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Earlier this year I found myself back in London for the first time in 10 years.

London has a special significance for me. This is the first place I ever travelled overseas, having quit a job and a life I was unhappy and bored with and leaving small town Australia for something- anything- new. I’ll always remember stepping off the tube and dragging my suitcase up the stairs into Picadilly Circus and right into the middle of it all. This city has helped to change my perspective on the world and given me many more opportunities for travel, new friends and new adventures. I left a small town country kid with not much of a clue of the world and came back years later with eyes wide open, a love of photography and a new fiancée. Its safe to say London has been good to me.

So how to thank the old mare? Make it look pretty in some pictures I guess.

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Old car in front of Spanish colonial building in San Christobal, Mexico (Mark Eden)

They have a thing for bugs in Mexico. Not the street side grasshopper snacks, although they have a thing for those too. Volkswagen Beetles. Cars. They’re are everywhere, and in all forms. Rusted out, dead or almost dead, patched up or someone’s pride and joy lovingly restored and customised, they are impossible to avoid. 

First introduced to Mexico in 1954, and produced locally in Puebla from 1967, these little cars have been an institution ever since. Providing an affordable, easy to fix and fun ride, the “vocho” became nothing short of a love affair for Mexicans.

“You could replace the fan belt with panty hose,” recalls one Mexican taxi driver fondly.

 

However like many love affairs, the attraction began to fade in the late 1970’s and 80’s, with the event of an oil crisis and Beetles were suddenly seen as too polluting and noisy, and eventually the number of cars on the road dwindled. In 2012 taxi drivers were offered a significant lump of cash to trade in their iconic green and white vehicles.

These days, all of the cars to be seen are private, often painted eye catching colours and are as much Mexico as colonial architecture and the cobbled streets they drive on.

Old car in front of Spanish colonial building in San Christobal, Mexico (Mark Eden)
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Portrait of Cuban farmer at his home in Vinales (Mark Eden)

This is Paco. He’s an 82 year old Cuban farmer who I met on a visit to his farm in the Valley of Viñales on the western side of the island.

Paco was happy to sit down and discuss la vida como granjero over breakfast which was, for him, coffee and a cigar, before heading out into the fields for another long day of labour under the Cuban sun.

Born on this same farm, he has barely left it save for journeys into town to sell at the local market and pick up his rations. Cubans are issued with a monthly ration card which they use for essential items such as rice, eggs, cooking oil, sugar, rum and cigars- yes, rum and cigars- and bread. Everything else he and his family eat, they grow themselves.

This includes tobacco, 90% of which he is obliged to give to the government, and the smell of the drying leaves winds its way up to the farmhouse from the drying shed that sits at the bottom of the small slope where the house has been built.

The farm house itself is older than him, he tells me through an interpreter (he has no English and my Spanish is laughable). “Mi padre lo construyó”– My father built it. A chipped, battered weatherboard construction it is, kitchen in an adjoining building and without plumbing, and if the walls were ever straight they certainly aren’t now. Paco now lives there with his wife and two of his brothers who also work the farm. One of 11 siblings, all of the brothers and sisters are involved in farming. In fact, one of Paco’s brothers, who I meet later that same day, runs the neighbouring farm. Like him, they all started early. In Paco’s case this was at the age of 14 and he’s hardly had a break since.

This past year has been hard. A farmer’s prosperity depends largely on the weather and it hasn’t been kind recently. With little rain over the past wet season and now heading into dry season, the immediate future is looking bleak. Lately there hasn’t been enough to eat. The sweet potato and sugar cane haven’t yielded as hoped, and the already dry red soil doesn’t bode well for the next planting.

“How do you survive?” I ask him. “Why do you stay?”. He gives a slight shrug, palms facing upwards, corners of his mouth downwards, “Aquí es donde siempre hemos estado.”– This is where we have always been.

It seems that the sense of home outweighs the hardship. Would he leave his farm behind for an easier life if he could, I wonder? Paco considers this, before rising slowly having finished his coffee and ready to start another day’s toil. “Esto es casa,” he says to me as he trudges off down a red dirt track, cigar in mouth and horse bridle in hand.

This is home.

