Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nomadic life

Mongolia is a massive and sparsely populated country. With an area of 1.564.115 km2 and just 2,800,000 inhabitants, the density of the country is reduced to less than 2 persons per km2. However, in real terms, the density is much lower, since 1,300,000 of the total population of the country, live in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. The result is a country where nature in its pure state is experienced almost all times but, except for the desert regions, is not an empty nature but one that is inhabited sparingly. Half of the country's population is nomadic and semi-nomadic, the latter being those who practice nomadism seasonally, settling in villages to spend the winter. Nomads and their lifestyle is something that has intrigued and captivated me from a very early age (it is no coincidence the kind of life I live) and it is one of the main reasons why I wanted to cycle in this country so much

Monday, November 18, 2013

The magic of the steppe

It is a tale

To depart from Ulaanbaatar was much more than getting out an ugly city. Departing Ulaanbaatar was to get out of what we, urban dwellers, know as the very same "world". It was a relocation to a space and time that for us and for those who grew up and still live in cities, it is only part of a faraway imaginary planted in oneself through storybook reading or described images in the books of history of some distant time. They are only a mere 50 km which separate hell from heaven, reality from the tale, the crowded from emptiness. From chaos to serenity, as one goes deeper into the steppe, the magic fills your senses and time seems to gradually begin to stop. 200 km and, if there is still a vehicle to remind us about the modern world, the remembrance is completely extinguished by the time we get out of one of the few paved roads in the country and enter a different world, a past world. The Mongolian steppe is a lonely space that, with its soft shapes and subtle colors, encourages serenity and soothes the soul. In it, roads disappear and become tracks traced in the grass, forking one, two,  three and up to ten times as one cycles on. Without signals, one needs to be guided by map and compass as sole means of reference to avoid becoming lost.

Entering into a tale through a dark cave.

There are moments in life that are slow in coming. Moments, that perhaps, one has been looking forward and even yearning for days, months or years. Moments by which one learns to cultivate patience, while every day putting a little of oneself in order to eventually make them real. So I've waited for years the moment to get to Mongolia, a country that I have been wanting to visit for longer than I can remember. As time goes on, the more I tend to believe that there is an intrinsic intelligence in how fate sorts the events of life, because I could have chosen many other opportunities to travel around this country but they would have never been the right time. This time it was, at least so it felt and the experience was one of those who sublimate the soul and overflow the senses.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to say good-bye to Indonesia

Four months, seven islands, some 6000 km, and some of the most incredible experiences on two wheels so far. Despite seeming a lot, they are virtually insignificant numbers for such a vast country. Seen on a map, it looks relatively small, but with its more than 17,000 islands, about 300 ethnic groups, more than 700 languages and dialects, the map is quite misleading. In only four months, one just can even begin to scratch the surface of such a giant of infinite natural and cultural wealth. 8 months would have been more appropriate, although 1 or 2 years would be the least to really get to know Indonesia. It captivates, it catches your deep attention, it enamors.

Each island left something deep inside. I think of Kalimantan and no matter where I am, I will start to sweat just for remembering its name, along with the millions of sounds of the jungle that will sweeten my memories. I think of Sulawesi and the adrenaline flows just by thinking that I crossed the heart of its jungle while playing Tarzan on a bicycle under some truly extreme conditions. I think of West Timor and the "gory" smiles of the siripina along with the friendly people living in the cute ume kebubus brings a smile to my face from ear to ear. I think of Flores and I instantly forget there is a world with flat roads and another color that is not green, and I will have the feeling that all that surrounds me can erupt at any time. I think of Bali and I prefer to forget it, since that place was expropriated from Indonesia and its people, it has nothing to do with this country. I think of Java and I can smell the aroma of the coffee while I remember the harshness of existence of those who give their life for pennies but never stop smiling and remind us that there is no reason to complain, you can be happy with very little. I think of Sumatra and I imagine the monkeys will take over the universe and I will yearn for the entire world had the beauty of its valleys and lakes.

The long crossing of Sumatra

 Several people had told me that Sumatra was "the best of Indonesia", but honestly, after more than three months of cycling through this country, where over and over we had been dazzled and left speechless at what we experienced, it was impossible for me to even imagine that what would lie ahead could be any better than what we had already seen. 

