The Olympic Parade Of Nations: A Stroll Around The World

As a sports fanatic and traveler who’s always been fascinated by the intersection of nationalism and sport, I never miss the Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. It’s a little like a quick stroll around the world in that you get a look at athletes from 204 countries around the globe.

You can tell a lot about a country based on how their athletes dress and the way they carry themselves. It’s also a gas to listen to the broadcasters as they try to find something interesting to say about each country and their contingent. In case you missed the parade last night, here are some of the highlights and lowlights.

Borat Makes a Cameo- As the athletes from Kazakhstan made their way into the arena, I had a premonition that Bob Costas and Matt Lauer were going to say something about Borat and sure enough, they did, making reference to the fact that Borat’s version of the Kazakh anthem was played for a Kazakh athlete who won a gold medal at a shooting competition in Kuwait in March.

Andorra’s Old Geezer- Costas took comfort in noting that Joan Tomàs Roca, a 61-year-old sports shooter who served as Andorra’s flag bearer is a year older than he is. But I don’t think Roca’s had nearly as much work done.Coolest Hats- Congratulations to the Olympic contingent from Lesotho, which clearly had the best hats of the evening. Their conical, pointy bamboo hats made them look a bit like Vietnamese rice farmers.

Most Ridiculous Hats: The group from Belize was wearing the kind of hats you’d see on a carnival barker. Why?

Ignominious Distinction: As the athletes from poor Bangladesh entered the stadium, Costas informed American viewers that Bangladesh is the largest country never to win an Olympic medal as their athletes snapped photos and waved to the crowd. Woo-hoo! Now there’s something to shout about.

Most Colorful Robes- When the Cameroonian athletes were introduced, I nearly had to adjust my television set. They wore blinding, black and red robes with almost every color of the rainbow thrown in somewhere. An “A” for effort.

You Wore What? They were only on my screen for a matter of seconds, but I swear the Chilean contingent looked like extras from Zorro the Gay Blade.

Inane Commentary Part 1- Croatia’s flag bearer was a handball goalkeeper, prompting Matt Lauer to make one of the evening’s dumbest remarks.

“Handball – this is a sport that doesn’t have a great foothold in the U.S., but if you’re looking to get an Olympic medal, this would be a good sport to take up,” he said, seemingly at least half serious.

Right, the sport isn’t popular here, so go ahead and take it up, you’ll be sure to get an Olympic medal in it.

Um, We Have Nothing Whatsoever to Say About These Countries- Costas and Lauer had something to say about almost every country but in a few cases they just said the name of the country and nothing else. Surely, the Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire and the other snubbed countries are seething this morning.

Smile!- I wasn’t surprised that the athletes from North Korea weren’t smiling, (you’d be grimacing if you lived there too) but why did the flag bearers from Cape Verde and Armenia look like they were ready to kill someone? I guess they had their game faces on.

A Dig on Badminton and the Danes- Costas introduced the Danish team by mentioning that they were the best non-Asian nation at Badminton. Hmmmm. That probably ranks right up there with being the best at table tennis, excluding the Chinese. And after that ignominious distinction, Costas couldn’t resist a dig at the sport writ large.

“And if you’re looking for badminton coverage, and who isn’t, you can find it on,” he said.

Nice Boots!- The Czech team was decked out in some snazzy bright blue rubber rain boots, in a nice dig at the notoriously crap English weather.

Please Drug Test the Independent Olympic Athletes Contingent- There were four “stateless” athletes who came out under the Independent Olympic Athletes grouping and they all clearly looked like they were on something. A blonde from The Netherlands Antilles was jumping around more than an extra in a House of Pain video.

Did George Washington Sire Any Children in Palau?- If anyone can explain to me why Palau’s flag bearer was wearing what appeared to be a colonial-era wig, please let me know in the comments section.

Give That Man a Meal- Mike Tebulo, a marathon runner who served as Malawi’s flag bearer looked like he weighs about 100 pounds. (And according to his bio, he’s actually 119 lbs!)

Coolest Headcovering- Zamzam Mohamed Farah, a track athlete who was Somalia’s flag bearer, wore a power blue head-covering with a big star on her forehead. Without knowing what the cultural significance of this outfit is, I can only say that I thought it was the most badass costume of the night.

