Category Archives: Jake

Great fun at Gyldenlund

For the vast majority of the trip, we were in places we’d never been.  Only Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and Switzerland had some of us been to before.  So it was great to finish our cycle tour at Gyldenlund, my mom’s aunt Marianne and uncle Boerge’s farm in northern Sealand, Denmark.  My mom has been there at least 20 times (her father was Marianne’s brother), and it was Kaia’s and my fifth time there.  It’s a beautiful farm, with lots of animals and vegetable gardens, and borders one of Denmark’s biggest forests, and with a train station really close by (1 hr to Copenhagen).

SaltrupWhen we arrived on our bikes, we met Marianne and Boerge, and my Mormor (Danish way to say “mother’s mother”), who we hadn’t seen since we left in September.  We spent a week on the farm, and had lots of fun.  I’ll keep this blog post short, so here are photos of some of the highlights.

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This is the vegetable garden, with the little yellow commuter train going by.
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The farmhouse.
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The greenhouses.  The big one was built by uncle Boerge using recovered glass.
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We ate very well at Gyldenlund, and had a lot of Danish-style open face sandwiches!
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This is Bruno, their nice 4 year-old chocolate lab.
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This is Lillemand (“Littleguy”), one of 12 or so of Marianne’s sheep. Born last spring, he was the runt of a group of triplets. Ewes can only look after 2 lambs, so his mother rejected him, and he must be fed 4 bottles of milk a day.
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Marianne also has 4 Icelandic horses. This one is Gilvi, a young gelding.
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And there’s the birds. There are about 20 ducks, 15 chickens and one goose.
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We went into the forest for a barbecue lunch on a lake.
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And Marianne let me and Kaia ride one of her horses there and back!
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The Gribskov, the forest that borders the farm, is a beautiful place to go for a stroll.
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Boerge, who is an expert at inventing and building cool things, made this piano that you play using your feet!
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He also made this “earthquake machine” to keep small rodents in the ground from eating the potatoes!  It makes a tremor once every hour.
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Many Danish farms have their names carved into rocks at the entrance. Here we are at the entrance to Marianne and Boerge’s “Gyldenlund”.
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We had tractor obstacle course race. As you can see here, Kaia wrecked a few barrels.
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Saying goodbye to Marianne and Boerge at the train station.  Mormor was coming to Iceland with us.
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On the little yellow train … bound for Copenhagen then onto Iceland..

Being at Gyldenlund was really fun, and was a great change of pace from finding our way in new, unknown places, what we’d been doing for the past 9 and a half months.  It was great to see Marianne and Boerge again, and Bruno all grown up (he was a puppy the last time we visited), and to see my favourite country in Europe, Denmark.

Jake

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Hello, Holland!

Before we started the cycle tour, the biggest distance Kaia and I had cycled in a day was 42 kilometres.  During the first week of the cycle tour, we passed the 60km mark a few times, and while cycling along the Rhine river, we hit 85km.  We felt like we were up for a big goal: 100km.  And what better place to do it than in a very flat country with great bicycle paths: Holland!

Our big day started near the city of Dusseldorf (Germany), in a campground with lots and lots of rabbits.

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We needed to get to a grocery store, and we actually spent quite a long time at one, because we had breakfast at the little bakery in it.  We ended up having a kind of late start.  We rode for about 40km to get to the German-Dutch border.

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Northern Germany is very windy, so there are a lot of wind turbines.
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To get a sense of how huge this wind turbine is, compare it to my dad at the bottom of it. The tiny orange dot is the bike trailer.
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There were also lots of solar panels!
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We had lunch in the last town in Germany.

Crossing the border into Holland was just as easy as it was between Germany and Switzerland.  All there was to tell us we were entering a new country was a little sign saying “Niederlande”

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We took down the German flag...
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And put up the Dutch. Unfortunately, we lost it a few days later, because it flew off and landed in a canal!

Our first impressions of Holland were pretty similar to Germany, but we did notice a few changes.  Here are some of the things we noticed:
-The bike paths are great.  They’re almost always separated from the road by a strip of grass, and they’re easily identified because they’re painted red.

-The Dutch language seems to to be halfway between English and German.  Ex: in English “street”, in German “strasse”, so in Dutch “straat”.  The letter J is used a lot in Dutch, as well as double vowels.

-Renewable energy isn’t as big as it is in Germany.  There aren’t many wind turbines, but there are a lot of old-fashioned “windmills”.

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We continued our ride north into Holland.

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My dad was mad at Kaia for being a "Bad Arcen"
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We hit a total distance of 1000km that day, meaning we had cycled 1000km starting from Frankfurt.

At first, it didn’t seem like we would make it to 100km, but the further we went, the more determined we got.  60km… 70… 80…  Once we hit 90km, we knew we would succeed.  We counted down the last few metres.  99.97… 99.98… 99.99… 100 kilometres!!!

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Yay!

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Wow!  It was the first time for 3 of us to cycle that far in a day.  It was a big personal accomplishment!  We were tired and it was getting late, so we camped beside a canal right near the place where we hit 100km.

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The next day, we continued to ride north.  Now, those of you who have known us for 5 years or more will probably know that we spent a year in Namibia in 2009-2010.  One of our best friends there was Jelda, a woman from Holland who was working in the same volunteer organisation as us, VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) in Rundu, a town 2 hours away from the village we lived in, Mpungu.  We would often stay at her house when we went to Rundu (Rundu had the closest grocery store to Mpungu, so we had to go pretty often), and we did many safari drives in Etosha national park together.

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Here's us with Jelda in Namibia.

When she learned we were going to Holland, she invited us to come visit her in Utrecht, a city about 50km south of Amsterdam.  We planned to ride in to Utrecht and meet her for dinner that evening, but we ran out of time, so took a short train ride to the central station.

