Sunday At The Market In Tlacolula

“Donde esta el autobus por Tlocolula?”

The question was met with a quizzical look. Where was this gringa trying to go?

Perhaps I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly.

“Tloco… Toco… Tlaca…” I stammered.

“Ah, Tlacolula.”

Si. There.

I don’t suppose the makeshift bus stops on the highways of Oaxaca state see many tourists. But somehow, through a series of bumpy bus rides and a long stretch of walking along the side of the road, I had arrived at one.

Earlier in the day, I had decided to escape Oaxaca city for the villages of the Valle de Oaxaca, a vibrant region filled with talented craftsmen, small workshops and stunning scenery. I had discovered that the Tlacolula held a weekly Sunday market, but all attempts to secure a private bus in town had failed – not many tourists visit the small town, about an hour and a half east of the city.

So instead, I decided to try public transport. In time, I found the right bus, and after a cramped hour-long ride I disembarked at a small, dusty station.

%Gallery-181090%It was 10 a.m. and the streets were packed with pushcarts, pedestrians and small pop-up restaurants, with families packed into picnic tables eating tamales. Vendors sold everything from onions to electronics to handmade wooden furniture and gigantic aluminum cooking vats.

This wasn’t a market for tourists. This was a market for Oaxacans.

My tan coloring lent me a degree of anonymity, and I walked peacefully through the stalls, without the hawking and hustling I had become accustomed to in downtown Oaxaca. I stopped for a taco, and then for an horchata. I spent 30 minutes sipping mezcal with a third-generation distiller and another 45 learning about natural dyes and handlooms from a Teotitlan del Valle textile weaver. Enchanted, I left with a sweet passionfruit liqueur and a colorful Zapotec-inspired rug.

I continued through the food stalls of the covered market, where the scent of raw meats mingled with the charcoal from the BBQ pits set up to grill them. Tripe, chicken feet, whole rabbits with the fur still on. Your wish was their command. An old woman stirring a huge pot of stew reached out her fingers to offer me a bite.

Instead, I headed to the main plaza of Tlacolula, a peaceful spot bordered by the magnificent 16th-century Parroquia de la Virgen de la Asunción. Taking a seat, I breathed in the sights and sounds of the village: the meats, the heat, the bougainvillea. I watched as merchants chatted and children played and a single balloon ascended high into the sky.

The ride had been worth it.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Discover Scandinavia In Washington DC: Nordic Cool 2013

Aurora Borealis, new Nordic cuisine, ice hotels, hot springs, fjords, moose, meatballs and music? Scandinavia is at the top of the list for a lot of travelers these days. But if you can’t book a ticket to the northern countries this year, Washington, D.C., might be your next best bet.

The city is the host of Nordic Cool 2013, a month-long international festival celebrating the culture of Scandinavia, taking place at the Kennedy Center from February 19 to March 17, 2013.

Featuring theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, cuisine and film, the festival aims to highlight the diverse cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Áland Islands. That’s a lot of Scandinavia in one month.

There is a wide selection of free events that are open to the public, including exhibits on Nordic design and plenty of musical performances. In fact, a total of more than 750 artists, musicians, dancers and writers, will descend upon the capital for the festival, all in an attempt to answer the question, “What is Nordic?”

There’s no simple answer to that, but at least you know it will be high on the cool factor.

[Photo Credit: Nordic Cool 2013]

The Best Places In The US To Celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival as it’s also known – is a Chinese celebration that marks the start of new life. Each year is associated with an animal from the Chinese zodiac and 2013 will welcome the year of the snake.

New Year is the most important holiday in China (a lot like Christmas is in the West), and Chinese families celebrate by buying gifts, food and clothing. However, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival if there weren’t a few activities designed to bring in good luck, so families will thoroughly clean their houses – sweeping out any bad luck and making way for good fortune. They’ll also decorate their homes with red paper lanterns, which signify luck, wealth and prosperity.

