Tag Archives: cultural experiences

Home / Europe / Spain / Nativity Poop | Who is Barcelona’s Poo Figurine?

Nativity Poop | Who is Barcelona’s Poo Figurine?

Updated: December 21, 2016
By: Chris Kosmopoulos
The shitter

A typical display at a random Barcelona souvenir shop. OK Apartment Flickr CCL

Anyone who’s walked along Las Ramblas or the winding streets of the Gothic neighborhood has undoubtedly had to take a double take at what they thought they saw but had to check again, just to make sure.

To their surprise, what they’re confronted with is a series of smiling figurines with pants around their ankles, taking a dump.

This is the beloved El Caganer, which translates to the Shitter in English.

Normally reserved as a cultural prop in Catalonian nativity scenes at Christmas, the Shitter is on display year-round in Barcelona gift shops, usually in the form of various celebrities that send tourists into fits of giggles and tug at their purse strings to take the perfect gifts for friends and coworkers back home: a defecating figurine that offers both a cultural artifact from their visit, and something quirky that the recipient will never use and keep in the bowels of their desk drawer until they quit or get fired.

The Shitter

Typical pooing figurines at a random Barcelona gift shop. OK Apartment Flickr CCL

El Caganer’s story


Manneken Pis (the peeing boy) statue in Brussels that usually dressed up in something festive or like this; naked, holding his weenie. Jose Antonio Nava Flickr CCL

Originating as early as the 16th century, many theories regarding the Shitter have emerged to explain the prominent rise of something so bizarre and how it found its way to the nativity scene, but they all sound made up.

They range from a depiction of feeding the earth with fertility, to a leveling device through its use of famous persons as the Shitter, all lacking any kind of historical evidence or substance.

Whatever it is, it’s weird, but then again so is a glorified and celebrated fountain of a boy taking a pee in Belgium, but people flock to see the Manneken Pis without really questioning it.

So maybe the only thing to take away from this is that people are weird. That seems fitting, no?

Home / Asia / Republic of Indonesia / Indonesia | Cultural Immersion at Yogyakarta’s Prambanan Temple   

Indonesia | Cultural Immersion at Yogyakarta’s Prambanan Temple   

Updated: November 9, 2016
By: Ian Yacobucci
Prambanan Java Indo

Yogyakarta, ID – Close up of Prambanan Temple a hindu temple complex in Java, Indonesia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Traveling across West Java in search of waves I didn’t expect to experience more than just the small surf village of Batu Karas while visiting Indonesia.  My Indonesian adventure started in Jakarta where I spent a few days pursuing a Russian travel visa for a future trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian, along with a visit to Jakarta’s M-Block mall complex.

After that I spent a couple days trying to find a whispered town from an old roommate I had, while teaching in Korea for a month.  He told me about this place called Batu Karas, a small fishing village with some tame surf that was quiet, and off the tourist track back in 2012.

After a seven hour train ride, where I met a couple of German tourists to share a room with for a night, followed a truly organic Indonesian bus experience of the same length, I finally made it to Batu Karas, where for the better part of two weeks I settled down spending my days exploring the West Java countryside with a surfboard strapped to the side of my Vespa.


Yogyakarta, ID – Posing in front of Prambanan Temple with a couple cool travelers from Finland (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

While surfing in Batu I heard about Yogyakarta from a couple Finnish travelers who were in the area at the same time as me; and after a blissful two weeks disconnected from the busy cities of Indo, and exploring the costal surf in the area, it was time to move on.  So, with our packs strapped the three of us tramped over to Yogyakarta, the bohemian and cultural centre of Indonesia’s Java region.

Since surfing was a priority at the time, I hadn’t thought much about the cultural treasures of Indonesia. Thankfully, upon our arrival in Yogyakarta we were able to discover one of its most famous cultural sites, the UNESCO world heritage site of Prambanan temple is a10th century compound dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brama Hindu divinities.

The temple complex itself offers some great photo opportunities and, if you’re lucky, you might find some free student led cultural tours as your roam the grounds (in English of course).  Although, from an Indonesian price point, it can be a little expensive for foreigners to visit, so depending on your budget, paying three times the cost of a student price might not be worth it for you.

Prambana Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta, ID – Prambanan Temple complex from a leisurely rest under some trees on a hot summer in Java, Indonesia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

That being said, if you take an early morning or a lazy afternoon, Prambanan offers a beautiful place to walk, relax, and photograph at your leisure.  There’s no need to rush around the temple; and make sure you take advantage of the free water and coffee in the foreigner ticket office!

