Mauritius… So Colorful but Colorblind

After one week of Mauritian discovery and cultural adventure, it is cristal clear: Mauritius is an amazing and colorful island with a rich cultural diversity and some kind of uniqueness that I have never seen before in any other place. An added value are the pristine beaches and the daily amazing sunsets, the taste of paradise tastes sweet. But what makes it all even greater is what I call the state of colorblindness in a world of abundant colors.

Mauritians have many different ancestors, religions, eat different food, have different skin colors, … But everyone seems to live happily together, and for a Westerner such peaceful multicultural society is almost a utopy, facing the daily media in Europe and elsewhere. But being here gives me faith and inner peace. Let me tell you why in this blog post…

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With the Anthropology students at the Botanic Garden

Thank God it was Friday! The last day of classes before the weekend! No, seriously!? It did absolutely not feel as if we had been in class for a week already, definetely because of the fieldtrip on Thursday. Today we were introduced to interviewing techniques and methodology in the morning session. After having had some theory in the temple, we went outside in pairs of two to practice our interviewing skills by recording eachothers conversations.

After doing this, we went back in the temple to listen to our records, and discuss the results. It was interesting to analyze some of the interviews, and notice how we could improve certain skills to avoid bias, but on the other hand I got a bit bored of it as well, as I already had a course in my university in Belgium on Qualitative Research Methods, in which I studied these methods into detail.

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During lunch we went to Deepah, the friendly girl with her streetfood tent on the coast, and grabbed some lunch there together with some students. It always a nice place to hang out, before heading to the beach. But today the weather was not too great, so we did not really have a beach day.

In the afternoon we watched a documentary, which is called “Secrets of the Tribe”, a movie about the field of anthropology which goes under the magnifying glass in a fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and ’70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this “virgin” society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting. And especially/exactly that is what we discussed after watching it.

After class I met one of my first informants in the village and had a first informal interview with someone. My project is officially starting to get some shape! Quite exciting! Another hour later I had a meeting with my professor and one of the instructors to talk about the topic that I have chosen for my paper. The paper is the final assesment for this course, and will be handed in a few weeks after this course finishes, so basically I have to do my data collection and fieldwork now (read: interviewing etc.), and then write the ethnographic / scientific results about this research out once I am back at home. This is then evaluated in stead of having an exam.

But after those two meetings it was finally time for the weekend to begin! We had set up a plan to go out in Grande Baie, one of the most popular touristic areas in the surrounding area here! We had dinner in a quite fancy restaurant (La Pagode) for the first time with some of the students, which we really enjoyed! The prices were not even too bad or expensive comparing to Europe. And the Coconut Rum Punch tasted good!

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Enjoying dinner with Servia, Denmark, USA & Belgium

And around 10PM the Banana Beach Club opened, so our party night started! This beach bar is a well known place for its tropical natural setting and friendly atmosphere. There is a good mix of locals and tourists, so basically “the place to be” in this coastal town for live music and just chilling out. Nextdoor there a few other clubs like Zanzibar, Insomnia, OMG and Enfants Terribles, so there is plenty of party vibes to enjoy a late night out!

Apart from the enjoyable experience and many tropical cocktails I had, I also met some interesting informants here for my research project so basically Banana had it all for me!!! Great night, great drinks, and great people. What more do you need?! A few hours of sleep before another beautiful day I guess…

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Enjoying tropical vibes at Banana Beach Club

Saturday morning I met again with some of the students for a trip to the SSR Botanic Garden of Mauritius, located in the village of Pamplemousses. Therefore we had to take 2 public buses, one from Pointe aux Piments to Triolet, and one from Triolet to Pamplemousses. The buses here are so cheap, the total ride costed like +/- 50 rupees which is about 1.25 euros.

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The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden (SSRBG) covers an area of about 37.5 hectares (which is impressive, and not just another botanic garden as you might have seen before). There are many many many attractions to find in terms of flora, but also fauna. The garden dates back from the French period: the domain was set up in 1736 by a French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais.

A few years later, in 1767, the French Intendant Pierre Poivre (the creator of this garden) introduced new vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices from all over the world to the domain and that is why tourists like us can still visit the oldest botanic garden in the southern hemisphere. No wonder that this is one of the main attractions on the island, and Mauritians are  proud of it!

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One of the highlights of this park are the aquatic plants, which we could see through a walk in the garden. The most photographed flowers were probably the giant water lily (Victoria Amazonica), the sacred Indian lotus (Nelumbo Nucifera) and the different Nymphaea. But unfortunately it is “winter” in Mauritius now, and so there were not many flowers to be photographed.

By the way: Mauritius has only 2 seasons, a wet and a dry season. July is the dry season, but also the local winter with lower temperatures but less humidity and less rain, so actually a great time to visit the island!

