La Trottineuse. Diary notes from a world tour by scooter. Part 1.| Vendula Kosíková
Three years have passed since she rode her first mile on the scooter. About 1095 days and 43,588 kilometres later, Blandine is somewhere in Thailand, behind her the snowy saddles of Pamir, the desiccating Taklamakan desert of China, the Tibetan plateau and the rich rainforests of Laos and Vietnam.
Come along with us: glance into Blandine's diary entries, followed on Facebook by over five thousand people from all over the world. They are remarkable, just like Blandine, whose nomadism brings her a more conscious way of life. We have chosen for you a selection of diary entries which we particularly enjoyed.
What fits in a marshrutka
Before I entered the Middle Kingdom, I kicked the last Kyrgyz miles to the frontier from Sary-Tash aboard a marshrutka, what Africans call a matatu, a minibus so full of people and goods that I had to get out through a small rear window. Every time we thought no, this stop we really can’t cram on another person, let alone her month’s supplies - but yes, always yes, there is always more room somewhere in a marshrutka, and to hell with the chances of sitting, just pile up heavy loads on my scooter, shove flowers and cans under our feet, hundreds of breads rolls soaring around our heads at one with the snaky trail, popcorn boxes exploding one after the other as we gained and lost altitude, at first everyone wondering if a tire had blown.
Soaked wet and barefoot
Kicking in China for 10 days - and my first wifi! I'm traversing the north fringe of the Taklamakan through Xinjiang, the Uygur autonomous region. Crossing those territories, now subject to intense political changes, is an unusual experience what with, among other things, one’s relationship with the authorities and the omnipresent police - but it's fair to say that the most challenging ordeals so far have been a sand storm and a Biblical inundation that took a few minutes of darkness to carry away my entire camp, leaving me soaked and deprived of shoes!
Sometimes a cosmic laugh seemed to move the grass around my camp, me busily trying to ward off with my tiny, ridiculous efforts the unbounded power of hail, the biting howl of a sand buran, torrential rain and the ferocious wind which greeted my arrival in China and accompanied me throughout my stay. Still, keeping dry, arranging stocks of water and food, reading at the end of a day, gazing at a beautiful landscape, surviving the daily ordeals that the road throws up - it’s all I’ve ever wanted and I’m doing it well.
Here tea is served rather tepid, and water rather hot, contrary to Central Asia. The first time I was served a heated glass of water during a particularly long check-in, I thought the tea had been forgotten, which is generally perfumed with jasmine, whereas Turkic, Russian, Mongol and Persian people drink it dark or green, with loads of sugar.
A blitz buran
A blitz buran – warm air, whipping up dust and sand - roars by in the Taklamakan; a thick, sienna sea hurtles down from the nearby summits; my head is briskly wrapped up in a turban, like burrowing underground; everything turns to sand. Then, it's as if nothing has happened.
The desert sees the rise and ruin of worlds in a blink, molded in a volatile metamorphic composite. Anywhere in the hologram, Mephistopheles dances through the gusts whilst Orpheus hums his devastations. It is tempting to wander in and stay, never turning back.
Still rolling in the Taklamakan where, between two oases a few hundred miles apart, the yellow dragon breathes days and nights, sometimes burying my camp. Stunned with wind and sand, my fires still take advantage of his western or eastern humors; at dawn I pack my stuff, climb once again on the furious reptile, catching his scales cut in jade, ready to battle through his fumes.
Dreadful Taklamakan, the dust of which sometimes falls as far away as the American coast... The north-south crossing through the heart of the desert, sailing the "sea of death" on a push scooter, took me 6 days: drumroll... Done!
I had entered Laos as one would reach the wet deck of a cargo ship forcing its way through the misty heat of the tropics, emerging from a long sleep in a booth having departed open, dry land. Now we bathed in an ocean of leaves, their luxuriance resembling a blind prison, in a thick exuding forest, festering yet swarming with the shrill voices of life.
I didn’t like mechanized jumps: a bus for a few hundred miles breaks the geographical continuum in a disconcerting way but I had had to grab a few to get out of China in time. Progressing at human pace brings a sensible, measurable metamorphosis.
A thousand shapes of rain
After a few days’ riding in Laos, contemplating the promises of a sky heavy with clouds, although I'm usually reluctant to give nicknames to my tools I realized that my scooter was a bit of a Jackson Pollock. The rainy season was a giant dripping: to pass 48 hours in constant precipitation is enough to teach anyone to appreciate the tiniest nuance in a drop, from a Biblical downpour to a misty shower.
Slow pulsations of a Buddhist drum as I pass by a small village. Scattered across the road, chickens and hens are being driven back towards big wicker baskets. At the shop some come for a few grams of sugar, others to have clothes patched, to get a stock of white grain gathered from the nearby rice field, to enjoy a pineapple, skinned in seconds by a machete. Women are smoking again, matriarchs mostly, squatting by the roadside, white hair mixed with wisps of smoldering tobacco, answering my “Sabay dii!” in a hoarse voice. Then their eyes wrinkle.
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