Saturday, May 01, 2010

Around the World in 80 Beds

Cake made by Helen Dixon...cake decorator extraordinaire.

The audience has filed out, the house lights are being dimmed. Time to put away the props, rest up a bit and plan for next season. The budget is broken, the parts hurt and the inside of the head resembles scrambled eggs. The exhaustion level is more psychic than physical, but is not to be ignored. I used up all my stamina credits over the last year and leaned on quite a few people at times. It's time to thank the supporting cast:

VANCOUVER ISLAND - Family Becky, Michelle, Jon, friends Mike
VANCOUVER - Friends Jim&Linda
VANCOUVER ISLAND - Wwoofers Judy&Ross, Barbara&Bryne
SAN FRANCISCO - Nice to connect with Alex&Judy after 30 years
NEW ZEALAND - Friends Bob&Laurel, Maureen&Geoff and Judy&Bruce
NEW ZEALAND - Wwoofers Paulette&Corran, Jen&Murray
NEW ZEALAND - Wwoofers Terini, John&Michelle
AUSTRALIA - Many thanks to Chuck&Flora for a great week
KOREA - Daughter Sophie and friends
CHINA - Many thanks for all the help Jiajia
INDIA - Adam, Owen, the Agra 'croo, Francisco, Tripti&Papu
QATAR - Mike&Cindy you saved my sanity. I was toast
BOTSWANA - David Young. Friends Jon, Alan, Lars, Susie and Pat
ZIMBABWE - Many thanks for everything. I owe you, Thula
SOUTH AFRICA - Roger...the man is insane
FLORIDA - Daughter Emily. I was serious toasted by now
NEW YORK - Mother-in-law Sara. She's the best

AROUND THE PLANET
=================
The last time I tried to get around the planet, Regina and I were near the end of a 6 month trip in Poland in 1981 with a visa for Russia, but not enough $$$ to take the Trans-Siberian train. We had to turn around and make our way home, heart-broken. I ended up out West later that year and actually did the mileage (40K kms) to get around the globe, just not in the right directions.

This is Jon, Michelle and Bruce in 1981, then 2009. I am stubborn, I really wanted to travel around the planet.





FAVORITE MEMORIES
=================
I kept a detailed log for the trip, mostly to help keep on a budget of about $1500-$1600 a month, including all flights. I will do a full writeup of this trip, more for my own memory space than anything else. This blog was for high-lights, so here is the short list of favorite memories:

- Leaving house with a backpack, passport and debit card
- Seeing the family. Comox Music Fest, Grouse Grind, Tofino surfing
- Wwoofing...a cool way to spend time on the planet
- Ironwood Farm. Who knew weeding was such fun?
- Floatplane from Vancouver downtown to Comox
- Comox Glacier hike. A fantastic day in my life
- San Francisco. Alex Oppedyk, friend from Israel kibbutz
- Day spent on 90 Mile beach, North Island, New Zealand
- Wwoofing a few places in Kaingaroa. Gorgeous hillsides and beaches
- Hitchiking and hostels in New Zealand. A very cool place
- Tongariro hike. A stunning day, even in the snow
- Wwoofing with Maori family. One hell of a week
- Rugby match and running with Bob Russell
- Abel Tasman hiking, Fox Glacier swimming, Arthur Pass hiking
- Walking Christchurch to Amberley...and back
- Pre-dinner cheese/beer routine with Bruce&Judy. Banks Peninsula
- Hanging out with Chuck&Flora in Sydney. The play Wicked
- Sophie and friends in Seoul. Some serious all-nite partying.
- Jeju Island. Need to go back in summertime
- Great Wall. Terra-Cotta Warriors. Lifetime highlights
- Train trips in China. Fun to connect with locals
- Smog in Xi'an. Depressing and claustrophobic. Fantastic hostel
- Guilin. A shame the weather was so lousy. Have to go back
- Hong Kong. I love this city, the trams, the food, the atmosphere
- Hong Kong. The Happy Valley racetrack. Very happy
- India. Wish I had a camera duct-taped to my head 24/7.
- Pre-pay taxi Delhi. I am scarred for life.
- Walking Delhi with Adam and Owen. Best way to see a place
- Couch-serving meetup in Delhi. All night parties are making me old
- Agra/Fatepur Sikri. One of the coolest/funnest days in my life.
- Agra. The muezzin call at 4:40 AM was a big thrill.
- Trains&Buses in India. I got religion on an over-nighter
- Varanesi. They burn dead bodies and that was not the shock.
- Airlines I hope to never fly again? Air India for one
- Qatar. Amateur nite for ex-pats. Best evening out. Terry Fox run
- The smiles I got as 'white-man walking' in Botswana.
- The ex-pat life in southern Africa
- Trip to Jon's camp in the Kalahari.
- Learning the mocorro on the Themalkane River.
- Suppertime boat trips out of the Sedia
- Golf on a home-made course at the Sedia Hotel
- Safari. As cool as you think it might be.
- Sharing space with hippos and giraffes. Too cool
- Victoria Falls. The trip, Thula, the Falls and the bungy jump.
- Soweto and the Apartheid Museum. Changed some opinions
- Having my gear strip-searched in 2 places...
- USA and Canada. Who knew?
- Emily and Matt in good ole USA.
- Coffee, donut and NY Post at the beach. Priceless!
- Passover with lots of family in New York
- Seeing the Gonzos at Kenduskaeg
- First night home. (Regina didn't change the locks).
- My bed, my beer, my tub. Priceless!

