Photo Essay: Trekking the High Scardus — The True Colours of the Western Balkans
Following the High Scardus Trail in Albania through scenery both green and rugged. | All photos: Matthew Nelson

Photo Essay: Trekking the High Scardus — The True Colours of the Western Balkans

The High Scardus Trail is a new, long-distance, transnational trekking route that meanders between the countries of Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia in the Western Balkans. The name “Scardus” derives from Latin, meaning “colourful” — and the 20 stages of trekking in this region are nothing but.

This destination offers a unique opportunity for trekkers to journey almost to another time, witnessing age-old traditions in pastoral, rural communities. The splendour of its wild landscapes is matched only by the authenticity of the local hospitality.

Trekking area
A broken chairlift in Brezovice sits quietly; out of operation, out of season | Matthew Nelson

The first stage of the High Scardus Trail leads from an alpine hut in North Macedonia to the Kosovar border, via the peak of Ljuboten (2,498 metres). At day’s end, we find ourselves in the village of Brezovice, staying at a Yugoslav-era ski resort that looks slightly haunted when out of operation, out of season. A broken chairlift sits forlornly on the outskirts, and snow grooming machines sit in hibernation until the snows fall.

Delicious mountain trout on the menu at Guesthouse Papradjina, Lubinje | Matthew Nelson

The cuisine along the trail leaves little to be desired. Usually one wouldn’t expect to order (or risk ordering) fish in the mountains of a landlocked country, but one of the trail’s many surprises can be found in the village of Lubinje, Kosovo (Stage 3). The owner of Guesthouse Papradjina runs a significantly sized fish farm operation on his property and serves the most delicious mountain trout for kilometres. 

Sampling freshly made Albanian cheese at a factory in Radomire | Matthew Nelson

While on the topic of food, Stage 11 begins in Radomire, Albania, under the peak of Mt Korab, the highest point along the High Scardus Trail at 2,764 metres. Inside the village is a small cheese factory, where if you are lucky, you may be given a cheerful tour by the operator, and taste some fresh samples of the local cheese, a staple throughout the entire region. 

A classic car show has Prizren buzzing with activity on a Sunday afternoon | Matthew Nelson

While on the Kosovo side of the trail, it is well worth taking a small detour to the town of Prizren in the foothills of the Shari mountains, through which the High Scardus passes (“Shari” being an Albanian derivative of “Scardus”). The town is a cultural capital of sorts: old stone bridges, a hilltop fortress, and many monuments and eateries worth visiting. Our visit occurred on a Sunday during a classic car show, and the town was buzzing with families and car enthusiasts.

Sheltering from the storm; Arian, a Kosovar guide, keeps spirits high | Matthew Nelson

Somewhere along the borders of Kosovo and North Macedonia (the trail always finds itself hugging one frontier or another), we encounter thunderstorms and are forced to seek shelter in an abandoned mountain hut. As we wait out the rain and thunder, and arrange our wet gear around a small fire inside, one of our Kosovar guides, Arian Krasniqi, enthusiastically keeps our morale high while our belongings dry.

Warming ourselves in a shepherd’s hut as we wait for the unpredictable weather | Matthew Nelson

Later in the morning, the rain begins to ease; we abandon the hut and hurry towards the Kosovar border. We get hit by more scattered showers along our way, seeking shelter wherever we can. Our next shelter from thunder is inside the hut of this local shepherd. We hear the barking of dogs as we approach the flock, but thankfully our guides can handle the situation, and we are able to warm ourselves yet again and wait for the unpredictable weather to clear.

Found sheepdog during trekking
The regional sheepdogs are all business, minding their flocks vigilantly; best to steer clear | Matthew Nelson

Speaking of shepherds and flocks, which are almost a daily occurrence along the High Scardus Trail, one often finds them at the borders between nations where there is not the slightest hint of a frontier or the existence of a state. The sheepdogs (a unique regional breed) will be minding the perimeters of the flock, and they can be dangerous if one comes too close to their charges.

Erind, a shepherd’s son, shares a hidden panorama in the Diber region | Matthew Nelson

After descending into Albania from Mount Korab, we come to the shepherd’s pastures of the Diber region. Here we meet Erind, the son of the shepherd who housed us. He had returned in recent months from living in London for nearly a decade. He leads me off-trail to a hidden panorama I wouldn’t have otherwise found, and along the way he shares with me a bit of his story. “For work, it’s [London’s] good. For living, no. Seven years go by, you remember nothing.”

Encountering a local farmer on a journey into the past in Rabdisht | Matthew Nelson

From Diber, we cross a pass to descend into a valley where the quaint, stone village of Rabdisht is situated. We encounter this farmer on our walk through the cobbled streets with Sabriu, the former doctor who owns the guesthouse in which we had stayed. Aside from the power lines and satellite dishes, these frontier villages make you feel like you are journeying through time. The food and hospitality we experienced at Guesthouse Sabriu were among some of the best I have experienced in Europe. 

