Friday, May 15, 2015

Istanbul, Turkey: minarets, ships and Turkish delight

When we arrive in Istanbul, Turkey, we also arrive in the  modern world again.  
Istanbul lays at the Bosporus strait, the connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, partly in Europe and partly in Asia. Istanbul is Eastern, Western, old and modern at the same time. 
Since we are here, only for 2 days, we check into our small family owned hotel and take our bag packs with the inflatables and try to  find a few spots where we can paddle in the city.  
There is a lot of water in Istanbul but also lots of traffic, many small ferries, fishermen, pilot boats and the container ships. So we have to pick our places carefully because they don't want you to paddle in the busy areas. 
We find  a small inlet opposite of the Suluymaniye Mosque.  The Turkish men sipping their tea look a little surprised when I pump up the board and put it in the water. Feels great to paddle in a city with a background like this. The small stalls, bars at the water front, the high minarets behind that pointing to the sky and the ferries making it very hard to stay dry. 
Later we take one of the ferries to the Asian side where things are slightly calmer. Since there is no beach here, everybody is sitting on the boulders and enjoying the sunset with city in silhouette as a backdrop. We paddle along the coast until the sun is about to set and we are getting hungry.
The following day we wander through the gran bazar and the spices bazar. 

The amount of little shops is amazing, thousands, the competition here must be killing. In this area you can find anything you need from hardware, ancient daggers, grand pianos  to Turkish delight. 
With 12 million people this is a big city, where traffic is a disaster. 

In the evening, before we eat in a local restaurant, I  paddle at dusk at the Ortak√∂y mosque which is beautiful from the water because it is lighted up from all sides. Again hard to stay dry with the chop from all of the ships. The kids, selling sweets at the mosque, watch me paddling.  They chant, hoping I would fall in. When I make it out dry, they watch me, a little disappointed but still with a big smile, how the the big board deflates and disappears in the bag within minutes. 
The next day we fly across the Atlantic to Sayulito, Mexico, host of the ISA World Championships.....  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ethiopia: vast landscapes, brown crocodile water and Kalashnikovs

Air Ethiopia brings us to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Although the country is known for the scorching temperatures that exist here, I am surprised by the cool temperatures, the high altitude (2500 m./ 7500ft) in this city, explains it.
Our destination will be Omo valley. Because of the long distance to this very remote valley and relatively short time on hand, we have decided to use a car with a local driver. The following day we found out how quickly we run out of time. 
Once you leave the big and relatively wealthy city, we see the vast and dry landscapes of Ethiopia. Along the road, houses are no longer made of bricks and mortar but wood and mud instead. Not just a few but basically all of them.

We paddle and explore along the coast line of the many lakes we encounter, some big, wide and deep, (up to 260 meters), some salty and slightly pink and covered in flamingos and some others the home of hippos and fisherman.

On lake Awasa we paddle into the village during the fish market.  Coming into the village, locals told us to stay away from the banks because of the hippos, we try to makes sounds to warn them but don't see any popping up.  At the beach many of the villagers surround us and stare at our boards.  We let two of them try them, which proves to be the best entertainment, specially when one almost falls in. After some fried fish for breakfast we continue to Omo valley, another long drive.

After an overnight stay with very good sleep in Turmi village in a very simple accommodation, we continue on to a village where the Dassanech tribe live. We get the boards ready and enter the river which has a lot of current towards Kenya, only 60 km down river. After only a few kilometers down river we already get to a small village with 3 kids watching us from the high banks. When we paddle towards them 2 of the 3 run away scared.

We make clear that we are friendly and gesture him to come and try our boards. Slowly and with some hesitation he comes down to the river bank and looks at the boards and the paddle. We show how it works and he goes and tries. Before you know it we have the whole village around us taking turns paddling. I take the smaller kids with me and the bigger ones try by themselves. The ones too scared to try, have a good laugh while they watch the others.  It turned out to be the highlight of our and their day. Later at night we visit another tribe a little more North where we put up our tent. The tribe lives in the most basic conditions possible: their only possessions are  their huts and cattle. Men and women only wear a goat skin around their waist.

