A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

In ruins

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What is it that makes a ruined building so photogenic? Why would a building that is no longer fit for the purpose for which it was constructed somehow look better, in an artistic sense, than it did when complete and fit for purpose? And yet, such is often the case.

The ruins in my photos here range in age from very ancient (the temples of Tikal and Lamanai) to pretty recent (Hiroshima). In some cases the destruction is due to the passing of time, in others it was down to a natural catastrophe or even a deliberate act of man. But all are picturesque in some way, at least to my eye.

Tikal

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View of Temples II and III from Temple IV

Tikal is considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient Mayan World. It contains the tallest pre-Columbian structure now standing in the Americas, Temple IV, and many others besides, all scattered across a wide area, and many still hidden by jungle growth and the accumulation of centuries of earth. Those that have been excavated, and (in some cases) restored, tower above the tree tops, giving rise to the nickname that was quoted to us several times by locals: the “New York of Guatemala”. Well, New York it isn’t, but it is all the more amazing for that. To reflect that these massive structures were built so long ago (between the late 7th and early 9th centuries), and without the use of technology, is truly awesome.

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Temple V

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Lost World pyramids
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Temple I, Grand Plaza and Ball Court

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Views of Temple III

Lamanai

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The Mask Temple, Lamanai

The Lamanai Maya ruins may be less extensive than those at sites elsewhere in Central America, but they are well worth a visit, whether or not you’ve been to some of the other sites. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" in the Maya language. The site is notable for several reasons. It was occupied long after many other Maya sites had fallen into disuse and neglect (until at least 1650 AD) and unlike other sites, many of its temples were built in layers, each on top of a previous structure, rather than temples being torn down and built anew.

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Jaguar Temple

Hundreds of ruins are said to be still hidden in the undergrowth, and here and there you will get glimpses perhaps of a man-made hollow that was once a water reservoir, or a “hill” that almost certainly conceals the remains of a temple. But although on a much smaller scale than Tikal, there are still four notable temples which have been restored, three of which can be climbed.

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Stela Temple (the stela is a replica, with the original in the museum)

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The High Temple

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Jaguar Temple in the mist

And while we are in this part of the world ...

Antigua Guatemala

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Convento della Compagnia de Jesus, Antigua Guatemala

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Cloister of Convento de Santa Clara

Antigua, or Antigua Guatemala to give it its full name, was the country’s third capital. It was founded in 1543 when an eruption of the Vulcan Agua destroyed the second capital in the valley of Almononga. In 1566 the city received the name of “Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala” (Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Caballeros of Guatemala), or Santiago de Guatemala for short. Despite the ravages of several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the city was the capital and economic centre of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.). But in 1773 came the most destructive of all the earthquakes, the Santa Marta, and much of the city’s political and religious infrastructure was destroyed. And so the capital was moved yet again.

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Details of cathedral ruins

Left largely in ruins the city might perhaps have crumbled away completely, but enough fabric and people remained to keep it alive. Today’s Santiago de Guatemala, Antigua, is a National Monument and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. At its heart is an almost perfect grid of streets and avenues, each of them a gem, lined with picturesque houses (many single storey because of the constant threat from the forces of nature) and dotted with the skeletons of those ruined colonial churches.

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Iglesia el Carmen

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Santa Clara, and San Francisco

Of course my own continent of Europe has more than enough ruins to keep my camera busy!

Pompeii and Herculaneum

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The Basilica, Pompeii

These are possibly the most famous of European ruins, especially Pompeii. The temples and other buildings near its entrance command great views of Vesuvius beyond, making it easy to imagine your way back into history and the dreadful day in AD 79 when the city was engulfed by pumice and ash. There are grand villas and humble shops, extensive bath-house complexes, theatres and small restaurants – everything that the population would have needed for a comfortable existence in this busy town.

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The small theatre

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The Forum Baths

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In the House of the Tragic Poet

When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 Herculaneum was buried in volcanic mud rather than in the lava which engulfed it perhaps more famous neighbour, Pompeii. It lay hidden and nearly intact for more than 1600 years until it was accidentally discovered by some workers digging a well in 1709. This has resulted in a different type of preservation of its ruins, with the mud doing relatively little damage to the buildings, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up.

