaches on the south coast. Cambodia turned out to be one of the highlights of the year.

battambang alms giving ceremony


Culture shock! We drove to the airport in Cambodia in a tuk tuk, and when we landed in Singapore we hopped on one of the most modern and definitely the cleanest metro system in the world. Singapore is filled with skyscrapers and streets lined with mall after mall, so different to most of South East Asia. But we enjoyed the city a lot, from the glitz and glamor of the Marina Bay to the neighborhoods that give Singapore true charm, like Chinatown, Little India and ‘Little Arabia’ Kampong Glam.



At the end of April we flew from Singapore to India, where we spent five weeks exploring the south. We had a blast cruising on the backwaters in Kerala, but when Jess got rammed by a cow in Goa, our travels there ended quite abruptly. Maybe 2013 will be the year we return to see the rest of this fascinating country?

indian family in hampi


There was no better place for Jess to recover from her accident than in Tucson, Arizona. A couple we housesat for in 2010 asked us back to care for their house and dog again, and the warm, dry weather and gorgeous pool was perfect, plus every time we are in Southern Arizona, we are blown away by the sensational desert scenery.

jess sunglass reflection saguaros


We jumped up to Denver for a week for Jess’ best friend’s wedding, and then moved on to Mexico for yet another housesit. We didn’t know anything about the small town on the Caribbean coast before we went there, but we ended up having eight amazing weeks in our remote little beach house.

mahahual beach mexico


After finishing up the housesit and escaping a hurricane, we returned to one of our favorite cities in the world: Mexico City. We had spent two weeks there in 2010 and were happy to discover even more cool areas of the mega city. We also made a trip to our most loved taco place and stopped at the craziest bakery in Mexico!

mexico city taxi


We had planned to spend time traveling in Mexico, but when we were contacted by a couple in Costa Rica for a housesit near one of our favorite beaches in the country, we couldn’t resist. In September we flew to Costa Rica, lived in yet another beach house, cared for an adorable dog, and saw some of the most remarkable sunsets of the year!

sunset nosara


During our six-month stint in Central America in 2010, we had seen much of Costa Rica already, but had missed the area of La Fortuna so we headed up there this October. We visited everything La Fortuna is famous for: Volcano Arenal, massive waterfalls, we hiked in the National Park and enjoyed some luxurious hot springs. We were surprised at just how much we liked La Fortuna and Arenal.

volcano arenal with clouds


We were originally going to start here in May 2010, but finally on 1 November 2012, 2.5 years later, we arrived in Buenos Aires. We think it might be a good thing we didn’t begin here, because we may have never left! Both Jess and I fell in love with Buenos Aires: the culture, the food, the architecture and the people. The six weeks we spent in the city were unforgettable, which got Jess wondering if it would be as magical again when we go back.

san telmo market mates


As they seem to always do, our plans changed once again and instead of traveling down through Patagonia, we were accepted for another housesit in Santiago de Chile, where we have been lucky enough to spend the holidays with a pair of Scottie dog brothers. It was just too tempting to have our ‘own’ apartment in order to finish our first book after months of hard work!

santiago and andesPatagonia will still be there in 2013, when we hope to travel through the rest of South America and then maybe Europe? We are both already looking forward to writing our Goodbye 2013 post next year to find out what plans change, which ones stay the same, and what part of the world we discover in 2013!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thank you for following our journey and we wish you a travel-filled year 2013!

Looking for ideas on how to Break Free in 2013? Pick up a copy of Break Free:: The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting to find out how housesitting can help you afford the trip of a lifetime!

