Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Some dreams come true

When one year ago I decided to start writing here, this project was terribly uncertain and hypothetical.
Now, exactly one year later, I have been diligently taking every necessary step and I am about to embark on this great adventure, with only a few things to do yet before it.

I remember dreaming about this kind of trip since at least 8 years ago, while I cannot deny that Asia and many of its several cultures have exerted a powerful attraction on me since I was a child.

I am on the edge of a change in my life.

Many people have asked me some detailed explanation on the route that I will follow.
Here it is:

On the 4th of February (incidentally, the first day after the Chinese New Year in 2011) I will take a train at a local station in Bilbao, and for the first time I will travel by train to San Sebastian, a journey that takes almost 3 hours, just to enjoy the landscapes of my homeland for the last time before I leave.

Another train will take on that same day to Paris, where I will stay for the weekend, immersed in the Parisian belle vie.
Then I will head to Berlin, where I was last year for 5 days, the gate to the formerly known as Eastern Bloc.

Poland will await me then, for the first time in life, and I will indulge myself some days in Warsaw before I enter Belarus and spend some time in Minsk, capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (including Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan), what remains of the USSR.

Yet again by train, I will reach Moscow at the end of February, and hopefully on time for the Maslenitsa (Russian Carnival).
I will meet some friends there, and stay for a week or so, and I will try to visit some of the jewels of the Golden Ring (ancient Rus towns surrounding Moscow).

Most importantly, I will then depart on the eastbound Transsiberian route, but first of all, I will stop at Nizhny Novgorod.
Some miles after that I will cross the invisible line between Europe and Asia, in March.

I will halt in Irkutsk, on the shore of Lake Baikal, but I'm not sure if I will make any other stop till I get to Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast (I am currently reading the Transsiberian travel guide and pondering options).

A ferry will take me to Fushiki in Japan (Takaoka, Toyama prefecture), on the West coast of Honshu (Japan's main island). It takes two nights to get there from Vladivostok.

I am really excited about getting to Japan, so I don't know what I will exactly do there, but I want to see as much as possible and stay possibly as long as one month there, despite it will surely be the most expensive country I will visit.
I will go to Tokyo first, and then other places in Honshu, like Osaka, Kyoto, Nara etc.
It will be the time of hanami when I get to Japan, the sakura (cherry tree) blossom, a greatly revered celebration for the Japanese (March/April).
I want to go further north, to Hokkaido island, a place of awesome wilderness and natural wonders, home to the Ainu minority.

Besides, I would like to taste the real countryside Japan somewhere, like Shikoku island, maybe.

I will leave Japan probably from Kyushu (the southern island), after visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, taking a ferry to South Korea.

In South Korea, I will travel from the South to the North (Seoul), and then take another ferry to China (Tianjin).

If North Korea allows, indeed, for there are increasing threats of war in Korean waters.

Tianjin is the closest port to Beijing, so that will be my next destination, I will land there probably at the beginning of May.

The unavoidable Great Wall will be one of my sights too, but then I will stay mainly in the North of China, Manchuria (city of Harbin) and Inner Mongolia before I get into Mongolia proper.

In the Republic of Mongolia I will try to find out what to do in Ulaanbaatar and see if there is an easy way to adventure myself into the Steppe.

After Mongolia I will return to China to see the East coast (Shanghai and so) and the cradle of Chinese civilisation, between Yellow and Yangtze rivers (Xian and so).

Going southwards, I will arrive to Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

I will finally leave China from Southern Yunnan province.
There is a boat that will take me from Jinghong (Yunnan) to Chiang Saen in Thailand, through Mekong river.
Once in Thailand (visa obtainable on arrival), I will ask the visas for other countries in Bangkok, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and India.

So far till June 2011... I won't anticipate more for the time being :)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Step by step... towards departure

This has been a decisive week, in which I am fastly reaching the point of no return before the trip.

Many progresses have been done.

I have applied for the work leave at my company (but I have yet to get an answer), starting in mid-January, when I will leave to England for some days before I start the final arrangements at home.

Besides, I have asked for the Belarussian and Russian visas at a local travel agency (Blue Planet), very expensively for there is no Belarussian embassy in Spain, and most probably I will receive them in the beginning of January.
Then, I will have to buy a new health insurance for the period May-January (9 months) and see what kind of Chinese visa I can get (I will need a multiple-entry tourist visa of 3 months length, if I can obtain it).
I have already decided to get all the other visas on my way, hopping from one border to another.

