Rio de Janeiro, July 8th 1995.
More than half a year passed since we got home from our wonderful trip. It seems to me more like a dream when I think back of all the beautiful things we saw. Now finally we developed the last film that still was unfinished in the camera and I got some time to write to you. (This letter was started in May and got finished only on July! Sorry for the delay). First of all let me tell you what we have been doing since we got home:
Well, since the beginning of November many things happened here in Rio. First getting everything settled at home again after 3 months of traveling, then making preparations for Christmas and New Year. Astrid's mother was not well and had to be operated on during the month of November. Then we had the pleasure of having that Barbara, Astrid's cousin (who introduced us to our friends in India) visiting us from New Year until the end of February. In April we went for 15 days by car to the very center of Brazil in the state of Mato Grosso (2.000 km driving in one way). In May Astrid's mother had a second operation (fortunately she is well again now). And then in June it was Carlos' mother that operated her foot. We hope that our doses of surgeries finished now for a while.
As you see, there was always something happening making you wait so long for our mail. But we haven't forgotten you for sure!
We hope you are all well and that you will not take almost a year (like us), to send us some news.
We are lucky to have lots of work again (the brazilian economy seems to be recovering from the long recession). So we are making money again and dreaming of another adventure somewhere out in the exciting world!
Together with this letter we are sending you a report of the complete trip to Australia and India. We hope you can also get a ride and enjoy it.
AUSTRALIA - INDIA
(7.9.94 - 30.10.94)
In Australia our trip started in Melbourne where we visited Peter Clark's home, a family Carlos got to know through Internet (a computer network linking most countries in the world). After finally getting back our lost piece of luggage with Astrid's german passport inside (it went lost between Brazil and Germany!) we rented a camping van and drove more than 20.000 km all around the continent and twice through the center (a kind of lying "8"). It's a big country and enormous distances separate the points of interest, but we are accustomed to it as in Brazil we have the same situation.
We had the opportunity to visit some relatives of Astrid near Sydney, the Orensteins. Then, after that, during 4 weeks we saw hundreds of kangaroos (unfortunately many of them dead along the roads).
Driving up north the east coast the most impressing place was the Great Barrier Reef where we spent one day snorkeling seeing those beautiful corals and the bright colored fishes of all different sizes. It's a real wonder of nature!
In the far north we visited Darwin the biggest city of that region. Than we headed towards Kakadu National Park that frustrated us very much. We drove 800 km to see only two pairs of crocodile eyes in the middle of a river, some video presentations at the visitors center and lakes with birds (not too crowded because it had been a very dry year). The very drunk and acculturated aborigines in the little towns of the center of the country are a very sad picture.
In the heart of the country Carlos climbed the deep red Ayers Rock (not easy at 2PM - infernal hot and dry climate) and we visited also another stone formation called "The Olgas". Not to be forgotten is another interesting stone formation called "Devils Marbles": for sudden it appears in the enormous semidesertic and empty plain. Incredibly round and big stones lay around in groups or alone. An aboriginal legend tells about a big snake that layed her eggs there and left.
Further south there are many salt lakes and Carlos wanted to have his boiled egg for breakfast. So he drove to one of those salt lakes that apparently where dry. Well APPARENTLY, because we got stuck in the salt mud!! It took us 4 hours to get out of the lake with the help of another 6 people. At the end Carlos went by foot to the middle of the lake, sat down and ate his egg!! It was the most difficult breakfast of the trip, no doubt.
In the west we visited The Pinnacles (a strange formation of hundreds of stone columns projecting out of the desert sand) after driving a full day through sand dunes and bathing at wonderful and empty beaches at the west coast. Wave Rock (also in the southwest corner of Australia) is a natural wave of stone so perfect in shape and size that every surfer must keep dreaming of it for the rest of his life.
In the south we drove along the Great Ocean Road where the sea is green and the coastline is formed by high and bright shining cliffs that fall vertically to the ocean. The sea is eroding the cliffs and here and there high columns stand surrounded by water (called Twelve Apostles).
The people in Australia are very nice and open so we felt like at home. During our 4 weeks in Australia we heard about the plague in India and got very apprehensive. Would we risk a trip to India? We consulted a doctor in Adelaide that prescribed us some tetracycline capsules to be taken during our stay in India. So we would be protected.