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Herculaneum - House of the Relief of Telephus & House with the Large Portal

Herculaneum was a smaller town with a wealthier population than Pompeii at the time of its destruction. You can easily imagine that the seaside villas would have been very desirable residences, and the lifestyle of those who occupied them would have been wonderful – sipping wine on the terraces overlooking the bay, with slaves catering to your every need, beautiful mosaics and friezes adorning the walls, a pleasant climate away from the hassles of the city. I loved wandering around envisaging all this – but then also contemplating the terror that must have descended on this peaceful spot when the inhabitants suddenly realised the enormity of what was happening to the mountain that looms over it.

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The House of Neptune & Amphitrite

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The Hall of the Augustals

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In the House of the Deers

Athens

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The Temple of Zeus

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On the Acropolis

Our only visit (to date) to Athens was a fleeting one, with the main aim being to take in a football match between our team, Newcastle United, and local team Panionios (not to be confused with the more famous Panathinaikos). But as always on our football trips we made sure to fit in some sightseeing and take in the ruins of the Acropolis and a few other places in the city.

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The Parthenon - details

Heidelberg

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Heidelberg Castle

Mark Twain said of Heidelberg:
“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.”

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Heidelberg detail

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Ottheinrichsbau, Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg claims on a leaflet we picked up there to be “the world’s most famous castle”, and while that is definitely debatable, it is certainly very imposing and packed with history. It was built over a period of more than three hundred years during the 14th to 16th centuries, and therefore combines mainly Gothic and Renaissance styles of architecture. In 1693 it was blown up by the troops of Louis XIV, and the town burned to the ground. A few years later the residents, who had fled, returned to rebuild their town, using many stones from the castle as they did so, and it remained in ruins until 1742 when Elector Karl Theodor began to rebuild it. In 1764 however a bolt of lightning destroyed several buildings. The work was discontinued and the castle remains partly in ruins to this day.

Some English ruins

Many of our explorations closer to home are in the north east, on our regular trips to see family in Newcastle, so I can’t omit some of the wonderful ruins in that region.

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Panorama of Lindisfarne village with the ruined priory

Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, is, in my view, one of the most magical places in England. A small “semi-island” (that is, an island only at high tide), it has been a centre of spirituality since St Aidan founded a monastery here in the seventh century AD. Situated in the heart of the small village, the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory define what Holy Island is all about. This rich monastery on an isolated island was a prime target for Viking raiders who pillaged this coast. In 875, as a result of their repeated attacks, the monks left. But in 1150 Benedictine monks from Durham returned and built a new priory here. This was to survive until Henry VIII closed it in 1537, destroying the buildings and using some of the stones to build the island’s castle.

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Priory ruins

Today only a skeleton of the formerly imposing church remains, its so-called “rainbow arch” an evocative remnant of a vault-rib of the now-vanished tower. Around it are the foundations of the monastic buildings – kitchen, refectory, chapter house, cloister etc. With a little imagination you can start to visualise what life would have been like for this remote religious community – devoting their lives to the worship of God in this magical, spiritual place.

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St Cuthbert statue and priory ruins

Where the River Tyne flows into the North Sea lies Tynemouth, with its ruined fortified priory on a headland just north of the river mouth.

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Tynemouth Priory from the Spanish Battery

This promontory has been a strategically important spot since the time of the Saxons, who named it Pen Bal (or Benebal) Crag and founded a priory here in the 7th century. In 651 King Oswin of Deira was murdered and his body brought to Tynemouth for burial, the first of three kings to be buried here. He was later canonised and his burial place became a shrine. But in 875 the Danes destroyed the priory, after repeated raids. By the 11th century it had long been abandoned and the burial place of St. Oswin forgotten. But when a young hermit, Edmund, reported seeing St. Oswin in a vision in which the saint showed him his tomb, that tomb was rediscovered and the monastery restored. The building of the Norman church began in 1090, and the whole monastery was substantially completed by the end of the 13th century. The priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 and the king took ownership of the neighbouring castle and strengthened the fortifications of this strategic site. The church also was left standing, possibly because of its importance as a landmark for shipping along this often treacherous coast.

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From the south, and from the east

This coast is also famous for its castles. A few, like Bamburgh, are still relatively intact (and therefore not included here) but others form rather dramatic ruins, none more so perhaps than Dunstanburgh which stands on a small headland north of the fishing village of Craster and is accessible from there only on foot.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Another favourite of mine is Warkworth which dominates the small village of the same name:

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Warkworth Castle

And of course we can’t talk about the ruins to be found in the north of England without mentioning the most extensive of them all – Hadrian’s Wall and the associated forts and mile castles. In the early years of the second century AD the northern limit of the Roman Empire lay in what is now the north of England. The Emperor Hadrian commanded a Wall to be built in order to keep "intact the empire", but probably also to assert the supremacy of Roman power. This wall had a series of forts at approximately five mile intervals, where soldiers guarding the frontier were stationed. Of those that still have some remains, Housesteads, or Vercovicium to give it its Roman name, is probably the best known and most visited:

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Views of Housesteads Fort

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Hadrian's Wall from Housesteads

Hiroshima

I will finish with a building whose ruins stand as testament to the horrors that man can inflict on man, the Genbaku Dōmu or Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

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Genbaku Dōmu: the Atomic Bomb Dome

When, at 8.15 am on August 6th 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, the city became in an instant one of the most famous in the world; but what city would ever have wanted that sort of fame?

