Weekly Wednesday Video: Baby turtle treks to the ocean in Nicaragua

While traveling around Central America this past winter, my sleepy friend Mira and I visited the secluded and miles-long Los Brasiles beach on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. Located on an island near Poneloya, the place is only a 30-minute bus ride and a 5-minute boat trip away from the bustling colonial city of Leon, but feels worlds apart.

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The only guest house on the beach is the laid-back Surfing Turtle Lodge,  named after the two things people come to this Brazilian-style sandy playground for: the wild waves and the cute baby tortugas. The latter is what this week’s travel video is about, as we were lucky to witness six baby turtles being released into the ocean during our visit. (After the turtle eggs hatch on the beach, the lodge raises the youngsters in their nursery until they are old enough to fend for themselves against the big beasts of the ocean.) To avoid contaminating the little ones with human smells, we had to wear plastic gloves when placing them down on the sand.

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Here’s my turtle – Pete Jr! (The original Pete The Turtle resides in the Maldives, and was named by my 2010 Maldives travel buddy and photographer friend Mariana Keller).

It was truly endearing watching the little fellow battle his way across the beach into his new home (the Pacific Ocean), and that’s what this clip is about. The background music is courtesy of my awesome music producer brother Erkka. The song suits the footage perfectly – is Pete Jr. walking exactly in sync with the beat or what?! Cuteeeeeee. 🙂

Anyone else love turtles as much as I do? They are my favorite animals! Have you seen baby turtles being born? It’s one of my long-standing dreams.

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Weekly Wednesday Video: A visit to a nursery school in The Gambia

About a month ago I posted a video from crossing the Sahara in Mauritania, inspired by fellow globetrotter Francis Tapon’s 3-year Africa trip. Well, now that Francis is about to enter the The Gambia, it’s only fitting to reminisce about my own visit to the tiny English-speaking sliver of land in West Africa. The country was the fifth and last destination on my West Africa tour last year (not counting my return to Senegal thereafter).

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The Gambia is dubbed “The Smiling Coast,” which is funny since it only has about 35 kilometers (20 miles) of coast line. It’s Africa’s smallest nation, shaped like a crooked finger that protrudes into Senegal. Teeny it may be, but it’s still a crowd favorite: this year’s visitor numbers may amount to 180,000. Europeans flock to the Gambian beaches especially from November to March.

Initially I was hesitant to go to The Gambia – I had heard an awful lot about its reputation as a hotspot for female sex tourism. I thought I would need to fight off potential suitors with a stick, and as a solo female traveler, would be a prime target for the bumsters looking for a sugar momma.

Luckily the reality on the ground was much better than I feared. I visited in the off-season, so tourist hassle was at a minimum. Also, for most of my two weeks, I was Couchsurfing with locals and expats. I thus ended up having a pretty different experience to most tourists.

The highlight of my Gambia visit was getting to hang out at St. David Nursery School in Serrekunda, a private school for 3-6-year-olds. The father from my Gambian host family, Abdul, is the principal there, and his daughter Bintou is one of the professors. Bintou brought me along to school with her on three consecutive days, so I got to spend a lot of time in the company of the super energetic students. Whenever the kids saw me,  they exclaimed “Toubab!” (white person) and ran over to hug me. I felt like a movie star. 🙂

This week’s video shows the students going through their morning ritual and studying in math class. With 120 children in three rooms, the noise level at the small school was through the roof. I have no idea how the kids manage to learn anything in that environment, but they all seemed really smart and enthusiastic. Despite not having the best facilities, the were such happy campers. It was quite humbling.

If you’d like to donate money to the school, click here to learn more. The website is run by a German lady who sponsors St. David Nursery.

Weekly Wednesday Video: Making pupusas in El Salvador

Continuing with the food theme (live Korean octopus, anyone?), let’s travel virtually to El Salvador this week and learn to make pupusas! As you may know, pupusas are stuffed corn tortillas that are a staple food in this tiny Central American nation, and they are delish. Wish I could have one right now, complete with tomato sauce and curtido (spicy fermented cabbage).

