Family Gap Year Adventures – Chapter 5, Vietnam

Holy Hanoi!

It was dark, when we arrived in Hanoi by train from China, at a very unholy time, 5 AM. IMG_3661

With a few, even less holy, thoughts sent in the direction of the master mind, that planned this international train connection, we collected our bags, and found there was very little we could do, except walking out of the train station … the time being to late too sleep, and too early to go to our couchsurfing hosts, or anything else … as we walked, and the dawn approached, the city started waking up, the first signs beings small stalls opening, and we had our first taste of the staple vietnamese breakfast, a  Pho soup with fresh herbs, a delicious novelty, and a treat compared to the chinese breakfast porridge.

With some food in the stomach, daylight to heighten the mood, having located an ATM, that made us into Dong millionaires, and a SIM card, we could relax, and have a look around.

What a difference, our eyes being used to chinese paradoxes !

The traffic is like a crazy real time computer game, where you have to move the pedestrian across a multi-directional flood of bicycles. It can’t be done, but somehow it happens, you arrive on the other side of the street.  The pace is busy, but nowhere as hectic, as in the chinese mega cities. More smiles around, people squat, talk, chat, smile.

The traces of french colonization of Indochina are sweet.

Bakeries, bread, cakes. Coffee.

I tasted the vietnamese cofee, kafe nou, brewed in a little aluminium pressurerizer on top of condensed milk, and my reaction was:

– Hallelujah!

The coffee is thick, kicking strong, sweetened with condensed milk. After two months in China, the coffee less country, the pleasure of sipping a kafe nau is beyond words.

IMG_3735

The desserts are also divine.

Creme brulee, an assortments of jellies made of frIMG_3678uit juice, mixed with tapioca, coconut milk and ice cubes. The price tag of such a treat is 20.000 VND, or 0,5 Euro.

I found, that I longed for somebody to adopt me, so I could quit traveling, and stay in this country.

Our hosts, Travis and Zuza, opened up their home, and we found the city of Hanoi to be friendly, comfortable, full of small hidden wonders.

Is it a surprise, that we ended up staying in much longer than planned? In the end I felt that we either have to go, or rent an appartment (the downstairs one was free) and move in.

Bye bye train, hello bicycle

We have travelled from the central train station in Warszawa, to Hanoi, about 12.000 km, all the way by train. We did a high five, and then decided to change the mode of transportation, feeling that we had seen to many trains from the inside. The decision was to buy bicycles. A quick look at the map, it should be feasible to go from Vietnam to Singapore. It would make sense to sell the bicycles again in Singapore, as there are only islands between its southern tip and Australia, our ultimate destination.

We visited a few bicycle shops, and thought that second hand touring bikes might be a good value. Something proven in battle might be better than a shiny new product of unknown quality. We made acquaintance with George, a mechanical whizz at from the famous Bicycle Collective, a specialist in touring bikes. Or, so we thought, at least.

IMG_3687

George, our pusher from the Hanoi Bicycle Collective, equipped our new steel horses for the ride.

George, was set up with the task of equipping our new steel horses for the long ride. After we agreed on a budget, his mantra was:

– I guarantee you, this is good quality

and another favorite saying:

– This is the only place in town, where you don’t buy a chinese piece of shit!

In the beginning there was lots of love, but as we rode some kilometers, and the bikes kept breaking down, the good karma dwindled.

But, anyway, it was really time to move on, and instead of becoming Zuza and Travis’s new neighbours, we studied the map, packed and repacked to fit our backpacks on the bike racks, saddled up, and finally, after several delays, left Hanoi.

Country road

And off we went.

Biking out of Hanoi took the best part of a morning, and we decided, after getting lost around the lakes and tricky one way streets of Hanoi,  that a map, and a look at Google Maps in the morning, is not enough to navigate. A local grocery store solved the problem, and sold a phone card and a scratch code for 3G internet, for about 5 USD. The friendly lady understood enoug sign language to help set it up, and we could continue with our efforts to locate the countryside, now equipped with a GPS device.

Trip map

Click the link below, to see where we went on our 500 km bike trip in Vietnam :

It is a sweaty business to bicycle in Vietnam. After a while the ass grows numb, the dust is covering the sweat, leaving a sticky texture on the skin, it is hot, and what is supposed to be holiday fun, is in fact hard work. Our family of extreme b-type persons, late sleepers and night owls started getting up 6 AM, just to beat the heat.

