Images of the World: Color it Yellow

Colors set our mood and add an important dimension to our feelings and memories of the places we visit. I thought it might be fun to group some of the photos from our library of California Native images by their predominant colors. This first collection is based on the color yellow.

“How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun.“—Vincent Van Gogh

The delightful city of Izamal, located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is a magical town whose buildings are all painted yellow.

All of the buildings are painted yellow in the city of Izamal.

Built around the 6th century, the Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar (Burma). It’s gilded stupa looks down on the city of Yangon (Rangoon).

Myanmar's Shwedagon Pagoda

A young Tarahumara girl carries her little sister in a yellow shawl, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Young Tarahumaras in Mexico's Copper Canyon

A smiling yellow buddha looks down at worshipers in one of the thousands of temples in Thailand.

Yellow Buddha in Thailand
Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary

Shining yellow light into the night sky, Buda Castle, in Budapest, Hungary, overlooks the Danube River.

Images of the World: The Street Musicians

The world is a fascinating collage of cultures, each with its own traditions, customs and history, which gives them a uniqueness and sets them apart from all of the others. But the more we travel the more we find that so many things are the same and we are more united by our similarities than divided by our differences. In our series, Images of the World, we group our similarities to enjoy them and appreciate their cultural differences.

The Street Musicians: No matter where you are in the world, everyone enjoys music, and entertainment provided by street musicians is universal.

In Iquitos, Peru, a musician plays huayno music, the traditional music of the Andes, on his mandolin.

A Peruvian musician plays huayno music on his mandolin.

A Tarahumara musician, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, plays guitar for visitors.

Tarahumara guitar player in Mexico's Copper Canyon

In Sydney, Australia, a colorful street-musician entertains passers-by.

A street musician in Sydney, Australia

A street violinist plays on a Budapest bridge on the Danube River.

Street violinist in Budapest, Hungary.

In Argentina, the tango is extremely popular, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, street music takes the form of tango dancing.

Street tango dancers in Buenos Aires.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a street musician entertains at the annual flower festival.

Street musician at Chiang Mai flower festival
Street musicians in Prague, Czech Republic.

A Street quartet plays classical music outside of the Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.

Burma Begins at Bagan

“Close your eyes and point in any direction,” our Burmese guide challenged, “When you open them, you will be pointing at a spire.” Sure enough, no matter which way we pointed there were hundreds of spires on the stupas and temples that spread across the almost treeless plain.

In Myanmar (Burma), the ancient city of Bagan has hundreds of templesLocated on forty square miles on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River, 300 miles north of Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar’s Bagan stands as one of the two most preeminent ancient religious sites in Southeast Asia along with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

It was in Bagan that the Buddhist religion took hold in Myanmar, influencing the society, its art and architecture.

Historically, Bagan was formed from 19 villages at a time when the region was beginning a transition from its Hindu origins to the Buddhist beliefs that are still a major force today. Manuha, the king of Thaton, a Mon kingdom to the south of Bagan, sent a monk to convert King Anawrahta of Bamar (the origin of the name Burma) to the new religion. Once converted, King Anawrahta asked for a number of sacred scriptures to be brought to him. The monk was unsure of the king’s sincerity, so he refused the request. In response, King Anawrahta attacked and conquered Thaton in 1057 AD, and brought back to Bagan classic Buddhist scriptures, as well as artisans, craftsmen and architects.

Thus began the golden age of Bagan, highlighted by the building of thousands of pagodas. Over 13,000 of these religious structures were built. Two and a half centuries later, in 1287 AD, Bagan was conquered by Kublai Khan and began to decline.

For many years the region was considered to be inhabited by bandits and nats (spirits). Once the British came to the area in the 18th century, and ensured their safety, Burmese people began to move back to the region.

Over time, floods, earthquakes, vandals and nature have reduced the number of pagodas, but over 2,200 still stand today, many in very good condition. There is beautiful detail on the exteriors and interiors and exceptional murals.

A trip to Myanmar is a wonderful experience—super-friendly people, a cultural mix of British colonialism and Buddhist tradition, magnificent temples and beautiful landscapes, but the true splendor of the country begins at Bagan.

“Nat”-urally Myanmar

In Myanmar (Burma), a nat calmly chews on a pipeThere they stand in a line, offerings of food and flowers covering their pedestals. These figures are called Nats, spirits of the wind, earth, rain and sky, and in Myanmar (formerly Burma) they are representations of people (and animals) who have died tragic deaths. Some are former royalty, territorial overlords or soldiers. One is a former Burmese King. Another is a buffalo, who is said to have raised a prince. The prince was found by some soldiers and returned to the palace, wherein the buffalo followed them and rammed through the palace gates to get to her stepchild before the guards killed her.

On Mt. Popa, the core of an ancient volcano often described as the Mt. Olympus of Myanmar, the thirty-seven “inside” Nats are honored in the most sacred Nat shrine in the country.

