Archive for the 'Reportage' Category

The “Enfield” strikes back!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 Latitude: S Longitude: E

19062008678Enfield fahren lernt man nicht an einem Nachmittag, Gespann fahren auch nicht. Aber, um mit den Worten meiner segensreich weisen Fahrlehrerin Heike zu sprechen: “nu haste so lange drauf gewartet, jetzt wirste ja auch noch Zeit haben…”

Immerhin, die kürzlich aus Neuproduktion übernommene Royal Enfield “Bullet de Luxe” kann sich angenehm messen mit dem Gefährt, auf dem ich seinerzeit den Entschluß gefasst hatte, nach der motorisierten Zweirädrigkeit zu streben. Das liegt nun 26 Jahre zurück, es handelte sich um eine Maico, die zu der Zeit so alt war wie ich, 14 Jahre, Baujahr ’68 also.

Hier und jetzt also die Enfield, Baujahr 2008, Herkunft: Indien, ehemalig britisches Königreich und das ist dann schon wichtig, denn bei der Maschine handelt es sich um die Fortsetzung englischer Ingenieurskunst mit indischen Mitteln, sprich: das Ding wird quasi seid üer 50 Jahren nahezu unverändert gebaut. Meine Enfield ist definitiv eine der letzten ihrer Art, so ungefiltert darf man heute angesichts der Erderwärmung nicht mehr rumstinken. Ich werde Kilometer schinden durch Zuhause bleiben, damit ich halbwegs guten Gewissens zum Ausgleich rumballern darf. “Made like a gun!” ist der treffende Slogan, noch aus der Zeit, als Enfield, wie so viele andere der britischen Motorradwerke, eine Waffenschmiede war. Jede Zündung ein Schuß, der Halbliter-Einzylinder liefert genau diesen Sound.

Gespann Royal Enfield

Noch eine Waffenparalelle: Fährt man die Bullet so wie ich als Gespann, schmerzt einem die Schulter anfänglich wie vom Rückstoß beim Gewehr-Schießen. Handelt sich allerdings um einen Folgeschaden unzureichender Vorbereitung durch Kraft-Training. Das Gespann, Seitenwagen rechts, verhält sich wie eine gut-konservative Partei: Jeder Weg ist recht, nur rechts rum muß es gehen. Man muß also ständig gegenlenken, das schmerzt. Jetzt könnte ich noch Vergleiche mit der derzeitigen Regierungs-Koalition anstreben, lass ich aber mal, man soll ja solche Allegorien nicht überdrehen.

Den Motor der Enfield übrigens auch nicht. Einfahren muß sein. Jungfernfahrten gerne langsam und möglichst vibrationsarm ist die Vorgabe. Lustiger Gedanke, spätestens nach den ersten 50 Kilometern lächelt man mit klappernden Zähnen. Der Einzylinder mit seiner Wucht… Das sanfte Geschüttele hat den auch auf dem ersten Ausflug einen interessanten Wechsel der Fortbewegungsmittel mit sich gebracht: im südindischen Madrass waren die Schrauben nicht ausreichend nachgezogen worden, hier hat’s auch keiner gemerkt, nach 150 Kilometern war das Getriebgehäuse lose, ein Einfüllstutzen lag blank.

Abschleppwagen

Der Mann mit dem Abschleppwagen war dann aber begeistert: Tolles Gefährt und so viele Möglichkeiten, die Spanngurte festzumachen. Jedem seine kleinen Alltagsfreuden. Für meine Tochter gab’s zur Überbrückung der Wartezeit ein Eis, ich habs als Zen-buddhistische Übung genommen.

Überhaupt: Mit derlei Drittwelt Low-Tech unterwegs zu sein, schärft den Blick fürs Wesentliche. Meine derzeitige Aufgabe besteht darin, für just solche Länder, wie das, aus dem die Enfield stammt, Entwicklungsprojekte zu entwerfen. Mein Motorrad ist mir dabei ständige Erinnerung an die Wahrheiten, mit denen man dort konfrontiert ist: Low-Tech, Low-Tech. Low-Tech. No-Tech. Kein ADAC, den müsste ich mir noch wegdenken. War dennoch froh, dass er da war.

