adventure

Fire Dance, Turkey: In Pictures

I came across these fire dancers in Fethiye, Turkey. Walking home from dinner late one evening, we stopped to watch their performance. It was mesmerising to see as they moved with grace and precision, gently lit by the soft light of the flames in the darkness.
   

Playing with Fire

A little bit more about Poi…

A regular favourite of fire twirlers. Poi is a Maori word and the art of spinning poi originally comes from New Zealand, though it can be found throughout the world today.

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A fire poi is an arm-length chain with a handle attached to one end, and bundle of wicking material on the other. The wick is soaked in fuel, set on fire, and then spun with beautiful dramatic effect. Usually twirled in pairs, they create a beautiful circular fire trail about the fire dancer…

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If you’d like to read and see more about this region of Turkey, check out my other post Fethiye: Escape to the Old Town

The Real Holi

In the last few years Holi has become huge, everyone is doing it. There are colour ‘runs’ and ‘festivals of colour’ taking place all over the world. I think its great as they are taking inspiration from such a happy festival.

         

So what’s it all about?

Holi is a festival of colours which generally falls on a full moon in March. It is a festival of love and unity and celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the welcoming of Spring. Everyone is invited to take to the streets to play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water.

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There are many legends behind the celebration of holi. Here is probably the most well-known and the one I always remember…

Long ago there was a powerful king named Hiranyakashyapu, he had a son, Prahlad – a holy spirit and devoted to God. But Prahlad’s devotion enraged Hiranyakashyapu and he planned to kill him. He asked his sister Holika, who was immune to fire, to sit in fire taking Prahlad in her lap. Fortunately Prahlad, who was blessed by God, was saved and Holika was burnt to ashes. This gave birth to the festival of holi.

Like most things nothing beats the original and I was lucky enough to experience the real thing and ‘play Holi’ in India, in the small village of Hampi…
 

The build up

Working as volunteers in Bangalore, my housemates and I had the weekend off and decided to escape the city for the Holi celebrations. Bonfires were already being lit on the eve of Holi as we travelled by overnight train (one of the best ways to travel across India) to the town of Hospet, in northern Karnataka. Arriving in early morning we made our way by rickshaw to the village of Hampi.

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Set in a surreal boulder-strewn landscape on the banks of the Tungabhadra river and surrounded by the ancient ruins and temples of the Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar, it seemed like the perfect place to experience the real Holi.

Holi-time!

We checked into our very basic hostel, no hot water (and no electricty that morning), unphased we were here for holi, nothing else seemed to matter. So we dumped our stuff in our rooms, got ready and headed out on to the street.

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A bit unsure which direction to head in, our first clue was a kitten, perched on a wall with a sprinkling of purple powder on its nose. And then we saw him, a little boy covered in an intense purple powder, he saw my friend Chris’ ridiculously white t-shirt and ran towards us and so it began!
Another boy and girl appeared and bestowed bright pink hand prints on all of us. As we turned on to the next street we were invited to buy our own little bags of colour.
Now fully ‘armed’ we joined the procession of colours through the narrow streets. It was fantastic! Music, chaos and mischief! A sea of people dancing and throwing colours and the occasional water balloon or bucket of coloured water showering us from the balconies above.
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Within 5 minutes I was purple, then I was pink, yellow, blue and then as all the colours mingled together a dark purplish brown. Some colours were stronger than others (the pinks and yellows especially took a few days to completely come off)!

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Our now muddy procession wove its way to the river where everyone was invited to wash away their colours, along with their worries and welcome the spring and new beginnings.

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It was a wonderful day and an experience I will never forget!

If you would like to experience the real Holi, here are my top tips:

1 Check your dates  Holi is a Spring festival, usually taking place at the end of February or March so its best to check for the exact dates each year.

2 Choose a good location  My advice is to join celebrations in a small town or village, for a welcoming, safe and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately festivities in the big cities can get a bit rough and ready!

3 Know your colours  Depending on their ingredients, some colours will stain, I found the pink and yellow especially! I was still pink for atleast 2 days after but so was everybody else so it didn’t really matter! I learnt after it’s a good idea to rub hair oil or coconut oil into your skin beforehand, to prevent the color from absorbing.

4 Be prepared to get soaked  Every bit of you is going to get covered in coloured powder and water, so embrace it! Wear a light t-shirt like my friend Chris and take it home as a permanent reminder of a wonderful festival!

5 Watch out for the Bhang  Usually in the form of a sweet drink made from cannabis leaves and other herbs, its intoxicating and very popular with young men in India. So safety first – if you plan on going out into the streets on Holi, try to go early in the morning and be back in your hotel by midday, women especially – before the men get too inebriated.

