Pieter Neele's Blog

Lonely Planet dl. 2: het zijn kinderboeken

pieterneele | 27 October, 2014 07:08

En nu ik het toch over Lonely Planet gidsen heb: het zijn kinderboeken.

Reizen gaat om het onbekende en het onverwachte, reizen gaat om ontdekken. Maar zo’n ‘reis’gids zegt je voor waar je heen kunt, wat je er kunt bekijken en hoe je er komt. Je weet precies wat je te wachten staat.

Wie met zo’n boek onderweg is volgt de voetsporen van anderen: een padvindersspelletje. Wie zich door zo’n boek laat leiden staat als reiziger in de kinderschoenen. Wie die gidsen ontgroeid is gaat zijn eigen onafhankelijke gang.

 

Lonely Planet dl. 1: ze begrijpen niets van REIZEN

pieterneele | 27 October, 2014 06:43

Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, land van mijn jeugd, wordt door Lonely Planet afgeserveerd als ‘een onbeduidend plattelandsgebied met boerderijen en een paar chemische fabrieken’.*

Nu is dat niet waar. Er staan een paar mooie oude gebouwen in Hulst, Sluis, Aardenburg. De beboomde polderdijken zijn fotogeniek. In het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe, buitendijks natuurgebied, zijn meer dan tweehonderd vogelsoorten waargenomen.

Maar áls het zou kloppen, wat is er dan mis met boerderijen en fabrieksschoorstenen? Een REIZIGER is nieuwsgierig. Hij wil vooral zien hóé het ergens is. Mooi of lelijk, dat doet er minder toe. Of iets ‘bezienswaardig’ is, daar maakt een toerist zich druk om.

En dan: een REIZIGER is ontvankelijk voor alles. Een wolk in de lucht. De voren in een akker. Het alledaagse leven van die honderdduizend inwoners van Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.

Van deze essentie van REIZEN hebben ze bij Lonely Planet niets begrepen.

 

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* Zoals geciteerd in NRC Handelsblad van 23 juli 2014

 

TRAVEL vs tourism

pieterneele | 23 October, 2014 18:41

TRAVEL: THE UNKNOWN.

Tourism: the predictable.

 

TRAVEL: WHERE OTHERS DON’T GO.

Tourism: the beaten track.

 

TRAVEL: IN DEPTH.

Tourism: superficial.

 

TRAVELLERS THINK UP THEIR OWN ORIGINAL TRIP.

Tourists take their second-hand routes and destinations from guidebooks and tour operators.

 

TRAVEL IS BASED ON AN IDEA. LIKE FOLLOWING A SPECIFIC ROAD OR RIVER. OR REACHING SOME REMOTE PLACE. OR ZOOMING IN WITH AN ETHNIC OR HISTORICAL LENS. OR JUST MOVING ON RANDOMLY, THAT’S AN IDEA TOO.

Tourism makes no such sense. It combines a couple of ‘things to see’ that have nothing in common other than maybe being located in the same country.

 

TRAVELLERS ARE CONTENT JUST TO SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Tourists need ‘sigths’.

 

REIZEN versus toerisme

pieterneele | 23 October, 2014 18:37

REIZEN: HET ONBEKENDE.

Toerisme: het voorspelbare.

 

REIZEN: WAAR ANDEREN NIET HEEN GAAN.

Toerisme: het platgetreden pad.

 

REIZEN: ONDERDOMPELING.

Toerisme: oppervlakkig.

 

REIZIGERS BEDENKEN HUN EIGEN ORIGINELE REIS.

Toeristen laten zich hun tweedehands routes voorkauwen door reisgidsen en touroperators.

 

EEN REIS IS GEBASEERD OP EEN IDEE. ZOALS EEN BEPAALDE WEG OF RIVIER VOLGEN. OF EEN AFGELEGEN PLEK BEREIKEN. OF INZOOMEN MET EEN HISTORISCHE OF ETNISCHE LENS. OF ZOMAAR WILLEKEURIG ROND TREKKEN, DAT IS OOK EEN IDEE.

Een toeristisch parcours heeft zo’n plan niet. Het combineert wat ‘bezienswaardigheden’ die niets met elkaar gemeen hebben dan dat ze misschien in hetzelfde land liggen.

