Then slowly the end came nearby… the day after tomorrow I would go back to the Netherlands. Back to my family, my friends, my girl… Suddenly I didn’t have to worry anymore about a place to stay, transportation, washing clothes, taking care of my backpack… no more planning, preparation, new things to see, new cities to discover, new people to meet. It is almost over and with a big smile on my face I secretly dare to already look back. It has been perfect! I look forward to coming home as a content man who has travelled the world and experienced all the things he wanted! I lived this dream! The girl from U.K and the hostel owner were going to Kenya. The dropped me off at the airport. I played “Coming Home” by P. Diddy and felt it! I was coming home.
I travelled the world with a luggage of 16 kg including only 5 T-shirts, 3 shorts and 2 trousers. I travelled for more than 6 months, sleeping in 69 different beds, getting in to 36 flights and crossing a distance of more than 90000 km, I finally made it back home to find what is near. smile emoticon Thank you! People who gave me inspiration, lessons, love, light and fun along the way! I am soo thankful that I was able to experience this adventure and return back as a rich man, saying memories are my new currency. Travelling made me feel alive! My life is my message!
“Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near” ― Paulo Coelho, Aleph
I got picked up to do the five day Safari. We were going to Lake Manyara, Ngoro ngoro crater and the Serengeti. I met up with a female from Argentinia who lives in Germany, two guys from Germany and Juleas the driver. We first drove to Mto wa mbu a village near Lake Manyara. We put away our stuff in the apartment and did the Safari at Lake Manyara. We saw giraffes, monkeys, wildebeests and elephants. Also we saw the 3000 years old giant boabap trees. When we came back we had a walk around the village. We were immediately approached by two friendly local guys who were more than glad to show us around. They introduced us to a lot of people! I even got a wedding proposal from a girl. Funny! We also had a cook with us. He prepared dinner, which had a unique twist to it. Soup served with popcorn. He also introduced us to ugali. Famous local dish that consists of maize flour cooked with water to a dough-like consistency.
The next morning we went on our way to the Ngoro Ngoro crater. On the way we were stopped by police, because Juleas had expired papers. We had to go to the police station, but it turned it the police was wrong. At the entrance of the park we saw a monument for the rangers that were killed on the hunt for poachers. This is a fierce and deadly battle! We passed the night in tents at the Simba camp site just outside the crater. Our cook assembled in the kitchen with the other cooks from the other safari’s. The kitchens were really, really dirt places, but the food that our cook managed to prepare was delicious. Only the lunchbox supplied us with was sometimes funny. A motley collection of a chicken leg, pastry, empanadas, cake, banana, chocolate, bread and a boiled egg. By the way, the egg yolk is white here in Africa. #crazy!
During the safari in the Ngoro ngoro crater we saw elephants, zebra’s, monkeys, lions, hippo’s, wildebeests and ostriches. The first time you see each animal is amazing! After that you somehow get used to it. The first time we saw a lion in the wild, we were star struck and kept on making pictures. But after the fourth time you don’t even take out your camera hahaha.
We were aiming to see the big five: Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhinoceros. We still needed three of them to complete the deck. The moderate breeze seemed to easily form mini tornados which you can see now and then. Beautiful!
There was almost no wifi during the safari, so for five days I was mostly out of internet. Even power sources were scarce. Every day we ate in a large dining hut where people were fighting for power sources. That evening we were visited by a large elephant while we were eating. Suddenly it stood there. Impressive! An English lady who had lived in St. Marten and was on a three week safari bragged about how she and her man stood eye to eye with a lion when they wanted to leave their tent. It was hard to believe, but on the other hand… all the animals can visit the camp site. Also the lions hahaha. That night I slept badly, because it was very cold, people were snoring and I constantly thought an animal was pushing our tent, but it was just the wind Hahaha.
The next morning we went on our way to the Serengeti, which means endless plain in Swahili. The Serengeti is twice as big as the Netherlands. On our way we stopped at a viewpoint where we saw Soupabs, nicely colored birds and an Agama lizard which is a pink/purple lizard. Beautiful!
During our Serengeti safari we saw a lot of lions. We were joking about witnessing a hunt would be the optimum right now, when suddenly Juleas spotted a cheetah lying down in the grass. Before we knew it, the cheetah started sprinting to hunt a gazelle. I wanted to take my camera out, but it was over before you knew it. It got the gazelle in seconds! Epic!!! We decided to make more jokes about things we would like to see ;-)
We also saw hyena’s, buffalo’s, a rhinoceros in the distance and a leopard in a tree. We were lucky with our guide. We were always one of the first at the spot, without radio communication. Most of the jeeps listen to the radio communication. If one of them spots something interesting that spot gets crowded with jeeps within minutes.
We passed the night at camp Sero Nera in the middle of the Serengeti. At night you can hear animals graze outside of your tent. Also, one night we heard a very loud sound of an animal and no one knew what it was. Another night I really had to go to the toilet and went . The camp site was full with tents and completely dark. I had to use my flashlight to see where I was going. I was a bit afraid that I would suddenly shine my light on some eyes of an animal. This wasn’t completely unthinkable because the night before a group of hyenas plundered the trashcans on the camp site. Fortunately the only animal I encountered was a huge spider underneath the sink at the toilets.
We enjoyed the Umbrella Acai trees and dotting this vast savannah are outcrops of granite that stick out like rocky islands in a sea of grass. They are called kopjes, a Dutch legacy maybe?
At one point we stopped in front of a herd of elephants and a pawn. We watched the whole scene of the elephants approaching the pawn, drink and wash. A beautiful sight!!
We also smelled a strong, ugly smell in the air. This seemed to be a dead hippo. It was laying on it’s back an can be smelled for miles away.
We saw the big five! The last day we enjoyed the sunset over the savannah. I put on some jazz music and everyone in the van felt the moment! We were content. This is life!
I arrived in Tanzania by night. The bus was swarmed by people who wanted to drive me to my place. The bus driver advised me to wait in the bus, because it is not safe out there. Even when the guy from my hostel came to pick me up, I didn’t really trust it. He was a laidback dude. I started talking to him about the safari I wanted to do. He responded faintly. He told me about the road that was being asphalted one km a year. The asphalted part now stops just in front of his hostel. From there on you get the Tanzanian massage ;-) hahaha. I used this metaphor later on to take a cab back to the hostel when I lost the address of the hostel.