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Every year the garden welcomes around 250.000 visitors, while there is an estimated amount of 1.000.000 tourists visiting the island on a yearly basis. That means that 1 out of 4 tourists visits this place, not to bad at all, I guess! (I got these numbers from a brochure, so I am not sure if they are so reliable, but anyway…) . We also rented a freelance guide who showed us around in this place, which we were not regretting at all! How else can you recognize beautiful plants and birds?

I was especially surprised and very happy to see something like a ‘Bambi’ (Disney deer… you know…). But there were also several aquatic animals like turtles, fish and eels. The most remarkable animal however was the Pteropus Niger, a type of bat which is apparently the only endemic mammal that Mauritius has, and we could just spot them hanging on the tree tops during day time.

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After a few hours of smelling, breathing and walking trough this wonderful piece of nature, we became hungry and moreover it started to rain. I guess we were lucky however to see this beautiful place in a few hours of time. We had lunch in a tourist place called “Café Viennese Waltz”, which was very lovely. They had some French crèpes and Austrian Sachertorte (chocolate cake) and delicious coffee, which we obviously enjoyed  a lot while hiding from the rain!

When it finally stopped raining, we headed back to the bus stop, but the bus did not want to come at all. We waited more than an hour to take a bus back from Pamplemousses to Triolet, but while we were waiting something beautiful happened. We met a Créole woman with her little daughter, and she was simply amazing! I could have adopted her! Enthousiastically as I am, I started to photograph her, and so did my friends. And before I realized it, her mother and I exchanged numbers and Facebook accounts to send the pictures to each other and so on. I got half of her life story and the whole history that goes along with it, and yes, in the mean time I am a friend richer in life. She even invited me to her sun’s communion in September, but unfortunately I am not here anymore by then.

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But what I mean with this story is just how amazing it is, how open people are here, how much more they talk with each other while waiting for the bus in the street, how much more social contact there is between people, and how cultural borders don’t seem to matter. I found that the Mauritian way of life, the mindset and mentality is a great one that we should take as an example in our Western societies. Even though every place has it’s own cultural conflicts that come along with diversity of course… I just feel that I can smile so much more here than at home!

I guess that the visit of the garden and this encounter was a very synchrone spiritual experience that made me realize simultaniously that Mauritius is both a very colorful island, but in the same time also colorblind, because people don’t seem to mind so much over skin color, they seem to focus on the positive things they have and be grateful for those, even though all the difficulties there might be. And that is what made me fall in love with this island. It is not the beaches that make this a paradise, but the culture, which I wish all of you from the bottom of my heart to experience one day as well! ❤

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So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs

But I see your true colors
Shining through
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Beautiful, like a rainbow

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

(Creative Mix of Depeche Mode & Cyndi Lauper)

But back on my travelogue now… We finally did manage to get home, but by that time it was evening already though. So there were just a couple of hours left to work a bit on my project and relax while doing silly things at the computer, and then I had to get ready for the next activity. It is crazy how busy I am here! Every day is so occupied but I Love it!

Well, so Saturday night, the Summer School students were invited by the people of the  Maha Kali Mata Mandir Temple where we are having our classes each day. They made us a whole local dinner at someone’s place so that was a very nice experience and opportunity to finally also meet all the temple members. We were offered to eat a favourite Mauritian dish: briyani (or briani). It is a rice dish made with beef, chicken, fish, mutton or vegetables (as well as yoghurt, saffron and spicies) that originates from Muslim Mauritians. The local Hindus are vegi/vegan so they eat it of course only with the vegetables, and most importantly: you have to eat it with your hands! Well, that was quite an experience as well! And oh yes, the entire dish is served on a banana leaf, or in our case here… Something that looked like a banana leaf!

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Going local! Eating Briyani with the Hindus

Note: in the picture you can see me eating with my left hand, but that was actually a cultural mistake (which I of course realized too late!). One isn’t supposed to use his left hand to eat food because the left hand is considered unclean, just as they believe in India. And also the muslims have their reasons for not using the left hand. I think – to be honest – that the main reason is that you cannot use your left hand because the people here don’t use toilet paper, you know… But I’ve bought some, fair enough! 😉

And to end our Saturday night in Peace & Love, we went to the only place that was open in town to have a last bear or wine before heading back home to sleep… Played some ‘never have I ever’ and ‘most likely to’ and other silly games of which I am going to spare you all embarassing details! 😛

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Drinks with the students in the village

Time for Sunday, a new day in paradise! After a slowly morning of showering and work on the computer, and a relaxing lunch near the beach, I decided to explore some more of the surrounding area to make use of my free time today. Together with the American girls and another student, we walked to Trou aux Biches, which is around 30 minutes walking along the beach northwards from where we are located. It was a great walk and extremely relaxing to walk barefoot over the soft sand of iddylic beaches that did not seem to come to an end.

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Walking from Pointe aux Piments to Trou aux Biches

By the time we reached Trou aux Biches, a lovely touristy town I finally got myself an ice cream! That did not happen until today in Mauritius! Me happy! But what made me more happy was sitting down at the beach and walking around in the village on a Sunday and seeing all these locals having a great family quality time together, picknicking at the beach or near the sea. Those are the moments that you are at the beach and you bring a book to read, but then you realize: I should just lay down and observe what is surrounding me, so much more interesting than a fiction story!