An abandoned bunker in Albania; adorning a symbol of fear with one of compassion | Matthew Nelson

One of the unique characteristics of Albania is that it is strewn with concrete bunkers that hark back to the days of Enver Hoxha’s isolationist Communist dictatorship. Paranoia led Hoxha to order the construction of tens of thousands of these bunkers (the estimates fluctuate greatly) all over the country to defend against what he thought was an imminent invasion from the outside world. No one ever came, however, or perhaps no one was even thinking about little Albania in post-WWII Europe as the Cold War escalated. We decide to adorn these symbols of fear with Buddhist prayer flags — universal symbols of compassion.

A side trip to the old town of Ohrid presents a learning experience about local wines | Matthew Nelson

The final stages of the High Scardus Trail lead us through North Macedonia along ridges overlooking Lake Ohrid, believed to be Europe’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. Though not on the trail technically, a side trip to the old town is not to be skipped, as it features Roman monuments/ruins, and a slew of lakeside cafés and eateries. We find ourselves warmly welcomed by local entrepreneurs who have opened a wine bar on the site of a historic winery.

When in the country, be sure to avoid saying “North” in connection to “Macedonia,” as the locals are understandably still bitter about being forced to change the name after a dispute with Greece (which counts a large part of what was formerly Macedonia as part of its territory). 

One last surprise in this place of discoveries; meeting a philosopher-shepherd | Matthew Nelson

On the second to last stage of the High Scardus, we are greeted by a local shepherd as we sit at breakfast outside of the mountain hut where we had spent the previous night. His name was Naum; he had grown up around animals but had taken up shepherding late in life, after closing a shop in his village that he had owned for 20 years. Having spent his early childhood in Australia, he spoke terrific English and exhibited a wealth of knowledge in poetry, literature, and philosophy unlooked for in such a remote corner of Europe. This encounter again reminds us that there are lessons to be learned and discoveries to be made all along this unknown, splendid corridor.

The writer joined Ethical Travel Portal and Trail Angels on a media-funded trek along the High Scardus Trail through this strongly intertwined region. In visiting Albania, Northern Macedonia and Kosovo, we explored this new and fascinating long-distance hiking route, gaining a greater appreciation for the diverse cultures and natural beauty that it journeys through. The words in the article are Matt’s own, and he has pitched the story according to the same principles as other writers.

Matthew Nelson


Matthew Nelson is an American travel photographer and writer from Des Moines, Iowa. An advocate for sustainable travel, he has photographed responsible tourism initiatives in nine countries, notably in the Western Balkans, India, and Nepal, and is passionate about creating opportunities to travel with a positive impact to both the environment and local communities. His work has been published in National Geographic Traveller Magazine. You can follow his blog on transformational travel and find him on Instagram.

Time to Read:  6 Minutes
Traveller: Matthew Nelson
31 July 2023
Travellers' Tales - In this Moment - Photo Essay

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Everyday Magic, Arts and Crafts, and Abundant Nature in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Jogja, as it is colloquially known, is both a sanctuary of old customs and a quickly developing centre of modern arts.

Everyday Magic, Arts and Crafts, and Abundant Nature in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The once-upon-a-time capital of the Mataram Empire, Yogyakarta retains its spirit and lives up to its fame as the artistic hub of Indonesia. Ancient arts, from gamelan music to shadow puppet theatre, thrive alongside modern galleries and creative performances. This same smooth fusion of tradition and progress can be seen everywhere; in the rice fields and pagoda-like Joglo houses filling the gaps between shiny contemporary buildings, and in all aspects of daily life. Local expert Mark Levitin takes us on a voyage of discovery.


Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my city, I always recommend going straight to Taman Sari Underground Palace and the old quarter nearby. Yes, the standard answer would be Marlioboro Street with its markets and souvenir stalls, but that only showcases how Yogyakarta grows and adapts. The old neighbourhoods represent what Jogja has always been.

The best time to be here is early morning or late afternoon. That’s when it’s not too hot for a long stroll. Otherwise, life goes on around the clock here. Taman Sari itself is open from 09:00 to 15:00.

I tell first-time travellers to get out of the city, visit traditional villages, waterfalls, volcanoes, and temple ruins. I also tell them to avoid wasting too much time (and money, and liver cells) in the bars of Prawirotaman Street.

People from here know better than to look for ciu — local moonshine made of rice or fruits, including a curious variety produced from snakefruit. They’re Muslim, after all. Instead, they would rather enjoy something from a selection of tens of coffee varieties, or angkringan — Javanese herbal hot drinks.

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this city is Museum Sonobudoyo because it covers the entire history of Yogyakarta from prehistoric times to modern days, and explains the intricate culture of Central Java in vitro — just what you need before you go out and explore it in vivo.

Parents should take their kids to Chocolate Monggo Museum and Factory because, well, it’s chocolate. This is the sweetest place in Jogja, literally. A place to digest the methods of making every imaginable type of chocolate, then the chocolate itself. 

Food from the Heart

Among the food (or dishes) my city is most proud of, gudeg is an absolute must. It’s the most famous local speciality — as for the taste, it’s inevitably subjective. Do you like sweetish, slightly overcooked jackfruit? Go for it if you do. I like to go to local warungs, basic eateries with homemade food, to really enjoy it. One good example is Gudeg mBok Joyo near the city centre.

