Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Not just a drink, coffee is a ceremony called bunna maflat, that plays an essential part of Ethiopian social life. The ceremony can take hours and is often conducted by a woman who wears a traditional dress.

The ceremony begins with washing and husking coffee beans on a heated pan. When the beans turn black, they are ground by hand and run through a sieve.
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Then it's slowly stirred into a clay pot known as the jebena.
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Coffee is sweetened with sugar and served in tiny cups for friends and family who've watched the process.
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As the Ethiopian proverb says, "buna dabo naw," or "coffee is our bread."

Countries With Easy Long Visa Entries

Depending on your citizenship, it can be easy or tough to enter and stay long-term in various countries. Since we’re US Citizens, we’ve done the research on how long we can stay in various nations and have compiled a list of several countries with a generously lengthy visa duration for both Americans and other nationalities.

If you work remotely as a freelancer or digital nomad, you are allowed to stay on a tourist visa as long as you don’t take local clients — otherwise you need a business visa. We’ve noted the difference in our top picks list. Be sure to read our post on how to become a location-independent world citizen, if you haven’t already, as there are many more things to know before you go.

Of course for US Citizens, in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands you don’t need a visa or even a passport to live and work there indefinitely. But EU countries, as lovely and wonderful as they are, will ban you from ever visiting again if you stay longer than 90 days within a six month period (without stacks of paperwork to request longer visas). Yet there are many great options all around the planet for people wanting to live a location-independent lifestyle.

At the time of this writing (May 2019), the following is what our research has turned up.

countries in which you can stay for at least 6 months on a tourist or easily-obtained business visa

Click the name of the country to go to their government website regarding more detailed visa information before you plan your trip.

As location-independent digital nomads, our Tinkertown Top 5 Picks are:

  • Republic of Georgia - 365 days upon arrival to enter, reside, work and study without needing to obtain either a visa or residence permit. The Rep. of Georgia has the world’s most lengthy visa granted to citizens of the most countries without condition (98 nationalities) and many more with minimal requirements (50 countries). And all you have to do to renew is leave the country for a few days before returning, to get another year. Georgia requires health insurance, which can be inexpensively obtained—about $50 USD per month—through their e-insurance portal). Foreign nationals may buy and sell real estate in the country. It costs about $18 USD to register a simple application form with the Public Service Hall to become an independent entrepreneur allowed to start a business there.

  • Vietnam - US Citizens have particularly easy access to a 12-month multi-entry business visa. The only difference in obtaining the right to stay and work for a year versus a 30-day single entry tourist visa is a higher fee and sending in a signed form and your passport via mail instead of an online application. The simple one-page business visa application cost us $180 USD per person to process and only took a few days to get back in the mail to a US address. You don’t need to describe your business or submit further paperwork to obtain this visa. With it you can lease property, take local clients, get a job, start a business (with further paperwork), and open a bank account—things you cannot do on a tourist visa.

  • Russia - US Citizens can get a three-year multi-entry tourist or business visa to Russia through a visa processing service. This allows for up to 181 days per entry. The visa must be applied for before entering the country and costs from $300 USD per person.

  • United Kingdom - For many nations, the UK gives a six-month Standard Visitor visa for £95, which allows travel throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as long as you have pre-booked an onward ticket. This visa can instead be multiple entries for up to two, five, or ten years for higher fees, with 180-days allowed per entry. You cannot conduct business other than those allowed within the Visitor Rules without applying for a more elaborate visa. If you’ve got funds to support yourself and endorsement from a UK higher education institution or a business with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs, you may be able to apply for a Start-up visa, if you’re planning to start a small business there.

  • Mexico - Entry for 180 days is granted to US Citizens Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, any European Schengen Area countries and members of the Pacific Alliance without a visa upon arrival for tourism or business. After those six months you may exit Mexico and re-enter immediately to be given another 180 days, which may be renewed indefinitely this way.

Other great options include…

No advance visa required, one is issued upon arrival:

  • Albania - One-year for US Citizens without a visa. A longer residence permit may be requested at the regional office of the border and migration authority, in-country, before expiration of the entry visa. Otherwise you can leave for at least 90 days to renew for another year.

