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11 avril 2010 7 11 /04 /avril /2010 09:15

Hi friends from all around the world,

Wow! It's already been almost one month since we're back!!! Come on, let's dive again together in this amazing trip... 500 days to discover our planet, to find the meaning of life, to meet lovely people, to make my dream come true, to live a great adventure, to learn how to love, to feel alive... Africa, South America, Central America, Oceania & Southeast Asia... Welcome to the last article of this blog: 500 days around the world, THE END!

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Well, even though you do have some clues with the pictures above, you may wonder: "Finally, where the hell have they been during 16 months and a half?" OK, here is our journey in 7 Lonely Planet maps... A loooooooooong trip!

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120 days in Southern Africa (SOUTH AFRICA - LESOTHO - SWAZILAND - MOZAMBIQUE - MALAWI - ZAMBIA - BOTSWANA - NAMIBIA) 

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120 days in South America (BRAZIL - PARAGUAY - URUGUAY - ARGENTINA - CHILE - BOLIVIA - PERU - ECUADOR) 

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45 days in Central America (NICARAGUA - EL SALVADOR - GUATEMALA - MEXICO) 

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21 days in FRENCH POLYNESIA (Tahiti - Moorea - Huahine) 

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22 days in NEW ZEALAND (South Island) 

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22 days in AUSTRALIA (From Adelaide to Darwin) 

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150 days in Southeast Asia (INDONESIA - MALAISIA - THAILAND - CAMBODIA - LAOS)

And now let's carry on with some interesting figures! It will help you to understand "how it's like" to travel around the world with a backpack... Just one thing: for sure it's really easier than you think...

0 medical consultation (only one for Vladi)

1 scooter accident, northern mountains, Thailand

1,25 €: average price for an "almuerzo" (lunch) in Bolivia or Ecuador (soup + main course + drink + fruit)

1,5 €: cheapest hotel in Copacabana, Bolivia

2 humpback whales came as close as 5 meters to me! (snorkeling in Moorea, French Polynesia)

3 whales sharks became my friends for one hour (snorkeling in Tofo, Mozambique)

4 massage trainings for Vladi: balinese, thai, hot stones and reflexology

5 continents

9 species of animals sharing our bungalow in Koh Lanta, Thaïland (fly, mosquito, beetle, cockroach, crab, spider, gecko, bird, mouse)

13 means of transport (by foot, motorbike, tuk-tuk, sangthaew, car, bus, truck, bike, boat, plane, train, horse, elephant)

16 months and a half: a big trip, isn't it?

19 items lost on the way by Vladi: hats, short, soap, gold necklace, silver necklace, knife, towel, t-shirts...

20 kg of luggage (big backpack + little one)

21 planes

22 islands

24 days of travel without Vladi (willingly I mean, we didn't lose each other!)

28 countries

35 rainy days (you're good enough to work out the number of sunny days)

37 waterfalls (best of the best: Iguazu Falls, Brazil)

39 books

43 "Pad Thai" eaten in 2 months in Thailand... yummy!

51 coconuts to feed the thirsty Vladi

66 paradisiac beaches, much more than suitable for a swim, believe me...

72 stamps on my passport

85 nights camping (17%)

100 $ stolen in a bus towards Quito, Ecuador

103 buses (and dozens of nights inside)

119 nights couchsurfing (24%)

146 dolphins (not really sure about the number) surrounding our little boat in the Machalilla national park, Ecuador

150 €: fine at the chilean border for one banana and two apples forgotten in our little backpack!

208 postcards

500 days around the world

600 €: Ebookers "offered" us a flight for 2 by not withdrawing this amount after a web booking!!!

4750 m: highest point reached by foot during a magical 4 days trek through "la Cordillera Blanca", Peru

7000 km hitch-hiking (mostly in Africa & Central America)

15000 pictures (after a mean selection, only 3500 survived, and it's more than enough!)

28000 €: total cost of the trip (for the flights only = 8500€)

42000 km by land (by plane it's simply crazy...)

XXXXX number of smiles, good souvenirs, lovely people...

If you're still hesitating, if you think you would like to leave everything behind you for a "big trip", maybe the following sceneries will make you hesitate less! But anyway, if you really want to travel around the world, you'll be on the road sooner or later...

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Fitz Roy, Patagonia (ARGENTINA)

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King's Canyon (AUSTRALIA)

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Likoma Island (MALAWI)

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Sayan Terraces & Ayung River, Bali (INDONESIA)

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Swakopmund dunes (NAMIBIA)

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Iguazu Falls (BRAZIL)

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Stone Tree, South Lipez Desert (BOLIVIA)

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Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Island (THAILAND)

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Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Patagonia (ARGENTINA)

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Mounts Olga (AUSTRALIA)

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Semuc Champey (GUATEMALA)

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"Kingdom in the Sky" (LESOTHO)

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Ometepe Island (NICARAGUA)

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Salar of Uyuni (BOLIVIA)

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Moon Valley, Atacama Desert (CHILE)

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Isla Del Sol, Titicaca Lake (BOLIVIA)

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Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands (MALAISIA)

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Lake Malawi in a bad mood (MALAWI)

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Namib Desert (NAMIBIA)

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Cook's Bay, Moorea (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Milford Sound (NEW ZEALAND)

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Peten Itza Lake (GUATEMALA)

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Tahiti Mountains (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Okavango River (BOTSWANA)

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Titicaca Lake & Copacabana shores (BOLIVIA)

So in my head there are plenty of landscapes, but what come first are the faces of the lovely people we have met on the way. It will be impossible to remember all of them, but at least I want to thank the couchsurfers who helped us a lot, hosting Vladi and me for a few days or more:

AFRICA: Jocelyn, Kayla, Wouters, Nichol, Neo, Jenifer, Zachery, Lynne, Jason, Eva, Barbara, Derek, Nate

EUROPE: Bruno & Angie, Pablo, Nector, Loïc

SOUTH AMERICA: Andrea, Daniel, Murilo, Christian, Jazmine, Analia & Babou, José & Fernando, Maximiliano, Ronald, David, Margarita

CENTRAL AMERICA: Miguel

OCEANIA: Nathalie (+Augustin & Louise), Magali, Yushien, Cécile, Samantha, Daniel, Matt

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Jay, Niloofar, Elahe, Sahar, Lucy

Many people helped us during the trip in different ways. For instance, giving us a ride when we were hitch-hiking. I remember well Andras, a nice austrian who took us for 250km then hosted us in a private bungalow in Mozambique. Or those truck drivers who gave us rides sometimes up to 1200km! In French Polynesia, Alain invited us in his family for almost one week, and we went kayaking/snorkeling with rays and sharks together!

Every name is now synonymous with smiles, happy times, bursts of laughter. Every name is a friend. Every name will stay in our mind forever. Every name is much more than a name.

OK it's already time to say GOODBYE! If you want to keep in touch with Vladi and me, if you have any questions about our round-the-world journey, if you want to donate some money to send us back on the roads (just kidding!), contact me here: blogdavidf@gmail.com or on my couchsurfing profile. By the way, we are now living in Brive-la-Gaillarde, so come and visit us, we'll be happy to host you for a few days...

As usual, let's finish this beautiful adventure with some nice pictures... and above all don't forget that "la vraie richesse s'obtient en voyageant"...

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Macchu Picchu (PERU)

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Salar of Uyuni (BOLIVIA)

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Stellenbosch mountains (SOUTH AFRICA)

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Bangkok temples (THAILAND)

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Uluru (AUSTRALIA)

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On the lake... (MALAWI)

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Fiordland fairy-tale forest (NEW ZEALAND)

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Angkor temples (CAMBODIA)

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Volcan Pacaya (GUATEMALA)

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Motu near Moorea (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Lost in Ushuaïa! (ARGENTINA)

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Palenque jungle (MEXICO)

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Moon valley (CHILE)

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Just swimming with a whale shark! (MOZAMBIQUE)

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Deadvlei (NAMIBIA)

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So now, follow our last advice: at least once in your lifetime,  take your backpack, forget anything else and go discovering the world!!! Good luck for your own upcoming adventure, my friends, and see you later...

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David & Vladi

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10 mars 2010 3 10 /03 /mars /2010 06:43

Hello from Bangkok!

Finally in a few days we'll be back in Europe! Thailand was the last country visited on our 500 days round the world journey, and our stay here was like a kind of transition. Indeed during 2 months we rather lived than travelled in this country: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the northern mountains and the southern islands were on the program, and I enjoyed as much as possible the end of my dream... which basically isn't a dream anymore cause I made it come true! Ready for a dive into shiny temples, exotic food, motorbike aventures and sunny beaches? Take a deep breath and come wih us...

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BANGKOK

If you have a good memory, you may remember that we left Kuala Lumpur (Malaisia) by plane early december and arrived in Bangkok. Before our trip through Cambodia and Laos, we made our first steps in Thailand in the busy capital city, where Vladi learnt the foot massage - or plantar reflexology - in the famous Wat Pho massage school. We arrived on a saturday, in the middle of the celebrations for the King's birthday. Fireworks, processions, shows... etc...We stayed one week, and while Vladi was attending her classes, I went exploring the city... But first together on sunday we strolled around (and inside!) the beautiful Wat Pho temple, also known as "the temple of the reclining Buddha". Wat Pho is the largest and oldest wat in Bangkok and is home to more than 1000 Buddha images, more than any other temple in the country. It also shelters, obviously, the golden Reclining Buddha, 46 meters long and 15 meters high!

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As an accomodation, we found after a first night in a "chicken cage" (we arrived at midnight) a nice wooden house converted into a beautiful guesthouse, amazingly peaceful for Bangkok! It was located in the old city, more precisely in Banglamphu, in a less urban section of town, relatively speaking, with low-slung residential homes and shops built along the khlong (canals). It was cheap, with a friendly staff, and we even found some french books. In a city like Bangkok (population +6 millions), busy, noisy, where crossing roads as a pedestrian is a difficult mission, believe me it was great to sleep in this quiet retreat.

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On monday I walked to the Royal Palace (saving a tuk-tuk ride), payed the expensive entrance fee (7€!) and got quickly amazed by the beauty of the glittering temples, buildings, statues,  stupas... The Grand Palace is nowadays used only for occasional ceremonial purposes and is no longer the royal residence. Still it's a real symbol of power and richness, and it's dawn beautiful!

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The King of Thailand is everywhere in Bangkok, and I was about to discover that he's in fact everywhere in the country too!!! In every house, street, shop, tuk-tuk, restaurant, building, you'll find a portrait or a painting of him. He became king of the kingdom of Thailand in 1946, and is now almost considered as a God by the thai people! His face is everywhere in the streets, on every banknote, on TV... Whenyou go to the cinema, before the movie you have to stand up to pay homage to the king, watching a short movie about his life and good deeds. He's now the longest reigning monarch in the world, and each day he seems to become more deeply loved and respected by his subjects. I've never seen such an enthusiasm about a king or a president, in all the countries I've visited so far. Well... Long live the King!!!

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Bangkok is a city always on the move. Ancient temples in the shadow of space-age shopping malls, soaring skyscrapers towering over tumbledown hovels, ubercool cafeés and restaurants surrounded by simple street stalls: this city is an interchange of the past, present and future. It can be surprising sometimes: delve beneath the elevated highways and skyways and you'll find a small village napping in the narrow soi (lanes) with an unmistakable khwaam pen thai (thai-ness). The shopping malls here are even bigger than in kuala Lumpur, and once again I was happy to watch some movies in the gigantic cinemas...

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With over 15,000 stalls and more than 200,000 visitors every Saturday and Sunday, Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is the mother of all markets - and possibly one of the biggest and most famous markets in the world. I went there on a Friday afternoon, it was less busy but lots of stalls were open. It's impossible not to get lost here, and more unlikely that you won't find something to get excited about. Sometimes you can even forget that it's daylight through the never-ending maze of crowded, narrow alleys... Claustrophobics or agoraphobics: stay away! I found some cheap books, and also tasted different "things": no, I still don't have a clue today of what it was!!! After 2 hours, it was enough for me. Fortunately, Vladi was not there, cause we would have spent all day long here! So I took a ride on the skytrain, then by bus, to come back home...

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Lastly, in the modern city center, I was puzzled by this building below and soon discovered it was a brand new art & cultural center. Very curious, I entered and visited for free an interesting, crazy, lively exposition about the sickness of Japanese people (where I found myself, among other things, transported in a "Matrix" atmosphere), and another one about the travel pictures of the King of Thailand's daughter. Thank you Bangkok!

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After 5 days of training (30 hours), Vladi passed the test and got her certificate of foot massage! Then, as usual, I once again sacrificed myself, and she trained on my feet to improve her new skills... Here are some pics of her training books and her diploma. Congratulations, honey!

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CHIANG MAI

Mid-january, after Cambodia & Laos, we came back to Thailand entering the country in the north. We went straight to Chiang Mai from the border with a direct bus (6h). We stayed (lived) one month here, even if I was away for one week on a motorbike trip as you'll read later. Vladi offered herself 2 new massages curses:
- hot stones massage (3 days, 15 hours) in the Mantra spa, affiliated to ITM (International Massage School)
- thai massage (2 weeks, 60 hours) in another school called Sunshine.

We lived in a cheap and comfy guesthouse called Pakinai. For 5€, we had a new room with private bathroom, hot shower, cable TV and wifi, ideally located in the old city of Chiang Mai. The old city is a neat square bounded by moats and remnants of a medieval wall built 700 years ago to defend against Burmese invaders. A furious stream of traffic flows around the old city, but inside narrow soi branch off the clogged arteries into a quiet world of charming guesthouses, leafy gardens and friendly smiles. Chiang Mai has more than 300 temples!!! Almost as many as Bangkok, which is a far larger city. So while Vladi was learning massages, I spent my time strolling around the little streets to discover some beautiful wats...

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The temple architecture here is markedly different from other parts of Thailand. The intricate woodcarvings and colourful murals are hallmarks of the Lanna period (13th & 14th centuries). Three-tiered umbrellas adorning the tops of the temples, Singha lions guarding the entrances and high-base chedi are all Burmese influences imported into the city by the wealthy teak merchants when they migrated to this important trade center. Some of the wats are more interesting inside, and others more beautiful from outside, but all are worth a visit!

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I also visited an ancient temple, Wat oo-Mong, in the forest just outside Chiang Mai. A former king built this temple for a highly respected monk who liked to wander in the countryside, hence the isolated location where the monk could stay quietly and meditate. It is unusual cause it has tunnel like chambers in the ground, some of the walls of which still have the original paintings of birds and animals visible. On the trees "proverbs" full of wiseness. Nowadays it's not "isolated" anymore, but the place remains very peaceful, and the monks slowly repair the numerous sculptures eroded by the time...

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Chiang Mai seems to be "the" city to learn massages. Vladi choosed carefully beetween the different massage schools, ang get a new certificate from the Mantra spa and the ITM school after a 3 days training. Below she's with her dipoma, in the company of the teacher and another friend/student. As far as I'm concerned, I like receiving a thai massage, which involves stretching and deep massage. It's performed on the floor, no oils are used, you wear comfortable clothes that allow for movement, and soon you forget the world around, as expert hands and feet  relax your body. It is known in Thailand as "nuat phaen boran" (นวดแผนโบราณ), literally the ancient-manner massage. Look at my face after a great thai massage! Can you read the "peace & love" message in my eyes?

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In Chiang Mai we met plenty of couchsurfers! We were first hosted for 4 nights by Lucy, a 70 years old lady from the USA, then we met David, a 60 years old english guy, for a tea time at his place. He's now one of the biggest traveler I know, he's been in more than 115 countries so far! I organized in a local pub a CS meeting to watch France playing Scotland in the 6 nations rugby tournament, David came and we also met during this evening a nice young couple, Claudia (Austria) and Jens (Germany). At last, we were invited by a german guy, Pico, for a ride in his side-car and an afternoon at his place 8km outside Chiang Mai.  He introduced us to his wife Sao (Thailand), and we enjoyed a lot this relaxing coffee time along the Ping river, in the garden of his lovely house. We came back 2 days later, Vladi gave Sao & Pico some massages, then we were invited in a fancy restaurant in Chiang Mai. Travelling is really easier and more interesting with Couchsurfing, don't you think?

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There are several outdoor markets in Chiang Mai (Warorot is a good one), and each night you can visit the "night bazar" to go shopping too. On sunday nights there's also a night market at the famous "Thapae gate", the center of the city for tourists. But we were lucky to be in Chiang Mai during the flower festival early february. Plenty of floats well decorated with flowers, and a good market to buy exotic flowers of course (including carnivorous plants!) but also to taste... well... let's say "interesting" food: fried beetles, worms, cockroaches... Yummy! And as I told you before: the king of Thailand is everywhere! You can even find his portrait in flowers...

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A MOTORBIKE TRIP IN NORTHERN THAILAND

The figures? 5 days. 800 km. 4000 bends. 1 accident.

The road? Chiang Mai - Pai - Mae Hong Son - Doi Inthanon - back in Chiang Mai.

Why? Waterfalls. Caves. Forests. Mountains. Geysers. Hot springs. Hill tribes. Rivers.

Overall impression? GREAT TRIP!!!

The Mae Hong Son province is the most mountainous and forested province in Thailand. It's also the least densely populated province, called the 'Land of 3 mists' due to the year round mist, and was once known as the 'Siberia of Thailand' due to its isolated location...

First I was thinking of taking a minibus to Pai and spend some days there. But Pico, the german couchsurfer, gave me the excellent idea of trying instead the Mae Hong Son Loop. More freedom, more places to see, just better! I really wanted to get out of the tourist bubble of Chiang Mai and explore the wilderness and mountains of the North, so that was a perfect match! Leaving Chiang Mai the first day, I rode north and after 50km on a fast road, I took left towards Pai and a great adventure began...