We arrived at the hostel, which was his parental home converted to a hostel. I continued about the safari and all the demands I had. The guy still responded faintly. He even gave me a guide to read myself. This pissed me off, but instead of ranting I suddenly calmed down. I looked at my self and thought… let me try to understand first instead of being understood. And this changed everything. I found out that he had just lost his child. We made a real connection. He invited me to come and help plant trees for a hospital. I set aside my selfishness and agreed without hesitation!
The next morning we got up early. Me, him and some other people. A female lawyer from London, a girl from Germany and a Maasai. We walked to the hospital and he brought the trees. We had to dig about 40 holes. It was hard work. The ground was hard and the shovel was heavy, but I worked my ass off till I had blisters on my hand. We worked for two days in a row. It was beautiful. Kids were staring at us. I also saw tiny kids playing and having the most fun with… nothing. Just running after each other. This moved me! And the funny thing is, during these two days he received a deal for a safari which was half of the price with all the things in it I wanted and I was invited by a maasai to visit his village. He was the son of the village chief and one of the guys helping as well. He must have been impressed by my hard working ;-) Hahaha.
During my time in Arusha we formed a small click with the people who helped at the hospital. We went to the city and went clubbing together and I learned a lot. Local transportation is mostly done by the Dala dala, a small bus. When something unexplainable happens we just said T.I.A. (This is Africa) meaning this is how things go here. Hahaha. The handshake in Arusha consist of hooking fists and rubbing thumbs a few times. I also learned a few words Swahili. When someone greets you Mambo (whatsup) you say Poa. Asante sana, means something like thank you very much, Sawa means Awesome and so on. Beautiful language. And another thing that made me feel really at home is the fact that no one in Arusha is good at soccer. We played “oddball” and they were as bad as me. Lol!
We went to the Longido, a Maasai village nearby Arusha, by evening. Me, the girls from U.K., the girl from Germany, the hostel owner and the chiefs son who invited us. This was no tour, no commercial tourism, this was real life! The people in the village almost never receive people from outside. We knew we were going to slaughter and eat a goat. The German girl was a vegetarian, but still she came along. We stopped along the way to buy some “Konyagi” the local drink. In the middle of nowhere, somewhere in a desert like area under the starlit night there was this almost mystical shop. While the owner bought the drink, me and the others gazed at the stars. We continued our ride and suddenly the chiefs son said: “Here it is, go to the right” I have no idea how the hack he knew it was here, but we drove off road in to the nightly dessert. Suddenly we saw little kids appearing from everywhere, running and laughing alongside the car. We arrived at the village which consisted of a couple of Kraals (loaf-shaped maasai houses made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine) arranged in a circular fashion. We waited in the car until the sand fell. We were invited to the home of the chiefs son, where we drank tea, met his wife and kid and the chief himself. It was beautiful!
He explained us about the Maasai, how they were in war and would die for their tribe. He also explained about polygamy. His father the chief had four wives and about 7 kids with each one of them. He himself would get a second wife as soon as he had more cattle. One of the girls soberly asked if there are more women than men, if every man has at least one woman? Smart thinking! Hahaha
After we drank the tea went on to slaughter the goat. The vegetarian girl went away to take some distance. I must admit that I felt bad looking at the goat who was going to be killed. It felt a bit like attending a dead sentence. They held his neck over a bowl en slit his throat. After some convulsions the goat died. The village people then drunk the goats blood from the bowl. They asked me if I wanted to taste as well and I took a zip. It took hours to skin and prepare the goat. They use each part of it. From the head to the paw. In the meantime we listened to music and played with the kids. The loved my camera. We kept making pictures of them and they went crazy when they saw themselves on the picture. They just couldn’t get enough of it! I then got the idea to teach them how to make pictures. I showed them how to make photo’s, gave them my camera and off they went. Afterwards my camera was full of hundreds of pictures and they had great fun with it. Even the elderly loved it on the sly. And some of them turned in to real models, striking a pose in front of the camera hahaha.
Then they started roasting the goat. In the mean time the local dog caught a rabbit. He brought it to us and we posed with it. Wrong? It is nature I guess. First the elderly eat. The kids were waiting patiently and looking at us with watering mouths. They cut off little pieces and divided them amongst the ones in the circle. I had no idea which part of the goat I was eating, but it was delicious!! No spices! Earlier on the hostel owner joked about the custom of giving the goats balls to the guest as a sign of respect. Then the chiefs son took something out of the fire. “You want to try?” he asked. Without asking I agreed. “This part contains the sweet juice” he tipped me. It were the goats balls. I took a bite and it was leathery. I wanted to give the residual piece to the dog, but everybody was watching. I put the whole thing in my mouth and chewed like there was no tomorrow and took a zip of Konyagi to wash it away Hahaha They even put the whole head in the fire!
After the elderly finished it was time for the kids to eat. One kid was depicted the leader. They roasted their own meat and the leader cut the pieces himself and divided it. There were some struggles but he asserted his leadership and waved around with his machete. Wow! Impressive how they create leaders at such an early age.
After our bellies where full we played with the kids. Beautiful to see how kids are universal. They just want to play! We took them on our necks and ran around with them. They loved it, just like my little nephews back home! They even started to quarrel about who was next. I had to break a fight of to little Maasai boys, which wasn’t even that easy. They were strong as hell Hahaha And one of the little guys wanted to hold my hand all of the time and didn’t let loose. Then he surprised me by counting in English. One, two, three… fifteen, sixteen… all the way up to 20. Wow! Then he went on, all the way up to 30. These were some smart people. Respect!
While we were eating earlier on something special happened. I was so content that I started humming. The guy next to me looked at me, smiled and hummed along with me. Even though we don’t speak the same language we understood each other…
I would have never dreamt that I would love Africa this much! I feel grateful! Asanti Sana!
I would fly to Nairobi via Doha. I had joked about my missed flights a lot, but I almost missed this one as well. Half an hour before final checkin I found out I was at the wrong terminal. Even worse, the right terminal was far away from where I was an all the usual transportation to this terminal was down, because it was nighttime. I ended up taking a taxi to the next terminal. Of course the taxi driver charged me double, because he saw I was in a hurry and he seemed to be the only one. At the front desk there also was a discussion about my visa, but that luckily cleared quickly. I was in! Phieuw!
