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

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Travel Plans

OK, I haven't wanted to mention this before, at the risk of jinxing myself, but I've been mildly freaking out for about a week about my travel plans and other miscellaneous stuff. 

I had made reservations on a cargo freighter leaving Singapore to Perth, Australia on December 12th, which would get me in around December 21st.  It shocks me that there is so little traffic between Southeast Asia and Australia, at least in terms of ships that will take passengers.  That ship was the only freighter going between the busiest port in the world, Singapore, and a well-developed, first world economy, Australia, for a period of about three months.  Fortunately, I reserved my space on it about a month ago and I was ready and set to go.

Then I got an email from the travel agent I have used to book all my ships about a week ago.  It seems that while I was traveling in Russia by train, and out of internet communication for the most part, that I needed to fill out some forms and send them back to him for my ship.  As I'd already given my credit card info and booked with them before (so they had all my contact information and such from the previous forms), I didn't think there was an absolute rush on me filling out these same papers again.  Nor did my agent tell me there was a time crunch in place.

Well, you guessed it, I lost my reservation.  The shipping company booked my cabin out from under me, though I was to blame for not getting them their paperwork back quickly enough.  My travel agent is buying me wine in New Zealand when I get there, so I'm not going to blame him for anything at this point!

This was a serious problem.  I had done enough research to know that it was going to be incredibly difficult for me to find a way to Australia, once I lost this boat.  I emailed a bunch of people that I thought might be able to help.  A guy I'd met last year in Nicaragua is a big sailor and is going to be in Bali in November and immediately sent out a bunch of emails to other sailors he knew that might be going my way.  He also send me some links of websites where you can sign up to help crew sailboats going between places (methinks I might have another year or two in me, sailing around, stopping places and sailing some more -- those sites are great).  Another now-very-good friend of mine that spent a lot of time in Indonesia over the last year talked to me about transport in between those islands -- as I was thinking of going to the end of Indonesia and just trying to hitchhike a boat to Australia.  And so on and so on.  In short, I exhausted every possible avenue I could think of.  For a few days, I was thinking I might have to give up on the "no-flying" rule I'd set for the trip.

It was a slightly depressing week on a couple of fronts.

Then I caught a break yesterday.  I got an email from another travel agent about a freighter going from Hong Kong to Brisbane.  The price was incredibly high, but I contacted the other travel agent I'd worked with and he got me a slightly better deal (though I gotta tell you -- planes are a hell of a lot cheaper than boats).  The ship leaves earlier than the other one was going to also -- now I'm leaving Hong Kong around December 3rd.  I'll get to Australia around December 13th, so at least I won't now be celebrating my birthday at sea.

Though its just my 42nd.  Non-prime.  Who cares?

It has also altered my plans for the next month.  Originally, my route was going to be to go through SE Asia on a fairly straight line, down to the tip of that area, Singapore, then catch the boat there.  Now, I'm going to have to hurry just a bit more, since I've lost about 10 days.  And I have to backtrack back through China to get to Hong Kong (thank GOD I got a double entry China visa now -- got it to possible hop over to Japan and do Mount Fuji -- now its totally necessary, so that I can go back through China to Hong Kong).  I'm going to get down to Vietnam in a couple days.  Go down the entire length of Vietnam.  Then over to Cambodia to see the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat.  Then to Thailand and some diving and beach time and back up to Laos and south China and catch the boat.  More a circle than a straight line.  I hate backtracking, but no way to avoid it this time.

I can't believe I managed to find another boat to Australia.  Did I mention how lucky I am?  Lucky in almost every aspect of life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cambodia meeting

I do not remember how I originally heard about this person, but there is a fellow Arkansan living near Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  A guy named John McDermott, who is a professional photographer.  I am getting within a couple weeks of there and remembered reading about his stuff at some point.  Google to the rescue.

I found his website easily:

Emailed him and asked if he was still in the area and would like to meet for a drink.  He replied inside the hour.  And a couple of Arkies are going to get a beer or three near Angkor Wat and I'm going to pick his brain on living in SE Asia and photography.  Pretty excited about it.

Go check out his pictures.  They are pretty wonderful.

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Chinese place names

There is something enchanting about China, namely the names of some of the places you will be going to if, and when, you visit here.

Inside the Forbidden City (which was really a worthwhile stop), you can see the Supreme Harmony Hall, the Complete Harmony Hall and the Preserving Harmony Hall, which are all back, to back to back of each other.  Go can walk through the Heavenly Purity Gate (I was glad they didn't have a vengeful God).  There is the Palace of Peace and Tranquility and the Heroic Splendor Hall.  I wandered through the Pavilion of Literature Profundity, but I don't think it rubbed off on me.

Not to be outdone, the Summer Palace has a collection of impressive buildings -- though I think 14.7% of the entire population of China was there on the Tuesday that I visited.  The number of people did reduce the effect of the Garden of Virture and Harmony and the Spacious Pavilion -- not so spacious given the number of tourists.  Though the Pavilion of Bright Scenery was so and Realm of Multitudinous Fragrance did tickle the olfactory glands a bit. 

There were a bunch of them here that I simply loved: the Hall of Jade Ripples, Hall of Nourishing Pleasures, Inviting the Moon Gate, Lingering Interest Courtyard, Pavilion of Forgotten Desires and Accompanying Clouds (I cursed the clear sky this day), the Hall Embracing the Universe, the Glazed Pagoda of Many Treasures, the Hall for Listening to Orioles, the Heart-Purifying Pavilion, Strolling through a Picture, True Meanings of Scenery, the Gate Tower of Cloud-Retaining Eaves, the Abode of Clouds and Pines, the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, the Clouds Gathering Temple (I'm sensing a theme here), the Pavilion of Clear and Carefree, the Pavilion of Mountain Scene and Water Brilliance, and the Scenic Area of 'Pictures of Farming and Weaving.'