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Jelda lives close to downtown, so it was a short ride from the central station to her house.  It was so good to see her again!  We also met her husband Nick, and later, their 4-month old daughter Lykke, who was sleeping when we arrived.  We had a delicious dinner, and talked about our experiences on this trip, and from 5 years ago in Namibia.

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Their house is pretty small, so we were planning on staying at a campground that night, but they have a small back courtyard; just enough space for our bikes and tent!

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We had breakfast with them the next day, and before we left, Jelda introduced us to some Dutch sweets like licorice, sweet bread, and Kaia’s and my favourite, “stroopwaffels” (these waffle cookies with cinnamon and honey in them).  They’re delicious little treats, and were a great replacement during our time away from the land of pretzels, Germany.
We started riding kind of late, and had lunch in a park in Utrecht.

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That day, we rode the 50km to Amsterdam, along perfectly flat bike paths, and beside canals (doesn’t get any more Dutch than that!)

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Kaia will write a separate blog entry about what we did Amsterdam, so I’ll skip to May 31st, the day we left the city.

The first part of the day was going well, as cycling almost always does in Holland.  After a while though, the weather started to get bad, and my parents wanted to have coffee, so we turned in to what we thought was a cafe.  It was actually a visitor centre for a conservation area.  There was a video about it in English, and we learned a lot.  We were in an area of Holland called Flevoland, which is all reclaimed land, meaning it was once under the sea.  It turns out, the land we had been riding on for the past couple of hours was all below sea level!  It was a very ambitious plan: build dikes around a large section of ocean, then pump the water out until it’s down to land.  Now, they’re really making an effort to help plants and animals begin to live in this new environment.

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All the coloured land has been reclaimed! The biggest red area is Flevoland. I find it hard to believe that they were reclaiming land in the 1700s, but I guess that's what all the windmills were for -- pumping water!
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The doors of this lock must be really strong, for if they break, all of Flevoland would be flooded!

As we continued our ride, the weather worsened.

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While riding along a dike, we went by a huge new wind farm.

We hit 100km in the town of Emmeloord, and we were so cold and wet that the idea of camping was out of the question.  We stayed at a hotel, a little over our budget, but definitely worth it!  Ah, it felt so good to have a warm shower, get dry, and have a creamy hot chocolate at the restaurant in the hotel.  We slept excellently that night.

There isn’t too much to say about our ride the next day, but we made it to 104 km (a new record) and camped at a campground just outside of Groningen, in the north of Holland.  We were interested in learning about Groningen because it’s the town that has the highest percentage of trips done by bicycle in the world.  59%!  While cycling through the town, we really felt like part of the majority, not a minority like we do in Canada.  We went to City Hall to meet with some of the transportation planners and learn why Groningen is so bicycle-friendly and how it came to be that way.  There will be a later blog entry about cycling infrastructure in European cities, so the details about Groningen will be there.

We rode out of Groningen that day, and headed towards an inlet at the northeastern border of Holland and Germany.  The last ferry of the day to cross the inlet of had already left though, and it would take a long time to cycle around it, so we spent the night at a little campground near the ferry.

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It was cold and rainy outside, but we ate and slept inside a nice, warm, dry little greenhouse!

We took an early ferry across the inlet the next day, back into Germany.  Holland is one of our favourite countries on this trip.  It is such a lovely country.  Its beautiful bike paths, interesting history, and smiling, friendly people made us feel happy too.

Jake

The sound of Munich

The southeastern part of Germany is known as Bavaria, called Bayern in German.  It’s more traditional than other parts of Germany, and most people that live in this part consider themselves Bavarian, not German.  The city of Munich, or München in German, is the biggest city in Bavaria, and apparently worth seeing, so we decided to go there.

The weather forecast had been saying all week that a certain day would be very rainy.  The morning of that day that we spent in Augsburg was fine, but we had already decided to take a train to Munich instead of riding.  It’s pretty easy to take your bike on trains in Germany.  And, sure enough, on the train, it rained for a while.

We had heard from a few people that they really liked Munich.  My dad went on the Warm Showers network (people who open their house to cycle tourists) and found some people who let us stay with them in Munich.  He also looked at TripAdvisor reviews for the best things to do there, and one of the activities that got great reviews was a bicycle tour of the city.  So, we contacted a company that runs these tours, and found out where to meet for the tour.  The train from Augsburg arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and then we rode to Marienplatz, the central square, where we met the rest of the tour group.

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The tour guide was a guy named Tony, from Washington DC.  He has loved Munich ever since he moved there 9 years ago, and he’s really fun and enthusiastic about the bike tour.  He really brought history to life for me!

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There were 11 people on the tour, including us.  2 were from Scotland, and the rest were all Canadians!  First, Tony told us some general history on Munich, and specifically, on Marienplatz.

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That big church-looking building is actually the town hall, built in Gothic style.

Things have been happening that square for a long time.  Munich used to be the “capital” of the old kingdom of Bavaria, so the king held many celebrations in the square.  For a royal wedding that happened there, they even held a jousting tournament!  You know, when knights on horses run at each other with big lances and try to knock the other guy off his horse.  Sounds pretty entertaining!

Then, we walked to the bike tour shop to get bikes.  We already had ours, but we left all our paniers and trailer there.  Once everyone had a bike, we started the ride around town.  We visited another square, with a statue of King Maximilian in the middle.  If I remember correctly, his son Ludwig’s wedding got re-celebrated every year, and now it’s known as Oktoberfest.  Don’t blame me if I’m wrong though, because I find European monarchs’ names extremely confusing (King Ludwig I, II, III, and so on).

We went to an old government building, with a big courtyard in the middle of it.  It looks like all the walls are intricately decorated, but at a second glance, you’ll see that some of it’s just painted on!  The reason why is that before Germany started World War II, they knew that their towns would be bombed, so they hid some of their precious artwork (statues, paintings, etc) in lakes and salt mines so that they could be put back after the war.  They did start to restore these things after the war, but didn’t have enough money to complete it.  You can see that some of the pillars and windows in the government building are real, and others are just painted on.

