OVER THE THREE-DAY Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, Canada, I witnessed the great pride of elders as they watched their children and grandchildren dance, drum and sing, celebrating and preserving their rich culture.
We were a mix of Indigenous people, some in colourful regalia, and non-Indigenous people that included local mayors, business leaders, and myself. We paddled in sync to the shared traditional territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to ask for permission to come ashore, a time-honored protocol. It was a historic day, as this had never been done before in the history of Victoria.
Chief Ron Sam of Songhees First Nation welcomed us ashore and stated the significance of the canoe ceremony when he said:
“You know I think it’s important, the acknowledgment, when we’re all in a canoe, pulling in the same direction. You know, I think that’s what we want to achieve on a daily basis.”
It was an honour to be in one of 3 First Nations canoes during the historic Welcoming of Canoes ceremony. Watch a short 30-second video of my experience.
For authentic Indigenous cultural experiences, attractions and events in Canada, visit:
Pampering a rescued Asian elephant at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai, Thailand was one of my favourite experiences in 2015. We joined them in the river and helped them stay cool by throwing buckets of water on them. It was a heartwarming experience and wonderful to watch them play freely after their ‘bath’.
ENP is a sanctuary for rescued elephants from the tourism and entertainment trades in Thailand. Every elephant has a heartbreaking story. To help, you can visit ENP as a day visitor or overnight guest or you can stay longer and volunteer.
Also, don’t ride elephants in Thailand, South Africa or anywhere. They are wild animals even if born in captivity. In order to ride an elephant in the tourism industry they need to be ‘broken’ and there is a lot of evidence that states the process is very cruel.
If you love elephants that much and want to be close to them, please consider visiting them at Elephant Nature park instead. You can walk with them, bathe them and even have your photo taken with them.
One of my favourite things to do when I visit British Columbia is to go on a whale watching tour. I’ve been to BC several times and have been on many whale watching tours in Victoria, Tofino and Vancouver, British Columbia.
While on a sunset whale watching tour in the waters of the Salish Sea near Victoria, we were surrounded by a family of orca whales. Suddenly, an orca whale came out of the water to check us out.
Shortly after the above photo was taken, a mother and baby orca swam under our boat, twice. We also had a rare opportunity to watch Orca whales as they taught their young how to hunt for porpoises and saw a humpback whale and seals. It was my favourite whale watching tour to date.
I highly recommend Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia for these reasons:
They are Canada’s first carbon-neutral, eco-adventure whale watching company
I am drawn to learning about the world’s cultures. It is the reason I travel and attend events that focus on art, music and dance. I believe artists and performers are the keepers of traditions, stories, cultural beliefs and the identity of people.
The Folk Art Alliance brings this together beautifully as they play host to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In one weekend in July, you meet artists from around the world and learn about their art and culture. It is also an opportunity to make a difference with your purchase. In 2015 there were 173 artists from 57 countries represented at this truly international market.
Mariano’s Tree of Life yarn painting (pictured below) was chosen as the theme image for this year’s market. I had a chance to speak with his son Cilau about this piece.
“On the left side we have the feminine side, on the right side, we have the masculine side they represent the balance of the opposites and how it always takes two opposite forces to create life. In this case, it’s a girl that’s also following the traditional path. When we see the tree, representing the tree of life and its abundance, it’s abundance is represented through the different living creatures that are living on the tree. Small things such as the bees are important because the bees are a metaphor of ourselves, the bees are hard-working animals, they live in the community, and they are the caretakers of the queen bee. In our case, we work really hard in the corn fields, we live in the community, and we are the caretakers of Mother Earth as if it was the queen bee. When we see the moon, the moon is the biggest feminine figure, the fire represents the masculine figure, again two opposite forces that unite and create life. The ones that are in the hands of the male represents the prayer wand that is used for healing physically and spiritually, but also for channelling the healing energy. This is mainly to honour life, and it’s duality.” – Cilau Valedez
I noticed the art of Manisha Mishra and was particularly drawn to her Tree of Life paintings. When I was in India in February, I met an artist whom I commissioned to create a Gond art painting of the Tree of Life and animals I had seen on my visit to India. Manisha’s paintings reminded me of it, so I stopped to chat with her about her work and purchased a tree of life with a peacock. Manisha is a Madhubani painter from Behar in North eastern India.
I’m not sure what it is about the Tree of Life that I love, maybe it is the fact that it is an important symbol in many cultures around the world. I wear a pendant of one around my neck, and it has become a part of my logo.
Here’s what Manisha says about the piece I purchased, pictured below:
“This painting is showing the peacock on the tree of life, the peacock is a symbol of love, and we say that all your wishes come true under the tree of life. In our tradition, we get married to the tree before getting married to the groom. So we say that the tree takes on all the bad omens, so you live happily ever after. That is a Hindu philosophy” – Manisha Mishra
Wandering the market, I came across these forged-metal cow bells made by Janmamad Salemamad Luhar of India. Knowing that every piece at the market is handcrafted, I was intrigued to find out a bit more about them. I learned that each bell has its unique sound and that cows were outfitted with them so their owners would find them again just by recognizing the sound. This is an ancient art in Janmamad’s community.
Being from Canada, I was happy to see the Indigenous culture in Canada represented at the market. I met up with Haida artist Gwaii Edenshaw of Haida Gwaii and learned about his art. Haida Gwaii is an archipelago on the North Coast of British Columbia and is made up of about 150 islands.
With my 2nd visit to the market and with many of the artists returning, it’s also a reunion of sorts. I was happy to see Khin Maung Htwe of Myanmar again. I wrote about his puppetry after the market last year. If it wasn’t for the market, I might not have known about a 600-year-old tradition and his puppet theatre in Yangon. I can’t wait to attend a performance when I visit my paternal ancestral home of Myanmar in Yangon this October.