If there was something that we confirmed immediately while pedaling the 148 km road that links Jakarta with the port of Merak, is that having hopped on a bus to avoid wasting time in western Java had been a truly wise decision. Leaving Jakarta was as infernal as it was entering it. During the 10 hours we cycled to the port on that endless day, heavy traffic and overcrowding were such all along the way that it felt like not having left the city at all. Jakarta's hell perpetuated itself throughout the whole day. We arrived in Merak after 9pm exhausted, not so much by the 150 km that we had cycled, but by the chaos of trucks, vans, buses, cars, motorcycles, pollution, noise, people, asphyxiating traffic jams, heat and other tortures that accompanied us during the whole day. That very night, we crossed by ferry the strait that separates Java from Sumatra in less than three hours and spent our first night in the place that would soon become our accommodation of choice during the days to come: the police station.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting to the city

Once completed our journey through the volcanoes, we wanted to get to Java as fast as possible. Java, with the exception of the spectacular east of the island, is where the majority of the population of the country lives, and in a country of 200 million people, that is not a minor thing. Java is badly overcrowded. In this aspect, Java reminded me very much of the Philippines where hardly 1 km would go by without people or settlements. Java also contains most of the country's industries; therefore traffic and pollution are extremely high. Finally, after 3 months and more than 4000km of cycling in rural and remote Indonesia, we had come to the big cities. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Into the lungs of hell

The sulphur miners of the Ijen volcano, in the easternmost point of Java, carry out still in the 21st century, one of the most unhealthy and inhuman jobs in the world. The job involves descending into the crater of the active volcano which is constantly releasing immeasurable amounts of sulphur fumes, to crack by hand, the sulphur rocks that form on the surface, product of the chemical reactions of the sulphur coming in contact with the oxygen. Once they have enough rocks, they load them into their baskets which are then loaded onto their shoulders to carry them all the way up to the storage point, where the rocks are sold to the ones that will later sell them to the big companies. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the ring of fire

 With such limited time as 4 months to visit Indonesia, the last place in the country where I would have spent at least one second is in Bali. The mere idea of going there gave me chills. It is for this reason then, that destiny put the nearest bike shop where to buy and replace the broken component of my bike, where? Precisely, in Bali. So from Labuanbajo, we took the Bukit Tilongkabila, heading to Denpasar, the island's capital. Those were the last 32 hours that we would have to spend on a PELNI on this journey and like all previous times, it was a PELNI experience like the one described in the previous posts. Getting off at the port of Denpasar, was like getting off in another country. If ever in history, Bali was a paradise, now certainly it is almost impossible to imagine. Our stay was limited to going from the port to the bike shop, and from the bike shop, we cycled 140 km west to cross to Java. We minimized this nuisance to just 10 hours only. Shortly after midnight, we were already disembarking in Banyuwangi, Java. It was time to go up to see the Earth breathing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fading Flores

After two quiet weeks, waiting for Julia to fully recover from the damn dengue, we left Kupang full of energy en route to Maumere, on the volcanic island of Flores. And we should certainly be filled with energy to board again in a PELNI. This time it was only an18 hours journey but the ship was again crowded. It really is not as bad as it seems, people are very friendly as always but so many hours, in an environment so crowded, makes the experience very tiring. Although the fact of being on the road again, ready to roll in Flores, filled us with enthusiasm.

Traveling in time

The PELNI* experience

May began and ended with trouble. As soon as we boarded the Bukit Siguntang at 23:00 hrs. in Makassar, we finally understood what that likeable member of the crew that brought us from Kalimantan, had meant by saying "enjoy that trip". It is unimaginable the chaos that was this boat when we boarded. Thousands of people occupying every corner of it. The overcrowded communal bedrooms, crammed with people sleeping next to each other, intoxicating cigarette smoke floating in the air, mountains of bags, packages, boxes with fruits and all kinds of crap. People crowded into every available corner outside the bedroom, in hallways, stairs, lying on cardboard or empty rice bags to separate them from a grimy floor, crying children and babies everywhere, bathrooms giving off corrosive smell…you can imagine, no? Surely not. The only spot we found was on the floor of the corridor leading to the kitchen, a permanent transit space with a bullhorn blasting announcements directly above us with a piercing volume, especially at 4.30 am during the first daily call to pray. There, in that oppressive space, we spent the next 36 hrs. sailing to Kupang in West Timor.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The days after.....

