Art and especially architecture are often seen as the exclusive realm of formally trained experts. Award-winning architects Steven and Cathi House explore the other side of that reality in a part of the world that has been at the crossroads of history for thousands of years. With more than 500 photographs and insightful commentary, they reveal the remarkable beauty of the people, land, villages, textiles, and vernacular architecture across seven countries of West Africa, situated between the Sahara Desert and Atlantic Ocean. The book celebrates the artisanship of tribal people who use building methods that are both practical and ingenious and that respond not just to local climate, materials, and topography, but also to the needs of the inhabitants with poetic insight, creating environments that are stimulating and sustainable. With their clarity, function, and beauty, these villages are living models of what community life can be.
The authors of this book are architects who travel to remote villages for inspiration and personal growth. Their wanderings chronicled here, have taken them through a number of West African countries including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.
Approaching such coffee table books as these, you expect them to be heavy on lavish photos and this book does not disappoint. The photos have a divided emphasis on both architecture and the local peoples. Although there is some inevitable crossover with European culture – such as Coca-Cola decorated building or graffiti for favourite football teams like Olympique Marseille – there is a lot more emphasis on the countries of today and their lives, rather than focus on the remnants of colonialism. Continue reading “Villages of West Africa – Steven & Cathi House”
Now this is a bridge! Wandering across it had me in mind of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the difference being that instead of a man trying to pull my heart out of my chest, it was firmly in my mouth. Especially in the middle, where despite there only being a gentle breeze it was pretty swaysome.
Before we could get there though, we had to begin our day. By the time we got going, the heat was already unforgiving and was only offset slightly by the now, de rigueur beauty. After gifting snacks to the local children and the usual group photo, we took to heading down hill at a sideways jog, as it was easier than walking believe it or not. Forty minutes of this and my already jelly legs from day two were feeling the pain and wobbliness once again.
Heading down into the above valley to the bridge was tiring, and at this point I was looking forward to ascending because I can ‘do’ climbing. The bridge itself, although not too high was another one of those wired together, trip hazards, though it does give the traveller a sense of adventure. The openness of the mountain beyond was a good reason to slap on more sun cream and led me to ask the question, if the packaging says only apply four times a day, can I overdose on it?
I was walking normally again by this point, which was handy as there were some demanding, long and steep sections of climbing (both track and path) that snaked around corners and took a good five minutes or more to climb. A brief stop by a pool to let some kind fish eat the dead skin off our feet was reviving. There followed a discussion about how much this service would cost in various countries, as we hoped nobody would call us to march again. Continue reading “A Walk in the Park Day 3”
Day two started with a nosebleed, not for me but everyone else, which is what Filipinos joke about when they speak too much English, reminding me to up my game with the language learning. Staggering out of the tent into the pleasantly cool morning air, it was hard to reconcile it with last night’s fog. This morning was composed of a beautiful blue sky and as ever, accompanied by lovely views. We were all glad it hadn’t stay foggy until we left. Before leaving we met the Barangay Captain who came to see that all was well with us. This position as well as I understand it, is pretty much the leader of the area in charge of getting things done and liaising with local government. The Barangay is the smallest administrative area so I suppose village leader would be an accurate, if inelegant way of putting it.
Gazing at the landscape it is hard not to be overawed by the raw power of the earth, geologically in evidence all around. It is terrifying to contemplate the raw forces that could carve out such gashes in the Earth, the power of glaciers, volcanoes and other such forces really are harrowing in the contemplation.
And so to the travel, the morning was lovely, hot, a few too many mosquitoes but there was a gorgeous pool to sit in after a pleasant, unhurried walk. The refreshingly cool water collecting in a natural bath tube encouraged us to all to strip down and cleanse ourselves. After such an unexpected surprise, we refilled at the last water source for a while and made our way to yet another bridge this one a lot higher but thanks to photo opportunities, everyone went across one at a time.
It was then that the struggle s started. It was up, up, and more up from the rice terraces, coming to a gradient that just went up and on for such a time. After many stops on the slope, we made it to a school where we had lunch in the grounds. It seems children run up and down these incline to the school every day, we on the other hand, dropped down and imbibe as much water as possible. Continue reading “A Walk in the Park Day 2”
On the way to our last hike, I mentioned the joy of experiencing EDSA. This time we enjoyed it at rush hour on a Friday night – which was exhausting in itself – before finally making it to a well-known fast food joint, that was to be the meeting place for our hiking group. I was grimly worrying about how I would survive three days of mountains, strung across three provinces (Benguet, Ilocos Sur, and La Union ). I have to say it was a mixed bag of results over the whole walk but victory was assured for all of us, mainly because we were awesome, and me least of all. Throughout our collective struggles there was much camaraderie and laughter and I wouldn’t swap any of it for anything, including a big pile of first editions.
