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Swimming with Piranha's       


As a small kid I used to have a list in my head about places and countries I wanted to go see. Travelling from 1989, I was able to reduce my list quiet a bit, butaddedcounties and places to the list aswell. One of the places I allways wanted to go to, was the Amazone in South America. In 1997 I made a trip to Peru, seeing the Inca temples was another one on the list, and to Bolivia from where I took the famous busride into the Amazon Basin. In Rurrenbaque I booked a trip for a few days in the jungle of the Amazon and in to the Pampas. Traveling by boat up the Rio Beni and then in to the small waters in the jungle and the Pampus. We had a young guide how was more interested in the english girls in the group, then in showing things. But what the hack. We saw lots of birds, riverdolphins, Ara's, Tarantulla's and Cayman, this a kind ofcrocodile, lying on the riverbeds. At one point we even went fishing for Piranha's (the meat isoke, but there is more bone than meat). Being it very hot in the jungle, the guide suggested to go for a swim? So the boat swirled around, getting the Cayman in the water and he doved in the river?? This was at the same place as where you ifh for Piranha's. But who was I to stay behind, so I dove in behind him. The water was nice and cool it  made me feel clean. Then I felled something on my back, a Piranha? What was toughing me? Then I felled it on my legs and my arm. I looked around in a state of fright, was I getting eaten by Piranha's? Then I saw hundreds of small triangular fish feasting on the salt of my body. Feeling a bit relaxed I went slowly to the boat and climbed in. I mean, was I just lucky this time?

Met de bus naar Rurrenabaque in Bolivia.

Een van de plekken op de wereld waar ik altijd al heen wilde is de Amazone. Toen ik dus ook maar enigszins in de buurt was, ik trok door Peru, zag ik dan ook mijn kans schoon om via Bolivia de Amazone in te trekken. Dat hield in, vanaf La Paz vanaf 4000 meter afzakken naar een metertje of 200. Eigenlijk wilde ik vliegen, maar er ging maar 1 militair vliegtuig een paar keer per week. Dus maar met de bus. Die gaan gelukkig een paar keer per dag, dus geen probleem. Nou zijn de Boliviaanse bussen niet de allerbeste en de manier van rijden iets anders dan we hier gewend zijn. Maar goed. Om 14.00 uur vertrok de bus. Ik had ervoor weinig gedronken omdat de chauffeurs niet echt bekend staan om hun rustpauzes. Gelukkig stoppen we na een paar uur voor een drugscontrole. Iedereen de bus uit en honden de bus in en op. Na een uurtje weer verder. Dan begint de afdaling. Het is een éénbaans onverharde weg slingerend door de bergen. Ik zit gelukkig aan de goede kant, ofwel ik heb geen uitzicht op het ravijn. De tweede man in de bus, het hulpje springt zo nu en dan voor een bocht de bus uit om te kijken of er wat aankomt. Als dat zo is rijdt de bus achteruit naar een passeerhaven, hij gaat dan strak aan de ravijnkant staan. Geloof me, aan die kant van de bus voel je je niet echt prettig. Her en der zien we een auto, vrachtwagen of bus in het ravijn liggen. Intussen lees ik de Lonely Planet over deze weg. Wat blijkt...dit is de gevaarlijkste weg ter wereld, wekelijks rijdt men het ravijn in, slik. Intussen rijdt de chauffeur flink door, kauwend op Coca bladeren.Om 22.00 stoppen voor diner, jawel de tweede stop. Dat houdt in: dooreten, want als de chauffeur klaar is gaat'ie weer. Vanaf 6 uur is het al donker en er is geen verlichting in de bus. Stoelen zijn trouwens lekker door gezakt en een paar magazines verlichten het scheef zitten. Slapen is zwaar, maar lukt zo nu en dan. Als de zon weer opkomt zijn we  in het Amazone bassin en uit de bergen. Helaas houdt dat niet in, dat het comfortabeler is, de weg zit vol met diepe kuilen en met een snelle chauffeur is dat een aanslag op je zitvlees. Om 07.00 uur stopt hij voor ontbijt en geloof het of niet, dit is zijn derde stop na vertrek ( incluis de drugscontrole ) Om 10.30 uur ariveren we, na een rit van zo'n 20 uur en 3 stops in Rurrenabaque. En dan moet je ook nog terug?



