Newfoundland, Canada (2): Earth’s mantle and MOOOSE!

22-23.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: Touching the earth’s Mantle

Since the Redhead/Dutchy duo proved a house on fire, Alana and I decided to head to Gross Morne National Park together. Labrador is a big island; it is a 13 hours drive from St. Johns to the ferry on the other end. No trains and only one bus per day, so we needed a rental car.

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Gross Morne (2,000 square km!) is one of the only places in the world where the earth’s mantle [and deep ocean crust] lies exposed on the surface. This is due to unique ‘continental drift’; when tectonic plates (in Dutch: aardplaten) collide, they push up and form a mountain [or an ocean if both dive down]. In Gross Morne, not the crest but the earth’s mantle got pushed up and flipped over, just like a wood chip shaves off from wood. The mantle starts at 30,000 meters below the surfac, so this event is a very rare. It consists of a high concentration of magnesium and heavy metals, which is toxic for normal life forms. Its presence forced of an ‘extraterrestrial’ micro-ecosystem. In other words, Alana and I had found E.T.’s home ūüôā

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Gross Morne is even more spectacular because it has additionally had glacial activity recently. It still has glaciers and glacier valleys, fjords and steep cliffs. We took maximum advantage and packed our days with hiking and road trips.

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Our base, Woody Point, was coincidentally celebrating their annual culture festival. We got it al;¬†country & western, jazz, poetry, limericks and stand-up comedy. Embarrassing detail….Newfoundlands is very difficult to understand. I thought it was simply my [poor] English level but then Alana confessed she struggled too. Big relief!

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24.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: MOOSE!!!

We were warned over [and over] for moose on the road. Hooding one can be lethal. Fortunately and unfortunately, we hadn’t even seen a single hoof print. Until I spotted one in the field from the corner of my eye. I was steering on a very curvy dike. I saw the moose, shouted ‘MOOOOOSE!!!’ and instantly slammed the brakes. ‘CARRRRR!’ Alana screamed. I yelled back ‘NOOOOOO…MOOOOOSE!’. Then her words sank in. Our vehicle was [a tat] over the middle line. Whoa, I quickly recovered, turned the car and stopped [safely].

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The moose looked different than I had imagined but then again I had never seen one in the wild. Alana added that white moose -which ours was- were rare. I had also expected bigger antlers but reasoned that it was likely that females had¬†smaller ones so this should then be a female. Anyhow, who cares, we had seen our moose. Right? Wrong! My moose turned out to be a caribou. A caribou is not much more then an ‘upgraded’ deer. Can you imagine I almost tolled the car for that? Moohoo!

Still pumped up with adrenaline after our (van) dike adventure (gotta admire that word play, right!), we thought to try and top it by hitchhiking to the ferry in stead of taking the public bus. It was a 5 hours drive, the island had only one road to the ferry and we were two chicks at the side of the road, one being a redhead. How difficult could it be?

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We started off well [warning: sarcasm!]; Alana kindly declined a request to ‘babtise a pick-up truck’, and yes, it is really was what you are thinking, seriously! I had found a mother and daughter that were willing to take us so we quickly got in their car. Hasta la vista, pervert! The ladies proved great tour guides; they stopped at all cool¬†places for pictures. But when they dropped us off an hour later we had still another 4 hours ahead…

Our second ride took much longer to secure. Eventually, two guys drove us to their town 2 hours ahead. Still not at the ferry¬†yet. The bus was on our tail. We ended¬†our hitchhike adventure. It didn’t make sense to risk missing the ferry. The two guys proposed to have a beer and play pool to kill the remaining waiting time. Who said hitchhiking¬†wasn’t a ton of fun?

We caught the ferry and set sail for Novo Scotia. We left without having seen one Newfoundland or Labrador dog… Pitty!

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Beijing, China: City of my heart

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06-07.04: Katie’s lie and the other tough start

Katie Mellowa lied to us. There are not 9 million bicycles in Beijing. Not even 1 million and that is when I am lenient and¬†count in all motor bikes and baby strollers. I have been humming her bl##dy song since entering China, so you can imagine how dissapointing this is, especially for us – citicins of Cycling Nation, the Netherlands. If this is not a fact, if this is¬†a truth we can deny… what other truths have crushed down unnoticed? Maybe the fact that people love each other till they die?

