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Alain's Travel log

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I try to add here my travel journals in Dutch and English so that people can see what I'm doing when on a trip.

Log entries 1 - 10 of 284 Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Jun 21, 2002 06:00 PM My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 1

My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 1 Well I was again on a travel, but this time is was for my work en to a place I never been before. I went together with a colleague of mine to Shenzhen. This is an industrial area in the south of China, just to the north of Hong Kong.

We left on Saturday afternoon from Brussels to London en from there in a bit more then 11 hours to Hong Kong. We landed here around 14.00 locale time. Here was someone waiting for us to bring us to our hotel. We used the city-bus to get there. We had a beautiful sight onto Hong Kong Island from our 9th floor, but unfortunately the high peaks were covered with clouds. I can’t believe it, the second time that I come to Hong Kong and each time Victoria Peak is covered in clouds (OK, the days that we had time to explore the city). It’s gray weather, 27 degrees, clouded en it’s raining now and then. We dropped our luggage and went for a walk across Kowloon. Is it because we are thirsty or because we saw a sing of an Aussie pub that we went for a drink, I don’t know? The place is busy, because of the soccer games on TV. We get acquainted with a certain Kenneth who talks to whole time with us. After three beers (29HK$ each or 4.4 euro and this is then the happy hour price) we walk to the waterside to get a glimpse of the high buildings of Hong Kong. We seek for a Chinese restaurant in a shopping mall and then it’s straight to bed.

Monday morning is an early day for us because at 8 o’clock we being pick up to go by foot to the ferry terminal. A walk of about 10 minutes. This ferry will bring us to China. Our companion from yesterday has already tickets for us en we follow then the people in the line for the immigration desk. Here we stand in between the Chinese to get a stamp in our passport. My colleague, who’s wearing a costume jacket, is sweating seriously. He has a lot of wet stains on his shirt. But these will dry very soon. The fast ferry has numbered seats and I try to get to reduce my sleep shortage. At the Chinese side, we pass again via the immigration office where we get another pencil strike in our passport. We are picked up by car to bring us to the factory where we are holding some technical discussions about our new products. All is going well and at noon, they take us to a Chinese restaurant for a Chinese meal. We are being looked at, I guess they don’t see a lot of foreigners here. The service is very good, but later more about that. Afterwards the discussions go further and then he brings us to our hotel, the Xin Ming Zhu. This is an hotel in the industrial area of Shenzhen. Alfred our contact person brought us and also helped us checking in. Because at the desk they hardly speak any English. (Hello, good morning, bye, cash, card …) Later we hear that this hotel is mainly for Japanese and Taiwanese business people. This explains a lot. I like especially the menu and some English leaflets, they are filled with spelling faults, but this makes the charm complete.

Alfred takes us to the hotel restaurant and here we are friendly greeted by 3 lovely ladies in red dresses with a long split. One of them brings us to our table, where someone else immediately helps us. In fluent Chinese see asks Alfred what we want to eat. A Tsingtao, a local bier is always nice. They have here a lot of personnel walking around. All have are wearing a different style of suite, this is an indication of their function. We are watched when we are lead into the restaurant, everybody wants to catch a glimpse of us or to knock their head to us. We seem to be a curiosity out here. The food is very good and the service more then excellent. As we take a sip of our thee or beer, it will be filled again by a waitress. They are looking at your hands, as a manner of speaking, to see if they have to replace the plate if this is full with bones or if they have to fill your glass until the top. As I already said, the food was very good and off course we ate with those shop sticks. This was amazingly easy and I didn’t good cramp in my fingers. At the middle of the meal there came a lot of push-cars with dim sum and other dishes through the restaurant, here you can order more dishes. There is even a car with cakes and other sweets, can you imagine this in China? I have to say that the meals are very healthy here in China, everything is fresh, they don’t use any frozen food.

There is also a party for some kids at the same time that we were there. And they are very curious. They come in small groups to our table to say hi, they give us a hand and they disappear again. A few moments later the first one is coming again and he asks: “Where are you from?”, but Theo didn’t understand the question very well and he says: “Pardon.” And the little one answers: “pardon” and he goes back to his table to say that we are coming from pardon. We have problems holding our laughter down and some other people also see that there is something wrong. The kid is coming back to our table to ask his question again and now Theo says Belgium. And very proud is he going back to his table so say that to the rest of the company.

Theo also takes some pictures with the digital camera, as you know the picture is also visible on the LCD and some Chinese are standing behind him to see what he is doing, to catch a glimpse of the picture. It gets a bit more difficult as Theo gives the camera to somebody else to take a picture of us, but if went fine. Everybody give us a big smile and a goodbye when we left the restaurant. They will not forget us very soon, I think. Theo and I go for a small stroll around the block of the hotel and there we pass also through a street with a lot of kiosks where you can by food, clouds or even go to the barbershop. A kind of local shopping mall, but everything outside.

