Brunei: a country of the beautiful and the rich

DSC01451

When travelling overland in Malaysian Borneo there is no avoiding Brunei. And why should you, it’s the perfect chance to discover yet another amazing place in this world. I should admit, it’s not cheap according to the Asian standard, but then again, most peoples budget is less tight than ours for the moment. For those interested in reading a little more about that, I am working on a separate page where you can check out our budget per country in detail. To give you a general idea, we try to get by with 30 euros per day for two people. In some countries this is more than enough, in others, it can be rather challenging or near to impossible. Brunei is a good example of a country making it quite hard, but we had a huge room with a little kitchen, so no complaints there.

When you need a break from the bustling, dynamic Asian lifestyle, Brunei certainly is the place to be. Enormous roads, beautiful mosques, little parks and quiet walkways along the water.

In addition, you get the chance to see the biggest water village in the world, Kampong Ayer. The only way to really enter it is by taking a boat tour, but if that is above your budget, just cross the bridge and enter a smaller water village on foot. To be honest, I am not really sure if it is more of a slum area or just a not well-maintained part of the city, but for sure it is a great place for an early evening walk while the mosques start singing their song. There is something special when the song of prayer fills the air. A feeling of peace. A feeling that was strongly contradicted when we visited the mosque in the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.

When travelling I find it of the highest importance to be respectful and dress appropriately. When visiting the mosque I was wearing long, very loose pants and a t-shirt that properly covered my shoulders. In addition, I had brought along a scarf to further cover-up. Surprisingly, none of this was enough and I was given a long black cape to wear. Wearing the black cape and the scarf on my head I entered the mosque. Again, I wouldn’t have complained about this, but then I was asked to properly cover-up myself and fully button up the cape. This felt like a slap in my face These words hit me hard. Wasn’t I already covered op? What did they see that wasn’t respectful? Up till now, it feels wrong. I truly believe covering up isn’t a sign of suppression, it can be a personal choice or a religious choice and I fully respect that, but let it be a choice! Whatever people wear or don’t wear, it doesn’t matter as long as it is an expression of who they are. An expression of the freedom to be who they want to be.

Brunei is a special place. Hidden behind all its beauty lay secrets scattered about. Secrets far beyond our reach, but enough indications that made us wonder. Apparently, the sultan owns 7000 cars of which 400 Ferraris. He owns hotels all over the world in which Brunei nationals can stay with 50% discount and lives in a palace with 1700 different rooms. He provides free health care and education to the people. He built full-fledged cities where people can live for peanuts. Some say the sharia law has been implemented. Some say this is not the case. The truth seems to be there has been partial implementation. Apparently, you would receive money when you become a Muslim. All rumours on the street, words going around covering what lay below. Uncontrollable richness. A country on the move, figuring out its future. A beautiful place. A scary place. A place belonging to the sultan and its people. A place in the world as no other.

Advertenties

Hidden in paradise

Paradise, a little place, your place!

Taking a shower whilst looking over the misty mountains and a palm tree in front of your window. Nicely fresh water. A little bird building his nest in the tree. It feels like paradise I realize while standing in my 1 by 1 bathroom, taking a shower amidst moulded walls with the toilet by my side. My bathroom in my dusty hotel room. A little town in the middle of the jungle. Nothing to do really, yet it feels like my piece of paradise. Walking around, looking, smiling, eating noodles and drinking a cup of milk tea. Little children taking a bath in a huge concrete tub, splashing around and jumping as high as possible to wave while we walk along. Wooden shacks outside the 2 roads that form the city centre. I would call them houses, but they are in such disrepair it would give you the wrong idea. Welcome to Belaga! Welcome to paradise! That is at least one way of advertising it. Of course, then the question arises, what is paradise for you? Is it an endless white beach with palm trees? Is it amidst eternal mountains covered by snow? Is it in the middle of a centuries-old jungle? Or is it in the middle of a flamboyant city?

What if the beach is covered by plastic lying around?What if the glaciers are melting on the mountains? What if the jungle is being cut down? And what if the city is being chocked by exhaust gases? Maybe, just maybe, paradise doesn’t exist, rather it is created by the viewer.