Happy Travels,


This article is supported by traveloka.com

Home / Asia / Cambodia / Angkor Wat Tips| Help yourself tour Angkor Wat like a boss

Angkor Wat Tips| Help yourself tour Angkor Wat like a boss

Updated: March 9, 2016
By: Danielle Aniceto
Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, CM – Arrive at sunrise to capture your perfect picture at Angkor Wat Cambodia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Showing up at the 6:00 am sunrise at Angkor Wat was not exactly what I expected it to be. Being a Lara Croft fan myself, I was hoping to have to swing down from a jungle vine into an undiscovered tomb and watch the sunrise from behind a mysterious untouched ruin. Instead, I arrived to a field full of people with the exact same idea. Having to fight for a place in the crowd for the perfect sunrise view, I couldn’t help but think what the rest of the day exploring would be like. It wasn’t exactly as I imagined it, but it was still pretty spectacular.

Angkor Wat is full of tourists, but if you can accept the fact and use a little imagination, you can have a lot of fun. Here are the tips and tricks I came up with during my visit to get as much time with my inner Lara Croft as possible and the least amount of time avoiding being in someone else’s photograph.

Angkor Wat photo

Siem Reap, CM – Capturing sunrise at Angkor Wat Cambodia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

1. Sunrise at Angkor Wat

If you are into getting that beautiful sunrise photo at Angkor Wat, I would recommend you still go but not exactly at sunrise. Google the time of the sunrise at Angkor Wat the night before (it will depend on the time of year) and plan to arrive 15/30 minutes after. This will guarantee the best light for photographs and ensure that most tourists would have already left.

Angkor Wat Mistake: Most people arrive too early and get sick of waiting in the crowd by this point.

2. Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat is definitely a splendor to witness. The only problem, once again, is that everyone else wants to witness it at the same time too. I would recommend trying to go off the beaten track for a more authentic and reflective experience. It can be done! Just avoid the flow of the crowds and explore the ancient temples for enjoyment, not to go where everyone else is.  Trust yourself and discover what other people are missing.

Angkor Wat secrets: Start at a less well-known temple in the morning. Such as Bayon or Angkor Thom. Large tour groups always start at Angkor Wat.

If you want to learn about the history of Angkor Wat, I would suggest hiring a tour guide. The books that are being sold all over the grounds for various prices, are also a good idea but may not provide the interesting and more intimate details that the well-trained multi-lingual guides do.

People at Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, CM – Hundreds of people taking photos at sunrise at Angkor Wat (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

3. Bantaey Kdei

This temple complex takes up a lot of square footage and if you tire of crowds, it is one of the least busy temples in Angkor Wat. There are many passages and doorways to venture through and you can get that awesome picture beside a massive tree with fewer tourists to compete with.

4. Ta Phrom

The temple from the Lara Croft movie. The Tomb Raider temple was definitely a sight to see. However, it is also one of the most popular temples because of the allure of the large trees that grow throughout the complex.  If you’re not afraid to venture off you can find a space to get your photo but beware of the most famous tree from the 2001 film version of Tomb Raider.  You won’t get a moment alone there.

Ta Phrom secrets: After 3:00 pm, many tourists start clearing out of the temples. Perhaps the best time of day to get that selfie you were dreaming of.

Tomb Raider Tree

Siem Reap, CM – The famous Tomb Raider tree at Ta Phrom temple in Angkor Wat Tomb Raider tree Ta Phrom Angkor Wat (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

5. Angkor Thom

This temple is stunning and a lot of fun because there are tones of small temples throughout the forest in the surrounding area. This is a temple where you can really get off the beaten track and explore!  Remember the Angkor Wat temple complex is massive and if you’re willing to explore you’ll find hidden treasures that represent the spiritual setting these temples were designed to embody.

Angkor Thom secrets: Just don’t get stuck in the tall grass with the huge spider webs. I am still not sure what kind of spiders were hiding in those webs but I am glad we never found out.

As one of the most famous temple systems in the world Angkor Wat will far exceed your expectations.  Just remember that there are many temples to explore and all of them are several kilometers apart so be prepared to spend a lot of your day enjoying the jungle by tuk tuk (yes, you should definitely spend the little money it costs for a tuk tuk).

No matter how many times you visit you’ll always feel like you’re just scratching the surface of Angkor Wat’s mysteries.  So be kind to yourself and take my advice, get the three-day pass. It is well worth it, and with a little imagination and some childish enthusiasm, you can really make the experience your own.

