KAT // FIN

Dream. Do.

Train travelling over Gokteik Viaduct and motorbike adventures over the hills in Shan state

We decided to do a three days trip to a town of Kyaukme after hearing recommendation from swedish Isabelle. Kyaukme is small town in Shan state between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw. Train travelling between Mandalay and Hsipaw can be recommended! Landscape is propably the best I saw in whole Myanmar. Train left Mandalay at 4am and went over hills and rural villages. Actually travelling by train in Myanmar is an experience worth having. Train network covers the country pretty well. Trains move relatively slow (you can do the same journey by bus in half time or less!) and ride is bumpy in every direction. (You can imagine Linnanmäki’s rollercoaster now.) There is two classes in the train; the upper and the ordinary class. We took upper class seats as we did mostly 12-16 hour journeys. Upper class seats are wider and upholstered, ordinary class seats are wooden benches. Ordinary class was always crowded of local people travelling with the most unbelievable carriages…sometimes they even had chicken with them. We saw as well how one car was loaded full of goats!

DSC_3589 Train left Mandalay at 4am. When I woke up at 7 landscape looked like this…breathtaking morning light!

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    Vendors selling local strawberries and other foods and drinks through the windows

DSC_3623 First class travelling

DSC_3624 Takeaway coffee

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DSC_3659 Highlight of the train journey between Mandalay and Hsipaw is a bridge called Gokteik Viaduct. It was built by British in 1905. It is said to be second heighest in the world.

As many tourists hit to Hsipaw in order to do trekking we hopped out of the train couple of stations earlier and wished to organise our own trek in Kyaukme. Once again we didn’t have any bookings made in advance but things sorted out well and we got a guide from our guesthouse. Joy is a 26 years old Shan guy who has many years experience as a guide. We were thinking about doing actual trekking but when Joy told about motorbike trekking we decided to go for it instead! We had a 20 year old SaiSai as driver since neither of us knew how to drive motorbike. (I thought though that with one evening practise it would have been possible for us to drive bikes ourselves… :D) Having a driver turned out to be an excellent decision when we headed to the dusty routes and narrow paths which squirmed over the Shan hills.

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DSC_3722 Monastery

DSC_3721 Taking nap in the monastery

DSC_3712There is 37 spirits or ‘nats’ in Myanmar. Buddhists built these shrines so that nats could rest where-ever they want. There is shrines in every village. It is believed that you can see nats only with purest heart.

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We stayed overnight in small Shan village with a local family. Family didn’t speak a word of english nor we spoke Shan (except hi – mae son khaa, bye bye – la lai khaa or thank you – chom jau khaa, which Joy and Sai Sai taught us). We knew these words in burmese but it’s not considered nice to speak burmese in Shan state. Each state in Myanmar have their own language and ethnic minorities still practise their old traditions in each state. They rarely had tourists in that village we stayed and first time I really felt that I was far away from home! There was two families living under the same roof…what we heard – total of 14 people. In Myanmar families are large and it’s common to have two or three generations under the same roof of a two- or three-room house. People don’t have their own bedrooms and same room has many functions; during daytime room can serve as a kitchen and livingroom and bamboo mats are placed next to each other when it’s time for sleep.

We spent evening in the ‘living room’ with the family and two chicken which they treated like pets. It was pretty dark – one dim bulb in the middle of the room. Steam and smoke coming from kitchen filled the air. Most burmese still cook with open fire (also in restaurants) and in homes fireplace is often embedded to floor-level. Since villages are poor they have to control food amounts. Rice is often served with one or two small and bony pieces of meat with many kinds of sour vegetable sidedishes. Especially in Shan state they eat a lot of leaves and our dinner included a lot of rice, soup, eggs and two kind of curries made of these leaves.

DSC_3742 Village where we stayed overnight

DSC_3743 ‘Siskonpeti’ – Joy, SaiSai and Auli

Around ¾ of Myanmar population are rural-dwellers and much of a local life in going on around villages and farming the countryside. Main farming products in Myanmar are rice, corn, tea and opium. Tea is the main income for tribes living in the hills. We saw trucks carrying workers to tea plantations. Joy told that tea pickers don’t get paid in money but in tea. Half of the amount of leaves they pick they can keep.

DSC_3692 On the way to tea plantations

DSC_3747 Tea plantations

There is constant internal conflicts in Myanmar many of them taking place in Shan state. Joy was talking with the father of our homestay about recent conflicts between burmese soldiers and Shan rebels. Fights between burmese soldiers and ethnic minorities have been going on already 67 years and it seems that there is no end to them. Previous week rebels had killed burmese soldiers just 30 minutes drive away where we stayed. Joy’s previous trekker group had accidentally overstayed at the same place with 60-70 rebels. There hadn’t been any problem though, they had been smoking cigarettes peacefully together with the rebels. Conflicts are common in Shan state, almost every week either soldiers or rebels get killed. Situation is even worse near China border where opium is widely grown. Joy told that rebels are good for these villages…they protect their peoples’ rights. Before there were any rebels burmese soldiers came to these villages and forced villagers to give whatever they wanted, if it was food, women or money, they didn’t care. Joy told that if a Shan family has more than one child, one needs to join the rebels. Even many peace agreements are made in management level between rebels and soldiers, it seems that in the grassroot level fights can’t be stopped.

Joy’s dream was to have his own guesthouse. He had made some actions towards it already. He had bought a land for 4500 dollars last year. He wished to build 12 authentic bamboo houses there. We visited a couple of villages where Joy went to ask about the building costs of villagers’ houses. He wished to build a small summer house for himself first. Simple bamboo house could be built in Kyaukme for 1500 dollars including materials and carpenter’s salary. In Myanmar basic salary is around 200 dollars a month. I wish to be back in Kyaukme after 5-10 years to see how’s it going with Joy’s business. As determined as he seemed, I’m sure it will be a success!

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DSC_3781 Joy’s land – to be continued…

- Katariina

Bagan and Pakokku

Bagan is a huge ruin city located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady river on the south side of Mandalay. Bagan is home to approx 2500 Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. For many tourists Bagan is the main attraction in Myanmar and the area is well prepared for tourism. There is many dusty paths connecting temples and it is pretty easy to go around by bikes, e-bikes or by horse-cart. Watching sunset and sunrise is popular attractions during early morning/evening. After travelling 5 months in Asia, we started to be pretty full of temples especially after spending three intense days in Angkor, Cambodia. The most impressive thing in Bagan is that temple area is so huge that when you’re watching it from above it just seems to continue over and over. This time we allowed ourselves not to go to see too many temples inside and instead we enjoyed e-bike rides on the dusty roads between the temples for a couple of days.