The next morning as we go to have our breakfast, we see on the floor in the elevator, a carpet with the name of the day in Chinese and English. So we don’t have to think what day it is today. Because if I’m on a holiday I normally don’t remember after a few days, which day we are. To bad, but this is no holiday. The supplier arranged again a pick up for us and also these talks went very well. At lunch, we are again going to that Chinese restaurant where we had lunch before. But this time we get a separate room, because also the general manager and his son are joining us. In the afternoon, the talks are finished and they bring us back to our hotel. Alfred wants to join us for dinner, but we said that this isn’t necessary and that he can join if he wants, but we can manage.

First we start with a little reconnaissance of the area. We walk several blocks in the heat and everywhere, people gaze at us. People on a bike passing us and then turning their heads to see who’s walking there. And in the mean time Belgium is playing Japan and this big football fan is walking in the streets of Shenzhen instead of following the game. We get an good impression of the surrounding, walled living blocks on the area of a factory, food-kiosks, many people … The blocks next to the road, they all have a kind of a garage downstairs where the Chinese do their business. Some of them are a pub, others are a restaurant, some a garage or a store. We see also a lot of guards at the factories, all of them in the same outfit. We also see some young soldiers on the street-corner, waving very friendly hello to us. We also found a supermarket, next to the market. Inside you can find all kind of Chinese products, also strong liquor of 46% for 3 euro. I only can guess for the quality of that product. We are the only white people walking here. It seems that the other Europeans and Americans are in other hotels several kilometers from us in an more residential area. The most Chinese people only see white folks in the factories, so it is for them and for us a big experience.

Jun 21, 2002 06:00 PM My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 2

My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 2 In the evening we go again to the Chinese restaurant in our hotel and again we are being brought to our table by those nice girls in their long red dress with a very long split. Just like yesterday, there are already some Chinese laughing as we enter the room. The one who gets the order speaks fluently Chinese, what we off course don’t understand. But this can’t spoil the fun for us and we have to laugh with the whole situation and they also start to see the funny side of it. The drinks are easy, we just point to the bottle of beer, Tsjingtao, because our pronounciation of that word is not so good that they could understand it. The Chinese menu is too difficult for us, the only thing what we can read is the price. But at last some one finds a card with pictures on it, so we choose from that instead. But the recipes that we have chosen, where not the ones we expected. It was all seafood and it looked at last at one dish with meat. It was OK, but a lot of ingredients were not recognizable, Chinese for experienced as you can say. As we are finished the girls with the dim sum are coming in, to late for us. We decide to go to the bar to have a drink, but this is on bar it is the Western restaurant. Here it is also the place for the western breakfast, like you can have a Chinese breakfast in the other restaurant. As we enter, we get a menu card under our noses and in the end we can make the waitress clear that we are not here to have dinner but for some drinks. We choose a Grand Marnier and they read it in Chinese as Campari, something total different and we are just in time to stop them. So instead we take a whisky, ok, we pointed to a whisky. After that I wanted to taste a Chinese strong liquor. But we couldn’t explain to them what we wanted, not even with a translator of one of the girls. It’s not cleat for them what we want, a huge wall between the languages. So we point then to another whisky instead. It’s nice to hear them say it: Wies-se-kie.

The Wednesday is normally planned to go to the production plant of Philips, it’s called SBI here. We get a tour and have a short discussion with some people and we get also a general explanation about the area. China seems to be divided into provinces like Guandong, which on his turn is divided into 11 cities, like Shenzhen and is then further divided into districts, towns and villages. All the factories have living areas (buildings) for their workers. These flats are surrounded with a wall and all entrances are guarded. The people are living on the factory-area and without a pass you can’t get in. Inside there are recreation facilities like sports area’s, sauna, …

The people that are working here are coming out the rest of China, but you need a temporary permit to get here. This is needed to see how many people are coming to this area so that they can plan the housing, the food and drink water supplies. As I tell you that there are 100 million people moved to this province, then you can understand why they want to do this. The people arrive here around their 17th year and when they are 23, they are married or go back to their own province. The people are coming here to get a better life then they have on the countryside. Imagine you that two of these people are getting married and they are coming out of different provinces. If they have a child, the child is getting the mothers address, not the temporary one, but the permanent one and this is the area where she is coming from. It is therefore very important for these people to get a permanent visa, otherwise they have to pay for the education of their child. Because the province is only helping with the cost for its own residence. They work in two shifts, one shift is 12 hour and they work 6.5 days a week and, now the most amazing part, they have 3 official holidays a year.

At noon we are finished and we plan some new appointments with new suppliers on Friday in the Philips factory. The general manager and another person going with us for a lunch in the western restaurant in our hotel. He asks us if we have other appointments this afternoon and we ask him if he can give us any direction for some sight seeing in the area. He sends us to a place called Waterland resort, with a lot of frogs as their display sign. The trip back and forth is an experience, a must!

