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South America

Costa Rica

My time as a student is over for now and I’m off on another adventure. This time, to Latin America. The itinerary is as follows: Costa Rica – Cuba – Panama – Venezuela – then make my way through South America by bus and fly home from Rio.

I have a stop-over in Paris in the morning and decide to "do" Paris in 3 hours. I get off on Champs Ellyses, near the Arch de Triumph.

The huge structure exceeds my expectations, which were caused by the bleak replica I'd seen in Vientinenne, Laos.

I then stroll down Av. Marceu towards the river Seine, taking in the atmosphere and decide to sit down at a sidewalk cafe for a bagette and my fist taste of French red wine. Expectations are high! Now I'm no expert on wine, but the glass I’m served tastes like it just came out of a fridge! So much for fine French restaurants. To compensate, the waiter is as arrogant as one can only hope, and my Parisian experience is saved.

Unlike the Arch de Triumph, the Eiffel tower surprises me by how little it is. I have now seen it from the bottom up, and expect, the opposite view would probably improve my impression of it.

After a long flight to Mexico City, I have 11 hours to kill at the airport. I spend some time eating mexican fast food before I go for a few hours sleep on the airport floor. Not an entirely unpleasant experience, I got about 5 hours sleep before getting up for my flight to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

In San Jose I get a bed in an 8 person dorm, and have a walk around the city. Most people pass through this city, which has very little to offer as a tourist destination, and my number one priority is to get a Cuban Visa in my passport. The city has no street names and finding the embassy is quite a challenge. The same goes for filling out forms in Spanish, but with some help I have my Cuban Visa and I'm ready to head for the beach.

I opt for the Carribean coast and the small town of Puerto Viejo.

As you get off the bus a sweet scent fills the air, while reggae music fills your ears. The local population could easlily lead you to think you are in Jamaica, but as it turns out, much of the Central American coast has a strong rastafari culture.

I initially decide to stay at the Rocking J’s hostel,

the most unique hippie compound I’ve ever seen, with hippies from their late teens to their late sixties partying and preparng for the upcoming bluegrass festival that starts the day after. I get a 6 $ tent, and in my jetlag-induced coma, am not disturbed by the "rocking" that lasted till 4 in the morning.

The next morning I move out looking for some peace and quiet, and non-festival prices, and move into a shed down the road.

Its a nice and relaxing place, with a wonderfull hamock, great reggae music and the town´s local reggae star as my neighbour. The only downside was the viscious bed bug attack I was the victim of my first night there. I probably have around two hundred bites, but luckily, only one of the little critters found it´s way to my face.

The Caribbean coast has an interesting Creole culture, the quisine consisting mainly of rice and beans, and some delicious coffe. I rent a bike one day and go for a 13 kilometer ride down to smal village that has several kilometers of beatifull – totally deserted – beaches!

On the way the road is flanked by dense jungel

filled with monkeys and other animals.

The other days I´ve spent on the beach,

reading my Frank Sinatra biography, working on my Spanish and surfing. A nice easing into the latin american way of life.

Now Cuba awaits me…

 




 


South America

Cuba, Panama and Venezuela

In the hostel in San Jose I met two guys from the Czech Republic, Daniel and Michael, who were going on the same flight as me to Havana. We ended up taking a taxi to the airport and would end up spending a great week traveling Cuba together.

After arriving early in Havana, we got ourselves a room in a casa particular. I had to get a separate room, as there are a number of regulations on private businesses – one of them being a maksimum two people in a room. Brach of these rules can result in long prison terms. Cuba also has a separate currency aimed at tourists, which help keep prices artificially inflated. Cuba is not a cheap place to travel as a tourist.

We started the day with a walking tour of old Havana – in my view a beautifull city, in all its decay.

 It really does feel like going back in time,

with old faded architecture, beautifull American cars from the 50’s

and not so beautifull Russian Moscowitches and Ladas from the 70’s.


There was so much vibrant life in the streets.

And as this was mother's day in Cuba, people were throwing spontaneous street parties on their door steps

where the whole family, from kids to grandmothers, took part and danced to salsa music.

 

At night we went to the Casa de la musica, a big disco/concert hall. We were sipping our first Cuban Mojitos when suddenly an anouncer called out for people in the audience to call out their nationality and then join him on stage. I did my best to look Cuban and not stand out, but my new friend Daniel was quickly on stage and was nice enough to voulenteer that there was also a Norwegian in the house. Moments later I was taking part in an international reggaetone dance off, in front of a few hundred people. Surprisingly I was eliminated before the final which was won by a Shakira-ass-shaking girl from Sweden. A Cuba Libre calmed my nerves, a good night!

The next day we went for another walk

around beautifull Havana before we attempted to find a way to get down to Trinidad, some 6 hours away on the south coast of Cuba. There were no reasonable rental cars available, and according to our Casa families, no buses either. We suspected they just wanted to keep us there for another day and eventually hopped in a taxi to the bus station. On the way we came across a taxi driver who was going to Trinidad and who would take us there for less than the bus fare. So we were on our way.

Luckily for me, Daniel spoke fluent Spanish, and the taxi ride turned out to be just the start of some very interesting conversations. Coming from the Czech Republic, Daniel and Michael grew up in a communist regime, and this gave an even more interesting perspective for experiencing and enquiring about the Cuban way of life.

In Trinidad we took in to a new casa particular – really just a normal Cuban household that has been given permission to rent out a few rooms under strict regulation. Here we enjoyed wonderfull home cooked meals

- a huge contrast to the cardboard pizzas and the often singular available item from the menu (no meat, no meat was a common mantra) – and were taught the art of sigar smoking.

 

The entire city of Trinidad is on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, and is a beautifull colonial city, with brightly colored houses and cobble stoned streets.

It also has one of the nicest beaches in Cuba

which we visited daily.

At night we went to the Casa de la musica, which had live salsa music and some of the best salsa dancers I’ve ever seen. Later in the evening the party moved in to an old ruin where you the dance floor was only covered by a star lit sky.

In Trinidad we managed to get a hold of some black market sigars at a fraction of the normal price. Cigar scams are common and we therefore regrettfully only bought one case, but the rest of the week we would do our best to look cool smoking our Havanas,

and surprisingly I really started to aquire a taste for them after a couple of nights.

 

After three days in Trinidad I decided to follow the guys to Cubas tourist capital of Varadero, where they had booked a room in an all inclusive hotel at the end of their trip.

Not bound by the strict regulations that apply to most Cubans, we were here allowed to stay 3 people in a room, and the all inclusive actually came out not costing much more than staying in a casa and buying meals and drinks.

On the way we made a quick stop in Santa Clara to see the mausoleum of Che Guevara

and to get some money. I had not planned extensively and by this time I was out of money and as debit cards don’t work in Cuba, I only had my emergency credit card, with no pin number. Well, that didn’t work, so I was at the mercy of my two travel companions and had a few nervous hours ahead of me before things could thankfully be sorted out at a big hotel for a small comission of 12 %!

 

Three weeks in Cuba, which I had originally planned, would burst my budget. I therefore changed my flight date so that I would only spend one week there. Varadero might as well have been in Malorca, it had no Cuban cultiure and hardly any Cubans, but it did have a beautifull beach.

After three nights in Varadero it was time for another stopover - Panama. At the airport, as everywhere else in Cuba, things take time, and there was no trace of my name on the flight I had scheduled. An hour and a half later things were sorted however, and I was on my way to Panama.

After getting ripped off as usual by the semi-blind airport taxi driver, I took in to a nice hostel and went to bed early. The next morning I went to the Panama canal, saw the ships pass by, and visited the museum which recants the deadly history of this amazing feet of engeneering.

We were lucky enough to see the passing of the biggst ship that can pass through the canal and also a ship from the Norwegian firm of Wilhelmsen.

 

I then headed in to town and went for a walk around the old city of Panama City. A very pretty colonial town.

Panama City actually reminded me a little about the US with bilboards and American chain stores everywhere. No doubt a remnant from when the canal zone was official US territory and home to a large contingent of US troups, as late as 1999.

After a brief look, I was off for Venezuela. I arrived in Caracas at 12.30 at night and found out my ATM card wasn’t working! Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America and here I am obviously setting myself up for another rip off, or worse. My regard for airport taxis is generally negative, and I am now forced (unless I want to walk from the ariport, which was not open 24 hours) to go with the taxi driver and hope that his plan of paying for the taxi with my credit card - in the hotel - would work. Thankfully it did, and I fell asleep to the lulling sound of gun shots in the street outside.

The next morning my ATM card was working again (or I figured out how to use a Venezuelan ATM), so I got a hold of some money. I then bumped into Johan from Amsterdam who was heading my way - to Merida to learn Spanish. We left straight for the bus station, and I left Caracas happy to not have seen anything of it.

 

13 hours later we arrived in Merida, a nice little town situated at 1600 meters at the foot of the Andes, with views of two of the highest peaks in Venezuela at around 5000 meters.




 

South America

Venezuela

Thanks to Hugo Chavez, the price section of my guidebook was hopelessly outdated, and actually had to be multiplied by 3! The political situatation in the country at the moment is very unstable and there are huge demonstrations daily. We actually had to walk a long detour to avoid getting caught up in a student demonstration confronting the police when registering for Spanish classes. We’ve gotten to know quite a few locals here, and it turns out this country is probably much more dangeruos than Colombia, which has an undeservingly bad reputation. Johan found this out one night walking home when he narrowly escaped a mugging.

Johan and I have enrolled at the local University here in Merida. Tomorrow, we start our Spanish lessons with a proffesor of English. Hopefully we’ll improve alot before traveling on to other South American countries.

Merida is a strangely enchanting city, with beatifull Andean mountains surrounding it 

 

and a student population of 45.000 out a total of 300.000. Johan and I ended up being stuck in this place for about two weeks, a record for me so far traveling, but nothing compared our German guide Stefan who has been stuck here for 17 years.

We are now offical graduates of la Universidad de los Andes here in Merida, after completing 10 hours of classes with a brilliant teacher called Blanca.

Unfortunately, it  turned out that Spanish did not just flow from my mouth naturally as I had hoped. The grammar is complicated and I have decided to be satisfied with my lessons and move on to "learn as you travel Spanish".

Venezuela is a country in turmoil at the moment. Pople are daily demonstrating and sometimes rioting. The road to our University has been blocked by police every day, while the students have been burning tires in the streets.

It also turns out that all the undeserving negative press normally attributed to Colombia, regarding safety, is probably more accurate for describing Venezuela. The cities are really quite unsafe, and the local muggers here in Merida – arguabely the safest city in the country – succeded on their second attempt and got a hold of my Dutch travel companions credit cards one night.

While in the city, we organized a 4 day trip to Los Llanos through our "home" Posada Alemania – a friendly establishment with a great host family, a wonderfull court yard and lots of interesting people who are stuck here in the city for various reasons.

Los Llanos is a vast savanna and wetlands area compromising about a third of Venezuela and containing some of the most diverse wildlife in the world.

 

 

Our first activity on the trip would be either rafting or tubing depending on the state of the river. Our guide had to make a choice between a boring rafting trip or a near fatal tubing trip, and chose the latter. I had done tubing once before, in Laos. A pleasant experience where you drifted slowly down the river while taking in the scenery. Well, the only similarity with what experience was the tube, and half the time I would end up not even beeing able to hold on to that. It started out well, but after about 5 minutes our guide Stefan – a rum-loving german with more than a few Steve Irwin similarities – told us that a rapid was coming up.

 

It turned out to have close similarities to a waterfall with a 3,5 out of 5 rating on the rapids scale and lasting for about 30 painfull seconds. I lost my tube instantly and ended up slamming my "pelvic region" into some big rocks. After the rapids were traversed I counted that everything was still in place and said a little prair of thanks that the pain I was feeling was not 3 centimeters lower and that there was still a chance that more branches might some day be added to the family tree. 3 out of 6 of our group couldnt finish the 10 km, and about half way down the river, our guide – who slammed his face on a rock and was bleeding from his chin – led us through a huge grassy field I was later told contained one of the worlds most poisonous snakes!

The next day we arrived in Los Llanos at a tiny finca in the middle endless plains. The garden contained a strange mixture of animal species including two 4 month old caipiberas (the worlds biggest rodent),

 

wild turkey, cows, horses, dogs, cats, parots, geese, ducks, chickens and the biggest cockroach I've ever seen at around 15 cm!

We went on a safari, a night safari and an amazing river trip

 

 

and saw countless species of birds, the worlds biggest otter, turtles, hundreds of kaimans,

 

iguanas,

 

lots of caipaberas, anaconda,

 

piranha, dear and pink-bellied dolphins.

Our guide was jumping into the river and chasing kaimans but never succeded in catching one. He did however catch a 3 meter long anaconda!

 

And in the same area we had the pleasure of standing in knee deep leech infested waters fishing for piranhas, who were swimming in that same water. I caught one 

 

and can now add piranha to my odd assortment of fish caught traveling, which already counted an 8 cm long blow fish and a 2 meter sailfish.

The trip also included horse back riding, something I've never been really enthusiastic about. Wow, was that a mistake. I got the Zorro Blanca – the white fox – and to my surpirse horse riding was not as difficult as it looks. At the end of 4 hours we were gallopping across fields chasing cows feeling like cowboys.

 

On our last night in the Llanos there was a huge party at our finca. A girl was turning 15 which in Venezuela is a huge social event where she is introduced to society. A cow was slaughetered before our eyes

 

and the whole animal stuck in a grill. More than a hundred people turned up dancing to joropo music – a local latin style of music played with a harp.

On our way back to Merida

 

we visited a stone curch built entirely by one man, while in his eighties

 

and a condor station where we saw these enormous birds that are now extinct in the Venezuelan Andes.

 

Merida boasts the Heladeria with the most flavours of ice cream in the world – a Guiness world record. I enjoyed a cheese flavoured one,

but passed on the meat and spaghetti flavours.

My last day in Merida I went on a mountainbiking trip in the surrounding mountains - exhausting!

 

Our goal was a hot springs located on a mountain top at the end of a road with an elevation of more than 50 degrees!

Lying in 37 degree waters with an ice cold beer was amazing.

 

Little did I know that we still had another mountain to climb and this time we even had to carry our bikes! We also encountered some local thugs on our way and at the "suggestion" of our guide we had to escape off road to escape a mugging or worse.

So my time in Venezuela was over. It was an interesting time to see it, and it will be even more interesting to see how the country will develop in the future under its current president. I am not a big fan myself really, as he has chosen to fix the exchange rate at nearly half the real value of what you can get on the black market IF you have cash dollars, which I didn't. Now on to Locombia…

 




 


South America

Colombia and Equador

Johan and I started on our 15 hour journey to Santa Marta and had a stopover at 4 in the morning in Venezuelas oil capital – Maracaibo. We were lucky enough to get the ridiculous gringo price for the next leg which meant my cash funds were severly stretched (my ATM cards werent working here again for some reason) and I ended up not being able to pay the exit tax at the border! Luckily, I had a 15 Euro reserve and managed to find another tourist who was kind enough to exchange it with me so I could leave the country. Many security checks including 3 baggage checks later we were in the seaside town of Santa Marta, having passed one of the world's reputedly most dangerous borders.

Santa Marta supposedly has the cheapest PADI diver sertification in the world, and Ive been wanting to do this for years but have always put it off because of my "take off mask under water"-phopia. One night we stopped by a dive shop for a chat and I was convinced to sign up for the next morning.