Paradise is all around us, we just need to open our eyes.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-05 at 22.55.42

I have been living in paradise. Maybe I have had sleepless nights suffering from the heat, maybe I have been eaten alive by mosquitoes, maybe I have had scary animals joining me in the bathroom (read: huge spiders!) and maybe I have seen plastic lying all around, but this time I decided to see the beauty instead. I am living a dream. A dream that can be hard at times, a dream that sometimes tears me apart, but yet a dream I will fight for.

Never did I expect to be in Borneo travelling over water and over land, but yet here I am, sweating as a pig while discovering as much as I can. The kindness of people is overwhelming. I have been treated on several free meals, just because, and people approach me with an honest smile filled with curiosity. In this world of paradise, I am discovering myself thanks to the many challenges, experiences and kind words. Let’s hope that one day I can give back to the world what it has given to me.

Welcome to Borneo!

It felt as if Borneo secretly knew we had some trouble in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, selling our bikes. We were received with open arms, a lot of heat and amazing people everywhere. Hello Kuching! We like you. On our first walk through the city we met a lot of people, fellow travellers, who have been on the road for quite some time. Sometimes days, sometimes months, sometimes years. People travelling in an old army truck, people travelling on motorbike, people hitchhiking and people using public transport. All different means of transport, all different ambitions and all different interests, but all brought together by an urge for freedom. An urge to see the world with their own eyes instead of simply believing the messages spread by the news and social media. Obviously, there are disappointments on the road (as you could read in my previous blog), but the rewards are much bigger.

For the first time in my life, I saw orangutans. Imagine that! And we saw a proboscis monkey. Not to be mean, but dear proboscis, you are quite ugly. Huge, cute, lovely to watch, but a little ugly. These big animals are only the beginning. There are huge ants, colourful beetles, enormous millipedes and the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen in my life. All hidden below the canopy of century-old jungles. Mind-blowing! To make things even better, we got back the stunning sunsets we were so used to in India. Probably this is common knowledge, but for great sunsets you really need to be at the west side of a place. I never realized this before being on the road. Vietnam, no nice sunsets. Laos, a few above the Mekong. India, the best sunsets, especially along the west coast and in Rajasthan. Borneo, in turn, combines the colourful sunsets with thunder and lighting. A spectacle of nature.

IMG_20180628_185630_2

It has taken quite some getting used to, to travel without motorbikes. Being on time to catch the bus or the boat. Getting places suddenly became more of a hassle. And it is so expensive! It may sound crazy, but no day goes by that we aren’t talking or dreaming about our next big adventure, our motorbike around the world trip! Which bike shall we take? Which route? Will we be able to start some online business before we leave? So many questions and we can’t wait to find the answers the future will bring! The upside of using public transport is that we suddenly have way more time to do small things that had to happen or that we just like to do. Things like getting my blog up to date. And I started to love travelling by boat! Taking you across the sea and further into the jungle. Winding rivers passing along the tiniest villages, hidden houses and dropping you off at a city with no roads connecting it to the rest of the world. Every time I see yet again one of those wooden houses along the water, I wonder what life must be like for the people living there. No roads, just a small boat. A house in the middle of nowhere. A garden. That’s all the eye can see, but hidden behind the walls there are human lives. Stories, struggles and experiences that probably are totally different from mine. It’s mesmerizing to realize that there is not one way of life. It’s just about choosing your way of life! Life doesn’t just happen. Give your dreams a voice, put your plans into words and eventually deeds. Step by step, make your life to what you want it to be!

Bye Bye beautiful!

Our first off-road ride on our first off-road bikes!