He arranged a taxi for us, it’s picking us up around 15.00 and will take us back around 19.00 to our hotel. Maybe something before I start this story, you have to know that also in China they drive at the right side of the road, just like in the normal world, sorry for al the English who are reading this. Imagine you are sitting in a taxi and you have to cross a very busy road. A road filled with cars, motor’s packed with suppliers or people, a lot of trucks, bicycles and small tractors. Well this is a double 3-lane street and what you do is slide gently on the road and don’t mind the honking of the other people. If there is a small opening go for it, the other one will stop. Eventually you reach the middle of the road and then the front of the car is standing on the third lane of the opposite side and on your behind is on the third lane of the other side. So now you still have to cross this side will the traffic is going on on both sides of the taxi. If it’s very busy it can take you a long while to cross such a road. But there is coming some help for us, a big truck is also making his attempt to cross the road. As he thinks that the opening is big enough for him he moves and he’s clearing the way for us. A opening big enough is one the other car or truck has time to stop before they hit you. A marvelous system don’t you think, why place traffic lights when you can have an adventure every time you cross a road.

They also know traffic lights here, but red will not mean stop, but it means honk your horn and drive carefully through. Another great traffic rule to introduce in Belgium. But I have to tell that how more nice (residential) the area, they honk less their horn and keep more to the normal traffic rules like we know them.

We also drove on a normal double lane road in both directions. Most of these roads are very wide and they have a separate bicycle lane, but almost nobody uses them. At the left hand there are driving the trucks, little tractors and cars. And if you want to pass you have to do this at the right hand side, avoiding the bicycles and motors. Some of them are also taking over at the left hand side crossing a double white line and thus driving at the opposite side. When a truck enters the road, he’s immediately going to the left hand side of the road to avoid those slow moving bicycles and mopeds. Because here in China they are not the slower traffic, the bicycles are. Now and then you see a street-worker who’s cleaning the road with a broom, they don’t care about the traffic, they keep on doing their job. I can tell you that we drove a lot of slaloms to get there. When we came back you have off course again the same situations, but now you pay more attention to the whole traffic situation. I learned that honking is a way of warning the other road-user that you are coming so don’t go to the left or right or slow a bit down so that I can safely pass you. Even they honk the horn to warn people not to turn onto the road because they are coming. Also when somebody wants to turn in front of you, they honk the horn, reduce speed and if he passed on a safe distance you accelerate again.

Jun 21, 2002 06:00 PM My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 3

My first business trip to Shenzhen -part 3 Maybe something about the resort, it’s build in October 2001, so not even a year ago. It’s a big park with many ponds, some buildings and again a lot of personnel walking around. There are not a lot of visitors in the park, but the entrance fee is than 60 Yuan, this is almost 9 euro. If you know that most people earned a few years ago 2 euro a week, then you know he. It’s here very nice to walk, you get a map with all the locations (off course in Chinese) that you can visit in the park. First we walk over the good walking-paths, bridges and that gives us off course a thirst. Why do you think, well it’s a very hot day, it’s over 30 degrees. We are going into a house, it seems to be a restaurant and again we are getting a menu, but we only need one bottle of beer. And they bring two. In China you always get a cup of thee, no matter what you order, a meal, a bottle of beer. A few moments later a Chinese is sitting next to us to have a talk with us, it’s for him an opportunity to practice his English. As we see a toilet, we need to go, but you can only see at the inside if you are at the correct place, I can’t read the Chinese signs for man and wife.

They also have an ecological museum, with two doors, one on the left wall and the other in the right wall. Well we found the entrance because the exit was marked in English. Lucky us. Off course inside is everything in Chinese, but this isn’t so bad, we interpreted the exhibition on our own way. At a certain moment a Chinese employee comes to us and with signs she asks us to come with here, it seems that somewhere there starts a show. They do everything to help you, but then in Chinese. A bit further, an other Chinese girl takes us into a room with a slanted floor. We already have been there, but how to explain. So we follow here and see makes those signs like close your eyes, feel the movement, stay to stand firm, … I have to say also in this park we are the only white people walking around a again people stare at us, they are very curious. And for us Europeans they also have some English words on signs, there ware a few warning signs saying: “keep sefety” instead of keep save, exit and toilet and museum. That’s all folks.

As the taxi delivers us back to the hotel, the guards are saluting again for us, Ok not for us, they do that for every car that is going into the parking lot of the hotel. We are eating again in the Western restaurant, because all those Chinese meals are giving us the feeling of all the time the same food, although we never ate the same. This evening is again closed with some beer and a wies-se-kie.

Also today, Thursday the name is spelt on the floor. We are pick-up by the second supplier brought to his factory, a 40 minutes further. Also here the talks are going well and again there is a Chinese meal that goes in the same atmosphere as the other ones. In the evening we end our visit. Here we also hear something more about the guards, we asked if they are all coming from the same firm because they all use the same uniforms. The answer is sublime simple, no they are all own personnel but all factories buy the uniforms at the same firm. Also for those two military persons that we saw during our first walk, you remember those who were weaving very friendly, well these uniforms you also can buy everywhere.

