Sunday, February 25, 2018

Drinking Bhang Lassi in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

 Drinking Bhang Lassi in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Lassi is a very popular drink from the Indian subcontinent, made with yoghurt and water.Although the traditional lassi is salty, nowadays it is more common to find it sweet and mixed with fruits, honey, sugar or even spices.

The sweet lassi with fruits is particularly common in touristic places, and according to our experience, the mango lassi is the best seller.

Now, of all the flavors of lassi, the most sought after by tourists is undoubtedly the bhang lassi.

Bhang is made with cannabis flowers and leaves ground up into a paste. This paste is then mixed with yogurt, water and fruits to produce the famous drink.

Bhang lassi is very popular in the north of India and its consumption is common in many religious celebrations like Holi, for spiritual reasons. The Hindus drink it to get closer to God, to meditate better and to wash their sins away.

Anyone could think that the commercialization and consumption of bhang lassi is punished by the authorities, but that is not the case at all. There are several stalls authorized by the government to sell it and where it is safe to consume the drink.

During our stay in the beautiful fortified city of Jaisalmer we came across “Doctor Bhang” an authorized bhang shop, and the curiosity was to great to ignore.

Check our experience with Bhang Lassi out in the next video:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City: our first impressions about vietnam


The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Vietnam are images of forests, rice fields and a crowd of people riding bicycles, in other words, the classic stereotype of Southeast Asia. But great was our surprise when, getting off the plane in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), we found ourselves with a modern and cosmopolitan city, that still maintains an undeniable traditional touch that can be seen in every corner of the city.

It doesn’t matter where you go you can always find street stalls selling all kinds of local food, generally served by women wearing the traditional conical straw hat. The contrast between the food carts and skyscrapers, with its huge mirrored walls, cannot be greater.

After a brief search (perhaps not so brief...), Deia found a modern and very bright apartment located right in the heart of the backpacker district. After unpacking and showering (more than necessary after traveling almost a day!) we’re ready to venture out to HCMC streets.

Only a ten minutes’ walk from our guesthouse was the central market of Ho Chi Minh City, or rather "what used to be" the central market of HCMC, since now more than half of their stalls is dedicated to selling clothes, shoes and all kinds of souvenirs at "tourist prices". At the other half you can still find traditional activities such as greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and traders selling all kinds of spices, coffee, tea, and of course, the food court.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to experience a local delicacy, and so we sat at one of the many food stalls to taste "Pho", which is perhaps the most well-known and Vietnam’s most famous dish. In essence, it is a noodle soup (usually made of rice noodles) served with meat and vegetables and topped with fresh green leaves. The perfect balance between sweet, salt, sour and spicy is something unparalleled, not to mention the incomparable and so oriental flavor of umami (for more info don’t forget to google it!).

The Vietnamese cuisine is certainly something serious!

The French influence in Vietnam can be appreciated in every corner of the country, especially in big cities filled with Neoclassical, Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings and facades. What most caught our attention was the great number of churches in the country, being the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon the most important of all. The Neo-Gothic building with sober decoration is one of the city's biggest attractions.

And right next to the Cathedral is the Post Office, which still functions as such, but is also packed with booths selling all sorts of knick knacks to tourists.

About 40 km from downtown HCMC, in the village of Cu Chi, is an extensive network of underground tunnels. Built between the 60’s and 70’s these were used by the Viet Cong guerrillas as communication routes, hospitals, storage of weapons, ammunition and food as well as a refuge during the war, which lasted over 20 years.

The Americans never suspected neither the size nor the complexity of the tunnels that formed a network connecting the entire country. A good example of this can be seen in Cu Chi, where a portion of the channels passed under one of the American army bases, which was constantly sabotaged by the Vietcong’s.

The tunnels form a true underground city with different floors, barracks with a command center, hospital, cafeterias, kitchens and bedrooms. The tour concludes with a brief demonstration of some of the traps and pitfalls used as a defense against the American army, followed by a tasting of boiled tapioca, one of the few available provision during the time of war, since it was possible to be grown underground.

We will never forget the experience of getting in and literally "crawling in” the tunnels of Cu Chi. It was only 50 feet, enough to cause a mixture of claustrophobia, anxiety and despair that is engraved in our memories forever. And after the visit, we have even more respect and admiration for this resilient people, which stood firm and strong more than 20 years of constant shelling, hiding and defending themselves in these and other tunnels in the country.

Here we leave some videos of our visit to Ho Chi Minh City.


Vietcong´s Tunnels

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Arriving in Mongolia: an overland odyssey


Whenever it’s possible, we try to get to a new country by land. Not only for budgetary reasons, but also because it allows us to get to know places that are often off the beaten track. And since we already were in Datong which is located at the north of China, we decided to take a train to Erlian, the overland gateway to Mongolia.