 We had had enough energies to ride across the jungle, but it was only a few days after the odyssey was over that we truly realized the huge amount of energy we had used. We left for Palu on a radiant day as soon as we woke up, there would be the place where we could finally spend a few days resting. The sun was shining, the sky was fully clear and ever so blue, and the immeasurable satisfaction that we felt inside drew a huge smile on our faces when we were leaving Gimpu. But it didn't take more than a few kilometers to realize that we were still very tired despite the good rest we had had the night before and that the bicycles had suffered more than what we had imagined. 
To begin with, none of us had brakes. Both bikes were full of mud, stones and twigs and who knows what else. Rust became visible all over. My waterproof speedometer had drowned and needed a couple of hours under direct sunshine to evaporate the water inside and come back to life. What was even worse was that my rims, which had been already compromised since some time ago, now were fully cracked all along their diameter on both sides. The cracks weren't less than 3 to 4 mm, I simply couldn't believe myself that I was still being able to ride.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Going extreme (in video)

We finally got to a place with a fast enough Internet connection that allows me to upload video. Here you can watch part I and II of the extreme journey across the jungle described in the previous post. I do recommend reading that post first, as like it's always the case, written language can tell things that cannot be appreciated through video. 

I highly recommend watching them in HD and fullscreen. 

Part I

Part II

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Going extreme!

 Two of the toughest bike travelers I know, Salva and Adam, both good friends of mine, met in Sulawesi in 2009 and together they embarked on a journey that both described as unforgettable, not only for its outermost beauty, but also for the difficulty and intensity of the journey. When I consulted Adam about the possibility of doing such this ourselves, he said: "The ride through Kalimantan (which he had also recommended) is indeed hard, but the ride through the jungle in Sulawesi is actually extreme". If that had come from someone who has no clue about traveling by bicycle, I would not have payed much attention. However, a comment like this, coming from such an experienced cycle traveler like him had to be taken seriously. Before the time finally came, hardly a day went by without thinking whether it'd be possible for us to do this jungle stretch, I was even unable to catch sleep easily! I wasn't really worried about myself, after all it wouldn't be my first nor my last extreme journey but I wasn't really sure whether Julia was already prepared for such an extreme endeavor. However, Julia and I are very much alike in one particular thing: even when we are not sure if we can or cannot pull something off, we both like to take the shot anyway and go into it to put ourselves to test, even if that means we'll be cursing the whole way due to the strong adversity, because having failed to do so, the thirst for adventure and the need to push our limits, wouldn't allow us to keep living at ease if at least we hadn't tried it . It would mean keeping on living with the unbearable thought of not having tried and the countless "what would've happened if's ...." that would come along with them, this is a very heavy burden and believe me, it is really annoying, you just can't get over it.  The road was there. It was just a we-do-it-or-not question. After all, there were only 120 km or so. Finally, by an unanimous decision, the answer was YES! and f**k it was worth it! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The road to the extreme

It had been quite a long time ago, still during the planning stages of this trip, that two cycle travelers friends' of mine told me that Sulawesi was without a doubt, among the best islands of Indonesia for cycling, so we got there with the greatest of the expectations. Even though I tried to imagine it, I didn't actually have a very defined idea of what the island would be like. After a full month and more than 1500 km cycled there, an epic journey across the jungle and having turned 35 there, I can confirm that Sulawesi is one of the most spectacular places I cycled in, in the almost 35.000 km I have cycled until today.

Land of buffalos

 We got to Pare Pare after our first long-haul trip on board of the Bukit Raya, one of the several ships of PELNI, the national ferry company of Indonesia that connects most of the islands of the country. 19 hours of quiet navigation on an almost empty ferry with a capacity for thousands of passengers. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Never ending green

During my years of traveling both as a backpacker and traveler by bicycle, I have been more than once dazzled by what the world has to offer. Its landscapes, its ecosystems and its phenomena are some of the reasons that always make me want to keep going out, to see more, to learn more, to feel more. From the very beginning, Indonesia would receive us with an overdose of emotions, the kind of emotions from which it is extremely difficult to come back from. Difficult because after having been through experiences that make you release so much adrenaline, once you are past them, you cannot help but ask yourself - Will I ever feel again after this? 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Malaysian murderers

 After 24 hs of sailing calm waters we finally reached Sandakan in the Malaysian side of Borneo.  The first time I had been to Malaysia was 12 years ago, although at that time, I visited the peninsular part of it and wasn't traveling by bicycle. Back then, even though the country would be far from being unforgettable, the experience was overall positive. On the other hand, this ride along a part of Borneo, completely changed my perspective. 