Beim Importeur in Zülpich, der Heimatwerkstatt des chrom-schwarzen Monsters, versichert man mir glaubhaft: “sowas haben wir noch nicht gehabt.” Klingt nach “Ansonsten ja viel, aber das noch nicht…!” Freitag ist sie wieder so weit, dann darf ich wieder den Kampf gegen die Kompression aufnehmen. Als echter Held des indischen Alltags hab ich natürlich auf den durchaus inzwischen erhältlichen Elektrostarter verzichtet. Das heißt: Kompressionshebel drücken, Zylinder per Starthebel so drehen, daß er nachgiebig ist, dann Hebel wieder auf normal, und volle Wucht auf den Kickstarter. Der heißt so, weil er zurück kickt, wenn man oben genannte Prozedur nicht beherzigt hat. Dann schlägt das Imperium (gewesenes) zurück, die englisch-indischen 500 Kubik wandeln die Tretkraft des Piloten in einen kräftigen Wadenhieb um, qua des gesamten halben Liters Luft, der da komprimiert wurde…

Wenn einem der Motor an der Ampel ausgeht (was einem Anfänger wie mir regelmäßig passiert), ist man fällig. Nerven bewahren hilft, Enfield starten macht man nicht mal so eben im Bruchteil einer Grünphase. Die Mischung aus Bewunderung und Bedauern der Umstehenden und Wartenden ist dann schon fast körperlich zu spüren. Meet you Buddha: Kompression weg, “Oberer Totpunkt”, Kompression zurück, beten, treten – und dann recht sensibel am Gas.

Unterwegs dann spontane Nirwana-Zustände, reinste Motorradmeditation: Du brauchst nicht denken, fahren reicht. Wind, Straße, Regen, schmerzende Muskeln, Sonnenstrahlen und das ständig satte Wummern von unten, kilometerweise Spaß am Nicht-Ankommen.

Luang Prabang to Vientiane on motorbikes

Saturday, March 1st, 2008 Latitude: S Longitude: E

Flying up was a 55 minutes fasten-seat-belts-and-eat-your-snacks-experience, riding down again on a motorbike is something to remember a lifetime. The N13, the road from Luang Prabang in the north of Laos to the capital Vientiane ranks among the most beautiful stretches of road this planet has to offer.

Riding south from Luang Prabang? Bring enough time, we were warned. First of all because of all the curves, the mountainous up and down of the N13 between this centre of the Laotian north and the plains around Vientiane. The road cuts off the long western curve of the Mekong between the two cities and leads right through several mountain chains. Making time to take pictures and enjoying the landscape was another good advice we got.

The idea had been born last year returning from a day-trip out of Vientiane on a Honda 250 dirt bike. Already then it was clear that we would be coming back this year to work in Luang Prabang, and that we would have to travel from Vientiane to the north and back as we had business to attend in the capital before and after.

Flying up to Luang Prabang had been a pragmatic decision: The long-haul flight from Germany through Bangkok to Vientiane had left us exhausted, plus being jet-lagged doesn’t cater for a relaxed trip. But in between working for two weeks in the north and another week in Vientiane, the weekend would be perfect for this two-day trip.

Leaving Luang Prabang

We left Luang Prabang Saturday morning after a last Coffee and Croissant at the notorious JoMa bakery, a stop at the gasoline station and a short trip to the market next to the radio house to wave a last good bye to the girls who’d been selling fresh Lao coffee to us during our breaks for the last two weeks.

Temperatures had finally gotten to where you’d expect them in this region, somewhere in the lower 30’s (that’s Celsius) after more than a week of cold, cold temperatures and cloudy skies. Still we put on long sleeved clothes – after all we were heading for the mountains.

Luang Prabang is not a big town. Past the stadium, past the chinese market, past the southern bus terminal, a last goodbye from a rusty billboard and off we were.

The long and winding road

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Driving through villages, kids are waving, huts look like they were built a thousand years ago, chicken are crossing the road, followed by cows and goats, seeds are dried in front of the house, children and older people alike roll long leaves to make raw material for the roofs. Curves and curves, rolling hills and mountains, the landscape in shapes of green and blue rolling into the glazing sunlight.

Another road side attraction

Riding like this takes all your concentration. The road is good, but any mistake might send you flying over the edge. We stop again and again to take pictures or just leave the camera untouched to take in the landscape whenever we felt it’s larger than life. The concentration and density of impressions can make you forget time, but when our stomaches indicated noon, we stopped at one of the many road side restaurants. Instant noodles, hot broth and an abundance of fresh vegetables are served for the perfect lunch, juice and ginger tea round off the road side feast.

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No discussion about who’s doing the dishes in this joint…

Speed can be measured in meters, miles or kilometers per hour – or also in a bigger scheme. As we drive south, both the vegetation and landscape are changing. Green is the prevailing colour from the deepest valleys we drive through up to the mountain tops left and right of our route climbing up to above 2000 meters altitude. Often the road climbs up along the slopes for miles and miles, crosses over the ridge and winds down again on the other side. The ride is playful, a symphony of the landscape, the road cutting through it, the motor between our knees and our ability to lean through the serpentines. Brake, bend into the curves, release, pull the gas and accelerate into the next turn, hours and hours, almost like dancing.