Erlian is the typical border town, i.e. it is not very appealing and most people seem to be involved in something suspicious. We spent the night in a pretty grim hostel (to say the least) and first thing in the morning we went straight to the Central Square, where we got a minivan to cross the border.

The immigration process was much faster and organized than expected. With our duly stamped passports, our van was waiting for us on the other side of the building to continue our trip to Zamiin-Uud, located only 2 miles from the border. Arriving there, we did what we always do when arriving in a new country:

1. Exchange money to local currency;
2. Buy tickets for the next leg of the trip;
3. And if we have to wait, look for a place to eat or drink, preferably with wifi.

The first point could not be easier, as we withdraw money from an ATM machine without major problems. The second was also quite simple, especially because the minivan left us literally around the corner from the train station, which was neither big nor busy. By the way, it reminded me a lot of the train stations in the Argentinean Pampas: lost in the middle of green meadows, where you can only see the tracks, the platform and the lonely station. The price of the ticket to Ulaanbaatar, our next destination, with the Trans-Mongolian train cost USD 35, an adequate amount for a bed in a 12 hours long trip.

And finally, for the third point we found a tidy and "modern" coffee place that looked more like a fast food restaurant. This is where we would hang out for the next 5 hours until our train’s departure at 6pm. There, we also met a very friendly backpacker’s couple who were also waiting for the same train.

Everything was going so well... so harmonious... everyone was so friendly... shame that we haven’t notice a small but crucial detail: the Mongolia's time zone is an hour ahead of China’s. The daylight saving time started however, as we will learn later in Ulaanbaatar, the government never informed the international body that regulates these issues. It is precisely for this reason that our mobile phones never exchanged the time, and when I say "our mobile phones", we are including the couple who were waiting with us!

Even so, we decided to go to the train station a “little over an hour earlier” the departure time, after all, better safe than sorry. Little we know that our train was already on the platform, ready to leave in only 10 minutes time. We’re relaxed, but decided to ask one of the train staff anyway, and using hand gestures, he signaled NO. At that moment we understood he meant that it was not our train, but actually he was saying that we could no longer embark.

And that's when the odyssey began. First to let us get on the train and that did not work. Than to reimburse the ticket, and this time, it kind of worked, or rather 35% worked, as this was the percentage of the amount we got as a refund. Looking back I think they were more than generous, considering that it was entirely our fault. We had no other alternative but to buy another ticket for the next train that would leave at 9pm. But at this time, we were the first onboard!

The trip was peaceful. The monotonous landscape consisted basically of a vast green steppe stretching out as far as eyes can see, interrupted from time to time by a Ger house (traditional tent where the nomads live) a herd of horses or yaks.

The train itself is from the Soviet era, in other words, as old as it can be, but works beautifully and is very well assisted by a cleaning crew and attentive cabin attendants. The private cabins shared between 4 people, are quite comfortable and have enough storage space for luggage.

Around 10 am the next day we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, but that's another story for another time.

Here is the video we made while we waited for the second train out:

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tiger Leaping Gorge: Falling inside the tiger's throat


In planning our travel itinerary in China, the Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡; Hǔtiào Xia) emerged as one of the must-do activities in the Yunnan Province. Frequently described as one of the best and most beautiful treks in the country, the 15 miles path, almost entirely above 10,000 ft., passes through pine forests, small villages, terrace farmlands, all with a spectacular view of the Haba Mountains and its famous snowy peaks.

Who would have thought? Those who knew us before our backpacking trip would never believe that Maxi and I could be so excited about the idea of ​​a trekking. I guess Nepal has changed us forever. Being in close touch with nature, breathing fresh air and having the chance to visit places that most tourists don’t (because it is impossible to reach by car) is something unparalleled, and even a little addictive. If an addiction is inevitable, at least let it be one that will make us healthier and fit!

For a change, finding out information (either online or offline) on how to get there, where to go and to how to get back, was an arduous task as with most travel in China. Without a question, we wanted to do the trek on our own and not through an agency. Luckily, the hostel where we stayed in Lijiang organized a minibus to the Gorge, for only 40 yuan (6.50 USD) per person, round trip. So we left our big backpacks in Lijiang, and set off only with the necessary for a two day trek, aware that we could run into cold and rainy weather.

The minibus left early, before dawn. After a rough 2 hour ride, we arrived at the box office in Qiatou. The entrance to the protected area was 65 CNY (11 USD) per person. With tickets in hand, we zigzagged uphill through a relatively busy dirt road until we found the start of the trail, not without the help of the locals.

There are two ways to visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge: the upper route, which can only be accessed on foot, and the lower route, which is basically a paved flat road. Here you’ll find dozens of buses caring hundreds of Chinese tourists obsessed in taking the perfect selfie with the famous rock where, legend has it, a tiger used as a stepping stone to jump across the river in order to escape from a hunter. We chose the higher path, where we must have seen no more than 20 tourists in total, all of which were foreigners.

