Excerpts from Issue One of MERGE Magazine
Maramureş – a fairytale adventure
Words by Olivia-Petra Coman // Photos by Marcel Băncilă
Location: From Maramureş, Romania
“We arrived on a calm summer evening and were greeted by the smell of handmade soap and by the smiles on the villagers’ faces.”
I’ve seen it dressed in white and changing its colors into that almost unbelievably pure and wild green… I’ve smelt the firewood and the freshly laid hay… I’ve tasted the snowflakes and the drops of the summer rain…
When one decides to travel through this northern region of Romania, bordering Ukraine, one will have to be prepared for heavy snow and low temperatures in winter, for the cool air of the mornings and evenings in late spring, and for an almost suffocating heat in summer. We took all of these precautions but we knew deep down that a journey through Maramureş would mean a shift to a more poetic and ancient feel of places, traditions, and people. …that one look around would suffice to discover pretty red-cheeked children running across rolling hills, women still wearing their traditional costumes on Sundays, and a sense of complete peacefulness at holidays.
As these are only glimpses of this region’s flow of life, your senses might urge you to discover more as did mine.
Eight Hours on a Lao Boat to Watch a Woman Pick Her Nose
Words and Photos by Jacob Moss
Location: From Luang Prabang, the Mekong and the Nam Ou river, into the remote village of Nong Khiaw, Laos.
The white, hand-made miniature wooden chair seems as if it has been transplanted from some eleven-year-old girl’s tea house. Lashed with rope to the side of the cardboard boat that’s bobbing on the water as if nodding, confirming your initial thought; for the next eight hours, you should have considered travel insurance and brought an extra fluffy pillow.
“Scenes of village life and of a people and an economy dragged along by agriculture like a plough being dragged by a buffalo remind me of a time I never lived.”
From the ex-colonial town of Luang Prabang, where baguettes and croissants are found alongside noodles and rice in any restaurant’s menu, I board a boat on the Mekong heading north to the Nam Ou river. This trip came recommended as an “insider tip” from a German restaurateur married to a Lao girl: “Don’t take the slow boat along the Mekong into Thailand – that’s what all the tourists do,” he advised. “Go north on the local boat along the Nam Ou river – the scenery is far more spectacular.”
Not a local is to be seen on the suggested boat, which leaves Luang Prabang full of tourists, heading north against the current.
Like most of South East Asia, no matter how hard a person tries to travel independently here, the foreigner is always handicapped, disabled in some way. All roads lead back to the well-oiled tourist trail, whether you like it or not. There are few places left where tourists are yet to plant their flag.
Soured with this reality on this particular day, I sit at the rear of the boat in an attempt to avoid conversation. (read more…)
It’s human nature to form expectations, to plot and plan, hope and dream. We do it because we are taught to be goal oriented and outcome driven; we want the best. We think that by identifying what we need out of a single experience we can influence our circumstances to achieve these assumed requirements.
We have all heard stories about someone’s amazing trip that was made extra special by something they hadn’t expected to happen. We hear these and are inspired to travel ourselves only to feel disappointed when we don’t find the same result or experience.
“We become so committed to the expectation that we can’t see what is before us and instead fight the reality of the present moment, sacrificing it, in order to achieve the expectation.”
As an advanced society we are made to feel that if an experience doesn’t provide the expected outcome, there must have been a failure of someone, somewhere, and often we blame ourselves. “I should have planned better.” “I should have researched this more.”
I have long known that as much as I love being in control of my plans, travel and otherwise, that I truly have the most amazing experiences when nothing goes as expected. As part of my business I am constantly researching and scouting great adventures, which means that my personal experiences are necessarily planned and predictable. Yet, I recently found something completely unexpected when out scouting in Death Valley.
This is my story. (read more….)
DOMINO PLAYERS BY A SIDESTREET IN TRINIDAD, CUBA
Words and Photos by Adrian Seah
Location: From Trinidad, Cuba
“Taking deep puffs of his cigarette, he looked with a certain amount of disdain at his tiles.”
The old cobbled street was proving a bit of a challenge in the dim light, the scattered street lamps casting strange shadows on the peeling colonial era buildings lining either side of the road. Our footsteps were unsure and the uneven ground, still slightly slick with the brief rain that had fallen in the evening, was slippery, hiding puddles of water in the darkness. The sounds of salsa music wafted through the warm, humid night; somewhere round the corner there must have been a bar with a live band and I could imagine mojitos being downed by the gallon – sweaty, writhing bodies dancing away on a makeshift dance floor.
It was Friday night after all.