DSC_3384 Thatbyinnyu temple

DSC_3390 Horse-carts

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DSC_3518 Seeing the sunrise in Bagan is the thing…many people pay for seeing it from hot air balloon

DSC_3449 E-biking in Bagan

DSC_3394E-biking in Bagan

DSC_3450 Local traffic jam

After Bagan we travelled to the small town of Pakokku for a couple of days after hearing recommendations from other travellers. We travelled there with local transport, with these small pick-up trucks which won’t leave until they are packed to their fullest! Normally they are loaded so full of people that some need to travel on the roof! Travelling is practical like that in almost every transport vehicle. There aren’t any seats or other free space which wouldn’t be full packed at least with luggages. In buses they place ‘secondary’ seats to corridor between the actual seat rows so every inch is in use.

DSC_3535 We left Bagan with style…first by horse cart…

DSC_3536 …and next by local pick-up truck

Pakokku is one of those places where you don’t meet many western people and which doesn’t seem to be affected at all by tourism. Local people are super friendly and you hear ‘min-ga-lar-par’ and get smiles from every direction. People don’t try to overcharge you and actually we were invited to taste burmese food from local peoples’ plates in the streets. Most impressive experience in Pakokku was still the humble and hospitable guesthouse Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn with it’s charming owner Mya Mya. Mya Mya had kept her guesthouse since 1980 and it was the oldest in town. We felt like living with our grandmother… Mya Mya lived in the same house with her daughter, with her grandchildren and with many cats. Sleeping in this guesthouse felt like living in a burmese family, so welcoming and hospitable they were! Mya Mya is one of those persons whose presence calms you down immediately. She also spoke very good english and also taught english to other people in Pakokku. At the moment we stayed at her place, she taught money exchanging phrases to local bankers so that they could communicate better with tourists. Mya Mya took us to buy longyis in the local market and we invited her to tea afterwards. While sipping burmese sweet tea Mya Mya shared many stories about her life and about Myanmar with us.

DSC_3537 Buying longyis in the market with Mya Mya

Mya Mya was worried about the effects of tourism in Myanmar. Money earned from tourism goes mostly to the pockets of government since many tourism services including tourist agencies, fancier hotels and guesthouses are owned by the government. It’s difficult to know as a tourist which places are owned by families and which by the government. Especially when we asked for room in some of the more authentic looking guesthouse in Bagan they said it’s only for locals. What can you do then…go to the ‘only tourists’ accepting guesthouse. In Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn there were both tourists and local people staying and Mya Mya said it’s the same prices for both of them. Mya Mya told that authority from Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is regularly visiting her guesthouse and asking her to renovate her premises. For example she had to replace her old traditional wooden entrance door with a glass-door because of their order. We were making jokes that soon they will ask her to put wifi to her guesthouse. I can truly recommend this place in Myanmar! It was nice to know that you were supporting directly this family instead of Myanmar government.

DSC_3547 Bulls at work, Pakokku

DSC_3553 Pakokku

DSC_3550Pakokku

We went to this lovely coffee shop for a couple of times during our stay in Pakokku. Family lives in this same room where they have customers during daytime. Propably they all share this one big bed. People bathe themselves and wash their clothes in the streets or in the river nearby. Food is many times cooked with open fire. People use bulls for farm work. People don’t own much, children don’t have too many toys but people seem to be very happy. Many of them are singing while working and they really seem genuinely happy when seeing that foreigners are interested in their country.

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-Katariina

Half-way check!

After my last post I got high fever during the same day. I never have fever back in Finland so it was strange and made me go to see a doctor after a couple of days. Luckily it wasn’t malaria nor dengue. I think it was my body’s way to force me to stop for a while. So I have been admiring Bangkok through our hostel’s windows. I’m fine with that. Actually it inspired me to make these lists of some of my top experiences so far!

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

DSC_0735_edit Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1283India – all of it!

WP_20141127_003 Goa…in many ways

DSC_2054 Living two weeks with locals in Ho Chi Minh City with the best morning coffee ever!

DSC_2362_edited Teaching local kids in english school, Angkor Borei Cambodia

FUNNIEST EXPERIENCES

DSC_1360 Transportation in India – all of it!

WP_20141217_001 Minibus-ride between Lao Cai and SaPa with locals who offered booze to us all the way. Half of the bus was throwing up because of curvy mountain roads. We had a party even we couldn’t understand vietnamese nor they could english.

DSC_1739 Making rice porridge and raisin soup in Sa Pa and after being invited to local’s christmas party!

BEST SUNRISES / SUNSETS / STARRY SKIES

DSC_0541 Poon Hill/Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1293 Thar desert, Rajasthan India

DSC_2256 Mekong river, Koh Pdao Cambodia

DSC_2694_edited Angkor Wat, Cambodia

MOST PRACTICAL SKILLS I’VE LEARNED SO FAR :D

DSC_2024 How to make a proper Vietnamese coffee taught by Mr. Pham Trung

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    How to succeed growing a mango tree (also in Finland!) taught by Mrs. Vandara Chea

DSC_2779 How to tie your hammock properly instead of a lousy banana shape taught by Mr. Harald Vedø Tveit

PEOPLE WHO MADE THE GREATEST IMPACT

DSC_0566_edited Porters in Nepal

DSC_0703 People living in poorly accessible mountain villages, Nepal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA People living as devotees in Amritapuri Ashram, Kerala India
picture: http://whatsupwithsara.files.wordpress.com

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    Mô, our guide in Sa Pa, who had lost his husband and who lived in very basic conditions with her two children but who was always happy

DSC_2324_edited Devoted teachers in Asean International English School, Angkor Borei Cambodia

DSC_2331 Cambodian people in many ways…

DSC_2348_edited Children who always seem so live their fullest no matter which their living conditions are!

I can’t believe that I’ve experienced all this!

-Katariina

Doing good in Angkor Borei

We got to know about Asean School in Angkor Borei by accident. We met polish Pawel during our last night in Phnom Penh before leaving to Kratie. Hence he talked about the place so warmly (and since he had spent there the last 4 months so he had to know) we decided to go and take a look ourselves after our trip to Kratie. We arrived to a very poor rural village of 4000 inhabitants. It was hot and dusty. Past us went loads drewn by horses, hen were poking around piles of rubbish and as soon as we left our stuff unattended there was one huge pig going around them way too interested. We got a simple accommodation in volunteers room with bed, blanket and a mosquito net.