Aftera few hours of sleep we sat down for our first lecture, a video. I could feel my pulse excelerating, but told myself everything would be better as soon as I just got in the water... not true, it turns out watching people do exercises on TV is a lot better than actually doing them yourself. I concentrated on my own thing (breathing) while the others did the exercises. It was then time for our first dive, only 5 meters said the intructor... yeah right. We ended up at 12 meters,

 

and it was absolutely amazing. Never experienced anything like it, like flying, on a different planet with huge brain corall,

 

morae eels and colorfull fish.

 

We had a break and did a second dive to 40 feet. I had some thoughts about what would happen if I would need any of the excercises, but quickly had to put that out of my head or my urge to ascend would have gotten the better of me.

 

Really an amazing day, but I was dreading the next few days of exercises.

When we got back to our hotel I quickly saw that something was wrong – our room had been burglared! And, my ATM cards, cell phone, memory stick and all other documents except my passport were gone. Luckily, I had been traveling with Johan for a while and he functioned as my bank for a few days until I could arrange a money transfer. I did however conviniently use the burglary as an excuse to chicken out of the rest of the PADI course. It turns out I am not cut out for an express course/fun dive like my dutch friend, the former swimming instructor.

From Santa Marta I visited a nice little former fishing village, now a 100 % tourist village, set in a horse shoe shaped bay, called Taganga. I also went to one of the most beatifull beaches Ive ever seen, with lush tropical jungel covering the mountain sides around it, in the Tayrona national park.

Santa Marta is the starting point for the six day trek to Ciudad Perdida – the lost city - set in dense jungel. I had signed up for the trip, but a day before we were set to take off, I got violent food poisoningl. I had 12 terrible hours, and after that actually managed to sleep for two days straight only interupted by sitting up to drink. I didnt have the stomach (litterally) to set off for six days in the jungle with my recent stomach experience and a few days later I left for the former colonial capital of Cartagena.

Cartagena is among the most beautifull Spanish colonial cities I have seen. Its old city is set behind a fortified wall

 

to protect the Spanish gold from the pirates of the Caribbean some centuries ago. Here I bumped into a couple of Australians I'd met in Santa Marta. The days were spent walking the streets and enjoying the views of this beautifull city.

The possibility of bathing in a wolcano sounded to good to be true

 

(not really sure how natural that vulcano was), but here I am bathing in a natural mud bath – in the volcano!

 

A unique experience. From the look of it you would think you would drown like in quick sand, but instead you float and couln't submerge yourself if you tried.

The next day I left for a night at the beautifull beach of Playa Blanca.

 

Totally deserted, we had almost the entire beach to ourselves. There was no electricity, and at night we lit a bonfire and slept in rows of hammocks.

My next stop was Medellin.

 

It used to be famous for being the cocaine capital of the world, and probably still is, but its even bigger claim to fame these days is as the silicon capital of the world – a very true claim. The city doesn't have much to offer travellers except supposedly the best night life in Colombia.

As I went for a look downtown I encountered a demonstration against the FARC guerilla, which had days earlier excecuted 11 politicians they'd captured two years ago. A small reminder that Colombia is still not the safest place in the world. By chance I bumped into Johan and we quickly decided to move on, towards Equador.

The scale for measuring craziness when driving keeps on expanding, and as usual, we had a nutcase driving us. The scenery on the way to the border is some of the most spectacular I've ever seen, with winding roads traversing high mountain cliffs and valleys. The southern part of the country is also official FARC country. Somewhat of a frightening thought, but we took the chance as updated information said no kidnappings had happened in many years.

Right on the border lies a picturesque, and strangely unfamliliar Latin American structure - a gothic cathedral set in a deep gorge above a river – a fairytale castle.

 

We went for a quick look before crossing the border, and on to the small mountain town of Otavalo situated at 3000 meters in the Equadorian Andes.

The contrast from Medellin could not have been greater. From a European style city filled with mainly blond people of European descent, we had now entered the realm of the Inkas.

 

The main attraction of the city is its large handicrafts market, and Johan and I did some shopping including some nice alpakka sweathers that were sorely needed at this altitude.

The surrounding area also has superb hiking opportunities and we went to a nearby volcano crater

 

where we never found the trail, which made for some interesting climbs through thick brush as we made our way around the crater. We also encountered a herd of alpakkas that were more than willing to pose for some pictures

The next day we went for another hike to a nearby waterfall

and went to visit a local village. As we came in to the village it turned out there was a religious festival going on. I've come to understand that the Christian practices in this part of the world are heavily influenced by local religions, and the first thing we saw was a group of people dancing in a ring around a headless chicken,

 

followed by food being thrown into the crowd. We then sampled some local street food, and watched an excibition of local dancing

 

which was constantly interupted by a tiny, extremely drunk local guy who wanted to either take part, fight someone or both. Sadly, the occurence of overly drunk natives is not uncommon, and a testimony to the broblems caused by alkohol in these communities.

Our bext stop was Quito, the capital of Equador.

 

Quito has excelent nightlife, nice colonial buildings and is without comparison my favorite big city in Latin America so far.

While in Quito we went on a day trip to the equator line – the centre of the world. Funnily enough, the official monument

 

was placed some 200 meters off the actual line, but a much more interesting museum lies on the actual site. We were here given a interesting tour which explained the weird phenomenons that occur at this site; like there being no shadow at a certain time of year, how water drains in opposite directions 3 meters to each side of the line and straight down on it, AND I now have a certificate that proves I can balance an egg on a nail!

Johan and I again parted, he left for Bogota and I went to Baños (meaning toilet or bathroom in Spanish, a cause for confusion when your Spanish isn't perfect) with four american guys. We got a big appartement at 5 $ each a night with a beautifull view of the surrounding mountains and waterfall.

From Baños, three of us went on an nice day hike to the basecamp of volcan Cotopaxi

 

the highest active volcano in the world. The volcano is perfectly cone shaped with a glazier at the top.

 

While hiking up we encountered snow and eventually a hale storm.

In Banños I met a local business man who would let you weigh yourself for 10 cents. I was very curious, and my fears were confirmed, I'd lost 7 kiloes. Proof that rice and chicken, and soup is not enough to sustain a large European frame on the road.

After this chilly experience I wanted to see some sun and beaches before heading to the cold altitudes of Peru and Bolivia. I found some of these criteria in Montañita on the south coast.

 

I never saw sun in 4 days but got to do 3 days of surfing which was fun.

 

I even caught a few waves, and surfed by biggest to date at around 2,5 meters.

After missing my bus from Guyaquil to Lima, I decided on trying to make my way there by local busses rather than wait 24 hours and spend a night in the city. This would mean crossing the border on my own which I'd been warned against, but 38 hours after leaving Montañita having taken 7 buses, 3 taxis and getting ripped of by the taxi driver at the border, I was in Lima.

 

 





 


South America

Peru

After the long bus ride, which I have found out in retrospect meant I did not make stops at a great archeological site excavated by Thor heyerdahl, I arrived in the Mariscal area of Lima at around 9 in the evening. I really wanted to get a private room to get a decent night´s sleep and ended up overpaying for a private room at the first hostel I checked out, but only after an unsuccesfull 20 minute walk looking for something cheaper.

 

I felt I had gotten stuck a little bit to much in some places and I now wanted to speed up my travelling for a while. So after a good night´s sleep I headed out for a super quick look around Lima. I went to the National Museum which had some very nice excibits from Inca and pre-Incan civilisations.

I then headed downtown looking for the museum of the Peruvian inquisition. This would prove not to be easy, as the entire area was blocked by police. I managed to talk my way past the first line of defence and encountered the Bolivian President Evo Morales arriving to the Peruvian Parliament building about 15 meters away from me. Then I actually managed to get past defence line number two (guess my Spanish must be improving) and into the museum. The museum was for natural reasons completely empty, and I ended up getting an ex-lawyer as a personal guide and a fascinating tour of the museum.

The next stop on my tour of Lima was the catacombes of the monastery of San Fransisco, containing the remains of some 70.000 people, whose bones are somewhat morbidly arranged in cases after bodyparts. I then went for a quick waking tour of the city centre which contains a lot of nice colonial arcitechture and two very nice plazas.

My Lima tours was over and I continued on my quick tour of northern/central Peru by heading down to Pisco.

 

I spent the night and in the morning went on a day trip to the Paracas National reserve

and the Balistas islands.

Known mockingly as the poor mans Galapagos, the area contains millions of seabirds,

tons of guano, sea lions,

flamingos, penguins

and Pelicans.

As a Norwegian who really does not like to be cold (a big surprise to many people, as there must obviously be a correlation between coming from a cold country and liking it) I was wearing thermo underwear from head to toe. Quite suitable for the boat ride, not quite as suitable for when we later in the day went to the dessert.

In the night, savouring the the local drink of the area – the Pisco Sour, helped warm me.

Next stop on my itinererary was Nazca, and the famous Nazca lines. I again spent only one night, but decided against spending 50 USD on a 20 mintue flight over the lines. I opted for a 1 USD roundtrip ticket to a local mirador

– where you could see three of the figures – in stead.

The local museum told the history of the Nazca culture.

I then hopped on a night bus to Cusco, tourist capital of the continent and starting point for the Inca trail and other treks leading to what is for many the highlight of a trip to South America – Machu Pichu – the Lost City of the Incas.

Cusco

is a fascinating place. Very touristy, but at the same time, as the former capital of the Inca Empire it contains a lot of original inca buildings and ruins, and the surrounding area is scattered with ruins that would be the major attraction a country has to offer, had it not been for the attention Machu Pichu receives.

Getting on the Inca Trail is virtually impossible unless you book months in advance, and as planning isn't my strongest trait that obviously wasn't an option. I really wanted to do a trek though, and opted for the 5 day, 4 night Salcantay trek which takes you to a maksimum altitude of 4600 meters and covers 69 kilometers. I ended up with a nice group of 8 people, all of us coming from different countries.

It would prove to be a wonderfull trek taking us through high mountain passes underneath glaciers,

through valleys covered in cloud forests and sub-tropical jungle and camping in temperatures ranging from freezing to nice and temperate.

The last part of the trek followed an old Inca trail that today is covered by railroad tracks, still trafficked by trains going to Machu Pichu.

The third day we stopped by some hot springs, a welcoming experience after 3 days of sweating.

The fourth night we spent in the small town of Aguas Calientes, where we could enjoy the luxury of a bed and a bathroom with hot showers.

Our original plan was to get up at round 4 in the morning and walk up the 400 meter or so climb to Machu Pichu to see the sun rise. We started on the hike up the mountain in pouring rain

and made it to the top for the sun rise that was never to be. Seeing the city shrouded in clouds is possibly a more mystical experience however, and well worth the work.

Our guide then gave us a tour of the site before we were left free to roam by ourselves. Melora from England, Melanie from Germany and I went up to the most picturesque end of the site and laid down for a two hour nap. One of the best places I've ever taken a nap, with the sun by this time warming the place up to a comfortable temperature.

We then took the train back to Cusco for a good nights sleep. The following morning my tent mate Omer and I went for a lovely and painfull massage before enjoying a nice dinner.

I had my first taste of guinea pig, a local specialty.

I have to say the taste of the meat wasn't bad at all, but nowhere near as good as alpaca steak which is delicious.

While in Cusco I there was an earth quake. Measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale this was a serious quake that left hundreds of dead, and thousands of people homeless. I felt a very clear tremor for about thirty seconds, but there was no drama in the city. It was however weird to find out a day later how serious the quake had been further north in the country, with the city of Pisco which I'd visited a little over a week earlier having about 80% of its buildings flattended, and several hundred deaths.

Peru has an interesting cuisine, and aslo some interesting drinks. In addition to the Pisco Sour, they have the Chicha – a corn bear where the fermentation process is started with the chewing of corn, the Inca Cola – a fluorescent yellow bubblegum flavoured soft drink

which has surprisingly become quite a favorite of mine and Coca tea – simply hot water and the leaves of the Coca plant, and large amounts of sugar.

The drinking of Coca tea, and the chewing of Coca leaves is done by everyone in Peru and Bolivia, the only to countries where the growing of the plant is legal. It is supposed to be postitive for preventing altitude sickness, a not uncommon problem at altitudes above 2500 meters.

 

After a few days of recuperating, and a day trip to the nearby Sacret Valley of the Incas- which contained some amazing ruins

that would, if not seen with Machu Pichu fresh in mind, have been even more amazing – I got a night bus to Arequipa. This 10 hour night bus trip would turn out to be a bus trip from hell, with the temperature inside the bus dropping to a riducolous 7 degrees celsius (and yes, there was a thermometer where you could enjoy seeing the place getting colder and colder by the minute).

I arrived in Arequipa feeling quite sick with flu symptoms, the start of around two weeks of coughing and fever. On the day I arrived I went to a museum to see Juanita, a frozen Inca child mummy that was sacrificed to the Gods, and found on the top of a nearby volcano a few years ago. She is remarcably well preserved by the ice, and was anly discovered when the eruption of a neighboring volcano melted the glacier on the mountain top she had been sacrificed on. I then signed up for a 2 day trip to the nearby Colca Canyon – until recently regarded as the deepest canyon in the world

when it was discovered that a nearby canyon is slightly deeper. The canyon is a fascinating place, 3269 meters deep, having been inhabited for centuries by Cetchua and Aymara speaking peoples. We spent the night in the main city, visting som hot springs before heading for a short trek to see a local family of condors that nest in the canyon. The condor is extinct in many parts of the Andes, and it was a special to see these enormous birds with a wingspan of up to three meters flote on hot air currents no more than 15-20 meteres above us.

I then left Arequipa, sick, for Puno, a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world (whatever that means).

Lake Titicaca is enormous, when youre on it it actually feels like an ocean, and you can see the sun set into the horizon at night.

I went on a boat trip to see the unique floating islands of the Uro people. Having lived the same way for centuries, they use the reeds that grow in the lake for everything, from building the actual islands they live on, to building boats,

huts and food.

We then went on to Isla Taquile

in what must certainly be the slowest boat on the lake. Had I known I'd be spending about 7 hours in a boat in stead of on islands I would have skipped this last island. It had some great views however, and a Spanish guy and I actually managed to invite ourselves in to a local wedding.

Here we were invited to sample some very strong local brew by the very happy and drunk father of the groom, who suggested we should help contribute to the marrying couples dream of going to Paris by pinning som money bills on their clothing.

Peru had been a highlight of my trip so far, and I now headed on to the other side of lake Titicaca, to Bolivia.

 

 

 





 


South America

Bolivia

After spending time in touristy and pricy Peru, Copacabana and Bolivia was a big contrast. Bolivia is the poorest country

in the region and also the cheapest. I had therefore planned to do a few activities here that can also be done in several of the neighbouring countries.

Copacabana is a tiny town without major attractions, but it is the jumping off point for seeing the islands on the Bolivian side of the lake. As we arrived the entire city was cut off from electricity, a fitting welcome to Bolivia.

I met three travellers on the bus from Puno that I would end up traveling with for a while. We all signed up for a day on the lake to visit La Isla del Sol, a major site in Inca history and according to Inca lore, the place where the sun and moon were born, at the Rock of the Puma (Titicaca).

The island itself is a rocky, barren island covered in Inca terrasing. It has some unremarcable ruins, and the famous rock of the Puma, which, if you really want it to, looks like a puma.

