South East Asia – Chapter 16 – Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Yangon is the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearly 25 000 people visit it per day on the weekend. Although, most of this is actually locals, not tourists.

We only spent about an hour wandering around the inside area of the Pagoda, but I could have spent much longer! Thankfully, our local guide took us to have our astrology reading done where we sat in the coolness of one of the buildings, out of the scorching mid-day sun. After our astrology readings, we bought the flowers as per each of our readings and then used them as an offering to the shrine for our day of birth, where we also poured an uneven number of cups of water on our symbols.

Here’s a quick little photo essay. Put your sunglasses on and get ready for a whirlwind of gold!

Uros Islands Photo Essay

Uros Islands

The Uros Islands are truly one of the most unique and amazing places that I have ever visited. They are located in Lake Titicaca, approximately a 20 minute boat ride from Puno. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in South America at approximately 13 000 feet.

The Uros islands are a group of approximately 79 floating islands hand-made of totora (reeds from Lake Titicaca). Totora is the staple of these islands. From actually building the islands on layers of reeds and blocks of roots, to eating the white part, to building all of their boats and homes from the reeds.

As the old layers of reeds begin to rot, new layers are added on top to keep the floor fresh and solid. Boats and houses are rebuilt approximately every six months for the same reason.

At one time the islands were moved amongst the reeds to hide from impending danger and strategically for war. Now, the islands are anchored in place with three to five families living on each island in small reed huts. There is a hospital, a school and a seventh day adventist church for the community.

Fresh Fish Market – Photo Essay

Puerta Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

I was wandering along the waterfront one afternoon in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and came across the fresh fish market. I’m passionate about photographing people in their environment, working … what better place than a fish market? The fisherman had come in off the boats not long before and they were preparing fresh fish for locals; first come, first served. As with any subject, I started photographing from the front and then started to wander around to different vantage points. I’m so glad that I did because some of my favourite shots are the ones from behind the fish counter.

Bermuda Botanical Gardens – Photo Essay

Bermuda Botanical Gardens - Hamilton Bermuda

I’ve visited Bermuda three times since 2006. Normally I don’t return to the same place over and over again, but Bermuda is beautiful and my friend, Michelle was living there up until the Spring of 2012. Not a bad place to go visit my bestie! Not to mention the cheap, direct flights from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The first time I went to Bermuda was via cruise ship in 2006. The second time was by plane in July of 2008 and then my last visit was in October of 2010 to celebrate my 32nd birthday. It was on my last trip that I went to enjoy the beauty of the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. All 36 acres of tress, flowers and shrubs and a few critter inhabitants too! Hope you enjoy a little photo essay of the beautiful gardens.

Casa Goethe – Sosua – in Photos

I attended Spanish school at Casa Goethe in Sosua for three weeks in 2012. It sure was beautiful! Here’s just a few shots of IIC Casa Goethe, the students and surroundings.

Santo Domingo Market Photo Essay

Artist supplies at the Santo Domingo Market

In 2012 I began learning Spanish. I arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic knowing no more than ‘Hola’. On my second Friday at school, all of the students took an excursion to the local market. This excursion was for fun but also so that we could practice interacting with the locals. We were told ahead of time to ask lots of questions and that our homework for Monday was to write about our experience. You can read my first Spanish blog post (my homework) here.

Here’s a little photo essay for you to enjoy.

Lost City, Found Self

Shari at Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru - Lost City, Found Self - ShariTucker

Machu Picchu – Lost City, Found Self
Photography is a unique opportunity to see the world through another person’s eyes.  It gives you the ability to see exactly what the other person saw, through their lens. This often extends further to understanding the photographer’s emotion as they captured a particular moment or scene.

It is no secret that travel inspires me. Getting out of the relatively ordinary routine of my life in Nova Scotia and exploring other cultures, meeting new people and facing challenges head on, fill me with energy and wonderment. When I am surrounded with new people, new places and new energy, I feel alive, free and inspired.

This combination of love for travel and passion for telling stories through photography led me to begin a beautiful journey starting in Peru.

As I embarked on the incredible inaugural journey leading nine photo enthusiasts on a Peruvian adventure, I knew that I would be challenged and inspired. I was excited to see Peru not only from my own perspective, but through the lens of nine others. Imagine my amazement when I truly discovered how beautiful the world is through nine sets of eyes!

I assisted and watched these photographers learn new skills, try new techniques, step out of their ‘automatic’ comfort zone and truly begin to allow creativity and emotion to be part of their photography expression.

One of the main draws for the trip to Peru was our visit to Machu Picchu. Although Machu Picchu was near the end of our trip, it was a profound experience. My image titled “Lost city, Found self” is an expression of the overwhelming clarity I felt while sitting in silence at six am in the beautiful, peaceful and holy city of Machu Picchu.

I can only explain it as an experience of clarity. As I sat in silence amidst one of the seven wonders of the new world, listening to the silence, breathing the fresh mountain air, watching the fog roll in and out around the sacred mountains, my head and my heart cleared. If only for that 30 minutes of silence and reflection, my head was not congested with overwhelming thoughts of what had to be done, what to do next and what others were thinking. It was just a big, free flowing, inspired way of hearing my own thoughts.