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After spending a few hours on the lovely beaches of Trou aux Biches, I called up one of the informants for my research project, and I managed to get a meeting the same night in the same location. So I met the woman who was so friendly to pick me up right at the beach and invited me to come over at the house. And after an hour and a half of interviewing and chatting for a little bit longer, her husband even offered to bring me back home by car to Pointe aux Piments. Well, that was rather a necesity than a friendly offer in the same time, because apparently public bus services stop to run after 6.30PM in the evening, so I would not have gotten a bus back anyway! But again: great people here, never a problem!

I had dinner at my host family and talked about my daily experiences in Mauritius, and went to back very satisfied with this lovely weekend. Ready for bed and a new week with new adventures! Curious about those? Well, then keep following the blog!

Greeting from paradise!

x Julie x

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The lovely beach at Trou aux Biches

Happy Field Trippin’ in Mauritius!

Time for an update again! This time I write about Thursday, when we were finally leaving the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for a first field trip with the Ethnographic Summer School to visit some museums and to explore the capital. I was looking forward a lot to this trip as I was curious to see the rest of the island. We did – of course – not manage to see a lot of the island in one day, but we did visit L’Aventure du Sucre and Aapravasi Ghat, an immigration depot. We also visited the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, which was very nice. Read more about it bellow!

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Group Picture – Ethnographic Field School 2015 – Mauritius

Visiting a Sugar Museum might sound like a rather irrelevant thing, but sugar cane is in fact all over Mauritius, and it has turned the sugar industry into Mauritius first source of revenue for centuries. L’Aventure du Sucre is now a museum but it is the former Beau Plan sugar factory, and according to Lonely Planet it is one of the best museums on the island. In my opinion, it is also one of the bigger museums I have seen so far, or at least way bigger than I expected to see on the island. It did not only tell the history of this sugar industry in great detail, but it also covered a lot of history of Mauritius, the slavery, the rum trade and much more! It was therefore quite necessary to walk around there for a couple of hours before heading to the next stop on our itinerary for the day.

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A Nice & Interacting Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses!

At the end of the visit we were able to taste some of the 15 different varieties of unrefined sugar, and two of them were apparently invented in Mauritius. And last but not least, we could do some rum tasting as well, and tried 6 types of different rums, which was the perfect end for this visit. After all, for a museum it was not too boring and I kind of enjoyed this because of the interactivity and so on.

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Rum Tasting at L’Aventure du Sucre, Mauritius

Time to continue our trip! The next stop was the Aapravasi Ghat, which is an Immigration Depot in Port Louis. In this building complex half a million of Indian indentured labourers passed through to be transported to the plantations throughout the British Empire (1849-1923). So it was actually a place used for Slavery under the British Colony. This large-scale migration is probably one of the main reasons why 68% of the current total Mauritian population is of Indian Ancestry. So I guess this also explains why we – as Anthropology students – had to visit this site of important reference for the local history and cultural identity.

I must say this was a rather boring place, where we were not even allowed to take pictures, and were we could not really see many interesting things according to my opinion, but hey… this ‘unspeakable’ named museum was recognized by UNESCO and declared a World Heritage Site in 2006, so I guess I am missing something here! 😉

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Immigrant registration at the Aapravasi Ghat

By the time we finished our guided tour in “the museum of which I cannot pronounce the name”, it was finally time for FREE TIME and lunch in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.

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“La Corderie” Street Market in Port Louis, Mauritius

We started with a strawl around Port Louis Market,also known as Bazaar Port Louis. It was obvious immediately that here you could find local products, cheap clothing, and local spices at the best prices, if you manage to bargain enough of course! I did not really buy anything, but I enjoyed photographic, looking around and seeing the amazing mix of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and so on huzzling and buzzling here all together. The vibrant city life was again something else than what I had seen in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for the last few days.

On the other hand I feel also that the more you travel, the more all these markets are becoming a bit similar and boring when it comes to the products they are offering. However, I keep questioning myself about all this unuseful things that are being sold on markets and in shops in such cities. How can I explain this… Well, let me say that if I would come to live here, I would probably not be able to find out where to buy which products, because it seems like everyone is selling pretty much the same products, and in the same time I feel like the things I might need are not available anywhere. Does that makes sense? Probably not! Whatever… 😉

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Locals Selling & Buying at the Streets of Port Louis

Enough Hustle & Bustle for the moment. We were actually starving! We had some Samosas (pastries which are stuffed with vegetables) and Gateaux Piments (chili cakes) on the road already, but now we were looking for a proper meal. Me and another student went to Chinatown, the Chinese quarter of the city to look for a little restaurant where we could find some nice food. Mission Accomplished, and no, we did not get sick afterwards! By the way, Chinatown is absolutely one of the nicest and most colourful parts of the city!