 

VOOR REIZIGERS IS HET GENOEG TE ZIEN HOE HET ERGENS ANDERS IS.

Toeristen hebben ‘bezienswaardigheden’ nodig.

 

Wat indrukken uit Canada

pieterneele | 30 July, 2014 11:51

Tijdens een reisrustpauze vakantie in Canada. Familiebezoek.

De vlucht vanuit Amsterdam biedt prachtzicht op, ongelukkige naam, Groenland. Wordt de kromming van de aarde zichtbaarder naarmate je noordelijker komt?

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Later kruisen we de Rocky Mountains. Naar Himalaya maatstaven zijn het de Rocky Hills natuurlijk, maar ze liggen er mooi bij.

De stewardess heeft oosterse trekken, maar is niet van Chinese, Japanse of Koreaanse komaf. Ik breek me het hoofd, en besluit: Inuit.

 

Appartement in Vancouver’s wijk West End. Levendig, internationaal, eten uit alle windstreken. Dichtbij is Stanley Park, schiereiland met populair fiets- en voetpad er omheen. Langs de oevers in het centrum overal jachthavens. Watervliegtuigjes komen en gaan. Blinkend glas in de wolkenkrabbers. Dakloze drugsverslaafden en mensen die ’s avonds door het buiten gezette vuilnis zoeken zijn er ook.

Iedere reisgids had me dat natuurlijk ook allemaal kunnen vertellen. Maar ik kwam liever onvoorbereid, om verrast te kunnen worden.

Geparfumeerde vuilniszakken.

Elektriciteitspalen zijn boomstammen.

Geen alcohol in supermarkten.

Buitenwijken als in Amerikaanse films.

Een coyote als we ’s avonds de hond uitlaten.

 

De TV waarschuwing voor coyotes zal dan wel nut hebben. Maar je wordt hier te veel bemoederd.

Helmen zijn voor fietsers verplicht.

Als je een auto start springen de lichten automatisch aan.

In het glas van de buitenspiegel: ‘De auto’s die je in deze spiegel ziet zijn dichterbij dan het lijkt’.

Overal waarschuwingen – struikel niet over de drempel, hou de trapleuning vast, glij niet uit.

Wie nog nooit in een kabelbaan zat kan maar beter hulp vragen aan het personeel als ie het gondeltje instapt.

Als er bij een kinderspeelplaats geen toezicht is wordt daar op een bord op gewezen.

Er bestaat een ‘Vereniging tegen vermijdbare verwondingen’ (de dubbelzinnigheid zal de bedenkers van de naam wel ontgaan zijn):

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We nemen veerboten omhoog langs de kust en dan naar Vancouver Island. Je maag gaat draaien van de tarieven, 60 euro voor een auto met twee personen. Op een autodek ruikt het naar de boot naar Kruiningen die er niet meer is, een mengeling van olie, hout en zeewater – vleug nostalgie.

We rijden door ansichtkaarten-Canada. Naaldbos, meren, sneeuw op verre bergen.

Het is me vaak opgevallen dat mensen op reis overeenkomsten zien met plekken die ze op een eerdere reis bezochten, hoewel die overeenkomsten er objectief gezien nauwelijks zijn. Ik noem het privé associaties. De mijne hier: Kham met zijn bergen en naaldbossen. Het meest in het oog lopende verschil natuurlijk: in Kham vormen de inheemse Tibetanen de meerderheid van de bevolking, hier kom je nauwelijks First Nations tegen.

Dagelijks een stop bij ‘Timmy’s’ = Tim Hortons = een soort armelui’s Starbucks = Canadees cultuurgoed. Koffie en esdoornstroopdonuts.

Een boottocht om orca’s te zien is de belangrijkste must, zegt mijn broer. En het is geweldig. We krijgen er een bultrugwalvis bij cadeau.

We lopen door een bos met douglassparren van 80 meter hoog. Genoemd naar de Schotse ontdekker David Douglas die later op expeditie in Hawaii omkwam.

We bereiken de rand van het continent en het bijna verlaten Long Beach. Vanaf hier de Stille Oceaan.

