Thurs, 9 April 2009 – Tues, 14 April 2009
Our river trip down the Tsiribihina River was magical! It took 2 days and 2 cars to get to the river, but the scenery on the way was spectacular. Similar terrain and vegetation to SA actually (apart from the rice paddies!), which just shows how slowly things have changed (or not!) in the 162million years since Mad was part of Africa.
The Tsiribihina trip was essentially a 3 day float down a river in a piroque (dug out canoe). We had 2 boatmen and a guide and didn’t have to lift a finger. We had gorgeous freshly prepared meals and slept in tents on the beach. We did have to spend time spotting wildlife along the river banks, which was very exhaustingJ! We stopped at a few of the fishing villages along the way and discovered that even in the most rural locations, beer can be purchased (Madagascan THB is very good!!)
We spent out last night staying in one of the fishing villages. It’s amazing just how much you can communicate as a human being without using verbal language! It was a very happy place. We’ve tried to find the village on the map since, and we couldn’t… there are dozens in the area.
Tues, 7 April 2009 – Thurs, 9 April 2009
So we arrive in Antananarivo (Tana), expecting to see tanks and infantry, but were almost disappointed to find only pushy taxi drivers and insane traffic. (We did actually see the strike of the Central Bank on our second day there, but since there were only about 30 people demonstrating, it looked more like an extension of the market.) While most of ’les manifestation’ were based around Tana, it was all very low key. However, we were still keen to get out of town ASAP. Our hotel recommended a travel guide (details), who was great and pulled together a 6day river trip for us.
However, we still had to wait 2 days for cyclone Jade to pass, so we spent some time taking in some of the local Tana sites. But there aren’t many.. Tana is a strange place…. Urban crazy, with beautiful old colonial buildings in various colours and markets everywhere. No structures are maintained, and taxis are all 20 years old…. Yet there’s a reluctant charm about the place.
Sat, 4 April 2009 – Tues, 7 April 2009
Since there were no direct flights to Madagascar, we had to fly through Mauritius. Air Seychelles kept changing their flight schedule, which meant that we’d stay in Mauritius for 3 days between our flights. While we could have tried to change our connection, we decided to spend a few days in Mauritius to find out more on what it’s about.
Admittedly we only stayed in 2 areas during the 3 days, but we did feel that for once, the Lonely Planet was right, unless you’re staying in the expensive hotels, Mauritius is not the dream destination you expect. Not that it was bad (in the evenings things sure livened up and became very festive!!), we were probably just expecting it to be a little more exotic.
Mon, 30 March 2009 – Sat 4 April 2009
Hooray, hooray, we finally blasted off to paradise the next day. And yes, it totally was paradise (thanks again, Nick… and again and again!!)
With all those facilities at your doorstep, you just have to enjoy them. And enjoy them we did! Lots of swimming, eating and sleeping… the perfect way to re-energise after the wedding!! (Although on day 3 we did feel like we needed to do something more active than lifting a pina colada, so we hired bikes and cycled (uphill!!) to the next ‘village’ for some snorkelling. At least we knew our legs still worked!!)
Sun, 29 March 2009
Yes, yes, Charlize Theron is one of the local gals, but who wants to go there on honeymoon? Apparently Air Seychelles had a word with the universe and realised that we needed an extra day to organise and repack our bags, so kindly delayed our flight by 12hrs to enable us to do so. It wasn’t too bad actually, being newlyweds, we got a larger room (which meant that we also got a couch….um…. thanks Air Seychelles.)
While Luang Prabang may not be the most developed town from an economic perspective, it certainly is geared up for the tourists! Internet cafes everywhere and loads of cute restaurants, coffee shops and massage places (although the Lao acupressure massage is extremely painful and NOT recommended!) We decided to explore the outer limits of the town and went on a trekking excursion to nearby villages and then on to the Xiang Si waterfall.
It was a truly amazing day! The village tour was fascinating. We were taken through 2 villages on foot by our guide, who explained how people in rural Lao villages live… brace yourself for Discovery Channel interlude….
The Lao are divided into 3 ethic groups, depending on what altitude they live at: Lao (river people) ; Khamu (lower highlands); Hmong (upper highlands/hill tribe). The first village we visited was a Khamu village. People are subsistence farmers, growing rice in a rotating fashion on land for which they need governmental permits to use. From the age of 5, children have to work as well, on the fields, or carrying water etc. Fruit and vegetables are generally picked from the surrounding jungle. The men go into the jungle every few days to catch wild boar and birds. Buffalo and cattle are kept, but are more a source of money from trade than a food source. The villagers believe in ancestral spirits that take care of you (specifically each person is cared for by their deceased father or mother. Once the next generation dies, the ’spirit minders’ are released from their duties and can then go and be reborn again.) Each village also has a Doctor Spirit who is able to communicate with the spirit world and from whom villagers will always seek advice first, before trying anything Western. I was really amazed by the similarity with Southern African beliefs and customs!