SOUVENIRS
=========

You travel around the world for 10 months, you figure you'd pick up some pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't have much $$$, no room in the bag and..really, don't collect stuff. If anything, I am trying to purge my stuff even more than the lead up to this trip. So what do we have here?

Coins and bills from various countries. I kept the coins on purpose. The bills were leftover as I switched countries. Check out the number on the Zimbabwe bill. From China, there is a Terra Cotta warrior figure, an old coin replica and a lost army badge found in Forbidden City. The rocks are from the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta pit. The wristbands are from various countries and the hippo is from Zambia. I also have a nice piece of jade I found in New Zealand, hopefully Sophie brings it back with her.



BITE ME!!!!
===========

I tended to stay in the cheapest accommodation available, which usually meant 6-8 bed dorm rooms in hostels. This picture is from Varanasi. One of the workers had to sleep outside, as the guest lodge was full. There was one bug coil left, and I let him have it. Such is life. No idea what these bites are.





ROUGH TRIP NUMBERS
==================

Travelled 45 weeks last year and spent $$$ 18,000 during that time

- Moved forward 72,000 kms. RTW is 42,000 kms
- Sidetrip to Korea then southish to Botswana added a lot.
- Crossed equator 4 times
- Wore shorts all but 5 weeks
- Numbers from 70's and 80's were 40% travel, %30 food/beer, %30 lodging
- This trip 35% travel, 30% food/beer, 15% lodging, 15% gear, sports, culture, camera, vaccines, visas, etc, 5% misc
- Lodging lower because of friend visits and Wwoofing.
- Food lower, booze higher for same reason
- Wwoofed 6 places over 2 months
- 20 flights booked about 1 week ahead ended costing same as Oneworld RTW 4 continent, zone/date flexibility ticket
- Sports per week average: walk 22 kms, bike 8 kms, run 6 kms and hike 1 hr
- On 6 tourist trips. 3 just a bus/van, 3 van and guide (Terra Cotta $20, Jeju $40 and Safari-gift $0)

The mileage astounds me. Knew it was going to be high. Explains a lot of the burnout. On average, moved every 3-4 days


That's it! Done and DONE!

*** Posts from now on (or at least until the next trip) are:
http://bcmurphy-simplerisbetter.blogspot.com/
... where I keep working on my own headspace.

The tune is "All the Money I had is gone" by Deep Dark Woods. (Thanks Sophie)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New York, New York

HAMLET..................AIDA....................LA TRAVIATA.............

Well, I got back to Botswana, spent a few days catching up and saying goodbye to the people I met, flew down to Johannesburg, did some tourist shopping finally and then flew to Dubai, Houston, Fort Lauderdale to stay with daughter Emily for a week and met the man she is living with, her boyfriend Matt. It was a quiet week for me, some light swimming, sight-seeing, meals and music with Emily and Matt and a lot of sleeping. I was so beat up and it was so nice to be back in America. First morning, it's off to 7/11 for a coffee, donut and the New York Post. Go sit at the beach an schmooze with all the other retired folk.

Next, I flew up to New York with Regina's niece on her private plane. She also got me a private car into Queen's and I got dropped off at the deli near my mother-in-law's (Sara). Pick up a few beer, the local paper and I'm in in New York! The next week was Passover (who knew this was an 8 day holiday...no bagels in the house for 8 days, just matzoh and lots of relatives. Regina flew down from Halifax, Emily and Matt from Florida.

Once the festivities died down, I spent my time working on the 2 apartments that Sara rents out, cleaning, dry-walling and painting. Just like a real job, damn-near killed me. Pizza, beer and the NY news everyday and I'm a happy man.

I was lucky enough to get to 3 operas (standing room at back of orchestra section) at the Met: Hamlet, Aida and La Traviata. Also got into the room for the Saturday afternoon quiz when the opera was being radio broadcast. I have spent the last few years listening to these same broadcasts, it was pretty cool.

This week, it is a bus up to Bangor, Maine to meet the Gonzos at the annual Kenduskeag River Race that we go to every year. I won't be racing this year (arms are noodles), but will do support like I have in the past. It will be nice to be back with the 'croo.

