24.05.2017 - 24.05.2017
on MyriandKodi's travel map.
The distance from Darjeeling to Namchi is
14km - as the bird flies 41km / 2h18m - according to Google Maps 114km / 6h45m - if things don't go to plan
Distances are a funny thing, here in the north of India. The first thing you realize is that, thanks to all the mountains, gorges, valleys, the distance you have to drive, to get from A to B is significantly longer than it looks on the map. Then there also are the roads (if you can call them that), that often are in a sorry state and reduce your vehicle to not much more than walking pace. There are small towns, clinging to the side of the hills, with narrow roads clogged with honking cars, turning stationary in the frequent dead locks.
And then there are other funny factors, like the weather (which was fine for us, between 24C in the hills and around 30C in the valleys), or Indian Bureaucracy and your drivers lack of knowledge thereof...
Our micro taxi picked us up at our hotel in Darjeeling at 9:30am, as planned. And we took off right away on the shortest route to Namchi, our next goal and first stop in the state of Sikkim. We had been warned that this road was bad. It turned out to be worse, in fact the worst piece of road I ever had the pleasure to be driven on in a 2WD. Alas, we made it to the border post to Sikkim, in about 90 bumpy minutes.
Here a few explanatory words on Sikkim may be in place. Wedged between Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China, the People's Republic still does not recognize India's claim on Sikkim. Due to this, Sikkim is treated as a restricted territory and especially it's northern provinces are slightly difficult to travel. For the southern part one only needs a tourist permit, which can be obtained at the main border post in Malli or (as we had done) in Darjeeling. We had heard, that foreigners are only allowed to enter Sikkim via Malli. As rules like these in India are constantly changing, though, we were not too surprised when our permit explicitly stated that we were also allowed to enter Sikkim in Nayabazar.
So when our taxi driver, whose grasp of English seemed limited to the word "break pads", headed towards this much shorter route via Nayabazar, we smugly congratulated ourselves on how well versed we are in the Indian ways. This mood was thoroughly crashed, when at the border post, after lengthy discussions and calls to the soldier's superior we were turned back. Friendly but firmly. Apparently the clerk in Darjeeling had used the wrong form... This meant not only that we had to drive the 20km mostly unsealed road back up to Darjeeling (we had to get off and walk at one point, after four failed attempts to climb an especially steep bit of rubble), but also that we then had to take the much longer, if mostly sealed road via Malli. Add to that a 10 minute stop by the road side to change our taxi's break pads, which we had worn out with all our driving up and down the mountains, we did not arrive around lunch time, as planned, but, after nearly 7h in the car, just in time for dinner.
Luckily for us, we were in no hurry to get anywhere, and even more luckily we are traveling with the most relaxed 4 year old in the world. Nerea spent a day in the back of a car, wedged between her parents, chatting, singing, playing, laughing, snacking and napping. She didn't ask if we're there yet more than five times.
12.05.2017 - 17.05.2017
on MyriandKodi's travel map.
India. Is an amazing place. And a crazy place. I've been here already six times or so, but every time I visit I am overwhelmed by the diversity and the different faces this countries can show. We managed to visit three very different places within only four days…
Once known as the garden capital, Bangalore has long become India's IT hot spot. Its moderate climate has attracted a huge number of technology companies. Walking through the streets, one can see lots of people with backpacks brandishing the logos of Microsoft, Infosys, Accenture and the like. Bangalore is probably the most cosmopolitan city in all of India. You can find modern malls, where Mammon is worshiped, right next to tiny looking Hindu temples (with a cavernous interior stretching deep into the back of the block), colorful markets, selling anything from fruits to pans to saris next to one of the thousands or so Vodafone/Airtel/… shops that are distributed in a dense grid all over the city.