Now an evening working on the laptop at my hotel-room and then we are going to take some pictures of the lights around the hotel. As Theo takes his camera, there are again immediately several curious Chinese people standing behind him. They watch every movement that he makes. To bad that I didn’t had my camera by hand so that I could make this unique photo.

Friday is our last day in China and after a half day of supplier talks at Philips we are taking the ferry back to Hong Kong en there we have an half day to walk around. But before we are doing that we drop our luggage at the Hard Rock Café in Hong Kong. Yeah a person from Philips knows the manager very well and he told us to put our luggage there. First we have a beer and a meal en we are watching the football and also looking through the windows onto the street. Below us there are dozens of people standing for a small screen watching the football at the entrance. As a person from DHL walks by with a push-car, he starts running on the spot going slowly ahead and then he walks further again. I think I have to propose this scene to them to use as a commercial. It was funny.

After our walking trip across Kowloon, we are going to pick up our luggage and there are certainly 50 people standing outside watching the game England against Argentina on that small TV-screen at the entrance. If we are trying to get in, we being stopped and they tell us that there is no more room for eating, but we only go for a beer and our luggage so we can go in. We order us a beer and we see Beckham kicks the 1-0 against the net. And a furious shouting starts, England is leading and they are very happy with that. Can the fact that this was a former English colony have anything to do with it? But know we have to get our luggage and then we have a plane to catch and this is then the end of our Chinese adventure.

May 18, 2000 06:00 PM Stranding in sight of the top from El Junci - part 1

Stranding in sight of the top from El Junci - part 1 Also today, we start with one man less on the trip. John is staying behind this time, because his girlfriend from Santiago comes to visit him this afternoon. He decided to sleep a bit longer today so that he's fit this evening. We are already day 19 of our holiday en it's Monday 15 May. Today we go to El Junci, a table mountain, one that we could see from the harbour of Baracoa. It seems that one can have a splendid view over the landscapes around Baracoa. The guy in his Jeep greets us again and he brings us to El Junci. He asks us to keep the sail of the jeep closed while he's driving in the city, so the seats in the "balcony" aren't so comfortable anymore. It's only 7 kilometres to the start point of our hike, but what a kilometres. I took us an hour to get there and the last kilometres are over a road covered with thick stones and big holes. We are shaken badly and sometimes we think that he looses pieces of his Jeep, when he manoeuvres around the obstacles. After this eventful ride we are at the entrance of an abandoned holiday camp. We see a lot of different houses, a roofed play yard, washing facilities, barbecue, ... It's a holiday camp for the Cubans, but besides the people who are in charge of taking care for this camp, we see nobody. I wonder how the people get here; I guess one should think twice if they have to take that terrible road to get here.

We ask someone who's working there and he tells us that normally within a half hour a guide from Baracoa should arrive here. And we, who are especially left so early to avoid the hot sun, are condemned to wait here. So we are just hanging around the place and then we try to start a game of coconut basketball. But the bouncing of the coconut is not that, kpok, and no bounce. But this waiting is boring and we ask Marinette to think about going without a guide. After another 10 minutes we put on our naughty walking shoes and we are leaving towards the top. The start in the holiday park isn't indicated, but luckily for us that Marinette already made a small reconnaissance. This small path brings us to towards a wide river. She's having a heavily current between the big rocks on this place and we stupid tourists are taking our shoes off and are trying to get over the river with the help of these bigger rocks. Taking our shoes off isn't stupid because so we keep them dry for the rest of the journey, but using the rocks isn't very smart of us. It's not easy to get across and we have to find our balance and very often we need our hands as an extra support to avoid falling over. We feel again the smaller rocks at the bottom and it hurts the sole of our feet. So we try to step on the bigger rocks instead. So now you see why we are using this place to get over the river. Using these bigger wobbling stones to get over is not good for our balance, but everybody manages to get dry to the other side. When we are putting our shoes back on, we see 3 beautiful local girls crossing the fast running river. No not on the same place we did, but a few meters further in a quieter area of the river. But here are only those small sharp stones and we are not used to walking on them. But they get over very fast and easy.