Massages throughout the world

Reizen is een vermoeiende job. Voor velen is vakantie een tijd van uitrusten, voor anderen een tijd van stress en aanpassen. Wel, stressen is het wel eens een beetje, uitrusten zit er zeker niet in en aanpassen is de religie van het backpacken. Naast het steeds gewissel van hotels, zijn er natuurlijk ook de nodige stevige wandelingen en trekkings door onherbergzaam gebied. Om dat uit je lichaam te krijgen is er de massage uitgevonden. Vraag me niet door wie, maar vraag me wel hoe dat is. In geen enkel land is dit hetzelfde en dat maakt het ook zo interessant. Bij massages denk je al gauw aan erotische aktiviteiten of luxe ingerichte salons. Dat het ook anders kan, vertel ik bij deze in Massages throughout the world.



In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, there are the sulphurbath. These are public bathes with sulperrich water. Walking outside you can smell the rotten eggs. Luckily, inside, the smell is not so bad. Having some time left on the day I leave for Azerbaijan, I decide to give it a shot. I take the public bath in one of the more beautiful buildings. After getting undressed in the mans section, I enter the bathing area. First of all, it is not a swimming pool. Getting in you have on the left side  several showers where a couple of older mn are washing. At the end of the room there is a small bath, about 2 x 3 meters with nice warm water. In the middle you can go up to a sauna and a colder tub. On the right from the entry there are two marble tables. Here you can get a massage or a scrubbing, or just getting soaped in. After a shower and a bath I go for the whole lot. So I lay down on the marble table, which sounds easier then it is, being it very slippery, I allmost fell of. The masseur is an older guy in his undies. After he soaps me in, he puts on some Brillo gloves and start scrubbing me. While I first had a shower and a bath it is surprisingly how much dirt I still have on me. After getting cleaned I get the massage, okay, writing this takes longer then the massage, which took about 5 minutes. Finished I get soaped in again and take another shower. After the shower I even go in the sauna, even when walking outside is hot enough. Being in the sulpherbath for about 2 hours, I walk out clean and refreshed, just to get hot, sweaty and filthy again.




In Cambodia, but also in Vietnam you have the Massage of the blind. The blind? Well yes. First time I saw this, was in Siem Reap. Don’t think it will be pretty young Cambodian girls who will please you. Instead you enter a shady kind of shed with bamboo tables and bright white sheets. The masseurs are in fact really blind ( not a surprise, eh?) and guys, what a disappointment! So I lay face down on a table with my cloth still on and one of the blokes comes at my table. Singing along in a soft tone he starts the massage. The massage is quite good and not as hard as in Thailand. Every now and then he shouts something to his colleages, followed with laughter.  After a while I notice he has put a radio between my legs and is enjoying the show. Well I have to say, I didn’t hear a thing. After the relaxing event, I got up and wanted to pay him. No, says the masseur, pay at the door. Outside a man sits at a table, while handing over the $ 3 to the cashier, I tell him, I can understand this, so he can see and check the money. At the same time I see he also is as blind as a bat.



Like in Cambodia you also have the massage of the blinds, but they are not so different. In Hue there is a different kind of massage. In other countries it is also called a barber shop or hairdresser. As I sit in a restaurant in a small street I am invited by a tout for a special massage. Well, in for specials,  I wonder what it is. He takes me next door to what is in fact is a hair saloon. Hairdressers chairs and mirrors. So I sit down in the chair, as only client with four girls around me. They are laughing and I have no idea about what ( probably about me ), great when you don’t speak the language. They recline the chair and while laying there, they start the massage. And with 'they' I mean all four. At different parts of my body. Meaning head, legs and arms. After a few minutes one girl picks up a hand massage machine. Never saw something like it before, but she uses it fanatically. Roughing it over my arms, chest, legs and even my crouch. They enjoy it, I don’t so much. While she roughens my body, the other girls keep massaging, which there is no longer any point to due to the tingling in arms, legs and chest. Oh, what fun. After the massage they end with cutting my hear. Well it is a hairdresser after all. And all this for $ 2,00.



As most people know, India is a very strange place, busy, filthy with some weird people. So I was staying in the most amazing place of India Varanassi. A place with millions of people where you can walk in a traffic jam. One of the most interesting places in Varanassi are the Ghats at the Ganges. These are the holy steps to the most holy river of India. The river is heavily polluted and still live around it is important. People bathe in it, drink its water, but also bathe dead bodies in it. As I said a strange place. Man and women try to make some money in all possible ways. Off course you can also get a massage. So I got a massage on the Ghats of Varanassi. I lay down on the stone steps on a kind of blanket, looking to the side you see people bathing in the most polluted river, see holy cows scattering around you. As far as massages go, this was definitive not the best one. Laying on the steps, the masseur works hard and even gets help from a colleague. Halfway the massage they start complaining how bad live is, how poor they are and so on and on. For people going to India, this is a common complained from the guides. So of course they want to be paid double, which means arguing and walking away. But quite an experience.