Altitude log Lpq2vv
The altitude log of the first day from Luang Prabang created using a GPS enabled cell phone

Down to Vang Vieng has us speeding – we have called and reserved the last two rooms at The Elephant Crossing, one of the few hotels in this backpackers stopover, but they will be held only until five in the afternoon. Vang Vieng looks with its abundance of neon lights like a Lao version of Las Vegas, only for backpackers, where eating burgers and fries while laying in front of a TV-set running US-american dailies like “Friends” is the favourite and widespread “activity”.

A good place for a sun-downer

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The Elephant Crossing is quite a water-hole in this place with its beautiful terrace and the panorama on the other side of the river. While we’re having our first beer, backpackers float by on tubes, another favourite past time in Vang Vieng.

Next morning sees us on the road for the second part of our trip. No need to hurry. The distance between Vang Vieng and Vientiane might be the about same as Luang Prabang to Vieng Vang, but the road is, well, straight forward. In some places actually to the extent that there’s no curve or bend for more than a dozen kilometers. But before we reach the plains of the Mekong we are treated to what best could be described as flying-carpet-style riding. The countryside is just a series of rolling hills with the road as if built by passionate motorcycle fans.

Vientiane is not a good final destination for such a tour, as the city greets us with its endless string of workshops, houses, truck-stops, companies, dirt and dust and mad traffic. Well aware of what’s awaiting us we decide to take a long enough break at a fish farm with restaurant to get one of the typical “surprise yourself lunchs” that are the rule in rural Laos as long as you don’t speak enough Lao to tell people what you want – and maybe don’t want. Grilled fish, vegetables and the notorious sticky rice send me sleeping afterwards, dreaming my way back into the mountains…

What does it look like?

Google Earth ImageYou can have a look at what the trip is like using Google Earth. For this, download the files behind this two links (using you right-click menue) of the trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and from Vang Vieng to Vientiane and open it in Google Earth. To see the pictures of the trip displayed in Google Earth with the exact position where they where taken, you want to do the same with this link to my Photos of the trip from LPQ to VTE.

You’ll find all my pictures from the trip also on my Flickr-page.

How to do it yourself?

The bikes we organised through remoteasia.com. This company is owned and run by Quynh and Jim, where he seems to have the motorbike and travelling competence and she run’s the office. Both of them are not only very professional but also very friendly and fun to deal with. We booked by e-mail, made a down-payment to secure the reservation using Paypal, met them on our stop-over in Vientiane to talk about the trip beforehand – What would the road be like? How do the bikes work, etc.? Everything of importance (see my list below of things to think of when going on a motor bike trip in Laos).

Remoteasia also organised the transport of our luggage from Luang Prabang to Vientiane house to house while we were riding the bikes with the light pack we needed for the overnight stay in Vang Vieng.

As this was a one-way trip only, our bikes were shipped up from Vientiane to Luang Prabang on one of the many buses (how this is done remains a secret of Remoteasia and there business partners…)

Good to know

  • Make sure you get the right size of bike. The usual dirt bike you can rent in Laos is a Honda Baja 250 cc. These machines offer enough power to get you anywhere. Some of them are quite high, so if you are less then my 1,90, you might not feel safe getting on and off if you get a bike as high as the one I had…
  • Make sure the bike is in order. Renting a bike like this involves a number of people. There is the owner of the bikes, most of the times Mr. Fourk in Vientiane who also maintains them. Jim of Remoteasia will check the bikes if everything is in order. Then the bikes will be shipped up to Luang Prabang on the bus and handed over to you at the office of Green Discovery. They are the ones who pick up the bikes at the bus terminal. So even if they should be ok, as they go through quite a few hands, you want to make sure they also are
    ok. If not, there is a workshop in Luang Prabang willing to fix anything if necessary.
  • When renting, helmets and other security equipment will be provided. Make sure you give an indication of the size of your head beforehand so you don’t end up with a helmet to small or to big.
  • You might want to bring a washable inlay for the helmet or use one of the tube-like scarfs as the helmets have seen a lot of sweaty heads during their life…
  • Get the Laos road map published by GT-rider.com. Not only is it the best road map available in Laos, it is also laminated, so it will last long enough to get you where you want to go and back. GT-rider.com also features a very helpful online forum.
  • If you don’t speak Lao, a no-words-dictionary like this one from Langenscheidt is a good thing to have as in between the tourist-spots english speaking people are few and not always at hand when you’d need them…
  • Sunglasses, sun protection, long sleeved jacket, gloves and enough warm wear, as the road goes upt o about 1300 meters in altitude and even if it doesn’t get freezing cold, you still want to feel comfortable even after several hours of riding…
  • A good idea is to get the bikes a day or several days before so you can get accustomed to them before hitting the long road. It will also allow you to day-trips out of Luang Prabang.
  • Bring a camera.