IMG_3730

It is really hard work riding a bicycle trough vietnamese country side.

We managed to ride between 60 and 80 km a day, covering about 500 kilometers, until one of the bikes, that was having more and more serious problems, with a rattling backwheel, finally refused to move, the axis being broken.

We went to Mai Chau, and hit the Ho Chi Minh trails south from there.

Most places we stayed in “Ngha Nhi” – simple guest houses, no english spoken, no frills, sometimes clean. Once we were lucky, and found a hot spring spa resort next to the road, another time a homestay in a stilt house.

Hospitality extreme - we thought we booked a bed for the night, and were surprised by a dancing party on the thin bamboo floor.

Hospitality extreme – we thought we b

We had to fight with some hard core mountain passes to get there, we should have taken the darker shade on the map as a warning. What we looked for, was simply a bed for the night, and we were surprised, as a troup of girls arrived, and started a dancing party on the thin, thin bamboo floor of the stilt house. One of the dances involved jumping over banging bamboo sticks, and we were scared whether the floor would crack open under our merry jumps, but fortunately it didn’t.

This extremely hospitable family, have set up a home stay, and wanted to attract tourists to their off the beaten track village, using the platform of airbnb. I loved this combination, a surprising fusion of old traditions, simple life in a bamboo hut, and a modern platform, that brings sustainable tourism directly to a community.

Shortcut by train

After 8 days in the saddle, hot and exhausted, and having to deal with a bicycle, where the wheel was runing more sideways than forward, we decided to take a shortcut by train, and hopefully get to a place with better mechanics, than what we could find in the country side.

After a strategical discussion, we opted for 2 days of rest at a swimming pool, and decided to take the train from Vinh to Dong Hoi – to save some steam for our up coming caving trip.

The procedure was very simple and civilized

I have drawn on a piece of paper 3 people and 3 bicycles, and showed it to the lady in the ticket booth. She gave me a nice smile, and asked, in english, laughing at my surprised face:

– So, where do you want to go?

– Dong Hoi – I replied.

– First you need to buy tickets for people, and then you can post your bicycles in the goods carriage. – she explained

The posting happens in a second office, close to the gates that lead to the tracks. You are given a receit, pay a fee of a few dollars, and all the loading and unloading is handled by railway staff, while you can enjoy your ride, and watch the hills rolling by, happy not to be pedalling there.

A few hours later, as we unload from the train, we can smell the South Chinese Sea

Epic cave adventure

Having heard, thatthe worlds largest cave has been discovered in the Phong Nha CavesIMG_9427 area of Vietnam in 2011, only a few years ago, we booked a 3 day trek of the Tu Lan system, with Oxalis, our adventure operator, and I really mean adventure.

When the jeep cam to pick us up in the morning, it has been raining continuosly for 3 days, and continued to rain, as our hopeful group of 8 went trough the security briefing. Equipped with life wests, helmets and head lamps, we thought we were ready for some fun, unaware of the epic adventure ahead.

And it was truly epic.

Nobody died. We had lots of fun. I don’t remember if I have ever been that muddy in my life. After about half an hour of walking, we had to cross a river by swimming, with all clothes and gear on, and we continued the wet journey, from jungle trail, to cave, to river. Our guide kept saying:

– Careful, it’s slippery – when we were navigating the steep, steep jungle tracks, and he was absolutely right. Sometimes, there was a change of terrain, and we could hear as we were sliding, or stumbling down:

– Careful, it’s very smooth!

We were trying to crawl out of a cave, and I gasp, when I see the first of many gigantic spiders, situated on the roof of a tiny squeeze through tunnel

Our guide reassures us:

– Don’t worry. It’s friendly, it’s vietnamese.

It was at a famous cave with three whirlpools, that the adventure got an epic twist, as half of our group was swept away by the current, towards the gaping mouth of the cave. Luckily, we had a spanish guy, Jesus, with us, and he really lived up to his name, swimming to the rescue with a lifeline.

The nights were cosy, with campfire, jokes, friendly interaction with the vietnamese staff, a shared sense of bonding, of surviving this adventure together.

We return to our hotel, the Phong Nga Farm Stay, very wet, with a stinking bag filled with our stinking, muddy belongings, and stupid smiles on our faces.