Have fun and safe travels!

Home / Asia / Cambodia / Cambodia| Get the most out of Phnom Penh

Cambodia| Get the most out of Phnom Penh

Updated: January 11, 2016
By: Ian Yacobucci
dep of justice

Phnom Penh, KH – motorcycle cruises past Department of Justice Phnom Penh Cambodia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

If you’re coming to Cambodia to experience its world famous temples or natural beautry Phnom Penh you chose the wrong Cambodian city to visit.  Although not the most popular tourist city in Cambodia, as the national capital, Phnom Penh is a valuable starting point for visitors planning to travel this South East Asian country.

Cambodia’s tumultuous history holds much of its modern foundation in Phnom Penh, strongly attributed to the Khmer Rouge take over on the 17th of April 1975.

In order to truly understand Cambodia’s current situation it’s important to learn the basics of the country’s historical context, and Phnom Penh is the perfect place to do this.

As a working city with a few must visit attractions Phnom Penh a great place to recover from jet lag and rest.  Here’s what you should stretch over a day or two if you want to get the most out of your visit to Phnom Penh

 Get a Tuk Tuk

Surprisingly, no one walks in Phnom Penh.  Seriously, scooters, cars, trucks, and tuk tuks dominate the roads and the few sidewalks that exist in the city centre. For tourists and locals alike, Tuk Tuks are the main mode of transportation.

Choosing a tuk tuk to drive you around is a negotiating process and there are tones of websites that will help you gauge a fair price.  What you willing to pay is what its worth but $20 for the day is a good start (you can throw in a lunch for your driver too).  My only advice would be to find a friendly person who speaks relatively good English so you can communicate with them and learn about what life is like in Phnom Penh.

Note: You can also get your driver to take you to a place to purchase bus tickets for the next leg of your trip (Get your tickets a day before).

Tuol Sleng

Phnom Penh, KH – Memorial to Victims of the Democratic Kampuchea Regime at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

 Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

An important first stop for your introductory history lesson to the tragic Khmer Rouge history that left deep national scars on Cambodia.  Tuol Sleng (also called S-21) was one of more than 200 secret prison centres scattered across the country.  In this horrific prison men, women and children were abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the Khmer Rouge.  Of the more than 3 million Cambodians that were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 12, 000 and 20, 000 people were imprisoned here.  Only 12 were confirmed survivors.

If you’re visiting Cambodia, no matter how horrible these atrocities were, it is our international responsibility as global citizens to bare witness to what humans are capable of so that we can stand up against human injustices such as the Cambodian Genocide.

TIME: 1:30 – 2 hrs

Note: You can pay with large bills (100$) that machines give out and receive more functional change to use on your journey.

Killing Fields Monument

Phnom Penh, KH – Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre Monument (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Visit the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (Killing Fields)

The most well known of more than 300 killing fields across Cambodia used by Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea regime to rid the country of enemies of the state (mostly innocent Cambodians), Choeung Ek is the location of where the government killed and disposed of the thousands of prisoners who were captive at S-21.

Visiting this place and witnessing the barbaric and cruel crimes of the Khmer Rouge will help you fully understand what happened to Cambodia during the ultra communist years from 1975-79.  At the killing fields you will literally be walking over the mass graves of thousands of people where bones and clothes can still be seen in the ground before ending up at the memorial stupa filled with the remains (hundreds of sculls and bones) of the victims are reverently preserved.  Bare witness, be respectful, and remind yourself of what you’re taking pictures of and why.

TIME: 30 min– 1 hr

Note: You can pay with large bills (100$) that machines give out and receive more functional change to use on your journey.

Central Market

If buying counterfeit anything is your thing or you need to pick up an item or two that you’re missing than the massive Central Market is a worthwhile stop.

This is a barter market but remember not to be insulting when trying find a deal.

Number 1 barter rule: What you’re willing to pay is what it’s worth.

rooftop pool

Phnom Penh, KH – relaxing by the rooftop pool (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)


Phnom Penh is a massive sprawling city that doen’t have an overwhelming number of tourist things to do so make sure you take advantage of it by staying at a comfortable hotel, preferably with a pool and be sure to relax.


Phnom Penh, KH – walking along the Mekong riverside in Phnom Penh (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Evening in Sisowath Quay (river side)

After a full day of history, a little shopping, and some relaxation you can end your day by spending the evening along Phnom Penh’s riverside.  Popular for expats and Cambodian’s alike you can enjoy lights, sights, and sounds of the local Cambodians spending time along the Meykong River’s esplanade, which is lined with palm trees and green space, or hit up some of the cities better restaurants and bars.  It’s a great atmosphere to grab a beer or a bite to eat, just be aware that as a touristy area there will be the typical hawkers selling drugs and tuk tuk rides by the plenty.