From Australia our trip went on to Singapore. Three days to relax eat strange but delicious food (a kind of vitreous sweet duck, different seafood). In Ang Mo Kio district we had Mee Goreng and Nazi Goreng, delicious rice dishes. On the second day we visited "Little India" a district of Singapore where all the hindi immigrants live. We got there by the time of the preparation for Depavali (the festival of lights), so that all the streets were full of little lamps. In the temples they were distributing free food (curry rice, pumpkin and chick-pea). The temples had a very heavy atmosphere with all those strange looking gods, a loudly played trumpet and drums, lots of incense being burned everywhere. The goddess Kali showing her big red tongue looked terrible. We felt uncomfortable but it was an interesting experience.
The next day we took a sightseeing tour, saw the beautiful orchids at the botanical gardens and visited an exposition of old ceramic chinese pieces at the museum of arts. Singapore is very clean, organized and although we got in touch with the Asian World (and writing), it was a soft introduction as we could get well along with our English. It was the perfect preparation for our further trip to China...
From Singapore we took a flight to Hong Kong. Arriving there we decided to try to enter continental China (it had been impossible to get the visa in Germany in just one week). In Hong Kong it also would take too much time.
So we went by ferry to Macau and had the strange feeling to see everything written in portuguese and chinese (it's still the law as Macau is a portuguese possession). More than 90% of the population is chinese and they don't know one word of portuguese. We had to search very hardly to find someone that could talk our language, but finally we entered a portuguese restaurant and had a nice dinner and talked with some other guests. They gave us the tip that crossing by foot the border to China we could get a visa in ten minutes and for US$ 50! Walking back to our hotel we passed several typical chinese restaurants offering all kind of strange food. At the front door we saw turtles, snakes and some unidentified living creatures waiting to be devoured by some hungry human being.
So the next morning we started by bus to the chinese border. Destination: Canton! The real adventure was just beginning. We really got the visa in 10 minutes and left behind anything for us in some way familiar (language and writing).
Soon we discovered that Canton is pronounced (Gwangzou). Using hands and feet we managed in half an hour to get to the bus station, buy a ticket to "Gwangzou" and be escorted to the bus. It was all so quick we couldn't even think about trying to eat something. First surprise: the bus was old but air-conditioned! All passengers were carrying lots of food and water. We were hungry and had no idea how long the trip would take. But we would discover... At last everything arranged.
First we left a so called special trade zone (it looked like crossing the old iron curtain). After some 2 1/2 hours the bus stopped at a little fast-food quiosk (please don't think of something like Mc Donald's you would be very disappointed). Well after some delicious rice and chicken plus boiled eggs that had salt "glued" to the shell (a great idea) our hunger disappeared and that was the point that really mattered!
Along the way lots of buffaloes, rice plantations, big rivers and bridges and little towns and villages. After some 5 hours the bus arrived in "Gwangzou" (by the way we learned the way "Gwangzou" was written in Chinese from the front of our bus and that was all we could read!).
Entering town we saw some elements of "our world", like Holiday Inn and - you won't believe it - the real Mc Donald's!! Well it was a beginning. Arriving at the bus station everybody left the bus and so we did. And now? Where to go and what to do? We had a Lonely Planet Travel Guide for Canton. But at that moment it was of little help. Looking in front of the bus station was a big hotel (Liu Hua). We decided to try our luck there. We asked of how to get to a certain district (Shamian Island) where all embassies and big hotels are. They knew some english and after some tries we discovered we had to take bus no. 5 near the bus station. Shortening the story: we never discovered which one was bus no. 5 because the numbers are also written in chinese. Observing the different busses stopping at the station we saw they were overcrowded and people entered also through the windows. It would have been impossible for us to get any information and if, there would be no space left for us to get inside the bus! And worse: it was almost getting dark!! So we took a room in the Liu Hua Hotel and it was OK.
The next day we walked all the way back to Holiday Inn we had seen the day before. There we could get a prospect with a map! A real treasure! It was all we needed to get along. The street names were written in chinese characters so we had to compare them with the ones on the streets. It was difficult, but worked out. On the streets thousands of bicycles, and little taxis for two persons pulled by a motorcycle. On the map we saw that Shamian Island was too far to get by foot. So we took one of those little taxis and then finally arrived on Shamian Island we rented two bicycles!