 Sandakan is a small and quiet port town in Sabah province. Its population is pretty mixed, most people are malaysian but there are many of Chinese and Indian origin, the latter being a blessing, since they have brought with them their exquisite cuisine and the town is filled with restaurants offering delicious curries at very reasonable prices. 
We started cycling first thing in the morning the day after we disembarked. 360km lied ahead until reaching the border with Indonesia. We had just started the way that would eventually take us to the Equator and you could already feel it. No matter how used to the heat we would have already been, Borneo is hot, hotter, much hotter and by 9 am we would be cycling soaked in sweat already. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The long way to Borneo

The last good-bye to Manila

After coming back from Palawan we spent two final days in Manila the ugly, we happily said good-bye to it for the last time from the deck of the ferry that would take us to Cebu. Despite having spent our time in the city in extremely comfortable conditions, Manila rapidly climbed up to the top of my ranking of “The Ugliest cities in the world”. Manila, we are definitely not going to miss you, you are the ugliest thing in this stunning country.
It took the ferry 24hs of navigating calm waters to reach Cebu, where we hastily moved from one pier to another to connect with a speedboat that took us to the fishing village of Tubigon in the small island of Bohol. Unfortunately, after all this time of traveling in the country, I dropped my guard due to the wonderful affection of the Filipinos, and at a time of carelessness in the speedboat, somebody dug into my handlebar pannier and took the equivalent to 300 usd that I had stored there for an important expense we had to cover to leave the country. A bad experience that showed me that no matter how wonderful people are, there are always some who are there to ruin the party and we always have to keep and eye on our belongings
We went to Bohol to see a tiny wonderful creature that I had long been yearning to see since I had watched it on TV for the first time more than a decade ago. The tarsier.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Holidays in heaven

 There are always primitive reasons that make us who we are and explain why we do the things we do. In my case, the main reason why I am the adventurer I am is my parents, both of them natural born adventurers, who have taken me to every possible adventure since the time I was born and they raised me not to fear anything, or better said, they taught me how to not experience fear as paralyzing terror but rather live with it moving along all the unknown territories that I might come across in life without being paralyzed by fear. They have fostered in me a thirst for learning and discovery that can never be satiated. Thanks to them I have been able to dream and later realize all the things that I have dreamed and being able to live the life I've been living until today.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Volcanoes, solitary bays and rice fields

Manila the ugly

Entering and leaving big cities by bicycle is rarely a pleasant experience and Manila is not the exception. Actually it is the perfect expression of the immense stress that involves such process. Manila is a huge sprawling city of millions of inhabitants and for both entering and leaving we had to ride all across it. Like it's always the case with poor countries, it isn't a city of harmony but one of huge and harsh contrasts. There are no greys in Manila, it is rich or poor, it is immaculate or filthy, it is spacious or crammed, it is ostentatious or plain misery and unfortunately, the negative connotations are the ones that predominate in the virtually infinite horizons of this huge metropolis. The fact that a big city has big contrasts and negative connotations isn't a surprise, especially in Asia, but many of them, despite having them, they still preserve some kind of hidden beauty in them, some charm, even when poverty and misery is what predominates. Manila doesn't even have the slightest appeal, it is simply ugly from wherever you look at it, from wherever you walk on it or cycle on it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cruelty in Paradise

Since we got to the Philippines many things drew our attention and almost all the time, with no exceptions, they were good things. Among all those good things was the lack of interest of the people in football. For me, that I despise football, it was a liberating experience not to have to hear the same reflex response I get from people everywhere I go, every time I say I'm from Argentina. “oh!Argentina! Maradona!” and these days it only got worse because we have a new one, Messi. Being from Barcelona, Julia is also affected by the latter. On the contrary, in the Philippines paradise exists because football seems to be irrelevant. Beautiful. However, after having seen the “sport” that takes the place of football as the national “sport”, for the first time in my life I felt some true appreciation for football and I would've preferred it had been more popular than this monstrosity.

Hello Sir! Hello Madam!

