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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: May 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Photo of the Day: Sunset, Chobe Park

From Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park, Botswana. Great place to see elephants.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Travel Tip: Know your Banker

I have been back in the States now for over a month and thought, with a bit of reflection, that it might be a good time for me to start blogging about some travel suggestions I have for people that are about to do some international traveling. My first tip in this area applies to everyone -- backpackers, rich tourists on guided tours, and everyone in between.

Know your banker.

When I say, know your banker, I mean that you need to know an actual person at your bank that is going to help you if something goes wrong. You need to have met them before in person, and preferably bought them food and/or drinks. You need their personal email. The email account they will look at on the weekends or in non-business hours. Your banker might not be your friend now, but he or she should be soon. Then can save you from travel hell.

My bank friend is Donna with the Bank of Fayetteville. The Bank of Fayetteville (BoF) is a very small bank in my adopted hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. They have all of five branches, I believe. I doubt they are one of the 300 largest banks in the United States, but in these times, size actually does not matter in terms of banking. My ATM/credit card with the BoF operates on the Shazam, Pulse, Cirrus and VISA networks. I was able to use it successfully all around the world. There is no need to have your money at a big bank these days, in order to get money out while you travel.

The advantage to banking at a smaller bank is that I actually know the people I bank with, and more importantly, they know me and will help me immediately if I have a problem. On this trip, I either lost or had stolen my credit cards on three different occasions. Each time it happened, I emailed Donna, she had the card immediately canceled and then shipped a new card out to me (along with the paperwork to report any fraudulent charges incurred). Since I was moving around without reservations, having a card shipped to me wasn't that easy, but she always immediately replied to my emails and sorted out the details of the when and wheres.

When I was having horrible problems finding US Dollars in Ethiopia (Money and other issues in Ethiopia), Donna was talking to Western Union contacts in the States about finding a way to get me US Dollars. She couldn't, ergo my visits to the black market in that linked blog, but she was great for trying. When both my credit cards were stolen from a Bangkok hotel room when I wasn't there and each had thousands of dollars of fraudulent charges incurred before I discovered their disappearance, Donna did up the paperwork for me back home and made sure none of charges passed through to me -- my other credit card with the mega-bank Citibank said everything was fine, only to threaten to sue me for more than $8,000 once I got back -- a situation that is still not resolved. I was never in a money situation where I needed any money wired to me, but Donna and I talked about that possibility before I left and she was ready to push that contingency through, if need be.

Seriously, I think it is vital to know your banker. Personally, I suggest banking in a small bank also, because meeting someone that is going to be your person at Citibank or Barcleys isn't going to happen. You might not need this travel tip -- I hope you never run into a money crisis on the road -- but if you do get into any sticky situations, like many travelers I met have happen, knowing an actual person at your bank is a godsend.

p.s. I just went to her wedding yesterday. She is also a beautiful bride. Public thanks to one of my travel saviors!

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Photo of the Day: Bullfight

From Bullfighting in Medellin

brutal, brutal sport, but there is quite a bit of beauty in it also. This shot was from Medellin, Colombia

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Border Crossing via Video

The phrase "TIA" (This is Africa) was made popular in the States by the movie "Blood Diamond," of which, as a sidenote, I was a pretty big fan of. Check it out if you haven't seen it. Blood Diamond movie trailers

TIA basically is just a way of saying that things work, or more often don't work, differently there than anywhere else in the world. I absolutely love Africa, but it is such a non-functional place. I'm not talking about South Africa or Egypt or being on a guided safari -- I'm talking about Africa. Chaos is just the general rule you have to deal with and while it can be exasperating, frequently exasperating, if you just keep TIA in mind, you can end up loving it.

And example was the border crossing we did from Botswana to Zambia, over the Zambezi River -- one of the great rivers in the world. Zambezi River Our safari guide/driver warned us that the crossing might be chaotic. You check out of Botswana, take a ferry across the river, and check into Zambia on that side. He warned us that it might end up taking a couple hours.

We checked out of Botswana with no problem and got on the ferry. Our safari truck didn't fit on the ferry with us, so we went over first. When we got to the Zambia side, we went through immigration. Easy. Simple. No problem at all. Maybe took five minutes for all ten of us. I turned to my companions and said, "well that was easy -- guess we are getting lucky at this border."