My New York Day
===============

When we used to visit with the kids over the years, I would always take at least one day just for myself, usually leaving the house before 6:00 AM and returning some time after midnight. I would spend the day doing New York things (Central Park, Times Square, pizza, beer, baseball, music, street food).

This week, I got to spend a day like this. Took the express bus into town and subwayed up to Broadway and 112th for breakfast at the Seinfield diner ($6). Great food, fast service, lots of coffee and very New York. Down to the Met to get in line for same-day standing opera tickets to La Traviata ($22.50), check out the new iPad at the Apple store and start heading up to the Bronx and the new Yankee Stadium. It is the home opener and they are having the World Series ring ceremony, so all the cheap seats are gone. I deal with a few people pushing tickets, but end up with a foul pole seat in the second tier ($60). I actually only have the little mesh in front of me and stop noticing it after about 1 minute.

The ceremony is Yankee heaven, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, movies from the last 27 World Championships. So cool. The ovations just keep growing thru all the player introductions as they present the rings. The last one of course, is for Hideki Matsuki, who is now an Angel. Of course, who is the opposing team for the home opener??? The last ring is for him, and the place is absolutely frantic. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I love baseball games, especially in New York, so this whole day is a real blast. I treat myself to a few beers ($11 each, Yousa!) and a hot dog ($8).

The day is not done yet. I head back into town and end up in my old bike messenger neighbourhood (Madison and 54th). No luck finding the building I worked in, but I did find a great burger joint and filled up. Off to the Metropolitan Opera. I go in early so I can read the program in full detail and treat myself to a glass of bubbly ($10). I mean, really..how often do you have these kinds of days in your life? I stand out on the balcony, watching the remaining patrons file in. As usual, my dress code (or lack thereof) elicits polite comments. I give them my excuse for not backpacking with a tux and the humour seems to go down well.

The opera is so beautiful. Violetta I supposed to be Angela Gheorghiu, but she has taken ill. Her replacement was wonderful. What she lacked in high-range, she made up with a gorgeous, clear voice. The crowd obviously agreed. The music was so subtle, the set changes got big cheers. It was yet again, another magic time at the Met

OK, was 15 minutes to the express subway, bus to Sara's and get home about 1 AM, or 19 hours after I left. Back in the day, I would have finished off this little adventure with a music club like the Rodeo Bar or CBGBs. The motor runs out earlier nowadays.

I love New York!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dr. Livingstone...I presume

The young local guys are all crowded around me. They are laughing and joking and asking me "Are you really going to jump...Aren't you scared?". Scared, no, nervous yes, excited..big time. Where am I and what am I doing. Well, for that, you have to go back a bit.

Remember Grade 7 geography and the sections on Africa. Explorers tramping about and 'discovering' all sorts of things about the big continent. The story of Dr. Livingstone and the Zambesi River always struck me as very exotic. I have about 10 places in the world that strike me like that (Constantinople, Baghdad, Timbuktu, Agra, Edo, Tanganyika, Lake Titicaca, Victoria Falls, Giza).

So I am visiting my good buddy Dave in Botswana and it is only a hop, skip and jump of about 700 kms up to Victoria Falls. The draw is like a magnet. I just can't ignore it. I take off about 5:30 Friday morning and hitch-hike into Maun and hop on a local bus to Nata, about 300 kms east.

Now this little excursion can give you a good look into just who I am. I like getting going early. I like hitch-hiking. Love going to new places, enjoy hostels as much now as when I was a kid. I enjoy not really knowing what is going to happen. Let serendipity lead the day. The ride (Alex) knows my host and works at the same hospital. He passes the hospital and drives 4-5 kms out of his way to help me get the early bus. I have this kind of luck the entire trip. Is it luck or just the result of opening your brain and letting the day take shape? Who knows.

In Nata, the first bus is stuffed full, so I start looking around and see a guy ready to jump into a safari vehicle with gear, but no people. Likely a re-positioning trip. I ask him if he is going north and it is the start of a new friendship. My buddy is Thula and from Zimbabwe ... and going to Victoria Falls. I was planning to stay in Kisani, Botswana and try and book a day trip to Vic Falls, thus saving the $75 visa for Zimbabwe, but hey! Thula is going where I want to go.

In Vic Falls town, I get booked into Shoestring Backpackers, definitely a hard-party hostel. I am in a great mood. My roomies are Americans doing 4 months in Africa, a Vietnamese guy doing a 3 month trip and a Korean guy doing the same. I enjoy the pool, buy some hand bracelets from Elijah and drink a fair amount of beer.

Saturday morning, Thula drops me at the bridge over the Zambesi. It is also the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The local hustlers are all over me like a dirty shirt. Even more aggressive thatn the Vic Falls guys.. and that is saying something. No big deal, I am in a really good mood, most of the guys can handle a bit of humour, and I am actually buying some small things, as this is the end of a long trip and I won't have to slag this stuff around much longer.

