Archiv der Kategorie: Reisetipps

Reisereportagen & Reisetipps

Afrikas wegweisende Wildlife- und Ökoprojekte

VORWORT

Das Buch des Zürcher Foto-Journalisten Gerd Michael Müller nimmt Sie ab den wilden 80er Jahren mit auf eine spannende Zeitreise durch 30 Länder und 40 Jahre Zeitgeschichte mit Fokus auf mehrere politische und ökologische Vorgänge in Krisenregionen rund um den Globus. Er beleuchtet das Schicksal indigener Völker, zeigt die Zerstörung ihres Lebensraumes auf, rückt ökologische Aspekte und menschenliche Schicksale in den Vordergrund, analysiert scharfsichtig und gut informiert die politischen Transformationsprozesse. Müller prangert den masslosen Konsum und die gnadenlose Ausbeutung der Ressourcen an, zeigt die Auswirkungen wirtschaftlicher, gesellschaftlicher und politischer Prozesse auf und skizziert Ansätze zur Bewältigung des Klimawandels. Pointiert hintergründig, spannend und erhellend. Eine Mischung aus globalem Polit-Thrillern, gehobener Reiseliteratur, gespickt mit sozialkritischen und abenteuerlichen Geschichten sowie persönlicher Essays – den Highlights und der Essenz seines abenteuerlich wilden Nomaden-Lebens für die Reportage-Fotografie. Nach der Lektüre dieses Buchs zählen Sie zu den kulturell, ökologisch sowie politisch versierten Globetrotter.

Bei insgesamt über zehn Reisen zwischen 1986 und dem Millennium in das Südliche Afrika, habe ich schon 1993 das «Shamwari Game Reserve» nahe Port Elisabeth beim Addo Elephant Park entdeckt. Dieses entwickelte sich damals gerade zu einem der wegweisenden und in der südlichen Hemisphäre einmaligen Tierschutz und Wildlife-Wiederansiedelungsprojekte. Dazu wurde ehemaliges Farmland renaturiert und in Busch umgewandelt, danach wurden nach und nach die «Big Five» dort wieder angesiedelt. Zu Beginn der 90er Jahre hat Adrian Gardiner, der Besitzer, die ersten fünf schwarzen Nashörner vom «Natal Parks Board» für eine halbe Million Euro gekauft und an der Garden Route nahe des Addo Elephant Park und Port Elisabeth wieder angesiedelt. Bei meinem ersten Besuch wurden das Farmland gerade renaturiert und ich erinnere mich an die selbst gebauten Feuertöpfe und Kaminschlots, mit denen jeder einzelne Baumstrunk ausgeräuchert wurde.

Nach kurzer Zeit ist aus der damals 1200 ha grossen Farm ein Wildtierschutzgebiet von über 20‘000 ha mit einem Wildtierbestand von über 10‘000 Wildtieren geworden. Dies geschah im Zeitraum von 1993 bis 1997. Neben dem Long Lee Manor House hat das Shamwari Game Reserve fünf weitere exklusive Lodges geschaffen, zu dem neben dem Eagles Crag und der Bushmen River Lodge auch noch die Lobengula Spa Lodge gehörte. Im November 2005 erhielt Adrian Gardiner zum sechsten Mal die internationale Auszeichnung am «Word Travel Market» in London (WTM) als «weltbester privater Tierpark mit den höchsten ökologischen Anforderungen». Zudem wurde das «Shamwari Game Reserve» auch als «zweitwichtigstes Projekt der südlichen Hemisphäre» eingestuft und mit dem «British Airways for tomorrow-Award» ausgezeichnet

Nicht nur dieses, auch andere wegweisende Öko- und Wildlife-Projekte in Südafrika und Botswana begleitete oder vertrat ich fast ein Jahrzehnt lang und berichtete immer wieder über die Fortschritte und Hindernisse, weil ich ja sowieso jedes Jahr in Südafrika an der südafrikanische Tourismusfachmesse «INDABA» war. Beim «Londolozi Game» Reserve der Varty Brothers, die spektakuläre Tierfilme drehten, war ich von Anbeginn dabei und hatte auch hier den richtigen Riecher, wie an den verschiedensten Orten in der ganzen Welt. Auch in Australien bewiese ich mit der «Daintree Forest Lodge» und in Botswana mit der «Wilderness Leadership School» ein feines Gespür für Trends. Hinzu kamen das «Mara Mara», «Sabi Sabi» und «Phinda GameReserve» und schliesslich noch das «The Pezula» in Knysna, wo das Schweizer Tennis-Ass Roger Federer seine Villa hat. Im noblen «Mount Nelson Hotel» in Kapstadt, sass plötzlich Margret Thatcher neben mir im Coiffeur-Salon, was das Gespräch mit der ehemaligen britischen Premierministerin sehr einfach machte. Nur machte die alte Dame der britischen Politik einen dementen Eindruck.

Aufgrund meiner vielen Kontakte in Südafrika, erhielt ich vom südafrikanischen Fremdenverkehrsamt (SATOUR) über den Botschaftskontakt den Auftrag Südafrika in der Schweiz mit PR-Kampagnen zu vertreten, wodurch ich infolge meinen aviatischen Kenntnissen auch noch an das «South African Airways»-Mandat heran kam und in der Folge meiner vielen Südafrika-Besuche zwei Reiseführer über Südafrika schrieb. Ob es sich nun um «Ökotourismus – und seine soziale Bedeutung» (Bund), um den aufrüttelnden Bericht und die erfolgreiche Spendenaktion für die bedrohten «Orang Utan im Regenwald von Borneo» («Brückenbauer»), um die «Rettung der Wale» (in der «SonntagsZeitung») oder die «Klimakatastrophe in den Alpen» («Südostschweiz») geht, stets hatte ich meine markante Nase im (Gegen-)wind und war meiner Zeit oft weit voraus.

So war es auch beim «Swissair-Skandal», deren Untergang ich schon 1997 im «Der Bund» mit dem Bericht «Wird die Swissair überleben?» und bei zwei anderen Zeitungen vorweg nahm. Der Klimawandel, der heute fast 30 Jahre später immer noch ein brandaktuelles Thema und das grösste Problem auf dem Planeten Erde ist, beschäftigte mich schon sehr früh und ich zog daraus Konsequenzen und verzichtete ab 1999 weitgehend auf Flugreisen und seit 10 Jahren gänzlich.

Für Reiseziele in Europa habe ich nie ein Flugzeug benutzt, da war die Bahn angesagt. Natürlich kann man mir zu Recht vorwerfen, dass ich, als Reisejournalist mit meinen Reisereportagen den globalen Flugverkehr angekurbelt habe, was ich nicht bestreiten kann. Doch habe ich mir immer die Mühe genommen, ökologisch nachhaltige Projekte und umweltverträgliches Reisen zu fördern. und ich habe mir immer viel Zeit an einem Ort genommen, meistens war ich 20-30 Tage in einem Land. Schliesslich habe ich die radikalen Konsequenzen mit meinem Flugverzicht in Kauf genommen, obschon meine Tätigkeit damit öder und schwieriger wurde.

Als Konsequenz auf den «IPPC»-Bericht habe ich das «Tourismus und Umwelt Forum Schweiz» gegründet und mich auch hierzulande nachhaltig für ein Umdenken und Umschwenken eingesetzt. Ich könnte heulen vor Wut über all die politischen Lippen-Bekenntnisse, die leeren Versprechen von Wirtschaftsverbänden, dem bis heute klimasteuerbefreiten Luftverkehr, den Todsünden der Billig-Airlines und die «SUVs», anstelle von Autos, die in den letzten 20 Jahren – wohlwissend um den schlechten Zustand des Planeten-, getätigt wurden. Die Generation «Easy Jet» war mir ein Dorn im Auge. Nebst den Fernreisen war ich immer öfters auch in Frankreich, Deutschland und Österreich auf Pressereisen, die meisten so vier, fünf Tage dauerten. Das Presse- und Bildagenturgeschäft lief wie geschmiert. Kooperationen mit führenden Bildagenturen wie «Action Press» und «dpa» in Deutschland und «Ringer», «Keystone» in der Schweiz und die immer zahlreicheren Publikationen sowie das auf gut 30‘000 Dias aus fast 50 Ländern angewachsene Bildarchiv, waren eine solide Basis für meinen Job. Hinzu kamen die Kooperation mit «Singapore Airlines» und mit «Malaysia Airlines» aufgegleist hatte. Ein spannendes PR-Mandat, bei dem ich für «Malaysia Airlines» die PR-Kampagnen konzipierte, die Anzeigenschaltungen disponierte und viele spannende Reisen machte und hernach die Berichte veröffentlichte. Die Zusammenarbeit mit «Singapore Airlines» dauerte fast 15 Jahre. So kam ich mehrmals nach Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Kambodscha, auf die Malediven und mehrmals nach Australien, wo ich fast alle Bundesstaaten bis auf die Northern Territories besuchte und tausende von Kilometer allein im Off-Roader zurücklegte. Doch zurück nach Afrika, einem der faszinierendsten Kontinente.

1996: Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

On Lombok, a neighboring island of Bali, relics of the Balinese ruling empire – the Hindu temples of Pura Meru, Batu Bolong and the royal court complex of Mayura – as well as the sites, cultural assets and customs of the indigenous Sasak people are visible. The Sasak follow the Wetu Tela teachings of the Prophet and were not officially tolerated by the Suharto government in Jakarta for fear of separatist movements. Nevertheless, on the day I arrived in Lombok, the villagers of Rambitan flocked together and a long pilgrimage procession set in motion of the tomb of Saint Syaid Abdul Amman. Once there, the Sasak lay down their offerings and pray for good luck, health and a good harvest. The Ziarah procession takes place only once a year after the birthday celebration of Muhammad. But many Sasak also come here in groups during the year to the final resting place of Hadas Husen, as they call their enlightened one, when they seek advice and inspiration.

Another impressive spectacle of animanistic customs is reserved for the mountaineers who dare to climb the 3726 meter high Mount Rinjani on a full moon night. In the full moonlight, the faithful climb to the summit to be as close as possible to the Almighty. The ascent is a tough one. Weather conditions are often harsh. When it rains, the scree becomes very slippery. Before they descend again after long trance states, they take a purifying and healing sulfur bath in the crater lake. From the crater rim there is a breathtaking view over Lombok and up to the mother mountain of the Balinese, the Gunung Agung.

Characteristic of the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat, which includes the neighboring islands of Subawa, is an exceptionally varied surface shape of the hilly landscape and the contrasting climate within a radius of a few kilometers. Despite significant topographic and climatic contrasts, the island, which is a good 80 kilometers long and not very wide, can be divided into four distinct cultural landscapes. The fringe between the northern coast and the mountain range around Mount Rinjani resembles a dry savannah. The wasteland is accordingly sparsely populated. On the other hand, abundant vegetation can be found in the higher altitudes of the central mountain region. It is covered with species-rich monsoon forest. One of the most cultivated areas is the plain around the urban agglomeration. In this agriculturally productive zone, rice, soy, chili and magnificent lotus flowers are cultivated.

In the urban centers of Mataram, the city of the big eyes, Amparam and Chakranegala, the bulk of the population at that time is concentrated at 2.5 million, densely packed (a good 1000 inhabitants per square kilometer). There they squeeze through the dusty lanes in the dokars, the horse-drawn carriages crammed with people and animals. The population is young, with 40 percent under the age of 15. The rapid economic development is coupled with political repression, and even tourist prosperity was often associated with forced expropriations.