Needless to say, that was spoken too quickly. Our truck was on the other side. The ferry ended up breaking down right after we arrived and it broke down right were you offload in Zambia, so they couldn't even use the other ferry. It took about three hours for that problem to get solved and for our truck, and driver, to make it across. Once he got across, he had some problem with the paperwork for the truck. They wouldn't let the truck into the country. Five hours later. . . they still wouldn't let the truck into the country. He ended up taking the ferry back to Botswana, driving east and north a couple hundred miles, and entering the country at an entirely different border. Before he left us, he arranged for a van to come pick us up from the town near Victoria Falls we were staying at for a few nights.

We ended up spending something like eight or nine hours at this border, just sitting around. Luckily, there was a shanty town set up right around the corner and a few of us hopped over there a couple times to wander around and have a beer or two at what passed for the local bar. And in the end, we did make it to Victoria Falls and ended up buying our driver a couple beers much later that night, when he finally arrived from his odyssey.


Mid-day, after they got the ferry working again, I jumped on top of our truck to take a video of the scene. Africa -- it's sometimes hard to explain to people that haven't been there.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Photo of the Day: Stone Town, Zanzibar

From Stone Town

I just loved this shot of people sitting outside watching TV in one of the many common areas in and amongst the alleyways of Stone Town.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photo of the Day: San Gimignano, Italy

From Various old

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Close Mindedness

I guess I should preface this semi-rant by saying I am one of the least judgmental people on the planet. Whatever floats your boat, as long as it isn't hurting others, is fine by me. But I'm really never going to be much of a fan of intolerance and the intolerant.

A few days ago, I was having lunch with a couple of my friends that I hadn't seen since I got back. We were chatting about places I went to, liked, disliked and all the post-trip talk that I've become used to (and enjoy -- I like talking to people about traveling, in the hope they will do more). A mutual friend of ours came in and took a seat next to us and asked the almost-automatic first question I get these days: "Where was your favorite place?"

Considering I was gone sixteen months and went to forty-four countries (and really liked all but about three of them), this is a toughie, but how I now generally answer it is, "well, loved tons of them, but for a suggestion of a great spot for a couple week vacation, I'd say Turkey, Namibia, Panama, Cambodia or New Zealand." I don't remember which of these I tossed out to him, but Turkey was one of them.

He frowned immediately upon hearing Turkey and so I asked if he had been there. He said he had and that he really disliked it. Upon my asking why, he said that he didn't like the dirtiness and the call to prayer bothered him. I had totally forgotten he was a very conservative Christian -- the type that wore it on his sleeve.

Personally, I have no idea how anyone could dislike the call to prayer. It is haunting and beautiful. Admittedly, the first call is at about 5:15 in the morning, but still, it is one of the true trip highlights for me in my entire journey. In case you haven't heard it -- here is the best one I heard on the entire trip. The early morning call in Stone Town, Zanzibar, right next to the hostel I was staying at. There is obviously nothing to the video, but take a listen.

What became quickly clear from talking to him was that it wasn't the cleanliness (I didn't see Instanbul as a dirty city at all) or the wake up to the call to prayer or any of that that he didn't like -- he just didn't like that everyone was Muslim. I made some comment about loving Syria and all of the Middle East and feeling amazingly safe there and got back from him a reply that was basically, "but they are all trying to kill us."

It was time to move the conversation to something else, before I said something offensive.

I do understand that people have different comfort levels in different places. The crazy hectic pace of Vietnam turns a lot of people off. The lack of personal space in Africa strikes some the wrong way. The rudeness of New Yorkers is certainly no turn-on. And so on and so forth, but for some reason this particular conversation just made me internally shudder a bit. There is a great big, fun, exciting world out there to explore, but a good bit of the greatness will be missed unless you are willing to check some of your long-held prejudices at the door and go experience a place with an open mind. You might not like what you see, hear, smell or experience, but at least go into it with an open mind. I just got the sense that he went there knowing he wouldn't like it already -- for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunset at Halong Bay, Vietnam

From Hanoi

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Photo of the Day: Chicken Buses

From Chicken Buses

nothing better than a good Nicaraguan chicken bus. If you haven't ridden one yet. . .you haven't traveled.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

How the rest of the world sees the U.S.

From New-Old

kinda funny -- love the corporate images


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Photo of the Day: Budapest market

From Budapest

all about the color.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Photo of the Day: Uluru up close

From Uluru and area

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Friday, May 7, 2010

My last couple weeks in New Zealand

There were a number of places on the North Island I had yet to see and in Auckland, I decided to do a quick week long bus trip with a company called Stray to hit some of the highlights. Given how many of these blogs I have written on the freighter about all the things I did in New Zealand, so here are is really quick rundown.

Surfing lessons in Ragland. A traditional Maori evening in Whakatane, where, as the oldest member of our bus tour (high honor, that), I was ‘elected’ our Chief for the evening and had to lead a haka war dance with the other male members of our bus.

