The City of Ice and Snow – Harbin, China

My favorite place that I have ever been to is in north China. It is located in the capital of Heilongjiang. The place that I am referring to is Harbin. It is known for its annual ice and snow sculpture festival, which is exactly where I went to. This is pursued every year in winter and is an International competition. Harbin is currently the largest ice and snow festival in the world. Sadly, it usually only lasts a month depending on the weather, making it even more unbelievable. There are 2 parts to it. The first being “Sun Island” filled with sculptures made purely out of snow, and the second being “Ice and snow world”, a small city built out of only ice. This city consists of ice blocks taken out of the Songhua river and is worked on day and night prior to the event. Built into these blocks are hundreds of multicolored lights that light up in the night given an unreal momentum. It is the most magical place I can think of, that you have to see to believe!

Sun Island

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Tube sledding

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Small parade

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dsc_0142Ice and Snow World

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The 10th Harbin Ice and Snow World

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Ice Igloo Restaurant

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I highly recommend going here! Thank you for reading and like if you want to go here too!

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A Different Planet – Iceland

Isolation is the perfect word to describe Iceland. You look to the right and see nothing but rocks and mountains. You look to the left and see exactly the same thing. You might look ahead and see 3 sheep, but that was it. Join me on my journey where I explore the land of goblins and fairies, volcanic landscape and glacier climbing!

Our journey began on the 17. 07. 2014 in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. Here we rented our jeep and set off for our holiday. My parents had decided that for this holiday we would not have a tour guide, instead, take a jeep and drive wherever we wanted by ourselves. Be it though rivers or mountains!

We started by making are way to “the golden circle” which is basically a huge ring road that goes once around Iceland. Whilst traveling on this road, there are 3 main attractions/places to go to. The first, is to see the fountain geyser Strukkur. In case you are not familiar, a fountain geyser is a hole in the ground filled with boiling hot water reaching the temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius, that erupts every 5-10 minutes, into the sky, and in this case, reaching up to 40 meters in height!

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As you can tell, we didn’t have the best weather this day so the picture isn’t that great but they get a lot better further on

The second event we went to see is the waterfall Gullfoss. A 32 meter tall waterfall with 2 drops. Translated it means “golden falls” which is absolutely true as it is a startling view. The murderous beauty truly takes your breath away.

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p1060565The third event we went to was Pingvellir. This is the exact location where the European and American tectonic plates meet. It was also here, where the first democratic parliament of Iceland was found in the in the year 930.

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But the thing that will stay in our memories forever is the atrocious hike we did to Laugarvatn, a hot spring river to bath in. Now don’t get me wrong, the hike would have been great with the beautiful landscape and then the unforgettable feeling of lying in a warm river, only that we decided to do this hike with pouring rain and strong wind. It was the type of rain that would soak through your clothes all the way to your underwear. And once we got to the river, getting out and trying to dry yourself with a towel in the pouring rain was also not the easiest.

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But after already becoming blown away by the incredible landscape and the feeling of being on another planet, this got further enhanced as we made our way north on the kjölur road going straight through the middle of Iceland. That’s because, this is in the middle of the wilderness, only nature and maybe one or two other tourist crossing our way.

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Whilst traveling on this road we did a couple of stopovers. The first being the hot spring in Hveravellir.
It is a haunting thought to bath in a pool which is heated by the earth itself but also great regarding that the weather in Iceland isn’t always the nicest.

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On the way of the highland road we also did a stopover in Kerlingarfjöll to take a hike. This is the hike that we refer to as the mud hike. You can go to the top to see the glacier front surrounded by incredible mountains and it would have once again been really nice, if it would have been nice weather. Let’s just say that at the end of this hike we had to wash our rain gear and clean our shoes as we were covered in mud.

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p1060648We eventually came to the end of the highland road and reached the city Akureyri, the main city of the north, containing a huge harbor.

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The next day, we made our way from the city Akureyi to the Myvatn area. This was packed with adventures and tours that we also conquered. The first being visiting the “Godafoss” waterfall also referred to as the “waterfall of the gods”.

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We continued to Namaskard, an area covered by steam vents, boiling hot springs and vapor jets. This was one of the most artistic views I have ever seen and the most disgusting smell I have ever smelt. Since the ground was a mixture of sulfur and mud, the smell of rotten eggs immediately crawled up your nose as soon as you opened the door of your car.

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Our next stop was to Krafla. Here we went to walk over the lava fields of the caldera volcano, which last erupted in 1984. This field is still steaming today even though the lava hardened over 30 years ago. It was a very strange feeling to walk over something so deadly but also really cool.

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p1060802It was also here where we went to swim in a big public lagoon.

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Following the lagoon, we went to the biggest waterfall of Europe, the “Detiffoss”. This cannot be described in words. Seeing such masses of water so close to you is indescribable. What makes the Detiffoss even more petrifying, is its color. Due to the tons of gravel the water picks up, the waterfall seems to be black.