The flight from KL to Doha was almost empty. I could sit and lay down wherever I wanted. I fell asleep with my earphones in, but woke up to M.I.A’s Stepping Up song, which suddenly started playing. I must have accidently touched the play button. Even the airport was quiet. I had to buy a Visum for 60 dollar and there was no ATM. This could have been a sticky situation, if I hadn’t been prepared by taking US dollars with me.
Nairobi was a warm welcome, even though it was officially winter and the temperature was 15 degrees. After being the outcast all over the world I was finally the norm. Hahaha. I recognized my mother, brother, aunties and uncles in all the people I saw on the streets, at the airport, in the cab, even the policemen. Amazing! I was often addressed in Swahili, because they thought I was a local Hahaha.
I took a cab to the city. When we were driving on the road we saw a car with a burning engine standing alongside the road with people surrounding it trying to kill the fire. The taxi-driver parked the car on the side of the road and asked me: “Shall we help?” I nodded. Without hesitation and danger for our own life we started helping the people by taking red sand from a small hill and throwing it on the engine. Each time I got close to the car I covered my face, afraid that the car could explode at any time now. People from passing cars provided us with little fire extinguishers. What a great sociaty!
I arrived at the stop over hostel. A very low budget, little bit depressing place. The people were nice though. The nearest ATM was far from this place and I needed money, so I had to take a cab to get some money. On arrival I stepped out of the cab and bumped my right toe! Seriously!? My left toe had just healed! :-(
I came to Africa for the safari. I was lucky that I was here during the great migration. The migration follows the rainy season, because it has water and green plants. I wanted to the big five (they are the most aggresive and will attack you for no reason when you are around them. They dont want anything around them!), sleep in the park, camp fire, chill with the masai etc.
I almost arranged this from Kenya with the hostel owner, but I told her that I wanted to look in Arusha in Tanzania as well and that I would let her know.
I would take the bus from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania. There is no real busstop. You just have to signal the bus to stop, but to do that you have to know which bus it is. A friendly girl from the hostel accompanied. We stood there for a while and suddenly she paniced. Oooh, there was your bus. It will probably stop further down the road. I ran with all the power I had in me to catch it. My backpack and frontpack were weighing heavy and I was sweating as hell. Seemed to be the wrong bus. Hahaha. We waited and waited, I got dubious if the bus was still going to arrive and then suddenly my bus was there!! Jeej!
The bus ride was really relaxing. We passed beautiful landscapes and at night zebra’s crossed the road. We arrived at the Tanzanian border. It looked like no mans’ land. A crowded village with all sorts of people. We first had to do our departure at a ticket window on the Kenyan side, then the bus would wait for us on the Tanzanian side. He advised us not to talk to anyone, just walk across the border after you are finished and meet me up at the bus. I was a bit nervous, waited in line. Some guys just passed by waving their passport. Diplomats. I finally did my departure and walked across the border. Off course I was addressed by a lot of people which can be somewhat intimidating but I just ignored it. I arrived at the bus on the Tanzanian side. There I had to do my arrival. I needed 50 dollars. I had just payed most of my dollars at my arrival in Kenya. The bus driver arranged a boy on a motorbike to take me back to Kenya to withdraw some money from an ATM. Well I can tell you. Withdrawing money from an ATM in no man’s land feeling every eye is watching you is not nice! Hahaha. We eventually managed. I got the money, we drove back to the bus, I got my visa and we were in Tanzania!
How to waste three flights in 24 hours. I decided to go to the Perhentian Islands. I booked a flight for the next day, but after I tried to find accomodation I found out that at that period the island was fully booked. Only eye bulking, expensive resorts were available. I decided to cancel the flight and go for Langkawi. This was the first flight I wasted, because there was no refund. The get to Langkawi you have to go through Kuala Lumpur. I booked a flight from Kota Kinabalu to KL in the morning and a flight from KL to Langkawi which would departurein the afternoon. Somehow the departure time of the last flight stuck in my head. I got up the next morning to get my flight in the afternoon… darnit! This flight was in the morning. There you go, wasted to other flights. I had to rebook the two flights at the airport and wait there for a while! Pfffff And my flight from Kota Kinabalu to KL was the fastest flight ever. One hour!
I decided to chill out at Langkawi. I have been running these past couple of months, which was really nice, but now it was time to do just nothing. I managed pretty well and because of the Ramadan there wasn’t really much going on. I stayed at a hostel founded by an ex real estate guy from Dubai who fled the country during the recession. The hostel had free drinks all day and delicious food. The organized diners for the guest where I had inspirational conversations with the owner himself and a guy from Syria who lives in China. Wow! I drove around the island on my scooter and just relaxed. I did an island hopping tour. On the first island monkeys snatched the bags of tourist. One tourist thought his bag was save, because it was zipped and monkeys couldn’t open zippers. Well was he wrong! Haha we also saw some white colored, dust like elements blowing over the sand. These were actually crabs. Funny!
The people in Malaysia point with their thumb, because it is rude to point with your finger!
Each morning at 6 I woke up to the muezzin calling the prayer from the minaret. One morningI realized that this wasn’t a tape playing, but actually live singing. The muezzin got a caugh and had to repack himself. Also each evening at 21 and 23 o’clock the prayer was called.
I enjoyed the sunset from the beach, sitting in a plastic chair, with a beer, beautiful music on my earphones and just thinking… This is the life!
The next day I also went to Cenang beach and saw people parasailing. I decided to do this. The guy at the counter told me that it would almost be too late, but if I was quick I could still go. I ended up in the air while the sun was setting. I was there up in the air with my flatcap and flip flops still on. The view was astonishing!! The beach, the people, the sun setting… At one point the speedboat made a turn, having me lowering. As I came down I almost landed on some people who were swimming in the water. As I approached them from the sky we both jokingly wooooowed!! Lol! Then it was time to land. I was going for the perfect landing. Stretched my legs and was ready for a quick run. Then my feet touched the sand and I wallowed all the way on the beach, fell on my side and got pulled a few meters further by the parachute that was pulled by the wind. No elegance in this one! Lol!