I closed my eyes, shed a few tears and opened my eyes to the fog that had completely covered the entire Incan city. I was disappointed as I could no longer see the beautiful view that I had traveled so far for. I closed my eyes again, let the tears fall, and when I opened them minutes later, the fog had rolled by and opened up a beautiful view of the lost city and mountains.

It was in that moment that I realized that I needed to let all of the fog in my life, roll on by so that I could get to the magical view of the rest of my life.

Lost city, Found self.

This adventure was an eye opening experience in so many ways, including how to clear the fog and see the beauty in the diversity of our world.

*Edited May 28, 2015

Travel like a diva … with a cup … Part 1

If you are male, you will want to avoid this post right now. Stop reading, don’t go any further. This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right – vacation menstruation  The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …

Wait …. Did your face just go red?

Pretty sure you’ve heard enough already, so save yourself the pain and anguish. Or, be a man and educate yourself on what your mother’s, daughters, friends, girlfriends and wives go through every month.

Please find an inconspicuous spot to read about the dreaded period on vacation. Women, be prepared to laugh, or cry, depending on what part of your cycle you are currently in. Get ready to hear the thoughts from your own head coming out in this blog, except they are written by someone else.

WAIT! How did I get in your head?

You’ve never muttered these thoughts out loud ….right? You have all of these crazy discussions with yourself, in your own head and sometimes it seems like you had a dream about it, but was it real? You feel like you’ve said it to someone before, but yet the words never made it off the tip of your tongue. They just get jammed up, swirling around in there and they’ve been in there so darn long that you feel like they are part of you. You have indeed had these conversations, they were just unspoken! And then, because it’s “embarrassing”, you never talk about it … and then you never know that you are not alone and that other women are thinking the same exact thing!

“UG. I feel fat today. Didn’t these pants fit two days ago? How did I gain like 10 lbs in two days?”
“Why am I crying? This is ridiculous, just stop crying! You don’t even know what you are crying over anymore!”
“OMG this is disgusting. Why is it that women have to bleed?”
“Am I leaking? Ah, feels a little wet down there. I can’t be. OMG what if I am? OMG can people see it? Am I bleeding through my jeans?”
“Oh …. mmmmmmm …. whine …. I don’t feel like moving. I don’t wanna go to work. I’m cranky. I’m just gonna snap at someone.”
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years … you’d think I’d get used to it, but no, every month it’s like a kick in the ass, again.”
“WHAT? SERIOUSLY? I’m three days early! What am I going to do? I don’t have any tampons, I’ve made a mess of my undies. I have a big meeting to get to. Really? I’m 33. Why don’t I have this sorted out by now?”
“Um, friend … can’t believe I’m asking this but …. Could you maybe bring me some underwear and feminine products at work? Um yeah, I had a little accident. Don’t worry … just go digging through my drawers and find any undies that aren’t thongs. Thank you. I’ll love you forever!”
“I can’t believe I’m going on this fantastic trip to {insert your favorite vacation spot} and I’m going to be on my period. What’s the point in going on vacation if I can’t even relax and have sex?!”
“What do women in other countries do about their periods? Do people in developing countries use tampons? How do they dispose of them? If you can’t flush toilet paper, guess you can’t flush a tampon!”

I’m not alone here, right? Please tell me you identify with at least one of these crazy conversations?!

And for the men out there who are reading and thinking ‘Why don’t you just take your pill straight through so you don’t have a period?’ … I have a few choice words for you and the women in your lives who have made this seem so simple and common, but I’ll refrain and politely tell you ..

  1. Not every woman uses the pill. For a variety of reasons from not believing in using pills, to believing that the chemicals in the pill damage your body, to adverse side effect to full blown depression. The pill is not for everyone.
  2. Even if a woman does use the pill, changing her cycle regularly to stop her period is questionably harmful to her body. Do you wish harm on the women in your life?

My mind is tired now though. Tired of churning over thoughts in my head about how to deal with my period while I’m traveling and stressing out about it! Telling myself that it’s going to ruin my trip. Shame on me!

Well, let me tell you, I made a decision and had a little conversation with myself quite some time ago and I said
‘Self, smarten up. This trip to Peru is going to be fabulous. You can’t stop being a woman, so deal with it. Talk about it until you find a way to deal with it, then do something about it.’

Gasp! I am a woman in my thirties who ISN’T trying to get pregnant and isn’t using birth control.
Gasp! I thought it was only those crazy women trying to trick their boyfriends and husbands into having a family who stopped taking birth control by choice!

*sarcasm*

I’m not on any birth control medications. I went off them all years ago because they were wreaking havoc with my hormones and therefore my life. Our hormones have a mind of their own to begin with, but it seemed that while I was on birth control I was dealing with two minds that just never balanced. I had been on birth control of one form or another since high school. I decided that it was about time I stop trying to control my body with chemicals and see what it was like to live with just my own hormones … the ones my body produces instead of the ones I was swallowing by pill or injecting by needle (birth control, not illegal drugs folks!)