Motorcycling Kathmandu Valley…

Thursday, October 11th, 2007 Latitude: S Longitude: E

Stupa in Boudha, Nepal

This is the big “Stupa” in Boudha, close to Katmandu. It’s a buddhist sanctuary where many tibetian refugees go.

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On our way to Nagarkot.

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Two young ladies in a small village near Nagarkot. We stopped to get a drink.

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Deepak, my friend and guide, taking a small break from chatting with the girls…

At the cow-wash, Nepal.

The local cow-wash.

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Young boy with young goats…

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Finally, Nagarkot tower. From here, the view goes not only over Katmandu valley but potentially also to some of the Himalaya peaks. Although the weather was nice, it was far from being clear. Clouds on the horizons obscured the view. Nevertheless, a beautiful day.

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This lady was in the process of cooking and washing noodles for “Chowmein”, fried noodles. I photographed and interviewed her (with the help of Deepak), and later we of course had to also taste the freshly prepared meal.

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The ladys husbands hands, preparing our meal.

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Getting back into Katmandu, vendors under umbrellas at the roadside.

Salsa in Taiwan

---> Wo ist das?

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007 Latitude: 25.038502N Longitude: 121.553121E

Why would it be normal to go and dance Salsa in Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam or Cologne but not in Almaty, Kazakhstan or in Taipei, Taiwan? Still, it always surprises me to land in such, well, remote places (from my euro-centric point of view) and be able to walk into places called “Cuba”, or “Olala” and watch dancers spinning away to Latino rhythms as if it were the most natural thing to do so. As in former waves of this kind of international “Tropical Fever” our decades Salsa craze is spreading world wide – but this time deeper and wider at the same time. Is it the Internet? Is it the comparably cheap travel costs for salsa aficionados carrying the virus into the remotest places?

Wherever you go, any bigger city in the world will have places, dancers – and teachers. And ever so often, the smaller the number of aficionados in one place, the lesser the number of teachers, down to a one-city-one-teacher ratio. If they are good, then fine, they clone their style, cuban, puerto-rican, L.A. or New York or anything in between or any other funny creole-isation. If they are not good, well, they clone their style as well.

In the “Olala” a french restaurant in Taipei offering Salsa on some days in the week, the teacher had been good. A crowd of dedicated dancers flicked away puerto rican style, slick figures, ladies turning stylish, the man leading them along the imaginary lines on the floor. Not my cup-of-rum, still, nice to watch. One lady stuck out, as she was the only non-asian on the dance-floor by the time we arrived and also the only black person in the room. My colleagues from Radio Taiwan and I settled for some drinks at the bar, watching the dancers, chatting after a week of intensive work together.

Suddenly, she lost one of her creoles. Picking them up, saving them from the feet of the dancers was the natural thing to do – and also a fine occasion to talk to her, once the song was over. Turned out, she was from Johannesburg, living in Taipei for no particular reason other than enjoying the place and having work to do: she was one of the Salsa teachers. How she is transforming shy chinese into exalted latin dancers she never revealed – but from having danced with her I assume it was by her special kind of cultural osmoses, infecting them with both the latino rhythms and south african life-loving spirits. Worked fine for me, I had a wonderful evening.

Der Teufel fährt Prado

---> Wo ist das?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 Latitude: 50.092393N Longitude: 10.195313E

Kazakhstan: Devil drives Prado In Almaty, ehemalige Hauptstadt Kasachstans, zeigt der Kapitalismus seine hässliche Fratze als Kühlergrill hubbaumstarker Geländewagen. Ausgestattet mit kriegsfähigen Motoren machen diese omnipräsenten Monster das Überqueren der Straßen zur Todeslotterie. Es wird beschleunigt und gehupt angesichts von Fußgängern, es gilt das Gesetz des Stärkeren und der Stärkere hat hierzulande vor allem einen stärkeren Motor.

Im Drang nach Kraft sind sich die wiedererstandenen Länder des Ostens einig – ob Kaliningrad, Riga oder Almaty, wer Geld hat, hat Kraft und zwar in Form von Pferdestärken. In Kasachstan ist es vor allem Toyota und deren Premiummarke Lexus, vereinzelt auch Range Rover, seltener Mercedes. Immer grobbereift, immer mit getönten Scheiben, fast immer mit Insassen, die unseren aus Gangsterfilmen erlernten Klischees übergerecht werden.
Kazakhstan: Devil drives Prado

Am Strassenrand sitzen diejenigen, die am anderen Ende gelandet sind. Bettler, Alte, Verlierer.