We were now prepared to discover Gwangzou with a map and two bicycles!! We went along the whole day visiting temples, pagodas (a king of temple in the form of a very high tower), entering little streets and the most interesting was the open air market. There everything that could move itself was sold to be eaten (snakes, rats, and for our indignation also dogs and cats!) and was still alive so they had no problems with refrigeration and assured that it was kept fresh. We also saw immense cucumbers and vegetables of all sorts. Returning the bicycles we saw a shuttle bus from the Holiday Inn! What a nice surprise, because it was written on it (in english: bus station & Holiday Inn). It was a present of heaven. Without saying a word we entered the shuttle (hoping nobody would ask us if we were guests of the hotel). So there we were on our way to the central bus station just in front of our hotel. Uff! What an exciting day!
We decided to try our luck buying two apples in a little fruit store. It took us almost half an hour to pay! Until now we are not sure what was wrong with our payment... but at the end the seller took one of the apples and changed it for another one a little bit smaller and then it was OK.
The next problem was: how to get back to Hong Kong the next day because in two days our flight was leaving to India and we hadn't yet seen anything of Hong Kong!
So the next day we managed to buy two air tickets. It was a beautiful and pleasant flight but we got a little bit nervous landing at Kowloon airport after seeing the plane almost hitting the skyscrapers just underneath and making a curve just before touch down.
It was around noon. We spent the rest of the day exploring Hong Kong by bus (busses with two stories like in London). Afterwards we hired a guide to show us Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a district in the south of the main island where thousands of poor people live on little boats anchored in a bay protected by dams. This kind of bays they call typhoon shelters. Just behind the small boats you see contrasting with them, very high skyscrapers.
Leaving Aberdeen we got back coasting the south by bus and visiting a workmanship market in Stanley. Hong Kong is very beautiful and reminded us very much of Rio with the deep blue sea, the mountains covered by forests falling directly to the sea, but unlike here the beaches have shark protections (not very inviting!).
When it got dark we decided to search for a hotel. It was unexpectedly one of the most difficult tasks of the trip. We were very tired and it was getting later and later. In HK all the hotels where terribly expensive and often booked out. In Kowloon the situation was worse. Being much cheaper we fought an heroic fight to find a room in one of those little hostels situated in some floors of the high downtown buildings!
The next day we had some time for shopping and then left towards the airport to take our plane to New Delhi (the plague was getting under control and the international flights to India were normalized).
It was saturday morning 4 am when we were welcomed by a young cow just outside New Delhi airport! We heard the birds waking up in the trees and singing a beautiful symphony as soon as the sun rised. Thanks to a cousin of mine I had the telephone number of a family that lives there and could help us along. We would soon discover that they would turn to be our savers! We tried to get along alone, but we were just beginning to get to know the chaos that India is for occidental tourists. It's impossible to get a reliable information. You have to ask 5 times and probably will get 5 different answers. We finally at 8 am phoned Vikram the head of the family, that kindly explained us how to get by taxi to his house. We had arrived in safe harbor! He, his wife Anita and their daughter Tara teached us a lot about India and the different habits and areas. We told them that our goal was the town of Srinagar.
Vikram told us, that if he were us he wouldn't go there, because the political situation in Srinagar had been very dangerous and the newspapers were giving bad news about people being killed there every day. Well, but our goal in India was exactly the town of Srinagar and we would try to get there.
After a nice weekend in Delhi with Vikram and Anita, that kindly offered us their driver to show us the city, we rented a 4WD Maruti (=Suzuki) WITHOUT DRIVER! (it was almost impossible to get a rented car without driver in India and we would soon understand why) and headed north.
The traffic in India is something unbelievable and almost impossible to describe! NO RULES is the rule! Bicycles, buffaloes, camels, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, cars and strange unidentified (but not flying) objects are all mixed up on the roads driving in whatever direction ("one-way" is an unknown concept) and low speed. Soon we realized that the most important part of the car is the HORN. Horning louder is having more power. We immediately bought a stronger one and fixed the old one. India is a continuous traffic jam and it's impossible to drive more than an average of 40 km/h! At night most vehicles have no lights at all or are simply abandoned (parked) on the driveway without any care. This means literally constant life risk! Still down in the northern part of the big plain, we met a brazilian guy, Antonio Olinto, that was traveling since 1992 through the world by bicycle. It was wonderful to met a brazilian in that chaos and speak our language!
