No matter where you travel, you will often find towns and cities where the people have left in large numbers because they couldn’t make a living where they were. They aren’t necessarily ghost towns, but they will be in time if nothing changes to keep the people from leaving. This is true no matter the country or part of the world. There is something very sad about seeing these places, but you certainly can’t blame the people who have left in order to try and make a better life for themselves and their families. There are times when these places find a way to transform themselves and revitalize their economies and there are other times when they simply disappear into history never to be heard from again. When we happen to come across one of these places with their dilapidated buildings, we try to take the time to document them through photography. One of our favorite such memories was visiting one such village, Chimboata, during our time in Bolivia.
The Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is actually owned and operated by a local Amazonian tribe. As part of the experience of staying at the eco lodge, you get to visit the village where the tribe lives, see how they prepare their meals, participate in a ritual dance, and have the opportunity to buy locally made art and jewelry. The tribe is dedicated to making sure that their traditions and culture remain in tact despite the increased influence of the modern world, which certainly must be difficult to do.
Despite being deep in the Amazon Jungle, the village generates its own power and has a school with computers. Meals, however, are still cooked over an open fire and prepared by the women of the village. The majority of what the villagers eat is fish caught from the river as well as fruit and vegetables grown nearby the village. We did see them preparing some sort of snail-like insect, but we didn’t end up trying that. The fish was wrapped in banana leaves and smoked over the fire and they shared some of their meal with us before we left.
The highlight of the visit is watching the villagers perform a ritual dance. The women disappeared for a while shortly after we arrived and then returned wearing vibrant pink shirts and skirts. They sang and danced to music played on a drum and a turtle shell with a piece of metal attached that made a unique sound when snapped. It didn’t take long before they pulled our guide up to join in the dancing, but when they asked all of us to join, the real fun began. It was surprising difficult to keep up with their foot movements and we were out of breath by the time we finished. Fortunately, since we both danced, there are no embarrassing photos of us dancing, so you will just have to use your imagination.
We bought a pair of kissing parrots made out of wood as well as a few bracelets and necklaces before leaving to help support the efforts of the village. The people who live at the village were the same people who were cooking our meals and cleaning our rooms at the lodge, so we were very appreciative of the service that they provided to us during our stay. Visiting the village was certainly one of the highlights of our time in the Amazon. The people of the village were extremely friendly, proud of their culture, and made us feel very welcome in their homes.
After spending a few days in the Strasbourg region, one thing became abundantly clear. Throughout the history of the region, the people have alternated between German and French control, which has left the citizens feeling more independent than identifying with any particular country. When our guide drove us down the wine road through some of the smaller towns, he made the statement that he only speaks French or German when he has tourists who speak those languages, otherwise he only speaks Alsatian.
Regardless of the political and cultural conflicts that may exist, the area is truly spectacular for its history and the medieval buildings that can be found throughout the area. We only spent a day traveling through some of the smaller towns, but every moment was a glimpse into hundreds of years of history. Regardless of the actual size of the towns themselves, crowds were in abundance as locals and tourists alike traveled to enjoy the small Christmas markets that each of these locations had to offer. We were able to purchase a Christmas bread, which is a gingerbread loaf, as well as some other handmade items both for Christmas as well as just for display.
Strasbourg also has some wonderful medieval buildings, both the patchwork wooden buildings for the poor as well as the opulent mansions for the rich. There was much to love about our time in Strasbourg, France, and we will focus on those in some upcoming posts, but we thought that we would start with what struck us most about our time in the area and that is the incredible architecture and a true sense of history. It is a different feel than some of the larger, historic cities, it was all about the medieval villages, the castles, and towns surrounded by ancient fortress walls. It is certainly an area that deserves to be visited, although the intense marketing of the wine road has made it a definite tourist destination, so expect large crowds throughout the year.