samedi 15 janvier 2011

Backpackers "VS" Travellers

Hi everyone,

As some of you may already know, Yann and I will from now travel separately, even though it is expected that we will visit some places together from time to time. We realized we had different expectations from this trip, and decided it was better that way... I will continue posting here while I invite you to follow him on his blog : http://letempsdallerloin.blogspot.com/.

I will spend the next couple of weeks in Rajasthan with Olivia who is joining me tomorrow, and will therefore will not be able to update the blog during this time. To keep you waiting, here is a post that I have written between Mongolia and China and has not been published until now:

In the bus we took between Oulan-Oude (Russia) and Ulanbataar (Mongolia), we met an American (born Mexican) citizen in his fifties named Eduardo. He was on his way from London to Saigon, and would call himself a traveler more than a bagpacker. He kept repeating that he is not a very good tourist as he does not feel the need to visit so much, but just to go from one place to another which I found quite interesting. My understanding of this is that travelling is more about the people you meet and the feelings you have than about what you see. Eduardo, on this one, I fully agree with you and would also define myself more as a traveler from now on. Furthermore, he added that he would not tell to anyone back home (Houston, Texas) where he went and what he had done during his journeys around the world. That I found at first pretty disturbing. I therefore asked him why he would not want to tell anyone about the thousands of extraordinary adventures he had. And he said:”because I feel it would be arrogant to do so”. We unfortunately never really had the time or the opportunity to finish that conversation, but it kept me thinking about it and why I was travelling.

I guess I understand what Eduardo meant. He is a humble man and does not want to show off too much on how lucky he is to be able to see so much and to learn so much from his trips. He is probably right when he says that. It is obviously not my first motive in traveling around the world, but it would be dishonest to say that I am not proud of the fact that I could go to so many places and visit so many countries that most of the people will only see on TV and in magazines. From that perspective, I concur to what Eduardo was arguing. On the other hand, I must say that it would be impossible for me not to share all of this with the people I like, and even with people I do not know. When we decided to leave on this trip 10 months ago, we wanted to find a project, a main idea which would lead us during this trip. One of the first ideas which came up was to associate ourselves to a school in order to promote a kind of international culture and show to younger people what such kind of trips can bring from a knowledge perspective, but we also wanted to show them that it is accessible to everyone if one wants to go abroad.

There is not one trip I have done over the last 5 years that was not a great experience. All of them allowed me to open my mind (and that was needed!), to understand different culture and, to meet so many interesting people. These trips have helped me define myself and the adult I have become. I wish that everyone could be given the same opportunity. However, I unfortunately believe that not everyone has the chance to grow in an environment which encourages going abroad. This is the reason why I want so much to communicate about this trip; because I strongly believe that sharing our experience as travelers could motivate people maybe not to do the same thing, but at least to go abroad to take time to discover and understand different cultures.

Even though the main goals of our association are now more business oriented, a part of it remains the promotion of this spirit, and do hope that it will be of any use to anyone in order to create future generations of travelers.

Eduardo, thank you for this… I hope we can finish this conversation one day in Houston or in a train somewhere!!

See you in 2 weeks everyone (and soon with a brand new website !)

Benoit


mardi 11 janvier 2011

To guide or not to guide ?


A small post relating to the necessity of hiring a guide while trekking in Nepal: just don’t.

This may sound like a sharp statement, but we have been quite disgusted by how we have sold a guide on solid arguments, and how few we got from him. We have been told that hiring a guide would lead to greater safety (and has none of us had ever been above 4.000 m, that was our primary reason for allowing ourselves this extra expense. We had also been told that it would help us to have greater knowledge on the mountains (who does not want that on an Himalayan trek?), the nature (sure, why not?!) and would help us to talk to cross the language barrier with the locals. We had even be given the right to make him carry 10 Kgs from our backpack.

As it turned out, the guide forgot his medical kit (so much for the safety!), spoke a pretty basic (not to say far below expected level) English, would answer most our questions by a rather disappointing “I don’t” or “I forgot about that”. He would mix a cow and a yak, as well as got shit and rabbit shit, not to mention he could not even get the name of the mountains right (as we figured out later with a map). As for the conversation with the locals, he would indeed talk to them, and as we asked what they discussed, he would simply disclose the topic of the conversation and stop there. I could go on like this for hours but I think you got the point (did I mention WE had to carry the 10 extra Kgs?).

Looking back at this experience, and having met other guides and some of them seemed rather excellent guides, I would rather give the following advice: do not take a guide if you do not have a guarantee that he is competent, otherwise it is not worth the money as finding your way in the Annapurnas is rather easy, and you will always find someone more experienced than you to talk to in the evening as you reach a lodge or a tea house. Speaking to people and listening to their kind advices should get you where you want safely. You may otherwise want to consider hiring a porter. H would know the way for sure, is likely to speak a little bit of English, and at least well… you do not have to carry your luggage! How could he screw this up?

One last piece of advice, if you still want a guide, hire him directly (cheaper, and HE gets all of the money), ask for his license, plan maybe one hour over a cup of tea to discuss with him before the trek to see if you feel comfortable having him around, and do it in Pokhara rather than in Kathmandu.