DSC_2285_edited Asean School in Angkor Borei

DSC_2310_edited Front yard of accommodation building

DSC_2293 Typical street view in Angkor Borei

DSC_2317_edited Evening snack – grasshoppers and beetles

Asean School teaches english and computer skills. It aims to help the poorest kids in Angkor Borei for improving their working possibilities in the future. Director of the school is 23-year old Mister Sro. There are 2 other local full-time teachers and 1 part-time teacher. They teach at the school 3 times a day, in total of 8-9 hours. There is around 150 children willing to learn. To cut the costs of the school, Sro has decided to do as much by himself and with fellow teachers as possible. That means they don’t have any extra person to cook or to drive school’s minivan. It in turns means that these three teachers wake up at 6.00 to pick up kids to school by 7.30. They will teach between 7.30-10.30 and after, they’ll drove kids back home. Then they’ll prepare luch for themselves and to volunteers. Afternoon classes are held between 13.30 -16.30. Once again they pick up kids to school and back to their homes. Evening classes take place between 17.30 and 19.30. After, they’ll prepare dinner. During late evening Sro does ‘paperwork’…he replies to volunteers’ emails and seeks for donors to support with school’s funding.

Monetary situation is pretty desperate. Monthly costs of Asean school are approx 2500 dollars covering the rent of two school buildings, electricity, water, minivan’s petrol and teachers’ wages (only 150 dollars per teacher!). Monthly income comprises 20 dollars a week paid by each volunteer. In January total income was approx 900 dollars. I counted that they would need 125 volunteers per month (and each one should stay at least one week) to cover all the costs by volunteers. During our time, there were 3-4 volunteers at the same time.

Their dream is that school would be free to everyone. It’s not yet completely happening and they have to ask money from students. They have also not yet donors. I asked Mr. Sro how they cover rest of the costs. He said that sometimes he might ask money from his parents. I asked what do his parents do for living. He replied that they are farmers but sometimes they might sell something – for example their car to help him and this school. It’s crazy I thought…they really sold their car to support him? Does Mr. Sro ever ask anything for himself? All his energy and money goes directly to make his dream school come true. That is only admirable.

As Mr. Sro said to me (quoted freely):
‘Many times my parents doubt that if this what I’m doing is any wise…as I’m putting so much energy to this and it takes all my time. I have to answer to them that I’m working for my dream. As far as I have my belief and my energy I will continue. If I lose them and see it is simply impossible to continue, then I will stop. But it’s not until I have given everything there is in me to possibly give.’

I’ve rarely met a person this determined and selfless.

DSC_2381 Last dinner with Asean School team; from left to right – Sokun, me, Auli, Yayi, Mr. Sro, Mr. Sophea

There was running water in the accommodation building (which propably 90% of the villagers had not…I saw many of them bathing in Mekong). One morning I was very annoyed though. After having a nice and swetty morning run I noticed there was a water-cut at the accommodation building and showering was no-possible. Being annoyed of such a tiny and unimportant thing made me even more annoyed. As if not being able to take a shower would kill me…Anyway, I’ve never been so bit by mosquitos and propably I’ve never enjoyed showering and having a clean bed as much as I did after one week in Angkor Borei.
Selfish, selfish, selfish…I wish I could be more like Mr. Sro.

DSC_2309 Volunteers room

What about the kids then? They were amazing. So funny and most of them really willing to learn. We taught 3-5 hours a day. It is must to teach 2-3 hours as a volunteer. We taught 3 different groups; children below 8 years old, teenagers between ages 11-16 and high school students between 16-19 years old. All of these groups were very different. Basically we just played with youngest kids (‘Color’, number bingo and hangman were most successful and kept them paying attention). With teenagers we did different kinds of conversation exercises. To most of the lessons we invented the program ourselves. Some of the teachers gave specific instructions of what they wanted us to teach.

DSC_2324_edited Sokun teaching kids

DSC_2344_edited Auli teaching kids to play ‘color’

DSC_2345_edited My computer became popular

Especially I remember one boy amongst our youngest students. His name is Nara and he is 6 years old. He is really good in english already and always wants to understand. We did a small conversation exercise with our youngest kids. Conversation was very simple;
What is you name? (Students needed to fill up their answers like this: My name is ____.)
How old are you? (I am ____ years old.)
What is your favourite color? (My favourite color is _____.)
Poor Nara didn’t quite understand what was the point of this conversation since they learn almost everything by heart and keep repeating sentences like ‘This is my chest.’ Many students filled up words from the exercise they did on the previous day. To that exercise they needed to fill up words which were missing and which they heard as we read them. (My name is Nita. I am eight years old. My favourite color is orange.) They remembered these answers from the previous day and it was hard for them to understand that we were asking about their own answers. So Nara didn’t understand this and suddenly he just started to look up. We wondered what he was doing until their full-time teacher Sokun said that he would cry soon. He always cries when he doesn’t understand. So Nara started crying a bit. Sokun said that he is so determined to understand that if he doesn’t understand, he wouldn’t go out to have a break but stays inside instead and keeps practising until he’d understand. I really felt that these students are determined and it would truly pay them back in the future to study english this hard.

DSC_2347_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2352_edited Children of the afternoon class with teacher Markkula

DSC_2355 Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2362_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2368_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2374_edited Children of the afternoon class <3 Nara

DSC_2379_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

If small Nara had to stop studying english just because the school wouldn’t have enough money to carry on, it would brake my heart. After finishing teaching I still felt like giving something back to the school. 10 dollars a month wouldn’t cause any big damage to my life back in Finland but it would pay 3 childrens’ studies here in Angkor Borei for a month. If more volunteers would do that, maybe it could have a significant effect. ‘How could I make a money transaction to the school’s account’, I asked Mr. Sro the day before we were leaving. He said he didn’t know. He said that he had used his own bank account last time in the year 2012…

- Katariina

Many sides of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, surprised me. I had imagined it would have been dirty, unplanned and that there would have been rats and cockroaches running wild wherever. That image many fellow travellers had been bolstering after they had travelled in PP and that’s propably the image which comes to most peoples’ mind when they first hear the name Phnom Penh. We arrived by Mekong from Chau Doc Vietnam and crossed the border first time by boat! What greeted us was a city with modern architecture and shopfronts made of glass, well-kept parks and adoring streets lined with trees growing through roofs of buildings. Phnom Penh seemed pretty westernized…we found brands like KFC and Make Up Store for example. Teenagers in PP seemed to use smartphones and dress like any teenager in western world. People seemed amazingly friendly and you got back so many smiles if you’d smile to people. What we found beneath this surface during our 5 night stay was horrible and hard to understand.

