Lower Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia
The sharp look of a war paint covered Ak-47 wielding tribesmen enters my gaze. The deep blast of horns fill the air as women beg to be whipped with tree branches. The dust rises as the hypnotically chanting tribal groups continuously jump up and down. It’s an absolute shock to the uninitiated, a scene from National Geographic documentaries that you watched as a child playing right before your eyes. It takes time to take it all in, but when you do you are filled with a whirlwind of emotions. Who knew such a place on earth, so beautifully primitive and culturally shocking still existed in this day and age. This is the Lower Omo Valley, in Southern Ethiopia. Read More
Chances are you have heard the name “Marrakesh”. Chances are when you think of this name images of a legendary Saharan oasis filled with chaotic bazaars, camels, and snake charmers appear in the back of your mind. If this is what you imagine it to be, then you will not be let down by Marrakesh. Marrakesh has been a traveler’s haunt for many generations. Luring adventurers, explorers, and those who genuinely want a different, more exotic experience. Marrakesh is everything alluring, everything you dream of finding on a true adventure. Marrakesh and Morocco, in general, is a travelers dream.
The continent of Asia is big; from the steamy jungles of South East Asia to the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, all the way to the scorching deserts of Arabia. The world’s largest continent is quite possibly the most diverse and interesting destinations to travel. Most travelers have heard of Asia’s more popular destinations such as; Thailand, India, China, and Vietnam. But Asia has many secret destinations that retain traditional cultures, incredible food, and are virtually tourist free! Here are a few destinations in Asia that I the Uncharted Backpacker recommend to truly feel like you’ve stepped into another world.
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
The silence of the desert engulfs me as I sit alone, atop the highest sand dune I could find. Shades of gold, purple and black paint a picture across the dunes as far as the eye can see. As the sunset unfolds, the picture begins to change, but the silence remains. In the distance, herds of Bactrian camels graze on the vibrant, desert grass. Beyond, more massive towers of sand and black mountains dominate the darkening, blue sky. This place, so remote and so silent, etches itself in my mind forever. Suddenly, I am consumed by thoughts of the arduous journey that lays ahead. It will test all my skills and experience as a traveler. I am about to cross the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.
Jerusalem and West Bank, Israel/Palestine
High above, the church bells begin ring from the Holy Sepulcher. “Allahu Akbar,” blares from the hundreds of loudspeakers throughout the Muslim quarter. Jewish Rabbis glide in-between alley ways, on their way to the Wailing Wall, singing hymns from the Tora. The air fills quickly with the scent of the thick perfume of frankincense.
I stand in the middle of all this, not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. Just a traveler, an observer of culture and life. The energy buzzes though the air like a summer wildfire. This place is special. There is no place like it anywhere else in the world. The dream comes to an abrupt end when you see the heavily armed military police, standing on every street corner, watching the people, watching you. This is Jerusalem. It can only be described with one word: Intense.
Baliem Valley, West Papua
As the fog clears, steep, jungle-clad mountains loom in the distance. Clouds descend into the valley as they are pierced by the rising sun, painting a picture of solitude and serenity. Up until now, I had believed places of such remote and indescribable beauty only existed in fairy tales. As I crawl out from my smoky hut in the early hours of the morning, it takes an enormous effort to convince myself that this place is even real. This is the Baliem Valley in West Papua’s remote hidden interior, a place where true adventure can still be had. A place where travelers earn their stripes and become explorers; leaving all that they thought they knew behind them. Papua will change you; come prepared.
Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia
In an almost trance like state, I lay on my back as the needle is pounded into my shoulder with a wooden stick. Traditional Sape music is playing in the background. Two tattoo-clad Iban, kneeling beside me, concentrate deeply as they slowly punch the ink into my skin. Then, out of the silence, Boy flamboyantly calls out “Maa Guii!” and we all break into laughter. Read More
The dust seeps into every crevasse of our old, beaten down car. Our driver, an ancient Uzbek man, cranks the speaker’s volume on high, blasting out the cords of Uzbek tunes and folk tales. Crammed beside me in the car is a middle aged man, a child, and her mother, who are all eating fermented sour cheese balls called Kurut. It’s been over four hours of this of this already, having to transfer cars twice. My friend, Matt, and I are making our way from Tashkent to Samarqand in Uzbekistan.
Just Like a mirage teasing us in the desert, the signs of civilization begin to appear. A power line, a billboard, a large herd of goats and sheep. We were finally getting close to the legendary Silk Road city of Samarqand. In the distance, the waves of heat dissipate and the tall blue domes of mosques rise from the desert. After hours of sour cheese, dust filled lungs, and bumpy roads, we had arrived!
San Blas, Panama
The sand is as white as snow. The water is a clear, turquoise blue, so vibrant that it almost looks like a painting. Swaying palm trees are back dropped by clear skies on a deserted Caribbean island. There is not one tourist or sunglasses salesmen in sight. This is the picture perfect image I see as I emerge from the ocean. It is difficult to express so much beauty in words. As I submerge myself into the ocean below, thousands of colorful fish, sting rays and sharks are visible in all directions.
All this beauty leads me to believe that, if there is a Garden of Eden then, after all of my numerous expeditions exploring the globe, I have quite possibly found it. This is San Blas, in Kuna Yala, Panama. Paradise on earth.
Temples of Angkor, Siem Reap – Cambodia
Cambodia, a country of deeply rooted culture, emerald rice fields, ancient temples, and a horrific past. Mentioning the name “Cambodia” to the younger generation inspires thoughts of of backpacking and South East Asian adventure. Ask someone whose memory stretches back a little farther, however, and you will be shocked to learn of the unspeakable acts of genocide that occurred here very recently.
Cambodia has emerged from the ashes of disparity and bloomed into one of South East Asia’s most interesting and addictive destinations. It shows great promise in continuing this path. It’s got new paved roads, five star hotels and everything else a traveler could want. The real questions is: will Cambodia be able to retain its authentic feeling with all of this new tourist infrastructure?
I have traveled here countless times. Every time I step through the gates of Angkor Wat, I can tell you that even with all the swarms of tourists, hotels, hawkers, this place is special. Angkor Wat is the symbol of Cambodia’s past. Angkor Wat is a prime example of Cambodia’s will to hang on to its culture, while giving its people a sense of belonging and pride. In short, Angkor Wat is absolutely stunning. Read More