I have to confess that my biggest worry in going solo was getting lost in the middle of nowhere IN CHINA! After all, if in the city they already don’t understand a word we speak, just imagine out in the boondocks ... However, all my concerns faded away as soon as we saw the first post signs and the red color painted arrows indicating the path that, overall, was well marked and maintained all the way.

We began the ascent at 10 am. According to my previous homework, I knew the climb would be a tough one, but especially the part known as the "28 Bends", which literally are 28 curves on the mountain leading to the upper path. According to fellow travel bloggers, with the exception of this portion of the trek, the trail is relatively easy. Well, they were wrong.

So we climbed….. and climbed… and we climb up a little more. Hard to describe our joy in finding a refuge that sold hot coffee and cookies to recharge our batteries. Similarly how sad it was to find out that we had not yet even begun the 28 Bends!

It was already 1 pm and we were not even halfway through. We needed to pick up the pace if we were going to make it to our guesthouse before complete darkness. So, Maxi and I engaged into our first gear and cruised up through the 28 Bends. Perhaps we were expecting the worst given the bad reputation, but it was not nearly as traumatic as described on the blogs, at least not worse than what we’ve just done beforehand. But climbing does have its rewards. From the top, we’re presented with breathtaking views. A stunning mountain range with whipped cream peaks and the view down below of the river flowing strong through the deep gorge, splitting the canyon into two.

After passing through quiet villages, terraces, plantations, a few cows and chickens, at 3 pm we stopped for lunch in a guesthouse we found on the way. I was so tired that I could sleep right there. But following the recommendations, we continued up to BendiWan village where we would find more options for accommodation, including the famous "Halfway Lodge", where basically all backpackers make their overnight stop.

Halfway Lodge

For those who hiked in Nepal, "Halfway Lodge" could be considered a five-star hotel. A double room with private bathroom, hot shower and electric mattress (the best invention of recent times!) was 150 CNY (24 USD). There is also a dormitory option which, if I remember correctly, was priced 100 CNY for two people (8 USD per bed), but honestly, after nine hours of trekking, we certainly deserved a little luxury.

The best part of this Guesthouse (in addition to the electric mattress!) was meeting with other backpackers, exchanging experiences and getting a chance to talk to someone other than your travel partner. As funny as it sounds, traveling in China makes you miss speaking English. It’s quite rare to find people from different nationalities other than Chinese, and who are not part of a tour group.

We started walking at 9 am and it was not long until the first waterfalls became visible. At times, the water would flow through the trail, making a raincoat an essential backpack item. Unlike the day before, the decline was much faster and, one and a half hours later, we arrived at Tina's Guesthouse, the departure point of the bus back to Lijiang.

And that's when the nightmare began. It was still early and we really wanted to go down to the famous Tiger Leaping Stone. After consulting an employee of Tina's GH, he promptly offered us a car lift that would take us to the “official descending point”. According to him, it was located 4km away from the hotel. The whole situation seemed very fishy, and really soon, our suspicions were well justified. The driver dropped us off at the entrance to a staircase where a local resident was charging 15 yuan per person to descend to the stone. The reason he said, “Was for the construction and maintenance of the steps”, which was performed by the local people without any help from the government. Even though we were skeptical we paid the fee, as there was “no” other way in and the driver had long gone.

To our surprise, half an hour and 1000 steps later we came across another “ticket booth”, only this time charging an additional 10 yuan to continue to the stone. At that moment we were both possessed by anger. We tried to argue, but the woman was adamant about the fee. As we knew what she was doing was illegal we tried to pass it anyways, and that's when the situation turned violent. After insults and rock throwing threats, we decided to turn back without seeing the so called Tiger Stone up-close. Despite all the beautiful things we experienced, this ending left a bitter taste in our mouths that will be hard to forget.

Of course Tina's GH is getting a commission! Later on we would find out from other better informed travelers that they have used another entrance (Sandy Guesthouse, located just 1 km across the bridge to the left) and paid only 10 yuan. From there they saw a waterfall and reached to the stone. Be aware of Tina GH little scheme, and don’t let it spoil your trip.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge trek can be easily covered in two days. However, based on our experience the first day was unnecessarily demanding and the second day, very short. Therefore we recommend to overnight in YaCha village (where we had lunch on day 1), which is located around two hours before the Halfway Lodge. This will allow you enough time to get to Sandy GH around noon, go down to the Tiger Leaping Stone (possibly avoiding the fee, since residents are there only at the time when tourists descend, between 10 - 11 am), have lunch, and take the bus that leaves only at 3 pm.

The lower path along the paved road, although easier, was not less exciting by any means. Rock slides are very common in this region, and it was not long until we came across a big one, blocking the road completely. After climbing a few giant boulders, we finally got into the minibus that was waiting on the other side, apprehensive that at any moment it could be our last!

Check out the videos below and don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe at our YouTube channel


Tiger Leaping Gorge