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After a first stop and a little hike at a nice waterfall, I took a long break at the Pong Deud hot springs. In this deserted national park, a walk on wooden platforms leads you to a geyser in the middle of the thick forest. The waters run out at a temperature of 100°C, then cascade down forming a little stream to some natural and human-made pools. Completely alone in a gorgeous nature, I enjoyed some mineral baths like a king in a royal private spa! Definitely one highlight of the trip...

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The road to Pai was breathtakingly beautiful through jungle lined valleys, past small streams with spectacular views at every turn. The descent to Pai itself was very long and very steep. The locals drive at breakneck speed round the bends, but for those who are not actually suicidal it’s a road best taken very slowly... Arriving just before dusk, I found myself a quiet and cosy bungalow, and stayed 2 nights. Pai is a little town along a river and surrounded by hills, where the real fun lies. Too touristic for my taste, but with wonderful dirty roads to explore, sometimes leading you to remote villages, sometimes to peaceful valleys, sometimes to hidden farms. Even in the dry season, it was beautiful, especially for the stunning sunsets.

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On the third day I arrived in Mae Hong Son, a city near the Myanmar border. Nearby I visited the lost long neck village of Baan Hui Poo Kaeng, nestled along the river bank of Pai surrounded by lush forest and mountain ranges. The village can be easily accessed water transportation, but as renting a long-tailed boat is expensive (1OOO Thai Bahts = 22€, for that price you can rent a motorbike for one week!), I tried to reach it by road. Bad road & no signs of course. First I got lost but managed to find a little path leading to the river in front of the village. I let the motorbike, called for a guy to pick me up by boat, and I finally entered the village (free for the locals but a foreigner like me - a farang - has to pay 250 THB to help the community).

When I arrived at the village of the Kayan in the late afternoon, the long necked Karen women wearing colourful head gear were either selling souvenirs or demonstrating the art of traditional Kayan weaving to 2 or 3 tourists. They are pretty friendly and willing to pose a photo upon request. The children peeked shyly at the visitors from the balcony of their wooden stilted home. As a tradition, Kayan people place beehives in front of their wooden houses to ensure good luck.

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Kayan tribe girls starts wearing brass rings around their necks, as well as rings on the forearms and legs, at the age of five or six years. Normally, a Kayan woman carries 5 kg of brass coils around the neck. In the past, it made the women looked more attractive or simply preventing them from getting bitten by tigers... After a while, they can not remove the rings or they die. The woman with the longest neck is considered the most beautiful woman in the village. Surprising customs for us, aren't they?

The Long Neck Karen (Kayan) are a Burmese tribe who reside in Thailand on refugee status. They cannot travel out of their designated area, and must stay in the provincial managed locations unless they had permission from their district office. So paying the entrance fee, you help the villagers, and get to know better a remarkable hill tribe. They still live without electricity, growing vegetables, breeding chickens, building their houses with wood, bamboos and dried leaves. It was an eye opening experience to witness the Kayan culture, lifestyle and traditions. Really a nice encounter, far for the human zoos sometimes sadly organized for tourists, where I (kind of) found out what I lost when life became as easy as the click of a switch...

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But my trip was not over! The fourth day, I rode the motorbike all day long, stopping here and there to breathe in serenity facing great landscapes, or to walk numerous nature trails. Rice fields, green or dry valleys, rural life, tiny villages... and always those amazing waterfalls. I was driving carefully, sometimes slaloming beetween water buffaloes, but unfortunately in the middle of the afternoon, I didn't see in time 2 crazy dogs appearing suddenly on the road. I had a stupid accident. On the steep hairpin bend, I had to swerve to avoid them and literally ran off the road, falling on my right side under the motorbike, which carried on to some nearby thorny bushes. I struggled to bring the motorbike back on the road. I wasn't driving fast. I was wearing a helmet. The consequences were not too bad. My right leg, hip, elbow and shoulder were hurt. I got a mean burn on my left calf too. Regarding the motorbike: rear brake pedal out of shape, front basket destroyed, plus some little scratches. I'm certainly not having much luck with the motorbikes (who said I don't have a gift for them? OK, you may be right!).

I managed to start again, and stopped 10km later. Thanks to the help of a kind - and unhoped for - country mechanic, I healed my wounds - very sketchily - and got the rear brake pedal repaired - blowtorch! - very quickly. I finally did 50km more before darkness, and spent the night in a  pleasant bungalow at the entrance of the Mae Cham village. I needed to recover, so after the problematic shower (with my new painful wounds) and a good dinner, I fell asleep like a baby...

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In the morning I felt better, and was ready for a fifth day on the marvelous but dangerous mountain roads. Definitely the route that defines why motorcycling in northern Thailand is such a draw is the Mae Hong Son loop. Hundreds of kilometres of amazing views, challenging (!) roads, great places to stay, remote hill tribe settlements and, just for good measure, the highest mountain in Thailand (Doi Inthanon, 2560m) approached through an avenue of fragrant rhododendrons... The last day of the trip was one of the best, the roads became more and more beautiful, it was a pleasure riding the motorbike under the sun, smelling respectively burning wood, flowers, pine trees, aromatic plants...

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Once again, I hiked completely alone to the nearby idyllic Mae Pan waterfalls. What a great feeling to be in harmony with nature, without any human-made noises or pollutions. Only me in a green decor, with the sounds or running waters, squirrels and birds... My only regret is that I wasn't able to swim in the chill pools, because of my wounds... Snif!

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After filling up my gas tank a last time, and a final break near an impressive waterfall, I concluded this great trip and came back to Chiang Mai & Vladi. I bought a new basket, changed it on the motorbike, cleaned it and tried to make the little scratches disappear. A success cause the motorbike rental didn't notice anything, and gave me back my deposit! Ouf!

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BACK IN CHIANG MAI

I came back in Chiang Mai just in time to:

- watch the great victory of France upon Ireland in the 6 nations rugby tournament

- prepare a "surprise" breakfast for Vladi, on Valentine's day

- rest my old bone in our comfy room after the exhausting motorbike trip!

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As you were plenty asking for Vladi's come back, here she is, telling you in french the story of her thai massage curses for 2 weeks in the Sunshine Massage School of Chiang Mai...

Et pourquoi ne pas apprendre à masser?

Très chers et fidèles lecteurs,

Mon intérêt pour le massage ne date pas d’hier. D’ailleurs dès les premières semaines de ma vie, il a joué un rôle très important. Peu d’entre vous le savent mais je suis née avec une déformation importante du pied gauche d’origine inconnue. Faut dire que pour ce genre de «détails» à la fin des années 70, dans un pays comme la Bulgarie en pleine guerre froide, les médecins ne se posaient pas trop de questions. Le verdict médical est tombé comme une évidence dès le premier examen: « Bah vous allez avoir du mal à la marier celle-là,  une  boiteuse….faut espérer qu’elle sera très commode pour avoir une chance! ». On peut dire que toubib n°1 n’y est pas allé avec le dos de la cuillère, n’est-ce pas?

Heureusement que mes parents ont eu la TRES bonne idée de consulter un autre spécialiste qui leur a suggéré une longue rééducation et l’usage de semelles orthopédiques pendant quelques années. Des kinés il n’y en avait que dans les hôpitaux, des hôpitaux que dans les plus grandes villes, et comme on habitait dans une petite mon père a suivi les instructions du toubib N°2 à la lettre: massages du pied et mouvements appropriés tous les jours. Est-ce pour cela que j’adore me faire masser et masser les autres, j’en sais rien. Ce long voyage en Asie - le berceau de toutes les techniques de relaxation manuelle - a été pour moi une opportunité inespérée d’apprendre quelques types de massage à un prix dérisoire.

Je me suis lancée dès notre arrivée sur le continent, en Indonésie avec le massage Balinais. Cette formation a été suivie par une autre de Réfléxologie dans la fameuse école Wat Po à Bangkok, puis une troisième de massage aux pierres chaudes à Chiang Mai (nord de la Thaïlande). Pour finir j’ai choisi la plus difficile: formation de 60 heures sur deux semaines au Massage Thaïlandais. Suivre ces cours en dernier lieu était une sage décision car cette étonnante technique, mélange de yoga, de stretching & de massage s’est avérée assez complexe…

Mais commençons par le commencement! D’abord le choix de l’école. Faire le tour des nombreuses écoles à Chiang Mai m’a paru indispensable. Avec tout le temps libre que j’avais, c’était d’ailleurs un réél plaisir. A pied, une carte de la ville à la main (qui me servait plus souvent d’éventail tellement je suis nulle avec les cartes!) ou en tuk-tuk (moto-taxi local), je me perdais sans arrêt dans les rues de cette grande ville. Et puis quelle meilleure excuse pour s’offrir une troisième noix de coco de la journée ou s’acheter un bracelet ultra flash que de se dire qu’on est obligé de passer par tous ces petits marchés avant d‘arriver à destination??? « Sunshine massage school » m’a tout de suite plue: spacieuse, calme, ancienne, réputée. Les profs parlent un anglais correct et circulent dans les couloirs sans traîner les pieds (se comporter ainsi au travail m’est aussi incompréhensible que mettre le réveil lorsqu’on est en vacances). L’accueil y est fait par un personnage différent que l’hôtesse d’accueil à Wat Po (Bangkok), qui avait l’air à la fois amoureuse de son téléphone et de sa lime à ongles, et dotée d’un QI tout juste supérieur à celui de mon chien…

Notre groupe est multinational, 9 personnes de 7 pays (Bulgarie, Laos, UK, USA, France, Allemagne, Belgique). Les deux semaines passées ensemble sont extrêmement gaies & sympas. Tout le monde est motivé, on masse et on se fait masser 6 heures par jour! Travail en duo avec changement du partenaire chaque jour. C’est très important pour se familiariser avec les différents types de corps. Je ne vous étonnerais pas si je vous disais qu’une fille de 1m70 - 55 kg est plus facile à masser qu’un mec de 1m90 - 95 kg, ni que les postures yoga utilisées lors du massage thaïlandais ne sont pas les mêmes pour les personnes de 30 et de 60 ans. Les journées passent à une vitesse folle entre le travail, les rires, les cris (et oui, c’est le métier qui rentre!), les pauses déjeuner, les récits des mésaventures amoureuses de notre prof thaïlandaise - une fille fort belle ayant un léger problème de sélection…..de mecs. J’ai beaucoup apprécié la sagesse de Michèle, une française d’origine laotienne âgée de 42 ans. Elle fait partie de ces gens avec qui je commence une conversation sûre de moi et de mes idées du haut de mes 30 ans, et grâce à qui je finis en me disant que je ne sais rien, que je commence seulement à deviner la vie, que la connaissance est encore loin, très loin devant moi. Cotoyer l’anglaise Faye était aussi intéressant. Elle me rappelle ma sœur cadette Monica, et moi même aussi…il y a 10 ans! Fraîche, jeune, naïve, audacieuse et radieuse. La vie sera-t-elle le changement permanent, un changement qui entraîne et qui marque tout le monde?

Le jour de l’examen final arrivé, tout le monde potasse jusqu’à la dernière minute. Un tirage au sort décide de mon passage avec le belge Philippe. Dire que j’ai depuis toujours de la chance aux examens ne sera pas exagéré. Je sait que Faye aurait échangé sans la moindre hésitation son modèle britannique de 95 kg (Richard) contre le mien: 70 kg made in Belgium! Mais il n’est pas questions de tricher lors d’un examen (surtout si ça m’arrange pas JJ). Je me présente lors de l’examen en effectuant un massage Thaï complet de 2h15. A la fin la figure endormie d’un Philip ultra relaxé me confirme que j’ai réussi l’épreuve. Yes!!!

La remise des certificats se fait dans une ambiance chaleureuse et zen à la fois, musique de relaxation oblige! D’un commun accord, le rendez-vous pour faire la fête le soir même est fixé dans une espèce de resto-marché-barbecue de 400 m2 en plein air. La fiesta se poursuit dans le très pris Reggae Bar où je danse beaucoup, m’amuse bien, bois peu… 30 ans l’âge de raison?

Voilà les amis, maintenant que vous êtes au courant de mes nouveaux talents, n’hésitez pas à me demander un petit massage lors de notre prochaine rencontre. Je me ferai un plaisir de vous détendre car il paraît que la France est morose, que l’économie se porte mal, que la côte du président est tombée à 36 % et que le port du casque sur les pistes de ski sera rendu obligatoire d’ici 3 ans!!!

Je vous embrasse tous de loin en y mettant du cœur.

VLADISLAVA

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KOH LANTA

From Bangkok, it took us 46 hours to reach the island of Koh Lanta! A true nightmare! The first bus was very late, then we had to change buses several times (each time losing hours). Once we broke down on the motorway and spent the night in the middle of nowhere waiting for another bus, then a second night in a poor guesthouse in Krabi, cause it was too late to take the boat! Finally the next day, after 2 last short crossing by ferries, and a tuk-tuk ride, we found a cheap and quiet bungalow, in front of a lovely beach. Ouf!

We loved Koh Lanta. Perfect weather, nice beaches, green mountains, awesome sunsets, and fortunately no tsunami! The island has some roads, so you can easily discover it by renting a scooter, and find yourself a "private" deserted beach for the day. Especially in the southern part of the island. My advice: GO SOUTH!!! We shared a bamboo bungalow near Klong Nin beach with spiders, ants, mosquitoes, geckos, mice, cockroaches, beetles, flies, crabs, and we enjoyed it! We stayed 12 days, sometimes just chilling out reading, snoozing and having the occasional pineapple shakes, sometimes exploring the different beaches, sometimes going on day-trips to nearby other paradisiac islands...

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Not too far from our bungalow, and looking down on the gorgeous Nui beach, let me introduce you to our favourite bar. When we were there, sipping cold beers, watching the beauty of the Andaman sea, we really began to think that our lucky days were about to end... But not yet!

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One day we went snorkeling by speed boat to Koh Rok, which is 45km south of Koh Lanta. Two perfect little neighbouring islands in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by reef and beautiful clear water. It was a good day and we spotted plenty of fish, including some new stuff we hadn't seen yet. Vladi has improved a lot, and now she really enjoys snorkeling! We had lunch on a beautiful beach, surrounded by huge varans, and numerous tiny "bernard l'hermites'...

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Each beach on Koh Lanta has its own charm. But I think we found a hidden heaven within the island: the little Nui bay. A piece of paradise. With charming soft golden sand and calm emerald green water, this picture-perfect hideaway beach offers both views: in front of you the azure-water Andaman sea, at the back tropical green hills and coconut trees... Only a few people come around this area, cause it's more difficult to reach. Indeed the paved road changes to a dirty-dusty road, and you need a good motorbike or a four wheel drive vehicle. But if natural beauty is what you're looking for, it's definitely worth stopping by... Here no bungalows, no restaurants, almost no tourists, just a guy playing guitar, selling pineapples and coconuts in a little hut called the "Robinson bar". This wonderful beach was so delightful and tranquil, that we came several times to get some great relaxation...

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Obviously it was impossible to come to Koh Lanta without visiting the nearby Koh Phi Phi island. Since I'd watched Danny Boyle's movie "the Beach" with Leonardo Di Caprio, Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet, 10 years ago, I was dreaming of this place. Of course it's now very touristic, with tons of people, not the kind of place we love to stay, but the island of Kho Phi Phi Leh is still magic. Worth a daytrip. Enjoy the pictures!

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OK! That's it! We are now back in Bangkok, and in a few days we'll be back in France. Below is the map of our itinerary in Southeast Asia: five months through Indonesia (Bali + Lombok), Malaisia, Thailand Laos & Cambodia. It was great, but it's finally time to end this amazing 500 days trip around the world. I hope you liked the pictures, and that I was able to make you, in a way, travel with us. Don't worry, I'll right one or two more articles to conclude that blog, to take stock of our journey, to thank all the people that have helped us during this "once in a lifetime" adventure. So take care and see you soon, my friends!!!

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IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Aujourd'hui ton parrain est faineant! Donc juste une chose: J"ARRIVE!!!!!!

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Published by D.F - dans THAILAND
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4 février 2010 4 04 /02 /février /2010 07:18

Hi from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

From the comfortable room of my comfortable guesthouse, I just wanted to share with you today some pictures of a memorable safari trip in Swaziland. Already a long time ago, at the beginning of our round-the-world trip! Remember, in Africa, we were constantly on the move, mostly hitch-hiking, and finding good internet cafes was "mission:impossible". Updating the blog was difficult, each picture taking ages to upload... Now in Thailand, with broadband internet and free wifi, it's way better! So here are just a few more pics of the great Hlane national park... Better late than never!!!

HLANE NATIONAL PARK

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Vladi & I were very lucky to meet plenty of antilops, rhinos, elephants, birds and amazing insects. But what we didn't expect was to spend 45 minutes close to a family of lions! We kind of "shared" their daily life, observing their relationships, discovering their habits from a reasonable (but little!) distance. On the following pics, you can clearly discern laziness, love, proudness... the scars on the lion's face... the lion cub trying to roar like his father... Our sunset safari was really amazing! Taking a nap, playing with his child, keeping an eye on his family or alluring his female, this lion is really the king of the savanna, isnt he?

A LION'S FAMILY LIFE

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Lately during this month, I'll also try to share with you some forgotten subaquatic pics of French Polynesia, if the quality is sufficient, OK? There I had the chance of swimming with humpback whales, reef sharks and leopard rays! Encounters with wildlife were definitely magic during this world trip! Anyway see you soon for the latest news of Thailand! Bye bye!

IN FRENCH FOR THEO:

Salut Théo, voici quelques photos souvenirs d'un safari "coucher de soleil" que Vladi et moi avons eu la chance de faire dans un parc national au nord du Swaziland. C'était il y a déjà plus d'un an, en Afrique, au début de notre tour du monde! Comme je dispose d'un bon accès internet ici à Chiang Mai (wifi gratuit dans ma chambre), j'en profite pour augmenter le nombre de photos disponibles sur le blog et surtout pour partager avec vous des instants magiques de notre périple. Au niveau des news récentes, Vladi va commencer une formation de 2 semaines pour apprendre le massage thai (mon préféré!), et moi je pars lundi pour un trip d'une semaine en moto dans les montagnes et villages du nord de la Thailande. C'est pas cool? On va aussi essayer de suivre les matchs du tournoi de rugby des 6 nations, qui commence ce weekend... Allez les bleus! A plus dans le bus! Parrain.