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A few notes from Canada

pieterneele | 28 July, 2014 12:14

During a break from travel went to Canada for a holiday. Family visit.

On the flight from Amsterdam views of inaptly named Greenland. Does the earth's curvature become more visible further up north?

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Later we cross the Rocky Mountains. They'd be Rocky Hills using Himalayan standards, but they look beautiful.

The stewardess's features are Asian, but not Chinese, Japanese, Korean. So I am puzzled. Then I decide: Inuit.

 

Staying in Vancouver's West End. Lively, international, food from everywhere. Nearby is Stanley Park, encircled by the Sea Wall. Downtown waterfronts are lined with marinas. Small seaplanes come and go, fun to watch. Lots of glass in the downtown skyscrapers. Less glittering are the lives of pavement dwelling drug addicts or the people going through the rubbish left outdoors at night.

All this every guidebook no doubt would have told me. But I preferred coming unprepared and being surprised.

Scented plastic garbage bags.

Tree trunks for electricity poles.

No alcohol sold in supermarkets.

Suburbs as in American movies.

A coyote when at night walking the dog.

 

The TV's coyote alert may make sense then. But this is a nanny state.

Helmets for cyclists are compulsory.

When starting a car its headlights are turned on automatically.

Printed on the glass of the rear view mirror the warning that vehicles seen in it are closer than they seem.

Warnings abound - to step over a sill, to hold on to a handrail on stairs, to watch out as 'Docks & Ramps May Be Slippery'.

Those who haven't used a cable car before are advised to seek assistance of staff when getting in a gondola.

If a children's playground is unsupervised a sign will say so.

A Community Against Preventable Injuries (ambiguity unintended I suppose) exists:

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We take ferries up the coast, then across to Vancouver Island. They are stomach turning expensive, 60 euro or so for a car with two. On a car deck the smell of the now defunct ferries in Zeeland, province of my youth, a mixture of oil, wood, salt water - a whiff of nostalgia.

We drive through postcard Canada. Fir trees, lakes, distant snow.

It has struck me that travelers are often reminded in one place of another they visited previously, while objectively the two are hardly similar. I call them private associations. Mine here: Kham with its mountains and pine forests. The most obvious difference of course: in Kham indigenous Tibetan people form the majority of the population, here First Nations people are few and far between.

 

Coffee breaks in 'Timmy's' = Tim Hortons = the poor man's Starbucks = a Canadian icon. Coffees and maple syrup donuts.

Orca watching is the first and foremost must-do, says my brother. And it is amazing. As a bonus we get to see a humpback whale.

We walk through a grove of Douglas firs standing a stunning 80 meters tall. Named after Scottish discoverer David Douglas who later died while exploring in Hawaii.

We reach the edge of the continent and all but deserted Long Beach. From here on the Pacific.

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2014 Preview

pieterneele | 25 January, 2014 15:24

 

Hi to all!

 

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year.

My plans?

 

Awaiting publication of an article I wrote for Japanese Alpine News, detailing why I believe the new Mekong source I discovered last July together with Luciano Lepre has to be considered the river's true source. What will reactions be?

I first introduced this source in a couple of blogs that you can find elsewhere on this page, posted between August 12 and 28.

 

Trips I am planning later in 2014:

In July will set out on a great China road trip. This will diagonally cut through China from the southwest (China/Laos border post at Mohan) to the northeast (China's northernmost county of Mohe on the Russian border). Four weeks and 6,000 kilometers or so. From subtropical to Siberian latitude, crossing China's main rivers: the Yantze in the south, the Yellow River in the north. Public transport: battered mid-size buses, modern touring car models, the occasional high speed train. Always among the Chinese people - those still poor, those of the new middle class, those now rich. Small villages, huge cities. No better way to experience China.

 

Yunnan - Myanmar border trip

Will roughly follow this border, staying on the Chinese side. Starting in the south in the lands of the Wa - my current favorite tribe. Headhunters as late as the 1960's they are now the kindest and most welcoming of people. Among other ethnic groups will be the Karen, called Jingpo in China.

Of course there is the semi-independent (?) Wa State itself, across the border..... Accessible or not? That would be another trip.

