Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ten Things I’ve Done That You (Probably) Haven’t

Aidan Doyle posted his list of ten things he had done that the rest of us (probably) haven't.

Here's my list:

  • Been teargassed by the Ecuadorean army
  • Been rescued from near-drowning by holidaying Dutch policemen in Cuba
  • Entered the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone
  • Been outdrunk in shots of vodka by an 84-year-old Russian babushka
  • Had a song composed about me and sung to me by a bunch of villagers in Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • Received free treatment in an Iraqi hospital
  • Spent the night sleeping (really!) in a brothel in the Sahel, Mali, West Africa
  • Found my name in the credits of popular Mac open source software
  • Arrived at an airport without knowing what country I was in
  • Pretended to be a foreigner in my own country due to acute embarrassment at forgetting which side of the road to drive on ("Sorry, I am comink from Germany. We drive on the wrong side.")

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 7 Travel Destinations for 2010

My friend Aidan and I were disappointed with the run-of-the-mill "Where to go in to 2010" travel lists in the media. We made our own. Here's mine:
  • Train from Western Europe to Vietnam. The journey is the destination. Challenge: how many cheap bottles of vodka can you consume during the journey.
  • Albania. You'll be almost sure of being the only in your group of friends who has been there.
  • Mongolia. Yurts, polytonal singing, so photogenic even a camera putz can take good photos there.
  • El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Honduras. Especially Nicaragua. Have you seen how crazy cheap the top hotels are in Nicaragua? Best hotel in the country is $100/night.
  • Greenland, following in the footsteps of politicians who jet there with a large entourage, to show how much they care for the environment.
  • Lebanon. See it while a rare period of calm lasts. Soon they'll be blowing each other up again.
  • Paraguay. Unspoiled by tourism. Cheap. Assured source of wacky travelogues.
Aidan pointed out that my list could be titled "least touristed places that you won't get shot in."

Here's Aidan's list:
  • China (big enough that once you get away from the big cities you won't
  • find many tourists)
  • Mongolia
  • Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Macedonia
  • Greenland
  • Lebanon
  • Colombia
Kudos, Aidan, for including Colombia. My favourite travel destination. Possibly more beautiful than my homeland, New Zealand, with lots of friendly people, plenty to do and see, and it is cheap, cheap, cheap, due to an undervalued currency.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Some Great Colmbian Transport Photos

These photos are full of Andean colour. The atmosphere they invoke are just one of the many things I love about Colombia.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Learning a Language While Travelling

I've got a hot tip for anybody who wishes they could converse a bit with the locals when abroad. I am particularly ungifted at learning languages, yet this has worked even for me.

You'll need an iPod or some other MP3 player, and about US$30

The tip is to buy and use Pimsleur Conversational language courses. They are excellent and so well made that they are almost fun to use. Each course is 16 lessons, each 30 minutes long. No grammar, real phrases, and stuff you can use from day 1. You can get them on the web, for example Amazon.

I first tried Pimsleur's Spanish lessons while in South America. Each evening I lay on my bed in my hotel room doing the lesson. Then I would immediately go out and use a few of the words I learned with my hotel clerk or in a restaurant, or with whoever I happened to meet. After a few days I tried the phrase with a local in Colombia, "I want to eat something". I was flabbergasted when she understood perfectly what I said and then responded with an exact phrase I had also learned that day - which I could also answer. A week later I was able to go into a Colombia travel agency and buy tickets, while only speaking Spanish.

After 4 weeks of such lessons my girlfriend joined me and I felt pleased - and maybe a little smug - as her jaw drop when I got into an easy conversations in Spanish, even if they were only basic conversations.

I've since used this same technique to learn a little Swahili in Kenya and Tanzania, a spattering of Hebrew in Israel, and enough French to understand hotel and restaurant staff. It's a great feeling to achieve this, doubly so for me because I always got terrible grades in languages at school.

Particularly fun was Swahili. As a tourist in Zanzibar, for example, I was a magnet for people trying to hawk things. But when I would say in Swahili "No thank you, I am not interested", the whole interaction would change for the better. And other tourists would wonder how I got to know such a language.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Great Travel Destinations for Vegetarians

Since I became a vegetarian I've travelled to some 70+ countries. Some particularly stood out for the quality of the vegie food, as well as the range and ease to find.

So here's my top 3 of countries that are highly interesting AND vegetarian-friendly:

#3: Thailand. Fresh, tasty, healthy, cheap. Just about every menu has a sizable vegie section. But I found that if I wanted something else, I could simply ask for a meat dish to be made with tofu instead of meat. The restaurants were always willing to do it.