When we get together to celebrate coffee is what people here traditionally drink. I like to gather my friends and go to de Ngokow Coffee Roastery for a cuppa. Set in an historical building, it serves coffee from every province of Indonesia brewed in a dozen different styles, and a large variety of herbal teas.

When I eat completely local, I will go to a mie ayam stall. A simple noodle soup with chicken, mie ayam is filling, extremely cheap — normally below 0.5$ per portion — and delicious. Just gently push away the meowing carpet of fat cats waiting for a dropped morsel, and find a place to sit on a straw mat — many such stalls don’t even bother with chairs.

Another two classic, iconic specialities of Yogyakarta are mie lethek and kopi joss. Mie lethek is a classical type of noodle, apparently brought from China by Tiong Hoa people ages ago. The dough for the noodles is kneaded the time-honoured way, with a large round stone pulled by a bull. Kopi joss, on the other hand, is a recent invention: an inventive coffee vendor decided to try dipping a glowing ember in a cup of freshly brewed coffee (or dropped it there accidentally, according to a different tale). This trick has somehow survived and evolved to become a prized recipe. Kopi joss stalls — the original one and a growing number of copycats, pretty much indistinguishable — can be found along Marlioboro Street just north of Tugu Railway Station.

The part of town where locals come for traditional food is, well, everywhere. It’s Indonesia, most food here is traditional, and warungs are way more common than restaurants. And if you get tired of Javanese specialities, look for a “Masakan Padang” sign — this is where you find the world-famous Minang cuisine of Sumatra.

Street vendor in Indonesia

Shopping Locally

My city is known for just about every traditional craft in Indonesia. Painting batik? Yogyakarta is one of the art’s birthplaces. Making kris, the spirit daggers? Master Jeno Harumbrojo, the most venerated m’pu (magic blacksmith) in the whole country, lives and works in Godean, just west of town. Carving topeng, the wooden masks for classical Javanese dances? Bobung village south of Jogja has specialised in this craft for centuries. And so on. There are hundreds of craft villages in the vicinity of Yogyakarta.

The best market to buy Javanese everyday items like batik dresses and rattan baskets is Pasar Beringharjo. 

I always take visitors to craft villages to buy real, local souvenirs. The products are often made in front of your eyes, and the vibe is as authentic as you can imagine — visualise an old bearded artisan weaving a basket or dyeing fabric in the courtyard of a high-roofed Joglo hut, and you won’t be far from the truth. And we know to avoid tourist souvenir shops because, at best, their merchandise comes from the same craftsmen, but through one or more greedy intermediaries, and with a massive ‘silly tourist surcharge’. At worst, it’s pumped out by an automated production line in China.

Getting Deeper Into Yogyakarta

A great book to learn more about my city is Yogyakarta: Cultural Heart of Indonesia by Michael Smithies.  

Most people know about the kraton, the sultan’s palace, parts of which are open to tourists; but Kota Gede, the ruins of the old royal residence, should also be visited. This was the focal point of Jogja for centuries — and in a city where the monarchs are believed to possess great spiritual powers, sacred significance is assigned to anything related to them. You may see people praying, meditating or performing ritual ablutions in the ancient pool. Modest dress is a must, you won’t be allowed to enter otherwise.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of its culture, both ancient and modern. Old beliefs and rituals here mix freely with hippie vibes and creative initiatives. The same person may run a musical radio channel and a school of debus (the magic art of invulnerability), where the entry exam involves licking red-hot iron (three times, just to be sure you qualify). Ah yes, and the versatile businessman in question is also a relative of the current president… but that’s a different story.

To celebrate my city at its best, come on the 1st of Suro — a sort of local Halloween. This is a date in the old Javanese calendar when this world and the supernatural one intersect briefly, letting spirits in and out. Almost every household stages a ceremony on this day: a night vigil, a ritual purification of heirlooms, or a shamanic possession. The sultan’s dynasty celebrates the 1st of Suro with a Mubeng Beteng Festival — a grandiose, impressive procession of royalty and the royal guard marching through the city in total silence.

Most people think of my city as a place to see preserved traces of Javanese history and culture, but really this is a destination to observe it alive and growing. Ruined temples outside Jogja may tell nostalgically of the glorious imperial times, but the sultan is still here, in the kraton, and his bloodline runs from the legendary rulers of the past. Wayang kulit — shadow puppet theatre — is re-created for tourists, but they may not realise that it’s just as commonly performed at local cultural gatherings and religious festivals. Nothing is lost, not here.

This is one of the best places in the world to witness a volcanic eruption. Locals are not afraid of daily lava flows from the restless Mount Merapi just 20 km north of the city because of the mythical pact signed between the sultan’s dynasty, the volcano’s spirit, and the Goddess of the South Seas, Nyi Roro Kidul. This, if you think about it, also makes Yogyakarta one of the best places in the world to witness magic beliefs in daily life. 

Getting Around Yogyakarta

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that buses here run infrequently, on convoluted, inconvenient routes. The system was designed to separate them from the rest of the car traffic — by creating special “corridors”, bus-only lanes. It didn’t work out. As often as not, it’s faster to walk. Nicer, too.