I felt enlightened just wandering around for a couple days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wandering Books

I've read about 30 books so far on the trip.  After I read them, I put a note on the last page with me email address and ask whoever finds them to send me an email telling me where they found it and asking them to "release" it back to the wild when they are done.  Here is an email I got today:

"Dear Michael,
My name is Nini and I'm from Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
In April of this year I took a year off to go on a worldtrip.
You don't know me at all, but we have something in common: we read the same book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly... :)
The book was given to me by another traveller in a hostel in Buenos Aires, but because of all the travelling, I couldn't find the time to sit down and read...
It accompanied me all the way through Argentina, across to Chile, and through the deserts and saltflats up to Sucre, Bolivia, where I finally had some time to read it!
And now, here in La Paz, I came to the end and read your message... :)
I'm afraid to say the book was not in very good condition when it got to me. The front cover was almost completely ripped off, and did not survive the trip to Bolivia. However, I still read it with great pleasure and was amazed by the story behind it! I thought about exchanging the book for another one, but I want to make sure that this book will continue it's travels. I will therefore try to mend the cover with sellotape as best as I can, and give it to someone else who I think will enjoy reading it!
So far my update on the amazing journey of this travelling book! :)
I wish you all the best on your travels, and maybe, hopefully, this book will reach you again one day.....
Take care!
x Nini"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fan Death

I had a great day today wandering around Bejing and taking pictures of the Forbidden City, but perhaps the biggest smile was thing morning at my hostel over coffee with another couple girls staying there.  They are on a vacation in China and SE Asia after teaching for a year in South Korea. 

We were talking about various travel stories -- where have you been, funny things you've seen, favorite places and such -- when somehow the conversation turned to "fan death" in South Korea.  I told them I had no idea what they were talking about and then proceeded to tell me about an urban legend that is rampant in South Korea.

If you sleep in an enclosed room in Korea (which can get quite hot in the summer) with a fan on, you stand a good chance of dying from "fan death." 

They said that literally scores of Koreans told them this was true and had a variety of explanations for it: the fan would 'chop up' all the oxygen in the room and suffocate you, the fan created a vortex which drew the oxygen away from you and killed you, or the fan would cause hypothermia and kill you.  I told them that there was absolutely no way at all that a developed, civilized country could believe anything that crazy.

Then I turned to Wikipedia, while ordering another coffee:

Not only is this apparently a very common urban legend in South Korea (and only South Korea, which is odd), but the South Korean government actually has promoted this theory -- another aspect of this story that I didn't believe from the girls.  Here is that section from the Wikipedia entry, including a quote from the official South Korean government position.

"The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB), a South Korean government-funded public agency, issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that "asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners" was among South Korea's five most common seasonal summer accidents or injuries, according to data they collected.  Also included among the five hazards were air conditioner explosions and sanitation issues, including food poisoning and opportunistic pathogens harbored in air conditioners. The KCPB actually published the following:

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes [the] bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [an] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration [sic] and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open."

How weird is that??  North Korea?  Sure, I'd believe it.  But South Korea??

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shout Out

            My favorite radio show right now, perhaps of all time, is 'The Tony Kornheiser Show.'  Tony K. was a columnist for a long time for the Washington Post and I got into his written stuff back in the early 90s when I was living in D.C.  His sense of humor is simply fantastic.


            Later on in his career, he got a radio show, first locally in D.C. and then picked up nationally by ESPN Radio.  His show was the morning show on ESPN Radio, right before the Dan Patrick Show.  I tried to be in my car as often as I could in them mornings, just to listen to Mister Tony on my satellite radio.  A few years ago, he was hired to be one of the three guys in the Monday Night Football booth, until he was replaced this season.  He stopped doing radio while he was doing Monday Night, but now he's back on the radio locally in the D.C. area.


            Importantly for me, his show is also available for free as a pod cast on iTunes.  As a result, I can download it when I'm on the road and listen to it whenever I want, which has been a nice boon in the last few months.


            Mister Tony never interviews players or coaches on the rationale that they all say the same thing all the time: "We are going to take the game one play at a time." "An all out effort is going to be needed this week."  "Our coaches/players did a great job, we just came up a little short this week."  I couldn't agree more – I can't stand 98% of the interviews I've heard with players and coaches.  Instead he interviews a lot of newspaper reporters, columnists and others that will actually give true opinions of what is going on in their various topics of interest.


            What is also great about his show is that it is only about half sports.  He (and the people he has in the booth with him, three or so everyday from a rotating cast of about seven or eight) ends up more of the time just talking about things in the news, entertainment, movies, music, and such.  His show hits about everything under the sun – and his show's self-deprecating tag line is "this show stinks!"


            Part of his various idiosyncrasies is explained by his unofficial website FAQ:


            If you are a sports fan at all, it is a must listen.  If you aren't, I still think there is a good chance you'd still love it.  Another thing I love is that he totally refuses to ever take phone calls from listeners on his show (how worthless are those 99.9% of the time?), but he has a dedicated set of followers that email him about every day.  The emails he reads on the air are usually quite funny and riff off the topics that have been on the air that day.  One of his daily emailers, Chad, sends a few haikus everyday – one of Mister Tony's rules is that Chad is the only one allowed now to do haikus, since they are so good.


