Our great wall

Av en kinesisk reseledare.

Being a tour guide for Las och Res for many years was a very special experience in my last 20 years of living. When I took the offer to act as a guide, my feeling was like a boy inside a kaleidoscope. Fascinated, dazzled and bewildered with flashing and alternating changes pouring into my senses every day when on tours, my brain was pounded by constant novelty events and sandwiched between the entirely different cultures, mine and that of the Swedish travelers. Just before next seizure of the travel schizophrenia, a by-product for the brain that has been impacted by countless new impressions and endless comparisons between cultures, I’d like to attribute my gratitude to Chris and his Las och Res. It was they who projected my life to a very different orbit and thus enabled me to see lots of things at a very different angle, and from above. Today, I feel as if I am flying. As me recalling the old travels days, I feel my soul is a bit lighter, which must have been skimmed somehow from the travelling?

Here you see some debris of the Great Wall, which are the remains of the wings of a domestic traveler, when the wings were scratched on the wall, to add into your kaleidoscope. Would the debris enrich the pattern then, or stagnate the pattern shift, or just simply tarnish the view?

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not available in China – they are simply forbidden to operate. Great Fire Wall is doing a desperate job to strangle the information that contains different opinions from the big brother’s, or anything that has the implicit messages reflecting the changes beyond the China Walls.

It’s quite ironic that while the authorities is spending lavishly to buy recognition and vanity worldwide, yet the denial for using the Facebook just made them lose the face in front of the whole world. Nowhere from the world history I could find the scale of the obscurantism like in this country, which has been prevailing since the last six decades, out of a two thousand year tradition.

Namn på reseledare som lever bakom murar skall man vara försiktig med, särskilt när det är en intelligent och förvånansvärt orädd observatör av det politiska skeendet. 

I am Eva!

Me a proud, mulatto woman – the tour leader of Study and Travel in Cuba for more than a decade. 

In my country, future is filled with uncertainty and fate plays a transcendental role. Each tour I’ve done with Las och Res, the clients ask me: how did I find Las och Res? Or they found you? Usually they smile at me, expecting something very special. My answer is: destiny! 

In Cuba, the exodus of people is massive, and when you have been on the island for more than 30 years, you get used to seeing many of the people you love the most, leave. Thus, you lose established routines; intellectual dialogues, joys and sorrows with others. My country is like a slow torrent that leaves an entire society as an empty spirit. 

In the first decade of the new century most of the people who surrounded me ten years earlier, were no longer there. They left Cuba without possible return in some cases, and left in me a strange feeling that is like death without being dead. In this exodus I include a considerable part of my family and many friends – friends who looked after each other and helped us survive the uncertainties in our tropical socialism. They are still loved and longed for so much.

This is my home

 In 2004 Pablo, the favorite of my six half-brothers, sons of my father, left for Stockholm to start a new life – NEW! Together with a beautiful Swedish woman, in all the senses of beauty, that fate put in his life years berfore. The communication between my brother and me was almost zero after he left Cuba. We talked on the phone when our father died in 2007 and we wrote a couple of emails later, but nothing more. I think it’s still too painful for both of us to try a virtual relationship, like other Cuban families that stay together thanks to the internet.

Sahara 10 years, my daughter

In May 2008 I received an urgent call from Sweden. I thought of a big misfortune, but after listening to Pablo for a while, I understood that nothing serious had happened. I enjoyed listening to his voice and said YES to everything just to please him, to make him feel good. Because in Cuba, a favor to the family is something that is barely discussed, why would he stay a little longer on the line explaining? At that time I did not understand the magnitude of what we talked about. He, however, told me with enthusiasm about Las och Res and the work that changed my life completely.

Mr Tigran Feiler, who was responsible for Latin America at the agency, arrived in Havana two weeks later. Tigran had offered the job of tourleader to my brother in Stockholm, but Pablo could not to go back to Cuba and instead convinced him that I was the ideal person. Tigran crossed the Atlantic just to meet me and to make a trip together to the east of Cuba. That turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life until today.

From Tigran I really understood what was Las och Res, what they needed, what had to be done and in just a couple of days we embarked on a bike tour, climbed the Turquino Peak – the highest mountain in Cuba, visited Santiago de Cuba and then Baracoa, all in just 10 days .

This I did without knowing what I had to face; I did not have the right clothes or shoes, I did not have the physical preparation required to do tourism, much less to climb in the Sierra Maestra, I had almost no money and I had left my two year old daughter at home for the first time so long. I wanted to cry at times, but for the most part I loved the trip. Moreover I discovered facts about Cuba that was not known to me, or only the political propaganda. Fascinating! And, I got the job.

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From that moment and on came a hard period of adaptation to my new life. I had to change many routines and sacrifice a little of my family that I had still left on the Island. But I found many, many new friends in each new place I visited. I have managed to make new families, a big one, a multicultural one, in which all fit in.