The Suharto regime repeatedly made inglorious repressive headlines because the military expelled entire village communities, as in Borobudur on Java and on the island of Gili Trawagan. The dispossessed were hardly paid any compensation, but the Suharto regime profited handsomely from taxes on the hotel complexes that were built there. Political resistance and democratic rules were systematically repressed, freedom of the press was heavily censored and critics of the regime were harshly attacked. The three mini-coral islands Gilli Air, Meno and Trawangan, a snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise, were among the three tourist crystallization points at that time. In the west of the island the Senggi Beach and a bay reserved for surfers near the fishing village of Senggi Beach in the south of the island.

India: In the realm of loving hands with the Ayurveda pioneers

Indien/Ayurveda: Abhayanga Treatment at DUKES Forest Lodge in the dschungle

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

In 1996 I flew to India for the first time, to the southern tip of Kerala, the land of the up-and-coming Ayurveda resorts and clinics. I had already been in close contact with Ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka and had done a Pancha Karma cleansing cure. On the tropical island I visited seven of the best Ayurvedic resorts at that time and compared them with each other. These were the „Aida“ in Bentota, the „Lanka Princess“ in Beruwela, „Lawrence Hill“ in Hikkaduwa, the „Paragon“ in Unavatuna, the „Surya Lanka“ in Matara and the „Vattersgarden“ in Kottegoda. The report about it found tearing paragraph in various Wellness magazines. I was so fascinated by the Ayurvedic medicine that I learned about here that I decided to travel to Kerala and there I met the South Indian Ayurvedic pioneers the cgh earth group, which has already made a name for itself with very exclusive resorts.

Ayurvedic medicine was discovered over 5,000 years ago by highly gifted Indians in the depths of their meditation and spirituality, but as a result of colonization and professional bans by the British colonial government, it was suppressed for over 50 years before experiencing a revival in the 1990s. „A lot of knowledge was lost as a result,“ says Dr. Jayawardhana of the University of Colombo. What was developed thousands of years ago in northern India is a holistic system of nature that considers body, mind and spirit a unity, because nthe Ayurvedic philosophy assumes that all matter, including humans, can be traced back to the five elements of earth, water, air, fire and space.

Three basic constitutions, the so-called doshas, are formed from the combination of the five elements. The elements air and space form the Vata-Dosha and stand for the life principle movement. It therefore controls the movement processes in the body, breathing and the nervous system. The Pitta energy is responsible for all reactions that generate heat, i.e. the digestive tract and metabolic processes. The elements earth and water influence the third dosha, kapha. Their energy is structuring, shaping and responsible for cell and skeletal structure, at the same time regulating fluid balance. And then there are the three pillars of health: these are „Ahar“ (Nutrition), “ Nidra“ (Sleep) and “ Bramacarya“ (Mental Ethics).

Now, every human being has his individual combination of doshas from birth and this unique combination influences his health and physique as well as his character traits. Only when the Doshas are in balance, body and soul are healthy. This is the goal of Ayurvedic treatment, especially in the area of chronic diseases. Like migraine or neurodermatitis, Ayurveda can show considerable success. The Ayurveda cure usually begins with a pulse diagnosis, where the Ayurvedic doctor gently presses three fingers above the base of the thumb on the forearm and measures the pulse beat. She determines whether it „throbs strongly, glides through the body like waves, hops like a frog or trots along like an elephant.“ This is how the harmony of the three doshas is determined.

Ayurveda assumes that everything grows in nature that is needed to make and keep a person healthy. Thus, plants, minerals, ashes, salts, barks, woods, roots and animal products are cooked and powdered and then made into pills, ointments and oils. The delicate yellow sesame oil is the base of all massage oils. It is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and makes brittle skin soft and smooth. To the sesame oil the doctor mixes other natural ingredients that are specifically adapted to the particular dosha type. The oil can thus have an optimal effect on the individual constitution of the person. No other medicine in the world has such a universal, profound and holistic cleansing system as Ayurvedic medicine and the Pancha Karma cure in particular. It is the mother of all cures! During 21 days first all toxins are eliminated from the body and the tissues down to the bones are rubbed with the healing oils. The appropriate diet and the beneficial treatments lead to the fact that after the Pancha Karma cure one is bursting with vitality and feels like a new person.

As the wellness and wellbeing tourism industry began to establish itself at the end of the 90s, I focused very strongly on this branch of tourism for a few years and visited the best spa resorts around the world, as I had now secured many more noble glossy magazines for publications in addition to cooperating with the daily newspapers and eventually not only delivered reports for publications such as the „Relax and Style“, „World of Wellness“ and „Wellness live“, but also generated advertisements and thus also profited from the publishing business. From then on, Ayurvedic medicine developed at a rapid pace in Europe as well. Ayurvedic centers shot up like mushrooms, because Far Eastern medicine quickly wanted to establish itself in the medical sector as well as in the wellness sector, and nutritional counseling in particular would be in demand, experts agreed at the time. „You are what you eat,“ Hypocrates had once said and was, so to speak, the first Western Ayurveda ambassador. More and more people are turning back the clock and letting themselves be convinced by ancient healing methods, or at least trying them out. The fact that yoga and meditation do not fail to have an effect on a healthy life has also become increasingly accepted in the western world. At least yoga has become an unmistakable trend.

Arriving in Kerala, I was allowed to visit the crown jewel of the „cgh earth group“, the old Maharajah’s palace „Kalari Kovilakom“ and experienced a truly royal reception and got one of the twelve palace rooms. The authenticity of the ancient culture and the sanctity of an ashram gave this Ayurvedic temple a unique ambience. Whoever enters here leaves the old world behind and lives a completely different primal experience cut off from the outside world and a highly qualitative treatment. Especially in Germany, the „Somatheeram“ and „Malatheeram“ in Chowara near Trivandrum became famous. The two resorts were regularly awarded as „best Ayurveda resorts“ by the Department for Tourism and received the „Greenleaf Award“.

Another highlight was the „Duke’s Forest Lodge“ in the middle of a rubber plantation in Anapara. The bijoux, which consists of five spacious pavilions is embedded in the magnificent tropical fauna in the middle of the forest. Another highlight was the „Coconut Lagoon“ in Kumarakom, which is located on an enchanting lake in a magnificent garden setting and captivates with its traditional Kerala houses. Both the food and the therapists were top notch. Also a very exciting place is the „Spice Village“ in Periyar, which is located in the middle of a tea plantation at an altitude of about 1000 meters and is therefore very pleasant from the climate.

If you are looking for an international luxury hotel with a very good Ayurveda department and many spa treatments, you will find it in „The Leela Meridien“ at Koralam Beach. Enough of the good well-being in India, now we briefly take a look at the second trip to India when Narenda Moodi was in campaign mode and had orchestrated one of the most professional international election campaigns (that I have ever seen/witnessed) and at the same time propagated a tourism promotion program for the state of Gujarat, from which both Moodi and Ghandi originated.

Ayurveda: The three Dosha types and their characteristics

The doshas shape the characteristics and functions of a person’s physical and mental abilities. Here, in a simplified way, are the three most important types out of a total of ten differentiations.

Vata type: strong-willed, responsible, enterprising, courageous, emotional, motivated, creative, flexible, spontaneous, freshness, joy, happiness. Negative: anxiety, fear, nervousness and jumpy.

Vata – kinetic principle – breathing, & movement (joints and muscles) responsible for stimulating Agni (digestive fire), for elimination, sensory perception and speech.

Organs: Large intestine, lumbar and sacral regions, thighs, bones and sensory organs.

Qualíty: Provides cellular fluid, shapes physique/structure, makes joints supple, moisturizes skin, strengthens immune defenses and is responsible for internal development.

Y/T time: life phase from 46 – 80 years, months: November to February, times of day: 2 to 6 o’clock and from 2 to 6 o’clock.

Tip: ensure a lot of inner and outer peace, avoid cold and prefer warm food.

Pitta type: fiery, courageous, truth-loving, promoting understanding, dialogue and intelligence. Negative: anger, hatred, criticism, jealousy,

Pitta – thermal principle – (body temperature) it regulates metabolism, digestion, energy, heat and skin coloration. Responsible for hunger, thirst intelligence and bravery,

organs: navel, stomach, large and small intestine, sweat, blood, vision and external activity.

Qualítät: regulates the body nature, enzymes, amino acids and controls biochemical processes.

Y/T period: phase of life 17- 45 years. MOante: July to October. Daytime hours: 10 am to 1 pm and 10 pm to 2 am.

Problems: Fever, inflammation, eye irritation, bleeding gums, moles, freckles, tendency to sweat, acidity of the stomach, skin problems, ulcers, sensitive teeth, premature graying, Pitta types are often workaholics.

Tip: Eat something immediately when hungry

Kapha type: slow comprehension, good long-term memory, makes decisions thoughtfully, hard to get upset, comfortable, content person, has stamina, Negative: greed, envy, cling to material things and immovable states.

Kapha – hydro principle (synthesis and union) responsible for lubricating the joints and for oiling and greasing the tissues and skin (metabolism), potency and stability

Organs: chest, throat, head, joints, stomach, tongue,

Qualíty: regulates breathing, heartbeat, nervous system, blinking of the eyes and the movement of the olasma

Y/T period: life phase o to 16 years. Months: March to June. Daytime hours: 6 to 10 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.

Problems: Coughs, colds, benbulism, phlegm, depression, desire to eat, weight gain, lethargy, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, water in the tissues.

What is good for the three Dosha types?

Vata type: Warm, heavy and oily foods that taste sweet, sour and salty are good. So cucumbers, carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, squash, radishes, asparagus, apricots, avocados, bananas, berries, honeydew melons, churches, oats, wheat, rice, nuts, poultry, meat, fish and boiled eggs. Cold, dry and light foods and cold drinks are to be avoided.

Pitta -type: Good are cold foods, foods and drinks that taste sweet or bitter, such as cauliflower, brocolli, peas, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, apples, avocado, dried fruits, figs, cherries, mangoes, oranges, plums, legumes, dill, fennel, cardamom, corriander, mint, cinnamon. Hot, spicy, salty or acidic foods should be avoided.

Kapha type: light, dry and warm foods that are spicy or bitter tasting are good. Eggplant, cauliflower, brocolli, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, salads, apple, apricots, berries, cherries, raisins, dried fruits, all grains except oats, all legumes except white beans, garlic, honey, buttermilk, cottage cheese, madel, fish, game, shellfish, eggs, sunflower oil. Avoid heavy, oily, and clammy foods, as well as everything that is sweet, sour, and salty.  

Lust for life and protest to the sounds of calypso in London, Trinidad and Zurich

Fantastic costumes at the parade along with hot Calypso-sound at the Carnival in Port of Spain on the caribbean island Trinidad


Let’s stay in the Caribbean for a while. At the end of the 80s, I traveled for seven weeks from Barbados via St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and the Grenadines down to Trinidad and Tobago off the coast of Venezuela, i.e. through the entire Westward Islands. The highlight was the carnival in Port of Spain. What started in 1777 with the French immigrants in Trinidad and was reserved for a colonial minority, developed into a musical protest movement after the liberation of the slaves. Thus, the carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is for many the event that has become the purpose of life. It is celebrated in ecstatic joie de vivre, spurred on by hot calypso sounds.

For several months, a whole family is busy preparing for the costume creations and the parade. In addition to glamour, prestige plays a major role; the family’s fame and prestige increase considerably when a queen or king of the carnival joins the family chronicle. To be there is everything, to win is even more beautiful. Long before the parades, the favorites among the steel bands are determined in elimination procedures. Not only the playing virtuosity counts, also the provocative originality of the lyrics is evaluated and awarded, because calypso knows no taboos. Everything is allowed what pleases and arrives.

