22 08 2010

Well it has been a while and as mentioned previously technology and time has conspired against me preventing me from posting up until now. We are currently in Poland at Justyna’s Mothers house and if it wasn’t for the fact that it is Sunday (the day of rest) I am not sure that I would even have had the time to post now. We have been helping out on the farm and there never seems to be a shortage of tasks that need to be completed so Justyna’s Mother has taken full advantage of our presence and has kept us very busy since our arrival. Well there is no way to recap everything that we have done since my last official posting so I will briefly sum up the last month in this post. In addition I have posted a lot of pictures in the hope that what they say is true that a picture it worth a thousand words and that it will help eliminate a lot of typing.

CHINA: We left Dali and headed to  Li Jang whose ancient town is supposed to be a Unesco World Heritage site but all we really saw was a lot of old buildings turned into store fronts selling yak meat and trinkets to ten of thousands of Chinese tourists. We only spent the night there before continuing on to do a trek in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The trek took two days with a stop over in a guest house for the night and was by far one of the highlights of the trip. The scenery was stunning and it so nice to find some solitude along the trails and just take in the views. One of the most amazing things was hiking all the way down to the river at the bottom of the gorge where we got to see the full furry of the Yangtze River during flood stage. I do not think I have ever been so close to something that powerful I was truly awe-struck. On our way back up to the road 1000′ above we had to climb what was called the sky ladder, a 70 or so foot concoction of bits of metal and wood precariously fastened to a vertical cliff. You a supposed to receive good luck if you climb it but I think all your luck is used up by the time you get to the top in just preventing the whole thing from falling down. As if the trek and the river where not enough, the drive out of the gorge was one of the more memorable moments of our trip. We had received heavy rains the night before causing some huge landslides to block the only road out of the gorge. The 22km trip wound up taking us over two hours to complete, requiring two vans, some pushing, heavy equipment and at some point dynamite(we had to walk through a blasting zone where they had been working all day to clear a massive amount of rockfall). From the gorge we headed to a town called Shangri La. Upon arrival we decided to spend the last of our free days in China around this wonderful little town before heading to Beijing  rather than battling more hoards of Chinese tourists at some of the other famous site elsewhere in the country. Shangri La is surrounded by mountains and has a very large Tibetan population which was something that I was searching for as well as something I wanted Justyna to experience while we where in China. The place feels completely different from  the other areas we had visited thus far and was just what we needed to slow down and relax for a few days. We spent our time there visiting monasteries, temples and just walking the old town. Justyna and I also decided to stay at a Tibetan Villagers House for a night which was quite an experience. The house was amazing and the family could not have been nicer but one has to question the wisdom of someone who was having a bout of stomach issues (China Belly) and decides to stay in a house in remote village whose bathroom consists of a field a half mile down a muddy path and where the food is made up of of 90% dairy products. I mean really, I don’t tolerate dairy at the best of times,so a breakfast that consisted of cheese, milk tea, yogurt and curds in butter did not really help. I manage to survive this and eventually my stomach settled down. We also had a great day of bike riding. We rode around Napa Lake which turned out to be quite an adventure. We had cruiser bikes that we took across fields, through rivers, over mountains passes and down dirt hills. From Shangri La we took a flight to Beijing which turned out to be oppressively hot. We spent three days milling about the city taking in the sights including the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, The Forbidden City as well as the Great Wall of China. All of the sites where crowded and the heat did not make it any more pleasant but in the end I think the we had the best time just walking around and taking in the city itself. Although we scrapped our plan to take the Trans Siberian to Europe months ago we where still able to take the first leg of the journey from Beijing to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. The 32 hour ride was very pleasant and interesting in the fact that the train has to stop at the border for three hours as all the wheels of the train are swapped out from the standard 4′-8 1/2″ gauge to the Russian 5′ gauge. This is done on every train that crosses the border. The trip took us across the Gobi desert and eventually brought us into Ulan Bator.