With our shoes back on our feet, we continue the road to the table mountain, El Junci. With the advice of the gardener of the resort freshly in our minds, when you get to a fork in the road, keep right. So we keep on following the right pad, this goes slowly higher. But are we sure this is the correct road to El Junci. We see a farm a few hundred metres further and they tell to Marinette that the path to El Junci is the other path, the left one. Lucky us for asking again for directions otherwise we had make a big mistake. Happily we continue our walk and after a few hundred metres the path disappears into the woods, luckily there is a sign next to it. We walk between the trees and in the shade. But the sun finds enough holes in the leaf tops of the trees to welcome us with her hot rays. It's again a lovely hot day, one of the many in Cuba. After some climbing over the steep path, we are standing suddenly in front of a barrier and a gate. This gate is actually a lot of horizontal wooden sticks. We slide the sticks open and close them back behind us walking happily further on the path. Now and then we catch a glimpse of the river in the deep when we look through an opening in the tree line. Maybe it's the same rivers that we crossed before. We still don't see anything from El Junci, it's top is still hidden for us, although we are walking on his flank. We pass two more gates and then we see a few guides that will cross our paths. When they see us, they turn around and we follow them until they go to the right and we decide to walk straight through. I hear you thinking: that's not wise, but yeah those guides, were some black pigs who were running free. But because they always walked in front of us, I called them our guides. We pass another gate and find ourselves in an orchard that is sealed of with another gate. The path is getting more invisible and we are walking through high grass, that is next to a slope downhill. It's a bit slippery and dangerous. But some people had walked here recently. Suddenly we hear someone yelling in the distance, it's a Cuban who's walking towards us, waving his arms. He tells us that we are lost and that we have to turn back. With big hand movements he tries to explain us that we had to go right, onto the same paths as the pigs used to take. You see they had to be a sort of guides. We walk back and turn left now (yes, because we are coming from the other side). We see 3 mules grazing in a meadow; they look at us, like they would say: what are you doing here? We reach again a barrier, but this time without a gate. Is our trip ending so close to the top? We are looking but we can't find a path anywhere. We decide to rest for a little while and reluctant we start the trip back. At the fork, we see the same Cuban on his horse driving two oxen on the path. Again he's making those big hand movements to show us that we are on the right track and that we have to follow the barrier to go to the top. He tells us that if he didn't have those animals with him, he would take us to the top. But now the only thing he can do is making those hand gestures and an explanation in fluid Spanish, that we interpreted as just follow the barrier.

May 18, 2000 06:00 PM Stranding in sight of the top from El Junci - part 2

Stranding in sight of the top from El Junci - part 2 We go back to try again, because stranding so close to the finish is frustrating. We get again to the barrier and see that this is full-grown with trees and small bushes and plants and in between there are a lot of big rocks. I get a few metres further but then it's the end of the line, I look towards a wall of big rocks. I decide to see at the other side of the barrier and I see a small stable surrounded by banana trees and with a small pound. Again we have to return in our footsteps without getting to our final destination and that on barely 15 metres from the top, because that's the height difference that separated us from the top. But nature and the ignorant tourist decide otherwise. On our way back we are overcome by thirst and hunger. After several attempts I manage to get 6 sour fruits from a tree, just by throwing a stick against them. They look like an orange, but have a very sour taste, not really thirst-quenching. We continue our walk down and we have to be very careful that we don't slip on the lose stones and that we have to take the correct path. We mostly they join again after a while. As we reach that first fork in the road, we decide to walk towards the farm to see if we can get something to eat or to drink.

Luckily the woman is outside and she signs us to come onto the farmyard. As we ask if we can get something to eat or to drink, the man puts on his boots and girds his machete on, but before he leaves he brings us a bunch small tasty bananas. We already had several times the pleasure to taste them in Cuba; they are much better in taste then the bananas that we eat in Europe. The farmer comes back with a bunch of sugarcanes and he uses a simple press to get sugar water out of it. He and his wife are pressing them in front of our eyes. Delicious sugar water is the result of that. It's refreshing and it gets together with those bananas our strength back. Now we get the change to see the farm more closely, because we are not focussed anymore on food and drinks. The ground is swept clean; there are banana trees, pineapples and lots of other fruits. The pigs are fed with the leftovers of the bananas and the sugarcane. There is a bamboo-pipe running from a close by hill, that brings some warmish water from the mountains. This water fills also a small pound wherein there are some fish swimming. He has here everything he needs to life. The only luxury that's missing is electricity or running water, but for that last he has his bamboo-pipe. But do you need the electricity in the free nature around here? He tells us that he lives here since his pensioning. He's living a much better live on his farm and for all the money in the world, he would not go back again. The products that he grows and doesn't need, he can sell to the state. When he hears from our stranding close to the top, he tells us that the path is well hidden and that you can't get to the top without a guide. To bad, he says, because from up there you have a beautiful view over the surrounding areas. We shall have to believe him on his word. We ask if he can miss some water to fill up our water bottles. No problem he says and he brings us some nice fresh water to fill them up. After paying him some money as gratitude for his hospitality we continue our walk back to the holiday park.

