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trekking

Arriving in Ushuaia at the End of the world

30 hours after I left my home in Copenhagen I arrived at Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia is placed all the way down at the southern tip of Argentina which has earned it the name of “Fin del Mundo”, or “End of The World”.

It was a long trip, in fact the longest of my life

It was a long trip, in fact the longest of my life, but finally I was standing there at the baggage line in the tiny airport hoping dearly that my checked bag had made it too. I had the essentials in my carry-on but there is still a lot of important stuff that I wouldn’t be happy about losing.

When I came in to Ushuaia I saw towering snow covered mountains in the horizon and it hit me what a vast distance I had travelled. I had gone from the cold north all the way across the hottest part of the earth and continued around until I hit cold again. Just a little bit longer and I would have  gone from pole to pole.

There’s enough to do here if nature is what you seek

I went on thinking about Jules Vernes’ legendary book, Around the World in 80 Days, and how it’s now possible in less than 2. The engineer in me was impressed, the adventurer in me felt lucky.

Another thing I noticed was the people. In Buenos Aires it was busy with business men and women in suits, tourists wearing sneakers and ladies wearing high heels. When I touched down in Ushuaia there was none of that. Here, you didn’t see a lot of locals, the main language you heard in the halls was English and the sneakers and high heels had been switched for trekking boots.

It was clear that this city was a tourist town and that many adventures and expeditions started here. To the north and west you have Patagonia, a sparsely touched and very remote part of the world. A heaven for bird watchers and trekkers alike. To the south you have the 7th continent and it’s pristine winter wonderland.

There’s enough to do here if nature is what you seek!

As I walked out of the airport I noticed something very odd. Something very peculiar that I had never seen before; A line for the taxis!

I would rather wait 10 minutes for a taxi any day, than being asked if I want a taxi a hundred times before I’m even out of the airport.

Yes, that’s right. I long line of about 50 people waiting to get a taxi ride. I have never seen this before. Coming from Central America where there are literally hundreds of both official and un-official taxi drivers waiting for you when you come out this was a refreshing change of pace. I would rather wait 10 minutes for a taxi any day, than being asked if I want a taxi a hundred times before I’m even out of the airport.

So I grabbed a taxi, shared it with 3 other tourists and off I went.

When I arrived at the hotel I knew that I would fall asleep instantly if I stuck around for too long, so I made a point of just dropping my bags and then hurrying out before getting too comfortable.

When I walked around town I noticed something strange again. I felt dizzy and confused. I felt fresh but tired at the same time. I noticed that when I had to do something that involved cognitive activity I was at 25% at most. I also noticed that my balance was somewhat off.

I got myself a burger and a Beagle, a local craft beer, walked around for 1½ hour and went back to the hotel. I instantly fell asleep and slept for 11 hours until I woke up next morning at 7am. And with that my first day in Argentina was over.

Although I’ve travelled more than most I’m happy that I can still have new experiences and new feelings. There is always something more to do and something more to see.

This is also the first time in South America and soon I’ll be on Antarctica. That’s 2 continents I’ve never been to before on the same trip and within 2 days.

Let the exploring begin!

clear skies over Ushuaia
Clear skies over Ushuaia, Argentina. The trip is off to a good start

Overview of tourist hotspots in Myanmar (Burma)

There are four main tourist hotspots in Myanmar: Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Mandalay, Bagan and Inle. They are located as a diamond shape if you look at a map of Myanmar with Yangon in the south, Mandalay in the north, Bagan in the west and Inle in the east.

myanmar-tourist-hotspots
Relative locations of the tourist hotspots in Myanmar

Along with these there are a few others depending on your route and your preferences. Really, though, if you want to boil it all down, Yangon and especially Mandalay function more as transport hubs and Bagan/Inle are the only real tourist spots. Since Myanmar is not that easy to enter overland, most people are flying to either Mandalay or Yangon.

However, as I have made it a point to not fly unless absolutely necessary, I took the overland route which took me through Hpa-An. A stop I would highly recommend even if you are only in Myanmar for a week. The capital, Naypyitaw (since 2006 – it used to be Yangon), is also definitely worth visiting if you want to get off the beaten track.

Yangon (and Mandalay) – Two large cities

Both cities function as transport hubs even though Yangon is the more common one. Yangon is interesting in the way that it allows no motorbikes in the city center, not even for locals which gives a different feel than the rest of south east asia. It also has a number of interesting temples and locations. It’s a decent and nice town to hang around in for a day or two.