The best way to travel in my city is through motorbike-hailing apps: Grab and Gojek. Fast, cheap, and immune to traffic jams, they also present a good way to support the less-educated local communities — one of the most common jobs for sustenance farmers trying to make some additional income in the city is motorbike taxi driving. 

Luckily this method of transportation also allows me to see Jogja up and close, breathe its air — still not excessively polluted — and if need be, cruise around its old narrow alleys looking for living culture: from the way people make little gardens in their backyards to age-old magic ceremonies staged to celebrate someone’s birthday. The drivers might provide amusing or enlightening commentaries — they, after all, hail from the same background.

Outside The City

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to hop on a motorbike and check the evergreen surroundings of Yogyakarta by the compass: the northern direction takes me to the lava-encrusted slopes of Mt Merapi, tea plantations and azure rivers lie in Kulon Progo to the west, the southern county of Bantul provides access to the ocean and some of the best craft villages, while Gunung Kidul to the east is karst country — caves, multi-tiered waterfalls, and weirdly shaped cliffs.

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to visit Kaliurang. A viewing tower here allows visitors to observe explosive activity on the summit of Mt Merapi without risking sudden incineration, from a safe distance. Of course, lava glow isn’t visible in daylight, so this is more of an evening trip.

Many people will head to Parangtritis Beach to swim, but locals know to go to freshwater streams instead: the waves on the southern coast of Java are too strong for a comfortable splash, while the natural pools of Kedung Pengilon Waterfall or Mudal River are perfectly relaxed. In fact, while Javanese families come here for a picnic on weekends, on weekdays a few spiritually-minded local men might arrive to meditate in the flowing water. If you absolutely need a dose of ocean, try Siung Beach in Gunung Kidul — rocky promontories protect it on two sides, reducing the waves.

I really enjoy the view of my city from Spot Riyadi — a bend of a nameless country road passing above town that offers a panoramic view of Prambanan Temple, the urban labyrinths of Jogja, and on a clear day, the smoking cone of Mt Merapi in the background. A small café here serves the usual refreshments.

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my city, I pay a visit to an art café or a gallery. Kedai Kebun Forum is an old favourite — it’s a café and an art space running exhibitions, music performances and discussion clubs most evenings.

To hang out with my friends and go to a real insider spot, I go to the little alleys behind the guesthouses of Prawirotaman Street, where the young intellectuals of Jogja usually gather to chill. The student hangout in E Warung Omah Tabon is one good example.

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town (events) is the official calendar published by Yogyakarta Tourist Bureau. Regional calendars for each county add some interesting localised options (such as farmland purification ceremonies, thanksgiving to the sea, and other rituals), but are only available in the Indonesian language on the corresponding government websites.

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I look for a jathilan (ghost possession dance) or an archery competition. Both are very common — jemparingan, a Javanese sport where archers shoot from a sitting position, trying to hit a long vertical target, is regularly practised in Paguyuban Jemparingan Adiwinoto, as well as the small park in front of Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel, and jathilan performances are advertised in Facebook groups, such as Info Jathilan Jogja.

Gamelan performances, staged in the kraton every so often, are my first choice for music because this represents the classics here — very much like an organ recital of Bach somewhere in Europe. And when I feel like something less traditional, I go to Asmara Café — most evenings, there’s live jazz on stage, and the crowd is a mix of local artists and expats. 

Finding Solitude in Yogyakarta

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible city, I go to the less-known temple ruins — not Prambanan, full of tourists all day long, but one of the hidden little shrines like Candi Kalasan or Sojiwan. They’re free to wander around, too, and the only company you’re likely to have is a stray cow.

What makes me proudest of my city is its spirituality — high and mystical, yet without the aloof separation from the mundane, fully merged with daily proceedings at the slow pace of growing rice stalks. The best present for newlyweds, for example, is a blessing from their long-dead forefathers temporarily occupying the bodies of jathilan dancers. Even a posh, ultra-modern café is more likely to be set on the bank of a turbid volcanic river, in the open air (and to hell with the occasional downpour) than inside a cramped, hectic plaza.

Somehow the gradual line of human progress leading from the jungle, through agriculture, into the urban environment, and all the way to the digital world has never been interrupted here at any stage. Corporate offices, conceptual galleries, and youngsters submerged in mobile gaming flow seamlessly into pagan masked processions in old lanes, pottery workshops, and the tangible presence of old gods.

When the Seasons Change, This City Shines

…except the seasons don’t change really, not this close to the equator; so it shines year-round!

Monsoon (December-March) is the best time to visit the waterfalls. Central Java is heavily populated and predominantly agrarian; water, already scarce in the dry months, gets diverted to irrigate numerous rice fields, leaving little to demonstrate the power of gravity over natural streams. Only when the rains arrive do waterfalls around Yogyakarta truly come alive. Sri Gethuk is the most famous, but the choice is almost limitless in the hilly countryside surrounding Jogja. It may be difficult to get to the more remote ones though — here, when it rains, it pours. Mornings are normally your best bet, often they’re clear and sunny; by early afternoon it starts dripping, and in the evening the whole area is one giant waterfall. 