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After seeing the Detiffoss, we decided to go on a hike nearby, on the hafragilsundirlendi trek. This was super nice and adventurous! We were walking through a valley surrounded by gigantic rock walls and came across an astonishing lake where clear ground water clashed against the gravel water, giving off an astonishing color show.

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We continued our journey and took the highland road F88 and F910 to Askja. The first thing we did in Askja was to go on a hike to the see Öskjuvatn, a crater. To do this, we had to first walk over the explosive crater Viti, translated meaning hell, covered by snow.

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If you look closely you can see people on the other side of the crater 

Finally, we drove to Husavik, another small city in the north known for its whale watching tours. Then we slowly made are way back to Reykjavik. To do so we took the Sprengisandur route, again going through the middle of Iceland.

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Once we got to the end of the road, we did a couple of things such as a hike on Pórsmörk a mountain where you could see the Vatnajökull glacier, we looked at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall with a beautiful rainbow, and then we stopped at Landmannalaugar where we hiked to see the colorful mountains.

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After that we took the golden circle ring road again and drove to the glacier lagoon Jökulsarlon. This was one of the coolest things we did. It was a beach where icebergs where stranded that where broken from the glacier. These were so big that you could even climb on them or go inside.

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But the actual event we were all waiting for was to climb the walls of the Vatnajökull glacier covering the summit of the 700,000 year old stratovolcano. We faced the immense, ice blue glacier and climbed a 30 meter high wall using only a pickax in both hands and spike shoes. This was so exhausting but so spectacular and something I will never forget.

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The amazement didn’t stop there though. On the next day we went to Dyrholaey, which is a black beach and the home to Atlantic puffins! They were so adorable. Here we also went to Reynisdrangar to see the columnar basalt caves.

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p1070547We continued are way back to the south of Iceland and did another stopover in Pakgil, to do a really nice hike to an amazing view of a glacier tongue.

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And the last but not least danger we set out to do is climbing into the volcano crater Thrihnukagigur. This volcano is the world’s only volcano that can be explored from the inside. The volcano last erupted 4000 years ago and it is safely dormant. It takes 6 minutes to get to the bottom of it, as it is 200 meters deep. (the statue of liberty could easily fit in there). We first had to hike through a seemingly magical land, where goblins and fairies were watching us secretly. Once we arrived, we were led to a hut where we got fashionable yellow overalls and helmets. To get into the volcano we had to take a small, slow lift, which made the surprise even greater because as soon as we went past the funnel and came into the actual volcano, everyone’s mouth dropped. It was incredible. Thousands of different colors were surrounding you occurring through all of the different minerals in the rock. These were further enhanced by lights to give you the maximum intensity. It was truly miraculous, and a great way to end the holiday.

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I hope you enjoyed reading, if you did leave a comment!

The living dead – Sulawesi, Indonesia

Imagine keeping your dead relative in your house for a couple of years and treating him as if he were just sleeping. You would give him food, alcohol and his daily cigarettes. Well, that is exactly what the culture in Sulawesi, Indonesia believe in. Keep reading to find out more about my two and a half week journey where I experience and visit a 10 day funeral, boat shaped houses and water buffalo markets!

My journey began on the 03. 07. 2015 in Makassar, a trade city in eastern Sulawesi. This was nice as we did a small city tour to get a feel for what is expecting us and the environment and people of Sulawesi. But this was just the beginning. I definitely did not know what my parents had planned for this holiday. I can tell you now that this was not the typical tourist place to be.

We carried on, on the 05.07.15 and drove for 12 hours up to Mamasa in West Sulawesi. This was the first time we got to see the unique, traditional houses of Sulawesi. We were even invited by a couple into their Mamasa house for a cup of tea and cookies. These houses are very spectacular, as they are covered with carved in shapes, meaningful patterns and sacred colors (black, white and red), each representing a different symbol or animal.

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Traditional Mamasa house
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Rice storage

In Mamasa, you can also view fascinating landscape with beautiful, rich, green, juicy rice fields, covering many acres. To see these, we decide to go on a hike. On the way we experienced something that really showed how unexplored Sulawesi is, by tourists. We came across some construction site workers that started to stare and talk about us. Our tour guide asked them why and later explained that they had never seen tourist before, in their whole lives. They wanted to take a picture of us as it was something new and special to them. They even thought that we were Dutch as it was the Dutch that used to own Sulawesi in the 1940’s. But this was not the last time we got to experience how unique Sulawesi is.

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The next day, we went to visit a cemetery. But this was a bit different than the ones we were used to. They did not burry the bones underneath the ground. Instead they placed the bones and skulls into wooden figures shaped as water buffalo’s. Our tour guide explained to us, that water buffaloes are holy in Sulawesi as they are a symbol of wealth and are very expensive. This was the first, but not last, time we were exposed to real human bones, which at the time, was hard to believe. Before we left, my dad decided to sign a guest book and we were shocked. The last time, a European tourist was present, was a year ago.