Even after the slave era, the calypso remained the satirical and also cynical mouthpiece of the oppressed. The lyrics of the singer-slaves were peppered with socially critical undertones and insurrectionary, political slogans. Then, at last, come the three magical days of steel drum parades through downtown Port of Spain, their sound setting the movements of the drifting dancers to a swinging rhythm with eruptive force, transforming Queens Park Savannah into a seething witch’s cauldron. In the process, the dancers hugged each other close to the skin and rubbed against each other tantalizingly and lightly clothed. The girls at that time had fun to dock in pairs from the front and from behind, to take you in the sandwich and to rub against you with heated bodies. I have rarely seen such lewd and erotic dancers.

So you learn to dance in a flash and move rhythmically to the hot calypso sounds. And this happened, as unbelievable as it sounds, in an environment that was as Catholic as it was Muslim and Chinese, because Trinidad is a melting pot of all these and many Caribbean and Latin American nations that live together peacefully on an island no larger than the canton of Bern. In 1833, tens of thousands of Indian contract workers also arrived on the southernmost, small Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, and since 1962 the island, which includes the neighboring island of Tobago, has been independent. Trinidad owes its name to Columbus, who remembered the holy trinity, the Trinity, when he saw the three mountain peaks. When Columbus arrived in 1498 on his third voyage, there were two Indian tribes living there, which were wiped out within a few years of the Spaniards‘ arrival. But back to Carnival and the calypso to which Trinidad’s folklore owes so much.

Thus, long before the opening of the carnival, in relentless elimination procedures, the best steel bands are chosen to participate in the parade. However, it is not only the pure musical virtuosity on the sound instruments welded together from gasoline barrels that counts – much more important are the cheeky, provocative lyrics, because calypso knows no taboos, neither when singing or playing nor when dancing. Anything that goes down well and pleases the strict jury is allowed. The lyrics have always been peppered with socially critical and rebellious political tones, and this tradition continues to this day with much wit and charm.

The band’s motto usually also determines the choice of costumes. Here, too, an enormous amount of imagination and creativity is involved, because a band, no matter how excellent, has no chance of making it to the final round anyway without original costumes. The graceful glittering robes exceed the body size by several times. This daring gigantism can only be accomplished with sophisticated technology and elaborate landing gear. For several months, entire family clans are busy making the costume creations and mythical creatures.

It is already midnight before the start of the carnival, which begins with the opening parade at four in the morning, as it does here. Time drips by and minutes turn into hours. Alcohol is already flowing and will continue to do so for the next few days. Finally the time has come, everything is streaming outside, the narrow streets lined with tropical bushes are flooded by a pulsating stream of people moving towards the city center and epicenter of the carnival. Apart from glittering eyes and garishly painted faces, not much can be made out in the darkness just before sunrise. Diesel engines roar abruptly: The first semi-trucks start moving and join the stream of people creeping forward. On top of them 20 to 30 steel drums and other instruments are united and big loudspeaker towers are built up, whose sound with eruptive power and hurricane-like bass vibrations catches the movements of the people drifting in the stream and sets them in a swinging rhythm.

From all points of the compass, the steel bands converge on Queens Park Savannah, transforming it into a seething cauldron of witches. The silhouettes of the parade ramp and grandstands stand out in the dawn. Stands are set up all around, dazzling booth magic beckons, and everywhere the loudspeakers boom to the hilt. An indescribable cacophony that makes you lose your hearing and sight. In the afternoon, the bands and their costumed entourage parade behind them through the streets of Trinidad and up to the grandstands in Queens Park Savannah, where the jury is also seated and the hawsers parade down an alley between the grandstands.

Now you can see the gigantic, filigree, magnificently glittering and fan-like swinging works of art, which are decorated with thousands and thousands of glittering sequins, especially well. The giant fan and wing-like birds of paradise flutter rhythmically dancing through Trinida’s streets. A city out of control! But despite all the anarchy and the apparent dissolution of all laws, the precise timing of the end of the carnival seems incredible: As if swept away by a thunderclap, the spook dissolves at midnight after two intense days and nights.

On a second sailing trip from Grenada to Trinidad, which I organized for some friends, the carnival in Trinidad swept us away so much that we wanted to bring it to Zurich. And we succeeded, thanks to the Trinidadian percussionist on board the schooner. Ralph R. and his wife Angi, both passionate about playing the steel drum, and Ralph, who also taught several steel drum bands and children’s bands in Zurich, were the ideal candidates to bring the most famous calypso musician Mighty Sparrow on board. Through Ralph’s contacts we were able to invite Mighty Sparrow, the eight-time „King of Calypso“ to an exclusive gala concert at the „Hotel International“ in Oerlikon. For this we arranged an open-air at the market place in Oerlikon with eight Stelldrum bands the day before, on a Saturday.

Thanks to the cooperation with the „British West India Airlines“ (BWIA), which flew new to Zurich at that time, we were able to fly Caribbean top chefs to Zurich during six weeks before the „Calypso & Steeldrum Festival“, to provide all fresh ingredients and plenty of tropical decoration to offer Caribbean flair, tropical cocktails and delicious exotic specialties and dishes at the „Hotel International“ in Oerlikon. Through the „Calypso & Steeldrum Festival“ I was allowed to cooperate with Roger Schawinski’s „Radio 24“ and was his guest for an interview and a special broadcast. Also at „Radio DRS 3“, which did a one-hour show about the Calypso from Trinidad and Mighty Sparrow, I cranked up the promotion track.

In addition, Frederic Dru of „Radio Tropic“ was also interested in really celebrating this event. Swiss Television was inspired by the Mighty Sparrow concert and the Caribbean for their first travel show, since „SRF“ travel editor Kurt Schaad and the music editor of Swiss Television were freaked out by our gala concert. Although we had to seat people for fire regulations, people soon stood up, clapped, sang and danced and so we quickly cleared the chairs away. There was a bomb atmosphere and it was definitely the craziest concert ever held at this venue. Equally gratifying was that as a result I began working at „Radio Tropic“ on a voluntary, unpaid basis and then soon produced my own travel show with the airlines, tour operators and tourist boards, and had complete freedom to do so. What a brilliant experience! I was able to do two-hour specials on Australia, Africa and the Caribbean on the commercial-free radio station, and two years later I had the opportunity to produce shows at „Radio Kanal K“ as well.

The station in the canton of Aargau, also known as a music and culture radio station, also gave me a lot of leeway and so, to everyone’s amazement, I invited the four cantonal party presidents to the studio for the hotly debated „Asylum Initiative“ of the SVP and moderated the debate with virtuosity. Also present were Gerry Müller, who later became mayor of Baden. The next protagonist was Andreas Glarner of the SVP from the Aargau municipality of Arni, who achieved media presence through his scandals in matters of migration policy (ban on veiling and minaret initiative). In addition, the two cantonal FDP and CVP presidents also came to the studio for the debate. This was my first highly political and at the same time high-profile interview with four top politicians on one of the hottest topics in Germany at the time. It was a very engaged and controversial discussion, which I, as the moderator, had a good handle on.

Through the cooperation with the British West India Airlines (BWIA) at the „Calypso & Steeldrum Festival“ in 1993 and later with the French airline „AOM“ I was able to fly frequently to the Caribbean and during one of these trips there was a side trip to Grenada, which I visited for the second time. There we received a special invitation to a breakfast on a US warship.

4. Mexico, Cuba, Carnival and US Invaders

Mexico: Church in San Juan de Chamula near San Cristobal de las Casas

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Mexico 89: Mystic Easter Processions of the Mixtecs Indios

Mexico’s face shines brilliantly, the cradle of archaic Indio high cultures. Both the ancient temple complexes and the contrasting, magnificent colonial cities of Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas stand out like jewels from the dazzling Sierra Madre. In the homeland of the Tzotziles, Tzetales, Chamulas and Lacandones, the indigenous people are about as primitive as the people of Valais or Grisons. And yet these cultures, the history and the landscape are not the same as ours. Their cultures are more close to nature, more anarchic, more clannish and far more spiritual. In the highlands of Mexico, one of the oldest peoples in Central America, the Mixtecs, celebrate their impressive Stations of the Cross processions every year. The ceremony represents a strange symbiosis of Christianity and the deity world of the Mixtecs. In deepest religiosity, the Indians worship both Jesus Christ and Mary Virgin, the Virgen de Guadaloupe, and their charismatic hero Rey Condoy, who saved them from annihilation and oppression.

From 200 to 900 AD, in the temple city of Monte Alban, the Zapotecs ruled over all of Central America. For unknown reasons, they left the stronghold located near Oaxaca, which was subsequently occupied by the Mixtecs. I spent a few days in Oaxaca, a magnificent colonial style city and visited the impressive cult sites such as Mitla, Zaachila and Yagul. Back in the picturesque old town,, on my way to pick up my laundry, I happened to glance in at a backyard where a woman with long, curly hair was standing at a peculiar machine doing a job that made me curious. She noticed my presence and called me in, whereupon I saw what she was doing. She was standing in front of an ancient French lithography machine from the early 19th century and was printing some lithos. Unexpectedly, I had walked into the studio of the famous Oaxacenian painter Tamayo. We struck up a conversation and did so for over two hours. Her name was Marcela and she told me that she was going to the mountains over Easter to visit the Indians and their processions over the Easter holidays because she wanted to bring school books to a teacher. This sounded tempting and inspired me, because I had always wanted to go to the Indians, for whom I had a soft spot since my childhood through the Winnetou movies. He was the role model in my childhood, the Apaches my inspiration.

So I immediately joined Marcela Vera and so the next morning we took the public bus into the mountains to Zacantepec at an altitude of almost 3000 meters. The ten-hour ride was adventurous and very arduous. Holding on to the handle at the top the whole time, I stood between sacks, chickens and children sitting on the ground, constantly rocking back and forth pressed tightly against the other passengers and Marcela as the bus snarled its way up into the mountains over a narrow scree pass road with large, deep holes. There were two rest stops due to the two tire changes. As the only gringo on the bus, I towered over the Indians by a head’s height, after all, and so I could not only see the passengers swaying but also unabashedly memorize their furrowed facial expressions and lively gestures for hours. In Zacantepec the road ended. Here begins the realm of Rey Condoy’s sons and daughters.

In gloomy darkness and thick fog, we arrived in the Zapotec Indio town, which consisted of three stone houses, a zocalo (village square) and a church with a corrugated iron roof. There was a single inn above the only small store that had nothing else to offer except a few clay cans, mustard jars, tubes of mayonnaise a few bunches of peppers, some coffee and mezcal liquor. For a week, there was practically nothing to eat. After only three days, Marcela, the picture-perfect painter, and I were in quite a mystical mood, snuggling ever closer in the cramped, barren, cold room. Our hearts began to throb more and more wildly and soon we were making unrestrained love until, in complete darkness before dawn early in the morning, a dark, somber voice in the Indio dialect suddenly rang out from a crackling loudspeaker from the village square, accompanied by heavy somber church music. To this, a melancholy music of wind instruments, drums and marimba sounds held through the darkness. We looked out our room window and saw the ghostly fog pouring in from all directions, deeply veiled, ghostly Indio figures streaming toward the corrugated iron church.