I went all the way to the Durian Perangin Waterfall. I had to climb to the waterfall over slippery, wet boulders. At the top sat an old man. He greeted me: “AsSalaam alaikum.” I greeted back: “Wa aleikum salaam” With hand gestures he offered me to watch my stuff as I go for a dive at the foot of the waterfall. I trusted him and did just that without thinking. The water was cold, but the experience was warm. I swam towards the waterfall and stood under it for a little while. Then went back, took my stuff and thanked the old man. I had no towel with me, but you dry quick on the scooter ;-)
Kota Kinabalu, the gateway to Sabah bearing the same name as the big Mount Kinabalu which I would optionally want to climb. I booked an accommodation in Kota Kinabalu and took a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. From the airport I took a taxi to the place. It was raining and the clouds were grey. We arrived at a compound with a series of beige, brown flat complexes. It looked like a normal residential area in the middle of town. This had nothing to do with a hotel, an apartment or even any form of tourism. “Here it is”, the driver said. I was sure this could not be the place. We got out, I looked around. There was just this flat with a porch. It was actually the right address. I asked the driver to wait for me as I would go up and see if there was something going on at that house number. As I took the elevator I met some people who were living there, but none of them knew of any apartment or hotel. I saw a door with the number on my address, protected by a gate, but no sign of life. I went back down stairs and asked the driver if we could call the owner. We did. A happy girl picked up. “Oh, you are already there. Great! I’m on my way. If you want to go in, the code is 1211. I’ll be there in a sec!” I hung up, thinking: “This is the right place!?” The driver left and there I was in Kota Kinabalu, in a residential area in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know where to use to code I had just been given, and since I don’t have a phone of my own I decided to wait. Within 5 minutes Precilla arrived. She let me in the appartment and to be honest it was awesome. Nice, clean and shiny. Then I got the explanation. She and her boyfriend used to live in this apartment and now they rented it to pay off the mortgage. I got it!!! The apartment had three rooms. One for each guest. I was the only guest, so I had the whole place to myself. Hahaha Not for long though, because a Dutch couple would arrive later on. I went out to do some grocery at the supermarket nearby. I was seriously the only tourist and for a second I really felt like a local. Going back to my apartment, in some neighborhood, in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.
I wanted to do a serious Jungle trekking and may be climb the mount Kinabalu. Through Precilla I quickly found out that the mountain climbing wasn’t going to happen. You had to book that one way in advance. However the Jungle trekking was possible.
I did the Jungle trek together with a Dutch couple, who also arrived at the apartment later on. They had rented a car, so we drove to the spot with the three of us. The only difference is that they would return the same day and I was going to stay the night.
The way to the place took us more than two hours. At one point we were driving up hill, our ears started to pop because of the altitude and the car struggled to get up the hill because of the steepness of the hill. After some searching and calling the owner back and forth, we finally arrived. What a view!! Jungle, jungle, jungle. The owner had a base camp situated in the midst of the jungle. The owner’s name was Inas. A small, cheerful guy, that looked like mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid and claimed to be chief of over a 100 villages. We were now looking at the oldest rainforest in Borneo, covering 96966 Km2, twice the size of Singapore.
The Jungle trekking was awesome! We drunk water from a liana and learnt a lot from Inas about survival in the jungle. The lianas of rubber trees for example are poisonous. So is everything that has bright colors or glows in the dark. Yeah, really some things here do. He showed us glowing mushrooms on a stump. He also told us that when they hunt, they made sure that the wind is not blowing towards their prey, otherwise the prey will smell them. Another tip he gave us is about getting lost. If you get lost in the jungle look for broken twigs, this is a sign of a beaten path, regularly walked by humans which could also bring you back to safety. Another tip is to follow the stream to the river, which mostly lead to a village. Most villages are built alongside a river. I loved it! Even the bloodsucker on my leg, which made my blood flood like hell. It seemed these little creatures have a substance in their saliva that dilute your blood so it keeps on flowing. This substance is also used for blood thinners.
We got back just before rainfall. When we returned we saw a big rhino beetle, and played around with it. We also tried to burn the Kamayan stone we found during our trekking. It smells like church incent. We ended up at a local pub eating wild hog, drinking local rice wine and singing karaoke on Una Paloma Blanca, the Bee Gees and the Beatles. Inas did not want to leave! Hahaha. Because it was a local custom that you can’t leave before the bottle is empty, they even gave us the bottle to take with us. Hahaha.
The evening was filled with all sorts of jungle sounds. I slept alone in my tent and was the only visitor, because the Dutch couple had left that evening. The next day Inas asked me to join him to a local wedding. Before we got to the wedding we went on to feed some Koi Cup of Palain. The pond was full of these fish. He gave me a fist full of food and as soon as I stuck my fist in to the water the all aggressively crowded around my hand to eat the food. Hundreds of them! A unique experience! It was an honor for the bride to have an international guest, so they were really pleased with me signing the guestbook. Everybody seemed to know Inas. He really was the chief. We drank to the wedding screeming “Aramaiti” which means: “let’s party and cheers!”
When we got back I wanted to do another Jungle trekking. Inas was convinced I could do it on my own. “Just go down until you reach the river, we passed yesterday. Don’t pass the river and walk back. It will take you like half an hour. If you don’t come back in an hour I will come and find you” It now seems pretty dangerous, but somehow at that moment it sounded like a good plan. I walked the pad down with a stick I found along the way, feeling like Rambo. I quickly reach the river and was in such a nice modus that I decided to cross the river. Wrong decision! After a while everything started to look the same and I realized I was lost. Even the way back was impossible to find. I tried several routes but ended up coming back to he river crossing. Now and then a big fly flew by that makes a growling noise like animal. So each time it flew by, I thought a jaguar or another large animal was near. Damnz!! Panic! I even realized I didn’t have a mobile phone with me. Then I remembered Inas’ lessons. I sat down. Calmed myself and looked for broken twigs. This helped. I soon discovered my way back to the camp. What a relief!! I was all sweaty and out of breath. I told Inas what happened and saw a shimmer in his eyes.