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Lunch at a local restaurant

Well, after lunch we walked some more, but now towards the harbour, which is the more modern part of Port Louis. Here you can find “Le Caudan Waterfront“, which is a commercial development in the city. They are many (more expensive, European priced) shops, banking facilities, casinos, cinemas, restaurants, a marina and of course also a five star hotel, which is called “Le Labourdonnais”. It is obvious to me that this development has been created for the many cruise passengers that arrive here nowadays, but it is also a smart way to get some extra economic flows into Port Louis, I guess. But it still stays funny and a little bit ‘special’ how different areas in the city are so different from each other, while going smoothly over in each other without any problems, so it seems…

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View over the Caudan Waterfront, Port Louis

After that walk along the Caudan waterfront, it was time to head back. It had been a quite busy day after all. Home sweet home back to the host family, but not to sit down and relax. That very same evening it was time to meet my first informant for my research topic, and I have also done some work on my laptop after dark! I am not going to tell you what it is about at this moment, but maybe when my project is finished, I will publish some blog post about the results. We’ll see about that later! 😉

P.S.: Our ‘Nanny’ (grand mother) got herself a hot water gas boiler installed, so we can now actually shower at her place! No need to run to the neighbors anymore and no ice cold water anymore. Can my day be happier?! #feelingblessed

I’ll write more soon! x x x

Besitos, Julie!

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true

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Port Louis 

From Ecuador to Cambodia .with Love.

Quite a lot of things have changed since my last update from Ecuador. I am currently 18.500 km further, literally on the other side of the world, and a lot has happened in the last few weeks and days, wherefore I didn’t manage to structure some nice blog posts. So for all of the ones who cannot follow (I can’t follow myself sometimes anymore), here’s a short update of a long journey to a new life in Cambodia.

I returned from Quito (Ecuador) to Brussels (Belgium) the 20th of June, had a only a full 3 days there to meet up with my family and friends, and left again the 24th of June towards Bangkok (Thailand), from where I would take a long distance bus crossing the border to Siem Reap (Cambodia), my new hometown for the next two months. Taking The Leap again for the Summer Program was the most crazy and impulsive decision I’ve probably made in my entire life, as it meant I would be tour leading again for two months… I was also absolutely NOT prepared for this one (as it would be my first time in Asia!), but I switched OFF the ‘think’-button and ON the ‘do’-button. Trust was the new keyword in my life, after many crazy experiences, and I was sure this would be another great time abroad.

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I decided to do this job for many reasons: first of all because it was LIVING THE DREAM, an amazing chance I had to take, and travelling for a long time abroad had done something with the person I was and the life I lived… I was questioning all aspects in life: my studies, my job, my home, my boyfriend, my friends, my lifestyle, … In Ecuador I had learned that gap years are all about finding yourself, but when you find yourself, the reality just does not make sense anymore. And I felt like I could use the time to overthink life some more and have a better perspective on things when I would return the end of August.

Every end is a new beginning, and all great changes are proceeded by chaos… With these new quotes I left for a 9 hours flight to Mumbai (India) where I had a stopover for my flight to Bangkok (Thailand). During that time in the airport and on the flight, I got to taste a little of the Indian culture and I can ensure you: this country is on my wishlist even more now: lovely people, a special culture and delicious food! Then I flew another 4 hours further, arriving in Bangkok (Thailand) where I would spend 1 night before crossing the border to Cambodia.

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Me hanging around the Buddhist temples of Bangkok

It was my first time in Asia, and I expected to have a serious culture shock again, but I guess I was getting used to travelling and getting lost in a new city. I was simply amazed by all the cultural differences: how a city can be so busy and chaotic from the ‘outside’, but as soon as you enter a temple (the ‘inside), you feel Buddha’s everlasting peacefulness… I also loved the fact that they all walked barefoot in temples 😛 Add up the amazing Thai food to that, and you’ll understand why I enjoyed Bangkok so much. Love at first sight, and definetely ready to return in August for another overnight stop before flying back to Belgium!

A few tuk tuk and Sky train rides, and 500 questions about finding my way later, I was on my way to Cambodia. The border crossing experience was “something else” (as Kevin Hart would say it), with the usual chaos and visa procedures, but I kept calm and arrived safe but sweaty in Siem Reap, a 9 hour bus route from Bangkok.

The first thing I noticed was the amazing hospitality of the Cambodian people, who seem to live to serve others. An amazing feeling that sometimes overwhelmes me too much, coming from a rough and tough culture in South America where hospitality is not even mentioned in the Spanish dictionnary… I also felt safe, very very safe, even in all this tuk tuk and motorcycle chaos.

I got a room in ‘Angkor Boutique Villa’, where I met my new boss upon arrival. He was the owner of the hotel and he told me I would stay in this place during my whole time with The Leap in Siem Reap. That ment: airconditioning, a mini-fridge, a hot shower and room cleaning service all the time. This was such a blessing!