We left the room and sought out the church as well. The women had separated in the nave from the poncho-clad men, who for once held their sombrero in their hands to take their seats in the pews. Children and elderly women knelt in front of the incense burners. Sweet-smelling clouds of smoke filled the room and enveloped the padre, who was the only one dressed in a white cassock, giving him a ghostly, mephylike appearance. Now a padre was giving a pastoral speech in the local Indio dialect before a statue of the Virgen de Guadaloupe, the black Virgin Mary. More fascinating, however, were all the awe-struck Indio faces under their colorful rebozos, the scarves they wore as head coverings and slung over their shoulders. The sparse candlelight, the clouds of copal incense and the sea spreading on the floor, smelling strongly of spruce needles, as well as the magnificently decked out honorees with their silver-studded canes as insignia of their dignity, transformed the nave into a very spiritual and mystical world. I myself felt like an alien in this indigenous community. Flickering candles illuminated all the serious faces marked by hardships. For once, pride melts away. The uncomplicated and cheerful outlook on life that conceals harsh reality gives way to the revelation of their hardships, worries and fears of their long-suffering indigenous mountain existence.

Then it was off! The Indio women shouldered the Virgen de Guadaloupe and the men a statue of Jesus Christ on their shoulders, then the whole Indio troop moved up the steep mountain. They split into two groups again and I decided to join the women’s torch and candlelight procession and so we nimbly climbed up the narrow, slippery paths with them. On the way there were a few Stations of the Cross rituals and at the seventh Stations of the Cross the two processions joined at a small clearing in a square around the banner bearers and the women kneeling before their thuribles. Now the Padre gave another speech and just at that moment the sky fully opened for the first time and the sun shone like a divine spell directed at the small Indio community, as if it were specially blessing this gathering. Their chants put me in a trance and it was extraordinary to live this spiritual experience as the only „gringo“ and foreigner among the Mixtec Indians.

Devout and overwhelmed by this authentic spectacle of deepest indigenous and poignant emotions, we too became part of this world and merged, so to speak, with them and their ancestors. The Indians must have felt this as well and gave me their trust and pulled me into their innermost circle. When one of the banner bearers came out of the circle of dignitaries and approached us, at first I was very frightened because I had secretly taken pictures of the reunion of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

I was afraid that they had caught me taking pictures and that I would be offered as an expiatory sacrifice and impaled on one of the lances. The fear was not unfounded, as tourists have been killed in Chiapas for photographing the local Indians. Instead, as a gesture of their hospitality, I was brought in to the center of the procession and allowed to be one of the three banner bearers. What a gesture and honor for me, which touched me very much, since I had been abysmally critical of them for the time being. I was really touched! On many further journeys to the indigenous peoples around the globe I found out again and again that I have a special spiritual connection to the indigenous peoples and obviously also have telepathic abilities to be able to communicate a little beyond conventional language barriers.

Now united, women and men together contest the remaining seven Stations of the Cross until the removal of the carved image of the saint on the Zocalo. The entombment and mass are followed by the burning of Jesus Christ. Now the gods and ancestors are worshipped again in the traditional way. According to Aztec and Mixtec beliefs, divine authority must be acquired, the teacher of the village school of Zacantepec explains to us. According to tradition, Nanauatzin, who dared to jump into the fire the first time, became the sun, while Teciciztecatl, who followed him, became the moon.

One thing seems clear, that the Christian god is one of the many gods in the Indio world. Therefore at this point the question is allowed, whether it really plays a role in which God, faith or in which Gods and dogmas one believes? Is Allah better than God and are now the Sunnis, Shiites, Wahabites or Alewites on the right path? The Christians or Buddhists more enlightened? Back to the Indians. At least here there is no „holy war“ proclaimed by humans; the Indians prefer to leave that to the gods.

All the more I opened myself to the Indios and in the following days and other crazy processions I often fell into a trance up to ecstasy, and that without the Nanacatl mushrooms or other drugs like mescaline. Feeding myself only with half a bottle of mezcal liquor a day, I tried to calm Montezuma’s revenge, that is, the stomach upset. As a result of the lack of food and the altitude, the alcohol level had a particularly good effect on the intoxicating trance states. There were no more language barriers and the universally unifying overcame all cultural boundaries. Thanks to the young painter Marcela Vera from the studio of the famous Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, I learned more and more about the history and identity of the Mixtecs. Henceforth, the indigenous natives on all continents were to interest me particularly, not to say magically attract me.

Witnessing Zapatista Indio Uprisings in Chiapas

10 years after my first extended trip through Mexico, I returned to Mexico as a journalist in 1994 when the indigenous uprisings escalated in Chiapas and the Mexican Army soldiers entered the region of the six villages and San Cristobal de las Casas to push back the „MARCOS“ rebels and crush the indigenous uprising. The six letters „MARCOS“ were the initial letters of the six rebellious Indio communities in the area around San Cristobal. „M „argaritas, „A „ltimirano, „R „ancho, „N „uevo, „C „omitan, „O „cosingo and „S „an Cristobal. Ten kilometers away is San Juan Chamula, the village of the traditional Chamulas, where the uprising began on January 1, 1994.

From this arose the „Subcomandante Marcos„, known as the leader and always veiled. The jewel and the crystallization point of the Chamulan world of faith, where God and the gods merge, Christ rose from the cross to be resurrected as the sun, is a baroque village church from the 17th century. There we drove past tanks and roadblocks, military helicopters circled in the sky and soldiers and troop movements were everywhere. In Ocosingo, during the time I was there with a nutritionist for infants from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (DIF), bullets were flying around our ears and we were lucky that none of them hit us, leaving only bullet holes in the walls of the houses.

The Chiapas Uprising was started by the „Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional“ (EZLN), a so-called radical leftist movement that rebelled against new state impositions in the state of Chiapas and closely resembled the Mexican Revolution. The Mayan Indians were suffering from the free trade agreement of globalization and racist policies in the Mexican administration, and they wanted to resist because they were being oppressed and excluded from participating in the political process. The conflict began when, in January 1994, an „EZLN“ offensive occupied four towns around San Cristobal de las Casas, whereupon the Mexican military used violence and repression to end the situation on the ground, including the use of torture methods. In 2001, under the leadership of MARCOS, the Zapatistas made a march from Chiapas to Mexico City, and on January 1, 2003, they took San Cristobal de las Casas. Only after that did more and more NGOs advocate for peace negotiations and put pressure on the government. Ultimately, however, the fate of the indigenous communities did not change much for the better. 

After I had escaped from this dangerous place, I experienced a heavy earthquake in Chiapas and a turbulent hurricane in Yucatan. So Mexico has really not spared with impressions, that has always been a hellishly hot country, not to mention all the drug cartels that were fighting each other bestially at the time. Impressive was the river trip through the Sumidero Canyon, on whose slippery rock walls up to 1000 meters high, experienced climbers could pull themselves up over the heads of ravenous crocodiles and dozens of vultures were already waiting for possible victims.

The misty valleys and enchanting lake and river landscapes of Lago Monte Bellos on the Guatemalan border and the wildly gushing cascades of Agua Azul were also among the highlights of this trip. I avoided, if possible, the tourist strongholds, such as Acapulco, Cancun in the state of Yucatan, Ixtapa in Guadalajira and Loreto as well as Los Cabos in Bahia de California and preferred small dreamy places such as Puerto Angel north of Huatulco. For this I also visited as many Mesoamerican temples as possible – from Teotihuatlan to Monte Alban, Palenque, Chinchen Itza and Uxmal and was deeply impressed by the sophisticated architectural masterpieces of the local indigenous high cultures with their apocalyptic drug use.

For one thing has meanwhile been scientifically proven and has come to light: The high priests owed their power and wisdom also and above all to their intensive drug experiences with psychoactive substances from plants and cacti like „San Pedro“, „Nanacatl“, „Ollolqui“ etc. and impressed with their spirituality and the borderline experiences also their surrounding tribes and cultures.

My fascination for indigenous peoples increased steadily with my first encounter with the Mixtecs in the highlands of Oaxaca and with the rebellious Chamulas in Chiapas, and with my later acquaintance with the Khoi San and tribes in Southern Africa. I felt very connected with them and experienced very impressive, not to say extremely supernatural moments and hidden spiritual abilities in terms of instincts and intuition and mental abilities such as telepathy. If there was (for me) a life before today’s, then I was for sure an Indian, a shaman or a bushmann.

I was especially impressed by the second highest South African Sangoma healer Credo Vusama Mutwa, who also attested to my healing qualities and extraordinary abilities and with whom I could have done an apprenticeship. „Eagle Eye“ I was called at Tzotziles and at a shaman meeting in La Valle Dieu, France, where the Sun Dance was performed and hundreds of shamans from all over Europe met, the head guru had assigned me the name „Clever Fox“. With the Aborigines, I myself was amazed at my archery bull’s-eyes at the first attempts. So there were things that I had never done before, and in doing so, brought about abilities that must be somewhere in ancient genes. Later, there were the encounters with numerous Indian tribes in the Amazon, in the highlands of Peru and later the original Asian cultures in Malaysia, on Borneo, in Indonesia and on Bali, as well as in the Philippines, in Vietnam or Laos.

In Mexico, there is now a project called „Rutopia“ that enables tourists via an app to live together with the indigenous people for a while or to spend vacations in their villages and village communities. This allows the local indigenous population to also benefit a little from tourism and to show guests their way of life and culture, but also to share their worries and fears with them. In turn, guests experience unique access to magical moments away from mass tourism. Personally, I hardly ever booked a hotel and if I did, it was mostly for the first night after I arrived.

Then I let myself drift and chose something suitable on the spot and often asked the locals what they recommend. So, when I asked for a place to stay, often good conversations and valuable tips resulted and often the accommodation problem was solved by itself, because I was invited by some people as a guest right away. I liked to swim against the current and preferred to look for places far away from mass tourism and preferred small hostels or accommodations with private persons.

So my dear readers, now it goes on to Cuba, the socialist sugar and tobacco paradise that I have visited a total of seven times since 1993. We begin with the very miserable times.

Philippines 95: Incredible Spirit Healer Skills

Swiss Photojournalist Gerd Müller talking to the local chief of the tribal people in the Philippines
Swiss Photojournalist Gerd Müller talking to the local chief of the tribal people in the Philippines

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

On a second trip to the Philippines, I first took a boat trip to explore Palawan Island, Busuanga Island and the Coron Islands, and then went to see Filipino spiritual healers in Luzon. Half a year before, a 25 year old healer came to Switzerland and Germany, who obviously already had cult status. In any case, three dozen people were waiting in Zurich for a short session with the healer. One after the other, the people gathered in a darkened room and briefly told the spiritual healer, who was in a trance, their request, whereupon he examined and palpated them and did strange things before my eyes, such as opening the body with the fingertip in certain places, whereupon the flesh wound opened up and he dipped his fingers into it.

The Filipino spiritual healers are said to have the ability to dematerialize their fingers when they are immersed and thus merge with the body tissue. Whether one may believe in this and their ability to remove cancerous tumors is one thing, what I have seen is another. But his fingers, pushed deep into the flesh, immediately became invisible under the surface of the skin and fused with the tissue. There were no more fingertips or tips to be seen, only the base of the finger above the skin surface remained visible. I was able to look at it up close from above and from the side, as incredible as it was. When he pulled the fingers out, it immediately closed the gaping wound and what was left was a slightly reddened area on the surface of the skin. „Absolute madness!“ I have never seen anything like this before and only twice with two spiritual healers, the one in Switzerland and just this one here in Luzon. Since then I perceive the world with different eyes and sensors.

