Itchy-wheels

Go go Goa!

A happy 2008 from Arambol, Goa, Idia :-)

After some marvelous days in Pokhara I headed for Royal Bardia National Park together with Johannes, a German cyclist I know from Kyrgyzstan, and it was great fun to cycle with him again.
The road to the Terai plains was steep and followed the slopes of the mountains from one valley to another (Nepalis don’t like to build bridges) through small villages full with friendly Nepalis and namaste shouting and jumping kids. After a few days we said goodbye to the Himalaya on the back-horizon and the landscape slowly changed with wide views over the Terai. Upon reaching Butwal at the edge of the Terai cycling became easier as the road was good and flat like a pancake. The roads lead through rice fields and wild jungles full with the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen and LOTS of monkeys. The jungle is littered with small villages and in this remote part of Nepal the people and especially the children are VERY curious and in every village we stopped we were immediately surrounded by big crowds, so it was a big circus 24h a day with us in the ring :-)

Upon reaching Bardia National Park we took some days of to relax and to visit the park, the biggest of its kind in Nepal. The second day we went rafting on the big river flowing through the park and we were really lucky that day as we saw the rare Gangic Dolphin, a wild elephant and tons of birds, deer and monkeys (Macaques and Lemur).
The next day Johannes took it easy and I went with the hotel owner for a jungle walk hoping to find the illustrious tiger, rhino and wild elephant. We were not so lucky though although we found a big Python (I almost sat on it, easy bate) and tiger and jackal tracks and lots of deer. The afternoon I had a ride on an elephant as this enables me to travel deep into the jungle and to access places I could not reach by walking. We found tracks from crocodiles and rhino’s but the animals themselves probably laughed at us behind the bushes as we could not find them. Better luck next time.

From Bardia it was only 3 days to the border and the roads became more and more crowded and most of the days we were followed by hordes of cyclists taking us over and vise versa (you just CAN’T beat a world cyclist :-) ). This game would repeat itself each village and though it was great fun it became very tiring in the end and in the evening we were more than happy to turn into a hotel and after squatting 20+ mosquitoes we fell asleep.

When we approached the border we saw more and more signs of maoist activity (checkpoints and camps) but we just said namaste as we flew by the baffled maoist kiddies towards India. The border crossing at was easy and on the 16th we set feet on Indian’s sticky goo (it’s definitely NOT soil).

So welcome to NUTHOUSE India!

Our goal was Goa as there we were supposed to meet our cycling friends for Christmas and the first two days we cycled through the sugar cane filled planes of northern India on pothole roads filled with suicidal Indian drivers, cows, dogs, tuk tuks towards Bareilly. But as Christmas was approaching fast and because of all the traffic we decided to take the train to Delhi and after loading our bicycles into the train in Bareilly we headed for Delhi, the capital of Nutsistan (better known as India). There the problems started as we wanted to depart at the same day for Bombay and because of this we did not have time to buy our ticket as the station as the rows at the counters are long enough to raise a family while you wait. So I decided to buy a ticket at one of the shady “tourist offices” opposite the station” and I managed to arrange the tickets there. However, though they are fully legal, they RIP YOU OF BIG TIME if you are not careful so BEWARE (I paid 10E to much). 

The next obstacle was to load our bicycles on the train as it was already full when we arrived but they promised us to load them on the same train we were traveling with (never believe an Indian) but upon arrival at 1 o’ clock in Mombay after a 26h (!) ride there were no bikes!
Then the circus started but good. They told us that the bikes were on the train arriving at 5 in the morning so after a short nap at the station we returned but no bikes. Now the bikes would be on the next train arriving at 10 but again no bikes. This “game” continued day long with wrong and contradicting information day long (Indians just don’t know what they do or say, they are a bunch of chaotic kids) but finally, after more than 12h waiting, at 10’ clock in the evening our bicycles arrived safely, hooray :-) I made a recording of the Mombay station circus so have fun!