            Now that I think about tit, I think one of the main reasons that I am such a fan of his is that he has about as many strange rules and quirks as I do.  Though I'd be lucky at this point to aspire to one-tenth of his success.


            Whether you want to listen to all of his stuff or not.  Go to the Apple Store and download the October 13 pod cast.  There are two that day one for each hour of his show.  Download the one labeled "Tim Kurkjan," which is the first hour.


Then go to about 34:30 or so and listen for about a minute.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guest Post from one of my great friends

A Message from the Home Front
By Doug Muzzy, Guest Blogger

I am honored to be allowed to be a “guest blogger” for the Mobile Lawyer. It is my hope that by offering this glimpse of the “home front” that it may encourage others that call themselves Mike’s friends to also offer up a slice of the hole left in the lives of the people he touches daily. As many of you know Mike and I have been friends for longer than either of us care to remember. I am, after all, the brother Mike never had…well, except for Ryan.

As I begin to put pen to paper for this task (actually fingers to keys), I am at 35,000 feet somewhere above West Virginia, I can’t help to think how ironic it is that I am writing about the Mobile Lawyer from an airplane. In my present occupation, I do not have the luxury of time that Mr. Hodson enjoys as he works his way around the world without the help of American Airlines.

My subject is baseball…specifically, Fantasy baseball. Since 1992 a group of friends has organized ourselves every year to battle each other via Fantasy Baseball. The Ohio Association owes its name to the original teams, all owned by MBA students at The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!). Over time, the league has expanded and families have relocated. Only one current team is based in the buckeye state. Mike joined the league in our second year and, which would soon prove to be a regular habit, could not make the draft in person. In an age before regular conference calls, Mike secured a proxy to draft for him. The reason for Mike’s absence the first year can probably be traced to some Senate emergency. Mike actually made it to the next draft in 1994 (the last draft in Columbus, Ohio), but over the years he has missed about every 3rd draft due to work commitments, family vacations, and pure laziness (not setting an alarm and missing his flight). Mike missed the last draft in March 2009 as he was somewhere in South America on the journey we now eagerly await in additional blog updates.

I originally envisioned this blog to be completed back in early April. The piece was to be a documented account of how Mike was missed at the 2009 draft, held just outside of Detroit. It is a testament of the broad-thinking of the league that allows 5 of the 12 Ohio Association teams to be based in the Detroit metro area. It may also be evidence of very little good football being played in the Detroit area, either Pro or College. However, I could not write about how Mike missed the draft, because I also missed the draft.

A musical aside…As I am writing this piece, I am listening to Hannah Chan on my iPod. I would be amazed if anyone out there has heard Hannah (yet!). Hannah worked with me for a couple years and after listening to her music I think you will agree with me that she should treat music as more than just a hobby. (check out Hannah on iTunes or at or at

I missed the draft because the best way to get to Detroit from New England is to fly. So, there I was Friday April 3rd at Bradley Int’l Airport in Hartford, CT trying to get to Detroit. The airplane that was scheduled to take me there had issues, major issues. Not a big deal, right? Just wait for the next flight. Wrong, remember, this is Final Four weekend in Detroit and which team is one of the four: University of Connecticut Huskies. I have no other options besides waiting to see if this plane will leave. I spent over six hours in the airport waiting to see if the airline could make the plane work with the part being flown in from Cincinnati. To make a long story short (to late), I had no options to get to Detroit. Moral of the story…no planes = no jetlag. Doug is doing the draft from his house in Massachusetts.

Since Mike is AWOL somewhere between Machu Picu and Buenos Aries, he has found a “partner” to do the draft for him. Well, actually, he talked a friend into finding a friend to do the draft. The Friend, aka “Marty,” not only has Mike’s proxy for drafting his team, but he also has the proxy to change the name of Mike’s team. One aside, Mike’s team historically as been called “Hodson’s Disease.” A great name/play on words. Over the years Mike has changed the name of his team to suit his draft situation. One year doing the draft pool-side from Hawaii (we start the draft at 9:30 AM ET), his team was “In the Dark.” Another classic Hodson name was “The Luddites.” Mike was the last team to bring a laptop to the draft (obviously, Mike is much more tech-savvy now). In 2008, his team was “One More Pole” (not named after an Eastern European). In 2009, Mike and Marty are “2 for the Money.”

Marty, who hails from somewhere in Arkansas, brought a distinctly different perspective to the draft. The team that Marty drafted included players that Mike would never have considered, including four pitchers that were on the DL. The best part about Marty’s draft is that he left without finishing. Mike was about seven positions short. Other teams took turns filling in Mike’s roster. At the end, it was unanimous…this was a very “un-Hodson” team.

“2 for the Money” started the year in sixth place, but by mid May Mike’s team was in the top four and firmly in the running. A couple weeks even saw ‘2-fer’ in first place, a spot rarely seen by Hodson’s teams. In mid-July, ‘2-fer’ was is 6th place and at the precipice. I inquired about securing one of his key players in a trade that would have set Mike up for a run in 2010. Mike’s cool response (from somewhere in Africa) was “I’ve just made a deal, and I’m making a run for it this year.”

The last four weeks of the baseball season in our league is like stud poker…you play the cards you were dealt, no trades, no pick-ups. ‘2-fer’ is between 1.5 and 3 points out of first place. (It would be negligent of me at this point to mention the first place team during the last couple months: Scott W’s “Twinkees.” The Twinkees are a 2nd year expansion team that [obviously] figured out our league quick. More on the “Twinkees” soon). The ‘2-fer’ vs. Twinkee dual went down to the last weekend. Unfortunately for Mike (and for this story) the Twinkees held off ’2-fer’ by 3 points and won the league.