From the bridge, I get my first glimpse of Victoria Falls. But that is not why I am here. Sure, I'd come just for the Falls, buy hey! They have a 100 meter bungy jump here. I can't pass that up.

So I walk over into Zambia, get all registered and gussied up in shackles and webbing and come back to have the 15 or so loc al kids all gfawking at me and trying to shake my hand. I had asked Isaiah the manager if they ever offered freebies to these kids, as the cost to them would be astronomical. He said yes, but there were never any takers. The locals think the tourists are complete loco to jump off a good bridge.

My only other bungy was in Vancouver Island and it was a mere 50 meters. Pffft! Barley worth jumping off you say. Well, in Nanaimo, I suffered from something called jelly-knees. You have the nerve to jump off, but your knees go all soft as you stare into that hole and the jump is more like a flop.

I was determined to fly out strong on this jump, especially now that I had a big contingent of locals cheering me on. Most people figure that bungy jumping hurts. No, not in any way. There is only one hard part, and that is the full second it takes to commit, bend and leap off the bridge. And make no mistake about it, 110 meters is bigger than 50 meters. That one second took it's toll. I jumped well, the knees held and the drop went quickly. But that one second was terrifying. After Nanaimo, I was extremely keen to go right back up and jump again. After Vic Falls, I was finished. That was a BIG hole to jump into. Whew!

OK. Now I am done, as high as a kite and the day stretches ahead of me. I wander over to actually look at the Falls. The site is beautiful, stunning. I am as happy as one hombre can get in one days. The trip, the friends I am making, the locals I am talking to, the scenery, the getting to an exotic place on the earth, the bungy. Oh My! What a day!

Later, I end up at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Old style elegance, with a view of the bridge and Falls. I also meet up with Thula and we work on his safari website for an hour or so, have a beer and agree to meet on Sunday to start me back to Botswana. I will be doing web-based stuff for him from Canada when I get back.

On Sunday, I take a car, then gypsy cab, hitch-hike, bus, bus, combi and macorro canoe to get back to Maun. It has been one hell of a weekend. I am quite pleased with myself.

View from Hotel



Victoria Falls - The Bungy Jump




Victoria Falls - The Tour

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Botswana Bayou

I've more time in Botswana yet, but it has been a busy few weeks. Buddy Dave meets me at the airport, we walk over to Bon Arrive (Maun is a small place) for a welcome beer and I meet a number of people who I will interact with over my time here. Klaus who runs the joint, Allan who runs Sedia Hotel, Jon who will be one of my hosts and will take me into his camp in the Kalahari and Dapanhi , a Finnish guy who dies in a car accident the next day. We all play golf on Allan's home-made, 4-hole course at the Sedia and spend the day eating and drinking beer. Welcome to Botswana

MAUN, the Sedai Hotel and the THAMALAKANE
=========================================

I have been staying in various places along the Thamalakane River and been out on a fair number of boat and canoe (macorro) trips. Lots of birds, wildlife, a hippo, some alligators. We go out just before sunset. Just magic. I have been doing some web-based work for Allan at the Sedia and have had my share of food/beer on his coin, plus a few nights in one of the rooms. Nice way to spend time



KALAHARI
========

Jon has a game farm that he is building in the Kalahari. It's about 9 kms by 4 kms. I was lucky enough to visit it and start seeing some wildlife, like zebras and impalas. It was a tough few days.



LOCAL WEDDING
=============

David is a food friend of a local man (Monks) and we were invited to his wedding as special guests. Very cool way to spend time.




DELTA SAFARI - Trip of a Lifetime
==================================

An African Safari. What can you say. Cannot tell you how happy I was for this to happen. It was as cool as you think it would be and more. The view of those open savannahs and the variety of wildlife. Just magic. Memories to last a lifetime. We had a great little 'croo. The safari managers, an exceptional guide, 4 porters and of course a gaggle of Canadians (Nova Scotians, no less...david, me, Susan and Pat)



Botswana Safari

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Free...... Nelson Mandela


Flying into Johannesburg with very mixed feelings. have always wanted to come here, yet the city is known to be quite dangerous to those on foot in the downtown area. Hard to believe I will visit a place and not go downtown...baut that is what happened. I figured once I got the lay of the land, the reality would no be as bad as reported. Unfortunately, all signs pointed to staying away from the downtown, even in daylight. Too weird.

My purpose here is to get to Botswana, so may not see much of South Africa. This is too bad, but this has been true throught this trip. Everywhere I go, I am missing things. I tend to focus on what I see, not what I miss.

The more you travel, the less you it actually seems to be. I've been on the raod 8 months, travelled mucho kilometers and really am just chicken-scratching my way around the planet

Stayed at a funky hostel and did a trip to the Apartheid Museum and a small walking tour of a Soweto slum. The museum setup the slum very well. I do not like the concept of canned tours and certainly not a slum, but somehow this all worked very well.