DMZ and goodbye

The Phong Nha caves are just north of the DMZ, and sensible connections to Laos are just south of DMZ. So I figured it was time for indulging some pacifist propaganda into the teenagers. We crossed the DMZ together with Tam, our guide and American War veteran. The Vinh Moc tunnels, a complex of tunnels 15-21 meter undeground, designed to hide the population of a whole, heavily bombed village, made a great impression. Their motto “to be or not to be”, shed a new light on this thin worn quote, in order to survive the heavy bombing, the local people had to dig underground, and spend months and months in the tunnels.

This was our last day of our one month stay in Vietnam, we visited only the northern part, something has to be left for the next around the world trip.

From Dong Ha, we booked a bus ticket, and were suprised with an extremely comfortable direct bus to Pakse, Laos, where we continued the family adventure.

Family Gap Year adventure – Chapter 3, Tibet

Getting there – worlds highest train ride

– Tashi Delek!

The woman is smiling, her dark face beautiful, a shower of colored braids surrounds her slender figure, a traditional dress, a baby strapped to her back.

I reply, to her, and to the line of dark faces around:

– Tashi Delek.

This means “hello” in Tibetan, and the short exchange has already let me run out of Tibetan vocabulary, the means of communication left to us being looking at each other patiently, smiling. We are in the waiting room of Xining station, the train to Lhasa has been running 1, and now 2 hours late, people are tired of moving the line back and forth, with their suitcases, sacks, cardboard boxes and precious bundles, as we are trying to follow the chinese signs announcing our train, that keep jumping to other gates.

We are waiting to ride the worlds highest train line, a feat of chinese engineering, leading up to the plateau trough a series of passes, the highest one 5200 m, tracks built directly on permafrost, leading into the holy, mythical city of Lhasa.

I am clutching a pouch with my passport, train ticket and travel permit.  Precious, magic documents.

The permit circus

Agata PermitThe paper work to obtain these was not for the fainthearted.

You need a chinese visa to go to Tibet. And a special travel permit. They will tell you NOT to mention the fact that you are going to Tibet, when you apply for a chinese visa.

You can not apply for the travel permit to Tibet without a chinese visa.

And you can not buy a train ticket to Lhasa without the travel permit.

And you can not get the travel permit, without your ticket.

(And you need to document your itinerary with tickets to obtain the visa, but thats another story).

We were still in Denmark, looking at a map of the world, planning our trip by letting fingers wander, if you turn left after Mongolia, you go to Korea and Japan, if you turn right, you go to Tibet. Seeing the improbability of traveling in big zig-zags, the decision was firm:

– Lets go to Tibet.

Despite the disadvantages, such as that free travel is not possible, we found a tibetan owned company that could provide the mandatory guide service, and started the somewhat absurd process of applying for travel permits.

We was told that it is almost there, almost ready. At least, well under the way. Only one stamp was still missing.

Weeks flew by, and we found ourselves waiting in Beijing, train tickets booked, train leaving next day, but still no permits.

– We need just one more stamp.

Then it arrived, luckily, on the day we were leaving, and we could praise our good fortune, as passengers are declined boarding the train to Lhasa without this document.

Lhasa

Everybody, even the dark skinned tibetan natives that have linguered longer in the lowlands, arrive in Lhasa short of breath. The plateau is at the serious altitude of 3600 m.

– Welcome to Tibet. I will show you many, many beautiful things in my country

We are greeted by our mandatory guide, given white silk scarves, and taken to one of the few hotels, that are licensed to admit foreigners.

We have arrived in Lhasa.

The first impression is soldiers, police, everywhere, on every street and corner there is a tank, or a police car, or a booth. Brought there to guarantee safety to the liberated people.

The city is beautiful, the dignified, white Potala palace, empty home of Dalai Lama , the Jhomsong temple, a place of power, sizzling with energy, surrounded by pilgrims day and night.

We are here for 2 days, to acclimatize, before we can leave for Kharta valley.

These are happy days, as on this part of our travel our family of three is joined by my sister and mum, and everybody enjoys the reunion. We get a foot massage performed by blind therapists, and have a hairdresser apply the Lhasa hair style with colorful braids to our hair. We watch the movie “Seven years in Tibet“, and marvel at actually being in Lhasa.

Old Kharta Valley Trek

We are driving trough the country side, so slo….ooooo…ooooo…wly….. The police check points on the way give time limits to tourist cars, arriving to early or to late warrants a fine, giving us an average speed of 60 km/h for several hundreds of kilometers.  After 3 days of driving, when everybody is grumpy and tired, we arrive at a river, a rather dirty camp site, and put up our tents.