Excuse my cynisism but you have to know that I actually barely made it to Beijing. I spent my last night with Raoul on the big white telephone (Just say the name aloud to understand my business in the bathroom) due to food poisening. The next morning was really tough. I could barely move and nevertheless had to disembark. I had no next bed arranged yet. I realised for the first time how vulnerable I was as a solo traveller. Vince from the US/Aussie group helped out but had itinerary¬†in the opposite direction. I managed to get myself on a ‘bullet train’ to Beijing and simply sat it out. I reached Beijing only¬†8 hours journey later. Thanks China for your high speed link!

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Next day, feeling a little better, I went¬†to the Forbidden City, My hostel was only a block away and is the¬†no 1 place to visit. I walked up to the entrance, expectingly, but must admit to be somewhat disappointed by its looks on the outside. It is just a big red wall, nothing spectacular. Their audio guide system seemed more funky, it tracked my position by GPS and then automatically started on the nearest subject. Brilliant, if only it would have worked. I tried and tried and, yes, I did touch the 2 buttons that they explicitely said NOT TO TOUCH. Forbidden buttons in the Forbidden City, that was just too tempting. After an hour I had figured out the functions of the forbidden buttons but the device still didn’t work. My ‘bring-it-back-make-a-big-fuss-and-get-a-new-one’ was more effective.

The Forbidden City is the biggest standing palace in the world. It served as the home of the Chinese emperors and as the centre for national ceremonies and politics for the last 500 years (until 1912). It was called forbidden because no one could enter without the emperor’s permission. The premise is so vaste that it feels like a city, however, one different from anything I ever experienced before. It seems an never ending maze of royal buildings, squares, tempels and gardens. Beautiful buildings in the brightest colors with the most delicate ornaments with the loftiest building names My favorites were Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Hall of Supreme Balance.

I thought long on how to let you experience the City in this blog by just a few pictures. I don’t think this is possible.¬†I recommend you to¬†go to China and see it for yourself (or come over and I will show you my highlights.

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08.04: The greatest of the greatest

Today was the day for which I had come to China: the Great Wall (in Dutch: Chinese muur). I booked a tour that would take me to the farthest, less touristy section of the Wall and it included a 4 hour hike, whoohaa! I was accompanied by Olivia, an 18 years old English daredevil, who had decided that she wanted to see the world for a year after graduation to find out what she wanted in life. She fancied China so she found a teaching job. She is all alone and it is going smooth, now that is what I call guts and glory.

So how to tell you about our experience on the Great Wall? Ehmmmm. OK, here goes nothing: IT IS GREAT IT IS GREAT IT IS GREAT. IT IS NOT ONLY GREAT, IT IS THE GREATEST, IT IS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE ‘THING’ I HAVE EVER SEEN. WOW, OOH, AHH, IIEEE x100,000. This one, again, you have to go and experience yourself.

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Olivia and I had bought tickets for the famous Beijing Kong Fu show later that night. Honestly, I was worried that we would be up for a cheesy tourist show, but my gut feeling was wrong. The show was well done and very entertaining. Of course, Olivia and I practices our kicking techniques at the entrance and sang ‘everyone was kong fu fighting whohaa whohaa’ the entire night, maybe at the dismay of the staff.

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9.04: The Summer Palace and the Lama Temple, two other wow-ers

The blossoms in the Summer Palace

Many people recommended the Summer Palace, so I jumped on the metro and went. It had crossed my mind that it was Sunday and that Chinese have their one and only day off on Sunday so it could be a little more crowded. Crowded? You could barely get in, it was that crowded. The whole nation must have come out there that. I didn’t have much choice in postponing since it was my last day In China.

I went in¬†anyways and that was a good decision because the place is almost criminally big. Unbelievable that an Emperor can claim such amount of land in the heart of the city for his private Home-Away-From-Home. It’s like our Dutch King claiming the entire Amsterdam inner city centre (or the Ruler of Dubai claim the full Marina area, from beach to SZR). I put the latter between brackets because I think the Ruler can do it with the blink of an eye if he wanted, whereas for King Willem-Aexander it would probably mean the end of the Kingdom as we know it ūüôā

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The royal gardens were in one word magnificent; I actually liked them better then the buildings. That was probably due to my perfect timing in the blossom season. In my Dutch home province, we have some blossoming trees but nothing compared to this. It was magical.

Burning down the Lama temple

My mind was already pretty filled up with tempels so when I entered the Lama tempel, I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I in for a surprise! I suddendly was in front of¬†a 3 story high, golden lady buddha statue. Breath taking!

I need to confess a tiny, tiny mistake made in the temple. An English sign, which are very uncommon, invited visitors to burn incents (in Dutch: wierook). Now I burn a candle in any (Christian) churche where I can. It is my ritual; I¬†feel that somehow a candle in a holy place can transport a thought to an expired loved one. And, even if this is ‘bs’ then I can console with the fact that at least it makes me feel good.

