Welcome to 2017! We are looking back at 2016. It has been a challenge in many ways for us and for the international society. We have made an outline of the last 12 months of our life and some of the best photos. Enjoy the long read and Happy New Year!
January:Chiang Mai is where we celebrated New Year’s of 2016. We were staying here for some days to enjoy the atmosphere and to deal with the happenings of December where we had been back in Denmark and The Netherlands. We had found this great guesthouse in Chiang Mai and made some friends so it was hard to pack the bicycles and get going again. We finally took off and cycled west to the small town of Mae Sariang a little town in the borderlands, the road there meandered through some national parks and small Thai villages, very very beautiful and some great camping spots.
Blog posts: Borderlands and hill tribes, back on the bikes, Crossing new borders from Myawaddy to Yangon
After Susanne had recovered from food poisoning, we cycled south following the border of Thailand and Myanmar passing Mae La, a refugee camp with more than 60.000 people living there which exists since 30 years. We cycled along this camp and it made a big impression on us. People are born and raised in the camp and have little future outside this camp.
We reached Mae Sot a border town and one of the few places where foreigners can cross into Myanmar, we had arranged our visas in Chiang Mai so we were ready. Here we met up with our friend Moritz ”Mo” and Marie and crossed the border together into Myanmar. It was quite an experience to finally cross into Myanmar as this part of our route had been a gamble. The last 30 years or so it has not been possible to venture around Myanmar independently and certainly not crossing into India overland from Myanmar. The political influences with Aung San Suu Kyi are changing Myanmar and foreign investments have done some good on this front so in 2014 the first cyclists could cross Myanmar (although the situation is still ever-changing).
We camped the first night in Myanmar against the law but with little others choices, well hidden we had a great night. Myanmar is a hot spot for cyclists so we met quite some people along our way. Mo and Marie did a loop and returned to Thailand, while we pushed on but no sooner would we meet up with Anna and Claudia who we had met in Hpa-An ဘားအံ, we cycled together for a few days and enjoyed the company, especially the tea house stops. Eventually we did a push onto Yangon to arrange permits to cross the border into India.
February: We only had 28 days to cross the whole of Myanmar due to the good old visa restrictions. In Yangon we met up with Nikolai, a Danish guy also cycling and enjoyed some nights out. One even goes in the history book involving mojitos and mosquitos, ask Martin if you want to know more ;).
We left Yangon, a really pleasant multicultural city which gave a nice introduction to what to expect in India and cycled into the wild west where few venture as it has been off-limits and still is kind of. So we were followed by civil police and questioned why we were there a few times. Besides that we enjoyed being in Myanmar the people were very friendly, but also shy or one would say oppressed in some areas.
The towns had a great feel to them boasting history of colonial times and military oppression. We were entangled in questions nobody could or would answer. We followed the roads along the river Ayeyarwady north to Pyay ပြည် and further north to the famous place of thousands of temples and pagodas Bagan ပုဂံမြို့ဟောင်း.
We enjoyed exploring the area and it is really really a special place when you have the freedom of the bicycles to wander. Here we met again with Anna and Claudia. Due to dust and germs in the air Martin go hit by some lung infection and had to recover. We made it in time to the border though with a help of a 100km lift and some nice hospitality of people along the way and Martin was soon back on his feet.
We cycled along the Chin state border where there is still internal troubles and a great foreign religious influence due to the fact that the tribes here are not Buddhist and now the majority are Christians. We made it to Tamu, the border town and the only official border with India. It was a crazy crazy feeling standing there at the border to India with our bicycles. The state Manipur has been known for civil war, that made it a bit interesting. We stayed a day in Moreh to prepare for the next leg of our journey. We made it to Imphal and met Andrew at the Chamalou lodge and cycled on together. Nagaland the state of the headhunters and on the road we met with Anna and Simon a polish couple we knew would be coming our way. In Kohima Nagaland we stayed at Yakuza’s house, a local cyclist and had a great time. Andrew stayed back and we ventured into the Christian hills of Nagaland just the two of us.
March: Nagaland is hilly was what we had heard and to second that all villages sit on the top of the hills or small mountains. As Nagas had no religion when the British people came to India a great effort had been done to convert people to Christians so every town and village has one or more churches. A very interesting experience. We had the opportunity to stay in churches and with families along our way in Nagaland.
We left Nagaland and entered Assam through a back road and that was quite a surprises to the people living there and there are a lot of people in the Assam state, the going rate is more than 30 million people in this state where Nagaland is 3 million. We had a host in Dibrugarh where we learned more of the local ethnicities and traditions. We crossed the Brahmaputra River a massive river flowing from China and entered the Arunachal state of India.