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Published by BLOGDAVIDF - dans SWAZILAND
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27 janvier 2010 3 27 /01 /janvier /2010 08:11

Hi there! Bonjour à tous!! Sabaidee!!!

End of january 2010. -STOP-
7 weeks more before our come back to Europe. -STOP-
Now in northern Thailand. -STOP-
Here are the latest news of our world trip. -STOP-
3 weeks in Laos, mostly along the Mekong river. -STOP-
See you later... -STOP-

SI PHAN DON (4000 ISLANDS)

Leaving the north of Cambodia, we crossed the border by bus (where we had to pay for a weekend tax - grrrr -) and a few kilometers later, a longtail boat ride took us in less than half an hour to one of the 4000 islands of Si Phan Don: Don Khon. Si Phan Don, an archipelago of sandbars and rocky islets, amid the teal-green expanse of the Mekong river, is a nice destination if you like peacefulness. In the morning women wash their clothes and children in the river, and a steady flow of longtails from the mainland glide to and fro past bathing water buffaloes. Sunsets are gorgeous, and at night, you can listen to the song of the cicadas and watch the moon reflected in the river dotted with the lights of fishing boats...

Despite a major tourism boom - meaning an oversaturation of guesthouses - this island and its neighbour Don Det have managed to retain their beauty and charm, as sarong-clad villagers ply their trade on the iridescent waterways. The 2 islands are connected by a railway bridge, built by the French at the time of Indochina. West of the island, the waters of the Mekong melt with rocks to form the Tat Somphamit falls and the impressive Li Phi rapids. I swam against the current there, it was fun but dangerous! Fortunately I was clever enough to stay close to the banks...

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Life is peaceful on Don Khon. Here you can observe the rare Irrawady dolphins in the Mekong but as we already did it in Kratie (Cambodia), we rather explored the island coasts and interior by foot or by bike, and chilled out in our hammocks sipping pineapple shakes (& Lao beers to be honest!) while reading some good books. No cars, no roads, but plenty of butterflies! Whoooa, I feel good... (I'm sure you know the song!).

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BOLAVEN PLATEAU

We stayed 4 days on the quiet Mekong islands, then took a bus to Pakse, an uninteresting little town but a great base for daytrips to wonderful waterfalls high up in the coffee-growing region of the Bolaven Plateau. Rising at 1500m above the Mekong valley, the Bolaven Plateau is a beautiful claw-shaped highland fortress of forests, rivers, waterfalls and plantations, and home to several ethnic groups such as the Alak and the Katu. Once again it was "scooter time" for Vladi and me! We drove the 37km to reach the view point of the huge Tad Fan falls, and hiked down a steep trail which quickly became dangerous. Rather climbing than hiking actually! But we got rewarding views and pics...

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We bought some fresh coffee in a nearby tiny market, then went discovering another waterfall 3 km further, Tad Nguing. Absolutely gorgeous! I swam at the base of the Falls, then we stopped for lunch, tasting strange food (beef tendons?) with our noodle soups and fried rice... We randomly found a path on a mountain crest, and decided to walk it as long as possible to satisfy our curiosity. Well done! Guess where we arrived? At the top of the 120m high Tad Fan falls! How awesome and scary it was to stand at the edge of the cliffs!

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Driving the motorbike, we passed numerous houses hidden in the coffee plantations. They were all drying coffee beans everywhere: on the streets, in their courtyard, on their roofs... Every folk here is living for (or from) the coffee! Now when I'll buy an expansive coffee from Laos, I'll know where it comes from and will remember how cheap it was here... Sacré Jacques Vabre!

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We didn't stay long in Pakse after our trip in the Bolaven Plateau and booked a 10 hours overnight bus to reach Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. We got the last places left, and they were really, really small: we were feeling like sardines in a can! We were so tired that we slept all night long though...

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VIENTIANE

The lazy city of Vientiane, capital of Laos, was for us a kind of break for a few days. While there we constantly expected to see tumble weeds blowing down the streets and had to keep reminding ourselves that we were not in a provincial town. The place is amazingly laid back and life crawls by at slow tuk-tuk speed. We quickly came to like it.

While waiting for our thai visas (free for once!), we visited the golden Pha That Luang, a nice religious building and the symbol of the country, represented on the national flag. But mostly we took advantage of the numerous restaurants to taste different "cusines": lebanese, indian, lao, thai, italian, korean, french... Yummy! Not to forget the great lao massage we received in a sumptuous five stars decor. Lao massage is very strong and includes rhytmic pressing and stretching of the entire body, it's sometimes a little bit painful but afterwards you feel so relaxed... Southeast Asia is definitely the best place to enjoy the best massages at the best rates! 6$ per hour... Paradise, you said?

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VANG VIENG

To reach Vang Vieng, we booked a bus in a guesthouse, but we got a problem! We were supposed to leave at 09.30am. The Tuk-Tuk came late, and the bus was full when we arrived! The bus driver ignored us and left us on the roadside, without any informations!!! We managed to call the company, and they told us that a bus will come and pick us... 3 hours later!!! Very angry, we went to the guesthouse,  argued with the employees, got our money back, and finally shared a tuk-tuk with another french traveler (Bernard)  to the bus station. There we found a sawngthaew (converted pick-up with 2 wooden benches down either side) leaving to Vang Vieng... Grrrr... Sometimes I hate the lack of organisation in Laos... Can you believe it was easier to travel in Africa?!

Arriving 3 hours later, we found a nice and cheap bungalow on the other side of the Nam Song river, away from the very touristic center. Vang Vieng should have been by the past a quiet village, but now it's just a bad example of tourism: offering a plethora of western comforts and comatose-inducing video bars (why watch "Friends" in the middle of Laos?), and loud parties at night, it's like the Khao San road in Bangkok. That means a place deserted by the local people! Awful! The party tourists form a majority, they just came here to drink beers, get wasted partying and do some tubing on the river, doing the village more harm than good. Fortunately, if you rent a bike or a motorbike, you can quickly leave the crowds and find yourself back with the friendly and easy-going lao people in villages amid stunning sceneries...

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Vang Vieng is famous for its caves and karst mountain formations, and the sceneries are really awesome. I biked one day the 13km to the Tham Loup, Tham Hoi and Tham Nam caves. The latter was the most interesting: the cave is about 500m long and a tributary of the Nam Song flows out of its low entrance. Part of the cave was submerged, and with a tube and a headlight, I had to dragg myself through the tunnel on a fixed rope. Then I walked on all fours, crawled, waded through mud, swam... all in the dark. Funny detail, some flat and hollow stalagtits rings harmoniously like xylophones! I was with a young guide (no choice!), and on our way back the light got broken, so we struggled 10 minutes in the dark to breath again some fresh air... Scary! The landscapes north of Vang Vieng and around the caves were breath-taking, hiking or biking there a real pleasure. I also met there Faustine, a french young woman who invited me for a beer just outside the Tham Nam cave. She was about to share our journey for one week, and to become Vladi's good friend for shopping or chatting beetween girls...

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One day we rented a motorbike to explore further caves (including Tham Phu Kham), a little "blue lagoon" and the lovely villages of Ban Phon Sai & Ban Nampe. The tracks were dusty and bumpy, and we had to cross several streams. Vladi drove half of the time and had a lot of fun! The sceneries became more and more (and more!) majestic. We took a break in Ban Nampe to have a light lunch, then tried to come back to Vang Vieng following our basic Lonely Planet map (all the roads signs were written in Lao language, impossible to understand!). Of course we eventually got lost but managed to find our way asking people along the roads...

So Vang Vieng, as you may have understood, is a place not to be missed in Laos. You will hate the town but the caves, mountains, ricefields, rivers and villages are worth the trip. Try to find yourself a quiet bungalow and to imagine how it was 20 years ago, when the gecko and cicada sounds weren't muffled by nightclubs beats... But most of all, go away from the noisy city to enjoy a real slice of Lao countryside!

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LUANG PRABANG

From Vang Vieng, 7 hours of bus were needed to reach Luang Prabang. The bus struggled on winding roads, passing numerous remote villages located on foggy mountains crests. With Faustine, we then settled down in a cheap guesthouse. We stayed almost one week in the enchanting Luang Prabang, nestled on the sacred confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. Each day, we had to find an answer to a difficult question: "what are we going to do today?"
- wander through the old city peppered with a myriad of stunning wats, glittering in emerald and gold?
- hike along the mighty Mekong watching children having fun or fishermen throwing their nets?
- receive a vigorous but relaxing Lao massage by expert hands and feet, as suspended in Indochinese luxury?
- chill out sipping a fruitshake and reading a book in a secluded bar along the picturesque Nam Khan river?
- talk with monks and novices to learn more about buddhism, the city history and their way of life?
- decide beetween having dinner in the local food night-market as usual or in a trendy restaurant?
Not easy, I told you...

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Luang Prabang is maybe the most photogenic city in the whole of Southeast Asia. We had a good feeling since we arrived in the old city, and Vladi (well, Faustine too!) fell in love with the clothes and art & crafts night-market. From the early morning till the evening, there’s an unending procession of monks padding through the streets in their beautiful orange robes with school bags over their shoulders and umbrellas under their arms.

Ranging in age from the adolescent to the ancient, the monks spend their days chanting, studying and working in and around the grounds of the many wats (temples) in the city streets. During my walks, I saw groups of monks engaged in various activities, including cleaning out a pond, building a boat and keeping the tropical gardens tidy. Even though they are generally shy, they do appreciate the chance to converse with foreigners to practice their English. The monks are incredibly softly spoken and courteous at all times. But there is evidence that western culture is starting to have an influence on their behaviour. I saw one teenage monk sending text messages on a mobile phone. Beetween tradition and modernity...

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The magnificent wats where these monks reside are another aspect of Luang Prabang’s beauty. Largely built in the 16th to 18th centuries, these decorative traditional structures with their multi-tiered tiled roofs are surrounded by other lesser stupas and functional buildings used to house and educate the monks. Murals depicting the life of Buddha cover certain walls of these impressive buildings.

The atmosphere within their grounds is calming and humbling. Used frequently for religious occasions and festivals, the wats provide another more utilitarian function, as places of accommodation and learning for thousands of young boys throughout Laos. As a poor remote country which lacks the education infrastructure of its neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand, particularly in rural areas, the wats double as schools where boys are not only schooled in Buddhist teachings but also in subjects ranging from computer studies to foreign languages.

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At last, after saying goodbye to Faustine (farewell in Vietnam!), we left Luang Prabang on a saturady night for an epic 22 hours journey to Thailand with a lot of different means of transport:
- Tuk-tuk to bus station
- night bus to Huay Xai (10h)
- Tuk-tuk to the border Laos-Thailand
- Little boat to cross the Mekong
- Tuk-tuk to bus station
- bus to Chiang Mai (7h)
- Tuk-tuk to guesthouse!!!
We were brave cause the night bus was everything but comfortable and the roads crumbling. When we arrived, we were of course completely exhausted... Ciao Laos,  & good morning Thailand!

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Back in Thailand. -STOP-
No plans is the plan. -STOP-
Vladi's currently learning hot stones massage in Chiang Mai. -STOP-
We both enjoy the sun, thinking of the cold winter in Europe. -STOP-
Ha ha ha. -STOP-
Next blog news in a few weeks. -STOP-
Big hugs. -STOP-

IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut Théo! Quoi de neuf? Toujours en direct d'Asie, où le soleil brille et chauffe mes orteils tandis que je t'écris ces quelques mots... La vie est belle a Chiang Mai, dans le nord de la Thailande: massages, dégustation de milk-shakes, et un peu de repos bien mérité après 3 semaines mouvementées au Laos. Avec Vladi, nous avons traversé ce paisible pays du sud au nord: merveilleuses cascades, îles tranquilles sur  le Mekong, plantations de câfé, montagnes brumeuses, petits villages, temples dorés... L'Asie du sud-est dans toute sa splendeur! Nous rentrons en France dans un peu moins de 7 semaines, et en fait je peux te dire que nous sommes désormais impatients... Déja plus de 450 jours de voyage, tu te rends compte! Rétrospectivement, le tour du monde était top, avec bien sûr des hauts et des bas: des rencontres géniales, des paysages extraordinaires, des aventures farfelues mais aussi de la fatigue, des transferts difficiles, et parfois une pointe de découragement. Bilan très positif, largement à la hauteur de mes attentes et beaucoup plus facile que prévu. Même si le retour à la vie normale ne sera pas facile, ce changement de mode de vie nous fera néanmoins du bien, on commence à sentir qu'on en a besoin, comme on avait besoin de faire ce tour du monde. Enfin bref, bonne nouvelle: j'ai réalisé mon rêve, et on se revoit bientôt! C'est pas cool, ça? D'ici la fin du voyage tout reste possible, j'ai bien envie de me faire plaisir jusqu'au bout! Pour l'instant, rien n'est décidé, donc suspense... Rester en Thailande pour se relaxer? Un trek au Nepal? Les plages paradisiaques des Philippines? C'est bon d'avoir cette liberté... Je te donne rendez-vous dans quelques semaines dans le ch'nord, OK? Porte toi bien. Parrain.

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Published by BLOGDAVIDF - dans LAOS
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9 janvier 2010 6 09 /01 /janvier /2010 08:18

Hi there!
Happy new year!!! We wish to each one of you all the best you can dream of!
After a few weeks of silence, here are the latest news of our round-the-world trip...

After visiting Malaisia, we made our first steps in Thailand, staying one week in Bangkok where Vladi learnt the art of reflexology - or how to massage your feet - in the Wat Pho massage school. Then we took a bus straight to Cambodia and spent there 3 weeks. We are now in the south of Laos. And we''ll be back in Thailand in less than a month! Still following us? OK! If you wonder about what we did in Cambodia, let me tell you that everything began with a tuk-tuk drive from the border of Thailand...


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The tuk-tuk let us at the border, where we had to pay 30$ for our visa, then we caught a bus to Siem Reap, the touristic city located near the world famous Angkor temples. Crossing the rural lowlands, you can immediately guess that Cambodia is a poorer and less developped country. It's another world, as if back in France a long time ago. Of course you can see motorbikes, cellphones, and even sometimes cable TV. But the wooden stilt houses with the beasts around, the children playing naked along the roads, the women washing the family clothes in the river, the steers pulling the plow in the fields... all testify that people are still living here a life now forgotten in Europe. Cambodia reminded us of our 4 months in Africa, already one year ago, at the beginning of the trip...

When we arrived at Siem Reap, the night had fallen and we had to struggle to escape from the "nice" and "welcoming" tuk-tuk drivers who wanted to bring us "for free" to some nearby guesthouses (over-priced and belonging to their cousins of course!). Instead of following the crowds, we walked for 15 minutes and asked some fellow travellers in the streets for a good adress. And so we found a quiet guesthouse, with bathroom and - surprise! - cable TV, soap and towels, free bikes, free internet, and a good restaurant on the spot! For 6$ per night, a great deal!


ANGKOR TEMPLES

The temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 14th centuries when the Khmer civilisation was at the height of its power. Angkor was the capital of the mighty Khmer empire which ruled a large portion of South East Asia around 1000 years ago. After the collapse of the Khmer civilisation Angkor was abandoned and the temples were covered by the jungle. They were rediscovered in the 1860s by the French. Today there are around 100 temples in a large area around the city of Siem Reap. The temples of Angkor have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

I bought a 3 days pass to visit them, taking advantage of the free bikes available at our guesthouse. Vladi came with me the second day, and we both enjoyed discovering those amazing temples. Below are some pics of Angkor Wat, the largest, most breathtaking and best preserved monument of Angkor. Surrounded by large moats, its carved stone bar windows, its bas-reliefs showing Apsara nude dancers or warriors, its high towers and huge dimensions all inspire respect. And it was built more than 800 years ago...


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The Ta Prohm temple was built in the late 12th century during the reign of king Jayavarman VII. It is one of the most popular temples of Angkor, because it has been left in an unrestored state, swallowed by the jungle with trees overgrowing the ruins. It is a temple of towers, closed courtyards and narrow corridors. Because of its natural state, it is possible to experience at this temple the wonder of the early explorers when they came upon these monuments in the middle of the nineteenth century...

The dense jungle within the temple of Ta Prohm is eerie and romantic all at once. Fig, banyan and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over stones, poking through walls and terraces, as their branches and leaves intertwine to form a canopy over the structures. Trunks of trees twist between stone pillars. The strangeness of the place takes you over,as the roots have wound themselves about the walls.

I never thought I would be so taken with a place like this. The unique features of the trees intertwined into the temple are quite symbolic. The powerful forces of the present and future impact the past, or is the other way around? As a fan of Indiana Jones, needless to say that I was happy there...


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Having a break drinking coconuts in the shade, we talked to a local woman selling water and clothes at the entrance of the Ta Prohm temple. We tasted some weird dragonfruits and had a nice conversation about life in rural Cambodia, while her last baby was taking a nap in a hammock. Then we moved on and stopped at the "elephants" terrace on our way to the great Bayon temple.


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Angkor Thom was a fortified city of some 10 sq km in extent, which was built by Angkor's greatest king, Jayavarman VII who ruled between 1181 and 1201. The major attraction of Angkor Thom is the temple of Bayon, which lies at the centre of Angkor Thom and whose exact function and symbolism is still unknown. For me, it was the most beautiful place in all Angkor temples. Its most striking feature are its 54 gothic style towers with smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva (= Buddhist saint) who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. In the fading sun, the faces became more and more enigmatic and the temple englobed in a mysterious atmosphere...