A sidetrack takes us to a bigger pound in a bend of the river. But for most of us is it to warm to sit her, so only Nele and Wim stay behind to have a swim here. The others settle down at the cross over place, but it is just deep enough to get your feet wet. So I take off my shoes and walk across the river, just like a drunk when I'm almost losing my balance. But I reach dry to the other side and I decide to walk upstream to find a deeper place to swim. But after a while the path disappears and I can't go further anymore. Even the trees are hanging here close to the water, so that I can't go further there anymore. So I decide to lay here in the water beneath the trees. At the other side I see a woman doing the washing. The result I already saw at this side, the clothes were drying in the sun. After a while I hear some noise close to me, another girl is collecting the clothes and puts them into a basket. She puts the basket on her head and starts walking across the river, the water is coming a bit higher then her middle and the other woman keeps on doing the wash. After a short while I put on the rest of my clothes and go back to the others, who are just crossing the river at those rocks. Everybody took their shoes off except Jean, he was very quick to this side, but have to go further with wet shoes now and that’s not so comfortable. In the mean time there are dark threatening clouds gathering in the sky and that looks not so good. As we get back at the holiday park, we gather in the roofed play yard and soon after it’s starts raining. It’s a heavy rain. Soon everybody except Jean and me is sleeping and as the time is there to leave, we can’t get Nele and Wim awake. Marijke decides to use big means and I agree and join her, without any hesitation. She takes her water bottle and we poor together the water over the heads of they sleeping beauties. I can assure you that they had a rough awaking.

It’s a short walk to the pick up point, where the Jeep should wait for us, but as we arrive there he's not in sight. We take it easy and sit down on the ground. No it's not wet anymore, the sun had dried the ground very quickly even after that hard rain. About 15 minutes later, we see him coming, the Jeep that is facing this road. As we get in, the driver tells us to be careful because he just finished painting the some parts of the Jeep. What a thought to paint it if you have to pick up passengers. The battery that was lying between our feet the past days is also disappeared. It's again a ride over that terrible road; it's like a stormy sea. He tries to avoid as much as humanly possible the pits and stones, but actually it's a bit impossible.

And so ended our trip to El Junci.

May 17, 2000 06:00 PM With 10 people in a small army jeep towards Yumiri - part 1

With 10 people in a small army jeep towards Yumiri - part 1 Everybody knows already what the program is for day 18 of our trip. It's already 14 May and we are going to take the bus to Yumiri to do a nature walk. But first there is again an extended breakfast for 3 persons. Needless to say that Karl is missing again, to tired to get out of his bed. The others of our group are coming to Lucy en from here we go to the bus station. A lot of people are waiting on the busses, but these ones aren't going to Yumiri. The bus at the back end of the parking is going there and it costs only a few pesos. We get on the bus and sit down and wait. But there is no movement in the bus, so we keep on waiting. There are coming more people who are getting on the bus, most of them put their suitcase on the seat and go back outside and stand there waiting. The temperature in the bus is rather high; this because the sun is burning and although the windows of the bus are open, there is no wind to cool us down. We ask when the bus should leave and one of the passengers says to us 13h00. It's now only 10h30 and we don't see us sitting so long in this parked bus. When we get our belongings and leave the bus and then one of the people says that the bus is going to leave in a half hour. But the problem is that there are not a lot of busses going back from Yumiri, so we have to rethink our options. But a solution is at hand; they point us to a person in a jeep. After a short negotiation he agrees to bring us to and back from Yumiri for 20 dollar for 7 persons. We agree, because we didn't have a ride in a jeep yet, but how the hell do we have to fit with 7 persons in this small jeep. There are 3 benches in the jeep, 2 at the sides and one in the middle against the driver. It's only a small army jeep. John is sitting in front next to the driver and a fellow passenger and his son. On the benches inside, Marinette, Wim, Jean and I are sitting down; our feet next to some materials cosy together. Marijke and Nele can sit in what we call the balcony. They have off course the best places in the house. The balcony is located outside the jeep and the sail. Every Cuban that we pass or that is waiting next to the road is waving to them and they wave back. With 10 people in a small army jeep towards Yumiri, great.

It's an adventure so close to each other in this Jeep. Between Jean and Marinette's feet there is a heavy battery. We also get to see the Cuban way of driving. The distance between Baracoa and Yumiri is about 30 kilometres and it took us about one hour to get there. The road is hilly and each time that we go downhill, the driver shuts down the engine to save fuel. He goes then freewheeling to the bottom and if he has enough speed to reach the next hilltop he keeps the engine off. If he almost looses his speed, he turns the engine on again to the hilltop and shuts if off again. It's a nice trip and I have to stick my head outside the sail next to Marijke to see something off the landscape or I look try the front window, but then you see everything flashing by at 30 km an hour.

As we arrive in Yumiri, we get a lot of people walking behind the jeep. Through the reports of the previous groups, we already knew this. The driver brings us to a bridge and we get out and immediately their are about 30 people around us. One person takes the word and proposes some options to do for a walk. We decide to go for a walk across the forest with some explanation about the local fruits. John is in the mean time getting acquainted with the locals. Why him, he does this always. But at the other hand is speaking Spanish. And also because he likes to talk and can't say NO. The locals try to sell us some nice necklaces made with beautiful coloured snail houses. But Marijke had read in her guidebook that they catch these snails especially for the tourists and that they are endangered now. So we don't buy them.