We arrived from Kuala Lumpur on Friday morning and did not find the climate that mild. At least it was not as humid as KL… We met the driver from our hotel directly, it was an easy hour and a half for the 40km to the hotel, thanks to the newish airport highway. During rush hour (basically most of the day) the traffic in Bangalore moves at a snail's pace…
Saturday we spent shopping for a Sari for Myriam and a dress for Nerea. After all we had mainly come to Bangalore to attend the wedding of my good friend Animesh! Sunday morning was spent getting dressed (a major task for the girls getting wrapped in Saris!). I still have the the Kurta and Dhoti I got for a wedding in Kerala many years ago. Wrapping the Dhoti around my hips is definitely easier than getting Myriam into her Sari! The result of our efforts looked like this:
The wedding itself was a small affair with only about 200-300 guests (this included Susann and Lukas, friends from Melbourne, with whom we had the pleasure to spent most of our time in Bangalore and Bihar). I do love the colors of the Indian clothes! The gold in Deepika’s Sari is real, by the way! The whole thing weighed more than 6kg. Below a few impressions. The official wedding photos are easily distinguishable from my amateurish shots.
The ceremony was interesting to watch, if most of it and it’s meaning have eluded me. There was a lot of chanting and music, fire, smoke and innumerable guest parading past bride and groom. Between the wedding couple, a coconut seemed to play a major role. Apart from this fruit, more symbols of fertility and prosperity where apparent: In the second part of the ceremony, the guests would queue to bless the couple, usually in pairs. Animesh and Deepika held the coconut between them over a large pot, the guests would put a coin on the fruit. Then we poured milk over the coin, the nut and their and hands…
One thing is very similar to European weddings, though: Bride and groom don’t really find the time to talk to their guests on their own wedding!
On Tuesday we were to fly on to Patna in Bihar, from where we transferred to Muzaffarpur, Animesh’s hometown, not too far from the border to Nepal. Here a wedding reception was to be held. Whenever we told people in Bangalore that we were heading to Bihar we earned first raised eye brows and then warnings regarding the dangers of this barbaric place. The most hair raising story I heard included assault rifles being fired in the air during a wedding celebration...
And it is true, the different level of development is obvious from the moment one leaves the airport. It starts with simple things like the lack of modern (4G) mobile networks and continues when one reaches Mahatma Gandhi Setu, a crumbling bridge over the Ganges, spanning the sacred river over more than 5km. Traffic is now partially being diverted via a pontoon bridge, as a couple of hundred meters of one of the bridge's lanes is missing.
In the evening we attended the wedding reception, where we had the chance to sample loads of very nice food, chat with the locals and admire more amazing Indian attire. We didn't take too many photos, but apparently Nerea enjoyed herself.
People in Bihar may (on average) not be as educated and sophisticated as their cousins in Bangalore, they are extremely friendly, though! Nerea had realized that Indians in general are a friendly bunch (“Everybody likes me here”) and this was proven again when we started our onward travel. On the day after the reception we whiled away a few hours in the foyer of a fancy hotel in Patna, waiting for our overnight train to Siliguri, wearing our backpacker’s best, when a nice elderly couple invited us to the wedding reception that was just beginning next door. We felt definitely underdressed, but very humbled. They pushed us into some seats of honor, made us sample local food and drinks, and we chatted away. When people weren’t busy touching my host’s feet he pointed out the other guest’s occupation to me (“A doctor”, “another pilot”, “She’s a judge at the high court”…). One point where one could see the difference to the more modern wedding of our friends was the role of the bride here: While her husband was welcoming guests at the entrance, she sat on a sofa, hardly ever raising her eyes. I did not see a single man speaking to her…
After an hour or so we stole away to follow our favourite Indian pastime: Train travel. We boarded the KYQ Capital Express (which left with hardly more than an hour delay). Again the locals proved very helpful in guiding us through the chaos to our assigned first class coach. Train travel in India is always interesting very cheap (about EUR 50 for the three of us in our private 1st class sleeper compartment) and reasonably quick (we traveled about 500km in hardly more than 12h). AC sleeper trains are quite comfortable. Btw, if ever you want to travel by train in a foreign country, check out The Man in Seat61, the best train travel site in the world!!