#2: India. A high percentage of Indians are vegetarian, which makes vegie restaurants easy to find. There are just as many "veg" restaurants as there are "non-veg", and they proclaim it boldly on their outdoor signs. So many vegetarian restaurants that I thought I had died and gone to vegetarian heaven. Common is the "veg thali", a sort of sampler plate with three or four different dishes, rice, bread and salad. Away from the tourist-oriented shops I was paying less than 1 Euro for as much as I could eat, and a drink too.

#1: Israel. Probably a big surprise for most people - it certainly was for me. Any kosher restaurant or cafe will do. Part of kosher cooking is not to mix dairy products and meat products. So when you walk into a restaurant in Jerusalem, a waiter usually asks "meat or dairy". I would simply say "dairy" and I would be show to the part of the restaurant where the food has no meat - and furthermore is guaranteed to have been prepared with utensils and kitchen equipment that is never used with meat.

So why is Israel my top choice? The sheer range of cooking styles you get in a cosmopolitan land.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Photos from India and Africa

After spraining my ankle on Mt Kilimanjaro followed by a couple of weeks of idyllic idleness on Zanzibar, I'm back in Germany and soon to start work in Frankfurt again. Zanzibar is a place that sounds ridiculously exotic - and it is. It's a tropical paradise that blends African, Arabian, and Indian culture. One of my favourite places I've travelled to.

Here's some Indian photos and some African photos.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kenya: Scary Safari Stories

I'm writing from a town on the lower slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. It's the highest mountain in Africa and even as I swelter in the equatorial heat, the almost-ever present clouds occasionally part, revealing a peak partly covered in snow and ice.

I spent the last week or so in Kenya, where I went on safari in the Masai Mara National Park. It's an extremely large reserve where wild African animals live in an unspoiled environment while safari vans zoom around trying to get close enough to the animals for tourists like me to stick their head out of the open roof to take photos.

Scary Safari Story #1

We were lucky enough to see three very hungry lions - one male lion and two females - hunting. They had a clever strategy, moving slowly in a v-shaped formation, with the two females somewhat ahead and to the left and right of the male. They slunk through the long, dry, brown grass, trying to trap an impala. However the impala was far too quick so the lions remained hungry.

Sometime later our safari van got a puncture, and we had to stop to replace the tyre. The driver needed our help, which meant we had to get out amidst that same long grass that camouflages hungry, hunting lions so well. The driver wasn't so happy with the whole deal and asked us - needlessly - to stay as close to the van as possible. I used the avoid-the-sharks-while-swimming-at-the-beach strategy, and made sure I was always closer to the van's open door than at least one other person. I think we set a new world record for amateur tyre-changing, and we even gave those Formula One pit-stop guys a run for their money.

Scary Safari Story #2

We slept for two nights in tents at a campsite just outside the Masai Mara national park. No fences mark out the border of the national park, only a small creek which any animal worth worrying about could easily cross. The campsite was run by a Masai guy, one of the tall, slender people who wear blankets and mutilate their earlobes into long, elastic shapes and look something like this. After the sun had set we sat around a campfire and the Masai guy told us fascinating stories about how elephants and hyenas sometimes wander through the campsite in the night while everyone is sleeping. Even a lion, he said, had been known to pass through.

Fascinating stories indeed - until I woke up at 3am in the morning with a really strong need to go to the toilet. Outside I could hear unfamiliar howling noises that resembled those hyenas I had heard from a distance earlier. I tried to go back to sleep, hoping the pressing need would go away, but of course it never does; it just gets more demanding. Eventually in desperation I got up and put on all my clothes, hoping that my trousers were permeated with special wild-animal-repelling chemicals. I opened my tent zipper just wide enough to stick my head out, terrified that a hungry lion with a taste for human meat was waiting outside my tent, ready to swipe me with a powerful claw as soon as my head appeared. But there I saw, in the middle of the campsite, the Masai guy sleeping on a deckchair next to the embers of the fire. (In the morning the Masai told us that he sleeps on the deckchair every night, to keep the hyenas away.) Seeing him gave me the confidence to quickly go outside and do what I had to do, while every rustle in the nearby bushes had adrenalin pumping through my body. I can't describe how sweet the relief was when I got back in my tent.

The next night I made sure not to drink anything for a few hours before going to bed.