DSC_2191 Central Phnom Penh

DSC_2196 Central Phnom Penh

DSC_2149 Central Market

DSC_2220 Picking mangos one evening with Noreen

DSC_2218 Buddhist spirit house detached to a mango tree in the yard of our guest house. They believe that keeping the spirit happy your life will become happier. They give him offerings in order to do so. We gave him some finnish salmiakki.

DSC_2216 Noreen took us to a Botum Watei temple one evening. We met a 90-year old monk.

WP_20150117_008 Evening with fellow travellers

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Imagine that Phnom Penh had been a ghost city for almost three years between 1975 and 1979. During 1975 communist party called Khmer Rouge collapsed the present government led by their leader Pol Pot. By getting power, Khmer Rouge forced all people living in the cities to go to the remote countryside for working in conditions close to slavery. In just three days, Phnom Penh was emptied. Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s aim was to make Cambodia self sufficient, peasant-dominated agrarian co-operative. They saw educated people as a threat and recruited people from countryside who didn’t have the knowledge to questionize Khmer Rouge’s goals. Khmer Rouge burnt market places, abolished monetary system, eliminated national culture, destroyed monuments and pagodas…even schools! One school in Phnom Penh was turned into a prison. Khmer Rouge used that school building to detain, interrogate and inhuman torture. Educated, intellectual people were systematically wiped out – having glasses or speaking a foreign language was reason enough to be killed. Their main prison in Phnom Penh they called Security Office 21 (S-21). There were around 20 000 people arrested and brought to this prison. After, almost all of them were taken to Choeung Ek killing site to be executed and buried into mass graves. And these aren’t the only sites for these horror acts. They have found over 120 mass graves in whole Cambodia. Almost one third of the whole population (estimated 1,7 million people!) was executed or starved to death before Vietnamese troops collapsed Khmer Rouge’s regime and established the new government in 1979. (text from archives of S-21 and Choeung Ek)

DSC_2187 S-21

I saw a man in the wheelchair one day. He had lost both of his legs from below knee and was now selling books to make his living. When I asked how he lost his legs he said he walked to a landmine (there is still a lot of unexploded ones in Cambodia…they are result of American bombings during Vietnamese war). It’s crazy to travel here and not being able so buy a book from each man like that.

I don’t feel like explaining more about this genocide Cambodia faced just 40 years ago. There is many sites which explain way better than me. I just want to tell that we visited both of these sites, S-21 and Choeung Ek. After both of these days I felt sad and silent. You might think why anyone wants to see things like this but I think it’s important if you are travelling in the country which has a history like this…to understand the country better. To me travelling isn’t just about spending money and partying in different locations. It’s also about widening my perspective and learning why things in the world are like they are. There has been many great accomplisments mankind has done that we have seen already but oh boy…there has been so much darkness as well. I feel that I have learnt already more about Vietnamese war (for example) than I ever learnt back in high school. And what it comes to Cambodia – I don’t remember that they ever told us at school what had happened here.

Worse was yet to come…We had heard about Stung Meanchey waste dump where all the garbage in Phnom Penh is dumped. It’s the largest waste dump in Cambodia. I wondered already in Vietnam where they dump all the garbage they produced in Ho Chi Minh City. There is no recycling systems and they use plastic to everything. If you buy a bottle of coke, they give it to you in a small plastic bag, if you buy a take-away coffee, you will have it in plastic bag. Whatever you buy – they pack it to a plastic bag. It’s the same in Cambodia. They overdose plastic so much! So we asked about of hostel-keeper one day if we could arrange own trip to Stung Meanchey. We didn’t know where it was located. Our hostel keeper Noreen negotiated with a tuk tuk driver who was willing to take me and Auli there. We dressed to our shittiest clothes, left all our ‘extra’ belongings to our hostel, just took some money with us and went. We bought a 50 kg package of rice and without any expectations left to see this dump. We drove maybe half an hour, don’t know exactly where. Our driver took us to somekind of a back entrance of the dump because the main road was guarded. There was a community of 17 families living in the corner of the dump. We had to go through their slum. They had built their houses from whatever they had found from the dump, walls were made of corrugated iron and plastic bags of different colours. Children were running naked without shoes. They told our driver that we could go to the border of the dump but couldn’t walk any further or climb up the dump. Some other ‘tourist’ had walked up and had lost his camera to a local person living in the dump. Yes, when we approached the dump we could notice human silhouettes walking at the top of the dump.

There was a small group of people below the dump. One of them was washing plastic bags in a dirty water-pit. One of them was hanging washed bags to somekind of a clothes line. One was packing dried bags. We didn’t see the one who was collecting used plastic bags from among the other waste atop of the dump. One was obviously a mother. Her children were at the ages of 14, 11, 9 and 2. That 2 year old boy was completely naked and didn’t have shoes. He was running around and playing with broken something that once used to be headphones. Our driver translated our questions to these people and translated their answers back at us. They told they are living among the community of 17 families we saw earlier. They told that they are working here at the Stung Meanchey. They collect plastic bags amongst the other waste and they wash, dry and pack them. Then there comes a car which collects these packages and takes them to Vietnam. Vietnamese buy plastic from Cambodia since it’s cheaper than back in Vietnam. They told that 4 person can collect 30 kilos of plastic in a day. 1 kilo is worth 1200 riels which is basically 0,25 euros. Oldest children went to school but came to help after school and during weekends.

This actually wasn’t the worst destiny there in Stung Meanchey. They told that there were 500-600 people actually living in the dump. That means they don’t necessarily have any shelter, they are sleeping just in the garbage. That 14 year old girl offered to climb up the dump and take a photo for us because we couldn’t climb there and see it ourselves. We had left our camera to the hostel and I think it’s better that way. Many pictures of Stung Meanchey can be found in internet. We left that package of rice to this community of 17 families. Maybe they could feed them all with 50 kilos. To us it cost 35$ which is basically reasonable day budget for 2 person here in Cambodia. Still…you can’t feed all of them. I became so sad when I noticed how happy these children still seemed. This 2-year-old was playing around like any other 2-year-old back in our country. But he wasn’t playing with any fancy toys, just with one broken headphones. He just doesn’t know that things could or should be any better.

The garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Stung Meanchey (http://www.maciejdakowicz.com/)

All the time we are thinking new ways of making our lives easier and more comfortable in Western countries. We have been joking with Auli how we even have these motorized king-size beds in Finland (here many common people are sleeping just on the floor). When it’s time to questionize if we really need all the conveniences we have? Even the poorest person in Finland doesn’t know a poverty like this.

-Katariina

Saigon shakes

After three months of travelling arriving to Ho Chi Minh City (unofficially known as Saigon) felt like bumping suddenly into the more sophisticated world we had been for a long time. We had just travelled 26 hours by sleeper bus with one bus change from Hoi An. Our goal was to reach HCMC by New Years and that’s what we did. ‘Sleeping’ places in our bus were that type that could fit easily one slim 1,50cm tall asian person but try that with 1.65cm western person! So after many sleepless hours we arrived to HCMC which welcomed us with warming breezes of +30 degrees. It was definately time to get rid of that fleece which I had bought in Sa Pa!

First we noticed bright lights from skyscapers glimming in the horizon far before reaching the city. That was the first obvious and exciting sign that we were about to enter the real Asian city soon! As soon as I stepped out of the bus I sensed hot and humid temperature and traffic chaos of motorbikes. There is a little bit less than 10 million people in HCMC and almost everyone ownes a motorbike. City isn’t quite prepared for the traffic with so many motos…there’s isn’t really parking spaces as we know them in western countries. Many times you just park in the streets. Another funny thing which works perfectly here but would be hard to imagine having back in Finland is lack of traffic lights. How can all these people deal with this traffic without traffic lights, I first wondered? As I got to notice soon…easily! It’s most difficult for pedestrians as you might feel like kamikaze when you try acrossing the street first time with motorbikes bustling fast around you! The secret is to walk slow enough and not to stop nor speed up. Bikers will surely give you way. Stay calm and keep on walking seemed to work with me…

DSC_2084 Mid-day traffic in HCMC

DSC_2064 Stylish coffee shop

DSC_2068 Reunification Palace

DSC_2075 They had painted this classical General Post Office with this crazy orange colour! :D

DSC_2077Cool floor tiling at Notre Dame Cathedral

HCMC is very modern metropol and as Hanoi is Vietnam’s political hub, HCMC is Vietnam’s economical hub. People seem very stylish, educated and determined. I suddenly felt an great urge of getting a new hair cut and getting my nails and toes done. Haircut we did at Toni&Guy’s but I finally gave up the idea of having either pedicure or manicure. There isn’t really point of having them when you will soon travel to Cambodia where it’s propably wiser to look like a guerrilla. One really selfish and expensive purchase (in terms what is suitable for a backpackers wallet) I did here anyway as I heard there is especially good tailor in the city…I bought a woollen winter coat which was tailored to me according to my instructions. That coat together with 8 packets of world’s best vietnamese coffee Trung Nguyen I sent to Finland afterwards (with fingers crossed that customs duty won’t do any greater inspections in finnish border…)

DSC_2057 Winter coat fitting at Phi Phi Tailor’s

DSC_2024 Propably the best coffee in the world…

Have to say though that after going to the War Remnants Museum which is amazingly good (and horrible) museum about Vietnamese war I couldn’t feel more guilty and more like a ‘western person’ because of these egoistic desires I had been fulfilling…Seeing all that horror Vietnam has been going through for decades made me feel like an imperialist of an new era who just comes here to spend money as everything is so much cheaper that back in Europe. Luckily one-night-visit to the tourist street of Pham Ngu Lao made me realise that I wasn’t the bad white guy. Seeing so many drunken western tourists in one area behaving really disgustingly made me want to stop travelling for a while. I didn’t want to have this ‘badge’ over me being ‘one-of-those-western-tourists’. Especially bad feelings gave one thing we saw in the middle of the night in New Years Eve in Pham Ngu Lao. A young vietnamese girl dressed to a blue bling bling top and miniskirt was showing the way to a young western boy in the middle of the night. They were walking fast to a scruffy hotel and there was no doubt it was only about prostitution.

DSC_2013 Pham Ngu Lao area in daytime

After travelling three months and sleeping almost every night in guesthouses or hostels makes you really miss very basic stuff from your ‘normal’ life. Things like doing your own laundry, going to grocery store and making yourself a cup of coffee or a slice of bread. If you are feeling slighly hungry you can’t just go to your fridge and crab something…you have to go out and find every single piece of food or drink you put to your mouth. As Auli has kind of relatives living in HCMC we were excited! Finally we could just enjoy for a ‘normal’ life for a while. Trung and Nam has been amazing hosts for us in the very centre of HCMC. We have enjoyed every night we have been able to sleep in the tatami of their flat and every cup of morning coffee which have been waiting for us in the kitchen table after Trung and Nam have already left for work (this started when Trung noticed we really couldn’t make decent vietnamese coffee). We have enjoyed those days we have just stayed ‘at home’ instead of going to the city and we have enjoyed a lot every time Trung and Nam have taken us for dinner with their motorbikes. When I asked Nam if he enjoyes riding motorbike in the evening after dark in this dazzling city he replied that maybe twice a week. He is just so used to it and hates all the traffic jams and polluted air. Of course Nam’s point is easy to understand but for us riding those bikes has been magical. It was so horrible every time…to notice those familiar ‘landmarks’ showing that we were already near our place. Because we just didn’t feel the ride should never end :)

DSC_2047 View from Trung’s ‘yard’. I used to look at this and drank my morning coffee. This is where all the neighbors gathered every morning for ‘Bun Rieu’ – noodle soup with a lot of stuff a.k.a one type of a breakfast here.

DSC_2049 How much can you enjoy just being able to do your own laudry?

DSC_2052 One day when we stayed at home and got to deal with local police…that’s another story though. Nam doing presentation for his final thesis

DSC_2054 Having finnish dinner one evening with Nam, Tak and Trung

DSC_2055 Finnish meatballs and mashed potatoes can be prepared in Vietnam as well! Raspberry soup wasn’t as big success…Trung was wondering how can we eat something so sweet

DSC_2006 Picture taken when we were seeking for a dinner place one evening. Something we did almost every evening. Nam went to ask the way and I got my chance to be a paparazzi.

We owe you big time guys!!! -Katariina

How I met ‘The Mother’

After Goa it was time for us to search our spiritual sides. I’d heard and read about Amritapuri Ashram, a headquarters for Mother Amma’s worldwide mission, which is located in Kerala between Alleppey and Kollam. So that’s where we headed for two nights and hoped to receive Amma’s famous hug. As an experience, it was totally something different what we had experienced so far in India…in a positive way!

