Todos Santos

THE SAINTS OF THE CUCHUMATANES

I'm afraid I cannot think of anything nice to say about Huehuetenango (or just “Huehue”). I arrived here yesterday from Mexico and ever since I have seen nothing but rubbish and ugliness. It already started while driving up here by bus: an American girl was reading a book and crumpled up each page that she had read and threw it out of the window, just like that! Full of unbelief I watched many a page fly out of the window. Probably this was a sign for what was about to come… Huehue!

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Wutai Shan

TEMPLE HOPPING IN WUTAI SHAN

Longing for a place to escape the crowds, the heat, the smog and bustle of Beijing, you'll soon find yourself on the bus to Wutai Shan. Fresh mountain air, ornate temples, a peaceful and spiritual atmosphere: pretty much the features of this area. But now I am conveniently omitting the seven-hour devil's ride over winding mountain roads, past polluting coal mines, long hours waiting in an endless traffic jam of roaring trucks ... And I am right to do so, because Wutai Shan is still a place well worth visiting.

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Cuc Phuong

CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK

On the way from Ninh Binh to Cuc Phuong National Park the damage caused by typhoon Damrey, that raged over the country one and a half week ago, becomes apparent. A large part of the rice fields is under water, with the tops of little temples barely sticking out, as if crying for help. Even in the park some fifteen percent of the forest seems to have been destroyed by the storm.

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Quan Lan

QUAN LAN, THE LAST ISLAND

Even with the map of Hon Gai in our hands we cannot find our way. The town is spread-out, and our map minimal. No one speaks English and time is running out. To think that we assumed two hours time was more than enough to get from Bai Chay to Hon Gai, on the other side of the water. A gigantic bridge between the two towns is being built. Together they form Halong City; a name little known among the Vietnamese. The more popular though among the tourists that come in hundreds, thousands to stay in touristy Bai Chay. But Hon Gai, that's quite another story...

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Qingdao

QINGDAO, GERMANY ON THE CHINESE COAST

"Big city? Not at all!" exclaims the Chinese businessman with a broad smile, "Qingdao by our standards is but a very small place, you know!" Well, we silently and heartily disagree. To call a city with over 2.5 million people small! Qingdao in recent years has been modernized and is now blessed with an amazing speed rail link with Beijing. With 250 kilometers per hour the white CRH train flies through the countryside and the journey takes less than six hours. Four hours less than the old train connection. The sudden rise of this metropolis had everything to do with the 2008 Summer Olympics: all the sailing events took place in Qingdao. A weird choice, because there's very little wind, and the coast is frequently being plagued by an explosive growth of green algae.

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Oman

MOTEL AS SUWAIQ

There’s much action going on in As Suwaiq. Siesta is over, shops have opened up again and everyone seems to have taken to the streets. We drive through the narrow alleys, past a shabby beach and a magnificent fort. It’s time we inquire about directions. “Sir, do you know where we can find Motel As Suwaiq?”. A surprised and mysterious smile and then an outstretched arm pointing inland. Back to the highway, past the police office and then just straight ahead. Always straight ahead, gestures the friendly man with a meaningful swoop of the arm.

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Essaouira

A LUCKY EGG

Along the side of the road we are waiting for a grand-taxi to Tinerhir. It is still early in the morning; for once we have skipped breakfast. The elderly English couple that has also spent the night in our little hotel, is busy stuffing all their belongings in a little car while sighing heavily. Ibrahim sees us standing there and with wild gestures he suggests we better get in the car with them. The woman looks in our direction with pity in her eyes, she doesn't mind if we join them for the ride.But her nervously pipe-smoking husband thinks differently. Six people in that little Fiat? With all that luggage? No way.
Disappointed we waiting there once more, alongside the deserted road.There comes Ibrahim again. Angryly he objects: how can they let us standing there? Do they not see we are travelling with a toddler! A child, how can one say no" to them!?

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Paluse

GREEN AND BLUE: Aukstaitija National Park

Surprised we scan the empty campsite. There is not one tent! What a joke; in the car we had been discussing it: what if the campsite would be fully booked? In Nida, on the Lithuanian coast, it had been packed with tents and campers. After all, this is the high season. Plenty of wasps are buzzing over the grass, they seem to have the place all to themselves. The sun is carefully trying to appear. Fortunately, as during our 110 kilometer ride from Vilnius - the capital of Lithuania - to Paluse it had rained continuously.