As most of you know, with the exception of some stretches during his South American and African travels, Mike was connected throughout the season…almost more than in a “normal” season. Mike was always ready with a key pick-up or trade or a witty, sardonic email to the league.

A second musical aside: I am doing some edits to this piece (again on an airplane) I am listening to Thomas Dolby Astronauts & Heretics. One of the things that I do miss from Mike is his eclectic music taste. In the “pre-iPod” world of vinyl & CDs it wasn’t about the playlist, but about the album. Mike introduced me to Thomas Dolby the album, on vinyl, freshman year in college…The Flat Earth. Some of my favorite music that must be listened to as a whole album is music that Mike helped introduce me to (Dobly, Joe Jackson, U2, Warren Zevon, Supertramp, Eric Clapton to name a few).

One Ohio Association trivia question…even though Mike has never won the Ohio Association, he has placed 2nd more than any other team…always the bridesmaid. By my count this is his fifth 2nd place finish…I could be more as I don’t have records for the early 90s.

As per our league traditions, the “Twinkees” will choose next year’s draft location. After two straight years in Detroit, the league is looking for a warm weather destination. The Mobile Lawyer’s agenda-less schedule has us all asking the question: “Will Mike be “in person” for next years draft?” Only time, the travel gods, and fate know. In the meantime, I offer Mike a “Laurel and hearty handshake” for another 2nd place finish.

We are all looking forward to additional stories of Mike’s overseas adventures and pictures. If/when Mike returns, we will all raise our glasses to toast his adventures, hopefully after a long shower and delousing. Cheers from the home front.

Mr. Muzzy is a process consultant, wine lover, and huge baseball fan. He lives outside of Boston, MA with his wife, three children, and pet Labrador retriever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Upbeat travel story

A friend of mine was IMing me today about my pictures and I was asking about the possibility of getting some of them published somewhere in conjuction with some of my writing and she made what I thought was a telling comment -- basically something along the lines of "you are too negative and positive sells."

Good point.

And I do have a lot of positive travel stories. Perhaps I have been a bit too focused on the negative side in the past few months.

Here is a bit of background on the situation when this exchange all went down. I was in Oslo, Norway at the time. As ya'll know by now, the only reason I was in that part of the world was to get to the northernmost city in the world. Online, and in the guidebooks I had seen, people had said that I could get a bus from Oslo to Hammerfest -- a long one, to be sure, but a direct bus.

When I got to Oslo on a bus from Malmo, Sweden, I asked at the bus station about buying a ticket for the next day on that bus. Turns out that bus doesn't exist anymore. Apparently, you can only go about half way up Norway via buses. This was a major problem. Getting this close and not making one of my (revised) travel goals was going to be really annoying.

I turned to one of the travel forums out there for advice. In this case, the Lonely Planet ThornTree forum. The first post that follows was my request for information. The rest of the give and take was between me and a Norwegian that immediately chimed in and helped me out.

By helping me out, I mean that he stepped me entirely through this process. He went over my options. I decided on the boat option. He then researched that for me (the boat's website was in Norwegian) and got back to me on my choices. I thought I'd include the exchange on the forum, just because it was so amazing to me that this guy was replying to me within minutes of my posts - check out the time stamps on the postings!

The savior portion of this can be shown by his explanation of how to get to Hammerfest by bus: "The first onward bus will be the 1530 bus to Storslett (basically in the middle of nowhere. You'll arrive at 2130 in the night and have to find somehow to survive until next morning (it has started snowing here today!)."

I later told him I was going to write a blog about it, and he asked to remain anonymous, so I'm not going to post the follow-up emails. Basically, after this exchange on the forums, he then helped me out at an even higher level.

He ended up calling the boat that was leaving Bodo (the town that I was taking an overnight train to that night) the next day for the trip all the way to Kirkenes, which is on the Russian border. He reserved a cabin for me on that ship and I was set to arrive with plenty of time and pay when I got there.

Then I took the first leg of the train, from Oslo to Trondheim, and noticed that I had mistakenly bought a train ticket for the wrong night. I had tickets for the next night. The conductor let me on the train to Trondheim, but the next train wouldn't let me continue on the wrong ticket. So, I had to get a hotel for the night.

As a result, I wasn't going to make my reservation for the boat. I emailed him and apologized for my screw-up, and he then proceeded to call the first boat and cancel me out. And, of course, then called the boat coming through the next day and booked me on that one. All this without me asking, because I was so embarrassed and annoyed that I'd screwed up the train ticket.

This all from a person that I never met. Never talked to. And likely will never meet in my life.

The road is good. And I'm the luckiest traveler in the world.

28-Sep-2009 17:30
by: michaelshodson

far north travel right now

I am in Oslo and trying to get from here to Hammerfest, then back down to Helsinki. It doesn't appear there are any buses running from Oslo to Hammerfest this late in the year, so am taking the train to Bodo tonight. From there, I am going to try to use local buses all the way up, I hope.

My question more is the return. I have looked around and can't see any overland (I am not flying at all) way from north Norway to Finland. I do see roads on the map. Any bus companies or such go those routes this time of year that anyone knows of?

28-Sep-2009 18:57

The best way of getting from Bodø to Hammerfest would be Hurtigruten, but it might be too expensive. You could try to look for bargain tickets at - only in Norwegian, but I'll give you the essential translations:


Then select travel date(s), the price includes cabin(s) and breakfast. The "Kjøretøy" section applies to vehicles, just leave it as it is if you're not bringing a car.