The atomic bomb’s target was the Aioi Bridge but it missed this slightly and exploded almost directly above this building, which was at the time an exhibition hall known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Because the blast was felt from immediately above, hitting the structure vertically, a surprising amount remained intact even though, of course, everyone inside was killed instantly.

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For some years after the war the skeleton of the building remained as it was. There were some who felt it should be pulled down and the site redeveloped, while others argued for its restoration and yet others for its preservation as a ruin, to stand as a memorial to what had happened and to those who had lost their lives. The latter group won the day, and in 1966 the city council declared that it intended to preserve the building, undertaking only the minimal work necessary to ensuring its stability. In December 1996, the Atomic Bomb Dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its listing was based on its survival from a destructive force, the first use of nuclear weapons on human population, and importantly its representation as a symbol of peace.

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Posted by ToonSarah 01:22 Tagged churches castles greece england japan ruins fort germany cathedral guatemala belize hiroshima Comments (11)

Faces of the world

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In my last entry, Markets, I mentioned how much I enjoy taking photos of local people on my travels. Of course, people’s willingness to be photographed varies enormously from place to place – they certainly don’t always share my pleasure, I have to confess. I also have to confess to shooting candid photos on many occasions – not only because I realise that my chosen subject may be unwilling to pose but also (and primarily) because I prefer the natural look of an unposed portrait. That said, if anyone sees my camera and asks me to put it away or not take their photo, I always do so.

Africa

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Musician in Essaouira

My experience of photographing people in the various African countries we have visited is quite variable. In Morocco I found most locals very wary of my camera – even to the point that on a recent visit I was challenged to show two men the photo they claimed I had just taken of them, when I had not actually done so. It was only when I showed them every image, right back to those of our flight the previous day, that they believed me. You can imagine that I was very careful not to alert anyone there when taking pictures, and to restrict myself to long range shots. Some of these may find their way into later entries, but this one is focused (literally) on faces.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, on trips to Senegal and the Gambia, I found people much less interested in me and my camera, and portraits were relatively easy to capture.

Gambia

I have already shared some images from the huge street market of Serekunda in my earlier entry on Markets, so here are just a few of the portrait shots I captured there:

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In Serekunda Market

Our tour to the small villages of villages of Albreda and Juffureh offered much better opportunities to take photos of local people. I described that tour as follows on my Virtual Tourist page about the Gambia:

If you have read Alex Haley's book, Roots, have seen the TV series or are simply interested in the history of slavery in The Gambia and West Africa, this tour provides an interesting insight into the places and people behind his story and that of thousands of others. You board a boat in Banjul for the two hour journey on the River Gambia to the villages of Albreda and Juffureh. In the former you visit a museum dedicated to the slave trade and see various monuments to that time, as well as getting the opportunity to observe village life (albeit somewhat distorted by the locals' understandable desire to entertain and thus make money out of the many tourist groups). In Juffureh you meet the village chief (when we visited, February 2014, the role was taken, unusually, by a woman) and also members of Kunta Kinteh's family. The latter was the ancestor of Alex Haley to whom he traced his roots, and this village was his home.

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Kinteh family member, and village chief, Juffureh

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Villager, Albreda

Senegal

To visit the southern part of Senegal, as we did, you need to start in Banjul, Gambia, and catch the ferry across the river – a perfect people-watching and people-photographing opportunity:

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Once in Senegal, we took every opportunity to get out and about from our hotel bases, and met local people wherever we went:

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Local woman in Djifere

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At the market in Ngueniene

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At the market in Ngueniene

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Locals after mass in Mar Lodj, and animal trader in Ngueniene

India

There is no difficulty in India in taking photos of the people. While a few may wave away your camera, most are tolerant of it and many not only willing but eager to pose. As I have said, I prefer a natural look to my photos, so while I will take the posed shots, and show or share them if asked, I usually take a few extra when my subject is less aware that I am doing so.