  It is possible that due to its geographical situation, most long-haul cycle travelers decide to bypass the Philippines. With more than 7000 islands spread across the Pacific ocean, The Philippines cannot be accessed by land. In most cases, people have to fly in and out of the country. This alone discourages most cycle travelers because of the costs involved in flying with all the stuff and how uncomfortable that is. It is a fact, we are not comfortable when we are away from our bicycles, let alone stand the nightmare of imagining what may happen to them when careless hands load them in and out of the plane. Although there is one way to enter and leave the country by sea, it is quite limited for the ones who are cycling from country to country. Still, I had been dreaming for years about visiting The Philippines and I wasn't going to let the discomforts of flying discourage me, thus I felt that it was worth it to pay the extra cost and face the unbearable feelings that come at the time you check-in your bike and last until you get it back. Two months later, time would not only prove us that it had been worth it but also that it hadn't been nearly enough time for such an amazing country.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Trapped among whores and casinos

 I had never ever been interested in going to Macau but this time there was, at least apparently, no other choice. Back in 2007 I had experienced the nightmare that it is to arrive in Hong Kong with a bicycle and I wasn't willing to repeat that, let alone now there being two of us. The only reason why we had to go through Macau was because that's the place where the cheapest flights for the Philippines take off from, they are indeed really cheap. That, coupled with the fastest issuing of the Philippine visa at the cheapest price in the region and the fact that, opposite to Hong Kong, you are actually allowed to cycle in Macau, it made the place hard to resist. What I didn't know at the time of arranging the flight is that we would fall into a trap and as the saying (in Spanish) goes, the cheapest ends up being the most expensive in the end.

It took us 12 exhausting hours to complete the 135km that separate Guangzhou广州and the city of Zhuhai珠海sitting across the border from Macau. The road was pretty much a continuation of what I had been experiencing the days before arriving to Guangzhou广州, an endless continuum of factories and evil traffic. Many of those images that can be seen in some investigative reports in the west about the poor working conditions going on in china can be seen live here, right from the road. Or what it is actually more terrifying, one can only see a small bit of it and that very small bit is already terrifying itself. Factories filled with lines and lines of workers probably sitting all day there working double or triple shifts, their housing sitting either right above or right next to the factory. It is only left to imagination what living like this must be like, in this industrial megacenter of the planet. The lives of the very people that work anywhere from 8 to 18hs a day to make real those objects that not only the very few in the world will be able to consume but also those super cheap mass market products that find their place somewhere across the globe. It is a saddening experience and it brings me down to see the degree of inequality that the Gods of the economy of our days promote and strive so so so hard to defend.

From relief to boredom

I won't deny the fact that despite its great beauty, I felt relief when leaving Guizhou贵州. Afterall, it had been a very demanding physical beginning and that's the very reason why the body suffered more than usual and found difficulty in situations that had they happened at any other more advanced stage of a long trip would probably be a lot less strenuous. The province that followed, Guangxi, brought the relief that I had been yearning for during those last days of infinite climbs. However, those easier, flatter and more trafficked roads wouldn't take long to bring boredom.
Right after going into the new province the change happened almost immediately. There were no more climbs. I was now heading south-east following the very same winding green rivers that I had met days ago with the exception that now, the road was almost always flat. I kept riding through a continuum of Miao苗族and Dong 侗族villages, but unlike Guizhou 贵州, here these were found along the shores of the rivers instead of being scattered around intricate canyons of dramatically steep terraced mountains. In every village I could see men crossing villagers in rafts made of bamboo, the very same bamboo rafts being used from centuries ago. In between so much sophistication and development it is wonderful to see these traditional means of transportation still surviving.

 As soon as the roads became easier I was able to start compesating for the distances that I hadn't been able to cycle during the previous 12 days. Now everything was easy and days went by faster and faster. I went from an average of 75km a day to more than 120km in less time and at a fraction of the tiredness by the end of the day. And the best of all was that the knee pain had now completely gone away. One of the greatest things about cycling in this northern part of the province was to cycle accross the citric plantations, where for 40km everything around me was mandarin and orange plantations. There were sellers in improvised stalls sitting by the road every few dozen meters, they sold them at a ridiculously cheap price. It was harvest time and the fruits were incredibly sweet and juicy. There are very few things as pleasant as hydrating with juicy fruits. One day I almost exclusively hydrated myself eating mandarins, 3kg and oranges, 1kg. Fantastic!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Up and down, up and down, up up up..... the endless and exhausting ride across Guizhou 贵州.

