Tuesday, 21 April 2009
. . . . . is not enough! This city of about 12 million is a breath of really fresh air after where I've been for the past 6 months or more (even my cough and snotty nose have just about disappeared). I'm still in some sort of "shock" due to a number of factors. Firstly, I thought I'd developed a serious hearing problem, until it dawned on me that the traffic here is silent (unlike India and the rest of the Sub-Continent, where "the louder and more continuous the AIR-HORN, the better"). Also, the Thai people are very polite and helpful, and they have a good concept of a QUE - not something that resembles a thousand-man rugby scrum! This city is also spotless, as though there may be "hygiene police" lurking around every corner (and here are actually rubbish bins - plenty of them!). This is a large modern city, with skyscrapers forming the background regardless of which direction you happen to look. There is also a lot of history here, largely involving either the Buddhist religion and the Royalty (very impressive palaces and temples). In the past few days I've tested the impressive public transport system extensively. Firstly, Leana and myself have taken the express ferries up and down the river, which snakes roughly from North to South through the city towards the ocean. Today I took the ferry South, transferred to the amazing sky-train all the way to the North of the city, transferred to the underground Metro, and back to the sky-train and another ferry back to my abode (all comfortably in about 2 hours). I say the sky-train is amazing, as it runs above the crowded city roads and highways amongst the buildings - sometimes as high as 6 or 7 stories up (the Metro is, conversely, probably about that same depth below the surface at times). Another thing about Bangkok is the food, which I find rather to my liking (poor Leana, last night was the first time she actually had an enjoyable meal - not too vegetarian here!). Thinking ahead, it may be problematic for us to get out of here (just a rumour). Many of the city highways don't even allow motorcycles - let alone bicyles. The intention is for us to leave for the Southern coastal areas early tomorrow morning, and hopefully we don't still find ourselves here in the city by evening! So, optimistically, I'm looking forward to experiencing the rest of Thailand.
Saturday, 18 April 2009
As the title of this report may indicate, it's the bike who got wings and not me. We didn't fly up the hills, of which there were plenty - but we did fly downhill! From Kathmandu Leana and I cycled N-West through Nepal as far as Pokhara. This was my 50th birthday (see photo of "high fifty") - what a way to spend it! On that day we cycled up the gruelling 8 km climb to the historic hilltop village of Bandipur - off the main road (photo of village / photo of me in red shirt looking down to where we climbed up from / photo of Leana with Himalaya in background upon leaving the village). Pokhara is the second largest Nepali City (and also very touristy), just below the Anapurna Himalaya. One morning I cycled up the very steep road to the hilltop viewpoint of Sarankot (to get there at dawn) and found there was no view at all - hazy and cloudy in the direction of the mountains. From Pokhara Leana took a bus back to Kathmandu (she'd already cycled part of the route on her way into Nepal), while I spent 3 days returning to Kathmandu and staying over in some interesting places. Now for the real "Saartjie Gets Wings" story:- We flew from Kathmandu to Bangkok (Thailand) yesterday. (I didn't want to travel by air, and I hate to admit it, but it seemed inevitable - at least it's the first time so far). Cycling from Nepal to China via Tibet was not possible, and the few other options were discarded in favour of the one we chose. I am thankful to Leana for sponsoring my air ticket to Bankok (I certainly don't have that kind of money). My aim was to reverse the route from here through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, and then Tibet back to Nepal - apparently easier that way around. I'm not sure what the plan is right now, as it is very hot and humid, and Leana seems set on the beaches of the South. On arrival in Bankok I was immediately semi-disorrientated as the place is large and a rather organised city (compared to where we've been recently). We landed at the ultra-modern brand new gigantic airport, where everything (immigration, baggage collection - including bikes - went extremely smoothly). Now Leana and I are staying in the tourist region of Bangkok (Banglamphu), where the action doesn't seem to stop (eating, drinking, and everything else you may have heard about this city). Distances cycled since first arriving in Kathmandu have been:- Mugling 115 km; Bandipur 34 km; Pokhara 80 km; Sarankot 26 km; Mugling 98 km; Galchin 63 km; Kathmandu 52 km; and Airport 26 km (someone clever is going to tell me that the airport is much closer than that - this distance also includes the airport recce of the previous day). Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town on 27 March 2007 - 38645km.
Friday, 3 April 2009
Well, it's not quite 80 days around the world, but then Mr Fogg wasn't travelling by bicycle! I found it quite appropriate that 2 years to the day (27 March) since the start of this journey, I should cross into a new country (Nepal) and also clock over to 38 000 km. I just felt a bit sorry that Leana wasn't with me on that day, as we'd left Cape Town together and have been cycling together for most of these 2 years. After leaving Varanasi I went back East to pick up a parcel at Patna containing a new rear axle. Leana preferred to spend as little time as possible on those hazardous roads, so she headed North to the nearest Nepalese border post (I may as well have joined her, because after wasting 2 days in the rather miserable city of Patna the parcel had still not arrived - so I decided to forget it and head for Nepal as well). And so it happened that after a few more days in India of poor roads and more TV interviews, I crossed into Nepal. I took an instant liking to the Nepali people, particularly those along the small mountain roads. Yes, I said "SMALL MOUNTAIN ROADS", where I was also surprised to find myself. I'd intended to take the direct route to Kathmandu as it would save me almost 200 k's and I would also avoid the heavy traffic (the road is too steep and narrow for trucks and busses). Somewhere along the way I received faulty directions and soon I was on an unpaved rocky track, battling up and down steep mountains (with a broken rear axle!). There was hardly any traffic though, and I got to meet the wonderful local people - I even camped in a tiny village right at the top of a mountain. My route turned out to be a shortcut, and when I reached Kathmandu I discovered that Leana wasn't here yet (apparently she was enjoying herself, riding elephants in game parks, etc.). She eventually arrived here a couple of days ago in the pouring rain. Since then we've wandered around the city a bit, taking in some of the sights such as Hanuman Durbar Square (a world heritage site). We're also trying to make plans to continue cycling, but the only place to proceed from here, Tibet, seems to be a problem (where to from here?). Fortunately I've found a replacement axle - after cycling almost 3000 km with the broken rear axle which was held together only by the "quick release mechanism". Today is Leana's birthday, her 3rd birthday on the road (the 8th will be my 3rd as well). I expect that tonight we'll celebrate by splashing out for a pizza - we're staying in the touristy area of Kathmandu called Thamel, where there are many western-style restaurants, etc. (the cheap accommodation is also in Thamel). Daily distances which I've cycled since my last update from Varanasi were:- Buxar 135 km; Patna 139 km; Muzaffarpur 74 km; Motihari 94 km; Simara (Nepal) 84 km; Kulekhani Mtn 67 km; and Kathmandu 51 km. Total distance in 2 years since leaving Cape Town is 38 151 km.