Minsk. “How is Belarus different from Australia?” they asked me at the weekly couchsurfing meet up. There were 40 or so people at the event. 5 were foreigners. I feel like a celebrity. They want me to tell them about the rest of the world. What is it like out there? They want to know about my work history. My salary. Our retirement age. My opinion on the refugee crisis. “How is Belarus different from Australia?” Can I think of one way in which they are the same?
“My name is Marina,” laughs the girl in dungarees, standing behind a table covered with small jars containing spices. She switches back to Russian. “My friends and I were experimenting at home with different methods of making coffee and then we decided we needed more guests!”
Marina is a founding member of the collective behind Addis Coffee, a Saint Petersburg coffee workshop running on a pay-as-you-feel donation system. The workshop is ‘underground’ St Pete literally, being located in a series of rooms that were once a bomb shelter. Marina and the team have renovated the space, so it now feels very homely with blanket covered couches, board games and a guitar they welcome musical guests to use.
Russian language does not have the word “organic”. Or, it technically does, but no-one uses it. Rather they use the word “artificial” when speaking about food produced with the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or GMO crops. And in Russia, even for those living in the cities, it is very possible to choose to consume non-artificial foods. Natural food is abundant in Russia, and we’re meeting all sorts of people who understand and value the importance of such food.
“The food has soul, spirit to it.” Says Nastya, a Ukrainian now living in Moscow. “When I go into a supermarket, the food is apathetic. I have no appetite for it. I grew up going to markets in the West Ukraine where you buy eggs off one lady and cheese from another. And I choose this one because I like her hands. Here, there is a direct transaction of the food, from one hand to the next. Continue Reading →
China is often shrouded in stigmas and stereotypes. From the outside heading in, I had an idea of what I expected to see. However, we found China to be a massive and multifaceted place, full of surprises. Here, we’ve selected some images that might help shift your thinking or broaden your perspective of China 2015.
While tales from China and Mongolia are under construction (we’ve upped our travel pace in the last month!), I’m breaking our usual chronological series to pass on the spirit of our current surroundings. I couldn’t wait to tell you about our first experiences in Russia. We have just entered the country from Western Mongolia into the Altai Republic in southern Siberia.
A few facts about Russia that made me a little anxious about coming here: it went through the biggest organised genocide in human history; it hosts some of the most polluted places on the planet (and it has sucked dry an entire sea!); it was involved in starting a war in Europe in 2014; its TV cites sersious spokesmen saying gay culture was invented by the West to control population growth; temperatures of -40ºC are annual here. The country’s currency fell so dramatically this year, almost overnight, that Russians living in Thailand started making jokes about renting out their places in Thailand to holiday in Moscow (the Ruble is in rubbles). In Russian language there are words expressing such grim misery that they don’t translate to English. I was apprehensive about what we would find in this country and how we might be received, as representatives of ‘The West’.
Yet… It’s just amazing here! Turns out there was nothing to fear. In fact, quite the opposite. We’ve been blown away by Russia! And the beauty of the Altai Mountains, known by some as the most beautiful place on Earth, falls second to the generosity and hospitality of the people of Russia.
We entered Laos (in the middle of July) accompanied by Wendy’s dad Greg, who joined us for a week, rediscovering the backpackers trails of the 70’s. Laos welcomed us in a completely different style – it appeared the whole country, however small, poor and undeveloped, is covered with a network of tourism industry. This, mostly being eco-tourism, has created a barrier between us – visitors and the real life of Laos. Barrier in the form of money, the one thing we believe divides people the most. Barrier high but not uncrossable.
Tucked in a valley of the densely jungled mountains, north-westward of Chiang Mai, there lives a man providing for his wife and daughter in the only way he can: farming. His practices are organic and natural, the only he’s ever known. The gates are open for anyone the world round to come and spend time, contribute to the running of the farm, learn something about growing food and take part in evening meditation. The Mindful Farm is a practice of living together.
Today I’d like to introduce you to a sport discipline. This would be completely irrelevant for this blog if not the fact that if you wanna freedive there’s one thing you must make sure you do – drop the tension.
Koh Phangan is (in)famous for its Full Moon Party – an event where thousands of beautifully tanned young English-speaking Europeans, Australians and Americans proudly display their six-packs and cleavages, drinking mixed alcohol from buckets, their feet cut with broken glass scattered in the beach sand, getting wasted (and hopefully laid) to an echoing cacophony of US Billboard top 10.
Many people say Koh Phangan is heart-shaped, but for the sake of this explanation, let’s simplify it into a square. In the lower-left corner is Thon Sala – the island’s town. The lower edge is an extension of the town with supermarkets, atmosphereless night clubs, steak bars and, most important – hostels. Important because this is the way to the lower-right corner, Haad Rin, the Full Moon Beach. A concrete skeleton of a peeling, abandoned unfinished hotel casting shade on faceless souvenir shops immediately makes you understand where you are. While most people come here with a simple and positive reason to have a good time, what they don’t realise is that the Thai people spend their childhood looking at falangs (whites) who are either drunk or hungover, and in the natural disrespect learning to extract cash from the ones who have less brains but more in their wallets.
Without this introduction I wouldn’t be able to say that the reason I’m writing this is as simple as that: the rest of Koh Phangan is completely different.
Thanks to our friends in Adventurous Sumbawa, we connected with another wonderful group on the neighbouring island of Lombok. Lombok Backpackers are a group of locals passionate about the natural beauty of their island home (click the link to their facebook). In the provincial capital Mataram they have their ‘Base Camp’. Base Camp is a open-house set up for travellers to stay as long as they need for free. There are just a few basic rule: no drugs or alcohol in the house, clean your room when you leave and help keep communal spaces clean. In the evenings, the travellers and locals gather in the outdoor area to swap their adventure stories of the day, share food and make music.
We asked the owner of the house, what made him want to create this place? He replied “I’ve always loved trekking and snorkelling and having my friends around. So I thought to make a place where this can all come together.”