The 2 guides are going to take us to the forest. Marinette had asked for only one guide, but they say at least two and we agree. If you don't make any arrangements the whole village comes with you as a guide. Alberto and Eladio take a boat and start to get the water out. We get into the boat, an official boat from Rumbos, the tourist organization and we hear that the price for this boat fare is going to the state and not to the village. So also here they have their long arm into the funds of the tourists. They take us over the water to an island in the river. This is the start of our voyage. We walk across this with stone covered island and we notice that 3 of the local girls are following us. Soon, John is engaged in talking to them. Needless to say, he's dropping back again. On Marinette instructions Eladio goes to talk to the 3 girls and she says to John that we don't going to wait always on him. The trip goes now into the bushes and they show us some tobacco plants. But now, we walk to the opposite side and they show us an abandoned cave. Until a few years ago, there was an Indian living here, he' was married to a white woman. He used to live here in the same way his ancestors lived. But the government didn't like that the tourist where taking pictures of him and he was relocated to Santiago. Alberto and Eladio show us how you can roast a pig. There is a long stick standing against the cave wall and they show us how they turn an imaginary pig slowly above an imaginary coal fire.

May 17, 2000 06:00 PM With 10 people in a small army jeep towards Yumiri - part 2

With 10 people in a small army jeep towards Yumiri - part 2 Now we walk to the other side of the steam, we take our shoes of to walk through this shallow smoothly streaming river. The water level comes to our ankles, but those small stones beneath our unprotected bear foot! We put our shoes back on and go further with our trip. The first fruits that we see are the green cacao fruit. These are only ripe when they are brown red. They have a special smell and are completely white inside.

We continue through the forest over a small path, just wide enough to pass all the overhanging plants. We are walking now and then next to a deeper valley. Suddenly I don't see one of the guides anymore, but the others point me to a figure sitting in a tree. He's collecting pommo-rosso's. He shakes them out of the branches and some of them he takes from the tree. These pommo-rosso's are as we learned in Trinidad: Cuban apples. They still have that strange taste, but the still our hunger and thirst. The next fruit they collect for us is a kind of a mango. This one has an orange colour. Eladio gets his knife and peels the skin off and cuts it then in small pieces. But as I taste them, I find them horrible, the others agree. They are to dry. The second one tastes a bit better, but not what one would expect from fresh fruit. After a while, they find another mango and this one is juicy and tastes delicious. In no time she's eaten.

Then the guides stop and point in the direction of a palm tree. Alberto climbs as a trained monkey to the top and in no time, he gets for everybody a coconut out of the tree. He just throws then down and we start collecting them. Now the work starts for Eladio. He cuts a piece of the coconut and we see the hollow inside of the coconut. It's filled with coconut water; it's not the same taste as water out of o bottle or tap. It has not a great taste and it's also not easily drinking from a coconut. Very often the water is dripping over our chin. As we finished the water, they cut the coconut open. From the bark they make a spoon that we can use to eat the fruit of the coconut. It tastes good and wet. After this delicious "snack" we walk further and get again to the river that curls through the valley. We rest here a bit and relax en practice the art of throwing a rock into the river. You know that game off course; Eladio and Alberto are very good at it. After this short break we take our belongings and walk back over the same track.

Again we have to take our shoes off to cross the river and again we feel those little rocks beneath the sole of our feet. We stop again at a deep place in the river and I decide to go for a swim. The water is more refreshing than on the other trips in Cuba and still it feels warmish.

It's natural I guess with a constant temperature of more then 30 degrees day in day out. Also Eladio and Alberto and later John are joining me in this warmish wet water. (lol) The first two are giving a demonstration of diving from a high rock. When we are dry again, we walk back to our starting point. Alberto tells about a cousin of him, who fled to Haiti and from there to Puerto Rico. He's glad that his nephew made it.

Yumiri has a special meaning: in the time of the Spaniards, the original inhabitants the Indians were their slaves. A lot of them didn't like this way of life, which was totally different from their normal free life. They took their own life by throwing themselves from the rocks into the dept of the valley with the yell: Yumiri on their lips. This means something like I die or I'm free. I didn't find this translation in any dictionary. But this yell has resonance in this valley, because will we are waiting the guides are yelling towards the villages to bring the boat. Even a handclap is echoed and enhanced dozens of times by the valley walls. It's a strange sound if you hear the dull sound echoing through the chasm.

At the end Eladio swims back to inform the owner of the boat, so that you can pick us up. When we arrive back in the village they ask again if we don't stay for dinner. They propose that we sit on the black sand of the beach to eat. After a short consult we decide to stay, on the condition that not the whole village is watching is eating on the beach. They say that this is OK, because it's not nice to eat when people are sitting and watch you. They show us the fish and the "lobster" that you caught today. This is going to be our evening meal. First we buy an pineapple from some ones yard, that Eladio then prepares for us. Delicious and juicy, just heaven. Now we just have to wait until they bring our meal. We spend the time with walking bear footed into the water or just hanging around on the beach.