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A room at Angkor Boutique Villa, this is HOME.

http://www.angkorboutiquevilla.com/

We also had a 4-course dinner with the group leading team. I felt like I was the only one talking on the table, which made me feel quite stupid. But I immediately realised: these people are just so ZEN and stress is a word that they didn’t seem to know. So frustrating, haha! Who am I going to share my dramaqueen-moments with now?? 😉 No, seriously, the people are shy, open to listen but they obviously think twice before they speak. They are so well mannered that sometimes it feels artificial and as if they studied what they supposed to say. I definetely have culture shock with that part, and have to get used to dealing with the locals in a proper way…

Also, the weather is hot and humid, more than anywhere in Ecuador and I had no idea how I would ever be able to work here. God bless the A/C in my room! The food is nice, less spicy than in Thailand and of course every day twice rice, but they use curries, basil and lemongrass a lot. Hmm, I love Khmer cuisine!

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Khmer Amok – A typical curry dish

Friday was my first day of work, again it surprised me how relaxed everyone was working (barefoot) in the office. I felt welcomed and they already asked me to stay working after one day for a longer period. Guess they liked me!

I felt quite privileged having my boss, a busy man running 2 travel agencies and 1 hotel, all for myself on a few private tours, introducing me to the volunteer projects around Siem Reap. Honestly, it was all way too overwhelming and too much information to absorb in only two days, but I just went along with it and let it all happen to me. Trying not to stress out was definetely easier with calm people around me. God, I need to learn how to meditate…

It were also very emotional days, going directly to the poorest areas where hundreds of poor kids lived in bad conditions, and on the other hand realizing I really did it. I left Belgium again for 2 months and I started to realize it for real now! But luckily, there was not much time to think…

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Mother and child in a local community, Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Saturday evening I had a business dinner with the company I worked for (Indochina Adventures, the local agent for The Leap in Cambodia). I didn’t understand much of the Khmer conversations they were having (and it’s hopeless to start studying this difficult language). Also, I wasn’t prepared with my adventurous backpack clothes to participate in this ‘beau monde’ life. And I had difficulties being served with another 4-course dinner while the same day children on the street were begging me for money and food a few blocks away from that same restaurant. What a shocking contrast!

Siem Reap was one big tourist resort, in my eyes, where one can find every Western product wished for. Made in China, low prices and happy hours everywhere… I could see a Leap group having the time of their lives here soon… Whether I honestly liked it, is something else, because I lacked authenticity and I wasn’t used to having such a big offer in comfort food and products anymore, after living in Ecuador anymore. I missed my ‘back to basics’ life!!!

Early in the morning on Sunday, I left Siem Reap to Pnomh Penh and Sihanouk Ville to visit the volunteer projects there. They bought me first class VIP bus tickets and my gave me $100 cash to pay my hotel and eat 2 days. I felt treathed like a princess, being picked up at the hotel entrance and given a packed breakfast box for on the way. This was too much!! Such a big contrast from where I came from and I wondered why I was being treathed so well here. But I could find a reasonable answer and decided to believe I deserved all of this after 4 months in Ecuador and I would give the best of myself of work, that was the only thing I could do in return and a good motivation to start of with!

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Sunset in Sihanouk Ville

It were 7,5 hours to Pnomh Penh (the capital city of Cambodia) and another 6 hours to Sihanouk Ville (beach alarm!), so it was too much time to think for me on the bus, and arriving in another tourism paradise like this on my own was hard and confrontating. I felt lonely and lost in this paradise, had too much time for myself – being here to work and “change the world” – not to enjoy really, but I kept strong thinking about the great times that would come once the group arrived and then I didn’t have to be lonely anymore, being able to start doing what I loved to do: group leading, volunteer coordinating, working hard on the projects and party even harder. (HELLO GOD? IS THERE A WAY TO SIGN A CONTRACT FOR LIFE TO DO THIS DREAM JOB?)

I just hated this random days before / between a new phase in life, when you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re preparing and preparing, but in the same time you know you’ll never feel prepared enough, so sometimes in life (no, most of the times in life) you just have to stop thinking and start doing! And that’s exactly what I did when I decided to go from Ecuador to Cambodia, and the reason why good things happen!

Take The Leap, Take The Risk. Take The Chance.