From Copa we headed on to the de facto (but not constitutional) capital of the country, La Paz – the highest capital in the world at 3897 meters.

We got a pretty decent hotel in the centre for $ 2.50 a night and I started a legendary shopping spree the result of which is making its way towards Norway by boat at the moment.

From La Paz we went on day trips to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), a weird formation of what looked like hardenend mud, officially called "badlands", with a view of the Devils tooth in the horizon.

We then visited the major archeological site in Bolivia, the pre-Incan capital of Tiahuanacu, still beeing excavated when we visited.

We also went to a nearby museum, where it for some reason was forbidden to take photographs. After some conspiratorical waiwing and a quick round of bargaining I was however allowed to take this picture

after paying the guard a 60 cents tip. We also visited an interesting coca museum in the city.

One of the things I'd been looking forward to the most was also a day trip away from La Paz, mountainbiking down the worlds most dangerous road – The Death Road.

This 69 kilometer stretch of road

starts at a freezing 4700 meters and descends along a narrow dirt road flanked by 400 meter high cliffs

to a tropical 330 meters. Famed for having around 300 deaths a year, the road is now (almost) only used for biking.

We got into our fancy gear and went down the first part of paved road in heavy snow – freezing. We then continued on to the actual Death Road, which is made of gravel. It was a foggy day and we couldn't see the bottom of the canyon below us. For some reason I felt quite confident after a while on the bike and decided to try to stay close on the guide´s tail. He told me we were doing maksimum speeds of around 55-60 km/h and after having just passed another tour group the amazing thing happended – my back brake went out!

For a few moments as I tried braking in vain I really don't know what went through my head except amazement. Luckily, I was on a straight stretch of road and was able to slowly stop using my front brake. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if that brake had gone out in an outside curve. The guide replaced the brake, I got my confidence back and finished the road. Truly one of the most excilarating experiences of my life.

We then went to a nearby hotel to recuperate, when amazingly, an American guy named Randy got electrocuted in the shower and knocked to the ground, the entire shower exploding and falling off the wall. Jessica from Guernsey and I then left our group to spend a night in Coroico, from where we would head on to the Amazon the next day. The time for accidents was not over on this day however, as Jessicas backpack fell off the roof of the car going to Coroico, never to be found again.

The next morning we embarked on what is apparently known as on of the top 5 worst bus rides in the world, and rightly so.

18 hours, in a crappy Bolivian bus riding on dirt roads – a part of it the actual Death Road – is not a pleasant experience. I didnt sleep a second, and our bus also broke down for a couple of hours.

We arrived in Rurrenabaqe in the Amazon,

a tiny frontier town that lives exclusively from arranging jungle and pampas tours, at 4 in the morning and I signed up for a 2 day jungle tour the next day.

We went up the river

for a few hours before arriving at a smal camp site, with some basic accomodation.

We went on a walk in the jungle where our guide explained all the medicinal qualities of the various plants – really nature´s own farmacy. We saw some amazing parrots, fire and leaf cutter ants, poisonous spiders, termites, a walking tree!, colorfull butterflies

and Tarzan vines.

We then went for a swim in the river,

before going on a two hour walk at night. As we were following a shallow river we detected the tracks of a tapir and followed these. A little further up the river we encountered one of the most elusive animals of the jungle – the jaguar! We first saw it about 30 meters up river, it's eyes reflecting the light from our torches. It then disappeared, and reappeared about 15 meters from us, where it watched us for about one minute, occasionally growling, before suddenly disappearing again. We all felt truly lucky, beeing among the very few people to see a jaguar in the wild.

As I got back to Rurre, I signed up for a rafting trip. To be fair to the agency, it never said white water rafting, and had nothing in common with what is normally considered rafting. I went alone with a guide, and spent the day padling down the slow river

before visiting the guide´s family and getting a tour of their small farm.

I then decided that I would fly back to La Paz. One time on that bus was enough and I arrived at a tiny air port,

and boarded the 14-seater plane for a bumpy 45 minute flight back to La Paz.

Having done my usual amount of planning, I didnt bring shoes, socks, pants or long sleeves on the jungle tour (because the jungle is hot, I thought). What I didn't think of is the fact that the jungle also has many lifeforms, such as bugs. These bugs, combined with swimming in an amazonian river resulted in some seriously swollen and infected feet, that I was told could potentially lead to blood poisoning. I therefore went to the doctor and got a shot that nummed my right butt cheek for about 12 hours and had to spend a few days resting in La Paz, before I was ready to do a mountain climb.

I then signed up to climb Huayana Potosi a few days later.

I would meet up with 3 Israeli guys at the high camp (at 5200 meters), who had spent an extra day getting used to the altitude and trying out ice climbing for the first time.

The climb from base camp to high camp

was easy enough and tok about 2,5 hours. We would then spend about 12 hours there to aclimatise before heading for the summit

at around one in the morning. Sleeping was not easy, and strong winds meant our departure was delayed for an hour. The weather really cleared up though and we got ready to push for the summit under a beatifull star lit sky. As we got into our climbing gear

I again had some problems with my equipment, my head light didn't work, and there was no spare. Not to worry, this is Bolivia and no one is very concerned with safety measures, so it was decided that I would go without a light, but I would be in the middle of a rope line of three people, with the person in front and behind me supposedly lighting up my path.

This worked satisfactorily, and we started on our very steady and slow walk – each step taking maybe 3-4 seconds – to the summit, that would last about 6 hours. One of the Israeli guys had problems with the altitude and had to return to high camp after about 20 minutes. The rest of us continued towards the summit, in freezing cold in what is one of the hardest things I have ever done. As we were approaching the top the sun was rising and we had a beatifull view of the surrounding mountains.

The top of Huayana Potosi is covered by a glazier

and we crossed several crevasses on our way.

The final 200 meter elevation to the summit is a 70 degree wall of ice and snow – my first taste of ice climbing.

At this altitude the oxygen level is about half of what it is at sea level, and the effect this has on your body when doing physical exercise is brutal. While climbing up this final wall, which I seriously thought I would never see the end of, we needed to rest with every 2-3 steps.

We finally reached the summit

at 6088 meters (24 feet short of the magical 20.000 feet barrier) and could enjoy the view and our wonderfull feeling of accomplishment for about 10 minutes, before going for the descent – which actually looked terrifying from the top.

Exhausted, we stumbled down the mountain, falling over several times and reached the high camp about 11 hours after leaving it. I was thinking at the time that I'll never climb another high mountain again, but a nice room, a bathtub and a sip of whiskey later, I was feeling pretty good and was thinking about climbing more mountains.

Next up was a 12 hour bus ride to Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4090 meters. Potosi was at one time the richest city in the world and in the 17th century bigger than New York and Paris. It's wealth stemmed from the nearby Cerro Rico

(Rich Mountain) which contains huge amounts of minerals and is still actively mined today.

During 4 centuries of mining around 8 million people have died from working in the mines which contain large visible quantities of asbestos and cyanide. The average life expectancy for a miner today is around 15 years from they start working, and there are currently around 15.000 miners - 2000 of them kids from 10-12 years of age.

Unlike most mine tours which take you on a museum-like tour, the Potosi tour brings you into the actual working enviroment of the mines, and this is no doubt one of the harshest working environments in the world.

We changed into our mining gear and went shopping for gifts for the miners – coca leaves, 96% alcohol, soft drinks and dynamite. In Potosi, everyone can buy as much dynamite as they want from small street vendors. This can have dramatic effects as our guide told us, as some 18 year-old English guys blew up a hostel in Uyuni a few months ago.

We went for a look at the high-tech refinery plant

which spews toxic waste into a nearby river. The mine is terribly hot and humid, dusty and cramped, and we had to crawl on our hands and knees as we descended for several kilometers and 40 meters down into the earth.

My next stop was Uyuni 10, hours away. From there I signed up for a 3 day tour of the Uyuni salt flats.

The colors created by the rich mineral deposits really makes the scenery look like it is from another planet.

We explored the worlds biggest salt flats,

some stunning lagoons filled with flamingos,

hot springs and geysirs,

and I had my first taste of llama.

There was really no way to do these scenes justice with my camera.

The salt flats tour then ended in San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile.

 

 

 

 





 


South America

Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay

Coming from Bolivia – the poorest country in South America, to Chile – the richest, and the town of San Pedro de Atacama (the biggest tourist trap in the country) sure was a big contrast. As we crossed the border we went from driving on no roads in antique busses and cars, to driving on the most perfectly paved roads, litterally 50 meters across the border.

San Pedro is a tiny dessert town of about 2000 people and about 3 times as may tourists. The town itself doesnt have many attractions, but the surrounding area has many of the same natural wonders I'd just witnessed in Bolivia.

The day we arrived happened to be Chiles Independence day and there was a big party going on for several days. I joined the Chileans from our group and had a fun night in an open air restaurant with a camp fire.

I can't say I have been a huge fan of the Boivian cuisine, its not bad, just decent and cheap. In San pedro that all changed, with the juiciest stakes and even juicier prices.

Getting out of San Perdro and in to Argentina as was my plan, proved not to be as easy as I'd thought – the next bus was leaving in three days. I rented a mountainbike and also attempted sandborading.

We had to pass through the valley of the moon and Death valley before arriving at an mountain of a sand dune in the Atacamas dessert.

Sandboarding turned out to be easier than it looked and a lot of fun.

Eventualy it was time for my departure to Salta, Argentina, a nice city the size of Oslo in northern Argentina. Driving there, the surroundings were scattered with Gaucho farms and the scenery reminded me of old western movies. The first night in Salta I went to a Peña that had live local music, and I tasted the best and juiciest steak of my entire life for USD 7. The rumours are true, the steakes in this country are absolutely fantastic and I instantly decided to increase my food budget for Argentina.

In Salta I finally had the chance to experience white water rafting on a nearby river. The rapids weren't crazy, with maksimum rapids of 3 on the scale but it was a fun introduction, considering I was almost killed doing tubing in too tough waters in Venezuela. The landscape surrounding the river was spectacular. The continental plates can actualy be seen standing vertically, having been pushed up over the millenia and the walls surrounding the river are covered in giant fosils of algae painted in surreal colors from differet mineral deposits.

Crossing the continent from the pacific side to the atlantic, I had decided to pass quickly through Paraguay – an unlikely tourist destination. I made my way to the border via some tiny Argentinian towns, and was let off on a stretch of road. I tried asking for buses to the border (my guide book had no info on this place) but the usual border town conspiracy of everyone knowing everyone, and everyone knowing your'e a gringo without information, meant the local taxi driver had a good day for business.

I then shared a taxi with aParaguayan to the capital Asuncion.

Although a city of one million people, it still has a distinct small town feel in the city centre. I got a hotell right on one of the main park squares, which had been turned into a shanty town, and probably housed hundreds of people, living in homemade tents. I went on a recomended walking tour of the centre, which was over in about 20 minutes, and left the following morning without seeing any other tourists.

My next stop would be one of the highlights of South American itineraries – Iguazu falls. Before heading there however, I had decided to make a quick stop in the Paraguayan border town of Ciudad del Este. This small town is not on most travelers' radars. But a city known as the most corrupt town in South America, and which a book I read a few years ago described as the place where international terrorism and international organized crime meets, was too tempting to not visit.

As i got to the bus terminal, I hopped on a local bus – one of the worst I've seen so far – into town. It turned out I had already seen the city centre, but, it beeing so small, I assumed there would be more. I therefore remained on the bus for about 45 minutes as we ventured further and further out into the outskirts of the city. Then the amazing thing happens, out of the blue, a bullet comes flying through the front windshield, missing the bus driver and passing straight through the bus down the centre aisle. I wanted to see this place for a reason, and it turned out I here got more than I'd bargained for. I now wanted to just remain on the bus, assuming it would return to the terminal, but I was not to be so lucky. About 5 minutes after the shooting, the bus came to a stop and the bus driver told me this was the end, and, there were no other buses or taxis in sight. I was in a deserted neighbourhood with no street lights, and the sun had just set. A big man with a limp and a shot gun came over and talked to me for a while and I eventually understood what the bus driver had been trying to tell me. If I waited for about a half an hour, he would give me a lift in his pick-up truck, into town. I was very happy with this solution, waited, then stopped by his friend's house where we delivered a used refrigerator before letting me off in town. I then jumped straight in a taxi for the border, and was soon after let off in the Brazilian resort city of Foz de Iguazu.

I walked around for about 30 minutes with my backpacks, but every hotel was either fully booked, or too expensive. Eventually i settled for a 30 $ a night hotel, turned my TV on and had a shower.

The following day I went to the Brazilian side of the falls which which was spectacular, beyond words.

It made me think what people who discover such a place must think. My favorite piece of music - Gabriel's Oboe from the movie the mission was filmed here - was playing in my ear.

Later in the day I crossed into Argentina and the much nicer little town of Puerto Iguazu. The following day I went to the Argentinian side of the falls – which were, if you can believe it, even more spectacular. I went on a boat trip into one of the falls getting soaking wet, and went to the best viewing point, litterally in the Devils throat, the biggest fall of them all.

I then hopped on a bus to the nice little town of Posadas. I stayed for two days and went for a day trip across the border to Paraguay to see the ruins of one of the biggest Jesuit mission stations, at Trinidad, one of the least visited Unesco sites in the world.

Getting to the mission station was hard enough, via local buses that let me off on a deserted highway. The only real clue to where the misson was, was a sign to a hotel Missiones. This was right, and I strolled around with the site to myself listening to my theme music. Getting back would proove even harder, as I had to sit by the highway for 2 hours before a bus finally came by, heading for the border town of Encarnación. Moving a distance of around 60 kilometers, and seing the sight for about an hour took me around 10 hours.

Buenos Aires was my next stop, and one I was looking forward to. On my first Sunday in the city the superclasico was schedules, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, one of the biggest derby matches in world football. We went to River stadium and were seated in the section next to the Boca fans.

Underneath the Boca fans were a big faction of River fans, and when river were up 2-0 well in to the second half, the Boca fans went crazy, ripping off about 500 seats and throwing them down on the fleeing River fans. An absolutely amazing football experience.

I went on numerous walks, saw the veranda where Evita famously stood,

and lived right next to the famous Obelisk landmark.

I decided to stay for another match the following sunday, when Argentina was playing Chile. There is a great rivalry between these two countries, and again we were in a great position to see it. We were seated at the back of the Argentina section, with the Chile fans seated 3 meters above and behind us, a great place to witess some of the most creative personal abuse I've ever heard in a football stadium.

In additon, seing Lionel Messi play live in Bueons Aires is something I'll never forget. The match ended in a 2-0 win from two fantastic Riquelme free kicks.

One of my strolls ended up in the Boca area of the city. Tis is a working class area, known for high crime levels, where it is recomended you stick strictly to the main tourist street – the camineta – which is nothing like the rest of the area.

I knew walking there that there was supposed to be a tourist street, but I was curious about how to find it. Well, it turned out I had walked through almost the entire La Boca neighbourhood, and had sat down for some pizza, before I realised it was on a map I had and on the opposite side of the area. I walked over, looked at the tango shows going on in the streets, and trying to get back without passing back through it, ended at the Boca football stadium,

I felt like moving on after the second game, and took the ferry across to Uruguay and Colonia de Sacramento.

I then moved on to Uruguay's capital, Montevideo.