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Security guard, Khimsar Fort hotel

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In Khimsar

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Locals in Udaipur

On both our recent visits to the country we have spent quite a lot of time driving (or rather, being driven) from town to town, and with all the activity to be seen on and beside the road there are plenty of opportunities to grab some candid shots. I already shared this photo in my Road to Jaipur blog, but it's one of my favourites and I can't resist also including it here:

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Camel herder on the road to Jaipur

Japan

This was another place where I found it very easy to get some good portrait shots, with many people willing to pose or to ignore my camera:

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Wedding at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

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Rickshaw driver, Takayama

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Market stall-holder, Takayama

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Two different faces of modern Japan - Buddhist nun and bullet train guard

Latin America

On occasion it is worth ‘paying’ for a shot. The lady below, in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, was happy to pose in return for our purchase of one of the little bead key-rings she was selling, while the guy in Jamaica was equally happy to be in my shot once I had bought a cold drink from his shack:

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Others there though were perhaps just too spaced-out to notice my camera at all!

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Guy selling grass at Bob Marley's birthplace

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At the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston

A few more of my favourites from that part of the world, taken on our recent trip to Chile, and a couple of years ago in Ecuador:

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Kebab seller, Machuca, Chile

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Souvenir seller, Rapa Nui

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In the Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile

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Local in Otavalo market

Europe

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Musician, Tallinn

Special events often provide an opportunity for candid photography, such as the Old Town Days celebrations in Tallinn which I saw while at a Virtual Tourist meeting there in 2014, and the same city’s Medieval Days a year later on a return visit:

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Musician and stall-holder, Tallinn Old Town Days

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Stall-holder, Medieval Days fair, Tallinn

Closer to home

Here’s a selection from much closer to home, in London:

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Performers at a carnival at City Hall, London

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Portobello Road Market

And finally, let us remember that portraits don’t always have to include the face to tell you something about the person portrayed, so here are three photos taken from behind the subject:

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In Rajasthan

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Football fan in Lisbon

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Geisha, Kyoto

Posted by ToonSarah 05:42 Tagged people parties london japan india chile guatemala jamaica photography tallinn ecuador rapa_nui street_photography Comments (8)

Markets

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Another of my favourite subjects for photography is a local market – the more colourful and livelier the better. There are two main attractions for me as a photographer – the variety of often unfamiliar produce on display, and the local people who shop or sell in these markets. I will feature ‘People’ as a theme in a later blog entry for sure, but some are certain to find their way into these market photos too!

Some of the best markets I have visited have been in Africa.

Senegal

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Every Wednesday there is a large market in the village of Ngueniene, which draws people from miles around - to buy or to sell, but also, it seemed to me, to meet and gossip. A visit here is a popular outing for tourists, but still they are hugely outnumbered by the locals and it is a totally authentic experience. In fact there are two markets - one for animals and one for everything else - and I mean everything!

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In the general market, Ngueniene

You have to be a little discreet if you want to get photos of the locals here. Most people don't mind you photographing the goods on sale, and some of the men were happy to be in my photos, but on the whole the women preferred not to be photographed. If they asked me not to, I put the camera down, but I have to admit to shooting a few of these pictures "from the hip"!

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There were exceptions to the 'no photo' rule, as you can see

After spending some time in the main market we moved on to the animal market on the other side of the village, travelling between the two on a traditional horse cart. Here there is a much narrower range of goods on offer – goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and horses. Until very recently, our guide told us, all business was done here by exchange - two goats for one sheep, five sheep for one cow and so on. Nowadays people are more likely to use cash, but some trading still goes on.

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The animal market

While the men we saw were obviously here to sell, it also seemed to me to be a great excuse for them to catch up with friends as there was a lot of standing around chatting going on. I found that they were more relaxed and generally seemed less bothered by my camera than in the busy main market.

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Animal traders, Ngueniene

Gambia

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Serekunda market

Serekunda Market is the largest in The Gambia – a mad melee of sellers, shoppers and a few tourists that pack the streets of this small town every day.

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The market takes place all day and every day. Few Gambian homes have freezers, and with frequent power cuts the fridge cannot be relied on to keep food fresh, so the women (and it is still always the women) shop daily for fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, fish etc. The place was so packed it was hard to make progress at times, especially with the occasional car or bush taxi trying to squeeze through the crowds and the many porters with their wheelbarrows (all licensed by the government, with "number plates" to prove it).

