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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: February 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I just added a new tool to the right that, I believe, will email you when I post something new. This new technology is a bit beyond me (OK fine, I just don't take the time to read the explanations).

Tell me if it works.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chile and the time zone

OK, crossing over the border from Peru to Chile was the 1st time, I think, that I've ever gone directly south and had the time zone change. Not only did it go forward. . . it went forward by TWO hours.

Its Daylight Savings Time on crack.

Isn't the general concept of time zones that when you move east or west that you adjust the time to compensate? South?

I'm about to go get dinner in Santiago. At 10 p.m. Why? Because I'm not sure there is anyplace to go until 9 p.m. or so. Hell, it didn't get dark until about 9 as it was.

The guidebook says something like, "don't bother to go to the bars until 1 a.m., no one is there before then." Ummmmmm. I'm old. Its official.

And I think Buenos Aires might just be the end of me.



For those of you reading this from a link on Facebook, there is a spot to rate my blog. I´ve got about 250 readers on Facebook, but only 15 or so have rated the blog. For the purposes of search engines, the number of people rating the blog matters.

If you´ve got a second to hit that link, I´d certainly appreciate you throwing out a rating. I´m closing in on one of the top 50 blogs in all of Facebook, so stuff like this does matter.

Thanks again for reading. Tell anyone and everyone you think might like to read it. The more eyeballs the merrier. And hopefully pictures of Manchupiccu will be up later today -- after a nap.

Bus Rides

I am going to write more about the pros and cons of traveling the world mostly by bus, but as I just got done with a 58 hour trip from Cuzco, Peru to Santiago, Chile and its 7 a.m. here and I can´t get a hotel room for a few hours . . . I shall throw down a few thoughts.

Movies (or music) on the bus: For most people reading this back in the States, this might be an odd choice to start off a discussion of 10+ hour bus rides. You (and I before the trip) would figure that the biggest concerns are how to sleep and make sure your stuff isn´t stolen. For those of us that have taken some of these buses -- there is no other place to start.

The first 24+ hour bus trip I took was from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru. I sat in one of the first few rows of the 2nd floor of the bus (some of them are two story jobs, with first class seats on the bottom floor, with the driver, and the bathroom down there and the regular seats -- which are still nice -- are up top). On configurations like this, since the driver is down below, there is a huge window up front where you can look out at the scenery and the oncoming traffic.

This is not always a good thing.

This particular bus driver was like almost all the drivers I have experienced in Latin America, which is to say, slightly insane. Double lines, signifying no-passing zones, are completely optional. In fact, I think most bus drivers just take them as challenges to try to pass multiple vehicles at once. Up hills. Around corners. Visibility to oncoming traffic?? Nah -- the power the force will propel you to victory, Luke.

So my options were to watch this driving lesson (and some admitedly great scenery) out the ´big screen´of the front window, going from floor to ceiling, all the way from side to side on the bus or. . . . a remake of ´The Hitcher´ on the small television screen right above the window. O yea! And while we are talking about movies, let´s mention the volume. High. Very high. My iPod with the fancy earplugs that are supposed to drown out outside noises does generally work, if I put the music volume up high enough, except to drown out --- loud screaming from people being murdered in horror movies.

Essentially my choice was to watch fictional people get killed on the small screen or to perhaps watch myself get killed in the big screen. Would the soundtrack of the movie somehow coincide with the live version action??

And while we are at it -- why on Earth would anyone ever want to remake ´The Hitcher´?? Wasn´t the original movie bad enough? Is there really a need for an updated one? Hell, I don´t even think the original one is 20 years old yet.

´The Hitcher´was followed up by ´Die Hard 6´(or whatever the last one was -- 6 feels about right) and then a Wayans Brothers movie that I am quite happy to have no idea what the title was. It was about one of the Wayans brothers playing a midget who poses as a small child to steal some stuff from a rich family that takes the ¨child¨ into their home. I´ve never been so happy to see a movie in Spanish, so I couldn´t follow the dialog.

That was the evening portion of the bus ride. The next day brought ´Severance,´which is a U.K. slasher film. The first scene in this picture was a group of people traveling -- in a BUS -- that gets lost in the middle of nowhere. Obviously everyone leaves the bus and all but about three of the dozen people die horrible deaths in the next two hours. After that film came ´Shutter,´which I thought might be a good picture. I recognized a couple of the actors, though I don´t know their names. Turns out that it was a Japanese horror movie -- one of those types that pretends to be some big psychological twister.