I took the bus back to Kota Kinabalu where I arrived at the apartment in the night. I was tired, wanted a warm shower and something to eat. I found out the door of my room was locked. I called Precilla and soon discovered she had given away the room because of a miscommunication. She thought I only wanted to leave my backpack behind and would pick it up after the Jungle trekking. I had to find a place to stay now! Damn! I repacked myself, quickly found another place to stay and she arranged me a taxi. It is funny how your mind set can easily adjust during a trip around the world. I arrived in a real nice hotel.
In many countries I get compared with someone, but in Malaysia I got the most unique comparison of all. Michael Jordan! A guy stepped up to me, saying: “Wow! You really look like Michael Jordan” Really!?
Before I left Kota Kinabalu I wanted to post a letter. I tried to explain the cabdriver, who did not speak any English that I wanted to go to a post office to sent my letter. I made a gesture of a stamp on the envelope, then made a gesture of a flying plane to indicate that I would like to sent the letter. He understood and started driving. Underway I started seeing signs of an airport. Luckily I intervened on time. He almost drove me to the airport :( Hahaha
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, or K.L. as the locals call it, in the evening. I hadn’t had the time to do the research on this country and its culture. I only knew that the language is similar to Indonesian. Or actually the other way around. The Malay language has a funny way to deal with plural. You just say the same word twice. So to say boys, you just say: “boy boy”. Genius! Lol!
People were talking about the missing Malaysian airlines airplane. I didn’t catch the news, but now was surely aware of it.
I quickly found out that it’s an Islamic country. The airport staff wearing headscarfs, prayerrooms, mosques. Instead of a taxi I took a local bus to my hostel. The bus drivers where really rude, but I could laugh about it, because they were real rude, but their actions were really nice. For example the bus dropped us of in the center and then he would ask each one of us: “Where you go!?” When it was my turn I said the name of my hostel. Then he took his phone, called someone and arranged a friend of him to come pick us up and bring us to our hostels. No charge. I still don’t understand, but it was really nice… or maybe just part of the deal! ;-)
In the hostel I met Can, a Turkish guy. We both wanted to see the Petronas towers, so we decided to hang out the next day. But first I was going to the revolving restaurant and we would meet up after that. Revolving restaurant!? Yeaah bway!! ;-) Hahaha. In KL there is the KL tower and at the top of this tower there seemed to be a restaurant that revolves 360 degrees in the timespan of one hour and a half, giving you a ultimate panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur. It is called: “360 Atmosphere revolving Restaurant”. Because it was afternoon, I did a high tea. I was really hungry so all the sweets, mini-sandwiches and cake tasted delicious. From the restaurant you are able to see the famous Petronas towers, but only sideways. However contrary to what I expected not the whole restaurant was revolving. The windows and the center were stationary. Only a circulair plateau with the chairs and tables on it were rotating. Ah, well, at least I could scrape this of one of my bucket list ;-) Hahaha
During my stay in Malaysia it was Ramadan, so all the restaurants were quite empty during the day, except for a few Chinese tourists and Frans. I felt a bit guilty when I was hungry and ordered some food, knowing the man or woman serving the food is equally as hungry, but doesn’t get to eat until sunset. I also felt a little envy when they handed me the plate. I could hear them thinking: “Here is your food, I hope you enjoy it @$$hole!!” Hahaha. Sorry!
After the 360 Atmosphere I met up with Can. We went to a local market where we were told to try a famous local desert, consisting of a squid, filled with coconut and dipped in syrup. I tried it! Only one bite, but the best way to describe it is eating a piece of tire that has a real good taste but impossible to chew. After that I bought some satay. Satay Kamben which I remembered from Indonesia, but this had nothing to do with it. It was cold, though and tasteless. We didn’t finish it, and because we were still hungry we decided to go for a hamburger. Well… this one comes in the top 3 of worst hamburgers ever! I gave up after that. Hahaha. Can did try some Roti Chania which seemed to be pretty ok. It was getting a bit rainy. We went to the Petronas towers and made some pictures. Because there was not much more to do in that area, we made some more pictures. And because it became dark and the lights on the towers were now on, we made some more pictures. I think I have over a hundred pictures of me standing in front of the Petronas towers Lol! Haha A guy tipped us about the light show that would be starting at the back of the towers. We went there and watched it. Pretty amazing! But one of the main reasons for visiting Malaysia was it’s beautiful rainforest. And to see that I had to go to Sabah, Borneo, the eastern part of Malaysia on the other side of the China sea!
I took the bus to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City is the name given to Saigon, after 1976. However the Vietnamese still call it Saigon.
The bus to Saigon stopped in Nha Trang, where we had to wait for two hours to change busses. I decided to go for a little straw. I saw people drinking thee and coffee at these little parlour shops along the street. I started to crave for some hot cup of sweet morning tea. I went to one of the parlours and asked for a tea. They explained me that it was only possible to have tea AND coffee. Strange! Ah well, I thought I could always leave the coffee and only drink the tea. Haha. I ordered. Already fantasizing about my hot cup of tea, I got served an ice coffee and an ice tea. Really!? I decided to drink it all up and leave this quest behind. And when I drank up the ice tea the parlour owner poured me some more, because he thought I really liked it. Hahaha.
After a 26 hour bus trip I arrived in Saigon by evening. Saigon is the true metropole of Vietnam. Crowded streets, billboards, more neon lights. I hadn’t booked a ho(s)tel yet. Together with a guy from Germany and 5 girls from Argentina we searched for a place to stay. They settled with the first place we came across. I decided to search further. I had an address of a Capsule hostel scribbled down. I would try that one, but as I was walking through the crowded streets of Saigon with all my belongings it suddenly started to rain heavily. I was tired, didn’t had no proper sleep for two days. Luckily the capsule hostel was just a few 100 meters away. I decided to go and stay there! Because I had only two full days in Saigon I booked two tours. The Mekong Delta tour with the floating Markets and the Cu Chi tunnel tour. I mostly stressed the importance of the floating markets, which I really wanted to see.
The next day I was picked up by a tour guide really early. A mid-aged Vietnamese man who introduced himself with the words: “My name is Dong! Easy to remember, because it is the sound that you hear when you beat the drums..” and subsequently did a loud impression of this sound: “Dong!! Dong!! Dong!!!” One thing for sure, I won’t forget his name. Hahaha. I was on a bus with predominantly Vietnamese people. The guide would tell a long story about a sight in Vietnamese and then give a short translation in English. And believe me when the guide says: “And right from you, you see a beautiful rice field” after a 5 minute long monolog in Vietnamese, that can’t be the full translation. That’s the really, really short version Hahaha.