The dry season (April-November) is a great time to climb volcanoes. July and August are the best — that’s when the air is crisp and transparent, cool enough for water vapour to condense in the valleys, creating the proverbial “sea of clouds” scene. Camp on the summit of Mount Merbabu north of Jogja to combine three unique vistas: of village lights turning on down below at sunset to reflect the endless stars appearing up in the sky, of Merapi volcano spewing lava flows at night, and of that fluffy white sea of clouds at dawn.

Mark Levitin

Local Expert

Mark Levitin is an award-winning travel photographer and writer. Mark has been nomadic since the age of 18, which was before digital technologies had arrived in most of Asia, so he started off as an analogue nomad, then upgraded to a digital version. Mark’s preferred region of the world is South and SouthEast Asia. The driving force behind all his wandering is an insatiable curiosity: for anything, any knowledge, generally speaking, but first and foremost, for the diversity of human cultures. See some of Mark’s works on Instagram.

Time to Read:  13 Minutes
Local Expert: Mark Levitin
31 July 2023
Destination Guide

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Have We Lost Our Cool When It Comes to Travel Hotspots?

Have We Lost Our Cool When It Comes to Travel Hotspots?

Searing heat waves have been breaking all known high-temperature records in popular Northern Hemisphere summer holiday spots. The climate change warning bells in these places have been ringing for a while, and are only getting louder; our expectations of what we’ll find upon arrival should adjust accordingly. Is this finally the moment for us to reconsider our approach to travel planning?

We can no longer pretend that there isn’t a climate crisis, and continue treating mass tourism to warm-weather destinations like business as usual. When the heat is on, how can we be considerate of the challenges our host community is facing — and at the same time, be responsible for our own health and welfare? Here we consider some key questions travellers are asking themselves.

What areas are affected?

The last few months have been the hottest on Earth. In the Americas, Europe, North Africa, and Asia, large swathes of the travel map have been affected by soaring global temperatures.

Over the course of the past few weeks, heat warnings have been in place from coast to coast across Canada. Meanwhile in the US, baking in the midst of an extensive heatwave, in Death Valley, California — the “hottest place on Earth” — the temperature recently reached 53.3°C/128°F, according to the National Weather Service.

Official warnings are in place in countries like Italy, France and Spain, recognising a potential health threat during extended periods of heat nearing (and exceeding) 40°C from Milan to Marseille to Mallorca. At the same time, across the Mediterranean and into North Africa, wildfires have been scorching Greece, Italy, Turkey and Algeria. Much of Morocco and Tunisia is sweltering under high-temperature warnings as well.

In Asia, a “once-in-200 years” widespread heatwave has spanned India, Nepal, Laos and Vietnam (to name just a few of the region’s many countries struggling with the heat so far this year). And China recorded its highest temperature ever, with the prolonged heat now causing concern that severe drought may follow.


What can I do about my existing travel plans?

You may already have plans to visit a heatwave zone. Extreme temperatures aside, any traveller knows that at the best of times, there are caveats about visiting many parts of the world; but they’re more manageable if you do your research before you go.

Be prepared — if you’ve organised travel to an affected location, the first, best advice for any journey holds especially true; educate yourself. Seek out trusted sources to learn as much as possible about the situation on the ground. Ensure that what you’re reading is up to date, consult official health and travel bodies for local government advice, and if you have friends or family in the place you’re visiting, listen carefully to any concerns they may have.

Be flexible — whatever you planned for your ‘dream trip’ to a particular spot may no longer be an option. Even the heaviest of hitters, like the Acropolis of Athens, might be temporarily off-limits. Be ready to adapt to circumstances, prepare to skip some of the must-see sights, and read up on lesser-known attractions as a Plan B. Who knows, you may even uncover something special you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise (and help support those who need it most).

Be sensible — slow down and take your time. If you’re the type of traveller who likes to hit the ground running and keep going until you fall into bed exhausted, this can be the opportunity to learn how to pace yourself. Begin exploring early in the morning to enjoy the coolest part of the day; take it easy or rest during the hottest hours (try a nice siesta, it’s also good for the brain!); and venture out again when the heat wanes somewhat in the evening.

Be smart — wear lightweight, loose layers of pale-coloured, breathable clothing. Use adequate sun protection; take it easy on caffeinated drinks and alcohol; and keep hydrated (one great way is by teaming up a refillable bottle with an app to find nearby water points). If an air-conditioned museum, gallery or cinema is an option, make it part of your itinerary and soak up some culture while you cool down. Large, airy spaces like cathedrals can also be noticeably more comfortable than being outside.

Check the weather before you travel

What can I consider before I book?

This is where you can make the biggest impact; by changing how you travel. Fewer, longer trips are better than those that are shorter and more frequent; public transport is better than private; choosing something like a slow, immersive mountain holiday instead of a quick hop to a popular beach resort could be better for both you and the environment.

Be cautious — if you’ve got a chronic health condition or are in a high-risk category, think twice about choosing certain destinations. While this due diligence would be the case for travel in general, it’s particularly important in places where not only will the heat be physically taxing, but other factors like high humidity, smoke or smog can make it doubly so. It’s worth seeking medical advice beforehand.

