A few days in Iceland

Last June, I went to Iceland with a friend of mine, looking for elves and glaciers and trolls, and icebergs and waterfalls and vikings… Here are some photos, before I come back to tell you a few legends coming from this beautiful island.

Blue Lagoon :
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Facing Reykjavik :
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Skógafoss:
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Jökulsárlón:
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the beach in Vík:
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The midnight sun:
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Þingvellir:
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A year ago…

Yes, a year ago, we got on a plane that took us far far away, on an amazing journey. I can’t believe how fast time has gone. So, today is the perfect day to announce the creation of an exhibition about this trip around the world and all the myths and tales we heard along the way. It will be shown at the end of September in my hometown in France, and kids from the local school will come see it. I’ll have some time with them to chat about the trip and everything else, I’m so happy!

So, here’s the poster, I hope you’ll like it (even though it’s in French!).

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The Day After Tomorrow (the end is near…)

Fellow travellers, adventurous nomads, myth lovers and Veganians, good morning!

Yes, although my sporadic apparitions, I’m still alive, trying my best not to evaporate in the tremendous and sticky heat of Sukhothai and Bangkok : it was not useless, too, to perform the Rain Dance with the children of the sweet family hosting me, since a huge storm is now approching, with its army of black clouds full of heavy raindrops, grumbling thunders and crazy gusts of wind shaking the mango and banana trees.

Even Buddha sometimes can have his own little black cloud over the head (Sukhothai Old City)

Even Buddha sometimes can have his own little black cloud over the head (Sukhothai Old City)

However, despite our silence, we have not been idle (not so much!), and I had the chance to hear some very interesting Thai legends about Kings, twins and sacred elephants! Some of them were told by laughing children, some by jovial tuktuk drivers (many mosquitos have been unwillingly inhaled while storytelling and bumping on a country road) ; two monks, in Ayutthaya ruins and at the White Temple in Chiang Saen, exposed to me few anecdotes on Buddha and the Buddhist Hell.

Beware of the appearances...

Appearances can be deceiving…

... those two notebooks are full of wise and enlightening stories!

… those two notebooks are full of wise and enlightening stories!

To enter into the White Temple, you must cross the bridge over the Damned Souls... like Orpheus looking for his Eurydice.

To enter into the White Temple, you must cross the bridge over the Damned Souls… like Orpheus looking for his Eurydice.

I still have to finish the drafts on the shamanic Korean legends and the Japanese myths before I could report the Thai stories, and I will do it as soon as I’m home (I apologize for the suspense! But I need calm and time to think, verify and compare the stories, before writing them here). Yes, it’s almost time to go back home ; Janyce is already safe and sound in Paris while I’ve still three days to spend in amazing Thailand. I’m happy and excited to get back, see my family and friends, yet somehow it feels strange, and I’m a bit afraid…

Time flies and ten months have elapsed since we left Paris, last August. We lived many adventures, met wondeful people, laughed a lot, loved, had some issues (fortunately not very important!) and moments of deep homesickness or tiredness from the rigours of the journey (commonly known as the “E.T. phone home” crisis), sometimes even experienced fear (especially in Australia, thanks to Josh and his stories of drop bears), we were often sunburnt and dirty and covered of dust and soil, our shoes destroyed from walking… yet, it was a damn good experience, unforgettable, proving and wonderful.

I thank with all my heart my family and friends who supported me and enabled me to live this amazing adventure, and also the schools that accepted to participate to our project, as well as the people who shared their stories with us.

It was great to travel with Janyce, but also to travel alone. Two very different ways of traveling. I was scared as hell to go out on my own in countries whose languages I did not master or even hardly knew, face to face with my powerful sense of disorientation and wistfulness and bad character, but then everything turned out to be really nice, and I enjoyed those last four months across Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Thailand very much. I could almost cope with my being awfully shy, and open up, meeting the most helpful and sweet people I could ever imagine. And I could almost cope with my being lame. Almost.

I learned a lot, but am conscious there’s still so much to learn yet, to discover and travel. The common question “Where do you come from?” used to baffle me : am I Italian still, or should I say I’m French, since the greatest part of my life has been spent in Paris? Does it really matter? I’ve got two hearts, two homes, and as Socrate once said, I’m a citizen of the world, committed to a long-lasting affair with baguette and spaghetti.

Another question thrilled me : Why do you travel? At first I could not give a sincere answer.