Getting only half an hour’s sleep on the journey to our destination didn’t bode well, although a breakfast of chicken curry did help balance this out. The view once we stopped however was something to gladden any heart. The beauty of being surrounded by mountains with only the odd local and fellow group of hikers to greet made for an exciting feeling of alone in the wilderness. A vast sea of greenery and overlapping peaks spread far into the distance on all sides.
Once we had limbered up, we set off and it felt great to walk and breathe in the clean air, unsurprisingly we took many, many photographs. I took more on this day than any other day for reasons which will become clear as you read through each day’s adventures. A few of my fellow hikers have kindly allowed me to show their photos here which are a lot better than my efforts.
The bridge looked fun but as I approached and looked down, the usual slatting problem was in evidence. It doesn’t fill the walker with confidence seeing this and realising it is the first and easiest obstacle you will come across. It’s part of the adventure though and wouldn’t be the last time we would encounter such a bridge.
One of things I love about the travels up in this region (for we were only around about 120km from where we last hiked ) is marvelling at the road building and how challenging it must have been to get here and complete it, not to mention plan it. Once again rice terraces were in abundance and as made our first ascent we left them far below as we rose to a spectacular view of the surrounding area and every so often let out a big woop.
This is the reason why we feel compelled to travel. Before heading to new places, I always make sure to avoid all photos of anything exciting I may encounter, it was the right decision here. This vista was a stunning surprise and well worth the short hike up Mt Kupapey.
Jumping up at 6am, having had a restful first night, we loaded up on the local coffee, and with a wave at the view which was slowly becoming defogged we started on a climbing experience, that was for the first twenty minutes, brutal. Thanks, in part to the altitude and also my laziness of late with not walking too far due to the nature of the traffic around the local area. Once it levelled out and we had a rest for the obligatory selfies, it became much easier and I felt healthy, as opposed to the imagined teetering on the edge of unconsciousness.
Getting to the top generated a good feeling of camaraderie, thanks to what we were looking down on and experiencing together. It was a perfect place to just exist in the company of the few people who joined us. The terraces reminded me of Machu Picchu and I pondered how Hiram Bingham must have felt when he accidentally stumbled across it. Bizarrely the sounds of The Lion King soundtrack which was playing from someone’s mobile was oddly appropriate for the occasion.
That view alone easily justified all the travel. We then wandered over to the other side of the mountain and found yet another valley rich in beauty. It felt like a timeless place of natural rhythms, coming down the terraces it was virtually silent (which I hardly noticed at the time) apart from the odd stumble from our group, it felt like descending into a land that time forgot.
The rice terraces were pretty steep in places and the paths, a mixture of concrete or compacted soil, It made for slow going as the sun beat down but also provided many chances to take in the view and greet the odd traveller or worker who passed by. Although later in the year the terraces are a sea of green, I liked the patchwork effect and the different colours on offer. In short, it was blissful. Continue reading “Maligcong”
The jeepney rumbled off and we were left to soak in the peaceful atmosphere, hardly anyone around, no bustle of any kind ,just peace and the glorious knowledge of being in parts less travelled. As luck would have it – or should I say the kindness of Anne and Louie, who sorted this adventure out for us as a wedding gift – we landed in Suzette’s homestay which had the best view of the rice terraces.
It is certainly a place conducive to writing, especially on the balcony where all the residents can gather and load up on the free coffee, encouraged by the friendly and welcoming staff. That first afternoon – just before a generously proportioned meal of chicken and rice – I sat to reflect on our first short walk just taken and the journey that we undertook to get here. The view (below) was what met my gaze. A gentle breeze was blowing, a few birds and crickets making their own casual noise, a distant bark of one of the many dogs that roam free up here and plenty of sunshine, It is just the sort of place one would come to write a novel.
With homestays and hostels, there is always a high chance of meeting some really interesting people and as the sun went down, we made the acquaintance of good number of such people. Plenty of stories of past hikes were being exchanged, mostly in Tagalog which was fine, I got the gist but also enjoyed the game of working out what was being said and piecing sentences together as the rapid fire of conversation bounces around me.
…the challenging must be faced, namely EDSA. This highway is the longest and most congested in the country, and it’s not just the road that’s jam-packed and choked with fumes. The coaches are rammed full and people don’t give an inch and will gladly push against those seated, then barge their way off with little regard to fellow passengers or politeness. To make matters worse, a pirated version of Kingsman: The Golden Circle was playing throughout the trip.
It was a hot messy chaos,which is what happens when big businesses and all the coach stations decide to take up location in one area. After eating siomai from the local Chowking, we took to avoiding the sun and hanging around in the local malls, whilst waiting for out bus. It was a shame to see the police doing nothing about the flagrant flaunting of stolen phones. by pickpockets wanting to make some quick money. I counted 11 people with both hands full of phones offering them to the passing crowds. No wonder there are so many phone shops in the malls. Finally it was time to go, past all the passengers queuing without a ticket (if which their were many), hoping for a seat so they could get to their loved ones for the Easter weekend. Continue reading “Bound for Bontoc”