Benoit

5416 meters high in the Annapurnas

Flying from Hong Kong I had the opportunity to fly with Jet Airways, an Indian company, which is probably the best airline I ever flew with… Unfortunately, it also gave me the opportunity to spend more than 14 hours in New Delhi’s airport as I had a stopover during the night there. As I could not really sleep in the airport I took this opportunity to finish the summaries of the interviews performed in Beijing. It was therefore a long and uncomfortable night, but at least it was a rather productive one!

Flying to Kathmandu is really worth the price of the ticket, as it offers you a breathtaking view on the Himalaya. You have to imagine that the plane is above clouds level, and still you can see mountains in basically any directions… something I will not forget, which made me really impatient to go trekking!

After bargaining for a taxi and a cheap room in a guesthouse, I arrived in the crowded district of Thamel in Kathmandu, which is the equivalent of Kao San Road in Bangkok (i.e. full of tourists and hundreds of similar tourist shops selling handcrafts, massages and fake North Face equipment for trekking). The good news was that my guesthouse was well located and allowed me to escape quickly from these streets to reach the dusty streets of Kathmandu. I joined Yann on the next morning at the Indian embassy in order to fill in the application form: the visa should be ready in one week! The next thing to do was to decide where to go and how to go trekking in the timeframe of roughly 2 or 3 weeks we had set. Discussing with an agency, we decided to allow ourselves an extra by taking a guide for an 18 days tour around the Annapurnas (aka Annapurna circuit trek). As none of us had ever been this high and as we expected to have detailed information on the mountains we were visiting and in Nepal in general, we thought at that point that this money was wisely spent from both a safety and a cultural perspective. The last duty of the day was to purchase food, water (both are VERY expensive in the mountains for reasons which will be explained a little bit further) and prepare the backpack to go on this long trek. For a quick overview of the trek, please check this: Summary of the trek

Kathmandu

Day 1 (BashiSahar): We woke up around 5 am in order to catch a local bus for a 7 hours drive to the first village in the mountains. This drive was a good opportunity to discover a little bit Nepal and get to know our guide: Prakass (quickly renamed Captain or Fracassé). The last hour of bus to reach the village was spent on the rooftop of the bus, with many luggages and all kind of merchandises. It requires to hold on very tightly to the strings and to pay extra attention to the bumpy road, but it is actually quite funny! The guesthouse is far from being comfortable and we quickly understand that we will have to more or less forget about showering for the next three weeks, but we slept quite well to be ready for our first day of walk.

Day 2 (Bulbule): First walking day. We woke up around 7 am and after a quick breakfast (almost the same everyday during the whole trek: biscuits and black tea as this was the best value for money we found) we started our 7 hours walk of the day from BeshiSahar to Bulbule. As it was the first time of the trip we had to walk long hours with our big backpack, this day was overall quite painful. As we arrived to our final stop for the day, we realized that we had bruises on the bottom of our back. Around my hips, I could see that the skin was beginning to fall off with a little bit of blood, but overall, I was surprisingly feeling okay. On the next morning I would however realized that my collarbone was very painful for reasons I could not picture at that time (day after day we learnt how to properly set our backpack not to injure ourselves stupidly).

Day 3 (Danyaqu): This day could have been called Race against the donkeys day. One the one hand we have one 25 years auditor who barely practices sport once a week and is carrying 20% of his bodyweight on his shoulders. On the other, a crowd of over trained donkeys (if you are reading, I’m not talking about you Doug ;-)) who have been walking the rocky roads of Nepal for years. The referee role was played by our stupid guide who decided that it was absolutely necessary to overtake every single donkey which was on the trail. That would be easy if it was not for the fact that they travel by pack of at least 20 and are encouraged to go faster by their masters who are permanently throwing rocks at them. The only way to achieve our goal is therefore to take shortcuts by climbing the mountain directly up and not following the trail. Exhausting (especially with such a big backpack to carry). We however overtook 9 convoys which gives us victory over the former champions! (These donkeys are used to carry heavy loads of food and other necessary products in the mountains as there are no roads –only trails- and air transportation is far too expensive to be used). We met on this evening a couple of Chinese people (Lu and Han) and their guide with whom we would eventually become friends as we met almost every evening in the guesthouse until Jomson.

Day 4 (Chamé, 2670m)): Probably the shortest stage of all, as we reached Chamé before lunchtime after walking for only 4 hours. As we got pretty bored and cold for the whole afternoon then, we promised ourselves not to do this again. What we would do instead is take a long lunch break on a sunny terrace and take advantage of the best part of the day. Indeed, as there was no heating device in any of the bedrooms we slept in and most of the time no electricity, we would most of the time try to hang in the room that (sometimes) had a fireplace so that we could read in a “warm” (around 10 degrees Celsius maximum)environment before going to bed. Worst case scenario, it was so cold and so dark that we would have to be in our sleeping bag around 7 pm right after dinner. I know it does not sound like the most fascinating evening, but for one thing we did not have much choice, and it allowed myself enough time to move forward on my readings .

