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A travel diary: 6 months in Asia

Travel

How about a 6-month getaway in Asia? We met with Rebecca and Damien, a couple of adventurers who went travelling to do volunteer work and discover this fascinating continent. Here’s what we learnt from them:   What were your motivations to travel in Asia for 6 months? Why did you choose this continent in particular?   Damien: The decision to leave came naturally. Professionally, I felt I had reached the end of a cycle, I wanted to start a new project. Rebecca was in a similar situation and we also wanted to find a new apartment to settle down more comfortably. Before embarking on these ambitious projects in common, we decided to travel abroad for several months.   Rebecca: I had never travelled outside of Europe and I wanted to experience different lifestyles. Firstly we opted for Asia for logistical reasons, as it is a relatively cheap country where it’s easy to travel as a backpacker. But most importantly, it was also the continent we knew the least about and where the cultural choc would be the strongest.     Regarding the logistical aspect of such a long trip, were you focused on planning every detail or did you leave room for improvisation?   Rebecca: I worked two jobs until the very last minute and stopped working only four days before we left, so I neither had the time nor the courage to plan the trip. It was also a choice to not do too much research in order to keep an element of surprise when arriving in each country.   Damien: I discovered Asia when I arrived in Bangkok. I hadn’t done any research before leaving, I neither knew the places worth seeing, nor the traditions and cultures of the countries we were planning to visit.   What route did you follow once in Asia? Was there a specific destination you enjoyed most?   We arrived at the beginning of January in Bangkok, Thailand. We then visited the South of the country and crossed over to Malaysia by bus. Afterwards, we flew to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), then Vietnam, Cambodia and we finished with the Philippines. We loved every one of them but the one that will remain dear to us is Myanmar. Since the country only opened its doors to tourism five years ago, the people are very happy to welcome travellers. Furthermore, it’s in Myanmar that we had the opportunity to do volunteer work in a school specialising in teaching English. We lived with young Burmese for a week, which allowed us to understand their way of life.     What struck or surprised you the most during your journey?   Rebecca: It’s hard to pick something in particular because the cultural gap is so massive, that everything surprised us when we arrived! Hygiene conditions, safety: it was light years away from what we were used to!   Damien: The most striking for me was to see these chaotic mobile markets offering incredible quantities of food in questionable storage conditions. These places are filled with smells we never had had the chance to smell before.     Asian culture seems to be light years away from our Western culture, how did you adapt to cultural differences?   Damien: I had never left Europe, so I was shocked by the cultural gap between our continent and Asia. It took me a few weeks to get used to the food, and sanitary and safety conditions. We were so used to our sanitised environments, it was a real shock when we arrived in Asia, everything was scary! But after a few weeks, what was once inconceivable became commonplace. After a bit more than a month, we stopped paying attention to futile details and started focusing on the human aspect of our journey.       Did you get a chance to meet the locals of the countries you visited? Did you keep in touch with some of them?   We had the opportunity to spend some time with locals in Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam thanks, in part, to our involvement in the management team of Ultra ASIA Race, a running event that takes place in the Mai Chau Mountains. We’ve kept in touch with them on Facebook and Instagram. Every once in a while, we chat about our daily lives, which are rather different!     A 6-month trip abroad can be overwhelming for a lot of people… Did you have any doubts or fears during the journey?   The first few weeks of the trip were a bit tough. Finding yourself far away from your family, your country, and having no point of reference is definitely unsettling. You even start wondering what you’re doing there, whether you’ve made the right choice. But once you meet other travellers and locals, this feeling goes away. Encounters are what makes a journey beautiful and allows you to enjoy it to the fullest.         Do you have any advice for our readers who are preparing a long journey abroad?   More than anything else, try to do volunteer work: these experiences help you meet and spend time with the locals, share unforgettable moments and discover new cultures. Our time at the school in Myanmar and organising the Ultra ASIA Race in Vietnam are the most beautiful moments of our trip in Asia. These two experiences undeniably taught us a lot more about Burmese and Vietnamese cultures.     Thousand Thanks!   For more information about how to prepare your Backpacking trip And another guide here
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Kerala. The other land of tea