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The third day, I tried to explore less famous or more remote temples, including one which reminded me of the Tikal pyramids in Guatemala. From the top a great view of the jungle around rewards the travellers who brave the steep and dangerous stairs! While lazy monkeys were waiting for my fall to get the giggles, I took my time and managed to reach the ground without minor setbacks...Well done, Indy!


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Continuing with my little bike, I reached the temple of Preah Khan, which lies to the northeast of Angkor Thom city, at the centre of an enclosure measuring 700m x 800m. It was also built during the reign of Jayavarman VII in 1181. The temple is largely unrestored, with trees overgrowing the ruins in some parts, and you can easily get lost in its dark corridors... Here, without any other tourists, I let my imagination run and had a true feeling of an old civilization coming back to life!


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Finally, before to say goodbye to the Angkor temples, I climbed to the top of the Ta Keo temple to admire its five shrine towers. It was apparently never completed and has a pyramidal shape representing the mythical Mt Meru. Tired but satisfied by my adventures, I came back to SIem Reap after a long day: 50km by bike, 10km by foot. You can do less of course, still I do advise you to explore the Angkor temples by bike rather than with a tuk-tuk. Take your time, enjoy  not only the temples but the forests and their majestic hundred-year-old trees...

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PHNOM PENH

Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh... The minute you arrive here you'll be assailed by unceasing "need motorbike, sir?", or "tuk-tuk, siiiiir?" The people are nice but I think they don't understand that we enjoy walking sometimes... We came to the capital city of Cambodia for one single reason: to make our Lao visa at the lao embassy.  Of course they tryied to rip us off, asking more money than the usual price, but the fierce Vladi woke up and we finally paid the good price!!! To spend the time waiting for it, we visited some bookstores and the local markets. Indeed there's nothing really exciting here, and we didn't want to visit Tuol Slong, the museum of atrocities, where plenty of innocent people were tortured and executed. Remember: in a recent history, Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge were still ruling here. Beetween 1975 and 1979, the combined effects of slave labor, malnutrition, poor medical care, and executions resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people, approximately 21% of the Cambodian population! No, not for us! We know our history, but we didn't feel the need to see those killing fields. It would be like going on holidays at an Auschwitz camp...

Instead we found a great place near the post office, Seeing Hands, where we received a powerful but relaxing shiatsu massage by blind people. You get a massage, and help the blind people at the same time. Cool! 6$ for one hour. Life is beautiful, isn't it?

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MONDULKIRI

From Phnom Penh, we took a terrific "truck" to the Mondulkiri province located in the east of Cambodia, not far from Vietnam. Starting in the early morning, we arrived at night, after a flat tire and numerous stops to load or unload goods. Half of the road was in bad shape, nothing more than a dusty track in roadworks. Exhausting! By the way, when we entered Cambodia our bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh also had a wheel problem due to the bad roads. We had to wait half an hour in the sun. When we started again, 5mn later we had another flat tire!!! So we waited 45mn more for another bus... It's "Khmer style", or in french "a la cambodgienne!"

Here I will give you important informations about public transport if you ever come to Cambodia: when you ask a driver about the duration of a journey by bus, here are his replies and their true meaning:
When does the bus start? When do we go?
- soon   means   -->   in half an hour
- now    -->   in 45 minutes
- in one hour    -->   in 2 hours
How long is it to the destination?
- one hour   -->   almost 2 hours

- less than 3 hours   -->   more than 4 hours
- 5 to 6 hours   -->   7 to 8 hours
Now you're ready to travel in Cambodia!!!

A world away from lowland Cambodia, Mondulkiri is the wild east of the country, home to the hardy Pnong people and their noble elephants. Climatically and culturally, it's also another world, which comes as a real relief after the heat of the plains. The landscape of the province is a seductive mix of pine clumps, grassy hills and windswept valleys that fade beguilingly into jade green forests and hidden waterfalls. In the dry season, roads are very dusty! In this peaceful part of Cambodia, we settled down in a little town called Sen Menorom...


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In Sen Menorom, we found a good restaurant that quickly became our canteen and reconciled us with the khmer cuisine. Indeed so far in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we were really disappointed. But here, we tasted delicious soups or curries with coconut milk, chicken in ginger sauce, spring rolls... As spices, turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are essentially used in Khmer cooking, Khmer stews, and nearly all curries. But we didn't try the fried spiders (actually we didn't find them in the places we visited, it's a pity!) and the fermented fish paste used in many dishes, a distinctive flavouring known as prahok. And to be honest, food in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia is way better than in Cambodia. End of the gastronomic digression.

In Mondulkiri (meaning "Meeting of the Hills"), we alternated lazy and very active days. According to the locals, the roads through the province look like a papaya shake during the wet season, but in the dry, you must prepare to battle with the red dust, which will leave you with a fake tan and orange hair!!! The real joy of the Mondulkiri province is indeed exploring by motorbike at your own pace, following small paths to hidden tribe villages or waterfalls spilling out of the jungle. On Christmas day, we drove about 100km on a day trip to the Bou Sra falls, a 35m-high double drop into a jungle gorge. Gripping the handlebars and brakes trying not to be distracted by the amazing views of the hills around, I managed to avoid incidents (better than in Bali!). Sometimes when passing jeeps or trucks, we were lost in clouds of dust! Sometimes the road was in such a bad shape that Vladi had to walk at my side, not to "kill" the motorbike...


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Thanks to a basic map, but to be honest most of the time randomly, we also found some little villages, where our passage was welcome with smiles and innumerable 'hello, what's your name". We shared our biscuits with some kids in front of their typical low-roofed wooden house, tasted a good fruit smoothie in a village lost in a forest, and came back home - a great bungalow with TV (khmer people are fond of TV) and, that beats everything, hot water! - all covered with dust. Our clothes, bags, hair, eyes, noses, ears... nothing was spared!


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We also discovered the Mondulkiri province in a very interesting way during an elephant day trek.  I was scared to try this activity, maybe too touristic for my taste. But it was great, cause we were alone, starting in a Pnong village and quickly "hiking" through deserted hills. Our elephant was well trained, responding to the orders of our 12 and 14 years-old guides (!), but at the same time had a strong character! Still he was good-natured I think, and of course always willing to eat. We climbed on him with a ladder, but once he also kneeled down to let me go. Amazing! I was very impressed by the complicity of the little boys and the big beast.


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We had a long break and ate our picnic at a natural pool, while the elephant was released in the jungle for his lunch. Our young guides hung a bell at his neck, and we found him 2 hours later thanks to the jingle sounds. It was time for the best moment of his day: a bath in the river. He obviously really enjoyed it! Especially when he was completely laying under water, breathing with his trump, almost snorkeling...


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Because it's not very comfortable - and I didn't want to be waddling like a duck for days! - I prefered to walk a good part of the way back. It allowed me to take good pictures of Vladi, my bottom came back to life, and it was lighter for Mr the elephant. Everybody was happy! Another very nice day in Mondulkiri... I will add that the elephants are really part of the Pnong families, and seem to live a pleasant life. Like horses or camels in other countries, they are domesticated in Cambodia but well-treated and respected. A good example of collaboration beetween men and animals...


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KRATIE & KOH TRONG ISLAND

We finally left the Mondulkiri province, and took 2 different buses to reach our next stopping place along the famous Mekong river: the little town of Kratie (pronounce Kra-Tche). We stayed a few days, including New Year's eve (we "celebrated" with beers and pizzas, dreaming of good wines, foie-gras, smoked salmon... Bouh!), in a cheap guesthhouse: 4$ the room with TV5 Monde! Far way from the cold european winter, dramatic sunsets over the Mekong are on the other hand guaranteed every day here...


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Opposite town in the middle of the Mekong is an idyllic slice of rural Cambodia on the island of Koh Trong. A small boat took me there for 1000 Riels (0.25$) and I hiked all around the island meeting friendly smiling locals, lovely kids as well as shiny happy grandmothers! Once again it strenghtened me in the belief that the nicest people are found in the poorest places. And the island of Koh Trong, without cars, almost unspoiled, smelling good the hay stacks, immediately became one of my favourite places in Cambodia...


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Anxious to share this beautiful & peaceful place with Vladi, we both came back the next day, rented some bikes and pedaled through the little "countryside" island, overtaking carts pulled by ox. We got lost, stopped several times to watch some kids climbing big trees to the top or to taste weird but yummy local "ice creams". The people were very curious about us, amazed by our language, our hats and I do think by the size of Vladi's breasts! We came close to a floating village, took a nap under a wooden shelter, and read our books resting our "old bones" in peaceful vibes... Conclusion? Don't miss the island of Koh Trong if you travel through that part of Cambodia, my friends...


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Just 15km north of Kratie, in a village called Kampi, the endangered Irrawady dolphins often breach the Mekong's silent surface for a breath of fresh air. After an enjoyable 60-minutes bicycle ride, we reached the place and, barefoot in the water on a long-tail boat, we spotted those very rare and odd dolphins. It was too challenging to take a good picture, so I put away my camera and enjoyed this unique encounter with a wild nature. If you want to see what an Irrawady dolphin looks like, you'll have to come here (or more simply you can google it! ah ah ah!)...

Cambodia was a great country to discover: Angkor temples, Mekong river, elephant trekking, waterfalls, motorbike adventures, beautiful slices of countryside, dolphins, jungle, forested hills... Still I must confess that Vladi and I hesitated to come back to France on the occasion of Christmas. We are on the road since the 3rd of november 2008, so it was a second Christmas away from the family... We miss our friends and our dog Follium too...  We miss France, Bulgaria and Europe... But we decided to carry on, this adventure is not over and has surely some more surprises in store for us! We will finish the journey with some weeks in Laos (from south to north), and a long stay in Thailand: probably Chiang Mai & around in the north (where Vladi will continue her massage training), and the islands of Ko Phi Phi & Ko Lanta in the south (will I finally learn to dive?). Bye bye Vietnam and Myanmar, we are bored of long-distance buses and expansive visas... Maybe next time?

Well everybody... Once again Vladi and I wish you a fantastic and happy new year! Next article about Laos in a few weeks! Take care of you, and hopefully see you soon in 2010...


IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut mon unique filleul adore que je prefere dans le monde entier! Bonne annee 2010 a toi, en esperant qu'elle t'apporte plein de victoires au foot, et pourquoi pas, soyons fous, la France une nouvelle fois championne du monde! Petit fait sympathique, je note d'ailleurs que les pays dans le groupe A de la coupe du monde de football (Uruguay, Mexique, Afrique du Sud et bien sur France), je les ai  tous visites lors de mon tour du monde! Mais revenons a ce nouvel article de blog: comme tu as pu le voir, ton parrain et Vladi se sont encore bien promenes au Cambodge... Les temples d'Angkor, temoins d'une civilisation tres ancienne, etaient impressionnants mais je crois que tu te serais plus eclate lors de la ballade a dos d'elephant, non? Ou a moto sur les routes poussiereuses de la province du Mondulkiri. Ou encore a velo sur l'ile de Koh Trong. Ou en bateau pour decouvrir les derniers dauphins Irrawady dans le celebre fleuve Mekong. Enfin nous, on ne s'est pas ennuyes pour le fin d'annee 2009 en tout cas, meme si on aurait bien aimes passer Noel avec vous en France. La famille, les amis, et Follium nous manque beaucoup apres plus de 14 mois sur les routes. Mais on continue, on ira jusqu'au bout de cet etonnant voyage. Un tour du monde, ce n'est pas une excursion ou des vacances, c'est un processus, une decouverte. On pourrait meme dire (surtout) un processus de decouverte de soi, pas seulement des pays visites. Il y a un "avant" et un "apres" tour du monde, c'est sur. Et 500 jours de voyage, ca vous change! Bon j'arrete la, je divague un peu trop. J'espere que le reveillon de nouvel an s'est bien passe, ainsi que la rentree a l'ecole debut janvier. Quand je reviendrai en mars, il faudra que tu me racontes beaucoup de choses, je suis tres curieux et j'ai envie de rattraper le retard du a ma si longue absence. OK? En attendant, prends bien soin de toi et de la famille, et distribue une nouvelle fois des bisous a Elea, Hugo, Marie, Papy, Mamy, Matthieu, et si t'es motive, a Bacchus et a votre "nouveau" chat! A bientot Theo! Parrain.

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Published by D.F - dans CAMBODIA
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6 décembre 2009 7 06 /12 /décembre /2009 13:16

Good afternoon everybody! Or is it morning in your country?

Why not Malaisia? Actually this country was not on our original "list", but we decided to add it cause we still had 4 months and thus enough time to spend 3 weeks there... Vladi and I travelled separately the first 10 days. Kuala Lumpur, the tea plantations of the Cameron highlands, the historic city of Melacca, Pulau Penang island, the spicy food (malay, indian or chinese)... all tasted like an "extra" in our round-the-world trip!

KUALA LUMPUR

Vladi and I landed at Kuala Lumpur at 02.00am, and got a few hours of sleep spending the night at the airport. In the morning, we took a bus to the city main train station, and said goodbye to each other: 10 days of holidays were about to start, for both of us! It was indeed time to breathe for a while, and my advice to any lovers traveling together for a long time is to split sometimes for the well-being of the couple!!! It' s wise, believe me!

In Kuala Lumpur, I surfed a great couch near the University and was welcome by 2 lovely persian girls, Elahe & Niloofar. It was only happiness! Actually I couldn't have dreamt of a better CS couch in Kuala Lumpur. We talked a lot about very different topics, went to the cinema, cooked delicious food. Elahe is a positive, friendly and smart woman who helped me getting to know Iran better. Niloofar is a lovely smiling girl full of kindness who introduced me to her numerous friends (especially the clever and funny Sahar) as well as to the persian cooking. No doubt that iranian hospitality is one of the best worldwide! I was even invited the first evening to a barbecue with their friends, and they both took good care of me during my whole stay. Thank you so much!


Kuala Lumpur was better than I thought (I was prepared for a smelly-disgusting city like Shanghai), so it was a good surprise. It's still a big noisy city, but I had fun strolling around the busy streets of China Town, eating yummy (and cheap) take-away food from Little India, visiting incredibly huge shopping malls and watching one movie per day in the local cinemas (including the last Tarantino "Unglorious Bastards" among others). Moreover, the twin Petronas towers, once the tallest human-made building (452m), are really impressive by day or by night! At last, I must admit that the quality of my CS experience may also have influenced -a lot- on my good impression on that city!





CAMERON HIGLANDS

After 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, I arrived in Tanah Rata one evening (after 6 hours of bus) and rented a "piece of attic" for a few days in a guesthouse. My room was indeed the smallest I've had so far in this world trip! Something like 4 square meters, and I couldn't even stand up inside... But for 2€ per night, who cares? The cool and refreshing air over the undulating valleys and majestic mountains was welcome after the hot sweaty weather of Kuala Lumpur. Here it was raining most of the time but everyday I went hiking through the misty tea plantations all the same... The first day my path led me to the Cameron Bharat tea estate, where some little smiling boys guided me to a tea plucker village. I shared my bananas with them, they were surprised at first but then smiled even more! A little bit further I randomly tried a steep "shortcut" through the jungle... Guess what? I got lost of course! Still it was fun wandering for a while in the dark jungle, and I managed to find my way back, so no worries...





The second day, a local bus drove me from Tanah Rata to a crossroad a little bit further than Brinchang, then I walked along a narrow winding road to reach the Boh Sungai Palas tea estate. Boh is the major tea company in Malaysia, but we don't know that brand in Europe cause they export only to Japan and middle-east countries. After a short free visit of the tea farm, I went hiking for hours up and down through the huge tea plantations. Despite the perpetual rain, watching the tea pluckers at work and staring at the evergreen hills was very relaxing. The sceneries were breath-taking. I enjoyed a lot that day-hike, don't miss it if one day you come to the Cameron Highlands!










The third day, I followed a jungle path to reach another valley southeast of Tanah Rata. The weather turned quickly very bad, with liters of rain falling on my head. The muddy path basically became a stream, and I struggled to get out of the jungle. I finally managed to reach a small crossroads in the middle of vegetable farms, and soon a german couple caught up with me. We walked together until a little road, found a shelter to eat some fruits and rested for a while. We were hoping that the rain would sooner or later stop, but it didn't. All the same we decided to continue to the nearby tea plantations 6km further on our left. Fortunately we hitchhiked rather than walked, thanks to some nice chinese guys who gave us a lift in their pick-up. The rain was pouring down and the hills so misty that we couldn't see anything... From the viewpoint: only clouds... So we just ended up drying our clothes and drinking hot teas in the Boh tea shop, then walked back some 9km to the main road where we took the bus towards Tanah Rata. Disappointed but not vanquished, I brooded over my defeat the next day watching the dark clouds and the endless rain through my new guesthouse TV lounge windows. The 5th day the weather was better so I came back there and once again hiked in the wonderful tea plantations. Victory!!! As usual I was amazed by the beauty, greenness and peacefulness of those lovely hills...

 









By the way, if you don't mind I want to share with you my new knowledge about tea-making. If you're not interested, you may go straight reading about Vladi's trip in Melacca or our stay in Pulau Penang, but you miss an opportunity of learning something new and interesting... Up to you!

--> Plucking
2 years after planting, the leaf is ready for plucking, which takes place every 3 weeks. Only the most tender leaves are picked. After plucking, the leaf is checked for quality and weighed, then transported to the factory.

--> Withering
The green leaf is first withered to reduce its moisture and to allow natural chemical reactions to take place. This process takes beetween 12-20 hours and is usually done overnight.

--> Rolling
The withered leaf is rolled to crush the leaf cells and process it into smaller particles.

--> Fermentation
Fermentation, or oxidation, is a natural chemical process and takes place as the rolled leaf cells are exposed to oxygen. This process is essential for the leaf to develop the right flavour, colour and aroma. Thus, timing and temperature have to be carefully controlled. The leaf emerges coppery in colour.