Watching at the scenery passing by, I noticed the main building style in Vietnam. They are normal buildings, just like every other city. The only difference is that they are really narrow. Like you squeeze two street lengths to fit in to one. Also I noticed that many rice fields had graves in the middle. Later on I found out that it was normal for Vietnamese to bury their ancestors in the midst of the family owned rice field.
I got in a conversation with the only English speaking people on the bus, a couple from England. A fireman and policewoman. They told me that they did so many tours already, that they decided to do this tour without the Floating Markets. Huh!? I thought this was the one with the floating markets? I checked it with the guide and indeed. This tour didn’t include the floating markets. I regretted really, because that was my sole reason to go on this tour. The guide called with the hotel back and forth. Came out that I was put on the wrong tour, through an error at the reception. Damn!! I still tried to enjoy the tour, but was far from happy. However we sailed the Mekong Delta and rode horse and carriage. A lot of the Vietnamese people wanted to go on the picture with me. And a little Vietnamese boy functioned as translater between me and his family. Turned out that he had learned some English at school. His family members would talk to him in Vietnamese and then push him to translate it to me. “Do you like it here?”, he asked. “Yes, I do”, I replied. “My mom and sister, say they want to sit in the same boat as you.” “O… Kay…”, I replied. Hahaha. It was funny though. The whole boat trip the little guy kept asking me questions. “What is your favorite color?” “What is your favorite music?” “What is your favorite food?” and just when I thought he was finished he asked “Ok and now ask me?” Hahaha! We fed alligators, holding a piece of meat as bate on a wooden fishing rod. To get there we had to walk over a provisionally constructed bridge made out of bamboo. I went cycling through an native village. I learned about water coconuts. I even bought a little bottle of snake wine. Yes, there is an actual snake in the bottle. I had to taste it. It has a real strong taste to it.
Even though the tour was pretty nice, it was a real disappointment that I didn’t get to see the floating markets. Even though I know there is not much to see, it was one I really wanted to see. Even when I had the chance to see the most famous floating market from Bangkok, I declined it, because I was going to see them in Vietnam. Not! The guide made an effort to explain me in words, what I would have seen at the floating market. He also down talked the experience. It was really nice of him, but it didn’t really help Hahaha. Back at the hotel I explained my disappointment. They apologized and I got refunded. They even offered me to go again on the tour with Floating Market tomorrow, free of charge. This unfortunately was a no go, because I had only one more day, and was going to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Guess I still have a good reason to revisit Thailand or Vietnam now ;-) Hahaha
That evening Holland was playing against Mexico. 11 pm local time. I went to a bar to see the match. There I bumped in to Tom, the German guy again. The bar was full with orange shirts. Me not being a great soccer fan, I realized this was my first time watching a game in a bar, ever! I really liked it! But after Holland reached an disadvantage of 1-0, we really went bonkers when the 1-1 was scored. I liked the tension in the bar and the relieve when the 2-1 was scored out of a penalty. I won a bet against Tom. After the 1-0 he was sure Holland would hit the plane back home. Man was he wrong! Hahaha. Một hai ba, yo (one, two, three, yo)! The Vietnamese way of saying Cheers! It literally means 1, 2, 3, Cheers!
Today I had a tour to go and visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. One of the most famous tunnels used in the war against the Americans. The Viet cong had a super sophisticated tunnel network, consisting of three levels 3m, 6m and 10 meter deep. It was one of their main advantages during the war. The entrances of the tunnels were hidden. They could pop up out of nowhere and disappear out of nowhere.
I got picked up at the hostel by a guide and put on the bus in the main street. As the bus started driving the guide started talking on the microphone. “Welcome people, today we are on a tour to the Mekong Delta, and the floating market…” What!!? On the wrong tour!!? Every inch in my body said, not again!! And that’s exactly what I yelled out interrupting the guide. The whole bus stopped and starred. I explained my story for everyone to hear: “I have booked a tour for the Cu Chi tunnels, not for the Mekong Delta. Yesterday I got put on the wrong tour, and today again!? I can have one mistake, but this is really too funny for words!” I wasn’t even mad, more in disbelieve and I could still laugh about the incident. The guide stopped the bus, made a phone call. He then asked me to wait on a certain place in the middle of a busy crossing and told me I would be picked up. The people in the bus supported me fully, giving me thumbs up and wishing me good luck as the bus drove off. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a.. bus. After ten minutes, still no one came. I asked a passer-by to use his phone to call the hotel. Luckily he agreed. The hotel wanted to send a taxi to come and pick me up. I explained them, that I don’t want to go back, I wanted to go on this tour… and at that moment a guy on a scooter arrived. He took me to the bus and I was on the right tour now. Wow!
The tour started with a polygon 50s documentary of the Vietnam war. After the documentary the guide made a joke: “You felt a sleep already!” He also knew the documentary was lame Haha. After that we visited a hidden tunnel entrance and even got the change to go in to the tunnel entrance and hide. By means of being funny, the guide made sexy noises while people dipped themselves in to the tunnel hole. Like really!!? Especially the woman looked at him like: Is he actually doing this? Pretty awkward. Hahaha
We walked past a B52 bomb crater and also saw a real tank that had been active during the war. The site was full of jungle and in the background you heard constant war noised of shooting guns and explosions. It really gave you a feel of the background sounds during the war.
The guide seemed to have a deeply rooted hate for Americans. He asked if there were any Americans on the tour. No one replied. “Good!”, he said. When we got to the boobytrap section the guide explained the working of a number of real life used booby traps. He sadistically seemed to enjoy telling us the detailed inflictions the boobytraps made to American soldiers. This one, would cut away all the flesh in your legs and then it takes three hours for you to die slowly and painfully. Looking at the mechanics of all these traps and imagining what the spikes and knifes could do to a human body, shivers ran over my back! Horrible!! Some had the sarcastic nick name: “Hotel California. Check-in oly, no check-out.”
Later on I found out there was actually an American guy on the tour. Guess he was too afraid to come out. Haha.