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Traditionally pupusas are made with beans, cheese and/or pork, but my favorite was this jalapeno and cheese version I encountered in a hip San Salvador eatery during my March visit.

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Want to learn how to make one of these yummy things? Check out this video from San Salvador, filmed at the apartment of my Couchsurfing host. On the screen you’ll also be able to spot my friend Mira, the sleepiest traveler of all times.

While this video teaches you the right technique for molding your pupusas and placing the cheese into the center, to find out the actual recipe you’ll need to click here. Buen provecho!

Have you eaten pupusas? What do you think?

Weekly Wednesday Video: Mongolian talent show

And…. I’m back! Yep, the little break I took for my birthday ended up turning into two weeks due various time suckers occupying my days in New York, but now it’s time to go on with the Weekly Wednesday Video series.

Today I’d like to take you all to Mongolia, a vast and isolated Asian country I got to visit with my dad during the Trans-Siberian train trip last fall. Unfortunately our time there was reduced to just five days due to China’s Golden Week celebrations messing up train schedules, but we did get to experience a few cool things. One of those was the 55-minute performance of the Tumen Ekh ensemble. The entertaining talent show features typical Mongolian throat singing, wildly twisting contortionists, folk dancing and funky masks.

The show was highly recommended to us by the Sun Path Hostel‘s manager Doljmaa (pronounced “Deutsch-ma”), so we couldn’t miss it – even though we almost did. We only had about ten minutes until show time when we hopped into a taxi outside the guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar. Despite encountering major language issues, we got our point across to the driver and magically made it to the theater just in time.

And I’m glad we did! The show was definitely one to remember. Here’s a short recap of what to expect if you ever get to attend a Mongolian talent show.

Have you been to Mongolia? Any interest in going?

Weekly Wednesday Video: Crossing the Sahara Desert in Mauritania

This week’s video is very short and simple – just 30 seconds of scenery from Mauritania, a little-known nation I visited last year on my West Africa Tour. Some 75 percent of the country is desert, as is obvious from this video that was shot from inside a shared taxi.

Mauritania has been on my mind lately as a fellow travel writer, Francis Tapon, just spent three weeks there. I’ve been eagerly keeping up with his Facebook and Twitter updates to hear about his adventures. Francis is working on a documentary called The Unseen Africa and plans to spend three years touring the continent. That’s quite the plan!

Francis has his own car, but I mostly got around West Africa with public transportation. In Mauritania that includes the bush taxis, which are usually of the Mercedes make (while in Senegal they prefer Peugeot station wagons and call them by the name Sept-place). The shared taxis take off for their destination when enough people have showed up to fill the car, or when the driver figures he has a good change of picking up the missing number of people along the way.

Shared taxis are a pretty handy and cheap way to get around, and observing the locals’ wardrobe choices is an interesting way to pass the time.

Those of you that speak Finnish can read more about my adventures in Mauritania and the Sahara Desert in this article titled “The Sahara isn’t easy on the tourist” that was published by Finland’s biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat last year. Among other places, I visited Cap Blanc, known as the largest graveyard of shipwrecks. By February last year, some of the 300 ships had already been hauled away by the European Union, but quite a few could still be seen in the horizon. This one on the beach is the Moroccan ship United Malika that crashed in 2003. This shipwreck bay was definitely one of the strangest sights I’ve seen in my life.

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Have you been to Mauritania or tried out the shared taxis elsewhere in Africa? 

Weekly Wednesday Video: Eating Live Octopus in South Korea

Hmm, somehow this blog has changed into one big Weekly Wednesday Video series. It seems like I never find the time to write an actual post, even though my head is full of ideas and stories I want to share. But whoops – AGAIN a week has gone by and it’s time to post my weekly video. And that is a whole process in and of itself (as I have to scroll through tens of videos from tens of countries to choose my favorite).