In Siliguri we were picked up by Sagar, driver and wonderful guide, to be transferred to our home for the next few days in Mirik. Sitting at about 1600m altitude, nested in the foothills of Himalaya and surrounded by tea gardens, Mirik is a wonderful respite from the heat of Bihar and the hustle of Bangalore. Wedged between Bangladesh to the South, Bhutan and Nepal to the East and West and the Tibet to the north, Sikkim and the northern bit of Western Bengal are home to a wild mix of ethnicities. The further north you venture, the more prevalent are the rounder Nepali faces that so remind us of our travels in that country. In Mirik we spent the days sitting on our porch, sipping fine Darjeeling tea and trying to find out where in the lush green before us the animals are sitting that are making all these wondrous noises!
One of the most amazing things about India is, how many different faces this country can show the open minded visitor. This may be within one city, where you find slums next to modern malls, through the people who may be shy and polite or incredibly selfish and bullying. It shows itself most clearly though, whenever you travel within the subcontinent and see a diversity within one country that makes Europe’s multitude of different nations seem uniform in comparison…
08.05.2017 - 09.05.2017
on MyriandKodi's travel map.
After two and a half wonderful years in Melbourne we are now taking the slow route back to Europe. We're planning to travel SE Asia for half a year or so before settling back in Spain (probably). Five years have passed since our trip around the world and it seems the travel bug has bitten again. Since Nerea's birth in 2013 we haven't really been traveling anymore (well, we were tripping around Europe, spent some time in China and Japan and did a few trips back and forth between Europe and Australia, also visiting New Zealand and Fiji... Not much traveling at all!). The last two weeks we spent saying good-bye to Melbourne and Tri-Alliance (special mentions to my beloved Irish from Team Taupo), with whom I spent most of my free time in the last two years. We had a last short stopover in Sydney (some more good-byes) and have now arrived in hot and humid Kuala Lumpur where the next adventure begins!
I had actually planned to wrap up our "old" 2012 blog (a couple of months in South America haven't been covered yet). But it seems I have managed to put the pictures from that time into storage, so this will have to wait a bit longer...). Let's see how much writing I'll be doing these coming months!
For our first week in Chile we had rented a comfortable small apartment in Santiago, where we stayed over New Years. After three months of campervaning (with short intermezzos in tents and hostels...) we TOTAL DOLL enjoyed the small comforts of our own living space, kitchen and TV. We went to markets to enjoy the local sea food and shop fresh ingredients four our own cooking. New Years Eve we celebrated twice, once in GMT+1, watching the gigantic golden ball drop at Place de Sol, Madrid; thanks to satellite TV and TVE. We even had our traditional twelve grapes at the tolls of the Spanish bell. Then we had a delicious home made dinner. The second New Years we spent four hours later on the roof of our apartment building, where we met about one hundred other tenants BBQing, drinking and dancing...
After Santiago we spent a few days in beautiful Valparaiso. Paradise Valley has earned it's name. Cobbled stoned streets with colourful houses hug the hills around a natural harbour. We spent a few relaxed days before boarding a bus to the south, Patagonia was calling!
Chile is divided in four regions, the north, the centre, the south and ... Patagonia!, which is the several thousand kms of mountains fjords and islands, glaciers, seals and penguins that can be found south of Southern Chile...
We arrived at its northern end, Puerto Montt, by bus. From here we took our first of many ferries to the tranquil islands of Chiloe. After the busy cities of Santiago and Valparaiso we enjoyed our first few days of Patagonia's laid back lifestyle and beautiful landscape. We also tasted delicious local specialities, like seafood with sausage and boiled potato...
We took a 24h ferry From Quellon to Puerto Chacabuco, close to Coyhaique the centre of the Carretera Austral. On this trip we got our first taste of the Patagonian time difference. We arrived with a light delay caused by unfavourable tides, after about 40h on the boat. The bunk beds were booked out and the seats rather uncomfortable, so we made our beds on the floor.