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Outside the building, there are a few big statues, but before going out to see them, Tony had us “act” out the statues.

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And here’s what the real statue looks like.

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The statues have interesting meanings.  The lion on the left (Kaia) has it’s mouth open, facing the government building, and the one on the right (me) has it’s mouth closed, facing a big church.  It means that you’re allowed to criticize the government, but not the church!  The statue in the middle represents when the kingdom of Bavaria became part of Germany.  It means: “Germany can have our flag, they can have our lion (the symbol of Bavaria), but they can’t have the Lady of Bavaria”, or in other words “we’re still Bavarian”.  I don’t know what the two soldiers on the sides represent though.  I still think the one we did was better!

We had a look inside the theaterin kirche church (the one that you’re not allowed to criticize!)

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This church is huge and beautiful, but it's actually pretty average for a German church.

After touring of the old part of town, we went through a big park called the English Garden, which is bigger than New York Central Park!

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This is the Isar river, flowing down from the Alps.

The bike tour stops at a Biergarten (beer house), but the one it usually goes to was closed, so we went a smaller Biergarten in the park (don’t worry, Kaia and I didn’t have beer!)  We chatted with the other people on the tour as we ate wieners and pretzels.  My parents were surprised that some others on the tour drank two full litres of beer! My dad had a half litre and Tony said that Bavarians would ask 1/2 L drinkers if they were still in Kindergarten. My dad ordered another half litre. Tony said that people who don’t want to drink all that alcohol get half beer and half lemonade, so it still looks like 1L of beer.

The last stop on the tour was… the surfers!  There’s a wave on the Isar river that people can actually surf.

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It’s an unusual wave to surf, because instead of riding with the flow of the water like you do in the ocean, you ride against the flow.  It’s certainly much harder than where I’ve surfed on Zancudo beach in Costa Rica and Kuta beach in Indonesia, but the surfers there made it look so easy.

The bike tour was really fun.  I think it’s a great way to see a city like Munich.  At the end of the tour, we rode back to the bike shop to pick up our stuff, then rode (through pouring rain and hail) to Götz and Liza’s apartment, the people we met through Warm Showers.  Götz has cycled through New Zealand staying with Warm Showers people, and now opens his apartment to cycle tourists like us.  Their apartment is pretty small, but there was enough floor space for us to sleep on our air mattresses.

We were out all of the next day, but it wasn’t at all as joyful as the bike tour: we visited the Dachau concentration camp which is about 30km out of Munich.

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The words written on the gate say "work sets you free" in German.

It’s a really sad place.  Dachau was a concentration camp before and during World War II, but now, it’s set up like a museum.  The main building has many informational plaques, and a small theatre showing a video about the camp.  I’ll share a bit of what I learned with you.  I used to think that concentration camps were only used to imprison Jews, but I learned that there were also Hitler’s political opponents, communists, homosexuals, prisoners of war, and pretty much anyone else the Nazis didn’t like.  This particular camp was only for men.  It was originally built to hold 6 000 prisoners, but at one point there were more than 60 000 of them.  Prisoners were forced to work extremely hard all day, but were hardly given any food.  How is someone supposed to work hard without any food in their belly?  And the guards treated them so poorly.  Twice a day, they had attend “roll call”, where they had to stand straight and motionless for hours as the guards did “attendance”, but mostly just for torture.  They were also brutally punished for the slightest thing, like a missing button on a shirt for example.  About 49 000 prisoners died there, but not from the “gassing” used in other concentration camps to murder large amounts of people at once.  They were either worked to death, starved to death, beaten to death, and many Soviet prisoners of war were brought there, where they were shot.  Typhoid outbreaks killed many too. It was finally liberated by the American army in 1945. 

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They tore down most of the barracks, but kept two intact.
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This is where the prisoners stood during roll call (I took this picture from the Internet. There were a lot more people when we were there).
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This sculpture is supposed to show the lives of the prisoners at the camp.
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This is where the prisoners slept. I'm sure at least 3 people had to share each little bed.
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This is what the camp looked like from 1933-45.
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This is where the ashes from the crematorium were placed.

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This is inside the crematorium, where they cremated the tens of thousands of dead prisoners.

There was a gas chamber, but it was never actually used for mass murder, like at other concentration camps.  A particularly notorious camp was Auschwitz, in Poland, where thousands upon thousands of people were brought in on trains, then murdered with poisonous gas.

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The prisoners were told that it was a shower room, so that the guards wouldn't have trouble in getting them in the room. The square holes in the wall is where the poison gas comes out.

These next photos were taken from the Internet.  They’re from between 1933 and 1945, when the camp was still in use.

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This is how the prisoners slept.
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Just imagine having to pull that thing on an empty stomach, and having to do it all day.
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This picture was taken by the American army when they liberated the camp in 1945.

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The visit to the Dachau concentration camp left me feeling very sorry for all the prisoners who died or spent time there, but also feeling appalled that Hitler could actually do that.  How could someone think that putting people in concentration camps would do any good?  What did those people ever do wrong?  It seems like pure evil to me.

We took the train back to Götz and Liza’s apartment, and went out for Mother’s Day dinner at a lovely restaurant on a walking street.  It wasn’t the usual cheery way to spend mother’s day but it was a nice meal in the end.

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We left Munich at mid afternoon the next day, but we went downtown to see a few more things in the morning.

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This is the Asam Kirche. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever been in! It's also the first one I've seen that's squished between a row of townhouses.

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We climbed to the top of a church tower near Marienplatz.

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The staircase was cool too!
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This is the view from the top.
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That's the clock tower at City Hall.
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We could see all the way to the Bavarian Alps from the top of the tower.

We also went to the Munich food market.