The Apartheid Museum blew me away. I have been aware of the news out of South Africa for many years, but the reality doesn't really hit home.I knew Stephen Biko died in detention, but really, what did that mean to me? The reality, scale and scope of apartheid (especially in the years prior to all the laws passed in the late 40's) is breathtaking. Like a slow forced genocide. Not unlike what is done is so many other places in the planet at any one time. Humans can be astoundingly cruel to each other.

Our guide introduced the 3 of us to his friend that lived in one of the many Soweto slums. Soweto's population is around 4 million people, obviously not all slums, but also with no real downtown, industry, etc. It was the SouthWesternTownship and was created to keep a large population close enough to Jo'burg to work there, but not actually live there. Our guide was trying to show up 2 thinsg, the conditions that people live in, but also the sense of community that each little ghetto has.

The only water here was a public tap for each group of about 40 families. Each group of 5 families shared what we would call an construction site toilet (locked with 5 keys). This replaced some fairly static toilets. There was no electrcity just big batteries and a battery re-charge center. But there was a daycare, kindergarten school, rec center (it had lights) and gallery. Like a little village, just a really poor little village. We got introduced to a lot of people and stepped into a few places and homes and stores (tuck shops). All around, a very cool and enlightening visit. Was very glad that I decided to go. Felt odd walking around, but the people there realize that tourism is a valid way to generate money.

Did lots of walking and running in Jo'burg. I was 5 kms from downtown and still all the properties were compounds with electric razor wire and all the signs said 24 HOUR ARMED RESPONSE. This means that the boys show up with guns in a truck. Forget calling the police. Interesting town. Drove thru downtown once. It was un-settling.

OK. Off to Botswana and who knows what. Picture is buddy Roger, who travles with an iron. Go figure.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Qatar Oasis

The many months of travelling have been wearing me down in background mode. The last few countries (India and China) have exacted their toll and the batteries were definitely running low.

Earlier in the trip, Mike and Cindy O'Leary from Halifax had suggested that I stop in Doha for a week, should my travels take me to the Middle East. I am so glad that things worked out the way they did. I arrived in Doha last week, and was met at the airport (a first for this trip, even tho a few hostels ahd promised pickups) by the O'Leary's and their CDN friends (also working in the Middle East), Dan and Carolyn. The best words to describe how I felt that night were relief and happiness.

It was a wonderful week. We spent the first 2 days being busy (Terry Fox run, big amateur music party, simulated Calgary Stampede), then I got a chance to seriously chill for 4 days. Sleep in a big bed, wake up to coffee and omelettes, take a shower or bath, use the internet to catch up, do a few laundries, eat Western food suppers and drink a fair amount of Mike's beer.

Really, it was heaven and sorely needed. Now I feel all charged up and ready to tackle the last few months of this amazing trip.

Thanks Mike and Cindy for inviting me into your lives for a most relaxing visit.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Incredible India

My new 'buddy', Momo, a rickshaw driver in Varanasi. We are both the same age, but coming from completely different backgrounds. When I am travelling, I often wonder what it would be like if I had to trade places with some of the people I meet. Switch me with Momo right now. Help! The thought terrifies me, yet this man gets thru his day allright. One of man's best attributes is adaptability. This trip has pushed and pulled my comfort zone quite a bit...but always with the background thought that I can return to my life as I wish.

It will take me a long time to sort out all my thoughts of my visit to India. I am so glad that my trip has worked out this way. Cannot imagine an RTW trip that skips over such as astounding place. I was only in 4 places (Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Varanasi), but even with such a light visit, I am still in shock.


DELHI
=====
The airport was a physical shock. There is a pre-pay area outside, but it is mindblowing to a newcomer. The little cab was easily from the 50's and the brakes made only of metal. Every person in India that I had $$$ dealings with (as a tourist, this is always a high percentage) either lied to me, tried to move me to thier advantage, mis-directed me and/or ripped me off. My hostel was only 8-10 kms from airport, but buddy couldn't even find main street within .5 km of my place. Also couldn't read/speak English. Took 1.5 hrs to arrive at hostel after midnite. My adventure pretty common one. Hostel was open and had cold beer, so all was well.

Hooked up with Adam and Owen the next day (and enjoyed my time so much more). We all liked to walk and a crowd is so much easier with all the hustlers. We took an auto-rickshaw into town...another mind-blowing trip. Traffic in Delhi (or any big place in India) has to be experienced. My description would be tame.

The food in India is always good. I had so many great meals everywhere I went. We were lucky enough to hook up with Claire on day 2 and after a few forts and mosques, ended up at a big Couchsurfing meetup that lasted until 4:00 AM. Walking the Muslim quarter during suppertime muezzin call was very cool.