Weeks later, watching the Maekok River flowing by and munching magic mushrooms mango slices, during my first night in Bangkok, I realized how much time and energy was wasted upon self-loathing and nurturing impossible desires, that of constantly being another person or finding peace, freedom and happiness elsewhere… Why do I travel? Of course, because I want to see, learn, experience, but also… to overcome the awful fear of what is unknown, to put my ideas – or should I say prejudices?- to the test of reality, to be free, accepting my own humanity and others’. I travel because I want to love truly. And maybe one day, I’ll be wise enough to learn how to stay.

And you, why do you travel? Why do you stay?

While waiting for your precious answers (and forgiveness for my philosophical fluff), little observations from Skias in Wanderlust :

1. Your passport is your preciousss best friend. Never let him in the wrong hands, or absent-mindedly abandon/drop it somewhere after drinking your second Terremoto cocktail/soju bottle. Keep a copy in a different bag.

2. Mp3 player and earplugs are vital in chaotic cities, crowded dorms, crammed trains or buses and apparently endless journeys.

3. Be patient and open to the unexpected. Plans can change, timetables can vary without prior notice, you’ll lose lots of trains and buses. But you can always manage to get where you want to. Moreover, you will learn to jump on and off crumbling trucks while they’re still (slowly) going on.

4. Trust people, but not too much. Follow your instinct and discriminate between a deceitful scam and a kind local who will introduce you to hidden pearls, out of the tourist traps. For instance, having lunch with Argentinian coastal guards and going into the Guarani Village in the jungle with Carlos was amazing, although highly inconsiderate. And yes, at some point someone will cheat on you, especially on the prices or visa procedures, or rob you in the street :  learn from that slap to your ego, learn to bargain and be more informed, then go on. If you rent a scooter, carefully examine the state of your engine and note down every scratch before you sign something. Most of people are very kind and helpful, some others are not that honest and few are real jerks.

5. Have fun and cheer up at the bar, but try not to get too drunk. Especially if you’re a lone woman traveller, never accept drinks that haven’t been prepared under your eyes or in trustful restaurants. As elsewhere, some gentlemen think that buying you a beer will imply a night of passion : just be aware of your mutual intentions.

6. It seems stupid to remind this, but sometimes it tends to be forgotten : be respectful of the people and habits of the country your traveling into. It’s often basic politeness, little things that will be rewarded with kind acts and big smiles. Take off your shoes before entering in houses or temples, dress properly (even if it’s impossibly hot, especially in temples or Palaces), don’t lose your temper in public, don’t drink or eat while walking in the street (Japan – but make noise when you suck up your udon!), try to greet/thank people in their own language or gestures (bow or joined palms)… Yes, English is not enough, more often than less. You can always communicate with broken words, mimes and pictograms, though, and it’s very funny. Be careful, some body language is ambiguous : in South Asia, people smile when they are pleased or, on the contrary, embarassed. And you will soon handle the chopsticks like a true master (I can’t yet catch flying mosquitos as Miyamoto Musashi did, but I won’t complain so much of my actual skills – as long as I don’t spill food everywhere). Be decently dirty, if you can’t be all clean.

7. Get lost! Keep your sense of wonder alive, enjoy life and have fun!

"Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light" (John Milton)  -After a storm in Sukhothai Old City-

“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light” (John Milton)
-After a storm in Sukhothai Old City-

Legends and myths coming soon! 

Bonus! General state of your PokErika:

*Lungs : Gone with the Wind (Cusco, my killer queen)

*Legs : Dead Walking (sitting in the grass can be very dangerous indeed)

*Stomach : Sick Sad World (grasshoppers are made of peanut butter)

*Bag : The Big Bang Theory (you never know what nerdy quasars you can find at the bottom of the Universe) – the Romans called the luggages impedimenta = hindrance. They were awfully right, especially if too heavy and big!

*Clothes : Expendables (and no, I wasn’t talking about strip-tease)

*Heart : It’s a Wonderful Life! (Happy and grateful, singing Oooh-ohh)

=> Ready to evolve!

The unexpected.

Yes, I had never thought that one day, I would end up in Malaysia. Until a week ago, all I knew about that country was that the capital city was Kuala Lumpur, and the few things you can learn from The Garden of Evening Mists, a novel by Tan Twan Eng I read back in Bali. Let’s face it, I’m not sure I know much more today, but I’ve now seen a few things here. So, what have I learnt?