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We all got stuff we like: olives for my dad, and pretzels for me and Kaia!

And back in Marienplatz, we watched the 12:00 PM glockenspiel, a carousel type of thing on the clock tower that shows a mini jousting match.

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There's the Austrian horse with the red and white coming from the right, and the Bavarian horse with the blue and white coming from the left.

It always has the same outcome: the Bavarian horse always wins!

I think we experienced a lot in and around Munich.  The beautiful, the evil, the friendly, and the yummy.  It’s a really cool city, and it made great first impressions of Bavaria.  Next stop: Neuschwanstein!

Jake

Sky high in Dubai

Back in July last year, when my parents were booking the flight tickets for this trip, we only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go.  A travel agent was on the phone with my dad, and said: “On your way from Nepal to Germany, the plane stops in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), do you want to stay there for a few days?”  We thought it would be cool to see the UAE, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but it would be very expensive and hard to find (cheap) accommodation, so we decided to stay for only 2 days.  But as we started looking into stuff to do there, we realized that 2 days is way too short!  And on top of that, my mom’s high school friend Heidi emailed us saying “We’ll have a place for you to stay in Dubai”.  We later found out that she and her husband Daniel, who live in the US, had invested in an apartment there, and let us stay there for our time in the UAE, and even arranged a driver for us.  A driver!  We couldn’t believe it!

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After a 5 hour flight from Kathmandu, we walked out of the Abu Dhabi airport and our driver, Sunil, was there to drive us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.  Sunil is from Agra, in India (where the Taj Mahal is), but lives with his family in Dubai.  The drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was on a big highway in the desert, and it took about an hour and a half to get to the apartment.  It was on the 3rd floor of a 39 story building.  It was beautiful!  We looked around, and found stuff like:
“Look, there’s a nice, big kitchen!”
“Look, there’s beer in the fridge!”
“Look, there’s a second floor!”
“Look, there’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom!”
It was really late, so we went right to bed.  Like I said earlier, 2 days is not enough time in Dubai, so we packed as much stuff as we could into our time there.  This blog entry will be about our first day, and Kaia will cover Day 2.  Here was the plan for Day 1:
-go up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
-visit Hema, a friend we met in Bali who lives in Dubai
-go to the Dubai museum
-do the desert safari

We got up early, and Sunil brought us to the bottom of the Burj Khalifa.

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We got our tickets at the bottom, and went through the little museum before going up.  At 829 metres tall, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest man-made structure.  It surpasses the 628 metre tall KVLY-TV mast, a communication tower in Blanchard, North Dakota that used to be the world’s tallest man-made structure, the 550 metre tall CN Tower in Toronto (that we’ve been up before), that used to be the world’s tallest freestanding structure (meaning it doesn’t have any wires holding it up), and the Taipei 101 in Taiwan that used to be the world’s tallest building (meaning it has the most floors).  So, the Burj Kalifa beats all 3 of those world records!

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And the Burj Khalifa won’t even hold onto its title for much longer.  They’re already building the Kingdom Tower, a building in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia that will be over 1000 metres tall!

After looking around the museum a bit, we headed for the elevator and went up, up, up…

The Burj Khalifa also breaks the world record for the world’s fastest elevator, at 10 metres per second.  It only took about a minute to go up to the 124th floor, at Observation Deck 1.  Let me tell you, I would not recommend it for people who are afraid of heights!  We were way, way up, and could see all of Dubai.

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This is what the observation deck was like.
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This big pond is where they do the Dubai fountain show.
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This is the Dubai Mall, seen from above.
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This is actually a reflection off the glass on the outside of the building!
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That's a lot of car ramps!
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New skyscrapers are constantly being built in Dubai. Sunil told us over 60% of the world's cranes are in Dubai.

I want make it clear that the reason Dubai has so many tall, expensive buildings is because the country is extremely wealthy, because of its oil reserves.

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Our clothes that day show that we've traveled the world. My mom's shirt and Kaia's pants are from Nepal, and my shirt is from Fiji.
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This building is the Burj al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel. I wish I could spend a night there!
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The islands off in the distance are man made islands, still being built. They're called the World Islands, because they'll be the shape of the world's continents.
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This is a train for the Dubai transit system. All the trains are driverless, and all the tracks are elevated above the ground. Why? Well, probably because they had enough money to do it! It's a good example of the way of thinking in Dubai: We can build anything we can imagine if we have enough money.
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This is a beautiful mosque!
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One of the men on this billboard (I think the one on the right, but not sure) is Sheik Khalifa, the sheik (king) of the UAE. When the economy tanked in 2008, the company building the Burj Dubai, as it was called back then, didn't have enough money to finish building it. So, Sheik Khalifa gave them money to finish building it, and they named the building after him to thank him.

Dubai is built in a desert, so we were wondering why there’s a big city in such a desolate place, but one of the reasons Dubai became a big city is because half the world’s population is within a 5 hour flight, making it the “business capital of the world”.

After looking around on the observation deck, we walked back inside, where there was, of course, a gift shop, with all those little souvenirs and knickknacks.  There was also one of those green screen photo stands, to make it look like you’re hanging on the building and stuff.

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We were considering doing it, until we found out the price.  90 UAE dirhams, equal to about 30 American dollars.  A bit too much for one picture!

There was also the most ridiculous souvenir ever: a stuffy Burj Khalifa!

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It defeats the whole purpose of stuffed animals. In fact, it isn't a stuffed animal, it's a stuffed glass and metal building!

Then, we went back down, down, down to the bottom, and explored around the Dubai mall.

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This is the Star Atrium. You may have noticed the irregular star shape in the photo of thhe mall taken from the tower.

The mall is huge!  It’s way bigger than the Toronto Eaton Centre.  There are several atriums, and hundreds of stores, but it seemed like most of them sell fancy clothes and cosmetics.  It was hard to believe that all those stores can stay in business!  It’s not even the only mall in Dubai.