Day 5 (Lower Pisang, 3200m): The way to lower Pisang was a nice one. The highlight of this day would eventually been reached once we hit Upper Pisang in the evening (which was half an hour walking from the lower one where our guesthouse as). We got an incredible view on the Gangapurna with a marvelous sunset on top of this. We were unfortunately and unpurposefully awaken by our guide around 3 am as a dramatic event had occurred during the night. Around midnight, a crazy peasant set on fire 4 houses which eventually burnt very quickly. The poor villagers had to get water from the frozen river, which turned out to be a challenge. No one died, but the economic damage for the families were massive. When we woke up, everyone was tired, and we left Lower Pisang

Day 6 and 7 (Manang, 3500m): Manang was known to us as “the city with hot shower”. As we arrived, we figured out that it was too late to expect a hot shower and that we would have to wait until the next day which was to the least disappointing. Instead of doing nothing during our day of acclimation, we went up to 4.000 m to appreciate the magnificent view on the Annapurnas, including a small lake which is right above the village of Manang. The first night was rough, as I could not fall back asleep after a while. Headache grew stronger, and I eventually had to force myself in drinking 0.75L of freeze cold water straight. A rather unpleasant moment, but the trick worked. My stomach felt pretty strange for a while and I struggled getting warm again, but the pain soared and I could sleep again. I slept like a baby on the second night.

Day 8 (Leddar, 4200m): Probably one if not the most beautiful day of the trek. The view on the mountains is like a living dream. The main disappointment arose from a strong wind which not only raised a lot of snow on the top of the mountains around us, but also blew a lot of dust in the whole valley. As a consequence, the mountains were slightly hidden and the pictures a little bit less net than usually (not to mention the fact that we ate a lot of dust). We saw our first actual first yaks in the afternoon (as compared with the cows hanging out in Manang which were mistakenly qualified as yaks by Prakass two days earlier.

Day 9 (High Camp, 4900m): Two main highlights on this day. After walking for a bit more than a couple of hours, we had to face one difficulty on the way. The path was covered with an iceslide which was at least 5 meters long. Our guide carefully stepped on the ice and crossed it. Considering our previous experience with ice, it seemed to us that it was unreasonably dangerous to cross this way, especially when one faux pas would lead us to fall down 20 meters below in the river (not to mention we would have had several parts of our body broken in the best case scenario). I climbed down a little bit before the ice part, pretty confident that I would succeed, while Yann tried to go over it. I quickly realized that walking down on a very steep cliff with a big backpack was certainly a stupid thing to do as the backpack does not allow you to put your own bodyweight on the back and hence makes you fall. As I heard Yann found a way up, I joined him and we quite easily passed overcame the difficulty. It was however more difficult for our Chinese friends that we eventually had to help to go down as they were terrified of falling down. We lost one hour on the way, but were very glad that Lu and Han were able to join us later in the evening for dinner. As we passed Thorong Phedi and walked to the High camp (this last part was pretty tiring as we gained 500 meters of altitude in a bit less than one hours, which gives a good indication of how steep the trail was. Altitude also gave us a very short breath that we had never felt as much until that point), where we were supposed to sleep before taking our chance to cross the pass on the next day, we witnessed a pitiful spectacle. We had noticed as we climbed up that many huge birds were flying over our heads. Right before we could actually see the High camp, we saw around 15 of these birds that we had mistakenly considered as eagles while they were in the air (they appeared to be vultures) which were standing on the ground, ready to fly. As we approached, we saw a dead horse emerging from the rocks, being eaten by the remaining birds. All of them finally went back in the air, and we would understand later on that the poor horse had died the previous night from a disease. Altitude disease stroke hard for the first time. Yann was mainly impacted, barely able to eat his Dal Bat, suffering from massive headaches and very close to puke. For my side, I felt that the medication (Diamox) made me feel much dizzier than I was before. It was the night before Xmas as well as my 25th birthday, and therefore nothing could really take me down. This event was properly celebrated, as I received a nice candle to blow from Han (I had to put in on my spaghettis due to a shortage of cakes in the neighborhood) and happy birthday songs in 5 different languages. I would never have thought one year before that I would spend this particular birthday at almost 5.000 meters, in a dark room with no electricity and no heating, eating spaghettis and rice with complete strangers from all over the world. In the end I guess that was just the perfect birthday, at least one I will remember!

Day 10 (Muktinath, 3700m): We woke up at 5 am after a very short night. Fortunately both of us had slept pretty well, disregarding the coldness outside (around -20 degrees celcius). After a quick breakfast, we started our journey to the highest point of our trek. Beside the fact that if was supposed to be our longest stage, the main reason why we woke up so early was to avoid facing the terrible wind-chill that we were told starts around 8.30 am. After that time, coldness would be unbearable. It appeared it was actually windy almost all the way to the top, as we were quietly walking under a full moon night. Our breath was shorter than ever, and our hands and face started to freeze very quickly. Every time we thought the top was near, we were unpleasantly surprised by yet another part of the mountain to climb. After 2 and a half hour of efforts, we finally made it to 5.416 meters on the Thorong La Pass! What a relief to finally think that the forthcoming days should finally become warmer! After a few photos, we started the way down, which was in the end not as easy as we thought. Climbing down a mountain irremediably leads to putting a high pressure on your knees, which gave us great pain. Being faster than planned by our guide, we had our actual Xmas lunch, allowing ourselves for this time only to taste expensive and delicious yak dishes and alcohol (two beers for me: one for my birthday and one for Xmas!) on the terrace of our hotel! The reward was highly appreciated, and the best had to come with an actual gas shower providing real HOT water offered by the manager of the hotel! We both called quickly home to send our wishes (I also learnt that I would be an uncle soon…) and went to bed early as it got colder to conclude an amazing day.

