Balochistan, The Unluckiest Corner Of The World

The earthquake that shook Iran and Pakistan last week has already been overshadowed by fatal tremors in Sichuan, China, a few days ago. Perhaps not surprising given that both places are in seismically active areas, but both of these disasters are repeats of far more deadly earthquakes that occurred in the last decade. In 2008, the Great Sichuan Earthquake killed almost 70,000 people, while a 2003 earthquake in the Balochistan area in Iran killed over 26,000.

That the death toll of such strong earthquakes this year is much lower (188 so far in China and 36 in Balochistan) is partly due to luck and partly due to building changes made in the wake of the last disasters. Iran was lucky that this year’s earthquake struck a less inhabited area, while China was lucky that the magnitude of the earthquake, though great, was still far less than in 2008 (6.6 vs. 7.9 is a huge difference on the logarithmic quake-measuring scale). In Iran, it’s certain that upgrades to buildings would have helped in this year’s disaster. Part of the reason the earthquake in 2003 was so devastating was due to mud brick buildings that didn’t comply with 1989 earthquake building codes. Two years ago when I visited Bam, the city devastated in 2003, almost all of the buildings were girded with steel support beams. It remains to be seen whether Chinese building integrity, which was lacking in 2008′s earthquake, will be to thank for the lower death toll this time around, but it seems likely.
The Iranian earthquake last week was actually almost directly on the border of Iran and Pakistan, in a murky and little-visited area known as Balochistan. Where Iranians and Chinese have enjoyed an immediate and effective response to the crises of the past week, the Pakistanis have not been so lucky. China has literally had to turn away volunteers from Sichuan. And Iran, which in case you’re not paying attention was just hit with its own 7.8 M earthquake, has offered earthquake aid to China. Meanwhile, Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province is suffering something of a humanitarian crisis.

Few people ever travel to Balochistan. It’s bleak and desolate and basically on the way to nowhere. Even the hippies, self-medicating their way to India along the hippie trail in the ’60s and ’70s, would divert through Afghanistan rather than going through the dusty deserts of Balochistan.

I traveled there in 2011, on my way overland to Southeast Asia. We (a convoy of travelers) were assigned armed guards along the way, who took regular naps as we trundled across the desert. The Baloch people, with their sun-beaten faces and piercing stares, often seemed sinister, but it turned out curiosity was simply mistaken for menace. Few Baloch see any Westerners except on TV, though the elder of them will remember a time pre-Partition when British were still garrisoned in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital.

I’m not naive. Balochistan is a dangerous place. Kidnappings perpetrated by al-Qaeda radicals are not uncommon (though they rarely target foreigners). Sectarian violence is a big problem. And there’s always the chance one might get in the crossfire between the Pakistan military and the stout and very armed advocates of an independent Balochistan.

But the regular Baloch, like everyone else on the planet, is just on his hustle, trying to eke out a living for himself and his family. He is abiding by ancient customs of hospitality in his native land. He is offering tea to the strange foreigner who wandered into his shop dressed in a moose toque and suede shoes in the middle of the desert. He is napping in the passenger seat of some foreigner’s car so they can safely transit his homeland. He is yelling at an idiot foreigner to turn off the bloody radio during the call to prayer, but then smiling to show he wasn’t being hostile or anything. And he is helping said sartorially inept foreigner navigate the hectic markets of Quetta to buy local dress that won’t make him stand out so damn much. So spare a thought for the Baloch and their homeland of Balochistan, a small, unlucky corner of the globe where you will probably never go.

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[Photo credit: Jae Pyl, Adam Hodge]

8 Million Bats Fly To Zambia For Annual Migration

bat For travelers who want to get away from the fake blood and costumed zombies this Halloween, there is more authentic experience to be had at Zambia’s Kasanka National Park. The spectacle is said to be the world’s largest mammal migration, with 8 million straw-colored fruit bats arriving from the Congo to eat the wild musuku fruits in the park.

During the migration an overwhelming amount of bats spiral through the skies, screeching and colliding as they return each year to settle in the fruit trees, covering them until there is no longer visible bark. The most memorable time to watch is at sunset, when the bats fly out to find food, creating a thick straw blanket in the sky.

Said Jim Holden, President of African Travel, Inc., in a press release, “The annual migration of millions of bats from the Democratic Republic of the Congo across the border to Kasanka National Park is an astonishing sight. Africa is full of such natural wonders, and most of them are not well known, as with this natural occurrence.”

For a visual idea of the bat migration, check out the gallery below. If you’re interested in seeing the bat migration for yourself, visit the African Travel, Inc. website to book a tour.

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[Image above via Shutterstock; Gallery images via Shutterstock, Kathy Richardson, Frank Willems / Kasanka Trust]

How To Stay In A Castle On Your Next Trip

castle When trying to make your travels extra special, the accommodation can really make or break the ambiance of your vacation. Vacation rentals can help with this by allowing you to stay in all types of unique properties, from the bizarre and architecturally innovative to luxurious and historical castles.

While some of these properties feature rich history, others are more modern with medieval architecture and luxurious amenities. Either way, these castle vacation rentals will make you feel like a king or queen.

For a more visual idea of some top castle vacation rentals from around the world, check out the gallery below.

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[Image above via Airbnb; Gallery images via FlipKey, HomeAway, OwnerDirect, Airbnb, Gary Heatherly, Cottages and Castles, Think Sicily, Beautiful Places]

Exploring Zion National Park In Autumn


zion national park


As summer nears its end and fall is just upon the horizon, travelers are beginning to think about where to go to check out vibrant autumn foliage. One recommendation I have is to visit Utah’s oldest national park, Zion.

The end of September is usually when the temperature begins to drop to a more bearable number in the 70s. Luckily, it’s also when the flowers turn a rainbow of colors and the already beautiful park is enhanced with bright hues of purple, red, green, orange, yellow, blue and pink. If you want the best views of changing shades, hike to the higher areas where the colors tend to change first. It’ll also reward you with a more encompassing view of the park. Think about starting in Springdale, skipping the highway, and taking the SR 9 to Virgin, then up to Kolob Terrace Road, viewing every layer of the mountains, canyons, forests and rivers until you reach over 7,500 feet.

For a visual idea of autumn in Zion, check out the gallery below.

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[Images via Shutterstock]

10 Architecturally Innovative Vacation Rentals

bird's nest vacation rental When planning a trip, sometimes a cookie-cutter hotel just won’t do it. Vacation rentals can help give you a more private and out of the ordinary experience, especially when you choose an architecturally innovative property.

From luxury tree houses that sit 60 feet above the ground to suspended spheres that look like birds’ nests, these unusual properties will help you experience your destination in a new way. They aren’t just quirky, but take into account design, surroundings and the culture of the area to create a space that’s creative and original.

For a more visual idea of some of the world’s most architecturally innovative vacation rentals, check out the gallery below.

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[Images above via Flipkey. Gallery images via Flipkey, Vacation Rentals, Holiday Rent Club, OSA Architect, Owner Direct, HomeAway]