 

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Dove Lake boathouse

I spent a few nights recently at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and this has instantly become one of my new favourite places on earth.

This is alpine country. A rugged place of glacier formed mountain peaks, lakes and tarns, inhabited by curious wombats and pademelons. The shy Tasmanian devil and platypus are also known to live in these parts but are much harder to spot. Weather here is changeable to say the least, with bright mornings giving way to steel grey afternoon skies and vice versa.

The air here is pristine. You can feel it fill your lungs, pushing out the city and refuelling you. Its as if the air itself  provides a sense of calm and wellbeing. This peace stays with you as you trek the craggy mountain paths, sometimes hearing birdsong, sometimes just the wind. In the green lushness of the forest floor, moss absorbs the sound of a nearby creek causing the flowing water to sound much farther away than it is. Waterfalls dot the path and provide a welcome spot to stop and rest. It is one of those places where, although the signs of civilisation are never far away, it is easy to feel like the first person to step foot here.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to get back.

Cradle Mountain

Sunset over Cradle Mountain

Marrions Lookout

Dove Lake from Marrion’s Lookout

Dove Lake boathouse

Dove Lake boatshed

White flowers

Flowers in the nearby Enchanted Forest

Forest path

The Enchanted Forest

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Fishmonger at Bowrington Road wet market, Hong Kong (Mark Eden)

In Hong Kong, where the air smells of fermenting tofu and the ever-reaching skyscrapers brood over narrow streets, the tradition of the street market is still being upheld in this fast paced, fast modernising city.

Hong Kong’s street markets are places for meeting old friends and buying daily supplies for those living in small apartments with little or no storage for food. Everything can be found here from dinner ingredients to healing potions, shoes and clothing. Tourists come to take in the chaos, locals come to buy the food.

Butcher at Hong Kong street market (Mark Eden)

Red is the dominant colour. Red from the overhead lamp shades installed in every stall, red from the meat of the butcher’s shops and the blood on the fishmonger’s knives and aprons as they expertly descale and fillet fish that was moments ago still swimming in plastic buckets. Roasted Char Siu Pork hangs on hooks alongside chicken and duck dripping with fat.

Smells of chilli oil, dried fish and chrysanthemum tea rise with the steam of freshly made congee, while delivery boys on bicycles navigate expertly between the pressing crowds, carrying sacks of rice and baskets of eggs to local restaurants.

Man delivering goods on bicycle at Bowrington Road wet market, Hong Kong (Mark Eden)

Shouts of “Yau pang yau lang” and “Sun seen yau shui” punctuate the air above the din of haggling as hawkers tout their wares, extoling the freshness of vegetables and fleshiness of seafood. Entreating shoppers to their stall with short, sharp sentences.

These atmospheric markets are an endangered species, with a shift by younger generations to supermarkets and convenience stores and moves by the government to either move them inside to more sanitary premises or close them completely, but for now a slice of traditional Hong Kong life is preserved.

Fishmonger at Bowrington Road wet market, Hong Kong (Mark Eden)
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Woman in colourful sari walking past blue house in Jodhpur

Under the watch of Mehrangarh Fort, within the twists and turns of medieval laneways and alleys, Jodhpur’s Blue City feels a world away from the chaos of Rajasthan’s second largest city. An oasis of calm in the midst of the noise and calamity that is India.

Under the clock tower, a bustling market signals the beginning of the old town. This is the unofficial border between modern Jodhpur and the city’s origin. Indeed this is the part of the city that attracts most tourists, however as I make my way uphill slightly and through streets that become narrower with every turn, the clatter falls away and a sense of calm begins to take hold. It is as if the Brahmin blue painted cube houses themselves are having a soothing influence. The streets smell of spices and burnt votive candles.

After a few minutes I’m lost. In a good way. I have a map I could check, but somehow it doesn’t seem important. This is a place to wander, the ideal setting for being lost. I wander up and down, taking a left turn here or a right there, with no other intention than to see what might be around the corner. I pass children playing in the street, old men and women sitting on doorsteps, sleeping dogs, tiny neighbourhood temples and shops. Occasionally the peace is disrupted by a motorbike barrelling through the narrow lanes, but soon returns to normal. The day is warm but it feels cool in here, partly because only shards of sunlight filter down through the buildings, and partly because the coloured walls soak up the heat.