Travel

We know that tea is produced from a tree. Of Kerala, we have heard some suggestive names: Pondicherry, Cochin or Malabar. What else?   Puzzling and fascinating India. In the southwest of this vast peninsula, is Kerala. Between Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, it is the green region of the country, already known for its spices, visited for ages by merchant come from China and the Middle East who made it a major stopover.       In the 16th century, Vasco de Gamma created the first Portuguese counter, in Cochin. Then Dutch, French and English people stop, linger and settle down there. The British Empire soon annexes whole India, focused on the economic potential of Kerala.         Let’s note that this land is vast and fertile. Rich in long beaches with palm trees, in channels (backwaters) invaded of boat-houses where fishermen live, Kerala hides another treasure: the chain of Ghâts which peaks at 2 695 meters. Eucalyptus forests abound in precious botanical species and valleys are cultivated for a long time already. And more, the region counts a peaceful ethnic majority speaking a single language, Malayalam. A rare unity in India of the Maharajas!         Meanwhile, a beverage made from a wild plant spreads, such a powder trail, from valleys to valleys, from foothills of Himalaya to the North of India, particularly in the province of Darjeeling. That is tea, of course.   In 1880, a British imports Chinese plants and creates the first tea plantation in the heart of Ghâts, in Munnar.At the time, they knew that tea prospers at high altitude and needs reasonable volumes of water. A tropical climate, a luxuriant flora and the steep slopes of Ghâts which facilitate the evacuation of waters: these ideal conditions are going to make of Kerala the new homeland of tea.   Nowadays, it is called Valley of teas. Plantations prospered thanks to the labour of a feminine workforce, master in the art of picking and processing of the tea leaves. More than ten thousand hectares of fields give to the landscape looks of bright green gardens, crossed by narrow paths running away in all directions. Even the Indians made of Kerala a choice destination for their honeymoon. Travelers walking there are sometimes surprised there is no smell of tea. Nothing unusual: only processing of tea leaves can expel their specific aromas.         From tea tree to the cup   As the magic potion became the emblem of some proud Gauls, the tea - already preferred by the British - became a national drink in India. Here, they call it Chai. Black, white or spiced, tea is everywhere in the tiny shops of Chai Wallah. And each knows that, whatever is its color, the tea results from the same plant.   Leaves are dried, cut several times, oxidized then dried again. Shavings are packed in our tea boxes and bags. This processing gives the green tea. To obtain a black tea, it is necessary to add a few weeks of fermentation. The rarer and more expensive, white tea, is prepared from young fresh foliage and small buds naturally scented.         Today, the province spreads out all over the world its Nilgiri and Munnar teas. That is how this vegetal gold changed the fate of Kerala.   If you want to prepare your Trip to Kerala, follow the link
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Anne Bialek: An adventurer at the top

Travel

      Before turning 40, Anne decided it was time to change her life. And she does the job properly … Let’s meet the first woman to complete all 6,000m peaks in Bolivia. Anne, you were not supposed to live in mountains   No. I was born in Burgundy and climbing was not a family passion. I always liked sports, especially running. But, most of all, I loved competition. During hikes in the Alps, I saw these guys coming down from the glaciers… I began dreaming about Kilimanjaro and Annapurna.     This could not have happened?   That’s true. I followed another way. I worked as an engineer in the automotive industry. I had a good job but, passing 30-years-old, I was getting bored. I had a skills audit. I was searching something else. One day, I flashed on the photo of a Bolivian mountain. In 2005, I tried a two weeks trek in Bolivia. It was my first time in the Cordillera and, in a row, my first 6,000m glacier. Some tried to dissuade me. I was not a top-notch climber but I had to live this. And meeting people on site had a significant impact. At this moment, something clicked. Just back, I left for a lone three month trip in Bolivia. No job, no basis, no contacts and ignoring Spanish language… But this travel convinced me. I had to live here, near these wondering peaks.     And you created Thaki Travel   Soon, I was working as a commercial agent for a Bolivian travel Agency. Very fond of the country and the people, I wanted to build something with them, to play a role in the Bolivian development. With my friend Jérôme, married to a Bolivian girl, we finally created our own travel agency in La Paz. Today, we offer classic tours and sports activities dedicated to alpinists.     You became a famous climber and Andin specialist. But you could have done it elsewhere?   I learned climbing here, not in the Alps. Peaks are very high, more technical. Summer is rainy season so we climb in winter. Altitude and cold give a special taste to the ascent. And Bolivia deserves to be known. Mountain guides from the whole world are now interested and ask to try its beautiful routes and technical walls.     You climb but you also open new paths. Never have enough adventure!   I think I have always been an adventurer. I live my passion. I climbed 13 six-thousand-meter Bolivian peaks by standard routes. I became the only known female to complete all. During the last ten years, I did more than 20, in Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia and more. To open new routes, I leave with one or two guides. Bolivians remain humble facing the nature but today, they like it. They taught me climbing and I give them the taste of exploring.     Tell us about the typical day of an Andin climber   First, we take a rest. We have to save energy not to run out too fast. In the afternoon, we take sun and heat in order to climb at night. Starting at 1.00 a.m. is quite hard. Then that gets better until the two last hours before sunrise. It is long, we wait and when it comes, it is like a rebirth. In each mountain pass, we make an offering (alcohol, coca leaves, cigarettes) to Achachilas. They are deities protecting the mountains and each peak has one. For Bolivian guides, these offerings are clearing the fear to defile a sacred place. I really care about respecting these ancestral beliefs. The adventure takes a spiritual insight.   What does mountain means to you? In a few words   It increases my taste for life, it fills me. I feel calm and secured. Mountain helped me to grow, to reveal myself. Being close to 50, I am getting (a little more) cautious. I hope my experience could raise awareness of the nature and our ways of life. Many Thanks Anne!   You can follow Anne on Facebook  Thaki Voyage Agency to organize your trip in the Andes - Discover some more pictures right here
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