We sold the bikes! It was a painful goodbye. It highlighted how big money brings out the worst in many people. Lying, ignoring, being rude and even stealing seems to be part of the deal. Well, humanity, you disappoint me! No, that is not completely true. When I shared my story on our Instagram the number of kind words, positive reactions and love I received were overwhelming! Thank you! Thanks to all of you who still believe in honesty and understood my disappointment in the people we were dealing with. For those who don’t know what happened, maybe a little background. Before arriving in Ho Chi Minh we were already contacted by quite some people who were really interested in buying the bikes. One guy even wanted to come all the way from Cambodia! The first day in Ho Chi Minh we met up with one of the potential buyers. He was really interested and wanted to buy both bikes on the spot, but we told him we gave our word to the guy coming from Cambodia that we would wait to sell the bikes till he arrived. Honesty above everything… What a stupid idea! The second day we met with some other people and the third day the guy from Cambodia arrived. Meanwhile, the first guy had dropped all contact and a guy from the second day kept stalking me with messages that our official documents were false so that we had to sell our bikes to him for peanuts. He even got rude and angry when we told him that was not going to happen. Happily, we sold the bikes to Max, the French guy coming from Cambodia. What a mistake! At noon we signed all the documents and he paid the money for one bike. He didn’t have all the money yet, but would give it to us in the evening. A deal is a deal, right? So we gave him one bike and all the spare parts, locks and luggage nets for both bikes. Yet another mistake! In the evening we got another message saying he didn’t have the money yet as his friend had to send it from Cambodia. We honestly told him we didn’t like this and didn’t really trust the situation. He gave us his word and yet again we trusted him. With nothing else to do, we went to bed a little agitated, but happy to know the hassle was nearly over. This was more than a mistake, stupid, stupid us! In the morning we realized the truth with a message saying his friend had bought another bike back in Cambodia. While he gave us his word he actually knew his friend was buying another bike, but he didn’t want to break the deal before he was sure of the other. All we asked Max in return was to bring us back the spare parts worth about 70usd for the bike he didn’t buy. Not too much to ask, right? Well, his response was…Euhm… Nothing! He completely ignored us! Making a mistake is one thing, not having the courage to face it is another. By contacting his girlfriend I found out they had already left and were on their way back to Cambodia. Business is business. So when doing business one should apparently not shy away from lying and stealing. That’s why these huge companies get away with destroying rainforests, land-grabbing, spreading cancer and ruining peoples lives. It’s all about the money. Now I understand!

Out of the frying pan and into the fire…

After 2 months we left Laos behind. It was a strange goodbye. After days full of heat and sunshine with the occasional storm, our last riding day to the LaLay border was a day full of rain and cold. I actually felt so cold I stopped to take all my luggage off the bike to put on my thermal underwear and I can tell you, that means a lot with soft luggage attached with nets and straps! When the thunder started we decided it may be wise to make a stop and by coincidence, we discovered yet another part of Laos. A tribal part. People with different faces and with a different way of life. I wish I could tell you more, but all we had were small conversations and impressions of the local marketplace. A small market sheltered from the rain, people sitting on the floor selling crickets, water monitors and leaves that probably passed as vegetables. Thin people wrapped in many blankets. Smiling people. A touching experience where it didn’t feel right to take out a camera. Instead, we looked around, shared a smile, maybe exchanged some words and experienced this special place. When the amount of water falling from the sky reduced a little we left to continue our journey as we had to reach the border before it closed. A last stop to eat lunch and we reached the border with rays of sunshine finding their way through the dark clouds. Prepared for all kinds of things and with a little fear we started with yet another border crossing. This is a moment you just have to surrender to what happens. The moment you start passing the checkpoints everything is out of your own hands and it all depends on the mindset of the officials. Luckily, we got through without to much hassle and re-entered Vietnam. To end this day we were greeted with some beautiful mountain roads covered in the light of a setting sun.

Once in Vietnam, we decided to go to Hué. A city carrying a huge history of war and the memory of many people losing their lives in the most inhuman circumstances. Yet, the first impression is that of a big city filled with traffic and covered by a layer of smog. After Laos, I couldn’t take this big city life. In Laos, most places weren’t bigger than one main road and a few smaller roads. Even Vientiane, the capital of Laos, felt way smaller than Hué! It felt as if I was thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire. The frying pan could be unbearably hot, but it had the peace of nature. The fire took heat to another level. The heat of city life, the heat of people in a hurry, the heat of traffic and the heat of trying to breathe in air thick with exhaust fumes. To be honest, it took a few days to adapt again to this busy life around me. Apparently, I am more of a nature girl. This doesn’t take away that after some time I started to enjoy Hué and this only got better when we reached Hoi An. Hoi An, the city of lights, the city of tourists and the city to just sit and relax. Staying at a beautiful place near the beach we had an amazing time. A little swimming, a little cycling into town and a little riding our motorbikes in the sand. A perfect way to readapt to life in Vietnam.

After Hoi An the journey took us further South along the coast and up into the mountains to Dalat. A place with bearable temperatures! Imagine that! Although I must admit, it scares me for the cold that will come when we reach New-Zealand in a few months. 23°C is enough to make me shiver and put on my jumper or wrap my scarf around me. That being said, let’s worry about that when it comes to it.