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Help lift a broken spirit at the Elephant Sanctuary

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Christmas is coming up with lightning speed, so this Sunday we wanted to take the time to talk about our experience at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. We have written about it a bit in several posts, but we never dedicated a full article on this unforgettable experience which both filled us with joy and broke our hearts at the same time. Read on to find out why. If you are inspired by what you read, you could consider supporting Lek and her elephants this holiday season by sponsoring an elephant.  

elephants at elephant nature park chiang maiInstinctually we understood that we would never want to participate in elephant tourism, but for many tourists who visit Thailand or South East Asia this is one of the main activities on their itinerary. We believe that they do this because it seems magical, harking back to an imaginary time where more primitive people peacefully co-existed with the amazing animals who served as friends, laborers and transportation.

What people who ride elephants do not realize is that in order to get these strong-willed, independent creatures to be docile enough to be ridden requires a level of torture and mistreatment that would break their hearts if they knew more about it.

elephant nature park In order for tourists to ride elephants, or watch them paint or stand on their back legs, or even to turn them into loggers carrying tons of wood for miles and miles, elephants must first have their spirit broken.

Breaking an elephant’s spirit means stealing it from their mothers as babies, and squeezing them into a tiny cage where they barely fit. They are then starved, deprived of sleep and beaten with bull hooks and sticks with nails for days and weeks on end until they finally give in and become submissive to humans. After all, these gargantuan animals can crush us in one swift move, so it takes quite a bit of tortue to convince them to submit to the tiny humans around them. They then spend their lives being beaten with bamboo sticks with sharp nails on the end and burning it with electric prods to keep them mentally submissive enough to do those tricks or haul that lumber.

You can read more about why you shouldn’t ride an elephant in South East Asia or watch a video showing this horrible torture here, but be warned, this is seriously heavy and heartbreaking and definitely NOT for the faint of heart. It is so awful, Jess started to cry and turned it off in seconds.

elephant eyeEverywhere you see the opportunity to ride an elephant, or see them in the circus, this terribile act of spirit-breaking has gone on. Elephants are made to carry people on their back all day long and suffer spinal injuries, and the wooden chairs that are attached on some of them are even worse, causing blisters and skin infections that can never heal because they carry people day after day after day.

elephant trunkSadly, elephant tourism is a major source of income in Thailand, and there are still more than enough people who are willing to pay for these things without  thinking about it.

elephant footLuckily, there is a way to experience these incredible animals without causing them any harm by visiting them in an elephant sanctuary. Last year, we had heard about the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai, an elephant sanctuary that is home to over 30 rescued elephants that had been terribly mistreated by their former owners. The Elephant Nature Park is one of the very few parks in Thailand where elephants have actually been saved from exploitation instead of being exploited.

elephant showering himselfThe tiny Thai founder of the park, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, has put all of her heart and soul into creating a space where elephants that were previously mistreated or almost worked to death can live the rest of their lives in a peaceful environment. Here we saw elephants in all stages of recovery from the mental and physical stress they had undergone for decades. Remember, an elephant never forgets, and without the luxury of psychotherapy, it takes a very, very long time for the elephants to recover.

shannon & ana washing the elephantHowever, the elephants at the nature park seem incredibly happy in comparison to what they had gone through, and are comfortable around visitors who come to help feed them and bathe them. They even give you kisses with their giant trunks. You can spend time with the elephants on a day visit or, if you have the time, you can volunteer for a week or longer.

elephant baby bathingThe spacious grounds made up of meadows and fields allow the elephants to roam freely in their natural, but protected, habitat. There are various viewing platforms for visitors and a large terrace to get up close and personal to feed them or just observe them from afar.

dani & elephantThe elephants eat A LOT (up to 200 kilos per day) so you have plenty of opportunity to set entire bunches of bananas or watermelon halves onto their trunks, which they then shovel in to their mouths. After the kissing and the bathing and the feeding, there is also an opportunity to be educated on the dark side of the elephant tourism industry. There is a short film covering Lek’s journey to rescue elephants as well as one instance of an elephant’s spirit being broken caught on film. This part of the experience is optional and not advised for young children or overly sensitive animal lovers.

elephant natur park feeding time
elephant with babies
elephant nature parkVisit the Elephant Nature Park

