Top travel destination countries? Canada is number one and Nigeria is. . .?

When asked the to respond to the statement, “I would like to go to visit this country if money were no object,” Canada ranked number one in a recent global survey conducted by Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index.

Where was the U.S. in the mix of 50? Number 10. Harump!

Steve Stephens, the travel editor for the Columbus Dispatch offered up these tidbits last Sunday and provided the ranking for the other top five choices plus provided some reasons for the results.

From 2nd to 5th in that order:

  • Italy
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • France

What’s your guess for number 50? No, it’s not Nigeria.

Number 50 goes to Iran. The people who responded to the survey must not have read my post on how friendly people in Iran actually are or have seen the trailer for I RAN Iran or the video postcards film.

Nigeria is number 49 and lost a second to last place standing to Saudi Arabia.

Estonia was 47 and Lithuania was 46. Stephens begs to differ with these two small countries’ close to last place spots. Pointing out that both countries’ capitals have town sections listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, he vouches for their beauty and interest.

One theory for Estonia and Lithuania’s poor showing is that possibly people who took the survey knew nothing about them so skipped them altogether when checking off boxes for possible destinations.

I can vouch for Nigeria as a worthwhile destination if you can get parachuted in and airlifted out to avoid customs. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

Why does Canada rank so highly? Its natural beauty for one thing.

If I could go anywhere in the world where money is no object, I’d probably pick Bolivia–or Peru. How about you?

Photo of the Day (12.14.08)

There’s something inherently beautiful in the daily rituals of life. A man slowly walking down a quiet street. A farmer planting a rice paddy. Merchants selling their goods at the market. Perhaps that’s what caught my eye in this photo of two hawkers in Nigeria from Lola Akinmade. It has a certain “reportage” slice-of-life style to it, as if the viewer was privy to an intimate moment we might not have seen otherwise. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the scene, but somehow it still catches your eye, and that’s why I think it works.

Have any travel photos you’d like to share with the world? Why not add them to our Gadling pool on Flickr? We might just pick yours as our Photo of the Day.

Uncovering the history of African pop music

We love music here at Gadling, and we’re always on the lookout for great new sounds to accompany our travels. Earlier this summer, Aaron posted an interesting feature on Asian music, a frequently overlooked source for some hidden pop gems. But for anyone who’s hungry for some fresh sounds, there’s no greater treasure trove of amazing pop music than the continent of Africa.

When one thinks of Africa, it’s unfortunate that the first associations that come to mind are often famine, civil strife and abject poverty. However, the many regions of Africa are home to rich musical traditions. In addition to their homegrown musical styles, 20th Century African musicians played a pivotal role in the development of Western pop, creating a rich cross-pollination with musical styles ranging from the Blues to Psychedelic Rock to Funk. From the Proto-Blues Gnawa music of Northern Africa, to Funk and Disco-laden rock of 1970’s Nigeria, to the jazzy Mbalax of Senegal, African pop offers us an unmatched depth and breadth of choices for even the most casual listener.

Over the last few years, I’ve stumbled upon some hidden gems that have ignited an obsessive search into the annals of African pop. I’ve unearthed a few of my favorites here – it’s by no means a comprehensive listing, but any music fan will surely want to give these albums a listen. Click below for Gadling’s top African pop music picks and make sure to leave us some of your own favorites in the comments.
Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos
The 1970’s were a heady time in Nigeria. Having officially gained its independence from the United Kingdom just 10 years earlier, the citizens of Nigeria were in an optimistic mood, stoked by the country’s booming new oil economy. Naturally, this outpouring of optimism found its way into the country’s music scene, particularly in the capital of Lagos. Building off the wild success of Nigerian music superstars such as Fela Kuti, a range of Nigerian bands began to experiment, combining European and American musical sounds with their own homegrown musical influences.

Nigeria 70 is a three-disc compilation of this definitive period in Nigerian musical history. The funky tracks on this outstanding compilation run the gamut from Jazz to Afrobeat to Proto-Disco. The set also comes packaged with a five hour documentary chronicling the period’s many personalities and groups. If you like music, this is about as essential as it gets.