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Tomatoes, palm oil and okra among the goods on sale

Marrakesh

The souks of Marrakesh are perhaps the most photographed markets of all. Unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve found it much harder here to include local people in my photos as they are really not happy to see a tourist camera pointed in their direction, but if you’re discreet then it can be done:

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In the Northern Medina

North of the Djemaa el-Fna the narrow souks weave and intersect in the most confusing (to the visitor) of manners. Locals outnumber tourists here, even though this is the Marrakesh that everyone comes to see. Donkey carts and mopeds add to the confusion and at times it is difficult to even find the space in which to stand and take a photo! The goods on display are so distinctive and vividly coloured that they form my favourite subject-matter here:

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In Latin American countries too we have been to some wonderful markets. Here is a selection of photos from that part of the world:

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Market day in Petzun, Guatemala

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Bananas for sale, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

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Bananas sellers, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

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Pisac market stall, Peru

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Pisac, Peru

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Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile

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Roast pig, Otavalo Market, Ecuador

But you don’t have to leave Europe to find colourful markets. Let me finish with a selection of images from several European cities:

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In Riga's Central Market

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Local market in Tallinn

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In Sibiu's produce market

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Melons for sale in Bologna's Mercato delle Erbe

If you've enjoyed this page you'll find lots more of my market photos in my blog entries about Jaipur, Otavalo, Pujili and Munnar, among others.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:38 Tagged people food india peru market bologna fruit chile guatemala romania morocco photography riga vegetables tallinn ecuador marrakesh gambia senegal Comments (8)

Birds of the world

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This is the first of what will be a series of occasional blog entries built around my love of photography. Unlike most travel blogs, this one will be organised by theme rather than destination, starting with one of my favourite subjects of recent years, birds.

I am not an especially keen bird-watcher and feel no need to tick off lots of species, but I love the challenge of capturing their bright colours and active behaviours with my lens.

Gambia

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Speckled pigeon

One of the best places we have visited for bird watching is the Gambia, especially at Mandina, an eco-lodge in the Makasutu Cultural Forest. The bird-watching is known to be especially good in this area – the naturalist Chris Packham regularly brings specialist tours here:

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Bee-eaters - swallow-tailed and white-throated

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Firecrest, Goliath heron, Hooded vulture

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Bearded barbet, Pelican and Plantain eater

Senegal

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Egret

Souimanga Lodge in Fimela, Senegal, was another fantastic place for bird-spotting. We had our own private walkway and shaded jetty overlooking the water, from where we could see a myriad of water-birds, especially in the late afternoon.

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Pied Kingfisher

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Spur-winged Lapwings

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Little Bee-eater

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Village weaver

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Senegal dove

Galápagos

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Waved albatross

But nowhere is quite like the Galápagos, not least because there you can get much closer to the wildlife than elsewhere because the birds (and animals) have never learned to fear people. Unfortunately the camera I had back then was less good than my current one, but nevertheless I got some photos worth sharing here.

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Juvenile Galápagos hawk

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Nazca booby chick

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Female magnificent frigatebird

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Magnificent frigatebird and Blue-footed booby

By the way, if interested you can see many more of my Galápagos photos, both birds and other wildlife, in a series of blog entries starting here: The adventure begins

India

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Black kite

Our recent visit to Kerala also gave me some opportunities to photograph birds, both inland in Periyar National Park, on the backwaters, and at the coast:

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Grey heron, Periyar

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Egrets by the coast

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Darter, Kerala backwaters

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Heron, Kerala backwaters

In Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan we also saw lots of birds:

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Scops owl and Rufous tree pie

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Peacock

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White-throated kingfisher and Bulbuls

I also enjoyed photographing the Demoiselle cranes of Khichan:

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Demoiselle cranes

In England

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Chaffinch, Kielder Water

Closer to home I take fewer bird photos but I make an exception when I get the chance to visit somewhere like Kielder’s Birds of Prey Centre or Eagle Heights in Kent:

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Bateleur eagle, Eagle Heights

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Bald eagle, Eagle Heights

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Tawny Eagle, Eagle Heights

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Caracara, Eagle Heights

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Ural owl, Kielder Birds of Prey Centre

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Harris hawk, and Peruvian striped owl, Kielder Birds of Prey Centre

And of course there are occasions when we are out and about and a pretty bird catches my eye:

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Black-headed gull (winter plumage), Druridge Bay

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A very English robin, Tynemouth

Posted by ToonSarah 04:29 Tagged birds wildlife india kerala photography national_park periyar rajasthan galapagos ecuador gambia senegal khichan Comments (14)

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