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Active Volcano Sports? · Apr 20, 10:21 AM



I first heard of sand boarding when I was in the Nazca Desert in Peru. As an avid snowboarder I just assumed I had all the necessary crossover skills, and tried it with perhaps a little too much bluster. Before I knew it, I was violently tumbling down the side of a sand dune. After a couple of tries I finally got the hang of it, and it was fun, but the runs lasted a matter of seconds, and it certainly wasn’t snowboarding. Well, near León, Nicaragua it appears they have upped the ante and created a sport that’s a hybrid of sand boarding and sledding, and involves a 1,600 foot run down the side of an active volcano. Laura Siciliano-Rosen has a first person account in the NYT’s Travel section:

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Thailand is perhaps more famous for it’s “water throwing” new year celebration, but in a place like Yangon, Myanmar where the current political situation isn’t especially conducive to fun, the new year is a rare opportunity to let loose and drench someone. The International Herald Tribune has more:

A similar festival is celebrated in neighboring Thailand and Laos. But the one here has a certain poignancy about it. This is the one time of year when the junta looks the other way as masses of young people let loose in dancing and drinking in this otherwise repressive city, where gatherings of more than 10 people are usually banned.

So this week, thousands upon thousands of mostly black-clad and drippingly wet young Burmese thronged this city’s Inya and Kabaraye Pagoda roads, the two areas to which the government confined the weeklong revelry.

As the blazing sun rose, every other car in the city appeared to have been mobilized by people heading to the water festival. By 10 a.m., hundreds of meters of creaking vehicles were backed up trying to enter Inya Road, where water from the nearby lake was being pumped to 27 roadside “pandals,” temporary water-throwing platforms that doubled as discothèques.

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Dubai’s Dark Side · Apr 14, 12:07 PM



Much has been made over the explosive and glamorous development of Dubai over the past decade, but BBC’s Panorama is featuring an investigative article exploring Dubai’s oft glossed over underbelly, and the widespread exploitation of immigrant workers.

It is the promise of a land of opportunity that has brought an estimated one million migrant workers to Dubai. Most come from areas of extreme poverty in the Indian sub-continent where they are easy prey for recruitment agents. Paying up to £2,000 to make the trip, the sum often has to be borrowed or family land sold in the belief that within 18 months the debt can be repaid.

Instead on arriving in Dubai they are met with shanty town conditions hidden from public view. In a country that penalises journalists reporting stories which negatively reflect the economy or insult the government with massive fines and even imprisonment, it was important to maintain a low profile.

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Village of Joy has a really amazing photo tour of what the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the nearby city of Prypiat looks like these days, some 20 years after the Chernobyl disaster.

In the zone of alienation in northern Ukraine, Kiev Oblast, near the border with Belarus. Its population had been around 50,000 prior to the accident. Today, the only residents are deer and wolves along with a solitary guard.

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Really fascinating article in the LA Times about how the global economic crisis is affecting Eastern Europe, specifically as some of the Western companies (like Levi’s) that ushered in globalization after the fall of communism, are being forced to shut their factories there. In many cases, with Western companies suddenly leaving, resulting in entire villages losing their jobs, communities are being left stunned and decimated.

The EU’s goal of cohesion is straining relations between Western and Eastern Europe, and between formerly communist nations, the more prosperous of which, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, don’t want to be lumped with laggards such as Hungary and Latvia, which this year have seen riots and protesting farmers.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who unexpectedly announced his resignation this month over the slow pace of fiscal reforms, has warned that a new economic “Iron Curtain” is stretching across Europe. That may be overly dramatic, but it’s telling on a continent where the ideal of Europe crystallized in a West that has reluctantly embraced eastern nations. Grand plans, ideals and visions are colliding with widening debt and plummeting currencies—

“We cannot afford to go through the big bust we are now going through,” said Gyorgy Jaksity, managing director of Concorde Securities in Budapest, the Hungarian capital. “When communism ended 20 years ago, it was an historic moment, a time to put in a new structure to catch up with the developed world. But Hungary never put that structure in place. It’s not what we did in 1989; it’s what we didn’t do.

