sabato 5 gennaio 2013

Tenth Day, an Unexpected Journey

I closed last post saying that it wasn't possible to run in Bangkok. The statement implied a consideration about Bangkok pollution and terrible traffic jam.

Then something happened.

I'm staying in the wrong hotel. It's called Khao San Palace Inn. A friend of mine had booked a room here, and I decided to join her (and her other friend) in their exploration of Bangkok.

The hotel sucks. Rooms stink and the air con/fan makes a terrible noise.

What's worse is that it's more expensive than other hotels and guest houses I was checking on the guide.

Why? Because it's located in Thanon Khao San, the fancy backpackers area of Bangkok. It's close to the Old Town (which is good), but it's also where every American/Australian/European comes to see the "trasgry" Bangkok.

You walk along the street in the afternoon, until night, and see hawkers showing any kind of disgusting animal fried (scorpions, bugs, spiders, crickets, and so on): 10 baht and you can take a picture of them. Shops selling fancy stretched t-shirts. Any kind of seller you can find in any touristic place, including McDonald's and Starbucks.

Plus bars and open air clubs. That means loud music until 3.30.

Definitely the wrong hotel for relaxing before sightseeing and travelling to Sukhotai.

Why am I writing this? Because all this noise and waste of taste made me want to run.

People come to Bangkok to enjoy its transgressive nightlife. They pretend to be in The Hangover II, without having the charme of Galifianakis. I know there is a better Bangkok to see. And I know that because I am a runner.

I woke up at 6.30, not too early that the sun shows up at 7. And I started my unexpected journey.

Pollution is annoying but traffic is less chaotic.

Out of the hotel I found people still celebrating their ability to stand alcohol. That didn't last long. After a few hundred meters I jumped in the tiny lanes of the old city. Some of them brought me nowhere, but it didn't matter, I had km to run.

After crossing bridges and getting lost on the small canals, I reached the Chao Phraya River. There I could see, and take pictures, of local markets, temples, and the sunrise, reflected on the buildings of the West Coast.

The journey went on through the Thammasat University (unaccessible to tourists through the main entrance, accessible to runners through the side one), the Royal Palace and the Wat Pho. A picture to Wat Arun, on the West Coast, enlightened by a full shining sun, and I headed back to the hotel.

A total of 7km, with a lot of stop and go to take pictures.

Some rest, a good breakfast, and the day could go on. Visits to touristic areas, such as the Weekend Market and the Golden Mountain.

Nothing compared to the old city when it wakes up.

Tomorrow I'm going to Sukhotai, the first capital. The plan is to run also there. I'll tell you which is better.

Eigth and Ninth Day, Road to Bangkok

Strange two days.

After the amazing ride in Penang (see previous post) I got sick.

I was sick before going to Bali. Then the Island healed me. Then 80k of riding under the rain got me a cough.

No big problem for me. More for the people I travelled with. On 4 January I took a train from Butterworth (mainland Penang) at 14.20. After 21 hours I got to Bangkok.

The train was gorgeous. Seriously, way better than the night trains in Italy. Clean, comfortable, silent.

I met a 51 years old Caribbean from Manchester, with 5 kids, who was going for holidays to Bangkok. A couple of a girl from Manchester and a Chinese from Penang grew up in Montreal. Both of them are now living in Paris.

We saw the countryside of Thailand (rice fields rice fields rice fields rice fields) and the ring belt of Bangkok.

Bangkok is less dirty then expected. And more expensive, for the standards of South East Asia. All museums and tourists places close at 16. After a walk under the sun I went back to the hotel to rest and do my laundry.

I am afraid that there won't be running in Bangkok. Bearable, I'm leaving on 7 to less fancy and less chaotic places.

Tonight ping pong show and sightseeing. Sorry but no pictures about this part on Piovono Runners.

giovedì 3 gennaio 2013

Seventh Day, King of Jungle

What a crazily intense day! Last full one in Penang, Malaysia. Tomorrow (4 December 2013) I'm catching a train to Bangkok at 14.20.

The day was so stuffed and so scarily terrific that I don't know how to explain it. I'll go by bullet points.

- left for the trip at 7;
- realized that first 24k were in a 4 line highway next to the industrial area of Penang (including Magneti Marelli factory), thought about dying crashed by crazy drivers a thousand times;
- missed the freaking fishmen village (Kampung Batu Maung);
- missed the typical Malay village (Kampung Seronok);
- stopped because of the heavy rain and started checking carefully about the rest of the trip, I couldn't keep skipping places;
- had some coffee and roti canai for 1,50 ringgit (40 euro cent) served by nice non-English speaking Che Guevara fan;
- started the hilly part of the trip: jungle, amazing views, terrific riding;
- stopped at Balik Pulau (second biggest city of Penang) for money withdrawal, resting and chatting with locals (very very friendly);
- back on the hills, stopped at the stall of a Chinese old farmer and street seller of durian, passionate for the study of law;
- ate very good Ganja durian (durian, the king of fruits, see description on Wikipedia, I can only say that it is pollinated by bats, and that you can smell it a hundred metres away), while talking about statute of limitation and bankruptcy law under Italian and Malaysian law;
- visited (alone) the nearby farm of the old pal, to be reached by walking in the jungle, with view on amazing waterfall and gigantic spiders;
- stopped at the Tropical Fruit Farm for a guided tour and an all you can eat tropical fruit buffet;
- finished the ride with some stop to take pictures of Batu Ferringhi Beach;
- filled the motorbike with 1,73 litres of gasoline paid 3,30 ringgit (80 euro cent).

- ate a big bowl of very good assam laksa (typical Penang fish soup with tamarin and a lot of indefinite stuff) in a renowned stall, with mice crawling around;
- after two hours ate two main courses and some dim sum in a packed open air Chinese restaurant;
- had some dessert from a street seller;
- shaved.

I don't know how a day can be better than this one.

mercoledì 2 gennaio 2013

Sixth Day, Relaxing in Penang (with 16k run)

Finally a relaxing day.

I wanted to run this morning, hadn't done it for 2 days. Then I realised that I hadn't slept for 3 days.

For the first time in five days I stood up at 8. Still, Penang wakes up later than me. Shops start opening at 9. Some of them at 10.

I bought the ticket to Bangkok, and tried to book a guided tour of the historical center and of the island.

The local tourist office is headed by a chubby nice but volitional Malay woman.

"Why should you book a guided tour, can't you walk on your own?" "Well, I don't want to get lost, and I'd like to learn something" "Impossible to get lost, here's the information you need" and she handed me a brochure.

"What about the tour of the island? Do you know anyone organising a guided tour with motorbikes?" "Can you ride a motorbike? Then you don't need any guide. It's very simple!"

So I rented Sam, a 125 scooter with gears. Tomorrow I'm riding for 72k alone along the island. Because that's what she wants. Seriously, it was a mix of Man Pride and fear.

Together with Sam came a helmet. Because, as the guy of the shop said, "helmets are USEFUL in Penang".

The morning went over with some lazy walking and eating.

In the afternoon I organized a couple of things to do in Thailand and checked for accommodation in Sukhotai and Chiang Mai.

Late afternoon I decided to run.

Tomorrow I'm riding all day, starting at 6. I can't stay 4 days without running. I would miss so much of this vacation.

So I went for an easy 10k up to see some temples and to see the botanic gardens.

When I got to botanic gardens the temptation was too strong. Ok, let's have an easy run here.

They're not like in Singapore. Jungle still prevails on what men have planted. It is actually difficult to distinguish botanic garden from jungle. There are also monkeys, a lot. And signs that warn about risks of tropical diseases. Definitely not like in Singapore.

While running, I saw an old Indian man starting to climb some hidden stairs. Where do they go? I thought. And followed the man on his path.

After a few minutes of running, the stairs became steeper, and it was impossible to see the end. The jungle surrounded them. Sometime trees were eating portions of the steps.

I reached the top exhausted, and met some Chinese guys. I asked where we were. They looked surprised and stood still. "Are we in Penang hill?" (the high peak which overcomes Georgetown). They finally replied "yes, but we are half way to the top".

Half way. Not too bad.

They were optimistic. After another kilometer, a couple told me that the top was 4k far away.

My GPS marked 9k. I was discouraged, but they added that a pick up was going to carry back everyone to botanic gardens in half an hour. Half an hour to reach the top. I can do it.

I couldn't. Signs indicated a 30% slope. And the view on the way was so fantastic, I needed to take pictures. Good excuses, isn't it?

Anyway, after 3k of running and walking I took the pick up to the botanic gardens and ran back to the hostel.

A lot of food to close the day. And quickly to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a long day on the road.

martedì 1 gennaio 2013

Fifth Day, Transit Mode

Fifth day of travelling. No romantic sunrises to show. No volcanoes to climb. For those you can read the previous posts of #piovonontheroad.

Last night, new year's eve, we hanged around the beach of Sanur until 1. The whole East coast of Bali was enlightened by fireworks. Never seen so many of them in my life. And part of my family comes from Gualtieri Sicaminò, the capital of fireworks in North East Sicily.

I left the hotel at 3 am. Greeted Federico (who luckily woke him and me up at 2.55) and took a taxi to the airport. If we can call taxi the car driven by the concierge of our hotel in Bali. (This is multitasking!!)

Left Bali at 6 and landed in Kuala Lumpur at 9. Last time I went to KL I was with four beautiful girls from my master. We had breakfast at Starbucks and took a taxi to the hotel. This time I had breakfast at the airport food court and caught a bus to... catch another bus.

KL was just on the way to Penang, an island in North West Malaysia. It is a five hours bus. I could take a flight to Penang, but I would have missed the Malaysian countryside. And one hundred euro. But mainly the countryside.

On the way from KL to Penang I slept most of the time. But when I opened my eyes I could see amazing peaks covered by jungle, arising from the jungle. Totally worth the saving of money. Buses are not like in Italy. Seats are like airplane business class.

Got in Butterworth (mainland Penang) at 19. Right after sunset, still with light. The coast of the island is ruined by high buildings. Something I'm familiar with, as the skyline resembles the first thing a traveler sees on the ferry from Italy to Sicily.

My hostel is in Georgetown, the main city of Penang, next to the historical center (a World Heritage Site).

I was a bit scared, as I'm staying in a dorm. But, surprise surprise, the room is just for me!!

You'll read again about the city on the Straits in the next two days.

For me it's time to eat, plan my runs, and finally sleep.

lunedì 31 dicembre 2012

Fourth Day, the Freaking Volcano

Fourth day in Bali. The last one. The last day of 2012. The last day of my life, I believed for a while.

My name is Valerio, I'm a runner. And I suffer from vertigo. Heights freak me out. No idea why. Just happens.

I can remember the day it all started. I was 8 years old, in Stromboli, Eolian islands. On the volcano.

Since then I have been looking for volcanoes and mountains to climb. To heal.

You'll be surprised, but it never works. Keep freaking out, no matter what.

I wanted to climb Bali's volcano. To see the sunrise from the top. Most of all, to prove I can do it anyway.

My friends didn't come. I tried to convince them: "let's wake up at 2, start climbing at 4, to see the sunrise at 6". Crazy people, why they decided to sleep until 10 instead?

The guide, Waiyan, is a very nice guy. Very patient. He'll need to be with me.

The trekking starts at 3.45. Easy path but no moon or stars. You can see below a picture of the view at 4.30. It's the black one.

We need to use a torch, nothing's enlightened but the ground before our feet.

To climb is easy. I feel comfortable. No idea what's going on around. I don't bother even the dog climbing with us, uninvited.

Suddenly we're up. At the top. 1700m above the sea, 800m above the starting point. It's 4.45 am. Still hard to see around for the darkness. But it's possible to understand that we are facing the most amazing show of Bali's nature. A view like no one else. Cold lava, a huge lake surrounded by volcanoes, villages, plantations. All before us. We're freaking high. And I am freaking out.

I tell Waiyan for the first time that I suffer from vertigo. He lights his fifth sigarette of the day and offers me one. "No, thanks", I reply.

We arrive at the camp where his friends are cooking food for all of us. They've been there since 3. We are the first group, other 30 people are coming. But I don't want to see the view.

Instead, I stay with Waiyan and his friends in the kitchen. We have a lot in common: they saw the volcano so many times. I saw myself acting like a frightened child so many times.

I eat and light my first sigarette after ages. It's 5.30 when I go out of the kitchen. The sun is coming out, slightly. Sunrise is expected at 6, dawn is upon us.

We now can see better the lake, the villages, the other volcanoes. Even Lombok, an island as big as Bali, far far away. Better go inside.

We talk and laugh. It starts raining. Good, the path back will also be slippery.

6, the sunrise. The view is spectacular. I ask Waiyan to see the crater, the smokes of the volcanoes, and to go the hell out of there.

Waiyan never makes a move. Always calm, always easy. I see the crater, going down for 300 meter.

Everything around is pure nature's power.

He pours me a second sigarette. We smoke together. Then we start going back down.

I can clearly see the 800m we climbed.

Surprisingly I feel better than usual. Who knows what they put in those cigarettes.

First 100m down I'm still frightened, holding Waiyan's hand most of the time.

But the more we walk, the more I get confident. Suddenly I can walk alone. Easy. Fast. No more fear, like a normal person.

We reach another group and a girl is still holding the hand of her guide. Pff, what a pussy.

Waiyan does never make a move. He asks me to take pictures of me. And I can easily stand with the void on my back. I can also take pictures.

We reach the ground and I'm willing to go up again. Already looking forward to the next volcano to climb. I will probably freak out again. But it will be less.

Like the philosopher Rocky Balboa once said: "If I can change, and you can change, then all the world can change".

Happy new year.