Although an interesting mix of old and new – horse drawn carts are still widely seen in the street – I didn't feel like sticking around for too long in another big city after spending over two weeks in Buenos Aires, and after a day of sightseeing I left for South Americas version of St. Tropez – Punta del Este.

A peninsula of high rises and fancy designer shops, this was not a place I had planned on hanging around for too long. And after spending a day on the beach, I fell asleep at around 7 in the evening and never went out to see the jet set night life.

The next morning I left for the small beach town of Paloma.

A good way off the beaten track, and with no map in my guide book, I started asking around for a hotel. A friendly English speaking local gave me 3 options, but warned me they might be closed, as the season hadn't started yet. He was very right, they were in fact all closed and the place was desserted, so I decided to get an onward ticket and make Paloma a day trip.

In the evening I arrived in the small fishing village of Punta del Diablo as dusk was setting in. This for once was a village that was rightly described as a fishing village,

the main street made of sand, and the entire city quiet on a friday night.

The Atlantic ocean blows fierce winds onto this "devils’ point", and I decided there was no way I would attempt to surf in these freezing waters. There was one restaurant open, and I had a nice sea food dinner here while three locals played traditional folk songs, with the singer, an Ernest Hemigway lookalike, approached each table in a friendly gesture with an axe!, asking for permission to keep singing, which was naturally granted by all the 4 other tables.

The next moming I left for brazil. On the way, it struck me how few peoples live up to their stereotypical cultural image as the Uruguayans. Mate (tea) is a popluar drink in the Gaucho region, spanning several countries, but in Uruguay it seemed like 9 out of 10 people were carrying a thermos of hot water, and even carrying it in a very characteristic way, probably instilled from childhood, to keep refilling their cup of bitter, herbal mate.

I arrived in the border town of Chuy, which grows naturally into Brazil with no apparent border and eventually, after lots of walking made my way into Brazil.





 


South America

Brazil and Panama

I didn't have a detailed plan for the southern coast of Brazil before Florianapolis, and that was still a couple of days of buses away, so I stopped for a night in the town of Pelotas. It looked like a decent sized town, but I had no information about it except the name. As I arrived, it turned out to be impossible to get money at the bus terminal – the ATM didn't accept international cards. So I had two options, either venture into town spending my first night in Brazil  in a totally unknown town asking people for the way to the bank, or spend my last money on a bus ticket to Porto Allegre, a town I felt pretty certain would have an international ATM.

I chose the latter and arrived in town at 2.30 at night, got money at the terminal and got a taxi to a hotel. The next morning I went for an hours walk before hopping on another bus to Florianapolis.

The city in itself is not that interesting, but the beatifull island of Ihla Santa Catarina is conected to it with a bridge. I came in at night and spent the first night in a hostel in town, where I met Max from Germany while eating an expensive Brazilian pizza.

The following morning we left for the island and got a dorm in a great hostel right on the beach. Surf boards were free, but the water was too cold for me to get in, and I only managed to put a toe in before leaving north towards warmer waters two days later.

Max and I made a day trip to Joinville, a German city in the middle of Brazil with lots of blond people and German style houses.

We regrettfully also learned the we were two days late for the second biggest Octoberfest in the world, in a nearby, even more German, city.

Later in the day we left for Curitiba, a nice university city that Max knew from an earlier stay. We spent a few days hanging around before I decided to move on, while Max stayed behind.

My plan was to now head for the tropical island of Ihla Grande. I first had to get a bus to Sao Paolo, and on the way as I was reading about how to get to the island- It would take me another two days before being able to get there. My patience at the time was somewhat low after spending quite a bit of time in buses recently, I decided I would go to Rio in stead, and visit the island later. So I changed buses in Sao Paolo, spent abut 3 hours in rush hours trafick in the city which seemed the size of a small European country and arrived in Rio at 3 in the morning, at one of the seediest bus terminals Ive seen.

As I found Brazil expensive, I changed my mind about continuing up the Brazilian coast. I had now completed my plan of going by land from Caracas to Rio, and would therefore allow myself to fly to more alluring places.

A brazilian night bus would cost me almost a hundred USD, and I reasoned I could pay for a flight and still come out spending less in a cheaper country. So I left for a travel agent and inquired about flights to Bogota. They turned out to be much more expensive than I'd thought. As I was considering my options, the little piece of information the travel agent gave me – I need to stop in Panama to get to Bogota – gave me the idea of flying up there in stead, and catch a sail boat down to Colombia.

I went back to ask about tickets, but to my surprise, all travel agents in Rio close around 2 o’clock on Saturdays! In one of the biggest tourist cities in the world!

I had my mind made up now however, I was going to Panama. The last time I was there I'd met a lot of people who were waiting to cross to Colombia. The Darien Gap, which separates Central and South America is one of the most dangerous places in the world, rife with guerilla activity and malaria, so the options are flying or sailing. The last time around I had an onward flight, but this now seemed like the perfect option.

After one night in Rio, I ended up spending a couple of nights sleeping at the air port, in an attempt to get a ticket for Panama.

When I arrive in Panama I have fond memories of my last taxi ride from that airport and decide to walk onto a highway and catch a 0.25 $ bus into town. Its around 40 degrees and the bus is so packed I can barely drag my backpacks along the floor of the bus. A weird 30 minutes follow however, that will make me wonder why I didnt spend more time in this friendly country the last time I was here.

First someone offers me their seat, which I eventually accept after they insist. Then a guy gives me the bus fare because I dont have any less change than 10 $. Next, the woman sitting next to me gives me a picture of her daughter living in the States. I'm not sure how to react but I accept it with thanks along with a picture of the Virgen of Guadalupe. A little later a man sitting next to me takes off his neclace of rosary beeds which he insistes on giving to me. Finally, a young man I've been talking to gets off the bus with me and insists on helping me get a taxi to my hostel – for the non-gringo price. This is a land of contrasts however, as while I'm in my taxi, we drive by a car accident where the driver of the car, which has apparently crashed into a motor bike, sending the driver crashing into the windshileld, is now chasing the other man around the car with a huge knife.

I finally get to my hostel, which is a great source of information about these boat trips, which have irregular deparures and are not your typical tourist cruise. They are simply private captains with their own boats making infrequent trips back and forth between Colombia and Panama.

You never really know what you get. The boat could hold anything from 4-20 people, and the horror stories you hear are almost to amazing to be believed. As we would find out, a lot of these captains are quite the characters.

I have to wait for 4 days to get a spot. Before leaving I also have to get a new yellow fever shot as I've lost my innoculation card, and this is absolutely neccesary when entering Brazil from a yellow fever country like Colombia. This beeing Central America I'm hoping to be able to pay my way past actually getting the shot. No such luck however, after trying at 3 different desks I end up having to have my second shot in 6 months.

I then sign up as crew on the 30 foot sail boat Tarona,

with a Swiss-Chileno guy named Ben,

a Japanese couple and a 60-year old Swedish captain Per,

who turns out to have a strong liking for cheap rum and young girls.

Our group left Panama City on the day of Panamas independence from Colombia and spent 5 hours in a crowded and very hot bus to the former pirate town of Portobello. We met our captain and got a free history lesson about the famous pirates who used to roam these waters, and who on numerous occasions sacked the town, stealing all the Spaniards’ newly stolen gold. From the surroundings, you could really picture pirates pounding the town with cannons from the bay.

After a 2 minute introduction, our group was having a beer, and the captain offered to delay our departure for a night so we could watch the festivities. As we were heading back to Tarona for the night, in a dingy, we got our first view of our captains’ seamans skills. After a minute where he couldn't start the engine because he forgot to put the key in, he put the engine in wrong gear and ran straight in to another dingy. Half way out to the boat the engine actually fell off and was submerged in sea water. It was hooked to a cable so we didn't loose it, but it now stopped running. And, as there were no ores in the boat we had to use our hands to paddle back to shore and spend the night in a hostel.

In the morning we set sail for the San Blas Islands.

Tarona had 3 beds, which meant we all had to do alternating 2 hour watches at night and share the beds. Having no sailing experience this was quite interesting, and we were at one point doing 360 degree circles, watching our autopilote struggle. The following morning I woke up in paradise.

My image of south Sea Islands from pirate lore, inhabited by the Kuna Indians.

They are an autonomous tribe from Panana, who still live the way they always have and still speak the Kuna language, not Spanish.

We got to experience this culture in a unique way, visiting 4 islands, sailing in their amazing holed out canoes,

eating cold smoked fish, lobster and crab, and for me and Benny, spending a night in a hamock outside a Kuna hut on a tiny island with only 4 families.

In total we spent 3 days on the islands before setting sail for Cartagena and Colombia, and 70 hours without seeing land.

We got to know a little bit about sailing, had our autopilote brake, our stabilizing sail (one out of two) rip in half in a rainstorm,

and had fun getting to know the crew which included a Japanaese chef who’d brought wasabi (couldnt catch a single tuna on the whole trip though!).

We arrived in Cartagena harbour to a spectacular showing of expensive boats.

Id always dreamt of sailing in the caribbean, and this, beat all my expectations for the sailing experience, the amazing San Blas Islands and last but not least, the crazy stories of Captain Per.

 




 

South America

Colombia and Brasil

So I was back in beatifull Cartagena, on top of the continent.

We quickly moved on to Santa Marta and the national park

Parque Tayrona. Beautifull  deserted beaches

shrouded in dense jungle and accesible only via a two hour walk through mud and donkey shit, that reached half way up our calves.

We didn’t bring nearly enough money for the resort and survived on bread and mustard which we’d aquired a taste for during the boat trip from Panama. I left a day early and got caught up in a tropical rain storm on my two walk back.

My bus was then stopped by military police, another reminder that the security situation could be have been better.

After some days of beaches we left for Medellin, where we watched Colombia beat Venezuela on a huge screen in a park in the centre of the Zona Rosa. The next day we got on a night bus to Bogota.

After some days in the capital I had booked a flight on the Monday for Leticia, in the south-east corner of Colombia, and the entry point to the Amazon.

I was getting short on time and jumped on a hostel/boat trip package at the airport. My plan was to go on a river boat down the Amazon river for 4 days to Manaus in Brazil, and I knew the departures were quite infrequent. By overpaying for this package I fixed imigration formalities right away and had a ticket and a hamock two days later.

Leticia is an unremakble city that merges completetly with the Brazilian city of Tabatinga. There are no visible borders and you are free to come and go as you want. It turned out my hostel was on the Brazilian side, on a rather shady back street, still Ok for a day and a half.

On the wednesday I bordered the M/N Dom Manoe, a rusty Brazilian river boat (not as nice as this one which was more expensive and left a half hour before my boat left)

with three decks. The lower one for cargo – chickens, fruit and anything else anyone could think of bringing. The second one for hamocks, strung up so dense that you could hardly traverse it. The third deck was a sun deck where I would end up spending most of my time watching the shore.

Before we embarked,

my hostel owner was nice enough to inform me that there was currently an outbreak of malaria on the river I was going down, and, dengue fever was always a risk, so; suerte – have a nice trip.

The boat holds about 200 passengers and it quickly turns out that except for 3 Italians, part of a hippie musical group, I am the only Gringo, and also the only English speaker on board.

Many people are curious, and I end up getting to know what seems like half the people on the boat. The conversations are ok with a few people who speak Spanish, but a lot of the Brazilians, who are from small Amazon villages speak a Portuguese that makes even the most basic conversation a struggle. This aside though, this is the real Brazil and real Brazilians (or Amazonians). With no roads, the rivers are the highways that people travel on, and I’ve chosen the cheapest and most crowded boat available.

You are warned well in advance that Amazonian travel is not for everyone. It’s extremely slow, the food is bland and cooked in river water, you have to fight for the best hamock space and the boats are terribly crowded. Never the less, that sounded like a fun experience to me… and it certainly was an experience

It’s amazing seeing the amazon snake its way through deep jungle, with small isolated settlements along the way. One of the most fascinating things to me is the color of the water. While I’d heard of the merging of the waters further down beetween rivers, it’s a mystery to me how you can have a stretch of say 500 meters of "black" water totally isolated and just laying there with "latte" colored water surrounding it. This happens all the way down the river and is a strange sight.

What also surprised me was the amount of drift wood. There are enormous trees floating around everywhere, and our Captain had to keep a constant lookout and manouver around the biggest ones. An interesting, and depressing thing, which I’ve witnessed all over the continent is unfortunately also prevelant here on the boat. People will litteraly stand next to a garbage can, and still, throw beer cans, plastic cups and bottles straight into the river – a sad sight. River dolphins follow us all along the way, unfortuantely they are anoyingly camera shy.

As I hang up my hamock for the first time I make sure its securely fastened to the roof before testing it. I don't, however, check that the ropes that came with it are securely fastended to the hamock, and they turn out not to be. A second later I’m on the floor with a very painfull tail bone which stuns my spine and almost knocks me unconscious.

The first night I sleep rather uncomfortabely in what is effectively a triple bed, with a Brazilian girl on my left and an annoying Brazilian guy on my right who insists on spreading his legs and sleeping sideways, partly on me

As I’m going to bed the second night, more people have come on and I now have to sleep with my head under the end of the girls’ hamock, another person’s feet about 20 cm from my face also under the hamock, and another pair of feet gently scratching my neck and the back of my head. I give up, jump up angrily and take down my hamock and go looking for a better spot. I guess better is relative, but I end up finding a spot way at the back of the boat, where I string up right on the boats’ railing, and get to sleep alone while I view the starlit sky and the Amazon pass by.

The third night someone has decided to turn off all lights and there’s no way I can find my backpack, which is where my hamock used to be, and which contains my blanket. It’s quite windy here at the back of the boat, but I manage to roll myself in my hamock and catch some sleep. As I wake up the next morning I find out the great news that we’re not arriving in Manaus today as I think, the trip is actually 4 nights and 5 days! Great!

There are 3 basic meals a day. I never get up for breakfast, even though my new hamock spot is nicely situated about one meter from the urine stenched woman’s toilet and fausets, and takes up half the aisle, meaning I get bumped into about every 15 seconds, from about 6 every morning. At night I’m occasionally awakened by giant beetles that fly in to my hamock looking for the light above the toilet.

The other meals are typical Brazilian, rice and beans (which I really enjoy) and some type of fish or meat. Being somewhat of a celebrity on board, someone always comes and get me when it’s feeding time. The whole boat then lines up, and we take turns eating 10 and 10 at a time, while the rest wait and watch, in line.

After 5 days I’m a very happy man as we reach Manaus – a huge insdustrial town in the middle of the Amazon.

Did I enjoy it? – no, would I do it again? – no, and definately not alone, am I glad I did it? – most definately! What an experience to think back on when I’m at the senior citicens center 60 years from now.

I make another desperate attemt at heading for the airport without a ticket but have to go back and spend a night before I can get down to Rio the next morning. Manaus is completely dead on a Sunday, all shops are closed and there are no people in the streets. I spend the night trying out a local speciality – cacaa. A soup the same colour as the Amazon river, and I’m sure tasting like a sweetened version of it. It also contains some leaves, dried unpeeled shrimps and an absolutely disgusting lump of see-through gelly I have noe idea what is. This comes high up on my list of disgusting meals, and I decide this is a 5 Reais experience, not a meal, and go looking for a hamburger.