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On the 8th, our journey continued as we traveled from Mamasa to Tana Toraja. This is the part of Sulawesi where the death cult is very alive, and where we experienced the most. The first event we attended was something I will never forget. We went to a funeral in Lemo.

p1090200In Lemo, the Toraja folk believe in the life after death. The death of a relative is not seen as a sad event; instead it is celebrated as the next stage of life. The soul of the dead relative will eventually rise up to the next platform named Puya, where they will be rewarded for their achievements in life and treated with goods. So that the relative manages to get into Puya, a festival (funeral) is performed where the family builds a small village to celebrate this event over the span of 7-10 days.

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The past away relative lays in the top of this house

The funeral that we visited was from the 04- 13, lasting 10 days, meaning that this was a very rich family. Hundreds of villagers, relatives, friends, even from other countries, come with presents to celebrate this event. According to how close the guests are with the family, and how much money own, they would bring pigs and water buffaloes as presents, that would later get killed for the guests to feast on. These presents would get noted in a book, to show who brought what and how expensive their present was. This is so that if someone of their family dies, the other family can give the same value of presents back. Water buffaloes are the most valuable. These get killed on each day of the funeral according to a special ritual, as they believe that the passed away relative rides up to Puya with the buffalo.

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The water buffalo being sacrificed
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Traditional dance performed for the dead

But as these funerals can get very expensive, the family has to first save money for it, for a couple of years. To do so, they would mummify the dead and keep them, embalmed, in their house for the necessary time needed. The past away relative is not seen as dead though, he is solemnly “asleep” or “sick”. That is why he still gets his beverages everyday such as food, alcohol and his daily cigarettes. This is because they believe that his soul is still upon them, and he will only be able to get into Puya, after the funeral. The richer the man or woman was; the more money was spent for his or her funeral.

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Women wearing the traditional clothing and bringing goods

Another specialty of the Tana Turajas are their typical Turaja houses they live in. These houses are called Tongkonan and usually have another smaller version in front of them where they store their rice. These are so special because of their shape. One theory states that these are shaped as boats, as at the beginning when the Tana Toraja folk arrived in Sulawesi, they came with boats. Another theory states that the houses are shaped like a buffalo’s horns. Either way, they are very enchanting.

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These houses are different from the Mamasa houses, as they are not only covered with carvings, but also with the skulls of water buffalos. You can notice that they hang the horns on the pillar in front of their houses, to elaborately show their status and wealth. The more they own, the wealthier they are.

p1090548The thing that the Tana Toraja are most known for though, are their cave graves. These are incredibly impressive and are a must see when visiting Sulawesi. As the name says, these are chambers which are hand built into a limestone wall. Due to a legend, Londa (the location) is where a past leader of Sulawesi is buried. That is why this place is seen as holy and it is here where the noble family’s chambers lye. The higher the dead get placed in the wall, the higher their status was. This can reach the heights of 50 meters!

p1090161Guarding the noble, are the so called “Tao Tao” statuses. These are figures are a copy/represent and protect the royal dead. They are made to look like the dead themselves and even wear the clothes from the past away owners, which get replaced every year! These chambers are usually family chambers and contain all the valuables from the dead, including jewelry and ornaments.

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Each statue represents a different person

Everyone else gets “buried” and then placed in their water buffalo coffins, which get hung on a wall as well. As these were really old already, many of them have fallen of the wall so bones were lying everywhere!

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p1090148The last thing we did in Toraja was visit one of the most incredible markets I have ever seen! This was a market in Rantepau in Bolu and was filled with colors and smells of fruit, vegetables, meat, spices and everything you can imagine to do with food.

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p1090460But what really makes this market special was the huge fee market where live water buffaloes and pigs were sold!

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On the 11th we traveled from Toraja to Sengkang. This took approximately 5 hours. Even if we only stayed here for 1 night this was one of the prettiest places we went to as we decided to go on a boat tour on the Tempesee.

p1090683This was the residence of the swimming houses of Sulawesi. The boat tour was very relaxing with the mixture of the cool breeze, soothing landscape and the breath taking sunset! We even got to visit one of the swimming houses, where they gave us tea and honey coated bananas. It was incredible!

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On the 12th we drove 7 hours from Senkang to Bira to the village of the Bugis, the fishers, and an amazing beach.

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And although this is the end of the first part of our journey, it didn’t end here. On the 13th we drove from Bira back to Makassar to Manado. Here we went to the airport to fly to the Bunaken National park to go diving. We stayed here 6 nights and enjoyed every one of them! This was the first time I went diving in the ocean after I got my divers license and it was incredible! We stayed on a beautiful island, with really friendly hosts and dive instructors, and with bath tub warm ocean water to swim in. Diving there was as if you were in the world’s biggest aquarium, with fish surrounding you wherever you are, to seeing things like baby sharks, seahorses, lion fish, rays, poisonous snails but the most incredible being the many turtles so close you could touch them! This is one of the best dive and snorkel spots in the world.

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Hope you enjoyed reading this and stay tuned for more posts. I would appreciate it a lot if you left a comment. Thank you!