This spiritual craft fascinated me so much that I went to a session in Zurich before without hesitation. My concern was a severe chronic cough due to excessive smoking. So first he penetrated my larynx with his hand, then as he entered my chest I felt a slight spreading pressure on my ribs, but not painful and finally I felt his hands enter my abdominal cavity as well. Fully conscious, I watched as his fingers disappeared into the gaping wound. Just unbelievable the abilities of this young spiritual mind healer, who gets his magic directly donated by the „Virgin Mary“, as he said. But the craziest thing is that the cough instantly disappeared into thin air, the lung function was considerably better and this condition certainly lasted three, four months! Also in the case of my daughter’s mother, who had a cancer smear with a PAP3 finding during pregnancy and therefore went to see the healer, she regenerated herself and the cancer cells after that session. No one would believe the story if I had not taken some proof photos of these surgical cuts and manual, spiritual interventions. This was so fascinating that I wanted to find out more about the healing methods of the Filipino spiritual healers on the island of Luzon and went there. After asking around for a while, I found another spiritual healer there who also treated Western tourists. Similar to Ayurveda in India, word had spread in European circles among cancer patients that there was perhaps hope of being cured in this way when Western medicine came to a halt.

At the healer’s in Luzon, I participated in an electric cable session where the participants shook hands in a circle and then were energized to a low volt connection. The local spiritual healer also opened the bodies with his hands and muddled around in them. Sometimes he pulled out small pieces of tissue and threw them into a plastic bucket next to the examination bed. „These were metastases,“ he explained, and I would have loved to take tissue samples and have them examined. With this spirit healer I was not quite so convinced whether it was not a „Hokuspokus“, because there were also fellow travelers among them, who tried to earn money with the reputation of the spirit healers with western tourists. The young Filipino who was in Switzerland, however, enjoys my highest respect and my unrestricted trust. Finally, the effect of the extraordinary treatment could be verified in some people. The session in Luzon did not seem to have any effect on me, but it did not do any harm either.

At the end of this trip to the Philippines I experienced an unpleasant surprise. I was arrested at the airport when leaving the country. Allegedly because I have the name of a person who was written out in the Philippines and was wanted. In fact, when I first entered the country, the border officials questioned me at length about my name and origin and wanted to know if I had ever been to the Philippines? When I answered in the negative they let me enter. But now the old problem seemed to be back on the radar of the migration authorities and prevented my exit. So I had to go to the Minister of Tourism, on whose invitation I was in the Philippines, to be released and allowed to leave after two days of detention plagued by fever and chills. Had it not been for him, I would have had to travel to Manila and present myself at the Ministry of Justice.

Fortunately, I was spared this and in order that other tourists in Switzerland would also be spared something like this if this happened to other travelers, I published the telephone number of the Minister of Justice in the newspaper with the reference that in such a case one should contact the head of the justice authority directly. This reference in the Swiss media was not appreciated by the Philippine Embassy. Even more: A few years later, when I was invited to the Philippines by the press, I was suddenly disinvited again and my efforts at the Philippine Embassy in Bern were also unsuccessful, although I sent them all passport excerpts with my travels abroad. When the Philippine military attaché contacted me with a negative reply and stamped me persona non grata, I knew that the US authorities were certainly behind the maneuver. They certainly had detailed knowledge of my numerous trips to Cuba and the Eastern Bloc. With it I had definitely arrived as a socialist friend on the „NSA“ and „CIA radar“.

Brazil/Salvador de Bahia: In the Cauldron of Magical Slave Energy

Brasilien: Candomblé Ritual, Salvador de Bahia | Candomblé spiritual ritual
Brasilien: Candomblé Ritual in Salvador de Bahia | Candomblé spiritual ritual in Salvador de Bahia

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

During one of the first of a total of five trips to Brazil, after the Iguacu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, I also discovered Salvador de Bahia, the landing place of the Europeans and the first capital of Brazil. If you want to get to know the exotic facets of Bahian life, get ready for hot come-ons, cool rejections and delicious consolations, at least during Carnival. If you dive into the mystical world of the candoble and let yourself be overwhelmed by the overwhelming spirituality, you will leave the local world and fall into a trance to the point of ecstasy. A trip to Salvador de Bahia is like a departure to new shores. First of all, it is admirable how exhilarated the Baihanos go through life. Remarkable how they express their joy and sorrow.

The mystical world of gods and spiritual source of the Bahanos is reflected in the Candomble, which gave reason for the Christian mission, especially since Bahia was the starting point of the western explorers and conquerors. Not only the bastions along the coast testify to this. The roots of the slave tower are deeply anchored in the local culture. Especially the candomble spirituality, lived out in secret, bears witness to this. When hundreds of gospel singers resound with fervor, not only does the earth tremble, but the air in the far periphery also vibrates, as with an approaching hurricane. The psalm-singing Catholic boys‘ choir next door in the Sao Fransico monastery in the baroque old town district of Pelourinho really sounds rather pitiful.

Rarely does one discover such a playful people that has produced an incredible number of dance and musically gifted people. In Salvador de Bahia, the cradle of carnival and samba, there is no standing still or being stiff as a board. Everything is in flux, everyone is constantly on the move, more or less gracefully. Another Bahian specialty is capoeira, the martial art disguised as dance. Here, too, the graceful flowing movements are recognizable, flowing through the whole life and triggering impulses. But not only in expressing feelings also the body cult is on top of the agenda. In this the Bahianos hardly differ from the Cariocas. There is hardly an Adonis who does not present his athletically steeled body in his skimpy briefs. There is no woman who does not proudly walk around the beach in her Fio dental (tooth thread) bikini, flirting with her grace and freedom of movement. No wonder the church has sent more friars here than anywhere else in the world. In Salvador de Bahia alone, 165 houses of worship have been built.

In 2003, I was stationed in Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil for three months as a resident manager for a Swiss travel company and had a hell of a good time. Few guests, so no stress, a hotel room right on the Beira Mar (that’s like the Copacabana in Rio), and a good vehicle with which I could drive all the way to Jericoacoara to the fantastic sand dunes or south to Moro Branco. I was very attracted to the Brazilian lifestyle, music, language and cultures on previous trips, so I also learned a little Portuguese. Since I spoke Spanish well, it was easy for me to get started and I like the Brazilian dialects better than the harsh Spanish accents. I am also enchanted by the music of many Latin American sounds: from the tango in Argentina to the bossa nova of a Gilberto Gil in Brazil or the folk dance forro, as in Fortaleza, from the salsa and son in Cuba to the merengue in the Dominican Republic, all these musical styles and dance forms appeal to me very much.

In Fortaleza I lived during these three months as a Station Manager at Beira Mar, ideally located also for daily trips to the beautiful city beach Praia do futuro and at night to Praia do Iracema at the end of Beira Mar, where the tourist entertainment district with all the nightclubs was located, which was very convenient for the local tourist service. At the end of the three months, I was shipped off to Sinai, but after the six-month assignment in Sharm el Sheikh, I returned to Fortaleza unemployed because the tsunami had hit Asia and as a result all the travel companies needed fewer station managers and tour guides.

When I returned to Fortaleza, I lived for two months in the Serviluz favela with a friend who had a small brick house near Praia do Futuro and I felt quite comfortable there. Soon I knew a lot of people via Heldon and his friend Joaquin, and the neighbors in the favela also knew me, so I could move around freely there day and night. It was a comfortable time, because I had made good foreign exchange deals with the tourists in Sinai and before in Brazil. This was always a tolerable source of side income in this job. In Poland, I almost became a zloty millionaire. Then a friend from Switzerland visited me and we rented a „Highlux“, i.e. an off-roader, to drive up along the Brazilian coast from Fortaleza in the state of Céara via the states of Maranhão and Piaui to Manaus and to complete the return journey inland.

That’s a good 6000 kilometers we planned to cover in 11 days. The off-road driving was more comfortable than driving on the asphalt road, which was completely littered with holes, up to half a meter deep. The asphalt looked like it had been bombed over a wide area! Therefore, I often drove on the scree strip to the right of the roadway. There one comes basically faster ahead and whirled up strongly dust, which is to be seen already from a distance and prevents the accident danger. The journey went via Jericoacoara, with its fantastic dune landscape, which was surpassed in beauty by the crystal clear lakes in the sand dune landscapes in the next state of Maranhao. An extremely fascinating region! The deep blue Atlantic with lonely dream beaches to the left, a gigantic sand dune strip along the coast and inland the esmerad green jungle. The national parks of Jericoacoara and Lençóis Maranhenses on the Atlantic coast are unique biotopes.

I like deserts better than virgin forests. One gets on better. At least in 4×4. But even here, I would have been stranded without the help of the local fishermen, because on this trip numerous rivers had to be crossed. Except for one time it went quite well, but then we came to a river, which was shallow on our side first about 30 meters, then there was a small sand island in front of the place where the river flowed through a narrow, tearing mouth, like in a funnel. You could just make that out from 40 meters away, and it was probably the most dangerous part. „If I couldn’t cross the last ten meters after the tiny river island at full throttle,“ it would look bad, I thought.

And that’s exactly what happened. So I drove with a lot of speed through the 30 meters wide, shallow river towards the island, but got stuck there due to the slope and had too little momentum to cross the current channel with the ripping flow. and came to an abrupt stop with the engine hood stuck in the water at a 45 degree angle to three quarters. After a few hours, a couple of fishermen approached. Only thanks to a boat in the current channel that lifted the car a little and a car that pulled us back from behind with the wire rope over the shallow part of the river, we managed to get out of the river.

Another time, just as I was walking alone in the sweltering midday heat, I got stuck in deep quicksand. It took four hours, many drops of sweat and endless jerks for a few meters further. The sand was scorching hot, I shoveled like a madman for hours and didn’t think I would make it. But finally it worked out. And so the journey continued to Ilha do Maranhão, one of the largest alluvial areas in the world at the foothills of the Amazon. 800,000 buffalo populate the island, which belongs to only a few Hundert landowners who hardly employ any workers.

Where the animals pass in the dry season, a river course emerges in the rainy season. Thus, the fragile ecosystem and the thin layer of humus is destroyed in just a few years. Year after year, huge areas of virgin forest are being appropriated first for cattle breeding and then for intensive agriculture such as soy plantations. In the past 30 years, almost a quarter of the Amazon Delta has been destroyed. Yet the biodiversity here is unparalleled. In the Amazon alone there are over 2000 different fish. For comparison: In the whole of Europe there are just 150 species of fish. The same is true for all animal species, most of them are endemic.

The adventurous journey continued through the state of Piaui and from there we drove on to Manaus. Then again a good 3000 kilometers inland back to Fortaleza, where we visited the Gruta de Ubajara, Brazil’s largest caves with nine chambers and a depth of a good kilometer, at the Ubajara National Park, about 300 km west of Fortaleza. Now we come to the last and most special Brazil tripf Fortaleza.

Laos 2013: River trips in the Golden Triangle and the Mekong Delta

Laos: Around 2000 Monks are collecting food in Luang Prabang every early morning

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

First it shoots through the multifaceted jungle face and bizarrely rugged riverbed landscapes, then it meanders another 1000 kilometers through rice-growing flatlands and finally fans out into a delta with 4000 tropical islands. The Mekong is the lifeblood of Indochina and the pulsating lifeline for seven million Laotians. What could be more natural than to explore the charms of Laos on a hotel boat and to drift downstream, contemplating the hustle and bustle of Laotian life. To slow down from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, to look calmly over the iridescent green tones of the jungle or to glide over the shining company-ment and to let the soul dangle.