Next movie was ´Dead Silence.´ First, I´m not kidding. These films all came back to back to back. Second, you get get the jist from the title, in this case a ventriloquist´s puppet kills off whomever gets it his/its way. I moved to a seat directly under the TV, so that I couldn´t see it, put my iPod volume on high, and tried to read a book until we got to Lima.

On the music front, here was the playlist from one part of my bus ride a few days before from Lima to Nazca (the songs were listed on the TV screen as they played, so I was able to write them down): Alejandro Sanz, Bon Jovi, Christina Aguilera, Erasure, Flash Dance, Johann Sebastian Bach and Leann Rimes. Played alphabetitically, of course.

Quite an interesting mix.

My latest bus ride was a 30 hour trip from the border of Peru and Chile to Santiago, Chile. We left at about midnight, so we only got one movie last night -- ´The Dark Night´ in Spanish. I have now seen this movie once in a U.S. theater and three times in a bus, in Spanish. I really didn´t like it any of those times, but at least it wasn´t a horror flick right before I fell asleep (O yea -- forgot to mention two things: first, I have an incredibly active imagination, which is why I hate horror movies, and second, the common side effect to the anti-malaria medication that I am taking is that it promotes very active dreaming.)

As we woke yesterday morning for a full day on the bus -- the first time I was to go a full calender day, from midnight to midnight, on a bus -- we got some other big budget U.S. movie in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles. I frankly can´t remember it, but I was happy it wasn´t a horror movie. Then we started a TV festival for the rest of the day. Three television shows that were shown back to back to back, and then another episode of each in sequence again. And again. And again.

The first show was a Latin America show called ´Gags.´ It was a latin version of ´Candid Camera.´ Funny little pranks and stunts pulled on people on the street. It was actually pretty amusing and easy to follow, since they were all sight gags and dialog didn´t matter. Then came repeats of one my favorite shows, ´House´, and in English to boot. VERY nice. It gave me a bit of a home-on-the-couch feeling. After ´House´came repeats of. . .

´Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire.´

Is Will Smith just Chile´s answer to France´s love for Jerry Lewis?? I will let you make the call.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Disco night in Medellin

Back to Medellin. On one of the last nights I was there, Scott took us out in the neighborhood we were staying in. Really nice part of town and he lived in the area also, so he knew the spots.

Scott, Garret, Morton and myself, grabbed some good food, and then went to a couple places to get a beer or two. It got to be 1 a.m. or so and Garret and I were about ready to call it a night, when Scott asked if we wanted to go to a local disco, where “the local girls were known to hit on gringos.”

Well we weren’t that tired. Of course we had to go.

The place was called Blue. Not Azul, but Blue. Across the street was the companion bar, Red. I wanted to ask Scott where White was.

We walked it and it might have been the most crowded place I’d ever been in before. The place was about 200 feet long and about 40 feet wide, with a bar that took up about 20 feet of that width for most of the bar. If there weren’t 600 people in there, I’d be surprised. Literally people up against each other for almost the entire length of the bar.

The music alternated between U.S. songs from the 80s and native Columbia music. Pretty much about a half-dozen of each straight. Everyone sang along with all of the songs, except us gringos, who had no idea what the hell the Columbia songs were about.

On the other hand, I did belt out the 80s songs at the top of my lungs. Luckily the music was playing so loud, no one could hear my voice.

There were also about five televisions, including one projection TV that were all playing the same thing simultaneously. Endless loops of episodes of the cartoon, “He-Man and Masters of the Universe.” I suppose it fit with the 80s music theme. I felt pretty certain that I’d never see this cartoon again in my life. . . so I think I should subject you to some clips I found on YouTube:

When we walked in, we pushed our way to the bar to order four beers. Right when we got up there, I felt someone’s hand on my left shoulder tugging me forcefully around. Honestly, my first thought was that we were all about to get in a fight. Given that I had three pretty big guys to cower behind and I’d been drinking all night, I wasn’t nearly as much a coward as I usually would have been.

I turn around and there is this little Columbian girl who is obviously asking me to dance. Well, not asking, basically pulling me out to the dance floor to dance with her and her friends. I figured “what the hell” and went on out there and jumped around like an idiot.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t one of Columbia’s most beautiful examples of the female form – and damn, there are many, many of those around. But she was cute and apparently thought I was too – and frankly, there is a lot to be said for that sentiment.