Läs och Res has also been another journey for me – a philosophical and sociological journey. My new job as a tourleader gave me a chance to be human and help a little in the midst of disaster; a way for me to make some people happy and to educate others, regardless of established boundaries. Moreover it meant an extraordinary way to discover my own identity.

I do not dwell on the details; rather they suddenly appear one day. I live with the feeling that time is never enough in a society where time has stopped. Maybe that’s why I discovered that the agency and I were born the same year. No doubts – this was destiny!

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Christian and my mother

Christian is an extraordinary man to me and in some way I think I love him. He created a modest way of traveling – with respect. He’s for me, someone who has facilitated cultural exchange in many isolated areas, who has directly given confidence to a considerable number of people in the entire third world. He was someone who taught us a way to grow a business without forgetting the fundamental – the human.


Därför kan inte kubaner baka bröd

Fralla och limpa. Två sorter, samma deg. Foto Solveig Perklén

av Solveig Perklén, Kuba december 2014. 9 resor med Läs & Res

Mina starkaste intryck är politiska i sin karaktär, och det är något som en svensk har extra svårt att skriva om. Vi ska ju vara så politisk korrekta hela tiden och inte ta upp sådant som kan leda till konflikt. Det fanns (finns kanske?) fortfarande svenskar som tyckte det politiska systemet som infördes på Kuba 1959 var fantastiskt.

Ständigt återkommande tanke

Jag är årsbarn med revolutionen. När jag var helt nyfödd tog Castro makten på Kuba.

Solveig Perklen Kuba
Solveig Perklén

Hur hade mitt liv blivit om jag fötts där istället för i Norden? När jag kom hem berättade jag för mina vänner att Kuba känts som ett parallellt universum. Omständigheter, friheter, möjligheter, så mycket av allt det jag tar för givet, var annorlunda på Kuba. Jag har besökt många fattiga länder i världen, men inget har varit så annorlunda som Kuba. Vad jag inte kan förstå är hur landets ledning, efter 58 år av ett misslyckat experimentellt statsskick, inte vågat införa demokrati och frihet.

Förfallna hus

I varje stad och by vi besökte såg jag monumentalt förfall. I Trinidad och Havanna kunde jag föreställa mig att det var så här New Orleans French Quarters skulle se ut efter apokalypsen. Intrycket jag fick var att 90 % av byggnaderna var obeboeliga och hölls ihop av elledningar och klätterväxters rötter. Ändå bodde det människor i husen. Halvt nerfallna väggar hade lappats med staplade tegelstenar. Trappor i flerfamiljshus stagades upp av plank. Gapande hål i golven täcktes hjälpligt av plankor. Det verkade kutym att hålla ytterdörrarna öppna ut mot gatan, så det var lätt att titta in mot förfallna innergårdar och bostäder.


Jäst och mjöl är strängt ransonerat. Därför kan inte kubaner baka hemma. Varje stad och by har statliga bagerier som förser befolkningen med två typer av bröd. Degen är densamma. Skillnaden är formen, antingen en 80 grams fralla eller en liten limpa. Den lilla frallan är en viktig del av kubanens dagliga matranson. Brödet är kritvitt, mycket lätt och torrt. Nästan bara luft.

Förutom det bedrövliga brödet bakades söta bakverk. I mina ögon var de slarvigt gjorda och såg klart ohälsosamma ut. Men de var väldigt populära. Jag såg ett oräkneligt antal glaserade kakor och tårtor i vitt och rosa balanserande på en kartongbit burna av sugna kubaner. Eller så var tårtbitarna redan halvt uppätna i handen på en fotgängare eller cyklist.

Att bo och resa

En av grundstenarna när Läs och Res planerar resor är tanken att man ska försöka uppleva landet som dess innevånare. Bland annat ska man resa och bo som landets innevånare skulle bo ifall de reste. I Kuba går inte detta. Det är inte tillåtet. Kubaner har mycket begränsade möjligheter att resa i sitt eget land. Att åka med buss är för dyrt, i stället liftar man. Att bo på hotell är otänkbart. Reseledaren berättade att de spansktalande gästerna vi såg på de statliga hotellen var kubaner från utlandet som hälsade på sin släkt. Hon berättade också att vissa yrkesgrupper, speciellt poliser, fick hotellvistelser som extra löneförmån.

Kubaner som ändå reste i landet bodde alltid hos släkt och vänner. Detta var dock begränsat. Efter tre nätter måste bostadsinnehavaren ansöka om ”visum” för besökaren. Överträdelser beivrades och ledde till fängelse ifall det upprepades.

