Some updates

I haven’t been updating my blog because I was away for the last month! I attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 10th Conference of Youth (COY10) and 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) held in Lima, Peru. The conferences lasted two weeks and I went on to travel around Latin America for another two weeks.

It’s the holiday season but work is still trickling in at the moment, so I will try my best to write about what has been going on the last four weeks when I have some time to spare. In the mean time, I will be reblogging some articles I wrote about climate change and COY10/COP20. I also have an article that will be published on Farming First soon. Will put up a link when it’s live. 😀

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

La Maison Jaune

Certains d’entre vous savent que j’ai fait du WWOOFing à la Maison Jaune à Quirbajou (Pyrénées audoises) l’été dernier. Créée en 2009 en même temps que notre exploitation agricole, la Maison Jaune à Quirbajou, affiliée au réseau Accueil Paysan depuis 2010 (n°1147) offre un accueil simple et chaleureux aux randonneurs et touristes. Elle dispose actuellement de deux chambres d’hôtes (7 couchages), d’un gîte d’étape (6 couchages) et propose une table paysanne (15 convives maxi).

Malheureusement, maintenant, mes hôtes ont un problème: la poursuite de leur activité d’accueil est suspendue à la vente du gîte qu’ils géraient depuis 4 ans mais qui ne leur appartenait pas.

Les propriétaires leur font un prix d’amis mais ils n’ont vraiment pas les moyens de l’acheter. Donc ils ont une idée de vendre par anticipation des séjours pour réunir la somme nécessaire. Et du coup ils se lancent et vous proposent une souscription qui pourrait vous amener à venir les voir dans les 5 prochaines années à des tarifs préférentiels et les amener, à sortir de la situation difficile dans laquelle ils se trouvent.

Si vous, votre famille ou vos amis envisagez d’une destination pour les vacances d’été, peut-être vous pouvez envisager Quirbajou ! Et peut-être je vais vous y voir aussi. 🙂

Je ne profite pas de cette proposition, mais je veux juste aider mes hôtes et mes amis. Si vous avez besoin de précisions ou si quelque chose vous arrête, n’hésitez pas à les appeler au 04 68 20 18 86 (HR). Merci beaucoup!

La Maison Jaune
8 rue du Dépiquage

I was in Ha Noi last year

Ha Noi was a mix of beauty and chaos. The city never sleeps. Everyone is awake at five in the morning and you can’t help but get up too. It is, afterall, a bit hard to stay asleep amidst the chatter. So you start the day together with the rest of the city. You get the special treat known as bread and jam on some days, because it’s hard to prepare breakfast for some one who’s vegetarian – or as they call it, someone who eats diet food. After breakfast, you pick up the helmet and hop onto a motorbike. You curl your toes and refuse to relax your shoulders the first couple of times, but eventually you sit back with your arms on your laps and enjoy the ride like everyone else. You even manage to hold your camera on one hand and a parking ticket on the other.

The people and the city confuse you at times. They insist on drinking wine during meals, but use the wrong glasses. You miss how clean it is back home. You use your hand sanitiser more often than you thought you would. The rich are concerned about sophistication, but seem to neglect basic hygiene and manners. Some anecdotes are simply beyond amusing, such as the middle-aged ladies in the gym who sleep on the sofas while waiting for the yoga session to begin, then crowd around the reception 10 minutes before the sesson starts to fight for a better spot. It is hard to equate them with quiet, and extremely frustrating as you struggle to prepare for the session, but they eventually become silent when the instructor enters.

But when you step back and take in the city for what it is, all isn’t bad. The elderly sit by the road with their friends, tilting their heads back as they laugh over trivial matters. People exercise along the lake and play badminton in public open spaces. You walk into small alleys and people are selling meat, vegetables and snacks at others’ doorsteps. Small, local businesses work much better than large enterprises here, and you love it. You look up and you see webs of electrical cables hanging above you – scary, but mesmerising.

You don’t know what to think of this land. It’s beautiful, but ugly. It’s ugly, but also beautiful.

Spain, 2010 (Part 3)

Have you read Part 1 & Part 2 of my Spanish summer?

Guillem was still sleeping when I called him from the train station. He’d had a late night. We waited outside the train station, two Asians sticking out like a sore thumb, but no one seemed to mind. To kill our time, we wondered: who was the first human who was so smart to realise that you could peel a banana, who realised that you could cut your hair (Samson?), and who cracked open the first durian and decided that it was edible?

When we finally got to Guillem’s place, we were welcomed by his dog, Julio. “Que pasa, Julio?” Guillem would greet him. We took Julio out for a short walk and to grab some kebabs for lunch. As we were buying our lunches, Guillem’s friends called. They were on a roadtrip and were making a stop in Salamanca. We went to the park nearby and waited for them as we ate our kebabs.

The three of them arrived shortly, a girl and two guys. Unfortunately, I can’t recall their names. We said hello, lay on the grass and fiddled with my analog camera. Julio decided it would be a good time to try and escape, and the guys had to run after him. We walked to a cafe for a drink and attempted to soak up the sun in spite of the cold. The two guys didn’t talk much because they couldn’t speak much English, so we let them catch up with Guillem instead.

After they left, Guillem brought us around the city. We only had a day, so we could only admire the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum from the outside. We saw the Casa de las Conchas, literally the House of the Shells. Guillem made us look for the lucky frog at the University. We also went to Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, a park dedicated to Spain’s very own Romeo and Juliet. It was there I caught a quote from the Little Prince, which was exceptionally meaningful to me then.

I wonder if the stars are lit so that someday, everyone can find theirs.

Guillem works with youths and he has a strong passion for his job. You could tell that he gets along with people very well. As we walked through the city, people often stopped to say hi. At Plaza Mayor, we bumped into a couple of youths he works with, a boy and a girl. He’s sitting on the bench and she’s lying on his lap. Guillem’s like a big brother to them, making sure they’re behaving themselves.

Guillem brought us to meet some of his mates. They have a lad’s lair. They rented a small space and brought in a table football table and some couches. They also had a mini fridge full of beer. A proper lad’s lair. I joined some of them for a game of table football and sucked at the game. One of Guillem’s friend (I’m terrible with Spanish names) was exceptionally enthusiastic about the game. I kept losing, but he kept urging me to go on. His enthusiasm sent the ball flying out of the table several times. “Penalty!” He’d shout as he ran searching for the ball. I thought about how nice it would be if I had a space like that with my mates as well.

We left for dinner while Guillem’s friends went off to catch a football match or something. Guillem was going to bring us tapas bar-hopping! We had the most amazing patatas bravas and all for only 1 Euro. I experienced squeezing with the crowd in a fully packed bar, beer in one hand, plate in the other. No one seemed to mind the elbows and pint glasses. We went to a slightly quieter bar, this time with a much older crowd, but Guillem said they had some tapas we must try, and so we did. The night went on with us filling our stomachs with absolutely delicious tapas and cheap beer. We made our last stop at a two-storey cafe. The rooms were narrow and only a few tables occupied each room. We found a table by the window while Guillem got us more drinks. There were many beautiful paintings on the walls. They were for sale, but we weren’t buying. Guillem wants to stay in Salamanca. He seems happy, despite a failed relationship. He enjoys working with the youths. He DJs on some nights and loves his reggae. He was one of the first few people I knew who have chosen to take the road less travelled and is enjoying what he does. I told myself I wanted to be more like him.

We had such a good time but it was late. We waited at the bus stop but no buses came. Guillem suggested walking to another bus stop, but there were still no buses. We must have missed the last bus. We sat by the road in the cold and moaned for a couple of minutes, then decided we should just get a cab.

Julio was waiting when we got home. “Que pasa, Julio!” I shouted. Too much beer.

We stayed up for a wee bit and caught some Spanish telly then listened to a bit of reggae. Guillem was still awake when we went to bed.

This concludes my Spanish summer in 2010! I had especially vivid memories of Salamanca, because of a new friendship. Thanks to the people I’ve met on the trip, I had a peek into the lives of the locals – and this is what I endeavour in all my travels. Now to move on to more recent travel memories!

Spain, 2010 (Part 2)

It wasn’t planned, but we ended up in Madrid during Semana Santa. That explained why it was near impossible to secure any accommodation. I ended up speaking broken Spanish (or whatever that was left in my head after 5 years) to 2 policemen in order to find a hostel that still had rooms for us, but not before walking up and down a hilly road twice. I have never seen that many people on the streets. Believers and non-believers of the faith were all walking towards Plaza Mayor for the procession. We were early so we crossed over to Puerta del Sol for a bit and that was where some TV crew caught us for an interview.

We walked back to Plaza Mayor where a large banner was hanging from the windows. The residents were complaining about the music. As night fell and the procession started, everyone fell silent and watched as men with chains on their feet led the way. Handsome men and women followed behind, some in robes with their heads covered and the women all dressed in black, donning beautiful mantillas. We stayed and watched for a few more minutes before walking off to get some food.

Our meal times were all messed up in Spain. We were always hungry at the wrong time, and trying to get food while they’re having their siesta was challenging. We spent many afternoons in bars, staring at their amazing food but not being able to order anything because according to them, it wasn’t time to eat. The good thing about being a tourist/traveller is that they’ll always make exceptions for you. Plenty of tapas to go around!

We also rented bicycles in Madrid, but don’t do it if you’re afraid of cycling next to cars. Some of the roads can be very wide and cycling to Parque del Buen Retiro wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. We made it somehow and it was well worth the traffic nightmare. Madrid was beautiful and cycling beats walking, but it was on to Salamanca next.

Spain, 2010 (Part 1)

I’ve been digging up some old travel photos and journals lately. They brought back a lot of fond memories, and I’m reminded of all the people I’ve met along the way. So here’s some of it…

It was April 2010. England was cold and grey as ever, so we left for Spain instead. We played ping pong at the hostel in Barcelona. Later that evening, we went to the beach on foot. It was dark and there wasn’t anyone else around. We brought a bag of oranges to eat as we did somersaults in the sand.

Valencia was a beautiful experience. In the day we were tourists, taking photos of the Cathedral,  eavesdropping on tour guides and eating paella while sipping on sangria. By night we sang at the top of our voices with the three guys who were sharing the room in the hostel. They were on a roadtrip from Barcelona but their car got broken into and everything was stolen, so they had to find a hostel. Take a bow and start singing. Hide the tins and vodka under the bed. We don’t want to get kicked out with fresh poultry in a plastic bag. Halfway around the world, I found someone who listens to Billie the Vision & The Dancers too. If you start playing Radiohead on the guitar, one of us will open that window and jump right out. He only sings the songs he knows. But don’t we all.

Valencia says goodnight, but Barcelona is still awake and we are still the passengers. la la la la lalalala.