Arunachal Pradesh is a hidden gem of India and still very little people visits the state, due to this traditions are well preserved. We had arranged a permit to visit the state which even mainland Indians also need to visit the state. We cycled into the state and then it got quite wild with massive jungles and little people. The people we met were very friendly and we were invited to stay at a family the first night in the state.
The roads were a mix of gravel and construction work with some patches of pavement, great cycling as traffic is little and slow. Every valley has a new tribe, a new language, different traditions, Houses are different. But luckily quite a lot of young people speak English.
We made it to Zero a town in the middle of Arunachal Pradesh where the tribe was/is know for tattooing the women to avoid them being stolen by other tribes. We had a rest day in the big Hotel and some great Indian food. We ventured further west and into the jungle and further we reached the foothills of the Himalayas.
We cycled over many muddy roads because rainy season was coming and Arunachal Pradesh is constructing a new main road through the whole state. We were stuck in the middle with ears full of dust and mud between our toes. Luckily families kept on providing us with warmth company and hospitality. I was a unique experience to gain insight in their way of living in such a vastly different culture.
Tawang was the next place we wanted to visit as it is know as an Tibetan area of north east India. So yet another 4200m pass to enter the valley of Tawang and what a beautiful valley it is. We stayed with a family on our way there and met with Andrew again as he was coming down from Tawang.
April: Tawang was reached on the 1st of April and was definitely not an April fools joke. It felt enormous to be there and having cycled up and over Sela pass, our final 4000+ meter pass. We had been looking forward to this section of our journey for quite awhile and were happy to be at high altitude again.
Blog posts: Tribal jungles to Himalayan hillstations, Traversing tea estates and tiger reserves in Assam and West Bengal
Although Tawang itself was a bit grim with many street dogs, rough people and many concrete houses, the monastery was large and pretty and the Tibetan culture had a strong presence.
It really felt that we were quite secluded from civilisation although there were still many people. Because our Arunachal Pradesh permit was running out we took a jeep back down to the plains. It was a 12 hour ride with Mojo and Isaba on top of the cars. By the time we had reached the plains there were quite a few stops because of oil leaks and at one point we needed to push the car to continue…
The plains greeted us with humid temperatures, tea, river crossings and Christian schools that could take us in for the night. The tea plantations we came across were huge, at average around 15.000 people work at one of this plantations in dire circumstance. Roads were huge and the Assamese people never were shy and asked us for selfies, where we were going and where we were from.
After a fast sprint through tiger and elephant areas of Assam (we only saw cows) we crossed the state border to West Bengal and cycled up to Darjeeling over a final steep pass on a small road (but better than continuous traffic on the main road). Darjeeling was the perfect place for us to relax, for Indian standards a lot more quiet.
India did have quite an effect on us with people everywhere, dirt and chaos and although it was really very interesting is was sometimes also very draining. By meeting some nice people in Darjeeling and finding the perfect guesthouse for us it made our time there good and we could catch up on some bike maintenance too. Eventually we set off cycling through tea plantations and mainly downhill. We could see the borderlands between India and Nepal and within a day were at the border in the plains where we would cross the following day.
It was a huge milestone for us to be in Nepal. Our last and final country (or so we thought) of our journey. We had decided on a longer route to take us to Kathmandu so we would see some more of Nepal and meet with the Middle Mountains (and hopefully see some high mountains). Almost immediately in the country we decided to turn right and make our way to Ilam. This was the tea capital of Nepal and we saw even more tea plantations and women picking tea. April was really themed with tea!
May: Surrounded by tea plantations it was meant to be a rest day in Ilam, sadly some people going to pray stayed awake all night and did not care much of their surroundings. We left Ilam and cycled further north to find the middle mountain road, a road that goes over the Himalayan foothills all the way to Kathmandu.
We reached a small town on the cross roads and stayed there before wandering off into the mountains. We left the pavement and only saw patches along the way.
The mountains stayed hidden in the mist and fog surrounding them. Sadly as we had hoped on some stunning mountain vistas, we did get to enjoy the foothills though. The road was rough, this section very dry and hot and we reached a hill station called Hile and rested there for 2 days while also fixing the brakes on Isaba.
We did not camp much as most villages would have a tea house with a simple room with a bed so we opted for this as then dinner would be served as well. So even while the road was rough we had a good time with the people. After Hile the road turned into a mud hell all traffic had stopped, we managed to pass the mud and continue on the road.
We were so close and yet quite far from Kathmandu as the road slowed us down much more than we had planned.
So we made it out of the mountains and onto the paved road, cycling up the last passes on the Japanese built road on our way to Kathmandu it felt unreal. Soon we would reach our goal after 2 years and 3 months. We reached Kathmandu on the 16th of May 2016!!