For Westerners, though, the most prominent part of Chinese New Year has always been the colorful parades put on by local Chinese communities. Lion dances, giant dragon costumes, floats, music and fireworks are all part of the festivities. Want to join in? Read on to learn more about what you can expect at some of the top Chinese New Year celebrations in America.

San Francisco

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown in the United States, and Chinese New Year Parades (see image above) have been taking place there since the 1860s when Chinese immigrants to the area decided to showcase their culture. The event has grown into the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, drawing nearly a million spectators each year. It has even been recognized as one of the best festivals in the world by the International Festival and Events Association.

San Francisco’s evening procession is one of the few illuminated parades left in the country. So in addition to colorful floats, dance groups, bands, stilt walkers and drummers, expect to see lots of lights. The pièce de résistance? A 268-foot golden dragon, which will require a team of 100 people from the martial arts community to carry it through the streets.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade takes place on Saturday February 23 at 5:15 p.m. The procession kicks off from Second and Market St. and makes its way to Chinatown where it concludes. You can get route and visitor information here. In addition to the parade, the city will also be hosting a Chinese New Year Flower Market, a Miss Chinatown USA pageant and a Chinese New Year Run.

New York City

At nearly half a million people, New York has the largest Chinese American population of any city in the U.S. – so it’s not surprising that the Big Apple puts on several different events to mark Chinese New Year.

First up, there’s the Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival. Here you can enjoy drumming and dance performances, and munch on Asian fare from one of the many food stalls. However, what you’ve really come for are the pyrotechnics – in previous years, the event organizers have set off more than 600,000 firecrackers. The festival is not just about celebrating the New Year with a bang, however – the loud noises from the firecrackers are believed to chase away evil spirits. The Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival takes place on Sunday, February 10 from 11 a.m. at Sara Roosevelt Park.

Next up, there’s the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. This event, which is in its 14th year, boasts decorated floats, performers in elaborate costumes, marching bands and more. The parade takes place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m., starting in Little Italy and winding its way through the main streets of lower Chinatown.

And finally, don’t miss the Chinese New Year Flower Market. Filling the home with flowers and food is a traditional part of Chinese New Year. At this flower market, you’ll find arts and crafts, as well as plenty of blooms to bring prosperity into your new year. From February 8-10 at Columbus Park. For more information about New York’s festivities, click here.


Chicago‘s Chinatown is a vibrant community home to 10,000 people and 400 businesses including ethnic shops and restaurants. The neighborhood celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, which it marked with a massive Chinese New Year festival. This year’s event is sure to be another great one.

Previous year’s parades have featured marching bands, colorful floats, lion dancers and the obligatory dragon dance – a team of skilled performers who bring life to the 100-foot-long dragon costume. The dragon is believed to represent power and nobility, and like many things that take place during the New Year celebrations, it is a bearer of good luck.

Chicago’s Lunar New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m. along Chinatown’s Wentworth Ave. See here for more information.

[Photo credits: Flickr users Robert Raines, Howard Brier, and Yenna]

Russian Forest Now Features 170-Foot-Long Trampoline (VIDEO)

At Archstoyanie, an annual festival held in the forests of Nikola-Lenivets, Russia, architects from Estonian design firm Salto created a 170-foot-long trampoline. Dubbed “Fast Track,” the elongated trampoline acts similar to a people mover at an airport. Except in this case, instead of helping you get from one place to another in haste, Fast Track was designed to allow users to experience their environment in a new way. Here’s what the architects have to say about it:
‘Fast track’ is a integral part of park infrastructure, it is a road and an installation at the same time. It challenges the concept of infrastructure that only focuses on technical and functional aspects and tends to be ignorant to its surroundings. ‘Fast track’ is an attempt to create intelligent infrastructure that is emotional and corresponds to the local context. It gives the user a different experience of moving and perceiving the environment.
For the past seven years, architects and designers have been installing work in this remote region of Russia, which is about four hours from Moscow, as part of the Archstoyanie festival. Today, the creators of the festival say the park acts as a laboratory for experiments in art, architecture and socio-cultural practices.