Trying to find and use travel services sucked up some serious time. Lying locals, mis-directs, closed shops, down internet, lying agents, booked trains, you name it, mucho obstacles. Was the toughest part of visiting. The hustlers not that big of a problem.

Kids begging was a problem. In the streets, in the rickshaws. There is no good answer here. Some kids I gave money, most I didn't. With the kid hustlers, if they had a good patter and a sense of humour, they got $$ from me. Treating all the hustlers with a sense of humour worked well, very few were actually aggressive and usually only in very high-traffic area. With some of them, after a few exchanges of banter and perhaps a few firm "no"'s, there might even be some friendly chit-chat.

AGRA
====

We took the day train to Agra. The little hotel we stayed at in Agra was within sight of the Taj, as you can see from the picture. We got up early to make sunrise at the Taj. Thus was easy, as the muezzin boys started about 5:20 AM and were quite loud and long-winded (20 minutes). It was very surreal.



FATEHPUR SIKRI
==============

In the afternoon, a bunch of us, including 2 CDN girls and a Brit, took a local bus (an amazing experience all in itself) about 40 kms to Fatehpur Sikri (abandoned Mughal city). I actually sold some postcards to the local hustler kids (a longer story). I liked this town a lot. There was a local festival going on. Sitting on the bus waiting to return to Agra, I was buying beer (another longer story) and having it passed thru the window to share with other backpackers. Two of the girls missed their train and stayed with us for the night (3 beds, 5 people, again a longer story).



VARANASI
========

The overnight train to Varanasi was a bit of a nightmare. Countless extras in the train car, security was a problem and I was fighting the trots. Looking up from your spot and seeing the hallways and floors jammed with locals at 3:00 Am, it is time to start praying that you won't have to attempt a bathroom run.



I went to Varanasi to the see ghats and the burning bodies. The ghats were very cool. I spent a few days wandering up and down, chilling on the steps, playing chess with the locals, humoring the hustlers and generally enjoying myself. The alleyways that ran parallel were a lot of fun as well. Burning bodies don't bother me, but the dogs running about and fighting, the goats eating the flowers off the pallets, the kids laughing and playing, the general mayhem of the place just freaked me out.

INDIA
=====

India is not an experience you can describe with a bunch of flowery words, however well-placed. It is agut-wrenching (literally) and mind-blowing experience. I wish that i had a videocam attached to my head for about 60% of the trip. Everyday, I saw things that blew the circuits in my head, even tho you get pretty blase to a number of sights, new shit just keeps coming up.



I now know why India gets in people's blood. The experience is so powerful and so unique, it is like a drug (with a lot of side-effects).

Oddly enough, the place works. Traffic works, even with those million of potential mishaps that occur on a daily basis. The people are maddening and loveable, friendly as all get out and will do their best not to say "NO" to you, even if this means lying.

Incredible India. F&*^%ing Incredible India!

India 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guilin and Hong Kong

Unfortunately, Guilin served up rain, fog and smog for my three days there. I can't complain, as I hadn't seen rain since back in November. Of the 2 places that I have visited on this trip that would need going back to Guilin will top the list (Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand being the other one). Solitary Peak was a real treat, and also the extent of my sight-seeing in a place that reminds me so much of Vinales in Cuba that perhaps I had my expectations running just a little too high.



Hong Kong
=========

After almost 6 weeks of travel in Korea and China where the language barrier slowly but surely wears you down, I land in Hong Kong. The skies are clearer, people speak quite a bit of English, it is warm enough for shorts and I have money in my pocket that needs to be spent on Western food and beer.

The only other time I have felt this way was after Regina and I had just spent 3 weeks in pre-Solidarity Poland (1980), existing on the lowest level of food that I have experienced in my life. We arrive in West Berlin and the day is spent eating an amazing variety of food. So it is in Hong Kong. I treated myself to a steak and beer combo in a Western bar today. Cost enough to travel in China for almost 2 days. How do you justify that? Yin and yang. It all balances out.




Contrast and Expectations
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One of my favorite words prior to this trip was contrast. Why do you run? Cause it feels so good to stop. The Gonzo tradition of ice cream after a few days of hiking, or hitting the showers after an hour of ploughing thru nasty winter weather, making dinner after a day of paddling in Gaspe. You need to endure some loss of comfort to truly enjoy the pleasures around you. Making Hong Kong after a few weeks in mainland China served up a nice level of contrast.

Thanks to my buddy David (whom I intend to visit in Botswana later in this trip) has given me the Buddhist concept of expectation to mull over. I agree, our expectations can literally overshadow our experiences. As I do my travelling, I try to keep my expectations as far in the shadows as I can. It is a daily struggle.

My example is bathrooms. All during this trip, I have encountered a stunning array of bathrooms. But it is my expectations that colour the use of these bathrooms, more than their actual state of repair/dis-repair. Give me a sloppy batroom in New Zealand and I'm upset. Find me an open stall in a crowded train station in Xi'an and I am ecstatic. Humans are weird creatures.