From there, with about a week to go before my long boat ride home, I decided to spend my remaining time in two ways: scuba diving north of Auckland, in the Poor Knights Islands (of which Jacques Cousteau said was one of the top 10 dive spots in the world
Poor Knights Island) and then back to Auckland for a few last poker days. The diving was considerably better than the poker, unfortunately.

My housing for my camera I’ve taken underwater a few times on this trip didn’t survive the backpack, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures, but the diving was great. It was the only non-tropical diving I got to do on this journey. Forests of kelp. The biggest underwater cave in the world. Four different types of moray eels. And the highlight of my couple dives – a stingray that swam with us for about five minutes. It was a great dive site and considering the area has fifty or so different dive sites, it is a place well worth multiple days of diving.

The poker back in Auckland, on the other hand, was not a highlight. The most amusing thing about my trips to the casino was that I was initially turned away from the door. I have very few articles of clothing that have made it all the way around the world, but the two pairs of pants I started the trip with are still with me, a pair of jeans and another pair of khakis. But after more than a year of use, both of them are looking quite shabby at this point, and according to the people at the casino door, you can’t get in with “ripped pants.” All four knees of both of my pants are ripped through, so I actually had to go buy a new pair of jeans just to play.

All the way around the world without having to buy any pants along with the way. . . just to break down and buy a pair three days before I left to go home. ‘O yea, and my laptop finally completely crapped out and I bought a new laptop about an hour before I boarded the boat on my last day as well. So close.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Photo of the Day: Capidocia, Turkey

From Capadocia

Such a wonderful place. One of my top 5 suggestions when people ask me, "what country should I go visit?"

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Whale watch in Kaikoura

Quick trip down to Invercargill, then back up to the winery area east of Queenstown and south of Wanaka, on the way back up there. Turns out that Kate had some very handy connections in the winery trade, since her brother-in-law runs on of the nicest restaurants in Auckland, so I followed her around for a couple days while she smoozed with various wine making friends and I stood by with a glass in hand. Another bit of good fortune in my hand.

After a couple more days in Wanaka, including one excellent night of karaoke featuring an excellent group rendition, or at least a very loud one, of Bohemian Rhapsody, I moved on to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island by far. Played a little poker there at the local casino and hung out for a few days, then took the short train ride up to Kaikoura (My favorite tour guide, younger division).

I was only in Kaikoura for a little more than 24 hours and had only one goal in this tiny village – to go on a whale watch trip and see at least one behemoth. The coast of Kaikoura is one of the unique areas (yes, another unique natural wonder in New Zealand) in the world, since just a few miles off shore lies the Hikurangi Trench (Hikurangi Trench). It is essentially an extremely deep trench that goes to depths of 3,750 meters (12,300 feet) just a couple miles offshore – deep blue ocean depths. As a result there are sperm whales in this area year-round, and numerous other species that are migrating back and forth between the Antarctic waters and the tropical waters closer to the Equator at different parts of the year.

Sperm whales are pretty fascinating creatures -- the world's largest predator, as one example. It dives up to 3 kilometers (9,800 feet) to hunt. The can dive for up to 90 minutes. Amazing. The guys on the boat said that old whalers called it a sperm whale, because they thought the big cavity in its head was full of sperm. Not sure that is the truth, but pretty funny regardless. Its ribcage is flexible and collapses during dives, due to the seriously high pressures at the depths it goes to. Its favorite food is giant squid and supposedly some of the battles between those two massive creatures at thousands of feet under water are. . . wait for it. . . legendary.

Sperm Whale info

On my boat trip out, I was lucky enough to see two different sperm whales. Unlike some other whales, you don’t see much of a sperm whale on the surface, but when they make their deep dive you can get the quintessential shot of the whale’s tale, but of course my photo editing program is down right now, so I'll have to upload those pics later.

After the whale watch, I grabbed an evening bus back to Picton, the overnight ferry back to Wellington, and then an all-day bus up to Auckland. Then a day of needed rest.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Milford and Doubtful Sounds

Te Anau is on the shores of Lake Te Anau, which is the largest lake by volume in New Zealand (bringing 'ya the completely useless trivia). Continuing on the trivial water theme – Lake Te Anau empties into Lake Manapouri, which is only 10 kilometers from Doubtful Sound. The lakes are at few hundred meters above sea level, and obviously Doubtful Sound is at sea level. Because of the height difference, they were able to construct the world’s largest non-dam hydroelectric plant.