Day 11 (Marpha, 2200m): We knew this would be a rather long day even before we started it. After a quick but moving goodbye to our Chinese friends, we started the second half of the trek on the side of the path. There are two main differences between bore and after the pass. The first one (the most unfortunate) is that we would now have to follow big roads most of the day, which is definitely less charming than walking on narrow trails and following the river. This also meant that we would have to pay attention to the jeeps and buses which were also using these roads, blowing dust all over us. The second difference is a direct consequence of these roads: food became affordable again! We could now enjoy other meals than the usual vegetable fried rice or vegetable macaronis. After a walk that felt endless to Jompson (we were walking in a dry river bed most of the time, which is quite uncomfortable as many rocks come out of the dust), we had to cross the damn city to enjoy a rather pleasant lunch and read the news for the first time in 10 days. The second part of the walk was rather short and pleasant, if it was not for a very strong wind which forced us to close partly our eyes. In the evening, we heard some French voices in the restaurant, and met two other 25 years old French guys, also on a trip around the world!! You can check Adrien and Julien’s adventures on http://tourdumonde2010.free.fr, they are very interesting guys and I am pretty sure you will enjoy reading their blog disclaimer: if Adrien has put there a picture of his feet, don’t look!).

Day 12 (Dana, 1400m): Our longest day of walk ever until now. 33 kilometers on one single stage. We knew Adrien and Julien were planning to do this (and thought they were insane to be honest), but we had plan to go only until Ghasa which was already 24 kilometers from Marpha. As we could not find a suitable accommodation in Ghasa (thanks to our “dear” guide), we decided to push “a bit” further to Dana, where we luckily ended up in the same guesthouse as our two French friends, with whom we would travel from that point on. We all arrived absolutely exhausted, having knees highly in pains, blisters and mushrooms on the sole of our feet for some of us (I do not have words to describe Adrien’s feet on this evening), and big feeling that our stomachs would need great comfort.

Day 13 (Chitre, 2400m): As we had moved much further than expected on the previous day, we could stop for 2 long hours in the tatopanis (hot springs: literally hot water in Nepalese) with Adrien and Julien. It was delicious to relax in this big bath of hot water and we felt our muscles and knees (and feet in Adrien’s case) in much better condition. We improvised a Russian banya by jumping quickly into the frozen river which was running along the tatopani, before running back to a much more welcoming environment. We unfortunately had to hit the road again to reach our final destination of the day: Chitre. As the night felt down quickly, we had to stop half an hour before reaching this town, to sleep in the first guesthouse we found on the way when it was not possible to see no more.

Day 14 (Tirkedhunga): We had a quite ambitious plan on this day to climb up to Poon Hill (people usually climb there to attend to the spectacular sunrise over the Annapurnas. We were unfortunately a bit too far to do that and only reached the top around 12) and then to go down to NayaPul, our final destination. Even though we did make it to Poon Hill (800 meters up from Chitre) to admire the magnificent view (fortunately we did not listen to our dumb guide who told us the view was the same as 300 meters below), we could not reach Naya Pul, as the way down was far too long for our knees (we would have had to go almost 2.000 meters down, walking mainly on steep stairs). Julien was suffering a lot from one of his knees which slowed us down a bit, but also allowed us to stop in a very nice and friendly lodge. As a reward for this painful walk, we ordered some yak cheese (actually some niak, as the niak is the female and the yak the male) which is a surprisingly excellent cheese! On this day more than any other we felt where the true wealth of Nepal lies. Not only they had wonderful landscapes, but they seem to have all different types of them. Looking back on the previous ten days, we realized that we went from a near tropical climate at first, with a luxurious vegetation, to spending nights in a below zero environment and alps-like sceneries. We had been shivering from cold wind for days and were now sweating every remaining drop of water in our body, in the humid yet no so warm environment on the way down from Poon Hill. We had seen deserts, we had seen rivers, and we had lived a true Himalayan experience and were thankful to Nepal for all of this.

Day 15 (NayaPul/Pokhara, 800m): We only had to walk a couple of hours on this day to reach NayaPul, final destination of our trek. From there we took a public bus to reach Pokhara, second city of the country… We had reach our obejective to make it for New Year 2011 and could therefore get ready to enjoy the festival thrown out for the tourists (it turned out it was not like the best party ever…).

Annapurnas

All for now… we are now in India (Varanasi)!!

Benoit

mercredi 5 janvier 2011

Sous un petit nuage en Chine

Nous arrivons, à la frontière Chinoise par l’unique réseau ferroviaire Mongole. La ville de Ernin est située au milieu de nulle part, dans le désert de Gobi. Dès la sortie de la gare, nous sommes harcelés par une horde de Chinois : taxi taxi, wanna change tugrik ?? Bienvenue en Asie… Notre but est alors d’attraper un bus pour nous rendre à Pekin. Il est en effet moins cher d’arriver à la frontière en train et de continuer en bus car les trains internationaux sont hors de prix. On tombe sur un minibus qui est censé faire le trajet en 8h et qui est abordable à 200 Yuans (enfin, c’est plutôt lui qui nous tombe dessus…). Avant de vraiment prendre la direction de la capitale, on change une première fois de bus. Le second bonhomme, après nous avoir trimbalé pendant deux heure dans les ruelles de Ernin, nous dépose à un troisième bus…Le bus fais 200m et nous rechangeons une fois de plus de transporteur…Le quatrième bus fais demi-tour et nous voilà encore repartis pour une heure. Enfin nous montons dans LE cinquième bus qui lui part vraiment…La scène s’est passé sans jamais aucune explication et a prit au total 3h…
Le bus, carrément en retard sur son horaire initial, coupe à travers le désert pour gagner du temps. Cette partie du Gobi est telle une mer de sable. Pas une dune, ni aucun autre élément, ne viens troubler le relief : le plat absolu au delà de la ligne horizon. Une fois l’autoroute récupéré, le pilote nous montre un aperçu de la conduite chinoise : le dépassement des camions dans la bande d’arrêt d’urgence à 130 est normal…Bref, même si on a risqué notre vie chaque minute, on arrive au bout de 6h (le train et les bus conventionnels en mettent 12). En plein centre de Pékin, le chauffeur nous bazarde dans un taxi direction l’appart de Jivko, notre hôte Couch Surfing Bulgare. En centre ville, l’atmosphère est pesant. Il règne un brouillard marron intense dans lequel le halo lumineux des phares peine à éclairer la route.