China 2010

China Syndrome - Forbidden City, Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors


I'm doing the highlight tour of China. (Beijing, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Terra Cotta Warriors, Guilin and Hong Kong)

No access to Blog, Facebook, Picasa, etc, so email it is.

In Xi'an (Terra Cotta Warriors) for a few days, then taking a 26 hour train to Guilin. Will chill there for a few days and then make my way to Hong Kong. Will skip out of town before the Chinese New Year. I have someone to see there but will not try and stay for the New Year. Need to be heading westward. Running out of $$$ (of course, that has always been true, but now I can count the days left within a few weeks. Looks like I'll head back by the end of April. Of course, I am still very open to possibilities. Travelling is still too much fun to think about stopping.

China a bit more work to deal with than say New Zealand, but the experiences makes the work worthwhile. I am currently staying in one of the coolest hostels I've ever been in (Shuyuan). They wrote my train details to Guilin in Chinese for me, so that when I bought my ticket, I didn't end up in Shanghai. No English on my ticket, I just believe it to be true. (JiaJia assures me).

I am introducing tipping into this country whether they like it or not. I got all the people on the tour bus (Terra Cotta) yesterday to kick in some $$$ to tip our guide. They do not like to to take money for nothing, but I assured her that it was the customs of the countries represented (Argentina, Italy, US and Canada) and she had to accept. The tip I foisted on my waiter in Beijing (I ate same place for 4 nights and he helped me out a lot) took 10 minutes to convince him he had to take it. We even had to get his friend involved to translate a little bit. It was fun). On the Great Wall hike (Jinshanling to Simatai), we had 15 or so hustlers follow the group for 5-6 Km. I bolted ahead of the group about .5 km and had the place to myself most of the time (3 hours). A few time I stopped to take pics or jst look around, the place was absolutley silent, an experience to rememebr forever. At the mid-way point, there was Jiang-Li,a local who hikes a few hours perpendicularly to the Wall from a small viallge to sell his stuff (which included beer!). I bought a beer, we excahnegd camera photos and stories about our kids (he is same age as me and has one boy and oner girl). He would not take a tip, but I paid him an exorbitant amount (5 times what he was asking) for a little book). One of the more enjoyables beers in my life.

The Terra Cotta Warrior sight is not as expected, but the actual pit was as stunning as advertised. All those completely different faces. I am still quite shocked. Easily worth the trip here to see therm

The smog in Xi'an is intense, it is claustrophobic, you can see about 2 km if you count outlines and shapes, then it is just a wall of white. It is upsetting me quite a bit. Kids here think that this is normal. Flying Beijing to Xi'an, I never saw the ground once, altho we were only a few thousand feet up on a nice day. Buddy on plane trying to tell me it was a cloudy day. Even taking a picture of my hostel, if i back up acrsoos the street, you notice the lack of clarity in the picture.

Finding English newspaper here Ok. Lot of politics (cool) and business. Everyone here has a cell phone (about 30% ) You use dirty words in a text, they can take away your number forever (I'm sure some fine fixes that). Lots of security checks in Beijing and at tourist sights. Other than that, seems just like a bustling economy, altho miles behind say Korea.

Meeting lots of teachers. They are all on break and travelling. People scurrying to try and nail down New Year's stuff. Playing Foosball and pool with the locals in a local bar. Pretty funny. Sports and light competition do not need a language. Beer helps too. Can only relax so much, there is always a background of someone trying to take advantage of you. Got dinged in Beijing by some art students and have had odd offers here in Xi'an. Part of the situation you must deal with

This has been a hell of a trip so far. Lots of new experiences. The underlying sense of freedom is just too cool to explain.

Bruce

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seoul Sensations

I have been travelling for over 6 months now and am quite lost trying to describe my Korea and and Seoul experiences. Pictures help and I am writing from notes, but really, you need to be here to understand how cool and conflicted that is Seoul. I am really glad that Sophie found a place to go and work. She was so keen for some new experiences and Seoul will fit that bill and more. She has a good job, a great place to live in a funky neighbourhood and some very cool friends.

While I did spend most of my time in Seoul, I did take a few days to fly down to Jeju, the vacation island south of Korea. I enjoyed myself a lot, but would really have enjoyed the place in some season other than winter. Korean hostels are very well run.

The pictures are Sunrise Peak. You can visit, or better yet, rent a room in the village and hike up to the crater rim for sunrise, something I hope daughter Sophie and friends get to do this spring.



Seoul is a city of contrasts, old and new. Hundreds of tiny, teeming, frenetic, Asian, dense, noisy neighbourhoods slowly being surrounded and consumed by big roads and apartment complexes. The city is surrounded by hills, and industrial smog. You take a very efficient subway system to a local dong or gil and wander in alleyways that have motorcycles and sometimes cars, competing for the few feet of available space. You are surrounded by masses of well-dressed, good-looking, hard-working, aggressive, cell-phone addicted young people and the same amount of extremely short, multi-layered, not so colourful older people working their butts off in some very trying conditions.