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The stores in the mall are pretty fancy!

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There was even a hockey rink in the mall! As Canadians who missed an entire hockey season, we really wanted to get on and skate!

There was also a huge aquarium in the mall, with lots of fish, sharks and rays.  It was beautiful, but nothing compared to the scuba diving we’d done earlier on the trip!

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Then, Sunil picked us up from the mall and brought us to an apartment building where a friend we met in Bali, Hema, lives.  You might remember Kaia’s blog entry about Ubud, in Bali, Indonesia.  We did a bicycle day tour, and met Hema.  She’s from India, but lives in Dubai, since she’s a flight attendant for Emirates airline.  When we told her we were coming to Dubai, she invited us to visit her for lunch.  At her apartment, we met her and her neighbour, Aditi, also an Emirates flight attendant from India.  In fact, all residents in the apartment building are Emirates flight attendants!

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That's Aditi on the left. The red caps and white scarves are part of the outfit for female Emirates flight attendants.
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One of Hema's hobbies is painting, so she had some of her own artwork on the walls of her apartment, like this one of the Buddha.

Lunch was, of course, Indian food!  Nice, soft naan bread with different kinds of curry.  Delicious! 

After lunch, Sunil brought us for a quick visit to the Dubai museum. It was mostly about the life and culture of the Bedouins, the indigenous people of Arabia. It was pretty cool, but we don’t have any photos.

Then, we went on the desert safari, recommended to us by a few people.  The guide/driver (I can’t remember his name), originally from Pakistan, drove us out into the desert outside Dubai.

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In Dubai, it can got so hot in the summer (50 degrees Celsius) that all bus stops are air conditioned!
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The Dubai skyline is so distinct, with the Burj Khalifa rising way above everything else.
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The sand blows onto the road!

We got to a place where tire tracks went off the road and into the dunes, and we followed them.

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Our guide letting air out of the tires. Notice the shadow on the car.

None of us expected what followed.  It turned out that the desert safari included dune bashing, or in other words, driving up, down and all over sand dunes!  This didn’t exactly fit in with our sustainability idea of this trip, but it sure was fun.

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The sand was SO nice, so we got out to play around on a dune for a while.

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Careful, Kaia, your pants will make you blow over!
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Now that's what I call "natural art".

After a while of dune bashing, we got to a setup of huts and a stage, the main part of the desert safari.

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The first thing we did there was ride a camel!

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These are our surprised faces when the camel sat down quite abruptly.

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My dad held a falcon, which I believe is the UAE's national animal.
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My mom got henna art on her hand. When you take the mud off, it leaves an orange mark for several days.

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We watched the sun set over a dune.

After a while, everyone got called in for a buffet dinner.  It was so good!  I filled up my whole plate before even realizing there was a barbecue too.
Once everyone was seated, the show began.  It started with an Arabian man dressed in a hard-to-describe outfit.  He did an amazing dance, where he kept spinning around and around for almost 20 minutes!  We couldn’t believe he didn’t get dizzy!  My dad gets dizzy after only one turn.

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He twirled these plate things while he was spinning.
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It got darker while he was dancing, and he lit up little lights attached to his many skirts.

He spun non-stop for his whole performance.  The second other performance was a woman doing a dance with a cane and a cape.

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After the show, we got driven back to the apartment, and slept soundly that night.  Thank you Daniel for paying for the desert safari!  We really enjoyed it.

We packed in a lot of cool stuff into our day in Dubai, and we still had another one left in Abu Dhabi.

Jake

Annapurna de haut en bas

We are torn apart with internet updates re Nepal. It just keeps getting worse. The roads to the communities are barely passable at the best of times … let alone after landslides and worse. The death toll will certainly rise.
Just after Jake finished this entry below about the final leg of our Poon Hill/Annapurna Base Camp trek, we learned that trekkers out there have been cut off by landslides and avalanches. The update came from a phone call from a little village called “Bamboo” where we had lunch on the way in to ABC and slept at on the way out. The trail follows a very steep slope so not surprising that landslides have cut off the trail.
We normally post entries in chronological order. But all our thoughts are on our last 3 days in Nepal – spent in the Kathmandu valley visiting the old temples and cities. I will write about this in tomorrow’s entry. But we wanted to post Jake’s entry below because it is part 3 of 3 entries on our trek to ABC.
I write this intro from my hospital bed in Frankfurt. An infection at the top of my leg got away from me and turned into an abscess that required full general anesthetic surgery. But let me tell you that I am not feeling sorry for myself, as I have nurses and doctors buzzing around, clean operating room, food to eat, a warm dry bed and my family by my side. I will be out of hospital on my feet later today. I am so lucky. Oh, Nepal …. 😦
Cam

From Jake ….
I’m writing this entry in French, but I recommend that our English readers look at the photos, because I’ll be putting in photos of our morning up at Annapurna Base Camp, where we got an amazing close-up view of the Himalaya mountains.

Brrr!  La nuit à ABC était la plus froide qu’on a eu pour longtemps, probablement depuis qu’on est parti du Canada!  On portait toutes nos vêtements chaudes dans nos sacs de couchage.  Dehors, ça avait l’air comme le matin de Noël, avec la neige fraiche partout.  On voulait sortir pour voir les montagnes avant même de manger le déjeuner, car il fait toujours clair les matins dans les montagnes.  Donc, on s’est habillé pour le temps neigeux et sorti de notre petite chambre pour voir la levée du soleil.
Tout de suite, on était tous étonnés.  L’après midi précédant, quand on est arrivé à ABC, il faisait nuageux, alors on ne pouvait pas voir ce qui nous entourait.  Mais ce matin là, il faisait tellement clair, et on pouvait voir qu’on était entouré 360 degrés par des montagnes formidables!  C’est difficile de décrire ce qu’on voyait, mais je vais faire de mon mieux, en utilisant le texte et les photos.