Next morning we are waken up by yells, as the yaks have arrived, together with two yak boys, that can whistle and shout commands for the yaks to follow.

Accompanied by the boys whistles, and the yaks bells, we set out on an eight day trek to the high and remote Kharta Valley, in hope of catching a view of the worlds highest mountain.

We are not lucky with the weather, most of the days it is raining, at night the temperature drops below zero, we have strong wind, fog and snow, low visibility. We have and odd problem with our guide, he tends to wander of chatting with the cheerful yak-boys, leaving our group in the fog banks, unsure of directions.

Somehow it is difficult to explain to our guide, that he should prioritetize walking with us, the clients, as there is really no other reason to have a guide, that to show the way. We have some heated discussions and clashes, trying to explain this to our impatient man. After a long, and very wet day, it is easy to build up anger.I remind myself of a fundamental Aikido lesson:

– Look at your feet, before you walk.

IMG_9186

Our family posing with a view of the East side of the snow clad beauty – Chomolungma / Mt Everest .

The clouds are gone in the morning, and we get to pose with the snowclad beauty – Chomolungma, or Mt Everest in English. From here, to get back to civilization, it is either turning around and walking back for 5 days, or continuing towards the highest point of the trek, the Lhangma La pas of 5400 m.

Our coldest camp is the highest, at 4950m. Thats when we discover that the sleeping bags are wet. The potatoes are dry, though, as they have been riding in the sole plastic bag. And we are almost out of gas.

There are small simple stone huts, serving as shelters, and we huddle around the oven, together with tibetan yak-men and a few chinese trekkers. Suddenly, the man next to me collapses, and falls face down on the stone floor. My sister is a competent doctor, and after a quick examination, that reveals a gaping hole in his head, she is outraged:

– What is the man doing here, at 4900 m, with a severe wound in his head?

– Why are his clothes wet?

IMG_9203

Blank faces, murmurs, shrugging shoulders, thats the way it is, he was wounded, is walking back to receive medical treatment, when he hopefully arrives back to civilization in a few days. The wound is infected, the man is losing conciousness, he owes only the wet clothes he is wearing, it is below zero outside, there is no helicopter that will come to rescue up a tibetan yak-man.

The first rule of treatment being keep the patient warm and dry, she commands around, and reluctantly the other yak-men make room for him to lie down, we find blankets and dry clothes, after a cleaning and provisory dressing of the wound, and administering antibiotics from our first aid kit. It is a relief to hear the patient as he starts to joke a few hours later, when the medicine kicks in.

As we break the last camp, we discover that our crew is planning to leave two big bags full of trash, a sad contribution to an already suffering fragile ecosystem.

– We need to take our trash with us.

– No, I paid environment protection tax! Somebody else will come and clean this.

When we bumble on the road back to civilization, it is without the trash bags in the car. An unpleasant taste in my mouth.

It is a moral dillema, how much should we complain, where is the line between impoving a situation, and a man losing his job. We meet with the manager in a fast food restaurant, get a long explanation about ecology, and missing elements from guide’s education, and issues with local goverment, eco tourism being a very complicated affair. We interrupt:

– No, it is very simple. Don’t leave trash.

– Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

The long train ride back, down from the Tibetan Plateau to Wuhan gives time to think.

We met many people in Tibet, but didn’t really make friends, there was no connection, a sad feeling.

But a few days later, I get an email from Sonam, general manager of Explore Tibet, the company that organized our trek.

– Your guide worked really hard, he realized his mistake.

Explore Tibet staff working on their community project – cleaning up a mountain, and raising awareness.

As I browse the photos, and read his story, I can feel a smile growing on my face. Explore Tibet has decided to take responsibility, and go forward in protecting the fragile eco system, and has demonstrated the commitment by organizing a clean up day, sending staff to remove bag after bag of garbage from one of the holy mountains, and sponsored signposts stating a familiar phase in 3 languages:

– Take nothing but memories – leave nothing but footprints.

This phrase, this recognition, is the missing connection. Now, I feel, that we channelled a change, we left a mark.

Family Gap Year adventure – Chapter 2, Mongolia

Bye bye Russia, hello Mongolia

On 12 august, we woke up together with the sun, and walked towards the train station of Ulan Ude, floating in a bubble of warm feelings, having been so spoiled by russian hospitality.