A great great achievement for us more than 32.000km cycled from Rotterdam! We had been invited to stay at Tings a hotel in Kathmandu and they really took good care of us! We stayed four nights at Tings resting and eating well so great. Martin met up with the Danish ambassador and her great team to tell about our trip and learn about the Danish mission in Nepal. Kathmandu we were quite full in our minds but still enjoyed the small streets and temples on every corner. We met up with Andrew again shared good stories from the road before leaving for Pokhara. We needed some space to think and make plans. The trip was over and then what?
In Pokhara we made up our minds a return to the Netherlands from Turkey with a stop in Vienna and cycling via Denmark. We thought of our work situation and how to manage this when back in the Netherlands, so had some Skype meetings and the situation cleared up.
June: Only two more weeks left in Nepal! We were still in Pokhara, enjoying the time, doing some small hikes (being careful with snakes) and then it was time to ride with a bus on the winding road back to Kathmandu. Pokhara had provided us with a peaceful place to relax, unwind and reflect on our journey and reaching our goal. Back in Kathmandu we were invited by Dawa and Kay for a nice traditional Nepali dinner. We had been in touch with Kay during most of our journey and knew that we would meet with her and her husband when we would reach Kathmandu.
We did some last sightseeing, packed our bike boxes, had our last stuff shipped to the Netherlands and jumped on the plane. It really screws with the brain to just fly back thousands of kilometers to Istanbul. It had taken us a total of two years to reach Kathmandu from Istanbul by bicycle and now we were back within 8 hours. It was mind boggling. At the airport it took some time to reassemble Mojo and Isaba. The roads were very structured. We were on the right side of the road again. In general it just felt great being in a culture and surroundings where everything felt a bit more normal.
This was such a contrast to when we cycled into the city the first time in 2014 and we were a bit overwhelmed by how hectic it was back then. After staying with our Warmshowers host Dincer, recovering from a stomach bug we had taken with us from Nepal and meeting with Yann, part of a couple we had met before in Laos, we were ready to start crossing Europe again.
Within two weeks we had cycled out of Istanbul, got stuck in the construction pit of the new 3rd airport, crossed the border into Europe, made it to the Black Sea and had a swim. We were back to discovering Europe, learning local history, being surprised about the small differences between areas and how easy it was to find small off the beaten path roads.
We cycled through Bulgaria, crossed the Danube for the first time and into Romania and we were on our way to the Transfăgărășan mountain pass. It was great to be back in Europe, to enjoy the welcoming Cay in Turkey, the more known foods, strudels from the bakeries and the many possibilities for wild camping.
July: The height of summer in eastern Europe it was quite nice to be back in Europe and eating familiar foods such as cheese and pastries from the bakery. We still had a hard time believing that we had done it Rotterdam to Nepal by bicycle! Planning our route back in Europe we wanted a mountain pass or else it would be too flat all the way so the small range of mountains in Romania was it. The Transfăgărășan a nice pass at 2000m to make the cycling a bit more fun.
We enjoyed Romania, a country we knew little about but surprised us very much. Great nature, nice people and many small historical towns. We had a fixed date in Vienna as friends were getting married so we had to get some km’s done that meant not too much sightseeing and detours, we did get a chance to enjoy Sibiu and Alba lulia before entering Hungary.
Hungary was a sprint and we skipped past Budapest as we have been there before. To make navigation easy and gain some km’s we hooked on to the eurovelo 7 following the Danube, stopping in Bratislava, Slovakia and stayed 2 nights, finally we made it to Vienna in time.
A great warmshowers host gave us the keys to his apartment so we had a great place to stay, then we did some quick shopping to look somehow okay for a wedding. It was fun to see friends and to be a part of this ceremony and then in Vienna. We had a great time with good old friends and then we packed up and cycled on again. We cycled north through the wine fields of Austria nice cycling and great camping there.
Blog posts: Returning through Europe: Austria
We entered Czech Republic and had a day in Prague, a nice city but full of tourist and prices crazy so packed up and cycled out again the next morning. From here we made a sprint through Czech, a corner of germany, through the length of western Poland.
Blog posts: Returning through Europe: Czech Republic
This part was flat and easy and not much to see, people and buildings grey and no smiles around, we did though enjoy the forrest bits. Then we made it to the Baltic sea! We took the ferry from Kolobrzeg to Bornholm, Denmark and met up with friends on Bornholm.
We enjoyed the island very much people, were so happy and friendly, Martin could speak Danish, life was good. We had some phenomenal campings on the beach there before we jumped on the ferry to Sweden.
Augustus: We arrived at Ystad in Sweden with the ferry from Bornholm. We cycled to Malmø where Martin used to live in 2009 when we started our relationship. We stayed with one of Martin’s good friends Sean and his family and it was so good to continue talks and just be around familiar people. After a nice Swedish barbecue we took off the next day and we arrived in Copenhagen.