Be careful — avoid putting yourself in danger unnecessarily, like planning to engage in highly active pursuits in the worst heat of the day, or thinking of going to remote areas during a heatwave. Even super-fit, highly trained people can get caught out by extreme temperatures. Leave already-stressed local emergency services free to save lives elsewhere, instead of rescuing you due to a bout of adventure travel overconfidence.

Be realistic — it’s essential to pay close attention to local government safety advice and heed warnings or recommendations at all times. And while many journeys will still be possible once you follow the official advice and take sensible precautions, there will be circumstances when reconsidering your trip altogether may be advisable. Sometimes, you just need to be safe rather than sorry.

Be patient — as mentioned above, it’s not always possible to travel at the ‘best’ time. But if there’s any flexibility in your schedule, go when the weather is less severe. For most hotspot destinations, the benefits of shoulder- or off-season travel multiply as prices for transport and accommodation drop; visitor numbers calm, making some of the most popular things to do and see much more accessible; and the doors of some of the harder-to-book attractions and restaurants swing wide. Once you beat the heat and try going at another time of year, you may never return to peak season travel!

Some of these tactics may not be your first (or second) choice, but by being thoughtful in your approach, you might just find that travelling more slowly, more carefully, or when most other people choose to stay at home has myriad rewards. And though we’ve focussed here on adapting to the current symptoms of the climate crisis, we must also be proactive about dealing with the cause. The fact is, travel, tourism and climate change are all connected — and each traveller has to address this, not least those departing countries that have dodged the heatwave bullet… so far.

As responsible travellers, not only do we need to manage the manifestation of climate change; but we also must transform our attitude toward travel, and our behaviour during the journey. We shouldn’t just accept this as an inevitability, the ‘new normal’ — our actions can have positive consequences, and it’s undeniably clear that the choices we make today have an increasing impact on the planet of tomorrow.

Emily Cathcart

Resonate Team

From her base in Ireland, Emily Cathcart was delighted to join Resonate as a Content Manager and has been revelling in the opportunity to collaborate with writers worldwide ever since. Emily enjoys encouraging authors through the creation process and also helping non-writers to tell their tales — all with Resonate’s ethical principles in mind. When she isn’t busy commissioning or editing, she can be found, camera in hand, seeking out-of-the-way discoveries for her own site that’s literally All About Dublin. And when Emily’s not working on any/all of the above, she’s writing articles and photo essays as a freelance journalist for publications from boutique magazines to national newspapers.

Time to Read:  6 Minutes
Resonate Team: Emily Cathcart
26 July 2023
From the Editor

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The Hues and Tastes of Xochimilco Market, Mexico City
The Aztec-built canals by the market, where wooden boats make their way through floating gardens. | Photo: Xhico

The Hues and Tastes of Xochimilco Market, Mexico City

On the morning of our native cooking lesson, my friend Gabriel took me to the local market for supplies. Upon arrival, he spotted one of the items on his list, picking up some blackish-blue tortillas. At first glance, they looked burnt… or mouldy. But he assured me they were fresh, their shade coming from the blue corn used to make them; huitlacoche. It was the first of many discoveries that day — in Ciudad de Mexico, the colourful daily Mercado de Xochimilco surprised me with many foods I’d never seen or even heard of before.

28 kilometres south of Mexico City, the market stands in the city’s historic centre, where a marketplace has been since 1550. Nearby are artificial islands, chinampas, built by Aztecs between 700 and 900AD in Lake Xochimilco by making rafts of juniper branches, heaping soil on top and planting crops. Tethered to juniper trees in the shallow waters, the rafts would eventually sink; as they did more were added on top, layer upon layer, to gradually form these islands.

Due to a number of factors including drainage and urban expansion, today the canals are the only remnant of the once-mighty lake. A network of 170 square kilometres of canals runs between 18m-wide islands, a sustainable agricultural system where produce sold in the market is grown by chinamperos. Travelling the manmade waterways, trajineras — brightly-painted wooden boats decorated with native flowers — take locals and visitors on tours of these Floating Gardens of Xochimilco.

As Gabriel guided me through the market, stallholders shouted over the buzz of chatter as we squeezed between shoppers in narrow aisles of vegetables stacked vertically, vivid blocks of colour arrayed like paint swatches. Benches of fish reeked; I recognised only red snapper. Next to a butcher’s stall, where half pig heads hung from an ear, metre-square golden sheets crisscrossed with basketweave patterns were a mystery, glowing under lights. “Chicharrón, deep-fried pig skin,” Gabriel explained. 

Artfully stacked vegetables and golden chicharrón | Photos: Eleanor Hughes

White tripe layered on a counter was smooth on one side, sea sponge-like on the other. Thankfully he didn’t purchase any! Green leaves perhaps 15cm long were piled next to what appeared to be miniature sunflowers alongside stacks of something verdant and wilted, all intended perhaps for medicinal purposes… or for cooking. I recognised coriander further on. The small, round leaves of the papalo herb smelt peppery. 

Chicken heads, comb still attached, eyes missing, lay next to yellow chicken feet on stainless steel tables. Their seeing days were over… I looked away.