And she spoke not a word of English. As I basically speak about 10 words of Spanish, this was going to be interesting. We danced/jumped around for a while. She introduced herself as Martina. I managed to introduce myself back in Spanish and I told her that I only spoke a little Spanish.

And I told her that about fifteen times in the next hour or so. “Me hablo un poco espansol.” Or however your spell that properly. “Me no say.” And so on. I don’t have many ways to say that I don’t understand, but I was pulling them all out as fast as I could.

She kept chattering. Non-stop. It was actually sort of amazing. I know that she understood that I didn’t speak Spanish, but she kept trying. And kept trying. As if repetition would somehow soak through my beer addled brain and reach understanding.

It didn’t.

She sign languaged some heart shaped thing and pointed to her friends making out. Was she saying that her friends were in love or that she was into me? Hell if I knew. She kept pointing to her girl friend and saying “me amiga” something. I got that. That was her friend. What else she was saying was totally beyond me.

At about 2:00 the other guys were ready to go. I stuck around for about 15-20 more minutes and then said I was leaving, in pidgin-Spanish. “Me salida.” “Me vamos.” Sign language of me walking out the door. She kept nodding. I figured I had explained myself as well as I could and proceeded to walk out.

She followed me out. Unexpected. She was cute. And I needed to answer question #5 on my going-away survey at some point. This seemed like a reasonable time.

My hostel was about six blocks away, so I started walking. She was walking along with me. . . and continued to chatter non-stop in Spanish the entire way. I think I understood that she had lived most of her life in Medellin, but spent a few years on Bogotá. A few more things about her amiga back at the bar that I didn’t understand. Ok, whatever.

We got my hostel. I said, “me casa” and made the hand motion that I was going ot walk in. I got the nod. I go up to the front door, ring the bell, the guy buzzes open the door. . . and she’s still standing out on the sidewalk by the road. I’ve been confused for the last two hours, but no so more than now. I walked back out and said this was my place. She nodded and started talking about her amiga and pointing back to the bar area.

I think I understood. She was just walking me home. Sort of the reverse on the Southern gentleman thing. She had to go back and meet her friends at the bar. It was late. Frankly, and this is probably rude, I didn’t care. I did the kiss on both cheek thing, adios and waved goodbye as I walked into my hostel and soon crashed for a solid eight hours.

When I told Garret about it the next day, he got a good chuckle at my expense and then told me that his quick Spanish language guidebook had a section on dating. He thought I might want to spend some time on some of the phrases. I took a look and completely cracked up.

I shit you not – here are some of phrases in Garret’s language guidebook:


Would you like to do something tonight?
Quieres hacer algo esta noche?

Would you like a drink?
Puedo ofrecerte una copa?

You have a beautiful laugh?
Tienes una risa preciosa?

I like you very much.
Me gustas mucho.

More unusual for a language guide:

Let’s go to bed.
Vamos a la cama.

I want to make love to you.
Quiero hacerte el amor.

I’m not interested.
No estoy interesado.

What star sign are you?
Cual es tu signo del horoscopo?

I won’t do it without protection.
No lo hare sin preservativos.

Beyond classic:

It’s my first time.
Es mi primera vez.

I can’t get it up – sorry.
Lo siento, no puedo levantaria.

Don’t worry, I’ll do it myself.
No te preocupes, lo hago yo.

It helps to have a sense of humor.
Ayuda tener un sentido de humor.

Ain’t it the truth, brother? Ain’t it the truth?


Saturday, February 7, 2009

New Route Update

OK -- I'm finally getting around to writing the update on my resolution of the travel route issue that I had last week.

My original plan before I started the trip was to go down Central America and the west side of South America, to about the middle of Chile, over to Argentina and then try to catch a freighter to South Africa and then go up the east side of Africa, though the Middle East, then to SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and then the long boat home.

Typical for me, I didn't do much research into any of this. I just figured it would sort of 'work out,' as frankly, things usually do for me. Right before I left, I emailed a guy that has a blog titled, "the Practical Nomad." I'd read his book and he'd talked about freighter travel as an option. I told him by basic plan and said I was going to try to make it with no reservations.

In a nice way, he said I was screwed. Post 9/11, there are a lot fewer freighters that take passengers and you need to reserve your spots far in advance because there are few spots and also because they had to arrange insurance and such. He also said he wasn't sure there was much freighter traffic between South America and Africa.