The next day I arrive in Rio and get the cheapest hotel I can find, which is not cheap. I’ve decided I’ve had enough of staying in dorm rooms and hostels on this trip so I go looking for an apartement, and two days later move into a nice little apartement for roughly the same price, right on Copacabana beach.

I’ve been having recurring stomach problems for some weeks now, and my last week in Rio it’s back (eating food cooked in Amazon water for 5 days might not have helped the situation), which means I’m not able to explore Rio like I would have wanted to. Still, a good reason to go back in the future.

I see the major attractions of the Sugar Loaf

and Christ the redeemer

which is situated on a jungle-covered mountain with monkeys

and other animals, in the middle of the city, and spend a few hours trying to finally get a tan on Copacabana and nearby Ipanema Beach,

before my impatience (and wish for close proximity to a toilet) sees me returning to my apartement and my 70 TV channels.

So, almost eight months have passed, and I'm at the journey's end. I’ve visited 12 Latin American countries, spent countless hours in South American buses and met tons of great people from all over the world. It feels good to be going home right now, but I also know that I won’t need many weeks at home before the travel bug comes back to haunt me. And, hopefully, this won’t be my last trip.

Here is the route I’ve covered

Hasta Luego, South America… I’ll be back.

 

 




 

Middle East

Egypt, Jordan and Israel

After spending 6 months in Norway since coming home from South America, I finally had the chance for a quick trip abroad again as I was changing jobs this summer. Looking through the last minute deals online I found a cheap flight to Egypt and the resort city of Hurgadha.

I also managed to convince my friend Christian to come along for a week, while I would spend another week travelling by myself. Two weeks in Hurgadha does not fit my perfect image of a vacation however, so I tried making  some plans for once, and had a rough idea for a rather ambitious two week itinerary that in the end would end up looking like this.

I spent the night before leaving, awake watching Indiana Jones in preparation for Petra, one of the highlights of the trip. I then met up with Christian at Olaf Ryes Plass at 4.30, from where we walked down to Oslo S for the train to the airport. We followed one of Christian’s travelling traditions by having a wonderful breakfast at the airport hotel before we took off for the African Red Sea coast of Egypt.

We had our first encounter with the world class salesmanship of the Egyptians at the airport, represented by taxi drivers that told us the wildest stories to solicit our business, and who had no shame in asking the most ridiculous price to take us in to town. We got what turned out to be an illiterate driver, who had no use for my guidebook with an address and map, and kept asking for other reference points like hospitals and beaches, which we of course knew nothing about. Eventually we were in the neighbourhood, found the hotel we wanted and set out for some sightseeing, and a first taste of Egyptian beer.

We then went through the old city and got to know some more Egyptian touts, tried some “free” Egyptian tea, and ended up in something which is now only referred to as “the papyrus incident”, which will not be mentioned again. Suffice it to say that there will be made a ceremonial fire of some papyrus rolls at some point in time, where voodoo-like spells

will be put on all Egyptian touts, and the generations that will follow them. We then went back to our hotel to rest and fell asleep at 7 and slept until the next morning. We then took a ferry across the Red Sea to the Sinai peninsula. We boarded an old Norwegian vessel called Sjøprinsessen 2, buckled up our seat belts and braced ourselves for a very bumpy ride at full throttle, while several passengers around us were busy discarding their breakfast, and the crew put on a small dance show.

Sharm El Sheik is similar place to Hurgadha, and we only went for a nice falafel meal

before getting a bus to the small backpacker haven of Dahab a little further up the coast.

On the bus we met a nice retired English couple that lived in Dahab 6 months a year, who gave us a lot of helpful information.

Although we’d wanted to spend more time there, and possibly do some snorkelling, we decided to head on the following morning, after spending a nice evening at the beach side restaurants and cafes.

After a bus to Nuweiba it was rip off-time again as we had to pay the inflated tourist price for the boat, and in dollars which we didn’t have. This turned out to be a nice little side business for the ticket clerk who was more than happy to accommodate us for a ridiculous exchange rate.

Getting on this boat would prove to be a lot harder then we thought, and after a few attempts at entering the port area we were firmly and aggressively told to sit down, no discussion, no information as to what and where to go from here. We were sitting around for a few hours in the sun expecting to be let in any minute, but soon realized something was not right as no one seemed to be allowed to enter.

There were around 300 people gathered outside the port and they were getting more and more anxious. Out of the 300, two were westerners – us. We could get no information, and the locals seemed as bewildered as us. So we made camp in the shade at a nearby parking garage.

We had been sitting around for 4-5 hours when suddenly the crowd erupted and stampeded towards a different gate. We had no idea what was happening but followed the crowd. Some very aggressive pushing ensued and amazingly we were singled out by an elderly police man and ushered through and into a large hall.

We then had to sit around waiting for immigration, where a new stampede occurred, before the Kafkaesque process of getting on the boat continued. The police were getting aggressive, pushing people around and shouting at the people at the lower end of the pecking order. There was a weird dynamic to this situation, and we were unable to figure things out. It seemed that some backsheesh was the way to make the system work for you, as rich looking people seemed to be let through to the next part of the process. As we didn’t want to be seen taking advantage of our western status, we stayed in the background, but after around 9 hours of waiting we tried to get some attention and finally made it out the door, and into a bus with no seats, where we were huddled together like sardines into a seat-less bus, and another wait of around 40 minutes followed in this oven like situation.

At this point, the message must have been given that no more people would be allowed onto the boat, as the crowd went crazy trying to get out of the hall, and police proceeded to beat the crap out of a bunch of people for a few minutes. With sticks and all, the whole spectacle was surreal, and we felt a long way from the other charter tourists in Hurgadha. Things took a serious turn for the better when we finally got on the boat, as an opportunistic employee

looking for backsheesh bumped us up to the first class lounge, with great seats and air-con. 2 hours later we arrived in Aqqaba and the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, at 2 in the morning, 11 hours late. As we were short on time we opted for a taxi to Petra, and 2,5 hours in one of the worst cars I’ve ever been in followed. As usual the driver was a lunatic, and the car had some serious damage to it as it was actually vibrating noticeably the entire time.

We slept for a few hours before we were to spend a long day at one of the most spectacular sites in the world, Petra. This remarkable “rose red” city was carved into the mountainside more than 2000 years ago, and has one very well known image, the treasury, situated at the end of a narrow canyon.

Because it lies in Jordan, a country that has a very undeserving reputation for being dangerous, it receives much less attention and tourists than it deserves. Unfortunately we saw some bad mistreatment of animals, and actually freed a donkey! It seemed someone had forgotten it in the sun in a remote part of a mountain side

and it looked as if it was moments away from dying. It was lying on the ground, barely able to move and panting heavily, and just managed to crawl into the shade after we freed it. Still, we had a fantastic day that ended with a nice sun burn after about 7 hours in the sun with no sun screen.

Next up we decided to check out the capital of Jordan, Amman, without knowing anything about it.

The contrast from Egypt and it’s touts was extreme. I have never felt more welcome in a country; we actually started to wonder whether there was a campaign from the ministry of tourism, as we experienced everywhere people asking us where we were from followed by them warmly welcoming us to Jordan.

We found a liquor store, easier said than done in Jordan as alcohol is only permitted sold and consumed by non-mulisms (and local christians make up a few per cent of the population), and went up on a hill in the centre of the city as night was falling.

From there we were treated to a symphony of prayer calls from about 10 different mosques from all over the city. This gave us our first sense of really being in a Muslim country, yet with a taste of home as we sipped our cans of Jordanian beer.

Amman is not your typical tourist destination but we found it interesting to see a big Arab city away from the tourist trails. We covered the sights the city has to offer quite quickly – the roman theatre

the citadel with remnants of a temple in the honour of Hercules

and went to the local markets. Amman seemed more traditional than what we had seen so far and a large part of the female population were wearing burka-like dresses. Amman also had an amazing falafel restaurant where you could get a plate of falafel, a bowl of hummus and a soda for 2 USD – fantastic.

Christian then had to fly out to Cairo while I stayed another night at our very nice colonial style hotel and watched the European Championships. My plan had been to leave the same day, but to my surprise it helps to make some plans when you intend to cross the border into the West Bank and Israel, and I was told the border was closed as I was heading out.

The following morning I left early for the border together with a very nervous American student. He had been to Syria before and was terrified of what would happen at the border crossing. I had to watch his bags a couple of times while he went away to puke, before I crossed the border myself with no incident, except for a laughing 5 minute questioning with 3 female Israeli army officers.

I then almost opted for a bus to Jerico as I hadn’t brought any cash and to my surprise there were no cash machines on the Israeli side of the border. Luckily I managed to scrape together enough Egyptian money to pay the fare for the minibus to Jerusalem. We past through the West bank with no incident and saw hardly any sights except dessert.

As I arrived in the Muslim part of the city I struck up a conversation with an elderly man who offered me a glass of juice from a street stall. He told me he was one of 14 000 stateless Palestinians living in the city and made for an interesting conversation for a while. I then trudged on into the walled city to have a look around. I was meeting my friend Yaron in Tel Aviv later in the day to celebrate his birthday but wanted to get some sightseeing done first. Getting rid of my backpack proved a difficult (or expensive) task however and I ended up walking for about 3,5 hours in the baking sun with my two backpacks. After a lot of asking around and retracing my steps I found a minibus to Tel Aviv. Again I realized that the value of a guidebook can not be overrated (I didn’t have one for Israel and Jordan). In Tel Aviv I headed straight for the beach, again with my two backpacks and waited for Yaron to get off work.

 

I then headed over to his place where I got a comfortable couch for the night and went out for a nice meal in a bohemian part of town together with Yaron and his wife. This is one of my favourite thing about travelling, the connections you make with people. Yaron and I had first met 3 years ago on a tiny Caribbean island in Mexico where we spent about a week together in one of the nicest places on earth – La Isla Mujeres. A year and a half later, much to my surprise he went on his honeymoon to Asia while I was travelling around, and we met up in Hanoi and went on an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay together. And now, a further year and a half on, I was enjoying his and his wife’s company in their home town and had the opportunity to get a real feel for the Israeli way of life.

I wish I’d had a lot more time to enjoy it, but I’m certain Israel is a country I will definitely come back to in the future, there is so much more to see. We had a wonderful meal where I sampled a lot of small Israeli dishes and learned that Israeli food is very similar to Arabic food – and very good. Yaron and I then went to a local bar for a quick look at the local night life before the night was over.

The next morning I went back to Jerusalem

and started on 24 hours of hard core sightseeing. The walled city really is like a history book where every corner has a story to tell. Being in this place gives you the feeling of being in perhaps the most important place on earth – a holy place for the 3 major monotheistic religions and the reason for 2 millennia of war and conflict. If anything has come out of this trip for me besides the normal thrill of travelling, it is a desire to try to understand more of this ancient conflict that continues every day, over this small space of dessert lands.

Jerusalem was packed with tourists and I felt a slight sense of disappointment at the amount of tourist stalls. The next day however I was out in the streets at around 8 and had the streets almost entirely to myself.

I tried to see as much as I could but you need a lot more than 2 days to see this place. I did get to see the wailing wall

the temple mount

the Via Dolorosa – where Jesus carried the cross

and a lot of smaller sights before I had to leave far earlier than I would have liked to, for Eilat on the Red Sea coast.

On the bus to Eilat I got to know a Swedish guy called Pelle and we ended up sharing a room together. On the way we followed the length of the Dead Sea and I looked longingly on as I so wanted to try swimming while reading a newspaper – at least another reason to go back. The following morning I fixed my Visa and we crossed the border back into Egypt.

We walked across and luckily met a minibus heading for Cairo that was just missing two passengers. We got a fair deal for once after some haggling and huddled into the crowded bus that did not have the air-con that was promised. We then crossed the entire length of the Sinai dessert

and through Suez before we arrived at Mubarak in Cairo at around 9 in the evening. Cairo really hits you like a slap in the face and instantly challenges all your senses, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the crazy traffic – pedestrian and motorized – really needs to be seen to be believed.

The next morning we headed for the pyramids via the subway and ended up at a tourist trap a few kilometres from the entrance, thanks to a taxi driver who picked us up when we got off at the wrong stop.

After a long negotiation we decided to get two camels to take us to the pyramids. This was a great way to see them for the first time. As you approach them from a distance they look completely deserted

and your body aches from the bumpy ride. As you get there, the scene changes completely, and you’re in tourist central – with hundreds of tourists and almost as many touts. We walked around the site for a few hours just taking in the enormousness of the thing, and how surprisingly small the Sphinx is.

I also went into the centre of the Kheops pyramid, a very hot and humid experience.

After this we wanted to try something less touristy so we hopped in a taxi and headed for the centre of town. We then decided to try to make our way to our hotel and started walking. Some of the neighbourhoods we passed through seemed kind of hostile and we received some unpleasant looks that actually made us a little nervous. We were actually kind of lost when a tiny old man came up to us and offered to show us the way. He then proceeded to give us a 40 minute guided tour of Islamic Cairo which was really memorable. The tours took us through tiny back streets

and the old man gave us a local history lesson that seemed to focus a lot on the harems of the city.

Now it doesn’t take you long to learn that nothing is free in Egypt, and of course the old man wanted us to come to his little museum-cum-tourist trap at the end of the trip. He insisted on giving us an amazing gift, where we would get to buy "real", "handmade" trinkets for a "very special price". We wanted to pay him for his time so we bought some shit after some very persistent “gift offering” which left us with a sour taste of what would otherwise have been a very special experience.

The following day I went on a city tour with two Israeli guys and an American girl from my hotel. We saw some interesting sites

and ended up with a very nice meal in a boat on the Nile.

The tour included a stop at the Egyptian museum, which I found to be quite disappointing. I don’t know what I expected really, but I feel so much more could have been done with all that potential.

Two chaotic days in Cairo were over and I boarded a night train for Luxor the same night.

I shared a six person cabin with non-reclining seats and was lucky enough to get fellow passengers that brought a total of 5 kids with them. Didn’t get to much sleep that night. At 7 in the morning I was there, and I set off for a hectic day. My plan was to see the valley of kings and some temples and then get to Hurgadha for the night. I dumped my bag in a cheap room and bought a bus ticket for Hurgadha before I set off on my own, refusing to buy a tour. I paid a guy a dollar fifty to take me across the Nile

and the paid a taxi driver around 10 euros to drive me around all day. The Valley of the Kings is a unique place. Tombs of more than 20 pharaohs are scattered around this small valley, and the Indiana Jones Theme easily starts playing in your head (and if it doesn’t, it helps to have an mp3-player like I did to create the right athmosphere). As I was by myself I had the tombs entirely to myself and also had the opportunity to fire off some quick photographs after some backsheesh was handed over.

I then went to two great temples, which still look great considering their age.

I then grabbed a few beers with my taxi driver and got to know two French Egyptologoists who didn’t know Indiana Jones!!! What culture snobs, I thought, and refused to talk to them (ok, I didn't, but that’s what I should have done).

So my trip was pretty much over and it was time to head back to Hurgadha. But first there would be another opportunity to rip me off. It turned out I was taken to the wrong bus station, and the guys at the office could "fix" things, get me a taxi and get me on the bus at another station, at a price of course. So I paid the price, as I had to get on the bus, and off course it turned out only half went to the driver. I made sure to fire him up so hopefully he’ll go back there and make some trouble.