After leaving the big plain we noticed the brakes were bad. So we had half a day fixing them. After that we were in a hurry because the long tunnel that leads to the high valley of Kashmir is closed every night at 6 p.m.
Everybody was telling us not to drive at night because of the dangerous situation (possible shootings). But nobody told us that clearly enough and that Srinagar was under retire signal (curfew)! Our Delhi to Srinagar trip (about 900 km) took us 3 days and we arrived in Srinagar AT NIGHT! There were soldiers all around and not one single light was turned on. It was a terrible atmosphere and we were lucky to find a red cross car driving in front of us. I had a map of the town. But what do you need a map for, if it was impossible to see the name of a single street?!
Finally we saw the Dahl Lake and it was a good reference to try get a clue of our position and find the next hotel. But soon we should realize that none of the hotels were open. They were not only closed but all their doors were protected by sand sacks and soldiers!!
Carlos decided to stop the car near a police station to get some help, but the policeman was so afraid of Carlos (long bearded Carlos looked like an arab and could possibly be a dangerous militant) that he just waved his arms telling us to get away. We got nearly panic! Could we get shot? Driving around finally we saw one single and very very strong spotlight in front of a big entrance. It looked like a military base. We stopped the car under the light and a heavily armed soldier got near the car. We opened carefully the windows and asked; "Hotel, hotel??". The soldier pointed backwards to the big entrance: "Hotel here!" We were safe.
It was the newest and biggest hotel in town with more than 300 rooms. All empty!! There had been no tourists for at least 3 months and the military headquarters was installed there. They told us to get out of the car and searched for guns and ammunitions. Finally we were allowed to get inside!
The next day Srinagar was a busy and crowded city as any other city in India. But every corner was took by soldiers and barricades. It was a crazy feeling to see that.
After some hours we decided to get on the road again and begin our trip to Leh in Ladak. Fortunately the car stopped working just before the city limits. Yes, fortunately! A local Muslim family helped us to find an authorized Maruti garage where we spent the rest of the afternoon having the car repaired.
The family that helped us finding the garage kindly invited us to stay at their home for the night and it was a very interesting experience. They are muslims: a couple and three grown up sons. They spoke English very well (except the mother) and we talked for some hours. We had a typical kashmiri dinner accompanied by SALTED kashmiri tea with milk (very strange for us). We learned a lot about their religion and habits and told them we had come to India specially to visit Srinagar. We also heard a lot about the political situation and learned that our rented 4WD car in that region is forbidden to be used by civilians and that the militants (called terrorists by the hindi) attack those cars specially at night presuming they are occupied by militaries! How nice, we had survived all that. We were born again!
The road to Leh - they told us - would be closed for winter on October 31st (in some 15 days) and is very difficult and dangerous. In some parts it's only one-way speciallly at the narrow and steep Zodji La ("La" means pass). For that reason, it's opened in the morning in one direction and in the afternoon in the other. The Zodji La is the lowest but most dangerous pass of the 3 you have to cross until you get to Leh. It's the first to close and the last to open because of the heavy snowfalls in that region. It's controlled by the military people and we should stop at every control post and identify ourselves. They told us it would take us 2 days to get to Leh. On half way there was a town called Kargil were we should sleep and fill up with petrol. Without the car brake down and those useful lessons it would have been impossible to get to Kargil in time before darkness! Now you understand why I said the car broke down fortunately! We thanked God for all! The next morning we left Srinagar very very early (but with daylight) and every thing was like our friends had told us. Thanks again!!
The trip was wonderful. Leh is the biggest town in Ladak and lies 3.430m above sea level across the religious border. Srinagar is muslim and Leh is tibetan. Everything is totally different: architecture, clothes, physiognomies, religion and landscape. Most of the population uses very bright colored clothes. Little donkeys are used to transport whatever there is to be transported even to get over the highest passes.
In Leh we bought an extra gallon of petrol and food for two days, Had some lunch, walked through the busy streets and saw the big Gompa (monastery) up on the hill.