The Elephant Nature Park has an office in Chiang Mai where you can book your tour. A day at the park is 2,500 THB (US$80) and includes transport from your hotel to the park and back, a generous vegetarian lunch buffet, plenty of time with the elephants and the film. All the money goes directly back into supporting the elephants and Lek’s work against elephant tourism in Thailand and South East Asia. If you don’t plan on visiting Thailand any time soon, you can sponsor an elephant or even buy an elephant lunch – see how you can help an elephant here.

chiang mai elephant nature park

Check out our Flickr Album for more elephant pictures:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”Globetrottergirls” id=”72157632199376648″]

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Photo essay: The Sunday Antiques Market in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

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The Sunday market in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighborhood is one of the city’s busiest events. Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists head to La Defensa avenue, where nearly 300 market stalls stretch over several blocks in the neighborhood.
san telmo antiques marketsan telmo market crowds on defensaFounded in 1971, it was originally known as the San Telmo Antiques Fair. There are still pockets of fascinating antiques to be seen, but the market has since developed into much more than that, with stalls that offer tourist trinkets, jewelry, wool scarves from Patagonia, handmade dolls, street musicians and performers, food and tango.
san telmo market antiquesThe oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, San Telmo still has cobble-stone streets and beautiful colonial buildings. Some buildings are well-preserved, while others are crumbling, but they all add to the character of this part of Buenos Aires. Even if you don’t visit the neighborhood when the market is up and running, San Telmo is a great area to visit. You can pop into the many antique shops or have coffee in one of the bars and cafes that transport you back to the turn of the 20th century.
san telmo restaurantPlaza Dorrego is a little square where tango shows are performed on market days. When there is no market, it is easier to sit and enjoy a cafe con leche and watch the world go by.
medialunas buenos airesOn Sundays, the neighborhood is packed from morning to late afternoon, when the market vendors begin the daily toil of carefully packing their treasures back up in newspapers and boxes. There certainly are treasures to be found here! Have a look at all the fun stuff we saw at the San Telmo Sunday Market:
san telmo antiques market telephonesOf course there is a lot related to tango…

san telmo market tango couples

san telmo market tango statuesAnd mate in many forms and colors…

san telmo market mates
san telmo market mate stallColorful old-fashioned soda bottles…

san telmo market soda bottlesChess games that let you reenact the fight of the Incans vs. the Spaniards…

san telmo market incas vs spaniardsI am pretty sure that selling these in a market in Germany would be unconstitutional…

san telmo market fuehrer symbolsTwo of Argentina’s most beloved exports: Dulce de leche and Che Guevara

Dulce De Leche & CheLots of street musicians and performers entertain the crowds…

san telmo market drummers
san telmo market street musicians
street performers san telmoIncluding these lovers who need money…

los enamorados san telmoAnd of course there is food! You can get anything from empanadas to vegan hamburgers…

vegan hamburgersPopcorn with strawberries and honey
san telmo sunday market popcorn…and lots of other quirky things…
san telmo market gnomes
san telmo market accordeon
san telmo market handmade dolls
san telmo sunday market signs
san telmo sunday market flat bottles
san telmo market defensa
san telmo market garbage binDetails

The San Telmo Sunday Market is held every Sunday on La Defensa, starting at the Plaza De Mayo and ending at the Plaza Dorrego.

Take any bus or Subte (subway) to the Plaza de Mayo, where La Defensa begins.

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The capital is but a canvas | Street Art in Buenos Aires

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You don’t need to go on a tour to see amazing street art in Buenos Aires. Like pages from a comic book, the streets of the city host incredible images, from small, political stencils to gifted, large-scale paintings all over its walls.