This offer applies for Bodø-Kirkenes tickets only, but you can leave the ship at any time (but you can't continue on the same ticket on the next ship).

This will cost you NOK1325, which is far less than you'd have to pay with local buses and basic accommodation along the way.

Other options are plane, check fares at, tickets start at about NOK 1100 (with connection in Tromsø).

The bus trip will be quite cumbersome. If doing this, leave the train at Fauske (do not proceed to Bodø) and the 08:55 bus from there to Narvik, arriving 1330. The first onward bus will be the 1530 bus to Storslett (basically in the middle of nowhere). You'll arrive at 2130 in the night and have to find somehow to survive until next morning (it has started snowing here today!). The next onward bus does not leave until 1925 next day, it will take you to Alta, dropping you off there at 2230. The onward travel to Hammefest will be by local boat, it does not leave until 0700 next morning. Do you really want to do this?!?

28-Sep-2009 19:08
by: michaelshodson

hmmmm -- you do not paint a good picture. I do really want to do this, but am a bit worried about it now. Will check the Hurigruten option. They are still sailing this late in the year? You know how frequently?

28-Sep-2009 19:13

Ah, I see now youre arriving in Bodø tomorrow morning. As I told you, the bus trip will be very cumbersome. Unless you have some places along the route you wish to visit, you should forget about it - it will turn up as the most expensive option, as you'll have to organise at least two overnight stays on the route.

If you are less than 26 years old, Widerøe has youth tickets available tomorrow for NOK 1089 from Bodø to Hammerfest. As the night train from Trondheim arrives in Bodø at 09:10 tomorrow morning, your first option is the 12:25 from Bodø to Tromsø, and from there with the 13:35 plane to Hammerfest, arriving there at 14:18. If youre 26+, prices tomorrow start at NOK 3529 - you're essentially forced to book full fare tickets on such short notice.

There's no bargain tickets on Hurtigruten tomorrow. A basic ticket without cabin or meals will cost you about NOK 1356, it will be much more comfortable and interesting than doing this trip by bus. And probably less expensive, too...

28-Sep-2009 19:18
by: michaelshodson

you are wonderful for giving all these last minute tips. Many thanks.

I can't take a plane -- my mission is to get around the world without taking any planes -- and hitting the southernmost and northermost cities -- which is why I need to get to Hammerfest.

I don't mind paying the fare for the boat, if that is the best way there. I would hate to fail now. It sounds like I need to take the boat -- but I am totally unsure how to book that. Should I go to a travel agent here in Oslo today before I board the train this afternoon? Is there an easy way to do Bodo to Hammerfest online on the boat site?


28-Sep-2009 19:19

Hurtigruten runs daily around the year. You can't book online for tomorrow as the boat has left Bergen. You could try calling the ship directly, tomorrow's northbound from Bodø is MS "Polarlys", leaving at 15:00. Their phone number is +47 994 87 275. The boat arrives in Hammerfest at 06:45 on ht 1st of October.

Students get a 50% discount on Hurtigruten if you ask nicely. :)

28-Sep-2009 19:23
by: michaelshodson

I wish I was a student :) hell -- I might go back to school after this trip -- I will need the break . . .

OK -- daily ships -- that is GREAT news. You are going to laugh at me for another reason -- I don't have a cell phone -- so no calling the ship. Since they are daily, I assume I can go somewhere in Bodo and buy a ticket for this part of the trip on whatever ship arrives that day.

Correct? If so, do you know where to go in Bodo.

And seriously -- you are the nicest poster I have yet met on this site. SO many thanks. You are about to make it into my daily blog today -- so I need the correct spelling of your name!

28-Sep-2009 19:27

Then it is the onward travel from Hammerfest. I am really clueless about bus options there, you should try contacting the tourist office in Hammerfest, contact info is at Getting to Kirkenes should be easy (by bus or boat), from there you can take a dailiy bus to Murmansk, see

28-Sep-2009 19:28

Please PM [private message] me, and I'll help you with booking a ticket on the ship. I'll need your name, gender, year of birth and nationality. Please confirm your arrival time in Bodø (check your train booking) as well.

28-Sep-2009 19:33

There's no ticket office in Bodø - there are travel agencies, but they will probably demand a booking fee. At this time of year, you could usually just pop up on Hurtigruten and get a ticket, they are unlikely to be fully booked.

As with regards to "daily" ships - in the low season (now), there might be cancellations. So you shouldn't rely on the daily ship arriving, check first at - enter harbour of departure and date to see which ships will leave for the next few days. E.g., the northbound from Bodø is cancelled on October 2nd.

28-Sep-2009 19:39
by: michaelshodson

many, many thanks. Seriously, you are a savior.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Very Brief Update

I have been off the boat from Norway for a few days, but really rushing around in an attempt to get East (and warm). Murmansk for an evening. 30 hour train to St. Petersburg. Rest evening then a day of running my ass off taking pictures (up soon) and seeing the sights. Wonderful town. Really recommend it. Then another overnight train to Moscow. Walked around a bit today, but it was raining and Moscow seems much less interesting than St. Pete (though pics of the Red Square and such will be up soon also).

Tonight a 72 hour train to Irkutsk. Funny thing about all Russian trains: the schedules are all printed on Moscow time. I'll actually be going over five time zones to the east, but my ticket said I arrived around 11:30 p.m. Whoops. That's actually 4:30 a.m. local time. Will be interesting to find a hostel at that time of the day, especially because Irkutsk is not a big tourist town with tons of options.