– KL is an enjoyable and multicultural city, full of life, with some amazing architecture (the Petronas towers are quite a sight at night), beautiful temples and mosques, quite easy to walk through despite the crazy traffic. The gardens are very relaxing, Chinatown never sleeps, and you can find a theme park in Berjaya Times Square mall. There are so many different types of food due to the mix of cultures you’ll wish to be able to eat every two hours (and it’s cheap). Beer (and alcohol in general) is very expensive though… Germans are very sad here! (Kidding, but there’s a lot of them here – as everywhere else in the world – and I had a lot of fun with a few of them over the past days).

– Taman Negara means “national park” in Malay. And it is the oldest rainforest in the world. And it rains a lot there. But I took a very good walk through the jungle, climbing down rocks, trying not to fall, gripping on slippery ropes … I ended up covered in mud (and leeches, yuk), but it was worth it. I’m happy I followed Dave and Tom’s – whom I met in Bali – advice to go there!

– Nestlé cuts down the trees to grow palm trees. Not good.

– The Batu Caves are incredibly impressive. And normally full of quite aggressive monkeys. I’m glad I only met 4 of them!

– In Malaysian trains, it is forbidden to fly a kite, to kiss in public, and there are coaches exclusively reserved for women.

– if you wanna have a good look at the Petronas towers, don’t go up the KL tower: you only see one of them from the side. I didn’t do it, we went to the roof top bar of the Regency hotel with two Germans, and it’s the same view. Expensive cocktail, but according to them, the best toilets they’ve ever been to!

– And finally, if you want to send packages back home, it’s very cheap, if you can understand how the general post office works. I spent one hour and a half to send two boxes, going up and down and right and left… Maybe I was not really awake. But the girl at the info counter was really nice and helpful.

I’m going back to Singapore tomorrow. I don’t know what I’ll do there, but I’m sure I haven’t seen it all.

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What about sleeping? No? Ok.

Being stuck under the pouring rain, right where the lightning strikes, in Singapore’s botanic gardens, gives you time to think about a new blog post. I’ve been wandering around the city for a week now, mostly by myself, as Erika flew over to Taiwan on Monday. It was sad to split up after five months traveling together, but at the same time, it’s like a new beginning in the trip. Traveling will be different now I’m on my own, but I know I’ll keep on meeting people everywhere I’ll go. That’s one thing you learn on a long term adventure: when you travel alone, you’re never alone.

So, what about Singapore? Well, people say that New York City is the one that never sleeps. I’m glad to let you know this statement applies here too. So many things open 24/7 (mainly for food, this is heaven), people all around in the streets at any hour of the day and night… in a word, a busy city. I can say I enjoy being here, even though I sometimes feel like it is all a bit fake. You know, a bit like Dubai, big fun city all built for your entertainment: shopping, restaurant, shopping, pretty clean streets, shopping, coffee, theater, shopping. Yes, one thing about Singapore, it’s mainly shopping centers one after another. Orchard road is just one big mall.

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And I am not here to shop. Well, all right, I bought a pair of jeans (welcome to Asia, where everybody is pretty much half my size, half my weight … But I managed to fit my butt in one, so it’s fine): I needed one, I was out of trousers. And it proved itself really useful last night to go out to the Zouk club (one of the best in the world! as would say the Scandinavians I went out with): good venue, great music, but really expensive. I ended up losing my Vikings inside and having a lot of fun with a group of very nice Singaporeans! So yes, going out here costs a lot, but it was a great night. And well I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other clubs less expensive than this one.

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On a more interesting side: what to see here! Well, the botanic gardens are seriously a must-see (if you can get there on a sunny day), and the orchids garden is beautiful. I’ve never been a huge orchids fan, but some hybrids are amazing.

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Just wandering around busy Chinatown, colorful Little India, the calm Marina Bay, or the futuristic Gardens by the bay and their awesome greenhouses are a nice way to spend your days.

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On the culture side, the Singapore Art Museum isn’t big, but holds a pretty good collection of modern art. And I really enjoyed Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick exhibit at the lotus-shaped Artscience Museum: I felt like I was 7 again playing with Legos. Well, with my old high school friend Matthieu (who’s here for a semester), we had fun trying to build a 3D raindrop. Didn’t work out though.