Hurgadha is everything I don’t want in a travelling destination. So, I spent my time in the sun, reading my interesting Sir Richard Francis Burton biography and eating fast food. And finally I had time to get some sleep. A hectic but very interesting two weeks were over.

I had seen some of the most spectacular sights in the world, and had seen the remnants of one of the greatest cultures in history and unfortunately the neagative side of 150 years of mass tourism. In spite of the many dislikes, I'd still go back and explore more of this fascinating culture in the future.

wa-aleikum-as-salam




 


Mexico + Guatemala og Belize

Vamos a Mexico!

Vi har nå landet i Mexico etter en 11 timers flyutur fra Amstedam og satt kursen direkte mot stranden (Mexico City får vi se en annen gang) og Acapulco. Bussturen ned fra hovedstaden (som ligger et par tusen meter over havet) hadde klare likhetstrekk med flyturen og jeg våknet ved et par anledninger av "turbulens" og vektløs tilstand, da vår fartsglade bussjåfør holdt stø kurs for kysten eller nærmeste avgrunn.

Været er fantastisk her, rundt 30 grader om dagen, og ikke så mye mindre om natten. Som utålmodig, solhungrig og vinterblek nordmann i Mexicos nydelige klima, er det ikke alltid like enkelt å kjenne sin begrensning, eller å huske på å smøre føttene sine. Dette har da resultert i noen utrolig solbrente føtter, med vannblemmer og opphovnede føtter! Blir nok en liten pause fra sola for føttene framover.

Acapulco er utenfor sesongen nå, så det er få turister her. Byen har ikke så mye å by på annet enn uteliv og strandliv, og det er tydelig at den hadde sin storhetstid for en del år siden da den var lekegrind for 50-tallets Hollywoodstjerner. Én stor attraksjon er det imidlertid fortsatt verdt å få med seg her, de verdenskjente klippestuperne, som stuper fra sinnssyke 45 meter. De må visstnok time stupet etter bølgene for ikke å bli knust mot havbunnen! Sykt! Det mest imponerende var imidlertid en litt smålubben stuper, som selvsikkert nok hadde tegnet på seg six-pack med sprittusj!

Mexicanerne er utrolig hyggelige og interesserte i å snakke med turister, så vi prøver så godt vi kan å utvide det foreløpig veldig begrensede spanske ordforrådet. Engelsk kommer man nemlig ikke veldig langt med. "Dosientoventidos, por favor" var noe av det første vi lærte oss for å få tak i hotellnøkkelen.

Etter noen dager aklimatisering har vi beveget oss ca. 20 mil nordover langs stillehavskysten til Zihuatenejo, stedet hovedpersonen drømmer om i filmen Frihetens regn. Det er en veldig hyggelig liten laid back by, og en stor kontrast til Acapulco. Jeg har også tatt turen ut i sola igjen etter å ha gitt huden et par dagers hvile.


Vi testet så vidt ut utelivet, i denne stille byen. Ikke mye som rørte på seg, men vi ble kjent med en lokal "flyktning" fra USA som hadde flyktet sørover for å komme seg unna lovens lange og urimelige arm. 63 år gamle Biker-Tom hadde et levd et spennende liv som han gjerne vill fortelle om. CVen inkluderte en fortid som profesjonell dopsmugler, og han hadde sittet fengslet i 4 land og blitt torturert av det greske militærregimet på 70-tallet. I tillegg hadde han en mikroskopisk chiuawava som spankulerte rundt på bardisken og tisset når det passet den.

Spanskkunnskapene må bli bedre, da første forsøk på å handle bussbilletter holdt på å ende opp i en retur til Mexico City. No refund, og no entiendo - en lærepenge i at hvis du ikke forstår så kommer det til å koste. Vi satser nå på en laang busstur forbi Acapulco, videre ned stillehavskysten til Puerto Escondido, en liten surfeby der vi regner med å møte to norske gutter vi ble kjent med i Acapulco.

Hasta luego!

André




 

Mexico + Guatemala og Belize

Oaxaca og Puerto Escondido – Mexico

Buenas...! Og Gracias por las felicitaciones.

Dagen ble tilbrakt i Puerto Escondido, en liten surfer- og backpakkerby som holdt på oppmerksomheten vår en uke. Vi tok inn på shabby men sosiale Hostel Shalom og tiden ble i stor grad tilbragt på stranden, der jeg har prøvd surfing for første gang, med liten suksess. Om man ikke ser kul ut i vannet så ser man i det minste kul ut på land når man bærer på et surfboard, noe gutta boys kan skrive under på...

I Puerto Escondido ble vi kjent med masse mennesker fra hele verden. Selve bursdagen ble tilbrakt på stranda med Christine, to meksikanske jenter, en meksikansk gutt, en eksentrisk jussstuderende anarkist-amerikaner med en Chiuwava, og to italienske gutter (hvorav en av de hadde bodd 6 måneder i Halden av alle steder, som utvekslingsstudent!).

Etter hvert dro vi sammen med to danske gutter til storbyen Oaxaca City, høyt oppe i de mexicanske fjellene. Her var det kaldt i forhold til tropiske Puerto. Regntiden har nå også kommet til Mexico, så de siste dagene har solen blitt avbrutt av en del korte, kraftige regnskyll.

I Oaxaca er det mye historie, og vi har sett de første av mange pre-colombianske ruinbyer. Zapoteckulturens hoedstad, Monte Alban, er en imponerende steinby med pyramider. Vi så også gravstedsbyen deres og fikk leke Indiana Jones inne i underjordiske gravkammer! Verdens største (helst sikkert avhengig av definisjonen) har vi også sett: 55 meter i omkrets!

Mexikansk versjon av wrestling er litt av et show som langt overgår sin amerkanske slektning.

I går kveld var vi på wrestlingshow med de to danske guttene og to danske jenter vi ble kjent med på Hostel Magic, her i Oaxaca. Et enda mer shabby hostel enn Shalom, men uten den samme sosiale sjarmen. Her var det dverger, lettkledde damer, latin lovers og menn i spandeks-insektdrakter. Dommeren langet ut sitt første slag etter ca. ett minutt og var en av de mest aktive bryterne og heltene. Superstjernene var tagteamet Latin Lovers, bestående av to forutsigbare bolekarer i stringtruser – som damene naturlig? nok kastet seg over i vill begeistring. Stemningen var fantastisk og brytingen (eller slåssingen) foregikk vel så mye oppe på tribunen som innenfor ringen (av bryterne altså, ikke blant publikum).

Meixcansk mat har vi virkelig fått smaken på, og toleransen for chilli stiger for hver dag som går. Ikke for å si noe galt om norsk taco, men de som tror at norsk taco er mexicansk mat bør prøve noe av de fantastiske quesadillas eller hamburgesas con queso som selges på alle gatehjørner.

Turen går nå videre i buss til San Christobal de las Casas.

 




 

Mexico + Guatemala og Belize

San Christobal, Cancun, La Isla Mujeres, Valladolid og Tulum – Mexico

Reisen vår har fortsatt i regnværet. Etter Oaxaca dro vi til en hyggelig liten fjellby fra den spanske kolonitiden, San Christobal de las Casas, som ligger ca 3000 meter over havet. Der var det faktisk skikkelig kaldt (i forhold til hva vi er vant med for tiden) og vi var nødt til a sove med tjukke ulltepper om natten. Vi ble der i to netter før vi satte kursen mot Cancun og sol og varme (trodde vi).

I San Christobal ble vi kjent med en meksikansk student som het Carlos, som tok meg med på en tre timers biltur inn i fjellene til Zapatista-geriljaens område for å ta bilder av veggmalerier til en universitetsoppgave. Jeg fikk sett helt utrolig natur langt utenfor vanlige turistløyper og litt spenning da vi tok bilder i skjul fordi vi ble nektet inngang til to landsbyer. Litt skummelt var det imidlertid å tenke på i ettertid, da forsidene av avisene to dager senere varslet om geriljaopprør og stenging av grensene til staten Chiapas, der vi var.

Vi kjørte også innom Chamula, en bisarr liten by med en spesiell stemning og religion. Det skytes konstant opp fyrverkeri av en eller annen grunn, og sentrum av byen har en kirke som er en blanding av katolisisme, protestantisme og gamle mayareligioner. Inne i kirken var det tusenvis av lys, og mayaindianere som drikker Coca Cola, sånn at de må rape for å få ut onde ånder. De drikker også et lokalt brennevin –  bosj –  i kirken, men jeg mistenker at det ikke har noen spesielle religiøs funksjon. Jeg har aldri sett noe liknende i en kirke: en full 10 år gammel gutt, tusenvis av lys, messende indianere med høner, som vi faktisk så bli kvalt/brukket nakken på i et woodoo-aktig ritual! Har dessverre ikke bilder, da det gikk rykter om at sjansene var store for å ende på sykehus hvis man prøvde.

Siste dagen dro vi til en elv som lå i en 1000 meter høy canyon. Fantastisk opplevelse av natur, det føltes som å være i Amazonas, med krokodiller, tropiske fugler og aper langs elvebredden.

Det ble en hyggelig 19 timers busstur til Cancun som ble litt lenger enn planlagt fordi det regnet så enormt. Da vi endelig kom fram til Cancun var det flom, men heldigvis ga det seg etter et døgn. Første kvelden i Cancun møtte vi igjen danskene vi reiste med tidligere og tok en kveldstur til Play del Carmen, et litt roligere sted enn Cancun – som er som en amerikansk utgave av Malorca og åsted for det verdenskjente spring break. I Playa del Carmen fikk jeg mitt første møte med Montezumas hevn, og tilbrakte neste dag på hotellrommet mens Christine dro med danskene til en nydelig, liten Caribisk øy, La Isla Mujeres (Island of Women).

Den imponerte såpass at vi dro dit neste dag og har blitt her siden. Imodium ordna mageproblemet på et døgn så det har nå endelig blitt litt sol og strand igjen etter dagene i fjellet med regn.

Det kan nesten ikke beskrives hvor delig dette stedet er, kritthvit strand, ”azurblått” hav og mye hyggeligere priser enn på fastlandet. Vi bor på et 10-mansrom

som fungerer helt greit. Det er lite å gjøre her, men så lenge været er bra tror jeg dette må være det beste stedet i verden å ikke gjøre noen ting på.

Det er mange som har sin siste natt her stadig vekk, men som ombestemmer seg neste morgen, og forlenger oppholdet. Har tilbrakt mye tid med to morsomme fyrer her – israelske Yaron og engelske Steve – som nå har dratt med en dags mellomrom.

Etter en drøy uke på La Isla Mujeres bestemte oss for å dra videre. Vi fikk med oss en spesiell opplevelse før vi dro, da det en kveld i beachbaren plutselig dukket opp en diger havskillpadde på stranden nedenfor som la egg! Veldig spesiell opplevelse.

Vi hadde jo planer om å dra til Cuba, og måtte derfor holde oss i området på Yucatanhalvøya. De planene er nå skrinlagt pga. orkaner i området. Mens vi ventet på bedre være bestemte vi oss for å dra en tur til Valladolid, en liten by fra kolonitiden, et par timer tilbake på Yucatanhalvøya. Ikke mye som skjer i selve byen, men den er en fin base å se et par severdigheter fra.

Vi ble i to dager og så to cenoter (underjordiske grotter med små åpninger i taket, og ferskvann med fisk i bunnen) første dagen. Vi svømte i den ene cenoten som var full av stalaktitter og stalagmitter. Andre dagen dro vi til Chitzen Itza, en av de mest kjente Maya ruinbyene. Imponerende å se en så stor 1000 år gammel by der høydepunktet var å klatre opp og se utsikten fra en diger pyramide.

Etter noen dager nedover "Riviera Maya kom vi til Tulum. Et lite rolig sted der det skjer veldig lite, men med kanskje den mest idylliske stranden jeg noen gang har sett, med en stor Maya ruin liggende helt i vannkanten på en klippe over stranden.


Vi har nå vært her i to dager og planlegger å dra videre til Belize i morgen. Skal bli morsomt å tese et nytt land.




 

Mexico + Guatemala og Belize

Mexico, Guatemala og Belize

Det viste seg at det hastet mer enn vi trodde med å forlate Tulum – øyet til orkanen i området var nemlig spådd å treffe nettopp her, om ca. 24 timer.

Dermed måtte hele byen evakueres. Alle vinduer ble spikret igjen, og det ble satt opp ekstra busser vekk fra byen.

Vi satte kursen mot Belize, og siden orkanen skjente noen mil nordover ble det ikke mer dramatisk enn at vi så litt regnvær. Bussturen var lang, og vi var ikke heldige nok til å få sitteplasser, men vi kom da fram til Belize  City og ble som vanlig snytt i den første taxituren i et nytt land.

Belize har en helt annet kultur enn nabolandene da store deler av befolkningen er creolere og tilhengere av enten rastafarikulturen. Av den grunn snakket de også en ganske utydelig variant av engelsk, som jeg egentlig ikke forsto noe særlig mer av enn spansk.

Belize City var som tatt ut av en amerikansk gjengfilm og så akkurat ut som jeg ville forestille meg South Central LA. Den ene natten vi var her fikk vi smake ekte Belizisk mat – KINAMAT ! Utrolig men sant, byen hadde ikke annet en kinarestauranter.

Neste morgen dro vi ut til Caye Caulker, en nydelig liten caribisk øy med skilter som advarte om å ”go slow” sånn i tilfelle noen skulle finne på å stresse på denne øya.

Hovedgaten på denne 2 kilometer lange øya var av sand, og eneste mekaniske transportmiddel var golfbiler. Ved øyas eneste ”strand” – i betong – lå det en sjarmerende shabby beach bar.

Samme sted var det utsikt til resultatet av herjingene fra en tidligere orkan som delte øya i to ved ”the split”.

Belize har noen av verdens beste dykkesteder, men dessverre dykker verken jeg eller Christine.

Snorkling fikk vi imidlertid organisert, og da fikk vi både svømt med 2 meter lange haier og kost med piggrokker.

Dette var utsikten fra soveromsvinduet.

Vi møtte mange interessante folk mens vi var her, blant annet på den lokale reggaebaren. Steve, vår snorkleguide var tidligere kjengmedlem fra LA, eksentriske Roamie fra Tyskland hadde klart kunststykket å bli påkjørt av en buss i Mexico og Jacob som var avbildet i Lonely Planet guideboken skulle ha meg til å fortelle om moreneålen han lokket ut på snorkleturen ca. hvert 5 min (tell'm bout de eeeeeel...).

Etter noen rolige dager her dro vi over fjellene til Guatemala.

Vi dro via Guatemala City til Flores, en koselig liten by som dekker hver centimeter av en øy i innsjøen Lago Petén Itzá.

Herfra dro vi på utflukt til den største Mayabyen, Tikal, som ligger i tett jungel. Ifølge ryktene var det også jaguarer her, men de eneste vi så var i en nærliggende zoo.

Etter dette gikk turen til Antigua, en av de mest billedskjønne bakgrunnene for en by jeg noen gang har sett. Mellom to store vulkaner ligger en liten by i 1600-talls spansk kolonistil. Vi besteg den ene toppen,

og ble belønnet med en fantastisk utsikt over dalen, og fikk også se lavaen renne ned fjellsiden. Vi dro også på dagstur til Lake Atitlan, en nydelig beliggende innsjø med flere vulkanske topper spredt rundt bredden.