When there, I need to get my Mongolian visa. I hope that only takes a day or two. Then off to Mongolia for a few days. Quite excited. It is one of the countries I looked forward to. Then another long train to Bejing for a few days and then finally south. To warmth. Whew.

Obviously will be offline for a bit. If there is power on the train, I will be doing some writing and photo editing, so I can upload in Irkutsk. Sorry for my lack of posting lately.

Feel free to hit the share button down below all of my blog posts, if one suits your fancy to share with your Facebook or Twitter friends (or other places, I think). I'd certainly appreciate it.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ferry to Aswan

The desert in Sudan was peaceful. The town of Wadi Halfi was unusual. The ferry ride to Aswan was just annoying.

In most every guidebook that I’ve read on the trip, there is a section that talks about travel considerations for women. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how many solo females travelers I’ve met on this trip. They have a level of travel courage for which I have the utmost respect. In all the various crime stories I’ve heard so far on the trip, I’ve yet to hear a bad, sexual assault story, thank God, but I’m still in awe of the woman I’ve met tromping around the world by themselves. I have glanced through those sections in the guidebooks, but the warnings have never really registered with me.

Until I got to the Muslim countries in northern Africa that is. Until then, I’d really never traveled with women in parts of the world where those warnings apply. I’d seen women get hit on or whistled at (my guys other than me even), but had all been pretty tame until this part of the world.

Of the twenty of us on the overland truck, about half of us slept up on the deck of the ferry and the other half paid extra to get cabins. After going through the exit procedures at the dock in Wadi Halfa, we got into buses to go to the ferry (the lakes levels are way, way down and the dock is about a half mile from the original one), got on the boat and immediately went up to the top deck to mark out our sleeping territory.

One of the overland truck drivers had warmed us that it can get quite crowded up on deck. He told us one time that he almost had to elbow his way to get enough room to lie down and sleep. Luckily for us, one of the benefits to traveling in the middle of the summer heat was that the ferry wasn’t completely packed, so there was enough room to spread out a rug we were carrying to mark out a spot for five us to sleep. The other five spread our a rug around the corner.

I did get to see something on the ferry that I’d never seen before – a Muslim woman praying. I was up near the bridge on the shady side of the ferry reading a book and listening to my iPod, when two woman walked up, spread out a rug, and one of them got down and started praying. I’d seen hundreds of men praying before at various calls to prayer during the day – in fact, in just a couple more hours, when the sun went down, there was a big prayer session on the top deck – but I’d never before seen a woman praying. I think for the most part, the woman pray in private, while the men go to the mosque for their daily prayers. One of the many things I will have to research before writing the tome.

The other thing I unfortunately got to witness was a bunch of young, rude Muslim guys that thought nothing of standing a few feet away from us and taking pictures of the girls with us on their cell phones. Click. Show your buddy standing next to you. Click again. Over the hours until the sun went down, this probably happened a half a dozen times.

Worse was the expression on their faces. They weren’t just taking pictures of ‘strange’ or ‘unique’ things. These weren’t just innocent tourist pictures. Though our female friends were quite conservatively dressed, as you should be in this part of the world out of respect for their culture, these guys were taking pictures of the ‘Western sluts.’

I simply have no doubt of this. After doing a bit of reading on how woman are thought of in this part of the world and talking to scores of female travelers, I’m completely convinced that is how a lot of these younger guys look at every western woman. I’ve heard a number of stories of guys walking up to western woman and just flat asking for sex. One of the girls on the trip had a guy tell her that she had nice breasts – and he was the guy checking her into the hotel she was staying at! A couple of the girls on the truck took the train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa and one got groped on the train – just a flat, walk-up right to her, boob grab. Then he smiled at them, as if that was a perfectly acceptable way to say hello.

Not my style to condemn an entire culture, but a lot of these guys make drunken frat guys on Spring Break look like polite gentlemen.

We huddled up on the ship and made a decision about our sleeping arrangements. Our group was sleeping in a passage area, so we needed to leave an aisle down the middle. One of the girls was going to sleep on one side up against a wall, with a guy sleeping on her outside, on the passageway side. The other girl was going to sleep up against the railing, with another guy sleeping between her and the aisle. Basically, we were worried that if they slept somewhere that was exposed at all, they might get groped.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t organized my sleeping arrangements nearly as well. There wasn’t any more room on the rug, so I had to fold up my lightweight sleeping bag in half and put it under me, from ass to shoulders, to try to cushion a bit against the steel floor. I took off my sandals and used them as a pillow.

Not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever gotten.

We got to Aswan at 9:30 a.m. We had all been told that the Egyptian immigration agents were not the most efficient in the world. That was a gross understatement.

After experiencing their level of government efficiency and organization, it is not shocking that Israel kicked their asses in four wars last century. I think France might even be able to best them.

When we arrived, a small boat pulled up and four guys with gloves and masks over their mouths got onto our ship. They were there to check everyone’s passports for entry visas and also do a temperature check (in your ear) to make sure you didn’t have swine flu. They also handed out a small form you had to fill out regarding your health: any recent fevers? Coughing? Recent hospitalization? And so on.

Small sidenote. One of the girls on our truck got malaria in Ethiopia. Then at the end of the desert trip, she suffered from a bout of heat stroke. She had to go to the hospital in Wadi Halfa to be able to get enough fluids in her to get on the boat. On the boat, the ship’s doctor personally oversaw giving her an IV in her cabin. They let her in. Makes you wonder why they even bothered with all this.