--> Drying
Drying stops the fermentation process and reduces the moisture in the leaf to 3%. this is done by passing hot air heated to almost 120 degreesthrough the leaf and is complete in 10 minutes. The tea leaf emerges as the familiar crisp, black, curled form and is known as "made tea".

--> Sorting
The "made tea" is put through a series of vibrating sieves to sort it according to size.

--> Tea tasting
Tea tasting is an intrinsic and vital part of the tea making process. Some of the things a tea taster examines for are colour, brightness and aroma. It's an unique art and requires years of training and experience.

--> Storage & packaging
The tea is stored in dry conditions to mature and mellow before packing. Then it comes to your cup of tea!!!

After all those exhausting hikes, I treated myself to a delicious indian dinner, in the company of fellow european travelers from France (Jérémy), Switzerland (Katia) & Poland (Magdalena). Eating with my fingers on a banana leaf was tricky at the beginning, but it's the best way to combine the different types of indian food together and get the most from the individual tastes. It was delicious (and cheap: only 7 ringgits = 1.40 euros). Then we ended the evening sharing beers around a fire in another guesthouse, talking about our respective trips until the middle of the night. You can't imagine how much I love traveling...



MELACCA

While I was in the Cameron Higlands, Vladi spent one week in the historic city of Melacca. In her guesthouse, she got along well with the manageress, who soon became a good friend, and offered balinese massages to fellow travelers passing through, so as to improve her new abilities. No pictures but here is the story of her week, written in french. Sorry I'm too lazy to translate it in english...

"Voila c’est fait! Avec David on vient de se séparer…..certes juste pour 10 jours mais complètement. Cette situation implique entre autres qu’à partir du 13 novembre à 13H48 précises, je ne pourrais plus poser mes questions favorites «Qu’est-ce qu’on fait maintenant? » ou « C’est à gauche ou tout droit? », je ne pourrai même plus dire «  Tout ça, c’est de ta faute!!! » avec le petit ton accusateur que je maîtrise si bien.

Dans le métro de Kuala Lumpur je me débrouille pas si mal. C’est un très bon début- je me mets en confiance et je pars à la recherche de mon hôtel dans Chinatown. Dans le guide Lonely Planet, j’ai selectionné 3-4 hébergements potentiels et je compte bien trouvé l’endroit idéal pour mon séjour en tant que femme célibataire (provisoirement) et autonome (depuis toujours).

Lorsque la plupart des femmes se lancent à la recherche de l’homme parfait, elles ont dans la tête comment IL DOIT ETRE. Personnellement j’ai toujours appliqué une régle tout à fait différente mais qui porte ses fruits (croyez moi les filles). Moi, je pense toujours COMMENT IL NE DOIT PAS ETRE! Ma décision est prise pendant que je trimbale l’air désespérée mes sacs à dos dans les rues de Chinatown: j’applique cette même règle d’or pour le choix d’hôtel et je fixe trois points:

1. Pas cher

2. Pas de rongeurs

3. Pas plus de 5 cafards au mètre carré

Aussitôt je me félicite de cette décision car les 4 premiers hôtels que je visite sont tout simplement horribles. Surface - 4 m2, portes en fer, absence de lumière du jour compensée par la présence d’un néon d’entrepôt, cables électriques sortant de partout, ménage fait approximativement tous les 3 mois …Je choisis le moins répugnant de tous et je passe mon après-midi à faire la connaissance du quartier. Rien d’exceptionnel. Des petits restos chinois absolument partout, des magazins de décoration de Noël, des odeurs pas commodes, des animaux errants. Quelques heures plus tard me voilà « chez moi » . Grâce au WI FI (gratuit!) de l’hôtel, j’arrive à joindre via Messenger ma famille en Bulgarie. Ils sont heureux, moi aussi, on parle, on rigole, on parle encore et voila que…ma mère arrive à me mettre une idée qui ne me sort plus de la tête «  Et si qq chose t’arrivait pendant la nuit, une femme seule on ne sait jamais…. ?»

« Super maman! Merci beaucoup de me donner ainsi du courage » je pense au fond de moi tout en répondant « Maman, arrête de psychoter. Comme si quequ’un va venir me violer dans ma chambre d’hôtel en plein centre de Kuala Lumpur… ». Oui, mais c’est déjà trop tard. Le petit ver du doute a pénétré mon cerveau féminin et il n’y a rien à faire. Vite! Vite! La conversation MSN à peine finie, je fais un appel URGENT à toute mon intelligence et cherche une solution. Non mais vous imaginez les gros titres dans la presse? « Une touriste violée dans un hôtel douteux à Kuala Lumpur!!! ». Ou pire encore: « Voyager seule - voilà ce que Vladislava Facon, une touriste française, ne fera plus jamais!!! ». La solution vient rapidement et calme mon esprit vagabond: poser mon gros sac contre la porte fermée à clef et…. (c’est la que ça devient génial) mettre au bord du sac un mug en aluminium. Tout le monde le sait : l’aluminium est un métal léger, bon conducteur de l’électricité etc, mais moi je l’ai choisi simplement car en tombant il fait énormément de bruit. Après quelques essais qui ne laissent pas les voisins indifférents, mon alarme « fait maison » est installée et je plonge aussitôt dans un profond sommeil. Bien entendu rien ne m’arrive pendant la nuit et la vue de mon système de défense me fait sourire le lendemain matin.

Les jours suivants passent sous le signe de la découverte de la cuisine malaisienne, des petites rues, des monuments. Je suis stupéfiée par la quantité de marchandises contre-façon étalées partout sur les marchés locaux. « Hé, Madame par ici les sacs Louis Vuitton » « Non, merci. Moi c’est plutôt Chanel » - je réponds avec un clin d’œil malicieux. Kuala Lumpur s’ouvre à mes yeux comme une ville moderne, électrique, bouillante, bruyante qui ne s’arrête jamais. Le fossé entre les pauvres et les riches est profond, très profond. Les mercedes coupées côtoient les chariots délabrés traînés par ceux qu’on appelle en France les seniors. La retraite n’existe pas en Malaisie comme dans beaucoup de pays pauvres, l’enfance non plus d’ailleurs.

Les gens sont contents de me parler et engagent facilement la conversation. Ils demandent des tas de choses: si je suis mariée, si j’ai des enfants, pourquoi je suis seule, est-ce que je suis riche, qu’est-ce que Zidane devient? C’est étonnant, il semble que c’est uniquement grâce au sport que les gens partout dans le monde connaissent la France. Pas un seul ne m’a demandé en 13 mois de voyage: « Et c’est beau Paris? » ou « C’est vrai que vous avez plus de 300 fromages différents?»

Je quitte la capitale trois jours plus tard, contente d’échapper à la folie de la grande ville, et je mets le cap vers le sud - Melacca à 220 km. Mes précédentes expériences sont confirmées ici: dans les plus petites villes c’est mieux et moins cher. L’hôtel est en effet une ancienne maison de maître chinoise pleine de charmes. Pour 5 euros la chambre avec petit balcon, comment ne pas être heureuse?

Melacca est réputée comme ville culinaire, mélange réussi entre la cuisine chinoise, indienne et malaisienne. C’est en partie pour cette raison que je l’ai choisie. Le restaurant bien tenu d’un immigrant indien attire mon attention, et au même moment mon ventre me rappelle que je n’ai pas mangé depuis plus de 16h. Bien installée sur une chaise en plastique (très populaires les chaises en plastiques ici), je lis derrière mes lunettes de soleil la carte. Des noms bizarres et étrangers défilent sous mes yeux et je sens que la panique s’empare de moi….chappti, poori, putti, masala tosai, goat intestine (peut-être pas!), mee rojak…que faire, que choisir??? Le restaurateur arrive, je commence à poser pleins de questions, il me regarde l’air de dire « T’es pas très futée ma grande et puis j’ai pas trop le temps là… ». OK, Mr l’indien! Si c’est comme ça je vais utiliser la vieille technique qui marche du tonnerre avec tout le monde. « Servez-moi le meilleur plat de la maison», je demande calmement. Ausitôt ses yeux et tout son visage, moustache comprise, deviennent un énorme sourrire. Il est indien et fier de l’être, son resto propose des plats aussi bons que dans son pays et il est bien décidé à me le prouver. 15 minutes plus tard je déguste une super spécialité indienne au curry dont j’ignore toujours le nom tellement il est compliqué. Inutile de dire je deviens une cliente fidèle pour les 6 jours suivants.

A lhôtel je fais connaissance avec la femme de chambre Muja et on devient rapidement TOP copines!!! Depuis la maternelle ça n‘a pas changé: les gens maiment ou me détestent immédiatement et pour toujours. Ca me va, ça fait gagner du temps. Cette fille musulmane, j’ai envie de vous la présenter en chiffres: 1m50, 29 ans, 100€ de salaire mensuel, 0 jours de congés par an, durée totale de scolarisation 4 ans. Pendant mon séjour elle prend soin de moi d’une façon touchante. Entre le café matinal et le fabuleux dîner Mi Goreng concocté par mon amie (qui ne demande rien en contrepartie), le sourire ne quitte plus mes lèvres. Savez-vous chers lecteurs que souvent les gens le plus démunis sont aussi les plus généreux, les plus vrais, les plus chaleureux? Parfois ils ne possédent rien ou presque et pourtant ils ont envie de partager, de donner, de faire plaisir…..Incroyable! La chaleur humaine voilà ce qui m’a tant manquée pendant les 7 ans de ma vie passées en France! Sujet de méditation?

Muja est le premier modèle volontaire (excépté David bien sûr!) pour me permettre de m’exercer au massage Balinais. Vous vous doutez bien que dans ce genre dendroits, pour les nombreux voyageurs fauchés et fatigués, la nouvelle dune apprenti qui propose des massages gratuits se répand à la vitesse de la lumière. Dès le deuxième jour je me retrouve surbookée!!! Des indonésiennes, des allemands, des espagnoles, des chinois, des russes Même le patron en personne est passé par la mythique Chambre N°1:).J Néanmoins je ne perds pas de vue que je suis toujours en vacances, hors de question de déroger à la Sieste Sacrée et malheureusement, je me vois obligée de refouler quelques volontaires (dire non - ça aussi je sais faire!).

Mes journées sont tranquilles, les grasses matinées presque obligatoires, les petits déjeuners ensoleillés, les promenades à pied ou à vélo. La visite de Town Square & Bukit St Paul, de Melacca Sultan Palace et de quelques temples boudhistes me remplissent de joie. Je savoure chaque instant en me rendant compte de la chance que j’ai d’être sur terre et en bonne santé tout d’abord, de faire le tour du monde, d’être libre comme le vent, d’être aimée aussi, d’avoir des rêves. La vie est courte, c’est-ce qu’on dit et je veux bien le croire. Je ne suis pas tout au début de la mienne, je ne suis pas vers la fin non plus. Il y déjà un bon moment que j’ai compris la différence entre vivre et exister, et j’ai fait le bon choix…. A bientôt pour d’autres récits de voyage à la sauce « Vladi »!

PULAU PENANG

Pulau Penang is an island located on the west coast of the country, linked to the peninsular Malaysia by the longest bridge in the world (13km). After 10 days separated, Vladi and I met up in Miss Loh's guesthouse in the sleepy fishing village of Teluk Bahang. We enjoyed the place and stayed there one entire week! At a walking distance of the Penang national park, with a lively monday night market, and far from the cities and their inhuman shopping centers, we adopted a very quiet way of life. Set amid a fruit orchard, Miss Loh's guesthouse is the kind of place where you can put down roots, and it seems some travelers did! For instance, Yves & Kathy, a french nomadic couple who were living 5 months in Malaysia to avoid winter in France! They were our neighbours for 8 days and we enjoyed their quiet company...

 




The nearby Penang national park wears 2 distinct faces: the east part is polluted with many people pretending to enjoy dirty beaches, while in the west part you can hike through the jungle to white, sparkling beaches that are devoid of humans but popular with monkeys.... The flagrant difference is shocking! And it raises a scary and perturbing question: how long thoses beaches will remain unspoiled? Years... months... weeks??? More generally speaking, it makes me sad. Of course I had the chance thanks to that trip to visit plenty of gorgeous nature places, to hike through amazing landscapes, to spot wildlife in beautiful forests, lakes, mountains, oceans... But what if I decide to visit all those places I've been in 5 or 10 years? It tears my heart in pieces, but unfortunately I guess that 80% of them will be badly spoiled. I have no interest in this blog of showing you pictures of waste on a beach or in a hiking path, but you need to know that I seldom saw completely unspoiled places (New Zealand and Patagonia in Argentina were the cleanest maybe) so far on that journey. Sad but true. And I'm not confident in the future, when both tourists and local people work out together to pollute every day more... Shame on humankind!

So the east coast was really disappointing, despite the huge varans, the lighthouse and some few unspoiled patches of sandy beaches. How can you indeed enjoy a beach or an ocean bath when you see monkeys playing with plastic bags and beer cans on the shores? Unlike the tourists on that day, I couldn't at any rate...







Fortunately, I went hiking another day in the west part of the national park, and it was like another world! Clean jungle trails, clean beaches... A whole new world indeed, where squirrels, turtles, monkeys, eagles, owls, sea otters can still leave in peace and harmony. I hiked during 7 hours to visit the desert beaches of Pantai Kerachut & Teluk Kampi, and met only 2 other people! It was a very hot day (35-40°C), but the jellyfishes didn't allow me to cool my body down  in the ocean. Maybe it was an act of revenge to punish me (representing the humankind) for the progressive destruction of Pulau Penang? Still I spent an invigorating day walking and breathing fresh air through great sceneries, so I don't feel any bitterness towards the jellyfishes! I'm rather angry against... well... you know...










BACK IN KUALA LUMPUR

For our few last days in Malaysia, we came back to Kuala Lumpur, and I introduced Vladi to my new persian friends Niloofar, Sahar & Elahe. She gave her massages of course, to thank them for hosting us! Once again I took advantage of the huge city by watching some movies. We also went to 2 big CS meetings and organized a great surprise-party for Elahe's birthday. Very exhausting days, average bedtime 02.00am... But happy times!


Sometimes - more & more often lately, maybe cause we're coming slowly to the end of the trip - I lay upon my bed, thinking about our amazing journey around the world. And what comes straight to my mind? The beautiful sceneries? No... the faces of the friendly people I met on the road. Smiles and looks. Voices. Rememberings of dinners together. Bursts of laughing. Complicity. Fleeting friendships. I will miss traveling...

Yesterday we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, and we are now here for one week: Vladi indeed began this morning a 30 hours curse to learn reflexology (or how to massage your feet!). Next news about Thailand in a few weeks! See you later, friends & family... Cheers from Bangkok!

IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut Theo! Bientot Noel et les vacances, hein? Je suis actuellement a Bangkok, en Thailande. Moi pour Noel et nouvel an, je serai certainement au fin fond du Cambodge dans un petit village en train de manger de la bouffe epicee avec Vladi... Nous sommes en Thailande depuis 2 jours et venons de passer 3 semaines en Malaisie. J'y ai beaucoup aime les plantations de the dans les montagnes des Cameron Highlands, les plages du parc national Penang sur l'ile du meme nom (en tout cas, celles qui sont encore epargnees par la pollution des hommes), la nourriture, les grandes tours de Kuala Lumpur qui ressemblent a des fusees, et mes nouvelles amies couchsurfeuses iraniennes! On a vraiment voyage tranquillement en Malaisie, en restant a peu pres une semaine dans chaque endroit. Le rythme est relache et ca fait du bien. L'Asie est la derniere etape du tour du monde, et sera certainement la plus zen, loin de nos tonitruants debuts en Afrique! Depuis quelque temps, quand je suis allonge dans mon lit (quand je ne dors pas dans un aeroport!), je pense a mon incroyable voyage jusqu'a aujourd'hui. Et devine ce qui me vient en premier a l'esprit? Les plus beaux paysages et les merveilleux endroits de nature? NON... Ce sont les visages de tous les amis rencontres sur la route. Leurs sourires et leurs regards. Leurs voix. Les diners ou les jours de voyage partages. Des eclats de rire. Des amities aussi intenses qu'ephemeres (qui dureront toujours meme si nous avons peu de chances de nous revoir). Ah la la, ton parrain est devenu un vrai nomade! Le retour a la vie normale s'annonce complique, meme si nous avons deja reflechi a de nouveaux projets avec Vladi. En tout cas ca fera plaisir de te revoir! Encore 3 mois 1/2! Bisous pour tous a Merville-les-Bains, avec mention speciale a Tonton Jean-Paul qui prend soin de notre petite voiture depuis 13 mois... A bientot pour le recit de nos aventures thailandaises, cambodgiennes, laotiennes... etc... DAVID

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Published by D.F - dans MALAYSIA
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6 novembre 2009 5 06 /11 /novembre /2009 05:48

Selamat pagi, apa kabar?
Good morning, how are you?

Vladi and I are now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaisia! We will travel separately for 2 weeks in this country, as we did in South America some months ago, to breathe a little and travel at our own pace for a while... Then we will meet again and continue the journey in Malaisia together, until the 5th of december when we'll fly to Bangkok, Thaïland.

We had the chance of spending 3 weeks in Indonesia, in the islands of Bali & Lombok. To make it short: incense-smelling temples, incredibly green terraced rice fields, lovely islands and beaches, crazy monkeys, smiling people, yummy food... and very cheap prices!!! As we had decided, we moved less and spent many days in Ubud and its beautiful surroundings, where Vladi learnt during 4 days the art of the "Balinese massage", while I enjoyed hiking in the greenness for hours. We also snorkeled with colourful fishes and turtles on the Gili islands, and chilled out a lot reading plenty of books. And last but not least, I became fond of indonesian food! OK, let's start: welcome to Bali & Lombok, my friends!