Then I noticed the war sounds becoming louder and louder. It seemed that these war sounds were real! There was a shooting base where you could fire an actual M16, AK47 or bazooka. Even though I am not a gun lover, I saw this as a once in a lifetime experience I had to experience. I choose the AK47. I got to fire 10 bullets. The sound and the kickback are super intense. But if you imagine the killing potential of this gun it is also a bit creepy!
After the shooting we went to the final part. The actual Cu Chi tunnel. The tunnel was 140 meters long, with an exit every 20 meters. I’m truly not a fan of small spaces. We entered the tunnel and came in to a small space. This wasn’t that bad, until I noticed a small black hole in the corner of the room. That was the actual entrance to the tunnel. What!? My heart started pounding as I got in to the tunnel squat. It was warm, I started sweating and slightly hyperventilating. I felt the ground pushing on me and felt really, really cramped. After 40 meters I decided it was enough. Not my cup of tea. And then to imagine they made the tunnel 50% larger for tourists to be able to go through them. Respect for the Vietnamese those days! The American soldiers didn’t dare to enter those tunnels to fight those days. They had a special unit with their own rules and values. These guys must have been insane!!
After the tour some of us asked to be dropped off at the War Museum. So did I! Not knowing what an effect this Museum would have on me. The entrance was only 15000 Dong, which is like 60 euro cent. The first impressive thing about the museum is that the museum terrain was full with war vehicles used during the war. Tanks, helicopters, artillery and the most impressive the Chinook, which I knew from movies like Platoon and Television series like Tour of Duty. What an experience to stand next to it and even be able to look inside. The war still feels like it happened recently, so you get a real feel of what it must have been like. You think about the young soldiers, getting in to this vehicle having no clue what kind of atrocities the future had in store for them.
Inside the museum you learn a lot about the history, about the protests against the war and also about Agent Orange. Agent Orange and how the Vietnamese people still feel the effects of it. One gallery is full of second an third generation victims of the Agent orange. People born without eyes, legs, twins stuck together… horrible. And then you see a concrete well standing there, surrounded with stories and pictures. At first it looks like a normal well, but then you discover that it was a hiding place for the three grandchildren of Mr. Bui van Vat who got massacred.
As if this wasn’t enough I then went outside to the section about the imprisonment, conditions during the war. You can see the real life prisons used. Even the infamous Tiger cage. You read about the torture methods which were inhuman. People having to roll over a cooking iron plate, until their skin was completely pealed of and bleeding. One prison had a peephole. Already excited I looked through the peephole not expecting to see anything. Then I suddenly saw and old neglected man sitting on the bench in the dark. I scared up and soon discovered it was just a doll. Wow!! Quelle horreur!
Heavily disillusioned I left the museum. I must admit this had been the museum with the deepest impact on me ever!!
I took the bus from Hue to Hoi An, which is only a 6 hour bus ride. Nothing compared to my previous bus ride. But then when the bus stopped and we got a chance to have something to eat guess who seemed to be on the same bus as me? Alan!, the Chinese guy from England I met in Koh Phangan. We went to the Full Moon party together and parted ways not knowing about each others’ upcoming travel plans. How big are the odds that our paths would cross again! Later on, Peter another guy from our Full Moon party group also arrived in Hoi An. Crazy!!! #unreal
Hoi An, the culinary capital of Vietnam and also famous for its tailor shops and couture clothing is a lovely peaceful city. The traffic is minimal, so you can easily travel the city by bicycle. It is even prohibited to enter the Old Town, an ancient part of the city, by motorized vehicle between 3 pm and 9.30 pm.
Because it was my fourth day of heavy loose stool, I decided to go to the hospital. Just to check if it was more than just bad luck with food. I ended up 2,5 hour at an infuse and got an antibiotic cure. Wow! And I’m still not sure if it was really necessary or that they used a bazooka to shoot at a mosquito just to make some money of my insurance. However, every possible inflammation I might have had in my body will now be killed. :-) And the good news was, that my toes were almost healed. Hahaha ;-)
It was becoming dark now, the lights were going on all around town. The streets were full of beautiful neon lights in every color imaginable, from green to orange. It almost looked like a Christmas circus. I got hungry from waiting at the hospital. I drove around town and then suddenly I smelt a BBQ. My nose followed the aroma like a cartoon character and before I knew it, I was sitting in a downtown restaurant between local people. There was no menu. Everyone got the same plate. BBQ meat with vegetables and steamed rice. It was delicious. So delicious I ordered a few pieces of meat just for take away. I later on stored it in the fridge I had in my room.
Then my eye cought a tourist couple. They woman came to talk with me, showing me all the exact restaurants, places, shops I need to go, because they were lovely. I was more like, I want to find out myself Hahaha. but she was just being nice. She concluded with the sentence: “I like it here, because I hate tourists!”
Even though the cities really differ, I constantly mistake Hoi An for Hanoi. They don’t even look similar, but they got some strange similarity to them. Because Hoi An is the culinary capital I had to try all it’s delicious dishes. I tried Cao Lau, which is the most famous local dish of ‘m all. It is a regional Vietnamese dish made with noodles, pork and local greens, which is only found in the town of Hoi An.
The toilets are also somewhat funny. I sometimes ended up in the woman toilet because some of them only say: Nam and Nu. Which one am I!!??? Lol! Nam is man. Just reminded it by spelling man backwards ;-)
I stayed in a guest house with a nice family. The grandma sometimes scared up when she saw me, but each time greeted me with a big smile afterwards. Hahaha Here I finally solved the mystery of the flower-texture hoodies on the scooters. I asked the daughter and she explained me that they do it for sun protection. It is way cheaper than buying sun cream each time. Ok! Guess the flower-texture is just the fashion-statement. ;-)
I went to the Old town which is entered by the Japanese covered bridge. After that I went to the Quan Cong Temple and the History and Culture museum. Next to these buildings was a market. At the market I was approached by several woman, who all used the exact same script, identical to the letter. It went like: “Where you from sir?” “When you arrive in Hoi An?” “How long you stay in Hoi An?” “Come have a look in my shop with beautiful shoes, custom-made suit. Only watch!” After three times, it really started to become unreal. They must have been following the same course or something. One woman however was inventive. She saw that I was looking for a place to park, because I wanted to visit the Quan Cong Temple. She waved me over. Free parking sir, free parking here. I parked there and then she came to chat with me normally. And just when I put my guard down she also started about her shop. I politely excused, but when I came back from the temple and the museum to pick up my scooter she was still sitting there next to my scooter. With a straight face she said, “50 dollars sir”. I was completely surprised. She kept looking at me with a straight face and now raised her hand to receive the money. “50 dollars sir for the parking”. I was clearly flabbergasted and just before I repacked myself and was getting ready to start an argument with the sentence: “But you just said..” she helt her belly and almost fell to the ground, laughing! “Just joking sir, just joking! Hahaha” She had fun, and she got me. I had just been pranked by this Vietnamese woman. Lol! Hahaha.