It might be worth it! ❤

Julie

risk care dream expect

 

Riobamba, La Nariz del Diablo & La Llama

Saturday it was about time for my first weekend trip, with colleague Michel – Dutch guy, who is also an intern at Yanapuma – and Max, German guy – and English teacher volunteer who I’ve never seen before the trip. We doubted between going to the coast to catch some sun and visit Isla de la Plata or to go for culture & adventure at Riobamba and La Nariz del Diablo. And as the title of this blog post says, you know what it became…

Zaterdag was het dan eindelijk zover, tijd voor een eerste weekend uitstap met collega Michel – Nederlander die ook stage loopt bij Yanapuma – en Max, Duitser die vrijwillig Engelse lessen geeft in Quito en wie ik nooit eerder voor de trip had gezien. We twijfelden even of we naar de kust zouden gaan om wat zonnestralen op te vangen en Isla de la Plata te bezoeken, of dat we naar cultuur en avontuur op zoek zouden gaan in Riobamba en La Nariz del Diablo. En zoals de titel van deze blogpost al verklapte, weet je wat het is geworden…

The Travel Team

Travel Companions: Michel, Me and Max

So Saturday morning I left with a small bag for one night to Riobamba. I was going to meet the boys in Parque El Ejido to catch a one hour bus to the terminal of Quitumbe where we would take the bus to Riobamba. I decided again to let go of my fears and took the public transportation with my camera and stuff. And thanks to God that went well!

4 hours later, around noon, we arrived in Riobamba. On our way we enjoyed spectacular views over the Cotopaxi volcano and other beautiful landscapes, as we were driving along the Panamericana highway. And as always I also slept good on that bus… 😛

Dus vertrok ik zaterdagochtend met een kleine tas voor één nacht richting Riobamba. Ik zou the jongens in het Ejido park ontmometen om daar een één uur durende busrit richting de busterminal van Quitumbe te nemen. Daar zouden we de bus richting Riobamba nemen. Ik besloot opnieuw om mijn angsten te overwinnen en maakte gebruik van het openbare vervoer, ondanks dat ik mijn camera bij had. En God, dat ging even lekker!

4 uur later, rond de middag, kwamen we aan in Riobamba. Onderweg genoten we van spectaculaire uitzichten over de Cotopaxi en andere prachtige landschappen, terwijl we over de Panamericana autosnelweg reden. En naar goede gewoonte deed ik ook een aardig dutje op die bus… 😛

Riobamba & Nariz del Diablo 046 !!!

We booked a cheap hostel for $13 a person but as they did not provide us the expected room, we bargained until we paid just $11. The Ecuadorian way! Overall, we had not to complain about this place, except that the WiFi signal was poor and there came more water from the shower on the floor than over my body… The Ecuadorian way too?!

We started of with a walk through the small city of Riobamba, where we were happy to find the Saturday markets. One market was full of artesian products, and the other with fresh vegetables, fruits and meat.

We boekten een goedkoop hostel voor $13 per persoon maar gezien ze niet over de gereserveerde kamer beschikten, brachten we de prijs tot $11. Op z’n Ecuadoriaans! Over het algemeen hadden we niet te klagen over deze plek, afgezien van het slechte WiFi signaal en het feit dat er meer water uit dan in de douche liep… Ook op z’n Ecuadoriaans?!

We startten even later met een wandelingetje door het kleine stadje Riobamba, waar we tot grote vreugde de zaterdagmarkt terugvonden. Er was één markt vol met ambachtelijke producten, en een andere met verse groenten, fruit en vlees.

Local market in Riobamba on Saturday

I can’t get used to seeing Cuy (guinea pig)… It’s a typical Andean meal, but I’m not really a fan of it!

Ik kan alleen maar niet wennen aan het zien van Cuy (cavia)… Het is een typische maaltijd uit de Andes, maar ik ben niet meteen fan!

Cuy Ecuadorian specialty

We also had the chance to see a lot of indigenous people in this town.

We zagen ook heel wat inheemse mensen in dit stadje.

Indiginous people

And we enjoyed a $0.25 icecream on one of the beautiful plazas in town. Couldn’t taste better, and sunny weather!

In the late afternoon we had seen about the whole town and decided to turn back to the hostel as it just started to rain out of nowhere. Yes, this is also typically Ecuadorian: sun and rain are unpredictable and you can easily experience the 4 seasons in one day: freezing at night (winter), sunny in the morning (spring), hot around noon (summer) and rainy cloudy afternoons (autumn). That’s one of the reasons why should always wear clothes in layers and take as well your sunglasses as your umbrella! “Una locura” = craziness, regarding locals…

En we genoten van een ijsje dat slechts $0.25 kostte op het centrale plein. Kon niet beter smaken, en wat een zonnig weertje!

In de late namiddag hadden we heel het centrum wel gezien en besloten we om terug te keren naar het hostel. Het begon ook plots te regenen. Tsjah, dit is ook typisch aan Ecuador: zon en regen zijn onvoorspelbaar en je kan makkelijk 4 seizoenen in één dag ervaren: vriestemperaturen in de nacht (winter), zonnig in de ochtend (lente), heet rond de middag (zomer) en bewolkt in de namiddag (herfst). Dat is één van de redenen waarom je hier altijd kledij in laagjes moet dragen, en dat je zowel je zonnebril als je paraplu moet meenemen op uitstapjes. “Una locura” = gekte, zoals de mensen hier zeggen…

Walking through Riobamba

We decided to play some silly card games in the hostel until it stopped raining, and even watched the most stupid tv programs on a small retarded television, but no… It didn’t stopped raining for that evening, and so we headed around the corner and spoiled ourselves with some delicious pizza and a cup of Sangria before heading to bed. The next day we had to wake up in 4 o’clock in order to get the bus at 5AM to Alausi, where our main goal of this weekend trip was waiting for us… La Nariz del Diablo!

