Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
494Trip End Apr 10, 2009
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It has been almost 3 months since my last entry, and 2 since my return home... so I can only agree with the fact that this entry took way too long, so here it is:
The last entry I wrote in Kandy in Sri Lanka – a long time ago: even the Tamil Tigers have been defeated since then!
From Kandy I took the train through the Hill Country towards Hatton, where I took a bus to Dalhousie. Dalhousie is the start of the climb to Adam’s Peak, a sacred place for Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists alike. I arrived in Dalhousie in the late afternoon, had a quick look around, ate some dinner and went to bed, because I would be waking up very early the next day.
I woke up at around 2 o’clock in the morning and when I got out of my hotel I met a Polish couple, with whom I walked the entire climb. The climb was less exhausting than I expected and well before sunset we were at the top, about 2,5 hours later. The views were absolutely stunning. It felt like being on the top of the world with all the clouds below us. Sunrise soon thereafter was pretty amazing as well. Soon after sunrise we headed back to Dalhousie and the temperature rose quickly. We were down about 2 hours later. I had a nice shower, checked out and took the bus back to Hatton. From Hatton I changed for a train, continuing my journey through the Hill Country through lots and lots of tea plantations. My destination today was Nuwara Eliya, and old English hill station. My place for the night also turned out to be a very nice English cottage: splendid! Nuwara Eliya was rather cold and bleak and not all that interesting.
The next day was my last day of travelling by train through the Hill Country and I headed for Ella. It was a relaxing day on the train and Ella was quite relaxing as well.
From Ella I took a bus into the plains, to Wellawaya. In this town I convinced a three wheeler driver to take me to Buduruwagala (and back – including waiting time) for a small fee. Buduruwagala is famous for its beautiful rock hewn Buddha statues. Together with an English guy I picked on the way up we had the site to ourselves. After returning to Wellawaya I continued my bus journey and took a bus to Wirawila and here I changed within seconds into another bus to my destination Tissamaharama. After I found a decent hotel I took another bus to take me to Kataragama, a holy place for Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. It poured down the moment I got out of the bus, but because this is the tropics, I waited for less then half an hour before it was dry again. Kataragama was not all that interesting, although this was one of the few sites in Sri Lanka where no entry fee was charged (for foreigners). That same evening I arranged my own private safari tour to Yala National Park.
Early the next morning my private jeep with driver parked outside my hotel. We then took off towards Yala National Park and seemed to be one of the first tourists that day. A compulsory tracker was added to the jeep and the three of us went looking for animals. It was a rather expensive safari, but I did get to see a lot of different animals. Although I didn’t see a leopard (only fresh footprints), I did manage to see elephants, jackals, sloth bears, many peacocks, monkeys, crocodiles, parakeets, bee eaters, monitor lizards, an eagle, storks, a mongoose, wild pigs, wild buffaloes and a lot of spotted deer. A rather extensive list in a few morning hours of animal spotting. Back in Tissamaharama I checked out before noon and took a bus to Matara, where I inspected a few old Dutch remnants as the ramparts and Star Fort. I also enjoyed a beautiful white mosque. About an hour later I continued along the south coast towards Galle. In Galle I arrived in the late afternoon and settled myself in an old Dutch inn within the very impressive city walls.
The next day I explored the old city of Galle with its Portuguese, Dutch and English heritage. I walked along or on top most of the city wall and must have walked nearly every street. Galle is quite a gem. Especially the Dutch heritage was quite impressive and I did enjoy reading the Dutch gravestones and inscriptions in such a tropical setting.
The next day I took it easy and took a late afternoon bus to the beach at Unawatuna for a nice stroll. At the end of the beach I met an English couple I met before and when they invited me for a beer, somehow I couldn’t resist...
From Galle I took the train to Colombo. Colombo is the only real city of Sri Lanka – and not a very nice one. I visited some sights one day (Old Town Hall) and basically waited (whilst visiting a Dutch church, a nice mosque and the Dutch Period Museum) until the last airport bus to take me to the airport in Katunayake the next day. At the airport I waited for a long time until my past midnight Air Arabia flight for Sharjah took off.