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Il faisait encore un peu noir, car le soleil se cachait derrière les montagnes.
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Annapurna dans les premières rayons du soleil de la journée.

Annapurna est aussi considéré la montagne la plus dangereuse à escalader au monde.  Un moyen d’un escaladeur sur quatre meurt en essayant d’atteindre le sommet.  Maintenant, je lis un livre à propos du premier ascension d’Annapurna, en 1950.  Le livre est écrit par le chef de l’expedition lui-meme, le français Maurice Herzog.  C’était la première fois qu’un humain a atteint un sommet de plus que 8000 metres d’altitude.  Herzog devait avoir toutes ses doigts amputés apres l’expédition, à cause de la gelure.  Non merci, on préfère de juste l’observer!

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Voici le bien-nommé Tent Peak, 5663 mètres de haut.

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En regardant Annapurna, ce n'est pas difficile à croire que c'est la montagne la plus dangereuse à escalader au monde!

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Ces drapeaux de prière faisaient partie d'un monument en honneur de tous les escaladeurs qui sont morts sur Annapurna.

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ABC est couvert en neige!

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C’était très different de notre vue des montagnes de Poon Hill, car on était si proche cette fois ci.  En observant Annapurna, on trouvait difficile à croire qu’on était a 4130 mètres, ce qui voulait dire que le sommet était encore presque 4 kilometres verticaux plus haut que nous!

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La famille Douglas et Prakash à un "point haut" du trek!

On a observé les montagnes pendant longtemps avant de retourner pour le déjeuner.  Prakash nous a dit qu’on devait partir rapidement, car on devait passer la zone d’avalanches entre MBC et Deurali quand il était encore tôt, car c’est plus dangereux quand il fait chaud.  Donc, on est retourné à notre chambre pour préparer pour faire un autre jour de randonnée.

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Une belle vue par la fenêtre de notre chambre!

Plusieurs personnes dorment à MBC et montent à ABC tres tôt, alors le sentier était bien tassé pour nous de descendre.

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Juste quand on partait de ABC, la grande groupe d'élèves de Singapore qu'on a rencontré à Himalaya arrivait.

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Les deux heures de marche d’ABC à MBC étaient pas mal faciles, et on s’est amusé avec la belle neige.

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Je suis en train de faire un petit bonhomme de neige à côté du sentier.

Mais, la section après MBC était un peu dangereuse.  Voici pourquoi:

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Des avalanches tombaient des montagnes, et quelques uns ont meme traversé le sentier.  Ceux qu’on a vu étaient petits, mais Prakash a dit qu’il y a des fois des grandes avalanches aussi.

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Celui-ci a passé très proche de nous. J'avais un peu peur!

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On devait traverser les pistes d'avalanches le plus rapidement possible!

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Traverser ce pont etait un peu dangereux!

On a réussi à traverser la zone d’avalanches sans problèmes, mais on n’a pas vraiment aimé la section du sentier en approchant le prochain village, Deurali, car le sentier était couvert de boue, et c’était difficile à descendre les collines!

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On a mangé des momos et du dal bhat pour le dîner à Deurali, un vrai mets Nepali!  On a continué de marcher pour quelques heures, en passant les villages Himalaya et Dobhan.

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Et souvenez-vous de la photo que ma mère a mit de l’homme coupant un enorme arbre avec un seul, petit axe?  Deux jours plus tard, le travail était deja fini.

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On a arrêté pour la journée à à peu près 3 heures et demi, au village de Bamboo, au même guesthouse où on a mangé le dîner deux jours avant.

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Prakash a apprit comment jouer notre jeu de cartes préféré, Onze.

Le prochain matin marquait huit jours depuis qu’on a commencé de marcher à Nayapul. Le plan était de marcher jusqu’à Chhomrong pour le dîner, et arreter au village de Jhinu, où il y a des sources d’eau chaude naturelles.  On a marché pendant deux heures entre Bamboo et Sinuwa, et une heure pour descendre loin dans une vallée et remonter à Chhomrong.

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Je pense que ce porteur gagne le prix pour le plus grand charge qu'on a vu pendant tout le trek.
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Et celui-ci porte des poules vivants!
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Voici deux touristes et leur guide, qui travaille pour la compagnie "3 sisters", la seule compagnie qui embauche seulement des guides et des porteurs femelles. En marchant sur le sentier, presque tous les guides et les porteurs sont des hommes.
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On a même vu quelques singes dans la forêt entre Bamboo et Sinuwa.
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On a prit un petit repos à Sinuwa, où on pouvait voir toute la vallée du Modi Khola.
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Kaia sur le pont qui croise la rivière entre Sinuwa et Chhomrong.

On a mangé un diner delicieux à un restaurant à Chhomrong.  Je pense que c’est le seul restaurant sur tout le trek de Poon Hill-ABC qui a un menu different que les autres restaurants.  La cuisinière, que les guides et les porteurs appelent Didi, ce qui veut dire “grande soeur”, nous a fait des burritos, des bons pizzas, et même un gateau au chocolat!  Ça goûte incroyablement bon après marcher pour plus qu’une semaine et en mangeant seulement la nourriture simple.  Il y avait meme un article dans TIME magazine à propos des gateaux de chocolat de Didi, qu’ils appelent dans l’article “Sugar Mama”!

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Le restaurant de Didi a une vue excellente de Machhapuchhre.
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Imagine le nombre de bouteilles en plastique qui seront utilises par les trekkers! Pour reduire le montant de dechets sur la piste, des organisation Nouvelle-Zelandais et Hollandais ont donne l'equipement necessaire pour purifier l'eau. Le systeme est l'osmose inverse et utilise souvent l'electricite solaire. Les locaux peuvent le vendre aux touristes (ca coute moins cher que l'eau en bouteille et ca leur donne une source de revenues).