And, finally, I have bought the ticket of the train trip to Paris (only 19 €), on the 4th of February, definitely the departure day towards my Asian adventure.

On the not so positive side... I have found out that tuberculosis is widespread in Belarus, and I haven't been vaccined against that... I also read that there is no effective vaccine against pulmonary tuberculosis in adults, so I don't know, I will ask.

In fact, next Wednesday I will have to go back to Sanidad Exterior for my second vaccination against the Japanese Encephalitis.

In a few days this blog, that I started with the clear purpose of focusing myself on this trip, will be 1 year old, so happy birthday in advance!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Bordeaux, passé et avenir

I came to Bordeaux this weekend in order to find something I was looking for.
Not sure what it was, anyway.

It's not my first time here, I had already been in the capital of Aquitaine 6 years ago, within my first solo travelling.

It's strange how things can change so much in 6 years; not really the places, but ourselves, the way we see and think.
Earlier this week, while talking with members of the Basque Geographical Society, we came to the conclusion that you yourself are half of the trip, the other half being the place and the people.

The place and the people only fill half of your travelling glass, the other half is left empty for you to fill with your own thoughts, feelings, knowledge, choices and mood. Those change greatly over the time, so you always have new experiences.

I'd fancy to think that 6 years ago I was somehow a very different person, there were still many things I had to do and many thoughts I had yet to reach.

I didn't like Bordeaux that much back then.

For instance, I didn't know French.
I could manage with the basics but I was kind of isolated while travelling in France.
I support English as international language, but that doesn't mean you are going to get any further if you don't know the local language, which is unavoidable to grasp the real personality of the place and the people.

On my first trip to Bordeaux (after wandering in Brittany for some days) I met an American guy at the youth hostel, and I felt that we could share much more than what I had with locals previously.

That really struck me and I promised to myself to jump over that barrier, to break those artificial borders that separate my hometown from France.
Bordeaux is as close to Bilbao as Zaragoza is, and much nearer than Madrid.

We don't have to live back to back, and in any case, if Spain and Spaniards want to keep on ignoring France, we Basque shouldn't, because we already live at both sides of the fictional border and the cultural continuum between us and Garonne river is uninterrupted.

In short, that's what State centralism and modern globalisation carries, feeling apart from your neighbours while sharing random modern traits with people that live miles and miles and oceans away.

Knowing languages helps against that, but what could we ask anyone if mastering English is still a great challenge for many people.

This time I have met this Swedish guy whose main ability was to rap, and had a couple mind-blowing stories to tell.
He had done really nothing in life but travelling, because when he started travelling at 18 years old (now he's 28) he met so amazing travellers that got rapted by wanderlust.

He had many plans for his life onwards, like building an all-terrain vehicle with his bike where he could sleep and travel and satisfy his vital needs.

I felt like being critic with this kind of attitude (at least for the time being) because I still have a view of life in which I should be doing something productive, but something I really love and something at which I am good and feels natural to me, and besides it gives some cultural or social value to mankind.

I don't want to fall into purposelessness myself, of which I'm afraid, but I have nothing against that philosophy of travelling; I admire it, in fact, but still I think that freedom junkies are self-centered.

There is something I could completely agree with him.
That cities can be considered museums of people, and we find great pleasure from just beholding people passing on the street, doing their daily duties. It's one side of the trip discovery.

I have spent most of the Saturday doing that, promenading through Bordeaux, taking nice pictures both with my mind and my camera, so in a sense that was my task there.

The climate was colder but sunnier, more Continental than the mostly Atlantic I am used to.
It rained almost everyday for the last two months in Bilbao and I was really fed up with wet coldness.
You could see pure bliss on my face while I was walking, so much liking of what I was seeing.
I think I had a smile on my lips for the whole day.

I loved the positive mood poured out of the bleached white walls and people's laughter.
But Christmas is getting closer too, and I suppose that that cheered up a lot.

Bordeaux had a monumental and elegant air, a city of long history and self-esteem, with a hint of Britishness into it too.

Anyhow, I felt eager to integrate myself in the French ambiance.

I know there are hidden corners I'd like to discover, but I'm in no hurry, I will have time if fate provides.

I wanted to feel the city, to perceive how it breathes, and finally I did it. Short but intense.
And I like what I saw. Nothing else has to be said.

If we all learned to see everyday life through traveller's eyes, we would live in an enhanced reality... our imagination would complement what we see and every day would be an adventure.
Here's a proper way to live.