Mat och handla

Butiker där man betalar i lokal peso (CUP) respektive turistvalutan konvertibel

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Ransoneringskort. Avidentifierat.

peso(CUC) är skilda världar. I de senare handlar enbart turister och de kubaner som är lyckliga nog att ha fått betalt av turister. Varje by hade ett par butiker där man betalar i CUP. De sålde varor som ransoneringskortet gav rätt till. La Bodega sålde ris, olja, socker, svarta bönor, potatis och bananer. La Carneceria sålde enligt listan på väggen fisk, kött, kyckling och ägg, men någon fisk såg jag aldrig. Mest

Ransonen tas alltid ut. Foto CJ

fanns det ägg. Ägg ingår i ransonen endast under årets sista tre månader. La Libreta sålde cigaretter, bränsle till spisar, medicin, flip-flops, några få leksaker och diverse produkter. Hyllorna gapade halv-tomma. Lönen är endast 25 – 30$ i månaden. Förklaringen till hur man ändå kan överleva är att det mesta av livets nödtorft är subventionerat eller helt gratis.

Tänk att uppleva ett samhälle där varje familjeöverhuvud en gång per år får en bunt ransoneringskort för årets mat! Men framförallt, tänk att inte vara fri att åka därifrån!

Peso snabbmat

I Bayamo åt jag en dag lunch på en peso-burgar-bar. Det var ett populärt ställe med kö utanför. Vi släpptes in i samma takt som andra lunchgäster gick ut. Väl inne fylldes de runda borden upp i samma ordning som man kom in. När jag skulle beställa uppstod viss förvirring, dels för att jag bara skulle ha en enda burgare, och dels för jag inte ville dricka det okokta vattnet som erbjöds. Men det ordnade sig. Jag fick min äggburgare (äter inte kött) och kunde se hur övriga gäster åt en eller två burgare och sedan packade med sig de övriga åtta i en medhavd plastpåse! Priset för en burgare är nominella 1 peso, dvs 33 öre.

Några dagar senare såg jag hur färsen till burgarna såldes. Färsen låg i 10 kg plastsäckar i ett plasttråg på skuggsidan av en Carneceria. Det var runt 30 grader varmt den dagen. En man med plåtskyffel och våg stod på gatan framför butiken. Han skyfflade upp färs ur säckarna på vågen hällde sedan ner i en mindre plastpåse och fick betalt av kunden. Färsen var nästan vit, men med gråaktig ton. Jag antar den bestod av allt en gris har att erbjuda inklusive inälvor och brosk.

Ett försök till sammanfattning

Bokhandel med smalt utbud

Det finns naturligtvis många områden i världen där människorna lever under mycket svårare omständigheter än på Kuba. Jag såg ingen svält, inga tiggare, inte heller sjukdom och misär som till exempel i Etiopien. Det fanns inte sopberg och klotter. Människor hade tak över huvudet även om det kanske var fallfärdigt, kanske farligt. Det kändes säkert att röra sig på gatorna. Människorna jag mötte var positiva och vänliga. En sak jag tänkte på medan jag var där och även efteråt, är det faktum att en del kubaner kan se amerikansk TV, även om regimen försöker störa ut den. De vet ganska bra vad som finns utanför deras land och kan bilda sig en uppfattning om hur ett liv utanför Kuba ter sig. Därför förvånar det mig att de inte visar mer missnöje.

Not easy for a tourleader in Việt Nam

Av Nguyễn Chí Linh, reseledare i Vietnam

One day in autumn 2003 Năng phoned me and asked “Linh, are you free?” Could you work for us as local guide?” Năng used to be my English teacher before I studied at Faculty of English Language, Hà Ni University of Education. My friend was now tour leader at Läs och Res. I also worked with Danh (other tour leader in Vietnam) a couple of times till 2007 when Danh retired. Since then, I have been with Läs och Res.

I felt very nervous getting my first group. I worry how to organise, how to cope with participants, how to solve the circumstances and especially how to report to Läs och Res. In ordinary tourism companies the tour guide is just a contract worker who has to carry out written orders. When guests want some changes of the itinerary, the guide has to report to the company and wait for their decision… It is totally different from Läs och Res where the participants from are very independent and the guide is a member of the group, the helper, the organizer and the informer. The tour is always flexible, the guide will discuss with participant and do anything possible for the sake of travellers, and he or she will help customers to do the things that interest them.  The purpose of Study and Travel is how to get satisfied customers …That philosophy really inspired me and made me love my job very much.

Over the years, Läs och Res has organised trekking tours to the untouched mountains in Vietnam where we met interesting people from a variety of minority groups. Those treks gave me a lot of unforgettable memories. I still remember a tour in October 2010 that Năng and me took from Vietnam to Laos. I have well prepared and planned before the tour started but we never know what will happen. With tourists from ordinary tourism companies any changes give big problem to the tourleader.  Läs och Res welcomes taking advantage of new opportunities always being offered along a tour and their customers are imbued with this philosophy.

