SUP Worldtour – SUP around the World
The nicest thing about travelling with a Stand Up Paddle board is that because of the very fact that you actually move around with such a simple mean of transportation, you suddenly become able to truly connect with the locals everywhere in the world. Arriving somewhere by water, on a simple board, immediately makes all the cultural barriers fall down. Everybody is more willing to cheer at you, their kids want to try, the fishermen get interested and start asking details about the board, suddenly itâ€™s as youâ€™re part of the communityâ€™s life. This is a recurrent pattern Iâ€™ve seen around the world and itâ€™s actually what keeps me hooked on seeing the world through SUP.
This is a short story about what it meant to me to see the world in little more than three weeks and travel with my inflatable tent and my inflatable SUP board through some of the most incredible stand up paddle locations on Earth. In fact, it is all about going to the corners of the world to meet people connected by water, as we as stand up paddlers inherently are. In all we took 19 flights and visit 5 continents until I returned home full of memories and life experiences.
Grass skirts, Stone money, and western influences
After one night in Japan, I am on my way to Yap, a tiny little island in the North Pacific belonging to Micronesia.
Yap has a lush green interior full with palm and betel nut trees. The coast is mostly covered with mangroves and around the whole island is a protecting reef where you can find manta rays up to 20 feet wide. One big oasis, with only 10,000 inhabitants and no industries at all.
So here I am looking outside my tent by the shore, waiting for the tide to come in and allow us to go exploring the island with our SUP boards.
Most of the islanders live right on the beach like us and fish and gather from the forest directly behind their houses. It is a really relaxed lifestyle that it is not difficult to embrace.
But nowadays the traditional wooden outriggers lay between the palm trees as leftovers of what was once a truly water culture. Back in the days, the only way to get off the island was by outrigger. During these trips they had to rely on the stars to follow the course. You need exceptional navigation skills to ensure you donâ€™t miss the next tiny island!
Although mainly lost, this tradition of seafaring still lives throughout the island constituting an historic reference and an example of braveness for us who paddleÂ and navigate for recreational purposes and not for survival. In a way we feel immediately connected with these people, bound by the sea and by the nature. And we understood the reason why we came here to get in touch with them. It is a journey to get back to the roots of what we love, to the culture that built a whole maritime empire based on their sailing techniques, navigation skills, and lots of paddling!
By now we are already occupied fantasizing about our next destination, Nepal. From sea to summit to understand how the dynamics of the biggest river basin in the world affects the life of the people who live by those rivers.
Himalaya, earthquakes and white water
Whenever I travel, what still amazes me every time are the contrasts. Like this time, going from Micronesia to Nepal: the contrasts couldnâ€™t have been sharper. As soon as I arrive in Kathmandu, I feel catapulted in a buzzing world of honking cars and motorbikes chaotically driving through the dusty and dirty streets. It is shocking but I enjoy it. And also, I feel right at home. This is expedition country. The land of white water rivers, worldâ€™s highest peaks and long trails.
With all the snow melting from the Himalayas, there are quite a few rivers to explore on a SUP board. However, only a few of the rivers are calm enough to paddle down with our gear (I even have my cameras and my laptop with me!). Anyhow, after a little research we find a valley which seems to be interesting to explore and a river that it is supposed to be doable on SUP.
This is when disaster strikes. The ground suddenly begins to shake. People start screaming and when we look up we see the buildings moving violently, just about to collapse. We run to the other side of the street, away from anything that might fall down on us. Again a big shake, a second wave, this time I am sure that the hotel I am looking at will collapse, but miraculously none of the buildings fall down. Suddenly itâ€™s quiet again. We just withstood one of the strongest earthquakes in Nepalâ€™s recent history, luckily nobody got injured around us.But from that moment our trip to Nepal took a different twist.
In the following night we are greeted with many after shocks. Every 20 minutes we have a small shake. Fortunately, we are camping in the wild, where it is safer than sleeping inside a building. Where we are, far away from the rest of the world, everybody is sleeping in tents outside their houses. The fear of another earthquake brings the village closer and for us makes contact easier. One family after the other invites us for tea, for food and for many stories. They are as interested in us as we are in them. Immediately we are labeled as those ones staying in the tent in the middle of nowhere; suddenly we are all equal.
In our descent down the river, we pass by beautiful villages and small farms. The river is an important source of water and life. It is the highway connecting all these towns throughout the valley. From the water we have such a privileged point of view over one of the most unspoiled valleys in Nepal.
When we return to Kathmandu however we see the devastation of the earthquake at its peak: collapsed buildings crumbled to the ground and many homeless camping on the streets. A sad scene for sure, but also here is where we realize difficulty brings people together, helping each other. Even in this situation, Nepalese prove to be such a resilient people.
We leave a country in a difficult situation but the positive attitude of the majority of citizens is remarkable. Although this has gotten them down on their knees theyâ€™re already getting up and rebuilding what they have just lost. In our minds we will keep the vivid image of a beautiful country with beautiful people and the nights we spent sharing stories about life in a tent while waiting for the next aftershock.