Boipeba and Lençóis, Brazil
The site of the first landing of the Portuguese in what is now Brazil, the state of Bahia is historically and culturally significant.
But I’m not ready for that yet: time for a break from all the educational travel! Bahia’s also blessed with stunning nature, from the palm-fringed coast (which includes the namesake Baía de Todos os Santos, Bay of All Saints) to the lush, mountainous interior.
Southern Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan
The World Nomad Games gave me a small taste of the scenery of Issyk-Kul, and with the games over, I was eager to explore it some more. With plenty of tourists bunched together, the day after the closing ceremonies, all heading in the same direction — a bit of a rarity in this part of the world — it was remarkably easy to group up for virtually any activity, whether lakeside or off to a jailoo.
Issyk-Kul is the 10th-largest lake in the world by volume, and the second-largest alpine lake in the world after Peru/Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca. It may not look like much on a map, but its deepest point is 668m — pretty crazy! I had a quick swim between kok boru matches back in Cholpon-Ata, and was itching for a few days by the lake, but with the tail end of summer approaching, I decided to wait a little longer, and do a bit of mountain hiking before the weather got too cold.
The Issyk-Kul region seems markedly less Kyrgyz than the rest of the country (save for internationally-minded Bishkek), with people from Siberia (Russia) and Kazakhstan having a prominent presence, not just as vacationers, but as long-term residents as well. After all, with the only other large body of water in proximity being the Arctic Ocean far to the north, it’s the only bearably swimmable body of water they’ve got! But surprisingly for a place like this, much of the lake shore is underdeveloped, dotted with humble villages, the odd small resort, faded and few tourist shops, and occasional run-down or abandoned settlements.
Despite being a sliver of an island (along with even tinier ones under its jurisdiction) completely dwarfed by the mainland, Zanzibar has a special status within Tanzania. After all, it used to be an independent country until it joined up with Tanganyika (the mainland) to form Tanzania. With a fabled trade history of its own and a Swahili culture that isn’t just limited to speaking the language, it feels entirely distinct. Even the people look different — many people of Arab (Zanzibar was a sultanate until its revolution) and Indian descent (Indians were British subjects at the time Zanzibar was a British protectorate) continue live here, and many have intermarried with the indigenous population, meaning people here have wildly varying skin colours and builds. And while mainland Tanzania has a pretty large Muslim population already, something like 99% of Zanzibaris are Ibadi Muslim. Every woman’s wearing a veil and/or niqab, and most men are wearing a hat. So yes, like the culturally similar Mombasa in Kenya, but far more concentrated.
Stone Town is a joy to wander, absorb, and take in. Buildings dating back to who-knows-when are all designed with Swahili architecture, with ornate doors, arches, windows, and awnings. Even refurbishments and new buildings all carry the same design philosphy. The town is a mess of disorganised and cramped alleys blocked off by tall buildings, which provides shade from the unrelenting heat but makes you walk in it for longer anyway since you’re bound to get lost a million times. (I never stopped sweating from the moment I got to the island, day or night.)