  • Svalbard - Administered by Norway, you may live indefinitely in this independent archapelago without a visa if you can prove you have enough money to afford the expensive and remote area, and really like cold weather.

  • Bahamas - 240 days for citizens of the US, UK, Canadian, and several South American nations provided you show you can support yourself for eight months there and have an onward ticket booked. To extend you’ll be required to apply at the Department of Immigration once in-country.

  • Peru - 183 days for US, UK, Canadian citizens and others. Extensions for tourists are usually not approved. Note that a yellow fever vaccination is recommended.

  • Armenia - US Citizens and many other nationalities are free to enter for up to 180 days. Applying ahead of time can result in a one-year multi-entry visa for tourism, business, professional interest, medical treatment, etc.

  • Canada - Entry for 180 days is granted to US Citizens, unless you have a felony or DUI on your record. Other nationalities may need a visa. No work with local clientele is permitted without a work visa. Before expiration of your visitor visa, it can be extended for a fee of $100 CAD.

  • Jamaica - 180 days for US Citizens, various lengths for other nationalities without a visa.

  • Panama - 180 days as long as you have an onward ticket, at least $500 in cash, credit or bank statement and no criminal convictions. This length of time is strictly enforced.

We know there’s no shortage of countries that allow entry for 90 days which can be easily renewed by leaving and immediately returning. Or countries that allow longer stays with more paperwork. But for the sake of length—and staying on topic—we’ll get to that in another post. Happy nomading!in

Ethiopia has same Jesus but Easter is on a different day

The 28th of April is Easter Sunday in 2019 according to the Ethiopian Orthodox and all Eastern Orthodox traditions (rather than the 21 April). This may come as a surprise to many Westerners. But the holiday date is different from the one celebrated in the West because of the position of the sun on their side of the globe and the use of non-Gregorian liturgical calendars.

So I’m sharing this photo and video essay for all to enjoy peering into this magical country filled with bonafide world-wonders.

The following images are from the amazing ancient rock-hewn churches of the Lalibela and Tigray regions in Ethiopia. We were fortunate enough to have visited them with a few fantastic colleagues on a trip organized by the country’s UN Mission (while collecting research footage for my documentary) a few years ago.

A monk sits reading his hand-copied goat-skin parchment scripture book on the steps of Bete Medhante Alem (church of the savior of the world), which was carved out of solid rock several hundred years ago. It’s Lalibela’s largest rock-hewn church. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A monk sits reading his hand-copied goat-skin parchment scripture book on the steps of Bete Medhante Alem (church of the savior of the world), which was carved out of solid rock several hundred years ago. It’s Lalibela’s largest rock-hewn church. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Watch monks singing and chanting together inside the church and in the courtyard just outside, between a cluster of several other churches and stone tombs. 

Ornate carvings on an interior arched doorway next to the thick curtain hiding the Holy of Holies where parchment Bibles are stored and cared for by designated priests. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A canvas painting of dragon-slaying St. George near the stone-carved entrance of a cave-like Lalibela church. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A canvas painting of dragon-slaying St. George near the stone-carved entrance of a cave-like Lalibela church. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A priest reads his handheld prayer book inside a church filled with quiet monks in meditative readings. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A priest reads his handheld prayer book inside a church filled with quiet monks in meditative readings. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A priest stands ready for parishioners to enter a 4th century rock-hewn church in the Tigray region as a nun opens a side-entrance. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A priest stands ready for parishioners to enter a 4th century rock-hewn church in the Tigray region as a nun opens a side-entrance. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Inside, the priest displays an ancient parchment of scriptures in the Amharic language, hand-copied a hundred years before the Bible was translated into English. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Inside, the priest displays an ancient parchment of scriptures in the Amharic language, hand-copied a hundred years before the Bible was translated into English. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Monks and nuns hike to up a Tigray monastery’s church built into a carved-out cliffside hollow for a reading of parchment scriptures. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Monks and nuns hike to up a Tigray monastery’s church built into a carved-out cliffside hollow for a reading of parchment scriptures. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A monk reads aloud by hand-made waxed-wick candlelight. // photo © Kim I. Mott

A monk reads aloud by hand-made waxed-wick candlelight. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Stunning desert landscapes surround several of Tigray’s rock-hewn churches. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Stunning desert landscapes surround several of Tigray’s rock-hewn churches. // photo © Kim I. Mott

Hope you enjoyed. Please like, subscribe, share and hashtag this post!