The good thing about travelling by train, is that you have plenty of time to prepare for crossing the physical and cultural borders. Like when your coach waits, abandoned for 300 mins, at a side track of a russian border town.

Somewhere between Russian and Mongolia

Somewhere between Russian and Mongolia

Slowly, slowly, something happens, passports get checked, and re-checked, and rechecked again. We can hear the engine before it is there, and finally, the train begins to move. The landscape is different, I was accustomed to taiga passing by outside the window, now it is softly rolling hills, another shade of green.

Excitement, as we roll into an mongolian border town.

– Change money, change money – the corridor is full of pleading voices. We change a few rubles for a terrible rate, and a later visit to the stations ATM turns me into a tugrik millionaire. The day fades, and we roll into sleep.

Ulan Bator – in game as Ugliest city?

Around 5 AM I wonder, why these insane times of arrival, as our train brakes to a stop in Ulan Bator, and our “provodnitsa” has been banging on the door several times.

We stumble out into the crisp morning air, the city still asleep, after several attempts we are allowed to leave the backpacks in the luggage store, we wave goodbye to our fellow passenger, that is assembling his bike on the platform, and venture out to explore, but beaten by the early our, end up in an european style cafe, hanging over mugs of coffee.

The city is ugly, no doubt about it. Post-soviet, built by nomads used to moving on, crazy traffic that stands still most of the day, nothing green kept alive in the center, still not Kathmandu-bad.

We have arranged to be picked up by Stepperiders, and half an hour later, traffic jams forgotten, I am greeted by a puppy, a kitty, and some horsey noises. We unload into a ger – and wonder at the lush, soft green hills that surround us.

I have never learned how to ride, and the next 2 days I am making up for the neglicence with my very sore ass. But hey, its FUN to gallop!

Olgii – the wild west

We want to go to Bayan Olgii, a province in the nort-western corner of Mongolia. Mongolia does not have to many kilometers of asphalted roads, and the 1500 km drive is masochistic 56 hours bus trip. After a long family discussion, and a very bumpy jeep ride, we decide to get some plane tickets.

When we arrive in Olgii, we are greeted by a desert mountain scenery, some snow capped peaks shimmering in the back ground, and a sky full of falcons, that soar and play with the winds like childrens kites.

IMG_8236

Mt Khuiten, 4374 m, the top of Mongolia

We meet our guide, and embark on another bumpy jeep drive to Tavan Bogd, the national park that houses Mt Khuiten, 4374 m, the top of Mongolia. Our mountain guide, Ms Gangaamaa Badamgarav from Mongolia Expeditions, the first mongolian woman to summit Everest is a bundle of energy and mountain tales.

Khuiten means “cold” in Mongolian, and it is cold to sleep on ice. It is  hard to crawl out of the sleeping bag in the morning, when everything inside the tent is iced over from the humidity in ones breath. It is steep, the glacier gaps with crevasses, and crampons must be placed with care. We move slowly upward, roped up all the time, the sun shines from a perfect blue sky. The view from the ridge and the top is amazing. All these untouched mountain peaks on the chinese side, soaring needles with ice.

Kazakh eagle hunters

IMG_8671

The Shaimurat family, our nomadic hosts

Back from the trek, we enjoy a few days of relative civiliation, with hot shower, internet and laundry, before embarking on a magical, cultural adventure.

We are greeted by the extremly friendly Osban, a man that is a journalist on the Olgi newspapers, hunts, edits radio shows, and also can arrange a home stay with a local nomad family.

We go, again a bumpy jeep ride, featuring a few break downs, and stay over a week with a family of Kazakh eagle hunters, where we eat together, ride together, laugh together, play various silly games. Not to mention drink together the vodka, and the fermented horse milk.

– Kha, kha – I crouch and call the eagle, waving enthusiastically with a chopped off goat leg.

IMG_8646

kha, kha …

The eagle flyes towards me, dives, and straightens the curve into the sky.

Everybody follows running, calling and searching, and this is how I learn, that I am no material for a good eagle hunter.

Luckily my son Pawel saves the family’s honor, and I am consoled by the view of my daughter, the looks of a Kazakh princess. Slowly, with patience, we learn the forgotten art of milking, fetching water from the river, living a simple life, in harmony with the land, and what it has to offer.