We saw plastic cups of coloured jelly cubes in cream; gelatina de mosaico, a popular dessert. I didn’t catch the name of the caramel-coloured honey with cheese in it that we found next door, but it was divine. 

Outside on a half metre-wide terracotta plate scorched black in the middle, tlacoyos, triangular-shaped fritters of ground corn, cooked over a makeshift metal frame. The smell of barbequed corn enticed, a yellow cob proving to be sweet and juicy. Corn has been a staple since Aztec times and huge white, yellow and purple ears of it were abundant. White kernels filling buckets to the brim looked like mounds of popcorn. 

Fresh tlacoyos being made and buckets of snow-white corn kernels | Photos: Eleanor Hughes

Cazuelas — wok-sized clay bowls — held green soup; while pre-packed bags of diced and sliced cauliflower, broccoli, and celery were sold for making minestrone Mexicana at home. Under sun umbrellas, blue tarpaulin-covered makeshift tables and wheelbarrows, wheeled over from the nearby canals, held familiar and unfamiliar produce; ladyfinger-sized pink bananas (pink on the inside too); red and green prickly pear fruit, their flavour resembling kiwifruit; guavas the size and colour of pomegranates.

Chatting women in green tabard-style aprons bearing the words ‘Productores de Xochimilco’ sat on stools behind the display, awaiting a sale. Others made a fresh batch of spicy guacamole to replenish large, shallow terracotta dishes.

Dark green prickly pear cactus leaves, spines spiking from them, were stacked like oval plates. Gabriel purchased a bag of these nopales, sliced for salad, and some golden courgette flowers to be sautéed to fill tortillas. Lying on newspaper was huitlacoche, known as Mexican truffle, corn kernels whose blue colouring is caused by black fungus growth. It smelt earthy, actually of dirt… and went straight into Gabriel’s shopping. More appealing to me at that moment was the cupful of deep red pomegranate seeds that I’d just bought. Their tart sweetness popped in my mouth.

Back inside, knee-high plastic bags and garbage cans held chillies. Fresh, dried, purplish-black, orangey-red, scarlet… every colour under the sun and so many varieties.

Mexico City Cuisine
Visiting the food hall area and checking out the fruity flavours of aguas frescas | Photos: Eleanor Hughes

The waft of cooking food enticed us into a food hall-like area echoing with conversation and clattering cooking utensils. Meat sizzled on barbeque plates, tortillas warmed gently. Diners sat on stools along counters with mouth-watering meals. One option was a tortilla laden with a thick tomato sauce on one end, guacamole in the middle, and refried beans at the other end, strewn with shredded lettuce then sprinkled with grated white cheese. 

Below garish piñatas hanging from beams, mostly depicting cartoon characters, aisles intersected. What appeared from a distance to be glazed ceramic vessels in brilliant hues displayed on white tiles was in fact ‘aguas frescas’; fresh juice. Tamarind, horchata, pineapple, guava, watermelon, strawberry… the purple and light blue ones remain an enigma to this day.

Long slender candles hung in black, white and red bunches above a counter laden with limp stalks of flowers and leaves. Maybe something to do with religious rituals? In a cabinet, I spotted Grim Reaper figurines holding sickles. Owls and money at their feet, they were adorned in fake roses with gold-trimmed cloaks covering their head and shoulders. Containers of mixed dried leaves, pine cones, bark, wood chips and flowers labelled ‘Prostata’, ‘Ulceras’ and ‘Gastritis’ were clearly herbal concoctions recommended for specific ailments.

Mounds of beetroot red, chocolate brown, lemon, orange, mustard, and green mole powders and pastes tempted. Mole, simply meaning ‘sauce’, is used in creating sauces and includes at least one type of chilli variety. With anywhere from six to 32 ground ingredients they can include spices, seeds, nuts, raisins and cacao. The complex, chocolatey pastes tasted and smelt as good as they looked, with layers of flavour. A scoop of a dark chocolate-coloured mole destined for a chicken dish was weighed and added to our purchases.

All the colours; from mole pastes and powders to the jicaleta stand | Photos: Eleanor Hughes

Using my dreadful Spanish, I handed over pesos to buy a white coil of Oaxaca cheese, made from goat’s milk. Fresh and kind of stretchy, it had a feta quality. 

Shopping done, outside on Plaza Central de Xochimilco we stopped at a wheeled cart packed with containers of vivid granules. Slices of something pale on sticks, which resembled peeled, raw potato, were waiting to be dunked (jicama; though Gabriel couldn’t quite translate what it was at the time). The stall holder first coated it with chamoy, a sweet and spicy ruby-red condiment, then dipped it into each container, presenting me with my first jicaleta — a vegetable lollipop of sorts with a sugary rainbow along its length. A tangy flavour hit my tongue as I bit into the crunchy unknown; the jicama itself was crisp and sweetish, reminiscent of nashi pear.

This encounter with a novel vegetable topped off my new food experiences at the market. Leaving the plaza with Gabriel’s purchases in hand, though you’d think I might have been overwhelmed by everything we’d seen, smelled and sampled, I couldn’t wait for even more Mexican tastes to come.