Petit aparté sur la traduction des panneaux routiers chinois/anglais. Compte tenu du fait que les sinogrammes sont illisibles par le commun des mortels, aux abords des sites touristiques, la traduction anglaise est écrite. On ne sait juste pas comment ils s’y sont pris ou qui l’a fait mais ca donne parfois des trucs causasses du style « Don’t try fatigue driving » ou bien « Way aneient Castlr ». Pour l’information sur les monuments, la ponctuation est carrément oubliée ou mise au mauvais endroit : les phrases font parfois jusqu’à 20 lignes et leur sens échappe complètement.

Jivko habite en collocation avec un Autrichien et une Indonésienne. Réveil au milieu de ce joyeux melting pot. Petit regard par la fenêtre pour comprendre que le brouillard d’hier n’est pas parti. La pollution est telle que l’on se croirait dans un nuage. Pékin nous semble tout petit, on ne peut en effet pas discerner le décor à plus de deux pâté de maison…Le métro Pékinois est splendide. Les JO ont donné une nouvelle vie aux transports et on se croirait dans un aéroport. Contrôle par portail de détection à chaque entrée, écrans de TV dans les rames et en dehors (lorsque le métro est en mouvement, on peut voir par la fenêtre des pub sur un écran défilant!), tout est mis en œuvre pour l’étalage du high tech « made in China ». Nous partons donc pour la visite d’un temple et pour une balade dans les Hutongs. Simplement magnifiques, ce sont les anciennes ruelles de Pékin qui ont gardé leur caractère authentique et assurent le dépaysement le plus complet. Le lendemain, nous partons pour la visite d’une autre perle de l’architecture chinoise à savoir le temple du ciel.
Les vendeurs ambulants proposent des mets locaux fort variés. Beaucoup vendent une sorte de pomme de terre braisée au gout sucré de noix, ou bien des mini pommes en brochettes recouvertes de caramel façon pomme d’amour. Il y en a pour tous les gouts et c’est vraiment abordables (10 Yuan la pus part du temps). Les cantines nous permettent aussi de remplir notre estomac pour pas grand-chose. En évitant les restaurants touristiques, il est largement possible de se rassasier pour moins de 100 Yuans (1,2 €). En revanche la cuisine pékinoise n’a que peu de rapport avec celle que l’on retrouve en Europe : oubliez les nems (Vietnam) et beignets de crevette…

Apres avoir fais des recherches sur le net, nous estimons que le budget nécessaire pour nous rendre au Tibet est trop important. Le cas du voyage au Tibet est difficile. Le gouvernement impose un permis de séjour (700 Yuans) et il est normalement impossible d’y voyager par se propres moyens. Par ailleurs, la route de l’amitié qui joint le Népal semble devoir être parcourue en Jeep. Pour plus de détail à se sujet, et pour voir ce qu’il est possible de faire, je conseil de regarder le blog de deux amis français rencontrés au Népal (cf. tour des Annapurna) tourdumonde2010.free.fr.

Nous irons donc dans les villes de Pingyou et Xian à la place du Tibet. Nos billets allez-retour (Pekin-Pingyou-Xian-Pekin) nous ont couté l’équivalent de 80€ par personne. Finalement, Ben veux continuer le train vers le sud de la Chine jusqu’à Hong Kong et prendra un vol jusqu’à Katmandou. Je retournerai de mon coté vers Pekin pour completer ma visite de la ville et pour prendre mon avion.
Le lendemain, sous la pression de nos hôtes CS, je m’embarque pour une marche sur la grande muraille à Simatai (230 Yuans). Levé tôt, départ en minibus avec deux filles Belges et Suisse super sympa. Journée à marcher et à shooter la muraille qui chemine le long des montagnes et qui semble s’étendre à l’infini.
Certaines portions ont été rénovées, d’autre sont à l’abandon, ça monte et descends parfois de manière vertigineuse sur des pierres instables et le tout dans des montagnes magnifiques. La balade est magique ! Marcher sur la grande muraille : checked ! Si vous avez l’occasion d’y aller, je conseille néanmoins de vous y rendre par vos propres moyens et de camper dans les tours de garde.

Alors que Ben rencontre d’autres entrepreneurs (cf. profils), je pars visiter le palais d’été qui est l’ancienne « maison de campagne » des empereurs chinois. C’est vraiment l’architecture la plus aboutie que j’ai vu jusqu’à présent. Il est situé dans un immense parc, sur les berges d’un lac. En mon sens, le plus impressionnant est le « garden of Harmonious interest ». Construit autour d’un petit lac, on y retrouve une parfaite harmonie entre nature et architecture.