11 Reasons to Visit Russia

The biggest country in the world doesn’t always get a fair shake in terms of travel publications. And “should we visit Russia?” is a question that comes up all the time. Well, yes, yes we should. Watch this video with eleven of our reasons why…along with some beautiful footage of Russia. (And listen to Robert discussing the subject on Rick Steves’ radio show!)

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  1. PEOPLE & COZINESS

English has no word that compares with hygge, that Danish notion of warmth, coziness and contentment. Russians do: уют. Often outsiders have a false notion of what Russians are like, limiting them to sour-faced people in blue filter light queuing in long lines for drab choices of gray foods. In 1985, Sting even noted, “I hope Russians love their children too.”

Well, inside those socialist dorms, you find an explosion of grandmotherly color and warmth. Russian cities have more flower shops than anywhere else in the world. In St Petersburg, we visited a punk rock back-alley bar where local youths brought blankets to sit down – to listen to politicized punk reggae.

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2. ART & ARCHITECTURE

Russia definitely has a “look.” You find it with the onion-domed cathedrals. It’s unknown when these started. St Basil’s, the famed anchor of Red Square, as its since the 1500s. Some scholars say they started following the Mongol invasion two centuries before. Wood cathedrals, such as Kizhy on Lake Onega, have 22 domes.

Art-wise, St Petersburg’s Hermitage is one of the world’s great art museums; though we preferred seeing Russian art at the nearby State Russian Museum or Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Or just the constant array of social-realist murals, mosaics and statues.

3. SOVIET NOSTALGIA

Speaking of social realism, you’ll find artful nods to the past (including Lenin statues on public squares) and less artful ones like housing blocks and factories. The best way to experience the past is at the Soviet Arcade Machines Museum (in Moscow and St Petersburg), where you get old 15-kopeck coins to play a few dozen games from the ‘70s and ‘80s. WATCH our video above! (Or read more about the museum here.)

While there, you can buy colorful Dva Myacha Soviet-era sneakers, newly made from historic equipment. The name means “Two Balls” because they’re to be used for basketball and soccer.

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4. TRAINS & SUBWAYS

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the world’s longest train journey, connecting Moscow to Vladivostok in seven days. It’s as much about what happens on the train as what passes by the window. This is where it’s easiest to befriend locals, who’ll hand over fresh produce from their gardens and pour their vodka as if you’re a long-lost cousin.

The metro systems of St Petersburg and (particularly) Moscow are epic creations too – built deep to double as bomb shelters. Moscow’s are thematic. In stations like Revolution Square, bronze figures of armed Red Army figures lurk ominously in the shadows.

5. RUSSIAN FOOD

Nothing is more surprising about Russian dining as how seasonal, fresh, varied and flavorful it can be. In other words, it’s not just borscht (which isn’t Russian anyway). Pelmeni dumplings, coated in smetyana sour cream, are unreal. Soups are a delight. The schi is a cabbage soup, while the ukha is a tasty fresh soup. In Siberia, you’ll find locals selling fresh smoked fish on train platforms of the Trans-Siberian and Central Asian-style skewered meats on menus. At old-school stolovaya (cafeterias), ask for kasha, a buckwheat porridge soup.

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6. SWEATERS & SOUVENIR KITSCH

The stacking matryoshka dolls are found across seven timezones, made in folk style or with political or sports of rock figures. Many souvenirs play off the CCCP era, with t-shirts, caps and Red Army hats. You’ll also find Putin mugs of a topless leader “riding a bear.” The fur hats are legendary (but also expensive). There are alternative winter souvenirs. The Volga River town of Uglich is known for wool sweaters. We picked up ones that offer serious Russian warmth for much less.