Chrissy Zebby Tembo – My Ancestors
The 1974 album “My Ancestors” by Zambian guitarist Chrissy Zebby Tembo and his band Ngozi Family is full of catchy hooks and fuzzed out psychedelic guitar solos. What Tembo lacks in proper singing style he more than makes up in personality and the deft musicianship of his guitar and backing band, Ngozi Family. It’s a funky, warm and delightfully carefree record for an artist caught in the midst of considerable violence and political unrest in his 1970’s homeland.

Ali Farka Toure – Self Titled
Perhaps there is no more iconic symbol of the rich history of blues than West African guitarist Ali Farka Toure. Toure, who passed away in 2006, is known as the father of the blues. This unpretentious rice farmer from the West African nation of Mali, frequently cited as the African John Lee Hooker, was strongly influenced by the rich Arabic musical traditions of North Africa. His virtuoso guitar playing is starkly beautiful, mournful and infectiously catchy. Though Ali Farka Toure released a number of albums, including a collaboration with guitar impresario Ry Cooder, his best work is probably his self titled debut. The track “Amandrai,” is from this first album:

Amadou & Mariam – Dimanche a Bamako
This 2005 album, produced by Malian husband and wife Amadou & Mariam, and produced by world music star Manu Chao, catapulted the pair to international superstardom. Despite their recent fame, Amadou & Mariam represent a collaboration that dates back more than 30 years. Perhaps most remarkable is that both musicians are blind – they met at the Bamako Institute for the Young Blind in Mali’s capital, kicking off what would become a lifelong partnership. Encapsulating many of the same Malian blues influences as Ali Farka Toure, Amadou & Mariam’s album Dimance a Bamako manages to be delightfully catchy, exuberant and full of life.

Flying through Lagos, Nigeria? Don’t be the first one off the plane.

That’s the advice Gadling pal Chris Blattman recently linked to, in a hilarious story of forged boarding passes, overcrowded planes, and stranded passengers in Lagos, Nigeria.

The story goes like this, via the blog Siphoning off a Few Thoughts: “[A man] got on a flight in Lagos to find it completely full…plus one. One person was standing in the aisle with no seat. The flight attendants went through and checked that everyone had a boarding pass, which they did. (Apparently someone had a forged pass; welcome to Lagos.) The staff then made an announcement that everyone was going to de-plane and that they were going to check everyone’s boarding pass carefully.

“As soon as the first person stepped off the plane, the staff slammed and locked the airplane door, despite the person’s cries and banging on the door. Problem solved.”

Ha! I love that when it doesn’t happen to me.

Donating blood: Your travel history says yes or no

When I went to the library yesterday morning I wasn’t planning on donating blood, but there was a sweet older American Red Cross volunteer with lovely white hair that looks like spun sugar. She was so happy thinking that I had come to sign up when I walked towards her. I was actually on my way to meet with my writing group, but I didn’t want to disappoint her and promised I’d donate before I left. “Oh, you came back,” she said after I re-appeared to sign up on her sign-up sheet when my meeting was over.

Call me co-dependent, but there I was in the blood donation room running through the list of questions about my whereabouts to see if I could give blood or not. Sadly, I haven’t donated blood since I was in the Peace Corps. First, I couldn’t. After living in a country with malaria you’re supposed to wait for a few years. Now the wait is three years. Back when I was in the Peace Corps, I think it was longer. I kept trotting back to Africa each time my donation window appeared. With Mali, Senegal and The Gambia in my distant past, those weren’t a concern yesterday. Nigeria was a red flag.

Anyone who has lived in Nigeria since 1977 can’t donate blood. I have traveled there, but since it was only for 6 weeks I was given the all clear. (The other countries that have similar restrictions are: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Niger.) There is a form of HIV called Type O in these countries that blood screening can’t detect, thus the restriction.

Also on the list of concern are European countries. If you’ve been in European countries of a cumulative time of 5 months since January 1, 1980, you also can’t donate blood. There are more restrictions if you’ve lived or traveled in the United Kingdom. The restrictions are due to Mad Cow disease.

Looking at all the restrictions, it doesn’t take much for world travelers to get bumped off acceptable donor status. As more people travel, I wonder how much this will have an impact on blood supply? I’m glad I was able to add my pint since Asia, where I’ve lived and traveled the most, has an all clear. (See eligibility guidelines to see if you can donate.)