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Torres del Paine

TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK

Alongside the road we sit and wait patiently for the bus to be repaired. Just fifteen minutes ago we left Puerto Natales for Torres del Paine National Park. Our backpacks are filled with food for about two weeks survival; there is loads of stuff to buy in the shops of. The bus broke down and for a while it looks like today we are not going to get anywhere - it is today's last bus. But after an hours work we are able to continue our journey and at seven - after a four hour drive - we arrive at the Guardería of Laguna Amarga. There is much wind. Next to the water we put up our tent, on swampy grounds.

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Labuk Bay

A DUTCH MONKEY

“Click, click, click” goes my camera, and I look through the lens to focus on that huge proboscis monkey, that is sitting so proud and sturdy on a tree-trunk. Click! Those photos are going to be beautiful. Then all of a sudden, “boom, boom, boom” it goes, the floor beneath me begins to shake, people begin to scream. It all happens so fast. When I turn around to look behind me, he is sitting right there: one of those giant monkeys. He is sitting at the edge of the verandah and is staring at us, expectant and urging at once. All of us have a camera hanging around our necks, but none of us dares to make a move… The award-winning photo escapes us! As if grounded we stand there motionless, waiting for him to make his next move.

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Borneo

BORNEO JUNGLE-TRAIN

From the two front-chairs in the bus we have a good view of the road and the surroundings. And, at the same moment, of the steep mountain slopes, the precipices, the flooded and washed away asphalt and the cat-and-mouse game between the cars and buses on the road: overtaking, breaking, accelerating, overtaking again. It is a hellish ride of 60 kilometers to Tambunan. We are on the way from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom, in order to return to Kota Kinabalu the next morning by jungle train.

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Estonia

THE BALTIC ALTERNATIVE

The Baltic States, and especially Estonia, are an excellent alternative to Scandinavia. The same dense woods, crystal clear lakes and lonely roads, but (for the time being) much cheaper and much less visited by tourists. In Estonia you will not only find unspoilt nature, but also remnants of a rich history; besides the numerous romantic castles and medieval towns, also the Soviet barracks have their own tales to tell.

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Panama

ONE WEEK IN PANAMA

Slowly we cross the bridge into Panama. Beneath us flows the Rio Sixaola, making up the border with Costa Rica. What a lovely view we have of the river and its lush banks; it is not often that one sees such a beautiful border! From the village of Sixaola in Costa Rica we are on our way to Guabito in Panama, where we eat a little before we hop on the next bus. Our trip of a couple of months through Central America is coming to an end and we only have one week left. Instead of spending this week in Costa Rica (our flight back is from San José), we have decided to visit the west of Panama.

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Matterhorn

IN THE CLOUDS

Through the Mattertal - probably the most visited valley in Switzerland - we drive to Täsch in the southernmost part of the country. Here the road comes to a dead end and we have to leave our car behind on the enormous parking lot. By train we travel the remaining five kilometers to Zermatt. We are near the border with Italy; a border formed by an almost inpenetrable wall of mountains.

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Navarino

It’s a long way... to NAVARINO

Two weeks ago we made the reservation by telephone from Puerto Natales. The freightboat with room for twenty-two passengers leaves about once every fortnight from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams on the island of Navarino, southernmost place in Chilean Patagonia. It remained uncertain for a while, whether or not, and when, a boat would leave. But as soon as we heard a date was fixed, we booked our passage!

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Simatai

A bit of luck

While the Chinese still prefer to go to Badaling ("Why travel far to see a piece of wall?") we opt for Simatai, a small village at the foot of the wall about three hours drive from Beijing. Our scheduled night at Simatai becomes two nights, then three ... It's hard to say goodbye to such a fantastic place.

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Titicaca

Isla Taquile

From Puno we leave by boat to Taquile, a distance of about 45 km. On the way we stop for a while at “the floating islands” of the Uro indians, and after four hours of sailing we arrive at the small island of Taquile, situated in the Peruvian part of Lake Titicaca (the other half of the lake belongs to Bolivia). Lake Titicaca lies at a height of 3820 meter, and is therefor the highest navigable lake in the world. With a length of 170 km and a width of 64 km, this biggest lake of South America is also very deep (up to about 280 meter), which causes the temperature of the water to be quite constant the whole year round, at about 10°C. Also the airtemperature stays moderate at nights and during winters; suitable circumstances for agriculture.

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