We have made it. 200 days on the road. 4800 hours of travelling, exploring and living in 16 countries. More than 12000 km of rocky roads, smooths highways, dirt paths and wooden bridges. We have slept in about 97 different beds, some soft, some hard, some bedbug-free, others outside under the stars. We have ridden on about 49 buses, 15 mashrutkas, 8 trains, 6 jeeps, 4 bicycles, 2 donkeys and a horse.
We have eaten our weight in rice, consumed about 33 bowls of noodles and way too many potatoes. We have crossed mountain passes of 4800m and dwelled at one of the lowest land depressions on earth. Since our last 100 days on the road, we have bumped our way through the “Roof of the World” in Tajikistan, enjoyed the capital of Kyrgyzstan, whizzed through Kazahkstan and finally find ourselves closer to our destination in the Middle Kingdom.
6 months on the road feels like so much more and nothing at all. We have learnt about places we knew nothing about, already-high curiosity levels further provoked. I have discovered cultural aspects to admire, practices I cannot accept and re-evaluated the values I hold dear. It has made me appreciate every day how I have been raised as a woman and above all the faith that has been placed in me, allowing me to “dream big”. The world is our oyster and this journey has done so much to show me how lucky we are to be able to truly believe this. The freedoms that we have been given, fought for by those before us.
China has demonstrated how much it has changed and how much it hasn’t. The barriers more hidden, the people seemingly happier, restrictions in life made up for by consumerism and the chance to “get rich”. It is still loud and full of life. The understated elegance of Iran and the subdued sadness of Central Asia, contrasted by China’s noisy and boisterous streets.
For me, it is symbolic to have arrived through mountains, deserts and lakes to the other side of my heritage. A journey by land that opened my eyes to the similarities and differences between the two poles, the West and the East and all that lies in between. The influences that travelled the Silk Road and the imprints left by its conquerors, past and present.
What has changed in us since our last 100 Days on the Road?
#1 THIS is our life
And we hope it will never end.
#2 Happiness is in direct correlation with expectations
When you expect to see a gorgeous landscape, only to find that 500 other tourists have decided to visit the famous landmark on the same day, you can sulk behind the wall of people or you can entertain yourself by taking photos of the busy crowd instead. Surprise bonus: it will teach you more than a lesson or two on new creative ways to take the “selfie”.
When you expect the bus to leave after you have walked in the dark at 5 in the morning to get to the station, only to find that it has been cancelled due to a landslide (eek) on the road, you can throw a fit or you can walk back in the dark up the hill with all your bags and have a hot coffee while thinking early mornings are so peaceful (I should do this more often).
Something always goes wrong, but we have started to see this as “meant to be”. It usually turns out better than we would have planned anyway.
#3 Our most repeated phrases:
Seeeeh-riously? (in Nico’s french accent) followed by our jaws dropping at something absolutely dazzling.
We are so lucky. Every single day.
#4 Um, you need more than you think
OK, let me take that back slightly, you do need less than you think (see point #4 100 Days), until everything you own starts to have holes, stains and a strange smell no matter how many times you try to wash it.
#5 A hot shower with strong pressure is not to be taken lightly
Ah! Pressure! Ah it’s hot! 2 minutes later…ah! It is STILL hot! Any shower that involves more than a trickle of water with relatively constant temperature is a glorious surprise followed by pure ecstasy. In this cold region of China, if we were not worried about leaving enough hot water for each other or generally saving the water of the planet, we would stay in one of these rare gifted contraptions forever.
#6 The “Silk Road Adventure” is easier than you think
We thought we were embarking on a crazy adventure, into the dry deserts and lost lands of Central Asia, the peaks of the Himalayas, the wide plains of Western China. It would be tough, it would be rough. Occasionally it was tough, occasionally it was rough, but in general it was much easier than we predicted. Above all, it has been safe. No one has robbed us, no one has hurt us (touching wood here) and except for one non-existent ferry ride, one cancelled bus and two tires popping off two different cars, the road has generally been smooth.
Instead, we have seen so much, we have experienced so much. We have met wonderful people. It would have taken us a lifetime of working-holidays to see what we have seen in 6 months.
Do not think too much, it’s time to pack that bag and just go.
#7 Frustrations & Solutions
We have time and not enough time. We have great conversations and not enough language. We possess new knowledge and not enough history to make sense of it. Having something always leaves you wanting more. We do have more time to work on our interests, more time to read, write and photograph, but stolen moments in between bus rides, train rides and visiting places are not enough.
It would seem we have been gripped by madness, what do you mean you don’t have enough time?! You are on “holiday”! Yet somehow we want more.
We want more time to get to know a place, to speak to its people, to understand their lives and stories. We want to speak their language and go beyond what people eat and do. We want time to research and study.
We will slow down. After 200 days, we now look at places with new perspective, we focus on details, we look at patterns, we try to find answers to our questions. We now know that we will find a place and stay put, taking the time to get to know it, taking the time for slow travel.
#8 We have become weather experts
A large portion of our time is now spent outdoors, meaning decisions revolve around the weather. When there is a trek to be done or only 2 days in a town to be enjoyed, the first question is usually, is it raining? Or more recently, is it freezing? Nico’s iPhone weather app has become our guide, giving us sunny hikes and warm days for most of this mountain region and we are planning on sticking to it.
#9 Staying close to home
Extended time away from friends and family makes us realise that as we absorb all the new, we do not want to lose touch with the old. The relationships we have built over time, the friendships we have maintained over years are just as important to us as the new ones we form on the road. The comfort, familiarity and trust, are just as important as the unknown, the exciting and the exotic. We are aware of being away, aware of the effort we want to put in to stay close and we are grateful for the people we have in our lives.
#10 It is all about the people
After travelling for an extended period of time, it is dangerously easy to become slightly blasé about another historic monument, soaring mountains, turquoise rivers or fascinating museums (uh, we have actually only been to one). Thankfully, we are not there yet. But what brings these monuments to life, what makes these mountains awe-inspiring, what makes this village memorable are its people. It is impossible to become blasé about people. Engaging with families, sharing meals, talking to the older generation, these are usually the moments we remember the most, the moments that made us feel most alive, the moments where we thought, this is all worth it.
#11 Every travel blogger’s biggest fan is their mom
Is there anyone out there? This is for our fellow travel bloggers. We have met many on the road who put in time and effort to relay stories from afar, but just like us, sometimes you question who you are writing for. Of course, it will be a wonderful collection of memories for ourselves, but it would be nice if there were occasionally a stranger who found our stories interesting. Many of us think that if we put it out there, people will come. But the truth is, with the internet being bombarded with information, it takes more time and more effort, no matter what the quality, for your story to be worth someone’s time. In the day and age where “followers” and “likes” are used as value markers, almost no travel blogger can say that they are immune to numbers. You stick to what you do because you love it, but thankfully there are our mamas out there “liking” and “sharing” everything we do.
#12 The Toilet is always on the Dark Side
The joys of the public toilet. As with spitting habits, it seems the closer we got to China, the worse the toilet experience became. Scandalised at first by doorless stink rooms, the squatting holes in a row seem to get nearer to each other with every pit stop, making it impossible to do your business without brushing the knee of your bent neighbour. Growing up in slightly prudish circumstances, I can get used to the naked hot springs, I can even stomach the doorless squats over one long drain pipe, but why is it necessary to tinkle in harmony? Of all the group activities available to mankind, there are not enough reasons to justify peeing in unison. It has been an “easy” journey so far, just remember that along the way, the toilet is always on the Dark Side.