The next day we cycled for more than 70km through Mombay and the surrounding cities on our way to Goa. Mombay (20 million inhabitants!) is a huge stinky collection of slums and apartment buildings filled with stinking traffic crisscrossing the roads and in the afternoon we were thus covered in a thick layer of soot. Finding a hotel was more difficult than expected as we were only allowed to stay in hotels “appointed for foreigners”. Now, that’s just GREAT as these hotels are far in between and we were tired but we managed to find a cheap lodge in the end. So in India they do not only discriminate their own people (caste system) but also the visitors! I don’t mind paying more than the locals but 10 times as much, what do they think!?
As we got fed up with this, the traffic, the heat and as I had “problems” again we took a truck for the final part to Goa and with Christmas evening we arrived in Arambol at the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Arambol is a relaxed (woodbe) hippy and rasta village and a place of drugs, drugs and rockn’ roll (and more drugs) so in the evening it’s best to stay away from the beach as it full with high/low/trance and whatnot wannabe rastas and hippies. During the day however it’s a great place to hang out and the last days I relaxed under the palm trees, updated the website (always a LOT of work but I like to take you with me on the journey :-) ) and celebrated Christmas with my cycling friends but, although nice, I missed my friends and family a lot (so you know :-) )
Yesterday I organized my ticket back home as for me my cycling days and adventures are almost over as I will fly back home on January 9th and will arrive in Dusseldorf at January 10th at 10:30 with flight TK1523 (Turkish Airlines). From there I will travel to my parents for a few weeks of acclimation (culture shock!) and in February I plan to be in Germany again as my thesis and a lot of paperwork is awaiting me.

In the meantime I will cycle back to Mombay following a (hopefully) quieter road so stay tuned and perhaps the next update will be from the Netherlands! In the meantime enjoy the pictures from Nepal and India. I’m off to the cliffs to take some pics of the sea life so Namaskar!
Marc 

Slightly Flat

Namaste all!

Marc here from Bombay, India, between 20 million lunatic suicidal driving Indians (yikes!). We will leave tomorrow for Goa to celebrate Christmas with lots of other world cyclist so we are quite in a hurry now. The Indian Railways however managed to put mine and Johannis’ bicycle (I travel with Johannis’ since Pokhara) on the wrong train (what else can you expect here) so we have to wait for the bikes but hopefully we will have them this afternoon (please pray to Shiva, Vishnu, Ganish and all the 150+ Hindu gods please :) ).

In Goa I will put the pics online and tell some more about our adventures in Bardia National Park (I saw Ganges Dolphins, a wild Elephant  and a 3 meter  python, I almost ended up as its lunch) and the rest of Nepal (no Maoists) and crazy India. The road was mountainous in Nepal in the beginning but upon reaching the Terai and in India the road was ’slightly flat’ as one ‘bright’ Nepali remarked. It is either flat or not but here everything is possible. It’s a big circus with us in the middle and we are having a great time but at times it can get very tiring, especially here in India.

Parcels etc you can best send to my parents as I don’t know where I will end up in Goa and the parcel -post is unreliable down here. The address is:
J. Steigenga
Torenlaan 31
3043 BP Rotterdam,
The Netherlands.

See you in Goa so stay tuned, a big hug and a Yohoho Mary Christmas to all!

Marc

Proud Potato

Damaste  all!

The medicine I got in Kathmandu seems to work and I can proudly announce that after 6 months of stinky yellow goo I manged to produce a POTATO today. HOORAY! :D

Anyway, after 3 days of cycling (two days uphill) through lush hills and tiny lively villages I arrived the day before yesterday in Pokhara at the feet of the Annapurna Himal. The trip was beautiful with stunning views on the rain forests and the Himalaya.
Pokhara itself is a BIG tourist trap but the location is very pretty with BIG lakes and beautiful mountains and nature so I will spend some time here. Today I will rent a kayak and tomorrow I will hike around the lake to take some pics so if I have time I will put them online before I leave for Bardia National Park so stay tuned! I’m off to row row row the boat :)

Marc

Kathmandu

Damaste all!

The last days I waited for my visa from the Indian embassy and the medical reports because of “my little problem”. It turns out that I perhaps have tropical sprue and I now get tetracycline and folic acid so wait and see.

In the meantime I visited Kathmandu, a huge town full with people, culture and LOTS of LOUT and STINKY traffic (a 24h traffic jam basically) . It is a great city to hang out and there are lots of beautiful places to visit, especially the durbar squares. In the 18th century there was a big rivalry between the bordering city Patan (now part of Kathmandu) who could build the nicest city resulting in a wealth of beautiful buildings and squares. At the same time Kathmandu was (and is) a very important city for both Hindus and Buddhists leaving the city with the Hindu Pashupatinath temple complex and the Buddhist Swoyambhunath and Boudnath stupas and TONS of smaller shrines, temples, statues etc throughout the city.

Pashupatinath is dedicated to Vishnu, the ultimate god of creation and destruction (BIG BOSS) and one of the main deities of Hinduism. The complex is a lively busy place where people worship, are married, cremated etc etc and it has a similar atmosphere as Varanasi in India. It is full with Lingu (shrines) for fertility etc etc and statues of the different avatars of Vishnu and of his servant Hanuman, the monkey god.

