Monday, 31 October 2011

China vs Laos

Location: under a coconut tree, by the Mekong River, Laos
Weather: morning warm breeze
Total mileage: 24,300
Status: passed relaxed, nearly lazy

There’re too many Chinese in China. They’re small, annoying, get tangled in ones hair and get caught in your feet.

They only want to have a nice life – though they don’t really have any meaning – but for the time being they destroy their culture, nature and those basic morals that are so important, especially while looking for a meaning.

They smoke, spit and shit literally everywhere and find it particularly fun to litter their rivers. Then they never wash their little dirty hands, including after blowing their little noses through their little fingers. It’s very hard for them to say “let me check it” when they can simply say “no!” and creative thinking must be avoided or they’ll end up in a dungeon deep under a mountain.

Good things about China #1: They do work hard 

And they have their generals. Sneaky generals, who move pieces on the map while plotting in secret bunkers how to take over this world. They don’t like foreigners driving around in their dictatorship, sniffing around. All foreigners are, surely, western spies trying to poison their peoples’ minds with stories about other parts of the world, where human beings can actually live more freely. No; they must not let that happen.

So because we want to get from Mongolia to Laos, we need to drive through China. To drive through China we need to have a personal guide, certified by the Party, sitting in our car, over our heads, telling us where we’re allowed to drive and where we are not. The spies who got caught, great way to travel. In addition we’re limited in time – must respect the itinerary, must be in a certain place at a certain time. Yes indeed: annoying and getting caught between our feet.

Good things about China #2: Yunnan people, though they're not actually Chinese

China used to be a great place. A long time ago palaces were built, great walls and temples, for the benefit of the people. But today those sites are surrounded by newer, higher walls and fences, so no one can enter without paying the extortionate fee. But it’s not too bad because locals are no longer interested in temples or other spiritualism when instead they can go to the shopping malls to photograph themselves.

But we’re not in China anymore. Now we’re in Laos. And the Lao people are great and we can do anything we want.

And so, we’re doing everything we want: days of off road driving through jungles and mud; finding an ancient site that was left forgotten for 2000 years; wild camping by the waterfalls; trekking for 2 days to visit a mountain tribe – the wonderful Khmu people. Rock climbing, kayaking, dark stalactite caves, loads of tropical fruit shakes and finally – millions of pancakes with banana, coconut and Nutella.

Good things about China #3: Laos is just across the border

And there’s also no time pressure in Laos. I can get up in the morning, stretch in front of a mountain, have a slow breakfast and play Bach on the guitar again, ‘Air’ in C major. And there’s surely enough time to chill out, relax, and write to the blog too.
So I’m chilling out, relaxing and writing.

Look people, the world is beautiful. True, some parts are better than others and some are truly rubbish and lack heart. Like China. But eventually, if you keep on and don’t give up, you’re guaranteed to get out of the shit. If you’re prepared to go even further you may find a hidden paradise just around the next corner. Like Laos. That is – evidently – worth it all.     

Go and travel.

Jen & Noam

Good things about China #4: Leave it and have some fun in Laos

Good things about China #5: Enjoy some flavour after Mongolia

Good things about China #6: Street food

Good things about China #6: More street food

Good things about China #7: The mountains have less Chinese, though it is actually Tibet (which is not really in China)

Good things about China #8: Tiger Leaping Gorge trek is not (yet) over-developed

Good things about China #9: Animal cruelty is not always good for the business
Good things about China #10: Start early in the morning, before the streets get too crowded 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

An arse kicking in Mongolia

Total mileage: 23,000m
Location: among millions of people somewhere in N China
Day: about 170? (We really stopped counting a while ago)

We’re in China and it’s a mad race. No time for morning Yoga, a chord on the guitar or the comfortable search for the suitable campsite. It’s a rush. Time is money, every minute has a price, every second counts. Just like millions around us, we’re running from one place to another, hardly taking the moment to stop and look when we’re finally there. But let’s stop it all for a moment, return back in time and talk about Mongolia.

6 days trekking

Mongolia is the only place on earth where one gets his arse completely kicked, bruised and beaten but somehow and after all learns that that was an excellent experience.

Why and how? Check it out.

Let’s begin with the most important: food.

On any standard Mongolian menu one would find the only following item, with no distinction between morning, lunch and dinner: an old threadbare piece of sheep well-boiled in greasy salty milk.

Hmm, no; not grilled barbequed or fried but simply – and plainly – boiled. Why boiled? Because there’s no other way one would be able to chew and swallow this poor dry animal that’s been fed dull grass for 3 months in a year and ice in the rest.

See, it starved
And why boiled in greasy salty milk? I’m not too sure but I do too wonder why it’s being taking over 2000 years for spices from China to cross through border control.  

So please mark Arse-Kick #1: canned food only.

On (hardly) a full stomach we’re now ready for some exploration. But when the only road in Mongolia is blocked by hundreds of pills of dirt (why?!?!), the only direction one has to follow is through millions of dirt paths zigzagging the land.

The first 200 km is fun; off road, feeling the landscape etc. The next 500 are bearable. But then bones start to detached, parts break and sanity fades. After 1000 km the brain is gone, the motivation’s dead, vehicle’s shrill and the only input accepted is: why on earth is the only perfectly driveable road is blocked?!?!

Mark again; arse-kick #2: off road only.

off road only

One should take any navigation aid; maps, compass, GPS and, if available – a few pigeons. Anything to avoid getting lost as the only creatures to ask around are grazing yaks, wild horses and camels. Seems unlikely, but it’s still a better option than attempting to communicate with the locals.

Oh, dear locals. Ask for direction and they’ll point to another. Purchase an item and they’ll quote for 10. Order rice, get mutton. Ask for water, get mare milk. Confirm it’s diesel, get 95. Have a perfect road, block it completely. I love you Mongolians, and not in the good way.

About half of the residency of this country is still traditional; migrate with the seasons, herd livestock and live in Gers. Once upon a time I’ve heard about their great hospitality and the warm treatment to visitors but since then they apparently figured out that it’s a lot easier (and profitable) to put their guests on camels for a photo to get some revenue.

Arse-kick #3: no communication and dollars only.

Enough with the asre kicking; now, to retain credibility, I need to tell why it was all so worth it.

Put it simply, the Mongolian landscape is the most dramatic, exciting and inspiring I have ever experienced.

Volcanic Canyon

Right there, in the heart of the desert mountains, a volcano erupted, painting the valley in black lava, creating lush forest and deep blue lake full of life and colours. Then rugged sharp hill tops, shaped by wind and ice through millions of years, clearing way only to a gushing stream of white water. And then the Gobi. Often bright, mostly dark, shades of red, yellow and brown. Intimidating and remote, timeless and vast – a beautiful desert.

In Mongolia one can sit under the stars, listen to the wind and feel the world turning, feel part of it all; part of the earth and the sky, part of the present and the past, part of the galaxy and the universe. Feel alive.

And this feeling is definitely worth it all. So eventually and after all, thank you Mongolia. 

Jen & Noam

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