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Jun 24, 2017
Throughout my career as a travel photographer, I got to some remote and incredible places. My favorite part about those trips was meeting the people, the culture and documenting places and people that are disappearing, changing and unique.
Here are 5 of the most amazing people / cultures I met:
1. The Himba of Namibia.
The Himba live in Namibia, mostly in the north west part of the country, and across the border in Angola.
I spent some time in the north of Namibia and saw the Himba interact with the modern world, but I wanted to go deeper into the culture. So I asked around and found a young Himba man, working in Opuwo (the main town) as a guide. I asked him if he knew any family in the bush where we can go and spend time with. He said he has a relative living in a more remote compound that we can visit.
After a few hours of driving and 45 minutes off road 4x4-ing we reached a small family compound. I spent 2 days there and learned so much about these remarkable people. For most of the hot days I would sit with the women and children under a large tree, while the women made jewelry, baskets, prepared food and I played with the kids and showed them their photos.
I met the chief in his hut and drank goat milk with him (not so tasty), and went around all the huts meeting the community. We brought food with us as an offering and the chief was happy with that donation of pap, sugar, bread and oil.
Definitely one of the best experiences in my travels.
Please do a web search to really learn about this culture.
2. Wounaan of Panama.
The Darien gap in Panama is a dangerous and remote place. I only went into the edges of it and was blown away. The Wounaan village of Cemaco has not had any tourists visit it, and being the first there was a great honor. I was treated to dances, discussions, visits with families, and living like them for 4 days.
The woman are amazing basket makers and I got to see that process and purchase directly from them. I was also honored by being "tattooed" with a jagua nut like they do. It lasts about 2-3 weeks and looks so cool.
We discussed over the 4 days, ways to maintain their culture and still have tourist there. We talked about sustainability, resources and type of tourism they want. It was a great use of my cultural geography background and I hope I made a difference.
Being taken in, and living with the tribe for 4 days, living in the hut with a family, eating with them, processing sugar cane, and bathing with everyone in the river, made this a special place.
3. Apatani of Northeast India.
A unique tribe that is isolated by geography. The Apatani number in the 50,000. They live in a valley in the foothill of the Himalayas in Arunchal Pradesh, India. They have been surviving and living in this valley for centuries in a self sustainable capacity. They live on rice cultivation, where the rice paddies also are fish ponds. They raise pork, and wild mitun (a type of bovine) as the main meat and ceremonial meat.
I spent 5 days in a home stay and explored the area on foot every day, going from one village to another. The modern world is definite here, with cell phones, cars, television and other comforts, but the way of life still remains.
The people are mostly practice animism, but Christianity is moving in.
One of the most interesting aspect of the Apatani are the older woman. They have facial tattoos and nose plugs. A practice that stopped in the 60's and no one truly knows the origin of.
Apart from the beauty of the area, the people make this a special place. Hospitality, warmth and a smile.
4.Akah of Laos.
One of the craziest trips I have ever done!!! I looked at a map of northern Laos and thought it would be interesting to go explore the area there, bordering China, and Myanmar. This is the home of the Akah people and I was interesting to photograph them. I made my way to a tiny town of Muang Long, found a place to stay and started asking around. My goal was to walk over the mountains to the Mekong. A 4 day trip. After much phrase book, interpreting from English to Lao, to Akah, I had a basic map drawn with villages marked on it.
The four days were one incredible adventure after the next. The Akah were so hospital and welcoming, and shocked to see a white person in their villages. I stayed with the chief's of villages, met the people, played with the kids, bathed outside with the tribe and ate around the fire with the family.
Truly an epic adventure into a wild opium smoking society in a dangerous part of the drug trade area, but all I found was generosity and kindness. I went back 12 year later and redid the hike. This time there were changes. The government cracked down on the drug trade, there was more policing of the area, and I had to have a guide with me. I found people from 12 year before who remembered the crazy white boy walking there and I was able to bring all the photos to share.
5. Shuar of Ecuador.
The Shuar experience was another fun adventure into a remote area. The main difference with this tribe is that much of the outer appearance of the culture was already changed. They wore western clothes, boots and started building in wood rather than thatch, and had access to motorized canoes. But, they lived in the rainforest of Ecuador far from everything, so they did maintain a lot of their lifestyle, of hunting, fishing, gathering, and making Chicha.
To get there I took an overnight bus ride over dirt roads, then a three hour boat ride up the Upano river, and a hike through the jungle for another 45 minutes. I hired a young guide who has family there and was treated like family for 3 days. I went hiking every day with the chief to explore the area, gather food and visit sacred places. I learned a lot over basic food and Chicha - a fermented corn beer that in the jungle is chewed by women, spat in a vat and left to ferment until it became slightly alcoholic - pretty gross stuff, but had to partake.
The exploring was great, but making friends was the best reward. Such niceness and hospitality. The kids were so shy and cute. They were so excited to see a white person, but were also nervous for the first day till we became friends.
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