Around one corner, a grandmother sits with her grandson on her lap, playing a game of peek-a-boo. I wave as I pass and they both waive back, both surprised that a foreigner has wandered this far away from the tourist area.

Around another corner, two boys are blowing bubbles, watching them float upwards into the sky. So engrossed that they don’t notice me at all.

Along another street, women in bright saris pass on their way to buy supplies for home, their colourful dress exaggerated by the soft blue walls. Some are curious I am there, others pay me no attention.

Finally and suddenly, and quite by accident, I am back near the clock tower market. It is dusk now but the market is still trading, bargains being struck and goods and money changing hands. This will go on late into the night, but back in the neighbourhoods of the Blue City quiet prevails. Occasionally their is the bark of a dog, or sound of a rickshaw, but they are short interruptions to the peace that exists in the midst of the chaos.

 

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Something is tugging at my leg. I’m oblivious to it at first, concentrating on making a photo of the surrounding landscape, then become dimly aware as the tugging continues. I look down to see a pair of  big brown eyes above an even bigger grin, too big for the small face that contains them.

“One selfie please,” she says. It’s more of a demand than a request, I’ve learnt from experience over the past week of being in India. In a sign of the times, I’ve also learnt that “selfie” is one of the first words of English anyone learns. If someone knows no other English, they know “selfie”.

“Ok,” I say, knowing full well I have no choice in the matter. Not that I mind. It is refreshing as a photographer to visit a country where people, children especially, are not only open to having their photo made, but often bluntly insist on it when they see camera in hand. There is an openness about people here. Where we in the West are instinctively guarded around strangers, having been told of dangers posed since we were old enough to understand what our parents and teachers were saying, most Indians have no hesitation or fear in rushing over to a foreigner and asking for a photo. I’ve taken a few thousand photos while I’ve been here so far, but I think I’ve been in even more.

I kneel down to the girl’s height and start making photos as she poses confidently. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. Probably not the first time today. We pause for  a moment so I can show her the images on the back of the camera. She giggles happily. All of a sudden we’re surrounded by many more eager little faces straining for a look, and more delighted giggles. Inevitably, everyone wants to be in a photo too. Little bodies scramble over each other and shove others out of the way to get in front of the lens. Poses are struck, and costume changes made. There is much laughter and use of the “ok” hand sign, a universal expression of approval. A few aren’t entirely happy with their result though and insist on another try, to which I oblige until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.

This scene goes on for a while (there is a small army now) and could go on all evening, but friends are waiting for me. I start to move away and the crowd moves with me. They’re not done yet. Fortunately, I’ve now had some experience in extricating myself from these situations. Whereas a week ago I would have been stuck there until they lost interest, now I put the camera back in its bag and simply keep walking. The cries of “Selfie, selfie, photo, photo,” gradually turn to ones of “Bye, bye.” Turning to waive before leaving I see that no one looks too upset, not even those that didn’t get their chance to be in a photo. Instead they waive, and begin to scatter, presumably in search of the next foreigner with a camera.

Just before climbing back in the jeep, I hear faintly a small voice speaking to someone else: “Selfie please…”

 

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Indian boys

I’ve been in Mumbai the past few days before heading onto Delhi and Rajasthan, and was fortunate to meet some of the happiest, friendliest people I have ever come across. These are the people of Baiganwadi slum, a slum in West Mumbai of around 200,000 mostly Bangladeshi residents.

Many assumptions are made of the living conditions and people to live in Mumbai’s slums, which have existed for centuries but have come into a more worldwide consciousness only recently due to movies like Slumdog Millionaire. Rather than the despondent, disconnected and lazy people they are stereotyped to be, people here are happy and exuberant. They are industrious and hard working. Some travel outside of the slum area to work long hours of hard labor, while others set up business in their homes tending to the needs of neighbors with services such as tailoring or furniture making. Others collect and sort the city’s garbage for recycling.