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I think I’ve said most of what I had to say … I found a cheap but clean hostel (the main issue is that most of the travelers who stay here are in transit, so it’s a bit hard to meet people); you can eat amazing food in huge and cheap food courts pretty much everywhere (yum, steamed buns, chopped pork, ramen, chicken curry, sugarcane or honeydew juices…); a lot of things are prohibited by the law here (smoking pretty much anywhere, eating in the subway, getting smelly durians inside public buildings, etc.), so, it’s very clean, but god you’re scared to cross the streets the wrong way; I can’t get in touch with a school, unfortunately (tried to, got negative or no returns); and I’m off to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

As the festivities begin tonight, happy Lunar year, and may the year of the snake (hey, I was born under that sign!) bring good things to you!

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Change of plans

Some news (finally, you could say…)! Erika’s had trouble finding a computer for long enough to write blog posts in the last months, so I’m taking over to let you know we are completely changing our travel plans for the rest of the trip.
We ended up not being keen on what we had first planned, tired of moving around so much… So we won’t see China, India nor Africa (yep, big changes).

In a nutshell, we just spent a month in Bali (I’m putting some pictures up so you can see how pretty it – mostly – is). And now, Erika is in Singapore, heading to Taiwan, Korea and Japan, before spending May in South-East Asia, and then going home.
I will be in Singapore and Malaysia until the end of February, before spending 2 months back in New-Zealand, and my last 3 months across South-East Asia. My flight back home is still booked for July 12th.

We will keep the project on, of course. I am waiting for a reply from the French Alliance in Singapore. And I will work on Maori and Samoan’s mythologies in NZ. And we’ll see what we can do in South-East Asia too.

So, Bali (and the Gili Islands) were a very relaxing and lazy stop … We didn’t do much, but we had a lot of fun, met great people, visited a few temples, saw some Hindu ceremonies, went to the beach (a lot), and had great food. Perfect holidays to get over the tiredness of moving constantly for 5 months. Ready for new adventures now!

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Te ao, te ao te aora! (The Long White Cloud)

Well, we have done a long road since the last post! Sorry for being so late, but, surprisingly, it was far more easy and cheaper to get access to fast Internet in Southamerica than in New-Zealand!

However, let’s resume where we left the story… The southern part of Chile was truly amazing : we spent several days jumping, walking in the rainforest of Huerquehue National Park, not very far from Pucon, a charming little bavarian-looking village nested between a lake and a volcano topped up with snow, or trying to overcome a stream on a wet naked trunk at Los Ojos del Caburgua, with charming blue pools and spherical orange mushrooms pending over the birch trees. Of course, in the meanwhile, I fed myself with glorious ice-creams, and Janyce fell in love with the two enormous New Foundland dogs that guarded our pretty cosy hostel. Then we left for Puerto Varas, even more German and charming, as you would see from the wooden houses and their names, where we ate the most gorgeous pecan kuchen ever, before heading toward the windswept, rainbeaten Chiloe, a coarse fishermen’s village full of legends.

Southamerica was just wonderful in its contrasted landscapes and man-kinds, sometimes harsh, sometimes pitiless, yet full of passion, of wild nights, big smiles, pool challenges, andine music, mate and , of course, dulce de leche (oh, I’m going to miss that so much!). It wasn’t always easy and dream-like, though, and you had to be always on your guard : we were wandering in Valparaiso, one city beloved by Neruda, took the wrong turn in Cerro Santo Domingo and were attacked by three young smugglers. They stole Janyce’s bag, but, fortunately, there wasn’t much in it, her diary, El Koalito, a banana and many other little things naturally enclosed in a woman’s bag. Still, that’s annoying. The policemen kindly helped us, and showed us around in their car, pointing out, at each new hill : ÿou see? Tourists! Here, no danger! But here, no, not here! danger, peligroso!

Soon, very soon, we were to leave Santiago, and fly towards the mysterious lands at the antipodes of our respective countries, ready to cry, as the first Polynesian woman did on her pirogue, after sailing for days and days in the Pacific : “Te Ao, Te Ao, Te Ao Te aora!”(A cloud, a Cloud, a Long White Cloud!)

Next episode : New Zealand! Clouds, legends, haka dance, volcanoes, mudpools, rainforest and much, much more!

 

Perú, My Killer Queen

Perú was just fantastic, even if some incidents made my staying there quite difficult. On the whole, though, it was breathtaking.

After La Paz, our last destination in Bolivia leaded us to the sacred  Lake Titicaca and the hippie-village Copacabana ; we shared the journey with two other fellow travelers met on the road, Allison and Paulo, very funny and adventurous. To get there from the capital, we had to undertake a long trip in a cold and smelly bus, then get off at Taquina, where we had to take a little raft to cross the lake  (so blue, so big, so beautiful : Titicaca looked like an ocean of blue clouds) and meet our bus again on the other side, so to continue on the road.