The Lama Temple didn’t have candles so I wanted to try with incents. I picked up a box of incents, walked in, studied the behaviour of the worshippers so that I could copy it (and I remember that I felt so snug when I thought that up) walked up to the front of the ‘altar’ and stuck -just like everyone else- 3 sticks in the ashes. Three was the perfect number for me. I used to burn one candle for my grandma, but I added one after my dad died last year, who I miss terribly. I recently added another candle, I call that one ‘one for the world’ because I think we need it.

I was looking at the smoking sticks. Hi grandma hey dad, I hope you are well, and ‘go world go’. So far so good. Then I realised with a shock that the box wasn’t empty yet. It had some 20-30 odd sticks left and I did not know what to do with them. All eyes were on me and people were getting eager to have their go. I took a decision in a split second; I took out all remaining incents and stuck them -in one package- in the ashes.

Awkward situation managed, right? Not really! The 20-30 incents caught on and caused a massive smoke. Pretty logical; the smoke of 20-30 incents is roughly 10x more intense than that of 3. I foresaw (yes, I acknowledge, a little too late) that this would happen so I tried to back out slowly, unnoticeable. My incents made the shrine almost  invisible for several minutes. Oops!

I walked on quickly, pretty embaressed. It struck me only once I reached the next square and looked around to see¬†another altar, another one and another one. Almost every shine and buddha statue had one and people were lighting 3 incents at the altars of their choice. So that was what I had supposed to do with my remaining incents. Quite logical.¬†I will do that next time, or, maybe I should just refrain from religious activities in the future…

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Peking Duck

I cannot close a¬†blog on Beijing without telling about Beijing Duck (or Peking Duck). It took some time to find the ‘best local restaurant’ but this place became my House-of-Happiness. The only dish I ordered was Peking Duck. Have a look at the picture and tell me that you don’t get hungry just by looking at it.

PS: How to eat peking duck: 1) Take a pancake, 2) add crispy duck skin after having dipped it in sugar and garlic cream, 3) add duck filet after having dipped it in Hoian sauce, 4) add some sping onions and cucumber, 5) roll in all into a pancake, 6) stick it into your mouth and experience heaven on earth. Yummy!

Senior lovers caught in the act

China is fantastic. It has deep rooted traditions and they are visible in every aspect of life. The Chinese, as many Asian countries, believe in pre-arranged marriages. I used to be very sceptical but my Middle Easter experience has made me soften my opinion a little.

The Chinese have ‘markets’ where families show pictures and stats of their children/grand children in attempt to find the most suitable suitor. I was amazed to find such a market for mature people; for men and women who had lost their spouse and who wanted to get back into a relationship. I unknowlingly¬†caught a senior man making courtship to a lady of roughly the same age and had accidentely taken their picture just after the man had touched the woman’s cheek which made the two blush like school kids. How wonderful and simple life can be!

I quickly dissapeared without them noticing me. Funnily enough, I got ambushed by an ouder gentlemen -I guess at least 60- who, without speaking any English, insisted on taking my phone number. I had been told that this was ‘Step 1’. I felt a little troubled that he thought I could be interested -I don’t look THAT old now do I- but hey, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. So I gave him my number, also because I was still a little mellow from witnessing the senior love birds earlier. Admittedly, I¬†given an incorrect last digit ūüėČ I am truly sorry for the person in Dubai who received my calls.

Encore: What the Duck!?!

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Siem Raep, Cambodia: the magic begins… Day 1

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14.03: A [potentially surprising] 'first'

After leaving my expedition friends in Kathmandu, it was time to travel to Cambodia. Yes, I was supposed to go to Vietnam, so this was a last minute change, because I struggled to get my Vietnamese e-visa confirmation (on a Sunday...) and when I could finally book my flight it proved pretty senseless; the best flight available was 30h (instead of 5h) at 6x the original rate. Its stopover -in Abu Dhabi of all places- would have been nice for a quick hi-n-bye to friends, but not exactly according to plan. So, the 'Captain's log, star date 11016.1' states "1st attempt to enter Vietnam failed".

I then did something sensible, and for the skepticals, yes, I can (occasionally). Someone mentioned that Laos lacks railways, so my plan to enter China via Laos (after Vietnam and Cambodia) was officially off the rails. Debugging was rather easy; I would skip Laos and travel in opposite direction, thus from Cambodia to Vietnam from South to North. No problemo, and hence I jumped on a plane to Siem Raep in Cambodia.

