There is something about the East…
I had this tour on my bucket list for quite a few years; i imagined going from one continent to another discovering different cultures, tastes, etc…at that time i didn’t had the environmental awareness i have now though…
Early last year i was dreaming about the trans-siberian train, travelling by bus or train in China, SE Asia, hiking Annapurna and taking one flight to get to South America….in 5 months! How we know nothing from reading only travel blogs and books; i had created a fund (my own savings) for this and believe me, it was a generous amount!! so i felt i could do this: 2 weeks here, another 2 weks there…jumping from one side to another…AHh 🙂
Reality hits you when you start adding those safety nets: insurance, vaccines, medications….almost 1000 euros gone right there! I know a few choose not to, but being a mosquito magnet as myself i rather take it all! This meant cut backs; so the trip started on the 1st of October nevertheless, but not Moscow to get the trans siberian, but to New Dehli (quite different!).
1 month in India = 1/4 India, and on a speedy pace. It is so gigantic, to get everywhere you need 8 to 16 hours! bus, train…those are the cheapest and story-generating options you can get. Tuk tuk drivers can be quite anoying so you must develop a system to negociate prices and stand your ground – they will respect. Accomodations: lets say you can get from 2 star rating to 3 star rating (European standards) for an average 7,50€/night/person; but again impressive life and adventure stories from owners, employees and fellow travellers. You got to be prepared for the heat stroke! even in October. I remember to keep away from the outdoors during peak hours. The colours, smell, noise and constant buzz are a permanent distraction but at the same time it is what defines the indian culture and i got to capture it a few times through my lense 🙂 I stayed mainly in the north: from the desert, to highlands in Darjeeling, to the holy city…landscape changes and so the pace of those living there. In almost everywhere there was a contagious rush to get everywhere and nowhere! I have to admitt even for my mental adaptability after 3 weeks i had it…like i needed a holiday from India (if there is such thing); nonetheless there are 3 things i can´t forget: food (even did a cooking course!), the surprising generosity between the frequent scams and the will to live showned by vulnerable groups in India; women and “lower castes” are uprising and fighting tacitly for their rights in society. There are a few foreign charity groups aiding but the majority of campaigns and works are done by the locals. Environmentally, India still has a good bit to go; the visible pollution exceeds any small groups initiatives…but the awareness is everywhere so hopefully within a few generations we can travel in a greener India.
Annapurna: nop, too cold! ahaha…this is actually true! after acclimatization completed in India and a few days in Darjeeling the decision come to us very easily 🙂 I´ll see you next time Nepal! with more clothes though…P.S. the insurance to hike in Nepal is crazy!! (another reason to skip for this time)
Myanmar: why not? this wasn’t part of the initial plan but it was the smartest decision…after that lassi in Jaipur 🙂 This country has so much to offer and to develop still! They are in the right path despite all the tragic history from recent years and political/religious disputes between borders. I never felt threatned in Myanmar and quite honestly is one of the safest places i have been during this journey. No one was trying to scam you at the lighspeed as it happened in India; people would approach you just to be of service! English wasn´t great almost everywhere but with patience we could all communicate. Life bloomed in Inle lake, gigantic paper baloons got on fire during the festival of the lights (i am still cracking up when i think of it!), the waterfalls, the steep (really steep) trails, the magical beach that we ended up after sharing a mini van with 2 french families for 12 hrs, the free bananas, the seaweed and avocado salad….hmmm. There plenty of good memories from here, but i will leave you a few good pictures to understand what i am trying to say here (link below)
Thailand: there is one thing i cannot forget about Thailand…feckin’MOSQUITOES! We travelled twice to Thailand (north and south) and i have never experienced nothing like this in any other country! these were ninja mosquitoes i tell ya!! no mater how much repellent, clothes or electric killer (yes, Tomas got one and how he loved it!), they would always found a way to give you a hitch! In here i valued all the money spent for vaccines! jeez…Anyway, Thailand is the land of PAD THAI! Yep, i love this, so much that i got myself into another cooking class. In the north is worth the dedication to mountain hikes, sticky waterfalls, food markets, the Mae Hong Son Loop and all the stopovers, elephant sanctuaries (please choose a propper one, and this means you may pay around 75€ for a tour) and lovely coffee! In the South you must try the islands and what life underwater offers you; i would be very particular choosing adventure agencies here has some of them are not environmentally responsible (working for big groups of chinese tourists and running old boats that pollute twice as much as normal ones). I haven´t spend so much time with head under water since i was a child! I was absolutely stunned when i got to see sharks (and almost shit myself..lol), giant trutle, cuttlefishes, tiger fish (the nasty ones…not really, just defensive), and nemo on it´s anemone 🙂 This is when i remeber that i made an absolute deal when i bought my tough camera for a bargain before travelling in France! In Thailand everyone speaks good english (if i am comparing with Myanmar for instance) and to withdraw money you pay a crazy fee, meaning a lot of money in pocket everytime we went to the ATM.