The Hmong village was 200m further up the mountain and while the houses looked a little different, the rest of the village and way of life was the same as the Khamu. What really struck me was how phenotypically different the people looked in the different villages and that despite their proximity to one another, there is no intermarriage between peoples of the 2 villages. (End of educational interlude!!)
The rest of the day was a gentle 3hr hike past rice paddies and through jungle, ending at the top of the Xiang Si Waterfall, which cascades down several drops into beautiful blue pools. We swam at the bottom in one of the bigger pools just before the monsoon rain hit!
We trekked with Green Discovery (www.greendiscoverylaos.com), very good company for anyone else interested in outdoor activities in Laos.
After we were released from the vipassana center we were thrown back in the noisy world called Thailand. The meditation was qui(e)t(e) an experience, but now we had to get our mortal bodies to Luang Prabang. Everything went remarkably smoothly and even Sal was not stressed when we arrived only 30 minutes before the flight at the Vientiane airport (I was the stressed one though)…. amazing.
First impressions: Laos is quiet something else, probably the most backward area I have ever travelled in, but it is amazingly relaxed. The people are friendly and it feels like Thailand used to be….
So we are finally back in the land of internet, communication and food!! The 10 day meditation course was quite an experience… it surprisingly included a lot of time meditating, some time eating and no time talking. I’m pleased to say that I managed to survive it and that despite my concerns that I may not be able to be silent, I only got bored of myself on day 7! Really glad I did it and am certainly feeling more relaxed. Peter managed to fix his back and didn’t even injure anything else during the sittings!!
Last 2 wks of holiday, so off to Laos. Taking the ‘air-con bus’ up to Nong Khai (in Thailand at the Laos border) and crossing into Laos tomorrow over the Friendship bridge. Will post pics soon!
Uhm… well just watch the moviehttp://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8352041305365229745
It’s very hard to describe what is means to be in solitaire confimement for 10 days, not speaking to a single soul except your alter ego and meditate 10 hours a day. The experience is intense but since nobody has the same experience here is my take, in pics
The next two weeks we’lll disappear from the face of the Internet planet because we’ll be in a meditation center. Imagine Sally and Peter silent for 2 weeks (no talking at all!) and Sally eating only 2 times a day! Wow! Enjoy the old stories and we’ll post as soon as we’re online in Vientiane, Laos!
Although my back was hurting still from the powerboat wake-boarding we decided to go to the Magic Buddha Gardens of Samui. After we dealt with all the chores (buying tickets at Time to travel [by far the best travel agent we saw]) we set off around 4PM to the gardens which are around the highest point in Samui. We had a Automatic scooter which was good at cruisin’ the roads of Samui, but as we found out, not the slippery muddy mountains. Halfway up the mountain, it started to smell like a dry cooking water kettle and lost all power: result Peter drove up helping the bike, and Sally had to run uphill (“good for bum” I assured her). At 5.45pm we finally arrived at the Magic Garden and we shot the following pics: [Gallery=12]
The last pic is the result of the way down: halfway we had a flat. Perfect timing, it was getting dark and we had no clue where we exactly were. Luckily after half an hours walk with the bike, we reached the main road where an industrious Thai had set up a bike repair store just there… how convenient! I guess he had seen these stupid farangs (Thai for ‘Foreigner’) before, trying to scale the mountain with rented Automatic city bikes!
So, after spending a day doing very little of anything, I decided that we should get off our asses and do something constructive. I decided it’d be a great idea for me to have my second wakeboarding lesson, the first one having been in Singapore 5months earlier. It’ll be easy right? After all, I was a natural…
Peter did a fantastic job of getting up on the board and pulling some stylish manoevers… it WAS easy after all!! (he also managed to put his back out for the next 4 days though… something about an old injury and a bad boat driver…. old age as well maybe ?)
I also managed to stand… once… and wave (hand, not water) … for about 3 seconds…. but spent most of the rest of the time swallowing water and trying to keep my head from disappearing inside the massive life jacket.
We both limped home later like 2 wounded soldiers… bodies and pride in serious need of TLC….
After our very exciting visit to Tesco, we went to see one of the marvels of the island… the Nam Meong (sp?) waterfall…. 80m high from top to base. It’s in the middle of the island and took us nearly an hr by bike to get there. We managed to escape from the very persistent elephant trekkers at the entrance to the falls and made our own way to the bottom of the trail (which did in fact require that I get off the bike the few times, because the automatic just wasn’t gonna make it!!)
The falls themselves were great to see – not hugely spectacular, but not bad for a small island! We climbed to the pool near the top and swam with a bunch of other tourists. I managed to make friends with a few very unfriendly rocks, since the water was far too cloudy to see through… why do I always do things like that??
The trip home was fairly uneventful, and no…. we didn’t visit Tesco on the way back…..
On our way to the waterfalls at Koh Samui, Sally really needed to check out TESCO. Since Sally is going to work at the European HQ near London, I found this a bit nerdy but why not. But I could not resist I just had to shoot this little movie …http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2909412816816519354