 

These are exploratory trips. They will stay clear of places described in guidebooks. I believe real travel takes you to the unknown. By nature an exploratory trip does not have a fixed schedule. Just a fixed general idea.

In November I will guide a Yunnan tour. That is well researched already, but it is a tour I much like to do. It takes in the best, most interesting and most authentic places Yunnan has to offer. Ancient villages, hill tribe markets and natural beauty all are part of the itinerary.

If you wish to join any of these tours, send me an email: info@pieterneele.com.

 

A new Mekong source - the true one at last?

pieterneele | 28 August, 2013 17:10

I started out with the tempting thought we were the first to visit both the Jifu and the Guosongmucha source. I wrote that all of the expeditions to the headwaters concentrated on one source, and one only (blog post of August 12). But re-reading publications on the search for the Mekong source I find conflicting accounts about this. It is possible Dr. Liu Shaochuang visited both places during his 1999 expedition. So maybe the idea was to good to be true.

But here is an even more tempting thought. We have discovered a ‘new’ source of the Mekong, previously visited nor identified by anyone. And in doing so we finally found the Mekong’s real source.

Hubris? Making a fool of myself? Possibly.

The fact though is that the Mekong’s source at the head of the Gaodepu, always refered to as the Jifu Shan source, is not on Jifu Shan (‘shan’ is Chinese for ‘mountain’).

See this picture first, taken from the valley of the Gaoshanxigu looking in a northerly direction. The mountain to the right (east) is Jifu Shan. But the Gaodepu’s source, and so the Mekong’s source, is on the norhteastern face of the mountain to the left. (On this photo that means on the back side of the mountain.)

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The next two photos are taken in the valley of the Gaodepu looking in a southerly direction. Now Jifu Shan is to our left.

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At this confluence the stream from the left is the bigger one. So that is the one we followed when hiking to the source. It turned out that it loops around the hill that can be seen ahead. At no point did we come across a stream from the left, i.e. a stream running down from Jifu Shan, feeding into the Gaodepu.

Behind the hill is the Tibetan ‘marker’ for the river source. But we found that small trickles of water flowed from higher up still. We followed these, and in doing so climbed the mountain to the right in the picture, until we reached the foot of the glacier.This is the source of the Gaodepu and of the Mekong. It is not on Jifu Shan, but on the mountain west of it.

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Now to the claims of the ‘father’ of the Jifu Shan source, Dr. Liu Shaochuang. In 1999 he published the location of the Gaodepu’s source and contended it is the Mekong’s source. In ‘Geoinformation Science’, 1999, no. 2, he wrote:

‘The headwaters of Zayaqu are those of the Mekong River. The headwaters are in Jifu Shan 5552m (N33 45 35, E 94 41 12) which is on the boundary of Zhidoi County and Zadoi County. Water supply source to the headwaters is one of snow basins in Zhidoi County.’ (As quoted by Mr. Kitamura in Japanese Alpine News, Vol. 10, 2009).

Then in the March 2007 issue of ‘Geo-spatial Information Science’, page 54, he came up with different coordinates for the Gaodepu’s / Mekong’s source:

‘The Mekong originates from the foot of Mountain Jifu. The geographic position of the source of the Mekong is latitude 33 45 48 N and longitude 94 40 52 E, in which the elevation is 5.200 meter, on the boundary of Zaduo County and Zhiduo County, Qinghai, China.’

The change in coordinates may seem minor. But it means shifting the source from Jifu Shan to the mountain to the west of it. This is easily visible on Google Earth. And it corresponds with  our own observations: the source is on the mountain to the west of Jifu Shan. Our GPS readings for the source: 33 45 677 N and 94 40 562 E. We were using a slightly different ‘decimal’ unit for the last digits, but this is quite close to the 2007 source of Liu. However, our source is located at an altitude of 5.374 meters (GPS measured), so no less than 174 meters higher than Liu’s, at the foot of the glacier where ice melts and starts to flow. So I regard our source on the mountain to the west of Jifu Shan as a more valid Mekong source than Liu’s. It is important to know also that Liu himself has not visited this source west of Jifu Shan, his claim is the result of the study of satellite images.