A trip on the Mekong River near the Golden Triangle is still an adventure today and just as exciting as it was in the days of the first Western explorers, the Frenchmen Lagrée and Garnier, who took two years for their expedition (1866-68). They were still struggling up the river in small outrigger boats against the wild rapids. Numerous jagged rocks, huge sandbanks, rocky gorges, narrow bends and the strongly varying water level, which can rise by several meters within hours, require extreme caution and precise knowledge of all dangerous places from the ship’s captains. At night, the upper reaches of the Mekong River are closed to navigation. It would be too dangerous in the darkness on the river. These are the pitfalls in the dry season. In the rainy season, on the other hand, the river swells rapidly by up to 20 meters.

Then logs weighing tons often shoot downstream at breakneck speed. Even on our short trip, the water level rose by three meters within two days. This was due to heavy rainfall in China and the opening of a dam. No wonder the upper course of the Mekong is one of the most beautiful but also one of the wildest river upper courses in the world. Our captain manages indeed, and sometimes resembling a small miracle, even on the way back downstream in the wake of the rapids, to curve around all the dangerous cliffs and skillfully weave through the narrow passages with the jagged rocks. In the dry season, the bizarre rocky outcrops rise up to above the deck of the boat. In the rainy season, they disappear below the surface of the water.

The river trip begins in the cultural heart of Laos, in the historic center of the city of Luang Prabang, which is situated in the protection of the spur between the Mekong and its tributary Nam Khan in northern Laos at an altitude of about 300 meters and is a trading center for rice, rubber and teak wood and handicraft products made of wood, textiles and paper. Since an international airport was built here, it is also the starting point for tourists coming from Vietnam or Bankok. The number of tourists in the old royal city of Laos is manageable. Between the many backpackers mingle more and more jetsetters who want to see the quiet beauty of Luang Prabang before it gets loud and crowded as in Cambodia or Vietnam.

In 1995, Luang Prabang was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. 32 Buddhist monasteries and all of the French colonial architecture in the city were listed and have since been restored. Restrictive urban planning is also in place to prevent violations of the unique art-historical character of the city center. Luang Prabang’s urban history is inextricably linked to the history of Laos‘ origins. The political decline of the Sukhothai kingdom in northern Thailand in 1345 and the shift of the political center in Siam to Ayyuuhaya in 1351 also accelerated the need for a political unification process east of the Mekong River. 1365 is generally cited as the founding year of Lang Chang (the Land of a Million Elephants) under Fa Ngum. As a vassal of the Khmer Empire, Fa Ngum had received the Buddha statue Phra Bang as a coronation gift from Angkor. This was venerated in Luang Prabang, which was the capital of the kingdom of Lan Chang between 1354 and 1560, as a sacred statue with a function of legitimizing the rule.

Around 1356, Luang Prabang became a place of pilgrimage for the Phra Bang Buddha statue. Under King Setthatirat, many Buddhist monasteries were built in Luang Prabang in the 16th century. In the course of the Buddhist missionary work, among others, Wat Pasman was built on the site of today’s Wat That Luang as the oldest sacred building in the city. A considerable loss of power for Luang Prabang meant the transfer of the capital to Vientiane, which King Setthatirath had arranged in 1560 out of fear of attacks from Burma. Nevertheless, Luang Prabang remained the cultural center of the country. For more than three centuries, it became a pawn in the struggle between Thai and Burmese for political supremacy between the Irrawaddy and Mekong rivers.

When Laos came into the crosshairs of the power-political rivalry between France and England around 1886, France hoped to reach southern China by sailing up the Mekong River, but the Mekong proved to be unnavigable throughout. Nevertheless, the French were interested in political control of Laos as a strategic safeguard for their colony of Vietnam. Cleverly tactical, France took advantage of the distress in which the Laotians found themselves in the face of raids by Chinese gangs in 1887 and unceremoniously declared the region of Luang Prabang a protectorate of its colony Union Indochinose (1893-1954). In contrast to Vietnam, Laos was not of economic importance to France. Until the middle of the 20th century, Laos and thus also Luang Prabang were strongly influenced by cultural and architectural influences of the colonial power France. Even before France’s devastating defeat at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, Laos was granted political independence in 1953.

Despite the International Laos Conference in Geneva in 1962, at which the country was granted neutrality, military supplies for the Viet Cong in South Vietnam during the Indochina War passed through Laotian territory along the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail. Heavy bombing by the U.S. Air Force was the result. The CIA inflicted death and devastation on Laos on an unbelievable scale during the Vietnam War (1965 – 1975); the Americans bombed Laos with over two million tons (fragmentation and napalm bombs as well as the nerve agent „Agent Orange“). More bombs fell on Laos than on Germany and Japan combined in World War 2. Nevertheless, the GI’s did not find the Ho Chi Mingh Trail. The peace-loving Laotians have a 200-year history of conflict with foreign aggressors. Every year, hundreds of people are seriously injured by mines. Defusing squads, mostly women, still search the ground for bombs. The city of Luang Prabang was largely spared the fighting, although units of the communist Pathet Lao organization entrenched themselves north of the city in the Pak-Ou Caves area. In 1975, communist units captured the city.

Luang Brabang is home to over 2500 monks who make pilgrimages through the streets of Luang Prabang every morning shortly after sunrise in their orange robes, taking mild offerings in their pots from the faithful and tourists. Mostly elderly women and tourists, let the procession of monks pass by kneeling and donating to each a handful of rice, some fruits, candies, a few banknotes or other things to live on. What cultural sites and religious treasures are there to discover here? First, there is the Royal Palace (Ho Kham), built between 1904 and 1909, now the National Museum, where the throne of the rulers of the Lan Chang period stand. Then the Vat Xienthong (also Wat Xieng Thong) – a temple complex on the Mekong River, built in 1560 under King Setthathirath and restored in 1960-1962. It was the only temple in the city to survive the looting of 1887 intact. The architectural style with the roof reaching almost to the ground is typical for northern Laos.

A gem is also Vat Visounarath (also called Wat Visoun or Wat Visounarath) is a temple complex located on the southeastern side of Phousi Mountain. King Visounarath founded the monastery in 1512, which was destroyed by Chinese hordes in 1887. Most of the complex was rebuilt in the 20th century. The sim (Lao term for the main building of a wat)from 1898 contains Khmer-style window columns. Inside, since 1942, there is a museum with numerous Buddah statues especially in the rain calling gesture typical of Luang Prabang (standing with overlong arms pointing down parallel to the body).

In addition, there are two other temples: That Makmo (the Watermelon Stupa) donated by Phantin Xieng, the wife of King Visounarath, in 1504, the stupa was rebuilt in 1932, with the precious grave goods transferred to the royal palace. And the Vat Sop stupa in the northeast of the old city, founded as early as 1480 as the funeral temple of King Chakkrapat. Behind Vat Sop, on the street called Thanon Vat Sop, there is a typical Lao Baan residential quarter, where you can get an impression of the everyday life of the locals. Last but not least: Mount Phousi (130 meters high, 328 steps), the topographic accent and spiritual center opposite the Royal Palace with a magnificent view of the city area, the Mekong River as well as the forested mountain landscape in the surrounding area. Then head to the night market at the foot of Phousi in Thanon Sisavangvong, the main street of the old city, handmade textiles, sou-venirs and food are offered daily between the Royal Palace and the cross street Thanon Setthathirat from 6 pm. Many of the women traders belong to the Hmong people, who are known for their high-quality weaving, embroidery and sewing.

In Laos, beyond Theravada Buddhism, there is also ancestor worship and animism, which are still widespread among the many ethnic minorities (Hmong, Khmu, Akha or Lanten) in the mountainous regions in the inadequate north bordering China and Burma. The Hmong, for example, are archaically structured opium clans with magical spirit worlds and mythical powers, who to this day believe in their spirit world, with which they have a lively connection through their opium and canabis consumption. The opium farmers live in the isolated highlands of the Golden Triangle completely self-sufficient and reject any government, as well as modern living structures to this day. They live in dark huts without electricity or heating in the most remote highland regions of Laos, as they did hundreds of years ago, and engage in skirmishes with Laotian government soldiers. But the latter are just as unable to secure the Laotian border as the Vietnamese allies, who engage in skirmishes with the Chinese. The Chinese often get the short end of the stick and are said to have three times as many casualties. The Thais also repeatedly tried to invade Laos and were repulsed by the Vietnamese. Since the generals in Hanoi made it clear to Bankok that they would advance right up to Bankok next time, there has been calm on this front.

The Hmong allied with the Americans in the Vietnam War and supplied the CIA with thousands of tons of raw opium annually for their costly war. Rumor has it that the CIA packed 150,000 tons of raw opium per year into empty ammunition crates and flew them directly to Mexico on the doorstep of the United States using Air America pilots and private charters from the Corsican mafia in Laos, which was heavily involved in the international drug trade. The CIA thus not only financed its dirty war, which cost a billion dollars a day toward its end, but also fueled the opium trade and drug consumption of quite a few U.S. citizens and Mexicans. The irony of history: The top Hmong general lived in Washington and enjoyed the protection of the U.S. government, otherwise he would have long since landed in The Hague. The Hmong exodus has resulted in over 150,000 U.S. emigrants in San Diego. Furthermore, many Hmong also live in French Guiana and are therefore Europeans with French passports.

Laos magical Mekong meander and the 4000 islands.

Afterwards, we will descend by plane from Luang Brabang to the commercial metropolis of Pakse in the south of the country, where the second part of the river journey in the Mekong Delta begins. Here the river landscape looks quite different. Wide river streams, flat land mostly overgrown with rice paddies or sand islands and here and there extensive hill ranges far away on the horizon. The trip is very leisurely and more focused on the life on board. You sunbathe on deck and read a book or listen to music and let the world just glide by. That was then the less exciting but all the more leisurely and relaxing river trip. But also here in the south there is a large temple complex called Vat Phou. However, it is a temple complex built by the Khmer. Not quite as impressive as Ankor Wat in Siam Reap, the capital of Cambodia, which I also visited and was impressed by the colossal Khmer cultural strongholds.

But in the morning we are greeted by elephants taking a dip in the Mekong River. Before they either set off on a tourist safari, silently stalking through the dense jungle along the impressive river landscape, carrying enthusiastic backpackers on their backs, or are needed for work assignments around the village. They are the strongest builders‘ helpers, replacing the crane and the tractor. Under the shouts of the Mahuds, the elephants skillfully pile up the huge logs that they had previously placed in the right position.

In Laos there are also still numerous wild elephants in the inaccessible regions of the north. To this day, between 40 and 60 new species of animals are also discovered there every year. A new species of deer and the largest spider in the world are also among the most amazing discoveries. Unfortunately, due to the destruction of the habitat of flora and fauna, a large number of animal and plant species are threatened with extinction here as well. In 1996, 68 species of mammals, birds reptiles and fish were considered endangered. However, about 14% of the territory is now protected. Forests are threatened primarily by logging, clearing for arable land, and fuel production, with about 8% of the country’s energy needs met by wood. Annual forest loss is estimated at about 300,000 hectares.

Another tourist highlight is the picturesque karst and river landscape around Vang Vien. The Boracay of Indochina, where backpackers get high on grass and opium, is halfway to Laos‘ capital Vientiane, which like Luang Brabang is known as the city of a thousand temples. Here, the sacred That Luang stupa with its chunky gold-plated tower towers above all other religious structures, while on the lowlands near Pakse, Laos‘ economic center, the intricate ruins of ancient Khmer temples can be seen at Vat Phou, the largest Khmer complex outside Cambodia.

