Tuesday, November 23, 2010

finally - a word from max! its been a while. those of you who follow me by email or on facebook probably have been keeping up with what's going on, but for those who haven't - here you go!

i finally set out for another trip about 7 weeks ago. but lots of things is different this time around - though its still a loosely (barely!) planned making-things-up-as-max-goes-along kind of trip!

i decided to hit the road together with my friend celeste and take the train from russia, through mongolia, on to china. for me its the first time traveling with company. but what makes it work is that her take on traveling is very similar to my own - so far it's been a beautiful experience.

(standing face to face with lenin in ulan-ude. neither of us smiled; it was "only" -27C ...)

during our 4 weeks in russia, we managed to see st petersburg, moscow, kazan, yekaterinburg, krasnoyarsk, irkutsk, lake baikal and ulan ude - spending about 2 or 3 days in each city. seeing sights, learning about the culture. reading the letters, but not understanding much of the language...! taking the train in russia is a great experience. rides from major city to major city are usually overnight and take about 12-18 hours - but you get your own bunk, a couple of sheets and a matress kind of like a futon. and there's unlimited hot water at your disposal for making tea, coffee, instant noodles or whatever you can thing of. very comfortable. and this is traveling 3rd class!

celeste introduced me to traveling using couchsurfing.org - i've had a profile on this website for years, but i never really used it. so we decided to try it in russia and i'm really glad we did. 's really opened up a whole part of russia we'd have otherwise missed out on. i wish i had time to go into details and talk about every single person who hosted us, but let me just say that it's been a very positive experience so far. they've all been really cool and interesting people!

we entered mongolia on november 29th and spent a few days in and around the country's capital ulan bataar, making plans for december. the next two weeks were spent in an old soviet minivan touring central and southern mongolia and the gobi desert. it was a mindblow. we had the kindest guide, a mongolian woman named tuul who cooked for us every day and helped us communicate with the local people. she was always in good spirits, and made a good team with our driver ulchi. he spoke no english, but because he lived in japan for 6 years and spoke japanese we were still able to communicate . his peaceful vibe and frequent belly laughs more than made up for the lack of english anyway!

(you'll find lots of these kind of heaps all over this land. mongolians revere the horse - when one dies, they put its head on one of these shamanistic piles. whenever people pass by one of these piles people will circle around it, pray and pay their respects)

during these two we weeks we slept in gers (the traditional nomadic housing, sort of like a big round felt tent with a stove inside), drank yak milk tea, rode camels and horses, weathered sandstorms, and braved the cold -37C mongolian nights. even the mongolian stomach bug that put us all out for the last couple of days didn't seem to matter in face of all the good times.

(her majesty the desert)

i love the desert, and the gobi is no exeption. i saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ive ever seen in my entire life. the picture doesn't quite do it justice...

(our soviet van and the gobi desert sunset)

so far, we've been spending about a month in each land - russia and mongolia usually issue 30 days visas. but when we got back from our trip and picked up our passports at the chinese embassy, we found a 90 days single entry visa inside, so you bet your bottom dollar than we're gonna make the most of that! going to china has been a long-time dream of mine, and i cant wait to immerse myself in speaking the language and get better at reading the characters. and of course, im looking forward to the best tea and vegetarian food in the world!

last but not least, ive been putting up videos of our travels on YouTube, so check up there every once in a while. ill post new videos pretty regular, whenever there's wifi.

anyway, enjoy the last few weeks of the old year. its been a good one!