Fordi vi ble hengende litt lenge på Yucatanhalvøya og fordi vi valgte å droppe et av høydepunktene på veien var vi nå i litt tidsnød for å rekke tilbake til Mexico City og returbilletten hjem. Oppholdet i Guatemala ble derfor noe kortere enn vi kunne tenkt oss, og vi satte kursen mot Palenque, den mayabyen som skal være den aller peneste, beliggende dypt inne i jungelen. Etter ca. 30 timer i buss var vi framme og fikk oss en lite hytte i jungelen. Dagen etter utforsket vi ruinene og timene i buss var definitivt verdt det for Indiana André.

Vi måtte kjapt videre og satte oss dagen etter i en buss for 20 nye timer tilbake til Puerto Escondido. Her var vi så heldige å få med oss verdens beste surfere under X-games på Playa Zicatela. Siste dagen før vi satt oss på bussen til Mexico City hadde jeg en av mine største opplevelser noensinne da jeg dro opp en over 2 meter lang seilfisk! Den ble tilberedt på nærmeste restaurant og konsumert av meg og Christine, og et par misunnelige medfiskere som hadde blitt igjen på stranda denne dagen.

I Mexico City møtte vi igjen to mexicanske jenter vi hadde blitt kjent med i Puerto Escondido, og ble vist rundt i byen og på Aztekerhovedstaden Teotihuacan. Jeg hadde startet denne siste dagen i Mexico med magesjau, og formen var ganske laber da vi kom fram til ruinbyen. Verdens nest største pyramide, Solpyramiden, er den høyeste pyramiden man kan bestige, så dette var jo noe vi måtte gjøre. Etter første etasje opp på pyramiden ville ikke kroppen min mer så jeg spydde da opp frokosten på pyramiden. Jeg ba de andre gå opp uten meg, men følte det som et stort nederlag, og med Eye of the Tiger-musikken i hodet klatret jeg opp etter de andre og fikk tatt bilde på toppen.

Så var et to måneders eventyr over, og en 24 timers reise med omgangsyke ventet meg.

 




 

South East Asia

Thailand

Jeg har ankommet Bangkok og backpackingens Mekka - Kao San Road. Etter noen kalde og dyre dager i London er det et kultursjokk på alle måter.

I Bangkok fikk jeg etter litt om og men tak i en buss til Kao San Road, gata der alle backpakkerne bor, og en nærmest definisjonen på en sub-kultur.

På bussen dit møtte jeg en australsk jurist og jeg endte opp med å henge med han og en annen australier i 3-4 dager til de skulle hjem. Gjorde lite sightseeing men mye soving for å komme inn i døgnrytmen.

Jeg tok inn på et billig guesthouse til 130 bath natta, ca 22 norske kroner.

Det viser seg imidlertid at man får det man betaler for, for jeg ble nemlig angrepet av en haug med bedbugs første natta, og fellesdoen er ikke en gang verdt å beskrive. Maten er varierende og billig og jeg prøvde for moro skyld 3 dager med bare ”street food”. Jeg klarte meg da fint på mindre enn 100 bath om dagen i spisebudsjett. Men etter de tre dagene ble jeg lei av kjøtt på pinne og begynte å variere litt med restaurantmat.

En 15 timers buss- og båttur tok meg til Ko Pangang, en øy i Thailand-gulfen.

Jeg bodde i en liten hippieaktig landsby med to tvillingstrender de første dagene.

Etter hvert synes det ble litt stille i tvillingbyene så jeg dro videre til den største byen Hat Rin, stedet der verdens største Full Moon party skulle avholdes noen dager senere.

Vel fremme i Hat Rin viste det seg at Lonely Planet noen ganger har rett. Der sto det nemlig at det var umulig å få et rom i dagene før et Full Moon-party. Jeg tenkte som vanlig at det ordner seg alltid, men nå var det ikke et eneste rom å oppdrive i en halvtimes bilkjørings omkrets! På leting etter rom møtte jeg tilfeldigvis en tysker og en new zealander som jeg satte meg ned for å ta en matbit med. Da hadde vi egentlig bestemt oss for å dra tilbake til byen jeg hadde vært i, og heller dra inn til byen igjen for festen. Overraskende nok fikk vi da tilbud om å sove på restaurantgulvet der vi spiste. Dette synes vi alle tre hørtes ut som en god idé så vi dro og kjøpte hengekøye og luftmadrass. Vi fikk et lagerrom til å ha sekken i, men endte i stedet opp med å sove på gulvet i det rommet alle 3 – uten vifte. Full moon partiet var en grei opplevelse, men jeg forstår meg ikke på svenskene jeg møtte, som tilbringer måneder her borte reisende i en sirkel for å få med seg denne festen hver måned.

I morgen drar jeg videre sørover. Gidder ikke mer strandliv for en stund, da jeg enda har til gode å se en skyfri himmel. Det har vært varmt, men regnet i 4 dager så jeg har fortsatt tilnærmet norsk vinterhud. Får ta det igjen senere på turen. Nå bærer det videre til Hat Yai, en by nær grensen til Malaysia. Regner med å bli der en dag eller to før jeg drar inn i Malaysia. Blir nok stopp på Penang, i Mellaka og Kuala Lumpur før Singapore. Fra Singapore regner jeg med å fly til Chiang Mai i nord thailand.

 




 


South East Asia

Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore og Laos.

Etter kjedelig strandliv i regnet på Ko Phanang bodde jeg en natt i Hat Yai, en typisk grenseby med få eller ingen attraksjoner. Neste stopp ble Penang i Malaysia. En interessant øy med liknende historie som Singapore fra britisk kolonitid.

Jeg tok en rundtur på øya sammen med to tyskere i 50-årene. Han ene snakket ustanselig om blomster på en uforståelig blanding av tysk og engelsk, mens han andre forsvant og sikkert var sjeleglad for å endelig få en pause fra kameratens mange gartnerhistorier.

Guiden vår var eieren av guesthouset vi bodde på. En bitte liten kineser i 60-årene som er en av de hissigste menneskene jeg noen gang har møtt. I løpet av 6 timer rakk han å skjelle ut folk på 4 forskjellige språk og var to ganger på vei ut av bilen for å slåss. Jeg ble her i to netter før jeg fortsatte ekspressturen min gjennom Malaysia til Kuala Lumpur.

Der dro jeg til Batu Cave, en enorm hule og hindutempel, med en diger statue av en hindugud utenfor.

Apene som drakk cola av bokser var faktisk morsommere å se enn selve tempelet, men det var et imponerende syn.

Etter to netter her dro jeg videre til en natt i Melaka. Masse spennende fra kolonitiden her også, men til forskjell fra Penang så var det her hollandsk kolonistil som var fremtredende,

og her så jeg min første vindmølle i Asia.

Jeg tok så en buss til Singapore for helgen. Det startet bra med at jeg mistet bussen fordi minibussen som skulle frakte meg ble forsinket. Men jeg fikk da kranglet meg til en plass på neste buss. Mens jeg gjorde dette hører jeg plutselig en norsk stemme. Jeg snur meg og ser en tannløs malaysier som snakker nesten flytende norsk. Han hadde vært ulovlig innvandrer og jobbet i Bærum før myndighetene fikk tak i ham.

Bussturen fortsatte bra da bussen brøt sammen på broen mellom Malaysia og Singapore. Det endte med at jeg matte gå over store deler av broen og gjennom passkontrollen. Nå hadde jeg selvfølgelig ikke frakt inn til byen så jeg måtte reise kollektivt. Jeg hadde et par store sedler med singdollar som bussjåføren nektet å veksle og det endte med at to gamle malaysiske damer spanderte på meg og jeg kom meg til MRT-stasjonen (t-banen). 19 stasjoner senere var jeg framme i Little India, der jeg fant et billig hostell med et 6-mannsrom.

Her møtte jeg 3 engelskmenn som jeg hang med hele helgen. På dagen gikk jeg Singapore by på kryss og tvers. Liker meg virkelig godt her, men budsjettet sprekker fullstendig i forhold til resten av Sørøst Asia.

På søndagen fløy jeg opp til Chiang Mai i Nord Thailand der jeg søkte om visum til Laos of Kambodsja. Etter Chiang Mai startet jeg på 4 dager med reising. Først en dagstur til the Golden Triangle

og Myanmar (Burma) som viste seg å være ca. 10 minutter i landet og ikke noen timer slik jeg var blitt fortalt. Det jeg har sett av det landet er altså grensevakter og den interessante observasjonen at klokkene deres går en halv time forskjellig fra nabolandene – rart!

Dagen etter startet en 3 dagers tur til Laos. Vi bodde en natt på grensa til Laos ved Mekongelven. Neste morgen begynte en 8 timers båttur ned elven.

Vi var ca. 100 personer, og fikk vår første smak av det kjente beer Lao, Sørøst Asias – etter ryktene – beste øl.

Men vi kom da til slutt fram til et lite gudsforlatt sted som kun lever av at denne båten stopper der. Jeg fikk et råttent guesthouse som jeg hadde betalt for på forhånd. Det viste seg å ikke oppfylle det eneste generelle kravet jeg har til et bosted – en do man kan sitte på. Stedet hadde bare squat toaletter (dvs hull i gulvet),

opiumsselgere som stakk hendene inn av vinduet og forsøkte å pushe varene sine, rotter som kravlet rundt i rommet om natten, og generatorstrøm som ble slått av kl. halv elleve, og da var stedet dødt. Koselig. La meg tidlig den kvelden.

Dagen etter var det ingen som visste når båten skulle gå, men jeg sto tilfeldigvis opp tidlig nok. Dag to startet med at en turist i 70-årene kollapset, sannsynligvis av heteslag. De første 5 sekundene viste at førstehjelpskunnskapene blant folk ikke er imponerende, da alle ventet på at noen skulle ta ansvar, men så dukket det opp noen som visste hva de drev med og det gikk bra med han. 8 lange timer senere var vi framme i Luang Prabang, Laos.

Vi regner med å dra videre til Vang Vieng i morgen der vi skal "tube" ned Mekongelven.




 


South East Asia

Laos, Kambodsja og Vietnam

Sabaidi. Tubing var en morsom opplevelse der vi fløt sakte ned Mekongelven

med spektakulære fjell i bakgrunnen og tok korte og lengre stopp på diverse "vannhull" langs elvebredden.

På vei hjem ble vi spontant invitert inn på et Laotisk bryllup.

Her deltok vi i ringdans mens de stadig mer berusede bryllupsgjestene prøvde å sjekke opp de irske/engelske jentene vi var sammen med. Kvelden var over for vår del da brudens mor ravende dritings måtte bæres i seng. Moro med litt ekte kulturopplevelser.

Neste stopp var Laos’ hovedstad Vientienne. En ganske kjedelig by hvis største attraksjoner er en heller grå betongkopi av triumfbuen i Paris

og et stort gulltempel

Vi tilbrakte kun en natt her før vi dro videre til Si Phan Don, 4000 øyer spredt rundt i Mekongelven.

Reisen tok ca. 18 timer og var en interessant opplevelse. De siste 4 timene foregikk på et ca 4 meter langt lasteplan som jeg delte med 31 mennesker og et par høner. Vi fikk heldigvis plass til et par stk. på taket også så alle fikk være med. I Laos kjører man nemlig ikke før kollektivtransporten er fylt opp, selv om dette tar en del timer.

Vel framme på Don Kong fikk vi et fint strandhus med generatorstrøm deler av døgnet og begynte å sige inn i et bedagelig tempo. Mens vi var her fikk jeg sett en sjelden art av delfiner (på langt hold riktignok), fisket en ca 8 cm lang kulefisk (som utgjorde turens totale fangst),

se soldnedgangen gå ned over Mekongelven

og slakting av gris på tradisjonelt Laotisk vis. Skal man spise maten bør man tåle å se hvordan den ender som et kjøttstykke på tallerken synes jeg, men uten å gå i detalj kan jeg si såpass at jeg ikke skal bli slakter i Laos med det første. Så var det barbequetid!

Det har forresten blitt en del andre morsomme innslag på matfronten i løpet av turen også, i farten kan jeg nevne fuglerede!, krokodille, struts, gresshoppe, maggot, kakkerlakk og faktisk her i Vietnam…. hund !!!

Laos har vært favorittlandet til nå, men Kambodsja var også et spennende sted og vi startet oppholdet der i Siem Riep. Nærmeste by for å se den enorme tempelbyen Angkor Wat

i den kambodsjanske jungelen.

Det var et imponerende syn, Kambodsjas store stolthet.

Vi gikk fra moro til tragedie, da vi kom til Kambodsjas hovedstad Pnom Penh. Her så vi fengselet Pol Pot og Røde Kmer brukte til å utrydde flere millioner av sine landsmenn

og også de kjente Killing Fields, åsstedet for mange av henrettelsene og massegravene de ble lagt i. Det er en spesielt å se bevisene fra et folkemord begått mens man selv var i live.

Grenseområdene mellom Laos, Kambodsja og Vietnam er dekket med udetonerte bomber fra Vietnamkrigen og dette er spesielt tydelig i Kambodsja der amputerete bein er et trist og alt for vanlig syn overalt i gatene.

Vi satt kursen for Kambodsjas strandlinje, Sianoukville. Der ble jeg fin og solbrent etter 7 timer i sola første dagen (utålmodig nei) og hadde noen avslappende dager.

Neste stopp var Saigon og Vietnam. Vi hadde blitt advart om kultursjokk og mer mas enn resten av Sørøst Asia, og dette stemte bra. Saigon var et virvar av mennesker og mopeder.

I Saigon dro vi på et interessant museum fra Vietnamkrigen som ga et veldig annet bilde enn det jeg husker fra 12-14-årsalderen da vi alle drømte om å være amerikanske soldater.

Utrykket "american-killer-hero" var for eksempel et av de mest brukte ordene, og nytt i mitt vokabular. Veldig interessant var det hvertfall å se vietnamesernes syn på krigen. Vi dro også til Chu Chi-tunnelene ikke langt fra Saigon.

Her bodde Vietcong-soldatene i et drøyt tiår mens de drev geriljakrigføring mot byen. Disse tunnelene var utvidet for oss store vestlige turister, men størrelsen var fortsatt sånn at skuldrene mine akkurat fikk plass i bredden, og jeg måtte krabbe fram på huk. I tillegg er det helt mørkt og ufattelig klamt, uten tvil en perfekt oppskrift for alle som ønsker å finne ut om de har tendenser til klaustrofobi. Ufattelig at noen kunne bo her i årevis! Når dette var unnagjort kom vi oss fortest mulig unna storbyen Saigon og dro mot stranda i Nha Trang.

I Nha Trang fikk med oss en båttur til noen nærliggende øyer og faktisk min første tur på spa ! Det sto gjørmebad men allikevel.

Etter noen dager her stakk vi videre til Vietnams skredderhovedstad, Hoi An. Hundrevis av skreddere, og en fin gamleby som er et av flere steder i Vietnam som er på Unescos verdensarvsliste.

Etter dette begynte vi på en 24 timers busstur til Hanoi med en liten 5 timers stopp på et par hundre år gammelt keiserpalass i Hue. Vel fremme kl. seks om morgenen sov vi det meste av dagen før jeg møtte igjen Israelske Yaron som jeg reiste med i Mexico i fjor sommer. Dagen etter dro vi på en to dagers båttur til Halong Bay,

et nydelig sted med hundrevis av dramatiske klippeøyer kjent fra en James Bond film.