ULUWATU

We arrived by plane from northern Australia and landed late in Denpasar, Bali. After having paid for the visa on arrival (25$, one month), we got our luggages back and took a cab to the nearby Kuta. We quickly found a cheap room, but were really disappointed by Kuta, which is nothing less than a horrible beach resort full of party animals, so busy-noisy-dirty it was almost unbearable. The next day we escaped from the place and went straight to the Bukit peninsula to visit an amazingly located hindhu temple. The ancient Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple, dedicated to the spirits of the sea, is indeed perched on the edge of steep cliffs and offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean. It was a hot day and we were sweating a lot under the fierce sun. The open-air temple was full of nasty monkeys always trying to steal your hat or sunglasses! We also went swimming in the beautiful Uluwatu beach, considered one of Bali's best surfing spots, attracting surfers from all over the world. The beach was right down a hill, so we had to go down several stairways to reach it, then through a surprising cave to finally bath in the turquoise water. Marvelous!









UBUD

Ahhhh! Ubud! We basically fell in love with this town located in the middle of Bali. Arguably the best place on the island: scenic rice fields, nice villages, art and craft communities, ancient temples, palaces, rivers, cheap accomodation. We settled down for 5 days in a traditionnal cottage (8€ per night breakfast included!) surrounded by small temples and lovely gardens. After our tough journey in Australia, it was so good to relax here, you can't imagine!




Just outside Ubud, we went walking several times through green rice fields, and discovered the kindness of balinese people for the first time when some guys offered us some coconuts freshly cut from their trees! Then on the way back we were given a lift to Ubud without asking anything! I was pretty amazed by the clever irrigation system in the paddy fields. And also by the peacefulness of the place so close to the city...







In the "city center", we wandered one day in the gardens of the little Ubud palace. Nearby is the market where you can buy cheap wood-carved objects or traditionnal clothes (needless to say you have to bargain a lot!). And temples are everywhere! Actually each house has its temple, each village has its many temples, each area its major temples... Daily the people leave offerings (rice, fruits, incense, water...) on the streets and inside the temples. They seem very religious compared to our catholic habits. Ubud is also a touristic city with plenty of cafes and restaurants, but still you feel like in a different world. Surely due to the beauty of its people... I indeed haven't seen such beautiful women since Bulgaria!




Ubud is full of interesting things to do: you can for example visit the Goa Gajah cave (elephant cave) built in the 9th century in the nearby Bedulu village. A fantastic carved entrance depicts entangling leaves, rocks, animals, ocean waves and demonic human shapes running from the gaping mouth which forms the entrance of the cave. Hindhu or buddhist temple? Historians are not sure, but the place is really impressive. Otherwise, you can gaze at the pink lotus flower gardens, or observe the behaviour of monkeys families in the sacred monkey sanctuary forest. And for going to one place to the other? Just rent a scooter for 3€ per day!








We also met some couchsurfers in Ubud: Jay from Canada, who's building a house here, and Paulhina from Portugal, who was on holidays at the end of a one month asian trip. We shared several lunches and dinners, including one in a great organic food restaurant in the middle of the paddy fields! Delicious food, new friends and countryside... just 15mn by foot from the town center. Life is beautiful, isn't it!






One day my scooter drove me (yes, most of the time I was driving so randomly that I considered it was leading me...) to "sunset hill". I walk for one hour and slowly but surely realized that the youth of Ubud was using the green hill and the tall grass as a romantic meeting place! Funny how the cute couples were trying to hide on the hill slopes... The scenery was nice, with some views of villages perched on the other side of the valley. On the way back, a ceremony with dances and hypnotic live trance music (gong, little drums, bells and cymbals) was going on in a village. I stopped and watched, trying to ask the locals to get the meaning of it. Unfortunately they didn't speak any english and just smiled to me. It didn't matter. The music was nice, and the giants dancing realistic. Once more it proved to me how religious the people remain here in Bali.





Jay, our friend couchsurfer, gave me plenty of tips to explore Ubud's surroundings, and that's how I discovered the Petulu village. Its lovely people have a gift for wood carving (it's a pity I couldn't order furnitures here for my future house!) and a huge community of white herons and egrets gathers here every evening since 1956! The Sayan terraces above the Ayung river were another gem revealed by Jay, but as the weather was turning bad, I promised myself to come back here for a long hike. As you'll read later, it was about to become one of my favourite place in all Bali!





GUNUNG KAWI

In Tampaksiring, 11km northeast of Ubud, Gunung Kawi is an astonishing group of stone candi (shrines) cut into cliffs on either side of the fecund, plunging Pakrisan river valley. The shrines are thought to have been carved as monuments to an 11th century royal family. Whatever their origin, Gunung Kawi, with its wonderful terraced rice-fields, waterfalls and exuberant nature, is definitely one of Bali's most impressive sights. I allowed me a walk off the beaten path through the rice paddy fields, and got rewarded with great points of view and a serenity feeling as never.








GILI ISLANDS

We left Ubud and took a bus to Lovina, on the northern coast of Bali. We crossed the center of the island, driving through nice landscapes of lakes and mountains (around Munduk). We didn't like Lovina at all and moved the next day with a shuttle bus to Lombok and the Gili islands. We left at 05am and arrived on Gili Trawangan island at 06pm! One first bus took us to Padangbai, where we boarded on a 5h ferry, then another bus crossed the east coast of Lombok from south to north. Thanks to a last small boat, we finally reached our destination. We struggled to find a cheap bungalow in the dark, and fell asleep quickly as you can guess...

Gili Trawangan is a cool island, where you can find parties (not for us!), peacefulness (it's better!) and magic mushrooms if you wan't to get high! Our accomodation was well outside the touristic traps, with an outdoor salt water shower and a nice staff. The first day I walked all around the island in 2 hours, to find the best stretches of white sand and snorkeling spots. A good point is the absence of motorised traffic: on the Gili islands, you can choose beetween your feet, a bike or a pony! Vladi rescued one evening a skinny baby cat, and fed him with milk for 3 days. We called him "pumpkin" cause he was found on halloween's day. He came with us on Gili Air island, then disappeared surely to start a new life with new friends... At any rate that's our hopes...








Gili Air was a more laid-back island, cheaper (bungalow for 2 with breakfast = 5.50€) and with less people. We spend our days sleeping, reading a lot, eating in local restaurants and snorkeling with plenty of exotic fishes and friendly curious turtles. Great! The beaches were many and varied, with black, golden or white sand, and the water turquoise-tinted and bathtub-warm. We met there again Marion & Christian, a french couple we had met first on the ferry a few days before. We shared excellent dinners together, chatting about - our beloved country - France and travels among other things.







After one week on the Gili islands, we decided to come back to Ubud, cause there were still many places to discover in its surroundings. The old rusty ferry took 6 hours this time (!) for the 25km journey, and was now and then followed by dolphins shoals, while in the middle of the Bali sea, plenty of fishermen were at work among strong currents...




BACK IN UBUD

Hey we were so happy to come back to Ubud! We choosed a very comfortable room (10€ for a double!) close to our former accomodation, which was unfortunately not available. Funny gecko sounds could be heard every night. We lived a simple life, not wasting money for transport or activities, but splurging on food!

For instance, here are the details of a mean lunch in "Biah-Biah", one of our favourite restaurant:
- Ayam Sambal Matah (deep fried chicken mixed with fresh onion chili sauce)
- Sayur Pelecing Kangkung (boiled water spinach dressed with balinese spices)
- Sate Asem Babi (pork satay with peanut sauce)
- Vegetable Lawar (vegetables, coconut and special sauce)
- Mie Goreng (fried noodles with vegetables and balinese spices)


Vladi followed during 4 days a 30 hours "balinese masage" class in a local school, Menari Nari. Of course I volunteered to be her model each evening when she was back! The training was a success and she has already decided to take some other classes in Thailand! And I'm very happy of her new "vocation": how great it is to be married to a masseuse!!! Below you can see some pictures of the school, the teachers, her degree and first real customer! You can book a massage with comments on the blog...







One day, leaving the guesthouse, Vladi and I had a little scooter accident. I was still sleeping I think and somehow lost control of the scooter for a few seconds in the narrow path going out of the accomodation. Enough to scratch my right calf badly against a low wall, and to twist Vladi's toes on the ground. Cleaning my wounds was horribly painful, and it took more or less one week to turn enough "crusty" andallow me to walk normally again... Vladi put a home-made splint on her toes and it got better faster than me... Well, we are survivors, yes or no?



AYUNG RIVER, SAYAN & KEDEWATAN

OK as usual I kept the best for the end... Remember that I promised myself to explore the Ayung river gorge? I held to that promise and went off hiking in search of adventure and authenticity. From the view point I took one of my favourite pictures of Bali (the first below), then went down thanks to some damaged stairs which quickly turned into a muddy path. It was so slippery that I took off my shoes to find some grips with my feet and toes! I managed to reach the river, walked along it as long as possible, then met a nice old woman who explained me how not to get lost. I walked up and down the hills until I got a first glimpse of the Kedewatan terraced rice fields. I found a path rising to the top of a hill, and from there the scenery was once again incredible: paddy fields, palm trees, river and little wooden shelters. I came back to the river by other stairs leading to a small hidden temple under the sprawling roots of a huge tree. I was weary and therefore had a long pause in the shade of one of the wooden shelters. One hour later, I tried to continue along the river, and as it seemed impossible, I turned back but guess what? I had trouble climbing up the muddy slope to reach my scooter...  Ah ah! What a great day-hike!










While Vladi was learning massage, I was chilling out in our room reading (I'm reading a lot actually!) and eating most of my meals in a cool restaurant (named "Ijolumut") with free WI-FI to update the blog and plan the trip a little bit further. In our last days in Ubud & Indonesia, we met again our friend Jay in the Sari Organic restaurant, bought some cheap clothes at the market, visited the local bookshops and also went for a last walk into Bali's greenness . Finally yesterday we flew to Kuala Lumpur, so next news from Malaisia in a few weeks, my friends! Take care, and see you soon!







IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut Théo! Après l'Afrique, l'Amérique du Sud, l'Amérique Centrale et l'Océanie, ton parrain se trouve actuellement en Asie du Sud-Est!!! Et plus exactement en Malaisie, à Kuala Lumpur. Avec Vladi, nous avons décidé de voyager 2 semaines séparément dans ce pays, pour respirer un peu, car être tout le temps ensemble depuis 1 an, c'est pas toujours facile! Notre voyage se déroule toujours sans problèmes majeurs (on a eu un petit accident de scooter sans gravité), et nos 3 semaines en Indonésie étaient géniales: jolis paysages (tu as vu un peu, toutes ces vertes rizières en terraces?!), multitude de temples, belles plages, tortues dans l'océan, excellente nourriture et petits prix! La plupart du temps il faisait beau, mais quand il pleuvait, c'était le déluge (de quoi inonder Merville je pense!). L'hiver doit être arrivé dans le Nord maintenant, si tu as froid essaie de m'imaginer en short et débardeur ici! J'ai de la chance, n'est-ce pas? Par contre, c'est vrai que Noël approche, et j'aurais bien aimé le passer avec vous tous (même dans le froid!). Enfin je ne vais me plaindre non plus, la vie est belle autour du monde... Bonne continuation à l'école et au foot, et à bientôt pour d'autres nouvelles de ton troubadour de parrain. Bises. David

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Published by D.F - dans INDONESIA
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18 octobre 2009 7 18 /10 /octobre /2009 04:34

Cheers mate!

After 3500km on the New Zealand roads, we have just crossed Australia from south to north! Starting in Adelaide, we drove mainly on the Stuart highway (which is more or less australian's 66 route) almost 5000km to reach the top end city of Darwin. We wanted to fell the vastness of this country (and we did!) and to discover of course the wonders located in its red central desert: Uluru, Katja Tjuta & King's Canyon. Also we wanted to avoid the more touristic east coast, and to live one new adventure in a very different environment. As Australia is not a cheap country (actually the most expansive destination in our round-the-world trip list!), we managed during those 3 weeks not to pay for any accomodation! 6 nights sleeping in our tiny car, 8 nights couchsurfing and 7 nights camping in the bush!!! So for 21 days, we were really "dust eaters in outback Australia"...


ON THE ROAD TO THE RED CENTRE

Hmm... it didn't start well cause my backpack got lost when we changed planes in Sydney, so we had to sleep a first night in the car at the airport. Not very exciting... The next morning I got my luggage back... and a Qantas pyjama that Vladi uses now! So finally we left Adelaide after a quick stop in a supermarket and started our road to the north. The first few days we drove a lot, mostly from morning till dusk, stopping in the roadhouses to drink a coffee, spotting our first road-trains (trucks with 3 or 4 trailers up to 56 meters long!), washing ourselves in the bush and sleeping in the car. We stopped in the opal mining city of Coober Pedy, where the weather is so hot that the people live underground! They really have their bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms underground... The landscapes grew more and more desertic, the soil turned red, and the colours sometimes became surrealist like the "Breakaways" (where a Mad Max movie was shot).








We also stopped several times to have our first bush walks, and we nearly got lost once! Scary when you see all the dead cows or kangaroos being eaten by crows, eagles and vultures... Very desertic indeed the center of Australia! Nothing but weak little trees, funny-shaped termite mounds, abandoned rusty cars... and you! From the main highway we were usually turning off into little dusty roads to have some rest or to picnic in awesome peaceful spots. The few pubs along the way (every 200km!) were interesting to see the local people, but it's also in those places that we took notice of the aborigenes' conditions: most of them were tramp-looking with bottles of alcohol in the hands. A pity when you think that, like the indians in America, they were the first owners of this big territory, Australia. But we had a very constructive talk about aborigenal issues with Daniel in Elliott, so I'll come back to that topic later...








The day before our arrival at Uluru, Vladi and I celebrated on a red sand dune our traditionnal "birthday", this time for eleven months on the road... Ice-cold dark local beers were welcome by a temperature of 40°C!!! We also promised ourselves to travel more slowly in Asia, meaning seeing less different places but spending more time in each of them. We were already exhausted and that was just the beginning of our crazy outback trip!




ULURU

When arriving in Yulara, the city-resort near of Uluru, we "stole" a shower in a camping! Well we just pretended to be users and went straight to the bathrooms to take a quick but vital shower... Then on the parking of the visitors center, a couple offered us a 3 days pass (50$) for the national park! Always lucky we are! So we went immediately hiking 3 hours around the base of "the Rock", of course carrying plenty of water and wearing our good hats. That was really amazing. Walking so close to this huge sandstone rock formation allows you to discover all its different shapes and colours, including some hidden waterholes, aborigenal paintings, former waterfalls and steep cliffs. Purely beautiful!









We stayed there for sunset, playing like kids with our shades trying to take an original picture. Uluru became more and more beautiful (red!) with each minute passing by. As usual leaving the crowds gathering in an organized tourist place, we found a quiet place where we could enjoy the sunset alone...




After the sunset, we went back in Yulara to meet Samantha, a sweet couchsurfing member from Hong-Kong who was willing to host us even if she had already 5 german people at home! Fortunately, we got the bed from a german couple who were nice enough to sleep in their "campervan". And believe me, that bed was a priceless gift! The other germans, Juergen, Steffi and Karolin were a little bit upset by the situation, but the french won! Hi hi! We had some comfortable nights (at last) and spent 2 nice evenings all together, especially with the funny and kind-hearted Sam! Thank you my dear friend!



KATJA TJUTA

The next day, we visited the nearby striking group of domed rocks called Katja Tjuta. After having spotted some wild camels, I went first alone walking the "Mala" gorge path (45mn return). That first glimpse was impressive, but nothing compares to the "valley of the winds" walk (3 hours) we hiked with Vladi just after...





Indeed, we hiked through amazing landscapes under a fierce sun and didn't see much other people, except a brave couple in their sixties! The odd rock formations combined with an incredible mix of colours (blue sky, sparse green vegetation and red domes) were fantastic. Only Australia's outback can offer you that kind of scenery! Great, isn't it? At sunset once again, we played our favourite shades game and it was another success...








KING'S CANYON

Leaving the south of the Northern Territory, we drove a little bit (here, that means 300km!) to reach the astonishing King's Canyon. The weather was so hot on that day, so Vladi choosed a small walk (45mn return) while I went for the big one, 3.5 hours, carrying with me 4l of water! Oh my god that was beautiful once again my friends!!! Have a look at that first serie of pics...







Sometimes walking on rocks that can shred shoes, sometimes on wooden bridges and stairs; through peaceful forgotten little valleys or along high cliffs; jumping over rock holes or bottomless faults; that was quite an adventure in a gorgeous desert setting. I was looking for the local thorn devil lizzard (an incredible lizzard whose body looks like flames!) but didn't see one. Well, except on postcards... There was some wildlife tough, but not much: only some crows, little lizzards and weird pigeons. After some hours, the water went missing (yes, the 4l were gone!) but suddenly, I saw the carpark again! Ouf!







WEST McDONNEL RANGES

We spent one night wild camping, then in the morning kept on driving and arrived in the town of Alice Springs, the only real city in the middle of Australia. Nothing really interesting to see, but a useful stop to buy supplies for a long lonely road, check emails and have a quick civilisation feeling! We headed west in the afternoon to a campground in the McDonnel Ranges. We stayed there for one night, cheating on the honesty box once again (but you know why if you have read the previous blog article about New Zealand) and taking a well-deserved shower. In the lovely Ormiston gorge, we spotted our first rock wallabies around a waterhole. They were cute, not really afraid but keeping distance to us, jumping with agility on the mountain slopes.






We also stopped to see the Ochre Pitts, some very colouful rocks used by the aborigenes for their paintings, and later at the Standley chasm where we felt tiny in the tight natural corridor compared to the steep cliffs above our heads... The West McDonnel Ranges have their share of surprises too...