So I did an internet search for freighter companies that took passengers on the South America to South Africa route. He certainly was right about the lack of freighter traffic between the two places. It was almost non-existent. I emailed the couple companies I could find that seemed to have a ship or two plying those waters in the time frame I was looking towards (late March, early April departure).

I got back two replies. One said the closest ship they had on that route to my time frame was in mid-June. The other one said they had a ship going in late March, but the passenger spots had been booked for months already.

I'd heard that I might be able to hop abroad some sailboat and cook for my passage from some Kiwi travelers. I'd heard from a another couple of folks that there was a whole network of sailboats that followed the prevailing winds and sailed around the world and that it might be possible to pay my way abroad or offer to do manual labor for my passage.

After looking up that sort of stuff on the internet, I realized that the prevailing winds were blowing the wrong direction at the time I needed to get to Africa.

So, early on in my trip, I had pretty much resigned myself to taking a freighter from Buenos Aires to Spain and then going back across to Morocco and making the Africa part of my trip an adventure across the Sahara Desert. Although I was content with that option, it really wasn't what I had set my mind on before the trip. I'd gotten all excited about South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a photo safari in the Rift Valley, scuba diving in Lake Malawi and all the other stuff I wanted to do in South and East Africa. But since my trip was going to be spontaneous and unplanned, I was willing to let fate and the winds blow me as they wished.

Then as the trip progressed and I read more about South America (and thought about things that might be interesting enough to get a book published), I realized that I wanted to go all the way down the west side of South America to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Chile. At the same time, I was watching Michael Palin's BBC travel show called "Pole to Pole." He went from the North Pole to the South Pole, through Norway, Finland, Russia, and down East Africa. On the way, he stopped in the northernmost city in the world, Hammerfall, Norway.

A plan was born. I'd hit the southernmost city in the world, go up through Patagonia, to Buenos Aires, hop a boat to Europe, rip through to the Baltic, go up to the northernmost city in the world, then back down to St. Petersburg.

I was also reading "Crime and Punishment," which is set in St. Petersburg. It seemed like fate had given me a cool new route and a new theme to the book.

From there, I'd take the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia, hit China, down to SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back. Advantages: I'd hit the six major continents; I'd hit the southernmost and northernmost cities in the world, I'd so the Trans-Siberian (part of Paul Theroux's route on his seminal travel book, "The Great Railway Bazaar"), get to see a bit of China, miss the Middle East in July, and accommodate the Fates as well.

I emailed the freighter companies again, this time asking about passage options from Buenos Aires to Europe.

A couple days later, I got back two replies. One company said they had passage from Buenos Aires to Rotterdamn in mid-April. And completely unexpectedly, the company that said the one ship from Buenos Aires to Capetown had a cancellation and that they did now have a spot open.

What to do? I really, really was no enamored with the southernmost/northernmost city thing. I also had started rationalizing that the Middle East in July would be pretty hellish. Plus, I have taken to this form of backpack travel really well, and as excited about Africa as I am, I was thinking a full another year in Africa and the Middle East, when I wouldn't be as rushed, would be good.

On the other hand, fate had placed an opportunity to do my original route. Who knows what the future will bring? I might not be able to make it back to Africa? All of my friends seemed to want me to go on that route (aside from my parents) as well. Perhaps that journey -- overland through Africa and the heat of the summer in the Middle East -- would make for a better book.

I was truly torn over this turn of events. I make decisions, even major ones, incredibly quickly. I bought my house after looking at it for 5 minutes. I made the decision on taking this trip after having one conversation at happy hour with friends. I decide whether I like someone enough to get to know them in about 10 minutes. And so on and so on. But this decision bugged me for days.

Driving a car is one of the places where I do my best thinking. I love to drive for hours and hours, alone, with my stereo or iPod cranking out some good music, and just let my mind wander. Most all of the time when I drive like that, I put a notepad in the passenger seat and write down some of the things that come to me. I recently roughed out a script for a TV show in that manner (yet another writing project I need to complete).

The solution to this particular quandary came to me while I was riding a bus from Cali to Popayon. I was in a foul mood, over this trip problem, everyone's almost universal suggestion to go with my original route (I don't do well with unanimity in advice -- one of the reasons I waited on going to law school, since everyone told me from a young age I should be a lawyer), and also from thinking about one of my remaining legal cases back home.