Now, the last days before having to sell our motorbikes have arrived. A few last off-road rides, a lot of playing around in the mud, a slither here and there and a hidden fear for having to let go of our friends. It’s funny how attached you can get to a bike. A trustworthy piece of metal with a beating heart, that’s it and yet if any biker tells you about his or her bike it is so much more. A friend, a companion, a way of life and the perfect ride to feel the world while riding along.

Rides, endings and new dreams

It has been quite some time since I found time to write and now I have so many stories to tell I don’t really know where to start. Strange, right? I am travelling, so I suppose many will assume time is the only thing I have, at least, that is what I thought before I left, but oops, I was mistaken yet again. Don’t take this the wrong way, I have heaps of time, but most of it I spend driving my bike, eating, talking, sleeping and repeating the previous. The few days we decide to stay in the same place are easily filled with discovering the new location, planning the next part of our trip, applying for visa, calculating our budget, booking flight tickets and reading into border crossings… I suppose you catch my drift. During our planning this time we decided to stay in one place for at least 5 days before we finalize our last stretch in South East Asia on a motorbike leaving Laos behind and heading back to Vietnam. We actually took a scary decision, we booked our flight tickets back to Belgium from New Zealand on the 27th of September, as such putting an official end date to this journey. Luckily, also this ending comes with a new beginning. The plan? In about 6 years, have two bikes ready to travel the world! No end date, just new horizons to discover and an adventure to live.

Being on the road for such a long time made me realize there is a difference between travelling and holiday. It may be hard to believe, but also when travelling we need to take a break, rest a little and let our body recover from the constant new impressions and experiences. At home life may be busy, but at least you’re constantly within a protected environment with people around you that you can trust, a cup of tea when you feel like you need it and food on the table when you get hungry. And oh, how I miss my big cup of hot tea after a long day of riding! Luckily I can sometimes get an ice-cream instead. Talking about riding, this actually brings me to one of the biggest challenges we faced this past month, an off-road track of 118km combining burning fires, river crossings, dirt tracks, narrow ridges and suspension bridges. A track going from Muang Hiam to Phonsavan, Laos. A dream come true and yet we could not have expected such distance to be such a challenge. Dirt tracks filled with ruts, puddles and sandy downhills with the latter not being my favourite, to be honest! I am an uphill kind of girl, the slipping/riding down always scares me that little bit more. Luckily, we got to cool down with plenty of river crossings. Most went perfectly well, till I made a slither that somehow, I mysteriously saved. From the stress and adrenaline, I started the next river crossing in too high a gear with the result that my bike decided to turn off in the middle. Not once, nope, three times! Go me! Shoes wet and trousers soaked up to my knees, ready to catch some of the beautiful red sand. After all the river crossings the path got narrower each second, placing us in front of a ridge that was just wide enough to ride the bikes across without being able to put a foot on the ground, but going straight down for at least a metre on both sides. As we knew there should be a real dirt road within 5 kilometres, turning back the 75 kilometres we just rode didn’t feel like an option. Getting up the ridge was the real challenge as it meant getting up without driving of the other side and then, most importantly, keep on going as stopping meant falling off. In this occasion, I can only thank Jonas for getting both bikes across safely! I didn’t feel up to it and still don’t know if I would have been capable. Those who know me a little know this actually means, next time I will just have to discover it for myself and get across one way or another. To make the day even more adventurous we came across an enormous forest fire singing a disastrous song, throwing ashes high up into the air. I can keep trying to describe the adventure, but instead, I would recommend you to check out our riding video we made on our Instagram or Facebook page (A Travellers Tale; www.facebook.com/ATravelersT). 

After this day it felt as if nothing was left of us. Luckily the feeling of achievement we got in return made up for every drop of sweat and energy lost.

Something about this way of travelling, of living, only invites you to continue to discover. Discover your own limits, break through the boundaries you built in your own head and meanwhile challenge yourself taking properly calculated risks, learning, enjoying and most of all, living! Living a life that, the moment you look back, puts a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eyes.