(By the way, Liu erroneously repeats in 2007 that the source is straddling the boundary between Zaduo and Zhiduo, which is also the divide between the Mekong and the Yangtse basin. Jifu Shan and his original source location are indeed on this divide. But the mountain to the west is not, it is inside the Mekong basin. (See the first photo above.))

 

Those that favour Guosongmucha above Jifu as the source of the Mekong have come up with  arguments to discredit Jifu. I would like to discredit some of these attempts to discredit.

According to Zhou Changjin and Guan Zhihua the Jifu source is less valid than Guosongmucha because the larger part of Jifu’s glacier is located in the Yangtse basin, a smaller part in the Mekong basin. With the new source west of Jifu, and inside the Mekong basin this becomes an irrelevant remark. Furthermore they ‘accuse’ the Jifu / Gaodepu stream of seasonal changes. However, there is nothing seasonal about the glacial source west of Jifu: it will not run dry at any point of year.

Wong How Man in a newspaper article with dateline Taipei, July 11, 2007 calls Jifu a ‘wetland source’ as opposed to the ‘glacial source’ of Guosongmucha, maybe suggesting a glacial source has to be taken more seriously. As seen however: the source west of Jifu is glacial too, located 400 meters higher than the wetland. In the same article he levels against the Jifu / Gaodepu stream that it is only longer than the Guosongmucha / Gaoshanxigu stream because it does a lot of meandering. The Gaoshanxigu doesn’t, 'it seemed to be because (it) has a much larger flow thus creating a much larger riverbed and allowing the river to flow in a straight line.' And he suggests 'a scenario that if it were to have a smaller flow, the river would meander much more, making it longer.' First I have to dispute the Gaoshanxigu doesn’t meander because of its larger flow. It doesn’t meander because it is mostly hemmed in by somewhat elevated banks. Second meandering is not only influenced by speed and volume of a water flow, but also by factors as softness of terrain. The meandering of the Gaodepu takes place in a relatively short stretch. After coming down from the mountain it flows rather straight through a rocky river bed, then for a couple of kilometers meanders through soft wetland, then for more than half the distance between source and Yeyongsong confluence flows straight again through a hard rocky bed.

Note that despite everything Wong has to say about the Gaodepu and Jifu Shan, he has visited neither. 

 

In 2009 two teams announced their intent go on an expedition to the Mekong headwaters. I don’t know if these have indeed taken place. I have found no record of their results. I can’t exclude the possibility they have come up with findings similar to ours. I readily concede of course if anyone shows proof in the shape of photos or GPS tracks they discovered the source on the mountain west of Jifu before we did.

If they do, my tempting thought of having discovered a ‘new’ Mekong source, and even finally the true Mekong source, was to good to be true.

But it will not take away the immense satisfaction of having found this source by ourselves, not by viewing satellite images, but by actually exploring on the ground, following a stream, climbing a mountain and ending up at the foot of a glacier where ice melts and Mekong water starts to flow.

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Mekong expedition - July 15 and after

pieterneele | 25 August, 2013 12:40

We drive to Zaduo, then Yushu, then Serxu where we rest in the monastery guesthouse, do laundry, eat well, watch photos, make notes. Then to Garze from where we go our own ways.

Last month at the bus station of Kangding I saw there is a direct bus to Xichang along a route that I don’t know, and from there other unknown bus routes lead into Yunnan and will get me to Kunming, ‘base camp’ for seven years now.

 

Mekongexpeditie - 15 juli en daarna

pieterneele | 25 August, 2013 12:38

We rijden naar Zaduo, daarna Yushu, daarna Serxu waar we rusten in het klooster guesthouse, de was doen, goed eten, foto’s bekijken, aantekeningen maken. En daarna naar Garze waar onze wegen scheiden.

Vorige maand zag ik op het busstation van Kangding dat er een rechtstreekse bus naar Xichang gaat via een route die ik niet ken, en van daar zullen andere onbekende bus routes me naar Yunnan en Kunming brengen, basiskamp sinds zeven jaar.

 

Mekong expedition - July 14

pieterneele | 25 August, 2013 11:07

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The source of the Mekong at the Zaxiqiwa plain, revered by indigenous Tibetan nomads, that I described at my visit last year as one the purest places on earth.