Quite a few hours later I arrived in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – in a totally different world. Not because it is a Muslim world, but because it is modern and relatively organised. To my pleasant surprise there was an airport bus which took me almost straight to my destination – the youth hostel – near downtown Sharjah. After checking in I walked towards the downtown of Sharjah. Near a reconstructed fort right in the centre I met a older Belgian couple and we then explored Sharjah together. Although Sharjah does its best to recreate a little of its past, it still feels rather dead. And it took us quite a while to find all the attractions. Later in the evening it started raining, and several days after that it kept raining every once in a while – not the type of weather I would expect from a desert nation.
The next day a friendly Palestinian on his way to Saudi Arabia gave me a lift and dropped me near a highway in Dubai about one hour later. I didn’t know for a long time where I was exactly and the people I asked didn’t really know the address of the youth hostel in Dubai. But after about an hour and a half of walking around with only a gut feeling of where I was headed and walking on highways and through construction sites I found the youth hostel. This youth hostel turned out to be a youth hostel with the unfriendliest staff I have ever encountered. Very rude and very inhospitable. I wasn’t allowed into my already booked dorm room for another hour and they wouldn’t even store my luggage so I could start exploring Dubai - well, yes, for a hefty fee! Still, this youth hostel is the cheapest accommodation in Dubai (with all others being at least 50 euros per night more expensive). That afternoon I visited the interesting area around Dubai Creek and the Dubai Museum.
The next day I took a bus (well eventually three buses: a change of buses and another one because the second bus broke down) to the Dubai icon, the Burj al Arab. Somehow it wasn’t my lucky day because there was a sand storm going on and visibility was very poor. Even quite close to the Burj al Arab the beautiful skyscraper was still very hazy. Back in downtown Dubai I decided to take a bus to the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi – about 2 hours away from Dubai by bus. Abu Dhabi is even wealthier than Dubai but doesn’t really (want to) display that as much. Actually Abu Dhabi was rather boring – although I did see the colossal seven star Emirates Palace from afar – which isn’t your everyday hotel. I had my lunch at the nearby IKEA, although for obvious reasons they didn’t have Swedish meatballs, so I settled for a pasta. Rather late I returned by bus in Dubai.
With Frenchman Pierre who I met before at breakfast I went the next day by bus to the oasis town of Al Ain, on the border of Oman. The highway towards Al Ain was an all tree-lined affair through a sandy desert. In Al Ain we had a look at the interesting Al Ain National Museum before exploring the large date palm oasis. After this oasis we visited the humble birthplace of the late Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the Al Ain Palace Museum. We enjoyed Al Ain more than we expected and spent much more time here. Quite late we took a bus back to Dubai.
Early the next morning I took a city bus to the area where buses to Muscat in Oman were supposed to leave. After a while I did find one. The trip was rather nice in the beginning and a bit boring at the end. The road to the border was interesting with a barren mountain scenery at the border itself. After paying a nominal fee I got my Omani visa on arrival and the bus continued along the Omani coast towards Muscat. In Muscat I found a relatively cheap hotel in the old seaside neighbourhood of Mutrah. In the later afternoon and early evening I explored the Corniche (waterfront) of Mutrah a bit and already felt much more at home and welcome in Oman than in the UAE. In Oman you actually meet Arabs, in the UAE mostly migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines (shops owners, bus drivers, hotel staff, construction workers, and so on), not saying that those migrant workers aren’t friendly, on the contrary! Strolling along the Corniche of Mutrah gave me a feeling that I was in the Mediterranean.
Day two in Muscat I walked along the shore from Mutrah to Old Muscat. Old Muscat is basically a very small village (modern Muscat is a rather big urban sprawl) but it does have some historic parts and the sheikh’s palace, a few forts and a lot of ministries. It was all very quiet. After walking around a bit I headed back to Mutrah.