Happy Travels,


Home / South America / Ecuador / Ecuador dentist disaster a lesson in medical tourism dangers

Ecuador dentist disaster a lesson in medical tourism dangers

Updated: November 25, 2014
By: Ian Yacobucci
Eucador Dentist

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR – MARCH 2014 – CNA Dental office where I experienced what it’s like to visit a dentist in Ecuador (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Lying back in the faded green 1970’s dentist chair I looked right and smiled at Laura and her mother, la signora, who were sitting across the room.   Next to them was an old green desk cluttered with a mini city of disorganized paper piles.   The dentists stood up from his desk and walked past them across length of the room. Watching him from my chair I decided there was no freaking way I was going to get any dental work done in this place, but it was already too late.

It all started during a dinner conversation the night before when the cost of medical work came up. Somehow it was mentioned that getting your teeth cleaned in Ecuador costs about thirty American dollars, and filling cavities ranges from twenty to forty dollar per filling.

Now, I’m not a medical tourist and I don’t travel to save money on medical procedures, but to save $200 for a teeth cleaning (the average cost in Canada) I decided to give it a try. It would be my second cleaning overseas, the first being a professional yet disappointing dental cleaning experience in Tokyo, Japan.

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city with a busy population of about four million people. On the day we set out for the dentist, an early morning rainfall turned to light drizzle leaving the Sunday morning streets quiet and traffic free. Visiting the dentist and barber seemed like a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon so my Couchsurfing host family booked two appointments and brought me to the city centre.

Parked on a street lined with shops and low-rise apartments we walked towards the dentist office. As we walked, I pictured a modern dental office with snazzy new chairs, LCD screens, marble floors, and lavishly decorated with tropical office ferns. But soon after we started walking my pre-conceptions of a first class dentist in Ecuador were shattered when we turned left down a dark alleyway.

As the rain dripped from the decrepit and rusting tin awning above, I tried not to slip on the shadowed alleyway’s rust stained tile we walked along. After a few meters cautiously walking like a high beam acrobat we arrived at a stairwell, buzzed up, and entered the building.

The wooden stairs that lead to the main landing were poorly lit and the light at the top blinked like a dying star’s last flickers of life.   As we walked up I noticed the old brow paint that covered the stairwell walls was peeling to reveal blotches of lime green hues beneath. Optimistically, with a traveler’s spirit, I resolved to at least follow through with the teeth cleaning and consider the cavities after. I mean, la Signora went to a lot of trouble to book my appointment and I didn’t want to be rude.

Dr. Boris met us at the top of the first floor, greeted me with a handshake, and guided us into the waiting room before gesturing us to sit. The tiny waiting area seemed normal with a small mahogany coffee table topped with a few magazines in the centre, and four leather sitting chairs lining the walls. Perhaps I was wrong to judge the alleyway.

As we flipped through the magazines la signora showed me pictures of things I should see in Ecuador by pointing at the images of volcanoes, mountains, and pristine beaches she recognized in a local travel magazine. In no time I was up. Dr. Boris led us from the waiting room and into the dental office as he said goodbye to his last client. Once we entered and the old wooden door closed behind us I finally confirmed my worst fears, this wasn’t Canada and I was not prepared for this.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no visible sterilization equipment. On the right side of the room were two worn out and faded dental chairs that looked like they belonged on episode of the walking dead rather than a dental office. Wishing I could turn around and walk out, Dr. Boris ushered me over to the far right corner of the room and into one of the decrepit dental chairs located next to to a large window that overlooked the street.

Once I was seated and comfortable, Dr. Boris sat down between the chair and the window then looked over at Laura and la signora who were sitting across the room. Not being able to communicate, Laura translated that I was interested in getting my teeth cleaned. Spinning his chair to face the window, underneath which his dental tools were located, I freaked! The lady who finished just before me had left the tooth gunk from her recent work sitting in a little bowl beside the chair I was sitting in. Not only that, but I noticed Dr. Boris had only one set of tools and there was no sterilization equipment in sight.

Calming myself, I realized that I was probably over thinking the situation so I gave Dr. Boris benefit of the doubt and tried to relax in the chair. Turning back around, Dr. Boris laid a piece of brown paper towel across my chest, picked up a water pic, and without any protective eye wear or that suction tube dentists use to get rid of access mouth water, pulled the overhead lamp above my face and started spraying.