DEVIL'S MARBLES

Crossing Alice Springs one last time, we drove north on the Stuart "Explorer" highway until we reached another spectacular scenery: the Devil's Marbles. With boulders shaped by time and erosion, I had another surrealist feeling while hiking through that place. The weather was very hot, actually it seemed to me that it was getting warmer and warmer going north. Vladi took a nap in the shade of a big boulder, while I had fun taking pictures of myself among those crazy rocks, as you can see below... Then I joined her, park the car under the only tree around, and we slept a good deal of the afternoon until the temperature was more bearable. Then we hit the road again, stopping in the bush for a new night of wild camping just after the city of Tenant Creek. It was so hard for me to sleep in the heat of the tent that I stayed outside until midnight reading a book under a sky with millions of stars...








TINY LITTLE ELLIOTT

If you look on a map of Australia, you'll see that Elliott is just a tiny little dot in the middle of nowhere. And it was indeed a tiny little town (200 unhabitants) where usually no one stops. But we did and truly enjoyed our stay there thanks to another fantastic couchsurfing experience and the kindness of our host, Daniel. After 4 nights of bush-camping without showers, he welcame us like old friends in his big comfy house, cooked a mean curry chicken the first night, and treated oursleves to ice-cold beers! What a great feeling to be at home!!! We enjoyed a lot watching DVDs laying on the couches, reading books or just doing nothing (for 2 days I was feeling weak and was happy to rest).

Daniel, who is a primary teacher for aborigenes kids, invited us to the local pub and to a "party", where we met the weird local population: not used to see strangers, they don't know how to behave normally, like to say hello or do some casual talk. Instead of that, they just sat down and stayed beetween themselves, too shy to try to communicate with us. A strange but interesting experience... Fortunately Daniel also invited some european girls who were working at the gas station for a few weeks, so we had someone to talk to, while Daniel was losing his money playing poker. The next morning (it was a sunday), Vladi cooked some pancakes and Daniel a fresh bread, and we had a delicious breakfast all together.

We also had a very interesting conversation with Daniel about the Aborigenes. Well you may know they were put out of their own lands and deprived of any rights, if not hunted and killed, for a long time. Lately the australian government made an official and national apology for the way they behaved towards the aborigenes, and now they are provided with houses and money (like a rent for they were the original owners of the lands). The problem is that they are kind of lost in the cities, and at the same time are slowly losing their traditions (which are only spoken, not written in books). A good part of them uses the money to buy alcohol and get drunk. Daniel, who has lived there for one year and a half now, told us that sometimes they do crazy things in their brand new houses, like trying to cook entire kangaroos in the oven, or even lighting campfires in the middle of the living-room! All is not dark and negative tough, and some aborigenes make great studies and adapt themselves to a modern life-style. Still, the harm was too strong and now the aborigenes are lost in their own country... Such a shame, isn't it?

Daniel also provided me an internet access in the school, and the local police officer (yes!) drove us one day on a dusty sandy road to a nearby lake where we had a refreshing swim surrounded by plenty of birds. Ahh... Couchsurfing! A big thank you to you, Daniel! Hopefully we'll catch each other again soon in Vietnam!




GOING NORTH... ALWAYS GOING NORTH...

After having said "farewell" to our new friend Daniel, we drove north as usual for a few hours, and in the middle of the afternoon arrived in a curious place: the Elsey national park. Of course we had noticed that there were more trees in the area, still we were surprised by the thermal springs in this dry piece of land! Truly like an oasis in the desert! Moreover, a colony of big and noisy bats was living in the patch of forest around the springs, hanging under the branches or flying above our heads... Really a weird place... and if you don't mind taking the risk of being eaten by crocodiles, you're welcome to swim in the river... Well... no, thank you!







We slept once again in the bush in the middle of nowhere, on an abandoned little road hidden behind a rocky hill. Then, guess which direction we took? NORTH, of course! Always north! We arrived a few hundreds kilometers later in the city of Katherine, and visited the nearby Nimitluk national park. The Katherine gorge was gorgeous, and swimming in the river or in the pleasant Edith Falls' pool was a real treat considering the "always hot" weather. We didn't even see a cloud for ages! The omnipresent blue sky somehow made me wish for a refreshing rain... A "ch'ti" (french people will understand) in need of rain, isn't it ironic? But at least the vegetation grew every day greener or simply more present, and we were happy about that after 10 days of full-desert trip...








LICHTFIELD NATIONAL PARK

Now we were really coming close to the top end of Australia and its northernmost city, Darwin. When I took the turn-off from the Stuart highway, I saw the sign "Darwin, 120km" and realized that Adelaide was more or less 3000km behind, and that we had already driven more than 4500km in about 2 weeks!!! Nearly the end, but not the end yet! The promising Lichtfield national park was waiting for our visit, and immediately impressed us with its tall termite mounds (up to 6 meters high!). If the highest ones were amazing, the magnetic termite mounds were even more interesting (you can clearly check the difference in the following pics): those magnetic termites are so intelligent architects that they build their flat thin mounds in a special orientation not to be burnt by the sun or blown away by the wind! I went out of the beaten path to walk through the termite mounds field, instead of contenting myself with the far away tourist look-out, and was well-rewarded with some fines insect-buildings views.





But the beauty of the Lichtfield national park was mostly in its numerous and cute waterfalls. The Florence falls and the Wangi falls were a pleasure to swim in, while the Tolmer falls look-out was a fantastic place to breath in serenity facing the greatness of nature. Near the Wangi falls, plenty of big and scary yellow spiders were waiting for dragonflies in the middle of their webs, and if you look well, you can see their tiny red babies... well... I thought they were babies, but actually they were the males, and the big yellow ones the females... ah ah ah! What a lovely world, I'm glad not to be a spider!










We camped in a local campground (with honesty box, you know our wicked technique now...) and had a peaceful sleep, while plenty of wallabies were trotting (hum, I'd rather say jumping) around the tent. I realized that when I went outside to pee (yes, I know, I'm a poet) with my headlight: there were dozens of them playing and eating in the little trees, and they didn't hide when I came around. Cute little beasts. I wonder how they taste like... just kidding! In the early morning we swam in the rockoles of a nearby river to relax and cool down our bodies after the hot night, that was brillant! We stayed there a long time, then when the crowds arrived, we left and drove finally to Darwin.




DARWIN


As a matter of fact, I didn't take pictures in Darwin, because it was not really an exciting city. Nevertheless we stayed there 4 days, couchsurfing 2 nights at Matt's place (a shy and quiet guy who offered us 2 relaxing days in his comfy flat, thanks mate!) and sleeping the last 2 nights in the car, to save money and avoid the expansive-ugly-noisy-smelly backpackers in town. As usual, we managed to take a shower for free (of course!) in a big caravan-and-car park! We also took advantage of the great northern territory library and its free internet access (and air-conditionning to be honest!). We spend most of our time there, updating the blog or reading very interesting books (see below), and also took the habit of eating breakfasts and taking naps at the botanic garden. You see, we had a car to sleep in but were more or less almost tramping... We didn't want to burst our daily budget, and were finally happy to leave (escape from!) Australia, the most expansive country of our trip so far, for Indonesia, one of the cheapest! Now we are in southeast Asia for 5 months: one hour full-body massage 3.80€, day-long scooter renting 4€, traditionnal meal 1.50€... do I need to continue? OK see you later folks for some asian stories... Bye!


IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Coucou filleul! Bah écoute, l'Australie c'était grand, beau, chaud, et désertique! C'était cher aussi: le pays le plus cher de mon tour du monde avec Vladi! Nous avons traversé cet énorme pays-continent du sud au nord dans une petite voiture de location, et j'ai conduit 5000km (c'est comme 5 fois la route de Merville à la mer Mediterrannée!) en 3 semaines... On a randonné dans des paysages incroyables! Le désert australien est très joli comme tu as pu le constater sur les photos, tu ne trouves pas? Moi j'ai beaucoup aimé même si le voyage était très fatigant: le climat est très chaud, l'environnement aride, et comme les prix sont exhorbitants, on a dormi pas mal de nuits dans la voiture ou en campant au milieu de nulle part dans le désert. Et oui, quand on a un budget limité, il faut savoir faire des sacrifices quant au confort... Mais je te rassure, ici à Bali en Indonésie, tout est au contraire bon marché et on se rattrape, surtout avec les massages à moins de 4€/heure! Bon à dire vrai je suis encore un peu fatigué, c'est la raison pour laquelle maintenant on va voyager plus tranquillement avec Vladi: visiter moins de pays, et moins d'endroits différents dans les pays mais en y passant plus de jours. Après presque un an de vadrouille, il faut bien se calmer un peu! Mais nos aventures continuent, encore 5 mois de découvertes... Normalement on visitera encore la Malaisie, la Thaïlande, le Cambodge, le Vietnam et le Laos, mais tout peut changer. Vive la liberté, on va encore profiter de ce voyage si riche en rencontres et en magnifiques paysages! Des bises à toutes et à tous à Merville, OK? A + Théo! Parrain.

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Published by D.F - dans AUSTRALIA
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24 septembre 2009 4 24 /09 /septembre /2009 01:07

Once upon a time 2 little hobbits called David & Vladi in a fairy-tale country named New Zealand... David was dreaming of coming there for a long time, and so he was very happy to be in this land for some new adventures...

Hi everybody!

We are now in Bali, Indonesia, and once again I'm late updating the blog!

We spent 3 magical weeks in the country of the "Lord of the Rings", and this article is here to tell you about this great journey through wild forests, fiords, snow-capped mountains, lakes and glaciers. We had to fight against herds of bloody dangerous sheeps and to survive during cold windy nights (sometimes camping, sometimes even sleeping in the car!)... More seriously speaking, we rented a small old toyota to drive all around the south island of New Zealand - 3500km - and this long-awaited destination was for me a highlight of the pacific months of our round-the-world trip. For Vladi it was a little bit too cold (especially after French Polynesia!), nevertheless she also enjoyed this outdoors paradise. Let's meet Gandalf and Aragorn together, will you?

MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

We arrived by plane in Christchurch, got the car I'd booked online at the airport, filled up the car with food at the closest supermarket and directly took the road to the Mount Cook! I didn't drive the last 10 months, so it was not that difficult to get used to drive on the left side of the road. We passed the beautiful lake Tekapo, then drove along the turquoise lake Pukaki and the same day we arrived in a camping located in a somptuous valley setting. Some avalanches welcame us with thunderstruck noises! Completely surrounded by snowy mountains, I started to whistle some "Lord of the Rings" melodies of course! After a cold night (which means bad sleep for Vladi), we hiked happily through the windy Hooker valley, sometimes under a little rain, sometimes under the sun. After having crossed 2 swing bridges, the mount Cook appeared in all its splendour, then we reached the Hooker glacier. A nice 3 hours return walk!


In the afternoon, Vladi took a nap and I went hiking again in the Tasman Valley. The walks were shorter from the car park but the landscapes always marvelous, with some little pieces of ice (coming from the glacier) floating in the grey lake at the snow-capped moutains base... By the way do you recognize the second pic below? A great battle of the "2 towers" movie was shot here! I LOVE NEW ZEALAND!!!

To stay in the campground, we had to pay 6NZ$ each in a kind of "honesty box", and as we had only a 20$ note, we put it in the self-seal enveloppe. In the morning a ranger was supposed to collect the fees, and give back the change... The problem is that he never came! So we didn't pay for the second night, and decided to cheat on every future honesty boxes in Oceania... Grrrr...

CENTRAL EAST COAST

After those 2 days of adventure in the cold New Zealand mountains, we drove back for a while then took the direction of the east coast. We arrived in Oamaru and spent one night in a comfy hotel, where Vladi got a good breakfast (prepared by me!) for her birthday. Yep she's already 30! We also met there a french guy who was at the end of a few months contract in the area for the sheeps shearing season. Sheeps are everywhere in NZ! On the east coast road to Dunedin, we saw plenty of lambs too, cause the months of september-october are lambing season. We stopped several times to breath in serenity at different nice beaches, watching for birdlife. Boulders beach was quite eccentric with its funny rocks shaped by the time and erosion. And always those crazy lambs were running and jumping everywhere... but not too far from their mothers... So cute!




DUNEDIN & THE OTAGO PENINSULA

Actually we didn't see much of Dunedin (except its old historic railway station), cause we were couchsurfing 13km south at Yuhsien's place. It was amazing! Yuhsien is a very generous guy from Taiwan, who moved to New Zealand more than 15 years ago. He has been restoring the last few years an one-hundred-years-old cottage, and now it's so cosy! His cousin Arhui was visiting him at the time of our stay, and we all enjoyed nice dinners, tea-times, walks in the hills around or along wild beaches. A sea lion even welcame us to the Otago peninsula the first day!

Our time in Port Chalmers was so great and relaxing. Chilling out on the terrace of Yushien's cottage while drinking excellent chinese teas or reading good books was our favourite pastime. But we also went kayaking in Deborah's bay, just in front of his house! In his own kayaks of course...

The nature around was beautiful, and Yuhsien not only took us to many places of interest but also introduced us to his numerous friends. Some of them artists, some of them retired at 30 years old (!), all of them interesting and friendly people. Vladi and I enjoyed a lot the sunny lunches in their company.

One day, we remembered that we had a car (!), and went exploring the Otago peninsula, which is well deserted by people in places but not by the omnipresent sheeps. Albatross, sea lions (coming ashore for a sunny nap), penguins and seals are easily sighted amid stunning views. We hiked especially near the majestic Hoopers inlet and in the wild Sandfly bay, and really loved the feeling of remoteness of those amazing places.

THE CATLINS

We didn't stay long in the Catlins (New Zealand's southeast), cause I was so excited about getting to Fiorland! One night we slept in the car at nugget's point to save money, and do the short walk to the lighthouse in the morning sun. The last hundred metres or so, with drops to the ocean on either side, is breathtaking, and the view of wave-trashed vertical rock formations from the end is great too. We also went to Roaring bay, where a well-placed hide allows you to see yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. Add on the way some little waterfalls reached via cool, dark forest walks; a nest of fossilised Jurassic-age trees in the curious Curio bay; wide beaches and absolute green hills; and of course our dear friends the sheeps: these are the Catlins!

FIORDLAND

Ahh... Fiorland... I started dreaming of coming here a long time ago... After a good night in a backpacker in Te Anau, we left in the morning to drive the 120km road to Milford Sound. This fantastic road was and an accessible taste of the vastness, wilderness and beauty of Fiordland. I had to control myself not to stop every 500 meters to take a picture!

Fiorland has also the most beautiful forests I've ever hiked through!!! We indeed found a walking track (45mn) through a fairy-tale red beech forest ringing with bird calls which leaded us slowly to a quiet lakeside beach. It was as if with a wave of magic wand, I was back in the tales of my childhood! So green, so humid, with almost every tree trunks or rocks covered with moss... With the sunrays coming through, it was a fantasy world! Coming back to the car, we suddenly spotted our first kea, the naughty (but colourful) teenagers of the parrot world! Be careful or they will jump on you!

About 100km from Te Anau, the road climbed to the Homer tunnel, framed by a spectacular, high-walled, ice-carved amphitheatre. Dark, magnificently rough-hewn and dripping with water, the 1207m-long tunnel emerged at the other end at the head of the spectacular Cleddau valley. Then we finally reached the banks of Milford Sound and discovered it thanks to an expensive 2hours and a half boat trip. But it was well worth it! The first sight was stunning: dark waters out of which rise sheer rocky cliffs, and forests clinging to the slopes relinquinsh their hold, causing a "tree avalanche" into the waters. The spectacular, photogenic 1692m-high Mitre peak rose dead ahead. The cruise, poking her prow into the choppy waves of the Tasman sea, allowed us to visit the fiord until its mouth and to get closer to amazing waterfalls. The unusual sunny weather on that day (instead of downpour of rain: Milford sound has an average of 7m per year, so we were more than lucky!!!) created a great nature show of colourful rainbows! We also spotted some penguins and seals chilling out on the rocks, and I think they were enjoying the sun as much as we were!

I was expecting a lot about Fiordland, and I was not disappointed at all! Both Vladi and I felt tiny in the face of nature's vastness. I would have loved to hike the 53.5km Milford Track (4-5 days), but we didn't have enough time and Vladi was not really in the mood of embarking on another trek (the "souvenir" of our 4 days peruvian trek in the Cordillera Blanca was still alive!). On our way back to Te Anau, I stopped again several times to take some pics of snowy peaks and enjoy once more the greatness of nature...

MOUNT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK

But there's a life after Fiordland! Here comes the Mount Aspiring national park! It seems that the beauty of New Zealand is unlimited. We drove from Te Anau back to Lumsden, passed Queenstown and its nice lakes, and arrived in Wanaka a few hours later. From there we took the direction of the national park. The road turned unsealed, and I had to drive very slowly and carefully with our old car through potholes and great landscapes (the kind of sceneries that makes car swerve wildly off the road as their drivers reach for the camera!). Once arrived at the end of the road, I hiked the dramatic Rob Roy valley track (3 hours return), which takes in glaciers, waterfalls and swing bridges over incredibly blue rivers. Another splendid walk through New  Zealand's beauty!!! On the way back, in the darkness of the suddenly fallen night, I had to brake several times to avoid dozens of sheeps on the road! Then we carried on driving for a while, found a quiet place to stop at the end of the lake Wanaka, and spend the second (and last!) night of the trip in the car.

FOX & FRANZ JOSEPH GLACIERS

The next day, we reached the west coast and continued until the Fox Glacier village. We settled down there for 2 days in a backpacker, enjoying drinking hot teas, eating hot soups and watching DVDs. We went to the Fox Glacier in the Westland Tai Poutini national park: nowhere else at this latitude do glaciers come so close to the ocean. We did a short walk to a river (impossible to cross) for a viewpoint. The rocks on the way were amazingly colourful, and the weather very cold. We couldn't get really close to the glacier, still it was a nice walk. But the Franz Joseph glacier was definitely more exciting...