In 2015, Holi will be celebrated on March 6, if you find yourself in India and take part in the celebrations, have an amazing time and I’d love to see some pictures, so tweet @NeesStar

Costa Rica – Walking in Paradise

I enjoy walking, I’m not a hardcore hiker (not yet!) but just thought it would really be the best way to experience a place like Costa Rica. So I booked myself on to an 8 day walking tour to explore this beautiful country! Here are some of my most memorable and rewarding hikes from my trip, which I hope will inspire anyone who wants to get out there and explore this wonderful country.

“EL Coloso”
Irazu Volcano National Park to the town of Pocayas

Thrown in at the deep end on the first day we were dropped at the summit of the mighty Irazu Volcano or “El Coloso” (The Colossus) the highest active volcano in Costa Rica.  The view of the Central Valley are best earlier in the day, so I would recommend visiting in the morning and hiking down.

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So we hiked 15km down to the town of Pocayas. We left the cool climate of the dusty crater at 3,432m and made our way through the misty, fertile fields that flank the slopes of the volcano.

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I’ve heard the slopes of Irazu often described as a ‘salad bowl’ and they totally are, everything grows here! We passed through fields of onions, cabbages, carrots and potatoes forming beautful patterns in the countryside.

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Our route was windy and steep and although the path was often firm the incline took its toll on my legs, by three-quarters of the way down they were turning to jelly! Fields turned to small villages and then to the relief of my legs the pretty little town of Pocayas!

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We spent a little time exploring the town with its traditional family run stores before a well-earned lunch and a rest for my legs! This is where I had my first Casado, a traditional Costa Rican dish of rice, black beans and fried plantain accompanied by a salad and usually a meat of your choice or fish.

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After a fresh pineapple juice from a local fruit stall, we left the town replenished and headed back to San José.

“Hike to the Emerald Crater”
Cerro Chato Volcano hike in Arenal National Park

The most enjoyable hike for me, was actually the one I found the most challenging. We hiked to the crater on Cerro Chatto (1,140m) which is a dormant sister volcano to the Arenal volcano, its hollow crater is now filled with an emerald lagoon of water.

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We began our hike from the Arenal Observatory Lodge hiking up the western slope through the dense rainforest up to the crater. The hike was muddy and steep at times and I really had to take it at my own pace. I often found I had to use my hands as well as my feet to get a good grip on the slippery and tangled surfaces of the forest.

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Our guides were amazing though and kept me going. When we got to the top, it was quite misty so we couldn’t see the crater very clearly at all, but I was just so happy to have made it to the top! Hiking around the crater was just as challenging but quite fun, as the terrain was soft, muddy and quite swamp-like in places, so one false step and you were ankle deep in mud.

The downhill was just as challenging as the uphill but by then as a group we were in high spirits! It was about a 5 hour hike in total, I was exhausted by the end but felt so proud of myself!

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That evening we treated ourselves and our legs to a well-earned visit to a natural volcanic hot springs, Eco Termales in the nearby town of La Fortuna, the perfect end to an amazing day!

“Walking in Paradise”
Hike to waterfalls in Rincón de la Vieja

I didn’t know quite what to expect this day but was pretty excited when our guides suggested we bring a packed lunch and our swimwear! This was a lovely days hike through lush forests, crossing hanging bridges, babbling streams, encountering some beautiful wildlife, plants and  two different species of monkeys. I had found my hiking legs now, walking with confidence I could enjoy and take in the beauty of my surroundings.

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Our reward today was a beautiful secluded waterfall, where we spent a few hours swimming, relaxing and eating our picnic lunch. This was one of my happiest memories of Costa Rica, it was like our own little paradise, we only encountered four other people during the whole hike and pretty much had the waterfalls to ourselves for a few hours.

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“Las Pailas Trail”
The Mud pots of Rincón de la Vieja

Later the same day, feeling rejuvenated from our swim and picnic, we took a shorter circular hike through “Las Pailas” or mud pots of Rincón de la Vieja, still an active volcano, since it has had some small eruptions around its crater as recently as 2011, its no longer possible. In complete contrast to the morning’s lush rainforest and inviting waters, we were now in a dry, volatile landscape, even the vegetation seemed hostile.

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We found ourselves walking through the volcanic elements. I’ll never forget the steam and sulphur fumes rising up from the ground, the frothing mud pots, the bubbling brown waters and of course the smell! This volcano was alive!

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Costa Rica has so much to offer, that I don’t feel I can cover it all in just one post! It’s bio-diversity and natural beauty make it a wildlife lover and photographers dream, its varied landscapes and climates make it a great hiking and adventure destination too.

So look out for future posts on my adventures in this amazing country!

Pura Vida!