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Mother Amma, is one of the most well known femal spiritual gurus in the world. Amma has raised a worldwide organisation which has both spirituos and charitious missions. With donations Amma has built her Ashram to Kerala and with her Missions’ donations many schools and houses have been built in India. When tsunami hit India 10 years ago, Amma’s Mission helped tsunami victims. She has supported catastrophe victims also in other parts of the world. Amma’s main goals is to promote love, peace and wellbeing in the world. It is estimated that Amma’s mission gaines donations for over 20 million US dollars per year!

130225-Travel-Day-937-2-Amritapuri-Ashram-with-the-Backwaters picture: seetheworldinmyeyes.com

Amritapuri is built up on the property where Amma was born. The location is serene with Arabic Sea on the other side and backwaters canal on the other. Amritapuri is not only the headquarters for Amma’s worldwide mission but also the spiritual home for Amma’s devotees. Around 3000 people are living in the Ashram permanently. If you are interested in giving up your ‘normal’ life and devoting it to serve Amma and her mission, it costs around 15 000 euros and you can spend the rest of your life in the Ashram. But signing into the ashram means you have to start to follow ashram’s pretty stricts rules. There is strict code of behaviour and rules what kind of clothes are allowed in the ashram premises. Obviously tight, revealing clothes are prohibited, so are any drugs or showing public affection towards another sex. Also photographing was prohibited.

13-amritapuri picture: amritapuri.org

Everyday, around 100 Amma’s followers from across India and abroad come here to have Amma’s darshan (hug). Everyone is welcome to visit and spend some time in Amritapuri. How long you want to spend there, is up to you. International visitors need to fill a form in advance in Amritapuri website but nothing more is required. It costs 250 indian rupees (about 3,5 euros) per night to stay in the ashram and price includes simple indian style vegetable curry and rice three times a day. Participating in yoga or meditation courses are free. There is also other indian and western style food, juices, organic products and fresh coconuts that you can buy for a cheap price. We had our own, very simple room which was a surprise as we had waited for a dormitory. Very simple means that there was two beds and attached bathroom but no electricity was working during our stay.

Amritapuri is huge complex including many dormitory buildings, houses, temples and schools. All work is done by volunteers (= by those who live or visit in the Ashram). Important part of Ashram’s daily life are Sevas. Seva means selflessness work. All the people who visit Ashram more than one night are advised to participate in seva. During our 2 night stay, we worked 3-4 hours doing common dishes in the main canteen. There is plenty of other things to do in Amritapuri as well. Those who spend more time there, are adviced to participate in religious services for example archanas which is singing session about 1000 names of Holy Mother or bhajans which are religious hindu song-singing sessions. It is also possible to do courses in yoga, ayurveda or meditation for example. We took a yoga class and participated to meditation session.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Meditation in the beach. picture: http://whatsupwithsara.files.wordpress.com

Amma goes regularly abroad and has been in Finland many times as well. Actually there was more finnish people in the ashram that we had seen in total in the whole India during our trip. When we came to Amritapuri, Amma was meeting Pope and other world’s religious leaders in Vatican. Our plan was to spend only one night in the Ashram but when we heard that Amma would arrive on our second day, we decided to extend our staying into two nights to see if it would be possible to have darshan (hug) from her. Amma’s hug is famous and it is said that Amma has hugged 24 million people in her lifetime! Many people have said Amma’s hug given them something they can’t describe. It is said that Amma’s hug can heal both emotionally and physically. I’m glad we stayed because we got to see how Amma arrived to the Ashram with all the people waiting for her. Amma gives darshans normally four days a week but after she is back from her abroad trips no-one really knows when she comes out of her house. It was our leaving day and we had put our luggage to cloakroom and were waiting for the lunch when we heard bells ringing in the main temple. Suddenly all the people run to the temple and there Amma was, sitting in the middle of the altar. It was pretty magical moment. She held half an hour meditation session followed by question-answer-session. After, she gave darshans to people who were leaving during that same day. And did we have the darshans? Yes, we did :) It was propably the most energetic hug I’ve ever had. When it was my turn to have a hug, surprisingly I didn’t feel nervous after all that excitement and waiting. Actually I felt very calm. But afterwards, her hug left my legs shaking and a smile on my face.

Amma-2

    picture: ammaquotes.com

-Katariina

The Personal Costs of Travelling

I’ve been reading a book I bought in Nepal. ‘Where the mountain casts its shadow’ by Maria Coffey is about the personal costs of climbing. Book is not another great mountaineering summit or survival story. No – it examines the bond between a mountaineer and his or her closest people. It tells what it’s like to leave the people you care about all over again for an expedition and it points out how mountaineers sometimes think more highly about their climbing partners than their families. The perspective is interesting and I’ve found many ideas of the book being equivalent in travelling world as well. It would be great to share only inspiring and amazing stories of our trip here in my blog but the truth is there is not-so-nice sides in travelling as well. I would like to say some words about the personal costs that travelling has from my perspective.

When you have made the decision to leave to explore the world it feels amazing…to you! It’s your big dream coming true and you start to dream about your travel time with pink-coloured-sunglasses on. You feel nothing bad can happen to you. Almost like you’ve had some almighty powers. Those who start worrying even when you are still ‘safely’ in your homecountry, is your closest people. Many people might see you as a risk-taker who doesn’t mind about anyone but yourself. That’s partly true, travelling is truly selfish business. It is to please no-one else but you. You abandon your bonds and relationships in your homecountry just to build new ones somewhere else…once again – just to leave them behind after couple of days or weeks.

I want to explain a little bit…Every day is unique when you are travelling. You meet new people everyday and you change locations often. Friendships you build here can’t be compared to those you have built many years back home. What you try to build here when you don’t have any long-time attachments to the places where you travel, is something permanent, something familiar, something you can found safe and secure with. People who become close to you here might be a man selling breakfast to you from his food-trolley every morning, it can be your trekking guide or your hostel owner. You long for familiar experiences and people when you are travelling. Trying new things every day is emotionally a hard work.

Building friendships here is another interesting subject. I wouldn’t measure the successfullness of our trip in the means of how many things we have seen or how many countries we have been going through. More likely, I would measure it with how many real friends we have made. I don’t know really how long it takes to build trust and respect between two persons. I know you don’t build it in one day and you propably don’t build it in two days. Maybe the amount of the days spent in one place can’t be measured in the amount of different experiences. To me, time spent in one place can be felt to be enough when you’ve had the time to build a friendship.