Eleanor Hughes


Eleanor is a New Zealander who wrote children's fiction, then took up freelance travel writing to justify long overlanding travels through South and Central America. A relaxing holiday is not for her; she enjoys discovering, new adventures and a few challenges along the way. When not writing or travelling overseas she's exploring her own country, cycling or hiking New Zealand’s Great Rides and Walks, playing hockey or running.

    Time to Read:  6 Minutes
    Traveller: Eleanor Hughes
    25 July 2023
    Travellers' Tales - Food and Drink

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    Breakfast in Scotland: a Highland Fling with a Side of Bacon
    When the traditional choice is also the healthy one; a simple bowl of porridge is a great source of energy.

    Breakfast in Scotland: a Highland Fling with a Side of Bacon

    If asked to picture a traditional Scottish breakfast, I suspect the first thing most people would think of is a piping-hot bowl of porridge; a wholesome, stick-to-the-ribs start to the day synonymous with my native Scotland.

    Porridge being the breakfast of choice for centuries, it’s no surprise that it readily springs to mind. We inventive Scots even created our own specific tool to stir it, the spurtle. This stick-shaped cooking utensil was designed to stop the porridge from going lumpy or sticking to the pan.

    Made by cooking porridge oats in milk, water, or both, with a pinch of salt and sometimes a dash of honey, porridge harks back to late medieval times when oats were the staple diet of crofters (farmers). The grain was plentiful, nutritious and a great source of energy for people eking out a living in cold, wet winters.

    These days, porridge is chosen more for its health benefits and a regular, everyday Scottish breakfast would look much like the breakfast plates in most European cities; cereal (including porridge), toast, fruit, or a combination of all three. 

    For weekends and special occasions, we have the Full Scottish breakfast. So named because it contains a bit of everything, but quite possibly because after having one, you won’t need to eat again for a very long time! Sometimes called “the full fry” — due to the fact that, like the English or Irish versions, most of the components are fried — it offers its own unique twist to what’s become a popular breakfast offering across the world.

    Scots have unfairly gained a reputation for being stingy, but there’s nothing stingy about our full breakfast! It’s generous, joyously greasy, and will set you up till lunchtime (or longer). 

    Scots have unfairly gained a reputation for being stingy, but there's nothing stingy about our full breakfast

    First and foremost, it’s not for the faint-hearted. The contents of a full breakfast vary between establishments but will generally include everything you’d expect to see in a fried breakfast; eggs (fried or scrambled), bacon, sausages, beans, tomatoes, fried mushrooms and toast. We add a little bit of tartan flair to our version in the form of haggis, tattie scone, lorne sausage and either black or white pudding. 

    Haggis is best tried if you don’t know what’s in it. It’s made with the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, mixed with spices, onion, oatmeal and suet, soaked in stock and then boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Scottish people were zero-waste cooks before it was even a thing! It actually tastes better than you’d think…

    A tattie scone is made with mashed potato (tatties being the Scottish word for spuds). We add flour, butter and salt, then it’s rolled out and grilled. Carby and delicious, it’s my favourite element of the full fry. 


    Lorne sausage is sometimes called square sausage due its unique shape. It’s made with minced meat (beef or pork) with rusk and spices and unlike regular sausages, there’s no casing, which is why it’s packed into a tin and comes out square. 

    White pudding is similar to black pudding but without the blood essential to the latter. Puddings have a bit of a Marmite reaction – people tend to love or hate them. Recipes go back to medieval times, but modern takes typically include suet or fat, oatmeal or barley, breadcrumbs and in some cases pork, stuffed into a sausage casing. It’s served sliced in a fried breakfast, but you can buy a whole pudding with chips in takeaways, called a “pudding supper”. 

    Naturally, to suit modern tastes there are vegetarian and vegan versions of the Full Scottish. Yet what I love about the original is its connection with the past. Scotland is a beautiful country with bountiful culture and wild, unspoiled countryside, but historically it was a harsh place to live. Winters are bitter, and even summer can be a mixed bag! Our full fry tethers us to recent history when we needed a hearty breakfast to spend a day in a field or a factory, and we used ingredients that were locally sourced and plentiful.

    Of course, these days most people work in offices or shops, not farms or fields. For those without the time or the constitution to sit down to a “full” breakfast, a breakfast roll (or butty) is a great way to sample some of the full breakfast staples on the go. Bacon butties are most common, but it’s possible to buy a sausage or egg roll from most breakfast takeaways. 

    I was born and raised in Scotland but have lived in Australia, Spain and Ireland. I’ve gone looking for a Full Scottish wherever I roam, but never found anything close to the real thing. Being Celtic cousins, Ireland comes pretty close; but there really is nothing quite like the taste of home in the form of a tattie scone.

    More on the menu…

    Louise Slyth


    Louise Slyth is a communications consultant and freelance writer. Born in Edinburgh, she has lived in Sydney and Barcelona, and now resides in Dublin with her husband. Her work has been featured in publications around the world, including HuffPost, Stylist, The Independent and The Ethel, to name but a few. When she’s not writing, she’s planning her next trip. You can connect with her on Instagram.

    Time to Read:  4 Minutes
    Storyteller: Louise Slyth
    25 July 2023
    Local Stories - Food and Drink

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