All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook
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Izmir – Part 4 – Agora, Museums, and Kultur Park

Travel insurance might be a good idea if you want to visit Izmir’s museums in winter since they are empty and you are likely to catch a cold from wandering around the freezing halls.

But, all kidding aside, there are some nice cultural sites to visit in Izmir and while in the month I was here, I didn’t come close to seeing them all, I did get to see quite a few of them.

Kultur Parc izmirFirst of all, the Kultur Park. This is Izmir’s idea of Central Park. After Attaturk retook Turkey from the Greeks and then expelled the greeks, most of the center of Izmir was burned to the ground. In the place where all those houses had stood, there now stands a beautiful park. Since it is winter, the park is rarely full, but the dogs at least get the chance to enjoy the flowers.

Fuar Izmir, Kultur ParcIn the center is a tower that is used for bungee jumping in the summer (or so I was told) and what looks like yet another creepy and scary Turkish amusement park. I’m guessing that during the warm weather there are constant crowds here, but during my visits I found very few people and plenty of space. Inside the Kultur Park is the Izmir Museum of Art and History. It really is history art, don’t expect to find any modern displays here, but overall it was a very nice museum split into three buildings. Coins and precious objects, ceramics, and statues. Winter tarif is 3 TL.

Trade Fuar Izmir FairNeighborhood AgoraApparently the main reason the park exists is for the annual trade fair where it is rumoured that Turkey is the only country in the world that holds a trade fair where import vendors outnumber export vendors. Leave it to the Turkish bureaucracy to figure out how to make that happen.

Leaving the park you will find a 24 hour McDonalds and you can stroll through the eerie part of the city that will probably someday be the biggest, richest, most prosperous part but right now looks like the hole at Ground Zero two or three years ago.

Izmir AgoraWander for a mile or so and you will start to see signs for the Agora. The Agora was the ancient Roman marketplace. Remarkably well preserved and sitting right inside of a modern city. Very strange. I didn’t bother to pay to go in. Maybe someday I’ll wish I had, but frankly, I’m pretty sick of seeing Roman ruins. Doesn’t do much for me anymore. Wow! Doric columns.

The neighborhood up the hill from the Agora is much more interesting. This is not another rich neighborhood and the number of women wearing headscarves goes up by about 999% the instant you enter this area. The winding streets, coal chimneys spouting noxious gas just about at eye level, and women carrying water from public fountains is about as authentic as Izmir gets. These are real people, really living a really hard life. You still see the crows and apaches hanging out in tribes, but the poverty that they sit amidst reveals that the purchase of fake designer clothes is a priority and not a luxury in their minds. Look like a million bucks but not a dime in their pockets.

Izmir Ethnography MuseumGoing down the hill and back into the Konak area you can find the Archeology and Ethnography museums. Again, both were empty and since there was no one to sell me a ticket at the ethnography museum, it was gratis. This, to me was the best museum in Izmir. Not too fancy, not too opulent, just a very cool old house on a hill filled with the products and crafts of Izmirian people. Not only were the displays good, but the descriptions of how glass ‘evil eye’ beads are made, how felt was made, and more was actually interesting, well written, and for a geek like me – fun. I never knew how felt was made before.

Rose petals on the ground IzmirAfter the ethnography museum , I went ahead and skipped the archeology museum even though I longed to see more old coins and pottery shards like no one’s business.

I have the feeling that there are a ton of little galleries, great modern artists, and more in Izmir, but in the month I lived here, I didn’t find them.

ain of arabia

7 Weird Adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

While in Kuala Lumpur, I did more than just drink beer and watch street walkers, I also saw some very cool places and attractions you might not have come across.

kuala lumpur old china cafe

The Old China Cafe

Old China Cafe was a great lunch of Malay-Chinese cuisine and had an interesting feel. Finding it was the hardest part but the guy sniffing glue on the corner pointed me in the right direction.

From their site:

This building was the guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. The guild was set up at the turn of the century and moved to this part of Chinatown in the 1920s.
As the guild members prospered, the founding members moved to this building in 1930. The two large mirrors that face each other are traditional feng shui mirrors that Chinese believe would perpetually reflect the good luck when the first rays of the morning sun light up the interior.

Even the interior doors still have wooden latches. This type of pre-war (World War One/1914-1918) shophouses may not last forever. Already several in the neighbourhood (Jalan Panggong, Jalan Petaling and Jalan Balai Polis) have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition.

Old China Café tries to maintain a semblance of the Chinese community’s old social life which will soon fade into history.

Kuala Lumpur Nature PreserveBukit Nanas Forest Reserve. Sitting in the center of ultra-modern, ultra-urban Kuala Lumpur is a rainforest preserve where you can hike across wooden bridges, see monkeys, and get your feet muddy on tropical trails. Since 1906 the 11 hectares of the preserve have been a beloved spot for locals and visitors to get away from it all by heading to the city center. Great trails and for tree lovers you can check the signage to discover Kapur (Dryobalanops aromatica), Keruing bulu (Dipterocarpus baudii), Jelutong (Dyera costulata), Meranti pa’ang (Shorea bracteolata) and Rattan (Calamus manan) and many other trees. A botanical herb garden, orchid area, nature center, and jogging trails all make this a more than worthwhile nature stop in the center of the city.