Sophie's neighbourhood is 24-7 and much busier than any neighbourhood you chose to compare with in New York and it is really one of hundreds in Seoul. Very colourful, VERY consumer-oriented. Not for the faint of heart. At the same time, the area is quite safe at all hours of the night.

Food here is a very social experience.

Korea 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

King takes Queen...Mate

Congratulations, Mr. Sampson on your wedding to Darcy. I am so glad that this day has come to pass. You are 2 of the nicest, coolest people I have ever met and you deserve each other and the happiness that comes with being together. It's because of you, Larry, that I am a Gonzo (and I cannot imagine not being a Gonzo). I remember the first day we met as you became head instructor for the computer course at NSIT. What a nerdy, yakky, detailed guy...who has that much information squirreled away in their heads. Surely there is a better way to use that space.

Well, a lot of time has passed since then. We started running together, you introduced me to some Gonzos, I began racing, we became neighbours, we played a lot of chess, we had families and careers, we went on hiking and biking trips, we played darts and drank beer.

You still have an astounding amount of information in your head (and the ability to retrieve it!). I certainly hope that Darcy has placed some boundaries on your penchant for expounding on a large variety of subjects.

Here's to you and Darcy, a match that had to be.


video

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seoul brothers

Louis and Leor, two of Sophie's buddies in Seoul. My daughter has good taste. They are great guys.

Seoul will be such a dense experience that I think it will take a few posts to clear my head. I arrived here Thursday night on Korean Air. These are the people that brag about unparallelled flight service. I had the good fortune to be bumped up to Business Class. Powered seats that fold almost flat, 3 course meals, enough room to call it a bachelor apartment, very attractive air stewardesses. I am ruined for Economy.

Arrive in Seoul, pick up my pre-booked cell phone, take the ever so efficient subway to within 100 meters of Sophie's apartment and give her a buzz. Dinner is in one of hundreds in her 'hood' (Rodeo, Cheonho-dong, Gangdong-gu) and involves a Bbq and some beer. So happy to see my daughter who I last saw in New York at least 6 months ago.



Her apartment is very slick, fancy and new. One of the benefits of parachuting into a completely new culture with a good paying job. We spend the next day at a Buddhist and Shamanist shrine site (Inwansan). Very cool.

Saturday is the big Techie Market to look for speakers. We end up embarrassing ourselves, mis-understanding someone who wants 15,000 Won for something that we took for 1,500 Won. Took some abuse for that. Buddy was upset for sure. Still pretty funny. Next stop was the big fish market at Noryangjin. Makes the South St. Seaport market in New York look like a bake sale. You have to see this to believe it.

Following a bunch of young people around a strange city is a lot of fun. They get into all sorts of situations that are hilarious all on their own. We toured some fancy Korean (Lotto) entertainment center and went bowling. As soon as we signed up, Leor and Jamie took off into the maze to find some beer to drink while we bowled.

My kind of people!

Bowling was hilarious, especially after the bowling staff tried to get us to stop drinking the beer. As if! The 'croo had also picked up some Soju (Korean vodka lite???). It was a silly time.

Next on the tour was a Korean BBQ. Louis is Korean, so this opens a lot of opportunities in the crazy world of Korean cuisine in Seoul. All sorts of food that just kept on coming. The restaurant was full (as were the dozens or so within sight). The service is top-notch. There people work their buns off. I wouldn't last a shift in this environment.



Next up was some karaoke at a place Louis found that I wouldn't have recognized given a week to do so. I had ingested just enough alcohol, so this was a fun time. The cost would be borne out some time in the future. For now, the body felt...ooh I don't know...at least 10 years younger.

Sunday was pretty quiet (we cabbed home about 4:00 AM). I need the break.

Monday, Sophie and I go to a public workout park (very cool) and then I head off to wend my way thru a downtown with English sprinkled in a seemingly random manner. I find a house-warming present for Sophie (a power converter so she can run her iPod, and hair utensils). At some point I do run into the infamous Namdaemun Market and have myself a blast, buying food, drinking coffee (or coppee) and finding my first map of Seoul with ENGLISH on it. I am so happy.

Well, It is time to start hitting the palaces and museums (Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung). Seoul is a smoggy city, who knew? It has also been around for millenia, which is even longer than grand old Halifax. It also has more people, sort of like 24 MILLION. They seem to gravitate toward the subway I am on and don't mind bumping into you. I think that the number of people over 15 that speak English can be counted on a few hands. It has been a fascinating few days. Can hardly wait for tomorrow. I even found a beer that I like more than any beer I found in New Zealand. It only costs $1,000 Won. A steal at twice the price!