Around 7 in the morning we arrived at the small village of Alausi, another 2 hours more southwards from Riobamba. Here we could find the train station to La Nariz del Diablo. Luckily we bought out tickets ($25 a person) in advance, because places are quickly sold out at the station as many touroperators include this trainride in their itineraries.

We besloten dan maar om wat eenvoudige kaartspelletjes te spelen in het hostel tot het zou stoppen met regenen, en we keken zelfs naar de meest belachelijke tv serie ooit, maar nee… Het stopte maar niet met regenen die avond, en dus besloten we om snel het hoekje om te lopen om onszelf te verwennen met een heerlijke pizza en een glaasje Sangria voor we naar bed gingen. De volgende dag moesten we om 4 uur al opstaan om de bus van 5 uur richting Alausi te kunnen halen, daar wachtte het doel van onze weekend trip op ons… La Nariz del Diablo!

Rond 7 uur ‘s ochtends kwamen we vervolgens aan in Alausi, nog eens 2 uur zuidelijker van Riobamba. Hier vonden we het treinstation naar La Nariz del Diablo. Gelukkig kochten we onze tickets ($25 per persoon) op voorhand, want de plaatsen waren al snel uitverkocht omdat vele touroperators dit treinritje in programma door Ecuador verwerken.

Alausi town

As our train departed at 8AM, we had still plenty of time to enjoy the Sunday market in town and grabbed some breakfast at the station for $2,50 (including cheese sandwich, eggs, coffee and fresh juice). Not bad!

En omdat onze trein pas om 8 uur vertrok, hadden we nog ruim de tijd om de zondagse markt te verkennen en om te genieten van een heerlijk ontbijtje t.w.v. $2.50 (broodje kaas, eitje, koffie en vers fruitsap inbegrepen). Niet slecht!

Alausi station

Then it was time for boarding… But oh, wait. Let me tell you what exactly is this Nariz del Diablo… Well, La Nariz del Diablo (also called Devil’s Nose in English), is the “MOST DIFFICULT TRAIN IN THE WORLD” and is one of Ecuador’s most famous attractions. The railroad was originally built to connect to Andes with the coast, and the route goes up and down steep slopes, along river valleys and has to negotiate a wall of rock called Nariz del Diablo.

Dan was het tijd om in te stappen… Maar oh, wacht. Laat me even vertellen wat die Nariz del Diablo nu eigenlijk is… Wel, La Nariz del Diablo (ook wel Duivelsneus genoemd), is de ‘MEEST GEVAARLIJKE TREIN TER WERELD’ en is één van Ecuador’s meest populaire attracties. De spoorweg was oorspronkelijk gebouwd om de Andes met de kust te verbinden, en de route gaat op en neer doorheen diepe ravijnen, rivier valleien en gaat dwars door een grote rots, genaamd: Nariz del Diablo.

The most dangerous train ride in the world

People used to be able to choose to sit inside or ride the roof for a better view, but you can imagine how dangerous this was. And yes, eventually some people died so that now it is no longer allowed.

But the real reason why this train is called the most difficult train in the world is because many people died building it, and when you take the ride you understand why. The terrain is precarious. At times the train is so close to the side of a mountain that if you stick your hand outside the train car, you’ll lose it!

Mensen konden vroeger kiezen om binnen of op het dak te zitten voor een beter uitzicht, maar je kan je voorstellen hoe gevaarlijk dat was. En ja, uiteindelijk zijn er doden gevallen (letterlijk!) en is het nu niet meer toegestaan.

Maar de echte reden waarom deze trein de moeilijkste trein ter wereld wordt genoemd, is omdat er zoveel mensen stierven tijdens de constructie ervan. Wanneer je de treinrit neemt, begrijp je waarom. Het terrein is woest en soms komt de trein zo dicht bij de bergen dat als je je hand zou uitsteken, je je hand kwijt zou zijn!

Nariz del Diablo

A round trip train ride from Alausi is only 2,5 hours but we had plenty of time to enjoy all the beautiful scenery because the train goes only 12 km / hour.

Een heen- en terugreis vanaf Alausi duurt slechts 2 uur en half, maar we hadden wel ruim de tijd om al dat moois te aanschouwen want de trein rijdt slechts 12  km per uur.

Riobamba & Nariz del Diablo 220

The tour includes a short stop in front of the famous mountain, where of course everybody wants his pictures with the Devil’s Nose in the background. And so did we!

Bij de tour hoort ook een korte stop vlak voor de beroemde berg, waar iedereen natuurlijk een foto wilde met de Duivelsneus op de achtergrond. En zo wij ook!