MONGOLIA: UB as some call it is not much to write home about it is mostly Communist era bloc housing and featureless concrete commercial buildings but there has been some new development and it will be interesting to see what the future will bring. We only had a week in Mongolia so we decided to spend six days out in one of the National Parks staying with nomadic families. The trip was organised through an organisation called Ger to Ger who do little more than organize logistics for you and point you on the way. We really liked the setup as the majority of the money goes directly to the host families. It really is a bare bones tour in that you are responsible for taking a local bus to the park and there is no english speaking guide to rely on. That being said it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of all my travels. We stayed with four different families and really got to see how they live. We ate with the families eating what they do which is a bit rough for us westerners. I got really sick in the middle of the trip with some kind of flu or something and spent a really long night half delirious in a tent going out all to frequently in a thunderstorm to relieve myself. I felt better eventually but my stomach was a bit off for days so needless to say a big old bowl of sheep parts was not avery appealing meal. Actually the smell of either meat of cheese (the two main ingredients of nomadic Mongolian cuisine) really got to me and consequently I did not really eat for quite a bit of the trip. All that aside I still had an amazing time and really wish we could have stayed longer. We got to horse back ride with our first trip coming in at nearly 50km’s on a wooden saddle which resulted in some serious soreness.We also got to learn a lot about the dairy they use, from milking the cows, yaks and horses (that right horses) to making various cheese products. We also had a lot of time to read and hike and just generally enjoy the pleasant weather and surroundings. We eventually headed back to Ulan Bator for what turned out to be a mess of a night before we left Mongolia. Upon arriving an hour late at 10pm we could not find our hostel then when we finally did they did not have a room open for us even though we had paid for half of it at their partner hostel. We eventually got two beds in a bunk room where we packed and tried to get cleaned up. By the time we got this all straightened out it was well past midnight and we had to get up at 4:30 to catch our flight. The rest of the night was not any better with people coming and going in the dorm and then at 3:30am a woman screaming outside the window which eventually brought the police. We made it to the airport on time which turned out to be a mad house as it seems as if for every person flying there are 20 or so family members there to see them off. For an airport with only a couple of gates there are literally hundreds of people all pushing and shoving in every which direction. We did managed to make it through the chaos and get on our flight and after a connection in Moscow we finally arrived in Helsinki, Finland

FINLAND: Helsinki was a bit of a shock, after spending so much time in some of the least expensive countries on the planet we wound up in one of the most expensive. Everything seems to cost a lot there, a small bottle of water was like $3 or something. We spent most of the time just trying not to spend any money but that really did not work out so well sowe just gave in and dealt with it. We wound up in some hotel way out of town and right on the water which was fine because we really needed some rest after the crazy night and day of travel we had getting there. The next day we spent walking around the city which is not very large. We took in all the main sites and even had some time to sit by the water front and enjoy an outrageously overpriced beer. We left Helsinki that evening on a high speed ferry to what we hoped would be a more economical destination across the Baltic named Tallin.

ESTONIA, LATVIA AND LITHUANIA: Well I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before we got there. We had decided to visit them after looking at a map and thinking that they would make the trip more interesting into Poland. Well I must say that I was completely and pleasantly surprised. All three countries capital cities are very modern with lots of new buildings and striking architecture as well as wonderfully restored old town quarters (most of the old towns in this area of Europe where completely destroyed during WWII). Tallin in Estonia was the most modern of the three capitals followed by Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania. We spent five days working our way through the Baltic states mainly just walking the old towns taking in a museum here or there but most enjoyably just sitting down somewhere to have a beer and some good food. We also made a little excursion to a town in Lithuania called Trakai to visit its famous Castle on an Island which was very pleasant. One other thing that was a bit surprising was prices, although cheaper than Finland it was only by a little bit in Estonia and then a bit more in Latvia and Lithuania respectively. We had a great time in the Baltic and felt it was a great way to get into Europe.

POLAND:  From Lithuania we took a bus Warsaw. We arrived close to midnight and thankfully some friends of ours picked us up from the bus depot. They also set us up in a really nice apartment for the few days that we stayed in the city. The next day was my birthday so we slept in for a little bit before grabbing some breakfast. We then walked to the old town where once again we just strolled through beautiful cobblestone streets and alleys occasionally stopping in a museum or to grab a bite to eat. We met up with our friends for dinner where the staff sang the traditional Polish birthday song to me. We finished off the day by hanging out in a park near their house and talking before Justyna and walked back home. We spent the following day again just walking around the city. We where also invited over by our friends for dinner which was just wonderful. The following day we caught a train to Krakow then another to Rzeszow followed by a few more busses eventually winding up in Dzikowiec, Justyna’s home town. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post we have been helping out around the farm. We plan on staying here for a few more days before starting the final leg of our journey across Europe and finally making our way back home.




3 responses

11 12 2010

Great article! Keep on going.

29 08 2010
jim lynch

hard to believe it took this far into your fantastic journey to finally hear about your pathetic digestive system. really thought that would be the ongoing theme of this trek. ok, I am beyond jealous thus have resorted to this cheap shot. now git ur arses back here so you can repeat all these stories as my brain is like a sieve.

23 08 2010

I Andrew and Justyna, I was really looking forward to some great pictures and they are just wonderful. You both look great and it seems you had a really nice birthday which makes me so happy. I love the three star toilet. Sorry we missed your call, hope you can get through again. Love M.D.M

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