I call them silent days; these days when you head up to a new place just after you feel that you have made friends in the place where you have stayed propably a little bit longer. In those days we don’t talk much to each other with Auli. I feel that both of us need our personal space to handle the feeling of leaving once again. Best times to me haven’t been reaching the Annapurna Base Camp or seeing the Taj Mahal. Some of the best moments I don’t share here in my blog (those moments I don’t have photographed either). In times like those you just have a strong perception of this really unique moment you are sharing with people you have met just a couple of days earlier. That’s when you notice that these experiences you wouldn’t have back home…These moments of perfection are worth the pain of leaving.

Leaving from some place feels always much worse when you are travelling. When I left Finland, I was already inside my pink-travelling-bubble. My mind was already somewhere else. I love my family and friends in Finland but have to say that saying goodbye to the people here has given me stronger emotions. I don’t know if it’s because there is the possibility that you won’t see these people again and times you share with them have been unique because of that.

I really do hate leaving and saying goodbye to people. I’m sorry having those ‘missing you’-messages and feeling really sorry too when people feel that we have abandoned them to continue our trip (and when we can’t give any guarantees if or when we are going to be back). It’s the only shitty part in this business really. We heard a great wisdom from our friend Sunny in Goa. There is no sorrys, thanks nor goodbyes in friendship. When the horrible moment of goodbye comes, there is nothing else you can do but say ‘see you’ (and hope for the best of seeing your friends once again in the future) and continue your trip.

Without leaving, there is no returning.

WP_20141127_003 Farewell to Goa…

-Katariina

Prince Avalanches // Farewell to Nepal

Our first travelling month is over and it is time to say farewell to the amazing country of Nepal. During our stay here we have met a bunch of really good local people. In general, people in Nepal are very interested, friendly and helpful towards a foreigner. Not a single time we have felt unsecure or threatened here. It has been easy for us to adapt to this country and leaving here feels difficult. But to me, the thing about travelling is that the show must go on and you should leave when you feel the best. I wanna say a couple of words about the people we´ve met here.

DSC_0297 When we came to Kathmandu, first nepalese we met was Tara. Tara has been studying in USA as well as in master program in Aalto University’s School of Economics in Helsinki. After graduating he moved back to Kathmandu to develop Nepal. He is working now in his own company which he established with his friends. The aim of the company is to help rural areas of Nepal to develop entrepreneurship.

DSC_0423 Bijay, Kaji and Mani…what to say…I miss them already. They made our trek to the A.B.C. unforgettable. I think we will always remember the things we learned from each other – from star patterns to nepalese culture and from card games to local rhum and to porters’ lifes.

DSC_0811Shankar and his friend we met in the ‘Full Power’-café in Pokhara. Shankar had moved to Pokhara from Chittwan where he had grown up taking care of wild animals and working as a guide in the jungle. We became friends after having breakfast in Full Power several times. One evening after they had closed the café, we spent a great evening together in the candlelight watching silent Phewa Lake.

DSC_0827 One interesting meeting we had was with the finnish-based artist, Markus Forss, in Pokhara. We heard about Markus from our taxi driver, Biru, when we drove to Birethanti to start our trek to the A.B.C. Markus had been working many years in Finland in the restaurant-field running also his own restaurants but had changed his career since and had become an artist in his later days. Markus has been living two years in Pokhara now, going once a year to Finland for having an art exhibition there. Markus paints in Pokhara and runs also a small, by appointment-café, ‘Mama Arts’. Markus is also supporting two local young man, Manish and Dipendra, with their studies. Dipendra has an economical education but is working as a porter now due to the difficulties of having a job which would respond to his education. He is learning to paint in his free-time. Manish is studying in the University of Pokhara, also in economical field.

Live music is popular in Kathmandu and Pokhara. We met Koondan one evening in Kathmandu. He performed songs to both ‘western taste’ and nepalese in Thamel. He is very amazing singer and we spent many nights watching his performances in different places. He also taught us a lot. From friendships…music and musician’s life in Nepal to motorbike rides and card tricks. I want to wish all the luck to Koondan and to his band members in their career. Auli had a dream that we were going to see their gig once again…but this time in St. Petersburg! Maybe it was a sign from the future – I wish :)

DSC_0930Rozesh, Amit, Koondan and Ashutosh playing in Delima Garden, Thamel.

DSC_0903With Koondan and Kristal in Kirtipur.

DSC_0935Dinesh worked 25/8 at our last hotel in KTM.

DSC_0928One more great thing here has been children. Seeing a white-skinned tourist means basically same to them than christmas to us. That´s how happy they´ve always been wanting to have pictures or high-fives with you.

It´s funny…they always said to us that Nepal needs good people like us – I wish they knew how huge positive impact they have had to our stay in their country. It’s our time now to move on guys. Take care!

- Katariina

Flat is boring! – Way to the A.B.C. Part 2

Day 6 – Dobhan – Himalaya – Deurali – Macchapucchre Base Camp (7h trek – altitude 3700m)

Day six was heavy. We ascended over 1000m to Macchapucchre (Fishtail) Mountain’s Base Camp. Landscape changed dramatically from sunny mountain views and forests to cloudy and rough canyon views. We walked alongside river Modi Khola again in a valley which was surrounded by mountains and very rough and low plantation. No green could be seen anymore in these heights. There was also a couple of avalanche prone areas which we passed.

Macchapucchre Base Camp was totally in the middle of nowhere with only a couple of lodges. We were laughing to each others that ‘imagine if another one of us would like to stay here and would just inform all her friends and relatives in Finland that one’s address from now on would be Macchapucchre Base Camp…and that it takes only 6 days to reach this point from Pokhara – welcome to enjoy afternoon’s coffee…christmas cards you may have to send 3 months earlier!’ But the truth is, Base Camp lodges are open 24/7, 365 days a year. There is really people living in these surroundings…high appreciation for them.

Cloudy weather, all the roughness of vegetation, steep river bed edges and the valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains made the landscape majestic. You really have to respect the nature when seeing places like this! It was super cold in our lodge. Couldn´t even think about taking a shower after the days trek. Concrete floors and no heating systems made our sleeping bags and down jackets useful again. We spent the evening by playing card and went to bed early due to a super early morning which would face us on the next day. Our aim was to see sunrise in the A.B.C…

DSC_0684_edit

    Having a break between Dobhan and M.B.C.

DSC_0690 Landscape changed before M.B.C.

DSC_0703 Macchapucchre Base Camp

DSC_0718 M.B.C. views

DSC_0705 M.B.C. views

DSC_0701 Our freezing lodge in the M.B.C.