Nous partons le soir pour Pingyou. Les trains de nuit de 3eme classe sont confortables (les pieds ne dépassent pas comme dans le transsibérien !) mais le chinois moyen ronfle fort. Arrivés à Pingyou on est récupéré gratuitement par le service guesthouse le pus performant après avoir négocié la chambre au rabais. La négociation est en effet LA base en Chine. Les prix « blancs » sont de manière général 50 voire 75% plus élevés…Quasiment tout se négocie (vêtement, nourriture, guesthouse, souvenirs…). Pingyou une vielle ville fortifiée qui est conservée en l’état. La terre, qui est le matériau de prédilection (murs, maisons, sol), s’effrite de partout et laisse une couche de poussière impressionnante. A cela s’ajoute l’échappement des véhicules et les fumées jaunâtres (berkkkkk) des fourneaux au charbon.
Bref la ville est extrêmement polluée (pire que Pékin si ce n’est dire…). Le caractère typique des habitations et des rues parvient tout de même à donner à la ville un charme fou. Le gérant de la guest, une fois nos sacs posés, nous propose un tour vers les endroits les plus touristiques recommandés par le Lonely Planet. Avec Terry, un australien accompagné de son ami chinois, nous partons en taxi vers le château souterrain et la propriété des Han. Le premier est en fait un ensemble de galeries creusées abritant une ancienne garnison. Nous avons trouvé au site un intérêt mitigé. En revanche, la propriété des Han est indéniablement un lieu historique que nous conseillons. Les bourgeois de l’époque ont bâtit une véritable citée dans laquelle il est agréable de déambuler. On a ici la meilleure représentation de ce que pouvait être la vie des citoyens aisés du 19eme siècle.

Pingyou affiche un nombre de musée considérable (18) en dépit de sa taille. En possession d’un pass pour l’ensemble des expositions nous partons le jour suivant pour une visite générale. Bon évidement sur 18 musées, il y en a bien 10 identiques (maison de riches marchands de tout types), mais l’ensemble est instructif. Un rapide point sur la carte étudiant s’impose ici. En Chine, les étudiants ont 50% de réduction dans une grande partie des sites touristiques. Voyagez donc accompagné d’une carte étudiant. J’ai réussis une fois à faire passer mon permis de conduire français pour une carte étudiant et la carte périmée de Ben passe toujours…Vous pouvez aussi parfois en partager une. Il suffit que je mettes les lunettes de Ben après être passé juste derrière lui, ils n’y voient que du feu : les blancs se ressemblent tous…Faites en une fausse si vous n’en avez pas !

Retour à la gare direction Xian. Quatre million d’habitants, aucun métro : normal…Il s’agit aussi d’une ancienne ville fortifiée, mais 10 fois plus grande que la précédente. L’occidentalisation bat son plein : le syndrome de la ville européenne est bien présent. N’a été gardé de l’ancien que la muraille et certains monuments. Au deuxième essai, nous trouvons une guest sympa et abordable dans laquelle nous laissons notre barda. Nous partons donc pour la visite des guerriers en terre cuite à 2h de la ville. Levé 6h et bus avec une sortie scolaire. A peine rentré dans le véhicule, l’agitation des étudiant s’évanouie instantanément. Tout le monde nous fixe le sourire au lèvres. J’oubliais, en Chine, le blanc est LA star. On a l’impression d’être acteur ou chanteur pop en permanence. Dans la rue, on est souvent arrêté : « can I take a picture of you with my wife? ». Au début on y croit pas, mais si, un gars vient de demander de vous prendre en photo à coté de sa femme…Assis dans un site touristique, ça arrive toutes les 2 minutes…Les ados femelles adorent venir vous parler et glousse une fois le cliché prit. La plus part du temps elles sont accompagnées du petit copain qui glousse beaucoup moins…Du coup séance photo dans le bus.
L’armée de terre cuite est impressionnante. Composée de 6000 pièces, elle a été sculptée à la demande d’un empereur pour protéger sa tombe contre les âmes de ses ennemis. Divisée en 3 champs de bataille, tout à été mis en œuvre avec une stratégie militaire surprenante. Rappelant un jeu de rôle, même l’interaction entre les corps d’armés et la propagation de l’information a été pensée lors de la conception. Le réalisme est poussé au point que chaque guerrier est unique.

Nous partons le lendemain vers le mont sacré Huashan. Après avoir gravi un nombre incalculable de marches (les chinois ne comprennent rien à la randonnée et mettent des marches partout…), nous arrivons enfin sur les hauteurs. Les paysages ressemblent à ceux que l’on retrouve sur les peintures chinoises typiques avec des montagnes dans les nuages : indescriptibles ! Avec le vent et les marches taillées à même la pierre à l’ablomb de précipices, le vertige n’aide pas trop à se sentir en forme…Nous passons la journée suivante à nous promener dans Xian. Comme je l’ai déjà signalé à part 2/3 sites la ville n’a aucun intérêt touristique.