31749632_1698098016893611_2351695633389191168_n (2)

On a personal note…

Travelling, a journey where you have no past and no future. People can only judge you based on who you are in that moment of time. One step after another you continue, following the road of past, present and future. The only thing you carry along is a head filled with ideas, dreams and thoughts, a bag filled with way too much luggage and a motorbike being your white horse, or to be honest, nearly 11 white horses with its 125cc. One event following the other, throwing you off balance and helping you back up again. One life-changing event after another. It is quite funny to realize how few we know about the world we live in. We grow up with this fixed idea of how things are and should be, well, all I can tell you is, we are wrong! Nothing is as one thinks it should be. Every country has its own meaning of is and should. What should you eat for breakfast? How should you dress? What should you do? What shouldn’t you do? Small things we never think about, but that can hit you hard when travelling. It can be hard, it can be difficult to figure out and small things can be challenging, but it so beautifully highlights the relativity of life. Maybe it is the discussion of nature and nurture, maybe it is the discussion of culture, maybe it is the discussion of ethics or maybe it is all these complex topics coming together. For sure it is a realization, a way to question yourself and the choices we make in life. We all grow up in a certain society expecting certain things of us. Whether we like it or not, there is always a right or wrong according to society and people tend to judge based on what they think is correct, or at least what they have been taught to be the truth. Don’t take this the wrong way, I am no different! I suppose, whether we like it or not, we all judge in one way or another, but this realization of the relativity of such judgement helps to question yourself in what you are doing.

I have been on the road for nearly 6 months now and to be truthful, every day more questions awaken inside of me. When you think you start to understand life in one country to a certain degree you move on to the next and enter yet another society with different values, norms and habits. Every place we have been so far has its beautiful side, its annoying side and its wonders. Belgium has many beautiful old city centres, India has the most amazing food, Nepal the kindest people, Vietnam the most beautiful islands dotted along its shore and Laos the most fun dirt roads to discover by motorbike. On the downside, in Belgium people tend to be quite individualistic, India can make life rather difficult for women, Nepal has crazily expensive entry tickets for national parks, Vietnam mainly offers ”pho bo” (noodle soup with beef) to eat and in Laos we were threatened with a machete for getting back what was ours. What an accumulation of events! What a rich life! Of course, these are all personal experiences which in no way are representative for the whole of a country, but I am happy with every single one of them, good and bad. Certain events we call negative experiences and it easy to put all the blame on somebody else, but if we use such opportunity to reflect on our own behaviour and learn from it, it may just be that it isn’t all negative. A personal example is my overreaction to injustice, inflicted on both me and others. It is as if a raging fire starts burning inside of me, my eyes light up and all my muscles tighten as if ready for a fight, or rather, ready for any kind of fight. Sadly, such inner aggression splashing out of every piece of me more often than not simply makes things worse. I easily ruin half a day being angry with the world, I easily get into deeper trouble and without me wanting it, I seem angry with those closest to me. Summarized, it may be unjust, but the way I react to it doesn’t help a dime. I am still not able to fully control my anger in such situations, but I realize it, shut up and leave the talking to somebody else till I calm down a little. It is a first step ready to be followed by another one. Maybe the person trying to cheat me is in way greater need of every penny than I am, maybe the person is hopeless and doesn’t know another way to solve the situation or maybe it is just a greedy, aggressive idiot, but it doesn’t really matter. The only thing I know for sure is that I am the one giving that person power over me. Power he doesn’t deserve. Power to ruin my day and to take the smile off my face. Power that is mine and that I refuse to surrender. Maybe this simply confirms that life is what you make it. Good or bad. Simple or complex. Happy or sad. Some people get luckier than others, no way of denying that, but it aren’t always the people who have been hit the hardest who are most sad. Maybe I should simply end this whirlwind of thoughts with the following: Life is a curious sequence of events, take along what you can, grab every opportunity with both hands to discover, learn and question and don’t be afraid to dream up your own path through space and time.

Welcome to Laos!

Full of energy, curiosity and a head filled with dreams we took of on this journey and here we are, yet again another country to add to our list! Slowly we are moving, discovering all that is new, surprising and different from what we are used to. At times it can be hard to not have the comforts of home. A quote beautifully summarizing the feeling for me is the following:

Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things. -air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky. -all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