Around 1100 AD, King Anawratha, who had learned Buddhism from a missionary, united all the Burmese kingdoms then attempted to convert the people to Buddhism, outlawing the worship of Nats, but this act angered his subjects and they resisted his efforts. Finally, he decided to incorporate the Nats into the Buddhist religion and, declaring Buddha to be the greatest of the Nats, announced that there would be 37 official Nats, whose images he personally carried up to Mt. Popa. These are known as the “inside” Nats. Other Nats, who continue to be worshipped, are called “outside” Nats.

Mount Popa, MyanmarMt. Popa rises straight up from the plain, with a staircase winding to the temple at the top. Along the way are colorful Nat shrines, and pilgrims come from all over the country to give their offerings and make peace with the flamboyantly dressed representations of the spirits. Alongside the stairways, shops sell all variety of exotic merchandise, including bear paws, while frolicking monkeys run up and down the stairs begging for handouts.

It is believed that Nats can cure illnesses, grant favors and predict the future as long as they are rewarded. Otherwise, they can cause a lot of trouble. The spirit of the Nat is believed to enter the physical statue as it is crafted.

Most Nats have regular festival days, when pilgrims come with offerings and ask for favors. Each Nat has foods he favors or dislikes. They all love color, so everyone dresses brightly at these festivals. When a family has a celebration, they may hold their own festival. The Nats have “spouses,” someone who has had a dream in which the Nat offers to marry them. A traditional marriage ceremony is carried out, then the “Natgadaw” presides over the festival. The spirit of the Nat possesses the “spouse,” who then acts out the life of the Nat, accompanied by cheering and hissing. The Nat’s favorite foods are served, and there is much music, dancing, clapping, loud singing and drinking (except in the case of a Nat who abhors alcohol!).

Myanmar society is very conservative, and many believe that these festivals allow people to temporarily abandon the extreme self-control that is the norm in everyday Burmese life.

The California Native’s Summer/Fall Newsletter is Now Available

The Summer/Fall 2009 edition of The California Native Newsletter is now in the mail. The newsletter, published by The California Native since 1984, has more than 10,000 readers (not counting those who download from the web). If you are not already a subscriber to this free newsletter you can signup now.

This issues feature stories include:

Lee Klein prepares to fly over the Nazca Lines on The California Native Peru ToursREVISITING PERU’S NAZCA LINES

The desert markings, believed to have been made thousands of years ago, made little impression on occasional travelers who viewed them from ground level, but when they were spotted by aircraft in the 1930’s they caught the world’s attention. They have since been surveyed, mapped and studied. Only two questions remain—who made them, and why?

Rafting is one of the many options for guests on The California Native Costa Rica ToursRAPID TRANSIT: COSTA RICA STYLE

Costa Rica has long been a favorite destination for both the beginner and the experienced river runner. With ample annual rainfall, mountainous landscapes, and plenty of road-to-river access, the country prides itself on being a whitewater paradise.


Packing a pearl-handled revolver, a riding crop and three lovers, the Baroness Eloisa von Wagner Bosquet disembarked on the Island of Floreana, in 1932, and declared herself “Empress of the Galapagos.”

The cathedral is a favorite hiking destination for guests on The California Native China ToursCOPPER CANYON’S LOST TREASURES

In 1880, Alexander “Boss” Shepherd, the last territorial governor of the District of Columbia, packed up his family and, in the remote village of Batopilas, at the bottom of Copper Canyon, developed one of the richest silver mining operations in the world.


Naxi ladies strolling home after work can be seen on The California Native China ToursBecause the Olympics were hosted in Beijing, chances are that you learned more about China in 2008 than at any previous time. On the other end of the country, far from bustling Beijing is Yunnan Province—home to the largest variety of ethnic groups in China.

The newsletter also includes schedules, prices and descriptions of California Native’s tours to Mexico’s Copper Canyon, Peru, the Galapagos, Patagonia, Costa Rica, Yucatan and Chiapas, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, Bhutan, Yunnan, China, and Ireland.

In Southeast Asia, the New Year Begins in April

During Songkran, the Southeast Asian New Year, people cruise the street in pickup trucks loaded with kids throwing water.
Chauffeured by their parents, kids
patrol the streets with buckets and
water guns, soaking all in range.

While our year begins on January 1, in Southeast Asia the year begins on April 13.  This is the first day of Songkran, also known as the “Water Festival” and the celebrations last for three days. Songkran celebrates the vernal equinox and is a favorite holiday in Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia.

It’s a time for fun, especially if you’re a kid, and in the villages and towns, people in pickup trucks slowly cruise the streets, their truck beds loaded with kids equipped with buckets of water and “Super Soaker” water guns.  Water is constantly flying and everyone is wet, but nobody minds, since this is the hottest time of the year. In one city I watched the local kids and police fighting it out with squirt guns.

Soaking wet California Native founder, Lee Klein, pedals his rickshaw back into the melee of Songkran's Water Festival.
Soaking wet California Native
founder, Lee Klein, pedals his
rickshaw back into the melee of
Songkran’s Water Festival.

During the time of Songkran, many community events and parades are held, both secular and religious, including the Miss Songkran beauty pageant. It also is a traditional time for family gatherings.

As a tourist, it is a wet but great time to visit.