Le soir Ben et moi nous séparons et je grimpe dans le train de nuit pour Pékin. Les trains sont de formidables outils de rencontres lorsqu’on a la chance de tomber sur des gens parlant l’anglais (le chinois moyen ne parle pas anglais !). Les autochtones sont à la fois curieux et accueillant donc aucun problème. Je dépose mon sac à la consigne de la gare à Pékin pour pouvoir visiter la Cité Interdite. Je voulais retourner au palais d’été tellement l’endroit est sublime, mais il est inconcevable de venir à Pékin sans voir Forbidden City et Tian’anmen. J’ai de la chance, il n’y a quasiment personne (quelques milliers de touristes chinois seulement…) et arrive à bénéficier d’un tarif hors saison. La cité porte bien son nom : le musée est aussi grand qu’une ville. Résidence des empereurs Chinois sur des générations, l’architecture est en conséquence. L’impression de grandeur, de richesse et de massivité laisse perplexe. Le mobilier et les décorations des ouvrages principaux ont été laissés en l’état pour pouvoir s’imaginer la vie de l’époque. Le reste de la ville abrite des pièces de collections en jade ou en or. Après avoir passé la journée là-bas je suis quand même déçu. La cité est certes intéressante mais j’ai trouvé le palais d’été sans comparaison. Si vous n’avez pas le temps de tout voir dans la capitale, je vous conseille vraiment de préférer ce dernier qui est en plus beaucoup moins cher. Sur Tian’anmen, je suis abordé pour la nième fois par deux filles désireuse de parler. Près de ces sites on rencontre beaucoup de chinois qui veulent aller boire un coup avec vous pour améliorer leur anglais ou je ne sais quel autre prétexte. Ils vous amènent dans un bar ou les consommations sont hors de prix (5-10€ pour un café !). Si vous ne pouvez pas payer un gars de la sécurité vous accompagne à un ATM…C’est une arnaque très courante. Je récupère enfin mon sac et file à l’aéroport pour voler vers Katmandou.

La première étape du vol est une ville dont j’ai oublié le nom. L’avion arrive à minuit et je suis sensé patienter 24h dans l’aéroport. En revanche, l’aéroport ferme à 2h du matin et je suis contraint d’attendre dehors 5h pour la réouverture. Je rencontre des militaires chinois (qui baragouinent l’anglais) dans le même cas que moi. Je n’ai malheureusement pas pu prendre une photo avec eux (régime politique oblige). Après l’ouverture des portes je dors donc à moitié avachi sur un siège et attends ma seconde correspondance pour Dhaka au Bangladesh. Arrivé sur place, c’est la galère. Je ne peux pas aller récupérer mon sac qui se trouve être bloqué et la compagnie ne donne pas signe de vie…Stress…Le hall de transit est rempli de Népalais qui attendent aussi de récupérer leur billet. Un employé arrive enfin 20 minutes avant le départ du vol. On me demande d’attendre la fin de la distribution. Il reste 5 minutes avant le décollage et je ai toujours ni mon billet ni mon sac…STRESS…Je tombe enfin sur un employé compétant qui me donne mon billet et qui m’assure de récupérer mon précieux sac à dos ! Le bonheur ! Petite anecdote, dans l’avion, je tombe sur le frère du responsable de l’immigration au Népal. Je tombe aussi sur un jeune couple et sur une famille de Bangladesh en voyage avec qui j’ai sympathisé. Le vol dure en tout est pour tout 15 minutes et arrivé au comptoir de l’aeroport pour la demande de visa, je montre le nom du responsable de l’immigration. La personne regarde, me demande de payer et me tamponne un visa. Le tout s’est passé en moins d’une minute sans aucune question! Même si s’est, de manière général, rapide d’avoir son visa, là s’était éclair. Voilà, je suis officiellement sur le sol Népalais !

Pictures !!!!

As I know pictures is the thing in which most of you are the most interested in (at least that is the case for my family ;-) albums of the following countries we visited a couple of months ago have now been fully uploaded : Enjoy !!

Benoit
Moscou


Transsiberian


Ulan Bataar


Terlj - Khoustain National parks

Papers in a backpack

One of the things I appreciate the most since we started this journey is that I have enough “free” time to read again. I usually try to balance between french and english books, as much as I try to mix economics books with more conventional novels (availibilty play also a big role I must confess..). Here is the list of the books I read since we left Europe two months ago (I will not include the Lonely Planet of all countries visited, even though I did go through all of them at some point…):

1. Le voyageur imprudent, René Barjavel, 1943

One may think it is rather odd to start an 18 months journey reading a book about an imprudent traveller… Being a huge fan of Barjavel, it seemed to me that is was in the contrary the best book to start this trip with. Even though the story is about a time traveler, it was a rather pleasant book; even if it was without doubt far from the amazing reading experience I had many years ago with his two bestsellers “Ravage” and “La nuit des temps”. The story is about a quest to improve humanity through time travelling and raises some interesting questions, without getting deep enough.




2. Chindia: How China and India Are Revolutionizing Global Business, Pete Engardio ,2006

I purchased this book in Beijing, as I felt that my knowledge on the economy of these two massive countries was a bit low. I believe the title of the book gives a pretty straightforward idea of the book is about. I strongly recommend this book which deals with the new social changes, economic transformation and various challenges (education, reform of the banking system, copyrights) that these two countries will face in the next decades as well as their potential impact on the global economy the way we know it. Definitely a good introduction before reaching India (even though I regret that the author mostly focuses on how it will affect the US economy).