Cesare Pavese

Luckily this brutality is more than compensated by never-ending smiles, unexpected meetings and irresistible beauty that keeps you going, urging you to continue and discover what is hidden beyond the next corner. One of the things that always keeps me going here in Laos are all the children waving along the way, trying to give a high five while you ride along and giggling the moment you put out your hand or wave back. The contrast with Vietnam could not be bigger in many different ways. It immediately became clear when crossing the Na Meo border. At the Vietnamese side we were asked for an export cost of 10 USD per bike, so 20 USD for the both of us, which, believe it or not, is a lot of money here. We simply said it was no problem if we could get a proof of payment, but obviously, this was not possible. After some time the story changed and the charge was because we didn’t have a drivers license, but he couldn’t have made a worse bet to prove he was trying to scam us. We got out our international drivers license according to the 8 November 1968 convention that is valid in Vietnam and that covers all types of motorbikes. His colleagues fully agreed with us on the validity of the license, but the guy who had to hand us our papers to leave Vietnam just got furious and ended up refusing to give us the papers without payment. By this time I was uncontrollably angry and had to shut up for some time or I would have caused some serious problems. Jonas, my boyfriend, fully took over the talking while I tried to calm down a little. Finally I went to ask the policeman outside for some help, or rather kept playing it kind of dumb and asked his help with a misunderstanding due to the language barrier. To make a long story short, thanks to the policeman we got our papers without paying a penny and got over to Laos where everything went as smooth as one could hope for. After a few hours of crossing borders we continued our journey, but this time we had to move slow. Roads were no longer what one would call roads in Vietnam. Gravel made way for dirt tracks, sand and stones. Helmets closed to keep the dirt out of our mouth, eyes on the road and tractoring uphill in first gear, slowly to not slither back down. Oh, we had a blast! Finally, our dual sport bikes could show what they were worth, and oh yes, they didn’t disappoint!

A setting sun overhead turning deep red and nature one can only dream of! Untouched wilderness with strangely shaped hills making place for small wooden cottages, rice fields and rivers. Suddenly we felt in another century. This place was again so different from all the places we had been before! We started wondering, how do children grow up here? What do people do for a living? What would life be like being born here? So many questions and slowly we hope to find some answers.

Laos, a country filled with undiscovered nature and curious people, a country carrying the remains of a recent war and a place one could hardly imagine to exist without having been there!

Dazed and confused: A slithering corner!

Welcome to my first real crash or fall with a motorbike, with the first being for the ones among you who like some more sensation and drama in life.

In my blog I try to be honest and share with you the adventures of life, but as it is life this also comprises clumsiness, tumbles and acrobatic stunts to get through. The last event certainly was a tumble, or a slide, or a good portion of bad luck, who knows, but for sure it involved a lot of rain, mist and a beautiful corner amidst the majestic mountains of North Vietnam. Only 50 kilometres away from our destination, Ba Be Lake, things went south. Those last kilometres took a while as my bike and I decided it was time for something new. Not that I had the feeling I had any deciding to do, but anyway, taking a downhill left-hand turn my back wheel felt it was a little behind and started to slide in the hope to catch up with the front. What happened after that will probably remain a mystery. For sure I did not fully agree with my bikes initiative, so most likely I tried to correct the slither with the unfortunate tumble as a consequence. Through the communication system some clear curses and swears could be heard during the few meters I slid over the tarmac. This was followed by the statement “I fell!” and a bit later continued by “I am okay…… I think….”. Quickly I got up and turned off the engine of my bike. By that time Jonas, my boyfriend, arrived to help me pick up the bike and role it to the side of the road. My right mirror was shattered with glass all over the place, but apart from that everything seemed fine. Emphasizing seemed, as soon it became clear this was not fully the case. When getting back on the bike to ride the last few kilometres, something strange was going on. Trying to drive in a straight line implied turning right according to the handlebars. A rather peculiar sensation, but not quite likeable. Conclusions: my front fork was not as straight as one would like it to be and the front disk brake was dragging. Back to the side of the road and wait for someone to pass by. Luckily, some bread had survived my crash so we could eat lunch while waiting. Meanwhile, it became clear that, although the bike had fallen on the right side, I had somehow made a turn and hit the ground on my left side with my hand and shoulder being the main victims, but no time to worry about it. We were invited to the home of some wonderful people who called a mechanic for us. An amazing experience in return of a fine dose of bad luck. Lovely people, a traditional wooden house and many animals around to keep us company. Not a single word of English, but even without words some kind of communication is possible. When the mechanic arrived he wasn’t able to help so we had to head back to the village we passed about 7 kilometres ago. With me still being a little dazed and confused, Jonas took over my bike and road all the way back. I can assure you, riding through the mountains with the wheel and handlebars not aligned as they should be, this was quite a challenge! I took his bike, but still feeling a little shaken, this was the worst drive I had so far. Reaching the village my bike was easily fixed using some, let’s say, alternative methods and of we went. Finally, we could continue and after a very slow ride with again many corners, but no more falls, we reached the lake!