And while looking out the window, I thought to myself, "why not do both?"

Obviously the right answer. As one of my favorite tag lines from an ad campaign, the MTV ad campaign back in the early 80s, when they were first trying to get on cable systems around the U.S. --- "too much is never enough."

So, here is my resolution. I am going to go all the way down the west side of South America, all the way to the southernmost city in the world. Then back up Patagonia to Buenos Aires and try to party with Chance for 4-5 days there. My liver will then need a break (and I'll need an entire new batch of non-alcohol contaminated blood), so I'll hop the boat to South Africa. In my internet research, I've also found out that there is a major Latin America Poker Tour tournament in Uruguay before my boat leaves -- I shall play in my first major poker event. Then South Africa and up the east side of Africa -- Tim, I'm climbing Kilimanjaro -- book your tickets to join me. Skipping the Middle East in the mid-summer. Getting to add in Istanbul and then up quickly through Eastern Europe, across the Baltic, to the northernmost city in the world in Norway. Then back down Sweden and Finland to St. Petersburg. Pictures at all the places mentioned in "Crime and Punishment," then Moscow and the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Mongolia and Bejing. Probably over to Shanghai and perhaps quickly across to Japan.

If I'm going to take a picture at the top of Kilimanjaro, shouldn't I have one at the top of Mount Fiji as well?

Then Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back.

Six continents. Southernmost and northernmost cities in the world. Siberia in the summer. Kilimanjaro. Mt. Fiji. Manchu Picho. Angor Wat. Ayer's Rock. Great Wall of China.

Someone publishes that book, don't they?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Disco night in Quito

I was going to walk around the old town in Quito today, sightsee and take some pictures, but as I didn’t go to sleep last night until about 4 a.m., after a completely unexpected night at a discothèque with some new friends last night, I’m tired, hungry and slightly hung over. So I shall write instead.

Last night was one of those nights in a foreign land that makes travel memorable. It’s rarely the landmarks and sights mentioned in your guidebook you see on the road that sear themselves into your memory, but rather the people you meet, situations you get thrust into, and the foreign stew created as a result that causes the contented sigh that acknowledges the trip was worth it – just for this.

I have a friend, Chance, that has been living in Buenos Aires for a few years. In actuality, Chance graduated high school a few years after me, we rarely hung out in high school, haven’t seen each other since, and only recently reacquainted via Facebook. Regardless of how we got here, he’s been an invaluable resource on my trip, I know consider him a friend for sure, and I look forward to him drinking me under the table on an all-night Buenos Aires adventure in a few weeks.

Because he has lived in South America for a number of years, he knows some people spread out in the various countries I am traveling through for the next few weeks. He sent out some emails to a couple of them in Ecuador and I got a hold of his friend (or so I thought at the time), in Quito yesterday. Her name is Marcela and I’ve been engaged in a three-way email exchange with her and another of Chance’s friends, Susanna, that lives in another town on the coast. It was apparent from the email exchange that Marcela didn’t speak much English, and as we all know by now, I don’t speak much Spanish.

Marcela extended an invitation to come to her house to meet her and her boyfriend and also partake of some local Ecuadorian spirits. Luckily for me, I had run into a fellow traveler, Briana, that I met earlier in the week in Columbia and she and a friend of hers, Zoe, were willing to join me for the evening. I say luckily because Briana speaks fairly good Spanish.

I stopped on the way to pick up a bottle of rum as a thank-you gift to Marcela, met up with the two girls joining in and we all took a cab to Marcela’s place. I am almost constantly amazed at the kindness of strangers on the road – and let me explain how completely the three of us qualified as strangers this evening.

I thought that Marcela had lived in Buenos Aires previously and was friends with Chance. As such, I put the link to get me to have drinks in her home as – Marcela to Chance (who frankly is almost a stranger to me) to me. Sort of a friend twice removed. I was asking Marcela about when she lived in Buenos Aires and how she knew Chance, through Briana’s translation, and it became quickly obvious that she had no idea who Chance was and had never lived in Buenos Aires.

This woman had allowed me and my two friends (who were even more removed than I in this connection) into her home, offered us food and drink, and if Briana hadn’t been there, wouldn’t have really been able to communicate with me, and was in fact, three times removed from me.

She a friend of Susana’s. Susana used to live in Buenos Aires and knows Chance. Chance went to high school with me more than twenty years ago. And to cap off the incredible hospitality of it all – she was fine with me bringing along a couple other people I’d just met, making them four times removed from her, in my book.

