Maldives 2008

Maldives is not a country you visit for the culture, to say the truth. Even if there were culture to discover, it's so overwhelmingly buried under the tourism industry that it is very hard to point out. Also, as each island is a resort of its own, I'm just going to give you an account of my experience.

We went in November, perfect period because the sun is shining most of the days (and when it's raining, it's purely refreshing), and there are not yet the Christmas holidays tourists. Once arrived in Malé, the capital island, the heat and humidity makes you more than welcome, and you can finally start the holidays. Once out of the international terminal, there is always someone to point out where to put your luggage for the next trip, as you are bound to take a seaplane to get to your resort island. And this trip alone is worth it: island jewels in a turquoise sea, it is splendid. And finally we arrive at our island, our little place in Paradise.

The first marvel out of your eyes, you realize that this paradise is only for the fortunates. Even though you already spent a fortune to be here, even the bottle of water needs to be paid for, and there are few things under 20 $...
But even then, the food is great, and once you face the sea while eating, you forget about money and understand that you know belong to the clichéd photo of lovers in an emerald and pristine sea. 

The island itself is very small, you can go around it in approximately half an hour, and all you see around is the sea. Remember the island jewels from the seaplane? You're now in one of them, lost in Paradise.

And then comes your first sunset on the island. Again, splendid.

But enough about the beauty of the island, you get the idea. Now there are two things that we packed outside of bathing suits: a small telescope, and diving equipment. If you have one of those, I truly recommend to bring them, as the beauties of the sky and sea have no limit.

During the first snorkelling, you realize very quickly all the riches of the ocean, and not far from the beach, the reef plunges deeper and, yes, it is possible, more riches await. Like this one:

With all those wonders, I couldn't resist diving, of course. I had been preparing for this moment, but I realized that it was the best way to spend your time here, so I even took the week to pass the Advanced Open Water PADI level, which allowed some extraordinary experiences, such as: 
- Diving by night. Marvellous. 
- Canyoning in the ocean. Thrilling
- Dancing with dolphins. Really emotional
- Spotting the Rays

But you have to remember to dive responsibly, otherwise, the maldivian government will remind yourself of it for you: exporting corals, even dead ones, leads to a fine of 2000 $ and a "temporary" travel ban of 5 to 10 years... 

So my last advice to you: you need to go to Maldives before the global warming takes this paradise away. Already several islands have disappeared, and all of them are threatened to have the same fate. So don't hesitate, you will not regret it, it is worth all the dollars (and there are a lot involved, that's true) you spent on it.


Mongolia 2008

I cannot say I have seen most of Mongolia, but I want to share my experience, because it still taught me a lot about this beautiful country. It had always been a dream to go horseriding in Mongolia for my 25th birthday. And Chance had it that it was also the year of a total eclipse. So this is one of my best travel memories. It was in Summer 2008 and the weather was generally fine, hot and dry.
This trip was organized by Cavaliers du monde, a french travel agency specialized in horse treks.

After arriving in Ulaan Baatar and visiting for a day, we took a flight to Ulgi, the capital of the Altai region, 80% of which is Kazakh, and where the trek was. Out of this small little town, roads don't exist anymore, and the russian vans drove us for six terrible hours to where we would meet the horses. Let's just say that it was very tiring. But the landscape was grandiose, so that made up for it. Unfortunately, compared to the heat of Ulaan Baatar, the cold here was very persistent, and the first night was a nightmare... When I couldn't stand the cold, I decided to move around the tent, and there it was, a nightsky such as you can rarely see nowadays. Even as the Moon was at its last quarter (as we approached the date of the eclipse), you could still see the Milky Way. It was simply stunning, so much so that I forgot about the cold.

When I woke up, all the horses were around the camp, and the guides soon matched horses with riders, before our first day on trek. My horse was nice and gentle, I couldn't complain. At the end of the first day of immense plateaus and milky river valleys, we took our first gallop in the wild. And that, my friends, was breathtaking. And the dream kept unfolding, as we ate dinner around a campfire with the kazhak guides singing traditional songs under the starry sky. It was just the beginning of a magical experience, with the cold of the first night only a memory. The days went by with a deeper and deeper understanding of Kazhaks traditions and way of life, among superb landscapes of mountains and plateaus.
Mongolia is really the country of Nature at its most primal state. Nothing seems to soil it, as habitations are separated by hundreds of kms. Animals simply follow the natural cycle of life, and kids learn how to live harmoniously among them.

There are no light at night, no barrier around yourts and paddocks, it's fascinating. Thanks to that, Mongols have a very different and very simple way of facing life. And it's curious that our and their ways of life so differ, but secretly each secrety envies the other. 
Kazhak cemetry
During, the trip, we saw several obos (those stone mounds that you can also find in Tibet, for instance), and even had the chance to eat a freshly killed sheep, mongolian style, and it was delicious!

And then finally we arrived at the official campsite for the eclipse near a lake called Black Lake. The guides made us taste Airag, mare's 
fermented milk, and we could assist to the naadans, the traditional games of the region: archery, eagle parades, and a peculiar game where the woman on horse is judged whether she has "artistically" beaten up her male partner handling her horse's reins. Yes, you have read that right.

To conclude, Mongolia is one of my best travel memories, surely because it was the first time I was so close to an entirely unknown way of living. I really advice you to see it if you haven't already, because it was really majestic, as I hope my story has shown.