Tag Archives: tradition vs. modernity

Finding my Pepeha in New Zealand

The ceremony was supposed to be a homecoming, but I felt oddly foreign. Alex and I took our places atop Mt. Eden in Auckland, New Zealand, an extinct volcano the indigenous Maori consider tapu, or sacred and untouchable. Across from us stood Tracey and Tom, descendants of the Maori chiefs who founded the city.

Kia ora,” began Tracey, “We will now formally welcome you home to New Zealand according to formal Maori protocol.”

Our father is from New Zealand and we are full citizens. We’ve always considered New Zealand to be our distant homeland, but I’ve never lived there and never felt very Kiwi. Neither are we Maori. We are descendants of Pākehā, or European New Zealanders, and I was acutely aware that we now stood on land historically belonging to Tracey’s tribe.

“First,” he continued, “we will acknowledge the creator. Then we will bless you – our visitors – acknowledge your ancestors, and introduce them to our ancestors, who walk alongside us at all times.”

According to custom, strangers cannot enter tribal land without blessings, formal introductions, statements of intent and asking permission in the form of a song and a poem. It is a tradition originating from when New Zealand was divided amongst hundreds of warring tribes and travelers could not casually walk across the country without risking trouble.

These days, such a formal host/visitor relationship is an increasingly antiquated concept in our globalized world of vanishing borders. But to me it represented a chance to formally reconnect with my kiwi ancestry, a chance to be welcomed not just into this particular place, but into the other half of my heritage.

Continue reading on MSN Travel UK




Defining Modern Turkey

From whirling dervishes to controversial politics, the Vagabrothers discover the complex definition of modern Turkey.  Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 11 October, 2013.

The whirling dervishes felt like our last chance to find the real Turkey. As my brother Alex and I walked into the monastery, I worried that this would be another tourist trap, like so much of what we’d seen in Istanbul. But the dervishes were supposed to be different.

Dervishes are the mystics of Islam, traditionally austere mendicants similar to the sadhus of Hinduism. In Turkey, they are famous for their semas, the enchanting ceremonies in which they spin themselves into a trance until they connect directly with god.

Their image has become a symbol of Turkey and (much to our chagrin) one of the largest tourist attractions in Istanbul. I hoped this sema would be different.

Istanbul defies definition: it spans Asia and Europe, blends cultures, and balances the tradition of its Ottoman past with the modernity of the Islamic world’s largest secular republic. For Alex and me, this juxtaposition of contrasting worlds was precisely what made Istanbul so alluring.

But in the months before our visit, the fragile coexistence between tradition and modernity had slid into political conflict between young secularists and the conservative government, manifested in the protests in Taksim Square. It seemed there were two sides to the city – perhaps more distinct now than ever.

Our hotel was in Beyoğlu, one of the most modern and European quarters of the city. But to us, European meant familiar; we were in search of the foreign and exotic. When we heard the first call to prayer echo across the Bosphorus, we left modern Istanbul and dove into the traditional Turkey we’d imagined for so long.

Read the full story on MSN Travel UK.

Istanbul: Behind the Scenes (Episode 10)

BBBTV Week 10: Istanbul, Turkey

We’re getting seriously hands on in Istanbul this week, as we investigated the changing attitudes to tradition and the influence of the modern world on the eclectic Turkish city. Join us as we encounter whirling dervishes, sample sensational street food and get a real rub down in a hamam from our new friend Jamal!  We also meet up with our friend Wijnand Boon of TwalkWithMe on the final day of his three-year walk across Europe.

Music by The Spy From Cairo raps by Stevie B of Higher Minds Music.

Big thanks to this week’s sponsors: My Destination Istanbul, Sultana’s Istanbul and Didem Kinali, CAĞALOĞLU HAMAMI and the awesome Jamal, Les Arts Turcs and The Whirling Dervishes, and Viator.


Becoming a True Scot in Edinburgh

The brothers put on kilts and pretend to be Scots – only to discover what it really means to be a “true Scot.”  Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 24 September, 2013.

“We could totally start charging money for this,” said my brother Alex as we finished taking a photo with a pair of Italian tourists in front of Edinburgh Castle.  “Everyone thinks we’re Scottish.”

I laughed as I squatted down to open the camera bag, tucking my kilt to ensure that I didn’t expose myself before the queue forming outside the ticket window.

It was our first time wearing kilts, and the decision to film this week’s episode in traditional Scottish costume was producing an unexpected side-effect: while any local could tell from our accents that we were American, hoards of fellow tourists were asking for photos with ‘real Scotsmen.’

We were soon approached by an elderly Indian tourist.

“How much for a photo?” he asked Alex.

“Umm…one pound?” my brother suggested with a smile.

The man nodded and brought his family over for three snaps with his camera phone.  As we broke from our poses, I waited for Alex to say he was joking, that we were imposters.  Instead, Alex opened his palm, slipped the man’s coin into his sporran, and wished him good day.

“What?” Alex asked me defensively.  “A few more and we’ll have enough for a pint!”

Read the full article on MSN Travel UK. 


Chagras and Capotes in the Ecuadorian Andes

The Vagabrothers ponder the pursuit of authenticity as they ride horses across the Andes.  Appeared on MSN Travel UK on 5 September, 2013.

The bull stared me straight in the eyes, dug its hoof in the dirt, snorted out a hot breath of steam, and prepared to charge.

I’ve always had mixed emotions about bullfighting, but this was no time to judge the ethicality of the tradition. I was in the middle of a bullring in the Ecuadorean Andes, unarmed, waving a pink sash in front of me, trying to embody Hemingway’s definition of courage – grace under pressure.

But instead of courage I found embarrassment – the “bull” before me was actually a young calf used to teach bullfighting to children. But at 200kg, she was over twice my size and ready to skewer me unless I dodged her next charge.

Llamela!” said the torrero standing behind me. “Call her!”

I searched my mind for what to say. My nearest experiential reference was staring down an angry Rottweiler back home. I started there.

“Hey buddy.  It’s okay, I don’t want to hurt you.” I said in my most calming voice. “¿Bailamos?”

She charged.

I moved the capote right, letting her pass by as gracefully as I could, but the calf dug her head into my thigh, circling clockwise as I tried to keep one step ahead of the horns. Finally, she ripped my capote from my hands and stood on it triumphantly.

I turned to face the stands, expecting disapproval. Instead, the audience laughed and clapped – for I am now a professional dilettante.

Read the full story on MSN Travel UK.

Ecuador: Behind the Scenes (Episode 5)

BBBTV Week 5: Ecuador
Bucket List Items: Uncover the colorful world of Quito culture, become cowboys and step into a bullfighting ring!

Mad props to Stevie B for the weekly rap y muchismas gracias to these guys for making our Ecuadorian excursion amazing: My Destination Ecuador, Unique Destination Ecuador, Surtrek, Tren Ecuador, Hacienda Zuleta, Yan and the team at Project Condor Huasi, Hacienda el Porvenir, Hacienda Hato Verde, Hacienda Chorlaví, Hotel Finlandia, Hotel Patio Andaluz, Quito Turismo, Restaurante El Ventanal, Restaurante Hotel Plaza Grande, Restaurante Cinco Sentidos, and Quito Tour Bus