3. Annapurna, premier 8000, Maurice Herzog, 1952

This book was a must read after our 18 days trek in the Annapurnas. Annapurna 1 was the first summit above 8.000 m (8091m) ever to be climbed, and this performance was achieved by a French expedition led by Maurice Herzog in 1950. I read this book in less than 24 hours, as it is only a few hundred pages long, but mainly because the story is fascinating. These men have proven to be so courageous, driven by the same love of mountains and sharing such a brilliant team spirit in an incredibly hostile environment (both Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal were amputated on their way down to Kathmandu as parts of their bodies froze during the ascension) that the story seems almost unreal.



4. Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, 2005

I only started this book yesterday… not bad until now, but not as striking as the appealing comments on the cover would let you think it would be.

Edit: I have now finished it (and another one actually but this second one will be included in my next blog about book). I would not even dare to imply that Levit, a world class famous economist, has made a book full of unlikely links between two (apparently) unrelated events and proved it through statistics. I have just felt reading this book that it was a book made to become a bestseller and not a book to prove anything. By this I mean that the style of writing is made to make economics accessible to a great number of people, which makes sometimes feel that the assumptions and the most of all the research methodology described in the book are quite often dodgy. I was fairly reinsured at the end of the book by the bonus section which explains more in details the history of academic achievement of Levit which makes very doubtful my own assumption about the shortcuts taken in the book. Therefore I guess I was more disturbed by the style of writing than the ideas developed in Freakonomics. I am not sure yet I will read SuperFreakonomics though.







That’s “all” until now. I will try to keep a record of all the books I read and share it more regularly.

Benoit


mardi 4 janvier 2011

Interview entrepreneur: Hortense Hallé-Yang, H!TANG& China Creative Connections, French


Among all the people we had to see in Beijing, Hortense was the first one on the list. She was also the first woman entrepreneur we interviewed so far, and the first one in the cultural industry. Besides, she was also the first European person we had seen speaking a perfect Chinese until that day. You have understood Hortense is a special person (in a good way, of course) and that is only the beginning…

Hortense fell into Asia when she was young. She spent 2 years in Japan followed by 7 years in Hong Kong where she started learning mandarin at school when she was young. She came back to France for her final year of high school and for her graduate studies in Paris. Right after her master degree, and after a few internships in China, she found her first job in China, working for Bongrain as a brand manager for two years. Speaking the language fluently, and loving the country (she is also currently married to a Chinese from Beijing) she could not picture her future at any time outside China. Even though she targeted Shanghai as she made a couple of internship there and really enjoyed the city, she chose to live and work in Beijing, as both the job offer and the company in which she was offered a job were better in Beijing, which made her pick the 2 years contract in Bongrain. As the company was getting restructured at that time, both parties agreed to terminate the cooperation.

As she always knew she wanted to do something related to events management, and with a passion for music, she considered looking in this direction. As many people were asking for help on such kind of projects, she started to help launching some artistic events. The more she was working on these projects, the more her network was growing and the more she then realized that there was some potential from an artistic and an entrepreneurship perspective and therefore recruited one trainee and subsequently 2 or 3 other people quite quickly to help her. A business partner joined her in 2007 while moving into bigger offices. Her friend had already registered a company in Hong Kong, which they decided to use for international clients, while relying on Chinese partner companies for local clients.

Even though the whole process of creating a company may seem quite natural in Hortense’s case, she was never intending to live such a life. Indeed, she worked in 2000 in Hangzhou for an entrepreneur and thought at that time this was a life she did not want as it is far too time consuming. But as she enjoys a lot launching projects, and being in a leader position, she quite inevitably followed this path as it gave her much more freedom. The kind of company she created allowed her to be in between business and arts which is a brand new concept in China. The purpose of the company is to offer artists opportunities to develop, as she needs to feel useful and create things. She provides services such as artistic content for events and incentive, corporate training via artistic methods, conferences on innovation, mediating strategic partnerships (sponsoring)...

4 years after she launched the activities of H!TANG& China Creative Connections, she confessed that she was very frustrated and should stop heading the company in January as she currently works part time for a corporation and expects to work for this corporation full time by that time. Her frustration arises from the feeling that she has not moved forward in the past 4 years as she has not learnt as much as she expected.In her opinion, it is easier to feel that you learn something when someone else is providing you with the knowledge, even though she recognizes that she did learn a lot while creating her own business. Having put the minimum level of financial investment in this company, she had to deal over the last years with unqualified resources (which were obviously cheaper, such as many trainees) and a high turnover among her employees who would leave the company after a few months. As a consequence, she and her partner had to spend most of their time training newcomers and could not focus on sales and more interesting activities. That gives her the feeling that she has been doing the same thing over and over again. The lack of financial investment was due to the fact that it is very hard to raise funds in a cultural industry for one thing, but also because this company was created for pleasure much more than return on investment which is why she did not invest a lot of money in the business. This lack of funds created some limits that she now identifies with the experience that she gained.

Hortense explained to us that she was to create a business again she would probably do it as it made her knowledgeable in many areas as she had to do everything by herself. She would however do things differently, such as hiring more qualified staff that can actually bring knowledge and expertise to the business. The business would have expanded more quickly and she would have had lost far less time in training people on the same tasks. She would finally advise to look for people who have different skills and personalities as these people bring more value to a company, especially in a small structure where having different people with a wide range of skills is required to perform well.

Thank you Hortense for this interesting dinner which finally showed us the “dark side” of entrepreneurship, and good luck with your new challenges!!

Benoit

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