The stupas are way more tranquil with pilger making there Kora around the stupas turning the praying wheels as they go along. The Boudnath stupa is the second largest in the world (the largest is in Sri Lanka) and visited by many pilger from all over the globe. In a stupa the large dome symbolized the emptiness from which everything emanates and the 13 steps on the top the different levels to enlightenment, the “crown” on the stupa. The big watchfull eyes painted on the temple represents Buddha watching your doings.

Yesterday I received my visum for India so tomorrow I will leave the crowded Buddhist, Hindu and hippy city of Kathmandu. Kathmandu is a great place to hang out as it has a huge amount of restaurants and shops with food from all over the world (the even have brezel and zimt-schnecken here) but it is time to move on. The next days I will cycle to Pokhara and from there through the Terrai (jungle planes ) to Mahendranagar in the far west. During the tour I will do some trekking and safaris so stay tuned for some tiger and rhino pics (who knows). In the meantime enjoy lively Kathmandu :)

Namaste!
Marc

Cold Rush

Damaste all!

I made is from the icy snow swept mountains of Tibet to the lush hot rain forests of Nepal and I am now relaxing between the banana trees in Kathmandu :-)

As I was running out of time I took the bus to Lahze but just before leaving I suddenly was not allowed to put my bike on the bus by the driver. So I told him that the police had ordered me to leave and then is was OK. So China is really the country of Meo. As soon as you want things a little different it is always Meo=No because of rules or just because they are to lazy or unimaginative (brain dead).

Anyway I made it to Lhaze and had to cycle to the border in 6 days. This should not have been a big problem weren’t it for the fact that Tibet played its joker: stormy, ice cold headwinds. Especially on the first pass (Lhakpa La, 5252m) it was EXTREMELY windy and I could not cycle the intended 60km and camped at 4900m with -10C in the tent. So 1:0 for Tibet once again. The following two days it was the same and I was getting as little nervous as in China you better don’t get visa problems so I started early and tried to stay in tunnels or villages as much as possible to safe time. On this part of the road I met for the first time begging Tibetans, a side effect of the mass tourism on the friendship highway. I did not gave them anything as it starts with asking for sweets and it ends with dollars.

The third day I had a very special view as I could see the Mount Everest range for the first time and that thing is HUGE, really impressive. The same day the asphalt disappeared after Dingri and gave way to the classic washboard road although compared to the Axai Chin the road was good and finally there there was no wind so I could make some progress.
The next day however was a completely different story at it started out windy and I had to climb the 5030m high Lahlung La but because of the ever increasing wind I did not make it on time. to make things worse my chain got of the chain ring in the dark and I had to fix it at -10C, great fun :-/ So in the end I had to stay in a small ‘coffin tunnel’ at 5000m, brrrr.
The following day it was the same with at the final pass (Thong La, 5131m) the MOST DISGUSTING UNBELIEVABLE ICE COLD FREEZING STORMY headwinds I have had in Tibet:

The pass is fully exposed from all sides so the wind was howling like crazy so I had to push my 50 kg bike all the way to the pass with temperatures reaching -20C. Together with the lack of oxygen it took a loooong time and on the way down I even got caught in a blizzard at 4500m so I had to camp in a tunnel. 2:0 for Tibet.

Luckily from this pass it’s more than 3000m downhill (the longest on earth) and the last day the weather was great so I could cycle like crazy to the border. Going down this road is very exiting as the landscape changes from the extreme alpine climate to subtropical within one day! In the morning yaks and -10C, in the evening monkeys, banana trees and 30C, unbelievable!
Near the Nepali border the snow was melting and the road turned into a big slippery mud party so I had to be very careful or I had ended up 200m below in the roaring Koshi River but I made it on time. Hear the sound of the river:
In Nepal I entered a completely other world, Hindus, crowded, hot, flowers, humid etc etc. A BIG shock after almost 2 month Tibet. I arrived at the right time however as it was Divalle (Hindu new year) so people were singing  and going from door to door so time to party!
The next days I had to work again but I took it slowly and cycled to Kathmandu in 3 days as there were still some passes to cross.

So now I am in Kathmandu and I stay in tourist-ghetto Thamel to relax and organise my visum for India. In the meantime I am a tourist again so I am sure I will make LOTS of pictures so stay tuned and enjoy the pictures of Tibet and Nepal :-)

Namaste!
Marc