A few in their tribe own a riffle (AK47) to protect their cattle from being stolen by other tribes. We offer them a goat which they then kill and roast above a fire. We were offered to drink the blood, known to them to be very healthy, but we kindly decline and let them 'enjoy'  Only 2 hrs later everything has been eaten by the whole tribe.

After we set down with them, the next morning, in one of the huts and drank coffee, we break up camp and drive back in the direction of Addis Ababa. 
Along the road we see how hard women work in this country. They are responsible for finding wood and water, two very tough jobs in an environment like this. Men take care of the cattle, compared, a very easy job. 
We fly the next day to Istanbul, Turkey and leave with mixed feelings about a very poor but very beautiful country. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nepal: Himalaya, earthquakes and white water

We arrive in a buzzing world of honking cars and motor bikes, chaotically driving through the dusty and dirty streets of Kathmandu. What a contrast with Micronesia, the slow pace made place for a very different scene. 
In the night we walk through the narrow streets of Thamel full of tiny little restaurants, tiny outdoors gear shops and trekking agents. I feel right at home. This is expedition country. Land of trekking, white water paddling and climbing the highest peaks of the earth. 
We take the bus to Pokhara, the 130 miles through the mountains along narrow roads takes us 8 hrs. Pokhara is at the foot of the 8084 meter (25,500ft) high Annapurna. 

After spending a couple of days paddling and exploring the mountains around Pokhara disaster strikes. The ground suddenly started  to shake. People scream and when we look up, we see the buildings moving violently, just about the fall over. Only later, when we met a guide who told us about the many buildings that collapsed and the casualties in Kathmandu, we realize this was a serious earthquake. I contact Dagmar, my wife to tell her that we are alright. I get a very worried but also relieved Dagmar on skype. It is in times like this that you realize how much we mean to each other.  By then my mailbox is also full with concerned family and friends who are checking to see if we are alright. The following night there were many after shocks. Twice we wake up and run outside. By now we have read the reports from the rest of the country. Some villages near the epicenter are totally wiped out and Kathmandu is also seriously hit. Although in Pokhara there was no serious damage, everybody is afraid and doesn't want to stay and sleep in their homes. So everybody is camping outside in makeshift tents. 

A day later we take a bus to the Madhi River. Along the road I see many houses partly destroyed, people sitting on the street and again a strong after shock and everybody runs on the street. After a long day through difficult terrain we got to Borhletar. Here far away from the rest of the world you find the real Nepal. We put up our tents on the river bed. And meet many local kids. They are all talking about one thing, the earthquake. Even here nobody wants to go inside and everybody is camping or just sitting outside. At night we walk from family to family and get invited for tea or food and hear many stories about Nepal but mostly about the earthquake. 
The Nepalese are very shy, humble and very very friendly. They are as interested in us as we are in them. 
Here is were the real adventure starts. We push off  and go down the river. Our river, labeled a class 2, is a mild one, but exiting enough with all the gear on the boards.

We pass through beautiful landscapes and small little farms, kids playing in the water, fully excited when we pass by and some fishing for their evening meal.  We are on the river for 2 days before it is time to go back to Kathmandu where we see the devastation the earthquake did, collapsed buildings, a big mess everywhere and many homeless camping in the streets. 

We get to our hostel from 4 days ago where we meet the owner who tells us 3 people died in front of his hostel by the collapsed wall and the other hostel down the street totally came down. Here it is serious but it is even worse inside the country where whole village are flattened. 
I see the suffering and we decide that we should help too. A donation to The Red Cross seems the best option.  They have people on the ground and all donations go directly to Nepal. 
We would like to ask everybody to do the same at: 
We leave with a heavy heart. But also with the notion I have to come back soon and bring my family.  The rest of this story you can find in Sup and outdoor magazines around the world. 
Next stop Ethiopia...