Isn’t everyone on some kind of birth control though? Isn’t it just what women (and teens) do now-a-days? At age 16, doesn’t the doctor just automatically write you a prescription for ‘the pill’ and then you take it forever and ever until you decide to switch to the newest birth control available, or decide you want to get pregnant? Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but it sure seems that way!

So, what’s a girl to do about her period when she’s headed on vacation, off to travel the world, or even planning her wedding? Most women change their cycles by changing their pill schedule. Is this healthy? I’m guessing most women on the pill don’t care if it is healthy or not, as long as they enjoy that one week of vacation ‘menstruation free’. No tampons strings hanging out of their bikini … lots of sex because you are on vacation … no panty lines under that cute little sun dress …

Me, well, I don’t have the option to change my pill schedule. If I were to go back on the needle or the pill, my period schedule would be the least of my concerns and instead I’d be a blubbering mess of emotion – both irritability and tears … all the time, all at once, not just the week before my period. I choose not to do that to myself, or those I’m traveling with! (you guys & gals should thank me for this one!)

So, what am I going to do about it because ‘Self’ has decided that it is not going to ruin my next trip!

I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup!

Click here for Part 2

Importance of travel vaccines

Back in 2009 when I decided at Christmas time that I couldn’t resist the urge any longer to travel to Costa Rica, the thought never even crossed my mind that there may be travel vaccines required before I went! It wasn’t until about two weeks before departure that someone mentioned it to me and I decided to look into it. Much to my surprise, I was already too late to have the full course of vaccines that were recommended, but at least I could get started on them.

Now, being a more seasoned traveler, I am much more aware of the need for medications and vaccines when traveling and I understand that each country is different. Each city, community, state or area within a country can have vastly different requirements. Now, I know that 4-8 weeks in advance of any travel, I need to book an appointment with the travel health clinic. These professionals research your trip in advance and talk to you about all of the diseases and issues that you might come in contact with. For the most part, it is up to you to decide what medications and vaccines you want to take, but sometimes proof of vaccination is required before entering or leaving specific countries, such as yellow fever.

Many vaccines are lifelong protection from illnesses that are present in Canada and US, but much more prominent in under developed countries.

Most importantly, no matter where you are traveling outside of Canada, it is extremely important to have your childhood needles up to date. When we are young and get vaccinated for measles, mumps, tetanus and many others, we often forget to get our booster shots when we are older … or maybe think that they aren’t important. And in some cases vaccines have been changed, updated or have additional protections added to them.

In 2004 I was chopping wood at my home in Truro, NS. I nearly cut off my thumb with a rusty old axe and guess what? When I went to the hospital, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was up to date on my tetanus shots. Seeing as I hadn’t specifically ever sought one out just for fun, I was given the proper shot. It was a pretty easy fix, here in Canada. Take that same situation to the Amazon, or Africa when you step on a rusty nail or cut yourself while cooking during a homestay and they might not have the tetanus vaccine available to give you.

The tetanus shot actually covers you for tetanus and diphtheria and is good for about 10 years. This particular vaccine is free in Canada .. or rather our tax dollars pay for it. Either way, there is no cost to keep your tetanus shot up to date. The downfall (albeit a small one) is that this is a vaccine that does make your arm pretty sore. Better than death by rusty nail though!

When I traveled to Costa Rica, my travel health professional strongly suggested that I be vaccinated for Hepatitus A and B. This is done through a vaccine called Twinrix which you get three doses of, at specific intervals. For me, I was able to get my first two shots in before leaving Canada, but had to wait until I returned to have the final booster shot. Now that I’ve had it taken care of though, it is good for life! This isn’t just a travel vaccine though. It is recommended to most young adults as it is protection against the sexually transmitted type of Hepatitus as well as from the form carried in water and ice cubes.

Even if you are traveling for a week’s vacation to Dominican, Cuba or Mexico you should be vaccinated for Hepatitus. Their cleanliness standards are just simply not the same as ours and whether on or off resort, you are at risk.

Of course for anyone who is going to party, do drugs or have sex, the risk increases greatly. Do you really want to live with a liver disease for the rest of your life because you got drunk and had sex with a random guy/girl just one night? Then, you can carry the disease and pass it on to others. If you simply don’t care, then you suck. I think the three vaccines cost me about $200 over the course of six months, but now I am protected for the rest of my life.

As I was doing a little extra research before writing this blog I discovered that the hepatitus that is carried in water, some shellfish and on raw food is contaminated by human waste. It could be food that has been handled by someone who is infected and doesn’t wash their hands before handling your food, from poor water purification practices or from raw sewage going into the ocean where your seafood comes from.

Now that you are sufficiently disgusted … go get your Twinrix shots from your family physician or travel health clinic (about $200). While you are there, make sure you are up to date on measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria and maybe even chicken pox too. All of those last ones are paid for by the government, so protect yourself!

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. SIX WEEKS PRIOR TO TRAVEL YOU SHOULD CONSULT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL ABOUT YOUR OWN UNIQUE TRAVEL PLANS AND HEALTH CONCERNS.