During the night and the next morning, it became quite clear that continuing wasn’t an option as moving my arm was near impossible. This made me angry, annoyed and to be honest, quite grumpy. Stuck because my arm refused to do what I wanted it to. Sounds a little like the initiative my bike took the previous day, although chances are the fall was actually me trying to imitate the local tendency to topple over while riding.

Looking back at this experience it may not have been such a bad thing to be forced to take a break amidst the beauty of nature. Away from city life, peace, clean air and nothing to do except take a walk and some rest. A beautiful experience showing you may plan everything up to the smallest detail, but you can never control what happens along the way. Somehow this just confirms that it’s not about the destination, but rather about taking in what happens along the way. Maybe it is about letting go of the shoulds and replacing them with coulds. Maybe it is about daring to lose control and being the best you can be at that moment, even if that is not how you planned it to be or how you wanted it to be. A lesson learned the hard way, a lesson learned while trying to discover the outside world and ending up being hindered only by my own thoughts. The world will not always give you what you ask for, but maybe if you let it, it ends up surprising you.

Greetings from Vietnam!

A new country and many things to discover. Something that became clear quite quickly was the random tendency of people to topple over while riding their scooty throughout Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The situations causing these strange events vary widely. Sometimes the person just falls in the middle of the road due to texting and driving, sometimes the person decides to drive straight into a lamppost or sometimes they are the only ones on the road, but decide to go directly for the walkway with the common result of losing control and crashing. And then we only mention the people strangely falling over, not the people crashing into each other. The big question remains, why? Is it simply because they cannot drive their scooter? Or is it because it is Vietnamese/Chinese New Year and people had a little too much to drink? Let’s hope the latter because even though Indian traffic seemed crazy, in the months travelling on bike through that country we never saw such incidents. We will probably find out soon. In a couple of days we hit the road to discover the North of Vietnam on our nearly new bikes, a Yamaha XTZ and Honda XR. Two light bikes quite high from the ground. They make it a little challenging for my short little legs to reach the ground, so let’s hope I don’t take up that tendency to topple over!

Meanwhile, we have had the amazing experience to stay at the house of a friend of mine, providing us with the opportunity to discover a different culture from close-by. Novel foods, different ways of doing things and (Vietnamese) New Year celebrated in a totally new way. Have you ever tried an egg with a fully grown baby duck inside? Well, till recently, neither had I, but times have changed and here we go. Not that I was a big fan to be honest, but I tried. The taste is eggy, as you would expect, but seeing this little duck plays with your mind and changes everything. Coming from a primarily vegetarian country using a lot of spices such as India, followed by Nepal having small portions of meat and still many spices, Vietnam is certainly the opposite. Finding something without meat turns out to be quite challenging and spices are something they don’t really seem to use in the Vietnamese kitchen. Not that I or my boyfriend are vegetarian, but from an environmental perspective we try to at least limit the amount of meat we consume. Summarized, the food took some getting used to! Luckily they have Banh Chung, a tasty type of sticky rice cake with beans and meat inside that is boiled while packed inside of bamboo leaves and is consumed a lot during the New Years celebrations. Although I should warn you, the celebrations are quite different from what we are used to in European countries. Many rules and restrictions apply based birth signs, religion and family. Also travelling becomes much harder as even hotels and hostels tend to close during this time, so again we are very lucky to be able to stay at a friends place. I wish I could express how grateful I am, but sometimes words can’t cover everything.

Sleeping on a bed made of wooden planks and sharing our room with Bernard, our nightly visitor looking for food, we greet every morning with a smile filled with happiness and gratefulness for the kindness we receive. We come from a society where people are focussed on the individual, on themselves and on their own lives, but this doesn’t have to be. Something I have certainly learned is that letting people into your life can only make it better. Even if it turns out different from how you expected it to be, you will have learned something to take along with you. Sharing a laugh, giving a hug, exchanging ideas or having a simple moment together to have a chat can turn everyday life into a miracle. A smile doesn’t mean life is perfect, it simply shows there is something worth living for.