The next day we started our trip south to Manali. It was 2 o'clock in the morning extremely cold and moonlight guided us through darkness. Down to Manali leads a dirt road of 474 km passing over 4 very high passes (Taglang La (5.429m), Marang La, Bara Lacha La (5.100m) and Rothang La (3.955m). Taglang La is the second highest pass in the world. It's very difficult to move up there because of the little oxygen. You get tired just from standing up and headache is a constant feeling above the 4.000m barrier. Carlos almost fainted as he suffers from high blood pressure. The dirt road goes up and down an unimaginable number of times. Countless mountains and valleys succeed passing in front of your eyes. All is very beautiful but dry and desolate. You get the exact feeling of how fragile and insignificant a human being is. There is no food, water and petrol on the way, no villages on most of the 474 km down to Manali.
Here and there some military camps already closed because of the winter that was approaching. There were parts of the road where our car almost hadn't the strength to drive up (the motors also get weak when there is too little oxygen to make the combustion). And than we noticed we hadn't bought enough petrol!
But we were lucky again and found one of those military camps still in activity and asked there for 10 liters of petrol. Without them we wouldn't be able to finish the trip!
Most of the way there is only enough space (width) for one vehicle, what normally should not be a too big problem (we only met 3 trucks, 2 cars and 2 busses on the whole way to Keylong, about 400 km away from Leh), but you never know WHEN one of those trucks will turn the corner and appear just in front of you! Horning before every corner is the rule. So while Carlos was driving and horning, I was always searching for other vehicles, whenever it was possible to see parts of the road when driving downhill. Upwards it was just always a total surprise.
Just after the Taglang La we had a flat tire. This meant two things: first, changing a flat tire at more than 4.000 m above sea level is like carrying a piano alone on your back and, second, we had to drive almost 300 km until we could fix it. So: we continued the rest of the trip praying for the other tires not to get punctured.
Keylong is the first "civilization" you meet just before the last pass (Rothang La) and very close to Manali. We arrived there after 16 hours driving just before darkness. Keylong for us meant first of all that we hadn't to sleep in the freezing car!! And also some warm food, but, there was still no petrol or place to fix our flat tire.
It was already passed mid October and the Rothang La could get closed by heavy snowfalls at any moment if the weather changes. So we went to bed hoping for good weather.
The next morning we had the bad surprise: not snow, but a second flat tire! To fix it Carlos had to get 9 km downroad to the next little village with one of the punctured tires. The whole operation (fixing one tire, changing it and fixing the second one) took us another 4 hours! Finally we were ready to continue on our way down to Manali.
Getting up to the Rothang La we saw hundreds of people walking around using raincoats, gloves and boots. Lots of cars and busses coming up and parking all over the place. We couldn't believe our eyes and didn't understand what was going on. We even forgot that it was possible to see such a crowd after some days of very empty landscape. So we asked what all that was. And the answer was: "It's going to snow! Everybody wants to see it snowing!"
The Rothang La is like an enormous step. The Himalayas finish and they fall abruptly down to the endless flat Indian plain. The view from up there is just wonderful and you see the road winding down all the way to the valley were Manali lies! The Hindus that live in the plain normally never see snow and drive up quickly to the Rothang to experience it once in their lives!
It was really beginning to snow and we thanked God once more, that we had already passed the Rothang La and were driving safely down towards the big plain. That night we slept in Chandigar the capital of Punjab (where most Sikhs live).
The next morning we drove all the way south to Agra in order to see the wonderful TAJ MAHAL (pronounced Taj Mehel).
The TAJ, as it's called by the locals is a real piece of jewelry. Built entirely of very very white marmore with all those precious stones inlayed! It's like a dream or a part of heaven on earth so perfect is everything about the Taj! For us it was the perfect way to end our India trip. Because the next day we had to get back to Delhi to return the car and say good-bye and thanks to Vikram, Anita and Tara.
Our first flight was to Bangkok, where we arrived in the morning, so we had time enough to make a sightseeing tour. At night we took the connection flight to Frankfurt were we once again got on the train to Munich.
Two days later on November 3rd, Astrid was arriving home in Rio and Carlos decided to stay in Europe for more 3 weeks until the 21st of November.
[ Back ]