La Carretera Austral
The Carretera Austral is a rather famous road, that rumbles for 1500km from Puerto Montt southwards to the Southern Glacial Field. The locals are rather separated from the rest of Chile. The further south you travel the less the signs of civilisation become. The last few hundreds km's are all on gravel, It's end, Villa O'Higgins not much more than an agglomeration of a hand full sheds. When visiting the local grocery shop, one realizes how far off one is. The vegetables on sale were onions, potatoes and peppers. The fruit: pears. Quite different from the filled shelves we are used to from home. Well, if the locals need something special they travel to the next bigger village, Cochrane, 300km of gravel and a one hour ferry ride to the north, where they can find a general store, selling everything from foodstuffs to chain saws, from medicine to wood ovens...
From Villa O'Higgins, the plan was to take two ferries, a bus, a couple of horses and do a 12km hike to cross the border towards Argentina. After a beautiful crossing of Lago O'Higgins with Amazing views of it's glacier we were told that the horses would have the day off or something. So we had to take a Jeep instead (after we spent the night in a nice local Hospedaje). The actual crossing we did on foot. The next surprise awaited us at Lago de Desierto: The ferry is broken and probably won't go today... You might have to overnight on this side of the lake somehow... No there is no beds for rent. No idea where you can sleep... We were very happy when the ferry arrived in the end to take us to the other side and a bus to El Chalten.
El Chalten is a nice little touristy town and considered Argentina’s Trekking-Mekka. We enjoyed the Argentinian beef, the local beer and the overall availability of everything a tourist wishes for. We did two beautiful day trips around Cerro Fitz Roy before heading on to El Calafate.
El Calafate, another little town catering for tourists. We only tackled the main attraction: Perito Moreno (and some more Argentinian beef). The glacier Porito Moreno is an amazing white tongue of ice and snow, stretching out of the southern glacial field into a beautiful lake in Argentina. The 60m high ice wall is a stunning sight, but the sound track makes it even more impressive. The glacier is creaking and rumbling, as it slowly melts in the sunshine. Hundreds of spectators don't take their eyes of it, waiting for the moment when once again one of the ice towers tumbles in to the water.
The next day we took a bus back to Chile, but this time to the part of Patagonia south of the huge glacial field, that forbids overland travel from northern to southern Patagonia in Chile. We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia's capital. Near to Punta Arenas we had a very special encounter with Patagonia's wild life. We visited Isla Magdalena, a penguin colony about an hours boat ride from Punta Arenas. On Isla Magdalena we could chatter away with the approximately 60'000 couples of Magellan Penguins that stay there to breed in the summer, before heading north to Brazil to spend the winter in warmer waters.
After a few days in Punta Arenas we boarded a Broom ferry to Isla Navarino, the southernmost point of our travels. On the 30h cruise through Patagonia's channels. We enjoyed the ever changing scenery, green hills, rocky cliffs, a labyrinth of waterways and in between a handful of startling blue glaciers.
The wild life delivered further entertainment; penguins, seals and sea birds abound. And as a highlight, Myriam saw a black and very big fish. Ah, not a fish, it was a mammal indeed! Sadly it was gone within a few seconds, so that Andreas didn't get more than a glimpse of it's back.
Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino is about 20km south of Ushuaia in Argentina, which claims the title "World's southernmost town"... It's mainly a naval base plus civilian appendage, a few fisherman and approximately three B&B's. There is not much to see, but the world's southernmost yacht club and a beautiful museum about the indigenous. The life of these people wheeled around the fire that kept them alive in this freezing landscape. When Magellan upon discovering these islands saw their fires from afar, he called them Tierra de Fuego, "Land of Fire".
Our main reason to visit Isla Navarino was the rugged mountains in it's centre, las Dientes de Navarino, "Navarino's Teeth". An (according to our guide book) easy five days trek leads around the teeth. The challenge lying mainly in it's remoteness, we would have to sustain ourselfs without any civilisation, carrying tent and food for the five days. So we rented a nice wind proof four seasons tent, sleeping mats, warm sleeping bags and what else one needs on such a trip and set off. Luckily the nice guy at the rental shop also gave us a compass: the trek turned out to be much less well signed than hoped...