Water and plaque sprayed in all directions as he cleaned. Like an innocent bystander standing too close to a street puddle, as an unaware car drives by, I got soaked. Every few minutes the water boarding would stop and I’d get a chance to spit into the bowl beside the chair with everyone’s tooth gunk looking back at me like frog eyes in a swamp..

Finally the torture ended as Dr. Boris walked across the room, giving me a chance to catch my breath and clean myself with the brown elementary school paper towel that absorbed the water like tree bark. Staring at the ceiling I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. Now that the he was done with the water pic I figured Dr. Boris was going to get sterilized dental equipment to finish cleaning the hard plaque that the water pic missed. Wrong! Instead he opened a black cabinet located across the room, bent over, and took out a tattered shoe-sized box that looked like it hadn’t been sitting untouched for a decade. Sitting back beside me he opened it and pulled out a giant silver gun that looked like the mini laser weapon Will Smith used in Men in Black.

“Don’t worry, it’s for teeth cleaning,” Laura translated in a thick Spanish accent. Comforting as those kind words were supposed to be I was not at ease. What was I thinking getting strangers to set up a dentist appointment in a country where I couldn’t communicate because I didn’t speak the language or had any idea of the medical standards. But it was to late, loading the gun from beneath he inserted a CO2 cartridge, handed me another paper towel, leaned over, aimed the weapon at my face and pressed the trigger.

A fine dust blasted my teeth dispersing a cloud of particles like a military flashbang into my mouth, nose, and eyes. I closed my eyes tight and held my breath hoping that whatever I was getting a dose of was good for my teeth and free of any long-term side effects.   Eventually, I cracked as the seconds passed and I took in a big breath of the powder that was suffocating me. There was no way of stopping Dr. Boris because I couldn’t communicate with the dust like chemical choking me, so I kept my eyes closed tight, tried to breathe as little as possible, and accepted it.

When it was all over he gave me a chance to brush the scratchy fine particles off my face before grabbing a dental mirror to check my mouth for cavities. When he finished searching Laura translated that I had I had four cavities and that two of them should be addressed immediately. After my traumatic cleaning experience I decided to politely decline any further dental work, paid my thirty dollars for services rendered, and headed off to a wonderfully uneventful haircut.

Back in Canada, first thing I did when I got home was visit the dentist where I paid the $200 for a professional cleaning, had x-rays of my mouth taken, found out that I actually had 10 cavities (5 of which needed to be filled) and that the four cavities Dr. Boris suggested I get filled were just stains.

In the end, I paid $1100 to get everything taken care of in Canada by a professionally licensed Canadian doctor and came out with an important lesson in medical tourism. If you’re planning on going overseas for medical procedures you should probably do some research, know whom you’re working with, and be able to speak the language.

Happy Travels,


Have you had any crazy medical experiences while overseas??


Home / Africa / Kenya / Lessons learned about Kenya to break down stereotypes

Lessons learned about Kenya to break down stereotypes

Updated: July 31, 2013
By: Ian Yacobucci
Kenya Talk

My friend Bri practicing her Swahili while chatting with a local Kenyan – Great Rift Valley View Point, Kenya

“I wish I had more time” is probably all people can think when they’re sitting at the airport waiting to fly home from Kenya. For the last two weeks I’ve been working in Kenya’s Narok South Region. Tourists familiar with this place might know it better as a part of the Masai Mara. It’s here that I learned some cool things about Kenya that everyone should know.

I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time getting to know Kenya and its people. It probably has something do with the fact that the country has so many ethnic groups, each with their own identity, that recent census attempts have been unsuccessful in documenting all of them.

Part of this is a result of conflict prevention, as the diversity of each ethic group in Kenya makes visiting each community like going to a different country. Most ethnic communities in Kenya have distinctly unique cultures with different languages, customs, lifestyles, and clothing.

Learning in Kenya

Talking with people is the best way to learn about a new place. These Kenyan and Canadian students are sharing and learning from each other

Learning was a big part of my experience in Kenya because I was able to meet locals from the communities I was visiting, worked with North American youth to facilitate their learning about Kenya and international development, while trying to develop my own understanding of a country with only a snapshot of it.

With this in mind I guess I should break down some of the stereotypes that people associate with countries like Kenya and give you some up to date information about how people live in cities and rural communities like Sikirar, where I was staying.

Technology: people in Kenya, like all 55 African countries use and have cellphones as well as the internet, even in rural places.