One thing you shouldn’t miss is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon which is very impressive! Bear in mind though that you need proper clothes (pants, cover your shoulders etc.), will need to pay an entrance fee and will have to deal with many many tourists. This is one of the most touristy spots in all of Myanmar but still worth it.

schwedagon pagode in yangon, myanmar
The Schwedagon Pagoda seen from afar. To see it inside, go have a look yourself, I won’t give it away

Mandalay really has nothing interesting going for it. It’s good if you want a quiet hotel (not hostel) and/or can find a cheap flight ticket here. Other than that it just functions as a bus/train/plane hub to nearby places of more interest. The only thing worth seeing in the city is a very picturesque teak bridge called U Bein Bridge. I personally recommend skipping Mandalay and focus on something more unique and special, namely ALL the rest of Myanmar.

Bagan – Temples galore

Note: I’ve heard from multiple sources (other travellers) that you can no longer climb the temples at night, ie. for sunrise and sunsets. This is a very large part of what makes Bagan unique. This is, however, still Myanmar and I’m sure you can just do it anyway – even if you do get “caught” then a small bribe or simply saying you’re sorry should be enough. Has anyone been there since this change that can confirm/update on this ? Please comment!

In short, this is a massive archaeological site boasting an astonishing 2700 (approximately) temples. During it’s prime it was closer to 13000. This doesn’t mean that the area is huge, in fact you can drive from one end to the other on an e-bike in about 30-60 minutes. Without having the exact numbers I’d estimate it to be an area of around 20 * 10 km.

The area is surrounded by 3 cities: New Bagan, Old Bagan and Nyang-U. The night-busses arrive in Nyang-U but most of the backpackers go to New Bagan – a taxi ride of about 7000 kyats although they will ask for 15000 from you. in Nyang-U there are cheaper (and worse quality accomodation) and in Old Bagan is where the more upscale accomodation is. I staid in New Bagan which is quite touristy and expensive but has a good vibe. Lots of backpackers in that area.

When you get there, rent an e-bike (motorbikes are not rented to foreigners in Bagan) and scoot around the temples. This is basically the whole thing. Go with a group of friends and see the temples or drive around alone and get lost in the land of temples. Find yourself an empty roof and just sit there and contemplate about things in life.

bagan-relax
Finding a nice temple to be alone can be a very relaxing experience

There are very few bars in New Bagan and the temple area is the whole thing. But it’s worth it. This area is obscenely picturesque and when you see the sunrise/sunset you will fall in love. At sun-rise about 25 hot air balloons fly every morning, making for some of the most beautiful sunrises you will ever see.

bagan-beauty
The beauty of Bagan. Atleast some of it – so many amazing pictures have been taken in this area

Inle Lake

Most of the flashpackers you see out there will do one or two days at Inle Lake. It’s a small city called Nyaungshwe near the lake where everyone stays and it’s from here the tours/trekking starts.

The lake is beautiful and there is a reason why everyone goes here but it has become murky and brown even though just a generation ago you could drink from the lake. Motorized boats sailing around tourists add to this but mostly it is due to fishermen and other locals using the same motorized boats and fertilizers used in the floating gardens.

You can get a day-tour boat trip from any hostel you stay in taking you to the sights of the lake – the floating gardens, the four tribes living on the lake and the fishermen amongst other things. It makes for a great day and is worth doing. Remember sun-screen!

fishermen-inlelake-myanmar
Fishermen on Inle Lake

Another day can be spent on a bicycle ride around the monastery’s and caves in the area. For an evening activity visit one of the two vineyards in the area – one is close and has an amazing sunset view but unfortunately lacks good wine – the other has good wine but is further away and requires a tuk-tuk ride or an avid bicycler.

If you spend more days in the area, you can go on two or three day hiking tours in the mountains or alternatively hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake instead of taking the bus directly to Inle. Trekking is always a fun activity and the mountains are beautiful – if you are going in the dry season some of the waterfalls along the Kalaw – Inle Lake route will be dried out so maybe a tour along the lake starting and ending in Nyaungshwe is better.

Irkutsk – Near the great Lake Baikal


Presently its 6am and I’m sitting in Ulan-bataar (Chingis khaan international airport). But lets go back – back to when we arrived by train to Irkutsk near the great Lake Baikal.

DAY1 – July 31st, Arriving at Irkutsk

We arrived safely to Irkutsk in the evening and quickly found our homestay (arranged through a hostel). As it was late in the evening  all we did was grab some food and withdraw some money from a nearby atm followed by a quick shower and then straight to bed. The food was terrible.

DAY2 – August 1st, Listwyanka

In the morning we made our way to another hostel as the homestay was booked out. As the pros we have become at finding very unmarked hostels in russia (often in completely anonymous residental complexes) we found our new hostel and had checked in around noon.