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Confession of my 'first'

So, here you go, this was the first time in my life that I traveled to an unknown country alone. It sounds almost rediculous; age 38, former director in a large company, visited 35+ countries... yet never solo. Always accompanied by friends and loved ones, or for studies or business purpose. Before I went on my Corners of my World marathon, I had spent 1 (one!) holiday day in a foreign country alone. Pretty pathetic, and hence subject to urgent change. Cambodia is down in the books as my 'first'.

After clearing customs, I jumped on a remork-moto (similar to a tuk-tuk) and whilst rejoicing my major milestone I let myself be escorted to my hotel. Abbreviated as 'S hotel' with all branding in Sheraton style, they had fooled me into believing it was one... After Nepal's Hill-ten, I guess this is one of those national word plays. Luckily, they charged much less then Sheraton and had excellent services.

Siem Raep town thrives on their proximity to the temples. Consequently, it is touristy; need I say more then that it had its own 'pub street' (Lisa/Sarita/Dave/Karen et al: forget Phuket, come here :) ). Nontheless, I loved its ambiance and, wow, the food is YUMMY!

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Siem Raep town impressions

And then the magic began... The temples of Angkor

To let your experience magic through a blog may be a mission impossible but it never hurts to try. I was in awe; never have I seen anything like this, the sheer magnitude and cultural richness topped with the scent and sounds of the surrounding jungle was in one word astonishing! I highly recommend to go and see for yourself.

On my first exploration day, I joined a guided tour with 2 Aussies and 2 Americans and we headed for the less know, hidden and most distant temples. Choosing from over 100 pics was tough, I took loads of footage that I will post soon - that will probably give a better impression.

Our group...
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Pre Rub temple
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Ta Som temple

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Ta Som temple impressions

Nature, people and animals at the Angkor World Heritage site

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Itsy bitsy spider climbed up the temple... This one is for you, Priscilla

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Bovines are again favored once more

Banteay Prei Temple
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...and I WILL get that tree on film...

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Linda in action

Yes, maybe lame but we are trying really hard to imitate the lovely ladies that are above our heads.. Mental note to self: must add stretching to daily routine... image

And finally, one of the most important archeological sites in Angkor; the Banteay Srei temple. It is highly preserved in colors and details

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Banteay Srei

Tomorrow, I will visit the top attractions; Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom. These are large and attract many (Chinese) tourists, so I better not oversleep..

D7-8: Finally, we reach Everest Basecamp

Day 7: Lobuche summit could actually work!

Today, we climbed to Lobuche at 4,900 meters. The scenery was spectacular, again. And again, there was a very steep incline, this time in the middle of the day.

Let me explain the secret of managing a steep incline. The magic word is ‘sherpa shuffle’; you put one foot in front of the other with a stride and pace that enables you to just keep¬†your breath. Start gasping? Reduce the stride, the pace or both, and maybe hum a ‘mantra’ (mine is simply ‘la, la’, or ‘laaaaaa, laaaaa’ when it is really steep, lol). Ps: The most common Sherpa mantra is ‘ umani pathmeyum’ which is a prayer¬†for safe travel.

Prem, our guide had predicted that we would run out of air on this climb, but guess what… I didn’t! For the first time¬†I felt stong and good. I must admit that I had had my worries about being fit enough to do Lobuche peak, but after today… Maybe!

Night before: the three ladies in their climbing boots

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…and the harness.image

First view of the morning. Wowimageimage

Sacred place on top of the pass, where the villagers burry all those who died on the mountains

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Day 8: baaaassseeecamp

Finally, today’s hike had¬†base camp on the menu. All of us were getting eager to write a tick on our bucket list, the last 7 days’ climbing and suffering had taken its¬†toll. Unfortunately, Jody caught a bug overnight so she and Adrian decided to rest for a day. So, it was only Ian, Ash and me. Jalla!

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I raved about the landscape many times before, but this day was really, really amazing. Off the planet! Have a look for yourself and decideimageimageimage

Glacier below… One of the many in this area. Our walk on glaciers was short, only a few steps. Nevertheless, Ash managed to almost slip into a creveche and slipped on a rock. Awch.¬†We also saw¬†and heard 3 avalanches in the distance. No danger for us, though.imageimageimageimage

Almost there… Walking on the ridge to be safe from rolling stones and avalanchesimageAnd¬†then… We were there… Basecamp!!!imageimageimageimage

After much excitement, we walked back to Gorak Shep at 5,170m.last night, I experienced some¬†altitude problems, namely a light headache, but due to 1.5 diamox tablets and Ian’s supreme head/neck massage this subsided, luckily.