Normal hydroelectric projects dam up rivers, create lakes behind them, and then let out water from the bottom of the lake through the dam passing through turbines, which rotate and create electricity. Because of the heights of these lakes, there was no need to construct a dam – they just dug a tunnel from the lake down to the Sound, and pass the water through turbines on the way down to create the electricity. It not only is the largest non-dam hydro electrical project in the world, it creates an absurdly high percentage of New Zealand’s energy, but of course I can't find the exact number right now. I recall being told something like 60%. Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Station

Te Anu is the gateway to Milford and Doubtful Sounds, which are two of the more magnificent natural wonders, in a country full of them. Continuing with the trivia today – New Zealand and Norway are the only two countries in the world that have fjords, which are large, deep cuts of oceanside land carved out by glaciers. Sounds are actually something geologically different than fjords, but all the fjords in New Zealand were named "Sounds" originally, so the names stuck. To rectify their vocabulary oversight, when this whole area was made into a huge national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they named the area the Fiordlands, compounding their error by misspelling fjord.

New Zealand's Fiordlands

Milford Sound is much more visited than Doubtful Sound. There is a road that heads north from Te Anu then turns west through the 1.2 kilometer long Great Naked Homer Tunnel Race -- where they annually have the Homer Tunnel race each summer -- which is a nude race through the tunnel. Runners used to be able to wear shoes or a headlamp, but after a few injuries, the rules have loosened up in recent years and you can wear both shoes and a headlamp now. Some people race seriously, or at least as seriously as you can naked, and even more slowly race down with beers in hand. At the end, there is a naked Barbie doll and naked Ken doll given to the fastest female and male racers respectively. And a group photo of all the racers in their racing attire, of course. And no, I don’t have the imagination to make all of this stuff up.

Naked Tunnel Race

Instead of doing one of the many boat cruises or airplane tours of Milford Sound (the tiny little Milford Sound airport is the second busiest airport in New Zealand, only trailing Auckland’s for number of flights per year), I did a one-day kayak tour. Obviously, you can’t see as much of the Sound at kayak speed, but you don’t need to cover much ground to appreciate the beauty of the place. The weather started nice enough for us, but the wind and the rain picked up as we started paddling out and it turned into a little bit of a dicey ride. No one flipped their kayak over, but the waves and wind made it some tough going for us novices. On the flip side, some dolphins swam with us for a bit and the sights were great.

The next day I left for a two day kayak trip in the much less visited, and therefore much more peaceful Doubtful Sound, which was clearly my favorite between the two. It rained slowly but fairly consistently on day one, but the winds were down and we managed about 10 kilometers. We camped that night and there is only one thing anyone can remember about being on land in this part of New Zealand – sand flies. You have never experienced anything like them. ‘O, I know what those of you in Arkansas are saying – “there is no way they are worse than the mosquitoes in the Delta.” Well, I’ve been there, done that. There is absolutely no comparison; the sand flies win in a bite-off. And it’s not even close. I’ve never been attacked like that in my life. Inside your enclosed tent or the permanent tent they kayak company had at the site where you ate and drank was safe, but expose any amount of flesh to these beasts in between at your own peril.

This is also the only part of the world I went to on this trip where I would give the following advice: you want to try to go there when it is raining. Clear, sunny, dry weather is fine – the landscape is fantastic to look at. But if you want to see the Sounds in all their glory, you need to go during or after a good, long rain. Since they are carved almost vertically out of the land, there is very little land on top of the mountains to hold water. Sure, there are some small lakes and streams up there, which permanently provide a few waterfalls to look at while you are on the sounds, but during or immediately after a good bit of rain, there are literally hundreds of waterfalls. They come from everywhere. It is spectacular, though they dry up quickly. At the end of day one of the kayaking on Doubtful Sound the rain stopped and day two was completely rain free. There were probably 90% fewer waterfalls visible on the second day compared to the first. Root for “bad” weather.

I got back to Te Anu and went out for dinner and drinks with my new kayaking friends at a nice little place in town. A local guitarist was playing in the bar area and the place was packed. Dinner was good, though pricey (this is not a cheap country), and the night was capped off with yet another first for me – my first hitchhike ride without sticking out a thumb. An American named Kate was hanging out in the bar with us and heard I was headed south to Invercargill the next morning and she was headed that way also. After being assured by my new kayaking friends that I wasn’t an axe murderer, she decided to allow her first hitchhiker and drive me down, once we all pointed out that Kiwis do this all the time – you see, she is planning on moving to New Zealand this year, so we were all just helping to localize her.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Photo of the Day: Under the Red Sea

From More scuba pics

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