Four hours later, everyone’s passport had been stamped and everyone’s temperature had been taken. Time to get off the boat and go through customs, right?

Not so fast, my friend. It seems that one of the locals hadn’t picked his passport back up from the immigration agents. So there was one guy on the boat that didn’t have his passport on him. For some inexplicable reason, they wouldn’t let anyone off the boat until they found him.

Just to make sure I beat this point to death, we still had to go through customs. In fact, before we finally exited the dock area, we all had to show our passports five more times to different people. Five times. Now, I understand it might be a big deal that you’ve got someone’s passport on you and that person shouldn’t be entering your country, but you know when you’d be able to figure that out, if you let everyone off the boat? About 3 minutes later, when the guy realized he didn’t have his passport at the first checkpoint.

But no, we all got to wait around on the boat until they found him. It took an hour for us to even realize this was all going on, until our local fixer that was on the ship with us talked to an official to figure out what was going on. During that hour, there wasn’t a single announcement made over the loudspeaker for this person to come pick up his passport. Apparently they just wandered around the boat and asked the 400-500 people if they’d seen Mohammed.

Yep. Mohammed. Because that is a pretty unique name in this part of the world. Then someone finally got on the loudspeaker and made an announcement that Mohammed needed to come pick up his passport.

Another hour went by before he did.

He must have been a former high-ranking military commander.

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More Sudan recap

Boat trips are great times to catch up on writing. The crossing from South America to South Africa yielded about ten blogs. This trip up the Norwegian coast is about a third as long, but hopefully almost as productive. The scenery is a hell of a lot more inspiring.

Here is a brief recap of the ten days that I spent in Sudan. In July. Just to be clear, for anyone out there that wants to go to this part of the world in the future, July and August might not be the best months to visit.

At the time, I was on the Oasis Overland truck for three weeks, from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Aswan, Egypt. I’d been in Ethiopia for about ten days before getting on the truck, in my first prolonged stop somewhere to secure visas. Between that time and the five or six more days in Ethiopia spent on the overland truck, I was completely fed up with that country and decided to evacuate to Sudan a few days before the truck was going to go. One of the other guys in the truck, Sean, agreed to hop on a couple buses with me from Gondor to the border and then on to Khartoum, Sudan.

I think I’ve written about this before, but the image is still one of my favorites on the entire trip. The bus we took to the border was incredibly crowded almost the entire way. It would stop and pick up and drop off passengers all along the route. At one point, a sixty-year-old guy waved the bus down and got on.

In one hand, a live chicken. In the other, an AK-47.

Just thinking about that right now as I travel through very ‘civilized’ Europe brings a huge smile to my face.

After we crossed the border, we got the best bus that I had been on in months. It was more like the buses I rode in South America. Nice seats. One person per seat, which I now realized was quite and important criterion in a bus line. And air-conditioning. The summer heat had not been a problem for the most part on Ethiopia, because I had mostly been in the central and western part of the country, which is at elevation and quite temperate. As we got closer to the Sudan border, and then in Sudan proper, we got back down to sea level.

It was hot. "It's Africa hot!" But that was just a taste of what hot was soon to mean.

Khartoum was a welcome relief from Ethiopia. For one thing, things worked. There was electricity every day. The internet was fast. The drinks were cold. There weren’t any kids begging on the streets. People would give you directions without asking for payment. It wasn’t the prettiest city in the world, but coming from where we’d just been, we were pretty happy.

A few days later, the overland truck could up with us and a couple days after that, we got back in the truck for the four-day drive to the Egyptian border. We were going to be camping in the desert every night. There weren’t any towns of any appreciable size on the way. We were going to be eating whatever food we bought in Khartoum. We filled up the twenty, twenty litre jerry cans full of water and set off on the way.

From Sudan
On the first day, we stopped at Meroe. Unknown to me, Sudan actually has more pyramids than Egypt, though the ones in Egypt dwarf them. These were quite well preserved and you could actually walk right into a few of them. There were no other tourists at the entire site, save for the twenty of us on the truck.

We walked around for an hour and half. A few of us took rides on camels from the guys selling rides there. Did I mention that it was hot??

The four days in the desert averaged over 50°C every day. Although you would rarely be in the sun for long – you actually felt that the sun was pulling the life directly from your soul if you stood in the sun for any period of time – it was still hot enough that you were drinking water all day long. Everyone on the truck was averaging drinking between three and five litres of water a day. Between using our water for drinking, we also were using it each night to cook and clean with. Needless to say, the two hundred litres we had weren’t going to last the entire trip through the desert.

Our truck was basically following the route of the train tracks between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa. On the third day, we stopped at one of the small way stations by the side of the train tracks and filled up our empty jerry cans. Directly from an open well.

Two of the guys climbed down the ladder to the bottom of the well, which was about a hundred feet down. We then tied together about all the rope and cord we had on the truck, so we could get our jerry cans down to the water, for the guys to fill them up. We then formed a line of four or five guys to haul the full jerry can back up. Repeat this about seventeen times in the mid-day heat for the full effect.

But the bonus from all the effort (and I think this is where I screwed up my knee on this trip), we got fresh, well water.

It combined a cloying chalky taste with a hint of metallic overtones. It was a little young on the palate, but with a bit of age, I’m sure some of its overbearing nature would fall out and it would bloom into a fine vintage. I personally think the ‘07s were slightly better than these ‘09s, but Robert Parker would disagree.