Laos: boat trip through the Mekong River; it was quite an experience as the boat was full and the smoking area was at the back where the cans of beer would pille up at the end of the day. two days to get to Luang Prabang, city that i loved and felt so welcomed. You can count with huge night markets, great hot springs, huge mountain ranges for the nature enthusiasts that want to sleep near the wildlife (as we did…no tiger though!) and really, but really, nice people. Well, pay attention to this story that is remarkable (at least for me) and follows the previous point: we were on a mini van travelling up to a small town near a Mountain Range where we were going to do a safari; the trip was the most nauseating one in ever…well not for me but for everyone else…you can make your picture from this…after 9 hrs in this fantastic trip one of the ladies in fron of me exists in her village and takes her shoes with her (enclosed in a plastic bag as everyone was asked to do when entering the mini-van); i looke through the window. took a couple of pics and tried not to look the exist door for the lady was still…nauseated, let´s leave it at that! When i got to my stop (thank God!) i searched for my bagged hiking shoes…and nowhere to be found! F** i need them for the safari, or else flip flops! F*** (i said, a few times actually..) The i remembered that i took a pic where the last couple had left off and most likely they were the ones who took my shoes! Tomas offers to drive up with me if we get a motorbike…how the f** we are going to get a rental in middle of nowhere?? So we spoe with the guesthose owner (who was lovely and very generous) who said that it was going to ask his cousin…ok! Next day we wake up very early, breakfast served by the fire with locals, the cousin´s wife who owns the only mobile store in town shows us the bike and we left towards the pinned point on my google maps; so we got there, immediately recognised it…spoke with a few locals, no english…tried to mimic, google translator…anything really until one guy starts to laugh really loud and calls us to follow him; so we did, and there were my shoes in the feet f the old man, surounded by 1/2 of the village in their flip flops or old shoes and him so proud of his new aquisition! I felt sorry to bring them back, but no way i could go for the middle of the jungle in flip flops!! I guess i am a wuss comparing to them 🙂 Despite all we were invited to drink a fermented drink made of rice and beers! even the lady behind me was killing a chicken and lookin at us thinking should i kill two??! We left before another crime was commited (as far as i saw) and we laughed so much on our way back! Laos was much more than this, but i will leave a few pics for you to take a glance on how it was…see link below.
Cambodia: i have to say i loved Siemp Reap; from the night life around the food market (and the crazy chicken lady!), to the Angkor Wat and the cycling tour around it, to the lovely family we had the chance to share stories and space with (keep remembering the kid always on his super hero costumes!), the unlikely coffee shop where we met this youtube enthusiast that loves to share cambodia with tourists, the street lights at night, the wet markets…we spent a week in Siem Reap! and that says it all. From Cambodia the memories i bring have crabs (yep, crabs…crab market in Kep, monks chasing crabs in the sand, crab statues…), have 3 portugese we found in Kampot running a restaurant that represented really well our culture, have humanitarian works done in Angkor Hospital to help vulnerable children and in other charities helping to fight human trafficking and children exploitation, have small bussiness supporting people with disabilities and giving them a chance to thrive, have bussinesses going green and sharing their initiatives with tourists…have too a lot of chinese investments and nature being destroyed as they pass (feckin’casinos in the top a hill…seemed like a ghost town constructed to hide some dark agenda…). Pollution is something quite visible too despite a few environmental groups have initiated to campaign towards a greener country and some bussinesses are actually showing proudly their eco-friendly efforts! Still, only a few are actually cleaning was has been left so far…an it’s quite a lot i can tell ya…but believe me when i say, tourists aren´t the major polluters, realistically are the locals for there is poor waste managment and educational systems in place; they are progressing , so there is hope!
Malaysia: almost 1 month we spent here, and it wasn’t in our plans to spend so long; why? we couldn’t go to Borneo for the rainy season lasted longer than expected and it was pouring rain (the only regret i bring from this trip), but we did get a tour guide named Happy that took us to a 2 hour hiking through the dense exotic forest near Cameron Highlands and made us happy too!! We didn’t see chimpazes, but saw gibbons (not counting the huge amount of macaques along the ways) and hornbills in the wild! no snakes though as Tomas wanted to see…but we had surprisingly good experiences in conservation centers (i know there is a lot of tumult around his subject, but i do believe some conservation centers are doing a good job on keeping species alive within an environment that almost mimics the original..ideal, no! but this is not an ideal world and as far i could see/hear most wild animals are endangered (or near to be) by human stupidity and greed…too strong of a topic to talk here but if you are interested pop me an email and i’ll direct you to some good info). Plus, Malaysia has some really interesting and fun museums – the Food Museum in Penang & Tin Museum in Ipoh are really good and interactive! Also they are reasonably priced! Now that we spoke about food: LAKSA..omg! again, Ana went for a cooking class to learn Malaysian ways of cooking. Learned a few interesting things from a professional chef about umami flavours; really, all healhty stuff! The beach was a disapointment (Lankawi) but the credits were recovered in the mountains. People..it´s all about interactions with locals isn´t it? Malaysia embraces in a balanced way Chinese, Indians and Malays…the history explains it all and how they continued until today to co exist so beautifully amazes me. There are no visible religious differences in way people interact in their daily lives: everyone buys from butcher X for he has best meat in town nevermind if he muslim or not…vegetable from chinese lady in George town market for she has the best price….there is a good vibe around! People love to work, people love to buy, and to socialize…all comes together. It is generally speaking a well developed country, specially the capital (even more than some capitals in Europe); shopping is a huge deal in Kuala Lumpur, seriously! Too much to be honest…capitalism tends to bring up other social issues: extreme poverty and homelessness (that i havent seen since India).
But these were fantastic 5 months on the going,
Absorving all to mature,
Preconceived ideas without knowing.