Clothing: in Kenya ethnic groups do wear cultural clothing but for most people, especially those in their twenties, these clothes are only worn during ceremonies and not as every day wear. That’s right, we all wear the same style clothes…thanks new media!

Posing with friends

Chilling with my buddies Edwin and Robert. This is what people in Kenya usedd to wear but it’s more for show and traditional ceremonies than everyday wear in Masai communities. Although the Shuka (blanket) is commonly used – Sikirar, Kenya

The city: capital cities like Nairobi are pretty much the same as anywhere else. They have paved roads, skyscrapers, hotels, businesses, traffic and restaurants. The main differences might be architectural styles, states of development, population, or poverty level; to name a few.

Think about this: Nairobi is the business hub of East Africa and has an awesome club and party scene, fashion scene and film scene. Check out the film Nairobi Half Life if you want to see what’s up!

Cool financial system I learned about Kenya:

I learned that that Kenya has something called M-Pesa which is a new way to exchange and use money. Basically, you have money on your cell phone and can use it to pay for things in the same debit card works. You can also change money from phone to phone which has resulted in a safer way to make transactions as well as keep money secure.

Something you should never do in Kenya:

Butterfly Hunter

Don’t be that guy. Dress normal not like the Butterfly hunter by Arthur Twidle- Photo Credit: Puuikibeach Flickr

You should never dress in full safari regalia! That’s right. If you’re flying to Kenya for a safari and find yourself landing in Nairobi, know that it’s a regular city and you will look like a fool if you’re dressed in tan head to toe (with the hat to match).

Imagine flying to Toronto and you’re planning to go on a weeklong hiking trip so you show up at the airport in full camo…that’s right you’re officially a d-bag.

You’re not Indiana Jones so don’t dress like him!

Cool thing about language in Kenya:

Kenya has a language called sheng. From what I’ve gathered it’s a language only young people use and it’s very hard to learn because it’s always changing. Making it even more complicated is that fact that, depending on where you live, sheng can be completely different.

It’s kind of like a code language to hide what you’re talking about from older people. If you’re going to learn shang, just remember that grandparents won’t have a clue what you’re saying and it’s disrespectful.

Language lesson: “Poa” means “cool”

Final thoughts:

Jambo is a word that, used on its own, is grammatically incorrect. The world itself is derived from Swahili but there are predicates that need to be used if you’re planning on using it correctly. On its own it’s more of a tourist word but still fun to try, just make sure you don’t say it if you’re at a club in Nairobi.

In short, these are just a few things you should know about Kenya . Feel free to comment and add anything you think I missed because I only saw a sliver of the amazing country that is Kenya.

Oh yea, and hakuna matata actually exists here and means…

Well I guess you’ll just have to visit to find out :D

Happy Travels,



Home / Europe / Finland / How to experience Finland like a local

How to experience Finland like a local

Updated: December 26, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci

Meeting Ari at his home in Finland

Through Couchsurfing my friends and I met Markus, the CEO of an Internet company based in Finland’s capital, Helskinki. During a picnic for the festive spring celebration of Vappu, the topic of ice fishing came up. Markus mentioned that his father Ari was still ice fishing, even as the late April sun was melting the snow and ice-covered lakes of Northern Finland.

Without hesitation my friends and I asked if his father would be willing to take us fishing because if you don’t ask you don’t get. And so, less than two days later we left our rented cottage on the outskirts of Rovaniemi and headed to Ylitornio, located on the border between Sweden and Finland.


Tornio, Finland

Markus’ father lived in a house next to the Tornio River, which was only 50 feet from the houses back porch and completely covered with ice in the early stages of melting. Luckily for us our late afternoon arrival was perfect for the program that Ari had planned; first stop, Sweden.

Driving from Finland to Sweden across the Tornio River took no more than 10 minutes and our tour of the area consisted of a stop at the Northern Research Library where the Minister of Culture and Sport for the Swedish municipality of Overtornea gave us a tour. After that, and a quick stop off at the supermarket, it was back to Ari’s for “sauna”.

Spending a few days in Finland one learns that saunas are an integral part of Finish culture; they seemed to be in every house and apartment building. In his back yard, Ari had built a unique sauna. His invention was a floating motorized sauna capable of touring the river that separated Finland from Sweden and best of all; it sat next to a semi-frozen river. It was time to get Finnish!