Giving Nauru a Break- Lauer mentioned that Nauru had the smallest Olympic delegation but failed to mention that it’s the fattest country in the world.

Ugliest Shirts- OK, Togo, I’m talking to you here. What was up with the garish, gold floral patterned shirts?

Shiny, Happy Spaniards- As I said from the outset, you can tell a lot about a country based upon how its athletes carry themselves and the Spaniards looked like they’d just come from a bar, befitting their nation’s late night party ethos.

Cheer Up Eritrea- So perhaps the Eritrean team has no chance at winning any medals, but why were they so dour looking? Was it the fact that they were kitted out in somber looking gray suits? Or did someone replace their coffee with Folgers crystals?

TEAM USA: Not Tough EnoughI was not a fan of Team USA’s Ralph Lauren metrosexual made-in-China outfits with the big polo player logos and cheesy berets. We want to intimidate people, don’t we? I think we could have taken a lesson from American Samoa, which had a few Rambo-esque shirtless dudes in tribal garb leading their contingent. Now he looked tough.

Tourists killed in Afar Region, Ethiopia

Five tourists have been shot dead in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region, the BBC reports.

Ethiopian State TV announced that the tourists were killed late on Monday by gunmen who had crossed over the border from Eritrea. It said they were part of an Afar rebel group trained by Eritrea.

The names and nationalities of the tourists were not released. Two other tourists were injured and are now in hospital. Another tourist escaped unharmed. The attack occurred near the active volcano Erta Ale, shown below in a photo courtesy Jean Filippo.

Details of the incident are still unclear. Al-Jazeera reports the attack happened at 5am Tuesday and that in addition to those killed, four people, including two tourists, were taken captive. Eritrea rejects the claim that they sponsored the gunmen.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war from 1998 to 2000 and have never formally declared peace. Ethiopia says Eritrea backs numerous Ethiopian rebel groups in an attempt to destabilize Ethiopia. In 2009, the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting Islamist rebels in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Somali region. Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea is heavily guarded, as I myself saw when I was there. The border region is also home to numerous large camps filled with Eritrean refugees fleeing what they say is an oppressive regime back home.

The Afar region attracts a steady stream of adventure travelers because of its rugged landscape and the reputation of being one of the hottest places on the planet. It has always been considered a lawless region and some Ethiopian tour operators I know refuse to go there.

This sad incident may have an adverse effect on Ethiopia’s growing tourist industry. This industry is bringing much-needed hard currency and foreign investment into the country and employs an increasing number of people. I have spent four months in the country, doing a road trip through northern Ethiopia and living in Harar, and never experienced any problems. Adventure travelers need to remember, however, that the level of safety in some nations varies widely depending on the region.

Map courtesy Dr. Blofeld.

Ancient port discovered in Egypt

Archaeologists working in Egypt have discovered a harbor on the Red Sea that was used for international trade.

The excavation at Mersa Gawasis has revealed traces of an ancient harbor. It’s long been known that the Egyptians traded down the coast of Africa, but the location of their embarkation was unknown. A famous carving at Deir el-Bahari, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, shows an ocean-going vessel like the one pictured above and scenes a land with thatched huts and exotic items for sale such as ivory and giraffes. Inscriptions identify the land as Punt but don’t mention where it is. Archaeologists have speculated that it was in the Horn of Africa, either in Eritrea or Djibouti, or where the modern unrecognized states of Somaliland or Puntland are today.

The first recorded voyages to Punt started in the reign of the Pharaoh Sahure, who ruled from 2487-2475 BC. Regular trading missions were sent out for centuries to buy exotic items for Egypt’s elite. Queen Hatshepsut’s famous engravings of Punt date to around 1490-1460 BC.

Scholars have traditionally been doubtful of the Egyptians’ ability to make long sea voyages. Further excavation at Mersa Gawasis may change this view and open up new possibilities for Egyptian influence on other ancient cultures. While the excavations at Mersa Gawasis are not yet open to public view, Deir el-Bahari is a popular attraction and you can wonder at the scenes depicting the mysterious land of Punt for yourself.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]