It was the mix between an enormous enthusiasm, the excitement of being riding around the world again, the strong need to get to see the “new” stuff, the anxiousness to get to Guangzhou 广州, lying 2300km (1430miles) ahead, on time for Christmas to meet my “co-pilot”, what left me limping by the 5th day. All this “excess of enthusiasm” hit my knees extremely hard. I had cycled more than 15.000km (9400miles) in the last four years, but due to the more ephemeral nature of those journeys, no matter how hard they had been, especially the ones across Tibet, I had been able to carry less weight. Now, I was already carrying what is typical for any long-hauler. I left home with little over 60kg(135pounds), a moderate weight to start, especially considering the awful weight of my photography gear and related equipment. This weight would allow me to get fit and ready for the times when carrying food and winter clothes would possibly increase it up to 80kg (180pounds) However, at pace of more than a 100km (63mi) a day along roads that were becoming increasingly difficult, it was more than my knees could take in such a short period of time. Needless to say, I couldn't think of a worse scenario, since I was just crossing into Guizhou province 贵州省.
Guizhou 贵州 is officially the poorest province of China but also, proportionally, one of the less visited by both Chinese and foreigners. That is possibly the reason why in my mind it was so enigmatic and because of this, I deliberately traced my route all across it. I entered Guizhou贵州 from its westernmost tip, crossing the river Chishui赤水, reaching the town bearing the same name. I had got to it following a secondary and already very mountainous road of Sichuan province 四川 and at that time I really wasn't able to imagine what lied ahead. I had done my homework and of course I knew it was a mountainous province, what I didn't know yet was that for the next 1000km (620mi) approximately, there were not going to be more than a 100 consecutive meters (300ft) of flat road. Guizhou 贵州 has the geography of a different planet.
As soon as I left Chishui 赤水, cutting across a thick bamboo forest, the changes were immediate. On the way to Xishui 习水, in towns and villages, traffic became noticeably more chaotic, pollution increased, buildings were more precarious, with facades with no finishes or finished half-way. There was no aesthetic appeal of any kind, constructions were not even picturesque, but this is the case in all China anyway. On the other hand, landscape became greener and wilder. The climbs started from the very beginning. The soil became red and I could see very long and thin waterfalls falling for dozens of meters from high up above, filtering through thick forests and bare rock cliffs. After a while, the forest gave way to deep canyons following winding emerald green rivers. From these, I would start climbing up until the ridge from where I would see a new valley, each with its own extra planetary topography. Every climb would bring a new way down to a new valley and the slopes were unforgiving to my knees. With every step I took on the pedal I felt like a sharp iron bar piercing through my knee caps. Sometimes the pain was so bad that I couldn't concentrate on the beauty around me any more. Music, which is usually soothing, helped sometimes but It would still hurt when the punishing slopes became very steep. A series of intricate rice terraces started to dominate the landscape among mountains that seemed to accommodate themselves in the most whimisical way.

 It did not take long for me to realize that when looking straight at the horizon, there wasn't one, because nothing was placed at the same level. Crossing Guizhou贵州felt like being trapped in this massive 3D maze in which movement never occurs in one direction but in all of them, and it sometimes take only a handful of meters to switch from one to the other. Days were almost perpetually grey and the fog was low and thick when I saw, across the river I was cycling along, a fantastic village of traditional houses.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sichuan 四川. Leaving home.

  No matter how big the enthusiasm within is and no matter how many times one has gone through this process, leaving the place where you settled down for a fair amount of time, is never easy. The comfort of a place called home, the friendships that one has sowed at work, in the neighbourhood, in life in general, the habits and customs; every single one of those little every day life things, they are all hard to leave behind. It's this subtle mix of emotions between the huge excitement of the adventure to come and the sadness that comes with a new detachment from the people and things that were part of one's life.
The night before the day I took off I was incredibly nervous and it was almost impossible to sleep. Caught between the practical decisions that needed to be taken, like packing in the most efficient way and the myriad of emotions involved in being at the verge of taking such a big step in life almost the whole night passed by in no time. It was at 5.30am that I was finally able to lie down. It wasn't really sleeping but more likely a very light rest. It didn't take long for the alarm to ring at 8am. It was time to take a shower and shave for the last time in who knows how many days, have some coffee and take a few minutes of silence to look around home and contemplate to give the heart a last look at that small world I had built in the last few years of my life in China. The time to leave had come once again, to leave not in the sense of abandonment and forget but to leave carrying with oneself all those things that one has gone through in life, the friends, the experiences, the affection that one has harvested with time and love throughout time. Leaving ain't about leaving behind but to keep going with so much more inside, so much more. Some of the best friends that have accompanied me almost from the very first days I was in town were waiting for me downstairs. They gave me warm smiles for the road and encouraging words for the trip I was about to embark on.