I felt sure that we were going to meet up with Kevin Bacon later in the evening.

We sat in her living room drinking rum and cokes (and totally finished the bottle of rum, making it not much of a gift in reality) and the local liquor, which was served warm and had quite a kick to it. Briana translated conversations. Both Zoe, Briana’s friend, and I attempted some Spanish – Zoe much better than I.

And at one point in the evening, I actually had a exchange of a couple paragraphs that I understood entirely. As I’ve said here many times already, I’m absolutely horrible with foreign languages. My bad memory is compounded by my bad ear for linguistic details, so perhaps this isn’t true for everyone else, but it is certainly true for me.

There is something incredibly satisfying about finally understanding someone speaking a foreign language. Actually being able to communicate and idea back and forth. I don’t even recall the topic where Marcela and I actually understood each other – the topic didn’t matter. Through a bit of simple Spanish and some hand signals, we actually understood what both of us were saying. It felt great.

Her boyfriend, Jacobo, showed up a few hours after we did. He spoke excellent English and had studied for a time in Great Britain. We all sat around chatting about this and that, Jacobo played his guitar and we ran out of liquor a little after midnight. My two friends wanted to go get a beer somewhere, so we offered our thank you’s and good bye’s – and Jacobo offered to drive us home. We told him that we were fine with just taking a cab (there are incredibly cheap here) and said we were probably going to go find a beer anyway.

He and Marcela looked at each other and said we should go to a discothèque that they liked. So off we went. And danced, mostly to excellent 80s music that I sang to at the top of my lungs while jumping up and down and making a gringo fool of myself, until about 3:30 a.m., when Jacobo drove us all to our respective homes/hostels.

So in short, this couple, who not only didn’t know any of the three of us, didn’t know my friend that helped get us all together, has us over to their home until midnight and then takes us all out dancing till 3:30 a.m., then drives us all home. . . and went to work today.

Does that sort of thing ever happen at home?


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bus from Cali

Feb. 3 – bus from Cali to Popayan

Paul Theroux is one of the great original travel writers and purveyors of railroads around the world. His first travel book was the Great Railway Bazzar about a train trip from London to Japan and back (part of which I will now be attempting, in my revised route – more on that later). He also wrote The Old Patagonian Express about rail travel from Boston to Argentina and most recently redid the route of his original travel book in the recently released Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

Reading his stuff has been an inspiration to me. Dark Star Safari, his account of his overland trip from Cairo to Capetown was one of the inspirations for me to the the same, in reverse. Great Railway Bazzar and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star have partly inspired me to want to do the Trans-Siberian railroad. His style of writing can be caustic and quite sarcastic – needless to say, I like it.

But as it relates to my trip, I felt somewhat like the anti-Theroux. He primarily travels by train. So far on this trip, I have been almost exclusively a bus person.

Those are two entirely separate worlds.

Two days ago, I took a bus from Cali, Columbia about three hours south to Popayan. The bus was one of the mini-bus varieties – it had seats for 19 passengers. Six seats on the right, eight on the left, and five in the back row. When we started out in Cali, there were ten people on the bus.

On anything smaller than the big autobuses, the driver stops to pick up anyone along the side of the road that is waiving the bus down for a ride and is heading in the same direction. This is true for cabs you ride in, vans that run shorter routes (colectivos) between towns an hour or two away, these mini-buses, and chicken buses, of course. Basically you just stand by the side of the road and wave down the vehicle and if they have any space for you, they’ll stop and pick you up.

I wrote that last paragraph before I took the bus from Tulcan (at the Columbia/Equador border) to Quito last night. Our large autobus stopped about fifteen times to pick up whomever and whatever. The term “directo” when you ask about your bus is apparently a relative term.

In any case, back to the mini-bus ride from Cali to Popayan. At Cali we had ten passengers on board. As we traveled down the road, we picked up a new passenger here and there, until the bus was full – 19 seats and 19 passengers.

When we slowed down a couple miles later, I thought we must be dropping someone of, but no. Two more guys get on. The guy taking the money and the tickets go up from his seat on the passenger side of the front cabin and gave his seat to one of the guys. He then pulled out a bucket and some sort of cushion, flipped the bucket upside down, plopped it down between the driver and the other guy and bingo – 21st seat on the bus. He then sat on the steps that led up into the bus.