This is an unaltered picture of the water of life:

From Sudan

The worst water I have ever tasted in my life. A horrible, painful illness (I wasn’t dying, we would be in Wadi Halfi in a couple days) due to dehydration on one hand and this water on the other. . . It was a tougher call than you might think.

I seem to have the bad pattern in writing these blogs of emphasizing the negative. EDITOR!!

The desert was actually great. One of the highlights of the trip, especially at night and in the early morning. The long drives each day were fairly boring, true, but at the end of the day, the truck would pull off away from the tracks, we would whip up dinner, the ever-present wind would die down considerably, a few people would set up their tents, more people would just sleep directly under the stars – it was incredibly peaceful.

From Sudan

From Sudan

O yea, I forgot to mention that at one point, we were driving on the railway tracks and the right side of the embankment gave way. The truck slid to the right violently and almost tipped over. If it would have, we would have tumbled down the embankment and into a shallow pond. Twenty frantic people trying to get out of an upside down truck.

Yea, it would have been bad. But here is the video of the other overland truck pulling us out of the mess that we got ourselves in.

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Costs in Scandinavia

Scandinavia is beautiful, including the landscape, the architecture and the women (it truly is the Land of the Midnight Blonde). It’s also the most expensive place I have ever been, outside New York City and Tokyo. The difference in NYC and Tokyo is that you can still manage to find some things that are reasonably priced if you do some looking around. I haven’t spent that much time up here, but I don’t think that is the case here. It’s just all expensive. Everywhere. Bigger cities or small towns.

Some examples, you ask? Well, sure.

In Oslo, Norway, my bed in a four-bed hostel dorm room cost the equivalent of about $70 U.S. dollars. I had a reasonable, but not exquisite, Indian dinner that night with one beer. Cost = $50 U.S.

On the train from Trondheim north to Bodo, the beers were $10, the hot dogs were $5 each and a cup of coffee was $4. It was an overnight train and in the morning I ended up talking the woman behind the counter to give me a free refill on my coffee, to amortize my cost down to $2 a cup. It felt like a great accomplishment.

I walked by a Burger King in Trondheim. The cheeseburgers were $3 each. The Whooper meal (Whooper, fries and a drink) would run you $12. The Snickers bars were $4 each at the train station. I ate a $10 basic ham and cheese sandwich for dinner. I passed on the $10 beer, which wasn’t even a full liter, but 6/10s of one. I got in late to Trondheim and got stranded there, so I had to get a hotel room. The first room I asked about was $220. The Comfort Inn was only $190. I managed to find a place for about $100.

By the way, here is how I got stranded. Once again, I screwed up. In Oslo, I was doing some research on how to get all the way north to Hammerfest, the supposed northernmost city in the world. The guidebooks say there is a thirty-hour bus from Oslo to there, but I asked the bus companies when I got in and none of them go that far north. In fact, they don’t even go to the middle of the country. The Norwegian train system would get me about halfway up Norway, to the town of Bodo. The train information people then said that they thought I could catch three or four local buses up to Hammerfest.

They also said that if I bought the train ticket from them, it would cost about $200, but if I used the self-service machine that I’d be able to get the ticket much cheaper. They were right, I got it for about $50 from the machine. The problem was that I got it for the wrong day. I thought I was leaving the next day (the 28th), but I inadvertently must have punched the 29th instead. I didn’t notice until I was on board the first train, which went half way there, to Trondheim. The conductor said my ticket was find and let me stay on the train. I wasn’t so lucky on the second, overnight train from there to Bodo. That conductor said I was traveling the wrong day and wouldn’t let me keep going. Therefore, an expensive overnight in Trondheim.

I stopped in Bodo to buy some groceries at a local store to take onto the ship I am on for three nights and four days, taking me to the very top of Norway and dropping me off near Russia. I figured that I would buy most of the food that I would eat on the boat there, to save as much money as I could, seeing as the boat fare more than ate up my daily budget (almost exactly $500 for the three nights). Here is what I got for 302.47 Norwegian krones, which is exactly $51.70:

• two loafs of bread
• one slice of Brie cheese
• one slice of Port Salut cheese
• two packages of sliced salami (about 30-40 thin pieces)
• two bags of potato chips
• six bananas and
• five hundred grams of grapes.

Thank God I didn’t start my trip here, before I had any idea about cost control.

On the train ride today up to meet the boat in Bodo, I experienced another first for me: first time across the Arctic Circle. Right about that time, I also came to the full realization that I am a tad bit underprepared for the weather I am likely to experience the next few weeks. There is snow on the ground up here. It’s not covering everything yet, but in the areas that the train went through that did have snow, it was not just a light dusting.

I remember when I was very young and I lived in Wisconsin, which I still consider the far north, we’d all wonder if it would snow by Thanksgiving. Well, its still September here. I’m not at any sort of elevation that would bring the cold earlier. It’s the end of September and its simply cold. Not frigid cold, but still see-your-breath in the middle of the day cold. It wasn’t snowing in Bodo this afternoon. . . it was sleeting as I boarded the ship.

One fleece that I bought in Germany. One sweater that I bought in Peru. That’s all I’ve got. I really do not want to buy any more warm clothing – it takes up lots of room in my backpack (though I’d probably just be wearing it every day) and I’d just have to give it away in a few weeks, when I turn back to summer.

I had multiple goals on this trip, but I think that the “12 months of summer travel” has run headfirst into “southernmost and northernmost city on the same trip.” You can’t mess with Mr. Freeze Miser.

Then again, it did give me an idea for another book. If I can get the first one published.

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