Street Art in Buenos AiresWe admired the pieces and took tons of pictures for a couple of weeks before deciding to jump on a street art tour. Whether your trip is two days or two months, if you are a fan of street art, we recommend getting on this tour right away and here is why. First of all, the fact that there is a street art tour at all is great. In so many cities around the world we wish we knew more about the street artists, but admire from afar instead.
buenos aires street art palermoMore importantly, unlike appreciating art in a museum, street art doesn’t come with an explanation of the piece and a background of the artist, and just because you see a mind-blowing piece of art one day, doesn’t mean it will even still be there the next. It might be its ephemeral, intangible nature that attracts us or the jaw-dropping skill expressed on everyday surfaces with low-tech materials, usually under the cover of night.

buenos aires street art eyeHere in Buenos Aires, however, artists need not work in the dark, avoiding the police. Instead, for many reasons related to the recent economic crash in 2001 and a relaxed attitude throughout history about writing on walls in the city, street art and graffiti were not seen as criminal activity.
buenos aires street art sprayerThis is why Buenos Aires is home to intricate, two and three story pieces of urban art, created in the light of day over days, even weeks at a time. This was just one of the insights we were told by the non-profit and very cool Graffitimundo organization who has put together the tours.

buenos aires street art mao zedongFriends with the actual street artists themselves, this collective are super passionate about the work on the street and also supporting the scene in the city. Obviously, we loved the tour, which took us to beyond the central Palermo neighborhoods and out into pockets of the city most tourists wouldn’t just happen to see.
buenos aires street artWe spent a good half an hour circling an out-of-the-way bus depot, talking existentialism, graphic design and that there were actually three pieces by international street artists on that one block alone. There was plenty of walking through more popular areas of Palermo as well, but this was not a city tour with some graffiti info sprinkled in.
buenos aires street artWe talked urban art for three hours and still walked away feeling like not only did we understand the scene here better, but also Argentine history and culture as well. We may have also taken hundreds of pictures, a select few of which can be found below.

buenos aires street art post street bar
buenos aires street art elk
buenos aires street art with whale
buenos aires street art pig
buenos aires street art horse rider
Street Art in Buenos Aires Palermo
buenos aires street art and laundry
buenos aires street art wall

Graffitimundo Street Art Tour Info:

  • Tours take place every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, starting at 3pm and lasting around 3 hours
  • The tour is partially walking, partially driving in a minibus through the neighborhoods of Palermo, Colegiales, Villa Crespo and Chacarita
  • Tours are available in Spanish and English
  • Price: US$25 per person

Check out the graffitimundo website for more information, private tours and bicycle tour, hidden wall tours and stencil workshops.

Want more street art? Check out our Flickr album with our favorite Buenos Aires street art:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”Globetrottergirls” id=”72157632066854580″]


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The hard life of South India’s fishermen

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The sound of chanting got closer and closer as we rounded the corner in Fort Cochin. We had arrived at the famous Chinese fishing nets on the water of this ancient port town. Fisherman stand in small groups on each of the wooden piers, as it takes a team to raise these nets. Little did we know that I would soon be part of one of those teams. More on that in a bit.

fort kochin chinese fishing net
Fort Cochin FishermenWorking on a sort of pulley system, the nets are installed at the shore and operated by sinking them into the water for three minutes at a time and then pulling them out of the water again, catching fish in the process. Big, heavy stones hanging from ropes serve as counterweights at the other end of the nets.

Fort Cochin Chinese Fishing NetsThe huge constructions are around 10 meters high and hold nets 20 meters across. The nets are held by a cantilever that reaches all the water out over the water, and this cantilever is lifted up by a team of five to six fishermen by hand.

fort kochin chinese fishing netThe Chinese fishing nets in Fort Cochin were actually some of the most interesting structures we have seen during our travels. When they were first built in the 14th century, they were entirely made of wood, but some parts on some nets have been replaced by metal. The total weight of what is pulled up and down weighs one ton.

fort kochin fishermenBecause of the intense weight, the fishermen need to be 100 per cent focused every time they pull down the robes. Even between five or six of them, the weight is still around two hundred kilos per person. In total, these fishermen pull down the robes to lift the nets about three hundred times a day. Three hundred times a day!