In the lowlands of the Mekong near Pakse, where the Mekong Islands await their guests, lie the 4000 tropical islands on the lower reaches of the Mekong. On the largest of them live 30,000 Laotians, who intensively use the fertile alluvial soil for agriculture and also engage in lively fishing. Rice cultivation, fishing and agribusiness have been the most important resources of the country, from which the lowland Laotians have lived quite well. On the smallest Mekong islands and alluvial dunes, on the other hand, there is hardly room for two herons or a palm tree. The Mekong River has already reached a considerable width here and fans out into a wide delta.

So it is no wonder that the market of Pakse, the largest goods transfer point in all of Indochina is. It is unbelievable what there is to see and taste here. Gigantic the abundance and mountains of rice, vegetables, salads, spices, fruits and fine fresh Mekong fish. There are thousands of frogs jumping around in bowls, there are grilled rats and snakes, small puffer fish and all kinds of other specialties. You, dear reader, should see this with your own eyes. After a side trip to the Kuang Si waterfalls, we return to the capital of Laos, Vientianne.

Vietnam (1993) developed faster than a Polaroid photo

Vietnam: Tons of CO2-emmissions every day are polluting the air in Ho Chi Mingh City

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Through the cooperation with „Singapore Airlines“, which just started and lasted for more than 15 years thanks to Chrstina Hollenweger, I came to Vietnam at a time when the war-ravaged nation was still on the ground and the population was starving and deprived. But from then on, Vietnam evolved faster than a Polaroid photo. Ho Chi Minh abdicated – Honda and Coca Cola became „in“. Spectacular landscapes, fascinating ancient cults of the minorities along the border and in the north and as a contrast the fast life of the Kinhs in a turbulent awakening phase – Vietnam is a country full of wonders, delights and contradictions on the way between ghostly past and hopeful future. In the streets of Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Ming City, the craziest dance on two wheels imaginable took place: Thousands of female moped riders, often with the whole family, sometimes even four of them, roar through the streets and toward the intersections, honking and rattling, weaving themselves into a dense tangle, squeezing and squeezing their way through the twisted stream of directions, and shortly thereafter scattering again like a school of fish. Breakneck maneuvers are the only order and reliable constant in this traffic chaos. If you don’t dare to ride one of those rented mopeds yourself, you can have a cyclo driver take you through the streets.

At the time, the mobility craze signaled the unbridled spirit of optimism of the post-war era and reflected the „song voi,“ or fast life, that had gripped the inhabitants of „Motor Scooter City“ like a fever. For Vietnam’s youth, who know the tough and bloody liberation struggle only from school textbooks, Coca Cola, hamburgers and Honda are more important than Ho Chi Ming’s revolution. Cheekily made-up girls in tight jeans, glowing red cocktail dresses or yolk-yellow hot pants, all strutting through the streets on high heels, embodied the Western-oriented trend and contrasted the image of traditionally dressed women in flowery white, semi-transparent „ao dais“ with fluttering hair, gliding like fairies on their bicycles across the glowing asphalt. The „Doi Moi policy,“ Vietnam’s perestroika toward market socialism, furiously accelerated the metamorphosis from stale communism to unrestrained consumption and ignited a tremendous entrepreneurial energy in the land of the rising dragon. At that time, the power elite aimed to join the circle of the „Asian tigers“ by the year 2000 and to boost tourism mightily. And they managed to do both.

At that time, Ho Chi Ming City and Hanoi ticked completely differently and were as different as day and night. In the power metropolis of the communist party, located 1600 kilometers north of Saigon, life was much more leisurely and tranquil, the new freedom flourished more cautiously and the climate was more pleasant. The influence of the French, who declared Hanoi the administrative capital of Tonkin in 1883 and later of all of Indochina, can still be clearly seen, not only in the French baguettes that are a tradition in Vietnam, but also in some of the old colonial-style buildings, which reflected the savoir vivre of the French and their bohemian influence on culture, painting and infrastructure and had little to do with the hectic, free-spirited vitality of the South. But of course, here too the dollar has relegated the dong to a mere spectator role. Between the two metropolises lie the mystical worlds of the hill tribes, such as the Thai, the Khmer, Kohor and the semi-nomads, the Hmong. The 53 minorities together make up only 10 percent of the population of the Kinh, as the Viet Nam people call themselves, but at that time they inhabited almost seventy percent of the Vietnamese land surface. Except for the Lang Bien region near Dalat, where at the foot of the Nui Baz (Women’s Mountain). In the „forbidden zone“ of the mountainous hinterland along the Chinese border, where one of the last matriarchies is hidden, there were some restricted areas for foreigners. The main axes from the Mekong Delta via Saigon to Dalat in the southern Vietnamese plateau and via the seaside resort of Nha Trang up to the old imperial city of Hue were well developed thanks to the Americans, but the road after Cloud Pass to Hanoi was disastrous, as if it had been covered with a carpet of bombs, which is true. In addition, the pass roads into the highlands are often impassable in the rainy season.

Vietnam’s tourist highlights include: Da Lat, the „Valle d’amour“ of wedding couples, the vacation resort of the rich from Saigon at that time and before that for the French. A pretty, melancholic, dreamy little town, with

Coffee and tea plantations. The temperature is moderate even in summer, the climate pleasantly cool, like in a Swiss mountain resort. Furthermore: Nha Trang, a lively seaside resort with a picturesque fishing port, an idyllic coastal and river landscape, the Cham temples of Po Nagar (from the 7th Nis 12th century) as well as fine French street cafes, sultry nightclubs and excellent hotels, as well as all facets of cultural and tourist attractions. Hue the imperial city on the Perfume River with its forbidden palaces, towering pagodas and magnificent boulevards is also one of the most beautiful destinations in Vietnam. Those who also travel to the north of Vietnam should take a boat trip through Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. „If you haven’t visited the Bay of the Descending Dragon, you haven’t seen Vietnam,“ flutters the picture-perfect lift agent Thuy (meaning clear water). Cruising on a junk through the bay, which is dotted with more than 3,000 rocky outcrops rising steeply from the sea, feels like a bit of a pirate’s adventure.

Although prostitution had been banned by law since the days of Madame Nhu, President Diem’s sister-in-law, who was as slit-eyed as she was mischievous, that didn’t change the fact at the time that more than half a million women and underage girls populated the bars and brothels of South Vietnam, and you saw plenty of con gai everywhere. With the economic boom and the influx of foreigners rich in foreign currency, prostitution had surged again. The lively interest and beguiling laughter of a Phu Nu Viet Nam could therefore also have been of a purely business nature. For many, it was probably a matter of bare survival to alleviate poverty and hunger. Even girls of tender age were not afraid to offer their sisters for sale. How this fit in with the Confucian world view was not clear to me. On the other hand, already in the Dong-Son culture (700 to 257 B.C.) a matriarchal dominated society was visibly established, which was known for its permissive customs and was a constant thorn in the side of the Confucian patriarchal die-hard Chine-sen and also the cause of many wars. The assumption that the self-confident and emancipated women of Vietnam not only took out the same right as the men, but also the use of love services almost belonged to the good tone, was neither confirmed nor denied.

As Confucius wisely said, „Dealing with women and subjects is extremely difficult“. In order to reduce the difficulties, the Chinese philosopher devised three patriarchal rules that lasted for a long time. The woman, as a girl, had to submit to her father, as a wife to her husband, and as a widow to her eldest son. The man, however, had all liberties, he was allowed to repudiate his wife and sell his daughters. Such patriarchal ideas were not well received in Vietnamese society. Even though Confucianism arrived in Vietnam about a hundred years before Christianity and displaced ancestor worship, it was not able to eliminate the matriachal structures and traditions that had been established since the Dong-Son culture. Want an example of the heroic female fighters?

Shortly after the birth of Christ, the Trung sisters faced the enemies at the head of the Lac army and – on their fighting elephants. In spite of heroine-like resistance, they were finally defeated. But instead of surrendering to the enemy thirsting for revenge, they preferred to sink in the floods of the Red River rather than surrender to the superior opponent. As heroines, the Hai-Ba Trung sisters are revered to this day. This also made them desirable to me and so I decided to enter one of these matriarchies, which were located in a district closed to foreigners. With the help of a Swiss living in Saigon, who knew a Vietnamese journalist, who in turn had contacts in one of these areas, I got into the matriarchy in the trunk of the local radio team and at the end of the day on the same way out again. In between were exciting hours at the foot of the Nui Baz. Here and there the pointed straw hats of the farmers‘ wives protruded above the planting, moving rhythmically forward, and women loaded with huge bales of hay trudged past us with their legs wide over the steaming earth. Unmissable signs warned us unmistakably (if you knew Vietnamese) that we were in a „forbidden zone“ here in Lang Bien. When we arrived in the village, we were hardly noticed. Usually the whole village would flock together and you would be surrounded by a crowd of children begging for candy. Not so here. We approached an old man sitting in the cool shade of a tamarind tree and asked him for the village elder(s), whereupon he rose and led us to a hut lit only by smoldering pieces of wood, whereupon first four women with Mongolian faces entered the dark room, placed a clay vessel in front of our feet and invited us to drink. Heavy, sweet wine ran through our throats, more like an alcoholic thick juice. Then the conversation about their customs gets going. Their village community includes about 35 families and over 300 souls. We get right to the point and want to know more about the matriarchal structures. With great matter-of-factness they tell us that here the women choose a man and ask his family for the hand of the chosen one; that after marriage the man takes the name of the woman and moves into her house; that on the death of the woman the inheritance passes to the eldest daughter and that the widower is often married by the eldest sister of the deceased. If he does not want this, he must plant a tree on his wife’s grave and wait 13 months before he is allowed to remarry.

That everything in a matriarchy is not necessarily much more idyllic than in male-dominated societies is shown by a brutal competition for brides, which was only put to an end by French missionaries. If two women with burning hearts desired one and the same man, a brutal power struggle ensued under the supervision of the village elders. The women had to stick their heads deep into the water of the village stream and the one who stayed down longer was the winner. The loser forfeited her life. So it was a decision and a fight to the death. And so it also happened that one of the women, seeing herself in a losing position in the face of a more long-winded competitor, tied her hair under water to a tree root so as not to emerge earlier than the competitor and thus won a victory, albeit a fatal one. For the loser was also sent to her death. Thus the bridegroom had to go on a bride search again. Among the Bang-Tin, Lin-Hot and Chinh-Lah, as most of the families are called, the women are in charge, but they also do the main work in the household, in the fields and in raising the children. In comparison, the men lead an almost feudal life. Their work is limited to building houses and extending water pipes. In addition, they have plenty of time to play and gossip. However, important decisions in the family and in business, in the management of money and in family welfare are the undisputed domains of women. If the strong Lat women of Lang Bien did not recognize the social order of Uncle Ho (whose name means the enlightener), they agreed with his words to the strong women of Vietnam: „Anh huug, bat khuat, trung han, dam dang“ – The Vietnamese heroine fights relentlessly, patriotically-stand firm until self-sacrifice.

