Archive for the ‘Local Culture’ Category

Loading the ferry

Three nights ago we left the peace and quiet of Lake Toba to head for Medan, a large city on the northeast coast of Sumatra. The plan: to spend one night in Medan recovering from the 5 hour bus ride (this one had absolutely no leg room, a nightmare for me especially) and then to catch the fast ferry to Penang, Malaysia on Sunday morning. Our time in Indonesia was nearly up, and we were feeling ready to leave.

As it turns out, Indonesia wasn’t quite finished with us. We discovered upon arrival in Medan that the ferry only left on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. A warning to other travelers — the Lonely Planet guide is wrong on this one, at least the 2008 copy we have is. They were also wrong about the price. When we did buy our tickets they ended up costing nearly twice what the book said. I guess it’s important to learn early on not to trust the guidebooks implicitly. We’re usually much better at avoiding things like that, but we missed this one. As a result, we suddenly had three days to spend in Medan.


Hard at work

There are many different facets to the work being done by Hands On Disaster Response in Sungai Geringging, but three areas in particular were being focussed on while we were there: deconstruction of damaged homes, salvage of building materials, and construction of temporary shelters for families in need. After the earthquakes hit, assessments were done on all of the homes in the area by local authorities to determine their structural condition. They were rated as either “green” for ok, “yellow” for repairable, or “red” for condemned. Houses rated “red” were required to be demolished and reconstructed from scratch. Often these homes were left in a dangerously precarious condition by the quakes, and many families were too afraid to enter them even to recover personal effects. It was the job of the deconstruction teams from HODR to safely demolish or disassemble these homes so that the salvage teams could sort through the rubble and recover reusable materials. I got involved in the deconstruction teams on the third day we were there, and stayed involved in that aspect for the rest of our stay in Sungai Geringging. Meghan pointed out the irony that I’d spent nearly ten years studying and practicing to become a designer of buildings, only to come to Indonesia to take buildings apart, and for no pay. Funny how things work out sometimes.


the calm

Riad Carina

Now that I’ve written about the chaos, let me write about the calm. The other side of Marrakesh is a hidden, quiet side, tucked away and protected by the thick walls of the city’s buildings. What a difference is discovered there! Without these balancing spaces and moments, Marrakesh would simply overwhelm and exhaust. But with them, the city transforms and takes on the character that we found so seductive.


the chaos

Venturing out

After spending time in Chefchaouen and Rabat, we felt ready for Marrakesh. This turned out to be both true and false. On arrival at the train station, we successfully by-passed the tourist-poaching expensive taxis and haggled a good price from a smaller one. We managed to direct our taxi to the neighbourhood of our riad, and after disembarking, managed to find the riad without too much trouble. Our time in Morocco up until then had prepared us for hassling shop-keepers, foreign languages, and culinary adventures. Our culture shock had receded. We were going to be fine.




Today is our third full day in Chefchaouen, Morocco. What an experience! We’re starting to feel more comfortable and confident walking through town, but I must say that our first morning here brought with it the biggest feeling of “wow, we’re far from home” that I’ve felt so far. Meg and I went to breakfast on that first morning at a restaurant in the main square of the old city, and we both spent most of the meal in silence, looking around us and feeling more than a little lost. So many things felt different to us — while most people speak at least some English or French, the predominant language is Arabic. Being surrounded by a language so different than any we’re used to made us feel quite isolated. Add to that new food, new surroundings, and new interactions with people who sometimes offer help, sometimes offer goods for sale, sometimes ask for money, and sometimes just offer friendly greetings. I suppose confusion was the most predominant emotion, and I found myself wondering at first how we’d ended up here.


In the land of tapas

Mmmmm, tapas

We arrived in Bilbao by train and bus this afternoon. It was a beautiful bus ride through steep valleys. We checked in to Hotel Bilbi, and were pleasantly surprised. Our room is clean and has a nice modern bathroom, and we have a big window that opens to let in fresh air. Perhaps we’ve lowered our standards a little since the QM2, but compared to some of the places we’ve seen, it’s heaven.

After settling in, we went for tapas. Ahh, tapas! What a great way to eat! We had dinner at two different bars, along with some delicious wine. They put the tapas out on display along the bar, and you simply pick and choose which ones you’d like to try. At the end of the meal, you just tell the bartender how many you had, and he charges you accordingly. We had tapas ranging from tuna and salmon to omelette to ham, all mixed together in interesting combinations and presented in appetizer-sized portions. It definitely won’t be our last Spanish tapas outing.

Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles. Did I mention that yet?

In the countryside (on the island of Texel), people really do wear wooden clogs! We saw several, and some even had laces. No idea how that works.

Amsterdam, and most of Holland, is flat. Very flat. That’s how they get away with such cruiser bikes.


Reflections on Scotland

Never call a Scotsman “English”. They are British, hailing from the island of Great Britain, but they are definitely not English, a term reserved for those from England only. It’s like calling a Canadian “American”.

The Union Jack is a perfect combination of the English and Scottish flags. Maybe this is a well known fact but I thought Mark was so clever to notice this on his own.


The Roundhouse

the pump organ

Today we visited The Roundhouse, near Camden market. We went to see an installation by David Byrne called “Playing the Building”. The installation basically turns the building itself into a giant musical instrument. Mechanisms are installed that hit, vibrate, or blow air through various parts of the structure of the building to produce sounds. Some of the elements include columns, catwalks, and mechanical or electrical conduits. The striking/vibrating/blowing mechanisms are then connected to an old pump organ in the centre of the space by long, low-tech cables and tubes. When the keys of the organ are pressed, the sounds of the building are played.


The Ashes

I’ve spent a fair bit of my day today watching cricket highlights from the Ashes, being contested right now between England and Australia. After four test matches, it’s all square at one apiece going into the fifth and final test, which begins next week. In the latest test, England was embarrassed, finishing all out for only 102 in the first innings, and losing to Australia by an innings and 80 runs over a mere 2.5 days of play.

After some lengthy cricket discussions at the party we went to on Friday and the odd bit of internet research, I’m proud to say that I actually understand what that means now!

The fifth and final test match of this Ashes series will be played while we are still in the UK, so I might have to make my way down to a local pub to check it out. When in Rome…

On another note, we’ve just posted an album of photos to go with Meghan’s review of the QM2.

Newer Entries »