Fort Cochin Fishermen at sunsetOnce the net is lifted, one of the fishermen walks to the front of the structure and leans far into the net, fishing out what’s in there with a smaller net, and brings it back to the end, where the catch is put into boxes.

Fishermen in Fort Cochin IndiaWatching the fishermen for a while we were shocked to see how little they were actually fishing out of the water – there were barely any fish in the nets, and if there were any, most of the time they were tiny!

Fishermen in Fort Cochin KeralaThe fishermen of each net form a cooperative that shares the money they make every day. The fish is sold on the fish market right behind the nets, and several restaurants even offer to cook any of the fresh catch that you might want to buy.

Fort Cochin Fish MarketThe fishermen are all very welcoming and don’t mind it if you stand by their net for a while and watch them. Some even invite tourists to join them and help pulling the ropes down – for a little tip of course. So I tried my luck, and realized how heavy these ropes are. It is unbelievable that the fishermen do this hundreds of times every day for so little fish. Understandably they are thankful for any tourist tips, which seem to have become a second little income for them.

Dani and the fishermen in Fort CochinHow did these Chinese fishing nets end up in South India, you ask? It was actually the Portuguese who introduced them to India when they settled the country, having settled Macau earlier.

Chinese fishing nets in Fort CochinA few days later, we made our way further south in Kerala, and we stopped in a little beach town called Kovalam. It being off season, there were barely any tourists around, but just like in Cochin, there were lots of fishermen – here, they were using an entirely different fishing technique.

fishermen kovalamEvery morning the fishermen would assemble in their traditional Keralan lungis – kind of a sarong that is worn by the men here – and pull the fishing nets that had been in the ocean overnight, out of the water.

fishermen kovalamA few hours earlier, just about as the sun rises, some of the fishermen would head out in a couple of the simple wooden boats that are lined up on the beach, put the net in the water a few hundred meters off the shore. They then float the net and head back to the beach, each boat hauling a long rope from each end of the net.

Kovalam fishing boatsThese huge nets are so big and heavy that it takes about 30 fishermen to get them on the shore in a joint effort!

fishermen kovalamThe fishermen form two groups, one for each end of the net.

fishermen kovalamWith a similar rhythmic chanting that we heard from the fishermen in Cochin, the men start their sing-song and pull the nets in, moving closer to each other the nearer the net comes to the shore, so that the net forms a circle.

fishermen in kovalam keralaSome of the men are back on the beach, but others are all the way out in the ocean, fighting the waves.

fishermen kovalamThe current is strong, and wave after wave rolls over the fishermen.

Fishermen in the wavesThe closer the net comes to the beach, the louder the fishermen chant. Toward the end they are pulling the heaviest part of the net, holding all the fish.

fishermen kovalam

fisherman kovalamIt takes about thirty minutes until the nets are back on the shore.

fishermen in kovalam indiaCurious, we move closer to see the catch – and are surprised once again to see that there is almost nothing in the nets!

kovalam fishermenSo much work for such little return. The biggest fish is a big blowfish that collapses back on itself after a while. The rest are tiny little fish.

Kovalam blowfishA few shrugs, some disappointed looks, and the fishermen go home, knowing they will be back the next morning repeating this very same ritual.

fish market kovalam

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The next Gaudi? Spectacularly strange White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

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To call the The White Temple aka Wat Rong Khun ‘unconventional’ is the understatement of the century. Located just outside of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand, this temple experience is the closest thing you could ever come to hallucinating sober. This is a modern temple, completely unorthodox and creatively crazy. Elements of pop culture merge with images of devils, aliens and the pits of hell show how inclusive the creator of the temple has attempted to be.