“Our neighbors want to distance themselves from us, saying, ‘You don’t want to fall off the cliff with those irresponsible Hungarians.’ “

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Human Sangria in Japan · Mar 19, 12:07 PM



Just came across this relatively amusing photo exploration of trendy spas in Japan that allow for bathing in some pretty unusual substances like wine, strawberry juice, green tea and live fish. (Apparently the live fish nibble off your dead skin.) Notice how most of the pools feature gigantic sized models of what the fluid would normally be contained in. Granted there are many aspects of Japanese culture I will never pretend to understand (like signage and design practices in general), but do you really need a 15-foot bottle of wine to affirm that you are swimming in wine? They claim that some of these substances relieve fatigue, moisturize skin and slow aging, but what they don’t mention is if you get drunk or not.

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Over and Under Bora Bora · Mar 18, 09:38 AM



Photographer Bob Chamberlin from the L.A. Times, has taken some really beautiful pictures under and above water (and sometimes both) in Bora Bora, Tahiti. It’s hard to look at these and not want to be there right now.

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Interesting article in the Times about how economic hardship is influencing the eating behavior of people in very conservative parts of Tuscany, where “exotic” cheap ethnic foods, are gaining favor, much to the chagrin of tourism boards who want to preserve the area’s famous culinary heritage. Some places have even gone as far as to pass laws banning cheap ethnic (and fast food) in their historic city centers.

Lucca is “very closed,” said Rogda Gok, a native of Turkey and the co-owner of Mesopotamia, a kebab restaurant, in the heart of the historical center. “In Istanbul there’s other food, like German and Italian, it’s no problem,” she added. “But here in Lucca, they only want Luccan food.”

In this deeply conservative city, where even Sicilian food is considered ethnic, there are already four kebab houses, testaments to Italy’s growing immigrant population and the fact that many Italians, especially young ones, like eating non-Italian food. Offering kebabs at $5, the restaurants are also a bargain in difficult times.

Under the new law, these four can stay, but the banning of new ethnic and fast-food restaurants within the city walls has struck many here as contrary to the rules of free-market capitalism and the notion that Italy can offer more than visions of its long-dead past.

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Popadam, the thin lentil or chickpea wafer, a hugely popular appetizer in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, also has a much greater significance in South East Asia. The manufacture of the food has helped provide income for, and empower, hundreds of thousands of semi-literate women with otherwise limited job prospects. What started with seven housewives and a loan the equivalent of $1.50 USD, has fifty years later turned into an workforce of over 45,000 with annual profits over $80 million USD, and a model for sustainable business.

Mumbai-based businessman and entrepreneur Sushil Jwarijka explains: “Lijjat papads are a perfect example of how a sustainable business can be built, providing large-scale employment to rural women, who are illiterate but skilled.

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As part of an ongoing series, Ray Nayler blogs about life in Central Asia.


We arrived in Murgab after hours in the the Niva 4×4 winding, on a road much better than we had expected, across the Pamir Plateau. the Pamirs are not at all what I had expected: these are not the jagged, stupefying peaks of the Hindu Kush or the Fan. With Murgab at an elevation of 3630 meters, 4,500 to 5,000 meter peaks in the background are not much more impressive than Mission Peak, the glorified hill that shadowed my childhood in Fremont, California.

It would be spurious, however, to draw much of a comparison between those two environments: yesterday’s journey wound us past yurts dotted on summer pasture land, with hares bounding along the sturdy, high-altitude grasses like a pelt upon the ground, grazing yaks and fat, tawny gophers gazing at us curiously as we went by. We went over a winding pass and waited for the guard at the checkpoint to finish defecating in a trench behind the building and come register our passports. A stray, ginger dog that had learned the trick to staying fat kept us entertained by wagging her tail and looking sad-eyed at every arriving motorist sad-eyed until they gave her scraps.

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