In honor of completing my first four weeks of the Weekly Wednesday Video series, I am taking you all back to South Korea (whose cat cafes I showed in my first weekly video). Initially my plan was not to feature the same countries too often, but this time I’ll have to make an exception. That’s just because this particular video kept popping up today, as if begging to be seen.

What is it about, you may ask…. Well, it’s about eating live octopus. Yep. That’s exactly what a fellow traveler, Shai from Israel, wanted to do as we toured around Seoul together last October. This bizarre dish, called Sannakji, is common in Korea and is believed to make you healthier. It’s really quite simple to whip together – as Sarah Shaw wrote for Mappingwords.com, the meal consists of “fresh, wriggling pieces of live baby octopus, drizzled with sesame oil. After minimal preparation, it is served immediately.”

So here we go! Bon appetit!

Initially I was a bit grossed out, but finally ended up popping a few pieces into my mouth, as you’ll see in the end of the video. And I was pleasantly surprised! The moving tentacles felt really funny, and the suction cups kept latching onto my tongue and mouth. The raw octopus didn’t have much of a taste. The worst part was having to crush the wandering tentacles with my teeth. It felt pretty cruel. 😦

While this plate was just a little appetizer, I came across another video on YouTube that shows a more elaborate live octopus dinner, in case anyone is interested.

Have you tried live octopus? If not, would you like to? 

Weekly Wednesday Video: West African Dance Party

I woke up today convinced it was Tuesday. But would you believe it – turns out it’s Wednesday! Again! Wasn’t it just Wednesday?

Well, who I am to fight it. It’s time for my Weekly Wednesday Video! So let’s travel virtually to Senegal’s Casamance region where I witnessed a wild dance party during my West African roadtrip last year. The fiesta took place in Oussouye, a small town that loves to bust a move. This particular time the celebration was in honor of someone’s birthday, I was told. Who wants to do the same for my birthday next month??

Casamance has in fact been on my mind for a number of reasons lately. One is that I just wrote an article for The InterDependent about how the United Nations is starting a sanitation campaign to build more toilets. As you may remember, in Casamance I visited a family that lived in a tiny town without a single toilet.

Yeah, that was quite an experience. I had been in Bouyouye for a couple of hours by the time I discovered the situation. I had looked into every nook of the little clay house I was staying in, and poked around the yard’s various corners. I just couldn’t see it.

“Where’s the toilet?” I finally asked my weekend’s host, Jeannette Diatta, 40. The cheerful mother of six school-age children pointed at the sky-reaching Fromager tree in front of me.

“Just go behind there. Nobody will bother you.” She handed me a bucket on water for cleansing, as is the local custom.

So off I went, climbing over the wide roots of the so-called elephant tree and wading through piles of brown leaves in search of my own makeshift latrine. Finally I found a spot where I could comfortably go about my business while leaning on the trunk of the tree for support. I tried to be careful not to step into other people’s leftovers, should there be some, but luckily I didn’t see any.

Later on that day I realized why – there were rows of happy little piglets running all over the town that is the full-time home of about 300 people. A human’s dump is a piggy’s treasure. I secretly felt relieved the Diatta household wasn’t serving pork that day for dinner.

During my travels in more than sixty countries on six continents, I have come across many types of latrines: the low porcelain squat toilets of India, a hole in the wooden floor a’la Mongolia, the no-wall group stalls of old Beijing and the high-tech Japanese toilets that give you an automated butt rinse.  But my visit to West Africa last year was the first time that I came across people without access to any kind of a toilet. In Guinea-Bissau’s Bijagos Islands, I even saw locals nonchalantly pooping on the side of the road.

Little did I know how typical these folks actually were: According to the UN, there are 1.1 billion people in the world still defecating out in the open, some 15 percent of the world’s population. To read my piece on what the UN is doing to change this, click on the photo below.

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While West Africans may not all have toilets, they’ve sure got the moves. What did you think about my video of the Casamance dance party?