The nomads make the best of the land, the soil is not rich in nutricients, but can be grazed by animals. Every family has about 50 horses, cows, goats, sometimes camels, sometimes yaks. The food consists of dairy products, meat, a few potatoes, and lots of salted milk tea. With butter, for better taste.

The flocks of animals wander freely around, there are no fences, the neighbor is also living in a ger, and its easies to go there on a horse.

Time flows at a slower, more satisfactory pace, as the water boils, goats are milked, and we learn and practice kazkh words for “heart”, and “thank you” and “thank you very much”.  Our moments together are magical, we are blessed to be together with this family, to experience their harmony, love, engagement.

Next stop china!

Goodbye Mongolia. You have been mind blowing, a continuos how-can-it-get-any-better-than-this experience. Climbing, riding, eagle hunting and staying with nomads … it was pure magic. Next stop, China.

Family Gap Year adventure – Chapter 1, Russia

Overland from Denmark to Australia

We are a polish family, live in Denmark.

A mom and two teenage children.

We decided that its time to go on a long adventure, and after about a year of planning, saving money, working overtime, completing visa applications, we can take of on a year long gap year adventure.

I think of myself as a regular person, my friends tend to call me crazy.

The plan is to go overland to Australia.

IMG_3347

… instead of buying the commute pass …

So we rented our house, with our cats. And instead of buying the commute pass Odense – Copenhagen, I purchased a set of tickets for the transsiberian railway. To Moscow. And Beijing. And Lhasa.

An officer checks our passports at the Poland – Belarus border:

– Where are you going?

– To Australia

– You are in the wrong train. This train does not go to the airport.

Moscow

This is such an imperial city. I walk around, and feel to small, the houses and streets are oversize, crossing the Red Square seems a daunting task.

We are greeted warmly by our couch surfing host Dimitri, and feel quickly at home in his cosy appartment in the very center of Moscow, served with pet rats, and long intellectual discussions over tea, that drag deep into the nights.

Kosmonauts celebrated as heroes of a laboring nation

Kosmonauts celebrated as heroes of a laboring nation

The metro is a series of beautiful temples, the parks are huge, filled with life, flowers or old soviet era statues.

We ave at the uber-cool Kosmonaut memorial, full of silver foil, rocket parts, space suits, and this shiny rocket and its trajectory, catapulting into space.

We hang out with the crowds in Gorki park, and enjoy the waves of hot summer.

Wish, we could stay longer, to decipher this city.

But the train is leaving from Kazansky vokal. Time to board the transsiberian.

Siberia, Siberia

We float trough the taiga on white pillows, the train departs every single station on time, after some time it seems as if the sun was to early, as we whizz trough time zones.

Suddenly 3 days have passed, and I face the overwhelming fact, that next morning we are getting of the train.

Krasnoyarsk is pretty much in the middle of Siberia.

We paddle down the Mana and Yenisei river, and visit the Stolby national park.  

Andrej is our wonderful host, and we have a magic evening with guitar play and polish – russian – english songs, straight from the heart.

Volunteering at shores of Baikal Lake

It is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, 365 rivers flowing into it, one for each day of the year. The water is ready to drink, thanks to the purifying effect of the Epishura – a tiny shrimp that keepst he water crystal clear.

For two weeks, we are blue-capped volunteers for the Great Baikal Trail project.

We are a group of 19 people, driven by various degrees of idealism, a mix of russians and foreign volunteers, helping the national reserve to maintain trekking paths, that can tempt eco-tourists to supplement the meager budget.

We camp at the sandy shore, and every morning, when I crawl out of the tent, I am greeted by a completely new scenery, sky playing with the lake water.

And every evening, we sprawl quietly in the sand, watching the spectacle of sunset, amazed by how different it is, and how beautiful.

There is a bear in our valley, we see fresh tracks on the sand, and burn fire each night to keep it from our camp.

We cook food over open fire, cans, potatoes, and finish each meal off with tea and lots of russian candy.

The work is very hard – carrying stones, crushing rocks, digging with the “kirka” – pickaxe.

Slight to mild degrees of disorganization can lower the morale, but Kostia is my patient russian teacher, every night the evening fire sends sparks towards the infinite sky, that is full of shimmering stars, and we are a hard working family, spell-bound together by this majestic scenery.

When we return to Ulan Ude, after 2 weeks in the wilderness, I am amazed by wonders of civilization such as water in the tap, electric kitchen kettle and flush toilet.

IMG_7942