Preparing Alu's sauna for our authentic Finnish experience

Preparing Ari’s sauna for our authentic Finnish experience

Traditionally, a short stint in a sauna is often followed by a dip into ice-cold water. And so, heated by wood to a balmy 82 degrees Celsius, the steamy cedar sauna had us sweating in no time and after about 15 minutes it was time to take the plunge.

As I walked out into the cold Finnish air things didn’t seem so bad. It wasn’t until I waded ankle-deep into the frozen water, each step breaking the thin layer of ice that had accumulated as the evening air cooled, that I realized what I was getting myself into.

When I finally committed and completely immersed myself into the frigid waters I lost my breath and a feeling of pins and needles covered my entire body. It was an invigorating experience but after less than two minutes my friends and I were all sprinting back to the sauna to prepare for round two. Of course, if you really want to make a Finnish sauna owner proud you must repeat this act several times, so that’s exactly what the three of us did.

Relaxing in Finland

Johnny and Stevo relaxing before our plunge into the frozen waters of the Tornio River, Finland

So I didn’t end up ice fishing but my visit to Yilitornio was no less awesome and my authentic Finnish sauna experience was one of a kind. The best part was that I got to meet a new friend, was welcomed into a stranger’s home as if my friends and I were family, and was treated to food and Finnish culture simply because my friends and I weren’t afraid to ask.

Happy Travels,



Home / Featured / Unlocking the secrets of Japanese martial art Shorinji Kempo

Unlocking the secrets of Japanese martial art Shorinji Kempo

Updated: December 19, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci
shorinji group photo

Shorinji Kempo group photo – Tokyo, Japan

After my first few weeks in Tokyo I discovered Shorinji Kempo and decided to dedicate my three months in the city training in this Japanese martial art. I had never heard about Shorinji until I arrived in Tokyo, and since then I’ve learned quite a bit about it.

Doshin So founded Shorinji Kempo in 1947 after his returning to Japan from China at the end of World War 2. During his military career Doshin spent most of time in Manchuria where he saw the hardships and realities of war. Upon his return he saw that his people’s society, economy, and hearts were in turmoil. Seeing this he decided that he wanted to help make a change.

Shorinji Training

Japanese martial arts Shorinji Kempo training – Tokyo, Japan

In order to build a peaceful world and rebuilt his people in body and spirit Doshin created Shorinji Kempo. The goal of Shorinji was to transform society through peaceful means. As a result, Shorinji kempo is founded on Buddhist principles where compassion, faith, justice, courage, solidarity, cooperation, and living up to one’s personal potential are the cornerstones to building a better world.

Physically Shorinji Kempo is broken up into goho and juho. Goho are known as hard techniques and include strikes, kicks, chops, evasions, and blocks. Juho are known as soft techniques which include defenses such as throws, pins, holds, and releases similar to those found in judo.


Practicing Shorinji Kempo juho technique – Tokyo, Japan

Shorinji Kempo is unique in two ways. First it has a strong Buddhist foundation where the individual’s spirituality is valued as much as or more than their physicality. The second is in the martial arts physical techniques which combine a variety of martial arts such as kung fu and judo.

Shorinji Kempo is a martial art designed to provide individuals of any age, gender, or size with the skills to defend themselves. In the last few years there has been a huge push to attract and encourage women to participate. In fact, Shorinji is one of the few martial arts where women play a major role as Yukki So the chairperson, president, and daughter of Doshin So has made it her goal to bring women into the discipline.

The most unique aspect of Shorinji is the fact that no matter where you train the standards, expectations, and training are the same. Shorinji Kempo has a global governing body where all members are given an online profile, pay the same rates no matter where they train, and have to follow the same grading system no matter where they are in the world.

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Japanese martial arts Shorinji Kempo training – Tokyo, Japan

What makes Shorinji Kempo difficult is that everything is done in Japanese. This means that to become proficient in Shorinji Kempo, one has to learn all the Japanese names for the techniques. The great thing that comes out of this is that internationally everything is the same and everyone learns the same.

For me learning Shorinji Kempo was a rewarding experience. Not only did I get to train in a uniquely Japanese martial art with a strong message of peace. I became a member of an amazing group where I made great friends, learned Japanese, and earned my green belt. So if you’re looking to study a Japanese martial art in Japan or somewhere around the world I would highly recommend giving Shorinji Kempo a try.

For more information on where I trained check out:

The Tokyo Chiyoda Shorinji Club @


Home / Asia / Kazakhstan / A visit to Zelyony Bazar in Almaty, Kazakhstan

A visit to Zelyony Bazar in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Updated: April 23, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci

Dried fruit stall at the Zelyony Bazar in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Travelling through Kazakhstan to the old capital of Almaty I discovered a market place worth a visit.