Dessverre var ikke værgudene på vår side for gradestokken falt fra 34 til 15-20 på 24 timer – en kald opplevelse for meg som kun har en tynn genser som tykkestes plagg i sekken. Er nå tilbake i Hanoi og skal møte igjen de som er igjen av reisefølget fra Laos og Kambodsja senere i kveld.

Det teller for tiden 4 nordmenn inkludert meg selv og en amerikaner. Innen noen få dager er jeg på vei ut av Vietnam med kurs for Honk Kong før Shanghai venter.

 




 

South East Asia

Kina

WOW!

So I have perfected the art of traveling without a plan. Sticking to this principle I buy a bus ticket to the Vietnam-China border and have no idea what I'm doing, except, I want to go to Hong Kong.

The journey starts off well when it turns out I have the worst driver yet in almost 3 months - and thatsaying a lot having spent those months in South East Asia. I am used to the daily anxiety of death, but this guy seems to enjoy playing "chicken" with cars that would obviously crush us in a head on.

The scenery is spectacular however, with steep mountains and vast rice fields, and accompanied by the entire minibus all singing along to Vietnamese ballads.

Crossing the border is easy and it turns out to be one of the most deserted places I have seen on this trip. I have almost no money (hoping for an ATM), but I'm able to exchange what little I have (about US$ 30) into Chinese Yuan.

To my surprise it turns out that Chinese people tend to want to speak Chinese, and not English or
Norwegian or any other language I am vaguely familiar with. And of course there are no buses to
Hong Kong as my travel agent promised me.

So I now find myself in China, with almost no money, no idea how to get to Hong Kong, no Lonely
Planet guide and no one to talk to.

Finally a taxi driver calls someone who speaks a little English, and I am told I have to go to anothercity to get a bus to Hong Kong. So I take a taxi there.

At the bus station I am met by a man in a scruffy looking blazer who ushers me around while I repeatmy mantra of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong. He is apparently not impressed as I finally understand that there are no buses going to Hong Kong from here. Big laughs from about 10 bus company employees. So I get on the bus and sleep for a couple of hours.

I arrive in this city, which I don't know the name of, and try to find the bus to Hong Kong. As every
sign is in Chinese characters this turns out to be quite challenging, so I start asking around. After
many attempts I am guided to a woman who speaks a little English. She tells me there are no buses to Hong Kong from this city either... I have to go to Shenzhen.

I don't have enough money for the bus ticket so I manage to get her to help me explain to a taxi
driver that I need to get to an ATM. This actually works and I have money again - YES! Things are
looking up. In this city I feel like a celebrity again as people are talking amongst themselves and even bring out their cameras. I happen to find a used book store and an English-Chinese dictionary. I cannot believe my luck!

Knowing I have a few hours to kill as my buss is to leave at 8 pm, I go in to a local Chinese restaurant.They have menus in Chinese, and a staff that speak about 7 words of English between them. I try ordering using my new dictionary, but end up nodding yes to most of the things they say as we don't seem to communicate to well.

I end up getting 3 dishes, one of which has a fried chickens head looking up at me! ! ! Skipping the
head the meal was quite nice and I spend a couple of hours reading and sampling some local Chinesebrew.

I head out to leave for the bus terminal, but I'm unable to tell the taxi driver where I want to go –
apparently the word for "bus terminal" in my dictionary has another meaning in this part of China. SoI go in to the restaurant again hoping their 7 words of English will help me. They of course, do not.

So what do you do when you're desperate and don't know the answer?.... You call a friend. In my
case Andy who is originally from Hong Kong. Thinking we must be close to Hong Kong I assume theyare speaking Cantonese. Again, of course, I am mistaken – they speak Mandarin. Fortunately for me Andy's mom speaks Mandarin, and she calls me on my cell. After some back and forth the waiterunderstands what I want and helps me hail a cab to a bus terminal.

Unfortunately it turns out there are more than one bus terminal in this city, and I am now taken to a different one. They have no buses to Shenzhen, but tell me I can choose between a night bus or train to Goungzhou, I can then go to Shenzhen, and then Hong Kong. The lovely thing about this 10 hour ride is that there are no seats ! so I'll be standing for 10 hours during the night. Oh how I love China so far.

I buy a train ticket.

Then I sit down and feel real sorry for myself and think aaaargh, I'm taking a plane!

So I hail a cab and show him the sign for airport in my dictionary. This, surprisingly, does not work
either, so I draw an airplane on the back cover and we're in business.

At the airport they tell me I have to go back in to town to order a trip to Hong Kong, as this is an
international flight. The big bulging vein in my forehead tells me that's not going to happen so I ask
for flights to Shanghai or Beijing. I opt for the one to Beijing which leaves next morning.

I spend the night at an airport hotel which has no food. So a doorman guides me to a restaurant
nearby. No one speaks English so I end up drawing a pig on a piece of paper. This works wonders and they come out with a piece of frozen meat which turns in to a nice meal in a few minutes. While I'm eating, the whole family surrounds me, and the kids are brought out to look at this strange creature currently residing in their little establishment.

I find out the city I'm in is called Nanning and later find out that no tourists would ever dream of
going here and that this is where Chinese companies send their hopeless executives as punishment.

In Beijing I manage to get a taxi to take me to a cheap hotel. Its fully booked of course so the driver takes me to another one that's also full. I leave the taxi driver but have no idea where I am or where I'm going and the cheapest hotel with a room is US$ 150 a night.

At this point I am so frustrated that I look for a cab to take me to the airport and out of the country. Then I decide to try one more hotel. Its way to expensive, but the receptionist speaks
perfect English, so I ask him to write "Internet cafe" in Chinese characters for me. This works and I am taken to one (my new dictionary didn't even have the word Internet in it so there's no wonder
why it was proving so helpful).

I start looking for flights but also check out the Lonely Planet online, and it turns out that they have
hostels Beijing. So I decide to stay for a night at least. It doesn't seem easy to find them though, but luckily I bump into an American called Bobby, who speaks Chinese! He tells me he has a cheap hotel, so I follow him and get a reasonably cheap room. I am thrilled for now.

He also helps me get a jacket for a bargain, which is convenient because Beijing is still in early spring and quite chilly. The entrance to the hotel is up a broken escalator and it turns out there's no heating in the room and I sleep with to woollen blankets. So far no hot water either, but I don't mind smelling for a few days.

At around seven every morning I'm awoken by Chinese techno music and either a recorded sales
pitch or extremely redundant lyrics from the market stalls below my window. At night I'm lulled to
sleep by construction workers preparing the city for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. In two nights the
hotel has also seen a mass brawl between the drunken underwear-wearing residents of one room
and the hotel staff. Bobby and I we're excited spectators to this Chinese version of WWF.

I've now taken in some of the sights of the city, Tie mien Square and the Forbidden City.

The people are really nice and even the ones that only speak two words of English will tell you "nice to meet you" and that's the end of the somewhat awkward conversation.

I'll go to the great wall also but after that I think I'll bid China farewell for now and head for warmer and more English speaking places. Maybe next time I'll try out the concept of planning.




 

South East Asia

Kina og Thailand

I am now out of China, having changed my plans considerably from the original one.

I am extremely happy that I didn’t leave China on that first day in Beijing, but I am also glad to be back in a country where someone understands me and I have fewer frustrations. I could se myself going back some day though, as I know I would have a much easier time with some planning and a guide book. And thinking back it was a fun experience.

So I saw the major sites to see in  Beijing, Tienmien Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Beijing Zoo with the pandas. 

They were amazing sights, particularly the Great Wall was awe-inspiring.


I did manage to find a selection of guide books ranging from Azerbaidjan to Norway in Beijing, but amazingly… not one about China! I guess all the other suckers who went without one had been there already.

My comunication problems persisted in Beijing, and getting around was not easy. A 10 minute "conversation" of me speaking English and 3-4 Chinese guys speaking Mandarin ended well when they drew a wall on a piece of paper, I nodded and eventually ended up on a buss going to the Great Wall. On this bus I met a Jordanian business man named Masen who has lived in China for 12 years and acted as my interpreter for the day. The guide of course, spoke only Mandarin.

I was planning on leaving Beijing and China for Bangkok the following day, but after a lecture on Chinese business from Masen, I decided that Shanghai probably wasn’t what I had been looking for and decided to stay a few more days in China to visit Masens factory near Xiamen in the south of China. 

I left the next morning.

I had actually made some plans now, having found a hostel online. However I only had the name and adress in latin characters and I couldn’t find anyone in the airport who could read it. Eventually 6 cab drivers, a security guard and I thought we had solved the riddle (I knew it couldn’t be true of course) and the taxi driver took me to a 5 star hotel on the opposite side of Xiamen Island. The hotel solved the comunication problem and a lot of meter-running later I was at a hostel, with a dorm, squat toilet and tons of chinese travelers who didnt speak English.

So I go for a walk to have a look around the city and find myself far away from my hostel when it starts pouring down. Of course everyone now wants a taxi and I stand there for 30 minutes waiting (no taxi queue). I finaly find one… but he wont drive me to my hostel. Have no idea why, but this is the second time this happens to me in China. I start thinking conspiratorial thoughts…

So i walk/jog home in the rain and encounter a Chinese carnival in my hostel.

I instantly decide to check out of the hostel on the same day I checked in and check in to a nearby hotel, get in the bathtub with a glass of whisky and remind myself why I love traveling so much.

The next day I call my Jordanian friend, who has to stay in Beijing for a few days. But he arranges for me to go see the factory, and has his very nice brother in law (who is from a turkish speaking minority (Uigur) from the extreme north west of China) show me around a local merchant market to buy samples. Some very interesting days indeed.

While I’m here I opt for a strict "supersize me diet" of KFC and McDonalds for about a week which has had an interesting effect on my body. I didnt want anymore unsuspecting chicken’s heads on my table, but the last day I went crazy (actually found an English menu) and tried some duck (which was very good) and some baby eels which were disgusting.

Two days later I fly out of China via Hong Kong and get back to good old English speaking Kao San Road in Bangkok. And when this place feels like home, you know you’ve been a long way from Oslo.

I take in the major sights of Bangkok that I didn’t see when I arrived here. The huge reclining Budha, the Grand palace and more wats.

I also manage to change my flight back to Europe, not as soon as I want to but I now fly to London on the 9th of May. I then plan on flying to fly somewherec in the south of Europe. It’s so great not having a plan, you never know where you end up.

And as I now have some time on my hands I have decided to fly to Phi Phi Island,like the Swedes are trying to colonize it.




 


Italy

Bella Italia!

In stead of going to Barcelona as I had first planned, I decided to go to Italy. I arrived in Venice and started the search for the the cheap hotel I had decided on. It took me about two hours to find in the maze that is Venice. 

Dead tired I go for a walk around the city,  see St. Mark’s square, 

the gondolas and the canals. At around 6 pm, I decide I need to get some sleep, but in my sleep deprived delirium I am unable to find my way back. This is the most frustrating city I have ever attempted to navigate. About four hours later I’m about to start crying with fatigue, when the umpteenth person I ask finally puts me in the right direction and I collapse on to my bed and sleep till the next morning.

I do some more sightseeing in this beatifull city which I think is definitely best seen with a companion, before I get a train to Florence. It turns out getting a room in Europe isn’t as easy as in Asia and Latin America as everyone seems to have made plans here. So basically all the cheap rooms are booked. I bump into a nice Kiwi fellow named Marty however, and we end up sharing a room, and travel together for 10 days.

Florence is an amazing city, pretty much every building is a piece of art, and half of them are filled with other priceless works of art as well. 

While I’m no art connoisseur I must say I have never seen such an amazing piece of art as Michelangelo’s statue of David. Pictures really do not do it justice and the details are just unbelivable. Much of the city’s history is centered around the Medici ruling family and this place really gives the history buff his money’s worth as well.

From Florence we take a day trip to Pisa, and check out the Leaning Tower. The site around the tower is well worth a look, but the city it self doesn’t have much more to offer. 


We then hopped on a train to the eternal city – Rome. I have always imagined I would love Italy, and for each new place I see, I’m falling more and more in love with it. Just soaking up the athmosphere in the street is amazing and I find myself walking the streets just enjoying being in these surroundings. And who can forget the wine, the gelato, the paninis, the cheese, the passion of the people, the Vatican, 

and the Colloseum.

Unfortunately, money burns fast here, and my trip is over. Arrividerci Roma.




 

New York - USA

Start spreading the news, i´m leaving today...

I'm leaving for Greenpoint Brooklyn, that is New York City. This is the home of my friend Yael who works in Manhatten during the day, leaving me with hours of wandering around this unique city.

After taking the subway to Rockefeller centre, I put on my mp3-player and one of my favorite singers... Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today... Walking down 5th Av. Frank Sinatra sets the tone, and the cliche of feeling like you are in a movie is as real as it can get.


We get there alright, and as my cellphone is flat, I find the right entrance and look for a familiar name. No luck. Contemplating whether to start ringing random door bells, Yael suddenly comes out the door and the problem is solved.

Turns out Greenpoint is in the Polish section of Brooklyn, and a nice area popular with young proffesionals and not surprisingly – Polish people. All the stores have Polish names and a great majority of the people in the street have mustaches.

I have my own rom in the appartment which Yael shares with her friend Chris, and the next morning I sleep in on my comfortable inflatable matrass. I then catch some quality American daytime TV while eating some cold mach and cheese for breakfast – Yummy!


I then head out and buy a one week subway card for about $ 20. Following Yael’s directions I easily navigate the subway system and get off at Rockefeller Centre. After some searching I make my way to the street level and the first thing that greets me is a SWAT team with machine guns! Welcome to New York. Apparently the big christmas tree is to be lighted in a few hours – a huge terrorist threat.

I’m surprised that my first impression is a bit overwhelming. There are towering skyskrapers on all sides, 

and tons of people. I decide to head out of the crowd and walk towards the East River and end up at the UN building. The feeling of overwhelmement quickly fades and the place instantly starts to grow on me. I put on Sinatra’s New York, New York on my mp3-player and stroll down 5th av. with a huge smile on my face. To my surprise I find that the city is actually quite affordable compared to other big metropolitan cities like Rome or London and the access to street food is great.

Yael has to work during the day so I am left to roam Manhatten by myself – a pleasurable experience. While roaming I saw bonafide mobsters in Little Italy, was tempted to take a picture, but thought better of it. I take in most of the sights but will spare you most of the details and leave that to experience for yourself. Suffice it to say that walking the streets of Manahtten, you will find great sights and architecture wherever you look. In addition, there’s a certain atmosphere in this melting pot – in many ways the centre of the world – that needs to be experienced to be understood. In the evenig I rendezvoused with Yael at her job near Times square.

We had a memorable night at the Comedy Cellar. Yael and her friends had been here before and got us a table away from the stage so we’d escape the abuse. A German guy in the audience was not as lucky though, and was blamed for everything from bad taste to Hitler during the night. One of the funniest nights of my life!


Another night Yael had gotten us amazing tickets, (almost ) court side, at the Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks vs. the Toronto Raptors. 

The Knicks lost in a tight game, but what an amazing show it was. An unforgettable experience. The rest of the week passed, sightseeing during the day, 

and eating out and normally an early night. Knowing the locals sure pays off for getting to see the real New York! 

Who would have thought you could get 1 $ beer in in a Manhatten bar?

If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York.