Mekongexpeditie - 14 juli

pieterneele | 25 August, 2013 10:57

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De bron van de Mekong in de Zaxiqiwa vlakte, aanbeden door inheemse Tibetaanse nomaden, die ik bij mijn bezoek vorig jaar een van de puurste plekken op aarde noemde.

Mekong expedition - July 13

pieterneele | 22 August, 2013 10:54

All this week I don’t think of my mother, brother, sister. Not of my father. Not of lovers past and present. Not of friends. Not of  Bach or Rush. Not of favorite books. Not of sports results. Not of  health worries that I am prone to. Not of upcoming trips. I think of nobody, of nothing that constitutes life for me normally. And I am not even aware I don’t think of them.

There is just this focus. Where to put my feet? Enough food in our day packs? When Luciano is ahead making sure I stay close; when I am ahead looking around to see if he stays close. What is the weather going to do? How to stay safe from nomads’ guard dogs? And if not these questions, I feel my feet hurting.

We walk.

We reach the source at Guosongmucha. Located lower than Jifu, and the tributary flowing from here is a bit shorter than the Gaodepu that starts at Jifu. But it is more dramatic, its glaciers are more impressive and more water is running more forceful here.

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Mekongexpeditie - 13 juli

pieterneele | 22 August, 2013 10:29

De hele trip denk ik niet aan mijn moeder, broer of zus. Niet aan mijn vader. Niet aan vriendinnen van vroeger of nu. Niet aan andere vrienden. Niet aan Bach of Rush. Niet aan favoriete boeken. Niet aan sportuitslagen. Niet aan kwalen en ziektes waarover ik me makkelijk en nodeloos zorgen maak. Niet aan komende reizen. Ik denk aan niemand, en aan geen van de dingen die normaal mijn leven bepalen. En ik ben me niet eens bewust dat ik daar allemaal niet aan denk.

Alleen maar die focus. Waar zet ik mijn voeten? Genoeg eten in onze dagrugzakken? Raak ik niet ver achterop bij Luciano; of omgekeerd? Wat gaat het weer doen? Hoe houden we ons de waakhonden van de nomaden van het lijf? En wanneer ik me die dingen niet afvraag, voel ik mijn zere voeten.

 

We lopen.

We bereiken de Mekongbron bij Mount Guosongmucha. Lager gelegen dan de Jifu-bron, en de riviertak die hier begint is korter dan de Gaodepu die ontspringt bij Jifu. Maar hij is dramatischer, de gletsjers zijn indrukwekkender en de waterstroom is groter en veel krachtiger.

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Mekong expedition - July 12

pieterneele | 22 August, 2013 07:04

We walk. We follow the Gaodepu and aim for its head below Mount Jifu: the source of the Mekong.

We make our way through a wetland, finding our footing on hummocks. It isn’t difficult, just tiring after a while. 

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Further up the ground becomes more solid, consisting of stones and pebbles.

Impatience.

 

We pass the spot where I turned around last year. After I got home, it seemed on Google Earth to be 140 meters or so away from where the river starts. Indeed a little further on we get to this Tibetan style marker of the Mekong’s source. Source?

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Disappointment. No glacier, no spring, no pool where water flows from. Instead the lower part of a rocky slope. Here and there tiny streams can still be seen trickling down between the stones. We move higher up and find a first patch of melting ice, and yet higher up a second patch. Feels more like it. We shoot our source pictures. But now we see the edge of the glacier, high above us still. Luciano hesitates: ‘That is at least another hour’. But I can’t turn around now. We start climbing again. Soon it is my turn to hesitate. I feel uneasy on this steep slope of loose stones, slip a few times.

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‘Look for bigger stones and keep walking’, says Luciano. That’s what I do. From then on I am not aware of anything.

 

I am sitting at the foot of the glacier. I think the final climb has taken me five minutes. I remember nothing. Luciano says it has been about forty, with several short breaks.

My GPS reads N 33.45.677, E 94.40.562, altitude 5.374 meters. This is the highest source of the Mekong at the head of its longest branch.

Joy.

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Weather has been good to us today. Hail and rain when we descend, but mild this time. My shoes leak, I didn’t  use them in wet conditions for a year.

 

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