Look through more pictures and watch a video of people bouncing along on the massive trampoline – which, according to Colossal, where we first caught glimpse of the project, is actually nearly as long as a city block – after the jump.

Watch people bounce along on the giant trampoline below in the video below:

[Photo credit: Nikita Šohov & Karli Luik (Courtesy of Salto)]

Thailand’s Naga Fireball Festival

“Do you believe in the Naga?” the hotel receptionist asks me as I checked in to my room in Udon Thani, Thailand.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I’ve never seen one. Do you?”

“Oh yes!” She says, and the clerk behind her nods as well.

Across Asia, the Naga is a mythical serpent-like creature. It plays a role as a snake in the Mahabarata, takes the form of a dragon in China, and in northern Thailand and Laos along the Mekong River, the Naga is a waterborne serpent that protects residents from danger.

Once a year along the Mekong, this Naga spits fireballs into the sky. The phenomenon always occurs at the end of Buddhist Lent, on the 11th full moon of the lunar calendar. In Thailand’s Nong Khai Province, festivities are full-on, with hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the river’s banks in front of temples. Nong Khai town is the most well known spot for festivities but sees the fewest fireballs – it’s best to head out of town to either Phon Phisai or Rattanawapi, 50 and 80 kilometers downriver from Nong Khai, respectively.

This year, I set up in front of Wat Tai in Phon Phisai. Last year 100,000 spectators watched for fireballs here, but only two were observed. I’m hopeful that the Naga won’t let me down this year.The heat and humidity were stifling under the darkening sky, and the acrid smoke from fireworks coated my skin. Bats flit about overhead while flies and other insects landed on my damp neck and arms. The Mekong rippled past, wide and silent and muddy, and the night sky was dotted with dozens of floating lanterns, their flames glowing like Shakespeare’s nights’ candles. Along the water, a long boat glided slowly by, only its twinkling lights visible. It looked like a bedazzled centipede crawling through the dark.

The crowd extended as far as I can see in the night. Across the river, Laos was comparatively dark and silent, with only the occasional roman candle going off.

About an hour and a half after sunset, a line of white-robed people marched from the temple behind me, making an offering to the river. Then, we waited. Surely the Naga wouldn’t disappoint this expectant audience? After about 20 minutes a yell waved across the crowd, and everyone jumped to their feet and looked downriver. I didn’t catch sight of that fireball, but after another ten minutes I did.

The fireballs shoot quickly and vertically from the river, so fast they’re halfway gone before I notice them. They are wispy and faint, like ghosts or wallflowers: something difficult to see, even when you’re looking right at it. In comparison, the floating lanterns are bright, leaden suns, floating large and lazily above the river. The fireballs disappear quickly, dissipating about 100 meters up into the dark. I saw four fireballs that night, but several more were sighted after I left.

For the nonbelievers, there are a couple of explanations for the fireballs (also called “Mekong lights”). One theory holds that methane gas trapped under the river bed finds just the right conditions this time of year, and is released and ignited upon surfacing. This theory doesn’t explain why it only happens on this particular full moon in presumably varying weather conditions throughout the years.

The other theory is that the lights are simply tracer fire shot up by the Lao across the river. While compelling, the Lao vehemently deny it, and it also does not explain how the lights are shot vertically from the center of the river. When a Thai television show “revealed” this theory, residents on either side of the Mekong rioted.

For the hundreds of thousands of spectators, the Naga has made its presence known.
To see the Naga fireballs yourself, head to Northeast Thailand. Flights and trains arrive in Udon Thani, about an hour from the town of Nong Khai. Once in Nong Khai, enjoy the festivities there or take a bus further out to Phon Phisai or Rattanawapi. By the time five fireballs were witnessed in Phon Phisai, this year, 100 had already been counted in Rattanawapi. Be sure to arrive early and stake out a riverside spot before sunset; the crowds are enormous.

[Photos: Catherine Bodry]