In the old city I spontaneously decided to buy a kite. I wanted to go kiting at the beach. That seemed like a fun, silly thing to do and also it would cater to my child within ;-). Full of excitement I drove to the beach. Took the kite out of the package, constructed it and let it up in the air!!! Only to find out that the string was only 1 meter long. :-( The wind was pretty good though, so if I had had a longer string. However, I can officially say I kited on the beaches of Hoi An ;-)
The next day I got up and wanted to eat the BBQ meat I saved in the fridge… it already had a rotten smell to it. I skipped this one, because I didn’t like the Vietnamese hospitals that much hahaha. I rented a bicycle instead of a scooter. I realized it had been a while since I’ve ridden a bycicle. It was real nice. I went to the beach to relax and swim and after that it was almost time to catch my bus to Ho Chi Minh City!
At the exit of the Mausoleum in Hanoi I got in to a conversation with a guy from Israel. He had just returned from a trip from HCMC all the way up to Hanoi by manual motorcycle. He had never driven a manual motorcycle before, but learned it in a few minutes, he stated. He made it seem soooo easy, however when I looked at his arms and legs, they were full of injuries and flesh wounds. Still I was thinking about doing the trip from the North to the South by motorbike. I could buy one here in Hanoi or in Hue and then sell it in HCMC. It is pretty easy! I even did a test drive on a manual motorbike and learnt it pretty quick. A nice lady of the hotel let me drive hers up and down the street. I even arranged an address where I could buy the motorbike for only 250 USD. I would be able to sell it for at least 150 USD in HCMC. However eventually I made the wise decision not to do it. Most of all because I don’t like driving that much and I would spend more than 24 hours on the bike to get all the way to HCMC. That is not my view of relaxation. Secondly I’m a bad driver Hahaha and currently a lot of road construction work was going on in the south. Last but not least bikes do break down and I’m not a good mechanic as well. Hahaha. Noo, I stick to my bus.
But the Open Bus…. that is a whole other story. The busses are so called sleeping busses. Meaning the seats are almost horizontal, layed out behind each other in a train-like position where your feet are in a cabin under the back of the person in front of you. The front of the bus is reserved for local people. A litlle woman dictator stayed in one seat at the front of the bus and any tourist who dared to go and lay in one of the seats in the front of the bus was screamed to the back of the bus. “No! No! No! V.I.P. go back! Go back!” Some tourist still had the nerve to ask for an explanation: “Why can’t I lay here. I have a ticket, I…” “NO! Back! Go! Go!”, she would reply politely ;-) Mad woman! Lol! Hahaha. And believe me every bus had a person like that. I guess they got hired on unsocial behavior. No footwear is allowed in the bus, so you have to put your shoes or flip flops in a bag before entering the bus. The foot cabin was just a little too small for me to fully stretch my legs. The inside and outside of the bus featured bright neon and Christmas lights. In the bus there were two Tv’s with Vietnamese dubbed Hollywood movies. And the Vietnamese dubbing is the most basic I have ever heard. One woman’s voice impersonates all the character in a monotone voice. Imagine Tom Cruise in an action scene screaming out “Watch out for the bullets!!!” followed by the emotionless, dry translation of the woman’s voice. Funny! Hahaha. Also the volume of the Tv’s was so loud that you could feel your stomach vibrate with the sound. And each time we arrived at a stop, the driver played corny Vietnamese ballads on an even louder volume! The bus had Wifi though! :-) Hahaha.
The ride to Hue was a 20 hour ride, and the day before, I started suffering from an immense loose stool. I have travelled India for a month, with hardly any problems, but now Vietnam got me!!?? Wow! I would spare you the details, but a 20 hour ride with loose stool and your aching toes in a just too small foot cabin is… not your relaxing bus ride. But I managed!
In Hue I had a wonderful hotel and the staff was real nice. The city was also warm and full of good energy. And again I saw a lot of woman on scooters all wrapped up in flower-texture, hoodies.
I visited the Dong Ba Market, which is huge!! There I bought a whole Durian, the famous stink fruit. I had to taste it. It was ok, but not really my cup of tea. I put the remainder of the fruit in the coach luggage compartment of my scooter. “How bad could the smell be?”, I thought. I also went to the Imperial City, Old city or Citadel as people call it. It is a huge site with palaces, tombs and also the forbidden city where the emperor housed his many mistresses. Eventually I went to the evening market under the Truong Tien Bridge. After 7 pm the bridge is completely covered in all sorts of lights, which is loved in Vietnam.
I read about the Vietnames history and found out that the Vietcong was only a small part of their history. Vietnam knows a long history of oppression by different countries like the Chinese and even the French. The Americans just happened to be the last ones. And the way the Vietnamese people see it, is that many countries tried to oppress the free founded Vietnam, but no one succeeded, because each time Vietnam produces a hero that saves them from oppression. That’s a proud vision! I immediately looked different at the Vietnamese people.
Also, to realize that anyone older than 50 has experienced the war is unthinkable. It is soo fresh, but still you don’t see any real signs of it. When I see older people, in a restaurant, or have a small talk with people on the streets I wanted to ask them about their experiences in the war, out of pure curiosity, inquisitiveness and involvement. But I feels inappropriate to do. Mostly I think, because I am afraid it would open chambers they haven’t opened themselves yet. I guess the trauma’s are suffered in silence.
After driving around for a while I opened up the coach luggage compartment of the scooter and a penetrating smell beat up my nostrils. The Durian!!
“Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near” ― Paulo Coelho, Aleph