As Burma is one of the nicest Asian countries you cannot expect a really strange massage. But still it was an painful experience. In Nyaungshwe I had an extra day ´cause I could not get a bus ticket to Yangoon. So I found a small house where they offered real Burma massage. As it was a family home, the small daughter had to find her father or brother, you never know. Part of the house was a plateau with sheets and pillows. I lay down on one and the bloke started the massage. Now this is supposed to be relaxing, but the Burmese massage uses pressing points to close your bloodstream. This means pushing his hands and fingers in my neck and armpits. Now that is not the worst part. It just became interesting when the masseur took of his shoes and stepped on my back. Walking up and down my backbone, standing on my shoulder blades and my buttock. Walking on my legs. When I lay on my back he does the same, standing on one leg in my groin. I tell you, this hurts in the beginning, but after a while it feels strangely nice, especially when he releases the pressure. At the end he rubs my chest and back in with a special herb cream, a kind of Tigerbalm, saying not to wash till the next day. The weather being very hot in Nyaungshwe I do not know if I make it that lang. At the and of the massage the family gives me tea and chips.





























The power of the Lada.

Traveling through the old Russian states, you can not but notice all the old cars and then especially all the Lada's. Was Henri Ford the first one to build cars in mass production with his T-Ford (in all colours available as long as it is black). Was the Volkswagen Beetle not a car half the population drove in?  Wasn't  the Mini Cooper everywhere and de Deux Chevaux the horse of the farmers? Then the Lada. I think the Russians made only one or two models in the Sovjet Era. One a kind of fourwheeldrive and the other just a plane square car. No extra's just seats, wheels, and some chiars. Like the cars mentioned, it was build to drive and get you from A to B. When it breaks down it must be easy to fix and if something falls of it should still be going. So as I said, you see a lot of those old models Lada. About 10 % of the cars I guess. And they are used for everything. As taxi, as fourwheeldrive in the mountains ( you don't even need profile on your tires, as truck. Several times I saw one completely filled up with watermelons. And by completely I mean with melons in the trunk, hood open, melons on the back and front seat till the roof. This way it has its own powerstearing. So, who says a Lada is a simple car is completely right, but it is as strong as a horse and unstoppable.



Getting to Shi'lin.

When traveling in foreign countries you have to adjust to the pace of the people. We, as Westerners, start complaining when a train is two minutes late. In India two hours is allmost in time. But traveling by minbus is something else. While a bus, even the most cracky ones, try to hold to some kind of schedule, minibusses will go when full. When I travelled through China, I wanted to go from Kunming to Shi'lin to see the stone forrest. I travelled with a guy from East Berlin (this was 1995, so only a few years after the fall of the wall) and we decided to take the bus at eight o'clock, the time the busses leave for Shi'lin. Getting in the first bus should give us enough time. Now is it that at eight o'clock about four or five busses go to Shi'lin. This should mean that there are enough people who want to go there. Wrong. There go about 14 people in a mini bus and my guess was that that morning about 14 people wanted to go there. So what happens. After an hour of shouting Shi'lin to everybody walking by, the first bus gives up and sends his passenger, one in total, to our bus. We are with three in the bus now. More shouting and walking up and down the street. Then the bus goes. Yes, you think. Wrong, it starts circling the block. When the next bus gives up, we are with seven people. Driving around for two hours, with other busses giving up, the bus in finally full. So starting at eight, we leave at aroud eleven. Aftter an hours drive the bus stops at an souvenirs shop, this to get commission, after 20 minutes we go only to stop after half an hour for lunch. Taking another half hour. Then finally at 13.30 we are in Shi'lin and a able to enter Stone Forrest. Now we had already decided to spend the night here. Luckily 'cause the busses back leave at 15.00 hour, giving you only 1 hour to see this amazing place. So, when all tourists left, we where left with the two of us in the park. Seeing a beautiful sunset and eat at a good restaurant. At night we enjoyed folkdance and chinese Karaoke (someday I kill the guy who invented that) and sleeping in the worst hostel ever. But it was worth the trip.


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