This is where we met Kurt – an australian that had been spending the last 40 days camping and trekking the mountains of Mongolia. He also just arrived in Irkutsk. He decided to join up on a trip we planned going to a lake city called listwyanka near lake baikal – and eat breakfast their.

We bought 2L beer, a bottle of vodka, some cucumber, some tomatoes, some pepper fruit, salami, bread, butter, cheese and got on our way. The breakfast of kings. We then got on our way to Lake Baikal. After about 1h of driving in their marshutkas (minibusses) we walked around and quickly found a nice spot at the beaches of Lake Baikal.

View from the Marshutka (minibus)
View from the Marshutka (minibus)

<Picture pending of breakfast>

But first a few facts about lake baikal – It is the deepest lake in the world. It is 600kms long and 60kms wide. It contains 20% of the worlds combined water resources – more than the 5 great lakes combined! Also it is so clear than you can drink directly from the lake. Quite impressive.

Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal

Anyway, this day was one of those, “we don’t really have any plans but I’m sure we’ll have fun” days and so we did. Our original plan was to see the lake and take the last boat home at 18:30. That didn’t happen. After having eaten our breakfast we asked a random boater on the beach if he would take us on his boat and since lady luck is constantly behind us, he said yes.

View from the back of the boat
View from the back of the boat
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Our Captain
Our Captain
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj

After the short boatride of about 15minutes (and half a bottle of vodka) we just walked down the road along the lake to see what was going on. As it usually does something quickly happened: Nikolaj spotted a banya (russian bathhouse) sign with a phone number. We stopped the first stranger and asked him to call the number.

This guy was a young russian who had just bought booze to meet up with his friends. He didn’t meet up with his friend – instead he joined us for the most of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we swam in lake baikal and tried some very cheap food:

The russian
The russian
The weird food right after we got out of the water
The weird food right after we got out of the water

I high fived a bear:

Me high fiving a bear
Me high fiving a bear

met alot of new friends and of course went to the banya:

Outside the banya
Outside the banya

On a side note: Being the danes we are, we ofcourse wanted to skinny dip in the lake but our russian friend told us “no no no no”. The women will called their boyfriends, the boyfriends will call the police (and beat you up), and finally the police will beat you up again (and throw you in jail). This is not just because they don’t like nudity but more particularily because they don’t like MALE nudity (we were 3 guys that wanted to do it) as it is basically too gay’ish. Two bottles of vodka down we were this close to doing it but still opted for keeping the boxers on.

Around 8pm we took the marshutka back to irkutsk and had a crazy night… we went to bed around 2am.. or 3am.. 4am.. I don’t really remember. Honestly I don’t remember much after we got back… it rained.

DAY3 – August 3rd, Hiking around Lake Baikal

We got up at 8:30 am (YES!! after that day/night). That was probably one of the worst hangovers and most confused times on this entire trip so far. Furthermore, we had planned a 12 km trekking trip.. and we only had flipflops to wear. Getting picked up by the tour staff (and Mirko the german we met earlier in Moscow who had joined up with us again… great, huh? :)).

Mirko was fully prepared with trekking gear, bugspray, water and food… we had… uh… flipflops and a hoodie. We got the driver to stop at a market and got some food and water and after an hour of driving, best described as attempted suicide, we got to the start of our trek. We quickly got to talking with two russian girls who was going camping and they joined us for the rest of the trip

Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face :)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face 🙂

One of the stranger things that happened was a bikini dressed russian girl in the forrest named Nastya. She was there alone and she had a tent, some food and a whole lot of Samogon (russian home-brewed booze) that she had made herself. We did a picnic there pooling all our food and also tried some of the samogon. It was very home-brewery.

We also got to hide under the railroad tracks when the rain started pouring having a little camping there for about half an hour.

Under the tunnel: Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena
Under the tunnel:
Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena

We also skipped stones at the shore of Lake Baikal, tried “moutain energy tee” that the russian girls had brought from home. Talked alot about alot of things and I learned a few new words.

At the shore of lake baikal
At the shore of lake baikal

Another thing to mention are the tunnels. For some reason the russians decided that tunnels were bad karma and opted for leading the railroad tracks AROUND the tunnel instead. I have no idea why.. but on the plus side the tunnels doubles as excellent shelter for those less fortunate.

The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels + bed and Mirko
The tunnels + bed and Mirko

Below are some pictures of the trail

Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail

At night we just got home, ate food and went to bed.

DAY4 – August 4th, Leaving

We got up early, and took the train. How that went is for the next blog post