Borneo 96: Stalking through the jungle with handicapped Orang Utang

Malysia/Borneo: A handicaped young orang utan at the reha station in Sepilok, Sarawak

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

In 1996 I made a trip to Malaysia to celebrate 50 years of independence from the British Crown and after the state celebration with all the Asian heads of state I first traveled around Malaysia by car for ten days and visited Taman Negara National Park in the rainforest before flying to Borneo and landing in Sarawak. The goal was to explore the situation of deforestation for palm oil production and the situation of the Orang Utan, whose habitat has been destroyed. At Lake Batang Ai I started the expedition into the rainforest and hired a guide with a dugout canoe to lead me to the Iban Headhunters living here. After two days of traveling from Lake Batang Ai by canoe upstream through the sea of deforested tropical tribes flowing downstream, I ended up in one such longhouse village. These longhouses are built on stilts, up to 100 meters long and have a continuous wide corridor leading to the longitudinal veranda. In the longhouse, one apartment is lined up next to the other. So that everyone knows what the other of the clan is doing. Unfortunately it was very awkward to have conversations with the headhunters about their traditions and way of life, because nobody understood English. So everything went only by observation and a „low-level“ communication. In addition, I came down with malaria, which completely laid me up. Although I had swallowed some „Lariam“ tablets, I still felt very bad. Shaken by fever cramps and checkmate, I lay around like a dead fly in the „longhouse“ of the headhunters for three days before I could go back by dugout canoe to a jungle camp that had a radio station. There I tried to make contact with my family in Switzerland via the radio link and the telephone handset held elsewhere on the radio. When at home in Switzerland the tape recorder instead of a connection came, because it was there in the middle of the night, I said only briefly that I wanted to say goodbye, because I would probably not survive the night. After that I lay down outside under the starry night sky, shaken by further bouts of fever. I wanted to die at least in the open air and not in the tiny, stuffy wooden hut in which I had been accommodated.

What happened now was unique and drove me fundamentally. Whether it was only halucinations or whether I was actually brought back from the Ascension is not clear to this day. In any case I saw purely optically already the stars with comet-like rapid speed coming towards me and felt weightlessly pulled up into the orbit and glided, so to speak, like the spaceship „Enterprise“, which jetted with light speed through the orbit, towards the starry sky. But since the stars can’t come towards me, I realized that either I had taken off like an angel and was now racing towards the sparkling firmament at the speed of light or my fevered brain was doing its antics with my astral body and the journey to the stars was only a hallunzigone vision, ulta exciting and truly enlightening. Then a scream and screech rang in my ears and I heard my daughter and her mother howling in horrified tones, but did not understand a word. „What the hell do they want up here,“ I thought for a moment, and then my little daughter’s voice occupied my mind so much that my light-speed flight to the stars abruptly lost momentum and I completed a loop back to Earth, telling myself that the time to depart had not yet come, since there were two people who needed me. So I swallowed three more „Lariam“ tablets and had now reached the dose for an elephant, as a tropical doctor told me a few days later. But after that it slowly went uphill again.

With the help of the jungle camp residents I got back on my feet, traveled on to Kota Kinabalu to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Station in Sepilok and arrived just at the right time, because at 11:00 a.m. the feeding of the Orang Utan was taking place from a platform about two kilometers further in the forest interior. Two groups of tourists had already started walking before me on the wooden walkway that led a good two meters above the ground into the rainforest to the large visitor platform and the two feeding places in the trees behind it. As I slowly approached the scene with my telephoto lens and recognized the young orangutans on the feeding areas, as well as the adult orangutan hanging from the wire rope that was stretched between the two feeding areas, I also heard the shouts of individual visitors who wanted to persuade the large orangutan to turn around, since he was only sticking his butt out at all of us. The isolated calls were in vain. As a photographer I was also interested that the fat guy u

After that, I stayed for a while, watching the babies get their food and gobble it down and then abruptly disappear into the trees again. But I wanted to be back in the rehab station before the others after feeding and made my way back a little earlier on the walkway. As I tried to sneak past a young handicapped orangutan, with a chopped off but already healed arm, lying backwards on the jetty and blocking the passage, he grabbed me by the lower leg. What was I supposed to do? When I wanted to gently release his hand that was clutching my leg, he simply took me by the hand, that is, by the wrist, whereupon we both, the young orangutan and the still feverish and sweaty photographer walked hand in hand all the way to the station. That was a wonderful feeling. The orang utan could have taken me right up into the treetops to meet his buddies. That didn’t work, but I had a damn good approach in the rehabilitation ward, when we still arrived there hand in hand like good friends to talk to the ward manager. The report about the „endangered“ apes was well received in the Swiss media and besides the seven daily newspapers that printed the report, the „Brückenbauer“ also published the story at that time with an appeal for donations, whereupon several tens of thousands of francs were collected and donated to the Orang Utan Rehab Station in Sepilok.

The orang utan, the „forest man“ in Malay, has been threatened with extinction since the mid-1960s. Despite international species protection agreements, at that time still extremely restrictive trade agreements and the two rehabilitation stations on Semengho in Sarawak and Sepilok in Sabah on the Malaysian island of Borneo, the close relatives of Homo Sapiens are acutely endangered. Greed for tropical timber and palm oil is destroying their habitat, the primary forest. Due to the destruction of their refuges, they are now isolated in small groups. The apes have become known through the Swiss environmental and human rights activist Bruno Manser, who vehemently campaigned for the indigenous people of the rainforest, the former headhunters, and then disappeared without a trace and was possibly murdered by the „timber mafia“, to whom he was a thorn in the flesh.

Bruno Manser from Appenzell lived in Borneo from 1984 to 1990, made records of the fauna and flora of the tropical rainforest and got to know the language and culture of the Penan, a nomadic ethnic group in Borneo, and lived with them. In 1990 he had to flee to Switzerland after he was expelled by the Malaysian government and declared an „undesirable person“. A bounty of 50000 dollars was also placed on his head. In 1993, Manser participated in a fasting action and. a hunger strike in front of the Federal Parliament in Bern to protest against the import of tropical timber. In 2000, despite an entry ban and a bounty on his head, he traveled from the Indonesian part of Borneo (Kalimantan) across the green border into the Malaysian Sarawak to the Penan and was never seen again. Since then, Bruno Manser has been considered missing and was officially declared dead in 2005.

Borneo: Dramatic deforestation and species extinction accepted

What is the situation today? The habitat of the great apes has been drastically reduced and their population has not increased but has been further decimated. Genomicists at the University of Zurich have recently discovered a new species on Sumatra, the Tapanuli orangutan, whose refuge lies in the rugged mountains of the Batang Toru region in Indonesia. A shot orang utan in Raja was examined more closely and classified as a new species by scientists. However, it will also be the species that will disappear the fastest. As in Borneo, the estimated 800 primates are affected by palm oil plantations, forest clearing, urban sprawl and a dam project. And they’re not the only ones silently going extinct. Many other species are also going extinct. One million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. That’s the devastating conclusion of the 2019 „World Biodiversity Council“ (IPBES). Reptiles and birds are having a hard time, but more and more mammals are also becoming extinct. 540 land vertebrate species were wiped out in the 20th century. Most of them in the Asian region. Switzerland has just concluded a controversial economic agreement with Indonesia and relies in the agreement on „RSPO“ standards, which had been developed in cooperation with companies, environmental organizations and aid agencies. According to the draft regulation, certifications would be assessed against four standards. In addition to the „Round table on sustainable Palm Oil“ (RSPO), the „Standard ISCC Plus“ (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) and the so-called „POIG“ (Palm Oil Innovation Group). But this will not stop deforestation or dam projects, and the habitat of the orang utan and many other species is doomed. An agreement with sustainability goals is a step forward, but unfortunately it does not change the fact that overexploitation continues and there are too few protected areas. The demand for palm oil has increased extremely. Accordingly, the area under cultivation grew, which was only achieved by clearing primary forest. Since 2008, the area under palm oil cultivation has increased by 0.7 million hectares per year, an area four times the size of the canton of Zurich. And the demand is expected to double by 2050. On the island of Borneo, 50 percent of deforestation is due to palm oil cultivation. In Indonesia, which is much larger, the figure is already 20 percent. While there are also positive signs of RSPO certification, the majority of farms operate on the principle of economy of scale (70 percent) and only a third are cultivated through smallholders and cooperatives. Thus, the further potential for destruction remains eminently high.

Six percent of all animal species are found on the island of Borneo. For over 4000 years, the rainforests of Borneo have been populated by indigenous peoples. Over the last 50 years, nearly half of the rainforest in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, has been cleared. There are thousands of land conflicts of indigenous communities with large logging companies. Although there has been a convention to protect the rainforests for 30 years, it has never been ratified and implemented by the Indonesian parliament. Furthermore, it can be observed that almost all politicians are either former or still incumbent timber industrialists in Jakarta, as Norman Jiwan from the NGO „TuK“ reports. And only less than 30 of the richest Indonesian families profit from the palm oil industry. Since the rights of the indigenous peoples and their land, which has been used ecologically for centuries, are not recognized, the timber industry can do as it pleases, with the necessary papers from the government. The customers of the timber companies are also the owners of the palm oil industry, who thus earn double from the overexploitation, because only five years after the clearing of the rainforest, the first profits from the palm oil business can already be booked. The kleptocracy in Indonesia knows no borders. The rights of the indigenous peoples are mercilessly undermined, and their land is expropriated with little or no compensation. Once the forest is cleared, the government can easily declare it as inferior forest or agricultural land and lease it to the palm oil companies through licenses, and the local communities lose the rights to their land forever. The international profiteers besides the Indonesian companies are global players like „Nestle“, „Cargill“, „Unilever“, „Procter & Gamble“ and so on.

The port city of Samarinda at the mouth of the Mahakam River, is ideally located to ship the greenbe Gld overseas. The local sawmill in Samarinda and the logging company are „FSC“ certified. Many seek and receive the „FSC“ certifications even though they are ruthlessly expanding their business with land grabs on indigenous lands. Therefore, the certifications cannot be believed. It is pure eyewash to trust them. Because the controllers of so-called certification labels are private companies that want to secure the next orders by certifying as much as possible and without hesitation, says the Austrian „Greenpeace spokeswoman“ Ursula Bittner. „One of the biggest problems with the controls is the players in the business. The more lax the controls are, the more orders flow to the controllers.“ This leads to few and insufficient controls, to intransparency, which hardly allow a real origin traceability, „Greenpeace“ complains. The decisions are oriented towards the industry and corrupt politics. Lukas Straumann of the Bruno Manser Fund in Basel also confirms that corruption is widespread in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Tropical rainforest plywood also made its way to the Tokyo Olympics and was used in the stadiums to form the concrete foundations via „Sumitomo Forestry“, one of the main timber suppliers for the Olympics, according to Hanna Heineken, a financial expert with Rainforest Action Network. The Japanese government subsequently had to admit that tropical rainforest timber was used in all Olympic stadiums, coming from shady sources and companies involved in land conflicts, human rights abuses, tax fraud, licensing fraud and many other economic crimes. Well, and where is the headquarters of the Olympic community?

In Switzerland, in Lausanne. One wonders how far the responsibility of the Olympic Committee extends? Obviously nowhere! The „Olympic Committee“ obviously didn’t give a damn about sustainable games and should be held accountable from now on. Unfortunately, it is also the case that the Swiss government has concluded an agreement with the Indonesian government that is praised as sustainable and, like so many paper tigers, is not worth a cent. It only serves to calm down overly believing consumers, the justification by the exploiters and profiteers in banking and economic circles, but never for the protection of the rainforest or the actual observance of indigenous human rights. This is also the case in the Malaysian part of Borneo. The Sarawak Taib Mahmud family has interests in over 400 companies and has moved its assets to dozens of countries. According to „Interpol“, 150 million US dollars were laundered annually by the Taib Mahmud family through an international banking network. The „Deutsche Bank“ was very involved in this. Malay Prime Minister Najib Rasak was also proven in the „1MbD Scandal“ to have received $681 million from a Singaporean bank that forked out in connection with the immense money laundering in the „1MbD Fund.“