From Muscat I took a long-distance bus to Sur at almost the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Soon after having checked into my hotel room (which for some reason had two bathrooms) – I met a friendly Omani on the street who wanted to give me a lift to a nearby fortress. He also volunteered to show me around Sur a little more, which he did. He asked me if I was going to the turtle colony at Ras al Jinz tonight, but I said I couldn’t afford that (only expensive tours available) – so he suggested that he would take me that night and I would only pay for the petrol (3 Omani rials, about 6 euros) – and I happily agreed to that. That afternoon I explored downtown Sur and the sleepy village of Ayjah across the lagoon. Ayjah was very photogenic and I really enjoyed walking around there. When it was time my Omani friend Nasser picked me up from my hotel and drove me all the way (about an hour) to Ras al Jinz. Here I waited a while before the tour to the largest green turtle nesting site in the world started. We were unlucky because we eventually spotted only one green turtle digging at the beach to lay its eggs. But all in all it was a nice experience. After that, Nasser drove me all the way back to my hotel where I thanked him very much.
The next day I took a very early morning bus from Sur to Al Mintirib, at the edge of the Sharqiya Sands – an enormous sandy desert with huge dunes. In Al Mintirib I found a shop owner willing to take care of my big backpack and I set off for the dunes behind the village.
Pretty soon I was in the dunes, passing a few camel farms. Climbing dunes is a tiring exercise as I once more discovered, but the rewards were great. As far as my eyes could see (of course looking in the right direction) there were sand dunes. After an hour or so a small sand storm decided to destroy the peace and quiet in the dunes but that lasted only for about an hour or so. It was getting hot and the dunes were starting to look all alike, so I decided to turn back to the village. I also had to be there before the siesta, because all shops would close, including the one with my backpack. After getting my backpack another friendly kebab shop owner let me sit on his patio on the shop’s chairs to wait for the bus. Here I had a conversation with one of those rare people: a friendly taxi driver. After that the bus took me back to Muscat, where I booked a room into the same hotel as before.
From Muscat I took a bus to Bahla, from where I took a return taxi to Jabrin, where there is a beautiful castle just outside the village, in the middle of a date palm farm. The taxi driver then started to say that I had to visit the castle in a hurry, which I didn’t agree to. He settled for a minimal fare so he could take off straight away. Jabrin Castle was well worth it. After this castle I walked to the road when I suddenly heard my name shouted from a car. It was the Frenchman Pierre with whom I visited Al Ain in the UAE. I then hitchhiked quite easily to Bahla, where I was amazed by the enormous Bahla Fort, which has been under restoration by Unesco since 1987 and is still not finished. After Bahla I hitched another ride to Nizwa. Nizwa is also famous for its fort – and especially its round rather unique massive tower. Here I met Pierre again. We had a walk in and around the fort for a while and also walked through some quiet backstreets before going to the bus stop to wait for the bus. That bus took me back to Muscat, while Pierre got out halfway to pitch his tent somewhere in the desert.
On my last full day in Oman I undertook another day trip to a castle town – and I happened to leave the best for last. I took a bus to the Barka roundabout and took a shared taxi to Nakhal. In Nakhal I was the first visitor of the day at the castle and I had the castle entirely to myself for at least another hour and enjoyed it to the fullest extent before the tour groups moved in. Because it was rather hot and I was quite tired I decided to skip another castle on my itinerary and returned to Muscat and Mutrah.
From Muscat I took the long journey back to Dubai. I was picked out at the border to be thoroughly searched in a private cabin – and because the border official was pretty annoying I became rather recalcitrant (within limits of course). Once in Dubai, and once in the youth hostel, I headed as soon as possible back to downtown, to check out the highest building in the world, the 818 meter high Burj Dubai, which was still under construction, although it has reached its highest point. This tower is highly visible from many points. I decided to get out of the bus early and walk to the Burj Dubai. Although good for photo opportunities there was one drawback: it is impossible to cross the Sheikh Zayed Road which stood in between me and the Burj Dubai. Locals suggested to me to take a taxi! Well I must be pretty desperate before I take a taxi, so I finally decided to walk on the highway and cross the road on a flyover – which was good for a few more photo opportunities. Finally I neared Burj Dubai which is built in the Dubai Mall area, one of the largest malls in the world – if not the largest – with over 1200 shops, one of the largest aquariums (with 33,000 animals including a few sharks), of course an ice rink, a waterfall and a large gold souq. Behind the mall was a large artificial pond – although lake would be a much better word. Luckily they have water in abundance in Dubai – or so it seems (but I know better). The Venetian style bridge across the lake was a great vantage point to see the Burj Dubai and the sunset next to it. After having been awed by this megalomaniac structure I returned to the youth hostel.