Titicaca Lake at dusk, Copacabana

Copacabana is very small and colorful, full of hippies, rastamen and tourists that absolutely want to go hiking at la Isla del Sol. As we were all destroyed by our past nightlife in La Paz and the trip, we decided to stay at Copacabana and enjoy the ancient astronomical ruins, on the top of a hill all climbed up by Janyce and Allison, while I was playing the charango with the little girl – oops, guardian of the site, after strolling around the market, looking for special local sandals made of recycled tyres…

In the afternoon, Janyce and Paulo climbed up the other main hill of Copacabana, the one with the via crucis : the ascension was very hard, Paulo used his nails over a rock to overcome it, Janyce was getting higher and higher, till they reached the clouds and saw all the splendour of the lake Titicaca mirroring the sky in little waves and sparkles of sunbeams. It was really impressive. I wasn’t feeling very well, so Allison and I kept waiting for them by the rivage, playing ukulele or just petting the wild dogs that escorted us (the streets of South America are full of roaming dogs of all kind).

Jango Bird Over the rainbow, ups, over the astronomical inca ruins, Copacabana

On the top of the via crucis

Two days flew away very fast, and came the time to leave again : Perú, here we come!

We arrived at Cusco at four o’clock in the morning, after a long and cold night trip by bus, stopping at 2 a.m. to cross the peruvian frontier by feet. At the nice and desert Plaza de Armas, our road divided for a while, since Allison and Paulo were to go to another hostel, whereas we were heading towards the Loki Hostel, hoping to find a job there, so to save a bit of money. Reaching the Loki was really exhausting : it was on the top of the Cuesta Santa Ana, a little street full of stairs, and our backpacks were so heavy, we were cold, sleepy, hungry and dirty (in short, I was growing desperate)… but the hostal was beautiful, with a nice atmosphere and funny people! Since we made no previous reservation, we had to wait till 8.30 a.m. in the TV room, dozing on the poofs and sofas with other travelers, and then could finally rest a bit in a real bed. Janyce left again at ten o’clock to explore the city with Allison and Paulo, and we all met in the afternoon at Plaza de Armas.

I loved the strange architecture of Cusco, with its inca walls made of gigantic stones magically intertwined – without cement- the elegant wood balconies all sculpted in a medieval or arabic style, the little doors opening on hidden patios and inner courts where the locals sold their traditional textiles, the market where you can find chompas, tasteful food (the ceviche was delicious) and yummy smoothies (the best one, after many experiences, was milk and banana, slurp!). Near the Plaza San Francisco and its central garden, there is the Museum of Chocolate : you can drink chocolate tea for free or make your own hot inca chocolate, or even take an excellent fondue au chocolat and experience what Heaven smells like… Not very far from there, another interesting place : the Museum of Magical plants, where the Mamakuka (Mother Coca) cult is explained. We also discovered that the inventor of Coca-Cola was strongly inspired by the peruvian flag and culture!

Yum, ceviche at a market stand!

Seven different kinds of mais

Yes, I really fell in love with Cusco, although it nearly killed me. The cold and bad cough that I’ve been neglecting for almost a month violently reached the fever pitch the morning I was due to leave for Machu Picchu with Janyce : instead of trekking on the sacred mountain, I paid a visit of three days to the Clinica Paredes, trying to get my lungs back. The altitude, also, had made me feeble, because I couldn’t eat nor breathe properly : I was feeling totally empty, as if something had sucked all my strenght (can I invoke a patronus?), ready to fly away with the condors at the meanest gust of wind. The nurses were all very kind and supportive and I was on my feet again (well, almost : I slept for the next two days, Janyce coming from time to time in the room to check if I was still alive). If you don’t feel well while traveling, go to see a doctor  at the emergency section of an hospital : it is free and wiser. Never go to a botica, asking for medicines to cure yourself : they gave me anti-diarrhea instead of antibiotics…

Machu Picchu and Janyce

And of course, llamas…

…everywhere!

Anyway, we survived! We left for the charming oasis Huacachina in the middle of the desert, then went to see the Nasca lines, flying on a tiny little biplan (managing not to puke while it kept making u-turns), and crossed the beautiful grey and red desert by bus, following the Pisco road till Tacna.

And now we’re in Arica, Chile : straight to the beach!

P.S.: All the photos have been taken by Janyce Desiderio.