DSC_0722

    Next morning´s destination!

Day 7 – M.B.C. – Annapurna Base Camp – M.B.C. – Bamboo (9h trek – altitude 4130m)

We started our last climb to the Annapurna Base Camp at 4.30 in the morning. In two hours we reached the Base Camp when sun started to lay it´s first rays to the tops of the mountains. As Kaji said, sun rays seemed like mountain tops were on fire. It was amazing feeling to finally reach the Base Camp after 7 days ascending. We spent an hour in the Base Camp, Kaji telling us stories of the mountains and their future which – due to global warming – seems pretty sad. Luckily Nepal does big efforts for conserving their precious mountains. For example our permit money were used to conserving Annapurna Area. More can be read from Annapurna Conservation Area Project.

Annapurna Base Camp is situated in the altitude of 4130m and it´s surrounded by many over 7000-8000m mountains like Annapurna South, Himchuli, Annapurna I, Gangapurna and Macchapucchre. We saw many memorials of dead climbers who had died there during their attemps to summit surrounding mountains. Annapurna Base Camp is the last point for the climbers to fill their food and drinks before starting climbing to the summits – after that point they will sleep in the tents.

After sunrise, photos and stories we headed back to the M.B.C. for breakfast, picked up Mani/our backpack and started the way back down again. On the road we saw many groups/trekkers we had met earlier in the lodges or on the trail. We met again this group of three guys who were carrying their stuff themselves and had no guide. They told that they couldn´t find a pony to rent so this sore-knee-guy had walked all the way up with more or less pain. One of them had also had pretty bad AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness) symptoms during their stay in the M.B.C…

Descending is a lot faster than ascending and during the same day we returned the same route back to Bamboo where we stayed over night. Guides and porters always slept in different space/building than tourists and ate together themselves after tourists had had their dinner. It was unusual that they spent their ‘free-time’ with tourists. This evening we were super tired but after dinner we had our normal portion of Khukri with Kaji. There was a sentence in the dining room wall in nepalese (Kripaya haat mukh bahira pakhalnu hola. Dhanyabad!) and when we asked Kaji what it meant (Please wash your hands and mouth outside. Thank you!), he started to learn us nepalese. Many porters gathered around us and were pretty amused of our tryings to spell nepalese words. We learnt how to order hot water to fill our water bottles from the lodge´s kitchen (Kripaya malai panee dinuhos – Please, give me water). My great personal moment was when one of the porters who had been following our nepalese practises most interested touched me and said to me ‘didi-bahini’. When I asked what it meant he replied ‘sister’.

DSC_0733 First sun rays over the Annapurna South.

DSC_0735_edit Annapurna Base Camp 27th October 2014 at 6.30 am.

DSC_0740 Memorial of a dead russian climber.

DSC_0764 Annapurna South

DSC_0765 Annapurna Base Camp and Mountain Macchapucchre seen behind it.

DSC_0772 From the way back.

DSC_0774 From the way back.

DSC_0790 Our lodge in Jhinu Dada.

DSC_0792 Our lodge in Jhinu Dada.

Day 8 – Bamboo – Chhomrong – Jhinu Dada (5h trek)

Day 9 – Jhinu Dada – Syauli Bazar (4h trek)

Day 10 – Syauli Bazar – Birethanti – Pokhara (2h trek)

After reaching the base camp, last three days of descending felt only like a vacation. After night in Bamboo, we walked back to Chhomrong and kept going until Jhinu Dada which is known for its’ hot springs. I carried our backpack maybe 10 minutes in Chhomrong’s uphill because I wanted to try how it felt going uphill with 15kg. Mani got a short vacation :D Have to say that there was no chance that we could have carried our gear ourselves. Many people were on the trek alone with no guide or porter. I’m sure many people must think that carrying one´s own gear is ethically more right than hiring a porter. I don´t think the same. Trekking tourism forms a big part of people’s income here in Nepal and being a porter is a good option for many young guys to earn money. People are used to carry things here where roads are still yet developing.

Of course there is darker side in porter business which we saw as well. Many porters were carrying way too big loads. One was carrying 3 backpacks of which two were 85 litre backpacks and one was 100% Samsonite with wheels! We even saw a porter carrying Longchamp bags…Seemed like there was also that type of trekkers in the trail who don´t think at all what kind of bag is suitable for the trek. We also saw a very unhappy porter during the day 6 to Dobhan. He was having a break, sitting on a grassbench next to the trail. He didn´t look ok and when our guide asked how he was doing, he replied that he had over 45kg load to carry! Kaji said that according to porter ‘laws’ it´s prohibited for one porter to carry more than 20kg if you are carrying goods alone from village to village and 30kg if you work as a porter in an organized tourist trip. To this porter, trekking guide had been loading way too many kilos…

The thing is that tourists have the possibility to choose between trekking companies. Some of the companies aren´t licensed and obviosly not treating their porters right. It is our responsibility as tourists to support only that kind of companies who work in a legal and humane-basis. That´s the only way to support Nepal to develope sustainable tourism. Tourists’ reviews of trekking companies in Nepal can be read in www.trekinfo.com. I highly recommend people to think a bit what kind of companies and actions they want to support.

During our 10-day-trek to the A.B.C. we felt very secure with Kaji and Mani. They not only showed us the way to the A.B.C. and carried our gear there and back, but taught us many things about Nepalese traditions, daily life, history and culture. Days were planned well and due to reasonable ascending pace, we didn´t suffer from AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness). In our case, everything went well but in case that something unattended had happened during the trek, I had total trust that these guys had known exactly what to do. I truly feel that our 4-person-team made the trek: Kaji guiding us, offering rhum and sometimes buffalo milk and teaching us many things…Mani coming to our room every morning smiling and saying ‘Let’s go’ when we weren´t yet even half ready :D To me, it really wasn´t getting to the base camp but getting to the base camp together with these people and sharing life for 10 days with them. It was worth all the mental and physical efforts. I remember the last day when we got our trekking permits back in Birethanti: how great it felt having the ‘enter’ and ‘exit’ stamps on them! Mani was looking at them and noticed that me and Auli had been the first and second persons who exit the Annapurna Conservation Area that day from that checking point. We were back just where we had started and saw the familiar jeep which came to pick us. Mani smiled and said how happy he was that we were back there. All of us must felt the same. As an experience, trekking to the A.B.C. gave me more that I could have ever asked, wished or imagined.

DSC_0799 From the way back.

DSC_0803 These guys…

- Katariina