Early next morning I had my flight to another Gulf State, Bahrain. Because I was so early at the airport I could even take an earlier flight to Manama in Bahrain. I sat on the right side (left) of the plane because I was able to see two of the artificial palm islands under construction. One hour after that I landed in Bahrain. From the airport I took a bus to downtown Manama, where I had a very nice room – and I could even haggle a bit about the price. Right after that I started exploring Manama. In the in-flight magazine of Gulf Airlines I read an article about a beautiful building, the newly built Bahrain World Trade Centre. This complex consists of two twin towers with three sky bridges in between them with each having a wind turbine attached to it. Also up close it was a really beautiful and graceful building. From this building I walked further – trying to ignore the heat – towards the Bahrain National Museum. Near the museum I saw an accident – and a nasty one, because I saw bodies being pulled from car wrecks and covered with blankets. I was quite shocked. Later I read in a newspaper that 5 people had died in that accident... The museum was a very good one and I spent quite a bit of time here, learning about Bahrain. From the museum I walked to the largest mosque in Bahrain and quite a nice one. From here I walked back to my hotel.
My last day in Bahrain I walked a lot as well. I first walked to the Souq al Khamis Mosque, which was being restored and the minarets had all scaffolding around them. From there I tried to find a way to Qala’at al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort), which in the end I did. The site of this fort has been occupied by man for a long, long time. The Portuguese have built the current fort. From the fort I walked back to Manama along the shore, through newly developed or developing neighbourhoods. I stopped for a late lunch at the big Bahrain Mall. Close to the hotel out of the blue a sand storm started, soon followed by a huge downpour. Crazy desert weather! After the rain had finished I collected my big backpack from my hotel and took a bus to the airport. At the airport I had to wait for quite a few hours before my midnight flight to Paris.
The flight was not too bad and I arrived early in the morning at Paris Charles de Gaulle. Because of a problem with the urban trains the bus to Gare du Nord was very, very busy. I was basically pushed against the front window screen and the door. After almost an hour I was released from the bus with a bonus that I didn’t have to pay for that ride. I collected my Thalys high speed train ticket at Gare du Nord and had a few hours to spare so I took off with my backpack for the Sacré-Coeur, forgetting that this beautiful church was built on a hill... Anyway, I finally got there rather tired and enjoyed the views. After a while I walked back to Gare du Nord, where I waited for my train to Amsterdam. The train ride was not all that exciting and I fell asleep a few short times. From Brussels I started to recognise things and then I entered the Netherlands – after having been more than 1,5 years away. About 10 minutes late I arrived at Centraal Station in Amsterdam. At the station my parents, my sister, her boyfriend, my nephew and a few friends awaited me. My parents even had a big banner reading “Welcome Home Michel”. I was a great welcome! We took the tram home and had a small welcome party with my family and some more friends: great great great!
So now I have been home for 2 months. The hardest part of being home is not getting used to the Netherlands, family, friends or my own home, that hasn’t changed all that much. For me it was (and is) getting used to a certain daily routine. Another difficult part is that I miss my girlfriend Peony – who is still in China...
In the meantime... I am looking for a job, so if somebody knows something... :-)
Anyway, that was it, my second world trip. Will there be a third one? Who knows! But a trip to China is of course rather likely.
Well, that will conclude this entry, probably the longest so far.
I wish everybody a lot of happiness, with or without travelling!