Vietnam 130

On that tour, we went up to Lai Châu province for trekking. We split into two small groups. I was in charge a group of seven travellers trekking to Pú Đao village where H’Mong people live. We have trekked 8 hours to our destination. It was Saturday and we were escorted and accompanied by minority people going to market. We arrived late afternoon and had to go through a security place guarded by some police. After checking our passports and ID card and asking our purpose of our visit, they let us continue, but kept passports and ID cards. On arrival in the village, we were chased by another two police on a motorbike (their faces were in red, they had drunk in the market…), they introduced they are the head of police in the commune; they stopped us and did not allow us to stay in the village. After one hour talking they could not give us any reason to prohibit us from staying over night in that village as we had all needed papers. So they let us go.  When we came into the village to ask some families for overnight, no one dared to receive us even they really wanted. They said they were afraid of local police after we gone.

Now it was almost dark, so we had to walk back one and a half kilometere to the next village where we were warmly welcomed by H’Mong families. We all had a very nice time talking to many interesting villagers. They prepared food and we ate together, later many people in the village, curious hearing of the presence of a group of white people, came and were invited to join us for dinner (this is their habit). We were more than thirty people having. Only around 10 PM we went to bed, but many people still lingered, even some children sitting around to see how the white people sleep… they are so simple and beloved  people…

There are many good memories and special lessons that I have achieved since I have work at Läs och Res. Thank you Christian, thank you Eric and Läs och Res to give me this chance to travel and study. Thank you for a wonderful philosophy and special way of organizing tours so that we can use chances of travelling to support local people and satisfy customers.

Vietnam 118

Myint Tun, reseledare i Myanmar

Kommentar. I morse fick jag beskedet att Myint i går 26.4 avled på ett sjukhus i Yangon efter att ha genomgått en hjärtoperation. Han efterlämnar fru, två barn samt ett nybyggt hus i Mandalay. Hans familjs rötter fanns i två byar som båda besöktes av Läs och Res grupper. De besöken blev alltid resans höjdpunkt. Höjdpunkter för både gäster och de som tog emot oss. Han gjorde hela tiden sitt bästa för att stödja byarna och skapade bl a ett bibliotek som fylldes med böcker skänkta av svenska resenärer. Där hittar du barnböcker med den svenska texten överklistrad med burmesisk text. Byns barn kan allt om Pettson och katten Findus!

Comment. It came to me as a chock to know that Myint deceased yesterday on 26.4 after undergoing a heart surgery in Yangon. Myint got 48 years old and leaves a wife and two children. It is my strong recommendation to the new management to accept the other tourleader Myo as a replacement for Myint. A very strong replacement.

Letter from Myint, written exactly one month ago.

In 2007, I got contact with Study and Travel. Got an agreement with Chris who invited me to join a meeting for tour leaders from South Asia. We met in Nepal. There I met with both Chris and Eric, who is now a manager of Study and Travel.  However I could not have any tour in 2007 because of the political crisis.  First tour was in 2008 February. Since then I have taken responsibility for over 30 groups.

I have worked as a guide all my life and am able to compare Study and Travel with other tour operators.  Most of our group members are physically strong enough for biking and trekking. Also Study and Travel encourage the participants to study about the country to prepare them for the tour.  Other tour operators only arrange to see pagodas and monasteries.  Study and Travel arrange to see more of the ways of life and to get personal contact with local people.  This is more a lot more interesting than normal tours.

I am myself an active Buddhist and the Swedish people are much interested in learning our philosophy. Many people are also interested in the social, economical and political situation in my country. I am happy we do not need to stay in luxury hotels.  They can manage to stay even in a village with a family. Other tourists always complain about the hotels.

The earlier military government did not want tourists to meet local people.  It was forbidden for tourists to stay in villages as they did not want to show the poverty of the country and the people of Myanmar. I always try my best to show my group the real situation, although this is not easy in my country. For me it is still a risk to show a village, even a village school. Still today it is not allowed to stay in a village overnight.

Still I did this a few times. I arranged to stay in my home village with the group. I went to the District Immigration Office to explain my aim and reasons.  I really want to do to develop village people.  If I can arrange this, my group members can spend their money directly to the local people.  They get paid by the visitors not only for accommodation, but also for cooking, washing clothes, renting bicycles and ox carts. I explained well and the gentleman agreed and gave me permission.  I was very happy.  My group stayed two days and one night in my home village. This was unique and both locals and participants were happy.

I really appreciate Study and Travel giving me a chance to create new ideas for tourism and the philosophy of travelling.  More people are coming and visiting in our country now.  My country has also changed a lot in positive direction during the last years.  Hope I could do still more interesting tours in the future.