Children play happily in the street at marbles, hopscotch or cricket, improvised with fence paling bats and bound rags for balls. They are exited to see a stranger, especially one with a camera, and jostle and shove each other out of the way good naturedly to have their picture taken.

Below are just a few of the many wonderful people I met here.

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Earlier this year I visited Christchurch at the end of a trip around New Zealand’s South Island. Although I was only in the city for a few hours, the small part of it I managed to see carried the weight of the recent tragedy that befall the city, but also a sense of optimism amongst the rebuilding of the downtown area most effected.

In September 2010 Christchurch was hit with a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake, devastating much of the city’s east and surrounding area and causing mass power outages. This was followed by several aftershocks, the most damaging being in February 2011 which measured 6.3 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people. Christchurch’s CBD had 80% of its area demolished in total.

Today, walking around the effected area, the devastation is still apparent, but so is the rebuild. It is often hard to see which buildings are coming down and which are going up. City blocks of nothing but rubble sit across seemingly untroubled green spaces. If the saying that adversity breeds character is true, then then the character of Christchurch and her people is one of resilience and ingenuity. Tragic as they have been, these events have given the people the opportunity to create a new way of living by the repurposing of old materials and use of green, renewable energy sources.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

Perhaps the best example of this resourcefulness is the Re:START mall. A mall constructed of disused shipping containers in an effort to encourage retailers and customers back to the city centre as soon as possible. Since beginning with 27 businesses, the mall now houses over 50 permanent businesses as well as food stalls and buskers.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden) Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

The Cardboard Cathedral was built after the destruction of the original cathedral and is one of a kind, being made substantially from cardboard and shipping containers. Described as a transitional cathedral, the building will eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, but in the meantime serves as a reminder of Christchurch’s bright future.

Exterior of Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch (Mark Eden)

185 empty chairs is both art installation and memorial to those lost. Amongst blocks of grey rubble and a few crumbling office buildings, sit 185 white painted chairs of all shapes and sizes. Dining table chairs, wheelchairs and children’s chairs amongst others represent the people from all walks of life who lost their lives to the earthquake. It is a somber but beautiful sight, and an insight to how a community has come together to both remember and move towards the future.

185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden) 185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden)

 

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Dawn at London Bridge. Port Campbell Coastal Park on the Great Ocean Road (Mark Eden)

Arriving pre-dawn at London Bridge, I can hear the ocean rumble from the carpark. It sounds both distant and very near in the way of a building storm. Nature in surround sound. The still black sky seems to amplify the effect.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the cliffs below me, even though I have been here many times before. The giant sandstone cliffs of Victoria’s coastline have always seemed unreal to me, seen from the viewing platforms. Like looking at a miniature model. Only when down on the sand beneath do I appreciate their true size.

The land and sea around me are ancient, and feel all of their years. Leaving the Great Ocean Road and pleasant seaside villages that dot it, it is easy to feel like time has somehow missed this place. Like nothing has touched this terrain for thousand’s of years. Ancient rainforests of fern tree, redwood and myrtle beech grow in the Otways hinterland. This land strips away all pretence of significance, and reminds me that our lives here on earth are but fleeting. These forests and coastline were here thousands of years before us, and will be here for thousands of years after.

Slowly the black curtain lifts and the source of the rumbling becomes visible. The Southern Ocean seems angry today, bashing away at the sandstone as it has done for all time, wearing it down little by little and causing great chunks to break off and fall into the sea. To feel the glass smoothness of these rocks is to understand the power of the ocean.

The rock that is unveiled by the dawn is called London Bridge for the arch that has been worn into its belly. This outcrop was once connected to the mainland until part of it fell victim to the ocean’s rage, just as many of the original 12 Apostles have done at various intervals.

The gathering light seems to diminish the power of the ocean, though I know this isn’t the case. The sunny morning belies the danger in the swells and reefs just offshore, which have famously claimed many ships caught in their swirling power.

Heading back away from the clifftop, the roar once again fades into the distance and I am again back amongst the scrub and bushes that cover the area. The contrast between this peace and what is happening only a few short metres away is hard to ignore, and is perhaps the perfect example of this area of Australian coastline; where both nature’s power and finesse are on display.

 

 

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