It’s not often I’m impressed by a market these days. When travelling around the world markets become routine, a place where you can buy good food at discount prices along with a souvenir or two. Perhaps it was the lack of expectations I had for the Zelyony market in Almaty, Kazakhstan, or the fact that I had been travelling through Thailand, India, and China where the markets are comprised of counterfeit items including the Diesel Jeans, Calvin Clein mocs and Tiger sneakers I’m now wearing.

My first impression walking into the front doors of the bazar was disappointment. It appeared to be another market filled with beard trimmers, jewelry, women’s clothes and junky souvenirs. Luckily, we decided to continue exploring and found another flea market filled with stalls selling everything from stationary to nail clippers. Wandering down the aisles we decided to enter what looked like an extension of this market when we discovered something that surprised us all.

The first thing I noticed when I entered were the endless stalls; each one selling different products. Here, people were selling beef, chicken, and horse; endless rows of fresh cheeses and produce along with an entire section of herbs, dried fruits, and nuts. On top of the fresh items sprawled out on covered countertops, stacked to attract the eye of those who walked by, were small shops that sold seeds, sweets and breads. The Zelyony market sold everything.

Fruit sellers of Zelyony Bazar in Almaty, Kazakhstan

The best part about wandering down the aisles and taking pictures was sampling the different products each person was selling. Planning for the longest train ride I have ever taken, somewhere around 80 hours, my friends and I stalked up on fresh meat, cheeses, produce, and bread for the journey. It was fun tasting smoked horse, a popular Kazak food, and a variety of fresh cheeses as a substitute for lunch.

Horse meat stall in Zelyony Bazar Almaty, Kazakhstan

Taking a break from shopping we ducked upstairs to enjoy a cup of tea and compose a list of the items we needed for the train ride to Moscow. For me the most unique part of the market was the horse meat section where huge ribs, stomach and sausage were presented to the customers in the open market stalls; no refrigeration here, fresh off the horse.

Enjoying a lemon tea above the Zelyony Bazar in Almaty, Kazakhstan

The market was a great way to spend the afternoon, regardless of the shit flavoured dried kiwi we all decided to try. It offered a great environment to practice photography, try some local delicacies, and enjoy each other’s company. In the end we purchased all our supplies for the train trip, enjoyed a lemon tea, and got some great pictures.


Home / Asia / Mongolia / Mongolian throat singing : experiencing a dying art form

Mongolian throat singing : experiencing a dying art form

Updated: April 10, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci

Hanging out with mongolian throat singer Baasandorj

Mongolian throat singing is a unique musical artform in Mongolia.  Join me as I experience a private concert in a traditional Mongolian ger.

Mongolian throat singing is a unique musical art form practiced throughout Mongolia. Unfortunately, among the younger generations this type of music is dying out. On my trip to Mongolia I was lucky enough to sit in on a cultural exchange to witness Mongolian throat singing in an intimate atmosphere while visiting the old Mongolian capital of Kharkhorin.

At our guest house in Kharkhorin we were lucky to meet Baasandorj whose name means treasure stone in Tibetan. Since the age of 19, Baasandorj has been performing Mongolian throat singing and playing traditional music in Kharkhorin in order to preserve it. He has even made it onto the cover of an old Japanese lonely planet which he proudly displayed to us.

Mongolian throat singer Baasandorj posing with his Lonely Planet

Unfortunately, he is one of the few people in Kharahorin who can play several traditional instruments and although he does have a few students, they are only learning how to play one instrument. For him, playing for tourists who spend the night at guest houses in Kharkhorin allows him to share this unique art form.

For us and two other guests Baasandorj played a private concert in the traditional Mongolian ger we stayed in. It was a really cool experience as he described the instruments and techniques he was performing. During the performance he played three instruments which included a flute, a small harp like instrument, and a small cello like string instrument with two strings made of horse hair known as a Yoochin.

While performing he also took time to explain the techniques of Mongolian throat singing known in Mongolian as Khoomei. For us he performed the four Mongolian throat singing techniques known as nose, tongue, throat and chest Khoomei. He also sung some really interesting songs; my friends and I’s two favourites being running horses and Chenggis Khan.

As an art from Mongolian throat singing is very unique and something worth seeing. So if you get the opportunity to see Mongolian throat singing performed live you should definitely take up the opportunity.  And if you see Baasandorj just be thankfull that you got to witness his legacy and Mongolian throat singing live in person.