Then they bring the meal: 2 fish and the "lobster" added with papa fritas and Christianos and Morros (rice and beans). We eat our dinner on the beach and it tastes delicious and everybody is full. While we are eating, one of the locals is waving a banana-leaf to keep the flies of your food. After the meal, our chauffeur takes us back to the city; there is also a woman of the village who joins us. She's picking up some clothes that we still have with us. Again he's playing that game with his engine on the hilly roads, switching it off when we go downhill. But this time we have some nuisance with the exhaust, especially the two people sitting outside. But also the rest of us have often a nose full of the gasses from the exhaust. Each time there is an outburst of the exhaust, we have to laugh and smell the odour. After an hours drive we arrive back in Baracoa and we ask our driver if he can pick us up tomorrow to bring us to El Junci. He agrees and we say goodbye to him.

May 07, 2000 06:00 PM het nationaal park “Topes de Collantes”

het nationaal park “Topes de Collantes” Er loopt hier ook een Nederlands koppel rond. Zij zijn samen met een Duits-Nederlands koppel naar deze plek gekomen. Zoals zovelen hebben zij zich hier in Cuba leren kennen en trekken dan samen verder. We beginnen aan de terugtocht, die wel wat langer zal duren omdat we nu voornamelijk moeten stijgen. Het is een hard labeur dit keer en de verfrissing die we enige minuten geleden nog gehad hebben, tekent zich nu af op ons voorhoofd in de vorm van waterdruppels. Het is nu belangrijk om regelmatig iets te drinken en niet te snel te stappen, zodat iedereen kan volgen. We hebben vandaag veel dingen gezien en een prachtige dag beleefd. Na nog een versnapering in de bar vertrekken we terug naar Trinidad waar we rond 16h00 al aankomen.

May 07, 2000 06:00 PM Weer heerlijk eten in Trinidad

Weer heerlijk eten in Trinidad Hier neem ik even de tijd om iets te schrijven en dan gaan Marinette, Jean, Marijke en ik nog een wandeling doorheen het stadje maken. Hier zie ik een paar jongens met een binnenwiel van de fiets zonder spaken rondlopen. Met een simpele draad eromheen laten ze deze wielen voor hen uitlopen. Ook zie ik er twee frisbee spelen, met een plastiek deksel van een pot. Dit is een voorbeeld van hoe men hier met simpele dingen heel gelukkig kan zijn. We gaan tot aan het hotel en van daaruit naar de discotheek-grot waarin we heel even een blik mogen werpen. Maar als we ze willen bekijken, moeten we inkom betalen. Van hieruit wandelen we terug naar onze casa, maar eerst slaan we nog een voorraad in die we vanavond zullen ledigen. Zoals gebruikelijk weer een fles rum en paar flessen frisdrank om het geheel te verdunnen. We gaan weer eten in een paladar, dezelfde van gisteren. Als we erheen wandelen, worden we opgemerkt door de 2 vrouwen die ons gisteren naar dit restaurant gebracht hebben. De vrouw des huizes zegt dat zij een 20 dollar commissie moet afdokken aan hen en het eten heeft ons maar 8*7=56 dollar gekost. Dit betekent dat zij meer dan 30% moet afgeven. Ik denk dat zij een beetje overdrijft, maar dat zij een commissie moet betalen, geloof ik wel. Trouwens die dames leven van het aanbrengen van klanten en hun procentje wat ze daarvoor krijgen. Maar het is eigenlijk een vicieuze cirkel, want als men niet betaalt, brengen ze de klanten naar iemand anders die hen wel betaalt. We hebben al meermaals het aanbod gekregen om ons te begeleiden naar een restaurant of een plaats om te overnachten, maar steeds met de bedoeling om geld te vragen voor hun diensten. Ze zien een toerist als een wandelende kassa. Na het eten, dat weer voortreffelijk was, wandelen we naar onze casa terug.

May 07, 2000 06:00 PM Een rustige avond in Trinidad

Een rustige avond in Trinidad Plots horen we ergens muziek doorheen de straten klinken. We stoppen om ons te oriënteren, om uit te maken vanwaar deze muziek komt. Ik loop de casa de la cultura binnen en merk dat die muziek hier vandaan komt. Op de open binnenplaats is er een dansgroep aan het repeteren. We besluiten om een tijdje te blijven kijken en genieten van het spektakel. Ze oefenen verschillende dansstukjes in en doen dit zeer enthousiast, blijkbaar zijn ze blij dat er verschillende mensen, wij dus, staan te kijken. Ze zijn nadien nog met de hoed rond gekomen. Na dit optreden zijn we terug naar onze casa gegaan en hebben de voorraad soldaat gemaakt. John is weer wat langer blijven hangen en heeft een gesprekje aangeknoopt met enkelen van de meisjes. Ze zijn hem naar de casa gevolgd, waar hen nog enkele kleren worden gegeven.

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