7. LITERARY CULTURE

The land of Tolstoy and Dostoesvky is very very fond of books and reading, and talking about books and reading. Subway stores in New York sell overpriced water bottles and tabloids with Trump on the cover. In a St Petersburg metro stall, we found a hand-carved wood pin devoted to the early 19th-century poet Alexander Pushkin. A common gift for a new friend is a book. (Robert has literally been given books with bookmakers in place, as a sign of friendship). While in St Petersburg, go to Dom Knigi (World of Books), an Art Nouveau masterpiece on Nevsky Prospekt.

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8. MUSHROOMS, FORAGING, FORESTS & LONG WALKS

Russians love mushrooms. Really really love mushrooms (gribi). Russians don’t “pick” mushrooms, but “collect” (sobirat’) them, as if their our lost children rounded up to their rightful place. Robert once gave his Russian teacher in New York some fresh mushrooms, and got an unexpected equal in praise. Part of the fun is foraging for them in Russia’s great forests. The country is not often mountainous, but the rural bucolic is often found in wild birch forests, taking long walks. When you meet a local, they won’t choose to go sit in a bar to talk. They’ll invite you on a long walk. Take it as a compliment. You’re “in” with them.

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9. RIVER LIFE

People think of the ultimate transport in Russia as the train. But rivers across its girth offer myriad alternatives. The Volga (Europe’s longest and largest river) is the obvious choice, passing Moscow and 10 other cities – we rode it, passing medieval monasteries and historic towns, on a Viking Cruise in 2017. Out east, the Lena River is where Lenin got his name.

You can take cruises from Yakutsk, the coldest city of the world, to the Leninski Stolbi (Lenin Pillars), a triumphant rise of jagged peaks far distant from the nearest roads.

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10. RUSSIAN BALLET

Didn’t think we forgot, did you? The Bolshoi in Moscow and the Mariinsky in St Petersburg are world champs of ballet. And it feels like being in a Tolstoy novel to just attend a performance. We got box seats for a Marinksy ballet for $25 each (not including opera glasses), and watched a witch win the day in a French romance ballet. Fun.

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11. BECAUSE IT’S DIFFICULT

The visa process for Russia is notoriously expensive and complicated. So what? The added filter adds a layer of adventure, and means – mostly likely – fewer people will be there. Services like GenVisa eased the difficulty (the questionnaire for a visa is hilariously detailed). The point is, don’t let a little bureaucracy get between you and seeing Russia.

BONUS: ITS REMOTE BEAUTY!

Siberia’s Laike Baikal holds 22% of the world’s fresh water, including more than all of the Great Lakes combined. The key is depth. It’s about four or five times deeper than any Great Lake. The 25-million-year-old lake is rimmed by mountains and forest, and has hundreds of endemic fish, aquatic worms and crustaceans. Weird guys. It freezes in winter. If you go in late spring, you can hear the surface “groan” as the ice starts to crack open and reveal some of the world’s clearest water once again.

Northwest runs the Lena River, where you can go by cruise to the Leninski Stolbi (Lenin Pillars, below). Muddy roads get to this area in summer, but if you insist on driving, go in winter when the frozen rivers become the most reliable road system in this corner of the Russian Far East. Farther east, in that peninsula dangling in the face of Alaska, Kachatka brims with snow-capped volcanoes and valleys of geysers, or nomadic reindeer herders you must track down by old Soviet helicopters. Russia is gorgeous.

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More Russia …

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Tinkertowners Write About Portland

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Recently Tinkertowners wrote two hometown stories for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kim wrote about the stand-up comedy scene of Portland, where – by some estimates – 70 local comedians do open-mics, and often "triple dip" club to club in a single night. Much of it's free. She writes:

"If anything, the IFC sketch comedy show “Portlandia” has proved America’s hipster hub can take a joke from out-of-towners. What’s less-known is it can deliver one too."


In his piece, Robert explores one of the country's biggest Russian communities. The Portland area is home to 40-some thousand people from the former Soviet Bloc countries. His article highlights a mostly under-appreciated cuisine and how Russian restaurant chefs deal with day-to-day in the era of Putin. 

“I make fun of Putin as much as the next person,” says [Bonnie Morales of Kachka] with a half-laugh. “Just because I cook food I like to eat doesn’t mean I’m colluding.”

 

 

 

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