white temple chiang raiConstruction began in the late 1990s, but areas of the facade are still blank slates ready to be covered. No matter how that turns out, the white temple is unlike any Buddhist temple in the world. In fact, although worshippers come here daily, this is more of an elaborate art project than a devotion to the Buddha.
chiang rai white temple ornamentsThe temple was designed by popular contemporary Thai artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. Aware of how rare his project would be, Khositphiphat was prepared for the work to take years to finish, likening the project to Gaudi’s work in Spain. It’s been 14 years since the project started, so regardless of the comparison being slightly arrogant, it would appear to be true. Some of the work is beautiful, other aspects are disturbing to say the least.

chiang rai white temple sculpturesAt the entrance there are two ‘demons’ right and left depicting the sinful addictions of the human being: alcohol and cigarettes.

chiang rai white temple smoking sculptureBefore entering the actual complex, you must pass two trees with dozens of heads hanging down  – some just weird-looking, others creepy. (Jess saw this guy with the snake coming out of his eye in her dreams for a few nights after we were there!)

chiang rai white temple chiang rai white temple creepy facesThe temple is reached by a long ornate bridge with mosaics and two scary sculptures at the beginning of it:

white temple sculpture white temple sculptureBefore you even get there though, you must cross a little pond loaded with hungry fish, followed by what we found to be the most fascinating element of all – hundreds of clay hands desperately reaching out of the pit under the bridge, some holding skulls, others holding pots for alms. Known as the ‘Pit of Hell’ these hands represent people trying to escape. Not your average entrance to a Buddhist temple…

chiang rai white temple hands white temple chiang rai
chiang rai white temple hands white temple hands
white temple skull chiang raiThe bridge represents a crossing over to the Abode of Buddha from the cycle of rebirth. The semi-circle seen in the image below represents the human world. The fangs in the larger circle represent the mouth of Rahu, meaning impurities in the mind, a representation of hell or suffering.

white temple chiang raiAround the pond there are more creepy sculptures, like a fish eating a human hand…

chiang rai white temple faces
white temple chiang rai

white temple art sculpturesThe main temple building, the ubosot, is entirely white to symbolize the Buddha’s purity, with white sculptures at the entrance and mosaics to decorate the figures on each side of the temple.

chiang rai white temple
white temple creepy sculpture
chiang rai white temple
white temple sculpturesPictures are prohibited once inside the temple, but let us paint you a picture: The Buddha faces the back wall, which is painted orange and depicts a bizarre combination of scenes straight from American life: Spiderman, Superman, Alien, Star Wars, cell phones, computers, McDonald’s, Neo from The Matrix movies, Bin Laden and George W. Bush, plus the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Not what you would expect inside a temple! Even parts of the small main temple were unfinished, so we can only imagine what type of images will be added to mix!

white temple creature
white temple dragonOnce through the temple out into the back part of the grounds, another pond and another white bridge leads to a bright white pagoda.

white temple pond & pavilionThe gardens around the temple are filled with tiny details, such as these skulls that covered the fences:

white temple skull
white temple skulls chiang raiA yet to be finished gazebo, also bright white, with fantastically detailed animal sculptures on top:

white temple animal sculptures
white temple ratsOnce it is completely finished, there will be nine buildings: the ubosot, the hall containing Lord Buddha’s relics, the hall containing Buddha images, the preaching hall, the contemplation hall, the monk’s cell, the door façade of the Buddhavasa, the art gallery  and the bathrooms.

chiang rai white temple ornamentsAnd look at these golden bathrooms – have you ever seen such fancy toilets?!

white temple bathroom
white temple bathroom door How to get there: The temple is located in Ban Rong Khun, about 13 kilometres south-west of Chiang Rai. Public buses (40 Baht) leave regularly from the bus station in Chiang Rai, just ask someone what gate the buses to Wat Rong Khun are leaving from. The ride takes around 20 minutes.

You could visit in an hour or so, but plan in some time to take in all the little details that you will see the closer and longer you look.

white temple creepy sculpture
white temple in chiang rai

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