Some of these bus drivers are. . . well. . . insane. This guy certainly feel into that category. The road between Cali and Popayan was almost entirely mountainous and windy. Beautiful scenery. But it was really not a good idea to look at the road ahead of you and just concentrate on views out to the side.

It was a two lane road the entire way. At one point, I noticed us passing an eighteen wheeler. Slowly. Up a hill. Around two big curves (it took that long to pass at this speed). There was literally no way, none, that he could have seen the road that far ahead. It was double yellow the entire way, but then again, those road markings or signs are just suggestions anyway.

Another time we passed another bus on a straight part of the road. I saw, as must the bus driver, that a motorcycle was coming the other direction. No worries – we were a lot bigger than the bike – it drove off to the shoulder of the road and passed us there.

The entire way during this trip I had a song in my head (for those of you on Facebook that have read my 25 random things). The night before, I had read a comment that my friend, Chance, had written on someone’s Facebook page, “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” So needless to say, for the entire ride, I had that Beatles song running in my head.

About two hours into the ride, I finally decided to flip on the Beatles’ White Album in my iPod. I started in about the middle of the 1st album – “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” then “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and then “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”

Almost as soon as that song started up, the bus slowed down, pulled over to the shoulder, and onto the bus came two Columbian military guys with M-16s. It was my first random drug/passport search. These things, like border crossings, are slightly nerve wracking when you don’t speak any Spanish. This one took a little bit – the guy actually did look at everyone’s ID and did search the luggage, a little bit – but in the end, no worries.

“Happiness is a Warm Gun” while getting searched by a Columbian soldier toting an M16?? Sometimes I wonder if you guys believe that any of this stuff actually does happen to me. . . then again, I’m not that good a fiction writer.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Feedback needed -- ASAP

Before I left on the trip, I sent out 3-4 emails to companies that book spots on freighters for passengers to take. I had expected that getting a spot on a ship would be pretty easy and that there was a lot of commercial traffic to choose from.

As usual on this trip, I was sorely mistaken.

I got back emails from all the companies I'd found saying there was no available option from South America to South Africa in March/April. It seems there just isn't that much traffic between those two continents and the one freighter that was willing to take passengers in that time frame had been booked for months. As you can tell from my caption -- that was the route I wanted to take. I am totally and completely excited about seeing South and East Africa -- and even more excited now that I have run into a dozen people that all say it is spectacular.

After getting the universal rejection a couple of months ago, I had pretty much resigned myself to getting a freighter from Buenos Aires to Spain, going back across to Morocco and then across North Africa. Nothing wrong with that route -- I think crossing the Sahara would be a pretty great adventure. But for some reason, it just didn't 'pop' to me. It is on my life/travel agenda, but for some reason, this doesn't seem like the right time for that.

So recently, I've thought about revising the trip entirely. How about taking a freighter to Europe, whipping through Northern Europe quickly, then going to Russia and taking the Trans-Siberian railroad all the way to the Pacific?? Then go down China to SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back? I'd get to see Russia in May/June, which is perfect weather for that area of the world.

The down side is that I really, really want to do Africa. Problem is that I want to do it so much, I don't think three months is going to be enough time. As much as I'm loving traveling, I seriously think I'm going to do another full year trip in the next couple years -- and taking a whole year to do the Middle East and Africa seems like a perfect fit.

So, I'd resigned myself to the Russia/China option mentally in the last few weeks and was started to get pretty excited about it. I sent out a few emails to the frieghter companies that I'd contacted earlier about South America/Europe options a few days ago.

And today I got my replies: (1) I can take one from near San Paulo, Brazil (and add Brazil to this trip) in mid-April to Roterdam, Netherlands; or COMPLETELY out of the blue, (2) there is an opening on the one freighter from Buenos Aires to Capetown, South Africa.

So here is where I am.

Option A -- original plan. South Africa, up the East side of Africa. Then the Middle East (in June or July, which does pose some weather issues). Then to SE Asia by frieghter, Australia, New Zealand and back. Biggest problem. . . I think I want to do a whole year in the Middle East and Africa -- this route, this time, I'm looking at 4 months, max.

Option B -- Brazil (added to the South America route) to Netherlands. Northern Europe (likely crossing over to Sweden and Finland) in the late Spring/early summer. St. Petersburg, Moscow -- Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Pacific coast. Down through China. SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back.

Never thought I'd have two great options.

All input welcomed.