En partant de Chhomrong, on commençait à marcher sur un sentier qu’on n’a pas déjà suivi, car on est entré de Chhomrong d’une differente façon trois jours avant.

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Le point bleu est Poon Hill, le jaune est ABC, et le rose est Chhomrong.

La marche après Chhomrong n’était pas tres longue; dans moins de deux heures, on est arrivé à Jhinu, où on passerait la nuit.  Le guesthouse là était le meilleur qu’on a eu tout le trek.  Mais rapidement après arriver, on s’est préparé pour descendre aux sources d’eau chaude, près de la rivière.  On a marché en descendant pour une demi heure, jusqu’à la rivière.  On s’est changé dans nos maillots de bains et entré dans le bain chaud.

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Ah!  Ça sentait si bon!  On a parlé avec les autres personnes là, de plusieurs différentes pays.  Après un peu de  temps dans le bain chaud, on a décidé qu’il fallait essayer la rivière glaciale aussi!

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L'eau dans la rivière n'a probablement pas fondue jusqu'a un jour avant que ca passe ici!

C’etait tellement froide!  On ne pouvait pas y rester pour plus que quelques secondes.

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On remonte vers le bain chaud.

Ce n’était pas si agréable dans l’eau froide, mais ça faisait le bain chaud de sentir encore mieux!  On a fait le traitement de froid-chaud plusieurs fois.  Finalement, on est retourné à Jhinu pour manger le souper et se coucher.

Le prochain jour, on est allé au sud de Jhinu à un village appelé Pothana.  Ce n’était pas un jour tres spécial, mais on a encore vu quelques choses intéressantes.

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On a traversé le Modi Khola une dernière fois.
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Il fallait traverser quelques pistes de glissade de roches, où on pourrait tomber des dizaines de mètres jusqu'à la rivière.
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Cet âne etait le plus décoré qu'on n'a jamais vu!
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Il y avait une tres belle cascade.
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Voici un genre de moulin de farine, tourné par l'énergie de l'eau.

On a mangé le dîner à un village appelé Landruk, et après ça, on marchait sur une route.  On a commencé de marcher avec la soeur de Prakash et son mari.

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Ces deux petites filles qui s'assoyaient à côté de la route avaient une belle place pour boire le thé.

Enfin, on est arrivé à Pothana, ou ont passerait la dernière nuit du trek, car ça ne prendrait pas longtemps pour arriver à l’autoroute pour retourner a Pokhara.  Le village de Pothana était très beau, et ça nous rappelait un peu comme l’Ontario sud, d’où on vient.

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On s’est réveillé à Pothana le dernier jour du trek.  Prakash nous a dit que ça serait beau de manger le déjeuner à un camp un peu plus loin sur le sentier, alors on a commencé à marcher de Pothana tout de suite.  Pendant le déjeuner au “camp Australien”, on a rencontré une femme des États Unis qui a fait un trek appelé Mardi Himal, et elle a inspiré mon pere d’y aller plus tard…
On a marché pendant à peu près deux heures de plus, et on est enfin arrivé à la fin du trek, un village sur l’autoroute appelé Khare.  Woohoo!  On a complété le trek!

On a pris un taxi de 45 minutes pour retourner à Pokhara, et dit au revoir à Prakash.  On a vraiment aimé avoir lui avec nous.  Le trek de Poon Hill-ABC était le trek parfait pour nous, et on le recommande à tout le monde qui visite le Nepal.  On a eu des vues fantastiques des montagnes, et sans devoir monter à des hautes altitudes.  C’était 10 jours très agreables, et c’est un sentiment incroyable d’etre proche aux montagnes Himalayas, les plus grandes au monde.

Jake

We’re fine … and so sorry about Nepal

In case you hadn’t seen our update two entries back, we are now in Germany.  We left the Kathmandu valley 6 days ago.  The earthquake is so tragic – reminds us of Haiti, insofar as its emergency response capability is very limited at the best of times, and now much of it is damaged or destroyed.  Most Nepalis live day to day, so the days ahead are difficult to imagine.  We are also really sorry about the temples that were destroyed.  We visited some of them last week and they are unique and majestic.
Stay strong, Nepal.   Nameste.
Cam, Yvonne, Kaia & Jake

Acclimatizing to Nepal in Kathmandu

Okay, so Kaia mentioned in her latest entry that our flight itinerary to get to Nepal was downright awful.  We took off from Hong Kong in the evening, going to Mumbai.  It was about 7 hours long, and actually very comfortable because we had the bulkhead seats, with lots of legroom, and personal TVs.  But in the Mumbai airport, we were exhausted, and we had to wait 7 hours through the night until our flight to Kathmandu.  Worse still, there were armrests between all the seats in the waiting room, so we couldn’t lie down across them.  It was definitely not my favourite night of this trip!  At least our second flight was only about 2 and a half hours, and we got our first view of the Himalaya mountains.

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Our view from the airplane of Kathmandu.

Finally, we arrived in our 14th country on this trip.

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Kathmandu is in the east-central part of the country, and Mt. Everest is in the far north eastern part, right up against the Tibetan (Chinese) border.