I followed the sound of the djembe, a drum that originated in West Africa and came upon a booth of Nigerian drummer, Akeem Ayanniyi. I was reminded of his performance on the market stage last year. It was wonderful to see people joining in and making music together with the drums at his booth.
I couldn’t help but feel like I was travelling the world as I saw a diverse display of folk art and heard a myriad of languages spoken. When I hear languages from around the world especially ones I recognize from places I’ve travelled to, it brings me back to those places like India, Cuba and Morocco.
I was especially happy to see returning artists from South Africa Xolile Ndlovu and my dear friend Lulama Sihlabeni. If you knew me, you would know about my special connection to this beautiful country and people that began with a chance visit to eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha in December 2012. It has since deepened through 4 more visits to South Africa and by spending time with the women of eKhaya eKasi after starting a mobile photography program there. Hearing isiXhosa in a place, I didn’t expect to hear it brought me right back to my times spent in Khayelitsha.
Nowhere else in the world can you experience this under one ‘roof’, the Santa Fe sky. If you are ever in Santa Fe in July, make it a point to attend. It is truly a one of a kind market that unites people through art.
About 30 minutes from the centre of Cape Town lies Khayelitsha, a Township, home to over 1 million residents. In the heart of Makhaza, a neighbourhood in Khayelitsha is eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre. It is home to The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa, a women’s mobile photography and digital literacy initiative I founded in May 2013 and several other programs.
All photos by the Andrea except where noted.
eKhaya eKasi generates income through product sales in its on-site art boutique, business to business orders and through tourism. The art boutique focuses on handmade crafts such as shwe shwe heart ornaments and bags, bead and wire products and photography products by artists in the women’s skills development programs, from the community and other areas of South Africa.
The goal is to draw tourists into a community that did not previously have tourism attractions, to offer cultural exchange and to provide economic opportunity to the artists and residents that partner and work with the centre.
Every sale and visit offer travellers an opportunity to visit projects that are making a difference in their communities, contribute to the local economy and make a difference with your purchases.
In November 2014, I returned to South Africa for my 4th visit, but this time with my husband and 2 sons (ages 9 & 4) in tow. My father also joined us for part of the trip.
If you’ve been following me for a while you would have heard of a women’s mobile photography development initiative I founded, The Heart of a Woman Project. The South Africa project is based at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre, a non-profit community centre in the heart of Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha.
Go on a meaningful and inspiring tour to development projects in the townships with Uthando SA. Uthando is an award-winning fair trade tourism organization doing amazing work. Your tour directly helps the development projects you visit. Visit eKhaya eKasi.
Visit the V&A waterfront for shopping or a meal, they have a great playground
Visit Boulders Beach in Simonstown but get off the path and take the boardwalk down to the beach for the best view of the penguins. Swim or splash in the ocean and have a picnic.
Visit Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, you may see ostriches and baboons.
Visit Muizenberg and watch the surfers or go to the nearby waterslides or mini golf. There is a playground at the main beach and plenty of restaurants. Have a falafel at Yoffi’s
Visit the smaller and less busy St. James Beach, they have those colourful beach huts (change rooms) too and a great tidal pool for swimming.
Drive Chapman’s Peak drive and stop at the lookout points
Have fish ‘n chips in Kalk Bay, try Kalky’s or Lucky’s.
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Family Friendly Safari:
There are an overwhelming number of places to choose from for a safari in South Africa. Not all places are created equal and are family friendly. Some lodges welcome children 6 years of age and older while others children have to be 12 years of age and older. I chose Naledi Game Lodges for our family safari as I had been there a few times and enjoyed the intimate atmosphere and South African family owned safari lodge. My sons were 4 and 9 years old at the time and were welcome on all the game drives.
What I love about a safari in a private reserve:
You get the knowledge and keen eyes of the guides and trackers
Someone else does the driving so you can enjoy the scenery and take photos
You often get a closer look at the wildlife as you go off-road to follow the sound of the cracking branches by the elephants or follow the lion pride as they look for their next meal.
The drives are 3 hours each but you stop for drinks, snacks and a bathroom break, bush style. My boys fell asleep for a short nap every game drive (early mornings) but didn’t miss any of the action.
Tip: If you visit Naledi Game Lodges, make sure to visit Rosie’s hide while there, it overlooks a waterhole. Enjoy the sounds of the bush and see what comes by for a drink. Have you heard of Africam, 24-hour webcam streaming from South Africa? Naledi has 3 webcams on their property, one at Rosie’s, one overlooking the river at Naledi Enkoveni and the newest one is a cat cam (ground level). It was great to show my boys the cams before their visit and we have watched them since our visit.
Naledi is an award-winning luxury lodge, but I think you would be surprised at how reasonably priced it is. They have 2 lodges, we stayed at the Naledi Enkoveni lodge. At the time of our visit I hadn’t stayed at Bush Camp, I have since stayed at both lodges and cannot decide which I like better, both Bush Camp and Enkoveni are a real treat.
Spend 1-2 nights on the Panorama route to enjoy God’s Window and Blyde River Canyon on the way to Limpopo.
Stay at Tsanana Log Cabins at the Africa Silks Farm near Graskop in Mpumalanga. It’s a great place for families on the Panorama route and you can take a tour.
Have pannekoek (pancakes) at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop
Visit the Giant Baobab tree also known as the Glencoe Baobab near Hoedspruit. It is said that the tree is over 2000 years old. There is a small restaurant on the property, they also serve wonderful pannekoek.