Me in front of the Devil's Nose

The tour also includes a 50 minute stop in the town of Sibambe for lunch. Here we could see some indigenous people demonstrating an authentic Ecuadorian dance. You can imagine that this was quite touristic, but it was really nice done and so we could enjoy it to the fullest!

Bovendien was er een stop van 50 minuten in Sibambe om te lunchen. Hier zagen we inheemse mensen aan het dansen. Dit was vrij toeristisch, maar wel leuk gedaan en dus eens leuk om te zien!

Typical Ecuadorian Dancers

The highlight of my trip however were the llamas… This was my first encounter with them and I felt excited like a small little child. Of course, I also needed a picture with them but as you can see I was over-happy and enjoyed it too much.

Het hoogtepunt van mijn trip waren echter de lama’s… Dit was mijn allereerste ontmoeting met hen en ik was zo blij als een klein kind. Natuurlijk moest ik ook even op de foto, maar ik was over-enthousiast en had het zoals je kon zien wel even te goed naar mijn zin.

Me and the Llama

As we had 50 minutes in Sibambe, I had plenty of time to get to know the llama. And I decided to do a small interview with Mrs Llama. (I suppose it was a girl because she was so beautiful hihihi) 😛 :

Tijdens die 50 minuten in Sibambe had ik ruim de tijd om de lama beter te leren kennen. En ik besloot een klein gesprekje met mevrouw Lama te voeren. Helaas sprak de lama enkel Engels vandaar geen vertaling voor dit stukje… 😉

1)      Do you think I could ever keep you as a pet?

Yes, I am loving and cute, and I have many uses. I require less cost yearly than dogs, and am wonderful companion. 

2)      I’ve heard that llamas like to spit. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Yes, it is true. Llamas spit as a way of disciplining young or low ranked llamas in the herd or when they are angry or irritated. Female llamas spit so as to maintain order among the other herd members or when a male llama attempts to mate with her yet she is pregnant.

3)      Are you lazy or do you just look really like that?

Yes, I can be quite lazy sometimes. But if I have to, I can reach a top speed of about 40 miles per hour when running in a wide open area. However, I would only do it if I am trying to escape a predator in the wild. 

4)      If I would ask you kindly, would you give milk?

Yes, but milking me is more difficult then milking a cow or a goat.

5)      Are you strong, like a donkey?

Of course! I am very hardy and strong and can carry loads of stuff. I could also be your perfect hiking companion.

6)      What is your favourite meal?

I love to eat grain and hay, legumes, and vegetables.

7)      Would you ever bite me or use violence?

Some llamas like to chew on you, but we won’t hurt you because we only have teeth on the bottom of our mouth.

8)      If you ever fall in love, how many babies would you like to have?

Oh, I love to love because I am a herd animal. You will need at least two pets. Llama young are called crias, and I would like to have only one cria at a time.

9)      How often do you go to the hairdresser?

Whenever I feel like having to much fiber! (Llama hair is commonly called ‘fiber’.) Did you know my fiber is prized by hand spinners, knitters, weavers and crafters for its softness and warmth?!

10)   What is your preferred climate: hot and humid, or chilly and windy?

I’m used to live in the Andes mountains. However, the climate of a llama may vary. We can live up in the Mountains, on rocky cliffs, but also in ranches, open land plains, and even zoos.

The Llama

Buenos dias, Llama. Mucho gusto…

And before I knew it my 50 minutes were over, and I had to get back on the train.

As I took more than enough pictures during the first part of the ride, I took some time for meditation while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

And of course I thought about home, about how much I wished that I could share these beautiful moments with all of the precious people in my heart. I love you and I miss you!

En voor ik het wist, waren die 50 minuten alweer voorbij gevlogen, en moesten we weer terug op de trein.

Aangezien ik al meer dan genoeg foto’s had genomen op de heenrit, besloot ik om even tijd te nemen om te genieten van het mooie landschap dat voorbij gleed.

En natuurlijk dacht ik ook aan thuis, aan hoe hard ik wenste dat ik dit kon delen met al mijn dierbaren. Ik hou van jullie en ik mis jullie enorm!

Meditation Time

Around 10.30AM we were back in Alausi, but as we were awake from 4AM it felt like a long day already. We could use the 5 hours on the bus back to Quito for some serious power nap, and after another bus hour in the giant city of Quito, I finally reached home. Tired but accomplished.

Rond 10u30 waren we weer terug in Alausi, maar omdat we al van 4 uur wakker waren, voelde het aan als een lange dag. We konden de 5 uur slaap op de bus richting Quito dus goed gebruiken, en na nog eens een uur op de bus in de grootstad Quito, was ik eindelijk thuis. Moe maar voldaan.

Ecuador is a wonderful country!

Ecuador is een prachtig land!

P.S.: Michel, my ‘compañero’ made a lovely movie of this trip, which I am happy to share with you:

P.S. Michel, mijn metgezel maakte een leuk filmpje van dit reisje, dat ik graag met jullie deel: