A Travellerspoint blog

A great day on the wall - A post by Hillarie

Beating the crowds and the heat on the Great Wall of China

Well, our epic trip is just about over. We have made our final stop in Beijing where we have 72 hours to fit in all of the major sites. On our list is Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, and of course the Great Wall of China.

The heat and humidity in Beijing is intense. The day we arrived it was 38 degrees. The next day it was 36 degrees. The heat from the sun was over-powering. Not to mention the crowds, traffic, and normal goings-on of city life.

But on day 2 of our stay, we decided that it was now or never to check off our "visit to the wall" box. Our two families (the Zimmermann and Elek-Savill family) rented a driver and a 10 seater van and departed Beijing city centre at 6:30 am. We were lucky when we woke up, the skies were cloudy and there was rain in the air.

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After travelling to so many countries and seeing so many amazing sites, I find it hard to be blown away sometimes. However, the wall did not disappoint! As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it truly is an amazing site.

We spent 2 hours on the wall. We walked a very small portion of its 8,000 + kilometers but we enjoyed every step.

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The weather cooperated and remained cool and misty. The crowds stayed away and at times we had the place to ourselves. It was an epic day and an epic end to our around-the-world trip!!

Posted by fishonyukon 21:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Kimonos in Japan - A post by Hillarie

Finding style in traditional dress

Simply put, Japan is an amazing country. The people are unbelievably polite, kind, and courteous. The historic sites are world-class, stunningly beautiful, and interesting. The Japanese design sensibility is clean, minimal, and in my mind exquisite. In short, I loved Japan. I would go back in a second and would love to spend an extended period of time there either travelling the country or maybe even teaching English.

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One of the particularly beautiful things we saw in Japan were the kimonos. Although this Japanese traditional dress is worn mainly for special occasions, tourists have the opportunity to "rent a kimono" to experience the beauty and elegance of wearing this garment as they strut their stuff on the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto or Kanazawa.

During our few days in Tokyo, we met up with our friend Saori from Japan. We spent a wonderful couple of days with Saori, being toured around Tokyo and shown the amazing sights. As a surprise for Zach, Max, Sadie, and Kyuss, Saori decided to rent the kids kimonos for the day. And not only did the kids get to try the kimonos on, but they were able to walk around the streets of Tokyo showing off their new style for the afternoon!

When we first heard of this "surprise" for the kids, Dennis and I were unsure how the Zimmermann boys would react. While they are usually game for just about anything, we weren't sure whether or not they would have the confidence to wear a kimono as they toured around Tokyo. So when we arrived at the Kimono rental shop, Dennis and I quickly made our getaway so that we didn't have to face their discomfort when they learned of their afternoon plans.

Well, well, weren't we surprised as the kids emerged in all of their glory!

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They looked absolutely amazing!! And the even bigger surprised happened when we started to walk around Tokyo. The kids felt great! Sadie felt absolutely beautiful and the boys felt handsome. They all started to have a swagger in their step.

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And Zach found an increased confidence with the girls!

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Throughout our time in Japan we saw many kimonos. They added such a beauty to the already beautiful landscape. They added tradition, depth, and interest into an already amazing place.

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At the end of the afternoon wearing the kimonos, the kids didn't want to take them off. Regular clothes felt ugly and boring. The kids didn't feel quite as beautiful and handsome as they felt before. The day got a little less interesting. The sky not quite as blue. Zach said that next time he visits Japan he is going to rent a kimono and wear it for the entire day not just the afternoon!

Posted by fishonyukon 20:27 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

The Tsaatan people of the Darhad Valley - a post by Hillarie

Reindeer herders living on the northern taiga

We really didn't know what to expect when we headed off on a two day horseback riding trip to visit the "reindeer people' of northern Mongolia. After about 5 hours on the back of a horse traversing spectacular landscapes and endless mountains and valleys, we headed down the final hill to a small settlement of nomadic peoples.

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Words truly cannot describe the sight before our eyes. From the distance, small white dots began to emerge and become recognizable forms. Laid out in a scattered formation were about 20 teepees forming a small community of nomadic reindeer herders in a mountain valley. As we got closer we began to notice many, many reindeer. Big reindeer and baby reindeer were everywhere.

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Once we got over the shock of seeing so many reindeer we started to notice the people! Kids, elders, families - we were warmly welcomed by the village leader and shown our accommodation for the night.

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For thousands of years, the Tsaatan people have lived in the remote, deep forest of northern Mongolia. They move from pasture to pasture every 7 to 10 weeks and depend on their reindeer for nearly all aspects of their survival, as well as their cultural and spiritual identity. This tiny community of nomadic reindeer herders is one of the few remaining tribes of its kind.

The highlight of this adventure was when I got to milk a reindeer with the help of an experienced elder during the evening ritual of pairing the mothers and babies for feeding. Small amounts of milk are used by the community for milk tea and reindeer milk cheese.

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And as if our time in this community wasn't amazing enough, we found ourselves spending "quality time" with the baby reindeer! Reindeer are surprisingly gentle and friendly. They freely came to us for cuddles and a bit of love and attention.

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This was truly a magical experience. It was so special - almost too special to write about. A once in a lifetime experience that will stay with us forever. The images of the Tsaatan people are so vivid. An unimaginable way of life, a beautiful culture and a connection to a land and animal that is hard for the majority of us to comprehend.

Posted by fishonyukon 06:22 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Mongolian hospitality - A post by Hillarie

Seeing the best in people in northern Mongolia

If a complete stranger knocked on your door would you invite them into your home and feed them your finest food? Would you share with them your freshly baked bread and hand churned butter? Would you bring our your silver dishes and cook a pot of homemade soup? Welcome to Mongolia! Here you will find hospitality and kindness at its very best.

One of the most memorable parts of our trip was visiting rural Mongolian herders in their gers (also known as yurts). Gers are scattered throughout the beautiful Mongolian landscape and are the primary rural dwelling in the Darhad valley region.

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On our travel days, we would drive for hours on end and stop mid-day at a random person's ger. Our Mongolian guide would stick their head into the ger awaiting a nod of invitation from its inhabitants. With a wave of their hand, we would all be invited into the ger to enjoy some milk tea, fresh bread, milk skin, soup, yogurt, and Aaruul (Mongolian curd cheese).

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Our time in the gers gave us such an interesting insight into daily Mongolian life. We had the honour of seeing into people's homes. We saw their beautiful furniture, their personal decorating touches, their kitchens, their kids - basically a snapshot of their everyday lives. It was so beautiful.

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We also fell in love with the structural elements of the ger. They are simplistic yet perfectly balanced in their design. They are minimal yet beautiful. I would love to live in one and long to own one back in Canada. Maybe one day this dream will come true!

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Posted by fishonyukon 05:45 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

Trying to find a deeper connection - A post by Hillarie

Volunteering in northern Mongolia

Four years ago when we traveled to Ecuador we discovered that volunteering while traveling can help to create a deeper and more meaningful travel experience. When we were planning this trip we wanted to volunteer again to add some variety and hopefully depth to our 6 months away. The trick is to find the "right" volunteer experience. Volun-tourism is super popular but not all volunteer experiences are created equal. Our criteria for a volunteer experience is to work with a local organization whose projects are relevant and supported by local communities.

This time around we truly lucked out!! Dennis scoped out a project with an organization called BioRegions International (http://bioregions.org/). Our volunteer role during the month would be focused on scoping out areas of collaboration within fisheries (Taimen conservation and freshwater fish), tourism and parks, youth environmental education, and teaching English.

The projects that we would be working on were centered in the remote Darhad Valley. We traveled with an amazing group of people from Mongolia who provided us with logistical support. More importantly, they provided us with friendship, fun, and amazing adventure.

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During the month in Mongolia we spent the majority of our time in the remote Darhad Valley. Dennis and the Bioregions team met with rural residents, school eco-clubs, community officials, Park Rangers, government officials and politicians to discuss tourism and parks, youth environmental education and fisheries conservation.

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I (Hillarie) conducted an informal assessment of the English language capacity of high school English teachers in the region. Zach, Max and I also visited numerous classrooms and did presentations to the school kids on Canada and our way of life. We also conducted spontaneous English classes where teachers and students could practice their speaking and listening skills.

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The largely nomadic herding people living in these communities live within a spectacular world-class natural and cultural landscape. We are truly blessed to have been able to work with so many amazing people from Mongolia including our Mongolian team on the ground and appreciate the support from Bioregions and all its partners. We really look forward to sharing our experiences with our family and friends in Canada and hope to work in the Darhad Valley again.

Posted by fishonyukon 01:32 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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