ain of arabiaAin Arabia is a completely weird idea to me. Sure, Malaysia is a Muslim country, but it’s not an Arab country. If, however, you want to experience the Arab world of the Middle East while visiting Southeast Asia, the place to head is Ain Arabia. The street is located at Jalan Berangan in Bukit Bintang. Oddly, the area seemed to be filled with mostly Arab tourists and I’m told that during the month of Ramadan, many Arabs come from stricter countries to avoid the enforced fast. Since I live in Morocco, I found the Sahara Tent Restaurant and the Berber laundry service to be more than a little bit odd.

indoor theme park Kuala LumpurCosmo’s World Theme Park gives you a chance to experience a theme park but without having to go outside so you can enjoy the air conditioning. The park is located at Level 5, Berjaya Times Square. It fills 380,000 square feet and has separate theme parks for adults and children called Galaxy Station and Fantasy Garden. Sorry, the Fantasy Garden is the part for kids…Still, you have to love indoor rollercoasters and a ride called the DNA mixer sounds like it is much more adult than it really is.

Kuala Lumpur Little IndiaLittle India. Indians are one of the three main ethnic groups in Malaysia so Little India makes sense. For those looking for an Indian experience without going to India. This works. Jalan Masjid India is one of the oldest parts of the city and dates back to 1870 when the Indian mosque was built.
Little India is the heart of a thriving neighbourhood built up around the mosque. It is filled with colourful flowers and garments and is easy to reach. Just get off the tram at Masjid Jamek Station or walk from China town.Bales of sarees, shops heaped with gold, traditional pharmacies and gorgeous glass bangles fill the shops and delicious aromas come from the many restaurants which offer tasty Indian snacks like samosa, ghulab jamun and vadai.

Hornbill at KL Bird ParkThe Bird and Butterfly Parks. The Bird Park and Butterfly house are located in the Lake Gardens, a 60-hectare reserve since 1888. It is the world’s largest free flight, walk in Aviary (of course I am the world’s most successful person named Vago Damitio, so superlatives should always be judged accordingly) . The butterfly park has over 6000 butterflys and more than 120 species…and they are alive not stuck to pinboards.

KL planetariumNational Planetarium. I’m a sucker for planetariums. I just love them. It’s the blue domed building above the Lake Gardens and has a space museum that includes replicas of ancient observatories. The planetarium shows were in English and not only interesting, but fun. Of particular note was the very nice juxtaposition of traditional Islamic architecture with the space age. Very nice.

camels in Selcuk Turkey

Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey

Camel Wrestling. Sounds dangerous. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I saw it on Couchsurfing as a group activity for those near Izmir in the town of Selcuk.

selcuk camel wrestling

While it is a little hard to understand the excitement that one feels in the crowd, it is motivated by the thing that Turks love and get the most excited about. Money. It’s the bets that make the sport worth while and if you aren’t betting, chances are that you aren’t really enjoying things to the fullest. Still, it is important to understand what is happening if you are going to be a spectator. I was going to write an article about the intricacies of this amazing sport, but it turns out that someone has already done that:

Burak H. Sansal over at 2Camels.com writes: While the Spanish have bullfights, and the Italians cockfights, and the English go hunting with hounds, the Turks have camel wrestling. Camel wrestling is now mostly restricted to the Aegean region though it was once more widespread in Anatolia. In the winter you will see elaborately saddled camels being paraded through the villages with the owner extolling just how his camel is going to make mince-meat of anyone rash enough to challenge his beast. The camels are all fully grown bulls specially fed to increase their bulk further, and the sight of them wrestling one another would seem to promise some spectacular action.
camels in Selcuk Turkey
In reality it doesn’t happen and camel wrestling is more akin to comedy than to blood- sport. Bull camels normally wrestle and butt one another in a knock- out contest for precedence in a herd, and more importantly, precedence in mating. In the arena two bulls are led out and then a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. It’s very easy to know when a bull is excited as streams of viscous milky saliva issue from his mouth and nostrils. Mostly the two bulls will half-heartedly butt each other and lean on the other until one of them gives in and runs away. This is the really exciting bit as the bull will often charge off towards the crowd, with the conquering bull in pursuit, and the spectators must scramble hurriedly out of the way.

wrestling camels in selcukAnd that’s about the size of it, but the real interesting part is in the crowds. Horns, drums, and the smoke of a thousand cooking fires as the spectators, mostly men, barbecue camel, sheep, and chicken – drink raka and beer – and place huge wagers on which camels will win. While I wasn’t exactly sure how the events themselves work, watching the camel spit fly was entertaining (from a distance) and weaving through the elbows only crowd to see the various fires, tables, and sweet spots that were set up was exotic as hell.

sausage made of camelsThe strange thing for me was just how much camel meat was actually consumed at this event which was in a way, honoring camels. And yeah, in case you are wondering, I got a camel sausage sandwich and it was delicious! Spicy, not as hairy as sheep sausage and was the perfect thing to watch the camels wrestle by. That and some raka.

To be honest, two hours of the camel wrestling was enough for me. I took a lot of exotic camel pictures, but since I wasn’t getting drunk or betting on the camels, or having a barbecue with friends – it was actually pretty boring once the medieval festival aspect of it wore off.

selcuk camel wrestling festivalIt really was like being in a time long long ago with the drums, the smoke, the sounds of the camels grunting and fighting, and the sound of the nasal ne floating on the sausage smoke breeze.