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Facts about Nepal:
-Population: 29 million
-Area: approx. 147 000 sq. kilometres (57 000 sq. miles), similar size as Florida
-Currency: Nepali rupee (77 rupees=1 Canadian dollar)
-Religions: mostly Hindu and Buddhist, which are apparently very similar in Nepal.
-Languages: Nepali is spoken all over the country, and there are 128 local dialects.  English is pretty well spoken, so you can go most places knowing only one word in Nepali: Namaste.  It officially translates to “I salute the god in you”, but it can mean hello, goodbye, thank you, or pretty much anything positive.
-Drives on the left
-Landscape: varying from high mountains near the Tibetan border in the north to low-lying plain and jungle near the Indian border in the south.
Fun facts:
-There are 14 peaks in the world above 8000m altitude, and 8 of them are in Nepal (including the highest).
-Though Nepal has lots of unique animals like red pandas, yaks, elephants, rhinos and tigers, they chose the cow as their national animal, because they’re sacred in Hindu and Buddhist culture.  It’s hard to find beef in Nepal.
-When we got off the plane, we had to change the time on our watches by 2 hours and 45 minutes, because for some reason, Nepal has it’s own mini time zone, 15 minutes off the time zone that the nearby part of India uses.
-The Nepali flag is the only national flag in the world that isn’t rectangular.  It looks like this:

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My mom actually booked a guesthouse in Kathmandu in advance, something we rarely do, so someone was waiting to pick us up at the airport.  Kathmandu is a pretty big city, of about 3 million people (but seems tiny after being in Hong Kong), so it took about half an hour to drive to the guesthouse in a very touristy neighbourhood called Thamel.  Our room was nice and big, and even had a whole kitchen.  It was on the 5th floor though, so we got some exercise carrying our big packs up to it!  Once we got settled in, we went out for lunch.  Food in Nepal isn’t as cheap as it was in Indonesia and the Philippines, but still cheap enough that we hardly ever used the kitchen.  We had chapati bread with curry for lunch.  It was delicious!  Before coming to Nepal, we didn’t know what to expect with the food, but after that lunch, we knew Nepali food would be good.

That afternoon, we didn’t go anywhere or do anything special, but we walked around Thamel a bit to get to know the area.  Kathmandu is nice, but very, very busy, loud and polluted.  Walking around Thamel was a stressful experience.  There aren’t really any sidewalks and the streets are narrow, so you’re forced to walk through crowds of people, cars and motorcycles.

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There were also tons of tourist shops.  Nepal’s big tourist attraction is the Himalaya mountain range, and the best way to see it is by trekking.  So, there are hundreds of shops selling trekking equipment: down jackets, boots, walking poles, you name it.  There are also lots of souvenir shops selling Nepali clothing, bracelets, and all the rest of those little trinkets.  There were a lot of really nice T-shirts with names of treks and pictures of mountains on them.  Some have expressions like “Nepal: Never Ending Peace And Love”, or (this next one sold mostly to people who have already been trekking) “Nepal flat: little bit up, little it down”.  Now that we’ve been trekking, that expression makes sense to us, because sometimes our guide would say “the path will be Nepal flat” or in other words “there’s no such thing as flat in Nepal”!

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Many of these shops line the streets. Gurkha soldier knives, "singing" bowls, necklaces ...

We went to a little restaurant near our guesthouse for dinner.  One of the things we ate was a dish of these things called momos.  They’re little Nepali dumplings filled with vegetables and sometimes chicken or buff (buffalo meat), and they’re really good!  We’ve eaten many more momos for the 3 weeks we’ve been in Nepal now.

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We slept okay that night, but not great, because of all the cars honking.  We spent 2 more days in Kathmandu.  During that time, we did some stuff that I’ll talk about, but I kind of forget when they happened during those 2 days, so for the rest of this entry, the events may not be in chronological order.

We took a taxi to the office of an organization called Solar Sisters, to organize an activity installing solar panels in villages.  My dad will write about that in the next entry.

Back at our room, we spent time getting caught up on the blog, and Kaia had a Skype conversation with her class.  Since our room was up on the 5th floor, we had view of the Thamel “skyline”.

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As you can see, there were a lot of 5-story guesthouses!
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We, and my dad especially, were very impressed at how many buildings had solar panels for electricity and hot water. Keep it up, Kathmandu!

And, we learned that there are urban monkeys in Kathmandu!  One climbed right onto the rooftop patio, back down the other side of the building, then jumped across to the next building.  I guess it’s kind of like how there are squirrels living in cities in Canada.

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For lunch one day, we went to a middle-eastern style restaurant called OR2K.  We sat on cushions at low tables, and the restaurant had a cool ambience.  The music was funky, the walls were painted in a cool way, even the menu was artistic!  And of course, the food was delicious.  We had naan and focaccia bread with middle-eastern dipping sauces like hummus and babaganoush, and Israeli salad.

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We went shopping for trekking equipment, and got stocked up on jackets, boots, socks, leggings, and more, because we’d be going up to Poon Hill and Annapurna base camp, and it would get cold up there.

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All the trekking items at stores in Thamel are marked with famous brand names like The North Face and Mammut, but they’re all counterfeit.  How can we tell?  Well, read this tag that was on my new trekking boots that are apparently The North Face.

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Hilarious.

The tags on all the other items we bought weren’t much better, either.  One of the shop owners we bought from even admitted they were fake.  At least we know they’re definitely made in Nepal!

We walked to Kathmandu Durbar square, an ancient plaza that was once part of the old Kathmandu kingdom.  We didn’t realize until we got there that tourists need a ticket to get into the square, and it was quite expensive for 4 people.  So, we just walked around the outside of the square, then discretely walked in at a place that didn’t have a ticket booth.  We had to be firm with a few very persistent guides that we weren’t interested in a tour of the square.  We just sat up on the steps up to one of the temples and enjoyed the view.

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Since it was a bit of a long walk (and walking is a stressful activity in Kathmandu) between our guesthouse and the square, we decided to take a bicycle drawn rickshaw back.

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It was a crazy experience!  The driver had only one gear on his bicycle, and since my mom and Kaia were riding in one right behind the one my dad and I were in, they could see that one of the back wheels on ours was loose and wobbly.  My mom was worried it would fall off on one of the many potholes it went over!  The rickshaw weaved it’s way through traffic all the way back to the guesthouse.

So, Kathmandu was a pretty hectic start to our time in Nepal, but in a way, it was good to start with the loud, crazy stuff, because it makes the rest of our experience in Nepal, out in the Himalaya, seem so calm and quiet.

Namaste!

Jake