Indeed the Franz Joseph glacier, 20km away, was a more interesting experience: despite the warning signs, we walked off the beaten path to get really close to the ice! That was great and exciting, and we were able (without paying for a very expansive tour) to see a blue-ice cave at the base. When we were in Patagonia in south Argentina, we saw the very great Perito Moreno glacier, which was more beautiful, but we were not that close! So a good point for Franz Joseph! Near to some noisy waterfalls, I also found a hidden path to climb (thanks to ladders and chains) the most slippery rocks I've ever walked upon. From the end of the track, I had a nice view over the glacier and the ice-carved valley.







PUNAKAIKI & THE WEST COAST

Along the west coast, we then stopped in Punakaiki and found a good and comfortable backpacker (with cheap wi-fi!) where we stayed 3 days. The small settlement of Punakaiki is famous for its curious pancake rocks and blowholes. Through a layering-weathering process, the Dolomite Point limestone has formed into what looks like now piles of thick pancakes! When the tide is right, the sea surges into caverns and booms menacingly through blowholes...

But rather than the pancake rocks, we prefered the nearby walks that leaded us to wonderful places such as this lovely beach below. We really enjoyed this short Truman track - a path that brings you (through a small forest) in 15mn from the coast road to the peaceful beach - but above all drinking some cool local beers watching the waves at sunset, especially considering the fact we were alone...

In the backpacker, we had fun with 2 swiss sisters, Zoe &  Johanna, and a french guy named David like me. The swiss girls were very funny and David a little bit odd, so with Vladi and me it was a great mix for a few days! Chatting about our travel experiences, drinking tea or playing scrabble on a rainy day, the moral of the troops was good!

As I told you before, in Fiordland I've hiked through the most beautiful forests I've ever seen in my whole life. Well, near Punakaiki, I also hiked for 3 hours along the most beautiful river I've ever seen! New Zealand is definitely an incredible country, isn't it? The amazingly coloured Porari river follows a spectacular limestone gorge, and my walk there, altough it was raining part of the time, was once again worthy of a fairy-tale... Come with me, watch your steps and discover the Porari river thanks to the following pictures, my friends...

ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

This national park, located in the top north of New Zealand's south island, is supposed to be the sunniest part of the country. Well... when we arrived and found a backpacker in the nearby city of Motueka, it was very cloudy! Fortunately the next day the sun was back and we went hiking all day along the coast. "Au menu": wonderful sandy beaches, waterfalls and birdlife. Moreover, if you come here one day, don't miss the wood sculptures workshop at the entrance!










NELSON

Our final stop after almost 3 weeks in New Zealand was Cecile's couch in Rai Valley, near Nelson. We arrived during a country fair where she was selling crystals, then went to her lovely house in a peaceful valley (next neighbour: very very far!). The weather was ugly during our 2 days stay, but we enjoyed a lot Cecile's hospitality. She cooked delicious dinners and breakfasts for us, and as we were exhausted, the rain was just an excuse to spend more time inside watching DVDs, reading or chatting with Cecile and her other CS guests from Malaisia. Without couchsurfing, our trip would have been definitely less interesting and more difficult... The last day but one, we drove all the way from Rai Valley to Christchurch, going through the Marlboroughs then following the east coast. We stayed in a backpacker in Christchurch for the last night, then flew to Australia thanks to 3 planes (Christchurch-Auckland; Auckland-Sydney; Sydney-Adelaide!)... That's what happens when you look for the cheapest flight! 





As I expected, I just fell in love with New Zealand. I think we have made the good choice visiting the wilder south island, but next time we'll have to visit the north island too! The beauty of the sceneries was incredible, the nature's purity remarkable, and the New Zealand folks are right to be so proud of their country. Like them, I would love to live in a country where there are more sheeps than people! After this cold country, a warmer one was on our list... See you in the next article: "dust eaters in outback Australia!" in a few days. Hugs to each one of you, especially to my dear family whom I miss a lot after almost one year of journey... From Bali with love...

IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Bonjour Theo! Tout d'abord je tiens a te dire que tu commences serieusement a me manquer apres presque un an de voyage... Ta maman m'envoie bien quelques nouvelles accompagnees de photos de temps en temps, mais c'est pas pareil! J'espere que tu vas bien, ca doit etre les vacances de la Toussaint la, non? Ah oui aussi, tu remarques peut -etre les erreurs d'accent dans ces quelques lignes: non, ton parrain n'est pas subitement devenu analphabete, simplement les claviers indonesiens n'ont pas d'accents, desole!

Tu peux dire a ton pere que j'ai adore mon sejour au pays des All Black: les randonnees, les moutons, les montagnes enneigees, les moutons, les belles plages, les moutons, la nature exhuberante (c'est ici que j'ai vu jusqu'a maintenant les plus belles forets et rivieres), les moutons... Bah oui, il y a des millions de moutons en Nouvelle Zelande! Bref c'etait genial de se ballader pendant 3 semaines dans les decors du "Seigneur des Anneaux", j'ai pris ma dose de paysages spectaculaires fais-moi confiance!

Apres la Nouvelle Zelande, Vladi et moi avons visite l'Australie (voire prochain article dans quelques jours) et nous sommes maintenant a Bali en Indonesie. Il nous reste 5 mois de voyage a travers l'Asie du sud-est avant de regagner l'Europe, alors je te fais de gros bisous, continue de bien bosser a l'ecole et je suis impatient de constater tes progres au foot! On se voit au printemps OK? Retour prevu le 19 mars 2010... Ciao et a bientot Theo! Parrain.

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Published by D.F - dans NEW ZEALAND
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1 septembre 2009 2 01 /09 /septembre /2009 08:22
Bonjour... Ia orana...

 After 3 weeks in French Polynesia, we are already now with Vladi in New Zealand!!!

Instead of a direct 5h flight from Papeete to Christchurch, we came back to LA (8h), and waited 12 hours there before taking a last plane to New Zealand (12h)!!! But I can hear you say: why? I let you guess:
1°) we like the food in the planes so much
2°) we are stupid
3°) we love waiting for hours at the LA airport
4°) we saved a lot of money
5°) we became mad recently and forever
Yes of course you guess well! We have saved a lot of money, almost 500€ per person! That was worth it, we're not in a hurry!

Our stay in French Polynesia was full of smiles, green mountains, lagoons, fishes, fruits, sun, clouds, blue sky, rain, friends, hikes, kayak, paradisiac little islets, amazing plants, incredible colours. We swam with rays, sharks, and I even met shortly in the pacific ocean some 14 meters long humpback whales!!! We were invited by lovely people several times, and also couchsurfed a lot in this expansive destination. We visited 3 islands: TAHITI, MOOREA & HUAHINE. Ready for a dive into those pacific islands?

TAHITI #1

When we arrived in Papeete (TAHITI), we were welcome by our CS host Nathalie with Tiare flowers necklaces! We were about to discover the royal polynesian hospitality my friends! With her parents Augustin et Louise, we felt like at home and were treated to delicious food: raw fish, grilled meat, special dishes from Asia and French Polynesia... Nathalie was a perfect host and a good guide, always ready to help us plan our trip or to gave us a lift anywhere. The first sunday, after the morning market and a huge breakfast, we drove all around the island to get a first taste of French Polynesia: beaches, coastal roads, waterfall and beautiful plants...








We also visited a Marae, an old sacred place with religious and social purposes. Rectangular and bordered with stones, it seems to be nowadays still used for some ceremonials, and the supervisory duty is provided by some massive and impressive rocky sculptures, the "Tikis".




We stayed 2 days more in Tahiti to prepare our trip (booking boats and plane tickets, find a new charger for our laptop) but mostly to have some good time with Nathalie. We even came to her school (she's an english teacher) to meet her pupils and talk about our trip and couchsurfing! That was very interesting!

French Polynesia was immediately a place of nice encounters for us, with laid back and friendly people everywhere: randomly on the beach, where I was invited for some beers and a ukulele session, during a CS meeting in a pub of Papeete or just "at home" with Nathalie's family. With CS, the world is smaller than you think, and with more smiles, the world is nicer than you think!




MOOREA

Then we moved to another island, Moorea (50min by ferry), and were there also picked up at the landing stage by Magali, our next CS host! She was living in the beautiful PaoPao valley, with her boyfriend Tahiri and her daughter, so we were ideally located for a good hike! Unfortunately the weather was stormy when we woke up the next day... I was ready for a day hike so really disappointed... And then surprise... 2 hours later the sun was shining and the clouds were gone away! So we start hitch-hiking and once again were very lucky: the guy who gave us a ride, Pascal, was the creator of all the nature trails on the island! He offered to be our guide for the day, and took us to secrets places he knew. He fed us with pineapples, and we enjoyed hiking with this true nature lover to the "3 coconuts pass" and beyond. He even gave us a ride back to Magali's house afterwards. Great guy, thank you so much Pascal!












We stayed 2 nights at Magali's place then decided to hitch-hike to a camping to be closer to the lagoon and at last  to do some snorkeling. I don't want to be repetitive but... once again we were lucky!!! 2 girls gave us a first ride for a few kilometers, then our new "angel" arrived. His name was Alain. He invited us to stay in a room at his wonderful house for a few days! He was living for a few years in French Polynesia with his wife Hélène (a primary school teacher), and we also met their friends and family! We were eating fresh fishes he caught himself, and please look at the view over the lagoon! With some local beers "Hinano" in the evenings, that was just perfect. One day he guided us with his canoes to a "pass", where the ocean enters the lagoon (it's deeper, with more currents and more wildlife), and there snorkeling we spotted not only the usual colourful exotic fishes but some big sharks and even a leopard ray! Unfortunately, when jumping back in his canoe he cut his knee open and we had to come back quickly and call an ambulance... 3 stitches... Poor Alain!






Being hosted by Alain & Hélène was really unexpected, and that kind of behaviour make you believe more in the humankind! Just a few hundred meters from the house, the beach, coral reefs and some sting rays were waiting for us every day. Moreover, the mountains setting was awe-inspiring. Well a real little paradise...

During those weeks in French Polynesia, I tried to take some subaquatic pictures thanks to a waterproof camera . Later if the pics are of good quality, I will update this article or maybe create a new one to show you more of the beautiful underwater world...






Moorea is really a beautiful island. One day we rented a canoe to explore the nearby paradisiac "motus" and snorkel with black tip reef sharks and sting rays. The translucid waters allowed us to spot wildlife all around our canoe, and we snorkeled very close to the rays while the sharks were swimming in circles around us. Then we paddled to a motu and came ashore to explore the beaches while marveling at the lagoon colours...








Unfortunately Vladi had to go to the hospital for some "furoncle" problems. It was full of "swine flu" patients! While she was waiting and meeting the doctors, I walked around under the sun in a small valley full of exotic flowers and fruits. Vladi got a treatment and finally healed after a few days, but those buttons were, well, how can I say it? Disgusting!!! Poor Vladi!




The last day on Moorea island was pure magic for me, because I made a dream come true! For the first time in my life, I swam with whales thanks to an adventurous boat tour. In front of Opunohu's bay, we spotted 3 whales playing and sometimes jumping completely out of the ocean! We tried to get closer and swam with them, but they were not in the mood of sharing their games with us. Once I dived about 10 meters, and saw them quickly passing under me 10 meters deeper. Then they disappeared and we came back to the boat. The captain decided to try ourl luck in another place...

One hour later, we saw 2 whales diving in front of Cook's bay. I was so excited! We went into the water again, and tried to locate them by diving beetween 10 or 15 meters deep. I finally found them about 20 meters below us, quiet and sleepy. I was diving every 30 seconds not to lose them, and suddenly after about 10 minutes they came to the surface to breathe: at that moment I was as close as 5 meters, and could see their curious eyes watching me!!! My heart was beating fast: imagine yourself in the wide pacific ocean with some 14 meters humpack whales!!! For me it was like a gift of nature! A terrific experience I will remember as if it was yesterday once I'll be a grandfather... Unfortunately afterwards they dived too deep for me and disappeared, and we didn't find them again. No worries, have a nice trip my dears!

On that tour we also spotted plenty of spinner dolphins, sting rays and little sharks. The coast of the Moorea island was awesome seen from the boat, with green mountains and blue lagoons. We ended the trip drinking a punch and  eating sliced pineapples, mangos and coconuts, while resting and talking about our friends the whales. Great day! Thanks "Moorea boat tours" for this unforgettable adventure!








TAHITI #2

Before visiting Huahine island, we came back to Nathalie's house in Tahiti and enjoyed again great food, barbecues and petanque games with the whole family. As a matter of fact, we didn't really expect to play petanque in French Polynesia but we loved it! With Augustin jokes to entertain us, we spent again some delightful days here.



Even if the weather was bad (we were supposed to do a day-hike with Nathalie, Vladi and some other friends), I decided to hike alone 2 days in Tahiti's mountains. More exactly I wanted to reach the Aoraï summit (2066m). Nathalie drove me in the morning to the "Belvedere" (600m), and then I started hiking. After 2 hours in the mist, I reached a first hut (1400m) without knowing what the sceneries around looked like! I walked on a narrow path on the edge of  the so-called "devil's rock" then I continued through a wonderful rainforest on a very steep and muddy path to reach one hour and a half later a second hut (1800m).






Once arrived at the second hut, I was above the clouds and the sceneries were wonderful. I had a late lunch there,  then decided to go the the summit even if I was already quite exhausted! But the sun came out, so I let my backpack, food and sleeping bag in the hut (I was completely alone), hiked for about 45 minutes on the edge of the mountains, and at last arrived at the windy Aoraï top. From there I was able to see Moorea island, and all the mountains around covered with clouds. I took a royal nap then came back to the hut just before dawn...





I tried to light a fire to cook my raviolis, but the wood was too humid... So I ate them cold with some bread, then read a very good book for a while (Ken Follet, "les piliers de la terre") before falling asleep. A strong wind and some heavy rains woke me up in the middle of the night, but fortunately the weather was nice in the morning. I started early, managed to go down the steep path without breaking my legs (the path was so muddy and slippery because of the night rain), and was glad to discover all the sceneries I didn't see the day before, including the famous "Diademe" peaks. I didn't stop at the Belvedere but  walked until the city center of Papeete, where I took a bus to Natahlie's house. Total time hiking: 5 hours. Needless to say I was happy taking a hot shower after this nice and tiring hike...



HUAHINE

To go to Huahine, Vladi and I took a cheap 11 hours cargo-boat, the "Hawaiki Nui" (15€ vs 90€ by plane). On board, we met a girl from Lithuania, Evelina, who left home 11 years ago and have lived in the USA and Hawaï. She was now going to live in Bora-Bora, hoping to find a new job there. We're not the only adventurers on this earth! Leaving Papeete at 17.00pm, we slept on the deck with our sleeping bags and arrived in the middle of the night on this new island. We finished the night sleeping in the street, then took the direction of a camping 3 kilometers away.




On the road to the camping, Vladi had the brilliant idea of asking in a little horse-riding center ("la petite ferme") if they would let us camp in their field. Instead of that, those lovely folks invited us in a former dormitory, and we stayed for free 4 days! Once again a nice encounter. So we let our backpacks, rested for a while and walked along the coast to the village of Fare...




The next day, we rented a scooter and Vladi drove most of the time. I was scared at first but slowy became less nervous. After all after one hour I was still alive! She was so cute with her helmet and I called her "Scootix".  We drove all around the island and stopped at some nice beaches, maraes and fish traps. The weather was nice but windy and in some places the lagoon was incredibly coloured. Huahine is a less touristic and more authentic island, the life is peaceful and the people wilder but friendly. It was love at first sight for Vladi and me!







In a beautiful bay in the south of the island, an old lady tried to talk with us in tahitian, we didn't understand of course but a few minutes later she brought us some cononuts and sliced mangos, with a bigger-than-her-face smile! Lovely people, I told you! We snorkeled there for a while, enjoying the warm waters, then we continued the road and stopped to visit a vanilla farm before coming back to our accomodation in Fare.






We spent 2 other days in Huahine in a beautiful nearby beach, snorkeling with amazing tropical fishes (so cute!) and watching the sailboats bouncing on the pacific ocean. We really enjoyed our stay there, but it was already time to go. We came back to Tahiti by plane (no boat available), spent a last night at Nathalie's place then left French Polynesia, direction a colder destination: New Zealand! See you later! Maruru...Some news of the subaquatic pictures as soon as possible... Bye bye!





IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut Théo! Comment s'est passée la rentrée des classes? Et la reprise du foot? J'ai su par ta maman que tu as la chambre du grenier pour toi tout seul maintenant... trop cool! Je suis impatient de la visiter à mon retour. Avec Vladi on est maintenant en Nouvelle Zélande, le pays du Seigneur des Anneaux et des All-Black! La Polynésie Française, on en a bien profité: plages, lagons, randonnées en montagne... Dans les lagons et dans l'océan Pacifique, j'ai nagé avec des raies (de grands poissons plats), des requins (même pas peur) et surtout avec des baleines à bosse de 14m de long! C'était impressionnant et tellement beau. On a visité 3 îles: TAHITI, MOOREA & HUAHINE, et on a préféré les 2 dernières, car elles sont plus calmes et plus jolies. On a eu de la chance encore une fois de rencontrer plein de gens amicaux qui nous ont aidés ou hébérgés chez eux gratuitement, ça rassure: il n'y a pas que des égoïstes, la solidarité existe encore de nos jours! La vie dans les îles, c'est sympa si tu aimes la tranquilité. Par exemple, tu ne peux pas prendre un train ou ta voiture pour visiter les pays voisins, tu es obligé de prendre l'avion. Et c'est loin! La Nouvelle Zélande à 5h, les USA à 8h et la France à 22h! J'espère que les photos du blog t'ont plues, j'ai aussi pris quelques photos avec un appareil subaquatique, je les mettrai en ligne dès que possible! Allez je vais me réchauffer avec un thé au coin du feu, ici en Nouvelle Zélande, ça caille! Bisous glacés! Parrain.

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