The Circuito Dientes de Navarino started with a very long day, climbing up through forests that slowly recede. After a few more kilometres through moss the ground turns to rubble. And not a signpost to be seen in miles and miles... Throughout the trek the sights where stunning, on the first day of the Beagle Channel, which separates Chile and Argentina, later of the rugged Navarino Teeth.
Our well tried diet of porridge, muesli bars and pasta kept us going, the water from the countless rivers is clear and drinkable. Once again, the feeling of leaving civilisation kicked in. In five days we met seven other human beings To be away from all man made noise is a relief. The easy routine, having breakfast, breaking camp then walking, climbing through a beautiful landscape to reaching the next camp site, setting up tent and enjoying a well deserved hot meal before falling asleep shortly after dusk... All this is a welcome change from the bustle of civilisation.
The only buildings to be seen were countless beaver dams. Introduced in the 19th century, these cute beasts have become a pest. Huge areas of destroyed forests filled with dead white trees create an eerie, ghostlike atmosphere. On the third day we got lost for an hour or so. The weather changed between snow and fog, reducing the visibility, which made it hard to navigate with our rather bad map. The compass saved us here, as we knew the rough heading of the trail from a textual description of the trek.
On the fourth day we feared for our lives (or at least for the health of our legs) as we descended about 300m through a steep rubble field. In parts we switched from walking to sliding down the slope.
We returned dirty and smelly, tired, exhausted and very happy to Puerto Williams Seven kilometres before reaching town a small truck gave us lift. Enjoying the views of Beagle Channel and Argentina without having to use our feet was a welcome change. And the prospect of a hot shower in our cute hospedaje in Puerto Williams made us even happier (not to talk mention the toilet, the soft bed and the big chunk of meat that were waiting for us).
To add some glamour to our travels, we celebrated our return from the wilderness in the yacht club, a grounded german river boat, with pisco sours and three co-survivors.
The next day we took a boat to Argentina. Ushuaia is much more lively than Puerto Williams, were we had had our lunch in the same/only restaurant every day. We tried to go for a few hikes around town, but our legs turned out to be too lazy for anything but a short stroll. We spent the days talking to other travellers and making plans for the next part of our trip. On February 2nd we boarded a flight to Buenos Aires (the 40h bus ride would have been more expensive...).
Weeeell, we already arrived in Brazil. Having left NZ eight weeks ago it might be time to update our blog a bit. And as we are a bit lazy at the moments we'll spare you the big words and tall thoughts and just treat you to some Pictures. Mainly. So that one of the next days we'll still have the time to write about Chile and Argentina. Maybe ;-).
We only had three weeks to explore the two islands, south to north, enjoying the freedom of campervaning. A total of 4000km on winding roads meant a lot of time on the streets, but also just a lot of awesome scenery while driving.
Here are our high lights:
We arrived in Christchurch, which is still under construction. The central km² with the nice old town is not accessible, we left the next day for Dunedin.
Dunedin's main attraction for us was the Otago Peninsula with lots of great wild life: Seals, Dolphins, Sea Lions, two kinds of Pinguins, huge Albatrosses and hundreds of other birds live on and around the peninsula. And sheep. Lots of sheep. The nicest corner of this nicest corner of Southland is Sandfly Bay, distinguishable by Christmas Hats and lots of flying sand.
From Otago we made a round around the rest of the South island: Milford Sound, Queenstown, Mount Cook, up the east coast and across the channel. We stayed in lots of free camping places in stunning settings. One evening we met a couple of french on one of these. They went to the ocean with an empty bucket and returned with a few kilos of mussels. Tastiest free dinnner of the hole whole trip!
...and more sheep...
The northern island is more populated and a little less ruggy than the southern. We took it in a bit of a rush, just peeking at Wellington, Napier and some volcanoes before we headed for Auckland, where we met Andreas Cousin Stefan.
We spent Christmas on a nice camping on the beach. Sun, sand, BBQ. And red hats. Merry Xmas!